My mother’s family recycles names.
In my generation there are seven grandchildren, each with two given names. Of those fourteen names, only one is new. The rest are hand-me-down, used by parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, an aunt.
I’m the youngest, a Mary Katherine. For my first thirty years, the name drew no comment. Then people began to ask: Are you Catholic? Are you a nun?
Sorry, no. Just the child of Southern Protestants who had no imagination.
Actually, I was supposed to be just Katherine. My mother tacked the Mary on at the last minute before the birth certificate was prepared. She said my grandmother, who was on the scene, grew all fluttery at the compliment.
My great-grandmother presented me with a silver locket in the shape of a heart. One of my early memories is of visiting her at my great-aunt’s house. Mother clipped a lock of her white hair, coiled it, and put it into the locket. I was fascinated at the process. I think I wore the locket once. It’s spent most of its time stored away, carefully preserved. Someday the next Katherine, two generations younger than I, will care for it.
Locks of the Ages: The Leigh Hunt Hair Collection is now on display at the Harry Ransom Center. It features hair from, among others, George Washington, Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte Bronte, John Keats, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and William Wordsworth.
Lord Byron stole a strand of Lucretia Borgia’s hair from the Ambrosian Museum in Milan and presented it to Hunt for his collection. That strand, however, appears not to have been part of the collection sold by the Hunt family in 1921.
Leigh Hunt was a Romantic poet and essayist. I read that he was the model for Mr. Skimpole in Dickens’ Bleak House. The portrait Dickens painted wasn’t complimentary, and I don’t know whether they remained friends.
Literature textbooks generally included only one of Hunt’s poems. Semesters were short; there wasn’t time to read everything, so the syllabus jumped from Wordsworth and Coleridge to Byron, Shelley, and Keats. I’ve never been curious enough to learn anything else about him on my own.
The one poem by Hunt, however, was too nice to ignore. The professor who taught the Romantics told how Hunt came to write it. He’d gone to visit philosopher Thomas Carlyle and his wife, Jane. Hunt had recently recovered from a long bout with influenza, and when Jane Carlyle saw him, she leaped up and kissed him. Because she was not usually a demonstrative person, Hunt was moved by her gesture and later wrote his poem.
Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss’d me.
Note: This post was on its way to publication when the wireless network vanished. When the network returned, the final third of this post had vanished, as had the tags. As had January 13, 2011, so this piece was published after midnight, on January 14. Drat!
After a decent night’s sleep, however, I’ll recreate the rest of the post and republish. And then I’ll publish a second post.
One of my resolutions was to eschew perfectionism. I might as well get started now.
4 thoughts on “A coil of hair”
Lovely post, Kathy 🙂 Never heard of Leigh Hunt and am now wondering feverishly where that stray hair of Lucretia Borgia’s is now. Whatever else they say about Byron, it must be acknowledged he was a very naughty boy…
It seems that Walter Savage Landor wrote a poem dedicated to that same strand of Lucretia Borgia’s hair.
BORGIA, thou once wert almost too august
And high for adoration; now thou’rt dust;
All that remains of thee these plaits unfold,
Calm hair, meandering in pellucid gold.
I know less about Walter Savage Landor than I do about Leigh Hunt. Pity. I do know that, although Byron was a very naughty boy, there was just something about him…
I loved the inclusion of the hair exhibit. Thanks for sharing Kathy. My mother’s name, by the way, was Kathryn Elizabeth.
In 6 generations of my mother’s family: 5 Katherines, 5 Marys, 3 Crystals, 6 Elizabeths (and 1 Betty), 3 Lynns. And that’s just the women. So far Katherine and Elizabeth haven’t gotten together, at least that I know of, but there’s a lot of potential for it.
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