Mary Somerville’s “Personal Recollections”

I *LOVE* to find new books that are based on letters, diaries, or personal recollections. Sometimes, as in this case, they are edited and published by a loved-one.

PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS from Early Life to Old Age, of MARY SOMERVILLE, with selections from her personal correspondence, was published in 1873 by John Murray (there also exists an 1874 Boston edition by Roberts Brothers). The editor, who does a nice job of introducing the material, bridging gaps, and adding valuable information, was Martha Somerville, Mary’s daughter.

Martha speaks favorably of a bust of her mother – which is reproduced as the frontispiece in the Murray edition. The bust was “modelled in Rome in 1844 by Mr. Lawrence McDonald.” The illustration below is from the Boston edition; it may represent the “crayon drawing by Mr. James Swinton, done in London in 1848.”

mary somerville

Although I suspected her to be the Mrs. Somerville (1780-1872) whom Emma Smith (one of my Two Teens in the Time of Austen) mentions in the 1820s, it was by searching the book for the Chelsea Hospital that I got confirmation of my hunch being correct!

Mrs. Somerville was the wife of physician William Somerville, whom the Smiths knew quite well.

william somerville

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry for him lists him as “the husband of eminent mathematician and scientist Mary Somerville.”

While the article notes his appointment to the Chelsea Hospital (home of the “Chelsea Pensioners”), it is in his wife’s “recollections” we learn of the dire situation the family was left in, after they “lost their fortune,” due to someone they had considered a friend. The Smiths claim Somerville had a salary of £2000 (an enormous sum). Mary Somerville recalls the position at Chelsea as a chance for the family to survive.

Emma Smith and her sister Augusta did note the “ill health” of Mrs. Somerville in these first years at Chelsea. No wonder: the Somervilles also lost a daughter, after a long illness, as well as their home in Hanover Square, London.

The surprising part for me, was to learn that Mary Fairfax (her maiden name) hungered after knowledge and self-schooled on an unparalleled level. Mathematics was her meal of choice. An interest in astronomy started her on the path she followed the rest of her life.

mary somerville portrait

This is an important book – about an important (and, yes, pioneering) woman. Somerville College, Oxford took its name from Mary Somerville. She is mentioned in Smith and Gosling writings, but because of this book, I have an interest in finding out more about Mary Somerville. Highly recommended for the slice of life, as well as for its biographical information.

Mabel Hall-Dare: Chronicles of Mrs. Theodore Bent

Dedicated editors/biographers and small presses sometimes turn up the most exciting books. This post concerns the three books of travel edited and compiled by Gerald Brisch from the travel diaries of Mabel Bent, née Mabel Hall-Dare.

Brisch’s website expertly lays out not only the journeys of Theodore Bent and his wife Mabel, but also brings the reader closer to the family circle of the Bents. I first found the website through the Photo Album, for Alice Tupper is among Mabel’s relatives, and she’s also among the Smith and Gosling relatives (by the 1860s). Had Mary Gosling lived beyond the early 1840s, she would have had Alice’s brother Gaspard Le Marchant Tupper as her son-in-law. So it was a thrill to find Mabel’s Aunt Alice, and to find more of Mabel herself, for it is obviously that the two were known to the Spencer-Smith family.

Mabel Bent

But back to Mabel Bent, as she became after her marriage in 1877.

I must begin my Chronicle somewhere if I am to write one at all and as in this matter I am selfish enough to consider myself of the first consideration because I write to remind myself in my old age of pleasant things (or the contrary) I will begin now.

The place was “Room 2 of the Hôtel de Byzance, Constantinople, in February 1886.”

The three volumes in the series The Travel Chronicles of Mrs. J. Theodore Bent (1883-1898) are:

As you can see just from the titles, the Bents were not the “average Victorian traveler.” They ventured far from their Ireland and England homes. Theodore’s writings exist, published in his lifetime, but it’s Mabel’s eye-witness accounts of life on the road that interests me. Who could resist this opening, written in Cairo in 1885 (from vol. II):

“I did not think the journey here would have given me anything to write about, but it was so bad that I will begin by saying that it was snowing when we embarked at Dover, and so dark and thick that we had to stop for sounding near Calais as the pier head could not be seen. … We were 4 English in the corners [of the compartment] and in the middle a French lady for Monte Carlo who scolded us well in good English and French for not giving up a corner…. [W]ith relief we parted from her in Paris.”

These delightful journals are in the archives of the Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies, University of London. Brisch has admirably fleshed out the journals, with introductions, photos and maps, and generous footnotes. These are big volumes, each well over 350 pages. Other texts, concerning the couple’s travels and published writings, are best outlined on Brisch’s website.

In volume III, on Arabia and Persia, is reproduced a rather surprising snippet from none other than a newspaper in Salt Lake City (in 1901), writing about Mabel herself as

“one of the most prominent members of that little band of eminent ladies who, fearing nothing, spend the greater portion of their time exploring uncivilized lands in the pursuit of knowledge. For years now Mrs. Bent has been engaged in travel. In the company of her distinguished husband she risked her life a hundred times, and since his death she has been no less active…”

A unique life brought again to life because of surviving journals. Reading about the diaries – how clear the writing is, for instance – and seeing samples (even of doodles) is part of the delight in these books. The Bents were early members of the Hellenic Society (founded in 1879). The Society has a treasure in these journals. Mabel was an avid photographer (the Photo Album includes a picture of Mabel behind the camera!), so it is interesting to hear Mabel discuss this rather new art (in Greece, in 1885): “All the women here are terrified at the idea of being photographed and my camera is rather a ‘white elephant’.” The inhabitants should have been equally wary of her pen. Thankfully, they did not realize the extent of her journalizing.

See also:

Prolific Diarists, Writers & Artists: Tuckett family

The Victorian members of the Tuckett family (also: Fox Tuckett), first found through the Frenchay Village Museum website, are surprising prolific producers of words and illustrations. Happy will be the next solitary day that can be spent among them.

The above link brings one the DIARY of Mariana Fox Tuckett, kept during the period of December 1857 to March 1859 [tis is a Word document]. The same webpage offers up links to so many other mouth-watering diaries. Several, from the 1840s by Frederick Tuckett, relate to New Zealand. Earlier journals relate his adventures in America (1829-1830) and Europe (1833-1834). You will also find some LETTERS as well as a photo.

Francis Tuckett is represented by a travel diary, through Germany and Belgium, in 1824 [this is a Word document]. Francis, a mountaineer, also can be found in a book snippet, entitled “Looking Back”.

Caroline_Francis_Mariana_Elizabeth Tuckett

Caroline, Francis, Mariana and Elizabeth Tuckett

It was the DELIGHTFUL DRAWINGS of Elizabeth Tuckett, in “Looking Back,” which made me search for her – and find that she produced a series of BOOKS (articles too) illustrated by herself. So far I have found:

Here’s a sampling of the illustrations from Beaten Tracks:

Beaten Track-Toulon_TuckettBeaten Track_Tuckett

 

Eleanora Hallen’s diary

Eleanore Hallen large

This HAS to be “the” most delightful drawing of a family by a child of that family that I’ve yet come across! “A family of the Hallens March 1836“. There is so much going on in this one page: Portraits, scenes from life, even some “erased” souls.

The Hallens are Canada based – and present for the period of settlement in Upper Canada, when homes were wrested from the forest.

  • An excellent biography, based during the Upper Canada settlement period, is one of my FAVORITE purchases made in Montreal years ago: Sisters in the Wilderness, by Charlotte Gray. About writers Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill. Their sister who stayed in England is the biographer Agnes Strickland.

The Hallens moved to Canada (from England) in 1835. They were a family of eleven children. Upper Canada (today’s province of Ontario) was a wilderness. The Hallens – as documented by daughter Eleanora – travelled from Worcestershire, to take a ship from Liverpool to New York. The sail across the Atlantic took seven weeks. Ultimately, their new home was a log cabin north of Toronto.

* * *

LINKS

An archived site featuring the above Hallens diary:
https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/education/008-3140-e.html

A 1994 “young adult” book based on Eleanora:
https://www.umanitoba.ca/cm/cmarchive/vol22no5/eleanora.html

Other “immigrants” to Canada: https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/immigrants/021017-110.05-e.php

There are OTHER Hallen diaries!! George Hallen and Mary Hallen, for instance. See the Hallen “fonds”:

Click to access p000000931.pdf

Eldon House Diaries

New in my mailbox is a not-so-new book (published in 1994), The Eldon House Diaries: Five Women’s Views of the Nineteenth Century.

