Life and Character
Richard Doddridge Blackmore (1825-1900) (Blackmore hereafter) was born just six years after Queen Victoria, and died the year before she did. He was the son of a clergyman whose wife was a clergyman's daughter, and he was born in a Rectory in the village of Longworth, near Oxford, where his father was Curate in Charge.
Although Blackmore wrote one of the most famous of all Exmoor novels, he was not born, married or buried in Devon, nor did he ever live in the county in adult life. Yet he commented that "I am thoroughly inborn and ingrained . . . with the pith of Devonshire life" which arose from his long Devonian ancestry coupled with his boyhood spent in the villages and schools of the county. He died in January 1900, and lies buried with his wife in Teddington in south west London, his home for over 40 years.
Such is a brief outline of the life of this gentle Victorian Christian man, somewhat private and retiring, but with firm standards of morality and highly developed feelings for the classics on the one hand and the natural world on the other.
His birth "A crooked start"
On 7th June 1825, Blackmore was born in the village of Longworth some 10 miles south west of Oxford. His father was the Reverend John Blackmore (1794-1858) the Curate in Charge. His mother was Anne (née Knight), but sadly in September typhus visited the Rectory, Anne caught the disease, and died on 4th October. Her twin sister and two of the servants were similarly lost. This "crooked start" left its mark on Blackmore. He was almost "orphaned" (a theme in several of his novels). He grew up a lonesome child, along with his older brother Henry (who became an eccentric in later life).
"[My aunt Mary] taught me to speak and spell." Thus by the time Blackmore was four months old, he and his brother Henry had lost their mother and aunt, and were left in the hands of their undomesticated Victorian clergy father. His father had to take some decisions, and so Blackmore and his older brother were sent off to the safety and care of another younger sister of his dead wife, Mary Knight (later Gordon), who lived in the Knight family home at Nottage Court, near Porthcawl in South Wales. Blackmore later paid tribute to aunt Mary, who "taught me to speak and spell" and no doubt much more, over the first six years of his life.
Blackmore's father decided to move on from the tragedy of Longworth within the year, so in 1826 he moved to a Curate post in Bushey, Herts. There he stayed for a further six years, making a significant contribution to the life in the parish by establishing a National School there (as he had done in Longworth too). As his time came to an end, he remarried: his new wife was Charlotte Platt, the daughter of a neighbouring clergyman at King's Langley. Blackmore thus grew up with a step-mother.
Reverend John Blackmore's next post in 1832-35 was in his native Devon, at the village of King's Nympton. It is probable that Blackmore and his brother returned full-time to life with two parents once more. Blackmore's childhood from seven to ten years old was spent in this very rural village. It is known he started formal schooling during this period. He first went to Hugh Squier's School in South Molton for about a year. He later transferred about 1833 to Kings School, Bruton, in Somerset. He wrote in January 1834 the first extant letter of his childhood to his beloved Aunt Mary Gordon, now the wife of Reverend Richard Gordon in Elsfield, just north east of Oxford. The rather unhappy little 8-year-old chap wrote, "I have been at school at Mr Abrahalls. I do not like it at all. It is seventy-seven miles from here. We have been through the Latin grammar twice, and we have begun the Greek grammar."
Blundell's School. Tiverton, Devon. Click on thumbnail for larger image.
But Blackmore obviously settled well to the life of such a school, for it suited his academic nature to progress in the classics. In August 1837 he transferred to the prestigious school of Peter Blundell in Tiverton in Devon. By now his parents had moved to Culmstock village, where they settled for a further six years, and there was completed the second family of two half sisters and one half brother for Blackmore. His time at Blundell's School was highly formative in Blackmore's development. It was a tough regimen, not least from the behaviour of the other boys. He grew into the fagging system, and he learned how to swim and fight, both out of necessity to survive the treatment of being thrown in the River Lowman and being forced into fisticuffs and wrestling by boys with nothing much better to do than to challenge one another. Two of his older contemporaries at Blundell's were Frederick and John Temple. Frederick went to Oxford and thence was ordained into the Anglican church, where he rose through all the ranks to become Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1890s. The trouble was that Blackmore, although he took lodgings in Tiverton with the Temples, never liked Frederick. Indeed he was bullied by him, in all probability. Writing to his sister in 1883, Blackmore said "I cannot write to Dr. Temple, for I never particularly liked him, & cannot make overture by way of asking a favour."
