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”:
http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/pdf/pdf001/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.