Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Frederick Rolfe Baron Corvo: Some Notes

Frederick Rolfe, a.k.a. Baron Corvo is, as many of you will know, the major focus of my publishing venture and a personal collecting and research interest. It's in the nature of that kind of research that one comes across small pieces of information which, although probably new, would have an interest for only a very limited number of people and even then would be considered ephemeral to the central study of a person's work or biography. It strikes me that a blog is actually quite a good place to put observations of this sort as anyone who shares my interest in Rolfe, if they are googling around the internet, is likely to come across this blog at some point.

One of the first publications I ever put out was a new edition of Rolfe's first published work, Tarcissus. The Boy Martyr of Rome. Rolfe paid for and arranged for the original publication himself whilst he was a school master in Saffron Walden. At the front of the poem was a list of some 22 sets of initials representing 22 boys, mainly pupils of Rolfe. Cecil Woolf in his edition of Rolfes Collected Poems, identified a number of them and, almost in the way some people do soduko, I have been digging away at the others now for some years. This work has included at one point reading the entire census return for Saffron Walden for boys of the right age and checking all their initials against the list. There have been some notable triumphs in that research and I won't go into the details here as I may yet write something on the whole dedication of the poem: the little note I want to raise here is slightly different. The top of the dedication is "To the memory of Thomas Reardon. (R. I. P.)" who was one of two boys from The Staioners School - Rolfe's previous school - who had died by drowning in the Thames. Rolfe was obviously very affected by this event as he kept the in memoriam card for Reardon and it still exists in one of Rolfe's commonplace books in the Boldeian Library in Oxford. Trying to discover more about the accident I searched in all kinds of newspapers and drew a blank. However, I was fascinated to read the following in the letters section of The Times which, although it can't be referring to our accident was nonetheless, I thought, a fascinating piece of background to the event:

"Sir, It may be hardly known by the authorities what danger exists through boys being permitted down the steps leading to the water, and there not being any precaution in the shape of a rope or lifebouy for immediate use in case of accidents. Last evening, near the Temple pier a boy was drowned by falling from the steps, and though gallant efforts to save him were made by two passengers in a steamer passing at the time, yet they were too far off to render effective help."
Aug 28, 1880, The Times, p.7

The other piece of Corvine ephemera I discovered on the same day trawling the archive of
The Times is actually, now I think of it, a new piece of writing by Rolfe which is about to be republished here for the first time. It is known that Rolfe would occasionally advertise for work in publications like The Times and The Tablet, indeed, on occasion it was a good strategy which did bring him work. Some of these adverts have been found and mentioned in the definitive bibliography of Rolfe but this one, I believe, was not previously known:

"BARON CORVO desires EMPLOYMENT. Has studied medieval literature and art, domestic and ecclesiastical, in England and Italy. Understands photography and original design."
Fri Jun 26, 1891, The Times, p. 16.
PS. I have added a rather sexy little piece of web-nonsense to the blog, right at the very bottom, a gimzmo which tells me not just how many people are visiting this blog (183 in the ten days I've had it turned on), but also what posts they have looked for, what pages refered them here (usually a google search) and what cities/countries they are in (UK, US, Poland, Australia, NZ, and I think one from Finland so far). This is not just fascinating stuff but is, of course, also rather reassuring to know that people are actually coming here.


John C said...

Have any of Rolfe's photographs ever been republished? I have three of his nude studies in the V&A catalogue for the 1993 High Art and Low Life exhibition but I've never seen them reproduced anywhere else. This seems surprising given the amount of recycling of Gloeden's work that goes on, for example. I'd have thought Rolfe had the higher profile due to his written work.

Anonymous said...

A monograph on Rolfe's photography is in preparation, and will probably be published in the US either this year or next. The scholar who has written the text is serious and well-regarded, so it will be worth acquiring. I'm sure that Callum will mention the publication in his blog when it appears.

Sean Barker said...

I chanced on this site while searching rather idly for anything novel about Frederick Rolfe. My interest in him was at first a by-product of my lifelong admiration of the writings of Robert Hugh Benson but now claims a proportionate attention of its own.
It is a pleasure to find, on the eve of the anniversary of Rolfe's death, that he has attentive friends still who was, poor man, so often friendless and neglected.

Callum said...

Hi Sean,

Thanks so much for dropping by. I'm always glad to make the accquaintance of a fellow Corvine. I have to say that one of the favourite things I have on my bookshelves are a set of three Benson novels which I illustrated on this blog here:

I'm currently working on a rather fun Benson=Rolfe publication but as it won't be out until into next year sometime I best not say anything much about it yet.

Thanks again


Anonymous said...

I am trying to track down Rolfe's unfinished novel, "The Freeing of the Soul, or The Seven Degrees" - I have a publication date of 1995, though I suspect that is for a journal article on the subject. Do you know of any such publication? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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