However Blackmore was a brilliant scholar, and so very soon he rose to the higher academic ranks of the school (the Monitor rank), and before he left in late 1843 aged 18, he had been head boy for two and a half years. The syllabus was predominantly a classical one, and Blackmore lapped it up with interest and industry.
"In everything, except the accident of my birth I am a Devonian; my ancestry were all Devonians; my sympathies and feelings are all Devonian." Blackmore's parents' families of Blackmore and Knight represented solid examples of the educated classes of England. The Blackmores had been for many generations yeoman farmers in the Parracombe area of North Devon. The Knights had been clergy and Manor holders for generations in the South Wales and Bristol area.
Reverend John Blackmore was the second generation of clergy in the Blackmore family. He was born in the village of High Bray, North Devon, in 1794, the son of another Reverend John Blackmore and his wife Mary Hunt. His brother Richard (1798-1880) and uncle of Blackmore was also a long-serving North Devon clergyman mostly at the village of Charles..
Anne Bassett Knight came from the Knight family of Newton Nottage, South Wales. The Knights were of bluer blood than the Blackmores, though Anne's father was Reverend Robert Knight, Vicar of Tewkesbury from 1792 until his death in 1819. Robert's wife was Harriett Humphreys, the grand-daughter of Reverend Philip Doddridge, the famous Non-Conformist divine and hymn writer.
Anne's grandfather was Henry Knight (1738-72), an Armiger who lived in Tythegston Manor, near Newton Nottage, and back in her family was great grandfather William Wake, who rose to be Bishop of Lincoln for ten years, then Archbishop of Canterbury for a further 21years.
As if this was not enough, the Knight's ancestors held high social and Parliamentary offices. Anne's great-grandfather Robert Knight was High Sheriff of Glamorgan, and her 3-g-grandfather was Sir John Knight, Mayor and MP for Bristol in the 1670s.
Blackmore was keenly interested in all this, though somehow he valued the Blackmore Devonian connections the most. He even argued that his Knight line must have had connections with the Devon Knights, and indeed he also knew that the Doddridges came from the Devon line of Sir John Doddridge, the famous bachelor judge who lies buried under his effigy in Exeter cathedral. Blackmore was proud to wear Doddridge as his middle name, and to rejoice in the respectable if risky Nonconformist ancestor. One can surmise that Blackmore did not in fact know of his archiepiscopal ancestor. Thus when he once wrote of Devon "as (almost) my native land", it was not without cause.
Exeter College, Oxford. Click on thumbnail for larger image.
"He was Oxford to the core: all his family were Oxford, and all his friends: he was enthusiastic on Oxford" Blackmore went up to Exeter College, Oxford, in 1843, and shortly afterwards he won a Gifford Scholarship in Classics. He took to the Oxford life of his time with ease and enjoyment, though he was not an out of the ordinary student. It was the time of the great church Tractarian Movement, which left Blackmore strangely untouched and unmoved.
Blackmore spent his time close to his studies and amongst a limited circle of friends. He was known for his keenness on the Classics but also for his enthusiasms for chess (a lifetime hobby) and fishing (this eventually waned in later life). There was one shadow that appeared in his educational period. He suffered occasionally from epileptic fits, which may have started in his days at Blundell's, but probably did so before. He obviously possessed a highly active mind, but occasionally it would seem to get over stimulated. Maybe this epilepsy accounted for his not achieving a First in Classics: he came away with a respectable Second Class Honours, but this was not enough to set him on an academic path.
Sihlouettes of R. D. and Lucy Maguire Blackmore.
Click on thumbnails for larger images.
"Blackmore met Lucy Maguire on a reading party from Oxford on the Isle of Jersey in about 1847. He finished at Oxford in December 1847, so presumably the meeting took place before then. Not much is known of the courtship: Blackmore was extremely reticent about such matters, and by this time he was living in London and away from his family. The courtship culminated in the marriage on 8 November 1853 in Holy Trinity Church, Grays Inn Road, Holborn, London. It seems that none of the rest of his family was present, so it has been rightly said to have been a somewhat secret wedding. The reason was the Roman Catholicism of Lucy. But Lucy solved the tension with Blackmore's protestant father and family by converting to Anglicanism shortly afterwards.
