Library Acquisition: John Rylands circa 1963

November 18, 2012 at 12:05 pm (diaries, europe, history, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

More on the letters written by young Lady Compton (the former Margaret Maclean Clephane). I came across this notation on escholar.manchester.ac.uk; it dates from 1963!

“Among recent accessions to the Manuscript Department is a small collection of letters written in the mid-eighteen-twenties to the Hon. Henry Edward Fox, later 4th and last Lord Holland, by Margaret, Countess Compton, from May 1828 until her death in 1830 Marchioness of Northampton. Although only forty in number they comprise over 160 well-filled pages and all save four, which date from July and August 1829, fall within the short period of nine months between October 1825 and June 1826. The Comptons lived in Italy from 1820 to 1830 and the first nine letters were written to Fox at the end of 1825 when he was also there. The majority, however, date from after his departure and during his visit to France between February and May in the following year. The greater part were written from Rome.

Apart from the personal side, their value is mainly social and literary. They are, for example, of interest for their remarks on and information concerning members of the English colony in Italy and common acquaintances in Italian Society, for Lady Compton comments freely. From this point of view they form a useful supplement to Fox’s Journal of 1818-30, edited by the Earl of Ilchester in 1923. Both Lady Compton and her husband interested themselves in literature and the fine arts and she writes of the artists then being patronized in Rome and of the artistic purchases being made. She also corresponded with Sir Walter Scott and in several letters refers to his financial difficulties at this time. Not least they demonstrate the esteem she had for Fox and, in spite of their quarrels, the close friendship that existed between them. This was no less fully appreciated by Fox, for, when she died in Rome in 1830, he wrote of her in his Journal as ‘my best and dearest friend … the being upon earth of whose regard and friendship I felt surest’.”

Those were NOT the thoughts Fox had upon first meeting Margaret, when he described her as “a gigantic, well-informed, hard-headed, blue Scotchwoman.” — Journal of Henry Edward Fox, 26 Nov 1824

I have found a few other tidbits of the Comptons over the last week as well.

Of course Walter Scott, formerly Margaret’s guardian, crops up. Here he is writing to Lord Byron:

“Should you meet Lady Compton in Society pray be acquainted with her — it is worth while for she is a very clever young woman and skilled in legendary lore–” (5 Jan 1816)

The letter was signed, “My best respects to Lady Byron & I am always, my dear Lord, most truly yours

Walter Scott

Scott, however, was not Lady Compton’s only champion! There is an obscure (to me) letter writer, poet Ugo Foscolo. In this third volume of letters, dating to the 1820s, the Comptons (more specifically, Lady Compton) are mentioned to two separate correspondents, for instance:

To Gino Capponi (30 June 1821),

“Gino mio,

     Tu hai conosciuto di certo lady Compton in Londra, ma ti gioverà di riconoscerla,, e vederla più davvicino; e quand’anche non abbia tempo nè occasioni di usara verso di te le gentilezze con che mi ha spesso onorato e consolato, pochi giorni di conversazione con lei ti rinfrescheranno il cuore, e ti solleveranno la mente,–“

{roughly: Dear Gino, You certainly knew lady Compton in London; it will benefit you to recognize it, and even if you do not have time nor occasion to meet with the kindness that I have often been honored with, a few days conversation with her will refresh your heart, and raise the mind–}

Margaret, Lady Compton, even appears in a personal letter to Mrs Georgiana Gell dated 13 January 1827.

The English colony in Rome, in Italy in general, may prove rich fishing for further information on my dear Smiths of Suttons.

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Bleak house? November Notes from Letters

November 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm (diaries, history, research) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Ah, the days have grown so short, now that the clocks are turned back. Night settles around the house, lights pop on at the flick of a switch, and I think of life for the Smiths & Goslings, 200 years ago.

So today I look up a few quotes, from November Letters and a Journal, to brighten up these lengthening November nights.

