Elizabeth Chivers: Diary of a London Tourist, 1814

October 31, 2018 at 3:55 pm (books, diaries, history, london's landscape, travel) (, , )

The Museum of London has produced a spectacular illustrated account of the London tour of Elizabeth Chivers, a resident of Bath. In 1814, twenty-eight-year-old Elizabeth and her younger sister Sarah, accompanied by their unnamed uncle (in his own carriage), left home on March 14th. Readers travel with them through such familiar places as Devizes, Marlborough, Bray, and Hounslow Heath. We halt with them at their hotel in Covent Garden. Here, with Miss Chivers, we see London in 1814 through the eyes of an untiring tourist. The Chivers sisters also were doing a bit of sleuthing, turning up places associated with several uncles (“late” as well as present) and even where “Father and Mother first became acquainted.”

custom house_london

Custom House, London

What makes the presentation extra special? The illustrations from the collection of The Museum of London, with captions that tell a bit more about what Miss Chivers saw, and whether something no longer exists. Helpful notes as well tease out the places visited or seen.

walksthroughregencylondon

To actually walk in the footsteps of such Regency visitors – you might enjoy a copy of Louise Allen’s Walks Through Regency London. Great for the armchair traveller too.

Advertisements

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Brilliant Vortex: Revealing the Regency, 1812-1821

May 31, 2018 at 3:35 pm (books, diaries, history, news, people, research, World of Two Teens) (, , , , , )

Charles Brockden Brown’s 1806 quote, “If it were possible to read the history of those who are doomed to have no historian, and to glance into domestic journals….” condenses into a single thought my entire project. Two diarists, Mary Gosling (1800-1842) and Emma Smith (1801-1876), have left a vast array of journals and letters, which have hitherto remained unused by historians except for information on Jane Austen (Emma married Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen in 1829). A large deposit of material resides at the Hampshire Record Office (Winchester, England) due to this familial relationship.

Films have made Jane Austen’s six novels beloved by a vast readership. Readers interested in English history, the Regency period, Cultural history, Women’s history, as well as Austen’s work and life are my target audience for the biography under research. The Brilliant Vortex: Revealing the Regency in Letters and Diaries of Two Teens in the Time of Austen, 1812-1821 uses the lives of these two diarists to discuss English gentry life during the Regency. The milieu of Jane Austen’s novels is but one aspect of this project.

elizabeth and darcy

Darcy & Elizabeth’s wedding

The Brilliant Vortex references the “London Season” and its influence in the lives of the future Lady Smith and Emma Austen, next-door-neighbors in a desirable London neighborhood. Based on manuscript sources, the book opens (“prelude”) with the assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval. Newly-discovered letters indicate that Emma Smith’s cousin, Lady Elizabeth Compton, resided in the Perceval household at the time. Mary Gosling’s family is introduced (“Chapter I”) amid a journey to Oxford in June 1814, during celebrations for the Allied Sovereigns following the cessation of hostiles; Emma Smith’s family is introduced (“Chapter II”) at the time of her father’s death (May 1814).

The framework provided by diaries and letters guides our exploration of an extended, well-documented landed gentry family. Not a traditional cradle-to-grave biography, the families’ tentacular reach – into politics, commerce, war, even stretched into the royal family; as well, group interests in art, literature, music, theater, travel expand the picture beyond notions of daily sameness.

Eliza-Chute-letters

Letters, written 1796, from Eliza Chute of “The Vine” (in Hampshire)

Extrapolation and in-depth interpretation permits an overall picture of society at this crucial period in English history. The Smiths and Goslings esteemed cutting edge technology, patronized leading lights of industry and the arts, and geography placed them front-and-center in a London rife with unrest. For them, the Regency period brought years of tribulation, scandal, and personal growth, amid a large family unit.

A brief chronology of the times and the lives of the Smiths and Goslings:

1815: Removing from their respective country estates Suttons and Roehampton Grove, the Smiths and Goslings arrive for the Season (February-May) at their London residences, No. 6 and No. 5 Portland Place, bringing the families into near-daily interaction. Emma begins master-led lessons in music, painting and drawing, and Italian language. She attends Covent Garden and Drury Lane; actors seen include Miss O’Neill and Mr. Kean. A week of riots at the House of Commons due to the Corn Bill ensues in February. Emma notes the shifting impressions and rumors surrounding Bonaparte’s escape from Elba. News of the Battle of Waterloo filters to them on June 21st. In an extended essay, she describes the arrival at Castle Ashby of newlyweds Lord and Lady Compton (who had married in Edinburgh); the Scottish bride had been a ward of writer Walter Scott. Once back at Suttons, the farming season draws attention. Family visitors replace the balls, concerts, plays, and gallery visits prevalent during their London stay. The end of the year sees an extensive round of visits – shifts from estate to estate – taking place.

