Small Victory

March 1, 2021 at 2:06 pm (history, jane austen, postal history, research) (, , , , )


Over the weekend I spent some time with the Smith & Gosling letters. Nearing 4000 pages of typescript, ranging from the 1760s into the 1940s.

I have more to add – some portions of information about the VYSE family. George Howard Vyse married — after a very long courtship — Lizzy Seymour, sister to the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton and the Rev. Sir John Hobart Culme-Seymour of Northchurch and Gloucester.

Vyse’s father, Colonel Vyse, literally stood in the way of the match. An intense dislike, of the Seymour family, of Lizzy. It is heartbreaking to read that GHV (as Richard always referred to the young man as, shortening a long name into three initials) was spotted by Mamma (Mrs. Smith, Emma’s mother), wistfully looking up to the windows, hoping to spot his young lady a brief second, while on military parade as part of Queen Victoria’s Coronation!

Mixed within these letters was one I suspected did NOT belong in the year 1838. DATED “August 12” from Mapledurham (the family’s rented estate in Hertfordshire), it is missing its last page or perhaps pages. These are small sheets of paper, and typically there were up to 8 pages (2 sheets folded in half; each creating 4 pages) of text. As well, these small sheets probably had utilized an envelope — and the end and signature could have ended up inside the envelope. I’ve come across one or two envelopes at this archive, hermetically sealed between two sheets of mylar, that were not pulled open before being sealed inside, yet the dark writing clearly showed thru the paper! Groan…

The letter – half letter – had ended up in a folder marked “Unidentified”. That folder was very *full* when I saw it in summer 2015. Did I miss a second sheet, or a single sheet? Are there envelopes, addressed to Fanny (Smith) Seymour in Kinwarton that I never photographed? (Alas, a couple of them!)

The letter in question is unmistakably written by youngest sister Maria Smith. She has such scrawling penmanship, with a very distinctive “W”. Also, as Mamma’s youngest, she was the last in the family ‘nest’ once all her siblings had married (or died).

That it was written from Mapledurham tells me the letter could not date before October 1834, when they moved into the house (so, summer of 1835, at earliest). That Mamma was alive, tells me it could be no later than Summer 1844. Maria sounds unmarried (ie, still with Mamma), so that backed it into 1843 (and, therefore, summer of 1842 at latest).

Although a full-run of Mamma’s diaries does not exist, several for the late 1830s and early 1840s DO exist. Plus I have other letters. Several years were already removed from contention: Mamma and Maria were elsewhere than Mapledurham.

There were two clues within the content: Their visit to Chobham – home of sister Eliza and her husband Denis Le Marchant – sounded too much like Maria describing what NO ONE among the siblings had yet seen. I had to find a date for their move.

The other was Maria saying that Arthur Currie had purchased a horse (heavily contributed to by Mamma) for Maria’s use. Not the EASIEST to find, someone commenting again on a new horse. Maria asked her sister Fanny what name should the horse be given – so, unlike “Jack Daw” or “Tom Tit“, I knew of no name to search for.

I had already searched Mamma’s diaries – but went back to 1840 again. And THERE found a comment about CHOBHAM! It became unmistakable: Maria and Mamma had returned home from a visit to Chobham in August 1840.

Frosting on the cake was that Maria, a couple of letters later, commented that she was pleased with her New Horse!

I call this a small victory because the letter still has no ending.

There have been times in the past, when a WIDOW torso gets a date close enough to an ORPHAN torso (yes, that’s what I call them…), that a closer look is warranted. A couple of times, the flow of the sentence AND the topic of conversation indicated that they were, indeed, one and the same letter. I remember once, spotting a DATE, buried within the handwriting, a confirmation of my hunch — after reuniting a pair.

Across archives, I have several incomplete, widow or orphan torso-only letters. I live in hope… But nothing dropped into place this time. Missing photographs? Missing envelope? Irretrievably-missing pages?

Envelopes were easy prey in the past – for their postal marks, their STAMPS, their wax seals. Hand-stamps [cancellations and handwritten marks] in the early, prestamp, era made (and make) “wrappers” and “free fronts” highly collectable. The wrappers got divided from letters, robbing the letter of its definitive dating. The free fronts – where the “direction” is cut away from the rest of the page, robs the letter of CONTENT. The reverse side’s content (if there) appearing as disparate sentences with few beginnings or endings. MADDENING to know the original – full – letter must have been jettisoned after the “surgery”. All for the saving of the “collectible” signature that allowed the piece of mail to travel for free.

Once such “collection” of autographs had SIX LINES missing from a Jane Austen letter. Its discovery (a long time after the album’s sale) caused a *STIR* in Austen circles in 2019! And it really did end up being about … LAUNDRY!

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