070627.Bath, The Grotto for Scandal!June 27, 2007 at 1:14 AM | Posted in Architecture, Bath, Chisel Marks, Gardens & Parks, Jane Austen, Light and Shadow, Monuments and Memorials, Overcast, people, river, River Avon, somerset | 5 Comments
Delia’s Grotto, Bath: [1. Elizabeth A. Linley, 2. Richard B. Sheridan, 3. The Grotto for Scandal, 4. History of Delia’s Grotto 5. Design and Brief Context]
Below: Delia’s Grotto, now encased in a garden wall in back of No. 14 North Parade in early and late January 2007, as it is being prepped for a restaurant serving Greek cuisine. The toilets are now gone…but where? [See previous two posts: Linley and Sheridan]
John Ede’s terse description: “At the river end is a grotto in the garden said to be associated with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Miss Linley,” indicates that not just the structure but a rich history is hidden in that overgrown riverside garden. –John Ede, Special Walks (Bath: Department of Leisure and Tourist Services, Bath City Council, 1984), 19.
Secretly married but barred from seeing each other, both Richard B. Sheridan and Elizabeth A. Linley clandestinely met against their parent’s consent at Delia’s Grotto, on the banks of the Avon, along the old Harrison’s Walk. After a particular grotto tryst [see this excellent historical illustration of archival merit] [ebbed] by Sheridan’s jealousy, he composed the now famous twelve verses:
Uncouth is this moss cover’d grotto of stone,
And damp is the shade of this dew dripping tree;
Yet I this rude grotto with rapture will own;
And willow thy damps are refreshing to me.
For this is the grotto where Delia reclin’d
As late I in secret her confidence sought;
And this is the tree kept her safe from the wind,
As blushing she heard the grave lesson I taught.
Then tell me, thou grotto of moss cover’d stone,
And tell me thou willow, with leaves dripping dew,
Did Delia seem vex’d when Horatio was gone?
And did she confess her resentment to you?
Methinks now each bough as you’re waving it, tries
To whisper a cause for the sorrow I feel;
To hint how she frown’d when I dared to advise,
And sigh’d when she saw that I did it with zeal.
True, true, silly leaves, so she did, I allow;
She frown’d; but no rage in her looks did I see;
She frown’d but reflection had clouded her brow;
She sigh’d; but, perhaps, ‘twas in pity for me.
Then wave thy leaves brisker, thou willow of woe;
I tell thee no rage in her looks could I see;
I cannot, I will not, believe it was so;
She was not, she could not be angry with me.
For well did she know that my heart meant no wrong;
It sunk at the thought but of giving her pain;
But trusted its task to a faltering tongue,
Which err’d from the feelings it could not explain.
Yet, oh! if indeed, I’ve offended the maid;
If Delia my humble monition refuse;
Sweet willow, the next time she visits thy shade,
Fan gently her bosom, and plead my excuse.
And thou stony grot, in thy arch may’st preserve
Two lingering drops of the night fallen dew;
And just let them fall at her feet and they’ll serve
As tears of my sorrow intrusted to you.
Or, lest they unheeded should fall at her feet,
Let them fall on her bosom of snow; and I swear
The next time I visit thy moss cover’d seat,
I’ll pay thee each drop with a genuine tear.
So may’st thou, green willow, for ages thus toss
Thy branches so lank o’er the slow winding stream;
And though, stony grotto, retain all thy moss,
While yet there’s a poet to make thee his theme.
Nay, more—may my Delia still give you her charms
Each ev’ning, and sometimes the whole ev’ning long;
Then, grotto, be proud to support her white arms,
Then, willow wave all thy green tops to her song.
With a gothick atmosphere created by the “moss cover’d seat,” and a picturesque ideal fostered in Delia’s Grotto near the willow and “slow winding stream,” it is easy to suppose this location was selected for mere romantic settings alone. Selecting this grotto as the rendezvous site most likely came about from four facts. First, as stated above, the area’s social popularity for fashionable daylight strolls had ebbed since it was first laid out and then later incorporated into the North Parade. Additionally, there was a degree of privacy on the Walk since no development in the area ever fronted the river.  Conversely, the area was already popular with Sheridan, who frequented the Parade Coffee House at night, as seen yesterday’s post. Finally, the most compelling motivation for the selection of the grotto as a meeting point was that it was two streets away from Pierrepont Street. Here, Elizabeth had lived during her formative years from the age of ten until she moved at age seventeen to the Royal Crescent, where she was quickly wooed to elopement by Richard. Thus, the romantic grotto not only avoided the crowds, it was situated near a coffee house Richard frequented and in Elizabeth’s old neighborhood and emotional home.
Above: Detail of altered ordnance survey map by the Bath Archeological Trust…Below: Current hidden location in the garden of No. 14 North Parade and in the shadow of the North Parade Bridge.
The meetings did not last since Elizabeth’s father exiled her to Wells (his hometown), and Sheridan’s father sent him to Waltham Abbey in Essex. But the two were able to meet again when Elizabeth performed at Covent Garden. Slowly opposition to their union finally eroded with a second and official wedding on the 13 of April, 1773 in the Marylebone section of London. As was customary following the marriage, Elizabeth retired from the stage and Sheridan only allowed her to perform in small private gatherings. He gained fame and wealth quickly with his plays The Rivals (1775) and The School for Scandal (1777) and with his investment in the Drury Lane Theatre, which he purchased with Elizabeth’s father, who sold off his own Royal Crescent house.  In 1776, Sheridan took up politics as a Whig. He was elected MP for Stafford in 1780, became Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1782 and Secretary to the Treasury in 1783. 
Through it all, Richard and Elizabeth remembered their courtship and on one occasion when Elizabeth was visiting her relations in Bath, Richard wrote to her poetically alluding to their grotto days:
Near Avon’s ridgy bank there grows.
A willow of no vulgar size.
That tree first heard poor Sylvio’s woes.
And heard how bright were Laura’s eyes.”
Elizabeth responded to her husband:
Soft flowed the lay by Avon’s sedgy side.
While o’er its stream the drooping willow hung
Beneath whose shadow Sylvio fondly tried.
To check the opening roses as they sprung.”
Nostalgic as this scene might be, the courtship turned out to be the happiest point in the couple’s lives due to Sheridan’s infidelity. After Elizabeth died of tuberculosis at the age of 38, biographer Percy Fitzgerald suggested that Sheridan had copied his love letters to Elizabeth to woo his second wife (Perhaps he recycled his gifts as well). Regardless, Sheridan’s verses certainly were true to Delia’s Grotto, which today occasionally bears his name, and represents an aspect of its folly architecture that it was created to engender.
(Tomorrow, see the grotto!)
 Michael Forsyth, Bath (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 210.
 Emanuel Green, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Thomas Linley, Their Residences at Bath with a Notice of the Sheridan Grotto (Bath: Herald Office, North Gate, 1904), 20-21.
 William Lowndes, Royal Crescent in Bath: A Fragment of English Life (Bristol, The Redcliffe Press, 1981), 38.
 Cedric Price, ed., The Letters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 27.
 Richard Brimsley Sheridan, “To Laura,” in Green, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Thomas Linley, 23.
 Elizabeth Ann Sheridan, “To Sylvio,” in Green, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Thomas Linley, 23.
 Lowndes, Royal Crescent in Bath, 39.
 Price, ed., The Letters of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 27.