I have been burning the candle – quite literally: Up late most nights these last weeks. It paid off immensely last Thursday, with the discovery of a small batch of letters IN ROME!
The BIGGER surprised came when I realized the KEY to knowing these letters were in fact having anything to do with my batch of Smiths was the name involved: LANTE turns up in a letter I actually bought (thanks, Craig!) a couple of years ago.
And Villa Lante (in Gianicolo) still exists, as this GORGEOUSLY illustrated blog post on Rosa Arcium attests. I can’t help but believe that Charles, Augusta, Emma, and Fanny visited here – perhaps quite often, during their winter in Rome (1822-1823).
In addition to Rosa Arcium, gain views of the house from:
- l’Orecchio di Giano (I wanna go to a concert …) [the picture (above) cheats: see info on the opera]
- Villa Lante al Gianicolo (history in English)
- Villa Lante al Gianicolo (youtube) [29:34]
I am in seventh heaven this weekend transcribing letters written by Augusta Wilder, her main correspondent being her sister Charlotte, now Mrs Arthur Currie.
This particular letter dates to January 1834.
It opens with a comical story of a “black dog” whom “Mr Baillie” (related to Joanna Baillie??) would like to foist upon Henry Wilder, then moves on to the affecting story of two “Cousins” who are in line for the “Orphan Asylum”! This begging for an act of charity segues into a discussion very close to my heart: the lamented demise of William Ellis Gosling, Mary’s eldest brother. Augusta calls him “a valued friend“. He died, aged only thirty-nine, of scarlet fever, contracted at Christmas time. One day well; next day ill; days later – dead.
- see my post about toddler William’s portrait, now in El Paso, Texas
Next is mention of Mr & Mrs Knight, with a fine description – though a bit puzzling too – of the lady. Then begins a lengthy discussion of Edward Austen’s great friend, fellow clergyman Mr Majendie. Augusta compliments his singing and his conversation – but saves her highest praise for the man’s preaching. A nugget, indeed!
A heartbreaking assessment of Augusta’s son Frederick is tackled, thanks to her noticing the progress Emma’s children make – including one (“Charlie”) born in the same year as Fred (1832), and only days before him. I’ve yet to name any kind of illness or debility from the references given to baby Fred’s health. He ultimately lived into his 60s — and had three wives.
Much more letter follows (Augusta was given to crossing her writing, and this letter is a typical example of that practice), but what caught my eye was the direction. The letter was originally addressed — and, yes, opens with My dear Charlotte — to Mrs Currie in London; and that address is struck out and the letter forwarded to Mrs Smith at Tring Park.
There is a pen notation of the receipt of the letter (19 January; it is dated the 18th); but a pencil note that surely reads Jan ’31. And “beneath” that a correction to 1834, with the last digit underlined. Considering the letter is dated, there are many postal stamps, and of course notice of the death of William and the illness of Mr Gosling, 1831 is clearly incorrect – but who made the mistake? who in a separate dating “corrected” it?
That matters less to me than what is written – again in pencil – at ninety-degrees to the address. Can you read it?
Pencil is one of my *frights* to read – it wears off, is often light to begin with – and is typically used as a third application to a crossed letter, which simply is NOT a help in deciphering the contents! But I’m quite sure I’ve puzzled this one out:
Mrs Augusta / Smith / to Charlotte / Currie / dull
Firstly, the writer is not Mamma; it is to Charlotte Currie, but it is FAR FAR from D-U-L-L! In fact, the letter is a jewel! Who could be so cruel??
Being CHEST-DEEP in portraits this week, I was so excited to find two Janine Barchas-related websites. One, a 2012 “work-in-progress” page on the Aphra Behn.Org “interactive journal” (see also ABO’s new website); the other, her up-and-running “WHAT JANE SAW” website.
Readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen will realize (quickly!) that my interest in Austen is only outstripped by my fascination with my SMITH & GOSLING families. What JANE AUSTEN SAW is surely also WHAT THE SMITHS & GOSLINGS SAW!
Emma’s youthful diaries are filled with references to exhibitions; alas, no 1813 diary written by Emma exists (that I know of….). BUT: An 1813 diary exists for Eliza Chute.
Unfortunately, Eliza was less likely to be in London than her sister Augusta Smith, and nothing exists at HRO (Hampshire Record Office) for Mamma for any of the years comprising the decade of the 1810s. Mary Lloyd Austen also has a diary for 1813, but, like Eliza Chute, was even less likely to be in London during “the season”.
If I had been given the nod by JASNA to visit England this summer, my project would have centered around these very diaries! Alas, again, it was not to be. So if anyone in England, near Winchester, wants to pop in, take a look, and tell readers what is or is not listed in these diaries — feel free to comment.
Lady Cunliffe was still alive (died in fall, 1814); and she knew Sir Joshua Reynolds — was painted by him even. She probably visited the exhibition, but so far very little written by her is known to exist. The Gosling/Cunliffe family was well-known to Mrs Piozzi (Hester Thrale); and she lent paintings to this exhibition! Small world…
For now, though, let’s take a viritual tour, circa 1813, in the company of Jane Austen!
I’ve written before about finding this darling miniature of Maria Smith AKA Lady Culme Seymour; but last night I took the opportunity to RELOOK at Bonhams auction site, because a letter I’ve given scant attention to actually mentions THIS VERY image!
It is the end of November, 1844; Maria and John Culme Seymour have been married since February; the visitor is Mamma Smith, and she is writing, jointly, to daughters Emma and Eliza:
“Maria sang too; she … played her part [ie, of hostess] very well; conversed with animation, was polite to all, & looked happy: she looked young & pretty, with Curls; looked quite like Ross’s picture.”
That comment alone tells me that Mamma thought the portrait a fair likeness of her youngest daughter!
As you can see, when you go to Bonhams, they have a “similar items” area in the lower right corner; in this case, other portraits done by Sir William Charles Ross, RA.
Among them is this portrait, simply described as “of a Lady”. As you know, such terminology kills me.
A sweet, yet slightly melancholy face, wouldn’t you say. The description is short: “A Lady, standing in a landscape and wearing black dress and white underslip, a pink rose at her corsage [sic?], jeweled belt, olive green shawl draped about her shoulders, her hair upswept into a knot, the front centrally parted and curled in ringlets framing her face, holding periwinkles in her right hand. Gilt-mounted within brown leather travelling case lined with velvet.” She sold for £2000 in a May 2013 auction (and was earlier sold through Christie’s, in 1979).
Who could she be??
_I_ am looking for a “missing” Ross portrait: of Fanny Seymour. Richard Seymour (who also sat to the artist in April 1836), wrote in his diary of Ross’s visit to Kinwarton on the 22nd to paint Fanny in September 1836; and on the 28th, he says:
“Mr. Ross has finished a miniature of dearest Fanny – w:h quite satisfies me – and I have just paid him £30. viz: £26..5 for the Min: and £3..15 for the frame & case, yet to come. X Giving him a £5 note and checque on Curries for £25. This piece of self indulgence will I hope be pardoned in me –“
Now compare the above to Maria, which Mamma seems to agree is a good likeness:
Not the same person, but could they be sisters? And yet compare to their Sister-in-law Frances (Seymour) Smith (Spencer Smith’s wife), another miniature by Ross dating to the mid-1830s (this a later “copy”):
While not as engaging as this slyly-smiling Frances Smith, one almost wonders a bit: Could it be her?
Ah, I mourn that the sitter of the Bonhams Ross miniature may go through life forever more as “A Lady”. If only Richard had written something about what Fanny wore, or how she was posed.
All the “royal baby” watch and news has made me recall the loving thoughts “Mamma Smith” (Augusta Smith) penned into the year’s summary in her diary for 1798:
“I pray God that I may not be spoiled by this prosperity, & that I may bear a reverse with resignation & patience. Now, love & fortune smile upon me, & I find myself near becoming a Mother, an event which will give pleasure to many of those nearly connected with me.”
