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Showing posts from January, 2011

Treasured Possessions

“March 3rd 83

Dear Sir

Thanks for your note; the gout sticks to me so that I am still unable to make any appointment, but I will come on the very first opportunity. Yours faithfully.”

“March 20th .83

Dear Sir

I have just received your note as I am setting off for the country till Easter is over: I have sent it on to our works & will see on my return that the sketch is done and all estimates duly made. I am Dear Sir Yours Faithfully”


They’re not much for two of my most treasured possessions, are they? Two short notes, business-like, hurried, revealing little of the writer. The reason they are treasured is that they were written by William Morris. Morris is a great hero of mine; one of the chief deities of my personal pantheon; a genius. I love him for his art, his poetry, his politics, and his novels. The Well at the World’s End is one of the loveliest books I’ve ever read, and as a devotee of narrative verse I’m bowled over by epics like The Earthly Paradise and The Life and Death of J…

Creating a monster

To Oxford last week to see the Bodleian Library’s exhibition Shelley’s Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family. The exhibition looks at the way in which Shelley’s posthumous image was created by the careful control of how documents about and by Shelley and his circle were published – in edited form, not at all, or with restricted access. Shelley’s son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, had no interest in literature and it was his wife Jane who was the main architect of the Shelley image. She even set up a shrine to Shelley in her house, which contained items such as his watch, a plate from which he ate, and a collection of locks of hair from Percy and Mary Shelley and their friends. These people were big on collecting hair: there is an entire necklace made from Mary Wollstonecraft’s tresses from which hang two lockets containing more hair.

Shelley’s reputation certainly needed protecting. There was and still is an unsavoury air to him, even if some of the scandals don’t bother us s…