Wonderful Book, Wonderful Reading

July 30, 2010 at 9:04 am (books) (, , , , , )

I am always on the hunt for new books relevant to this project — therefore, I am especially interested in published accounts of letters and diary and yes sketches.

It was great recently to be reintroduced to a book I had seen in the hands of a friend many years ago (the book even older: published in 1987!): Sophie du Pont: A Young Lady in America – Sketches, Diaries, and Letters, 1823-1833.

Unlike what is currently known about the drawings of Fanny Smith Seymour (see previous post on her topographical drawings at Oxford University), little Sophie excelled in drawing “carics”, cartoons of her home-life — although, from the samples included here, her etymological and topographical drawings weren’t too shabby either!

In many ways, Sophie’s “topics of conversation” are oh so similar to the lovely drawings of Diana Sperling (her book: Mrs Hurst Dancing). And that is where the interest lies: even across the pond, life for Young Ladies was similar in so many ways! Bathing houses, log see-saws, shoes lost in squelching mud – Diana and Sophie both tell these tales of everyday.

The one thing that draws me into this book are the letters. Just the most comical turns of phrase one would ever hope to read! Sophie’s recipients were lucky indeed. If Jane Austen could write to Cassandra that her letters showed her to be one of the comic geniuses, then Jane would have loved corresponding with young Sophie (born in 1810, she lived until 1888).

Sophie’s age puts her right in line with the younger sisters of Mary and Emma — both (coincidentally) named Charlotte: Charlotte Gosling and Charlotte Smith. Charlotte Gosling, I now know, had a couple reasons for being named Charlotte: her mother was a Charlotte (the Hon. Charlotte de Grey) and her sponsor at her christening was another : Charlotte, the Queen of England.

Watch here for some samples!

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Thrilling news of Fanny Seymour

July 22, 2010 at 10:21 am (news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

It’s always a *banner* day when something new and hitherto unknown turns up! Like Mark emailing about his having Augusta Smith’s 1798 diary — or finding that a giant library like Oxford University’s Bodleian has SKETCH BOOKS that once belonged to Fanny Smith / Fanny Seymour!

I’ve a bit of a soft-spot for young Fanny. When I travelled to England to do research in the Hampshire Record Office at Winchester, I had already been in email contact with Alan up in Warwickshire. Alan made arrangements for me to give a talk on “local girl” Fanny Seymour. It’s amazing that once you LOOK for the doings and goings-on in some one person’s life, comments about them just pop out. So here was I, transcribing big sister Emma’s diaries and letters written by Emma and Mamma Smith (ie, Mark’s Augusta, only twenty-plus years down the road), and putting together the fragments of Fanny’s life. It was a great talk — or so I hope my audience thought! (It was well-attended, though oh so few questions at the end of it all.) And I enjoyed my time up in Warwickshire; I even managed to work a short time with the microfilm containing Richard Seymour’s diaries (check out the old post on my trying to find the whereabouts of Richard’s original diaries).

But back to Fanny!

I wrote a small booklet — which you will hear more about shortly (I’ve been compiling images for it!) — about the young girl years of Fanny Smith, up until the time of her marriage. Alan was hoping to write something similar for Richard Seymour, but he’s been very busy. In that booklet, I had a comment that while Fanny was always written about as drawing, and even mentions herself her love of this art, I had never yet seen — or located — any of her work.

Then, two nights ago, just online trying various search terms, don’t I turn up SKETCH-BOOKS OF FANNY SMITH, and the description calls her Mrs Richard Seymour. The books (unfortunately…) are described as topographical — so NO portraits are expected but imagine seeing drawings of the homes Fanny lived in, visited, and loved!

I’ve been working up an email in my head and will shortly contact Oxford. Part of me simply cannot believe that such items — Fanny’s sketches — have ended up at the Bodleian! I have said and thought “this project is golden” more than once; and this discovery proves it yet again: The Smiths and Goslings obviously want to be found.

The picture is from the book of Diana Sperling drawings, entitled Mrs Hurst Dancing. EASY to imagine Fanny, Emma and the other Smith siblings as characters in this charming little glimpse at English life.

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A Plea

July 19, 2010 at 7:55 pm (estates) (, , , , )

Got a comment in which a former student studying at Hassobury (Farnham, Essex) in the 1960s looks for stories, pictures, etc. from anyone at the boarding school at the same time. Feel free to email me in order to make contact! (I’d love to hear stories too…)

According to SEAX, the catalogue of the Essex Record Office, the school was for girls; they have a log book from 1972-75.

If anyone could let me know the name the school functioned under, it might help!

some “memories” found online (Pat Kings née Redman):



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Augusta’s Comings & Goings

July 11, 2010 at 11:54 am (a day in the life, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

My “Augusta” (known to most as the 1798 diary of Augusta Smith, Mamma to Emma Austen Leigh) is now on her return voyage to Illinois, headed back to her owner, Mark Woodford. Thank you, Mark, for the opportunity to see the original diary! Not many people would lend such a treasure to a complete stranger… And she’s now in the hands of the United States Post Office. Safe return, my Augusta!

But while lamenting “goings” there was also an Augusta “coming” this week. On Friday, Alan from Warwickshire sent me a scan of his recent acquisition: an 1841 letter written to Fanny Seymour and penned by none other than her mother, Augusta Smith!

So in one week, there was young 1798 Augusta, a new bride, awaiting (come February 1799) the birth of her first child — the next Augusta in a line of Augustas [ie, the future Augusta Wilder]; and then the older, wise Mamma Smith, who has recently been at the deathbed of her grandson, Spencer Joshua Smith, eldest child of Spencer and Frances [Seymour] Smith.

While there is much in the 1798 diary still to be “digested”, the 3-page letter provides such a snippet of life, a moment captured. In this case, the grief of a family. But the interesting part comes in several comments Mamma makes about the actual funeral of little Spencer Joshua.

In the biography of her father, James Edward Austen Leigh, Mary Augusta wrote about the funeral of Eliza Chute (she died in July 1842); as the first to die of the four daughters of Joshua Smith, Eliza was attended by her three surviving sisters: Maria  marchioness of Northampton, Augusta Smith, Emma Smith. It was highly unusual for women to attend funerals or gravesides; though “the times they were a-changing”.

Mary Augusta writes:

“Mrs. Chute’s funeral took place at half-past eleven on the morning of August 5, the coffin being borne through the wooded lanes for more than a mile to the church of Sherborne St. John by two sets of eight bearers, the gentlemen of the large family party that collected in the house following on foot, and the three surviving sisters accompanying them in a carriage. The service was performed by Uncle Richard [ie, the Rev. Richard Seymour, Fanny’s husband].

So why do I write that it was unusual for women to attend? Emma herself attended, the following year, the funeral of Mrs James Austen (Edward’s mother). Edward had informed Mrs Augusta Smith, “The funeral will be on Friday, at Steventon, where a vacant brick grave by the side of my father’s has been waiting nearly 24 years…” Mary Augusta takes up the story:

“Aunt Caroline [Edward’s sister] meant to be present herself, and so great was our mother’s attachment to her sister-in-law that she determined to go with her…. Much fatigue of body and mind must have been involved in these long drives in extremely hot August weather, and by taking part in a funeral service for the first time in her life, as neither she nor her sister had attended Aunt Chute’s. There was then a wide-spread belief that women would be unable sufficiently to command their feelings during a service which might be painful and trying.” Mary Augusta then quotes a letter Emma wrote her eldest daughter (Mary Augusta’s sister), Amy: “It was a trying day… I cannot wish dear Amy that you had been at the sad service, or at present think I could myself (having now seen it) ever wish to attend another of a friend.”

Friend, in its 19th century use, meant family… It is a word the Smiths used often.

So, to bring back Augusta’s letter of 1841.

By December 1832 there only remained one Smith son: Spencer. In 1835 he had married Frances Seymour, Richard Seymour’s sister. Their little boy, Spencer Joshua, was born the following summer. Little Spencer seems to have had health problems from the start. The first indication was in Mary’s diary, when she wrote: “Poor little Spencer Smith died not quite 5 years old: his removal was a merciful dispensation of the Almighty”. Mamma Smith also intimates great concerns when she concludes: Frances “is sensible that life might have been a burthen to the poor Child, but still she loved him & misses him.”

Although the mystery of “Poor little Spencer Smith” remains, the 1841 letters sheds light on the changes taking place in the attendance by women at the graveside. Augusta tells Fanny, “Spencer went [to the funeral], attended only by Mr. Lacy; he declined Arthur’s [brother-in-law Arthur Currie] offer, because it must be trying to him; & he declined mine; I could have done it very well. I accompanied Richard to your poor Babe’s Grave. — Mrs Bond & Mrs. Marshall went; poor Horne is too nervous to venture.”

It is the line, “I could have done it very well. I accompanied Richard to your poor Babe’s Grave” that gets me: Fanny’s son Michael John died (after living only a day) in 1835!  Augusta’s thoughts of “accompanying Richard” gives the deep impression of a woman willing to sacrifice her own feelings in order to support her son-in-law in this most distressing time. And here, again, we see an offer given to Spencer, but, like Frances, he prefers to mourn alone.

This may seem a morbid subject for a bright summer’s day, but it also points up the wonderful opportunities for digging into the past, for uncovering social conventions of Britain 200 years ago. The Smiths and Goslings are a fascinating family, and I am blissfully happy when working among their papers.

Thanks to both Mark and Alan, little puzzle pieces come out of the blue – and each piece, in its own way, solves a bit of the mystery. Here, the “game” is always “a-foot”!

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Women’s Work is Never Done

July 8, 2010 at 11:56 pm (a day in the life, books, fashion) (, , , , , , , , )

“Women’s work,” in 19th century parlance, meant their needlework. And thanks to Craig in Australia (who gave me access to some vital library material), I have come across a most fascinating article on this subject — Amy Boyce Osaki’s 1988 article in Winterthur Portfolio (vol. 23, no. 4, winter) entitled “A ‘truly feminine employment’: Sewing and the early nineteenth century Woman.”

Osaki’s study is on the du Pont women of Winterthur (Delaware), but what she says holds equally well for those, like Emma, Mary and their sisters, living in England about the same time as the du Ponts. In fact, there is one letter, at the Essex Record Office, in which Mary traced out the embroidery done on a cap for Charles by her sister Elizabeth.

I am a dab hand myself at embroidery; though some illustrating Osaki’s article are done on impossibly-sheer muslin. Just contemplating the amount of time required to complete such a project boggles the mind! (I once crocheted a German townscape window curtain, using crochet cotton and a OO crochet hook; it took about an hour to complete ONE ROW! It hangs in my upstairs hallway window.)

The Ackermann volumes (see page link at right) are rich in lovely embroidery designs; check them out! Even Augusta Smith (mother and daughter) writes of using thimble, scissors and thread to come up with collars and hems that the du Pont sisters would undoubtedly marvel at. Jane Austen, too, used to embroider during her “free” time…. Her work is on display at Chawton Cottage.

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The Mystery of Augusta

July 5, 2010 at 11:07 pm (research) (, , , , , , , )

Talk about a History’s Mystery!

If you didn’t spot the not-so-faint you’d never notice the others. I’m talking about the Accounts Augusta Smith put down in 1798 on the right-hand page (ruled for monies received and monies lent/paid out). It might also help that I’ve seen her sister’s diaries, where (if I remember correctly) the accounts were in INK. Here, Augusta has written the narrative of her diary in ink (thank GOODNESS!), but these accounts are in PENCIL. Have they faded to the point of non-existence, or were they erased? They are in her hand (which points to faded), but sometimes she has obviously written her narrative OVER the accounts — needed the room and just didn’t care? If she (or someone?) erased them, why? I had originally thought that maybe a later owner wanted to reuse the diary and never did; but then why write narrative over the accounts? Someone posited that Augusta hadn’t wanted Charles to see (and indeed there are card debts recorded… but as they married in March and the accounts continue on, it’s QUITE unlikely Charles really cared; I mean, just DON’T record your debts if you didn’t want your husband to see!).

Eliza’s diaries have entries to To Cards (seen in Augusta’s; she certainly seems luckier in Love than Cards, for there evidently are fewer By Cards [her wins] entries…), To Play, To Poor Man/Woman, To Pew Opener, etc etc.

I must admit, in two months, having little time, I did not give Eliza’s accounts a lot of notice. My thoughts at the time, while still at HRO was ‘I’ll see about getting the diaries on microfilm’, or (yeah, right!) return to Winchester… So, for the most part they are a known-but-unanalyzed quantity of her diaries — but they can sometimes help in guesses for words (not sums) in Augusta’s diary.

It’s definitely a SUMMER project: the light has to be just right, not too bright (then you see NOTHING), not too dark — and it even has to hit the page at the proper ANGLE. One second you see not much, the next second the word(s) as clear as day, the following moment all is GONE.

One example: I thought this could read To Poker Book — highly unlikely, but, hey! you never know. Also thought, maybe, Joker? Then, in the flash of the page being held JUST right: Pocket! It’s early in the year (January 16th) and she could be referring to this same diary (which were termed ‘pocket books’ because of their size and ‘carriability’), but could she also mean (since mid-January would mean two weeks-plus of entries that she had to then write in…) what we think of as a pocketbook, ie, a purse? I just don’t know. Just like I don’t know WHY these entries — and an entire page at the front of the book, were written in pencil and cannot be read.

It’s a thrill when you can read words like To White Gloves (a lady used LOTS of those) or To Powder.

After two hundred years it’s just ‘Fade to white…’ rather than black.

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Cause for Celebration

July 4, 2010 at 9:07 pm (research) (, , , , , )

Craig from Australia alerted me to the sale of this book on eBay — one (from the signature) once in the library of Charles Cunliffe Smith, the son of Mary and Charles Smith of Suttons!

Craig has given me a couple reasons to smile this week, including the following story (reprinted with his kind permission):

“I will explain what happened after you passed on that other email in February. 
My grandfather used to tell us stories about how his cousin had come to Melbourne and stayed with he and his family in the 1930s. He would tell us she was a dancer with the Russian ballet. We used to roll our eyes a bit and think it was like one of grandpa’s stories that was being made up as it went along. 
I nearly fell off my chair when the woman who sent the email asked if any of my family had met her aunt when she was in Australia dancing with the Russian ballet. So it all made sense.
When my grandfather’s great grandfather died in the 1880s all the documents etc ended up being passed down to he and his brothers, and all the photos passed to this woman’s grandmother. Before my grandfather died he gave me all the papers he had relating to our family. It used to be difficult trying to find a lot of information before the internet, but it is a lot easier these days. So I have just been plodding along with this on my own for the past 12 years.
The woman who sent the email (and is actually my cousin) and I copied and exchanged everything we both had. So now I have scans of the early family photos from the 1850s through to the 1890s, and she now has copies of all the documents from the 1500s through to 1900.”
What a heartwarming story — for a couple reasons. One, of course, is the reuniting of a “family archive”; how I’d love to be able to do that with the Smiths and Goslings! And Two has got to be a cheer for the power of the internet: I’ve “met” so many terrific people, with such varied interests, who have given advice, help, and friendship. Indeed some great reasons for celebrations, on this 4th of July, 2010

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