A new post on weather and emotion in The Otter/Acadiensis series, “Soundings”

I contributed a post on James Barry, emotion, and weather to NiCHE Canada’s The Otter/Le loutre/Acadiensis, special “Soundings” series that considers new approaches to environmental history in Atlantic Canada. I’m very honoured to be joining notable environmental historians such as Claire Campbell, Alan MacEachern, Josh MacFadyen, and Tina Loo. The entire series is available here on the Otter and here on Acadiensis.

This post focuses on weather and emotion, and I hope to soon have another post here on religion and emotion. These all will form some part of a chapter on Barry and emotion in his biography.

A taste:

I’m reading Barry to understand a rural 19th-century man’s life. Weather, and to some extent climate have become important to me because it was important to him. I do hope to develop some sort of database on weather. But I’m really wondering what made Barry tick, and weather was part of that. Not only was it important in shaping his work-life, it was important in shaping his emotional well-being. Reading his diary, one is immediately struck by how curmudgeonly he was. Few things ameliorated his mood. While his marriage was not a happy one, his courtship with Bell McLennan in the spring of 1859 marked one of the few sustained periods of lightness in his tone. And his affection for their eldest daughter Josephine was always clear. Fine weather, too, could lighten his mood. Spring freshets and rain after a dry spell, particularly in summer, brought moments of relief, and occasionally elation.  And while he dreaded a dry spell, his language for sunny warm days, though not sunny hot days, usually elicited a brighter tone.

Read the rest here.



Thinking about Bell

I’ve been thinking about Bell. Isabel (“Bell”) McLennan (1826-1898) married James Barry (1822-1906) in the fall of 1859. They raised two girls, and operated a successful grist and sawmill in Six Mile Brook, Nova Scotia. Most of what we know about Bell is from her husband’s 56-year-long daily diary. Barry was a remarkable, complex, and thus interesting man. I wish I could say the same for Bell, but I can’t. I wish I could then tell you that James Barry offered lovely intimate details of their lives together, details that would allow us to offer something of a biography – perhaps not as detailed as his, but something. But I can’t because Barry’s diary is almost completely focused on his own world: the mill, his books, and the public world of rural men.

For all that Barry wrote, and for all the many times he mentioned her, he didn’t say a lot about her. There were a few exceptions, most notably their courtship in the spring of 1859, but for the most part she appears only in passing. Barry was seldom cheerful, but there was in those months of courting a lovely lightness to his writing. One can feel his excitement, a brightness and enthusiasm of speech that must have been equally evident in his step. They were, for that time, a couple; they attended sprees, travelled West River roads, and took the train to Truro for a night out. There was promise.

It’s hard to say when it began to unravel. There’s some hints fairly early, but nothing obvious. They produced a child in 1861, not long after marrying, indicating some level of intimate fulfillment. But a year after Josephine’s birth, they seem to be sleeping apart (perhaps even in separate rooms – again, hints, but not clear). What is clear is that from about 1864 on, Bell spent increasingly more time at her parents than with her husband; indeed, there are months from the mid-1860s to the early 70s when she might spend no more than two or three nights in their home. Numerous evenings (when Barry usually wrote), he professed to be ignorant of her whereabouts. They led almost completely separate lives, and by 1867 they were barely speaking. They were certainly speaking, angrily, in June of 1868 when in the midst of an argument about cattle gates Barry struck Bell. He defended himself at length in an entry he labelled the “History of the late Row”. In his account, there was no violence (except “a blow” to one of the cows). But the Sheriff’s issuing of a peace bond requiring Barry to be civil for two years indicates the evidence was clear. Given the state of protection for women in Nova Scotia at the time, there must have been a real threat.

