Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hester Thrale in France

‘I went to High Mass at one of the most considerable Churches in the Town, & was astonished at the want of Devotion in the Audience; some were counting their Money, some arguing with the Beggars who interrupt you without ceasing, some receiving Messages and dispatching Answers, some beating Time to the Musick, but scarce any one praying except for one Moment when the Priest elevates the Host.’ This is Hester Thrale on tour in France, and not having much good to say about the religious life there. She was travelling with her friend Dr Samuel Johnson, which she often did, and recording her experiences in a diary, which Johnson dubbed as ‘Thraliana’. Today is the 170th aniversary of Hester’s birth.

Hester Lynch Salusbury was born at Bodvel Hall, Wales, on 27 January 1741 into an educated and literate family. Her father, John Salusbury, was a Welsh nobleman, explorer and the co-founder of Halifax, Nova Scotia. However, back in Britain, he got into financial troubles, and after his death, Hester was married off to Henry Thrale, a wealthy Southwark brewer, in 1763. Though the marriage was often strained they had twelve children, only four of which survived into adulthood.

In the mid-1760s, Samuel Johnson began to spend several days a week at the Thrales family estate in Streatham, and he accompanied the family on trips to Wales, for example, and France. Through Johnson, Hester met other famous and literate people of the day, not least the young Fanny Burney, now remembered for her diaries, who, like Johnson, travelled with her and the family.

Henry Thrale died in 1781, and three years later, Hester married again, this time for love, to Gabriel Piozzi, a Catholic Italian music master who had been one of her daughter’s teachers. The match was criticised by Johnson and by Burney (though she herself would later marry a Catholic émigré), and the couple moved to north Wales. When Piozzi died in 1809, Hester went to live in Bath; and she died in Bristol in 1821. has a lot more about Hester, and Wikipedia has a short article; also, The Diary Junction has various links.

Hester wrote a good deal during her life, and indeed contributed to some of Johnson’s books. Her own first published works were about Johnson - Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson and Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson - and were a great success. But she also wrote poetry, plays and kept a diary for much of her life. This latter was referred to, long before publication, by Johnson: in a letter dated 6 September 1777, he wrote: ‘As you have little to do, I suppose you are pretty diligent at the ‘Thraliana’; and a very curious collection posterity will find it.’ Wikipedia has a much longer entry about Thraliana than about Hester Thrale herself.

Extracts of Hester’s diary were first published in the two-volumes of Autobiography, Letters and Literary Remains of Mrs Piozzi (Thrale) which was edited by A Hayward and published in 1861 by Longman (freely available online at Internet Archive). Also available at Internet Archive is Charles Hughes’ Mrs Piozzi’s Thraliana published by Simpkin, Marshal, Hamilton, Kent and Co in 1913. A much fuller version of the diary was brought out by Clarendon Press in 1951, and other published versions include The Thrales of Streatham Park, and The French Journals of Mrs Thrale and Dr Johnson.

Here are several extracts from the latter, The French Journals of Mrs Thrale and Doctor Johnson. This was edited from original manuscripts in the John Rylands Library and the British Museum with an introduction and notes by Moses Tyson and Henry Guppy; and it was published by Manchester University Press in 1932.

‘Until a year or so prior to publication,’ says Guppy in his Prefatory Note, ‘the existence of the small leather-covered note-book in which Mrs Thrale recorded her journal while touring around in France in 1775 was unknown, and not even suspected. . . It was found under a large collection of letters, papers and other note-books, which had passed down the generations and eventually acquired by the John Rylands Library.’ The book also includes Dr Samuel Johnson’s briefer diary notes of the same journey, as well as the diary of Mrs Thrale, by then Mrs Priozzi, kept during another tour of France in 1784. (Queeney was Hester’s eldest child and had been so named by Johnson.)

17 September 1775
‘Queeney’s Birthday. She is now eleven Years old, God preserve & continue her Life till mine is spent: on this day we weighed Anchor in a very neat Sloop - Capt Baxter, Commander, an old School-fellow of Mr Thrale’s. The Weather was lovely - the Ship all our own, the Sea smooth & all our Society well but Queeney, whose Sickness oppressed her beyond Conception. Sam and Molly too were cruel sick, but Queeney worst of all or I thought her so.

I was vastly surprized when I landed at Calais to see the Soldiers with Whiskers and the Women mostly so ugly and deform’d. They however seemed desirous to hide their frightfulness, for all wore long Clokes of Camlet that came down to their Heels. The Inn at this Place kept by Dessein is the most magnificent I ever saw - the Mount at Marlborough is nothing to it. We had an excellent Dinner which a Capuchin Fryar enlivened by his Company. When it was over we were entertained with a Sight of his Convent, Cells, Chapel & Refectory; the Library was locked, & I was not sorry, for Mr Johnson would never have come out of it. The Fryer was a handsome Man, had been a Soldier & ended his Pilgrimage a Monk; he had travelled Europe & seen Asia, and was as pleasing a Fellow as could be met with. Johnson said he was as complete a Character as could be found in Romance. The book open in his Cell that he had been reading was the History of England & he had a Fiddle for his Amusement. We saw a Ship such as might serve for a Model of a Man of War hung up in the Chapel of the Convent. I asked the meaning & the Fryer told me it was a Ship some honest Man had made, & grown more fond of than it is fit to be of any earthly Thing - so he had piously given it away to the Capuchin Chapel. Johnson observed that I ought to give them Queeney.’

23 September 1775
‘This Morning my Curiosity was abundantly gratified by visiting two Convents of Religious Woman. The first were Gravelines or poor Claires into whose House however I was not permitted to enter further than the Chapel through the Grate of which I conversed quite at my Ease with them - the more as they were all my Countrywomen, & some still retained a strong Provincial Northern Dialect. They were truly wretched indeed, wore only Petticoat, and that of the coarsest Stuff, they were bare legged and bare footed, & had no Linnen about them except a sort of Band, which was very dirty though I had Reason to think I was expected. The Sister at the Speak House . . . smelt very offensive when I saluted her, which I find is the Custom at all Convents. . . Their Fingers all seem knotted at the Joynts, their Nails broken & miserably disfugured, they are extremely lean too . . .’

24 September 1775
‘I have now acquired pretty good Notions of the Monastick Life, and have found that these Austerities are never chosen by any Women who have the least Experience of any other Mode of Life: but Parents who want to be rid of their poor Girls send them at the Age of ten or eleven to these Convents where they - seeing these Nuns perpetually & seeing nothing else - fall in the Snare, & profess Poverty, Misery & all which the rest of the World unite to avoid - much less from Religion than Stupidity. . .

I went to High Mass at one of the most considerable Churches in the Town, & was astonished at the want of Devotion in the Audience; some were counting their Money, some arguing with the Beggars who interrupt you without ceasing, some receiving Messages and dispatching Answers, some beating Time to the Musick, but scarce any one praying except for one Moment when the Priest elevates the Host.’

1 October 1775
‘We have driven about the Town ever since 11 or 10 o’Clock & I have stolen half an hour for my Journal & general Observations. Nothing can be truer than what Baretti says, that the Extremes of Magnificence & Meanness meet at Paris: Extremes of every sort are likewise perpetually meeting. Yesterday I was shewn a Femme Publique dress’d out in a Theatrical Manner for the Purpose of attracting the Men with a Crucifix on her Bosom; & today I walked among the beautiful statues of Tuilleres, a Place which for Magnificence most resembles the Pictures of Solomon’s Temple, where the Gravel is loose like the Beach at Brighthelmstone, the Water in the Basin Royale cover’d with Duck Weed, & some wooden Netting in the Taste of our low Junketting Houses at Islington dropping to Pieces with Rottenness & Age.’

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The crown hurt me

Today is the 110th anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria, Britain’s longest serving monarch, and indeed the longest serving female monarch in world history. Astonishingly, she kept a detailed diary for most of her life starting at the age of 13. Although the diaries are available to researchers, only a small fraction of them have ever been published, notably her earliest diaries. Somehow, she found the time to write in her diary at length about the day she became Queen and the day of her Coronation.

The only child of Edward, Duke of Kent, and Victoria Maria Louisa of Saxe-Coburg, Victoria succeeded her uncle, William IV, to the throne when only 18 in 1837. Three years later, she married her first cousin, Albert. Together they had nine children, many of whom married into European monarchic families. Albert was somewhat moralistic but also progressive, and, with Victoria, initiated various reforms and innovations, such as the Great Exhibition of 1851, which helped re-establish the British monarchy’s popularity. The success of the Great Exhibition led to the opening of public museums, such as the Victoria and Albert.

Albert died of typhoid in 1861, and, it is said, Victoria never fully recovered from the loss. Nevertheless, she continued to reign for another 40 years. During her time as queen, the British Empire doubled in size, taking in India, Australia, Canada and parts of Africa and the South Pacific. Her governments faced a number of foreign trials, including the Irish uprising, the Boer Wars and an Indian rebellion. She was also the subject of at least seven assassination attempts between 1840 and 1882. Her golden and diamond jubilees in 1887 and 1897 led to national celebrations. She died on 22 January 1901. Her reign, at 63 years remains the longest in British history, and is the longest of any female monarch in history. The Official Site of the British Monarchy has much more biographical information.

Victoria kept a detailed near-daily diary from the age of 13, but few of the original volumes survive, since they were all carefully edited and transcribed by her daughter Beatrice who used more than 100 volumes for the task. The first journal, begun in August 1832 when Victoria was but 13, was a small octavo volume half bound in red morocco with the words ‘This book Mamma gave me, that I might write the journal of my journey to Wales in it.’

There have been various published collections of Queen Victoria’s diary entries. The first was Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands from 1838 to 1861, edited by Arthur Helps, and published by Smith, Elder & Co in 1868. Arthur Ponsonby, author of English Diaries (Methuen, 1923), says she made £2,500 from its publication and used the money to set up university and school bursaries for the people of Balmoral. More Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands from 1862 to 1882, edited by Arthur Helps, was published by Smith, Elder & Co in 1883. Of both volumes, Ponsonby opines: ‘the entries are so much cut and trimmed and edited for public consumption that the charm of personality is almost entirely eliminated’.

After her death, in 1908, John Murray published three volumes of The Letters of Queen Victoria - A Selection from Her Majesty’s Correspondence between the Years 1837 and 1861. These volumes were edited by A C Benson and Viscount Esher, and the first contains extracts from Queen Victoria’s early diaries. Four years later, in 1912, the same publisher brought out two volumes of The Girlhood of Queen Victoria: a selection from Her Majesty’s diaries between the years 1832 and 1840 edited by Viscount Esher.

Here are two well-known passages from her diary, both very long (and considerably cut here) - how did she find the time? The first entry is from the day her uncle, King William, had died, thus making her queen; and the second from the day of her coronation. She was only 18 years old.

20 June 1837
‘I was awoke at 6 o’clock by Mamma, who told me that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here, and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing-gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham (the Lord Chamberlain) then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen. Lord Conyngham knelt down and kissed my hand, at the same time delivering to me the official announcement of the poor King’s demise. The Archbishop then told me that the Queen was desirous that he should come and tell me the details of the last moments of my poor good Uncle; he said that he had directed his mind to religion, and had died in a perfectly happy, quiet state of mind, and was quite prepared for his death. He added that the King’s sufferings at the last were not very great but that there was a good deal of uneasiness. Lord Conyngham, whom I charged to express my feelings of condolence and sorrow to the poor Queen, returned directly to Windsor. I then went to my room and dressed.

Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duty towards my country; I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure that very few have more real good-will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.

Breakfasted, during which time good, faithful Stockmar [a German nobleman and friend] came and talked to me. Wrote a letter to dear Uncle Leopold [Belgian king] and a few words to dear good Feodore [her stepsister]. Received a letter from Lord Melbourne [the Prime Minister] in which he said he would wait upon me at a little before 9.

At 9 came Lord Melbourne, whom I saw in my room, and of course quite alone, as I shall always do all my Ministers. He kissed my hand, and I then acquainted him that it had long been my intention to retain him and the rest of the present Ministry at the head of affairs, and that it could not be in better hands than his. He again then kissed my hand. He then read to me the Declaration which I was to read to the Council, which he wrote himself, and which is a very fine one. I then talked with him some little time longer, after which he left me. He was in full dress. I like him very much and feel confidence in him. He is a very straightforward, honest, clever and good man. I then wrote a letter to the Queen. At about 11 Lord Melbourne came again to me, and spoke to me upon various subjects. At about half-past 11 I went downstairs and held a Council in the red saloon.

I went in of course quite alone and remained seated the whole time. My two Uncles, the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex, and Lord Melbourne conducted me. The Declaration, the various forms, the swearing in of the Privy Councillors of which there were a great number present, and the reception of some of the Lords of the Council, previous to the Council, in an adjacent room (likewise alone) I subjoin here. I was not at all nervous and had the satisfaction of hearing that people were satisfied with what I had done and how I had done it. . .

Wrote my journal. Took my dinner upstairs alone. Went downstairs. Saw Stockmar. At about twenty minutes to 9 came Lord Melbourne and remained till near 10. I had a very important and a very comfortable conversation with him. Each time I see him I feel more confidence in him; I find him very kind in his manner too. Saw Stockmar. Went down and said good-night to Mamma, etc. . .

