In the comments section of Road-Maps to a Kinder World – Part Two there was a little exchange involving myself, BJ Muirhead, Dissident and A. concerning an incident I recalled having read in Francis Kilvert’s Diaries:
“a man comes into a room where Kilvert happens to be with a partially undressed little girl and him (the man, not Kilvert) getting the wrong impression (or so Kilvert implies) and becoming very cross, calling Kilvert ‘a bounder’ or ‘a cad’ or some such thing…”
Dissident commented “I didn’t read that passage...” and A. “I don’t remember that part of Kilvert’s diary, but I have the abridged one-volume version…”.
A re-read of his diaries proved A.’s and Dissident’s memories to be more reliable than mine: no such passage exists in Kilvert’s diaries. And now I must undertake the slow book-work of tracking down the true source of this incident, involving (what I remember to be) an upright Victorian gentleman with fondness for little girls, and maybe some connection to the cloth…(the letters or biography of Lewis Carroll? Ruskin’s autobiography ‘Praeterita’..?).
But what I did find in his diaries proved so delightful and beautiful that I thought it might be worth sharing some entries with the readers of this blog.
bat-shit-crazy, lizard-spotting, tin-foil-hat-wearing delusionists
“I used to go to the Old School, Clyro when I was a kid on school activity trips etc to get kids out of the city. The place always gave me the creeps so I did a bit of research. Francis Kilvert was a resident and prolific paedophile.”
This quote comes from the official forum of that bat-shit-crazy, lizard-spotting, tin-foil-hat-wearing delusionist David Icke. Readers will be able to decide for themselves, from the diary entries below, whether Kilvert was indeed a ‘paedophile’, and if so, whether he was a ‘prolific’ one (whatever that may mean).
Ironically, I have selected those diary entries that might best prove blue_bear’s case – after all my intention is to interest and delight the readers of this blog, the great majority of whom are either paedophiles or sympathetic to paedophilia. However the reader new to Kilvert should not expect his diaries to be a paedo sex-romp: they will find little that might lead him (or her) to lose mastery of their domain.
Indeed if one were to reckon up the amount of words expended on the delights of little girls I’d guess that they would constitute less than two percent of the text, though if you also include his appreciation of adolescent girls and young women this percentage would significantly rise.
Of course, Blue_bear’s comment is as an anthology of ignorance and crooked thinking. I find something particularly jarring just in his use of the word ‘paedophile’ to describe Kilvert – a jar I increasingly experience whenever I read about child lovers from other ages.
I have doubts about the use of the word ‘paedophile’ when referring to someone outside of a WEIRD culture: the word is a cultural product, as are all of the concepts that it is freighted with. A dictionary definition (e.g. ‘an adult who has the capacity to find prepubescents sexually attractive’) can provide the word with a stable core that makes it applicable to all societies and historical periods – but like a ship sinking under a burden of barnacles, the effective weight of the word lies in its accretions, baggage and impedimenta.
If we use the word of a Victorian, we do so retrospectively: the Victorians, it seems, had no word or phrase which covered the concept: the closest might be ‘ravisher of maidens’, ‘collector of first editions’, bounder, cad or ‘vile seducer’.
So, yes, we can maybe take the word ‘paedophile’ and ask whether it fits Kilvert – provided we use it strictu sensu. But if used strictu sensu I strongly suspect that the word would be applicable to all humans that have made it into adulthood; and when a word becomes valid for the entire population to which it is applicable it loses its capacity to distinguish and define, and therefore its meaning.
However the word ‘paedophile’ as used in WEIRD society does have the capacity to distinguish and define, as we know all too well. But let’s be clear – it is hardly the core dictionary definition that does this work, but rather the heavy load of subsidiary concepts, prejudices, competing narratives, untruths that suffocate and weigh down the word.
Effectively its accretions, not its core definition, give the word ‘paedophile’ its meaning – and those accretions are too protean and ever-changing to be useful outside the WEIRD context – nearly everything that gives the word meaning is up for grabs and nearly every part of that meaning is a product of the past few decades of WEIRD society.
But I won’t pursue these thoughts any further here – since every word I spend churning away at this rather abstract issue is a word fewer of Kilvert’s.
Robert Francis Kilvert was born in 1840 in Chippenham, Wiltshire, and educated at Oxford university. In 1865 he went on to become the curate to the parish of Clyro, in the Welsh Marches, and then curate to several other parishes in the region.
His diaries run from 1870 to just before he died at the age of 38, soon after his marriage and honeymoon in 1879.
After his death his wife destroyed any parts of the diaries which dealt with their courtship or which she judged as being scandalous (cf. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s journals). Twenty-two notebooks survived but, decades later, an elderly niece of Kilvert, in a fit of over-enthusiastic house-clearing, threw most of these out, leaving only the three notebooks that now survive (one wonders at what was lost: could there have been an entry somewhere reading ‘splendid romp with Gipsy Lizzie’?).
