The Brilliant Vortex: Revealing the Regency, 1812-1821

May 31, 2018 at 3:35 pm (books, diaries, history, news, people, research, World of Two Teens) (, , , , , )

Charles Brockden Brown’s 1806 quote, “If it were possible to read the history of those who are doomed to have no historian, and to glance into domestic journals….” condenses into a single thought my entire project. Two diarists, Mary Gosling (1800-1842) and Emma Smith (1801-1876), have left a vast array of journals and letters, which have hitherto remained unused by historians except for information on Jane Austen (Emma married Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen in 1829). A large deposit of material resides at the Hampshire Record Office (Winchester, England) due to this familial relationship.

Films have made Jane Austen’s six novels beloved by a vast readership. Readers interested in English history, the Regency period, Cultural history, Women’s history, as well as Austen’s work and life are my target audience for the biography under research. The Brilliant Vortex: Revealing the Regency in Letters and Diaries of Two Teens in the Time of Austen, 1812-1821 uses the lives of these two diarists to discuss English gentry life during the Regency. The milieu of Jane Austen’s novels is but one aspect of this project.

elizabeth and darcy

Darcy & Elizabeth’s wedding

The Brilliant Vortex references the “London Season” and its influence in the lives of the future Lady Smith and Emma Austen, next-door-neighbors in a desirable London neighborhood. Based on manuscript sources, the book opens (“prelude”) with the assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval. Newly-discovered letters indicate that Emma Smith’s cousin, Lady Elizabeth Compton, resided in the Perceval household at the time. Mary Gosling’s family is introduced (“Chapter I”) amid a journey to Oxford in June 1814, during celebrations for the Allied Sovereigns following the cessation of hostiles; Emma Smith’s family is introduced (“Chapter II”) at the time of her father’s death (May 1814).

The framework provided by diaries and letters guides our exploration of an extended, well-documented landed gentry family. Not a traditional cradle-to-grave biography, the families’ tentacular reach – into politics, commerce, war, even stretched into the royal family; as well, group interests in art, literature, music, theater, travel expand the picture beyond notions of daily sameness.

Eliza-Chute-letters

Letters, written 1796, from Eliza Chute of “The Vine” (in Hampshire)

Extrapolation and in-depth interpretation permits an overall picture of society at this crucial period in English history. The Smiths and Goslings esteemed cutting edge technology, patronized leading lights of industry and the arts, and geography placed them front-and-center in a London rife with unrest. For them, the Regency period brought years of tribulation, scandal, and personal growth, amid a large family unit.

A brief chronology of the times and the lives of the Smiths and Goslings:

1815: Removing from their respective country estates Suttons and Roehampton Grove, the Smiths and Goslings arrive for the Season (February-May) at their London residences, No. 6 and No. 5 Portland Place, bringing the families into near-daily interaction. Emma begins master-led lessons in music, painting and drawing, and Italian language. She attends Covent Garden and Drury Lane; actors seen include Miss O’Neill and Mr. Kean. A week of riots at the House of Commons due to the Corn Bill ensues in February. Emma notes the shifting impressions and rumors surrounding Bonaparte’s escape from Elba. News of the Battle of Waterloo filters to them on June 21st. In an extended essay, she describes the arrival at Castle Ashby of newlyweds Lord and Lady Compton (who had married in Edinburgh); the Scottish bride had been a ward of writer Walter Scott. Once back at Suttons, the farming season draws attention. Family visitors replace the balls, concerts, plays, and gallery visits prevalent during their London stay. The end of the year sees an extensive round of visits – shifts from estate to estate – taking place.

