Philip John Le Geyt
Philip's letter to Queen Victoria
Philip John Le Geyt (1835-1894) Poet, Song-Writer and Writer of a Letter to Queen Victoria
In 1890 a statue of Queen Victoria was unveiled in the centre of a circular garden at the Weighbridge, built on land reclaimed from the Old Harbour.
After the ceremony, local poet Philip John Le Geyt (1835-1894), son of Matthieu Le Geyt, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Militia, and Esther Mourant, was moved to write a letter to the Queen, expressing his loyalty and that of his fellow islanders. The letter and a reply received from Buckingham Palace were published in a local newspaper some time after.
The letter is reproduced below with its original punctuation - or rather lack of it.
The recent inauguration of the Queen's statue
We have been requested to publish the subjoined correspondence, which will doubtless prove of public interest:
20 Devonshire Place, St Helier, Jersey 25 September 1890
- "MADAM – May it please Your Majesty to permit me – your Majesty's most loyal and loving and at the same time, most grateful subject – to humbly recall to Your Majesty's kind remembrance, the exalted honour which Your Majesty was graciously pleased to confer upon me in accepting my humble poem, written for the occasion of the Jubilee year of Your Majesty's glorious reign in 1887, and entitled Paean from Jersey, etc and, to again approach Your Majesty's August Person – in the full spirit and fervour of the most intense and undiminishable attachment and loyalty – and lay at Your Majesty's feet, in the very earnest hope that it may win the additional high honour and privilege of Your Majuesty's further gracious acceptance, my late most humble tribute towards the joyous celebration and lasting record of the unveiling and inauguration of the most faithfully designed and truly beautiful statue of Your Majesty's exalted and dignified Person, executed by G Wallet, Sculptor, at the mandate and expense, as well as, erected by the subscriptions of the People, Your Majesty's faithful and loving subjects of my native island, Jersey (smallest, perhaps, but, I venture to believe, purest and brightest pearl of loyalty to be found in the whole ocean of Your Majesty's wide domain) in whose veins flows the ardent blood of the Royal Dukes of Normandy, descendants of the Royal Scythians of Eastern Europe, who were descendants of the ten-tribed Israelites of Samaria who were deported by the Assyrian kings to the cities of the Medes in the eighth century before Christ; and, in fact, descendants of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Your Majesty being a lineal descendant from the Royal House of David the Psalmist.
- "Oh! That Your Majesty would once more cast the radiance of Your lustrous presence in our midst, and hallow the ground of my beloved Jersey with the tread of Your Royal feet; your Majesty would then immediately perceive, by the spontaneous and unrestrainable outburst of joyous welcome with which Your Majesty would be greeted, how very feeble, indeed, is my pen to give adequate expression to the deep rooted sentiments of affection and loyalty towards Your Majesty's Person and Throne, which fill the hearts of Your Majesty's subjects in this cosy corner of Your Majesty's vast dominions.
"That Almighty God may long extend Your Majesty's earthly existence, with a continuance of the rich gifts of His choicest blessings, is the sincere prayer of Your Majesty's most faithful and most devoted obedient servant."
PHILIP JOHN LE GEYT
General Sir Henry F Ponsonby is commanded by the Queen to thank Mr P J Le Geyt for his letter of the 25th ult, and for the accompanying verses.
