Shore, Emily. Journal of Emily Shore.

London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1891.

Margaret Emily Shore was born on Christmas Day, 1819, in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, the daughter of a curate with connections to the lesser aristocracy who was also a university-level tutor. She was something of a self-taught prodigy in both natural history and in her literary imagination, keeping accurate and detailed observational notes on wildlife at the age of nine, creating a fantasy country complete with botany, religion, and political parties at age ten, compiling a readable history of the Jews when she was eleven, and inventing a lengthy collection of rather witty Parliamentary speeches (stretching from 1840 to 2354 AD) at thirteen. And from 1831 to 1839, she kept a detailed journal of everything she saw and heard and thought. The last entry was written a fortnight before her death from consumption at the age of nineteen and a half.

Throughout the 1,900 or so pages of her journal, Emily’s inquisitive personality comes through strongly. She was also rather judgmental. On a trip to London in spring 1831, she describes the new London Bridge (still under construction) in glowing terms, but about St. Paul’s she notes that Thornhill’s paintings of the life of St. Paul that adorn the dome “are very ill done.” The reputedly attractive country around Margate and Ramsgate which she views on a later visit is “odious,” merely a boring stretch of chalk, though she appreciates the view of the limitless expanse of the sea. She often describes the plant life in advanced terms: The little Berdedick, which is plentiful on the seaside rocks, “is a papilionaceous flower, of a yellow colour, and unbranched.” She also eavesdropped on and commented on her parents’ conversations, such as her liberal father condemning the notion that the Duke of Wellington’s “military prowess” exempted him from criticism of his political opinions. Her interests were very broad, including the origins of the gypsies, Dr. Arnold’s reforms at Rugby, the platforms of the candidates in the local parliamentary elections (especially the Radical candidate, who “finding he had no chance of success, withdrew from the contest”), exploring the darker corners of the New Forest, and a great many other topics.

But Emily was still an adolescent girl, as evidenced by her judgment of Mr. Henry Warren, who frequently walked over from Torquay for a visit: “I was very much pleased with what I saw of him; he is decidedly a great improvement on the race of young men of the present day. He is a handsome young man of three and twenty, dark and sunburnt, with curly black hair.” She also chafed at being denied access to Byron’s Childe Harold, “a poem which I long to read if papa and mamma would allow it.” In describing her own room in some detail, she concludes that its appearance is “somewhat grotesque and singular. I like it all the better in consequence.” But there’s also this, when she was fifteen: “I am going to turn author. I am writing some articles for Penny Magazine.” She also has “a plan for publishing a book entitled Extracts from a Naturalist’s Journal. I want to know if the market for such works is overstocked.”

All in all, if you have an interest in social and domestic history at the end of the Regency period, this is an excellent primary source. Emily’s style as a diarist is straightforward and comprehensible and one can only think that if she hadn’t been taken so young by tuberculosis, her name might now well be a household word. (This book is available, by the way, as a free download from OpenLibrary and other online sources.)


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