ELIZA (Elizabeth) RENNIE {Mrs Eliza Walker}

Child poet, later a London socialite and gothick author, associate of Mary Shelley, born c1813 , d. unknown.

Border by Eliza Rennie

(research work in progress. Please contribute any knowledge or insights you have.)

"ROSANTHE was the Pastor's only child,

Admir'd by many and adored by him" 

 

POEMS 1828

Eliza Rennie's first publication was her Poems written as a teenager. Born (most probably) in 1813, Gentlemans Review of Eliza Rennie Poemsshe had been writing since at least 1824, and already had some poems published in "different periodical publications" ToC between Was this Eliza Rennie's birth record?pages 128-152 . She was encouraged to publish by Thomas Campbell, author of "Pleasures of Hope" amongst others of her father's acquaintances. ToC P120, whilst still in her early teens. "I was seated in my father's drawing room...he asked me to come and see his wife, then in a house in a street leading from the Edgware Road". The Poems greatly impressed some adults at the time, the Monthly Review commenting p 412: "A pleasant little collection", other reviewers were less flattering. A review in the "Gentleman's Magazine" dated June 1828 p. 608 ( see right) comments: "It is one thing to write elegant verses for the amusement of friends or the adornments of albums; it is another to print a volume, and to put in a claim for public approbation".

Eliza clearly found the poems embarrassing later, perhaps with some reason. The themes are frequently maudlin, adolescent, and typical of her era: patriotism, death and doomed romance, oriental tales, plentiful imagery of flowers and birds, all very much in the fashionable mainstream romantic and gothick modes of the day. She drew her themes from her difficult start in life, her girlish sentiments and her reading - as a poorly child she read a great deal of good poetry and prose and created (or borrowed) a rich but derivative imaginative world.

(See other examples of the genre: http://digital.lib.ucdavis.edu/projects/bwrp/Works/LandLTroub.htm )

Yet there are moments when she transcends the genre to come up with something fresh and original - considering her tender years she clearly had great promise and ambition, and not unreasonably attracted some heavyweight support from establishment literary and reformist figures of her day such as Thomas Campbell, a family friend then living "in a street leading from the Edgware Road" and later to become Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow. He was the author of "The Pleasures of Hope" to whom she dedicated her Poems in these terms: "This volume is inscribed with timidity and with every sentiment of respect, by his obliged friend and sincere well-wisher, Eliza Rennie."

"Not free from faults, nor yet too vain to mend" POPE

POEMS:

THE MYRTLE BRANCH - A POETIC SKETCH (extract)
"She was a dream of loveliness, a being
On which the wond'ring gaze in doubt would pause
Scarce deeming Earth would claim her for it's own
'Twas not alone the waves of golden hair
The rich red lip, the pale and lofty brow
Where thron'd in majesty the high soul sat
Which mark'd her from the rest of womankind"
 
STANZAS ON THE CLOSE OF THE YEAR, 1824 (extract)
Oh! may the year which soon shall rise
To me, to all, bring joy and peace;
May each improve it, as it flies,
Nor feel remorse when it shall cease!
 
MORNING (Extract)
"The birds are up, and every bough
Trembles beneath their music now;
A ceaseless strain of joy they raise,
Their transient being is passed in praise
 
EVENING (Extract)
The breeze that slumber'd through the day
Now whispering kisses every spray
In yonder fragrant jasmine bower,
And fans to life each languid flower.
 
NIGHT (Extract)
"Yet well they love when Dian's near,
In forms as beautiful as strange,
Along the trackless sky to range;
But now not one obscures her throne -
In fullest pow'r she shines alone"
 
STANZAS ON LATELY HEARING THE BEAUTIFUL SERENADE OF ISABEL (extract)
"When pleasure held absolute sovereign sway
And mirth was the mandate she gave to obey
Gladly and gaily you bow'd at her shrine
No homage so willing and heartfelt as thine: -
 
Even so, within the withered tree,
In mockery of decay,
The bird pours out its note of glee
Though blight scars branch and spray"
 
THE PAUPERS FUNERAL (extract)
"The hand of parish bounty pampers not
To vanity's conceits, or false parade
The soul alone,
Uncircumscribed, it's limits must decree".
 
