28 June 2010

Thomas Moore and Kegworth, Leicestershire

The Irish poet Tom Moore (1779-1852) lived at The Cedars, London Road, Kegworth, for almost a year, where he wrote several of his 'Irish Melodies', and made preparations for his novel Lalla Rookh (1817).

There is a 'Tom Moore's Walk', where it's said he used to walk along the Long Whatton road to sit and write under 'Tom Moore's [cedar] tree', which I was unfortunately unable to locate because it's no longer there, or rather, all that is left of it is this:

William Lilly and Diseworth, Leicestershire

Hilda Lawson's booklet on the very unusual life of William Lilly (1602-81) is an amazing read. Lilly was born in Diseworth the son of a farmer of modest means, and after a village school education went to the grammar school in Ashby de la Zouch, where, according to his autobiography, he learned to speak Latin as well as he could English. In 1620 Lilly walked to London to work as a kind of secretary to Gilbert Wright, and after his master's death Lilly married Wright's widow, who was 25 years older than Lilly, and the first of his three wives.

By 1632 he had become a consultant astrologer in London, working for both the Roundheads and the Royalists. His most noted work is Christian Astrology Treated in Three Books, and he amassed a large amount of money. Toward the end of his life he became a physician.

Lilly's cottage stands in a prominent position in Diseworth, on the other side of the road from the parish church.


ADDENDUM: In a comment below, Quentin Field-Boden very helpfully provides a link to a YouTube video he's made, containing a number of old photos of the cottage. Here's the link:

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William Lilly's Cottage, Diseworth

John Shakespear and Diseworth, Leicestershire

John Shakespear (1774-1858) was born at Lount near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, initially educated at Staunton Harold, and then, under the patronage of Lord Rawdon, went to London to study Arabic. However, his specialization became Hindustani, on which he wrote a number of books, the most notable being Hindustani Grammar (1813) and A Dictionary of Hindustani and English (1817).

There is a memorial on the north wall of the chancel of St Michael and All Angels Church, Diseworth.

Shakespear retired in 1829 and bought Langley Priory, later home to a number of generations of Shakespears. The above photo shows some of their graves in the cemetery of St Michael and All Angels Church.

27 June 2010

William Beveridge and Barrow-Upon-Soar, Leicestershire

William Beveridge (1636-1708) was born in Barrow-Upon-Soar, close to Holy Trinity Church, and his Private Thoughts (1709) for many years was a kind of vade mecum for aspiring clergymen, as well as his most noted work.

24 June 2010

Highgate: Literary London #26

The house in which Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived from 1823 until his death in 1834 was at 3 The Grove, Highgate. He lived here with Ann and Dr James Gilman, who was a dentist. They were unsuccessfully trying to cure Coleridge of his opium habit.

Coleridge's tomb was moved to St Michael's Church in South Grove in 1961. His self-written epitaph is inscribed on the floor of the nave:

'Stop Christian passer-by! Stop child of God
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A Poet lies or that which once seemed he.
O lift one thought in prayer for S-T-C-
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life may here find life in Death!
Mercy for praise to be forgiven for Fame
He ak'd and hoped through Christ
Do then the same!'

J. B. Priestley lived at 3 The Grove in the mid-1930s.

Glinert mentions the essayist Francis Bacon, who died of pneumonia, 'which he supposedly caught while stuffing a chicken with snow in the village's Pond Square.' Odd reading this certainly makes, but the name of this street, just opposite Pond Square, suggests at least that he is remembered in the village.

17 North Road is where A. E. Houseman wrote A Shropshire Lad (1896).

A young John Betjeman lived at 31 West Hill 1808-17.

The Vale of Health: Literary London #25

The Vale of Health must be one of the best kept secrets in London. A kind of hamlet without any retail outlets, it stands in the south-west corner of Hampstead Heath and just outside Hampstead proper. Once a bog known as Hatch's Bottom, it was drained in 1777 by Hampstead Water Company, and a few cottages were erected for poor people. The picture is very different now, although to walk around this very quiet, very small cul-de-sac is like being in a different time.

In 1915 D. H. Lawrence lived with his wife Frieda at 1 Byron Villas, although the plaque is on another house. While here, Lawrence began the literary magazine The Signature with John Middleton Murry, for which Murry's wife Katherine Mansfield contributed under the pseudonym Matilda Berry. It was against the patriotic spirit of the time, and lasted only three issues. The Lawrences left for Cornwall on 1 December 1915, and persuaded the Middleton Murrys to join them shortly afterwards.

The poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) lived at 3 Villas-on-the-Heath in 1912.

After two years' imprisonment for insulting the Prince Regent, Leigh Hunt then took up residence at Vale Lodge from 1815-1821. During his stay here, he wrote five sonnets in praise of Hampstead, and introduced Keats to Shelley. He is perhaps most noted for Dickens's depiction of him as Harold Skimpole.

