The enigma of Coleridge

Page 1

by Edward Platten

 

When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence after the great poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote their first collection together. But, as Emerson’s account of the two personalities shows to us, the collaboration was a strange one. In fact, in the first volume of Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge’s name didn’t even appear. As was typical of the man, he was either too lazy or too embroiled in his opium addiction to contribute many works to the volume, and only produced two that would feature.

 

Coleridge was the first of the collaborators whom Emerson would meet, and, as his account on their meeting shows, he was, like many others, baffled by the man. Borges writes that:

Emerson tells about how he went to visit him and how Coleridge spoke about the essential unitary nature of God, and after a while, Emerson told him that he had always believed in the fundamental unity of God. He was a Unitarian. Coleridge said to him: ‘Yes, that’s what I think,’ then kept talking, because he did not care about his interlocutor.


Ralph Waldo Emersom EOC


 

Emerson would then go on, after a brief tour of Scotland, to meet Wordsworth, who he found to be more immediately impressive, though quite rude. There are many stories about Wordsworth’s vanity and how he was difficult to talk to. Borges writes about their meeting that:

Emerson… paid him a visit and made an observation, and Wordsworth refuted him immediately – as was his habit, because no matter what anyone said, he would assert the opposite – and ten minutes or a quarter of an hour later, Wordsworth expressed that same opinion that he had found absurd. Then Emerson politely told him, ‘Well, that is what I told you a while ago.’ And then Wordsworth, indignant, said, ‘Mine, mine, and not yours!!’ And the other understand that one could not converse with a man with such a character.

 

Instead of being disappointed, however, Emerson came to admire the vain Wordsworth. He was, after all, a man easy to admire. One day, both poets went out on a walk and Wordsworth told him that, using only his memory, he had composed thousands of lines of verse along the same path, and only committed them to paper later on. Such a mind would impress anyone, but what most distinguishes Emerson’s meetings with these two men is, I think, how Wordsworth sought discussion, even though he only discussed matters for the sake of argument, and to prove himself right – whereas Coleridge was a man one could only listen to, rather than talk to.


William Wordsworth EOC


Emerson was surely disappointed by Coleridge, yet, if he had read what others had written about the man, he may have expected such a result. Coleridge was a man that baffled even his closest friends. His life and his actions were frequently absurd. Some were humorous, some quite tragic, but all of them have created an impression of a man that serves to elevate his works. As Borges wrote: “One of a writer’s most important works – perhaps the most important of them all – is the image he leaves of himself in the memory of men, above and beyond the pages he has written.” Coleridge never was as great a poet as Wordsworth, and if Emerson sought a poet it was only natural that he admired Wordsworth the more, but when we think of Coleridge we think of more than a poet, we think of a representative of a kind of spirit, like a character from a novel.

 

Coleridge’s life has informed us of the spirit of the Romantic movement as much as, if not more than, the few poems he left us with.


Unlike Emerson, who found Wordsworth to be the more impressive man, the ‘Lake Poets’, – that is, the illustrious literary set both Wordsworth and Coleridge were a part of – all of them, besides from Wordsworth, would be more likely to name Coleridge their master. He was a genius. A man whose breadth of reading and erudition was so immense that he seemed to have read every book. Yet, if Emerson had only read the accounts of Coleridge as a person, and not as a poet, he may have been able to better understand why he was considered to be such a genius.

 

For many, the way in which Coleridge spoke was unintelligible. Wordsworth, whilst talking to Emerson, said that he had wished Coleridge would take more care to be understood with his writing. The same can be said for his way of talking. Coleridge’s meeting with Emerson, as will be shown, was typical of the way he would treat his guests. Coleridge’s student, or it could be said, his disciple and fellow opium addict, Thomas De Quincey, wrote of Coleridge that, whenever he spoke, it was as if he were tracing a circle in the air. By this he meant that as he talked he would go further and further away from the subject. This would go on for hours without the need of an interlocutor, and, in the mean time, some of those listening would get up and leave, perhaps with the same baffled expression as I imagine Emerson had. But, at the end, those who had lasted would realise that his talk had, remarkably, returned to the point of the discussion.


Thomas De Quincy EOC


 

This absurd way of talking is just one of the few mysteries that surround our impression of Coleridge. The events of his life were just as absurd. Despite being a great student at Cambridge University, for some reason not yet truly understood, and I doubt we ever will really understand this man, he enlisted in a regiment of dragoons. He spent the next four months falling off his horse and never actually learned to ride. Unhappy about this, one of his officers was said to have walked in on him writing poems in Greek on one of the barrack walls, all of which expressed his despair at his impossible fate as a horseman – a fate that he had chosen himself. His only use in the regiment was in the writing of love letters for the other men to send home to their wives. “I am,” he once wrote, “the least equestrian of men,” which is a sentiment many of the officers must have agreed with, as he was officially discharged from the regiment for being “insane”.

 

Coleridge then returned to Cambridge and began plans to start a weekly journal. To fulfil this task he travelled around England in an attempt to get people to subscribe. He recounts that, on one of these trips, he arrived in Bristol and spoke with a gentleman. This gentleman asked him if he had read the newspaper, to which Coleridge replied that he didn’t think it was his duty as a Christian to read the newspaper – whilst at the same time trying to get the man to subscribe to his. It is stories like this that establish Coleridge as a comical figure. There is another story told about him, that, when asked to join in a conversation, his first act was to take great care with the filling of his pipe, half with tobacco and the other half with salt. He became ill in spite of this, for he was not even in the habit of smoking.


Coleridge EOC


 

Besides from wine, opium and prostitutes, Coleridge was in the habit of declaring that he would write ambitious works, such as a history of philosophy, and a history of English literature. These, like many of his best poems, were either left unfinished or barely started. He would write to his friends – even though they knew he was lying, and even though he knew, that they knew, he was lying – that the work was well under way. His friends made a few attempts to try and focus his genius on to something. With his friend, Robert Southey, he wrote a play called The Fall of Robespierre, and another on Joan of Arc, yet he would make the protagonist talk about subjects such as the Leviathan and magnetism, of which the saint would certainly not have spoken about. His friends then tried to give him an outlet for his genius through lecturing. These lectures were well subscribed to and well advertised, yet, when the date arrived, Coleridge would either not turn up, or speak about anything but the subject of the lecture. And the times he did turn up, he would speak about everything including the subject of the lecture. But these were only rare occasions.

Another odd tale about the man begins with his marriage. Borges tells us that:

Coleridge married fairly young. The story is that he visited a house where there were three sisters. He was in love with the second one, but he thought that if the second one got married before the first – that is, according to what he told De Quincey – this could wound the sexual pride of the first. And so, out of a sense of delicacy, he married the first, even though he was not in love with her. It is no big surprise to learn that the marriage failed. Coleridge had nothing to do with his wife and children and went to live with his friends.

 

All of these stories are quite funny. Though I can’t help but feel a little bit sad about the last one. In one of my favourite poems, ‘Frost at Midnight’, Coleridge muses on how he hopes for a better life for his son, Hartley. He writes:

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

 

It would be impossible to write a poem with such tenderness without true feeling. Thus, to think that he didn’t bother with his children, whilst being undoubtedly full of paternal love for them, is quite heart-breaking. Coleridge was the first person in English to use the term ‘bi-polar’, and whilst he used it to mean ‘androgynous’, we may use it now to talk about his mental state. One cannot be an opium addict and a parent at the same time. His erratic character, and his sharp decline when in the grip of his addiction, disallowed him of the many joys of life.

 

Coleridge died in 1834, but his friends had the impression that he had died long before. The essayist, Charles Lamb, once a schoolmate of Coleridge’s, wrote a famous passage where he says that, on the subject of Coleridge’s death: “I greave that I could not grieve.” Borges writes that, “Coleridge had turned into a kind of aesthetic ghost for many of [his friends].” He lived a purely intellectual life. He was a man for whom the world on the inside was far richer than the world on the outside. He did not have an interest in other people, but that is not to say he was misanthropic, only that he was one of those curious people who care more for ideas than anything else.


Coleridge 2 EOC


 

Though many of his poems were left unfinished, those that we have are some of the most captivating and musical in the English language. I would happily concede that Wordsworth is the greater poet, but I do believe that Coleridge was among the greats himself, with or without his association to Wordsworth. And, even despite his poetry, his life and his character are far more poetic, even, perhaps, far more emblematic of our popular notions of what it is to be a poet, than Wordsworth’s – and that – just as it is for Oscar Wilde – is enough for posterity – as Borges wrote:

the truth is, there is something in Coleridge that seems to fill the imagination to overflowing. It is life itself, filled with postponements, unfulfilled promises, brilliant conversations. All of this belongs to a particular kind of human being.

That human being is the Romantic. And whatever Romanticism is, its spirit owes a little to Coleridge.

 

Edward Platten is a writer from Kingston Upon-Hull who is currently doing research on Poetic Inspiration in order to obtain a Masters Degree. In his spare time he writes for the blog: www.forbooksake.wordpress.com about interesting stories and ideas associated with literature. He aspires to one day study for a PhD and lecture at a university.  

