Toynbee & Mrs. Valpy’s Ear

In August 1846, the aurist Joseph Toynbee (1815-1866) married Harriet Holmes (1822-1897), daughter of Nathaniel Holmes. The couple eventually had nine children: Gertrude (b.1848), William (b.1849), Lucy (b.1850), Arnold (1852-1883), Rachel (b.1853), Paget Jackson (1855-1932), Mary H. (b.1856), Grace Poleridge (b.1856), and Harry Valpy (b.1861). The Toynbee children boasted remarkable achievements: Arnold Toynbee was the respectable economic historian who followed his father in devoting his energies towards improving social welfare. Paget Jackson was a Dante scholar. Grace Coleridge worked as a bacteriologist and later married chemist Percy Faraday Frankland (1858-1946). Harry’s son, Arnold Joseph Toynbee (1889-1975), was the famous universal historian.

The Correspondence & Papers of Joseph Toynbee at the Bodleian Library in Oxford provides much insight into how closely-knit the Toynbee family was. Joseph Toynbee’s letters to his children, in particular, paint a picture of a man who was a devoted father, attentive to his children, and expressive of his affections for them. Much of the correspondences housed at the Bodleian library were reprinted in Gertrude Toynbee’s book, Reminiscences and Letters of Joseph and Arnold Toynbee (London: Henry J. Galisher, 1990). The letters do not mention Joseph Toynbee’s work as an aurist, though he does occasionally notify his children he was attending to a patient or preparing to travel for a medical conference.

A series of letters from August 1859 between Joseph and Gertrude (“Geddy”) are particularly interesting. These letters reveal Toynbee’s concern about the health of Mrs. Valpy, the children’s governess. In an August 11 letter, he reminds Gertrude for an update on Mrs. Valpy’s condition: “You do not tell me how Mrs. Valpy’s ear is. I hope it is better.” Two days later, he outlined specific instructions to Gertrude to instruct Mrs. Valpy how to apply a small blister behind her ear in order to aid in her earache. The letter was adorned with a rough diagram of the blister as well and Toynbee advised the blister to “be kept on for 04 hours behind the ear [to] be of service.”

Detail from letter of Joseph Toynbee regarding Mrs. Valpy's ear.  Letter from Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts, Oxford Photo by Jaipreet Vird-Dhesi
Detail from letter of Joseph Toynbee regarding Mrs. Valpy’s ear.
Letter from Bodleian Archives and Manuscripts, Oxford
Photo by Jaipreet Vird-Dhesi
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