Saturday, March 25, 2023

I have been relapsing

‘All my associations here are bad, and I can hardly shake them off. All the old feelings I have been trying to get rid of, seem revived: particularly vanity and wandering of mind.’ This is a typical self-recriminating entry from the short diary of Richard Hurrell Froude, born 220 years ago today. He is remembered largely because of his early association with the Oxford Movement though he died very young, within a few years of its formation.

Froude, the son of a clergyman, was born on 25 March 1803, at Dartington, Devon, and educated at Eton and Oriel College, Oxford, where he came under the influence of John Keble. He was also a friend of Isaac Williams. Froude went on to become a Fellow of Oriel in 1826. In 1832, he went abroad for health reasons, accompanied by his father, Archdeacon Froude, and John Henry Newman.

Not long after their return, Froude, Keble, Williams and others founded the so-called Oxford Movement for high church Anglicans wishing to move closer towards Anglo-Catholicism. Froude is particularly remembered for his essays in the Tracts of the Times which advanced the Oxford Movement’s opinions.

Still suffering from consumption, Froude went abroad again, this time to Barbados, but, not long after returning to England, he died at his father’s house in Devon in 1836. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Anglican History website or the Bureau of Public Secrets.

Froude’s colleagues decided to include his short diary, which is full of self-recrimination, with his literary remains, published the year after his death in several volumes. Here are a few extracts from the start of the diary and one from near the end (all contained in the first of the volumes and freely available at Internet Archive).

2 January 1826
‘I ought to read six hours a day.’

1 February 1826
‘Oxford. All my associations here are bad, and I can hardly shake them off. All the old feelings I have been trying to get rid of, seem revived: particularly vanity and wandering of mind. I do not really care for any of their opinions; and I will try to act as if “I had root in myself.” I will try to do steadily what I ought to do; and, as far as I can control the impulse of the moment, will never let a desire to obtain their good opinion be the motive of any of my slightest actions.

I ought to spend an hour at Bp. Butler, or Lloyd, and an hour at Greek Testament, two hours at Greek classics, one hour at Latin, and as much time more as I can about my prize, &c.’

21 February 1826
‘I have been relapsing into idle ways, but will try to turn over a new leaf.’

23 February 1826
‘I have had a long idle fit, partly caused by circumstances; but I shall not throw it off without recording an idle day. K. says I ought to attend to nothing but my essay, till I have finished it.’

30 March 1826
‘The standing for the fellowship is over, and I have done a great deal better than I expected: I am silly enough to be nervous about the event; but I hope it is not for my own sake. I know it will be, in the best way, for my interest, if I do my part. It will not be any excuse for my past idleness if I succeed; and I am resolved at any rate to make a better use of my time for the future. I put this down to try to keep myself from caring for the event; but I am afraid it is of no use. It is one o’clock; it will be settled in ten hours.’

10 April 1826
‘I have had so long a spell of idleness, that I hardly know how to set to work to-day. I will try to make a good beginning to-morrow.’

12 April 1826
‘I have been a fool, and argued when it was bad taste to do so.’

11 May 1826
‘I have allowed myself to relapse into a most lax way, by idle speculations, and feel all the habits of regularity, which I have been trying for, deserting me.’

1 July 1826
‘I have got into a bad way, by writing down the number of hours. It makes me look at my watch constantly, to see how near the time is up, and gives me a sort of lassitude, and unwillingness to exert my mind.

I think it will be a bettor way to keep a journal for a bit, as I find I want keeping in order about more things than reading. I am in a most conceited way, besides being very ill-tempered and irritable. My thoughts wander very much at my prayers, and I feel hungry for some ideal thing, of which I have no definite idea. I sometimes fancy that the odd bothering feeling which gets possession of me is affectation, and that I appropriate it because I think it a sign of genius; but it lasts too long, and is too disagreeable, to be unreal. There is another thing which I must put down, if I don’t get rid of it before long: it is a thing which proves to me the imbecility of my own mind more than anything; and I can hardly confess it to myself; but it is too true.’

5 July 1826
‘Yesterday I was very indolent, but rather better; and then began to-day with the same slly idea in my mind; I will write it down if it bothers me much longer: but my energies were rather restored by reading some of my Mother’s journal at Vineyard. I did not recollect that I had been so unfeeling to her during her last year. I thank God some of her writings have been kept; that may be my salvation; but I have spent the evening just as idly as if I had not seen it. I don’t know how it is, but it seems to me, that the consciousness of having capacities for happiness, with no objects to gratify them, seems to grow upon me, and puts me in a dreary way.

Lord, have mercy upon me.’

7 July 1826
‘Spent the morning tolerably well; read my Mother’s journal and prayers, two hours: I admire her more and more. I pray God the prayers she made for me may be effectual, and that her labours may not be in vain; but that God in His mercy may have chosen this way of accomplishing them; and that my reading them so long after they were made, and without any intention of her’s, may be the means by which the Holy Spirit will awaken my spirit to those good feelings which she asked for in my behalf.

I hope, by degrees, I may get to consider her relics in the light of a friend, derive from them advice and consolation, and rest my troubled spirit under their shadow. She seems to have had the same annoyances as myself, without the same advantages, and to have written her thoughts down, instead of conversation.

As yet they have only excited my feelings, and not produced any practical result.

How immeasureably absurd will all this appear to me before long! Even writing it has done me good; I say this, that, when I read it over at some future time, I may not think I was a greater fool than I really was.’

25 March 1828
‘I am to day twenty-five years old; I have begun it with a specimen of my state. I did not know this morning that it was either my birthday or the Annunciation: and yet all the term, I have watched for the approach of Saints’ days for weeks before hand, while I had a holiday in prospect. This is very humiliating, and upon the whole I have every reason to be dissatisfied with myself for the conduct of this year.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 25 March 2013.

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