All posts by rachaelmarsay

‘Youth’s Funeral’ by Rupert Brooke

One of the earliest donations of literary manuscripts to the Bodleian Library via the Friends of the Bodleian, founded in 1925, was a fair copy manuscript of Rupert Brooke’s poem ‘Youth’s Funeral’, published as ‘The Funeral of Youth: Threnody’ (shelfmark MS. Don. d. 1). According to the Summary Catalogue, the poem was donated by Mrs G.F. Brooke in 1926.(1)

Fair manuscript copy of Rupert Brooke’s poem, ‘Youth’s Funeral’, 1913, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. d. 1.

Today, Rupert Brooke is possibly best known as a War Poet and is included on the Poets of the First World War memorial in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, alongside fellow poets, Wilfred Owen, Edmund Blunden, and Siegfried Sassoon. ‘The Funeral of Youth’, however, was written in 1913, before the war. In the published version, the poem is described as a threnody, a memorial lament, and is an epitaph for bygone days of youthful innocence. In Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke, Paul Delany suggested Brooke’s inspiration was Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘God’s Funeral’, meditating on the death of belief, which had been published in the Fortnightly Review in 1911. (2) Brooke had met Hardy in Cambridge at a performance of Milton’s masque Comus by the Marlowe Society in 1908 (as well as producing the play, Brooke had played the Attendant Spirit).

Rupert Brooke was born on 3 August 1887 at 5 Hillmorton Road in Rugby, Warwickshire, to William Parker Brooke (1850-1910) and his wife, Ruth Mary Brooke (née Cotterill), the second of three sons. His father was classics tutor and later housemaster of School Field at Rugby School, which Rupert himself attended after studying as a day boy at Hillbrow preparatory school. At Rugby, he won a prize in 1905 for his poem, ‘The Bastille’, and excelled at sport. Brooke went on to read Classics at King’s College, Cambridge between 1906 and 1909. During this period, Brooke embraced various Cambridge groups, including the Apostles (an exclusive discussion group) and the Fabian Society. He also became one of what his friend Virginia Woolf would later call the ‘neo-pagans’, embracing outdoor exercise, vegetarianism, and alternative lifestyles, and having a strong interest in socialism.

Portrait of Rupert Brooke © IWM Q 71073 (IWM Non Commercial Licence)

After he completed his degree, he lived in nearby Grantchester continuing his academic studies and writing. His father died in January 1910 and Rupert went back to Rugby to cover as Deputy Housemaster for a term. His first volume of poetry, entitled Poems, was published in 1911. The following year, he helped Edward Howard Marsh (then Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary) publish the first of his Georgian Poetry series.(3) Brooke contributed several poems to Georgian Poetry 1911-1912, including one of his most famous poems, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, which he had written while away in Berlin.

During 1912, however, Brooke had a nervous breakdown, part precipitated by his complex web of chaste and sexual relationships, and (potentially) confusion over his own sexuality.(4) Early in 1913, Brooke wrote ‘Youth’s Funeral’ whilst staying with his friends, Francis and Frances Cornford, in Cornwall. Later in the year he earned his longed for Fellowship at King’s College and then travelled abroad in order to restore his health, visiting the United States, Canada, and the South Sea Islands. A collection of prose essays of his time abroad was published posthumously as Letters from America in 1916 with an introduction by Henry James.

Rupert returned to England in June 1914 and, soon after war broke out in August, enlisted in the Royal Navy. Though he was at the siege of Antwerp, he saw little action. Shortly after this, he wrote his famous war sonnets, including ‘The Soldier’, which were published in New Numbers in December 1914. Having joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in February 1915, Brooke sailed for Gallipoli, but he died at sea on 23rd April after contracting septicaemia from a mosquito bite. Winston Churchill paid tribute to him in The Times and Lascelles Abercrombie’s obituary in the Morning Post (27 April 1915) quoted from Brooke’s ‘The Funeral of Youth’.(5) Later that year, Brooke’s 1914 and other Poems (including ‘The Funeral of Youth: Threnody’) was published posthumously; his Collected Poems were edited by Edward Marsh, his literary executor, and published with a memoir in 1918.

Binding by Douglas Cockerell for manuscript of Rupert Brooke’s poem, ‘Youth’s Funeral’, 1913, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. d. 1.

As with many of the early Friends of the Bodleian deposits, the manuscript of ‘Youth’s Funeral’ has been finely bound in brown Morocco, in this case by the renowned bookbinder Douglas Cockerell and is encased in a bespoke wooden box. Interestingly, Cockerell was appointed adviser on printing to the Imperial War Graves Commission and he oversaw the printing and binding of the registers of the dead for each war cemetery.(6) Whilst Brooke is commemorated as a war casualty, the circumstances of his death meant he was buried in an isolated grave on the island on Skyros. His friend and fellow solider Denis Browne described Brooke’s burial place as ‘one of the loveliest places on this earth, with grey-green olives round him, one weeping above his head’.(7)

In his introduction to Letters from America, Henry James described Brooke as ‘young, happy, radiant, extraordinarily endowed and irresistibly attaching’. Along with the patriotism of his 1914 sonnets, the image of an innocent young poet tragically killed in the course of war prevailed for many years, an image which was carefully maintained by his friends and literary trustees. In reality, Brooke was a more complex character and, though they made him famous, his war poems only account for a small proportion of his work.

– Rachael Marsay


Footnotes

  1. A little research has shed no light on the identity of Mrs G.F. Brooke, though she was presumably a relation of Rupert’s (there are no candidates in his immediate family, all Rupert’s siblings had died unmarried by the date of the deposit). The Archive of Rupert Brooke is held at King’s College, Cambridge.
  2. Paul Delany, Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke (Montreal/Kingston 2015), p.126-127.
  3. See Great Writers Inspire podcast (University of Oxford), ‘Georgians and Others’ by Dr Stuart Lee.
  4. By this time, Brooke had been romantically involved with Noel Olivier, Katherine (‘Ka’) Laird Cox, Phyllis Gardner and the actress Cathleen Nesbitt. An oral history interview of Cathleen Nesbitt, which touches on her relationship with Rupert Brooke, is available on the Imperial War Museum website.
  5. Quoted in ‘Rupert Brooke (3 August 1887-23 April 1915)’ in Patrick Quinn (ed.), British Poets of The Great War: Brooke, Rosenberg, Thomas: A Documentary Volume, Dictionary of Literary Biography vol. 216, Gale, 2000, p. 5-97.
  6. A. Crawford, ‘Cockerell, Douglas Bennett (1870–1945), bookbinder’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004, online).
  7. Rupert Brooke and Edward Howard Marsh, The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke : With a Memoir (1918).

 


Please note that following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

Frankenstein Revisited at the Bodleian Libraries

The Abinger Papers (manuscripts of the Shelley and Godwin families, including drafts of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) can undoubtedly be counted among some of the greatest treasures of the Bodleian Libraries and, last year, I was invited by the Bodleian Libraries’ Education Team to take part in three study days bringing the text of Frankenstein to life (as it were).

The Bodleian Libraries held two successful Frankenstein Revisited study days for KS4 and KS5 pupils from local schools in November 2019, building upon the success of three study days originally held in 2018 as part of the bicentenary celebrations of the publication of Frankenstein. Due to popular demand, a further study day was held in January 2020, but in a slightly different format. The study days were funded by the Helen Hamlyn Trust and, in total, 163 students from seven local state schools attended. The format of the days was designed to be varied and tie in with the curriculum for English Literature.

The November study days included two half-hour university style lectures (for the KS5 pupils) and a contemporary theatrical performance (‘The Two-Body Problem’ by Louis Rogers, performed by Martha Skye Murphy) followed by three ‘hands-on’ sessions when the students were split into smaller groups: one with live demonstrations of historical artefacts at the History of Science Museum, one looking at original Shelley-Godwin family manuscripts at the Weston Library, and one textual editing session focussing on the original manuscript of Frankenstein.

The creature comes to life: page from Mary Shelley’s manuscript of Frankenstein, with annotations by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Abinger c. 56, fol. 21r

I led the half-hour sessions with the original family manuscripts to small groups of students: though this meant running the same session several times back to back, the students all got the opportunity to get close-up to the manuscripts. Once the groups had settled down, I began a roughly chronological journey through the manuscripts charting the life of Mary Shelley: beginning with the last notes from her mother Mary Wollstonecraft to her father William Godwin on the day of her birth, through to the journals chronicling her elopement with Percy Bysshe Shelley and the death of their first child, the manuscript of Frankenstein and finishing with Percy Shelley’s ‘drowned’ notebook.

I tried to get the groups to think about the nature of a manuscript and what they thought were the major differences between a copy of the printed text and the manuscript written by Mary Shelley. I also raised the question of manuscript survival and the memorial nature of many of the items, reverently kept in turn by surviving members of the family. Percy Shelley’s water-damaged notebook also raised questions of the physicality of items: the groups were generally able to surmise what had caused the damage to the notebook and some of the older pupils were able to second-guess before I explained that it was on board Percy’s boat when he died.

Overall, the sessions were successful and we received lots of positive feedback from the students including: ‘Fascinating to see Mary Shelley’s more personal thoughts and the original, unedited tale’. The students wrote that the sessions made them ‘feel more engaged to the text’ and found it ‘amazing to be close to the story so physically’. Perhaps most importantly, it was ‘surreal and completely different to school’.

– Rachael Marsay

More information about items in the Abinger and Shelley collections can be found via Shelley’s Ghost, the Bodleian Libraries’ online exhibition, Digital Bodleian, and also The Bodleian Libraries Podcasts (BODcasts).

A longer version of this blog post was originally published on the Archives for Learning and Education Section of the Archives and Records Association’s blog on 10th April 2020.

Please note that, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are closed until further notice. Please check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

Lost Leader: The Archive of Mick Imlah

The catalogue of the archive of the poet Mick Imlah is now available online.*

Michael Ogilvie Imlah, better known as Mick Imlah, was born with his twin sister on 26th September 1956 in Lewisham Hospital to James and Bathia Imlah. Whilst James and Bathia both originally came from Aberdeen, the Imlah family relocated from Bromley in Kent shortly after the twins’ birth to Milngavie near Glasgow, where Mick attended the local primary school.

After a decade or so, the family moved back to Kent and Mick attended Dulwich College from 1968. Whilst at Dulwich he wrote poems as well as a short stories for the school magazine The Alleynian, one of which was inspired by Kafka. His early notebooks, started around this time, were (like his later ones) full of ideas and drafts for verse alongside copious notes about cricket scores and teams.

Mick went on to read English at Magdalen College, Oxford in 1976 where his tutors included John Fuller and Alan Hollinghurst. At Magdalen, he also indulged his love for sport, playing in both rugby and cricket college teams. After graduating with a first in 1979, Mick embarked upon a DPhil on Arthurian myth in Victorian Poetry; though this was never completed, he held junior lectureships at the college until 1988.

Whilst at Magdalen, Mick continued to write poetry and his first pamphlet of poems, The Zoologist’s Bath and Other Adventures, was printed by Fuller’s Sycamore Press in June 1982. In the title poem, a dramatic monologue, an eccentric Victorian evolutionary theorist is convinced that mankind will return to its origins – the sea – and therefore refuses to get out of the bath, having convinced himself that he is developing a fin. Imlah was a perfectionist and his poems in particular would undergo revision after revision as demonstrated by the multiple notes and drafts of poems in the collection (he later admitted, ‘I revise, much too much’).

In 1983, following in the footsteps of Andrew Motion, Mick became editor of the Poetry Review (a post shared at first with Tracey Warr) until 1986. The same year, Mick resurrected the publication of Oxford Poetry. From 1987 to 1990, Mick took an editorial post at the luxury travel magazine Departures (ironically, having previously never travelled very far).

Birthmarks, Mick’s first main collection of poems, was published in 1988. He left Magdalen for London that same year and became Poetry Editor at Chatto & Windus in 1989, a post he held until 1993. His income was supplemented by writing reviews of fiction, non-fiction, television programmes, and films for the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent on Sunday among others. His reviews were written out long-hand in his neat handwriting, ready for the fax machine.

Mick Imlah’s drafts for the poem ‘Birthmarks’, c.1988, MS. 12919/1. With kind permission of the literary executors of Mick Imlah.

After Birthmarks, poetry took somewhat of a back seat until 1992, when the Times Literary Supplement commissioned Mick to write a poem on the centenary of Tennyson’s death, ‘In Memoriam Alfred Lord Tennyson’. This would go on to become, along with ‘B.V.’ (a poem about the poet James Thomson), the sequence ‘Afterlives of the Poets’ in his final collection of poems.

In 1992 he joined the staff of the Times Literary Supplement and in 1995 succeeded Alan Hollinghurst as Poetry Editor, a post he held until his death. Having generally avoided word processing until now, Mick was finally forced into using a computer for this role.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Mick also worked on biographical entries for The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry (published in 1994); wrote an introduction to Anthony Trollope’s Dr Whortle’s School (1999); co-edited with Robert Crawford The New Penguin Book of Scottish Verse (2000), which also had a profound effect on his own poetry; and published a selection of verse by Alfred Lord Tennyson for Faber and Faber’s ‘Poet to poet’ series (2004). He published a number of new poems in Penguin Modern Poets 3 in 1995 and the Clutag Press printed Diehard in 2006, a taster of poems for his final collection of poems, then still work in progress.

In autumn 2007, Mick was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. His second – and final – collection of poetry, The Lost Leader, which had been at least 10 years in the making, was published in 2008 and won the Forward Prize for best poetry book of the year. Drawing heavily upon his Scottish roots, Mick also paid tribute to his partner and daughters. Mick died in early January 2009, aged 52, and was buried in Ayrshire after a funeral service at Magdalen College.

