Small Victory

March 1, 2021 at 2:06 pm (history, jane austen, postal history, research) (, , , , )

Over the weekend I spent some time with the Smith & Gosling letters. Nearing 4000 pages of typescript, ranging from the 1760s into the 1940s.

I have more to add – some portions of information about the VYSE family. George Howard Vyse married — after a very long courtship — Lizzy Seymour, sister to the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton and the Rev. Sir John Hobart Culme-Seymour of Northchurch and Gloucester.

Vyse’s father, Colonel Vyse, literally stood in the way of the match. An intense dislike, of the Seymour family, of Lizzy. It is heartbreaking to read that GHV (as Richard always referred to the young man as, shortening a long name into three initials) was spotted by Mamma (Mrs. Smith, Emma’s mother), wistfully looking up to the windows, hoping to spot his young lady a brief second, while on military parade as part of Queen Victoria’s Coronation!

Mixed within these letters was one I suspected did NOT belong in the year 1838. DATED “August 12” from Mapledurham (the family’s rented estate in Hertfordshire), it is missing its last page or perhaps pages. These are small sheets of paper, and typically there were up to 8 pages (2 sheets folded in half; each creating 4 pages) of text. As well, these small sheets probably had utilized an envelope — and the end and signature could have ended up inside the envelope. I’ve come across one or two envelopes at this archive, hermetically sealed between two sheets of mylar, that were not pulled open before being sealed inside, yet the dark writing clearly showed thru the paper! Groan…

The letter – half letter – had ended up in a folder marked “Unidentified”. That folder was very *full* when I saw it in summer 2015. Did I miss a second sheet, or a single sheet? Are there envelopes, addressed to Fanny (Smith) Seymour in Kinwarton that I never photographed? (Alas, a couple of them!)

The letter in question is unmistakably written by youngest sister Maria Smith. She has such scrawling penmanship, with a very distinctive “W”. Also, as Mamma’s youngest, she was the last in the family ‘nest’ once all her siblings had married (or died).

That it was written from Mapledurham tells me the letter could not date before October 1834, when they moved into the house (so, summer of 1835, at earliest). That Mamma was alive, tells me it could be no later than Summer 1844. Maria sounds unmarried (ie, still with Mamma), so that backed it into 1843 (and, therefore, summer of 1842 at latest).

Although a full-run of Mamma’s diaries does not exist, several for the late 1830s and early 1840s DO exist. Plus I have other letters. Several years were already removed from contention: Mamma and Maria were elsewhere than Mapledurham.

There were two clues within the content: Their visit to Chobham – home of sister Eliza and her husband Denis Le Marchant – sounded too much like Maria describing what NO ONE among the siblings had yet seen. I had to find a date for their move.

The other was Maria saying that Arthur Currie had purchased a horse (heavily contributed to by Mamma) for Maria’s use. Not the EASIEST to find, someone commenting again on a new horse. Maria asked her sister Fanny what name should the horse be given – so, unlike “Jack Daw” or “Tom Tit“, I knew of no name to search for.

I had already searched Mamma’s diaries – but went back to 1840 again. And THERE found a comment about CHOBHAM! It became unmistakable: Maria and Mamma had returned home from a visit to Chobham in August 1840.

Frosting on the cake was that Maria, a couple of letters later, commented that she was pleased with her New Horse!

I call this a small victory because the letter still has no ending.

There have been times in the past, when a WIDOW torso gets a date close enough to an ORPHAN torso (yes, that’s what I call them…), that a closer look is warranted. A couple of times, the flow of the sentence AND the topic of conversation indicated that they were, indeed, one and the same letter. I remember once, spotting a DATE, buried within the handwriting, a confirmation of my hunch — after reuniting a pair.

Across archives, I have several incomplete, widow or orphan torso-only letters. I live in hope… But nothing dropped into place this time. Missing photographs? Missing envelope? Irretrievably-missing pages?

