Idleness, Patrick Allan-Fraser, 1871

The Book of Hospitalfield, the limited edition volume published as a tribute to Patrick Allan-Fraser shortly after his death, suggests that the above picture brought PAF election as an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1871.

The carpet is the one that still covers the floor in the Gallery. But what makes the painting special for me is that it shows that Patrick had a sense of humour. The book on the floor - a sample reading from which would seem to have put the housemaid to sleep - is reputed to be a copy of his own
An Unpopular View of our Times, which was published both with a purple cover and a bright blue cover, as in this case.

The above painting hangs in the Gallery below the following painting, also by Patrick Allan Fraser. This shows a service being held in St Mary’s Church, Arbroath, where Patrick and Elizabeth regularly went to church. The church was built in 1854 and according to
The Book of Hospitalfield, the picture incorporates a fine portrait of Rev. William Henderson, standing at the lectern in the act of reading the Scripture lesson.

St Mary’s Church, Arbroath, Patrick Allan-Fraser, after 1854 and before 1878.

St Mary’s Church is still standing and still functions as a church. So I decided to attend the Sunday service scheduled for 11am on 30 June, 2013. This turned out not to be such an easy appointment to keep. Lucy Byatt hosted a dinner at Hospitalfield on Saturday night, aimed primarily at 20th Century alumni, but which we artists-in-residence were invited along to. And after the rather splendid event we all (except James “guests” Langdon who went to the beach with his girlfriend) trooped along to DeVito’s, an Arbroath night club that Katrin Jeans had discovered. Dancing alongside the locals - some of whom were friendly, others less so - went on for several hours, and when I skipped into bed at 4am I wondered if I would make it to the service.

Well, as the following photos suggest, I did make it. Here is the church as it looks today:


Where is the Reverend William Henderson? A stained glass window in the wall to the right, which lets light in from the sky above the North Sea, suggests that he died in 1879 and that for 51 years he was pastor to the congregation at St Mary’s.

Where is the young girl who is looking back at Patrick Allan-Fraser in the act of painting? Well, I don’t know, but a plaque on the wall caught my eye during the service.


Perhaps the girl in the painting was Dora. Or even Florence.

But what really interests me about the painting is the prominence given to a book. Is it a bible or is it another copy of
An Unpopular View of Our Times?

St Mary’s Church, Arbroath (detail), Patrick Allan-Fraser, after 1854 and before 1878.

In order to investigate the possibilities, I’d brought my copy of An Unpopular View along with me. And here it is looking very much at home in St Mary’s.


As the service went on, with readings, psalms and prayers, I took the opportunity of having a look at the contents’ pages of Patrick’s book. There are rather a lot of these. Indeed the contents’ pages for chapter six alone run from page xiii to xx, preparing the reader for what the author is going to present them with between pages 375 and 595. While the rest of the congregation were singing the praises of Our Lord, I was scrutinising this sample page. Not a sample page of the book itself, but simply a sample page of the list of contents:


I skipped page xviii and went on to page xix:


There is no doubt about it, some day I am going to read this book in full. (But probably not until some kind of apocalypse occurs.) In the meantime, the service came to an end. Most of the congregation went up for the bread and wine bit. ‘Communion’, I believe it’s called. I waited patiently until the reverend in charge of today’s service brought proceedings to an end with ‘Now go in peace’, or words to that effect.

I took the road that leads quickly to the shore as I had an urge to see the patient sea and a restless sky and to gaze at that point where the restlessness meets the patience.


Once I emerged from the tree-lined path, I sat down on a bench. After enjoying my fill of the horizon, I decided it was time to have a dip into Patrick’s book. But as soon as I opened the book, the wind whipped away a number of pages.


This was a bad moment. Because I’d come to realise that this copy of the book was not really mine at all. When Willie Payne gave me the volume, I made the mistake of assuming it was a personal gift. But I’ve been thinking about that, and I now know I was wrong to make that assumption. The book wasn’t Willie’s to give, therefore it still belongs to the Hospitalfield Trustees. Not that it made any difference to what I had to do there and then. I had to run after the pages and get them back while that was still possible.

A fence saved the day. A fence no doubt put there by God for just such a happening. After collecting all the loose pages that I could see, I took a photo of the last page to be salvaged, which happened to be from the list of contents that I’d been perusing in the church.


I made it back to the bench, clutching the retrieved pages. I wasn’t totally relaxed at this stage because I knew it was possible that the wind had blown some of the pages beyond the fence. But what could I do? Spend the last few days of my residency chasing up
An Unpopular View? If that’s what I should have done, then I should hang my head in shame, because I didn’t choose that option.


Back at Hospitalfield I experienced a sense of
deja vu. Another special dinner seemed to be in full flow in the Gallery. Or was one of my fellow artists recreating the previous night’s dinner as part of his or her residency? I wasn’t sure, as we’re all doing such different work. I asked MIchael (Mulvihill), Laura (Mansfield) and Shona (Macnaughton) if I’d done the right thing re Patrick’s book. Michael said, in a Geordie accent that was part his own and part put-on, that I should be prepared to be evicted from the Big Brother house forthwith. Laura and Shona agreed with Michael that my behaviour had been reprehensible, but suspected a verbal rebuke was all that it warranted. Samantha, James and Katrin agreed with this majority view.


But later on, in that part of the house high above my room, when I spoke to Patrick himself, he appeared to have no problem with what I’d done. He told me that I had engaged with his work and that no writer or artist could ask for more. Did those words relieve my mind? Not particulary. My expression in this photograph that Pat took suggests that the moral lessons of the day were still sinking in.


Taking advantage of my distraction, Pat asked if I’d mind if he read aloud the concluding words of his book. Psychologically, I was in no position to say no, so instead I handed him my copy of
An Unpopular View and said I would indeed like to hear the conclusion of the work that took him so many years to think through and to write, here in this house.

“Hmm,” said Pat. “The last page seems to be missing.”

“Oh God, I’m so sorry.”

“Never mind, I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

And he was back shortly, carrying a blue-covered book that may have been the copy that the housemaid had been reading in the painting that hangs in the Gallery. Pat made his way to that part of the water tower battlements where he’d sat when reading his Lewis Carroll cum Charles Dickens tribute the last time I’d spoken to him. Once settled, he took a few seconds to mentally compose himself, then read:

“In conclusion - Let us first and above all things seek to know ourselves and the laws by which we live. Although no man can ‘by searching find out God,’ we may all learn that it is by His Word we live - that by His Word we die; and that by His Will ‘all things come alike to all.’”


“I’m not quite finished yet.”


“Therefore let us set diligently to work, and endeavour to know ourselves and to understand ‘what the Will of the Lord is;’ and cease to imagine when we see any of our fellow-beings surpassing ourselves in wisdom or goodness that they are greater than He means us all to be.’

“This is not another Dickens tribute, is it, Pat?”

“Let us believe that in the wisest and best of men we see but the natural fruits of obedience to those laws which He ‘in the beginning’ provided for the growth of human wisdom and human goodness. Instead of seeking to promote the cause of Christ through schemes of our own devising let us as individuals endeavour to observe practically the precepts He taught. We may then perceive and believe that it is wholly impossible for any of our race to arrive at greater happiness here or hereafter than what obedience to His instructions, if continued for three or four generations, would secure for all; and that when we see mental decrepitude stealing over the intellectually gifted as they advance in years, we see not the fruits of obedience but of disobedience to God’s will. Were it indeed the Will of God that the mind of man should become enfeebled with age there could not be any exception, for with Him there ‘is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’

I suspected Pat had finished his book by saying that those who end up with dementia are those who have asked for it by over-exerting themselves intellectually rather than obeying God’s Will. How ridiculous! I didn’t say anything to Patrick, but I’d been told that he suffered from ‘softening of the brain’ in the last years of his life. So did that mean God had thought badly of Pat’s life and work and punished him accordingly?

Suddenly I was aware of a flurry of activity. Pat had tossed the book up into the air so that it fell into the back garden at Hospitalfield, a garden that leads past a few trees and fields to the sea. As the book hit the ground it seemed to explode into a thousand parts. Two minutes later, when I took the following photograph, there was no sign of the book in the garden, though there seemed to be life - and consequently beauty - everywhere I looked.


Let me say it again: life - and consequently beauty - everywhere I look.