How to LOCK a Letter

June 16, 2016 at 8:29 pm (entertainment, europe, history, research) (, , , )

fascinating find: 2,600 letters were uncovered, kept inside a postmaster’s trunk. Astounding!

“The trunk contains 2,600 letters sent from France, Spain and the Spanish Netherlands between 1689 and 1706 but never delivered – including 600 letters never opened,” says the press release for the project that is now called SIGNED, SEALED & UNDELIVERED.

letter_trunk

Stored at the Hague’s Museum voor Communicatie since 1926, only now (thanks to technology) will the letters be “read,” unopened.

I hate to say it, but I was VERY grateful for the early dates of the letters! If I had thought ANY Smith & Gosling letters were among them, it would have driven me CRAZY!

Even more astounding are the YouTube videos featuring ways writers “locked” old letters – more than a simple wax seal over a seam, to keep prying eyes at bay.

I found this “pleated letter” of 1691, very interesting:

pleated letter

It’s “lock” is the piece you see with the very tapered end, closest to the “letter writer’s” arm.

pleated letter2

What’s really interesting is the “writer,” after closing up the letter, then shows HOW TO OPEN it!

This “diamond” shaped letter was also one above the usual, since it actually is a piece of HATE mail!

diamond letter

Step-by-step How To for EACH of the letters is shown (there’s no voice). The completed letter is briefly on view, then the letter is opened.

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A trove of old letters

April 27, 2016 at 9:41 pm (books, history) (, , , )

Gotta love a book that begins,

“Years ago I found a trove of old letters. I found them in a broken-down steamer trunk buried under moldy blankets in a dilapidated shed attached to a decrepit row house.”

These words open the 2014 book Nina Sankovitch entitled, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing.

Although I’ve heard of her Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, it was a blog post about LETTERS that brought me to this later book. For the Love of Bookshops wrote about the genesis of Sankovitch’s “next” book:

old letters

Like Erin (the bookstore-loving blogger), I too cannot believe the “luck” of such a treasure trove. And, it’s addictive! The more I find on my Smiths & Goslings, the more I want to find.

Sankovitch’s “find” rather reminds me of the beginning of Célestine. Although Gillian Tindall’s trove was a handful of letters, the fascinating history of young Célestine, a French woman, made for a stupendous read and an enthralling untangling of someone’s past. Nina Sankovitch’s stash turned out to be early 20th century: a mother & son correspondence. Thanks goodness the letters found a home!

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Letters of Caroline Norton

May 16, 2015 at 12:39 pm (books, history, people, research) (, , )

Yesterday I *treated* myself: drove three hours to reach a used bookstore I simply LOVE: Old Number Six Book Depot, in Henniker, New Hampshire. Alas, I was cashing out my finds at 5.20 pm — twenty minutes AFTER they should have closed (if not for me). How I wish the gent had shouted up the stairs… I don’t wear a watch, and (truthfully) didn’t realize that they closed so early.

BUT: one book I bought, which I want to talk about today, is a slim (182 pages) volume from 1974 entitled The Letters of Caroline Norton to Lord Melbourne – the letters dating from the 1830s into the early 1840s. So right in the time period of my Smiths & Goslings.

WHO can resist a series of letters, from the right era, when they begin:

“I am very dull — how are you?”

caroline norton2

Caroline, née Sheridan (yes, related to that Sheridan; a grand-daughter), has a ready wit which comes across in her letters. I am impressed that one letter is reproduced in toto as a set of four photographs nested within the transcript. Something to keep in mind for my own future publications. Though, at first, I thought the entire book was facsimile!

Was quite intrigued to read a letter about a young girl – now 13 – brought into the Melbourne household as a child by Caroline Lamb, Melbourne’s late wife. Caroline Norton spends some little time telling him WHY he must continue the girl’s education, and WHY sending her out as a governess – IF she MUST make her own way in the world (Melbourne evidently tired of providing for his former wife’s plaything). The child has become used to and was promised the life of a “lady” – and life as a seamstress or such like would NOT allow her that privilege. My mind, at that point, was all attention, thinking of all the poor (monetarily speaking) young ladies who entered the Smith household as governess from the 1810s through the later 1830s.

A sad note: the man who first worked with these letters, circa 1954 — Clarke Olney — died before more than a short article about them came into print. Nearly twenty years later, having come across Olney’s files and notes, did a second author, James Hoge, complete the task.

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Anything Exciting? Reading Other People’s Letters

July 14, 2014 at 7:37 pm (history, people, research) (, , , , , , )

A friend recently asked:

How about your letters, anything exciting?

As I typed my reply, the thought came: this would interest readers of Two Teens, too — or so I hope.

I’m just scaling the heights, after an influx of new-to-me information; mainly letters, but also a few early diaries. Here are some early thoughts on the *new* material:

pen and letters
“Can’t say I’ve come across anything that would be termed exciting in and of itself; just a build-up of family history. Seems quite a few letters were saved from a period in Emma’s life when she was “sought after” by Arthur Perceval. She certainly didn’t find him ‘attractive’; but gosh she experienced such ANGST over her negative thoughts!

“HARD not to wonder if she didn’t already think about Edward Austen – though this was a good 3 years before they married…

“I knew a few letters along this line existed, but there turned out to be more! And those letters from 1825 that I thought would be primarily about Charles and his recent bereavement, turned out to be MORE letters about Mr Perceval! The Oxford collection, though, had an interesting twist on the tale: Mr P visited Suttons! A bit of an uncomfortable encounter for them both.

“And in the end? he married someone else, seemingly rather quickly. Almost an “any girl will do”, rather like Mr Collins. (from your favorite: Pride and Prejudice.)

“The letters of Lady Northampton to her husband are – of themselves – not much. Short, written (and sent) nearly every day. Such longing for his return! and it seems they were SHORT (and frequent) because HE disliked long letters! So as a group, they are quite of use. She wrote her daughter in the same way. Never having much to say, but always keeping the conversation going.

“The question, now, is: If HER letters exist, what happened to those sent TO her?! Weren’t those saved??”

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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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Mary Shelley letters re-discovered

January 13, 2014 at 8:08 am (history, news, research) (, , , , , , , )

Lucky:  When you’re an academic AND you discover letters of a well-established writer at the ‘click of a mouse’ you get MEGA-PRESS coverage! My Smiths & Goslings should be only so lucky…

(Those of you sharing your letters, diaries, & images with me, know who you are; thank you!)

But on to the BIG news

Mary Shelley's seal

Professor Nora Crook‘s “re-discovery” during on online search uncovered – at the ESSEX RECORD OFFICE, the repository where some Smith & Gosling diaries and letters reside! – unpublished letters by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. A fabulous find! And proves my point that you sometimes uncover TERRIFIC *finds* while looking for something completely different.

According to The Guardian, “The letters date between 1831, nine years after the death of her poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and 1849, when Mary Shelley was already unwell with the brain tumour that would kill her two years later, and show a woman who was skilled in charming favours from friends, bursting with pride in and concern for her teenage son – and not unconcerned with frivolities. A last-minute ticket to the coronation of William IV in 1831 necessitated a 3am visit from her hairdresser; she attended the event sporting a plumed headdress (‘The whole thing was wondrously splendid – Diamonds & cloth of gold grew common to the eye.’)”

Even the ‘seal’ (see Keith Crook’s photo) was previously unknown.

” ‘Pure serendipity,’ ” says Prof. Crook, ” ‘The [Horace] Smith connection has been known but this little bit of the jigsaw hasn’t been’ “.

The comments, especially of ARCHIVISTSN, should be included in your perusal of the article.

BIG O-M-G: the letters turned up in the papers of the ROUND family because of the marriage of Laura Smith with John Round: MY SMITHS (of Suttons) knew the Round family (of Birch Hall)!

ERO

ERO features the letters as their January 2014 “YOUR FAVOURITE ERO DOCUMENT”: read their article.

The thirteen letters are to be published in an upcoming Keats-Shelley Journal.

shelley

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Persuasion: a novel of love

September 8, 2013 at 2:08 pm (books, diaries, jane austen, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

Ah….

I have just finished Persuasion, one volume (along with Northanger Abbey) of six in a new-to-me complete set of Jane Austen novels.

all austen

Bought in the spring (April), they departed England at the height of summer (July 1st); to arrive in the north-eastern United States on the cusp of Fall (September).

They are the Chapman, 3rd edition. The leather binding melts in my hands, so soft to the touch, reminding me of the exquisite feel of one leather-bound volume once residing in the library of Mrs Gosling (sent, so kindly sent, by Martyn Downer).

bookplate_Mrs Gosling

I hope next to pick up Mansfield Park, to decide at last whether to propose the paper topic I’ve long had in my head, or work on some other project.

