Thursday, February 2, 2012

Now THIS Is Fun!

 I’ve never been a temptress before, but over the last few days with some help from the likes of Frances Browne Stewart, her kin and some of the other memorable characters I’ve come to know through Voices at Hand I’ve managed to get a taste of what it must be like.

On Wednesday, stationed opposite the circulation desk in the Bata Library, close to the foot of the stairs, folk pulled up chairs for a reading, claimed they just had time for one and stayed for four. I know I heard things like “My parking is going to run out:” “I’m really at work;” I’m supposed to be studying,” but when I looked up from a letter or paused for a sip of water they leaned in closer.

I met Frances, her family and friends last week when I visited the Trent University Archives to scan correspondence from the collection in preparation for this residency. Jodie Aoki, the head archivist set us up.

Jodi had a binder opened to a transcription of a letter written by Frances in her new home on the banks of the Otonabee River. Peterborough residents will know the Stewarts from the street and school named for Frances husband, Thomas A. Stewart.  They were among the first settlers in the area, their ‘loghouse’ situated were TAS Secondary School now stands.

I was drawn in immediately.

Douro Loghouse Feb 24 1823 
 Well my dear friends we are at last at home, and although we must bear a good deal of inconvenience for some time yet we felt real enjoyment beyond any we may have had for many a long weary month...
 On Monday morning February 10 at ½ past 9 o’clock we left Cobourg – Tom  & I on one seat with Elly stuck between us, Betty, AM & Bessy sat before us – Mr Parker our Charoiteer in front of all- We had besides 3 blankets to roll about our feet & knees a great many coats & cloaks & a bag of bread, & a basket of cold meat so we were pretty tightly packed. We had another Sleigh full of luggage of all sorts, bedding, trunks tubs baskets, & on top were 2 baskets of livestock – in one a goose & gander, in another a Pullet & kitten, our servant boy sat to take care of them and Cartouche and Douro, another dog sat beside him, - we formed a very ludicrous cavalcade I assure you – We went twenty miles that day, & had a very pleasant drive through miles & miles of forest & I was delighted with this new scene to see - Every now & then we came to small clearings with Loghouses, & a generally good stock of cattle and poultry near the houses...
 The next morning soon after daylight & breakfast, we set out again on our journey...all our road through thick wood – indeed the road scarcely deserved the name for it was merely a thick track through snow where one or two sleighs had lately passed – We doubled & turned through the branches & between trees * often had showers of snow from branches above us which our heads touched – The boughs of the beautiful Hemlock pine were loaded with snow & often they bent down so low that we were obliged to lie down, to be able to pass under them - We were 2 or 3 times obliged to stop & cut a pass for our Sleighs  where trees had fallen across the road – This day we drove the distance of 9 miles through woods without seeing any habitation except a few huts of Indians _ I told you in a former letter that the Hemlock pine in this country was the same as our Arbor Vitae – but I was mistaken – Arbor Vitae is called Cedar here& is common in marshy ground & on the banks of rivers  - They grow large & spread their branches to a great distance – The Hemlock pine is a much prettier tree – its leaf is a dark green & when rubbed has a sweet smell – it grows very high and is feathered down to the ground & is quite a pretty evergreen here – indeed this & the Cedar are the only trees that I have seen here that can be called evergreen – except the different pines.

The letters are long and often I feel compelled to skip over passages, as I have done here, so that I can compare one to another. A letter to Frances from her family in Ireland written in Feb 20 1823 is a gossipy counterpoint that I will have to footnote to include it in The Juicy News. When I read it on Wednesday, the women I was reading it to would not hear of me shortening it even with the threat of expired parking tickets.

We were at a pleasant ball at Mr Graingers about 3 weeks ago- He and his sister are a very nice pleasing pair, & there were several nice beaux amongst them, our new acquisition in the country (Mr Winter) a great favourite of mine & by far the pleasanter partner at the ball I ever had — He has all poor Charles Wade’s liveliness, without any conceit what ever, & as Mama Noble says, “he seems to think it not necessary to be a fool to please the ladies” —  I think the race of beaux improved in this country certainly since the Continent has been opened to polish them — I told you in my last I believe that the poor Berrys of Middleton are actually ruined. Middleton and all the furniture were sold last week publically by the Sherriff — It is a sad time this certainly...In short the people high and low seem to be just mad —  Poor Mr Tisdall has been laid up in Dublin at Mr Alex Hamiltons in a fever, but is better He would be a dreadful loss to those thousand little children that he has  — Old Granny Gerard is really dying at last poor woman — She now has Dropsy on her chest  & she cannot recover they say — Mary Anne Garnet is just going to be confined again for the forth time — She is a great rabbit She married just two years after you — She is a poor douny indolent looking thing — it tires one to look at her...
Frances and co. are developing a following at Gzowski College as well. I’m installed there now for the balance of my residency in a high traffic area by a bank of south facing windows. From where I sit just over a rise I can see a bit of the Otonabee.  Before and after classes the atrium is flooded with students. Early in the afternoon Frances made a few of them late for class. Later a letter written on Adolf Hitler’s letterhead was to blame. Who will be to blame tomorrow? 

No comments:

Post a Comment