Saturday, March 11, 2006

Diary of Lady Shelburne - 7th Post

Here is the seventh set of extracts from Lady Shelburne's diary. Links to the previous six diary posts can be found in the right-hand panel.

Since the diary entries are short, I've put below them what few facts I've been able to find about Sophie. Here then are the entries.
June 16th [1766]. Bowood. As soon as breakfast was over we took a walk and were vastly pleased with the effect of the water which flows into a magnificent river, and only wants now to rise to its proper height, which it comes nearer to every day.

July 14th. This morning at seven o'clock Mr. Taylor knocked at the door and brought in a letter for my Lord, come by an express. It was from Mr. Pitt.

Here is information about the people, places, and events she mentions:

Bowood. This was the main country estate of the Shelburnes. Acquired in 1754 by the 1st Earl of Shelburne, it was a huge set of buildings on a 4,000-acre estate near Calne in Wiltshire. See post 5 in this series for a photo of the lake. Capability Brown created the design for the lake and directed the work of creating he. He had the ground leveled outside the main house and created the lake by damming two streams.

Mr. Taylor. As is apparent from context, he was Shelburne's secretary.

Mr. Pitt. See Post 3. This was the younger William Pitt, later Lord Chatham.

"A letter for my Lord, come by an express." This refers to Shelburne's position in a new administration with Pitt as prime minister. Fitzmaurice, the author of the biography, gives the context behind this section of the diary. He says: "
To understand the contents of this letter it is necessary to leave Lady Shelburne and return to politics." Click here to read on.

Here are some facts and inferences about Sophie.

I'm enlarging upon the brief introduction I gave in the first diary post. There's little to be found about her in published or online sources. Some mentions are trivial, as when her step-sister writes in February 1767 that she has the measles, "but favourably." Some are frustrating in their brevity: of her death Shelburne's biographer says simply "In the midst of the [political] contests just described Lady Shelburne died and Shelburne himself, whose health had since been suffering severely, resolved to leave England as soon as his duties allowed him to do so." Fitzmaurice, Life of William, Earl of Shelburne, (v.i, p.424).

Here's a brief time line for her short life:
  • Born 26 August 1745
  • Mother died 7 October 1745
  • Father died 1763
  • Married 3 February 1765
  • Gave birth 6 December 1765 to a son
  • Measles 15 February 1767
  • Gave birth to a second son 1768
  • Died 5 January 1771
I haven't found a portrait. Horace Walpole said she resembled her half sisters. The thumbnail at right gives some idea what one of them looked like. It's of Lady Georgiana Caroline Carteret, Countess Cowper (who was almost 30 years older than Sophie).

Here's Walpole's full description: "There is an approaching wedding notified between Lord Shelburne and Lady Sophia Carteret, the only child of our old friend Lady Sophia Fermor by Lord Granville. Her face is like the beauty of neither, and is like her half-sisters, but her air and person would strike you from the strong resemblance to her mother. Their children will have the seeds in them of some extraordinary qualities, look whither you will." (Walpole to Mann, 13th January 1765, Correspondence, viii, 319.)

She enjoyed many advantages: Friendly, outgoing, and well-connected; having wealthy parents and a large and supportive family including numerous aunts and cousins as well as the half-sisters; blessed with a superior education for the times; and, possessing substantial wealth directly under her own control. The diary shows that she loved her first-born son dearly and enjoyed a rich social life; that she liked to travel; and that she was frequently occupied with what seems to have been the pleasant task of directing the men (including Robert Adam and Capability Brown) who renovated the family homes and properties. Does this make up for the tragedy of a life cut off so young (she was 25 when she died)? Does it make up for her never knowing her own mother (who died when she was less than three months old)? Did she enjoy or regret her husband's part in the tumultuous events of the time (those leading up to the American rebellion in which Shelburne was deeply involved)? She was only 19 at her wedding. This was comparatively young. Did she sometimes wish she'd had more chance to enjoy life as an independent young woman? I do not know.

She took on responsibilities as wife of a wealthy and politically ambitious Earl before having much experience of life herself. During the years covered in the diary, she managed large households and abundant social engagements while also bearing and raising their two sons. So far as I can tell, she did all this very well.

Her success was made likely by the ambience of her youth. Her father was a highly-respected and eccentric aristocrat. He mother was a fashionable beauty, called the "reigning toast" of London society. Her aunts, half-sisters, and cousins were socially prominent. The family was also intellectually gifted. Her father was said to have "a certain contempt, partly aristocratic and partly intellectual, for commonplace men and ways."

In writing about Walpole's letters, Macaulay is characteristically readable on this man's special attributes:
Critical and Historical Essays Volume 1
by Thomas B. Macaulay
These letters contain many good stories, some of them no doubt grossly exaggerated, about Lord Carteret; how, in the height of his greatness, he fell in love at first sight on a birthday with Lady Sophia Fermor, the handsome daughter of Lord Pomfret; how he plagued the Cabinet every day with reading to them her ladyship's letters; how strangely he brought home his bride; what fine jewels he gave her; how he fondled her at Ranelagh; and what queen-like state she kept in Arlington Street. Horace Walpole has spoken less bitterly of Carteret than of any public man of that time, Fox, perhaps, excepted; and this is the more remarkable, because Carteret was one of the most inveterate enemies of Sir Robert. In the Memoirs, Horace Walpole, after passing in review all the great men whom England had produced within his memory, concludes by saying, that in genius none of them equalled Lord Granville. Smollett, in Humphrey Clinker, pronounces a similar judgment in coarser language. "Since Granville was turned out, there has been no minister in this nation worth the meal that whitened his periwig."

Walpole wrote that one of Sophie's aunts was "cleverest girl in the world." This aunt, Lady Charlotte, was the royal governess who, says Jill Shefrin in the Dictionary of National Biography, was something of an educational innovator: "The royal children's instruction incorporated creative play into a diverse curriculum that included, for the princesses as well as their brothers, most of the arts and sciences, as well as the more traditional subjects and accomplishments. The court thus helped to set a fashion for new educational theories and practices." (DNB, Lady Charlotte Finch)

Sophie would have benefitted from her aunt's intelligence and educational theories, though I can't say how much. It's definite that she benefitted from the court fashion for educational theories, since a famous French educator, Mme. Leprince de Beaumont, was retained as her governess. Sources say Sophie became Leprince de Beaumont's star pupil. Characterized as "Ladi Sensée," she figures in some of that woman's voluminous writings. There seems to have been a mutual appreciation between teacher and pupil because there's a story that Sophie organized a trip to Paris to recognize Mme. Leprince de Beaumont's 60th birthday, though there's a date problem with the story because the birthday occurred in April 1771, three months after Sophie died. There's a lot written about Mme Leprince de Beaumont. Do a search in Google Scholar to see what I mean. She was best known for her version of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale and a web site on this tale has a useful short bibliography of books on her.

The appellation Ladi Sensée suggests a person more practical than glamorous (as you'd expect from Walpole's description) and this is borne out by a comment in one source that she was an "amiable, virtuous woman".

It's obvious from the diary that she was modest since the diary almost never refers to her accomplishments. Other aristocratic diaries from the time seem to have been more self-serving (from my limited experience of them). In fact the diary has a deliberate and formal style of a sort we don't usually associate with youth. She seems to have written the it for her own use, but at one point in the diary she mentions a responsibility she feels toward "posterity, if this Diary should by any means descend to them."

In the extracts within the Shelburne biography there's only one mention of her writing habits. There, she merely mentions that she returned home to write in it while waiting for Shelburne's return one evening.

No comments: