A trove of old letters

April 27, 2016 at 9:41 pm (books, history) (, , , )

Gotta love a book that begins,

“Years ago I found a trove of old letters. I found them in a broken-down steamer trunk buried under moldy blankets in a dilapidated shed attached to a decrepit row house.”

These words open the 2014 book Nina Sankovitch entitled, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing.

Although I’ve heard of her Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, it was a blog post about LETTERS that brought me to this later book. For the Love of Bookshops wrote about the genesis of Sankovitch’s “next” book:

old letters

Like Erin (the bookstore-loving blogger), I too cannot believe the “luck” of such a treasure trove. And, it’s addictive! The more I find on my Smiths & Goslings, the more I want to find.

Sankovitch’s “find” rather reminds me of the beginning of Célestine. Although Gillian Tindall’s trove was a handful of letters, the fascinating history of young Célestine, a French woman, made for a stupendous read and an enthralling untangling of someone’s past. Nina Sankovitch’s stash turned out to be early 20th century: a mother & son correspondence. Thanks goodness the letters found a home!

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I’m Curious: The Connoisseur

April 24, 2016 at 8:36 pm (books, entertainment, history, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , )

I’m curious to find out if any Two Teens readers know of ANY publication comparable to an old journal called The Connoisseur. This magazine ceased publication in 1992, but throughout much of the twentieth century it catered to an audience interested in art, portraiture, heraldry, genealogy, antiques, furniture, lace, books – and Notes & Queries from readers!

I have a copy (online) from 1915. It is absolutely FASCINATING!

  • February 1915 features “Some Unpublished Lawrence Portraits”
  • two unidentified portraits in a private collection, wanting to be ID’ed
  • “Notes on Wincanton Delft”
  • answers to earlier unidentified paintings
  • and “notes” on Rowlandson drawings

connoisseur

I’d be interested to learn if ANYTHING even remotely similar is out there, in print or online. It must indeed have offered a unique “given-and-take” for collectors, as well as those (like me) who just have an interest — or a burning desire to uncover things currently shrouded in mystery. Like more letters, diaries, or portraits of my dear Smiths & Goslings!

Between it’s articles and its queries, The Connoisseur: a magazine for Collectors must indeed have been a “crowd-sourced” pleasure to see on the newsstand or in your mailbox.

Here’s what I’ve quickly found, and hope you derive as much pleasure perusing their pages as I have:

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Things of beauty“: a 2014 blogger discusses the lure of the Connoisseur.

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Naval Journal, 1858-1859

April 6, 2016 at 6:22 pm (diaries, history, news) (, , , )

rawson journal

As always, finding an item LONG after it’s been sold at auction. Today’s find was this journal, written by Harry Holdsworth Rawson, aboard HMS Calcutta. Of interest to ME because young Rawson (only fourteen years old) was under Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, Richard Seymour’s brother. Richard’s diary, of course, has mention of his seafaring brother (and the wife & children left behind in England) – but, like mentions of his father (also Sir Michael Seymour), they are mainly of leaves or letters.

I’ve heard a little about Michael on shipboard, mainly because some of the children of Richard Seymour and John Culme-Seymour were aboard with him. How thrilling to hear of such a precious relic.

Would be interested to hear if anyone knows the present whereabouts of this journal, sold at Bonham’s on 19 March 2014.

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John Bull

March 27, 2016 at 5:35 pm (entertainment, history) (, )

john bull title image

“For God, the King, and the People”

Welcome to Summer time, Britain!

(clocks forward in UK on Easter Sunday, 2016)

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Celebrating UNDER-RATED Women!

March 6, 2016 at 8:55 pm (books, europe, history, people) (, , , )

March is Women’s History Month – and author Charlotte Frost has given me a boot in the rear by giving me notice of a New Book and a hitherto unseen History Blog.

The Blog is History in the Margins. “A Blog about History, Writing, and Writing about History.” Recent posts have discussed “Confederate Nurses”, new books (including a tie-in with the PBS series Mercy Street), and of course the New Book I mentioned at the top of the page.

marie von clausewitzMarie von Clausewitz:
The Woman Behind the Making of On War

What is MOST striking, is the informative interview with the author Vanya Eftimova Bellinger, on History in the Margins. Some wonderful moments, like seeing she has a connection to Norwich University (a short-ish drive from where I live) to the vicarious *THRILL* of some letters just turning up! She also touches upon the thoughts that resonate with ME about the “why” behind such thing as Women’s History Month.

Women from the past MATTER. And the more women whose lives are dusted off and introduced, the more the realization will grow that WOMEN have voices, and they have IMPORTANT things to say.

Marie von Clausewitz sounds a woman so like the Smiths & Goslings: she SAVED everything. But: a miracle when one realized (200 years later) that these items STILL exist!

My Sunday today began with remembering a Clephane relative of Margaret (Lady Compton, Emma’s cousin-in-law) was fighting on the British side during the American Revolutionary War. Today ends with anticipating a good read about a German woman, a patron of the arts, a writer whose best known work has only her husband’s name on the cover.

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Living in Jane Austen’s World: 5 reasons to visit Montpelier

March 3, 2016 at 10:52 pm (diaries, entertainment, history, jasna, research) (, , , , )

The Jane Austen Society of North America, Vermont Chapter hosts their March 2016 meeting in Montpelier, Vermont, on the campus of Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Several members of “Jane Austen in Vermont” travelled to Louisville, Kentucky to attend the JASNA AGM. I was lucky enough to present a paper, which will be re-presented for a home-audience:

ja world

“Who could be more prepared than she was”
True Tales of Life, Death, & Confinement:
Childbirth in 19th Century England

Kelly M. McDonald

Period letters and diaries present stories of Austen-related mothers-to-be.  Georgian women discussed among themselves what potentially preoccupied a woman’s life for twenty years and more: miscarriage, pregnancy, labor, childbed fever, lactation barriers, and rituals affecting a new mother up to (and including) “churching.”

Sunday, 13 March 2016
2:00 PM
Gary Library, 36 College Street
Vermont College of Fine Arts
Montpelier, VT

1. Learn & Discuss, “Living in Jane Austen’s World”

2. Illlustrations include images of actual letters & diaries

3. Meet others who read, watch, and love Jane Austen & England

4. Have a cup of tea and enjoy some munchies

5. It’s FREE and open to the public!

bright star_letter

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East India Company at Home (website)

February 28, 2016 at 2:30 pm (entertainment, estates, history, jane austen, jasna, research) (, , )

East India Company

In looking for more information on Elizabeth Sykes – only daughter of Lady Smith (née Elizabeth Monckton) and her first husband Sir Francis Sykes – I came across this WONDERFUL resource for families connected to the East India Company. This includes MANY in the Smith & Gosling greater family.

There are “case studies” which you can find by family or by estate. I found the Daylesford case study to have been done by Elisabeth Lenckos. Elisabeth spoke about researching Daylesford, the estate of Warren Hastings, at last year’s JASNA Annual General meeting in Louisville, one of the break-out sessions I attended. On the East India Company at Home, she likewise writes about the Ivory Furniture Hastings brought back to England. Daylesford, of course, was known to Jane Austen’s cousin (and eventual sister-in-law), Eliza de Feuillide.

Much food for thought is offer on the EICAH website. Highly recommended!

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Augusta: a Pen Pal sorta Gal

February 16, 2016 at 1:55 pm (diaries, entertainment, europe, history, people, research) (, , , , )

Although I’ve had photographs of this letter for almost TWO YEARS (lots of other letters came my way in that time…) I *finally* got around to transcribing a letter by Mary-Anne Perozzi, dated 24 April 1824.

It was one out of more than a hundred letters in a private collection. The name, wholly unfamiliar. The date intriguing, and yet I didn’t pay it a LOT of attention. The handwriting is exquisite, so it wasn’t the legibility that caused the delay. Just a lack of “interest” and “other things to do”.

But, last night, in an effort to have at least all letters from this collection transcribed (the two I’ve left: nearly ALL crossed and a couple of really scribbling hands), I finally did this one.

And got a surprise!

Although addressed to Lady Elizabeth Compton, the Smith siblings’ cousin, it contained a particularly “painful” section for me to read.

Mary-Anne (as she signed herself, though her direction — included at the end of the letter, as a reminder to Lady Elizabeth to write in return — reads Marianne) has an extensive “thank you” to Lady Elizabeth for the part she played in Mary-Anne obtaining “two fine drawings, or likenesses“. Now, deciphering these words I was, of course, thinking Lady Elizabeth had sent her something she had drawn. I’ve seen her work. She’s very talented! And, being in Rome, she could have taken her sketch book around the city.

But the word “likenesses” – they tend to use that word to indicate portraits.

