Celebrating “matchless Lyme / In all the wild luxuriance of rhyme”

A spread from the bound manuscript of The Lymiad: One of the treasures of Lyme Regis Museum

HERE are some short extracts from The Lymiad, a series of eight verse letters written from Lyme Regis in 1818, never before published in their entirety, but now due to be issued by the Trustees of Lyme Regis Museum, if enough subscribers come forward to help pay for the book.

To find out more about that, you can click on this link to see another story on this site, by Margaret Rose.

But for now, with some brief notes based on ones supplied by the museum, here are some brief excerpts.     

Say, is there not the motley group among,

One generous bard, one gentle “child of song”

To celebrate thy wonders, matchless Lyme!,

In all the wild luxuriance of rhyme? …

Inspired by the genius loci – the spirit of the place – the anonymous author takes it upon himself – or herself? – to celebrate Lyme Regis. The Lymiad’s eight letters consider in turn the streets and lodgings of the resort; the sea and beach; the civil war siege, and the landing in Lyme by the rebellious Duke of Monmouth; the assembly rooms; the Mayor and worthies; scenery and bad weather; and departure. Margaret Rose tells me, incidentally, that people involved in the publication of The Lymiad are trying to work out who the author might have been.

That “Blood-red flag” which gaily floats

On the full-swelling breeze, denotes

The Conrad, Sir Fopling Fossil’s pride;…

He is the most accomplished youth,

That is, if Madame Fame speaks truth;

And more than this I cannot tell,

But some who know Sir Fopling well,

Inform me he’s a F.G.S.

Sir Fopling Fossil – isn’t that a wondeful name? – is probably Henry de la Beche (born 1796), who grew up in Lyme Regis, and aged 21, became a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. So The Lymiad, written in 1818, is pretty up-to-date. Henry de la Beche knew and supported the great Lyme Regis collector Mary Anning and in 1830 painted this tremendous fantasia of Dorset in ancient times when dinosaurs swarmed open-mouthed through the elements.

A more ancient Dorset: Watercolour by Henry de la Beche

In 1835 de la Beche became the first director of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, and in 1848 he was properly knighted.

Pencilled notes on in The Lymiad’s Dramatis Personae suggest de la Beche’s earlier poetic identity as Sir Fopling Fossil.

Finally, for now, there is a passage about elections.

Know then my friend, since last I wrote,

Here hath been pass’d a day of note,

When ‘tis the fashion to declare,

Who next shall be our worthy Mayor.

This day is honoured every year

By presence of a noble peer, …

The town of voters hath but few;

So few, that at th’Election last…

Th’Electors, and elected too,

In one horse chaise appear’d to view:

Lyme was a rotten borough in the control of the Fane family, whose head was the Earl of Westmoreland. There is a poetic link here. If memory serves, William Wordsworth was appointed in 1813 as Distributor of Stamps for Westmoreland, a sinecure then worth about £400 a year (£250,000 today).  

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