Happy Father’s Day

June 20, 2010 at 11:10 am (news, people, places) (, , , , , , , , )

Mark Woodford’s father, Charles, owned Augusta Smith’s 1798 diary; he died in February, 2009.

My own father is exceptionally supportive of my writing, this research project, and all I have accomplished and hope to accomplish with it.

Here’s here a not-so-short, and perhaps convoluted, tribute to some fathers:

I mention Mark because, reading through a diary in which the writer (Augusta Smith) marries (Charles Smith, of Suttons), he has been digging to find information on so much more than I have had a mind to do. For instance, he has uncovered a very useful set of books on Parliament, MPs and their voting records — thereby fleshing out both Joshua Smith (Augusta’s father) and Charles Smith (Augusta’s husband).

[I will remind readers here that Augusta was a ‘Smith’ and married a ‘Smith’ = but they were not related.]

This set, in four volumes, is The House of Commons, 1790-1820, a History of Parliament by R.G. Thorne. Middlebury College’s library has it; but wouldn’t you know: ONE volume is OUT! I’ll keep an eye on the online catalogue and take a ride down when all four are back on the shelf…

Why, you may ask, wouldn’t I be totally interested and have unearthed this set of books myself? A couple reasons; first I love history — but not politics. True, the two are inexplicably linked in oh so many ways. Yet, it can often be entirely overlooked: Austen set her novels in a slightly apolitical world, didn’t she?

But, more importantly, my earliest diary — belonging to Mary Gosling — dates from 1814. She is en route to Oxford. Sure she visits her brothers, who are in residence there, but Oxford is also en fête: the “false peace” of 1814 has been declared and guess who seats herself on the thrones not long before occupied by the likes of the Emperor of Prussia and the Tsar of Russia: Mary!

So I’ve always seen 1814 as the kick-off — summer, 1814 even. Poor Charles Smith, Emma’s father, has already died, though just a few months before. Emma’s own earliest diary begins New Year’s Day 1815. Thus, my two girls really are “teenagers” by the time I begin to write (and think) about them. Actually, another point in Jane Austen’s favor: they are sentient beings with wills and characters all their own, and ready to get on with life.

This line of thinking has never meant, however, that research into the parent, even grandparent generation hasn’t taken place, or needs to take place. It just means it rather lives simmering, always on the back-burner.

Which is where the enthusiasm of someone like Mark comes in handy. For him, the girls are not the focus: AUGUSTA is a  focus point, her father, her grandfather.

Joshua long has been Emma‘s grandfather, the older man, still in good health, a widower who entertains his children and grandchildren when they stay with him at Erle Stoke over New Year’s 1816/1817. Emma’s 1817 diary opens with, “Grandpapa was in good health at the age of 84. Stoke.” written across the top of the page, between a note about “Winter” and a “pair of galashes” and her first entry describing the people who had come to Stoke: Lord and Lady Northampton (aunt and uncle), their daughter Lady Elizabeth, Mr and Mrs Chute and Caroline (aunt and uncle and their “adopted” daughter), and a certain Mrs Langham — who just has to be a relation of Langham Christie (the future husband to Mary’s sister Elizabeth).

I think I’ve mentioned this entry before, because it is so evocative of a time past, as well as the “monied crowd” of England during this period:

“The new year was ushered in by a band of music playing round the house… band of music came in the evening & we danced a little”.

Mark Woodford, having an early interest in the Antiguan roots of the paternal family of Sarah (Gilbert) Smith, has found some invaluable information on Nathaniel Gilbert; and, as mentioned, the political careers of Charles Smith and Joshua Smith. Prior to this, Nathaniel was a bit of a name — great-grandfather, only; now he takes on a bit more flesh.

Charles was always Papa, but he dies so early in Emma’s life that being required to think of him as LIVING and LOVING the mind begins to think of him as he once was, before illness took him from Augusta.

And Joshua Smith, still so vibrant — I treasure letters from the early years when he misses his Eliza (Mrs Chute) so terribly; but my overriding image has long been of the loving grandfather whose end is also too well known from the letters — for Augusta writes passionately of rushing to his bedside, although he is often incoherent and doesn’t even recognize her.

We all have fathers, grandfathers, great-great-great-great grandfathers, etc. etc. If only we all had the mementoes the Smiths (especially) and Goslings left behind.

