May 28 1815: Claire in Exile

Lynmouth_with_the_fog_coming_in,_Exmoor,_Devon_(2545924662) (1)

On May 28, 1818 Claire Clairmont writes to Fanny Godwin. She is living in a cottage at Lynmouth. She had left Mary and Shelley on May 13 1815. A departure that was very much welcomed by Mary. One can get a sense of how much by Mary’s diary entry:

Saturday, May 13.—Clara goes; Shelley walks with her. Charles Clairmont comes to breakfast; talk. Shelley goes out with him. Read Spenser all day (finish canto 8, book 5), Jefferson does not come till five. Get very anxious about Shelley; go out to meet him; return; it rains. Shelley returns at half-past six; the business is finished. After dinner Shelley is very tired, and goes to sleep. Read Ovid (60 lines). Charles Clairmont comes to tea. Talk of pictures. I begin a new journal with our regeneration.

Claire’s full letter reads:

Sunday, May 28, 1815.

My Dear Fanny, Mary writes me that you thought me unkind in not letting you know before my departure; indeed I meant no unkindness, but I was afraid if I told you that it might prevent my putting a plan into execution which I preferred before all the Mrs. Knapps in the world.* Here I am at liberty; there I should have been under a perpetual restraint. Mrs. Knapp is a forward, impertinent, superficial woman. Here there are none such; a few cottages, with little rosy-faced children, scolding wives, and drunken husbands.

I wish I had a more amiable and romantic picture to present to you, such as shepherds and shepherdesses, flocks and madrigals; but this is the truth, and the truth is best at all times. I live in a little cottage, with jasmine and honeysuckle twining over the window; a little downhill garden, full of roses, with a sweet arbour. There are only two gentlemen’s seats here, and they are both absent. The walks and shrubberies are quite open, and are very delightful. Mr. Foote’s stands at top of the hill, and commands distant views of the whole country. A green tottering bridge, flung from rock to rock, joins his garden to his house, and his side of the bridge is a waterfall. One tumbles directly down, and then flows gently onward; while the other falls successively down five rocks, and seems like water running down stone steps. I will tell you so far that it is a valley I live in, and perhaps one you may have seen. Two ridges of mountains enclose the village which is situated at the west end. A river, which you may step over, runs at the foot of the mountains, and trees hang so closely over that when on a high eminence you sometimes lose sight of it for a quarter of a mile. One ridge of hills is entirely covered with luxuriant trees; the opposite line is entirely bare, with long pathways of slate and grey rocks, so that you might almost fancy they had once been volcanic. Well, enough of the valleys and the mountains.

You told me you did not think I should ever be able to live alone. If you knew my constant tranquility, how cheerful and gay I am, perhaps you would alter your opinion. I am perfectly happy. After so much discontent, such violent scenes, such a turmoil of passion and hatred, you will hardly believe how enraptured I am with this dear little quiet spot. I am as happy when I go to bed as when I rise. I am never disappointed, fur I know the extent of my pleasures; and let it rain or let it be fair weather, it does not disturb my serene mood. This is happiness; this is that serene and uninterrupted rest I have long wished for. It is in solitude that the powers concentre round the soul, and teach it the calm, determined path of virtue and wisdom. Did you not find this—did you not find that the majestic and tranquil mountains impressed deep and tranquil thoughts, and that everything conspired to give a sober temperature of mind more truly delightful and satisfying than the gayest ebullitions of mirth?

“The’ foaming cataract and tall rock
Haunt me like a passion.”

Now for a little chatting. I was quite delighted to hear that Papa had at last got £1000. Riches seem to fly from genius. I suppose for a month or two you will be easy—pray he cheerful. I begin to think there is no situation without its advantages. You may learn wisdom and fortitude in adversity, and in prosperity you may relieve and soothe. I feel anxious to be wise; to be capable of knowing the best; of following resolutely, however painful, what mature and serious thought may prescribe; and of acquiring a prompt and vigorous judgment and powers capable of execution. What are you reading? Tell Charles, with my best love, that I will never forgive him for having disappointed me of Wordsworth, which I miss very much. Ask him, likewise, to lend me his Coleridge’s Poems, which I will take great care of. How is dear Willy? How is every one? If circumstances get easy, don’t you think Papa and Mamma will go down to the seaside, to get up their health a little? Write me a very long letter and tell me everything. How is your health? Now, do not be melancholy; for heaven’s sake be cheerful; so young in life and so melancholy! The moon shines in at my window; there is a roar of waters and the owls are hooting. How often do I not wish for a curfew “swinging slow with sullen roar”! Pray write to me. Do, there’s a good Fanny.
Affectionately yours,

M. J. CLAIRMONT

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