‘During my childhood, my father carried on his business with ups-and-downs of fair prosperity and dire poverty, and I cannot recall with any pleasure the lot which fell heavily on my mother – how to feed and clothe us children.’
From a man who lived to his mid-eighties, was one of thirteen children and went on to marry twice with five children of his own, it may surprise some readers that Thomas Raymont’s journal doesn’t dwell on intimate relationships or family life. Thomas chose rather than to reveal his most intimate memories, to instead tell readers his teaching successes and tell anecdotes from his numerous posts at schools around the South of England and Wales. In fact the above quote is perhaps the most sentimental and revealing line in Thomas’ self-penned account of his life.
In further posts I will look to answer the question as to why it is that Thomas opts to tell more of his professional life than his personal one to his readers, but it is likely that the only reason Thomas decides to go into any detail in this particular sentence is to illustrate his remarkable climb from poverty to a well-respected and revered educational figure and a published author in the field of educational studies.
Thomas himself is very self-conscious at the beginning of his memoir, telling his reader that the story of his life is of little interest to those who are not personal friends of his. He concedes that the only exception to this would be ‘to illustrate the social changes which I have witnessed, and in which I have to some extent been compelled to play my part.’ (pp.2) This begs the question, why is this man’s life story of any interest to you or I? The reason that I personally found Thomas’ memoir so interesting was in fact this omission of intimate accounts of his private life. His wives Constance Annette Backer and Christine Morton are only referred to as his ‘first’ and ‘second’ wives and he is almost apologetic in writing about this as he begins this section by stating ‘Here I must interpose some account of my domestic life during these years.’ (pp.15) It almost seems a hardship for Thomas to tell of his personal life and these details are consistently throughout the memoir brief, as opposed to his very detailed anecdotes and thoughts on education and religion.
Thomas’ autobiographical account of his life is eye-opening in terms of his school years and professional life. The son of a struggling farrier and born into a family of which only a handful of the children survived infancy as a result of such illnesses as tuberculosis and whooping cough, Thomas’ narrative really is a story of a driven and focused boy turned man who climbs the ladder in his chosen field of education to become a success in his own right.
Raymont, Thomas. ‘Memories of an Octogenarian 1864-1949’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1:571, available at https://www.brunel.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/139278/BurnettArchive.pdf
‘Children sat at desks’ (1905), in
Victorian Britain – Teacher Resources <http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/victorian_britain/victorian_schools/teachers_resources.shtml> [accessed 17 February 2019]