This week in 1861, Frances at 80 years of age was suffering from "excited nerves." This condition prevented her from working on her book—or doing much of anything. Two days later she was completely revived.
This experience was due to a personality trait which Frances called the “poet-element.” To a friend who suffered similarly she wrote, “I cannot tell you what your sympathy is to me, you alone enter into the poet-element which so intensifies reality, every-day life, into over excitement, over depression.” She often gave in to the intense feelings of this poet-element, and found it too difficult to act apart from them.
This particular October, she suffered from “excited nerves,” received “a bracing affusion” from a friend’s note, and had “a complete bath of reviving influence” from a friend’s visit—all in one weekend.
November brought a sudden resumption of work. By December, she was working herself very hard, and believing it the best thing for her. However, before the month was out her spirits were again sinking and her nerves irritated. Every exertion seemed too much.
The Keswick doctor told her that he did not see why she should not live nine or ten years longer, and Frances herself pointed out that many painters, and more Bible students, lived and worked longer than she had. But in spite of this affirmation, Frances seemed unable to overcome that trait which carried her in a cycle from hard work to fatigue to discouragement—sometimes illness—and inability to work, to rest and encouragement and back to hard work.
Today, September 22, 2017, is autumn equinox. One might think of equinox as one point on a continuum. The three paragraphs here have to do with continuation.
From the autumn equinox, the sun continues its path southward and the daylight hours continue to shrink until the next solstice. Frances Rolleston mentioned the spring equinox a number of times in her letters. She understood the workings of calendars—their history and how to change dates from one system to another—all beyond me.
September 22, 1791 Michael Faraday was born in London. He became a physicist and discovered electro-magnetic induction, thus continuing the many scientific discoveries of the 19th century. Frances was interested in all manner of science, but I do not know how acquainted she was with Faraday's work although, he associated with Humphry Davy, whom Frances knew. Some years earlier, Luigi Galvani had worked with electricity with an interest in benefiting the human body. At one time Frances allowed herself to be "Galvanized" in order to heal her chilblains. This appears to be her only "contact" with electricity.
September 22, 1863 Frances wrote to her niece who was about to be married. Frances mentioned her pleasant recollections of the niece's lively and interesting childhood, and wished this new season of life to be an even happier continuation of the sunny one she remembered with so much pleasure.
On this day in 1830, a great celebration was underway—the opening ceremony for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The Prime Minister was in attendance. The celebration began with a parade of locomotives: Northumbrian, Phoenix, North Star and finally Rocket. Sadly, the exciting event was marred when a Member of Parliament, William Huskisson, was fatally stuck by Rocket.
In a letter two months later Frances Rolleston mentioned that the day of the accident which killed poor Huskisson (whom she had known), she had consulted her Hebrew teacher to ask if the word carcaroth in her Bible, translated swift beasts, could not be more correctly translated carriages.
She wrote, The word occurring no where else has received the most whimsical interpretations. I said, the Holy Spirit had dictated a new word to express a new thing, the reduplication of the root car expressing intensified rolling round and round, as the wheel of railway cars.
The scripture containing carcaroth is Isaiah 66:20 which speaks of the return of the Jewish people to their land: "And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the LORD out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the LORD, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the LORD."
The oth of carcaroth is the plural suffix; what remains is car car, with the idea of round, the doubling indicating intensity. Frances' conclusion is that even by railway would the Jewish people one day return to their land. She was always alert to compare current events with Bible prophecies.
In a letter dated September 8, 1859, we learn that Frances Rolleston made the decision that many modern writers make:
After long delays in the attempt to find a publisher who would help with expenses, I have resolved, at a considerable pecuniary sacrifice, to print for myself.
The book in question is The Book of Canticles, or, Song of Solomon, according to the English Version, Revised and Explained from the Original Hebrew. It is only 20 pages long with an additional 12 pages for the "Metrical Version of the Canticles to which is added, Psalm XLV."