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The Year of the French, 1798

May 24, 2010 at 8:37 pm (a day in the life, books, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have spent the last three days in England 1798 — literally the Year of the French, due to all the rumors flying around about imminent invasion.

The “tour” has been courtesy of Illinois resident Mark Woodford, whose company website, Networked Robotics, is worth a look. Mark’s father recently bequeathed him a diary which had passed the last ten to fifteen years in Charles Woodford’s household as “1798 Diary of a High-Born Lady”. The high-born lady turns out to be none other than AUGUSTA SMITH (née Smith), Emma Austen-Leigh’s mother; and 1798, the year of her courtship and marriage to Charles Smith of Suttons. A true find, indeed. And I owe Mark more than one heartfelt “thank you” — firstly, for contacting me after he identified Augusta as the diarist; and, secondly, for loaning me the diary in order for a transcription to be taken.

Augusta arrived last Thursday, and we’ve spent hours together ever since.

How did the diary come to be among the Woodford possessions? With the death of Charles Woodford, it may be impossible to narrow down: a second-hand antiquarian bookshop? Christie’s or Sotheby’s? Or…?? Where it came from would be a mystery well-solved, yet it points up what I’ve long suspected: There are individual diaries out there (potentially of MANY family members), on random shelves, merely described by their dates of composition because their diarists never ascribed names to their scribblings. (Only in ONE diary — belonging to Charles Joshua Smith — have I encountered an owner’s inscription; although, of course, Mary Gosling penned her name on the “title page” of her earliest travel diary, dated 1814. That simple act of possession unravelled this entire historical puzzle.)

May this diary of Augusta’s be the first of many such “discoverings”!

Although I have now completed a preliminary transcription (proofing to come!), a year in someone’s life can be overwhelming to describe in a few paragraphs, never mind a few words. And a few words will right now have to suffice.

The year begins with young Augusta at home, at Erle Stoke Park, Wiltshire — home of Joshua and Sarah (née Gilbert) Smith. Her father was a Member of Parliament (for Devizes); her soon-to-be fiancé also sits in the House of Commons. Between the two men as sources for political bulletins, Augusta punctuates her diary with news of Buonaparte, French troop movements, taxation laws, and Nelson Naval Victories. One interesting item: she writes of visiting Mrs Davison — this would be Harriot Davison, née Gosling: sister to William Gosling (father to my diarist Mary Gosling) and wife of Nelson’s confidant, Alexander Davison of Swarland.

Mrs Davison is a shadowy figure; she had already died by the time Mary’s diaries begin (1829). Charles, whose diaries begin the year he and Mary married (1826), mentions her just once: when they hear of her death (28 October 1826).

From Augusta Smith’s entry on January 2nd — where she makes notation of a rumor: that the French were building a RAFT (700 feet long by 350 feet wide) “for an Invasion on England” (on the opposite page, written down who-knows-when, is the bold negation: “N.B. this report proved false.”) — to her comments surrounding news of Nelson’s Nile Victory towards the end of the year, we now get a spine-chilling glimpse at how unsettled life for the English living near the coast could be.

More later!

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Elations and Disappointments

April 18, 2010 at 11:21 am (a day in the life, books, news, people, places, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Oh, it has been a LONG week — where to start, where to start…

First, a long-standing thank you to Dr. John Chandler, of Hobnob Press. He kindly forwarded a back issue of the truly interesting journal, now-defunct, The Hatcher Review, which published a thorough article on artist Margaret Carpenter. The author, Richard J. Smith, has an abiding interest in Carpenter — I am told he composed her entry for DNB! More on this fascinating subject later, when I’ve taken the time to really peruse the piece.

Belated thanks are also due to Michele, at the Lewes Library (Sussex), for her help in obtaining pages from Charlotte Brookes’ little book, Christie of Glyndebourne: Being Recollections of Her Family. Yes, I finally tracked down ONE copy of this elusive title! Charlotte was the daughter of Langham Christie and Elizabeth Gosling (Mary’s sister and brother-in-law). It was this book’s description of the painting of Mary and Elizabeth, done by Beechey, which at the time of publication (1920) still hung at Suttons, that prompted me to go on a search for the picture — and why I discovered that portrait at the Huntington Gallery in West Virginia.

But: so far, the “gut reaction” is batting ZERO, while the evidence against is mounting. As mentioned in the post below, The Huntington identifies the work as “Ann and Augusta Coventry”. You try doing a search for “coventry”…

(BTW: just noticed: below the portrait, the Huntington ID’s the work as of the “18th century” – surely not!)

UVM’s Hope Greenberg, who gave an insightful talk on Costume in Austen’s Era for JASNA-Vermont in June 2009, dashed away some of my early hopes. When I asked for a brief reaction — 1808 or 1817? — to the Beechey work, her gut reaction was for 1808, which is when Beechey’s sitters’ book gives a listing for an anonymous Coventry daughter or daughters. Hope did a great job in enumerating the little fashion changes of the period (thanks, Hope), but it’s hard to give up my own “hope” for a different pair of sitters in this work.

Then, the more I dug, the more I experienced “elation” ending in “disappointment”. I contacted the Huntington (sending my email addressed to the curator  inadvertently to the administrative assistant I had earlier thought to contact – damn!), and am waiting to hear more about their work.

Then I searched and searched. Rather than contact Sotheby’s (WHO does one contact about a sale that took place in 1958??!), I got in mind to find the auction results.

The citation from the journal Art and Auctions for 1958 was kindly supplied by the Art Reference Librarian at Amherst College. (Gosh, I envy their collection — all relevant texts are ALWAYS in their library; but at four or so hours south, I’ve never been able to visit them, or UMass Amherst). This citation sent me in search of the actual catalogue of the sale. My mistake was in thinking that in 1958 these would include a photograph of EVERY work up for sale. Silly me… But this mistake wasn’t realized until after I contacted the National Gallery of Art, when their reference librarian told me catalogues were “all text, no illustrations”. Still, his kindness in forwarding a xerox of the relevant pages revealed what I had never EVER thought of: The Sotheby’s sale of 19 February 1958 had OTHER family portraits up on the block!

Among the works was one “Emma Smith” — a portrait of Joshua Smith of Stoke Park, Wiltshire. Now this could be Joshua’s daughter Emma = known to the Smith of Suttons siblings as “Aunt Emma”; or, this could be my Emma Austen-Leigh! Impossible to know, especially without seeing the portrait.

It is similar in size to one that also sold in this sale, that one ID’ed as a Gainsborough; so it is possible Joshua’s daughter or grand-daughter copied this work, though changed the color of his clothing. Or, if done from life – Joshua’s age could determine the artist; or perhaps it is signed! Let’s face it, there’s just no way of knowing… BTW, the work sold to “Wiggins” for £5.

The Gainsborough, with its description as “half-length, in blue coat and red doublet in a landscape setting”, started off another “elation” period that ended in “disappointment”: Went up to UVM’s library and looked through EVERY book on Gainsborough, including the so-called catalogue raisonné Waterhouse did in the 1950s (black and white photos! boo…). I could find no trace of “Smith” other than a “John Smith, a draper” mentioned in the text, but NOT reproduced. (Oh, for more NEW books, like the catalogue of Reynolds’ works!) And I thought grandpa Smith would be easy to find, given his famous portraitist. HA!

In the same sale (put up by Sir Thomas Spencer-Smith), was a portrait by Beechey of Thomas Smith of Fonthill and Bersted Lodge (Bognor). And don’t I find that his wife, Susan Mackworth-Praed, was also painted by Beechey, in what must have been a pair of portraits: they both measure 50×40 inches. Hers was up for sale, at Christie’s, in 1901. Thomas Smith was brother to Sir Drummond Smith of Tring Park and Joshua Smith of Erle Stoke Park, and therefore a great uncle to my Emma.

To get back to Mary and Elizabeth Gosling —

I give the full catalogue description of Mary and Elizabeth’s portrait: “three-quarter lengths, seated by a piano in white satin dresses with a blue sash and flowers, signed with initials and dated 1817.” Its size, 49×39 inches. It sold to “Leger” for £280 (outdistancing the Gainsborough, which sold to “Buckley” for £35).

Charlotte Brookes says of this picture: “My mother {Elizabeth Gosling Christie} was a good pianist, and her master, the great Cramer, dedicated a piece of music to her. This she is holding in her hand in the picture of herself and her sister Mary, afterwards Lady Smith, painted by Sir William Beechey and now at Suttons. With regard to this picture Charles lost both his parents when a child, and his good aunt… thought that he ought not to see too much of his mother, for the dresses are cut rather low, so she had frills painted in which still remain, though Charles in later years often talked of having them removed.” [This comment about “seeing too much” brings SUCH a smile to my face!]

