Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The day came at last

‘The day came at last as all days must come if one waits long enough. The day that ended my old & commenced my new life - a change for the better I have not the smallest shadow of a doubt - the day that ends this daily journal, having living tablet to write upon instead.’ This is Barclay Fox, part of a prosperous and important Quaker family in 19th century Cornwall, writing in his diary about his wedding day. Interestingly, he predicts - accurately - that he will no longer be interested in keeping a diary. He died 160 years ago today, leaving five children, not yet 40.

Barclay Fox was born in Cornwall in 1817 into a rich Quaker family that had many business and industrial interests in and around Falmouth. His father, Robert Were Fox, was a well known physicist and geologist, and was very involved with the family’s iron foundries. Barclay Fox married Jane Backhouse in 1844, and they had four sons and a daughter. Although Fox took part in the family business - he was made partner of the shipping brokers, G. C. Fox, and was general manager of the iron foundry at Perranarworthal, he also travelled abroad. Indeed, he was in Egypt when he died, on 10 March 1855, from tuberculosis. There is very little further biographical detail readily available online, but Wikipedia does have an entry for him, as does The Peerage.

Fox appears to have kept a diary for most of his life, starting when he was a teenager, but with far fewer entries after his marriage. Unlike the diary of his sister, Caroline, (see below), it was not published until 1979, when Bell and Hyman brought out Barclay Fox’s Journal as edited by R. L. Brett (including entries from 1832 to 1845). Thirty years later, in 2008, Cornwall Editions brought out a new edition of the 1979 book with a fresh introduction by Charles Fox, a preface by Bert Biscoe, and additional journal entries from 1845 to 1854. Some pages of this latter edition can be browsed at Amazon.

Here are a few extracts, including several from around the time of Barclay’s wedding.

1 January 1832
‘Breakfasted at Grove Hill. A cold day, got a cough, stayed at home from the afternoon Meeting. Papa gave me this book.’

9 January 1832
‘Commenced schooling today by myself in the new schoolroom and made an address to it in 6 Latin verses. I knocked out a pane of glass with my whipping top. A very wet day. I have begun to go to bed at 9 instead of 10.’

10 January 1832
‘2 Aunts came to breakfast, we all read our poems to them. After breakfast, I went with Papa to Perran to try the intensity of the magnet [Barclay’s father experimented with magnetism] with William Henwood, first in the valley and then on the top of the hill. We found the needle varied half a degree. In the evening, we 3 went to the Bank and read our poems again to Grandmamma and Aunts. Rather wet day.’

27 March 1832
‘J Richards, Cavendish & I went on board the Alchymist with Uncle Lewis. Explored the cavern at Pennance with Cavendish in the afternoon. John Wall went back to Bridgenorth this morning to his sister’s marriage. Fine day.’

4 April 1832
‘The marriage-day of Cavendish’s sister - a holiday of course. In the morning rowed with Cavendish to the Aurora frigate. In the afternoon some of the Classical School boys came to a game of cricket & tea, after which Papa showed us some experiments on galvanism etc. Very fine day.’

22 March 1840
‘Had the long anticipated pleasure of meeting John Mill, the exquisite writer in the London & Westminster. His voice, face & manner betoken delicacy of feeling, mildness, clearness and correctness of view, with that entire absence of assumption & affectation which distinguishes the really great from the really little.’

24 March 1840
‘Walked with Mill and Sterling after dinner. Mill sketched simply and beautifully the opposite habit of mind of himself & Carlyle; he being a generalizer, Carlyle an individualizer. His own turn was abstraction, Carlyle’s realization; the former is characteristic of the moral philosopher, the latter of the poet. He had only once or twice actually realized scenes of which he read and from that experience could easily understand the fancied inspiration of poets. For historic events to come home to him with the reality of actual presence would be more than his nerves could bear. When he first saw the great Truth 12 years since, that the earnestness of a writer is the only thing about him worth attempting to imitate, and the inevitable inconsistency of a copied style makes it more than vain, it seemed to him like a Revelation. There is sincerity of depth of assent in his emphatic Yes which is very peculiar. He is the most candid, genuine and clear-reasoning man I ever met with.’

29 November 1841
‘The deluge of 1841. The rain poured down in streams instead of drops, the low lands are inundated, walls & hedges are washed away. The water in some of the houses at Penryn is 4 or 5 feet deep & the inhabitants with their pigs are taking refuge in the top storey according to my father’s report, who went to Carlew this morning. The road about Stewart’s bone mill is converted into a rapid river 3 or 4 feet deep in some places. The like has not been known in this county within the memory of man. It is a happy thing for the old ladies that they can read of the covenant made with our forefathers that the world should never be drowned again, for certainly this looks somewhat suspicious. With Sterling for about an hour in the evening, to my usual edification.’

9 October 1844
‘Wedding-eve! My father & mother arrived at 9; the girls, with my Grandmother & Aunt C, in the afternoon. C has not lost her cough, but both give a clean bill of themselves & bright reports of their northern experiences. We dined at Southend with a large party, including 9 of the bridesmaids. At 7 William appeared seemingly well-strung-up to the occasion. We had much pleasant & interesting chat over the breakfast-room fire till the arrival of Uncle C & the lawyers put an end to it. He & William in conjunction with J Hodgkin & Edmund are our Trustees. This second legal visitation gave me the opportunity of a few last words with Jane who is all herself  - free from frights & fancies, considerate of all, calm & self-possessed. No perturbation at the thought of tomorrow.’

10 October 1844
‘The day came at last as all days must come if one waits long enough. The day that ended my old & commenced my new life - a change for the better I have not the smallest shadow of a doubt - the day that ends this daily journal, having living tablet to write upon instead, “The soul’s living home” as Coleridge calls it most truly.’

31 December 1844
‘Here ends the best & most blessed year of my life. It is as tho’ I had reached the goal of my boy-existence & found it but the starting post of a new one. The mountain tops before me show higher then ever & life is becoming a more earnest business with a larger sphere & higher pleasures & deeper responsibilities - no longer alone but blest with the companionship of a noble & pure spirit, with the possession of a deeply-loving heart; how abundantly grateful ought mine to be!’

Barclay’s sister, Caroline, has long been considered a diarist of note. Memories of Old Friends: being extracts from the journals and letters of Caroline Fox, 1835-1871 was first published in two volumes in 1882 by Smith, Elder & Co., and contains many references to her brother. Her diaries are freely available online at Internet Archive.

The Diary Junction

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