Tag Archives: literary

African Poetry Project: an intern’s view

What do we mean when we say ‘African poetry’? Do we mean poetry by an African writer? But who counts as an African writer? A poet born in Africa? A poet living in Africa at the time of writing? And what does ‘poetry’ mean here? Are we referring to traditional verse forms like sonnets, villanelles, quintets, with regular metre and rhythm, printed in verse collections or neatly typewritten in English? What would happen if we broaden our definitions, if we recognize the various types of communication, broadcast, and preservation of traditions and how they may inform how poetry is carried in different cultures? What if we were open to these forms? These are the questions which I have been helping to answer over the past few weeks during my internship in the Bodleian Library’s Archives and Modern Manuscripts department. By using broader defining terms and broader answers to these questions, we can dive back into the archives to find new sources of African poetry which may have been buried.

This project is associated with the African Poetry Digital Portal, an initiative of the African Poetry Book Fund. The Fund promotes and advances the development and publication of the poetic arts through its book series, contests, workshops, and seminars and through its collaborations with publishers, festivals, universities, conferences and all other entities that share an interest in the poetic arts of Africa. The Portal is a new and evolving resource for the study of the history of African Poetry and will provide access to biographical information, artefacts, news, video recording, images and documents related to African poetry from antiquity to the present. It will also feature specially curated digital projects on various aspects of African poetry. The first two sections of the portal—‘The Index of Contemporary African Poets’ and ‘The African Poets and Poetry in the News’ have been developed with the support of the Ford Foundation and the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

The Bodleian Library is one of the collaborating institutions working on the project. When I said ‘dive back into the archive’, the archives of most interest to us are the collections of records relating to Africa, many of which were created during the colonial era. While the collections under consideration also include those more commonly associated with ‘African poetry’, such as the protest songs and poems in the Archive of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, this is what the project is designed to do – to recover the occluded and the lost voices, of which there are many in the collections.

Guided by the APDP’s brief, I began by creating a list of search terms. The project’s definition of an ‘African’ with regards to poetry is: “The poet must be African, which we define as someone who was born in an African country, is a citizen of an African country, or has at least one parent who is/was an African.” Their definition of poetry is a broad one, and too extensive to quote here, but to give a hint of what it entails, my list of search terms ended up including, without being limited to:

poetry, proverb, saying, aphorism, motto, epigram, verse, rhyme, ballad, song, incantation, folk, folklore, custom, history, fable, art, runes, oral, chorus, vernacular, oath, tradition…

With this list of terms, I first tackled the online catalogue, Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts. There were limited results here and the outlook seemed bleak. But then I began to gingerly approach a selection of scanned and OCR’d handlists, each of which gives an outline of what each collection includes. Ctrl + F is your friend here. And a good playlist. It was slow progress, and the names are enough to make one doubt: Lord Scarborough. Sir Mark Wilson. Humphrey William Amherst. Searching for ‘folk’ turns up more instances of ‘Norfolk’ and ‘Suffolk’ than African folk songs. ‘Customs’ finds lengthy papers on ‘Customs and Tariffs’ instead of traditional African customs. ‘Histories’ of African tribes look promising, until you see the author – a John, Charles, or George – and realise the history is a type of history written for a particular reason, and not the one we’re looking for.

But there are flashes of discovery. A vague handlist entry tells us about a letter which might contain something of interest:

f. 35. Philip (JOHN) to James Crapper concerning his attack on slavery, his own experiences and findings among the… [Khoekhoe people], and the English translation of a song from Madagascar.

When I had a hunch that here might be an example of African poetry just waiting to be found, I requested the box up from the subterranean levels of the Weston Library. Such was the case for Rev. John Philip’s letter to James Crapper dated 29th September 1830. Having collected the item, I could see that Philip includes in his correspondence ‘A Song Concerning the Dead’ which is ‘translated literally from the Madagascan language’. Squinting through his handwriting, we can make out the origins – he overheard the song while anchoring for a short time in a coastal town. He provides a commentary on the ‘Song’ and compares its beauty to that of Gray’s ‘Elegy’. This is success – a Madagascan poem, composed by an unknown African poet, housed among colonial records and now given its literary due thanks to the project.