The archive contains many drafts of verse and prose: much of the material in the archive (especially the notebooks) demonstrate how the different strands of Mick Imlah’s work (poetry, prose, criticism and review) and interests (particularly cricket) were inextricably entwined. Similarly, there is evidence that Imlah’s notes written at college and university were re-used and re-cycled throughout his career.

– Rachael Marsay

A recording of Mick Imlah reading his poem ‘Muck’ (from The Lost Leader), recorded in 2008 as part of the Archipelago Poetry Evening at the Bodleian Library, can be heard as part of The Bodleian Libraries (BODcasts) series.

*Please note that this collection is not currently accessible to readers as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

New catalogue: papers of Edmund Blunden

The catalogue for a collection of letters and papers relating to the poet Edmund Blunden is now available online.*

Perhaps best remembered for being a war poet, Edmund Blunden is commemorated alongside fellow war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Many of his war poems, however, were written in retrospect and have the added poignancy of being written by an author over whose entire remaining life the First World War cast a long shadow. His poetry, like that of his literary hero John Clare, often evoked nature and explored how the natural world was affected by the devastating effects of war.

Born in London on 1st November 1896, the eldest of nine children, Edmund’s formative years were spent in Yalding, Kent. He attended Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, Sussex. When he left school in 1915, he joined the Royal Sussex Regiment as a Second Lieutenant and fought on the front line. His war years were not without distinction and he was awarded the Military Cross in 1917. He would later write about his experiences in his acclaimed prose work, Undertones of War, published in 1930.

During the last year of the war, when on camp in Suffolk, he met, fell in love with, and married Mary Daines, a local 19-year-old girl. Their first child, Joy, was born the following year but tragically died after only a few weeks. Joy’s death was to haunt him for the rest of his life. Mary carefully kept the letters Edmund sent her during their courtship when he was away with military duties; as she requested, however, her own love letters to him have not survived.

Edmund Blunden and Mary Blunden (née Daines), by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1920 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

After demobilisation in 1919, Edmund started studying at The Queen’s College, Oxford but this was cut short, partly for financial reasons. He travelled alone to Buenos Aires in 1922 and then accepted the post of professor of English at the Imperial University of Tokyo in 1924. Both times he left Mary and his family behind, their daughter Mary Clare having been born in 1920 and a son John Clare in 1922. Edmund, always a prolific correspondent, sent home copious letters, postcards, and Japanese prints, which Mary and later Mary Clare kept carefully. However, the strain of living apart took its toll on an increasingly fragile relationship. Edmund returned home in 1927 and the couple were divorced in 1931.

Despite an inauspicious start at Oxford, Edmund became Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Merton College, Oxford between 1931 and 1947. In these years he met and married the writer, Sylva Norman (née Nahabedian). The marriage, perhaps based more on intellectual need than compatibility, was short lived. Shortly after the marriage was dissolved in 1945, he married Claire Margaret Poynting, a young teacher and Oxford graduate, who shared his love of literature and cricket. They had four daughters.

Edmund returned twice again to the Far East – firstly in a diplomatic role between 1947 and 1950, before returning for a longer period as Professor of English Literature at the University of Hong Kong between 1954 and 1964. This time, though, he took his entire family with him.

Publicly acknowledged for his works to literature, in 1951 he was made a CBE, received the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry in 1956, and was made a companion of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962. Upon his retirement in 1964, the family returned to Suffolk. Though his health was deteriorating, Edmund Blunden was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1966, a post he had to resign after two years. He died at his home in Long Melford in 1974 aged 77.

The collection contains an extensive series of correspondence, dating from 1918 to the 1960s, mainly comprising letters sent from Edmund Blunden to his first wife Mary. The collection also includes commonplace books, scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings, various papers and correspondence relating to biographies, and papers relating to Mary Blunden.

– Rachael Marsay

*Please note that the collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

New catalogue: Papers of C. Day-Lewis and his wife Jill Balcon

The catalogue of the poet and novelist C. Day-Lewis and his wife, Jill Balcon, is now complete and available online via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts.* These papers were generously donated by Daniel Day-Lewis and Tamasin Day-Lewis to the Bodleian Library in 2012.

C. Day-Lewis was Poet Laureate between 1968 and 1972; his earliest collection of poems, Beechen Vigil, was published in 1925, but the publication of Transitional Poem in 1929 saw Day-Lewis’s true emergence into the poetry world. Along with W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Louis MacNeice, he became one of the influential young poets of the 1930s (perhaps unfairly given the collective name of ‘MacSpaunday’ by Roy Campbell). For some years a member of the communist party, his early poetry collections, including Magnetic Mountain (1933), reflected his left-wing political views. In 1934, Day-Lewis also wrote a manifesto, A Hope for Poetry, claiming the young poets of the generation to be the direct descendants of the previous generation of poets, in particular Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wilfred Owen, and T.S. Eliot.

With a young family to support, Day-Lewis also turned his hand to writing detective fiction under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake. A Question of Proof, published in 1935, was the first of twenty Blake novels featuring the detective Nigel Strangeways. The success of the Blake novels allowed Day-Lewis to give up teaching to become a full-time writer. The novels achieved global popularity and were translated into several languages including Polish, Finnish, and Japanese.

Cecil Day-Lewis, by Howard Coster, bromide print, 1954, NPG x1808 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Day-Lewis worked for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War. In 1941, he began an affair with the novelist Rosamond Lehmann which was to last several years. After the war, Day-Lewis took up a part-time position at the publisher Chatto & Windus, a role he maintained until the end of his life; his autobiography, The Buried Day (1960), was published by them.

In 1948, Day-Lewis met Jill Balcon, a young actress and the daughter of the Ealing film producer Michael Balcon. Despite family opposition (Day-Lewis was still married to his first wife at the time), the relationship flourished and the pair married in 1951. They had two children, the writer Tamasin Day-Lewis and the actor Daniel Day-Lewis. The family moved to Greenwich in 1957.

C. Day-Lewis was awarded a CBE in the 1950 King’s Birthday Honours and was elected Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford in early 1951. In 1964, he took up the post of the Charles Eliot Norton Chair in Poetry at Harvard. Both Day-Lewis and Jill Balcon championed the reading of poetry and literature and were active members of the Apollo Society along with Stephen and Natasha Spender, and Peggy Ashcroft.

Draft autograph manuscript of poem by C. Day-Lewis, ‘At East Coker’, n.d. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 6681/38. By kind permission of the estate of C. Day-Lewis.

Just before C. Day-Lewis’s death, the couple filmed a television series entitled A Lasting Joy at their home in Greenwich exploring some of Day-Lewis’s favourite poems. Day-Lewis died at the home of his friends, Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard in May 1972, composing poetry almost until the end. He was buried in Stinsford, Dorset, not far from his literary hero, Thomas Hardy.