The rekindled love of Captain Wentworth for Miss Anne Elliot is too well-known to need much information here; but how difficult, being let in on the personal correspondence and journal confessions of the Smiths & Goslings, not to muse on others who in real life were thwarted in obtaining marital happiness, without much anxiety — and years of waiting.

Richard Seymour’s family seems to have endured much in this line. Two sisters — TWO! — who were sorely tried. The first, his sister Dora, was persuaded by her own family – Richard a reluctant persuader – to give up marrying the Rev. Mr. Chester.

In October, 1835, Richard writes in his diary:

“letter from John & Dora announcing her attachment & engagement to Mr. Chester: Rector of Elsted. John disapproving on acc:t of small means £400 per an. Wrote to Dora as kindly as I c:d–“

Announcing her attachment AND engagement…

John was the eldest Seymour brother, Sir John Culme Seymour.

Kindly Richard, the following day, wrote “to John & my Mother, urging as much consideration as possible to Dora’s wishes”.

Two days later, and he has ridden from Mapledurham (Mrs Smith’s home) to Blendworth (Lady Seymour’s home), to discuss family business.

By the end of the week he has gone “to Elsted. Found Mr. C:– entered on his affairs – w:h proved below the amount named and cannot be strictly called more than £330 per an – (£3700 in the Funds and his living ab:t £200 per an) & 23 acres of Glebe — pretty spot – returned home – talked to Dora – who soon agreed to write to him, expressing her decision to comply with the advice of her Mother & Brothers & relinquish her hopes. I added a note to this–“

Dora returns to Mapledurham with her brother, “thinking the change w:d be useful to her”.

At the time, Richard was bearing his own grief: the death of his son, Fanny’s first child.

“my visit to Blendworth sadly hurried, but glad to have made it for Dora’s sake – I trust she has acted as is most for her real happiness–“

Dora married Mr Chester two years later, in August 1837. They had only a few years together, before Mr Chester’s untimely death, in April 1841.

* * *

That same year, 1835, Richard’s diary speaks of a “Letter from Mrs. Vyse, expressing Col:l. V’s continued disapproval of GHV’s attachment”

GHV was George Howard Vyse; his “attachment” was to Lizzy, Richard’s next-to-youngest sister. Whatever Colonel Vyse’s disapproval was based upon, it was intransigent. For nearly twenty months had passed since Richard’s notation, on Sunday 12 January 1834, that, “Between the Services, to my great surprise G.H.V: {George Vyse} came in — full of affection to dear Lizzy  I trust they will yet be happy together-“

This couple would not marry until August 1839!

* * *

There is also, closer to home, the story of Augusta Smith, Emma’s eldest sister. Emma herself was the first of the six sister’s to marry. Augusta followed in the following year. She too, like Lizzy Vyse, seems to have been the subject of her father-in-law’s enmity.

An extraordinary letter, written in November 1828, exists. The Rev. Henry Watson Wilder, an old suitor of Augusta’s, laid his own tormented thoughts at Mrs Smith’s feet:

“My dear Madam

You will I am sure be surprised at this letter; I fear it may cause you some uneasiness but if I have not mistaken the kind feelings of regard you have hitherto expressed towards me you will I think forgive me  … Though many months have now passed since my intercourse with your family has ceased, much as I have thought on the subject I have most sincerely convinced myself that no other woman is likely to supply the place your eldest daughter has long held in my affection…”

Emma’s diary accounts for the arrival of this letter, two days later. Henry Wilder then calls; the date is marked by being the 30th Birthday of James Edward Austen.

Emma’s diary marks out the progress:

  • Charles, Mr Wilder & Augusta walked into the city to Mr. Lawford’s
  • Mamma had a long conversation with Mr Wilder
  • The party in town accompanied by Mr. Wilder went to see the Zoological garden

and finally:

11/23 “All the party & Mr Wilder went to St. James Church … the afternoon we went to see the Edridges  Lady Smith & Miss Bennett called here  Augusta was engaged to marry Mr Henry Wilder  He came to drink tea here”

Emma and Edward married within the month, on the 16 December 1828; the Wilders, four months later.

But when had Henry Wilder first declared himself? And was he the reason that a romance with a young doctor – a man (according to the Austens’ daughter Mary Augusta Austen Leigh) who had the approbation of Lady Elizabeth Compton’s family at Castle Ashby — went nowhere?

Perhaps, like Anne Elliot, it was easy to give up a second man (in Anne’s case, Charles Musgrove) when the first man was so decidedly unavailable. And perhaps, like Anne, Augusta could revel in a revival of feelings kept dormant for several years.

One sentence, towards the end of Persuasion struck me with great force (page 240): “There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had first been projected; more tender, more tired, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment…”

A month before the marriage of her eldest daughter, Mrs Smith was writing bride Emma Austen, “I really think his {Henry Wilder’s} love is always encreasing; he spends most of the mornings with her, as well as the Evenings. Fanny & Eliza are almost tired of seeing him here, & want to know whether he will be as much tied to her side after marriage; I flatter them with hopes that he will not. What say you to it? You have had a little experience now. I do hope Edward pities you a great deal; cheers you & comforts you.”

Jane Austen may never have married, but she seems to have been intuitively attuned to the feelings of those who loved, lost, and lived to regain that emotion.

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Dying to Read: Eliza Chute Letters

January 6, 2013 at 7:26 am (history, news, people, research) (, , , , , , )

Eliza-Chute-letters

The above letters were MUCH publicized in the summer of 2012 (thanks, Deb Barnum, for telling me about them in the first place!) Extreme frustration in trying to get anyone at The Vyne to respond beyond a “thanks for contacting us”… I’ve written a good four times, to four different people – gotten one response. So much for the newspapers claim of “sharing these stories”.

These six letters, dating from 1795 to 1798, were all written (evidently…) to Augusta Smith (Mamma)! A vital piece of Smith & Gosling history. Read the full story of Eliza Chute’s letters.

By the way: my dear Augusta just passed her 242nd Birthday on Friday 4 January.

Anyone willing and/or able to help — please contact me!

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Letters: Unspoken Speech

December 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm (diaries, history) (, , , , , )

A Pinterester got me excited, less for the image than the sentiment written beneath it:

pen and letters

“….when someone can still speak to you even after they’ve gone…”

This sentiment speaks VOLUMES to me. Mary and Emma have lived lives so long ago – and yet, because they left diaries and letters, I begin to feel I’ve known them. When I applied for the Leon Levy Fellowship in Biography, I wrote that these people haunt me. How true! I continually want MORE: more information, more letters, more answers – hell, even more “mysteries”, for that would mean “more digging.”

I’ll take a moment to post a couple of thank yous – to Kildare, to Philip, Michael in London, and especially Michael in Aberystwyth.

And I’ll mention also that Two Teens is also on Pinterest! Visit, drop by and say hi.

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Marriage of Materials

November 2, 2012 at 8:12 pm (books, diaries, history, news) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen will realize how “collecting” together diaries and letters and other ephemera, with items spread over the world, can be frustrating, rewarding, and time-consuming.

So to read that a discovery – in 2007, after nearly 80 years (since the 1930s) – occurred involving the diaries of Mary Boykin Chesnut was just a thrill. I HAVE THIS BOOK:

I LOVE diaries, nice and thick; like this one.

An album, begun in 1861, was mentioned – but it was something Woodward’s book wasn’t able to reproduce. Mary collected photographs during and even after the war; adding to her collection. Mary then worked at her writing….

After Mary’s death, like so many items relating to the Smiths and Goslings, items probably were “gifted” to different people. A niece, who died in 1931, was possibly the last family member to have the three albums. What happened to the albums is the tale you will hear if you listen to this podcast from October 2011:

How did word get out about Mary’s albums? They were on auction in Texas, and listed on eBay! Family members purchased the albums, promising to gift them to the USC’s Caroliniana Library. After a long separation, photo albums and diaries were to be reunited. A true “Marriage of Materials”.

The albums and Diary from Dixie have been published as the 2-volume Mary Chestnut’s Illustrated Diaries, by Martha M. Daniels and Barbara E. McCarthy.

Listen to the podcast for a wonderful “forensic” discussion of mid-19th century photography. Think about the phrase “We’ve never seen a picture of ….” for that was how I felt until seeing some of the drawings in Scenes from Life at Suttons. Ah, how I cried when I first flipped through that book, seeing Mamma for the first time, seeing Mary and Charles, finding dear Augusta Wilder’s picture. “The excitement…” indeed!

“Women had such a quiet role”

– Marty Daniels, quoting Mary Boykin Chesnut

 

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