Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fanny Burney, Survivor

by Lauren Gilbert

Fanny Burney was a famous author, a reluctant celebrity in her time, and an inspiration to other authors, including Jane Austen, who subscribed to Camilla.  She is known for her four novels, but she also wrote plays (only one of which was performed in her lifetime).  However, we are not going to discuss her novels or writings specifically. Before anything else, Fanny Burney was a survivor.  She had an amazing life, which she chronicled in her journals and letters.  

While her fame as a novelist opened many doors for her, I suspect that Fanny Burney would have had a eventful life even if she had never published at all.  Her journals and letters reveal intelligence, a talent for observation and a gift for expression.  In her novels, her heroines made mistakes and suffered consequences; her skilled observation of her time and society gave her characters and their dialogues a liveliness and reality that paved the way for later authors.  She used her writing skill to illuminate perceived wrongs.  However, it is in Fanny Burney’s journals and letters that we find her spirit and her indomitable passion for writing, which sustained her through the remarkable ups, downs and turns that her life took.

Fanny Burney’s father was Dr. Charles Burney, a prominent musician and writer.  He performed with theatre orchestras and in other venues, and was also employed by the composer George Frederick Handel.  His music was his introduction to the highest level of society.  Her mother was Esther Sleepe, who was of French extraction and a Roman Catholic, and considered kind, gentle and intelligent by those who knew her.  She was the daughter of a musician and a talented musician herself.

Charles and Esther were both well-read, musical, fond of poetry, interested in philosophy, and were extremely happy together by all accounts.  The date of their marriage was apparently deliberately muddled, as it seems their eldest child Esther (known as Hetty) was born before their marriage was solemnized.  Esther and Charles produced six living children, of whom Fanny was the fourth. 

Born June 13, 1752, Fanny was small (about 5’2” as an adult), very shy and sensitive, with poor eyesight.  Fanny was very quiet and considered backward, as she did not know her letters or how to read until after she was eight years old.  Her limitations fostered her talents for listening and observation, and a very sharp memory.

By contrast with Hetty, who was out-going and something of a musical prodigy performing before audiences by age ten, Fanny had a more serious nature and disliked being in the limelight.  She was very close to her mother, possibly because of her shyness and other difficulties.  This made it extremely difficult for Fanny when her mother died Sept. 27, 1762, after becoming ill following childbirth (her ninth pregnancy).  The violence of Fanny’s grief was a concern to her family, as she would not be comforted.  Fanny started writing not long after her mother’s death.   This was the first big tragedy of Fanny’s life.
In October of 1767, her father eloped with Elizabeth Allen, a beautiful, intelligent and educated widow with three children of her own.  Her sister had been a friend of Esther’s and was loved by Dr. Burney’s children.  Unfortunately, Elizabeth was not.  Fanny and her brothers and sisters did not like Elizabeth (she doesn’t seem to have been particularly popular with her own children).  She seems to have been intrusive, managing and short-tempered.  

During these years, Fanny did her writing in secret.  At age 15, she destroyed her journals and other writings, supposedly in an effort to keep her stepmother from seeing them, and vowed to stop writing for fear of committing an impropriety.  In March 1768, however, about nine months after destroying her earlier work, she started another journal to record her thoughts and observations, which she continued one way or another for over 70 years, still in secret. 

Fanny was aware that she was expected to marry.  She was ambivalent.  On one hand, she was very romantic, and had her share of “crushes”.  On the other hand, as she matured she recognized the danger to women in their dependence on man, saw problems women experienced with faithless men and, of course, had experienced her mother’s death as the result of childbirth.  She resented the restrictions imposed by etiquette on women, in particular the waste of time in paying calls and worrying about dress.  Interestingly, neither her father nor her stepmother showed significant concern with Fanny’s, or their other daughters’, welfare in society as marriageable young ladies.   In fact, Dr. Burney seemed in no hurry to have his daughters marry.

In addition to her journal, Fanny also wrote a novel.  This novel was Evalina.  It was published anonymously and in secret when she was twenty-five years old, with the assistance of her brother.  It was immediately successful and acclaimed.  Even her father read and admired it.  When her identity was made known, celebrity followed.  She also earned some money.  

Her father’s society connections had already resulted in her acquaintance with influential people.  These connections and her sudden fame resulted in her acquaintance and friendship with Dr. Samuel Johnson, Hester Thrale and the Bluestockings, including Mary Delaney.  She was very uncomfortable with her fame.  Once her father and his friend Samuel Crisp realized she was the author of a successful novel, they were more than willing to offer advice.  (Her father was also very concerned to keep Fanny at hand to assist him with his own projects; she acted as his secretary on his massive work on the history of music.)    

Starting in 1778 or 1779, Fanny wrote a play, The Witlings, which was a comic satire on Society.  Despite her confidence and pride in it, and interest shown in it, both Dr. Burney and Mr. Crisp put pressure on Fanny not to pursue it as they were concerned that influential people such as Mrs. Thrale would recognize themselves and be offended.  

