April 19th 1818
Miss Wright's Crieff DiarySunday December 4th 1814
“A long dreary night this. My father in one of his surly cross fits. So angry at us for not reading the Bible. Read the newspapers.” The writer is Miss Margaret Wright, who gives a lively picture of life in Crieff in the early 19th Century.
It was a time when the extreme sabbatarianism of rural life was beginning to be modified and Miss Wright took full advantage of the new emancipation. She describes a ball held at the Mason’s Lodge. “…dancing began immediately and kept up with great spirit. A number of strangers. Kind of men such as Dr Dodds from Stirling, two travellers and a number of the gaudger tribe, not genteel by any means. Plenty of dancing but I somehow felt fatigued without being properly heated. Fancy from the newness of the room. Everybody seemed to feel the same. Card tables there too. Played one game with Sandy Tainsh my partner. Mrs Tainsh by way of being very civil contrived to break the string of my beads. Did it on purpose I do believe. Jessie M.O. is a light headed flirting thing, more so than anyone in the room. Took care never to come near me in case I might disturb her enjoyment. This is all her boasted affection. Although I stayed two hours longer than I said to her I would, never took the least interest about my going. Shall not forget it in a hurry. When her own gratification is at stake everything else is forgotten.” One gathers that Miss Wright did mot enjoy the ball very much.
Margaret and her sister got their dresses direct from Edinburgh and were considered to be among the leaders of fashion in Crieff but in spite of this apparent sophistication there still remained certain superstitious beliefs more common in an earlier age. “Went to see Mrs Robertson’s little infant, to all appearances dying. I took it and walked it through the room by way of having great luck in curing infants. The doctor came in. Was not at all angry. Seemed delighted at the manner of my keeping it. He gave it some medicine and it fell asleep in my arms.” The child later recovered.
This was a time when the actions of Napoleon were a constant topic of conversation and concern. “Confirmed what my father had told me before of Bonaparte. Had landed in France. Had hoisted the flag of Rebellion. Was said to be joined by 20,000 troops and got possession of Lyons. God only knows how it may end, but they certainly have been very remiss in allowing him so much liberty in Elba. Will in all probability be a good deal of bloodshed before it is settled.”
Seven days later.“Finished papers and dismal they are. Bonaparte carrying everything before him. All the army deserting poor Louis for him, and that some accounts say that he is even in Paris and the King has fled to Holland. Poor man his power has been short lived.” Mar 31st “Read the papers. Quite sick of that vile Bonaparte.” But there was better news as time went by. “All the French people do not seem so satisfied with Bonaparte as the soldiers are.” And by May 28th . “Nothing particular except Bonaparte’s strong wish for peace because he is not able to go to war. The allies seem determined against him.” At last in June. “The great news brought by Miss Maxton. Bonaparte beat by the allies, the English in particular, 200 pieces of cannon taken. Dreadful bloodshed. The 42nd and 79th suffered severely, indeed almost cut to pieces.”
Three years later there was a postscript, with Napoleon’s carriage exhibited up and down the country. “Went out at one on business with Miss Trann and before I came in we both went and saw Bonaparte’s carriage. I treated her of course. Indeed I owed it to her. Were highly gratified. Well worth the money. Sat in it a while. Had such an odd feeling in doing so, to think that I was in the very seat of one that almost ruled the world. The jewels and plate very beautiful and everything so compact and neat. The Major (her dog) in it too, forsooth. Barked at such a rate. It came early this morning. Goes off at five tomorrow.” Next day April 19th 1818. “While we were at breakfast, Bonaparte’s carriage passed down on its way to Stirling, the four brown horses and the same driver he had at Waterloo.”
There was more excitement that year when the Grand Duke Michael of Russia passed through Crieff, but Miss Wright was not impressed. “We had such a fine view of His Highness very near all the time it stood. Very like the prints of his brother, Alexander, a broad fair face without much meaning. Could hardly be fashed to look up…Felt after he passed was not worth all our anxiety, only this, that we can boast of having at last seen the Grand Duke Michael, brother to Alexander, son to Paul and grandson to Catherine of Russia.”
Two years later George 3rd died and Miss Wright attended church to hear the Proclamation for George 4th . March 12th 1820. “Went to church. A thin one. It was Mr Laing. Did better than usual too. Had so much to do at the end in baptising children, rebuking folk for fornication, telling about our Society (The Crieff Female Sick Society, a recently formed charitable society) then reading the King’s Proclamation which he did wonderfully well. The beadle was very properly at his elbow whispering what he was to do, or he would not have minded the half.”
A few years later the Miss Wright left Crieff to live in Edinburgh and the diary loses much of its interest.