Josselin was born in 1617 at Roxwell in Essex, the first son and third child of a farmer. His early education was at Bishop’s Stortford, and, by his own account, he wanted to be a clergyman from an early age. He studied at Jesus College, Cambridge, receiving his BA in 1636–1637. His father died around the same time, and Josselin spent the next few years supporting himself in teaching teacher and curate posts. In 1641 he became vicar of the parish of Earls Colne, Essex, where he stayed for the rest of his life, embracing many different roles, not least teacher and farmer. Josselin died in August 1683, and was buried at Earls Colne on 30 August.
Most of what we know today about Josselin comes from his diary, first edited by E. Hockliffe and published in 1908 by the Camden Society for the Royal Historical Society. According to Hockliffe’s preface in that edition, less than half the original diary was included since many entries were of ‘no interest whatever - endless thanks to God for his goodness - ‘to mee and mine,’ prayers, notes about the weather or his sermons, innumerable references to his constant ‘rheums’ and ‘poses,’ trivial details of every day life, records of visits to his friends etc. etc.’ The aim was ‘to extract so much personal detail as is required to give a picture of the actual life of the author, and to include everything that possesses any historical interest.’ The author’s spelling was ‘carefully preserved’. In the earlier years, Josselin made entries frequently, often daily, but from about 1665 onwards there was usually only one entry a week.
Hockliffe concludes his preface: ‘A kindly if somewhat self-seeking figure [Josselin] lives again in the pages of this diary, and when his story ceases abruptiy on July 27, 1683, with a broken entry, we feel with real sorrow that we have parted from a friend.’
According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), the Camden Society’s scholarly edition omitted almost three-quarters of the original; the Josselin that emerged from it was ‘very much the public man, whose comments on the great religious and political issues of his day were what most merited attention’. ‘He was a moderate parliamentarian,’ the ODNB continues, ‘active in electioneering and petitioning and worried by the emergence of more radical groups like the Levellers, and served for a brief spell as a chaplain in the parliamentarian army and assisted locally with the implementation of measures for the reform of the church and augmentation of livings; he suffered plundering by royalist troops for his active organization of the defence of the village in 1648 at the siege of Colchester. Although unhappy at the king’s execution, he retained his support for what he called the ‘honest party’ even after the Restoration. Josselin’s well-informed comments on political events both in England and on the continent (on which he made an annual end-of-year report in his diary) reflect the social depth to political knowledge in mid-seventeenth-century England.’
Renewed examination of the manuscript diary in the 1960s led to a much fuller edition in 1976: The diary of Ralph Josselin, 1616-1683 edited by Alan Macfarlane and published by Oxford University Press. The picture that emerges from this modern edition allows the reader, the ODNB says, ‘to see Josselin properly in context, to sympathize with much that seems familiar in his life, and to puzzle over much that is foreign and strange.’ In particular, it shows him falling in love and marrying a wife, various emotions towards his children, chronic concerns about his finances (though a generous bequest from a wealthy parishioner helped establish him as a farmer in the mid-1640s) and his health, and an interest in public affairs, the weather, etc.
Of Macfarlane’s edition, the ODNB concludes: ‘By the time of [Josselin’s] death he had secured a comfortable material existence. But even to the end, his diary, maintained until the month before his death, reveals a man trying to fulfil his parochial duties, continually concerned with his children’s lives, receptive to political news (particularly of the fate of godly dissenters), and still, amid entries increasingly caught up with documenting his failing health, continuing to note, ‘God good to me’.’
Macfarlane, himself, in his introduction appears a bit mixed up in his opinion of the diary. He waxes lyrical: ‘Among many other topics to which he turns our attention are the following: accidents, food, geographical mobility, gifts, gossip, imagery, insanity, the poor, pregnancy, servants, wages. Anyone interested in the seventeenth-century thought and society is likely to find information of interest. An ordinary subject index cannot do justice to such a rich and complex document.’ And he adds, rather meaninglessly, ‘The Diary is, above all, unique as a total document.’
