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“A Son of John Thelwall”: Weymouth Birkbeck Thelwall’s Romantic Inheritance

This essay traces the meandering career of Weymouth Birkbeck Thelwall, the son of John Thelwall and his former pupil and second wife, the young and beautiful Henrietta Cecil Boyle. Born on the eve of reform and near the end of John Thelwall’s life, Weymouth followed in his father’s artistic, adventurous and amorous footsteps; creating his own peripatetic journey which led him eventually to a tragic and isolated death in colonial Nyasaland. His life narrative graphically illustrates how the Romantic idealism espoused by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century radicals; the reforms in education, and the civil and religious liberties which they campaigned for had unlooked for consequences, culminating in the late Victorian grab for Africa figured in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In Weymouth Thelwall we have a true “son of John Thelwall” and a strangely prophetic model of Mr. Kurz: citizen, artist, journalist and romantic idealist—with an eye to the main chance and a defiant propensity to take one too many risks.
September 2011

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