Help Wanted: Pocket Diaries of Fanny Smith (Mrs. Richard Seymour)

April 19, 2019 at 11:48 am (diaries, Help Wanted, history, research) (, , , )


I was looking last night at the last pages of the diaries of Emma Austen’s brother-in-law, Richard Seymour. Although he died years later, his last entry was made in 1873 — and the rest of the notebook remained BLANK (though no notation on the microfilm image of HOW MANY blank pages remained).

So he didn’t “finish” the book…

Richard did record much, especially in the aftermath of the death of Emma’s sister (his wife) Fanny Smith (Mrs. Richard Seymour) in 1871.

Richard began keeping diaries before the 1830s; his earliest on microfilm is 1832, but the volume states “4” on the cover, which tells me that three early volumes were missing by the time the journals were filmed.

Richard’s original diaries were available to authors Arthur Tindal Hart and Edward Carpenter, when compiling their 1950s book The Nineteenth Century Country Parson; I have so far been unable to locate the original notebooks, and the archive had not had a viable address since the 1970s or 1980s (though had never given me the name of the last-known owner).

Wanting to read about Fanny’s last illness and death (1871), I picked a page a bit down the list. Looking for April, I came up with dates in May.

Oh My GOSH!

RICHARD noted READING journals kept by Fanny about each of their children (which I hadn’t even thought about her doing). THEN he noted reading the similar journal her MOTHER kept during Fanny’s own youth!

I had known about family “baby books” – one written for Drummond Smith was casually mentioned in the biography of James Edward Austen Leigh (written by daughter Mary Augusta Austen Leigh).

I’ve only ever seen the “baby book” of Maria Smith – the youngest sister; the future Lady Seymour (married to Richard’s brother Sir John Hobart Culme Seymour). The journal’s owner calls it “Maria’s Progress,” because it deals with her progression through life, from babyhood to adulthood, in disconnected, but consistent, entries, over a good twenty-years.

I was pretty _sure_, therefore, that there must once have existed one for ALL nine of the Smith of Suttons siblings. This slots a third one into line.

But even MORE interestingthrillingexasperating:

Richard notes reading Fanny’s JOURNALS for 1833 and 1834; and either he then makes a mistake or means what he writes, a journal for 1844.

And soon a comment about a trip to Clovelly in 1820 (confirmed by Emma’s diary). He also comments on a sketch by Fanny (you might recall her artwork at the Bodleian Library, Oxford), worked at Clovelly during this trip. Richard soon is IN Clovelly, standing on the spot he presumes she stood in, fifty-one years before, to make the said sketch.

I cannot discount that young Fanny (she would have been sixteen going on seventeen) was keeping a diary just for the trip, and included the sketch in such a book. But I would rather believe that, like Mamma, Emma, brother Charles, sister-in-law Mary, Aunt Chute, and even Aunt Emma (and evidently, too, ‘Aunt’, their father’s sister, Judith Smith of Stratford), that Fanny kept journals, possibly in the pre-printed variety called THE DAILY JOURNAL; Or, The Gentleman’s and Tradesman’s Complete Annual Accompt-Book.

beg13

In short, it was a surprise that Fanny kept journals – and yet not a surprise (because so many OTHERS in the family did the same thing). Potentially, the volumes stretch from at least 1820 (if not earlier; Fanny was born in 1803, so the 1810s are probable); and go until (maybe) the year of her death.

Of course the kicker: What has happened to Fanny Smith’s / Fanny Seymour’s JOURNALS?

I live in dread of seeing Richard say that he or the children got rid of them. But surely, his heart was so full of longings for his deceased wife, that he would see the VALUE in passing them on to his children. Daughters seem to have gotten such invaluable ephemerals. There were only three Seymour daughters. Some sons didn’t marry; some didn’t have children.

Ross_a Lady-closeup

BURIED treasure, Fanny’s missing journals 200 years later, that is for sure. (I include that written by Mrs. Augusta Smith recounting Fanny’s babyhood and girlhood, as well as those “baby books” covering the many Seymour children.)

Richard mentioned a few snippets from journals that he had read:

  • 1833 – Fanny’s grief over the death of her youngest brother, Drummond Smith (in Sicily, in November 1832; the family learned of his death a month later)
  • 1834 – Fanny’s engagement and marriage (at Mapledurham) to the Rev. Richard Seymour, just appointed to the living of Kinwarton in Warwickshire. NO DOUBT she mentioned the house fire the day before the wedding in October 1834! Her sister Emma did; it was Mary Gosling – i.e., their sister-in-law Lady Smith – who alerted everyone to the danger of the smoke she smelled in the night — and the butler who helped save the day.
  • 1844 – _IF_ Richard was reading Fanny’s diary for 1844 (and it wasn’t a mistake of his pen OR my vision while transcribing his thickly-written numbers), he would have been reliving the events around the birth of their son, Charles Joshua Seymour, who was born in June 1844 – but died in March of 1846.
  • 1820 – with mention of a trip to Clovelly, Fanny also wrote about taking tea with Mamma at Clovelly Court, and going sketching with her sisters Emma and Augusta. Mentions of the friend Belinda Colebrooke can also be guaranteed.

If any of these “hints” sound familiar – and _you_ have seen one (or more) of these diaries, please drop me a line!

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