MY MOTHER'S GRAVE (in full)
The sun hath shed its last faint golden beam
Upon the mountains brow and glittering stream;
The breeze, whose echoes lull'd the flowers to rest,
Now murmurs gently from the oceans breast;
The waters dance - in sooth they seem to be
Mov'd by its soft, yet mournful minstrelsy;
The stars are shining forth with cloudless ray,
Oh! while they sparkle, seem they not to say -
"Though hush'd in deep repose fair nature sleeps,
Omnipotence o'er all its vigil keeps."
There's peace - there's power - there's beauty in the scene -
The moon hath filled the skies with light serene,
And ting'd with silver hue the trees that wave
In bloom and freshness o'er my mothers grave!
 
Long years have glided by since last I stood
Beside the tomb of her - the meek - the good!
And time, which ripen'd childhood into youth,
Hath shewn the world in all its fatal truth:
Hath given tears for smiles - for bliss despair -
And dimmed my joyous breast with clouds of care.
Fond hopes have perish'd, one by one, away
Like leaves that fade, and fall in autumns day.
Thou sleep'st - I would not wake thee from thy sleep,
To see the child thou lov'dst with anguish weep,
To hear her tell of treachery, wrongs, deceit -
And ask - not gold, nor fame - though fame is sweet -
One only boon my breaking heart doth crave
A home and refuge in my mother grave!
 
THE ARAB STEED (Extract)
The stars are come forth at the moon's soft call
And the sky resembles a fairy hall
                       Whose floor is made
Of a sheet of sapphire lucid and blue
With thousands of diamonds flashing through,
                        Like gems inlaid
 

Her work was well known, even cited by other authors: Herman Ludwig H Pücklar -Moskau in "Tutti Frutti cites The Wanderers Return.

Biography

Facts about Eliza Rennie: little is yet certain, hard facts are thin, but this is the best we can do at the moment:

Relatively little is definitively known of Eliza Rennie  - this page is an attempt to encourage scholars and historians to contribute both scholarly material and anecdotal information so that the fragments of biography and the published and unpublished work can be pieced together into a complete narrative. Until recently it was difficult to acquire or read her work - there are few extant copies and those are mainly in London or the USA, though copies do come up from time to time in the antiquarian bookshops and listings, and Google has now published some of her best-known work, including the second volume of ToC .

The Rennie family was, and still is, highly respected in Kilsyth, with many branches and relations and a family tree dating back to the C16th. According to records of parish births in Scotland during this period, Elizabeth Rennie was a fairly unusual name. Only one likely matching birth record between 1805 and 1820 can be found of an Elizabeth Rennie who was born on 17th May 1813 in the tiny village of Udny, Aberdeenshire to a father named Alexr  Rennie and this gives her mother's name as Jean Taylor.

Her grandfather: Revd Robert Rennie of Kilsyth, b 1762 - d 1820, is remembered as the distinguished author of treatises on peat moss, and of the "Statistical Account of 1791". He was a graduate of Glasgow University, ordained DD 1789. A well-connected Minister of Kilsyth parish between 1790 and his death in 1820,  he married twice with four children and in later life turned down an invitation by the Czar of Russia to become a professor of agriculture in Leningrad. (Anton)

The Minister was known as a kind, enlightened and wise man, though somewhat of a campaigner against "irregular marriages" (Anton). He might have rejected the mother but would not have left his grandchild destitute. He died in 1820 when Eliza was around seven years old.

Father: Her true grandparents deaths may also have been the trigger for her to join her father in his Mayfair home, when her father was still in his mid - twenties but already becoming quite successful. The literary evidence that supports this theory is that she describes a 15 year old heroine in "The Widows Daughter" who is much doted on and suffering from poor health, who moves to London as a forced consequence of the death of her fictional father.

