Happy Father’s Day

June 20, 2010 at 11:10 am (news, people, places) (, , , , , , , , )


Mark Woodford’s father, Charles, owned Augusta Smith’s 1798 diary; he died in February, 2009.

My own father is exceptionally supportive of my writing, this research project, and all I have accomplished and hope to accomplish with it.

Here’s here a not-so-short, and perhaps convoluted, tribute to some fathers:

I mention Mark because, reading through a diary in which the writer (Augusta Smith) marries (Charles Smith, of Suttons), he has been digging to find information on so much more than I have had a mind to do. For instance, he has uncovered a very useful set of books on Parliament, MPs and their voting records — thereby fleshing out both Joshua Smith (Augusta’s father) and Charles Smith (Augusta’s husband).

[I will remind readers here that Augusta was a ‘Smith’ and married a ‘Smith’ = but they were not related.]

This set, in four volumes, is The House of Commons, 1790-1820, a History of Parliament by R.G. Thorne. Middlebury College’s library has it; but wouldn’t you know: ONE volume is OUT! I’ll keep an eye on the online catalogue and take a ride down when all four are back on the shelf…

Why, you may ask, wouldn’t I be totally interested and have unearthed this set of books myself? A couple reasons; first I love history — but not politics. True, the two are inexplicably linked in oh so many ways. Yet, it can often be entirely overlooked: Austen set her novels in a slightly apolitical world, didn’t she?

But, more importantly, my earliest diary — belonging to Mary Gosling — dates from 1814. She is en route to Oxford. Sure she visits her brothers, who are in residence there, but Oxford is also en fête: the “false peace” of 1814 has been declared and guess who seats herself on the thrones not long before occupied by the likes of the Emperor of Prussia and the Tsar of Russia: Mary!

So I’ve always seen 1814 as the kick-off — summer, 1814 even. Poor Charles Smith, Emma’s father, has already died, though just a few months before. Emma’s own earliest diary begins New Year’s Day 1815. Thus, my two girls really are “teenagers” by the time I begin to write (and think) about them. Actually, another point in Jane Austen’s favor: they are sentient beings with wills and characters all their own, and ready to get on with life.

This line of thinking has never meant, however, that research into the parent, even grandparent generation hasn’t taken place, or needs to take place. It just means it rather lives simmering, always on the back-burner.

Which is where the enthusiasm of someone like Mark comes in handy. For him, the girls are not the focus: AUGUSTA is a  focus point, her father, her grandfather.

Joshua long has been Emma‘s grandfather, the older man, still in good health, a widower who entertains his children and grandchildren when they stay with him at Erle Stoke over New Year’s 1816/1817. Emma’s 1817 diary opens with, “Grandpapa was in good health at the age of 84. Stoke.” written across the top of the page, between a note about “Winter” and a “pair of galashes” and her first entry describing the people who had come to Stoke: Lord and Lady Northampton (aunt and uncle), their daughter Lady Elizabeth, Mr and Mrs Chute and Caroline (aunt and uncle and their “adopted” daughter), and a certain Mrs Langham — who just has to be a relation of Langham Christie (the future husband to Mary’s sister Elizabeth).

I think I’ve mentioned this entry before, because it is so evocative of a time past, as well as the “monied crowd” of England during this period:

“The new year was ushered in by a band of music playing round the house… band of music came in the evening & we danced a little”.

Mark Woodford, having an early interest in the Antiguan roots of the paternal family of Sarah (Gilbert) Smith, has found some invaluable information on Nathaniel Gilbert; and, as mentioned, the political careers of Charles Smith and Joshua Smith. Prior to this, Nathaniel was a bit of a name — great-grandfather, only; now he takes on a bit more flesh.

Charles was always Papa, but he dies so early in Emma’s life that being required to think of him as LIVING and LOVING the mind begins to think of him as he once was, before illness took him from Augusta.

And Joshua Smith, still so vibrant — I treasure letters from the early years when he misses his Eliza (Mrs Chute) so terribly; but my overriding image has long been of the loving grandfather whose end is also too well known from the letters — for Augusta writes passionately of rushing to his bedside, although he is often incoherent and doesn’t even recognize her.

We all have fathers, grandfathers, great-great-great-great grandfathers, etc. etc. If only we all had the mementoes the Smiths (especially) and Goslings left behind.

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