Envelopes were easy prey in the past – for their postal marks, their STAMPS, their wax seals. Hand-stamps [cancellations and handwritten marks] in the early, prestamp, era made (and make) “wrappers” and “free fronts” highly collectable. The wrappers got divided from letters, robbing the letter of its definitive dating. The free fronts – where the “direction” is cut away from the rest of the page, robs the letter of CONTENT. The reverse side’s content (if there) appearing as disparate sentences with few beginnings or endings. MADDENING to know the original – full – letter must have been jettisoned after the “surgery”. All for the saving of the “collectible” signature that allowed the piece of mail to travel for free.

Once such “collection” of autographs had SIX LINES missing from a Jane Austen letter. Its discovery (a long time after the album’s sale) caused a *STIR* in Austen circles in 2019! And it really did end up being about … LAUNDRY!

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Midshipman’s Missing Letter: Evelyn Culme Seymour (1899)

July 26, 2020 at 11:36 pm (people, research) (, , , )

To place this young man in context: Evelyn Culme Seymour was the grandson of Maria Smith, Emma’s youngest sister. Maria married the Reverend Sir John Hobart Culme Seymour in February 1844. They welcomed their first son, Henry Hobart, in 1847. Henry is the “dear Father” to whom, in January 1899, from aboard HMS Majestic, 18-year-old Evelyn Culme Seymour wrote.

As you might guess, looking at the date – 1899 – this period is very late for me. My main protagonists all had died off. It took me QUITE a while to finally bite the bullet and purchase a few letters, related to and yet in a wholly different world, far beyond my Two Teens (Emma and Mary) whose lives went back to King George III.

Still, Evelyn was “family” – and it had been items relating to Maria that turned up periodically for sale. (I wish whomever was cleaning house had found me!) I had just returned from a conference on Jane Austen’s Persuasion and decided, “Why not?” Blame it on the weekend’s naval theme…

Evelyn Culme Seymour_letter1

Periodically, therefore, I search online – hoping (against hope) to find bits and pieces of research. It’s been a while since I have found anything; it’s even been a while since I’ve found something that sold long ago — until last night.

Sold on eBay in the UK in March 2014.

The pictures are TINY! and only page one and the last page are shown. The description claims the letter is “QUITE LONG and INTERESTING.”

Six year later (more than!) if anyone having this letter would like to see what else Evelyn wrote from HMS Majestic – come find me. I have three letters from the ship (two on H.M.S. Majestic  Channel Squadron “letter head”), dating to March, April and July 1898. I am interested only in CONTENT!

WorthPoint (the website) has described the letter’s original description: “Evelyn states that the Empress came to see the ship on the 9th Jan 1899 and he helped her onto the ship and was introduced to her. He also mentions that he went to a dance at Admiralty House and was photographed by flashlight.”

The envelope is addressed to Henry at GLENVILLE, Bitterne (near Southampton), Hampshire. England, of course. This address is EXCEPTIONALLY important. Glenville was the home of Aunt Emma Smith. She willed it to Maria, and through her, then, it came to her eldest son. An address redolent with history!

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Old Sir John’s young love

May 29, 2015 at 5:22 pm (diaries, history, news, people, research) (, , , , , )

A year later, and I am still transcribing letters from last spring, last fall. While other items wait, and more items come in.

Gotta LOVE it and HATE it.

So, a few days ago, I was back to transcribing letters from a collection in New York; late letters of Mamma (Mrs. Augusta Smith, Emma’s mother). I am trying to write about the 1810s and here am I immersed in the 1840s. BUT this news is too good not to share!

It’s also a bit of a head-scratcher.

Mamma’s youngest daughter, Maria, I already knew was the object of pursuit by her brother-in-law’s brother. The Rev. Richard Seymour wrote in his diary that his elder brother the Rev. Sir John Culme-Seymour had begun making inquiries about young Maria Smith. I wrote about Richard’s diary entries for The Chronicle (publication of the Berkhamstead Local History & Museum Society) last year:

“Letter from Dora in w:h she tells me that J: had divulged to her his g:t admiration of & strong penchant for M – and leaves me to act upon her information.”