1816: No sooner does the family celebrate the national Thanksgiving for Peace (January 19) then they go into mourning for Mrs. Smith’s seventy-five-year-old uncle (Mr. Gosling’s former brother-in-law) Sir Drummond Smith, baronet. Emma’s eldest brother Charles inherits his title. February sees the joint debuts of Augusta Smith and Elizabeth Gosling. The first Colebrooke enters their circle; Henry Thomas Colebrooke is the youngest son of Lady Colebrooke, the half-sister of Emma’s late maternal grandmother. These Colebrooke relatives are entangled in a series of court cases which will last decades; in the opening gambit, Mrs. Taaffe, the estranged mother of Belinda and Harriet Colebrooke, institutes a petition to regain custody. Another relation, Ann Rachel Hicks, is disinherited by uncles William and Thomas Chute (two childless brothers, successive owners of The Vyne) after eloping with an Irish baronet whom she had met in Cheltenham. On their European honeymoon, her bridegroom runs off with her maid! Mrs. Smith falls ill with erysipelas, and is laid up six months. Among doctors in attendance: Farquhar, Astley Cooper, and Baillie, which introduces concepts of contemporary medical science.

Austen_Emma

Emma Smith (1820s)

1817: A notation that “Grandpapa [Joshua Smith] was in good health at the age of 84” opens the year. Emma mentions the tumult occurring when the Prince Regent attends the House in late January. Sixteen-year-old Charles Joshua Smith returns to his studies; and eighteen-year-old Augusta is presented to the Queen at the February 20th Drawing Room. In company with Mrs. Gosling, Fanny and Augusta Smith see Kean as Othello, but they encounter riotous spectators due to the non-appearance of the actor Booth. Mrs. Gosling’s ball & supper ends a day of dancing – and makes the papers (as they always do), having attracted more than three hundred “fashionables.” In the midst of the season, Queen Charlotte is taken ill. Caroline Wiggett, adopted “niece” of the Chutes of The Vyne and of an age with Augusta Smith, seems to enjoy less of the season than any of the Smith children. The Smiths meet children of the Duke of Clarence and Mrs. Jordan. Mary Gosling tours the Brighton Pavilion (“magnificently furnished”); a new building scheme has been embarked upon. News comes in about the latest election. The Colebrooke court case heats up after the two girls, Belinda and Harriet, visited England and were barred from returning to Scotland by the Lord Chancellor. The latest attempt by Mrs. Taaffe to gain access to her two daughters is a thwarted kidnapping on a lonely stretch of heath. The estranged mother will be brought into court. Days after seeing the Queen pass through Devizes en route to Bath, news comes about the confinement – and death – of the Princess Charlotte and her child. Emma refers to her as “the much lamented Princess.”

1818: With London shrouded in fog, gossip floats around the city that Sir Richard Croft, Princess Charlotte’s accoucheur, has shot himself. “Some strange ideas” are cropping up about the Duke of Devonshire: that the 5th Duke’s son and heir was the product of his liaison with Lady Elizabeth Foster. Matrimonial shenanigans regarding the Duke of Clarence dribble through the gutter press. The “present blessed mode of Husband-hunting” is blamed for the false-report of a marriage for Lady Elizabeth Compton. Excessively-high winds play havoc with London houses – two deaths resulting. Emma and a large family party visit ships about to embark on a voyage to North America and the North Pole. They are escorted by Lieutenant William Edward Parry, the explorer. Spencer Smith leaves prep school to begin at Harrow, but the start of the term is put off on account of Dr. Butler’s marriage. Schoolboy rebellion at Winchester College ends in the expulsion of Caroline Wiggett’s brother. When news of the death of Queen Charlotte reaches the populace, Emma and the Goslings overnight in Windsor to witness her funeral procession.

