Wednesday, 11 January 2012

R & R for the Old Census Scribe

Shortly before 9 pm last evening I shut down the computer and resolved to spend the time until bedtime relaxing in front of the television. On offer last night was the general bill of fare: soaps, comedies, celebrity competitions, house renovations. BBC2 was offering a dramatization of Dicken’s Edwin Drood which I had thought of watching, but as I switched on I decided I wasn’t in the mood for it. But, on our cable channel that offers nothing but repeat crime series, Murdoch’s Mysteries was about to start.

Yes, Murdoch’s Mysteries is available here in the UK. I came across it first about five years ago and since then have watched a number of episodes, but I don’t put it in my diary for watching week after week. Toronto in the 1890s was probably quite different from Toronto circa 1861, but it is still a lot closer to the 1860s than Toronto as it is today. I view each episode with a fair bit of skepticism, always on the lookout for some point in the story line where the writers forget what year it was supposed to be. Surely Dr Ogden is a complete anachronism, but there has to be some love interest in the story. Besides they chose a name for the character that comes from nineteenth century Toronto—I hope the writers were paying tribute to Uzziel Ogden and not just picking a name from thin air.

Last night’s episode started with the discovery of a body of a man who had been murdered in 1862. “Aha!”, said I, “this one is going to be interesting”. Actually, it was very involved and concerned Canadian-American politics in both the 1860s and the 1890s. They even wrote Sir Wilfrid Laurier into the script.

Since I can’t keep my hands still while watching television I opened my new tablet computer to play a game or two. This is something I haven’t really got the knack of yet, so during the ads I downloaded Google Books. Four were being offered for free: Pride and Prejudice; Frankenstein; The Seventh Report from the Select Committee of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada on Grievances, published November 1831 by W L Mackenzie; and Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada by Anna Jameson. You would almost think these had been selected for me personally.

Some day I might read Pride and Prejudice. Up to now I have satisfied myself with seeing both the film and the television adaptation more than once. Frankenstein is not my cup of tea. The Seventh Report…. is something I really ought to look into beyond the table of contents and the index that I glanced at last night. Winter Studies… is a book I have never come across before. I certainly was aware of it, and understood it to be a good read, but this was my first opportunity to open its covers. I could hardly wait for Murdoch to solve his mystery before getting down to it.

Mrs Jameson travelled to Toronto from New York in December 1836—that meant up the Hudson River by a steamer armed with an ice cutter on its prow, across country from Albany to Niagara by stage coach, and across Lake Ontario on a ship that managed to sail between storms that would have made the voyage impossible. On arrival in Toronto she had to make her way on foot to her house on Adelaide Street West—one of the five brick houses on the corner of York Street that I mentioned in my blog just before Christmas.

She settled into the cold, cold like she had never come across in England, and into the life led by “Toronto society”, a life which she admitted she had previously avoided. I was very taken by a paragraph in which she described all the different types of sleighs in use. The diary has its peculiarities: in her day-to-day life she mentions no one around her, neither family or servants, although they must have existed.

Today I “googled” and “wiki-ed” Anna Jameson and found out a bit about her life from the outside, and about where those summer rambles would lead her once that cold winter was over. I am going to read more of it, and I’m not going to spoil the story for you if you want to do the same.

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