ODNB -- Munby, Arthur Joseph (1828-1910), diarist
- Another civil servant and diarist;
Munby, Arthur Joseph (1828-1910), diarist and civil servant, was born in York on 19 August 1828, the eldest of the six sons and one daughter of Joseph Munby (1804-1875), a solicitor, and his wife, Caroline Eleanor, nee Forth. He was educated at St Peter's School, York, and then at Trinity College, Cambridge (1848-51). His first, unsuccessful, career was as a barrister (being called to the bar in 1855). In 1860 he accepted employment with the ecclesiastical commission, but aspired to a literary career. Some initial successes here (his first book of poems was published in 1852 and he was a runner-up in the 1859 Burns centenary poetry competition) were followed by disappointments, particularly in 1861 when he was rejected for the librarianship of the Middle Temple. He worked for the commission until his retirement in 1888. He died of pneumonia at his home, Wheeler's Farm, Pyrford, near Guildford, Surrey, on 29 January 1910 and was buried on 3 February at Pyrford parish church. Publication of his will caused a minor scandal in July 1910 by disclosing that in 1873 he had married a working-class woman, Hannah Cullwick (1833-1909), following a long clandestine relationship, but had insisted that this remain secret from his family and friends because she continued working as a servant and refused to 'become a lady'.
Early assessments of Munby's career (including his obituary in The Times, 5 February 1910, and his Dictionary of National Biography entry, written by his friend Austin Dobson) focused on his literary activities and offered a generous assessment of his poetry, his main publications being Benoni (1852), Verses Old and New (1865), Dorothy (1880), Vestigia retrorsum (1891), Poems Chiefly Lyric and Elegiac (1901), and Relicta (1909). However, this assessment has not withstood the passing of time and the poetry is now little read. His greater and lasting accomplishment is seen as his diary, partly published by Derek Hudson in 1972, which is extensive and covers a fascinatingly wide range of people and activities. Its dominant themes include his daily life over a period of enormous social, economic, and political change, his record of topical events, the relationship with Hannah Cullwick, close literary friendships, involvement in Christian socialism through the Working Men's College, his forays into haute bourgeois (although still 'serious') London society, and the collections he made of representations of different kinds of working women.
Over the period of the diary-from 1859 to 1898-many changes impacted upon Munby's life, including the opening of the 'underground railway', expansions to women's employment and accompanying struggles to achieve women's rights, moves to extend working-class educational opportunities, and attempts to reform the Church of England, including through the work of the ecclesiastical commission. As well as these his diaries often record public events with posterity most definitely in mind, including the July 1860 British Association meeting in Oxford when the bishop of Oxford spoke against, and Thomas Huxley lectured on, the theological as well as scientific consequences of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. The entry for 10 January 1863 records the opening of the first underground railway in London, on which Munby travelled from Paddington to Farringdon Street, while entries for April and May 1864 first record the noises of workmen heard from his quarters in Fig Tree Court in the Temple as building of the Embankment was started. The growing volunteer movement and the formation of hundreds of rifle corps in 1859, and especially during 1860 within the Working Men's College, were recorded with much approval, although Munby himself did not join, feeling 'shrinking' at the thought of 'acting with so many other men' (Munby, diary). His admiration, and then solemn mourning, for the 'manly' prince consort is also recorded, with some interesting passages (MunbyDecember 1861 and January 1862) about the public reverberations of Prince Albert's death. Glimpses and impressions of the prince of Wales (later Edward VII), the Tooley Street fire (the most serious since the Great Fire of London), and exhibitions, concerts, and other events at the Crystal Palace were all recorded. So were the demonstrations of silent appreciative working-class support for Garibaldi on the part of many thousands of people during an appearance at the Crystal Palace in April 1864, and, in June 1864, his own thoughts on the thousands of people living and sleeping rough in London streets. In the autumn of 1888 he recorded the moral panic surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders, which led to his being surrounded and harangued by collier men.
On this latter occasion Munby was staying with Hannah Cullwick in Hadley, Shropshire. Cullwick and Munby had met by chance in a London street in 1854. Against the odds, considering how many such encounters Munby had, they kept in contact, and in 1854, on a visit to her family in Shifnal, Shropshire, Cullwick began keeping her own diary, which she sent at regular intervals to Munby. The relationship was the result of her conviction that it was better to love at one remove a 'gentleman' than to be cowed and subjugated in marriage with a working-class man, and of his already-existing 'interest' in rough working women. Cullwick's diary was kept from 1854 to 1873 and is of almost unique importance in providing detailed information about the life, family circumstances, and working routines of those involved in that most typical employment for working women in Victorian England, domestic service. The relationship went through various vicissitudes, including Munby's attachments to a number of other women. They eventually married on 14 January 1873. He apparently expected that she would gradually come to live and behave more like 'a lady'; however, the reverse happened, and she became increasingly angry both at the transformations of dress, demeanour, and behaviour required, and at her husband's insistence that their relationship be kept secret. Following a major disagreement, she returned to Shropshire in 1877 and continued to work in a variety of domestic service roles.
