Narrative (Diary) of Anne Marsh Caldwell
The following narrative was originally written by Anne Marsh around 1839 to 1840 while she was living in Bolougne, France. This would have been a short while after the death of her father James Caldwell who died in 1838. The story of Anne's early life begins as follows:
I was born at Newcastle-under-Lyne in Staffordshire on the 9th of January 1791. Life begins to dawn upon my memory in a few uncertain sketches, as it were; and the first thing I can remember must be, I think, finding myself in a hack chaise with a worthy old couple named Mr. and Mrs. Martin who were taking me to Nantwich to pay a visit to my Grand-Mamma. This must have been about May or June 1794 when I was little past three years old. I had a basket with some raisins and good things in it, I suppose as a provision by my best and sweetest of mothers for her little Anne upon this long journey - and old Mr. Martin pretended to steal them, which distressed me very much - I see him now in his brown wig - and the inside of the chaise - I on a little stool, Mrs. Martin bold upright in the corner. I have only detached recollections of my visit to my Grand-Mamma - she lived in a black and white timbered house at the end of the Hospital Street, at the back of which there was a garden. The hall was paved with squares of stone and had a handsome mahogany door - or rather, I think, large handsome black door with an old-fashioned knocker - and a handsome pair of stairs with rich mahogany banisters led down to this hall. There was a glass door from the hall into the garden and a little old-fashioned window with small panes set in lead which looked into the garden, on which there always stood some plants. A passage led along by the glass door to the kitchen, which was all paved like the hall - and the floor of it kept as white and as clean as it was possible to be. Through the kitchen you went into a back kitchen all as clean as a drawing-room, and into the garden by another way through a sort of back yard, all as neat as possible - and here was a large apricot tree which grew up as high as the two-storey chimney - and used to be covered with apricots, though not fine ones. When you went into this garden by the little glass door you came first upon a paved walk with a grass plot upon one side, on which stood a fine Weymouth pine. The ground rose from this grass plot and ended in shrubbery, the outer tree of which was a magnificent plane (tree ?) which stretched its branches far and wide over a large handsome green seat or large garden chair. The paved walk terminated in the handsome steps which carried you into the garden. The garden consisted of one splendid broad gravel walk bordered on each side by a narrowish flowerbed full of low shrubs such as . . . (unreadable) . . . lauristinus and rose trees and flowers and edged with a hedge of thick box. Behind these borders were the vegetables and fruit trees. I do not remember being so enchanted with the beauty of this garden upon this visit as I afterwards was, so I suppose I was too little to enjoy beauty of this kind, though it seems to me as if there was never a time that I did not enjoy natural beauty in the most exquisite degree - and that the younger I was the more exquisitely delicious were my sensations - that sense of exquisite delight has long been much deadened within me. My Grand-Mamma was I believe a very small woman - but to me she seemed a tall lady in a black gown and white cap and handkerchief, who had something that even then seemed to me very like a lady about her. Her gown was always a rich black silk - and seems to me as if she was always as neat and as much in nice order as if she had been a princess - and it is certain that a queen with all her attendants could not have had every corner and every article in more precise and exact order than she had. I suppose she had two servants, but I only remember one, Hannah Dodd, a strong built, strong featured woman who had her hair turned up over a roll and wore a high peaked cap such as one sees in old cuts and an open gown and stiff stays that looked as if they were made of wood. She had been brought up in my Grand-Mamma's house and was like one of the family; she was cook. housekeeper, manager - rather more than was quite comfortable sometimes, but devoted, faithful, and careful housewife, careful nurse; in short, one of them entirely. I had two unmarried aunts living with my Grand-Mamma, Aunt Anne and Aunt Bessy. I do not remember Aunt Anne at all during that visit, but I do Aunt Bessy - liking her because I thought her so pretty and she wore pretty gowns - she must have been about twenty five or twenty six. All my recollections of this visit consists of little detached scenes impressed in the most lively manner upon my memory, the rest is nothing. By the bye, speaking of memory - I could not have come to mine till this year , '94, for the year before I was with Mary [an elder sister], Mrs Noble and Miss Willet at Linley Wood during the Terror - it would have made an impression if my mind could have received it - and I seem to have been a lively quick child at the time - at least Miss Willet used to tell stories of what I said and did as if I had amused her - such as begging Jonathan the coachman not to go away and leave me with "that great bear" - meaning her! But I have often since tested my memory for some recollections of this visit - I cannot find the slightest trace of it. To return to my brief but vivid recollections of those early days; I used to sit on a little stool at Grand-Mamma's feet. I remember her sending me across the room one day "to tell that girl" meaning Aunt Bessy - "to uncross her legs!" I remember following her (Grand-Mamma) into the back kitchen often&ldots; (she had 'the gravel', I believe - and I heard her father suffered dreadfully from it in his old age.) Her maiden name was Armstrong; her father was, I believe a stay-maker; a very remarkable man he was thought for sense and love of literature. She had been very handsome - they say she and my Grand-Papa Caldwell were the handsomest couple almost ever seen in Nantwich. I never saw him; he died after suffering two years from a dreadful nervous complaint aggravated, I suspect, by the harsh treatment adopted in those days as the proper method with these. My Grand-Mamma had been the mother of 13 children, of which four only grew up; Aunt Sheret [Skerrett], the eldest, my Aunt Anne, my father, and my Aunt Bessy, seven years younger than was the youngest child. Of these children three, I think, died of putrid sore throat. It must have been ill understood in those days. Most of the others appear to have died as infants. There were, I think, three Jameses before my father - who had been a most beautiful child with long curling flaxen hair and was made a perfect idol by his mother. I don't suppose my Grand-Mamma had been very happy - my Mother at least used to say "She never wished to have her daughters married - though she was glad enough to see her son married - meaning she did not car so much how it befel other people's daughters.
I remember going with Grand-Mamma through the little glass door and seeing Miss Sheret [Skerrett] coming out of the garden with a green watering pot in her hand - the watering pot was little and green and I thought it very pretty - but though Miss Sheret [Skerrett] was little I could not bear her, for she wore a dull coloured buff striped gown with a plain cap and was not pretty; had a stayed look and a red nose - and I quite felt an uncomfortable sensation when I looked at her. I remember a poor Miss Lerversage who had had her face all deformed and burned by a dreadful accident of fire coming to call on Grand-Mamma. Before she came, Grand-Mamma related the story and told me not to stare at her, as it would be very unpleasant to her. I understood it all just as well as I should now and I had the self-command hardly once to look at her. They praised me afterwards for this. It does not seem to me that I felt anything the least like love or affection for any of them in those days.
I used to sleep in a little bed in the corner of Grand-Mamma's room. One morning nobody came to get me up. Grand-Mamma was very sick and Hannah was by her bed-side with a basin giving her things. After some time - it seemed to me an age - they got me up, but I remember nothing but that picture. , I in my little bed, Grand-Mamma sick and Hannah with a basin by her bed-side - I suppose it was her last illness. I suppose they took me out of her room and put me to sleep in a certain bed with red curtains with Hannah. I remember a sensation of which I always think when I read in the Bible "A horror of great darkness fell upon Absolem" - I lost myself in that bed - I suppose I was restless - but I felt as much lost in the bed as if I had been in the desert - and my feeling of horror was as if now I were lost in the dark in an immense Cathedral. For years after I perfectly well recollect it being a sort of trial of courage with us to "go through the bed" as we called it - that is, go down under the cover and come out through the bottom. Children seem to have an instinctive horror of darkness and of being smothered. People have no idea of the terrors little children suffer, and the cruelty in this respect is generally great and no doubt often shakes the nerves for life.
I remember a picture of being in the hall and seeing Papa standing; he was come to see his mother. This is the first recollection I have of him, a tall beautiful young man to whose knee I reached, in a blue coat, gilt buttons and leathers and boots - it seemed to me as if I stared up at him but he took no notice of me - but I find in his letters that he says "Our little Anne is a charming child" - but says that the scene was too melancholy for her and she had better return home&ldots; I don't remember feeling love for him.
My next picture; I am at Newcastle creeping into a room where there is a large bed with green curtains, our Nannie's bed, and under the curtain is a cot and a little baby - this is Louisa [her younger sister]. Two or three more pictures I have of Newcastle; Mr Lloyd, a bald man in a snuff coloured suit, my father's clerk, and his office . . . A startling scene in the kitchen - Absolem the manservant whom I hated and Sally, a saucy girl of a maid whom I hated too, catching Stamford [her only brother], and Absolem putting his head between his knees and tugging his flaxen short curly locks till he screamed - Sally encouraging him - my very blood curdles with horror at this cruelty and indignation - and running screaming away with all my might. It is strange Stamford has not the slightest recollection of this scene. I am convinced, however, that boy was often treated with cruelty&ldots;
I remember sitting at supper, bread and milk upstairs, and Mary [her elder sister] going down to ask for more bread - and they would not give her any, and her running away with a piece of brown loaf and coming still alive to us - and my mingled terror and delight at the feat . . . And sitting painting, or rather trying to paint with a feather while the three elder had brushes&ldots; Many such little things made an impression upon me that I was always to come off second best, which has been useful to me in life - where I have often had to come off second best.
