Category Archives: Oddments

Alexander Bayne on his family

The previous letter by Alexander Bayne was written in 1713, when he had just been (re)introduced to Mary Carstairs. They were soon married and lived, if not happily ever after, at least until death did them part. Here he is, writing twenty years later (November 21, 1734) fondly about his family

…You may imagine therefore the account you give me of your family was most acceptable. And, in return, I am to tell you, that I am very happy in mine. The Sparkler, I am afraid, is not now so proper a name for Mrs. Bayne as it was when I wrote you that letter you mention: however, that part of the brilliant which she has lost, is lost only by communication, for she has brought me two girls, one of twenty and another of eighteen, who have caught it; and I have the satisfaction to think, it is the least part of their value that they are handsome. I have three boys, the eldest of seven years of age, who are all much handsomer than is needful for them, and the eldest promises something of a genius, which I am the apter to flatter myself with the hopes of, as his eldest sister has it; who, without being in the smallest degree prompted, has gone through more books that most men of twice her age usually do: and, which is best of all, she is not sensible of that superiority she has over most of her sex of like age with herself.

Later his health turned worse, and in 1737, he began a trip to Bath in hopes of recovery, but he died on the journey at Alnwick, Northumberland, where he was buried and his wife put up a memorial to him in Latin with the epitaph, “The Gods conceal from men, that they may endure to live, how pleasant it is to die.”

Bayne tablet small

Davison, in A descriptive and historical view of Alnwick … (1822) gives this colourful story of his end:

Dr. Alexander Bayne, in his way to Bath from Edinburgh, when he was much reduced, was in such high spirits that he got out of his carriage a little before he came into Alnwick, and walked and sung for some way. But making a slip upon the stairs of the Angel Inn as he went to bed, he instantly expired.

His widow Mary lived on to 1759.

The letter was reprinted in: J. Duncombe, Letters by several eminent persons deceased … with notes explanatory and historical, 2 vols. (1772)

The Sparkler

Another letter of Alexander Bayne, written in 1713, is on a happier note:

You may remember, I had a cousin and friend, that, two years ago, came to see me, and stayed some time in Lincoln’s Inn. With this gentleman, you must know, I have had a very long, constant, and warm friendship; and, you’ll readily imagine, he was at Edinburgh to meet me upon my arrival there. The next morning we contrived to be together tête à tête, when he, who has devoted himself to a single life, took occasion to complain to me how much he suffered by my absence, and how joyless even his rural amusements, and one of the prettiest country-seats of his, were to him, while I had no share therein, wishing withal, as he had done two years ago, that I could think of leaving England, find out a proper mate for myself, and come and live with him. You cannot doubt but these warm solicitations of so dear a friend made a very deep impression on me. A few hours after, I chanced to go to pay my respects to this gentleman’s mother, whom I found at a tea-table with her three daughters: the Sparkler very soon caught my eye; for having known her when she was a girl, and then a great favorite of mine, I had an elegant satisfaction in observing that she was now what she then promised to be. In short, I soon found myself so much hers, and she being so nearly related to my friend, that I could not but think that Providence had contrived to make this proposal effectual.  I gave into it, and matters are as far advanced as decency could permit in so short a time.

Reader, she married him.

The letter was reprinted in: J. Duncombe, Letters by several eminent persons deceased … with notes explanatory and historical, 2 vols. (1772)

On the Dangers of Sitting Too Much

Alexander Bayne (c. 1684—1737) was an amiable and cultured man, and the first professor of Scots law at Edinburgh University. Alas, his zeal for the position brought him physical ailments.  In a letter to a friend in March 1736, apologizing for not writing sooner, he says he has been ill, and continues:

This illness I had first brought upon myself by a life too sedentary, and too hard study. In the year 1721, a profession of the municipal law of Scotland, or what you would call its common law, was erected here; and upon the recommendation of our fifteen judges, the patrons of the university of Edinburgh did me the honour to put me in the chair. So high a recommendation occasioned my making it too much a point of honour to fill this chair with some reputation, especially being the first of my profession in this university. I was in great health and vigour, while I was employed in composing my system of lectures, I studied at the rate of fourteen hours a day for eight months successively, and in the first years of my profession wrote with my own hand above sixteen hundred sheets. I soon felt the bad effects of such intense application of the mind, which, however, I thought were more owing to a circumstance in my way and manner of sitting and writing at a low table, by which the bowels were long in a state of being compressed and put out of their natural situation, than to the constant application of thought; for I found very soon the seat of my distemper to be in the lower region.  By great attention to my diet, which I kept very low, never tasting any liquor, but the pure element, for five years, I recovered my former state of health, and preserved it till this last summer…

Up! And away from the keyboard.

The letter was reprinted in: J. Duncombe, Letters by several eminent persons deceased … with notes explanatory and historical, 2 vols. (1772)

For an earlier letter of Alexander Baynes, see The Sparkler.

Voyage of the ‘Pearl’, 1849

George Morgan Clarke (1798—1849) was the second son of Charles Clarke. He married Caroline Maria Likely in 1826, but they do not appear to have had any children. At least, none were living with them at the time of the 1841 census. George Clarke was a cabinet maker and lived in St. Pancras, near his father. In the 1840s, after the death of Charles Clarke, George’s brother Henry and sister Julia, together with their families, emigrated to Canada. George visited them, as he is recorded at the baptism of his brother’s daughter, Yvonne in July 1847. Perhaps emboldened by their success in starting a new life, he decided to join them.

On 23rd August 1849, George Clarke wrote a short and slightly unusual will leaving everything to his wife and naming her executrix. After her decease all was to go to her sister, Sarah Elizabeth Likely for life, and after her decease to “my children if I have any”. The ship sailed the same day.

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Pithy Wills

Anyone who spends any time with eighteenth-century probate soon becomes familiar with the lengthy, repetitive, legalistic phraseology that permeates the typical will and which, along with the difficult handwriting, makes reading them a painful and tedious experience. It was rather refreshing, then, to come across the will of William Oram‘s grandson, another William Oram, who died in 1824. The will reads, in its entirety, as follows:

        March the 4th 1820

This is to certify to every body who may be concerned and to prevent trouble amongst relations that I will and bequeath to my wife Sarah Oram all my effects of whatever sort or property whatsoever I may be possessed at her disposal after my decease. Witness my hand William Oram.

Hogarth and the Elephantine Arch

In 1761, George III was crowned in Westminster Hall. As Master Carpenter of the Board of Works, one of William Oram‘s tasks was to construct and decorate a triumphal arch through which the King’s Champion would ride. A print of the arch was engraved by Anthony Walker:

William Henry Pyne included an anecdote about Hogarth, Hayman and other artists teasing Oram during the construction of the arch in his rambling, entertaining, and largely fictitious work, Wine and Walnuts. It should be remembered that Pyne was not yet born when the incident related allegedly took place. However, it is the only extended anecdote involving Oram that I know, so here it is (with Pyne’s epic footnotes suppressed, but eccentric punctuation retained): Continue reading

A Mystery Box

Reader Gina sends in these pictures of a painted antique wooden box in her possession. Because of the signature, she thinks it may have been painted by, or associated with, John or Joshua Kirby, but there is no detailed provenance. I have not seen or heard a description of any similar item and we would welcome any comments or hints people may have.