A Farm called ‘Maloi Jaroslawitz’, or, A Dutch Melancholy Hussar

Image of a farmhouse with a high hedge in front of it.

Contributor: Asker Pelgrom

Location: along the provincial road N330 between Hummelo and Zelhem (The Netherlands), 52°00’25.1″N 6°15’12.8″E

Description: In the rural area of the Achterhoek, in the eastern part of the Netherlands, along the provincial road between the villages of Hummelo and Zelhem, travellers encounter a nineteenth-century farmhouse carrying a fascinating legend: ’18 Maloï Jaroslawitz 60’. To military historians, this name immediately rings a bell: it refers to the battle of Maloyaroslavets that took place on the 24th of October 1814, between the Russian army commanded by Marshal Kutusov and parts of the corps of Eugène de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s stepson, under General Delzons. Five days earlier, Napoleon had evacuated Moscow and marched south with his Grande Armée, De Beauharnais leading the advance. The bloody battle (10.000 casualties) ended in victory for the mainly French and Italian forces. However, Kutusov’s deliberate retreat forced Napoleon northward, a direction he had wished to avoid. We all know the dramatic outcome. In a way, Maloyaroslavets thus marked the beginning of the end of the Grande Armée. But why does a rural farmhouse in the Netherlands carry this name? And why do many other farms in the same area bear other names that refer to Napoleon’s Russian campaign and the battles fought in its aftermath: Jena (1851), Bautzen (1852), Lützen (1854), Montmirail (1856, since 1943 called Grevenkamp), Beresina (1857), Düben (1858) and Briënne (1860)? The colours of the painted shutters point to the answer.

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A poster advertising the opening of William Cowper’s house in Olney as a museum, 1900

A poster advertising the opening of William Cowper’s house in Olney as a museum, 1900

Contributor: Nicola J. Watson

Location: Cowper and Newton Museum, Olney

Description: On 25 April 1900, the centenary of the death of the English poet and hymnodist William Cowper (1731-1800), his house Orchardside was presented by its then owner to the town of Olney as a public museum. Cowper’s house would become one of the earlier writer’s house museums in Britain, part of a cluster of such openings at the end of the century which included Dove Cottage in 1891. These came out of a strengthening desire to celebrate an intimate relation between literature and the national landscape, a Romantic mentality that had found its first widespread expression in Britain and Europe during Cowper’s own lifetime. The programme of celebratory events laid out here is eloquent of the meanings that the figure of Cowper had shed and accumulated over the century since his death. It is perhaps also inadvertently eloquent of the extent to which Cowper has since fallen out of the accepted canon of Romantic poetry.

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William Cowper’s Summer House

William Cowper's Summer House

Contributor: Joanne Reardon

Location: Olney, Milton Keynes

Description:

I catch your eye from the bottom of my garden, my hidden place.

The season smiles high in the great blue vault of the sky, the cold catches corners of the wind, whispers around my wattle and daub box. I watch you narrow-eyed, pulled down towards dust, my lilting walls tipping to the place where I keep my secrets buried deep in earth.

My damp plaster will dry in the cold bite of early Spring which my wooden door is too fickle to keep out. Crammed with too many voices dug deep into my walls, I would cover my ears, yet it hurts when they leave me. I long to hear them again, what they have to say to me, calling me out of silence.

I sense him still, sitting with a friend ‘as close pack’d as two wax figures in an old-fashioned picture frame’.

You stand outside, looking in, leaning through the half-door imagining it, the figures trapped behind glass. I know you want to release them.

You imagine, beneath his feet, the trap door, the desk above it, his shoes tapping a rhythm as he writes. You watch his words spiral outwards, unravelling as their fingertips touch the four walls, slip through the window, under the door. Always a door you think, always shut, the world on one side and he on the other.

But it wasn’t like that.

