the love triangle ... Mary, Payne, Irving ...
Anyway, the book itself (The Romance of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, John Howard Payne and Washington Irving) … what’s there? Well, there are some brief introductory remarks, followed by the texts of the letters among the principals identified in the title, with some brief commentary.
One (very) annoying thing: The editor, F. B. Sanborn (whose “remarks” accompany the letters), does not—for a reason I cannot fathom—give the dates of the letters, nothing beyond whatever the writer included. So, for example, on page 37, in a letter from Mary to Payne, we get only this: Wednesday, Kentish Town (in northwest London). Now, an assiduous scholar (not always an accurate description of me) could consult the three-volume published letters of Mary, check “Payne” in the index, and gradually catch up with who was writing what and when.
For the curious (or demented), here’s what I found about that letter—after about a ten-minute search. Mary wrote it in early May 1825 (the fabulous editor of her letters, the late Betty Bennett, has put a question mark by May 4, and—thorough scholar that she was—Betty also quotes what Payne had written earlier … and the source? The Romance. The “ambiguity,” by the way, that Mary mentions in that opening sentence concerns the production of the play Virginius, which, Betty notes in an earlier letter, was written by James Sheridan Knowles and first produced in 1820. Anyway, in that letter, Mary wrote, I have seen Virginius, but she had planned to go with her friend Jane Williams, whose husband, Edward, had drowned with Bysshe in July 1822. (You may recall that Mary often acquired theater tickets from Payne, who was an actor as well as a writer.)
So, if you want to know the dates of these letters, you need to keep handy Betty’s volumes of Mary letters—and the volumes of Irving’s letters (and diaries) as well. I had to do all of that, originally, but now, as I page through the Romance again, I don’t need to. Instead, I’m just following the sad arc of the story. No one really emerged from this 1820s triangle feeling very good. And that, I suppose, is not really too surprising. Triangles—the love sort—rarely ring a clear tone.