Monday, April 14, 2008

Words from the past

One of the things I am doing in my retirement is transcribing four volumes of manuscript journals written between 1825 and 1880 by the Quaker Mary Bevan Waterhouse (1805-1880), mother of eight children including the architect Alfred Waterhouse. They are mainly concerned with her spiritual life as an evangelical Quaker and recorded minister in 19th century Britain but also give insights into her family and social life.

I came upon this manuscript while working in the Special Collections of Reading University Library and was really excited to find that it still existed. I had read the extracts that had been privately published by her son Edwin in 1907 but in his preface he said that he intended to destroy the original as it was no longer needed! I am so glad he had not done that and that Mary's handwritten exercise books, bound later into 4 volumes, had been presented to Reading in 1968.

I am working through the manuscript slowly, going to the reading room about one day a week, and transcribing in chronological order. So far I have got to 1847. I expected to find the task interesting, to find out more about 19th century Quakers and Quakerism. I expected that what I read would fit in with my long-standing interest in spiritual autobiography. What I didn't expect was that Mary would speak to me personally.

Mary has a lot to say about being thankful for God's mercies and often rejoices in the loving-kindness of the Lord. I know that I too have much to be thankful for and that I need to be more mindful of this loving-kindness in my life. The last time I was working on her diary Mary was anxious about the safety of her children when they were away from her and reminded herself to leave them with confidence in the care of God. My two sons, aged 29 and 25, are about to go travelling round the world for a year and I needed Mary's words myself.

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