THEN: I read on…

likenesses, which AUGUSTA had the kindness to make me a present of.

There’s only ONE Augusta who would have been referred to by her first name alone – and that would be Emma’s eldest sister, the extremely artistic Augusta Smith, renowed in the family for her ability at taking “likenesses”.

I was in Seventh Heaven (and in a bit of pain: Could they still exist? but where??).

THEN: I read on…

and which I have found VERY MUCH ALIKE to HER

So a portrait of Augusta herself (I had presumed it had been of Mary-Anne, perhaps)!

THEN: I read the rest of the sentence:

“very much alike to her, and to her MOTHER

ARGH! Two portraits of the Two Augustas, in 1824! a precious gift indeed. And Mary-Anne then had the manners to say “and very well performed“. So, Mary-Anne not only thought the portraits “very like” (a huge compliment, indeed) but also well drawn.

Oh… the… pain… of not being able to see them. And of thinking that they could be long gone – or “unknown” in some collection or archive.

As it happens there IS a further mention, in the Smith & Gosling letters, of Mary-Anne Perozzi. An 1824 letter that pre-dates one that I own. Written by Augusta, she makes a very brief comment of writing a letter to Mary-Anne!

I opened the transcriptions of Emma’s diaries, 1823 and 1824 – hoping for some “address” of Mary-Anne. Nothing. Perhaps she was a friend of Augusta more than any of the other girls.

Mary-Anne obviously kept up a correspondence. Her address was simply “Ancona”, and, although her English was quite good, it points to a woman as Italian-sounding as her last name. (And can be said to account for the slightly odd phrase, “very much alike to her”.) I had hoped to find a bit of a footprint left behind, but so far nothing. And, although I KNOW it’s too much to hope for: some of her letters (to or from Augusta or Lady Elizabeth) would be the frosting on the cake.

Mary-Anne wrote of obtaining the portraits from Lord and Lady Compton, who were visiting Ancona. I simply had to look it up. On the map, it’s south of Ravenna-Rimini-San Marino; on the opposite coast from Rome:

ancona map

The blown-up map shows an exquisite “hook” of land. And in photographs… it looks divine:

ancona from air

I can see what would have enticed the Comptons here, in 1824. And how Augusta (the Smiths BIG trip was from summer 1822 to summer 1823; and they wintered in Rome) might have met Mademoiselle Perozzi.

Augusta DID have a wider-ranging correspondence – I’ve found letters to the Lante delle Rovere family, for one instance of her Pen Pals abroad. Must confess, trying to read her tiny hand in English isn’t super hard, but these are described as “In lingua francese e italiana“. AND, to make matters worse, the letters from 1823 are described as “scrittura di base righe di testo in verticale“. So she, as USUAL, has crossed her writing. To have them, though, is something I MUST Do.

Fnding Mary-Anne Perozzi of Ancona makes me even MORE intent on obtaining images of the Lante Letters (one also by Lady Compton in the same collection).

heyer_cover

This Georgette Heyer reprint features the Raeburn portrait of Lord Compton, done only a short time before he once again saw Mademoiselle Perozzi.

As I always ask, IF anyone has any information – about the Perozzis, Ancona, the location of (more) letters or those likenesses, do contact me!

 

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The Pad Fad

February 10, 2016 at 6:18 pm (entertainment, fashion, history, london's landscape) (, , )

Kleidung um 1800 has a FASCINATING discussion, centering on a Fashion Fad circa 1793.

mode_1785-1793

Sabine has found evidence of a CRAZE (which she believes helped “raise” the waistlines of ladies’ dresses thereafter), whereby young girls and women used padding to look pregnant. My favorite thing about the cartoon (above): the “‘Virgin’ Shape” in the middle. Having lived thru the crazes of Pet Rocks and Mood Rings, anything is a possible fad. But I do find myself shaking my head and chuckling over the Pad Fad. Click on picture to find out MORE!

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In Conversation with Peter Ardern, author

February 7, 2016 at 2:12 pm (books, entertainment, history) (, , )

dorothyOur guest today is Peter Ardern, author of Dorothy’s Dream: A Historical Romance.  With personal ties to Hettie, a woman healer, and Aunt Annie, who nursed in the Crimea, Dorothy Martin decides upon a career in nursing – a newly-formed profession for women. Fans of season two (WWI) of Downton Abbey or the (U.S.) Civil War era series Mercy Street will thrill at this glimpse of British nursing life in the Victorian era.

