Saturday, April 16, 2011

John Taaffe, Mary Shelley, the guinea pigs and Lord Byron

The long and winding road of Charles Street in 1871 certainly has provided a few surprises, out on the genealogical limbs.

From Sir George Lambert of No. 3, I have wound my way to John Taaffe, a distant relative of Lambert's admittedly, but an interesting individual to dwell on for a moment longer.

John Taaffe (approximately 1787 to 1852) was born into an Irish family with a long pedigree. They were Catholics who by various marriages and alliances seem to have become closely connected with other prominent Catholic families, notably in Italy and Austria, and probably also in France.

In his later years, Taaffe wrote a history of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, in which order he held a prominent office. But, this was not his first foray. He was a writer all his life, and that is where the most interesting stories come from: his association with other writers, especially Byron and the Shelleys in Italy.

You can see on the Web pictures of a letter from Lord Byron to Taaffe, and of Taaffe's handwritten annotations in one of Shelley's books.

Letter from Lord Byron to John Taaffe. This came up for auction in October 2010 and again in April 2011. This description of the letter, from International Autograph Auctions, suggests a price range of 1,000 to 1,200
pounds and dates the letter as ca. 1822.

In Pictures and Conversations, the blog of "Rare Finds from Special Collections at The Claremont Colleges", there are pictures of Shelley's book Adonais, 1822 Pisa edition, heavily annotated in Taaffe's handwriting. In the front, Taaffe has written that the poem (meaning the book containing the poem) was given to him by its "lamented Author".

From A bibliography of Shelley's letters: published and unpublished, by Seymour de Ricci (Ayer Publishing, 1969; extracts only viewed online, actual book not seen)

From "In the wind's eye": 1821-1822, one of several volumes of Byron's letters, by Leslie Alexis Marchand (Harvard University Press, 1979; extracts only viewed online, actual book not seen)

And finally, to elaborate on Ms. Shelley's opinion of and dealings with Mr. Taaffe, here is a good story.

From Mary Shelley: romance and reality, by Emily W. Sunstein. (JHU Press, 1971; extracts only viewed online, actual book not seen)

 As comedically unwise as it may be to follow the romance of the guinea pigs, there is one more thing to deal with: the Dracula connection. That's for next time.

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