The Regency’s Haunted Attraction

Full many a traveller oft hath sigh’d,
And pensive wept the Countess’ fall,
As wand’ring onward they’ve espied
The haunted towers of Cumnor Hall.

— Cumnor Hall (the Ballad of) by William Julius Mickle, (1784)

Cumnor Place, sometimes called Hall, was at one time the abbot’s residence at the monastery of Abingdon. Amy Robsart died there in 1560, falling down stairs while the servants were away. Tudor enthusiasts know her as the first wife of Robert Dudley, courtier of Elizabeth I.

Although an extensive inquiry cleared “sweet Robin” of the crime, suspicion remained, as Amy’s death had occurred so very opportunely for a man who made no secret of his desire to wed the queen. As an aside, 1971’s Elizabeth R is my very favorite portrayal of the Queen and her times. Leicester was played by Robert Hardy, a marvelous actor who passed away just this last August.

 

“Oh, I burn!”

For centuries afterwards, the village of Cumnor and its Hall remained obscure, excepting the aforementioned ballad by Mickle, which came to the notice of that poet’s fellow Scotsman, Sir Walter Scott. He was inspired to write a historical novel–a collection of fanciful events culminating in Lady Dudley’s death at the hands of Lord Dudley’s evil steward.

Assisting in this endeavor was the wife of the Reverend Dr. Thomas Hughes, Rector of nearby Uffington. She was a bustling sort who was only too delighted to gather local lore for his research, whether it be helpful or not.

“My dear Mrs. Hughes, a thousand thanks for all your kindness about Kenilworth..Cumnor Hall, & other particulars. I am not sure how far they may be all useful..”

— Letters and Recollections of Sir Walter Scott, by Mrs. Mary Ann Watts Hughes and collected by W. H. Hughes (1904)

Undoubtedly it was these very particulars which made Kenilworth an enormous success in 1821, when it was first published.

The Wizard of the North — Sir Walter Scott by Sir William Allan.

So stirring was the novel that many travelled to Cumnor to see the hall and its environs where Kenilworth’s tragic events took place, convinced the whole must be haunted. The fact that the old hall had already been demolished by the Earl of Abingdon, Montagu Bertie, caused much dissatisfaction all ’round.

“The disappointment was felt by everybody, for it was said that all the world had hastened to the site of the tragedy so graphically described by Scott, only to find they were too late(!)”

— The Antiquary: A Magazine Devoted to the Study of the Past, edited by E. Walford and G. L. Apperson (1889)

Lord Abingdon came face to face with his iniquity when he reportedly drove guests from his country estate in Wytham over to Cumnor to see the ruins, apparently having forgotten he’d pulled down the main walls years before.  Mrs. Hughes reported to Scott that his lordship was so ashamed and filled with regret, he was very ready to “hang himself for flinging away” what all the Regency was clamoring to see.

Cumnor Place, before demolition. Parts of it were incorporated in the reconstruction of Wytham Church

Enterprising persons soon turned the sleepy village of Cumnor into the Regency’s most popular haunted attraction. The vicar, who had knowledge of the hall prior to its destruction, collected fees for pointing out the location of the treacherous stairs and conducting tours of the rubble. The proprietor of the Red Lion changed the name of his establishment to the Black Bear, the name of the inn in the novel. Villagers recounted the exorcism of Lady Dudley’s ghost in the previous century, insisting she was “laid down” in the village pond by no less than nine parsons, with the consequence that its waters never froze again.

Cumnor pond today–quaint and serene

Scott, now grateful to Mrs. Hughes, wrote to congratulate her on these efforts:

“..I am not the less amused with the hasty dexterity of the good folks of Cumnor and its vicinity getting all their traditionary lore into such order as to meet the taste of the public.”

Historians were not so appreciative and hastened to correct the public’s perception of the matter by conducting inquiries and holding lectures. Some of these worthies condemned Scott and others for “exercising the minds of the vulgar” and fueling a resurgent belief in ghosts.

One indignant antiquarian wrote:

“The narrative is absolutely current in this day; and I have received a drawing of the pond in which the disturbed spirit of the unfortunate lady is said to have at length obtained quiet and repose(!)”

