Introduction to Mrs Simpson

Mrs Emma Jane Simpson

As dictated to her niece, Eliza:

Good morrow to ye all.

Mind, that isn't what I'd say. That's my niece Eliza who is writing all my words down for me. My name is Mrs. Simpson and 'twas I who got the idea to write myself a journal. The only difficulty being that I cannot write. Oh, I can figure my letters well enough to write my name, but my niece Eliza is an educated girl who went to the board school until she was a big, working lass of 11 or 12. (Which, in my mind, her mother was daft to let her do when her older sisters were bringing money into the household at that age.)

Eliza came in with the cheese today and I told her of my plan. She laughed at me, and that was enough to get my dander up. 'Twas just an idea before, but now it has become a Determination. I could see she was surprised when I got her to write that, about my Determinations, which just goes to show what I always said: book learning does not guarantee a person has the good common sense a natural woman is born with. If she has reached the age of 18 now without knowing such a simple thing about her Aunt as her Determinations, then she don't know much.

Now this Eliza (I'll allow that she's a good girl, despite her being so daft in some things) first told me that she could not write down my words as so many of them were not words for writing down. Writing-down words, says she, are different from speaking words. She says there's no way to write some of the words I say because they are the old words, the words used by my mother and her mother before her. And sure, some of them is Irish on account of my Grandmother, and some of them, says she, are country words that are never printed in books. Writing-down words, says Eliza, are elegant, refined words.

Well I had a good laugh at that and told her I hadn't just fallen off the turnip cart yesterday; I know that words is just bits of sounds that come from our mouths, and that those sounds all have a way to be written and you puts them together to make a word.

So next she says that writing-down words are the words in our heads and not the words in our mouths - which I've never heard anything so daft in my life. So she tells me then that she don't even know how to write what I says as “Acorse” (which she is trying to write) and that the writing-down way of putting that is two words, not one, and is “Of course”. So I told her all her book learning must have come to nought if she can't write what I says proper, and she looks a little cast down at that.

Then up comes her head again and she says for all that I don't talk proper like the gentry in the way of putting my words, and that writing-down words is just for the gentry. So I laughs again and tells her that Mr. Harvey, the grocer, and Mrs. Stephens as sells the ribbons and Mr. Skinner the coachmen ain't none of them gentry and they write down their words. And as for herself sitting in my kitchen with her second-best boots on, I hopes as how she don't think she's gentry?

Last thing she says to try to put me from my Determination, is that I'm a woman, and people don't want to read the words women say. “Well” says I “Mayhap that's what's wrong in the world today: if people read women's words instead of all those men writing of battles and wars and Lord This and Admiral That, they'd learn how to go on proper and not always be taking our young men off to get their legs cut off like our Sammy.” which is her Uncle, my brother, in Rottingdean who had his legs shot off by a cannon ball in fighting that Boney.

But I felt a little moithered having said that, and her over to his cottage twice a week to cook his food and clean his kitchen, so I tells her straight. “This” says I “is to be journal. It ain't for the likes of gentry nor no-one else to be reading it. It's what I want to say about my days. It's for me to think about when I'm old.” I've no ideas above my station and I know well that in 50 or 100 years time no-one is going to want to go to a shelf and pull down a book about a cook! But I also know as my time in this vale of tears will come to an end one day and me, with no children of my own (and, as I have to allow, not likely to be now I've not got an husband) well, I want to leave something behind.

So that is settled and here we are and this, says Eliza, is to be called a “Preface” for she has no time more to-day on account of old Mrs. Cowpe'rs bunions which means she must fetch her some winkles which she dearly loves and swears do aid her feet.