I remember walking with Papa and Mama down the Etruria road - and Eliza and Stamford running on a race before us - and my father remarking what an awkward girl Eliza was and would be, as she was throwing up her legs behind her. I remember great talk of Mr Wedgwood's carriage being overturned on Etruria Hill - and I remember being at Etruria and looking over the hills beyond and wondering what would come behind those . . . and Miss Sarah Wedgwood in a pale blue habit and small black hat playing on the organ to us as we danced in a ring in the large drawing room - does not this sound incredible?
I remember one fine Sunday evening hanging out of the dining-room window with Emma [her younger sister], one year younger, looking at Beeches the tailor or shoemaker, I forget which, and Papa calling to us to take care we did not tumble out - this is my first recollection of Emma. And I remember Matt - he used to look as black as a negro, with rough black hair, and made horrid noises - he lived by himself in a horrid little hut in a row on the outskirts of the town -
I remember a walk one Sunday with Mama and Stamford, and his asking her how we should go on at Linley Wood - this must be just before we changed here - I see the walk as clear as if it were yesterday, by Sir Nigel Grisley's canal and some stunted willow trees which are not there now.
And I remember a chaise at the door and all of us returning from a walk to take leave of Papa before he went to London, and Stamford teasing me to my inexpressible terror over Mr Byer's great dog, who however did not devour me. I remember Papa bringing me a little Dunstable hat for my doll when he came back, and Emma a straw basket - and that is all I remember of Newcastle.
August 1794. The next thing I find myself in the carriage, a very large handsome green carriage bought by my aunt [Hannah Stamford] and kept by her and my father in partnership, standing upon the seat, so little was I, with my doll's unstable hat in my hand - with Mamma, the nurse and the baby - going down old Linley Lane from Talk-O'-The-Hill, almost the last time, I should think, ever carriage travelled it, for the new road was made soon after; it seems to me as if the carriage quite hung over the horses, so steep was the descent, and the oak branches met over the carriage and brushed against the windows - that is the picture I have of this narrow hollow way with its banks of yellow sand just where you leave what was then the sand-pit or quarry below the rock. Linley was then a lone wild place - the fir wood with its dark yawning black mouth at the end of the terrace looked to me very awful.
I remember running round the bow-window of the dining-room; it seemed very bare. Emma, I recollect, came from Nantwich that evening with my Aunt Stamford and Miss Noble, but I have no picture of their arrival; they had been left at Newcastle to take a dancing lesson at Mrs Robinson's boarding-school. They came on two horses - Eliza, I think, on a pillion, Mary riding before another servant. She looked to me a great girl - she was then five years old.
The next thing I remember must be the following Spring - there was a flat terrace walk of turf ran round the house to the wood and a slope from it to the field, at that time covered with long grass. I remember being there with Emma - on a fine dewy morning gathering the golden buttercups, the red clover and the blue speedwell - with an excess of delicious pleasure that nothing I know now approaches. The butterflies floating about and the bees. I think it must be this Spring that I read Mrs Barbould's lessons, where she gives little short descriptions of the months; March and its wind and the rooks going Caw! Caw!, and the little yellow ranunculus peeping out - and the July - under the rose bush, etc. the pleasure I received from these representations of the nature I saw about me were greater than anything the finest poetry could give me now. I slept in a little railed bed in the nursery then, and being a middle child was under the care of the housemaid Nanny Tayte (?). Oh how I hated her! She used to twitch me out of bed by both arms as if she would pull them off. She had a harsh face and voice. Betty Burrows the nurse, I loved.
The next event that marks chronology is the birth of Fanny, my mother's youngest child. I remember the night well. I had left my railed crib and now slept in what was called the press-bed - How rough servants were and coarse with children - I wonder whether they are so now? I used to sleep so sound that I remember speculating with myself whether there really was such a thing as night at all, and whether I did not merely shut my eyes, open them again - and it was morning. A great rough maid used to come and waken the little sleeper with a good bang on its poor little behind - when the sun shone and it was fast asleep - not exactly as Montagne advised that a child should be awakened - but whatever my nerves have since become, they were good enough then, so that when Nanny Tayte did not twitch my arms off I cared little for these things . . . Then what odd feelings we had about being washed - we considered it the greatest hardship in the world; to be sure, they used to seize us and scrub our faces with a lather of brown soap till our eyes smarted and our mouths were full, and on Saturday nights our feet were washed in a basin, and there was such crying, screaming and kicking as if they were killing us. I remember one winter under the reign of my good Nantwich Aunts, who used to come and take care of use when Mamma was away anywhere - which was very seldom - they enforced a more general washing, which we resented as the most barbarous tyranny. I remember running up to the nursery with them, hearing Emma screaming and crying. She was in her shift, little fat white square creature, and they were washing her back and shoulders. I believe her delicacy was hurt - very unnatural for a child. Our present way of strip and slosh is much more natural and better.
I was in my press bed, and was awakened by a bustle; a little baby brought to the nursery fire and all the maids busy about it - it was, as I thought, born wrapped in flannel, for sure, it was just born and in flannel it was. I thought it came out of a drawer&ldots; I then had not the slightest idea of religion or a Creator; it was my Mother's method that the subject should never be mentioned to her children till she herself mentioned it solemnly to them. Being a forward child, she told me at what she considered an early age, 5. That must have been the year after Fanny's birth . . . I remember this circumstance of the flannel occasioning a little speculation in my mind; I thought how good it was of God that children should be born in flannel as Fanny had been.
The next morning I find myself with all my sisters and my brother in the laundry, a room underground communicating by a flight of steps at the top of which is a door into the hall. It has a long dresser - above the dresser a long window-seat - I must have been a very short child - afterwards I was obliged to content myself with the dresser&ldots; We were dismal enough shut up here by ourselves lest we should disturb Mamma - but we began to play, I suppose, and make a noise, for I see Papa come to the top of the stairs and in what seemed to me a voice of thunder command us and threaten us to be still . . . Then somebody comes and says we may come up one by one and kiss Mamma and see the baby - and I creep up into Mamma's room, which is all beautifully neat and nice. She is lying on the inner side of the bed, and we steal round and kiss her; and there is a tent-bed in the room besides, and near her sits dear Mrs Low with the little baby in her lap. Dear Mrs Low, how I loved her; she was gentle and soft, so unlike most of the people we had about us - and she used to give us "Whigs" - as the spongey bars were called with which they fed the baby - it was fed with thick boiled milk and whigs out of a silver boat - and it wore cambric robes which were pinned in little plaits down in front every time it was dressed - and it wore a stay-piece of tape which coming from the front of its cap was fastened to its robes for fear its head should tumble off, I supposed.
I remember no more of this event except creeping to Mamma's door in an afternoon and saying softly "Mamma, are you asleep?" Sometimes she would say "Yes!" then I crept softly away. Sometimes she would say "No!" then I went in. such was my simplicity that when I heard her laugh and tell this story to Miss Willet, I could not perceive where the point lay. Then I remember her dining in the breakfast-room - a nice little table set out for her on which chicken and nice things were put - I could not understand why.
It must be now, I think, that Fanny and Louisa were innoculated - I remember Mr Sheret [Skerrett], a very diminutive, fussy little man marked with the small-pox, was the apothecary. My parents thought him clever - and I think he must have been very clever - by what I can now recollect of medical events, that is, in proportion to the medical knowledge of those days, which must have been far inferior to the present - though they, I suspect, possessed some medical secrets that are now lost. He was my Uncle Sheret's brother; his name was Robert. My Uncle's brother was General Sheret [Skerrett]. He had run away and enlisted, and they had then, I believe, bought him a commission. He distinguished himself some years after. George III gave him the regiment of the Durham Fencibles - he had no interest. I have often heard my father tell the story; Mr Pitt had a friend - Mr Dundas had a friend, and I don't know who besides, and George III said "What has Sheret [Skerrett] had? Nobody remembers Sheret [Skerrett] - he shall have it." He had married a Miss Byrne, a young lady of good family in Ireland, and had one son, John Byrne Sheret, who died of fever; of them more hereafter . . . I ought to have put among my Newcastle recollections a dim one of a dinner with my Uncle and Aunt Sheret [Skerrett]. General Sheret [Skerrett] was present - he was also marked with the small-pox; Mrs Sheret [Skerrett] wore a bonnet. There was a tall rosy-faced handsome youth standing with his hand on the back of his chair - this was John, afterwards General John Sheret [Skerrett]. Old General Sheret [Skerrett] distinguished himself much in the Irish rebellion and is mentioned with much praise in Gordon's History. I remember one passage, the pride and delight of dear Uncle Sheret [Skerrett]; "The conduct of General Sheret [Skerrett] on this occasion saved the day - and in my opinion, Ireland" says the historian.
