All posts by rachaelmarsay

John Hungerford Pollen: Family

This is the last in a series of five blog posts to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen whose archive has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries.

This week’s blog posts on John Hungerford Pollen would not be complete without mentioning one very important aspect to Pollen’s life: his family. As we have seen, in September 1855, Pollen married Maria LaPrimaudaye in Woodchester Priory, Stroud, Gloucestershire. Maria was likewise interested in the decorative arts and, in later life, would become an expert in lace, publishing Seven centuries of lace in 1908. Maria looked back at their relationship a few years later and neatly summed up their characters:

I have often thought that my husband’s high-mindedness and singleness of purpose, together with a most resolute will, and almost incredible indifference to pain, discomfort or any of the minor troubles of life, clearly show the likeness to his Roman ancestor, just as my natural levity and high spirits and over-sensitiveness to trifles are excused, I hope, by my French descent. (1)

  J.H. Pollen, sketch of Maria Pollen, 10 Nov 1862, sketchbook (left) and photograph of Maria Pollen, n.d., by unknown photographer, photograph album (right), Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

In 1858, the Pollens moved to 11 Pembridge Crescent, Bayswater, which became their London home for the rest of their married life. They were to have ten children all together, two girls and eight boys (2):

  • Anne Gertrude Mary Pollen (1856-1934)
  • John Hungerford Pollen (1858-1925)
  • Walter Michael Hungerford Pollen (1859-1889)
  • Anthony Cecil Hungerford Pollen (1860-1940)
  • Francis Gabriel Hungerford Pollen (1862-1944)
  • George Charles Hungerford Pollen (1863-1930)
  • Margaret (‘Daisy’) Winifred Pollen (1864-1937)
  • Arthur Joseph Hungerford Pollen (1866-1937)
  • Stephen Hungerford Pollen (1868-1935)
  • Clement Hungerford Pollen (1869-1934)

The children frequently appear throughout Pollen’s sketchbooks, one of which is dedicated to ‘Babies 1866’.

    

J.H. Pollen, sketches of Francis Gabriel Hungerford Pollen (‘tell me about the wolf’), 22 April 1866 and Anthony Cecil Hungerford Pollen, 7 December 1866, sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

J.H. Pollen, sketch of Anne Gertrude Mary Pollen, 8 October 1876, sketchbooks, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Between 1871 and 1875, to keep costs down, John and Maria decided to take their children abroad to be educated. They spent five years living in an old house in Munster, Westfalia, where the children could have a good Catholic primary education more cheaply than could be found in England. When the youngest child (Clement) was six years old, the family permanently moved back to England and divided their time between London and Newbuildings, the house in Sussex they rented from Pollen’s good friend Wilfred Scawen Blunt. Maria would look back very fondly to the happy and content years when all the family were together at Newbuildings:

…to my children love of home and all that that word means is signified by the word ‘Newbuildings’ and none other… (3)

Newbuildings Place, one mile north of Dragons Green, West Sussex, seen from the east, 2016, originally posted on Wikimedia Commons by Antiquary (CC BY 4.0)

Back in England, the boys went on to study at Newman’s Oratory School in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Pollen’s eldest son and namesake, John Hungerford, became a Jesuit priest and historian. He was asked to draw together the history of the order in England and is consequently credited with being a key person in the history of the order’s archives. His brothers Anthony Cecil and George Charles also entered the priesthood: Anthony became a noted composer and George, who had a keen interest in chemistry and geology, became a Fellow of the Geological Society.

Walter became a soldier and became ADC to Lord Ripon, Viceory of India between 1883 and 1884 (when Pollen was Lord Ripon’s private secretary). Walter became part of the Survey of India Department between 1884 and 1887, though he was invalided out due to fever. He returned to the east in 1888 and became Survey Officer to the Lushai Expedition in early 1889, but died of fever in Chittagong in March that year. Stephen likewise became a soldier and also served as ADC to two successive Viceroys in India (Lord Lansdowne and Lord Elgin) before serving in the South African campaign. Francis became a naval officer who fought in the war in Sudan between 1884 and 1885. He became part of the Naval Brigade in the Gordon Relief Expedition in Burma in 1886. Both Francis and Stephen retired in 1902, but returned to service during the First World War. Arthur struck out a different career to his siblings, training as a barrister and becoming a businessman, inventor and journalist. Anne, who published a memoir of her father in 1912, entered a religious community and became a nun.

