Smith&Gosling: MY PROJECT
An acquaintance recently asked: These people are REAL?!?
Readers of TWO TEENS IN THE TIME OF AUSTEN who wonder how this project came about, you’ve come to the right place! I’ve hinted (briefly) at the seeds from which this project grew: It began as an effort to find and post contemporary accounts about the Ladies of Llangollen (Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler) after a wonderful narrowboat tour through North Wales. I found one diary – and obtained through the mail the section that dealt with an 1821 visit with the Ladies.
There wasn’t much in Mary Gosling’s diary that wasn’t said everywhere else.
Then I began to wonder: Who was Mary Gosling, and why was the Gosling family so welcomed into Plas Newydd?
The startling answer can be found among all the posts of this blog; the research, now TEN YEARS (2007-2017) later, has pulled together a couple hundred diaries and about a thousand letters, covering a period from the 1790s to 1840s (and even beyond).
In short, the Goslings were people with extraordinary ordinary lives – and the Ladies of Llangollen were more than happy to entertain them, and be entertained by them. The Goslings were the “right sort of people”.
As I dug deeper and unearthed more material, the AMAZING thing was how involved I became with their everyday lives. From that “seed” of one travel diary, Mary’s family broadened to include the Smiths, the in-laws she acquired after her 1826 marriage. The wealth of material on the Smith-side, thanks to Emma Smith’s marrying the nephew of Jane Austen, which made diaries and letter accessible to the public at the Hampshire Record Office, rechristened my project and gave it the titles it now bears: Smith AND Gosling, or Two Teens in the Time of Austen.
From little disappointments to looming tragedies that strike the very heart of the family, it all unfolded, in their letters and diaries. I’m still on the look-out for more material; and am rarely disappointed at turning up some new strand of their histories.
It’s very time consuming – unearthing what’s been buried for 200 years…. In the meantime, I invite you to read about the upcoming biographies.
“Dramatic, multi-generational saga
of English society”
The main goal of all this research is a four-volume biography covering (in volumes I, II, and III) the lives of Mary Gosling and Emma Smith; then a move backwards to discuss the parent generation. Yes! there is that much primary material (more, even, in the opposite direction: Emma Austen Leigh lived into the 1870s, and kept diaries all her life).
Volume I, The Brilliant Vortex: Two Teens in the Time of Austen begins in 1812, with the murder of Spencer Perceval. The prime minister was related; and this act of treachery is recorded in the family correspondence, as active a network as any current-day Twitter account. The earliest diary penned by the elder of the Two Teens is a travel diary, from 1814, showing England amid much rejoicing — for Mary Gosling is visiting Oxford just as the nation celebrated the end of the Napoleonic Wars. (Little did anyone know: Napoleon would ‘return’.) This was a momentous year for the Smiths of Suttons and the Goslings of Roehampton Grove. Emma Smith‘s father died early in the year, leaving Mrs Smith a 42-year-old widow, with nine children: the youngest, Maria, born days after her father’s death. Emma begins keeping diaries on 1 January 1815. The girls are, at this date, fourteen and thirteen years old. They are the privileged daughters of gentlemen; and their teen years are a mixture of schoolrooms, visits, travels to relatives in England, stays in London during the “Season”, and trips to Wales, Ireland, and even the Continent — in fact, the Goslings visit the site of the Battle of Waterloo and Mary has left her impressions of the war-torn region. As the 1820s approach there is an attempted kidnapping, a chancery court case, and a Grand Tour Departure. We end with the Coronation of King George IV, an event the Smiths and Goslings attend!
Volume II, Web of Lives is a tale worthy of Jane Austen’s pen, as beaux dance and ladies choose their (life) partners. But happiness comes at a price for many.
Volume III, A Woman Alone, continues the story from the point after Emma marries James Edward Austen and Mary loses her beloved Sir Charles Joshua Smith. The early 1830s are a difficult time for the family — and the nation also sees much strife, politically and economically. More siblings marry — some more Vicars become sons-in-law; while one in particular (Denis Le Marchant) has political ties. Already the family has gone from the horse and carriage into the age of steam; now comes the age of the railway. In one letter, James Edward Austen Leigh writes of his excitement — and trepidation — at riding the rails when the speed gets up to the likes of 35 miles per hour! The volume ends in the early 1840s, with the deaths of so many vibrant women: Mary Lady Smith – a young mother and widow; Eliza Chute – a favorite aunt; Augusta Smith – a matriarch who has held her family together through strife, scandal and illness. Young Victoria is on the throne, but the court of George III and his Charlotte has never been forgotten, for this family has many connections to the Royal Family.
Volume IV returns to the early days, before the children, to look at the four sisters of Erle Stoke Park, Wiltshire: the daughters of Joshua Smith, MP, and Sarah Gilbert. As more information comes to light, we see that Sarah’s brother was a famous Wesleyan. And, like volume I, we delve into a societal structure very familiar from the novels of Jane Austen — in fact, starring people known to Jane: The Chutes of The Vyne. In this earlier generation the groundwork was already set for the friendship and intermarriage of the child generation: Eliza Chute’s bosom friend was none other than Mary Gosling’s mother, Eliza (Cunliffe) Gosling. And Eliza Gosling’s sister was already “aunt” to the four Erle Stoke girls. Joshua Smith had a long career in Parliament; and Lady Cunliffe, mother of Eliza Gosling and Mary/Mrs Drummond Smith, moved in the circle of Sir Joshua Reynolds — and even runs into James Boswell. Naval hero, Horatio Nelson enters the picture as his intimate friend Alexander Davison marries Harriet Gosling. Her brother William comes fully into the family banking business, Goslings & Sharpe, begun by uncle Sir Francis Gosling. Our Two Williams (Chute and Gosling) marry their Two Elizas; and a Smith (Augusta) marries — yet does not change her name. The stage is now set for the appearance of Mary (in 1800) and Emma (in 1801).
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Now on Kindle: Two Teens in the Time of Austen: Random Jottings, 2008-2013 — “Random Jottings” presents introductory background information on the Smith & Gosling families. This ongoing research project centers on the lives of two daughters, founded upon their manuscript letters and diaries. Their families form the basis for contextualizing this dramatic period in English history.