Mystery Men

June 19, 2011 at 9:39 pm (books, entertainment, travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

So, to get back to the book I’ve been reading: Priviledge and Scandal, by Janet Gleeson tells the life story of Harriet Spencer, later Countess Bessborough. I remember when the book first came out (2006 in the US), and one reviewer was quite negative, calling it a rehash of Amanda Foreman’s biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire mainly because (since they were sisters) it covered much of the same territory. Poor Harriet; and poor Janet Gleeson. It is a very decent read; evidently quite what I am in the mood for, at present.

It helps that the time period is well in the period in which the Smiths (in general) lived and which I am writing about — the more I read, the more some small puzzle piece sometimes clicks into place.

Anyway, I was struck, reading about Granville Leveson Gower (Harriet’s lover, by whom she had two children) and also of his friendship with Henry Richard Vassell Fox, 3rd Lord Holland (nephew of Charles James Fox). Curious, I do wonder how much Jane Austen might have come across concerning either man, for their early friendship, as Gleeson tells of it, so reminds me of Darcy-Bingley.

I mentioned this in my earlier post, a little teaser. Read that one to get an idea of why I immediately thought “DARCY” when first encountering this description of how people sometimes thought him haughty.

And it’s also the description of his new-formed “Grand Tour” friendship with Holland that struck me. Read this description: “Holland had not until now numbered Granville among his close friends — Granville’s hauteur was alien to Holland’s outgoing ebullience. But being onboard ship for three months had smoothed Granville’s affectations and perhaps too make Holland less choosy about the company he kept. ‘I think Leveson much improved both in intellect manner etc., and has lost that reserve which however laudable and prudent always prevents my liking a man much — I fancy my reason for not liking in this instance … must originate from self love and that I cannot much esteem …’.”

So Leveson Gower got better upon acquaintance! Just like Darcy.

Now how much, and what type of information, Jane Austen might have heard about the man — men, if I include Lord Holland, which in his amiability rather reminded me of Mr Bingley, I perhaps can never say. A bit of a coincidence? Or, did some little news tidbit or  gossip once plant the seed for this seemingly unusual friendship between two “opposites”? Inspiration does come out of the blue sometimes…, and takes on consequences of its own, far outshining the original thought.

updated 6/26/11: Am reminded: From the mouth of Jane Austen, when asked if she had portrayed an individual: “she expressed a very great dread of what she called an ‘invasion of social proprieties.’ She said she thought it fair to note peculiarities, weaknesses and even special phrases but it was her desire to create not to reproduce ….” (See Deirdre le Faye Jane Austen : A Family Record p233)

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Dobro Prozhalovat!

May 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm (a day in the life, people, places) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Were those the words that Emma read when she first received a letter from brother Charles postmarked: ST PETERSBURG??

The year is 1820. Emma designates this letter No. 19 and notes its receipt on 21 November.

Charles’ last (No. 18), received on the 1st, had been headed “Stockholm” — what could have induced him to spend the winter months in such cold countries?!?

Unless the letters are found, we may never know…

It is interesting, after Drummond’s death (1832) the sisters collected together his letters. I have a copy of just one such collection. Instead of actual letters, however, someone collected all his correspondence to his sisters and rewrote everything. I suspect the pen to have been wielded by Fanny (see the post below), yet without more handwriting samples I cannot be sure. It is possible that several of these “letterbooks” existed.

Why do I wonder about that? There are several letters missing — inevitably those written by Drummond to Fanny (his “little Mother”) [for an article devoted to Fanny Smith Seymour, see the author, on the menu at right]. — as well, his travel diary from 1830 remains unfinished. YET: in both cases the requisite number of blank pages remain. That could mean several things: Fanny wasn’t coming across quickly with her letters and the room needed was guessed at; the writer got tired of the trip entries (oh! such a loss!!) and moved on — or, there was a “master copy” from which this letterbook was being written and the writer felt at ease to skip around, skipping the required number of pages.

My point is: These people kept letters — we know that;. And after the death of a relative these letters (and diaries) became precious relics to be read and reread.

I was thinking about all this today because of one of my favorite phrases in all the letters I’ve transcribed. The year is 1822. It is September, and Emma is writing to Aunt (Mrs Judith Smith, of Stratford; only sister to Charles Smith, Sr.). Mamma has taken her eldest five children abroad. They had departed from England in June. Emma’s letter originates in Geneva and she amusingly lays out what must come to Aunt herself as a bit of a surprise: they now plan to cross into Italy:

“…you can hardly imagine my dear Aunty that we could be so near to Rome without visiting it, which Charles wishes, to the full as much as we do & Mamma for our sakes has kindly consented to so do, & in order to accomplish it we must spend the winter months there”

I just LOVE the idea that they MUST spend the winter months there; no short visit of a few days! Plus there is just something endearing about the phrase that Mamma “has kindly consented”.

Emma continues:

“now do not my dear Aunt fancy that we are determined gadabouts… I really think you would be almost tempted to go there; you know Mamma is not a very uncertain person & she wishes me to tell you she intends being at home during next June… Mamma wishes you not to tell this to the poor children unless you think that by very gentle degrees & hints, it would be adviseable to let them know we might spend the winter abroad…”

Note the use of the “might” here, as contrasted to the word “must” only a few sentences before!

There are a couple letters extant, from young Charlotte — one of the “children” left at home: Spencer, Charlotte, Drummond, and Maria — in which she tears your heart out as she writes of missing her mother, missing her eldest brother, her four eldest sisters. When the party returns the following June, Emma hardly recognizes young Spencer — he had grown so tall!

So, while it is thrilling to think of those gababouts, and the places they visited, thought must also be spared to those left behind…

But, to turn back to Charles. Imagine going abroad — and very lengthy trips! — twice in as many years. The amazing thing is how far north and east he got during this first trip, 1820-21. I’ve made a list of letters, and either Emma got tired of noting them — or I did! I see notations about the receipt of 43 letters, the last (in August 1821) from Paris. Obviously, therefore, there should have followed a few more, even if he travelled quickly towards the Channel.

Emma begins well: letters reach her from Brussels and The Hague. Then, without spending any evident time in that bastion of European travel (France), Charles is next in Frankfurt. He works his way — quickly — through Saxe-Gotha, Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin and Hamburg. At some point, while in Hamburg, he dispatches gifts — for Emma notes their receipt on 26 November.

Charles then moves through Copenhagen and is next in Gothenburg and Stockholm — his first letter received on 25 September, but his last on 1 November. By that time he is reaching St. Petersburgh, as Emma calls it. She is still receiving post from there in mid-January 1821! By February he has travelled on to Warsaw. At the end of  February, Emma and the family receive more gifts: these posted from Vienna. Oh! how I envy Charles visiting pre-Ringstrasse Vienna! He is still there (letter received) at the end of May; but he has moved into Italy — lovely Venice — come June. By August Emma is receiving mail from Paris.

Charles had left the family on 3 June, 1820 and returned to them on 15 August 1821 — when he hands out more gifts. Imagine the things he might have bought… and then imagine me wondering where those items might be today.

To finish my thought about the next trip: the family left 24 June 1822 – Emma keeps up her diary only until the 28th: the family are just arrived at Ghent. And then the rest of her diary for the year is BLANK! 1823’s diary begins upon their return: 21 July 1823.

So lucky Charles sees the north for more than a year, then travels south – for this time they work through Switzerland and into Italy — staying the winter with the Comptons (Spencer and his wife Margaret), as we’ve seen from Emma’s letter to Aunt.

“You know  Mamma is not a very uncertain person…” –No, indeed! No wonder her children loved her so.

