Roger Langdon (b. circa 1825-1894) An Introduction

The memoirs of Roger Langdon are distinctly honest, capable of asking difficult questions (“Why was I born?”), reminiscing over terrible things (the smallpox house), and examining with the benefit of hindsight people and scenarios that seemed bizarre to him at the time. It is this sincerity that lends Roger’s prose extra credibility and realism. Roger Langdon might seem relatively straight-laced, with only a bit of dry humor peeking out of his writing every now and again. He is described in the preface of the autobiography by H Clifton Lambert as a “dignified, patriarchal type of man, with a kindly, pleasant and simple manner… evidently much averse to all forms of affection and cant.” But the truth is that Roger was the wild child of his family. A great lover of the sciences, his religious upbringing as the son of a parish clerk as well as the teachings of his mother encouraged him to seek new ground in the growing world, especially within the study of astrology, which he maintained a lifelong passion for. He took a great risk by leaving the quiet rural village in which he grew up to embrace the rapidly industrializing world, travelling to Jersey to seek new horizons. Watching this country boy figuratively and literally reach for the stars was a difficult journey, toughened by exploitation by his superiors and the disillusionment that descended upon him as the cruelty of the city life sunk its teeth into him. That struggle, conveyed honestly and earnestly, makes for a truly compelling story.

Roger Langdon was born in… “our part of the country”, as he so deftly puts it. Roger Langdon gives many descriptions of where he was born and raised, without ever giving the name (though the appendices and a helpful comment by Chris Holden do reveal that the location is Chiselborough, Roger Langdon does not directly reference it even once in his main body of text). This is likely because he speaks of his hometown warts-and-all, describing the poor living there as “really quite oppressed” and speaking of a boy in the village dying of smallpox because of “ignorance, or superstition, or a combination of both”. The backlash towards vaccination, the grip of Nanny Holland, all things quite harsh and cold. Children legitimately die in his opening chapter due to poor medical practice and a tough-as-nails attitude to their kids, and such an attitude would have invited great anger from the rest of the world were it known. Roger chose to intentionally omit his hometown’s name so that he could ridicule it and highlight the ignorance, poverty, superstition, zealousness and cruelty of his childhood without attaching a stigma to that place in modern day. He does speak of some places his relatives moved to, such as Berkshire and Martock, but I don’t know if those names can really help me pin down from whence he came. Either way, this language clearly shows one thing; Roger Langdon doesn’t begrudge his hometown one bit. He took measures to protect their identities and ensure they weren’t shamed for these practices that were, in fact, common in rural England at the time.

Roger Langdon was a relatively stoic person, as we have discussed. So stoic, in fact, that his memoirs remained unpublished and unfinished. He ended his autobiography at the time of his marriage, and H. Cliffton Lambert laments that he didn’t continue his writings to explain how he assembled his four telescopes. More to the point, he never published his writings himself. Perhaps he didn’t want to expose so much of his life to the world, or perhaps he worried about the irreverent tone of his writings; his daughter, Ellen Langdon, was the one who took it upon herself to finally free his knowledge to the world. She also takes it upon herself to write additional musings at the end of the autobiography. That others would find it important to volunteer his thoughts, posthumously, indicates to me just how much respect and admiration Roger Langdon commanded. It seems that, by the end of his writing, Roger Langdon was in his own words “glad he was born!” But it seems that many other people were glad Roger Langdon was born, as well.

Bibliography

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Life of Roger Langdon, told by himself.

1:420 LANGDON, Roger, The Life of Roger Langdon, told by Himself. With Additions by his Daughter Ellen, with a preface by H. Clifton Lambert (Elliot Stock, London, [1909]), pp. 104 [55pp. of autobiography, 20pp. written by daughter, 18pp. of appendices, 1.0420

mostly of correspondence about astronomy.]

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