How to LOCK a Letter

June 16, 2016 at 8:29 pm (entertainment, europe, history, research) (, , , )

fascinating find: 2,600 letters were uncovered, kept inside a postmaster’s trunk. Astounding!

“The trunk contains 2,600 letters sent from France, Spain and the Spanish Netherlands between 1689 and 1706 but never delivered – including 600 letters never opened,” says the press release for the project that is now called SIGNED, SEALED & UNDELIVERED.

letter_trunk

Stored at the Hague’s Museum voor Communicatie since 1926, only now (thanks to technology) will the letters be “read,” unopened.

I hate to say it, but I was VERY grateful for the early dates of the letters! If I had thought ANY Smith & Gosling letters were among them, it would have driven me CRAZY!

Even more astounding are the YouTube videos featuring ways writers “locked” old letters – more than a simple wax seal over a seam, to keep prying eyes at bay.

I found this “pleated letter” of 1691, very interesting:

pleated letter

It’s “lock” is the piece you see with the very tapered end, closest to the “letter writer’s” arm.

pleated letter2

What’s really interesting is the “writer,” after closing up the letter, then shows HOW TO OPEN it!

This “diamond” shaped letter was also one above the usual, since it actually is a piece of HATE mail!

diamond letter

Step-by-step How To for EACH of the letters is shown (there’s no voice). The completed letter is briefly on view, then the letter is opened.

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In a Lady’s Reticule

June 12, 2016 at 12:54 am (entertainment, fashion, history) (, , )

When a Facebook query was made about what a Lady might have in her reticule, I simply had to reply:

ivory note pad

“An Ivory Note Pad!”

Wonderful photo, as you still see some writing on it! This particular specimen is a 2007 “sale”, but the write-up still proves interesting: Described as “3 inches long and 1.5 inches wide” you get an impression of how “DARLING” these items could be.

And who would want to be caught short when a fabulous thought, or Mr. Darcy’s address, was in need of being written down?!?

Have found one “reproduction” (complies with certain laws…) notebook, $135, in ‘brass’ with the intention of hanging from a chatelaine. Rather a neat idea.

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Russborough House (county Wicklow)

June 5, 2016 at 5:02 pm (books, entertainment, estates, jane austen) (, , , )

If you attend Love & Friendship you’ll see RUSSBOROUGH House in several shots.

russborough3

Visiting their website allows for some peeks at the sumptuous interiors – there’s even a short video tour (click photo below).

russborough

There’s actually a Smith & Gosling connection to ‘Rusborough’ through Emma Smith’s great Aunt, Mrs. Thomas Smith of Bersted Lodge.

Mrs. Smith’s twin sister was Lady Mayo. She and the Mayos visited Ireland – Lord Mayo’s seat was Palmerstown – and often visited the Milltowns at ‘Rusborough’ (as she spelled it). I’ve no doubt that Mrs. Smith had many tales to tell her great-nieces and nephews, whenever she was newly returned from Ireland.

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Love & Friendship (the movie): a review

June 4, 2016 at 9:50 pm (books, entertainment, jane austen, Uncategorized) (, )

Just back from an early evening showing of Love & Friendship, based mainly on Jane Austen’s “Lady Susan” – who is the title character (played with delicious archness by Kate Beckinsale). It is interesting (and I will get back to this point) that in adverts Chloë Sevigny shares top billing.

love and friendship

There are several decisive scenes in which the two ladies don’t so much as scheme, but rely upon the other to bolster flagging spirits when schemes don’t seem to be going as well as hoped. For instance Mrs. Johnson (Sevigny) has an older husband (Stephen Fry) who just isn’t giving in to gout and the grave as quickly as his young wife might wish.

There’s an obvious backstory that we never quite learn – the dreadful treatment Lady Susan has given her (obligingly dead) husband may include infidelity or simply ‘neglect’, but nothing is specifically mentioned. That her daughter is named Frederica and her in-laws have a son Frederick leads one to believe the two were named for the not-too-lamented Mr. Vernon.

Also referred to time and again – and, to the film’s detriment, hardly seen and not at all heard – is the “dashing” Lord Mainwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin). An additional ten or fifteen minutes, at the Mainwaring estate, laying out the events that caused the eventual ejection of Lady Susan would have been most welcome. More especially to allow viewers to see what Lady Susan saw: a lover worth scheming for although he was a married man.