— An Inquiry with Regard to the Particulars Connected with the Death of Amy Robsart (Lady Dudley) at Cumnor Place.. by Thomas Joseph Pettigrew (1859)

Despite these remonstrations, the ghost of Cumnor had become something of a commodity for the place. At least, the expectation was there when a later Lord Abingdon sold Cumnor Place to one Rev. W. E. Scott-Hall. Buyer’s remorse set in when it was discovered there was no ghost anywhere in Cumnor. Scott-Hall sued the earl to rescind the contract of sale since the ghost was missing.

Legal scholars chortled over the implication a ghost should be part of a property conveyance.

“Is a family ghost, like a villein, an incorporeal heriditament? Or is it in the nature of a family heirloom? Can one have seisin of a ghost, and how?”

— The Law Quarterly, Stevens and Sons (1894)

Happy Halloween!

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Regency Critics: the Scorpion

 

It is perhaps appropriate, in the aftermath of the Referendum on Scottish Independence, that we turn to another Scot, a patriot to his birthplace, and famous Regency-era critic.

John Gibson Lockhart (1794 – 1854) was born to a clergyman and a clergyman’s daughter at the manse (rectory) of Cambusnethan House in the Scottish Lowlands. (Today, the place is marked by a rather haunting ruin in the Gothic revival style.) Lockhart was precocious at languages early on, and became somewhat of a specialist in translating the classics.

A self-portrait of the Scorpion--he was also an able caricaturist

A self-portrait of “Z”–he was also an able caricaturist

The publisher Blackwood took him up ostensibly to translate various German works for his magazine. He revealed his real purpose in a manger that reminds me of Dickens’ Fezziwig, as he wasted little time in introducing Lockhart to that other clever fellow he’d hired–John Wilson.

They were to be a team, but there were great differences between the two. Wilson was a ruddy blond, friendly and open-faced, if a little retiring. Lockhart, on the other hand, was not only dark in complexion, he was “cold, haughty and supercilious in manner,” such that even his own friends weren’t sure of his regard for them.

Even in their collaborations, the differences were stark:

“When (Wilson) impaled a victim, he did it..not vindictively, but as if he loved him. Lockhart, on the other hand, though susceptible of deep emotions, and gifted with a most playful wit, had no scruple in wounding to the very quick, and no thrill of compassion ever held back his hand when he had made up his mind to strike.”

— Christopher North, A Memoir, Mary Gordon (1864)

Lockhart became the Scorpion to Wilson’s Leopard. He also called himself, on occasion, “Z.”

The first attack he launched fell upon what he derisively christened the “Cockney School of Poetry.” Critics thought this was a mean-spirited jab at the artistic endeavors of the lower classes–particularly the poetry and other works by Keats, Hazlitt and Hunt. It certainly seemed that the Scorpion reserved his greatest sting for works that appealed to milkmaids and footmen longing to be poets themselves.

Of John Keats, he said:

“We venture to make one small prophecy, that his bookseller will not a second time venture 50 quid upon any thing he can write.  It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the shop Mr John, back to “plasters, pills, and ointment boxes,”& c.  But, for Heaven’s sake, young Sangrado, be a little more sparing of extenuatives and soporifics in your practice than you have been in your poetry..”

The attack devastated Keats. Some said it killed him.

Lockhart despised William Hazlitt’s social and literary commentaries, as well as his philosophizing on politics. Hazlitt was ‘pimpled’ and scarcely capable of any credible observation on the works of such ‘divine beings’ as Shakespeare and Spenser. Moreover, he was a member of ‘the vilest vermin that ever dared creep upon the hem of the majestic garment of the English muse.’

Zounds!

Hazlitt was not about to take this criticism lying down, (not like poor Keats, who was very, very ill). He vowed to sue Blackwood’s for libel and began his counter-assault by threatening the magazine’s agent in England, John Murray. The latter resided in London and was particularly sensitive about alienating the Scottish periodical’s London audience, naturally quite in charity with those “Cockney” poets.

Unabashed, Lockhart responded that attacking the poet was a necessary part to criticizing the poet’s work. (For more on this subject, see David Hill Radcliffe’s excellent overview of the Scorpion’s Cockney articles.)

John Gibson Lockhart as himself

“Mr. Gibson Lockhart, alias Baron Lauerwinkel, alias William Wastle, alias Dr. Ulrick Sternstare, alias Dr. Peter Morris, etc. as sketched by himself.”