1816: No sooner does the family celebrate the national Thanksgiving for Peace (January 19) then they go into mourning for Mrs. Smith’s seventy-five-year-old uncle (Mr. Gosling’s former brother-in-law) Sir Drummond Smith, baronet. Emma’s eldest brother Charles inherits his title. February sees the joint debuts of Augusta Smith and Elizabeth Gosling. The first Colebrooke enters their circle; Henry Thomas Colebrooke is the youngest son of Lady Colebrooke, the half-sister of Emma’s late maternal grandmother. These Colebrooke relatives are entangled in a series of court cases which will last decades; in the opening gambit, Mrs. Taaffe, the estranged mother of Belinda and Harriet Colebrooke, institutes a petition to regain custody. Another relation, Ann Rachel Hicks, is disinherited by uncles William and Thomas Chute (two childless brothers, successive owners of The Vyne) after eloping with an Irish baronet whom she had met in Cheltenham. On their European honeymoon, her bridegroom runs off with her maid! Mrs. Smith falls ill with erysipelas, and is laid up six months. Among doctors in attendance: Farquhar, Astley Cooper, and Baillie, which introduces concepts of contemporary medical science.

Austen_Emma

Emma Smith (1820s)

1817: A notation that “Grandpapa [Joshua Smith] was in good health at the age of 84” opens the year. Emma mentions the tumult occurring when the Prince Regent attends the House in late January. Sixteen-year-old Charles Joshua Smith returns to his studies; and eighteen-year-old Augusta is presented to the Queen at the February 20th Drawing Room. In company with Mrs. Gosling, Fanny and Augusta Smith see Kean as Othello, but they encounter riotous spectators due to the non-appearance of the actor Booth. Mrs. Gosling’s ball & supper ends a day of dancing – and makes the papers (as they always do), having attracted more than three hundred “fashionables.” In the midst of the season, Queen Charlotte is taken ill. Caroline Wiggett, adopted “niece” of the Chutes of The Vyne and of an age with Augusta Smith, seems to enjoy less of the season than any of the Smith children. The Smiths meet children of the Duke of Clarence and Mrs. Jordan. Mary Gosling tours the Brighton Pavilion (“magnificently furnished”); a new building scheme has been embarked upon. News comes in about the latest election. The Colebrooke court case heats up after the two girls, Belinda and Harriet, visited England and were barred from returning to Scotland by the Lord Chancellor. The latest attempt by Mrs. Taaffe to gain access to her two daughters is a thwarted kidnapping on a lonely stretch of heath. The estranged mother will be brought into court. Days after seeing the Queen pass through Devizes en route to Bath, news comes about the confinement – and death – of the Princess Charlotte and her child. Emma refers to her as “the much lamented Princess.”

1818: With London shrouded in fog, gossip floats around the city that Sir Richard Croft, Princess Charlotte’s accoucheur, has shot himself. “Some strange ideas” are cropping up about the Duke of Devonshire: that the 5th Duke’s son and heir was the product of his liaison with Lady Elizabeth Foster. Matrimonial shenanigans regarding the Duke of Clarence dribble through the gutter press. The “present blessed mode of Husband-hunting” is blamed for the false-report of a marriage for Lady Elizabeth Compton. Excessively-high winds play havoc with London houses – two deaths resulting. Emma and a large family party visit ships about to embark on a voyage to North America and the North Pole. They are escorted by Lieutenant William Edward Parry, the explorer. Spencer Smith leaves prep school to begin at Harrow, but the start of the term is put off on account of Dr. Butler’s marriage. Schoolboy rebellion at Winchester College ends in the expulsion of Caroline Wiggett’s brother. When news of the death of Queen Charlotte reaches the populace, Emma and the Goslings overnight in Windsor to witness her funeral procession.

1819: The Chigwell Ball becomes the first public ball Emma ever attends. Bennett Gosling has taken rooms at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in order to finish his law studies. Reports surface of Grandpapa’s deteriorating health. Joshua Smith, long-standing Member of Parliament for Devizes, dies at Stoke Park on 20 March. Miss Ramsay’s illness prompts a governess search. The Smiths see “the Charity Children at St Paul’s” – 1500 people in the church and 7000 charity children. Charles returns from Cambridge; he dines at the Catch Club. He and Bennett Gosling attend a fancy ball at Almacks. After eighteen years in service to the Smiths, Kitty Hunt, a nursery maid, marries the cook/housekeeper’s nephew John Marshall, a former prisoner of war in France. Parliament is opened by the Prince Regent, with Lord Compton attending. Rumors circulate about the King’s death, “but without foundation.” The Chutes dine and sleep at Stratfield Saye, the Duke of Wellington’s. On the last day of the year, Emma composes a tender essay on her friendship with the late Miss Ramsay, “a friend from my youth” when the year began but come the end of the year, “I am bereft of her.” Warm feelings for her mother, Mrs. Smith – reflecting on God, death, acceptance, and reflection – ends the entry.

prince of wales

Prince of Wales, later George IV

1820: Suttons’ upper servants attend a ball at the Talbot, though snow the next day prevents many from attending church. News of the death of the Duke of Kent is followed by far graver news: the death of King George III. James Edward Austen commences his last term at Oxford; like his father, Edward is preparing to enter the Church. The Smiths distribute food and clothes to the parish poor. One of Emma’s Sunday scholars is dying of a consumption. On the day she reads to the girl, Emma notes the proclamation of George IV as King and the untrue reports of the new king’s death. Emma, Fanny, and Mrs. Smith visit Carlton House to “enquire after the King’s health”. Amid the flurry of drawing and music Masters and Mistresses, Emma mentions the “most horrid conspiracy,” now known as the Cato Street Conspiracy. Mrs. Smith’s youngest children are resident in Portland Place; her reaction is expressed in a letter to daughter Fanny: “horror struck”, “what wickedness!”, “all London must be in consternation.” The Smiths visit, for the last time, Earl Stoke Park, her late-father’s estate. Mrs. Smith takes leave of prior friends and “poor villagers” with whom she has interacted for more than forty years. Special attention is given to the absence of Macklin, a servant (possibly Irish Catholic) who has struck up a friendship with Mrs. Smith’s youngest sister (“Aunt Emma”), which is causing concern – and rifts – among the family. Parliament is dissolved, and Uncle Chute makes the momentous decision not to stand again; he was member for Hampshire nearly thirty years. Lord Compton loses his election. He never again stands for Parliament. With the death of Joshua Smith and the removal of Mr. Chute and Lord Compton, the era in which the Smiths and Goslings hear first-hand about government comes to an end. Emma meets John Stuart – the young man Belinda Colebrooke wishes to marry. The largest impediment is the smallness of his fortune in comparison to her own; a Chancery suit ensues, and the specter of her illegitimacy arises. Twenty-year-old Sir Charles Joshua Smith departs on a Grand Tour, accompanied by Charles Scrase Dickins; they will be gone through 1821 and go as far as Sweden and Russia. As the men cross to Calais, rumors “were afloat” that the Queen had perhaps already landed at Dover. Violence – in Portland Place! – against households “illuminating for the Queen.” No. 6 Portland Place (Smiths) was illuminated, but their windows were luckily not broken, though houses further up the street sustained damage. Tensions are running high on both sides of the Queen debate; and crossing either group can end in the same manner: A Riot.

