This year I'm looking at some of the entries in the "The Diary of a Country Parson". This was a diary kept by an English clergyman, James Woodforde (1740-1803). Woodforde lived in Somerset and Norfolk, and kept a diary for 45 years recording all kind of ordinary incidents which paint a picture of the routines and concerns of what Ian Hislop terms "the middling folk" of 18th century rural England.
A few notes on the text:
A Skip Jack, according to "The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue" by Francis Grose, in this context refers to "Youngsters that ride horses on sale, horse-dealers boys." The term "Lady Day" referred to in the same paragraph is the traditional name of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (25 March)
Woodforde has toothache, and there is a rather graphic description of a tooth being removed. Dentist was a word only just coming into use:
The term 'dentist' first appeared in the 18th century. The French dentist Pierre Fauchard published his treatise Le Chirurgien Dentiste in 1728. This set out for the first time everything that was known about dental disease with full case histories and illustrations of how to deal with it. Never before had every aspect of dentistry been fully expounded in a single work. There were chapters on scaling the teeth, filing them, false teeth, extraction and moving teeth for orthodontic purposes. (1)
But extraction was still very primitive and painful:
Even those treated by the most eminent practitioners were in for an agonising time, according to a rare book about the dental techniques of the period.
Written in 1770 by Thomas Berdmore, who was considered to be the outstanding dentist in England, it makes eye-watering reading. Addressing the subject of 'how to bring teeth which are ill into beautiful order', he wrote: 'Pass gold wire from the neighbouring teeth on either side, in such a manner as to press upon what stands out of the line.' The alternative, Berdmore suggested, was to 'break the teeth into order by means of a strong pair of crooked pliers'.
Berdmore, known as 'Operator for the Teeth' to King George III, also recalled being summoned to examine a patient left in a 'terrible state' by a botched extraction. He wrote: 'A young woman aged 23 went to a barber dentist to have the left molaris tooth of the upper jaw on the right side taken out. ' On the second attempt he brought away the affected tooth together with a piece of jawbone as big as a walnut and three neighbouring molars.' (2)
Berdmore was, however, the first dentist to warn in print that sugar could be bad for the teeth, mentioned in his 'A Treatise on the Disorders and Deformities of the Teeth and Gums and the Most Rational Methods of Treating Them"(1768)
Woodforde wishes his sister - " Pray God! they may have a safe and pleasant journey." Journeys in the 18th century could be fraught with danger. The roads were often in a bad state:
"The roads grew bad, beyond all badness, the night dark, beyond all darkness, the guide frightened beyond all frightfulness" says Horace Walpole (1717 - 1797) speaking of a journey from Tonbridge to Penshurst. The roads, in many parts of England, were very bad. In Sussex they were generally so impassable in winter that the judges on circuit refused to hold the assizes at Lewes, the county town. They struggled down as far as Guildford or Horsham and waited there for prisoners, constables and jurymen to plough through the mud as best they might. In Devon there were no roads west of Exeter, which could be used for wheeled traffic. "This infernal road was most execrably vile with ruts four feet deep" is Arthur Young's description of a road between Preston and Wigan. (3)
And the coaches were not spring-loaded. Travelling was a feat of endurance:
These old coaches had no springs, and what the jolting over those bad roads must have been we cannot conceive. People complained about them, delicate women would not travel in them, the poet Cowper, a timid man, begs for his friends' prayers as he is about to take a journey. (4)
Here then is October, as it was back in the 18th century...
October - The Diary of a Country Parson
OCT. 6. . . . My Maid Molly, I think, is a good deal better. Widow Greaves here again all Day and Night.
OCT. 7. . . . Jack told me this morning that he is advised to get another Place being too old for a SkipJack any longer. He wants to be a Plow Boy to some Farmer to learn the farming Business as he likes that best -- I told him that he was very right to try to better himself, and at Lady Day next he is to leave my House for that purpose. He has been a very good Lad ever since he has been here. Widow Greaves here again all Day and Night.
OCT. 10. . . . My New Maid (in Betty's Place) Sally Dunnell came here this Evening, which was sooner than we expected her by a Day -- but we contrived for her to sleep here &c. tho' my other Maid nor Mrs. Greaves were as yet gone. They all slept here to night. I published Bettys Banns for the last time this Aft: at Church -- I suppose she will marry very soon. My new Maid seems to be a mighty strapping Wench.
OCT. 11. . . . After breakfast paid my Maid Eliz: Claxton who leaves me to day, three Qrs Wages -- being 4. 7. 0. She breakfasted here and left us about 11 this Morn'. Paid Mrs. Greaves also for the Time she has been with us this Morning at 6d Pr Day 0. 5. 0. She had both Victuals and Lodging here also. She left us about the same Time. Mrs. Custance with her eldest Son made us a long Morning Visit from 12 till 2 o'clock. Gave poor old Mary Dicker this Morn' 0. 1. 0. She came to pay Rent for her House belonging to the poor Widows of this Parish.
OCT. 14. . . . Finding my new Maid (who came as Cook to us) to know nothing of her business, I therefore this Evening gave her notice that she must leave my Service and as soon as possible -- I believe her to be a good natured Girl but very ignorant.
OCT. 15. . . . My new Maid Sally Dunnell left my Service this Morn'. Gave the Maid as she was going away for the Time she had been here at 6d per Day 0. 3. 0. To Mr. Dade a Poor Rate for Land in hand at 10d 1. 5. 2 ½. To Mr. Cary for things from Norwich &c. for last Week 16. 4 ¼. To my Niece Nancy for things pd 0. 8. 6. Mr. Custance made us a long Morning Visit. Mr. Hall from Hampshire and a Mr. Fellowes of Haviland a Gentleman of great Fortune and Member for Andover called here on horseback whilst Mr. Custance was with us -- I went to them and spoke with them, but they would not get of their Horses -- having not time. My poor Maid Molly Dade, not so well to day as I could wish her, having somewhat of a Fever on her. She is one of the best Maids that ever we had and very much liked by us both and would wish to keep her but am very much afraid it will not be in our Power tho' we are both most willing to keep her. She is one of the neatest, most modest, pretty Girl[s] I ever had. She is very young, but tall, only in her 17th year. Ben went early this Morning beyond Dereham to buy me a Cow, now in her full profit, but could not. It was at a Sale of Colonel Dickens's near Dereham. Widow Greaves came to us again this Evening to be with us till we can get another Maid -- I sent for her.
OCT. 19. . . . I sent my Maid Molly Dade this morning behind Ben to Mattishall, to stay a few Days at home, to see if change of Air would do her Cough good. Her Sister Betty, continues in her Place. Poor Molly is as good a Girl as ever came into a House, I never had a Servant that I liked better -- Nancy also likes her very much indeed -- I wish to God she might get the better of her illness. Widow Greaves still with us and at present likely so to be.
OCT. 10. . . . In the Afternoon my Maid Molly Peachman left my Service, being to be married to Morrow Morning. I paid her for 11 Months Wages at 5. 5. 0. Pr Ann. 4. 16. 6. She paid me out of it, what I lent her being 1. 1. 0.
OCT. 11. . . . I went to Church this morning and Married my late Maid, Molly Peachman to one Js Shipley by Banns. Received for marrying them only 0. 2. 6. having had half a Crown before on publishing the Banns. Hambleton Custance, with his two Brothers George and William, with their Nurse Maid were present at the Marriage being a very fine morning.
OCT. 12. . . . I sent after my New Maid, Nanny Kaye, this Afternoon to Hockering, she returned home about 7 o'clock.
OCT. 22. . . . Had a Letter this Evening from my Sister Pounsett in which she mentions that Nancy's Brother Willm is coming into Norfolk to see us. My Man Briton had a new Suit of Livery brought home this Evening from Norwich, with a very good new great Coat of Brown Cloth and red Cape to it. I told Briton that I gave neither to him, but only to wear them during his Service with me.
OCT. 24. . . . The Tooth-Ach so very bad all night and the same this Morn' that I sent for John Reeves the Farrier who lives at the Hart and often draws Teeth for People, to draw one for me. He returned with my Man about 11 o'clock this Morning and he pulled it out for me the first Pull, but it was a monstrous Crash and more so, it being one of the Eye Teeth, it had but one Fang but that was very long. I gave Johnny Reeves for drawing it 0. 2. 6. A great pain in the Jaw Bone continued all Day and Night but nothing so bad as the Tooth Ach. To Mr. Cary for things from Norwich &c. pd o. 8. 8.
OCT. 5. . . . Gave Briton Leave to go and see his Friends at Reepham to day being Reepham Petty Sessions. About 1 o'clock Mr. Walker, with Mrs. Davy and her Daughter came to my House in a one Horse Chaise and they dined and spent the Aft. here, drank Tea at 5. and returned home soon after to Foulsham. A Servant Man came with them. We had for Dinner a Loin of Veal rosted, some hashed Hare and a Damson Pye. Mr. Walker looked very unwell as did Betsy. Briton returned home about 8 this Evening.
OCT. 16, FRIDAY. I breakfasted, dined, &c again at home. To a poor old man of Hockering by name Thomas Ram, having lost a Cow gave 0. 2. 6. Brewed another Barrell of Table Beer to day. Sad News from France all anarchy and Confusion. The King, Queen and Royal Family confined at Paris. The Soldiers joined the People, many murdered.
OCT. 24, SATURDAY. . . . Sent Briton early this Morning to Norwich with my little Cart after many things. Recd for 2 small Piggs of Tom Carr's Wife 12. 0. Briton returned from Norwich about 4 o'clock brought me a long and pleasing Letter from my Sister Pounsett, whom I thank God to find by her writing that she is better in health. She also informed us that my Brother John and Wife and Mrs. Richd Clarke, intend setting out for Norfolk in about a fortnights time to spend the Winter with us. We shall be very happy to see them. Pray God! they may have a safe and pleasant journey.
OCT. 31, SATURDAY. . . . Very high Wind with much Rain in the Night but about 5 o'clock this Morn' it was highest, it shook the House, but thank God we received no damage. It was a very strong N. N. Easterly Wind. It blew down a great many apples and split a large weeping Willow in the Rasberry Garden.
André Maurois knew the problem - Maurois was a quotable French author of the early 20th century. One quote of his that came very much to mind on a couple of occassions last week is (in...
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