Small Victory

March 1, 2021 at 2:06 pm (history, jane austen, postal history, research) (, , , , )

Over the weekend I spent some time with the Smith & Gosling letters. Nearing 4000 pages of typescript, ranging from the 1760s into the 1940s.

I have more to add – some portions of information about the VYSE family. George Howard Vyse married — after a very long courtship — Lizzy Seymour, sister to the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton and the Rev. Sir John Hobart Culme-Seymour of Northchurch and Gloucester.

Vyse’s father, Colonel Vyse, literally stood in the way of the match. An intense dislike, of the Seymour family, of Lizzy. It is heartbreaking to read that GHV (as Richard always referred to the young man as, shortening a long name into three initials) was spotted by Mamma (Mrs. Smith, Emma’s mother), wistfully looking up to the windows, hoping to spot his young lady a brief second, while on military parade as part of Queen Victoria’s Coronation!

Mixed within these letters was one I suspected did NOT belong in the year 1838. DATED “August 12” from Mapledurham (the family’s rented estate in Hertfordshire), it is missing its last page or perhaps pages. These are small sheets of paper, and typically there were up to 8 pages (2 sheets folded in half; each creating 4 pages) of text. As well, these small sheets probably had utilized an envelope — and the end and signature could have ended up inside the envelope. I’ve come across one or two envelopes at this archive, hermetically sealed between two sheets of mylar, that were not pulled open before being sealed inside, yet the dark writing clearly showed thru the paper! Groan…

The letter – half letter – had ended up in a folder marked “Unidentified”. That folder was very *full* when I saw it in summer 2015. Did I miss a second sheet, or a single sheet? Are there envelopes, addressed to Fanny (Smith) Seymour in Kinwarton that I never photographed? (Alas, a couple of them!)

The letter in question is unmistakably written by youngest sister Maria Smith. She has such scrawling penmanship, with a very distinctive “W”. Also, as Mamma’s youngest, she was the last in the family ‘nest’ once all her siblings had married (or died).

That it was written from Mapledurham tells me the letter could not date before October 1834, when they moved into the house (so, summer of 1835, at earliest). That Mamma was alive, tells me it could be no later than Summer 1844. Maria sounds unmarried (ie, still with Mamma), so that backed it into 1843 (and, therefore, summer of 1842 at latest).

Although a full-run of Mamma’s diaries does not exist, several for the late 1830s and early 1840s DO exist. Plus I have other letters. Several years were already removed from contention: Mamma and Maria were elsewhere than Mapledurham.

There were two clues within the content: Their visit to Chobham – home of sister Eliza and her husband Denis Le Marchant – sounded too much like Maria describing what NO ONE among the siblings had yet seen. I had to find a date for their move.

The other was Maria saying that Arthur Currie had purchased a horse (heavily contributed to by Mamma) for Maria’s use. Not the EASIEST to find, someone commenting again on a new horse. Maria asked her sister Fanny what name should the horse be given – so, unlike “Jack Daw” or “Tom Tit“, I knew of no name to search for.

I had already searched Mamma’s diaries – but went back to 1840 again. And THERE found a comment about CHOBHAM! It became unmistakable: Maria and Mamma had returned home from a visit to Chobham in August 1840.

Frosting on the cake was that Maria, a couple of letters later, commented that she was pleased with her New Horse!

I call this a small victory because the letter still has no ending.

There have been times in the past, when a WIDOW torso gets a date close enough to an ORPHAN torso (yes, that’s what I call them…), that a closer look is warranted. A couple of times, the flow of the sentence AND the topic of conversation indicated that they were, indeed, one and the same letter. I remember once, spotting a DATE, buried within the handwriting, a confirmation of my hunch — after reuniting a pair.

Across archives, I have several incomplete, widow or orphan torso-only letters. I live in hope… But nothing dropped into place this time. Missing photographs? Missing envelope? Irretrievably-missing pages?

Envelopes were easy prey in the past – for their postal marks, their STAMPS, their wax seals. Hand-stamps [cancellations and handwritten marks] in the early, prestamp, era made (and make) “wrappers” and “free fronts” highly collectable. The wrappers got divided from letters, robbing the letter of its definitive dating. The free fronts – where the “direction” is cut away from the rest of the page, robs the letter of CONTENT. The reverse side’s content (if there) appearing as disparate sentences with few beginnings or endings. MADDENING to know the original – full – letter must have been jettisoned after the “surgery”. All for the saving of the “collectible” signature that allowed the piece of mail to travel for free.

Once such “collection” of autographs had SIX LINES missing from a Jane Austen letter. Its discovery (a long time after the album’s sale) caused a *STIR* in Austen circles in 2019! And it really did end up being about … LAUNDRY!

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Augusta in Italy

August 30, 2020 at 12:39 pm (books, diaries, europe, news, people, postal history, research) (, , , , , , )

Two years ago I wrote a short “article” for a new-to-the-market magazine. Of course the article had to be shorter rather than longer (I forget the word count; 2000 words?). And magazine articles don’t normally have notes and sources.

The magazine debuted without my article…

So what to _do_ with something that is a viable story – the 1822-1823 trip to Italy by Mrs. Smith and her eldest children, Augusta, Charles, Emma, Fanny and Eliza?

Lady Compton, in Italy

It took a while, and was actually posted on my Academia.edu account pretty much as it went to the editor. Now, however, it’s more fleshed out, two small errors have been corrected, and it contains some notes on sources. (“Private” collections I’m keeping to myself for the present.)

The main source is a group of 13 letters at the Archivio di Stato di Roma. Twelve letters are written (some jointly) by Mrs. Smith and Augusta Smith (her twenty-something daughter) to Don Filippo Lante.

Emma joins in at least once, adding a postscript, after the family has moved on from their lengthy stay in Rome and are headed northward into Austria, homeward to England. The six Smiths never enter Italy again. Charles died in January 1831. Augusta died in July 1836. Other travels to the Continent took the family to Germanic destinations — following Augusta’s edict that she thought the English had more in common with the Germans than the Italians!

Oh, dear…

Perhaps, though, part of that rancor arose from the seeming “neglect” from persons they thought of as firm and fast friends – be they young male correspondents, like Don Filippo.

Emma Smith (Emma Austen)

I have come across one letter and therefore know of a correspondence kept up with an young woman from Ancona. Augusta seemingly sent her a silhouette – such a ‘fragile’ and ‘ephemeral’ item! Regency Silhouettes are TINY, only a few inches in height. Emma’s (above) on the average computer screen is about the same size in “real life.” Silhouettes are easily misplaced or destroyed. It’s doubtful this relic of their friendship exists.

What also does not (seemingly) exist is their correspondence. Only the one letter…

I’ve not (yet?) come across too many letters from Italians, in general. One that I have located is more business-like and from a man who gave them lessons in Italian when the family was in London.

Lost, too, are any letters sent to the family by Don Filippo. Which is why the existence of the few they sent him was a true *find*.

The archive underwent restoration about the time I dilly-dallied about contacting an Archive in ROME. It was a wait, therefore; and even the purchase of copies didn’t go exactly smoothly from my mishandling of payment (do NOT get lazy and use Western Union online — the charges imposed by THAT action nearly cost as much as the purchase of the images! Even the credit card imposed fees – for a CASH advance.)

And it was TOUGH dealing with a slight cropping (around the edges) of images. How to complain when I can’t get my point across in their language? (and it wasn’t just ONE image…)

With hand-written letters, the transcription is difficult enough when written in ENGLISH. But, at least then I can guess, from the meaning of the sentence, at a cut-off word. (NOT every time. Try fill in the blank: “He is such a ________.” Doesn’t work, does it.) In a foreign (to me) language, I transcribe what I SEE not what the sentence says.

Mrs. Smith wrote to Don Filippo in French (my study of which goes back to SCHOOL DAYS – long ago, indeed; and yes, I don’t live far from the border with Quebec… Canada’s French-speaking province). Augusta wrote mainly in French, but she later samples her Italian.

 

I’ve been told that Augusta’s grasp of the Italian language was QUITE good!

