Oh dear, I thought, as I am in the middle of the umpteenth cupboard clearing, I/we are not the sort of family that has heirlooms – and then I remembered – I have this wonderful handwritten book and the story is that without it my maternal grandfather and grandmother would never have met (so my mother would not have been born, and I/ ME, would not exist!)
A cloth bound cover and gold-printed spine hides the 185 pages inside which are entirely handwritten, or hand-drawn and painted original pictures, or carefully mounted original photographs.
The Swallow – was it the equivalent of blogging around 1900? – was published once a month and there are several copies among my extended family. I have one, March 1903. For this copy at least, my grandfather’s sisters were editresses, my grandmother was a contributor, and the story is that she travelled to meet her ‘virtual’ writing friends, and there, she met the brother who became her husband. [They had nine children, my mother bang in the middle at number 5.]
The photos below, click for bigger pictures, are a tiny sample of the contributions, but also indicate how it worked. The three page contents list show 30 contributions in this issue, pictures, poems, sketches, paintings, short stories, social comment, and even four pages of sepia photos from all around the world. The contents are preceded by an editorial, in this issue a plea to send contributions in ON TIME, and this is followed by the ‘postal list’ and list of addresses which were the heart of the system. The addresses are from all over Ireland (in 1903, one country not two) England, and one from Calais. Not international, but nevertheless, a virtual community many of whom had never met. Blogging, 1900 style.
The Swallow took flight, posted to the next on the list, within three days, the contributions were in, the pages had to be read and commented on, and next month’s contribution created. There is a naughty page, with fines, for non-contributors and for those who did not send on in good time. After the main entries, there are pages of criticism: Art and Literary criticism, votes for best writing, art, photo, and Neatness.
Just like blogging, the comments are worth reading too, specific and general, and sometimes personal, such as the entry on an Essay which says “it takes the cake, while [the author] himself took the pledge, I hope“.
An observation from 100 years on is that the contributions are usually in good hand-writing, but writing in the comments is sometimes more of a scribble, got to get it written before the post goes! Being a Swallow member must have been quite absorbing, and a lot of fun.
Carry on blogging, like swallows, have fun.