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Friday, 21 October 2011

Francis Palgrave: A Victorian Poet in Lyme Regis

Over the years, many literary figures have visited Lyme Regis, but one who decided to settle in the town was Francis Palgrave (1824 - 1897): he chose Little Park as his second home. Although largely forgotten today, Palgrave was quite a well-known poet, critic and editor in his time. Many people will be familiar with the story of how the great poet Tennyson walked nine miles from Bridport to Lyme in the summer of 1867, and on arriving at a friend's house refused any refreshment but immediately said "Take me to the Cobb, and show me the steps from which Louisa Musgrove fell." Well, Francis Palgrave was the friend in question!

Palgrave's most famous work was The Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics, first published in four volumes in 1861. This was an anthology of almost 300 poems spanning more than two centuries of English literature, which became something of a Victorian bestseller. Palgrave's aim in compiling the anthology was "to include in it all the best original lyrical pieces and songs in our language, by writers not living." That last criterion meant that the most recent poet to be featured was Wordsworth... but he is also the most prolific, with more than forty of his poems making it into Palgrave's first edition!

Palgrave also wrote poetry of his own, including a little-known volume called A Lyme Garland: Being verses, mainly written at Lyme Regis, or upon the scenery of the neighbourhood, which was printed in a limited edition in 1874 (see the title page at the bottom of this post). A less obscure collection of Palgrave's verse is The Visions of England: Lyrics on leading men and events in English History (1889). One of the poems in this volume, "The Ballad Of King Monmouth",  refers obliquely to Lyme Regis in the lines:
They file by Colway now;
They rise o’er Uplyme brow...
[Palgrave's notes explain that the Duke of Monmouth "landed in Lyme Bay, June 11, 1685, between the Cobb (Harbour-pier) and the beginning of the Ware cliffs: marching north, after a few days, by the road which left the ruins of Colway House on the right and led over Uplyme to Axminster."]

Lyme Regis Museum contains a number of exhibits relating to Francis Palgrave, and copies of The Golden Treasury can be purchased from the Museum Shop. For more information on Lyme's literary links, see the Writers and Artists page of the main Museum website.

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