This post first appeared on his ForBooksSake blog https://forbooksake.wordpress.com/

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality.   Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

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Answers to the Christmas quiz…

Page 1

1
a) Shelley
b) Keats
c) Wordsworth
d) Coleridge
e) Byron
2
a) Coleridge
b) Wordsworth
c) Keats – he wrote part of Endymion while staying at Magdalen Hall in 1817.
d) Byron
e) Shelley – in University College
3
a) Shelley – his first wife, Harriet Westbrook
b) Coleridge
c) Byron – Annabella Milbanke, daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke of Seaham. The two were married for little more than a year before separating amid scandalous rumours,
d) Wordsworth
e) Keats
4
a) Byron
b) Wordsworth
c) Coleridge
d) Keats
e) Shelley
5
a) Byron – in Rowing with the Wind (1988)
b) Keats – in Bright Star (2009)
c) Shelley – in Gothic (1986)
d) Wordsworth – in Pandaemonium (2000)
e) Coleridge – in Pandaemonium
6
a) Keats
b) Byron – a legitimate daughter (Ada) with his wife, and an illegitimate daughter (Allegra) with Claire Clairmont. There were also rumours he had fathered his half-sister Augusta’s child.
c) Coleridge – Hartley, Derwent, Berkeley, and Sara
d) Wordsworth. His illegitimate daughter was Caroline, the child of his French lover Annette Vallon.
e) Shelley – two with Harriet, and four with Mary Shelley. Only one of Mary’s children survived beyond the age of five.
7
d) Shelley and Byron – the poem is by Shelley. Keats and Byron never met.
8
a) Keats
b) Byron
c) Shelley
d) Coleridge
e) Wordsworth
9
a) Shelley
b) Keats
c) Coleridge
d) Wordsworth
e) Byron
10
a) Byron
b) Coleridge
c) Shelley
d) Keats
e) Wordsworth
11
a) Byron – at Missolonghi in 1824, where he had gone to support the Greek struggle for independence. It’s almost certain that his doctors hastened his death by bleeding him.
b) Shelley – in Italy in 1822, after he insisted on setting out in his boat the Don Juan, despite warnings that bad weather was coming. His body was not found for ten days, by which time he was recognisable only by his clothes and the book he carried.
c) Coleridge – on 25th July 1834, at the Highgate home of his doctor, James Gillman, where he had lived for the previous 18 years.
d) Keats – in 1821, in his lodgings by the Spanish Steps in Rome.
e) Wordsworth, at exactly 12 noon on April 23rd 1850. The cuckoo clock was striking.
12
a) Keats – a review of Endymion by John Wilson Croker in The Quarterly Review, April 1818
b) Byron – a review of Hours of Idleness by Henry Brougham in The Edinburgh Review, January 1808. This denunciation provoked Byron to issue his satirical diatribe, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers
c) Coleridge – from the Blackwood’s review of the ‘Lake School of poetry’, referring to the ‘Ancient Mariner’, October 1819.
d) Wordsworth – it’s the beginning of a much-quoted review of The Excursion in The Edinburgh Review, 1814
e) Shelley – review of Queen Mab in The London Literary Gazette, May 1821.
13
a) Keats
b) Shelley
c) Byron
d) Coleridge
e) Wordsworth
14
a) Keats
b) Byron
c) Shelley
d) Coleridge
e) Wordsworth

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality.   Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More

What the Victorians made of Romanticism

Page 1

by Tom Mole
 
My new book What the Victorians Made of Romanticism offers a new way of understanding the reception history of Romantic writers and their works in Victorian Britain. Other scholars have told this story before, of course. But they have mostly focussed on the ways in which Romantic writers influenced their Victorian successors. They tell us about how Alfred Tennyson responded to Byron, or how Matthew Arnold responded to Wordsworth. I’m interested in a different kind of story. The story I tell is about the material artefacts and cultural practices that remediated Romantic writers and their works amid shifting understandings of history, memory, and media. I pay attention to the things Victorians made – including illustrated books, anthologies, statues, postcards and memorial plaques – as well as to what they did with Romantic writers – citing and reciting them, including them in sermons, placing busts of them on their mantelpieces, and a host of other practices. These artefacts and practices made sure that the Romantics were renovated for new generations of readers – and non-readers – while recruiting them to address new cultural concerns in the process.
Mole 6
For a while, it seemed that the Romantics would not be remembered at all. Many early-Victorian commentators worried that the writing of the recent past no longer compelled readers’ interest, and that it would soon be forgotten. The predictions began polemically. Blackwood’s Magazine claimed in 1820 that John Keats had ruined his talent by imitating Leigh Hunt, and that ‘he must be content to share his fate, and be like him forgotten’, and Coleridge wrote in 1825 that he ‘dare[d] predict, that in less than a century’ Byron’s and Scott’s poems would ‘lie on the same Shelf of Oblivion’. But predictions soon became warnings. The Quarterly Review asserted that Scott was ‘in danger of passing – we cannot conceive why – out of the knowledge of the rising generation’, and Thomas Carlyle cautioned in 1829 that ‘Byron … with all his wild siren charming, already begins to be disregarded and forgotten’.
Byron Grasmere
 
Before long, the warnings became simple statements of fact. Orestes Brownson asserted in 1841 that Shelley was ‘seldom spoken of and much more seldom read’. The Graphic cattily remarked in 1873 that Hemans was ‘almost as much neglected now, as she was overrated formerly’. Stopford Brooke declared simply in 1893 that Byron was ‘not much read now’. If anyone read the Romantics, some claimed, it was only those people who scarcely counted, like adolescents or the uneducated. Selections of Wordsworth’s poetry ‘chiefly for the use of schools and young persons’ appeared from as early as 1831, while in 1848 Readings for the Young from the Works of Sir Walter Scott inaugurated a tradition of excerpting or retelling Scott’s works for children. Walter Bagehot wrote that ‘a stray schoolboy may still be detected in a wild admiration for The Giaour or The Corsair …, but the real posterity – the quiet students of past literature – never read them or think of them’. The fact that the Romantics were remembered – at least some of them – is not down to the enduring excellence of their poetry, or to its ability to transcend the historical moment in which it was written. Rather, I argue, Romantic writers and their works continued to attract attention because they were mediated to Victorian audiences in new ways. This was necessary because the Romantics were increasingly in danger of seeming outdated. Victorian commentators worried that the literature of even the recent past was no longer suited to address the present’s most pressing concerns.
 
readingsforyoung
 
When Matthew Arnold hailed his generation as ‘we, brought forth and reared in hours / Of change, alarm, surprise’, he signalled a self-conscious modernity. In this accelerated and uncertain time, the literature of even the recent past began to seem alien or obsolescent. ‘Too fast we live, too much are tried, / Too harrass’d, to attain / Wordsworth’s sweet calm’, Arnold wrote. Poetry of the recent past no longer seemed like it could speak to the anxieties of the present. Echoing Byron’s Manfred, who found that ‘the wisdom of the world… avail’d not’, Arnold turned Manfred’s conclusion into a question and made it a matter of generational difference: ‘what availed it, all the noise / And outcry of the former men?’
 
Introducing an edition of Byron’s poems in 1866, Algernon Charles Swinburne reiterated Arnold’s sense of a generational shift, and framed it ironically in the religious language that Arnold would use earnestly in ‘Dover Beach’ the following year. ‘Men born when this century was getting into its forties were baptised into another church than [Byron’s] with the rites of another creed. … No man under twenty’, he asserted, ‘can now be expected to appreciate’ Byron or Wordsworth. This fear that the Romantics were being forgotten, and that they could not find new readers unaided, produced a whole set of efforts to bring them to new audiences, and make them newly relevant. In the book, I look at how these efforts took shape in four different media: illustrations, sermons, statues and anthologies.
 
Retro-fitted illustrations – that is, newly-produced illustrations for works that didn’t appear with illustrations when they were first published – were produced for many Romantic works in Victorian Britain. They helped to make new editions of Romantic poetry look modern and up-to-date, because an increasing number of new books in the Victorian period appeared with illustrations from their first edition. Think of the close association between Dickens and Phiz or Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel. New illustrations helped to renovate Romantic poetry, allowing it to circulate once again in the market for new books. Illustrations therefore offered a way to come to terms with the sense that a generation gap was opening up between the Victorians and their Romantic precursors. I look at several examples of illustrated books that thematise this sense of the passage of time. In some cases, they update Romantic poetry by including recognisably Victorian people and scenes in illustrations. In others, they combine canonizing images that proclaimed the lasting value of Romantic poetry with images that invited Victorian readers to put aside their preconceptions and experience it afresh.
Victorian Keats
When Victorian people went to church, they heard Romantic poetry quoted in sermons surprisingly often. Some authors – such as Wordsworth – could be recruited in support of a generalised and often rather vague sense of spiritual uplift. Others – such as Byron – were more likely to serve as an awful warning, an example of misspent time and misapplied talent. But the way Victorian preachers and religious writers handled Romantic writers and their works could sometimes be surprising. Shelley, for example, was turned into an honorary Christian by a number of progressive figures in several Christian denominations. And Byron was quoted not only as an example of a sinner, but also approvingly, for example for his paraphrases of certain psalms and his descriptions of nature. I look at one preacher in particular – Charles Haddon Spurgeon – who quoted Byron regularly. Spurgeon’s library has survived almost intact, and so we can trace the ways in which he encountered Byron through anthologies, primers and books of quotations.
 
Several Romantic writers were commemorated in statues and other kinds of memorials. These monuments were part of a wider effort to create a new British pantheon. The new pantheon was secular, and liberal enough to include people with drastically different political views. It helped to create a new kind of cultural consensus during a period of radical introspection about who constituted the nation and what they shared. And crucially, it was not housed in a particular structure or institution, but spread out across the cities of London and Edinburgh, and eventually across the country as a whole. I examine the statue of Byron in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, the Scott Monument in Edinburgh, and the statue of Byron in Hyde Park, London, as key monuments in the development of this new pantheon. I also show how these monuments were remediated in figurines, postcards, and cigarette cards.
 
