Poem in Sir John Franklin’s Narrative Identified

Martyn Beardsley, author of Deadly Winter: The Life of Sir John Franklin, has brought to my attention that the poem written in the University of Illinois’s copy of Franklin’s Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea is in fact by Franklin’s first wife, Eleanor Porden.  In his research, Beardsley examined unpublished letters from Porden and Franklin in the Derbyshire Public Record Office.  This poem, originally appearing in a December 1822 letter to Franklin, was written by Porden in response to Franklin’s letters to her about the difficulty of writing his Narrative (Beardsley 101).  Beardsley includes this poem and several others by Eleanor Porden in an appendix to his Franklin biography.

Eleanor Porden (1795-1825) was a published poet.  Her collection of poetry, The Veil; or the Triumph of Constancy, was published to some praise in 1815.  Coeur de Lion, or, The Third Crusade followed in 1822.  She and Franklin were married on 6 August 1823.  Eleanor tragically died of tuberculosis in 1825 while Franklin was away on his second overland expedition to the Canadian Arctic.

Franklin’s second wife, Lady Jane Franklin (1792-1875), is well known for her exhaustive efforts in the search for Sir John Franklin’s expedition and is certainly the most famous wife of an Arctic explorer.  Because of Eleanor’s early death and Lady Jane Franklin’s fame, Eleanor Porden is relatively forgotten today.  A single biography by a family member, Edith Mary Gell, was published in 1930.  Eleanor was an interesting and complex woman whose life and achievements deserve to be explored in greater depth today.

As mentioned in the previous post, the University of Illinois copy is inscribed by John Franklin to John Richardson’s first wife, Mary Stiven (1795-1831).  This may provide some clue as to why Eleanor’s poem is written in the book.  Perhaps Eleanor Porden had some hand in John Franklin’s presentation of the book to Mary Richardson.  A presentation copy involving the wives of two of the most renowned nineteenth-century Arctic explorers is certainly something of interest to Arctic historians.  Although the poem does not provide direct autobiographical insight into John Franklin’s character, it certainly does tell us more about his mindset upon his return to England, his attitude toward writing, and his relationship with his first wife.

Thanks again to Martyn Beardsley for his help in identifying this poem. AD

Further Reading on Eleanor Porden and Sir John Franklin:

Beardsley, Martin. Deadly Winter: The Life of Sir John Franklin. London: Chatham Publishing, 2002.

Gell, E.M. John Franklin’s Wife, Eleanor Anne Porden. London: John Murray, 1930.

Sutherland, Kathryn. ‘Porden , Eleanor Anne (1795–1825)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/10088, accessed 18 May 2012]

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