Hot on the Trail: 1820s letters of life in ROME

June 28, 2014 at 9:30 pm (entertainment, history, news, people, research, travel) (, , , , , , )

I have been burning the candle – quite literally: Up late most nights these last weeks. It paid off immensely last Thursday, with the discovery of a small batch of letters IN ROME!

Mamma Mia!

The BIGGER surprised came when I realized the KEY to knowing these letters were in fact having anything to do with my batch of Smiths was the name involved: LANTE turns up in a letter I actually bought (thanks, Craig!) a couple of years ago.

And Villa Lante (in Gianicolo) still exists, as this GORGEOUSLY illustrated blog post on Rosa Arcium attests. I can’t help but believe that Charles, Augusta, Emma, and Fanny visited here – perhaps quite often, during their winter in Rome (1822-1823).

lauro

In addition to Rosa Arcium, gain views of the house from:

 

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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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Early Photography: Chasing images

March 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm (history, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

How do you identify an image of a person – one painted or photographed long, long ago?

By what’s written on the back! if you’re lucky.

This miniature of Maria Smith, aka Lady Culme Seymour, was ID’ed as her; I take it to have been her mainly because the provenance claims a family descent.

It sold, at auction, with her mother-in-law’s miniature — Jane, Lady Seymour.

My task lately — and a daunting one it has been — is to ID a couple of photographs. Are they Maria? are they a sister? or (worse thought) have they been mis-identified????

Time WILL tell.

But that brings into the mix, several early photographers. Yes, these were certainly the types of people, with money enough, who would have been interested in having their portraits done. Interested, too, in pursuing photography for themselves, in the end. A photo album connected to the Gosling family resides at a Surrey archive; among portraits are also what can only be described as travel photographs! Imagine what you had to tote around to photograph your adventures away from home back in the 1870s!

One portrait of Maria is by the famed photographer Camille Silvy (1834-1910). The National Portrait Gallery’s website about him calls Silvy “a pioneer of early photography and one of the greatest French photographers of the nineteenth century. Maria seems to have been photographed in 1860. (She was born in 1814. You do the math.) Silvy moved to London in 1859. Her nephew, Mary and Charles Smith’s son, Charles Cunliffe Smith — along with his wife Agnes, Lady Smith — are represented in Silvy’s books, but far later in number. How fascinating to go through these book NPG has and see all the people photographed by Silvy!

But there are other family photos, but other photographers. One that has surfaced is a family group, plus some individual photographs, by William Claridge (1797-1876). He began photographing in the Berkhamsted area in the 1850s.

A third photographer, one with ties — at the very least — with the Comptons and Dickens families, is William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877). The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an online article entitled “William Henry Fox Talbot and the Invention of Phography“. I’ve come across mention of Dickens family pictures, and online have found Fox Talbot’s letters, which have him giving several wonderful descriptions of Lord and Lady Compton, while they lived in Italy.

Such valuable resources — in images and words.

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I’ve WATCHED “Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait?”

January 2, 2012 at 9:32 am (chutes of the vyne, estates, history, jane austen, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Ah, seek and indeed ye shall find. Yesterday, about noon, I came upon a full, uninterrupted showing of Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait?

I found the differing paths taken to gain information about the portrait exceptionally interesting to view. After all, everyone whose research utilizes primary material must (1) discover it; (2) verify it; (3) keep an open mind about whatever turns up; and (4) ultimately reject, support, or present both sides of the argument.

I hope to have more to say, later, but right now I want to discuss an “image” that flashes — twice — on the screen that may puzzle people, or, more likely, totally fly by them:

Both show (as above) Paula Byrne‘s face reflected on her computer screen, and a portrait image that’s up on the computer, which she contemplates. The image is NOT the “Austin” portrait, but the portrait of Maria Lady Compton/Lady Northampton, which the book A History of the Comptons of Compton Wynyates designates as on vellum and done by “her sister Mrs Chute”. The image below is that found on this blog’s Portraits page:

Pity, then, that no discussion on the TV show about this “known” portrait took place. I have a feeling that the original was not located in the two most logical places: The Vyne nor Castle Ashby.

The Vyne was Eliza Chute’s Hampshire estate (now a National Trust property; near Basingstoke); Castle Ashby is still a private residence, then and now owned by the Marquess of Northampton. Seneca Productions contacted me to see if I knew more about the portrait; they were in contact with The Vyne already (so nothing there, I gather), and I gave the Castle Ashby contact information I had — and waited to hear more (but have heard nothing).

