Category Archives: WRITING INFO:

Poet & Artist: William Blake

William Blake
William Blake

William Blake, son of James Blake a hosier was born on 28th November 1757 in London.  He attended school until he reached ten, and the remaining years of his education, were undertaken by his mother; Catherine Wright Armitage Blake.  He grew up in a family where life centred around the Bible, maybe that is why much of his work, hinted on links to his early teachings.

Blake’s appreciation of the masters; Raphael, Michelangelo, and his own early drawings of Greek antiquities, gave him a better understanding of the classical forms.

It was during this time, he was drawn into the world of poetry.

On 4th August 1772, Blake commenced a seven year apprenticeship under engraver; James Basire.

In 1774, the young apprentice was sent to copy images from London’s Gothic Churches.  Blake would spend many hours, sketching, and this helped him form his artistic style.

In 1779, aged 21, William Blake had attained the position of a professional engraver.  On the 8th October, in the same year, he became a student at the Royal academy.

From his early times at the academy, Blake rebelled with the then president: Joshua Reynolds.

Reynolds championed artists like, Rubens, whilst Blake often referred to them as an unfinished style of painting.  For Blake preferred the precision style of his early influences by Michelangelo and Raphael.  Even though they crossed swords so to speak on many occasions, it did not stop Blake from exhibiting his works at the Royal Academy between 1780 and 1808.

Blake married Catherine Boucher on 18th August 1782, at St.Mary’s Church, Battersea.  Catherine signed her name with a cross, upon the wedding contract, for she was illiterate.

Over the years that followed, Blake taught Catherine to read and write, and trained her in the art of an engraver.  Her knowledge would prove invaluable to him, assisting with the printing of his works.

William Blake released Poetical Sketches in 1783.

William Blake and James Parker opened a print shop, after’s his father’s death in 1784, and worked with publisher Joseph Johnson.

In 1788, Blake started experimenting with relief etching, which he had used to produce most of his books, drawings etc.

This involved a process of writing text on copper plates with pens and brushes dipped in an acid-resistant liquid.  Then the plates were treated with an acid, which dissolved the untreated copper plates, leaving the design standing.

Blake, now the inventor, had become famous for his relief etching, however much of his work was of intaglio engraving, a process which had stood the test of time.

William and Catherine’s marriage was one of devotion until his death in 1827.  It is said, that on the day of William’s death.  His last work that day was a portrait of his beloved wife; Catherine, promising he would be with her always.  Then he died that day.

On the day of Catherine’s death in October 1831.  She was heard to call out to him, she would be coming, and it would not be long before they could be together once again.

William Blake in his early years claimed to have seen visions:  He saw God, put his head to the window, and another time in Peckham Rye, claimed to have seen a tree filled with angels, and angelic wings upon each bough as stars.

It is said; William experienced many visions throughout his life, often associated with religious themes.  These have been an inspiration for his poetry and artistic forms.

“There was no doubt that the poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott,” words spoken by William Wordsworth.

William Blake’s work has left its mark on the beat poet’s of the 1950’s -1970’s.  Songwriters most influenced by his work include ; Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison of the Doors and Van Morrison.

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Novelist & Poet: Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy - Famous Poets and Poems
Thomas Hardy

If you take the new Dorchester bypass across the water meadows in the direction of Weymouth, you pass through a little slice of Dorset, which is to millions of people the most sacred piece of England.  For this is the land of Thomas Hardy where, against all the odds, the 20th century is held at bay.

On the 2nd June 1840, Thomas Hardy was born here at Upper Bockhampton, and today some 170 years later, it is almost as nothing has changed.  Hardy’s novels have spawned quite an industry – films, radio, television and stage adaptations, plus an inexhaustible stream of books about him, his works, and about the brooding landscape of Wessex which he loved.

It seems at first unlikely that a ghostly spirit should still inhabit the lanes and woodlands which formed so much part of Hardy’s writings.  Yet, surprisingly, there is still much of Wessex that does hold an essence of his writing.  It is in the landscape of Dorset itself that the real celebration of Hardy is to be found.  And in the centre of the maelstrom of public attention that this literary anniversary has whipped up, a still centre lies waiting for the more thoughtful literary pilgrim at Mellstock.

Mellstock, as a word, is like so many of Hardy’s names, fictious.  There is, however, no doubt at all as to where it is – Upper and lower Bockhampton, Stinsford, three tiny hamlets lying in a wooded cluster between Puddleton and Dorchester.  These are the villages of Thomas Hardy’s childhood and early life.  They are likewise the settings for many of the poems, and in particular one of the novels, Under the Greenwood Tree.  And they are the places to which Hardy returned until his last years, reliving and preserving his own personal heritage…He asked that he should be buried in Stinsford churchyard, but official pomp and national pride decreed otherwise, and his ashes were interred in Westminster Abbey.  Only his heart made it to the family grave near the quiet rivers of the River Frome.

Hardy’s birthplace is everything the seeker of old England longs for: in the fragrant garden of the cottage, lavender southern wood and rosemary grow, sweet scented mock orange, and near the door honeysuckle.  There are roses, too, everywhere a profusion of flowers, herbs, shrubs, and between them gently curving paths.  Come here at the right time of year, and it will seem that for every plant there is a butterfly dancing in attendance.  And behind it all, nestling under Thorncombe Wood, quietly dominating this peaceful acre of ground, stands the cottage itself…a long building. Just a room deep, with a thatch that gives you the feeling that it grew organically out of the surroundings so much does it seems to be part of the natural scheme of things.

The Beech trees of Thorncombe rush and roar in the gentlest of weather.  This is another of the wonders of Hardy, for he is much loved – some would say more loved – in places like America as in Britain.  To enter the cottage is to step at once into Hardy’s life and times and into the novels too.  For here it is not only the room where he wrote Under the Greenwood Tree, but also the parlour where many scenes, including the famous Christmas party at the books start occurred. Upstairs is the room in which he was born, a sickly child by all accounts, who on his first appearance in the world was given up for dead by the doctor, and was only saved by a local nurse who is reputed to have said: Dead?  Stop a minute; he’s alive enough, sure!  He was indeed, and lived on for a venerable 88 years.  Looking from the window, we see the view he saw whilst pondering on Far from the Madding Crowd and many of the early poems.  His very first poem Domicilium is as clear a portrait of the cottage as you could wish; the garden flowers, the verdancy of the wood – is still there.  But the house stands, as it were, on the edge of two landscapes, for as the poem continues:

Behind, the scene is wilder, Heath and Furze
Are everything that seems to grow and thrive
Upon the uneven ground.  A stunted thorn
Stands here and there, indeed; and from a pit
An oak surprises, springing from a seed
Dropped by a bird a hundred years ago.

This is Egdon Heath, a haunted place for Hardy, and is still today.  Fir plantations now stands where once was just heath and furze, but they retain in their own way, the brooding quality of this place.  On summer mornings, the sun lights the dew, through the grasses of the heath, and the beauty is breathtaking.  Nevertheless, there is a starkness which is vivid contrast to the richness of Bockhampton woodlands.

After the birthplace, the most significant spot in Melstock is down the lane at St.Michael’s Church, Stinsford.  This little church with its gentle view across the shallow Frome Valley, was built in the early part of the 13th century.  In Hardy’s younger day’s there was a gallery where local musicians – including his grandfather, his father and his uncle played – in the days before the coming of the organ.  Today, the gallery is gone, although some idea of what it was like can be gained on a larger scale in nearby Puddletown Church.  All the Hardy’s were fine fiddle players, and their notebooks are on show today in the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.  On the wall of St.Michael’s is a plaque, placed there by Hardy himself.

Sacred to the memory of Thomas Hardy, the father of James and Thomas, the sons who formerly in this church for forty years (1802-1841) performed the office of string players.

The brass plate is in latin which, Hardy felt, was likely to change less for the worse than the English in the future.  In Stinsford Church, Hardy’s father and mother fell in love, as he played his violin in the gallery, and she turned and caught his eye.  The incident is caught most touchingly in a sonnet,

A Church Romance – 1835:

She turned in the high pew, until her sigh
Swept the west gallery, and caught his row
Of music men with viol, book and bow
Against the sinking sad tower – window light.
She turned again; and in her pride’s despite
One strenuous viol’s inspirer seemed to throw
A message from his string to her elbow,
Which said: “I claim thee as my own forthright!”
Thus their hearts bond began, in due time signed.
And the long years thence, when age had scared romance,
At some old attitude of his or her glance
That gallery-scene would break upon her mind,
With him as minstrel, ardent, young and trim,
Bowing “New Sabbath” or “Mount Ephraim”.

The high pews have, like the gallery, long gone, but the loving ghosts remain.  How could they not?  After all, this is the home of the prototype of the Mellstock Quire of Under the Greenwood Fire.  In middle age, Hardy wrote a poem called The Dead Quire, which tells how phantom singers passed along the river path and up to the church at Christmas, and disappeared into the churchyard.  There is very little here that has not had his eye upon it.

In Stinsfird Churchyard, the Hardy family graves lie in a dignified row, and nearby, the grave of Poet Laureate Cecil day Lewis, whose love for Thomas Hardy was such that for him, this earth was an appropriate place in which to make an end.  In the peace of this place, it is easy to agree with him.  It seems in many ways, so near yet so far from Dorchester, in truth a short walk away with its market town bustle and self-importance.  When Hardy built Max Gate, the house that represented his success as a writer, he chose a site where he could look across the valley to Mellstock.  Ironically, such was his fame that to thwart the visitors, who came to peer at him, he was forced to surround himself with tall trees, which in time blotted out the view…

Meanwhile, at Dorchester’s top of the town, the man himself in the shape of Eric Kennington’s 1931 statue, looks out on it all with remarkable detachment.  When the statue was unveiled, among those present was another great writer; Llewelyn Powys.

For, in the words of one of his poems: “He was a man who used to notice such things.”

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Scottish Writer: George Mackay Brown

George Mackay Brown
George Mackay Brown

George Mackay Brown was born on the 17th October 1921 in Stromness, Orkney, Scotland to parents John Brown and Mhairi Mackay.

His writing career started in his twenties, working as a journalist for the Orkney Herald.  In 1951 he left, and attended Newbattle Abbey College and Edinburgh University, graduating with an MA in 1960.

His early works were influenced by one man; Edwin Muir, Warden of Newbattle Abbey College, he wrote the introduction to Mackay Brown’s first book; “Hamnavoe” a book of poems and stories.

His second book was exclusively poems; “Loaves and Fishes” published in 1959, and in 1961 was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church, a great source of inspiration for his works.

In the latter part of the 1980’s returned to Orkney and Stromness, due to ill health, and continued writing poems, until his death on the 13th April 1996.

Crime Writer: Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, was born on the 15th September 1890, at Torquay, in Devon, to Frederick and Clarissa Miller.  Being one of three children, she had an older sister Madge, and a brother Monty.  Sadly in 1901, her childhood came to an abrupt end, when her father died, leaving her mother to raise them.

Writing was a family trait, as her sister Madge sold several short stories in her teenage years.

Agatha had received much encouragement in her early years from Rudyard Kipling, leading to her first publication; a poem printed in a local newspaper, at the age of 11, which was to be the start of her writing career.

In 1912, she became engaged to an army officer, but this was not to last, for while he was away in Hong Kong, she met Lieutenant Archibald Christie, formerly of the Royal Artillery and later of the Royal Flying Corps.  At the out break of the First World War, Agatha wanted to do her part, joined the Voluntary Aid detachment, and married Archibald whilst he was on leave at Christmas.

The inspiration of the Belgium refugees she came into contact with, whilst working at the Red Cross Hospital in Torquay, led to the character of ‘Hercules Poirot’, the famous Belgian detective, which was to feature in many of her books.

In 1919, Agatha gave birth to a baby daughter, Rosalind, and in 1920, whilst the Christie’s lived in London, her first book was published.  This was quickly followed by another in 1922, ‘The Secret Adversary’.  From then on she published one almost every year there afterwards, and stated that she ate apples in the Bath, whilst dreaming up plots.

Sadly, by the time she published her sixth novel in 1926, ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’, her marriage was all but over, and she had become an established author.

The events following her disappearance made her a household name world-wide, guaranteeing the success of her books for years to come.  Late one December evening in 1926, Agatha left her home in Sunningdale, Berkshire.  Shortly there afterwards, her car was found abandoned, leading to a nation-wide search for her, even local ponds and lakes were dragged in search of her body.  At one point, even her husband was suspected of murdering his wife, following a letter received by the Chief of Police, hinting her life was in danger.  She was later found, staying in a Yorkshire Hotel, booked in under the name of ‘Theresa Neele’, the same name as her husband’s mistress.

According to Archibald Christie, Agatha was suffering from amnesia, but she had advertised to the world, that her husband was having an affair, leading to their divorce in 1928.

The distinguished archaeologist Max Mallowan, married Agatha in 1930, and she was to spend her remaining years travelling to and from the middle east with him, cataloguing his finds, from excavation sites in Syria and Iraq and gathering material for her books.  Agatha turned to playwriting, whilst still turning out a few novels each year.  Her famous mystery play ‘Mousetrap’, was originally entitled ‘Three Blind Mice’, was first performed on radio.  Its West End debut was on the 28th November 1952, it must have been a proud day for her.  As a ninth birthday present to her grandson; Mathew, she signed the rights of the ‘Mousetrap’ over to him.

Agatha became Lady Mallowan in 1968 when her husband was knighted, and Dame Agatha Christie in 1971.

By the time of her death in 1976, she had published 78 crime novels, 19 plays, an assortment of short stories and poems, plus six novels under her pen name ‘Mary Westmacott’, and her biography which was published in 1977, the year following her death.

Agatha remained a shy person, and disliked personal publicity.  She believed she was here to entertain her readers, and she certainly did that!

Creator of Just William: Richmal Crompton

Just William

At the mention of the loveable school character ‘Just William’, you think of Richmal Crompton, the schoolteacher who created this cheeky character.

On the 15th November 1890, Richmal Crompton Lamburn was born in Bury, Lancashire to the Reverend Edward Lamburn and his wife Clara.

Richmal was educated at a boarding school for daughters of the clergy at St.Elphins in Warrington, originally a former convent.  Many, have reported to have seen a Nun, walking the dark corridors at night.  In 1904, she attended Darley Dale School, overlooking the moors, then later attended the Royal Holloway College in Surrey to take her degree.  In 1914, she returned to St.Elphin’s School as the classics mistress, later moving to Bromley High School.

For many years Richmal enjoyed the art of writing, but her first publication as a serious writer appeared in a 1918 issue of ‘Girl’s Own Paper’, featuring the exploits of Thomas a young boy who reacted against authority.  Then in 1919 ‘Just William’ was born, for the ‘Home Magazine’, and in 1922 a collection of twelve stories were released in book form, aimed at the juvenile market.  So began the renowned series of ‘Just William’ books.

In 1923, she was struck down with polio, loosing the use of her right leg, remaining lame for the rest of her life.  This impediment proved a strain in her teaching profession, leading to her early retirement, to concentrate on her writings.

Richmal is remembered for her 38 ‘Just William’ books, bringing out the cheekiness of William, and enlightening young and old with her writings.  Her career came to an abrupt end, when she suffered from a heart attack and died in January 1969, at her home in Chislehurst, Kent.  She left behind thousands of ‘Just William’ fans, the world over.  They will always remember the saga of that scruffy boy, who became a cult figure in literature.

Man of Words: Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling was born to English parents living in India towards the end of 1865.  He spent the first six years of his life in Bombay, where his love of this part of the world can be seen in some of his works, for example ‘Kim’.

Rudyard was sent to England, to undertake his education, initially attending Hope lodge in Southsea, which he disliked intently, but later attending the United Services College in Westward Ho in Devon.  A college he grew to love, and remained there until his return to India in 1882.  Upon his return, he started work at the civil and military Gazette in Lahore, as a member of the editorial staff, and later became a reporter for The Pioneer at Allahabad.

In 1889, he left India, to travel the world, and during his time visited London where he met Carrie an American girl, fell in love, and they were married in 1892.  They moved to America and settled in the state of Vermont, her home state, where he wrote Jungle Book and Captain Courageous.  In December of 1892, his daughter Josephine was born, followed by Elsie in 1895.  In early 1897 the family left America to settle in England at Rottingdean in Sussex, and during the summer of that year, their son John was born.

Their happiness wasn’t too last, for they took the children to visit their grandmother in America, and all three children caught whooping cough, and Rudyard and Carrie suffered respiratory problems.  Doctors treating Rudyard held out little hope of his recovery, and prayers were offered up in American Churches across the land for him and his family’s recovery.  The world press chronicled his progress as front-page news, of the man considered to be one of the world’s most popular authors at that time.  Following a long drawn out illness, he was to recover, but Josephine their first-born and his favourite little child died, and this tragic loss of life was always with him, one memory he would carry with him always.  Following, such a disastrous trip to America, he was never destined to travel there again, during his lifetime.

In 1902 the Kipling’s moved from Rottingdean, as the house carried too many memories of Josephine, to ‘Batemans’, a Jacobean house, of stone construction, close to the river Dudwell, dating back to 1634.  The property included a 13th century watermill, and 33 acres of land with it.  His love of the Sussex landscape took root during his time at Rottingdean, and blossomed when he moved to ‘Batemans’, in Burwash.  The area was included in many of his books.  Located behind the house and close to the river, stand the remains of an old forge, as featured in ‘Puck of Pook’s Hill’.  Kipling’s love for the area has been summed up in a poem called ‘The Land’ written in 1916, which deals with English rustic life through the centuries.

The Sussex coast was notorious in years gone by for smugglers, with Pevensey Bay being used as a landing point by them.  The road from Pevensey to London, passed through the village of Burwash, and according to traditions and legends, many houses were associated with smugglers.

At the time Kipling lived in Sussex, the countryside was much isolated and self-supporting, than it is today, as the motor car at that time was new to the roads.  The invention of motorised transport, was much too kipling’s liking, and he used to refer to the dangers and delights of the early days of motoring in his stories.

He found an interest towards mechanical things, and he used water from the river to turn the mill wheel, thus generating electricity for the house, a rare thing in rural Sussex, causing much interest among the locals.

Tragedy befell the Kipling’s once again, when his son John, whilst serving as a Lieutenant with the Irish Guards, was killed in action at the ‘Battle of Loos’, during the First World War, at the age of 18.  A bronze tablet dedicated to his memory can be found in Burwash Church with a latin inscription (He died before his time).  His name can also be found on the Burwash War Memorial.  Kipling served on the War Graves Commission, after the war, inspecting cemeteries in Northern France.  Whilst there he visited the battlefield of Loos, where his son met his end, dying for his country, and in 1923 published the history of The Irish Guards in the Great War.

Rudyard Kipling, author of the best children stories, suffered much sadness in his life, loosing two of his three children, in their early years, and his remaining child, Elsie’s marriage in 1924 was childless, and was denied the joy of being a grandfather.  During a visit to London in 1936, he was taken ill, and rushed to Middlesex Hospital where he died four days later, aged 70.  His wife Carrie continued to live at the family home of ‘Bateman’s, until her death three years later.  Following her death, she bequeathed the house and land, along with much of the furniture and effects to the National Trust.  Her only individual request was that Rudyard’s study should remain as it was, where he created his best loved stories.

Thanks to a generous gift to the nation, people are able to visit the village of Burwash, an unspoilt corner of Sussex.  Home to a well-known and unforgotten writer, to enjoy the delights and memories held in this part of England.

Writer – Artist: Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter, a name that conjures up many memories for children everywhere, many of us have grown up in our early years, introduced to her books.

Helen Beatrix Potter, was born on 28th July 1866, in South Kensington.  Her father Rupert William Potter (1832-1914) was a barrister, and her mother Helen Leech (1839-1932) was the daughter of a cotton merchant and ship builder.  The family were extremely wealthy by the 1890’s, thanks to her father’s keen investments in the stock market.

The family were English Unitarians, a dissenting Protestant sect.  Her grandfather Edmund Potter served as a Member of Parliament.

Annie Moore, her last governess, was to become her life-long friend.

In their school room, Beatrix and her brother Walter kept a variety of small animals, which they studied and drew.

Her first fifteen years of life, she spent her summer at Dalguise Estate in Scotland.  There she sketched and explored an area that nourished her imagination and observation, and became an adept student of Natural History.

In 1887, whilst holidaying at Wray Castle in the Lake District, came into contact with Hardwicke Rawnsley, vicar at Wray, and later founding secretary of the National Trust.

At the age of fourteen, she started a diary written in her own personal code, describing her maturing and intellectual interests and her ability to observe and describe nature.

As was common to the Victorian era, women of her class were privately educated and rarely attended college.

Beatrix Potter, became interested in natural science’s and her knowledge in Botany, would help her in later years, but she did not know this…

She took on the establishment by disagreeing with the theory symbiosis, as put forward by Simon Schwendener, and put forward an independent process of reproduction.  She was rebuffed by the then director of Kew; William Thiselton-Dyer based on her gender and amateur status.

She submitted a paper on Germination Spores of the Agaricineae to the Linnean Society in 1897, based solely on her gender, was not allowed to attend the proceedings.  It was not until 1997, one-hundred years later, they apologised for their handling of her research.

Beatrix Potter, gave her mycological drawing to the Armitt Museum and Library.  Her fungi paintings to the Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

In 1967, Mycologist WPK Findlay included some of Potter’s fungi drawings in his Wayside and Woodland Fungi book.

