New Website for Mary Hardy Diaries

February 28, 2019 at 9:24 am (books, diaries, history, news) (, , , , )

An email from Margaret Bird, who is in the midst of finishing the Companion volumes to her 4-volume edition of Mary Hardy Diaries, 1773-1809 [Burnham Press, UK], announced a new website has launched!

mary-hardyvol. 1 of Mary Hardy’s diaries

You can “preview” the four companion volumes Mary Hardy and her World, 1773-1809:

  • volume 1 A Working Family “will appeal to everyone interested in the home lives of the farming and commercial middle class in the eighteenth century.”
  • volume 2 Barley, Beer and the Working Year “analyses the way all the aspects of a family business hinged on one another. It goes to the heart of the industry in which the Hardys were engaged: farming, malting, brewing, sales to public houses, and the neglected subject of distribution.”
  • volume 3 Spiritual and Social Forces “chronicles and analyses a series of exciting developments in religion in an age often regarded as spiritually somnolent… Religion was increasingly no longer ‘the cement of society’…. Fractures were opening up, fast.”
  • volume 4 Under Sail and Under Arms “It is unusual to read in a woman’s diary allusions to such subjects as building a navigation (a canalized river), and to trade on the rivers and at sea. This volume also enters the world of politics…. Mary Hardy shows her absorption in the electoral process as a bystander.”
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Portraits: Jane Austen & Gilbert White

February 23, 2019 at 4:49 pm (history, jane austen, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , )

An old (May 2017) article on Smithsonian.com by Brigit Katz assesses the “Six Portraits” that were on display during the 200th anniversary year (1817-2017) commemorating Jane Austen’s death. It asks the question, Was Austen demure, sardonic or glamorous? (based on no one portrait looking like any other in the group) while acknowledging that actually the “Six Portraits Deepen the Mystery of Jane Austen.”

NPG 3630; Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen

Without going into the good / bad points of individual portraits,* I will outline the portraits that were displayed:

(*I briefly commented on “the wedding ring” image ten years ago; it continues in heavy usage. I did touch on several portraits, though, in 2013)

  • The pencil and watercolor sketch of Jane by her sister Cassandra Austen (circa 1810) [National Portrait Gallery]
  • the hollow cut silhouette by an unknown artist from circa 1810- 15 [National Portrait Gallery], “L’aimable Jane
  • watercolor of Austen in blue dress, bonnet [rear view], also by Cassandra Austen, circa 1804
  • the 1869 James Andrews watercolor portrait [had been up for auction in 2013] and the frontispiece of her nephew’s biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen, published in 1870, based on the Andrews watercolor
  • portrait said to represent Jane Austen, in album belonging to James Stanier Clarke, librarian to the Prince Regent
  • the ‘Byrne’ portrait

No clue as to why the ‘Byrne’ but not the ‘Rice’ portrait.

The lack of portraits – though not the lack of ‘contenders’ – depicting Jane Austen echoes the story of Gilbert White of Selborne, another late-18th century Hampshire resident.

A riveting 1987 article by J.E. Chatfield actually “summarises verbal descriptions of the Selborne naturalist, the Reverend Gilbert White (1720-1793) by his contemporaries and discusses the background to each of the illustrations which have been suggested as possible likenesses of White.” After citing a group of portraits comes the notice (similar to what Jane Austen enthusiasts might typically read): “The only proven authentic likenesses of Gilbert White are two small pen and ink sketches drawn inside his copy of Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Iliad now in the British Library.”

It was the growing fame of his book The Natural History of Selborne that (naturally) made “further information on [White’s] life and personality” of interest to its readers.

Under Descriptions of White: “There are relatively few recollections of him from members of his own family, in spite of the vast numbers of nephews and nieces which Gilbert White refers to in his journals.” Also mentioned, that at the time of centenary editions of the National History of Selborne (originally published in 1789) “there was no suggestion or knowledge of any portraits or sketch of White.”

Sound familiar?

It was after the sale of The Wakes (White’s home) in 1844 to Prof. Bell, “who was working on his edition of The Natural History & Antiquities of Selborne,” that a White nephew passed on recollections. The “Reverend Francis White who remembered his uncle Gilbert well, although he was only twelve years of age when White died…., provided the information on White’s physical appearance – only 5 feet 3 inches in stature, of a spare form and remarkably upright carriage.”

