Eleven composition-style notebooks constitute the W. H. Chesson Diaries, ten of which offer a record of the life of a man of letters living in a suburb of Edwardian London. Over the many entries dated between 1904 and 1934 a unique picture of this London emerges, as witnessed from the vantage of the familial, professional and mental life of Wilfrid Hugh Chesson. In these diaries Chesson kept record of his family life, correspondence, dreams, books and manuscripts he had read, and other observations of daily life; the notebooks also served a scrapbook in which Chesson put numerous press cuttings, train tickets, calling cards, and other ephemera. Together, these various records provide a vivid account of the life of an eccentric and minor figure in the Victorian and Edwardian literary scene, but a figure who was associated with many of the best known individuals of that scene.
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Wilfrid Hugh Chesson (1870-1953), a son of the famous secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society, Frederick William Chesson (1833-1888), was an author, publisher's reader, critic, book collector and freelance literary journalist best known for his biography of the graphic artist George Cruikshank, his acknowledged discovery of Joseph Conrad's first novel "Almayer's Folly", and his marriage in 1901 to the prominent poet Eleanor Jane "Nora" Hopper. During the 1890's Chesson's career began in the office of T. Fisher Unwin, where he worked as a publisher's reader, passing along promising manuscripts to his colleague Edward Garnett, and helped to introduce another colleague, G. K. Chesterton, into the publishing business. Chesson was also the author of two novels, "Name This Child" and "A Great Lie", as well as other works including children's versions of Shakespeare's stories co-authored by E. Nesbit. From the early years of the 20th century, Chesson worked as a literary freelance, writing reviews, obituaries, prefaces, and performing editorial work; living still at Childwall, it was necessary for him to take in lodgers to supplement the meagre income this provided. Chesson was personally acquainted with many of the most noted literary figures and other luminaries of his day, including Richard Garnett, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, H. G. Wells, and M. P. Shiel, and contributed to newspapers and magazines such as the "Athenaeum", "G. K.'s Weekly", "The Daily Chronicle", and "The Occult Review".
Eleanor Jane "Nora" Hopper (1871-1906) was a writer who achieved some reknown in the 1890's for books of poetry and prose, the first being "Ballads in Prose" (1894), which was praised by W. B. Yeats, followed by "Under Quicken Boughs" (1896), both of which placed her securely in the center of the Irish Literary Revival. The daughter of an Irish military officer and a Welsh mother, she studied folklore at the British Museum with the encouragement of Richard Garnett before embarking on her vocation; it is remarkable that she had no first-hand knowledge of Ireland until 1905, given the thorough, if imagined, Irishness of her work. Nora Hopper continued to write poetry, children's verse, reviews, and drama through her career and contributed prolifically to magazines and journals such as "The Lyceum", "Household Words", and "Yellow Book". She married W. H. Chesson in 1901 and purchased the house known locally as Childwall in the Kew Gardens district of Richmond outside of London. Chesson complained once that his wife had become so well known as Nora Hopper that "the press refused her the privilege of being equally well known" as Nora Chesson. She died in 1906 following the birth of their third child, Dagmar, and her last work, the historical novel "Father Felix's Chronicles", was published posthumously, edited by her husband, in 1907.
Sources: Gould, Warwick. "Hopper, Eleanor Jane (1871-1906)." "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography." Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 7 Mar. 2008 <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/62929>. Milne, James. "A London Book Window." 1925. New York: Putnam, 1925. Page 72. West, Herbert Faulkner. "A Little More Light on Joseph Conrad." "American Book Collector," XVIII, 3; Thorson, W. B., ed. November, 1967. Pp. 27-28.
1 Linear Feet (2 letter sIze document cases.)
Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository