Letter to Mamma

April 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm (entertainment, history, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

Last week I bid on this little snippet from the Smith & Gosling past:

mrs smith free front 1838

I suspect it once contained a letter written to Mamma by Eliza (and/or her husband Denis Le Marchant). The “frank” is described as the signature of Mr. Labouchere; it’s a REAL guess, because the Smiths obtained franks from so many quarters. Given the date and Denis’ position in the late 1830s, it’s a guess that makes me salivate for the letter it once contained!

My father rather scoffed when he saw the tiny scrap. I must admit to my own disappointment – but I simply had to have it. Something once addressed to Mamma Smith! It was the shock, genuine shock, of seeing MAPLEDURHAM as I looked through tons of letters online. Pity this one contained no actual letter… What might have been written in 1838 to Mamma?? Is the letter somewhere, waiting to be ‘reunited’ with its (partial) envelope?

I held the paper up to the window and spotted a fabulous watermark: a large fleur de lys and below this, J & M, written in script. The cartouche around the fleur de lys has been cropped — for this is only a Free Front: what you see in the image (above) is what I got.

It’s early days; my information on watermarks comes from a book (quite wonderful; called Mozart: Studies of the Autograph Scores) that out of necessity does not comment on English writing paper. IF anyone can ID the paper for me, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, have a look at this terrific set of watermarks from England and Continental papers.

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Nothing So Lovely as a Tree

September 22, 2011 at 12:45 pm (history, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I spent last evening reviewing photographs Charlotte Frost had taken of Fanny Seymour’s sketchbooks (held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University). Today, I sit at my desk (I call it “sitting in a hall, staring at a wall’ – but you’d have to see my ‘office cubicle’ to appreciate the poetry….), the window is high above the section of wall, and looking up don’t I see some tall, thin, green, leafy TREE — just like so many Fanny sketched!

I was suddenly transported back in time (c1830) and place (England rather than the state of Vermont).

Studying these drawings — mainly architectural (some of the Smith homes: Tring Park and Mapledurham; some homes of relatives: Castle Ashby, Coolhurst, Purley Hall; some surroundings: gardens, walks, villages) — makes me cast a glance back on my own art studies in college.

I have only two specimens in my collection (guess I didn’t care enough about still life or models to keep those studies) and really don’t recall how long it look me to do the most intensive one: a “collage” of various items all spilling over across the paper, one “scene” segueing into the next. I’ve always been rather proud of it, though. Proved — to me! — that I had at least imitative talent.

I’m dating myself here, but think of the campaign, “Can You Draw This Girl? You Might Have a Career in Art.” This was a correspondence course type of ad. I’m sure I attempted the girl or the “Bambi” deer, but I never sent anything in.

An Aside: Guess they are still around!


  • Art Instruction Schools — since 1914.
  • a student has actually posted an interesting “review” of the Schools; but also a complaint.
  • in a hunt for the “Can You Draw This Girl?” I came across Wikipedia‘s entry for the School.

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Universities Big and Bigger

August 13, 2010 at 4:46 pm (books, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , )

A Bodleian staff member responded to my recent query about the SKETCH BOOKS OF FANNY (SMITH) SEYMOUR! The response is mainly ‘we’re moving; even if that were not the case, we don’t have staff nor time…’.

I was, however, encouraged (or I take it as encouragement…) to contact their Imaging Services. (I had asked about obtaining an image or two; I’m not in a position to pay for a lot of images, when there are diaries and letters I should be working with, instead of topographical drawings.)

I’m happy that my inquiry was not ignored. But, at the same time, would it take that much “time” to fetch one volume, flip through it, and describe it a bit? Size of book, number of drawings, that sort of think. I know; We are talking Oxford here, and the Bodleian is large.

I have had luck, in the past, to have gained the help of Prof. Jeremy Catto and Ariel College’s archivist Rob Petre in obtaining images of letters written by young Drummond Smith (Emma’s youngest brother), and copied out by one of the Smith sisters (I suspect Maria) [2013 Update: the handwriting is that of Fanny!]. Prof. Catto owns Drummond’s letter book, which was utilized in a history of Harrow — and that’s how I found out it existed. Talk about the ‘kindness of strangers’… I was and am grateful.*

So I will toss out this request: If anyone reading this post has ties to Oxford, lives nearby etc etc, can gain access to the library collection and has a half-hour to spare, please contact me (see Author page).