* * *

Q: Congratulations on your most recent publication, Dorothy’s Dream: A Historical Romance. Tell readers a bit about yourself, and, of course, your novel.

Peter: I trained as a nurse in Sheffield, England in the early 1960’s in both mental health and general nursing, choosing mental health for my nursing career. I retired from nursing in 1994 the year I was awarded United Kingdom Nurse of the Year. I then studied full time for a PhD in social studies. I followed this by publishing nursing histories and subsequently my current novel  Dorothy’s Dream. I see these writings as a direct result of my chosen career and the person-centered approach (mainly interviews) I used throughout my research.

Q: Your Twitter feed mentions (and has a photo of) your psychiatric training hospital, Sheffield’s Middlewood Hospital, being turned into housing. Have you been able to visit Middlewood, and if so, what do you think of the transformation? (and what memories did your visit bring up?)

Peter: I visited the hospital site after nearly forty years. I prepared myself for some sort of disappointment while driving towards the new estate. On reaching one of the old entrances, I was pleased to find that the gate house, The Lodge, still stood. This is now used as a children’s nursery. I then travelled along unfamiliar roads and got quite lost until I found (what was) the main entrance to the old hospital. It is now the frontage of a block of flats. I was pleased that this façade had been preserved, but also somewhat disappointed. It just felt very strange. What to me had been a very welcoming entrance was now unapproachable. I was a stranger, I almost felt like an intruder.

Q: You found more of the hospital still existed?

Peter: I travelled to what I remembered was a block called Kingswood Building and to my surprise there it was. I was delighted that another building had been preserved. Unfortunately the church that I had been so familiar with was derelict.

I know we have to move on and it’s important that we reuse what would otherwise be ruins but surely we should not almost obliterate the past along with it. I hope I am being clear when I say that these buildings are only preserved because the frontages come under the “Listed Building Act,” not because they honour the former patients and the decent and worthy work that was performed in these hospitals over the previous century. Apart from the name, there is little to give any indication that this site was a former mental hospital.

Regarding this visit to Middlewood, I think what surprised and shocked me most was that when the buildings were converted the insides were completely ripped out, thus destroying the whole history of the building. They had stripped the heart out of the old hospital.

when matronQ: Your previous books focused on nursing, especially in hospital wards – When Matron Ruled (2002), The Nursing Sister (2005) and When Sister Ruled (2009). Please tell us about your research, and why you began publishing your findings.

Peter: As I mention on English Historical Fiction Authors, I had the privilege of commencing my nurse training at the time of the traditional matron and ward sister. I developed a huge respect, and still hold fond memories of learning from these highly skilled ladies. Their professional demise in the 1970s led me, twenty years later, to meet with and write about many of their lives; and subsequently to examine the history of women in nursing.

I spent a good two years travelling the country and interviewing a number of these traditional but elusive matrons and sisters. I say elusive because many were quite private people who did not seek publicity. I wondered, and still wonder, if this personal privacy was an instilled/inherent tradition from the Victorian era? When I was interviewing the matrons and sisters I always took my wife, June, with me, as both note taker and chaperon. It undoubtedly proved very helpful as most of the ladies lived on their own, I am sure, I know, it made them more relaxed.

My histories are I hope a tribute to their selfless dedication to nursing.

Q: And now this background has contributed to your novel!

Peter: Yes. My new novel, Dorothy’s Dream, is set in the Victorian period just following the Crimean War when Florence Nightingale returned to England to introduce her reforms to nursing. The book combines many facets of this history and also sees the demise of the woman healer.

Q: Please tell readers about the characters.

Peter: As a child, Dorothy had been fascinated by the local healer Hettie Ferries, after all, Hettie had been the midwife at her birth.

Hettie is regarded as invaluable in this midlands rural area. In the absence of an accessible doctor, the villagers rely on Hettie for her many and varied cures. She is highly respected and sought after, her remedies and skills giving comfort, even to Poacher Bill. But the medical profession is advancing and a renewed intolerance for these notable ladies begins. This was to totally change Hettie’s life.

Q: The Smiths & Goslings used monthly nurses (after “confinement”), did Hettie just deliver babies?

Peter: To the poor villagers, Hettie is the midwife and the monthly nurse. Only the artisan-class and above could afford such a luxury.

Q: The “Lady of Lamp” must have been a wonderful influence.