Dr. Alexander Home Stirling Rennie, born on 13th June 1797 in Kilsyth (1), was Revd Rennie's only son and later became a very gifted and successful society doctor in London. This would place him at just 15 years old when Eliza was born, and her existence is not  acknowledged or recorded in the extensive published family tree and history (1) possibly because of the fact that she was born well outwith the parish so there are no local records. . Her father, was, according to Eliza: "a native of Aberdeen, had been educated and taken his degree at the Marischal College there" - ToC P128   - but this may have been carelessness or even a deliberate attempt to conceal evidence, indeed other scholars have described her as "unreliable" (3). 

Under the circumstances of her unexpected arrival, and given her grandfather's position, a major rift between father and son seems probable, indeed almost inevitable. According to Anton's , Dr Rennie moved to London and according to Anton History of Kilsyth p 161 became physician to William Wilberforce, Rev. Edward Irving, and George Canning. Whilst Eliza does not name her father or his profession specifically, she refers to William Wilberforce, The Duke of Wellington and Rev. Edward Irving as connections of her father, and she appears to have been well-connected with much of the Scottish medical and religious expatriate community in London. In "Traits of Character" she writes: "The position and pursuits of my father having brought me, from early childhood, in communication with many eminent persons, and circumstances in after life having done the same...."

The son appears to have inherited the talent of his father for writing and research. In 1828 Dr Rennie published a scholarly article entitled: "A treatise on Gout, Apoplexy, Paralysis and disorders of the Nervous System". As an expert on gout he would have had no shortage of wealthy clients in the capital in the 1820's and 1830's, such as George Canning, Prime Minister in 1827. Despite the ministrations of Dr Rennie, Canning didn't enjoy good health, and died suddenly in office on 8 August 1827 just 119 days after taking up the post, achieving the dubious record of Britains shortest-lived PM.

Mother: Possibly the Jean Taylor, born on 8th June 1798, in nearby Larbert. She may have been a maidservant in the Rennie family home? She would have been nearly 15 when Eliza was born.

Eliza's life and work

Early life in Scotland: We can only speculate that Eliza may have been brought up by her mother up to age 7 or so, or very possibly cared for by her grandparents in Kilsyth. Her natural mother may have died very young, these were dangerous days for epidemics  and premature death . No death record has been traced yet, and unfortunately Jean Taylor is a common name. One of her earliest poems is entitled "My Mother's Grave" - it is very strongly felt, starts with an evocation of mountains and trees, and may be partly autobiographical:

'Long years have glided by since last I stood
Beside the tomb of her - the meek - the good!
And time, which ripen'd childhood into youth,
Hath shewn the world in all its fatal truth:'

The poem continues: "To hear her tell of treachery, wrongs, deceit -" strange words for a child of 13 to write - hinting of hidden betrayal and misery.

in London:  She appears to have suffered poor health as a child, possibly related to anxiety and grief. Dr Rennie may have wanted his natural daughter to move to London where he could monitor her condition amongst the best medical experts of the day, or maybe she was unwelcome in Kilsyth following the death of both her grandparents.

Eliza's early writing was encouraged Vol 2 p197 by "the late Vincent Dillon. I had written a few verses about 'sorrows' ...maudlin sentimentality was then in full force and operation and rejoicing in a strong tide of popularity" but later rejected these early outpourings: p198: "otherwise, when I now read these feeble stanzas 'to the Morn' etc which I then perpetrated, I marvel positively how they ever got into print at all: but I daresay I had a certain amount of authorial pride in, and vanity about, them then." The impression we receive of Eliza in London is of a young woman growing up fast in a rather flattering and sophisticated world. She describes going to see Edward Kean, the actor, playing Richard II whilst she was still "very young"...but continues..."Ours was not a play-going family".