Jill Balcon was a successful actress and broadcaster in her own right, becoming for many people the voice of George Eliot. After her husband’s death, Jill continued to act in both radio and film productions. She moved to a cottage in Steep, Petersfield and became the neighbour of Alec Guiness. She worked hard to promote Day-Lewis’s poetic legacy, editing both Posthumous Poems and The Complete Poems. She died in July 2009 and was buried near her husband in Stinsford.

The collection includes literary manuscripts, including early drafts, of Day-Lewis’s poetry and prose. The collection also contains photographs and audio recordings, alongside a wealth of professional and personal correspondence demonstrating their wide connections to the worlds of literature, drama and scholarship.

-Rachael Marsay

*Please note that this collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

Explosions and ‘dull domestic details’ in the Edgeworth Papers

As mentioned in our August blog and the recent blog post about the physician Henry Holland, the Bodleian Libraries acquired a collection of letters last year which included letters between Maria Edgeworth and Henry Holland and which has now been fully catalogued. In his memoirs, Recollections of Past Life (1868), Henry Holland recalls how he became acquainted with Maria on a visit to Ireland in 1809, after which they maintained an ‘unbroken and affectionate correspondence for more than forty years’ that would have ‘formed a volume’ in itself.

Sir Henry Holland, Bart., M.D., F.R.S., D.C.L., Oxon, &c., &c from Barraud & Jerrard, ‘The medical profession in all countries, containing photographic portraits from life’, 1873-74 (London) (image from U.S. National Library of Medicine Digital Collections)

Holland noted in that same memoir that he admired Maria’s letters for their intellectual ‘discrimination and ability’. These characteristics are evident in her letter to Henry Holland dated 25th February 1820 (MS. 16087/1). Here too we see a lively variety of everyday domestic details and ambitious intellectual forays into discussion of contemporary literature and politics on an international scale. Writing from the home of her beloved Aunt Margaret Ruxton at Blackcastle near Dublin, Maria begins with updates on the ailments of her step-aunt Charlotte Sneyd and half-sister Fanny, and goes on to describe the visit of her step mother Frances Beaufort to the latter’s parental home in Cork. Just as we have sought to identify interesting material for the readers of our online blog, Maria is anxious not to bore her high-society friend with the humdrum happenings of her daily life in rural Ireland:

And are these dull domestic details all I can tell Dr. Holland who is living in the middle of all that is gay & fashionable and learned and wise, in the scientific, literary, political, and great world in London?

In fact the letter is far from dull. Edgeworth claimed not to have Holland’s ‘intrepid industry nor your art of making eight & forty hours out of the day’. Yet over six pages she certainly makes a good go of it. She crams in her comments on the recently published Ivanhoe (‘a great proof of Walter Scott’s talents’, discussed in last month’s blog), describes her continued labour of correcting the proof sheets of her father’s ill-fated memoirs (‘Till I have corrected the last proof sheet I shall never stir’), and she offers Holland a ‘sunbaked urn’ recently found in an Irish tunnel ‘bones and all’ to satiate his antiquarian interests. Then, Maria turns to current affairs and future continental travel plans:

By a letter from my brother Sneyd [Edgeworth] who
is at Paris we hear that the Duc de
Berri’s assassination [on the 14th Feb] has created much
less sensation there than we could imagine
– If they restrict the press I think it
will fly and in its explosion overturn
the throne – In these days the press /is\ in
an over match for cannon – and It is
an engine far more dangerous to
meddle with than any of the cannon
that are “laying about”

If there be not an explosion or a
revolution in Paris before the end of
next month I shall be there with two
of my sisters Fanny & Harriet

Page of letter from Maria Edgeworth to Henry Holland, 25 Feb 1820, MS. 16087/1

Full transcription of letter from Maria Edgeworth to Henry Holland, 25 Feb 1820, MS 16087/1

Recent events had proven that stifling the freedom of press was dangerous to national order. When Britain had reinstated press censorship as part of the Six Acts following the Peterloo Massacre in the previous year (an event discussed by Maria in another letter), protests erupted across the country. Maria’s shrewd predictions in this letter proved largely correct. The assassination of Charles Ferdinand Duc de Berry (the heir to the French Bourbon throne stabbed by the anti-monarchist Louis Lavel as he left the opera) was indeed used by the French government to validate the reinstatement of press censorship in March 1820. Riots broke out in retaliation against the bill, but were soon quelled by the Royal Guard. This imposition of peace allowed the Edgeworths to proceed with their planned trip to Paris at the end of March 1820 and the Bourbons to cling onto their throne for another decade.

Engraving of The Assassination of the Duke of Berry by Charon, Louis-François (1783-1831?), source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

In the context of the UK’s recent departure from the European Union, Maria’s letter to Henry Holland reminds us of the effects that political events can have at the micro and macrocosmic level: it can mean inconvenient disruptions to carefully planned family holidays, or shake the foundations of an entire nation. Maria’s comments also help to demonstrate that Irish-continental connections were often as strong as, or could serve as a means to strengthen critique of, Anglo-Irish ones.

Much has changed since we started Opening the Edgeworth Papers a year ago and this is our final blog post. Our twitter account and blog posts have allowed us to disseminate our work around the world. Our monthly transcriptions have even appeared on Edgeworthtown’s new town centre mural. We’ve curated a successful exhibition ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ at the Bodleian Library. This month, we had the honour of hosting the second Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture, at which Professor Clíona Ó Gallchoir (University College Cork) delivered a fascinating paper about theatricality in Maria’s works. A recording of the lecture is available online.

Edgeworthtown’s town centre mural. Images courtesy of Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull.

One of the joys, and occasionally challenges, of working on the Edgeworth family is discovering new material that has come to light. Since starting the project a year ago, we’ve had twitter followers send us information and images of previously unknown letters in private collections. Other items have appeared at auction, most notably at the Cotswold Auction Company’s sale this month. This major collection of over thirty of Maria’s previously unknown manuscript notebooks containing drafts of her novels, caches of letters to publishers, and printed books from the Edgeworth library took the field by storm when it dramatically exceeded auctioneers’ modest expectations and reached £147,000: evidence, perhaps, of the revived commercial attraction of one of the nineteenth century’s most successful authors. Thankfully, important lots were purchased by academic institutions, namely Princeton University Library and the National Library of Ireland, which will remain accessible to future generations of scholars.

Although this is our last blog post, this isn’t the last you will hear from the Edgeworth Papers Project team! On Sunday 29th March, we will be holding a masterclass on the Edgeworth Collection as part of the Oxford Literary Festival. The event is being held at the Weston Library Lecture Theatre in Oxford at 12 noon, where we will be talking about a selection of items from the archive. All are welcome, and tickets can be purchased online. You can also continue to follow updates on the project on Twitter @EdgeworthPapers. You can also access further content, including a recorded performance of a manuscript dramatic fragment by Maria, at our Great Writers Inspire Page. We hope that you will continue with us on this journey working on a fascinating collection that is only just beginning to reveal its secrets.

– Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull

Letters of Sir Henry Holland, Society Physician

The Bodleian Library has recently acquired a collection of hitherto largely unpublished and unknown letters closely related to the archive of the Edgeworth Family, which we have explored in the recent blog posts by the Edgeworth Project team.

The collection comprises letters written by the writer Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) to a physician from Knutsford named Peter Holland (1766-1855), along with letters written by Peter’s son Henry Holland (1788-1873) to Maria and another contemporary female writer, Lucy Aikin (1781-1864). The collection also contains many letters written to Peter by Henry, from his early days away from home receiving education in Newcastle to his later days as an eminent society physician and renowned traveller.

Sir Henry Holland, 1st Bt, by Thomas Brigstocke, oil on canvas, exhibited 1860.    NPG 1656     © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Like Maria, Henry Holland fitted neatly into the literary and scientific milieu of the day. The Hollands originally came from Knutsford and had family connections to the potter Josiah Wedgwood as well as to the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell.

Originally interested in a mercantile career, Henry spent time in Liverpool and Glasgow before deciding to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1806. Throughout his life, Henry was very career focused and was always commenting about his professional progress in his letters, particularly to his father. His early letters show a very careful assessment of his future, painting a rather sober portrait of him as a young man. Whilst Henry’s decisions were always carefully calculated, the switch from a mercantile to a medical profession stemmed from his genuine interest in the subject.

His letters from Edinburgh describe his studies in detail to his father. One such letter regards a dissection lecture:

I yesterday heard for the first time a lecture from Dr. Monro Senr; he leaves the greater part of the course to the management of his son, coming down only on extraordinary occasions. The demonstration of the brain he has always reserved to himself, and this was the occasion of his then honouring us with his presence. In good [truth I] felt strongly inclined to wish that he had staid away… From the hurried manner in which he pushed round the dissection [table] one would have supposed he was doing it for a wager; no one individual present had the slight-est opportunity of observing the parts; this was the more mortifying to me, as I had submitted to half an hour’s squeezing in the crowd for the sake of obtaining a front seat. The brain was an excellent one for demonstration, being that of a woman who was hanged the day before for the murder of her husband. (Letter from Henry Holland to Peter Holland, Jan 1807, MS. 16087/4)

Letter from Henry Holland to Peter Holland, Jan 1807, MS. 16087/4.

Full transcription of letter from Henry Holland to Peter Holland, Jan 1807, MS 16087/4

Whilst not one to join in with the exuberant side of student life, Henry certainly embraced what Edinburgh society had to offer in terms of intellectual exchange and mutually congenial company. These were skills he honed to his advantage when he was eventually able to set up his practice in London in 1816. By this time, he had already been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and had cultivated friendships with many of the eminent literary and scientific figures of the day, including Humphry Davy.

Henry peppered his letters to his father with titbits about his patients, particularly those with titles, and did not hesitate to discuss their personal problems. His most prestigious patients included Princess Caroline (then Princess of Wales) on her European tour in 1814. He would later become physician to no less than Queen Victoria (in 1837) and Prince Albert (in 1840). He declined, however, to become the physician of Ali Pasha, to whose court he travelled in 1812.

In his early letters, Henry carefully sets out his earnings. As his career flourished, he worked out he could comfortably work for 10 months of the year and could therefore spend the remaining two months if the year indulging in his other passion – travel.

Letter from Henry Holland to Peter Holland, showing earnings upt to June 1818, MS. 16087/5.

Henry visited Iceland twice (he wrote his thesis on the diseases of the Icelanders) and America eight times, as well as frequently venturing into Europe despite the ongoing threats of war and revolution. He published several works as a result of his travels including Travels in the Ionian Isles, Albania, Thessaly, Macedonia, &c during 1812 and 1813 in 1814, which was well received by the public and cemented his position in society.

In one letter to Maria Edgeworth dated August 1848, he wrote that ‘My fashion is to alternate south & north in successive years; & having taken Egypt last year, I aim at Christiania [Oslo] & Drontheim [Trondheim] in the present autumn’. Henry delighted in the opportunities made by the advent of new ways to travel, particularly by steamship and continued to travel right to the end of his life, latterly accompanied by his son.

Henry Holland was married twice, firstly to Margaret Emma Caldwell (1792-1830) in 1822 and secondly to Saba Smith (1802-1866), the daughter of Revd Sydney Smith, in 1834. He had seven children including Henry Thurstan Holland, first Viscount Knutsford (1825-1914). Henry Holland was made a baronet in April 1853. He died on 27 October 1873, on his 85th birthday, at his home in Brook Street, London.

The full catalogue for the letters can be found via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts online.

-Rachael Marsay

Reading in ‘cold frosty weather’: January 1820 in Edgeworthstown

In 1745, 53-year-old Englishwoman Lady Elizabeth Cathcart married for the fourth time. Her new husband, 35-year-old Colonel Hugh Maguire, was an Irishman from County Fermanagh. Shortly after their marriage, Maguire discovered the true extent of Lady Cathcart’s wealth and, when she would not hand over her jewellery and property, he took her to Ireland and imprisoned her at his home, Tempo House. The story went that it was not until his death, 22 years later, that Lady Cathcart was released. Freedom suited Lady Cathcart: she lived for a further 22 years, dying in 1789. She did not remarry. You can find out more about her story on the BBC website.

Writing in the late 1790s, Maria Edgeworth used Lady Cathcart, her villainous husband and her imprisonment as a model in Castle Rackrent (1800), in which Sir Kit locks up his English Jewish wife for seven years. Like her real-life counterpart, Lady Kit flees her gaol only when her husband dies. Maria recalls Lady Cathcart in a letter to her Aunt Ruxton, written on 21 January 1820, having recently ‘luncheoned’ with Mr Nugent, ‘the son of old Nugent of Kisolla’, who had attended Lady Cathcart back to England following her release:

I fell into discourse with
him concerning olden times & Lady
Cathcart, her jewels &c. I asked if I had
understood his father rightly that she
was very avaricious. “Yes Ma’am but she
“could send very odd presents. She
“sent my father Ma’am some time
“after she returned to England a
“present of a bed side carpet and of
“an old dress which she had worn
“when she was Lady Mayoress she
“said, and which she said was very
“valuable. I remember seeing it &
“fingering it when I was a boy it was
“some shift silk that stood an end with
“silver flowers tarnished, but we thought
“it mighty odd”.

It is an odd story, not least because Maria does not provide any further commentary beyond repeating Nugent’s account. As in Castle Rackrent, the story is left to speak for itself, without a framing narrative perspective. Are we to see Lady Cathcart as an object of ridicule (a miser who overvalues the most tawdry of her possessions) or an object of pity (a victim of trauma trapped in that past where she was confined to an attic room with a prayer book and an old newspaper for company)?