Byron_Statue
Finally, I examine the ways in which anthologies mediated Romantic poetry to Victorian audiences. I’ve looked at over 200 Victorian anthologies, and for the first time I can explain in detail which poems by Byron, Hemans and Shelley they included, which sections of long poems appeared, and how they framed these poems with editorial material such as headnotes, footnotes and glosses. The results are fascinating. The anthologies produced their own version of Byron, Hemans and Shelley, which is different in several key ways from the version you get in a collected or selected edition, as well as the versions of those poets that English students today discover in modern classroom anthologies.
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Overall, the book aims to show how literature of the past can be appropriated and made newly relevant in ways that could not have been imagined by its authors. I think recent critics have often tended to connect literature so closely to the context in which it’s written that we tend to overlook its ability to function in other contexts. I hope What the Victorians Made of Romanticism will help people to see some of the ways in which literary works get redeployed in unexpected ways.
 
Dr Tom Mole received his PhD from the University of Bristol in 2003 and has worked at the University of Glasgow, the University of Bristol and McGill University. He is currently Reader in English Literature and Director of the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Tom Mole 2Edinburgh. With Michelle Levy, he wrote The Broadview Introduction to Book History (2017) and edited The Broadview Reader in Book History (2014). His other books include Byron’s Romantic Celebrity (Palgrave, 2007), Romanticism and Celebrity Culture (ed, Cambridge, 2009) and What the Victorians Made of Romanticism (Princeton, 2017). From 2008-2013 he was Principal Investigator of the Interacting with Print research group, whose collaboratively written ‘multigraph’ will be published by Chicago UP in 2017. He is a member of the PMLA Advisory Committee.
 

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

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14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality.   Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

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A Fairtrade Walk: In the footsteps of Wordsworth and Clarkson

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by John Coombe 

On 15 April 2017, John Coombe (Deputy Visitor Experience Manager) took part in a special walk from Pooley Bridge to Dove Cottage, which celebrated an important Wordsworthian anniversary and the International Festival of Fairtrade Walks. Here, he explains more about the event and its importance.

There were 3 particular reasons why we were walking the 17 miles from Pooley Bridge to Grasmere on Easter Saturday:

  1. To follow in the footsteps of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, exactly 215 years ago to the day since they walked this route, from their friend Thomas Clarkson’s home at Pooley Bridge to Dove Cottage, and saw ‘a long belt’ of daffodils by the shore of Ullswater – a moment that would later inspire Wordsworth’s most famous poem.
  2. To mark 110th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, a campaign in which Thomas Clarkson was heavily involved.
  3. To open a new branch of the Fair Trade Way.

I was spending the day with the directors of the FIG Tree (the world’s first international Fair Trade Visitor Centre), fair trade supporters and some fellow Wordsworth enthusiasts.  I was particularly looking forward to walking with Bruce Crowther, who was instrumental in the creation of the fair trade town movement and the creator of the Fair Trade Way.  Bruce gave up his vetinerary practice in Garstang to champion fair trade and make Garstang the world’s first fair trade town.  It was through his passion for fair trade, and his Quaker faith, that he felt a natural connection with anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson and found the inspiration for this walk.

We assembled at 7.30am at the Heughscar Close car park in Pooley Bridge, and walked up to see Thomas Clarkson’s home at Eusemere as closely as we could as a large group. Eusemere House holds a commanding presence over Ullswater, and there is a plaque by the lakeshore with the slogan of the anti-slavery campaign ‘am I not a man and a brother’.  It was designed by another fellow anti-slavery campaigner Josiah Wedgewood and serves as subtle memorial to Clarkson’s vital work.  Bruce told us that they also used the slogan ‘am I not a woman and a sister’.

Caption: John Coombe, Bruce Crowther, Graham Hulme and Danny Callery by the memorial plaque

John Coombe, Bruce Crowther, Graham Hulme and Danny Callery by the memorial plaque

We had a group photo by the plaque and then split into several different groups, some were taking the Ullswater way and some were driving, but Bruce, Graham, Danny and myself took the road along the lakeshore so that we could take as similar a route to William and Dorothy as possible. There was a key difference to William and Dorothy’s walk and our own at this point, as we crossed the River Eamont on a temporary pontoon bridge.  The old stone bridge that William and Dorothy used was washed away by Storm Desmond in December 2015.  A stark reminder of the power of nature

As we walked we also enjoyed some birdwatching and Graham had with him a book of birds mentioned in Wordsworth’s poetry. Every so often he’d say that we’d seen a red breasted merganser, or that we’d heard a chiff chaff. We heard a black cap, saw a song thrush, a goldfinch crossed the road in front of us and before we’d even set off on the walk we heard a great spotted woodpecker. We also saw a buzzard, and when Graham looked in his book to see which poem refers to a buzzard, funnily enough it was the poem Wordsworth wrote about the Brother’s Parting Stone, which we’d see later on.

Belinda Hulme reading from Dorothy’s Journal at Gowbarrow Park

Belinda Hulme reading from Dorothy’s Journal at Gowbarrow Park

We met up with the rest of the group at Aira Force, and walked en masse to the lakeshore in Gowbarrow Park where the Wordsworths famously saw the daffodils.  Belinda, dressed up as Dorothy, read the description of the daffodils from Dorothy’s journal:

‘I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed & reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake’

I then read both versions of I wandered lonely as a cloud. I wondered if in another 200 years whether people would still be coming to this spot to read the famous lines, I fancied they would.

lunch break with a view

Lunch break with a view

We had lunch on the shore, with the sun sparkling on Ullswater, and the lambs bleating in the distance. Even though the wild daffodils were passed their best, it was still an idyllic spot.  After lunch we continued to Patterdale, along paths full of walkers, and under the shade of many trees. Patterdale was the point of no return for some people. But for the 7 or 8 of us who were doing the full 17 miles, we began our ascent to Grisedale Tarn. Dorothy and William had stopped over for the night before doing the rest of the walk but we continued on to complete the journey in one day.  The wind was strong, and the ascent was longer than I remembered, but we made good time. Half way up we found Macmillan Cancer Support selling tea and cake in a shepherd’s bothy, which was a welcome surprise. They were doing a roaring trade with the Easter Saturday traffic.

We then continued up to the spot at Grisedale Tarn known as the Brothers’ Parting Stone, named because it was here that William said goodbye to his younger brother John for the last time before he drowned at sea in 1805.  I read Elegiac Verses in Memory of my Brother, John Wordsworth.

At the tarn we turned around and looked at a tiny patch of Ullswater, way off in the distance, and we could see how far we had come. The sun was casting that late afternoon sunlight that I’ve enjoyed so much towards the end of so many walks.

Walking the final stretch in the sunshine

Walking the final stretch in the sunshine

Our descent from the tarn felt incredible, as it was the home straight, and the sun was shining down upon us. Gravity took us to the road and then the pain really hit me, the last mile to Dove Cottage was a struggle but it felt like a real achievement to arrive at Dove Cottage. We enjoyed a spread of fair trade food and drinks, had a reading of the sonnet Wordsworth wrote to Clarkson, On the final passing of the bill for the abolition of the slave trade, and reflected on our day’s activity.  We were also proud to declare the new leg of the Fair Trade Way officially open.

John Coombe newJohn Coombe is Deputy Visitor Experience Manager and has worked full time at the Wordsworth Trust since 2008.

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality.   Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More

In the footsteps of the Shelleys: Switzerland and Mont Blanc

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by Anna Mercer
 
In June 2016 I made a pilgrimage to an area in Europe known for its sublime scenery. I have read so much about the snowy peaks of the Alps and the shores of Lake Geneva, primarily from two sources that figure in my life because of my PhD research at the University of York. I am studying Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, two Romantic authors who, before their marriage but after their romantic union, spent the summer in the environs of Geneva and Chamonix in 1816, exactly 200 years before I arrived there.
Percy Shelley had originally thought of leaving England for Italy. The Shelleys were instead convinced to head to Cologny near Geneva by their travelling companion Claire Clairmont, Mary’s step-sister, who in London had begun an affair with Lord Byron.
On 13 May 1816 the Shelleys and Claire arrived in Geneva, followed on 25 May by Byron and his physician Dr John Polidori. By June, both parties had taken residences close to each other on the shores of the lake; Byron stayed at the Villa Diodati. Incessant rain often prevented them from going out on the water in the evenings, and even stopped Percy, Mary and Claire from returning to their own lodgings. The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 has devastated the weather across Europe, and 1816 is recalled now as ‘the year without a summer’.  I also arrived to an atmospherically rainy Geneva:
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The weather eventually cleared, and we explored the town, and like the Shelleys, we were also intrigued by the literary greats who had graced the city.
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During the 1816 summer, Percy, Mary and Claire stayed at Maison Chapuis but often spent time at Byron’s grander lodgings nearby. Geneva is where Mary Shelley began writing her most famous and enduring novel, Frankenstein (first published in 1818). Mary’s terrifying novel – according to her 1831 introduction – was ostensibly inspired by a ‘waking dream’ she had after hearing Percy and Byron’s discussions on ‘the nature of the principle of life’ to which she ‘was a devout but nearly silent listener’. This account of her literary genius is characteristically modest, as her silence is in all likelihood overplayed; the community at Geneva in 1816 offered a stimulating intellectual environment and Percy and Mary collaborated on the novel as well as many other works.
Mary began writing Frankenstein in June 1816. The Shelleys met Byron on 27 May, and he took up residence at Diodati on 10 June, and by June 22 Percy Shelley and Byron went on a tour of Lake Geneva together. So, although Mary only recorded the composition of Frankenstein in her journal in July, it is likely the novel was started between 10-22 June.
In a previous blog for the Wordsworth Trust, I reviewed the excellent exhibition on Frankenstein at the Bodmer Foundation Library and Museum: Frankenstein: Creation of Darkness. We were treated with a walk around the grounds of the Villa Diodati itself.
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Percy and Mary included descriptions of their travels in the 1817 publication History of a Six Weeks’ Tour. Mary’s view of Geneva was muted to say the least:

There is nothing … in it that can repay you for the trouble of walking over its rough stones. The houses are high, the streets narrow, many of them on the ascent, and no public building of any beauty to attract your eye, or any architecture to gratify your taste. The town is surrounded by a wall, the three gates of which are shut exactly at ten o’clock, when no bribery (as in France) can open them.

