Sad Day at Suttons

January 14, 2011 at 11:05 am (a day in the life, people, research) (, , , , , , )

The year was 1831; Charles was only 30 years old and had endured some horrific medical procedures (never mind the mercury-laiden medicines!). I will post some information about this “last illness” of a vital young man, as well as some of the questions that remain on what precipitated the entire episode, at a later point.

{note on the obituary, which was published in Gentleman’s Magazine: Augusta Smith’s eldest sister was Maria the dowager Marchioness of Northampton, but Lady Dunsany was actually a paternal AUNT to the four Erle Stoke sisters Maria, Eliza, Augusta, and Emma. Charles’ father, Charles Smith of Suttons, pre-deceased his uncle by marriage, Sir Drummond Smith — which is how the title devolved upon Charles Joshua. Charles left three children at his death: Charles Cunliffe Smith, Mary (called Mimi by her mother), and Augusta.}

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The Mystery of Augusta

July 5, 2010 at 11:07 pm (research) (, , , , , , , )

Talk about a History’s Mystery!

If you didn’t spot the not-so-faint you’d never notice the others. I’m talking about the Accounts Augusta Smith put down in 1798 on the right-hand page (ruled for monies received and monies lent/paid out). It might also help that I’ve seen her sister’s diaries, where (if I remember correctly) the accounts were in INK. Here, Augusta has written the narrative of her diary in ink (thank GOODNESS!), but these accounts are in PENCIL. Have they faded to the point of non-existence, or were they erased? They are in her hand (which points to faded), but sometimes she has obviously written her narrative OVER the accounts — needed the room and just didn’t care? If she (or someone?) erased them, why? I had originally thought that maybe a later owner wanted to reuse the diary and never did; but then why write narrative over the accounts? Someone posited that Augusta hadn’t wanted Charles to see (and indeed there are card debts recorded… but as they married in March and the accounts continue on, it’s QUITE unlikely Charles really cared; I mean, just DON’T record your debts if you didn’t want your husband to see!).

Eliza’s diaries have entries to To Cards (seen in Augusta’s; she certainly seems luckier in Love than Cards, for there evidently are fewer By Cards [her wins] entries…), To Play, To Poor Man/Woman, To Pew Opener, etc etc.

I must admit, in two months, having little time, I did not give Eliza’s accounts a lot of notice. My thoughts at the time, while still at HRO was ‘I’ll see about getting the diaries on microfilm’, or (yeah, right!) return to Winchester… So, for the most part they are a known-but-unanalyzed quantity of her diaries — but they can sometimes help in guesses for words (not sums) in Augusta’s diary.

It’s definitely a SUMMER project: the light has to be just right, not too bright (then you see NOTHING), not too dark — and it even has to hit the page at the proper ANGLE. One second you see not much, the next second the word(s) as clear as day, the following moment all is GONE.

One example: I thought this could read To Poker Book — highly unlikely, but, hey! you never know. Also thought, maybe, Joker? Then, in the flash of the page being held JUST right: Pocket! It’s early in the year (January 16th) and she could be referring to this same diary (which were termed ‘pocket books’ because of their size and ‘carriability’), but could she also mean (since mid-January would mean two weeks-plus of entries that she had to then write in…) what we think of as a pocketbook, ie, a purse? I just don’t know. Just like I don’t know WHY these entries — and an entire page at the front of the book, were written in pencil and cannot be read.

It’s a thrill when you can read words like To White Gloves (a lady used LOTS of those) or To Powder.

After two hundred years it’s just ‘Fade to white…’ rather than black.

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The Year of the French, 1798

May 24, 2010 at 8:37 pm (a day in the life, books, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have spent the last three days in England 1798 — literally the Year of the French, due to all the rumors flying around about imminent invasion.

The “tour” has been courtesy of Illinois resident Mark Woodford, whose company website, Networked Robotics, is worth a look. Mark’s father recently bequeathed him a diary which had passed the last ten to fifteen years in Charles Woodford’s household as “1798 Diary of a High-Born Lady”. The high-born lady turns out to be none other than AUGUSTA SMITH (née Smith), Emma Austen-Leigh’s mother; and 1798, the year of her courtship and marriage to Charles Smith of Suttons. A true find, indeed. And I owe Mark more than one heartfelt “thank you” — firstly, for contacting me after he identified Augusta as the diarist; and, secondly, for loaning me the diary in order for a transcription to be taken.

Augusta arrived last Thursday, and we’ve spent hours together ever since.

How did the diary come to be among the Woodford possessions? With the death of Charles Woodford, it may be impossible to narrow down: a second-hand antiquarian bookshop? Christie’s or Sotheby’s? Or…?? Where it came from would be a mystery well-solved, yet it points up what I’ve long suspected: There are individual diaries out there (potentially of MANY family members), on random shelves, merely described by their dates of composition because their diarists never ascribed names to their scribblings. (Only in ONE diary — belonging to Charles Joshua Smith — have I encountered an owner’s inscription; although, of course, Mary Gosling penned her name on the “title page” of her earliest travel diary, dated 1814. That simple act of possession unravelled this entire historical puzzle.)

May this diary of Augusta’s be the first of many such “discoverings”!

Although I have now completed a preliminary transcription (proofing to come!), a year in someone’s life can be overwhelming to describe in a few paragraphs, never mind a few words. And a few words will right now have to suffice.

The year begins with young Augusta at home, at Erle Stoke Park, Wiltshire — home of Joshua and Sarah (née Gilbert) Smith. Her father was a Member of Parliament (for Devizes); her soon-to-be fiancé also sits in the House of Commons. Between the two men as sources for political bulletins, Augusta punctuates her diary with news of Buonaparte, French troop movements, taxation laws, and Nelson Naval Victories. One interesting item: she writes of visiting Mrs Davison — this would be Harriot Davison, née Gosling: sister to William Gosling (father to my diarist Mary Gosling) and wife of Nelson’s confidant, Alexander Davison of Swarland.

Mrs Davison is a shadowy figure; she had already died by the time Mary’s diaries begin (1829). Charles, whose diaries begin the year he and Mary married (1826), mentions her just once: when they hear of her death (28 October 1826).

From Augusta Smith’s entry on January 2nd — where she makes notation of a rumor: that the French were building a RAFT (700 feet long by 350 feet wide) “for an Invasion on England” (on the opposite page, written down who-knows-when, is the bold negation: “N.B. this report proved false.”) — to her comments surrounding news of Nelson’s Nile Victory towards the end of the year, we now get a spine-chilling glimpse at how unsettled life for the English living near the coast could be.

More later!

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