‘I have reached a most venerable antiquity,’ wrote Anne Chalmers in her diary on turning 17. She was in London with her famous father, Dr Thomas Chalmers, being a tourist and enjoying the waxworks in Westminster Abbey and the sounds of street sellers. She died 120 years ago today.
Anne Chalmers was born in 1813, to Thomas Chalmers and Grace Pratt who had married the year before. They moved to Glasgow in 1815, and had five more daughters, and to Edinburgh in the 1820s when Chalmers was appointed to the chair of theology at Edinburgh University.
Anne married Dr William Hanna who later wrote a biography of her father - Memoirs of Dr Chalmers - in four volumes. Anne died on 27 March 1891. There is very little information about her online (the photo is taken from National Galleries of Scotland Commons), although there is plenty about her father - at Wikipedia for example - who was famous in his day as a social reformer and the first moderator of the Free Church of Scotland.
Stewart J Brown’s biography for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required) concludes as follows: Chalmers has remained a controversial figure since his death. For some biographers, including his son-in-law, William Hanna, Chalmers was a saintly figure, a man of deep piety and evangelical conviction, whose main concern was the salvation of souls and who chose to lead a pure remnant out of a corrupt establishment in 1843. For others, such as the mid-twentieth-century historians Andrew Drummond and James Bulloch, he was the ‘evil genius’ of the nineteenth-century church, a middle-class ecclesiastical politician whose poor-relief programmes brought hardship to the labouring orders and whose ambition for power and unwillingness to compromise led to the unnecessary break-up of the national church.’
For a few months in 1830, Anne and her mother accompanied Chalmers to London where he was to give evidence before the Commission on Pauperism. Anne kept a diary of the trip. This was edited by her daughter and published in 1922 ‘for private circulation only’ by The Chelsea Publishing Co. as Letters & Journal - Anne Chalmers. The full text is available at Internet Archive.
Here are a few paragraphs from Norman Maclean’s foreword to the book (also published separately in The Scotsman): ‘It was fortunate that the letters written by Anne Chalmers to her life-long friend Anne Parker (afterwards Lady Cardwell) were preserved, and also her journal of the year 1830, for they gave intimate and vivid glimpses of one of the greatest of Scotsmen Dr. Chalmers. . . She lived all her life among the men who create opinion and mould events. . . The diary . . . gives glimpes of a vanished life. It is not often that a young lady describes the effect of mixing her drinks.
This is Anne’s description of the fatal course: “During dinner I experienced a sensation I never had before. I had only drank a little wine and a very little champagne, and taken a draught of beer, as I thought, but I am sure now it was strong ale. I felt as if my head was chaos, and something appeared to be rushing with immense force and rapidity through it ; but still I continued mechanically, though a sense of shame and horror overpowered me. My advice to every Scotsman is to beware of asking beer in London, for they invariably get either ale or porter!” . . .
The visit that most impressed her was one to Coleridge. The poet talked for half-an-hour on Irving and the Book of Revelation. “The effect of his monologue was on me like that of listening to entrancing music. I burst into tears when it stopped, and we found ourselves suddenly in the open air.” ’
And here are two entries from early on in the diary itself, the day of her birthday and the subsequent day.
5 May 1830
‘Wednesday, the 5th of May, is my birthday. I have reached a most venerable antiquity. Papa, Mamma, and I walked to Westminster Abbey and were conducted over it by the guide. We saw the tombs of many of the kings, nobles, and poets of former days, and wax figures of Charles II, a Duke of Buckingham, Queen Elizabeth, William and Mary, Ann and Nelson (who is like life). Elizabeth has a most disagreeable expression of countenance. Mary and Ann are good-looking. Among other tombs we saw that of Mary Queen of Scots. Her figure is represented in a recumbent posture on it. We also saw the monuments of Edward I, Henry III, Richard II and his queen, the two princes who were murdered in the Tower, Milton, Dryden, Chaucer, Watts, Horner, etc. In one of the apartments stand the chairs on which the King and Queen sit when they are crowned. To that of the King is fixed the Scotch stone on which the Kings of Scotland were once crowned before it was taken from Scone by Edward I. The architecture of this Abbey is splendid. We were in the chapel in which Divine service is performed twice every day. A genuine Scotchman who had been making the round of the Abbey and making remarks with great simplicity on what he saw, here inquired earnestly, ‘But whaur’s the pulpit; whaur does the minister and the precentor sit?’ After looking round the room he was satisfied as to the position of the pulpit. After leaving Westminster we walked through St James’s Park and sat down by the pond in the centre of it, paying a penny each for the refreshment of chairs. The road between St James’s Park and the Green Park resembles the Meadows very much. We were a little fatigued by our excursion, and sat quietly for the rest of the day in our lodgings, to which we began to get somewhat reconciled and accustomed.
In the evening Mr Irving and Mr Nisbet called. When Mr I. was told it was my birthday, he said, ‘Dear child, may it come often.’ He is grieved about the illness of his little dear child! ‘There was nothing extravagant about his appearance. He seems to believe in Mary Campbell’s [a speaker of tongues] miraculous gifts.’
6 May 1830
‘Heard as usual in the morning the varied intonations of the London cries, from the staccato of the old clothes man to the long of the men selling boxes. To-day for the first time I saw a Bishop in his lawn apron. He was a fine-looking man, upon whose countenance a pleasing smile was lighted up as he crossed the street to speak to a gentleman. This last turned out to be MrLockier, who called on us and told us it was the Bishop of London we had seen, a very talented man. Walked through the Horse Guard House and by the side of St James’s Park and through the court of St James’s Palace, where Papa showed us the identical spot at which he had received a curtsey to himself alone from Queen Charlotte many years ago.
We dined with Lord Barham. I was particularly interested by a Mrs O’Brien, who seems a compound of talent, naivete, and gaiety. She is the most lovable person I ever saw. I like Lord Barham. He looks melancholy, and though he is not old, he has laid three wives in the grave. His last wife died about six months ago. It is customary here to hang the escutcheon of the family painted on a black ground on the walls of the house when the head of the family dies.’