Kate Shaw was the September intern at Chawton House Library and here she discusses her time working on one of our manuscripts.
‘During my internship at Chawton House Library I have been involved with many different activities, but one of particular interest for me was working with a transcription of the Lushington Manuscript (Lushington Manuscript 10827 LUS). The Lushington Manuscript is a diary by Louisa Lushington, detailing her travels and day-to-day life. It was acquired by Chawton House Library partly because in August 1821 she visited Godmersham, the estate of Edward Austen Knight and where he spent most of his time. My main role was to check queries that the transcriber had made and see if I could help with some of the more illegible words. During this process several passages jumped out at me and I wanted to share these tantalising insights into Louisa’s life.
‘The first passage of interest for me is her entry for Sunday 19th August 1821, which starts “We returned yesterday from Godmersham Park where we spent an extremely pleasant week”. The Lushington family arrived on Saturday 11th August 1821 and Louisa describes her impressions of the Knight family. She recounts their activities during the week, church on Sunday, (where everyone was well behaved!), followed by a walk, and talking and laughing in the evening, ending with prayers from Mr Knight. The rest of the week consisted of river dragging and fishing, hunting, riding to visit Eastwell Park, shooting bows and arrow, and Louisa proclaims they had music every night. She concludes “I think them a very delightful family, & we none passed the time more pleasantly than we did at their house”.
‘However, a significant proportion of the Godmersham Park entry is given over to the “shameful business at the Queen’s funeral” which “every body is full of” in London on Tuesday 14th August, noting that “Uncle Stephen cuts rather an unlucky figure with his bride in the midst of it”. The Queen is Caroline of Brunswick, wife of George IV and ‘Uncle Stephen’ is Stephen Lushington, eventual judge of the high court of Admiralty, but in 1820 had been retained by Queen Caroline as counsel during the events of the Pains and Penalties Bill 1820, through which King George IV was trying to divorce her. Queen Caroline had died 7th August and Stephen’s marriage to Sarah Grace Carr had taken place on 8th August.
‘The second passage that I wanted to share is in the entry “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 3d 4th 5th 6th” June, 1820 where she gives a review of Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Austen fans will know of Udolpho from Northanger Abbey as a favourite of Catherine Morland’s, held partly responsible for her flights of fancy. Lushington doesn’t seem any more impressed with Udolpho than Austen does, calling it “a thoroughly ridiculous Romance”, but that she had nevertheless been hankering after such a tale. Her analysis is that Udolpho is a thoroughly good read, well-executed by Radcliffe, but nothing to be taken too seriously. Lushington laments that “whenever the Heroine takes a walk, they think it necessary to tell exactly how the trees, sky, mountains, &c looked, & we all know that the sun sets every night, & rises every morning, without reading a minute description of it each time”, and feels Radcliffe’s heroine must be a most improper young lady for the amount of wandering about at night she does. “Upon the whole” she concludes, “it must be acknowledged to be a useless book except for the amusement it affords at the time”. Despite this less than enthusiastic reception, she later states that a castle she visits was “like something out of Udolpho” (as we might say, ‘like something out of Dracula’) suggesting that for all the light-hearted derision it received, Udolpho was firmly entrenched in the ‘zeitgeist’ of the day.
‘The last extract I want to share is perhaps the most poignant. Throughout the diary she mentions the general health of herself and her family (Louisa loves being Naples and often longs to be there, but hates travelling and suffers terribly from sea-sickness), and it is apparent that her younger sister Emily is chronically ill. Louisa relates the various treatments Emily undergoes and visits by doctors, charting each recovery and relapse, always maintaining that Emily will be well again.
‘The entry on Wednesday 27th February 1822 reads: “Dear little Mimmie, has had another very alarming attack to day; her heart beat so violently as to shake the bed clothes, she has been bled, & is now out of immediate danger, but there is every reason to fear…” but here the entry is cut off where the page ends, and the entry on the next page clearly does not follow on (see image below). The next date given is March 31st, at which point your eye is drawn to the stubs of paper in the spine where two leaves have been neatly cut out, and the margin note scrawled up the side of the page: “April 29th 1855, Emily died of disease of the heart on the 12th of March. My dearest sister Maria cut out the two following leaves, because I was in the habit of reading them, and she thought it made me melancholy & unhappy. We went soon after this to Villa Gallo at Capo di Monte.”
‘What Louisa wrote about the matter is of course now lost, but her constant assertion that Emily is getting better is all the more heart-breaking on the second-time of reading. For someone so bright and gay as Louisa, it is uncomfortable to imagine her so distraught with grief, as she must have been, at the death of her sister. It is not possible to know exactly when Maria cut out the pages, but it seems unbearable to think that Louisa has been compulsively re-reading the entries in the thirty-odd years that pass between Emily’s death and the note she makes. It seems more likely that Maria had cut the pages previously and Louisa added the note at a later date, perhaps accounting for the more matter-of-fact reference to their later travels.
‘There are many more passages of interest, but sadly not space to list them all here. However, the Lushington Manuscript is being prepared for publication next year and I can’t wait to see Louisa’s words brought to more people.’