“Jane, is that you?”

November 22, 2014 at 2:04 pm (history, people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , )

The “Jane” in question here is not Jane Austen but Jane Perceval, wife then widow of Spencer Perceval the British Prime Minister murdered in 1812.

Although my first volume of Smith & Gosling biography begins in 1814 – the history surrounding the PM’s death two years prior is vital: Spencer Perceval was a relative of Mamma Smith’s brother-in-law Charles, 1st Marquess of Northampton. The Marquess’s son, young Lord Compton, ended up in Parliament soon thereafter. Several letters discuss the Percevals — Jane and her children — during the immediate aftermath of the assassination.

One letter, written by Jane herself, has her on the defensive against an out-cry caused by the widow’s upcoming remarriage. Emma Smith mentions the fact of her marriage to “Sir H. Carr” (no embellishments) in her 1815 diary.

The woman, obviously distraught at the negativism, and combating an illness, was pleading her case at such length, that I simply had to find out more about her. And that’s when I came across this purported portrait on the blog PottoingAround. It went up for auction in May 2014.

janeperceval_vigee lebrun

A major  “anniversary” year in 2012 (200 years since the assassination), there started some thoughts on commemorating Perceval; at least one biography came out; some press articles &c. It is less his death than how the family responded and coped that interests me. I’ve read of similar backlash when Mrs Thrale (who made no bones about how unhappy Henry Thrale made her) married Mr. Piozzi. “Public opinion” as well as private sentiments were making themselves felt in this case, however — especially as Mrs Perceval had been granted a generous “pension”. This remains an area I’ll have to delve into a bit more, just out of curiosity.

This portrait, a pastel by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, dates to 1804. The French artist was resident in England at the time, so the fact of it being her work seems not in question. What IS questioned is the identification of the sitter.

It’s difficult to compare portraits – and say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on various representations looking like each other: there are too many portrait series where the sitter is KNOWN and the portraits look very little alike (I might, as a quick for instance, mention Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire’s several portraits).

For my purposes, I sure HOPE this is Jane Perceval. Hands-down, it would win my case; for I wish to call Jane Perceval, in May 1812, a ‘vibrant’ woman in her forties. No one viewing this portrait would be immune to the charms of this face just eight years later.

* * *

  • More info on Vigée Le Brun, the terrific Batguano site (this pastel is near the top of the page)
  • the “hidden in plain sight” family history of an MP
  • recent news on a Spencer Perceval memorial plaque

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Anne Rushout’s Sketchbook

November 20, 2014 at 11:40 am (diaries, entertainment, history, places, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , )

One of the MANY (many….) people peppering the Smith & Gosling papers is Anne Rushout, a beauty painted several times, and an artist of some merit. I first wrote about her when a search turned up a rather extravagant gavel price for a portrait of Anne and her sisters – Regency “It” Girls – all three of whom figure tangentially in my research, depending on which family members one follows.

The eagle-eyes of author Charlotte Frost (Sir William Knighton: The Strange Career of a Regency Physician) spotted this new-ish blog (thanks, Charlotte!) under the delightful name of Wicked William – which has posted two series of Anne’s watercolors (click on photo).

While there, I also invite readers to also check-out WHY William was “wicked”….

Rushout_Mersey-towards-Toxteth-Park-1829

* Anne Rushout’s “Regency Tour“, from which comes the View of the Mersey (above)
* Anne Rushout’s Wanstead
* and a little background info on the Rushout sisters, especially Anne

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Behind the Scenes with Mrs Siddons

November 4, 2014 at 1:01 pm (books, diaries, entertainment) (, , )

I highly recommend the Journal of Emily Shore for anyone wishing to get inside the mid of a young and extremely inquisitive girl, covering 1830s England. Emily has a tangential relationship to the Smiths — in that her Great Aunt Susannah Smith (Mrs Thomas Smith, of Bersted Lodge) was also Emma’s Great Aunt (Thomas Smith being a brother of grandpapa Joshua Smith).

sarahsiddonsbanner

EXTRAS

At the point in time that Emily Shore is writing, it is 1836; she is staying with her aunt in Exeter. And one day, her diary remarks, the conversation turned to MRS SIDDONS – this immediately caught my eye because the Smith letters occasionally have mentioned seeing her act – including, if I’m not mistaken, in her famous role as Lady Macbeth; and I also am reading a biography of her niece, Fanny Kemble: A Reluctant Celebrity by Rebecca Jenkins – which (of course!) tells tales from behind the curtain.

But the little story which I relate here — (I invite you to read Emily Shore’s journal for the full Siddons-story), is so humorous that one sees a far different (off-stage) Mrs Siddons.

