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!"
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.
On this day in 1842 William Hone passed away. His passing was sad news for Frances Rolleston because they had been friends and correspondents.
Who was William Hone? I suppose everyone who read newspapers in 1817 knew his name, for although his printing, book selling and publishing businesses were small, his writing loomed large. His weekly newspaper, The Reformist’s Register, was only one avenue for his biting satire against excessive taxation, corruption in government, and neglect of the poor. He and the caricaturist George Cruikshank together took on no less an adversary than the Prince Regent. When Hone utilized the conceit of religious parodies for some anti-government pamphlets, the Crown had its excuse to arrest him. He was accused of “printing and publishing an impious and profane libel, upon The Catechism, The Lord’s Prayer, and The Ten Commandments, and thereby bringing into contempt the Christian Religion.”
Hone’s obvious intent was political, not religious, which I’m sure the Prince Regent understood. Nevertheless, Hone was jailed. Over three long days he defended himself in court by presenting examples of religious parodies from antiquarian books and pamphlets. His case was wildly popular and the courtroom was crowded with onlookers and supporters. His acquittal did much for securing freedom of the press in England. He continued to write on political matters, influencing other changes in England’s policies, policies such as execution for forgery.
Between 1830 and 1835 Frances Rolleston lived in her own house at Champion Grove where her garden adjoined that of William Hone. Frances did not know who he was, her servant having reported the name as Stone, but she was impressed with his kindliness, his concern with eternal truth, and his care of his large family. Longer and longer conversations through the garden lattice ensued, but Frances still did not know his identity until one day a lady came to visit her with the following question:
“Do you know who is your next door neighbour?”
“A Mr. Stone,” replied Frances.
“Hone,” said she, as if she had said Guy Fawkes or Napoleon Buonaparte.
“I believe it may be Hone.”
“The Hone,” persisted the visitor.
“Who is ‘the Hone’?”
“The author of the House that Jack built.”
Rather than being shocked by this revelation, Frances replied, “I am thankful to hear it. He is then a brand plucked from the burning, for he is a true Christian.”
Five years after Hone's passing, Frances published a short biography of Hone. He had suggested beforehand that she do so. While researching Frances' relationship with Hone, I came across strong criticism of her and that biography. It stirred me to her defense, and that defense is a large part of my chapter on William Hone in Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth.
April 7th, 1840, Frances writes to friends upon learning that they are expecting a child, "in the prospect of which I cordially rejoice, and that even on selfish grounds,—so few of my very dearest friends have little ones for me to love."
She wrote further, "I often regret that all my love of children is obliged to expend itself on the children of strangers." She is referring to the children in the infant schools she has started in various parts of England.
At the time of writing she is enjoying a new school in Kirk Ella while staying with the relatives who took her in as a child when her mother died. They have "built, endowed and entailed" the school for her, she says, and "therefore she is as happy as life in this world of sickness and of death permits."
Frances often mentioned her love of little ones. She suffered terribly when one of them died—and death to babies was frequent in those days. There is a chapter in Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth titled "Loving and Losing Infants."
I do not know where the sculpture in this photo is located, but it well illustrates the topic of this blog.
170 years ago in early February, Frances Rolleston was heavily engaged in doing what she could to save lives in Ireland. Individuals in England were sending money, but it hardly made a dent among the millions starving.
Church congregations collected for their sister congregations in Ireland. Frances' plan was to feed clergymen first—the most devoted and the most distressed—and their families, and send enough—only shillings per week—to provide breakfast to the children in their church school. By feeding breakfast to the children, their mothers would be able to eat as well, and not die among their dying babes. Frances reported that several schools were now reviving.
Frances claimed to have documents that showed that the clergy and their families would be next to die. "One clergyman writes, 'My heart is broken, my daily meal is steeped in tears, I shall die.' His perishing school-children distressed him most.
Another, "sinking almost under his heavy burden; his son dying of consumption in his house, his parishioners of hunger at his door, his family engaged in making 'stir-about,' and handing it out to the famishing crowd."
The British government finally stepped in, but so late.
"Now that Government is sending food, I may say what I always knew, that the largest sum individuals can furnish is lost among the millions of the famished; they are fed today, to die to-morrow; but by supporting the clergy and the schools, something permanent is done."
This last sounds almost utilitarian, yet to save some is worthwhile, even while knowing others will perish.
Famine has never left the world. The earth is plenty large and fertile to feed everyone, but wars, corrupt government and ignorance contribute to poverty and famine.
On the first of November 1793, Lord George Gordon died in Newgate Prison, London. Frances Rolleston was twelve years old. Did she know or care? Her father probably did, and if her mother had still been living, she would have cared.
