The Tomb of Talent - Cover Page Target Publication Dorset Life (the layout, font size and general appearance is reflective of this publication).
Interviewee Names - Reverend Dr Ian Terry, Team Rector of Bournemouth’s St Peter’s Church - John Walker, Local Bournemouth historian and tour guide - Peter Kazmierczak, Senior Heritage Librarian of Bournemouth Library
Photo Credits As Dorset Life doesn’t include photo accreditations in their layouts, I have provided them below. - ‘Shelley Family Grave’ – All rights reserved by ‘red-eye’. Accessed from Flickr – available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/33894481@N04/4915450463/ - ‘Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’ (1840) – Copyright National Portrait Gallery. Author: Richard Rothwell (1800-1868) - ‘The Funeral of Shelley’ – Copyright Liverpool Museums. Author: Louis Edouard Fournier (1857 – 1917) - Boscombe Manor c1930 – All rights reserved by ‘BOURNEMOUTH GRANT’. Accessed from Flickr – available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/45065527@ N08/5923283328/in/set-72157629292244298 - Boscombe Manor 2011 - All rights reserved by ‘BOURNEMOUTH GRANT’. Accessed from Flickr – available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/45065527@ N08/5922597369/in/photostream/
Word Count 1371
Author Toby Gray - i7949114
dors et hi story
The Shelley family tomb in St. Peters churchyard, Bournemouth
The Tomb of Talent Laid to rest in Bournemouth’s prestigious St. Peters Church sits one of the most celebrated graves in British history. With a mysterious heart enshrined and an epitomical past plucked straight from its romanticism roots, Toby Gray explains When Mary Shelley, author of classic gothic novel Frankenstein died in March 1851 after suffering from a long bout of illness, she declared Bournemouth her desired resting place despite never living there. The move came from her son Percy Florence Shelley’s plans to relocate there two years before Mary’s death in a plea that the south coast’s warmer climate would ail his mothers dwindling health. Cruelly, she died just one month before Boscombe Manor as its now titled was fit for residence and on her death bed, requested together with the remains of her parents who lay in St Pancras in London, that she be buried in Bournemouth, to remain ever close to the family home. Her parents, early controversial feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and political writer and novelist William Godwin were well respected literary figures in their own right, and according to local Bournemouth historian John Walker; “Sir Percy must have had some clout” as at the same time of her death, their remains were reinterred at St. Peters. Together with the final additions to the tomb, Percy
Florence and his wife Lady Jane, who switched between their homes in London and Bournemouth for the latter stages of their lives, the tomb was complete and rightfully dubbed ‘The Tomb of Talents’ from there on out. The grave itself sits respectfully modest in the churchyard, remaining a monument the town is unashamedly proud of without ever tainting its memory by commodifying it. Revd Dr. Ian Terry, Team Rector of Bournemouth’s St Peter’s Church explains the “honour” in holding host to the tomb, reiterating the importance in appreciating Shelley’s legacy to the town. “A fundamentally important part of what it is to be Bournemouth is that it attracts a wide variety of people, many of whom contribute a lot to the world, and writers like Mary Shelley have done just that.” “St Peters is a place where those memories are gathered together and hallowed. It teaches us how we can take the memory of the past and most creatively be human in the present.” Appreciations are never far gone either. Floral tributes 34
The Tomb of Talent
Above ‘Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’ by Richard Rothwell (1840)
are regularly left on the grave and theatre productions have been performed based on her life. Walker explains that “because of Frankenstein, it is the most visited monument in the town and the outside world has nowhere else to link her to.” Whilst Revd Terry maintains doing more to promote the memory of the Shelley’s is an “aspiration for the future”, the sentiment will ever remain respectful in celebrating Bournemouth’s pride. Talking to Peter Kazmierczak, Senior Heritage Librarian of Bournemouth Library, he said the upmost sensitivity is needed in promoting the grave. “Over 150 years ago Sir Percy Shelley commissioned Henry Weekes (a famous portrait sculptor of the day) to create a memorial in white marble to his parents. It was originally intended for St Peter’s Church, but the then vicar, the Rev Morden Bennett took the view that it might attract unwelcome publicity and make the church too much of a show-place. Today however, there is a blue plaque situated on the wall to the
Left ‘The Funeral of Shelley’ by Louis Edouard Fournier (1889) showing Mary kneeling on the left, is considered to be inconsistent 35
