“One of the most consistent, enduring and revealing primary sources of its period”

A long and very favourable academic review by Professor G.M. Ditchfield, Emeritus Professor of Eighteenth-Century History at the University of Kent, has appeared in the English Historical Review for February 2015. These extracts give a flavour of his comments.

Details of where to find the review appear at the foot of this page.

The value of Mary Hardy as a source

Grayson Ditchfield is in no doubt as to the significance of Mary Hardy as a diarist. Referring to her record, and that of her nephew Henry Raven (interwoven with her own entries in this edition), he explains that they comprise more than 570,000 words:

“This daily record, meticulously kept over thirty-six years, of working life and entrepreneurship in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England offers one of the most consistent, enduring and revealing primary sources of its period.”

The value lies partly in the workaday nature of the diary entries. Professor Ditchfield sees Mary and William Hardy as “neither belonging to nor aspiring to join the polite elite of their county”. Nonetheless they “exerted influence in the commercial world and were part of the political nation”.

The diarist as a “comparative rarity”

The reviewer points out that Mary Hardy’s record has additional value as she was a woman engaged in the world of work. She was herself a toiler:

“Behind the emotional reticence there is a day-by-day description of rural life, all the more valuable for its compilation by that comparative rarity, a female diarist deeply involved in the world of work, both as toiler and as employer.

Through Mary Hardy, we encounter many individuals whose identities, apart from the registration by the parish of their rites of passage, are otherwise lost to us.”

Female influence in religious developments

Religious and ecclesiastical history are among Professor Ditchfield’s specialist interests. He devotes a section of the review to Mary Hardy’s experimentation with a wide variety of denominations in addition to regular attendance at Church of England services and Wesleyan meetings. He adds:

“Significantly, her husband did not become a Methodist—further evidence that Methodism frequently won its first converts in many areas through the female members of a family.”

Handsome production standards and scholarly editing

The review praises the high standards of editing and production, with “meticulous annotations arranged in side-notes”:

“Every diary entry is fully and expertly contextualised . . . The index to each volume is impeccably comprehensive and lucidly arranged.”

As the full text has been published there is no danger that careful editorial selection of individual entries may give the reader an unrepresentative view of the whole.

“A long-standing commitment by an individual scholar”

Grayson Ditchfield draws attention to what is now an unusual history project. (Pressure to produce means that devotion to one subject involving decades of research and writing—once widely pursued and perhaps even the norm—is no longer possible in the full-time academic environment.) He writes:

“This edition is the result of a long-standing commitment by an individual scholar, as distinct from the collaborative projects, financed by grant-awarding bodies, which are becoming increasingly the expectation in assessments of historical research in universities.”

He concludes that “On account of the handsome appearance and the painstaking thoroughness of the edition, the cost of the four diary volumes plus the Remaining Diary can be considered a real bargain at present-day book prices.”

Accessing the full book review

The English Historical Review (EHR)  has been well known to generations of historians since it first appeared in January 1886. The EHR website describes it as “the oldest journal of historical scholarship in the English-speaking world”. It ranges across not only British history but almost all aspects of European and world history since the classical era. The EHR book reviews are unusually extensive as they cover titles published throughout the world.

The review of the four-volume Diary of Mary Hardy 1773–1809 and its companion volume The Remaining Diary of Mary Hardy (containing the diary entries not included in the four-volume set) appears in the EHR, volume 130, no. 542, for February 2015, pp. 219–21.

It is available to subscribers as a printed edition and online. Many libraries stock the full run of the EHR, or have online access, and the content of any issue can also be accessed via an academic institution or other subscribing body.

An extract, forming the opening paragraph of the review, is available for open, free access online.