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  • Roland Jackson

Serendipitous discovery of a novel

Updated: Dec 22, 2019

59 Montagu Place, home of the Pollocks

Juliet Pollock has become one of my favourite women.

John Tyndall admired her enormously, and wrote dozens of letters to her. He sent her poems too. He was more than half in love with more than one of his married female friends, not that anything improper is remotely likely to have happened. Juliet Creed, born in 1819, was the daughter of the vicar of Shalford in Surrey. In 1844 she married Frederick Pollock, a lawyer and Italian scholar, who succeeded his father as 2nd baronet in 1870. They lived and entertained at 59 Montagu Square, where Tyndall was a regular guest and friend of the whole family.

In parallel with writing John Tyndall’s biography I have been editing many of his letters, as part of the international Tyndall Correspondence Project, which is publishing them all in annotated form. It is a process that leads to delightful surprises.

59 Montague Square, home of the Pollocks (Roland Jackson)

One letter from Tyndall to Juliet Pollock was a puzzle, both to date and to explain its contents. It was headed simply ‘Tuesday evening’, and contained an intriguing line: ‘I have my eye upon ‘Ida’, certainly there are materials in these two first chapters for many interesting entanglements – I shall follow the threads with interest as you cast them, assured that you will work them all into a web of beauty at the end’.

The dating proved relatively straightforward. Tyndall’s letter referred to the funeral of Thomas Huxley’s four year-old son Noel ‘on Tuesday’. Huxley, his brother, and Tyndall had been the only three people present at this desperately sad event, on 18 September 1860. So the letter had probably been written on the following Tuesday, 25 September. But what or who was ‘Ida’?

Juliet Pollock was a novelist, accomplished watercolourist, and an expert on French drama and contemporary European literature. The Wellesley Index to periodicals lists 47 contributions by her, including a novel Hanworth, serialised in Fraser’s Magazine in 1858. But no ‘Ida’.

I typed ‘Ida’ into the search function for British periodicals, limiting the date to 1860. The first hit was titled Ida Conway. It was a novel, serialised in 12 monthly instalments in Fraser’s Magazine from September 1860 to August 1861 (John Parker, the editor of Fraser’s Magazine, who sadly died in November 1860, was a good friend of Juliet Pollock). The first two chapters were published in the September issue, where Tyndall read them. There was a byline: ‘By J. M. C.’. The novel has been given a suggested attribution to John Moore Capes, but ‘J. M. C.’ could equally denote Juliet M. Creed (I do not know what the ‘M’ stands for).

There is no doubt that this novel has been incorrectly attributed (to a man). The tale of Ida, which starts with the shock of the death of the heroine’s elder brother from a fall from his horse, and ends with her marrying a Count, is Juliet’s.

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