  • “Tuesday, being the 5th of Nov:br I tryed to get some squibs & crackers & at last John succeeded in making some, so we let them off last night.” — Drummond Smith, 6 Nov 1822, writing from Suttons, to his brother Spencer
  • “I believe Tanner has got a ferret, Miss M. mistook it one day for a very large rat.” — ditto
  • “you really can have no idea of how much we have to do, & how little time to spare, unless you could take a trip down here and spend a few weeks among us.” — Drummond Smith, 17 Nov 1824, writing from Harrow, to his eldest sister Augusta
  • “There have been several pugilistic encounters lately, I think I shall send Eliza notice that she may come, as she takes delight in them.” — ditto
  • “I afterwards went to Lady Compton’s  She is a gigantic, well-informed, hard-headed, blue Scotchwoman.” — Journal of Henry Edward Fox, 26 Nov 1824

And from the earlier generation:

  • “Dear Papa’s Eyes Glistened with Love & pleasure, he Blessed his little favorite  said she had always been a good Girl” — Sarah Smith, 13 Nov 1793, writing to her newlywed daughter, Eliza Chute
  • “I never heard of such a shameful conduct in any Officers as these Irish ones; swearing most shockingly, pass thro’ the Turnpikes without paying, they are the bane of Devizes, and no one can walk the Streets at night in safety.” — Emma Smith (“Aunt Emma”), 16 Nov 1794, writing to her sister Eliza Chute
  • “The accident would not have happened if he had staid at home with Lady Compton to knit.” — Eliza Gosling (Mary’s mother), 7 Nov 1795, writing from Roehampton Grove, to her friend Eliza Chute

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On Cloud 9

September 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm (british royalty, chutes of the vyne, entertainment, history, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Last Sunday I was crowing to myself about all the *FINDS*. Just think: THREE different “items” turned up in one week, after some searching and much fortuitous clicking. On the last I have some extra news as of last night. I *LOVE* it when items rise to the surface, clambering to be noticed.

(1) Margaret Clephane / Lady Compton

My first find was stumbling once again upon ARCHIVES HUB. This time with a true piece of my research at the other end!

Archives Hub enables searches at “nearly 200 institutions in England, Scotland and Wales.” At first I could see the “hit” concerned letters written by Margaret, Lady Compton — but the site (or my connection?) was having problems. It took a lot of searching to realize the letters were housed at The John Rylands University Library, University of Manchester. I have fond memories of the name of this library: The French Diaries of Mrs Thrale and Dr Johnson was based on JRUL holdings! It is a favorite book, my used copy in quite decent shape.

So what was found, I hear you ask: 39 letters, penned by Margaret, plus 2 sets of verse. The citation is rather confusing. At first it sounds like the letters were written from October 1828 up to September 1829 — but further into the record I read that all the letters, addressed to Henry Edward Fox (later 4th and last Baron Holland), mainly written from ROME (check: the Comptons resided long in Italy), “are addressed to Fox in France (mostly, February-March 1826), Italy and London. All are dated within a period of nine months (October 1825-June 1826), except for four which are dated July and August 1829”

So: October 1825 to June 1826…. or, October 1828 to September 1829???

Time will tell – for this set of letters must for now remain on the back burner. Like the letters at the National Library of Scotland, penned in that case to Walter Scott. Scott’s own letters to the Clephanes and Comptons have been published. Luckily, my university’s library has the set and I long ago began culling family news.

The description says: “The letters are primarily personal, but have social and literary value“. Yeah!

(2)  Letter from Aunt Emma / Emma Smith

I’ll jump to the last “find”, for it is the least visual. I had come across internet comments by Dr. Kevin Linch (Leeds University) a while ago. I knew he had seen a letter of Aunt Emma’s (ie, Emma Smith, the youngest sister of Maria, Eliza, and Augusta – the four Smith Girls of Erle Stoke Park, Wiltshire), dating to 1794. Dr Linch was interested in Emma’s description of the exercises of the yeomanry. The picture painted rather makes me think of a war-era drawing by Diana Sperling.

Of course, Dr Linch pushed to one side the very bits I wanted most from this letter I hadn’t yet transcribed (the original is at the Hampshire Record Office): the family chit-chat. So imagine my surprise when I found online Dr. Linch’s full transcription (nice…) AND the ENTIRE “original” letter (far better*).