Some of Munby's most important friendships-with Robert Borland, William Ralston, Vernon and Godfrey Lushington, and Richard Litchfield-began at Cambridge. Litchfield, one of the founders of the Working Men's College, also gave him his entree into Christian socialist circles. It was thus that Munby attended inaugural meetings in 1854 of the Working Men's College, where he taught from 1857 until the 1880s, and was later a council member and always an admirer of F. D. Maurice, no matter what criticisms were made of Maurice's conservatism on matters of class and of college governance by more radical and agnostic members such as F. J. Furnivall. Through the college he also became acquainted with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Ruskin, and council members J. M. Ludlow, John Westlake, Thomas Hughes, and Charles Kingsley. He also retained close and affectionate links with two other friends, Richard Blackmore and Whitley Stokes, both met when reading for the bar in the chambers of Hugh Cairns. Two literary circles formed pivotal points in his social life: the 'tabacco parliaments' of the publisher and Christian socialist Alexander Macmillan from 1859, and the meetings from 1866 to 1874 of the Pen and Pencil Club at Aubrey House, founded by Clementia Taylor, feminist wife of radical MP Peter Taylor. It was through the Taylors' gatherings that Munby approvingly met Barbara Bodichon, Lydia Becker, Elizabeth Blackwell, and other well-known feminists of the day, including Elizabeth Malleson, the key figure in founding the Working Women's College in 1864, which Hannah Cullwick briefly attended (in 1874) and Munby fervently supported.
Munby's friendship with Whitley Stokes acted as the bridge between these literary and reforming circles and those of the haute bourgeoisie that Munby sought out during the 1860s and 1870s. Munby much admired the former classical actress Helen Faucit, a friend of Stokes's who was married to the prince consort's biographer Theodore Martin. At the Martins' 'at homes' he fell in silent love with the portraitist Mary Severn (later Newton), and admired the 'good and the great' who he met or saw in such gatherings, including Robert Browning and William Makepeace Thackeray.
From early adulthood Munby had a fascination with the stark contrasts between delicate white-handed gentlemen, who employed a class of others to do the manual work (dressing, shopping, cooking, cleaning) that daily life requires, and the brawny, dirt-begrimed women servants who typically performed this. His fascination extended to other 'unbecoming women', including the large numbers who performed manual work in Victorian society (for example, delivering milk, working on the coal 'pit brow', moving into or out of prostitution, collecting refuse, gutting and skinning slaughtered animals, performing as trapeze artists and 'human cannon balls' or 'blacking up' to sing in the so-called 'nigger troupes' that performed in London streets). He was also interested in those who broke the law and appeared in court and those disfigured by accident or disease. However, his greatest fascination was with representations of these in his diary (Hudson) and extensive photograph collection (Hiley): he was a collector par excellence, although his collections were made to satisfy specifically private interests.
Controversy still continues as to the nature of Munby's interest in working women and their 'dirt'. Some commentators see this and his collections of representations thereof as perversion and therefore necessarily sexual in nature. Others resist the imposition of post-Freudian categories on a pre-Freudian figure, and relatedly also reject reading all obsession as a priori sexual. However, regardless of the merits of either argument, Munby's diary does act as an important source for those interested in literary, artistic, reforming, and Christian socialist circles between 1859 and 1898.
Sources D. Hudson, Munby, man of two worlds: the life and diaries of Arthur J. Munby, 1828-1910 (1972) + M. Hiley, Victorian working women: portraits from life (1979) + The diaries of Hannah Cullwick, ed. L. Stanley (1984) + L. Davidoff, 'Class and gender in Victorian England: the diaries of Arthur J. Munby and Hannah Cullwick', Feminist Studies, 5 (1979), 87-141 + L. Stanley, 'Biography as a microscope or kaleidoscope? The case of "power" in Hannah Cullwick's relationship with Arthur Munby', Women's Studies International Forum, 10 (1987), 19-31 + A. Munby, diary, Trinity Cam., Munby collection Archives Trinity Cam., diaries, literary MSS, and notebooks + York City Archives, genealogical notebook and papers | Bodl. Oxf., letters to Bertram Dobell + University of Chicago Library, letters from William Bell Scott Likenesses photograph, 1873, Trinity, Cam. [see illus.] portraits, Trinity Cam., Munby collection Wealth at death £25,867 12s.: probate, 18 June 1910, CGPLA Eng. & Wales
For one week, with photograph etc.
- I have also read speculation that in her diary Hannah Cullwick played up the hardship and dirty aspects of her life, because of Munby's attraction to those things.Jenny