Corvo's Death in Venice
MIRIAM J. BENKOVITZ
FREDERICK Rolfe, self-styled Baron Corvo, first went to
Venice in early August 1908. A former schoolmaster, a
failed priest, failed photographer and inventor, failed
artist, but a writer of considerable ability, Rolfe had spent much
of the two preceding years as guest of Harry Pirie-Gordon and
his parents, the Edward Pirie-Gordons, at their home Gwcrnvale
near Crickhowell, in Wales. There Rolfe met Ricbatd Daw kins,
eleven years younger. Director of the British School of Archaeol¬
ogy at Athens, a distinguished scholar, and a man of means. Daw-
kins suggested the trip and offered to pay for it. Rolfe spoke of
repaying Dawkins at some latet time with money he said he could
earn from descriptive writing and artistic photographs. After some
light-hearted planning, the two men set forth by train for Venice.
Rolfe left behind him in England debts to a former landlady,
iMrs. Grifbths; a lost lawsuit and the shame which, in his eyes, it
entailed; as well as uneasy relations with his solicitors Barnard &
Taylor and expectations of more money from them than they
were willing or bad any cause to provide. He left as well an acute
awareness of bis "penniless condition" and resentment bordering
on enmity towards the priest Robert Hugh Benson.
When Dawdcins and Rolfe arrived in \^enice, with Rolfe carry¬
ing bis possessions in a large laundry hamper, they settled into the
Hotel Belle Vue et de Russie, a modest hotel on the Piazzetta del
Leoncini, an extension of the Piazza San Marco. Almost at once
they hired a small boat, a sandola pupparin, and two boys to row
it. Soon Rolfe was helping the boys, and the group ventured
farther and farther onto the lagoon.
Opposite: Rolfe's final residence was on the Grand Canal in Venice;
at the far left in this 191 3 photograph is the Palazzo Vcndramin-Calergi
where Wagner died, to the right of which is Rolfe's Palazzo ]\larcclIo.