August 30, 1862
FR's interest in astronomy continued strong all her life. For her, the matter of disappearing stars and nebulae demanded an explanation. After all, the Scriptures she so loved and defended said, about God and his starry creation:
Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth. Isaiah 40:26.
If none of those objects fail—that is fail to show up for the muster when he calls them out—how did one account for what was being observed? Here's one attempt by FR in her August 1862 letter to James Reddie:
My theory of the famous disappearance of the nebula, visible to the naked eye in Andromeda, as well as of some stars, is this,—in perspective, you know as a mathematician, there is a vanishing point at which the man walking disappears; but he does not cease to exist; so of lost stars and lost nebulae. This is very simple—is it satisfactory?
She adds to the puzzle by quoting from a recently published document:
Mr. J. R. Hind, the astronomer, calls attention to the fact that a nebula in the constellation Taurus, which was discerned in 1852, has totally vanished from its place in the heavens. He is at a loss to account for the phenomenon, and requests possessors of telescopes to keep an eye on this portion of the heavens.
As far as I know, FR never owned a telescope, preferring naked eye observation.
August 26, 1841
FR opens a letter to her friend by expressing her love for his wife and their child. She goes on to say that she is sending copies of "The Child's Dream" which she has been printing for the children where she is staying.
FR had heard the children in the streets of Scarborough singing "The Child's Dream," but with imperfect rhymes and corrupted parts. The ballad was written by Henry Kirke White who as a young man converted from deism to Christianity. He died while still young, but left a large body of poetry and hymns. FR would have considered his work good for the children to sing, and therefore printed a corrected version for them.
FR interest in ballads probably began when she was a child herself, reading The Poems of Ossian by James Macpherson. These supposed translations of third century Irish poems, full of heroes and flowing-haired maidens probably awakened a love of stories told in rhyme.
FR herself wrote a number of ballads. Romantic topics attracted her, such as Robin Hood and King Arthur, but she also put into ballad form local histories from places she visited or lived. Several of her ballads appear in the book Original Ballads, by Living Authors edited by her friend the Rev. Henry Thompson. "St. Patrick's Staff" is one of hers. She signed her work "F. R."
August 15, 1836
FR has been requested to stand in as godmother for the baby of a young married woman she has mentored. While appreciating the honor, FR reminds Edith that the purpose of a godmother is to provide someone who in case both father and mother dies can look after the religious education of the child, and at her age it is unlikely she will outlive the parents. If Edith wants her to stand up anyway, she advises her to find some young, pious relative to stand as well.
"During the life of parents, I consider the godmother to have no right and no duty. With these views, will you still wish it? I never stood but for one child, of my brother's, to whom I made the same statement, and I have never interfered about her, nor ever shall during the life of her parents."
However, FR happily provides advice on the care and education of children. Though she never had her own, her Infant Schools supply that lack. At the time of writing this letter, one of her students brings a seven-month-old sibling to her school.
"I hope you will write to me very often, and any question that my infant-school experience can help me to answer I will write upon. I am daily engaged in infant and Sunday-school teaching . . . ."
August 9, 1847
FR wrote to her friend the Rev. Irons that the first lines of poetry she ever felt were those from John Milton's "Il Penseroso":
And may at last my weary eye
Find out the peaceful hermitage.
She misquoted—eye rather than age--but the lines haunted her and became a prayer. She was weary of homelessness. Then she came to the Lakes District, to Bowness, to a home "strangely fulfilling my visioned dwelling."
She describes it: "A lonely stone-walled house with ivy and creepers, standing in a hollow half way up a rocky hill, the garden with starting-out rocks and bursting springs, all run wild, but capable of great beauty, 'wooded Winandermere the river-lake' from my bedroom window, and from the garden top the splendid amphitheatre of mountains. . . slate floors and stairs, beams for ceilings, walls near three feet thick, of rough stone outside. All very hermit-like."
FR began bringing in moss for the window sills long before she realized she was completing the "mossy cell," image of the poem. The last ten lines of "Il Penseroso" go thus:
And may at last my weary age
Find out the peaceful hermitage,
The Hairy Gown and Mossy Cell,
Where I may sit and rightly spell
Of every Star that Heav'n doth shew,
And every Herb that sips the dew;
Till old experience do attain
To something like prophetic strain.
These pleasures Melancholy give,
And I with thee will choose to live. (lines 168-76)
How fitting these lines for one who so loved the natural world—the stars, the herbs—and who felt within herself the melancholy poetic spirit.
August 5, 1858
FR writes to say she has just lost the companionship of a young man she encountered three weeks ago. His father, an old friend of hers, had asked the son to look her up. The young man introduced himself to her in the Keswick library.
Soon after meeting, FR and the young man, a student at Oxford, "plunged into Latin and Greek, and above all, New Testament lore." FR found him "affectionately pious," and he gave all his spare hours their conversation. She compares him to Dr. William Irons and Henry Smedley in their youth, men whose scholarship she still admires.
In her late seventies, FR's love of learning is undiminished. She rejoices in the compliment her companion paid her after she gave him proofs of her Greek criticism to read. He said, "You say your mind wants modernizing, but these are up to the very latest of Oxford."
FR learned that she actually saw this young man when he was a child. Fourteen years previously his father gave him FR's story "The Starling," and told him that the lady who wrote it was to dine with them that day. She remembered seeing him and although she did not speak to him, he had never forgotten her.
As they parted, FR told him that during the three weeks of their acquaintance she had been "as happy as a schoolboy."