But to return . . . The breakfast parlour at Linley Wood was a small square room with two windows with high broad window-seats on which we could sit, stand, or build our different edifices - the paper was a lively green trellis pattern, the mantlepiece a high old-fashioned marble piece of stone finished with a cockle-shell sculptured in the middle. The chairs are rush-bottomed with painted green backs, the curtains are of chinze flowered in a trailing pattern with green leaves and red berries, drawn up by strings in festoons. When these curtains were washed the green washed out, leaving blue leaves, the red berries retaining their colour. Then there were two days of delight - no school on painting days. The curtains were spread upon the table in the breakfast-room - and a great dish of sap-green and gamboge - for I remember there were little yellow flowers that washed out too - and then my Mother and all of us set to and painted away replacing the green and yellow all over the curtains. Sometimes my father would stroll in and paint a bit too. Such was our simple life . . .
It must have been before my mother parted with Mrs Low that I set out upon a very grand expedition to my imagination - probably to get me out of the way of the small-pox nursing - as, though I remember the invitation perfectly well, I have not the slightest recollection of the illness. I will mention here seeing little Emma, one day when my mother was dining in the breakfast-room, come running in, all red and shamefaced and crying. She had crept into the parlour to hear Mr Alcock and Eliza at the music lesson and had been suddenly discovered. The child at that age showed great love of music. She could only have been three years old . . . I was to go to Nantwich on horseback before James Dean, who was a sort of groom-gardener and out-of-doors man, a simple good-natured fellow in a brownish coloured suit. I was placed upon a little soft silken kind of rug before him upon a great bay cart-horse. I had two whigs given me by Mrs Low to eat upon the road, and away we went.
Linley Wood stands upon a small hill in a sort of bay formed by the circle of the last Staffordshire hills as they break into the plain of Cheshire. The house, which I will describe a little further on, commands this plain of Cheshire till it terminates in the Peckforton Hills and Beeston Castle, where the towering Welsh mountains may be seen rising range after range till they are lost in the blue and misty distance. Cheshire, covered with trees, is beautiful to look upon and a composition of Claude's could scarcely combine more beautiful effects than were at this time presented in middle distance. Swallowmore Wood and Prospect Bank formed a striking foreground, then came a line of wood in the Alsager Banks as I believe it is called, interspersed with farm houses, terminating on the Lake of Oak, a mere. Behind this, in long lines, the woods of Crewe, through which at this time, on a clear day and with a favourable position of the sun, the houses might be seen, red and white. The old tower of Barthomley Church terminated this on the left behind the woods of Crewe. Willaston Wood and the tower of Nantwich Church might be distinguished standing distinct against the steamy grey of yet farther distance, and to this point we were bound . . . Can I leave this lovely view of churches, woods, waters, mansions, villages, pastures, farms, rising delicately under the hills? As a very young child I remember I used to think it was such a scene that was described in The Allegro, of which when a very little girl I learned a good deal for my own amusement in the nursery..
"Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures
While the country round it measures
Shallow brooks and rivers wide;
Towers and battlements it sees
Bosom'd high in tufted trees,"
To Nantwich James Dean and I were to make our way - it might be about twelve miles. He had never been to Nantwich in his life, and I was to be his guide when we arrived and tell him which was my Uncle's house. It was a Sunday morning and a pleasant one, and we soon plunged into the deep Cheshire lanes, and very soon lost ourselves. All I remember however was our stopping at a large Cheshire farm house with a green and high trees - just such a scene as one sees in Bewick - and James Dean calling to a woman who opened one of the Cheshire transom windows as they were called - (lattices with small panes square or diamond shaped set in lead) - and in shrill tones directed us. And then we jogged on to little purpose - till in a broad black road we met a countryman on a rough horse, who in answer to James' question "Is this the way to Nantwich?" cries "No road direct to Nantwich." I do not recollect that I felt the least afraid or daunted - I considered about the probable way and gave my advice just as I should do now. It does not seem to me that my intellect or character were the least of a different sort from what they are now - the first is enlarged rather than strengthened - the latter weakened rather by the course of life . . . The frank open courageous little girl is no more.
At last we reached Nantwich and I was to point out my Grand-Mamma's well known house, now inhabited by my Uncle Sheret [Skerrett] - an old Cheshire wooden house painted black and white I recollected it to be, with a tree trained against the parlour window - of that I was positive. So James and I trotted up and down the street enquiring in vain at every black and white house, and there were many. At last James, by some reasoning I could not discover, determined that a house covered over with new plaister of a sort of grey colour must be my Uncle's. In vain I remonstrated - there he stopped, and my Uncle's it was. My good uncle, it is needless to say, having taken a lease of this house and garden from my father for his own and his wife's life, was busy beautifying, altering and improving. A nice tall cleanly woman with stiff stays, open gown, quilted petticoat and mob cap lifted me from my horse and I was led into the well known kitchen and sat down by the fire - feeling very lonely, for everybody was at Church or chapel. I recollect I crept into the garden and peeped at James Dean and the horse as they passed slowly up the croft, as it was called - meaning a road between my Uncles' garden hedge and the hedge of the adjoining garden, which led to the stables. I had my whig in my hand which I had not eaten. James Dean, who was a very good natured round faced country man - exactly of the cut of face and figure which stands in old pictures as "country bumpkin" I looked upon as a very dear friend. Eventually they all began to come in from Church and chapel. Aunt Bessy and her friends the Howards and Garnetts, a young, talking, gay looking set of smart young men and women; Aunt Bessy tall, slender and beautiful to my eyes, in a sort of lawn or muslin gown striped in delicate pink and with brown flowers, a pretty little hat over her beautiful curling hair and large blue eyes. I have no distinct recollection of any other figure. I attached myself immediately to this pretty pink gown, and though shy and uneasy and lonely walked away with her through the crofts to Dysart Buildings. Dysart Buildings was a row consisting of nine houses, lately built by Lord Dysart; they were of bright cheerful fresh brick, with stone windowsills white and fair, pretty doors with round lights over them - each house of three storeys, a window on each side of the door, three windows above and three windows, smaller and square over that. In front, a wide gravel walk, then a grass plot, then a privet hedge and rails, then a little paved road, and then the magnificent old bowling green belonging to the town and sundry gardens; the view terminated by the back of houses in the Hospital Street. And on the right of the bowling green being on the left of the front, the magnificent ancient church of Nantwich in its large church-yard, its ancient tottering school-house standing by it and a few aged trees at one end, and backed by a magnificent privet hedge, in the centre of which was a high boarded door through which one could not get a peep, and which to me was the most mysterious thing in the world. I wondered and wondered what could be behind it. The noises of a town were heard; people and dogs often came through it . . . It opened upon some fields which lay at the back of the Beam (?) Street. But it was all vague, mysterious and strange to me, this world in which I found myself - poor little thing, wondering and watching and feeling quite alone. There was little caressing and kissing in those times - at least I got little; I never remember sitting either on my father's or my mother's knee - there were too many above or below for me to get much attention. And now I was arrived at Nantwich there was no kissing or fondling or being made much of. Perhaps it was better, perhaps it was worse - who knows? I learned to be cheerful and dependant upon myself, to be quite patient and expect nothing. I was good and cheerful, and, I believe, till I was 14 or 15, when I got a little spoilt, - the most honest-hearted, reasonable, affectionate, frank and sturdy little being that could exist.
Aunt Bessy and Aunt Anne were now living in my Uncle's house in Dysart Building; my Uncle and Aunt Sheret [Skerrett] had exchanged for the more important mansion in the Hospital Street. These worthy Aunts had come into their little fortunes, something less than two thousand pounds apiece, not quite two hundred a year between them; and my Aunt, a woman of the most clear and excellent head and the noblest character in the whole world, had arranged her plans and begun that life of honourable and gentlewoman-like independence upon small means which she persevered in to the end - through all the difficult years of the French War-years when wheat was 120 shillings, and ten per cent taken in property tax at one fell swoop out of their little income; many years after did this high spirited and righteous woman tell me that she never turned the year without being "something in hand - a few shillings contents me, Anne, but something in hand it must be" - They had no bills!
The household consisted of Hannah a girl to "do the all-work" under Hannah; a little girl, a mere child. Hannah cooked the dinner, carried it up and waited at table in her blue and white bed-gown, black quilted petticoat, stout leather shoes with buckles, black stockings, hair turned over in a roll in front and mob cap. She was housemaid, nurse, everything. The girl answered the door, ran errands and did under work.