Stella Gibbons lived in Vale Cottage from 1927 to 1930, a few years before she became the noted author of Cold Comfort farm (1932).

Compton Mackenzie lived at Woodbine Cottage from 1937 to 1943, during which time he wrote the six volumes of The Four Winds of Love. He noted that village life was only a half hour away from Piccadilly Circus.

Ed Glinert's A Literary Guide to London: Literary London #24

Ed Glinert's A Literary Guide to London (London: Penquin, 2000) is a font of information, and many examples I've used in the past have been gleaned from his book. That notwithstanding, I would have welcomed more mention of obscure authors in place, say, of Martin Amis. In the Notting Hill section, for instance, I'm sure many people would have warmly welcomed a few anecdotes about the eccentric poet John Gawsworth, who inherited the Kingdom of Redonda from M. P. Shiel, and used to hold forth in the Alma pub in Westbourne Grove, often conferring dukedoms and such like on beermats to anyone willing to buy him the price of a drink for the privilege. In 2000, it may not have been known, as Barry Humphries later revealed about meeting Gawsworth, that he kept Shiel's ashes in a container that he took a pinch from to add to meals on special occasions, but the bizarre activities of the King of Redonda must have been quite widely known known among writers, surely? Glinert must certainly have been unaware of the equally bizarre Lionel Britton, who makes London almost a character in his novel Hunger and Love, but just to mention Simon Blumenfeld in passing merely to note that he was obscure seems a mistake to me.

Which brings me to a second niggle: the dearth of entries in the East End section: why no more comment on Blumenfeld, who wrote two novels - Jew Boy (1932) and Phineas Kahn (1937), set in the East End? Why no mention of Willy Goldman, who wrote East End My Cradle? Why no mention of the wonderful B. S. Johnson? Why no mention of the Jewish working-class anarchist Emanuel Litvinoff, who in 1951 attended a poetry reading at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, in which he read the following poem against T. S. Eliot?

'To T.S. Eliot

Eminence becomes you. Now when the rock is struck
your young sardonic voice which broke on beauty
floats amid incense and speaks oracles
as though a god
utters from Russell Square and condescends,
high in the solemn cathedral of the air,
his holy octaves to a million radios.

I am not one accepted in your parish.
Bleistein is my relative and I share
the protozoic slime of Shylock, a page
in Sturmer, and, underneath the cities,
a billet somewhat lower than the rats.
Blood in the sewers. Pieces of our flesh
float with the ordure on the Vistula.
You had a sermon but it was not this.

It would seem, then, yours is a voice
remote, singing another river
and the gilded wreck of princes only
for Time’s ruin. It is hard to kneel
when knees are stiff.

But London Semite Russian Pale, you will say
Heaven is not in our voices.
The accent, I confess, is merely human,
speaking of passion with a small letter
and, crying widow, mourning not the Church
but a woman staring the sexless sea
for no ship’s return,
and no fruit singing in the orchards.

Yet walking with Cohen when the sun exploded
and darkness choked our nostrils,
and the smoke drifting over Treblinka
reeked of the smouldering ashes of children,
I thought what an angry poem
you would have made of it, given the pity.

But your eye is a telescope
scanning the circuit of stars
for Good-Good and Evil Absolute,
and, at luncheon, turns fastidiously from fleshy
noses to contemplation of the knife
twisting among the entrails of spaghetti.

So shall I say it is not eminence chills
but the snigger from behind the covers of history,
the sly words and the cold heart
and footprints made with blood upon a continent?
Let your words
tread lightly on this earth of Europe
lest my people’s bones protest.'

Iain Sinclair is very justifiably mentioned several times. And, predictably, Amis is there for London Fields. Amis yes, B. S. Johnson no? That's a crime of the first water!

19 June 2010

John Dryden, Aldwincle and Titchmarsh, Northamptonshire

In 1609 John Pickering married Susannah Dryden, and some years later Erasmus, Susannah's brother, married Mary Pickering, John's cousin. The poet John Dryden (1613-1700) was the eldest child of the marriage between Erasmus and Mary, and he was born in Aldwincle near Thrapston, in the rectory opposite a now redundant church (All Saints), where his maternal grandfather was rector.

John Dryden spent his younger years in neighboring Titchmarsh, and his parents are buried in the parish church of St Mary the Virgin there.

