Sunday 28 September 2014

A Fatal Fall: The Death of Thomas Day

Thomas Day (London, England, 22nd June 1748 – Barehill, Berkshire, England, 28th September 1789) 

Thomas Day by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1770
Thomas Day by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1770

I had my first horse riding lesson at the age of seven and in the thirty years since then, have taken more than a few tumbles from the saddle. I've been bruised, bumped and broken but happily lived to tell even the most painful tale, though the same cannot be said for my guest today. Indeed, Thomas Day, erstwhile children's author and abolitionist, had such a nasty fall that it finished him off in his fortieth year.

Day lived a somewhat unorthodox life, attempting to train foundlings to make them into perfect wives or expounding the virtues of isolation and the vices of all things French. He found literary fame for his book, The History of Sandford and Merton, which was written to espouse the ideals of Rousseau, the same theories by which he lived his life. He wrote passionately on the subject of abolitionism and was, to all intents and purposes, a singular sort of chap.

One thing that Day believed without question was that horses should not be broken but, instead, should be treated with kindness. In time such an animal would become used to its rider and settle of its own accord, saving both man and beast a lot of unnecessary stress and effort. In order to demonstrate this system, he purchased a colt that only he was allowed to care for and ride and, on 28th September 1789, rode out on the animal at his estate. His intention was to show the benefit of his theories but the horse had other ideas and threw Day from its back.

The man who intended to to train his mount with kindness suffered massive and fatal injuries; he died almost instantly and was laid to rest in at St Mary's Church, Wargrave.


Drayton Bird said...

Unlike Day Rousseau took pains not to apply his own theories about kindly education for children and sent the ones he begat with his mistress to an orphanage promptly, which in the 18th century was a sure death sentence..

Catherine Curzon said...

I will be writing more on Day, he is a fascinating figure and so very 18th century!

Unknown said...

Poor Thomas Day. Perhaps the recent success of the horse-whisperers (Monty Roberts et al) has gone some way to vindicate his theories.

Catherine Curzon said...

I think there is definitely something in it!

Shirley Levon said...

We have written a book based on a series of twelve letters to the wife of Thomas Day, born Esther Milnes who lived in Wakefield with a distant relative also called Esther Milnes. As she was a young heiress with many suitors, we have often wondered why she chose to marry the eccentric Thomas Day. (see: