Thursday, December 27, 2018

Such interesting anecdotes

‘At court on the Queen’s birth-night, her Majesty dressed in buff satin, trimmed with the sable just made her a present of by the Empress of Russia. The Princess of Brunswick was there, coming on a visit to her mother, then ill. We used to think her, though not handsome, a good figure, but she is now grown so fat and plain, that, tho’ cover’d with jewels, I never saw a woman that look’d more unfashionable.’ This is from the diaries of Caroline Powys, born 280 years ago today. The diaries, which were published at the end of the 19th century, are considered by some to be a ‘fascinating record of upper-class life in the second half of the eighteenth century’ and to be rich in ‘such interesting anecdotes of royalty’.

Caroline Girle was born on 27 December 1738, the only child of a surgeon and his wife in Beenham, Berkshire. They moved in 1754 to Lincoln’s Inn Field where Powys’s father had built a house. When he died, she moved to Caversham, Oxfordshire, with her mother. In 1762, she married Philip Lybbe Powys of Hardwick House, Whitchurch, Oxfordshire, thus becoming mistress of the house that had been in the Lybbe family since 1526. Caroline and Philip had two sons (one who was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards, and the other who became a clergyman) and two daughters, though one died in infancy. When their sons left home, Philip and Caroline moved, in 1784, to Fawley rectory, Buckinghamshire, to live with her bachelor brother-in-law. Philip died in 1809, and their son Thomas (who had been given the living at Fawley in 1810) died in early 1817 leaving a widow and 11 children. Caroline, herself, died later the same year. There is not very much information about Caroline available online. Wikipedia’s entry is very short, but there is a little more detail in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB - log-in required).

Caroline started keeping a diary when on holiday at the behest of her father, but continued the habit for most of her life, until rheumatism made it difficult to write. According to the Powys/Lybbe ancestry site, ‘the Diaries give a warm and detailed account of eighteenth century life as a country lady’. There were about 20 volumes, distributed round the family. In the late 19th century, Emily J. Climenson was able to reassemble them and produce an edited version for publication, in 1899, by Longman, Green, and Co - Passages from the Diaries of Mrs. Philip Lybbe Powys of Hardwick House, Oxon, A.D. 1756 to 1808. The full text is freely available online at Internet Archive. Half of the diaries subsequently disappeared, while the remainder were eventually given to the British Library. According to Anne Pimlott Baker’s bio for the ODNB, the diaries provide ‘a fascinating record of upper-class life in the second half of the eighteenth century’. See also Eighteenth Century Recipes for more about a manuscript recipe book Caroline left behind.

The ODNB gives a summary of some of the more interesting content of the diaries: ‘While still living in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1761 she saw Earl Ferrers being taken from the Tower of London to Tyburn to be hanged for murder, and saw the hearse return; also in 1761 she describes the coronation procession of George III. After her marriage the diary records social life in the country, with visits to neighbouring country houses, often newly built, with gardens laid out by Capability Brown, such as Caversham Park; assemblies and balls during the Henley winter season, with lists of those attending; visits to Bath and London, with plays and concerts, including performances by Mme Catalani in Bath and Mrs Sheridan in London; travels, always in England, including a visit to Ramsgate in 1801, where she could hear Nelson bombarding French ships off Boulogne; local events, as when she watched Cliveden burn down in 1795; details of alterations to the gardens at Hardwick, with lists of fruit trees planted; recipes, including one for lavender drops, a cure for the palsy; and menus, including that for a dinner given in 1798 by her brother-in-law in Canterbury for Prince William of Gloucester. After a ball in the Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath in January 1791 her list of all the members of the nobility there fills more than a page, ‘besides baronets and their wives innumerable’.’

In her introduction, Climenson explains why she chose to edit and publish the diaries: ‘[They] present such an accurate picture of life, manners, and customs of the upper class of that period, that though my work of collating, noting, and linking together the many, some twenty books, lent to me by various members of the family, was chiefly undertaken on their account, I feel that they cannot fail to interest the general reader, containing as they do such interesting anecdotes of royalty, and other notable people, descriptions of country seats, places, towns, manufactures, amusements, and general habits of the period which now form history, and that, comparatively little studied; for the immediate century beyond our own days, I fancy, is more often ignored, and less understood, than the more distant periods of time, at whatever period we live.’

Here are several extracts.

13 July 1771
‘Being at my brother Powys’ at Fawley, one I suppose of the most elegant parsonages in England, commanding from a very good house a prospect uncommonly noble, he took us to Mr. Michell’s new house, which makes so pretty an object from his own place. The house was not finish’d, stands in a paddock, rises from the river on a fine knoll commanding a view which must charm every eye. The hall, and below-stairs, if we could then judge, seem too minute, the plan of the bedchambers exceedingly convenient and pleasing, kitchen offices are all very clever. About a mile from the house, through a sweet wood, you mount a vast eminence which brings you to an exact Chinese house call’d Rose Hill, from being built in the centre of a shrubbery of roses, honeysuckles, &c. The situation of this commands what some call a finer prospect than the other house, but the variety of each is pleasing. A poor woman lives here, and ’tis a sweet summer tea-drinking place inside and out, in the true Chinese taste.’

18 January 1772
‘At court on the Queen’s birth-night, her Majesty dressed in buff satin, trimmed with the sable just made her a present of by the Empress of Russia. The Princess of Brunswick was there, coming on a visit to her mother, then ill. We used to think her, though not handsome, a good figure, but she is now grown so fat and plain, that, tho’ cover’d with jewels, I never saw a woman that look’d more unfashionable.’

28 January 1772
‘This week the town was in a vast bustle at the opening of the Pantheon, and Mr. Cadogan was so obliging to send me his tickets for the first night. As a fine room I think it grand beyond conception, yet I’m not certain Ranelagh struck me not equally on the first sight, and as a diversion ’tis a place I think infinitely inferior, as there being so many rooms, no communication with the galleries, the staircase inconvenient, all rather contribute to lose the company than show them to advantage.’

12 August 1778
We went to pay a visit to Mrs. Annesley, Bletchingdon House, Oxon. In this part of our county there are more fine houses near each other than in any, I believe, in England. We were reckoning nineteen within a morning’s airing worth seeing. I must say something of that we were at, as Mr. [Capability] Brown would style it, “A place of vast capabilities,” stands high, the ground lays well, and the views round it far preferable to most in that county. Mrs. Annesley’s is large, tho’ only seven windows in front, the present approach thro’ a fine stone gateway with iron rails, you ascend a large flight of steps into a large hall, opposite you a second flight carries you into a second or larger hall, in which fronts you by far the noblest staircase I ever saw. ’Tis of Manchineale wood, and after going up about twenty steps it turns to the right and left, making a gallery at the top which looks down into the hall, this gallery leads to all the chambers. On the ground floor are four parlours, library, and state bedroom; many rooms were fitted by the Lord Anglesey who built it, but which Mr. Annesley was going to finish, but his sudden death prevented, and as his lady justly observes, it would be absurd in her to lay out money there, as her eldest son will have so immense a fortune, it would only be injuring her younger children, and she is too good a mother to do that; indeed, hers and their happiness seem’d centr’d in each other. I think I never felt more for any one than I did for her at hearing an account of his death (tho’ now years since), from a lady who is there every year, and was at the time. I own I am always foolish with regard to dreams, and now from these worthy good people, whose veracity I cannot doubt, I fear I shall in future be still more superstitious.

