6 Degrees of Separation

January 6, 2012 at 11:03 am (chutes of the vyne, diaries, london's landscape, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

No, not Eliza Chute and Jane Austen (although, it definitely is the case, as well). My “degrees of separation” are with a totally different “author” — one who never would have thought of herself as being in print.

One of the slim profferings (only three! my apologies for being so slack) on my little book blog GEORGIAN GEMS, REGENCY READS & VICTORIAN VOICES is a book entitled The Complete Diaries of a Cotswold Parson — these being the diaries of Francis Edward Witts.

I was reviewing a letter, written in August 1800, from Eliza Chute to her best friend Eliza Gosling, when a desire to read through the (heavily-edited) transcription of Eliza Chute’s 1800 diary overtook me.

Gosh! what lives these people lead — especially when they came up to Town (ie, London). I paid more attention to Eliza’s writings while in London than while back at The Vyne. Why? She visited all the other people in London — her sister Augusta Smith; Maria’s sister-in-law Lady Frances Compton, just removing to Chelsea; her parents Joshua and Sarah Smith at Great George Street — where that notorious view of St Margaret’s abutting Westminster Abbey may be viewed:

(Until seeing this photo, I never quite realized the “scene” behind Jane Austin was two towers of two buildings: now it made sense!)

Thrilling for me are Eliza’s visits to Eliza and William Gosling, as well as Lady Cunliffe (Eliza’s mother) — and her other daughter Mary. Mary was Mrs Drummond Smith — and therefore aunt to Eliza Chute!

  • view portraits of Eliza Chute, Lady Cunliffe, and Mrs Drummond Smith on this blog’s Portraits page

On 20 April 1800, Eliza noted a visit to a woman I transcribed as “Ly Elehos” – a name that, during a later reread (ie, without the original diary as reference), I flagged as fairly improbable. This reading it dawned on me that I KNEW who this woman was, not Lady Elehos but correctly transcribed as a possessive (though the original is probably without the apostrophe): “went out  admitted to Ly Elcho’s

Now here was a familiar name, from the Witts diaries! Susan Tracy Keck, related to Francis Witts’ mother (who has her own diaries – more about that momentarily), married and now named Lady Elcho, is mentioned again and again. And Eliza Chute knew them well enough to visit! She should: the Kecks and Chutes were related –> see the Chute family website at Ancestry.

Gosh! small world.

But BIG opportunity.

The “Complete” Cotswold series is (when completed) TEN volumes for Francis Witts and five volumes for Mrs Witts. The tenth volume for Francis is a volume of Notes, IDs, Index, &c. The publisher, Amberley Books, is on volume 8 (I have vols. 1 and 5); but poor Mrs Witts is in a holding pattern: her series is still only ONE volume. Groan…

Eliza, later in the year, then mentions this interesting phrase: “Paid a long visit to Ld Elcho’s who was going to Scotland in a few days

Undoubtedly the couple were departing London for Scotland to visit the Witts family — for the Witts, in debt, were at the beginning of their “nomadic” years. [UPDATE: with further reading I find my assumption is incorrect: the Witts left Edinburgh in 1798; they were abroad in 1800.]

So the big question — without the Index: Did the Witts ever mention Eliza and/or William Chute? And: Did the Witts at all know Eliza and William Gosling, especially when they were installed in Cheltenham, where the Witts too could be found.

New reasons for perusing “old” (sitting on my self) books. Hurry up, Amberley, we need more Agnes Witts!!

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Useful (published) diaries

May 3, 2009 at 11:41 am (books) (, , , , , , , )

Just a quick word to say that I *finally* broke down and purchased the first volume of both The Complete Diary of a Cotswold Lady (by Agnes Witts) and the diary of her son The Complete Diary of a Cotswold Parson (Francis Edward Witts).

They are really lovely books! Large (especially Francis’ — at just over 700 pages!), with many illustrations. Wish I could afford the entire set (still in the act of being published, by the way) — but my pocket book is exceptionally empty these days, and these were extravagances – though, purchased used, they were more affordable. (Agnes vol 1 sells for £25; Francis vol 1 for £50.)

cotswoldlady1The first thing that struck me was how Agnes is described on the inside dust jacket flap: “Agnes Witts was a remarkable woman with great zest for life. She required constant amusement and bored easily. Her favourite pastimes were cards and stimulating conversation, her social circle was wide and well-connected…

Imagine my surprise, upon beginning to read the actual diary entries (ie, after the introduction on Agnes and her family) to see they were quite COMPARABLE to those written by Mary Smith, Emma Smith/Austen, and Eliza Smith/Chute!! More a surprise, because I never would have dreamed that their diaries would hold anyone’s attention for long, if simply published verbatim.

Then sank in this idea: if Agnes was  in need of “constant amusement” and “bored easily”, what does that say of Eliza Chute — who’s diaries (especially) carry the same type of information, especially as regards card playing and visiting?? But the further into the introductions to both volumes I read (the intro to Francis Witt’s diary runs to 200 pages!), the more I see a subtle creeping in of the EDITOR’s thoughts and feelings about these people in these introductions… Maybe I will change my mind, after taking in more of the actual diaries. We shall see.

cotswoldparson1One thing I do wish is, that Alan Sutton (the editor and publisher) had employed a good proof-reader! I’ve never seen such blatant (and easily caught — so why weren’t they caught before going to press?) mistakes: misspellings, additional punctuation (like two periods at the end of a sentence), and sentences that, with slight differentiations, relate exactly the same information. Then, just this morning, I read TWO paragraphs (one followed the other) that were EXACTLY the same, word for word. The word for this is sloppy.

But the ideas and history contained within the diaries continue to fascinate me – which is a good thing, considering the cost just to get these books sent from England! I hope to read the two rather in tandem: Mrs Witts covers the period 1788-1793 and Francis Witts covers 1795-1805.

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