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Letter:
Susanna Strickland to James and Emma Bird
Date:
January 1831
Collection:
Susanna Moodie Collection (National Archives of Canada)
ID:
2

21 Chandos Street
Middleton Square
Pentonville
[late January 1831]1

I really deserve your everlasting anger if your anger, which at all times must be like the dew upon Summer Grass, could last so long...Circumstances have induced me to break off my engagement with Mr. Moodie and my mind has been so intently occupied with this unhappy business that I could think of nothing else. How is this I hear you say. Ah! friend Bird our engagement was too hasty. I have changed my mind. You may call me a jilt a flirt or what you please, I care not. I will neither marry a soldier nor leave my country for ever and feel happy that I am once more my own mistress. My visit with the dear never to be forgotten Pringles terminated last night. I parted with them with deep regret which was only softened by the pleasing conviction that from this time till the 21st of April I shall live within five minutes walk of them. I have become intimately acquainted with Miss Lawrence the author of London in the Olden Time,2 with Mr. and Mrs. Leitch Ritchie both of whom I love much,3 with Mr. and Mrs. Lee, and Derwent Conway and his wife.4 They all live quite near to me and Leitch has promised to help me on in the literary world. I admire him, he is a noble generous creature and his wife a sweet amiable young woman. By the strong recommendation of my friends I have been induced to board with a family (Harral's old friends the Jones's) for the next three months and to try my fortune in the world of letters. I am to pay £12 s10 per quarter. I have a nice back drawing room to write in and share Miss Jane Jones's bed. I hope to get on and prosper. All my friends promise to call upon me in my new home. Am I not a venturesome girl! Ah! I have seen a great many strangers and have been shown up at Martin the Engravers5 for a Lioness. I am almost tired with compliments and sick of flattering encomiums on my genius. How these men in London do talk. I learn daily to laugh at their fine love speeches. I was disappointed in Martin. Instead of the grand looking man I imagined from his pictures I saw an elegant dandefied little fellow who looked the favored favorite of the drawing room. He and his wife treated me with distinction and I have an invite for every Monday night to their grand converzationes but I have not since availed myself of it. I saw Allen Cunningham, Hobart Caunter, Mr. Ogle, Daniell the Painter, Whiston the musician, Mr. Picken, the author of The Church and the Meeting House, and a host of Mr__'s whose names I could not catch.6 The Evening passed better than I expected and would have been very pleasant only I left a charming party of friends behind. It was provoking to be forced to go to a Lion rant on such an Evening!...I have been reviewing books for Mr. Pringle and I said just what I thought of Kennedy's Only Son...Leitch Ritchie's Romance of History. Both are excellent in their way. I like reviewing very much indeed but I fear Mr. Swain will not like what I say of his . But 'tis the truth and then to make up for a few critical scratches I extracted the two very best passages in the vol7 ...The thoughts of Revolution here have died away. We are as quiet as possible and all fear seems now confined to country places. I saw by accident Hunt's procession into Islington. I think my dear friend Bird you would have laughed yourself into pleurisy. It was indeed

March my boys in your radical rags
Handle your sticks and flourish your flags.

Mr. Hunt upon a milk white steed most like a Farmer bold, rode foremost of the company in hopes to win some gold. Then came the incomparable blacking mass filled with trumpeters who had expended all their breath before they arrived at Islington and dirty blacking boys who with red Cockades upon their hats shouted 'Hunt for ever' and 'Radical Reform' till our ears would gladly have shut themselves against their teeth jarring jargon. The procession stayed so long at the toll gate that I verily believe they had no money to pay. The farmers carried long poles with red streamers and wound about with whisps of Hay. Whilst gazing upon this motley band of rag tag notoriety I discovered that M.P. after Henry Hunt's name signified 'mischievous person.' Do not you think I am right?8

     I have been writing Mr. Pringle's black Mary's life from her own dictation and for her benefit adhering to her own simple story and language without deviating to the paths of flourish or romance. It is a pathetic little history and is now printing in the form of a pamphlet to be laid before the Houses of Parliament. Of course my name does not appear. Mr. Pringle has added a very interesting appendix and I hope the work will do much good...I have given away most of your Prospectuses9 but I am sorry to say with no success.

     You will be surprised when I tell you I met Mr. Burmeister10 in Paternoster Row. The new Rector seemed delighted to recognize me, his old antagonist, and greeted me with 'How now my little Neophyte, what makes you prowling about Paternoster Row?'... Among other rarities I have heard the celebrated Edward Irving preach. It was worth enduring a state of suffocation to see and hear him make his defence from the Pulpit. I never took my eyes from off this strange apparition. Methought some man has escaped from St. Luke's or that Legion [and] before he was restored of his right mind had taken possession of the Pulpit. If you never saw him imagine a tall man with high aquiline features and a complexion darkly brilliant with long raven love locks hanging down to his waist, his sleeves so short as to show part of his naked arms and his person arrayed in the costume of the old reformers and you see Edward Irving. Then his attitudes. No posture master ever studied the grotesque more successfully than this extraordinary man. He is like the extravaganzas of the early romance writers and seems to belong to a bygone age.11

     You know doubtless from Katie that Tom before he went to sea married Miss Thompson. She is a lovely creature and the idol of all who see her. I feel quite proud of my gazetted sister.

Notes

1. This date seems likely – shortly after she completed her agreement to stay with the Jones's, an agreement that was to terminate on 21 April.

2. A regular contributor to London magazines and the annuals, H. Lawrance was an historical writer and novelist; her regular contributions to Friendship's Offering suggest friendship with Thomas Pringle.

3. Leitch Ritchie (1800–65), a Scot who became a well-known literary figure in London, enjoying particularly warm relations with Pringle and Allan Cunningham, was perhaps best known for his numerous books descriptive of continental tours and picturesque scenery and for readable history such as The Romance of French History (1831), which Susanna reviewed for the Athenaeum.

4. Derwent Conway (1795–1835) was the pseudonym of Henry D. Inglis, another Scot and a specialist in charming books of travel and romance; he also contributed regularly to various magazines and annuals, and as a close friend of Pringle's took over the editing of Friendship's Offering upon the latter's death in 1834.

5. John Martin (1789–1854), one of the most inventive and popular artists in London, was noted for his large-scale, apocalyptic canvasses, rivalling J.M.W. Turner and Sir Thomas Lawrence in reputation. His engravings for the various annuals were much sought-after; certainly, his illustrations were almost universally praised as the outstanding feature of the giftbook trade. From 1825 to 1835 he made his home at Allsep Terrance, New Road, the venue of his weekly 'Evenings at Home' or Conversaziones, where the talented and arrivistes of English art, science, and literature might regularly be met.

6. The Rev. Hobart Caunter (1794–1851) contributed to several annuals in this period; Thomas Daniell (1749–1840) was a landscape painter and member of the Royal Academy; Mr. Ogle may have been Nathaniel Ogle, an early writer on Australia who contributed a poem to the Forget-Me-Not in 1830.

7. While it is not clear what editorial capacity Pringle held with the Athenaeum or whether Susanna wrote other reviews that these, she did review William Kennedy's Only Son on 1 January 1831 (&), Charles Swain's Beauties of the Mind, a Poetical Sketch with Lays Historical and Romantic on 22 January 1831 (57), and Leitch Ritchie's Romance of History on 11 December 1830 (770). Swain (1801–74) was a prolific contributor to the annuals.

8. Henry Hunt, born in 1773 in Wiltshire, was a farmer and a politician. His experience of the sufferings of the poor and the rural administration of his own district inclined him to radical views, and his egotistical and belligerent spirit found expression in much political activity. The parade witnessed by Susanna was a public entry into London arranged by Hunt to mark the occasion of his assuming a seat in Parliament on 3 February 1831. Her perception matched that of a contemporary, Sir Samuel Romiks, who described Hunt as 'a most unprincipled demagogue.' Hunt was to lose his seat in 1833, but before that time took full advantage of the parliamentary platform to attack the ministerial plan of reform, to demand the ballot and universal suffrage, to assail royal grants, and to move for the repeal of the Corn Laws. He died two years later in 1835.

9. For Bird's Framlingham

10. George Burmeister, for a brief period during 1829 and 1830 official Anglican minister of Southwold

11. Edward Irving (1792–1834), a Scottish minister and strong advocate of a Scottish national church, was a prominent public figure in London. His extraordinary abilities in the pulpit combined with unusual features of personal appearance (he was apparently tall, gaunt, and had a curious squint) to draw Londoners of all classes and persuasions to his services at the chapel of the Caledonian church in Hatton Garden. St Luke's Asylum or Hospital for Lunatics, a huge institution on Old Street in London, dates from 1751.

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