The Diary of Thomas Turner, 1754-1765

The Diary of Thomas Turner, 1754-1765

The Diary of Thomas Turner, 1754-1765

The Diary of Thomas Turner, 1754-1765

Synopsis

Thomas Turner (1729-1793) was a hard-working and ingenious village shopkeeper in Sussex. In the eleven years of his diary, he recorded the minutiae of everyday village life in pre-industrial England. This edition contains about a third of the massive whole of the diary, but allows Turner to take his rightful place alongside Pepys, Evelyn, and Woodforde as an indispensable English diarist.

Excerpt

Historians and antiquarians have known about the diary of Thomas Turner for a century and a quarter. It was in 1859 that R. W. Blencowe and M. A. Lower published extracts from it in the Sussex Archaeological Collections. It has been unfortunate that these extracts, which the editors in many cases mistranscribed and often realigned chronologically in order to fit the drift of their article, became fossilized as 'the diary of Thomas Turner'. Subsequent editors, including Florence Maris Turner and G. H. Jennings, did not have access to the original 111-volume manuscript, and historians have relied on their versions, despite Dean K. Worcester excellent monograph, The life and times of Thomas Turner of East Hoathly, which in 1948 drew attention to the partial and not always accurate snippets which Blencowe and Lower had reproduced. In this present edition the original manuscript has been revisited, Blencowe and Lower's text has been checked and put in its correct sequence, and far fuller extracts have been made in an attempt to provide both the general reader and the social historian in the last quarter of the twentieth century with a more representative selection from this unique source and with far more information than was given by the miscellaneous bits and pieces in which Blencowe and Lower considered the value of the diary lay. In the original manuscript, they wrote, 'the entries are very multifarious, and, for the most part, trivial and uninteresting'; and they therefore cut it down and provided a selection which could lead J. B. Priestley to write in his introduction to Florence Maris Turner's edition in 1925 that 'what his Diary lacks in length, fullness and historical importance, it makes up for in richness, quaintness and a comical-pathetic naïveté'.

The historical viewpoint changes over the years and we can now recognize that naïveté is not necessarily either comical or pathetic and that it is precisely from the reporting of the trivial details by 'a little figure from the past' and 'an eighteenth-century nonentity' (to use two more of Priestley's phrases) that we can piece together a portrait of day-to-day life in a mid-eighteenth-century English village.

Much, unfortunately, has still had to be omitted from this edition. More than a third of a million words have been reduced to around . . .

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