A Page in the Life of John Dane: A Tailor Tempted by Dancing

[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Brodie Waddell offers a glimpse of the autobiography of a tradesman and emigrant who struggled to resist a variety of worldly temptations.]

Around the year 1630, a headstrong young tailor named John Dane decided to defy his godly parents and ‘went to a dansing scoll to larne to dans’. When his father found out, he was soundly beaten. So, Dane resolved to leave the family home behind and set out across Hertfordshire.

When he sat down to write his autobiography over fifty years later, he described what happened next: Continue reading

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A Page in the Life of Elizabeth Jeake: unfeigned love among mercantile matters

[In our mini-series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Anne Murphy offers a loving letter from a seventeenth-century merchant’s wife, who Anne has discussed in more detail in a recent article and whose letters will be included in a forthcoming edition.]

I first encountered Samuel Jeake through his Astrological Diary, edited by Michael Hunter and Annabel Gregory. As the only ordinary investor in the financial revolution of the 1690s who had left a record of his actions, he formed an invaluable case study for my PhD.

Later, when I needed a sample module to talk about at job interviews, ‘The Jeakes’ seemed a perfect fit. A module exploring the seventeenth century through the eyes of an ordinary family looked great presented on one side of A4. When I got a job and actually had to start teaching the module I quickly realised I was going to need much more than was contained in the diary, so I turned to the family’s letters. There are hundreds of them preserved in the East Sussex Record Office and the Rye Museum Archive.

And the more I read, the more I realised the family, especially its female members, offered fascinating insights into early modern life. I encountered Frances Hartridge, Samuel’s mother, who resisted marriage and insisted on a contract before agreeing to a betrothal. Then came Barbara Hartshorne, his mother-in-law, who struggled to keep her teenaged son from the gallows, a task that left her ‘afflicted tormented without any relief’.[1] And there was Samuel’s wife, Elizabeth Hartshorne, a thirteen-year-old bride, whose labour was essential to every aspect of the marital economy. For this post, I have chosen to focus on a page in Elizabeth Hartshorne’s life.

Rye, Sussex null by William Daniell 1769-1837

The Jeakes’ hometown of Rye, from William Daniell, A Voyage Round Great Britain (1815-25)

In the absence of her own writings and her virtual absence from the many pages of Samuel’s writings,  Elizabeth’s life can only be reconstructed from the letters she left behind, both those she wrote and those she received. Much can be recovered from these letters. Like most early modern correspondence, they covered a wide variety of topics. Family matters sat easily alongside business and were generally intertwined with spiritual contemplation, an ever-present concern for the health of all correspondents and their connections, and the exchange of news, especially on religious or political matters. Yet, emotions have been somewhat harder to find. The Jeakes rarely wrote of love and never exchanged letters just for the sake of being in touch. Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Thomas Parsons: Masculinity and the Lifecycle in a Stonemason’s Diary

[In our mini-series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Tawny Paul introduces us to a frustrated eighteenth-century artisan whose life she explores in more detail in her new article on ‘Accounting for Men’s Work’.]

In 1769, Thomas Parsons, a young stonemason in Bath, penned a daily account of his life. He may have written quite a lot over the years, but only one volume of his diary survives, covering a period of eight months. Though relatively modest in size, the text provides an entry into the world of a young man at a formative stage of life.

Parsons was twenty-five years old when he produced the diary. At this age, many young people in the eighteenth century married, finished training, assumed occupational status, and became more independent. Parsons’ diary therefore gives us insights into many themes related to lifecycle. This makes the text extremely valuable, because while histories of women have done remarkable work in uncovering the nuances of female lifecycle experiences, we know rather less about how men transitioned through life’s stages.

His entry for 13 April 1769 shows this in vivid detail as it centres on his struggles with his father: Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Anna Margaretta Larpent: Reading about Revolution and Writing about Writing

[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Emily Vine examines the daily records of a remarkably busy woman in late eighteenth-century London.]

From 1773 to 1830, Anna Margaretta Larpent, the wife of John Larpent, Examiner of Plays, kept a diary of her daily life divided between Newman Street, London and Ashtead in Surrey. She recorded the time she woke up and went to bed each day, the meals she ate, the details of the books she read, the letters she wrote, her daily prayers, her time spent sewing and shopping, her family business, and her significant contribution to her husband’s work in theatre licensing. The delight is in the detail; even in predictable repetitions such as ‘Rose at 8. Breakfasted. Prayed’, Larpent is brought to life on every page.

In the first week of February 1792, she recorded the following: Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Jacob Bee: Four Kirkings and a Funeral

[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Brodie Waddell introduces us to another ‘chronicler’ who appears his new article on ‘Writing History from Below’ in early modern England.]

Jacob Bee was a glover and skinner who lived out his whole life in the city of Durham. Over the course of about twenty-five years, beginning in 1681, he filled a notebook with records of the births, deaths and marriages of his fellow townspeople. Bee also kept a patchy chronicle of notable local and national events, including a prize fight in the town’s marketplace and the execution of the Rye House Plot conspirators in 1683.

Intermixed with his historical register were a few pages of rather scrappy financial accounts. The most detailed and consistent fit on a single page and ran from January to March 1689: Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Joseph Bufton: Murder, Robbery and New Church Pews

[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Brodie Waddell introduces us to the main character in his new article on ‘Writing History from Below’ in early modern England.]

Between 1679 and 1699, an inconsequential tradesman named Joseph Bufton kept a chronicle of his town of Coggeshall in Essex. He wrote it in the blank pages of an old almanac, Rider’s 1677 British Merlin, in which he also recorded notes about local births, deaths, marriages and various other miscellaneous memorandums.

Between printed pages listing the saints’ days and predicting the weather in November, Bufton inscribed the events from late 1684 to early 1686 that he considered worthy of remembrance: Continue reading

A Page in the Life

Brodie Waddell

Long before writing became a skill that every child was expected to learn, all sorts of people still scribbled away.

Some men and women did so for mostly practical reasons – keeping track of their finances, corresponding with distant family and friends, or preserving successful recipes for future use. Many others wrote in order to monitor the state of their soul or to record godly wisdom preached at the pulpit. A few tried to create texts that told the story of their life in more self-consciously ‘literary’ ways, sometimes even aiming for eventual publication.

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Preparing to write (British Museum, F,6.161)

Scholars have long used such ‘personal’ sources to study the early modern period, often mining them for information about topics that are more rarely documented in ‘official’ archives. More recently, a growing number of researchers have turned to analysing such sources as texts in their own right, seeking to understand how and why these writers wrote. The study of ‘life-writing’ and manuscript culture is now a well-established academic field, with excellent studies of the process of writing diaries, letters, financial accounts, sermon notes, commonplace books, and so on. As you’ll see from even the very abbreviated bibliography below, there is no lack of interest in early modern writing practices.

Thanks to the efforts of several tireless groups of scholars and students, there are also some great online resources cataloguing and illuminating such sources, such as the Perdita Project, Early Modern Letters Online, and – for a more recent period – Writing Lives. These often build on the more traditional lists and catalogues created by William Matthews, Heather Creaton and others. Laura Gowing has now started a crowdsourced handlist of early modern first-person writing in print. As a result, we now know about hundreds of writers who would otherwise be forgotten.

However, I think there is more that can be done. In a new article on ‘Writing History from Below’ in early modern England, I tried to use material from some writers who have received little or no scholarly attention yet, focusing in particular on those who lacked substantial wealth or education. Why did they decide to write chronicles and gather archives? What did they select to preserve for posterity? How did they tell the story of their lives and their communities? Continue reading