Julia Maitland’s letters

Julia Maitland (1808-1864) is the author of the book Letters from Madras during the years 1836-1839, originally published by John Murray in London, in 1843, and re-issued by Alyson Price in 2004 (OUP, New Delhi). The book includes 27 letters which are unfortuntely not based on the original autograph letters: Julia herself rearranged and prepared them for publication at the time, including passages from other letters to present coherent narratives. This practice was not uncommon at the time, as we know from what Charlotte Barrrett did to Fanny Burney’s letters .

A review of another reissue of the book appeared in the online Camden New Journal in 2003: it focuses on Julia’s happy stay in India, where she attempted to learn various native languages, and set up schools and libraries to educate children in the area in which she lived.

From a social network perspective, Julia Maitland is an interesting person: the Introduction describes her as the daughter of the Charlotte Barrett who edited Fanny Burney’s letters, and continues saying that her grandmother “was a younger sister of the novelist Fanny Burney and daughter of the historian of music Dr Charles Burney” (p. ix).

Though we have to be careful in analysing the language of the letters, I have come across a number of interesting usages that deserve further analysis in a wider Late Modern English context:

  • Julia took evident pleasure in rendering the speech she heard around her naturalistically. So on p. 7 she quotes her Irish maid saying “Sure, it’s for you to ate, ma’am” (see also pp. 32, 112), and on p. 106 she comments on a woman saying, “very innocently”, pertickler. The woman was the wife of a shoemaker, and they had gone to India as missionaries. On p. 162 she quotes a sergeant saying theirselves rather then themselves, another sociolinguistic comment
  • like Jane Austen, she used the unusual conclusion “Good-bye” in the first letter (p. 9)
  • in letter 4, she used for that instead of because, which I don’t think I’ve ever come across: “sailors say it was an absurd notion, for that the winds and currents make it …” (p. 21)
  • in letter 6, we find “Dr Bell his sytem” rather than “Dr Bell’s stystem”: this usage had already been criticised in Robert Lowth’s grammar (1762), but it was fairly widespread. This looks like a fairly late instance though
  • we still find double negatives in her letters: “nor I don’t wish to” (p. 41), though this is the only instance
  • she was an inveterate user or be rather than have with mutative intransitive verbs, as in “After her performance was ended” (p. 44) and “Mr and Mrs Staunton are gone today to the wedding of …” (p. 55) (see Rydén and Brorström 1987)
  • we still find inversion of subject and finite after a clause-initial adverb: “To-day arrived the little parcel” (p. 101), which was fairly common in 18th-century English (Tieken-Boon van Ostade 1987), but which eventually disappeared
  • the word Government Julia saw as requiring plural concord with the finite (pp. 112, 129)
  • and she used the preposition in where we would now use on, as in “in our way hither” (p. 143)
  • also like Jane Austen she used the occasional flat adverb: “near one hundred thousand” (p. 170)
  • “Preparations are making” (p. 185) is an example of the passival (see Pratt and Denison 2000), for which we would now use “are being made”
  • Julia’s use of the word Collectress (p. 185) in the sense of “wife of a collector”, the title of a chief administrator in India, is not in the OED (cf. the OED‘s discussion of the comparable word bishopess, “wife of a bishop”)

Plenty of interesting linguistic material in the letters, in other words, alongside important information on letter writing and the overseas postal system at the time. The 1843 edition of the book can be consulted through Google Books, but the modern edition can be ordered directly from India, at a bit over 5 euros.


Pratt, Lynda and David Denison (2000), ‘The language of the Southey-Coleridge Circle’, Language Sciences 22: 401-22.

Rydén, Mats and Sverker Brorström (1987), The Be/Have Variation with Intransitives in English, Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International.

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid (1987) The Auxiliary Do in Eighteenth-Century English: A Sociohistorical Linguistic Approach. Dordrecht: Foris

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid (1991) “Stripping the layers: Language and content of Fanny Burney’s early journals”. English Studies 72. 146–59.

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1 Response to Julia Maitland’s letters

  1. Pingback: Goodbye | Late Modern English letters

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