J.H. Pollen, sketch of family at Newbuildings, 27 August 1880, sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

In the days before his death, Pollen celebrated his 82nd birthday together with his family in Pembridge Crescent, having lived long enough to see the foundation stone being laid for the new Victoria and Albert Museum over three years earlier.(4) Whilst Pollen’s career was certainly varied, his interest for art, design, and architecture never wavered and his steadfast commitment to his religious faith, his friendships, and his family never failed. The final word in his daughter Anne’s memoirs of her father was left to Sir George Birdwood:

From Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.388.

-Rachael Marsay


References

1) A note on Newbuildings by Maria Pollen, 1914, unpublished, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued.
2) According to Anne Pollen, a further child, the Pollen’s youngest son Benjamin Hungerford Pollen, died an infant in 1875. Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.372.
3) A note on Newbuildings by Maria Pollen, 1914
4) Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, p.369.

John Hungerford Pollen: Friendships

Today marks the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen’s birth. This is the fourth in a series of five blog posts to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen whose archive has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries.

One constant theme throughout John Hungerford Pollen’s life was the ease with which he made friends and the long term commitment that came with Pollen’s friendship. In return, Pollen was offered several life-changing opportunities and we have already seen in this blog series how John Henry Newman and William Makepeace Thackeray both influenced the direction of Pollen’s career. In today’s blog post, we will see how two other friendships changed the course of Pollen’s life.

George Frederick Samuel Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon and 3rd Earl de Grey, by George Frederic Watts, oil on canvas, 1895, NPG 1553 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

In 1867, Pollen resigned his post at the South Kensington Museum when he was invited to become private secretary to Lord Ripon (1827-1909). Ripon was a fellow Catholic convert and became one of Pollen’s closest friends in later life. In 1880, Ripon was appointed Viceroy of India, a position he was to hold for four years. Though Pollen remained in London during most of this period, he visited India towards the end of the Viceroyalty in 1884. Whilst in India, Pollen commissioned exhibits for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 and also advised the Maharaja of Kuch Behar [Cooch Behar] on the decoration of his palaces.

J.H. Pollen, sketches of Delhi, 17 November 1884 and of elephants, sketchbooks, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

In 1902, Lord Ripon wrote of Pollen:

To me, he was a very dear friend, whose association with me had made me intimately acquainted with all the qualities of his admirable character; so gentle, and yet where matters of principle were concerned so firm… so perfect a gentleman and so good a man, that he won not only the sincerest respect, but the truest affection of all who knew him. (1)

The poet and writer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) was a longstanding friend of Pollen’s wife’s family, the LaPrimaudayes, having first made their acquaintance as a child in Italy in 1852; after his marriage to Maria LaPrimaudaye, Pollen also became one of Blunt’s good friends. Anne, Blunt’s wife, was the daughter of William King, 1st Earl of Lovelace, and the Hon. Augusta Ada Byron (the pioneering mathematician now known more familiarly as Ada Lovelace). The Blunts owned Newbuildings Place in Sussex and in 1875 they leased it to the Pollen family who had by now expanded their brood to ten children.

Sketch of Ashley Combe, Porlock, Somerset (house belonging to Ada Lovelace), 1851, sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

In 1886, Pollen became caught up with Blunt’s campaign for Home Rule in Ireland and when Blunt stood as a Liberal at Kidderminster, Pollen accompanied him during his election campaign (like Blunt’s other attempts to sit for Parliament, it was unsuccessful). Things were, however, to take a serious turn in October 1887 when Blunt chaired an anti-eviction meeting in Woodford in Galway which had been expressly banned by Arthur Balfour, the Irish chief secretary. Blunt was subsequently arrested and tried at Portumna, receiving a sentence of two month’s imprisonment with hard-labour. Pollen was there throughout the trial and Blunt would later remark that Pollen ‘was a very staunch friend to his friends’. (2)

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt by Alexander Bassano, albumen carte-de-visite, circa 1870, NPG x1375 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The Pollens rented Newbuildings until 1889, when relations between the two families irretrievably broke down (Blunt’s daughter Judith had accused Pollen’s sixth son, Arthur Joseph Hungerford Pollen, of over-familiarity). Nevertheless, the friendship between Blunt and Pollen appears to have transcended even this disagreement.