The collection (it’s a BIG book!) introduces readers to the Harris family – the first of whom settled in London, Ontario in the 1830s. It’s actually still available (digital version) through the Champlain Society, though I (of course…) found mine in the used book market.

“The Eldon House Diaries documents the life of a large upper middle-class family living in London, Ontario, during the nineteenth century. Amelia Ryerse Harris, John Harris, and their then eight children moved into Eldon House on September 10, 1834, and members of the family occupied it thereafter for the next 125 years. This house, and their families, dominate the pages of the Eldon House diaries selected for the years between 1848 and 1882.”

The surprise is that Eldon House STILL EXISTS! It is now a museum, “featuring a 19th century period mansion and gardens,” open to visitors.

The House website features a useful listing of the rooms that are available for viewing, covering the ground floor and second floor: from the Kitchen and Larder, to the Servants’ Quarters; from various bedrooms to the Library and Morning Room.

Another link gives a nice history of John Harris, who was born in Devon, England. A victim of the “press gangs”, Harris served in the Royal Navy. War brought him to the Canadian side of the North American Great Lakes, where he met the woman he would marry: Amelia Ryerse, who is the foremost (and lengthiest) diarist The Eldon House Diaries book chronicles.

 

Wynne’s Diary (online)

An online presentation of a young woman’s diary – covering late Victorian, Edwardian, pre-World War II years. Culled from 30 volumes of diaries.

Wynne_s Diary

The young lady in question is Wynne… You meet her under the tabs you see along the side: Family; Festivity; Travel; Love; Fashion; Editor’s Picks.

Entries are accessed through the “menu” at the top – choose a year, pick a month; then “more info” at the bottom of each individual “window”.

Generously illustrated.

When Winifred Llewhellin began her diaries, in 1895, she was 16-years-old; she married in 1902.

The site is put together by Wynne’s youngest grandchild, Peter Symes, and includes some audio memories by her daughter Ysobel.

Click on the photo to access the site.

Two new Illustrated Diaries

I have not seen these books, but I am VERY intrigued!

Baker_on the Broads

A Week on the Broads was “advertised” in the recent Christmas email from the bookshop at The National Archives in Britain. Only 96 pages, it didn’t really catch my attention at first. But I have been to Norfolk, and I my attention was piqued just enough by the sub-title, “Four Victorian gents at sail on a Norfolk gaffer in 1889,” to search it out. I’m glad I did!

S.K. Baker’s volume about the Norfolk Broads actually has a companion volume, entitled Camping on the Wye. Both came out this year, in June and August 2017.

Michael Goffe, a descendant of one of the “gents” who accompanied Baker, owns the sketchbooks — “Facsimile” in this case means S.K. Baker’s words and watercolor pictures!

Amazon.uk lets us “look inside” the two books:

  • Camping on the Wye: Four Victorian gents row the Wye in a randan skiff in 1892. (also: a Sample, from Bloomsbury, includes the “into”]
  • A Week on the Broads: Four Victorian gents at sail on a Norfolk gaffer in 1889.

And it’s the look inside that will convince you that there’s a LOT packed inside. Here’s a page from each volume:

Broads

A Week on the Broads

Wye

Camping on the Wye

 

S.K. Baker and his “Victorian Gents” made the Times Literary Supplement in October (2017). Of course, the writer (Jacqueline Banerjee) alludes to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat – and calls her article, “Four Men in a Boat”.

 

More images from the book, A Week on the Broads, and some background information can be found in The Great Yarmouth Mercury‘s article — including a photo of Michael Goff. It was this article, by Andrew Stone, that REALLY fired my imagination!

And there’s the thing: illustrating why the books are “facsimile” editions (as Stone’s article does) goes a LONG way towards helping readers appreciate just what their owner is now sharing with us. This small remainder — just two sketchbook diaries — of one man’s life (and four men’s adventures) is a very special gift indeed.

