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.
Frances Rolleston understood the principle of giving. In her letter of January 4, 1828 she considers the possibility of collecting her fables into a book which she would then sell for more income. The purpose of generating income would be to support causes and needs she cared about. This letter shows that while she lived independently, her means were limited. We also see that as a writer, she knew the value of a second pair of eyes looking over her work.
Here is a selection from that letter of January 4:
I am exceedingly obliged to you for the hint about Peneus, and I wish I could get you to look over various other things of the sort, for one's own eye is not to be trusted. I have about twenty more fables like that I send you, and I have sometimes lately thought would they make a volume, and would it be possible to make it profitable as a means of enabling me to do good in various ways now crowding on me, to which my means are utterly inadequate? but I durst not make the attempt without much previous criticism; and few have ever seen any thing I have ever written, though for many years past I have written a great deal."
December 7, 1791, ten-year-old Frances put off her deep mourning clothes (her mother had died in June) and wore pink and white, for she was to be "bride-maid" at her cousin Anne's wedding. The Yorkshire countryside was so "snowed up" that a path had to be made through the cow-yard for the wedding party to get to the church.
Frances had been living with her cousins for the past six months, sent there upon the death of her mother. After the wedding, she was allowed to remain with her cousin and her new husband to "winter in the wolds" while the rest of the family went to their winter residence. Cousin Anne couldn't bear the heavy snows, but Cousin John delighted in them and loved to drag Frances through the snowdrifts and up the hills.
Years later, writing of these events, Frances was still enthusiastic about those happy days and "Oh, the grand snows!"
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