Today’s post has nothing to do with Sandition, although Laurel’s really fascinating Group Read of Jane Austen’s fragment continues at Austenprose.
But it does concern a seaside resort of which Jane Austen was fond, Lyme Regis, and the Lyme Regis Philpot Musem’s attempt to publish a manuscript “epic” poem about the town written in 1819. Mary Godwin ,the museum’s curator, has very kindly supplied me with some images and quotes from the poem so that I can share news of their project with you here.
The Lyme Regis Philpot Museum has had in its collection since 1978, a manuscript which was given to the museum by the artist, Laurence Whistler.
Called The Lymiad, or Letters from Lyme to a friend in Bath by a Unknown Gentlewoman, the manuscript consists of a series of eight letters all written in verse, about the town of Lyme and it inhabitants as they were in 1819.
Each letter describes in turn, the streets and lodgings, the sea and beach, the civil war siege and Monmouth, the assembly room,; the mayor and worthies of the town, theatrically entitled, the dramatis personae
the surrounding scenery and bad weather; and, finally, departure from the resort. All of which would have been familiar to Jane Austen who visited the town in September 1804.
The writer John Fowles who in 1978 had just started his ten-year stewardship of the Museum as its Honorary Curator, was very intrigued by the new addition to the collection. After reading it he was so impressed with The Lymiad that he regarded it as among the Museum’s most precious possessions.
He liked it for its wit and satirical humour and its vivid evocation of the manners and pastimes of a small Regency seaside resort:
Say, is there not the mostly group among,
One generous bard, one gentle “child of song”
To celebrate thy wonders, matchless Lyme!,
In all the wild luxuriance of rhyme? …
Each letter in turn looks at at the streets and lodgings; the sea and beach; the civil war siege and Monmouth; the assembly rooms; the mayor and worthies; scenery and bad weather; and finally departure from the resort by the narrator.
The Lymiad contains many vivid portraits of local residents: for example in this extract The Lymeiad’s author probably refers to the geologist, Henry de la Beche’s sailing boat:
That “Blood-red flag” which gaily floats
On the full-swelling breeze, denotes
The Conrad Sir Fopling Fossil’s pride;…
He is the most accomplished youth,
That is, if Madame Fame speaks truth;
And more than this I cannot tell,
But some who know Sir Fopling well,
Inform me he’s a F.G.S.
During the 1980s John Fowles made a transcript of the poem, prepared a general introduction and made some explanatory notes on local references within it.
In 1997 the manuscript, which was on display in the Museum, came to the attention of Dr. John Constable, then Professor of English Literature in Kyoto University. During consultations with John Fowles over the next few years, Professor Constable studied the transcript and wrote a substantial introduction to it. He considers that The Lymiad is
“a highly political and a thoroughly Whig poem, with some leanings towards the left of that party, though stopping short of Radicalism itself.”
In this extract the author is poking fun at the fact that Lyme was a “rotten borough” in the control of the Fane family, the most senior member of that family being the Earl of Westmoreland:
Know then my friend, since last I wrote,
Here hath been pass’d a day of note,
When ‘tis the fashion to declare,
Who next shall be our worthy Mayor.
This day is honoured every year
By presence of a noble peer,…
The town of voters hath but few;
So few, that at th’Election last…
Th’Electors, and elected too,
In one horse chaise appear’d to view:
Sadly, John Fowles died in 2005 before any publication of the poem could be undertaken. But now the Lyme Museum has decided to ask for subscribers so that a first and fully annotated edition can be published.
The Museum has already secured some grants towards the cost of producing the book from charitable foundations and other donors, but in order to complete the task of publishing this manuscript they now need to attract 100 subscribers, who will pledge £20 per volume, and whose names will be recorded in the publication itself.
Once sufficient numbers of subscribers have been received the publication project will be able to be got underway.
If you go here you will find a form that can be copied, filled in and sent to the present curator of the Lyme museum, Mary Godwin (and she will even accept subscriptions made by copying and pasting the form in an email: I know because that how I subscribed) .
If you would like any more details of the publication her email address is
replacing “at” and “dot” with the necessary to fool spammers ;-)
The Lyme Regis Museum’s publication of The Lymiad will rather fittingly and touchingly be dedicated to John Fowles’s memory.
Do note that the new edition will not be a facsimile of the original manuscript. Instead, it is being cleverly designed to appear as it might have done in had it been published in 1819 .It will have stitched pages and marbled card covers .
I understand that the edition will contain an essay by John Fowles on Lyme in the early 1800s which he revised in 2003, a general introduction and textual notes by John Constable, a transcription of the text complete with editorial notes by John Fowles, John Constable and Jo Draper and that it will be illustrated with pictures from the Museum’s wonderful collection, which have also been selected by Jo Draper.
I have already subscribed because I am absolutely fascinated by the thought of reading an insider’s view of the place Jane Austen visited and liked so much that she ensured that pivotal scenes from Persuasion occurred there . And also because I adore this museum, and try visit it every time I visit Lyme.
I do hope that some of you may be sufficiently interested to subscribe to this fascinating pubication project too.