In the north transept is a monument dated 1722, painted by John Dryden's cousin Elizabeth Creed, to John's parents, although it bears a representation of John Dryden's head - labeled 'The Poet', at the top - and the information in the monument relates much more to John than to his parents:

'[Erasmus and Mary] had 14 children, the eldest of whom was John Driden Esc. the celebrated poet and laureat of his time, his bright parts & learning are best seen in his own excellent writings on various subjects. We boast that he was bred & had his first learning here, where he has often made us happie with his kind visits and most delightfull conversation. He married the lady Elizabeth Howard daughter to Henry Earl of Barkshire by whom he had 3 sons, Charls, John and Erasmus Henry, and after 70 od years when nature could be no longer suported, he recieved the notice of his approaching disolution with sweet submission and entier resignation to the divine will. And he took so tender and obliging a farewell of his friends as none but he him self could have expressed (of which sorrowfull number I was one). His body was honourably interred in West Minster Abbey among the greatest wits of divers ages. His sons were all fine genius accomplished gentlemen: they died in their youth un married.' Sr Erasmus Henry the youngest lived till the ancient honour of the family descended on him.'

Samuel Pepys was a friend of Elizabeth's husband John Creed, and visited Titchmarsh in 1668, on the occasion of their wedding.

Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir Gilbert Pickering (1613-68), who was Lord Chamberlain to Oliver Cromwell.

Servant and Master, Titchmarsh, Northamptonshire

On the west wall of the south aisle of the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Titchmarsh, Northamptonshire, is an unusual memorial, which I reproduce with the original punctuation:

'In memory of HUGH RICHARD A servant of St, GILBERT PICKERING BART. Who among other Acts of Fidelity distinguished Himself by one, which ought to be transmitted to after Ages by seeing a Villain behind his Master ready to run him through: this brave young Man not having time to save SIR GILBERT any otherway, threw himself between the Swords Point and his Master, receiving the Wound in his own Body that was design'd for SIR GILBERT PICKERING, the Wound 'tho desperate Proved not Mortal.

That so rare an Example of Fidelity and Vallour may not soon be forgotten this is plac'd near to his Grave.

He was after unhappily drowned as he was learning to Swim in a Pit in the River since call'd by his Name.

Never was a Servant more lamented.'

Thomas Bell and Barnwell St Andrew, Northamptonshire

The school teacher, historian and poet Thomas Bell (1782-1862) is buried in the churchyard of Barnwell St Andrew, Northamptonshire, just to the right of the south porch, and spent most of his life in the village.

Miriam Rothschild and Ashton, Northamptonshire

Dame Miriam Louisa Rothschild (1908—2005) was a zoologist, entomologist, and author born in the small village of Ashton, near Oundle, in Northamptonshire. As a young child, she collected beetles, caterpillars, and took a quail to bed with her. Although the flea is perhaps the animal she is most noted for her great knowledge of - she made original researches into their jumping mechanism and their reproductive habits.

Perhaps understandably, the village remembers her most by its pub, The Checkered Skipper, named after the butterfly reproduced on the inn sign: they're so much sexier than fleas.

Rothschild was a vegetarian, an atheist, a teetotaller, make-up-free, and a rather eccentric dresser, at a time when her position would perhaps have expected conformity.

18 June 2010

Émile Gaboriau and Saujon, Charente-Maritime (17), France

Émile Gaboriau (1832-73) was born in Saujon, and is regarded as the first detective story writer. A great fan of Edgar Allan Poe, Gaboriau - who was a journalist familiar with trials and morgues -  transformed ideas behind Poe's stories into popular detective fiction. His first novel in this genre was L'Affaire Lerouge (1866), which first introduced his famous character Monsieur Lecoq, who was modeled on Eugène François Vidocq (1775-1857), a former thief who became a police officer, and who wrote the semi-fictional Les Vrais Mémoires de Vidocq.

The young Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the writers initially influenced by Gaboriau, although he took Poe's Dupin more as a model when he became a writer.

Although there is (surprisingly?) no monument to Gaboriau in Saujon, a street is named after him, but even then, it sounds slightly snooty to refer to him as a 'popular novelist'. As opposed to a serious one?

Eugène Pelletan and Royan, Charente-Maritime (17), France

Eugène Pelletan (1813–84) was a writer, journalist and politician born in Royan, and much noted for his oratory. He was a Saint-Simonian during the republic.

In 1892 a statue in Royan was erected in his memory, although this was melted down during World War II. In the town of his birth, only a street name remembers him.

However, in the neighboring seaside town of Saint-Georges-de-Didonne, a bust of Pelletan was recently erected.

And although Saint-Georges-de-Didonne is a very small town, there are in fact three streets there named after Pelletan.

And there is a street in Saintes too which bears his name.

Jean Fernand-Lafargue and Bordeaux, Gironde (33)

Novelist, poet and playwright Jean Fernand-Lafarque (1856-1903), born in Bordeaux, is perhaps best known as a writer of novels of manners. Some of his works include Une idylle à Tahiti (1882), Dette d’honneur (1883), La Fausse Piste (1885), La Gourme (1886) (which was considered rather shocking), Fin d'amour (1890), and Une seconde femme (1995).

The monument, which is in the Jardin Public in Bordeaux, was conceived by the sculptor Jules Rispal, and incorporates two characters from his novels: a gamekeeper from Les Landes and a grape-picker from the Médoc.