Of course _I_ knew – from history, as well as Richard’s diary, that Maria accepted Sir John’s proposal. There were already two Seymour in-laws; Sir John made the third! Maria (born in 1814) accepted Sir John in the fall of 1843. He was a widower whose wife had died in 1841, leaving him with three children. It was Richard’s use of the word “penchant” which has always made me sit up and take notice.

And now this undated letter of Mamma’s…

Mrs Smith wrote in terms of “he” and “she” and at first I was guessing the name of the couple she described. Could it be…??? Surely it was some one else.

“I ought almost to apologize for not having written sooner… I had nothing to tell but conjectures”. “He was in high spirits & talked a good deal…. After that, he became a little graver & she perceived it, & told me her suspicions. She was still in a doubtful state; could think of his age, &c.”

Mamma, ready to let the “she” decide for herself, then plays with her audience, like a cat plays with a mouse – describing minute changes in attitude, attention, spirits, in both “she” and “he”.

“I am told he was dreadfully nervous, could not sleep, & was almost desponding.”

Then, she reports: “in the most respectful & timid manner he made known his attachment, dreading her answer”. The expected outcome is chronicled, but with an odd interjection: “When he had obtained her consent, he was indeed happy: his Family say, he never was in love before. He had been fearing me; & when they came home… you may be sure I received him most kindly… his age & his grey hair are no objections to me: it was the same case with my own dear Husband”.

Finally, she divulges the “she”: MARIA!

Maria Culme-Seymour2

So it IS Sir John who had the grey hair and a great age (he was closing in on 43). Mrs. Smith’s memories of her own youthful marriage to a widower tore at my heart – but back up even more and you’ll see the sentence that causes me concern: “his Family say, he never was in love before.” How can a widower’s family EVER so blot out a first wife??? And who makes up this “family”? — the in-laws (mother, sisters) of the very person Mrs. Smith is writing: her own daughter Fanny Seymour!

Thoughts now crowd into my head that had never been there before – about Sir John; about his first marriage to Elizabeth Culme (he took her name, with his own, by special license); about his penchant for little Maria Smith. Clearly, Sir John — who tackled Mrs. Smith when his brother Richard was looking to marry Fanny (a proposal by proxy) — was a man with a lot to offer, and yet had not the confidence to directly pursue his aims. But what is the meaning behind the words Mamma says came from his own womenfolk? Only time will tell. One source would have been Richard’s diary – but pages and passages are missing in the early years; and these passages may have covered the betrothal of John to Elizabeth.

At least Richard’s diaries are already transcribed… Now I just have to find the time to re-read them, with an eye to deciphering the past and future of Sir John Culme-Seymour.

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On Cloud 9

September 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm (british royalty, chutes of the vyne, entertainment, history, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Last Sunday I was crowing to myself about all the *FINDS*. Just think: THREE different “items” turned up in one week, after some searching and much fortuitous clicking. On the last I have some extra news as of last night. I *LOVE* it when items rise to the surface, clambering to be noticed.

(1) Margaret Clephane / Lady Compton

My first find was stumbling once again upon ARCHIVES HUB. This time with a true piece of my research at the other end!

Archives Hub enables searches at “nearly 200 institutions in England, Scotland and Wales.” At first I could see the “hit” concerned letters written by Margaret, Lady Compton — but the site (or my connection?) was having problems. It took a lot of searching to realize the letters were housed at The John Rylands University Library, University of Manchester. I have fond memories of the name of this library: The French Diaries of Mrs Thrale and Dr Johnson was based on JRUL holdings! It is a favorite book, my used copy in quite decent shape.

