Spending Time at The Vyne

August 16, 2015 at 11:42 am (entertainment, estates, history, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , )

Why is it: the Best FINDS are found around midnight or 2 AM?

Last night I found that the National Trust has been BUSY photographing artwork and posting them on their National Trust Collections site. FINALLY! we can see some flower paintings of Eliza Chute, Augusta Smith (her sister), and their teacher Miss Meen (Margaret Meen).

Alas! isn’t there ALWAYS confusion when more than one person has similar or exactly the SAME NAME?!?

The Vyne is uncertain, for instance, who painted one “scene” picture – Eliza Chute, or the wife of William Wiggett (who later took the name Wiggett Chute in order to inherit); their daughter was also an Eliza Chute (1843-1913). Her pictures of The Vyne are simply charming.

There IS one “scene” picture that they DO attribute to Eliza Chute (Mrs. William Chute), called A Roadside Halt. Emma’s “Aunt Chute” WAS known as an adept painter, and did practice by copying “old masters”, for example in the art collection of neighbor the Duke of Wellington.

But it is the Floral Paintings that I am most excited to see, for instance this undated work inscribed (pencil) “Eliz. Smith Chute” = which, without seeing it up close, could be in Eliza’s hand, or could be a later hand (not that I doubt it was painted by her, just that she may not have signed it herself).

Eliza Chute_red flowersWatercolor on Vellum

I suspect, between the fact that the Smith Sisters of Erle Stoke Park (Maria, Eliza, Augusta, and Emma [later: Lady Northampton, Aunt Chute, Mamma, and Aunt Emma]), were busy in the 1790s, around the time of Eliza’s marriage, producing various Flower Paintings while in the company of Miss Meen, and the fact that it’s ID’ed as “Smith Chute”, that it probably dates from early in this period. It’s unusual for Eliza to use both her maiden and married names.

  • compare Eliza’s flower paintings at The Vyne with those at The Royal Horticultural Society (afraid you have to work for this one: use the SEARCH function and type in Elizabeth Chute or Elizabeth Smith).
  • See other “artwork done by” (more links), on this blog.

Some Flowers are very in the style of Miss Meen – for instance the Asclepia Giganticus Pentandria Digynia, signed “El. S. 1785”. But others seem their own sweet style – like the Amaryllis, which has to date before September 1793 [when she married William Chute] if it is signed “El. S.”

Born in 1768, Eliza was still in her teens in 1785!

There is even one, called Log and Red Berries, worked by BOTH Eliza Chute AND Margaret Meen.

Problems arise with the works of Augusta Smith — is it the daughter Augusta (whom they ID by her married name, Augusta Wilder), or is the artist Mamma?

augusta smith_pink flowersWatercolor on Vellum

This is – judged from afar (though I am NO expert on artist identifications) – said to date from 1820-1836. The cut-off is obvious: Augusta Wilder, Emma’s eldest sister, died in the summer of 1836. The back merely says “Augusta Smith” (which of course she would NOT have been after 1829, when she married! so the dating is still erroneous.)

Other Botanicals are a much easier call, and are clearly misattributed – little Augusta was not painting florals at the age of 4 or 5, and there are works identified (for instance) as “Suttons, 1803”. Even worse: “Turnera Ulmifolio Pentandria Trigynia by Augusta Smith, Mrs Henry Wilder (1799-1836). (in ink). AS 1787.” So prodigious a child was little Augusta, that she painted TWELVE YEARS before she was even born!?! Don’t think so…

Emma, by the way, began lessons with Miss Meen in February 1815, aged 13.

The images at the Royal Horticultural Society must be searched for, but all the Four Sisters of Erle Stoke Park (and their instructress, Margaret Meen) are represented. Emma Smith (“Aunt Emma”) is actually represented by an online “gallery” of work. Twenty nine images (currently) come up if you search for the term Joshua Smith — because the girls are ID’ed as his daughters! You can toggle the image display so the instructive text comes up beside each image, which is highly useful.

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Further Thoughts on Four Sisters

September 30, 2013 at 3:58 pm (chutes of the vyne, estates, history, people, research) (, , , , , , , )

Today commences some time off work for me; I hope to do some catching up on research! To that end, I’ve been reading letters from the 1790s, specifically, at the moment, letters of Sarah Smith to her daughter, the newly-married Eliza Chute (Mrs William Chute of The Vyne).