As a teenage girl she had poor health, Vol 2 p198 "A mutual friend had shown Lord Dillon some of my little verses, and some short tales I had written, which, I think, were a degree better. He praised them far beyond their deservings, offered to give me hints and suggestions, and correct for me my future compositions ; and it was certainly chiefly by the cheering encouragement he gave me that the bias of my pursuits became from thence-forth literary. At that time I had very delicate health, and I think and fear I made it the excuse for being a very idle girl, and being a much petted and spoiled one ; exertion or application of any kind was neither expected nor desired from me, lest illness should supervene ; and I am afraid I wasted some of the most precious years of existence in doing nothing. "

She describes a rural but affluent middle-class upbringing as a young girl. Later she became a very early supporter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, amongst other causes she espoused such as Anti-slavery:

"One of my earliest recollections, when toddling by my nurse's side, was the agony I endured at beholding the poor sheep thrust with knocks and blows into the place where they were to be slaughtered. My shrieks used to terrify the passers-by, who, I have been told, often said, "Take that child away, or she will scream herself into fits." What made this anguish within me so intolerable to bear? Nought but caresses had fallen on my infant head. I was one compassed about with an atmosphere of gentlest love and tenderness. If, as some assert, we can only sympathize acutely with the woe we have ourselves under-gone, my brief experience of existence supplied me none ! Was it the dim foreshadowing of how I should be made, in coming years, to feel and know how pitiless and cruel the world too often is to the unprotected and the weak ? "    ToC Vo II, p 252

Poor health appears to have continued into adulthood, and she later commented of Dr William Lawrence: "but for his talent my career would have long since ended".

In 1829, when Eliza was 16, her father married Mary Helen, third daughter of John Anderson of Gladswood. Following the birth of children, in 1834 the family moved from rooms in Mayfair, to Alresford near Winchester in Hants (Hampshire), (Anton)  presumably to a larger country house suitable for the growing family. This was a curious career move for an ambitious doctor, as the railway did not arrive in Alresford until the 1860's. However the turnpike built in 1753 (now the A31) provided a steady stream of coaches between the channel ports and London. Possibly he simply grew tired of London life, or took over a profitable country practice. We do not know if Eliza, now 21, moved with the family to Hampshire or remained in London as Mrs Eliza Walker.

Maria, his youngest child, was born on 10th Feb 1838. Tragically, he died in a  horse-riding accident in 1838, at the peak of his professional career and aged just 40, leaving a wife and young family.  This must have been a devastating emotional and financial blow to Eliza, then in her mid-twenties, still unmarried and without independent means.

In the halcyon years of her late teens and early twenties in London, she is best remembered as a member of Mary Shelley's literary circle. ToC P103: She describes Mary thus: "In early life she was one of my intimate friends. I was first introduced to her at the home of the late Dr Kitchener. .....Gentleness was ever and always her distinguishing characteristic...many years friendship have never showed me a deviation from it". She strongly defends Lord Byron: P113: against: "wretched slander, vile detraction" and could be quite bitchy about some contemporaries: "Her half-sister I once saw. I certainly felt no little wonderment as to what was the attraction she possessed to win the admiration of Lord Byron"

Whatever the reasons - her father's new marriage in 1829, the household move to the country in 1834, her limited talent, or his untimely death in 1838 in a fall from a horse, Eliza's career as a young writer appears to have been on the wane by the late 1830's.  Her early potential as a promising teenage author was largely unfulfilled, possibly writers block, religious conversion or maybe just too giddy a social life. One can only speculate that in her mid-twenties, she was seeking an escape from disappointment in love or career.

According to Geraldine Friedman  Eliza was "the unreliable writer Rennie, who fictionalizes her memoirs by claiming an intimacy she never had with the celebrity Mary Shelley". This may well be true: her set lived rich fantasy lives and followed the cult of celebrity of which Lord Byron was the supreme example, indulging in continual name-dropping. Nevertheless, she was a moderately successful author:. 'Like most literary misses of that day, I used to write in the "Annuals," considering it quite a distinction for my name to be enrolled with those of the really eminent men and women who then contributed to their pages'. 

