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

Frederick C Frost

It was exactly 108 years ago today that Frederick Cornish Frost challenged Beatrix Cresswell’s statement about Keats’ House.  Following my earlier post I have since discovered that he was an antiquarian, ran the local family business of auctioneers, became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1913 and died prematurely of a heart attack in 1914.  He wasn’t an historian or biographer and his contribution to this debate came through a letter he wrote to a local paper on 14th April 1910.

Analysing that letter in more detail, this is my interpretation:

  1. The challenge of the letter wasn’t as much against Beatrix Cresswell as against the local council.  It was aimed at getting the council to take some action about setting up a series of plaques around town commemorating the town’s association with various historic figures, amongst whom was Keats.
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  2. Specifically in relation to Keats he said: “The house he lived in is now 21 Northumberland Place ….. For this statement I have the authority of Dr Lake, Mr W R Hall Jordan (WRHJ) and Mr Forman Buxton (sic) CB ….. each remembers this house to have been pointed out to them by those of the former generation as the Teignmouth home of the poet.”
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  3. Frost would have known Dr Lake well through their joint interest in history, membership of the Devonshire Association and membership of the Freemasons.
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  4. He would have known WRHJ too through the Devonshire Association.
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  5. However, I think the reference to Henry Buxton Forman (HBF) is probably an embellishment to add some academic weight to the point he was trying to make in the local paper.  Note that he actually got HBF’s name wrong.
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  6. I can’t find any rebuttal by Dr Lake or WRHJ of what Frost is saying – surely if it was wrong then they would have written a letter in response.
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  7. However, it is unlikely that Dr Lake would have suddenly remembered the “house to have been pointed out …. by those of the former generation”.  If he had known this then he would have told Beatrix Cresswell in 1901.  The reference to Dr Lake though does suggest that he has changed his mind, so what caused that?
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  8. The new piece of information in the letter is William Risdon Hall Jordan.  He was born three years after Keats was in Teignmouth but his father, at least in 1822, lived at 11 Northumberland Place, just up the road from where Keats would have lodged.  So I believe that the memory must have come from WRHJ and that, if that memory was correct, then it would likely have been his father who had told him.  His father may well have met Keats strolling along Northumberland Place, but that’s just speculation.
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  9. As often seems to be the case in historical research this may be a case of serendipity.  Maybe Frost, Dr Lake and WRHJ were all together at a meeting of the Devonshire Association some time after 1906 and the conversation turned to Keats, which is when WRHJ revealed his memory.  Who knows?
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  10. Whether it was this letter or subsequent local campaigning by Frost, by 1912 the name “Keats House” had been placed by the owners on the front door of No 20 Northumberland Place (see earlier post on biographers).

The John Gilmer Speed Curve Ball

John Gilmer Speed

It turns out that John Gilmer Speed was the grandson of Keats’ brother George.  He started life as a civil engineer but by 1878 he had become the managing editor of the New York World.  He wrote a number of books including editing a collection of “Letters and Poems of John Keats” in 1883.

His article “The Sojourns of John Keats” in the Century Magazine in 1910 is interesting for the following:

  1. There is only passing reference to Teignmouth, with no indication in the text about where Keats lived.  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 No35 Northumberland Place.
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  2. The article was actually published posthumously.  John Gilmer Speed died in February 1909.  So the photograph must have been taken in 1908 or earlier.
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  3. It turns out that Louis A Holman, of Boston, went to England for several months of work involving antiquarian and other research ….” I haven’t found a record of him visiting Teignmouth but he certainly did some research In Plymouth so it’s not unreasonable to suppose that he would have visited Teignmouth en route given his interest in Keats and the fact that it was in 1908 that he started collecting Keatsiana.
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  4. So why did he photograph No35 Northumberland Place as the lodgings of Keats and his brothers? There are two possibilities:
    1. Either he had discovered the Beatrix Cresswell book and tracked down the house from that; or,
    2. He had an introduction to Dr W C Lake (possibly through Henry Buxton Forman) who still hadn’t changed his mind abouts Keats House by then.

So the curveball doesn’t actually give us any new information – it is just another reflection of Dr Lake’s original deduction and Frederick Cornish Frost’s challenge still stands.

COMING NEXT ….. HOMING IN

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