Of course, we are dealing with native English-speakers, writing two hundred years ago languages they learned MORE than two hundred years ago (Mamma’s earliest letters in French are from the 1790s, before her marriage!)

So, think of the tough time I have had:

  • images of letters (not original letters); though DECENT digital copies (not xerox)
  • handwritten – sometimes “crossed”
  • written in foreign languages by people who learned the languages (not native speakers)
  • transcribed by someone who is (1) not a native French or Italian speaker; (2) who learned as a school girl (French) or through listening to OPERA (Italian)
  • and the letters are TWO HUNDRED years old, showing all the vagaries of spelling, “accents” in French (often non-existent, or backwards), and archaic sentence structure.

IN SHORT, a difficult task – but made wholly WORTHWHILE by the amount of information for a period during which little exists beyond letters. Emma’s 1822 and 1823 diaries are half-complete. In 1822, she leaves people on the shores of the Channel. In 1823, she picks up after their return to London’s shores. Augusta intimated that she kept a travel journal (Emma may have done the same), but I’ve so far found nothing. Even Fanny, whose ENTIRE set of diaries remains unlocated cannot be a ‘source’ for information about the trip.

(Richard Seymour, Fanny’s widower, comments in his diary about reading her diaries, after Fanny’s death. That is my only clue that she KEPT diaries! Even Richard’s diaries have gone missing, although the Warwickshire Record Office has a microfilm copy of them, from the 1980s, if I remember correctly.)

I therefore invite Readers to do your own reading about this fabulous trip taken by the Smiths in 1822-1823. The focus here is on Rome and their friendship with Don Filippo Lante – and his curious reticence to stay in touch.

I’ve long thought of the article as “Augusta in Italy” – she was my focus, as was this segment of their year-long trip. But the actual article is called, “Forget me not: Sealing Friendships from Italy, 1823-1827.”

I touch on their Italian leg of the journey, because of the musical richness of their activities in places like Milan and Naples, in my new book chapter “Prima la musica: Gentry Daughters at Play – Town, Country, and Continent, 1815-1825,” to appear in the book Women and Music in Georgian Britain. The chapter was just handed over to the editors (Mimi Hart and Linda Zionkowski) at the beginning of August (2020), so you’ve a bit of a wait for the actual book! But that chapter was the impetus for *finally* tackling the re-write.

Back to “Augusta in Italy” and its true title. There are MANY lovely wax seals on letters in the collections I have seen. (That topic in itself would make a great blog post!) But the “forget-me-not” – the little flower – is certainly a recurrent theme in the “impression” of seals from the period.

wax seal, “Augusta”

This is NOT a forget-me-not of course. But it is a favorite seal – and a fine photo. The 19th century letters are SMALL (3 inches by 5 inches, many of them; like an index card in the U.S.); the seals smaller. My camera would have problems focusing on BLACK seals, from the “density” of the wax’s color AND the effort to get CLOSE to something small. So the above IS an image I’m proud of having obtained.

And the article’s title mentions the one thing the Smiths were intent on doing: Sealing friendships with their Italian acquaintances. With Don Filippo they were only marginally successful – but I’ll leave you to read the article (7 pages; PDF) to learn WHAT actions of his the Smith family most objected to, which nearly cut the correspondence.

Special thanks to Clemente Fedele – his initial interest in a short postal history article I wrote for Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine brought about this article in the first place. He also helped in SO MANY WAYS while I was bumbling along anxiously trying to obtain copies of the baker’s dozen (the 13 letters include one from Lady Compton) from a repository so “foreign” and LARGE as Rome’s Archivio di Stato di Roma. Grazie tante!

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Midshipman’s Missing Letter: Evelyn Culme Seymour (1899)

July 26, 2020 at 11:36 pm (people, research) (, , , )

To place this young man in context: Evelyn Culme Seymour was the grandson of Maria Smith, Emma’s youngest sister. Maria married the Reverend Sir John Hobart Culme Seymour in February 1844. They welcomed their first son, Henry Hobart, in 1847. Henry is the “dear Father” to whom, in January 1899, from aboard HMS Majestic, 18-year-old Evelyn Culme Seymour wrote.

