Brougham, John. [Manuscript] The Events of My Life: An Autobiography.
With which is also incorporated and interwoven (in as far as they have become component with and inseparable from mine own) an account of my Parents, Relations and Friends. (From the earliest period of my recollection to the year 1853)..
Isleworth, Middlesex., 1853.
Folio. 338pp. Contemporary maroon half straight-grain morocco over cloth boards, titled and decorated in gilt to spine and boards. Minor edgewear and scuffing, an extremely handsome volume. Internally clean and bright, (a strip of the bottom of one page has been deliberately excised in Chapter 14, one suspects because it deals with the description of a lady), all pages hand ruled, in a clear and legible hand (that’s a serious understatement to be honest), in black and on occasion, red, ink (to differentiate between authorial and epistolary text), also present are a number of laid in engravings and views to illustrate various locales covered by the manuscript, and the frontispiece consists of a rather charming folded watercolour of a thatched cottage entitled “Mine Own Old Home.”
That’s a fairly dry description. This particular early Victorian stab at immortality is visually epic; the penmanship, from the calligraphic title page right up to the elaborate colophon, via the chapter headings and decorated initials is really quite gorgeous. Mr. Brougham did nothing by halves it seems. It is one of the prettiest attempts at handwritten autobiography I have ever seen (and I have to admit I have seen many, legions of ghosts have taken up residence in my head and in the dank caverns of my cataloguing database). Brougham was born in Devon, on the rugged coastline near Lynton and Lynmouth to a large but seemingly fairly poor family of what we would now consider considerable size, but that in those days was quite normal (at least three sisters, two brothers and a litany of infant and child deaths to illness crop up regularly throughout). Far from being a journal of voyage and adventure, this is quite simply a man’s account of his life; the small joys and tragedies, the commonplace details, an evident devoutness, a love of poetry and nature, various jobs and occupations (John’s eldest brother became a carpenter, his other brother a rather reckless and glamourous sailor after an indifferent attempt at schooling), being placed in service to various visitors to the locale, marriages (John’s love life seems to have become rather bogged down in breast beating and ejaculations of purple prose; “Oh, Why Did I Love Her? Why?”), deaths (lots of deaths, much fashionable fatalism, such goth, what mourning!), births, and occasionally rather hilarious anecdotes regarding his travels and personal idiosyncrasies:
“I remember being engaged by a gentleman visiting Lynton...to look after his horse and attend him on his fishing excursions - he was, or had been, a military gentleman and had I believe been wounded in some skirmish between our troops and the Chinese some time before [presumably what is rather dramatically as the First Opium War, 1839-42, in which the British Empire, in its great wisdom, attempted to turn half of China into drug addicts in an effort to corner the Far Eastern markets] by a sword or sabre cut in the thigh which rendered him a cripple for life - I remember that he was a very irritable and passionate man...I remember ‘John’ (that’s me) being frequently called upon to assist in pumping air into a gun, a most wonderful gun it was too, in the shape of a walking stick and nearly as portable, requiring neither powder nor caps nor anything of the sort.” References to Blisset cane guns are an added perk. John goes on to describe his life as a clerk (and later a stationer’s assistant) in 1840’s London, his eventual meeting of the right woman (giving some insight into the rather tortuous state of affairs involved in courting one Miss Kipps in the early Victorian period), visiting his family, a lot of walking (Mr. Brougham’s station in life necessitated a considerable amount of economy, it seems) and a considerable, if rather floridly depicted, amount of period detail. It is a far more common occurrence to be immersed in the lives of the notable, the privileged, and the financially comfortable; it is a refreshing and intriguing change to see something of how the other 97% lived at the time, especially when encapsulated in something that was quite clearly a labour of love, and an exhibition of considerable skill.