Emily’s Aunt Bell was staying with her aunts Mrs Smith and Lady Mayo — and the party was being entertained at the neighboring home of Lord Arran.

How I wish Emily had mentioned a date! for there are several mentions of Mrs Siddons in Smith family diaries. Without that I have only Emily’s recollection of someone else’s story – and it is perhaps in the retelling that the tale takes on a bit of mirth:

Mrs Siddons “was, of course, to be considered the queen of the party; but as there was not a woman in the house who did not by right rank above her, much manoeuvring was employed to raise her above them. When Aunt Bell dined there, she was curious to see how this object would be effected. A little before the company was summoned to dinner, Mrs. Siddons vanished; and while they entered the dining-room at one door, behold, she was seen entering like a queen by herself at the other.”

Emily had a few choice words to say about Lord Arran, but I only include here her anecdote that continues a visit of Mrs Siddons:

She sometimes read Shakespeare to the party, on which occasions Lord A. always took care to have a scenes ready, and was himself invariably prepared with tears and pocket-handkerchief.

Even with all the jockeying and histrionics, what I wouldn’t give for an evening’s front row seat to a Mrs Siddons recitation!

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Lymington History

October 17, 2014 at 1:44 pm (books, entertainment, history, places, travel) (, , , )

IMAGINE: a letter saved for a good 170 years, in which the chief topic of conversation is a “commission” to buy the letter writer “six or eight pounds” — at the reasonable cost (evidently) of 6 pence per pound — of EPSOM SALTS!

The letter is undated – and there are several contenders for the “Miss Smith” of the letter’s direction and salutation, depending on the date of the letter.

A bit of a catch-22 that.

Without a definitive person OR date I cannot fix on a tentative date OR person!

But within the letter is the mention of a place: LYMINGTON. That being the one place that has the BEST Epsom Salts for this incredible price.

Give the date of the letter must be within the first half of the 19th century, I did wonder if perhaps this was a phonetic spelling; “Lymington,” however, MUST be correct – for the exchange of goods is directed to take place at Aunt Emma’s home in Southampton; and indeed there is such a place – on the coast – as Lymington, within 50 miles of Southampton.

Finding their tourist website, I also found – and this is why I’m posting – their page on Lymington History.

tour isle of wight

And look at the GOODIES found there:

  • Tour to the Isle of Wight (1790) [title page above]
  • History of Lymington (1825) [by David William Garrow]
  • Picturesque Companion to Southampton (1830)
  • Notes from a Pedestrian Excursion (1832)
  • … and MORE!

They also provide links for historical maps of Lymington and some interesting and useful descriptions of the environs (for instance, on the Lymington Marshes, c1840).

The main page has a walking tour (“A Walk around Lymington”) as well as a nice page (with maps) on “Along the Solent Way”.

 

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New Signatures

October 2, 2014 at 5:36 pm (history, people, research) (, , )

Now that it’s turned to October, I’m doing a little housekeeping – and, having an influx of letters means that I can ADD to my file of SIGNATURES.

signature_william ellis gosling

Mary’s eldest brother, William c1830

I cannot stress enough: should anyone ever come across letters with these names, diaries with these inscribed, or my “Cast of Characters” sounds at all familiar — please do get in touch!

Earlier this week I was confronted with a VERY familiar hand — and yet I could not for the life of me say who I thought it might be. Only a few lines; I could date the letter – but who was the WRITER?!?

It haunted me for hours.

Then I looked up a photo of a letter that was written by one of the two Misses Ashley – two sisters, both of whom were governesses. Eureka!

And the snippet of information finally made sense too…

But that made me determined to make myself a file, with samples of their handwriting, for all the siblings, their spouses, the parents, aunts, uncles. Anyone and everyone. One stop shopping, the next time I’m guessing “who IS this masked writer?”

 

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Driving down Portland Place, 1835

September 29, 2014 at 10:25 am (books, carriages & transport, diaries, goslings and sharpe, history, london's landscape) (, , , )

This past week has been FILLED with letters (thank you Anna!), some of which have given the harrowing details of the last illness of William Gosling, senior partner in the banking firm Goslings and Sharpe – and my Mary’s father. Mary lost two family members in January 1834 – her brother William also died (of scarlet fever).

But it is from a diary, written by a young girl who, though ever so nominally ‘related’ to the Smiths and Goslings, probably never met any of them. The connection is Mrs Thomas Smith – sister-in-law of Joshua Smith, she was Great Aunt to Emma and Charles Smith; and through her own sister Juliana (née Mackworth Praed), aunt to the diarist Emily Shore and her sisters, as well as Winthrop Mackworth Praed.