She includes many Scots amongst her character sketches: describing a visit to the "little Scotch church at Cross Street, Hatton Gardens,  to hear Edward Irvine (a celebrity preacher) : "having obtained a ticket to see his sermon from a friend of my fathers who was a native of dear old Scotland". Despite being very impressed by his looks and oratory, she describes P83 "the singular delusions of which he in subsequent years became a victim" .(i.e talking in tongues).."many of the congregation were moved by it to loud irreverent laughter". ToC P89 She was opposed to the extremes of revivals but expresses a strong interest in clairvoyance and mesmerism.

Left - Eliza describes a flirtatious encounter with Wellington: ToC

"Of my father he inquired much. When I told him he had been greatly identified with Wilberforce and others in writing pamphlets, &c, towards the achievement of that great and noble work, the abolition of the slave-trade - ...."

She also describes at one point lodging in a house in "a watering place" so clearly she also travelled outwith London. This may have been Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, (also the fashionable favourite of Queen Victoria) which she describes Vol I p219 as "my favourite watering place". She liked to dance and flirt: "whilst with him as partner through many a mazy waltz and quadrille" She describes coming into some property through a legacy, but whilst there are no references to her husband, she does refer to discussions about fees with one of her publishers.

In the last chapter of ToC, Vol 2 p325-326 concerning Mrs Morton, a publisher/editor, she observes favourably on her beauty and appearance: "I am a great admirer of rosy lips. I think fresh crimson lips are things exceedingly to be admired".

Eliza's marriage

A marriage is recorded between an Elisabeth (sic) Rennie and a Mr James Walker on 14th July 1843 in Rutherglen, Lanark, Scotland. Rutherglen is not far from Kilsyth -  and this may be the point at which Eliza Rennie became Mrs Walker. But this needs more checking.

In any event, and for whatever reason, her marriage did not appear to last. In ToC, published in 1860 when she was around 45, she describes life very much as an independent woman, and refers repeatedly to personal tragedies, betrayals and disappointments. No children are ever mentioned, though she had a pet terrier of which she was inordinately fond. Finances may have been as issue, but she describes how "I came into some property through a legacy" ToC between p89 and p 103, and appears to have been reasonably comfortable.

Works:

2. Poems by Eliza Rennie  London: Lloyd, 1828 1 vol: viii, 182p. ISBN 3-628-54442-4

 An Evening at Dr. Kitchener's  in Friendship's Offering; and Winter's Wreath: A Christmas and New Year's Present, for 1842, Mrs. Eliza [Rennie] Walker, ed. Leitch Ritchie (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1842) p. 246.

Her most serious claim to literary fame is a two volume collection of essays on contemporary celebrities: writers, characters, doctors, preachers etc:

3. Traits of Character; (full text of Vol II now available from Google books) Being Twenty-Five Years' Literary and Personal Recollections, by a Contemporary, Eliza Rennie, 2 volumes (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1860) pp. 2: 207-09.

Eliza wrote regularly  under the names of Eliza Rennie and Eliza Walker for the main literary ladies journals of the day and some of her work was republished in the USA in publications and anthologies such as:

The Widows Daughter  in Ladies Gift or Souvenir of Friendship, The; illustrated by Mitford, Mary Russell; Youatt, Elizabeth; Landon, L.E.; Walker, Eliza; Strickland, Agnes Boston, MA: Phillips, Sampson and Co, ca. 1855. 12 x 19 cm.

This is an elegant little book of republished poetry and prose, much of it by well-known women poets and writers of the first half of the nineteenth century. Includes ""The Capucin"" by Mrs. Romer; ""Grace Brown, a sketch for Mothers and Daughters"" by Mrs. D. Clarke; ""The Village Amanuensis"" and ""The Rustic Toilet"" by Mary Russell Mitford; ""The Pawnee's Ransom"" by Georgina C. Munro; ""The Country Tavern"" by James T. Fields; ""White Thorne Farm"" by Miss Agnes Strickland; ""The Postman's Knock"" by Miss Power; ""The Brighton Coach"" by Theodore Hook. Elaborately decorated red leather on boards with gilt floral ornamentation.