1819: The Chigwell Ball becomes the first public ball Emma ever attends. Bennett Gosling has taken rooms at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in order to finish his law studies. Reports surface of Grandpapa’s deteriorating health. Joshua Smith, long-standing Member of Parliament for Devizes, dies at Stoke Park on 20 March. Miss Ramsay’s illness prompts a governess search. The Smiths see “the Charity Children at St Paul’s” – 1500 people in the church and 7000 charity children. Charles returns from Cambridge; he dines at the Catch Club. He and Bennett Gosling attend a fancy ball at Almacks. After eighteen years in service to the Smiths, Kitty Hunt, a nursery maid, marries the cook/housekeeper’s nephew John Marshall, a former prisoner of war in France. Parliament is opened by the Prince Regent, with Lord Compton attending. Rumors circulate about the King’s death, “but without foundation.” The Chutes dine and sleep at Stratfield Saye, the Duke of Wellington’s. On the last day of the year, Emma composes a tender essay on her friendship with the late Miss Ramsay, “a friend from my youth” when the year began but come the end of the year, “I am bereft of her.” Warm feelings for her mother, Mrs. Smith – reflecting on God, death, acceptance, and reflection – ends the entry.

prince of wales

Prince of Wales, later George IV

1820: Suttons’ upper servants attend a ball at the Talbot, though snow the next day prevents many from attending church. News of the death of the Duke of Kent is followed by far graver news: the death of King George III. James Edward Austen commences his last term at Oxford; like his father, Edward is preparing to enter the Church. The Smiths distribute food and clothes to the parish poor. One of Emma’s Sunday scholars is dying of a consumption. On the day she reads to the girl, Emma notes the proclamation of George IV as King and the untrue reports of the new king’s death. Emma, Fanny, and Mrs. Smith visit Carlton House to “enquire after the King’s health”. Amid the flurry of drawing and music Masters and Mistresses, Emma mentions the “most horrid conspiracy,” now known as the Cato Street Conspiracy. Mrs. Smith’s youngest children are resident in Portland Place; her reaction is expressed in a letter to daughter Fanny: “horror struck”, “what wickedness!”, “all London must be in consternation.” The Smiths visit, for the last time, Earl Stoke Park, her late-father’s estate. Mrs. Smith takes leave of prior friends and “poor villagers” with whom she has interacted for more than forty years. Special attention is given to the absence of Macklin, a servant (possibly Irish Catholic) who has struck up a friendship with Mrs. Smith’s youngest sister (“Aunt Emma”), which is causing concern – and rifts – among the family. Parliament is dissolved, and Uncle Chute makes the momentous decision not to stand again; he was member for Hampshire nearly thirty years. Lord Compton loses his election. He never again stands for Parliament. With the death of Joshua Smith and the removal of Mr. Chute and Lord Compton, the era in which the Smiths and Goslings hear first-hand about government comes to an end. Emma meets John Stuart – the young man Belinda Colebrooke wishes to marry. The largest impediment is the smallness of his fortune in comparison to her own; a Chancery suit ensues, and the specter of her illegitimacy arises. Twenty-year-old Sir Charles Joshua Smith departs on a Grand Tour, accompanied by Charles Scrase Dickins; they will be gone through 1821 and go as far as Sweden and Russia. As the men cross to Calais, rumors “were afloat” that the Queen had perhaps already landed at Dover. Violence – in Portland Place! – against households “illuminating for the Queen.” No. 6 Portland Place (Smiths) was illuminated, but their windows were luckily not broken, though houses further up the street sustained damage. Tensions are running high on both sides of the Queen debate; and crossing either group can end in the same manner: A Riot.

1821: Mrs. Smith and her elder children (Augusta, Emma, Fanny, Spencer) go through London en route to Roehampton, joining a large party at the Gosling country estate. Charles has sent more gift boxes from abroad. The Goslings’ ball begins at ten, and lasts till five in the morning – with guests going “in detachments” to supper in the library. Quadrilles were the dances of choice, two nights in a row. The Smiths, with Augusta as secretary, near completion for a local book society. The current novel being read is Kenilworth, by Walter Scott. Aunt Judith Smith takes Augusta to see “the female prisoners at Newgate” who are under the direction of the influential reformer, Mrs. Elizabeth Fry. In a similar vein, Elizabeth Gosling and the Smiths view the penitents at “the Magdalen.” At Drury Lane, to hear the newest singing sensation, the Smiths share Aunt Emma’s box, which includes Miss Macklin – their former servant, as Miss Smith and Miss Macklin prepare to leave the country. The women set out for the Continent in mid-February; weeks later news comes of war being declared between the Neapolitan government and Austria. In anticipation of a future Drawing Room, the girls choose dresses. At this Drawing Room Aunt Northampton, Mrs. Smith and her two eldest daughters (Augusta and Emma) are presented to King George IV. Lady Compton’s son is christened; Mrs. Smith and Sir Walter Scott are two of the sponsors. Lord Northampton is in London to attend the House of Lords during the raising of “this Catholic question,” but the last reading gets postponed. The group from Portland Place joins a party on board the Fury for a dance given by Captain Parry. Emma estimates that between three and four hundred people were on board. The impending sale of Tring Park, property of their late uncle Sir Drummond Smith, embroils the Smiths in bringing an Act of Parliament before the House of Lords. Charles’ twenty-first birthday is announced, but he is still abroad; the tenants at Suttons have a celebration dinner nevertheless. The Gosling girls and Emma go by appointment to Westminster Abbey, to view preparations for the upcoming coronation. Then comes the thunderbolt report of Bonaparte’s death (which occurred two months previous). The Northamptons arrive from Switzerland “on purpose to attend the Coronation”— which the Smiths and Goslings also attend. Mrs. Smith records “London was in quite a bustle” and afterwards pronounces the Coronation “a most splendid spectacle.”

Permalink Leave a Comment

Putting a Face to a Name

May 2, 2018 at 2:13 pm (diaries, estates, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , )

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to *share* a *find* with Two Teens in the Time of Austen readers! With the amount of material I’ve unearthed over the past ten years, although bits and pieces turn up, a lot of my time lately is taken up with processing what I have. Photography of archival material means that I’ve a backlog of items awaiting transcription.

So a wonderful surprise to find a photograph of someone who plays a small role in the Smith & Gosling history.

Emma’s brother Sir Charles Joshua Smith had two wives. My second diarist (the other being Emma herself) is Mary Gosling, the second Lady Smith. Charles’ first wife (she died in childbirth) was Belinda Colebrooke. She and her younger sister Harriet Colebrooke were the focus of an intense Chancery battle – at one point it even came to blows, at gun-point, on the windswept heath as the sisters approached London in a carriage overtaken by their mother and two hired thugs.

Such actions gave the family pain and heartache, and (of course) made the papers – which is how the likes of historians can learn about so much that took place two hundred years ago.

It is rather a surprised, despite the wealth of the Colebrooke girls, that they were so accepted by “Society”. The crux of the Chancery case concerned which “side of the blanket” they were born on. Thus the odd ages that some materials list for the girls (rounded down to make them younger, and indisputably born after their parents’ marriage). The court case actually pitted family against family (as was so often the case – see for instance Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Dickens’ Bleak House): Belinda’s paternal uncles were on two different sides. Their father, George Colebrooke – son of Sir George and Lady Colebrooke (the half sister of the Smith’s maternal grandmother) – had died months before his father (both in 1809). The baronetcy went to a younger brother, therefore. Legitimate heirs, though, could inherit Mr. George Colebrooke’s fortune; and their mother could claim her share while her children were under-age.

The case went on, in one form or another, for decades. (Even after Charles’ death, in 1830.)

Harriet Colebrooke died in January 1822, after a lengthy illness (heart disease; perhaps consumption). She hadn’t even reached her twentieth birthday. Belinda was inconsolable; their uncle, Henry Colebrooke – who had been overseas, wasn’t even aware of Harriet’s death. He first heard when he landed back in Britain.

A few sentences in a few letters fleshes out Harriet’s life. At one point, she seems to have been attracted to Charles Smith! He seems to have been uninterested. Perhaps he already held out hopes for attracting Belinda – though in the period before her sister’s death, Belinda was already engaged, to a young man of whom the family did not approve. There was more fodder for the courts!

WSumner

William Holme Sumner

It seems, however, that Harriet did have a young man wanting to marry her. A “deeply hidden” sentence in a letter made me take a look at ALL the occurrences (noted in Emma’s meticulously-kept early diaries) of visits by a certain young man named William Sumner.

A Most Frustrating Letter! The important passage, written in light red ink, is crossed against a dark black ink. AND: the paper bleeds through from the other side, giving three handwritings to choose between: strokes of black ink, the shadow of the backside, and the scrawl in red.

IF I read the passage correctly, the sticking point may have been the young man himself: Charles intimates that the “W. Sumner” needed “to make up his mind.” This in a letter, written during Charles’ grand tour, in 1820. William would have been about 22-years-old; Harriet only 16 or 17. Whether Harriet’s illness or the Sumner-heel-dragging intervened, the marriage never took place.

The Sumners – who had purchased (c1770) the estate HATCHLANDS from the widowed Frances Boscawen – were known to Emma’s family. The father, George Sumner, a Member of Parliament, turns up in Smith family letters, and even earlier in diaries of Mrs. Smith and her sister Mrs. Chute. So it was with a bit of _pleasure_ to realize the connection that was developing between the Colebrooke-Sumner children. As more items come to light, I hope to uncover more of their story.

But it’s the photograph of William Sumner (above) that I wanted to mention in this blog post.  Being photography, William would be at least forty years older than the young man who pursued Harriet Colebrooke during the waning years of the Regency.

Permalink 7 Comments

Selina, Lady Heathcote

March 18, 2018 at 12:15 pm (books, diaries, estates, history, jane austen, people) (, , , , )

A couple of weeks ago I got a used copy (and so reasonably priced that the shipping was only a few pounds less than the book) of The Diary of Selina, Lady Heathcote, January 1841-June 1849.

This is a slim hard-bound book, but it packs a pleasing wallop. It opens with a short introduction, with portraits of both Selina (née Shirley) and Sir William Heathcote.

diary.jpg

William was a boyhood friend of James Edward Austen (my diarist Emma Smith’s eventual husband); they remained life-long friends – and the Austen Leighs (the ‘Leigh’ named added after the death of Edward’s great aunt, Mrs. Leigh Perrot) and their inherited estate Scarlets DO APPEAR in Selina’s diary!

An especially wonderful photograph: Selina’s open diary! Considering how “little” text takes up a manuscript page, the physical size of the diary must be about the size of those I’ve dealt with — which is as tall and as wide as the size of my hand. But the LOCK is, in comparison, SO stout!!

It was published in 1984 by IBM, which has a Hursley connection. Hursley was the Heathcote estate, and the book has a picture of that too. So it’s pleasingly illustrated, including maps showing trips the pair took.

For me, the shock was to read of the consistent ill-health of Sir William. He was older than his young second wife. He had children by his first wife, a daughter of Lord Arden – so related to the Northamptons, Lord Arden being the elder brother of Spencer Perceval, MP. So a couple of connection with my research! I’ve even seen letters (both before and after marriage) by Helena Perceval (also known as Helena Trench) (“French” in the book is a mis-transcription), who also appears in Selina’s diary, as does her daughter Maria.

William Heathcote’s mother was Elizabeth Bigg, who with her sisters – especially Althea Bigg – were great friends to Jane Austen. Mrs. Heathcote was widowed early; Althea Bigg never married. Both appear in Selina Heathcote’s diary. It was their brother, Harris Bigg-Wither (only the sons of the family took the ‘Wither’ name in addition to Bigg), who proposed to Jane Austen – who “famous” rescinded her acceptance after much thought.

Click the photo of the book cover to be whisked away to “The History of Hursley Park,” and see what Dave Key will tell you about the potential visit by Lady Heathcote to “Stratfield Saye [home of the Duke of Wellington] to meet the Queen & Prince Albert.”

EXTRAS:

 

Permalink Leave a Comment

Understanding Old English Money

February 4, 2018 at 7:22 pm (diaries, history, research, World of Two Teens) (, , , )

12 pennies to the shilling (12d = 1s; also written as / ).

20 shillings (or 240 pence) to the pound. (20s = 1 l. and 240d = 1 l.)
To avoid confusion, I will typically use the modern pound sign online, £.

NB: A “guinea” was equal to 21 shillings (1 pound plus 1 shilling). Big ticket items (like a horse, for instance) might be quoted in “guineas.”

So if a letter cost 5d, then FOUR letters cost a shilling. If you had a “healthy” correspondence network, you might very well receive four letters in a DAY! (The recipient bore the cost.) Multiple deliveries in a week and that puts you up to 3 or 4 shillings a week. A heavier letter, or farther distance, and you pulled more coins from your purse.

The Smiths and Goslings frequently comment in their diaries about money spent.

What did a penny buy?

English Penny

Genuine English Penny from 1807

Even in the 1790s, evidently not much! So many items are in shillings and pence. “Pearl Needles” cost Mrs. Chute 6d. So did “a Song.” A pit-stop for the horses in the midst of a trip, for “Hay & water,” cost 6d. As did “a Glass for my watch: 6d.”

In the 1790s, Mrs. Chute’s typical generosity to a “Poor Man” or a “Poor Woman” was 2s; every once in a while it dips to a low of 6d. And sometimes hit the high of 2/6 (“2 and 6” or 2s 6d), for instance to a “Poor Sailor.” She was the most generous, in 1794, to a “poor French woman,” giving her 5 shillings.

Wages, sometimes, can be found among the costs.

The most telling:

In 1794, Mrs. Chute of The Vine notes the wages of a “Kitchenmaid” named Sally (no last name given) – “one’s year’s wages to Xmas” as 3£ 3s. She also notes “one year’s wages” to the unnamed Cook (to Michaelmas), 9£ 9s; to “Mrs. Bligh” (housekeeper; also to Christmas), 16£ 16s.

To an unnamed “kitchen girl” for an unnamed period of time: 2/6. To “the housemaid” in Albemarle Street (i.e., when on a visit), 10/6.

What goods did shillings purchase?

In Emma’s youth (1816), the Church Sacrament is typically 2/6. In the 1790s, Mrs. Chute (her aunt) would note that a “seat at church” cost 1 shilling. For the Sacrament, she gave 5s.

To put prices into perspective, some typical expenses (all from 1794):

To a letter: 8d

To Washing: 1s

To Letters: 1s

To seeing “Lord Abercorn’s house” 2s 6d

To Seeds: 3s

To 12 Tuberose roots: 3s

To a book: 3s

To a play: 6s

To “Simpson, hair dresser”: 6s

To a Week’s Washing: 6s 5d

To the opera: 12s

To “paper and pens”: 14s

A doctor’s visit: 1£ 1s; but another visit cost slightly less, 10s 6d

Five yards Muslin: 1£ 5s 0d

 

See Project Britain: http://projectbritain.com/moneyold.htm for slang and some history of English coins.

Permalink 2 Comments

Etching Memories

November 8, 2017 at 12:35 pm (books, diaries, entertainment, history, places, travel) (, , )

A year or two ago I bought a batch of letters; included was one which should have had a half-page etching of Worthing, England. The Smiths & Goslings _never_ wrote on the rear of these pictures – though the letter confesses that the writer had written ON the drawing: an “X” marked the spot where the parents of the recipient had over-nighted.

But I can’t tell you where anyone stayed: the picture has been cut off. All that remains is the letter.

So within the last few weeks, when I came across some letter sheets I bought them. But none are of Worthing….

Companies, such as ROCK & CO, did produce books of their engravings. You can see one here, currently (Nov 2017) for sale. In my ‘searches’, however, I came across a very useful and touching website.

This book, posted online, forms both a diary and a book of engravings. A unique combination.

Torquay letter sheet

What is *special* about this copy of the book Drives &c In & About TORQUAY is that the author collected the drawings AND put down memories of a trip.

In the days before easy photography, these drawings procured the author the perfect illustrations!

Permalink Leave a Comment

An Extraordinary Ordinary Woman (review)

August 27, 2017 at 1:36 pm (books, diaries, entertainment, history) (, , , )

James Boswell sums up in one sentence his idea of good biography:

I cannot conceive a more perfect mode of writing any man’s life than not only relating all the most important events of it in their order, but interweaving what he privately wrote, and said, and thought.”

Susan M. Ouellette, who presents the entire extant diary of Phebe Orvis Eastman, first provides an adroit clarification of the diary, in a set of essays. The diarist, of course, never wrote with the intention of publication. Her thoughts are personal and private – and, at times, (well-labeled by the editor) cryptic. This layout, of essays then diary, guides the reader to pick up on the crumb-like indicators within the diary. Ouellette has uncovered a good deal of the life of Phebe Orvis Eastman — before, during, and after the diary, which makes for a rounded biographical profile. She also informs the reader about the era in which Phebe lived.