However, the dramatic weather offered her respite:

The lake is at our feet, and a little harbour contains our boat, in which we still enjoy our evening excursions on the water. Unfortunately we do not now enjoy those brilliant skies that hailed us on our first arrival to this country. An almost perpetual rain confines us principally to the house; but when the sun bursts forth it is with a splendour and heat unknown in England. The thunder storms that visit us are grander and more terrific than I have ever seen before. We watch them as they approach from the opposite side of the lake, observing the lightning play among the clouds in various parts of the heavens, and dart in jagged figures upon the piny heights of Jura, dark with the shadow of the overhanging cloud, while perhaps the sun is shining cheerily upon us. One night we enjoyed a finer storm than I had ever before beheld. The lake was lit up—the pines on Jura made visible, and all the scene illuminated for an instant, when a pitchy blackness succeeded, and the thunder came in frightful bursts over our heads amid the darkness.

I am particularly fascinated by this jointly-authored publication History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, Mary’s first foray into print (besides her early light verses published in her father’s library). The text of this volume is an intermingling of voices, the provenance of each section being drawn from a joint journal, numerous letters and original words composed for the edition. I will be discussing the History in a paper at the British Association for Romantic Studies conference in York this July.
On our first day in Geneva, after wandering around and dodging the rain, we immediately set off to cross the border. We were staying in an idyllic, isolated chalet in France, and the first place we wanted to visit the next day was the site of many inspirations for both Percy and Mary: the town of Chamonix, which rests under the imposing gaze of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak.
Our travels from Geneva to the French Alps reminded me of Mary Shelley’s third novel, The Last Man (1826), in which the protagonist Lionel and his companion Adrian (a Percy Shelley-esque figure) make a similar trajectory:

We left the fair margin of the beauteous lake of Geneva, and entered the Alpine ravines; tracing to its source the brawling Arve, through the rock-bound valley of Servox, beside the mighty waterfalls, and under the shadow of the inaccessible mountains, we travelled on; while the luxuriant walnut-tree gave place to the dark pine, whose musical branches swung in the wind, and whose upright forms had braved a thousand storms – till the verdant sod, the flowery dell, and shrubbery hill were exchanged for the sky-piercing, untrodden, seedless rock, “the bones of the world, waiting to be clothed with every thing necessary to give life and beauty”.

This excerpt concludes with a quotation taken from Letters written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, by Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. This inspired Mary in her own travel writing. This was a text in which the author sought ‘to let my remarks and reflections flow unrestrained’ (Advertisement). The writing of Mary Shelley’s radical parents (her father was William Godwin) were some of the texts the Shelleys were both reading – occasionally aloud together – in 1814, the year of their elopement, and their first journey to the continent. Texts included the Letters written during a Short Residence by Wollstonecraft and Caleb Williams by Godwin.
On the day of our arrival in Chamonix, the mountains were not only seemingly inaccessible, but invisible. Low cloud prevented us from identifying Mont Blanc above us, but did not damage the charming nature of the town, now a popular ski-resort.
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Despite the cloud, we decided to get the train to the ‘Mer de Glace’. Perhaps bad weather would have prevented tourists from making the journey in the Shelleys’ day, but in 2016 the Montenvers Railway (opened 1909) takes you right up to the viewing platform. On arrival, we were sorely disappointed, as we couldn’t see a thing. Mildly upset that we had travelled all this way up and wouldn’t see the glacier itself, my companion convinced me to take the cable car that descends into the mist despite the slightly miserable conditions. When we landed at the bottom, the glacier was in full view. I will firstly give you Percy Shelley’s description of this natural wonder in the History of a Six Weeks’ Tour:

We have returned from visiting the glacier of Montanvert, or as it is called, the Sea of Ice, a scene in truth of dizzying wonder. The path that winds to it along the side of a mountain, now clothed with pines, now intersected with snowy hollows, is wide and steep. … We arrived at Montanvert, … On all sides precipitous mountains, the abodes of unrelenting frost, surround this vale: their sides are banked up with ice and snow, broken, heaped high, and exhibiting terrific chasms. The summits are sharp and naked pinnacles, whose overhanging steepness will not even permit snow to rest upon them. Lines of dazzling ice occupy here and there their perpendicular rifts, and shine through the driving vapours with inexpressible brilliance; they pierce the clouds like things not belonging to this earth. The vale itself is filled with a mass of undulating ice, and has an ascent sufficiently gradual even to the remotest abysses of these horrible desarts. It is only half a league (about two miles) in breadth, and seems much less. It exhibits an appearance as if frost had suddenly bound up the waves and whirlpools of a mighty torrent. We walked some distance upon its surface. The waves are elevated about 12 or 15 feet from the surface of the mass, which is intersected by long gaps of unfathomable depth, the ice of whose sides is more beautifully azure than the sky. In these regions every thing changes, and is in motion. This vast mass of ice has one general progress, which ceases neither day nor night; it breaks and bursts for ever: some undulations sink while others rise; it is never the same. The echo of rocks, or of the ice and snow which fall from their overhanging precipices, or roll from their aerial summits, scarcely ceases for one moment. One would think that Mont Blanc, like the god of the Stoics, was a vast animal, and that the frozen blood for ever circulated through his stony veins.

We dined (M***, C***, and I) on the grass, in the open air, surrounded by this scene. The air is piercing and clear. We returned down the mountain, sometimes encompassed by the driving vapours, sometimes cheered by the sunbeams, and arrived at our inn by seven o’clock.

However, we were not just relieved to be able to see more than cloud, but shocked by the lack of glacier before us.

Carl Hackert, ‘Vue de la Mer de Glace et de l’Hôpital de Blair’ (1781), Centre d’iconographie genevois

Carl Hackert, ‘Vue de la Mer de Glace et de l’Hôpital de Blair’ (1781), Centre d’iconographie genevois


 
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Percy Shelley’s premonition that Buffon’s ‘sublime but gloomy theory’ that ‘this globe which we inhabit will at some future period be changed into a mass of frost’, was entirely unfounded. We knew that the ice was melting – the majority of us do (I am avoiding any political comment here) – but we were still affected by this huge difference across the decades. You can read more on this subject at the British Romantic Writing and Environmental Catastrophe website, an AHRC-funded project at the University of Leeds.
 
You can now go inside the glacier itself:
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When we went back up in the cable car, the clouds had cleared and we had an astounding view of the Mer de Glace and surrounding peaks. This reminded me of Vol II Chapter II of Frankenstein, as Victor makes the same ascent. He makes it alone, because ‘the presence of another would destroy the solitary grandeur of the scene’. Just as in our visit, in the novel the clouds clear from the protagonist around midday:

It was nearly noon when I arrived at the top of the ascent. For some time I sat upon the rock that overlooks the sea of ice. A mist covered both that and the surrounding mountains. Presently a breeze dissipated the cloud, and I descended upon the glacier.
From the side where I now stood Montanvert was exactly opposite, at the distance of a league; and above it rose Mont Blanc, in awful majesty. I remained in a recess of the rock, gazing on this wonderful and stupendous scene. The sea, or rather the vast river of ice, wound among its dependent mountains, whose aerial summits hung over its recesses. Their icy and glittering peaks shone in the sunlight over the clouds. My heart, which was before sorrowful, now swelled with something like joy.

On our way back to Chamonix, we had the same luck again – an overwhelming sight.
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We returned two days later in marginally better weather to take the cable-car that made the ascent of Mont Blanc itself. To be honest, the cloud had left me confused as to where the peak of this infamous mountain was.
A ride up the side of the mountain to the Aiguille Du Midi took my breath away. This trip is a must for any visitor to the area. We were warned that the visibility would be bad at the top, but when we arrived the clouds cleared and left us with spectacular views. If you are a lover of the Shelleys, you will be further mystified in wondering just what those two incredible authors would have made of the sight, if they could have ascended to 3,842m and see the ‘vast animal’ Mont Blanc this close.
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Mont Blanc appears in both of the Shelleys’ works (such as Mary’s Frankenstein and The Last Man), but it is Percy Shelley’s poem dedicated to the mountain that reveals the full extent of their awe. You can read the full poem here, but I will leave you with its final lines:

Mont Blanc yet gleams on high:—the power is there,
The still and solemn power of many sights,
And many sounds, and much of life and death.
In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,
In the lone glare of day, the snows descend
Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there,
Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,
Or the star-beams dart through them:— Winds contend
Silently there, and heap the snow with breath
Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home
The voiceless lightning in these solitudes
Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods
Over the snow. The secret strength of things
Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome
Of heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!
And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
If to the human mind’s imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?

 
 
 
Anna Mercer is an AHRC-funded PhD candidate at the University of York. Her research is on the collaborative literary relationship of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. She is also organising a day conference on the work of Percy and Mary Shelley in London in September 2017. For more details click here
Anna Mercer
 
This post originally appeared on Anna’s blog – https://percyandmaryshelley.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/in-the-footsteps-of-the-shelleys-france-and-switzerland/

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality.   Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More

Wordsworth in the Landscape

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This summer the Wordsworth Trust partnered with the Lake District National Park Authority for a series of walks in the landscape that inspired Wordsworth and his poetry.  Here Belinda Turnbull and Mike O’Donoghue from the National Park Authority tell us a bit more about the project and its role in the exciting bid for the Lake District to become a World Heritage site.
How does Britain’s best loved poet link to our World Heritage bid?
Our spectacular landscape, with its unique beauty, has inspired poets and artists like William Wordsworth, and continues to inspire the millions who visit here each year.  Wordsworth famously described the Lake District as ‘a sort of national property’ which he believed every person ‘had a right to enjoy’.
We believe the Lake District deserves worldwide recognition. That’s why in 2017 we will bid for World Heritage Site status, placing the Lake District alongside the Taj Mahal, the Tower of London and the Great Barrier Reef.
We believe that Wordsworth’s legacy helps support our bid to demonstrate why this cultural landscape deserves global recognition.  To help more people discover it too, volunteer guides have teamed up with the Wordsworth Trust to deliver a special series of World Heritage guided walks.
A source of artistic inspiration
Along with the other Lake Poets who were attracted to the area, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy wrote poetry that was directly inspired by the landscape and its inhabitants. These writings helped set the scene for the early conservation movement and the formation of the National Trust.
Our Wordsworth walks and talks will help you discover more about this fascinating and important man and the people who influenced his life.
Here’s how walk leader Mike O’Donoghue describes how volunteers and the Wordsworth Trust have worked together:
For some visitors to the Lake District National Park the area is synonymous with Wordsworth. But while many may be familiar with his poetry, especially the poem commonly known as “Daffodils”, few may know much about the special places that inspired him.
The new walks introduced earlier this year and which are led by National Park volunteers take place in Hawkshead, Grasmere and Ullswater and visit places of significance to William and Dorothy, including the site of the daffodils which inspired the most famous poem in the English language, I wandered lonely as a cloud at Gowbarrow Park on 15 April 1802.
Volunteer walk leaders Mark, Sylvia and Graham with curator Jeff Cowton at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere

Volunteer walk leaders Mark, Sylvia and Graham with curator Jeff Cowton at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere

I and other interested volunteer guides have been supported by the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage to develop these walks. Curator Jeff Cowton has provided us with valuable information. We were also given access to manuscripts of his writings and one of the original diaries written by Dorothy.

 Pages from one of Dorothy’s journalsPages from one of Dorothy’s journals

A commentary for the walks was created with help from trainees from the Wordsworth Trust. The marriage of these notes to their related places and landscape helps leaders bring Wordsworth to life.
Mike with trainees Charlotte and Simon from the Wordsworth Trust

Mike with trainees Charlotte and Simon from the Wordsworth Trust

There are four different walk routes for you to enjoy:

  • A Host of Daffodils: See the daffodils by the shores of Ullswater which inspired Wordsworth’s most famous poem.
  • In the Footsteps of Wordsworth: Take a ride on an Ullswater steamer from Glenridding to the legendary Aira Force waterfall and return along the lake shore.
  • Wordsworth’s Hawkshead: Explore the village where Wordsworth spent much of his childhood while studying at Hawkshead Grammar School.
  • Wordsworth’s Grasmere:Discover the village Wordsworth chose to call home – see the places he lived and wrote about and visit his grave in the churchyard.

These walks, which were introduced in April, have been very popular with visitors of all ages (so make sure you get to the start early for these ‘just turn up’ events). There are more running throughout the season (until October) and we will be repeating them again in 2017 when we will also learn if we’ve been successful in our World Heritage bid.
Join us in our bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site
You can help celebrate the identity, inspiration and conservation of the Lake District by supporting the #lakedistrictbid.
Show your support and back the bid for World Heritage status by adding your vote to this website: lakesworldheritage.co.uk

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality.   Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More

Re-imagining Ireland – with Wordsworth?

Page 1

by James Illingworth

When we think of William Wordsworth the landscape immediately conjured is that of the English Lake District. His connections to the area and his influence on the local culture are ever present, as the flocks of visitors to Dove Cottage and Ambleside will attest. What is much less celebrated is Wordsworth’s connection to the Irish landscape. The ‘Re-Imagining Ireland with Wordsworth’ project seeks to uncover and celebrate Wordsworth’s Irish connections.

 

The most enduring of Wordsworth’s Irish links is certainly his friendship with Sir William Rowan Hamilton. Born in Dublin in 1805 and educated there at Trinity College, Hamilton became Astronomer Royal in 1826 and from then resided at Dunsink Observatory at Castleknock. He first visited Wordsworth at Rydal Mount with fellow Irishman Caesar Otway in 1827, when he and Wordsworth became firm friends. This friendship would last until Wordsworth’s death, and in 1846 Hamilton proposed Wordsworth as an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy, an honour Wordsworth greatly appreciated, chiming as it did with his interest in what he calls the “sister country” and how he has “in everything calculated to promote its welfare.” It was also in large part due to his friendship with Hamilton that Wordsworth resolved to visit Ireland, which he eventually did in 1829. He arrived in Dublin Bay on August 29th in the company of his friend John Marshall M.P. and Marshall’s son, also called John. After three days in Dublin they toured the coast of the island of Ireland, primarily in search of new inspiration for his poetry but also because of his interest in the social situation; his correspondence reveals a growing attentiveness to the deteriorating conditions on the island.

 

Sir William Rowan Hamilton

Sir William Rowan Hamilton

As a source of fuel for his poetic imagination, Wordsworth’s Irish tour may well be considered a disappointment. In his Fenwick Notes he reveals that his time in Ireland was not as fruitful as he might have hoped, as he writes in reference to a line of his poem ‘Eagles’:

“Off the Promontory of Fairhead, County of Antrim. I mention this because tho’ my Tour in Ireland with Mr. Marshall & his Son was made many years ago, this allusion to the Eagle is the only image supplied by it to the Poetry I have since written. We travelled through that country in October & to the shortness of the days & the speed with which we travelled (in a carriage & four) may be ascribed this want of notices, in my verse, of a country so interesting. The deficiency I am somewhat ashamed of, & it is the more remarkable as contrasted with my Scotch & Continental tours, of which are to be found in these Vols. so many Memorials.”

 

There is an allusion to this same incident in another poem, ‘On the Power of Sound’, but beyond these sole references to a single moment off the Giant’s Causeway the Irish tour is absent from his poetry. As the Fenwick note to ‘Eagles’ makes plain, however, Wordsworth did not find the county uninteresting. Far from it. Whilst his poetry reveals little about his impressions of the Irish landscape, his time in Ireland is recorded in great detail through his correspondence. Throughout his trip, he wrote to his family at Rydal Mount and to his brother, and these letters disclose a much richer and more enthusiastic response to the Irish landscape than the lack of references in his poems might suggest.

The Giant's Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway

This might not be surprising. The Fenwick note to ‘Eagles’ implies that the time of year in which the tour took place and the pace of travel can be blamed for his lack of inspiration. The tour, admittedly, happened in the autumn, and was plagued by poor weather. He had also forgotten to bring his glasses, and complained of eye strain. This could explain the tone of his letters written during his tour, which is at times cantankerous, as he wrote to his sister: “The Irishwomen one meets, but do not repeat this, are never lovely, and scarcely ever handsome.” This grumpy disposition may well have coloured his perception of the landscape, and offer some indication as to why so little of his tour is reflected in his verse.

 

Wordsworth in 1832, around the time of his trip to Ireland

Wordsworth in 1832, around the time of his trip to Ireland

But this is conjecture, and as the trip progressed he did show a real appreciation of certain parts of Ireland. He very much enjoyed the Counties of Wicklow, Kerry, and Fermanagh, writing that with Kerry he had been “most pleased, and by some parts almost astonished.” He is similarly animated about the Killarney lakes and about Carrauntoohil, the highest peak on the island: “Carranthouel [sic] as a mountain is a much sublimer object than any we have; and Killarney’s three lakes with the navigable passage between the upper and lower lake, take the lead I think of any one of our lakes, perhaps of any one of our vales.” Coming from Wordsworth, arguably the definitive Lakes poet, this is high praise indeed. It is unfortunate, then, that these landscapes did not find their way into his poetry.

 

It is worth noting, too, that Wordsworth provides frequent thoughts on the people of Ireland in addition to the scenery. Writing from Cork about a third of the way into his trip, he expresses his disappointment thus far at the landscape, but does say that the Irish people “present a perpetual subject for thought and reflection.” His tour is punctuated by meetings with the Irish celebrities of the day. In addition to Hamilton who accompanied him to a number of locations he also met the Edgeworth family, including Maria Edgeworth, author of Castle Rackrent (1800) and Harrington (1807), whom he describes as “very lively” and she similarly offers a memorable description of him in a letter to Margaret Ruxton of September 27th (she deems Wordsworth to possess a “good philosophical bust”). Beyond his descriptions of Irish literary circles, though, his letters offer fascinating observations of daily life. His correspondence preceding his trip betrays a concern with the social situation in Ireland which his tour seems also in part intended to explore. In particular he appears particularly moved by an incident at St Kevin’s pool in Glendalough, a place Wordsworth calls the Seven Churches. A monastic settlement dating from the sixth century but ruined in 1398, Glendalough is a place of pilgrimage, and Wordsworth was greatly affected by a woman carrying her sick child to St Kevin’s pool hoping that this would cure its lameness, a ritual she had already performed three times. The fervent devotion of the Irish Catholic population is something that proves particularly striking for Wordsworth in his letters.

 

Maria Edgeworth

Maria Edgeworth

As historical sources, then, the letters are rich in material reflecting both the social situation and, quite literally, the lay of the land. He describes visits to places that no longer exist, such as Shanbally Castle, and provides descriptions of places that have undergone major change since 1829. Strabane, for instance, he describes as “a thriving town.” He mentions in his letters to Dora and Dorothy on numerous occasions maps of Ireland held at Rydal Mount, including a silk map he had received from Caesar Otway, and when describing locations he suggests they look to these maps to gain an idea of where these places are. This tendency recalls Wordsworth’s interest in maps and guides, embodied by his guide to the Lakes which upon return from his Irish tour he sent to Hamilton for publication in Ireland. We might well therefore read through Wordsworth’s letters something akin to his own guide to Ireland.

 

Wordsworth’s connections with Ireland go further, and in fact predate his friendship with Hamilton and his 1829 tour. In 1793, Wordsworth made an application to the Earl of Belmore in Enniskillen for the post of tutor to the young Somerset Lowry-Corry, the Earl’s son. By the time Wordsworth’s application reached the Lowry-Corrys, however, the position had already been filled. Given Wordsworth’s profound appreciation of the Fermanagh lakes expressed in his letters, had this application been successful perhaps Wordsworth’s legacy would be very different, perhaps he would have been an ‘Irish’ poet, the Lakes of Northern England replaced in his poetic imagination by the lakes of Northern Ireland…

 

The ‘Re-Imagining Ireland with Wordsworth’ project explores that possibility. Drawing on Wordsworth’s Irish connections, and his letters in particular, the project presents Ireland through Wordsworth’s eyes, with a view to promoting an artistic understanding of Irish natural beauty whilst at the same time highlighting a cultural relevance of Wordsworth that may have previously gone unnoticed. A travelling exhibition will follow his route through Ulster, accompanied by a range of events that will consider Wordsworth in multiple different ways and in varying Irish contexts. The collaborative project is a joint venture funded by the AHRC’s Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership, the Graduate School of Queen’s University Belfast, and the Department of Communities of Northern Ireland, in association with the Wordsworth Trust. To learn more about the project, see our website, which includes a digital map of Ireland chronicling Wordsworth’s tour through his own words.

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality.   Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More

Percy Bysshe Shelley: 'Atheist. Lover of Humanity. Democrat'

Page 1

by Graham Henderson
 
This is how how Shelley described himself, during a visit to Chamonix and Mont Blanc in mid July 1816, in the company of Mary Godwin (later his wife), and her stepsister Claire Clairmont. According to his biographer, James Bieri, he “made at least four such registry inscriptions, including two hotels in Chamonix, an inn perhaps at Sallanches, and the mountain hut on the Montenvers.”
Of these, by far the most important has become the entry made at the Hotel de Villes de Londres, for on 19 July 2016 (almost exactly 200 years later), the University of Cambridge made a startling and almost completely unheralded announcement. They were in possession of a page from the register of a hotel in Chamonix: not just any page and not just any hotel. The hotel was the Hotel de Villes de Londres and the page in question was the one upon which Percy Bysshe Shelley had inscribed his famous declaration that he was an atheist, a lover of humanity and a democrat. Not a copy of it….the page. See their release here.
No reproduction or copy of this page has ever, to my knowledge been made available to the public. Evidence for what Shelley wrote was based almost exclusively on the reports of other people, such as Southey, Byron, or the Lutheran minister, John Pye Smith. In legal terms this is called “hearsay” and is notoriously unreliable. This new discovery will change, I think, the way the crucial incident in Shelley’s life is interpreted. A low resolution copy of the register page was provided on line by the University of Cambridge and appears below:

Page from hotel register, University of Cambridge

Page from hotel register, 23 July 1816, Trinity College, Cambridge


 
The Greek words for “atheist”, “lover of humanity” and “democrat” appear in the middle of the page on the right hand side.  Many people have sought to diminish the importance of these words and the circumstances under which they were written. Some modern scholars have even ridiculed him. I think his choice of words was very deliberate and central to how he defined himself and how wanted the world to think of him. They may well have been the words he was most famous (or infamous) for in his lifetime.
 
Shelley’s atheism and his political philosophy was at the heart of his poetry and his revolutionary agenda (yes, he had one). Our understanding of Shelley is impoverished to the extent we ignore or diminish its importance.
 
The Priory, Gabriel Charton, Chamonix, 1821

The Priory, Gabriel Charton, Chamonix, 1821


 
Mont Blanc was a routine stop on the so-called ‘Grand Tour’. In fact, so many people visited it, that you will find Shelley in his letters bemoaning the fact that the area was “overrun by tourists.” With the Napoleonic wars only just at an end, English tourists were again flooding the continent. While in Chamonix, many would have stayed at the famous Hotel de Villes de Londres, as did Shelley. As today, the lodges and guest houses of those days maintained a ‘visitor’s register’; unlike today those registers would have contained the names of a virtual who’s who of upper class society. RyanAir was not flying English punters in for day visits. What you wrote in such a register was guaranteed to be read by literate, well connected aristocrats – even if you penned your entry in Greek – as Shelley did.
 
The words Shelley wrote in the register of the Hotel de Villes de Londres (under the heading “Occupation”) were (as translated by PMS Dawson): “philanthropist, an utter democrat, and an atheist”. The words were, as I say, written in Greek. The Greek word he used for philanthropist was philanthropos tropos. The origin of the word and its connection to Shelley is very interesting. Its first use appears in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, the Greek play which Shelley was ‘answering’ with his masterpiece, Prometheus Unbound. Aeschylus used his newly coined word philanthropos tropos (humanity loving) to describe Prometheus. The word was picked up by Plato and came to be much commented upon, including by Bacon, one of Shelley’s favourite authors. Bacon considered philanthropy to be synonymous with ‘goodness’, which he connected with Aristotle’s idea of ‘virtue’.
 
What do the words Shelley selected mean and why is it important? First of all, most people today would shrug at his self-description. Today, most people share democratic values and they live in a secular society where even in America as many as one in five people are unaffiliated with a religion; so claiming to be an atheist is not exactly controversial today. As for philanthropy, well, who doesn’t give money to charity, and in our modern society, the word philanthropy has been reduced to this connotation. I suppose many people would assume that things might have been a bit different in Shelley’s time – but how controversial could it be to describe yourself in such a manner? Context, it turns out, is everything. In his time, Shelley’s chosen labels shocked and scandalised society and I believe they were designed to do just that. Because in 1816, the words ‘philanthropist, democrat and atheist’ were fighting words.
 
Shelley would have understood the potential audience for his words, and it is therefore impossible not to conclude that Shelley was being deliberately provocative. In the words of P.M.S. Dawson, he was “nailing his colours to the mast-head”. As we shall see, he even had a particular target in mind: none other than Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Word of the note spread quickly throughout England. The Lutheran Minister John Pye Smith acidly reported to Shelley’s distant relatives, Sir John and Lady Shelley, that he was sure they did not want to be “confounded with a Mr. Percy Bysshe Shelley, of Sussex, & his lady; whose names we had seen in every Inn’s Register since we left Cluse, with the horrid avowal of atheism industriously subjoined.’
 
 
As you can see from the image of the register, Shelley’s signature has been underlined twice – but by whom? Well, our biographies do tell us something about this. For generations, biographers, relying on a claim made by Byron, have believed that Byron, upon encountering Shelley’s entry some weeks later, scribbled out Shelley’s name. He claims to have done this to protect his friend’s reputation. Biographers have universally taken Byron at his word, David Ellis remarks that, “[Byron] must have felt that Shelley was too young to understand fully what a red rag to a bull of English public opinion the word ‘atheist’ would be, and how quickly news of its offensive presence would be spread…” . Personally I find that assertion ridiculous. For his part, Richard Holmes concludes, “Byron…immediately felt obliged to cross it out as indelibly as possible for Shelley’s own protection.”  Again, ridiculous. The Byron I know was hardly solicitous of the reputations of others and relished controversy. Well, we now have evidence that Byron’s story may well have been false.
 
 
What we see when we look at the register is that quite apart from scribbling Shelley’s name out, someone (and who else but Byron) underlined it not once but twice. Professor Wilson would seem to agree:

“Lord Byron, no stranger to scandal, claimed to have struck out one of Shelley’s inscriptions. There are grounds to think that this is Byronic hyperbole and that it was Byron who in fact underlined, rather than struck out, Shelley’s name in the hotel register”.

Now many motives may be ascribed to this if we are to assume that the underlining is Byron’s. One could conclude, charitably, that Byron delighted in his friend’s provocative action and sought to draw attention to it. On the other hand it could have been a crude attempt to compound what he might have viewed as Shelley’s indiscretion. We can’t forget that for all of his bluster, Byron was anything but an atheist or even deist. Given that fact that he appears to have lied about his action, the latter conclusion seems the more likely. There is something of an irony bound up in this. If in fact Byron did this to attract unwelcome attention to Shelley’s provocative statements, he actually would have played right into Shelley’s hand – for Shelley would have most likely thanked Byron for helping to draw attention to his declaration.
 
While Shelley was not a household name in England, he was the son of a baronet whose patron was one of the leading Whigs of his generation, Lord Norfolk. Behaviour such as this was bound to and did attract attention. Many would also have remembered that Shelley had been actually expelled from Oxford for publishing a notoriously atheistical tract, The Necessity of Atheism.
Necessity
 
While his claim to be an atheist attracted most of the attention, the other two terms were freighted as well. ‘Democrat’ then had the connotations it does today but such connotations in his day were clearly inflammatory (the word “utter” acting as an exclamation mark). The term ‘philanthropist’ is more interesting because at that time it did not merely connote donating money, it had overt political and even revolutionary overtones. To be an atheist or a philanthropist or a democrat, and Shelley was all three, was to be fundamentally opposed to the ruling order and Shelley wanted the world to know it.
 
What made Shelley’s atheism even more likely to occasion outrage was the fact that English tourists went to Mont Blanc specifically to have a religious experience occasioned by their experience of the ‘sublime’. Indeed, Timothy Webb speculates that at least one of Shelley’s entries might have been in response to another comment in the register which read, “Such scenes as these inspires, then, more forcibly, the love of God”. If not in answer to this, then most certainly Shelley was responding to Coleridge, who, in his head note to “Hymn Before Sunrise, in the Vale of Chamouni,” had famously asked, “Who would be, who could be an Atheist in this valley of wonders?” In a nutshell Shelley’s answer was: “I could!!!”

