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A Black Tulip Comes to the Pforzheimer Collection, Part 2
…To continue: you will recall that I was embarking on an attempt to explain the note at the bottom of p. 11 of Original Poetry byVictor and Cazire in the copy owned by the New York Public Library. To refresh your memory, here is the picture again—the note reads: Now for God's sake be secret / you will understand why I / wish you to be particularly so.
It refers to the second poem in the volume, a verse epistle from Elizabeth Shelley to Harriet Grove titled "To Miss _____ ______ from Miss _____ _____," and dated 30 April 1810. The blanks in our copy are helpfully penciled in with the initials HG in the first and S in the second. The date cannot be taken literally, as the 30th of April was the middle of a ten-day visit from the Shelley family to the Grove family at Tom Grove's London house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, while the poem refers to the period just after the visit. (Tom Grove, then a law student, was the brother of Harriet and Charlotte.) On leaving London, Charlotte Grove went on to Cuckfield, near the Shelleys, to visit a Colonel Warden Jefferson Sergison, whose supposed romantic interest in her was the subject of considerable speculation within the Grove and Shelley families, and within this poem.
This London visit, from 25 April to 5 May—204 years ago this week—was probably the moment of the greatest closeness between the two families: for if Charlotte's romance was merely hoped for, Harriet Grove was informally engaged to Percy Bysshe Shelley, their romance condoned by both of their fathers and carried on through frequent letters. (1) Harriet gave Bysshe a lock of her hair, held together with sealing wax stamped with a rebus—an eye, an X, a few peck marks, (invisible in this picture) and the words "a return"—that is: "I expect a return." He kept it folded in a slip of paper (a fragment of a watermark dates the paper to 1809) in his pocket diary.
A lock of Harriet Grove's hair, given to P.B. Shelley sometime in 1809-10, and still in his diary.
Harriet Grove and Elizabeth Shelley themselves were great friends, and Harriet was close enough to the Shelleys' mother, Elizabeth Pilfold Shelley, that they, too, corresponded. During this visit to London the two families engaged in the amusements proper to their class: they went to shops, exhibitions, the theater, the opera, held dances at home, and went walking in Lincoln's Inn Fields, as you still can today:
Our knowledge of most of this activity comes from Harriet's diary—including an injury to her foot that kept her indoors several days while most of the others went out, once "to the Play all but Mama and Percy," and once, indeed, "all the party went out but me & Dearest P." (2) Harriet's use of the name Percy bears notice, as until the 27th April she had called him Bysshe like the rest of his family. Some sort of significant conversation had taken place between them leading to some new level of intimacy. The fact that "Dearest P" was later crossed through, and that the next three days' entries include wholly canceled lines, points to trouble down the road, but in May 1810 the reader of Harriet Grove's diary would have seen an unblemished record of happy days.
To return to Charlotte Grove and Colonel Sergison, however: the most relevant lines in Elizabeth Shelley's poem read:
So ______ is going to _______ you say,
I hope that success her great efforts will pay
That the Colonel will see her, be dazzled outright,
And declare he can't bear to be out of her sight ...
In our copy, both blanks have been filled with the initial "C," for "Charlotte" and "Cuckfield." Harriet's elder sister is portrayed as devastatingly attractive to the Colonel, and a world of embarrassment for Charlotte is contained in the twenty lines devoted to the Colonel's imagined passion.
Charlotte Grove, though her visit to Cuckfield lasted three months, did not marry Colonel Sergison, who died in July 1811. While she was in Cuckfield, and later in the summer of 1810, the two Shelley siblings were hard at work on their joint volume of poetry, and they must have sent a copy the Grove sisters in Wiltshire soon after it appeared. The Groves were far from pleased. Harriet wrote in her diary on September 17, 1810: "Received the poetry of Victor & Cazire, Charlotte offended & with reason as I think they have done very wrong in publishing what they have of her." (3) They were angry enough, in fact, to erase "the Colonel" from their copy, now part of the Ransom Center's collections. Desmond Hawkins, the historian of the Grove family, saw in this unhappy and tactless gift the first cause for the Groves' breaking off the attachment between Harriet and Shelley, although the most explicit reason was given much later by Harriet's brother Charles—viz., that Harriet "became uneasy at the tone of [Shelley's] letters on speculative subjects," that is to say, on religion. (4)
But at the time this note was written—"Now for God's sake be secret / you will understand why I / wish you to be particularly so" —the situation between the families, and particularly between Harriet Grove and Percy Shelley, was undecided. If the note really is addressed to Medwin, the plea seems to be for his tact, perhaps for the sake of Charlotte's dignity but also, perhaps, for the sake of the match between Shelley and Harriet. If the book were sent to Medwin after the Groves had made their displeasure known to the Shelleys, this circumstance might additionally account for the urgency of the note. (It would also allow a rough dating of the gift to Medwin, since it would have to be after 17 September, or rather, after the Grove sisters' displeasure had been made known to the Shelleys, and before P.B. Shelley went to Oxford, though that date is itself subject to question -- sometime after 10 October and before 11 November.)
It is my suspicion that the author of the note is Elizabeth Shelley. I say this largely because the poem is hers; partly, because its hand resembles hers in one of the few known pieces of her writing from this time, a postscript to a letter of Shelley's written 23 April 1810, just before their London visit.