‘With all its redundancy and repetition,’ Macfarlane comments, the diary can ‘still be read straight through with great enjoyment’. But then he points out that ‘idiosyncrasies of grammar and style may, at first, provide difficulties,’ and that to reap ‘rich rewards’ the reader will have to ‘persevere and enter Josselin’s world, so strange and yet familiar’. Moreover, Macfarlane says that Josselin ‘does not emerge as lovable, or even endearing - his conscientious and suffering figure simply stands before us, to wonder at, pity and for all its frailty, respect.’
Finally, Macfarlane concludes, ‘posterity will judge [Josselin’s] right to stand besides Pepys, Heywood, Woodford, Kilvert - the great English Diarists of all time.’ Though, personally, I don’t think much of Macfarlane’s list of ‘great English Diarists’, Pepys apart of course.
Much of Macfarlane’s modern edition is available to read online at Googlebooks. It is also available in a slightly awkward format - one web page for each day - on an extensive website concerning the parish of Earls Colne. This was set up by Macfarlane and others, largely as a result of Macfarlane coming across the Josselin diary manuscript in the 1960s and from that developing a major research project aimed at reconstructing ‘an historical community’. As a result, Earls Colne is thought to have ‘one of the best documented histories in the world’.
The 1908 edition of Josselin’s diary by Hockliffe is fully and freely available at Internet Archive, and it is from this that the following extracts have been taken. (These are almost all the diary excerpts for 1657 to be found in the 1908 edition, and take up little more than a couple of pages. By contrast, the modern edition requires more than a dozen pages to include all Josselin’s actual entries for that same year.) Josselin’s forecast that 1657 is likely to be a boisterous year, in the first of the extracts below, appears to have been proved true by his round-up of world events in the last of the extracts.
25 March 1657
‘When I come to view my estate this yeare, I find my expenses far deeper then divers yeares formerly, and my receipts more then ever, God bee blessed. Last year my estate was about 670l. I find I have about 590l. and I have pd for land to Mr Butcher 150l. and to Mr Weale 85l. which is in whole 235l. so yt I have had a great increase this yeare of 145l. or yr abouts, with the life & health of my family, no trouble in my estate; the Lords love in Christ is my life and joy. I have received in to my hand Mrs Maries land on which I am out 108l. 9s. This yeare 1657 is like to bee a boisterous yeare in the world.’
28 March 1657
‘Talke now of a king, the Lord bee our king and lawgiver.’
17 April 1657
‘Divers men bustle to make Xt king; truly Cromwell will carry it from him at present, but surely yt is a time when Xt shall reigne more then inwardly.’
19 April 1657
‘Heard this weeke the men that are to make Christ King were plotting agst the Protector, and that he seized on divers of them.’
7 May 1657
‘Heard as if Blake desired landmen to attempt the Canaries.’
15 May 1657
‘At night M. Hubbard of London with mee to teach two boys at 3l. per annum if they come.’
23 May 1657
‘John Eldred a scholler yt brought mee in 40s. yearly went from mee; the Lord will provide.’
17 July 1657
‘Protector proclaimed at Halsted by ye Sheriffs.
30 August 1657
‘This day I publisht the act about the Sabbath, the Lord doe good by it.’ [An act to punish ale-house keepers for profaning the Sabbath by permitting swearing, drunkenness, gaming etc. in their houses.]
9 September 1657
‘After hopes of a dry Sturbridge faire it rained very much, so that the wayes were exceeding heavy and dirtie, Mr H. had some hopes to make 500l. of his hops; the last yeare he made 790l.’
30 September 1657
‘A publiq fast in regard of the general visitacon by sicknes, wch was a feavor & ague very mortal in some places.’
8 October 1657
‘Being up, & riving logs, Mr Elliston came & told mee Dr Wright was most certainly dead, I had no warning of his sicknes, I was troubled that such a providence found mee not better imployed, and disposed, but I blesse God though I am like to loose 60l. per annum, yet yt is not much trouble.’
3-4 November 1657
‘Mr Cressener acquainted mee that my Lord of Oxfords Chaplain was come to town and he thought about the schoole. Mr R. H. made some proffers in it, and I desired to observe God therein, but my owne inclinations rather tend to lay it wholly by, desirous God would open some helpe to mee in carrying on the worke of the ministry.’
9 November 1657
‘Dr Pullein sent mee an offer to procure mee the schoole, if I would helpe him to his living; I had no desire thereto.’