1821: Mrs. Smith and her elder children (Augusta, Emma, Fanny, Spencer) go through London en route to Roehampton, joining a large party at the Gosling country estate. Charles has sent more gift boxes from abroad. The Goslings’ ball begins at ten, and lasts till five in the morning – with guests going “in detachments” to supper in the library. Quadrilles were the dances of choice, two nights in a row. The Smiths, with Augusta as secretary, near completion for a local book society. The current novel being read is Kenilworth, by Walter Scott. Aunt Judith Smith takes Augusta to see “the female prisoners at Newgate” who are under the direction of the influential reformer, Mrs. Elizabeth Fry. In a similar vein, Elizabeth Gosling and the Smiths view the penitents at “the Magdalen.” At Drury Lane, to hear the newest singing sensation, the Smiths share Aunt Emma’s box, which includes Miss Macklin – their former servant, as Miss Smith and Miss Macklin prepare to leave the country. The women set out for the Continent in mid-February; weeks later news comes of war being declared between the Neapolitan government and Austria. In anticipation of a future Drawing Room, the girls choose dresses. At this Drawing Room Aunt Northampton, Mrs. Smith and her two eldest daughters (Augusta and Emma) are presented to King George IV. Lady Compton’s son is christened; Mrs. Smith and Sir Walter Scott are two of the sponsors. Lord Northampton is in London to attend the House of Lords during the raising of “this Catholic question,” but the last reading gets postponed. The group from Portland Place joins a party on board the Fury for a dance given by Captain Parry. Emma estimates that between three and four hundred people were on board. The impending sale of Tring Park, property of their late uncle Sir Drummond Smith, embroils the Smiths in bringing an Act of Parliament before the House of Lords. Charles’ twenty-first birthday is announced, but he is still abroad; the tenants at Suttons have a celebration dinner nevertheless. The Gosling girls and Emma go by appointment to Westminster Abbey, to view preparations for the upcoming coronation. Then comes the thunderbolt report of Bonaparte’s death (which occurred two months previous). The Northamptons arrive from Switzerland “on purpose to attend the Coronation”— which the Smiths and Goslings also attend. Mrs. Smith records “London was in quite a bustle” and afterwards pronounces the Coronation “a most splendid spectacle.”

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Marianne’s Square Piano

May 24, 2018 at 3:00 pm (books, entertainment, history, jane austen, portraits and paintings, World of Two Teens) (, , , )

Back in 2010, I wrote on film adaptations of Sense and Sensibility, specifically asking (and noting) how various films treated Marianne Dashwood’s pianoforte. It has always bothered me that I scoffed at the idea of the piano being moved from Norland Park (the Dashwood estate now in the hands of their half-brother) to Barton Cottage by water. How could something so delicate (in my mind) be subjected to (perhaps!) a watery grave?

A new-to-me book, Mr. Langshaw’s Square Piano, by Madeline Goold, brings home just how ingeniously-constructed these early pianos were. She purchased at auction an 1807 Broadwood “box” piano. This probably was the type of pianoforte the Goslings sisters first learned to play. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that this Beechey portrait (below), identified as the Coventry Sisters, is VERY like the description of the Beechey portrait (still “missing”) of Elizabeth and Mary Gosling.

(You should also read the post, “Elations and Disappointments“…)

Early Music

(the periodical “Early Music” on JSTOR)

The piano, though, is what we want to pay attention to in this portrait. And that brings me back to Goold’s pianoforte. When she first found it – in “complete” condition (unlike one that was a hollow shell, latterly used for chickens!) – its legs were laying beside the keyboard’s “box. I certainly NEVER thought, when contemplating the removal of Marianne Dashwood’s piano, about disassembling it to the point of removing its legs, packing it in a deal box (a “box” within a box, if you will), thereby making it not only portable, but highly stable. Can’t tip over if it isn’t standing upon its legs, can it?

Goold’s book (which isn’t new – published in 2009) highlights the fascinating history of her auction purchase, and how she put together that history. I, too, have wished for a bit more of the backstory (even as an appendix) concerning the two-year restoration her Broadwood No. 10651 incurred. Goold’s story of the almost-accidental discovery of the pianoforte, in the early chapters, really spoke to me; so many of us would have loved to have made a similar discovery.

