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What are you reading?

It’s World Book Day and I just wondered what book you are reading at the moment?  Come on don’t be shy.  Don’t tell me you are leafing your way through TinTin in Tibet or perhaps you have revisited 50 Shades of Grey, the book which gave the Daily Star readers the first opportunity in years to pick up something with more than twenty pages!

I am currently reading Mary Seacole -The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. Now it’s not going to be on the Man Booker list for literature but it is rather interesting to read a book written by the lady herself in 1857.

Herbalist and Nurse, heroine of The Crimean war
The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands

The Victorians loved reading about travel.  Lets face it, most of them were never going to leave the shores of Britannia so it was the next best thing. Travel written by a black woman was even more interesting.

The thirst for knowledge was illustrated by the huge crowds who attended the Great Exhibition of 1851.  Exhibits from around the world were on display. A third of Britain’s population turned up (6 million) that is akin to 20 million today descending on London one Saturday to go to the science museum. Even Arsenal playing at home can’t achieve that sort of turn out!

Mary was a nurse, a herbalist, and business women from Jamaica.  Her services in her home country and South America in general were highly sort after and then of course she came to London and went out to The Crimea to help at the same time as Florence Nightingale. She was not white and not upper class either so she did not receive the accolade of ‘Lady with the Lamp’.  Her heart was huge, her skill was extraordinary.  Until recently, her legacy almost lost.

Yesterday I was standing admiring her statue at St Thomas’s. This masterpiece sculpted by Martin Jennings is awe-striking and we visit it on my new tour around Lambeth.

Statue of Mary Seacole by Martin Jennings

But back to World Book Day.  My Great Grandfather Seven times removed was a seafarer, an artist and a writer.  He wrote what is described as the first American novel.  It was a novel about travel.  He had lived in Jamaica for a time so would have known the conditions Mary speaks of in her book. His travels took him on to the USA and he settled for a time in New York City. He wanted to share his knowledge in the shape of a fiction novel, a most marvellous adventure book; but the Georgians didn’t want to read fiction. They were desperate for non-fiction accounts of the colonies. He returned to Bristol (where he was born) spending the rest of his life in an alms house and being buried by his close friend Thomas Eagles. He died in absolute poverty.  Leaving only a few possessions including his manuscript to Thomas, who sought out a publisher. Posthumously his manuscript was published to rave revues and great success. Thirty years after his death his book was a hit!  What a bummer eh? But he is not alone, Van Gogh, Kafka, Monet and Edgar Alan Poe all died destitute, so were they all to be hanging out in heaven now they could commiserate on how utterly unfair life is!

Who was this man I hear you ask, he was William Williams and the book is The Journal of Llewellin Penrose, Seaman.

The Journal of Llewellin Penrose, A Seaman by William Williams
First American Novel

Happy World Book Day people.

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