Several weeks ago (I always have GOOD intentions about posting *News*… then don’t do it!) I came across Geri Meftah‘s blog post from FEBRUARY 2015, mentioning the purchase of a letter book by the Huntington Library in California. I visit Geri’s delightful JANE AUSTEN blog (kleurrijkjaneausten) with some regularity, but am not (and never will be) one “on top of” new news….
Better late than never, right?
But one thing about being half a year behind the time: The Huntington has had time to DIGITIZE the collection!
kleurrijkjaneausten @ blogspot will fill you in on the background of the purchase – and has a link to The Guardian‘s article about it. The letter book was at the time described as “52 unpublished letters, poems and other material from six generations of the Leigh family”.
As you might imagine, I held my breath: Anything from the family in the nineteenth century? Indeed: YES! and two letters (though late for my research) from James Edward Austen Leigh!
I see that the catalogue will be off-line on September 16th (2015), but before or after, do look through the images. The Huntington has made it exceptionally easy to read the LEIGH LETTERS online, or download images. [use search term: leigh family papers]
The above “snippet” is from the first Edward Austen Leigh letter, and is a DELIGHTFUL snippet of memories of his aunt, Jane Austen, and Stoneleigh Abbey.
- for the Digital Images of the LEIGH LETTERS from the Huntington
- for Edward’s own letter to Frederick Leigh Colvile (1866)
- for Edward’s follow-up letter to same (also 1866)
The Huntington describes the small collection as “letters, poems and other manuscripts written by various members of the Leigh family and other people in their circle. The letters are mainly concerned with the intimate, mundane, playful and tragic aspects of family life from the early modern period until the middle of the 19th century”. They would be a wonderful addition to anyone reading Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s Family: Through Five Generations.
A friend in the UK sent me a newspaper clipping. Honestly, it had me shaking my head – not up-and-down, but side-to-side.
I have always been frugal; never more so than now. But am I the only one who grows a bit disgusted at the prices some items fetch? The newest is a letter – not a new discovery, but on the market – written by Cassandra Austen, to her niece Fanny Knight, about the death of Jane Austen.
The “asking” price is £30,000!
Surely, in the UK, that must buy a CAR (and a pretty nice one, I would think); it used to buy a house.
I work with letters exactly like this. I’ve even handled a couple written by Cassandra Austen. Such exorbitant pricing means this is one letter that will NEVER turn up in a pile of letters at the Hampshire Record Office. Where does the insanity end?
The email, with the newspaper clipping, came yesterday – and I was still thinking about this today. Wouldn’t it have been nice for the owner to donate the letter?
I’m glad the museum seems on target for their goal. No one knows better than me the angst of something that you’re so close to having – and then some glitch and … zip … someone ELSE gets to call it theirs (long story). But there’s also greed – which leaves me, as I began, shaking my head.
- Chawton’s Jane Austen’s House Museum: join the fundraising effort (ending 31 July 2015)
- Southern Evening Echo article (11 July 2015)
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.
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.
Research can be exhilarating…
Research can be frustrating….
And some days, there’s a little bit of BOTH the ‘high’ and the ‘low’!
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!
Now that it’s turned to October, I’m doing a little housekeeping – and, having an influx of letters means that I can ADD to my file of SIGNATURES.
I cannot stress enough: should anyone ever come across letters with these names, diaries with these inscribed, or my “Cast of Characters” sounds at all familiar — please do get in touch!
Earlier this week I was confronted with a VERY familiar hand — and yet I could not for the life of me say who I thought it might be. Only a few lines; I could date the letter – but who was the WRITER?!?
It haunted me for hours.
Then I looked up a photo of a letter that was written by one of the two Misses Ashley – two sisters, both of whom were governesses. Eureka!
And the snippet of information finally made sense too…
But that made me determined to make myself a file, with samples of their handwriting, for all the siblings, their spouses, the parents, aunts, uncles. Anyone and everyone. One stop shopping, the next time I’m guessing “who IS this masked writer?”
Have been busy trying to assess what letters I have transcribed, what letters I need to track down. Part of me wishes the letters were a bound book, but I suspect it would be HUGE: over 700 pages! And yet every time I read a section of letters (lately I have been in the 1790s and early 1800s), I notice something never before thought about. They are precious, and the life-blood (in many ways) of this project.
Perusing the letters, I’ve added a few more SIGNATURES to my list. I cannot stress more that if anyone ever discovers letters written by any of these people, or even a short mention of a line or a paragraph about them, I’d love to hear about your discovery!
In SIGNATURES I’ve swapped out one or two poorer images for clearer images; and added a few NEW people — like dear Eliza Gosling. Mary’s mother died at such a young age (in her 30s). Her handful of letters to Eliza Chute are all that are currently known to exist, and yet they are such wonderful letters, filled with decisive thoughts. She must have been a delight to have known. Letters of Sarah Smith (wife of Joshua Smith of Erle Stoke Park; mother to Maria, Eliza, Augusta and Emma) make brief mention of the youthful, newly-wedded Goslings. Just as (even briefer) mention is made of Jane Austen’s dear Madame Lefroy. SUCH Delicious letters!
