“Dear Hammy”: Mary Hamilton & the Bluestocking Circle

September 23, 2012 at 10:51 am (books, diaries, history, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Some days — after spending all day on the computer at work — I spend all evening on the computer. A research project, such as Smith&Gosling, is exceptionally dependent on FINDING sources. One way is to wait for people to contact me; and I am GRATEFUL for those who have done so. The other way is to search-search-search. Selling sites for letters; library catalogues; published books and their invaluable bibliographies. It was a published book that set me on scent of the letters of young Drummond Smith (Emma’s third brother); the author had cited them and I tracked down the owner. That was four years ago.

So last night I was searching and searching. And somehow turned up the holdings for Mary Hamilton (1756-1816) at the John Rylands University Library.

Mary Hamilton (married in June 1785 to John Dickenson) was a royal governess; friend to Fanny Burney, Joshua Reynolds, the ladies of the Bluestocking circle. How I long to hear more about the content of her sixteen diaries and thousands of letters. Why? Lady Cunliffe (Mary Gosling’s maternal grandmother, who lived until 1814) was in company with many of these same people.

Did Mary Hamilton encounter Lady Cunliffe, her daughters Mary and Eliza?

Although there are internet stories about the sale (via Sotheby’s) and the denial of export to the US (I’m not sure which Library had purchased the archive; I rather suspect the Houghton at Harvard) and the subsequent matching price by John Rylands University Library, I find only veiled hints that scholars are doing research among Mary’s papers, but no hint that there is any plan afoot for the PUBLICATION of her papers. Ah! that would be news! I *love* full printings, big books, multiple volumes. But perhaps that is too much to hope for in this day and age… Especially when academic presses charge so much for the slimmest of books.

Mary Hamilton is being described as a “courtier and diarist” and many headlines call her The Female Pepys! (So doesn’t she deserve the Pepys treatment: to have her full writings published?!)

A quotation writes of Mary’s “keen zest for life, and her intense interest in everything pertaining to it — books, languages, art, travel, politics, people.” Ah! for a Mary Hamilton in my social circle!

Mary was niece to Sir William Hamilton and his wife, Lady Hamilton (the former Emma Hart); she “inadvertently ensnared the heart of the teenage Prince of Wales” while sub-governess to his sisters; and in January 1783 she settled in at 27 Clarges St, off Piccadilly. London, in the 1780s, was the scene for many in the generation prior to Mary and Emma — the grandparent generation, as I often call them.

The biggest “hint” I have about Lady Cunliffe’s social movements is the book Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings (Yale 2000). David Mannings has taken note of Sir Joshua’s notebooks: “Lady Cunliffe’s name appears almost every year in Reynolds Pocket Books 1777-89 [yes, I AM assuming this is the correct Lady Cunliffe, and not one of her relatives], usually at eight or nine o’clock, apparently in the evening, on one occasion with a note: ‘Cards & supper.’ Sometimes she arrives with Mrs Vesey, Mrs Shipley or Mrs Boscowen and it is clear these are social calls.” [p156]

I do have evidence that she and the girls knew Sir Joshua, and had run into James Boswell — a letter exists between the two men!

There are sixteen diaries (beginning mid-1776 to 1797; not fully consecutive; the bulk covers 1784); thousands of letters; other manuscripts.

It is in the letters from the Royal Princesses that we see Mary Hamilton addressed as “Dear Hammy”. Those “love letters” from the Prince of Wales are also extant. How exciting! Mary Hamilton also has ties to another Mary: Mary Delany, of The Paper Garden fame! Small-small world.

Vanessa Thorpe, in a 2006 article in The Observer, wrote:

“Fortunately when Hamilton began writing her diary she followed the good advice of her friend Lady Charlotte Finch, the head royal governess, who urged: ‘In your journal pray do not forget particulars about yourself.’ As a result her entries give ‘a remarkably complete picture of the day-to-day lives and preoccupations of fashionable and cultivated 18th-century Londoners,’ said the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council’s government adviser, Dr Harris. Especially interesting to social historians is an unpublished 10-page entry detailing a theft in Hamilton’s household and a quarrel between two servants.”

There is SO MUCH here, that I can only skim the surface in a short blog post. I will end with a BBC radio interview (a short listen: only nine minutes), discussing the importance of the Mary Hamilton Papers.

Is THIS the face of Mary Hamilton?

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So much to do…

June 27, 2010 at 12:10 pm (news, people, places, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The two days of a “weekend” just go so quickly. No wonder I never get anything “done”! I was up past 3 a.m. last night, working (don’t sleep well these days anyway…), and now NOON Sunday approaches

I’m still beavering away at Augusta’s 1798 diary, trying to get a fully readable and correct copy for Mark Woodford, along with some notes on who were many of the people. JASNA News will run a little story about Mark and his father Charles Woodford and the “finding” of Augusta when their next issue comes out in August. That will be nice – and a well-named month, huh?! Wish I could sit down and compare Augusta and Eliza Chute’s 1798s! But that means contacting the Hampshire Record Office, for I never completely transcribed Eliza’s diary, just looked for the periods during which she was in London — and meeting the Goslings (Eliza was particular friends with Eliza Gosling, Mary’s young mother). Actually, I was thinking of contacting HRO to see about Microfilming Eliza’s early diaries (as a start; though her diaries are less numerous than Emma’s!), when Mark contacted me with his diary.

Anyway, in the last few days I’ve gone from being in 1798 to being back in the 1830s and looking up Mary’s diaries once again. Why? a wonderful email from Jim in Liverpool — who has an interest in the Alexander Davisons because of his research into Lord Nelson. Funnily enough what becomes big news in Augusta’s diary towards the end of the year?Nelson’s Nile Victory! See how it all eventually dovetails, one item into another, one person’s thoughts or actions into another’s.

So I’ve spent a couple days pulling out old papers, looking up old computer files, relooking for internet information (especially on books.google and Internet Archive). And imagine what I found while “not” looking for it: A Birth Announcement for FANNY SMITH! (28 October 1803) My, that fits so well: I was looking to augment my little booklet on Fanny, before turning it into something available to the public, with illustrations!

I also have begun working up a new blog page on ESTATES & HOMES, which will feature images and some useful links. And I think something on all the churches these people either attended or were buried in will soon be in the works.

But all takes TIME, and working just to pay bills does NOT help give me that time. I’ve a book chapter to write, Augusta to finish (she goes back to her owner in a couple weeks!), and a proposal for funding to work up for mid-July. Some funding would be nice as I could then get some copies of what I know to be out there…

But: to get back to Mary. I was struck again, as I pulled out comments on the Davisons, their children and in-laws (a certain General White — who seems to have no given name!; and Captain Samuel Cook, who in 1840 took the name of Widdrington). I had forgotten that twin Percy Davison married twice; and hadn’t noticed that Maria Smith (Emma’s youngest sister) comments on the vivacity and broken English of Rosalie, the foreign-born wife of twin William Davison. Rosalie’s descendents come into play with the items sold at auction in 2002 — and written about in the book Nelson’s Purse. The catalogue is online, so here’s a link to that. The BBC reported on the “sky high” prices fetched at this auction. Yow! For instance, look at Lot 65: a letter from Nelson to Davison; short, little more than a half-page (though of  interest to me because of Nelson’s solicitations for Davison’s current battle against gout!); it sold for over 11,000 pounds (estimated at £1,000-1,500).

I’d rather see the letters from Frances, Lady Nelson to Davison; is there a book out there yet? Though, even then, I can imagine that she writes about herself – so to have the letters Alexander wrote in return would be the real prize! For people always write about themselves when writing to others, don’t we?

But: to get back to Mary. I’ve noticed this before, though never mentioned it in this blog: people in 18th/19th century England used the words “introduce” and “met” in separate, specific ways. I had long wondered if Edward Ferrars was really “introduced” to the Dashwood ladies in Sense and sensibility; indeed this evidently would have been the case, for Austen uses that word in chapter III: “…the brother of Mrs John Dashwood, a gentlemanlike and pleasing young man who was introduced to their acquaintance soon after his sister’s establishment at Norland…” Augusta, in 1798, uses this same manner of speech as she meets for the first time her in-laws and others of Charles Smith’s relations; Mary does the same in the 1830s when discussing the new cousins, the husbands of Elizabeth and Dorothy Davison. I guess Fanny never introducing members of her immediate family to the step-mother and half-sisters of her husband just adds fodder to the self-centered mentally she shows earlier, over the funds her husband could grant these women after his father’s death. You would NEVER see the Smiths or Goslings not hosting never mind not even knowing the siblings of any of their in-laws (of course it helps when sometimes those very relatives are your OWN relatives…).

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