Extraordinary Ordinary Woman

An Extraordinary Ordinary Woman: The Journal of Phebe Orvis, 1820-1830 tells of life on the American “frontier,” first in Vermont and then in the vicinity of Canton, New York. A young nation, the United States was still at war with England during Phebe’s childhood (she lived from 1801 to 1868). The geography of her diary is not the cosmopolitan perspective of Philadelphia, New York, or Washington; nor even from some great plantation. Thereby supplementing those perspectives, it enlarges our knowledge of young women in post-Revolutionary War America.

Phebe’s immediate family had staked claims and worked to clear the land and worked to create their community. (Vermont joined the Union as the Fourteenth State in 1791.) Phebe’s picture of rural Vermont, in the decades beyond that first settlement, offers readers first-hand experience of a growing, interconnected community. And through her move to a less congenial, even “wilder” frontier, Phebe’s own words involve us as witnesses to her personal pain and turmoil.

Phebe Orvis lived a somewhat carefree life as a young woman in Bristol, Vermont. Ouellette’s earliest chapter covers the tragedy of Phebe’s early life: Her mother died when Phebe was just a toddler. The baby’s age and gender (she was the fourth child, but the only daughter) resulted in her living not with her father and siblings, but with her aging maternal grandparents.

Readers of The Midwife’s Tale, featuring Maine’s Martha Ballard, will find a similarity here in the craft-skills taught to young women. Phebe Orvis is a weaver, spinner, and sewer; for instance, when Phebe writes of “Finished my web”, she is telling readers that she has yet again begun a weaving project. Such projects probably helped to fund the classes she took at the Middlebury Female Seminary.

Phebe Orvis is a serious student – and among the early cohort of women attending Willard’s establishment (though Willard herself had moved on by this time). Phebe’s “formal education” is unfortunately cut short, and readers feel her disappointment, and her reticence in doing what is requested of her: She moves to Parishville, New York, to help at her aunt and uncle’s Tavern. This transition led her to marry a man who was not her first choice for a life-partner. Ouellette uncovered in the diary the subtle “ceremony” of gifts exchanged (and ultimately returned), which points out a certain young man as Phebe’s prior attachment.

The Eastmans married in 1823; it is the marriage, the arrival of children, and the constant scratching for a living in New York, which concerns the remainder of the diary, which ends in October 1830. The blank pages that follow serve as silent testament that life went on, even if the woman writing could see no reason to spare the time to record more of that life. Phebe Orvis Eastman retained her diary, and even placed a few later inserts inside it. The diary meant enough to her, at the very least as evidence of early concerns and feelings, to have preserved it.

And others preserved it after Phebe’s death.

Special mention should be made of the late Mary Smallman, who encountered the diary after it surfaced again in Plattsburgh, NY. She transcribed the diary and dug about for information about the mystery diarist. Safe in her hands at a time when few put value on such manuscripts, Smallman ultimately deposited the diary and support materials with the Saint Lawrence County Historical Association (NY).

As with any primary source, records helped to fill out details, but aspects remain that can never truly be known. This book, with the diary in its entirety, ably supported by informative essays, is a window into early 19th century America. That its roots begin in Vermont makes it special to me, a native Vermonter, like Phebe. The physical world she knew nearly two hundred years ago can still be discerned.

Maps provide visuals for those needing to conceptualize the placement of Bristol, Middlebury, and Vergennes, Vermont; also, Saint Lawrence County, New York. An index is included. The size of the book – being both taller and wider than the average hardcover – somehow makes it a bit unwieldy; being produced in hardcover rather than paperback might have minimized that sensation. A tighter layout of the diary entries might have allowed for slightly larger type without increasing page count. Generous spacing between lines tries to compensate for the font and font size. Notes and a bibliography bring the book to 380 pages (Excelsior Editions, SUNY Press; $29.95).

Diaries, in general, are filled with the insignificant, and Ouellette has done the hard work of teasing out the significance behind the diarist’s little clues of life-events. This single volume diary indeed covers (as Boswell prescribed) “all the most important events” in the life of this Vermont girl, from her days as a single woman seeking education at the Middlebury establishment founded by Emma Willard; to her employment in New York, which brought her into the company of Samuel Eastman, whom she eventually married. The diary tells her story; the essays and finely-tuned editing makes Phebe’s history accessible to all readers.

*

Susan Ouellette, a history professor from Saint Michael’s College (VT), has written on Phebe Orvis Eastman over the decade that researches into the diary have taken. One of the more accessible (it’s ONLINE) is her article “Religion and Piety in the Journal of Phebe Orvis“, in the Vermont History magazine. The book An Extraordinary Ordinary Woman: The Journal of Phebe Orvis, 1820-1830 is the richer for this lengthy gestation.

