Political & Social Letters

Mrs Osborn

Mrs. Osborn, daughter of Viscount Torrington, had her letter collected and edited (by Emily Osborn) in 1891 under the title Political and Social Letters of a Lady of the Eighteenth Century, 1721-1771.

THREE Austen Leigh (Emma Smith) connections grabbed my attention: the Osborns were associated with CHICKSANDS, which Emma visited as a teenager; and Mrs. Osborn mentions the 1767 death of Lady Northampton (née Jane Lawton, mother of the 1st Marquess of Northampton, Emma’s uncle); and there is a Byng (the familial name of the Torringtons) and Bramston marriage in 1730. (The Bramstons of Essex being Smith of Suttons neighbors.) She is, of course, related to the 5th Viscount, who left us his delightful “tour diaries” [published in four volumes, 1934-38] (he was younger son of Mrs. Osborn’s brother).


FREE Book Giveaway: Possession


If you are a lover of history or a lover of mystery you’ll LOVE this double tale of  two “modern day” (1980s) academics investigating the lives of two Victorian poets. The novel hooked me from the opening sentence: “The book was thick and black and covered with dust,” as Roland Michell, in the London Library, touches a book that once belonged to his subject, Randolph Henry Ash. These researches will bring him into the life of Maud Bailey, a woman writing on the life and work of Christabel LaMotte. This foursome is at the heart of A.S. Byatt‘s tour-de-force, which drew upon her own years in academia.

This is a used paperback copy – has a few underlined sections and a chipped & dog-eared cover, but if you’ve heard about Possession: A Romance and never read it: Enter!

ASK questions – and enter below by adding a “comment”. The giveaway will be open through Wednesday 30 September 2015 (midnight, U.S. eastern time).

Published October 1991
555 pages

Withdrawn due to lack of interest

The Carlyles at Home

Revisiting certain book sites over the past few days, I found that Persephone Books has produced a reprint edition of an old friend: The Carlyles at Home.


It’s JANE WELSH CARLYLE (more than Thomas) who interests me immensely. There was a time when I bought several books on the women of their circle. So – of course! – sooner or later I found this highly-recommended “history” of the couple by Thea Holme.


Publisher / date: Oxford UP, 1965
pages: 204
genre: biography

Looking (briefly) I don’t really see many copies of the original printing (1965), so, in order to have a copy of the original Dust Jacket, I had to photograph my own copy. An owner of the current printing will be able to tell you if the illustrations by Lamb have been retained {it’s Book No. 32, in their catalogue}.

It’s been quite a number of years since I read this; but I remember enjoying it. Two nights ago, seeing that it was out in a reprinting, I pulled it off the shelf – read through the initial pages. And trotted back to the shelves to pull off the other book I have on Jane Carlyle: Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle (mine, bought at Monroe Street Books, in Middlebury, VT, is a 2-in-1 volume).

I must say a little of Holme’s star-shine got rubbed off when I spotted the exact same opening incident portrayed in both: the Carlyles’ move into their new Chelsea home on Cheyne Row! Including the amusing little story of Jane’s caged-bird.

Oh, well…

In truth, Holme’s narrative is so fetching, and the drawings by Lynton Lamb so endearing, that you can’t bash the book. (And we all work from our source material, if you’re lucky enough to base biography on a stash of letters.) So it’s nice to see that this volume has “new” life. I include some online reviews more recent, and therefore more informative, than anything I could say at present:

carlyles house


Persephone describes the book as “Each of the eleven chapters describes different aspects of the house, whether it is yet another builders’ drama or a maid giving birth in the china closet while ‘Mr Carlyle was taking tea in the dining-room…’.” Highly recommended.

FREE Book Giveaway: Jane Austen’s Journeys

JA journeys

Hazel Jones – author of Jane Austen and Marriage – has completed a breezy narrative on travel in the life and works of Jane Austen.

I’m offering a FREE copy of this book, Jane Austen’s Journeys.

  • read about Jane Austen’s Journeys @ the publisher Robert Hale’s official website
  • read about Jane Austen’s Journeys @ GoodReads
  • ASK any questions – and enter below by adding a “comment”. The giveaway will be open through the end of August (31 August 2015, U.S. eastern time). Please: U.S. mailing addresses only

published February 2015
272 pages
8 color plates
list price: $28.95

1 Sept 2015
Out of the pink pillowcase, the recipient of the book is:

Aubrey Leaman

World War I: A Nursing Sister’s Diary

Many archives are getting into blogging (many on WordPress!). It’s a GREAT way to gain awareness about items in their collections, AND a fabulous find some someone like me: one always on the hunt for MORE information.