(I, alas, do not play…)

In March, 2017, I attended an Austen symposium at SUNY Plattsburgh, a Bicentenary Celebration of Art, Music, Austen. This was a wonderful gathering. Small and intimate, presenters made up a good deal of the audience. A FABULOUS mini-concert by mezzo Meagan Martin (with pianist Douglas Sumi) which presented her commissioned piece, “Marianne Dashwood: Songs of Love and Misery”. The weekend ended with an optional tour through Plattsburgh’s Kent-Delord House – and there, against the wall in one room, was their box (or square) piano. Alas! the vagaries of too many winters & summers had been quite unkind to it. Our docent pronounced it unplayable. Which was not to be the case with Goold’s auction find!

A sad fate for so many; a happy fate for too few – such as the Broadwood No. 10651.

The book includes information on the Broadwood business (the glimpse into their sales books is highly interesting), as well as the titular “Mr. Langshaw,” a piano teacher in the north of England who helped supply pianos to his students.

* * *

UPDATE: The blog Prinny’s Taylor posted in 2011 the “Adventures of a Pianoforte” which discusses (with pictures!) a restored 1809 Broadwood GRAND piano affiliated with author Charles Bazalgette’s ancestor, Louis Bazalgette. A fascinating use of the old ledgers of the Broadwood business. The Bazalgettes were especially active in having their piano moved and tuned. I must admit that I never _thought_ about WHO was tuning the pianos in the Smith and Gosling family. They make mention only a couple of times; but I’ve never thought about following such a lead – and wouldn’t have without Charles’ post.

 

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Touching Mrs. Dalloway

May 15, 2018 at 9:23 am (books, history, jane austen, london's landscape) (, , , )

Join the London Evening Standard in a “Behind the Scenes” look at the British Library. Yes, this is where you can see Jane Austen’s writing desk (on permanent loan).

NPG 3630; Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen

In the midst of the article comes the question: Why they let us touch “Mrs. Dalloway” (Woolf’s manuscript) without gloves?

I hate to say, but Have you ever LOOKED at the gloves typically handed out to handle materials? Rather disgustingly DIRTY! And, big. (I have neither small nor large hands).

Clean, dry hands is key.

In the article, not only is “Mrs. Dalloway” discussed, but also the “scary literary dungeons” – those areas DEEP in the bowels (six stories below!) of the facility – where manuscripts are kept in “special chambers filled with nitrogen, carbon dioxide and argon.”

A rotating exhibition of “treasures” from the vault gives even frequent visitors to the British Library something *new* to see.

[I confess, I cannot see where there is a video, of the curators; I only see “today’s headlines and highlights”, but perhaps a different browser would help]

“Experience a sense of history,” says one curator; and that indeed is a well-expressed summation. To touch, to read, to digest the information culled from a manuscript (like the letters, diaries, and drawings I work from) is “to experience” in the highest sense of the phrase.

Click on Jane’s eyes to Look Behind the Scenes. And, if you’re heading to London (or lucky enough to BE in London), check out the Standard’s “London’s prettiest and most Instagrammable BOOKSHOPS” article for some “treasures” you can bring home.

(I think my favorite to seek out next time is the Dutch barge bookshop, Word on the Watermoored on Regent’s Canal.)

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Morgan Library: Gainsborough

May 11, 2018 at 10:32 pm (entertainment, history, portraits and paintings) (, , )

Gainsborough_Morgan

In my email today was notice that The Morgan Library in New York City has opened their exhibit: Thomas Gainsborough: Experiments in Drawing, which runs until August 19, 2018.

(click the photo for more information from The Morgan about their exhibition)

More than twenty works “reveal the artist’s technical innovations, his mastery of materials, and his development of a new and original mode of drawing.”

Also planned are Lunchtime Lectures, such as this one coming up on May 16th:

GAINSBOROUGH EXPERIMENTS: CORK, BROCCOLI, MILK, AND DRAWING THE LANDSCAPE

This lecture is a ticketed event ($15, but free for Morgan Library Members and student with valid ID); available online. For times and access information, see their website.

The Gainsborough exhibit has an exhibition catalogue, too! An 84-page paperback, for $20.