Blackmore was devoted to Lucy, about whom little is known. She was small of stature and wore her hair done in corkscrew curls. She was fragile and probably very shy, for she made little impact. One visitor described her as "very quiet and shy, but nice". She never had any children, her health was never robust, and as the years went on she began to get neuralgic pains that confined her to the house and then finally to her bed. Blackmore loved her, nursed her, and never complained about her. When she died of pneumonia in January 1888, he was inconsolable.
However, Lucy's sister Agnes and her husband Alfredo Pinto Leite (a Portuguese wine merchant) had four children. Agnes died young, and Alfredo suffered from depressions, so Blackmore and Lucy gained a surrogate family, and in particular their two beloved nieces Eva and Dolly were virtually if not actually adopted by them. After Lucy's death, the two nieces kept house for Blackmore, who also kept an intimate connection with his (half) sisters. Ellen Faunthorpe, the wife of the Principal of Whitelands College in Roehampton, had four children, and Jane Davis, the wife of the Vicar of Burrington in North Devon, also had four children. All these children were likewise cherished and loved by Blackmore and Lucy.
Blackmore kept a wide circle of friends and maintained contact with a prolific correspondence. There were his literary friends in the locality, his old university friends scattered about the country, and maybe surprisingly, a steady stream of friends and acquaintances in the USA. He also maintained cordial relations with chess playing friends, some fishermen and horticultural friends, and with some publishers, a few of whom became close and trusted friends.
Blackmore was instinctively a conservative. And the older he was, the more entrenched he became. This conservatism showed itself in his attitudes to his Christian faith. He greatly admired his saintly father, even if he himself did not choose to follow a career in the cloth. And he was surrounded by clergymen among his family and friends. In his formative years in Oxford, Blackmore encountered the Tractarian Movement movement, but he turned his back on it, much preferring the traditional values of the protestant and reformed church. Thus Blackmore had little empathy for the career path of his illustrious school and university contemporary, Frederick Temple, who rose to the highest ecclesiastical position as Archbishop of Canterbury. Blackmore barely owned a knowledge of him. Likewise, he strongly resisted the appeal of his local church in Teddington to build a new and imposing church of similar ilk, just opposite the more humble St Mary's Church, which was his and Lucy's own church.
In his writing, Blackmore displayed a deep and persistent Christian outlook. Not for him were tragedies, or dark endings. The hero or heroine had to win out in the end, and the providence of God had to be displayed. In addition, Blackmore understood the God of creation, and the God in community, and he wrote lyrically of the natural world, and positively of the villages and the people, who at root were good and honest workers of the land.
Politically, Blackmore was not particularly active, but he did latch on to some of the issues of the day. His one excursion into satire came with the book Tommy Upmore, when Blackmore vented his spleen on the "Glads, Rads and Sads" of the day. The Gladstone party was propounding Home Rule for Ireland, the Radicals were seeking a socialist agenda in which the agricultural world and the Empire were devalued, and the Scientists (Sads) were caught up in the ferment over Darwinism as well as the rise of science in education competing with his beloved classics. Blackmore tilted at all these windmills, and felt the better for it! He knew he was writing this one for himself, and he was able to laugh at himself despite all.
Character and personality
"A warm and large heart, a love of good letters, a kindly Christian spirit, modest, unaffected, patriotic, these were his essential qualities." — Sir Herbert Warren, 1914. Blackmore was a genial and friendly man, although not always understood so. For he was also a modest and retiring man, and shunned publicity. Even some of his neighbours hardly dared to penetrate into his garden and house, for fear of hostile reception from the dogs if not Blackmore himself.
Blackmore maintained a fierce loyalty to his family and friends. Above all he was devoted to Lucy, and when she died (not unexpectedly after years of ill health) he was distraught for months, if not years. Extremely industrious, he was driven in his work, which combined outdoor work in his gardens with indoor work at his desk. He seldom left Teddington, except for an annual holiday, usually to Devon or to the east coast.
Blackmore was highly intelligent with a huge memory for places and people. But his consummate skill was with words. He loved them, their meaning and their usages. He loved to use new and original words, culled maybe from his classics or his considerable knowledge of local expressions and dialect.
He also loved nature. He grew up in country places and was endowed with amazing powers of observation of both the animal and vegetable world. He loved the fields and moors, streams and hedgerows. And he loved the weather, with all its moods and extremes. Blackmore was a friend to animals, in particular his dogs. He always had a dog at his side, sometimes more than one when he took pity on a stray or an injured dog, which he would take trouble to nurse back to health. He loved the bird life too, though he fought battles with the starlings who seemed to love his pears.
Blackmore had high moral standards, and unrelentingly held to them. He was a firm but fair boss in his garden, and he was likewise in his business relations, maybe coming down on the soft side (he never made much money out of his horticultural endeavours).
Finally, he had an abiding sense of humour. Indeed his novels all contained much wit and humour, often of the passing or wry variety. He didn't write comedies, let alone farces, but he loved to poke fun at people and situations. And he was well able to poke fun at himself.
2. His Life as a Lawyer
"If lawyers fail to do their duty, they ought to pay people for waiting on them, instead of making them pay for it" — Lorna Doone
In January 1849 Blackmore sprang a surprise by going in for the Law. He joined the Middle Temple in London, and became a student of a Mr. John Warner of the Inner Temple and Chancery Bar. No doubt the collegiate style of life suited him, but gradually it became clear that the work did not. He managed the studies well enough, but when it came to making court appearances, his epileptic tendencies let him down. We cannot know whether any specific instances took place, or maybe it was the tension caused by the prospect of being put in such a highly competitive and charged environment that unsettled him. It is known that Blackmore practised in the area of conveyancing from the time of his call to the Bar on 7 June 1852 until sometime in 1855: this activity did not require any court appearances, but may have been correspondingly uninteresting to Blackmore.
Blackmore moved from the law to his next profession on medical advice. He told R.W. Sawtell in 1894, "My once excellent health became impaired. My medical adviser said I would have to give up my profession, seek an outdoor employment, or die young." It seems likely that the mental pressure of standing up in front of audiences precipitated epileptic attacks. Indeed in later life he developed an acute aversion to making speeches even in front of literary audiences: which is strange for one gifted enough to be called to the Bar.
"School — and good times they were, too, full of warmth and fine hearth-comfort" — Lorna DooneThe first Gomer House. Lower Teddington Road, Hampton Wick. Click on thumbnail for larger image.
In 1855 Blackmore took on a post as Classics Master at the Wellesley House Grammar School, Hampton Road, Twickenham. At about the same time, he and his fairly newly married wife took a house in Lower Teddington Road, Hampton Wick, the first Gomer House, which still stands today (as a Roman Catholic home for the elderly). This was a short yet formative period in his life. He had already begun to write poems and maybe to draft longer prose items. His job, which allowed him time for this, also gave him the academic stimulus of his head master, Thomas J .Scalé, who shared Blackmore's enthusiasm for the classics and became a lasting friend.
Blackmore struggled somewhat with boys who were not all as willing or scholarly as he might have liked. In one or two cases, some of these boys grew to become friends in later life.
1857 was a very significant year for Blackmore. His favourite bachelor uncle Reverend Henry Hey Knight, died in September, and left a very considerable legacy to Blackmore. This might of course have been expected by Blackmore, though the date could not have been. Blackmore was quick to take the opportunity to change his whole circumstances, and to buy a 16-acre stretch of land in Teddington, about a mile from his home in Hampton Wick. On this new plot Blackmore designed and had built a substantial dwelling house, and he planned out the 16 acres of land into a market garden. So almost overnight, he switched from the life of a hard-pressed teacher-writer to the life of an even more hard-pressed writer-horticulturist.
4. His Life as a Horticulturist
"This is your role my good fellow, stick to it: any ass can write novels"
The second Gomer House. Field Lane, Teddington. Click on thumbnail for larger image.