So what was found, I hear you ask: 39 letters, penned by Margaret, plus 2 sets of verse. The citation is rather confusing. At first it sounds like the letters were written from October 1828 up to September 1829 — but further into the record I read that all the letters, addressed to Henry Edward Fox (later 4th and last Baron Holland), mainly written from ROME (check: the Comptons resided long in Italy), “are addressed to Fox in France (mostly, February-March 1826), Italy and London. All are dated within a period of nine months (October 1825-June 1826), except for four which are dated July and August 1829”

So: October 1825 to June 1826…. or, October 1828 to September 1829???

Time will tell – for this set of letters must for now remain on the back burner. Like the letters at the National Library of Scotland, penned in that case to Walter Scott. Scott’s own letters to the Clephanes and Comptons have been published. Luckily, my university’s library has the set and I long ago began culling family news.

The description says: “The letters are primarily personal, but have social and literary value“. Yeah!

(2)  Letter from Aunt Emma / Emma Smith

I’ll jump to the last “find”, for it is the least visual. I had come across internet comments by Dr. Kevin Linch (Leeds University) a while ago. I knew he had seen a letter of Aunt Emma’s (ie, Emma Smith, the youngest sister of Maria, Eliza, and Augusta – the four Smith Girls of Erle Stoke Park, Wiltshire), dating to 1794. Dr Linch was interested in Emma’s description of the exercises of the yeomanry. The picture painted rather makes me think of a war-era drawing by Diana Sperling.

Of course, Dr Linch pushed to one side the very bits I wanted most from this letter I hadn’t yet transcribed (the original is at the Hampshire Record Office): the family chit-chat. So imagine my surprise when I found online Dr. Linch’s full transcription (nice…) AND the ENTIRE “original” letter (far better*).

[*by the bye: I much prefer to do my own transcribing; one transcription was given to me as “Dear Ivy” – who the hell was Ivy??! I wondered. The letter’s content indicated Lady Elizabeth Compton, cousin to the Smiths of Suttons (Maria Smith’s only daughter; sister-in-law to Margaret Clephane / Lady Compton); I had never heard her called “Ivy” though. Another letter soon surfaced and this time I read the salutation – and knew the mistake. The three-letter word ended not in a “Y” but in a “Z” — and the name was Liz! Which made complete sense.
Another source for a letter indicated the writer was someone I did not know at all. Still, I asked that a scan be sent, as the letter was well within my time period. Imagine my surprise when the writer turned from a complete unknown into the MOTHER of Mr Odell, school friend and fellow-traveller with Drummond Smith! Her letter I wanted to read – and thrilling reading it was, too.]

Here, looking at it myself, was Aunt Emma’s comments in Aunt Emma’s own loopy writing.

Emma even anticipates the arrival of Miss Meen. Margaret Meen, who surfaces in the diaries and letters, was an artist who gave lessons (I discount The Vyne’s theory that she was governess to the Erle Stoke girls), not only to the four Smiths sisters, but also to Queen Charlotte and her princesses. Little did I know, when I read this letter by Emma, that I had already put my finger on many of Margaret Meen’s watercolors!

(3) Royal Horticultural Society: Miss Meen and the four daughters of Joshua Smith

Smack in the middle of all these letter discoveries came the Botanical “watercolours on vellum” housed at the Royal Horticultural Society. Trouble is, depending on which website used, you find less or more drawings, less or more images. FRUSTRATING! and yet last night I uncovered at 48 images (one you REALLY have to search for) by this quintet!!! May rival the holdings at The Vyne – none of which are currently pictured online.

You have the choice of the following:

I naturally began with the CATALOGUE. I mean when you want to know the extent of holdings where else would you go?

Looking up keywords margaret and meen I found four hits – and one image, which belonged to the citation for her 1790 book Exotic Plants from the Royal Garden at Kew. Searching for smith and elizabeth — which I knew should bring up drawings, for those were what I had found for purchase — drew a blank. smith and augusta brought up two citations for drawings from 1787, but their artist was described as Augusta Smith (17–) => Was this Mamma?!?

Maria was nowhere to be seen – and those of Emma, which like Eliza, had been found “for purchase” were best found at another site too. What’s a girl to do? She sends an email.

