Reflections by Firelight..

Mrs Emma Jane Simpson


13th April, 1831



There be a word for folk like me, who puts certain things off – but who makes good excuse for so doing; but I misremembers the name of’t. In any case...whatever it be – that be me.

For I have, each evening, found many reasons not to write my journal.  The first being that I never have done it before. We may not have candles in our rooms for longer than it takes us to prepare for bed; so it be a common thing to do our mending or letters, or – in the case of John Coachman - our whittling around the kitchen fire of an evening. 

Were I suddenly to take out pen and ink and commence to write I were convinced there would be such questions, and conjecture, and consternation that  I couldn’t be doing with it, at the end of a full day’s work.

But being exploding with so many words to say, I did finally set about it, bold as brass, last night. And to my relief the questions were few, the answers satisfying, and I have been accepted merely as having a new practice.

Which I should be using to describe these months away and all that has gone on. As I should also, now that my dear, but sheltered Eliza is no longer to write for me, continue with my own story for those babies to come in the future when Eliza be married; and her children’s children be curious.

Not that there be anything untoward about our goings and comings – it be merely the way of the gentry. For, while peasants and goodwives sleep under hedgerows; ‘tis quite the thing for gentry to have not one but two whole houses! Not that such as I object: for the gentry provides work for so many that I should be content to let them have as many houses as they like. ‘Tis why those in service is a couple of pegs above those who ain’t – for in these terrible times we all has roofs (sometimes many roofs!) over our heads, and full bellies, and is protected from the elements.

But, even so, in these uncertain times, all on us knows that we is only kept from the Workhouse as long as we pleases both Master and Mistress: so if we has any common sense we do not voice our discontent – if such we feel. For the goings-on in the countryside since Capt’n Swing began his rounds hath been a rude awakening for those who thought as they was set for life in a tied cottage and with work to do. And so it behoves us to remain mumchance about the unrest all about us.

I often wonder what my Grandam would have to say if she could see the straights to which honest men and women is reduced by all these modern ‘machines’. She lived through fire and famine in Ireland; and she packed her husband off to foreign climes; and she lived through the war with the Frenchies. But never did she live to see a healthy man or a woman replaced by a stinking and clanging great ‘machine’. (A ‘machine’ be the name given, in these times, to all new things which is presently being made.)

While in London we did not hear so much about the Riots and the burnings and the lawlessness which currently beset all who live on the land. So now, before Mistress arrives, we visit and murmur and discover what has happened in our absence and who, from following Captain Swing, do now swing themselves for it.

The Assizes is due to begin next month, but already courts across all the South has been sending off boat loads of people to the New Lands, (or Colonies as they is known)until one would think that said colonies now be bursting at the seams with English men and women!

This year did Mistress plan to go a-visiting with her old friend in Tunbridge Wells when Master and Young Master declared their intention of returning to The Colonies to see what has become of their former holdings. Which did move Mistress to allow some of us to visit family. And for those as didn’t, we kept the London House in readiness which gave us some leisure.

For all men, thinks I, do be made of blood and bone and sinew which doth wear out no matter what their station. And so all profits equally from a little rest from work.

So that I, for these past months, could play at being a real lady and learn to read and to write and to go the libraries and the theatre, just as real ladies do.

Thus hath it has ever been - in cycles: one is busy with the land and the animals from Spring to Autumn, while in cold January one takes ease a little, and sits by the fire, and chatters and gossips and works upon one’s trousseau if young...and one’s grave clothes if old!

But now all is topsy-turvey because big machines don’t need no rest, nor no feeding, nor no bedding and can do in only a few hours, the work it took ten men a week to do. And the weather be still smarting cold; and bellies be still empty and children, poor wee mites, do sicken and die for lack of food.

But I shall sit, these nights, warm and safe by my hearth, and I shall write such words as come to me and pass them on to the next generations!

(My! What a grand lady I have become!!)