Contributor: Caroline Bertonèche
Location: Keats House, Hampstead
Description: In 1815, John Keats (1795-1821) was a medical student at Guy’s Hospital, in London, studying to become a surgeon. To prepare for his lectures, Keats bought a series of dissection manuals, The London Dissector, and Outlines of a Course of Dissections for the Use of Students at St. Thomas’s Hospital, which was published in 1815, the year Keats arrived at the United Hospitals; in 1820 it was enlarged under the title The Dissector’s Manual. Since Keats entered Guy’s Hospital during the transition period between The London Dissector and the Outlines, it is probable that he owned both; he would certainly have owned the latter, which was recommended by his professor, Sir Astley Cooper. Cooper also recommended two other texts to his students: Fyfe’s Anatomy, and Blumenbach’s Physiology. Aside from these manuals and a case of dissecting instruments, Keats owned a couple of notebooks. One of these notebooks was this Anatomy notebook, containing his notes of Cooper’s teachings on anatomy and physiology (12 lectures in total, including chapters entitled “On the Blood”, the “Arteries”, the “Nervous system” or the “Muscles”). Keats paid, at the time, two shillings and two pence for this leather-bound, unpaginated notebook, wrote his name in the inside cover and left a few blank pages in the middle. The notebook is now part of the Keats House collection in Hampstead. It is being displayed open in a glass case at one of the most fascinating, and most famous, pages: the twenty-seventh page, where Keats drew some flowers in the left margin near a description of how to repair a dislocated jaw. This page therefore brings together Romantic poetry and science into intriguing relationship.
Continue reading “A Page from Keats’s Anatomy Notebook”
Contributor: Caroline Bertonèche
Description: In 1781, when William Herschel, the British astronomer and musician who died in Hanover, Germany, in 1822 just a year after Keats’s death in Italy, discovered the new planet Uranus, Keats was not yet born. However, after his birth in 1795, it only took Keats a few years, around a decade or so, to discover the world of astronomy. In his Recollections of Keats by an Old School-Fellow, dated January 1861, his friend Charles Cowden Clarke recalls how Keats had learned about planetary movement and the architecture of the skies in boyhood. His teacher, John Rylands, used to introduce his students to the solar system by inventing games, a creative way of seeing the school playground as a place of experimentation and imagination where the boys could picture the heavens and build their own human orrery. Biographers are still unsure as to why exactly Keats was given John Bonnycastle’s work of popular science, An Introduction to Astronomy. In a Series of Letters from a Preceptor to his Pupil, originally published in 1786, and whether it was awarded to him in 1811 as a prize for one of his early essays or as a reward for his English translation of Virgil’s Aeneid – an epic project which he never quite finished. In the end, Keats only translated half of the poem, which for a young schoolboy was still a rather admirable accomplishment. From Latin poetry to Romantic astronomy, this example of Keatsian scholarship therefore makes for an interesting connection between Keats’s first translation of Virgil and George Chapman’s first translation of Homer (Keats had studied Latin but not Greek), which inspired the poet to write his now famous sonnet, ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’, published in The Examiner, on December 1st, 1816. By the end of the poem, the Romantic traveller will have paid tribute to many different European figures, both ancient and modern, including William Herschel, ‘the watcher of the skies’.
Continue reading “John Bonnycastle’s Planetarium in his Introduction to Astronomy (1811)”
Contributor: Sophie Laniel-Musitelli
Location: British Museum
Description: To his family’s coat of arms—a shield blazoned with three scallop shells—Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802) added the banner “E Conchis Omnia”, “everything out of shells.” When the clergyman Thomas Seward saw that motto, he wrote a satirical poem accusing Darwin of:
[…] renounc[ing] his Creator,
And form[ing] all things from senseless matter.
Great wizard he! by magic spells
Can raise all things from cockle shells (King-Hele 89).
Erasmus Darwin was indeed one of the first proponents of the gradual transformation of species. In his scientific treatises and poems, the progress of life-forms from rudimentary beings to complex species seems to take place outside divine intervention, through a natural aspiration towards greater perfection.
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Contributor: Alice Rhodes
Location: Wellcome Collection, London, UK
Description: This song sheet, titled “Mary’s Ghost or the Favorite Anatomy Song” and advertised as “being No 1 of The Ballad Singer, a Collection of Comical Comic songs,” started life as a poem, first published in Thomas Hood’s 1826 collection, Whims and Oddities. In Hood’s darkly comic ballad, and its musical setting by J. Blewitt, the eponymous ghost appears to her widowed fiancé to deliver the unfortunate news that she has been grave-robbed and that her material body is now scattered across the medical schools and laboratories of London. Together, Mary’s posthumous predicament, and the material afterlife of the poem itself, raise questions about the materiality or immateriality of body and text and about the relationship between dissection and collection which are as pertinent today as they were for late Romantic writers like Hood.
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Contributor: Elsa Cazeneuve
Location: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Description: This document is a hand-coloured illustration of Herschel’s Grand Forty-Feet Reflecting Telescope, engraved by J. Pass for the 1819 edition of the Encyclopedia Londinensis (or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature), and featured in the chapter related to “Optics”. At the time, Herschel’s Forty-Feet Telescope was the largest in the world and cost over 4000 pounds, paid for by King George III. Its construction began in 1786, and was completed in 1789; the telescope was erected at Herschel’s home, near Slough. It soon became a touristic attraction and a scientific curiosity: people would travel all the way from Paris to admire this new wonder and some even likened it to the Colossus of Rhodes. Later on, the telescope was marked on the 1830 Ordinance survey map of the area. Unfortunately, Herschel’s last telescope would take years to demonstrate its worth, as it had to rotate very slowly to show various aspects of the heavens. William Herschel and his sister Caroline, who worked together, found that the telescope was difficult to set up and maintain and William’s son eventually had it dismantled in 1840. Interestingly enough, the dates of construction and demise of the forty-footer cannot but recall those of the Romantic era: Herschel’s grand telescope came to serve as a symbol of the unbounded Romantic imagination.
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Contributor: Caroline Dauphin
Location: Private collection
Description: Tracing the development of life from marine animalcules to humankind, through “millions of ages”, in heroic couplets: such was the daring project of The Temple of Nature, the last poem written by Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802). This original edition by Joseph Johnson matches the author’s ambitions: the poem was published in a large in-quarto volume, lavishly illustrated by Henry Fuseli. The size of the volume made it possible for the reader to admire all the details of Fuseli’s delicate frontispiece representing Urania lifting the veil of Nature. More accessorily, it also facilitated the reading of Darwin’s lengthy scientific footnotes.
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Contributor: Fiona Stafford
Location: St Mary’s Church, Selborne, Hampshire
Description: The great yew tree at Selborne features in one of the Romantic period’s best-known books: The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by the ‘parson-naturalist’ Gilbert White (1720-1793). First published in 1789, White’s account of his Hampshire parish has never gone out of print. But the long literary life of White’s book is as nothing to that of the ancient yew, which endured for centuries before being toppled by a January gale in 1990. The celebrity of the Selborne yew in the Romantic period may be seen as both idiosyncratic and as part of a wider celebration of ancient trees – and by extension ancient places and deep-rooted national culture — that especially characterised Romantic culture in Britain and across Europe.
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Contributor: Anna Mercer
Location: London Metropolitan Archives (Keats House Collection)
Description: This inkstand is held in the London Metropolitan Archives and is part of the Keats House Collection. There are in all 47 ‘Shelleyan’ objects owned by Keats House. Some are duplicates; for example, there are several engravings of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s grave. There are a few first editions, including Frankenstein (1818) and Prometheus Unbound (1820). There are a number of interesting letters, including a letter from Percy Bysshe Shelley to Thomas Medwin from 22 August 1821. Perhaps the most impressive treasure of all is the manuscript of Mary Shelley’s ‘The Heir of Mondolfo’. Another item, a mirror which supposedly once belonged to Percy Bysshe Shelley, is now missing, ‘stolen from the ground floor hall at Keats House between 3 and 3.15pm on 4 May 1994’. And then there is this inkstand. The label that accompanies it says: ‘Shelley’s Inkstand. Said by Claire Clairmont to be the inkstand used by Shelley when writing “Queen Mab”’. In the catalogue entry, there isn’t much else. It is no longer on display in the museum but has been in storage at the London Metropolitan Archives for several years, possibly several decades. What initially appears quite a simple, uncomplicated object (are inkstands not very common in literary museums?), actually provokes new questions about the Shelley circle and its mythologisation. Moreover, the fact that Shelley’s inkstand is present in the collection of John Keats’s former home might invite us to ask how relics associated with the second-generation Romantics are preserved in specific locations, further uniting them as a distinct group of writers.
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Contributor: Gillian Dow
Location: Private collection
Description: The town of Joigny sits on the banks of the river Yonne, in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. An hour and a half south of Paris, Joigny is a pretty town, which markets itself modestly as one of a hundred ‘plus beaux detours de France.’ The town’s interest, for a scholar of Romanticism, lies in its connections to Frances Burney (1752-1840), author of Evelina (1778), Cecilia (1782) and Camilla (1796). Her husband General d’Arblay was born in Joigny (i). In late 1800, seven years after he married Burney, d’Arblay learned that he had been removed from the proscribed list of French emigrés. He was hopeful that he would be able to recover £1,000 from his French property near Joigny, as well as secure a military pension. He left England – where he had been living in exile since 1792 – for Paris. Somewhat against her better judgement, on the 14 April 1802, Burney followed. She was accompanied by their son Alex, then seven, and by six-year-old Adrienne de Chavagnac, a ward of the Lockes of Norbury Park, who was returning to France to be reunited with her émigré parents. Burney did not return to England for over a decade, but when she did, in August 1812, she had the manuscript of what was to become her last, markedly European, novel The Wanderer (1814) in her possession.
Continue reading “The town of Joigny, Burgundy”
Contributor: Charlotte May
Location: Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire
Description: This set of glasses and decanters has been on permanent display at George Gordon, Lord Byron’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, since 1974. It is believed that after Byron’s death in 1824 they came into the possession of Byron’s half-sister Augusta Leigh and were passed down her family line. A previous curator of Newstead Abbey, Haidee Jackson, traced the set’s provenance to an auction in 1906, where they were sold as: ‘Mahogany inlaid Spirit Case, containing four decanters and twelve glasses, with engraved on lid containing coronet and NB, and on inside lid an MS. Memorandum in Augusta Leigh’s autograph, “From Samuel Rogers to my Brother”’. The gift epitomises the many social transactions which characterized and cultivated the relationship between Byron and the then celebrated banker-poet Samuel Rogers (1763-1855) as fellow-poets and celebrities.
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