Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849)

My attention was drawn to this most macabre of poets by a programme in the series on poetry societies on Radio 4. He seems to have led a rather colourful life, being born in Bristol in 1803 into the relatively well off family of Dr Thomas Beddoes, a famous physician. The origins of his taste for the gothic may be traced to a fascination with the dissections performed in the house in the name of scientific enquiry. His early years are characterized by intelligence and a flair for the literary accompanied by disruptiveness and rebelliousness. Having studied at Pembroke College Oxford, writing plays and poetry while he was there, Beddoes was on the brink of a successful literary career as a romantic poet when he left for Germany. Some cite a homosexual’s desire for anonymity as his reason for leaving, but this remains an open question.
In Germany, his literary studies were replaced by anatomy and medicine. His involvement in radical politics, drunken and disorderly behaviour and general troublemaking caused his being expelled from various universities and states. On his travels, he continued his writing however and produced his celebrated work “Death’s Jest-book”.

His life had always been plagued by intermittent bouts of alcoholism and depression. In 1848, such an occasion resulted in an attempted suicide in which Beddoes cut open his own femoral artery with a dissecting scalpel. The wound was in fact not fatal, but led to the amputation of his leg, variously attributed by him in letters to his family as the result of a riding injury and accidental injury sustained during a dissection. The following year, he finally ended his life once and for all, taking poison and pinning the following characteristically black and eccentric suicide note (to his solicitor in London) to his jacket.

My Dear Phillips
I am food for what I am good for -– worms. I have made a will here which I
desire to be respected – – and add the donation of ₤20 to Dr Ecklin my physician -–
W. Beddoes must have a case (50 bottles -– ) of Champagne Moet 1847 growth to drink my health in
Thanks for all kindnesses Borrow the ₤200 You are a good & noble man & your children must look sharp to be like you.
Yours if my own, ever, T. L B
Love to Anna Henry -– the Beddoes of Longvill and Zoe & Emmeline
King -– also to Kelsall whom I beg to look at my MSS and print or not as he thinks fit.
I ought to have been among other things a good poet; Life was too great a bore on one peg & that a bad one. -–
Buy for Dr Ecklin above mentioned Reade’s best stomach-pump

His poetical works have mustered an underground following for many years, but only recently was he embraced by the literary pantheon as a romantic poet. Tim Burton lists Beddoes among his influences and a cursory glance at both of their repsective work makes clear the influence.
Related Links: A set of links to his various works and biographies –


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