I am in seventh heaven this weekend transcribing letters written by Augusta Wilder, her main correspondent being her sister Charlotte, now Mrs Arthur Currie.
This particular letter dates to January 1834.
It opens with a comical story of a “black dog” whom “Mr Baillie” (related to Joanna Baillie??) would like to foist upon Henry Wilder, then moves on to the affecting story of two “Cousins” who are in line for the “Orphan Asylum”! This begging for an act of charity segues into a discussion very close to my heart: the lamented demise of William Ellis Gosling, Mary’s eldest brother. Augusta calls him “a valued friend“. He died, aged only thirty-nine, of scarlet fever, contracted at Christmas time. One day well; next day ill; days later – dead.
- see my post about toddler William’s portrait, now in El Paso, Texas
Next is mention of Mr & Mrs Knight, with a fine description – though a bit puzzling too – of the lady. Then begins a lengthy discussion of Edward Austen’s great friend, fellow clergyman Mr Majendie. Augusta compliments his singing and his conversation – but saves her highest praise for the man’s preaching. A nugget, indeed!
A heartbreaking assessment of Augusta’s son Frederick is tackled, thanks to her noticing the progress Emma’s children make – including one (“Charlie”) born in the same year as Fred (1832), and only days before him. I’ve yet to name any kind of illness or debility from the references given to baby Fred’s health. He ultimately lived into his 60s – and had three wives.
Much more letter follows (Augusta was given to crossing her writing, and this letter is a typical example of that practice), but what caught my eye was the direction. The letter was originally addressed — and, yes, opens with My dear Charlotte — to Mrs Currie in London; and that address is struck out and the letter forwarded to Mrs Smith at Tring Park.
There is a pen notation of the receipt of the letter (19 January; it is dated the 18th); but a pencil note that surely reads Jan ’31. And “beneath” that a correction to 1834, with the last digit underlined. Considering the letter is dated, there are many postal stamps, and of course notice of the death of William and the illness of Mr Gosling, 1831 is clearly incorrect – but who made the mistake? who in a separate dating “corrected” it?
That matters less to me than what is written – again in pencil – at ninety-degrees to the address. Can you read it?
Pencil is one of my *frights* to read – it wears off, is often light to begin with – and is typically used as a third application to a crossed letter, which simply is NOT a help in deciphering the contents! But I’m quite sure I’ve puzzled this one out:
Mrs Augusta / Smith / to Charlotte / Currie / dull
Firstly, the writer is not Mamma; it is to Charlotte Currie, but it is FAR FAR from D-U-L-L! In fact, the letter is a jewel! Who could be so cruel??
Back in November 2013 I ran a lengthy post, hoping to ID a portrait which was a focal piece in a drawing – possibly sketched by eldest sister Augusta Smith – of some room that was wholly unidentified.
In trying to find information about the ceiling medallions in Tring Park’s drawing room (still in situ!), I found this Hertfordshire website that I’m sure I have read before. Only, last evening, it took on new meaning! The description is all about Drummond Smith’s Tring Park, c1802:
The apartments are handsomely furnished, and in several of them there are some good paintings, among which we cannot avoid noticing a singular whole length of Queen Elizabeth, which hangs in the small drawing-room upon the right of the hall. This painting is not improbably a copy of that by Zucchero, which hangs in the palace at Kensington….
In my original post I was hoping against hope that it might have been a family member. BUT: I’ve now found an image of that very “singular whole length” portrait!
Several books, like this one from 1802, describe the painting, identifying it as a Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, and one among several full-length portraits owned by Drummond (Emma’s great uncle; it is his baronetcy that Charles Joshua Smith, Emma’s eldest brother, inherited). Rather than Kensington Palace, its home is Hampton Court. But even this portrait carries some mystery: fascinating article by Francis Carr (a companion page can be read here).
So much is up for grabs: the portrait’s sitter – its artist – the date it was done. But my mystery has been solved: The room at Tring which once contained the portrait in the sketch being described as “the small drawing room upon the right of the hall.”
NB: In looking for confirmation that it is indeed a portrait of QEI, I found this fab array of portraits:
News out of Britain has been rife this past weekend; now comes reports of the River Itchen overflowing its banks.
I remember taking this riverside walk, often!
Downtown Winchester – with its towering Cathedral (resting place of Jane Austen) – is not super far from this spot. The Itchen snakes through so many places I remember well, from my two months in the area, working at the Hampshire Record Office, with the letters and diaries of Emma, Mamma, Fanny, Eliza Chute, et al.
Here in New England, we’ve nothing but snow (and rain is now predicted for us, later in the week…); in Olde England nothing but rain. There is nothing worse than drastic flooding. Must get letters out to my friends, and see how they are fairing.
