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.
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.
To James Reddie, Esq.
April 14th, 1863
My dear Sir,
I am delighted that my life's delight of pseudo-Lessings finds favor with you.
Frances Rolleston enjoyed the fables of G. E. Lessing, a German philosopher of the 1700s who used animal stories to present ideas, as had the French Jean La Fontaine in the 1600s, and the Greek Aesop in the 500s BC. Such stories are designed to teach life principles to children, but adults seem to enjoy them as much as children do.
Frances wrote many fables herself which she used in teaching children in her infant schools. These fables were the "pseudo-Lessings" referred to in this letter. The following fable she wrote to protest the exploitation of child labor in England's factories.
The Diadem Spider
The gossamer insect, floating in the air one fine summer morning, paused to gaze upon the gigantic and symmetrical web of the Diadem Spider, thrown from shrub to shrub in a flower garden; it sparkled with dew-drops in the sunshine.
“Observe,” said the queen of weavers, “the perfection of my work, the fineness of the threads, the accuracy of the angles, the correctness of the circles.”
“Methinks,” interposed the little aëronaut, “it is sadly disfigured by the quantity of dead and dying that are involved in its meshes.”
“Nay,” replied the spider, “that is part of the system; why dwell on trifling blemishes when the result is so magnificent?”
For the queen of spiders, there was no alternative; she must murder to live. Will the queen of commerce long continue to condemn thousands of wretched children to misery and premature death, that half-a-dozen great manufacturers may wear coronets in the next generation?
April 3, 1837
Frances Rolleston is writing from Watnall where she established several infant schools:
"Snow, snow, snow! Again the weather-wise primroses and violets that would not unclose their eyes, are covered with the warm wintry mantle which preserves them from the nipping frost; but I grieve for the young lambs, and for the poor infants who cannot get to school, and the poor mothers who have to bear all the artillery of crying and teazing, which their own 'old system,' of saying 'No' as long as their patience will last, and then yielding and saying 'Yes,' has taught the children to use."
Violets, lambs and children--three of the small things dear to FR--or Miss R., as the children call her. Violets protected by the snow reveal her interest and awareness of the natural surroundings. Young lambs suffering in the cold show her tender heart for animals. And her love for the children makes her aware of their disappointment in missing school. She also understands how miserable their mothers are in such a situation because they have not been taught how to get their children to obey.
Yet, FR herself is unable to keep order in the classroom.
"In the school-rooms I cannot keep order, and few teachers can keep it when I am present, so excited are the children by the instinctive feeling of the super-abundance of love I bear them, and I suppose also of the deficiency to the talent of preserving order and arrangement. The teachers I employ have the more need to study well that discipline of obedience, through which alone the best instruction can gain the infant attention."
Yet, somehow the little ones listen intently when she leads them outdoors and speaks of the natural wonders around them. Like the little violets suffering in the cold, they spring up to the warmth of her sunshine.
[The accompanying photo is of Johnny-jump-ups; not violets, but similar.]
January 23rd, 1863
"My dear Friend,
"Send me at once the song "Rising of the Lark," Codiad yr Hedydd, in Welsh I think, and get some young lady to play it for you; it is my favorite Welsh air and in most collections."
Elsewhere Frances Rolleston wrote: "I once took a few lessons on the harp just for the poetry of the thing, and bungled a few Welsh airs. 'Codiad yr Hedydd,' 'The Rising of the Lark' was my favourite."
FR had a fondness for songs. She emphasized singing in her infant schools, and credited it with making the children less inclined to fight. She wrote quite a few songs herself, and once claimed that at Filey, men, women and children were singing her songs.
In the January 23rd letter, her purpose in mentioning "Rising of the Lark" was to suggest a tune that her friend's poem might be sung to. Here's a link to the words in English and Welch.
The following few words of a letter from FR give us a hint of what was involved in establishing an infant school. Before the British government took on the responsibility of education, FR was an early pioneer of early childhood education. Her editor, Caroline Dent, claimed that FR established the third infant school in England, and from there she set up many more.
In FR's letter we also get a feel for the burden of her responsibilities to the community and to her friends elsewhere. It was written from Watnall, the seat of her father's family, where she set up several schools.
To William J. Irons
Watnall Cottage, October 9th, 1839
My very dear Friend,
I will not let you, and my unknown friend your wife, remain a day longer than I can help in the inconvenient position of expecting, when I am now sure I shall not be able to leave this place before Christmas, and most likely not then. The nearly finished school I must open and set going, and for another I have yet to raise funds, get the ground, set people to work, &c. &c. I have every prospect of success in so doing, but as soon as I went away last year all went wrong,—the Vicar, and the Squire, and the Squire's lady, and the Methodists of all sorts all fell out, and I have had to put them all in again, and now I am driving six in hand, railroad-pace, but if I throw up the reins over goes my omnibus of infants.
August 15, 1836
FR has been requested to stand in as godmother for the baby of a young married woman she has mentored. While appreciating the honor, FR reminds Edith that the purpose of a godmother is to provide someone who in case both father and mother dies can look after the religious education of the child, and at her age it is unlikely she will outlive the parents. If Edith wants her to stand up anyway, she advises her to find some young, pious relative to stand as well.
"During the life of parents, I consider the godmother to have no right and no duty. With these views, will you still wish it? I never stood but for one child, of my brother's, to whom I made the same statement, and I have never interfered about her, nor ever shall during the life of her parents."
However, FR happily provides advice on the care and education of children. Though she never had her own, her Infant Schools supply that lack. At the time of writing this letter, one of her students brings a seven-month-old sibling to her school.
"I hope you will write to me very often, and any question that my infant-school experience can help me to answer I will write upon. I am daily engaged in infant and Sunday-school teaching . . . ."
May 10, 1836 from Watnall:
"I have wintered most happily, sometimes going for a week at a time to old or new friends, sometimes fagging hard with raising two infant schools in our own neighbourhood, both of which I have visited today. . . . I commenced another infant school on Monday, with the expectation of a hundred and thirty children, whom we expect to make happy and hope to make good; by entire gentleness and kindness we have already civilized our children, and through them are making much impression on the parents. . . . Figure me to yourself, leading one beautiful golden-haired rustic, and four or five more holding to my shawl, with hands and baskets full of primrose violet and cowslip heaps, talking of flowers and the cuckoo, in the loneliest village possible, where our infants can toddle a mile on the road with small probability of meeting horse or cart except on market-days. These are my chief companions here. . . ."