Nineteenth-century editions of Selborne have included “Recollections of White by older villagers.” If only such a census had been made shortly after Austen’s lifetime! It was this kind of off-hand recollection that James Edward Austen Leigh (Jane Austen’s nephew and my diarist Emma’s husband) that Edward hoped to collate from those nieces and nephews still alive. His sources, however, proved a bit problematic. And some were quite uncooperative.

An interesting comment, from circa 1880, that could so easily be applied to Jane Austen: “‘White was thought very little of till he was dead and gone, and then he was thought a great deal of.'”

I invite you to read the Chatsfield article, look at the Austen portraits as well as Gilbert White’s, and reflect on the highly valid points made.

 

 

 

 

 

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Black Out @ Smithsonian

February 16, 2019 at 12:21 pm (books, entertainment, history, portraits and paintings) (, , , , )

There’s still time, if you act fast, to catch the closing weeks (until 10 March 2019) of BLACK OUT: SILHOUETTES NOW AND THEN, at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (Washington D.C.).

Having opened in May 2018, there has been a fair amount of press:

  • National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian: Press Release
  • Washington Post: “Before Photography the silhouette helped leave an impression” (Philip Kennicott)
  • Hyperallergic: “An Outline of over 200 Years of Silhouettes” (Claire Voon) [great photos of the installation]
  • “Five Questions” with Curator Asma Naeem
  • Quarizy: “An Enslaved Woman’s Candlelit Shadow” {Portrait of Flora] (Corinne Purtill)
  • Frieze: “Out of the Shadows: A Contrasting History Lesson in Black and White (Evan Moffitt)

Also available: the book BLACK OUT: Silhouettes Then and Now, through the museum store, which helps support the National Portrait Gallery, as well as such exhibitions.

Black Out

ONE resultant article is a fascinating look at Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant of Weybridge, Vermont! Their portrait images are from the Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, in Middlebury. [The Sheldon Museum reopens on 2 April 2019.]

Dating from c1805-1815, the engaging pair of silhouettes, “entwined in braided human hair,” lift from the shadows a story of this same-sex couple. A quote from William Cullen Bryant (Charity’s nephew), in 1841, says: “If I were permitted to draw aside the veil of private life….” The Drake-Bryant silhouettes alone have lifted that veil (see below). Being placed on display, especially in such a prominent exhibition, “allow[s] these kinds of stories to be told” (to quote the curator in Roger Caitlin’s article for Smithsonian.com).

The pair of women have also made the local Vermont news:

  • The newspaper Addison County Independent‘s story on Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant travelling down from Middlebury, Vermont to Washington D.C.
  • Seven Days picked up the story, and through that we learn of Bryant’s death in 1851; and that the Sheldon Museum also has “a wealth of archival materials,” donated by Drake’s family. These include “letters, diaries, poems and other ephemera.” Oooohhh…..

Fascinating to read that University of Victoria (BC, Canada) historian Rachel Hope Cleves, who researched the Sheldon’s collection of Drake materials “and basically made this case that these women were a lesbian couple living together.” Cleves published (in 2014) Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America.

Charity & Sylvia

The cover will whet your appetite to see the original silhouettes!! And the content, the story of Charity and Sylvia, will make you want to buy the book – which is available through the Henry Sheldon Museum as well as your usual book places.

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George Scharf’s National Portrait Gallery (1859)

February 10, 2019 at 8:33 am (history, london's landscape, places, research) (, , )

The drawings of No. 29 Great George Street, Westminster that I remembered seeing when writing about “Jane Austen’s London, 1815” illustrated this article by Catherine Karusseit, “Victorian Respectability and Gendered Domestic Space.”

In looking for them again, I find the originals at the British Museum. Karusseit clearly denotes two drawings as being interiors of No. 29. What caught my eye was this inviting window seat:

No 29 window seat

“29 Great George Street,” December 1869

You will be able to enlarge the BM drawings just enough to decipher the descriptions (one CLEARLY reads  “the meeting room of the Society of Antiquaries at Somerset House”). I am especially loving the staircase view, which is clearly identified ID’ed as original National Portrait Gallery, at 29 Great George Street. These are drawings by George Scharf. On the staircase drawing, he has noted WHEN (day and what hours) he sketched.

