The Trelawny Collection #2: Trelawny with Shelley and Byron – Joaquin Miller 1893

Continuing my working through biographies of the old rogue Tre, this brief pamphlet is my most recent acquisition and only in scanned e-book format.

In my previous post I implied that Richard Edgcumbe was the sole biographer to actually know Trelawny. In fact the Californian writer Joaquin Miller also had some acquaintance with Tre.

Edward John Trelawny of London, Italy, Greece, Wales, the whole world in fact, was certainly the most singularly fortunate man I ever met, and I have known not a few notable and brave men.

Thus in his opening sentence Miller eulogises Trelawny and adds his own story in. We learn subsequently that Trelawny ‘must have been far up in the eighties when I saw him’, that Trelawny sent Miller copies of the revised Recollections but also ‘for aught I know he may still be living.’ (Tre died 11 years before Miller wrote this.)

Miller spends several pages thus setting the scene, stressing repeatedly Trelawny’s rough edges and ‘cold-blooded, not to say brutal, acts’ in advancement of his theme.

No one can help wondering all the time how it happened that this bloodless fellow claimed to be the best friend of these two most sensitive of all noble-born Englishmen from the day when he first met them till he laid them in the grave.

Miller shifts slightly to almost literary reviewer as his subject becomes not quite Trelawny but Trelawny’s writings. He excuses what he describes as ‘lies’ about the poets as ‘born of the very air and time in which the book was first concerned’ which may have some validity, but then follows up naively ‘here is a pleasant bit about Shelley which must be true’. So anything bad about Shelley we question but praise we must believe.

The passage Miller quotes then is the famous story of Shelley reading standing resting on the mantlepiece all day. Of all Trelawny’s writings this passage seems to have been most widely adopted as characterising Shelley.

Alongside this Miller quotes Shelley’s funeral scene but fails to note how lyrical Trelawny could be in such passages whilst more straightforward elsewhere.

On Byron subsequently Miller describes some of Trelawny’s words as showing a ‘sweet and restful occasion’. There is an account of an alleged conversation laden with irony for the 21st century reader but rendered in more innocent manner by the American biographer.

That said Miller does question Trelawny on detail if not spirit.

I here quote a few paragraphs from Trelawny’s account of [Byron’s] death; observing that if he is not entirely truthful here he at least seems entirely so, and prudent, too, and thoughtful of Byron’s friends at home and all the world.

The time with the poets being done it would seem too that Trelawny’s drama was over, but Miller acknowledges that his subject continued an active life in the Greek Wars of Independence ‘as if he had not yet been favoured enough by the gods of song — think of it!’

And then abruptly, mid description of the assassination attempt in Mavre Troupa and it’s aftermath, mid sentence, this edition of Miller’s pamphlet ends. He has already told us there is no space for more, so how much is missing I can only speculate but i suspect no more than 3 orv4 pages presumably summarising Miller’s thoughts on Trelawny. These we know from his opening and other comments are somewhat awestruck but mixed with an idealised view of noble-born Englishmen and class perception.

Miller’s quotes of long passages from Trelawny’s own accounts mean that really it is as well to go to the source and skip this partial (in both senses) text.

Note: the missing pages here are clearly the responsibility of the publishers of this scanned edition HardPress (Miami) who brag about not using OCR to avoid ‘introduced errors’ yet not only miss pages but more glaringly add a generic e-book cover misspelling Shelley.


About Kev McVeigh

Review of literary matters, mostly but not all SFF , and digressions into music and other arts. Engagement welcomed.
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