Clamouring through Clouds
I started writing this on 8th April so I thought I’d look back 200 years ….. whilst on the 8th April 1818 John Keats was looking forward to the future. He wrote to his friend Benjamin Haydon:
“I will clamber through the Clouds and exist”
In the hunt for Keats’ House I feel I’m clambering through the clouds now …… is there life beyond!
One Old Man
In Dorothy Hewlett’s Biography of Keats in 1937 she says (see post on biographers):
“At No 20, the Strand, there is a granite plate on the face of the old white Georgian house to the effect that John Keats lived here in 1818. This, by no means a certainty, rests on the memory of one old man in 1901 …..”
There is a brief explanation of where this information came from which is what I want to explore in more depth here. This involves an understanding of the players, amongst whom are more than one old man. Most of them have already been mentioned in the various preceding posts but I want to draw them all together here to round off the plot.
Henry Buxton Forman, 1842-1917, was a prolific author and authority on Shelley and Keats. He produced the ‘centenary’ collection of Letters of John Keats in 1895. In 1934 it was discovered that he had produced a number of forgeries of literary works, for sale in the American market – though none by Keats..
Maurice Buxton Forman,1872-1957, was Henry’s youngest and, apparently, favourite son, who followed in his father’s footsteps. He was well acquainted with his father’s literary work and friends. He and Thomas James Wise sorted the Buxton Forman Collection after his father’s death in 1917, prior to its sale as part of the estate. He continued updating the “Letters of John Keats” collection through to its 4th edition in 1952..
- Dr W C Lake, 1825-1920, was Teignmouth born and bred. His father, Anthony Proctor Lake, was a naval surgeon and William followed his profession having studied at Kings College, London, and St Andrews University. He practised in Teignmouth for over 40 years, was on the honorary medical staff of the Teignmouth Hospital, for 14 years was Medical Officer of Health for the urban district, and performed much useful work during the outbreak of cholera in 1867. He was also a bit of a polymath with special interests in local history and meteorology on which he wrote a number of articles for the Devonshire association. Of special interest for this piece of research was that:
- His parents moved to Teignmouth in 1817;
- he went to school with Robert C R Jordan (1825-1890) who also became a doctor and was the younger brother of William Risdon Hall Jordan;
- according to Pigot’s Directory of 1822 his father was recorded as a surgeon at No16 Northumberland Place. The Navy List of 1841 shows that his father was registered in the service in 1806.
- William Risdon Hall Jordan, 1821-1911, son of William Rufus Jordan, also Teignmouth born and bred, was a solicitor like his father and also performed various public roles – e.g. Clerk to Teignmouth Urban District Council and Teignmouth School Board; Hon Sec to the Bread & Coal Society and the Soup Kitchen. He too was a member of the Devonshire Association and wrote various articles on local history and natural history.
- William Rufus Jordan, 1792-1865, was the son of Robert Jordan one of the influential businessmen of Teignmouth who instigated the plan for the infilling of Teignmouth town centre where the river Tame once flowed. He was a solicitor and, in 1818, a founding member of the Teignmouth branch of the Missionary Society In Pigot’s Directory of 1822 he was recorded as an attorney at No 11 Northumberland Place, so a close neighbour of Dr W C Lake’s parents.
Hyder Edward Rollins, 1889 – 1958, was an American scholar and Gurney Professor of English at Harvard University from 1939. He was a prolific author of articles and books on Elizabethan poetry, broadside ballads, and Romantic poets. He was an internationally recognized scholar on John Keats, and edited the authoritative two-volume edition of Keats’ letters. These he completed in the last four years of his life..
- Louis A Holman, 1866-1939, was an illustrator, art editor, and print dealer in Boston, Massachusetts. Beginning his studies of Keats and collection of Keatsiana in 1908 he became an expert on the “life of Keats and the persons, places, things connected with Keats.” He described his collection as a “poor man’s for no item in it has cost more than five dollars….. about 500 pieces – contemporaneous portraits of Keats, his family, teachers, friends, critics, enemies; places having relation to Keats; facsimile[s] of Mss, pictures & sculpture which influenced his poetry, first printings of his poems, cut from periodicals of his day, etc…”. His collection now forms part of the Houghton Library at Harvard.
- Fred C Frost, was a Teignmouth contemporary of Dr W C Lake and William Risdon Hall Jordan. He lived at 5 Regent Street and would have known Dr Lake well since they were both members of the Freemasons Benevolent Lodge 303. He too was a member of the Devonshire Association and made contributions to that organisation and to the “Antiquary” and “Notes & Queries, a Medium of Intercommunication, for Literary men, General Readers etc” on subjects as diverse as the Devon dialect, medieval religious orders and heraldry. He used the initials FSI after his name which could mean he was a Fellow (full member) of the Surveyors Institution, awarded a royal charter in 1881 and the forerunner of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
- Frederick Edgcumbe, was the curator of the Keats House and Museum in Hampstead, London, from its inception in 1924 through to his death in 1941. During that time he amassed a large amount of Keats related material and was a well-respected source of information for biographers. He edited the “Letters of Fanny Brawne to Fanny Keats”, published by OUP in 1936. A memorial tree and plaque was placed in the grounds of Keats House by the Keats-Shelley Association of America. He also visited Teignmouth to recommend which house should be designated as Keats House.
Here’s a reminder of the views from earlier posts:
Beatrix Cresswell, 1901: “A year or two ago, Dr Lake and Mr H Buxton Forman, C.B. (the latter then busy in searching for memorials of Keats), were at some pains to ascertain, if possible, the house in which he stayed. By studying his letters they concluded that the young poet lodged in a house (now 35, Strand) at the corner of Queen Street, a turning toward the river.”
Fred C Frost, 1910: “The house he lived in is now 21 Northumberland Place (adjoining the King William Inn, facing Queen Street) and is not , as Miss Cresswell in her guide states, No 35 Northumberland Place at the corner of Queen Street nearly opposite. For this statement I have the authority of Dr Lake, Mr W R Hall Jordan and Mr Forman Buxton (sic) CB who although neither of them are patriarchal enough to have been the contemporary of Keats each remembers this house to have been pointed out to them by those of the former generation as the Teignmouth home of the poet.”
Dorothy Hewlett, 1937: “At No 20, the Strand, there is a granite plate on the face of the old white Georgian house to the effect that John Keats lived here in 1818. This, by no means a certainty, rests on the memory of one old man in 1901 who said his father, William Rufus Jordan, a solicitor in the town, had told him that Keats had dined with him one evening and informed him he was lodging in either 21 or 22 the Strand. H Buxton Forman was able to narrow this down to what is now No 20.”
Hyder Edward Rollins, 1958: (referring to a letter from Dr W C Lake to Louis A Forman): “.…. on April 4, 1913, Lake had identified the Teignmouth house in which John, George, and Tom Keats lived as 20, The Strand, now Northumberland Place (today marked with a tablet), and the shop of ‘the Girls over at the Bonnet shop’ as 35, The Strand. Whether the former was the house of Mrs Jeffery cannot be proved, though I think it is likely that the Keats brothers lodged with, or visited, her there.”
So, we have a number of views, with some inconsistencies and contradictions. Is history always like this? Discuss. The next post will try to make sense of these views and see if there is a single most likely scenario.
I have just discovered an article “The Sojourns of John Keats” by John Gilmer Speed in The Century Magazine, Vol 58, May to October 1910.
The text itself doesn’t add to the debate but it does include a photograph by Louis A Holman of “The Lodgings of Keats and his Brothers in Teignmouth”. This is a photograph of No 35 Northumberland Place.
TO BE CONTINUED …..