Library Acquisition: John Rylands circa 1963

November 18, 2012 at 12:05 pm (diaries, europe, history, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )


More on the letters written by young Lady Compton (the former Margaret Maclean Clephane). I came across this notation on escholar.manchester.ac.uk; it dates from 1963!

“Among recent accessions to the Manuscript Department is a small collection of letters written in the mid-eighteen-twenties to the Hon. Henry Edward Fox, later 4th and last Lord Holland, by Margaret, Countess Compton, from May 1828 until her death in 1830 Marchioness of Northampton. Although only forty in number they comprise over 160 well-filled pages and all save four, which date from July and August 1829, fall within the short period of nine months between October 1825 and June 1826. The Comptons lived in Italy from 1820 to 1830 and the first nine letters were written to Fox at the end of 1825 when he was also there. The majority, however, date from after his departure and during his visit to France between February and May in the following year. The greater part were written from Rome.

Apart from the personal side, their value is mainly social and literary. They are, for example, of interest for their remarks on and information concerning members of the English colony in Italy and common acquaintances in Italian Society, for Lady Compton comments freely. From this point of view they form a useful supplement to Fox’s Journal of 1818-30, edited by the Earl of Ilchester in 1923. Both Lady Compton and her husband interested themselves in literature and the fine arts and she writes of the artists then being patronized in Rome and of the artistic purchases being made. She also corresponded with Sir Walter Scott and in several letters refers to his financial difficulties at this time. Not least they demonstrate the esteem she had for Fox and, in spite of their quarrels, the close friendship that existed between them. This was no less fully appreciated by Fox, for, when she died in Rome in 1830, he wrote of her in his Journal as ‘my best and dearest friend … the being upon earth of whose regard and friendship I felt surest’.”

Those were NOT the thoughts Fox had upon first meeting Margaret, when he described her as “a gigantic, well-informed, hard-headed, blue Scotchwoman.” — Journal of Henry Edward Fox, 26 Nov 1824

I have found a few other tidbits of the Comptons over the last week as well.

Of course Walter Scott, formerly Margaret’s guardian, crops up. Here he is writing to Lord Byron:

“Should you meet Lady Compton in Society pray be acquainted with her — it is worth while for she is a very clever young woman and skilled in legendary lore–” (5 Jan 1816)

The letter was signed, “My best respects to Lady Byron & I am always, my dear Lord, most truly yours

Walter Scott

Scott, however, was not Lady Compton’s only champion! There is an obscure (to me) letter writer, poet Ugo Foscolo. In this third volume of letters, dating to the 1820s, the Comptons (more specifically, Lady Compton) are mentioned to two separate correspondents, for instance:

To Gino Capponi (30 June 1821),

“Gino mio,

     Tu hai conosciuto di certo lady Compton in Londra, ma ti gioverà di riconoscerla,, e vederla più davvicino; e quand’anche non abbia tempo nè occasioni di usara verso di te le gentilezze con che mi ha spesso onorato e consolato, pochi giorni di conversazione con lei ti rinfrescheranno il cuore, e ti solleveranno la mente,–“

{roughly: Dear Gino, You certainly knew lady Compton in London; it will benefit you to recognize it, and even if you do not have time nor occasion to meet with the kindness that I have often been honored with, a few days conversation with her will refresh your heart, and raise the mind–}

Margaret, Lady Compton, even appears in a personal letter to Mrs Georgiana Gell dated 13 January 1827.

The English colony in Rome, in Italy in general, may prove rich fishing for further information on my dear Smiths of Suttons.

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