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Poet & Diarist

WILLIAM ALLINGHAM, poet and diary-keeper, was associated with a number of writers, poets and artists during the middle and latter part of the 19th Century. His published poetry consists of 6 volumes. However, critics have not been particularly kind to Allingham when it comes to his poetic output. Lionel Stevenson in his survey The Pre-Raphaelite Poets comments that "Allingham's talent was slender." Another critic, John Julius Norwich, writes that Allingham's poetry "seems to me to come about halfway up the second league." To the extent that casual poetry readers are familiar with Allingham, most are familiar with his poem "The Faeries."

In addition to the poetry Allingham left behind an incomplete autobiography and a much more complete diary.

He was born March 19, 1824 in the town of Ballyshannon in County Donegal. Donegal is in the Northwest part of Ireland and Ballyshannon sits on the Erne River just southwest of Donegal Town.

From Allingham's incomplete Autobiography.-- The little old Town where I was born has a Voice of its own, low, solemn, persistent, humming through the air day and night, summer and winter. Whenever I think of that Town I seem to hear the Voice. The River which makes it, rolls over rocky ledges into the tide; before, spreads a great Ocean in sunshine or storm; behind stretches a many-islanded Lake. On the south runs a wavy line of blue mountains; and on the north, over green or rocky hills, rise peaks of a more distant range. The trees hide in glens, or cluster near the river; gray rocks and boulders lie scattered about the windy pastures. The sky arches wide over all, giving room to multitudes of stars by night, and long processions of clouds blown from the sea; but also, in the childish memory where these pictures live, to deeps of celestial blue in the endless days of summer.

His father was at various times a ship-owner, merchant and bank manager. His mother died on July 2 1833 when Allingham was only 9. He doesn't appear to have been very close to either of his parents or his three younger siblings.

From Allingham's incomplete Autobiography.-- The persons moving around me were as personae merely, and in and for themselves individually interested me little or nothing...In these first years I do not remember to have felt any emotion of affection, either for my parents or for anybody else. Caresses (if that is to be taken into account) I never had any share of from my parents; they were both undemonstrative in that way by nature, and my mother's constant invalidism and my father's hasty temper kept us children at a distance from both.

Instead of personal intimacies Allingham's time was spent with nature. He took a great interest in animals and plants and in general he was keen to observe the natural environment. His brother John writes that he abstained from sports, "on principle, considering them cruel."

Allingham's formal education began in 1836 when he attended Wray's School on Church Lane in Ballyshannon. In the Spring of 1837 he left his hometown to attend Killeshandra, a boarding school in County Cavan. His formal education ended the next year when he took a job at the local bank back in Ballyshannon where his father was a manager. For the next seven years he worked at various branches of the bank.

The bank job was tedious and depressing. He said it made him "heartsick." In 1846, through family connections, Allingham secured a government job as a Customs Officer. He was sent to Belfast for two months of training.

From Allingham's incomplete Autobiography.-- [I] trudged daily about the docks and timber yards learning to measure logs, piles of planks. and, more troublesome, ships for tonnage; indoors part of time practised Customs book-keeping, and talked to the clerks about literature and poetry in a way that excited some astonishment, but on the whole, as I found at parting, a certain degree of curiosity and respect.

He wrote in his diary that he "preached Tennyson" to his co-workers and recited bits of Tennyson's Locksley Hall which perhaps explains the "astonishment" he refers to above. It is unlikely that many of the clerks in the Belfast Customs office were of a poetic disposition.

Just exactly how Allingham came by this disposition is not entirely clear but it seems certain that by the age of 22 he was more interested in literature and art than in book-keeping. However, the Customs job must have been well-suited to him because he more or less kept working for Her Majesty's Customs Office until 1870 when he gave it up to devote himself exclusively to art and literature.

One gets the impression that the seeds of Allingham's great love of art had something to do with the nature of that particular environment found in the northwest of Ireland. The ocean, the river, the flora and fauna all coalesced to produce a very aesthetically oriented man.

On the other hand, he felt quite isolated in this environment. To remedy the isolation and lack of cultural intercourse he began taking frequent trips to England. His first journey there occurred in the summer of 1843 when he was still employed by the bank.

Many of the details of Allingham's life come from his Diary which he began in June, 1847 and kept rather continuously until his death in 1889. The diary was first published in 1907 and it furnishes not only autobiographical information but many anecdotes and tales of the various writers and painters he met and got to know.

The Diary begins with an entry describing his visit to London in the summer 1847. He saw Jenny Lind perform the title role in Bellini's opera Norma. And despite the fact that he thought Lind was ill-suited for the part of the Druid priestess, he wrote, "Jenny Lind is the only actress I ever saw that I could imagine myself in love with." It was during this visit that he met the poet and journalist Leigh Hunt who would become his patron and the man to whom he would dedicate his first published book of poems.

