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

Twenty-seven years passed from Frederick Cornish Frost’s challenge before the address of Keats’ lodgings was mentioned in another biography – the one in which Dorothy Hewlett made the reference to “one old man”.  However, things were going on in the background.  In 1925 the Keats House and Museum opened in Hampstead; Frederick Edgcumbe had been appointed as curator in 1924 and in August 1926 he came down to Teignmouth to assist in deciding on which house had been Keats’ lodgings.

I have contacted the Keats Museum and established that there are archived notes of Frederick Edgcumbe about his visit and information he might have collected.  Those notes are now held in the London Metropolitan Archives in the City of London – they can only be viewed by visiting the Archives so I may need to do that even after all this investigation.  My feeling though is that it is unlikely that the archives would contain new information that has not emerged already from original sources.  By 1926 William Risdon Hall Jordan, Dr W C Lake, Henry Buxton Forman and Frederick Cornish Frost had all died.  Edgcumbe may have met Beatrix Cresswell and the notes might reveal that.

In any event he reached a decision which was that No 20 Northumberland Place was Keats House.

Dorothy Hewlett

Frederick Edgcumbe’s thoughts though may have lived on through Dorothy Hewlett’s biography.  She knew him well and praised him warmly in her acknowledgments:

“Mr Fred Edgcumbe, Curator of the Memorial House, the fairy godfather of all good students of Keats”

As a reminder here is what Dorothy Hewlett said about Keats’ house:

“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.”

And this is my interpretation:

  1. It is interesting that Henry Buxton Forman (HBF) has been given the credit for this when all the preceding analysis suggests that it was probably Dr W C Lake of Teignmouth, through his connection with William Risdon Hall Jordan, who had reached this conclusion.  I suspect that Dr Lake had told HBF about it, HBF told his son Maurice and Maurice told Dorothy Hewlett and/or Frederick Edgcumbe, putting a little bit of spin on it in the process.  Note that, in her acknowledgments, Dorothy Hewlett thanks Maurice Buxton Forman first and foremost:
    .
    ”To Mr Buxton Forman I make my first bow.  With sources, with advice and kindly criticism he has removed many briars from my path.  Without his help and preliminary encouragement this book would not have been.”
    .
  2. What this does confirm though is the inference from Frederick Cornish Frost’s 1910 letter that the source of the assertion about No 20 being Keats’ house came from William Rufus Jordan via his son (the “one old man”) William Risdon Hall Jordan.
    .
  3. The date quoted, 1901, conflicts with the chronology presented in the previous posts which suggests a date range of 1907-1910 for when the assertion was made.  I believe the 1901 date is just wrong and has probably been confused with the date of publication of Beatrix Cresswell’s book.
    .
  4. The new information that Keats had dined with William Rufus Jordan is something I can’t confirm although, if this were the case, it is strange that it wasn’t mentioned specifically in the 1910 letter of Frederick Frost.
    .
  5. The new information that Keats said he was lodging in either 21 or 22 the Strand (aka Northumberland Place), if true, is interesting not because of the actual numbers (which we know from an earlier post may have changed over time) but because it suggests two houses adjacent to each other.  The maps of the time would therefore suggest that he would not have been lodging in the present-day N35 because that stood on its own, whereas the present-day No 20 is shown as part of a block of 3 houses.
    .
  6. Finally, just as a general observation, the biography has quite a British slant to it. There are hardly any references to the research that had been done in America. In particular, there is no reference at all to Louis A Holman who had been assiduously collecting all sorts of Keats memorabilia from 1908, was still alive when Dorothy Hewlett was compiling her biography and whose collection was actually exhibited at Keats House, Hampstead, in 1936-37.

Hyder Edward Rollins and Louis A Holman

At last we now come to the final piece of the jigsaw and it is through the American connection of Louis A Holman.  It takes us forward another 21 years to 1958 when Hyder Edward Rollins put together a new edition of the Letters of John Keats.  In his words:

“So much information has turned up in recent years about the dating and arrangement of Keats’s letters as to make a new edition almost imperative”.

One such batch of information was the Louis A Holman collection of Keatsiana which became part of the Houghton Library at Harvard.

