Looking through the Archive from Sir John’s time and after, we see the frequent attendance of one of the lesser Romantics, Letitia Landon. Always cursed with being born too late, she was barely 18 in 1820 when the whole movement began running out of steam – Byron and Shelley already quit Blighty never to return (though they could hardly have realised this) and no sooner had she joined than Johnny Keats popped off to Italy and thence popped off his mortal coil. And thus English poetry fell into doldrums that young Lettie to much green to fight against alone, and lacked the rich creative atmosphere of a few years previous in which to steep her somewhat naive couplets and infuse them with passion.
Despite missing her moment, Lettie continued pursuing a career as a freelance scribbler, prose polisher and jobbing poet much to the chagrin of her contemporaries, who considered writing, while a perfectly appropriate occupation for a lady of manners to partake in on the side, in between croquet and crochet, it absolutely must never be a means of one’s subsidence – far better to starve away in a suitably waiflike manner than get one’s lily-white hands dirty with work. Alas, the Archives show that she often encountered just such attitudes on many a Tuesday evening, and may have contributed to her marrying a colonial governor and exchanging Ealing for the Gold Coast.
But I’m very glad to report a seemly absence of know-your-place-isms at this week’s workshop. Peter Francis has been finding new growth from cuttings in his garden, which is more than can be said of deep space, and John Hurley has been despairing of any two things in nature being able to get along. Doig Simmonds meanwhile has been watching a girl turn into a woman in an afternoon, while Alan Chambers has been seeing the sea in a landlocked field and hearing it through the branches of a tree. Meanwhile, Daphne Gloag’s world has all been yellow of late – could it all be the work of a mysterious conjurer ? We then had Martin Choules taking all the fun out of music by his counting up the carbon cost of records, but thankfully new member Rosemary Hodi has been embracing the harshness of Winter with relish, and Pat Francis has been watching a tartan cockney pull off a remarkable balancing act.
It is always saddening to read reports of the bad behaviours of past attendees, but let us not forget that Georgie Byron was quite the bully himself, endlessly mocking Bill Wordsworth’s Northern accent while telling Johnny Keats to stick his nightingale where the sun shineth not. After his sudden departure from these shores the inevitable rumours wasted no time in sprinting round the salons and balls, some suggesting that he had made a pact with the Devil at the Ealing crossroads, while others contested that he had merely been offering directions and was mortified to realise that he had gotten mixed up and accidentally sent Lucifer to bang on pious old Billy Blake’s door. When Lettie started attending some time later these stories were still in currency, especially in the public bar of the Red Lion.
Apparently, it was Leigh Hunt who leant over one evening and conspiratorially reported to her that only he knew the real reason that Georgie Porgy had run away – it seemed that ‘Mister Moody’ lordship had gone off the boil somewhat, and was always getting left to the end before being given a turn, and if they were overrunning on account of Bysshy Shelley bringing along yet another monster in a thousand lines, well, he was often asked if he’d mind forgoing his turn that week. Hunty thought this probably happened once too often, constantly being told that sorry but no, not tonight, until the final week of his attendance when he started up in a rage and dramatically overturn an occasional table, all the while reciting his latest attempt at ottava rima and thoroughly mangling his Spanish pronunciation. But now not only did they have his barely literate verse to contend with, but his wild hysteria to boot – truly had he that night lived upto his reputation of being mad, bad, and dangerous to ‘no’.
Of course, such an anecdote is typical of a man like George Byron, crashing into some poor woman’s story and taking over the narrative focus. And likewise when asked to butt out he went into an epic sulk and flounced off to the continent.