Mrs Hurst Dancing

Publisher / date: Victor Gollancz / 1981
Pages: foreword; introduction; 70 full-color plates; postscript {about 160 pgs}
genre: Art

After introducing Sophie du Pont, how can I not introduce readers to the delightful Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life, 1812-1823; watercolors by Diana Sperling; text by Gordon Mingay.

Reading about Diana Sperling’s family and life will leave you wanting to know more; her works of art will leave you wanting to fetch your pencils and watercolors. The text covers enough to explain and expand on the drawings. You learn about Diana’s family, her life at Dynes Hall (Essex), the trouble with donkeys, horses, and spiders!

I first learned of this book on a trip to Riversdale. The period of Rosalie Calvert’s letters overlap with these drawings.

Diana’s watercolors were one set among three discussed in my talk entitled “Georgiana Darcy and the ‘Naive Art’ of Young Ladies”. As one Amazon reviewer of this book mentions, “contemporary artists are a remarkable source of … information.”

Diana’s circle of family and friends led lives similar to the Smiths&Goslings, Dynes Hall being a neighboring estate to Suttons (though I’ve yet to find the families visited each other); lovers of Jane Austen’s novels will adore this visual glimpse of  day-to-day life in a period covered by her novels.

My “Leap Day” 2012 Present. Enjoy!


Sophie du Pont: A Young Lady in America

Publisher / date: Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers, 1987
pages: 192
genre: biography/letters/art


Years ago, a friend who teaches American History (colonial period up to the American Civil War) encouraged me to borrow this book from her. I must confess I seem destined to hardly read books that I borrow… I flipped through it; but did I read much of it? Perhaps I just wasn’t “in the mood” for it. It certainly made no impression on me. And yet, it stayed with me enough to lookup  the title again last year — and I found my local university library had a copy. I took it out, and fell in love.

It is atypical for the books you will find listed here at “Regency Reads,” in that there is more of an editorial hand involved here. Subtitled, Sketches, Diaries, & Letters 1823-1833, Betty-Bright Low and Jacqueline Hinsley paid particular attention to young Sophie’s drawings. And certainly the initial reaction is about all the “carics,” as Sophie called them. If you delight in the drawings of Mrs Hurst Dancing — these works by Diana Sperling will be brought to mind by Sophie du Pont.

The sketches represent Sophie’s life from the ages of 13 to 23. Drawings in the rear illustrate what a fine artist she was. But it was the letters and diary entries that grabbed attention — real slices of life from this period that I can’t really count as “Regency” but will since (in England) George IV (and then William IV) was on the throne during these years. I have long “wanted more”! Oh, for volumes of these wonderful writings – for not only Sophie is represented, but also additional family members. When I say that this du Pont family is connected to Winterthur, well, you will then figure that there is a LOT of material available, and ask: Well, why only this volume?? Since we’re talking the late-80s, indeed there should have been many, many follow-ups; but we’ll take what we can get!

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to “borrow” this book for long — an exquisitely-kept copy (complete with dust jacket, of course!) was found at my second favorite used-bookstore, Monroe Street Books, in Middlebury, Vermont. This book, and the first couple I “reviewed” on this blog — the Diaries of Sarah Hurst, 1759-1762 and the Journals of Ellen Tollet of Betley Hall, are three all-time faves for portraits of average women of the 18th and 19th century.

* * *

There are two “prequels” available to readers of Winterthur Portfolio (which can be found online through library database connections, ie, through JSToR, if not in the flesh). Here, Betty-Bright Low presents family letters with some editorial introductions and excisions. Nicely illustrated:

  • Low, Betty-Bright P. “Of Muslins and Merveilleuses: excerpts from the Letters of Josephine du Pont and Margaret Manigault,” Winterthur Portfolio 9 (1974): 29-75.
  • Low, Betty-Bright P. “The Youth of 1812: More Excerpts from the Letters of Josephine du Pont and Margaret Manigault,” Winterthur Portfolio 11 (1976): 173-212.

Mistress of Riversdale

Publisher / date: The John Hopkins University Press, 1991
pages: 423
Hardcover & paperback editions
genre: letters

Before readers think I recommend only British diaries and letters, this book proves that’s not the case! Edited by Margaret Law Callcott, Mistress of Riversdale: The Plantation Letters of Rosalie Stier Calvert, 1795-1821 has so much to offer. Our protagonist, Rosalie Stiers Calvert, grew up in Belgium, and emigrated during the Napoleonic Wars. You can visit one of the houses she lived in at Annapolis, although the house keep the Stier history rather silent: the William Paca House. (Info on the House and the Paca Gardens.)

The Stiers moved to Annapolis from Philadelphia; after marriage Rosalie remained in the States while her family returned to Europe. The letters are between those families members and make for fascinating reading! Whether Rosalie writes of politics, homelife, buying land or making investments, her letters will open you eyes about this period. Callcott gives a fine introduction to the family.

Granted there are British roots here: Rosalie married George Calvert, a natural son of Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore. And the letters cover the period of the War of 1812.

It was here I first learned of the wonderful book entitled Mrs Hurst Dancing… more on that book later!



Boswell’s London Journal, 1762-1763

Publisher / date: McGraw-Hill, 1950
pages: 370
Hardcover {but many later editions}
genre: diary

Casting my mind back, I’m really not sure how I first found this book. Library? I certainly had seen it time and again in used bookstores; but purchased the copy I have (it is really a first edition, as it claims?) in a no-longer-extant bookstore in Rutland, Vermont — Tuttle’s Antiquarian.

From the first, I was enthralled with James Boswell’s intimate (in all senses of that word) thoughts on his early trip to London. I’ve a couple of the later books (I buy when I find a VG+ copy, which means, complete with dust jacket) — Boswell in Search of a Wife, Boswell on the Grand Tour: Germany and Switzerland — yet none have the freshness of this first book. Read the introduction section of Peter Martin’s Life of Boswell to understand the task Frederick Pottle undertook! So many letters turning up where least expected; more and more diaries. Makes me salivate just thinking about all the “finds,” located at just a couple estates. The first “find”? Letters used as wrappers: they had been sold en masse as scrap paper!

I must confess that I wish the likes of the BBC and/or Masterpiece Theatre would film something based on this book. Can’t you see Boswell strolling around Georgian London???


The next in the series, Boswell in Holland, features Zélide — a young woman Boswell was enamored enough with to contemplate asking her to marry him. He thought long and hard about it… and did nothing. Isabelle de Charrière (Belle du Zuylen), as she is known, has a bit of her own fame; her stories are available in English (the most widely-known is Caliste, or Letters written from Lausanne and also Letters of Mistress Henley); a fine (and stout!) biography by C.P. Courtney is perhaps best found through libraries; and her correspondence with Constant d’Hermenches has been translated by Janet and Malcolm Whatley as There are no letters like yours.

boswellVisit the Yale Boswell Editions