There’s lots to be said about Barry’s attitudes to women, and something too on his sexuality. Or perhaps we should term it his sexual morality because while he wrote very little that was obviously sexual, there’s a fair bit pointing to his attitude on sexual matters. What’s most obvious is a kind of prurient titillation about women. There are numerous hints. He was fiercely critical of James Smith, one of his employees through the 1860s and 70s, for this “drinking and whoring”. And yet at times the criticism borders on envy for Smith’s freedom and apparently his happiness. In the months after the peace bond, Barry attended several male social events in Pictou where there was drinking and women – perhaps, though not clearly, prostitutes, and Barry seemed to enjoy the spectacle. He also went through many housekeepers, and there’s a clear pattern to their service: the initial meeting was typically positive, noting she was “smart” or “knew her duty”, and almost always included some kind of reference to her appearances. But within weeks, sometimes days, he would have soured on the young woman’s talents. Often within a month he was lamenting her poor work, calling her a “bitch”, or a “whore”, and planning to fire her. When he caught one of them in bed with one of his workers, he flew into a rage, and chased her out of the house. She was fired in that moment; the young man was chastised, but not fired. A double standard, to be sure, but a sense too that what the boy did was not just tolerable but good.

Barry loved women from afar, but seldom up close. A pretty face could charm him, but the tiniest spark of independence could enrage him. He was, in short, deeply insecure, and deeply misogynist. But that’s another chapter. Writing a chapter about Bell won’t be easy. It’s hard to see a person in her misogynistic, occasionally abusive, and always defensive husband’s diary. Can the subaltern speak? asks Gayatri Spivak. There are, as the subaltern writers insist, always traces of the colonized voice, even in the colonizers’ texts. How much of Bell can we find?

Broad strokes

I started this blog a year ago (almost to the day), and never pursued it. But I want to start using it as a way to muse on Barry and his diary. James Barry was a 19th-century miller, printer, and fiddler in a back-country settlement in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. I’ve been tweeting “on this day” style notes from his diary for almost two years and this year leaped ahead to 1867 just to catch the anti-Confederation tirades that were becoming evident. A short essay on Barry and Confederation will appear in the Spring 2017 volume of Acadiensis.

I also want to use this space to catalogue his quite extensive library. Barry didn’t identify every book he read, but many he did. The range is impressive, though there was certainly a core of 17th to 19th-century Presbyterian theological texts. Barry was a dissenting Presbyterian – indeed a Morisonian, a still more radical sect of dissenters – and most of his books reflect his interest in the evangelical (“antiburgher”) critique of “the Kirk” (the Church of Scotland). There’s more – smatterings of history, politics, poetry, and some humour – but his intellectual heart was clearly centred in dissent, and the evangelical emphasis on atonement and free will.

This carried over into his politics, and we can see how his radically de-centralised views on church governance and free will spilled into the secular realm. But Barry is a fascinating man whose dissenting views changed shape dramatically over his life. In the 1860s, his dissenting politics meant supporting Joseph Howe, the liberal reformers, and the battle against Nova Scotia joining the Canadian Confederation; by the 1890s he was reading and printing (i.e. stealing!) free-thought pamphlets from both secular libertarians and the Christian left. Six Mile Brook, Pictou County, it seems clear, was no isolated backwater, but a small node in the rich Atlantic network of ideas. And there is much more to explore: his domestic life is fascinating, his emergent sense of bourgeois acquisitiveness, his articulation of an autonomous self, his willingness to actively interrogate that self, and more all points to a thoroughly modern sensibility.  Indeed, I want to argue that this backwoods miller and fiddler – surely isolated, traditional, and simple – was worldly, progressive, and infinitely complex. He was a quintessentially modern man.

A catalogue of books noted in James Barry’s diaries (complete up to 1868)

James Barry’s Books

James Petit Andrews, The Inquisitor (London, Hatchard, 1798).

Chamber’s Encyclopaedia of Universal Knowledge for the PeopleLondon: W. and R. Chambers, 1860. Ten volumes (subscription)

Albert Barnes, Notes, explanatory and practical on the New Testament: designed for Sunday school teachers and Bible classes (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1840).

Eugene Becklard, Physiological Mysteries and Revelations in Love, Courtship and Marriage: an infallible guide-book for married and single persons (New York, Holland & Glover, 1844).

