On July 29, 1818, Gaspard Monge, French mathematician, died in Paris. You can read about his life and how it was affected by the French Revolution here. However, this blog is not about Monge. I mention him only because the fact of his passing reminded me of the fun Frances Rolleston had with French mathematics.
A French nobleman who had fled the Revolution tutored her in French and mathematics. The system he taught her was later adopted in English universities, but before it was widely known, Frances had fun stumping her acquaintances with problems which now seem simple to us.
The following is from a letter she wrote some time after the events.
My French friend despised English mathematics. He told me to try my professing friends with these two questions; first, what is two-thirds of three-fourths? It was curious to see gentlemen who had taken their degree, fill quantities of paper, and come to no satisfactory answer. One clergyman, who was trying to puzzle a young disciple of mine studying for college, could not master this simple problem. Then said I, try another, of which my French friend had said, 'No Englishman can do this'—'PROVE that two and two make four." After making his wife and young cousin laugh at his failure, he gave it up, and I was obliged to show him the French proof.
Some time later when Frances told this story to a new college graduate, he said, "We know that now, we are taught on the French plan." So the English have at least this to thank the French for.
Frances Rolleston had just turned 15, when this day in 1796, Robert Burns died. Called the Scottish Bard, he carried other titles in honor of his poetry, of which much was in the Scottish dialect. Frances must have known of his passing because already she was enthusiastic about poetry.
In the summer of 1841, Frances wrote to her old friend the Rev. Henry Thompson: "I send you two ballads I manufactured with an eye to Burns, out of some raw material in the "Fairy Mythology."
Which two of her ballads these were, I can't say. But in 1850 Thompson published Original Ballads by Living Authors which included six by Frances. Perhaps they were "St. Patrick's Staff" and "Braithwell Cross," since these are based on ancient events. But they may have been others more influenced by folklore. It is certain that Burns enjoyed such topics:
"In my infant and boyish days too, I owed much to an old Maid of my Mother's, remarkable for her ignorance, credulity and superstition.--She had, I suppose, the largest collection in the county of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, cantraips, giants, inchanted towers, dragons and other trumpery.--This cultivated the latent seeds of Poesy...." (from the Poetry Foundation.)
Today is remembered for the evacuation of the Crimea in 1856, ending another of Europe's many wars. The Crimean War involved Russia, Great Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire. A Wikipedia article sums the war up thus: "As the legend of the 'Charge of the Light Brigade' demonstrates, the war quickly became an iconic symbol of logistical, medical and tactical failures and mismanagement."
A few good things came out of the war—such as Russia's decision to sell Alaska to the US, the battlefield nursing methods of Florence Nightengale, and the rise of writer Leo Tolstoy. Here's a succinct article about these.
In 1859 Frances Rolleston wrote, "It is said in statistic reports, that of 650,000 females between the ages of fifteen and forty in the city of London, there are 450,000 unmarried."
She might have used this statistic to suggest the terrible loss of young men in war, but Frances had something else in mind that she found more important. Using the example of the unmarried women who followed Florence Nightengale to nurse the soldiers in the Crimea, Frances suggested that unmarried women be encouraged to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the Orient—to India and China. She could not go herself, getting on towards eighty years of age, but "Still," she wrote, "I have influence, and wish to exert it to induce my younger countrywomen to serve the Lord."
Frances gave much of her time and resources to serving the temporal needs of the poor and ailing, but the eternal needs of people pressed upon her even more.