J.H. Pollen, sketch of Newbuildings, May 1882, sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Tomorrow’s blog post is the last in this series and will focus on those closest to Pollen: his family.

-Rachael Marsay


References

1) Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.325.
2) Ibid, p.346.

John Hungerford Pollen: Art, design, and architecture

This is the third in a series of five blog posts to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen whose archive has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries.

Pollen’s interest in architecture can be seen throughout his sketchbooks: here showing a sketch of Cefnamwlch House and garden, 2 October 1851 [above] and of Longleat from the garden, 14 September 1852 [below], Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

In 1857, John Hungerford Pollen moved to London with his small family (now consisting of his wife, Maria, and their eldest child, Anne Gertrude Mary, who was born the previous year). This was to prove crucial in Pollen’s burgeoning career in art, design, and architecture, encouraged by his uncle, Charles Robert Cockerell, the architect of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

In London, Pollen soon joined the newly formed Hogarth Club, founded by notable members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which counted among its members Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, and John Ruskin. Though the Hogarth Club was short lived, the friendships he made lasted throughout his life. Pollen’s daughter Anne sat for Burne-Jones and appears in his 1884 painting King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid.

Through John Ruskin, Pollen was commissioned in 1858 to design the carvings for the façade of the new University Museum of Natural History in Oxford. The museum’s founders and the architect, Benjamin Woodward, were inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite movement and employed some of the finest artists and craftsmen of the day to work on the building. In the summer of 1858, Ruskin also commissioned Pollen to work on the mural decoration of the Oxford Union library alongside fellow artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Morris, depicting scenes from Arthurian myth.

John Hungerford Pollen’s original design for the main entrance, c.1860
© Oxford University Museum of Natural History

More commissions were to follow in the 1860s and 1870s, which proved very productive decades for Pollen. His association with the architect Benjamin Woodward continued when he designed rooms for James Anthony Lawson’s new house, Clontra, near Dublin and a picture gallery for the Marchioness of Ormonde at Kilkenny Castle. Among many other commissions, he also designed interiors at Blickling Hall, Aylsham for William Kerr, eighth Marquess of Lothian, and designed the fresco decoration at Alton Towers for the Earl of Shrewsbury.

Pollen’s knowledge and interest in art and design also led to his appointment as one of the jurors for the International Exhibition held in London in 1862. The following year, at the suggestion of his friend William Makepeace Thackeray, he was appointed by Sir Henry Cole as Assistant Keeper at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), which had opened on the present site in 1857. As Assistant Keeper, Pollen produced catalogues of furniture, sculpture, and metalwork.(1) He also taught in the Government School of Design and submitted entries to the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Pollen’s daughter Anne would later write about his time at the South Kensington Museum in her biography:

…from 1864 until the last few years of his life, travelling became a duty. His connection with the South Kensington Museum necessitated an average of at least two yearly journeys for the acquisition of objects by purchase or loan; nor was he ever without one or more private commissions to furnish houses or rooms, to add to collections of china, to procure old hammered iron, tapestry, hangings, or what not; to give an opinion as to the authenticity of pictures, or their value…

He negotiated the removal of whole rooms, with their fittings and furniture, to South Kensington, or he procured casts of sculptures and mouldings, so that during the whole time of his connection with the museum it was increasing in representative completeness, and that at a money cost to the nation comparatively trifling.

He was acquainted with shops and dealers, private collectors, connoisseurs, of all nations; retaining an opinion that London was after all the best place for purchase, if you knew where to go. Hunting here and there, he was able to acquire easily many beautiful and valuable things. (2)

J.H. Pollen, various sketches of coats of arms and decorative carved devices, one labelled ‘SKM’ (South Kensington Museum), sketchbooks, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Pollen continued to be internationally recognised in other ways: he was a juror for the International Exhibition in Dublin (1865) and also for the Exposition Universelle in Paris (1867), where he was awarded a gold medal for the first part of his ‘Universal catalogue of books on art’.

