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About sharing image captionClaire Pickering in Wakefield library imagines the diary writer speaking in a Yorkshire accent A diary written by a Yorkshire farmer more than years ago is being hailed as providing remarkable evidence of tolerance towards homosexuality pickerig Britain much earlier than ly imagined. Historians from Oxford University have been taken aback to discover that Matthew Tomlinson's diary from contains such open-minded views about same-sex attraction being a "natural" human tendency.

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If someone was homosexual by choice, rather than by nature, Tomlinson was ready to consider that they should still be punished - proposing castration as a more moderate option than the death penalty. The diary is raising international interest.

Prof Fara Dabhoiwala, from Princeton University in the US, an expert in the history of attitudes towards sexuality, describes it as "vivid proof" that "historical attitudes to same-sex behaviour could be more sympathetic than is usually pd". Instead of seeing homosexuality as a "horrible perversion", Prof Dabholwala says the record showed a farmer in could see it as a "natural, divinely ordained human quality".

Rictor Norton, an expert in gay history, said there had been earlier arguments defending homosexuality as natural - but these were more likely to be from philosophers than farmers.

Who was the writer of this diary? Matthew Tomlinson was a widower, in his 40s when he wrote his journal in - a man of a "middling" class, not a poor labourer but not rich enough to own his own land.

There are no pictures of Tomlinson, who is thought to have lived between about and And a "bit of a hypochondriac". No-one knows how these private diaries, covering toended up in Wakefield Library, but they were there by the s and are pd to be part of an earlier acquisition of old books and local documents.

There are three surviving volumes and at least another eight are missing. But they show vivid detail about life in Wakefield in the early 19th Century. And at Queen X chat coronation he was sceptical about lezbian ceremonies and celebrations, calling them all "humbug".

This was not a closed world. His social circle seemed to be avid readers of books and newspapers, following reports leabian revolutions abroad and riots and insurrections at home.

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pickeeing They saw elephants marching through Wakefield in a circus parade and military bands who had competed to hire the most talented black musicians. We know where he lived - Doghouse Farm in Lupset, because he carefully wrote it on the front of his journals. But knowing what "ordinary people" really thought about such behaviour is always difficult - not least because the loudest surviving voices are usually the wealthy and powerful.

What has excited academics is the chance to eavesdrop on an everyday farmer thinking aloud in his diary. An acceptance of homosexuality might have been expressed privately in aristocratic or philosophically radical circles - but this was being discussed by a rural worker.

The pickeging, presumably compiled after a hard day's work, was his way of being a writer and commentator when otherwise "that wasn't his lesbian in life", she says. O'Keeffe says it shows ideas were "percolating through British society much earlier and more widely than we'd expect" - chat the diary room through the debates that Tomlinson might have been having with his neighbours. But pickering were still far from modern liberal views - and O'Keeffe lsbian they can be extremely "jarring" arguments.

If someone was homosexual by choice, rather than by nature, Tomlinson was ready to consider that they should still be punished - proposing castration as a more moderate option than the death penalty. The diary is raising international interest. lewbian

Prof Fara Dabhoiwala, from Princeton University in the US, an expert in the history of attitudes towards sexuality, describes it as "vivid proof" that "historical attitudes to same-sex behaviour could be more sympathetic than is usually pd". Instead of seeing homosexuality as a "horrible perversion", Prof Dabholwala says the record showed a farmer in could see it as a "natural, divinely ordained human quality".

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Rictor Norton, an expert in gay history, said there had been earlier arguments defending homosexuality as natural - but these were more likely to be from philosophers than farmers. Cristian chat was the writer of this diary?

Matthew Tomlinson was a widower, in his 40s when he wrote his journal in - a man of a "middling" class, not a poor labourer but not rich enough to own his own land. There are no pictures of Tomlinson, who is thought to have lived between about and And a "bit of a hypochondriac".

No-one knows how these private diaries, covering toended up in Wakefield Library, but they were there by the s and are pd to be part of an earlier acquisition of old books and local documents. There are three surviving volumes and at least another eight are missing.

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