Maria's Diary 28
Keep the unity of spirit,
Keep it in the bonds of peace,
So alone shall we inherit
Hope, and truth, and blessedness.
I feel I should add in a bit more about my time in the convent, and how it affected my family. Before I joined, Papa talked about “narrow minded bigots” trying to influence me. Moma and my two aunts actually confronted Sister Lydia, the head of the convent, in the cathedral, and wrote to the bishop, and took part in the angry correspondence in the newspapers. And because of tension at Larkbeare over my entering the convent, Moma took ever more frequent visits to her relatives in London.
My brothers have shared Papa’s letters about me, with me, at my request. He said, “I want no family disruptions but I cannot go further than denying Maria my consent if Maria insists on her right to dispose of herself by this course of action. What can I do to prevent it? Perhaps it will wait, but religious passions or tendencies fancying them religious - are sometimes unwilling to wait on my return home. I have written to her but with great distrust of my powers of persuasion.”
Frederick wrote to Moma about it all. He said, “I should write to Maria calmly but firmly and let her feel how utterly opposed we all are to her senseless goings-on. I blame Charles for her actions. His letters are just as natural as hers, as self-complacent and contended. Of course Maria like Master Charles intends to persevere in her willful course. These saints always manage to have their own way and then dub it a ‘call’”.
Then when I left the convent, Frederick was very worried about my sanity if I was not allowed to go back.
“In normal circumstances I would not have appeared to countenance such an idea but if a daughter or sister’s happiness and health, and above all, her reason is at all likely to suffer from continual opposition, it is better to drop it at once and take a conciliatory view than to run so frightful a risk and I am sure my father would never forgive us if we had thrown any opposition in the way and such a distressing result should take place. These highly wrought superstitious notions are very near madness and I feel easily become so, even if we overrate the danger it is our duty not to run it.
And of course in the end I decided not to go back and the subject of Mother Lydia and anything connected with the affair were not to be talked about.
Moma was so determined to leave Larkbeare and find another home for herself and her daughters. Frederick wrote to Papa saying he felt the breakup of the family would do great damage to their grandfather and aunts, but also to Emily who loved being in Exeter.
He wrote about Emily, “Her singular sensitive and enthusiastic but clever nature is restrained and kept in order here, but is constantly irritated and made rebellious elsewhere. When she was on a visiting tour with mother she was constantly ill, in tears, and unhappy. Here she is the liveliest of creatures, always well and industrious and happy and as she is nearly of age, she is quite capable of judging what is good for her. Mother and Edith alone wish for the change and the rest of us are most opposed to it. As for Maria, you can easily ascertain the truth from her, ask her yourself and the reality would soon be apparent.”
Frederick said that he felt that I should go out as a governess or companion. Papa said that he strongly would resist such a suggestion. “It is indeed a sad pity that she did not marry and Indeed I feel it is a great mistake, if there might be an opportunity to delay that all important event. But girls frequently have little choice and little chance.”
About this time Charles went to visit Frederick, “He looks marvellously well and says he is very happy. His present studies of Logic and Rhetoric bring him into contact with his favourite authors. I suspect the Jesuits have found out that his gifts lie in teaching and mean to employ him in that way.”
Because the tensions at Larkbeare were so great, Papa wrote to Frederick that he might be able to provide another home for Moma and us girls. He said “the aunts have so much increased the publicity that Maria would never be happily placed back at Larkbeare - the centre of so much notice and conversation that I will not expose her to the consequent annoyance and as regards your Mother, I think that her return to Exeter as her home is negative. I shall consider I am to do what is right and fit towards my father and sister, and no longer consider Larkbeare as the family home. Maria sees her mistakes as clearly as any of us - and would bring the past in oblivion. Your Aunt Lucy says she has told friends that if I had been in England I would have raised the indignation of the whole country. NO. NO. I would have put my finger on every lip and love for Maria herself would have led me to shelter her from the storms of public discussion. - the very last thing that a young lady should be exposed.
Papa returned to England in June 1853, for his long leave. However, he didn’t have any intention of resting. He knew that Governor Bonham was not intending to continue in the post, and he wanted that job. Considering how unhappy most of his time in China had been, that was very unexpected. He felt he had much more to give to China and that part of the world.
So he went on a whirlwind of visits to Parliament and anyone else who thought he might get a good reference from. He went to visit the Queen to give her the presents from the King of Siam - which she fully appreciated.
In August he went on a whirlwind tour of the industrial north, giving talks about the opportunities in China for what they have to trade.
Frederick and Edgar were both members of the Athenaeum Club in London, and they often met Papa there and dined with him.
Things in Larkbeare had gone from bad to worse, and both aunts were developing mental illnesses so Papa arranged for them to go into a home. And Grandpa was also appearing to be more senile so Moma and Edith went back to Larkbeare to help with his care. Edith made an excellent nurse.
Emily was now thinking of converting from Anglicanism to Catholicism. Papa said, “She and Charles have occult sympathies, one would think. I expect Charles will work his way as an erudite Jesuit to a position of some eminence.”
Actually the leaving Governor Bonham had recommended Papa for his job, “under proper instruction and restraints” as he felt Papa needed a firm rein on his enthusiasm. So in the end he was not only appointed Governor of Hong Kong, and Plenipotentiary of the whole of that area, but he was made a knight of the realm - Sir John Bowring.
He was very pleased with his good fortune, and told everyone how he now had control of the largest group of people in the world. We were very proud of him too.
Moma decided that she would go with Papa to Hong Kong.. She wasn’t all that excited about the move, as she seemed much older (although she was younger) and less fit than Papa, and didn’t like the idea of the very hot, humid weather of Hong Kong. Frederick tried to talk her out of it. Edith happily agreed, as she would go wherever Moma went, as they were close companions. Emily decided she would stay in Exeter and live with our grandfather, and continue with her teaching job. So that left me. I knew that I could be of use to Papa, as I often had been in the past, so I opted to go too, not without some regrets, because I loved my work.
So on the 10th of January, 1854, Papa and Frederick took a trip to Paris. It was very cold and heavy snow, and he came back with a heavy cold.
On February 16, Papa received his knighthood from Queen Victoria and dined the following day with all members of the Lewin and Bowring family, except for Charles and Emily. The next day they went to see us off on the train to Southampton and the beginning of our very exciting trip. Also coming with us was Papa’s nephew, OT Lane, who would act as his secretary. He was quite young but very capable.
I will leave my diary behind, and start a new one as we start on our very exciting adventure.