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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