From The Oxford University and City Herald (1821)


From The Oxford University and City Herald, March 24, 1821 , p. 4, col. 2.*

[While Beddoes's dedication to The Brides' Tragedy cites Thomas Gillet's poem "Lucy" as the inspiration for his first play, it seems highly probable that this article in The Oxford University and City Herald first brought this story to Beddoes's attention. Beddoes's biographer Royall Snow first noticed that this story ran in the same number of the paper that also contained the announcement for the publication of Beddoes's The Improvisatore, In three fyttes, With Other Poems.]

          From the Memoirs of . . . , supposedly a student at Oxford from about 1737 to 1740:

          At this time my good resolutions were much strengthened by an occurrence in the University, the particulars of which were never known except to those directly or indirectly concerned with it. A servant of a large College, who possessed much property, and was greatly respected for his industry and integrity, had an only child, a daughter, on whom he doated [sic]. Unlike the smarts and toasts of Oxford, she was kept back from public view, and had the best sort of education that persons of her rank in life could receive. A young man of rank and of considerable expectations who belonged to the college of which her father was butler, had often seen her, and contrived to find it necessary to make frequent calls at the butler's house, and often it happened that these calls were made in his absence. This gentleman, with whom I was intimate, was graceful in his manners and fine in his person; an excellent poet, elegant in his dress without being foppish, and in every way formed for captivating the fair sex. He too well succeeded in gaining the heart of Lucy. She placed an unbounded confidence in his vows, and he himself fancied he was sincere in his protestations. I am sorry that experience afterwards convinced me that the possessor of this fair outside was foul within; and that my friend could sacrifice all to ambition. It happened that during a long vacation, when at the mansion of his family, he was introduced to the daughter of a peer, and he soon found that he might without difficulty succeed in gaining her affections; he did succeed, and his parents were delighted at the discovery of the conquest their son had made. He returned to college, again saw his Lucy, found that what he called his love for her was doubly increased, made protestations of eternal truth, engaged himself in the most solemn promises, and at length contracted a private marriage with her, unknown to her father, who did not even suspect the connection. They often met, as the collegiate vocations of the old gentleman rendered his frequent absence necessary; and unfortunately for poor Lucy, she had lost her mother in her infancy. The vacation again came round, and the adoring girl felt the horrors of separation alleviated by her husband's assurances of gradually making known to his parents the connection he had formed, and of causing her to be openly acknowledged as his wife. This was all soon forgotten, he again saw the titled lady; his father opened the affair to her noble parents, and it was settled that the affair should shortly take place. He returned to Oxford , again, saw Lucy, but viewed her only as a bar to his ambition. This gentleman afterwards became a conspicuous character in the state; I visited him when he was stretched on the bed of sickness and death. I saw his de­parture hence; and I always pray that my latter end may not be like to his.

           To conclude a narrative which will never be erased from my recollection: soon after his return to Oxford Lucy was missing; the distracted father sought for her in vain; and published rewards for tidings of his beloved child; but all was useless, and the poor man, worn down to the earth by his lamentations and misery, gave up his soul in breathing out prayers for his lost, his darling, his adored daughter.

           Notwithstanding years have since rolled over my head, I shudder when I relate that soon after the death of the father the body of a young and delicate female was found buried under a tree on the side of the path in the Divinity Walk, then a favourite parade of the beaux and belles of Oxford, but afterwards deserted and suffered to be overgrown with bushes and brambles. Report then stated that a man hap­pening to be in the walk, late in the evening, struck by an unusual appearance, climbed into the tree, beheld the dig­ging of the grave, and saw the body deposited; but was too much alarmed to make any attempt at seizing the grave digger. After that time the lady was often seen by those who passed through the walk in the evening. This belief was not confined to the more ignorant; it spread itself amongst even the respectable classes of society, and the ghost of the Divinity Walk at last took exclusive possession of the once favourite resort of the grave and the gay, the wit and the lounger, the lads and the lasses of Oxford .

           Poor Lucy! I heard the death-bed confession of him who caused thee to be interred in the cold earth of the spirit-haunted Divinity Walk. May God have forgiven him!

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*Snow notes that "[t]hese Memoirs may have made use of some actual facts, I do not know. But there is no question they are fictitious. They were anonymous, supposedly sent to the paper by the grandson of the writer" (200-201). [return to text]