Among the photographs in my desk-drawer are several sketches, watercolours and gouaches, executed by the woman who was to be Jack’s grandmother and Lesley’s great-grandmother, Frances Harriet Stocker, in the early years of her life, the late 1840s and early 1850s. They show that Frances was a talented person in the manner of young Victorian women from families of substance – she could draw and paint, do botanical watercolours and pastoral scenes in pencil, and had enjoyed the wide education which allowed these skills. The pencil sketch I have chosen for reproduction here is no doubt copied from an engraving from that era. She has signed and dated it, and the date, December 1848, reveals that she was fifteen at the time.
The confident line and flawless execution of this sentimental pastoral scene are arresting, especially in the light of the expectations we hold for fifteen-year-old girls these days. In my filing-cabinet is a thin file marked ‘Families’ that came from Jack. During the grief-numbed time when, alone in his house in the UK, I sorted his papers, it was peeped into and put aside. I brought it back home, filed and forgot it. It is the one that contained Jack’s notes and plans for the construction of a family tree. With it is a yellowy-beige sheaf of five folded papers, covered from edge to edge in a fine Victorian hand. From various clues I surmise that the hand is that of Granny Cope, Frances Stocker. She wrote in a neat even hand with expressive flourishes, especially in the crossing of t’s, and she wrote right up to the edge of the paper, as though paper were precious. The writing is very small, the lines close together, about ten point, and difficult for my fifty-two-year-old eyes to read. When I do read them, I discover that they are a fragment of something larger, perhaps a novel.
The harsh moralism in the story is not unexpected in a parson’s daughter living in the 1840s. What intrigues me is the clarity and control of her prose, the correctness of her spelling and punctuation, and in particular her clear evocation of little children’s feelings. The twins in her story fascinate my seven-year-old twins, and as I type bits of the story, they demand to be read more. I hardly have to explain the 150-year-old English. They understand it perfectly. Here it is, starting as it does in mid-sentence:
[…] by the barking of a dog. He hastened back to his former position & beheld a large rough sheep-dog leave the cowboy’s side and run barking towards Mr. Harper who redoubled his shouts. The dog attracted by the pocket handkerchief and the voice of a stranger continued his threatening growls and barking & soon brought Dick to the spot. Mr. Harper quickly told his tale and they proceeded together to the spot. “Well I declare!,” said Dick after he had gazed at the children with open mouth for the space of a minute “Well aw declare! Aw do believe they be our Willie and Annie but however they comed there passes me. They be the most mischievous little dogs aw ever knowed.” “Thank God they are still safe, ejaculated Mr. Evans. “Now Dick to the rescue. Can you swim? The water seems deep here.” Dick grinned and began to roll up his trousers to the knees. “I reckon they didna come there by swimming and aw can get the same road they did.” So saying he proceeded leisurely to pull off one thick nailed shoe then another and then two well-darned blue worsted stockings. These he left on the bank and descending to the water’s brink walked some distance up the stream till he came to a shoal of gravel, then he struck across to the middle of the river in the direction of the children who screamed with delight. Old Shepherd the dog had already reached them by a less circuitous route & by his uncouth demonstrations threatened to precipitate the little boy and girl into the stream. In a few minutes Dick had regained the shore with Willie on his back and the little girl in his arms, both very glad to be put down safely on dry land after their long imprisonment on their little island of rock. Mr. Harper took a hand of each and asked them how they had come into such danger & from their account he gathered that they had wandered up the riverside plucking the beautiful wild flowers that strewed its banks, throwing pebbles into the water and watching the shoals of tiny fish that sported in the sunny stream. Then tired of such play they divested themselves of shoes and socks and dabbled in the shallow parts of the river, growing bolder as they proceeded, they at length had wandered far out into the middle where it ceased to be shallow and each step plunged their little legs deeper and deeper in the water till little Annie grew frightened, said she could go no further and began to cry. They tried to retrace their steps but could not remember which way they had come and both grew quite bewildered. The water seemed to be coming up all around them and there was no one near to help them. No one did I say? Yes there was One watching over them and sheltering them with his kind fatherly arms. And Willie thought of it, and when his little sister cried piteously Father! Mother! Oh Willie, where’s our father?” Willie said “Gran told us never to be afraid for God is always with us, he is our father.” and Annie looked