Miss Mary A. Leigh

January 18, 2013 at 8:30 pm (jane austen, people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , )

mary augusta austen leighs

As mentioned a few days ago, Paul Frecker’s website includes a photo by Camille Silvy of a woman identified as “Miss Mary A. Leigh” — my immediate thought: Mary Augusta Austen Leigh?

Truthfully: I just don’t know!

On the left is Frecker’s sitter, ID’ed as sitting number 10,508 taking place on 10 July 1862 – which puts her in Silvy’s Daybook 8. The National Portrait Gallery has an extensive “gallery” of the Daybooks. They, however, are not exceptionally enlightening on this young lady.

Mary Augusta Austen Leigh (right) was a younger daughter of Emma Smith and Edward Austen Leigh (see their portraits); she was born on 2 February 1838, her aunt Mary’s 38th birthday! It is a curious fact that Emma’s diaries all have pages cut out whenever she delivers a child. 1838 is no different. These pages are missing, and a small notation in pencil “2d Mary Augusta born” on a remaining page.

On the 21 March, Emma writes, “Baby was christened by the names of Mary Augusta — Ed: christened her — Her Sponsors were Mrs. Lefroy  Lady Smith (Julia her proxy) & Denis (Mr E. Lefroy his proxy).”

Mrs. Benjamin Lefroy was the former Anna Austen, Edward’s half-sister. Lady Smith – my Mary – was surely the person for whom “Baby” was named. The Augusta could be for either Emma’s sister (died 1836) and/or mother. Baby’s third sponsor was Eliza Smith’s husband, Denis Le Marchant.

Looking around for mentions of Mary A. Leigh and Mary Austen Leigh, I found notice of a portrait listed in the Royal Academy of Arts: exhibited in 1856, #954 “Miss Mary Austen Leigh” painted by Edmund Havell, Jr (1819-1894). I asked to have the identity of the painter of the little portrait, which is young Mary Augusta Austen Leigh, but no signature can be detected. Could this be the Edmund Havell  portrait? — UPDATE: 1/25 I’ve seen a more detailed photograph of the little portrait (it’s gorgeous!), it seems a drawing with chalk highlights and pastels. I know very little about Havell, but suspect he painted in oils — unless this was a preliminary sketch for a full work in oils. Without more information about the 1856 exhibition’s work, and without more knowledge of the original (above) portrait, all is supposition, I’m afraid.

I have one vote against Miss Mary A. Leigh being Mary Augusta Austen Leigh. I want to think it the same person, especially after viewing this pair of portraits of Catherine Anne Austen (daughter of Frank Austen, [follow the arrows under the photo to read Frank’s entire entry]).

Help! What do YOU think?

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UPDATE: transcribing some pages from the 1856 diary of the Rev. Richard Seymour, there comes a visit from “Emma and her 2 daughters”. Then he notes their departure: “Emma  Amy – Mary Leigh left us for Bray” = note the use during this period of the sole familial name: LEIGH. He was not alone in that designation.

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Ring around Jane Austen

July 3, 2012 at 9:09 am (fashion, history, jane austen, news) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

No doubt this thrilled readers for its Jane Austen connection. My thrill? The Caroline Austen connection!

I was visiting Sabine’s Kleidung um 1800 (you must view her newest creation) –> which brought me to Biltmore via Living with Jane –> which induced me to click on A Fashionable Frolick and there was the news, gathered from Two Nerdy History Girls:

What GRABBED my attention was this history of the ring, dated November 1863:

 “autograph note signed by Eleanor Austen {Henry Austen’s second wife}, to her niece Caroline Austen, ‘My dear Caroline. The enclosed Ring once belonged to your Aunt Jane. It was given to me by your Aunt Cassandra as soon as she knew that I was engaged to your Uncle. I bequeath it to you. God bless you! ‘ 

The provenance claims it went from Caroline to the daughter of my dear Emma Austen Leigh! (Emma died in 1876, so it makes sense that Caroline would leave the ring directly to Mary Augusta).

Caroline Austen is such a faded, background memory. One of the delights of my research has been little snippets, written by Emma about her new sister or by one of the other Smith sisters noting down their thoughts on “sweet Caroline”.

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Now Look What’s Missing

June 22, 2011 at 11:42 am (news, people, research) (, , , , , )

Last night I was reviewing the opening pages of the biography of James Edward Austen Leigh, written by daughter Mary Augusta (1911). With the focus, of course, on her father, Mary Augusta was finding reminiscences about him and using his own diaries, as well as excerpts from family letters.

I’ve probably not fully reread this in about 4 years — when this research was in its infancy; there was a LOT I did not know about, a LOT I would have taken note of without noting it down. And this is one of those “fell through the cracks” things.

Mary Augusta comments that Aunt Eliza (Lady Le Marchant) wrote “recollections” about her youth. This niece, )of course!), pulls from them Eliza’s memories of the youthful Edward Austen. Obviously, she would have written down oh-so-many more recollections!

I don’t know if this document would have been long or short;would have  belonged to Mary Augusta or been borrowed by her; existed in as a sole manuscript or was copied out by any of the nieces/nephews. It may very well be resident today in the Le Marchant family! I live in hope anyway. IMAGINE such a “prize”!!!

