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.
Today in 1736, James Macpherson was born in Inverness, Scotland. He became a poet and politician, but what Frances Rolleston knew him for, and what he is best remembered for even today, was a deception.
Macpherson collected old Gallic poetry manuscripts, and his collection was impressive enough that money was raised to help him with his research. Then at age 25 he announced the discovery of an epic from the 3rd century. He published his own translation of this epic which he called Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books, together with Several Other Poems composed by Ossian, the Son of Fingal, translated from the Gaelic Language.
Since there was no other Gallic work earlier than the 10th century, it gained attention and became an immediate controversy. The Irish historian Charles O'Conor, among others, noted technical errors in chronology and in the forming of Gaelic names, among other questionable things, which Macpherson could not defend. He never produced the "manuscripts" in question.
However, at least one child enjoyed Macpherson's book. Ten-year-old Frances Rolleston discovered the epic in her old cousin's library (she had been sent to her cousin for three years after the death of her mother), and it made a great, impression on her young mind. She "devoured it," she said, for after all, there she was living in Ossianic country (Yorkshire). But her cousin's daughter took the book away from her, saying that the child was too romantic already.
In her collected letters, Frances Rolleston defended women's abilities as scientists. I'm sorry that Janet Taylor's name doesn't appear in Frances' letters, but perhaps Frances did not know the great contribution Janet made to navigation.
They might have been good friends. They shared a love of the starry heavens (Janet drew and published a Planisphere of the Stars), they were both Christians who honored the Creator, and they also lived in the same areas of London, though at different times.
One of Janet's great contributions to the safety of sailing vessels was to adjust ships' compasses to overcome deviations due to the increasing use of iron in ship building. She developed instruments to improve navigation and diligently corrected charts to reflect newfound hazards throughout the world.
This is one biography I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
Click on the image to go to the Amazon page.
On this day in 1643, Cromwell won the battle of Gainsborough. The English Civil War had begun the year before. Charles I had fled London with his family to Hull in Yorkshire, but being ejected from there, had set up in Nottinghamshire. The Rollestons of Nottinghamshire, who had in earlier times held royal office, now as simple squires raised a regiment in support of the king. This Frances Rolleston remembered as part of her family history.
Not all gentry supported the king, and not all commoners supported the war against the king. The situation was far too complicated for that. It included matters of religious freedom (especially concerning the Scottish Presbyterians and Charles I's efforts to formalize the Anglican liturgy) and political freedom (Scotland, Ireland and England were all involved) and the organization of the English government (changes to limit the king's power).
Two hundred years after the English Civil War had passed into history, Frances found it interesting enough to read about—for fun. This from a letter of 1856:
"For relaxation I am deeply engrossed, in my usual fashion, with two books at once, Carlyle's and Merls D'Aubigné's 'Cromwell,' one mad first-rate, the other pious, calm, second-ratism."
Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on the English Civil War.
September 22, 1863
FR writes a long letter to her niece who is about to be married. The bridegroom has the distinction of "Anglo-Saxon Professor," which FR holds in higher respect than a peerage, and so after a paragraph of good wishes, the letter is devoted to her love of Anglo-Saxon history.
The following three books listed here with links for either reading online or purchasing, were among those FR had read:
History of the Anglo-Saxons by Sharon Turner. 1852. 3 volumes.
Harold, The Last of the Saxon Kings by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton
History of the Anglo-Saxons by Sir Francis Palgrave
In addition to these, FR mentioned "a very amusing little Anglo-American book, 'The Courtship of Miles Standish,' in which Longfellow included 'a delightful scene between "Alfred the Truth-Teller" and the Mariner-discoverer of the North Polar Sea." And she finishes with this surprising note: "My hero Alfred was well sketched there, and what a fine head he has! beyond 'all Greek, all Roman fame,' for manly beauty."
FR related a story from her childhood and her mother's childhood:
"You perhaps never heard my mother's story of an alarm fire in Baker's Court, when she was about twelve years old. Her father met her coming down stairs half clad, but with her new beaver hat and feathers on her head, and tucked up in her petticoat her last new book, the Arabian Nights' Entertainments.
"In consequence of this story, when our grandmother Rolleston asked me what book she should give me, I chose that, to the no small horror of sage and elderly relatives."
What do you think? Read Arabian Nights' Entertainments online and see if it is suitable for a twelve-years-old child.
Because of her love for children and interest in young mothers, FR often recommended books for children. One writer she felt to be entirely safe was the American James Fenimore Cooper.