Our own six-weeks’ tour never worked out—or, at least, hasn’t so far. The logistics, my age and health, Joyce’s professional life—all contributed to the trip’s fading appeal. No, “fading appeal” isn’t right. The appeal is still immense. But when we realize something is not going to happen—cannot happen—then we tend, for self-preservation’s sake, to confine it to a file in our minds labeled Not Gonna Happen—Too Bad.
I’ve had numerous experiences like this—some significant, some otherwise. Among the former … I’d always wanted to climb Mt. Hood in Oregon. My father had done it in 1937, and when I was growing up, our trips to Oregon to visit family virtually always included views of Hood—or trips to Timberline Lodge on Hood’s, well, timberline. Later, I visited the mountain several times, both alone and with my own wife and son. In the late 1990s went into training to climb the mountain, made arrangements with a cousin in the area (who taught climbing, led groups to the summit of various mountains in the Northwest). It was all set. Then illness and injury intervened, and my expensive climbing boots—unused—still stand in my closet where they will no doubt remain until the day when my son finds them, wonders what on earth they’re doing there.
In early July 1999, Betty wrote to say that she was soon heading to England and had some questions about Harrow School, which I had visited during my own recent research trip. Mary’s son Percy Florence Shelley (the middle name was his birthplace in Italy—not a name most boys would cherish these days) had attended that school—at about the same time that novelist Anthony Trollope was there. Mary had corresponded some with Frances Trollope, Anthony’s mother and also a popular novelist.
Somewhat earlier, Lord Byron had also attended Harrow, and there’s a memorial marker there for his poor lost daughter, Allegra, the daughter whom Claire Clairmont had delivered on January 12, 1817—the child Claire was carrying that “Frankenstein summer” in Geneva. When Bysshe Shelley informed Byron that he was going to be the father of Claire’s child, he took responsibility for his deed and promised to care for the son or daughter who was coming.
But Byron didn’t exactly knock himself out. Claire surrendered (is that the right word? I think it is) Allegra to Byron in Italy when the child was a little over a year old (weaned, in other words). Byron placed her with accommodating friends, then, in 1821, in a convent; he hardly ever saw her. She died on April 20, 1822. Here’s the brief letter he wrote to his publisher, John Murray, on April 22:
You will regret to hear that I have received intelligence of the death of my daughter Allegra of a fever in the Convent at Bagna Cavallo—where she was placed for the last year to commence her education. It is a heavy blow for many reasons, but must be borne, with time.—It is my present intention to send her remains to England for sepulture in Harrow Church (where I once hoped to have laid my own) … I wish the funeral to be very private.—The body is embalmed and in lead. …
Byron retreated to the passive voice, didn’t he? The convent where she was placed … the heavy blow … must be borne …. Oh, the safety of verbs.
Today, there is a stone in the ground at Harrow, placed there in 1980 by the Byron Society. The rector in the nineteenth century had refused any marker: Allegra was illegitimate. Here’s the current inscription:
In memory of
daughter of LORD BYRON
and CLAIRE CLAIRMONT
born in Bath 13.1.1817
died Bagnacavallo 19.4.1822
Erected by the Byron Society
In a matter of months, Bysshe Shelley had drowned, and within about two years Lord Byron himself was dead in Greece, was himself in a lead casket full of wine aboard a ship bound for England and burial.