One might wonder why Frances should make a financial sacrifice for such a small book. She explains in the September 8 letter:
I believe it to be a Missionary service. I have long been made to feel that the translations of the Canticles gave a handle to infidels, and pain to lovers of the Bible. I knew the original was open to no such objections, and though some spiritually minded Christians have found edification in this book, the majority of Christians have passed it over in 'reverential forbearance.' One minister said to another in my hearing, "She has made it what can be read aloud." Only one verse of my translation meets with hesitation from the great Hebraists to whom I have submitted the work, the eighth verse of the sixth chapter; I enclose you a paper concerning it, and would be very glad for your opinion. I have no "authority" for my translation except the Hebrew text lying before me, with the change of one point, an easy corruption.
In a later letter Frances speaks of her hope that this translation of the Canticles will be an evidence of her expertise with Hebrew, thus adding credence to her great work, Mazzaroth: The Constellations.
Today in 1822 Sir William Herschel passed to his reward. He is most remembered for his discovery of the planet Uranus—although Frances Rolleston felt the credit was due to his sister Caroline. See my earlier blog discoverer-of-the-planet-uranus.html.
We think of Herschel as a great astronomer (and he was), but it surprises us to learn how little was known about the solar system 150 years ago. The sun was even thought to be inhabited. Solar spots were admitted to be openings in the luminous stratum, not opaque scoriae floating on its surface.
Sir William Herschel’s study of sunspots led him to suggest that the light of the sun issues from an outer stratum of self-luminous material, beneath which is a second stratum of clouds of inferior brightness, designed to protect the solid body of the sun, and its inhabitants, from the intense heat and brilliancy surrounding them.
We may be amused at how little was known in Herschel's day of the visible world, but some day others may amuse themselves at our ignorance. And what about the unseen world?
Some of the above is found in the chapter "Astronomy" in Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth.
This day of the 2017 total solar eclipse may be a good day to write of a total lunar eclipse significant to Frances Rolleston.
Witnesses of the total lunar eclipse of October 13, 1837 reported that the part of the moon in the shadow was invisible, while the part in the penumbra was bright enough to overpower the stars, and that during the total phase, the moon was unusually colorless and faint—a cold gray through which every feature of the moon's surface was distinct.
But it was not the appearance of this phenomena that was significant to Frances. She had returned to Yorkshire, scene of three years of her childhood after her mother's death, and the place where her younger sister had died. She had stayed away for forty years, and upon her return was overcome with grief for all those family and friends who had passed on in the meanwhile. She struggled with regret for not returning sooner, and yet felt the Lord had kept her at her post all those years in the south of England. At last, in a letter dated October 23, 1837, she told the outcome of this mental struggle:
The day I dined at West Ella was that of the eclipse; there was something awful in the force with which a voice within seemed to ask all day, "Which governs the world, thou or I?" and I replied as often, "Thou, Lord." Again the voice seemed to say, "Which shall govern the world?" and again I was enabled to say, "Thou, Lord!" and this not once nor twice, but continually, all day, and coming home in that solemn, gloomy hour of the eclipse. The voice that questioned seemed quite independent of myself, as the reply seemed mine. That eclipse of the moon is never to be forgotten by me, type of the shade cast over the Church when earth and the things of earth hide from her the light of the Sun of Righteousness.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4, 1792. Some might argue that he was the greatest among English Romantic poets. His work influenced generations of poets and continues to do so.
Frances Rolleston had a high opinion of Shelley's work, even though during his life time his progressive views hindered his acceptance. She mentioned him several times in her letters.
In 1859 Frances was working on metrical translations of poetical passages of the Bible. It may have been in connection to her work on Canticles (The Song of Solomon) that she wrote:
I am puzzled what to call my metre, it is more like Shelley than any other, in the dialogues of his "Prometheus Unbound," still it is in the cadence of the Hebrew, and nearer to its measure than any other I can trace. The irregular measure I tried disgusted me: this has fascinated me at once—it is Hebraistic.