These Scharf images are an *absolute THRILL* to see, especially the staircase view, which I hadn’t seen before.

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Jane Austen’s London, 1815

February 7, 2019 at 2:51 pm (history, jane austen, london's landscape, research) (, , , )

During the Christmas holiday, author Charlotte Frost gave me a two-page spread from Art Quarterly that announced a FABULOUS purchase from Sotheby’s by the Museum of London. It is “an epic 20 feet wide panorama of London, painted around 1815 by the French artist Pierre Prévost (1764-1823).”

The Museum is thrilled with their purchase, partly because it shows the Houses of Parliament pre-1834 (the year the buildings burned down; to be replaced by the Houses of Parliament we see today). Partly, also, because only one other Prévost panorama is known to exist – it’s of Constantinople, and is now housed in the Louvre.

So, the Westminster Panorama is HUGE, RARE, and a piece of HISTORY! An exciting part of the story is how the UK ART FUND came together with the Museum to help fund (with the aid of some individual donors) the bid.

  • The Guardian‘s story on the purchase, “Museum snaps up panorama of lost London landscape”
  • Wikipedia has put up a photograph and background information
  • Sotheby’s catalogue of the Prévost Panorama of London

“The illusion of depth, height and distance is testament to Prévost’s ability to work on such a large scale, and this complete, circular image, joined at Westminster Abbey, is one of the finest drawings of its type to have survived.” Mary Gosling (also known as Lady Smith, once she married, in 1826) and Emma Smith (also known as Emma Austen, after her marriage in 1828; and Emma Austen Leigh after 1835) – my Two Teens in the Time of Austen – have written about viewing various “Panoramas”. So it is a thrill to see what has survived from that period. This is a watercolor, a preliminary study for the canvas that would have hung in a panoramic theater (in this case, in Paris) for viewers like Mary and Emma to experience in the round.

What caught Charlotte Frost’s eye, though, was the proximity of Great George Street – where Emma’s grandfather, Joshua Smith MP for Devizes, lived. This section of the panorama:

Westminster by Prevost

Of the street running across the picture, the left-hand side shows the opening addresses along Great George Street. Charlotte’s *hope,* for me, was that one was Smith’s address. But he was at No. 29 Great George Street – which would be a few doors further down (and therefore hidden from view).

george street

No. 29 Great George Street, in the map above, is marked XIX.

However, No. 29 obviously must NOT have differed significantly from those townhouses beside it! So to see an approximation of its exterior is a decided thrill. Some photographs exist of the interior (see Collage; also BRITISH HISTORY ONLINE). I remember coming across some drawings of No. 29 interiors, done during the years the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) existed at this address (NPG’s first ‘home’). The National Portrait Gallery opened in January 1859. I do now wonder if Emma Austen Leigh would have visited…. One of these days I’ll go through her late and later diaries, and (hopefully) find out.

The Panorama of London, a book giving an overview of the city, circa 1830, mentions the Colosseum, Regent’s Park, “one of the most extensive exhibitions in the metropolis.” Although, obviously not the same artwork as the Westminster panorama, the description of the viewing of the Colosseum panorama is worth reproducing in full:

“The building is almost circular, with a large dome, and the front towards the park is ornamented by a noble Doric portico, with a large door in the centre. On entering the edifice by this door, a staircase on the right leads to a circular saloon hung with coloured drapery. This room, which is the largest of the kind in London, occupies the whole internal space, or the basement of the building, with the exception of the staircase leading to the summit, which rises like a large column from the centre. The circular saloon is intended for the exhibition of paintings and other productions of the fine arts. The wall of the [page 306] building, above this room, represents a panoramic View of London, as seen from the galleries of St. Paul’s cathedral. The view of the picture is obtained from three galleries, approached by the staircase before mentioned – the first corresponds, in relation to the view, with the first gallery at the summit of the dome of St. Pauls; the second is like that of the upper gallery on the same edifice; and the third, from its great elevation, commands a view of the remote distance which describes the horizon in the painting. Above the last-mentioned gallery is placed the identical copper ball which for so many years occupied the summit of St. Paul’s; and above it is a fac-simile of the cross by which it was surmounted. A small flight of stairs leads from this spot to the open gallery which surrounds the top of the Colosseum, commanding a view of the Regent’s-park and subjacent country.