It appears that Dr. Burney was as much concerned about possible fall-out for himself as problems for Fanny.  At any rate, reluctantly, Fanny gave in to their pressure and did not pursue publication or performance of this play, abandoning it in 1780.  They then began pressing her for another novel.  The result was her second novel Cecilia which was published in 1782.  Available data indicates that Fanny was not as happy with Cecilia as she had been with  Evalina, that she felt rushed and pushed.  Cecilia was not as well received as Evalina, but did reasonably well.

Mrs. Thrale took Fanny up and made an effort to help her in society, although her own letters seem to indicate a certain level of exasperation with Fanny’s apparent lack of interest and gratitude.  Fanny did build a friendship with Mary Delaney, one of the Bluestockings and a friend of Queen Charlotte and King George III.  This friendship resulted in Fanny’s presentation at court and ultimately an invitation to serve as second mistress of the robes for the queen in 1786.  Fanny did not want to do this.  However, her father and Mr. Crisp were both eager for her to go, seeing the prospect of multiple advantages.  

She was extremely bored, as much of her time was spent waiting for the queen.  The long hours and restrictions affected her health, and personality issues with another of the Queen’s ladies, Elizabeth Schwellenberg, combined to make her very unhappy with the position.  She served in this position for five years before she convinced her father that it was necessary for her to resign and before she could bring herself to resign.  The Queen awarded her a pension of 100 pounds a year (half of her salary).

During a visit to Surrey, Fanny became acquainted with French emigres living there, one of whom was General Alexandre D’Arblay, who had served with Lafayette.  She married him July 28, 1793, in spite of his penniless state and her father’s disapproval.  (Dr. Burney refused to attend the ceremony, even though he ultimately became very fond of Alexandre).  They had one child, a son named Alexandre born Dec. 18,1794.  Their finances were very strained; the publication of Camilla in 1796 saved the day and allowed them to build a cottage.  

In spite of their financial struggles, they seemed to have been very happy together. Fanny’s pension and her earnings from her books provided their support.  Alexandre dreamed of recovering his estate and status in France.  Fanny continued writing, completing three comic plays between 1797-1801.

In 1800, Fanny lost her younger sister Susanna (known as Susan in the family).  Susanna’s death hit Fanny extremely hard; they had shared everything and were considered as close as twins.  In many ways, Susanna’s death was as difficult and painful for Fanny as was her mother’s death.  She was unable to speak her sister’s name after her death.

In 1801, General D’Arblay was offered a position in Napoleon’s France.  Seeing this as a way to start the process to recover his estate and status, Alexandre accepted.  Fanny and their son joined him in France in 1802.  This period coincided with the Peace of Amiens, which ended in May of 1803.  

Fanny lived in France for ten years, much of the time as an English woman in enemy territory.  Although she wrote to her family when she could, she discouraged letters from them, to discourage any accusations of spying for England.  This must have been an incredibly lonely and trying time.  On top of everything else, her pension from the Queen stopped because she was no longer in England.  

In 1810, she was diagnosed with a cancer of the breast, which led to a mastectomy by Napoleon’s chief surgeon Dr. Dominique Jean Larrey in Sept of 1811.  This was performed without anaesthesia, and she wrote a detailed account of the surgery in a journal letter to her sister, Hetty.  After ordering the preparation of bandages, lint for packing and other necessities for her surgery, she had to expose her body to the knife not knowing until that moment that the whole breast was to be removed.  Her graphic description of this ordeal is incredibly powerful.  The wonder is that she survived and made a full recovery. During her years in France, she worked on her fourth novel, The Wanderer.

In 1812, Fanny brought her son Alexandre to England with her.  She was terrified that he would be conscripted into Napoleon’s Army and was desperate to see her father.  She and her son went aboard with passports stamped for Newfoundland or some coast of America, and were almost halted by the French customs and subsequently almost becalmed.  

Fanny brought the manuscript of The Wanderer with her and, by the time she landed, was so relieved to be ashore she picked up a pebble to commemorate her landfall.  Her brother Charles did not recognize her, as age and her experiences had altered her appearance.  Her father was aged, and had lost much of his hearing, becoming something of a recluse.  She caught up with her family’s news, and in 1814, just before her father’s death, The Wanderer was published.  This was the least successful and most criticized of her four books, garnering some very critical reviews.

In November of 1814, in spite of her reluctance, Fanny returned to France in a small open boat in stormy weather.  She had to be carried off the boat due to dehydration upon landing.  In the process of her arrival, her husband Alexandre was injured when he was struck by a horse and cart, from which it  took him several days to recover enough to go on to Paris.  Both were ill during the winter.  

When Napoleon escaped from Elba in March 1815, neither Fanny nor her husband expected him to return to Paris.  Their only preparations were to make sure Fanny had a properly stamped passport and he was armed.  When Napoleon was outside of Paris,  General D’Arblay mounted his horse and rode off shouting “Vive le Roi!”  Apparently, it had not occurred to Fanny until then that he might actually join the fighting.  

She received a letter from him telling her to leave Paris, and she left for Belgium in the middle of the night., arriving in Tournai on March 23, 1815.  She and her husband were briefly reunited in April, when he found her in Brussels.  He went on to Treves.  They knew battle was coming, just not when.  When the Battle of Waterloo finally began, Fanny did not know where General D’Arblay was or what was happening.  She was especially anxious, as her husband had signed an oath of loyalty to King Louis XVIII; if Napoleon won, this would be fatal.  Rumours had Napoleon, then Wellington, then Napoleon winning.  After hours of anxiety, hearing first-hand accounts of the carnage, she finally learned of the British victory. 

In the meantime, General D’Arblay was stuck in Treves, awaiting orders which never came.  Fanny sent him Wellington’s Proclamation issued June 22.  He was injured when kicked in the leg by a horse, and the wound became infected.  As a result of inept treatment without anaesthesia, he slipped into a coma.  Finally hearing of his situation, Fanny decided to go to him but had a series of misadventures (missed diligence, passport issues in Prussian-controlled territory, getting lost, and suffering major anxiety) before finally being united with him on July 24, 1815.  

It took an additional month of convalescence before he was able to make the journey to Paris.  He was extremely depressed, not only because of his injury, but because of his country’s humiliation, and his realization that he was never going to recoup his family’s fortune and estates in France.  They finally returned to England, landing Oct. 17, 1815, reuniting with their son and settling in Bath.

By April of 1816, Alexandre was planning to return to France, in hopes of settling his business matters.  Their son was attending Cambridge, and his success was a source of anxiety as his and his parents’ futures depended on his success.  He was on scholarship, but not happy with the course of study required; at the same time, he was caught up in his social life.  

General D’Arblay further strained the situation by trying to arrange a marriage for their son with a French girl, in spite of Fanny’s objections.  He had returned to Paris in the hope of salvaging something and met a family he and Fanny had known in 1802, whose daughter seemed a likely match for Alexandre.  The difficulties of their separation during this time were exacerbated by this disagreement and other misunderstandings.  The general returned to England a few weeks later, having had to abandon his dream of recovering his estates and of settling his son’s future in France.  

In 1817, in spite of his own ill health and issues with his son (who did pass his examination), General D’Arblay returned to France. Depressed, he had a portrait of himself done, so that his son would not forget him, and worried about his son and the lack of an inheritance for him.  His health further deteriorated.  Later in the fall, he finally returned to England with nothing accomplished.  Fanny and their son noticed the deterioration in his health.  Finally in early 1818, in great pain, he was diagnosed with rectal cancer and was told it was too late for surgery.  Alexandre did succeed in getting his degree, but the General’s health continued to deteriorate.  He finally passed away May 3, 1818. 

After her husband’s death, Fanny would not go out for some months, except to go to church on Sundays.  Fanny left Bath and settled in London with her maid and her dog.  (Her son returned to Cambridge.)  She spent time with family, and started working on her father’s papers.  She planned to sort and edit them, to publish a memoir with correspondence.  Dr. Burney had left 12 notebooks of memoir material.  

Unfortunately, after three years, Fanny had little to show for it; her father’s notebooks were of little help, and she felt that much of the material would actually tarnish his memory.  She ended up writing her own account of his life, leaving out anything that was controversial, embarrassing or otherwise less than flattering.  The resultant work was published in Nov. of 1832.  She was criticized for her ruthless editing of his materials. 

Concerns for her son proceeded to dominate her life at this time.  Alexandre had travelled but achieved little; he had been ordained in 1818, but was uninterested in teaching or being a cleric.  He would disappear for weeks or months at a time.  He was undisciplined and apparently unable to focus on a specific goal.  He accepted a living, but disappeared periodically, leaving no one to handle the services.  He was a serious worry to Fanny, who was concerned for his health and his future.  

In May of 1835, Alex became engaged to Mary Ann Smith, whom Fanny liked very much.  However, lack of money prevented their marriage.  He could not figure out how to resolve the issue and was unable to make a decision or take any action.  They remained engaged but never married.  In 1836, he moved from place to place, never sticking to anything.  He caught a chill which developed into influenza, and died at Fanny’s home on January 19, 1837. 

At this point, Fanny was 85 years old and had only one close family member still living, her sister Charlotte.  She was plagued with money problems.  Fanny was very deaf and almost blind (she had cataracts).    Alex’s fiancée Mary Ann continued to watch out for Fanny.  Her sister died Sept 12 1838, leaving Fanny alone.  She had communion brought to her every week and had regular visitors.  She divided up her papers, giving her personal papers to her sister Charlotte’s daughter, Charlotte Barrett, and her father’s papers to her brother Charles’ son, Charles Parr Burney.  She signed her final will on March 6 1839.  Her health was so poor that she spent much time in bed.  She finally died January 6, 1840, and was buried beside her husband and son.

Fanny Burney D’Arblay lived a long life, surviving a serious of losses and blows, any combination of which could have brought her to a stand-still.  She survived a major surgery without anaesthetic and recovered fully, not suffering an infection or a recurrence of the cancer.  She lived in France during the Napoleonic wars.  She travelled between England and France in spite of weather and political turmoil.  She outlived her nearest and dearest, including her husband and only child.  A shy person, Fanny learned to cope with her celebrity status; a sensitive person, she learned to accept some searing criticism of her work. There is no doubt that she had great courage, strength and determination.  Her journals and letters show that, in spite of everything, she never lost her interest in people and events around her. 

Chisholm, Kate.  FANNY BURNEY: Her Life 1752-1840.  Random House (e-book).
On-line Materials:
New Jacksonian Blog.  “Breast Cancer in 1811: Fanny Burney’s Account of Her Mastectomy.” Introduction by Michael Kaplan.  Posted 12/2/10.
D’Ezio, Marianna. “Transcending National Identity: Paris and London in Fanny Burney’s Novels.”  2010.
The Burney Centre at McGill University.  “Frances (Fanny) Burney (married name D’Arblay).” No author shown, undated.
Norfolk Women in History.  “Fanny Burney 1752-1840.”

Portrait: Wikimedia Commons. 
Evalina Vol. 2: Wikimedia Commons.

Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel.  She lives in Florida with her husband, and is working on another novel which is coming out soon.  You can visit her website HERE.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Regency Redundancy: The Walcheren Expedition

by Regina Jeffers

In engineering terms, "redundancy" refers to the duplication of critical components of functions of a system with the intention of increasing reliability of the system, usually in the case of a backup or fail safe. In linguistics, "redundancy" refers to the construction of a phrase that presents some idea using more information, often via multiple means, than is necessary for one to be able to understand the idea. In military operations, "redundancy" could easily refer to the British expedition known as the Walcheren Expedition.

During the War of the Fifth Coalition (fought between Britain and the Austrian Empire and France and Bavaria in 1809), Britain sent an expedition, consisting of 40,000 soldiers, 15,000 horses, two siege trains, and field artillery, across the North Sea to open another front in support of Austria's struggle against France. The campaign was meant to destroy the French fleet thought to be in Flushing, whilst providing a diversion for the hard-pressed Austrians. Unfortunately, it was an effort in futility. Napoleon had already defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Wagram only a month prior, on the 5th and 6th of July.

Viscount Castlereagh had first proposed the scheme to take the island of Walcheren to Prime Minister William Pitt in 1797. Castlereagh saw the island as the key to controlling the Scheldt and the port of Flushing, a potential launching point for an attack on England. He reopened discussions on the scheme when he joined the British cabinet in April 1807 as Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.

By 1809, the Scheldt estuary had become the second largest French naval arsenal after Toulon. Castlereagh had the right of it: Napoleon meant to Antwerp into an arsenal, opposite the Thames estuary. Two squadrons were kept off the coast of the Netherlands. One was to prevent a surprise attack, while the second was to keep new ships passing to other ports. From as early as 1808, Napoleon had spent a small fortune fortifying the port of Antwerp.

In early 1809, spies informed the British that there were 10 French ships in the port of Flushing and 9 ships of line under construction in Antwerp. Originally Sir David Dundas, newly appointed chief of the British army, was summoned to appear before Castlereagh on 9 March 1809, but Dundas pleaded he could not muster the required army because of the recent retreat from Corunna in Spain.

Dundas was summoned again in May, but the military consultants dampened Castlereagh's plans with reports of the difficulty of the operation, saying speed of execution would determine success or failure. Finally, the news of Austrian success at Aspern-Essling eliminated any governmental doubts. Spies also reported that the garrison at Flushing was poorly manned by untested Dutch, German, Irish, and Spanish soldiers. It was estimated at the time that only about 8,500 French troops remained in the area. On 22 June, Castlereagh received permission from George III for the expedition.

From the beginning, the expedition was doomed. The senior military and naval staff were less than effective. The Commander in Chief of the operations was General Lord Chatham (John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, the eldest son of William Pitt the Elder and an elder brother of William Pitt the Younger), who was nicknamed "the late earl" because of his love of sleeping in, and while more competent than Chatham, Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Strachan knew little success in the shallow waters of the Scheldt.

Chatham had served in both the American War of Independence and the Russian/British expedition to the Helder in 1799, but he was very much a "desk jockey," having spent the previous 7 years in such a position. In 1794, the Younger Pitt had removed his elder brother from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty because of complaints regarding his laziness.

From, we find:   "On the same day [22 June 1809], Dundas communicated the total numbers of troops ready for embarkation - 35,000 infantrymen and 1,900 cavalry. As for the direction of the naval side of the affair, this had been given to Rear Adm. Sir Richard Strachan. He was appointed on 9 June, and he was the exact opposite in temperament to Chatham, 'an irregular and impetuous fellow, possessing [...] an uncommon share of sagacity and strong sense.' Strachan was also affectionately known to his men as 'Mad Dick' because he would occasionally lose his temper and swear fiercely. And so these two completely incompatible leaders were to lead the largest ever British expeditionary force to leave the British isles, numbering 618 vessels in total, comprising 352 transports and 266 ships of war."

Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte commanded the French forces. Bernadotte had been stripped of his command for disobeying orders at the Battle of Wagram. He had returned to Paris in shame after being dismissed from Napoleon's Grande Armée, but was sent to defend the Netherlands by the Council of Ministers. Bernadotte lost Flushing to the British, but he competently ordered the French fleet to Antwerp and heavily fortified the city, leaving the British's main objective out of reach.

Even if Chatham and Strachan had had been more strategically minded, their eventual downfall had nothing to do with the French forces and everything to do with the onset of malaria. Over 4,000 British troops perished between 30 July and 9 December 1809, but only 106 died in combat.

Initially, success was known. The British army met little French resistance and quickly set up encampments on the neighboring islands of Walcheren and South Beveland, both in present-day the Netherlands. The British had stifled the attempts of the French to flood the islands by breaching the dykes, but by late August (according to several accounts of the soldiers involved) an epidemic had overtaken the encampments.

From the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, we find the following descriptions of Walcheren: "When the troops first landed, they saw a 'flat fen turned into a garden.' William Keep of the 77th Regiment wrote home, 'The more I see of this country the better I am pleased with it.... Here we frequently spread our table under the shade of luxuriant fruit trees, and enjoy all the pleasures of rustic life.' Another officer thought the capital, Middleburg, one of the most delightful towns he had ever seen. However, a British expedition to the region in 1747 had been largely destroyed by an illness well described by the respected military surgeon John Pringle."

Early August had reports of 700 men suffering from what was termed "Walcheren Fever." By 3 September, 8000 were hospitalized. Even those who were evacuated to England could find little relief. The English hospitals were unable to handle the large influx of patients. Even six months after the campaign ended in February 1810, 11,513 officers and men remained upon the sick lists. Less than two years later, many of these troops were still so weakened by the disease, Wellington requested that no unit which had served in the Walcheren Campaign be sent to him.

"This disease comes on with a cold shivering, so great that the patient feels no benefit from the clothes piled upon him in bed, but continues to shiver still, as if enclosed in ice, the teeth chattering and cheeks blanched. This lasts some time, and is followed by the opposite extremes of heat, so that the pulse rises to 100 in a small space. The face is then flushed and eyes dilated, but with little thirst. It subsides, and then is succeeded by another paroxysm, and so on until the patient's strength is quite reduced, and he sinks into the arms of death."

Obviously, malaria was one of the sources of "Walcheren Fever," as the soldiers described the large number of mosquitoes upon the island and the numerous bites they suffered. Dysentery was also a likely culprit.

Needless to say, this debacle received little attention, with British historians focusing more on the successes of Wellington's armies in the Peninsular Wars and at the Battle of Waterloo. However, in early 1810, Charles Philip Yorke insisted on the exclusion of strangers from the House of Commons during the debates on the Walcheren expedition. That debate resulted in the arrest of the radical orator, John Gale Jones, which resulted in the arrest of Sir Franis Burdett, 5th Baronet, who questioned the House of Commons' authority to arrest Jones. Burdett issued a revised edition of his plea to have Jones. William Cobbett in the Weekly Register published Burdett's speech, which caused the House to vote this action a breach of privileges and to issue a warrant for Burdett's arrest. (Oh, what a tangled web we weave...).

The Times called the expedition a national disaster and blamed Chatham's incompetence for the debacle. Caricatures and lampoons peppered the press, with the most popular one being a caricature published in the Ghent Journal du commerce, which showed Chatham driving a chariot pulled by two turtles and six snails and shouting "Not so fast!"

The medical board and the Cabinet also heard the "voices" of dissent. At the time, Foreign Secretary George Canning had been maneuvering for Castlereagh's removal from the Cabinet. In the midst the chaos surrounding the debate and Portland's  paralytic stroke on 11 August and his resignation on 6 September, Canning (who reportedly wanted Chatham as prime minister and Wellesley to replace Castlereagh) resigned on 7 September, with Castlereagh following on 8 September.

"The famous duel between the two men [Canning and Castlereagh] took place on 19 September, during which Canning was wounded in the thigh. The new administration led by [Spencer] Perceval, but which included Wellington's arrogant elder brother, the Marquess of Wellesley, was to be forced to face an inquiry into the failure of the Walcheren Expedition after a close vote in the House of Commons (195 against 186)."

During the February-March 1810 enquiry, Castlereagh defended the plan's necessity and disclaimed all responsibility for Chatham's incompetence. Chatham was found to have breached constitutional convention by submitting his report on Walcheren directly to the King. Chatham was forced by the Marquess of Wellesley to resign. Castlereagh was no longer a member of the government but was taking his seat on the back benches and therefore received no further censure. Parliament did not find any of those involved in the fiasco as responsible for the failure.

In response, The Times said, "If the Walcheren expedition is to pass unmarked by the general censure, then can no calamity happen on which the British nation will deserve to be heard?"

