Margaret Fountaine's letter

Margaret Fountain letter, Norwich Castle Museum

Before presenting this – the Story of my Life – to those, whoever they may be, one hundred years from the date on which it was first commenced to be written, i.e. April 18: 1878, I feel it incumbent upon me to offer some sort of apology for much that is recorded therein, especially during the first few years, when (I was barely 16 at the time it was begun) I naturally passed through a rather profitless and foolish period of life, such as was and no doubt is still, prevalent amongst very young girls, though perhaps more so then – a hundred years ago, when the education of women was so shamelessly neglected, leaving the uninitiated female to commence life with all the yearnings of nature quite unexplained to her, and the follies and foibles of youth only too ready to enter the hitherto unoccupied and possibly imaginative brain.

Some writer has said (I think it is Bulmer Lytton) that “a woman’s whole life is a history of the affections – the heart is her world.” And indeed, there is alas! much that is only too true in this statement, for are not these loves, so fondly cherished and so dearly clung to, often merely as it were so many gates leading on, through paths of sorrow, to ultimate disaster and final loss?

The greatest passion, and perhaps the most noble love of my life was no doubt for Septimus Hewson, and the blow I received from his heartless conduct left a scar upon my heart, which no length of time ever quite effaced.

For Charles Heimy, whose love and friendship for me endured for a period of no less than 27 years, ending only with his death, I felt a deep devotion and true affection; and certainly the most interesting part of my life was spent with him. The dear companion – the constant and untiring friend and assistant in our Entomological work, travelling as we did together over all the loveliest, the wildest and often the loneliest places of this most beautiful Earth, while the roving spirit and love of the wilderness drew us closely together in a bond of union in spite of our widely different spheres of life, race and individuality in a way that was often quite inexplicable to most of those who knew us.

To the Reader – maybe yet unborn – I leave this record of the wild and fearless life of one of the “South Acre Children”, who never ‘grew up’ – & who enjoyed greatly and suffered much.
M. E. Fountaine

Margaret Fountaine, born in Norfolk in 1862, became a prominent Entomologist. She bequeathed her collection of butterfly specimens together with her diaries to Norwich Castle Musuem in the 1930’s with strict instructions that they were not to be opened until 1978 – one hundred years from the date they were begun. This letter, sealed within the iron box containing her bequest, is now on display along with her butterflies and some fascinating photos of her, her friend and colleague Charles Neimy and Septimus Hewson, the local vicar with whom she fell in love but who married another woman.

For some reason, her letter really resonated across the years – and the display cabinet – to me.

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6 Responses to Margaret Fountaine's letter

  1. laverneandshirley says:

    A woman’s heart is her world. So true. For me, anyway.
    –L

  2. truce says:

    For me, too. Isn’t it wonderful when you can hear someone speaking so clearly to you from so many years ago?

  3. laverneandshirley says:

    Did you ever see “The Hours” or read the book? That was also interesting to me to see that those women, even though they were all from different times and generations, struggled with the same things that we struggle with today, even though women have more rights than they did long ago.

  4. truce says:

    Yes, I loved “The Hours” for exactly those reasons. I’ve always loved history – it amazes and reassures me that people are essentially the same, whether they lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

  5. piereth says:

    This is beautiful. I have a book on similar lines which is called ‘Contemplating Adultery’ – what academics do to their work in order to sell it! – and if you can get past the title it is a collection of letters from both sides of a love affair in the early Victorian era. Quite fascinating.

    I love diaries – Samuel Pepys’s is amazing and so is Oscar Wilde’s.

  6. truce says:

    That sounds fascinating, will have to track it down. Did you ever read ‘Possession’ – similar vibe. Brilliant.

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