In looking for more information on Maud Tomlinson Berkeley (my latest book purchase: Maud: The Illustrated Diary of a Victorian Woman, edited by Flora Fraser [I’m dying to know where the ORIGINAL diary is…]), I came across the book Victorian Honeymoons. Dipping into it online (UVM has a copy), I saw much about the honeymoon of Effie Grey and John Ruskin. Since John never, in Effie’s words, made her “his wife”, one concludes that other wedding nights could not be half so disastrous.

In truth, though, I can never know the intimate thoughts of Eliza Chute on this most momentous, and highly personal, aspect of life.

But, musing on such moments, the thought struck me: here, in one family of four girls, we have four case-studies in the various dilemmas life offers:

  • Maria, the eldest, undoutedly “married well”: A young man seemingly enamoured of her; with prospects of a title and a large landed estate (or two…. ). A catch worthy of being in the same league as Mr Darcy of Pemberley; only Lord Compton of Castle Ashby was real once. There are letters describing Maria’s anxiety for Lord Compton (as he was styled before his father’s death in 1796); some relating to his duties with the Militia, some relating to illness. Maria produced, in the end, the traditional “heir” — but in her case there was no “spare”: her first-born and third-born sons died within a short time of their births. Only her second baby (Spencer, later the 2nd Marquess of Northampton) and her fourth (Elizabeth, later Lady Elizabeth Dickins) survived. She had no further children, though I’ve no idea whether there were further pregnancies. Letters describe Maria as being rather quiet, liking her domestic comforts, being very interested in plants. She was adept at painting botanicals, for a few survive in the (public archive) Royal Horticultural Society.
    • ASIDE: Emma Smith, Maria’s sister, has a “gallery” on this RHS homepage; best way to bring up all the works of the Smith girls: search the term MEEN — Margaret Meen was their instructor.
  • Eliza, the recipient of the Sarah Smith letters housed at the Hampshire Record Office, was married to another gentleman of means, William John Chute, a Member of Parliament for Hampshire. There were no children forthcoming for the Chutes, and one letter — annoyingly missing its concluding page(s)! — seems to hint that Eliza and William Gosling might consider a loan of one of theirs… It is rather supposition, but based on good fact: the Chutes “adopted” William Chute’s cousin Caroline Wiggett when she was a mere toddler. The Vyne estate, however, passed to William Chute’s younger brother, Thomas (unmarried) and after Thomas’s death to Caroline Wiggett’s brother William who adopted the name Wiggett-Chute. He gained possession of Thomas Chute’s Norfolk estate, but possession of The Vyne had to await the death of Eliza Chute in 1842.
    • ASIDE: Caroline Wiggett’s story has been hypothesized as a source behind the “adoption” of the character Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. More on the Chutes, especially William are found in James Edward Austen Leigh’s A History of the Vine Hunt. Caroline Wiggett Workman left “Reminiscences” of her youth.
  • Augusta, the third daughter, concerns us much – for she was the prolific mother of nine, including our Emma Austen Leigh. Augusta has left many letters, and several diaries; her character comes across as formidable, at least in her later years. She lost her husband, Charles Smith of Suttons, when pregnant with her youngest daughter Maria. I often refer to her as “Mamma,” but she is both matriarch and young woman – for her 1798 marriage is documented in one of the earliest diaries I have yet seen. She also, according to one neighbor, held the ignominious position of being Charles second wife — and she did not go down well with this woman who remembered and much preferred Wife Number One! Augusta produced an heir not only for her husband’s estate, but also for her uncle Drummond Smith’s title of baronet. She may have vacated Suttons following her son’s second marriage, but she never gave up her parental concerns – and her advice was sought by all her children until the day she died.
    • ASIDE: the diary comments about young Augusta c1803 are to be found in the valuable biography of William Smith of Parndon {no relation} entitled Progress by Persuasion by Hazel Lake and Jenny Handley.
  • Emma, the “maiden aunt”. The one Erle Stoke sister who never married. After the death of Sarah Smith (1810), Emma and Joshua were left together at Stoke. On Joshua’s death (1819) Emma seems to stay separate from her sisters. At some point she begins living at a place called Glenville, near Southampton. Looking through the records of the Hampshire Record Office, I was rather pleased to see that Emma Austen Leigh saved some newspaper clipping that referenced “the Value of Maiden Aunts” — she had had the pleasure of three such women in her life: “Aunt Emma” (Emma Smith, her mother’s sister); “Aunt” (Judith Smith, her father’s sister); “Aunt Frances,” Lady Frances Compton, Uncle Northampton’s sister. Emma is a slight enigma, awaiting more information. She’s the petulant youngest sister in early letters, and the aloof “maiden aunt” abroad in later letters. A fascinating transformation that I have certain thoughts about; confirming or denying my suspicions will be for a future endeavor.
    • ASIDE: Emma Smith was a prolific artist, and delighted in her stays abroad. A mystery as to the identity of someone called MACKLIN, especially as there exists in Wiltshire the so-called Macklin Album, where the initials A.A. Macklin have been interpreted as meaning an Amelia Macklin. Same person as the one referred to in an 1824 letter? {note: the images for the Macklin Album}