 

Illustration: The Rustic Toilet F.P. Stephanoff / C Pelton

 

THE WIDOW'S DAUGHTER.

BY ELIZA WALKER.

"Time, faith, and energy, are the three friends God has given the poor." BULWER'S Night and Morning.

IT was towards the close of the busying month of April; but, though early in the spring, the weather was bright and bracing ─ one of those days which, from their clear, delicious freshness, give added buoyancy to the step, strength and elasticity to the spirit - when the boon of mere existence is felt as a joy and blessing, and the heart, forgetting the shadows which past grief or impending calamity fling over it, breathes unmixed aspirations of praise and thanksgiving to the Author of all good! How appropriate, then, was a day like this for the long-projected féte at Morton Grange! What was it commemorative of? Were the nuptials of the young and lovely the event celebrated?  The birth or majority of an heir recorded thus by joy and festivity? It was neither of these occasions which collected all the elite of  ──  shire into one focus. It was to mark the recovery from long and dangerous illness of Eva, the only child of the proud and pompous owner of Morton Grange ─ a young, still feeble, ailing girl of fifteen. The successive deaths of five other children, the long period which intervened between the demise of the last of these and the birth of little Eva, had made her to her parents an object, it might be said, almost of idolatry. Such affluence of love was scattered over her path, so fenced in was she by the eager, watchful care of parental affection from the common casualties of peril and danger, that when, despite the vigilance exercised, disease struck her down, and the glad laugh was exchanged for the low wail of anguish, the bright glance dimmed by the films of sickness, the appalled parents started as from a dream. What, then, was she, the only and beloved, whom they had so cherished and caressed, hurrying, like their other little ones, to the dreary grave? There was agony almost to madness in the thought. All that consummate medical skill could effect was rendered; all that ceaseless, unremitting attention accomplish, offered. Heaven was besought with earnest, supplicating importunity, to spare their treasure; and Heaven listened to their prayers! The fever of delirium faded away, and the thin hand pressed once more in recognition the mother’s fervent clasp; the pale lip wreathed into a faint smile on the fond father, who bent breathlessly watching each varying turn of the ashy face.

nb: to be continued.....there are another 18 pages of breathless and glorious Gothick melodrama to follow...including a house fire, death, poverty, more ashy faces and a happy marriage for our doughty heroine !

The Village Amanuensis

Illustration: The Village Amanuensis by E.C. Wood / C.Pelton

There is probably a significant body of other work yet to be identified in "Literary Annuals": which may have been published, or republished under different names. Here are a few samples, some may be reprints from British annuals.

Widows Daughter gets referenced in: http://microformguides.gale.com/Data/Download/3002000A.rtf

The Early Dead

In: The Book of Pearls, a Choice Garland of Prose, Poetry, and Art.

New York/Philadelphia: D. Appleton & Company/ George S. Appleton. 1849

(FLPH, LC) Reissued as "The Literary gem, an illustrated souvenir for all seasons," New York, D. Appleton & co., 1850 (NYHS). Apparently eclectic, except perhaps for pieces by George H. Boker and Marion H. Rand. Contents: Scene at De Morville Park; or, Lost and Won/Clara Moreton/17; The Country Graveyard/S.B.E./26; The Maiden's Vow/Sarah Stickney/28; St. Michael's Mount/Mary Howitt/45; To the Ocean/Daniel Strock, Jr./48; Rosolia; an Incident of the Guerilla War/50; Joan of Arc/Miss Marion H. Rand/66; Beatrice D'Este/Dr. Shelton Mackenzie/Author of "Titian"/68; The Early Dead/Eliza Walker/79;

and also: The Boudoir Annual, a Christmas, New Year and Birthday Present for 1847.