28 June 1838
I was awoke at four o’clock by the guns in the Park, and could not get much sleep afterwards on account of the noise of the people, bands, etc., etc. Got up at seven, feeling strong and well; the Park presented a curious spectacle, crowds of people up to Constitution Hill, soldiers, bands, etc. I dressed, having taken a little breakfast before I dressed, and a little after. At half-past 9 I went into the next room, dressed exactly in my House of Lords costume; and met Uncle Ernest, Charles, and Feodore (who had come a few minutes before into my dressing-room), Lady Lansdowne, Lady Normanby, the Duchess of Sutherland, and Lady Barham, all in their robes.

At 10 I got into the State Coach with the Duchess of Sutherland and Lord Albemarle and we began our Progress. I subjoin a minute account of the whole Procession and of the whole Proceeding, the route, etc. It was a fine day, and the crowds of people exceeded what I have ever seen; many as there were the day I went to the City, it was nothing, nothing to the multitudes, the millions of my loyal subjects, who were assembled in every spot to witness the Procession. Their good humour and excessive loyalty was beyond everything, and I really cannot say how proud I feel to be the Queen of such a Nation. I was alarmed at times for fear that the people would be crushed and squeezed on account of the tremendous rush and pressure.

I reached the Abbey amid deafening cheers at a little after half-past eleven; I first went into a robing-room quite close to the entrance where I found my eight train-bearers: . . . all dressed alike and beautifully in white satin and silver tissue with wreaths of silver corn-ears in front, and a small one of pink roses round the plait behind, and pink roses in the trimming of the dresses.

After putting on my mantle, and the young ladies having properly got hold of it and Lord Conyngham holding the end of it, I left the robing-room and the Procession began as is described in the annexed account, and all that followed and took place. The sight was splendid; the bank of Peeresses quite beautiful all in their robes, and the Peers on the other side. My young train-bearers were always near me, and helped me whenever I wanted anything. The Bishop of Durham stood on the side near me, but he was, as Lord Melbourne told me, remarkably maladroit, and never could tell me what was to take place.

At the beginning of the Anthem, where I’ve made a mark, I retired to St Edward’s Chapel, a dark small place immediately behind the Altar, with my ladies and train-bearers, took off my crimson robe and kirtle, and put on the supertunica of cloth of gold, also in the shape of a kirtle, which was put over a singular sort of little gown of linen trimmed with lace; I also took off my circlet of diamonds and then proceeded bareheaded into the Abbey; I was then seated upon St Edward’s chair, where the Dalmatic robe was clasped round me by the Lord Great Chamberlain. Then followed all the various things; and last (of those things) the Crown being placed on my head which was, I must own, a most beautiful impressive moment; all the Peers and Peeresses put on their coronets at the same instant.

My excellent Lord Melbourne, who stood very close to me throughout the whole ceremony, was completely overcome at this moment, and very much affected; he gave me such a kind, and I may say fatherly look. The shouts, which were very great, the drums, the trumpets, the firing of the guns, all at the same instant, rendered the spectacle most imposing.

The Enthronisation and the Homage of, first, all the Bishops, and then my Uncles, and lastly of all the Peers, in their respective order was very fine. The Duke of Norfolk (holding for me the Sceptre with a Cross) with Lord Melbourne stood close to me on my right, and the Duke of Richmond with the other Sceptre on my left, etc., etc. All my train-bearers, etc., standing behind the Throne. Poor old Lord Rolle, who is 82, and dreadfully infirm, in attempting to ascend the steps fell and rolled quite down, but was not the least hurt; when he attempted to re-ascend them I got up and advanced to the end of the steps, in order to prevent another fall. When Lord Melbourne’s turn to do Homage came, there was loud cheering; they also cheered Lord Grey and the Duke of Wellington; it’s a pretty ceremony; they first all touch the Crown, and then kiss my hand. When my good Lord Melbourne knelt down and kissed my hand, he pressed my hand and I grasped his with all my heart, at which he looked up with his eyes filled with tears and seemed much touched, as he was, I observed, throughout the whole ceremony. After the Homage was concluded I left the Throne, took off my Crown and received the Sacrament; I then put on my Crown again, and re-ascended the Throne, leaning on Lord Melbourne’s arm. At the commencement of the Anthem I descended from the Throne, and went into St Edward’s Chapel with my Ladies, Train-bearers, and Lord Willoughby, where I took off the Dalmatic robe, supertunica, etc., and put on the Purple Velvet Kirtle and Mantle, and proceeded again to the Throne, which I ascended leaning on Lord Melbourne’s hand. . .

At eight we dined. Besides we thirteen - my Uncles, sister, brother, Spaeth, and the Duke’s gentlemen - my excellent Lord Melbourne and Lord Surrey dined here. Lord Melbourne came up to me and said: “I must congratulate you on this most brilliant day,” and that all had gone off so well. He said he was not tired, and was in high spirits. I sat between Uncle Ernest and Lord Melbourne; and Lord Melbourne between me and Feodore, whom he had led in. My kind Lord Melbourne was much affected in speaking of the whole ceremony. He asked kindly if I was tired; said the Sword he carried (the first, the Sword of State) was excessively heavy. I said that the Crown hurt me a good deal. . .

Stayed in the dining room till twenty minutes past eleven, but remained on Mamma’s balcony looking at the fireworks in Green Park, which were quite beautiful.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Their negro troops

‘There are about sixty-five white men, and fifteen negroes, under the command of a Major Wilcox. They say that they come for peace, to protect us from our own lawless cavalry - to protect us, indeed! with their negro troops, runaways from our own plantations! I would rather be skinned and eaten by wild beasts than beholden to them for such protection.’ This is Eliza Frances Andrews, who died 80 years ago today, writing in her diary during the last days of the American Civil War. She was highly educated and part of a rich family that owned a large plantation with many slaves. Her diary, which is freely available online, captures the historic moment in early May 1865 when the Confederacy came to an end in her own home town.

Eliza was born in 1840 in Washington, Georgia, the daughter of a prominent judge and owner of a plantation with 200 slaves. She was among the first students to attend LaGrange Female College, and became very well-versed in French and Latin, literature, music, and the visual arts. The Civil War, though, spit her family: while her father was strongly against secession, her brothers went to fight for the Confederate States Army.

After the war Andrews worked as a journalist writing for various publications and as an editor, but when her father died and the family plantation had to be sold, she turned to education, teaching in schools, and later was appointed professor of French and literature. She continued to write after retirement, focusing on botany. She died on 21 January 1931. Wikipedia has more biographical information, as does The New Georgia Encyclopaedia.

For less than year during the Civil War, Andrews kept a diary, and she did so again in the early 1870s. The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl was published in 1908 by D Appleton, New York, and Journal of a Georgia Woman 1870-1872 was published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2002. Substantial parts of both books are available online at Documenting the American South and Googlebooks. The Civil War Women Blog also has biographical information and some extracts.

