What WERE they Thinking? Dull?! NEVER —

March 1, 2014 at 10:47 am (diaries, history, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , )

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.

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?

augusta wilder letter

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  

Oh, dear…

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??

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Where there’s a WILL

November 21, 2010 at 12:52 pm (a day in the life, fashion) (, , , , , , , , , )

Yesterday, rather bored and wanting something to transcribe rather than write (I’m slowing working on my book about the Goslings & Smiths; a book review is due in a month, which is more or less done), I purchased and downloaded two wills – for Charles Joshua Smith and his wife Mary (Gosling) Smith.

One interesting feature of Charles’: he named Mary the guardian of his children — as long only as she remained his widow! If she remarried, then guardianship of the three (Charles Cunliffe Smith, Mary Charlotte Smith, Augusta Elizabeth Smith) was shared with Charles’ mother (Mrs Augusta Smith) and his brother (Spencer Smith).

Mary never did remarry; although she only outlived Charles by 11 years.

The “fun” thing about Mary’s will are the ‘trinkets’ (the name she applied) gifted by her to various relatives. Today I focus on that given by her to Charlotte (Smith) Currie — or I should say intended by Mary to go to Charlotte; Mary outlived young Charlotte by two years. The Codicil in which these items were given is dated 29 September 1834 (Mary died in July 1842).

So what had she intended Charlotte Currie to have as a memento? “A bracelet with Swiss Landscapes in enamel”. That I’d LOVE to see!!

So I looked up some images of 19th century, Georgian Swiss enamel jewelry. The only “landscapes” I found were those made into pins, and dating much later than 1830s. But isn’t this specimen, from c1850, gorgeous:

This bracelet could be closer to what Mary may have owned — possibly something she bought while abroad in 1829:

This, of course, is floral rather than landscapes, but this is described as being c1840, and so is more in keeping with what Mary may have purchased.

Mary’s 1829 diary was the first seen when comparing the handwriting of  “Lady Smith of Stapleford Tawney” (as the microfilm termed her) with that of Mary Gosling; they were a match! And the first words read in that 1829 diary?

Hausmadchen zeigen sie mir eines Bettzimmer“; above which she inserted “wollen sie mir zeigen“, which is a bit more “Would you mind showing me a bedroom, Housemaid”. Obviously, a phrase written down to prepare for this trip abroad.

I must admit, that reading of these gifts (mainly jewelry, but also some token gifts of money) made Mary seem that much more “solid” for some few moments; these items trinkets, as she said, of her existence — and her esteem for those left behind.

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