How shall I greet thee now, at thy return,
So often mark’d with sadness? Art thou, say
Once more arriv’d a harbinger of woes,
Precursor of a Year of miseries,
Of storms and persecutions, of the pangs
Of disappointed hope, and keen regrets …?
…Or art thou come
In most unwonted guise, O, fateful Day!
With cheering prophecy of kindlier times?—
Of hours of sweet retirement, tranquil joys
Of friendship, and of love—of studious ease,
Of philosophic thought—poetic dreams
In dell romantic, or by bubbling brook,
High wood, or rocky shore …
I figure that’s as good a way as any to begin the first of these sequester’d musings on my life with Thelwall, here in my own Llyswen (that’s what I call my big white farmhouse in rural Nova Scotia). After all, it’s the first of July (Canada Day), the month of his birth (and of mine), the first day of a six-month sabbatical, and out in my tangled garden the air smells of roses, the sun is shining sweetly, and everything is full of colour, promise, hope, new life. So I will take that as a good omen. I’ll go for the cheering prophecy, even though I know as well as he did not to trust such prophecies too far.
Just finishing my essay on the Fairy of the Lake for the Romantic Circles Scholarly Resources volume on John Thelwall in Peformance, the last of a long line of arts and acts arising from that wonderful conference that has made the last year so richly rewarding (and so breathlessly rushed). As I do so, I realize more than ever how Rowenna’s fatal flaw, her overanxious desire to know, her overanticipation of the future, speaks to Thelwall, and to me, hell, to all of us. So often looking ahead, worrying about duties and deadlines, wondering what will come to pass, rushing ever faster into that inevitably fatal future; so seldom stopping to smell the flowers of “tranquil joy,” “studious ease,” “poetic dreams” and friendship.
So I don’t know what form this blog will take. I’ve never done a blog before … but I’ve been keeping journals for 40 years, so how different can it be? I think I’ll just trust the future and let it take whatever form it wants, as the weather of my mind and mood dictates. I may start by what I’ve just done; that is, pulling out a passage and showing how it speaks to me. Doing what we’re trained not to do, but what suits me; mixing the critical and the anecdotal, the professional and the personal. But the personal IS the political, as I so often tell my classes. That’s not just true for woman writers. Thelwall knew that as well as anyone.
So, as a woman writer, what do I think about my life with Thelwall? Well, it’s been a pretty good relationship, off and on, for about the last 20 years (that’s when I conceived the Peripatetic project). But we’ve been together more seriously for the last 6-7 years, since I started following his footsteps all over the UK, and looking for Llyswen and finding it and the Derby MS. And after all that time, I feel I’ve come to know the man, as well as one can know a fella who’s been dead almost 2 centuries. He’s a little stiff, but otherwise a pretty good guy. Heroic, of course, for sticking to his principles and bouncing back after every defeat. Way ahead of his time. But also a good writer, lively, compelling, and rewarding, even though he’s often pompous, way too defensive and always longwinded (something we have in common). I think that’s because he is also able to play, to make fun, to laugh at himself in a way that so few of his contemporaries were able to do (except Byron). Major ego, lots of contradictions, but that never hurt a romantic writer either. Most of all it’s his voice that lives for me, loud and exuberant, always surprising, always invigorating. Transforming and transformative.
So that’s what this blog will be. Scenes from my life with Thelwall, reflections upon the words of Thelwall, responses to the voice of Thelwall. Product of my own studious ease, philosophic thought and poetic dreams. And so I may well call with him to “come!
Hours of long-wish’d tranquility! Ah come:
Snatch from my couch the thorn of anxious thought,
That I may taste the joys my soul best loves,
And find, once more, “that Being is a Bliss!”