Tuesday February 20th
Radical Stroud intend to contribute to the Festival of Terminalia with a visit to Bath and John Thelwall’s gravestone. We shall then recreate the events of Citizen John’s last lecture and his death as we slip down wormholes of time. This Terminalia Festival walk will follow in the wake of literary, historical and political topographers – in the words of Lee Jackson in Dickensland, “Literary tourism has itself been described as ‘necromanticism’ – a ghostly communion with the dead author and their work – the real world haunted by the ghosts of fiction.’
Meet outside the main door of Bath Abbey at 11.30. We shall then walk to Walcot Churchyard; thence to the site of the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (no longer there, destroyed in the Bath Blitz of 1942, but it was near the Parade Gardens, Manvers and Pierrepont Streets.). This is where Thelwall gave his final lecture. The next part of the walk will take an additional 35 minutes or so: we then saunter up Sion Hill to Winifred House, the school & home of his regular host in Bath, the Rev. William Hutchins (bombed in WW2; now Bath Spa University).
This final lecture happened in late February 1834. Thelwall died, not quite seventy, on the night following this last lecture. Professor Judith Asta Thompson comments: ‘In his youth he had made a deal with his friend, Dr. Astley Cooper, that he would let him have his heart for scientific purposes (Thelwall’s heart beat so loud that it could be heard by passers-by in the street). This seems not to have happened. Maybe you can still hear it …’
The theme of this year’s Terminalia Festival btw is ‘Time’…
TERMINALIA WALK COMPLETED:
Our peripatetic faithfully followed the words of Professor Judith Asta Thompson and we were also delighted to have a guest appearance from Steve Poole, Chair of the John Thelwall Society.
From Professor Judith Asta Thompson:
If you want to recreate it (I didn’t have time last year but will return one day to do so)… he gave his final lecture at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution on February 17 or 18, 1834 (no longer there, destroyed in the Bath Blitz of 1942, but it was downtown near the Parade Gardens, Manvers and Pierrepont Sts.). The lecture (one of his regular series on “Oratory and Elocution of the Bar, Pulpit and Senate, illustrated by appropriate Readings and Recitations; and by sketches, critical, characteristic and biographical”) started at 2 p.m. and ran for the usual 2 hours.
Afterwards (I expect he had dinner with friends first) he headed up Sion Hill to Winifred House, the school & home of his regular host in Bath, the Rev. William Hutchins (another victim of the Bath Blitz, it is now Bath Spa University, fittingly!) Google tells me it’s a 35-minute walk, and it must have been lovely. In my vignette, his friends urge him to take a sedan- or bath-chair (he’d had a fall in 1830), but with his usual peripatetic stubbornness, he insists he is perfectly capable of walking, and uses the occasion to think over his life’s journey. Later, in the dead of night, he stirs, then dies of “some affection of the heart.” He was not quite 70.
In his youth he had made a deal with his friend, Dr. Astley Cooper, that he would let him have his heart for scientific purposes (Thelwall’s heart beat so loud that it could be heard by passers-by in the street). This seems not to have happened. Maybe you can still hear it …
I will be there in spirit …
Haunted by the words of his Night Walk (which is more easily accessible in my edition under its full title: “The Star that Shone when Other Stars were Dim. A Night-Walk in the Vicinity of Whitehall.”) But it is attached in full. I have just read it again, and I find it more moving every time, the older I get, and the darker and more glaringly gaslit is the world that surrounds us. How I long to hear even a bit from it, in your voice, bringing it to life.
If it were me, it would be that last few lines
“Tho now oppression urge its meteor car 100
“Triumphant in a dazzled sphere below,
“Earth hath its Mina still, & Heaven its star:
“And they shall shine, & spread their glorious light,
“Victorious o’er the envious shades of night,
“When in primeval gloom extinct shall lie
“Those earth-deluding lamps that vauntful now
“Appear to merge all lustre in their brow.
“Nor think that, tho to the deluded sight
“One star alone of all the expanse seem bright,
“That all beside is dim. Thy way pursue 110
“As meditation leads; leaving behind
“This sense-confounding glare; & thou shalt find
“(The free horison opening to thy view)
“That not in isolated splendour I
“Maintain the regency of this deep sky,
“Nor solitary, tho transcending, he—
“The earth-star of fair freedom’s galaxy.
“A thousand & a thousand spirits still
“(Tho not the dazzled optic hence descry
“Their watchful fires) hover o’er stream & hill 120
“Of gloom’d Iberia; & their light shall fill
“Even yet again the horizon, & re-shine
“(When fade the baser fires—as fade they will!)—
“In constellated glory round the shrine
“Of Liberty, eternal & divine!
“And Mina, with a patriot’s joy, shall own—
“Tho hail’d her brightest star, he shines not all alone.
I realize that even that bit is ridiculously long-winded (as of course he always was, and me too). But it and the whole thing brings tears into my eyes, as he faces old age (only 61 but hey, it was 1825) and walks “down into darkness / On extended wings” (to quote another of my favourite atheist poems, by Wallace Stevens), refusing to take the turn to religion made by so many of his erstwhile friends, but still holding on to his values, and pursuing his way.
What you are doing resonates with what I am, on a very benign, bright, snowless but cold winter day in my study. Just finishing one of the last paragraphs in ch 18 The Institution (which is too long and has taken far far far too long to finish, and I vow it must be done before we leave on Feb 5) in which I talk about his therapeutic prosody and pedagogy, which Julia Carlson aptly calls “therapoetics”, and which does the same thing. It is profoundly democratic (based in nature and the animal body, the common heritage of all) and activist (aiming to rouse intellectual energies and multiply national resources, by nourishing, liberating, empowering independence in living reader-speakers in collaboration with dead authors, to reanimate their words and the world). So what you are doing there is EXACTLY what his students did, not only in his Institution, but around the world (where copies of his Selections remain, marked up by his students to recreate his revolutionary voice, and energies in themselves.)
WE PLAN TO MAKE THIS AN ANNUAL EVENT ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF JOHN THELWALL’S DEATH ON FEBRUARY 17