As a reminder of what Rollins wrote, referring to a letter from Dr W C Lake to Louis A Holman :

“.…. 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)

I have been unable to track down this letter in the catalogue of the Houghton Library, even with the help of library assistants there.  However, the reference in Rollins’ book has a footnote referring to an earlier article of his, “Louis Arthur Holman and Keats”, in the Harvard Library Bulletin Vol IV of 1950 a copy of which was kindly sent to me by the Library.  The article is simply a catalogue of letters received by Louis Holman related to Keats, with a summary by Rollins of the main points of each letter.

There are three letters of relevance:

19 February 1913. This is a letter from A Percival Dell who is the clerk to the “urban council Teignmouth”.  It refers Louis Holman to W. C. Lake, MD, of Benton, Exeter Road.

So it looks as though Louis Holman was trying to get information about Keats’ period in Teignmouth and had written to the council for a contact.  This suggests that when Holman had visited England in 1908 he hadn’t made contact with anyone in Teignmouth so the photograph he took at the time must, most likely, have been based on his reading of Beatrix Cresswell’s book and the sketch he saw there.

(As an aside, A Percival Dell was a solicitor in partnership with Edward Tozer, a firm still operating in Teignmouth today.  He was still around in 1930 so could well have been the intermediate passing information about Dr Lake and Louis Holman to Frederick Edgcumbe when he visited Teignmouth in 1926 – that may be revealed if I get to see Fred Edgcumbe’s notes.)

4 April 1913.  This is a letter from W. C. Lake, MD.  It contains quite a lot of information and it looks as though Holman had written to him with specific questions about names and locations referred to in Keats’ letters.  The relevant points here though are (in Rollins own words):

  • 35, The Strand (now Northumberland Place) was not the house K. lived in.
  • He was talking a few years ago with his friend W. R. Hall Jordan (died two years ago aged 90), whose father W. R. Jordan knew K. well.  Jordan said that No. 35 was the house in which K.’s ‘pretty milliners’ lived, and that K. lived in what is now No. 20.
    .
    My inference from this is that WRH Jordan had been told by his father WR Jordan that Keats had lived in No 20 Northumberland Place; you can almost imagine the conversation – “did you know that John Keats once visited Teignmouth and that’s the house where he lodged …”


    However, I’m less convinced that a bonnet-shop would have been part of that conversation because there is no definitive recorded evidence of a bonnet-shop being there in 1818.  However, Dorothy Hewlett in her biography referred to a bonnet-shop being there in the 1830s (something I still need to check).  So I believe that WRH Jordan was talking about his own childhood memory when referring to the house where the milliners lived.

The other note by Rollins concerns a clipping which Louis Holman had attached to the letter:

  • G.Speed’s article in the Century Magazine, LXXX (1910), 690, has a picture, supplied by H. of ‘The Lodgings of Keats and his Brothers in Teignmouth’.  Clipping the picture, H. writes under its caption: ‘In this title I made a mistake.  It should be “the bonnet shop over the way”’.  So this lays to rest the curveball from John Gilmer Speed – Louis Holman acknowledges that he had sent him the wrong title to the photo for his article.

20 May 1913.  This is another letter from W. C. Lake, MD.  Rollins’ notes include the following:

  • A direct quotation from the letter: ‘I do not suppose there are half a dozen persons in the town who know anything about Keats or take any interest in him.’
  • Sends poor photos of No. 20 where K. lived.

Those photos are listed in the catalogue of the Holman Collection at the Houghton Library and I have been sent copies as shown below, together with the handwritten notes of Louis A Holman explaining the pictures:

 

   
 

The photos are undated and they obviously haven’t been taken at the same time – the left-hand photo shows a street gaslamp in front of No 20, whereas there is no lamp in front of it in the right-hand photo.  Also, going back to the 1912 photo of No 20 (see post on biographers), there is no gas lamp.

The transcription of Holman’s notes reads:

“Keats and Tom lived in lodgings (above arrow, photo on left) during March and April 1818.  In the photo on right the house is the one in front of which a girl is walking.  Local tradition locates the “Bonnetshop” in the house with bay windows (right of right photo).

BIG SIGH HERE ….. I think I have clambered at last through Keats’ “Clouds” and presented the last bits of evidence I can find surrounding all the various claims, assertions, suppositions of the past 120 years or so.

COMING NEXT …. THE VERDICT

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