This woman was born in 1746 and could easily have met someone able to say “My grandfather knew William Shakespeare”.
This is a Daguerreotype photograph of Hannah Stilley, aged 94 (b.1746). This is a woman born into a world when the American colonies were yet to revolt, when Samuel Johnson was working on his A Dictionary of the English Language and when Henry Fielding (the writer) was about to found London’s first police force, the Bow Street Runners.
We think we live in an age of rapid change, but Hannah must have seen a lot of change in her long life too – the French Revolution, the 1832 Reform Act (UK), the Industrial Revolution, the canals, the railways, photography etc.
Hannah’s long lifetime means that she might have met:
In reverse chronological order of death
- William Wordsworth (1850)
- The Brontë sisters (d.1848, 1849, 1855)
- Fanny Burney (d. 1840)
- William Blake (d.1827)
- Jane Austen (d.1817)
- Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (d. 1806)
- Mary Wollstonecraft (d. 1797)
- Edmund Burke (d.1797)
- Samuel Johnson (d. 1784)
- Ignatius Sancho (d.1780)
- George Frideric Handel (d.1759)
- Henry Fielding (d.1754)
And Hannah might have talked to people that had met:
- Jonathan Swift (d.1745)
- Daniel Defoe (d.1731)
- Isaac Newton (d.1727)
- Margaret Cavendish (d.1716)
- John Locke (d.1704)
- Margaret Fell (d.1702)
- Aphra Behn (d.1689)
- John Bunyan (d.1688)
- Nell Gwynne (d.1687)
- John Milton (d.1674)
- Oliver Cromwell (d.1658)
- And (probably) Galileo Galilei (d.1642) – “the Earth revolves around the Sun”.
Even further back:
It is feasible that Hannah met someone able to say “my grandfather knew Shakespeare” (d.1616) – or “Granddad stood in the pit and threw fruit at the great bard when he forgot his lines on stage”. For this to have happened let us assume that Hannah had the conversation when she was 10 and she was chatting to an elderly person of 90, the grandfather referred to might then have been born in 1600 or even in the late 1500s.
I could have chosen other people born around the same time, or even a little earlier – but I took a special liking to Hannah’s photograph.