From a letter she wrote February 2, 1863 we learn that Frances was donating copies of her book Canticles to help with the cotton famine.
The book was her translation of and commentary on The Song of Solomon in the Bible, and it departed some from the Authorized Version. She wanted to be sure that William Caddell, to whom she was sending the copies and who would be selling them, was free from any doubt of the correctness of the translation.
He had asked her how she explained the phrase, "His lips are like lilies," which she answered in this letter. Her answer was, "not in colour but in form, as we talk of the lip of a vase or anything that laps over. We talk of the lip of a cup or other vessel, referring to the form in pottery, gold or silver cups; if you look in the concordance you will find it so."
What delights me in Frances' work is her devotion to detail. She believed the Bible to be totally inspired by God, and thus every word important. And I love how her art and poetry contributed to and derived from her love of the Bible.
I've heard people claim that the Bible is full of contradictions. If those people examined it carefully, they would find that this assumption is untrue. The more minutely one studies it, the more beautifully it all fits together.
Today is the anniversary of the 1863 wedding of Edward VII, Queen Victoria's eldest son. Frances Rolleston was apparently lacking in enthusiasm for the celebrations that accompanied it.
For one thing, she was working hard (at age 82) for those suffering in the cotton famine (more about that in an earlier blog) and the celebrations were a distraction:
The outrageous folly of the world about the royal marriage has, I fear, given a great check to what was doing for the cotton sufferers.
She refused to donate toward the celebrations—especially the "fire-works," giving what she could instead to the suffering poor who had no share in the dinner, tea and other doings.
I am just now very much interested in opposing the use of fire-works to celebrate the princely marriage. What, when so many are starving, I say to the Keswickers, will you let the committee lay out, as they talk of, £20 in fire-works? What good do they do? Harm they often do.
She goes on to tell the story of a boy, friend of her brother, who was killed by a fire-work.
When the marriage was actually celebrated with fireworks, Frances was much more interested in the fact that the constellation Orion "shone through and beyond the wedding fireworks."
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.
I have written before about Frances Rolleston's efforts on behalf of those suffering in the Irish potato famine. The following blog comes from History in the Margins which gives a wider view of those difficult days.
History in the Margins: The Not-Just-Irish Potato Famine
The Not-Just-Irish Potato Famine
Posted: 13 May 2016 11:48 AM PDT
In a recent blog post, I made a reference to the Irish Potato famine, started to link to the prior post I was sure I had written on the subject, and was stunned to realize that blog post existed only in my imagination.* Allow me to rectify that error.
When the Spanish imported potatoes from Peru in the sixteenth century, Europe’s peasants embraced the new crop as a miracle food. They could be planted in fallow fields, produced more food per acre than existing grain crops, and could be left in the ground until you needed them, making them less of a target for plundering soldiers in times of war. For much of Europe, the new crop meant a better diet for the poor and a reduced chance of famine.
In Ireland, however, potatoes were soon linked with political and economic oppression. After Cromwell invaded in 1649, the English relocated the native Irish to the western provinces, where it was too wet to grow grain. Unable to grow grain themselves and unable to afford imported grain, Ireland’s peasants built a subsistence economy based on the potato. Like all one-crop economies, it was a disaster waiting to happen. Enter the “hungry ’40s”.
Widespread failure of grain crops between 1845 and 1847 created food shortages across Europe, made worse by the potato blight of 1845. European grain prices increased between 100 and 150 percent over the course of two years, drastically affecting the standard of living for both peasants and urban workers, the later of whom typically spent seventy percent of their income on food. Food riots were common, escalating into violence directed at local landlords, tax collectors and factory owners. The crisis in agriculture was accompanied by industrial and financial collapse, which in turn led to widespread unemployment and greater unrest. In 1848, armed rebellions occurred in France, Austria, Prussia and most of the smaller German and Italian states , caused in part by the food shortages.
Ireland was the hardest hit by the potato blight. Potatoes had never displaced grain and mixed farming on the Continent or in England. Only Ireland depended on potatoes for survival, its population reduced to abject poverty by English laws that limited the right of the Irish to own land in their own country. When the blight struck, most Irish had no food reserves. Much of Europe was hungry; Irish peasants suffered from a largely artificial famine.
By October, 1846, ninety percent of the Irish potato crop had been lost. By December, potato prices had doubled. Absentee landlords allowed their agents to evict farmers who could not pay their rent, exacerbating the effects of the blight by further reducing harvests. An epidemic of typhus killed 350,000 from a population that was already weakened by starvation.
Throughout the five years of the famine, Ireland remained a net exporter of food. The potato crop failed, but other crops thrived. Irish grain and cattle were exported to England as if nothing were wrong. Prime Minister Robert Peel pushed through the repeal of the Corn Laws, which taxed grain imports at a high rate, in an effort to help the starving Irish. He was forced to resign and replaced by Lord John Russell, a proponent of laissez-faire economics, who declared, “we cannot feed the people” and demanded that Irish relief be paid for by the starving Irish themselves.
Committees of volunteers set up relief projects and soup kitchens. Donations came in from places as unlikely as Calcutta, Jamaica, and the Choctaw Indian tribe. By the summer of 1847, over three million people were being fed in soup kitchens. It wasn’t enough to combat the “Great Hunger”. Ireland lost one quarter of its population to the shortage of food and the unwillingness of the British government to provide public relief. About one million Irish died of starvation and disease between 1845 and 1851. Another million, the youngest and strongest, emigrated to America, Britain and Australia where, like new immigrant populations before and after them, they faced discrimination in jobs and housing.**
*Hmmm. Imaginary Blog Posts–it has a certain ring doesn’t it?
**Interestingly, the middle class German radicals who fled to the United States after the revolutions of 1848 enjoyed a warmer welcome.
November 5th, 1862
"We have sent 56l. this week for the cotton distress and more will go each week, we hope, for three months. I sent the price of three sets of 'Mazzaroth,' I cannot help giving away what I get for it, so far."
Frances could not help but contribute to the people of Lancashire starving because of the cotton distress. No cotton meant no work in the mills, and whole families were starving as a result. Frances' nephew, a clergyman in that area, received and distributed the money she was able to give and collect from others.
I've noted the cotton distress many times in Frances' letters, but only now understood that the reason for this terrible suffering was the American Civil War. The Lancashire mills depended on American cotton, but the Northern blockades prevented the export of Southern goods. Here is a link to a New York Times article about it, published November 26, 1862.
The article gives horrifying statistics, made even more so by Lord Sydney Godolphin Osborne's description of the process of dying by starvation, found several paragraph's down the article.
January 1st, 1863
"My feelings for some time have been, 'The people are famishing, what can I do to help?'"
In this letter FR lists some things she is doing and has done in the past to alleviate suffering due to famine.
In the 1822 famine,
Gave every particle of gold she possessed and
Painted miniatures to sell
For the present famine,
Cut back her living expenses in every way she can think of
Influenced others to give
Is giving away all the income from three of her books. This she did by first investing a L320 legacy in their printing.
In another letter of the same date, FR promotes the use of free-labour calico, that is cotton cloth made in India rather than that made by slaves, which is just as cheap and just as good.
There is no sense in these letters of her making resolutions for the New Year. It is simply the continuation of her lifelong style of living.