Orphan in search of its Widow

November 5, 2019 at 2:38 pm (diaries, Help Wanted, jane austen, research) (, , , , , )

When it comes to letters, I think in terms of “Widows” and “Orphans,” like the terminology for single lines at the bottom (“widow”) or top (“orphan”) on printed pages. Programs like Microsoft Word let you toggle “Widow/Orphan Control” (under paragraph) so as to force lines together, leaving neither one-line widow nor one-line orphan.

I apply the terms to sections of “torso” letters. A torso describes (as in musicology) an “unfinished” or partial piece. It probably comes from my reading of Alfred Einstein’s book on Mozart. So if I designate a letter as an “Orphan Torso” then I know it’s a letter with no beginning. Of course, that means that a “Widow Torso” is missing its ending.

There have been times when a sheet has neither its beginning nor its end; those are usually attached (by an archive) to a letter where the logic of thought just isn’t present – which tells me the “torso” is attached to an incorrect letter. I recently received images of a letter which actually had been encased in mylar with two sheets front to back! Again, the flow of the letter (or lack thereof) told its tale, although I never would have guessed that multiple sheets had been encased together.

Of course, I DO wonder, when a letter isn’t complete, where the REST of it might be….

I recently purchased a letter, purportedly an “entire” letter, but when asked, the seller said it was missing a page of text. The more I look at the letters of Miss Emma Smith (“Aunt Emma”), whether writing from home (Erlestoke Park, Wiltshire) or while at one of her sisters’ homes, the more I am convinced that this letter is missing four pages (a sheet folded in half), and mine represents the “Orphan Torso” – the fifth page’s text, and the envelope on the rear.

A GREAT LOSS not to have the entire letter. Thus this blog post.

Aunt Emma used a sheet (folded) and a half-a-sheet (torn down the middle) a couple of times, in letters at the Hampshire Record Office. I also own a letter, written by Mrs. Smith (Sarah Smith née Gilbert; Mrs. Joshua Smith), in which a second sheet was used, with a few lines on page 5; the direction written on page 6. For their recipients, it did not matter that an extra (half-) sheet was used. The cost of postage was the same.

These letters were franked — meaning, the letters did not have to be paid for by the recipient; they were mailed free of charge. The interesting thing about Aunt Emma’s letter is that it was franked, not by her father Joshua Smith, but by her brother-in-law William Chute.

Epping Essex env
a franked letter, 1799 (click image to enlarge)

The envelope is directed, in William Chute’s hand:

Basingstoke September thirty 1799

Mrs. C. Smith
            Suttons
W.free          Epping
Chute                   Essex

Sure enough, Eliza Chute‘s diary mentions her sister Emma’s visit! As well, there had been a visit by Mrs. Charles Smith and her infant daughter Augusta (born in February 1799, and named after her mother).

The remaining page begins mid-sentence:

Epping Essex ltrclick to enlarge

The text is:

[. . . so-and-so was to] have shewn us the way, but he changed his mind, and we did just as well without him; I fear when Mr. Chute comes, he will wish us to go out with the Hounds till they find the Fox, and I have not the least Inclination for it, I shall certainly try to get off —  Yesterday we had rain all the day; and the same till just now two oC.; the men got wet going to Church, dreadful weather for the Country, for the Corn must now be injured. —
Thanks for your enquiries after me, my side is quite well, and none of the party seem to make any complaints, Miss Meen leaves us on Tuesday; if she can she intends you a visit at Suttons.
Best love attend you from all here, and particularly from your

Ever Affectionate Sister
Emma Smith

A most tantalizing snippet! I am unsure who “he” might have been, or where the ladies rode. Emma and Lady Frances Compton (Lord Northampton’s sister) often rode out together. Eliza Chute’s diary is SILENT about Saturday, nor does she mention the horrible weather (unusual for her).

Emma herself had sustained an injury, having had a riding accident in Bath early in September, when an inattentive coachman’s horse bumped against Emma’s horse. Sarah Smith was quite certain that her daughter Emma’s life had been saved by Lady Frances – who diverted the coach horse so that the coach’s wheels missed running over the prostrate Emma. Emma was also lucky to have come off her horse (she would have been riding side saddle) after the horse went down; Mrs. Smith presumes that falling from the saddle onto pavement would have been disastrous.

