Fred’s entries for the first three days of January 1879 are by far the longest entries he writes, taking up several pages and include lists of resolutions, a passage on personal “stocktaking”, and several tables reviewing his work attendance, study, and a breakdown of his expenditure. (I’ll split this into two posts, or it will get very long, and take a look at what he was spending his money on next time.) It’s a beautiful window into how Fred sees himself, and the hyper-focus on self-improvement seems almost overwhelming. I think Fred tried very hard to be ‘a good boy’.
After quoting a verse from Alfred Tennyson’s poem ‘Ring Out Wild Bells’ (who was the Poet Laureate at the time) Fred writes:
“This is the day in which (figuratively) speaking people “turn over new leaves “, and I conform to the general custom, not because it is a general custom, but because I firmly believe it to be a means of good. For instance, if a person is of a ruminating turn of mind, he or she may, on the last day of the old year look back through the past; perhaps with regret for the lost opportunities, time wasted, and it may be with pleasure for some things that may have been done or said, then from the past examine the present, physically, morally, intellectually, socially, + financially.
Then from the present look forward to the future, perhaps making good resolutions for the future observance and guidance, and confirming old ones, I will endeavour to carry out this plan.”
Fred is definitely coming across as a person of “a ruminating turn of mind” which I can see is both a wonderful strength because it seems to be his foundation of soaking up every learning opportunity, and something of a weakness because it causes him much worry. (I wonder if I have inherited this set of particular chunk of DNA)
Fred then has “A brief retrospect of the past” in which he mentions his regret in courting a Miss Clara Beck of Worksop who never spoke to him after he sent her a valentine, and that he attended the Sheffield Church of England Institute to study Mathematics. He doesn’t touch on the subject of Janie at all, but dives straight into:
“Now for the present (this would be called in commerce, stocktaking.)
(a) Physically. Height 5’.9”. Best of health. Weight 10 stone 13 lbs. Can play Cricket, Football, swim, skate, row. etc. Chest measurement [space left but not filled in]
(b) Morally. Never swear, or have any intercourse with women.
(c) Intellectually. Above average. I have fair knowledge of Arithmetic, Algebra (as far as equations), Shorthand (Correspondence style) Grammar (cannot parse or analyse) Euclid ([up] to Propositions of 1st book).
(d) Socially. Lower class. Have a good many acquaintances, but few friends. Reckoned good conversational powers. A lot of information, but it is not classified, and not very ready. Trade Clerk, doing Rail Mill work, at Messrs Brown, Bayley and Dixon’s, Attercliffe. Financially. Not very prosperous. Ready money 5/11 in Post office 2/5. Total total 8/4. 25/- per week salary 14/- per week board.”
The average height of a man in the UK in the 1870’s was 5’5” so Fred was tall by the standards of the day. I need to do more research but his study appears to be heading into higher education territory. ‘Euclid’s Elements’ was still used at a textbook for teaching mathematics and geometry well into the first half of 20th century. This page on wikisource rather pleasingly features the beginning of Propositions – which is the point Fred had reached in 1879. At the time all university students were expected to have an understanding of at least part of ‘Elements’. While Fred didn’t go to university – it would have been difficult to get there from his starting point – it looks like he is endeavouring to educate himself to that level.
My heart aches a little for Fred, he seems to be trying to be fair but humble in his description of himself. He’s proud of his achievements but from this and future letters, I get the feeling he feels his class and lack of opportunities – but it also drives him to push himself. I want to find out more about the educational establishments in Sheffield at the time where men like Fred could continue to study after leaving school. As to his conversational powers and friendships, I get the impression that while Fred may have lacked confidence here, people liked having him around and sought him out despite an element of natural shyness.
In the next section Fred sets out his plans:
“Now as to the future. I make the following resolutions, which with the help of God I intend to keep.
1. That I get up every morning at 5.0am, and I go to bed at 10pm, and be at work at 9am.
2. That I practice the utmost economy of time and money.
3. That I never swear, or use bad language of any kind, nor lose my temper on any pretext whatever.
4. That I will not read over meals, and not eat too much at meals, nor have more than three meals a day.
5. To endeavour to get complete control over myself.
6. That I will read as few novels as possible, but rather incline to Biography.
7. That I get as much study as possible, I propose to carry out the following plan.
8. That I refrain from speaking ill of anyone.
9. That I get as much muscular exercise as possible, having due regard to Res 7.
10. That I will be at church on Sunday morning not later than 10:30 AM, not 6:30 PM.
11. That I endeavour to learn something.
12. To enter up every day particulars of the previous day’s Events and Expenditure. The result of the system of taking account of the time that I get up, get to work, go to bed; is as follows, a. b. + c. being the several times, mins late.
I did not commence very well this year as it was 7’.40” this morning when I got up and 11.45 when I went to bed. Had a long walk with Janie in the evening from 8.0 to 10.15, 2’1/4 hours of bliss.”
Fred’s plan to get up at 5am every morning, when he’s not risen before 6am for the last 3 years seems a little ambitious. However the fact that he’s kept records of his getting up and going to bed times and worked out his average lateness for the last 3 years seems, well, obsessive. It’s revealing but I’m not entirely sure of what – a need for control? A methodical approach to everything? The timetable is carefully drawn up – for a private diary – I get the impression he rather enjoyed ruling it out in red pen and working out a key and planning it out so carefully. I can almost hear him humming.
Fred’s resolutions feel like a perfectionist’s straightjacket to me but I don’t know how much this was to do with the expectations of young men at the time and how much to do with Fred’s own personality. I will come back and edit this post when I find out more from later letters.
Other things that struck me, I suspect that No. 5 may be about masturbation, that novels are another guilty pleasure, and that Fred has actually a pretty nice life for a young man of that class – he has a job that gives him enough disposable income and enough free time to pursue his studies and sports, which must have been relatively rare in Attercliffe/Darnall at the time.
These are obviously my first impressions of Fred from this diary entry and I’d be fascinated to find out what other people think we can tell about Fred – do please leave your thoughts in the comments below.