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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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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