Very Cool Keats Trivia from WWII

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Very Cool Keats Trivia from WWII

Postby Malia » Tue Jan 03, 2006 6:08 am

I just moved house and as I was unpacking my books, I ran across one of my Keats books that I bought at a used bookstore 10 years ago. The book itself is a mediocre "life of Keats". I bought it because, pasted in the back cover, is a very old newspaper article from just after WWII written by a Flight Lieutenant S.J. Webb about what happened to Keats House in Rome and more importantly what happened to the Keats relics that were housed inside. It's actually a pretty cool piece of Keats trivia that would have gone into oblivion were it not for the thoughtful previous owner of this book--thanks Estelle and S.H. Upjohn--wherever you are! I've pasted the article below.

Keats Memorial House
In one of the most exquisite of the many ancient squares in Rome, at the foot of the wide baroque staircases leading down the Pinician Hill from the church of the Trinita dei Monti to the Piazza di Spagna, is the house in which John Keats spent the last few months of his life. English and American admirers had made of it a treasure house of relics of the poet and his contemporaries, and through the war it continued to be an English oasis in the Fascist world. No longer open to the public, the museum and library were still cared for by Signora V. Signorelli Cacciatore, half-Italian, half-Russian curator of the memorial house since 1934. She studied at Cambridge, knows and loves England, and has translated into Italian the verse of Rupert Brooke and W.B. Yeats. A neutral committee stood guardians of the place until better times.
After the North African landings in 1942 it was foreseen that Italy might eventually become a battleground, and the most precious relics--a lock of Keats's hair, the death-bed portrait by Severn, irreplaceable first editions and manuscript poems--were sent to the great Abbey of Monte Cassino and lodged in the library under the care of the Maltese archivist Don Mauro Inguanez. Less than a year later the Allies invaded Italy, the Germans took over full military control of Rome, and the long-range shells that underlined their mastery in the ex-Duce's capital fell perilously near the square on September 10, 1943, shattering windows in the old house.
Soon a more deadly danger threatened the ancient Benedictine monastery, debauched and looted by the Nazis and turned into a fortress barring the liberating armies' way to Rome. Don Inguanez asked the German commander's permission to pack and move his personal belongings. It was given. One morning, on the outskirts of the battle-torn Cassino, a dusty figure ina priest's habit "thumbed" a ride on a German truck going into Rome. He had with him a dilapidated suitcase and a box. The box contained the Keats relics. The priest was Don Inguanez. He brought them to new sanctuary in a monistary in Rome. Recently the relics were restored to the memorial house, undamaged by the war, in the presence of Sir Noel Charles and Mr. Alexander Kirk, pre-war members of the Memorial Committee and now British and United States representatives to the Allied Advisory Council for Italy.
Once again it is possible to stand in that little upper room in an angle of the second floor and conjure up those last months when death drew Keats like a temptation. On his death the Italians made haste to fumigate the house and destroy the furniture against infection. Not a stick remains, although the curator has a receipt for the piano. Fortunately there is the death-bed portrait painted by the faithful Severn, which in its infinite weariness echoes the line "mortality weighs heavy on me like unwilling sleep". The graves of Keats and Shelley in the shadow of the tomb of Caius Sestius also miraculously escaped damage in the ravages of air raids.
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Postby Credo Buffa » Tue Jan 03, 2006 7:48 pm

Wow, that's really fascinating! You said the previous owner had glued it to the back cover of the book? That's quite a treasure! I love old books for things like that.

Thanks for sharing :D
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Postby Saturn » Tue Jan 03, 2006 11:53 pm

Very nice piece of trivia. Thanks for that Malia.

Ah, the pleasure of finding things in old books.

Just one reason why second-hand book stores are my sanctuary :D
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Postby Despondence » Wed Jan 04, 2006 1:31 am

My used copy of Gittings edition of the Letters had the inscription on the inside of the front cover: "Strive to be happy, Love / Zoe". I think I've been looking for Zoe ever since :D

Yeah, thanks Malia for posting that, a real treasure!
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Postby Malia » Thu Jan 05, 2006 12:32 am

Despondence wrote:My used copy of Gittings edition of the Letters had the inscription on the inside of the front cover: "Strive to be happy, Love / Zoe". I think I've been looking for Zoe ever since :D

Yeah, thanks Malia for posting that, a real treasure!


I love used books that have a real history to them like that. You want to know who the owner was and what kind of a life she led. It's interesting that the inscription in your book says "strive to be happy"--I think Keats really tried to be happy--but sort failed in the end, unfortunately. I don't know if I, personally, would give a book of Keats's letters to someone who is looking to be happy hehe--so many of his letters are tragically sad. Hmm. . .so interesting. I wonder if Zoe's friend found that happiness?