Again according to the NCBI:  "Remarkably, the army medical department had not been informed of the expedition's destination before its departure.... The medical arrangements were complacent. There were too few doctors, inadequate hospital provision, not enough transport for the sick, and a shortage of vital drugs and supplies. Peruvian bark, one of the few drugs with real efficacy, had to be commandeered from a passing American vessel. The physician general, Sir Lucas Pepys, seemed as much a caricature as his military peers. When asked why he had not attended the sick in Walcheren, he arrogantly replied that he had no personal experience of military medicine. The surgeon general, Thomas Keate, was quick to point out that he was not the appropriate person to visit Walcheren as the matter was 'entirely medical.' The old army medical board had proved itself incompetent, divided, and overly preoccupied with private practice. Its demise and replacement by an improved 'new medical board' was predictable after the disaster of Walcheren...."

The British did destroy the port of Flushing, costing 50 million francs in damage, but it spent some 8 million pounds to know defeat.


Regina Jeffers loves all things Austen and is the author of several novels, including Darcy’s Temptation, Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy and Second Chances: The Courtship Wars .
Her website is:

Mary Astell, Seventeenth Century Feminist

by Diane Scott Lewis

While researching feminist writers to bolster my early nineteenth century character’s beliefs in the rights of women, I came across numerous women who promoted rights in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When I added these ideas into my story, a man in my critique group objected, saying women didn’t demand their due until the twentieth century. After that, I found that many people shared this narrow view. I myself was surprised by the varied women I discovered in the past who railed against their restrictive lives.

As I sought further documentation to strengthen my point, I came across this treatise by a woman in the seventeenth century named Mary Astell: Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest, published in 1694.

Mary Astell was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1666 to an upper middle-class family. Her father was a royalist Anglican who managed a coal company. As a woman, she received no formal education, as the culture of the time felt girls didn’t require any learning outside of the domestic realm. 

Fortunately for Mary, starting at the age of eight, she received an informal education from her uncle. Her uncle, an ex-clergyman, was affiliated with the Cambridg- based philosophical school which based its teachings around radical philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, and Pythagoras.

Mary’s father died when she was twelve, leaving her without a dowry. Her family’s limited finances were invested in her brother’s higher education, and Mary and her mother were forced to move in with her aunt. After the death of her mother and aunt, Mary moved to Chelsea, London in 1688, where she was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of a circle of influential and literary women. These women, including the poet Lady Mary Chudleigh (who also published works dealing with feminist themes), helped Mary with the development and publication of her treatise.

Lady Mary Chudleigh

Mary was also in contact with the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, who was known for charitable works. Sancroft assisted her financially and introduced her to her future publisher.

Mary Astell was one of the first Englishwomen to advocate that women were as rational as men, and just as deserving of education. Her Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest presented a plan for an all-female college where women could pursue a life of the mind.

In 1700, Mary published another work: Some Reflections upon Marriage. She warned, in witty prose, of the dangers to females "...of an ill Education and unequal Marriage." She urged women to make better matrimonial choices because a disparity in intelligence and character may lead to misery. Marriage should be based on lasting friendship rather than short-lived attraction.

Influenced by Descartes, Mary Astell was known for her ability to debate freely with both men and women, and particularly for her groundbreaking methods of negotiating the position of women in society by engaging in philosophical debate rather than basing her arguments in historical evidence as had previously been attempted. One of her famous quotes stated: "If all Men are born Free, why are all Women born Slaves?"

Mary withdrew from public life in 1709 and founded a charity school for girls in Chelsea. She died in 1731, a few months after a mastectomy to remove a cancerous breast. In her last days, she refused to see any of her acquaintances and stayed in a room with her coffin, thinking only of God. She was buried in the churchyard of Chelsea Church in London.

So when reviewers—or readers—criticize a novel for promoting a heroine who acts "before her time" remember that women have been seeking liberation for centuries.

Resources: "Astell, Mary." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2011.

Visit Diane Scott Lewis’s website for information on her novels that depict strong women:


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Giveaway! The Circle of Ceridwen by Octavia Randolph

Octavia is offering a Kindle copy to one winner anywhere. You can read about the book HERE. You will be prompted to return to this page to comment to enter the drawing. Please be sure to leave your contact information.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Tax on Dogs

by Grace Elliot

In 1796 a seemingly innocuous piece of tax legislation caused uproar in England. The new law provoked a debate about the very nature of the human spirit and whether owning a dog was a right or a luxury.
Was it a right or a luxury to own a dog?
At the end of the 18th century the English government was desperate for money to finance the on-going war with France. One way of raising the necessary cash was taxation. Tax was raised on everything from soap, to tea, tobacco, windows and lace – and indeed it didn’t stop there. Servants were a taxable asset under the auspices of the Male Servants’ Tax bill 1777- 1852 and the Female Servant’s Tax bill  1795 – 1852, but fortunately (or unfortunately?) wives and children were not taxable assets!. There was a Horse Tax (for owners of carriages and saddle horses), a Farm Horse Tax (for horses and mules used in trade) – but none of these taxes created quite the same stir as the imposition of the Dog Tax in 1796.

The crux of the disquiet lay in the very English relationship between man and dog. It raised a serious debate about whether having a dog was a luxury or a natural part of being human. The tax tapped into questions about the emotional bond between the two. By putting a tax on dogs it implied a shift in relationship from one of nurturing and caring, to servility and subordination – and dog owners were enraged. To many this was tantamount to taxing spouses and children, and people weren’t happy. This wasn’t about the financial aspect of the tax, but the moral implication and feelings ran high.

Those that supported the bill pointed out that pet dogs were a luxury, and consumed food that could have been better used to feed the poor. Opponents argued back that to need things beyond the essential – such as a dog – was a distinctly human trait. These people considered pets to be their friends, and putting a tax on them turned the language of friendship to that of slavery and service.

Interestingly, the idea behind the dog tax may have originated in France (the very country the English needed to raise funds to fight!) In 1770 a French census suggested a population of four million dogs –an arthimetric extrapolation of the amount of food they consumed was equivalent to feeding a sixth of the population. The French dog tax was proposed to discourage dog ownership, as a means of disease control and to increase food availability.

A rabid dog in a coffee shop.
It was diseases such as rabies that the French tax was aimed at controlling.
French authorities also insisted dogs belonging to the poor spread disease – especially rabies. This was considered a disease of dirty and hungry dogs, so poor labourers who – “Can scarcely feed themselves” should be discouraged from owning dogs by means of a tax. The difference between France and England was that in the former the tax remained as a proposition, whereas in the later it was acted upon. 
Whatever the moral argument the English government won in the end – the Dog Tax was imposed and stayed in place until 1882.


Click for a link to 'Fall in Love with History'.

Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace lives near London and is passionate about history, romance and cats! She is housekeeping staff to five cats, two sons, one husband and a bearded dragon (not necessarily listed in order of importance). Verity’s Lie is Grace’s fourth novel.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Sir Francis Beaufort - The Man Who Caught the Wind

by Arthur Russell

Portrait of Sir Francis Beaufort
The Beaufort Scale for measuring the strength of wind was developed by Sir Francis Beaufort who was born in Navan, Co. Meath, Ireland on 27th May 1774. He was the son of Daniel Augustus Beaufort, a Protestant clergyman and member of the Royal Irish Academy who had himself created a new map of Ireland in 1792. 

The Beaufort household into which Francis was born was located on Flower Hill in the provincial town of Navan. The old house where he was born and reared survived until very recently but eventually succumbed to the “development mania” that plagued Celtic Tiger Ireland in the last decades of the twentieth century. A modern apartment complex now occupies part of the site where the rambling Beaufort house once stood. All that now shows where the scientist was born is a simple plaque which has been erected under a large tree in front of a school which has also been erected on the site.

The Beauforts of Navan were descended from French Huguenot refugees who had come to Ireland in the aftermath of the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day during the 17th century religious wars in France.

As a young man, Francis showed early interest in the sea and joined the British Navy. By the time he had reached his 16th birthday, he had already experienced shipwreck. The fact that this was caused by faulty charts fuelled his interest in hydrography and the creation of accurate nautical charts. 

He saw his share of action in the Napoleonic Wars and was seriously wounded on HMS Phaeton in the course of the capture of the 14-gun polocca Calpe near Malaga in 1800.  During his convalescence from this, he spent 2 years helping his brother-in-law, Richard Lovell Edgeworth (father of Maria Edgeworth, authoress of Castle Rackrent), in the construction of a semaphore line between Dublin and Galway which was capable of transmitting messages across the breadth of Ireland in 8 minutes. He refused to be paid for this work, preferring to subsist on the meagre naval pension being paid to him.  

When he recovered his health, he returned to active naval duty and was quickly made ship’s captain. During his time at sea, he immersed himself in taking readings at sea, updating and creating new charts and he virtually educated himself to the point where he became recognized as a leading expert in sea charts and nautical maps.

Plaque in front of school on 
Flower Hill, Navan, Co Meath
It was during these years that Beaufort developed his earliest version of a wind force scale and weather notation coding which he continued to use and perfect during his scientific career. 

Where his colleagues sought leisurely pursuits, Beaufort spent his leisure time taking soundings and bearings, making astronomical observations to determine latitude and longitude, and measuring shorelines, which he assiduously applied to new improved chart. Beaufort’s first ship command, HMS Woolwich, afforded him a unique opportunity to conduct a detailed hydrographic survey of the Rio de la Plata estuary in  South America

Experts in the British Admiralty were very impressed by the completed survey that Beaufort brought back to them. Most notably, Alexander Dalrymple, the first hydrographer of the British Admiralty, remarked in a note to the Admiralty in March 1808: 

"‘Captain Beaufort did more in the month he was in the Plate to acquire a correct knowledge of its dangers, than was done by everyone together before. We have few officers (indeed I do not know one) in our Service who have half his professional knowledge and ability, and in zeal and perseverance he cannot be excelled".

What was most remarkable about all this was the fact that Beaufort was largely self-educated and demonstrated masterly knowledge and had established himself as a pioneer in his chosen field. As such he was destined to rub shoulders with some of the greatest scientists and mathematicians of his time. Among these were John Herschel, George Airy, and Charles Babbage.

The Beaufort Wind Scale
Perhaps his most enduring and well known legacy is the Beaufort Windscale which is a methodology for measuring the strength of the wind as it impacted on sailing ships and later steam ships which replaced them during the 19th century. Ways of measuring wind was not a new idea in nautical circles. Beaufort’s achievement was the fact that he was able to have his system universally accepted; where no standardised system existed before.

The first proposed scale presented in 1806, ranged from calm (0) up to storm force (level 13) in which wind strength was correlated with the amount of sail a full-rigged ship would carry appropriate to the wind conditions. It was first used officially by Robert Fitzroy in 1831 and thereafter adopted by the British Admiralty in 1838. As sail gave way to steam the scale was modified by defining levels in terms of the state of the sea or wind speed.

A long and distinguished career
In 1811–1812, shortly after being promoted to Captain, Beaufort charted and explored southern Anatolia in Turkey and succeeded in locating many classical ruins there. An attack on the crew of his boat at Ayas, near Adana, by Turks in which he sustained a serious bullet wound in the hip, interrupted his work. He returned to England and drew up the charts based on records and readings taken during his time there. He also published his book, Karamania, in 1817, which is a brief description of the South Coast of Asia Minor and of the remains of Antiquity he had explored.

Chief Hydographer of the Admiralty
In 1829, at the relatively late age of 55 years, when most seamen would be expected to retire from active service, Beaufort was appointed British Admiralty Hydographer of the Navy, a post he held for a further 25 years. During this period of his long and distinguished career, Beaufort converted what had been a minor chart repository into the finest surveying and charting institution in the world. Some of the excellent charts the Office produced during Beaufort’s time are still in use. 

One of the practices he introduced to the office he led for so long and which is still meticulously followed, is that no chart or other document may ever be published by the Hydrographic Office without first undergoing the Chief Hydrographer’s personal scrutiny. He took also over the administration of the great astronomical  observatories at Greenwich, London and at the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and directed some of the major maritime explorations and experiments of the time. Among these, he directed the Arctic Council during its search for the explorer, Sir John Franklin, who was tragically lost in his last polar voyage in search of the North-west Passage between the North Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

Beaufort’s link with the voyage of HMS Beagle
Beaufort trained Robert Fitzroy, who was put in temporary command of the survey ship HMS Beagle after the ship’s previous captain had committed suicide. When FitzRoy was reappointed as Commander for the famous second voyage of the Beagle he requested Beaufort "that a well-educated and scientific gentleman be sought" to accompany the voyage. Beaufort's enquiries led to an invitation to Charles Darwin, who subsequently drew on observations made during the voyage to formulate his theory of evolution which he presented in his book, The Origin of Species.

As a council member of the Royal Society, the Royal Observatory, and the Royal Geographic Society, of which he was a founder member, Beaufort used his administrative position to interact with the most prominent scientists of his time. Beaufort recommended the geographers, astronomers, oceanographers, geodesists, and meteorologists to the Hydrographic Office, and gave significant support to many research projects.

Overcoming many objections, Beaufort obtained government support for the Antarctic voyage of 1839–1843 by James Clark Ross, which investigated the Earth’s Magnetic forces.

Plaque marks Beaufort's birth
He also promoted the development of reliable tide tables for Great Britain and Ireland which motivated similar research elsewhere in Europe and North America. He supported his friend William Whewell, and attracted the support of the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, in expanding record-keeping at 200 British Coast Guard stations. Beaufort gave enthusiastic support to his friend, the Astronomer Royal and noted mathematician Sir George Airy in achieving a historic period of measurements by the Greenwich and Good Hope observatories.

It is a measure of the regard in which he was held, that he finally retired from the Royal Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral on 1st October 1846, at the relatively advanced age of 72 years. Two years later, in April 1848 he was appointed Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB) and was henceforth known as Sir Francis Beaufort.

Beaufort’s private life had its share of scandal which did not become public until after his death when portions of his private memoirs, written in a cipher developed by himself, were deciphered. It appears that from 1835, until he married Honora Edgeworth in November 1839; he had an incestuous relationship with his sister Harriet. The entries also show he was tortured by guilt over the relationship.

This son of Navan, Co. Meath, who contributed so much to the world of nautical science, as well as to our understanding of the oceans and seas which occupies 71% of the surface of the planet on which we live, died on Dec 17th 1857 and is buried in St John’s Church Gardens in London.

Arthur Russell lives in Navan, Co Meath where the subject of this post, Sir Francis Beaufort, was born in 1774. He is author of the historical fiction book Morgallion which was published in April 2012 and is available in paperback and e-book format. (Ref - Morgallion is set in the 14th century at the time of the Edward Bruce led Scottish invasion of Ireland to claim the High-Kingship of Ireland and establish an Irish Bruce dynasty.