In 1876, Pollen resigned his post as Keeper at South Kensington Museum and embarked upon the next chapter of his varied career, which will be explored in tomorrow’s blog post.

-Rachael Marsay


References

1) A copy of John Hungerford Pollen’s Gold and Silver Smiths’ Work (South Kensington Museum Art Handbooks, London, 1879) is available to view online].

2) Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.308-309.

John Hungerford Pollen: Religion

This is the second in a series of five blog posts to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen whose archive has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries.

As we saw in yesterday’s blog post, John Hungerford Pollen became a Senior Proctor of the University of Oxford in 1851, having been a fellow at Merton College since 1842 and a Church of England priest since 1846.

Pollen had, however, become increasingly influenced by Tractarianism and the Oxford Movement, a cause championed by many members of the Church of England to return to many of the older traditions and reform the Anglican liturgy. Such thinking was hotly contested at the time. For many, it came dangerously close to Catholicism and many priests risked losing their livings (it was only in 1829 that the Roman Catholic Relief Act had been passed in Parliament to allow Catholics to become MPs). Pollen soon became associated with one of the leading figures of the Oxford Movement, Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. In the summer of 1847, Pollen travelled around France with a couple of Oxford friends to examine the role of the Roman Catholic church in bringing faith and hope to the poor; they went on to Italy and Germany and Pollen assiduously studied the architecture of churches in Ravenna and the new basilica of St Boniface in Munich.

In 1847, Pollen also became pro-vicar at the new St Saviour Church in Leeds (the building of which was anonymously funded by Pusey) during an interregnum after the vicar there was accused of Romanism and forced to resign: three curates had also left and fully converted to Roman Catholicism. The use of auricular confession during Pollen’s time there sparked further controversy which ended up with Pollen and his colleagues being banned from holding the Christmas Eve service in 1850. Whilst the ban led to the conversion of Pollen’s colleagues, Pollen instead argued his case with the Bishop and was reinstated. In 1851, he published Narrative of Five Years at St. Saviour’s, Leeds, defending Tractarianism and the use of Catholic practices within the Church of England, writing that ‘The working of St. Saviour’s was an attempt to give a practical solution to questions of inexpressible interest to some of us at the present time’. The Narrative also described the harsh and unforgiving living conditions of the working class poor, among whom there had been a serious cholera epidemic in 1849.

Title page of John Hungerford Pollen’s Narrative of Five Years at St. Saviour’s, Leeds (1851), Bodleian Libraries, reference (OC) 141.c.80

The Narrative and the events it described was nonetheless a prelude to Pollen’s own conversion and he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in Rouen on 20th October 1852. This was a big step to take as it meant he had to forfeit his fellowship at Merton and his other university offices. For Pollen, however, it was undoubtedly the right step, as he wrote to a friend:

Every doubt is at rest, and I have found that kind of calm which one needs repose and reflection to enjoy in full. I cannot tell you how great an advantage I think it to have been able to do this out of England. (1)

Pollen’s elder brother, Hungerford, became a Catholic the following year. Both brothers were consequently disinherited by their uncle Sir John Walter Pollen, 2nd Bart, of Redenham, Hampshire. Whilst Hungerford still inherited the baronetcy, in Sir John’s will dated 16th April 1862, he made membership of the Church of England a necessary condition for the inheritance of his estate. So, after the death of Sir John’s widow in 1877, Redenham was inherited by Hungerford’s son (also named Richard Hungerford Pollen, 1846-1918).

J.H. Pollen, view of Redenham, Hampshire, 21 February 1851, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

At this point, therefore, Pollen had neither career (as he had decided not to take orders) nor inheritance prospects. After his conversion, he travelled to Rome where he became acquainted with the writer William Makepeace Thackeray as well as the LaPrimaudaye family who were also recent converts to the Catholic Church. Despite his lack of prospects (and a seventeen year age gap), Pollen became engaged to Maria Margaret LaPrimaudaye (1838–1919) in 1854 and they were married on 18th September 1855 in the church of Woodchester monastery, near Stroud, Gloucestershire.