The first evening when we sat down to tea it was at a little square table, the tea set out upon a wooden tea-tray ornimented with a key-pattern border, of which I now find the pattern must have come from China, being exactly like the trays with delicate borders I saw in Chinese drawings of furniture, which I saw last year at the India House . . . Well, I observed they neither of them took sugar - it had been retrenched as an article of luxury. This shows how closely their means had been calculated and how they adopted the wise way of curtailing the number of their indulgences, in order to be generous and liberal in the things they allowed themselves, and most generous, hospitable, liberal and handsome were their proceedings in every way, God bless them for it . . .
I do not remember many things that happened during this visit, but I will persevere in my plan and put down just what I find inscribed in my memory and how I find it; it will be a series of little rude detached pictures of the life and feelings of a child of four years old.
Near the bowling green stood a sort of tavern for the refreshment of the bowlers. Against the side wall facing my Aunt Anne's window there was a board in which was inscribed in large gold letters
"Miller, Dealer in foreign and British Spirits Etc." This board was a perpetual exercise for my powers of observation, investigation and reasoning; Cuvier spelling out the characters of the ancient world with its fossil bones was never more persevering or more intent than I. Day after day did I first endeavour to decypher and then to comprehend the mysterious characters - "Millor dealer Brush Fang and -" was all I could make out - what could Brush and Fang signify? My good Aunt Anne was wearied to death with the incessant efforts to spell out and the repetition aloud of the words. She never thought of taking the simple means of explaining to the enquiring little mind what the words really were or what they meant. She gave me a check - I perceived that what I did was tiresome, perhaps naughty. I held my peace and remained in distress - but perhaps this twilight, this darkness, favours the growth of the imagination more than the simple clear explanations of the present day. It seems as if we were fated to lose something wherever we gain much, and the great progress of the understanding has perhaps enfeebled the imagination.
These checks, however, I am sure were bad in their efforts - a certain timidity, uncertainty an awkwardness in my relations with others exists to this day in some degree; they distorted and enfeebled a character normally simple, frank, confiding and courageous. I shall have to note some other or these small checks which influenced permanently my most impressionable and sensitive disposition.
It was at this visit that the simplicity and downrightness of the poor little child were shewn by an annecdote often repeated and laughed at by my good Aunt Anne . . .
"Anne" said she, "go up into my room and you will see
a pair of shoes."
Up I went and came down again
"Yes, Aunt Anne - they are there."
They used to send me into the kitchen to ask for coals, etc. I would say "Hannah, they want coals." My Aunts would call out "Who are 'they?' - The Cat or the dog?"
I passed all my ingenuity to discover what this meant - "they" never explained to me that it was more polite to use the substantive.
My dear mother was never in the habit of treating children in this way, she was always direct and plain - and I preferred a box upon the ear, which modes of education of the day allowed, very much to this sort of unintelligible sarcasm.
I was standing in the little kitchen door one day; Aunt Bessy called me; I answered "What?" I was found fault with for saying that, and told to say "What do you say?" - and "What say?" was my answer hereafter whensoever I was called and in every conversation when I had not heard what was said to me. I was laughed at for my "What do you say?" after I was 18, and then for the first time discovered people did not say so, but "I beg your pardon," or something of that sort when they gave a person the trouble of repeating a sentence. I was singularly obtuse in everything relating to conventional manners . . . my "What say?" nonsense was impressed upon my imagination by some delicious potatoes. Aunt Bessy was frying them over the fire and she gave me a taste. I thought them exquisite and have never forgotten them. My taste was then sensitive to an extraordinary degree - a bit of buttered toast, a little morsel of cold beef, appeared to me most delicious. That sense soon lost its excessive sensibility - is it common to childhood? If so, what temptations must it lay them under . . . Or was it a consequence of the extreme simplicity amounting to asceticism with which we were bred? . . . Dry bread - milk - very tasteless rice puddings and plain roast meat - butter in all its forms forbidden as if it were poisonous - meat only allowed in certain quantities&ldots; As for wine, many, many years was it before I could endure the taste of it. It seemed to me as wonderful to see people drink wine by choice as it would now to see them quaffing tincture of Rhubarb or Senna tea. A glass of sweet cowslip wine on birthdays was allowed, and we thought that good. For cakes - for many, many years a queen-cake apiece which our good Aunt Sheret [Skerrett] used to present on every visit to Linley Wood was a magnificent present, hoarded and nibbled as if it had been a pound-cake to the children of this day. One almond comfit was a delicious treat; a few buns with currents in them, a little ginger-bread, was our usual regale, and very little of that.
My taste in gardening was as simple and as easily contented. The way to my Aunt Anne's garden lay through a little paved yard, and in one corner, behind a little gate, there was always a little heap of earth, the result of the scrupulous sweepings of Hannah's little handmaid. Over the little walk here was my domain; it was about a foot long and six inches wide. Here I planted a honeysuckle and such bits of flowers and laboured happy and contented from day to day. My only trouble was that my estate was subject to change; it increased one day and diminished the next and my plans and plantings were perpetually obstructed. How touching does it seem to one now - no one troubling to provide it with a better estate. How much contented simplicity, how much true freedom of mind was the little being acquiring! But this want of observation and sympathy with its wants and its wishes isolated the little creature - separated one generation from another, left the feelings of love and gratitude undeveloped and produced on both sides a certain want of tenderness, which is a great fault in imperfect civilisation.
I remember sitting with Hannah one Sunday by her kitchen fire, sewing a bit of muslin - and her telling me I must be sent to "The round-house" if I sewed on a Sunday. I implicitly believed to this terrible round-house I should go, so laid down my work. I never saw the round-house to this day - was the prison of the town a little round tower?
At No.9 Dysart Buildings there was a bow window, as it was the termination of the row. It jutted into a garden - how I longed to go into that paradise! There was a canal in the garden and a willow tree hanging at one end. How beautiful and like fairy gardens it seemed . . . But I never did get in - I believe I was 20 before I ever got into that garden and then it was quite a pleasure, so intensely had I longed after it . . . Two young girls - great girls I thought them - they might be 12 or 13, lived with the lady at No.9. One appeared to me nothing remarkable, but the other was to my eyes like an angel from heaven. She was a handsome girl - but she had long golden hair waving in curls down to her shoulders - she had an affectation of shaking her head as if to shake back this flood of gold. I thought it gloriously beautiful. I was proud to speak to this angel. One day I was sent out by myself to run about the gravel walk in front of the house. My angel and her sister were out too, so when I was called in I asked them in to tea. I soon perceived I had done something amiss - my Aunts did not want these two girls and, I believe, did not exactly like them, so after they were gone I was told not to ask anybody in without leave. Shortly after I was walking with Maria Grant, a little girl near my own age. When we came to the door I did not dare ask her in, so I banged the door in her face. Aunt Bessy came to the door and was horrified at my rudeness - "How could I be so rude?" Alas, I was beginning to find the world incomprehensible already. Maria Grant was the child of an intimate friend - but I was not told of exceptions to general rules . . . I am not sure whether these events happened at this visit or the next - but this I know, my organ of hospitality received a shock and a disarrangement from which it never recovered for tens of years - I had a sort of nervous difficulty about asking people in . . .
Another day I was sent to Cheerbrook with Hannah to fetch some cream. Cheerbrook was a farm house about a mile from the town. The good woman at the farm made much of me, shewed me her pretty garden, gave me two apples and a cake - which I ate. When I came home my Aunt Anne called me very greedy - and made me read a story about a greedy bear. My ideas were all in confusion again. Was I to save and carry away part when anything good was given me?
In these tender years and acting upon so very sensitive and observing a child, all these shocks did great mischief and produced a feeling of fear, awkwardness and shyness that I shall never lose . . .
Now, as a dream, an immense bustle swells in my memory - preparation for Christmas. At Christmas my father, mother, Aunt Stamford and all the children spent a fortnight at Nantwich - excellent and delightful custom. The party was divided between the two houses of the Hospital Street and Dysart Buildings; my maiden Aunt Stamford always went to the maiden Aunts, where she had the "best rooms," a room small and almost filled with a handsome four-post bed with pink flowered curtains, a small mahogany chest of drawers, dressing with a glass and a muslin petticoat toilette flounced round the table, where my dear Aunt Stamford put all her property, for she always travelled with clothes provision for a year - a dozen pairs of shoes, lest an occasion should present where one would be a little too good and another too bad - gowns, gloves, ribbons, caps, all on the same principle of what might possibly be wanted and not what possibly done without - and she was neat and exact to excess. But she is a character that must be drawn in full, and why not now?
She was a middle aged woman with lively dark eyes, a sharp nose, thin lips and a chin rather underhung, of sprightly parts and an excellent woman - but she wanted the understanding, the humour and above all the heart, of my mother. She had, I should think, little real feeling in her youth. Age produced this effect upon her; indeed, so sweet, gentle and innocent did she become before ere she died that it is with something like remorse I trace the lively, high spirited and rather high tempered woman of this period. She had a large fortune according to our ideas, from £600 to £800 a year - for several legacies and inheritances dropping in raised my mother's and her portions in the course of time to £20,000. She lived with my father and mother at Newcastle, where I have the dimmest possible recollection of her - a smart figure with a black hat and feathers in a room literally lined with boxes - or sitting in the saloon (as the drawing-room was called) playing duets on the harpsichord with Eliza - they were duets we should now give to a child of six or seven years old - taken from the opera of Artaxerxes, then in high vogue - the simple notes yet ring in my ear and delight me. Children's ears were perhaps better formed by these simple airs than by the elaborate productions of our day.
When she came to Linley Wood she had a couple of rooms upstairs at the end of a passage, or rather corridor with rails to the best stairs - and which, as it led to nothing else, was called "My Aunt's passage." These she fitted up, and her manner of doing so and her various tastes have perhaps more contributed to my formation and more favourably operated upon my mind and happiness than almost any circumstances of my life. And indeed with me the benefit ends not - my children are reaping it in the taste for nature and art which, cultivated in me, descends to them - and which will, I trust, ensure the happiness of their lives, if they remain single, as it certainly did of her.
A love of order in all its branches great and small seems to have been the predominant character of her mind - displayed in all its branches from the economy of her fortune to the neatness of her night-cap border - a dislike of waste without the slightest approach to covetousness, which sometimes shewed itself in an odd contrast with her habitual generosity and liberality; a love of the beautiful which was self-cultivated and was therefore very simple in its modes of expression; a love of science which, likewise self cultivated, shewed itself in a general curiosity after everything relating to science and natural history, without, however, any attempt at reaching a refined classification - was perhaps the production of her day. For when she received what little scientific culture she ever enjoyed, Air, Earth, Fire and Water were still the four elements - and mineralogy, whatever progress it had made among the learned world, was still a sealed book to the multitude. Geology was unknown; choncology, her favourite pursuit, despised. Still her mind, true to its instincts, picked up what it could - and found its happiness even in this imperfect development.
Her bedroom was a sanctuary; a neatness almost approaching coldness distinguished it. She had no passions and little sensibility, but very great goodness. I should doubt whether the firey shaft of Cupid ever touched her heart - she moved on in maiden contemplation fancy free. She had neither the weaknesses nor the tendernesses of her sex, (Till, as I have said, she grew old, when a most touching and affecting tenderness succeeded to the slight coldness of her youth). Perhaps the happy life she enjoyed was owing to this freedom from weakness and passion - in this respect she continued in her girlhood. She was not like my mother. My mother was the woman complete - strong in courage, intrepid in danger - firm to her own purposes, dis-interested interested, lively, witty, humerous - but melting to love and glowing with tenderness for the husband of her heart and the children of her bosom. We had a story to that effect; my father, a remarkably handsome man - (he was like Fulk Greville in his youth) - was riding down a lane separated by a hedge from the garden at Allerton, Mr Pott's, where my Mother and my Aunt, the two Miss Stamfords, were. "What a handsome young man!" cries my Mother. "He has a very handsome horse." Says my Aunt.
She was indeed a true Amazon in this respect - she had a perfect passion for horsemanship, fearing nothing, riding everything. She kept two handsome horses in those days, Rustic and Changeling. They appeared to my infant eyes more noble and more vast than an elephant would now. Rustic I had little acquaintance with - he lived to extreme old age, and long after he had ceased to be capable of the least work - and when existence was too painful for it to be humane to suffer it to continue, he was shot - a day of deep mourning, above all to my good Aunt. He was indeed a beautiful high spirited creature, a hunter and a bright bay, gentle and generous, though too spirited to be curbed but by a daring hand. Mounted upon her beautiful horse, her black hat and feathers on her head, her well cut habit, her blue silk waistcoat, her habit-shirt like snow, with beautiful saddle and white reins with tassles, she was a picture still remembered by the old servants of the house.
To ride Changeling was my brother Stamford's highest boyish ambition - the crowning laurel - the forlorn hope - the post of honourable danger . . .
She was very rich for us, as I have said, so her rooms and everything in her dress and appointments were on a scale of luxury and elegance which my Father and Mother with their seven children could not pretend to attain to. Simple were the luxury and the elegance that she and we thought so fine. But to the imagination comparison is everything - and it can be raised by the uncommon, however simple its forms, and it matters little the how provided admiration and taste be excited.
Her bedroom - what we should now think a little place, 19 feet square perhaps - all the paint was of a most scrupulous whiteness as was the paper - a bedside carpet of green reached about 4 feet on every side of her large four post bed, hung with a chintz where stripes of roses, red, blue and yellow with green leaves, made a very gay appearance. A fringe of her own knotting and weaving and a cornice of her own painting completed the fittings; sheets of the finest texture and white as the driven snow covered it and a beautiful counterpain as white, with little knots in patterns laid over all. The curtains of this bed were never drawn - in the day they lay neatly folded upon the bolster, at night they were the same regularity folded and laid over the foot of the bed. To touch them with one's hand would have been the greatest offence. When she went on a journey they were all folded and pinned up with the most scrupulous care - and often remained so for weeks in the coldest weather, to the terror of such of her companions as feared catching cold - a fear she despised. Hardihood was one of her cardinal virtues - a virtue she possessed in the highest degree. She disliked delicacy of constitution and looked upon it as a kind of vice - except in a few persons privileged with her to be delicate, of course. I was not one of these. By the side of the great bed was a sweet pretty little tent bed with mahogany rails round and hangings to correspond; one of the children slept in this, another with her. A very handsome mahogany wardrobe of a sort of wood veined and clouded which I think could not properly be mahogany, filled one side of the room - it contained a centre and two wings and was finished at the top with a scroll of carved woodwork. It had shelves and cupboards at top and drawers beneath. Here were deposited her treasures - like Queen Elizabeth in more things than one she loved dress and rich clothes and loved to keep and possess them. She loved her clothes almost too well to wear them. She had perhaps thirty pairs of shoes at once - from the hasped and embroidered sandal of her youth to the black high-heeled shoe with a tassel of sewing-silk finished with a little silver buckle in the centre of the day I now speak of - or rather that was gone out lately, Aunt Stamford alone retaining the fashion - to raise her, for she always seemed rather annoyed at being so little a woman. And the lively pit-a-pat of her peg heels used to sound about the house while others were in bed in a morning . . . This wardrobe was, and is, to me a sealed book; rarely did I see it opened - what it contained I do not even know - she left her wardrobe and all within it to her favourite niece - and it was opened and the contents dispersed when I was far away . . . By the wardrobe stood a pair of mahogany steps for her library - by that a closet where her dressing gown and sundry little articles were kept, such as garden gloves, tools, baskets etc. then came the fire, surmounted by a wooden mantelpiece painted white, over which hung several medallions of the Wedgwood blue and white in gilt frames; Apollo leaning on a tripod in the centre, medallions of Mr Wedgwood, Mr Bentley, Louis the 16th, and I think Washington was the fourth - surrounded it. On each side hung the portraits of my father and mother by Wright of Derby - my father a very remarkably well painted picture of this beautiful young man. My mother was not the least like her as I remember her. In a recess answering to the closet, the "raisin cupboard," a mahogany wardrobe of the old fashion, doors panneled in mahogany and glass lined with green silk - drawers beneath - the upper one what was called the secretary drawer, divided into all sorts of little compartments to keep treasures in - the delight of my childish eyes and curiosity. Above, the shelves of the wardrobe were covered with jars, pots, bottles - a few medicine, but more chymical matters - for she loved chymistry and was always burning her fingers with one experiment or another . . . Then there were spirits of salt to clean her shells with, and jars of tamarinds - the only sweetmeat she ever used to buy - all packed as close as possible in a little space; at the bottom a pound of Smyrna raisins whence the name "raisin cupboard." Eliza every night laid out six little heaps contained each six raisins, on the ledge over the secretary drawer. Every morning those who slept with her and those who did not, came as soon as they were dressed down my Aunt's passage, quietly, for fear of disturbing Papa, gave her a kiss and took our raisins; a very simple device by which she exacted without compulsion this little dutiful attendance she loved so entirely, more than without a little consideration may perhaps be apparent . . .
September 1st, 1839.