up in his face and dried her tears and said “Our father which art in Heaven. But the water’s cold, Willie. O Willie, Willie!” & she cried again. Then Willie saw a large flat piece of rock just above the water and only a foot or two from where they now stood, so with some difficulty he managed to get onto it and drag his little companion after him & there they had to stay a long and weary while till Mr. Harper providentially discovered them. When they had told him every thing he gently but very gravely talked to them of the great danger they had just escaped, showed them how naughty they had been to play truant which was the 1st cause of all this trouble and how that it was through the great mercy of God they had been saved for if He had not sent someone to their rescue they might have been on the rock all night. He told them how sorry they ought to be and how thankful to their Heavenly F for their preservation. Both little ones cried and promised very sincerely never to do so again. They had now reached the farm and Mr. H led them weeping to their mother, explained all that had happened and advised her to put them both to bed at once as they had been some time in their wet clothes. This adventure served to make them more careful and obedient for a while, but it was not very long before they got into fresh scrapes. They hunted the sheep, let the pigs into the garden to eat the fruit, sucked the eggs and were continually climbing into all sorts of dangerous places from which they could not get down again. Frocks and pinafores were rent, legs and arms scratched and torn & hat strings always pulled off and lost. Many a time they had been sent unhappily to bed. Once indeed (sad to relate) had Mrs. Evans been obliged to whip them both for Annie was as bad as the other, there was nothing that Willie did that Annie would not do. They called her little Tom boy, but she did not mind so that she could be with Willie. There was nothing they liked better than riding down to the brook on summer evenings to water the horses. They were wild and wayward children, good as long as they could have their own way but if thwarted would sometimes give way to much ill temper and passion. One day they had been kept in the house on account of the heavy rain that fell and notwithstanding their imprisonment had been good and quiet. They were just finishing their supper of bread and milk when Hugh came in and said he wanted Willie to get some eggs out of a hen’s nest he had just found in the woodhouse. “It’s too wet for the child to go out,” said Mrs. E. “But mother I’ll carry him” said Hugh “and no one but Willie can get them for they’re in a hole too small for me to get thro.” “Well take care of him there and don’t keep him out in the wet too long.” “Oh no, mother! Here’s your hat, come on Willie,” and so saying Hugh stooped down for the little boy to climb on his back. Annie slipped off her chair and ran to the door saying “I’ll go too.” But her mother pulled her back. “Indeed you won’t go, Annie. Come and finish your supper directly. But Annie shrugged her shoulders and pouted and tried to open the door. “Annie come here this minute” said her mother. But Annie did not stir. “Do you hear child? Do as I tell you and be a good girl.” “I want to go to Willie!” exclaimed the little one in a very angry tone – “I will go to Willie!” “You’ll do no such thing. Come here this moment.” But Annie would not move from the door. “My word, Annie! If I have to get up to you.” Annie stamped on the floor & repeated again “I will go to Willie.” Thereupon Mrs. Evans laid the baby in his cradle and gave Annie a good shaking and sat her up in her chair at the table but Annie would not eat any more bread and milk, she only played with the spoon & threw the contents of her basin upon the floor. Mrs. E did not see this as she was rocking the baby to sleep in her arms. Annie now began to recover herself and coming to her mother’s side asked to be taken up on her lap. “No Annie, I’ve got baby.” “Put him down I want to get up.” “But he cries if I lay him down. You must wait till he’s asleep.” But Annie was in no waiting humour and she began again to pout and put her shoulders up to her ears. “Put him down” she said again & then stamping her foot “Go to sleep naughty baby, go to sleep I say.” But baby continued to fret & Annie to scold till losing all patience she hit him with the spoon she still held in her hand. Her mother instantly rose and gave the crying child to Betty and carried Annie off to a closet where she locked her in. Annie roared and screamed and kicked and thumped on the door with all her little might. “Let me out, I say, let me out! Open the door I want to come out! I will come out, I will! I will!” She soon screamed herself hoarse and worn out with passion became more subdued. In the meantime Hugh and Willie had come in with the eggs and Willie cried because Annie was shut up & begged very hard that his mother would let her out & presently a little voice was heard calling out “I am sorry, O mother I am so sorry. I will be good.” So Annie was brought out of the closet and forgiven. That night when they were in bed Willie said “Why were you so naughty Annie?” “I don’t know, I could not help it.” Willie was silent for