J.H. Pollen, sketch of Maria Pollen, 23 October 1862, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Through his new connection with the LaPrimaudayes, Pollen received an offer from John Henry Newman (1801-1890) in November 1854 to become professor of fine arts at Newman’s new university in Dublin. Another leading figure in the Oxford Movement, John Henry Newman had likewise been a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford and was vicar of St Mary’s University Church before he was received into the Catholic Church in 1845. Cardinal Newman (as he became in 1879) was to become one of Pollen’s great friends and correspondents.

Letters to J.H. Pollen from J.H. Newman, 1855-1885, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Newman also asked Pollen to design the university church near St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Newman wrote to Pollen on Christmas Eve 1854:

As to the decoration of an University Church, of which you kindly speak, we must have a Church, temporary or permanent, and it must be decorated – and I should be very much obliged for your assistance in the decoration.(2)

Unlike Pugin and the contemporary desire for Gothic-style churches, Pollen favoured a Byzantine style for the university church, which was consecrated on Ascension Day, 1 May 1856.

Photograph of Newman University Church Interior, Dublin, Ireland by David Iliff, License CC BY-SA 3.0 and originally posted to wikimedia

In 1857, Pollen and his family moved to London. The move would further stimulate his career in art, design, and architecture, which is the subject of tomorrow’s blog post.

-Rachael Marsay


References

1) Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.235.
2) Charles Stephen Dessain (ed.), The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, Vol. 16: Founding a University: January 1854 to September 1855, (Oxford, 1965), p.332.

John Hungerford Pollen: Early years and Oxford

This is the first in a series of five blog posts to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen whose archive has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries.

‘Photograph of John Hungerford Pollen 1885 [aged 65] made by his wife [Maria Pollen]’, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

he wears a beard, like other men of genius‘ (1)

John Hungerford Pollen was a talented artist and author with a particular interest in art, design, and architecture: he was an active and formative developer of the collections in his role as Assistant Keeper at what is now the V&A. However, his career was not a straightforward one, having trained and practiced as a Church of England priest before his conversion to Roman Catholicism. His social circle was wide and varied, counting John Henry Newman as much as a friend as fellow Pre-Raphaelite artists and literary celebrities such as Wilfred Scawen Blunt and William Makepeace Thackeray. One of his friends later in life was his employer and fellow convert Lord Ripon, Viceroy of India. At home, he was also very much the family man, being father to ten children.

John Hungerford Pollen was born on 19th November 1820 at 6 New Burlington Street in London, the second son of Richard Pollen (1786–1838) and his wife, Anne Cockerell (1784–1865). He was educated at Durham House, Chelsea and Eton College before he went up to study at Christ Church, Oxford. After taking his BA in 1842, he became a fellow of Merton College and would go on to become (at various points) dean, bursar, and garden master there. After a year or so of travelling with his elder brother Hungerford (Richard Hungerford Pollen, 1815-1881) in the Middle East, he was ordained as a deacon in 1845 and became a curate at St Peter-le-Bailey in Oxford before being ordained as a priest by the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Samuel Wilberforce, in June 1846.

J.H. Pollen, watercolour of his room at Merton, 17 September 1851, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

During his curacy at St Peter-le-Bailey, Pollen employed his artistic skill in designing a decorative scheme for the ceiling of the church (sadly, it has not survived as the church was demolished in 1872 when the road was widened). Pollen would go on to design and paint the ceiling of the chapel in Merton College between 1849 and 1850. Whilst lilies were a prominent theme, he also included images of angels, prophets, and church fathers, drawing inspiration from his friends and family. Permission was granted for him to extend the scheme and paint the upper part of the walls of the chapel a few years later, in 1877.

J.H. Pollen, watercolour of Merton college chapel, 25 June 1850, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

J.H. Pollen, studies of lilies (presumably for the decoration of Merton Chapel ceiling), 16 July 1850, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Pollen became a Senior Proctor of the University of Oxford in 1851 and, in different circumstances, might have gone on to live a long and settled life within the climes of Oxford. However, by this point his time at Oxford was drawing to a close, as we shall discover in tomorrow’s blog post.

J.H. Pollen, view of Oxford from the river with Iffley church and rectory foreground left and Tom Tower, Christ Church, mid-distance right, 11 October 1851, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

-Rachael Marsay


References

1) John Henry Newman quoted in Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.275.