Private Journal of Adelaide Darby

Adelaide Darby2

Publisher / date: Sessions Book Trust/Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, 2004
pages: 502
Paperback
genre: diary

I purchased this a few months ago, but only recently started reading from the beginning (rather than “dipping” into the text here and there). Adelaide Darby is 16 years old when the diary opens. She is a DELIGHT to get to know!

The Private Journal of Adelaide Darby of Coalbrookdale opens in 1833. The impetus for beginning to keep a journal was reading The Young Christians – which encouraged all readers to keep a journal. Ample notes identify who people and places are – the Darbys are a multi-generational group associated with the Ironbridge (built by Adelaide’s grandfather).

Adelaide’s journal is actually the third in a series of diaries – all transcribed by the late Lady Rachel Labouchere. (The other two concern Deborah Darby, 1754-1810 and Abiah Darby, 1716-1793. Both are still offered ‘new’ by Sessions Books.)

The layout of each year begins with a ‘Comment’ section by the editor, Emyr Thomas. This underscores (though sometimes ‘repeats’) what the diarist has to tell us. Adelaide’s opinions of neighbors and relations bring fun into the proceedings. There are times that she is QUITE opinionated! As when she calls one young man, “the detestable.” Adelaide is also seeing the ‘death’ of the coaching era as trains will take over more and more – and her family take part in all that business. There’s no index, so any nuggets that come when she mentions her readings will be discovered as they happen – but of Maria Edgeworth’s Helen she was writing (in 1834), “Helen is such a beautiful natural and good character…. All the people are to the life.” So despite her protests that she should not be reading novels, Adelaide does manage to pick them up from time to time.

The Darbys were Quakers (“Friends” is the term used in the book); and it’s not a surprise, therefore, that Adelaide should meet the Gaskells – “Mrs. Gaskell is the most delightfully simple, girlish creature imaginable.”

The family were involved with the local politicians, so there is a bit of the current political climate cropping up.

The book’s cover describes the diary’s contents as, “In her early years she [Adelaide Darby] records her feelings about a succession of unsuccessful suitors. Approaching her thirties she realised how much she like church music and singing (and fine clothes) contrary to the simple Quaker practices of her upbringing, and was baptised into the Church of England. In 1852 [the diary goes up to 1861], at age 35, she married Henry Whitmore, MP for Bridgnorth, Shropshire, who served in Lord Derby’s second and third Tory administrations…. Adelaide, from her London homes, recorded an increasingly glittering political round in increasingly staccato Journal references.”

Captain Gronow Reminisces

One book often cited, Reminiscences of Captain Gronow actually is one of FOUR books by Rees Howell Gronow, published in the 1860s. Although written as memoirs later in life, the amount of informative gossip keeps Gronow at the top of the “bibliography” lists in many Regency histories and biographies.

Capt Gronow

The first book – the most famous of them – is also available *free* as an audio book at Librivox.

Grego’s two volume illustrated edition should prove popular too: volume 1, volume 2

Gronow lived from 1794 to 1865. He attended Eton, served in the Napoleonic Wars, spent time in Debtors’ Prison, was a Member of Parliament who was ousted in a “void” election.

Diary of Lady Lucy Cavendish

LOVE that an old book has found new life (and new fans?) as a blog. In this case The Diary of Lady Frederick Cavendish (to give the title of this 1927 issue). Women today might take issue with being known by their husband’s name (for instance, few would use the correct form of Mrs Robert Adams, preferring Mrs Thelma Adams instead – though the latter was distinctly in use for a widow at the time). Thus the title of my post. Giving Lady Lucy her due.

lady-frederick-cavendish

Earliest entries are from 1854; final entries come from 1882. The blog started because of a set of the book’s 2 volumes being found at a used bookstore for $3 in the late 1970s. You can read about the gestation of the blog under the tab “BACKGROUND“.

The extensive Introductions, to each volume as well as each volume of diary is also included.

By way of introduction to you, dear Reader, here is a hint about her lineage:

“Born in one of the finest families of the English aristocracy, she had many connections to several of the grandest families in Great Britain. Her grandmother, Lady Sarah Spencer Lyttelton (“Granny” in the diary), held such a close association with the Royal Family that she was spoken of as the “Governess of England.” Her uncle, William Gladstone, was several times Prime Minister and many of her relatives were members of Parliament”