Introducing

Louisa's World



It is the summer of 1815

It is the summer of 1815. If you are Louisa Sarah Collins, daughter of Stephen Collins, native of Halifax, and of Phebe (Coffin) Collins, Native of Nantucket, you live on a large farm called Colin Grove just two and a half miles east of Dartmouth, a small village on the eastern side of Halifax Harbour opposite the Nova Scotia capital. You are 18 or 19 years of age, the second daughter in a family of eight girls, ranging in age from 20 years down to nine months, and no boys. And you have started a diary
 

The Daily Chores

Responsibility

She reports the day's work faithfully and succinctly—with the attitude of one who has never doubted its importance nor her responsibility for carrying it out. At the same time, it is very clear that Louisa has no urban-romantic nostalagia about the things she has to do. The work is just something that has to be done not the be-all and end-all of her life. It includes carding, churning, housecleaning, ironing, knitting, making wine, mending, milking (on occasion), picking currants and wild berries, picking peas and beans, preparing dinner, raking and making hay, sewing, spinning, and washing clothes.

Hard Work and Tedium

Sometimes, as in the case of raking and making hay, the work is strenuous and of long duration. Usually the work is tedious and, apparently, done in isolation—particularly true, it seems, of the two chores Louisa mentions most, spinning and churning .

Time for Other Things

But things aren't always so bad for Louisa—nor are her days (so filled with work as they often are) always so taken up with work. Usually she has time for other things—which may seem surprising when one takes into account that as second eldest in a family of no boys, a good deal of responsibility would normally fall upon her shoulders. Presumably, her father has resources enough to afford hired hands, two of whom—the milk boy and one "old Skinner "—are mentioned by Louisa.
 

Friendships

Loneliness

Sometimes her free time is just as much a problem to her as her time spent alone working in her spinning room. Some of her Sundays are that way. In fact, the strenuousness and tedium of work are less a problem to her than the solitude . It seems she is by temperament one who needs companionship and only a little seclusion. For her, friends—close personal friends—are a kind of sunshine. When she is with a friend, or a couple of friends, she is always pleased with life .

Counting the Days

When she is separated from her friends—which is often the case—she seems to be counting the days until her reunion with them or, as in a situation in September involving Harriet, doing her utmost by sending notes across the Harbour to encourage her friend to come over to Colin Grove.

Visitors

Visitors to Colin Grove—whether close personal friends of Louisa or not—are usually reported by her, as is a lack of visitors. Days when there are no visitors tend to be gloomy—weatherwise and emotionally. On such days, both because there's nothing to relate and because she's perhaps too depressed to write, Louisa's entries tend to be very brief. But on days when there are lots of visitors, as on Sept. 10, the entries are relatively long and reflect Louisa's pleasure in her company.

Close Friends

Louisa has several close friends—Mrs. Brinley, Mrs. Brinley's sister Sally Allen, and even their mother Mrs. John Allen, and very likely Mary Coleman. But, with the exception perhaps of Louisa's cousin Eliza Coleman, her very closest friends are separated from her by the waters of Halifax Harbour. One of these is her fiance, Thomas Beamish. Another is his sister Maria. But Louisa's closest friend of all is Harriet Beamish, sister of Thomas and Maria. If Louisa has a bosom friend, Harriet is that person.
 

Free Time Alone

When she's unable to be with her friends, Louisa spends her free time reading novels and poetry, writing poetry, visiting her "bower," keeping her diary , and exchanging notes with Harriet (she uses several messengers, the chief one being her father, who goes to Halifax on Wednesdays and Saturdays—to market—and occasionally on other days).
 

The Wider Rural Society

The diary doesn't deal only with farm work and with how a sensitive young girl handles loneliness. It gives glimpses of the larger rural society, of its customs and entertainments and pastimes. It is as much about these things as it is about the personal day-to-day life of its author. And it mentions individuals, a large number of individuals by name—various members of neighbouring families; and relatives and friends from nearby Dartmouth, Halifax, and beyond. There is the occasional reference to weddings involving socially prominent Halifax families, and there are references to the comings and goings of farm hands, servant girls, blacks and an Indian.
 

Customs

Walking

Some of the customs implicit in the diary may be mildly surprising. The predominant mode of travel, for instance, is walking. Louisa's family has a chaise and at least one or two horses, but only once (on Oct. 8 ) does she mention anyone's using the chaise and only twice (S22 , O7 ) does she mention anyone in her family riding horseback. Travel by sleigh is mentioned once (J12). Walking is mentioned frequently.

Escorts

Travel by foot often comes up in connection with another custom, that of women making use of escorts when they visit friends and neighbours at night. It is evident that this observance is no mere formality; rather, it seems to have been a practical precaution at a time when unlighted and lonely roads and byways made travel at night dangerous. Nor, despite the suggestion in A17 that the usual escort is one's "beau," does it appear that the custom had a strongly romantic aspect; for in just about every case mentioned by Louisa, the escort is a member of the girl's own family, usually a brother, or, as is the case in the Collins family, the father, as Louisa has no brothers. Although the young men acting as escorts are usually in their late teens and early twenties, evidently—as when on Sept. 13 Frederick comes to meet Eliza at Nan's Hill—a younger brother can serve during the daytime. As the escort usually travels twice as far as the escorted, being an escort can involve a bit of exercise.

Visiting

No doubt there would not be much travel—by foot or otherwise—nor much need for escorts, if another custom were not so popular. That custom is visiting. In the diary, visiting is something of a social phenomenon, holding a place in Louisa's world not unlike the position shopping holds in modern North American society—that of being perhaps the number one pastime. Five types of visiting can be distinguished, according to length of time involved:

Taking Tea
Spending the Evening
Spending the Day
Staying Overnight
Making an Extended Visit

Entertainment

When Louisa and her contemporaries get together, the forms of entertainment engaged in are straightforward and unsophisticated. They include dancing, singing, playing games like backgammon, Blindman's Buff, and Cat Catch the Rat, taking walks, going on riding parties, taking sleigh rides, sliding on the ice at the lake, and "romping."
 

Silences

Holidays

Concerning the celebrating of public holidays and popular religious festivals, the diary is strangely silent. Nothing, for instance, is said on Sept. 22 about the anniversary of the Crowning of George III, and nothing is said on Oct.31 about Halloween or on Nov. 5 about Guy Fawkes.30 Only two such days are explicitely mentioned, and these without evident excitement.

Nevertheless, though holidays and festival days are not usually explicitely mentioned, their existence can occasionally be discerned in random reports of celebration.

Birthdays, Births, Deaths

A number of other things are conspicuous by their absence. There is no mention of family birthdays, and there is no mention of births or deaths in the community. But there are reports of weddings (S28 , O23) and there is a double baptism at Colin Grove involving Louisa's two youngest sisters, Georgiana and Joanna—for which event the parson arrived "before we got dressed;" and Mr. Beamish, who was to be godfather to Georgiana, "did not arrive till the ceremony was over." D2.

Apart from an incident involving another of Louisa's sisters, there is no reference to family pets—a situation which may reflect an attitude typical of farm life. It seems, though, that Phebe has become very close to some of her chickens.

Religion

And there is surprisingly little reference to church, religion, or God. On the other hand, neither are there words referring to what may be called the ungodly side of life. For all the get-togethers mentioned, there is no mention of alcohol or quarrelling. Nor is there any indication in the diary of petty jealousy, spitefulness, or preoccupation with status. All of which might suggest what is perhaps already evident from a certain polite element in her diction—that, for a country girl, Louisa has had a fairly genteel upbringing.