Having just transcribed some documents from the National Archives, catalougue number WO1/1116, it strikes me just how beautifully written these documents were.
One letter to a local lord, implores him to ‘solicit, on the ground of humanity and common charity alone, some small relief, that may prevent my becoming the Prey of Poverty and distress in a strange country, without friends, and without any means of subsistence’.
Written by a woman who did not have the means to provide for herself, the manner in which the letter is written really conveys the distress and utter dejection she felt in her present situation. It surprises me how just a couple of words – ‘without friends’ – can make me feel so sympathetic for this poor woman, who lived over 200 years ago! There is no reply to the letter, but I sincerely hope that the Lord felt like I do and supplied her with some means of financial backing.
As I read more of the letter I begin to wonder about this woman’s thought process – how did she feel when she wrote the letter? Did she feel embarassment at having to write to the Lord because she was unable to provide for herself or was she just so desperate for help that she would gladly write to anyone whom she believed would help her?
There is so much more to this letter than just asking for help. The life of this woman rests in the hands of the lord – he needs to help her otherwise she would not be able to continue her existence in the parish – and it is possible that there was a whole family behind her who needed help. Is she writing to the Lord with thoughts of her children in mind?
Crucially, as I’m writing this blog, it has occurred to me that there is no mention of the reason as to why she needs help. Has her husband died in war, therefore leaving her without any income, forcing her to ask for help from the parish? Has she come over from abroad (presumably so from the reference to the ‘strange country’) and found herself in a new society where she has to start life again without any financial backing or knowledge of the customs of the world around her?
It is a testament to this lady’s self worth that she does not come across as ‘needy’; she does not need to give her life story or moan about every little thing that has happened in her life – she is simply asking for help, and her composure astounds me!
Reading these letters unfortunately does not provide all the answers I’m wanting; it just makes me ask more questions! But the language used in the letter implores me (even 200 years later) to take a great interest in this woman’s life, who wrote so powerfully – with such clarity yet not at all degrading herself – during such a distressing time. If I found myself in her situation even now, I don’t think I would manage to write such a letter.
This is what I’m living for. Little gems of history that make me question the world around me in 2011! This woman would never have known that 200 years later she would have such an impact on someone’s life…I wonder what will happen in 200 years time, when someone reads the letters and correspondence that is being sent out as we speak. Will we have the same impact that she did?