An amazing part comes next, in describing how may visitors ascend:

The communication with the galleries is by staircases of curious construction, built on the outer side of the central column already mentioned. This column is hollow, and within it a small circular chamber is to be caused to ascend when freighted with company, by means of machinery, with an imperceptible motion, to the first gallery. The doors of the chamber will then open, and by this novel means of being elevated, visitors may avoid the fatigue of ascending by the stairs, and then walk out into the gallery to enjoy the picture. In extent or acuracy, the panorama is one of the surprising achievements of art in this or any other country. The picture covers upwards of 40,000 square feet, or nearly an acre of canvas; the dome of the building, on which the sky is painted, is thirty feet more in diameter than the cupola of St. Paul’s; and the circumference of the horizon, from the point of view, is nearly 130 miles. The grand and distinguishing merit of this panorama is the unusual interest of picturesque effect with the most scrupulous accuracy; and, in illustration of the latter excellence, so plain are the principal streets in the view, that thousands of visitors will be able to identify their own dwellings.

To read more about the Colosseum (including entrance prices), as well as the Diorama; Burford’s Panorama, Leicester-square; the Cosmorama, Regent-street; and other entertainments, see the book The Panorama of London, amd Visitor’s Pocket Companion, by Thomas Allen (1830).

It is no wonder then, that the Museum of London “snapped up” such a treasture as this panorama of Westminter. These entertainments simply no longer exist.

An Aside:

An interesting thought occurred to me, IF the Byrne portrait could be proved as being Jane Austen the author, then JA would have walked these very streets. For one of the last items I read was that the artist was housed with a studio overlooking Westminster Abbey.

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Life Afloat: Jane Austen & the Royal Navy

February 4, 2019 at 9:55 am (history, people, places, travel) (, , , )

Just reviewed (by Laurie Kaplan) in JASNA News – the newsletter of the Jane Austen Society of North America: Jane Austen’s Transatlantic Sister: The Life and Letters of Fanny Palmer Austen.

Fanny Palmer Austen

This biography of Bermuda-born Francis FitzWilliams Palmer, Mrs. Charles Austen, relates her short, but adventurous, life (she died at the age of only 24); as well, it discusses Jane Austen’s “naval” novels (ie, Mansfield Park and Persuasion) and the second marriage of Charles Austen.

Six years after Fanny’s death, Charles married Fanny’s sister.

Author Sheila Johnson Kindred has uncovered letters and diaries that supplement the tale. It is harrowing to read Charles’ journal comments, as he continued to pine for his deceased first wife.

Now, Sheila has launched a new book website. Read about Jane Austen’s Transatlantic Sister on the site that will explore more about “Jane Austen’s Naval World”. Retailers for purchasing also listed.

A highly recommended biography.

I had a novel naval experience little more than a month ago: I visited the Victory, Admiral Nelson’s ship, at the Portsmouth Royal Navy Historic Dockyard. Reading Sheila’s book after that experience, has actually enhanced her discussions of life aboard ship for Fanny Palmer Austen.

HMS Victory

A tour – the next time you just happen to be in Portsmouth, England! – is highly recommended for anyone interested in the Royal Navy in the period of Jane Austen. For a taste, right now, see the “Things to See” section on the HMS Victory website. You can walk the Gun Deck, see “stunning views” from the Poop Deck, and (of course) see the Great Cabin and read the plaque pointing to the spot where Nelson fell in the Battle of Trafalgar. Two extra’s that enhanced the experience of “being there” are the Figureheads Exhibit (keep an eye open for Calliope, my favorite!), as well as related “Victory” exhibits downstairs. And climb the many stairs to see the fascinating history and presentation of the ripped and torn Victory Sail.

EXTRA:

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