Another of our guest posts by John Maguire, whose biography of William Roscoe is due for publication in 2014
Liverpool John Moores University continues to champion the spirit of the esteemed father of Liverpool Culture, William Roscoe, via the 2013 Roscoe Lecture Series. These free lectures will recommence after the summer with the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson OBE discussing the challenges and opportunities facing Mayors and their cities, to be held in October at the Philharmonic Hall.
The esteemed talks have seen some of the country’s leading commentators join the people of Liverpool in discussing the issues that really matter to them. Speakers as diverse as writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, cosmologist Professor Martin Rees, the campaigner Esther Rantzen and his Holiness the Dalai Lama. To encourage an exchange of ideas, question and stimulate debate, to generate a deeper understanding in a time of increasing diversity and social change.
The lectures are named after the father of Liverpool Culture: William Roscoe. A man who helped transform 19th century society by campaigning against the evils of slavery. He had the guts to stand up and rail against the slave trade that had made the fortunes of many of his peers. Roscoe made a massive contribution to the Liverpool tapestry, he created the Liverpool Botanic Garden, formed the Liverpool Royal Institution and the Athenaeum Library.
The highlight of this season’s free lectures had to be the 107th Lecture, where Claire Tomalin was welcomed to muse on her latest literary offering, Charles Dickens: A Life.
Ms Tomalin passionately enthused on Dickens and illustrated many comparisons between Roscoe and the Great Victorian Novelist. The work of both illustrates a transformative manifesto for social change. Dickens’ father was constantly in and out of debt and the trauma and humiliation scarred his very being and indeed fired his furnace of ambition. Leaving school at fifteen he worked as an office boy in a law firm and took up shorthand, this skill led him to legal reporting and he could draft detailed reports which developed his reputation with the newspapers. The contacts he made in this industry would eventually lead to his sketches being published and creating such an impressive body of work.
Roscoe too left school at an early age, having learned all that his schoolmaster could teach. With a passion for education he began to read the classics. Alongside his work as a lawyer, he made acquaintance with the language and literature of Italy, which was to dominate his life. An aficionado of art, examples from his collection can be found in the Walker Art Gallery. His obsession led to writing a history of Lorenzo de Medici in 1796. Quite co-incidentally Claire Tomalin owns a first edition of this book!
The discussion touched on all the facets of Dickens’ character, including his love affair with the ‘Pool of Life’, which began when he sailed from the Mersey for the first time in 1842 for America. He wrote from the Adelphi to his sister on the ‘warmth and reception’ the Liverpool people had given him.
He had a lust for life and his pre-talk rider would often be a pint of sherry and a pint of Champagne. The ‘inimitable’ Bos would walk every day, writing typically till around 2pm and then perambulating around the Metropolis, stoking the fire of his creativity, orchestrating his plots and narratives. He famously declared in later life, when seized by gout, that he would explode if he could not work. His sheer mental and physical energy is illustrated in the fact that, alongside writing his novels and running a magazine, he would also steam through at least one hundred letters of correspondence a year.
Dickens’ regard for those on the edges of society went beyond mere research for his novels; he would often visit prisons and was genuinely interested in real people, far from the kind of staged concern adopted by many modern-day z-list celebrities and Hollywood royalty.
Indeed, the sheer opulence of the Liverpool architecture left Claire Tomalin ‘stunned’. However for a biographer writing about an author famed for his research and attention to detail – Dickens trained at Bridewell to be a special constable just so he could wander around the Liverpool docks later at night – it is almost bizarre that it was Tomalin’s first visit to the Hall, scene of Dickens’ legendary penny readings. Still, the theme of the evening, how Dickens turned himself by his own efforts into good order, delivered by a lady who clearly understood her subject and spoke about the man with passion was enough to brighten up a dull wet Wednesday evening
The Roscoe lecture series continue in forging the very fabric of this city’s greatness. As the man himself cited,
everything connected with intellect is permanent.
Thankfully the lecture series continues to be a permanent feature in the university.
All lectures are free but entrance is by ticket only. To reserve your tickets for next season, please contact LJMU’s Conference and Event Services team on 0151 231 3668 or email RoscoeLectures@ljmu.ac.uk
Picture by Rod Crosby at Wikimedia