Sir John died in 1837, but he had sold the Manor back in 1810. To whom he sold it is more of a mystery, but there appear to have been several owners until it was taken over by the Perceval sisters in 1843. The fate of the poetry group is also unclear – did the temporary owners keep it up, or did it lapse until the energetic Percevals bustled it back to life ?
What is clear is that English poetry in the 1820s was facing the dark and stormy night of doggerel. The burst of the Romantics had fizzled following the tragic deaths of Keats, Shelley and Byron within three years of each other at the start of the decade. Wordsworth, Coleridge and Blake were still around, it is true, but there best work was not. Meanwhile, the early efforts of the Victorians like Alfred Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett had yet to catch fire.
It was a time of great social upheaval, of the Reform Movement and Catholic Emancipation, of the Stockton & Darlington and the Voyage of the Beagle, and yet a decade which poetry failed to capture, or did so in a highly unmemorable fashion. Indeed, can any of our readership recall a single poem from that time ? Even harder if we exclude posthumous works by the Romantics.
Alas, the society annals are equally fragmentary through this period, with little to report except the odd tasty snippet. Were there unrecorded visits by the likes of John Clare and Leigh Hunt ? Did John Stuart Mill and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow bring their three-name respectability ? We may never know. But where the ledgers are silent, the rumour mill is wont to grind…
One such tale not recorded until many years later, and even then of dubious origin, concerns a visit by Washington Irving, popping over to Blighty during his two-decade-long gap-year in Europe. In attendance that particular week was also Mary Shelley, sometime author and tireless promoter of one Percy Bysshe. Mary was instantly taken with the Bard of Birmingham, and was a little put out when he did not respond. “My dear,” he is alleged to have told her, “talking to you is likely to send me to sleep for twenty years.” Incensed, Mary retorted “I wouldn’t walk out with you if you were the last man alive in the 21st Century !”
No such problems with histrionics at this week’s meeting. Daphne Gloag played I-spy with the reader and spotted something she had never seen before. Owen Gallagher brought back a comparison involving bicycles and insults, and Helen Baker foretold the future of England’s green and pleasant greens. Caroline Am Bergris used her ration of words very carefully, not like those folk who toss them around like feathered boas, and Alan Chambers took a wrong turn on memory lane and never found the magical tearoom of his youth. Finally, Martin Choules wondered if we might all be complicit in a great delusion.
Be sure to mention in the comments any 1820s poems you know of which are worth a second look. Perhaps we can salvage something yet from these wilderness years.