As you might guess, looking at the date – 1899 – this period is very late for me. My main protagonists all had died off. It took me QUITE a while to finally bite the bullet and purchase a few letters, related to and yet in a wholly different world, far beyond my Two Teens (Emma and Mary) whose lives went back to King George III.

Still, Evelyn was “family” – and it had been items relating to Maria that turned up periodically for sale. (I wish whomever was cleaning house had found me!) I had just returned from a conference on Jane Austen’s Persuasion and decided, “Why not?” Blame it on the weekend’s naval theme…

Evelyn Culme Seymour_letter1

Periodically, therefore, I search online – hoping (against hope) to find bits and pieces of research. It’s been a while since I have found anything; it’s even been a while since I’ve found something that sold long ago — until last night.

Sold on eBay in the UK in March 2014.

The pictures are TINY! and only page one and the last page are shown. The description claims the letter is “QUITE LONG and INTERESTING.”

Six year later (more than!) if anyone having this letter would like to see what else Evelyn wrote from HMS Majestic – come find me. I have three letters from the ship (two on H.M.S. Majestic  Channel Squadron “letter head”), dating to March, April and July 1898. I am interested only in CONTENT!

WorthPoint (the website) has described the letter’s original description: “Evelyn states that the Empress came to see the ship on the 9th Jan 1899 and he helped her onto the ship and was introduced to her. He also mentions that he went to a dance at Admiralty House and was photographed by flashlight.”

The envelope is addressed to Henry at GLENVILLE, Bitterne (near Southampton), Hampshire. England, of course. This address is EXCEPTIONALLY important. Glenville was the home of Aunt Emma Smith. She willed it to Maria, and through her, then, it came to her eldest son. An address redolent with history!

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The Real Persuasion

May 8, 2017 at 8:49 pm (diaries, jane austen, news, people) (, , , )

Spent a little time in the local Barnes & Noble yesterday. Found two books that were of GREAT interest due to their topics (both were biographies of British women); but both became “maybe I’ll find them in the library?” after reading reviews. One – and I must confess, the one I thought most likely to be purchased – exhibits such an annoying writing style, that I rather prefer to revert to an old biography instead. Or, the lady’s letters. Both subjects were QUITE known for the high caliber of their writing….

But it was in looking up customer reviews that I found the soon-to-be released (July in the UK; November in the US) Amberley publication that should hold its interest: The Real Persuasion: An Intimate Portrait of a Real-Life Austen Heroine, by Peter James Bowman.

I’m less intrigued by parallels with Austen’s Anne Elliot of Kellynch Hall that Bowman promises to tease out, than with learning more about his diarist and letter writer Katherine Bisshopp. Thank goodness for the unusual spelling… I think I found some of his source material, thanks to The Diary Junction. According to this, born in 1791, Katherine’s diaries run from 1808 until 1834.

Even MORE intriguing now that I see her married name. Lady Pechell, Katherine’s future mother-in-law, actually turns up in diaries _I_ have access to. As do many other Pechells, including Capt and Mrs. Pechell.

And EVEN MORE intriguing once I look at a Pechell family genealogy published in the 1840s: there is a connection to Berkhamstead (which comes into play for the Two Teens in the Time of Austen with Sir John Culme-Seymour); a connection to the Smiths of Ashlyns Hall (Tring Park neighbors of Mamma Smith, Emma & Edward Austen); and a connection to the Thoyts of Sulhamstead House (the very estate that comes into the Wilder family).

I couldn’t get much closer to home, if I tried.

Real Persuasion_Bowman

So what is The Real Persuasion about?

According to the Amberley website, “Her father is a vain, foolish baronet, obsessed with his lineage but forced to quit his ancestral seat as a result of his own improvidence. Her sister is a fretful invalid with a good-natured husband and two disobedient sons. She herself falls in love with a handsome naval officer, and he with her, but his income and prospects are judged inadequate by her proud family. Heartbroken, the lovers part: he goes to sea while she leads a forlorn life at home. Years later he returns, having made a fortune in prize money, and after further misunderstandings he claims as his bride the woman he has never ceased to love“.

