Edward John Trelawny.

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University of California.



Letters of
Edward John Trelawny

Oxford : Horace Hart
Printer to the University

Letters of
Edward John Trelawny

Edited with a brief Introduction and
Notes by

H. Buxton Formaii C.B.

Henry Frowde

Oxford University Press

London, Edinburgh, New York, Toronto and Melbourne



If there is any man living who knew
Trelawny better than you did, and helped
him more faithfully, I do not know that
man. That there is none to whom I owe
more than to you in regard to the prosecution
of the present work is certain, and equally
certain that to connect your name with it
and record my gratitude for this latest of
your many acts of disinterested friendship
is, unlike most obvious duties, a pleasure
dictated by the highest esteem and by
sincere affection.

H. Buxton Foeman.

46 Maklborough Hill,
St. John's Wood,

25 September 1910.




Trelawny as an Octogenarian— ^in Sir John Millais's
picture "The North -West Passage": Photogravure
by Emery Walker Frontispiece

Portrait of Claire Clairmont : Photogravure by
Emery Walker from an oil-painting by Amelia
Curran 46

Facsimile of a Letter to Claire Clairmont

written in the Cave of Odysseus ... 87

The Scene of Shelley's Cremation near Viareggio :

Facsimile of a drawing by Trelawny's daughter . . 252

Marianne Hunt's Posthumous Bust of Shelley :

Burin-etching on steel by William Bell Scott . 270

Shelley's Grave as seen and painted in 187.3 by

William Bell Scott : Etched by Arthur Evershed . 274


In this attempt to bring together the letters of
Edward John Trelawny, I have been actuated by the
desire to illustrate his unique personality by means
of his own utterances, and fill up as many gaps as
possible in his life-record. Such indomitable force of
character as Trelawny evinced up to the end of his long
life could not fail to leave its impress upon every sheet
of paper which he took up for the purpose of com-
municating with man or woman. The very uncon-
ventionality — nay, even the frequent incorrectness of
his style and vocabulary, have a certain attractiveness ;
and when one realizes how expressive of his character
that style and that vocabulary are, one feels something
akin to revolt against any endeavour to revise the text
of his letters. For my part, I have never yet seen a
letter or note of Trelawny's which was expressed just
as any other man would have expressed it ; nor is
there anything in the present collection which is not
more or less redolent of the vigour and directness, the
transparent honesty and complete fearlessness, of this
traveller by sea and land, this warrior for the cause
of freedom, in both the moral and the physical sense
of those words. Conspicuous among the memorable
figures of the nineteenth century, both as a public man
and as a private individual, Trelawny was less tainted
with the sordid commercialism and ever-increasing
snobbery of that century than almost any man one


could name as having lived through so large a part
of it.

When by good hap I acquired that splendid " pig-
in-a-poke" the Clairmont collection of Shelley docu-
ments and relics of various kinds, it was not wholly
without disappointment that I found the sealed-up
collection, on being opened, did not include certain
items which, as I think rightfully, I had expected to
find. There was, it is true, good value for my money,
even at the comparatively low prices then current for
such articles as I was buying without even a pre-
liminary glimpse of a single one of them ; but it
grieved me not to find the book of manuscript poems
which Claire Clairmont possessed, or the miniature
portrait of Aliegra, daughter of Byron and Claire, or
the long series of letters which I believed that lady to
have received from Trelawny. I have never regretted
that, in those circumstances, I made a pilgrimage to
the gay city of Vienna in search of the coveted
treasures in question, found the late Miss Paola Clair-
mont, from whom I had bought the elder lady's
collection, still in possession of two of the important
items named, paid her her price for the annexation of
them to the main body of the papers, books, and relics,
and brought them home with joy to the house from
which I am sending these belated remarks to press.
Of the mutilated manuscript volume, containing
Shelley's fair copies of many of his published poems,
which also should be here, there is a sad tale to tell.
An American who had been residing in the same house
at Florence with the Clairmonts had been bidding
against me for the collection ; but, as his rather free bids
turned out to be only in bills at long date, the executrix


decided to accept my cash rather than his paper, in
which she lacked confidence. This man, however, had
"borrowed" and not restored the precious manuscript
book, — which now graces the classic precincts of
Harvard College, while I am " left lamenting."

Leaving the unpleasant subject of this ancient
grievance, I recall the pleasure and keen interest with
which I first read the whole of the letters fromTrelawny,
spreading over fifty- three years of his long life, the
earliest indited shortly after Shelley's death in 1822,
when Trelawny was just upon thirty years of age, the
last written in 1875, when he was eighty-three. That
perusal accomplished, I said to the other man who is
me — "Well, if you don't know anything else, you
know Trelawny now ; and it is your bounden duty to
see that those letters are not lost to the world."

From that position I have never for one moment
swerved ; but the other man who is me had, until the
summer of 1907, a position in the public service with
ever-increasing demands upon his time and mental
resources ; and the literary output of the years 1866
to 1907, though not inconsiderable in mass, was but
the occupation of his so-called leisure, and, ipso facto,
strictly limited. What wonder, then, if the golden
moment for setting about the arrangement of that
treasured bundle of letters for the press was put off and
off by sheer stress of circumstances 1 Fifteen or it may
be twenty years ago my son Maurice Buxton Forman
had copied them all out for me ; five years ago I had
made some attempt to fit and annotate them for
publication ; and two years ago I determined to omit
some portions that might still be obnoxious to the
feelings of a few living persons, combine my letters


with others of Trelawny's from all available sources,
public or private, and publish without further delay
than fate willed. Retarded once more by the return
of the Garnett Shelley Note-books from America to be
deciphered and edited, I had yet some luck with
Trelawny. My son was once more under my roof
after long absence from England, and was working
upon his Meredith books at the British Museum,
where he was able to help me in certain researches
that it would have been very inconvenient to do single-
handed ; and still better, my old and valued friend
Mr, "William E-ossetti decided without hesitation,
when I approached him cap in hand, that Trelawny's
letters to him, the unpublished mass with the few
already published, should form part of the present
chronologically arranged collection, and thus greatly
increase its autobiographic value. This decision was
the more generous in that Mr. Rossetti had already
allocated most of the unpublished letters to certain
works of his own compiling, not yet added to that
valuable row of books which, since his retirement
from the public service, he has contributed to English
literature, and especially to our knowledge of the lives
and genius of the distinguished family of which he is
the last of his generation. Equally if not even more
deserving of gratitude has been his ready assistance
in the removal of difficulties which need not now be
specified, and his kindness in making me free of his
knowledge of matters Trelawnian acquired in the
period from 1869 up to the present time.

The renewal of an acquaintanceship of long ago
with Mrs. Julian Marshall, the author and editor of
the Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley,


has proved fortunate as well as agreeable. Mrs.
Marshall had access to those documents of prime
importance which were in the hands of the late
Sir Percy Florence Shelley when her book came out ;
and I am indebted to her not only for the influence of
her book in keeping me from too strong a leaning
to Trelawny's side in the never-ending Trelawny-
Mary discussion, but also for the frank alacrity with
which she gave me helpful information apart from the
book itself. Mary Shelley makes a better figure in
my mind than she did before 1889, when the book was
published; and a much better figure than she did
before I had the advantage of talking over certain
difficult questions with Mrs. Marshall. I do not doubt
that Trelawny, who was at root her friend as long as
she lived, allowed his free mind and fighting tempera-
ment to dwell less leniently than he could have
afforded to do on her innate conventionality, and
something in her essentially feminine character
bordering on frivolity. And yet he leaves me con-
vinced that she was not as suitable a wife for Shelley
as she might have been if compounded with a little
less of vanity and worldliness, — and, paradoxical as
it may seem, a little less amply qualified, on the
intellectual side, to shine on her own account. Still,
no woman was really fit to be Shelley's wife, any more
than he was to be any woman's husband.

