Small Victory

March 1, 2021 at 2:06 pm (history, jane austen, postal history, research) (, , , , )

Over the weekend I spent some time with the Smith & Gosling letters. Nearing 4000 pages of typescript, ranging from the 1760s into the 1940s.

I have more to add – some portions of information about the VYSE family. George Howard Vyse married — after a very long courtship — Lizzy Seymour, sister to the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton and the Rev. Sir John Hobart Culme-Seymour of Northchurch and Gloucester.

Vyse’s father, Colonel Vyse, literally stood in the way of the match. An intense dislike, of the Seymour family, of Lizzy. It is heartbreaking to read that GHV (as Richard always referred to the young man as, shortening a long name into three initials) was spotted by Mamma (Mrs. Smith, Emma’s mother), wistfully looking up to the windows, hoping to spot his young lady a brief second, while on military parade as part of Queen Victoria’s Coronation!

Mixed within these letters was one I suspected did NOT belong in the year 1838. DATED “August 12” from Mapledurham (the family’s rented estate in Hertfordshire), it is missing its last page or perhaps pages. These are small sheets of paper, and typically there were up to 8 pages (2 sheets folded in half; each creating 4 pages) of text. As well, these small sheets probably had utilized an envelope — and the end and signature could have ended up inside the envelope. I’ve come across one or two envelopes at this archive, hermetically sealed between two sheets of mylar, that were not pulled open before being sealed inside, yet the dark writing clearly showed thru the paper! Groan…

The letter – half letter – had ended up in a folder marked “Unidentified”. That folder was very *full* when I saw it in summer 2015. Did I miss a second sheet, or a single sheet? Are there envelopes, addressed to Fanny (Smith) Seymour in Kinwarton that I never photographed? (Alas, a couple of them!)

The letter in question is unmistakably written by youngest sister Maria Smith. She has such scrawling penmanship, with a very distinctive “W”. Also, as Mamma’s youngest, she was the last in the family ‘nest’ once all her siblings had married (or died).

That it was written from Mapledurham tells me the letter could not date before October 1834, when they moved into the house (so, summer of 1835, at earliest). That Mamma was alive, tells me it could be no later than Summer 1844. Maria sounds unmarried (ie, still with Mamma), so that backed it into 1843 (and, therefore, summer of 1842 at latest).

Although a full-run of Mamma’s diaries does not exist, several for the late 1830s and early 1840s DO exist. Plus I have other letters. Several years were already removed from contention: Mamma and Maria were elsewhere than Mapledurham.

There were two clues within the content: Their visit to Chobham – home of sister Eliza and her husband Denis Le Marchant – sounded too much like Maria describing what NO ONE among the siblings had yet seen. I had to find a date for their move.

The other was Maria saying that Arthur Currie had purchased a horse (heavily contributed to by Mamma) for Maria’s use. Not the EASIEST to find, someone commenting again on a new horse. Maria asked her sister Fanny what name should the horse be given – so, unlike “Jack Daw” or “Tom Tit“, I knew of no name to search for.

I had already searched Mamma’s diaries – but went back to 1840 again. And THERE found a comment about CHOBHAM! It became unmistakable: Maria and Mamma had returned home from a visit to Chobham in August 1840.

Frosting on the cake was that Maria, a couple of letters later, commented that she was pleased with her New Horse!

I call this a small victory because the letter still has no ending.

There have been times in the past, when a WIDOW torso gets a date close enough to an ORPHAN torso (yes, that’s what I call them…), that a closer look is warranted. A couple of times, the flow of the sentence AND the topic of conversation indicated that they were, indeed, one and the same letter. I remember once, spotting a DATE, buried within the handwriting, a confirmation of my hunch — after reuniting a pair.

Across archives, I have several incomplete, widow or orphan torso-only letters. I live in hope… But nothing dropped into place this time. Missing photographs? Missing envelope? Irretrievably-missing pages?