And keeps on searching…

Why all the hullaballoo? Because I had found a watercolor of Eliza (Chute) Smith’s for sale through Amazon (of all places…) and the description said: “Smith was one of four daughters of Joshua Smith the MP for Devizes in Wiltshire. The Smith sisters were instructed in painting by the botanical artist Margaret Meen (fl.-). The RHS Lindley Library collection holds works on vellum by Meen and all of the Smith Sisters.” My stunned reaction: REALLY??!?!

I had to find out how many, by which artist.

Facebook had another image. Mediastorehouse.com had more – and only $15.99 for an 8×10 print. Reasonable… I now realize, though, that Mediastorehouse is NOT RHS – and searching their print “store” you can find TWELVE Miss Meen botanicals. Be advised, THIS set is the only image and info for Solandra grandiflora (LIB0036980), c1780s.

[NB: again frustration: two works are dated 1789 in the “images” but 1785 in the “prints / shop”]

In the “images” one unearths ALL when searching for Margaret Meen (she turns up in their descriptions): without knowing (until I hear back from RHS) whether ALL their Smith/Meen holdings are digitized, and barring the “can’t find this drawing here, but it is listed somewhere else”, I now see:

  • numbers: LIB0002763 – LIB0002770 –> eight Botanicals by Emma Smith
  • numbers: LIB0002761 – LIB0002762 –> two Botanicals by the elusive Maria Smith
  • numbers: LIB0002749 – LIB0002755 –> seven Botanicals by Augusta Smith (here rather described as marrying her father-in-law; Charles Smith of Suttons, not Stratford Langthorne…)
  • numbers: LIB0002737 – LIB0002748 –> twelve Botanicals by Eliza Smith
  • numbers: LIB0036963 – LIB0036981 –> eighteen (out of 19) Botanicals by Margaret Meen

And on the “images” site you are treated to a GALLERY by Miss Emma Smith:

I could hardly believe my eyes — and they will be a treat for your eyes.

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The Missing, The Mysteries, The Marvels

December 31, 2011 at 10:45 am (history, jane austen, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

On this last day of 2011, I reflect upon how something “turning up” can cause a flurry of thoughts — and how some earlier “flurries” have affected this Smith & Gosling research.

At left is a “seal” of a letter written nearly two hundred years ago by Augusta Smith, on the cusp of her marriage to Henry Wilder. A vibrant girl, her life-story has been lost to the greater world, but she is a large part of what drew me to this family. And why I want their histories told.

The letter was written to her youngest sister Maria, and just happened to be found among a cache of letters by Jacky in Maidstone. This particular letter — quite sweet as it spoke, Eldest Sister to Youngest Sister, of their relationship at the moment it is about to change — was not the bombshell another letter, also written to Maria Smith, Jacky had for me! That letter was from Mrs Odell, whose son had accompanied Drummond Smith, the youngest Smith brother, on his fateful trip to Italy. Seems Young Odell was interested in Maria! Alas, did Maria reject him because she didn’t care for him, or… did she somewhat hold him responsible for her dear brother’s death???

You can find an earlier Drummond Smith blog post here: Drummond Erased?

So there is one mystery yet to be solved. Only more letters, or diaries, will shed light on that one.

Another mystery, surprisingly uncovered, came with the letter Angela from Alberta has transcribed: Lady Elizabeth Compton‘s love for a near constant companion: Charles Scrase Dickins! What Angela didn’t know, as she wove an Austenian story around the clues laid out in her letter, was that nearly five years later the pair marry! But: What brought them to the altar?? Again: some more puzzle pieces are required to flesh out the story.

Paula Byrne has now come across a small picture:

And speculates that it was perhaps drawn by Eliza Chute, of The Vyne, and portrays Jane Austen! Not sure which excites me more: the idea of Jane Austen portrayed, or that a drawing potentially done by dear Eliza has been discovered…

A possible Wiggett-Chute connection to this picture has brought me back to Miss Le Faye‘s excellent Biographical Index in her Jane Austen Letters. So many familiar names, in conjunction with the Chutes, the Smiths, even the earlier generation of Goslings. Was just this morning reading about Alethea Bigg of Manydown.