The surviving diaries reveal Kilvert’s lucid and observant style: with a few deft strokes, and with deceptive ease, he paints vivid and memorable pictures of life in the English countryside in mid-Victorian times.
His humanity and emotional intelligence means that his people feel as real and as alive as ourselves. Kilvert moved with ease amongst both the landowners and the labourers of his parish. He was good-natured, modest, innocent, truthful and unworldly, sociable, attractive, sensitive, and generous-spirited. He loved children and was susceptible to feminine beauty, especially that of little girls and young women. He was also a nudist, or at least a defiantly nude swimmer.
I thought I’d have a special section for Kilvert’s most famous love: a little girl from the village primary school called Elizabeth Harris, who was admitted to the Clyro village school in September 1868, at the age of seven.
The following is Kilvert’s first mention of her. Compare his attributions of innocence to her with his entry for Monday, 16 February 1874.
Monday, 4 July 1870
Since the inspection the classes and standards at the school have been rearranged and Gipsy Lizzie has been put into my reading class. How is the indescribable beauty of that most lovely face to be described – the dark soft curls parting back from the pure white transparent brow, the exquisite little mouth and pearly tiny teeth, the pure straight delicate features, the long dark fringes and white eyelids that droop over and curtain her eyes, when they are cast down or bent upon her book, and seem to rest upon the soft clear cheek, and when the eyes are raised, that clear unfathomable blue depth of wide wonder and enquiry and unsullied and unsuspecting innocence. Oh, child, child, if you did but know your own power. Oh, Gipsy, if you only grow up as good as you are fair. Oh, that you might grow up good.
Saturday, 9 July
It is a pretty lane this Bird’s Nest lane, very shady and quiet, narrow and overbowered here and there with arching wyches and hazels. Sometimes my darling child Gipsy comes down to school this way, but more often she comes down Sunny Bank when the days are fine, and then over the stile by little Wern y Pentre. Yet often and often must those tiny feet have trodden this stony narrow green-arched lane, and those sweet blue eyes have looked down this vista to the blue mountains and those little hands have gathered flowers along these banks. O my child if you did but know. If you only knew that this lane and this dingle and these fields are sweet to me and holy ground for your sweet sake. But you can never know, and if you should ever guess or read the secret, it will be but a dim misty suspicion of the truth. Ah Gipsy.
Thursday, 15 September 1870
Hay Fair. […] We were busy all day dressing the Church or preparing decorations […] At the school the children were busy leasing out corn from a loose heap on the floor, sitting among the straw and tying up wheat, barley and oats in small sheaves and bundles. Gipsy Lizzie was amongst them, up to her beautiful eyes in corn and straw […]
Friday, 28 July 1871
Gipsy Lizzie was at the School. Again I am under the influence of that child’s extraordinary beauty. When she is reading and her eyes are bent down upon her book her loveliness is indescribable.
By 1872 Kilvert is preparing to leave the parish of Clyro to act as curate to his father at Langley Burrell. His parishioners are clearly distraught at his leaving:
Thursday, 11 july 1872
‘There is great mourning for you at Pen y cae,’ said Mrs. Harris [Gipsy Lizzie’s mother – LSM]. ‘Why, do the children really care so much?’ ‘Ay, that day they gave you the pencil case the girl was crying and dazed all the evening. We could do nothing at all with her, and the boy is worse than her. “There’ll be no one to come and teach us now,” he says, “Mr Kilvert do come and tell us about all parts.” ‘ I showed her the beautiful pencil case. But oh, Gipsy Lizzie dear, my own love, it doesn’t make up to me for losing you.
May Eve, Saturday
This evening being May Eve I ought to have put some birch and wittan (mountain ash) over the door to keep out the ‘old witch’. But I was too lazy to go out and get it. Let us hope the old witch will not come in during the night. The young witches are welcome.
Tuesday, 3 May
By Tyn-y-cwm Meadows to Newchurch village and in turning, in at the old Vicarage garden door I heard the hum of the little school. The door under the latticed porch was open and as I went in a pretty dark girl was coming out of an inner door, but seeing me she retreated hastily and I heard an excited buzzing of voices within the schoolroom and eager whispers among the children: ‘Here’s Mr. Kilvert – It’s Mr. Kilvert,’ Not finding the good parson in his study I went into the schoolroom and fluttered the dove cot not a little. The curate and his eldest daughter were away and pretty Emmeline in a russet brown stuff dress and her long fair curls was keeping school bravely with an austere look in her severe beautiful face, and hearing little Polly Greenway read. Janet and Matilda dressed just alike in black silk skirts, scarlet bodices and white pinafores, and with blue ribbons in their glossy bonny dark brown curls, were sitting on a form at a long desk with the other children working at sums. Janet was doing simple division and said she had done five sums, whereupon I kissed her and she was nothing loth. Moreover I offered to give her a kiss for every sum, at which she laughed. As I stood by the window making notes of things in general in my pocket book Janet kept on interrupting her work to glance round at me shyly but saucily with her mischievous beautiful grey eyes. Shall I confess that I travelled ten miles today over the hills for a kiss, to kiss that child’s sweet face. Ten miles for a kiss.
