Claire Clairmont: the Epilogue

If you’ve followed my previous post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/allegra-con-spirito/ some of you may ask what happened to Claire Clairmont, Allegra’s mother.

The first thing to note is that it wasn’t until 2010 that Claire’s paternity was confirmed. She was born of a liaison between Mary Jane Vial Clairmont  and Sir John Lethbridge, Baronet of Sandhill Park in Somerset.

Mary Jane Vial Clairmont became William Godwin’s second wife when Mary Wollstonecraft died in giving birth to Mary Shelley. Incidentally, Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ is this year celebrating its two hundredth birthday and Mary spent much of her time in Bagni di Lucca following the rave reviews her recently published book were receiving.

Claire’s original name was Clara Mary Jane Clairmont but she decided to change it to Claire Clairmont as it sounded to her rather more modish.

After the affair with Lord Byron Claire never had any confirmed sexual relationship with any man. Indeed, she openly disdained the male sex, although there is circumstantial evidence that Claire may have been involved in a ménage a trois with Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary and even had a child by him.

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(Claire Clairmont aged 21, painted  by Amelia Currum)

Certainly the following poem by Shelley appears to have been dedicated to her.

Constantia turn!
In thy dark eyes a power like light doth lie
Even though the sounds which were thy voice, which burn
Between thy lips, are laid to sleep:
Within thy breath, and on thy hair
Like odour, it is yet,
And from thy touch like fire doth leap.
Even while I write, my burning cheeks are wet
Alas, that the torn heart can bleed, but not forget!

Claire travelled around Europe as a governess and music teacher, staying in Vienna, Dresden and Moscow among other places. She returned to England in 1836 and, after years of estrangement from her, cared for her dying mother.

In the 1840s Claire lived in Paris and unexpectedly converted to Roman Catholicism despite her former diatribes against Allegra’s convent upbringing. In 1870 Claire moved to Florence where she died in 1879.

Coincidentally, Claire is buried in a cemetery we know rather well. It’s near Antella where there is a very beautiful chapel with frescoes by Spinello Aretino which I have described in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/do-you-know-granacci-or-larciani/

It’s also the cemetery where Mr and Mrs Cr*****li, two Florentines who were our good friends for many years, are buried.

There on the pavement of the Cimitero Della Misericordia at Antella is Claire’s final resting place with her original baptismal names inscribed. She outlived most of her set dying at the age of 81.

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Within the little known but beautifully located cemetery also lie the mortal remains of Fanny Targioni Tozzetti, so deeply loved by Giacomo Leopardi who dedicated Il Ciclo di Aspasia to her, (for me Italy’s own version of Shelley both in his intense lyricism and deep philosophy). There too lies buried Bladine Gravine daughter of Hans Von Bulow and Cosima, (Liszt’s daughter, before she left him and became Mrs Wagner instead).

We can never guess when death will take us and we shall never suppose where we’ll be laid to rest.

And for the moment we can hardly predict when this sad, seemingly endless Tuscan rain will cease descending upon us.

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Even near his last moment on this earth the little child haunted him. Before setting sail and meeting the storm that would swallow him up in the bay of La Spezia in July 1822 he saw an image of her rising naked from the waves, laughing at him, clapping her hands and beckoning him to follow her.

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Last week I saw her too: a little girl playing in the churchyard of Harrow-on-the-Hill giving life among the tombs like the snowdrops and the daffodils rising early to beckon the spring all about me.

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And yet she was dead: at just five years old and, since she was the fruit of an unsanctified union, without even a memorial to her – until 1980 – one hundred and fifty eight years later, after she died of malarial fever without her mother or father or step-sister by her in a lonely convent at Bagnacavallo near the venetian marshlands and lagoons.

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Remorse evermore overcame the father.

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As he wrote to the Countess of Blessington,

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(The beautiful Countess Blessington: a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence)

“While she lived, her existence never seemed necessary to my happiness; but no sooner did I lose her, than it appeared to me as if I could not live without her”

The mother of the little angel ever accused the father of having murdered her.

