Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Annals of the Poor

I've resisted reading the Rev Legh Richmond's 1814 Annals of the Poor, as it's a compilation of classic 19th century pious literature - not my cup of tea at all. However, it's also a classic of Isle of Wight literature, with ties to real locations and people, so I thought I'd finally give it a go.

Annals of the Poor is a compilation of a series of short religious tracts by Richmond, inspired by his experiences as curate of St. Mary's Church, Brading and St. John the Baptist Church, Yaverland between 1798 and 1805. The works were extremely popular: Wikipedia mentions that The Dairyman's Daughter, Richmond's account of Elizabeth Wallbridge of Arreton, had a circulation of millions of copies in 19 languages. The American Tract Society especially fell in love with its authentic narrative; see Cynthia S Hamilton's Spreading the Word: The American Tract Society, The Dairyman's Daughter, and Mass Publishing.

So, to the stories... I'm not automatically hostile to works in which positive religious experience features centrally, and I've mentioned such works before: Maxwell Gray's The Silence of Dean Maitland; William Adams' The Old Man's Home, one of his Sacred Allegories; and Rosa Raine's religious travelogue The Queen's Isle. But these authors know how to tell a story: the religious aspects of Dean Maitland interlock with accessible personal issues of guilt and redemption; The Old Man's Home is a tight little psychological mystery; and Rosa Raine is such an enthusiastic generalist that her account is highly engaging.

With Richmond, however, the piety over-rides everything. The plots are very slight. The Dairyman's Daughter: a "wilful" young woman gets religion, becomes more pious when she gets ill, and dies. The Negro Servant: an ex-slave, now a naval officer's servant, tells the narrator of his religious conversion, and is baptised. The Young Cottager: a little girl gets religion, becomes more pious when she becomes ill, and dies. A Cottage Conversation: a pious husband argues to this wife the virtues of being content with their poverty A Visit to the Infirmary: a pious old man suffers courageously and dies. Euw.

Anyhow, read if you wish: Annals of the Poor: containing The Dairyman's Daughter, The Negro Servant, and Young Cottager, &c. &c. (Legh Richmond, updated John Ayre, 1830, Internet Archive annalsofpoorcont00rich).

image from ALEXANDER HISLOP & COMPANY edition

On the plus side, however, Richmond's stories (or fictionalised biographies, or whatever they are) contain very nice topographical descriptions - though not generally identified by name - of the south-eastern Isle of Wight, Shanklin round to Yaverland. The locations have become iconic. Early on, the promotion was really quite creepy; the 1848 A Memoir of the Life of James Milnor, D.D. tells how her remaining relative dined out on showing visitors the room Elizabeth Wallbridge, the dairyman's daughter, died in ...
We now approached Arreton, the village, in the churchyard of which lie interred the mortal remains of Elizabeth 'Wallbridge, the sainted daughter of the dairyman. About a mile from it, we stopped before the cottage from which her soul ascended to its rest, and were kindly received by her surviving brother, a man now advanced in years, and still a resident in the cot of his birth. He showed us Elizabeth's Bible, in which was simply written, Elizabeth Wallbridge, daughter of Joseph and Elizabeth Wallbridge; born 1771, died 1801.' He also took us up stairs into the room in which she expired. We added our names to a long list, in a book kept by her brother for the purpose, and then took our leave, Mr. Wallbridge in a very respectful manner thanking us for our visit.
-page 392, A Memoir of the Life of James Milnor, D.D. (John Seely Stone, 1848, Google Books Pu8tAAAAYAAJ).
... along with her grave in the churchyard of St. George's Church, Arreton. This turns up in many travelogues, such as George Mogridge's 1846 Wanderings in the Isle of Wight (pages 74-77). Mogridge also went to the cottage, and notes:
As the inhabitants of the cottage were not poor, but seemingly thriving, I requested them to let me leave a trifle for the first case of poverty or distress that might come to their knowledge.
I doubt they refused ... There's also a pub commemorating her: goodness knows what she and Richmond would have thought about this.

The "Young Cottager" (who was called Jane Squibb, and died of tuberculosis at 15) was a little less commemorated, but the house where she lived is remembered as "Little Jane's" in Brading (see British Listed Buildings #310135) and her grave is in the churchyard of St Mary's Brading.

It was a regular excursion to take in all the scenes relating to Elizabeth Wallbridge and Jane Squibb. John Alonzo Clark's 1840 Glimpses of the Old World (Google Books fSo2AAAAMAAJ) devotes a chapter (p22 onward) to his visit to the Isle of Wight, during which he visits the scenes and runs into local politics. An old man offers to show him around Brading Church, but is seen off by the sexton, who shows him Richmond's surplice. At Little Jane's cottage, Clark is pained to find that the new residents know little of her, and aren't religious.

I'm sorry to say that "William", the "negro servant", is lost to history - and Richmond's account is excruciating in its general tone. There isn't a hint that "William" deserves not to be a slave/servant on account on his being a human being as such; Richmond ups his status to worthy human solely on the basis of his having acquired Christianity.

A number of the imprints of Richmond's tracts have illustrations. They range from the completely naive ...

... to high-quality prints by well-known artists. Here are a few from the 1857 Appleton imprint (Google Books H0LnF3grKO4C).

The clergyman meets the dairyman

The dairyman's daughter

Not well ...

Going ...

A publication of particular interest is the 1832 Sketches of scenes in the Isle of Wight, with explanatory notes, designed as a key to the local descriptions of L. Richmond, in his Annals of the Poor, co-written by Richmond and George Brannon (of regular IOW print fame), that fills in the locations Richmond described but didn't identify.
The omission of all proper names in the "Annals Of The Poor," renders it very difficult for a stranger in the Isle of Wight to trace and identify on the face of Nature, the various features which compose the splendid delineations of Mr. Richmond: a little Work therefore like the present, answering the purposes of a Guide and Key, cannot be considered altogether an useless publication; for it has been a thousand times regretted by visiting parties, that, having no plain directions how to proceed, they left the Island without examining those particular scenes and objects, which now possess an increasing importance, in reference to the above most popular tracts.
Here's the book: Sketches of Scenes in the Isle of Wight (1832, Google Books cNkHAAAAQAAJ). Each plate is accompanied by a quotation of the text from Richmond it illustrates. It was upgraded as the 1843 The Landscape Beauties of the Isle of Wight, which isn't findable online.
The Dairyman's Cottage, Arreton, Isle of Wight

Arreton Church, Isle of Wight

Abbey sea-mark, Isle of Wight

Brading Parsonage and Haven

"Little Jane's" cottage, Brading, Isle of Wight

Brading Church, Isle of Wight

Yaverland Church, Isle of Wight

White Cliff Bay, Bembridge, Isle of Wight

Shanklin Chine, Isle of Wight

- Ray

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