Agnes McLehose, the daughter of a Glasgow surgeon and wife to a lawyer was a woman much above Robert in terms of wealth and family connections. Agnes’s love of poetry had caused within her a strong determination to meet the man who was the talk of Edinburgh. At a tea party held by a mutual friend their connection appeared instantaneous, Agnes’ attributes of intelligence, wit and a passion for poetry encouraged Roberts’s pursuit. The pair planned to meet again, but due to a coach accident Robert was left lame for weeks, putting paid to his plans not only to meet with Agnes but to those of leaving Edinburgh. For six weeks Robert was confined to his room. Immobilised, he and Agnes communicated via the Edinburgh penny post.
The penny post was however not privy to the rules and regulations of His Majesty’s mail leading to the pair deciding upon noms de plume to cover their tracks and protect her reputation as a married woman; thus Agnes became Clarinda and Robert, Sylvander. The passion between them was keenly felt but she was married and unattainable. Robert returned to Jean and Agnes sailed to find her husband in the West Indies (unfortunately he had already found a mistress and Agnes returned to Scotland alone).
This coffee cup shows the cultural divide between the two, coffee being a luxury reserved for the upper classes. The creature brightly illuminated upon the porcelain is that of a Chinese Pheasant, a symbol of beauty and good fortune, but perhaps most appropriately for both parties the representation of literary refinement.
Despite their shared love of poetry, did their romance really ever stand a chance?