Beatrix Potter’s artistic and literary interests were deeply influenced by fairies, fairy tales and fantasy.

In her teenage years, Potter became a regular visitor of London art galleries, which brought out her sophisticated side as a critic, with influence by Sir John Everett Millias (Artist), who was aware of her artistic trends.

In the 1890’s with her brother’s help, she designed Christmas and special occasion cards of mice and rabbits.

Hildesheimer and Faulkner purchased rabbit drawings from Potter, to illustrate verses by Frederick Weatherly.

Whenever Potter went on holiday to the Lake District or Scotland, she sent letters to young friends illustrated with sketches.  Many of these letters were destined to the children of her former governess Annie Carter Moore, particularly for Noel who was often ill.

In September 1893, whilst holidaying in Dunkeld, Perthshire she sent Noel a story about four little rabbits; Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter, and it became one of her most famous children’s stories written.

In 1900, she revised her tale of the four rabbits, and published it in 1901, for friends and family at her expense.  Later published by Frederick Warne & Co in full colour.

Beatrix Potter-Peter Rabbit
Peter Rabbit

The tale of Peter Rabbit was published in 1902, and followed up in 1903 with Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester, originally written as picture letters to the Moore children.  A total of 23 books were published.

The immense popularity of her books, was based on her illustrations, depicting rural countryside, and the quality she put on her animal characters.

In 1903, she patented and released merchandise, linked to her characters.

In 1905, Potter and Norman Warne became unofficially engaged, but her parents objected.  Within a month Warne died of Leukemia aged 37.

In 1905, Potter purchased Hill Top Farm in the Lake District.

With the assistance of local solicitors, she bought neighbouring farms and land.  By 1912 William Heelis her solicitor and friend had proposed marriage.  They were married on 15th October 1913 in Kensington.

They resided at Castle Cottage, with her studio and workshop at Hill Top Cottage, close by.

After the death of her father in 1914, she continued writing, even though she was now a very wealthy woman.

She established a Nursing Trust for local villages.

Her interest in breeding sheep, saw her expand this side of the business, raising Hardwick Sheep.  By the late 1920’s, her farm manager had made a prize-winning name for the Hardwick flock.

In 1942, she was named President-elect of the Hardwick Sheepbreeders Association.

Beatrix Potter had been a disciple of the land conservation and preservation ideals of her long-time friend and mentor, Hardwicke Rawnsley; the first secretary and founding member of the National Trust.

Potter continued to write stories and to draw, mainly for her own pleasure, and became patron of the Girl Guides.

Beatrix Potter and William Heelis enjoyed thirty years of marriage, although childless.  William had a large family, and Beatrix particularly enjoyed her relationships with several nieces whom she helped educate.

Beatrix Potter died from pneumonia and heart disease on 22nd December 1943, leaving the majority of her estate to the National Trust.  William Heelis, her husband died in August 1945, leaving the remainder to the National Trust.

Beatrix Potter Images

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William Yeats: 1923 Nobel Prize Winner

William B Yeats

William Yeats was born on 13th June 1865 in County Dublin, Ireland, to parents John Butler Yeats (Lawyer & Artist) and Susan Mary Pallexfen.

Yeats grew up in the latter years of the 19th century, as Ireland was going through a nationalist revival at the time.  In his quest for answers, he became a member of the Protestant Ascendancy.

In 1867, the family left Ireland and settled in England, where he was home educated, until he attended Godolphin School in 1877.  He remained there, until the family returned to Dublin, in the latter months of 1880.

Yeats continued his education at “Erasmus Smith High School.  His interests were of an artistic slant, and would spend much time at his father’s art studio, and there he met, many of Dublin’s artists and writers.  From 1884-86 attended the Metropolitan School of Art.

With such influence, it wasn’t long before he put pen to paper, and started writing poems.  In 1885 he published an essay “The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson” along with his own poems in the Dublin University Review.

His early years were much influenced by Percy Shelley, and later the writings of William Blake, whom he paid tribute to.

In 1887, the family left Ireland and settled in London, and that year produced his first volume of verse.  Then joined The Theosophical Society.  It was his mysticism which drew him to them, for he was a visionary, and liked surrounding himself with poetic images.

It was during this time he studied the prophetic books of William Blake, which led him to the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist, theologian and philosopher, which would influence his own writings.

In 1890 with Ernest Rhys they founded the Rhymers Club, later renamed as the Tragic Generation, a group of London based poets.  In 1892 and 1894 published two anthologies of verse.

In 1889 Yeats met Maud Gonne, and fell in love with her at first glance, but it was not reciprocated, for she admired him, but never loved him.  Her passion was not for Yeats, but for Ireland, for she was a patriot and rebel for her native Ireland.  Yeats joined the Nationalist cause, partly believing in the cause, but mostly because of Maud.  For he could not get her out of his mind, he was besotted with her.

In 1891 Charles Stewart Parnell the then Irish leader died, and it was from then, that his interest in politics waned.

When his play “Cathleen ni Houlihan” was performed in Dublin (1902), Maud Gonne played the title role.

Yeats wrote many plays, and those he will be most remembered for would be: The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), The King’s Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907).  In 1910 he changed his direction, experimenting with the use of dance and music in his plays.

The “Wanderings of Osin” a collection of his early works, showed the pride he had in his poems, and showed off the situation he found himself in.  It was as though his soul was crying out for release.

In 1898 Yeats came into contact with Augusta Gregory, who would become a playwright and a lifelong friend.  He would spend his summers at her home at Coole Park, County Galway.  He bought a ruined Norman castle; Thoor Ballylee, and this building would become a dominant feature in many of his poems, often referred to as The Tower.