Reading through the first chapter of my book (those purchasing Two Teens in the Time of Austen: Random Jottings, 2008-2013 get a slightly-stale taste of that opening chapter) I was submerged into Mary’s world via her 1814 trip to Oxford when I read aloud the following:
“Two of Mr. Gosling’s four sons resided in college in 1814: William Ellis, the eldest of the seven Gosling children, only weeks beyond his twentieth birthday; and Robert, one year younger. William had entered Brasenose College on 10 July 1812, and seems to have taken no degree. Robert was fairly new to college, having matriculated on 27 January 1814. He stayed through 1822, leaving with a Master’s degree.”
January 27th?! I long have had Monday in mind as “Mozart’s birthday” (you can always tell when the anniversary of that day approaches: the local radio station plays a LOT of Mozart!). But reading my little history, I found myself whispering to myself: two hundred years ago to the day…
I have been lucky enough (thank you Mark & Emma!!) to see a portrait of all three Gosling boys – William, Robert and Bennett – painted some few years later. What a handsome trio! Though, in some ways, the most “pleasing” countenance can be said to belong to Robert. As a toddler he was compared to Falstaff for his roundness; as an old man in a long-exposed photograph he reminded this American of Abraham Lincoln: long, lean, and wearing a stove-pipe hat!
But two-hundred years ago TODAY, on 27 January 1814, Robert Gosling, a young man, had matriculated at Christ College, Oxford — and that summer his sister Mary wrote down the trip her family (“Mama, Papa, my Sister and myself”) took in order to visit the boys. That wasn’t the first diary of hers that I read, but ultimately it has so-far become the earliest of her writings that I have found.
- Did the “Great Hall” of Christ Church College really serve as inspiration for HOGWARTS HALL? Mary was there… and left her thoughts: “The Hall is one of the most magnificent in Oxford.” (and I remember that scene in the first film, vividly)
Mary Gosling (aka Lady Smith) and I are both born under the sign of Aquarius: Mary born February 2nd; me on February 4th. Although I have never had a horoscope cast, I am a keen reader of the generic tidbits that turn up in newspapers. These past several months there have been several that spoke to the writer in me. I cannot express how comforting these “predictions” feel. When no one “known” to me (as I call it, in my daily life) seems to care whether this project breathes life, or dies on the vine, I take courage from these Aquarian words of encouragement.
So imagine my opening the local paper 7 Days and finding this juicy morsel to chew upon this week:
“The Aquarian author Georges Simenon (13 Feb 1903 – 1989) wrote more than 200 novels under his own name and 300 more under pseudonyms. On average, he finished a new book every 11 days. Half a billion copies of his books are in print. I’m sorry to report that I don’t think you will ever be as prolific [me neither...] in your own chosen field as he was in his. However, your productivity could soar to a hefty fraction of Simenon-like levels in 2014 — if you’re willing to work your ass off. Your luxuriant fruitfulness won’t come as easily as his seemed to. But you should be overjoyed that you at least have the potential to be luxuriantly fruitful.”
I thought drafting a novel (still in first-draft mode, many years later) in a summer a feat of diligence. Eleven days? Yow! I’ve read Simenon (been a while though), and only in English of course. I do remember enjoying them; and, of course, got turned on to them via TV’s Maigret series (the French series also ran locally, from time to time).
Mary and I certainly ‘hoo-ray’ the idea of being ‘luxuriantly fruitful’ in getting ahead in our project. And here comes Emma, and even Mamma, to add their voices to the mix….
I’ve been finishing (not yet finished though) Book of Ages and was wonderfully surprised to see the fanaticism shown by Jared Sparks in hunting down, amassing, and even acquiring “original” Benjamin Franklin documents. I, too, have that fever! It rages, flames, and settles as embers, only to rage again as certain items come to light – a new batch of letters, an unknown portrait. It is exciting, but it takes T-I-M-E. Certainly more than eleven days.
Serendipitous Stitchery recently announced a year-long project:
Four costume historians will update monthly the news of fashions in 1811 from:
- Journal des Luxus und der Moden
- Journal des Dames et des Modes
- La Belle Assemblee
- Ackermanns Repository
JANUARY 1811 is up! Click on the picture for more information on the project, as well as to see and read about London / Paris / Weimar Fashions from January 1811.
Lucky: When you’re an academic AND you discover letters of a well-established writer at the ‘click of a mouse’ you get MEGA-PRESS coverage! My Smiths & Goslings should be only so lucky…
(Those of you sharing your letters, diaries, & images with me, know who you are; thank you!)
But on to the BIG news
Professor Nora Crook‘s “re-discovery” during on online search uncovered – at the ESSEX RECORD OFFICE, the repository where some Smith & Gosling diaries and letters reside! - unpublished letters by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. A fabulous find! And proves my point that you sometimes uncover TERRIFIC *finds* while looking for something completely different.
According to The Guardian, “The letters date between 1831, nine years after the death of her poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and 1849, when Mary Shelley was already unwell with the brain tumour that would kill her two years later, and show a woman who was skilled in charming favours from friends, bursting with pride in and concern for her teenage son – and not unconcerned with frivolities. A last-minute ticket to the coronation of William IV in 1831 necessitated a 3am visit from her hairdresser; she attended the event sporting a plumed headdress (‘The whole thing was wondrously splendid – Diamonds & cloth of gold grew common to the eye.’)”
Even the ‘seal’ (see Keith Crook’s photo) was previously unknown.
” ‘Pure serendipity,’ ” says Prof. Crook, ” ‘The [Horace] Smith connection has been known but this little bit of the jigsaw hasn’t been’ “.
The comments, especially of ARCHIVISTSN, should be included in your perusal of the article.
ERO features the letters as their January 2014 “YOUR FAVOURITE ERO DOCUMENT”: read their article.
The thirteen letters are to be published in an upcoming Keats-Shelley Journal.
Got wind of a very informative article at ArtDaily.org – discussing the Austen portrait that sold at auction today. The BIG Mystery: Who purchased the portrait?!?
- New York Times’ blog quotes that Chawton’s Jane Austen’s House Museum felt they could not raise the required funds (estimated to fetch £150,000 to £200,000) after purchasing Jane Austen’s ring.
- Death Threats over the £10 Bill portrait?
- Lotta Jane Austen on the block!
The ArtDaily article offers a “behind the scenes” idea as to how Cassandra Austen‘s little drawing (now at the National Portrait Gallery, London) was used to produce the watercolor (ie, Sotheby’s auction item), which, in turn, was made into the etching that graced as frontispiece the Memoir of Jane Austen, written by her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh (husband to my Emma!).
The watercolor portrait has been in family hands – and rarely seen. So, for me, it’s a thrill to see a decent image of the little portrait. Letters have recorded what Edward and his sisters thought of the work of watercolorist James Andrews. That discussion will be Part II – unless the mystery owner is revealed! Gotta wonder if the buyer – if outside the UK – is prepared for backlash. After the furor Kelly Clarkson’s purchase of the Jane Austen ring aroused, it is unlikely the portrait would not arouse the same.
- If you owned this portrait – could you have sold it?
Every once in a while I come across a *fun* piece of information. This one is not only fun it’s also a step back in time, a moment from the lives of the Smiths of Erle Stoke Park.
The year, circa 1795/6.
As governments still desire to do, the English Parliament needed money. But how to get it, where to get it? Some bright idea occurred to someone: Let’s tax something! Ah, yes… cast your mind back: The Stamp Act; a tax on Tea; how about paying tax based the number of windows in your house, or the number of dogs in your kennel.
In 1795 that brilliant idea served to tax that commodity so many used on a daily basis: Hair Powder.
Unlike someone counting your windows or your dogs, this was based on obtaining a certificate. A tax of One Guinea gave you leisure to powder for the year (in this instance, through to 1 August 1796). Joshua Smith of Erlestoke Park, Wiltshire was a Member of Parliament; what choice did he have but to pay:
William Hiskins, under-butler to J. Smith, 11 April.
Augusta Smith, daughter of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Emma Smith, daughter of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Joshua Smith, housekeeper, 11 April.
Sarah Smith, wife of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Alexander Struthers, footman to Joshua Smith, 11 April.
My favorite portion of the announcement is a section, which reads: “… NO MORE IS TO BE DEMANDED OF ANY PERSON upon taking out a Certificate for using or wearing of Hair Powder, upon any Pretence whatever, except where there are more than two unmarried Daughters in a Family, in which Case a DOUBLE CERTIFICATE stamped with two Stamps, of One Pound One Shilling each, is required to be taken out.”
- On RootsWeb, powder tax payments for Towcester
- Notice of offices open for the attainment of said certificate
- Payment by the Smith household, see DannyHowell.net
- Relevant page from Roy and Lesley Adkins’ book, Jane Austen’s England
- A 2012 article on Sunderland during the powder tax period
- Rob Eyre of the Warwickshire Record Office: guest blog and BBC Radio’s Making History
If you can locate a copy of Beryl Hurley’s booklet “The Hair Powder Tax, Wiltshire” (1997), you can read about the Smiths of Erlestoke yourself! Needless to say, powdering wigs and hair quickly went out of fashion…
I swear that I checked out the publisher’s site (Lehigh University Press /Rowman & Littlefield) just a week or so ago – for a book due out in November (ie, this month!), it was still “faceless”…
Then, clicking on my Amazon page to make sure my blog post on the “Mystery Lady, with Stag” had posted: Well there she was –> Jane Austen and the Arts: Elegance, Propriety, and Harmony!
The publisher’s site has the eBook coming out this month, with the hard cover edition out in December. Gosh, for me this has been so long in the works. And I only wrote a chapter… With my attention firmly in the Smith & Gosling direction, this foray really will be a one-off. I hope readers enjoy it.
A “Reputation for Accomplishment”: Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse as Artistic Performers covers two of Austen’s most intriguing heroines. Marianne is perhaps the writer’s most gifted instrumentalist; Emma, on the other hand, sometimes throws her talents aside with both hands! Readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen quickly realize how much I adore classical music; few will know that I actually studied art history at university, and used to dabble in making art.