[*by the bye: I much prefer to do my own transcribing; one transcription was given to me as “Dear Ivy” – who the hell was Ivy??! I wondered. The letter’s content indicated Lady Elizabeth Compton, cousin to the Smiths of Suttons (Maria Smith’s only daughter; sister-in-law to Margaret Clephane / Lady Compton); I had never heard her called “Ivy” though. Another letter soon surfaced and this time I read the salutation – and knew the mistake. The three-letter word ended not in a “Y” but in a “Z” — and the name was Liz! Which made complete sense.
Another source for a letter indicated the writer was someone I did not know at all. Still, I asked that a scan be sent, as the letter was well within my time period. Imagine my surprise when the writer turned from a complete unknown into the MOTHER of Mr Odell, school friend and fellow-traveller with Drummond Smith! Her letter I wanted to read – and thrilling reading it was, too.]

Here, looking at it myself, was Aunt Emma’s comments in Aunt Emma’s own loopy writing.

Emma even anticipates the arrival of Miss Meen. Margaret Meen, who surfaces in the diaries and letters, was an artist who gave lessons (I discount The Vyne’s theory that she was governess to the Erle Stoke girls), not only to the four Smiths sisters, but also to Queen Charlotte and her princesses. Little did I know, when I read this letter by Emma, that I had already put my finger on many of Margaret Meen’s watercolors!

(3) Royal Horticultural Society: Miss Meen and the four daughters of Joshua Smith

Smack in the middle of all these letter discoveries came the Botanical “watercolours on vellum” housed at the Royal Horticultural Society. Trouble is, depending on which website used, you find less or more drawings, less or more images. FRUSTRATING! and yet last night I uncovered at 48 images (one you REALLY have to search for) by this quintet!!! May rival the holdings at The Vyne – none of which are currently pictured online.

You have the choice of the following:

I naturally began with the CATALOGUE. I mean when you want to know the extent of holdings where else would you go?

Looking up keywords margaret and meen I found four hits – and one image, which belonged to the citation for her 1790 book Exotic Plants from the Royal Garden at Kew. Searching for smith and elizabeth — which I knew should bring up drawings, for those were what I had found for purchase — drew a blank. smith and augusta brought up two citations for drawings from 1787, but their artist was described as Augusta Smith (17–) => Was this Mamma?!?

Maria was nowhere to be seen – and those of Emma, which like Eliza, had been found “for purchase” were best found at another site too. What’s a girl to do? She sends an email.

And keeps on searching…

Why all the hullaballoo? Because I had found a watercolor of Eliza (Chute) Smith’s for sale through Amazon (of all places…) and the description said: “Smith was one of four daughters of Joshua Smith the MP for Devizes in Wiltshire. The Smith sisters were instructed in painting by the botanical artist Margaret Meen (fl.-). The RHS Lindley Library collection holds works on vellum by Meen and all of the Smith Sisters.” My stunned reaction: REALLY??!?!

I had to find out how many, by which artist.

Facebook had another image. Mediastorehouse.com had more – and only $15.99 for an 8×10 print. Reasonable… I now realize, though, that Mediastorehouse is NOT RHS – and searching their print “store” you can find TWELVE Miss Meen botanicals. Be advised, THIS set is the only image and info for Solandra grandiflora (LIB0036980), c1780s.

[NB: again frustration: two works are dated 1789 in the “images” but 1785 in the “prints / shop”]

In the “images” one unearths ALL when searching for Margaret Meen (she turns up in their descriptions): without knowing (until I hear back from RHS) whether ALL their Smith/Meen holdings are digitized, and barring the “can’t find this drawing here, but it is listed somewhere else”, I now see:

  • numbers: LIB0002763 – LIB0002770 –> eight Botanicals by Emma Smith
  • numbers: LIB0002761 – LIB0002762 –> two Botanicals by the elusive Maria Smith
  • numbers: LIB0002749 – LIB0002755 –> seven Botanicals by Augusta Smith (here rather described as marrying her father-in-law; Charles Smith of Suttons, not Stratford Langthorne…)
  • numbers: LIB0002737 – LIB0002748 –> twelve Botanicals by Eliza Smith
  • numbers: LIB0036963 – LIB0036981 –> eighteen (out of 19) Botanicals by Margaret Meen

And on the “images” site you are treated to a GALLERY by Miss Emma Smith:

I could hardly believe my eyes — and they will be a treat for your eyes.

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