Mr. and Mrs. Annesley were a most happy couple, had known each other from childhood, had been married, I suppose, about ten years, had two sons and two daughters. She waked herself and him one night with crying so violently in her sleep that he was quite alarm’d. He insisted on knowing what dream she had had; she only said she had dreamt he was not well, but it was, that he fell down in a fit. He laughed at her as she lay crying for an hour or two, and going to sleep again, she again dreamt the same. ’Tis impossible, the lady says, to tell her anxiety the whole next day, he laughing it off, and at dinner he said, “Well, my dear. I’m not sick yet, I think, for I never was so hungry in my life;” she answered, “Indeed I am very foolish, but I shall be better in a day or two.” That night pass’d over, but, poor man, next day at tea-time he was nowhere to be found; when she heard this, she flew about like a wild creature into every room. Going into their bedchamber and not seeing him, she was running out of it when the youngest child says, “Mamma, perhaps papa is in the closet,” and throwing open the door, there he lay dead; she immediately fainted, and what she must that instant have felt is hardly to be imagined. She has never been in that room or the library since, and if anybody mentions dreams, only says, “Pray don’t talk on that subject.” We spent a most agreeable week there, there being a good deal of company, fourteen of us in the parlour, but tho’ our party was large, it did not hinder our seeing places every day we were there, and the first place, as the nearest, we went to was Blenheim. . . . The environs of Blenheim have been amazingly improved by Brown since I was last there, many rooms furnish’d and gilt, and as there are many fine pictures, must be always worth seeing. A fine ride round the park of five miles which we went, and afterwards three round the shubbery. The Duke, Duchess, and many of their children, with other company, were driving about in one of those clever Dutch vehicles call’d, I think, a Waske, a long open carriage holding fifteen or sixteen persons. As forms are placed in rows so near the ground to step out, it must be very heavy, but that, as it was drawn by six horses, was no inconvenience, and ’tis quite a summer machine without any covering at the top.’

30 December 1785
‘We have now confined ourselves fifteen weeks with our dear son Philip, nor paid one visit but of a morning. You have not heard of his unfortunate journey here, as his tedious illness was owing to that. I’ve often told you what a good young man he is, and that he always chooses to be with us in the country except the four days at a time when he is upon guard. On the 15th September we had a letter to say he would come down the next day, as he believed something had flown in his eye as he was walking in the Park, and it gave him great uneasiness. He had shown it to the surgeon of his regiment, who said he would bleed him in the morn, gave him a cooling mixture, and desired him to go into the country; not on horseback, but in a chaise, keeping his eye from the air, and it would soon be well. All this was done; but it being a very dark, rainy evening, that, tho’ the postboy and himself knew the road perfectly through our wood, they lost it, and found themselves in a horse-way of Mr. Freeman’s, near the root-house, where they knew there were many pits. Phil got out; they put the horses behind, and with much difficulty dragg’d the chaise down again into the coach-road; but he had not gone above ten minutes when he was overturn’d over a stump. The chaise, glasses, &c., were now broke. They did not attempt to raise it, but each took a horse, and at last reach’d home, and found they had been about an hour and a half in the wood, when twenty minutes is the usual time! Poor Phil went immediately to bed, being greatly fatigued, and the pain in his eye vastly increased, as he had lost his bandage, and his arm, too, had bled again; in short, he was a most miserable object, and gave us all infinite anxiety, and for many days the inflammation increased. He was in too much pain to return to London, but fortunately a Mr. Davenport, an eminent surgeon, has bought an estate near Marlow, and retired from town, and he was so kind as to come immediately, and has order’d our surgeon here how to proceed, and is so good as to come to him every two or three days. He now mends amazingly, as all the faculty tell us. Time and warm weather only can make a perfect cure; but as for many weeks we were apprehensive for the sight, we are most thankful. ... It is hardly possible to imagine with what fortitude he bears the sufferings he has gone through, though he has not since the accident tasted a bit of meat or drunk a drop of wine, had a perpetual blister ever since, and blooded every three or four days for many weeks. His health is certainly better than even I knew it, most probably from the discipline, some of which might be necessary for a young man in full health with a good appetite, and who never minds over-heating himself in shooting, cricket, &c.

Truly, Mr. Powys’ enduring this treatment was a survival of the fittest!’

28 August 1805
‘We set off to walk all round the environs of Matlock; ascended the rock call’d Matlock, 120 yards high; on each side a row of lofty elms, call’d the “Lover’s Walk.” We crossed the river Derwent in a boat kept for that purpose, and ascended by a winding path up the rocks to the finest natural terrace, call’d the Hay Rock, from whence you have a perpendicular view down a vast precipice to the river.’

The Diary Junction

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