Happy was her name, ‘Allegra’, and I was near her final resting place by the porch of Harrow’s mediaeval parish church of Saint Mary.

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The sky was Italian blue, birds were singing and three crows hovered around the church steeple. I was quite alone with Allegra to reflect on her short, beleaguered life.

Conceived during a night of ecstatic love-making near Lake Geneva such as Claire Clairmont would ever afterwards remind Lord Byron afterwards in her letters, the mother decided to give guardianship of the child, originally named Alba (‘dawn’, also ‘Albé was Claire’s nickname for her famous lover) to Byron, hoping that his Lordship would give the child the means not only to be raised properly but also, in later life, to enter into aristocratic circles and make a fine marriage.

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(Claire Clairmont)

By this time, however, Byron had taken a distaste to ever seeing the buxom, temperamental brunette Claire ever again and took Allegra with him to Venice where he joined his Mistress of mistresses the Contessa Teresa Guiccioli.

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(Another beautiful Contessa: Teresa Guiccioli)

Allegra was at first a somewhat unruly child but with precocious gifts for mimicry and a singing voice. She could, indeed, have become an actress. She also forgot her English and her first language now became the Venetian dialect – another language really and used to perfection by such great writers as Carlo Goldoni.

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For Allegra’s education the capuchin convent of Bagnacavallo was chosen. The nuns’ regime calmed her down a little although she was never seriously punished for breaking the convent rules.

Meanwhile Claire was furious that her daughter was being brought up in a convent. She was told that Allegra was now constantly invoking her saints and the Virgin Mary. Percy Bysshe Shelley, a practising atheist, was also slightly concerned about this religious fervour. He visited Allegra twice and found her health declining.

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(Percy Bysshe Shelley)

Allegra, or ‘Allegrina’ as she was called by the convent nuns who doted on her, only saw her father twice and fleetingly at that and her mother nevermore.

In his poem ‘Julian and Maddalo, a conversation’, partly written at Bagni di Lucca, Shelley described Allegra thus:

A lovelier toy sweet Nature never made;
A serious, subtle, wild, yet gentle being;
Graceful without design, and unforeseeing;
With eyes – O speak not of her eyes! which seem
Twin mirrors of Italian heaven, yet gleam
With such deep meaning as we never see
But in the human countenance.

Meanwhile, Claire was becoming ever more worried about her daughter (who would not have recognised or bonded with her anyway). She devised a plan with Shelley to take Allegra away from what she regarded as the unhealthy country round Bagnacavallo to the fresh air and verdant hills of Bagni di Lucca. A letter was forged in the name of Byron to authorise Allegra to be taken away to Bagni di Lucca but, at the last moment, Shelley dropped out of the plan, perhaps realising that his and Mary Shelley’s own experience with bringing up children had been disastrous, with only one surviving into manhood out of four offspring.

Poor Allegra remained at Bagnacavallo. She reminded Shelley to tell her mother she wanted a kiss and a gold dress and would he please beg her “Papa and Mammina to visit her”.

Allegra even wrote, with a little help from the nuns, a note to her dad, Lord Byron: “My dear Papa. It being fair-time, I should like so much a visit from my Papa as I have many wishes to satisfy. Won’t you come to please your Allegrina who loves you so”?

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The note remained unanswered.

So many things remain unanswered in our lives as I pondered the mystery of existence and death in Harrow Church’s graveyard.

In it there is also another recollection of Byron: the Peachy tomb upon which the poet would muse when a boy at the school (which now celebrates four hundred years since its foundation) and by which he wrote these lines, half of which are now inscribed on a stone by the moss-covered sepulchre.

