Boswell’s Presumptuous Task

September 4, 2018 at 9:12 pm (books, history, people) (, , , )

Being a three-day weekend, I took the opportunity to visit my favorite used bookstore, in Henniker, New Hampshire: Old Number 6 Book Depot. Check out this blog (Home Maid Simple) for TONS of photos of the shop – and you’ll see why I find it worth a three-hour drive.

I picked up a copy of Roger Pilkington’s Small Boat on the Meuse; I have many of his “Small Boat” books. This one dates to 1967, and the early volumes are the most entertaining.

Boswell_Sisman

But my “find” – which I am currently enjoying – is Boswell’s Presumptuous Task, by Adam Sisman. This is a “take” on the writer without spitting out Boswell’s words verbatim from the journals. Reading it has even made me take down my old paperback copy of the Hebrides tour by Samuel Johnson and (later) that published by Boswell himself. I especially welcome the narrow focus, pin-pointing Boswell and Johnson as well as Boswell writing about Johnson.

Readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen can add to their knowledge of James Boswell by looking up my article, “Boswell’s ‘my Miss Cunliffe’: Augmenting James Boswell’s Missing Chester Journal.” This is available free on Academia.edu – where you can see other articles in the series:

  • “Uncovering the Face of Hester Wheeler”
  • “Margaret Meen: A Life in Four Letters”

For other links to useful Boswell items, see my earlier blog post.

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“Dear Hammy”: Mary Hamilton & the Bluestocking Circle

September 23, 2012 at 10:51 am (books, diaries, history, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Some days — after spending all day on the computer at work — I spend all evening on the computer. A research project, such as Smith&Gosling, is exceptionally dependent on FINDING sources. One way is to wait for people to contact me; and I am GRATEFUL for those who have done so. The other way is to search-search-search. Selling sites for letters; library catalogues; published books and their invaluable bibliographies. It was a published book that set me on scent of the letters of young Drummond Smith (Emma’s third brother); the author had cited them and I tracked down the owner. That was four years ago.

So last night I was searching and searching. And somehow turned up the holdings for Mary Hamilton (1756-1816) at the John Rylands University Library.

Mary Hamilton (married in June 1785 to John Dickenson) was a royal governess; friend to Fanny Burney, Joshua Reynolds, the ladies of the Bluestocking circle. How I long to hear more about the content of her sixteen diaries and thousands of letters. Why? Lady Cunliffe (Mary Gosling’s maternal grandmother, who lived until 1814) was in company with many of these same people.

Did Mary Hamilton encounter Lady Cunliffe, her daughters Mary and Eliza?

Although there are internet stories about the sale (via Sotheby’s) and the denial of export to the US (I’m not sure which Library had purchased the archive; I rather suspect the Houghton at Harvard) and the subsequent matching price by John Rylands University Library, I find only veiled hints that scholars are doing research among Mary’s papers, but no hint that there is any plan afoot for the PUBLICATION of her papers. Ah! that would be news! I *love* full printings, big books, multiple volumes. But perhaps that is too much to hope for in this day and age… Especially when academic presses charge so much for the slimmest of books.

Mary Hamilton is being described as a “courtier and diarist” and many headlines call her The Female Pepys! (So doesn’t she deserve the Pepys treatment: to have her full writings published?!)

A quotation writes of Mary’s “keen zest for life, and her intense interest in everything pertaining to it — books, languages, art, travel, politics, people.” Ah! for a Mary Hamilton in my social circle!

Mary was niece to Sir William Hamilton and his wife, Lady Hamilton (the former Emma Hart); she “inadvertently ensnared the heart of the teenage Prince of Wales” while sub-governess to his sisters; and in January 1783 she settled in at 27 Clarges St, off Piccadilly. London, in the 1780s, was the scene for many in the generation prior to Mary and Emma — the grandparent generation, as I often call them.

The biggest “hint” I have about Lady Cunliffe’s social movements is the book Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings (Yale 2000). David Mannings has taken note of Sir Joshua’s notebooks: “Lady Cunliffe’s name appears almost every year in Reynolds Pocket Books 1777-89 [yes, I AM assuming this is the correct Lady Cunliffe, and not one of her relatives], usually at eight or nine o’clock, apparently in the evening, on one occasion with a note: ‘Cards & supper.’ Sometimes she arrives with Mrs Vesey, Mrs Shipley or Mrs Boscowen and it is clear these are social calls.” [p156]

I do have evidence that she and the girls knew Sir Joshua, and had run into James Boswell — a letter exists between the two men!

