From Special Collections

Edward John Trelawny Collections

Engraved portrait of Edward John Trelawny from a sketch by Seymour Kirkup, Adventures of a Younger Son.

Engraved portrait of Edward John Trelawny from a sketch by Seymour Kirkup, Adventures of a Younger Son. New York, 1920. Trelawny Collection, Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library.

One of the most famous English poets drowned in mysterious circumstances off the stormy coast of Italy; another died aiding the Greeks escape Ottoman domination. Present both at the cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley on the beach in Livorno and later at the embalming of Lord Byron’s body in Messolonghi was Edward John Trelawny. Edward John Trelawny? One might well ask: How can I research and learn more about this influential and well connected adventurer and author?

Donald B. Prell has donated his extensive collection of books, articles, and manuscripts by, about, and directly relating to Edward John Trelawny (1792–1881) to the Libraries of The Claremont Colleges, housed in Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library. The core of the collection on Trelawny, author of several popular and influential works and memoirs about Byron, Shelley and other writers of mid-19th century England, is composed of more than 65 works comprising more than 115 volumes.

Detail of frontispiece of Edward John Trelawny from Adventures of a Younger Son.

Detail of frontispiece of Edward John Trelawny from Adventures of a Younger Son. London, 1835. Trelawny Collection, Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library.

Trelawny perhaps is best known for his memoir, Adventures of a Younger Son (1831), present in the Collection in the rare first and subsequent editions, in which he relates his exploits in the British Navy in highly dramatic terms; he confesses to piracy, murder, and desertion, among other outrageous deeds. At his request, Mary Shelley, widow of Percy Bysshe Shelley, anonymously edited the manuscript of Adventures. Trelawny’s Recollections of Shelley, Byron and the Author (1858) is an important—and contested—source document about the named poets and their circle; it established Trelawny Start of pull quote: (skip pull quote) . . . in highly dramatic terms; he confesses to piracy, murder, and desertion, among other outrageous deeds. End of pull quote. as the authority on Shelley until the mid-20th century when scholars set about examining the veracity of his story.

Recent scholars have proven much of what Trelawny wrote in both Adventures and Recollections was greatly exaggerated. His flair for the dramatic and “heroic” led Trelawny, in both looks and deeds, to fashion himself after Byron’s Corsair, a view of himself he exploited for the rest of his life. Trelawny did achieve a close, if short, friendship with Shelley, and he was in Livorno in 1822 when Shelley was drowned, and arranged and witnessed Shelley’s cremation there. Though their relationship was often contentious and competitive, in 1824, Trelawny served with Byron in the Greek War of Independence and attended his body when Byron died.

Detail of sketch of boat by Edward Ellerker Williams. In Williams notebook.

Detail of sketch of boat by Edward Ellerker Williams. In Williams notebook. Trelawny Collection, Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library.

Of particular note in the Prell Collection is a manuscript notebook of Edward Ellerker Williams dating from about 1819–1820. Williams, a retired military officer, was living in Switzerland with Shelley’s cousin, Thomas Medwin, when he was introduced by Medwin to Shelley. Also about this time, Trelawny joined Medwin, Williams, and Shelley, living together during those fateful days leading up to the sailing accident in which Shelley and Williams were drowned.

In his notebooks Williams recorded his travels during his stint in the Navy, then afterward on the Continent with his friends and family, and these notebooks are an important source for study of Shelley’s last days. The notebook in the Prell Collection contains many sketches, botanical specimens, fragments of poems, and one particular pencil portrait that might be of Shelley. Other libraries that hold Williams’ notebooks include the British Library, the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection at the New York Public Library and the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.

Sketch, possibly of Percy Bysshe Shelley, by Edward Ellerker Williams. In Williams notebook.

Sketch, possibly of Percy Bysshe Shelley, by Edward Ellerker Williams. In Williams notebook. Trelawny Collection, Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library.

Donald B. Prell became interested in Trelawny as an undergraduate at ucla in 1942 when he wrote a paper about the funeral of Shelley for an English literature class. “This was my introduction to Edward John Trelawny, and during the following 64 years, I have collected everything I could find by and about him.” After serving in ww ii, Mr. Prell finished his studies at ucla, then received a C.Phil from the University of London. He led several computing companies before founding, in 1958, the first magazine devoted entirely to computers and software, Datamation. Following stints at several venture capital firms and banks, Mr. Prell now leads Prell & Associates, a consulting firm in the field of futurology.

Mr. Prell has established an endowment at cuc to benefit Special Collections in order to support access to the Prell Collection, research, and digitization. Mr. Prell’s generosity has made the Libraries the place to study Trelawny, Shelley, and their circle, and we are truly honored to carry out his desire to make the Collection available for current and future scholarship.

The Prell Collection of Edward J. Trelawny enhances the Libraries’ excellent collection of 19th century British literature in Special Collections, which holds comprehensive collections of first and rare editions of poets Shelley, Byron, Moore, Keats, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, gifts of William Clary, Edward Dean Lyman, F. Haynes Lindley, John R. Butterworth, and Eli P. Clark, to name a few donors. The Prell Collection has been accessioned into the Clary Oxford Collection, in recognition of Shelley’s time at Oxford as well as Mr. Prell’s friendship with William Clary.

Sketch of boat by Edward Ellerker Williams. In Williams notebook.

Sketch of boat by Edward Ellerker Williams. In Williams notebook. Trelawny Collection, Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd Library.

Carrie Marsh is the Special Collections Librarian in Honnold/Mudd Library and can be reached at carrie.marsh (at) libraries.claremont.edu.

Image of cover of this issue in print.

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