Wealthy Womanizer William Byrd: Could he say his prayers with a straight face?
In the year 1705 William Byrd inherited a vast amount of wealth from his father who was a merchant and planter that had grown rich on tobacco and the Indian trade. His father’s plantation of about 179,200 acres was now under his ruling. The following paper will examine William’s ‘secret diary’ and aim to give us a unique access into the life of plantation aristocracy. (Byrd, UP, 25) Specifically, the paper will scrutinize the text in light of him still being a relatively young man at the time as well as what factors might have prompted him to write as he did. Beyond that, the paper will briefly discuss the major themes of Byrd’s diary, the literary style employed and why I feel that these hint to us that William Byrd was able to say his prayers with a straight face.
Byrd’s diary is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. For one thing, he wrote in “short-hand” and therefore finding sources which contain long-hand transcriptions of his original work is no easy task (Byrd, UP, 25) but a very important one nonetheless because the diary entries are exceedingly difficult to follow otherwise. Secondly, and by far the more important of the two, there is a religious element to Byrd’s diary entries that is both provocative and instructive. Indeed, given Byrd’s over-weening sexual appetite, the conflict between his professed religiosity and his womanizing is quite striking and says a great deal about the disconnect between the public facade of many eighteenth century gentlemen and the more rakish pursuits to which they devoted themselves. Quite often we see Byrd’s diary describing such endeavors with, in particular, Mrs. Chiswell. A prime excerpt of this can be found in his Nov 2, 1709 entry quoted in partial length below:
“I played at[r-m] with Mrs. Chiswell and kissed her on the bed till she was angry and my wife also was uneasy about it, and cried as soon as the company was...