Photograph of a handwritten letter including text for a Song Concerning the Dead, 29 September 1830‘Song Concerning the Dead’, letter from John Philip to James Crapper, 29 Sep 1830, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Afr. s. 4, fols. 35-36

Another example might be the Papers of Lord Claud David Hamilton, who spent much of his life involved in colonial affairs, as well as travelling through and researching Kenya. The handlist reads:

HAMILTON. (Lord Claud David). Correspondence on the Masai [Maasai] tribe, Kenya, with collections of tribal folk-tales and songs, articles on life in Kenya and a MS history of the Masai.

As expected, we find his unpublished (rejected) manuscript on the Maasai. Perhaps more unexpectedly, this manuscript is bursting with Maasai songs, prayers, and poems in various African languages, neatly typewritten. These range from women’s fertility prayers at an ‘ol-omal Ceremony’ to a ‘Song of the Il-Peless age-set’. While we cannot attribute the songs to a named poet or verify the accuracy of his transcriptions of course, these certainly originate from the Maasai tribes and are certainly poems – ‘African poetry’, if we take APDP’s definition.

Hamilton’s and Philip’s papers are just two examples of many more discoveries that we have made, and so far, after combing through catalogues and calling up boxes, I have found fifteen definite instances of African poetry. And the list of boxes for further checking is still extensive. While my internship is over, the project is definitely not – and I’m sure there is much more to find.

-Kelly Frost

Philip Larkin: Centenary of a Poet

Today marks the centenary of the birth of the poet Philip Larkin, who was born in Coventry on 9th August 1922.

Larkin was educated at King Henry VIII School in Coventry and at St John’s College, Oxford, where he read English language and literature, graduating with a first-class degree in 1943. Whilst many generations who studied his poems at school will remember him first and foremost as a poet, he also had a long and successful career as a librarian, most notably at the University of Hull where he worked for the last thirty years of his life.

Photograph of the poet Philip LarkinPhilip Larkin by Godfrey Argent, bromide print, 19 June 1968, NPG x29214  © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Larkin’s association with the Bodleian Library started in his undergraduate years, and continued throughout his creative and professional life. On his death, Larkin bequeathed the Bodleian several collections of letters. These include letters from: Kingsley Amis, a fellow English student at St John’s who became a life-long friend; the novelist Barbara Pym; and Larkin’s long term friend, lover, and companion, Monica Jones. In 2006, the Bodleian acquired the corresponding letters Larkin wrote to Jones and it is in these letters we get an insight into the creation of one of his most famous poems, An Arundel Tomb.

The tomb that inspired Larkin to write the poem is located in Chichester Cathedral and is now generally thought to be the tomb of Richard FitzAlan, the 10th Earl of Arundel (d.1376) and his second wife, Eleanor of Lancaster (d.1372). Larkin and Monica Jones visited Chichester in January 1956 and his letters to her after their visit refer to the poem in progress (MS. Eng. c. 7413)*.

The letters show that Larkin particularly deliberated over the last verse and the famous oft-quoted last line in particular. On 12th February 1956 (fol. 7), Larkin wrote to Monica saying that he was

absolutely sick of my tomb poem… It’s complete except for the last verse, which I can’t seem to finish: but I can’t feel it is very good, even as it stands. It starts nicely enough, but I think I’ve failed to put over my chief idea of their lasting so long, & in the end being remarkable only for something they hadn’t perhaps meant very seriously.

A postcard to Monica followed, postmarked 21st February (fol. 10), where he gives two alternatives to his last line:

‘That what’  } survives of us is love.
‘All that’

Larkin asks for ‘Comments please’ before rapidly moving on to yesterday’s bout of indigestion. On 26th February (fol. 19v-20r), he wrote that he has ‘about finished the tomb’, the last lines now reading:

Our nearest instinct nearly true:
All that survives of us is love.

Larkin is however still unsure, writing that including ‘almost’ instead of ‘nearest’ and ‘nearly’ in the penultimate line

wouldn’t do if the last line was to start with All: I didn’t think it pretty, but it was more accurate that this one, & I felt an ugly penultimate line would strengthen the last line. Or rather, a “subtle” penult.[imate] line w[oul]d strengthen a “simple” last line. Sea-water mean?

It seems ‘All that’ won out for a time, appearing again in pencil at the end of the typescript draft Larkin sent to Monica (fol. 22). The very fact that these lines are in pencil indicates Larkin was still undecided. On 2nd March, he wrote that he ‘shall ponder the last two lines. I quite like the “almost” set up, but don’t like the “that what” construction it entails’ (fol. 26).


Typescript draft of Philip Larkin's poem 'An Arundel Tomb'
Typescript draft of Philip Larkin’s poem An Arundel Tomb, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Eng. c. 7413, fol. 22. By kind permission of The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Philip Larkin.

In the end, the ‘almost’ won through and the ‘that what’ was avoided:

Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

An Arundel Tomb was published in May that year and would go on to be included in Larkin’s 1964 collection The Whitsun Weddings. Whilst possibility not one of his own favourite poems, it is certainly one of his best remembered. The poem was read at Larkin’s memorial service at Westminster Abbey in February 1986 and the two last lines from the poem were inscribed on Larkin’s memorial stone in Poets’ Corner, which was dedicated on 2nd December 2016.

-Rachael Marsay


*Unless otherwise stated, all quotes are from letters from Philip Larkin to Monica Jones, Feb 1956-Jul 1956, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Eng. c. 7413 and are quoted with the kind permission of The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Philip Larkin.

The Kingsland Mercury and The Lost Kingdom

One of the undoubted literary gems of the Bodleian Library is Jane Austen’s collection of juvenilia. Self-titled Volume the First, it contains sixteen of Jane’s earliest works including stories and verses, some of which were first written when Jane was as young as eleven or twelve.(1) While Volume the First reminds us that every author began somewhere, it also reminds us of how early or juvenile work can be treasured and preserved by its creators and their families alike, sometimes well beyond the lifetimes of the original intended audience. However, not all of the literary manuscripts at the Bodleian Library were created by world famous names and examples of juvenilia, shown here by two recent acquisitions, are no exception.

The Kingsland Mercury

Around 1854, two children identified as S. Horn and Edward Woodall, living in the Mardol Head neighbourhood in central Shrewsbury, decided to set up their own miniature periodical which they called The Kingsland Mercury. Written by hand on tiny pieces of folded paper and sewn together, four editions and three ‘free’ supplements dating between March and October 1854 have survived in surprisingly pristine condition (with, alas, a few missing pages). The main topic of conversation and commentary was the Crimean War but The Kingsland Mercury also included local and ‘comic’ news alongside stories, poetry, riddles, and letters to the editor, all mirroring the grown up newspapers of the day.

A small handwritten mock up of a newspaperThe Kingsland Mercury Supplement, 9 April 1854, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 18763

One of the letters to the editor gives us a clue that this tiny homemade newspaper was founded sometime before the first surviving issue from March 1854 and also had a far wider circulation than just its immediate creators. The letter writer complained that:

…really the time which some of the Subscribers of the Kingsland Mercury keep that paper is almost intolerable. Instead of reading it at the first opportunity they have, they keep it in their pockets sometimes for a day or more. Now this is too bad, & it shews that they don’t care… when those whose names are last on the list get it.

It is also likely that there were other contributors to the paper beyond the named editors due to requests from the editors for ‘original pieces on any interesting subject’ and also the occasional change in handwriting.(2)

The emphasis on the Crimean War demonstrates an awareness by the child-editors of a world beyond their own immediate environs. This awareness is also demonstrated by the inclusion of an anti-slavery poem by Edward Woodall entitled ‘The negro’s wrongs’ strongly criticising the ongoing practice of slavery in the United States, emphasising the conscious denial of education by the slave owners alongside the physical brutality they practised. Such inclusions hint at the beliefs and understanding of the adult society in which the children were brought up.(3)

The Lost Kingdom

The second example of juvenilia also demonstrates an awareness of a wider, diverse world with multiple histories. The Lost Kingdom, a ‘mocked-up’ historical adventure novel set around the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, was created by C.M. Carter at St Margarets in West Runton, Norfolk (Carter gives the location more specifically as ‘the Den’). The 422 page handwritten novel, which includes several full-page watercolour illustrations, was completed on 25th June 1922. The novel was then hand-bound with black thread between two paste board covers with bright watercolour paintings on the top cover and spine.

