The Return of a Victorian
THE story of a family can be as fascinating as any novel. What books could have been written by turning over the family albums if only the families had allowed it! But, as a rule, the relatives of a man who has achieved public eminence are loath to publish facts which will destroy a long-cherished legend. With the eternal desire for respectability, they would rather leave their ancestors alone than know the more exciting truth.
Coventry Patmore, like other famous men, has suffered from this family desire to conceal unpleasant truths. The official biography, published in 1900, The Memoirs and Correspondence of Coventry Patmore by Basil Champneys, was a monumental work in two volumes into which the discreet author, an architect by profession, gathered practically all the facts that are known about the poet, his ancestry, his three wives and his seven children. Champneys was given access to all the Patmore papers by Coventry Patmore's widow, but he deliberately suppressed all details concerning the poet's passionate friendship with Alice Meynell for fear of offending the last Mrs. Patmore. He also omitted many letters showing the less flattering sides of Coventry Patmore's character. Indeed, the complex, contradictory and fascinating personality of the poet was drowned in a mass of family documents.
Sir Edmund Gosse, who was Patmore's original choice as his literary executor, somewhat redressed the balance with his Life published in 1905, but he, too, had his hands tied by the existence of the last Mrs. Patmore, who watched over her husband's literary fame and her own reputation with a watchful care. Later writers have dealt with many aspects of Patmore's work, especially his poetry, but few attempted to set the poet against his family background. This, I, as a direct descendant,