The heartache of his love for Maud Gonne continued to cause him much pain, and in 1899 asked her once again, to marry him, but her answer was the same as in previous proposals… No.

Yeats along with Lady Gregory started the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899, and he remained a director for the rest of his life.  The first performance was “The Countess Cathleen” and many more of his plays were performed there.

Yeats published much poetry during his lifetime, such as Poems (1895), The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), these works contained dreamlike and atmospheric expression based on the use of Irish Folklore and Legends.

In 1903, his one true love Maud Gonne, married Major John MacBride, for they shared a love of their native Ireland and hated the English oppression.  In 1916, he was executed, by the British Government, as one of the rebels in the Easter Rising.

In 1903 he published his collection; The Seven Woods, and The Green Helmet (1910), containing esoteric influences.

In 1911, Yeats became a member of “The Ghost Club” for those interested in paranormal research.

During the period 1909-1914, there was a major shift in his poetry; a tightening of his individual verse lines, and a new direction, confronting reality…

In 1917, he published “The Wild Swans at Coole” believing he had reached the pinnacle of his career, with renewed inspiration in his works.  That same year he proposed to Miss George Hyde-Lees, and they were married later that year.  They had two children; Anne Butler Yeats (1919), and William Michael Yeats (1921).

The Irish Free State was founded in 1922, and Yeats became a member of the Irish Senate.  In 1923 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In 1928 “The Tower” was published, named after the ruined castle; Thoor Ballylee in County Galway, which he had subsequently restored.

William Butler Yeats died on 28th January 1939 aged 74, whilst in Roquebrune, France.  He was initially buried in France, and then following the Second World War, arrangements were made in 1948, to have his body exhumed, and buried at Sligo in his native country; at a Protestant Churchyard in Drumcliffe, Ireland.

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Victorian Writer: Charles Dickens


Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on the 7th February 1812 at Landport in Portsea.  His father was John Dickens, worked in the Navy Pay Office, and his mother Elizabeth Dickens.

In the first ten years of his life, the family had moved three times, and aged just twelve witnessed his father being imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison, and his mother, and his young brothers and sisters joined him there.

With his family rotting in the debtor’s prison, Charles had no alternative but to leave school to work in Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, where he earned six shillings a week pasting labels on pots of boot blacking.

A few months past, and John Dickens his father received an inheritance, and was released from prison, paying off his creditors.  The family boarded with family friend; Elizabeth Roylance in Camden Town.

Charles was to stay at the factory for some time to come, at his mother’s request.  It gave him ideas for stories he was going to write.

Although he had little formal education, he did attend Wellington House Academy in North London, it was his early impoverishment that drove him to succeed.

From May 1827 to November 1828 he worked as a junior clerk for a firm of attorney’s, Ellis and Blackmore, and afterwards became a freelance reporter at Doctor’s Commons for four years.

In 1830, Dickens fell in love with Maria Beadwell, but he was not good enough for their daughter, and she was packed off to a school in Paris.

Aged just 20, Dickens was drawn to the theatre and got an audition at Covent Garden, but due to health problems, missed his early aspirations of being an actor.

Aged 21, Dickens submitted his first story “A Dinner at Poplar Walk” to the London periodical monthly magazine.  Along with writing stories he continued being a political journalist, and went on to produce a collection; Sketches by Boz, a pseudonym he used for some years.

Publishers Chapman and Hall commissioned Dickens to produce the words to accompany, Robert Seymour’s illustrations in a monthly letterpress.  Two months in Seymour died.  Dickens was a determined man, which resulted in the creation of; The Pickwick Papers.

In 1836 Dickens became editor of Benltey’s Miscellany a post he held until 1839.  Along with his day job as an editor, Charles found the time to write Oliver Twist in instalments which was published in 1838, along with four plays.  Oliver Twist was the first Victorian novel featuring a child protagonist.

On 2nd April 1836, he married Catherine Thomson Hogarth, daughter of George Hogarth and editor of the Evening Chronicle, and they went on to have ten children.

His success as a novelist grew, and caught the attention of the young Queen Victoria who read both Oliver Twist and Pickwick Papers, staying up late to discuss the works.

Nicholas Nickleby – The Old Curiosity Shop – Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty, were all published in instalments form before being made up into books.

In 1842, Dickens and his wife Catherine travelled to the United States of America and Canada, and Georgina Hogarth his wife’s sister joined their household to care for their family while they were away.

In the early 1840’s the Unitarian Christianity caught his attention, but not enough to pull him away from his one true faith; Anglicanism.  Upon his return to England he wrote: A Christmas Carol (1843) – The Chimes (1844) – The Cricket on the Hearth (1845).

Dombey and Son (1846-48) and David Copperfield (1849-50) marked a change in his style of writing.  His works had become more serious, and the theme of each story had been carefully planned, in comparison with his early works.

In May 1846 Angelo Coutts, heir of Coutts Banking approached Dickens about setting up a home for the redemption of fallen women of the working class.  Dickens went on to found such a home; Urania Cottage.  Between 1847 and 1859, it is said 100 women graduated, giving them a better future in life.

It was in 1851, when the Dickens household moved into Tavistock House, he wrote Bleak House (1852-53) – Hard times (1854) – Little Dorrit (1857).

As a child Charles dickens had often walked past Gad’s Hill Place in Higham, Kent, and dreamed of being rich enough to own it.  In 1856 it came on the market, and his income from writing allowed him to follow a childhood dream; so he bought it.

In 1857, Dickens wrote a play with his protégé; Wilkie Collins, entitled; The Frozen Deep.  This was going to change his life forever, and that of his family, for he fell head over heels in love with the professional actor hired to play the star role in the play; Ellen Ternan.

He separated from his wife of twenty-one years, and she took one child with her, leaving the remainder of her children to be raised by her sister Georgina, who chose to stay at Gad’s Hill.

Dickens reputation had spread, for helping those in troubled situations.  It was Great Ormond Street Hospital which needed his help.  On 9th February 1858 he alone raised £3,000 in a public reading putting the hospital on a sound financial footing.

Two major works were written between 1859-1861 and both were resounding successes: A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

During the early part of the 1860’s he became a member of The Ghost Club, for those interested in the paranormal.

In June 1865, Dickens was involved in the Staplehurst Rail Crash … miraculously he was unhurt.  The events of that day were used in his ghost story – The Signal Man in which the central character had a premonition he was going to die.

In November 1867, Dickens travelled to America a second time on a tour of reading his works.

His health affected him during his England, Scotland and Ireland reading tour.  He suffered from giddiness, and paralysis, and the tour was cancelled part way through.  On 11th January and 15th March 1870, although still in poor health, he gave readings at St.James Hall in London, to make up for cancelled readings from the previous tour.

On 2nd May 1870 Dickens appeared at the Royal academy in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Wales.  This was his last performance, for he died on the 9th June 1870 at Gad’s Hill Place, and five years to the day after the Staplehurst Rail Crash, and was laid to rest in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.

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Arthur Conan Doyle

arthur conan doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle

When we think of writers of the 19th century, one that stands out in our mind has to be the legendary Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Homes.

Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on the 22nd May 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland.  His parents were Charles Altamont Doyle and Mary Foley.  Doyle more than likely got his talent for writing from his mother, for she was noted for her story telling.

Aged just nine, he was sent off to a Jesuit boarding school in England.  Where he found he was good at cricket, and had a talent much like his mother as a; story teller.

In 1876, aged seventeen he graduated ready to face what the world would throw at him.  His first task was to co-sign the papers, which would see his father committed to a lunatic asylum, for he was seriously demented.

Arthur was influenced by the family lodger at that time; Dr. Bryan Charles Weller.  So Arthur Doyle followed in his footsteps, by training to become a doctor at Edinburgh University.

As a young medical student he met Robert Louis Stevenson, who was also studying at the university.  One man who left a lasting impression upon him, was Dr. Joseph Bell one of his teachers.  For he was a master of observation, logic, deduction and diagnosis, all the qualities found in a good writer, which would be used in the character of Sherlock Holmes.

Chambers Journal an Edinburgh based magazine, accepted his first short-story “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley.”  His second attempt was “The American Tale” which was published in the London Society magazine.  He soon learnt one could be paid for good fictional stories.

At the age of twenty, Doyle took a break from his studies and joined a whaling ship as ship’s surgeon, as it travelled to the Arctic Circle.  The adventure of whaling and camaraderie on board fascinated the young medical student, for his soul had been awakened and parts are found within his chilling tale; “Captain of the Pole-Star.”

Doyle returned to his studies in the autumn of 1880, and a year later graduated with a “Bachelor of Medicine” and “Master of Surgery” degree.  He drew a sketch of himself receiving his diploma, with a witty caption; “Licensed to Kill.”

His first job as a fully qualified doctor was as a Medical Officer onboard the Mayumba, working between England and Africa.  He came to hate Africa compared with the love of the Arctic.  He resigned his position when they returned home.

Upon arriving back in England, worked at a Plymouth doctor’s practice, which he described to, be rather dubious in its workings.  It was not until forty years later, that the events of those times were published as part of “The Stark Munro Letters.”

With bankruptcy looming just around the corner, he took the brave decision to leave Plymouth and open his own practice in Portsmouth.  The early years were hard, but by year three his hard work and dedication was showing a reasonable income, and in August 1885 he married Louisa Hawkins.

In March of 1886 he started writing the novel which was to catapult him to fame.  Originally titled “A Tanged Skein” but by the time of its release had been given a new title “A Study in Scarlet” and so Sherlock Homes and Dr.Watson were to become household names.

His second novel “Micah Clark” was well received, but did not get the notable fame he had so wanted.  His third novel “The Mystery of Cloomber” showed a different side to Doyle’s writing.  For on one hand, he is capable of writing with pure logic and deduction, and on the other hand he enters the world of paranormal and spiritualism.

His life was to change in so many ways, when he met with Joseph Marshall Stoddart, publisher of Lippincott’s Monthly magazine in Philadelphia and Oscar Wilde at the Langham Hotel in London.

He received a commission to write a short novel for Lippincott’s magazine, which was published in 1890 in England and the United States simultaneously.  “The Sign of Four” established Conan Doyle and his character Sherlock Homes as a serious fictional writer.

Doyle was restless for on one hand, he had achieved a profitable medical practice, and been accepted by his readers and the publishing fraternity as a serious writer.  Life improved further when his daughter was born; Mary Conan Doyle.

He travelled to Vienna to specialise in Ophthalmology, but following a visit to Paris where he experienced language issues, returned home and opened a new practice in London’s Upper Wimpoole Street.  It was to prove a disaster as not a single patient crossed the threshold.

His days of working as a doctor were slowly fading, giving way to the calling of an author, and in summer of 1891 he ceased being a doctor, to concentrate his time on writing.

