Friday, February 26, 2010

A Country Parson: James Woodforde's Diary 1759-1802

After twenty years of searching and waiting, I finally got a copy of an edited version of James Woodforde's diary - the diary that Miss Read of Fairacre fame reads in the series by Dora Jessie Saint, a.k.a. "Miss Read."

This particular edition (and there are quite a few out there) is titled A Country Parson: James Woodforde's Diary 1759-1802 and contains a foreword by John Julius Norwich and an introduction by Ronald Blythe. It is also beautifully illustrated with watercolors from the contemporaneous Norwich School of painting.

In his foreword, John Julius Norwich writes:

"Parson James Woodforde is, as a diarist, unlike any other I know. He has none of the driving ambition of Pepys, none of the self-conscious turgidity of Evelyn, none of the literary snobbery of William Allingham..., none of the suave sophistication of Harold Nicolson."

"Woodforde is the eighteenth century through and through. He strives for no effects, he pretends to no elevated sentiments, he doesn't care a row of beans whether anybody reads him or not. He is no great intellectual, nor would he ever claim to be; but there is an earthy, no-nonsense quality that his parishioners must surely have appreciated. To them, as to us, he is superbly approachable. He was, I suspect, a first-rate parson."

Ronald Blythe gives a bit of the history of the diary and the many aspects of 18th century life that Woodforde daily records: food, health, medical treatment, prices, travel, domestic arrangements, etc.

Each day's entry is short, ordinary, yet satisfying in its revelation of the life of one man at one time in one place.

November 12, 1787 - ...Soon after breakfast I walked out a Coursing and took Ben and the Boy with me, did not return till near three, afternoon, we had tolerable Sport, coursed one Hare and a couple of Rabbitts, all of whom we killed, it was a very large Hare. I think I never knew so pleasant a day so far in November, it was more like Summer than Autumn. I was very indifferent the whole Day, could eat but very little for Dinner being over fatigued and likewise my Spirits but very bad.



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