I write this from pure motives of justice and trouth, and that whether with or against myself. I shall explain every transaction as breaf as posable. Taking this with me, that there is a just God to judge me in life and after death, that I may meet the just in that blessed manshon of bliss wheare the just rain for all eternity with their God through the redempshion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”. (19)
Anthony Errington’s memoir was written for his family to have a better knowledge of his life whilst also seemingly acting as a tool for gaining access to the afterlife. The purpose of his memoir is clear: religion and family were the two central points in his life and they acted as his motivation for writing the autobiography.
Regenia Gagnier wrote that “most working-class autobiographies begin not with a family lineage or a birthdate but rather with an apology for their author’s ordinariness.” (338) There are hints of this in the opening quote above. Anthony is slightly self-conscious about his ordinariness but his compelling allegiance with God is more of an important focus point. This suggest that ordinariness is just a temporary situation for the author as an eternity of paradise is what he believes the forthcoming reward is.
Anthony wrote his memoir between 1823 and about 1830 and It deals with his life up until then. Life could be very unpredictable for people in the 18th and 19th century and it was for Anthony due to his perilous work. Therefore, it is clear that writing the memoir at this point in his life was an important thing for him. It was a task he had to complete to immortalise him both historically and in the afterlife. He died in 1848, so unfortunately there is a large area of Anthony’s life that we don’t know about but the moments we do know are truly valuable.
Gagnier states that “The classic realist, non-progressive (that is, unself-conscious of its epistemology and production) autobiography includes such elements as remembered details of childhood, a confrontation with parents, a reassessment of the subject’s education, a crisis, and a recovery or a discovery of a new self.” (344) A lot of these elements are found in Anthony’s writing. Gagnier is suggesting that realist writers use autobiographies to look back on significant moments that are clearly very personal to them but might feel minuscule to the reader. Writing about these events gives working class writers a chance to reflect on their lives whilst also trying to find comfort in anything traumatic that happened.
One key example in the memoir is when Anthony was buried alive. This is a moment of crisis in his writing. He remembers that “4 strong lads took me and put me in a grave, one at my feet and one at my head, when the other said the buriell service over me and the same time with the spade put some soil on me. The boys left me there.” (24) This significant moment in his childhood will be delved into more in a later blog post but it is a key example for understanding the classic form of realism in which he writes. This event had an effect on him psychologically, spiritually, and put his health at risk. Moments like this were important for him to resurrect so that he could find peace with the horrors of what happened.
Anthony’s memoir is from his perspective but he speaks about other people in great detail. There is a sense of pride in his writing, which is especially seen when he speaks about his skilled trade, religion and his reputation in his community. Sometimes Anthony may exaggerate certain parts of his memoir due to the importance of his self image but this doesn’t act as a major force of unreliability as it is still such a useful passage to the time and place in which it was written. Also, Anthony claimed, “I shall devid my life to the different stages, that of my Birth and family, that of youth at school, that of prentishop, that of jurniman, that of marrigee, that of Widdower, that of Marrige.” (18) The memoir doesn’t actually follow this set structure, but the majority of these moments are covered with more added. We must remember that this was written during about a seven-year time period so his organizational skills may have been affected by the long hours that he had to work during that time. I look forward to advancing to the next stage of my blog, ‘Home and Family’, where I will be researching deeper into the domestic life of Anthony Errington!
Errington, Anthony. Coals And Rails: the autobiography of Anthony Errington, a Tyneside colliery waggonway-wright. 1776 – c. 1825. Written between 1823 and about 1830. 1:231.
Gagnier, Regenia. “Social Atoms: Working-Class Autobiography, Subjectivity, and Gender.” Victorian Studies, vol. 30, no. 3, 1987
Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1783 – an important coal centre dating back to 1400s. http://members.kos.net/sdgagnon/sydb.html#2
Descent into a Newcastle Coal Mine, 1855. http://east-durham.co.uk/wp/category/industry/