Here is Andrews herself introducing the her war-time diary: ‘To edit oneself after the lapse of nearly half a century is like taking an appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober. The changes of thought and feeling between the middle of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century are so great that the impulsive young person who penned the following record and the white-haired woman who edits it, are no more the same than were Philip drunk with the wine of youth and passion and Philip sobered by the lessons of age and experience. The author’s lot was cast amid the tempest and fury of war, and if her utterances are sometimes out of accord with the spirit of our own happier time, it is because she belonged to an era which, though but of yesterday, as men count the ages of history, is separated from our own by a social and intellectual chasm as broad almost as the lapse of a thousand years. In the lifetime of a single generation the people of the South have been called upon to pass through changes that the rest of the world has taken centuries to accomplish. The distance between the armor-clad knight at Acre and the “embattled farmers” at Lexington is hardly greater than that between the feudal aristocracy which dominated Southern sentiment in 1860, and the commercial plutocracy that rules over the destinies of the nation to-day.’

And here are some extracts from Andrews’ (long) entries for 4-5 May 1865, when the final cabinet meeting of the Confederacy was taking place in Washington, Georgia.

4 May 1865
‘I am in such a state of excitement that I can do nothing but spend my time, like the Athenians of old, in either hearing or telling some new thing. I sat under the cedar trees by the street gate nearly all the morning, with Metta and Cousin Liza, watching the stream of human life flow by, and keeping guard over the horses of some soldier friends that had left them grazing on the lawn. Father and Cora went to call on the President [the Confederate President - Jefferson Davis], and in spite of his prejudice against everybody and everything connected with secession, father says his manner was so calm and dignified that he could not help admiring the man. Crowds of people flocked to see him, and nearly all were melted to tears. Gen. Elzey pretended to have dust in his eyes and Mrs Elzey blubbered outright, exclaiming all the while, in her impulsive way: “Oh, I am such a fool to be crying, but I can’t help it!” When she was telling me about it afterwards, she said she could not stay in the room with him yesterday evening, because she couldn’t help crying, and she was ashamed for the people who called to see her looking so ugly, with her eyes and nose red. She says that at night, after the crowd left, there was a private meeting in his room, where Reagan and Mallory and other high officials were present, and again early in the morning there were other confabulations before they all scattered and went their ways - and this, I suppose, is the end of the Confederacy. Then she made me laugh by telling some ludicrous things that happened while the crowd was calling. . . It is strange how closely interwoven tragedy and comedy are in life.

The people of the village sent so many good things for the President to eat, that an ogre couldn’t have devoured them all, and he left many little delicacies, besides giving away a number of his personal effects, to people who had been kind to him. He requested that one package be sent to mother, which, if it ever comes, must be kept as an heirloom in the family. I don’t suppose he knows what strong Unionists father and mother have always been, but for all that I am sure they would be as ready to help him now, if they could, as the hottest rebel among us. I was not ashamed of father’s being a Union man when his was the down-trodden, persecuted party; but now, when our country is down-trodden, the Union means something very different from what it did four years ago. It is a great grief and mortification to me that he sticks to that wicked old tyranny still, but he is a Southerner and a gentleman, in spite of his politics, and at any rate nobody can accuse him of self-interest, for he has sacrificed as much in the war as any other private citizen I know, except those whose children have been killed. His sons, all but little Marshall, have been in the army since the very first gun - in fact, Garnett was the first man to volunteer from the county, and it is through the mercy of God and not of his beloved Union that they have come back alive. Then, he has lost not only his negroes, like everybody else, but his land, too.

The President left town about ten o’clock, with a single companion, his unruly cavalry escort having gone on before. He travels sometimes with them, sometimes before, sometimes behind, never permitting his precise location to be known. Generals Bragg and Breckinridge are in the village, with a host of minor celebrities. Gen. Breckinridge is called the handsomest man in the Confederate army, and Bragg might well be called the ugliest. I saw him at Mrs Vickers’s, where he is staying, and he looks like an old porcupine. I never was a special admirer of his, though it would be a good thing if some of his stringent views about discipline could be put into effect just now - if discipline were possible among men without a leader, without a country, without a hope. The army is practically disbanded, and citizens, as well as soldiers, thoroughly demoralized. It has gotten to be pretty much a game of grab with us all; every man for himself and the Devil (or the Yankees, which amounts to the same thing) take the hindmost. Nearly all government teams have been seized and driven out of town by irresponsibile parties - indeed, there seems to be nobody responsible for anything any longer. Gen. Elzey’s two ambulances were taken last night, so that Capt. Palfrey and Capt. Swett are left in the lurch, and will have to make their way home by boat and rail, or afoot, as best they can.

Large numbers of cavalry passed through town during the day. A solid, unbroken stream of them poured past our street gate for two hours, many of them leading extra horses. They raised such clouds of dust that it looked as if a yellow fog had settled over our grove. Duke’s division threatened to plunder the treasury, so that Gen. Breckinridge had to open it and pay them a small part of their stipend in specie. Others put in a claim too, and some deserving men got a few dollars. Capt. Smith and Mr Hallam called in the afternoon, and the latter showed me ninety dollars in gold, which is all that he has received for four years of service. I don’t see what better could be done with the money than to pay it all out to the soldiers of the Confederacy before the Yankees gobble it up.’

5 May 1865
‘It has come at last - what we have been dreading and expecting so long - what has caused so many panics and false alarms - but it is no false alarm this time; the Yankees are actually in Washington. Before we were out of bed a courier came in with news that Kirke - name of ill omen - was only seven miles from town, plundering and devastating the country. Father hid the silver and what little coin he had in the house, but no other precautions were taken. They have cried “wolf” so often that we didn’t pay much attention to it, and besides, what could we do, anyway? After dinner we all went to our rooms as usual, and I sat down to write. Presently some one knocked at my door and said: “The Yankees have come, and are camped in Will Pope’s grove.” I paid no attention and went on quietly with my writing. Later, I dressed and went down to the library, where Dr Cromwell was waiting for me, and asked me to go with him to call on Annie Pope. We found the streets deserted; not a soldier, not a straggler did we see. The silence of death reigned where a few hours ago all was stir and bustle - and it is the death of our liberty. After the excitement of the last few days, the stillness was painful, oppressive. I thought of Chateaubriand’s famous passage: “Lorsque dans le silence de l’abjection” &c. News of the odious arrival seems to have spread like a secret pestilence through the country, and travelers avoid the tainted spot. I suppose the returning soldiers flank us, for I have seen none on the streets to-day, and none have called at our house. The troops that are here came from Athens. There are about sixty-five white men, and fifteen negroes, under the command of a Major Wilcox. They say that they come for peace, to protect us from our own lawless cavalry - to protect us, indeed! with their negro troops, runaways from our own plantations! I would rather be skinned and eaten by wild beasts than beholden to them for such protection. As they were marching through town, a big buck negro leading a raw-boned jade is said to have made a conspicuous figure in the procession. Respectable people were shut up in their houses, but the little street urchins immediately began to sing, when they saw the big black Sancho and his Rosinante:

“Yankee Doodle went to town and stole a little pony; He stuck a feather in his crown and called him Macaroni.”

They followed the Yanks nearly to their camping ground at the Mineral Spring, singing and jeering at the negroes, and strange to say, the Yankees did not offer to molest them. I have not laid eyes on one of the creatures myself, and they say they do not intend to come into the town unless to put down disturbances - the sweet, peaceful lambs! They never sacked Columbia; they never burnt Atlanta; they never left a black trail of ruin and desolation through the whole length of our dear old Georgia! No, not they! I wonder how long this sugar and honey policy is to continue. They deceive no one with their Puritanical hypocrisy, bringing our own runaway negroes here to protect us. Next thing they will have a negro garrison in the town for our benefit. Their odious old flag has not yet been raised in the village, and I pray God they will have the grace to spare us that insult, at least until Johnston’s army has all passed through. The soldiers will soon return to their old route of travel, and there is no telling what our boys might be tempted to do at the sight of that emblem of tyranny on the old courthouse steeple, where once floated the “lone star banner” that Cora and I made with our own hands - the first rebel flag that was ever raised in Washington. Henry brought us the cloth, and we made it on the sly in Cora’s room at night, hustling it under the bed, if a footstep came near, for fear father or mother might catch us and put a stop to our work. It would break my heart to see the emblem of our slavery floating in its place. Our old liberty pole is gone. Some of the Irvin Artillery went one night before the Yankees came, and cut it down and carried it off. It was a sad night’s work, but there was no other way to save it from desecration.’

Sunday, January 16, 2011

18th century India

The greatest Tamil diarist in history, Ananda Ranga Pillai, died 250 years ago today. He served under the French in Pondicherry, rising to becoming chief dubash (interpreter, broker and guide) under the governor general Joseph François Dupleix. All 12 volumes of his diaries translated into English are freely available online, and provide a remarkable first-hand account of colonised India in the 18th century.

Ananda Ranga Pillai was born in 1709 at Ayanavaram near Perambur, a suburb of Madras. His father, Thiruvengada Pillai, was persuaded to settle at Pondicherry by a brother-in-law, and eventually became a broker for the French, who ruled Pondicherry (now called Puducherry) mostly from 1673 until 1954. When his father died, in 1726, Ananda was appointed to the accounts service. He married Mangathayi Ammal and they had five children, although two of his sons died very young.

Over the next 20 years or so Pillai rose slowly to become, in 1748, the chief dubash of French India under Joseph François Dupleix, the governor general. Soon after, hostilities with the British broke out (again), and for a year or two, France’s power increased. Eventually, though Dupleix’s fortunes declined and he was replaced as governor general in 1754. With Dupleix’s departure, Pillai’s influence in the colony declined. Ill-health added to his woes, and he died on 16 January 1761 - exactly a quarter of a millennium ago - aged only 51. Wikipedia has a good biography (more substantial by far than the one for Dupleix).

Pillai kept detailed diaries for much of his life. These were handed down through the generations until discovered in a decrepit state in the 1840s. They were then translated from the original Tamil into French. Some decades later, in the 1890s, Lord Wenlock, the then Governor of Madras, ordered the diaries to be translated into English. They were edited by Sir J Frederick Price (assisted by K Rangachari), and then printed in 12 volumes (between 1904 and 1928) by the Government Press in Madras as The Private Diary of Ananda Ranga Pillai, Dubash to Joseph Francois Dupleix, Knight of the Order of St Michael and Governor of Pondicherry. The volumes - all available at Internet Archive - were subtitled ‘a record of matters political, historical, social and personal from 1736 to 1761’.

Here are two entries from the first volume:

21 November 1739
‘A remarkable incident which occurred this evening at 5, was the following. The ex-chief of the peons, actuated by jealousy at the appointment of Muttaiya Pillai in his place, instigated one of his men to commit thefts in the town. This individual had long been engaged in the business, and was at last apprehended, four or five months ago. When he was beaten, and pressed in other ways, he made a clean breast of the whole affair, from the very beginning, and mentioned the names of all the persons who had either seen his acts or heard of them, or who had either concealed the goods stolen by him, or harboured him.

These abettors, who were about fifteen or sixteen in number, were thrown into prison with him. The Council having heard their statements, discharged them all, with the exception of the thief, and five of the abettors, who were found to be seriously implicated. . . The offenders received the following punishments, under an order of Council. The thief was publicly hanged; a punishment which was carried out at 5 in the evening at the centre of the town in the bazaar-road, opposite to the court-house, on a gallows which had been temporarily erected there for the purpose; . . .

Of the remaining five criminals, Odavi . . . and the goldsmith were each awarded fifty stripes, their ears were cut off, and they were expelled beyond the bounds of Pondichery. The other three . . . were ordered to stand in a line and were whipped; each receiving twenty-five lashes. On two or three further charges, the punishment of whipping will again be inflicted on them, and they will then be released.’

7 February 1746
‘At noon, the Portuguese ship St Louis, . . arrived here from Madras, cast anchor, and fired three guns to salute the vessels in the roads: these were returned by a like number. Seven guns were then fired by the St Louis, in compliment to the fort, which replied with a similar salute. Four English sail came in pursuit of this ship. Having caught sight of her, they hove to at a distance. The captain inquired why they were following him. It appears that when the St Louis was on her way from Chandernagore, the English sailors at Madras seized and detained her in the roads there. When inquiry was made as to her nationality, the reply was she was Portuguese. . .

Those in charge of her were asked to sell all the merchandise that was on board, and to buy goods there in exchange. They agreed to this, pretended to bargain, deceived the English, set sail, and escaped during the night. The St Louis was therefore pursued on the following morning. Such was the explanation given. The three ships and the sloop which chased her arrived in the roads between 3 and half-past 4 in the afternoon, and cast anchor on the north-eastern side of the fort. Two others came from Fort St David, and anchored to the south-east. Of the four vessels which came from the north, one fired a gun, and then started southwards for Fort St David, bearing news to that place. When she arrived abreast of the anchorage, the Governor went to the fort, summoned all the soldiers who were there, distributed them in the batteries on the beach, directed them to load all the guns and mortars that were in these, and to keep ready powder, shot, shells, and grenades; in short, he made all the necessary preparations, and then, at half-past 5, proceeded home.

