Smith&Gosling: MY PROJECT

“A dramatic, multi-generational saga
of English society”

The main goal of all this research is a three-volume biography covering (in volumes I and II) 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, Two Teens in the Time of Austen, picks up from the first “Duke” diary [ie, Mary Gosling's earliest known writings, owned by Duke University]: It is 1814, and England is rejoicing — for the Napoleonic Wars are presumed to be at an end. This was a momentous year for the Smiths of Suttons and the Goslings of Roehampton Grove. Mary Gosling visits Oxford just as these national celebrations have ended (little did anyone know: Napoleon would ‘return’). Emma Smith‘s father died early in the year, leaving Mrs Smith a 42-year-old widow, with nine children: the youngest of the nine, Maria, born two days after her father’s death. The story gains momentum when 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 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. Here 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 II, A Woman Alone, continues the story from the point that Emma marries James Edward Austen and Mary loses her beloved Sir Charles Joshua Smith. The late 1820s and 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) enters politics. 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 the vibrant women this story contains: Mary Lady Smith, Eliza Chute, Augusta Smith. Young Victoria is on the throne, but the court of George III and his Charlotte have never been forgotten, for this family has many connections to Court and the Royal Family.

Volume III returns to the early days, before the children, to look at the four sisters of Erle Stoke Park, Wiltshire: the daughters of Joshua Smith 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. 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).

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.

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