 

Lines Written Beneath An Elm In The Churchyard Of Harrow On The Hill, Sept. 2, 1807

Spot of my youth! whose hoary branches sigh,
Swept by the breeze that fans thy cloudless sky;
Where now alone I muse, who oft have trod,
With those I loved, thy soft and verdant sod;
With those who, scattered far, perchance deplore,
Like me, the happy scenes they knew before:
Oh! as I trace again thy winding hill,
Mine eyes admire, my heart adores thee still,
Thou drooping Elm! beneath whose boughs I lay,
And frequent mused the twilight hours away;
Where, as they once were wont, my limbs recline,
But ah! without the thoughts which then were mine.
How do thy branches, moaning to the blast,
Invite the bosom to recall the past,
And seem to whisper, as the gently swell,
“Take, while thou canst, a lingering, last farewell!”

When fate shall chill, at length, this fevered breast,
And calm its cares and passions into rest,
Oft have I thought, ‘twould soothe my dying hour,—
If aught may soothe when life resigns her power,—
To know some humbler grave, some narrow cell,
Would hide my bosom where it loved to dwell.
With this fond dream, methinks, ’twere sweet to die—
And here it lingered, here my heart might lie;
Here might I sleep, where all my hopes arose,
Scene of my youth, and couch of my repose;
For ever stretched beneath this mantling shade,
Pressed by the turf where once my childhood played;
Wrapped by the soil that veils the spot I loved,
Mixed with the earth o’er which my footsteps moved;
Blest by the tongues that charmed my youthful ear,
Mourned by the few my soul acknowledged here;
Deplored by those in early days allied,
And unremembered by the world beside.

Ironically, this was the same spot where George Gordon Lord Byron lover, warrior, and supreme romantic poet had wished to be buried. (As he wrote “where I once hoped to have laid my own.”)

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(The wonderful view looking towards Windsor Castle  from Peachy’s Tomb, Harrow-on-the-Hill)

His wish, however, was refused by the sanctimonious vicar of the time, shocked at the ‘scandalous’ life the poet had led.

Allegra was born in Bath (The English Bagni)

She was brought up at Bagnacavallo (literally horse-wash – perhaps it was a stopping post for coaches and diligences where horses were cooled down) and where she died as this plaque on the convent wall confirms:

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Allegra was almost abducted to Bagni di Lucca where Percy Bysshe Shelley, Claire Clairmont, Mary Shelley and George Gordon Byron had all stayed. I wonder whether she would have fared better here. I think so.

Overlooking the superb views of London from Battels Café (where one can get an excellent capuccino)  and near Allegra’s final resting place, quite alone under an aquamarine Mediterranean-like sky I meditated upon the utter strangeness of life just as I had done a week previously by Percy Bysshe Shelley’s monument at Viareggio:

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LERICI ELEGY

Unbound, you look across the seaside square,
beyond cool lime trees by the promenade,
towards the sea which took your every care
and washed your corpse on shore like broken shard.

From books inside your coat they knew you were
a poet. After, like an Indian sage,
they burnt you on gold sands just to deter
infection: regulations of the age.

Proscribed by man, by sea cast out as well,
your works don’t live in blaze of glorious light;
they seem but little read nor do they sell:
perhaps mankind now lacks ethereal sight.

The highest poets live beyond their time,
their verses are addressed to unborn souls;
the hour’s not right: our thoughts are not sublime,
that’s why your poetry rarely consoles.

Yet moments ripen and your name’s still known
as long as you gaze out across the square
towards the sea and the supreme unknown,
as long as there is sun and moon and air.

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PS For reference here’s a genealogical tree for Byron, Shelley and Claire to sort out any confusion:

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And here’s a selection of reading about Allegra starting from Iris Origo’s pioneering book written in 1935 and first published by Leonard and Virginia Wolf.

 

You’ll find plenty of books (and not just on Shelley) at Bagni di Lucca’s own ‘Shelley House.’ For more information see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/bagni-di-luccas-casa-shelley/

 

Septet

Gone are the days when furtive manuscripts of one’s literary efforts would circulate in arcane circles. New technologies have changed all that. The internet is, of course, full of poems and novels which haven’t seen the light of day on printed paper and Kindle downloads are ever more frequent.

However, there is nothing quite like handling a real book, feeling the texture of the paper, scenting its nuances and turning its pages.

Bagni di Lucca’s new book-shop Shelley House is also a publishing house with its Edizioni Cinque Marzo. We were, therefore, quite thrilled when the house agreed to accept for publication a little book in which Sandra and I had collaborated.

Called ‘Septet.’ it combines seven of Sandra’s contributions to Bagni di Lucca’s extempore arts festival with seven of my poems.

I quote from the introduction:

This little collection of paintings and poems represents a collaboration between artist Alexandra Cipriani Pettitt and poet Francis Pettitt.

Alexandra has attended art courses at Greenwich Community College and has exhibited at Woodlands Art gallery, Blackheath and the Citizen’s Gallery, Woolwich London. Francis has had poems anthologised in collections. This is the first time, however, he has put some of his poems together in a little book.

Alexandra has been a regular contributor to Bagni di Lucca’s extempore painting competition since 2008 and we felt it would be a good idea to combine Alexandra’s paintings together with some of Francis’ poems which could be described as both complimentary and complementary.

The countryside around Bagni di Lucca has inspired both painters and poets throughout the centuries and the prints at the start and the end of the collection evoke this fact.

We hope that our small contribution will add to the awareness of the beauty of Bagni di Lucca and encourage more people to visit this inspiring part of the world.

Septet is on sale, price 6 Euros, at Shelley House which is open from Thursday to Saturday (See my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/bagni-di-luccas-casa-shelley/ for further information).

Here is a page from the book to whet your appetite:

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Perhaps you too may have some manuscript lurking in your desk drawer which could well see the light of day. Certainly, to see one’s efforts displayed in a shop window gives a good feeling!

 

Shock Horror at Penny Market

The late, great Dave Allen ranted wittily about many of his pet hates, one of the worst of which was supermarkets.

Well, the worse has happened! Our local Penny Market has reorganized its layout so that essential items like bread and booze require intrepid exploratory expeditions to uncover their delights.

No longer is the drinks section within staggering distance of the entrance doors, for example, but stuck right at the end.

Pet lovers will be glad to know, however, that their four-pawed friends’ supplies are still on the same corridor. I don’t know whether that shows greater love for animals or for humans…

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I suppose I’ll get used to the new layout which, actually, has a certain logic to it as the bread is more artistically displayed and the fish receives more space.

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But watch out also for these signs in Italenglish!

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There is an Italian word for food, believe it or not. It’s either ’cibo’ or ‘alimentari’ so why not use it?

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The ‘shock’ (also spelt ‘scioc’) here does not of course, refer to the new layout but to the discounted prices. It’s a wonder I haven’t suffered a heart attack with so many ‘scioc’ in Penny when I visited it this morning on my return from the Britannic isles. Perhaps I must be ‘sciocco’ (= stupid).

Incidentally, the weather here in Val di Lima appears to have been depressingly awful with constant drizzle and grey skies. Quite the opposite in London where the temperature dropped to minus four with crisp blue skies dotted with a few shapely clouds.

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(Weather from our hovel in Val di Lima today)

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(Weather in the garden of our villa (wish!!!) in London)

Perhaps the only meteorological prediction I can rely on is that if the weather is awful in the UK it must be wonderful in Italy and vice versa.

Remember those old-fashioned barometers from Tyrolean landladies with two figures, one swinging indoors and the other outdoors, to signify the weather forecast? Perhaps I should buy one of those and call the respective figurines Mr UK and Mrs Italy.

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PS To hear Dave Allen on Supermarkets click on arrow below:

 

(PPS Health warning: If you suffer from a weak heart take the recquired medication before listening….)

Britex or Brexit?

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During my recent short stay in London I’ve learnt a neologism, Brexit, i.e Britain’s Exit from the E. C.  I’ve also learnt that all the arguments for leaving the European Community seem to concentrate on people actually living in the UK. What about ex-pats, of which there are well over two million spread across Europe, the vast majority of which are the one million living in Spain? Italy has 33,000 ex-pats.

