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A LIFE OF WILLIAM BODNEY
Together with an Examination of His Poetry and Punctuation
HE weather report submitted by the Suffix Weather Bureau on May 11, 1837, states that shortly after three in the afternoon there was a light rain, a precipitation of some .005 inches. There is a certain sad significance in this technical statement of the Weather Bureau, for during that light rain, George and Edna Bodney were married in the south vestry of Queen's Church.
We know that it was the south vestry because of a letter written the next day by the Rev. Dr. Morbeling, the rector, to his sister Mrs. Wrethnam. "Such a mess, such a mess!" writes Dr. Morbeling. "The north vestry has
fix were brought up, except for the fact that he did not go out of doors until he was eleven, and then only to strike at the postman. He was kept in the house so much because of an old prejudice of Edna Bodney's against fireflies.
We catch a glimpse of Bodney's school life, however, in a letter written by Charles Cod, a fellow student at Wimperis School (From the Danker Collection):
"There are lots of fellows here in school", writes Cod; "among them Henry Mamsley, Ralph Dyke, Luther Fennchurch, William Bodney, Philip Massteter and Norman Walsh."
Cod is no doubt accurate in his letter, although a note of personal prejudice which creeps in now and again makes it a little hard to rely on his judgment.
No more trustworthy is Norman Rully, writing to Ashman in 1845 (Author's Collection) when he says that Bodney paid "three shillings for a pair of skates". This is unquestionably an error on Rully's part, for skates at that time cost five shillings if they cost a nickel.
Lycurgus from his moss-bedowered tree Brings asphodel to deck the starry sky. The winter-scarred olympids homeward fly And softly spread their golden heraldry Yet Lacedemon does not wake in fantasy Nor Thetis sing her songs to such as I.
So, Laura, how shall Eros take his due
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way
And, what is more, you'll be a man, my
The boy in Bodney is fading and giving place to the man. This sonnet, while not perfect, shows what was going on in the youth's mind. Of course, "moss-bedowered tree" is bad, and Lacedemon was the name of a country, not a person, but "winter-scarred olympids" makes up for a great deal, and the picture of decking "the starry sky" with asphodel comes doubtless from Bodney's vacation days in Polpero where there are a lot of rocks and seaweed. Henry Willers, in a most interesting paper on Bodney's Relation to Open Windows points out that the "open windows to the sea" probably refers to an old window of his aunt's which she kept upstairs in the house at Ragley. Mr. Willers is probably right also in believing that in line six, the word "their" comes from a remark made by Remson to Bodney concerning some plovers sent him (Remson) after a hunting trip. "I am using their feathers", Remson is reported to have said, "to make a watch fob with."
These are fascinating speculations, but we must not linger too long with them. Even as we speculate, the boy Bodney is turning into the man Bodney, and is looking searchingly at the life about him. Poor Bodney! We know now that he looked once too often.
London to buy shoes. The shoes which he had been wearing in Suffix, we learn from the Town Clerk's record, were "good enough", but "good enough" was never a thing to satisfy William Bodney. The fashion at the time was to wear shoes only to parties and coronations, but Bodney was never one to stick to the fashion.
So bright and early on the morning of April 9, 1855, the young man set out for the city, full of the vigor of living. Did he go by coach or by foot? We do not know. On the coach records of April 9, there is a passenger listed as "Enoch Reese", but this was probably not William Bodney. There is no reason why he should have traveled under the name of "Enoch Reese". But whether he went by coach or over the road, we do know that he must have passed through Weeming-on-Downs, as there was no way of getting to London from Suffix without passing through Weeming-on-Downs. And as Bodney went through this little town, probably bright in the sunlight of the early April morning, is it not possible that he stopped at the pump in the square to wet his wrists against the long, hot journey ahead? It is not only possible. It is more than likely. And, stopping at the pump, did he know that in the third house on the left as you leave the pump London-wards, was Mary Wassermann? Or, did Mary Wassermann know that Bodney was just outside her door? The speculation is futile, for Mary Wassermann moved from Weeming-on-Downs the next week and was never heard from again. But I anticipate.
Of Bodney's stay in London we
know but little. We know that he reached London, for he sent a postcard to his mother from there saying that he had arrived "safe and sound". We know that he left London, because he died fifteen years later in Suffix. What happened in between we can only conjecture at, but we may be sure that he was very sensitive to whatever beauty there may have been in London at that time. In the sonnet On Looking Into a Stereoscope for the First Time, written when he had grown into full manhood, we find reference to this visit to the city:
And, with its regicidal note in tune,
If this isn't a reference to the London trip, what is it a reference to?
PROGRESS AND REGRESS
E have seen Bodney standing on the threshold of the Great Experience. How did he meet it? Very well indeed.
For the first time we find him definitely determined to create. "I am definitely determined to create", he wrote to the Tax Collector of Suffix (Author's Collection). And with the spring of 1860 came, in succession, To Some Ladies Who Have Been Very Nice To Me, Ode to Hester, Rumpty: A Fragment, and To Arthur Hostetter MacMonigal. Later in the same year came I wonder when, if I should go, there'd be.
It is in I wonder when, if I should go, there'd be that Bodney for the first time strikes the intimate note.
I sometimes think that open fires are best, Before drab autumn swings its postern shut.
"Open fires" is a delightful thought, carrying with it the picture of a large house, situated on a hill with poplars, the sun sinking charmingly behind the town in the distance and, inside, the big hall, hung with banners, red and gold, and a long table ladened with rich food, nuts, raisins, salt (plenty of salt, for Bodney was a great hand to put salt on his food and undoubtedly had salt in mind), and over all the presence of the king and his knights, tall, vigorous blond knights swearing allegiance to their lord. Or perhaps in the phrase Bodney had in mind, a small room with
work is spondaic. But I guess there just comes a time in everyone's life when the spondee falls away of its own accord and the trochee takes its place. It is Nature's way. Ah, Nature! How I love Nature! I love the birds and the flowers and Beauty of all kinds. I don't see how anyone can hate Beauty, it is so beautiful. . . . Well, there goes the bell, so I must close now and employ a spondee.
Seven days later Bodney met Lillian Walf.
FINIS ORIGINE PENDET
nobody in it. Who can tell? At any do not know whether it was at
rate, we have the words "open fires" and we are able to reconstruct what went on in the poet's mind if we have a liking for that sort of thing. And, although he does not say so in so many words, there is little doubt but that in using "fires" in conjunction with the word "open" he meant Lillian Walf and what was to come later.
ROM I wonder when, if I should go, there'd be to On Meeting Roger H. Claflin for the Second Time is a far cry -and a merry one. On Meeting Roger H. Claflin for the Second Time is heptasyllabic and, not only that, but trochaic. Here, after years of suffering and disillusion, after discovering false friends and vain loves, we find Bodney resorting to the trochee. His letter to his sister at the time shows the state of mind the young poet was in (Rast Collection):
Somehow today I feel that things are closing in on me. Life is closing in on me. I have a good mind to employ the trochee and see what that will do. I have no fault to find with the spondee. Some of my best
four o'clock or a quarter past four on October 17, 1874, that Henry Ryan said to Bodney: "Bodney, I want that you should meet my friend Miss Walf. . . . Miss Walf, Mr. Bodney." The British War Office has no record of the exact hour and Mr. Ryan was blotto at the time and so does not remember. However, it was in or around four o'clock.
Lillian Walf was three years older than Bodney, but had the mind of a child of eight. This she retained all her life. Commentators have referred to her as feeble minded, but she was not feeble minded. Her mind was vigorous. It was the mind of a vigorous child of eight. The fact that she was actually in her thirties has no bearing on the question that I can see. ing to Remsen three years after her marriage to Bodney, Lillian says:
We have a canary which sings something terrible all day. I think I'll shoot it Tuesday.
If that is the product of a feeble mind, then who of us can lay claim to a sound mentality?
The wedding of Bodney to Lillian Walf took place quietly except for the banging of the church radiator. The parson, Rev. Dr. Padderson, estimated