Lord Byron’s Lover’s Books in Leeds

An interesting article caught my eye in The Independent on Sunday on 21st October: Byron Treasure Found in Gift to Used Bookshop.

The secondhand bookshop in question is a relatively new one set up last year in a redundant building in the grounds of Harewood House. I’ve been a frequent visitor at the house and love to walk around the terrace gardens, woodland and the walled garden and, if it’s open, browse the book shelves.

The Augusta Leigh Display at Harewood

The article in question tells the story of a member of the volunteer staff at the shop discovering amongst donated books some inscribed “Augusta Leigh, St James’ Palace”.

With no idea who the Augusta was Audrey Kingsnorth began an investigation  that lead her to the Byron connection. Not only was Augusta Lord Byron’s (mad, bad and dangerous to know) lover, she was also his half sister, the result of the liaison between John (Mad Jack) Byron and Amelia Osborne. The books had been acquired by the donor (now in her 80s) following the purchase of a London House; the bookshelves of which were to large to move.

Close-up of the Display

“[One] of the donated books, Trimmer’s Fabulous Histories, is inscribed by Augusta to one of her children: “Henry Francis Leigh from his dear Mamma on his birthday, January 28th 1828″. Henry Francis died at 33, leaving a widow, Mary, and a daughter; Mary remarried and had another daughter and a son. Augusta had seven children, one of whom, Elizabeth Medora, is thought by many to be Byron’s lovechild.” 

Valued recently at around £2500 the books will put up for auction at a later date. As the books are currently still on display in the shop I thought I’d pop along and have a look at this valuable donation to the Harewood Bookshop.

The List of Donations

A Copy of The Golden Treasury Open at a Poem of Byron’s

Milady’s short trip to Geneva

Geneva is not the most attractive of the cities I have visited in Switzerland (like Bern, Zurich and Lucerne) but beyond the designer watch ads atop the lakeside buildings and Geneva’s ‘mountain’ looking more like a rocky ridge, from where I was standing, I found a delightful Old Town and two worthwhile excursions to fill my two days perfectly.

Lake Geneva

On the first full day we boarded an early boat, the S/S Simplon, from the Quai Mont-Blanc and headed off under rather cloudy overcast skies for an hour and three quarter lake cruise to Yvoire on the southern shore of Lake Geneva.

Whenever she can Milady hopes to travel in style

S/S Simplon and the famous Jet D’Eau, from Quai Mont-Blanc Geneva

Paquins Lighthouse

The S/S Simplon leaves us at Yvoire

Yvoire is in France but there are no passport controls or inspections it was just straight off the boat into the Restaurant du Port (the name tells you where it’s located) and lunch was served!

Restaurant Du Port, Yvoire

The proposed return sailing was cancelled which meant a 3 hour stay at Yvoire and you can only spend so long eating lunch. This attractive little medieval town was full of tourists so we two decided to take a walk to the next stop and pick up our boat from there later.

After inspecting the little shops we set off to find the footpath to Nernier. (Sounds like something out of C. S. Lewis.) It was a most pleasant walk along shady paths and tracks past interesting houses but with minimal views of the Lake, unfortunately. We came across a lovely wildflower meadow, visited an old church and arrived at Nernier with lots of time for people-watching at the port until the Simplon arrived on the dot at  5.37pm.

The small beach at Nernier

The Old Town

The next day I made a morning visit to the Old Town. There are some steepish climbs and lovely cobbled paths and streets and I enjoyed browsing in a secondhand book stall on the way and at a second hand book and prints shop on the Grand’Rue. There are some delightful street cafes for outdoor refreshments and the Cathedral is situated there. There’s a great view from the tower but we didn’t go up. It’s a lovely area for a bit of “flaner“.

Cologny

 I can only take so much aimless wandering interspersed with breaks for tea or beer so in the early afternoon I took the bus out to the residential suburb of Cologny. My purpose was to visit the Martin Bodmer Library and to try to find the Villa Diodati, the former home of Lord Byron and now a private residence.

