Hot on the Trail: 1820s letters of life in ROME

June 28, 2014 at 9:30 pm (entertainment, history, news, people, research, travel) (, , , , , , )

I have been burning the candle – quite literally: Up late most nights these last weeks. It paid off immensely last Thursday, with the discovery of a small batch of letters IN ROME!

Mamma Mia!

The BIGGER surprised came when I realized the KEY to knowing these letters were in fact having anything to do with my batch of Smiths was the name involved: LANTE turns up in a letter I actually bought (thanks, Craig!) a couple of years ago.

And Villa Lante (in Gianicolo) still exists, as this GORGEOUSLY illustrated blog post on Rosa Arcium attests. I can’t help but believe that Charles, Augusta, Emma, and Fanny visited here – perhaps quite often, during their winter in Rome (1822-1823).

lauro

In addition to Rosa Arcium, gain views of the house from:

 

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What WERE they Thinking? Dull?! NEVER –

March 1, 2014 at 10:47 am (diaries, history, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , )

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.

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?

augusta wilder letter

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  

Oh, dear…

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??

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Mystery portrait ID’ed: Queen Elizabeth I

February 18, 2014 at 2:27 am (british royalty, estates, fashion, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , )

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.

mystery lady and deer

click photo to read original post

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!

queen elizabeth

Major OMG!

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.”

faces of QEI

NB: In looking for confirmation that it is indeed a portrait of QEI, I found this fab array of portraits:

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Persuasion: a novel of love

September 8, 2013 at 2:08 pm (books, diaries, jane austen, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

Ah….

I have just finished Persuasion, one volume (along with Northanger Abbey) of six in a new-to-me complete set of Jane Austen novels.

all austen

Bought in the spring (April), they departed England at the height of summer (July 1st); to arrive in the north-eastern United States on the cusp of Fall (September).

They are the Chapman, 3rd edition. The leather binding melts in my hands, so soft to the touch, reminding me of the exquisite feel of one leather-bound volume once residing in the library of Mrs Gosling (sent, so kindly sent, by Martyn Downer).

bookplate_Mrs Gosling

I hope next to pick up Mansfield Park, to decide at last whether to propose the paper topic I’ve long had in my head, or work on some other project.

The rekindled love of Captain Wentworth for Miss Anne Elliot is too well-known to need much information here; but how difficult, being let in on the personal correspondence and journal confessions of the Smiths & Goslings, not to muse on others who in real life were thwarted in obtaining marital happiness, without much anxiety — and years of waiting.

Richard Seymour’s family seems to have endured much in this line. Two sisters — TWO! — who were sorely tried. The first, his sister Dora, was persuaded by her own family – Richard a reluctant persuader – to give up marrying the Rev. Mr. Chester.

In October, 1835, Richard writes in his diary:

“letter from John & Dora announcing her attachment & engagement to Mr. Chester: Rector of Elsted. John disapproving on acc:t of small means £400 per an. Wrote to Dora as kindly as I c:d–”

Announcing her attachment AND engagement…

John was the eldest Seymour brother, Sir John Culme Seymour.

Kindly Richard, the following day, wrote “to John & my Mother, urging as much consideration as possible to Dora’s wishes”.

Two days later, and he has ridden from Mapledurham (Mrs Smith’s home) to Blendworth (Lady Seymour’s home), to discuss family business.

By the end of the week he has gone “to Elsted. Found Mr. C:– entered on his affairs – w:h proved below the amount named and cannot be strictly called more than £330 per an – (£3700 in the Funds and his living ab:t £200 per an) & 23 acres of Glebe — pretty spot – returned home – talked to Dora – who soon agreed to write to him, expressing her decision to comply with the advice of her Mother & Brothers & relinquish her hopes. I added a note to this–”

Dora returns to Mapledurham with her brother, “thinking the change w:d be useful to her”.

At the time, Richard was bearing his own grief: the death of his son, Fanny’s first child.

“my visit to Blendworth sadly hurried, but glad to have made it for Dora’s sake – I trust she has acted as is most for her real happiness–”

Dora married Mr Chester two years later, in August 1837. They had only a few years together, before Mr Chester’s untimely death, in April 1841.

* * *

That same year, 1835, Richard’s diary speaks of a “Letter from Mrs. Vyse, expressing Col:l. V’s continued disapproval of GHV’s attachment”

GHV was George Howard Vyse; his “attachment” was to Lizzy, Richard’s next-to-youngest sister. Whatever Colonel Vyse’s disapproval was based upon, it was intransigent. For nearly twenty months had passed since Richard’s notation, on Sunday 12 January 1834, that, “Between the Services, to my great surprise G.H.V: {George Vyse} came in — full of affection to dear Lizzy  I trust they will yet be happy together-”

This couple would not marry until August 1839!

