Puzzle piece leads to more Puzzling

October 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm (news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Great thanks to Jacky, in Maidstone, England, for contacting me — she has some exciting pieces of the Smith puzzle!

But one piece in particular I want to blog about today. Jacky writes:

The journal about Maria by Augusta {Mamma Smith} … talks about Maria’s development, particularly the development of her character, but also how she is doing with her lessons and with learning skills such as music and drawing.

There is much in family letters about young Maria’s struggles in Music and Drawing (after all, she had FIVE elder sisters to compete against, including the ‘perfect’ Augusta).

Maria was 15 years younger than the eldest, Augusta, and a young teenager and woman when her sisters were young wives and mothers. She ended up being pretty much alone with her mother by the mid-1830s, and obviously at times felt the “baby” of the family, wishing for ties to the siblings who somewhat had left her behind because of their own children and spouses.

But the very existence of this journal — a Georgian “Baby Book,” if I may so term it — raises the specter of just such a manuscript mentioned in the biography (by his daughter, Mary Augusta Austen Leigh) of James Edward Austen Leigh, this, however, about Edward’s brother-in-law, the youngest Smith son, Drummond:

In a MS. book describing Drummond from his birth onwards, his mother writes…

WHAT MANUSCRIPT BOOK?!? Was my reaction at the time of reading this sentence. I rather forgot about it, when talking about so much else that either I know is out there (seen and as yet unseen…), as well as what I expect to find, as well as what I know is currently “missing”. So much material! And thank God there’s so much material!

Jacky believes Mamma all along meant to present this little journal to Maria. And, in 1911, young Mary Augusta Austen Leigh had access to that book outlining Drummond’s youth — including some concluding paragraphs, written by Mamma after hearing of his death:

His arrival at home for the vacations was hailed with the greatest delight and affection and seemed to infuse new animation within the Family. His constant good temper and cheerfulness and his powers of conversation made him the most charming inmate and companion; in the larger circle of acquaintance he was valued and caressed because he was so agreeable, but in the inner circle of his near Relatives he was loved to a very great degree because he was so amiable and warmhearted. He was quite free from conceit, though his abilities were certainly above the ordinary level, I do not think he was sensible of it. . . . His conversation had a peculiar charm from the originality of some of his ideas, from the sudden, yet apposite allusions he would bring in unexpectedly, from his good spirits, and above all because it was so natural and so entirely without study or display. . . . It happened to be his lot to live much with an excellent clergyman, his Brother-in-law, Mr Austen, and all that I hear from him of my dear Drummond’s character raises my hope that our good and great Creator has not cut him off from life thus early in punishment, but in mercy; to take him from evil to come, to shorten his probation.

I must admit, not being overly religious myself, to being affected by the great store Mrs Smith put in her faith as she lost (at this time) more family: in 1825 Belinda, her daughter-in-law; in 1831, Charles, her eldest son; in February 1832, her sister-in-law Judith Smith and in November, her youngest son Drummond.

I can only wonder, however: ARE THERE “BABY BOOKS” OUT THERE FOR EACH OF HER NINE CHILDREN? From an era when such documents of baby were begun with gusto, only to be abandoned before baby was more than a couple years old, especially if a sibling joined the family (my own baby book didn’t even get THAT far!), it is amazing to me that Mrs Smith pursued this route. Emma, Mary and Augusta document the physical growth of their children, in their journals — but I’ve never come across anything like this “Maria Journal”. How grateful I am to know of its existence!

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Maria — Found!

May 5, 2010 at 10:52 pm (people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , )

Sometimes LUCK is finally with you.

Using some different search engines, I hit paydirt with BING: a 2009 sale at Bonhams – of this precious miniature of Maria, Lady Culme-Seymour. It originally sold out of the family in 1972, via Sotheby’s. I’d LOVE to know what other items were sold then…

Maria Smith was Emma’s youngest sister. She married, in 1844, Sir John Hobart Culme-Seymour, bart., the eldest brother — and a fellow clergyman — of Fanny’s husband, Richard Seymour. These two Seymours were also brothers of Spencer’s wife Frances! And, by the way, in 1845, Charlotte’s widower Arthur Currie married Dora Chester — Dora was another Seymour sister. So this family was popular with the Smiths of Suttons!

This miniature, painted by Sir William Charles Ross, RA, can be seen in a wider-angle closeup on this blog, or view the full portrait at Bonhams (their background info is exceptionally interesting). If painted around the same time as her mother-in-law (Lady Seymour, the former Jane Hawker), then this could date to c1846 — and Maria would be about 32 years old.

Caroline Wiggett Workman, adopted daughter of William and Eliza Chute, describes young Maria as “rather spoilt”, yet Mamma Smith recognizes that little Maria had much sorrow in the early years of her life: her father died before she was born; she lost a sister-in-law, two brothers, and a most-beloved aunt by the time she was 18. Some of Maria’s letters have ended up in private collections, perhaps these first hit the market about the time this miniature first sold, at the Sotheby’s sale of 27 March 1972.

This latest sale took place in November 2009 – and little Maria sold for £2,400.

The “smith nose” looks quite evident here (first noticed on a silhouette of brother Drummond); compare this sibling portrait with that of Emma drawn by Mrs Carpenter (attributed) at the Hampshire Record Office.

Ain’t she lovely!!

By the way: One private collector has sent me images of relevant letters in his collection, and there is one Maria letter dating to this period. I include her closing signature:

Note that she signs herself Maria L. Seymour — Maria Louisa Seymour, rather than including the Culme; yet if you don’t look for Culme Seymour, you wouldn’t find this miniature in an internet search! From various sources, including some original letters, I have begun a page of SIGNATURES (see the menu at the right). A neat little collection, don’t you think?

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