A portrait of Elizabeth Inglis Jones

by The Curious Scribbler

The guest of honour at the recent opening of Mrs Johnes’  garden at Hafod was new supporter, Giles Inglis Jones, a great nephew of the author Elizabeth Inglis Jones,  whose  account of Hafod did so much to resurrect the memory of Thomas Johnes when Hafod was at its nadir of destruction.

Giles Inglis Jones, assisted by his daughter, reads an extract from Richard Payne Knight's poem The Landscape a didactic poem (1794)  in praise of the Picturesque to the guests of the Hafod Trust.

Giles Inglis Jones, assisted by his daughter, reads an extract from Richard Payne Knight’s poem The Landscape a didactic poem (1794) in praise of the Picturesque to the guests of the Hafod Trust.


Inglis Jones’ book, Peacocks in Paradise, published by Faber in 1950, was a fictionalised biography of the Johnes family  which drew heavily upon the large collection of personal letters between Johnes and his friend Sir James Edward Smith which she discovered at the Linnean Society.  These letters have been among the most valued resources for subsequent historians and some are reproduced in Richard Moore Colyer’s A Land of Pure Delight ( Gomer 1992).

Miss Inglis Jones was approaching fifty when she turned her hand to this, the first of her biographies, and later went on to write well researched accounts of the lives of other notables,  Maria Edgeworth (1959) and Augustus Smith of Tresco Abbey in the Scilly Isles (1969).  However her debut novel in 1929 was far steamier fiction, which roused in equal parts the admiration and the indignation of the readers of Cardiganshire.  I have just finished reading Starved Fields with very considerable enjoyment  and even a little surprise that such insight and earthy sentiments should flow from the pen of an innocent young woman of good family.

Starved Fields  deals with the families of two Cardiganshire Squires, the baronet Sir Uryan Williams, squire of the crumbling eighteenth century mansion Bryn, and farming landowner Owen Morgan of Lluest his relative and neighbour.  Just as one cannot read Wuthering Heights without realising that the author had a close understanding of alcoholism, depression and mental illness, it is hard to believe that Inglis Jones’ pageant of male and female drunkenness, incompatible marriage, illegitimacy and adultery was not informed by close observation of her neighbours or even family.

Giles Inglis Jones has loaned to the Hafod Trust an oil painting of his great aunt as a young woman, painted by the New Zealand portrait artist Cecil Jameson.  She is a pretty girl with a short 1920’s bob of hair, wearing a simple shift and a necklace of amber beads.  She was brought up at the south Cardiganshire mansion of Derry Ormond though I have heard it said that she and her brother considered their childhood deeply unhappy and shed few tears at the eventual demolition of their family home.

The portrait of Elizabeth Inglis Jones by Cecil Jameson

The portrait of Elizabeth Inglis Jones by Cecil Jameson

The men she depicts in her first novel tend to be spineless, inconsistent characters, at best charming but wet, and at worst drunken and entirely selfish.   Perhaps that is why she never married.  The strands of her story all paint entirely believable characters, but only one for whom the author shows real compassion.  This is her heroine, Gaynor, daughter of the baronet, who ends up balancing the role of adulterous mistress and farm manager to her feckless first love, Owen Morgan, with that of dutiful daughter to her enfeebled and alcoholic parents.

Also loaned from Giles Inglis Jones’ deceased great aunt’s possessions came a number of deeds and notebooks some of which I have been perusing. One contains a transcription of 21 letter received in 1929 as a result of the publication of Starved Fields. While all the writers congratulated her on her work, readers struggled with such depravity set in the Cardiganshire of the 1890s.  The Principal of St David’s, Lampeter, Canon Maurice Jones  wrote     “Where you have gone wrong,  if I may venture to say so,  is in setting your period a century late.  I cannot believe that the life you describe is true of Cardiganshire only 30 years ago, whereas the book gives a fairly clear and honest description of life in many parts of Wales in the 18th Century  …. I’m afraid you will not be popular with the “county” after your remorseless revelations of what life can have been like in Cardiganshire at any period in its history”.     Mrs Perrin ( author of 21 novels ) declared “What you must cultivate if you want a wide public is more restraint  –  your construction and technique are good but remember too much realism isn’t art”.

Miss Mary Lewis of Trefilan tempered her congratulations with a rebuke “Now there are aspects of Starved Fields I don’t like my dear Elizabeth, but I’m not going to enlarge on what is a matter of taste except to say that Society in Cardiganshire during the Nineties wasn’t really at all what your book implies – You weren’t born then, but I was (unfortunately) grown up and going about in those days so I know .  The Spectator’s reviewer took the view that the novel could only have been written by a man.

On the basis of these letters, it seems that actually the gentry were less offended than the middle classes.  A letter from her cousin, Wilmot Vaughan of Trawscoed  states “I do think you have got the Welsh country people to a T, let alone strange, weird drunken squires who one has known in the flesh.”

Lady Lloyd of Bronwydd  was simply thrilled.  “ What an amazing child you are!  I must congratulate you on your wonderful book, not a nice character in it!!  But your perspectives are quite an astonishment and it is terribly true and interesting and I own to simply screaming over it until Marteine  got quite angry, but he couldn’t put it down!! “  More prosaically she added “ I expect your mother is very proud of you, I should be. Will you dare go back to Derry [Ormond]?”

I don’t know whether Elizabeth did return home, but certainly by 1937 she was a permanent resident in London.  I believe that the remoteness of their homes and the relative poverty of even the premier families in Cardiganshire made it very difficult for many gentry girls from West Wales to secure suitable husbands.  Elisabeth certainly made her escape into London and literature, and by her middle years had started mining the historic record rather than her own life for what are now her better known books.

Her pretty portrait will soon be presiding over new nuptials in the Hafod Estate Office  which is now a venue for civil marriage ceremonies.  Inoffensive young woman that she appears, her clear gaze should make brides closely inspect their motives, and keep new husbands on the straight and narrow!

The critical gaze of the young Elizabeth Inglis Jones

The critical gaze of the young Elizabeth Inglis Jones


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More on Miölnir

by the Curious Scribbler

I ended my last blog wondering whether the poet Longfellow had acceded to George Powell’s somewhat histrionic request that he burn his poems the works of ‘Miölnir’ and trample the ashes into the ground.

The answer proved, in the digital age surprisingly easy to find.

From my computer I could access the Harvard library catalogue, Hollis, and typed in the author’s name Miölnir.  And there it was, Poems Miölnir [pseudo.] 2nd series published by J. Cox Aberystwyth 1861.  A second click opened the very book, online, in Google Books.  And on the title page I found the cramped dedication in George Powell’s handwriting:

George Powell’s dedication to Prof Longfellow on the title page of his book

H.W. Longfellow Esq., and Prof.  With the sincere respects of the author G Powell.

And on the second page of the volume is the bookplate marking the donation of the Longfellow Collection to Harvard College Library.

Bookplate from the Longfellow donation to Harvard Library

Gift of Miss Alice M  Longfellow, 20 Dec.1894

So Powell’s gift was not destroyed, joined the library of Longfellow, and was donated by his daughter to Harvard, where he taught.

Reeling from the public criticism in the Spectator, George, in a letter to Longfellow in 1862,  whittled down his poems in this volume to just eight which he felt possibly worthy of approval, and listed these in the letter which bewailed his treatment by the critics.  By his own reckoning his best poems were those on pages  41, 68, 95, 102, 107, 138, 140, 141

Another revelation from this piece of armchair research is that I was wrong to presume that the double volume of both Miölnir books was sent to Longfellow, or indeed to The Spectator.  Even the cover of Longfellow’s copy is reproduced online, and it is in the original cream binding lined and decorated in black and red.

The cover of Longfellow’s copy of Miolnir’s verses, Series II

The text is amended here and there for typographic errors which escaped the author’s attention in proof.  The amendments are in George’s hand.

So I must contradict my earlier post.  I now believe that Mr Chater’s copy is a unique one, bound for George some considerable time after his humiliation.  He, like, everyone else, had had the two separate books, one green, one cream,  and thus he had dedicated each of his own copies, lovingly, to himself.  It is these  which were later unbound and rebound together in green leather.

Arthur Chater’s copy of the volume by Miölnir

In the first series of poems were two pieces of comic verse which, by the time of the second series,  Powell had already repudiated in favour of his more aesthetic and gloomy style.  In the Epilogue to the second series, before he had suffered the ignominy of the Spectator review,  he wrote  ‘I have refrained in this volume from attempting any “comic strains”. They were in the last one, such a lamentable failure, were so forced and inexpressibly weak, that I shall take very good care in future – at any rate till my mind be more matured – not to let my pen compromise me so much’. Significantly these two poems have been unceremoniously ripped from this edition.

Personally I find comic verse easier to digest than works of tortured beauty and elevated sensitivity which are Powell’s predominant style.  I therefore reproduce, for the first time since 1860 one of George Powell’s youthful ‘betises’ as it appears in an undamaged copy of his first volume .

‘Agriculture by a Facetious Farmer’. A humorous verse in the first volume, which George was later to regret.

The pun never fails to entertain.

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The disappointments of George Powell of Nanteos, poet

I am startled by the brutality of reviewers writing for The Spectator in the 1860s.  I had been browsing in search of reaction to the publication of a volume of poems by George Powell, and  I soon discovered that the flavour of poetical criticism in 1861 – 1862 was stinging indeed.

In August 1861, for example, I found a long review of poems penned  by a clergyman.  “The Rev. John Graham has done a very foolish thing in ever devoting an hour from his time to writing verses. He has done an infinitely more foolish thing in venturing to print them. He ought never to write without burning all he writes as soon as it is written………..  We close Poems: Sacred, Didactic and Descriptive in bewilderment and dismay”.

Another new work, Athelstan, A Poem by Edward Moxon received similar derision “ Mr Tennyson may sleep secure. His laurels are still safe….. Whatever else he may be, the author of Athelstan is certainly not a poet, either by birth or manufacture”.