By 1860, Blackmore had moved into the new Gomer House in Field Lane, Teddington. He did so with the express purpose of setting up a market garden. It is not clear that he had any exact plan for the project. The enterprise caught hold of him, and seems to have grown on him. By temperament he was a romantic rather than a commercial person. It was always of greater interest to him to grow a new or different species than to optimise and capitalise on a lucrative line. He was typical of the English attitude that somehow it was unseemly to make money, yet at the same time it was proper to complain how badly off he was and would become. In fact his horticulture was almost never profitable. He indicated that in 40 years, he only made a profit in two years. He always needed a team of men to run his 16 acres reduced to 11 by the London and South West Railway, and at times of growth and harvest in the summer, he needed to take on extra men.
He mainly grew fruit, and most of all he loved to grow strawberries, pears, peaches and grapes (one is tempted to say all the difficult ones!). He became very expert in these fruits, and by the 1880s he was becoming a national expert. A Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society, he worked regularly on the Fruit Committee: indeed he chaired this weekly committee in 1889-90. He also helped to mount three big conferences of the RHS: Apple (1883), Pear (1885) and Apple & Pear (1890). He even wrote and presented one learned paper to the society in 1893 with the title "The Enemies of the Vine" in which he discusses the various animal and fungal diseases that can afflict the vine in British conditions.
He enjoyed the challenge of growing varieties of fruit that had not been explored in Britain, and often he was importing varieties from nurserymen in the US and elsewhere. His fruit was taken to Covent Garden market by regular courier, and latterly by railway. Blackmore was in a regular state of conflict with the middle men who offered what he felt to be unfairly low prices. Blackmore would confront them, would write letters to The Times about them, and even at one point, he went to Covent garden to sell his produce himself.
Blackmore also had a prolonged battle with the London & South Western Railway Co. When he arrived, Teddington was a small rural village with an old church, and a shop or two. But by the early 1860s the railway age was arriving. The company wanted some of Blackmore's precious land, and after a fight they got it. And close by his own new house, they built a station. Blackmore opposed them all the way, but managed to do little to stem the noise and intrusion. Maybe he did manage to prevent them building shops on Station Road, but that is about all.
As for the finances of his enterprise, Blackmore often said that he only wrote to earn enough money to meet his regular losses from his gardens. Nevertheless, he survived just, though towards the end of his life he was gloomy about his overall finances, especially when his last novel Dariel did not show very encouraging sales figures.
5. His Life as a Writer
"Shall ever come a stronger time, When thou art tool of honest pride, With real intellect to guide To grander things than rhyme?" — Blackmore's poem "To My Pen"
During his schoolmastering years he wrote various pieces of verse. In 1854 he published anonymously Poems by Melanter (Melanter is Greek for blacker) and Epullia, and in 1855 The Bugle of the Black Sea (it was the time of the Crimean War). We also know from his own admission that as early as 1853 he had completed the first draft of his first novel, Clara Vaughan, which therefore qualifies as one of the first detective novels in English fiction. But he did not complete it then, nor did he publish it until 1864 (and even then he was so unsure that he published it anonymously).
Blackmore was able to give his attention to his writing. His first effort was another attributed poem in 1860, The Fate of Franklin, in aid of a statue in memory of the famous explorer. This was followed by one of his most favoured efforts, the translation of the first and second books of Virgil's Georgics. He entitled this book The Farm and Fruit of Old and its anonymous author was a Market Gardener: Hope & Co published it, but at Blackmore's own expense. This book combined Blackmore's enthusiasm for the classics with his burgeoning ambition towards market gardening: what could have been more satisfying for him? In fact, he returned to it by publishing a translation of the whole of the Georgics in 1871, and this time he put his now-famous name to it.
But the urge for a full novel was driving him (see the poetic verse at the head of this section), and in the 1860s he published three novels: Clara Vaughan (1864 by Macmillan) and Cradock Nowell (1866 by Chapman & Hall). Both of these were first published in the literary weeklies of the period, then when they had run their course, a three-volume edition was published. They had a very mixed reception. In fact the anonymously-written detective-novel Clara Vaughan was written in such a style that it was accused of being written by a female author of the sensationalist school that was causing such a stir at the time. Blackmore was not best pleased, specially as one reason stated was that the author must have been female because women had no idea of the law!
In the mid-1860s, Blackmore and Lucy took a holiday in North Devon, and he used the time to do some careful research for his next book, Lorna Doone. Of course, he was on his home and school territory, so he had a good start from his own memories, plus the input from family and friends. He returned to Teddington, and probably from spring 1867 until 15 April 1868 he wrote his one really successful novel. With the manuscript in hand, he went seeking a publisher. But his reputation was not sufficient to encourage Macmillans, Chapmans, Smith Elder, Blackwoods and maybe others to accept it for publication. At last he did succeed in finding one: Sampson Low, Son & Marston who accepted it in January 1869. There was to be no serialisation, and the book was in fact published very speedily in April 1869 in a three-volume edition. At this point — unbelievably in the light of later events — the book simply failed to sell. 500 copies were printed, but only 300 were sold. The remaining 200 were sent to Australia (one hopes that the purchasers there held on to them as first editions!). Lorna Doone was a flop.
Frank T. Merrill's book cover for Lorna Doone. 1893. Click on thumbnail for larger image.
Mr Sampson Low had a hard decision to take. But eventually he accepted that a one-volume edition would be worth a try. Maybe it was out of the kindness of his heart to the poor author. Blackmore wrote subsequently, "It is the merest fluke that Lorna Doone was ever heard of any more." The critics had not been exactly enthusiastic. Blackmore shrugged his shoulders, "Maybe the public took no notice of a time so remote."
Then came the happy chance of the announcement in October 1870 of the engagement of the Queen's daughter Princess Louise to the Marquis of Lorne. In this very same month and very fortuitously, the one-volume version of Lorna Doone was published. There followed two favourable reviews, in The Saturday Review in November 1870 and in Blackwood's Magazine by the respected Mrs. Margaret Oliphant in January 1871. As Blackmore later said, "people confused it with the Marquis of Lorne, and thought it might show them the fashions." The marriage of the Princess and the Marquis duly took place in March 1871, but by then sales of Lorna Doone had taken off. In a letter in 1876, Blackmore referred to sales of 16,000, which was a huge number.
After the dizzy success of Lorna Doone, Blackmore tried more novels over the next years, but none came even close in popularity. Blackmore was always somewhat frustrated by this situation, as he put his very best endeavours into each successive book. He wrote several more in the same genre of rural romance, each with a female name as the title, and each set in a new region of the country. Thus he produced The Maid of Sker (1874, South Wales and North Devon), Alice Lorraine (1875, South Downs and Kent), Erema (1877, California, Sussex and Berkshire), Mary Anerley (1879, North and East Yorkshire coast), Kit and Kitty (1890, Middlesex and the Thames) and his final novel Dariel (1896, Surrey). Inserted in the sequence was Cripps the Carrier (1876, Oxfordshire). He then changed his emphasis, and wrote three novels with a village as a title and as the theme of the plots: Christowell (1882, Dartmoor), Springhaven (1887, Newhaven, Sussex), Perlycross (1894, Culm valley, East Devon). One novel stands apart from the rest: Tommy Upmore (1884) was written as a satire on the scientists and the liberals of the day. It was an unmitigated flop, but the conservative Blackmore felt better for having expressed his mind on these people, with whom he heartily disagreed. Blackmore was not or ever could have been a satirist. It is even amazing that he sallied forth into this medium: maybe he was getting desperate.
Blackmore was not content to stay with one format to his novels, so he changed such matters as the narrator (first person, male or female, or third person), the historical settings and of course the locations. His plots were typically Victorian in that they often depended on mix-ups of people at birth, lost and regained inheritances, heroes or heroines bereaved of a parent, and so on. The climax to many of the novels would nowadays be seen as unacceptably melodramatic, but this was less noticed back in Victorian times.
Blackmore was in fact a very Christian man, and his novels reflect this consistently. There are several "goodie versus villain" confrontations, notably between John Ridd and Carver Doone, and these always work out in favour of the good and upright. Goodness always prevails, grace is dominant, God is provident. Blackmore simply could not write tragedy, though once he was tempted to try. When he was at a late stage in the serialisation of Alice Lorraine he wrote to his publisher Mr Blackwood asking which of two endings he should go for (a remarkable question in its own right). One ending was tragic, the other not so. There was no question as to which he could and should and did go for.
6. His Declining Years
"Frost coming, I fear — don't like the look of it."
Three portraits of Blackmore. Click on thumbnails for larger images.
Blackmore lived as a widower in his Gomer House home and gardens for the last years of his life. He spent time writing: in fact in the last 12 years, he wrote three full length novels, plus a volume of four short stories and a book of verse. The first of the novels was Kit and Kitty. There is little doubting that this novel served as a therapy and memorial to his own lost wife Lucy. It is set in Sunbury, Middlesex, the neighbouring area, and if Kitty has a likeness to Lucy, then Kit certainly is akin to Blackmore himself. The book climaxes in the return (maybe resurrection) of Lucy in an orchard setting.
Blackmore began to suffer from various ailments: partial paralysis of first one then the other arm. Rheumatic pains attacked him. And latterly he had internal bowel problems that embarrassed him in the presence of visitors, and especially the ladies.
In 1894 he published Perlycross, a novel set in the Culm valley where his father had been a curate at Culmstock. Indeed, he admitted that he described his godly father in the character of Reverend Philip Penniloe, who served the community in an ideal fashion, preached, advised, visited the sick and led the parish in worship and ceremony. But Blackmore battled on and published his last novel Dariel in 1897, though he found it very difficult to write and complete. But the end was inevitably approaching. His final letter was to his sister Ellen, who likewise was suffering a terminal illness. Blackmore movingly ended his short Christmas letter of 1899 as follows :
I have fallen away during the last month, having taken obstinate chills, & caring neither to eat nor drink, nor speak. All my energy & spirit are abated, & often I know not where I am. — E. & D. join me in kindest love, & I am always
PS Frost coming, I fear — don't like the look of it[.]
When Blackmore died on 20th January 1900, aged 74, he was given a well-attended funeral in Teddington Cemetery, conducted by his old friend Reverend Robert Borland. He lies buried next to his beloved Lucy, a few yards away from a very splendid Victorian cemetery chapel Four years later in April 1904, a memorial to him was established in Exeter Cathedral. It was the result of work by a committee including Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling and James Barrie, with an address given by another Devon writer, Eden Phillpotts. There was a marble plaque, a reduced copy of which was also mounted in Oare Church. And above it was a stained glass window depicting David, Jonathan and Samson, the archetypes of courage, love and strength. John Ridd and Lorna Doone are to be seen at the top of the window, and if one looks carefully there too is the vanquished Carver Doone.
Blackmore's relationship with his aunt Mary Frances Gordon was a lovely one. She it was who nursed and nurtured him through his early years, who "was my mother until I got a step one." When this aunt Mary died in 1878, Blackmore was deeply moved. He had earlier written of her, "She is the very best woman in the world, which means she is better than an angel." Now Blackmore was left to mourn her loss. He wrote, "My dearest relative was taken from us . . . leaving many to mourn for her, but few so deeply as the one whom she taught to speak and spell, and whose feeble life she saved over and over again." Very shortly after her funeral, Blackmore had a strange experience. "Having lately been at the funeral of a dear relative I was there again (in a dream) last night, and heard the mourners sing the lines, which impressed me so that I was able to write them without a change of word this morning." The short poem, called "Dominus Illuminatio Mea," became well-noticed even though it was originally published anonymously, and it will serve as a fitting epitaph to Blackmore himself. It was his finest poem. And one of the finest of its type ever, dare one say. It runs as follows.
In the hour of death, after this life's whim,
When the heart beats low, and the eyes grow dim,
And pain has exhausted every limb —
The lover of the Lord shall trust in Him.
When the will has forgotten the lifelong aim,
And the mind can only disgrace its fame,
And a man is uncertain of his own name —
The power of the Lord shall fill this frame.
When the last sigh is heaved, and the last tear shed,
And the coffin is waiting beside the bed,
And the widow and child forsake the dead —
The angel of the Lord shall lift this head.
For even the purest delight may pall,
The power must fail, and the pride must fall,
And the love of the dearest friends grow small —
But the glory of the Lord is all in all.
Last modified 22 January 2013