Envelopes were easy prey in the past – for their postal marks, their STAMPS, their wax seals. Hand-stamps [cancellations and handwritten marks] in the early, prestamp, era made (and make) “wrappers” and “free fronts” highly collectable. The wrappers got divided from letters, robbing the letter of its definitive dating. The free fronts – where the “direction” is cut away from the rest of the page, robs the letter of CONTENT. The reverse side’s content (if there) appearing as disparate sentences with few beginnings or endings. MADDENING to know the original – full – letter must have been jettisoned after the “surgery”. All for the saving of the “collectible” signature that allowed the piece of mail to travel for free.

Once such “collection” of autographs had SIX LINES missing from a Jane Austen letter. Its discovery (a long time after the album’s sale) caused a *STIR* in Austen circles in 2019! And it really did end up being about … LAUNDRY!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Half-a-Century Later

February 23, 2021 at 2:35 pm (diaries, history, research) (, , , )

Recently, I have been doing a little work on putting up information for Isadore Albee’s diaries. I put up names today from the FIRST HALF of her 1862 diary.

Spending nearly fourteen years on researching Emma and Mary – their lives less of “an open book” than a tangle of information (and a great deal of tangled information!) that must be teased and sorted – has taught me useful “tricks” that are coming in handy with Dora’s diaries. But, oh!, the differences!

Mary Gosling and Emma Smith, two young English women, from families who were Quite Well Off Financially, are (literally and figuratively) half a world away from Isadore Albee, in the rural neighborhood of Rockingham and Springfield, Vermont. Isadore has the Connecticut River in place of the Thames – but it’s just not the same.

In 1860s Vermont, Dora’s trips take her to Derby (near the Canadian border) and into New Hampshire, there’s no London Townhouse to occupy, as with the Smiths and Goslings, where a “season” of entertainment, lessons, exhibitions, and friends may be enjoyed.

Dora works; she laments her need to work – or otherwise starve. At times, she seems to do paid millinery work (following in the footsteps of an elder sister); but she also seems to work (at times) in a local store and “living in” for a short period with local families. This, while trying to educate herself.

Emma and Mary might have sewn – usually items distributed among the poor of their parish – but they didn’t have a need to account for monies coming in AND going out (though Emma did, at times, keep tallies of her spending). The Albees were on a far lower economic stratum than the Smiths and Goslings. And Vermont, in the 1860s, was no 1810s Essex or Surrey, never mind London.

A major difference, to me as a dispassionate observer, is the differences in their diaries. If I thought Mary and Emma had small diaries (about the size of an 8 x 5 index card), Dora’s diaries are even tinier! A half-a-century, and half-a-world away (United Kingdom versus United States), the personal items of three “twenty-somethings” are as different as their writing implements: Emma Smith, for instance, wrote the bulk of her diary (all the entries) in INK. Tougher on her, I’m sure, but easier on me as her transcriber. Dora Albee’s entries are totally in pencil. The most noticeable difference comes in SPELLING. Emma’s is consistent, and usually correct. Dora’s tends to have a phonetic basis for some words, though others are probably just too-hastily-written. In either case, her diary is more of a challenge, when transcribing, to make out words, to make sense of sentences.

Some words, however, live in the ear – “surpose” must be indicative of her pronunciation of suppose. And one phrase, “down street”, is used by locals in areas of central Vermont to this day. Such was never a phrase I heard (or used), here in northern Vermont.

But it wasn’t all work for Dora Albee. She mentions a “singing school”; and a concert or two at which she and other “singing” students performed. She comments, too, on the typical Vermont weather that still exists in my own life – the crusty snow in winter, the muddy paths in spring. There are sledding parties and sleigh rides, music and plays, visits to and from young friends. She mentions illness and death much more often than Emma – for instance, Dora’s sister (and later Dora herself) join in the “watch” over the ill, much like Mary Lloyd Austen “watched”, with Cassandra Austen, during Jane Austen’s last illness in Winchester.

So, although far apart, in distance and time, some things – especially for women – remain remarkably “same”. Especially, the written notices of marriages, babies, illnesses, and deaths. Dora had it tougher, experiencing the deaths of young men and women in her social circle. And she knew so many young men who left the comfortable arable acres and woods of Vermont for Civil War battlefields and military camps.