Jonathan Dickenson, The true Scripture doctrine concerning some important points of Christian faith: particularly, eternal election, original sin, grace in conversion, justification by faith, and the saints’ perseverance (Chambersburg PA, Robert & George Harper, 1800 [ca. 1740]).  This is the British Library’s ed – archive.org has a later one)

James Durham, A commentarie upon the book of the Revelation: wherein the text is explained, the series of the several prophecies contained in that book, deduced (London, Company of Stationers, 1658).  [Barry described this book as “a great deal of nonsense” – 27/03/1853]

Jonathan Edwards, A careful and strict enquiry into the modern prevailing notions of that freedom of will, which is supposed to be essential to moral agency, virtue and vice, reward and punishment, praise and blame (Boston, Kneeland, 1754).

Jonathan Edwards, “On Baptism” – probably Jonathan Edwards [1740], The “Miscellanies,” 833-1152 (WJE Online Vol. 20) , Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University

Robert Fleming, The Fulfilling of the Scripture in three parts, two volumes, (Glasgow, Stephen Young, 1801 [1671]). [449 pp.]

Robert Fleming, Apocalyptical Key: An Extraordinary Discourse on the Rise and Fall of Papacy (London, Baynes, 1809 [1701]).

John Angell James, The Young Man’s Friend and Guide through Life to Immortality (London, Hamilton, Adams, & Co., 1852).

William Law, The Spirit of Love: Being an Appendix to the Spirit of Prayer, in a letter to a friend (London, W. Innys, 1752).

Thomas Babington Macaulay, History of England, (London, Longman, 1848) [first two volumes, purchases from James Dawson for 3s]

William McGavin, The Posthumous Works of the late William McGavin: Accompanied with a Memoir, including an autobiography, extracts from his correspondence, writings (Glasgow, Reid, 1834).

Maria Monk, Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, a Narrative of Her Suffering at the Hotel-Dieu Nunnery of Montreal (London, Hodson, 1837).

James Morison, An Exposition on the Ninth Chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Kilmarnock, John White, 1849). 569 pp.

“Kirwin” [pseud. Nicholas Murray, 1802-1861] Romanism at home: letters to the Hon. Roger B. Taney (New York, Harper, 1852).

T.C. Haliburton, The Clockmaker, or the Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick of Slickville (London, R. Bentley, 1838).

Samuel Miller, An Essay, on the Warrant, Nature and Duties of the Office of the Ruling Elder, in the Presbyterian Church (New York: Jonathan Leavitt; Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1831).

James Morison, The Nature of the Atonement, or the Answer to the Question, What is Atonement? Answered (Edinburgh, Paterson; and Kilmarnock, Muir & Davie, 1841).  [not specifically identified, but on 22/11/1853 he says he bought “6 Morisonian books”, and on 3/12/1853 he says he’s reading a book on atonement and he’s a Morisonian!]

Alexander Smith Paterson, A Concise System of Theology: On the Basis of the Shorter Catechism (Edinburgh, John Johnstone, 1848).

H. Spurgeon, Sermons Delivered in Exeter Hall (London, n.p., 1857).

Leopold von Ranke, The ecclesiastical and political history of the popes of Rome during the sixteenth and seventeenth  centuries, Sarah Austin, trans., (London, John Murray, 1840).

Henry Venn, The Complete Duty of Man, or, A System Doctrinal and Practical Christianity  (Glasgow, Collins, 1828 [1763]).

William Wilberforce, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes, Contrasted with Real Christianity (Glasgow, Collins, 1837).

“A Modern Syntax” [William Combe], The adventures of Doctor Comicus or The frolicks of fortune (London, R. Blake, 1828).

C. Smith, Geography on the Productive System (Philadelphia, 1836)

John Mckay Wilson, Wilson’s tales of the borders, and of Scotland; historical, traditionary, and imaginative (Manchester, Ainsworth, 1857).

John Campbell [“Principal”] Shairp, Robert Burns (London, Macmillan, 1885 [1879]).

“book on midwifery” [loaned to Dr Sutherland]

“book on Mechanics” [loaned to “The Doctor”]

Baron Swedenborg “The True Christian Religion” [ca 1780](12 March 1865)


The Eastern Chronicle (New Glasgow)

Pictou Standard (Pictou)

Halifax Citizen

British Colonist (Halifax)

Canada Evangelist (Hamilton, U.C.)