December 6th, 1860 Frances wrote to Caroline Dent: "I have been enabled in the last fortnight to explain every one of the figures in the Dendera Zodiac and Planisphere, over which I had been puzzling in vain for the last thirty years. . . . I am now quite encouraged by this remarkable proof that my faculties are not injured, on the contrary, though for a much shorter time can I exercise them--two hours and it used to be six, but I am thankful, and have long prayed to do much in a little time."
Frances' copy of the planisphere was given to her by William Hone, and lately mounted for her on calico by a young American friend. She would be sending a tracing of the planisphere to the printer Rivington as a lithograph frontispiece or map for her life's work, Mazzaroth: The Constellations.
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.