Lovers’ Vows in performance (a review)

November 26, 2014 at 1:32 pm (books, entertainment, history, news) (, , , , , )

It is RARE that one hears about performances of the “play within the novel” — used by Jane Austen in Mansfield Park — of Mrs Inchbald’s Lovers’ Vows – and I’ve a treat for Two Teens Readers: a member of its recent audience who was enthusiastic about writing a short review!

Contact information for the performing group – Artifice – is included in the links. Now: On with the Show…

* * *

Lovers’ Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald, 1798
Performed by Artifice at Groundlings Theatre, Portsea [Hampshire, England]
13 November 2014

This was a bustling, engaging production, the action spilling from stage to auditorium, and every door fair game for an exit or entrance.

Frederick, an impoverished junior officer, returns to his village after five years’ absence to obtain his birth certificate, without which he cannot obtain promotion. His mother, Agatha, who brought him up alone, tells him in great distress that he has no certificate because he is illegitimate. Her lover vowed to marry her, and at his request she promised not to name him as the father of their unborn child. He broke his vow to her, but she kept hers to him and was disowned by all who knew her. Frederick insists on knowing who his father is, and Agatha reveals that he is the present Baron Wildenhaim.

Frederick is bitter about Wildenhaim’s treatment of Agatha, who is now destitute through ill health, and by mischance the two men clash without knowing each other’s identity. Tragedy seems inevitable, but Frederick and Wildenhaim eventually avoid it by exercising forgiveness and good will, and they embrace as father and son.

There’s no escaping Jane Austen’s Northamptonshire Novel, which Artifice acknowledges through the hair and dress of Wildenhaim’s daughter, the only character who doesn’t wear uniform or occupational costume. But forget the Mansfield Park prism.

Lovers’ Vows is not a frothy romance. With a versifying butler to delay the plot and ratchet up the tension, Inchbald trumps Shakespeare’s tedious porter in Macbeth. And the denouement’s requirement that social distinctions give way to fairness was a dangerous proposition for 1798.

Artifice’s motto is ‘Classical plays in beautiful places’, and this production was perfect for Groundlings’ distinctive eighteenth-century venue – the Beneficial School, or the Old Benny as it is known locally. Where else would the barman come out from behind the bar to treat his patrons to a lively, pre-performance history of the theatre, ghosts and all? Artifice, come back soon.

Charlotte Frost
author, Sir William Knighton

Lovers' Vows [Artifice]

Amelia [Mairi-Clare Murphy] visiting Frederick in prison.

artifice

 

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Letters from Harrow

November 24, 2014 at 1:49 pm (a day in the life, books, diaries, history, news, people, places, research) (, , , , , )

When is being inundated with letters and transcribing an especial blessing – when it brings a new voice into the mix!

Over the eight years I’ve dug and scraped to bring more primary materials under my umbrella, I’ve found what mainly belonged to the women of the Smith & Gosling family: Mary’s travels, Emma’s diaries, Mamma’s letters. Even when I’ve known about some “manly writings”, I’ve given them a bit of a backseat position. Doesn’t help when some of it is so sketchy – both in terms of content AND in terms of the hasty scrawl employed… (Yes, Sir Charles Smith, I’m talking about you!!)

But I’m currently in the midst of transcribing schoolboy / young man SPENCER SMITH letters – and am quite enchanted with them.

Drummond Smith, the youngest of the three brothers [Sir Charles (born 1800) – Spencer (born 1806) – Drummond (born 1812)] has long had a “sisterly following” due to his early death, aged only 20. In fact, a journal of his writings was sold at auction at the firm DOMINIC WINTER in July 2013:

  • 294 Grand Tour. A manuscript fair hand journal of a European
    Grand Tour undertaken by Drummond Smith in 1832, 286 pp.,
    travelling [from Tring, Hertfordshire] through France, Germany, Italy
    and with most time spent in Sicily, a total of seven weeks, partly in
    the company of Mr Odell and Lord Ossory, the latter half containing
    copy letters sent home, all in a neat and uniform hand written up
    soon after (paper watermarked 1832), contemp. morocco gilt, lacks
    upper cover, 4to     (1) £200-300

I am familiar with an alternate copy of this same journal – how I WISH I had heard back from the auctioneer’s, or the current owner! I have so much to offer regarding the “history” of Drummond Smith and especially this “last” journey.

But I digress.

Spencer Smith, heretofore, was seen solely through the eyes of his sisters and mother – I knew a few things about him, but rather the basics of where he was, or what he liked to do. I’d never “HEARD HIS VOICE”. And yes, as the only long-surviving member of the Smith family (later, his children use the surname of “Spencer-Smith”, which evolved into Hamilton-Spencer-Smith and back to Spencer-Smith again), there were impressions I had of him that I could not have of his brothers.

His letters are less joking, less consciously “witty” than those of young Drummond; more matter-of-fact – they are touching in their very quietude. Who knew the young man had such depth; certainly not from sisterly tales of his mis-placed gun or his newly-acquired horse! Or the image Mamma put in my brain of the lolling youth enjoying 6 Portland Place, London, on his own. The letters are mainly to his sister FANNY SMITH (Mrs Richard Seymour), some to his brother – especially when Drummond, following Spencer’s footsteps, was a student at Harrow.

Some Spencer letters were written from his tutor’s, at Iver; some from Harrow; a few from the abodes of later tutors – Mr Blount at Clare and Mr Boudier at Warwick; the ones I’m currently transcribing hail from Oxford (Balliol College).

All of this came at a most opportune moment: for I was thinking about girl versus boy education; home versus institution.

Finding – about six or seven years ago – Christopher Tyerman’s A HISTORY OF HARROW SCHOOL is how I came across a copy book of young Drummond’s letters: they were quoted in a chapter covering Butler’s regime (1820s). When I first found the citations there was just NO DOUBT it was the right family: Drummond’s correspondent was his sister, Fanny Smith.

tyerman_harrow

Due to Spencer Smith’s letters from Harrow, I recently re-read this particular chapter.

And I’m not sure I wouldn’t have preferred the “girl” route to education! My… what rowdy goings-on… among these boys. I invite you to read Tyerman’s History for yourself.

Unlike Drummond, who was in Dr. George Butler‘s house, Spencer Smith was at Hog Lane House, with Mr Evans. Mr Evans – Spencer tells us to pronounce the name “Ivins”, to differentiate him from another Evans “higher up in the town” – figures in Tyerman’s book: He was a rival candidate in the headmaster search that ultimate brought Butler into the position.

The Smith boys, of course, would never have envisioned that their Letters from Harrow could one day tell historians about little lost episodes in the school’s life – as well as in the lives of several “boys” resident therein during the 1810s and 1820s.

* * *

 

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“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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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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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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Sir Michael Seymour – father & son

September 10, 2014 at 11:52 pm (history, jane austen, people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , )

In the “Smith & Gosling” family it is often DIFFICULT to differentiate the generations: so many similar (SAME) Names!

As is the case here, with Rear-Admiral Sir Michael Seymour (1st baronet):

and his third son, Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, GCB:

seymour_michael-son

Richard Seymour speaks of his father with such great affection and attention to detail in the Memoir of Rear Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, Bart, K.C.B. that I leave it to him to tell you about Sir Michael “the father”, as I call him.

It’s Richard’s brother, Sir Michael the son, that I want to say a few words about tonight.

Michael grabs my attention because he married Dora Knighton – daughter of Sir William Knighton, a confident of the Prince of Wales/George IV. Richard writes of this cousin, often distinguishing her from his sister Dora (yes, there were TWO Dora Seymours!) by referring to her as “Dora K.” She is a sweet-faced young lady in the portrait of her by Linnell. Dora (Knighton) Seymour interests me intensely! But it’s her husband that I find more information about.

An item readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen will be surprised to hear: Captain Michael Seymour served under Vice-Admiral Sir Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. See this inquiry into the service details of HMS Vindictive.

Michael was a delightful artist, and we find some of his work online:

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