But I digress…

Anna Leszkiewicz’s delightful review @ Rookie of “The Journal of Emily Shore”

It is May 20, 1835 – and Emily Shore and her mother have been invited to visit a London family. Oh, Emily has some very choice words to say about the fog, smog, smoke of London. The country-girl was unimpressed.

So how wonderful to then read what DID impress her: Portland Place!

But let’s first put Emily on the road :

We avoided the City altogether, going by the New Road, through Regent’s Park. I was altogether disappointed in the Park. I had expected at least to see fine timber. No such thing. The horrid atmosphere of London checks all vegetation. As far as I could see, there was not a tree in Regent’s Park to compare with the greater part of those in Whitewood. Besides, the sky is smoky and dingy, there is not freshness in the air, nor the bloom of spring everywhere, as in the country. It has also a formal look; it is intersected with wide public roads, which are inclosed by hedges or railings. These roads were full of carriages, cabs, horsemen, and pedestrians, which are supposed to give so much liveliness to the scene; so they do, but I like a retired, unfrequented park much better.

nos-5-6PPOn leaving Regent’s Park we entered Portland place. Here I was much struck with the grandeur of the buildings, surpassing anything I ever saw in the shape of private houses. If London had all been like this, it would have been a magnificent city. But I  believe not many parts are so noble as this.

To remind Two Teens in the Time of Austen readers, the Goslings lived at No. 5 Portland Place, and the Smiths were next door, at No. 6 — No. 5 is the address in the middle, with the “longest” yard and “shortest” house (click to enlarge map), and at the right (with the white pilasters) in the photo below, which looks UP the street from Langham Place; Regents Park is at the opposite end.

portland place

EXTRAS:

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Samuel Prout, Painter in Water-Colours

September 26, 2014 at 4:18 pm (history, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , )

Seven years ago I spent two months transcribing a MASS of letters and diaries. Back then cameras weren’t allowed in archives – and what I could transcribe is all I came away with.

I’ve written about some of the divergent handwriting specimens I’ve had to decipher (mainly, the four Smith sisters of Erle Stoke Park); so it is NO surprise to see that I gave up on one letter (extracting from it about six sentences only) because the writing was “so tiny”.

That writer was Fanny Smith (later: Fanny Seymour, wife of the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton).

Having a photo of this cramped epistle, I *finally* transcribed it in total last night.

And from the pen strokes emerged this DELIGHTFUL tale of Fanny and her love of drawing and (by dint of this story) watercolor painting. Fanny’s letter is addressed to her sister, Emma Austen:

I have corresponded with Mr Prout from whom I had rather an ambiguous answer about teaching after the Water Color Exhibition opened …. {Spencer Smith, Fanny and Emma’s brother, then went to see Mr Prout} he said he was much engaged with the 2d vol. of the landscape annual & jumped at the idea of my having been in Italy, hoping I could furnish him with some sketches, Spencer said he had a sister who had a great many italian views, he [Prout] begged leave to call some morning & see them, & we thought we should like him to see your drawings…. Mr Prout spent the whole morning here looking at them, & expressed the most unbounded admiration for them…. I hope now you feel properly flattered, & conceive my being out with Augusta & Henry the whole time he was here, in furniture shops.

prout_1831Poor Fanny! there’s the revered teacher, in her own home — looking at her sister’s work (by her own invitation, granted), but made worse by the fact that she wasn’t even there – she’d been shopping with the newly-wedded Augusta and Henry Wilder!

So I simply HAD to find out more about “Mr Prout”. I believe he must have been Samuel Prout (1783-1852), described as one of the MASTERS among the British Watercolorists – and (by the date of this letter, March 1830) the Painter in Water-Colours-in-Ordinary to King George IV.

Initially, I had GREAT trouble with this person’s name – Pront? was one guess. So might I, in earlier days, have come across this name and guessed (incorrectly)? – I’ll have to look among the letters and diary entries. So many possibilities: Did Fanny finally get to have the lessons she so clearly yearned for? Did she get overshadowed by Emma’s (perhaps better?) Italian sketches? Did any of the Smith girls have their sketches exhibited or published??? Now there’s an enticing thought!

There are sketches belonging to Fanny in the Bodleian; but none are watercolors (pencil sketches only). A new source DOES indeed claim to have an album of watercolor works and  the current thought is that the items (lotta letters) may once have been in Fanny’s possession – certainly the letters I’ve so far seen are mostly addressed to Fanny. So maybe some of the visual material is actually by her. That would certainly be nice, and the many people who have become interested in Fanny’s unique life will be made happy.

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Jane Austen’s Matchmaker (game)

September 21, 2014 at 2:16 pm (entertainment, jane austen) (, , , , )

Every once in a while I visit Kickstarter – to see what “AUSTEN” projects are out there. (Never know… one day it may be a project of my own!)