If written at the true “end” of the year, Mamma was little more than a month away from giving birth to her eldest child, a girl to be named Augusta after her mother. Either she, or her baby, or both, could very well have not come through the ordeal of “confinement”.
Two Teens in the Time of Austen sends congratulations to the new parents on their “little bundle of joy”.
Last week I bid on this little snippet from the Smith & Gosling past:
I suspect it once contained a letter written to Mamma by Eliza (and/or her husband Denis Le Marchant). The “frank” is described as the signature of Mr. Labouchere; it’s a REAL guess, because the Smiths obtained franks from so many quarters. Given the date and Denis’ position in the late 1830s, it’s a guess that makes me salivate for the letter it once contained!
My father rather scoffed when he saw the tiny scrap. I must admit to my own disappointment – but I simply had to have it. Something once addressed to Mamma Smith! It was the shock, genuine shock, of seeing MAPLEDURHAM as I looked through tons of letters online. Pity this one contained no actual letter… What might have been written in 1838 to Mamma?? Is the letter somewhere, waiting to be ‘reunited’ with its (partial) envelope?
I held the paper up to the window and spotted a fabulous watermark: a large fleur de lys and below this, J & M, written in script. The cartouche around the fleur de lys has been cropped — for this is only a Free Front: what you see in the image (above) is what I got.
It’s early days; my information on watermarks comes from a book (quite wonderful; called Mozart: Studies of the Autograph Scores) that out of necessity does not comment on English writing paper. IF anyone can ID the paper for me, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, have a look at this terrific set of watermarks from England and Continental papers.
Maria, Lady Northampton — sister-in-law to Lady Frances Compton (see my last two posts) — kept up a healthy correspondence with her family back at Erle Stoke Park, Wiltshire; letters to her sister Augusta have been preserved, and in them Lady Northampton makes frequent mention of the Militia, and also the general fear of invasion by French troops.
These same rumors and feelings run strong in the letters of Mrs Lefroy, Jane Austen’s dear friend and the wife of the rector at Ashe. Mrs Lefroy was known to the Smiths of Erle Stoke Park; Sarah Smith, mother of Eliza Chute and Lady Northampton, wrote to Eliza, asking her to query Mrs. Lefroy about her ‘straw manufactory’ in early 1797.
In reviewing Lord Northampton’s chapter in the book A History of the Comptons of Compton Wynyates, there is much quoted from the 1790s letters of Lady Northampton to Augusta Smith (yeah!), at the time in the possession of Mr Scrase Dickins.
In the Spring of 1796, Maria could write of her blooming flower-garden; it is suspected that she painted flowers during this period. Works by the sisters of Earl Stoke Park (and their teacher, Miss Margaret Meen) are at the Royal Horticultural Society; type margaret meen into the search box. These particular flower paintings predominantly date from the 1780s.
Maria quipped that in spending the spring at Castle Ashby she was “rusticating in the country” while sister Augusta (and probably sisters Eliza and Emma as well) were “enjoying the town diversions.” As the winter months of 1796 descend, we begin to see mentions of the Militia – but Maria also comments, asking her sister, “What think you of the Memorial about peace; I fear it is very distant, and I fear much we shall be invaded.” Reading the quotes included in the book, it is an extremely TENSE time; mobs, rioting, troops quartered. Towards the end of one letter Maria could say, “one of our carpenters was the principal person at the riot at Yardley, and is of course no longer employed here.”
