The engagement ring given by John Keats to Fanny Brawne

The engagement ring given by John Keats to Fanny Brawne

Contributor: Anna Mercer

Location: Fanny Brawne’s Room, Keats House, Hampstead

Description: This is the engagement ring given to Fanny Brawne by the poet John Keats in 1819, probably in sometime in the Autumn of that year. (1) The ring was probably made in the late eighteenth century, and the stone is almandine – a type of garnet – set in a gold openwork scrolled shouldered hoop. It was inexpensive, reflecting Keats’s financial problems, which created anxiety for the poet before his illness the following year. (2) The Historical and Descriptive Guide to Keats House Museum (1934) suggests the ring was worn by Fanny until her death in 1865. (3) It was left to Fanny’s daughter Margaret, who never married. She then left it to her niece Frances Ellis (née Brawne-Lindon) who gifted the ring to Keats House. In 1925, Keats’s old lodgings at Wentworth Place in Hampstead were made into a memorial to the poet and became Keats House Museum. The ring is one of 13 relics relating to Fanny Brawne.

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‘Les Adieux de l’Hermite de Dronning-Gaard’

‘Les Adieux de l’Hermite de Dronning-Gaard’

Contributor: Cian Duffy

Location: Næsseslottet, 136 Dronninggårds Allé 136, DK-2840, Holte, Denmark

Description: This monument, tucked away in the gardens of the Dronninggård estate, northwest of Copenhagen, is, remarkably, the source of an essentially unknown poem by James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), the influential essayist, critic, journalist and poet, and the leader of the so-called ‘Cockney’ school of English Romanticism. Designed by the Danish neoclassical sculptor Johannes Wiedewelt (1731-1802), the monument features a twenty-nine line poem in French by the Dutch cavalry officer Jean Frédéric Henry de Drevon (1734-97), inscribed on a tablet of Norwegian marble. De Drevon’s lines are the source for Hunt’s poem, which was first published by John Carr (1772-1832) in A Northern Summer, in 1805.

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Chateaubriand’s Cedar

Contributor: Bernard Degout

Location: Domaine départemental de la Vallée-aux-Loups – maison de Chateaubriand

Description: This cedar of Lebanon (cedrus libani) was planted by Chateaubriand in the park of La Vallée-aux-Loups, which he laid out during the eleven years he stayed in the hamlet of Aulnay (1807-1817). Tracing broad pathways, flattening a hill, introducing “thousands” of green trees which had been gifted by friends or acquired from renowned horticulturists, the author amassed here, according to the document which he produced for the sale of his estate, “the most complete collection of planted trees, both exotic and natural, in the whole of France”. He also grouped trees which reminded him of his journeys to America (1791) and the Orient (1806-1807) around the perimeter of the central field. The park of La Vallée-aux-Loups, created by a writer-cum-traveller, is thus a literary park. But, in a way, it is also more than this.

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Plate from the ‘Frog Service’

Oval, cream coloured earthenware plate from the 'Frog Service', painted with a view of the lake at West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

Contributor: Elizabeth McKellar

Location: London, Victoria and Albert Museum, British Galleries, Room 118; The Wolfson Gallery, case 3

Description: This dish, for serving meat or vegetables, held in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, forms part of the ‘Frog Service’, a huge 50-person dinner and dessert service. It was commissioned by Catherine the Great from Josiah Wedgwood in 1773 and reflects Catherine’s passion for English landscape aesthetics and gardening. It exemplifies one way that such Anglophone tastes travelled across Europe at this time.

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Fingal’s Cave

Fingal’s Cave in Staffa': engraving by Thomas Major

Contributor: Nigel Leask

Location: National Trust, Isle of Staffa, Inner Hebrides, Scotland; Thomas Pennant, Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides in 1772, 2 vols (2nd ed., London 1776), f.p.301. ‘Fingal’s Cave in Staffa’: engraving by Thomas Major, based on a drawing by James Miller.

Description: In the late summer of 1772, just a year or so after his return from exploring the Pacific with Captain Cook, Joseph Banks mounted his own expedition to Iceland via the Hebrides. On 13th August, Banks and his party, including the artist James Miller, explored, measured, and drew Staffa. The account we have is excerpted from Banks’ journal, edited and published in his friend Thomas Pennant’s Tour in Scotland 1772; poor weather had prevented Pennant from landing on the island earlier that summer, so Banks’ account supplied that deficiency. Banks claimed to have discovered ‘a cave, the most magnificent, I suppose, that has ever been described by travellers.’ ‘We asked the name of it,’ writes Banks. ‘Said our guide, “The cave of Fhinn”. “What is Fhinn?” said we. “Fhinn Mac Coul, whom the translator of Ossian’s Works has called Fingal.” How fortunate that in this cave we should meet with the remembrance of that chief, whose existence, as well as that of the whole Epic poem is almost doubted in England.’ To this account may be traced the birth of one of Scotland’s leading tourist destinations in the romantic era.

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Robert Burns’s ‘Kilmarnock’ Edition (1786)

Frontispiece of Burns's Kilmarnock Edition

Contributor: Gerard Carruthers

Location: University of Glasgow Library

Description: John Wilson of Kilmarnock, the printer of Robert Burns’ debut work, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1786), produced only 612 copies, of which this copy is one of the only 84 that survive worldwide. Over half of these are now located in North America (Young & Scott, 2017). This should come as no surprise: an edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect appeared in the United States of America as early as 1788 (first in Philadelphia, and then in New York). In contrast, it might be tempting to think that Burns must have had a comparatively limited effect on mainland Europe given that only one surviving copy of this book survives there, in the Fondation Martin Bodmer Library, in Cologny, Switzerland. The provenance of this particular copy is something of a mystery, but the story of Burns and Europe is less obscure than it might suggest.

