The Late Richard Dadd, 1817-1886

Michael Hofmann

The Kentish Independent of 1843
carried his pictures of his father, himself
and the scene of his crime. The first photo-journalist:
fairy-painter, father-slayer, poor, bad, mad Richard Dadd.

His extended Grand Tour took in the Holy Land
and ended in Bethlem Hospital, with its long panoptical
galleries, spider-plants, whippets and double-gaslights.
He had outlived himself at twenty-six ...

There was one day he seemed to catch sunstroke.
He fancied the black, scorched beard of a sheik
would furnish him with some ‘capital paintbrushes’.
Sailing up the Nile, on the Hecate,

they spent Christmas Day eating boiled eggs
and plum pudding, and playing cards for the captain’s soul.
The temples at Luxor stood under a full moon, lightly boiled.
Sir Thomas got off to try and bag a crocodile.

The route up from Marseille went as the crow flies –
precipitately, a dash from ear to ear.
A fellow-traveller let him play with his collar and tie,
until he pulled out ‘an excellent English razor’.

There was his watercolour, ‘Dead Camel’,
and a series of drawings of his friends,
all with their throats cut,
Frith, Egg, Dadd, Phillip and O’Neill.

He saw himself as a catspaw, Osiris’s right-hand man
on earth. His digs in Newman Street
contained three hundred eggs, and the earth
cracked when he walked on it.