Provoking Thought

March 26, 2009 at 10:33 am (books) (, , , , , )

Kate from Norfolk sent this thought-provoking comment, upon reading a little history I’ve written about FANNY SEYMOUR (Emma’s sister, she married the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton):

Lots of wonderful research and information, quite fascinating. Makes you realise exactly where Austen got her material from – it was all around her!

Which does make my job — as an historian trying to get from Austen ideas of how their world functioned then — that much more fascinating, especially after re-reading the last chapter of Persuasion. Bruce, a reader commenting via our Jane Austen in Vermont blog (see the post on Mary Ellen Bertolini’s recent talk for the Vermont chapter of JASNA), sent me back to Persuasion when he commented that the peace during this period was that of 1814, before Napoleon’s escape from Elba, before Waterloo. Wanting to read what Bruce had picked up on (especially as critics castigate Austen for NOT including — or so they believe — the political world around her), I looked up the Republic of Pemberley’s online copy of the novel.

In that last chapter, the narrator tells readers:

 “Sir Walter, indeed, though he had no affection for Anne, and no vanity flattered, to make him really happy on the occasion, was very far from thinking it a bad match for her. On the contrary, when he saw more of Captain Wentworth, saw him repeatedly by daylight, and eyed him well, he was very much struck by his personal claims, and felt that his superiority of appearance might be not unfairly balanced against her superiority of rank; and all this, assisted by his well-sounding name, enabled Sir Walter, at last, to prepare his pen, with a very good grace, for the insertion of the marriage in the volume of honour.” [emphasis added.]

These thoughts resonated with me, especially after reading about Belinda Colebrooke’s desire to marry young John Shaw Stewart (Emma often spells his last name Stuart). Their problem: Belinda as a ward in Chancery had to ask the court’s permission to marry — and Stewart was seen as her inferior. Especially in terms of money. And wasn’t that Wentworth’s situation when he first sought the hand of Anne???

Critics may think Austen didn’t write about the political situation, or the clashes of the social classes… but look closer and you’ll see that she indeed did write about more than happy couples and fairytales.

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The Baillie Connection

March 23, 2009 at 9:48 pm (people) (, , , , , )

My dear Miss Colebrooke

I write to you in place of my Sister who is not well to day. She received your note on Sunday forenoon, and sent a person to Grosvenor St: early on monday morning to catch Dr Baillie before he should be gone out, and received an immediate answer.—- In this he desires her to inform you, that he will make an early arrangement to see Mrs Lee, after he is informed of her return from Brighton, in order to give his opinion of her case….

My sister & I were very sorry on reading your note to find Mrs Lee has been & continues so much an Invalid. I hope it will please God to restore her again to perfect health after all her suffering. I called this morning at Branch Lodge & learnt that you are expected home today….

With All kind wishes to your Invalid & to you & your Sister & the Miss Lees, in which my Sister joins me heartily,

I remain, my dear Miss Colebrooke

most truly yours

J Baillie

Red Lion hill
tuesday morning

colebrookeImagine my surprise finding this undated letter among those in the 2-volume set of The Collected Letters of Joanna Baillie! That it was sent to Miss Belinda Colebrooke I have no doubt. According to Emma Smith, the Colebrookes were residing in Hampstead at a place Emma calls Branch Hill Lodge; Miss Baillie addresses her letter, thusly:

Miss Colbrook
Branch Lodge

Mrs Lee, with whom the Colebrooke girls lived after their grandmother Lady Colebrooke died, and herein referred to as the ‘Invalid,’ is the topic of Emma’s February 4th 1820 diary entry:

Belinda & Rosina Lee came to see us for a minute in their way to Hampstead where they were going from Brighton in order to prepare the house for Mrs Lee whose sad state of health made them very unhappy

Rosina, along with Eleanor and Jemima, was the daughter of Mrs Lee. I’m still tracking down information on the Lees, who seem to have hailed from Scotland (probably Edinburgh).

I have long known the Smiths knew Joanna Baillie (Emma and Belinda visit her and her sister Agnes the following March); this is the first indication of a letter to Belinda.

A book, on the Colebrookes, that may be of use is

Sola bona quae honesta: The Colebrooke Family, 1650-1950
By Malcolm Sutherland
Edition: illustrated
Published by Sawd, 1998
ISBN 1872489206, 9781872489209
72 pages

If anyone can tell me about its contents concerning Harriet and Belinda, please contact me.

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Mary in Memoriam

March 19, 2009 at 9:26 pm (people) (, , , , , )

Having no ‘picture’ of Mary I found the wording of her memorial inscription – at the small church of St Mary in Stapleford Tawney (Essex) – thoroughly moving: It so well describes the young woman, wife and mother who lies under the surface of her diaries and the handful of letters which have so far surfaced. Sobering to see that her birthday is included; I hunted for this date for so long! (And first found it, as mentioned on February 2nd’s post, in the diary of Eliza Chute.)

The memorial begins with an epitaph to Charles Joshua Smith; is followed by that for his first wife, Belinda Colebrooke; and ends with this memorial to the life of Mary Gosling:

 Also Mary,
second daughter of William Gosling, Esq:re.
of Roehampton Grove, Surrey,
and second Wife of Sir Charles Joshua Smith, Bar:t.
of Suttons in this Parish,
whom she survived eleven Years
she was born Feb:y. 2.nd 1800, and died July 3.rd 1842.
To her Children her memory is endeared
by her Devoted Tenderness, and Watchful Solicitude,
and to all connected with her
by her Gentleness, Meekness, Self denying Benevolence,
and unwearied endeavour to fulfil every Christian,
and Relative duty.
Serving the Lord with all humility of mind.

Acts X X v. 19

In her few extant letters (it would be wonderful to find more!), Mary comes across as one who deferred to her mother-in-law, loved her children and fought to care for those nephews orphaned by the deaths of Augusta and Henry Wilder; she does her duty by her young son; and cares for the poor of the district. She quite evidently went through a period of great personal depression upon the death of Charles; then had to deal with the successive deaths of her beloved father and eldest brother. Although she writes little about her own reaction to her step-mother’s death, her sister Charlotte collapsed. In this one diary entry Mary’s “Gentleness” and “Meekness” come to the fore.

I want to thank Mike for supplying the text. How I wish I could have found my own way to Stapleford Tawney.

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Women’s History and Jane Austen

March 10, 2009 at 6:40 pm (books) (, , , )

Although I study Jane Austen’s novels, I look for what they can tell about the time period; and compare them to the diaries and letters of the Goslings and Smiths in order to flesh out how their lives would have been led. When I read Jane Austen’s works, it is usually for pleasure and certainly never for dissecting them into quiz questions. There is simply a lot I do not recall about them – no bad thing, as it allows me to read them more than once, for the enjoyment of her language if nothing else.

So when on Sunday, March 1st, our JASNA chapter’s guest speaker Prof. Mary Ellen Bertolini (Middlebury College) mentioned the essays of Tony Tanner (who wrote these mainly in the 1960s-1980s) as being insightful commentaries on Austen, I trotted over to the university’s library and took it out. Right away the title of one essay sounded arresting: “The Anger in the Abbey” – about Northanger Abbey, of course. (Tanner treats this last published book first, in consequence of its being written c1803).

Austen provides a particular image of Catherine Morland when she has Catherine speak about her dislike for history. But only after Tanner’s stressing one piece of Catherine’s comment did my little grey cells begin to grasp that the comment may be taken at face value — or more than face value. Here is Tanner:

“I should like to draw attention to a conversation in chapter 14 during which Catherine expresses her distaste for ‘real solemn history’. Compared with the Tilneys’ liking for ‘history’ this might seem to indicate a certain shallowness or callowness of mind on Catherine’s part. Yet she does make one telling point which is usually overlooked. One reason why ‘history’, as then written, does not appeal to her is this: ‘the men are all good for nothing, and hardly any women at all–it is very tiresome [emphasis added].”

It is a comment we can associate with the Austen who wrote her comic History of England.

I know I enjoy reading the letters of the women of the two families I am studying — perhaps simply because, being a woman, they touch on the fundamentals of life that interest me: travel, family, friendships. Business matters or how many birds were bagged over a shooting weekend I can live without! But I never THOUGHT about Catherine Morland’s comment (and the hidden meaning behind it) before: Was Jane Austen, then, an early advocate for what we would now call Women’s Studies??? Perhaps so…

I must say, after pondering the TYPES of information we historians can find about those who lived a couple hundred years ago, it does rather boil down to: When they were born and to whom; who they married; their children; and when they died. So who can ever blame Austen for concentrating on the most ‘interesting’ part of any person’s life: her character’s family and whose family that someone marries into.

I had reason to look up letters of Emma Austen’s maternal grandmother: she writes of visiting a Mrs Carr and says “to our great surprise [we] were informed that she was at liberty to say every thing was now settled Between her Brother Henry Greg [sic& Miss Gosling  the Greggs are as you may suppose in high Spirits  the Goslings not much delighted  Old Mrs. Gosling sais she will not consent but I think Miss Gosling is determined… poor Mrs Gosling finds the Pill rather disagreeable to swallow“. Miss Gosling, by the way, is Mary Gosling’s Aunt Gregg – her father’s sister. Born c1770, she would have been about 24-years-old at this time (spring 1794), and the lone chick left in her mother’s nest. Mrs Smith adds something to which many woman might relate: “I fancy her home was not comfortable  the Mother is an odd woman“. Oh dear!

My point in bringing this up is that this little snag in the lives of the Goslings and Greggs is just what sucks one into their lives, it entices you to tease out more of their story (though whether more can be found, in any instance, never mind this one, is another story). What was Old Mrs Gosling like? If her daughter (Maria Gosling) was unhappy, what about her son William and his Eliza (for she evidently lived long periods with them)? And here is the very type of story we love Austen for! The push and pull of family, versus the new family a woman wants to make for herself. It is actually surprising how many couples, in just this extended family, encountered problems with familial opposition: Augusta Wilder seems not to have been the dessert of choice for Henry’s father — though Henry was besotted with her; Richard Seymour’s sister was actually talked out of marrying the man of her choice (he did not make enough money); and yet she finally married him. And another couple in Richard’s family, brought down upon themselves the rath of the potential father-in-law — before they too wed. Such tales are why Austen’s novels seem timeless — as well as perfect mirrors of her time.