(The letter belongs to the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, and is shown here through the kind permission of its curator, Isaac Gewirtz.) Her postscript ends with the signature E Shelley; the most legible phrase, "Death + Hell + Destruction if you fail" belongs to her brother. Compare the words "you," "be" and "to" in the postscript and the note; these might indeed be the same hand. However, the two samples are simply too short, and too different in their writing instruments, paper size, position of hand, and situation of writing, for us to be certain.
Still, we might ask: why would Medwin know who Colonel Sergison was—that is, if it's Elizabeth's hand (or if it's Shelley's, the other most likely person), why would this poem have any interest for him? As it happens, Medwin père knew Sergison fairly well, since he acted as his election agent when Sergison unsuccessfully stood for parliament in 1807. We know, too, that the younger Medwin was also involved since we have a letter from his father to him reporting on the results and showing that both father and son were working hard on the election. (5)
Here, then, is one possible scenario of what might have happened with this volume: the Shelley siblings decide to give a copy to their cousin Tom Medwin. Since Shelley habitually gave copies of his books to friends and family, this is no surprise; but we may be able to date the actual gift to after 17 September when the Grove sisters got their copy of Victor and Cazire, but before Stockdale's discovery of the plagiarism. (The fact that "St. Edmond's Eve" is ascribed to Victor inclines me to think this: since Shelley so quickly blamed his partner in crime when Stockdale accused him, it seems unlikely that he would have allowed, or made, the ascription if the book had left his hands afterward.) Elizabeth Shelley, knowing that her cousin Tom knew Col. Sergison, pencils a note to him before Shelley left Field Place with the book. Possibly at the same time, she identified the writer of each poem—though I make this speculation only because both note and ascriptions are in pencil, and because the hands are similar. Shelley sees Medwin sometime in late September, before his departure for Oxford, and without Elizabeth, and gives him the copy.
From here on, things only become more mysterious. Of course there is no way to know how it was given to Medwin—whether he accepted it on a visit to Field Place, whether Shelley gave it to him at Medwin's house, or sent it by a messenger of some kind… this is not knowable, without more evidence. Still more mysterious is how it got to Italy, for if you'll recall, it was purchased in Florence. Did Medwin bring it during his long visits to the Shelleys in Pisa between 1820 and 1822? Or did it arrive much later? "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent," as Wittgenstein said. So I leave you with this photograph of Thomas Medwin in his old age, perhaps with the knowledge still intact of where he had left his copy of Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire —and perhaps not.
1. This period in London, one should note, marked the resumption of an affair that had been broken off previously; for the fullest account, see Desmond Hawkins, Shelley's First Love (London and Hamden, CT: Kyle Cathie and Archon Books, 1992), and also Frederick L. Jones, "Introduction to the Diary of Harriet Grove" in Shelley and his Circle, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1961 -), vol. II, pp. 475-506.
2. The Grove Diaries: the Rise and Fall of an English Family, 1809-1925, ed. Desmond Hawkins, [Stanbridge, UK, and Newark, DE, USA: Dovecote Press and University of Delaware Press, 1995], p 76. In the same entry with "Dearest P.", for 3 May, Harriet Grove notes that Tom Medwin dined with them. Her diary is also published in Shelley and his Circle, vol. II, pp. 564-598, where her switch from Bysshe to Percy is noted.
Ascriptions of Poems
Below are the titles of poems in Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire with the ascribed author, given first from the Pforzheimer copy and then with the initials of Elizabeth or Percy Bysshe Shelley from vol. I of Reiman and Fraistat's edition ofThe Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). For an account of their ascriptions of the poems, see CPPBS, I, 154 - 158.
|Pforz: Cazire;||CPPBS: ES|
To Miss _____ ____
|Pforz: Cazire;||CPPBS: ES|
("Cold, Cold is the blast)
|Pforz: blank;||CPPBS: PBS|
("Come _____! Sweet is the hour")
|Pforz: Victor;||CPPBS: PBS|
|Song : Despair||Pforz: Cazire||CPPBS: ES|
|Song: Sorrow||Pforz: Cazire||CPPBS: ES|
|Pforz: Victor||CPPBS: ES|
Song: translated from the Italian
|Pforz: Cazire||CPPBS: ES [noting that the first stanza is plagiarized]|
Song: translated from the German
|Pforz: Victor||CPPBS: PBS|
|The Irishman's Song||Pforz: Victor||CPPBS : PBS|
("Fierce roars the midnight storm")
|Pforz: Victor||CPPBS: PBS|
Song: To _______
("Ah! Sweet is the moonbeam")
|Pforz: Victor||CPPBS: PBS|
Song: To ________
("Stern, stern is the voice")
|Pforz: Victor||CPPBS: PBS|
|St. Edmond's Eve||Pforz: Victor||CPPBS: M.G. Lewis|
|Revenge||Pforz: Victor||CPPBS: PBS|
|Ghasta; or the Avenging Demon!!!||Pforz: Victor||CPPBS: PBS|
|Fragment, or the Triumph of Conscience||Pforz: Victor||CPPBS: PBS|