Permalink 2 Comments

In my mailbox from University Presses, part 2

February 19, 2021 at 8:44 pm (books, entertainment, history) (, , , )

Two days ago, I “published” the first three in a list of five new books, recently received in the mail. Today I continue with two more *finds*, all (curiously!) from University Presses.

A View from Abroad:
The Story of John and Abigail Adams in Europe”

Jeanne E. Abrams
New York University Press, 2021
(vi + 288 pages)

Many moons ago (2010), when composing my JASNA lecture “Austen/Adams: Journeys with Jane and Abigail,” I read the Letters of Abigail Adams in an old copy from the UVM library. What I had wanted to focus on were those letters written during her travels abroad – the sailing ship; the carriage travel in England; the lengthy period in France. I have never forgotten her fleet way with words. “No Bean, and No Queen” was her succinct phrase to deal with daughter, Nabby’s hunt for the elusive “bean,” part of a French traditional celebration, which Mrs. Adams wrote about in a letter to Lucy Cranch, 5 Jan 1785:

“I will relate to you a custom of this country. You must know that the religion of this country requires abundance of feasting and fasting, and each person has his particular saint, as well as each calling and occupation. To-morrow is to be celebrated, le jour des rois. The day before this feast it is customary to make a large paste pie, into which one bean is put. Each person at table cuts his slice, and the one who is so lucky as to obtain the bean, is dubbed king or queen. Accordingly, to-day, when I went in to dinner, I found one upon our table. Your cousin Abby began by taking the first slice; but alas! poor girl, no bean, and no queen. In the next place, your cousin John seconded her by taking a larger cut, and . . . bisected his paste with mathematical circumspection; but to him it pertained not. By this time, I was ready for my part; but first I declared that I had no cravings for royalty. I accordingly separated my piece with much firmness, nowise disappointed that it fell not to me. Your uncle, who was all this time picking his chicken bone, saw us divert ourselves without saying any thing; but presently he seized the remaining half, and to crumbs went the poor paste, cut here and slash there; when, behold the bean! “And thus,” said he, “are kingdoms obtained;” but the servant, who stood by and saw the havoc, declared solemnly that he could not retain the title, as the laws decreed it to chance, and not to force.”

I always *cheer* the servant’s coup de grâce! (and the scenario made me loathe gauche John Adams…)

David McCullough, author of the hefty biography JOHN ADAMS, once indicated that he could have written a whole book just on Abigail’s time abroad. Now Jeanne Abrams has published on this very topic, though included the trips John Adams accomplished on his own too. This is a newly-released book – and just arrived in my mailbox three days ago (Feb 2021). Abrams is also the author of First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role.

Dear Catharine, Dear Taylor:
The Civil War Letters of a Union Soldier and His Wife

edited by Richard L. Kiper
letters transcribed by Donna B. Vaughn
University Press of Kansas, 2002
(xii + 448 pages)

I found this book searching . . . for something else.

I had a book (upstairs) that was a Civil War correspondence between husband and wife. Those words were what I searched for. You can see other “finds” by reading this post at Isadore Albee’s Civil War Diaries website. Bad weather has kept this book longer in the mail – last seen in Nashua, New Hampshire! so I expect that it’s closed in and will deliver soon.

Taylor Peirce was 40-years-old when he enlisted. The letters are described by the publisher, specifically Catharine Peirce’s half of the correspondence, as “a rich trove of letters from the homefront.” THAT was all I needed to see in order to hunt down a copy of the book. The book describes both halves of the correspondence, but, again, it’s Catharine’s plight that intrigues: “Catharine, for her part, reported on family and relatives, the demands of being a single mother with three young children, business affairs, household concerns, weather and crops, events in Des Moines, and national politics, filling gaps in our knowledge of Northern life during the war. Most of all, her letters convey her frustration and aching loneliness in Taylor’s absence, as well as her fears for his life, even as other women were becoming widowed by the war.”

Bad (snow) weather delayed its delivery by several days once the mail hit southern New Hampshire. It finally arrived yesterday. On first perusal – a slight disappointment that of 178 letters, only 51 are by Catharine Peirce. Footnotes attached to early letters by Taylor indicate “letter not found” whenever the husband thanked the wife for a letter. Ah, such a loss! I can imagine that some catastrophe happened, and Taylor’s carefully preserved stash of early letters went missing or got destroyed. A horrible loss to him no doubt. Taylor’s first letter is dated 20 August 1862; Catharine’s first surviving letter is dated January 1863.