If they’ve registered correctly British residents living outside the UK but within the EC should consider the way they vote in the forthcoming referendum very carefully. If the United kingdom does decide to opt out of the EC the most extreme scenario would be the following for ex-pats in Italy.

1. Expats would have to apply for visas which could only be renewed if, at regular intervals, they leave Italy to then re-enter for yet another application to be valid.

2. They would have to attend compulsory citizenship classes and pass exams in speaking and writing italian. i.e. they would have to prove that they are making efforts to integrate within the community.

3. Those on pensions from abroad would have those pensions frozen.

4. Queues at airports such as Pisa would be much longer since ex-pats returning to Italy would have to go through the standard procedures applicable to non EC members (something to declare!).

5. Any money, however earned in Italy would be subject to the highest tax rates, and any ex-pat business in Italy would be even more enchained by bureaucratic processes.

6. Any family member wishing to join expats would be subject to the same checks that are applied to eg. refugees coming from Afghanistan who wish to join family member in the EC.

7. Property buying and car ownership would be a much more protracted business.

8. All expats would have to regularly register and re-register at the local police station. If they decide on a holiday abroad from Italy then they would have to inform the authorities of the same.

9. Provided that they pass their italian literacy and language exams, ex-pats would then have to swear an oath of allegiance to the Italian state.

10. Import-export contracts and even just bringing in a pop-up toaster to Italy would be subject to scrutiny by the fiscal police and clearly most baggage would be examined by the relevant customs officers at all points of arrival or departure in the country.

Fancy going along with David or with Boris now?

The only solution to this worst-case scenario is find a nice Italian partner or at least one with dual Italian/other country nationality (as I have done) and marry in Bagni di Lucca’s town hall. Otherwise, swot up your Italian to the recquired standard and hope for the best.

Straw polls show that at this moment both yes and no parties in the UK are neck and neck. Certainly, Boris is working wonders for the No vote. So either get out your Italian grammar books, swot up your italian history, learn the words to the Italian national anthem or keep a look-out for an Italian passport bearing attractive human with whom you feel you might be able to tie the knot!

A House of Great Music

He could have returned any moment for all I knew. The bedroom where he would practise on that same guitar he’d bought for a few dollars (still there displayed in a glass case), the rugs he’d brought back from his trip to Morocco, his monopoly set, his two telephones, always ringing for him…. It seemed just as if the room had been photographed with him there when he declared it had been the first time he’d had his own house. Yet the place had just been opened to the public last week and the greatest rock guitarist the world has ever known had been dead for almost fifty years.

His record collection, vinyl of course, was there. The three studio albums including the greatest double album in rock history released the same year I’d gone with a girl friend to hear him live at knebworth on his only British date for that year (I still have her school scarf, she may still have mine) – it was truly a time warp back to London’s swinging sixties.

Two neighbours separated by a wall and two hundred years yet with unexpected similarities.. Both hailed from foreign countries and revolutionised music in Britain. Both were idolized by their fans. Both caused factions to arise and arguments to ensue regarding their compositions.Both used inventive ground bases, riffs, unheard of sound effects and both were essentially generous souls who loved playing for the public but, at the same time, held preciously to their private lives.

The Handel Hendrix house in London’s west end is a great unifier in the world of music lovers. The only divisions to be made are those between bad and good music and the great guitarist was fascinated to realize that he lived next door in history to another great instrumentalist, this time on the organ.

Indeed, among his record collection are two well worn recordings of the Messiah and Alexander’s feast.

1970 was a year of terrible losses for the music world, especially rock. Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix all left us, as indeed this year further losses like the iconic David Bowie have returned to the planets from whence they fell to earth.

But music is a manifestation of eternity and our visit yesterday to the Handel,and now Hendrix too, museum was a moving example of this beautiful truth..a great highlight in a city full of highlights!

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