Lovers’ Lettercase

November 7, 2011 at 8:35 am (fashion, history, research) (, , , )

Always a joy to read, Sabine has a post about a true *find*: what seems to be an embroidered silk lettercase, c1800. Click on the picture to go to the page and be ready to be AMAZED!

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Clothing circa 1800

September 3, 2011 at 8:45 am (europe, fashion, history, research) (, , , , , , )

Just discovered this fascinating blog (in German and English):

Its subject matter deals in all things from the time period of my beloved Smiths & Goslings! Recent entries are the birthday of Goethe; and a couple lovely portraits assessed for their clothing and hair styles. Check it out!

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Erlestoke – home of the “energetic” Joshua Smith

July 20, 2011 at 7:25 pm (books, estates, travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The following is from an 1853 volume of Burke’s A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain, vol 2:

“ERLESTOKE PARK, Wiltshire, about seven miles south-west of Devizes, the property of Mrs. Watson Taylor, by whom it is let on a yearly lease to Lord Broughton de Gyfford. This estate, together with that of Eddington [sic], where formerly stood an old family mansion of the Dukes of Bolton, belonged at one time to Peter Delmé, Esq., and of him it was purchased about the year 1780, by Joshua Smith, Esq., M.P. for Devizes, who so completely altered the whole domain, as scarcely to leave it a single trait of its original character. The fine old trees in the park may be said to be almost the only remains of the bygone period. The pleasure grounds, the plantations, all sprang up under the hand of the energetic proprietor; even a new village started into life, like a second Aladdin’s palace. The old house at Stoke Park, which was built close on the edge of a small stream at the foot of the hill, was pulled down, and a new mansion erected on the brow of a steep knoll, or eminence, partly embosomed in noble forest trees, and partly open to distant prospects. The building, composed of a fine white free-stone, was begun in 1786, and finished in five years. Together with the offices, it extends from east to west three hundred and fifty-six feet in front, in the centre of which is a Doric colonnade, opening into a very handsome hall, forty feet in length, and two-and-thirty feet in breadth. It is ornamented with a screen of six fluted Corinthian columns, and communicates with the drawing-room, dining-room, library, and other apartments. The first of these is thirty feet by twenty-four, its length being apparently enlarged, from the effect produced by two mirrors, placed at the opposite ends of the apartment.

The dining-room, to the east, communicates with the library, which faces the north, the former being thirty-six feet by twenty-four, while the latter is forty feet long, and twenty-six feet wide. West of this is the breakfast-room, which, with a large dressing-room, constitutes the ground suite of apartments.

In this noble mansion lived the family of the Smiths, in a manner worthy of its splendour; but they have now all descended to the grave, or are scattered and dispersed. In 1820, the executors of the late Simon Taylor, Esq., bought the manor and estate of Erie Stoke, with those of Edington and Coulston, for two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. They were settled upon Mrs. Watson Taylor, as sole heiress of her uncle, on the death of her only brother, Sir Simon B. Taylor (who died unmarried in the year 1815), the whole, with other landed property, being entailed on the heirs male and female in succession, of George Watson Taylor, Esq., M.P., and his wife, the above lady. Many large additions have been made to these extensive domains.

The present park and pleasure grounds consist of about six hundred acres, distinguished by a great variety of surface, with bold eminences, narrow, winding valleys, and wood and water in abundance. About a mile to the south of the House is the northern boundary of Salisbury Plain, presenting a lofty ridge, that extends in an undulating and irregular line, from west to east, for the distance of several miles. Towards the north this plain slopes rapidly, abounding in deep romantic dells, that are mostly covered with a thin turf; but on the Erle Stoke estate, it is clothed with thick and extensive plantations of firs, beech, larch, and other indigenous timber. From one of these hollows rises an abundant spring of fine water, that meanders through a secluded pleasure ground, and in places expands into small lakes, having in its passage over the ridges of rock formed several beautiful cascades. Upon reaching the park, the accumulated waters swell into a broad and noble sheet, that from the north and west sides of the House presents a most pleasing feature in the landscape.

The approach and entrance to the mansion were formerly on the south; but on that side, a few years ago, a flower garden was laid out, and enclosed from the park by a light, high, wire fence; a new road was also made, and an entrance portico erected, on the north side of the House. Other improvements have been effected, the only change for the worse being the dispersion of the excellent collection of pictures made by Mr. Watson Taylor, some of which present very choice specimens of ancient and modern art.”

What a fascinating find! It’s so easy to imagine young Augusta, when she lived here, getting her letter from Charles Smith which caused such “agitation” in early diary entries in 1798. Sadly, Erle Stoke/Erlestoke burned — as little now exists of Joshua’s house as he left when building his home.

Would LOVE to hear from anyone with further information — or illustrations — of Erle Stoke Park!

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A New Addition to our Family

March 31, 2011 at 4:45 pm (books, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , )

It’s always wonderful when I come across a new “illustration” of a family member — this one I grabbed from Wikipedia’s entry on Sir Michael Seymour — he is the Rev. Richard Seymour’s brother. Sir Michael followed in his father’s footsteps; both were navy men (and, I hate to tell you, both named Michael!).

Sir Michael Seymour, the father, died in 1834 — an important year for Richard (he and Fanny married in October of that year).

As you can see here, Sir Michael Seymour, the son, lived a longer life (born in 1802, he died in 1887).

I have a cruder picture of a young Richard Seymour — it is a photo of a drawing, which is why the quality is not high (but I’ve never come across the original painting); do you think they look alike, these brothers?

Sir Michael was the husband of Dora K. (Dora Knighton, but Richard always referred to her as Dora K. in his diaries because the Seymours likewise had a SISTER named Dora!). Dora K., of course, was the daughter of Sir William Knighton — the subject of Charlotte Frost’s new biography.

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I Want to Read…

March 11, 2011 at 8:16 pm (books, introduction, news, people, places, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


It occurred to me that blog readers might be interested in a bit of “hmmm… what’s she raising money for??” explanation. (see the Austen Book Raffle posts).

I’m more than happy to bend a few “eyes” (and ears) about my research project! (As friends and family know, to their detriment…)

To start at the very beginning: I visited Northern Wales — Llangollen to be exact — and was just ENCHANTED with the story of the Ladies of Llangollen, Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler. I began collecting “first-hand” information, and posted it on my website. Surprisingly, there was abundant material! Though much found was of the second-hand, mythic variety, there were some great finds.

One “find” was a Duke University diary. Once belonging to MARY GOSLING, the diary turned out to contain several trips – to the English coast, to the battlefields of Waterloo, and a certain trip to Ireland that took the Gosling family through Northern Wales. And — wait for it! — they visited with the Ladies! Were shown around Plas Newydd (the home of the Ladies of Llangollen; now a museum), in fact!

But who were these GOSLINGS??

(And, by the way, Mary hadn’t much to about the Ladies, other than what was already known about them – ie, how they dressed and how they never travelled far from home.)

With the internet, I struck gold. Found a series of diaries written by Lady Smith, the 2nd daughter of William Gosling of Roehampton Grove, a banker. Now, in Mary Gosling’s diary, there was a man who brought his family to see Bank of Ireland currency MADE. Who, other than a banker, would have the ability to go that? And Mary had them departing from “Roehampton”!

But, without seeing these later diaries of Lady Smith’s, it was mere supposition that Mary Gosling = Lady Smith.

The main reason these Lady Smith diaries were listed online was that they were included in part of an exceptional large microfilm collection. Essex County was in PART FIVE, which I learned was a far cry from Part One — the only series owned by the closest “big” educational facility within easy driving: Dartmouth College (New Hampshire). Oh, the drive home that day was a disappointment.

Again: thankfully the internet — and online college & university catalogues — helped me track down a handful of places with the full series (or at least through series five). A trip to Colonial Williamsburg brought me within easy distance of one of those few: Old Dominion University. I’ve never seen such a lovely library! And once I found the rolls of film with Lady Smith’s diaries, I was well rewarded: There was the SAME handwriting, the same reference to “My Sister” (Mary never calls Elizabeth Gosling anything other than “my Sister”.)

I had found my girl!

Or, should I say girls — for that day I spotted my first reference to young Emma:

If I had KNOWN that in looking up some Jane Austen books I’d have found ALL of Charles Joshua Smith’s siblings, I would have saved myself TONS of digging… Alas, it’s almost a “happier” circumstance to piece the family together: 9 Smith siblings in all!

“Mr Austen, Mr Knight, and Mrs Leigh Perrot” in the diary entry above (Emma and Edward’s first child’s christening!) were the giveaways about the Jane Austen connection.

And thanks to that connection I got to see TONS of diaries and letters and memorabilia (for instance, a lock of young Drummond Smith’s hair!) at the Hampshire Record Office, when I lived in England for two months in 2007 in order to transcribe as much material as possible. For most of the time, I worked six days a week at the archive (thanks to their generous hours) and on the seventh — well, I began well: reading and reviewing the work of previous days, but it was summer and, yes, some Sundays I spent in the park near Winchester’s town hall.

I had already inter-library loaned those rolls of microfilm with Lady Smith’s diaries; purchased a roll of film with all of the existing diaries written by Charles Joshua Smith (Mary Gosling’s husband; Emma Smith’s eldest brother), which the Essex Record Office houses. Now I had a growing collection of letters and diaries by the likes of Emma, her mother Augusta Smith, her sisters Augusta, Fanny and Maria; a diary series belonging to Fanny’s eventual husband, the Rev. Richard Seymour was briefly worked on at the Warwickshire Record Office (their hours were much shorter than HRO’s…).

In short, I’ve seen much, typed a LOT, and still there is more material for me to “visit” — if not in person (expensive) then via film.

And that’s where the Book Raffle comes in. Edward Austen (later Austen Leigh) made some delightful silhouettes, and his descendent, Freydis Welland, put them together into a book, originally published by private press: A Life in the Country. The pictures are accompanied by Jane Austen quotes. The book was then published “commercially” by the British Library.

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International Women – a Bit of a Rant

March 10, 2011 at 8:13 pm (news, people) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I was sorry to be waylaid by snow (and MORE and more and even MORE snow), here in New England, and be unable to post ANYTHING about International Women’s Day – IWD marked its 100th anniversary on Tuesday, March 8th.

See IWD’s website:

I am fairly apolitical, but certainly “dream” of a world of decency towards all, equality of the sexes, equal wages, equal opportunity — and am smart enough to know I’ll never live to see such things. (“Dreamers” see solutions to world problems, but no one listens.)

At the same time, it really annoys me when people, discussing Austen’s era, disparage the idea of women of the “leisure class” having nothing to do and how boring their lives must have been because they couldn’t go out and work, must marry and have children, must be under the thumb of father, husband or brother.

My Smiths and Goslings of course would be included here. And they were people not under anyone’s thumb (you’ve never seen anyone more formidable than Mamma Smith!); they also had money enough to live without marrying — but the girls chose to do so. Choice is something many today don’t have: we must work, even at jobs we hate, just to pay the bills. So who’s to say that “today” is better than “yesterday”? It really all depends on the individual.

I adore the arts. Lament that my parents were not encouraging when, in grade 5 or 6, I wanted to take up the drums (you can guess why they were not encouraging! however: I never learned to read music…). I grew up in a small Vermont city with no one in my life who was interested in plays, theater, concerts (which were as active then as today). I found those things, later, on my own. I enjoy working for hours and days and months on a writing assignment; it fills my mind when I write. I cannot imagine a house devoid of books (even Andy Rooney, last Sunday, spoke of Kindles and real books!).

In short, I would KILL for a life as lived by young Emma Smith and Mary Gosling: drawing lessons from artists; trips away from a country home (quiet!!!) to the bustle of London for the ‘season’; concerts and operas and plays enjoyed and understood; time to read; time to learn foreign languages — and money enough to go on trips to those foreign lands!