1 October 1890
This claimed descent of the Royal Family from princes among the dispersed ten tribes of Israel, (Manasseh in particular, although not mentioned in the address), is neither eccentric nor ignorant. It was, and is, a foundational tenet of the British Israel denomination, which had adherents within other denominations but especially among Anglicans, such as Le Geyt. The beautiful hymn entitled Jerusalem bears witness to the extent, in the 19th century, to which these teachings were accepted within the Anglican establishment. It was particularly popular at the height of empire, when the European nations, especially Great Britain, were predominant worldwide and seen as blessed of God. To them, rather than to the individual Christian believer, was attributed the blessing of Abraham, through which "shall all families of the earth be blessed" [Genesis 12 v 3]
Philip John Le Geyt was a poet, song-writer and artist of considerable talent. His life, however, was a struggle against misfortune and poverty. Eight of his seventeen children died prematurely, seven within their first year. His father, Colonel Matthew Le Geyt, had himself struggled with debt--his creditors were sixty-one in number in 1822--when he was declared `en désastre`, so there was little he could do to help his son. Apparently in the hope that the young man might one day recoup the family`s lost fortune, he was placed as a clerk in the office of a coal merchant; he was afterwards a confectioner, furniture broker and then a "china and glass merchant". Without the capital to start his own business, this would unfortunately never generate sufficient income for him and his large family, whilst giving also the time he must have desired for his literary pursuits. Despite this, the younger Le Geyt`s output of patriotic verse and song was astounding. His zealous patriotism shines through such titles as The Fadeless Flags of England, The Royal Lion and His Whelps, The Love that Never Dies, The Sailor Boy`s Parting - a Nautical Song dedicated to the Jovial Tars of Jersey, Guernsey and England, whilst Primrose Day, produced and printed in 1884 reflects his staunch support for the ideals and aspirations personified by Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, whose favourite flower was the primrose. This had led to the primrose giving its name to the Primrose League, and for its use as an emblem on Primrose Day and other occasions, which marked the anniversary of the death of the great statesman and former Prime Minister, of whom it was said that "he made Queen Victoria an Empress and she him an Earl." Letters of acknowledgment of the receipt of his works survive from the Principal Librarian, British Museum, dated 30th June 1884, and from the Privy Purse Office, Buckingham Palace, dated 1st October 1890. At 9:10 am on the 6th January, 1881, his wife gave birth to their daughter Leila, who was promptly named Leila Piersona after the hero of the Battle of Jersey, the centenary of which, was that day. The Centenary of the Battle of Jersey was penned in his home at 20, Devonshire Place and published in the Jersey Express on January 8th: "My lov`d countrymen! - Jerseymen! - loyal and brave See! in spirit before us - glory covered in gore- Patriot soldiers who died their lov`d country to save!"
Poets and artists thrive under patronage. Philip John Le Geyt had neither. Nor did he have the backing of either half-brother or half-sisters. He hardly knew them. On the 4th February 1881, his half-sister, Margaret Houghton, acknowledged his gift to her of his poems "Dear Mr Le Geyt" thanking him and enclosing a £1 cheque [admittedly worth more then than now] as "you have plenty of mouths to feed". The gift needed no acknowledgment she said, ending "Yours sincerely, Margaret Houghton." One can imagine how mortified Philip felt. On the 18th February, in a more mellowed tone, she wrote "Mr Le Geyt, my brother has asked.. your acceptance of Henry`s Bible", which she offered to have rebound, at her expense, ending as before "Yours sincerely..." Henry will have been their mutual cousin, Henry Dumaresq. Philip`s half-brother, Matthew Le Geyt in England, conducted a fairly regular and arguably warmer correspondence with him, although with an appallingly patronising air: "Dear Philip", he wrote, mentioning his intention to include Philip "in a corner of my Will [for] a share of the small capital which may then be disposable." He continued "I have had an eye upon your conduct for years and have satisfied myself, by enquiries, that you are bringing no disgrace upon the name you bear. As long as this continues, you shall have my sympathy and help" [Letter dated 11th July 1885]. The "small corner of his Will" was left for his widow, Louisa Amelia, née Terry, to fulfil, which she did, in her own Will, but the sum was small. The key to the family`s relationship with their struggling, gifted, half-brother lies in the wording of Louisa`s bequest to Philip, in which she describes him not as the "brother" or "lawful and natural" brother of her late husband, which were the normal terms used at that time, but as "the natural brother" of her late husband. Although Philip John Le Geyt`s mother, Esther Mourant, was described in the St Helier Christenings Register (1835) as Matthieu Le Geyt`s "femme" (wife), the marriage of the parties has not yet been found, despite a thorough search, some years ago. It is likely that the word "femme" in 1835 had regard to the good name of the family, rather than fact. Certainly Philip was not brought up with the Le Geyt family but with Esther Mourant [Jersey Census 1841] and neither was he included in partages (divisions of inheritance) at any time. The talented and able poet was almost totally excluded. To the 19th century public, in contrast, he was celebrated as a poet and song-writer of whom they were proud