Perhaps when it comes out on streaming video (a main title is emblazoned with the Amazon logo), a “director’s cut” will give a bit more. The mutual attraction of Lord and Lady would have helped the audience in rooting for the success of the Lady’s plan. Everyone loves a villainess.

stillman4

The machinations of Lady Susan are not quite as blatantly devilish as those of the Marquise de Merteuil. Austen may have had a passing familiarity with Les liaisons dangereuses (published in 1782) thanks to cousin Eliza de Feuillide, who, with her impeccable French, could have come across the novel. Whit Stillman, the film’s writer/director seems to have lent the film a French texture (especially in some costumes) but could have pushed the edge in order to give the film and its (anti-) heroine that tad more sharpness. Like Jane Austen, Stillman kept sex behind the scenes, but a little smoldering attraction would have been welcomed.

The sexual rivalry of Valmont and Merteuil allowed for letters of confession and letters tipping their hands regarding future schemes. In Love & Friendship those confidences are given to two women who esteem each other – though we never quite learn why. Mrs. Johnson’s husband keeps threatening to ship his American wife back to America if she continues to see Lady Susan; still, even at the film’s end, he hasn’t moved her out of England and she hasn’t cut ties with Lady Susan.

Given the convoluted emotional ties between Lady Susan and Lord Mainwaring, which (spoiler alert:) evidently becomes a menage a trois, I began to embellish Lady Susan’s fictional story with one only too well-known: the menage in the Duke of Devonshire’s household. A husband with two wives; here, a wife with two husbands.

Speculation as to whether there is meant to be some “chemistry” between Lady Susan and her confidant Mrs. Johnson is an undertone that may be just me reading a bit of “history” into Stillman’s film (the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Elizabeth Foster). But the ladies rather relish the idea of being together once Mr. Johnson kicks the bucket. Perhaps she would be allowed in to the Mainwaring menage. And remember that double-billing I mentioned at the top of this blog post.

Viewers are also left to wonder if Frederica Vernon (Morfydd Clark) just happened to capture her mother’s ex, Reginald deCourcey (Xavier Samuel) – or, if she has a bit more of her mother in her than either would care to admit. I, for one, would like to think that young Frederica saw and got the man she wanted. She does succeed, like her mother, by moving into the household of her future lover.

End credits gave the clue that a behind the scenes featurette was made – so maybe some of the intentions will be made clearer. (I found a short one on youtube.)

stillman1

Watching Love & Friendship was like spending the evening at the theater. The ‘feel’ of the film is highly theatrical (though not nearly as stylized as it could have been; viz, The Draftsman’s Contract, another film about sexual connivers). The movement of the actors across a room, down a passage, or up a staircase is slow and deliberate, providing time to show off gowns and location shots. The many footmen and maids seemed like so many stagehands, closing doors or removing clothes. Some viewers complained of the rapid conversational style, but I did not find it to be unintelligible – just in contrast to everyone’s slow pace, as if confined to a stage. The “introductions” to the characters, like a period handbill, were quite funny, as in “Sir James Martin: Her unintended”.

stillman2

And “the stage” is the parting thought I’ll leave with. Late in the film the sound track introduces the exquisite trio from Così fan tutte, Soave sia il vento (though a short piece, the film abruptly truncates it by cutting out the middle)  – Mozart’s moment of tranquility in an opera about shifting partners and the testing of (untrue) lovers. The trio reappears in the end credits. Knowledge of the opera, and performance ambiguities, added to the intrigue of this quiet film, leaving me with the impression that there’s more going on beneath its shiny surface. One almost wishes Stillman choose instead the subtitle of Austen’s juvenile “Love and Freindship” and called his film “Deceived in Freindship and Betrayed in Love”. (And, yes, Austen had “ie” and “ei” spelling problems.) It would be interesting to pick up Stillman’s novel, Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon is Vindicated but I’ll have to settle for Austen’s original (which I deliberately did NOT read before seeing the film).

stillman_love

 

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Desperately Seeking “addressed to Lady Seymour”

May 23, 2016 at 8:56 am (history, news, people, research) (, , )

An internet search brought up the following for a former eBay auction – trouble is I have NO CLUE as to the date of the auction — recent? really old? The date of the letter is less in question, 1861 – though no day or month.

ebay auction

The original description read:

“Addressed to Lady Seymour. Stamp has been cut out leaving part Southampton cancel with Botley & part Berkhamsted CDS’s on back. 4 page partly cross hatched letter.”

Would LOVE images of the letter (so I can transcribe the contents) – in exchange for information on the recipient and/or writer. The “Lady Seymour” in question undoubtedly is Maria Culme Seymour (née Smith), Emma Austen’s youngest sister.