left hand side of the church.” Not only does the tomb contain a plethora of literary talent, it also holds host to a mysterious gem that only adds to its mystic qualities; the remains of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s heart, Mary’s late husband. Percy died in 1822, 29 years before Mary, after he drowned in the Gulf of Spezzia in Italy after a violent storm. His body, washed ashore several days later was cremated there and then on a beach at Via Reggio due to quarantine laws of the time. With the likes of Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron, (although Walker explains Byron retired to his yacht as he couldn’t face the scene) all in attendance, according to reports, they noticed remarkably, the heart “refused to burn” and decided impromptu to snatch it from the pyre. But where was Mary in all this? Walker claims, although he always doubted she was there, it was never confirmed whether Mary was taken along to the pyre. English pre-Victorian custom did forbid woman from attending funerals due to health reasons, but seeing as the ceremony took place in Italy, her whereabouts remain uncertified. A painting titled “The Funeral of Shelley” (below) by Louis Edouard Fournier; the same year are Percy Florence’s death, does show Mary kneeling on the left side, yet the general consensus is the artwork is wildly inconsistent with its reality. In fact, Shelley, ostracized by much of society as a subversive before receiving acclaim long after his death, in part due to Mary’s tireless promotion of his work, was burnt in a metal furnace dragged to shore in an albeit respectful, yet speedy disposal of his body. Historians may never discover Mary’s true location at the time of Percy’s cremation, but most accounts agree, Walker included, the heart was presented to her by Edward Trelawny, a long time friend of Percy. Rumours exist of his reluctance to hand over the remains, after allegedly capturing the heart as a gruesome souvenir for himself. In his own words however, Trelawny explained the “the fire was as fierce as to produce a white heat on the iron, and reduce its contents to grey ashes.” An extraordinary occurrence, comparable only to the fantasy of fiction, with symbolic connotations of romance Percy himself would be proud of. Imagine it
within one of his writings; the heart refuses to abide by nature’s law to rest eternally with its rightful soulmate. Ironic then, that such a serendipitous act was so compliant with the motifs of Shelley’s literature. His final, most poignant love gesture epitomised the Romantic Movement without him ever realising it. In what may appear aberrant to some, Mary’s true affinity to the heart remains strewed in a misted guise. One fathoms to explain the pulsation of emotions she must have experienced when presented with such a memento; conflicted with eternal memory of her partner alongside the stark inelegance of its ownership. Details of such possession are again clouded. Several accounts suggests when she received the heart, it remained wrapped in Percy’s famous elegy to Keats Adonais under her desk until her death. Walker admits details of their location are unknown before her passing
Ironic then, that such a serendipitous act was so compliant with the motifs of Shelley’s literature. His final, most poignant love gesture epitomised the Romantic Movement without him ever realising it. in 1851 but maintains they were well preserved in Boscombe Manor up until son Percy Florence Shelley’s death in 1889, 67 years after Bysshe. The heart, alongside the body of Percy Florence and Lady Jane, was then finally buried with him and remains there until this day. Rumours do exists that Percy Florence and Lady Jane opened Mary’s grave a year after her death with the heart already enclosed, yet Walker was quick to reinforce the previous, more consensual account. “I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have been allowed to open the tomb a year after her death; I’ve never heard that one.” Regardless of the hearts journey, and the elusive mystery behind how it became so subservient to heat, its eventual arrival remains a remarkable notch in Bournemouth’s history. Romantics will see it as a last defiant love symbol from Percy’s body, answering fate’s call to rest eternally with Mary, whilst cynics will question the biology of his ‘heart of stone’. Studies have arisen over plausible causes, including a 1955 article from the Journal of the History of Medicine, which suggested Shelley may have actually suffered from a “progressively calcifying heart” which would have rendered it resistant to cremation much like a skull or fragment of bone. Another story, dated 1885 from the New York Times suggests Trelawny may have actually taken Percy’s liver instead of his heart due to its density, although this was never proved. A claim, that if true, debases the romance of the tale somewhat, but leave it to the experts to scrabble over the whole science versus destiny debate, and let us appreciate the grave for what it is. Resting right here in Dorset, sitting peacefully atop a modest churchyard in the centre of Bournemouth, lies a tomb with a wealth of pride and history worthy of its inhabitants. And when such a grave contains some of the most influential, talented writers of the past four centuries, such compliments aren’t awarded lightly. Many thanks local Bournemouth historian John Walker for his help and guidance.
Above Boscombe Manor (c1930) where the heart is believed to have stayed until 1889 Below Boscombe Manor in 2011. After refurbishment, the building now contains flats, a surgery and a theatre
Left ‘Percy Bysshe Shelley’ by Alfred Clint (c.1829) 36
Published on Jul 1, 2012
Part of a university assignment, this feature articles takes a look at the history surrounding the Shelley Family Tomb laid to rest in Bourn...