That Mary was a devoted friend to Trelawny and
Jane Williams and other more or less provoking folk
is abundantly clear : her attitude towards Byron, who
had treated both her and Shelley badly, was impeccably
lenient ; and, at all events after Shelley's death, she
was altogether the reverse of quarrelsome. It was


not she who claimed to have helped Trelawny write
the Younger Son : that is but an unsupported claim
rashly made on her behalf. The present volume
contains ample evidence that, while she worked hard
for him to get it published, it was from other hands
that the help to fit it for the press came. Walter
Savage Landor and Charles Armitage Brown were
unquestionably the chief friends in council at Florence
who stimulated him and encouraged him with an
antenatal public ; and Brown appears to have attended
efficiently to spelling and punctuation and so on.

The bearings of these letters upon the position of
that entertaining classic are of some importance. It
is generally admitted that the Younger Son is more or
less autobiographic in places ; but up to the present
time intelligent and critical readers have been over
prone to regard it as a book of wild adventure, based
upon experience, but in its essence a highly imaginative
romance. Needless to say, that is not my view. The
publication of Mrs. Julian Marshall's two Mary
Shelley volumes must, to those who carefully gathered
all relating to Trelawny scattered through the work,
have materially shaken any tendency to view the
Adventures of a Younger Son as a mere fiction founded
upon fact. Now that Trelawny's letters to Mary are
brought together and arranged with those to Claire,
I doubt whether any intelligent reader could fail to
perceive that Trelawny had no view but to record the
facts of his life in such a manner as to make them
readable and of general interest without avowing his
identity, and that that manner was his own natural,
unadorned, vigorous style. He protested from the
first and up to the last to his intimates that the work


was not a romance but the story of a man's life, his
own life ; and he relied upon the natural interest of
the real story for the circulation of his book.

I am probably not more credulous than most English-
men ; and I for one have always believed in Trelawny
as somewhat of the saga-man type, gifted by nature
with the faculty of telling boldly and fluently the
essential truth in all its important lines, without being
scrupulously literal in the minute details of each
minor fact. When the late lamented Shelley Society
was in its youthful vigour, I had occasion to mention
Trelawny in some address or other; and I do not
doubt that I failed in more than one point to express
myself with that lucidity which characterizes the
daily reported utterances of the Honourable House
of Commons. For I recall that Mr. Eichard Edge-
cumbe rose "at question time" and asked me with
faultless suavity icJiy I did not believe Trelaicny. My
reply was prompt and brief, and, I understood, satis-
factory to the questioner. It was simply — / do believe
Trelaicny ; and that is still my attitude.

Of course 1 do not believe that any fowl of the
air can be a curlew and a seagull according to the
whim of the moment, like the solitary aeronautic
attendant at the cremation of Shelley ^ ; and it has
troubled me at times that this winged witness had not
a more abiding individuality. It was quite early in
the history of that fowl, which started in life as just
" a solitary sea bird," that it became a curlew for the

^ See pages 14, 252, 256, and 269 of this volume. I seem to recall
that the bird was a lapwing on one occasion — a by no means unlikely
bird ; but in the mass of my memoranda I cannot hit upon the refer-


edification of Captain Medwin, who, after letting it
live its curlew life for a while in prose, put it into some
of his verses as a sea-mew for the sake rather of accent
than of rhyme — probably not deeming sufficiently clas-
sical the pronunciation curlew of Trelawny's (and
my) beloved west country. Later on Trelawny let it
figure as a seagull, and later still as a curlew once
more; but this protean quality has ceased to stagger
my imagination. Of course I have not much faith —
not so much, certainly, as Leigh Hunt had — in
Trelawny's knowledge of the motives of that roman-
tically appropriate bird, in persistently approaching
the party at Viareggio. What I do believe is that a
'long-shore bird of sorts, whether a scion of the greats
the immortal family of the gulls, or classifiable among
the Scolopacidae or the Grallae, really did hover over the
proceedings and impress the chief actor and narrator
with its striking presence, and that, if he had ever had
the opportunity or ornithological knowledge to deter-
mine the creature's species, time soon wore down the
sharpness of the visual impression. AVhatever that
bird may have been, with its ghastly unappeased
appetite for roast poet, I believe in its lioverings and
cries over the extraordinary scene of the cremation of
Shelley as implicitly as I do in that other bird of
weird omen which Trelawny so graphically delineates
near the beginning of his masterly Adventures of a
Younger Son, — to wit the uncanny and characteristically
frumious raven which, after a battle royal described
with incomparable power of a somewhat barbaric kind,
he hung with his little girl-companion's sash. Of all
the ravens in literature, that fierce old demon of the
Cornish garden, battered and bloody and with one