Since I have written the above I have discovered within me the seeds of a disease which must sooner or later prove fatal - soon my presentiments tell me . . . [in fact she died much later in 1874, aged 83]. It is remarkable how this event has changed the whole colour of my thoughts - already do I feel as if I scarcely belonged to this world - and all its interests take so feeble a form that it seems scarcely to my present mind worth taking the trouble to record what I have been - who must so soon be as far as this life is concerned, nothing. Yet among the many regrets for opportunities for good and usefulness wasted, which now grieve me and make me most earnest to employ the few precious moments better is one, that my talent for persuading by my pen has been so little brought into use. My mind is penetrating and my understanding just and original and I often observe the hidden truths and relations of things that escape others. I have, I think, a great insight into the cause on which human happiness and improvement depend - and, as I often laughingly assert of myself, see farther into a millstone than other men. The peace and happiness and broad understandings of my children, I am willing to flatter myself, is owing in good measure to well directed efforts of my own - yet who know? I do not think any one must think so, and am perhaps mistaken in this - but I am not mistaken in the influence I perceive my eloquence exercises over my friends and the world in general - and I am sorry that of my talents in this way I shall render a poor account. Little has been done - So forgive me! Therefore I will try to go on with this my life, if I can take interest enough in it now. My sweet Fanny (Mrs Marsh-Caldwell's eldest daughter, afterwards Mrs Richard Crofton) seemed to wish for it and to treasure it - and in the course of thus recording my experiences remarks and lessons drop from me which may, when I am gone, supply my presence a little to those left behind me. Ah my girls - when I am indeed gone, let my devious wayward course - too much governed by circumstance - too easily swayed aside by influences from without - be a lesson to you to keep the clear path of duty and usefulness from which I have often deviated - misled by phantasms of my own imagination, or by the wavering lights presented by the wavering principles of those around me. When I look on the simple truthful energy of my younger days, can I choose but grieve that I could ever become a valuer of the vain things of this world - of fine company, idle ambitions, distinctions - and not held my path pure and uncontaminated by all this clay - far above them in the heaven of the spirit! These things grieve me - I was too timid, afraid of being singular, afraid of being romantic - thought it wise to be calculating, wise to be worldly&ldots; Ah, whoever reads this last legacy, let them remember that now I know what life really is, I have found that the best wisdom is to be true to the first childish love, to adhere to the most elevated and noblest principles - to endeavour to walk by the pattern of the purest excellence - to do good and to choose to disregard self, casting one's bread upon the waters. No one will be so foolish as to believe that I am here advocating wanton imprudence and careless inattention, but a highly elevated way of living above the world - doing one's duty wherever one is called upon - and casting all selfish cares aside . . . I express myself, I perceive, too ill to make any impression, so I will not go on now, but resume the story . . .
I was giving an account of the coming to Nantwich - Joshua Rigby brought in his cart cribs and beds; I know by this date of this visit, it must have been 1795, because Fanny the baby's crib came and this crib was only used by a young infant. I cannot recollect anything of this Christmas whatsoever; I cannot remember being with Fanny when she was what my own little girls used to call "a long baby."
1795 presents nothing very remarkable to my imagination - some things belonging to this year are dated by those trifling little circumstances that stick so unaccountably in the memory - a great fir tree was upon a little grassy rocky bank, the last one of a row that came down from the firwood to the place where now the stable stands - then it was all wild broken ground. Under that tree Emma and I used to sit and play - our play consisted in pretending we had a house there. Two tufts of that thin wirey grass that is one of the few things that will grow under the fir tree were our cushions on which we sat - contented doing nothing as it seems to me - my imagination to me was a perpetual feast; is it so with all little children? We had an old broken iron coal scuttle for a piece of furniture - just as good as the most splendid toy to that creative fancy of childhood which turns into gold all that it touches . . . I know the date of this love of the fir tree by, as I said, a trifling circumstance - shewing how capricious memory is - a little cloth doll which my beloved Mother had made for her baby - it had no face, which teased me beyond measure. Some wicked wight threw this doll in its old age into the fir tree and I remember it as if it was yesterday . . . I remember, too, sitting at the foot of the best stairs playing with Fanny - who was then a little thing of a year old. I was extremely fond of this little round fat being and thought it excessively pretty and charming. As this child grew older she became the passion of my heart - its first passion. I doted upon her with a vehemence I think I have never felt since. When she was a little older she used to occupy the little bed railed round with green striped curtains from which Nanny Tayte used so ruthlessly to haul me - but the rail at the foot of the bed was now taken away. It stood by one of the nursery windows. The nursery was on the third storey over my Mother's room. That dear Mother - I have heard her describe the pleasure she used to take in a morning in hearing as each child was finished off in dressing, its little feet pad across the floor - these windows looked over the garden and the terrace to the fir wood - now here I laid in my bed watching the dark feathers of that wood, those plumes like the plumes of some giant's helmet waving in the wind on a lowering morning - or covered with snow and then fling myself on Fanny's bed and kiss the sleeping child with a passionate ecstasy that I am no more capable of feeling now than any other of the exquisite sense of things I then possessed. (Fanny Caldwell died in 1801, aged five. J.M.W. [Janet Muriel Wood nee Broadwood, 1895-1989] owns a mourning pendant containing a lock of her golden hair.)
1796. This year is remarkable to me, as I was then first taught religion - It was a maxim of my Mother that children should not hear the name of God until they were in some degree capable of comprehending and loving it. She thought a more awful sense of divine things would be thus created. I long thought so - but once mentioning this idea of my Mother's to a lady and saying she did not wish her children to hear the name of God till they could understand it - she said she wished her children never to remember the time when they were without the idea of God. Which is best? My brother Stamford always speaks of the strong impression produced on his mind by my Mother first solemnly mentioning the subject to him at Conway, I do not know whether my own experience is for or against - I used the other method with my own children - they seem very religious. Perhaps any method is equally good. Method implies care, thought, preparation, anxiety - anything is better than leaving children to the chapter of accidents in a careless way - or, in an equally careless way, following a routine without reflection or examination. My Mother and I were equally right, because equally anxious, she in one method, I in another&ldots; We were forbidden to mention the name of God to those uninitiated. When I was five, my Mother, thinking me a forward child, broke the silence, which was kept with Emma till she was six. My Mother in the twilight evening and in the silence of her own apartment first mentioned the awful Name to my astonished and delighted mind. I wish I had a clearer recollection of it - all I now remember is how my mind used to ponder and work upon the subject. One particular day I recollect standing by my Aunt's dressing table in deep rumination - the picture, even to her white pincushion is before me brightly - the subject of my rumination also - but I cannot very well recollect how I was considering it - I used to want to see God. Once I lay in my little bed at Nantwich gazing on the flying clouds on a gusty morning - I saw one that looked like the figure of a tall Being reposing on the clouds and slowly sailing away. I thought, Could this be God?
When once told of these things we were allowed to go to Chapel. My Father and Mother were Unitarian dissenters and they did not choose to go to Church. They had "Chapel" in their own home. My beautiful and dignified Father had drawn up for his own use a little service which every Sunday at eleven o'clock he read to his assembled servants and family. He was a very young man, a very handsome man, a very clever man and a very much flattered man, the cynosure of his circle - but he had had a very religious education, and religion was to him a very interesting subject. He differed from the Church - and in those days dissenters did not carelessly - some say liberally - (Which is it?) - attend a worship in which they did not believe. The name of the Trinity was like an idolatrous name to them - of human invention - an idol, in short. I was brought up to look upon it with a sort of horror. I do not do so now - I have learned to look upon all these terms as but clothes (cloathes), as Taylor says - different coverings for the same idea - and therefore I cannot attach the same importance to dissent which I probably should have done had I lived half a century earlier - but I reverence my Father for having a Chapel of his own and for, young as he was, taking pains to teach his family himself. His service was his own composition. It is yet in existence in M.S. laid in the quarto Bible he used - at least I hope so. It began with an address, I think, or with a few selected sentences from the Bible - the address was afterwards laid aside - I cannot remember it; some of the texts I do. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts and let him return unto the Lord and He will pour mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." "Have I any pleasure that the wicked should die, saith the Lord, and not that he should return unto his righteousness and live?" . . . I think one of the Psalms of David opened the service, read by my Father with his sweet sonorous voice - then came one of Esfield's (?) prayer, then a psalm was sung - Eliza played the pianoforte and all the congregation sang aloud. We had but two tunes, the beautiful One Hundredth and one other whose name I forget - my Father could never be persuaded to have any others. Different psalms of Watts' were sung to them suited to the metre. Then came the sermon - then the other Psalm - then a parting prayer, that God would bless all sorts and conditions of men, especially those who are in any kind of affliction or distress - for the King's Majesty and religious minister; ending by the Lord's Prayer - a blessing - and the congregation dispersed. This was the way we sat; the bow of the dining room had three windows - in the centre a table, in the two others two sweet little black horsehair sofas, chairs in the piers. On one of these sofas, the right hand one, my Mother had her seat, by her, on the same sofa, the youngest child yet admitted to the House of God - and this child had a particular Bible - a red and gold one with a clear print - to read the Psalms. Watt's Psalms were laid to every seat. My Aunt sat against a pier on the opposite side of the room - I think she had her set place too; the rest of the children and any guests that might be in the house ranged on the chairs round the bow - in the centre the dining table, my Father's chair with back to the fire side; (Sketch diagram of the dining room is to be found in the original M.S. at this place) - his mahogany desk on the table, his Bible prayers and Watts' Psalm. At the lower end of the room, a circle of chairs, where sat all the servants, both household and those belonging to the farm - at the head my Aunt's maid, always a rather fine lady - then the cook, nurse, housemaid, kitchen maid - Betty Rigby and her daughters from the farm among them; the Butler or footman (more properly groom) and farm servants finished the row. The men servants were increased afterwards by the addition of a manservant for my Aunt and an under footman, and the groom became a coachman. The cook and kitchenmaid came Sunday and Sunday by turns - so did the nurse and housemaid as long as there were little ones. When service was over we used on fine summer days to run out into the garden in our white frocks, fluttering about for the short half hour till dinner. My Mother used to assemble us about 4 or 5 o'clock - and we used to learn and repeat hymns and give an account of the sermon - later in life we used to go to Church in the afternoon - but in these early days my Father and Mother seem to have been more strict in their dissent; we very rarely went to Church; I can remember going as a very little child for once in a way to Talke Chapel and being set to stand upon the seat to look about me during the sermon, of which I did not understand a word. The chapel was very small and no fine dressed people to be seen in it, so I thought it very dull; to look at a picture of three cherubins' heads painted in an oval in the centre of the ceiling was my only consolation. I liked to go to Lawton Church - for it had not then been repaired and was a curious ancient stone church with the ivy which garlanded the outside creeping in through the window and adorning the inside too - and the Lawton pew was there too and it was an amusing place - and I liked to go to Alsager Church, which stood in the centre of the wild heath covered with heath, bluebells and wild flowers, and was newly ornamented with (stucco?) on the outside and prettily finished within and, as I thought, most lovely . . . But to return; tea came about 5 o'clock - we children went to supper in the Laundry, a room under ground; cold and dark, where by the light of one candle, which made distress visible, we found a large round wooden tray on which were basins of milk and pieces of bread. We ate merrily and in haste and scampered back to light and fire and the parlour. After tea the bell was rung for prayers - the table was again set with the Bible and Enfield's prayers - and my Father, whose voice and reading were the most beautiful I ever heard, read a chapter and then a prayer. My Father had a few favourite chapters which he read and re-read - I used to think at one time this was a pity, as it limited the instruction - but I have since thought that this reading and re-reading impressed what was read on the memory - his favourite chapters are mine for life; to this day they form part of my mental possessions - had he diffused the instruction more perhaps none would have stuck so fast. If this is a benefit to me, how much a greater benefit to the more unenlightened part of his audience to have at least some of these blessed words indelibly impressed upon the memory - The Sermon on the Mount - the Prodigal Son, the parable of The Talents, the Good Samaritan - the wise and foolish virgins - Dives and Lazarus were what in this way my infant ear received and was formed upon - how did my heart melt with tenderness at the one sinner that repented being the object of so much tender joy - for I knew already what was sin. My Mother after prayers went to her own room and placed in her arm chair by the window in summer, by the pale twilight, in winter by one candle, heard us our prayers. We knelt down by that sacred bed of our parents, buried our little heads in the counterpane and repeated the simple artless prayers she taught us, beginning at the eldest and ending with the last little member admitted to this pure and simple church. When this was said, some ran away - some, and I was often one, crept to this gentle Mother's side and in this still hour had sweet communion with her - beautiful custom, which I have endeavoured as far as I could to perpetuate to my children - but have never enjoyed the stillness and composure of my Mother's chamber in that large house looking to this pretty quiet garden - to that dark waving wood - but the traditional custom I have handed down - and hope it will be passed down to those who follow me - it is a sweet and pious one. Traditional customs must be one thing that gives value to a long descent if in a virtuous family; this accumulation as it were of virtuous customs and habits. We all generally stole away and then my Mother was always left along, sitting in the twilight in her chair. As a child I could not understand why; doubtless it was to prayer and meditation. My Father used to walk about in summer in his field or on the Terrace, and never disturb her. Then she used to come down sweetly composed. Then the children went to bed - and "goose" (May one take this cryptic "goose" as returning to "Mrs Turner's Cautionary Tales for Children" "Mamma, why may'nt I, when we dine Eat good roast goose and drink White Wine?" "Because, my dear, it is not right To spoil the youthful appetite, a piece of mutton, it roast or boiled, Is far better for a child.") - that is, for all but the poor children! A plentiful supper of all sorts of good things; cold meat, a hot dish, new potatoes, artichokes, pies, custards - a meal that in the scanty housekeeping of our present day we should think a very handsome one, a dinner. Expenses differ - I lay out so much more for dressing my children and so much less in the table than was done then. (Mrs Marsh, like her own parents, had a family of six girls and one son.) Provisions, I imagine, were at that time cheap - the heavy taxation and the rise in price of bread after the scarcity of 1801 very much diminished this lavish house-keeping . . .
The more I have since mingled with the world, the more I think my parents and relations were remarkable people. There seems to me to have been so much mind about them - so much imagination, so much warm and generous sentiment, so much striving after high and noble things. My Father, the son of the a Nantwich tradesman - but that man a dissenter and a Scotchman - was one of the most remarkable men I ever saw - and most especially remarkable for a dignity of manner and aspect which I never equalled, which had its effect upon everyone and imposed respect. He was universally treated by his own relations, by his wife's relations, able men of much larger fortune than his own, by the world in general, by his servants, by his children, with a deference and respect which neither his fortune nor his station in life entitled him to. He was regarded with reverence and treated with distinction in his county; by the gentry; as I have said, among his relations. It was the natural effect of a fine genious - most delicate sentiments, most refined sensibilities and a brave courageous manly heart which never forsook him. Most emminently high spirited and brave was he. He was a tall man and remarkably beautiful in every season of life. I remember him young, about 4 or 5 and thirty - his beautiful fair hair, his delicate complexion, his blue, beautiful eyes - his high nose and sweet expressive mouth - fine forehead and most elegant person and bearing - he had every personal beauty except fine teeth and small feet. He had the foot of a Scotchman - long and thin; he had poor teeth, his ill health when young had destroyed them.
He had never been at a school even, except for a very short time. How he got his education I scarcely know - but such minds as his educate themselves. The father of Pindlebury Haughton had some share in his instruction - Pindlebury Haughton himself -a genious as rare as his own in a different way - seemed by emulation to show him up. These young men used to read and recite Shakespear together and Comus ect - till they became two of the most beautiful readers that ever I heard - I thought use and partiality made me so fond of my father's reading and recitation, for there was a something displeasing to me in the recitation of everyone else, even the best actors - till I heard Mrs Siddons. I was satisfied, it was like my Father's which proves my taste did not deceive me.
My Father was fond of reading. As soon as the winter evenings set in, after tea, about five or six o'clock, the table was drawn to the fire in the little breakfast room with two candles, my Father one the one end with feet to the fire - my Mother next to him, my Aunt and all the rest of us round the table at our works. Two tallow candles in old plated sticks, the favourite greyhound on the hearth; and so my Father in his beautiful voice read Pope's Stories, Milton, Thompson, Shakespear, Robertson, The Illiad (?). He only read the classical authors and no great variety it will be seen - of them, but thus my taste and ear were formed. I was very little indeed when he read Homer and could not understand much of it - but my childish fancy was filled with the images of Olympia - and my love of mythology which I had as a child and a love of classical imagery which I still possess perhaps was thus formed. On Saturday night when Stamford came home - but this was later - my Father read to us Mrs Radcliffe's novels - The Mysteries of Udolpho - The Italien - The Romance of the Forest - Madame D'Arblay's three novels. This was exquisite enjoyment to have very Saturday night - the whole week to dwell upon and wonder at the mysteries and horrors - the effect upon the imagination was most rousing, the happiness extreme. Fond as we were of Nature, winter was to us more delightful than Summer - winter with all its hardships, the cold laundry where we had supper, the frosty walks to the farm - the shivering bedrooms - chilblanes - sore ears - what mattered it? We had the warm domestic hearth, the bright fire blazing with local coal which sparkled and crackled like a torch- we had "Udolpho" on Saturday night.
How far beyond all the world has ever been able on me to bestow! How gladly would I have possessed the same for my children - but what a reverse of destiny! No home, no plan - A London life of pride and elegance, then a hidious ruin, which scattered all our hopes and left me and Arthur to make a miserable patchwork of life - without system and without prospects - and striving to live on little, to save and to retrench as we could. And here, at the end of two and twenty years am I, in a hired apartment at Boulogne - without liberty, home or husband - my children, thank God, not covertly longing for the past&ldots; And this is all we have made of life - Alas! We hoped better things when we started together, but circumstances have been too strong for us . . . [This is a reference to the fall of the Marsh Bank and the loss of the family fortune].