Peter: Dorothy’s Aunt Annie was one of the brave nurses who accompanied Florence Nightingale to the Crimea. The stories of her experiences had an enormous influence on Dorothy’s desire to nurse. Prior to Nightingale’s reforms, nursing was not a respected profession; hospitals were certainly no place for a young lady from a respectable family.

Q: Has Dorothy a love interest? She seems to have to make the choice of a profession or a husband.

Peter: Frederick’s life was to change radically after the tragic accident and death of his father, Ben. But through a stroke of good fortune he is able to achieve an education. Thinking this sufficient to win Dorothy’s heart, he spends much of his life in disappointment.

Dorothy is such a young lady. She has to withstand the pain of her father’s anger (he had other ambitions for her), and travel to London to become a trainee nurse.

So Dorothy achieves this dream, only to discover that she is still a woman in a man’s world.

Q: Why? What happens to her?

Peter: Suffice it to say that in hospitals and the medical profession, as elsewhere in Victorian society, men dominated. For Dorothy the essential question is going to be, ‘Who would believe a woman’s word against that of a man?’

Q: From a writing standpoint, surely it felt “freeing” to create fiction rather than recreate lives based on interviews. Are you pleased enough with the work and the result to want to stay writing fiction, or will you go back?

Peter: I think you are right, I did find it freeing but at the same time more challenging. Freeing in the sense that you are not constantly having to be aware of being rigidly evidence based. Challenging because you are working with unknown boundaries.

For example, I wanted Dorothy to conform within the acceptable norms of the ‘Victorian’ era, and at the same time to have the freedom, as an individual, to respond as she chose to unexpected events.

I set the parameters, Dorothy made the choices.

Q: Over email, you mentioned the “Diggers” were “part of the reason for the previous books and certainly part of the inspiration for Dorothy”. What are/is “Diggers” – I’m imagining all sorts of things!

Peter: The True Levelers or Diggers were a 17th century religious group that advocated absolute equality, a ‘common storehouse for all.’ The leader was Gerrard Winstanley. Our Diggers group in a more loosely structured group acting as a forum for presentations and discussion of new areas of members’ work in a friendly, non-threatening environment. The group consists of 7 – 9 members who meet once a month for two hours.

Members are expected to (a) participate regularly, (b) provide regular critical feedback, and (c) demonstrate a commitment to productive research.

Q: The Diggers are a great resource to you, then. How lucky you are to have such a supportive group. How did you find them?

Peter: New membership is by invitation of a majority of existing members. I was introduced by Richard Brooks a published author, we were both learning German at the time.

Q: You’re in Portsmouth, England (which also figures in the Smith & Gosling world). Has location played a role in your writings?

Peter: I wonder if my chosen profession of nursing has had more influence on my writing than the location. As you know, it is said that it is best to write about what you know, and in my case it is true. Nursing has been such a large part of my life and the influences have been many.

It may be interesting to note that I started writing Dorothy using third voice, but I felt compelled to change to first voice. After all it was Dorothy’s story, and I felt that Dorothy should be narrating the story. To date I have not met any criticism to this.

Q: Dorothy’s Dream is published through Publish Nation and printed with Lulu. Why did you go that route for this book?

Peter: I was somewhat spoiled the first time when Robert Hale published my books, but at that time I did not know it. I forwarded the first chapters of Dorothy and they asked for more, but then returned it because they said it had too much historical content for a novel. Bit weird? It was then I decided take the route of self-publishing. I felt I was too old to go through the ritual of submitting and being rejected by endless publishers and agents.

Thanks, Peter, for taking the time to talk with us! and good luck with Dorothy’s Dream.

* * *

Click here Dorothy’s Dream (at Amazon.uk) for a preview of the book. Available on Kindle and paperback; or, print-on-demand paperback through Lulu – which company has really impressed me with well-bound and well-packaged (for shipping) books.

UPDATE 2/16/2016 – Peter was interviewed today on ANGEL RADIO (try the “radio player” link) from Havant, Hampshire, England, a fabulous find: it broadcasts “nostalgic” music from 1900 to the 1960s. If they ever post it, I’ll link Peter’s interview here. Just wonderful to hear about Peter’s childhood, military service (in Germany in the 1950s), and his thoughts on the early days of his chosen profession of nursing. Of course Tony (the host) asked about the books, towards the end. But for those of you on the lookout for alternative music – take a listen! Highly Recommended!!

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