Miscellany — October 2010

What are holidays for?

Summer is over. For those of us working in education, term has begun, or is about to. And in that timeless tradition that holidays tow in their wake, the trip to the seaside, the excursion to the Languedoc, the flight to visit family across the seas, already seem to have occurred months away, perhaps even to someone else. Before I let go of the summer vacation entirely, I thought I'd extend the pleasure a bit by looking at what EE's correspondents say about holidays.

Holidays are for children & childhood

On Friday, 23 November 1708, Jonathan Swift writes to his close, though much younger, friend Charles Ford, remembering the furloughs of childhood:

 . . . So I formerly used to envy my own Happiness when I was a Schoolboy, the delicious Holidays, the Saterday afternoon, and the charming Custards in a blind Alley; I never considered the Confinement ten hours a day, to nouns and Verbs, the Terror of the Rod, the bloddy Noses, and broken Shins.

— Jonathan Swift to Charles Ford, 23 November 1708;
EE letter ID: swifjoOU0010108a1c

Holidays are for visiting friends & family

Of course, one of the great pleasures (obligations for some) of a holiday season is the chance to visit friends and family, as William Cowper reminds his cousin Harriot Hesketh two days before Christmas, 1785:

 . . . This is a holiday with me, and to make it the more a holiday I design to spend part of it with you. Having made myself too sick (according to Doctor's orders) to be able to do any thing with Homer, I mean to try if conversing with you will not answer the purpose of a cordial. How I shall sustain a weekly exercise of this kind I do not know. To be sure, having Novelty to recommend it, it is very agreeable at present, but I fear that when that Grace shall cease, the pleasure will cease with it. I hope my Cousin to escape without having any occasion to dabble in the Shoe you mention, at the same time from my heart I thank you for that friendship of yours that is always considering how it may do me good.

— William Cowper to Harriot Hesketh, Lady Hesketh, Friday, 23 December 1785;
EE letter ID: cowpwiOU0020427a1c

... or writing to them when you can't travel

And when one can't visit, it is vacation enough simply to correspond. Would William feel the same about email, a phone call or a text message?:

 . . . Those mornings that I set apart for writing to you, my dearest cousin, are my holiday mornings. At those times I give myself a dispensation from all poetical employments, and as soon as I cease to converse with you, betake myself to a walk in the garden. You will observe therefore that my health cannot possibly suffer by such a procedure, but is rather likely to be benefited; for finding it easy as well as pleasant to write when I write to you, I consequently spend less time at my desk than when Homer lies before me, and have more opportunity of taking exercise and air.

— William Cowper to Harriot Hesketh, Lady Hesketh, Monday, 20 March 1786;
EE letter ID: cowpwiOU0020498a1c

The Rivals playbill

The Rivals playbill, 22 October 1795.

Holidays are for gifts & in England, pantomimes

Writing to Jeremy Bentham on Christmas day, 1806, Sir Frederick Morton Eden (aged 40 at the time) demonstrates true decorum, matching his desire for a pantomime to his writing in the role of a child:

 . . . I am just arrived from Eton for the holiday, and thank you for your silver Christmas Gift. I hope my other friends will follow your example, and contribute twopences enough to gratify me with the sight of at least one Pantomime before I return to School.

My father desires me to enclose for you a work he has been employed on whilst I was getting through my Horn Book; and to say that if you have a spare set of all the Numbers of the Pauper System you sent to the Annals of Agric. he would like to have it to bind up with several other tracts you have already favored him with.

He also desires me to say that, as Mahomet wont come to the Mountain, the Mountain must come to Mahomet; or in other words that he must find the country, for you, on the shady side of Pall Mall, where he will settle in the middle of next Month, of which you shall receive due notice, and I hope you will bring me a paper of sugar plums.

— Sir Frederick Morton Eden, 2nd baronet to Jeremy Bentham, Thursday, 25 December 1806;
EE letter ID: bentjeOU0070391b1c

Dutch landscape

Dutch landscape.

Holidays are for travel & tourism

September 15th 1761, and the French scholar and magistrate Pierre Robert Le Cornier de Cideville writes to Voltaire, for the hospitality shown to a M. Dornay, a man who sees vacations as a time for travel, tourism and a visit or two to great men at home:

 . . . Mon coeur s'aquite avec plaisir de l'obligation que je vous ay de la bonne réception que vous et mde Denis avés bien voulu faire à mr. Dornay, que j'avois pris la liberté de vous recommander; il est enchanté, transporté, il vint diner avec moy ces jours passés à ma petite métairie de l'Aunay, qu'il trouve encore passable, et c'est beaucoup, après vos merveilles. Ce furent Questions sur questions, comment se porte t'il, comment se porte t'elle, suis je encore dans leur souvenir? Après une description des belles choses qu'il avoit vues, de la situation du lieu, des vües du lac, de l'abondance et de l'honnesteté des habitans, de la construction d'une Eglise, d'un château, d'une salle de spectacle, il me parla avec discernement et avec enthousiasme du maitre de la maison, il m'en dit beaucoup et ne m'aprit rien: nostre jeune voyageur a du goust et de l'esprit, il est dans l'usage de sortir de son pays tous les ans au temps des vacances, il a déjà visité la Hollande et les principales provinces de la France, il doit voir l'Angleterre à la paix, et aller en Italie, l'année prochaine, mais comme la chose du monde la plus rare et la plus curieuse est un grand homme, après avoir parcouru la Patrie de Virgile, de Ciceron, de Terence, de Saluste et de Catule, il reviendra par les Alpes et par Geneve, vous visiter et se dédomager du chagrin qu'il aura eu sur les ruines de Rome en conversant avec celuy qui en est plein, et qui seul les remplace tous, il viendra jouir de l'homme unique en Europe dont les talens font le plus resouvenir de ces autheurs fameux que nous regrettons; il faudroit selon luy, et selon tous ceux qui vous connoissent, vivre dans le pays de Gex.

— Pierre Robert Le Cornier de Cideville to Voltaire, Tuesday, 15 September 1761;
EE letter ID: voltfrVF1070449b1c

Holidays are for improving one's health

Locke, who was both philosopher and medical man, advises his friend Edward Clarke, on the particular value, along with some abstinence from wine drinking, of taking a good holiday. This in respect of the ill health of John Somers, 1st Baron Somers, lord keeper of the great seal:

 . . . I wish to your general opinion of his ill state of health you had added some particulars concerning it, but for want of that, taking it to be some remains of that indisposition which made him once go out of the house, I am steadily of opinion that he should wholly leave off wine and wholly come to drinking of water, by gradually diminishing the wine and accustoming himself to the other, for which this is a fit time of the year, but by no means to make this change all at once. Another thing I think necessary for his health is to make himself as many holidays as possibly he can, and to disburthen his head of weighty cares every half-hour of leisure that he can get. I am not ignorant how hard a thing I propose in this, but my meaning is that he should get all the time of relaxation of thought and diversion that he can.

— John Locke to Edward Clarke, Thursday, 14 May 1693;
EE letter ID: lockjoOU0040672a1c

Holidays can also be the time for imitating the adventures of heroes . . . or not

Étienne Dumont to Jeremy Bentham, Thursday, 22 February 1821:

 . . . Vous voyez, mon cher Bentham, que mes vacances ont déjà leur destination, et vous ne devez pas trouver mauvais que je vous donne la preference sur l'agréable voyage que vous me proposez de faire à Madrid. J'ai Don Quichotte dans ma bibliothèque, je ne suis pas encore decidé à courir la carriere des aventures. Je n'aime point leur constitution, leurs trois degres d'elections, leur petit nombre, leur roi superflu, leur Commission intermediaire des Cortes etc etc. Je suis fâché que les Napolitains soient appellés à se battre pour les beaux yeux de cette Dulcinée. Je sais toutefois qu'il y a en Espagne et à Naples de forts bons esprits, de vrais croyants, et il me vient assez souvent d'Italie de forts beaux compliments que je vous renvoie.

— Étienne Dumont to Jeremy Bentham, Thursday, 22 February 1821;
EE letter ID: bentjeOU0100295a1c

Holidays are for metaphorical or literal visits to bedlam

One man's misery can be the entertainment even of the sensitive soul of a poet:

 . . . In those days when Bedlam was open to the cruel curiosity of Holiday ramblers, I have been a visitor there. Though a boy, I was not altogether insensible of the misery of the poor captives, nor destitute of feeling for them. But the Madness of some of them had such an humorous air, and displayed itself in so many whimsical freaks, that it was impossible not to be entertained at the same time that I was angry with myself for being so. A line of Bourne's is very expressive of the spectacle which this world exhibits, Tragicomical as the incidents of it are, absurd in themselves but terrible in their consequences.

— William Cowper to John Newton, Monday, 19 July 1784;
EE letter ID: cowpwiOU0020264a1c

Holidays are for reading books

This summer we carried so many books on holiday that it took both my son and I to carry the requisite book-bag! Writing to John Locke on 20 July 1700, his Dutch colleague Philippus van Limborch has chosen a single weighty tome for his summer reading rather than an excessive weight of them:

 . . . Some weeks ago I was given in your name the French translation of your most excellent book concerning the human understanding. I give you my very best thanks for that notable gift. I have not been able to read it as yet, but my holidays, during which I intend to read it, are now near. For the importance and variety of the matter treated in it, which I have learnt from the table of chapters, require very great attention of mind and continuous and well-nigh uninterrupted reading. And so I shall spend on it the time when I have freedom from daily affairs, in order to read it with so much the greater profit for myself.

— Translation from Latin into English of Philippus van Limborch to John Locke, Tuesday, 20 July 1700;
EE letter ID: lockjoOU0070101a2c

Students fencing

Students fencing.

Holidays are for self-improvement

For some people, holidays aren't simply a chance for a good read, but for an entire programme of self-improvement, as Adam Smith recommends to John Petty, 1st earl of Shelburne, for his son's summer vacation in 1759 — though it doesn't sound as if the young man would have much minded:

 . . . The great vigour both of mind and body with which he seems to be peculiarly blessed makes every thing easy to him. We have one holiday in the month which he has hitherto constantly chosen of his own accord to employ rather in learning something which he had missed by being too late in coming to the College, than in diversion.

