Happy Birthday, Charles!

May 31, 2010 at 10:24 am (a day in the life, people) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

by Frenchie (Photobucket)

Today, May 31 — Memorial Day in the US — marks the 210th birthday of Charles Joshua Smith, Emma’s brother and Mary’s husband. (Maybe I shall start calling them “birtharies” = birthdays/anniversaries.)

Charles was the second child, and first son, of Charles and Augusta Smith. His elder sister, Augusta, had been born the previous February (1799).

It might be interesting to note, in the Woodford diary (see previous post), that Augusta senior makes mention of the imminent birth of Little Augusta:

“[P]ossessed of each other’s love & confidence, founded on the most perfect esteem & a similarity of character & temper, our days glide on in uninterrupted harmony, & we have no anxiety for the future. Such a state of perfect happiness seems too much for my lot in this World; I cannot expect it to last: 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.”

Augusta had three sisters; only two of those three married; only one of would have children (Maria, the Marchioness of Northampton would produce two surviving children, son Spencer and daughter Elizabeth Compton). Augusta and Charles senior would produce nine children, all of whom lived to adulthood, if not exceptionally far into that adulthood. Charles Joshua, for instance, died a few months shy of his 31st birthday; Augusta died only aged 37.

But it is difficult not to be curious about Augusta, Mamma Smith’s, comment about “becoming a Mother, an event which will give pleasure to many of those nearly connected with me.” This could, of course, connect to grandparents — who always seem to relish the advent of grandchildren. At this point (1798) both Augusta’s mother, Sarah Smith (née Gilbert) and mother-in-law Judith Smith (née Lefevre) were alive. [In fact, Judith lived until 1808; Sarah two years longer, until 1810). Augusta’s father, Joshua Smith, lived a widower until 1819. From letters, the maternal Smiths took great delight in their toddling grandchildren Augusta and Charles. In 1804, Grandmamma Sarah writes that she has charge of “our little Squire“:

“he is so fond of going in the Cabriole, & indeed he is so good there is no denying him; Augusta has given him up to me & I have undertaken to cure him of Whining & fretting, & I can assure you we have not once in her absence had a Crying fit with us, some times a little naughty at Lessons: but do not suppose I flatter myself with the continuance of his good humour when they return; he has not had his Sisters to contend with. I expect them on Sunday or Monday.”

By then, Emma (1801) and Fanny (1803) had been born, so the “little Squire” already had half his quota of sisters!

And yet, the person most “nearly connected” with Augusta would of course be her own husband. Charles Smith had lost his first wife, Susanna Devall, at a very young age. Her monument inscription in the little church at Tawney tells that she “bore a long and painful illness, with the most Pious Submission to the will of God”. She died 26 October 1796, “in the 27th Year of her Age.” I have never found an indication that she and Charles, though married in 1791, had had any children.

The Devalls, however, remained a fixture in the lives of the Smiths of Suttons – Susanna’s sister Elizabeth married Charles Scrase Dickins (or Dickens); her son Charles would marry Lady Elizabeth Compton. A single remaining-single Miss Devall haunts the diaries of Emma, though there is only one mention of her brother (John).

Charles senior was an old father – 42 years old when his first child (little Augusta) was born, compared to his wife being just past her 27th birthday. Papa Charles, living only until 1814, is a somewhat shadowy figure, especially since Emma’s diaries do not begin until the year following, 1815. There exists, however, this delightful though short missive to little Augusta, dated c1807:

“My dear Augusta

      As you wrote me so pretty a French letter [note! Augusta was only about 7 or 8 years old!] I will not wait until I see you to let you know how much I was pleased with it… my little Maid is good and I shall find your Mamma and all of you quite well tomorrow afternoon — I am

                                                                    Y:r affectionate Father
Charles Smith

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The Year of the French, 1798

May 24, 2010 at 8:37 pm (a day in the life, books, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have spent the last three days in England 1798 — literally the Year of the French, due to all the rumors flying around about imminent invasion.

The “tour” has been courtesy of Illinois resident Mark Woodford, whose company website, Networked Robotics, is worth a look. Mark’s father recently bequeathed him a diary which had passed the last ten to fifteen years in Charles Woodford’s household as “1798 Diary of a High-Born Lady”. The high-born lady turns out to be none other than AUGUSTA SMITH (née Smith), Emma Austen-Leigh’s mother; and 1798, the year of her courtship and marriage to Charles Smith of Suttons. A true find, indeed. And I owe Mark more than one heartfelt “thank you” — firstly, for contacting me after he identified Augusta as the diarist; and, secondly, for loaning me the diary in order for a transcription to be taken.

Augusta arrived last Thursday, and we’ve spent hours together ever since.

How did the diary come to be among the Woodford possessions? With the death of Charles Woodford, it may be impossible to narrow down: a second-hand antiquarian bookshop? Christie’s or Sotheby’s? Or…?? Where it came from would be a mystery well-solved, yet it points up what I’ve long suspected: There are individual diaries out there (potentially of MANY family members), on random shelves, merely described by their dates of composition because their diarists never ascribed names to their scribblings. (Only in ONE diary — belonging to Charles Joshua Smith — have I encountered an owner’s inscription; although, of course, Mary Gosling penned her name on the “title page” of her earliest travel diary, dated 1814. That simple act of possession unravelled this entire historical puzzle.)

May this diary of Augusta’s be the first of many such “discoverings”!

Although I have now completed a preliminary transcription (proofing to come!), a year in someone’s life can be overwhelming to describe in a few paragraphs, never mind a few words. And a few words will right now have to suffice.

The year begins with young Augusta at home, at Erle Stoke Park, Wiltshire — home of Joshua and Sarah (née Gilbert) Smith. Her father was a Member of Parliament (for Devizes); her soon-to-be fiancé also sits in the House of Commons. Between the two men as sources for political bulletins, Augusta punctuates her diary with news of Buonaparte, French troop movements, taxation laws, and Nelson Naval Victories. One interesting item: she writes of visiting Mrs Davison — this would be Harriot Davison, née Gosling: sister to William Gosling (father to my diarist Mary Gosling) and wife of Nelson’s confidant, Alexander Davison of Swarland.

Mrs Davison is a shadowy figure; she had already died by the time Mary’s diaries begin (1829). Charles, whose diaries begin the year he and Mary married (1826), mentions her just once: when they hear of her death (28 October 1826).

From Augusta Smith’s entry on January 2nd — where she makes notation of a rumor: that the French were building a RAFT (700 feet long by 350 feet wide) “for an Invasion on England” (on the opposite page, written down who-knows-when, is the bold negation: “N.B. this report proved false.”) — to her comments surrounding news of Nelson’s Nile Victory towards the end of the year, we now get a spine-chilling glimpse at how unsettled life for the English living near the coast could be.

More later!

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