Puzzle piece leads to more Puzzling

October 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm (news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , )


Great thanks to Jacky, in Maidstone, England, for contacting me — she has some exciting pieces of the Smith puzzle!

But one piece in particular I want to blog about today. Jacky writes:

The journal about Maria by Augusta {Mamma Smith} … talks about Maria’s development, particularly the development of her character, but also how she is doing with her lessons and with learning skills such as music and drawing.

There is much in family letters about young Maria’s struggles in Music and Drawing (after all, she had FIVE elder sisters to compete against, including the ‘perfect’ Augusta).

Maria was 15 years younger than the eldest, Augusta, and a young teenager and woman when her sisters were young wives and mothers. She ended up being pretty much alone with her mother by the mid-1830s, and obviously at times felt the “baby” of the family, wishing for ties to the siblings who somewhat had left her behind because of their own children and spouses.

But the very existence of this journal — a Georgian “Baby Book,” if I may so term it — raises the specter of just such a manuscript mentioned in the biography (by his daughter, Mary Augusta Austen Leigh) of James Edward Austen Leigh, this, however, about Edward’s brother-in-law, the youngest Smith son, Drummond:

In a MS. book describing Drummond from his birth onwards, his mother writes…

WHAT MANUSCRIPT BOOK?!? Was my reaction at the time of reading this sentence. I rather forgot about it, when talking about so much else that either I know is out there (seen and as yet unseen…), as well as what I expect to find, as well as what I know is currently “missing”. So much material! And thank God there’s so much material!

Jacky believes Mamma all along meant to present this little journal to Maria. And, in 1911, young Mary Augusta Austen Leigh had access to that book outlining Drummond’s youth — including some concluding paragraphs, written by Mamma after hearing of his death:

His arrival at home for the vacations was hailed with the greatest delight and affection and seemed to infuse new animation within the Family. His constant good temper and cheerfulness and his powers of conversation made him the most charming inmate and companion; in the larger circle of acquaintance he was valued and caressed because he was so agreeable, but in the inner circle of his near Relatives he was loved to a very great degree because he was so amiable and warmhearted. He was quite free from conceit, though his abilities were certainly above the ordinary level, I do not think he was sensible of it. . . . His conversation had a peculiar charm from the originality of some of his ideas, from the sudden, yet apposite allusions he would bring in unexpectedly, from his good spirits, and above all because it was so natural and so entirely without study or display. . . . It happened to be his lot to live much with an excellent clergyman, his Brother-in-law, Mr Austen, and all that I hear from him of my dear Drummond’s character raises my hope that our good and great Creator has not cut him off from life thus early in punishment, but in mercy; to take him from evil to come, to shorten his probation.

I must admit, not being overly religious myself, to being affected by the great store Mrs Smith put in her faith as she lost (at this time) more family: in 1825 Belinda, her daughter-in-law; in 1831, Charles, her eldest son; in February 1832, her sister-in-law Judith Smith and in November, her youngest son Drummond.

I can only wonder, however: ARE THERE “BABY BOOKS” OUT THERE FOR EACH OF HER NINE CHILDREN? From an era when such documents of baby were begun with gusto, only to be abandoned before baby was more than a couple years old, especially if a sibling joined the family (my own baby book didn’t even get THAT far!), it is amazing to me that Mrs Smith pursued this route. Emma, Mary and Augusta document the physical growth of their children, in their journals — but I’ve never come across anything like this “Maria Journal”. How grateful I am to know of its existence!

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