The Hunt for Keats’ House Part 7 – One Old Man cont.

I am going to take each of the four views presented in the previous post (plus the curve ball from John Gilmer Speed) and probe them further, starting with Beatrix Cresswell.

Apart from the inconsistencies one of the interesting aspects in the views is what information is missing.  What I can say about the players involved though is that they all have high levels of expertise and I have to start with the assumption that everything which is being told is the truth as they know it; there may be mistakes but I do not believe that anyone is deliberately imparting misleading information.

Beatrix Cresswell

The more I read about Beatrix Feodore Grace Clara Augusta Cresswell the more impressed I am by her contribution to the history and social history of Devon.  It’s all the more impressive given the lack of opportunity afforded to women in educational and academic circles in her time, growing up in the second half of the nineteenth century.  Her brother Richard, for example, automatically went up to Oxford; she didn’t.

Anyway, what do we learn from her contribution (see earlier post on the ‘local debate’)? …..

  1. This is the first written reference to where Keats lived in Teignmouth.  So she isn’t relying on earlier biographers but quoting an original source, a combination of Dr W C Lake and Henry Buxton Forman (HBF).
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  2. She probably knew Dr Lake reasonably well since they had both lived and grown up in Teignmouth in the same period, they both had an interest in history, they both contributed to the Devonshire Association and I would surmise that her father also moved in the same Teignmouth “academic” circle as Dr Lake.  So she would have trusted Dr Lake’s judgment.
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  3. I would guess that her communication with Dr Lake on this topic would have been conversational rather than in writing.  If it had been in writing then, since Beatrix was a meticulous researcher, she would undoubtedly have kept it in her notes and it would more than likely have been discovered by future biographers – and there has been no such reference that I can find.
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  4. She makes no mention of William Risdon Hall Jordan (WRHJ), who appears later as a source. So I would assume that he hadn’t been involved with Dr Lake and HBF in their investigation at this time.
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  5. The reason she gives for Dr Lake’s and HBF’s decision is: “By studying his letters they concluded that the young poet lodged in a house (now 35, Strand)”.  This suggests that they too had not looked at other sources (unmentioned) and hadn’t consulted with WRHJ at that time.  The intriguing point though is that, as I showed in my earlier post on the Letters, there is nothing in those letters that discriminates between No 35 and No 20 Northumberland Place as Keats lodgings …. unless Dr Lake and HBF knew something else, which hasn’t been recorded.
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  6. Image of Keats’ Lodgings in Cresswell’s book – now 35 Northumberland Place

    Did Beatrix make a mistake?  I don’t believe so.  She was quoting Dr Lake in a published book and I am certain that if he had been misquoted he would have said something about it.  (Remember she was pulled up on another error in the book by someone in the Devonshire Association).  Beatrix’s book was reprinted in 1906 with exactly the same information so Dr Lake would have had 5 years to challenge the reference.

    Also, Beatrix’s book was illustrated by a professional illustrator which would obviously have cost her something.  She not only quoted Dr Lake but also commissioned the illustrator to produce the sketch of No35 Northumberland Place in her book, so she must have been confident about the information.

    So I believe that some time prior to 1901, Dr Lake genuinely believed that No 35 was Keats’ lodgings and imparted that to Beatrix Cresswell.
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  7. However, I do wonder on the extent of HBF’s involvement in this decision.  He was certainly the expert on Keats’ letters and would have been able to brief Dr Lake but I wonder whether Dr Lake actually made the decision independently.
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    The reason for my doubt is that HBF too was a meticulous scholar – his book on Keats’ letters is full of footnotes, interpretations, additional information yet there is nothing about the address of Keats’ lodgings.  His son Maurice continued updating the book on Keats’ letters through four editions upto 1952 and there are no references in those either to Keats’ lodgings.  There is a collection of HBF’s notes at the University of Delaware which, as far as I can tell, has no written notes about talking with Dr Lake about the address ….. although there appear to be a couple of photographs which I am still trying to get hold of.

So Beatrix Feodore Grace Clara Augusta Cresswell has laid down the gauntlet.

COMING NEXT ….. Frederick C Frost takes up the challenge.

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