The illustrated cover of a child's mock up of a novelFront cover of The Lost Kingdom, by C.M. Carter, c.1922, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17192

The action-packed narrative is an epic Indiana Jones-style adventure, reflecting the contemporary derring-do of Boys’ Own type publications and adventure fiction written by authors such as John Buchan. In The Lost Kingdom, the ‘hero’ of the story, Mr Bernard Morgan (a widower and one of the early New World settlers who lived in ‘what was to become New York’) is summoned by a letter from a friend to come to the aid of the Incas under the threat of Spanish colonisation.

Much of the story is centred around the adventures of his daughter Stella, conveniently being looked after by a family in Peru at the start of the tale, who is later joined by her two brothers during their school holidays. Whilst the gender of the author remains unknown, the use of a prominent female character alongside the Morgans’ attempt to help the indigenous population against colonising forces seem remarkable for something of this date (even if their representation is somewhat muddled to modern eyes).

Illustration of ‘The Gorge of Death’: ‘Poor Stella was sent shooting from the back of the llama and hurtled into the fear-full dephs [sic] below…’, from The Lost Kingdom, by C.M. Carter, c.1922, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17192

The way the story keeps going throughout the 400 or so pages is also remarkable, demonstrating the author’s dedication to the work. Subtle changes in the handwriting suggest Carter had a little help now and then: a more in-depth inspection of the item might tell us how much of a collaborative effort it was – was it a collaboration between friends or siblings, or perhaps something which drew on a mutually imagined ongoing adventure?

The main story ends on page 402 with the return of the Morgans to the United States. This is followed by several more pages with commentary on the First World War (The Great War as it was then called) and a poem on ‘The Fall of Peru’ – an interesting and somewhat unexplained juxtaposition, perhaps an effort on the part of the author to make some sense of both the contemporary world and its history.

These items of juvenilia offer an interesting mix of fact and fiction presented through young eyes in a medium that was both familiar and grown-up. In each case, while we are lucky to actually have their names and locations, we know a lot less about the authors than we do about Jane Austen. What links them and the Austen juvenilia together however is a determination to put pen to paper – to amuse as well as educate, and to share stories.

-Rachael Marsay

 


Footnotes

  1. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. e. 7. The volume is available to view on Digital Bodleian and more information can be found on the Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts website.
  2. On 3rd April 1854, the paper noted a change in editors with J. Woodall taking over from S. Horn – perhaps a moving on or a falling out.
  3. It is likely that the Woodall family were clothiers: in an 1851 directory, a John Woodall is listed as a woollen draper and clothier in Mardol Head. Samuel Bagshaw, History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Shropshire (Sheffield, 1851).

New catalogue: Archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen family

The archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen family has now been fully catalogued and made available to readers. The catalogue is available to view online via Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts.

The collection contains a wide range of correspondence, including letters sent between John Hungerford Pollen and John Henry Newman. While most of these letters relate to the creation of Newman’s University Church in Dublin, they also bear testament to a lifelong friendship. Other notable correspondents in the collection include Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Evelyn Waugh, and the poet and artist David Jones.

The archive also contains many visual pieces such as numerous sketchbooks belonging to John Hungerford Pollen and various photographs, including a portrait of John Hungerford Pollen by the renowned early photographer Julia Margaret Cameron as well as family photographs of home life at Newbuildings.

Photograph of the Pollen Family (John and Maria Hungerford Pollen with their ten children)Photograph of the family of John Hungerford Pollen (with beard, standing centre), unknown photographer, Archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen Family, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17906 Photogr. 3.