Yesterday I found several informative posts at the blog attached to the Essex Record Office; this one concerning a World War I era diary – as some of you may know, such things are of GREAT interest to me (even if technically past the “Victorian” era).

This one concerns a nursing sister, Kate Luard (born 1872). She tangentially touches on my Smith & Gosling (Two Teens in the Time of Austen) research in that the Luards are later generations affiliated with the Bramstons of Skreens — and the Bramstons were neighbors to the Smith estate of Suttons (there was also a branch of the Bramston family in Hampshire – at Oakley Hall – neighbors to Eliza Chute at The Vyne and Jane Austen and family at Steventon & Chawton.

Two books are associated with Kate Luard, one is the Diary of a Nursing Sister, 1914-1915 (originally published anonymously in 1915)

diary luard

  • an interesting diversion from reading is having the book READ to YOU: Ruth Golding and a half-dozen others contribute to a LibriVox recording.

The Essex Record Office (ERO) has a few snippets culled from the book, focusing on the Spring of 1915 and an earlier post focusing on Kate Luard herself.

Kate is more fully discussed “on her own website“, with an announcement of a new edition (2014) of the book Unknown Warriors (originally published 1930), which covers Kate Luard’s letters from 1914 through 1918.

unknown warriors

The Poisoner (a review)

bates_poisonerWriter Charles Dickens thought William Palmer “the greatest villain”; Queen Victoria followed the case (evidenced by her journals). Unlike “Jack the Ripper” or Dr. Crippen, Palmer’s name has faded. Author Stephen Bates rectified that with this true-crime biography.

Was Palmer (“the Rugeley Poisoner”) unjustly accused of the poisoning-murder of his friend, John Cook? Was he guilty of as many poisonings as he was suspected of? (A dozen or so.)

Seen in an advance reading copy, one early image spoke a thousand words, as the face of a presumed-killer stares out from page in the one photograph purporting to be Palmer. Bates takes a moment, at the end of the book to say a few words about this photograph and its provenance.

Bates begins (as many biographers do) at the end: the day of Palmer’s execution. In fleshing out Cook’s death and Palmer’s trial, the journalistic background of author Stephen Bates is evident. The researched material of the case, from genuine newspaper articles and reports of autopsy mishandlings, is allowed to stand center-stage. And therein lies the book’s slight lack of emotional drama – for, unlike the sensationalism of the 19th century journalist, Bates is dispassionate and all-informing (good traits for a 21st century journalist) rather than gripping and the smallest bit one-sided (better for a biographer or historian).

Having never heard of Palmer nor his crimes, the suspense of the story felt somewhat diluted by tackling the Palmer Poisonings as a newspaper post-mortem. Yet, ultimately, the book does pose the eternal question: Was the executed man actually GUILTY of the one crime he was charged with?

An absorbing section came during discussion of the deaths of Palmer’s immediate family, when contemplation that Palmer may have gotten rid of his wife and children made this reader care about the dilemma, danger, and death of Mrs Palmer. The textbook details surrounding Cook’s death detached, rather than enhanced, any emotive viewpoint. The murder Palmer stood accused of – in a case so-circumstantial that except for a series of happenings the body might never have been placed at Palmer’s doorstep – failed to draw the same depth of effect as the mysterious death of Mrs. Palmer. Heavy reliance on verbatim newspaper reports, rather than the writer’s deductions (for instance, in his informative consideration of the so-called Jane Letters), distanced and disengaged this reader just enough that a wish for a different take on the whole was inevitable. Knowing the outcome from the onset (a cursory look on the internet would have supplied the same information; the denouement never was is question), made it imperative for Bates to persuade through skillful narrative writing rather than aloof journalism.

If a “side” had been chosen – either from the point of view of the victim(s); the killer; the court or insurance company; even the author’s own “investigation” – the result could have been a riveting story, thrillingly told. It’s hard to fault a journalist for his background, with its inherent precept of “unbiased” news reporting. The assessment that needed to take place occurs late in the book; it is a valuable summation to this long-ago case.

Recommended to readers wishing to get a flavor of the seedier side of Victorian life. You won’t reach into the mind of a killer, nor balance on the edge of life and death with the victims, but Stephan Bates has provided a readable account of a once-notorious case, in all its grim, bungled, biased, and sensationalized reality.

3 inkwells (out of 5)

Martha Jefferson: An Intimate Life with Thomas Jefferson

Martha JeffersonA book I am MOST INTERESTED in hearing more about – Martha Jefferson: An Intimate Life with Thomas Jefferson, by William G. Hyland, Jr.

I’ve quite neglected this blog – but will rectify that shortly. In the meantime I invite you to think about such books as Martha Jefferson – Hyland has written two other books on Jefferson, but as I’ve not yet read any of them, I cannot comment.

Will be back shortly!