On November 8, 1674 John Milton died—one hundred seven years before Frances Rolleston was born. Today we might consider a writer of one hundred years ago to be hopelessly old-fashioned, but not so in Frances' day. Life was still as slow as it had been for a hundred years (although she saw the beginning of the industrial revolution), and people still read and wrote poetry.
Frances held Milton in high regard, but that was not always so. She read Paradise Lost when she was ten years old, and thought it was a "wild story." But then it became dull to her. She thought she ought to like it, would not admit to herself that she did not, but kept reading it from time to time. Finally, as a young lady, she realized that to appreciate Milton one must have much more general knowledge than she did as a child. She wrote in her day book: "Every book I read, every day I live, gives me more insight into, and greater admiration of Milton."
She believed anyone who read at all could enjoy Shakespeare because everyone has feelings and Shakespeare speaks to the heart. But few, she felt, have imagination and intellect to the level required to appreciate Milton.
As Frances advanced in her Hebrew studies, her teacher loaned her a famous old book titled Martini Pugio Fidei which held extracts from the old "Rabbins." Apparently, they were Milton's source of the conversations in heaven.
In later life when Frances was working on her Metrical Psalms (putting the Psalms of the Bible into verse form), she said, "I wish to preserve Hebraisms as often as I can. Milton is my only justification; he thinks and writes Hebraically, and his is the only meter justifying mine, especially his Samson Agonistes. . . . I find the eleven syllabled line, so often used by Milton in Samson, is the natural tendency of all long Hebrew lines."
So, those of us who don't read Milton, may find here a reason or an excuse!
On this day in 1842, Queen Victoria experienced her first ride in a train, so it seems a good time to note where Frances Rolleston found the railroad in the Bible.
Frances Rolleston loved searching out meanings of Hebrew words, especially "novel explanations" in prophetic things. The new railway was one of these:
"At the moment of the opening of the railway . . . I consulted the Jew then teaching me whether the word carcaroth translated swift beasts was not swift carriages. I did not then know that the Vulgate and Septuagint both favor that explanation. The word occurring nowhere else has received from scholars the most whimsical interpretations. I said, the Holy Spirit had dictated a new word to express a new thing. The reduplication of the root car expressing intensified rolling round and round, as the wheel of railway cars."
To the recipient of this letter, Frances added,
"I apologize for bringing forth so many novel explanations. I cannot expect any student of prophecy to admit all of these, for no two agree on all points, but if you agree on any, it will be a great satisfaction to me."
In the early 1800s, Wales had experienced a revival of faith, and there was a great need for Bibles. The story is told of fifteen-year-old Mary Jones who saved money for six years, then walked twenty-five miles to purchase a Bible in the Welsh language.
To meet the need, on this day in 1804, The British and Foreign Bible Society was formed in London for the purpose of publishing, distributing, and translating the Bible. Frances Rolleston was one of the group of evangelical friends that established the Society. The group was and is known as the Clapham sect and included such well-known personalities as William Wilberforce, Zachary Macauley and Hannah More.
The British and Foreign Bible Society's influence spread all over the world. The Society inspired others. Within ten years of its establishment, sixty-nine other Bible organizations had formed.
Frances Rolleston made use of the Bible Society herself, as we read in a letter written when 81 years of age. She requested a Danish New Testament be sent to her.
I am again reading Marianne Thornton: A Domestic Biography 1797-1887 by E. M. Forster (1956) and recommend it to anyone wanting to better understand the circle Frances Rolleston moved in.
E. M. Forster (writer of A Passage to India) based his book on family papers, which is why it gives such a good insider look at Marianne Thornton's life. Some of the materials were prepared for Forster by Marianne Thornton in her old age; she was his great aunt.
Marianne Thornton and Frances Rolleston were cousins through their mothers. The house and its guests were familiar to Frances. The biography gives many intimate views of William Wilberforce, Hannah More, Henry Thornton, and others of the "Clapham Sect" Frances associated with. I'm only disappointed that she is not mentioned in the book, but then, she was only one of many in that circle.