Lockhart could not abide literary work that was put forth in bad faith, that was lazily executed or written only to satisfy what was fashionable. He felt that the literary scene in Scotland was far more sophisticated and diverse than that of London, concerned that the typical hand-in-glove, “wink-wink” collaboration common in England would corrupt Scottish artists and shackle them in English (translate Whig) style to politically connected, well-established magazines like Francis Jeffrey’s Edinburgh Review. 

Perhaps that was why his most famous victim became Leigh Hunt, whose labors he described were like those of:

“a vulgar man (who) is perpetually labouring to be genteel — in like manner, the poetry of this man is always on the stretch to be grand.” Blackwood’s, October 1817

Nevertheless, the Scorpion was forced to bow to his employer’s business concerns and retracted most of what he’d written in those early days. He did so reluctantly, quoting Tacitus, “rara temporum felicitas ubi sentire quae valis et quae sentias dicere licet” (rare felicity of the times when it is permitted to think as you like and say what you think).

Still, the scorn he heaped on the poet was simply diverted to the poet’s labors. Leigh Hunt, that darling of the Review, had written The Story of Rimini. Lockhart was convinced Hunt was forever dangling after favorable reviews from his Whig friends and he made certain to set the record straight on Hunt’s poetry, if not his character:

“The revisions became the most strained when they had to deal with the most personally flagrant aspect of the first article about the Cockney school: its insinuations about Hunt’s domestic life and sexual morality.

Z had written, ‘The very concubine of so impure a wretch as Leigh Hunt would be to be pitied, but alas! for the wife of such a husband!’

This was revised to read, ‘Surely they who are connected with Mr. Hunt by the tender relations of society, have good reason to complain that his muse should have been so prostituted. In Rimini, a deadly wound is aimed at the dearest confidence of domestic bliss.’ ”

— Romanticism and Blackwood’s Magazine: ‘An Unprecedented Phenomenon,’ edited by Robert Morrison and Daniel Roberts (2013)

Interestingly, Lockhart’s early description of Hunt’s personality was prescient. A later writer, and a good deal more famous, used Leigh Hunt as a model for that famous “sponger of friends,” Harold Skimpole of Bleak House.

It is him, I vow–to the life!

But as for London and its “Cockney” influence, he remained an implacable foe, viewing it as a scourge upon the Scottish literary scene. It was in this role that he caught the eye of Scotland’s literary giant, Sir Walter Scott, and, more importantly, the poet’s daughter–a lovely lass called Sophia. They married and lived together in a little cottage on her father’s estate. With her, he could give his heart its liberty and:

“speak of the chief ornament and delight at all these simple meetings—she to whose love I owed my own place in them.”

The Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart, Andrew Lang (1897)

Lauder's portrait of Sophia and John--painted after she died. Note the prominence of her wedding ring, her countenance light while her surviving husband's remains in shadow.

Lauder’s portrait of Sophia and John–painted after she died. Note the prominence of her wedding ring, her beloved countenance placed in the light while that of her surviving husband, the Scorpion, remains in shadow.

 

 

Regency Critics: the Slasher

Edinburgh has been argued as the early nineteenth century’s “capital city of modern literature.” It is there that we find the original Regency-era critic.

The Edinburgh Review was one of the first, if not the inaugural, quarterly journal to feature in-depth literary reviews. It was created by a circle of Whigs, some of whom have been the subject of this blog in the past: Sydney Smith and Henry Brougham. Joined with them were Francis Horner and Francis Jeffrey, the latter becoming the Review’s editor throughout the Regency.

Old Calton Burying Ground in Edinburgh--split in half during the Regency era

Old Calton Burying Ground in Edinburgh–split in half during the Regency era

Francis Jeffrey (1773 – 1850), later Lord Jeffrey, took the helm of the Review with the intent of producing more than just what elementary students would term book reports. His periodical aimed to publish critical reviews that would be sought out for their own merits. These reviews would illustrate a deeper inquiry into literary works of the day, examining their qualities as they relate to Society as a whole. To deliver these mighty opinions one must have a salaried writer, who was hired for his politics as much as for his penmanship.

It was the birth of the professional literary critic.

Jeffrey submitted quite a few of these reviews himself, and in a very short time, he was to discover the hazards of offending the Regency-era writer. He pronounced Thomas Moore’s naughty epistles “a public nuisance” and was challenged to a duel (he and the Irish bard became friends afterwards). He chided beloved Marmion for disrespecting the great Whig politician Fox, and lost Sir Walter Scott’s patronage.

Not to be deterred, Jeffrey continued to develop a “slashing” style of critique that mowed down whatever he perceived to be overly wordy, superfluous and extravagant (we call it purple prose today–then it was known as Rousseau). Few writers in the Romantic vein (the favored poetic style of the Regency) failed to escape his scythe. Especially despised were those he derided as the Lake Poets, and for them a truly masterful trimming was reserved:

Wordsworth–“Even in the worst of [his] productions, there are, no doubt, occasional little traits of delicate feeling and original fancy; but these are quite lost and obscured in the mass of childishness and insipidity with which they are incorporated.”

Lord Francis Jeffrey, by Geddes He would have been a fan of Judge Judy

Lord Francis Jeffrey, by Geddes
He would have been a fan of Judge Judy

Southey – “All the productions of this author, it appears to us, bear very distinctly the impression of an amiable mind, a cultivated fancy, and a perverted taste.”

Keats  – “(Apart from Endymion) there is no work, accordingly, from which a malicious critic could cull more matter for ridicule, or select more obscure, unnatural, or absurd passages.”

Critical review was brutish, nasty work and in any case, Jeffrey had always preferred the practice of law. His popularity as a critic brought him a larger caseload which he welcomed and used to increase his standing at Bar, slashing opposing counsel. In the end, he was awarded elevation to the Bench.

Now that’s justice, (and criticism), with an attitude.

 

Bibliomaniacs – Librarians to the Regency

“What wild desires, what restless torments seize

The hapless man, who feels the book disease..”

— The Bibliomania – An Epistle to Richard Heber by John Ferriar (1809)

He's almost as popular over formal room mantles as Gainsborough's Blue Boy

He’s almost as popular over formal room mantles as Gainsborough’s Blue Boy

As the portrait indicates, Richard Heber (1773 – 1833) was a handsome boy. He was also nearsighted, and perhaps for this reason conceived a passion for collecting books. He was later termed as having “bibliomania” and no wonder. His collection of books  filled several houses in England and abroad.

Richard’s father, to whom he owed a vast inheritance, decried his book-collecting, stating the indulgence should be nipped in the bud before it ruined him, having “no use nor end.” Little heed was paid to this advice. When Richard came into his inheritance in 1804, he embarked on a buying spree, travelling abroad after “ransacking” England in pursuit of entire collections and the most rare, original editions of selected works.

He not only loved book-collecting, he loved the friendships his passion brought him. He was very happy to lend his books and could be relied upon to provide the original edition if a copy was found to contain errors (as subsequent editions frequently did). His scholarship aided such luminaries as Sir Walter Scott, who dedicated the sixth canto of Marmion to him, and William Wordsworth. Richard’s influence among academia brought professorships and fellowships to those who sought his help.

After an abortive first try, he was finally elected to the House of Commons as a member of the Tory party. However, his propensity for being a friend made him less desirable as a representative, as far as his constituents were concerned. The fellow was just too conciliatory:

“..the assets of his ‘popular manners, his great library, his genuine Toryism and his assiduous canvass of near 15 years’ were offset by the ‘great cry’ raised against him by ‘the high churchmen’, who were said to ‘accuse him of travelling in stage coaches, of living at a brewery, of associating with the opposition, and of being favourably disposed towards the Catholics.’ — Althorp Letters, 115; Add. 51659, Whishaw to Lady Holland, 16 July 1821.

For all he did for his friends, they were conspicuously absent in his later years. In the end, he died alone, having never married.

Then, years later, an obituary appeared–that of Frances Mary Richardson Currer (1785 – 1861). She was the posthumous daughter of a Yorkshire clergyman and heiress to both her father and mother’s

Miss Currer's bookplate

Miss Currer’s bookplate

fortunes.  Her home at Eshton Hall held her collection of books which was estimated between 15,000 and 20,000 volumes. She was deaf, and therefore not active socially. However, this last mention of her included another:

“Miss Currer was an intimate friend of the great bibliomaniac Richard Heber, who filled many houses with his books. It was even rumoured that they might become united by a tie more permanent than that of kindred pursuits in literature. This however, is now a tale of times gone by.” — Gentleman’s Magazine, 1861

Ghostly Portent – the Radiant Boy

There is something particularly disturbing about the association of children with the supernatural.