In short, though, several aspects of women – from the titled widow down to the well-heeled spinster – are represented in the Four Smith Sisters of Erle Stoke Park. They will one day make for a fascinating study.

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Pedigrees — Who’s Who in Smith & Gosling

January 9, 2012 at 6:54 am (history, introduction, news, people, places, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

Although I don’t have the software to have nice genealogical charts (and these are pretty complicated families in oh so many ways), I’ve added some “Pedigrees” to the bottom of the “Portraits” page {see link at right}.

You’ve long had information on “Who was Mary’s Father and Mother?” or “How many Smith siblings? and who did everyone marry?” Now, you can see — I hope! — how the “inter-relations” were already there. For instance, Mrs Eliza Chute was (1) best friend to Eliza Cunliffe before and after her marriage to William Gosling, but (2) Eliza Gosling’s sister was also “Aunt” to Eliza Chute — having married Drummond Smith of Tring Park (brother to Joshua Smith of Erle Stoke Park).

There’s a pedigree for the Seymour of Blendworth family — which can be confusing: there are TWO Sir Michael’s to content with, for instance. A trio of Doras too, though Richard Seymour called his sister Dora and his cousin (and eventual sister-in-law) Dora K (for Dora Knighton, her maiden name). Richard’s wife Fanny had to contend with a sister-in-law Frances. Who would believe that soon after Fanny Smith became Fanny Seymour, Frances Seymour became Frances Smith?! Whew! {they are pedigree 9}.

More pedigrees will be coming, of course — some fitting in children or parents. I’ve not always fitted in titles and military affiliations, in the hope of keeping things a bit “clean”. Apologies for that. And family historians are welcome to let me know if I’ve missed out on people or gotten someone wrong. Or ask for further information!

As always, I welcome hearing about letters and diaries that can help build up the Smith&Gosling story. So many people, so much material.

It makes for a long page, but rather nice I think to scroll past all the portraits — including the list of “Where are these?” — to get to the pedigrees. But it does make for a LOT of scrolling….

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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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The Missing, The Mysteries, The Marvels

December 31, 2011 at 10:45 am (history, jane austen, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

On this last day of 2011, I reflect upon how something “turning up” can cause a flurry of thoughts — and how some earlier “flurries” have affected this Smith & Gosling research.

At left is a “seal” of a letter written nearly two hundred years ago by Augusta Smith, on the cusp of her marriage to Henry Wilder. A vibrant girl, her life-story has been lost to the greater world, but she is a large part of what drew me to this family. And why I want their histories told.

The letter was written to her youngest sister Maria, and just happened to be found among a cache of letters by Jacky in Maidstone. This particular letter — quite sweet as it spoke, Eldest Sister to Youngest Sister, of their relationship at the moment it is about to change — was not the bombshell another letter, also written to Maria Smith, Jacky had for me! That letter was from Mrs Odell, whose son had accompanied Drummond Smith, the youngest Smith brother, on his fateful trip to Italy. Seems Young Odell was interested in Maria! Alas, did Maria reject him because she didn’t care for him, or… did she somewhat hold him responsible for her dear brother’s death???

You can find an earlier Drummond Smith blog post here: Drummond Erased?

So there is one mystery yet to be solved. Only more letters, or diaries, will shed light on that one.

Another mystery, surprisingly uncovered, came with the letter Angela from Alberta has transcribed: Lady Elizabeth Compton‘s love for a near constant companion: Charles Scrace Dickins! What Angela didn’t know, as she wove an Austenian story around the clues laid out in her letter, was that nearly five years later the pair marry! But: What brought them to the altar?? Again: some more puzzle pieces are required to flesh out the story.

Paula Byrne has now come across a small picture:

And speculates that it was perhaps drawn by Eliza Chute, of The Vyne, and portrays Jane Austen! Not sure which excites me more: the idea of Jane Austen portrayed, or that a drawing potentially done by dear Eliza has been discovered…

A possible Wiggett-Chute connection to this picture has brought me back to Miss Le Faye‘s excellent Biographical Index in her Jane Austen Letters. So many familiar names, in conjunction with the Chutes, the Smiths, even the earlier generation of Goslings. Was just this morning reading about Alethea Bigg of Manydown.

The more I think about the VAST correspondence circle Jane Austen — and Cassandra too, we mustn’t forget her — would have been a part of, the more I have to wonder what cache of letters might still exist, somewhere, all dusty and locked away. As with the letter Angela from Alberta saw, even ONE letter can make a difference. As can one drawing.

Eliza in England sent me a watercolor image of Mimi Smith — daughter of Mary and Charles; wife of Gaspard Le Marchant Tupper — if I remember correctly, Eliza saved the little book of drawings containing it from certain destruction! Now to find the photograph the drawing was based upon…

Mark Woodford’s father obtained the 1798 diary of Augusta Smith (Mamma), possibly at Auction. Who owned the diary that it got separated from everything else?? Who else — living in Chicago, like Mark; or anywhere around the world — might have purchased a letter or a diary and have no idea WHOSE property they own, for few ever put their names to their diaries, and some sign their letters with their last name, but how common a name is Smith.

I could say, who would NOT know the name Jane Austen — but I can offer this anecdote: A few years ago I was interviewed for a job at a local pharmaceutical college. Had, I think, five people in succession interviewing me. One man (yes, note the sex of the person) looked at me, quiet serious, and as he asked for more comments about my volunteer work with JASNA [Jane Austen Society of North America], asked: Who’s Jane Austen??

I didn’t get that job and now I see the same position is advertised again. I won’t be applying. Their loss! for they missed the boat in hiring a really terrific person.

My New Year’s Resolution is to work harder at this project, and get Smith&Gosling the attention it deserves. The first task is to do a little updating to some of the pages on the blog — so stay tuned! And I’ve not forgotten that I owe readers my Boswell connection story.

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Byrne’s Jane Austen Portrait: By Eliza Chute?

December 26, 2011 at 11:59 pm (chutes of the vyne, diaries, history, jane austen, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Jane Austen‘s presumed portrait (at left), c1815, may have caused some hearts to skip a beat; mine skipped several beats for a far different reason: The unmistakable relationship to another portrait, a family portrait, indicating that the artist might be Eliza Chute was staring me in the face!

At the beginning of November, I received the first email from author Paula Byrne, asking about Eliza. Her probing caused only one conclusion: that she had come across a portrait. Answering her queries in the abstract was difficult: I had only a passing acquaintance with work by Eliza Chute — mainly those drawings on display at The Vyne. Not being resident in England, it has been four-plus years since I’ve seen them. And even then: Which belonged to Eliza? Which to her sisters Emma or Augusta?

Dr. Byrne’s first questions concerned Eliza Chute’s whereabouts in 1814. There is no Eliza Chute diary for that year [if you have it, do let me know!], which makes the question harder to answer; that is also the year before Emma’s diaries begin; and the year in which Augusta Smith lost her husband. Dr. Byrne was also curious about the Smiths’ George Street, London residence. She had begun her email stating that she was commissioned to write a new Austen biography; she ended that first message by saying, “I have discovered she {Eliza Chute} was a painter of some repute. Do you know anything about this?”

Thanks to Mike E., I have an engraved portrait of Joshua Smith based on a portrait by Emma Smith (“Aunt Emma” to my Emma Austen Leigh). Mike photographed The Vyne’s copy; another copy exists at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum. Emma had great talent for taking a likeness! What about Eliza??

Ah, so much time could have been saved if Paula Byrne had forwarded a picture of the portrait’s front and identification! But we researchers like to hold our cards close to our chest…

So to answer Paula Byrne’s Question: Where was Eliza Chute in 1814, and what about George Street?

Thanks to Mark Woodford, and the 1798 diary of Augusta Smith, Great George Street was a very well-known address: there is even discussion of the rooms and layout of the place at Victoria History. Alas, Joshua, who grew less in health as 1819 approached, seems to have given up his George Street residence in 1812.

Obviously, Great George Street’s proximity to Westminster (Joshua Smith was a Member of Parliament), was of interest; seeing the portrait, one can see why. But family letters put Eliza Chute, when she was in London, at her sister Augusta’s Portland Place address in these mid-eighteen-teen-years.

As to Eliza’s artistic abilities —,” I replied, “I’ve read in Emma’s diary that the Duke of Wellington was impressed enough to invite her to Strathfield Saye to copy from his Old Masters (this of course a typical “exercise” for artists — male and female — to hone their skills). I have a very small image (culled from elsewhere on the web…) of her portrait of her sister Maria. This comes from a book — A History of the Comptons of Compton Wynyates {another Compton / Northampton property, in addition to Castle Ashby}.”

Once you compare the Maria Compton portrait with the Austen portrait, well, you will understand the excitement!

I have seen neither portrait “in the flesh”, but the positioning of the sitters are very like… And both described as being “Graphite on Vellum” (see the Guardian’s article and also this Peerage link to the online photo of Maria Compton’s portrait).

Paula and I wrote back and forth.

I made the comment, “I will not write at length NOW, but I have thoughts on the supposed “dislike” of Eliza by Austen, based on Austen’s few comments in letters. To put it simply: I think Austen was a great JOKER in letters to Cassandra, and a lot more is tongue-in-cheek than we (outsiders) might think.

Were they great friends, Eliza and Jane or Cassandra? Doubtful. But the Smiths certainly befriended their clergy (was just reading Emma’s 1828 diary last night, and their move to Tring Park brought them to the Rev. Charles Lacy), and would have known Cass & Jane. Thomas Chute owned early editions of Austen’s novels, and I think Eliza would have known she wrote them as word began to get out thanks to loose-tongued people like Henry Austen.

Paula’s response to that observation was heartening: “I quite agree with you about Austen’s supposed dislike of Eliza Chute. I think that Jane adopts the persona of the naughty little sister, who says shocking things to the older, wiser sister. She was indeed a great joker and loved to shock and tease. I think that the Chutes were very important to the Austen family and have been neglected. They all visited the Vyne and seemed to have a great time–even Fanny Knight went and enjoyed it there and when Charles and Francis were home they went along too. It’s very interesting that Tom Chute owned early editions of the novels. Anything else you can think of to further the Chute/Austen connection will be very valuable.

In answer to the Chute / Austen connection I wrote, “I would have thought Austen would have enjoyed the company of the family (which is why I keep mind open about uncovering some reference to Jane in particular, but I’d take Cass. too! I just love her…). Edward Austen Knight joined the hunt; Chute franked some letters; they were all of a similar age. But, socially, the Chutes would have been in different circles (and in some ways their family was their great friend; it’s amazing how people you think were “only friends” turn out to have a family connection!) — and yet, Sarah Smith (mother) mentions Mrs Lefroy. The connections just swirl around them all.

Although Eliza Chute diaries exist for 1813 and 1815, I had done work only up to 1807 (the last extant diary prior to 1813); for that year I could give Paula Byrne a brief rundown of Eliza’s typical movements during a calendar year:

1807 Eliza in London; stays at No. 6 PP with Charles & Augusta [leave for Town 2/12]; Wm seems with her for she mentions “us” dining with the Goslings on 2/20; leaves 3/13; 4/26 Parliament dissolved; 5/29 Eliza in Portsmouth for day, Gosport 6/2; 6/24 London, George St.; a note of the House sitting on 7/6 (Whitbread’s motion, State of the Nation); 7/11 leave London; 7/21 Winchester Races; 10/27 Went to London, PP; Augusta Smith delivers Sarah Eliza 11/11 (the future Lady Le Marchant); 12/10 Basingstoke Ball; Stoke for the New Year

And the prior existing diary, for 1804:

1804 Been at Stoke; Miss Meen accompanies her home on 1/14 (Chute left 1/3); family from Stoke at Vyne, but leave for London: news of illness of Mrs Drummond Smith; 2/7 London, stays 6 PP – Caroline with them; 2/17 notes visit by ‘TVC’ – Thomas Vere Chute (Wm’s brother); following the death of Mary (Cunliffe) Smith (2/27) Eliza moves to their house in Picadilly – Caroline left with the Charles Smiths (6 PP) – Wm Chute sleeps at Picadilly but dined at George St.

Towards the end of our flurry of emails, Paula asked, “Do we know that she definitely knew that Jane Austen was the author of the novels?

A difficult question to answer in the absolute affirmative, but one I had already conjectured upon when writing about Fanny Smith (later Fanny Seymour, Mrs Richard Seymour, of Kinwarton).

  • The Walter Scott Connection: his ward Margaret Maclean Clephane married the Smith’s cousin Spencer (Lord Compton) in 1815. Scott visited the Portland Place household on 16 May 1815. He corresponded regularly with Lady Compton and her family. Scott reviewed Austen’s Emma.
  • The Chutes of The Vyne had James Austen as their clergyman. He and his son (Emma’s eventual husband) visited The Vyne often; as did Jane’s other brothers, her parents, Cassandra and, yes, Jane herself.
  • The Reverend Thomas Vere Chute, whom Jane mentions in her letters, was William Chute’s younger brother; he owned copies of Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. (His name inscribed in the volumes; he died in 1827.)
  • According to Mary Augusta Austen Leigh (daughter of Emma Smith and James Edward Austen Leigh), in 1814 her father “was admitted to the knowledge of a well-kept secret, this being that his Aunt Jane had lately published two books, though he had read these books with a keen enjoyment.” She also revealed that Eliza Smith (Lady Le Marchant; born 1807) remembered Edward ‘at the Vine in my schoolroom days… He was a great favourite with Aunt and Uncle Chute.’
  • In addition to Thomas Vere Chute, Jane Austen knew their sister: Mary (Mrs. Wither Bramston) of Oakley Hall. This branch of Bramstons were relations to the Essex branch of the Bramstons of Skreens, an estate which neighbored Suttons — home of Charles and Augusta Smith.

And, if I had known in early November about the spelling of the portrait’s identification, I might have included the following, which appeared in my article “Edward Austen’s Emma Reads Emma” (Persuasions (no. 29; 2007): 235-240): Of the Austen novels Le Faye has ID’ed as belonging to Thomas Vere Chute, Emma and Mansfield Park are not among the titles. Emma had in her possession a copy of that first novel (Emma) during the period of her engagement to Edward Austen: September 1828. Can we assume this was Emma’s first reading of this novel? Never assume—.

Among the diary items removed from Emma’s 1817 diary are two quotes, from Mansfield Park, which was ID’ed in the article as,

The quotation reproduces part of the conversation between Miss Crawford and Edmund Bertram regarding his becoming a clergyman (“At length, after a short pause, Miss Crawford began” to “the rest of the nation” [MP 91-93]); the attribution is given as “Mansfield Park / Miss Jane Austin“.

The Smiths and Chutes were quite consistent in spelling the name with an ‘i’. In an era of erratic spelling — even within families (think in the Austen family: Bridges and Brydges; in the Smith family: Dickins and Dickens; Devall and Duval). In an 1823 diary, Emma amends the Austin name to AUSTEN — this spelling she then consistently uses to the end of her days! Compelling evidence indeed…

AustenOnly has a fantastic post on the Byrne portrait (complete with Austen family portraits); the above responds to the comment about the “interesting misspelling of Jane Austen’s surname: ‘Miss Jane Austin’.”

I’d also like to mention in response to those who wonder about Paula Byrne’s “fixation” on the nose (see for instance the debate at Jane Austen’s World): the nose is often where I start when tracking down drawings, miniatures or (especially) photos of various family members and in-laws. It is the most prominent facial feature, whether a person is six or sixty.

I’d like to end this exceptionally long post with the recollection of a memory on first seeing the drawings – family portraits (with one exception) – included in the little booklet, Scenes from Life at Suttons, 1825 & 1827. Anyone who has looked through a collection of portraits of one sitter (choose, for example, the multiple portraits of the Duchess of Devonshire [Georgiana Cavendish]), knows that good and bad “likenesses” exist. I have no way of knowing whether Augusta Smith (the future Mrs. Henry Wilder) was a good portraitist — although her family thought her quite adept. Still, leafing through Suttons, tears began to flow as I looked at portrait after portrait: Augusta was there (by another artist); Emma; Charles and Mary – whom I’d never seen any representations of; Mary’s elder sister Elizabeth; even Charles Scrase Dickins! And, as frontispiece, Mamma: Mrs Augusta Smith. It was a heady day!

However imperfect, our a visual society loves pictorial representations. Augusta Smith wrote on her portrait of sister Fanny, that the face was ‘too long’. It currently remains my only representation of Fanny; Freydis Welland has a silhouette of her I’ve not yet seen.

Would Jane Austen have “sat to” Eliza Chute, in London, in 1814/1815? Quite probably not. Did Eliza Chute know what Jane Austen looked like, enough to do a portrait, in some manner related to that of her own sister, Maria Lady Northampton, at least as a remembrance or an homage? Absolutely.

Broadcast Links, Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? (BBC2, 26 Dec 2011):

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