New Letters, New Revelations

November 3, 2013 at 9:38 am (diaries, history, news, people, research, smiths of stratford) (, , , , , , , )

Special thanks to Mike who photographed some letters for me at the Hampshire Record Office. Being 3000 miles from this enormous source of Smith&Gosling info is one of the hardest situations to be in. I’m very grateful to Mike, and to anyone who is able to allow me to continue my research from afar (you all know who you are…).

I spent yesterday morning and evening (until 2 am! – though with the time change, I gained an hour) in the 1790s – with Emma Smith (my Emma’s “Aunt Emma”), youngest sister to Augusta (AKA Mamma); also with their Father Joshua Smith and Mother Sarah Smith. There’s even a letter from Judith Smith (née Lefevre), Emma’s great-grandmother, but I’ve not touched that one yet. The Smiths senior (Emma, Joshua, Sarah) write a LOT about aches, pains, accidents. A HARROWING letter from Sarah Smith to daughter Eliza Chute sets out the near-fatal accident of young Emma (“Aunt Emma”)! O-M-G-!

  • click link “near-fatal accident” to LISTEN to this segment of Sarah Smith’s September 1799 letter

The letters of my Emma Smith (AKA Emma Austen Leigh) come from the period 1811 / 1814. Emma was just nine-years-old in August 1811. HUGE handwriting — but cursive handwriting:

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This is page 3 — and LOOK at the treat that was in store for me: an early mention of my Mary Gosling, an 11-year-old! Only eleven and nine, and the girls were already corresponding…

The 1814 letters are poignant, dealing in the time period of Papa Charles Smith’s last illness. The bright spot in one letter? Mentions of “the little ones”. I swear Emma writes, “When we came to Stratford [the home of “Aunt”, Judith Smith – Charles’ only living sister; she was obviously keeping the children away from the scene of sickness] we found the little ones very well & hungry…” Emma goes on to mention little Drummond – a toddler at this point; and Charlotte, about five-years-old – who was outpacing her elder sister Eliza in learning her religion and also in reading.

Knowing what life had in store for all these people – (for example: marriage, children, early death) – it touches me to glimpse these moments of them as innocent, buoyant children. Thankfully, so much material has been preserved – in so many different places. Each letter shades their portraits in such subtle ways. A valuable gift, as we move into the festive season of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and on to a New Year.

* * *

NB: IS Mrs Thrale in the recorded letter of Sarah Smith who I think she is?

Hester Thrale Piozzi did know the Cunliffes; letters mention the deaths of Lady Cunliffe’s daughters, Eliza Gosling (1803) and Mary Smith (1804). Trouble is: Dr Johnson’s Mrs Thrale had, by 1799, long ago become Mrs Piozzi. The name could be read as “Thrall”… But it’s possible Sarah Smith had a slip of the pen, or didn’t hear (or didn’t remember hearing) of Mrs Thrale’s remarriage. Must dig a bit further.

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Byrne’s Austen Portrait, Part II

December 27, 2011 at 9:13 pm (chutes of the vyne, jane austen, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , )

A kind friend sent a screen shot of the backside of the Byrne Portrait:

The “M” is curious: almost looks like a “tail” was added to the beginning stroke. Miss is not written as I might have expected: with the double-s written as an Esszet (as I call it after having had German lessons). Here is Mary Gosling / Lady Smith’s diary from 1829, citing the name Miss de Grey (her step-mother’s sister), with the double-s I expected:

Is is possible that the Miss was added? The one thing against that notion is that Eliza Chute (for instance) would have referred to her formally: Miss Austin would have been Cassandra; Miss Jane (or J.) Austin would have indicated the younger unmarried daughter. Eliza’s capital “M” typically began at the top of the left side, with a slight curl before the decent of the downstroke.

Eliza Chute’s capital “J” typically were shorter on the top, longer on the bottom (the opposite of the letter seen above). Her word-ending “e” typically was closed, as in Mary’s “de” above.

AUSTEN, on the other hand, could be akin to the way Eliza noted the name in her 1799 diary, reproduced in Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A Life.

My first thought was a shaky hand (possibly because of infirmity?).

Inconclusive conclusion, for I’ve no one about whom I would say, “This is so-and-so’s hand.”

* * *

Charlotte Frost, author of Sir William Knighton: Regency Physician, has sent me an informative series of “thoughts & reactions” on viewing the program (thanks, Charlotte!), so there will be more to come.

Because the Chutes of The Vyne (or Vine) are so well-known, I’ve made little mention of them in this blog. Obviously, there are diaries missing in the Hampshire Record Office series, including the one which Paula Byrne thinks the “crucial” year: 1814.

Dear Blog Reader: If you’ve a diary, quite probably kept in a pocket book (typically red in color, but I remember one green-covered book) entitled THE DAILY JOURNAL, OR, Gentleman’s, Merchants’s and Tradesman’s Complete Annual Accompt Book — these were a series of pre-printed diaries, with left-side available for memoranda and the right-side kept for accounts (debits and credits), but sometimes not used for that purpose — and you recognize some of these names, please-please-please contact me! (see Author, at right, for contact info.)

I make no claim to “world authority,” as Paula Byrne’s tweet claims, but I certainly have a deep interest in Eliza and all the family. So allow me to lay out a few words about Miss Eliza Smith of Erle Stoke Park and Mrs William Chute of The Vyne:

Gwyneth Dunstan, a former steward connected to The Vyne, was someone I contacted after finding notice of her talk, on 16 July 2009, at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke. Her talk was entitled, “Eliza Chute: A Gentlewoman in local society in Jane Austen’s Day”. It is from her talk’s poster that this silhouette of Eliza Chute was posted on this site, on the Portraits page:

The same appears in A Day in the Country; as companion silhouette for William Chute exists, the set must have been made prior to 1824 (when William died).

past posts:

      • Eliza Chute – it’s 1793 and Eliza has just married
      • Eliza Smith – writes of reading Madame de Sevigne
      • Lady Cunliffe – notes about her portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds

I bring up Lady Cunliffe — mother to Eliza Cunliffe, who, only a few days after Eliza Smith married William Chute, married William Gosling (she eventually gave birth to my diarist, Mary Gosling) — because so much of Eliza Chute’s early “history” is tied up with her BFF Eliza Gosling. Lady Cunliffe and her daughters were known to James Boswell, who was a friend to the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mrs Thrale, and Samuel Johnson. Boswell wrote to Reynolds about Lady C and her daughters…

I hate to leave readers dangling, but it’s been a long day, I’m tired…. So more tomorrow!

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