The more I think about the VAST correspondence circle Jane Austen — and Cassandra too, we mustn’t forget her — would have been a part of, the more I have to wonder what cache of letters might still exist, somewhere, all dusty and locked away. As with the letter Angela from Alberta saw, even ONE letter can make a difference. As can one drawing.

Eliza in England sent me a watercolor image of Mimi Smith — daughter of Mary and Charles; wife of Gaspard Le Marchant Tupper — if I remember correctly, Eliza saved the little book of drawings containing it from certain destruction! Now to find the photograph the drawing was based upon…

Mark Woodford’s father obtained the 1798 diary of Augusta Smith (Mamma), possibly at Auction. Who owned the diary that it got separated from everything else?? Who else — living in Chicago, like Mark; or anywhere around the world — might have purchased a letter or a diary and have no idea WHOSE property they own, for few ever put their names to their diaries, and some sign their letters with their last name, but how common a name is Smith.

I could say, who would NOT know the name Jane Austen — but I can offer this anecdote: A few years ago I was interviewed for a job at a local pharmaceutical college. Had, I think, five people in succession interviewing me. One man (yes, note the sex of the person) looked at me, quiet serious, and as he asked for more comments about my volunteer work with JASNA [Jane Austen Society of North America], asked: Who’s Jane Austen??

I didn’t get that job and now I see the same position is advertised again. I won’t be applying. Their loss! for they missed the boat in hiring a really terrific person.

My New Year’s Resolution is to work harder at this project, and get Smith&Gosling the attention it deserves. The first task is to do a little updating to some of the pages on the blog — so stay tuned! And I’ve not forgotten that I owe readers my Boswell connection story.

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Judge a Letter by its Cover

January 19, 2011 at 9:46 pm (people, places, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When Craig from Australia — a most helpful Smith&Gosling “fan”! — wrote about a letter he found, the tell-tale tidbit that attracted me was hearing that it was addressed to the Marquess of Northampton. Its dating, to 1824, meant to the first Marquess — husband of Mamma Smith’s sister Maria, father to Lord Compton (the 2nd Marquess) and his sister Lady Elizabeth Compton (later married to Charles Scrase Dickins).

The idea that came into my brain while corresponding with Craig was that, although his find might be addressed TO Lord Northampton — the enclosed LETTER might very well be addressed to someone else!

My evidence?

At the Essex Record Office, there is a small set of letters, written by “the children” — as Emma referred to her two youngest sisters (her younger brothers were in school), Charlotte and Maria — but the girls, while addressing their letters to eldest sister Augusta and to Mamma, addressed their envelopes to “Le Chevalier Charles Smith“!

Obviously, therefore, the “head of the household” was the letter recipient whenever letters were sent Poste Restante or to be called for at, say, the offices of the family’s foreign banker.

Just one exceptionally interesting “find” while delving back in time nearly 200 years. Stay tuned for more!

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An Island Alone?

October 20, 2010 at 9:45 am (a day in the life, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Ever feel like your out there on your own? As another winter begins to descend, and early (early!) mornings come thanks to local airport noise (long, looonnnnggg story there; boring to everyone but me), the thoughts crowd around in the dark that few would wish to contemplate: the jobs that got away; the life I used to have when days were “better”; getting older; having older parents.

My saving grace: the Smiths and Goslings. They aren’t my “family”, but they have become “my family”. I long to find out their movements, to piece together all their individual puzzles, to fit their lives, dreams and thoughts into some pattern that points up their times as well as their lives.

Jacky from Maidstone has recently given much food for thought in the shape of an astonishing letter to Maria, the youngest Smith of Suttons daughter. The correspondent is the mother of a young man who has simply never found anyone — other than Maria — that he could love and wish to marry.

What makes this of great interest?