During Allingham's 1849 summer visit to London he met the writer Coventry Patmore. (Patmore, a founder of the Cyclographic Society is the author of the line: "Poets love earlier than other men.")

from the Diary. Sunday, August 19 [1847].-- Dinner at Mr. Patmore's. Discussion on writing poetry-- he for consciousness, I for unconsciousness; he thinks a poet ought to know exactly what he wants to do and how to set about it; I am for knowing all one can, but also for poetising without conscious reference to rules and precedents.

During his 1850 summer excursion to London he was with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

from the Diary. London. Friday, July 19 [1850].-- With [Thomas] Woolner, two Rossettis, and Buchanan Reid in omnibus to Chelsea to Holman Hunt's lodging...[Hunt] has to be at the Royal Academy every morning now at seven, copying for somebody. As it was now late, and his guests showed no wish to depart, Hunt lay down on three chairs for a nap; but they only made merry of his drowsiness, proposed to sit on him, etc. and so the time lounged on till dawn was broad upon the river and its trailing barges, and D.G. Rossetti (usual Captain on such occasions and notorious night-bird) uprooted himself at last from some cushion or easy-chair, and all departed, after three o'clock, save myself, to whom Hunt kindly offered a spare bed.

Allingham spent much of the next 20 years earning a living as a Customs official while learning his living as a poet and a friend of poets. From 1850 onward he published a number of books of poetry including Poems (1850), Day and Night Songs (1860), Lawrence Bloomfield in Ireland (1864), Ashby Manner (1882), Flower Pieces and Other Poems (1888) and the six volume Collected Poems (1883-1893).

The tension between his professional work as a Customs official and his literary aspirations was a source of some considerable conflict for Allingham. He perhaps wanted to be more than just a weekend poet.

from the Diary. [January] 1864..-- I have been an "Official" all my life, without the least turn for it. I never could attain a true official manner, which is highly artificial and handles trifles with ludicrously disproportionate gravity. True that ordinary men are thus kept in order and the dull work of the world got through; but for my own part I always get back to the question, is it really necessary that men should consume so much of their bodily and mental energies in the machinery of civilised life? The world seems to me to do much of its toil for that which is not in any sense bread. Again, does not the latent feeling that much of their striving is to no purpose tend to infuse large quantitities of sham into men's work? In the Government offices, of which I know something by experience, I believe the clerks could do all they really do in half the allotted time, and, moreover, that much of their work when done is itself useless.

Allingham continued to lead this double life until 1870 when he finally quit his government position and decided to apply all his energies to the pursuit of a literary life. He took a job as an assistant editor of Fraser's Magazine and by 1874 he became its editor. Also, on August 22, 1874 he married Helen Patterson, an accomplished water-colorist.

It is interesting to note that in the diary entries for 1874 there is no mention of Ms. Patterson before the marriage. The only mention of his wife that year occurred on Thursday October 8 when he wrote, "Helen and I about 9:30 to 5 Cheyne Row." This refers to the home of Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist and historian. Carlyle, in fact, is the subject of most of Allingham's diary entries during 1874.

January 23 [1874]..-- C.[arlyle] has a bad cold, very unusual with him.

February 13.--Carlyle has received the German order Pour le Merite-- black ribbon with silver line near each edge...

March 23.-- To C.'s 3:30...He highly admires some practical little inventions, and thinks it must have been one of the most ingenious of modern men who thought of putting metal eyes into the lace-holes of boots and shoes...

Saturday, April 5.-- Easter Day. Carlyle, Mary and I to Millais' Studio...

April 20.--C. and I walk past Rajah's fountain...

May 24.-- Carlyle spoke of his College days...

May 27.--...There was a throng at Hyde Park Corner but C. ran into the middle of the street, at a risk, to catch a Chelsea omnibus.

June 2.-- Walk with C. and Professor Bain to Hyde Park. Talk of size of heads. C. said (I think) that his own head was 23 inches round, one inch more than Burns's. Goethe's head was large, Byron's small. Browning's is small...Greatest weight of a brain about 62 oz.

There is a lot more of Thomas Carlyle in the Diary from 1875 until 1881 when Carlyle died at age 86. In addition to Leigh Hunt, the Pre-Raphaelites and Carlyle, Allingham was acquainted with Robert Browning, the poet.

There is this peculiar 1876 recollection of what the putatively small-brained poet Robert Browning said when he looked at a photograph of himself on Allingham's chimney-piece: "There I am-- and I don't recollect when or where it was done, or anything about it. I find gaps in my memory..."

In June 1881 the Allinghams moved from London to Sandhills, Wyley, in Surrey. Here Allingham embarked on his work in quiet and tranquil conditions. Alfred Tennyson, named England's poet laureate in 1850 and his family lived nearby. And it seems that once Carlyle had died, Allingham replaced him with the poet laureate as the object of his intense attention.

August 21 [1881]..-- H. [Helen] and I to Blackdown [Tennyson home] - Foxholes. H. draws. Tennyson and I sit with her.