a while and then asked “Will mother tell father?” “Not this time. I shouldna like father to know, he’d look so grave. I like to scream and kick sometimes, it does me good. Don’t you, Willie?” “Sometimes when I’m very bad, but Annie why did you say you were sorry?” “Because I wanted to go out.” “Then you weren’t really sorry?” “I was sorry to be in the closet.” “But you didna mind being naughty?” “Mother wouldna nurse me, so I must be naughty & I would cry. Is that bad, Willie?” “Yes I think you’re not sorry Annie. Gran said we mustna say we’re sorry when we don’t feel so. It’s like telling a story and Gran said we should really be sorry when we’ve been naughty because God is angry with us and won’t love us.” Annie thought a moment and then said “I think I’m sorry I hit baby, but he was naughty and wouldna go to sleep. “Oh Annie!” Willie turned away. Annie’s proud little spirit was not quite subdued yet so she took no notice. A footstep was heard approaching and Willie started up, exclaiming “Here comes father to say good night.” But Annie lay still and began to cry. “I can’t say good night Willie, I can’t kiss him I’m not good.” “What’s the matter with my little girl?” said Evans bending kindly over her. “I’m naughty, father. You tell him Willie.” So Willie related all that had happened while Annie hid her face in the bedclothes. Evans raised his little one in his arms and said “You have indeed been very naughty Annie and I am very grieved to hear all this. You have been very naughty to mother and worse than all you have displeased the good God who loves you so. How can you lie down to sleep while God is angry with you? Did you think he will take care of such a bad little girl?” Annie was now fairly sobbing. “Oh, father I am sorry now, really sorry & I will never be naughty again.” “Stop Annie, you must not say that, because I know you will be naughty sometimes but you must try all you can to be good. Will you dear?” “Yes father, I am sorry now.” “God bless you my child and may He help you to be a good little girl. God bless you both.” and he left the room and Annie sobbed herself to sleep. Next morning she went to her mother as soon as she was dressed, and watching her opportunity caught hold of her apron-string and said in a low voice “Mother” but Mrs. Evans paid no attention. “Mother” again repeated the child, but with no better success for it was just the time when the milk was brought in & had to be scalded & put into the shining pans & Mrs. Evans was very busy helping Kate whilst Betty prepared for the cheese-making. Annie persevered, still retaining her hold of the apron. “Mother, mother,” but the apron was jerked from her hand as another milk-pan had to be fetched from the kitchen. Annie trotted after and stood in the doorway just as Mrs. E turned. “Mother I’m sorry.” “Do get out of my road
child. Don’t you see I’m very busy? I can’t have you running after me all morning.” The colour mounted to Annie’s forehead and she felt angry at being sent away when she was
trying so hard to do what was right but after a little struggle she got the better of her temper & met her father with a bright smile and had a nice game of play with him until breakfast, after which they went to school. On their return Annie was called to mind the baby in the cradle & Willie went into the yard. “Where are you going with the horses, Joe?” “Down to the smithy. These 2 want new fox shoes. Will you ride Willy?” “Oh yes, yes! Put me on Joe, I’ll ride the big one.” And away went Willie in triumph on Black Sambo. Hammersley came out of his shop and lifting the boy off proceeded to examine the horses’ feet and then went to the forge to make the shoes. Willie stood at the door admiring the bright sparks which flew up at every blow of the large hammer. He wanted to see more and stretched out his little neck and took a step forward to get a nearer view. Young Smith the apprentice was blowing the huge bellows and called to Willie to help him. “No” said Willie “I mustna.” “Why not Billie Boy? Come on, no one’ll stop you.” “I mustna,” said Willie. “Well I’m sure I don’t want you so you’d better be off. We don’t want idlers here, so cut off quick.” “I winna. I shall stop here.” “We’ll soon see that” returned Smith “You be off this minute. I’ll teach you not to be so cocky.” Just then the shoes were ready and about to be nailed on, & Smith seized hold of Willie. “Let me alone I want to see” & he began to fight and kick. “Give over Smith and let the child be, mind your own work” said Hammersley. There was still another shoe to be made & this time Willie came a little further in and was so interested in looking that he forgot everything else and at last approached the forge & took the hammer with both his little hands and struck with all his might on the red hot iron. A voice was heard in the outer shop. It was Mr. Evans returning from clover croft where he had been folding his sheep & he stopped for a moment till the horses were ready. In an instant Willie had thrown down the hammer and hidden himself behind the forge. Evans looked in and said a few words to Smith. The dog which accompanied him sniffed out Willie and wagging his tail began to lick the child’s face. Willie trembled. He thought his father must see him but he soon heard him mount Sambo and ride off. “Now young un come out” said Smith “What are you doing there?” cried out Hammersley as the child all begrimed and smutty crept from his hiding-place feeling very guilty and very much ashamed of himself. “Well you are a pretty guy! What have you been doing there?” In answer Willie only looked down and kicked an old piece of iron that lay at his feet. Smith grinned and said “He was hiding from his father I reckon. Wouldn’t he ‘a caught if he’d been found?” Hammersley laughed and patting the boy on the hand said “Never mind young ‘un I’ll not tell on thee.” Hammersley soon went home to his tea telling Smith to follow as soon as he had finished what he was about. “I say Billie Boy work the bellows for me a bit.” and Willie tried to the best of his power. “There, that’ll do. Now I’ll show thee a nice hot bit of iron. Look there.” “Let me hit it!” cried Willie and again and again he struck the iron. “Now make it red again it looks so pretty. When the end of the bar was once more red hot Willie ran to look at it. “Wouldn’t thee like to take it home?” said Smith beginning to grin. Willie looked doubtful. “It would harm me would it not?” “Just touch it and try.” “No, I’d rather not.” “Come touch it I tell thee and dinna be afeared.” But Willie placed his hands resolutely behind him and said firmly “I winna touch it.” “Then it shall touch thee,” replied Smith & put the red iron close to his face. Willie drew back, Smith followed him holding the iron. “Give over! Give over!” he cried, making for the door as fast as he could; but ere he reached it he tripped up & fell flat on his face, Smith stumbled over him & in recovering his balance the still hot iron fell from his hand onto the child’s foot. Willie screamed with pain & terror. Smith much frightened lifted him up and endeavoured to soothe him. Mr. Hartwell’s carter happened to come in at that moment and on being told what was the matter left his horses and offered to carry the poor child home. “Here come with me, I’ll take the home and thee’ll be good and give over crying.” “And mind ye dinna tell on me, Billy boy” said Smith and I’ll give thee a halfpenny. Look thee it’ll buy thee someat nice. What! Won’t thee have it? I’m very sorry Billie, I didna mean to hurt thee so dinna thee tell there’s a good lad.” “Leave the lad alone” growled Sam the carter, “And don’t be teaching him to tell lies like yerself; he’ll tell all he’s asked & say what’s true if he’s a good lad. You’d better be minding yer business that getting folks’ childer into harm. If it had been one o’ mine I’ll ‘a thrashed you pretty soundly. Now look to my horses till I come back.” So saying he marched off with Willie in his arms. To return to the farm, Little Annie rocked the cradle and sang to the baby till Jane came in and took her place. Then off went the little girl hat in hand to seek for Willie. She ran hither and thither shouting his name and looking into all possible and impossible places, but no Willie did she find. Presently she heard horses’ hoofs coming up the lane and away she scampered to meet them. It was her father bringing Sam and Bob from the smithy. “Father! Father! Let me ride.” & in another moment she was on the big horse in front of her father clapping her hands and ‘gee-woing’ to the horses. They dismounted at the stable door and Annie gathered a handful of grass to reward her gallant steed with. Sambo took it gently from her little hand and bent his head to receive his accustomed kiss on his soft black nose. Then again she remembered her own dear little twin brother and enquired of her father whether he had seen him. Then she asked the carter Dick and all the men she could find on the farm but to no purpose. Quite disconsolate she went and perched herself on one of the gate posts to watch for him. When she was nearly tired of her elevated position and was thinking of descending, she saw Sam Mr. Hartwell’s carter coming up the lane with something in his arms. A second look convinced her it was Willie. She flew to meet them crying out “O Willie, Willie! My dear, dear Willie! What’s matter? Willie’s hurt! O poor Willie! What’s matter?” Willie raised his head and smiled at her saying “Willie’s very bad Annie, but dinna cry, he’s coming home now.” Annie ran on before them to the house. “O Mother come quick. Willie’s so bad, come and make him well, he’s so very bad.” & she began to sob bitterly. Mrs. Evans hastened to the door and received Willie into her arms & was about to thank Sam for his kindness in bringing the child home, but he walked off directly saying “No thanks Missus, ye’re right welcome. Just look to the lad’s foot, he’s been burnt.” Poor Willie’s foot was badly burnt & it put him in great pain drawing off his boot and sock and wrapping it in linen dipped in linseed oil and lime water, a bottle of which was always kept on the shelf in case of accidents. But soon the pain began to abate and he fell asleep on the sofa, Annie by his side holding his hand and kissing it from time to time and wiping off the tears that fell on it. It was many days before Willie was able to go to school again or to run and play with Annie and sometimes he grew very tired of sitting still on the sofa all day with