Maria L Seymour

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Sotheby’s Silver Secret

May 22, 2016 at 8:03 pm (entertainment, history) (, , )

Click on the photo to read the history behind this pair of Candelabra, dating from the era of George IV – They once belonged to Denis and Eliza Le Marchant! Oh, the parties this pair must have witnessed…

Le Marchant Candlesticks

Sold at auction in December 2007, the price as the hammer dropped was £94,100. Do not hesitate to take a closer look with the “zoom” feature.

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Burney, Evelina, Thomson

May 19, 2016 at 8:11 pm (books, entertainment) (, , , )

The LIBRARY TIME MACHINE travels through EVELINA, in a wonderful blog post that celebrates the artistry of Hugh Thomson. I was especially struck by the idea that drawings in 19th century books seem akin to today’s graphic novels!

If you’ve little time for Fanny Burney’s “classic” novel, Dave Walker will lead you through a sampling of the Thomson drawings and Burney’s “History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World”.

evelina_thomson

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Old Artists, Faded Art

May 15, 2016 at 7:01 pm (books, portraits and paintings) (, , , )

One of the most difficult things to accomplish is the identification of portraits. Too many portraits who remain unnamed.  Merely, “Portrait of a Gentleman” or “Portrait of a Lady”.

Ross_a Lady-closeup

Also “unnamed” – sometimes – are the small-scale artists. For instance, I have a will which gave the TANTALIZING news that family portraits existed (at least up to 1814). But who was the painter?

family pictures

“all the Family Pictures painted by Mr. Fold[s…]”

For the life of me I could NOT read the last few letters of the name…

But, while researching for my upcoming article on James Boswell and the city of Chester, I came across this book – and offer it as an excellent place to look up some SMALL Artists, a DICTIONARY of exhibitors from The Society of Artists of Great Britain and The Free Society of Artists, compiled by Algernon Graves (published in 1907):

society artists

I’ll give a special prize to the first reader to email me (smithandgosling [dot] gmail [dot] com) with the ONE exhibitor of paramount interest, a Smith & Gosling relative, who appears in Graves’ line-up.

NB: the artist’s name in the will extract may be John FOLDSONE (father of Anne Mee). Foldsone was described in 1808 as “A painter of portraits in oils, small heads, of no great merit, but with sufficient likeness to procure much employment at a small price. His practice was to attend his sitters at their dwellings.” (He was not alone in this practice, actually.)

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The Handwriting on the Will

May 5, 2016 at 9:15 pm (history, research) (, , , , )

I have become CONSUMED with getting more and more Smith & Gosling material, and that has included the dreaded WILLS of even earlier ancestors. The one thing that has proven to be a help? The old wills means I have some earlier orthography, which often helps with the segue into “modern” spelling. The same holds for the earliest handwriting! I even READ some wills I downloaded from The National Archives five or six (or more…) years ago.

So while I thought to share a particularly fabulous hand, I chose this one because its (currently) the earliest example I have – although it is almost (ALMOST!) modern in its legibility.

elsewhere

The give-away: the first word; otherwise, doesn’t it rather look like a child writing?

Just in case you’re unsure what it says: Elsewhere in the Kingdom of England

Yes, this particular document has a most unusual (to me) ‘s’, which makes the first word look rather like Elfewhere… My document dates from 1726. And is related to family of my diarist Mary Gosling.

I’ll talk more about this document, which I’m just transcribing. In the meantime, I introduce you to palaeography on The National Archives website – which provides a delightful interactive tutorial.

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A trove of old letters

April 27, 2016 at 9:41 pm (books, history) (, , , )

Gotta love a book that begins,

“Years ago I found a trove of old letters. I found them in a broken-down steamer trunk buried under moldy blankets in a dilapidated shed attached to a decrepit row house.”

These words open the 2014 book Nina Sankovitch entitled, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing.

Although I’ve heard of her Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, it was a blog post about LETTERS that brought me to this later book. For the Love of Bookshops wrote about the genesis of Sankovitch’s “next” book:

old letters

Like Erin (the bookstore-loving blogger), I too cannot believe the “luck” of such a treasure trove. And, it’s addictive! The more I find on my Smiths & Goslings, the more I want to find.

Sankovitch’s “find” rather reminds me of the beginning of Célestine. Although Gillian Tindall’s trove was a handful of letters, the fascinating history of young Célestine, a French woman, made for a stupendous read and an enthralling untangling of someone’s past. Nina Sankovitch’s stash turned out to be early 20th century: a mother & son correspondence. Thanks goodness the letters found a home!

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