Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Monday, March 7, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 214

Let’s revisit the basics [of the Irving-Shelley relationship]  before moving on. In the early 1820s Mary met actor and writer (and American) John Howard Payne, who made his moves on her. To no avail. But they did remain friends, and he often scored theater tickets for her (important because, due to Sir Timothy Shelley’s parsimony, her income was low). And Mary Shelley loved the theater.
And then Payne—a far more generous soul than I—thought to serve as an intermediary between Mary and his friend Washington Irving, who was now in England during his extensive stay in Europe. And Payne’s doings did engender some meetings between the author of Frankenstein and the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
Irving wrote in his journal (Saturday, July 17, 1824) that while he was having his portrait painted, “Mrs. Shelley—came in—”[1] She was with some friends. (Mary’s journal is absolutely silent from July to September that summer … hmmmm.) Irving records no words either of them said—no attitudes, other than his silence (which, of course, in 1824 could have meant many things). He left with his friend, writer Thomas Moore.
Next meeting: She and Irving had what we might loosely call a “date” on August 10 at the Theater Royal Haymarket. But they were not alone. Irving’s journal reports a couple of other women were present as well.[2] He had come, in large part, to support his friend, playwright James Kenney, whose latest work, a comic opera, The Alcaid; or The Secrets of Office, was premiering—on a program with his earlier play Matrimony (1804—an opera he translated and adapted from the French of Benoît-Joseph Marsollier des Vivetières).[3] The latter ends with a brief finale:
May love and reason ever reign
In each fond heart and with gentle sway;
And may you never need again,
The friendly lesson of today.[4]
A third play—by another playwright (Joseph Lunn)—was Family Jars (1822).
Acquiring copies of these plays was not easy—nothing at all like these days of Google and .pdf files. But I found them all in the late 1990s on microform down at the Cleveland Public Library, made copies, put them in folders (which are now lying in front of me on my desk), and read them, looking for connections to the Shelley–Irving story. And I found some.
The Alcaid deals with young lovers who try to deceive a wise father—and, of course, I think of Mary and Bysshe deceiving Godwin, eloping to Europe.[5] And in Family Jars, a father, outraged about his son’s marrying a woman of whom he does not approve, cries out, “I’ll disinherit the dog. I’ll cut him off without a shilling”—words that could have been spoken (bellowed?) by Sir Timothy Shelley.[6]

[1] Journals and Notebooks, 366.
[2] Ibid., 378.
[3] (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1804).
[4] 46.
[5] (London: John Cumberland, 1826).
[6] (New York: Samuel French, n.d.), 12.

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