But now that I’ve actual specimens of the handwriting of ALL four Erle Stoke sisters, I really wanted to share these with Two Teens‘ readers.
Going from youngest to eldest, let’s begin with Miss Emma Smith (known to the Smith of Suttons siblings as “Aunt Emma”). Living until Joshua’s death (in 1819) at Erle Stoke Park, Emma later removed to Sidney and then Glenville, Southampton. Emma never married; traveled extensively. She has really grabbed my attention lately, for she is rather sassy!
EMMA [“Aunt Emma”]: When I saw her handwriting in 2007, my thoughts were: “Oh Emma has a spiky hand that it will take me time to get used to – and time I don’t have”. I later called it “easy but hard to read” and made a note, “I’ll pass on this”.
And my reaction only a year ago: “I thought the one letter I have VERY easy to read!”
Time — practice-practice-practice — conquers all.
* * *
AUGUSTA [“Mamma”]: There wasn’t a day when I had thoughts about Mamma’s writing, because I concentrated on her de-light-ful letters over my entire stay at the Hampshire Record Office. Her letters deserve their own book! She’s forthright, opinionated, and witty. I love her – and LOVE her handwriting. She has some VERY distinctive orthography, especially her capitals (as in Friend and Picture here).
I must say I detected in nearly ALL of them a propensity for double-l words – for instance, well – to look more like wele. Emma especially exaggerates this tiny second ‘l’, as you see above in the word ‘will’ which looks more like wile.
* * *
ELIZA [“Aunt Chute”]: this image is a bit unfair, for it’s more of a draft hand than Eliza Chute’s formal writing. I’m so eager to get her SIX letters to sister Augusta that The Vyne was able to obtain – but they are the most elusive place… Writing, calling even, seems to get one nowhere.
For Eliza, my thoughts have typically been that she had a “legible” hand. The capitals look large in comparison to the lower case letters; the little loops on the ‘d’ are quite fun to see. In the specimen above the “W.C. Esq:r. MP” is telling her correspondent where to address responses, so that Eliza gets it more quickly than the initial letter. “Mr C,” as he often is in her notes to herself, was husband William Chute.
* * *
MARIA [“Aunt Northampton”]: 2007 “again I just can’t deal with a hard to read hand!” In comparing youngest and eldest sister, I noted down: “now her sister Maria a totally different hand! lot of up/down strokes – I simply couldn’t describe either of them!”
Now I think of Maria’s hand as “fresh” and “youthful”:
I can guess why the word “youthful” sprang to mind, because in its ‘neatness’ it somewhat reminds me of the children’s early writings — see, for instance, this sample from young Emma (my Emma Austen Leigh, circa 1811).
- link to Who’s Who in the Smith&Gosling family, including a pedigree chart
- link to Portraits, SEE what people looked like
I must say that I’ve been very lucky to be able to see letters from grandparents – parents – siblings – children. So many generations! But I am voracious: I always want MORE.
Happy Easter for those celebrating, and talk to you soon. Must get back to the 18th century…
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??
Lucky: When you’re an academic AND you discover letters of a well-established writer at the ‘click of a mouse’ you get MEGA-PRESS coverage! My Smiths & Goslings should be only so lucky…
(Those of you sharing your letters, diaries, & images with me, know who you are; thank you!)
But on to the BIG news
Professor Nora Crook‘s “re-discovery” during on online search uncovered – at the ESSEX RECORD OFFICE, the repository where some Smith & Gosling diaries and letters reside! – unpublished letters by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. A fabulous find! And proves my point that you sometimes uncover TERRIFIC *finds* while looking for something completely different.
According to The Guardian, “The letters date between 1831, nine years after the death of her poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and 1849, when Mary Shelley was already unwell with the brain tumour that would kill her two years later, and show a woman who was skilled in charming favours from friends, bursting with pride in and concern for her teenage son – and not unconcerned with frivolities. A last-minute ticket to the coronation of William IV in 1831 necessitated a 3am visit from her hairdresser; she attended the event sporting a plumed headdress (‘The whole thing was wondrously splendid – Diamonds & cloth of gold grew common to the eye.’)”
Even the ‘seal’ (see Keith Crook’s photo) was previously unknown.
” ‘Pure serendipity,’ ” says Prof. Crook, ” ‘The [Horace] Smith connection has been known but this little bit of the jigsaw hasn’t been’ “.
The comments, especially of ARCHIVISTSN, should be included in your perusal of the article.
ERO features the letters as their January 2014 “YOUR FAVOURITE ERO DOCUMENT”: read their article.
The thirteen letters are to be published in an upcoming Keats-Shelley Journal.
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.