Mont Blanc, 16 May 2016, Graham Henderson

Mont Blanc, 16 May 2016, Graham Henderson


 
The reaction to Shelley’s entry was predictably furious and focused almost exclusively on Shelley’s choice of the word ‘atheist’. For example, this anonymous comment appeared in the London Chronicle:

Mr. Shelley is understood to be the person who, after gazing on Mont Blanc, registered himself in the album as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Atheist; which gross and cheap bravado he, with the natural tact of the new school, took for a display of philosophic courage; and his obscure muse has been since constantly spreading all her foulness of those doctrines which a decent infidel would treat with respect and in which the wise and honourable have in all ages found the perfection of wisdom and virtue.

Shelley’s decision to write the inscription in Greek was even more provocative because as Webb points out, Greek was associated with “the language of intellectual liberty, the language of those courageous philosophers who had defied political and religious tyranny in their allegiance to the truth.”
 
The concept of the ‘sublime’ was one of the dominant (and popular) subjects of the early 19th Century. It was widely believed that the natural sublime could provoke a religious experience and confirmation of the existence of the deity. This was a problem for Shelley because he believed that religion was the principle prop for the ruling (tyrannical) political order. As Cian Duffy in Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime has suggested, Prometheus Unbound, like much of his other work, “was concerned to revise the standard, pious or theistic configuration of that discourse [on the natural sublime] along secular and politically progressive lines….” Shelley believed that the key to this lay in the cultivation of the imagination. An individual possessed of an ‘uncultivated’ imagination, would contemplate the natural sublime in a situation such as Chamonix Valley, would see god at work, and this would then lead inevitably to the “falsehoods of religious systems.” In Queen Mab, Shelley called this the ‘deifying’ response and believed it was an error that resulted from the failure to ‘rightly’ feel the ‘mystery’ of natural ‘grandeur’:

“The plurality of worlds, the indefinite immensity of the universe is a most awful subject of contemplation. He who rightly feels its mystery and grandeur is in no danger of seductions from the falsehoods of religious systems or of deifying the principle of the universe” (Notes to Queen Mab).

He believed that a cultivated imagination would not make this error.
 
This view was not new to Shelley, it was shared, for example, by Archibald Alison whose 1790 Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste made the point that people tended to ‘lose themselves’ in the presence of the sublime. He concluded, “this involuntary and unreflective activity of the imagination leads intentionally and unavoidably to an intuition of God’s presence in Creation”. Shelley believed this himself and theorised explicitly that it was the uncultivated imagination that enacted what he called this “vulgar mistake.” This theory comes to full fruition in Act III of Prometheus Unbound where, as Duffy notes,

“…their [Demogorgon and Asia] encounter restates the foundational premise of Shelley’s engagement with the discourse on the natural sublime: the idea that natural grandeur, correctly interpreted by the ‘cultivated imagination, can teach the mind politically potent truths, truths that expose the artificiality of the current social order and provide the blueprint for a ‘prosperous’, philanthropic reform of ‘political institutions’.

Shelley’s atheism was thus connected to his theory of the imagination and we can now understand why his ‘rewriting’ of the natural sublime was so important to him.
 
If Shelley was simply a non-believer, this would be bad enough, but as he stated in the visitor’s register he was also a ‘democrat’; and by democrat Shelley really meant republican, and modern analysts have now actually placed him within the radical tradition of philosophical anarchism. Shelley made part of this explicit when he wrote to Elizabeth Hitchener stating,

“It is this empire of terror which is established by Religion, Monarchy is its prototype, Aristocracy may be regarded as symbolizing its very essence. They are mixed – one can now scarce be distinguished from the other.”

This point is made again in Queen Mab where Shelley asserts that the anthropomorphic god of Christianity is the “the prototype of human misrule”  and the spiritual image of monarchical despotism. In his book Romantic Atheism, Martin Priestman points out that the corrupt emperor in Laon and Cythna is consistently enabled by equally corrupt priests. As Paul Foot avers in Red Shelley, “Established religions, Shelley noted, had always been a friend to tyranny”. Dawson for his part suggests, “The only thing worse than being a republican was being an atheist, and Shelley was that too; indeed, his atheism was intimately connected with his political revolt”.
Three explosive little words that harbour a universe of meaning and significance. The Cambridge document has yielded other surprises and mysteries such as quote from Palms 14.1 (who inserted it?) and a third name (Claire’s?) that was scratched out (by whom and why?). You can find more on the hotel register by following this link to my article at www.grahamhenderson.ca:
References
Bieri, James. Percy Bysshe Shelley; A Biography. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008
Dawson, P.M.S. The Unacknowledged Legislator: Shelley and Politics. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.
Ellis, David. Byron in Geneva, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press,( 2011
Holmes, Richard. Shelley: The Pursuit Weidenfield. London: and Nicolson, 1974
 
This post originally appeared on Graham’s Shelley blog http://www.grahamhenderson.ca/shelley/
 
Graham HendersonGraham Henderson is President of Music Canada, an association that promotes the interests of the Canadian music community.  He is Chair of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and in 2013 he was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.  He is a lifelong student of Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as of Canadian, Russian and Ancient history – Cicero is a favourite. Graham graduated from the University of Guelph with a double major in English Literature and Fine Art History. He completed his Masters at the University of Toronto, writing on ‘Prometheus Unbound and the Problem of Opposite’.

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality.   Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More

8th July 1822 and the burning, reckless heart of Shelley

Page 1

by Ellen O’Neill

It is to-day a hundred years since that sultry afternoon when Edward John Trelawny, aboard Byron’s schooner-yacht Bolivar, fretted anxiously in Leghorn Harbour and watched the threatening sky. The thunderstorm that broke about half-past six lasted only twenty minutes, but it was long enough to drown both Shelley and his friend Williams. . . .

Christopher Morley The Powder of Sympathy

One of my favourite finds from a used book store is Christopher Morley’s The Powder of Sympathy, a 1923 collection of essays from this true man of letters, best known as the author of Kitty Foyle (the film version of which is famous for Ginger Rogers’s only Academy Award for Best Actress), and the godfather of bloggers.

The title of one essay is simply “July 8, 1822,” the date that Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned off the coast of Tuscany. Morley was struck that 1922 was 100 years hence, and decided to commemorate the date of the great Romantic poet’s death by copying out part of Edward John Trelawny’s description of the cremation of Shelley’s body on the Italian coast from his indispensable Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron. And so I follow suit, on our July 8, 2016. It is quite a graphic description, so let’s pick it up with

Byron could not face the scene; he withdrew to the beach and swam off to the Bolivar. Leigh Hunt remained in the carriage. The fire was so fierce as to produce a white heat on the iron, and to reduce its contents to grey ashes. The only portions that were not consumed were some fragments of bones, the jaw, and the skull, but what surprised us all, was that the heart remained entire. In snatching this relic from the fiery furnace, my hand was severely burnt.

Morely in 1922 was able to say “There are those still living who have shaken the hard, quick hand that snatched Shelley’s heart from the coals.”

The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Édouard Fournier, Liverpool Walker Gallery

The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Édouard Fournier (1889), Liverpool Walker Gallery

We in 2016 can make no claim. Trelawny gave the heart to Mary Shelley, and it was found among her things when she died and buried with her at St. Peter’s Church, Bournemouth. So while Shelley ashes are over in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, his heart is in England.

Morley’s other personal commemoration was to reread Francis Thompson’s essay entitled “Shelley,” “which remains in our memory as a prismatic dazzle of metaphor.” That’s one thing to call it. Francis Thompson is an odd, ascetic figure on the literary landscape whom I wrote about because he is on the list of Jack the Ripper suspects. His Shelley essay is here [God bless the Gutenberg Project and all who partake.] It is dense, baroque, almost insanely passionate, and brilliant.

Shelley’s work has, of course, inspired great passion from the actual greats. Here is Yeats: “I have re-read Prometheus Unbound, which I had hoped my fellow-students would have studied as a sacred book, and it seems to me to have an even more certain place than I had thought among the sacred books of the world.”

Morely muses upon a weekend meditation on Shelley and “what he still means to us.” A fair question in 1922, even more so in 2016. What Morely did not have in his day was epic television. Yeats was brought into the pop culture consciousness through The Sopranos and A.J. studying “The Second Coming” at college. And Shelley’s “Ozymandias” had a huge resurgence because Moira Walley-Beckett built season 5, episode 14 of Breaking Bad around it. These guys were cultural rebels, I think they would have liked this eschalon of TV, breathing new life and generations into their work.

But on this 194th anniversary of Shelley’s death by drowning, “Ozymandias” and its decay is not the voice to listen to. It’s Morley himself, in his closing thought about the poet and what he brings into our lives:

“Though lulled long ago by the blue Mediterranean, that burning, reckless heart survives to us little corrupted by time–survives as a symbol of poetic energy superior to the common routines of life.”

And we’ll follow Yeats into Prometheus Unbound to see that burning, feverish heart for a momentary break from our daily routine:

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.

This post first appeared on Ellen’s blog https://mapeel.blogspot.co.uk/
Ellen O'NeillEllen O’Neill blogs cultural, literary, and travel pieces as M.A.Peel. She is the Creative Director at The Paley Center for Media in NYC, a judge for the Webby Awards, and a thwarter of diabolical masterminds.