Today I found Jane Austen’s Matchmaker — what looks to be a really fun game to play, and of course for the Austen fan a “gotta have that” item.

You’ve still a week (until 28 Sept 2014) to pledge – and there’s even time enough to receive your “gift” before Christmas!

ja matchmaker

A Ruthlessly Romantic Card Game!

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Monsieur d’Eon is a Woman

September 17, 2014 at 12:08 pm (books, portraits and paintings) (, , , )

Yesterday, searching for information on a ship of the line toured by the young ladies from Erle Stoke Park — HMS St. George (90 guns) and those who sailed on her in 1792, I came across the most arresting portrait, in oils, of a very mannish-looking woman.

Was the sitter who I thought?

Indeed!  a genuine portrait of le Chevalier d’Eon!

Chevalier d'Eon

The blog post I found is a couple years old, and tells the story of art dealer Philip Mould “uncovering and identifying” the sitter. Evidently the National Portrait Gallery snapped it up.

Frankly, how could anyone mistake the sitter – d’Eon was my first thought when the image popped up on my screen.

To understand the full d’Eon story, I refer Two Teens in the Time of Austen‘s readers to a biography by Gary Kates, Monseiur d’Eon is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade.

kates_deon

I remember buying this book like it was yesterday (alas: more like 2001! assuming it was newly out in paperback).

I was visiting Dartmouth College, and going to Hanover ALWAYS meant a visit to the delightful Dartmouth Bookstore (now – alack!! – nothing more than another Barnes & Noble). I always searched a couple of sections: history (mainly Britain; France; Austria); biography; travel; and remaindered books in the back of the basement. I still remember where these departments used to be located!

D’Eon must have been in the history section (France), or maybe Gender Studies. I had gone down to New Hampshire by myself that day, and the sun was shining gloriously – I pulled into a park area near the river and hurriedly unwrapped the book from its bag, to look my treasure over more carefully. I had never heard of Charles d’Eon de Beaumont. I’ve pulled the book off the shelf again, and will have to give it a look-through, if not a re-read — now that I know what she looked like.

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Oxford, 1814

September 15, 2014 at 6:25 pm (entertainment, europe, history, travel) (, , , , , , , )

Although it’s no longer summer 2014, I can’t help but come across items relating to Oxford — which is what opens my book (in the year 1814). And this past weekend uncovered a few nice *finds*.

I invite readers to Take a Tour of Oxford via OXFORD HISTORY. It’s been years since I clicked photos of places I’ve visited — so I have nothing of my own to share.

Oxford had the dubious distinction of being a bit of a “lay-over” spot. I had taken the bus from Aylesbury into Oxford in order to take the train a few stops south – in order to meet a private collector with whom I’d been corresponding. She had family letters!

Long story short: I went for a walk; got lost. BUT: I stood on the very spotunder “the Great Bell called Tom — that little Mary Gosling, aged 14 stood upon 200 years before me. A proper tour through the city awaits another trip.

Looking for information on Oxford back in 1814, in particular on the old city walls, is how I came across this delightful website. There IS a “Oxford City Walls” tour – and it’s presented online, with some really nice photographs of the sites.

oxford city walls tour

I’m THRILLED to see CARFAX TOWER mentioned; Mary talks about this – and I know that when I first transcribed her travel journal I had NO idea of any of the layout (see CARFAX Views)

If you explore the Walls circuit, you will cover some of the same ground I did: How well I remember the Castle Mound and Castle Street — and (having gotten “lost”) it’s a pity I never ended up at the appropriately-named Turn Again Lane!

Mary and family had come to Oxford to visit William Ellis and Robert Gosling, her two eldest brothers. _I_ was in Oxford on the trail of Mary

The boys were at two different colleges. Robert at Christ Church (Mary seems very unimpressed with his rooms in the Peckwater Quad) and William at Brasenose.

OxfordHistory.org also dedicates a page to the old Star Inn, where the Goslings overnighted (alas, no longer in existence).

In searching, I also stumbled upon the Oxford University magazine Oxford Today, with an article on the very event the Goslings came in the wake of: the visit to Oxford by the Allied Sovereigns. Imagine my delight with this cartoon:

allies in oxford

Mary Gosling, aged 14:
“…they shewed us the chairs … [of] the emperor and king of Prussia
they were of velvet and handsomely mounted in gold,
and I had the honour to sit in both of them.”

The Emperor (tsar) of Russia – and his sister (shown in the full cartoon) – sits on the right hand side of the Prince of Wales; the King of Prussia on his left.

10p to the person who first spots a quite egregious error in the article… [What a difference one letter of the alphabet makes.]

 

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