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Coda: our archivist, ourselves

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2016

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Summary

BUT PERHAPS GEORGE SCHARF would not have wanted us to end with him at rest. He was, after all– and this is a modern term for an old-fashioned value– a hard worker. This was, for both of us, another point of identification with Scharf, although we suspect he would be as puzzled by the kind of work we do as we sometimes were by his professional activities. By the end of our work on and with him, however, we realised that our jobs– Scharf's job and our own– had something in common and that this commonality might produce a final attempt at an identity term to add to bachelor, diner, sketcher, fat man, extra man and the other categories we tried out for Scharf. It took us arguably too long to realise that Scharf, too, was an archival researcher subject to the exigencies and fantasies of the archive. That realisation came to us after Helena's trip to the Laing archive at the University of Edinburgh, whose holdings include letters from Scharf to David Laing, librarian of the Signet Library in Edinburgh and member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Scharf used Laing as a resource for the NPG portrait collection, although his letters also deal in gossip and speculation about open positions in the world of libraries and curatorships. An unmistakably Scharfian question at the end of a letter asks for ‘the exact colour of the eyes of Mary, Queen of Scots in the Morton portrait’ (DL 23 November 1869). Further reading of the letters shows Scharf to have been particularly interested in obtaining a portrait of Walter Scott. As he puts it in a letter from Chevening on 2 September 1863, ‘Had Mr Raeburn the son of the great painter, any portraits of eminent persons? We want a good Sir Walter Scott terribly’ (DL 2 September 1863).

Later letters show, however, that Scharf is not simply interested in the acquisition or authentication of portraits; he is eager to find out as much about them as possible. An 1871 letter to Laing asks for further information about a portrait already in his hands:

You are doubtless aware that we were so fortunate as to secure for this Gallery the portrait of Sir Walter Scott seated in his study at Abbotsford painted by Sir William Allan.

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Love Among the Archives
Writing the Lives of Sir George Scharf, Victorian Bachelor
, pp. 219 - 221
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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