I remember once I was looking through some very old books at a bookstore and came across a battered primmer. Again, it was one of those instances where the book itself was just "OK" but on the back cover in faded brown ink the word "William" was written over and over again. Obviously, the little boy was practicing writing his name in cursive, but it looked almost ghostly and haunting in a very cool sort of way, to me. I started to wonder just who this William was and what his life was like back in the early 1800's. I thought about buying the book, but decided it was too expensive just for the back cover :)
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Postby Saturn » Thu Jan 05, 2006 12:40 am

New topic - have you ever given someone a book and written an inscription in it for them? I always try to personalise a book if it is a present and even with my own books I always put my name and the date I got it inside the cover..

...maybe I'm just weird like that... :roll: :shock:
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Postby Credo Buffa » Thu Jan 05, 2006 2:57 am

hmmm, I'm not really in the habit of giving books as gifts. . . mainly because I'm paranoid that the recipient won't like it!

For my own books, though (at least the expensive ones!) I use bookplates (you know, the stickers you put on the inside front cover that say 'this book belongs to _____"). By way of personalization, I'm more of a write-in-the-margins kind of girl ;)
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Postby Malia » Thu Jan 05, 2006 4:07 am

I don't much give books as gifts, actually. And I never really know what to say in an inscription anyway. I always think it has to be something witty or profound--and I hate writing under that kind of pressure--hehe. I sometimes write in the margins of books. I pulled out my copy of the Andrew Motion bio. last night because I'd read a few entries on the forum that mention how good it is and couldn't remember when (or if) I read it. Well, I must have read the whole thing some years ago as I'd underlined and written notes in the margin throughout. It's kind of fun to re-read marginal notes from years ago--it's almost like a mini-diary sometimes. :) [/b]
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Postby Despondence » Thu Jan 05, 2006 4:50 am

Malia wrote: I don't know if I, personally, would give a book of Keats's letters to someone who is looking to be happy hehe--so many of his letters are tragically sad. Hmm. . .so interesting. I wonder if Zoe's friend found that happiness?

Exactly what was going through my mind when I saw it. That inscription in that particular book.....must be an interesting story behind it all :)
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Postby Despondence » Thu Jan 05, 2006 5:00 am

Stephen Saturn wrote:New topic - have you ever given someone a book and written an inscription in it for them? I always try to personalise a book if it is a present and even with my own books I always put my name and the date I got it inside the cover..

I think it's a great token, and I love receiving personalized gifts like that, but I'm totally useless at producing them myself. I have tried, a couple of times, putting a little verse or smth on the inside cover, but as it is I can barely write a christmas card without feeling awkward (like Malia said, what on earth do you actually write?) Besides, my handwriting is such a pile of crow's droppings that I can not bring myself to ruin books any longer in this fashion, even if the intentions are all the best.. :D
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Re: Very Cool Keats Trivia from WWII

Postby Cybele » Sun Mar 28, 2010 6:49 pm

What an absolute treasure, Malia!

I became all emotional reading it -- thinking about how close we came to loosing those relics, and about how terrible war is for civilians at any time.
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Re: Very Cool Keats Trivia from WWII

Postby Raphael » Mon Mar 29, 2010 6:29 pm

Wow- how amazing that in time of war and strife people cared enough to save John's things. Very inspiring!
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

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Re: Very Cool Keats Trivia from WWII

Postby steffen » Sat Apr 03, 2010 9:55 am

I've just read Malia's fascinating post telling of the old newspaper clipping (no date given) pasted on the back cover of a biography of the poet. Like others on this thread I enjoyed reading this first hand account.
I've been to Rome with my family many times over the past 25 years. My wife and I are planning a return trip to that incredible city to celebrate our birthdays in early December. To my shame, I've never visited that house at the foot of the Spanish Steps, nor the Protestant Cemetery. I suppose we were too wrapped up in the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, the catacombs, the ancient basilicas and so on, to say nothing of the incredible restaurants. One visit we never fail to make is the Pantheon which houses the tomb of Rafael di Urbino, located on the left as you enter. There are always fresh flowers. Very moving.
This year the Keats' house and his grave in the Protestant Cemetery -"non est in toto sanctior orbe locus"-.
Somewhere there must be a more or less complete catalogue of Keats memorabilia. I've read somewhere that the death mask of his face, and plaster casts of his right hand and foot were made. Photos of the death mask I've seen, but where are the casts of the hand and foot?
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Re: Very Cool Keats Trivia from WWII

Postby Malia » Sat Apr 03, 2010 3:05 pm

Hi Steffen, I believe the casts of the hand and foot were lost long ago. I'm not sure that the original life mask exists anymore, either--just copies.
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Re: Very Cool Keats Trivia from WWII

Postby Raphael » Sat Apr 03, 2010 9:14 pm

Yes, I read the casts of John's hand and foot were lost too- isn't that a shame? I'd have loved to see a cast of his wonderful hand which wrote those incredible poems and letters. I wonder where they went...
I don't know about his death mask- the photos of his mask look like the original to me in that the surface is worn.
There was more than one life mask- some copies were made at the time. In Keats and His circle the photo of one of them looks original as it has cracks on it and his nose has a little piece chipped off.

http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/searc ... h=sp&rNo=0

I did wonder why some of the photos of his mask looked shiny:
(and his nose is a different shape)


http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/searc ... h=sp&rNo=1
John....you did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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