What intrigues me, though:

Using the sisters’ letters and journals, as well as other family correspondence, Peter James Bowman paints an intimate picture of life in a Regency family, and looks at the remarkable parallels between the true story of the Bisshopps and the fictional narrative of Jane Austen’s final novel. Whether their subject is daily life at the Bisshopps’ family seat of Parham; the social round in London, Brighton and elsewhere; or Katherine’s eleven-year courtship with George Pechell, the writers of these hitherto unpublished documents are brought to life through their own unaffected language, charmingly evocative of its time, and the author’s engaging insight into life in Jane Austen’s“.

Weighing in at 336 pages, Bowman has pages enough to expound upon, and hopefully expends more time on, the fascinating Bisshopps and Pechells, than on finding parallels to Austen’s novel, Persuasion. After all, Austen died in 1817 and the Pechells didn’t marry until 1826. As mentioned with the Hicks-Beach diary, “few will have heard of … but attach the name ‘Jane Austen’….” We shall see, once the book is released. For now, at least, I’m eagerly awaiting its release.

In the meanwhile, readers can dip into Bowman’s earlier biography, The Fortune Hunter: A German Prince in Regency England – which tells the story of Prince Pückler-Muskau, who wrote of the Ladies of Llangollen as “The two most celebrated virgins in Europe”.

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Thomas & Jane Carlyle on Twitter

November 6, 2016 at 2:06 pm (diaries, entertainment, europe, history) (, , , )

carlyles-on-twitter

It’s a bit of a mystery, because I KNOW I have looked at the letters of Jane and Thomas Carlyle online – but the server seems to be having problems (and it’s been days). They used to be available free; maybe that is changing; I don’t know.

But you can access TWEETS of the Carlyles – and interesting reading they make too; for instance, Thomas Carlyle:

“My existence is marked by almost nothing, but that silent stream of thoughts and whims and fantasies”

Or recently from Jane Welsh Carlyle:

“For me, I am purposely living without purpose”

I was at a New Hampshire second-hand bookstore that I love (Old Number Six Book Depot, in Henniker); one *find* was a “new” book of Jane’s letters – but I have one or two volumes already, and without having the book with me I couldn’t know whether indeed the letters would have been “new” to me or not. Jane Welsh Carlyle is a favorite! Which is why I would have loved to have also cited their site with access to their letters – and put it on the list of Online Diaries and Online Letters that I’ve begun (yes, a work in progress at the moment) on the Regency Reads blog. More coming, as I go through notes – though WHY did I only think of books, and never the terrific finds online??? Some great sites – and great “thoughts” waiting to be discovered.

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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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Having it “all”

July 9, 2015 at 1:29 pm (history, news, research) (, , )

Imagine…

I’m reading a group of letters from 1832. I’ve just added some new transcriptions to that year, and decided to read them all, in chronological order. It is a heart-rending year for the Smiths: Mary is still mourning the loss of her husband Charles (Emma’s eldest brother); “Aunt” – their father’s beloved sister, Judith Smith – dies in February, as does Lady Frances Compton, whom the siblings called “Aunt Frances”; Emma is expecting her third child; Augusta is expecting her first child; the wife of their lawyer and friend has a miscarriage; and what none of them could possibly know: youngest brother Drummond will go on a tour of Italy and Sicily, and never return.

pen and letters

So amidst all these “happenings” I’m reading one letter that says, regarding a letter written to an ill-and-dying Aunt “She has received Spencer’s letter & desires me to thank him for it; it was a kind attention from him…”

I HAVE THIS LETTER TOO! that was one of the newly-transcribed.

I’m sure to meet with people who say, “You have so many – what does one more matter.” And yet: The fuller the correspondence can be, with little news from this person to that, the more *miraculous* this project seems! It’s like plugging the holes of a dyke. It’s like a puzzle where you knew the general layout of the image, but none of its detail.

It’s EXCITING. And keeps me continually looking more MORE.

In four short words: I want them ALL.

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The Case of the “Noble Torso”

July 2, 2015 at 11:30 am (diaries, history, news, people, research) (, , , , )

Research can be exhilarating…

Research can be frustrating….

And some days, there’s a little bit of BOTH the ‘high’ and the ‘low’!

bright star_letter

When a letter was delivered, it was all nice and tight in its “wrapper”. By the time it’s gotten into an archive (perhaps after being at auction, or in the hands of some seller not family), envelopes are opened, letters are categorized, and sometimes… separated. Thus: the Noble Torso, as I am now calling such little widows and orphans.

As a for-instance: letters in a folder marked “Unidentified writers” => which can be due to illegible signatures or missing signatures. In here I found an interesting letter, all about the Smith’s LAST VISIT (in 1835 – puzzlingly; that was a good 7 or 8 months after they moved to Mapledurham House!) to Tring Park. I transcribed, relishing the tale of the garden (seen in May, and quite flourishing). Then – bang! – it ended in what seemed mid-thought.

I dipped into another folder, for there were two to choose from: one “dated” and another “undated”. I wasn’t having much luck “dipping”. So I decided: GIVE UP! Just start transcribing from the Beginning! and I opened the first image I had photographed in a “dated” file: and there IT was: the Noble Torso that finished a highly interesting story of a Young Buck, out shooting Rooks, whose shot (or shots?) was rather wild and wide off the mark: Poor Maria (Emma’s youngest sister) wasn’t sure he wasn’t going to shoot her!

FINALLY: a united LETTER!! (though, as a new “find” I still have to contact the archive, so physically, they are still apart…).

I then looked for the widow of yet another orphaned Noble Torso: and THERE its companion was (though not as *dramatic* a moment as that first “find”).

I must confess here, that in England I grew rather fond of Emma and (especially!!!) Mamma = for theirs were the letters (and diaries) I brought home in 2007 (and have worked with since). Fanny, the middle sister, I was giving a lecture on that summer, so she too I grew to know more about — yet it was different to being immersed in her thoughts and feelings via letters. Now, with an influx of more correspondence – and from the likes of Fanny (or to her) and Maria and even dear Spencer – I feel as if I’m getting to know each of them. A tight family unit, and yet still individuals, with quirks & foibles, passions & set-backs, all their own.

Frustrating … and … EXHILARATING!

 

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Old Sir John’s young love

May 29, 2015 at 5:22 pm (diaries, history, news, people, research) (, , , , , )

A year later, and I am still transcribing letters from last spring, last fall. While other items wait, and more items come in.

Gotta LOVE it and HATE it.

So, a few days ago, I was back to transcribing letters from a collection in New York; late letters of Mamma (Mrs. Augusta Smith, Emma’s mother). I am trying to write about the 1810s and here am I immersed in the 1840s. BUT this news is too good not to share!

It’s also a bit of a head-scratcher.

Mamma’s youngest daughter, Maria, I already knew was the object of pursuit by her brother-in-law’s brother. The Rev. Richard Seymour wrote in his diary that his elder brother the Rev. Sir John Culme-Seymour had begun making inquiries about young Maria Smith. I wrote about Richard’s diary entries for The Chronicle (publication of the Berkhamstead Local History & Museum Society) last year:

“Letter from Dora in w:h she tells me that J: had divulged to her his g:t admiration of & strong penchant for M – and leaves me to act upon her information.”

Of course _I_ knew – from history, as well as Richard’s diary, that Maria accepted Sir John’s proposal. There were already two Seymour in-laws; Sir John made the third! Maria (born in 1814) accepted Sir John in the fall of 1843. He was a widower whose wife had died in 1841, leaving him with three children. It was Richard’s use of the word “penchant” which has always made me sit up and take notice.

And now this undated letter of Mamma’s…

Mrs Smith wrote in terms of “he” and “she” and at first I was guessing the name of the couple she described. Could it be…??? Surely it was some one else.

“I ought almost to apologize for not having written sooner… I had nothing to tell but conjectures”. “He was in high spirits & talked a good deal…. After that, he became a little graver & she perceived it, & told me her suspicions. She was still in a doubtful state; could think of his age, &c.”