Henry Wilder wrote similar sentiments to Mrs Smith regarding Augusta. It was a letter, when I first deciphered it, as I sat beside the windows at the Hampshire Record Office (Winchester, England), that tore at my heart. It was obvious that Henry had had a relationship with Augusta; that something or someone had intervened (I suspect some Wilder parental interference, but have not discovered anything concrete as yet); and here he was, a couple years later, talking about his inability to forget Augusta. He’s now wondering if Mrs Smith will find out if Augusta still has feelings for him.

Now there are several mildly “star-crossed” lovers in these extended families. The most extreme “disapproval” I have yet come across involves Richard Seymour’s sister Dora. Richard’s diaries (on microfilm at the Warwickshire Record Office) is quite plain in the disapproval of Dora’s family after she engaged herself to the Rev. Mr. Chester. Richard – a docile man in such matters – was pressured to put pressure on Dora to break off the engagement. The end was achieved; yet not in the long-run. Dora did ultimately marry the Rev. Mr. Chester.

[an aside: if I could track down the current whereabouts and the owner of Richard Seymour’s diaries, then I could get a COPY of the microfilm from WRO…]

So, back to Maria. The date of this letter is 1835. Mrs Catherine Odell, the writer, had obviously NOT been in touch with the family for some time. She mailed her letter to Tring Park; the Smiths had moved from Tring to Mapledurham House in October 1834 (the first “event” held there: the wedding of Fanny Smith to the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton). Also, Mrs Odell addressed her letter to “Miss Maria Smith”. That alone would have gained Maria’s ire! In one letter she quite obviously had chastised a sibling for not giving her her due: as the “eldest” single Smith sister she was now entitled to be addressed as “Miss Smith”.

In this period, the eldest son or daughter or Mr Lastname, Miss Lastname. Other, younger, siblings had their first name appended, thus, as we find in Jane Austen: Mr Ferrars but Mr Robert Ferrars; Miss Dashwood, Miss Marianne Dashwood; Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Miss Lydia Bennet, Miss Kitty Bennet, Miss Mary Bennet.

If we take the Bennets (since there are so many of them!), with the marriages of Lydia, followed by those of Jane and Elizabeth, than the elder of the two left single would assume the title “Miss Bennet”.

That was what happened with Maria Smith: In October 1834, elder sister Fanny married Richard. And Eliza Smith, the next unmarried Smith sister, married in January 1835. So with that event, little Maria finally became Miss Smith — the three events (move, and two marriages) unknown to Mrs Odell in Ireland.

But what makes the letter so extraordinary is that Mr Edward Odell’s pleading is done by his mother! She writes that he could never marry anyone but Maria (to the sadness of his family, she is quick to point out); that Edward will come into his elder brother’s estate (though ‘why’ that would be so, I don’t yet know); that Edward already had an income of £600 (an amount perhaps exceeded by money given to Maria to live, for all I know; certainly, in a letter to Augusta, Mrs Smith intimated that she NEED NOT MARRY, as she had income enough to live, and live comfortably, I’m sure).

One personal favorite: Mrs Odell says that her son would willingly live anywhere; and that Mrs Smith could live with them should she need to be taken care of. Mamma Smith?! in need of care?! from a son-in-law’s household? She is the most “matriarchal” matriarch I have ever come across!

The story behind Mr Odell, which may or may not have impacted the “welcome”: A Mr Odell (I suspect Edward rather than his unnamed elder brother due to a Harrow connection), longtime friend of Drummond, enticed Drummond to visit Italy much against Mrs Smith’s inclination. There are many mentions of interviews, letters, letters from Mr Odell even — in which Mrs Smith digs to find out about Drummond’s illness and death.

So, in the end, the big question is: Would Mr Edward Odell have stood a chance with Maria? was there family pressure to dissolve any relationship? Was Maria herself uninterested? Only time will tell; or else I may never know the answer to those questions!

But you see, you few who read these musings, what occupies my mind — so happily occupies my mind!

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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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