wicked eye hanging out of his head, is the fowl I
should be the most loth to part with — not excepting
Edgar Poe's mysterious example of corvus cor ax ; and
I feel as certain that the child Trelawny, aged five,
whom I only knew as an octogenarian, did in sober
verity fight that battle and hang that raven, as I do
that Poe never saw any such bird at all as the griesly
protagonist of his immortal poem. Indeed I believe —
(for now I recall that it is in the Saga of Edward the
Viking — I decline to call the Younger Son either a tale
or a romance) — that the mauled and mauling raven
must go down to posterity in company with twice-
hung Smith ; for, when cut down for dead, he came to
life again, fought a second fight for the lordship of the
garden, and was finally hung again and pitched into
the duck-pond, tied to a stone, with the aid of the
Younger Son's elder brother.

I venture to think that if Trelawny's two books
had been written in verse instead of prose he might
almost have started with the following quotation : —

The tale that I must tell to-day
You'll hear in just the homely way
Of listening to a plain narration
By one who loves the elevation
That eveiy story will admit —
Since of a truth the gossiping fit
Is rooted in the joy of art :
The homeliest saga-man must part
Company now and then with fact —
Nor be too slavishly exact ;
For art soars wide on fancy's wings
To catch the essential truth of things.

And to tell a true story well, however loosely it be
knit, and elevate the key of it, is art. But my



business here is not so mucli to define the spirit of
Trelawny's books as to point the moral of his familiar

There are many loosely phrased passages in these
letters, which detractors may be pleased to pounce
upon as evidences of bad faith, now as in the past.
A notable instance may be seen at page 276, where we
read " Of Shelley there is neither portrait nor bust,
and what artist could imagine him ? " It is incon-
ceivable that the man who fetched the Curran portrait
from Rome for Mary Shelley, wrote about it over and
over again, published twice over reproductions of the
Clint portrait, and made grim jests about Mrs. Leigh
Hunt's posthumous bust of the poet, could have hoped
to deceive his correspondent, even if he had desired to
do so. All he meant by the sweeping statement was,
clearly enough to an unprejudiced mind, that there
existed neither portrait nor bust of Shelley done from
the life by an artist of repute. He could not be ex-
pected to think highly of the only one of these three
which was done from the life, namely Amelia Cur-
ran's singularly ill-drawn painting in the National
Portrait Gallery. What he had to convey to his
correspondent was that there was no extant guidance
for the maker of a bust or statue of Shelley.

See, too, how in that capital letter (pp. 91-5), written
to Roberts with his " left fin,^' recounting the attempt
to assassinate him in the Cave of Odysseus and his
ultimate escape to the Ionian Islands and the protection
of the British flag, he mixes up several of the King's
ships. He evidently wanted to tell Roberts how he
got to Cephalonia from the port nearest to Parnassus,
but succeeds in making it appear that he was towed


into port both by the Cambrian and by the Zebra. It
would be easy to multiply instances equally innocent
and equally useful to unfriendly critics of the man.

A man's spontaneous and ungarbled epistles to his
friends are wonderful antidotes for poisonous state-
ments invented by enemies. For example, an atrocious
apocryphal story about a dead baby of Trelawny's
made its appearance in that curious and by no means
uninteresting volume The Life and Letters of Joseph
Severn by William Sharp ^ ; a story which a man of
the late Mr. Sharp's culture and feeling should not
have dreamed of allowing to soil the pages of his book.
Probably few people have read the " horrible tale,"
which is in very small tjrpe ; and of such few it is not
likely that more than one or two persons of feeble
understanding believed it. If, however, there are
intelligent folk who carry about in their minds this
second-hand recollection of a hideous calumny served
up by Mr. Sharp, I hope they may chance upon those
passages in Trelawny's letters which relate to his
children, all of which passages bear witness to a
generous and innate kindliness of nature utterly
incapable of a practical joke with a dead baby. Such
a foul jape would have been as abhorrent as every
other dastardly act to the writer of these letters —
which, moreover, show that the " dead baby," the
account of whom is wrong in almost every particular,
grew to be a handsome marriageable girl, — from
one of whose grandsons I had the pleasure of
receiving a proffer of assistance in the course of my
attempts to prepare these papers for the public eye.