What made me post on such a subject? Firstly, the generous offer of Mark in Illinois, who is the owner of young Augusta’s diary for the year 1798, the year she married Charles, Sr. This one sentence is more telling of the kind of person Mamma became than any I have ever run across.

The second is the hope that if a single diary can turn up why not a group of letters?? The Smiths, collectively — for it’s possible that Emma noted only those letters addressed specifically to her — would surely have held on to such a precious bundle as Charles’ letters from Abroad. Emma herself intimates that her diary, so tiresome to keep while away from home, was superseded by letters, sent to her siblings, to her aunts — especially “Aunt”. So this may be seen as a plea: Anyone owning even ONE letter with a bunch of fancy postmarks, addressed to No. 6 Portland Place or Suttons in Essex, drop me a line!

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9 November 1829

November 9, 2008 at 8:16 pm (a day in the life) (, , , , )

On this day, Charles Smith writes in his pocket diary: “Came up from Tring to London with Mary & the two children–”

The printed diary marks this day – a Monday that year – as a Bank Holiday; the Smiths, however, had been on holiday and on the continent. A whirlwind tour of the Rhine and part of Switzerland that leaves me breathless every time I read about it.

rhine-fallsIn Mary’s diary, the trip is a litany of places; but at least she took time to write about “having seen for the first time the beautiful scenery of the Rhine”! As a lover of all things deutsch, I willingly listen to everyone’s reaction to the likes of a Grand Tour of the German Lands (so few English ventured in that direction… All the more reason to adore Mrs Trollope’s Vienna and the Austrians (1838) vol. 1 [Bentley, London]; vol. 1 &  vol. 2 [Galignani, Paris]). While Mary’s jottings sounded sparse, little did I know until I read through Charles’ description of the trip just how little could actually be recorded: his diary lists only the places by name!

So how lovely to recently come across a short account left by young Drummond Smith of this very trip (Drummond and Spencer accompanied Sir Charles and Lady Smith). What incessant rain they encountered! And that made me really wonder about nineteenth-century carriage travel – especially when seeing they donned “cloaks and umbrellas” for one entire day’s ride. And these poor drenched people on the road for twelve and fourteen hours! How Drummond howls about the state of some of the roads in the Low Countries, and the deadly pace of the horses (sometimes as little as five miles per hour). Food for thought, indeed…

Charles was not a well man, and he came home from this trip – as you read – to consult his London doctor, then spend a little time with the in-laws at Roehampton Grove. Winter is settling in by the time they return to Suttons, and Essex experiences a “fine frosty day” only ten days later.

The Smiths had left from the Tower on September 9, departing on the Steam Packet LORD MELVILLE. Two days before, Charles noted: “I came up to London & got the Passport, the Austrian Minister refused to sign it because it was obtained from the French and not from the English Minister.” Oh dear… Bureaucratic redtape! A more poignant entry the next day: “Mary and the children came up from Suttons, the little {ones} went on to Tring and were separated from their Mother for the first time–”

Drummond comments that in Aix la Chapelle they toasted Little Charles’ second birthday (September 15) with Champagne — which made them all sleep rather ill that night. Mary includes the news that “Several heavy storms” happened during the day. Drummond leaves to return to England in early October; he enters Cambridge University that fall. The trip ends for Mary and Charles on the 4th of November, and Charles draws this charming family portrait: “We arrived at Tring from London and found the dear children well and excessively improved especially the Baby whom I should not have recognized — Saw Emma’s Baby who with herself was thriving well — My Mother & Sisters were delightfully well & very glad to see us-”

Emma’s baby (her first), Cholmeley, was christened on the 6th and Charles stood godfather; the other godparents were Mrs Leigh Perrot and Mr Edward Knight, though both were “represented by deputy”. Mr Edward Austen christened his own son, at Tring Church.

By the way, Drummond was unimpressed by the Rhine Falls at Schaffhausen (pictured; courtesy of www.ancestryimages.com); he thought they were not high enough and would benefit from being placed one on top of the other.

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