Charles Stuart Calverley Martley’s “Lost” Poet
Calverley’s life is probably as interesting as his poetry. He was born in Martley on 22 December 1831. His father was the Rev. Henry Blayds. The family then moved to the vicarage of South Stoke, near Bath and, in 1852, resumed their proper name of Calverley (a Yorkshire family going back before the Norman Conquest). Charles was briefly at Marlborough School for three months, then Harrow from 1846. There is still a set of steps at the school, with a spread of seventeen feet and a drop of nine feet. Calverley cleared it with ease. He also used to jump the wall between the schoolyard and the field, a drop of ten feet, with his hands in his pockets!At Oxford he won a Balliol scholarship and the Chancellor’s Prize in 1851, but his general exuberance and dangerous lack of discipline meant that he provoked the University to such an extent that his place as a student was terminated during the second yearOne of his more interesting offences was to keep a dog, which was strictly prohibited; he was caught out walking what was clearly a small brown mongrel; when challenged, he claimed it was a squirrel.
At Cambridge he was able to develop his talent for humour and also, apparently, as a musician – he composed and sang his own songs, and also popular songs and operettas, accompanying himself on the piano. His talents as a scholar were also obvious; he won the Craven Scholarship, the Camden Medal (twice), a Browne’s Medal and a Members’ prize for Latin. He achieved his degree status in 1856 and was elected a Fellow within two years.
His biographer, Walter J. Sendall, described him as: “Short of stature, with a powerfulhead of the Greek type, covered thickly with crisp, curling masses of dark brown hair, and closely set upon a frame whose supple joints and well – built proportions betokened both speed and endurance – he presented a picture of health, strength, and activity.”
In 1861 his first work appeared- “Verses and Translations”, which was actually reprinted fifteen times between 1862 and 1901. He married Ellen Calverley, his first cousin, of Oulton Hall, and in 1865 was admitted to the bar as a member of the Inner Temple, joining the Northern Circuit. In the winter of 1866 – 7 he was skating at Oulton Hall (which belonged to his father-in-law) when he tripped and fell forward, receiving a severe blow over the right eye. He had in fact suffered severe concussion and after seeing doctors in London it was clearly serious. From then on his health declined slowly, and he was later diagnosed as suffering from Bright’s Disease.
Two classical works,” Translations” in 1866, and Theocritus” in 1869, were followed by his book of poems “Fly Leaves” which was published in 1872, and reprinted eighteen times between 1872 and 1899.
But now we have no memory of this poet. He wrote as a parodist, that is he copied and tilted his jokes at other Victorian poets and their sugary sentiments and rhymes. Many of these poets are now long forgotten, and the meaning of Charles Calverley’s parodies are lost as well. He wrote with some style and manner, often barbed, and also wrote his poems against the “humbug” that here was nobility in being poor living rough, and against the way in which poets set out this rural and country life as a kind of “arcadiain rhyme”. Yet if we look at collections of Victorian verse he is often represented. There are twenty extracts of his work in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, which give some feel for the undercutting humour and sarcasm he used in his poetry.
Perhaps he did not leave all of Martley behind when he left but kept some of its down- to- earth common sense approach to life in his poetry. He is some times described as `Calverley the Elder’ but he himself preferred just to be known as`C.S.C.’
He died on Sunday 17 February 1884 and was buried alongside his infant daughter (who had died in 1868) in Folkestone, apparently because he had always liked the open hillsides above the coast.