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Mrs. Coburg's Palimpsests


                   Mrs. Coburg’s Palimpsests

Doucement Chèrie    

Leopold of Coburg

                                 B. A. Ramsey

                                 23 February 2015



Pour L’École

Foreword

According to Mrs. Coburg, her decision to effect these palimpsests was directly influenced by the hegemony of the Kingdom to which she was subject. She may never have taken it upon herself to accomplish her project, had there not been in her childhood the definite dominance of social and ideological influences exacted, both by the parliament of the United Kingdom and the King’s ministers acting on behalf of the crown, in the contest to restore royal supremacy and absolute monarchy to the Kingdom by the end of reign.  Nor was the project undertaken without the popular imagination, and real concern, among the educated classes of the times, that their King was insane. At the heart of the contest between the House of Commons and the Crown, was the accusation of some critics, especially the Whigs, that the King was attempting to reassert the authority of the crown in an unconstitutional manner. In fact, although he had a limited ability and lack of subtlety in dealing with the shifting alliances among the Tories and Whigs of the day, King George III was always careful not to exceed his constitutional powers when assembling his ministers.

  Mrs. Coburg was born in London on 7 January 1796, and received into care by glad and warm open hearts, who undertook to give their fullest regards to the upbringing of Mrs. Coburg, in order to encourage a filial affection, bound with honour and duty, that would dignify her father’s interests and concerns, without preventing the child from that modicum of worldly care for comfort and security in a life that was found wanting; in so far as our life ever supports the practicality of living securely in the arms of a spouse who our parents would choose for us, and to whom we would one day like to marry. There was a sense, among the caretakers present, that Mrs. Coburg’s father had hoped for a son rather than a daughter, but in the case of his own father, who was present at the birth, he had the grandson he had hoped was born, in the daughter that smiled up to them.

Mr. Coburg was born a Saxon, on 16 December 1790. His father was an avid reader, and a book merchant in London, where his fascination for taxonomy led him to procure some treasured volumes and periodicals of the day, concerning the vegetative life with which the world favours us. As a young child, Mr. Coburg would visit his father in the store, and take in the pleasant airs of uncultivated flora in London and the surpassing wealds; and, while his father worked, he would pour over illustrations of fauna reported to be in those parts of the world that debuted in the neverending press of certain inexpensive periodicals on hand. With the advent of the steam locomotive that led to great public certainty of travel for those who would only let themselves be taken, Mr. Coburg showed great interest in becoming a railwayman when he was as yet a child. The events of the day interfered with his plans however, and as a boy of twelve years old, he enlisted in the cavalry and shipped off to Paris, with orders to join in the rebellion against the Emperor.

On their wedding day, 2 May 1816, the Coburg’s were the most popular couple in London. He was twenty-five years old and she was younger. The wedding almost didn’t go off, for it was a battle of wills between father and daughter, that finally under no uncertain terms enjoined that Mrs. Coburg nor her father could be persuaded to favour another man. Although Mr. Coburg was impoverished, he promised his wife, during their wedding ceremony, that he would endow her with all his worldly goods. This caused the bride to giggle with delight. The newlyweds honeymooned in Surrey in a dirty house filled with dogs; nevertheless, Mrs. Coburg recorded in her diary, that her husband was “the perfect lover”. After their honeymoon, the couple returned to London, where Mrs. Coburg suffered a miscarriage. In August of that year the Coburg’s took up  residency in Claremont.

Mrs. Coburg had a hot temper, and often spoke in a excitable and voluble way. When this happened, Mr. Colburg would say, “Doucement Chèrie.” This had a profound effect on Mrs. Coburg, and she would come to call her husband, “Doucement” , in lieu of his name.

On 6 November, for Mrs. Coburg’s twenty-first birthday, the couple was invited to a ball at Brighton Pavillion, but they didn’t attend, preferring the quiet of home. In April of the following year, Mrs. Coburg announced she was pregnant again, and there was every prospect for a happy outcome. While pregnant, Mrs. Coburg preferred to sit quietly, and the suggestion was made in the Coburg's household that she wanted exercise. She had a good appetite and would eat what she desired, but her doctor was concerned she was getting too fat. In August, the doctor put Mrs. Coburg on a strict diet, hoping to reduce the size of the child at birth. Mrs. Coburg’s diet and occasional bleeding weakened her, and she was not due to be rid of her burden until 19 October.

That date came and went, and it was not until 3 November that her contractions began, and then two more days passed, and it was doubtful that Mrs. Coburg could deliver her child. At nine o’clock in the evening of 5 November, Mrs. Coburg gave birth to a stillborn son, who could not be resuscitated by the doctor. Mr. and Mrs. Coburg took the news quietly, accepting that all was accomplished by the will of God; and, Mr. Coburg went off to bed.

Around the midnight hour, Mrs. Coburg began vomiting and complaining of pains in her stomach. The doctor was called back to interfere, allowing her breathing with difficulty; however, despite hot compresses, the bleeding that amounted couldn’t be stopped. Mr. Coburg, who had taken an opiate before collapsing into bed, couldn’t be aroused to his wife's fate.

