Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Return to Introduction

The account breaks off abruptly in this way and was never finished. No occurrence mentioned in it took place later than the year 1854. In that year the regular Diary begins. It is, as I have said, entitled Vol. II, and covers the period between August 7th, 1854, when the first entry was made, and August 31st, 1856, when it ends. It is written in a childish hand much less legible than Lady Frederick's later writing, and is frequently illustrated by pen-and-ink sketches of the scenes or persons mentioned. It is, of course, mainly a record of the routine of schoolroom life at Hagley. Enough is given, I hope, in the extracts which follow to show what this was like. To omit it would have been to leave out an essential part of the picture. For Lady Frederick kept all her life the mark of her early years. And the object aimed at throughout all the selections has been, first, to give a picture of the character and life of the writer herself, and only after that, and second to it, to illustrate generally the manners and customs, and the social, political, and religious world, of Victorian times.

The extracts here printed are about one-fifth of the whole book. They and its other four-fifths exhibit the picture of a very good, very intelligent, and very affectionate child and a very happy home. There is more about sins and prayers and sermons than is thought quite healthy by a later generation, even by that part of it which has no sympathy with the modern fashion of dismissing sin as a mere theological bogy. This gravity sometimes takes amusing forms. One admires the decision with which this youthful critic pronounces the sermons at St. Leonard's " good on the whole " ; and entirely sympathises with her when she finds a book on " The Influence of the Clergy of the First Centuries " " much dryer " than Macaulay. That was Macaulay's Essays : with Lucy Lyttelton, as with so many of us, in spite of youthful Royalist feelings " desperately exasperated " by Macaulay's Whiggery, the first or almost the first " grown-up " book to be appreciated. Among other books which the Lyttelton children are recorded as reading are, of course, Shakes¬peare (though Bowdier's), " Half-hours with the Best Authors," Scott's novels, Hume's History, and even something unspecified of Burke. Evidently it was not for nothing that they were the sons and daughters of a very fine scholar and the nephews and nieces of Gladstone. Even in these early years Lucy was beginning her life-long enthusiasm for her famous uncle. During a visit to Hawarden she records the delight of " long rides over a country new to us, with Agnes, and some¬times Uncles William or Henry, the former being able to answer any question you may ask him." Already too she shows more interest than most children in public affairs outside her own family and circle. Not only does she frequently allude to the cholera, then actually a scourge and terror to England, but she devotes many pages to the Crimean War, and even records the resignations of Ministers. The young politician, brought up in a political atmosphere, is also seen in a long declamation about the War and the Peace. I have spared the reader its semi-parliamentary rhetoric with a long series of passages each opening with " Look back, look back to the nobly fought and nobly sustained battles, look back to the long long siege," etc., etc. But perhaps the peroration may be quoted here : " Shall we talk of having got no good by the war ? Was it undertaken for ourselves ? Let it be enough that we took up arms in defence of the just rights of a nation, that we accomplished our end and humbled the pride of the oppressor ; and then let us thankfully receive the honourable Peace and strive to make much of it : for is it not the greatest of blessings ? I say, Amen, and thank God."

There is no mention of the reading of newspapers in this volume of the Diary ; but one wonders whether if the Crimean debates were searched one would find some speech of Gladstone or another, of which this long outburst by his youthful niece is an echo. If she had been a boy, or if she had been born fifty years later, she would certainly have been either a preacher or a politician. She came very young into the possession of the mental and physical energy, the moral enthusiasm, and the command of language, the combination of which naturally leads to one or other of those careers.

But these high matters are, of course, only occasional visitors in the diary of a girl of fourteen. We hear more of family births, marriages, illnesses and deaths, which, filling her heart, naturally filled her pages ; and of the lessons and amusements, the walks and rides, which occupied her girlish days. There was boating (as well as scarlet fever) at St. Leonard's, and dancing in London ; there were evenings of cards (commerce and beggar-my-neighbour seem to have been the games), and occasionally of acting ; now and then, too, the children were taken to the real theatre or to hear Fanny Kemble read " Lear " or " Othello." Serious as the home was, it is evident that there was no Puritanical or Evangelical ban on innocent amuse¬ments. And of course when they were in London there were such glimpses as children can have of the great world. The extracts which follow describe several Royal functions at which the diarist was present, including two Court balls for children. She records that in preparation for one of them her younger sister " Win," afterwards Mrs. Edward Talbot, had " her hair curl-papered every night " for a week " to make it look a little less Irish and wild." In fact the Diary is like life, full of a lot of very little things, with a few greater ones thrown in from time to time.

And now it is more than time that the Diary should begin to speak for itself.

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