The bed has been the scene of many activities other than sleep, love, birth or death; they range from mere authorship to such oddities as making bread or milking cows. Authors who have written in bed include Cicero, Horace, the Plinys, Milton (it is largely in bed that the “old blind schoolmaster hath written a marvellous tale, all about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden,” and there “at what hour soever, he rung for his daughter to secure what came”), Swift (with a bedside fire), Rousseau, Voltaire (of whom a striking portrait shows him still dictating while dressing), Gray, Pope, Trollope, Mark Twain, Stevenson, Proust, Winston Churchill, and Edith Sitwell (“but that,” says the housekeeper who gives the fact to the press, “is supposed to be a secret”). Hogg, in his Life of Shelley, records that “a fussy, foolish little fellow, a banker in a country town” told him that much of Wordsworth’s poetry was written in total darkness, in bed. “Any man who can write verses in the dark must be a genuine poet,” added the banker. Shelley heard of this feat, and tried it, but he usually lost his pencil, or his paper, or both, and the results were illegible.
Elinor Glyn, urgently needing £1000 to meet a rash IOU, given by her husband, contracted to write a 90,000 novel in three weeks – not the novel of that name – and took to bed. Fortified with coffee and brandy, she wrote all day and most of the night, with the haunting IOU lying on her bed-table. She finished the job in eighteen days, and lay back exhausted… Max Beerbohm no doubt wrote in bed, for did he not say that his ideal of happiness was a four-poster in a field of poppies? As for the artists: Fantin-Latour would draw in bed, wearing his overcoat and scarf and top hat, as we know because Whistler has so depicted him. GK Chesterton, himself no mean draughtsman, has said that lying in bed would be an altogether perfect and supreme experience if only one had a coloured pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling.
Extract from Warm and Snug. The History of the Bed by Lawrence Wright, 1962.