The Smethwick Twins
Twins: drypoint A5 size on Fabriano Rosapina
The Smethwick Twins b. Smethwick 1836 d. Cannock 1860 Lewis and Robert Hyde were condemned by fate to walk in the shadow of the ’Siamese Twins’. They displayed the same physical characteristics as Chang and Eng, and were eclipsed throughout their lives by their more famous predecessors. Born twenty-five years later in 1836 in the West Midlands rather than Bangkok, their antecedents lacked the exoticism which had ignited the imagination of a western public. Yet their personal story is, if anything, even more poignant. Like Chang and Eng, the Hyde’s were possessed of widely different personalities. Lewis pursued an interest in theology from a young age, aspiring to holy orders. Robert showed a talent for writing. Fragments of work left to posterity reveal a sub-textual homoeroticism. Though carefully encoded via a system of symbolism, their sexual content was dangerously self-evident even to his contemporaries. The boys’ only shared enthusiasm was for sport, fired by their unbeaten run of success in the local Chance School three-legged races. This competitive urge developed into a passion for rugby. Here they were incorporated into a pack modified to accommodate them in the scrum unit. However, they were constantly thwarted by opposition teams; considered as two players rather than one, they were hampered by the forward pass rule, invoked at any time they swapped the ball from left to right hand. Disillusioned, they prematurely left the playing fields of England before the end of their teenage years. While Chang and Eng each married and fathered children, the Hyde’s were unsuccessful in their relationships. Lewis prepared for a life of celibacy in the service of God and sabotaged Robert’s social interactions, particularly those with other single men which might suggest any impending intimacy… Relations between the siblings deteriorated once the church made clear that it could not accept into its ranks a human specimen which so obviously had not been made in God’s [assumed] image. Meanwhile, Robert’s homosexual acquaintances could not afford to engage in intimate activities with him in the presence of a potential witness for the prosecution. Events ran to their tragic conclusion in June 1860. While Robert slept, Lewis took a lethal dose of aconitine. An editorial in ‘the Times’ accused Lewis of the murder of his brother. A rejoining letter from Bishop Williamson of the diocese of Shrewsbury suggested that the offence of suicide should take legal precedence over fratricide. Under orders from their superiors, clerics found themselves in the embarrassing situation of arguing in favour of the act of suicide as a means to combat the greater blasphemy of homosexuality. The Twins were laid to rest in an unmarked grave, which has since been covered by the North-Westbound M6 toll route.
From the suite of drypoints: "Little Histories of Fragile Creatures".
A tableau of characters who in their own time were famous, but are now almost lost to historical view; in niches of specialist subject knowledge, or clinging on only as footnotes to other people’s biographies. Timelines and context may have been re-calibrated in order to reveal some deeper truth..
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