no one to amuse him till Annie came in from school, when she would take her place by him, chat to him, tell him all that had been said and done in the class, repeat to him her lessons and never leave him till called away to help someone or to run on an errand. And then she would be back again as quick as her little legs could carry her bringing him a flower or any other pretty thing that she could find. Those were happy hours but when Annie was away he would sometimes fret and cry till he made his mother very angry with him. “I am not at all sorry for you. It’s your own fault; if you had not been so naughty and disobedient it would not have happened. It serves you quite right & I’m glad you suffer for it.” Willie pouted and shrugged his shoulders and continued to fret. “Hold your noise Willie.” “But it hurts!” he cried. “Well I’m glad of it. I hope it’ll be a lesson to you.” “But it hurts” again cried Willie “& I want Annie.” “And you can’t have her so hold your noise and be a good boy.” “But I want her. O Annie do come.” And he cried louder and louder till Mrs. Evans took up the baby and her work and went into another room leaving Willie to himself and his tears. Willie had related the whole history of his disobedience & consequent accident to his father and promised with many sobs that he would try to be a better boy for the future & do all he was told and never disobey & he had that night asked pardon of his Heavenly F. The little burnt sock was hung at the foot of his bed to remind him of his disobedience & his promises of amendment & as a warning for the future. “Why did you hide, Willie?” his father had said to him, “I suppose you thought I should not see you and that you would not be found out or punished. I certainly did not see you and if you had not been hurt I should perhaps never have known that you had been there. But God saw you Willie. He knew how you were disobeying me. He is always with you and you know that you can never do or say or even think anything without his knowledge. And I do hope that if you had escaped detection you would not have been happy till you had confessed all and begged forgiveness of your Heavenly F. & of me also. It is not enough to ask pardon of God and be sorry for what we have done, but we must also ask pardon of those we have sinned against on earth, who ever it may be. Remember to think of this dear Willie and try to trust that the Eye of God is always on you. Can you not say those verses of your hymn that speaks of this?” & Willie repeated in a low clear voice:
“The Ld God sits in Hvn above
The God who is all pure and true
And Christ our Lord is at his side
Beholding all we do.
* * * * * *
For Christ who looks into our ♥s
Sees all we think, hears all we say
Will surely help us to be good
If we but watch and pray.”
The passage, which I have copied as accurately as I could, shows Frances’ prose to be competent, lifting at times to the evocative, like her pencil line. It also shows that she, like Blake’s Milton, is at least partly of the Devil’s party – her sympathies are so clearly with the naughty children, and her prose and dialogue lifts above the formulaic only when they are bent on disobedience to the Father, or traumatized by the consequences of being bad. I surmise that the piece was written before Frances’ run-in with her father, the Reverend Stocker, over her wish to marry John Cope, which must have been a difficult period.
Frances and John are, for me, the ur-ancestors, for they embodied the gene-stock and cultural lineage that my parents have in common, being respectively Jack’s grandparents and Lesley’s great-grandparents.
Lesley’s pencil line (above) is freer, more loosely and expressively applied than Frances’ (below), but it relies on fundamentally similar skills, based in part on techniques developed by engravers: the build-up of tone through hatching, the use of heavy and light lines, the ‘line of beauty’ which modulates between thick and thin, and above all the rendering of a visual field in terms of difference.
In the year William was born his parents moved into a comfortable workman’s cottage, one of a row of four, in Crown Street, and here they lived for the remainder of their days. In the course of time Francis Andrews saved enough to become the owner of the cottages. He was a man of kindly temperament and a favourite with the children. Home life followed a simple and regular course: After he had had his supper and washed, Francis would take out a volume and read to the family. He read to share his pleasure with his wife, who was too busy with her sewing, but the children grouped themselves about to follow the stories as well, and there would be a chorus of dismay if they were sent off to bed before the chapter was ended. Many an evening the tired workman would nod off to sleep and let the book fall from his hands. This was a signal for a cry from the children that father should go and bathe his eyes in cold water; they wanted to know what happened next. Mrs. Andrews’s pleas that her husband was tired and should go to bed were usually of no avail, and the young people had their way.
The flame of today is in a certain sense the same as the flame of yesterday, and yet in another sense it is different at every moment.