Happy Birthday, Thomas Lovell Beddoes!

by Ann Neilson

tlb_portrait_branwhite2This strange, eccentric, dark poet, dramatist and physician of the nineteenth century was quite the odd fellow of his day. Beddoes, born July 20, 1803,* at Rodney Place, Clifton, was born to parents Anna and Thomas Beddoes (show below). Thomas Beddoes, who passed when Lovell Beddoes was only five years old, was a prestigious physician, and his mother was related to acclaimed novelist, Maria Edgeworth.

thomas_beddoes anna_beddoes

Beddoes’ earliest writing, written at just fourteen or fifteen years old, was “Cynthio and Bugboo,” written somewhere between 1817-1819. His next big piece, written in 1819, was the “Bride’s Tragedy,” which is one of his more famous and known works today. He was known to be mischievous in school, but was greatly interested in Elizabethan drama and continued to write into college. Attending Oxford, just his freshman year he released a pamphlet called the “Improvisatore,” however he made great attempts, later on in college, to rid of all evidence of these pieces. In 1822, he published the “Bride’s Tragedy,” which then took onto great praise by critics, and he was deemed a budding writer.

According to the Phantom Wooer online, “In an unpublished letter in 1824 Procter describes Beddoes as ‘innocently gay, with a gibe always on his tongue, a mischievous eye, and locks curling like the hyacinth…'” Just a little later, his mother passed away, and Beddoes was unable to see her for she had passed before he reached her. This put a hold on his career, however he graduated in 1825 with a bachelor’s and then took off to working on new pieces including “Torrismond,” one of his other very well known works today. He also began his great work, “Death’s Jest-Book.”

In July 1836, he went back to college at the university of Göttingen, where he remained for four years studying physiology, surgery, and chemistry. During this time, he finished his great piece, in its earliest form, “Death’s Jest-Book,” went back to Oxford in 1829 to obtain his M.A. degree, and obtained a degree of doctor of medicine in 1832.

It is said, “He had, however, by the open expression of democratic opinions, made himself obnoxious to the government, and before the diploma was actually conferred upon him he was obliged to fly out of the Bavarian dominions, and to take refuge at Strassburg. In 1833 he visited Zurich, and was so much pleased with it that, when his political intrigues had again made it impossible for him to remain in Germany, he settled down at Zurich in June 1835. He brought with him a considerable reputation as a physiologist, for Blumenbach, in a testimonial which exists, calls him the best pupil he ever had; and he now assumed his degree of M.D. The surgeon Schoelieu proposed him to the university as a professor, and he was elected, although the syndic, for a political reason, refused to ratify the election. Beddoes, however, continued to reside in Zurich for several years, and amassed there a scientific library of 600 volumes” (Phantom Wooer Online).

During this time, he witnessed the assassination of the minister, Hegetschweiber, a close friend of his, and this sparked great political fire in his heart. In August of 1842, he was in England, and went back and forth between England and Zurich before settling in England once more in 1846. According to Phantom Wooer, “his friends found him very much changed, and most eccentric in manner. He complained of neuralgia, and shut himself up for six months in his bedroom, reading and smoking. In June 1847 he finally quitted England, and settled for twelve months at Frankfort in the house of an actor named Degen, practising a little as a physician. Here in the early part of 1848 his blood became poisoned from the virus of a dead body entering a slight wound in his hand. This was overcome, but seriously affected his health and spirits. His republican friends had deserted him, and he felt disgusted with life.”

It is said he fell off a horse and shattered his leg in 1848, was hospitalized, and due to gang-green, his leg was amputated. He seemed in good spirits, and talked freely and happily about literature to his friends, however he mysteriously passed at 10:00pm January 26, 1849. On his bed was found a note stating to give a man named Kelsall, a good acquaintance of his and biographer and anthologist of Beddoes’ works, his manuscripts and works, as well as the following statement: “I ought to have been among other things a good poet.” He was buried in the cemetery of the hospital in Basel, Switzerland.

(All information taken from this webpage.) I suggest you take a look around their website, as it is full of a lot of information about Beddoes not stated here.

You can find Beddoes’ works, specifically his dramatical pieces, here and here; his letters here; and his poetry here and here.

*According to another source, on Wikipedia: “Although older sources give 20 July 1803 as Beddoes’ birthdate, recent ones favor 30 June. Compare Moulton’s Library of Literary Criticism (1966) against The New Moulton’s Library of Literary Criticism (1988) and subsequent sources. Ewulp (talk) 05:20, 28 May 2011 (UTC)” However, Kelsall, Thomas Lovell Beddoes’ very good friend and biographer, stated in his memoir written for Beddoes that he was born July 20th. I believe he was born July 20th.

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