There are sixteen diaries (beginning mid-1776 to 1797; not fully consecutive; the bulk covers 1784); thousands of letters; other manuscripts.

It is in the letters from the Royal Princesses that we see Mary Hamilton addressed as “Dear Hammy”. Those “love letters” from the Prince of Wales are also extant. How exciting! Mary Hamilton also has ties to another Mary: Mary Delany, of The Paper Garden fame! Small-small world.

Vanessa Thorpe, in a 2006 article in The Observer, wrote:

“Fortunately when Hamilton began writing her diary she followed the good advice of her friend Lady Charlotte Finch, the head royal governess, who urged: ‘In your journal pray do not forget particulars about yourself.’ As a result her entries give ‘a remarkably complete picture of the day-to-day lives and preoccupations of fashionable and cultivated 18th-century Londoners,’ said the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council’s government adviser, Dr Harris. Especially interesting to social historians is an unpublished 10-page entry detailing a theft in Hamilton’s household and a quarrel between two servants.”

There is SO MUCH here, that I can only skim the surface in a short blog post. I will end with a BBC radio interview (a short listen: only nine minutes), discussing the importance of the Mary Hamilton Papers.

Is THIS the face of Mary Hamilton?

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Mrs Thrale’s connection to Mr Scrase

July 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm (books, diaries, history, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Arrrggggghhhhh!

This certainly points up the need to check, double-check, and even triple-check information.

Yesterday, I devoured Hester: The Remarkable Life of Dr Johnson’s ‘Dear Mistress’, a new acquisition. Imagine my surprise to see Mrs Thrale in Brighton (not the surprising part), seeking help from her friend and attorney, Charles Scrase.

Now the Scrase Dickins have a long history, according to the Smith&Gosling letters and diaries I’ve seen, of residing in Brighton. Surely this Charles Scrase was a relation!

I’ve many volumes relating to the biography and papers of Hester Thrale / Hester Piozzi, as you may read in this post on my Ladies of Llangollen site. Her letter describing Lady Cunliffe’s anguish over the deaths of her two daughters (Eliza Gosling, my Mary’s mother, in December 1803; and Mary Smith, wife of Drummond Smith, in February 1804) is included in the Piozzi Letters. Thraliana mentions Mrs Drummond Smith, but so little else about the family. Yet it couldn’t simply be “gossip” that Hester passed on, she seemed to know Lady Cunliffe. Yet another straggling thread, to be taken up and sewn into the fabric of this family….

So when I read that Hester had sought out help — and achieved it — from Mr Charles Scrase, I was ballyhooing!

And yet…

Taking up Mary’s Hyde’s excellent book The Thrales of Streatham Park, which, in publishing Hester’s “Children’s Book,” touches on the era of Mr Thrale’s business problems and Hester’s seeking out Mr Scrase’s help and advice, I read the following:

“The transaction was handled by Charles Scrase, who had been Ralph Thrale’s lawyer, a family friend whom Thrale had known all his life, and whom Mrs. Thrale had come to like very much. He was a single man of sixty…”

A single man??! So not a forebear to Charles Scrase Dickins.

But the Brighton connection…; the very name ‘Scrase’…

I kept reading into the evening, but dug no more into the life of Mr Scrase — until this morning.

It IS the same man – maternal grandfather to Charles Dickins (my Charles Scrase Dickins’ father), who bequeathed his estate, and the name of Scrase.

You can read about the family in the Sussex Archeological Collections (1855).  Charles Scrase was an attorney at law, baptised in 1709 (Hyde confuses his brother’s baptism in 1707 for his own). He married Sarah Turner in 1742, and had two daughters: Sarah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth married William Smith, but died without issue. Sarah Scrase married Anthony Dickins. Among their children: Charles Dickins, husband to Elizabeth Devall (a name also spelled several ways) and father to Charles Scrase Dickins.