Philadelphia, Pa: Theodore Bliss & Co. 1847

(AAS, NYPL, UWIS) Since editorial notes are signed "R.C.," Reynell Coates was probably editor. Coates and Henry B. Hirst seem the only American contributors. Much of letterpress obviously borrowed from British sources. Copyright: 1846; Printer: C. Sherman; Contents: Proem/11; Lament for Poland/13; Isoline de Valmont/Mrs. Walker

Index of Authors' Contributions to British Literary Annuals

"Literary annuals are early nineteenth-century British texts published yearly from 1822 to 1856 and primarily intended for a middle-class audience (due to their moderate retail cost). Initially published in octavo (3.5" x 5.5") the decoratively-bound volumes – filled with steel plate engravings of nationally-recognized artwork and sentimental poetry and prose – exuded a feminine delicacy which attracted a primarily female readership. They were published in November and sold for the following year (at a cost of between eight shillings and three pounds), which made the genre an ideal Christmas gift, lover’s present or token of friendship. On display in a woman’s drawing room, the annuals became an acceptable indication of propriety, education and wealth, a complement to the limited social definition of a "lady" at the time. The first and only annual published in November 1822, Forget Me Not, caught the eye of several editors and publishers, many of whom altered the format and helped in the creation of a publishing phenomenon. By 1828, 100,000 copies of fifteen separate annuals earned an aggregate retail value of over £70,000 (including the Keepsake, the annual given to Rosamund Vincy in Eliot’s Middlemarch) establishing the genre as a lucrative venture for publishers for years to come."

 

Ackermann's 19th-Century Literary Annual
Forget Me Not [1823-47, 56]
Lover's Vows, 1828, 389
The Destroyer, 1829, 267.
(Boyle 239). http://www.orgs.muohio.edu/anthologies/FMN/Authors_GenD.htm

References in other works

Traits of Character is a book of literary gossip referred to in:

Lives of the Great Romantics III  Godwin, Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley by their Contemporaries

3 Volume Set

http://www.erudit.org/revue/ron/2001/v/n23/005985ar.html

In Pseudonymity, Passing, and Queer Biography: The Case of Mary Diana Dods, Geraldine Friedman explores the extent to which ambiguous sexuality, cross dressing, multiple identities and lesbian tendencies were a key attribute of this set.

Here Eliza Rennie describes in glowing detail what she calls Miss Dods's "queerness":
 

". . . certainly Nature, in any of its wildest vagaries, never fashioned anything more grotesque-looking than this Miss Dods. She was a woman apparently between thirty and forty years of age, with a cropped curly head of short, thick hair, more resembling that of a man than of a woman. She wore no cap, and you almost fancied, on first looking at her, that some one of the masculine gender had indulged in the freak of feminine habiliments, and that "Miss Dods" was an alias for Mr. —. She had . . . a complexion extremely pale and unhealthy, with that worn and suffering look in her face which so often and so truly—as it did, poor thing, in hers—tells of habitual pain and confirmed ill-health; her figure was short, and, instead of being in proportion, was entirely out of all proportion—the existence of some organic disease aiding this materially. Her dress, by its singularity, accorded well with her physical peculiarities and disqualifications, and only tended to heighten and exasperate, so to speak, the oddity of her tout ensemble. She was habited thus:—Her dress was of some white fabric—cambric, I think—and though the fashion of the period sanctioned "gores," and robes were then, in contradistinction to the present amplitude of width, scanty in their allowance of "breadths," yet hers was of such a very lean description, that it had something the resemblance of a close-fitting pillow-case. On it was a row of little successive tucks, which reached to the knee, as if to have body and skirt of one material was of too ordinary a character for her toilette. She wore a tight-fitting green silk spencer, like what one of the jackets now worn would be without a "basque." My astonishment at her appearance was unbounded, and I had some difficulty to keep myself from betraying this, and to control the laughter I longed to indulge in; but the charm and fascination of her manner, the extraordinary talent which her conversation, without pedantry or pretence, displayed, soon reconciled me to all the singularities of her appearance, and checked all inclination to mirth; and I quickly ceased to wonder at "Doddy," as she was familiarly termed by Mrs. Shelley and her intimate friends, being so especial a favourite. She was a great linguist, being thoroughly versed in almost every European language, and, taken together, a person of very remarkable mental endowments. She was a contributor, she said, to "Blackwood's Magazine," and announced herself as the author of a book called "Tales of the Wild and Wonderful." (29)

Dr. Kitchener's Tuesday evening salons were attended by Dods, Isabella, Mary Shelley, and Eliza Rennie. Rennie describes the doctor in unflattering terms that recall her description of Dods:

". . . I must give you an outline of the doctor's personal appearance.
This was very remarkable, stamping him with individuality and originality at least, if it challenged for him no more unfavourable judgment. . . .
     . . . his figure, dress, and gait were alike, and altogether most outré. He was tall, bony, angular; his body always looked of most disproportionate and unnatural length—and there was a gaunt, ungainly look about him, which at once arrested your attention. An attack of paralysis, which affected one side, gave to his gait a halting movement almost painful to witness. To the same calamity also, I believe, was attributable the loss of sight in one of his eyes. But this deficiency was not observable, as he wore glasses—of his own invention, by the way. His complexion was dark, but not unhealthy-looking; his features good, and the expression of his indicating shrewdness of mind combined with kindliness of heart.
     At the time I knew him, I guess—for he never spoke of his age—he must have been between fifty and sixty years of age. Had he condescended to dress in an ordinary mode, he might have passed without comment; but imagine a man, lean, long, and queer-looking, exasperating these defects by wearing a coat of a cut in total discordance with those of everyone else, black, of some material that was shiny—'continuations,' long gaiters, buttoned up to the knee, and superadded to all—a spencer! And then his hat! Who shall describe his hat!—who shall describe its shape and fabric? On some of the Frenchmen who frequent Leicester Square and its precincts I have seen the nearest resemblance to it. It was low-crowned, broad-brimmed, and napless. He seldom indulged in pedestrianism, his lameness obliging him to use his brougham. But I never did see him in the street without observing that he fixed the gaze of every one he came in contact with. He had been brought up as a physician, and in early life followed it as a profession. But having succeeded to a good fortune, he abandoned it as a pursuit, only giving advice gratuitously to occasional patients, and surrendered himself up to the prosecution of his favourite hobbies and follies, it may be". (Rennie 1:199-201)

Information on this page has come from:

Footnote:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viscount_Dillon

Henry Augustus Dillon-Lee (1777-1832),  who was an Irish peer, writer and MP.

Works include:

Short view of the Catholic question, by Henry Augustus Dillon-Lee Dillon publisher: Printed by J. Charrurier / 1801  / 32 Pages

Letter to the deputation from the Catholics of Ireland on the subject of their mission
by Henry Augustus Dillon-Lee Dillon  publisher: Cox, Son & Baylis / 1805 /  56 Pages

A commentary on the military establishments and defence of the British Empire by Henry Augustus Dillon publisher: Printed by Cox, Son, and Baylis ... for E. Kerby / 1811 /

Discourse upon the theory of legitimate government,
by Henry Augustus Dillon-Lee Dillon  1817 / 89 Pages

The life and opinions of Sir Richard Maltravers: [pseud.] an English gentleman of the seventeenth century
by Henry Augustus Dillon-Lee Dillon  publisher: Printed for G. and W.B. Whittaker / 1822 / 2 vols (I 274p; II 287p). Corvey; CME 3-628-48097-3; ECB 345; EN2 1822: 29; NSTC 2D13576; OCLC 35663915.

ROSALINE DE VERE. IN TWO VOLUMES. Henry Augustus Dillon-Lee, Viscount DILLON  1824. London: Treuttel and Würtz, Treuttel, jun. and Richter, 30 Soho Square, 2 vols (I v, 281p; II 277p) Corvey; CME 3-628-48547-9; ECB 502; EN2 1824: 29; NSTC 2D13577; OCLC 12423730.

 

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