Portsmouth: The Home of Great Writing
On Wednesday the University of Portsmouth hosted a talk from a local writer, Mister Matt Wingett, about the literary history of this Island City.
Now, Portsmouth has something of an embarrassment of riches when it comes to its literary heritage but there really is nothing to be embarrassed about. Below is a list of some of the people Matt mentioned in his very interesting talk.
Lake Allen, with a storyteller’s knack for writing history, wrote a two hundred and fifty page History of Portsmouth in 1817, drawing on the work of his grandfather Lake Taswell, a surgeon and writer of a guidebook to the town. Along with fellow scholar, Frederick Madden, he formed the Atheneum Debating Society. They were joined by brothers Julian and Henry Slight, who had written their own history of the town in rhyme. This Metrical History of Portsmouth did not go down to well with their fellows.
Frederick Marryat, a British Naval Officer, was one of the first writers of naval fiction and one book in particular, Peter Simple, features naval life in Portsmouth. Marryat was a contemporary and acquaintance of Charles Dickens, who was born in Portsmouth. There is a statue to him and his birthplace in Landport is now a museum but it is not mentioned in any of his writings.
Two other writers from the Victorian Age, Rudyard Kipling and H. G. Wells, both spent time in Portsmouth while growing up and did not have the best of times. Wells worked in various jobs in different states of drudgery, which may have inspired him to write about the Morlocks and the Eloi in the Time Machine. Kipling, living under the tyranny of someone he referred to as ‘the Woman’ would beat him for any perceived lies. In the end, he learned to tell stories to avoid punishment. Some of the experiences could well have led him to write his famous poem If.
One of the most famous people to come out of Portsmouth isn’t actually real. The first two Sherlock Holmes novels were written on the Isle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He arrived in 1882 with only ten pounds in his pocket and set up a doctor’s surgery. During his time in Portsmouth he met with all sections of society, playing in goal for the association football team, cricket with the middle classes and bowls with the Lord Mayor.
All in all a very good evening and a fascinating discussion about a fascinating subject.