Geoghegan (Called Lewis) Harold Charles
The inscription on the gravestone reads: “1877-1941 To the memory of the poet “Lewis” Charles Harold Geoghegan “Il Bardo Errante” as he used to call himself. His friends of the Caffe Greco according to his wishes had him buried here amongst artists and poets. This memorial was erected by subscription.” His portrait is a drawing on porcelain, a unique concession to what is a very Roman but hardly a non-Catholic custom.
In the Cemetery’s files we found his particulars: father (Houy), mother not known, birthplace Dublin. How come an Irishman, and so a Catholic, could be buried here? In a letter of 8 September 1941, his friends at the Caffè Greco stressed to the cemetery’s Director that yes, the late Lewis came from a Catholic family, but in recent years in Rome he had been living with an evangelical organization, the Salvation Army. “Moreover, as the Office for Foreigners at the Questura of Rome has indicated to you, the late Lewis had many times declared himself to be nonCatholic….” Construction of his tomb took some time. In 1943 a letter from Piermattei, director of the Cemetery, points out that the works for it had exceeded the estimated cost (a well-known situation today as it was then!). The sum of 780 lire had been set aside but, with the addition of a plaque and other details, the costs had risen to as much as 1,312 lire. The writer of the letter, Federico Gubinelli, begged to have “…a major discount, or otherwise I will be in real difficulty” (he was the owner of the Caffè Greco at the time). In a faded newspaper clipping Lewis is described as a classic regular at the Caffè Greco: “Tall, thin, haggard and pale from the many hours he spent in his favourite caffè” where he used to recite his mysterious rhymes “in which he confessed in his mother-tongue his love for Rome”
G.C., as the author signs himself, had not had the privilege of knowing Lewis but he had admired from afar his finest compositions, and the wrinkles of his face like words on a page.” “Rome was at the heart of his life…this Rome of ours in which we sometimes are wrong to live without thinking of the singular privilege that good fortune has conceded to us”. What is there to say about this comment made in 1941? Once again, today as it was then!
Contributed by Maria Cristina Crespo, a Roman artist
The editor adds: the portrait on the gravestone is taken from a drawing of 1937 by Feri Faragó in the collection of the Caffè Greco. As a regular habitué of the café for many years, ‘Lewis’ made a striking figure – an impoverished, romantic poet who used to declaim the poetry of Dante and Milton, even sometimes his own, to his friends assembled there. According to Diego Angeli in his Cronache del Caffé Greco, he had moved to Rome from Milan where he had known everyone in the music world. Geoghegan had thought himself in love with the great actress Maria Melato and spent hours writing poems and love-letters to her. He also frequented Cinecittà where his unusual appearance helped to employ him as an extra. In the weeks before he died, he played a dying plague victim in the leper asylum scene from I Promessi Sposi (1941), directed by Mario Camerini, which was a huge commercial success.
For a life characterised by the three “P”s of Poetry, Passion and Poverty, Manlio Barberito reckoned the Errant Bard to be the last figure of the Romantic era.
Geoghegan (Lewis) Harold Charles was born in Dublino, Ireland, on 15/01/1877. Worked as Poet and Writer and died on 05/09/1941. Burial by this cemetery dates back to 1941.
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