Upon A Hired Bed In Sidmouth

The little dry leaves are blowing against the windows of a house near the sea, with a sound like the whispering of small pale ghosts; they are blowing along the parade, over the edge of the century, they are floating away and away into the far-off plantations where the country gentlemen are rooted in the mould.

Here they come, these small ghosts left over, drifting over, from the eighteenth century – dry ghosts like the Beau and Beelzebub or Wicked Shifts, Bogey and Calibre, Gooserump and King Jog, Mouldy and Madagascar and Snipe, and Mr Creevey himself brushing those leaves together with his old hands. Soon there will be no leaves left.

On the 22nd day of January in the year 1820, whilst the threadbare-looking sea beat thinly upon the shore, a man of fifty-two years of age, his once robust and reddish face now yellow, his thin dyed black hair, that had once been shining and carefully brushed (where any remained), now dull with sweat, and with the grey showing through the black and with the skull showing through the hair, lay dying upon a hired bed in Sidmouth.

The magnificent opening paragraphs of chapter one (“The Death Of The Duke Of Kent”) of Edith Sitwell’s 1936 biography Victoria Of England. They don’t write ’em like that anymore.


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