Life slips in when doors are shut. Under cover of darkness it comes: through a mole hole, a crack in the plaster, the glass in the round window hollowing will let in light from the moon, the voices on the ceiling will sing their sorrow and the names on the walls will always have stories they are waiting to tell.

If you let the outside in, it will blossom like a bee-bitten flower.

The ‘two wax figures in an old fashioned picture frame’, this tugs a memory in you of a pendant belonging to someone who loved you, long gone. A scene unfolding in a glass bowl on the end of a chain, small enough to fit like a teardrop in the palm of your hand. A whole world was living in there, a gathering of tiny wooden figures seated in a clearing, spinning threads of bright silk, trapped forever in time. A memory so small you had forgotten it, but you remember her, the woman you loved, the way she twirled you high above her head, reciting poetry, always letting the outside world in.

You leave me in the spaces between time, slowing as night approaches, falls. Mice scuttle through the grass and rain casts its spider-webbed fingers in curtains across the garden and, wait…here he comes, making his way through the pathways, trailing thoughts in his footsteps as he always does. The veil of fading light settles on my eaves as he opens the door, finds his chair waiting, his pen ready, his heart full.

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Cowper’s Windowpane

Cowper's Windowpane

Contributor: Fiona Stafford

Location: Orchard Side, Market Place, Olney, Buckinghamshire, UK, MK46 4AJ

Description: In the Cowper and Newton Museum, you can still see some of the original eighteenth-century windowpanes, flecked, blurry, bubbled and much more individual than modern mass-produced glass. It is easier to see why the poets of earlier centuries scratched poems and signatures into the windows of inns when looking at such attractive surfaces. Although William Cowper (1731-1800) was not in the habit of inscribing impromptu lines on panes of glass or, indeed, to making overnight stops in inns, the windows of this house are indirectly responsible for some of his finest poems, including The Task (1785) and ‘The Diverting History of John Gilpin’ (1785).

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John Thelwall’s Summer Study

Ruins and greenery, labeled 2004 and 2019

Contributor: Judith Thompson

Location: Ty Mawr, Llyswen, Wales LD3 0UU

Description: This site brings together two iconic romantic objects, a waterfall and a hermitage. They are the more Romantically compelling because both are in ruins, remote and hidden from the public eye, part of a mysterious history only recently and partially recovered, and at the heart of a landscape associated with Druids and legends of King Arthur. Located in the village of Llyswen Wales, overlooking the Wye River below the Black Mountains, they were built by John Thelwall, romantic radical and acquitted felon, poet and polymath, and the original of Wordsworth’s “Recluse.”

Reclusive hermits and and dashing waterfalls have a long association in Romantic-era literature and culture, as Jonathan Falla has shown. Together and apart, they epitomize the neo-gothic sensibility that defined the age, associated with outlaws and bards in northern and border regions, but also stock features of late eighteenth-century landscape aesthetics and fashionable tourism, part of the process of constructing a British nation by assimilating and commodifying its margins. But Thelwall’s was neither the fashionable folly of a propertied dilettante nor the residence of a professional hermit; instead it was a labour of love by an eccentric exile and activist, a retreat for a notorious Jacobin fox-on-the-run, and a place to seek and test philosophies of revolutionary hope and renewal he shared with the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth. In fact, in both cultivating the persona of “New Recluse” and building his modest hermitage and waterfall, he was directly inspired by his friends, and inspired them in turn. Continue reading “John Thelwall’s Summer Study”

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Le Temple de la Nature, Chamonix

