In January 1864, Frances Rolleston was doubting if she would ever again be well enough to write, but by February 5th she was enjoying renewed health—although this was to be the last winter of her life. She wrote to a friend about her pleasure at finding herself again able to paint, and she told the story of how for years the money earned from her paintings paid her part in the use of a small pony who pulled her little cart around the Lake District.
Frances became quite fond of this "gentlest of ponies . . . who draws the fairy gig, and looks like a fairy steed in it.” Even with a group, Shelty was strong enough to go eighteen miles two days in a row. Before Frances gained the use of Shelty, the pony had already had a long life of hard work and hard living,
Readers will enjoy the chapter about Shelty in Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth.
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.
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.
October 20, 1853 an article or a letter by Frances Rolleston about William Blake appeared in London's Patriot newspaper. I would like to have a copy of what she wrote. (Although the source is searchable, I haven't the time today to search.) Blake was a most interesting artist, writer, and poet, considered a lunatic by some, and unappreciated during most of his lifetime. He died in 1827. What did Frances really think of his work? Click on the image for a link to others of his work.
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.