Thirteen years previous to this, Mrs. Rolleston's first child, Robert, was a babe in arms. He was very ill with "disease of the mesenteric glands." At that moment in London, Lord George Gordon was leading a large crowd to present a petition to Parliament. They wanted to repeal the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, which was an effort to relieve the longstanding repressive legislation against Catholics.
Gordon's crowd got out of hand and riots broke out. Much person property was destroyed, though no human life was lost, and Gordon was arrested. He was acquitted of responsibility for the riots and released, however, thirteen years later he died in Newgate Prison of typhoid fever where he was being held on other charges.
During the riots, many Londoners had to flee their homes, including Margaret Rolleston with baby Robert. The baby died in her arms. Then, only ten years later, Margaret herself died giving birth to her sixth child.
More about this event
The image of the silent ruins of the church at Newstead Abbey brings to mind how short life is. I think of George Gordon Lord Byron, his life lived vigorously, yet soon gone. His body lies in a small grave at Hucknall Church which stands on ground once owned partly by the Byron and partly by the Rolleston families.
One day Frances Rolleston visited Hucknall Church and had this to say afterwards:
"No one can venerate Sunday schools more than I do, but what I know of the tears and blows that now corrupt the institution, made me shrink from the hubbub that weekly invades Byron's sepulchre." She thought "hubbub" inappropriate for a gravesite.
Frances had already urged Colonel Wildman (owner of Newstead Abbey at that time) to bring Byron's coffin to the Mausoleum at Newstead, and after this visit to Hucknall Church, she was ready to urge him again.
Silence was a way of respecting the dead. Even knowing the soul was no longer present, this respect for the bodily remains continued. Much later in her life when a child she had a special relationship with died, Frances reported that she hardly ever passed his grave because "I have had an awfully materialistic feeling from the first, that my step would disturb him."
Frances Rolleston's own grave is very near little Lewie's. One hundred fifty-two years have passed since she was buried. She finished this life with complete faith that she would continue forever in the Lord's presence.
On this day in 1832, Sir Walter Scott, poet and novelist, passed from this life. Scott was famous for his poetry before trying his hand at novel writing. Since poetry was held in high regard, and novels considered to be of less importance, he endeavored (unsuccessfully) to keep his novels anonymous.
Scott wrote about historical traditions of the kind that appealed to Frances Rolleston. She considered herself an "Anglo-Saxon enthusiast." Ivanhoe, which portrayed the cruel Normans lording it over the Saxons, would certainly have pleased her. She recommended Scott's works as good reading for children.
So, although Frances feared, while still young, an old age of novel reading, she did later see value in novels.
7 September 1833, Hanna More, writer and social reformer, died. She was a woman who had two careers. Frances Rolleston was one of her many admirers.
Hannah's first career was as a writer, poet and playwright. Her play, Percy, was staged successfully by David Garrick. She was one of the Bluestockings, a group of literary intellectual women.
In her forties, Hannah became more serious in her outlook, and her writing reflected it. In association with William Wilberforce and Zachary Maccaulay, she became a strong opponent of the slave trade.
Through Wilberforce, Hannah was made aware of the desperate needs of the poor in the Mendip area, and by 1800 she had opened twelve schools there. This was her second career, and it was through this connection with the Clapham Sect that Frances Rolleston would have become acquainted with Hannah. Twenty-four years later Frances started her own first school.
In 1834, two years after Hannah's passing, William Roberts published the first two volumes of the four-volume Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More. This was followed by a one-volume Life by Henry Thompson, a good friend of Frances, and she wrote to him to say, "Every body will read your neat, polished, and condensed one volume, instead of the four,—valuable but unreadable memoirs." To her friend Irons she wrote, "Have you seen Henry Thompson's "Life of Hannah More?"—a capital hit, and raising her far above the impression left by the lengthy affair of Roberts."
Many years later, Frances told Henry Thompson that his Life of Hannah More should be reprinted. Such was the impression that Hannah More left on those who knew her.
Today in 1833 William Wilberforce died. He worked many years to have the British slave trade outlawed, finally seeing success in 1807, and then more years to end slavery itself. He died days after learning that that piece of legislation was sure to succeed.
Of course, Wilberforce did not do this singlehandedly. Frances Rolleston was one of those recruited into the cause in 1826 by "a deputation of influential Quakeresses" because, they told her, the gentlemen would not stir. The anti-slavery people were told that they could do nothing, that Parliament disregarded petitions. But the overwhelming number collected could not be disregarded.
Remember, they did not have the Internet or even the telephone. Every petition signer had to be contacted by letter or in person. In Sheffield alone, Frances reported, the ladies collected 17,000 men's signatures and 24,000 women's.
Each petition held 150 to 200 signatures. Frances was present when all the petitions were combined into one. The movie Amazing Grace (Bristol Bay Productions 2006 and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment 2007) has a climactic scene showing Wilberforce unrolling the combined petitions before Parliament. PG, worth watching.