Lord Byron's Anacreon (left). JH Reynolds' MS of John Keats' In a drear nighted December (right)
We are delighted to announce that two major new acquisitions have been made by the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association for the collection of the House in Rome.
The first is a manuscript of John Keats’s poem 'Song / In drear nighted December' (c.1817) in the hand of his close friend John Hamilton Reynolds.
The manuscript was long considered to be autograph since Reynolds's handwriting closely resembles that of Keats. It reveals a number of textual variants from the standard edition of the published poem, which presumably originate with the poet himself and which Jack Stillinger first analysed in his 1978 edition of Keats’s Poems. The poem, an early production in which the reader will recognize Keats’s authorship by virtue of its rhythm, subject, and language, was first published in 1829 in The Literary Gazette.
The second acquisition is Lord Byron’s copy of the first Barnes edition of the poems of Anacreon (1705), inscribed to him by Leigh Hunt, with the front and rear blanks bearing nine original autograph translations by Hunt (seven from Anacreon himself).
Byron and Hunt were close friends in these early years, with the former frequently visiting Hunt during his imprisonment. The inscription makes this out to be a farewell gift on the eve of Byron’s final departure from England to Italy in 1816.
This copy was not among the books sold at Byron’s April 1816 auction. It is apparent from the catalogue that, though Byron had seen fit to dispose of two other editions of Anacreon, he seems to have kept Hunt’s gift and taken it with him to Continental Europe.
We are grateful to the Friends of the National Libraries for their generous assistance in the acquisition of Byron’s copy of Anacreon.
Acclaimed actor Julian Sands, who played Shelley in Ken Russell's Gothic, gave two performances at the Keats-Shelley House: 'A Celebration of Harold Pinter' and three moving readings of poems by Keats and Shelley at the House. This was followed by another Sunday morning recital at the Non-Catholic Cemetery.
Julian recently lent his writing voice to our new collection of poems by Keats and Shelley, which he used on the night. For more information, visit our Publications page.
Julian passionately believes that poetry ought to be read aloud to be best appreciated. And we agree with him.
This travel writing-desk, or ‘slope’, to use its correct technical name, once belonged to Mary Shelley (1797-1851), author of the famous novel Frankenstein (1818). It includes a brass plaque with the letters MWS, her initials, on the lid.
This might be the desk that the Shelleys’ friend Sophia Stacey observed as belonging to the writer when she saw them in Florence in 1819. Certainly it remained in Mary Shelley’s possession until her death in 1851, at which point it was passed on to the care of the writer’s son, Percy Florence, and his wife, Jane, who’d become very close to her mother in law and particularly so in the later years of her life. A symbol of their relationship remains attached to the slope in the form of a pink ribbon and wax seal which belonged to Lady Jane Shelley.
The desk has remained with the family to this day and has recently been given as a long-term loan to the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association by its owner, the present-day Lord Abinger, who is the closest living descendant of P. B. Shelley. Its inclusion in this exhibition is the first time that it has been publicly displayed at the House.
Lord Abinger recalls that “My father used to tell the children that we should not open the box, as it contained Shelley's heart! A macabre rumour and completely unfounded of course, but it kept our prying hands away from it until we were old enough to appreciate the desk. Had we known there were secret compartments in those days, I am sure they would have been investigated!”
There are indeed hidden compartments in the slope, and its underside still bears some damage from when it was forcibly entered to access a hidden drawer, a move encouraged by leading Mary Shelley scholar Betty Bennett, who believed that a missing Mary Shelley journal was enclosed within. The drawer was later found to be empty.
Curator of Keats-Shelley House
2016’s Keats-Shelley Awards were launched in style when acclaimed actors Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory gave a special reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. To mark the 200th anniversary of Mary’s Gothic masterpiece, the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association had invited Romantics, old and young, to contribute poems on the subject ‘After Frankenstein’.
And so it was on the morning of the annual Keats-Shelley Awards, held on 13th April at the Royal Festival Hall, Prize-winners, journalists and judges gathered at 50 Albemarle Street to enjoy a Frankenstein breakfast: coffee, pastries, fruit and – appropriately – ‘Bloody Marys’. Albemarle Street was not only the former offices of John Murray’s publishers, it was the place at which Murray infamously burned Byron’s memoirs on 17th May 1824.
Damian Lewis And Helen McCrory , with Poetry Winners Will Kemp And Riona Millar
Once the winners of the Keats-Shelley Prizes were announced, Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory recreated with consummate skill the genesis of Mary’s extraordinary creation. The performance took place under the discriminating gaze of Lord Byron, or at least his portrait.
As Richard Holmes, Keats-Shelley’s Prize Chairman, said: ‘Mary’s story of Frankenstein and his monstrous creation has always had a strange power to set people’s imaginations on fire…’ Helen McCrory, as Mary, was superb: ‘I busied myself to think of a story…which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror…’ Her words seemed to prompt Damian Lewis, playing Shelley, to open a Pandora’s box in which he saw his own face in that of the ‘cursed creature.’
It was an extraordinary day. An exhibition included two pages from Mary Shelley’s original notebook, with annotations by Shelley himself, and a copy of Frankenstein dedicated to Byron by its author. Later, Pele Cox, with Jay Villiers, Nick Rowe and Richard Goulding, gave four performances by candlelight of her dramatic evocation of that haunted evening. The day was perhaps best summarised by the journalist Boyd Tonkin: ‘the whole event was like having steak tartare for breakfast – rich and raw.’
Two Pages From The Manuscript Of Frankenstein, Shown 13th April In The John Murray Rooms
Watch footage of Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory on the Guardian’s website: goo.gl/UY9Adk
Read a report in the TLS blog: http://goo.gl/q8lUmY
There was even interest in the Beijing News: http://goo.gl/zJqIGU
Prince Charles at the Keats-Shelley, with former Curator, Catherine Payling
You can view the message from HRH the Prince of Wales here.
The Keats-Shelley Memorial Association is delighted to announce an important new addition to the library and museum collection of the House in Rome.
The acquisition, John Keats's recently discovered autographed copy of Tacitus's Orationes omnes (published by Pietro Maria Marchetti, Brescia, 1601), is of major importance to scholars because it now brings the number of books known to have belonged to Keats up to twenty-eight.
The book has been examined by a team of Keats scholars who have confirmed its authenticity and have deduced, from the size and appearance of Keats's ownership inscription, that it is likely to have belonged to him around 1810 when he was at or leaving school.
The Keats-Shelley Memorial Association would like to thank the Friends of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, especially Professor Suzuna Jimbo and Katsuko Jimbo, and the Friends of the National Libraries for their generous support in making this acquisition possible.
23rd June 2014
In April this year an autographed manuscript of Stella Gibbon's poem Writ in Water was purchased at auction for the collection at the Keats Shelley House. The poem written in 1980, is subtitled In Memory of John Keats.
What a stronger rune to be written in?
Seething, or locked in arcane permafrost...
Sweet boy, bright star eclipsed at twenty-five,
Your genius erred in thinking water humble -
Rivers shall run while Earth herself's alive;
Iron rust. Stone crumble.
Stella Gibbons in 1988