Saturday, 15 April
[…] Being tub night Polly with great celerity and satisfaction stripped herself naked to her drawers before me and was very anxious to take off her drawers too for my benefit, but her grandmother would not allow her. As it happened the drawers in question were so inadequately constructed that it made uncommonly little difference whether they were off or on, and there was a most interesting view from the rear. Then her grandmother washed her head with soft soap and hot water in a tub, the little image kneeling down in her drawers on the cold stone floor with her head in the tub close to the open door into the road.
The following entry is notable not only for Kilvert’s delight in the loving exchanges with little Carrie, but also the easy-going and tolerant attitude of the child’s mother to their interaction. The quotation this passage starts with are the last words of James V of Scotland.
Wednesday, 23 August
‘It began with a lass and it will end with a lass’
In the evening before sunset while the sun was yet warm and bright I went across the golden common and meadow to the Three Firs to call on Hannah Britton. I had not been long in the house when Hannah’s beautiful seven year old child Carrie gradually stole up to me and nestled close in my arms. Then she laid her warm temples and soft round cheek lovingly to mine and stole first one arm then the other round my neck. Her arms tightened round my neck and she pressed her face closer and closer to mine, kissing me again and again. Then came the old, old story, the sweet confession as old as human hearts, ‘I do love you so. Do you love me?’ ‘Yes,’ said the child, lovingly clinging still closer with fresh caresses and endearments. ‘You little bundle,’ said her mother laughing and much amused. ‘I wish I could take you with me.’ ‘You would soon grow tired of her,’ said her mother. ‘No’, said the child with the perfect trust and confidence of love, ‘he said he wouldn’t.’ An hour flew like a few seconds. I was in heaven. A lodger came in and sat down, but I was lost to everything but love and the embrace and the sweet kisses and caresses of the child. It seemed as if we could not part we loved each other so. At last it grew dusk and with one long loving clasp and kiss I reluctantly rose to go. It was hard to leave the child. When I went away she brought me the best flower she could find in the garden. I am exhausted with emotion.
Friday, 13 October
Up the long Green Lane the heather bloom was long over and the heather was dark, speckled with the little round white bells. I looked for Abiasula along the green ride narrowing between the fern and heather, and looked for her again at the Fforest, but the great dark heather slopes were lonely, nothing was moving, the cottage was silent and deserted, the dark beautiful face, the wild black hair and beautiful wild eyes of the mountain child were nowhere to be seen.
Saturday, 25 November 1871
[…]A screaming romp with Lucretia who in rolling about upon the bed upset the candle on to the coverlet and burst into peals of inextinguishable laughter while a strong smell of burning rose from the singed woollens and I snatched up the candle in a way which redoubled Lucretia’s mirth.
Tuesday, 16 January 1872
Lucretia and I had a splendid romp.
‘Lucretia’ was probably in her teens since earlier in the diaries Kilvert mentions visiting her at her boarding school in Bristol. As to exactly what Kilvert meant by the word ‘romp’ one can only speculate, but the brevity of the entry suggests that he wanted the entry to remind him of something without him having to go into any detail about what that ‘something’ was.
Kilvert is preparing to leave his beloved parish of Clyro. We see again (see entry above in Gipsy Lizzie section) how much love there was between himself and the children of that parish.
Tuesday , 9 July
To-day I have been much moved. Just after we had finished lessons at the school at noon, the children deputed little Amy Evans the schoolmaster’s daughter (of whom they know I am very fond) to present to me a little box in which I found a beautiful gold pencil case to hang at my watch chain. My own precious lambs. They had of their own will saved up their money to give me this costly and beautiful present. They would not go to the fair and spend the money upon themselves. It was all to be ‘for Mr. Kilvert’. I tried to speak to tell them what I felt, but my heart was full.
‘Please not to forget us,’ said the children. Dear children, there is no danger. I did not want this to help to keep you in mind.
Saturday, 15 March
At the new Chapel Farm I found Wall and his wife at home and little Nellie lay lovingly in my arms.
I ran down to Cabalva and called at Whitcombe’s at the Bronith. Saw Mrs. Watkeys and kissed her two beautiful grandchildren as the girls sat together by the fire.
Found Mrs. Potts the keeper’s wife among the tubs surrounded by naked girls and boys whom she was washing and putting to bed.
Monday, 16 February
Greatly troubled by the licentiousness of the school children, especially Harriet Ferris, Mary Grimshaw and Lucy Halliday.
to be continued…