Dearest Papa and Mamma
I cannot express the pleasure I have had in writing this book for you, and I hope you will have as much pleasure in receiving it, as a token of the love and gratitude I feel for you, who spare neither trouble nor expense for the good of your children.
I remain dearest Papa & Mamma, your attached and devoted child,
So wrote the young Eugénie Connolly (1855-1938), a student at the Convent of Notre Dame, Liverpool, to her parents at some point in the early 1870s. A laudable and touching (if perhaps slightly forced) expression of filial piety found in the back of a manuscript book found (and very rapidly bought) at the splendid York National Book Fair last week. Much more of the bookfair in a post to come later in the week – but for today, it’s Eugénie and her gift-book.
At first I took it to be a schoolgirl’s exercise book of some sort – but surely far too elaborate and polished for that. There were in fact two books – each identical in their professionally manufactured soft cloth covers, blocked in gilt with the single word “Manuscript” – and containing leaves bordered and ruled in feint. And inside the first of these – for presentation to her proud parents – there is a carefully compiled display of Eugénie’s attainment and learning. A handsomely lettered opening page with Eugénie’s name and the name of her college. Manuscript maps in coloured inks – twin maps of Palestine with text on the sacred history; a twin map of South America with text on the geography; a map of the East Indian Archipelago with text; a map of the West Indies with text; a chart of the planetary system with text; a map of the Pacific Railway – the recently completed lines of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific stretching across North America; a chart of the constellations with text; a twin map of Italy with text on the unification, ending with “the sacrilegious seizure of Rome” in 1870 – careful ornate calligraphic headings throughout, and tables and texts of various kinds – grammatical tables; a table of geographical discoveries ending with Grant and Speke in 1866; a poem on the planetary system; tables of mediaeval kings; a “litany of the passion” with clocks of the hours; a double-page table of the events of the recent Franco-Prussian War, ending in January 1871 and so on. The inscription comes at the back of this first book.
The second book is similar in style and content, commencing again with twin maps of Palestine, but this time with text on the geography. There are similar maps – a map of Australasia with text, a map of the Americas, and an unfinished twin map of Ireland – also some poetry, three pages of drawings of fossils with text, and an unfinished chronological chart. This second book lacks both name and inscription and is evidently unfinished. I am not sure whether it’s an abandoned first attempt, or perhaps a never completed supplement. But somehow it has survived the years alongside its more finished partner.
Whether it was Eugénie’s own idea, or perhaps something set as an exercise by the nuns to persuade the pupils’ parents that the fees represented money well spent, it’s now impossible to say (unless there are comparable examples elsewhere). But it’s a charming evocation of time and place – and right up to the minute in its coverage of world events.
Eugénie was born in Liverpool on Mayday in 1855 – one of the eight or so children of Patrick Connolly (1820-1887), a well-to-do Irish cotton dealer, and his wife Mary Anne Cusker (1823?-1901), who had married at Liverpool in 1845. The college at the Convent of Notre Dame was founded in 1869 and I believe served primarily as a teacher-training college for the primary schools of the Catholic community. I imagine that was Eugénie’s intent in being there in her late teens or early twenties. In 1879 she married a local doctor at Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Liverpool – but not just any doctor. Her husband was James Clement Baxter (1857-1928), the son of a Liverpool chemist, also a devout Catholic, and a man still revered and remembered on Merseyside as “The Good Doctor of Robson Street”. His service and dedication to his patients, mainly drawn from the poorest quarters – the impoverished, the orphans, the Irish immigrant community – remains legendary.
He is further honoured as a founding father of the great Everton Football Club – the man who put up an unsecured and interest-free loan to develop Goodison Park, club doctor, a director for some thirty years, and ultimately chairman of the club. He and Eugénie’s son, Cecil Stuart Baxter (1886-1954), followed him as club doctor and director – a link with the family that endured for over sixty years.
Wonderful things bookfairs – especially York.