Orphan in search of its Widow

November 5, 2019 at 2:38 pm (diaries, Help Wanted, jane austen, research) (, , , , , )


When it comes to letters, I think in terms of “Widows” and “Orphans,” like the terminology for single lines at the bottom (“widow”) or top (“orphan”) on printed pages. Programs like Microsoft Word let you toggle “Widow/Orphan Control” (under paragraph) so as to force lines together, leaving neither one-line widow nor one-line orphan.

I apply the terms to sections of “torso” letters. A torso describes (as in musicology) an “unfinished” or partial piece. It probably comes from my reading of Alfred Einstein’s book on Mozart. So if I designate a letter as an “Orphan Torso” then I know it’s a letter with no beginning. Of course, that means that a “Widow Torso” is missing its ending.

There have been times when a sheet has neither its beginning nor its end; those are usually attached (by an archive) to a letter where the logic of thought just isn’t present – which tells me the “torso” is attached to an incorrect letter. I recently received images of a letter which actually had been encased in mylar with two sheets front to back! Again, the flow of the letter (or lack thereof) told its tale, although I never would have guessed that multiple sheets had been encased together.

Of course, I DO wonder, when a letter isn’t complete, where the REST of it might be….

I recently purchased a letter, purportedly an “entire” letter, but when asked, the seller said it was missing a page of text. The more I look at the letters of Miss Emma Smith (“Aunt Emma”), whether writing from home (Erlestoke Park, Wiltshire) or while at one of her sisters’ homes, the more I am convinced that this letter is missing four pages (a sheet folded in half), and mine represents the “Orphan Torso” – the fifth page’s text, and the envelope on the rear.

A GREAT LOSS not to have the entire letter. Thus this blog post.

Aunt Emma used a sheet (folded) and a half-a-sheet (torn down the middle) a couple of times, in letters at the Hampshire Record Office. I also own a letter, written by Mrs. Smith (Sarah Smith née Gilbert; Mrs. Joshua Smith), in which a second sheet was used, with a few lines on page 5; the direction written on page 6. For their recipients, it did not matter that an extra (half-) sheet was used. The cost of postage was the same.

These letters were franked — meaning, the letters did not have to be paid for by the recipient; they were mailed free of charge. The interesting thing about Aunt Emma’s letter is that it was franked, not by her father Joshua Smith, but by her brother-in-law William Chute.

Epping Essex env
a franked letter, 1799 (click image to enlarge)

The envelope is directed, in William Chute’s hand:

Basingstoke September thirty 1799

Mrs. C. Smith
            Suttons
W.free          Epping
Chute                   Essex

Sure enough, Eliza Chute‘s diary mentions her sister Emma’s visit! As well, there had been a visit by Mrs. Charles Smith and her infant daughter Augusta (born in February 1799, and named after her mother).

The remaining page begins mid-sentence:

Epping Essex ltrclick to enlarge

The text is:

[. . . so-and-so was to] have shewn us the way, but he changed his mind, and we did just as well without him; I fear when Mr. Chute comes, he will wish us to go out with the Hounds till they find the Fox, and I have not the least Inclination for it, I shall certainly try to get off —  Yesterday we had rain all the day; and the same till just now two oC.; the men got wet going to Church, dreadful weather for the Country, for the Corn must now be injured. —
Thanks for your enquiries after me, my side is quite well, and none of the party seem to make any complaints, Miss Meen leaves us on Tuesday; if she can she intends you a visit at Suttons.
Best love attend you from all here, and particularly from your

Ever Affectionate Sister
Emma Smith

A most tantalizing snippet! I am unsure who “he” might have been, or where the ladies rode. Emma and Lady Frances Compton (Lord Northampton’s sister) often rode out together. Eliza Chute’s diary is SILENT about Saturday, nor does she mention the horrible weather (unusual for her).

Emma herself had sustained an injury, having had a riding accident in Bath early in September, when an inattentive coachman’s horse bumped against Emma’s horse. Sarah Smith was quite certain that her daughter Emma’s life had been saved by Lady Frances – who diverted the coach horse so that the coach’s wheels missed running over the prostrate Emma. Emma was also lucky to have come off her horse (she would have been riding side saddle) after the horse went down; Mrs. Smith presumes that falling from the saddle onto pavement would have been disastrous.

That no one else had health issues is always good news, especially for poor Sarah Smith or Mrs. Norman.

Very interesting that Miss Meen’s plans were mentioned – Eliza Chute wrote down her arrival, but not her departure from The Vine. I wonder if she managed to get to Suttons for a visit? Miss Margaret Meen was a Botanical artist; her work can be found at The Royal Horticultural Society, London, in “company” with the sisters Maria, Eliza, Augusta, and Emma Smith – those whom I refer to as “the Smith sisters of Stoke Park” (for Augusta – Mrs. Charles Smith – had daughters of those same names!) I have written about Margaret Meen in the article entitled “Margaret Meen: A Life in Four Letters“.

{NB: “Miss Meen” appeared in the July/August 2014 issue No. 70 of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine as “Flowering in Four Letters”. The link, above, is the original article submitted to JARW. To purchase the magazine, please go to BACK ISSUES on the JARW website}

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Smith, with baby Augusta, had arrived at The Vine (The Vyne) with Sarah and Joshua Smith, Emma and Mrs. Norman on Monday, November 23rd. The three gentlemen – Mr. Chute, Mr. Smith, Mr. C. Smith went up to London the next day “to attend Parliament.” Mamma Smith and Augusta departed for home on Thursday. Home being “Suttons” in the county of Essex.

Eliza Chute mentions the rides that Emma and Lady Frances took – but says little about what everyone was doing over the next several days. Her SATURDAY is left BLANK! Emma was obviously writing ON Sunday (she mentions the rain ceasing “just now”), and would have gone to church at Sherborne St. John, where the man who regularly “did the duty” was Jane Austen’s brother the Rev. James Austen. Emma then waited till Monday, after William Chute’s late Sunday arrival (he was less adverse to travel on the Sabbath than his wife), to have the letter franked. Part of the action of “franking” was to write the PLACE and DATE across the top.

What news might Emma have imparted to her sister?? IF YOU KNOW, because you’ve seen the beginning half of this letter, please let me know.

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