Dobro Prozhalovat!

May 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm (a day in the life, people, places) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Were those the words that Emma read when she first received a letter from brother Charles postmarked: ST PETERSBURG??

The year is 1820. Emma designates this letter No. 19 and notes its receipt on 21 November.

Charles’ last (No. 18), received on the 1st, had been headed “Stockholm” — what could have induced him to spend the winter months in such cold countries?!?

Unless the letters are found, we may never know…

It is interesting, after Drummond’s death (1832) the sisters collected together his letters. I have a copy of just one such collection. Instead of actual letters, however, someone collected all his correspondence to his sisters and rewrote everything. I suspect the pen to have been wielded by Fanny (see the post below), yet without more handwriting samples I cannot be sure. It is possible that several of these “letterbooks” existed.

Why do I wonder about that? There are several letters missing — inevitably those written by Drummond to Fanny (his “little Mother”) [for an article devoted to Fanny Smith Seymour, see the author, on the menu at right]. — as well, his travel diary from 1830 remains unfinished. YET: in both cases the requisite number of blank pages remain. That could mean several things: Fanny wasn’t coming across quickly with her letters and the room needed was guessed at; the writer got tired of the trip entries (oh! such a loss!!) and moved on — or, there was a “master copy” from which this letterbook was being written and the writer felt at ease to skip around, skipping the required number of pages.

My point is: These people kept letters — we know that;. And after the death of a relative these letters (and diaries) became precious relics to be read and reread.

I was thinking about all this today because of one of my favorite phrases in all the letters I’ve transcribed. The year is 1822. It is September, and Emma is writing to Aunt (Mrs Judith Smith, of Stratford; only sister to Charles Smith, Sr.). Mamma has taken her eldest five children abroad. They had departed from England in June. Emma’s letter originates in Geneva and she amusingly lays out what must come to Aunt herself as a bit of a surprise: they now plan to cross into Italy:

“…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”

I just LOVE the idea that they MUST spend the winter months there; no short visit of a few days! Plus there is just something endearing about the phrase that Mamma “has kindly consented”.

Emma continues:

“now do not my dear Aunt fancy that we are determined gadabouts… I really think you would be almost tempted to go there; you know Mamma is not a very uncertain person & she wishes me to tell you she intends being at home during next June… Mamma wishes you not to tell this to the poor children unless you think that by very gentle degrees & hints, it would be adviseable to let them know we might spend the winter abroad…”

Note the use of the “might” here, as contrasted to the word “must” only a few sentences before!

There are a couple letters extant, from young Charlotte — one of the “children” left at home: Spencer, Charlotte, Drummond, and Maria — in which she tears your heart out as she writes of missing her mother, missing her eldest brother, her four eldest sisters. When the party returns the following June, Emma hardly recognizes young Spencer — he had grown so tall!

So, while it is thrilling to think of those gababouts, and the places they visited, thought must also be spared to those left behind…

But, to turn back to Charles. Imagine going abroad — and very lengthy trips! — twice in as many years. The amazing thing is how far north and east he got during this first trip, 1820-21. I’ve made a list of letters, and either Emma got tired of noting them — or I did! I see notations about the receipt of 43 letters, the last (in August 1821) from Paris. Obviously, therefore, there should have followed a few more, even if he travelled quickly towards the Channel.

Emma begins well: letters reach her from Brussels and The Hague. Then, without spending any evident time in that bastion of European travel (France), Charles is next in Frankfurt. He works his way — quickly — through Saxe-Gotha, Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin and Hamburg. At some point, while in Hamburg, he dispatches gifts — for Emma notes their receipt on 26 November.

Charles then moves through Copenhagen and is next in Gothenburg and Stockholm — his first letter received on 25 September, but his last on 1 November. By that time he is reaching St. Petersburgh, as Emma calls it. She is still receiving post from there in mid-January 1821! By February he has travelled on to Warsaw. At the end of  February, Emma and the family receive more gifts: these posted from Vienna. Oh! how I envy Charles visiting pre-Ringstrasse Vienna! He is still there (letter received) at the end of May; but he has moved into Italy — lovely Venice — come June. By August Emma is receiving mail from Paris.

Charles had left the family on 3 June, 1820 and returned to them on 15 August 1821 — when he hands out more gifts. Imagine the things he might have bought… and then imagine me wondering where those items might be today.

To finish my thought about the next trip: the family left 24 June 1822 – Emma keeps up her diary only until the 28th: the family are just arrived at Ghent. And then the rest of her diary for the year is BLANK! 1823’s diary begins upon their return: 21 July 1823.

So lucky Charles sees the north for more than a year, then travels south – for this time they work through Switzerland and into Italy — staying the winter with the Comptons (Spencer and his wife Margaret), as we’ve seen from Emma’s letter to Aunt.

“You know  Mamma is not a very uncertain person…” –No, indeed! No wonder her children loved her so.

What made me post on such a subject? Firstly, the generous offer of Mark in Illinois, who is the owner of young Augusta’s diary for the year 1798, the year she married Charles, Sr. This one sentence is more telling of the kind of person Mamma became than any I have ever run across.

The second is the hope that if a single diary can turn up why not a group of letters?? The Smiths, collectively — for it’s possible that Emma noted only those letters addressed specifically to her — would surely have held on to such a precious bundle as Charles’ letters from Abroad. Emma herself intimates that her diary, so tiresome to keep while away from home, was superseded by letters, sent to her siblings, to her aunts — especially “Aunt”. So this may be seen as a plea: Anyone owning even ONE letter with a bunch of fancy postmarks, addressed to No. 6 Portland Place or Suttons in Essex, drop me a line!

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1 Comment

  1. Diaries and Letters « Two Teens in the Time of Austen said,

    […] of Lady Elizabeth Compton; Charles Smith’s letters from abroad (the subject of its own post); the Diaries of the Rev. Richard Seymour, which currently only exist in microfilm at Warwickshire […]

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