Now, I recognize that not everyone would have talent for, or even like, pursuits like drawing, music, travel, reading, learning. But some also don’t care to spend time in an office. Some people are Career-minded; Career with a capital C. Some are nurturers and want a homelife and children. Some work to live rather than live to work. Some are artistic — and just wish artists didn’t traditionally ‘starve to death’.

I’m sure there were women in the 19th century who wanted to “work” for a living (and were disparaged for it, if they did it), just as there are women today who would rather be home (and are disparaged for it). Every individual tries to do what brings them enjoyment; some are less successful than others; some just never have the opportunity to rise to their particular potential. Roadblocks exist, have existed, and will exist. I don’t fit into my “world,” but have tried and am trying to carve a new niche. None of us represent an era, a generation, or women in general. We are each only ourself.

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A Richard Seymour Sighting!

February 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm (news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In “conversation” over email with Charlotte Frost (see the post on her new biography of Sir William Knighton), it turned up that Ms. Frost had seen a photograph of the Rev. Richard Seymour – husband of my dear Fanny Smith — among a group of family photos!

Now, the Warwickshire Record Office has the not-very-good photo of a portrait of a young Richard (see portraits page), but can you imagine: seeing, “in the flesh”, a photo of someone you only know through his words and deeds? Quite THRILLING!!!

Richard has a nice “following” in Warwickshire, thanks to the talks given by Alan Godfrey. Alan had kindly invited me to offer a talk on Fanny Smith when I was in England in 2007. Seems a lifetime ago. We had a great turnout that Friday evening — thanks in no small part to Alan’s organization skills. I was able to have in hand a drawing of dear Fanny, probably done by her eldest sister Augusta, but maybe done by her sister Emma. This was done when Fanny was in her 20s and reminds me of the work of Mrs Carpenter — very likely, as that artist was commissioned for a number of pieces in the Smith family, which means the girls had the opportunity to watch her work, as well as study her methods.

By the way, Richard is described by Ms. Frost as “a man in his 60s, seated at a desk”. How wonderful if the same holding turns up a picture of … Fanny!

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Dash It All–

September 9, 2010 at 8:37 pm (news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Came across this interesting article from Australia in which Jane Austen’s penmanship, punctuation and pungent sentences come in for a bit of scrutiny. How apropos! Since one thing that is always at the forefront of conducting primary research is contending with handwriting!

Forming the base of the article: The two chapters cut from Persuasion, the only extant manuscript penned by Austen (if we don’t count the copied-out juvenilia).

Having a copy of Modert’s Jane Austen’s Manuscript Letters in Facsimile, I really don’t think Austen’s writing difficult to read (on the other hand imagine if this book had been published with the even better images now possible in the digital age!); and so little cross writing. In fact the quirk of Austen’s letters are those written with much white-space so that the next “layer” of writing comes upside-down, but in between this first “layer” of writing.

Examining actual letters (from the Gosling and Smith families — though I did read a couple written by Cassandra Austen!), you see with what a fine line (ie, a well-sharpened quill) most people wrote. The difference between a dot (period) and a comma often quite difficult to discern. And dashes? Hell! I use them all the time! Who doesn’t?

And if commas are thought of as a “pause” when reading aloud, then many of Austen’s commas make great sense.

If Austen can be described as having a “closely written” hand, then the writer of this article has NEVER read anything written by the likes of young Augusta Smith (aka Augusta Wilder)! Yow!

(The execrable handwriting of the likes of Lady Elizabeth Dickins I won’t even mention…)

I must comment on the comment about underlining: Seeing as I transcribe as closely as possible, I use underlining rather than italicizing. Once, an editor changed the underlined words into italics. Hate to say, but, it just was not the same! And how to include two or even three lines?!? If I remember correctly, one of the editors working with Queen Victoria’s letters kept the original emphasis — one, two or even three underscores — intact. I like to do the same with Emma, Mary and all the rest, too.

  • From Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, read a graphologist’s thoughts on Jane’s handwriting <broken link; try this link instead>. I see a LOT of the same characteristics in the Smith/Gosling papers.
  • To learn about the “mechanics” of writing in the period of the Quill Pen, see JASNA’s Persuasions On-Line, in an article by Robert Hurford.
  • To see an actual piece of Austen’s writing, there is none better than the British Library’s presentation of her The History of England, with (we must give the artist her due) the fabulous drawings of Cassandra Austen.
  • The BBC and Chawton Cottage (Louise West) in conversation.

