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.
June 22, 1835 Frances mentioned to her friend William Irons that she had picked up a pebble on "Diadem Hill" at Annesley in memory of "my friend in early life, Byron's Mary." Both Byron and Mary were deceased by this time.
"Byron" was George Gordon Lord Byron, heir of Newstead Abbey and the celebrated poet. "Mary" was Mary Ann Chaworth, heiress of Annesley, the estate adjacent to Byron's. Mary was older than Byron, but he fell in love with her when as a child he first saw her. He visited Annesley frequently. However, Mary was in love with John Musters, and when she married him, it supposedly broke Byron's heart. He wrote a famous poem, "The Dream," about Mary and their relationship, and in the poem he mentioned being on "Diadem Hill" with her while she watched for John Musters.
Earlier, Frances had written to Irons, "The 'Diadem' is cut down and universally deplored." Washington Irving had a hand in the "universal" disgust. He had visited Annesley and swallowed the old housekeeper's story that Mary's and Byron's lives were ruined by her marriage to John Musters. Irving's account was widely read, so when Mr. Musters (who was Frances' host about the time she wrote this letter) cut down the trees on Diadem hill, he was thought to be acting vengefully.
Frances and Sophie Musters (John and Mary's daughter) knew better and planned together to have the facts brought to light, but Sophie's marriage prevented the project's completion.
What was the truth concerning Mary's marriage to John? What was the real reason Mr. Musters cut down the trees? That can be found in Frances Rolleston: British Lady, Scholar and Writer of Mazzaroth in the chapter "On Trees and Poetry."
On this day 1794, William Whewell, was born. He was to become a philosopher, science historian, writer, poet, and Anglican priest.
In September 1854 an acquaintance brought Frances Rolleston a new book by Whewell, The Plurality of Worlds, an Essay. After reading it, she responded thus:
"The most horrid and detestable book I have seen for many years—it almost made me ill."
And what was so horrid about Whewell's essay? Why, he believed that the solar system consisted entirely of matter—Jupiter water, Saturn cork, Venus bronze, and Mercury silver! And Frances, along with many of her day, believed that these worlds were filled with living beings.
It's hard for us to imagine that only 150 years ago intelligent, educated people believed that life existed on the planets of our solar system. Even the sun was thought to be inhabited. Solar spots were universally admitted to be openings in the luminous stratum, not opaque scoriae floating on its surface. Even Sir William Herschel, who we consider a big name in astronomy, suggested that the light of the sun issues from an outer stratum of self-luminous material, beneath which is a second stratum of clouds designed to protect the solid body of the sun, and its inhabitants, from the intense heat and brilliancy surrounding them.
So Frances is not to be considered ignorant in her horror at Whewell's proposal.
In May 1855 Frances received some writings by or about Emmanuel Swedenborg at the time she was entertaining a guest who followed Swedenborg's teachings. Frances' comments to the person who sent them were a lovely example of a Christian spirit.
Swedenborg was a scientist and philosopher whose teachings on the Scriptures attracted a following and eventually led to the establishment of several denominations.
The extracts Frances received, though not uncomplimentary to the man (the Swedenborgian visitor read them with pleasure) were accompanied by a comment that must have seemed so. Frances replied, "You were quite right about his not being sane, but he had a fine feeling and a Christian heart."
Frances had a loving way about her by which she pointed out error, or what she considered error, without putting down the person—a trait we would all do well to emulate.
May 6th, 1862 Frances wrote to her friend Miss Rigby, who had helped Frances think through some points in her writing. Miss Rigby was perhaps planning to have some printing done since Frances closed the letter with this: "I will enclose specimens of the women printers, they execute beautifully—Miss E. Faithfull and her female 'staff'—pray show them."
Emily Faithfull (1835-1895) worked for women's interests toward their improved status, employment and education. Most interested in the employment aspect, she was a member of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women.
One occupation she felt was suitable for women was that of compositor (typesetter). This idea upset the London Printers Union which held that women did not have the intelligence or physical skill for that work.
Emily, nevertheless, set up the Victoria Press in London which soon gained a reputation for excellent work, so much so that Emily was appointed printer and publisher in ordinary to Queen Victoria.
Even Frances far north in Keswick was aware of that reputation.