December 16th Birthdays

December 16, 2011 at 6:15 pm (jane austen, people) (, , , , , , , , )

Listening to the radio this morning, there were announcements for the birthday of Noel Coward (in 1899). The interesting comment attached to this was that at one point he had to “reinvent” himself. Ah, aren’t we all having to do, just to keep treading water, sometimes.

The radio station’s next comment on Coward’s birthday also included Beethoven’s birthday (1770). More a Mozart fan, I must admit to forgetting the birth dates of other composers. Discussion of him, and a piece played by composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, just transported me back to Vienna. Oh, gosh! to be able to travel! I’ve not seen Vienna in fifteen years… And my German was almost “decent” back then.

When I reached work, after having been out a couple days, I was greeted with “Happy Jane Austen’s birthday”. I hope Jane did have some happy birthdays. But no one can ever know the ups and downs she may have experienced over her lot in life. Yet her writings show that for those who need to express themselves in words, they will always find a way to do so. Austen was among the lucky: she saw her works printed. Even if she didn’t have a long life, even if she didn’t make a lot of money, she saw her works go out beyond her family.

Imagine Beethoven, who in the end couldn’t hear his own compositions. Coward was probably the luckiest of them all: he saw his works give him riches and fame. Though most artists might be happy just to have to the ability to perform the art they love doing — a livable wage and a responsive, encouraging audience.

A lot can be said about the thoughts behind the word ENCOURAGEMENT. Home, sick, the last few days, I’ve had a LOT of time to think. Wish there had been some one person, in a position to help, who took the time to encourage me. Those of you out there who feel the guiding hand of a mentor are perhaps the luckiest of everyone.

In my own research there is no December 16th birthday, but there is a December 16th wedding: Emma Smith and James Edward Austen. I know that in the early days of their engagement (a few months before their wedding), they were reading Emma together. What might have suggested that book? I have no definitive clues that the Smith girls read much Austen until after 1817 — although they had known James Edward quite some years, running into him at The Vyne, the estate of their Aunt and Uncle Chute. In the 1820s, one letter mentions a left-behind volume of Pride and Prejudice and some slim comments about characters the letter-writer found particularly worthy of comment (the usual suspects being singled out: Mr Collins and Mary Bennet!).

When Edward brought Emma around Winchester — and they visited the Cathedral — they must have stopped at Aunt Jane’s graveside; but, again, they have left no concrete clue.

But: Was December 16th just a convenient date, or was there some significance for bride or groom in marrying on that date?

It’s funny little questions like that which keep the attention slowly burning, for who doesn’t like a puzzle in need of solving?


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Six Degrees of Separation

December 17, 2010 at 1:33 pm (news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I was thinking last night: Emma Smith has a Beethoven connection! How so? you might ask… Through his pianoforte!

I uncovered this little tidbit when researching the Knyvett family — Charles Knyvett Sr., and his sons Charles and William — for an article in Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine.

Let’s start at the beginning: How I even came to know the name Knyvett.

Emma Smith’s diaries, especially in her teen years, are replete with concerts, operas, soirées, music masters and home-concertizing. She mentions all three Knyvett men as well as William Knyvett’s second wife, the singer Deborah Travis.

♦ see pictures of the Knyvetts at the New York Public Library ♦

For the article, I pulled out Emma-quotes specific to each family member, and gave each a little biographical study. “Space” considerations meant that, in the end, a lot of information ended up on the “cutting room floor”. Including a lengthy section about Beethoven and his piano. The conundrum that still exists concerns the fact that there were two Charles Knyvetts. Even a well-respected publication like Grove’s Dictionary interchanged the two men, father for son’s accomplishments and son for father’s accomplishments. Without a LOT of digging, it may be that we can never get certain attributions correct.

It does seem that the convention of the time (if we speak of when all three men were active, musically, then the 1790s-1810s) was to refer to the men as KNYVETT (Charles Sr.), C. KNYVETT (Charles Jr.), and W. KNYVETT (William).

In 1817, the famed London pianoforte manufacturer, THOMAS BROADWOOD, “sent” Beethoven a gift:

♦ read about Beethoven’s piano at Bonn’s Beethoven-Haus

The story says that Broadwood invited five known musicians/composers to be part of the gift; they signed a presentation label within the piano. The gentlemen are given as: Friedrich Kalbrenner, Ferdinand Ries, Johann Baptist Cramer, Jacques-Godefroi Ferrari and Charles Knyvett. But which Charles Knyvett? is my question.

The Broadwood returned to England in 1992, for restoration. Yet, it didn’t come from Bonn — but from BUDAPEST, having once belonged to Franz Liszt!

♦ Watch on YouTube the Pianoforte’s Restoration ♦

Part 1 (of 5) offers information on Broadwood’s idea of the gift, Beethoven’s receipt of the piano in Vienna, and why it ended up in the Hungarian National Museum. The actual discussion of the instrument is FASCINATING! Really puts in perspective the types of pianos Mozart and Beethoven used (late 18th century; Viennese), as well as why this Broadwood is such a special instrument.

Tonight, I’ll give my “guess” as to which Charles Knyvett was the “helper” in this gift exchange. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dobro Prozhalovat!

May 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm (a day in the life, people, places) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Were those the words that Emma read when she first received a letter from brother Charles postmarked: ST PETERSBURG??

The year is 1820. Emma designates this letter No. 19 and notes its receipt on 21 November.

Charles’ last (No. 18), received on the 1st, had been headed “Stockholm” — what could have induced him to spend the winter months in such cold countries?!?

Unless the letters are found, we may never know…

It is interesting, after Drummond’s death (1832) the sisters collected together his letters. I have a copy of just one such collection. Instead of actual letters, however, someone collected all his correspondence to his sisters and rewrote everything. I suspect the pen to have been wielded by Fanny (see the post below), yet without more handwriting samples I cannot be sure. It is possible that several of these “letterbooks” existed.

Why do I wonder about that? There are several letters missing — inevitably those written by Drummond to Fanny (his “little Mother”) [for an article devoted to Fanny Smith Seymour, see the author, on the menu at right]. — as well, his travel diary from 1830 remains unfinished. YET: in both cases the requisite number of blank pages remain. That could mean several things: Fanny wasn’t coming across quickly with her letters and the room needed was guessed at; the writer got tired of the trip entries (oh! such a loss!!) and moved on — or, there was a “master copy” from which this letterbook was being written and the writer felt at ease to skip around, skipping the required number of pages.

My point is: These people kept letters — we know that;. And after the death of a relative these letters (and diaries) became precious relics to be read and reread.

I was thinking about all this today because of one of my favorite phrases in all the letters I’ve transcribed. The year is 1822. It is September, and Emma is writing to Aunt (Mrs Judith Smith, of Stratford; only sister to Charles Smith, Sr.). Mamma has taken her eldest five children abroad. They had departed from England in June. Emma’s letter originates in Geneva and she amusingly lays out what must come to Aunt herself as a bit of a surprise: they now plan to cross into Italy:

“…you can hardly imagine my dear Aunty that we could be so near to Rome without visiting it, which Charles wishes, to the full as much as we do & Mamma for our sakes has kindly consented to so do, & in order to accomplish it we must spend the winter months there”

I just LOVE the idea that they MUST spend the winter months there; no short visit of a few days! Plus there is just something endearing about the phrase that Mamma “has kindly consented”.

Emma continues:

“now do not my dear Aunt fancy that we are determined gadabouts… I really think you would be almost tempted to go there; you know Mamma is not a very uncertain person & she wishes me to tell you she intends being at home during next June… Mamma wishes you not to tell this to the poor children unless you think that by very gentle degrees & hints, it would be adviseable to let them know we might spend the winter abroad…”

Note the use of the “might” here, as contrasted to the word “must” only a few sentences before!

There are a couple letters extant, from young Charlotte — one of the “children” left at home: Spencer, Charlotte, Drummond, and Maria — in which she tears your heart out as she writes of missing her mother, missing her eldest brother, her four eldest sisters. When the party returns the following June, Emma hardly recognizes young Spencer — he had grown so tall!

So, while it is thrilling to think of those gababouts, and the places they visited, thought must also be spared to those left behind…

But, to turn back to Charles. Imagine going abroad — and very lengthy trips! — twice in as many years. The amazing thing is how far north and east he got during this first trip, 1820-21. I’ve made a list of letters, and either Emma got tired of noting them — or I did! I see notations about the receipt of 43 letters, the last (in August 1821) from Paris. Obviously, therefore, there should have followed a few more, even if he travelled quickly towards the Channel.

Emma begins well: letters reach her from Brussels and The Hague. Then, without spending any evident time in that bastion of European travel (France), Charles is next in Frankfurt. He works his way — quickly — through Saxe-Gotha, Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin and Hamburg. At some point, while in Hamburg, he dispatches gifts — for Emma notes their receipt on 26 November.

Charles then moves through Copenhagen and is next in Gothenburg and Stockholm — his first letter received on 25 September, but his last on 1 November. By that time he is reaching St. Petersburgh, as Emma calls it. She is still receiving post from there in mid-January 1821! By February he has travelled on to Warsaw. At the end of  February, Emma and the family receive more gifts: these posted from Vienna. Oh! how I envy Charles visiting pre-Ringstrasse Vienna! He is still there (letter received) at the end of May; but he has moved into Italy — lovely Venice — come June. By August Emma is receiving mail from Paris.

Charles had left the family on 3 June, 1820 and returned to them on 15 August 1821 — when he hands out more gifts. Imagine the things he might have bought… and then imagine me wondering where those items might be today.

To finish my thought about the next trip: the family left 24 June 1822 – Emma keeps up her diary only until the 28th: the family are just arrived at Ghent. And then the rest of her diary for the year is BLANK! 1823’s diary begins upon their return: 21 July 1823.

So lucky Charles sees the north for more than a year, then travels south – for this time they work through Switzerland and into Italy — staying the winter with the Comptons (Spencer and his wife Margaret), as we’ve seen from Emma’s letter to Aunt.

“You know  Mamma is not a very uncertain person…” –No, indeed! No wonder her children loved her so.

What made me post on such a subject? Firstly, the generous offer of Mark in Illinois, who is the owner of young Augusta’s diary for the year 1798, the year she married Charles, Sr. This one sentence is more telling of the kind of person Mamma became than any I have ever run across.

The second is the hope that if a single diary can turn up why not a group of letters?? The Smiths, collectively — for it’s possible that Emma noted only those letters addressed specifically to her — would surely have held on to such a precious bundle as Charles’ letters from Abroad. Emma herself intimates that her diary, so tiresome to keep while away from home, was superseded by letters, sent to her siblings, to her aunts — especially “Aunt”. So this may be seen as a plea: Anyone owning even ONE letter with a bunch of fancy postmarks, addressed to No. 6 Portland Place or Suttons in Essex, drop me a line!

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