The inhabitants of the town who went to watch this strange sight numbered 10,000. The Governor noticing all these people, said to them: “You have been looking at this long enough; you now had better go home.” I also went, and saw what was going on. The goods which were brought in the Portuguese ship St Louis were wheat, rice, and candles; it is said that there were also some sundry goods from Chandernagore. This cargo was being unloaded by boats until 2 in the morning.’

Friday, January 14, 2011

The writer vs the orator

In his late 30s, Henry Fynes Clinton, an MP and classical scholar who died 230 years ago today, came to the conclusion that he would never make it as a public speaker, and carefully explained to his diary why he should, therefore, concentrate on ‘literary labours’. Indeed, the papers he left behind when he died were published as ‘Literary Remains’ and included his ‘Literary Journal’. The word ‘literary’, however, best describes the matter he writes of, not the quality of his language!

Henry Fynes Clinton was born on 14 January 1781 at Gamston, Nottinghamshire, and his father was rector at nearby Cromwell. They were direct descendants of Henry, second earl of Lincoln, who died in 1616. Although the family bore the name of Fynes for several generations, Henry’s father resumed the older family name of Clinton in 1821. Henry was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford.

From 1806 to 1826 Clinton was the Member of Parliament for Aldborough (in West Riding of Yorkshire), and although initially he had ambitions to become a speaker, he found he had little ability as an orator and increasingly took to concentrating on his classical studies. In 1809, he married Harriot Wylde, but she died the following year. That same year, he bought an estate at Welwyn, where he lived with his second wife, Katherine Majendie, who bore him several children.

Clinton wrote several important books on the Greek and Roman civilisations, and is considered to have applied an exacting and critical scholarship to ancient chronology, and to the dating of classical authors. He retired from parliament in June 1826, and was subsequently disappointed not to be appointed principal librarian at the British Museum. He died in 1852. Wikipedia has a short biography.

Rev C. J. Fynes Clinton edited his brother’s ‘Literary Remains’ and these were published by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans in 1854 as Literary Remains of Henry Fynes Clinton Esq M A, author of ‘Fasti Hellenica’ and ‘Fasti Romani’; consisting of an Autobiography and Literary Journal and Brief Essays on Theological Subjects. The book is freely available at Internet Archive.

It is worth noting, however, that the word ‘literary’ in the titles of the book and the journal appears to have far more to do with the matter being discussed than the quality of the writing - despite a clear implication that he believed his writing had a purity of style and language! Here, though, are a few of the first entries in that ‘literary journal’, including a longish entry in which Clinton debates with himself the relative merits or being an author or a writer.

1 January 1819
‘Occupied with drawing out a plan of future studies, and in writing my Journal of former years.

It is now the ninth year since I returned to Greek literature. Within this period I have accomplished the following . . . 33,700 pages will give about 3,750 for the average number read in each year. I possess therefore nine Poets of the first rank; and among nine of the second rank, three principal ones, Theocritus, Lycophron, Apollonius: the three Historians, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon: all the Orators: the twelve Scriptores, except Dion Cassius: of the ten Scriptores, Polysenus and Dio Chrysostom: of the forty, Stobseus: among the Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius, about half of Plato, the best of Aristotle. I have consumed too much time and labour, perhaps, in the Scholiasts.’

2-13 January 1819
‘During these days occupied in writing my Journal, and in reading Polybius, Euripidis Medea, Malthus on Population, the ‘Fasti Attici’ of Corsini.’

14 January 1819
‘Left Welwyn, and arrived in Dean’s Yard at twelve. House of Commons in the afternoon. Sworn in; my fourth election as a Member of Parliament.’

15 January 1819
‘House of Commons, two to four. After the House met, the Speaker is approved by the Lords. Oaths and subscriptions taken.’

16 January 1819.
‘Returned to Welwyn. On the following days I resumed my Journal, and proceeded with Corsini diligently, and finished his first volume on the 23rd. I then proceeded with my Chron. Grsec, and on February 2nd completed it to the end of Theopompus and Alcaemenes. This compilation, equal to about thirty quarto pages, has occupied eight entire days. I now lay it aside till a future opportunity of consulting the original works, on our return to Welwyn. For completion of the first part, perlegendi sunt Eurip. et Pind. Scholiastse, Apollodorus with Heyne’s notes.’

3 March 1819
‘My love of letters begins to revive, which has been dormant or extinct for some time past; and an inward alacrity and cheerfulness consequently succeeds to that spirit of despondency and dissatisfaction which I have lately felt. I perceive that I can never be a public speaker; but I observe that those whose lives have been passed as eminent public speakers, have not, in general, the faculty of being good writers: they generally fail in purity of style and language, points in which they might especially be expected to excel. Mr Pitt weakened the effect of his speeches by attempting to retouch those of them which appeared in print; and the published specimens of his eloquence do not justify to us who have not heard him the splendid testimony of his auditors. Mr Fox, when he applied himself to written composition, produced the feeble and languid history of James the Second. The style of Mr Wilberforce, in his treatise on Christianity, is verbose and heavy, and never rises above mediocrity. Although therefore I have not faculties for public speaking, which requires extempore powers, yet I may be capable of written composition, which is the fruit of meditation, diligence, care, and labour.

Nor is it perhaps to be granted that oratory is necessarily the highest effort of the faculties of man: it is only an exhibition of them in a particular form. The orator possesses from nature or practice the talent of putting forth all his powers at once; the writer produces his best efforts by meditation, time, and revision of his subject. But in a comparative estimate of genius, it will be inquired, not by what steps excellence is reached, but at what point of excellence men arrive at last. The orator indeed is always regarded with more indulgence than the writer can hope to receive. He possesses the advantage of being only measured against his contemporaries. He who is the best orator of his own age acquires all the present benefits that eloquence can confer. Demosthenes and Cicero were no more than this; although the standard of excellence in different times and countries may have been very different. But the writer, on the contrary, is compared with the compositions of other times and countries. He is measured with those who have cultivated the same kind of writing in all past times; and the wit and genius of ages are set in the balance against him. The standard, then, of excellence is more defined and ascertained, and more difficult to be reached, in written compositions, than in eloquence. The one is absolute, the other relative. He who is eminent as a public speaker, owes much of his fame to particular circumstances: but the reputation of a writer is founded upon a higher kind of merit.

I will not, then, because Nature has denied me the gifts of an orator, unwisely overlook or neglect the advantages and the usefulness of that literature of which I may yet be capable. There is a field in which I may still successfully labour. One advantage, and that the highest of all, I have already gained by literary occupations. Nine years are this day completed since I returned to these occupations upon my arrival in Dean’s Yard, after the events in 1810. In surveying my own mind during that period, I perceive that whenever I have been occupied and interested in literary labours, I have been safe, and innocent, and satisfied, and happy. But those periods in which I have deserted my habitual studies, have been intervals of danger, of temptation, of discontent, of evil thoughts. Can I have a stronger motive for continuing that course of studies? or shall I say that my labours have failed in being profitable, even though they produce no returns of fame or interest?’

