“Sir Rohan Left Literature”

First of all, don’t get your hopes up.

A proper new post is due soon (things have been a bit busy over at The Valve), but just in passing: why did I not know until this week (when someone mentioned it in passing on the VICTORIA listserv) that such a book as this existed? Here I thought I’d run into every possible permutation on and alleged source for my given name over the years, and all the while there’s a whole book about “Sir Rohan” just sitting in the Harvard library. OK, it’s another case in which it’s a man’s name, but I’ve pretty much accepted that I will deal my whole life with mail addressed to “Mr Rohan Maitzen.” Given that, I think “Sir Rohan” would be an acceptable alternative.*

Here’s an excerpt, then, from Harriet Prescott Spofford’s Sir Rohan’s Ghost (1860). I’m not sure if I’ll have the fortitude to read the whole thing.

In determined attempts to lay this Ghost, Sir Rohan threw himself into the heat of foray and battle. Braver knight there was not in the kingdom; but he left the army, for the shape glided perpetually between his sword and his foe, breathless and with glistening eyes beside him, rode with the same glitter as earnestly in retreat, covered him with its oppressive vacancy when he fell, till sense ebbed away with his blood. Then Sir Rohan essayed oratory and statesmanship; but the shape, so distinct that it seemed as if others too must see it, swayed its long arm beside him as he spoke, and sobbed Banshee-like, with a rustling inspiration, in his pauses. Sir Rohan left the bench and bar. Dissipation opened its arms to receive him, midnight drawing rooms were proud to hold him, gay dances wreathed themselves to his motions, rosy cheeks flushed at his approach. But a pale cheek was beside the rosy ones, an airier form glided through the dancers and did not disturb the set, and with the red wine before him a long white finger plunged down the glass and brought up the glittering trophy of a golden ring. Sir Rohan reformed. Yet perhaps in the dry recesses of old libraries he might be alone, and so he delved deep among musty tomes, striving to bury his heart with the dust of ages that he found there; but another hand shifted the leaves as he read, and eyes devoid of speculation met his as he unconsciously turned for sympathy in the page. When on some rude map he traced the route of conquerors, another finger followed his pointing out spots at which he did not glance, and resting wearily on places he would gladly have blotted from existence; and as his eye wandered in quest of some desired volume on higher shelves, the Ghost fluttered up and down below it. Sir Rohan left literature.


*And, of course, the proper pronunciation remains “Rowan.” None of that aspirated ‘h’ stuff, please.

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