Mamma, ready to let the “she” decide for herself, then plays with her audience, like a cat plays with a mouse – describing minute changes in attitude, attention, spirits, in both “she” and “he”.

“I am told he was dreadfully nervous, could not sleep, & was almost desponding.”

Then, she reports: “in the most respectful & timid manner he made known his attachment, dreading her answer”. The expected outcome is chronicled, but with an odd interjection: “When he had obtained her consent, he was indeed happy: his Family say, he never was in love before. He had been fearing me; & when they came home… you may be sure I received him most kindly… his age & his grey hair are no objections to me: it was the same case with my own dear Husband”.

Finally, she divulges the “she”: MARIA!

Maria Culme-Seymour2

So it IS Sir John who had the grey hair and a great age (he was closing in on 43). Mrs. Smith’s memories of her own youthful marriage to a widower tore at my heart – but back up even more and you’ll see the sentence that causes me concern: “his Family say, he never was in love before.” How can a widower’s family EVER so blot out a first wife??? And who makes up this “family”? — the in-laws (mother, sisters) of the very person Mrs. Smith is writing: her own daughter Fanny Seymour!

Thoughts now crowd into my head that had never been there before – about Sir John; about his first marriage to Elizabeth Culme (he took her name, with his own, by special license); about his penchant for little Maria Smith. Clearly, Sir John — who tackled Mrs. Smith when his brother Richard was looking to marry Fanny (a proposal by proxy) — was a man with a lot to offer, and yet had not the confidence to directly pursue his aims. But what is the meaning behind the words Mamma says came from his own womenfolk? Only time will tell. One source would have been Richard’s diary – but pages and passages are missing in the early years; and these passages may have covered the betrothal of John to Elizabeth.

At least Richard’s diaries are already transcribed… Now I just have to find the time to re-read them, with an eye to deciphering the past and future of Sir John Culme-Seymour.

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Shop the Etsy Way!

March 26, 2012 at 7:19 pm (fashion, history, news) (, , , , , , )

Would you like the “background”, the “story”, or the “pictures”? Probably the pictures!

This necklace just arrived in today’s post — from ENGLADY, in Campbell, California. It’s a silver, hand-crafted piece based on seals once used to … well, seal your letter!

On to some background…

In the early 19th century, when the young Smiths and Goslings were writing to each other, there were no envelopes. One simply folded the letter so that one square on the rear side of the sheet of paper was left blank.

Here’s a Jane Austen letter:

Even with parts of the full page not in this photograph you can see where the “direction” has been placed, as well as see the remains of its RED SEAL.

I’ll talk more about these next time — for I found such a wonderful little collection of different seals in the Smith&Gosling Correspondence at the Hampshire Record Office.

And it was while searching for some of these that I found Englady’s Etsy Shop. Kat specializes in Wax Seal and Gemstone Jewelry. Seals often wove together images and clever (sometimes French) phrases. As is the case with my piece: Telle est la Vie … Such is life: a ship on a stormy sea!

Imagine, too, this seal closing up your letter to mom, dad, sis, brother, friend, or lover. Telle est la vie… maybe literally, if you were oceans away.

In another installment I’ll tell you about seals as well as other seal jewelery that caught my eye. But today belongs to Kat! What a preciously tiny pendant, on an oh-so-delicate chain, fixed with a solid clasp. This necklace is EXQUISITE in person.

I was mildly worried about the length of the chain — but took Kat’s advice and ordered the standard 17-inches. It nestles perfectly around the base of my neck. If you want it longer, though, all you need to do is tell her!

I spotted the padded yellow envelope poking out of the mail box straightaway, but what waited inside? A true present:

a lovely card for keeping or passing on to friends, a handwritten note, and look at the box! All tied up in a bow. My mother and aunt, who both gave me money for my February birthday, said “buy yourself something” —  my mother adding, “something you can wear and not a book!”. Won’t they be ever so surprised.

And you will too, should you shop Englady at Etsy! Highly recommended.

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