And why I will never read them in order to remember how much Lady Catherine spent on her chimney piece, or what type of dog Henry Tilney keeps!

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la Bella Voce

March 5, 2009 at 5:02 pm (entertainment) (, , )

Some time ago, a comment prompted me to delve a bit further than I had into the biography – via Gentleman’s Magazine and Grove’s Dictionary – of the Knyvetts, two generations of singers whose concerts the Smiths and Goslings attended in early-19th century London. I still owe that commenter some thoughts from Mary and Emma’s diaries about those singers, but more of that a bit later.

However, this proved a fabulous delve into the dusty archives in order to find some lengthier and (as near as possible) first-hand accounts. Anyone reading reviews today will know that voices – especially!! – are subject to subjective, as opposed to objective – criticism. And unlike Melba or Caruso, no recordings, however crude, exist for the likes of Charles and William Knyvett, John Braham, or Miss Catherine Stephens. So words must suffice – and those words mainly from critics and mini-biographers.

Interesting to note a report of a series of concerts, given on September 14, 15 and 16, which marked the “107th Meeting of the Choirs of Gloucester, Worcester, and Hereford, for the benefit of the Widows and Orphans of Clergymen in the three dioceses” – for the Smiths certainly had a number of clergymen sons-in-law. And it is impossible not to realize the importance of the church in their lives while reading the diaries of Lady Smith (Mary Gosling).

The Harmonicon for 1830 (“part the first”) reports on the event, which raised over one-thousand pounds in contributions at the door! But what a stellar-cast these concerts included: Madame Malibran Garcia is the name recognizable to most opera fans today; Mrs William Knyvett, Mr Braham, Mr Vaughn, Mr William Knyvett were among the other singers, big ‘names’ at the time; a full orchestra gets its mention, as well as the FULL schedule of music (I see much Mozart; and Weber, Handel, Rossini all get their due).

Miss Paton is a familiar name from the diaries, so this little tidbit is quite curious to read now, 206 years later: “…in the early arrangements for this festival, Miss Paton was engaged, and her name, with the songs, &c. allotted to her, circulated in the first programs issued, the reader will not be surprised to learn, that owing to certain circumstances, which a few months since were the town-talk, a degree of curiosity was raised in the minds of many concerning the manner in which she would be received, and how her female friends in the orchestra would conduct themselves towards her: — when suddenly appeared the letter from the Bishop of Rochester, as Dean of Worcester, which will be found in the last number [ie, last issue] of the Harmonicon. On the propriety of this we here offer no opinion.”  BUT: no opinion on what???!!

The death of George IV, gets a brief mention, in that several pieces were played “as a mark of respect to the memory of his late Majesty”. (He died 26 June 1830).

An historian’s best dream-come-true is to read the following passage: “As we believe that the Harmonicon is the only publication in which the Programs of our Musical Festivals, as well as those of the Ancient and Philharmonic Concerts, are preserved, and convinced of the utility of the practice, both as affording the means of amusement and information, and also as a record to be referred to at any future period, we insert the following bills of the several morning and evening performances:–” Yes, yes, yes.

Among the “notices” of The Messiah (done in Mozart‘s arrangement) comes praise for Mr Braham (“Mr. Braham’s opening the Messiah has lost none of its wonted excellence. In this fine scena he was as great as ever”) and a bit of criticism for Malibran (her “‘Rejoice greatly’ did not make much impression on us… she does not understand Handel’s music — she does not feel it”). Mrs Knyvett is “useful and unpretending”, and the reviewer wished she had been given ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ rather than Malibran — although “there is a wearying repetition of the subject in this air, that has always prevented our receiving so much pleasure in hearing it as many other persons feel, or, at least, profess to feel.” Hmmmm….

We learn that Madame Malibran asked – and received – 300 guineas “this year at each festival!” And that the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria “honoured by their presence the performances at the Cathedral on the mornings of Tuesday and Thursday, and, we are informed, were much gratified.”

A harrowing piece of news is contained in a footnote. The passage to which it is attached concerns the conductor Mr Cramer, who “– notwithstanding the severe shock which his nerves must have sustained by being, together with his wife, daughter, and a son, overturned* within seven miles of Worcester, – never led or played better…” The asterisk then leads us to the following: “By this sad accident, Mr. Bennett, the organist of New College, Oxford, a young man of much more than ordinary talent, and who was rapidly advancing in his profession, unfortunately lost his life. We must expect such fatal events to increase rather than diminish, unless passengers themselves will exercise the powers vested in them by Act of Parliament.” What exactly the last sentence means, I’ve no clue — but rather wonder: were they in public conveyance or a private one?

This is a long post – so I will continue talk on Brahams, Vaughn, Stephens and the Knyvetts next time.

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