See also:

Permalink Leave a Comment

Victoria & Thomas Sully

July 9, 2017 at 1:24 pm (books, british royalty, diaries, entertainment, portraits and paintings) (, , )

Yesterday I watched two episodes of the recent series VICTORIA, with Jenna Coleman in the title role. Episode 2 had a session of the Queen sitting to the portraitist Sir James Hayter (Guy Oliver-Watts) and ends with Victoria “needing help” at the unveiling of his resultant portrait.

Coleman as Victoria

This had me running to fetch my copy of Queen Victoria and Thomas Sully, Carrie Rebora Barratt‘s book that includes Sully’s 1837-38 diary of his stay in London with his daughter Blanche. I remember picking up this book in a newly-reopened Oxfam bookshop in Winchester in 2007. Ooh, they had some good titles then!

Not only does it tell about the MANY portraits the poor Queen sat for – be it miniatures; destined for postage stamps and coins; official portraits; commissions (like Sully’s – destined for the U.S.) – the book also has something to say about Hayter as well as his rival Wilkie — whose portrait the Queen did not think “very like”.

_I_ had to chuckle over her comments (culled from Victoria’s diary) about William Charles Ross – who painted at least TWO of the Smith sisters; Fanny Seymour (which I believe I have found, as a photograph of the original) and Maria Seymour – which was sold at auction, and about which Mamma (Mrs Charles Smith) has left us a letter.

Victoria_Sully

Amazon has a “new” copy – but many “near new” can be found in secondhand book markets. Definitely find a copy with its dust jacket.

Notice, too, of a tiny buried citation in the end credits of “Victoria”: that the series is based on the book by A.N. Wilson. The New York Times said of the book in 2014, “One more foray into a well-thumbed archive inevitably risks diminishing returns. In the absence of some new trove of documents, Wilson’s narrative holds few factual surprises. Rather, its novelty lies in psychological analysis, making his a Victoria for the age of reality TV. A celebrity who craves a private life but also courts popularity through new media technologies.”

A TV series is about as close to “reality TV” as one can get – so perhaps as fitting a source as any of the many biographies of Queen Victoria.

For those interested in “tie-ins”, Daisy Goodwin (series creator) has authored a “Victoria” novel, and Helen Rappaport has PBS’s “official companion book” to the TV series.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Enjoyable Reads: Journal of a Georgian Gentleman

May 21, 2017 at 12:38 pm (books, diaries, history) (, , )

This won’t be a book review, per se, but a “CROW” about a book I recently enjoyed reading. (I’ll hope to ADD to this “Enjoyable Reads” category in the future.)

I bought The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman back in 2012; it was fairly new to the market at the time. I certainly _remember_ reading it, but feel that this recent read brought a new respect for Mike Rendell’s laying out of his ancestor’s life. Little asides, detailing “facts” of Georgian life, were speedily and deftly presented. They felt part of the story, so that taken as a whole, the book not only presents the life of Richard Hall, but presents English LIFE, as lived then.

hall-cover

Profusely illustrated. Mike is lucky to have a wealth of materials from Richard Hall; we readers are lucky that he shared.

Does not so much present the diary of the man, but the every-day experiences of Richard Hall and his family. Be it travel, finances, business, marriage – there is a lot that readers will learn about – and enjoy while reading – when picking up a copy of The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman: The Life and Times of Richard Hall, 1729-1801 by Mike Rendell.

 

Permalink Leave a Comment

eBay: Gertrude Savile diaries

May 19, 2017 at 11:37 am (books, diaries, history) (, , , , )

Vicky alerted about the Kingsbridge (Devon) Oxfam‘s eBay auction of a copy of Secret Comment: The Diaries of Gertrude Savile, 1721-1757.

gertrude savile(NB: see eBay ad for pictures of actual copy up for sale; this is not theirs)

I am a BIG fan of this book – who doesn’t love a book over a Twitter feed; and Amanda Vickery’s short section of Gertrude Savile does the diarist such disservice! Anyone reading this book, Gertrude’s diaries, will know there is so much more to Gertrude Savile than a reputation as a mere constant complainer.

Starting “today” (19 May 2017), you’ve 8 days to bid — and remember, profits go to OXFAM, a very worthy charity.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »