Visiting the spot where the body of poor Harriet Shelley was found ...
The river was the Serpentine, and it’s not really a river. In 1730, workers dammed the Westbourne River (now much diverted underground) to create the Serpentine, a snaking lake that flows through Hyde Park, just west of central London. It became a popular venue for leisure-seekers for boating, winter skating, celebrations—outings of all sorts.
|Hyde Park (web image)|
Harriet Shelley, pregnant, had been in the water for a while when they found her body. No one knows how she got there. The coroner’s jury said, “Found drowned,” although, as Richard Holmes reports in his biography of Bysshe, the Times declared she was a suicide.
On April 13, 1999, an appropriately gloomy day (lowering clouds, intermittent rain), I went to the Serpentine on the first day I was in Europe, the commencement of my long journey trying to see all the Shelley sites I could. My journal saddens me as I look at it now—not because of the suicide in the Serpentine (sad enough, surely) but because I recorded so little of what I did that day in Hyde Park. And so I must rely on Memory, that most disreputable and unreliable of servants.
I remember going to the Park. Walking along the Serpentine. Taking some photographs. I just looked in the loose-leaf notebook where I keep those slides that I took on that journey; there are only about ten pictures from my Park visit—and, oh, do I wish that digital photography had existed then. With the old-fashioned 35mm SLR camera I had, I was forced to buy film, load, shoot, send off for developing, not knowing how the pictures would turn out.
Still … I do have a few pictures; I do have memories of standing by the Serpentine, thinking about poor Harriet Westbrook Shelley, who’d fallen in love, only to discover that her lover—her husband—was a fierce flame that not only illuminated but destroyed.