Qui me neglige me perd

Published: February 28, 2014

Claude Willan, Clark Fellow

We all doodle. Studies have shown (nb, studies may not actually have shown, but I think they have) that doodling can help you think. But there’s a certain point at which doodling crosses over into daydreaming.

Here in Clark MS 1986.003, Miss Boyes, the second owner of this commonplace book after Catherine Springett, has left us a little slip of paper showing us the fruits of what looks for all the world like a marvellously frittered-away French lesson. (And who hasn’t done that?) Riddles, drawings, all sorts of stuff. Let’s start with this one:


It looks to me like this says ‘s/he who neglects me, loses me’. I’m not 100% sure how this maps on a book in a cage and a bird flying away, and we’re struggling here through the layers of history, Miss. Boyes’s command of French, my own, and the barrier of handwriting in deciphering this scene. Perhaps Miss Boyes imagines herself as locked up in the cage while her bird-soul flies freely? Matters are cleared up, if only a little, by the drawing right next to it:


This rather poignant sketch has the bird, looking quite sadly at its feet, under the legend, ‘Je cheris mon Esclairage’. To me, the bird’s posture suggests than when it comes to her enlightenment Miss Boyes feels more resignation than she does enthusiasti cherishing.

Miss Boyes also puts her French to work elsewhere on this scrap of paper. There’s ‘Who will love us’ (Qui nous aimera’ surrounded by a circle of word ‘Temps’ (Time) repeated over. Turns out that the experience of lonely eleven year-olds hasn’t changed much in the past 250 years.


The best stuff, however, is overleaf. Under the fre-nglish inscription ‘une suite blesse’, four mis-fired arrows lie neglected under the one arrow that struck home in a heart. I think Miss Boyes means ‘a sweet wound’ in that Petrarchan way, but has used ‘suite’ (following) as a kind of false friend. What I like about this one is that she is imagining herself choosing among several different cupid’s arrows to find the right one. Healthy confidence! Elsewhere on this sheet with have a heart surrounded with the words ‘L’amitie vous garde’, ‘Toujours a vous’ and quite a few of the letter ‘D’, perhaps suggesting the object of Miss Boyes’s affections.

p1150091 p1150092

Finally, we have the word ‘MATRIMONY’ in a pseudo-seal surrounding what looks like a butterfly (?). And just above it, we have ‘Mrs. Boyes | at home’.


The feminist in me finds it sad to see the patriarchy so hard at work, but as a scholar in the archive it’s very rare to get such a frank and intimate insight into the workings of someone’s mind.

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