I am again reading Marianne Thornton: A Domestic Biography 1797-1887 by E. M. Forster (1956) and recommend it to anyone wanting to better understand the circle Frances Rolleston moved in.
E. M. Forster (writer of A Passage to India) based his book on family papers, which is why it gives such a good insider look at Marianne Thornton's life. Some of the materials were prepared for Forster by Marianne Thornton in her old age; she was his great aunt.
Marianne Thornton and Frances Rolleston were cousins through their mothers. The house and its guests were familiar to Frances. The biography gives many intimate views of William Wilberforce, Hannah More, Henry Thornton, and others of the "Clapham Sect" Frances associated with. I'm only disappointed that she is not mentioned in the book, but then, she was only one of many in that circle.
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.
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."
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
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.
Frances Rolleston was almost thirteen years old when the historic naval battle between Great Britain and France known as "The Glorious First of June 1794" took place. The battle was connected to the French Revolution about which the British were greatly concerned.
Since Mr. Rolleston welcomed to his table French nobles fleeing the Revolution, young Frances would have been well aware of this event.
Depending on your interest, here are some links to various aspects of The Glorious First of June:
Today in 1843, Natal was proclaimed a British Colony. I had never heard of Natal, but after skimming the Wikipedia article on Natal, it appears to me that colonizing is simply a slow method of conquest.
Today in 1859, Frances Rolleston was writing to a missionary in China. She was very interested in Christian missions to India, China, and Japan, and had thought of how that might be accomplished. Not by conquest or colonization, she looked to Florence Nightingale and the ladies who went with her to the Crimea as a model.
Travelers had told Frances that women in those countries were requesting that Christian women come visit them. At the time, of London's 650,000 women between the ages of fifteen and forty, 450,000 of them were unmarried. Couldn't the mission societies help them go?
It is true that conquest has been carried out in the name of religion, notably an hierarchical form of Christianity. How different was it to send missionaries than to set up colonies? Missionaries, as Frances thought of them, lived a life of kindness and self-sacrifice. They carried a gospel of hope—reconciliation with God and love for mankind—to be received by faith, not forced. Christian missions also brought health and education.
If only this clear difference had always been maintained, Christianity would have had a better name in the years that followed.