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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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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