First page of letter from Maria Edgeworth to Margaret Ruxton, 21 January 1820, MS. Eng. Lett. c. 717 fol.64r

Transcription of MS. Eng. Lett. c. 717 fols. 64-65

Maria’s continued interest in Lady Cathcart speaks to her particular interest in incidents from real-life; her novels frequently include sketches of ‘real’ happenings or persons that were known to Maria and her circle. People on the side-lines might rarely make history themselves, but the (younger) Nugent here acts as a kind of informant, from whom Maria can piece together more material. Sometimes, however, marginal figures do get cast centre stage. It should be remembered that Castle Rackrent is narrated by Thady Quirk, the estate’s steward, rather than the landowners themselves. In this same letter, Maria tells her Aunt that ‘In the next Farmers Journal you will see a short tribute to our excellent faithful Mrs Bellamore’. Though by no means as newsworthy as Lady Cathcart (whose obituary, preserving her story for posterity, appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine, August 1789, pp.766-7 among the ‘Obituaries of Considerable Persons, with biographical anecdotes’), Kitty Bellamore had been the family’s longstanding housekeeper. You can see a picture of her in our October blog. The presence of both Lady Cathcart and Mrs Bellamore in this letter reflect Maria’s wide-ranging interests and concerns; in her letters she frequently juxtaposes the tales of women of rank with more domestic and quotidian news about the Edgeworth family – servants and all. And she concludes this letter with a brief enquiry about the health of her aunt’s servant, Molly Coffey.

It is perhaps Maria’s amplifying of all kinds of person and voice that makes Castle Rackrent foundational to the development of both ‘National Tale’ and ‘Historical’ novels. In the ‘deep snow’ and ‘cold frosty weather’ at Edgeworthstown in January 1820, we find Maria, her sisters and aunts reading another novel by an author praised for his development of the ‘National Tale’, Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, which had just been published on 20 December 1819. Maria and Scott had been in correspondence since the publication of Waverley in 1814, and he acknowledged her influence on his writing. Ivanhoe may have triggered a reminiscence of the Cathcart tale and her reworking of it in Castle Rackrent: Scott’s Saxon hero, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, recovers from his wounds in a tournament due to the tender ministrations of a Jewish healer, Rebecca. He in turn rushes to fight for Rebecca when she claims the right to be tried for witchcraft by combat. English, Jewish and Irish onomastic variants seem to meet and mingle in the author’s imagination in this letter: Anglo-Saxon brewer’s daughter Lady Cath(cart), the fictional Jewess Lady Kit and the Irish Kitty Bellamore.

Eugène Delacroix, Rebecca and the Wounded Ivanhoe, 1823, Oil on Canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The letter tells us a little about reading at Edgeworthstown House, as the volumes of Ivanhoe moved among the Edgeworth family members prompting imaginative engagements and correspondence beyond their bedchambers:

We have all been reading Ivanhoe, at different times of the day and night each of the three volumes has been in requisition in the different rooms of the invalids & most thankful have we been to the enchanter wizard Walter Scott who with his magic spell and charmed book can banish painful realities & ‘snatch us from ourselves away’.

Here Maria offers an intriguing insight into Edgeworth family reading habits. Thanks to Abigail William’s perceptive book, The Social Life of Reading (2017) we know much about the practices of shared reading in the eighteenth century. Maria details an activity at once shared and separated – voracious appetites for reading shared by all family members who are nonetheless separated from each other due to ill health, meaning that the inhabitants of Edgeworthstown House were reading at different paces and in different places. Maria’s letter does not reveal the nature of the illness of Aunt Charlotte Sneyd (1754-1822), who lived at Edgeworthstown house with her older sister, Mary (the surviving sisters of Richard Lovell Edgeworth’s first two wives, Honora and Elizabeth). Maria’s teenage stepsisters were also bedridden: Lucy (born 1805) was still recovering from back surgery and Sophy (born 1803) was seeing some relief from jaundice through treatment by the ‘blue pill’. Family members stay connected nonetheless through reading. Communal activity continues as volumes are transported around the house from invalid to invalid enabling everyone to participate, albeit in their own time. And each to be transported in imagination by the wizardry of Scott’s writing to distant pasts in England.

Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, 3 volumes (1820). Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, Dunston B (Scott) 114/1-3

Through this letter, Maria extends that community to her Aunt Margaret Ruxton. Concerns about the health of the family extend to a query about the health of her cousin, another Sophy (1776-1839); Maria expresses her relief that her dearest friend and confidante has not ventured out to visit in such inclement weather. She also wants to know whether Margaret has read Ivanhoe too and how far she has got, fearful of revealing too much and spoiling it; she offers her own copy if her Aunt has yet to obtain it. Though she encloses an opinion of Ivanhoe from her acquaintance Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832), a Scottish Whig MP, Maria’s uncertainty as to whether her Aunt has read it leads her to caution, ‘If you are afraid of forestalling you can miss it in the 3rd page’. Maria’s warning here reminds us that epistolary exchanges could be complex: there are parts to skip over, sections marked private, cross-writing that can make the letter hard to follow, and additions, crossings out, and other incidentals that can interrupt the expected ‘flow’ of the letter. So too, authorship is not always straightforward. Though this letter was penned by Maria, she reports tasking Fanny with writing out a note to Sir James. We have seen similar examples of ‘shared authorship’ over the past year; sometimes this has suggested a ‘co-written’ letter by multiple persons, at other times – owing largely to Maria’s weak eyesight – we find her commissioning another (usually Fanny) to act as scribe.

The note written by Fanny to Sir James recalls another episode that we have encountered this year: the seditious meeting bill. The bill was one of a number of bills introduced to the House of Commons following the Peterloo riots, which we wrote about in our August blog. On the day of the first reading of the bill in December 1819, a poem (purportedly written by Maria) was circulated in the House and subsequently printed in The Times. Sir James gave a speech that day in which he referred to ‘an honorable gentleman who had written made the English laws his particular study & who had written the history of a modern great republic’. Maria, clearly following the news closely, wrote – albeit via Fanny– to Sir James to ask to whom he was referring. His answer, not quoted in the letter, also contained his thoughts on Ivanhoe. This letter ripples with the familial, political, local, and literary connections that Maria maintained through her correspondence.

Please join us for the Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture 2020 on Wednesday 5 February at 5:30pm in the Weston Library, Oxford. Professor Clíona Ó Gallchoir (University College Cork) will be delivering this year’s lecture ‘Trap doors in private houses’: Drama and Theatricality in the Work of Maria Edgeworth. All welcome, free entry, and no booking required.

Poster for Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture 2020

Our final blog will be published next month when we have completed our full planned year of punctual blogging. Watch our twitter account for news of our plans for the future.

If you missed our ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ exhibition which ran until 26 January at the Proscholium, Old Bodleian Library, do check out this review. And do come and meet our team by signing up for our masterclass at the Bodleian Library, Oxford on 29th March 2020.

– Anna Louise Senkiw
– Ros Ballaster

References:

W. A. Maguire, ‘Castle Nugent and Castle Rackrent: fact and fiction in Maria Edgeworth’, Eighteenth-century Ireland/Iris an dá chultúr, Vol. 11 (1996), pp.146-159.

Abigail Williams, The Social Life of Books: Reading Together in the Eighteenth-Century Home (Yale University Press, 2017).

A ‘Christmas Dainty’: fragments of festive frolics with the Edgeworths

Since our last post, the days have got shorter, colder, and wetter. Winter has arrived in Oxford, and as frosts begin to form, thoughts turn to Christmas. When we last encountered the Edgeworths in our November Blog, Maria was busy devouring an eclectic assortment of literature with her newly-rested eyes. Little seems to have changed when she writes to her beloved sister Fanny on 22nd December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c.706, fols.17-18).

Letter from Maria Edgeworth to Fanny Edgeworth, 22nd December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c.706, fols.17-18).

Transcription of MS. Eng. lett. c. 706, fols.16-18

Here, she recounts the ‘curious facts’ and inventions she had gleaned from the latest issue of William T. Brande’s periodical publication, Journal of Science and Arts. Much like her hero Lewis in the moral tale A Sequel to Frank (1822), Maria Edgeworth appears to have spent the long winter evenings leading up to Christmas reading and talking to her family about books.

As for many of us today, Christmas was for the Edgeworths a time for family. Writing to Henry and Sneyd Edgeworth on Christmas Day 1807, Maria lamented the absence of her two brothers from the festivities of ‘the most agreeable family […] I ever was in’. That family would have ensured their ‘merry Christmas’ had they been present (1).

We don’t know how the Edgeworths spent Christmas Day in 1819. Unlike in 1807, there are no letters known to survive from Christmas Day 1819. Perhaps, like the titular character of Maria’s earlier novel Ormond (1817), it was spent feasting on a ‘festive dainty’ of goose and turkey. But the letters in the Bodleian do give us a tantalising insight into the Edgeworths’ activities in the weeks leading up to the big day.

As we discussed in our June blog post, the Edgeworth Papers are full of literary and epistolary fragments. Despite their incomplete status, these fragmentary forms provide touching, and at times comedic, insights into the everyday lives of the extended Edgeworth family. This is particularly evident in the letter fragment by Maria to her sister Fanny dated 19th December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 706 fol.16).

Letter fragment by Maria Edgeworth to her sister Fanny, 19th December 1819 (MS. Eng. lett. c. 706 fol.16)

Here, Maria slips once more into the voice of the aspirant playwright heard in her plays Whim for Whim (1795) and Comic Dramas (1817), dramatizing one particularly unfortunate incident involving her seven-year-old half-brother Michael Pakenham and an unwelcome visitor to Edgeworthstown House:

Enter Pakenham ^one corner of^ handkerchief at eye
– & in great rage – those impertinent
Sheep! – What do you think Maria – Just
now I went to drive them away from
Honora’s plot & bed & the moment I
had driven ‘em off when I turned my back
one came up & set his great head against
My behind & knocked me down
I never saw such a sheep in
my life – and he ran after
me to the steps

Among the Edgeworth papers, there is an attractive line drawing of Pakenham in April 1818 attentively listening to his older brother Francis read by his sister Honora, who gave the drawing to Maria in 1836 (MS. Eng. misc. c. 901, fol.32)

The Edgeworths’ walled kitchen garden at their home in County Longford is now carefully maintained by the Edgeworth Society. Back in 1819, the young Pakenham appears to have taken it on himself to defend the honour of the flowerbed tended by his sister Honora from the attentions of one of County Longford’s more rowdy woollen residents. Despite his valiant efforts, Pakenham’s heroic quest ended in tears, a bruised ego, and a sore behind. Maria is famed for her emphasis on a moral point to her tales. Here, perhaps, the take away is simply, ‘pick on someone your own size’.

The walled garden at Edgeworthstown House. Image courtesy of Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull.

Entertainments were commonly written and performed by large households like the Edgeworths during the festive period. Here in Oxford, we’ve been honouring this tradition of domestic entertainments by bringing one of Maria’s dramatic fragments to life. MS. Eng. misc. c. 897, fols.3-8 was written in c.1811, and is made up of a series of fragmentary scenes of downstairs and upstairs life as a group of young women prepare to visit the seaside resort of Brighton. Here is the first page of the manuscript and our transcription in which the conniving maid Miss Lapell plans to sweet talk the housekeeper Mrs Wright into putting in a word for her to take employment with young Lady Flora so as to ensure she joins the jaunt to Brighton.

A fragmentary draft of an unidentified play, c.1811 (MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 fol.3r).

Transcription of MS. Eng. misc. c. 897 fol.3r

Thanks to the inspired dramatic treatment of director Ellen Brewster, and a wonderful cast of student actors (Jemima Hubberstey, Olivia Krauze and Eugenie Nevin), Maria’s untitled and incomplete scenes were performed under the title Brighton Ambitious for a group of Edgeworth scholars from around the world as part of a workshop held at the University of Oxford this month. Maria had little success as a professional dramatist, and never realised her ambition of having a play staged professionally. But the vibrancy of her wit can been seen in this short fragment, of which we only wish we had more. The performance was filmed, and we hope to share this sparkling example of Maria’s dramatic talent online with you soon.

Almost as exciting as the run up to Christmas for our project team has been the preparation and recent opening of our exhibition in the Proscholium of the Old Bodleian Library. ‘Meet the Edgeworths’ focuses on the family’s lives at home and abroad, as well as Maria’s literary fame. Entry is free, and the exhibition is open 9am-5pm daily until 26th January 2020.

This will be followed on Wednesday February 5th 2020 by the Marilyn Butler Memorial Lecture at the Weston Lecture Theatre, Bodleian Library, Oxford. This year, Dr Clíona Ó Gallchoir (Faculty of English, Cork University) will open up the topic of Maria Edgeworth’s engagement with the dramatic and the theatre. Her lecture is entitled ‘Trap doors in private houses: Drama and Theatricality in the Work of Maria Edgeworth’. The event is free and open to the public. Do please join us for the lecture and drinks thereafter in the Rector’s Drawing Room of Exeter College, Oxford, where the distinguished Edgeworth scholar, Professor Marilyn Butler, herself served as Rector from 1993 to 2004.

As we begin to look forward to the next stages of our project, we wish you all a Merry Christmas, and look forward to sharing more stories from the Edgeworth Papers with you in the New Year.

– Ben Wilkinson-Turnbull


Footnotes

1. Frances Beaufort Edgeworth and Maria Edgeworth, A Memoir of Maria Edgeworth: With a Selection from Her Letters (London, 1867), 3 volumes, volume I, p.205.

