Description: The catalogue for an auction of “a Collection of Books” advertised as “LATE THE PROPERTY OF A NOBLEMAN ABOUT TO LEAVE ENGLAND ON A TOUR,” highlights some of the volumes it will include, among them: “The Large Plates to Boydell’s Shakespeare, 2 vol. . . . – Morieri, Dictionnaire Historique, 10 vol. . . . Malcolm’s History of Persia, 2 vol. russia. . . –And some Romaic books of which no other Copies are in this Country.” It adds, set off from this assorted list of books, “AND A Large Skreen [sic] covered with Portraits of Actors, Pugilists, Representations of Boxing Matches, &c.” The volumes in this collection were far-flung, not unlike the Nobleman about to leave on a tour: he was Lord Byron, the most famous poet in Europe, poised to travel to Switzerland, through Italy, and finally to Greece after signing the deed of separation from his wife in April 1816. Perhaps even more out of place than the Lord and the “Romaic books of which no other Copies are in this Country,” the large screen singled out for notice on the cover of the catalogue has more than one story to tell about the mobility of the Romantic imagination.
Description: In the early 1820s, the British Museum passed up the opportunity to purchase what is now among the most celebrated objects in the Sir John Soane Museum and, according to Tim Knox, “one of the most spectacular Egyptian antiquities outside Egypt” (105): the alabaster sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I, dating from about 1279 BC. It was carved from a single block of semi-transparent aragonite and covered with hieroglyphs from the Book of Gates. Inside, on the floor of the coffin, an image of the goddess Nut, guardian of the dead king’s soul, has been incised. (1) Admittedly, the price tag was 2,000 pounds, and the precise value of newly excavated antiquities from Egypt—received as curiosities more ‘wondrous’ than aesthetically pleasing—was difficult to establish. After some protracted dithering, the object went instead, in 1824, to John Soane whose house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields was not just a working architect’s studio, but also a dramatic showcase for his collections of architectural fragments, antiquities, artworks, and curiosities – many of which are documented in this watercolour by Richardson, Soane’s former pupil and assistant. The sarcophagus, given pride of place, can be thought of as a romantic ‘medium’ apart from the occult connotations of the term: it is itself a transported or displaced vehicle for transport into the afterlife, a museum monument to the way memory can be materialized, and death made a living (if empty) object of meditation in the present. It is also part of a narrative about the attractions of Egypt for Romantic traveller-explorers, and the perils of imperial appropriation.
Description: This remarkable map was the work of the Chartist poet, wood engraver, editor, printer and activist William James Linton (1812-97). (1) Linton is probably unknown to most Romantic scholars, yet he played an important role in preserving the radical legacy of Romanticism for the nineteenth century.
Description: The ‘Malta Notebook’, as this manuscript has become known, measures 177 x 120 x 38mm and is bound in vellum. It has one hundred and eighty-six leaves of hand-made paper of different tints, written mostly on both sides, and holding about eight thousand lines of poetry of Wordsworth’s unpublished work at that time. It is the result of an intense period of sorting, assimilation and copying of verses involving William, Dorothy and Mary Wordsworth in February and March of 1804. Significantly, it is a gift of love from the Dove Cottage household to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, their close friend and fellow poet, to be his companion during his forthcoming time in the Mediterranean.
Taken together, it is one of the greatest treasures in the Wordsworth Trust’s Designated Collection.
Description: On the 11th of October, 1819, Thomas Moore left Venice, headed for Ferrara. He was carrying one of the most infamous lost objects of European Romanticism: Byron’s manuscript memoirs. Moore agreed not to publish the Memoirs during Byron’s lifetime, but he was left free, in Byron’s words “to do whatever you please” with it after his death. Byron later supplemented the Memoirs with further additions, which he sent to Moore by post. The two did not know it at the time, but they were never to meet again face to face.
Location: Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Center for British Art, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
Description: This engraving shows Leadenhall Street in the City of London at the close of the eighteenth century. Today, the thoroughfare is primarily associated with banking and finance; then, Leadenhall Street was one of the publishing centres of Romantic London. Dominating the image on the right is the unmistakable, pillared building of the East India House (demolished in 1861 and now the site of Lloyd’s of London). A block away, opposite the pink building near the back of the image, was No. 33, Leadenhall Street. It was here that William Lane (1738–1814) established his Minerva Press and Library in 1773, a major influence on the Romantic book trade and a key player in the history of fiction. This illustration appeared around 1799, during the golden age of the Minerva Press that spanned the 1790s to the 1810s. Yet, no image of the Minerva Press survives, and nor do its archives. The only traces that remain are the books and circulating library catalogues that the press produced. Still, these reveal the extent to which the output of the Minerva Press depended on translation and adaptation both to sell to British readers and to sell across Europe, and other evidence underscores the press’s market penetration in continental Europe.
Dorothy’s Room (2018) is an immersive, multi-media installation made in response to Dorothy Wordsworth’s Rydal Journals, written between (1824 -1835) whilst she was living at Rydal Mount near Ambleside.
The installation makes material Dorothy’s deeply-felt longing to be outside when, due to illness she was bedroom bound for long periods, and also reveal how she was able to walk her longed-for landscapes by using the ‘power’ of her imagination.
The installation was originally created for Dorothy Wordsworth’s bedroom at Rydal Mount, Ambleside, Cumbria where she lived with William and Mary Wordsworth from 1813 until her death in 1850, before transferring to the Wordsworth Trust Museum, Grasmere, the Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster and the Royal Geographical Society, London.
Description: Newstead Abbey was Lord Byron’s ancestral home, nestled in the isolated landscape of Nottinghamshire.
Byron’s attachments in his short life were always transient, and usually deeply powerful. That was true of his affections for people, objects or places. But he had an extraordinary capacity to see beauty and inspiration in everything around him, and absorb that into his work and his actions.
Newstead is a hugely significant example of that. He lived there for only a small proportion of his tragically short life. Yet Newstead’s influence on him was huge, and his influence on Newstead is, of course, timeless.
Description: William Beckford (1760-1844), enfant terrible of Romantic-period Britain who lived into the Victorian age, left his mark in and on many of its literary and artistic manifestations. The son of a former Lord Mayor of London and one of the richest men in the kingdom, he was an aesthete interested in music, painting and objets d’art, a traveller, a novelist and the focus of a sexual scandal. In literature, he came to prominence as the author of the oriental gothic novella Vathek (1786), an extraordinarily imaginative work that opens with the description of Caliph Vathek’s fabulous palace of Alkoremi, an exotic fantasia on a par with the Prince Regent’s Pavilion at Brighton. A less conspicuous ‘oriental’ building project of Beckford’s was this small summer house or pavilion in the garden behind his Bath residence. Though diminutive, this building is full of surprises and tells the story of the diffusion of the Orient in the visual and spatial environment of the Romantic period, as well as in the context of an otherwise classically denotated city.
Location: The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Description: At a glance, this looks like a standard early nineteenth-century playbill. But it’s not. In fact, it’s a nationalistic broadside published during the invasion scare of the summer of 1803 – when it was widely feared that Napoleon was readying a fleet to cross the English Channel – and it closely mimics the typographic format and language of the playbill to make its point. The work of arch-loyalist James Asperne – who ran a bookshop in Cornhill, London, with the strikingly unsubtle name of The Bible, Crown, and Constitution – this mock-playbill informs the public of a new pantomime “In rehearsal” at the “Theatre Royal of the United Kingdom” – that is, a drama to be staged in and by the nation itself. “Some dark foggy night about November next,” the playbill exclaims, “will be ATTEMPTED, by a Strolling Company of French Vagrants, an old Pantomimic Farce, called Harlequin’s Invasion or The Disappointed Banditti”.