A review entitled Poetry Tearful and Tremulous discussed two new volumes: Cypress Leaves by WHCN (an Etonian) and Poems by Ingle Dew BA. “—we re-iterate our hope that these remarks may induce Mr Ingle Dew BA, and WHCN to feel heartily ashamed of their literary escapades and to attach for the future as little importance to the twitterings of their own emotions as those exceedingly few persons who will read their work are certain to attach to them.”

Aspirant poets must have retired to sob at such a drubbing.

George Powell, was amongst these poets.  The son and heir of Nanteos mansion he was, like WHCN, an Etonian and by 1861 an undergraduate at Brasenose College Oxford.  He had already published in 1860, at his own or more probably his father’s  expense,  a collection of five short stories which as far as I am aware never received critical attention.

George Powell first published a small volume of 31 poems, entitled Poems of Life and Death in 1860 under the pseudonym Miölnir.  His epilogue excuses any deficiencies in the light of his own youth and inexperience.  However he leads the reader to his cause:  “First attempts are in all cases, even those of great genius, defective to a certain extent. They should be regarded as, not perfect works, but a foreshadowing of perfect works or more perfect works: as exercises not as models, as footlights not as stars”.  He signs off as Miölnir, Brussels, December 3rd 1860, and before the year was out a slim book with a dark green embossed cover was printed for the author by J Cox of Pier Street, Aberystwyth.  Perhaps it was distributed as Christmas presents.

Nanteos, portrayed in Nicholas’ Annals and Antiquities of the Counties and County Families of Wales 1872

A  second volume was  soon under way, arranged in four parts with many personal dedications, most significantly part 3 to the poet Longfellow, whom he did not know, but admired from afar.  The final poem added only in press was an elegy to the Prince Consort who had died on the 14 December 1861.  The second volume was signed off on 20 December 1861, and appeared in a cream cloth binding.

There were also some copies in which both parts were bound as a single volume.  One such copy went to The Spectator, and another was posted with the compliments of the author, Miölnir, to the poet H.W. Longfellow at Cambridge, Boston, Massachusetts.


Longfellow’s home in Cambridge Massachusetts

A third of these combined volumes has found its way via the second hand trade into the hands of Mr Arthur Chater.

Arthur Chater’s copy of the volume by Miölnir

This is a puzzling volume, for on the title pages of both the first and the second series of poems is a dedication, “GEJ Powell with the best love of the Author, Miölnir”

Poems by Miölnir, the dedication at the beginning of the first volume

and “George EJ Powell with the best love of the Author”

The handwritten dedication from Miölnir to George Powell

A comparison of the handwriting with that of George Powell’s letters to Longfellow confirms that it is in the same hand.  George Powell, perhaps in order to be able to claim close acquaintance with his alter ego, was in effect sending himself his love!

On 1 March 1862 Powell must have opened The Spectator with keen anticipation.  He read as follows;

The premature mild spring weather is bringing out the minor poets, and ere long the cuckoo will be heard in the land. The most pretentious of verse makers is Mr W.C. Kent—- Though it may not be necessary that the driver of fat oxen should himself be fat, it is at least necessary that the writer of poetry should be something of a poet – which Mr Kent decidedly is not.  A more feeble, but at the same time a far more modest versifier is one who assumes the pseudonym of Miölnir.  Indeed his only merit is the negative one of self abasement, which he carries to the extreme point of simplicity.  He is evidently an amiable and ingenuous youth, whose naïveté and genuineness of character will command many friends, too staunch to be alienated by the meagreness of his poetic faculty.”

Powell  was obviously smarting when he wrote  again to Longfellow on 14 March 1862. “ I most unwisely sent it to The Spectator for review, a thing I ought never to have done with a work printed for private circulation”.  After a prolonged account of the review and its limitations he concluded  “ I will not trouble you with a long account of my petty woes, which I have quite recovered from” .

Clearly he had not recovered his composure at all and wrote another long letter to Longfellow in June. “ being compelled to leave Oxford by continued ill health,  and perpetual gloom and low spirits, the former induced, I believe, by the damp unwholesome air, and the latter by my insurmountable distaste for members of the College by whom I found myself surrounded – I wished for as complete a change as possible so came here [to Reykavik].

The following January George was back at Nanteos but the injury was still very much on his mind. “ Six or seven months have toned down wonderfully even my limited admiration for my own poems in so much that I now look with loathing upon that last volume…..  If I had only attended to Horace’s ‘Nonum prematur in annum’ I should have been spared the mortification of exposing the weakness and folly of my mental childhood.  May I entreat you to burn the volume of Miölnir’s poems and trample its ashes underfoot.”

It is not known whether Longfellow acted upon this entreaty by the humiliated poet, but clearly George could not bring himself to burn his own personal volume, so affectionately dedicated to himself.  He published no further poetry but found a new outlet for his writing as a translator of Icelandic sagas.


Footnote: Nonum(que)  prematur in annum  translates as Let it ( your first draft) be kept back from publication until the ninth year.

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