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As an aside, one disappointment in Scenes from Life at Suttons was the ABSENCE of a portrait of Eliza herself — who, according to the introduction, with Drummond, caused these little “plays” to exist. How much fun it would have been to have seen a youthful depiction of her.

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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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Augusta’s Comings & Goings

July 11, 2010 at 11:54 am (a day in the life, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

My “Augusta” (known to most as the 1798 diary of Augusta Smith, Mamma to Emma Austen Leigh) is now on her return voyage to Illinois, headed back to her owner, Mark Woodford. Thank you, Mark, for the opportunity to see the original diary! Not many people would lend such a treasure to a complete stranger… And she’s now in the hands of the United States Post Office. Safe return, my Augusta!

But while lamenting “goings” there was also an Augusta “coming” this week. On Friday, Alan from Warwickshire sent me a scan of his recent acquisition: an 1841 letter written to Fanny Seymour and penned by none other than her mother, Augusta Smith!

So in one week, there was young 1798 Augusta, a new bride, awaiting (come February 1799) the birth of her first child — the next Augusta in a line of Augustas [ie, the future Augusta Wilder]; and then the older, wise Mamma Smith, who has recently been at the deathbed of her grandson, Spencer Joshua Smith, eldest child of Spencer and Frances [Seymour] Smith.

While there is much in the 1798 diary still to be “digested”, the 3-page letter provides such a snippet of life, a moment captured. In this case, the grief of a family. But the interesting part comes in several comments Mamma makes about the actual funeral of little Spencer Joshua.

In the biography of her father, James Edward Austen Leigh, Mary Augusta wrote about the funeral of Eliza Chute (she died in July 1842); as the first to die of the four daughters of Joshua Smith, Eliza was attended by her three surviving sisters: Maria  marchioness of Northampton, Augusta Smith, Emma Smith. It was highly unusual for women to attend funerals or gravesides; though “the times they were a-changing”.

Mary Augusta writes:

“Mrs. Chute’s funeral took place at half-past eleven on the morning of August 5, the coffin being borne through the wooded lanes for more than a mile to the church of Sherborne St. John by two sets of eight bearers, the gentlemen of the large family party that collected in the house following on foot, and the three surviving sisters accompanying them in a carriage. The service was performed by Uncle Richard [ie, the Rev. Richard Seymour, Fanny’s husband].

So why do I write that it was unusual for women to attend? Emma herself attended, the following year, the funeral of Mrs James Austen (Edward’s mother). Edward had informed Mrs Augusta Smith, “The funeral will be on Friday, at Steventon, where a vacant brick grave by the side of my father’s has been waiting nearly 24 years…” Mary Augusta takes up the story:

“Aunt Caroline [Edward’s sister] meant to be present herself, and so great was our mother’s attachment to her sister-in-law that she determined to go with her…. Much fatigue of body and mind must have been involved in these long drives in extremely hot August weather, and by taking part in a funeral service for the first time in her life, as neither she nor her sister had attended Aunt Chute’s. There was then a wide-spread belief that women would be unable sufficiently to command their feelings during a service which might be painful and trying.” Mary Augusta then quotes a letter Emma wrote her eldest daughter (Mary Augusta’s sister), Amy: “It was a trying day… I cannot wish dear Amy that you had been at the sad service, or at present think I could myself (having now seen it) ever wish to attend another of a friend.”

Friend, in its 19th century use, meant family… It is a word the Smiths used often.

So, to bring back Augusta’s letter of 1841.

By December 1832 there only remained one Smith son: Spencer. In 1835 he had married Frances Seymour, Richard Seymour’s sister. Their little boy, Spencer Joshua, was born the following summer. Little Spencer seems to have had health problems from the start. The first indication was in Mary’s diary, when she wrote: “Poor little Spencer Smith died not quite 5 years old: his removal was a merciful dispensation of the Almighty”. Mamma Smith also intimates great concerns when she concludes: Frances “is sensible that life might have been a burthen to the poor Child, but still she loved him & misses him.”

Although the mystery of “Poor little Spencer Smith” remains, the 1841 letters sheds light on the changes taking place in the attendance by women at the graveside. Augusta tells Fanny, “Spencer went [to the funeral], attended only by Mr. Lacy; he declined Arthur’s [brother-in-law Arthur Currie] offer, because it must be trying to him; & he declined mine; I could have done it very well. I accompanied Richard to your poor Babe’s Grave. — Mrs Bond & Mrs. Marshall went; poor Horne is too nervous to venture.”

It is the line, “I could have done it very well. I accompanied Richard to your poor Babe’s Grave” that gets me: Fanny’s son Michael John died (after living only a day) in 1835!  Augusta’s thoughts of “accompanying Richard” gives the deep impression of a woman willing to sacrifice her own feelings in order to support her son-in-law in this most distressing time. And here, again, we see an offer given to Spencer, but, like Frances, he prefers to mourn alone.

This may seem a morbid subject for a bright summer’s day, but it also points up the wonderful opportunities for digging into the past, for uncovering social conventions of Britain 200 years ago. The Smiths and Goslings are a fascinating family, and I am blissfully happy when working among their papers.

Thanks to both Mark and Alan, little puzzle pieces come out of the blue – and each piece, in its own way, solves a bit of the mystery. Here, the “game” is always “a-foot”!

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