The next day, the whole of England was in mourning for the death of Charlotte, Princess of Wales. The loss left King George III without a legitimate grandchild, or heir to the throne.  Immediately Prince Edward, the King’s fourth son, married Victoria, Dowager Princess of Leiningen. Their daughter, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent, would later become Queen Victoria in 1837, at the conclusion of the reign of his third son, King William IV, and the ultimate collapse of the House of Hannover.

Radical publishers and journalists of the time juxtaposed the death of Princess Charlotte with the public execution of three men: William Turner, Isaac Ludlum, and Jeremy Brandreth.  The latter, a framework knitter, who may have once been a Luddite,  led an armed march from the village of Pentridge towards Nottingham.  Notably, Percy Bysshe Shelley, in his pamphlet entitled, An Address to the People on the Death of the Princess Charlotte, remarked on these men who were found guilty of taking their part in the planned general insurrection of June 1817, but who were goaded into committing  their crimes by government spies and agents provocateurs such as the notorious ‘Oliver’, or W. J. Oliver, a.k.a. W. J. Richards, who was employed by the English Home Office against the Luddites and similar groupings. Therewith Brandreth, and the two other men, were locked up in “a horrible dungeon, for many months, with the fear of a hideous death and of everlasting hell thrust before their eyes; and at last were brought to the scaffold and hung.” Shelley begins the pamphlet,

A beautiful princess is dead - she who should have been the Queen of her beloved nation, and whose posterity should have ruled it forever. She loved the domestic affections, and cherished arts which adorn, and valour which defends. She was amiable and would have become wise, but she was young, and in the flower of youth the despoiler came. Liberty is dead!  Slave!  I charge thee disturb not the depth and solemnity of our grief by any meaner sorrow. [O’Neil & Howe, 2013]


Contained in this present volume are palimpsests that have erased several poems written around the reign of King George III, 1760-1820. As there is skeptical debate among specialists, regarding the inclusion of these and other palimpsests, who must objectify their findings by an oblique rule that excludes inauthentic examples from further editions, the following volume is favoured judiciously, and is indebted to Mrs. Coburg’s principles respecting poetry, and the aspects she sheds light upon in regards to la peine être tenu de faire of any palimpsest, and its inevitable expansion of the extant.

In modern English, the word meaning of palimpsest is a copy of a work that has been intentionally erased and subsequently replaced at least once, that endorses the self-evident remains of the erasure. By the mid seventeenth century the word was recorded in English, and understood etymologically as originating from a Latin word derived through Greek, palimpsestos; that is, palin - again + pesto - rubbed smooth. The labour involved in the process to uncover a palimpsest is concerned with  la peine être tenu de faire, and we shall remain indebted to Mrs. Coburg’s voluble style, in drawing our attention to the Gallic virtue of “productive working”, that was a popular idea in 1803, but in both England and France by the 1830’s, had become a target of socialist critique, so that it is not difficult to imagine, from the retrospective view of our own time, that critics might have dismissed the artform as an unproductive activity performed without the virtue of labour.

    Yet this iteming of an idea that Mrs. Coburg wants to express, that is the pain of obligation, wants more detail of the Kingdom of her ancestry, and of our own, respecting a genuine and authentic canon in a list of works that is soon regarded as a question of monetary value. The great difficulty William Wordsworth had with publishing a final version of his poems until after he was poet laureate and just before his death, is a fact that demonstrates the changing meaning that the word “exploitation” had from the turn of the nineteenth century, with respect to the “productive working” of the versificator regis, that represented a level of surpassing achievement, to the 1830’s, when the travail of the versifier might well have been satirized by the highly influential and contemporary thought of the late, Henri de Saint-Simon, in the system of knowledge, termed industrialism. Therein was an “exploitation” which identified a working class who deserved more merit, than those who were formerly praised, and who did not work, and who were rather proven by science, in three decades, to be in their physiognomy, empty and useless idlers; who were nevertheless situated in happy and peaceful rustic homes, in places soon identified as unsustainable or idealized. Four of these idlers are represented in the palimpsests of this volume, endorsed by the self-evident remains of Mrs. Coburg’s painful erasure, and the obligation to produce measurable meritable results from natural inclination and vocation.

Wherefore unjustly equivocates the merit of the working class with “currency”?  It is such that circulates a social and economic system prevailed upon by industry to process and manufacture on a large scale, for a system concerned socially and economically with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in a factory; that, as a word, was only defined in the 1650’s as a condition of flowing; or, a course; that in 1699 John Locke extended to the ‘circulation of money’; that was by the years of  Mrs. Coburg’s contemporary, the primary sense of the word, that ensured the ‘flowing’ of money for the labour of industrialism; to invest in, and redeem, a working class of men and women, who earned not enough praise for their good work; a good work that was once valued in surfeit before God and one’s Lord, as a bond of faith, as attested by the biblical canon, the decretals of the Roman Catholic Church, the set of ecclesiastical canons, and the law of Church decree.

B.A.R.

Toronto

7 Mar. 2015