The College breaks up in the beginning of June and does not sit down again till the beginning of October. During this interval I propose that he should learn french and Dancing and fencing and that besides he should read with me the best greek, latin and french Authors on Moral Philosophy for two or three hours every morning, so that he will not be idle in the vacation. The Professor of Mathematics too proposes to teach him Euclid at that time as he was too late to learn it in the Class. That Gentleman, who is now turned seventy but preserves all the gaiety and vigour of youth, takes more pains upon Mr Fitzmaurice than I ever knew him to do upon any Person, and generally gives him a private lecture twice or thrice a week. This is purely the effect of personal liking, for no other consideration is capable of making Mr Simson give up his ease.

— Adam Smith to John Petty, 1st earl of Shelburne, Wednesday, 4 April 1759;
EE letter ID: smitadOU0010030a1c

Holidays mean you can't depend on the printer

Holidays can be bad for doing business, especially if those engaged in the business see the holidays as a time for a bit of riot, as the poet William Cowper (see "bedlam" above) reports to his young friend Samuel Rose (coincidentally, this lawyer and literary editor was the one who defended William Blake at his trial for treason at Chichester):

 . . . These holiday times are very unfavourable to the Printer's progress. He and all his dæmons are employed in making themselves merry, and me sad, for I mourn at ev'ry hindrance.

— William Cowper to Samuel Rose, Friday, 29 April 1791;
EE letter ID: cowpwiOU0030503a1c

Between holidays is the perfect time for advertising

But the time leading up to a holiday can be a great one for advertising a book — how little has changed, as the newspapers are still full of such promotions before holiday periods. Here Samuel Richardson shows keen marketing acumen when writing to the poet Edward Young, a few days before Christmas 1744:

 . . . As you propose to write to your bookseller, he will give you that account of the sale of your excellent piece, which I cannot, but by inquiry of him. This, to be sure, is the right time for advertising it afresh, till near the holidays, and then stop, and re-advertise when they are over. Every body I hear talk of it longs for the succeeding part, and to see the work altogether at a view.

— Samuel Richardson to Edward Young, c. Wednesday, 23 December 1744;
EE letter ID: younedOU0010190a1c

Country folk don't get holidays

As Voltaire (tongue firmly in cheek) reminds Claude Anne Bergeret, Friday, 16 January 1761, poor country folk like him can't afford holidays:

 . . . Madame Denis et moi, madame, nous nous souvenons toujours avec grand plaisir de votre apparition, et nous sommes enchantés de votre souvenir. Je viendrais vous en remercier à Besançon, si j'étais le maître de mon temps; mais vous savez que les cultivateurs ne peuvent abandonner leurs chaumières. Nous autres laboureurs, nous ne sommes pas comme les magistrats, nous n'avons point de vacances. Il faut que nous travaillions toute l'année, afin de nous mettre en état, nous et nos paysans, de payer nos tributs à messieurs les fermiers généraux.

— Voltaire to Claude Anne Bergeret, Friday, 16 January 1761;
EE letter ID: voltfrVF1060474a1c

Holiday behaviour can take the measure of a man

Before we all head off, in response to these reminders of good times away, the 4th earl of Chesterfield has advice, first given to his illegitimate son, Philip Stanhope, on how holiday thinking does not constitute the full merit of a man:

 . . . I shall go to town in four or five days, and carry back with me a little more hearing than I brought; but yet not half enough for common use. One wants ready pocket-money much oftener than one wants great sums; and, to use a very odd expression, I want to hear at sight. I love everyday senses, everyday wit and entertainment; a man who is only good on holidays is good for very little. Adieu!

— Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of Chesterfield to Philip Stanhope, Tuesday, 28 November 1752;
EE letter ID: stanphOU0010283a1c

Holidays are for academics to recover from their students

Despite Stanhope's warning, there are reasons to look forward to the vacation. In Pierre Bayle's case, it is a break from the efforts of teaching, which rounds our circle as we must head off to the lecture hall again:

 . . . Je n'ai pu faire réponse autrement que par un billet à votre belle lettre du prémier d'avril, mon très cher Monsieur, à cause des fatigantes occupations où m'ont engagé pendant ces deux années, la multitude d'exercices qu'il m'a fallu faire à mes ecoliers, et la composition d'un cours. Me voici, par la grace de Dieu, delivré de cette facheuse corvée J'ai achevé mon cours; mes theses pour les maîtres-es-arts sont soutenuës. Enfin, je suis dans les vacances. La prémiere chose qui m'est venuë dans l'esprit, a été de vous écrire, mon cher Monsieur, et de vous avertir que je m'en vais vous accabler de lettres, qui vous feront peut-être présenter un placet à messieurs nos curateurs, tendant à m'obliger de recommencer un autre cours, à capite ad calcem, tant pour la composition, que pour le dictat.

— Pierre Bayle to Vincent Minutoli, Sunday, 29 August 1677;
EE letter ID: baylpiVF0020430a1c

 

— Robert V. McNamee
Director, Electronic Enlightenment Project
© 2010 University of Oxford

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