This selection continues where part 1 left off.
Kilvert’s last ‘on-topic’ entry had been from the 16 of February, 1874, and consisted of a brief statement of concern regarding “the licentiousness of the school children, especially Harriet Ferris, Mary Grimshaw and Lucy Halliday.”
What had these three girls been up to? As so often his diaries contain enough to ignite our curiosity and our desire, but we are obliged to turn to our imaginations to conjure up whatever it was that these three wayward little schoolgirls must have done.
Monday, 23 March
Pretty Louisa Dew bounded up the stairs to meet me with a bright rosy morning face and a lovely kiss, when she heard me leave my room. She will be a noble-looking girl one day and will make somebody’s heart ache. She is a very fine girl for her age now and as wild as a hawk but as good as gold, in spite of her dancing spirits.
Thursday, 4 June
Went to Bristol with my Mother on a market ticket […] As I was sitting in a confectioner’s shop between the Drawbridge and College Green eating a bun I saw lingering about the door a barefooted child, a little girl, with fair hair tossed and tangled wild, an arch espiegle eager little face and beautiful wild eyes, large and grey, which looked shyly into the shop and at me with a wistful beseeching smile. She wore a poor faded ragged frock and her shapely limbs and tiny delicate beautiful feet were bare and stained with mud and dust. Still she lingered about the place with her sad and wistful smile and her winning beseeching look, half hiding herself shyly behind the door. It was irresistible. Christ seemed to be looking at me through the beautiful wistful imploring eyes of the barefooted hungry child. I took her out a bun, and I shall never forget the quick happy grateful smile which flashed over her face as she took it and began to eat. She said she was very hungry. Poor lamb. I asked her name and she told me, but amidst the roar of the street and the bustle of the crowded pavement I could not catch the accents of the childish voice. Never mind. I shall know some day.
Wednesday, 5 August
A splendid romp with Polly Tavener.
Another of Kilvert’s ‘romps’.
As I touched on in my previous selection – we don’t really know what these ‘romps’ consisted of – only that he goes into no details about them in the extant diaries – a surprising thing from a someone whose style is distinguished by meticuloussness in recording significant details.
There seem to be at least two ‘Pollys’ in Kilvert’s diaries, and they are usually mentioned without a surname so it’s not possible to work out which Polly he is referring to.
But it would be nice to think of this Polly as being the one who in the entry for Saturday, 15 April 1871, “tub night“, was “very anxious to take off her drawers […] for my benefit”, drawers which, though maintained in place at her mother’s insistence, were “so inadequately constructed that it made uncommonly little difference whether they were off or on”.
Note how she and the Mary in the next entry share the same surname.
Saturday, 12 June
I went to see my dear little lover Mary Tavener, the deaf and half dumb child. When I opened the door of the poor old crazy cottage in the yard the girl uttered a passionate inarticulate cry of joy and running to me she flung her arms round my neck and covered me with kisses. Well, I have lived and I have been loved, and no one can take this from me.
Wednesday, 7 July
Kilvert is on holiday at the beach resort of Shanklin, on the Isle of Wight. I have often felt the same longing and envy of which Kilvert writes here.
At 5 o’clock we all went down to the beach […] Minna, Sherard, Commerell, Cowper Todd and I set to work to dig sand castles and trenches. The tide was going out, a number of children were paddling in the shallow water left by the white retreating surges, and it was a fair sight to watch the merry girls with their pretty white feet and bare limbs wading through the little rippling waves or walking on the wet and shining sand. Oh, as I watched them there came over me such a longing, such a hungry yearning to have one of those children for my own. Oh that I too had a child to love and to love me, a daughter with such fair limbs and blue eyes archly dancing, and bright clustering curls blown wild and golden in the sunshine and sea air. It came over me like a storm and I turned away hungry at heart and half envying the parents as they sat upon the sand watching their children at play.
Minna, Sherard, Commerell, Cowper Todd are Kilvert’s holiday companions.
Tuesday, 13 July
This morning after breakfast I started to walk to Bembridge through Sandown and Yaverland. The morning was blue and lovely with a warm sun and fresh breeze blowing from the sea and the Culver Downs. As I walked from Shanklin to Sandown along the cliff edge I stopped to watch some children bathing from the beach directly below. One beautiful girl stood entirely naked on the sand, and there as’ she half sat, half reclined sideways, leaning upon her elbow, with her knees bent and her legs and feet partly drawn back and up, she was a model for a sculptor, there was the supple slender waist, the gentle dawn and tender swell of the bosom and the budding breasts, the graceful rounding of the delicately beautiful limbs and above all the soft and exquisite curves of the rosy dimpled bottom and broad white thigh. Her dark hair fell in thick masses on her white shoulders as she threw her head back and looked out to sea. She seemed a Venus Anadyomene fresh risen from the waves.
Thursday, 12 August
In the following entry Kilvert have ended and he has returned to his home territory of Chippenham.
I walked across to Kington St. Michael to be present at the school feast. As we were swinging the children under the elms that crown the Tor Hill a girl came up to me with a beseeching look in her eyes and an irresistible request for a swing. She was a perfect little beauty with a plump rosy face, dark hair, and lovely soft dark eyes melting with tenderness and a sweet little mouth as pretty as a rosebud. I lifted her into the swing and away she went. But about the sixth flight the girl suddenly slipped off the swing seat feet foremost and still keeping hold of the ropes she hung from the swing helpless. Unfortunately her clothes had got hitched upon the seat of the swing and were all pulled up round her waist and it instantly became apparent that she wore no drawers. A titter and then a shout of laughter ran through the crowd as the girl’s plump person was seen naked hanging from the swing. O ye gods, the fall of Hebe was nothing to it. We hustled her out of the swing and her clothes into their proper place as soon as possible and perhaps she did not know what a spectacle she had presented. I believe it was partly my fault. When I lifted the girl into the swing there were many aspirants for the seat and in the struggle and confusion I suppose I set her down with her clothes rumpled up and her bare flesh (poor child) upon the board and as her flesh was plump and smooth and in excellent whipping condition and the board slippery, they managed to part company with this result. Poor child, when she begged so earnestly for a swing she scarcely contemplated the exhibition of herself for the amusement of the spectators. I shall never see the elms on the Tor Hill now without thinking of the fall of Hebe.
What are we to make of that ‘excellent whipping condition‘!?
Are we misreading him when we attribute to these words a sadistic or punitive meaning? Was beating, at this late date, still considered as something good for children? I can’t remember there being anything in the rest of Kilvert’s diaries that suggest he had a sadistic bent; if anything, quite the contrary.
Hebe was a daughter or Zeus and the goddess of youth.
‘The Fall of Hebe‘ could refer to a poem by Thomas Moore (1779 – 1852).
Thursday, 30 March
This afternoon rain came on. I went down to Greenaway Lane and called on Mrs. Morgan. Then I went to the James Knights’. Pretty Bessie came to the door with a bright smile of welcome and brought me into the warm cosy kitchen where her beautiful sister Mary was at tea with the younger girls who had just come in from school. Kitty is growing very pretty and was full of fun and romping spirits. It was a charming picture as the mother sat on the settle between her two fair blooming daughters with the other children grouped about them. Then Kitty ran out into the rain and puddles in the farmyard and came in so wet that her shoes and stockings had to be stripped off, her lovely limbs were unencumbered with drawers and Bessie tossed her in the air, and for my benefit turned up her legs, showing her beautiful bottom and thighs white and soft and warm and rosy and as pretty as a picture.