Category Archives: Spotlight

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

Academic dress in the Oxford University Archives

Of the many Oxford University traditions that have survived to the present day, one of the most visually distinctive and recognisable is the ‘academic costume’: the gowns, caps and subfusc worn today by students and officials during examinations and ceremonies. Yet despite the long presence of academic dress in the University’s history, the University Archives hold surprisingly little material relating to it. This is perhaps because until the mid 20th century, its exact nature appears to have been fairly fluid, constantly evolving, and on occasion subject to change that was not authorised by the University. It was not until 1957 that academic dress was fixed in its current form, with the publication of Academic Dress of the University of Oxford by R.E. Clifford and D.E. Venables. This illustrated guide includes precise descriptions of each element of the academic dress, and although this book has been republished and revised, very few alterations have been made to the rules it lays out.

The oldest item relating to this topic in the University Archives is this small book, which dates from 1716 and contains numbered engravings of different forms of academic dress. An example of every official and student is shown, from the Vice Chancellor and the Bedels to the Bachelor of Arts, the Master of Arts and many others.

Title page, with the Phillipps shelfmark. Reference: OUA NW 1/10*

Bachelor of Arts

Vice Chancellor

Doctor of Theology, wearing a ‘toga coccinea’ (red cape)

These images are in fact cuts from David Loggan’s 1675 engraving Habitus Academici, part of his Oxonia Illustrata series of engravings illustrating Oxford University and its environment. The original engraving is a black and white single sheet, but here they are coloured, bound in a small volume with a new title page: ‘Habitus Academici in Universitate Oxoniensi Anno 1716’, and they are likely to be the earliest coloured representations of Oxford University academic dress. The shelfmark written at the bottom of the title page, ‘Phillipps MS 24809’, shows that it appears to have made its way into the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps, one of the most important book collectors of the 19th century. It was ultimately donated to the University Archives by the Keeper of the Archives 1927-45, Strickland Gibson.

Not only are these illustrations some of the earliest of academic dress in the University Archives, but they are some of the only visual representations we hold. Most other records on this topic concern attempts to regulate academic dress, and how these rules were broken.

Although the exact nature of academic dress pre-20th century is hard to pin down, attempts were nevertheless made to regulate it as early as the 17th century. In the Laudian Code of 1636, which was the first coherent set of Oxford University regulations, Statute Tit. XIV De vestitu et habitu scholastico laid down rules for how academic dress should look and be worn, and required models of the various outfits be made. The original 1636 ‘Codex Authenticus’ of the the Laudian Code is held in the University Archives, as seen below with the seals of the University, Archbishop Laud and Charles I.

The ‘Codex Authenticus’ of the Laudian Code. Reference: OUA WPγ/25c/1

At this point in time, academic dress was not worn for just ceremonies and examinations, but in University members’ everyday lives, including when they were out and about in the city. As a result, rules on academic dress were also rules about the everyday physical appearance of university members. §1 of Stat. Tit. XIV in particular describes how no member’s hair should be ‘[in] curls or excessively long’, and lays out the monetary penalties and corporal punishment that could be expected for disobeying this rule.

Stat. Tit. XIV, §1 in the Codex Authenticus

As the centuries passed, University members were required to wear their gowns less and less, and so the surveillance of their everyday appearance began to relax. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of instances of students bending or breaking the rules, and during the 20th century the University Archives begin to show more evidence of how exactly rules were disobeyed. This Proctor’s memorandum from 1945, shown below, gently reminds students of the correct situations in which academic dress should be worn, in particular noting that ‘it is an offence to smoke in academic dress’.

Proctors memorandum. Reference: OUA PR 1/8/1/1

Similarly, this notice from around the 1920s-30s, sent from the Vice-Chancellor and the Proctors to the college authorities, emphasises the importance of candidates for degrees being suitably dressed. According to this note, those taking degrees recently had been doing so ‘in torn gowns, in brown shoes, in light grey suits, in flannel trousers, and even in a form of jumper or ‘pull-over’.

Vice Chancellor and Proctors notice. Reference: OUA PR 1/5/6/1

The University Archives’ most recent holding relating to academic dress dates from 1956, just before the publication of Academic Dress of the University of Oxford in 1957. The ‘Register of Colours’ created by Shepherd and Woodward, an outfitter to the University based in Oxford, contains samples of the correctly dyed fabric to be used on each item of dress, with descriptions of the precise material and hood shape to be used.

The Register of Colours. Reference: OUA WPγ/28/15

The register is still occasionally updated by Shepherd and Woodward today, as it is relied upon by the Vice Chancellor’s Regulation 1 of 2002, which states that robes, gowns and hoods should conform to the standards ‘prescribed in the Register of Colours and Materials of Gowns and Hoods for Degrees of the University of Oxford… deposited in the University Archives.’

The topic of academic dress is one which illustrates well the relationship between the University Archives and the University itself. Our material relating to academic dress is limited to that which was considered practical to record at the time. This is why regulations for academic dress and punishments for not obeying these are represented more so in the Archives than any precise picture of exactly what was worn and how it changed over the years. Thus the Archives preserve the history of the University, but only as far as the University recorded this history at the time.

To find out more about Oxford University Archives and our holdings, please contact us.

Further Reading

Brockliss, L. W. B., ‘Students and Teachers’, The University of Oxford: A History, OUP 2016

Clifford, R. E.  & Venables, D. E., Academic Dress of the University of Oxford, Oxford 1957

Franklyn, C., Academical Dress from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Hassocks, Sussex 1970

‘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.

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

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).