Medwin, Thomas (DNB00)

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MEDWIN, THOMAS (1788–1869), biographer of Shelley, and author of a journal of the ‘Conversations of Lord Byron,’ was born at Horsham, 20 March 1788 (parish register). He was third son of Thomas Charles Medwin, of a good Sussex family, by Mary, daughter of John Pilfold, and first cousin to Elizabeth Pilfold, the mother of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Medwin was educated at Sion House, Brentford, whither Shelley followed him, and as boys they spent most of their vacations together at Horsham. Medwin entered the army early in life, and on 16 Sept. 1813 became a lieutenant in the 24th dragoon guards. Later on he went with his regiment to India, where he had numerous adventures, probably the basis, more or less slight, of those afterwards described in ‘The Angler in Wales.’ About this time he published anonymously two short poems, called ‘The Pindarries’ and ‘Sketches in Hindoostan,’ but they attracted no notice. From 25 July 1819 he remained for several years on half-pay, with the rank of captain, and, after having apparently served in the 1st life-guards (title-page to Angler in Wales) finally quitted the service.

In the autumn of 1821 he went to Italy for his health, and joined the party of literary Englishmen then living in Tuscany. At Pisa Shelley introduced him as his cousin and schoolfellow to Byron [q. v.], who had hired the Palazzo Lanfranchi. Medwin stayed at Pisa from 20 Nov. 1821 until 15 March 1822, and, after a visit to Rome, again from 18 until 28 of the following August, during which time he was constantly in Byron's society and took notes of his talk. On Byron's death in 1824 Medwin, who was then in Switzerland, published a ‘Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron,’ and the book excited great interest, being republished in Paris and New York, and translated into French and German before the end of the year. At home it created considerable controversy, especially over the statements made therein in regard to Lady Byron (see article and letter by ‘Harroviensis’ in Blackwood's Magazine, xvi. 530–40), some impugning Medwin's veracity or his recollection, others holding that Byron, with his love of half mystifying confidences, had deliberately misled him (see Moore, Life, 1822, æt. 34; and Professor Wilson in Noctes Ambrosianæ, xvii. November 1824). Byron's friend, Hobhouse, wrote a pamphlet contradicting some of Medwin's statements. Southey, who had fiercely attacked ‘Don Juan’ in his ‘Vision of Judgment,’ and had been roughly handled in the ‘Journal,’ treated Medwin as an authentic chronicler, and, denouncing the ‘impudent lies’ in the volume, declared the liar to be Byron, ‘and not his blunderbuss, who had only let off what it was charged with’ (see Southey, Correspondence with Catherine Bowles, edited by Dowden, p. 76; also Southey's letter to the Courier, dated Keswick, 8 Dec. 1824).

In 1823 Medwin had brought out a dramatic poem on the subject of the ‘Wandering Jew,’ published anonymously in London. He spent much of his time travelling on the continent, and in 1825 married, in Italy, Anne, baroness Hamilton of Sweden, by her first marriage Countess of Stainfort or Starnford. By her he had two daughters, who were born in Florence, and afterwards married to Italian noblemen. He soon fell into debt, deserted his wife, and led an unsettled life. But he continued his literary work, and in 1833 wrote a memoir of Shelley, afterwards expanded into a life of the poet. He also made himself a fair classical scholar, and translated the ‘Agamemnon’ into English verse. He moved about for some time between England and the continent, engaged in various literary schemes, and contributed to the ‘Athenæum’ and other periodicals. After spending some twenty years in retirement at Heidelberg he returned to Horsham, where he died in his brother's house in the Carfax, on 2 Aug. 1869. His wife, who was born in London on 26 Feb. 1788, died in Siena on 28 June 1868. His published works are:

  1. ‘The Pindarries,’ a poem, afterwards affixed to the ‘Angler in Wales.’
  2. ‘Sketches in Hindoostan, and other poems.’
  3. ‘Ahasuerus the Wanderer,’ a dramatic legend in six parts, London, 1823.
  4. ‘Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron, noted during a residence with his Lordship at Pisa in the years 1821 and 1822,’ London, 1824.
  5. ‘The Agamemnon of Æschylus, translated into English verse,’ London, 1832.
  6. ‘A Memoir of Percy Bysshe Shelley,’ published in the ‘Shelley Papers,’ London, 1833.
  7. ‘The Angler in Wales, or Days and Nights of Sportsmen,’ 2 vols. London, 1834.
  8. ‘Lady Singleton, or the World as it is,’ a novel in 3 vols. London, 1843.
  9. ‘The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley,’ 2 vols. London, 1847.

[The authorities for Medwin's life are very meagre; Albery's Monthly Illustrated Horsham Journal, September 1869; Horsham Express, 10 Aug. 1869; Dallaway's Hist. of the Western Division of Sussex, edited by Cartwright, vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 368 (obviously wrong as to date of birth); Notes and Queries, 5th ser. v. 161, and 6th ser. vi. 293; Army Lists, 1816, 1820; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. B. S.