I walked, walked, walked

‘A stormy day, within doors; so I rushed out early and walked, walked, walked! If peace and quietness be not in one’s own power, one can always give oneself, at least, bodily fatigue.’ This is Jane Carlyle, possibly England’s greatest woman letter writer, turning her hand, and thoughts and emotions, to a diary. Today is the 210th anniversary of her birth.

Jane Baillie Welsh was born on 14 January 1801 in Haddington, near Edinburgh, into a doctor’s family. As a child, she was considered something of a tomboy. At 10, her father employed Edward Irving to tutor her. She is said to have written her first novel when only 13. She also wrote verse, sang and played the piano. Two years after her father had died suddenly from typhoid, in 1821, Irving brought his friend, the writer Thomas Carlyle, with him on a visit to Haddington. Thereafter, Carlyle corresponded with Jane, ostensibly to help with her studies, although Jane’s mother disapproved of him.

Jane married Carlyle in 1826, and lived much in awe of his shining intelligence. Although they had two reasonably happy years, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB), Jane was very lonely after they moved to a remote farm at Craigenputtoch in Dumfriesshire. In 1834, though, they relocated to London, where they developed a busy social circle, and where Jane was influential in her husband’s success. Nevertheless, she continued to find life with Thomas difficult, partly because she was always in his intellectual shadow, despite being very clever and literate herself. Her resentment increased when Thomas seemed to transfer his loyalty to Lady Harriet, later Lady Ashburton.

Jane died in 1866, leading Thomas to retire from public life. However, he passed on her papers and letters, some of which which first appeared in 1883 as Letters and Memorials edited by James Anthony Froude. He also passed on a secret journal, though this was not included in any of the first publications. However, parts of the diary do appear in New Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, published by John Lane in 1903. The letters especially, but also the journal, reveal a huge amount about Jane and the marriage.

According to the ODNB, ‘it is hardly disputed that [Jane] is the greatest woman letter writer in English. Her skill often lay in the immediacy of her letters; their appeal lies partly in the story that emerges from her self-dramatization. . . Their effectiveness has nothing to do with elegant prose, to which she could always rise, much to do with her sympathetic imagination, clear head, alertness, and a quick eye and ear for entirely natural expression.’

Although there is not very much biographical information about Jane Carlyle online (except at the excellent ONDB, which requires a subscription or UK library card login), Wikipedia and The Diary Junction have a few useful links. However, her letters are easily found online, as is the journal she wrote in 1855-1856, when her husband was already visiting Lady Ashburton at Bath House. The letters and journal can be found at The Carlyle Letters online, or Internet Archive.

Here are some of the first entries in the journal. They give a good feeling not only of Jane’s literary skill, but the depth and range of her emotional life.

21 October 1855
‘Neither my birthday nor newyear’s-day this; anniversaries on which I “feel it my duty,” usually, to bloom out into the best intentions, beginning and ending always with the intention to resume my old journal. But if “carried out” to the extent of a few pages, it has “gone,” even that smallest of good intentions, “to the greater number,” before a week was out! Decidedly I am no longer the little girl who used to say over her most difficult tasks, “I'll gar myself do it”!

The mother of Invention has garred me do so much against the grain, that I am too fatigued now to gar myself do anything I can get let alone. And after all; one may keep a journal very minutely and regularly and still be a great fool! all the greater perhaps for this very labour of selfconsciousness which is so apt to degenerate into a dishonest striving to “make a silk purse out of a sows ear” for posthumous admiration or sympathy - from one’s Executors; or even for present self-complacent mistification of oneself!

I remember Charles Buller saying of the Duchess de Praslin’s murder; “what could a poor fellow do with a wife who kept a journal, but murder her?” There was a certain truth hidden in this light remark. Your Journal “all about feelings” aggravates whatever is factitious and morbid in you; that I have made experience of; and now the only sort of journal I would keep should have to do with what Mr Carlyle calls “the fact of things”. It is very bleak and barren this “fact of things” as I now see it - very! And what good is to result from writing of it in a paper-book is more than I can tell. But I have taken a notion ‘TO’; and perhaps I shall blacken more paper this time, when I begin “quite promiscuously,” without any moral end in view but just, as the Scotch Professor drank whiskey “because I like it, and because it's cheap.” ’

22 October 1855
I was cut short in my introduction last night by Mr C’s return from Bath House. That eternal Bath House. I wonder how many thousand miles Mr C has walked between there and here, putting it all together; setting up always another milestone and another betwixt himself and me. Oh, good grasious! when I first noticed that heavy yellow House without knowing, or caring to know, who it belonged to, how far I was from dreaming that thro’ years and years I should carry every stone’s weight of it on my heart. (About feelings already! Well, I will not proceed - tho the thoughts I had in my bed about all that, were tragical enough to fill a page of “thrilling interest” - for myself; and tho’, as George Sand has shrewdly remarked, “rien ne soulage comme la rhètorique” [nothing soothes like rhetoric].)’

23 October 1855
‘A stormy day, within doors; so I rushed out early and walked, walked, walked! If peace and quietness be not in one’s own power, one can always give oneself, at least, bodily fatigue - no such bad succedaneum after all! - Life gets to look for me like a sort of kaleidiscope; a few things of different colours (black predominating) which Fate shakes into new and ever new combinations, but always the same things over again! Today has been so like a day I still remember out of ten years ago! The same still, dreamy October weather - the same tumult of mind contrasting with the outer stillness - the same causes for that tumult; then as now I had walked, walked, walked, with no aim but to tire myself; . . .’

25 October 1855
‘ “Oh good gracious alive”! what a whirlwind - or rather whirl-pool of a day! Breakfast had “passed off” better or worse, and I was at work on a picture-frame, my own invention and pretending to be a little “work of art”; when Mr C’s bell rang like mad, and was followed by cries of, “come! come! are you coming?” Arrived at the second landing, three steps at a time, I saw Mr C and Ann in the spare bed room, hazily, thro’ a waterfall! The great cistern had overflowed; and it was “raining and pouring down” thro’ the new ceiling, and plashing up on the new carpet! All the baths and basins in the house and even “vessels of dishonour” were quickly assembled on the floor, and I on my knees mopping up with towels and sponges. When the water ceased to pour thro the ceiling, it began to pour thro the roof of the bed! If the water had only been clean! but it was black as soot, and the ground of the carpet white! At last it faired in the Spare Room, and I retired to change my shoes and stockings, which were soaked, as if I had been fishing while doing this, I became aware of a patter-pattering in the drawing room; and looking in, perceived a quite romantic little lake on the green Brussels carpet! There too the water had flooded half the ceiling. More mopping with towels and sponges, and another pair of shoes and stockings soaked. Finally, after three hours of this sort of thing, I came down to the parlour fire; and the first thing I saw was great black splashes of wet on the parlour ceiling! What am I to do with all these spoiled ceilings and carpets? And how is ‘the water’ to be prevented coming again when it likes?

In spite of this disaster on the premises, and the shocking bad temper induced by it, I have had to put on my company-face to night and ‘receive’ [guests]. Decidedly I must have a little of “that damned thing called the milk of human kindness” after all; for the assurance that poor Mrs George was being amused kept me from feeling bored.

And I have no notion of bed; would rather go on writing - ever so many pages “about feelings”; my heart is so very sore tonight! But I have promised myself not to make this Journal a miserere. so I will take a doze of morphia and do the impossible to sleep.’

26 October 1855
‘My morphia a dead failure last night - gave me neither sleep nor rest; but only nausea. So much the better perhaps. If morphia had always, instead of only at long intervals, its good effect on me - making me all whole, for the time being, like a cracked dish boiled in sweet milk, I dont know what principle would be strong enough to keep me from slowly poisoning myself with it. Today then I have been up to nothing, naturally.’

31 October 1855
‘Rain, rain, rain! “Oh Lord, this is too ridiculous”! (as the Annandale Farmer exclaimed, starting to his feet, when it began pouring, in the midst of his prayer for a dry hay-time.) I have no hay to be got in, or anything else to be got in that I know of; but I have a plentiful crop of thorns to be got out, and that too requires good weather. . . The evening devoted to mending; Mr C’s trousers among other things! “Being an only child” I never “wished” to sew mens trousers - no never!’

1 November 1855
‘At last a fair morning to rise to! Thanks God! (Mazzini never says “thank God,” by any chance; but always “Thanks God.” And I find it sound more grateful!) Fine weather outside in fact; but in doors, blowing a devil of a gale! Off into Space then! to get the green mould that had been gathering on me of late days brushed off by human contact.’

6 November 1855
‘Mended Mr C’s dressing-gown and washed some “finery” (as the Laundress calls it - lace-caps and collars). Then off to Geraldine who gave me a nice little “early dinner” . . . Peacefully sated with revenge and food, we streamed off to Pimlico and bought clogs

As usual staying out till twilight. I am very idle just now, and cause of idleness in others - at least one other (Geraldine). But it is not wilful idleness exactly. Much movement under the free sky is needful for me to keep my heart from throbbing up into my head, and maddening it. They must be comfortable people those who have leisure to think about going to Heaven! My most constant and pressing anxiety is to keep out of Bedlam - that’s all! Ach! If there were no feelings; what steady sailing craft we should be (as the nautical gentleman of some novel says.)’

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Very fiery comets

Buried exactly three hundred years ago was one Jacob Bee of Durham. He is only remembered today because he left behind a diary chronicling - albeit in brief - public and private events for the best part of 25 years. He was particularly fond of recording astronomical phenomena, such as blazing stars and fiery comets.

The son of Nicholas Bee and Margaret Ussie, Jacob Bee was born in Durham, and baptised on 19 June 1636. He is recorded as being a skinner and glover, i.e. a tradesman who skinned dead cattle and goats, or who bought their skins from slaughtermen, cured them, and turned them into leather goods, particularly gloves. Aged 22, he married Elizabeth Rabbet.

It also seems Bee may have kept an ale-house for some part of his life; in any case he certainly did a little brewing, the ‘grains’ being sold by his wife after each brewing. He also possessed a stable and loft, but having not prospered in business, and aged 65, he became an out-pensioner of the hospital of Sherburn-house. He died early in 1711, and was buried on 11 January at St Margaret’s, Durham.

Bee is probably only remembered today because he left behind a diary, which is now held by Durham University Library. This was edited and annotated for a volume called Six North Country Diaries published in 1910 for the Durham-based Surtees Society. The full text is available online at Internet Archive.

Here are a few typical entries, starting with almost all of the published extracts for 1682.

27 March 1682
‘John Maddison’s child Margaret went out of Durham to Newcastle for London to be toutcht for the evill.’

April 1682
‘Two great floods of watter upon Wednesday and Thursday, being the 26th and 27th of April.’

6 May 1682
‘The first day that men and women servants presented themselves to be hired in Durham markett.’

31 May 1682
‘Betwixt 11 and 12 at night, was a very fearfull thunder, with flalshes of fire, very tirrible.’

28 July 1682
‘Captain Thomas Featherston, of Stanhope hall, departed this life, being Friday, at night about 11 a clock.

15 August 1682
‘A blazing stare appeared.’

6 September 1682
‘Mr William Witherington, one of the bead-men of Abby church [died].’

28 September 1682
‘. . . Sofly, sone to Richard Sofly, was borne, being Thursday: and Elizabeth Dobinson was her midwife and the first that ever she [had] laid.’

20 November 1682
‘Being Munday this yeare and a great wind which blew one half of the west end of a window in Abby church.’
‘William Ross, junior, departed this life.’

25 January 1683
‘A sad cruel murther comitted by a boy about eighteen or nineteen years of age, nere Ferryhill, nere Durham, being Thursday, at night. The maner is, by report: When the parents were out of dores a young man, being sone to the house, and two daughters was kil’d by this boy with an axe, having knockt them in the head, afterwards cut ther throts: one of them being asleep in the bed, about ten or eleven yeares of age: the other daughter was to be married at Candlemas. After he had kil’d the sone and the eldest daughter, being above twenty yeares of age, a little lass, her sister, about the age of eleven yeares being in bed alone, he drag’d her out in bed and killed her alsoe. [The same Andrew Millns alias Miles, was hang’d in irons upon a gybett nere Ferryhill upon the 15th day of August, being Wednesday, this year 1683.]’

4 November 1684
‘A foot race was runn betwixt Fairebearnes, a butcher, and a countrey-man called John Upton, and runn upon Elvittmoore, the hardest run that ever any did see. The countrey-man wone upon hard tearmes, being runn soo nerely that scarce any could judge, when they had but one hundred yards to runn, whether should have it.’

17 January 1685
‘John Borrow departed this life, and ‘twas reported, that he see a coach drawn by six swine, all black, and a black man satt upon the cotch box. He fell sick upon’t and dyed, and of his death severall apparations appeared after.’

20 December 1689
‘A figure of a comet appeared about three-quarters of an hour after four at night, the first appearance was in the form of a half-moon, very firie, and afterwards did change itselfe to a firye sword and run westward.’

23 April 1699
‘Upon St George’s day there fell haile in and about Durham that was estemated to be, by report, five inches about, some reports seven, and some four, but I am sure they were three inches and more.’