* * *

There is also, closer to home, the story of Augusta Smith, Emma’s eldest sister. Emma herself was the first of the six sister’s to marry. Augusta followed in the following year. She too, like Lizzy Vyse, seems to have been the subject of her father-in-law’s enmity.

An extraordinary letter, written in November 1828, exists. The Rev. Henry Watson Wilder, an old suitor of Augusta’s, laid his own tormented thoughts at Mrs Smith’s feet:

“My dear Madam

You will I am sure be surprised at this letter; I fear it may cause you some uneasiness but if I have not mistaken the kind feelings of regard you have hitherto expressed towards me you will I think forgive me  … Though many months have now passed since my intercourse with your family has ceased, much as I have thought on the subject I have most sincerely convinced myself that no other woman is likely to supply the place your eldest daughter has long held in my affection…”

Emma’s diary accounts for the arrival of this letter, two days later. Henry Wilder then calls; the date is marked by being the 30th Birthday of James Edward Austen.

Emma’s diary marks out the progress:

  • Charles, Mr Wilder & Augusta walked into the city to Mr. Lawford’s
  • Mamma had a long conversation with Mr Wilder
  • The party in town accompanied by Mr. Wilder went to see the Zoological garden

and finally:

11/23 “All the party & Mr Wilder went to St. James Church … the afternoon we went to see the Edridges  Lady Smith & Miss Bennett called here  Augusta was engaged to marry Mr Henry Wilder  He came to drink tea here”

Emma and Edward married within the month, on the 16 December 1828; the Wilders, four months later.

But when had Henry Wilder first declared himself? And was he the reason that a romance with a young doctor – a man (according to the Austens’ daughter Mary Augusta Austen Leigh) who had the approbation of Lady Elizabeth Compton’s family at Castle Ashby – went nowhere?

Perhaps, like Anne Elliot, it was easy to give up a second man (in Anne’s case, Charles Musgrove) when the first man was so decidedly unavailable. And perhaps, like Anne, Augusta could revel in a revival of feelings kept dormant for several years.

One sentence, towards the end of Persuasion struck me with great force (page 240): “There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had first been projected; more tender, more tired, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment…”

A month before the marriage of her eldest daughter, Mrs Smith was writing bride Emma Austen, “I really think his {Henry Wilder’s} love is always encreasing; he spends most of the mornings with her, as well as the Evenings. Fanny & Eliza are almost tired of seeing him here, & want to know whether he will be as much tied to her side after marriage; I flatter them with hopes that he will not. What say you to it? You have had a little experience now. I do hope Edward pities you a great deal; cheers you & comforts you.”

Jane Austen may never have married, but she seems to have been intuitively attuned to the feelings of those who loved, lost, and lived to regain that emotion.

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Easter Sunday, in Rome

March 31, 2013 at 1:31 pm (diaries, entertainment, europe, history, people, places, research, travel) (, , , , , , , )

Reminiscing in April 1824, Augusta Smith (the daughter) writes to her cousin Lady Elizabeth Compton. Augusta was in Rome last Easter and Lady Elizabeth is resident in Italy this spring.

“9 o’clock in the evening! St. Peters is resplendent with its magnificent illuminations. Innumerable crowds are thronging all around; the Ponte St. Angelo is one mass of heads and the Tiber a sheet of waving fire reflected from the brilliant explosions of light bursting every moment from the top of that venerable castle amidst wreaths of dark blue smoke. Last year we formed a part of the multitude…”

Ah, I know only too well Augusta’s nostalgia, and slight melancholia. I, too, have memories – too distant and therefore sometimes painful to reflect upon. Augusta’s trip was a year-long adventure from summer 1822 through summer 1823. The Smith family (Mamma and her older children) had stayed the winter in Rome. As Emma wrote Aunt before the group trooped farther south,

“you can hardly imagine my dear Aunty that we could be so near to Rome without visiting it, which Charles wishes, to the full as much as we do & Mamma for our sakes has kindly consented to so do, & in order to accomplish it we must spend the winter months there, now do not my dear Aunt fancy that we are determined gadabouts but think what an event in our lives it will be to visit Rome  I really think you would be almost tempted to go there…”

Great Aunt Susannah Smith’s Roman winter certainly points up the “wild” times that were enjoyed by the inhabitants and visitors. Is it like that today? (I still await my first journey into Italy.)

From young Augusta’s wistful memories, to Great Aunt Smith’s experience of Easter, 1827:

“we went to See the Pope give the benediction to his people from the Centre window of St Peters – it is an imposing ceremony – the military were all drawn up horse & foot – the bands playing – drums beating – but as soon as his Holiness appear{ed} an awful Silence prevailed -& continued while the benediction & prayers were read – the crowd were on their knees & their hats were off – the Evening turned out so wet – that the illumination of St Peters – and the fire works at St Angelo were put off”

Viva, la Roma!

And, “Happy Easter”.

st_ peters illumined by oil lamps

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Postal – it’s history

June 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm (diaries, history, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Been there – done that – got the T-shirt.

This one, of course, says it all, as far as I’m concerned!

During the last few evenings, I’ve been re-reading, correcting transcriptions, and trying to figure out what I have — and what I still need to see — for Smith & Gosling letters.

Not counting what I’ve not yet pursued (ie, family archives at a couple large estates), I’ve amassed more than 300 letters — and I’m still counting, for I know more is out there.

Just in the last month, three letters surfaced and a very kind gentleman let me see their contents! One was a bit out of the ordinary: signed Norman, I believe this woman (rather than dear Miss Meen, the painter of flowers, who gave lessons to the Smiths — and Queen Charlotte and her princesses) – Mrs Norman – a good contender for the post of governess to the daughters of Joshua Smith of Erle Stoke Park. She is certainly around the family, and very “familiar”, although I still can’t quite track her down. They’re either “too young or too old”.

My latest “craze” has been for letters written by young Augusta Smith (later: Mrs Henry Wilder of Purley and Sulham). Ah! she is just a delight. A quick wit, with a ready turn of phrase.  Here, in the 1830s, Augusta is on the Isle of Wight, for the health of her toddling son. Doesn’t this just transport you back in time, at the hand of a fashionable wit?

“– A lovely cottage close by has just been taken by Mrs. Mason a daughter of L:d Hoods with a host of progeny of all ages – her husband is commanding a ship in the Medit:n & she is going to beguile his absence tomorrow by a “dejeuner dinant” & dansant” w:h I suppose will bring hither a whole squadron of galleys & barges full of blue jackets, white trowsers & gold epaulettes from Portsmouth

Don’t you just want to read more?

I’m always thrilled to hear from readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen, who have some pieces of my particular puzzle — letters, diaries, sketches even. Let me hear from you!

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Sulham – a Wilder estate

September 16, 2011 at 12:27 am (books, places, research) (, , , , , )

Finally, I posted on the “estates” page a picture of Sulham House, which should have come long ago.

Sulham becomes important to this research once Augusta Smith marries Henry Watson Wilder, of Sulham and Purley.

One tidbit: Henry and Augusta married in 1829 — NOT as stated in The Book of the Wilders, 1827. (NB: The couple’s death is also listed incorrectly: they died on 2 July 1836 NOT 6 July.)

Augusta wrote the most touching letter to youngest sister Maria soon before her marriage, and directed Miss Ashley (Maria’s governess) to give it to her. Thanks to Jacky in Maidstone I’ve been able to read this sisterly tribute. This is the second time tonight (the first was Mamma Smith’s “baby book” about Maria’s progress – how I WISH I had such documents for the other children!) that I read how much like Emma people thought Maria. Take a look at the “portraits” page and judge for yourself.

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Breaking News: Scenes from life at Suttons

June 15, 2011 at 8:11 pm (a day in the life, books, estates, news, people, places, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

**My “solution” to the Mr Darcy-Mystery Man will appear at the end of the week**

The breaking news concerns a slim little volume I’ve searched a couple YEARS for: Scenes from Life at Suttons, 1825 & 1827 — a Wiltshire seller had a copy on eBay, the auction ending about three weeks ago. Yet who but me would want this little book?! Evidently, no one: when I emailed about it the book was still available. This little prize arrived in my mailbox this past Monday — the 13th of June! YIPPEE.

So what does this little treasure offer?

There are 28 pages of text, which are short plays, in verse, written by DRUMMOND and ELIZA SMITH. The scenes take place in 1825 and 1827, as the title indicates. They are comical and charming little pieces, especially heartwarming to me because I can see and hear them, I know the “characters” so well! The first is entitled BREAKFAST AT SUTTONS, JULY 1825. The first pages includes this exchange:

Fanny: Whoever chuses coffee — speak.
Charlotte: I should like some — but very weak.
Augusta: Coffee too — if you please, for me;
                     But no — I think I’ll have some Tea.

Readers get a sense of the house, the manners and characters, as well as the staff members: we have “appearances” by Tanner (Mr Tanner he is later called); John who evidently answered the door to a ‘poor woman’ arriving to talk to Mamma; the ever-loyal Tidman, who shows up in letters. Interestingly, these people do not appear as “characters” listed at the beginning of each “play”!

The next scene, AN HOUR’S READING AT SUTTONS, 1825, features Aunt and Aunt Emma. Aunt Emma is, of course, Mamma Smith’s youngest sister (she never married); Aunt, on the other hand is erroneously ID’ed as Maria, the Marchioness of Northampton (ie, Mamma’s eldest sister).

‘Aunt’ was in fact Charles Smith’s only sister, Judith Smith of Stratford! I recall a charming little drawing of Aunt (by Augusta, the daughter) in the collection of the Hampshire Record Office (HRO). I have long meant to ask for a copy; this makes me want it even more, because, although there is no Aunt Emma, Scenes from Life at Suttons has portraits of Mamma and her sister Maria, Lady Northampton!

The last little play, EVENING AT SUTTONS, 1827, has a few lines spoken by my beloved MARY! This takes place in The Library.

The end of the book includes ELEVEN portraits, all (except her own) by Augusta Smith Wilder. So came my first look at Mary (Gosling) Smith, and even her sister Elizabeth. Most of the Smith siblings are present: Augusta, Charles, Emma, Spencer, Charlotte and Drummond. Alas! No Fanny, Eliza or Maria!! Which is QUITE the loss, though as far as Fanny goes I believe the portrait at HRO is of this set. This I have a copy of! (Sorry, you won’t find it online…). Mary’s portrait easily translates into a silhouette, so I’ll shortly post her picture, as companion to her “sister of the heart”, Emma Austen Leigh. Stay tuned for more about this unique booklet!

One thing I can NOW say: This title does indeed exist! I was beginning to think May Lamberton Becker’s imagination had conjured it up. The description, its only depiction, appeared in her book Presenting Miss Jane Austen (1952).

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Anonymous Woman

May 18, 2011 at 9:24 pm (fashion, people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Instead of humming The Guess Who’s American Woman, I should really be channeling These Eyes

Working on an article about the “London Season” in 1816 — or, should I say the Season that Emma Smith recorded — I was looking for any image of work by Mary Ann Knight. She is the artist whom Mamma Smith sits to that spring.

Miss Knight (1776-1851) painted the well-known portrait of Joanna Baillie (see the portrait at Scotland’s National Galleries) and evidently produced works in watercolor, miniature, and sometimes even oils. This leads me to wonder if the “miniature” once said to exist at Suttons of Mrs Charles Smith might not be this painted by Miss Knight. But that is mere speculation.

The above is obviously not a woman in her 40s, but (as the title suggests) a “Girl in a White Dress“. When I found this miniature my first thought was that the nose rather looked similar to those portraits I have of Emma and her sister Fanny (the future Emma Austen Leigh and Fanny Seymour); the hair, with its ringlets curling around the face and the remaining hair swept up at the back of the head was reminiscent of the hair style worn by Fanny in a portrait her sister Emma or more probably Augusta may have drawn. Taking a short-cut I checked my “portrait wants” on this website. Alas! a mistake in typing a date lead me to wonder — to dare hope – that this Girl might be AUGUSTA SMITH (later Augusta Wilder). When I could not FIND Augusta’s sitting in 1817 (as I had typed) I went on a search of  the letters and diaries and finally located the sessions in 1822! Groan… (sloppy! the correct date was in my computer files, so it was a transcription error.)

The dating of this work is c1815; two years is one thing; but seven makes it very doubtful that this could POSSIBLY be my little Augusta.

Like SOOOO many portraits and miniatures, this one survived but is nameless: Who WAS THIS YOUNG WOMAN??? Those limpid eyes really grab me; making me wish I could give her an identity.

The artist, Miss Knight, is described as the daughter of a wealthy London merchant. She trained with Andrew Plimer — who later married her sister! “Knight’s surviving notebooks record some 696 miniatures which she painted between 1802 and 1835 and sold at two to forty guineas each.” The National Galleries think her “sketchbooks reveal an impressive range of sitters.”

Where ARE these notebooks?

More on Miss Knight’s biography in a later post.

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Happy Birthday, Augusta Wilder!

February 8, 2011 at 9:53 am (people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

by Frenchie (Photobucket)

In a family with NINE children, never mind the in-laws, the Smiths of Suttons celebrated many birthdays over a calendar year. And today, February 8th, celebrates the birth of the first of those nine: Augusta Smith. Born the year after her parents’ March 1798 marriage, Augusta was “on the way” by the time her mother, also Augusta Smith, finished penning her delightful diary for that year. Alas! no — yet? — diary for 1799. But the thoughts Augusta/Mamma has about becoming a mother exist in the diary we do have. And thanks (once again!) to Mark Woodford, I’ve examined and been able to mull over these thoughts of hers.

But my birthday gift — to myself (birthday last week) and to Augusta Smith Wilder — was the unearthing of a letter, written in 1824, and penning by my Two Augustas! It pre-dates a letter to the same recipient which Angela in Alberta has transcribed.

Read the rest of this entry »

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