Friday, November 13, 2009

Vicars to the death

Over the last few days I've been browsing in Francis Kilvert's A Wiltshire Diary. Kilvert was a clergyman's son (and clergyman himself) who kept a diary up until his death (which occurred shortly after his honeymoon, at the age of 38). It's a wonderful book, in the strict senses that Kilvert himself is clearly full of wonder (for instance, he thinks it worthy to note down the fact that a neighbour has a caged linnet)*, and that it makes me wonder, too. The entry after the one about the linnet describes a 'horrible dream':

It was one of those curious things, a dream within a dream, like a picture within a picture. I dreamt I dreamt that Mr and Mrs Venables tried to murder me. We were all together in a small room and they were both trying to poison me, but I was aware of their intention and baffled them repeatedly. At length, Mr Venables put me off my guard, came round fondling me, and suddenly clapping his hand on my neck behind said, 'It's of no use, Mr Kilvert. You're done for.' I felt the poison beginning to work and burn in my neck...

This dream within a dream excited me to such a state of fury, that in the outer dream I determined to murder Mr Venables. Accordingly I lay in wait for him with a pickaxe on the Vicarage lawn at Clyro, hewed and immense and hideous hole through his head, and kicked his face till it was so horribly mutilated, crushed and disfigured as to be past recognition. Then the spirit of the dream changed. Mrs Venables became her old natural self again. 'Wasn't it enough,' she said, looking at me reproachfully, 'that you should have hewed that hole through his head, but you must go and kick his face so that I don't know him again?' At this moment, Mr Bevan, the Vicar of Hay, came in. 'Well,' he said to me, 'you have done it now. You have made a pretty mess of it.'

It's strange, and somehow surprising, though it should be the least surprising thing in the world, to find that the Victorians had weird dreams too. In fact, now that it's been brought to my attention, I can't help thinking that of course they probably had much weirder ones than ours.

* Just found this quote to support my claim here: '"Why do I keep this voluminous journal?" Francis Kilvert asked himself. "Partly because life appears to me such a curious and wonderful thing that it almost seems a pity that even such a humble and uneventful life as mine should pass all together away without some such record as this..."'


Blogger Matt Merritt said...

Last time I was in Hay on Wye, I looked in vain for a cheap paperback of his complete diaries. I was amazed that there wasn't one to be found anywhere, even though he's very much the local literary hero there.

I might be down there next week, though, so I'll have to have another look.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Tony Williams said...

Yes, the complete version seems to be difficult to get hold of - saw a copy of the 3-vol 1940s edition on Amazon for £65+P&P - bit steep for me. The short selection I've got is brilliant, though, so I'll keep an eye out. Good luck, Matt!

11:09 AM  
Blogger Matt Merritt said...

I was in Leicester on Friday, killing time while I waited for the garage to service my car. I went into a little secondhand bookshop that I'd forgotten existed, and the first thing that met my eye was a single volume paperback selection from Kilvert's diaries. Only £2 - I've spent most of the weekend reading it.

11:34 AM  

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