That no one else had health issues is always good news, especially for poor Sarah Smith or Mrs. Norman.

Very interesting that Miss Meen’s plans were mentioned – Eliza Chute wrote down her arrival, but not her departure from The Vine. I wonder if she managed to get to Suttons for a visit? Miss Margaret Meen was a Botanical artist; her work can be found at The Royal Horticultural Society, London, in “company” with the sisters Maria, Eliza, Augusta, and Emma Smith – those whom I refer to as “the Smith sisters of Stoke Park” (for Augusta – Mrs. Charles Smith – had daughters of those same names!) I have written about Margaret Meen in the article entitled “Margaret Meen: A Life in Four Letters“.

{NB: “Miss Meen” appeared in the July/August 2014 issue No. 70 of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine as “Flowering in Four Letters”. The link, above, is the original article submitted to JARW. To purchase the magazine, please go to BACK ISSUES on the JARW website}

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Smith, with baby Augusta, had arrived at The Vine (The Vyne) with Sarah and Joshua Smith, Emma and Mrs. Norman on Monday, November 23rd. The three gentlemen – Mr. Chute, Mr. Smith, Mr. C. Smith went up to London the next day “to attend Parliament.” Mamma Smith and Augusta departed for home on Thursday. Home being “Suttons” in the county of Essex.

Eliza Chute mentions the rides that Emma and Lady Frances took – but says little about what everyone was doing over the next several days. Her SATURDAY is left BLANK! Emma was obviously writing ON Sunday (she mentions the rain ceasing “just now”), and would have gone to church at Sherborne St. John, where the man who regularly “did the duty” was Jane Austen’s brother the Rev. James Austen. Emma then waited till Monday, after William Chute’s late Sunday arrival (he was less adverse to travel on the Sabbath than his wife), to have the letter franked. Part of the action of “franking” was to write the PLACE and DATE across the top.

What news might Emma have imparted to her sister?? IF YOU KNOW, because you’ve seen the beginning half of this letter, please let me know.

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Jane Austen’s Letter 88 for SALE!

October 20, 2019 at 9:05 pm (history, jane austen, jasna, news, people) (, , , )

2019 must be a banner year for JANE AUSTEN letters.

Early this year came news of a snippet included in an autograph album (sold at auction in 2017); the album was on display at Chawton’s Jane Austen’s House Museum.

During the Summer, the museum successfully concluded its purchase – thanks to funding from the National Lottery AND devoted fans – of a lengthier partial letter

NOW, in October, comes word of a New York auction conducted by Bonhams of a Jane Austen letter from a private collection coming onto the market, part of the DODGE FAMILY COLLECTION of Autographs.

The Guardian has a lengthy article on the (upcoming) October 2019 auction.

JA to Cass 16 Sept 1813_Bonhams4

Of course, every time, the same trope about how Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra destroyed the correspondence crops up. I’ve just spoken about this at the recent Jane Austen Society of North America’s 2019 Annual General Meeting, which took place this year at Williamsburg, Virginia. _I_ give thanks for those letters that have come down to us, rather than lament those that probably never were saved (but that’s a topic for another post).

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Free Fronts, Wrappers, Entire Letters

June 4, 2018 at 3:17 pm (history, research, World of Two Teens) (, , )

Yesterday afternoon – though a BEAUTIFUL day – became rather frustrating… I tried to find an eBay sale from 2013. Ultimately, I got it because I retained its PAYPAL receipt.

What was the item?

It is what would be called a “free front” – the address panel of a letter, in my case franked by a Gentleman with the name Labouchere. Franked mail was received free of charge to the recipient (who, otherwise, paid the cost of postage).

mrs smith free front 1838

You can see the edges of the paper, where it was trimmed from the letter’s wrapper (an extra sheet that once “wrapped” or “covered” the actual letter); nothing is written on the backside.

I cared FAR less about the signature than I did for that tangible piece of paper. That it once wended its way to Mapledurham House, and brought news from London, THRILLED me!

But: frustrating, too, that the letter once inside has been destroyed, or lost, or otherwise just-not-included.

Free fronts DO serve a purpose. I generally know who was receiving a letter — the exception being when “man” of the house is addressed, while the contents are written to his wife!