I know someone who used to live far out in the country. Her house sat off an isolated, rural road and her nearest neighbor was a mile away. One night she looked out of her window. The only thing to light the gloom was a single overhead light suspended on a pole. A figure stood beneath the bright circle created by the light pole, surrounded by darkness. It was exactly the height of a young child. Horrified, she was about to turn away to rescue the toddler when it turned its head in her direction.

It was an enormous owl.

She was scared out of her wits and so was I.

The Marquis of Londonderry was not by any means mistaken. He really did see a ghostly child. And the ones who loved him wished he hadn’t.

Robert Stewart, Viscount Catlereagh
You know what a neckcloth and cutaway coat does to me.

But before we get to that, a little background is necessary.

The Reverend Richard Harris Barham (1788 – 1845), intimate of  Regency wit Sydney Smith , mentioned the spectral phenomenon known as the radiant boy in his famous Ingoldsby Legends (1837). In the tale of the “Radiant Boy,” a family’s young son is obsessed with the spirit of a boy, pale and crying, who wanders the manor’s grounds. His mother tells him it is nothing:

“The linden tree is straight and tall, its leaves are fresh and fair;

but there’s no little boy at all–no pretty boy is there.”

Later in the story the narrator notes how the mother’s cheek is a little red, her voice losing its customary tone. She knew the legend of the radiant boy. She knew he was a portent of bad luck and violent death.

The basis of the legend appears to come from Germanic folklore–the curse of the kindermorderinn–children murdered by their mothers. Commonly seen in northern England, these ghosts were thought to be heirs deprived of their inheritance, returning to haunt the great estates of the wealthy. They appeared as young boys naked or nearly so, surrounded by white light.

Corby Castle in Cumbria, with its Regency facade by Peter Nicholson, used to be nothing more than a Border tower. In the old part of the house, the rector of Greystoke stayed with his wife. They departed so precipitously the following morning their hired chaise knocked down part of a fence to the flower garden. He later wrote:

“Soon after we went to bed, we fell asleep; it might be between one and two in the morning when I awoke. I observed that the fire was totally extinguished; but, although that was the case, and we had no light, I saw a glimmer in the centre of the room, which suddenly increased to a bright flame. I looked out, apprehending that something had caught fire, when, to my amazement, I beheld a beautiful boy, clothed in white, with bright locks resembling gold, standing by my bedside, in which position he remained some minutes, fixing his eyes upon me with a mild and benevolent expression. He then glided gently towards the side of the chimney, where it is obvious there is no possible egress, and entirely disappeared. I found myself again in total darkness, and all remained quiet until the usual hour of rising. I declare this to be a true account of what I saw at Corby Castle, upon my word as a clergyman.”

Corby Castle in Cumbria

The so-called “Blue Boy” resides in another border fortress, this one in Northumberland. Chillingham Castle was once the seat of the Grey family and the Earls of Tankerville. In the late nineteenth century, before the castle was allowed to fall into ruin, country party guests staying there frequently reported blue flashes followed by a loud wail in a chamber known as the Pink Room. Today, Chillingham is undergoing restoration by its new owner, Sir Humphrey Wakefield. The remarkable account of this process and a picture of the Pink Room can be found here.

And now to the Marquis of Londonderry. He’s better known as Viscount Castlereagh and in certain circles, the husband of an Almack’s Patroness.  Long before his duel with rival and fellow ghost-observer George Canning, Robert Stewart was serving His Majesty’s forces in Ireland when he saw the Goblin Child of Belashanney in the village barracks. According to Thomas Moore, “Regency Poet of Wine and Love,” the Duke of Wellington made Castlereagh recount the story to Sir Walter Scott. He complied and “told it without hesitation as if he believed it implicitly:”

“It was one night when he was in the barracks and the face brightened gradually out of the fireplace and approached him. Lord Castlereagh stepped forward to it, and it receded again and faded into the same place  approached it.”

Moore goes on to relate that Scott swore only two men ever admitted to him they saw a ghost and both eventually ended their lives by suicide. One was Stanhope.

The other was Lord Castlereagh.