This is the wonder of archives: you never know what you might find. I was lucky enough to study an early 19th century document which combined a variety of wonderful elements including diary entries, poetry, drawings, a butterfly fact file, and even some pressed seaweed! Although I enjoyed reading through this eclectic collection, it did make starting to create a blog post that much more daunting – where was I to start?
These papers were from a women named Mary Anne Lee Warner (NRO, BUL 7/20, 615X1). From flicking through her pages it is easy to see she had a very curious and creative mind. She was eager to study and explore nature as shown in her writings on the various types of butterflies and moths. It is also clear that she loved to express this passion for nature in a variety of original ways, in her poetry and – my favourite – in her pressed seaweed pictures.
It was extremely interesting to read this document, but looking at an early 19th century document from the perspective of a history student realised itself in an attempt to analyse and explain all elements about the life of Mary Anne Lee Warner and what this reveals to us about society at the time. Whilst reading this document I was eagerly scavenging for as much information as this document would reveal to me. It does show us a deeply personal snapshot into someone’s life, her personality and her interests, but I could not help myself wanting to know more. And then I discovered something to change my way of thinking.
Recently I was looking through my aunt’s house and her enormous collection of diaries, scrapbooks and notebooks. One such folder that I enjoyed immensely was a scrapbook of all her teddy bears. It was a hugely decorative document with detailed descriptions of each one’s appearance and origin all accompanied with various photographs, tickets and leaflets. It could also be described as a snapshot of her life but through her teddy bears- a collection of where she brought them, why and what was happening in her life at that time. It was looking at this marvellous collection that changed how I was to view the papers of Mary Anne Lee Warner. Previously, I was looking at the document wanting it to give me answers but now I realise it doesn’t necessarily have to have these answers. My aunt did not create this book for any other reason than enjoyment just as Mary Anne Lee Warner did not scribe down her musings for any other reason than her enjoyment. She did not write it in mind of a history student reading it 200 years later. She wrote it because it gave her pleasure, and that, perhaps, is the greatest reason of them all.
The next time I looked through this document, I just enjoyed it. I marvelled at the huge difference in handwriting from then and now (and also struggled to decipher it!), enjoyed the range of poetry (especially the Valentine’s poem for a dear Frank), and amazed at her delicate drawings (and very much envied her artistic talent). Apart from struggling to read it, it was as if it was just a piece I’d discovered in my aunt’s collection, to be loved and enjoyed, and I thoroughly did. It did inspire me to try harder to do more things purely for pleasure and for intellectual curiosity and I would encourage others to do the same. Happiness is the best reason to do anything, whether that’s reading someone else’s works or creating your own collection of pressed seaweed.
Compiled by NRO Research Blogger Eve Staton