 

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Putting a Face to a Name

May 2, 2018 at 2:13 pm (diaries, estates, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , )

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to *share* a *find* with Two Teens in the Time of Austen readers! With the amount of material I’ve unearthed over the past ten years, although bits and pieces turn up, a lot of my time lately is taken up with processing what I have. Photography of archival material means that I’ve a backlog of items awaiting transcription.

So a wonderful surprise to find a photograph of someone who plays a small role in the Smith & Gosling history.

Emma’s brother Sir Charles Joshua Smith had two wives. My second diarist (the other being Emma herself) is Mary Gosling, the second Lady Smith. Charles’ first wife (she died in childbirth) was Belinda Colebrooke. She and her younger sister Harriet Colebrooke were the focus of an intense Chancery battle – at one point it even came to blows, at gun-point, on the windswept heath as the sisters approached London in a carriage overtaken by their mother and two hired thugs.

Such actions gave the family pain and heartache, and (of course) made the papers – which is how the likes of historians can learn about so much that took place two hundred years ago.

It is rather a surprised, despite the wealth of the Colebrooke girls, that they were so accepted by “Society”. The crux of the Chancery case concerned which “side of the blanket” they were born on. Thus the odd ages that some materials list for the girls (rounded down to make them younger, and indisputably born after their parents’ marriage). The court case actually pitted family against family (as was so often the case – see for instance Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Dickens’ Bleak House): Belinda’s paternal uncles were on two different sides. Their father, George Colebrooke – son of Sir George and Lady Colebrooke (the half sister of the Smith’s maternal grandmother) – had died months before his father (both in 1809). The baronetcy went to a younger brother, therefore. Legitimate heirs, though, could inherit Mr. George Colebrooke’s fortune; and their mother could claim her share while her children were under-age.

The case went on, in one form or another, for decades. (Even after Charles’ death, in 1830.)

Harriet Colebrooke died in January 1822, after a lengthy illness (heart disease; perhaps consumption). She hadn’t even reached her twentieth birthday. Belinda was inconsolable; their uncle, Henry Colebrooke – who had been overseas, wasn’t even aware of Harriet’s death. He first heard when he landed back in Britain.

A few sentences in a few letters fleshes out Harriet’s life. At one point, she seems to have been attracted to Charles Smith! He seems to have been uninterested. Perhaps he already held out hopes for attracting Belinda – though in the period before her sister’s death, Belinda was already engaged, to a young man of whom the family did not approve. There was more fodder for the courts!

WSumner

William Holme Sumner

It seems, however, that Harriet did have a young man wanting to marry her. A “deeply hidden” sentence in a letter made me take a look at ALL the occurrences (noted in Emma’s meticulously-kept early diaries) of visits by a certain young man named William Sumner.

A Most Frustrating Letter! The important passage, written in light red ink, is crossed against a dark black ink. AND: the paper bleeds through from the other side, giving three handwritings to choose between: strokes of black ink, the shadow of the backside, and the scrawl in red.

IF I read the passage correctly, the sticking point may have been the young man himself: Charles intimates that the “W. Sumner” needed “to make up his mind.” This in a letter, written during Charles’ grand tour, in 1820. William would have been about 22-years-old; Harriet only 16 or 17. Whether Harriet’s illness or the Sumner-heel-dragging intervened, the marriage never took place.

The Sumners – who had purchased (c1770) the estate HATCHLANDS from the widowed Frances Boscawen – were known to Emma’s family. The father, George Sumner, a Member of Parliament, turns up in Smith family letters, and even earlier in diaries of Mrs. Smith and her sister Mrs. Chute. So it was with a bit of _pleasure_ to realize the connection that was developing between the Colebrooke-Sumner children. As more items come to light, I hope to uncover more of their story.

But it’s the photograph of William Sumner (above) that I wanted to mention in this blog post.  Being photography, William would be at least forty years older than the young man who pursued Harriet Colebrooke during the waning years of the Regency.

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