Augusta in Italy

August 30, 2020 at 12:39 pm (books, diaries, europe, news, people, postal history, research) (, , , , , , )


Two years ago I wrote a short “article” for a new-to-the-market magazine. Of course the article had to be shorter rather than longer (I forget the word count; 2000 words?). And magazine articles don’t normally have notes and sources.

The magazine debuted without my article…

So what to _do_ with something that is a viable story – the 1822-1823 trip to Italy by Mrs. Smith and her eldest children, Augusta, Charles, Emma, Fanny and Eliza?

Lady Compton, in Italy

It took a while, and was actually posted on my Academia.edu account pretty much as it went to the editor. Now, however, it’s more fleshed out, two small errors have been corrected, and it contains some notes on sources. (“Private” collections I’m keeping to myself for the present.)

The main source is a group of 13 letters at the Archivio di Stato di Roma. Twelve letters are written (some jointly) by Mrs. Smith and Augusta Smith (her twenty-something daughter) to Don Filippo Lante.

Emma joins in at least once, adding a postscript, after the family has moved on from their lengthy stay in Rome and are headed northward into Austria, homeward to England. The six Smiths never enter Italy again. Charles died in January 1831. Augusta died in July 1836. Other travels to the Continent took the family to Germanic destinations — following Augusta’s edict that she thought the English had more in common with the Germans than the Italians!

Oh, dear…

Perhaps, though, part of that rancor arose from the seeming “neglect” from persons they thought of as firm and fast friends – be they young male correspondents, like Don Filippo.

Emma Smith (Emma Austen)

I have come across one letter and therefore know of a correspondence kept up with an young woman from Ancona. Augusta seemingly sent her a silhouette – such a ‘fragile’ and ‘ephemeral’ item! Regency Silhouettes are TINY, only a few inches in height. Emma’s (above) on the average computer screen is about the same size in “real life.” Silhouettes are easily misplaced or destroyed. It’s doubtful this relic of their friendship exists.

What also does not (seemingly) exist is their correspondence. Only the one letter…

I’ve not (yet?) come across too many letters from Italians, in general. One that I have located is more business-like and from a man who gave them lessons in Italian when the family was in London.

Lost, too, are any letters sent to the family by Don Filippo. Which is why the existence of the few they sent him was a true *find*.

The archive underwent restoration about the time I dilly-dallied about contacting an Archive in ROME. It was a wait, therefore; and even the purchase of copies didn’t go exactly smoothly from my mishandling of payment (do NOT get lazy and use Western Union online — the charges imposed by THAT action nearly cost as much as the purchase of the images! Even the credit card imposed fees – for a CASH advance.)

And it was TOUGH dealing with a slight cropping (around the edges) of images. How to complain when I can’t get my point across in their language? (and it wasn’t just ONE image…)

With hand-written letters, the transcription is difficult enough when written in ENGLISH. But, at least then I can guess, from the meaning of the sentence, at a cut-off word. (NOT every time. Try fill in the blank: “He is such a ________.” Doesn’t work, does it.) In a foreign (to me) language, I transcribe what I SEE not what the sentence says.

Mrs. Smith wrote to Don Filippo in French (my study of which goes back to SCHOOL DAYS – long ago, indeed; and yes, I don’t live far from the border with Quebec… Canada’s French-speaking province). Augusta wrote mainly in French, but she later samples her Italian.

 

I’ve been told that Augusta’s grasp of the Italian language was QUITE good!

Of course, we are dealing with native English-speakers, writing two hundred years ago languages they learned MORE than two hundred years ago (Mamma’s earliest letters in French are from the 1790s, before her marriage!)

So, think of the tough time I have had:

  • images of letters (not original letters); though DECENT digital copies (not xerox)
  • handwritten – sometimes “crossed”
  • written in foreign languages by people who learned the languages (not native speakers)
  • transcribed by someone who is (1) not a native French or Italian speaker; (2) who learned as a school girl (French) or through listening to OPERA (Italian)
  • and the letters are TWO HUNDRED years old, showing all the vagaries of spelling, “accents” in French (often non-existent, or backwards), and archaic sentence structure.

IN SHORT, a difficult task – but made wholly WORTHWHILE by the amount of information for a period during which little exists beyond letters. Emma’s 1822 and 1823 diaries are half-complete. In 1822, she leaves people on the shores of the Channel. In 1823, she picks up after their return to London’s shores. Augusta intimated that she kept a travel journal (Emma may have done the same), but I’ve so far found nothing. Even Fanny, whose ENTIRE set of diaries remains unlocated cannot be a ‘source’ for information about the trip.

(Richard Seymour, Fanny’s widower, comments in his diary about reading her diaries, after Fanny’s death. That is my only clue that she KEPT diaries! Even Richard’s diaries have gone missing, although the Warwickshire Record Office has a microfilm copy of them, from the 1980s, if I remember correctly.)

I therefore invite Readers to do your own reading about this fabulous trip taken by the Smiths in 1822-1823. The focus here is on Rome and their friendship with Don Filippo Lante – and his curious reticence to stay in touch.

I’ve long thought of the article as “Augusta in Italy” – she was my focus, as was this segment of their year-long trip. But the actual article is called, “Forget me not: Sealing Friendships from Italy, 1823-1827.”

I touch on their Italian leg of the journey, because of the musical richness of their activities in places like Milan and Naples, in my new book chapter “Prima la musica: Gentry Daughters at Play – Town, Country, and Continent, 1815-1825,” to appear in the book Women and Music in Georgian Britain. The chapter was just handed over to the editors (Mimi Hart and Linda Zionkowski) at the beginning of August (2020), so you’ve a bit of a wait for the actual book! But that chapter was the impetus for *finally* tackling the re-write.

Back to “Augusta in Italy” and its true title. There are MANY lovely wax seals on letters in the collections I have seen. (That topic in itself would make a great blog post!) But the “forget-me-not” – the little flower – is certainly a recurrent theme in the “impression” of seals from the period.

wax seal, “Augusta”

This is NOT a forget-me-not of course. But it is a favorite seal – and a fine photo. The 19th century letters are SMALL (3 inches by 5 inches, many of them; like an index card in the U.S.); the seals smaller. My camera would have problems focusing on BLACK seals, from the “density” of the wax’s color AND the effort to get CLOSE to something small. So the above IS an image I’m proud of having obtained.

And the article’s title mentions the one thing the Smiths were intent on doing: Sealing friendships with their Italian acquaintances. With Don Filippo they were only marginally successful – but I’ll leave you to read the article (7 pages; PDF) to learn WHAT actions of his the Smith family most objected to, which nearly cut the correspondence.

Special thanks to Clemente Fedele – his initial interest in a short postal history article I wrote for Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine brought about this article in the first place. He also helped in SO MANY WAYS while I was bumbling along anxiously trying to obtain copies of the baker’s dozen (the 13 letters include one from Lady Compton) from a repository so “foreign” and LARGE as Rome’s Archivio di Stato di Roma. Grazie tante!

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