March 22, 1832 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe died. Although Goethe felt his work as a philosopher and scientist was more important than his literary accomplishments, Frances Rolleston referred to him as "the prince of Continental poets."
Frances recognized the power of poetry (in 1837) for influencing people's minds and thus the future. She saw the "delight with which an image or poetical epithet is met." (Compare to today's memes.) But as a poet herself she knew that writing poetry was not the way to make money. Power, yes, "but as to profit, none."
In fact, she added in her March 22, 1837 letter, "Goethe, the prince of Continental poets, says his poems were and expense to him."
We have many writers of poetry today. My readers may be one and know others. But how many ever succeed at profiting financially from their efforts? (If you do, let me know!)
One year ago today was the 250th anniversary of explorer James Cook's arrival in New Zealand. The commemoration of that event was met by both celebration and antagonism, for along with Cook's contribution to the knowledge of the planet's geography, came the colonization of many peoples. Here is an article about last year's commemoration.
The discoveries and adventures of Captain Cook were exciting news to the people of Great Britain. He died two years before Frances Rolleston was born, but his contributions to cartography were well known when, in her childhood, she purchased the two small globes she was so proud of. Here is her telling of that purchase.
Those little globes served her her whole life. Of course, the globe of the heavens aided her in her knowledge of Mazzaroth, the constellations. The only reference she made to James Cook in her letters was his sighting of Gemini, though she was certainly familiar with all he had done.
September 30, 1849, Frances wrote: "Writing letters exhausts my energies, fully called out in the public service just now. Cholera broke out—, and I have stood between the charity of the rich and the dying poor, administering medicine and food."
The epidemic had begun the year before, killing between 50,000 and 70,000 in England and Wales.
It was terrifying because it could kill in one day. It began with vomiting, diarrhea, fever and dehydration, followed by blue-gray skin, muscle spasms, eyes sunken in the sockets, body turning cold, and death.
Physicians had little to offer: laudanum, brandy, and blood letting.
This was the second epidemic, the first beginning in 1831. The third in 1853 killed 30,000 in London alone. The final one was in 1865. Frances did not volunteer for that one because she was gone to her reward by then.
February 7, 1812 is the birthday of Charles Dickens. Like Frances Rolleston, Dickens did what he could to bring the plight of the poor and abused to the public eye.
Dickens was in his thirties when he is first mentioned in Frances' surviving letters. She recommended his novel, Barnaby Rudge, to a young mother seeking reading material for her son. The novel is set during the anti-Catholic Gordon riots of 1780. (Here is how the Gordon riots directly affected Frances' parents.)
In recommending the novel, Frances wrote: "Dickens is excellent; 'Barnaby Rudge' incomparable."
She also expressed an interesting opinion at the same time that "Love stories, which are not good for girls, are very good for boys." (I will leave it to the reader to figure out her reasoning and either agree or disagree with it.)
For her personal reading, however, Frances seems to have lost her taste for Dickens, for eight years after recommending Barnaby Rudge, she wrote, "'Little Dorrit' disgusts me." Since Dickens published Little Dorrit in serial form between 1855 and 1857, Frances was reading it as a serial. Could that have influenced her reception of it? Perhaps she changed her mind later on.
One of the things I enjoy about Frances Rolleston is the delight she took in the beauty of the natural world, especially in the mountains and lakes of England's Lake's District where she lived her last sixteen years. January 3, 1849 she wrote:
"Oh that you could see the lake glassed over, but scarcely less transparent. . . . Today is our first fog, which hangs in canopies on the mountains, veils Blencathra utterly, festoons Skiddaw, curls all over Helvellyn, cuts off Scawfell, and leaves the Grisedale range just as usual, fills up the vale to Penrith and Bassenthwaite, but leaves the lake and church-yard quite clear—why? I wonder."
Frances was both a painter and a poet, which is so obvious from this description.