You see why I wonder about the Huntington piece — blue sash I can see (especially since, while at UVM yesterday, I looked up the original Early Music issue and could see “The Sisters” in the flesh!); but the reference to “flowers” puzzles me. Will they be in hands? in a vase on the piano? in the hair, or tucked in a ribbon tie or bosom?? So a small strike against “The Sisters” being Mary and Elizabeth — again.

BUT: The Brookes book told a tale never before realized: Langham Christie’s grandmother Elizabeth Lawton (mother to Elizabeth Langham) was the sister of Lord Northampton’s wife Jane Lawton — Jane, Lady Northampton would have been Maria Smith’s mother-in-law, and therefore the grandmother of Spencer, Lord Compton (later the 2nd Marquess Northampton; Emma’s cousin, and brother to Lady Elizabeth Dickins). NO WONDER the Smiths, in letter and diary, mention Mrs Christie and her sons so often and so early! They were “family”!!

So that sent me on a hunt for information on Langham Christie. And that hunt brought me back to a source I found who knows how long ago: that Langham wrote several letters to a Mr John Waldie, which are to be found at UCLA. But who was John Waldie?? Very little digging told me that he was “somebody” by virtue of his massive diary-keeping. His diaries have ended up (for the most part; there are some missing volumes) at UCLA. Prof. Emeritus Frederick Burwick has made available online his typed entries of John Waldie’s theater-going comments from these diaries. There are all the names that Emma mentions in her diaries during the 1810s, and names Mary mentions in her diaries of the 1820s! Waldie even enabled me to correct the spelling of one singer, Begrez — to be precise, Pierre-Ignace Begrez (of Namur), a tenor — whose name I usually guessed, depending on Emma’s writing, as Begrey or Beyrey.

There in Waldie are the Knyvetts (Waldie having some particular comments about William Knyvett…; look them up for yourself!); and there, also, is a certain Miss Sharp — who, I think, has an Austen connection. But I will leave that for a later post all its own. As to John Waldie — Langham Christie accompanies him on at least TWO Continental tours! Nice to know what Langham was up to in those years before his marriage.

So much to do, so little time, so little enthusiasm for anything else.

If Austen’s Emma is a “detective novel” (which P.D. James certainly made a great case for in her JAS talk some years ago), then research is the greatest detective opportunity ever. You pluck at clues, go down blind alleys, get hit over the head with good news — and bad. And in the end amass all intelligence into a coherent whole, that, if not wholly the truth (can we ever really know a person?), then at least approximates the truth from the evidence at hand.

One parting thought: a nice article on the Northamptons and their homes, Compton Wynyates and Castle Ashby, is to be found in the journal The Connoisseur, 1915 (the article begins page 156). Readers of my Persuasions On-line article will appreciate the (albeit brief) description of the interior of Castle Ashby, with its Great Hall and Staircase. Watch for the author’s wonderfully effusive comments, which in a split second turn a bit “backhanded”… BTW, this little jewel of a magazine has such useful things as “Notes & Queries” — where people sent in pictures of portraits and asked readers for identifications! And there are sections on book reviews, and genealogy, never mind antiques and estates. I must find additional copies and put up some links to the issues (bound as several issues in one file).

Must make mention that I found two new portraits — of Charles, 1st Marquess Northampton and his marchioness Maria, Lady Northampton — hers done by her sister, MRS CHUTE! (See the Portraits page.)

A coda: looking for the link to Persuasions On-line I see they’ve posted a new “special” edition — this one is papers not from JASNA but from the New Directions in Austen Studies (for which I proposed a paper on Misters Darcy and Collins). Alice Villaseñor, who was working on the Austen-Leigh papers for references to Mrs Hubback, has her work appearing here: Fanny Caroline Lefroy: A Feminist Critic in the Austen Family. Congratulations, Alice! Can’t wait to read it.

Alice and I met in Winchester (at HRO; her name, though, forwarded to me by JASNA’s Kerri Spennicchia). There are a couple other interesting articles; so I must take a closer look at this journal. Wish JASNA gave an option to download the entire issue as one PDF. Would make it so much easier for those of us getting wireless via public means.

As I observed earlier: So little time… Better get myself a Megabucks lottery ticket, then I would “own” all the time in the world, and could “work” every minute of every day.

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