January 13 [1882].--H. and I to Blackdown. A.T. [Tennyson] in study. H. tries to draw him, but he won't. "You're staring at me-- I can't bear it! He's keeping me in talk, it's a plot! I hate it! My back bone is weak! You mustn't, Mrs. A."

Sunday, July 27 [1884].--Aldworth [Tennyson home]. About eleven T. and I came out to walk, first to the stables, where he unchained a Deerhound, a black Setter and two smaller dogs, then with these on Blackdown--along road, returning by Chase Farm uphill through plantations.

Thursday, August 7 [1884].-- A hot day. Helen and I all the afternoon at Aldworth. Various visitors and callers, so I had little talk with T.

Friday, November 6 [1885].--Fine, walked from Sandhills to Aldworth, through Haslemere, muddy roads, yellow russet woods. The Bucktons there. T. and Mr. B on Natural History. T. asks "How can Evolution account for the ant?" Mr. B. says the theory presents many difficulties. He is studying the English cicadae. We go to hall door to see the B.'s off, then Tennyson and I take a short walk. He asks me to stay the night, and I accept.

Sunday, September 11 [1887].-- Sandhills. Fine. Drive H. to Aldworth. Tennyson better-- walk with him on lawn...

September 1 [1888].--To Aldworth, find Tennyson in garden, reading Times--...

Tennyson, born fifteen years before Allingham, would outlive his younger friend by three years.

A final comment with regard to Allingham's personal diary:

Allingham had three children. But it is curious how rarely they are mentioned in the diary. There are no direct references to any of their births. Ten days after the birth of his first child, Gerald Carlyle (November 8, 1875) Allingham mentions that Carlyle had inquired about "Madame and the Homunculus." Allingham goes on to quote Carlyle: "A Baby is the most wonderful of all phenomena in this variegated world..." A second child, Eva Margaret was born on February 21, 1875 but Allingham's only reference to this event in his diary occurs on April 11 when he mentions that Carlyle was "very sympathetic about H.'s serious illness" which was a result of her second childbirth. The third child, Henry William ,was born on May 11, 1882 but Allingham makes no mention of this event in the diary.

In 1888 Allingham's health began to falter and he wrote his last poem, "Sunrise at Eastbourne: A Photograph" on August 10, 1889. His last diary entry occurs on October 25 and at 2 o'clock in the afternoon of November 18, Allingham died. His body was cremated and the ashes returned to the churchyard in his hometown of Ballyshannon.

Sunrise at Eastbourne

A Photograph

Dim sea, dim sky, -- a level streak or two,--
A gradual flush in the chilly atmosphere,--
What flames upon that eastern head? The Sun!
A blazing point--a hemisphere--full orb--
Laying a road of gold across the wave,
Gilding wet glossy sands, green-swarded cliffs,
Fresh-flowing tide-streams, far-off sails, tower-clouds.
Till wide-spread heaven, as lifts the Globe of Fire,
Is fill'd with yellow light, and Day rules all,
Two shrimpers, black amid the radiancy,
Pushing their nets along the ripple's verge,
These are the only life; our silent Town,
With smokeless chimneys, glittering window-panes,
Still sink in torpor and fantastic dreams.
Town after Town along this English coast,
And down the shore of France, awakes in turn :
Thousands of ships, unpausing day or night,
Of every country bathes by the salt flood,
Slide smooth between them, each upon its course,
As rolling Earth on hers, and I on mine,
And each on his of all my fellowmen.

Wish Tower Hill, August 10, 1889.
4:30-5 A.M.

Official Cosmic Pitching Record

William Allingham- Official Cosmic Pitching Record
1983 Bohemians 4.29 105 50 39 70 5 8
1984 Bohemians 3.92 85 37 23 54 5 4
1985 Bohemians 3.90 194 84 69 139 15 11
1986 Bohemians 2.85 246 78 71 128 15 9
1987 Bohemians 4.22 207 97 76 95 9 18
Total 5 Seasons   3.72 837 346 278 486 49 50
KEY: ERA=Earned Run Average; IP=Innings Pitched; ER=Earned Runs; BB=Walks; K=Strikeouts; W=Won; L=Lost

Allingham was drafted by the Eden Bohemians out of the Irish Literary League in 1983 and spent two seasons as the team's primary middle-reliever. For the 1985 cosmic season he joined the starting rotation. He had his best season in 1986 when he compiled a 15-9 won-loss record and posted a squad best 2.85 earned run average earning his team's Most Cosmic Player award for that season. He was deactivated after the 1987 cosmic season.

When the Pre-Raphaelite Baseball Club joined the Cosmic Baseball Association in 1997 they tapped Allingham to be their field manager. He has compiled a very decent 180-144 won-loss record in the two seasons the team has played in the Cosmic Underleague.

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William Allingham- 1999 Cosmic Manager Plate
Published: June 28, 1999
Copyright © 1999 by the Cosmic Baseball Association