The Dickins married in 1792, the year grandfather Scrase died. But look what the editors of Fanny Burney’s Journals and Letters has to say in reference to Elizabeth Dickins: “daughter of Mrs. Thrale’s friend and adviser Charles Scrase (1709-92) of Brighton and wife of Anthony Dickins (c1729-94)”. Fanny Burney — close friend in the late 1770s and early 1780s to Mrs Thrale has made mention of Elizabeth Dickins! Alas, my only copy of Burney’s diaries and letters is a paperback selection, with no mention of Mr Scrase or Mrs Dickins.

Now I wonder a little less about how Hester Thrale / Hester Piozzi came to know the Cunliffe family. Yes, the Cunliffes knew Joshua Reynolds; yes, they’d met James Boswell; yes, Lady Cunliffe moved in the circle of the Bluestockings – but now the Scrase thread is weaving through their fabric slightly more boldly. More to come!

* * *

You can read about Fanny Burney’s comments regarding Mrs Dickens (sorry, Charlie!) at Project Gutenberg (1891 edition):

and the 1840s/1850s edition at Internet Archive:

all Internet Archives Burney listings

photo of Streatham Park, at Thrale.com

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Need Help: Susannah Smith, nee Mackworth Praed

May 1, 2012 at 2:02 pm (diaries, history, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have been thinking of letters and diaries these last couple of weeks. Some diaries are in the 1810s; others propel me forward to the 1840s; and the letters have been as early as the 1790s!

Today I want to make a special appeal to anyone who might have knowledge of letters written by or to Susannah Smith, the wife of Thomas Smith of Bersted Lodge.

Susannah and Thomas married in 1800; Thomas was a brother of Joshua Smith of Erle Stoke Park, so he was Augusta (Mamma) Smith’s Uncle and therefore a great-uncle to my Emma.

This close-up is from a miniature that recently sold at auction. How can you resist this face?!?

Susannah had a twin-sister: Arabella, Countess of Mayo. She became a lady-in-waiting.

Knowing well that LETTERS were the bread-and-butter of life then, I suspect Susannah’s letters, at the very least to and from her sister, but probably also to others in the Smith’s extended family, must exist. Mrs Thomas Smith was of the generation who visited Tring Park to stay with Mr and Mrs Drummond Smith – and also visit Roehampton, where resided Eliza Gosling (Mrs William Gosling), sister to Mary, Mrs Drummond Smith. How wonderful it would be to read comments – even slightly negative ones! – about my Smiths & Goslings.

Even hints to possible whereabouts of some correspondence would be welcome! Published sources as much as manuscript sources.

* * *

UPDATE: it was stupid of me not to include more information on Susannah’s sister and brother-in-law. The Earl of Mayo had the familial name of BOURKE. Some places associated with the family include Naas and Palmerstown. The Praed family were also related to the Shore family, which produced the delightful publication The Journal of Emily Shore.

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A Portrait of “Aunt Smith”

March 11, 2010 at 9:45 pm (people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , )

Mary’s mother, Eliza Gosling (née Cunliffe), died at the end of 1803; less than two months later her only sister Mary Smith (Mrs Drummond Smith) died. Poor Lady Cunliffe! Two daughters, then no daughters. Her grief was the subject of a letter written by Mrs Piozzi (Hester Thrale, as she was when Dr. Johnson and Mr Boswell knew her).

This portrait, from a 1913 issue of The Connoisseur, is based on the ‘famous’ Reynolds’ portrait which hangs in Castle Ashby (still in the Northampton family, as in Emma’s youth). It was confused with having been done by Romney well into the 19th century, but is probably the portrait begun before her marriage (1786) to Drummond Smith — Augusta Smith (Emma’s mother) paternal uncle. In the book Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete catalogue of his Paintings (2000), we read:

“Painted 1786-87, wearing a vast hat with soft crown, the brim decorated with lace ‘curtains’, the height of 1780s fashion. There are appointments with Miss Cunliffe in 1786: June 19 (at eleven o’clock), 23 (midday), July 3, 7 and 10 (at one). She was married on 12 July and had two more appointments that year on Aug. 1 (at one) and Nov. 20 (midday). Further appointments are recorded in 1787: Mar. 12 (midday), 15 (two sessions, at eleven and at 12), June 12 (at eleven), 14 (eleven thirty), 16 (at one), Aug. 22 and Dec. 17 (both midday). There is one further appointment with either Mr or Mrs (not clear) Drummond Smith on 16 June 1789 (midday). A payment of 100 gns is recorded in the Ledger in July 1788 (Cormack 1970, 164). This picture passed as a Romney in the nineteenth century.”

