Maria's Diary 20
Watchman tell us of the night,
what its signs of promise are.
Traveler, o’er yon mountain’s height,
see that glory-beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes; it brings the day,
promised day of Israel.
When I was 18 in 1836, I had finished with my school, and spent some time in Exeter, with our Grandfather and aunts, and my younger brothers. Papa wrote to me saying he had revisited the place of his imprisonment in Bologna, and had given a copy of his book, Minor Morals, to the King of France, for his son. Commenting on how pleased I was to be here in Exeter, he answered, “I quite expected how you would find Larkbeare - it was so when I was a boy - it is so now when my children have the pleasure of enjoying it.”
As I mentioned before, I found the letter Papa had written to Mr. Bentham when I was sorting out his things. I will copy bits of it here.
When I was about to leave France at Calais, at the moment of embarkation I was detained by police who placed me under surveillance. They made me open my trunk, ransacked it and took from it 15 letters, some packets, Portuguese dispatches, and an envelope containing two ridiculous songs and the account of the death of a young liberal.
They seemed satisfied with my account and I was given leave to leave, but then, three days later I was suddenly arrested, put into jail with a face much swollen and inflamed from toothache. I was confined in a damp and dreary apartment where I spent the night in the company of a murderer and a forger.
Next day I was taken to Bologna where I underwent another examination, and was greatly surprised to be directed back to prison. There I remained for a month. In return for a tip, I was allowed to spend the daytime hours in the jailer’s room, my writing things had not been taken from me, but I had to return to the common cell at night. I worked on my second volume of Russian translations of poetry.
Two charges were laid against me. First that complicity in a plot to rescue some sergeants by bribing the jailer, and secondly of carrying treasonous materials. I firmly denied all guilt saying I had no knowledge of the despatches I was conveying.
In the meantime, the story got into the papers, and it took the combined resources of everyone at Hackney and Exeter. Moma and Aunt Anne, Papa’s sister, were ready to go to Bologna to support him. Grandfather wrote to the Unitarian minister at Exeter. “That the circumstances of my son’s arrest in a foreign country has been to me and mine a heavy calamity. On Sunday I was going to church with Mrs. Bowring and my daughters when one of the parishioners showed me the newspaper article. The fact that he had been arrested and imprisoned was an overwhelming grief.”
Apparently Moma had shown much firmness and composure of mind. She appealed to Canning, the Foreign Secretary and Lord Holland for their help. Uncle Thomas Lewin went to Moma’s aid. He added, “He quite imagines himself a hero, as if any fool couldn’t get into as stupid a scrape.”
Papa wrote to his father, “I am fighting the case of the millions. I knew not that I was so important a personage here. I hope you will be calm and breathe no thoughts of blame, for I deserve none. My arrest, I suppose, makes a big noise in England, and I suppose I shall be instantly claimed by the British government. Tried in the balance of suffering, your son was not found wanting.”
Papa later told us “I fully expected to go to the guillotine after a mock trial.”
This drama coincided with the marriage of Aunt Margaret, whose festivities were somewhat clouded, and the birth of Frederick, whom Papa called “my prison son.”
On his return he published a version of the events in, “Details of the Arrest, Imprisonment and Liberation of an Englishman.”
In 1837, Papa lost his seat for Clyde Boroughs, and he was sent on a fact finding mission to the Middle East for a full year, visiting Egypt, Syria and Palenstine. He had John Charles with him again, as they went on a trip up the Nile my brother was dressed in the uniform of the Pasha’s army. They drank coffee with the Pasha, smoking his pipe and seated on the divan at his palace in Cairo. Then John Charles went back to his desk job in Naples, and Papa went on to Constantople.
Papa really enjoyed his trips to Syria and that area. “Galilee and Samaria were to me the most interesting parts of the Holy Land. Nazareth and Nablous - the Shechem of the Old Testament, the Sychar of the New - stand forth in all their ancient simplicity and truth, reproducing the Bible of yesterday in the pictures of to-day. How beautiful is the Sea of Galilee! How beautiful the wild flowers on its borders! Beautiful the barren mountains on the east, more beautiful still the green valleys on the west! Passing to Nablous, we saw the well at the entrance of the city, where the grand words were uttered to the woman, ‘God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth’. A woman was there who offered us water to drink. It was indeed a realization of past history.”
Frederick was keen to get home, and he wrote to Papa, “I think you said we should come to London at Midsummer. I shall be very glad to see you again, and as I have not seen you, sister, Charles or the little ones for some time. I suppose Edgar has gone to school as usual. How does Gertrude get on.? I suppose I must not call her baby any longer. I very much wish to see her again.”