15 April 1999. Horsham, Sussex, U. K.
During my lengthy spring trip to Europe I am trying to see as many Mary Shelley sites as possible on my limited budget and time. But I cannot resist the Bysshe Shelley sites, either. And so several places I visit—like some of my reading—relate principally to him. Example: his family estate, Field Place. Bysshe was born in this house that dates back generations before him (though Shelleys had lived there less than a century), and, much later, Mary and her son Percy Florence Shelley would inherit the property—though they declined to live there (a complicated story for another telling).
English law embraced the principle of primogeniture, which Webster’s Legal Dictionary defines as follows: “exclusive right of inheritance; specifically: a right to take all the real property of an estate belonging under English law to the eldest son or eldest male in the next degree of consanguinity if there is no son of an ancestor to the exclusion of all female and younger male descendants.”
This legal provision would enrage Bysshe’s father, Sir Timothy, who felt betrayed by his radical, wayward eldest son—expelled from Oxford! for atheism! marrying without his father’s permission! adulterer! father of children out of wedlock!—and he no doubt would have swiftly disinherited Bysshe if he could have legally done so.
Field Place still stands near the small towns of Warnham and Horsham in Sussex—and I have decided to go see what I can today. After enduring the morning crush of commuters aboard the Tube, I take a train to Horsham from London’s Victoria Station, and when I arrive, I have one of the great pieces of traveler’s luck that I’ve ever had. I don’t know where I am going (there are other sites I want to see in the area as well), but the cabbie next in the queue at the station is Brian B., a knowledgeable local. I show him the old sketchy map I have of the region (it focuses on the Shelley sites), and he knows right where to go.
|Field Place (back when)|
When I tell Brian I am a writer, his first question is “Are you famous?” And as I write this, I’m reminded of something that happened about a year and a half before my European adventure.