Untold lives blog

14 April 2020

Easter Holidays - Domestic conversations designed for the instruction and amusement of young people

In 1797 a book by Althea Fanshawe was published: Easter Holidays or Domestic Conversations designed for the Instruction and Amusement of Young People.  Miss Fanshawe said that she was writing for children aged between twelve and fourteen years, particularly boys.  She would feel amply rewarded ‘Should one single Youth be amended of any the most trifling error, by perusing the following sheets; should one Parent honour my opinions with approbation, and think any benefit has been derived, from reading the Conversations of the Melmoth Family’.

Title page of Easter Holidays or Domestic Conversations designed for the Instruction and Amusement of Young PeopleTitle page of Easter Holidays or Domestic Conversations designed for the Instruction and Amusement of Young People Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mrs Melmoth, the widow of a General, lives in a village on the Thames near Oxford.  She has four children: George, Lucy, Charlotte and Edward.  The story centres on the Easter holidays when George comes home from public school with his friend James Dudley.  Moral questions arise and are discussed by the Melmoths and their guest throughout the fortnight’s activities.

First page of the Melmoth storiesFirst page of the Melmoth stories Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another book by Althea Fanshawe was published in 1805: Thoughts on Affectation addressed chiefly to Young People.  This dealt with virtues and vice; amiable qualifications and disagreeable habits; and accidental circumstances in life such as beauty/ugliness, family/low birth, riches/poverty.

Contents page from Thoughts on AffectationContents page from Thoughts on Affectation Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

All the examples in the book were said to be based on real occurences.  Miss Fanshawe aimed to see amendment in some of her young friends and to guard others against follies which she had committed in the past: ‘Whether I shall have succeeded in serving or amusing any one of my readers, I know not; but I have amused and so far served myself, that I have employed many a lonely hour in the chamber of sickness, which might have been gloomy, had it not been filled by writing the trifle, which I now submit to a less partial judgment than that of its author’.

Althea Fanshawe was baptised in Westminster in 1759.  Her father Simon served as an MP and the family seats were Dengie Hall in Essex and Fanshawe Gate in Derbyshire.   Althea had a elder brother Henry and a younger sister Frances.  She never married and died in 1824 in Bath.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Both of Miss Fanshawe’s books are available to read in full online -
Easter Holidays or Domestic Conversations designed for the Instruction and Amusement of Young People (Bath, 1797)
Thoughts on Affectation addressed chiefly to Young People (Bath, 1805)

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