Monday, 23 July 2012

Alfred Tennyson in Cheltenham

Most people associate Alfred Tennyson with Lincolnshire, with good reason. The sights and sounds of the North Sea coast at Mablethorpe haunt his poetry - 'Break, break, break/On thy cold grey stones, O Sea'. However, the poet spent lots of time in Cheltenham in the 1830s and 1840s, partly because his widowed mother and his siblings took a house in the town, but also in the hope of improving his health. You can see his house with its plaque in St James's Square.

Photos of house & plaque from Reading Matters <accessed 23 July 2012>

Tennyson's father, Dr George Tennyson, had 'taken the waters' at Cheltenham Spa like many other eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century health-seekers. By the 1840s, a new and more dangerous procedure had become the rage. Practitioners believed that bad circulation produced chronic disease, and that stimulating the circulation with cold baths, cold wraps (patients swaddled in sheets dipped in icy water and left for several hours) and cold showers, plus plenty of cold water to drink, would allow the body to purge toxins. 'Hydropathic' establishments often appeared in spa towns like Cheltenham and Malvern, not simply for the water supply but because they were social centres; the fashionable could take a 'cure' while enjoying a holiday. Tennyson endured treatment at Prestbury, today a pretty section of east Cheltenham, and at Malvern, a few miles north in Worcestershire. It can't have been fun.

Last weekend,  the Tennyson Society celebrated the poet's local connections with a conference, Tennyson in Cheltenham. We gathered to hear research papers from Professor Roger Ebbatson, Professor Marion Shaw (Emerita, University of Loughborough), Dr Ann Thwaite FRSL, Dr Valerie Purton, and from your Course Leader; and then on to Malvern on the trail of the notorious Dr Gully and his water cure. Judging by his fancy house, this treatment made money. The Malvern Museum has a great display on the water cure and other aspects of local Victorian life.

After that we visited another of this region's architectural beauties, the Camelot-like Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire. Look who was once a distinguished guest.

Photos of Eastnor: H.Weeks. G.F Watts's famous 'moonlight' portrait of Alfred Tennyson dates from about 1859.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Word in the world

Last year English speakers across the world marked the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. William Tyndale of Gloucestershire's translation is one of the greatest works of English literature. Without it, the work of Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Dickens, Tennyson, TS Eliot, Henry James, Yeats, Iris Murdoch - the list is endless - would not exist. It also formed the basis of the Douai-Rheims and most authorised versions of the Bible since.

Tyndale's translation was the first printed edition of the Bible, ensuring its distribution throughout Europe and thus helping to disseminate the ideas of the Reformation. Today I found a commemorative £2 coin minted last year that celebrates the printed word. If you look closely you'll see the opening words of the Gospel of John on the right-hand side, and its printing plate, with the characters reversed, on the left.

Humanities staff at the University of Gloucestershire created a blog to reflect on Tyndale's translation and how it shaped English language and culture. I hope you enjoy reading some of it here.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Another reason to read books

Last week I ordered books from ABE and Amazon. They arrived packed carefully in layers of compostible cardboard. One book was wrapped in a Budweiser 12-pack box.

The cardboard has now entered the nitrogen cycle:

Books are food for the mind, and if you're smart, you can use them to help you grow vegetables and to save the planet.

You already know that e-reader manufacturers are spying on you, right?

Photos: H. Weeks