There exists also (in a private collection) a chatty letter from Eliza Chute to Augusta Smith, who is still feeling the effects of a fall, probably from a horse; a gossipy letter, written in French by ‘Auguste’ also comes from the early period of 1797. It seems as if the sisters are trying to buoy flagging spirits. Then more “news”: of a failed French invasion at Pembroke; banks stopping payments of gold. Amid all the fears and frivolity, Eliza Chute meets the new Mrs James Austen (Mary Lloyd): “she is perfectly unaffected, and very pleasant; I like her.” The Austens’ would hear soon of the death of Cassandra Austen‘s fiancé Tom Fowle; and sister Jane Austen would put the final touches on her manuscript, “First Impressions.” Life, never on hold because of war and civil unrest, going on…
Mapledurham House (near Reading) was the last home Mamma (Mrs Augusta Smith) would inhabit. She and her unmarried children moved here in 1834. The first family event was to be a wedding uniting Fanny Smith with the Rev. Richard Seymour. The night before the wedding was spent, however, fanning the flames of a fire!
Mary, Lady Smith, saved the house by alerting everyone to smoke. Emma Austen‘s diary relates the story.
Working on my Pinterest boards (you can find us by searching Emma Austen, if you’d like!), and responding to a comment about my little Mapledurham House thimble, I searched once again for pictures to post – and found this article from The Telegraph, published in 2011.
According to Damien Thompson, Mapledurham was a “safe house for fugitive priests”. “Mapledurham House kept a genuine secret during the Tudor persecution and … its current owners, John and Lady Anne Eyston, are still making discoveries. The most recent priest hole, for example, lay undiscovered until 2002 — though it’s in such an inaccessible upper bedroom that it can’t accommodate crowds of tourists. The hole is hidden underneath a sliding hearth, and it might better be described as an elaborate escape shaft. ‘Family legend had it that there was a priest hole in the bedroom fireplace – but we didn’t realise that for years we were looking at the wrong fireplace, not the hidden original…’.”
Now if only I knew which bedroom Mary shared with Eliza. It was next door to a “large sitting room up stairs”. A crack in the hearth, and smoldering embers, caused the “insufferable smoke,” which woke Mary at four in the morning. Emma ends the diary entry, “The floor of the room & a picture were much burnt & the wall & ceiling smoked the house a good deal injured by fire. Sir John Seymour arrived.” Richard Seymour’s diary recounts that his “beloved” Fanny woke him at “4 1/2 AM the house being on fire Two hours of the deepest anxiety followed…” Surely not the start to their wedding day the couple had envisioned!
Maybe it was a Priest Hole rather than a “crack in the hearth”….
* * *
The above letters were MUCH publicized in the summer of 2012 (thanks, Deb Barnum, for telling me about them in the first place!) Extreme frustration in trying to get anyone at The Vyne to respond beyond a “thanks for contacting us”… I’ve written a good four times, to four different people – gotten one response. So much for the newspapers claim of “sharing these stories”.
These six letters, dating from 1795 to 1798, were all written (evidently…) to Augusta Smith (Mamma)! A vital piece of Smith & Gosling history. Read the full story of Eliza Chute’s letters.
By the way: my dear Augusta just passed her 242nd Birthday on Friday 4 January.
Anyone willing and/or able to help — please contact me!
A great number of years ago I found Deborah Kaplan’s excellent Jane Austen Among Women – I am currently rereading the first couple of chapters, which deal with women Austen knew. From the Knights to the Chutes; from the Powletts to the Deedes family, there are diaries and letters which tell us a wealth of information about life in England during Austen’s lifetime — which, for my research, coincides with the youth and adulthood of the sisters Eliza Chute (of The Vyne) and Augusta Smith (of Suttons), as well as the children Augusta and Charles Smith brought up at Suttons, my Emma Smith (aka Emma Austen Leigh) among them.
Kaplan has an interesting narrative for chapter 1: Genteel Domesticity. She touches on fertility and sexuality (so many children for some couples); “growing up gentry” (if I may term it so!); maiden aunts (for Emma there was “Aunt” – Miss Judith Smith [father’s sister] and “Aunt Emma” [mother’s sister]). Wonderful to read Kaplan’s thoughts on writing circles and visiting circles. Time and again I’d find myself saying “yes”, for her conclusions echoed my own.
Not a new book, but still available, if only from a library – and highly recommended!