I’ve just finished reading Paupers and Pig Killers, Jack Ayres’ edition of William Holland’s diary.
William Holland was a parson in Somerset around the turn of the nineteenth century and kept a diary for the first few years of the nineteenth century. This of course was the time of the Napoleonic wars, the expansion of the British Empire in India, the takeover of the Dutch settlements in South Africa, and from an Australian perspective, the founding of the first British settlements in Australasia.
At home, it was the beginning of the industrial revolution that was to power nineteenth century Britain.
In fact, it could be argued to be the first phase of Britain’s rise to something more than a middle ranking European power.
It’s also the world that Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen lived in, not to mention Byron, Keats and Shelley. and of course it was also when Frankenstein was first published.
So I thought it would be an interesting read. Also, it worked quite well as something to read while looking after J as she recovered, lots of short entries, making it easy to break away from.
It is an intensely personal diary chronicling his ill health and his business affairs, but contains few observations on the wider world despite the fact the Holland took a weekly newspaper and complained bitterly in his diary when the paper was late or did not arrive at all. Napoleon gets scarcely a mention, as does Trafalgar and Peninsular war, despite the fact the Holland would have been required to organise a government ordained celebration of Nelson’s victory.
The other is his narrowness of focus, despite’s living less than fifty miles from Bristol there is no mention of the slave trade and its outlawing in 1807, or the influence of sugar money from the West Indies on the growing middle class, or other things that might concern him.
How representative of the middling classes of England Holland was is open to debate. I suspect that there simply is not enough available in the way of sources to show us how concerned or not the middle classes of England were with the progress of the wars, and the politics of the time …