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Lord Byron’s Autograph at the Castle of Chillon

Byron's Autograph at Chillon Castle

Contributor: Patrick Vincent

Location: Chillon Castle, Avenue de Chillon 21 · CH 1820 Veytaux · Switzerland

Description: 

Au milieu de tous les noms obscurs qui égratignent et encombrent la pierre, il reluit seul en trait de feu. J’ai plus pensé à Byron qu’au prisonnier. [In the midst of all the obscure names which scar and clutter the stone, his alone glows with fire. I thought more of Byron than of the imprisoned.] Gustave Flaubert (1845)

As enthusiastic readers of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Julie, ou La Nouvelle Hélöise (1761), Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley sailed around Lake Geneva from 22 to 30 June 1816, visiting settings made famous by the novel, including Chillon Castle at the eastern end of Lake Geneva (or Leman), on Tuesday, June 25, 1816. This first visit inspired Byron’s poem The Prisoner of Chillon, composed in Ouchy two days later on the subject of François Bonnivard (1493-1570), a famous political prisoner held there by the Duke of Savoy between 1530 and 1536. Byron returned to Chillon with his friend John Cam Hobhouse on 18 September 2016, on the first day of their Alpine tour. Louis Simond, who visited Chillon a full year after Byron, on 4 August 1817, was the first to record the presence of Byron’s autograph in the castle’s souterrain, or dungeon, carved into the southern side of the third column, 1.45 meters from the lower edge of the shaft.

The authenticity of this autograph has been a matter of controversy and criticism almost from the very beginning.

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The Golden Horns

The Golden Horns

Contributor: Robert W. Rix

Location: The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen.

Description: In December 1802, Adam Oehlenschläger (1779–1850) published Digte [Poems], a collection of new poetry which is today widely regarded as having inaugurated literary romanticism in the Nordic countries. In this collection, the most famous poem is ‘Guldhornene’ [The Golden Horns], which focuses on two horns made of sheet gold, which had recently been stolen from the Kunstkammer (Royal Collection) at Christiansborg palace, Copenhagen. The two horns were archaeological finds that have since been dated to the early fifth century. They were discovered in Gallehus, southern Denmark, at locations only a few metres apart, in 1639 and in 1734, respectively. The horns were for ceremonial use and had numerous figures (anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and hybrid subjects) embossed on their sides. One of the horns also bore a runic inscription in Elder Futhark. The theft and the subsequent police investigation were followed closely in the press; ‘Guldhornene’ can be situated as part of that national fascination with the loss of these artefacts.

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Two pages from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal

Page from Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal, 15 April 1802

Page from Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal. 1802

Contributor: Jeff Cowton

Location: The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere

Description: In 1799, when they were both in their late twenties, William and Dorothy Wordsworth moved to make a new life together in Dove Cottage, Grasmere, UK. In May 1800, William left Grasmere for a short absence and Dorothy decided to write a journal for his ‘pleasure’ when he returned. So began a journal that she continued to write for the next thirty or so months. Four notebooks survive; a fifth, covering most of 1801, is now missing. Written largely within the Dove Cottage household, the journal contains Dorothy’s vivid observations of domestic life, her neighbourhood and the natural world, from the mundane to the extraordinary, from the sixth delivery of the coal, to the remarkable sight of reflections off the lake. As a result, as the UNESCO UK Memory of the World register entry puts it, ‘From the journal we can picture the scene of brother and sister walking, talking, reading and writing together. It is an intimate portrait of a life in a place which, to them, was an earthly paradise.’ It not only provides evidence for the nature of the relationship between brother and sister but for their creative working practices. The two pages shown here offer clues to two mysteries: the genesis of one of the most important of all Romantic poems, known popularly as ‘Daffodils’; and why Dorothy left off writing her Journal.

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A Mourning Dress brought back from Tahiti by Captain James Cook

A Mourning Dress brought back from Tahiti by Captain James Cook

Contributor: Barbara Schaff

Location: Göttingen, Germany

Description: This elaborate mourning dress, or heva, stands out as a particularly magnificent example of Tahitian artisanship among the about 2000 ethnographical objects which were either received as presents or tokens of exchange by Cook or members of his crew during Cook’s three Pacific voyages. It is one of only six complete surviving mourning costumes of its kind and testifies to an elaborate mourning practice, also called a heva, which would, with the coming of Christianity, soon become a thing of the past on Tahiti. Brought back to England, it was purchased by the British Crown from the London dealer in ethnographic specimens, George Humphrey, in 1782. It was then sent on to the ethnographic collection of Göttingen University, where it remains. As the only German university founded by a British king in the context of the Personal Union between Hanover and Britain, the scientific contacts between Göttingen, the Royal Society and the British Crown in the 18th century were excellent, as this handsome gift evidences. Its passage from Tahiti through London and on to Germany was also marked by the impression it made upon the late eighteenth-century cultural imagination. The heva was to become one of the most widely circulated images of Tahitian culture in late eighteenth-century Europe.

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