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Analysing the text
Weather and other clues
As I write this in August 2012, Hurricane Isaac has prevented the start of the Republican Convention in Tampa, Florida, and is threatening Alabama where a state of emergency has been declared. If the original manuscript ended up, and still survives, in Addison, Alabama, this may not be the first time the Diary's existence has been threatened and weather may have played a not inconsiderable part in the subsequent life of the Diary as well as in that of its author or authors.
While various attempts have been made to date the snow storms, frosts and other weather events mentioned in the Diary, there have been no definite conclusions. But it may be that eventually these too may fit into place as additional pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.
We've previously mentioned Diary entries that refer to the London fashion for dying ladies hair with turmeric in 1782 and the development of cast iron cooking stoves in the 1780s.
According to most sources we've looked at, in fashionable society, women's hair was elaborately dressed with pomatum and powdered during the mid-18th century. Then it was usually the natural colour after about 1780. The emphasis shifted to hats which became very large and elaborate until about 1790. After that both hairstyles and hats became much smaller and simpler.
The first documented cast-iron cooking grate with an oven at the side was patented in 1780 and a version with a water-boiler followed in 1783.
We can't find any other entries which suggest a more specific date for the diary than these.
There are a great many dialect words used in the Diary. They appear to be more specific to Britain's South and West than elsewhere and seem to point to particular areas when related to current dialect usage. For example 'shuppick', which appears in the incident of the 'lost shuppick' is, or was until recently, used in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. It is not commonly used in Shropshire, where the term 'pikel' is used instead. Shuppick appears to be a corruption of sheaf pike and is now commonly known as a pitch fork. The words, 'tollet' and 'tallet', meaning a hay loft, occurred differently in east and west Herefordshire, but uncertainties about the diary transcription mean that we can't be sure which word was in the original. And, in any case, even less is known about the use of particular dialect words in the 18th Century in specific counties than about current usage. Almost certainly, much will have changed during the intervening years.≠
Added to this, if the diarist was born in a different county to the one she was living in when writing the diary, it could confuse the picture. And if there was more than one diarist it might further exacerbate the difficulty in pinpointing the Diary's location or locations. We mustn't forget, either, that Jeanne's own dialect might well be reflected when she incorporated the stories told her as a girl. If we had the actual diary manuscript it might go some way to shedding light on all this. It would in fact be as valuable a source of knowledge about this as it would about so many areas of 18thC farming life. Without it the most we can do to pinpoint locations, using dialect words alone, amounts to little more than conjecture.
'Merrilies' and 'heartilies'
This study has proved quite profitable. We looked at the most complete version of the book and then removed from the text anything which had obviously been added later, such as recipes from a cookery book. We retained sections with adjectives at the end, such as merrily, goodly, heartily, hearty, rightly, mighty etc. and also left in sections which have 'thereto' and 'therefrom' at the ends of sentences. We also left in the bits on costume.
We next created a chart showing the occurrence of these words and the dialect words in relation to the dates in the book. We made a similar chart showing surnames.
What emerged was a clustering of the 'merrily' type of adjective into two or more separate periods of time, and periods where they are few and far between. These different periods may be reflecting the different 'voices' of two or perhaps three different writers. From the dialect/'merrilies' chart and the surname chart we think we can see four, possibly even five sections where there is a flurry of 'activity' and a batch of new dialect words or surnames appear. There is a rough correlation between the occurrence of new dialect words and new surnames. It's noticeable that there are few surnames mentioned and few dialect words in the section from John's mother going home to the harvest home. The adjectives we were interested in are also more common in the section from the harvest home to the end of January. Looking specifically at the adjectives, there is a large grouping of 'merrilies', as we've come to call them, between February and April of year one, few between April and September of year one, and another large cluster between September of year one and February of year two. The period after this to the end of the book is relatively devoid of these adjectives.
Interpreting this is inevitably going to be subjective to some extent, but what we seem to be seeing are at least four different sections, perhaps reflecting the four books that Michael Croucher described being bound together. The clustering and absence of these adjectives suggest different writers, perhaps four, but more likely two writers whose sections have been shuffled when the books were possibly bound in the wrong date order. They could even be a mother writing in the early 1780s at the time of the turmeric hair dye and the cast iron stove, and a daughter writing in the late 1790s. If there is a third voice, perhaps mostly heard at the end of the book, it is very likely that of Jeanne herself emulating Anne's style and it probably also occurs in other places throughout the diary when she inserted recipes and the recorded stories from her childhood meetings with the nurse or the 'old Herefordshire lady'.
Even allowing for country fashion lagging behind that in the towns, there is a strong presence of fashion items in the book that are much earlier than the 1790s, perhaps pointing to 1750-1775. Around then velvet was being used for menís breeches and ladies cloaks. In the book it was only Johnís mother that had a velvet gown, the rest being of silk. Also the straw hat like a platter seems to be of the 1770ís. The buckles were also much earlier, and not fashionable in the later 1790ís. The section containing the word 'shawl' is almost certainly wrong and, interestingly, it occurs in the last section where there are no 'merrilies'. Possibly this is one of Jeanne's additions where she is using previous descriptions but getting it wrong by adding the shawl and the black shoes.
While 'shawl' is probably a Victorian term, in fact a lot of the clothing references suggest an earlier date for the Diary.
It's very difficult to be sure how far "country fashions" would have lagged behind, but we believe in Victorian times it was typically ten years, and that was with the benefit of mass-produced publications and railways. It could have been more in the 18th century.† Lady Susan would no doubt have been pretty well up to date†as she went to London regularly.
Summing up the textual clues
So using fashion alone, or dialect alone, or only specific adjectives is far from conclusive in dating the Diary. But looking at them all together we begin to get a picture of how the book may have originated from a number of different sources. And, more importantly, this picture starts to match Molly Preston's account of how her mother assembled her source material for the Farmer's Weekly serial. It is another pointer to there really being an original diary or diaries.