Thomas Bewick tracks a package…

bew2Found -in a reprint copy of Bewick’s A History of British Birds (Newcastle, 1809) a  handwritten note pasted at the front endpapers from George Gulliver (anatomist 1804- 1882) stating that the book contains ‘.. 9 proofs of wood cuts of birds, an illustrated receipt, and an autograph letter of Thomas Bewick, dated April 14, 1823 (Newcastle) to Mr L .Edmonston: all inserted at the end of this volume.’ He continues- ‘They were given to me by Mrs Edmonston. Her husband, Dr Laurence Edmondston, has now (1862) been a medical practitioner upwards of 40 years at Bolton Sound, Shetland, which place he is a native. He knew and corresponded with Bewick about birds and the cuts were sent at different times by Bewick to Dr Evanston with the writing on them. George Gulliver. Bewick’s letter is present and reads:

‘Newcastle 14 April 1823.  Dear Sir, I received your kind letter of the 10th and have ever since been in anxious expectation of receiving the Ivory Gull, as it’s not yet come to hand. I fear the box may have been detained or else forwarded to Newcastle under Line by mistake as Wednesday is the date which you have limited me for its return. I thought it necessary to apprize you of its non arrival, that an enquiry if necessary might be set on foot without further delay– I have only to thank you for your very great kindness and attention endeavouring to procure from me so many specimens of rare birds which will always be most acceptable to me.I am dear sir your obliged and obedient Thomas Bewick.’  Continue reading

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A rare drawing by Lavinia Spencer—Princess Diana’s great great great grandmother

Bought a few years ago in a provincial auction house for very little, this signed drawing of Frances Molesworth by the talented amateur Lavinia Bingham, dated 8th June 1780, is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because the artist was Princess Diana’s great great great grandmother. However, the relationship between Lavinia and Frances is also significant. After the death of her natural mother, Frances entered the household of her mother’s only surviving sibling, Lady Margaret Bingham, and her cultured husband Sir Charles (later Lord Lucan),who were the parents of Lavinia. At the time Frances would have been twenty and Lavinia two years younger, and it is highly likely that the drawing, which Lavinia presented to Frances,  was executed at the family home at Laleham, Surrey. Interestingly, the sitter seems to be wearing the same, or a very similar, wide brimmed hat trimmed with feathers that she was to wear in a later portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds. No doubt the two girls were rivals in the marriage stakes. Both had striking good looks, but whereas  less than a year after the sitting Lavinia married George, the second Earl Spencer, brother of Georgiana, Countess of Devonshire, Frances rejected two very eligible suitors, including Lord North, before she agreed to marry John Jeffreys, Marquess of Camden, in 1785.

Although, like her descendant, Princess Diana, Lavinia Spencer was a beauty, none of the features of the  ‘People’s Princess’ can be detected in the famous portrait, also by Reynolds, which now hangs in Althorp, along with some of the sitter’s own artistic productions. Nor did Lavinia seem to share many of her descendant’s personality traits. Although before her marriage she was described as a ‘sweet creature’, she was later disliked by some for her perceived bitchiness and arrogance. Certainly, she ruled her household at Althorp with a self confidence born of her elevated station, which Diana, for all her occasional feistiness, could not rival.

We know how Diana’s short life ended, but in contrast Lavinia’s appears to have been full of contentment. She died in 1831, aged 69, just long enough to see her son, Viscount Althorp, became Chancellor of the Exchequer. [RR]