  • I’ve a couple questions on this portrait, and the 1930 book from which it comes (published in a very limited edition of 200 copies. Any reader resident in the New York City area who would be willing to visit the New York Public Library, please contact me (see “the author” for contact information).

The interesting thing about the two portraits: “Jane Austin” is shown in the act of writing; Maria Compton is holding what I suspect are “plans” — and wasn’t Maria and her husband at one point knee-deep in “updating” their accommodations at Castle Ashby…

I used to be somewhat disappointed by this portrait of Maria, but putting it side-by-side with the “Austin” portrait, it now looks pretty good.

* * *

NB: By the way, I’m GRATEFUL for ALL the portraits I unearth: I now have two of Lady Northampton, this one and a profile view done by her niece Augusta Smith. I’ve a number of Emma, at least one of which looks nothing (really) like her. Until the advent of photography (and even then, don’t we all say: “That’s a horrible picture of me”), images depended on the artist, the amount of “flattery” in altering the sitter’s image, and oh so many other things. Even “Unseen Portrait” host, Martha Kearney, felt flattered at the portrait drawn of her during the show!

Images make no difference about how I perceive the “inner” Emma and Mary et al — but I sure LOVE to see all representations of them and the rest of the family.

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Walter Scott & the “Big Bow Wow”

November 16, 2011 at 7:35 pm (books, diaries, history, research) (, , , , , )

Scholars and readers of Jane Austen remember well that Walter Scott wrote of his inability to create the quiet fiction of Austen, but was great at what he called “the big bow wow”.

While Austen’s prose interests me for its precise picture of life when my girls — Emma and Mary — were growing up, it’s Scott’s correspondence that provides the interest: he was the guardian of the Maclean Clephane girls. Margaret Maclean Clephane married the Smiths’ cousin Spencer Compton (Lord Compton, later the 2nd Marquess of Northampton). Scott’s letters shed light on the periods of time when the young family was abroad; while Emma’s diaries comment on the young man’s marriage with a Scottish beauty!

But back to Walter Scott..

As you see from the image, there are 12 volumes of letters, published in the 1930s. You can find these letters ONLINE!

Here’s a short list of items, as delineated on the page entitled “Authentic Austen, Scott, Waldie“:

  • Millgate Union Catalogue of Walter Scott Correspondence, at the National Library of Scotland, gives a fully searchable database. You’ll Find Lady Compton and the Clephanes well represented…
  • A recent discovery, and, although not quite as handy as the book volumes, I am grateful to find all the published edition of Letters online and fully searchable. The line numeration is a bit of a pain (though you always know which page you’re on in which volume!), and the notes seem missing, but this should prove an exceptionally useful source. One wish: someone needs to clean up the scanned text a bit.
  • Also useful is, of course, Scott’s Journal. Editions found online: Online Literature; Books.Google; Project Gutenberg

I’m very “bullish” on anything “authentic” — letters, diaries, first editions, etc etc., so do check out the other items on this blog page: https://smithandgosling.wordpress.com/authentic-austen/

A reader who wrote to me about Lachlan Macquarie might be interested to know that according to the Millgate Catalogue, there is one 1821 letter. (BTW, I noticed a broken link there; note that it has now been updated!)

The letter is dated 24 Nov 1821, from Government House, Sydney NSW. Seems Lachlan Macquarie was a relation to my dear Margaret, Lady Compton! The original letter is at the National Library of Scotland.

A short note here to add that if anyone has the book THE COMPTONS OF COMPTON WYNYATES, I’d love to see the chapters on the 1st and 2nd Marquesses — and the portrait of Maria, Lady Northampton by her sister Eliza Chute!!

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News! News! News!

May 23, 2011 at 8:39 am (books, entertainment, people, places, portraits and paintings, research, travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Two *new* portraits join my little gallery… They were found while looking for something totally different (isn’t that always the case?!).

My first was this delightful portrait of Wilmina Maclean Clephane:

I was looking to update information on my current writing project, about Fanny( Smith) Seymour, and wanted to double check information about Torloisk (on the Isle of Mull, Scotland). This was the home of the three Maclean Clephane sisters. Don’t remember them?? I can’t blame you — there are so many names and people to remember, aren’t there?

The Clephane sisters were wards of writer Walter Scott; Margaret Douglas Maclean Clephane married Spencer, Lord Compton in 1815 — and Emma recorded the events of Margaret’s homecoming (see my article at the JASNA website equating this event to a proposed welcome for Elizabeth Bennet Darcy). Spencer and his sister Lady Elizabeth Compton were the only cousins the Smiths of Suttons had. Emma came to know the Clephane girls — the other two being Anna-Jane and Wilmina — fairly well, and even wrote of meeting Walter Scott himself!

**Read about the Clephanes’ connection to early music for the Gaelic Harp**

How wonderful to read Walter Scott’s (online) journal and see this; it’s September, 1827:

“September 6. — Went with Lady Compton to Glasgow, and had as pleasant a journey as the kindness, wit, and accomplishment of my companion could make it. Lady C. gives an admirable account of Rome, and the various strange characters she has met in foreign parts. I was much taken with some stories out of a romance… I am to get a sight of the book if it be possible. At Glasgow (Buck’s Head) we met Mrs. Maclean Clephane and her two daughters, and there was much joy. After the dinner the ladies sung, particularly Anna Jane, who has more taste and talent of every kind than half the people going with great reputations on their back.” Read more ….

Margaret was the eldest (born 1791), Wilmina the youngest (born 1803); they and Compton are extremely prevalent in the Scott correspondence. Such fun to read of Margaret, when a young bride newly brought home to Castle Ashby, entertaining her guests with Scottish Song and Music, such as Emma recorded witnessing. Margaret was a dab hand at art as well, which brings me back to Harriet Cheney.

The Cheney name is one VERY familiar from letters and diaries. And, besides, the Cheney family were related to the Carrs/Carr Ellisons and they end up in Mary Gosling’s extended family! Again: a small world.

Harriet Cheney, whose Italian sketchbooks went up for auction in 2005 at Christie’s, not only sketched places, but also those whom she came across. Wilmina was one; her sister Margaret and her family was another:

Here, Margaret is depicted with her daughter Marianne Compton (the future Lady Alford). Other images not “illustrated” at Christie’s includes other children and also Spencer Lord Compton! Such treasures.

**Read Karen E. McAulay‘s PhD thesis Our Ancient National Airs: Scottish Song Collecting, c1760-1888**

Look at all 110 lots (Wilmina is Lot 44; Margaret and Marianne are Lot 45) at Christie’s. There is even a specimen of the artistry of Wilmina herself at Lot 87.

I swear that Emma called Wilmina’s husband Baron de Normann (Christie’s cites de Norman). Was it Emma’s spelling, or how he spelled his name ?? Always tricky to tell during this time period, when spelling was somewhat fluid — even for names! Christie’s seems to have obtained the name from the signature on the art itself, but who knows…

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I drove the cabriolet from Wellington

May 15, 2011 at 8:21 am (carriages & transport) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The title comes from the diary of Emma SmithAunt Emma to my Emma (her mother’s sister). The year is 1792 and Emma and her two sisters, Augusta and Elizabeth (not yet Mrs Charles Smith [1798] or Mrs William Chute [1793]), are on holiday:

“We left Stoke at a quarter before eight on Saturday the 28th of July. Mama & Eliza in the cabriolet; Papa, Augusta and myself in the Phaeton; and Richard and Spencer on horseback”.

At the end of her entry for July 30th, as she describes the joyous sights (and sites) of Somersetshire, she appends the words “I drove the cabriolet from Wellington.” When encountered by such a phrase, it rather takes one by surprise: how many women could “drive”? It’s possible that all Sarah Smith’s daughters did; and it was merely Emma’s turn in the cabriolet with Mama. Later in the trip, eldest sister Maria (Lady Compton at this present moment) sits with Mama.

Anyway, reading these early diaries once again this week (a second is from 1794), I thought to begin a series about CARRIAGES. This stems from two things: a tiny book I happened across a couple years ago (at my favorite New Hampshire used bookstore, Old Depot No. 6) – Victorian Horses and Carriages: A Personal Sketch Book by William Francis Freelove and an AGM talk by James Nagle entitled in part “Coaches, Barouches and Gigs, Oh My!”

The book is a later edition, reworked, of An Assemblage of 19th Century Horses & Carriages by Jennifer Lang; both feature the wonderful drawings of William Francis Freelove. (see my prior post about Freelove; and view the drawings at Bridgeman Art.) I now own both, but somehow, the smaller book is more precious to me.

So: What was a CABRIOLET?

In pictures, both that I thought most illustrative date from c1830. I just love this piece, by William Joseph Shayer – The Cabriolet in Hyde Park:

A cabriolet is pretty unanimous described as:

A two-wheeled, doorless, hooded, one-horse carriage; may come from the French cabriole, an indication of its light, bounding motion. A cabriolet can be driven by someone seated in the carriage. The design is intended to accommodate two comfortably. The collapsible leather hood allows passengers to enjoy sunny weather or shelter from rain.

London’s Science Museum has this specimen (photo from Encyclopedia Britannica):

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