* London : Sampson Low, Marston & Company, Limited, 1892.


Mr. Sharp's selections from the voluminous Severn
papers were very seldom of this unfortunate kind ;
and there is another related to Trelawny's Letters
showing his friend and sometime housemate Charles
Armitage Brown in a charmingly diplomatic guise
for a friendly correspondent. Writing (p. 170) to
Severn of Trelawny and his anonymous Adventures of
a Younger Son, Brown mentions the quotations from
Keats with which the book abounds. " At the head
of every chapter," he says, " are one or two quotations
from Byron, Keats, and Shelley, — from no one else ;
and Woodhouse and I think his lordship does not look
over grand in such company. Woodhouse also thinks
that those quotations, in so popular a book, will be of
great service to the fame of Keats ; and indeed they
are chosen, in number fifty-three great and small, with
much care, — some great friend of Keats' must have
done all this, don't you imagine so ? "

Why Brown should not have told Severn explicitly
that he was himself that friend — see pages 136 and
144 of this collection of Trelawny's letters — it is not
easy to suggest with security ; but perhaps his modesty
relied on being found out by one who knew so much
of Keats and his friends as Severn did.

Trelawny differed toto coelo from the man who has
one set of opinions for publication and another for
home consumption. Indeed I am by no means sure
that, if he could gaze from the Elysian Fields upon mj'
present undertaking, he would not cry out upon my
squeamishness in omitting names and holding back
occasional sentences where it has seemed not unlikely
that his natural warmth of heart would have prompted
that much consideration for surviving relatives of


persons long since dead — persons whom he might
contemn, but would not have gone out of his way to
wound. In attacking the strong ones whom he also
thought wrong ones, he would certainly not have let
his emotions interfere with the iconoclastic fire and
fury of his chivalrous spirit and stalwart arm ; but for
the weak, and the survivors of their blood, the case
might well be different. He certainly faced the
common enemy known as Death the Friend with no
dread of posthumous revelations. His expressed view
was opposed to the return of people's letters : he told
Claire that he burnt hers as soon as read ; that he
never in his life asked for the return of one of his own ;
and only once, as far as I know, did he caution her
that a certain exchange of views should not see the
light — she must see to that. She did not see to it ;
and I suspect that, if there be no statute of limitations
in force in the Elysian Fields, Trelawny has long ago
condoned that omission of Claire's and revoked the
injunction so far as it might be held to bind her heirs,
executors, and assigns. That he attached no importance
to the question of suppressing his letters is abundantly
clear from the fact that he did not avail himself of an
opportunity offered to him of acquiring them from
Paola Clairmont before my pilgimage to Vienna.

Wayward and impulsive as Trelawny was, over-
bearing and intolerant of opposition as he often
showed himself to be, there is a strain of considerate-
ness and generosity permeating his character. In-
tolerant of all forms of oppression, bigotry, cant,
and frivolity, he was capable of splendid devotion to
a cause and devout attachment to the person and
genius of individuals. The personality, political


attitude, and poetic genius of Shelley certainly com-
manded his strongest and most enduring attachment,
and made a unity in his being which might have been
undeveloped and indiscoverable but for the meeting of
the two men in Italy.

This unity in diversity, persisting to the very end,
is aptly illustrated at page 277 with its two scraps of a
few lines each. The man to whom for nearly sixty years
the memory of Shelley as a great poet and warrior in
the cause of freedom had been as a beacon on a hill
sends Swinburne a message from which it is clear that
he felt Shelley's nearest successor in lyric force and
republican enthusiasm to be the fitting man for that
task left unachieved by Shelley himself, the dramatiza-
tion of the tragedy of Charles Stuart. And the man

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Online LibraryEdward John TrelawnyLetters of Edward John Trelawny; → online text (page 1 of 23)