A Mystery: Keats, Shelley, Woolson and Goethe in Rome

I love when mysteries start to unravel, taking you to the most unlikely places. My mystery started with a book I bought a few years ago: Peeps at Many Lands: England by John Finnemore and Wales by E. M. Wilmot- Buxton published in 1921 by The MacMillan Company in New York. It is a travel book with sixteen full-page color illustrations of scenes in England and Wales. 

It is was one of many old books, portraits and postcards I collected in my travels. Over the years and countries, the book has moved from table to table, bookshelf to bookshelf...as a reminder of our expat life in England. 

I recently opened it as I moved it into the Gathering Room at Tahilla Farm and a moment later a fragile piece of paper and a pressed leaf floated out of it. Being one for mysteries and surprises, I can't believe I missed it all these years.

It did not take long to surmise that each of the pressings came from the graves of John Keats (1795-1821); Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822); Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-1894) and August von Goethe (1789-1830) son of Johann Wolfgang Goethe

I would have assumed that the traveler who took the time and dedication to press these cuttings, note them and place them in a travel book on England and Wales had done so in while visiting either place...but not so. 

The top left corner of the pressed paper (below) indicates Rome which led me to Cimitero Acattolico (The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners) in Testassio, Rome. It is also widely known as the Protestant Cemetery and is one of the oldest burial grounds in continuous use in Europe, starting in 1716 with a dedicated 300 year celebration in 2016. It is located near Porta San Paolo and next to the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, built between 18 and 12BC. The graves sit within in a grassy meadow between Mediterranean cypress, pomegranate and other trees. 

If you read the list of notable graves on the cemetery website, you will be surprised by the number of scholars, artists, writers, diplomats, painters, historians, sculptors, scientists, archaeologists...all of international eminence. It is a fascinating read, from beginning to end HERE.  If you plan to travel to Rome and are intrigued...you can find details here. If you do, I would love to hear from you! 

And that leaves me with this lovely pressed sheet. As to who pressed it and when and why....will always be a mystery. It looks like it was a library book at one point that was sold on. Part of me wants to gently frame the sheet as another mystery explored and written about on Collage of Life...adding it to An Orchid, Winslow Homer and Intrigue and Between the pages...little surprises and fruity Americanisms

Part of me wants to tuck it back into the book for safekeeping...what would you do?

“Reading does not occupy me enough: the only relief I find 
springs from the composition of poetry, which necessitates 
contemplations that lift me above the stormy mist of sensations 
which are my habitual place of abode. I have lately been composing 
a poem on Keats; it is better than anything I have yet written 
and worthy both of him and of me.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley


“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: 
Its loveliness increases; it will never 
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep 
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep 
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”
John Keats


"Warm-heartedness generally begins at home,
and those who are warm to others
are warmer to themselves; it is but the overflow."
Constance Fenimore Woolson
(American born in New Hampshire)


Illustration by Frederick Whitehead (1853-1938)
Warwickshire: Ann Hathaway's Cottage, 
Shottery, Near Stratford-on-Avon

This post stirred up memories from our

Family time, reading sonnets in the Willow Arbour

and amidst the tulips

And there you have it...an expat memory that has come 
full circle in the most extraordinary way. 

What would you do with the pressed sheet of paper?
Return it to the book or frame it in glass?

don't you think we need a willow
arbour at Tahilla Farm? 

Now..to find an abundance of willow
and maybe a plane ticket to Rome
to visit Cimitero Acattolico.

Best wishes to all!

Jeanne xx


  1. I think I would frame it so I would be able to look at it often. But leaving it in the book and passing it on also sounds appealing. As does a plane ticket to Rome. After 5 visits U am still not bored of the Eternal City. I always say it's my favourite place in the world.

    1. I am with you Lorna...it is a wonderful city to travel to and to get lost in which I have had the occasion to do many times. ;) Many thanks for your thoughts on the next steps for the pressed paper, I think everyone is about 50/50 on this one. :)

  2. At this point I just might want to write a novel about it, going back and forth between now and then, or time travel, or something? It's very beautiful, and so evocative.

    1. I know Lisa...wouldn't that be fun? I wish I had the ability to see that one through. It would be a fun one as a writing exercise with a group of people...imagining the story and how it would unfold. So much potential!

  3. Beautiful find!
    I'd have it matted and framed. I have seen that title or one like it. Those old travel books are fascinating reads. To find pressings with notes on the paper is the best of the best along with hand written letters.

    1. Agree! I searched a few sites and came up with a couple of copies of the book. I am tempted to frame it...glass, front to back. Another tale in the story of Collage of Life. So tempted... ;)

  4. I think I would frame them also. But I do like the idea of someone opening the book in the future as delighted as you were. I take books and add collage, paint and drawings to various pages and put them back on the shelf. I would love to find a book with someone's art interspersed within!

    1. I love that idea Kathleen! My books are mostly filled filled with boarding passes from my travels. I love picking up a book and seeing where I traveled and when...brings back memories of the trip too. Postcards are another one...but then I miss them and eventually go looking for one...which drives me mad when I start the hunt!! ;)

  5. Arbors can be lovely - especially as they age and grow. That liminal sense of being neither indoor nor outdoor. I would love to make a grape arbor for the wild grapes here.

    1. Wouldn't it be fun? Not sure how realistic it is in my neck of the woods but a secret hiding/reading place could be constructed with a bit of thought. :)

  6. Such a wonderful post Jeanne. I think perhaps I'd leave your precious find in the book. I've experienced opening an old book and finding something quite unexpected which can bring interest and often great joy! However, seeing it daily displayed on a wall would also be lovely - hard decision.

    The willow arbour is fascinating - I can imagine sitting there on a much cooler day (today here 100F + higher with heat index!) with a special book and my reading glasses!

    Hope you've received my email this week - any chance we can meet at long last?

    1. Very hard decision Mary, maybe I will have come to a decision by the time we meet... :))


Post a Comment

Can I just say....that I so enjoy what YOU have to say. If you would like to write to me directly, I would love to hear from you... jeannecollageoflife@gmail.com

Popular Posts