The Bodmer Foundation is fantastic! It’s one of the biggest private libraries in the world and the breadth of the display is simply breathtaking. There are samples of the written or typeset word from the earliest times – Greek papyrus fragments, the oldest manuscripts of St John’s Gospel – to ‘modern’ American first editions – Ginsberg, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway – and everything in between. And not just literary but medical, scientific, music. There’s a Shakespeare 1623 First Folio and an early Chaucer Canterbury Tales. All displayed in a modern, subtly-lit underground gallery on two floors designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta.

From the Bodmer gallery it’s a 10-15 minute walk to the Chemin de Ruth and number 9, The Villa Diodati.

First I found the entrance gate and a bit further along the road is a meadow with seats and a view over the lake and towards the city. It’s called ‘Le Pré Byron‘. An Information Board welcomes you to the spot and explains :

“On this very spot the story of ‘Frankenstein’ was born. During the summer of 1816, the weather was atrocious, cold and rainy spells alternating with violent thunder storms. At that time, Byron, a 28 years old poet , was renting the Villa Diodati to the left of this meadow. … Mary Shelley was also spending the summer at Cologny at Jacob Chappuis’ home situated at the lower end of Montalegre, below where you are now standing. One evening at the Villa Diodati Byron and Mary Shelley made a bet as to who would be the first to write a horror novel. Mary became excited at this idea, completed the story of ‘Frankenstein’ a year later in England and won the bet.”

As you walk down towards the lake the house becomes clearly visible.

From the lake side it’s an easy bus ride back into town.

Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Bronte’s Grave

What a title! It’s the title of the book I have just finished reading. It was written by Simon Goldhill. He’s Professor of Greek Literature and Culture and Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics at King’s College, Cambridge and in addition he is Director of the Cambridge Victorian Studies Group.

But despite all his academic qualifications the book is very readable and very personal to him. His premise is to visit the homes of authors to discover what it is that attracts pilgrims to want to visit these houses and to try to find out just what they get from such visits.

Encouraged by his publisher to “do something Victorian” he plumped for visiting writers’ houses but is extremely sceptical about his proposed ‘pilgrimage’.  Apparently, such a tour was a very Victorian pastime and in the first chapter, “The Golden Ticket”, he tells of his intention to travel in as near a Victorian manner as possible and that unlike pilgrims he doesn’t wish to travel alone but with his wife and friends. Finally he lists which properties he’ll visit. He chose Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders; Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, William Wordsworth’s homes in the Lake District; the Bronte Parsonage at Haworth, here in West Yorkshire; William Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford upon Avon; and finally, Freud’s House in Hampstead.

My impression after reading this book was that SG felt justified in his initial reaction that visiting writers’ homes was a pointless exercise and that the house/writer that got it most ‘right’ was Sir Walter Scott who built the house and decorated it intentionally in order to promote himself and his novels. His description of the visit to Abbotsford (and that of A. N. Wilson in my copy of Writers and their Homes) has encouraged me add it to my ‘list’.

“Abbotsford!” so writes A. N. Wilson “There is perhaps no writer’s house more expressive of its occupant’s literary personality. Indeed, one could say that Abbotsford was an extension of Scott’s oeuvre –an architectural Waverley novel, or a poem in stone of Border life and history.”

I love to visit authors’ homes but I never before thought of myself as a pilgrim. I suppose I like to visit houses full stop and the added attraction of it being an author’s home is that I can experience the atmosphere and see the surroundings that may (or may not) have influenced his or her work.

I have several books to help me in my choice of ‘pilgrimage’ to writers’ houses!

I would make quite a different choice for my own tour: Lamb House in Rye (Henry James); The Boat House at Laugharne (Dylan Thomas); Monk’s House at Rodmell in East Sussex; Kipling’s Bateman’s also in East Sussex; Thomas Hardy’s Higher Bockhampton and Max Gate, Dorchester.

Here are five that I have visited in the last few years :

Shandy Hall, Coxwold, North Yorkshire (Tristram Shandy)

Keats House, Hampstead, London (John Keats)

Greenway, River Dart, Devon (Agatha Christie)

Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire (Lord Byron)

Johnson’s House, City of London (Dr Samuel Johnson)