Pauline Trevelyan – A Diary Entry

13th September 2010
This article is a bit of a cheat since in includes a lengthy diary entry from someone else. It is inspired by a biography I read recently about a remarkable woman: Pauline, Lady Trevelyan (1816-1866). Though hardly a household name in our times, she was one of the leading lights of the 19th century arts scene. Closely associated with the artists and poets of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The daughter of a poor clergyman, and initially self-educated, she eventually married one of the wealthiest men in the country.
portrait in profile of victorian woman, lady Pauline Trevelyan
Pauline, Lady Trevelyan by William Bell Scot.
A painter herself, she was also a keen geologist and recognised as one of the most intelligent and gifted women of her day. She also associated with and helped many of the great painters and poets of the times. These included the founding Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, and also many on the periphery, including William Bell Scott whom she commissioned to paint a series of magnificent panels in the hall of her country seat of Wallington in Northumberland. The poet Swinburne was also a close friend, as was the influential critic and artist John Ruskin. Her associates were deeply involved in the Gothic Romanticism of the age.
victorian gentleman in black coat, half-profile
William Bell Scott by Frederick B.Barwell.
Although very much the cosmopolitan, intensely fond of travel and European architecture, Lady Trevelyan was unusual in having her power-base far away from the capital of London in the relatively remote Northumberland countryside. For those who would like to learn more about her, there is a biography “Lady Trevelyan and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’ by John Batchelor. Chato 2006. And the following link is also recommended Victorian Web for a look inside Wallington Hall.

Lady Trevelyan - a Diary entry

And so to that diary entry. It is from Vol. 21 (she wrote a lot). It describes the approach to Venice by sea in the summer of 1842. I have kept the notation style and much of the quirky punctuation and spelling of the original as relayed in Batchelor’s book. She begins with: ‘the night was splendid and the moon light lovely & the sea like a mirror’

And then, following a few passages grumbling over the behaviour of some of the ship’s company which were not to her liking, she continues
‘About 5 (24th July) ... Caly [her husband] called me up to see the towers of Venice – I was sorry he had done so, for, instead of seeing them rising from the ocean they peered over the tops of a sandbank like a dutch town – we crept slowly along for the lagunes are so shallow that it requires great care.

A man sounded the depth with a pole every ½ minute. The views at first were like Dutch pictures smooth waters, & boats, & mud banks. And it was not till fairly opposite the city that the full beauty & magic of the ocean Queen broke at once upon us – and then indeed while one sweeps before places, and gardens, and porticos, & stairs, ad sculptured magnificence, the scene more than realises all those dreams that Venice more than any other place in the world has long ago inspired – then one after another all those buildings so well known so often imagined, rise beside, before & round us – St Georges island – S Marks – the Ducal Palace – Sta Maria della Salute, the fatal columns the wide piazza – one knew not which way to look – for all is beautiful all is of the past – that strange mysterious Venetian past where all that is gay & festive, song & revelry & carnaval & procession, blend with torture & tyranny – midnight murder & hopeless imprisonment – where Tassos verses echoed over moonlit waves – where Titian made beauty immortal – where ‘Cupids rode the lion of the deeps’ - & where Carrara – Carmagnola Faliero & hundreds, ever the best & the bravest of this ungrateful city, sunk into their bloody tombs & Foscaris broken heart found repose in the grave – such a strange mixture of feeling comes over me at first sight of Venice – admiration, and pity – indignation at her crimes, sorrow for her degradation – that one seems in a confused dream – not in a living city of this world & this age.

The morning was cloudless, the pure pale sky & the cool tints of this early hour were like Canaletti’s best pictures – and as, leaving the steamer, we floated silently over the still canals, we met boats laden with splendid fruits coming from the mainland with brilliant colours reflected in the water.’


In 1866 at the age of 50 years, knowing she was dying, Pauline Lady Trevelyan elected to go on one final arts-inspired journey through Europe rather than endure a prolonged death at home. Her devoted husband,Walter, and her faithful friend Ruskin were at her side to the last.

Swinburne, thereafter, would cry whenever her name was mentioned.
book cover shows Victorian lady in profile
The biography by John Batchelor - higly recommended.
Authored by Robert Stephen Parry

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