Personal records in the collection include: an account by John Hungerford Pollen’s wife Maria of the aid she and her daughter Margaret gave to Italian police to recover some stolen Burano lace; a transcript of the diary of Anne Pollen between 1870 and 1881 detailing her life prior to becoming a nun at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton; and the wartime diaries kept by her sister Margaret between 1914 and 1919.

More information on the collection and Pollen family can be found in a series of blogposts posted in November 2020 to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen’s birth.

-Rachael Marsay

A lot of pun? An early nineteenth-century book of conundrums

There are many different traditions associated with this time of year, not least the pulling of crackers on Christmas Day. And what cracker would be complete without a terrible joke?

A recent donation to the Bodleian Library included this manuscript volume, described in pencil on the inner flyleaf as containing ‘162 conundrums’ and dated as c.1814-1820. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, a conundrum is: A question asked for amusement, typically one with a pun in its answer; a riddle; a confusing and difficult problem or question.

Marbled front cover of a nineteenth century notebook

Early nineteenth-century book of conundrums, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

This volume contains 162 questions or riddles, undoubtedly collected for amusement’s sake. The questions or riddles are written in several different hands which suggest the volume was passed round family and friends to add their own. The questions are numbered and listed at the front of the volume, and the answers are provided in a numbered list at the back of the volume. Unfortunately, there is no clue as to the identity of any of the contributors apart from a label on the front pasteboard which suggests that the notebook was bought from Martin Keene’s book and stationery shop in College Green, Dublin.

Inside of volume showing page of conundrums

Manuscript book of conundrums, showing questions 92-98, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

List of answers inside manuscript book of conundrums

Manuscript book of conundrums, showing answers 40-104, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

Here is a selection:

Why is a drawn tooth like a thing forgotten? Because it is out of the Head.

Why is a spectator like a beehive? Because he is a beholder.

What is the Elegy of a Turkey? Its Leg.

Why are the bucks and does in Windsor forest like the Queen? The King’s own deer.

Reading through the conundrums, it is somewhat reassuring to find that the tradition of sharing terrible puns is many centuries old! I wonder if this particular volume was ever passed around the family at Christmastime?


New catalogue: literary papers of Sarah Caudwell

The full catalogue for the Literary Manuscripts of Sarah Caudwell held at the Bodleian Library is now available online via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts.

Sarah Caudwell was the pseudonym of Sarah Caudwell Cockburn (1939-2000), a barrister who used her in-depth knowledge of property law and tax in her finely-tuned crime fiction novels.

Sarah was born in London in 1939, the daughter of Jean Iris Ross (1911–1973), a journalist and actress thought to be the inspiration behind Christopher Isherwood’s fictional heroine Sally Bowles. Her father, who left Ross three months after Sarah’s birth, was the journalist (Francis) Claud Cockburn (1904–1981).

Sarah studied classics at Aberdeen University before going on to study law at St Anne’s College, Oxford where she successfully campaigned to allow women to become members of the Oxford Union and take part in debates. She had a successful career at the bar before going on to work for Lloyd’s Bank in their trust division which she left only to concentrate more fully on her writing.

Her novels largely centre around the character of Professor Hilary Tamar (an Oxford don whose gender is never revealed to the reader) and a group of young barristers, to whom Tamar acts as a kind of mentor. The four books in the series are written in various locations including Corfu, Venice, Sark, and a fictional English village. The first book in the series was Thus was Adonis Murdered, published in America in 1981. This was followed by The Shortest Way to Hades in 1985. Her next novel, The Sirens Sang of Murder, was published in 1989 and won the 1990 Anthony award for Best Novel. The final book in the series, The Sibyl in Her Grave, was published posthumously in America in 2000.

Sarah Caudwell's four novels

Sarah Caudwell’s four novels

The collection contains around 200 wirebound reporter’s notebooks full of Caudwell’s jottings for her novels (alongside notes for cryptic crossword puzzles), as well as draft printouts of sections from her novels and publisher’s proofs.