E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia

E.F. Benson (1867-1940) was a prolific author who published over 93 books in his lifetime, including novels, short stories, horror stories, reminiscences, and eight biographies. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Queen Lucia, the first of Benson’s ever-popular Mapp and Lucia books.

One of a talented brood of siblings, Edward Frederic (‘Fred’) was born in 1867, the third son of Edward White Benson (1829–1896), headmaster of Wellington College and later Archbishop of Canterbury. After studying Classics at King’s College Cambridge, Fred headed abroad to work as an archaeologist for the British School of Archaeology in Athens between 1892 and 1895. His first novel, Dodo: A Detail of the Day, was published to some acclaim in 1893. Like many of his novels, it was a social satire of modern society. In 1895, after working for the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies in Egypt, he moved to London to focus on his writing.

E.F. Benson by Lafayette, whole-plate film negative, 1 August 1926, NPG x37036 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

From 1918 onwards, Benson spent most of the year at Lamb House in the coastal town of Rye, Sussex. Lamb House had previously been the home of the novelist Henry James, who had lived there from 1897 to 1914 (it was also later the home of the author of Black Narcissus, Margaret Rumer Godden, who lived there between 1968 and 1973). Benson settled in Rye, becoming a Justice of the Peace as well as serving as Mayor between 1934 and 1937. He was appointed an OBE and, in 1938, became an honorary fellow of Magdalene College Cambridge (his elder brother, Arthur Christopher Benson, was Master of Magdalene College from 1915 until his death in 1925). E.F. Benson died on 29th February 1940, having just sent off a copy of his autobiography, Final Edition, to his publishers.

Photograph of Lamb House, Rye by Jim Linwood 19 June 2008 and originally posted on flickr (Creative Commons CC BY 2.0)

Today, Benson is probably most famous for his Mapp and Lucia novels of social manners. Contemporary fans of the series included Noel Coward, W.H. Auden, and Nancy Mitford. The series included six novels: Queen Lucia (published in 1920), Miss Mapp (1922), Lucia in London (1927), Mapp and Lucia (1931), Lucia’s Progress (1935), and Trouble for Lucia (1939). Benson also wrote two short stories, ‘The Male Impersonator’ and ‘Desirable Residences’, set in the same fictitious world. The books focus on the social snobbery and one-upmanship of the upper-middle class society of the time, predominantly following the lives of the social-climbing Emmeline ‘Lucia’ Lucas and the formidable Elizabeth Mapp.

Photograph of Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex by David McKelvey 22 April 2013 and originally posted on flickr (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the novels, Mapp and Lucia both live at some point at Mallards, which was based on Benson’s own Lamb House, in the small seaside town of Tilling (likewise modelled on Rye). The Bodleian Libraries hold E.F. Benson’s original draft manuscript of Mapp and Lucia, dated 1930, in the Archive of the Benson Family, which includes many of E.F. Benson’s original manuscripts. The novel, which was published in 1931, was originally given the title of ‘The Queen of Tilling’ and is the first novel in the series to feature both Elizabeth and Lucia.

Front cover and first page of E.F. Benson’s manuscript draft of ‘The Queen of Tilling’ [Mapp and Lucia], 1930, Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Benson adds. 2/1-2

The novels remain in print today and have been made into several radio adaptations and two television adaptations, bringing the stories and characters to a larger audience. A ten episode television series adaptation by Gerald Savory on Channel 4 was broadcast in 1985 and 1986, and starred Geraldine McEwan as Lucia, Prunella Scales as Mapp, and Nigel Hawthorne as Georgie. More recently, in 2014, the BBC broadcast a television dramatization starring Miranda Richardson as Mapp, Anna Chancellor as Lucia, and Steve Pemberton as Georgie.

Two societies were set up to celebrate the life and work of E.F. Benson. The E.F. Benson Society was founded in London in 1984 and produces a yearly journal, The Dodo, named after Benson’s first published novel. The Tilling Society was set up in 1982 and was active until 2006. The Archive of the Tilling Society was generously donated to the Bodleian in 2012 and 2014. More about the Tilling Society archive can be found in an earlier blog post.

-Rachael Marsay

‘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.