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality.   Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More

Review: The Frankenstein exhibition in Geneva

Page 1

by Anna Mercer
In June 2016 I spent five days in Geneva and south east France, travelling in the footsteps of the Shelleys (the details of which – including the Shelleys’ experience, and my own experience, of the Mer de Glace – will be a future blog). On the third day I met Professor David Spurr from the University of Geneva at the Bodmer Foundation Library and Museum. Spurr had kindly agreed to show us around the current exhibition: Frankenstein: Creation of Darkness, which he curated. As my partner and I drove across the border from France into Switzerland, and around the beautiful Cologny area of Geneva, we caught a glimpse of Mont Blanc in the distance, a momentous sight; our trip to Chamonix the day before had been so cloudy, rainy and misty that it had seemed as if the mountain was determined to hide from our view. We welcomed the sunshine and we arrived at the Bodmer, which is in a stunning location, and well worth a visit. It opened in 1951, and was initially a research library, but in 2003 an exhibition space was opened, which in itself is an amazing piece of architecture.
Bodmer

Spurr’s tour of the Frankenstein exhibition took us through the manuscripts, books and pictures on show as a story of the text’s history and conception, and all the many literary and artistic influences on Frankenstein, as well as those things which have been influenced by it. The exhibition has (of course) been set up to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the writing of Mary Shelley’s iconic novel. The blurb tells us that the exhibition considers ‘the origins of Frankenstein, the perspectives it opens and the questions it raises.’
F Exhib 2

The exhibition provides a journey, in which you firstly encounter the Shelleys’ works, and then the connections within those works to Geneva itself. We are presented with contemporary scenes of Geneva (in order to understand the Swiss town as Mary would have seen it), and the more unchanging forms of the French Alps.

Cologny, view of Geneva from the Villa Diodati by Jean Dubois, late 19th century / Centre d’iconographie genevoise, Bibliothèque de Genève

Cologny, view of Geneva from the Villa Diodati by Jean Dubois, late 19th century / Centre d’iconographie genevoise, Bibliothèque de Genève

These images are placed on the wall alongside a large glass cabinet holding the treasure of the exhibition: the Frankenstein draft notebooks. The pages on show include the section that would become Vol II, Chapter II of the 1818 Frankenstein where Mary Shelley quotes Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘Mutability’. It was exciting to see the original draft of this page, as I often use the manuscript facsimile version in my research. What is fascinating here is that Mary inserts poetry so seamlessly into her dense prose descriptions of Victor’s solitary Alpine travels and fluctuating moods. Moreover, that poetry is composed by her partner Percy Shelley, who then goes over the draft of the novel and makes occasional suggestions to aid her in her task. Within the Frankenstein notebook (which can be also be viewed online at the Shelley-Godwin Archive), you can see how Percy Shelley glosses Mary’s original language, something which is endlessly fascinating.

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly!-yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest. – A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise. – One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same!- For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.

P B Shelley, ‘Mutability’ (1816). Verses 3 and 4 appear in Frankenstein.

Another particular highlight for me was Mary Shelley’s journal – open on the page which shows her first reference to the composition of Frankenstein – ‘write my story’ (24 July 1816). The bicentenary of this journal entry will be celebrated at an upcoming event I am organising at York and the Keats-Shelley House this month. The choice of which pages to display from these hugely important holographs has been executed wonderfully at the Bodmer exhibition. Mary’s journal has no facsimile (although there is a brilliant print edition, edited by Paula R. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert), so to see a volume of it was a powerful reminder that it is a tiny book, heavily worn and containing some of her less decipherable jottings.

The exhibition does not only explore the history of the novel’s author and the scenes that she visited and then used in her text, but also places Frankenstein in a wider literary and socio-political context. As the exhibition explains:

“Mary Shelley’s novel continues to demand attention. The questions it raises remain at the heart of literary and philosophical concerns: the ethics of science, climate change, the technologisation of the human body, the unconscious, human otherness, the plight of the homeless and the dispossessed.”

Some of the exhibits on display are on loan from libraries in the UK, such as the Bodleian and the British Library. Others belong to the Bodmer’s own collection. I was particularly excited to see Mary Shelley’s inscription in the copy of the novel she sent to Lord Byron. This was on sale a while ago at Forbes and eventually went for at least £350,000. She writes: ‘To Lord Byron / from the author’ . Her characteristic modesty is evident here, and to be confronted with this edition reminded me of the complex relationship Mary Shelley actually had with Lord Byron, as she was a major copyist for his works, including The Prison of Chillon and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto III. Also on show at the exhibition is the letter from Lord Byron to John Murray explaining that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein (Murray being the publisher who first rejected the work). Frankenstein was published anonymously on January 1, 1818: Byron’s choice to reveal her authorship here is testament to his respect for Mary Shelley as a writer, and his determination to deliver her the credit she deserves.

The signed copy of Mary Shelley. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus which went on sale for £350,000. Photo: Peter Harrington

The signed copy of Mary Shelley. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus which went on sale for £350,000. Photo: Peter Harrington

Other literary texts from the period are displayed, including Jane Austen’s Emma (which first appeared in 1816), Polidori’s diary (a subjective record of the infamous events at the Villa Diodati in the summer of 1816), and a copy of Fantasmagoriana (the collection which prompted Byron’s decision to announce a ghost-story competition). Other more idiosyncratic items include the weather report from Geneva in the summer of 1816, showing low temperatures of 7-10 degrees: indeed, it was the year without a summer. Considerable attention is also paid to the relics of Frankenstein as a stage production, including the various castings of the creature.

Spurr gave us fantastic anecdote-enforced fragments of the Shelleys’ history and the story of the exhibition, and then took us along to the Villa Diodati (a 5-minute walk), where we were treated to a stroll round the gardens. The house is privately owned, but beautifully cared for (as we were told) in a way that is in keeping with its momentous history.
Diodati now

Diodati now 2

It is worth noting just how well the literary texts were placed on display at the exhibition in Geneva, a difficult feat for any curator, as old books are not as blatantly striking as other forms of artwork. This many Shelley texts have not been on display together since Shelley’s Ghost at the Bodleian.

F Exhib 4
Other non-Shelleyan exhibits include a display of the texts the creature initially reads and learns from: Milton’s Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutach’s Lives, and Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Editions of Rousseau remind the visitor that Lord Byron and the Shelleys were also literary tourists when they first travelled to Switzerland in May/June 1816. The exhibition does a superb job in asserting the powerful contribution and legacy these authors created by composing their own works right there, in Geneva, taking their inspirations from the scenes around them. Moreover, it emphasises the creative stimulation provided by the social environment of reading and intellectual discussion at the Villa Diodati.
F Exhib 3
(Unless mentioned otherwise, all photos are the author’s own).
The Frankenstein exhibition as featured in other articles from the web:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/switzerland/articles/on-the-frankenstein-trail-in-switzerland/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3rvWSR2rhndMTylClzGzTDy/frankenstein-freak-events-that-gave-birth-to-a-masterpiece

This post originally appeared on Anna’s website https://percyandmaryshelley.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/review-of-the-exhibition-frankenstein-creation-of-darkness-in-geneva-summer-2016/
Anna Mercer is an AHRC-funded PhD candidate at the University of York. Her research is on the collaborative literary relationship of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. She is also organising a day conference on the work of Percy and Mary Shelley in London in September 2017. For more details click here

Anna Mercer

Anna Mercer

 

15.07.2018

The enigma of Coleridge

by Edward Platten   When the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, travelled to Great Britain, he met the two poets whose collaborative work Lyrical Ballads has been said to have begun a new age of poetry. The Romantic movement, though it can also be said to have started a while before, certainly rose to prominence […]

Read More
28.06.2018

Re-imagining the Wordsworths III: A host of daffodils, a host of words

by Lucy Stone   ‘It feels as if you’re, when you speak it, as if you’re dancing and swaying in the wind, as if the daffodils were’, one year ten pupil from Keswick School observed, when asked how she felt reading I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud for the sound project Re-Imagining the Wordsworths, a collaboration […]

Read More
14.06.2018

Keats and Constable in Hampstead: Could they have met?

by Don Oldham In the summer of 1819 a moderately successful landscape painter and his ailing wife took a small cottage in Hampstead, then a village to the north of London. The couple were looking for more amenable summer surroundings than their house in Charlotte Street, central London offered, hoping this would contribute to an […]

Read More
04.06.2018

'A deep Romantic chasm': exploring the valley where Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan

by Peter Fiennes   It interests me, the idea that the spirit of a person lingers in a place long after they are gone. You can feel them in their homes, soon after they’ve died (or after they’ve left – we don’t have to kill them off…), although you could say that what we’re sensing […]

Read More
17.05.2018

The Byron effect

by Miranda Seymour Any study of the lives of Lord Byron’s wife and daughter points towards one inescapable conclusion: the enduring power of Byron’s personality.   Annabella Milbanke married Byron in January 1815. Ada, born towards the end of their first turbulent year as a married couple, was only a few weeks old when Lady […]

Read More
01.05.2018

Spring shoots and green peas: the Wordsworths and their kitchen garden

by Gareth Evans Following six months of settled living with his sister Dorothy, one May morning William Wordsworth left Dove Cottage with his brother John to walk through Yorkshire.  Separated from her brothers in early childhood only to be permanently reunited as adults, an understandably emotional Dorothy found ways of coping with what was clearly […]

Read More
16.04.2018

The Gravestone of John Keats: Romancing the Stone

by Ian Reynolds   John Keats died in Rome aged twenty-five on February 23rd, 1821 and is buried at the Cemitero Acattolico—the so-called Protestant Cemetery in Rome (1). Two years later, in the early spring of 1823 his gravestone with epitaph was finally laid at his burial site. (2) Much has been documented about Keats’s […]

Read More
07.04.2018

The winners of the 2018 Wordsworth birthday poem competition

We had another wonderful set of entries this year, on the subject of ‘The child is father of the man’.  We’d like to thank Fiona Sampson, the poet and acclaimed author of The Girl who Wrote Frankenstein, for being this year’s judge, and for very kindly donating two copies of her book to the winner […]

Read More
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