-Rachael Marsay

Jenny Joseph poetry notebooks digitised

Digitised copy of 'Warning', from Jenny Joseph's poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41]

Digitised copy of ‘Warning’, from Jenny Joseph’s poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41]

Five of Jenny Joseph’s poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41have been digitised and you can now see every page on Digital.Bodleian.

The notebooks are a rich distillation of 60 years of Jenny Joseph’s writing career, starting in 1949, just before she came to the University of Oxford to study English. The third notebook (page 3) includes a draft of her most well-known poem, ‘Warning‘ – When I am an old woman I shall wear purple / With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me – two famous first lines which you can see corrected in this draft.

She wrote the poem in 1961 and first published it in the newsletter of the old people’s home her husband was working in at the time, and then in the magazine The Listener in 1962. She revised it further for her 1974 Cholmondeley Award winning poetry collection Rose in the Afternoon. The poem was a slow burner which surged in popularity in the 1980s, particularly in America, and it was widely anthologised and re-used for everything from tea-towels to cancer campaign adverts. The poem took on a life of its own, even losing its author at times – the Jenny Joseph archive includes a poster that attributes the lines to a mythical ‘Anonymous’. In 1996 ‘Warning’ was voted Britain’s favourite post-war poem and it even inspired new social groups like the Red Hat Society, a club for women over 50. You can find recordings of Jenny Joseph reading ‘Warning’ on YouTube, and readings of four other poems at the Poetry Archive.

 

Dame Hermione Lee archive now available

Photograph portrait of Professor Dame Hermione Lee, by John Cairns (2020)

Professor Dame Hermione Lee, by John Cairns (2020) (reproduced with permission)

The archive of British academic and biographer Professor Dame Hermione Lee is now available at the Weston Library, comprising the working correspondence and papers of a notable author, academic, and public intellectual, including literary papers, academic and scholarly papers, and papers relating to Lee’s journalism, public lecturing and broadcasting work.

Hermione Lee studied English Literature here at Oxford University and then taught at the College of William and Mary, the University of Liverpool, and the University of York before, in 1998, returning to Oxford, where for ten years she was the Goldsmiths’ Professor of English Literature, as well as the first female professorial fellow of New College. Between 2008 and 2017, Lee served as the president of Wolfson College, Oxford (founding the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing), and is now Emeritus Professor of English Literature. In 2013 she was made Dame for her services to literary scholarship.

Hermione Lee is a major figure in the academic study of life-writing and the archive reflects her teaching life as both a university academic and public lecturer and speaker, including research notes and lecture texts in her principle teaching areas of American literature, post-colonial and Commonwealth literature and 19th-21st-century biography.

To the wider public, Lee is perhaps best known for her broadcasting and biographies. The archive contains extensive research material and drafts for her award-winning biographies of Virginia Woolf (1996), Edith Wharton (2006) and Penelope Fitzgerald (2013). It also includes research and drafts for her biographies of Elizabeth Bowen (1981) and Willa Cather (1989); her OUP Very Short Introduction to Biography (2009); her collection of essays on life-writing, Body Parts (2005); as well as research and drafts for scholarly articles and essays and for Lee’s decades-long career as a book reviewer and literary journalist.

Lee first came to prominence as a journalist and commentator as the presenter of Channel 4’s flagship literary discussion programme Book Four from the day Channel 4 launched in 1982. She has since presented numerous TV and radio programmes for broadcasters including the BBC, some in partnership with her friend, the author Julian Barnes. The archive will be a useful resource for those interested in the history of literary programming in the UK, not least because it contains multiple shooting scripts.

Another feature of the archive is Lee’s meticulous research for that ephemeral book festival phenomenon: the public interview and round table discussion. It includes preparatory material for a series of encounters with Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing, as well as authors including Margaret Atwood, Ben Okri, Joyce Carol Oates, John McGahern, Anita Desai and Salman Rushdie.

This extensive working archive of an academic, biographer and broadcaster is now available to readers in the Weston Library.

Cataloguing was generously funded by the Wolfson Foundation.

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 1876, 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.