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Willoughby & Marianne: What Opera?

August 25, 2010 at 8:46 am (books, people) (, , , , , , , , )

Coming in to work today, the radio announced the birthday of Leonard Bernstein, born in Lawrence, Mass in 1918. Who knew he was born in New England; not me (but then he was “big” when I was a kid, so put it down to that).

Anyway, tangled up with morning thoughts of work, reading (Sense and Sensibility, of course!), and Lennie — came a thought that I toyed with a few days ago, but now put out in the blog-o-sphere:

Near the end of Sense and Sensibility, when Willoughby has irrevocably left, and Marianne has survived her illness, she goes up to her pianoforte and fingers a piano reduction operatic score. So my question, and I’d love it if operaphiles and Janeites alike might give their thoughts:

What OPERA would Willoughby and Marianne have been likely to play through?

A comic opera? An English opera? A tragedy? Something old, like Handel; something totally new and playing in London the last season or two?

The entire quote (Chapman, 342):

“After dinner she would try her piano-forte. She went to it; but the music on which her eyes first rested was an opera, procured for her by Willoughby, containing some of their favourite duets, and bearing on its outward leaf her own name in his hand writing.”

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Ackermann’s Repository of Arts

December 2, 2009 at 12:09 am (books, entertainment, fashion, places, spotlight on) (, , , , , )

In readying an article for publication, I was on the lookout for period images of the Chute estate, The Vyne. What joy when I found a ‘library’ of Ackermann’s The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics! (Later renamed The Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, &c) These are the “famous” journals from which fashion plates have been extracted – and those fashion plates certainly have an important role to play in the lives of the Smiths and Goslings!

Just because Internet Archive has them rather jumbled (for there are two ‘bound’ issues per calendar year), I list here those that I’ve found – and will augment this list whenever I find new issues have been posted. (Or, is it not true that it published through 1829?)

1809 – 1st half (vol. 1); 2nd half (vol. 2)

1810 – 1st half (vol. 3); 2nd half (vol. 4)

1811 – 1st half (vol. 5); 2nd half (vol. 6)

1812 – 1st half (vol. 7); 2nd half (vol. 8 )

1813 – 1st half (vol. 9); 2nd half (vol. 10)

1814 – 1st half (vol. 11); 2nd half (vol. 12)

1815 – 1st half (vol. 13); 2nd half (vol. 14)

1816 – 1st half (series 2, vol. 1); 2nd half (series 2, vol. 2)

1817 – 1st half (vol. 3); 2nd half (vol. 4)

1818 – 1st half (vol. 5); 2nd half (vol. 6)

1819 – 1st half (vol. 7); 2nd half (vol. 8 )

1820 – 1st half (vol. 9); 2nd half (vol. 10)

1821 – 1st half (vol. 11); 2nd half (vol. 12)

1822 – 1st half (vol. 13); 2nd half (vol. 14)

1823 – 1st half (series 3, vol. 1); 2nd half (series 3, vol. 2)

1824 – 1st half (vol. 3); 2nd half (vol. 4)

1825 – 1st half (vol. 5); 2nd half (vol. 6)

1826 – 1st half (vol. 7); 2nd half (vol. 8 )

1827 – 1st half (vol. 9); 2nd half (vol. 10)

1828 – 1st half (vol. 11); 2nd half (vol. 12)

I just *love* the color prints of estates – The Vyne is found in October 1825′s issue (opposite page 188). Of course the FASHION PLATES are very well known (this one is also from 1825), and have been reproduced quite frequently — but one bit I have never encountered before are their “muslin patterns”. I remember coming across a letter (at the Essex Record Office) in which Mary had traced out the pattern her sister Elizabeth had used for a sleeping cap made for Charles. And here are very similar — though much more extensive — patterns that could be exceptionally useful for embroiderers working today. An important find indeed.

Here is a useful article on Rudolph Ackermann himself.

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