17 November 1657
‘Mrs Marg: Harlakenden having laid out 120l. at London, about wedding clothes, her father being exceeding angry, I appeased him, so that though he chid her by letter for her vanitie, yett he paid the scores.’
25 November 1657
‘Rd my copies of my two fift parts of ye farme on Colne Green from my Cosin Josselin; yt purchase cost mee about 310l; God blesse it to mee & mine.’
27 November 1657
‘Dr Pullein was with mee, shewed mee his grant from my Lord; he lost the living, for which I am sorry, and I the schoole; Gods will be done; I doe not find any trouble on my spirit in it; he desired mee to teach the schoole till spring for halfe the proffits; I consented; Lord I blesse thee for that kindnes and mercy.’
3 December 1657
‘Spent some time in prayer at Mr Cresseners, the Lord good to mee yr in; about yt time at London, Dr Pullein’s busines was put to that issue, that if ye Earl of Oxford would stand by his present- acon of Dr Pullein, he might come into his living; the Lords name bee praised for this kindnes, the issue is in thy hand, oh Father.’
5 December 1657
‘Riding over to the Earl of Oxfords to Bently hall, and speaking with Dr Pullein, a full issue was put to that treaty about the schoole; I not having it, in wch disposall of God I desire to bee satisfied, and sitt down contentedly, knowing that he will order and direct every thing for good to mee; I was very sicke at night and vomited, which I judged a mercy to mee.’
8 December 1657
‘Talke as if some uprore in ye kingdom, the militia horse suddenly called togither and the army foot called of again towards the sea.’
12 December 1657
‘Saw a booke esp: of Welsh prophecies, which asserts that Cromwell is the great Conqueror that shall conquer Turke and Pope. I have many yeares on scripture grounds and revolutions judged him or his govermt and successors, but esp. my heart fixt on him, to bee most great; but sad will bee things to Sts and him; this booke of prophecies giveth mee no satisfaction, but perhaps may sett men a gadding to greaten him.’
15 December 1657
‘Mrs Margaret Harlakenden married to Mr John Eldred; her father kept the wedding three dayes, with much bounty; it was an action mixed with pietie and mirth; die. 18, the company departed the priory. God gave an emint answer of prayer to him & mee in providing her so good an housband beyond expectation; Mr Bridegroom gave mee 1l. & Mr H. 1l. God in mercy requite their love and bounty.’
27 December 1657
‘If it bee worth writing this tels yt raisins of ye sun were sold at 12, 14, 16, 18d. per pound.’
8 January 1657/1658
‘Received an order to bee an Assistant in Ejecting of Ministers & Jan. 8. schoolemrs for insufficiency; had the offer of two schollers, which I undertake to teach; the Lord helpe mee in all my callings.’
25 January 1657/1658
‘This day was the last of my 41 yeare, in which God hath been with mee and blessed mee, and though Dr Wrights death cutt mee short in the schoole, yett I find my heart quiett, rowling it selfe on God, and no way questioning his providence to take care of mee. God hath given mee three children instead of 3 more which I had buried, and thus my dreame of 3 shoots in my parlor cutt down and growing up againe is made good.
Abroad in the world matters are likely to bee sad, yet I find not the apostacy to increase; this yeare the Emp. of Germany died, and no other yet chosen in his stead; his son the K. of Hungary assisted Poland, wherby the Swedes are driven into Prussia. The P. of Transilvania forced to retreate home, and was deposed for his attempt to please ye Turke. Brandenburg made peace with the Pole and left Swede. The Moscovite was in a manner quiet this summer, yet the Swede brusht him a little in Livonia. Denmarke invaded the Swede in Bremeland, to his losse in Juitland; the Hollander proclaimed warre agst Portugal & tooke pt of the Brasile fleete. The English assisted France agst Spaine & gott footing in Flanders, the Venetians beate ye Turke, but in the winter he regained some Iles as Tenedos; the Turke hath issue male. The Q. of Spain delivered of a sonne, ye King 53 yeares old and no son til now; the affaires in Italy & Catalonia not very boisterous. The Spaniards invaded Portugal by land & tooke some places; thus warre breaks out, but no eminent matter was done in the world; the English Protector setled by Parliamt and a house of Lords in title erected January 20th.’