Image of a stone building - Temple de la Nature

Contributor: Patrick Vincent

Location: Montenvers, Chamonix, France

Description: Built in 1795 as a refuge for travellers visiting the Mer de Glace, the Temple de la Nature immediately became a popular tourist attraction and one of European Romanticism’s most recognizable landmarks. It normally took travelers two and half hours by mule to ascend from Chamonix to the Montanvers meadow, located 1915 meters above sea-level. Accompanied by guides and porters, they often rested half-way at Claudine’s fountain, named after the heroine of Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian’s Claudine, nouvelle savoyarde (1793), before braving a ravine infamous for its avalanches. At the refuge, they were welcomed by a resident shepherd and could take refreshments, including milk mixed with kirsch, or purchase crystals, stone paper weights, and other curiosities. The most popular activity, however, was looking through the visitor book, leaving one’s own name with comments, but also copying the choicest inscriptions. A visit to the Temple de la Nature thus enabled ordinary tourists and celebrities alike to admire one of the Alps’ most spectacular glaciers in the last years of the Little Ice Age, while also participating in the period’s vibrant album culture and contributing through it to a transEuropean tourist sensibility.

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Victor Hugo’s House in Pasaia

Black and white photograph of a house

Contributor: Juan Manuel Ibeas-Altamira

Location: Pasaia, Spain

English Description: On July 18th 1843, Victor Hugo set out on his customary annual summer trip. With Juliette Drouet he headed for Gavarnie, Luz and Cauterets. The head of the French Romantics took notes on the way. As he crossed the border he was remembering the Hugo family’s previous stay in Spain: a trip towards the exotic was also a return to childhood.

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Leigh Hunt’s Parlour at Surrey Gaol

Two engravings of Leigh Hunt sitting at his desk in his cell at Surrey Gaol.

Contributor: Serena Baiesi

Location: Surrey Gaol, Horsemonger Lane, London. Detail from Edmund Blunden, ed., Leigh Hunt. A Biography (Archon Books, 1930)

Description: In 1812 Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) wrote that the Prince Regent was a violator of his word and a disreputable libertine in an article published in The Examiner — a radical newspaper he edited with his brother John. As a result he was sentenced to prison for two years from 1813 until 1815 for seditious libel and sent to Surrey Gaol, Horsemonger Lane. After a month spent in a small dwelling, Hunt was moved to a two-room suite in the prison infirmary. Here Hunt spent his days reading, writing, meeting with friends who constantly visited him, and enjoying the company of his wife and children. Even though during his prison days Hunt suffered several nervous attacks, characterised by palpitations, headaches, and uncontrollable anxiety, he describes this period in his autobiography, in many letters, and in reported conversations, as very convivial. Secluded in prison, Hunt became very productive, constantly contributing to The Examiner, writing poetry later collected in Foliage, composing the long poem The Story of Rimini, and beginning his drama The Descent of Liberty. He also became the centre of a very animated literary and liberal intellectual circle, which became legendary as a model for Romantic intellectual sociability.

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Goya Frescoes

Image of cupula frescoes by Francisco de Goya depicting St Antony

Contributor: Clare Brant

Location: La Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida, Madrid

Description: In 1798, Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) was commissioned to decorate a newly-rebuilt Neoclassical chapel devoted to St Antony of Padua (1195-1231) in a fashionable district of Madrid. Its frescoes, painted when Goya was 52 and working for the court, are a remarkable survival, and a masterpiece of religious art by Romanticism’s most versatile and original painter. Goya’s subject is a profound belief that the truth can be spoken, even if you have to revive a father’s corpse.

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Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence

Interior of the Basilica of Santa Croce

Contributor: Francesca Benatti

Location: Piazza Santa Croce, Florence

Description: The Basilica of Santa Croce is a late 13th-century Gothic church in Florence, probably designed by architect Arnolfo di Cambio. Home to the Franciscan order in Florence, it contains significant artworks by, among others, Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi and Vasari. From the mid 15th century onwards, Santa Croce became the burial place of some of the most prominent literary, artistic and scientific figures from Tuscany and later, the rest of Italy. In the early nineteenth century, it boasted the tombs of Niccolò Machiavelli, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Galileo Galilei and Vittorio Alfieri, the latter completed by Antonio Canova in 1810. These burials attracted the attention of Romantic authors across Europe, who variously interpreted them as metaphors of the state of Italy and for the nature of artistic fame.

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