*

The Websters: Letters of an American Army Family
in Peace & in War, 1836-1853

edited by Van R. Baker
The Kent State University Press, 2000
(xiv + 327 pages)

As a ‘bonus’ – the book I was trying to find through the online search — instead of going upstairs to pluck this book off the shelf — which resulted in finding Dear Catharine. I had remembered this as a book that included husband & wife letters AND had a Vermont connection. Indeed Lucien Bonaparte Webster had been born in Hartland, Vermont. His future wife, Frances Smith, was perhaps born in her grandfather’s Litchfield, Connecticut home. It fits this series of books because – surprisingly – it’s another University Press publication.

Permalink Leave a Comment

In my mailbox from University Presses

February 16, 2021 at 2:03 pm (books, entertainment, history) (, , , )

Ever find that a depressed mood gets lightened by the arrival of *new books*??

I do.

Between several projects, including the Isadore Albee Civil War era diaries (a brand new project), and old interests, a NUMBER of books have been coming to the door. Interestingly, these last have one thing in common: they’re all published by UNIVERSITY presses! So I will toss out their existence in one blog post. Three are brand new; two are in the “used books” category.

In order of receipt (yes, all have been mail ordered), here is what I’m thrilled about lately =>

Josie Underwood’s Civil War Diary

edited by Nancy Disher Baird
University Press of Kentucky, 2009
(xviii + 262 pages)

This is my current read. I’ve been REALLY impressed with the narrative. Josie Underwood is a young woman (with oh-so-many-proposals during the opening months of the war) in Kentucky. Her father, despite a dislike of President Lincoln’s politics, is a firm Union-man. So is his wife (southern born, but with convictions as firm as her husband’s, in memory of the men who fought hard for the unification of the United States in the past). Josie is hard-pressed to keep her Union sentiments quiet-ish while seeing childhood friends, relations, and potential lovers sign-up for the Confederacy. (Kentucky was taking a neutral stance.) I’ve blogged a little bit more in my Georgian Gems, Regency Reads, Victorian Voices blog. Highly recommended for its freshness – in writing, in subject matter – and the tale it tells.

I believe the press is poised to come out with a reissue (paperback, I presume), but this book is worth tracking down its original hardcover version (unless the reprint is updated). It’s a keeper.

A Georgetown Life: The Reminiscences of
Britannia Wellington Peter Kennon
of Tudor Place

edited by Grant S. Quertermous
Georgetown University Press, 2020
(xi + 250 pages)

I think A Georgetown Life turned up in a search. I might have been looking specifically for new books. (I look for women’s history, biography, diaries, letters; though usually in Great Britain.) It wasn’t that long ago, but I don’t remember how I spotted it! Once I did, though, I knew I had to have it.

In the Fall of 2019, JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America) had its Annual General Meeting (or AGM) in delightful Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. I brought my father and aunt with me (we drove down). I gave a paper on Cassandra and Jane Austen (in a very stuffed-to-the-rafters small room; apologies to those who couldn’t fit in, or hear due to the constantly opening/closing door). We had temperatures in the 90s for at least two days… My father and aunt were happy just to hang out at the hotel; I saw the sites of Williamsburg on my own. BUT: I got both of them to join me in two “house tours” — Mount Vernon, the estate of George and Martha Washington (which I had wanted to visit ever since seeing a sign to it when driving from the 2009 AGM in Philadelphia!) and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s remarkable mountain-top estate. I wish, back then, I had known about Tudor Place!

Britannia Wellington Peter – along with sisters Columbia and America – descended from Martha Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s grand-daughter. You will therefore see the interest! All dovetails back to Mount Vernon and Washington D.C. It was Thomas and Martha (Parke Custis) Peter who acquired Tudor Place.

Britannia Kennon’s memories are vivid, astounding, and astonishing. She saw so much. I will let the editor, Grant Quertermous, speak about what you will find inside the book, for there are several quite decent youtube videos on the project and publication, including from the (US) National Archives (55.55 minutes long; recorded 4 Dec 2020) and Georgetown University Press’s presentation (44.50 minutes; recorded 5 Oct 2020).

This book is packed with illustrations. The introductory essay, along with the illustrations, give a real sense of “who” everyone is. Highly recommended, too.

She Being Dead Yet Speaketh:
The Franklin Family Papers

edited by Vera S. Camden
University of Chicago Press, 2020
(349 pages)

Part of the series “The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe,” She being dead yet speaketh presents the writings of Mary Franklin and her grand-daughter Hannah Burton. This was a birthday gift from two dear friends in England. It being quite new to me, I have only “dipped into it”. But my friends know me well – authentic women’s voices are always a draw. Mary Franklin’s writings are 17th century; Hannah Burton’s words date to 1782. Both women used the same notebook to record their thoughts! The Franklins were Dissenters – so the women’s writings offer a unique look at the period. As the wife of a Presbyterian Minister, Robert Franklin, who was one of two thousand dissenting ministers “ejected from their pulpits,” Mary Franklin was well-positioned to mark the religious persecutions of her time. Hannah Burton’s journal describes life as “an impoverished widow, barely surviving the economic revolutions of 18th Century London.” The table of contents is illustrative of… the book’s contents!

With this post getting long, I’m going to divide it into two parts. Look for “In My Mailbox from University Presses, Part 2“.

Permalink 2 Comments

Candice Hern: What’s inside a Lady’s Reticule?

February 6, 2021 at 10:51 am (entertainment, history, jane austen, jasna) (, , , )

Last year’s visit to Cleveland, Ohio for the JASNA AGM turned into a virtual event. Among the nicest, most interesting side-entertainments were the videos made to enlighten participants about anything from “Regency” food and gardens, to making marbled papers (truly fascinating!).

New to the JASNA – Jane Austen Society of North America – website is the first in a series of three videos by author Candice Hern: “What a Lady Might Carry in her Reticule“. For me, these videos were super instructive because I can pinpoint times when Emma Smith (Mrs. James Edward Austen) secured for herself nearly every little item Candice Hern brings to the attention of the camera. Hers is a tremendous collection! And now she’s sharing her collection with everyone via these freely-viewable videos.

Part I of “What a Lady Might Carry in Her Reticule” discusses Calendars and Almanacs. Says Hern, when discussing her “Smalls” (the “tiny” items my Emma would have readily recognized), “I’ve been collecting antiques for decades, many of them from the years during which Jane Austen lived.” [click photo to go to the JASNA website]

Part 2, available shortly, features “Scents and Cosmetics”; Part 3, “Coin Purses, Fans, and Vinaigrettes”.

You may also wish to visit Candice Hern’s “Regency World” website. And do keep in mind the future plans at JASNA to include more videos in their *new* Austen’s World Up-Close. The JASNA Post brings you all the new (and give links to old) Announcements, News, and Observations in one handy place.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Garden Sunshine

February 2, 2021 at 11:59 am (entertainment, places) (, , )

A Hampshire friend sent me a photo of her garden (mid-morning, today, 2/2/21), which I share with readers. Such a spring ray of sunshine to those in areas (New England and beyond) attacked by ferocious snowstorms.

Crocus tommasinianus – called ‘Tommies,’ colloquially. Thanks for sharing, Charlotte!!

Permalink Leave a Comment

“With Love”, National Archives Exhibit (online)

January 20, 2021 at 10:46 am (entertainment, history, news, postal history) (, , , )

Received in my email last week the Newsletter of The National Archives (Kew, England). They have a wonderful *new* ONLINE exhibition centered on their collection of LETTERS!

With Love – Letters of Love, Loss and Longing” covers the famous (Queen Elizabeth I; Anne Lister), as well as the personal and poignant (World War I, for instance).

You can EXPLORE on your own the various topics; or TOUR – the latter can be accomplished with a short Youtube introduction. I watched this presentation last week, and remember one thought that I wanted to add to the presenter’s thoughts, as regards Anne Lister and Ann Walker:

When Anne Lister left her estate to Ann Walker – which Ann would forfeit IF she married, the main meaning stressed, because of lover Mariana Belcombe’s marriage to Charles Lawton, would have been calling upon Ann Walker not to marry a man (the only definition of marriage, as recognized by church and state, at the time of Lister’s will). A significant difference to the speaker’s “should she [Ann Walker] ever marry again“.

I will also point out, again in speaking of Anne Lister and Ann Walker in the youtube presentation — friend had a different connotation in the 19th century. Think of the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams, “My dearest friend.” Certainly, Anne Lister could not have called Ann Walker her “wife” in her will, but there was a “closeness” of relationship inherent in the word friend which we (in the 21st century) have lost.

The nuance of language…

This online exhibition will open doors to new letter-writers, and for all of us to put on our thinking caps and contemplate further how such short tidbits coalesce into a greater, historical whole.

The exhibition, in TNA’s own words:

In our latest exhibition, love letters offer glimpses into private worlds – from a queen’s treasonous love letter, to the generous wish of a naval hero and the forlorn poetry of a prime minister. Expect secret stories of heartbreak, passion and disappointment as you explore 500 years of letters in this intimate exhibition.”

Permalink Leave a Comment

Lady Northampton’s Album

January 2, 2021 at 3:53 pm (entertainment, history, news, portraits and paintings) (, , , )

At Christie’s in December 2020, this album compiled by Emma’s “Aunt Northampton” – featuring her own watercolors, but also those of others – including her teacher and friend, Miss Margaret Meen, and her sister Emma Smith.

Miss Meen‘s work is shown in these two specimens. Click on the picture to see all 10 illustrations. I hope the album went to a good home, and will stay in “one piece”, rather than broken up into 69 “for sale” Botanicals.

I have seen some of Lady Northampton‘s work in the flesh; they are stunning.

Permalink 2 Comments

Explore Barbara Johnson’s Fashions

December 27, 2020 at 10:44 am (books, diaries, entertainment, fashion, history) (, , , , , , )

Serena Dyer has posted her article, “Barbara Johnson’s Album: Material Literacy and Consumer Practice, 1746-1823,” from Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies (2019) on her Academia account. This will give readers a taste of her current (edited) volume, Material Literacy in Eighteenth-Century Britain: A National of Makers (co-edited by Chloe Wigston Smith), as well as her upcoming Material Lives: Women Makers and Consumer Culture in the 18th Century.

Barbara Johnson’s book, called in its publication A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fabrics, is a title – photographed when it was being conserved – I had long been on the lookout for – but it’s a title that can be harder to find (and pricey). Natalie Rothstein‘s introductory chapters are fascinating. Dyer builds upon this foundation.

According to blog posts, it took me about four years to finally take the plunge and purchase it (2008 to 2012). I see I first blogged about the Album on 27 December 2008 – a prior year’s “today”!

Sewing clothes, but never one who ever looked into the construction of 18th- or 19th-century fashion, I still haven’t delved into this book in a way some friends have done. It’s size is tremendous – analogous to its beginnings as an accounts ledger – and presented as “life-size.” This past summer, when shifting around some tables, chairs, books, it found a new home on the second floor of the house – a bit more accessible, but still put to one side.

Dyer’s reintroduction makes me think to pull the Album off the shelf once again. And I’m waiting for February 2021, and Dyer’s new book (sorry, but the current book is out of my price range).

Permalink 1 Comment

TODAY: 9 Lessons & Carols, King’s College

December 24, 2020 at 9:22 am (entertainment, news) (, )

You will find MANY radio stations in the U.S. carrying the annual Nine Lessons and Carols, from King’s College, Cambridge. This year, the covid year, was especially challenging to choirs. How to rehearse, how to perform? Parts of the United Kingdom are under strict “Tier 4” stay-at-home measures; and other areas are expected to move to that status imminently. This year’s concert, pre-recorded a few weeks ago just in case, will fill in for the “Live” broadcast from King’s College Chapel.

You can read about the challenges the Choir faced in 2020 at the New York Times; and listen at WQXR (among others) at 10 AM today (less than one hour).

The Programme is available online via YourClassical.org (44 pages, PDF).

Permalink 2 Comments

Next page »