Some more scenes from rural rambles this week, but first a note I spotted in an old notebook of mine, about Rose Aylmer. It was a post from 2016 by Karen Stapley, curator of India Office Records, on the brilliant British Library blog Untold Lives – in which fascinating stories about largely forgotten people are retrieved from the BL archives (link HERE).
Rose was the only daughter of Sir Henry Aylmer, 4th Lord Aylmer, and Catherine Whitworth. Catherine remarried on the death of her husband and moved to Wales. There the teenager Rose met the aspiring poet Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864 – quite an innings for a Victorian).
The two young people apparently loved to roam the local hills together, but in 1798, at the age of 18, Rose was dispatched to join her aunt in Kolkota (known then as Calcutta), possibly to take her away from what was considered an unsuitable match. Two years later she died of cholera.
Ms Stapley posts a picture of Rose’s (rather hideous) memorial in a Kolkata cemetery, which is adorned with some lines of verse ascribed in the post to Landor. These lines sounded a bit lumberingly Augustan to me; a quick Google search came up with the actual poet: Edward Young (c.1683-1765), one of the less cheerful 18C poets. They’re from perhaps his best-known poem, known as Night-Thoughts (published in nine parts, 1742-45). It’s a long, lugubrious blank-verse lament for dead people he’d known, including his wife. It’s also known for the fine illustrations by Blake in an edition of 1797.
Landor did indeed write a short poem on Rose’s death (quoted in full in the blog post); it’s not his finest work – but then he’s not the best of Victorian poets. The first two lines should suffice to demonstrate this:
Ah what avails the sceptred race,
Ah what the form divine!
One of the least appropriate uses of an exclamation mark that I’ve seen. Mercifully, there are only six more lines of this. But he was obviously heartbroken, so it’s churlish of me to sneer at his elegy.
The cause of Rose’s death was locally ascribed to her eating too many pineapples. The blog post tells us that it was commonly believed in the Indian community at the time that excessive consumption of juicy fruits (watermelons were another suspicious one) was a cause of cholera. How could anyone eat more than one pineapple at a sitting? Or was this over time?
People then were just so credulous about causes and cures for infection; luckily our world’s leaders today are more enlightened – especially when it comes to possible treatments. Like bleach, or light. Now a couple more pictures of recent walks: