Mrs. Simpson's Regency Journal

Mrs Emma Jane Simpson




May 20th 1831

These last few months have been so very different from what has gone before. Never before have we been so much at sixes and sevens.  When I first came to work for the Mistress, Master spent most of his time at his holdings in the Colonies, the children were young ...and the Mistress and I much younger. Our affairs centred around the children and the development of my Mistress as a hostess of note.

But now, says Mary-Ann, it would seem the Master and the Mistress can only rub along together when both are far apart. And, with the children grown, Mistress be so bored with her own company that she be determined to gallivant around to her friends houses and has even journeyed to the Lake District with old Nurse!

Poor, silly women of the gentry!  When Mrs. Monk and I went to the theatre we heard a song which seemed sadly to describe my Mistress and her gossips ”She’s only a bird in a gilded cage/A beautiful sight to see/ Though she says she’s happy/And free from care/She’s not – tho she longs to be...” I came back a-singing of that song around the kitchen until Mary-Ann reminded me ‘twas supposed to deal with a kept woman and was perhaps not suitable.

 But I still sing it when I am alone for I love to give expression to the last lines: - ...”I’d rather be/ in the cold and free/than in a cage like you”. Indeed I would not be in the Mistresses place for all the tay in China – water-closet or no water closet!

Mistress has been suffering the megrims since she came back, and do fetch lugubrious sighs whenever Mrs Raymond, the Housekeeper, do ask for her orders. Sometimes she picks up her ‘brodiery and sighs some more before putting it down, and at others she stands and stares unseeingly out across the Square.

For that be the trouble with women of the gentry on the whole, I reckons: they seem to have no purpose aside from providing heirs and spares. And that they do in such a fog of ignorance and confusion that giving birth causes more them to die than it does the likes of us. Why, now that the craze for man-midwives be established, some goes through the whole process without ever lifting their skirts to be examined!

But two days ago I made a plan!

Even I have heard tell of Mrs. Godwin who hath written a strange book these many years since. For Mrs. Godwin believes that women, as well as men, have got Rights! ‘Tis been causing havoc and scandal ever since I can remember. And even though I could not read her book myself, my George was wont to read passages to me around the fire and I had got much of my favourite passages by heart. ‘Tis only recently I have been able to read the whole book all by myself. And my conscience! How it has given me much to think about.

Now the Mistress, of course, can read. But when they were first married Master gave her a list of books which he deemed suitable and, apart from those, ‘tis only magazines of fashion or etiquette or the goings-on of those of the high Ton for which she dons her spectacles. Such is the fear of being labelled a Blue Stocking that none of her set will ever read anything else.

But the thoughts expressed by Mrs. Godwin be so bold! And so outrageous! And, withal, so courageous! I could not imagine any person who set to read it could fail to give more space in their mind to the strange ideas it sets out than to the folds of any lace sleeves.

So I bethought me that if Mary-Ann could slip Mrs. Godwin’s book into the pile of novels which sit by the Mistresses chair in the parlour, perhaps her ennui could be alleviated?

And to-day Mary-Ann did slip into my kitchen to whisper that, this very morn, did Mistress pick up the book and riffle through it with a frown. Mary-Ann was sure she would be questioned and perhaps brought to task – though I’d told her I would take all blame upon myself.

But no! First Mistress stopped to read a line here and a line there. Then did she furtively spend more time on a page...and now, says Mary-Ann, she be sitting in front of a merry fire, her feet upon her footstool and has started at the very beginning!

And her thoughts, we are both sure, are far from the megrims and Master’s ‘List’ – just as Master be far from her!