A year later, and I am still transcribing letters from last spring, last fall. While other items wait, and more items come in.
Gotta LOVE it and HATE it.
So, a few days ago, I was back to transcribing letters from a collection in New York; late letters of Mamma (Mrs. Augusta Smith, Emma’s mother). I am trying to write about the 1810s and here am I immersed in the 1840s. BUT this news is too good not to share!
It’s also a bit of a head-scratcher.
Mamma’s youngest daughter, Maria, I already knew was the object of pursuit by her brother-in-law’s brother. The Rev. Richard Seymour wrote in his diary that his elder brother the Rev. Sir John Culme-Seymour had begun making inquiries about young Maria Smith. I wrote about Richard’s diary entries for The Chronicle (publication of the Berkhamstead Local History & Museum Society) last year:
“Letter from Dora in w:h she tells me that J: had divulged to her his g:t admiration of & strong penchant for M – and leaves me to act upon her information.”
Of course _I_ knew – from history, as well as Richard’s diary, that Maria accepted Sir John’s proposal. There were already two Seymour in-laws; Sir John made the third! Maria (born in 1814) accepted Sir John in the fall of 1843. He was a widower whose wife had died in 1841, leaving him with three children. It was Richard’s use of the word “penchant” which has always made me sit up and take notice.
And now this undated letter of Mamma’s…
Mrs Smith wrote in terms of “he” and “she” and at first I was guessing the name of the couple she described. Could it be…??? Surely it was some one else.
“I ought almost to apologize for not having written sooner… I had nothing to tell but conjectures”. “He was in high spirits & talked a good deal…. After that, he became a little graver & she perceived it, & told me her suspicions. She was still in a doubtful state; could think of his age, &c.”
Mamma, ready to let the “she” decide for herself, then plays with her audience, like a cat plays with a mouse – describing minute changes in attitude, attention, spirits, in both “she” and “he”.
“I am told he was dreadfully nervous, could not sleep, & was almost desponding.”
Then, she reports: “in the most respectful & timid manner he made known his attachment, dreading her answer”. The expected outcome is chronicled, but with an odd interjection: “When he had obtained her consent, he was indeed happy: his Family say, he never was in love before. He had been fearing me; & when they came home… you may be sure I received him most kindly… his age & his grey hair are no objections to me: it was the same case with my own dear Husband”.
Finally, she divulges the “she”: MARIA!
So it IS Sir John who had the grey hair and a great age (he was closing in on 43). Mrs. Smith’s memories of her own youthful marriage to a widower tore at my heart – but back up even more and you’ll see the sentence that causes me concern: “his Family say, he never was in love before.” How can a widower’s family EVER so blot out a first wife??? And who makes up this “family”? — the in-laws (mother, sisters) of the very person Mrs. Smith is writing: her own daughter Fanny Seymour!
Thoughts now crowd into my head that had never been there before – about Sir John; about his first marriage to Elizabeth Culme (he took her name, with his own, by special license); about his penchant for little Maria Smith. Clearly, Sir John — who tackled Mrs. Smith when his brother Richard was looking to marry Fanny (a proposal by proxy) — was a man with a lot to offer, and yet had not the confidence to directly pursue his aims. But what is the meaning behind the words Mamma says came from his own womenfolk? Only time will tell. One source would have been Richard’s diary – but pages and passages are missing in the early years; and these passages may have covered the betrothal of John to Elizabeth.
At least Richard’s diaries are already transcribed… Now I just have to find the time to re-read them, with an eye to deciphering the past and future of Sir John Culme-Seymour.
In the post a few days ago: the latest edition of JASNA News – alas without my article on James Edward Austen and Tring. (Humphhh….)
Lots about the upcoming Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Louisville, on “Living in Jane Austen’s World”. (official website) VERY thrilling to hear the topic Amanda Vickery is expected to speak on: “No Happy Ending? At Home with Miss Bates in Georgian England”. The gist of the talk is “female-only households in Austen’s world, particularly those of declining status [like dear Miss Bates] and modest means.”
My research has several “female-only households” – from the top tier, with Lady Frances Compton (Lady Northampton’s sister-in-law) through to “Aunt,” Charles Smith’s (“Papa”) only living sister.
Then there was Mamma’s bachelorette sister: Emma Smith of Glenville — my Emma’s “Aunt Emma”.
Aunt Emma is at the heart of my upcoming talk for JASNA-Vermont — and if you’re in the neighborhood on Sunday, June 7th please come join us!
The Mystery of Emma Austen’s Aunt Emma
an interactive presentation
Sunday, 7 June 2015
“Morgan Room”, Aiken Hall
(83 Summit Street)
PowerPoint slides will illustrate with images of the people & places you’ll never see on this blog – and YOU will help (re)solve the “mystery” surrounding Emma Smith. Is it a “scandal” or “much ado about nothing”? Evidence suggests class-economic-religious tensions, or a past well-hidden for two hundred years. Help us decide! Like Austen’s Sanditon or Dickens’ Mystery of Edwin Drood, this mini-mystery relies on its audience to provide a sense of closure.
BTW: Prior knowledge of JANE AUSTEN or her NOVELS are not necessary for taking part – the slides will help introduce Emma Austen and the family. Aunt Emma lived 1774-1858, her later life spent in Hampshire; we’ll cover the years (approximately) 1812 to 1843.
FREE and open to the public
parking on the street – and light refreshments
Want to come extra “prepared”? Email me (smithandgosling at gmail dot com) for a full Smith & Gosling family tree which you can then bring with you!
Yesterday I *treated* myself: drove three hours to reach a used bookstore I simply LOVE: Old Number Six Book Depot, in Henniker, New Hampshire. Alas, I was cashing out my finds at 5.20 pm — twenty minutes AFTER they should have closed (if not for me). How I wish the gent had shouted up the stairs… I don’t wear a watch, and (truthfully) didn’t realize that they closed so early.
BUT: one book I bought, which I want to talk about today, is a slim (182 pages) volume from 1974 entitled The Letters of Caroline Norton to Lord Melbourne – the letters dating from the 1830s into the early 1840s. So right in the time period of my Smiths & Goslings.
WHO can resist a series of letters, from the right era, when they begin:
“I am very dull — how are you?”
Caroline, née Sheridan (yes, related to that Sheridan; a grand-daughter), has a ready wit which comes across in her letters. I am impressed that one letter is reproduced in toto as a set of four photographs nested within the transcript. Something to keep in mind for my own future publications. Though, at first, I thought the entire book was facsimile!
Was quite intrigued to read a letter about a young girl – now 13 – brought into the Melbourne household as a child by Caroline Lamb, Melbourne’s late wife. Caroline Norton spends some little time telling him WHY he must continue the girl’s education, and WHY sending her out as a governess – IF she MUST make her own way in the world (Melbourne evidently tired of providing for his former wife’s plaything). The child has become used to and was promised the life of a “lady” – and life as a seamstress or such like would NOT allow her that privilege. My mind, at that point, was all attention, thinking of all the poor (monetarily speaking) young ladies who entered the Smith household as governess from the 1810s through the later 1830s.
A sad note: the man who first worked with these letters, circa 1954 — Clarke Olney — died before more than a short article about them came into print. Nearly twenty years later, having come across Olney’s files and notes, did a second author, James Hoge, complete the task.
One of my favorite Used Bookstores has returned to Brick & Mortar existence: North Country Books, once in Burlington (on Church Street, at the end) has now opened in Winooski, Vermont.
Have to admit that I rarely go downtown – but last week I spotted an ad in 7 Days, and this week 7 Days has run a story of the bookstore’s reincarnation!
Why was North Country Books a favorite with me? For their healthy offerings of Literary Biography and History (especially of the United Kingdom). If you’re in the Greater Burlington (Vermont) area, do drop in – you will probably come out the door with a new book (or two…) under your arm!
Today I was in a rather blue mood – so hats off to the friend who wrote me a chatty message, and to another who emailed this picture of the flowering garden. You’ve raised my low spirits.
Can one — in 2015 — send letters to 1814?!? A couple of Bloggers are telling their tales – Lady Smatter, at Her Reputation for Accomplishment; and Sabine at Kleidung um 1800. Letter-reading was a very “social” event; the Smiths & Goslings exchanged letters, read them aloud, copied out news, anything to keep everyone in the picture. So please join these ladies in hearing more about the Art of Letter Writing.
In 1796, my Smith & Gosling girls were mere shadows in their mothers’ eyes, but that January saw the birth of a prospective Monarch of England – a baby girl ultimately known as Princess Charlotte of Wales. Her end, in childbed, WAS cause for comment in the diaries & letters of the Smith & Gosling family. But it’s the little Princess’ birth I focus on today – on the heels of the announcement from Buckingham Palace of a Princess for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
I must seem an open book – a friend in England sent me the following card. About Jane Austen, of course!