‘jumping of thoughts’: reading curiosity among the Edgeworths

…how wonderful that little black marks made on paper can make thoughts jump & hearts jump too at ever, or never so great a distance

Despite our 200 year distance from the Edgeworth papers, we have the same experience reading this letter from Maria Edgeworth to her cousin Sophy Ruxton of 5 November 1819 as Maria herself describes. Maria was an expert in making thoughts and hearts jump and she understood the curiosity that drives all readers from the earliest age to acquire knowledge and immerse themselves in strange experiences. Maria, you may remember, had been instructed to rest her eyes for some time and her sister Fanny was writing letters on her behalf, but she records now that she is now ready to read again:

Now that I have a little time & eyes to read again I find it delightful — And I have a voracious appetite and a relish for food good bad & indifferent I am afraid like a half famished ship – wrecked wretch, an appetite quite unknown <to> those who eat their daily literary meals and go to their regular monthly feasts and festivals & grow nice & fastidious & eat the best bits turning up their nose & vowing they can’t touch a bit more.

Evidently invigorated and hungry for all kinds of literature, she writes about her extensive and eclectic recent reading. She mentions her plans to send The Poems of Mr. Hunter and the Letters of Lady Russell to Sophie’s home at Black Castle; that she has been reading the 4th volume of Frederick Lillin de Chateauvieux’s 6 volume New Voyages and Travels, Marshal de Bassompierre’s Memoirs of the Embassy (first published in 1626 and translated by John Wilson Croker in 1819), and November’s Quarterly Review. Besides her reading, she also casually mentions in the opening passage a letter from fellow writer Joanna Baillie, which she will send on (a reminder that familiar correspondence was not ‘private’ as we would understand it today). Maria does not only share her reading, but offers to share the texts themselves, an indication of the level of literary traffic between Edgeworthstown House and Black Castle.

First page of MS. Eng. Lett. c.718 fol. 183r

Transcription of MS. Eng. Lett. c. 718, fol.183r

The ‘little black marks’ that dart across the page do more than record Maria’s voracious reading habits; they also demonstrate Maria’s curiosity about a range of topics. We have written in previous blogs about her global outlook; her interconnectedness with the rest of the world forged through travel, friendship and the publication (and translation) of her works around the world. Her reading too gave access to a world beyond Edgeworthstown, particularly the reading of periodicals. The Quarterly Review ran from 1809 until 1967, was published by John Murray (who also published works by Austen, Byron and Scott amongst others) and was set up to rival the Edinburgh Review taking a liberal-conservative position conducive to Maria’s own politics.

Maria is not overexaggerating when she describes the ‘farrago of strange facts and strange thoughts [that] are dragged together in the quarterly rev[ie]w’. The issue she was reading (from April 1819, Vol. 21, No. 42) includes wide-ranging reviews (not all mentioned by Maria in the letter) from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Revolt of Islam, Lieutenant General Baron Pamphile de Lacroix’s Memoires pour server a l’Histoire de la Revolution de Saint Domingue, and E. Hawkin’s Dissertation on the Use and Importance of Unauthoritative Tradition and Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent the years 1799-1804 by Alexander de Humbolt and Aime Bonpland. Maria clearly delights in the array of knowledge to collect, contemplate and share with her family.

We see from Maria’s comments her appetite for curiosities. She mentions, for example, the lengthy review of a new book on the cemeteries and catacombs of Paris which describes unusual ways of memorialising and imagining the dead. She draws attention in particular to a description of the luz – a ‘bone in shape of an almond’ at the base of the spine traditionally believed by Jewish people to be the bone from which the body will be resurrected. Maria might have been drawn to this particular excerpt from the review because of recent events in Europe, the Hep-Hep riots in the region of the German Confederation that took place between August and October 1819; these were pogroms against Ashkenazi Jews in the period of growing Jewish emancipation, many of whom died or had property damaged. Her comments in the letter do not refer to these riots but, as they were reported in the newspapers (and we can assume that she did read the newspapers), she would have been aware of these troubling events.

Maria was no stranger to anti-Semitic sentiment herself. Her 1812 novel The Absentee featured an unpleasant portrayal of a Jewish figure called Mr. Mordicai, drawn in the manner of Shakespeare’s vengeful and villainous Shylock. One American admirer, Jewish schoolteacher Rachel Mordecai (later Lazarus) (1788-1838), who was a fan of her educational writings, wrote directly to Maria on 7 August 1815 to complain about the ‘illiberality’ of her representations of members of the Jewish nation. Remarkably, the correspondence continued until Mordecai’s death (in fact descendants of both families continued to write to each other for another 100 years). The effect of Mordecai’s writing was significant: in 1817 Edgeworth published Harrington, which tackled the problem of inculcating anti-Semitic feeling in children, and can be seen as reparation for her earlier unsympathetic portrayal of Jewish people. The hero Harrington’s growing recognition of the errors of the anti-Semitic thinking a nurse impressed on him when a child even involves an encounter with the actor most famous for playing Shylock of the eighteenth century: Charles Macklin, who transformed the role from pantomime stock antagonist to a more psychologically ‘real’ figure than stereotypical villain.

Johann Zoffany, Charles Macklin as Shylock in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, Covent Garden, 1767/1768, The Holburne Museum (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

As we have shown, however, Edgeworth’s politics and social criticism is not always straightforwardly unambiguous; for modern readers, Edgeworth’s revised representations of Jewish people remain underwhelming. As Rachel Schulkins has suggested, ‘Edgeworth attempts to “overturn” the traditional Jewish stereotypes… by portraying the Jew as essentially a good Christian’: Harrington’s love interest, the beautiful Jewess, Berenice, turns out to be a Christian after all (though she has a Jewish father, she has a Christian mother in whose faith she was raised). That said, Maria’s exchange with Rachel Mordecai and subsequent writings do show her willingness to rethink her ideas, and the reading discussed in this letter bespeaks a broad interest in ‘curiosities’ and ideas that surely influenced her beyond her immediate circle.

Indeed the letter also shows that Maria did sympathise with and listen to those caught in dramatic scenes of conflict on a smaller stage. At the close of the letter she describes a domestic incident: ‘a horrible scene of lying and counter lying as cannot be spoken of in jest. It ended in Lovell and Mrs E’s dismissing the cook upon the spot’. The night before, described by Maria as ‘black Saturday’, the cook and the kitchen maid had both claimed ‘certain blankets & sheets stolen betwix’ them’. On the Sunday afternoon, matters came to a head and an argument ensued – for three hours – before Mrs. Edgeworth ‘magnanimously parted’ with the cook, ‘regardless of her own convenience’. Truth, for the Edgeworths at least, was always more important than convenience.

If you’re in Oxford, you can find out more about the Edgeworths and their shared endeavours (as well as their travels and Maria’s fame) at our new exhibition, Meet the Edgeworths, which runs from 30 November 2019-1 February 2020 in the Proscholium of the Old Bodleian Libray. Do also keep an eye on Twitter (@EdgeworthPapers) and look out for our final blog of this year next month!

Anna Louise Senkiw

 

References

Rachel Schulkins, ‘Imagining the Other: The Jew in Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington’, European Romantic Review, 22:4, 2011, pp.477-499.