This picture – or I should say the copies of the original in etchings and whatnot – has been long found online. As well, the girlhood picture of her is easily come by. Including at the National Portrait Gallery.

It was difficult, therefore, to READ about a portrait, offered through Sotheby’s in 2003 (which failed to sell then) and not SEE it. But now it’s been found!

Every source keeps attributing this portrait to Thomas Phillips. A rather ‘unknown’ name to me.

Phillips seems to have come to London in 1790, and by 1796 was painting nothing but portraits. He was elected an Associate Member of the Royal Academy in 1804 — a fateful year for many: Mary Smith died that February; Drummond Smith became a baronet some months later.

I would be interested in hearing from Costume Experts to see if this could be dated. Unfortunately the picture I have you cannot read the legend in the lower right of the picture, which may answer such a question. The curiosity for me is the black lace: it makes me think of mourning (though the red is not in keeping with that, obviously).

For me, I look at the FACE: how much did she resemble her sister?

To see the purported artist, see NPG (including one self-portrait).

Since Drummond (Charles’ great uncle, from whom he inherited the baronetcy in 1816) was not a baronet until after “Aunt Smith’s” death, unless this sitter is as in contention as its painter, this must portray Mary Smith rather than Sir Drummond’s second wife (married in 1805), the widowed Elizabeth Sykes. Anyone with any information to give on this sitter – contact me!

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Resolutions

January 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm (estates) (, , , , , , , , , )

How difficult it is to ‘blog’ when one’s personal life generates an excessively ‘blue’  mood… never mind the TON of snow I’ve shifted today (winter blues don’t help either). But I do have one find I’d like to share — before it is too late and the images disappear:

On 20 January 2010, Christie’s auction house will put under the gavel contents from Newton Hall, the ancestral home of the Widdringtons. The short history of the Widdringtons, as concerns us here, is as follows:

William Gosling, Mary’s father, had two sisters. Maria married Henry Gregg, and was known to Mary as Aunt Gregg; the other died before Mary’s (extant) diaries commence, though her death is noted in Charles’ diary for 1826: Harriet Davison, wife of Alexander Davison of Swarland Hall (Northumbria). Mr Davison figures in the history of Admiral Nelson and his own auction took place in 2000 — the items became the subject of Martyn Downer’s excellent book Nelson’s Purse.

The Davisons had among their children Dorothy; she married Capt. Cook – who later took the name Widdrington. The miniature that comes up for sale on the 20th resided at Newton Hall all these decades because it once belonged to Dorothy! Mary’s diaries mention Dorothy and her husband, as well as other Davison siblings.

The description for Lot 118/Sale 5984 “Harriet Davison (1770-1826) of Swarland Hall” is “English School, c1790. Harriet Davison née Gosling, in white muslin wrap-front dress, white pearl-bordered bandeau in her powdered curling hair.  On ivory. Oval 3 5/16 inch (85 mm) high, gilt-metal frame, the reverse centered with lock of hair and gold wire on opalescent glass panel, within translucent blue glass surround, within velvet-lined hinged burgundy leather travelling case.”

The estimate: £1,500-2000.

She’s a little beauty!

There are a couple other miniatures of family – but I must be quick and will leave the searching up to viewers. One that I simply must mention, however, is a painting on ivory done by young Dorothy (b1794). The curious thing is that this is a copy of a quite “famous” etching of Mary’s Aunt, Mrs Drummond Smith, as a child (Lot 124) [estimate £300-500]. Compare it to the etching, held at the National Portrait Gallery (Mary Cunliffe).

This page shows some other items relating to Dorothy Widdrington: her sketchbook (Lot 121; estimate: £1,500-2500], a loose drawing (lot 123; estimate: £600-900), a miniature of her in old age (Lot 122; estimate £200-400). Capt. Samuel Edward Widdrington, Royal Navy (formerly, Cook) can be seen (and look at the sprigs of hair peeping through from the backside!) in his own miniature (Lot 126; estimate: £800-1200).

How envious I am that the family have such items – and, as someone with so little to show from my own family, I wonder: How can they part with them?? Wish I had a couple thousand pounds; I would go on a shopping spree!

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