We are starting an archive of materials which represent Liverpool’s connection with literature and the arts. Starting with Daniel Defoe we’ll be exploring the wealth of materials up to the present day, including novels, poetry, art, theatre, film and television. Not to mention music!
Here, Denis reflects back on his youthful encounter with Casabianca, the poem with perhaps the most famous opening of all, “The boy stood on the burning deck…” Felicia Dorothea Hemans who wrote the poem was born in Dale Street, Liverpool.
Dormer High School in Warwickshire, was, what might be called, a kitchen-sink school. It was a Roman Catholic school that, mainly, served the offspring of the Irish who moved from Cork in the early 1950s, when the car manufacturer, Fords, closed down the factory there and moved it to Leamington Spa.
Even though Dormer was a typical secondary modern and most of the pupils were destined for Flavels, Fords, Lockheeds or any of the other factories that provided ‘Jobs-For-Life’, the ethos of erudio pro erudio was unspoken but dominated. If we asked a teacher what use a certain topic would be for a job, we would, inevitably be told, ‘none’.
The library shelves contained modern as well as classical literature (some, like Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, would horrify Educationalist of today) and in our English classes we would be introduced to some of the finest poetry ever written. Mainly, I recall only the Romantics, such as Coleridge, Byron , Wordsworth or Shelly. But a poem that stuck in my mind was Casabianca, written by Felicia Dorothea Hemans.
Casabianca was the name given to a twelve year old boy; the son of a ship’s officer on board L’Orient , a French ship, destroyed by Admiral Nelson in 1798. It was said that the boy remained in his post, even though the ship was being destroyed, hence one of the most famous opening lines of a poem: ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’.
The author, Felicia Hemans (nee Browne) was born in Dale Street, Liverpool, in 1793 – although she later moved to Flintshire, in Wales. Her first collection of poetry was published in Liverpool when she was only 14 years old, catching the attention of no less a figure than Percy Bysshe Shelley, who she later felt to be ‘a dangerous flatterer’ and she put an end to their correspondence. During her life Hemans sold more volumes of poetry than any other poet, except Byron. (more…)
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