The main reason for this post, however, is to recognize someone who DID have time and take the time. She is Elizabeth Dunn, at Duke University, who responded to my initial query about Mary Gosling’s diary. I have remarked on this kindness elsewhere, but want to take the opportunity to reiterate how this project never would have gotten off the ground if I had been told ‘we have no time’. Instead, Elizabeth found the volume, found the entry I was most interested in (about the Ladies of Llangollen), described the diary and the other entries, and got the twenty or so pages xeroxed and sent to me. I met her in person some months later, when I traveled to Duke and transcribed the rest of the diary.

Months later, when I contacted Stanford University for information on holdings they have, my query got a response, but the proffered assistance was never actually acted upon (and I didn’t push it, having other avenues to pursue). Few realize just how important a drop of encouragement is to an “independent” scholar.

As my main hope had been to gain a view or two of Fanny’s books, if Imaging Services is willing and able, my curiosity might be assuaged. (To the tune of their minimum £15 charge!)

Drawing meant so much to Fanny, and (unlike many female amateur artists) she had an abiding desire to draw — even after her marriage. These sketches are dated c.1828-1838; Fanny married Richard in October 1834. Sophie du Pont, whose book I am just finishing, even Diana Sperling, pretty much gave up drawing after marriage.  Lucky Bodleian for having these souvenirs of Fanny.

*I am also lucky in my friendship with author Charlotte Frost, who photographed these three albums!

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Serving the Servants

June 16, 2009 at 8:08 am (books) (, , , , )

woolfIn Montreal Sunday for a local meeting of JASNA, I just had to hit two stores. One was Bramble House, in Pointe Claire (west of downtown), which sells British food and teas and tea pots & cosies. The other, Nicholas Hoare, the Westmount bookstore at which I always find something to take away (to the detriment of my wallet!).

Sunday, the take away was Mrs Woolf and the Servants. This look at servants, in the household of the Stephens and Woolf families, traces the backgrounds and working lives of these little-recognized people.

One of my tasks is to do HALF as much for the staff members in the households at Suttons, Roehampton, etc etc. Given that many servants are entered into the diaries as one name only (first or last), this may be asking the impossible; yet a few people stand out as not only having a long history with the family, but also are mentioned in a manner that fleshes them out a bit.

And now I add to this post a bit, though names and examples come from the ‘can you help’ page. I’ve done more work extracting and “cataloguing” names from Mary (Gosling) Smith’s diaries, than from Emma (Smith) Austen-Leigh’s. That is a task yet to come…

From Mary’s diaries, therefore, we pull names of women like Mrs Sandoz (seemingly Mary’s governess) and her daughter; Mr Sendall (tutor to little Charles, Mary’s son) and Mr Wyatt (another tutor). I pull out these people because tutors and governesses were not treated in quite the same ‘servant’ category as others working in the household, never mind the estate workers.

Mary Adams; Barlow (I presume a lady’s maid – but what if Barlow was a man?!); Sarah Batch; Martha Finch; Ketcham (a maid); Betsey Thomas also get their mentions; I will cull the diaries and see in at context they are mentioned – and report back! (Often, however, there IS no context.0

Men include Bowen; Conybeare (a real wonder about the spelling of this), who was hired as a new Butler in 1832 at Suttons; Davis; Foster; Godfrey; Hinds.

You can find more by looking in the files called ‘dramatis personae’, including the year-dates in which they appear in Mary’s diaries. For instance, Mary Adams found on the A-F listing, appears in the diaries in the year 1829 only, and I conclude her to be a ‘waged servant’. Why??

Searching the file (which contains transcriptions of all Lady Smith’s diaries), we find the following about Mary Adams:

She possibly replaced Betsey Furlong. On 9 June 1829, Mary (Lady Smith) writes “My sister came from London  Betsey Furlong went away” [Yes, that is the ENTIRE entry for this day; you see, therefore, how cryptic are the originals I work with!] My surmising that Mary replaced her comes from the entry of 11 June: “Mary Adams came” and in the column, against the “pounds” (nothing in the shilling or pence columns), Mary has written “6”. Undoubtedly the girl’s wages!

But in March 1830 we see this notation: “Betsey went home to her mother” – could this be Betsey Furlong or someone else? Then, in July 1832, Mary notes, “Went with Furlong cutting many of laurels in the shubbery [sic].” No mention again of Furlong or Betsey or Mary Adams.

Am finding Mrs Woolf and the Servants of interest, but I’m not far into it yet (a couple chapters). Indeed, it sounds as if the author had more to work with: Virginia Woolf sounds to have written at length, at times, about her ‘servant problems’. Stay tuned.

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