Conan Doyle was represented by A.P.Watt and it was he who struck a deal with Strand Magazine to publish the Sherlock Holmes stories.  Sidney Paget the illustrator created the image of Holmes, and was instrumental in making the author, the magazine and artist; world famous.

In 1892, his wife gave birth to their son; Kingsley Doyle.

Whilst in Switzerland, Doyle found the place where Sherlock Holmes and his arch enemy Professor Moriarty would plunge to their deaths; The Reichenbach Falls.  The Final Problem was published in December 1893.

In the latter years of the 19th century his wife Louisa was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, with only months to live.  He continued his writing and cared for her, determined to keep her alive into the new century.

Doyle declared to the public his interest in Spiritualism and the occult by joining the Society for Psychical Research.  Then in September 1894, sailed to New York to give thirty lectures and arrived back in England by Christmas to see his new series “The Brigadier Gerard” stories published in the Strand Magazine.  They were an instant success with the readers.

In the winter of 1896, travelled to Egypt hoping the warmer climate would assist his wife’s health.  Whilst there he created the idea; “The Tragedy of the Korosko.”

Conan Doyle cared for his wife Louisa dearly, the mother of his two children and is said to have remained faithful whilst she lived.  Yet he fell in love with Jean Leckie in March of 1897, when she was twenty-four.  An intellectual woman, interested in sports and a mezzo-soprano singer with family ties to the legendary Scottish hero; Rob Roy.

It was about this time he wrote the play based on Sherlock Holmes, revised for the purpose by American actor, William Gillette, and the play became a success in America and England.

With the outbreak of the Boer War, Doyle volunteered for active service, but was turned down as a soldier but accepted as a doctor.  In February 1900, Doyle was not fighting bullets, but typhoid.

On his return he entered the world of politics, running for a seat in Central Edinburgh, one which he lost.  He did try again in 1906 London, and lost once again.

In August 1901 he released the first episode of his novel; “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in the Strand Magazine, which was to delight his fans and became a worldwide hit, as it still is to this day.

1902 was a great day for Arthur Conan Doyle, for he was knighted by King Edward VII for his services during the Boer War.

1903, the Strand magazine published, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes.”

On the 4th July 1906, his beloved wife Louisa and mother to his two children died in his arms.  He slipped into a state of depression which continued for many months.  A little over a year later on the 18th September 1907, Conan Doyle and Jean Leckie were married, and moved to Windlesham in East Sussex with his children

His literary works faded slightly as he shared his wife’s pursuits.  Produced a few plays, “Brigadier Gerard, The Tragedy of the Korosko” and “The House of Temperley” none of which fared well.

His next play was more captivating, for it featured Sherlock Holmes.  Original title was The “Stonor Case” and later named as “The Speckled Band” received rave reviews and was a success at the box office.

His son Denis Doyle (1909), Adrian Doyle (1910) and Jean Doyle (1912) were born to his wife Jean.

His new character Professor Challenger in “The Lost World” which involved a group stranded in South America whilst discovering prehistoric animal and plant life.  It was extended and became a set of five novels, which was noted as one of his masterpieces.

“The Valley of Fear” a Sherlock Holmes novel, was serialised in 1914 in the Strand magazine.  It was to disappoint some of its readers as Sherlock Holmes was not present much of the time.

In May of 1914 Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle visited New York and Canada returning to England within the month, for Conan sensed war was coming, and wanted to be back on home soil.  He was right and as World War One broke out he enlisted, but aged fifty-five he was turned down for active service. In the latter part of 1914, he released the novel “His Last Bow” a tale of intrigue where his famous character Sherlock Holmes steps in and infiltrates a German spy-ring and goes on to expose and destroy it.

In 1916, whilst writing “The British Campaign in France and Flanders” he was granted permission to view the battle fronts first-hand.  The horrors he witnessed would live with him for the rest of his life; blood soaked remains of fallen soldiers, lay in their thousands upon the battle fields.

The savagery of war left its mark with Doyle:

On the 28th October 1918 his son Kingsley Doyle died from pneumonia during convalescence after being badly wounded during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.  His brother Brigadier-General Innes Doyle died, from pneumonia in February in 1919.

Conan Doyle’s character of Sherlock Holmes, also carried through to Doyle himself.  Maybe that is why he rose up in defence of Sir Roger Casement, accused of being a traitor.  He proved without doubt a case of insanity which almost saved his life.  However his case failed on discovery of homosexuality which was classed as a criminal offence at that time.

Doyle switched direction in his latter years, to that of Science Fiction and Spiritualism.  As his involvement deepened in the occult, little fiction was written for he concentrated more on the subject of Spiritualism.

Then in 1926 released “The Land of Mist, The Disintegration Machine” and “When the World Screamed” a set of Professor Challenger mysteries

In 1928 he compiled twelve stories about Sherlock Holmes adventures which became known as “The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.”

Autumn 1929 and Conan Doyle was diagnosed as suffering with Angina Pectoris.  Then on a cold day in 1930, he rose from his bed at the family home; Windlesham Manor, Crowborough, East Sussex and was discovered in the garden clutching his heart and holding a single white snowdrop.

Arthur Conan Doyle died on Monday 7th July 1930 in the presence of his family, aged seventy-one.  His final words aimed at his wife were: You are wonderful.  He was buried on the 11th July 1930 in “Windlesham Rose Garden”

We have lived for many years, with Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories of the great detective SHERLOCK HOLMES, whether it be in book form or on television.

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