In obtaining a DESTINATION, I might be able to extrapolate a locale for letters I have, but which have no envelope or direction. THAT is certainly information worth having. Sometimes, I can verify where the person was residing, _if_ they were diligent diarists.

And there is always the HOPE that some day maybe envelope AND letter could be reunited!

bright star_letter

And resemble it as it once was, when first mailed.

A letter that was franked did not (as mentioned above) carry a COST for the postage. So these were likely to have a sheet of paper, with the direction written on, which certainly could have been written out in advance by the person franking the letter. Jane Austen several times mentions “getting” franks from, among them, William Chute – a Member of Parliament whom she knew.

It was imperative that the MP write the direction, the date (note: Place, month, day, year) and his “signature”.

I find eBay rather frustrating – yesterday for instance, I was searching for SMITH, DEVIZES, FRANK – up popped a plaster mask made from the face of actor Jim Carrey! Not what I was looking for… Then I used the term FRANKED LETTER PRESTAMP and get a “hit” on a letter described as “1819 prestamp completly letter”.

Sellers: Typos do not help!

(8 letters come up with that same verbiage…)

Plus, when I search online, I sooner or latter use the phrase “entire letter” (typically with the quotations marks) – I never thought about “complete letter”.

There is NO standardization. I found a couple useful letters or free front under Collectible – military (not a place I’d look, IF narrowing the category filters).

“EL” is sometimes used to ID an “entire letter”. Does that even search WELL?

One seller describes a letter as “1897” – the image shows a letter from 1840! Same seller has another listed as 1899; the image is from 1828. The reason they are called PRESTAMP: they were mailed before postage stamps. This seller is obviously not targeting dates (maybe they are inventory numbers?), but that means the descriptions are useless…

Dates, names, places would be what I look for. Call it a Free Front, a Wrapper, a Cover, an entire letter, a complete letter, an ALS – autograph letter signed. (ALS – another term one does NOT want to search for online!), I am on the HUNT for more.

If you collect, or known anyone who does, in the coming weeks I will be posting information about those I’m hoping to find MORE letters from and to. Please help, if you can!

 

 

 

 

 

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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 little time for The Times

May 22, 2011 at 10:52 am (books, news, people) (, , , , , , , , , , )

The Times of course is the great newspaper of London, and with it — on Sunday’s — comes that wonderful Times Literary Supplement. Ah, how I remember my Kingsworthy landlady Chris bringing home the newspaper every Sunday! Not being a subscriber to The New York Times, I’ve never really had such a wonderful BOOK-related piece to peruse.

Somewhere (where?) I recall reading or hearing “The TLS has a wide readership; and people hold on to their copies to look over again and again. Queries sent to them rarely FAIL to turn up responses.” Surely I didn’t dream this kind of thing, right??

Anyway, yesterday I looked up the TLS website and what was in the classified section but this ad:

REQUEST FOR
INFORMATION

* The University of Cambridge Henslow Correspondence Project seeks access to letters to and from John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861) originally dispersed at the Dawson-Turner Manuscripts Sale, 1859. Please contact Prof. John Parker at jsp25 [at] cam [dot] ac [dot] uk.

Now, this Prof. Parker has a much easier task than myself: one person (J.S. Henslow), who lived a fair but not lengthy lifespan, and with a KNOWN collection sold, granted, over 150 years ago. Henslow turns out to have been in Charles Darwin’s circle, and I’ve been reading a bio of Emma Darwin — the former Miss Emma Wedgwood; herself in the circle of Ellen Tollet! (small world) [see my post on Ellen Tollet’s diary]

I’m now honing a brief, succinct ad of my own. Keep your fingers crossed… It’s so hard to read an item like this, from Richard Seymour’s diary:

“…my dear Brother [Sir John Seymour] has just been here to shew me Mrs. S.’s reply after speaking to Miss S. [Mrs. S. = Mamma Smith; Miss S. = Fanny Smith], and I think it more favourable than I had dared to anticipate!”

Richard was making “an offer” to Fanny — through his brother John, he was so unsure of his reception (can you imagine???). But bottom line is, Where is the little letter Mamma wrote? Does it still exist?? Who has it, if it does, and do they know what they have?

I’ll let you know if any juicy tidbits surface via the TLS! (Just wish I had some  “big guns,” like Cambridge University, behind me…)

* * *

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