This post digresses from the normal purpose of this blog which is to cover happenings or cultural items that reflect the world Frances Rolleston lived in.
Today I want to say something about biographies.
Do you read biographies? If so, what do you like about them?
When I read a biography I want to get to know the subject in a personal way—not just his accomplishments. I want to know the world as he saw it.
I do not want to be informed of things that the subject's great aunt's third husband's neighbor accomplished. Some biographies are so full of such peripheral information that the book is three times the length it would be if the author stuck to the primary subject. When I find that a biography is doing this, I stop reading it.
So, I want people to know that my biography of Frances Rolleston is not like what I just described. It is truly about her. Most of the information comes from her own letters or was suggested by them. And in some parts I share my own responses to her life.
It is not difficult to read, and it is the first and most complete biography ever written about her. When you read it, I would love to know how you enjoyed it. And if you write a review on Amazon, that would be especially appreciated.
Not many were sorry when George III died, except for the fact that the Prince Regent, who would then have the throne, was held in such contempt for his corrupt and undisciplined behavior. But George IV (who had been Prince Regent) lived only ten years longer, so in 1830 his younger brother took his place.
William was at least honorably married at that point, but none of his ten children were legitimate and he did not produce an heir. His brother, the Duke of Kent, was already dead when William died in 1837, thus the way was open for the Duke's daughter Victoria to ascend the throne.
Although William is considered a weak king, Frances Rolleston believed that it was by Providence that he came to the throne, for it was during his reign that the abolition of slavery was accomplished (at least legally) and the Reform Bill, which lessened the suffering of the poor, was enacted.
Frances also considered Victoria to be the provision of Providence because the "blessed ameliorations of our cruel laws, the lessening of the punishment of death, . . . . we owe greatly to having a woman there."
August 2, 1788, Thomas Gainsborough, popular English portrait and landscape painter, died.
Frances Rolleston was only seven years old at the time, so it seems unlikely that she knew of the event. Her own portrait was never painted, later by her own choice, but also because the Rolleston fortune was diminished by her time.
There is one Gainsborough portrait of interest in connection with Frances Rolleston. That is the one below of the actress Sarah Siddons. Frances' good friends agreed that except for the hair and eye color, the portrait resembled her. (Frances' eyes were blue and her hair when young was brown.)
A few more Gainsborough portraits
On this day in 1553, nine-year-old King Edward VI, only son of Henry VIII, died, and Henry's great niece, Lady Jane Grey, became queen. She was 15 years old, a newlywed. She and Lord Guildford Dudley were married six weeks previously. Lady Jane reigned only nine days. Both she and Dudley were beheaded by Queen Mary for treason, February 12, 1554.
Jane Grey is reported to have been a lovely girl brought up by strict, even cruel, parents. Her only pleasure was in her studies. Her destiny was decided by others, though she seems to have truly loved her husband. Their deaths were mourned and their execution condemned.
Even 300 years later, Frances Rolleston planted an acorn, which she picked up in Guildford Park, in Lady Jane's memory.
Frances Rolleston was almost thirteen years old when the historic naval battle between Great Britain and France known as "The Glorious First of June 1794" took place. The battle was connected to the French Revolution about which the British were greatly concerned.
Since Mr. Rolleston welcomed to his table French nobles fleeing the Revolution, young Frances would have been well aware of this event.
Depending on your interest, here are some links to various aspects of The Glorious First of June:
Today in 1843, Natal was proclaimed a British Colony. I had never heard of Natal, but after skimming the Wikipedia article on Natal, it appears to me that colonizing is simply a slow method of conquest.
Today in 1859, Frances Rolleston was writing to a missionary in China. She was very interested in Christian missions to India, China, and Japan, and had thought of how that might be accomplished. Not by conquest or colonization, she looked to Florence Nightingale and the ladies who went with her to the Crimea as a model.
Travelers had told Frances that women in those countries were requesting that Christian women come visit them. At the time, of London's 650,000 women between the ages of fifteen and forty, 450,000 of them were unmarried. Couldn't the mission societies help them go?
It is true that conquest has been carried out in the name of religion, notably an hierarchical form of Christianity. How different was it to send missionaries than to set up colonies? Missionaries, as Frances thought of them, lived a life of kindness and self-sacrifice. They carried a gospel of hope—reconciliation with God and love for mankind—to be received by faith, not forced. Christian missions also brought health and education.
If only this clear difference had always been maintained, Christianity would have had a better name in the years that followed.
I am reading a letter written by Frances Rolleston on this day, 1840—so not yet 200 years ago—and was struck again by how writing, printing, and publishing have changed over the years.
In her letter she asks to have two sheets of her astronomy book returned to her by post as soon as possible. She also asks for two of her poems, "The Two Harps" and "The Nun" to be returned, or if her friend no longer has them, to tell her who does.
The reason she requests the return of these items is that Frances has "an offer of some fair copies here, and you know how precious such things are." In other words, someone where she is presently located has offered to copy—by hand—some of her work.
Frances likes multiple copies so she can share with friends, and also a "fair copy" is necessary if something is to be printed. The printer must be able to read the work in order to set the type correctly. And Frances' handwriting was notorious (Ch. 39 On Penmanship, in the book).
How thankful I am for my computer!
On this day in 1791, John Wesley passed to his reward, and on this day in 1797, Horace Walpole passed to his. The one left months before Frances Rolleston's birth; the other months before she turned six. Both wrote prolifically; both influenced the culture of their times, but they could hardly be more diverse personally or in their influence.
The differences between them are evident from their earliest childhood and family life.
Of Wesley's childhood, we read this: "As in many families at the time, Wesley's parents gave their children their early education. Each child, including the girls, was taught to read as soon as they could walk and talk. They were expected to become proficient in Latin and Greek and to have learned major portions of the New Testament by heart. Susanna Wesley examined each child before the midday meal and before evening prayers. Children were not allowed to eat between meals and were interviewed singularly by their mother one evening each week for the purpose of intensive spiritual instruction. In 1714, at age 11, Wesley was sent to the Charterhouse School in London (under the mastership of John King from 1715), where he lived the studious, methodical and, for a while, religious life in which he had been trained at home." [Read more here.]
Of Walpole's childhood, we read this:
"Born in England in 1717, the last of his mother’s six children, he was fragile and prone to illness from birth. Two siblings before him had died in infancy, and so in the family order it went: three older children, loud, healthy and opinionated; two grave markers; and then young Horace toddling up behind—half child, half potential grave marker.
Naturally, his mother, Catherine, spoiled him. His father, Sir Robert Walpole, was the King’s prime minister. This often kept him away from home, as did a long-time mistress who acted, more than his wife did, as his hostess and companion. For her part Catherine had her own dalliances. It was that sort of marriage." [Read more here.]
These two lives, I believe, represent the two poles of British life and culture during the lifetime of Frances Rolleston, and by reading the articles (links above) much can be learned about that period.
From a letter she wrote February 2, 1863 we learn that Frances was donating copies of her book Canticles to help with the cotton famine.
The book was her translation of and commentary on The Song of Solomon in the Bible, and it departed some from the Authorized Version. She wanted to be sure that William Caddell, to whom she was sending the copies and who would be selling them, was free from any doubt of the correctness of the translation.
He had asked her how she explained the phrase, "His lips are like lilies," which she answered in this letter. Her answer was, "not in colour but in form, as we talk of the lip of a vase or anything that laps over. We talk of the lip of a cup or other vessel, referring to the form in pottery, gold or silver cups; if you look in the concordance you will find it so."
What delights me in Frances' work is her devotion to detail. She believed the Bible to be totally inspired by God, and thus every word important. And I love how her art and poetry contributed to and derived from her love of the Bible.
I've heard people claim that the Bible is full of contradictions. If those people examined it carefully, they would find that this assumption is untrue. The more minutely one studies it, the more beautifully it all fits together.
In January 1864, Frances Rolleston was doubting if she would ever again be well enough to write, but by February 5th she was enjoying renewed health—although this was to be the last winter of her life. She wrote to a friend about her pleasure at finding herself again able to paint, and she told the story of how for years the money earned from her paintings paid her part in the use of a small pony who pulled her little cart around the Lake District.
Frances became quite fond of this "gentlest of ponies . . . who draws the fairy gig, and looks like a fairy steed in it.” Even with a group, Shelty was strong enough to go eighteen miles two days in a row. Before Frances gained the use of Shelty, the pony had already had a long life of hard work and hard living,
Readers will enjoy the chapter about Shelty in Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth.