Monday, 4 March 2013

Austen and the Smedleys

Another post on the Smedleys and their possible links to that portrait.

As I have prevously stated, my research begins from a position of pretty much complete ignorance so if I make any howlers please a) forgive me and b) put me straight. I make no claims to be an expert on Austen, the Smedleys, or indeed on anything at all really. But I do like a good bit of detective work, especially when I should be doing something else (like finishing my own book...). So here we go.

Edward Smedley

Following Dr Byrne's research into her portrait I have been nosing about in the lives of the Smedleys, whom Dr Byrne believes own the house where the portrait may have been drawn. In my previous post I took a look at Edward Smedley (1788 - 1836) and Jane Austen and the possible links between them via their publisher John Murray and wondered whether it was Edward's hand that inscribed the reverse of the portrait.

In this post I am taking a look at Edward's brother Henry Smedley. I also want to take another look at the social circle of the Smedleys and any possible links with the Austens.

Henry Smedley

Dr Byrne has suggested that the view of Westminster Abbey and St Margaret's Church appears to be a real view rather than an imaginary one. Consulting experts on Westminster at the time she has suggested that the view is from number 3 The Sanctuary, occupied at the time by Rev. Edward Smedley Snr. (1750-1825), and, it seems, also by Henry Smedley.

Henry Smedley (1785-1832) was the Rev. Edward Smedley's Snr's eldest son. Henry was called to the bar in 1812 and for some years practised on the Western Circuit but according to his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1832, he found the ‘laborious profession of the law unsuited to his inclinations’ and stopped practicing law. Henry's real interests were in art and antiquities and he became a prolific collector over his lifetime. According to his obituary, cited above, he had 'a remarkably cultivated taste in the Fine Arts' and 'was seldom without a pencil in his hand, and amused himself with annotating the margin of almost every book and every print he had in his library.’

Henry was friendly with other antiquarians, in particular with John Thomas 'Antiquity' Smith. Smith was a painter, engraver and antiquarian and keeper of prints for the British Museum. He also worked as a drawing master and taught John Constable in his early years as an artist.

Here is a quote from Smith's Memoir, A Book for a Rainy Day:
On the 25th of July, 1829, being on my way to the great Sanctuary, my pleasure was inconceivable upon observing that the intended repairs of Whitehall Chapel had commenced. The scaffolding was erected before its street-front, and the masons had begun their restorations at the south corner, strictly according with the fast decaying original. "Well," said I to my respected friend Mr Henry Smedley, whose house I had entered just as the chimes of the venerable Abbey and St. Margaret's had agreed to complete their quarters for nine, "I am delighted to find that Inigo's beautiful front of Whitehall is in so fair a way of recovery". Bonington's drawings, held at a respectful distance from the butter-dish, were the next topic of conversation.

Smith describes how he and Henry Smedley then go to Clapham Common to visit Mr William Esdaile, a collector of art and antiquities. Henry is interested in Mr Esdaile's collection of Hogarth prints, he is acting on behalf of Henry Standly and is wondering whether Mr Esdaile has any prints of interest to Standly.

Henry Smedley by
Frederick Christian Lewis the elder
Held by National Trust

We also know that Henry Smedley was, like his brother Edward, an associate of Austen's publisher John Murray. In the Lewis Pocock papers at Harvard University there is a letter from John Murray to Henry Smedley (attributed with a question mark to 1836 but more likely to be 1830 or 1831) thanking Smedley for assistance with the Samuel Johnson biography published by John Wilson Croker. Croker, frequent contributor to Murray's Quarterly Review and co-founder of the Athenaeum Club with Murray, refers in this 1831 edition of Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson to the 'valuable and interesting collection of Henry Smedley, Esq., in which will be found almost every print of him which has been published'. Both John Murray and Henry Smedley were original members of the Garrick Club when it formed in 1831. It seems Henry, as well as Edward Smedley, had links with the Murray publishing house

Experts agree that the portrait claimed to be of Jane Austen was executed in plumbago on vellum by a competent amateur or low-end professional. Would not Henry Smedley, friend of artists and authors, collector of engravings and antiquities and resident of the house with a view which matches the background of the portrait, fit the bill rather admirably? 

The Smedley Brothers and the Edgeworths

There is also the question of the identity of the sitter. How likely is it that 'Miss Jane Austin' refers to the Jane Austen? Is it possible that the Smedleys would have known her? Looking at the Smedley's circle there is another link between the Smedleys and Jane Austen in addition to John Murray. That link is the  Edgeworths.

Richard Edgeworth
Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817) - writer, inventor and, later landowner and politician - had been a neighbour of Jane Austen's uncle and aunt, James and Jane Leigh-Perrot when the latter had lived at Scarlets, Hare Hatch in Berkshire. Edgeworth and his wife had taken a house at Hare Hatch in 1765 after eloping to Gretna Green two years earlier and they remained there until 1771. James Leigh-Perrot had built Scarlets at about the same time. In his Memoirs, Richard Edgeworth acknowledged help he had received from Mr Leigh-Perrot in experiments with telegraphing between Hare Hatch and nearby Nettlebed using windmills:
'With the assistance of Mr. Perrot, of Hare Hatch, I ascertained the practicability of my scheme between these places which are nearly sixteen miles asunder.'

Maria Edgeworth
Charles Sneyd Edgeworth (Sneyd) was one of Richard's many children (22 in total!) and for much of the time his elder half-sister Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) helped bring him up. Maria became a highly successful author, much admired by Jane Austen. (I intend to explore the links between Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth a bit more in a later post.) Sneyd's close friend at Cambridge was Edward Smedley.

In 1813 in a letter to her sister Honoria, Maria Edgeworth writes from Cambridge:
My mother will tell you the history of our night travels over the bad road between Leicester and Kettering; my father holding the lantern stuck up against one window, and my mother against the other the bit of wax candle Kitty gave me. I don't think we could have got on without it. Pray tell her, for she laughed when I put it in my box and said it might be of vast use to us at some odd place.
Mr. Smedley has just called: tell Sneyd we think him very pleasing. I enclose the "Butterfly's Ball" for Sophy, and a letter to the King written by Dr. Holland when six years old: his father found him going with it to the post. Give it to Aunt Mary.

In a letter to Sneyd on 1 May 1813 Maria recounts in detail a visit to Smedley for breakfast:

Mr. Smedley made us feel at home at once: my mother made tea, I coffee; he called you "Sneyd," and my father seemed quite pleased.

Maria was evidently quite taken with Smedley. Later in the same letter she says:
"Good-bye, Mr. Smedley! I hope you like us half as well as we liked you." We thought it well worth our while to have come thirty miles out of our way to see him and Cambridge, and you, Sneyd, have the thanks of the whole party for your advice.

That year Smedley won the Seatonian prize at Cambridge for his poem The Death of Saul and Jonathan which was published by John Murray the following year. In 1814 he also won the Seatonian Prize for a second time.

I was initially thrown by a later reference to Smedley in a letter from Maria Edgeworth to her aunt Mrs Rexton dated Sept 10, 1822. She says:
Things are odd till they pair off, and so become even. Sneyd and Henrica, who were at Geneva, have been invited to the Baron Polier's, near Lausanne, the brother of Madame de Montolieu, whom I told you of. Madame Polier was the intimate friend of an intimate friend of Henrica's, Miss French, of Derby, who has married a Cambridge friend of Sneyd's, Mr. Smedley, and they are now on a visit at the said Madame Polier's—a Derbyshire party in the heart of Switzerland, and by various connections felted together!

Edward Smedley's wife was Mary Hume, daughter of James Hume who resided at Wandsworth Common. (Mary's sister Lucy Hume, incidentally, was Lewis Carroll's grandmother.) I realised that Maria must be referring to Henry Smedley. In 1814 Henry married Elizabeth Calvert née French (1779-1824), daughter of Richard French of Abbots Hill, Derbyshire. A year previously, in 1813 
Henrica Broadhurst (d 1846),  daughter of John Broadhurst  of Foston Hall, Derbyshire had married Sneyd Edgeworth. So Elizabeth Smedley and Henrica Sneyd Edgeworth, both from Derbyshire, were apparently close friends. The connections spread out like a spiders web: Elizabeth Smedley's father Richard French was a founder member of the Derby Philisophical Society in 1783 along with Erasmus Darwin and others, whilst Sneyd and Maria's father, Richard Edgeworth, was also a longstanding friend of Erasmus Darwin and through him met his second and third wives, Honora and Elizabeth Sneyd. 'By varous connections felted together' indeed!

In 1834 Maria Edgeworth writes to Sneyd referring to Edward Smedley:
Having now done with business I may turn to a little pleasure; a great deal you have given me, my dear Sneyd, by your friend Mr. Smedley's approbation of Helen. His polite playful allusion to the names of the horses, which names at this moment I forget, reminds me of a similar touch of the Duchess of Wellington in describing one of the Duke's battles, she quoted from the Knapsack, "Let the sugar basin be my master."
Despite being a highly successful author, Maria clearly values Smedley's opinion of her work.

These connections show that both Edward and Henry Smedley were more closely entwined with the literary circles of the early nineteenth century than I for one initially supposed. It seems to me that the idea that Jane Austen would have known both Henry and Edward Smedley is perfectly plausible. They certainly had ties with Jane's publisher John Murray and with Maria Edgeworth, who Jane hugely admired as a writer. I think there is hope for the Unseen Portrait yet!


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