New Years Day 1858, London was divided into ten postal districts—part of an ongoing effort to improve postal service in England.
Before 1840, postal service in England was complex, to put it kindly. The cost of receiving a letter depended partially on the number of pages. People often cross-wrote their letters to cut down the number of pages. The distance the letter traveled affected the cost. The sender’s and the recipient’s addresses also mattered because while some metropolitan areas set a common charge anywhere in the area, many local services charged another penny for letters coming from outside the area. Tolls were added for crossing certain bridges. (Were those bridges so rickety that the toll was hazardous duty pay?)
Yet some things went by post absolutely free. Newspapers, for example, even sent overseas, as long as they were mailed within seven days of publication, were wrapped in a cover open at both ends, and that there was nothing inserted or written on it. Members of both Houses of Parliament received and sent letters without charge. And they could frank letters and even parcels for friends—that is, apply their official mark to indicate that postage need not be paid or had been paid.
Rowland Hill was the hero of the hour. Proposals to improve the postal system abounded, but no action was taken until January 1837 when he published his pamphlet Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability. He suggested a uniform rate and prepaid postage, one penny per ounce, and gave testimony at an official inquiry. In 1838 a private Mercantile Committee was established to organize petitions for reform and publish The Post Circular, a propaganda sheet for reform.
The new uniform postage allowed Frances to write many more letters, two to three times a week to her friend Charlotte Rogers alone. And she certainly wasn’t the only one. The 76 million chargeable letters in 1839 increased to 350 million by 1850. Not that the changes solved all problems. Returning from a journey, Frances wrote, “This is a most uncivilized place for the post,—I got here before my letter.”
Uniform postage enabled easier circulation of petitions and propaganda. During the anti-slavery efforts, difficulties about postage had seemed insuperable. The new system was a definite help in the social reforms and charitable efforts Frances took on.
The following quote from Janet Taylor is appropriate at this season when we are remembering the Creator in human form coming to this earth. It comes from her introduction to the sixth edition of her Directions to the Planisphere of the Stars.
The science of Astronomy offers to the reflective mind, a wide field for study and contemplation, and tends much to raise the heart and feelings beyond the scenes of the world to that Almighty Being, who has spangled the heavens with innumerable orbs, each rolling in infinite space, and all maintaining the same beautiful order and harmony of motion as when they first issued forth from the hand of their Creator. . . . The magnificence and extent of the starry regions, increase as improvements in the telescope enable the observer to fathom further into the depths of space, but after all the mind of man has done in this science, her seems still on to rest on the threshold of his part of Creation, for it would almost appear to say to the most advanced of our Astronomers 'so far shalt thou go and no further.'*
This was written in 1863, the same year Frances penned these words:
My view of the grandeur of those heavens declaring the glory of God are almost infinitesimal, and the recent studies on the nebulae, and the late revolution in one of them, seem to lead to infintely sublime speculations.
If you get a clear night, be sure to go outside and look at that magnificence.
* Croucher p. 234
In her collected letters, Frances Rolleston defended women's abilities as scientists. I'm sorry that Janet Taylor's name doesn't appear in Frances' letters, but perhaps Frances did not know the great contribution Janet made to navigation.
They might have been good friends. They shared a love of the starry heavens (Janet drew and published a Planisphere of the Stars), they were both Christians who honored the Creator, and they also lived in the same areas of London, though at different times.
One of Janet's great contributions to the safety of sailing vessels was to adjust ships' compasses to overcome deviations due to the increasing use of iron in ship building. She developed instruments to improve navigation and diligently corrected charts to reflect newfound hazards throughout the world.
This is one biography I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
Click on the image to go to the Amazon page.
Yesterday was the anniversary of poet John Milton's birth. You can probably tell from the style of his clothing that he lived in the 1600s. He lived through the English Civil War and used his pen to support republicanism, and social and ecclesiastical reform.
Milton is best known for the epic poem, "Paradise Lost," written in blank verse after he was blind in the later years of his life. This poem was Frances Rolleston's first acquaintance of Milton's works:
I liked it at ten years old as a wild story; it then grew dull to me, but I thought I ought to like it, and did not confess to myself that I did not, but persevered in reading it frequently; for the last five or seven years it has been gradually rising in my opinion; every book I read, every years I live, gives me more insight into, and greater admiration of, Milton.
Frances was about twenty-four at the time she wrote this. Her admiration of Milton never diminished. In her late seventies and early eighties, while putting the Psalms of the Bible into meter, she calls upon Milton's work as a model:
I also wish to preserve Hebraisms as often as I can. Milton is my only justification, he thinks and writes Hebraically, and his is the only metre justifiying 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; ten seldom will hold them, twelve should only end a verse or subject.
Milton's life makes interesting reading—in hiding during the Restoration because of his pro Parliament writing, three wives, unorthodox views, and support of freedom of the press, among other things.