Poetry has gone through many style changes, and sometimes it seems as though style doesn't matter at all. Meters, measures, cadences—who cares about that? But in Frances' day, poetry was serious business—not just in the thoughts contained in the words, but also in form and musical aspect. Shelley was innovative—radical, some said—yet he did not discard the principles which contributed to the enduring admiration of his poetry.
On July 29, 1818, Gaspard Monge, French mathematician, died in Paris. You can read about his life and how it was affected by the French Revolution here. However, this blog is not about Monge. I mention him only because the fact of his passing reminded me of the fun Frances Rolleston had with French mathematics.
A French nobleman who had fled the Revolution tutored her in French and mathematics. The system he taught her was later adopted in English universities, but before it was widely known, Frances had fun stumping her acquaintances with problems which now seem simple to us.
The following is from a letter she wrote some time after the events.
My French friend despised English mathematics. He told me to try my professing friends with these two questions; first, what is two-thirds of three-fourths? It was curious to see gentlemen who had taken their degree, fill quantities of paper, and come to no satisfactory answer. One clergyman, who was trying to puzzle a young disciple of mine studying for college, could not master this simple problem. Then said I, try another, of which my French friend had said, 'No Englishman can do this'—'PROVE that two and two make four." After making his wife and young cousin laugh at his failure, he gave it up, and I was obliged to show him the French proof.
Some time later when Frances told this story to a new college graduate, he said, "We know that now, we are taught on the French plan." So the English have at least this to thank the French for.
Frances Rolleston had just turned 15, when this day in 1796, Robert Burns died. Called the Scottish Bard, he carried other titles in honor of his poetry, of which much was in the Scottish dialect. Frances must have known of his passing because already she was enthusiastic about poetry.
In the summer of 1841, Frances wrote to her old friend the Rev. Henry Thompson: "I send you two ballads I manufactured with an eye to Burns, out of some raw material in the "Fairy Mythology."
Which two of her ballads these were, I can't say. But in 1850 Thompson published Original Ballads by Living Authors which included six by Frances. Perhaps they were "St. Patrick's Staff" and "Braithwell Cross," since these are based on ancient events. But they may have been others more influenced by folklore. It is certain that Burns enjoyed such topics:
"In my infant and boyish days too, I owed much to an old Maid of my Mother's, remarkable for her ignorance, credulity and superstition.--She had, I suppose, the largest collection in the county of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, cantraips, giants, inchanted towers, dragons and other trumpery.--This cultivated the latent seeds of Poesy...." (from the Poetry Foundation.)
Today is remembered for the evacuation of the Crimea in 1856, ending another of Europe's many wars. The Crimean War involved Russia, Great Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire. A Wikipedia article sums the war up thus: "As the legend of the 'Charge of the Light Brigade' demonstrates, the war quickly became an iconic symbol of logistical, medical and tactical failures and mismanagement."
A few good things came out of the war—such as Russia's decision to sell Alaska to the US, the battlefield nursing methods of Florence Nightengale, and the rise of writer Leo Tolstoy. Here's a succinct article about these.
In 1859 Frances Rolleston wrote, "It is said in statistic reports, that of 650,000 females between the ages of fifteen and forty in the city of London, there are 450,000 unmarried."
She might have used this statistic to suggest the terrible loss of young men in war, but Frances had something else in mind that she found more important. Using the example of the unmarried women who followed Florence Nightengale to nurse the soldiers in the Crimea, Frances suggested that unmarried women be encouraged to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the Orient—to India and China. She could not go herself, getting on towards eighty years of age, but "Still," she wrote, "I have influence, and wish to exert it to induce my younger countrywomen to serve the Lord."
Frances gave much of her time and resources to serving the temporal needs of the poor and ailing, but the eternal needs of people pressed upon her even more.