I have wandered from my subject&ldots; My Father was a good deal as a youth at Warrington Academy, but he had not very the advantage of being entered there. He visited those of the students who were his friends. Warrington Academy (there is a lot of info on the Warrington Academy and the Barboulds) was instituted by the Unitarian Dissenters to supercede the necessity of University education, where subscription to the Thirty Nine Articles was required. Dr Aikin, the father of Mrs Barbould and of the second Dr Aikin, was the first Master. Under his vigourous management and aided by his daughter's most superior genious, the college flourished in a most remarkable degree, and no doubt much of that intellectual refinement which distinguished the old Dissenters and that sense of dignity which ennobled them was due to the excellent yet simple education they here received, apart from the grandeur of the rich and great; and to the spirited manner with which, where conscience was concerned, they set at naught all the good things which Bishops and Kings could give. Dr Aikin was firm in his convictions as the Huguenots of old and animated by the same generous spirit he held at their just value those worldly goods which were only to be acquired by a tampering with principle; and such a spirit set him above them all and gave the true feeling of dignity and independence which makes a man richer than riches and greater then greatness. As this spirit declined Unitarians, or Presbyterians as they called themselves in those days, went to Church and loved to be genteel - they vulgarized and were left only with their insignificance.
1797 (written February 1840)
I have made a long pause in my writing and the thread of my ideas seems a good deal broken. I find, too, that my memory - it is now the year 1840 and I am 49 - seems lately to have lost a good deal of its lively power. Chills of age and fading of the spirits and faculties creeps apparently upon me - it may be that this is only a langour such as at many periods of my life has visited me - it may be that it is a sign of that decline from which there is no recovery . . . I find it difficult to assign any precise events to this date (1797). The only events I distinctly recollect and which I can refer to this year is that of Sir John Jervis' and Lord St.Vincent's victory. We were drinking tea at little Mr Sheret's [Skerrett], the apothecary at Newcastle in his little upstairs parlour - and I remember the noise of crackers and squibs and the hollaing of the boys in the streets - and the coming out into the pitch-dark street, not a lamp or light of any kind, and getting into the chaise to come home. Soon after that we had an immensely tall man, Archer by name, to be a man-servant. I remember sitting upon his knee with Emma in the heather and his telling us riddles. He had been a servant of Sir John Jervis's. Stamford once began in my hearing to tell a story that Archer told him about Sir John Jervis. I was sent away just as it began and to this day want to hear it ended.
I must go back . . . It was in the winter between '94 and '95 that my Father had a dreadful nervous illness in London, brought on by some anxiety in business which overwhelmed his spirits, too tender for conflict with the world, and my Mother, in the midst of a deep snow, set off with Mr Martin, who was my Father's clerk when he was "in the profession," * as used to be the term - to attend him. He suffered much, and I remember his describing the loads of disgusting green physic which he had to take. This is the chief thing I do remember - and my Mother's account of her journey - in those days it took two days and one night to reach London. She stopped at an inn in Daventry in the middle of the night in her post-chaise. The landlord gets up, comes to the window; "What is it? Coach and four? No. Gentleman's carriage and pair? No. Chariot and four? No!" Pulls down the window and goes again to bed. It was dark as they crossed Houndslow Heath. A man rides up and down near the carriage - the driver tells them if they have anything of value they had better conceal it. Mr Martin puts a guinea or two in his boot. The constant passing of one thing or another prevents the man carrying out his design into the execution, if designs he had, and he rode away. Houndslow Heath and Finchley Common were dreadful words to our imagination in those days. This illness was the means of introducing to my Father Mr Perks and his father's family. Old Perks was an old London solicitor, his son a young barrister, a very handsome, clever, and to our eyes, most elegant young gentleman. He came down to see my Father the next year, and always after for many years used to come from Stafford Assizes to see us. He went the Oxford circuit. He was sprightly, whimsical, intellectual, and his presence added much to our life at Linley. He was romantic and poetical and loved the place and its ways as well as the best of us. All my Father's friends doated on my Mother. The holy devoted love she bore to my Father was and must have been a source of the purist admiration and love to them. Mr Perks used to read aloud to my Mother in the little green breakfast room while she worked. He read one day out of Percy's Reliques; "Adam Bell, Clym of the Clough and William of Cloudesley.' And "Robin Hood and Little John." How I enjoyed this - and what a pity, I now think it that I had not more of such impressions. They would perhaps have been less lively had I enjoyed to abundance of the present day. It was when I was a very little child that I gave rather a startling proof of that power of correct reasoning which I think is the distinguishing faculty of my mind - by which I have, I think, often been led to discover truths and reject errors which I have afterwards had the satisfaction of finding acknowledged by the rest of mankind . . . I recollect looking at my Father's edition of Plutarch's Lives; there were heads at the beginning of each life. I was looking at these pictures, I suppose. To my astonishment the first Life was that of Dryden - how came Dryden among all those Greeks and Romans? How could it be? I remember my perplexity distinctly. I was standing by when I heard Mr Perks say to my Mother, "Whose edition of Plutarch's Lives is it that Mr Caldwell has? Is it Dryden's?" the whole truth flashed into my mind as she answered that she did not know. "Yes, Sir," said I, "It is Dryden's." Surprised, he exclaimed "And how do you know?" "Because his Life is at the beginning of the book - and at the other end of this book you will find some more before coming to Volume Two."
Written February 1840
I will go on with the account of my Father, which has been interrupted, presently. Today I will endeavour to paint my Mother. She was of middle stature, and in her youth, I believe, had been very slender and of a beautiful figure, but I only recollect her very full in the figure. Her complection was rather olive. She had no colour; here features, with the exception of the most beautifully formed nose that I ever beheld, could scarcely be called regular. She had high cheek-bones, brows a little too low, and eyes placed rather too deep; her mouth not noticeable for its form, but with an expression of sweetness and affection such as surely no other mouth ever expressed.
The whole countenance had a most charming affect taken together - so much sense, sweetness and humour surely never were expressed. Its predominant expression however was a sweetness, or rather a tenderness quite unrivalled. She must have been thirty nine when I was first old enough to remark her - so that I could never have an idea of what she had been in her bloom, when I believe from traditional accounts she must have been excessively admired.
With what regret do I now look back dimly on all the old traditions of the time past handed down to us by my Mother and my Aunt of this large family and connections of the Cromptons, to which they belonged. I remember Eliza once saying in joke to my Mother that she reminded her of the Lady Mary Oddley in "The Spectator, who had an uncle killed at Edgehill - a cousin here and a cousin there - and whose little daughter innocently asked her Father why he never told them of any of his relations! - My Father had no relations to tell us of. He achieved honour; his qualities - (perfectly astonishing to me when I consider his extraction and means of education) gave him such a place that he was immensely looked up to as if he had been nobly born, or something quite in a rank above them all, by these connections of my Mother's; equally to the credit of all parties; of his, who could win such golden opinions, and of those who could thus honour merit and genious without the additional advantages of wealth or name.
My Mother when she married received a moderate fortune from her father, perhaps two or three thousand pounds - but by various inheritances from these rich collateral relations coming in with many others as next of kin to old uncles and aunts who died without wills and of some on her father's side who made wills, my Father must have had £20,000 more or less with his wife, of which he had the complete disposal, and happily possessing the Scotman's prudence and perseverance, and with a great decernment into things, though his health and his temper (temperament ?) indisposed him from absolute money? Getting, he gave so good an account of his stewardship in his respect that he must had died worth between £60 and £70,000 - perhaps more, if my brother's property was fairly estimated.
My Mother was indeed an exemplary, generous, devoted wife. She loved her husband - she adored and reverenced his fine understanding and great abilities. She loved his infirmities of body, for he often suffered much from a defective nervous system. She palliated and concealed from herself any little causes of discontent which a temper too irritable and hasty at times might give. She tended him, she soothed him - she assisted him - she was his all - his nurse, his comforter - his rest - his joy - and in return he gave her his young man's first love, his faithful undivided heart, his immaculate constancy - his was as the love of an archangel, imaginative, tender, strong, holy. He deserved to possess a woman's heart - and few such hearts have ever been blessed mortal man by their possession. What an influence did this holy perfect conjugal relation exercise on us?
(At this point the original M.S. become almost illegible, rage having overcome filial piety. We shall never know the identity of the harpy or her victim, but the later was probably Stamford Caldwell.) . . . black, disgusting . . . How long was it before her harpy form dared to pollute our blessed circle? We were not of the world in those early days - we were as a circle apart. Everybody who communicated with us compared with the angels . . . They might be odd, wayward, faulty, but they were all of the old English Unitarian or Scotch Presbitarian stock and they were as pure as one may imagine the Early Christians.
In addition to the above narrative Anne has left a full set of diaries which as yet are unpublished but I hope to get these onto this website at some time in the future.
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