Emily Eden | Correspondence and papers, 1810s-1860s
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Correspondence and personal papers:
i) Box of correspondence, comprising about 125 letters by Emily Eden, intermingled with a small number of letters by various correspondents to Emily Eden, arranged as follows:
c.45 autograph letters signed, to her sister Eleanor, Countess of Buckinghamshire, in six labelled bundles, 1814-19
c.24 autograph letters signed, to Lady Charlotte Greville, Lady Dover, and others, in six labelled bundles, 1821-35
c.27 autograph letters signed, chiefly to Lord Charles Greville, written from India, in one substantial bundle, 1837-41
c.32 autograph letters signed, to Lena Eden and various other correspondents, in two labelled bundles, c.1842-66
c.69 letters by George, Lord Auckland, chiefly to his sister Emily Eden but with a few to other family members, in two labelled bundles, 1814-46
6 letters to Emily Eden and other family members by various correspondents including King William IV, 1830s
some letters with later pencil marks and annotations, probably by Violet Dickinson (great-niece of Emily Eden)
ii) Emily Eden, Commonplace book, chiefly containing verses , including poems by Byron, Thomas Moore, and others, also some poems with revisions, probably of her own authorship, on strikingly gothic themes ("Hast thou e'er heard the agonising shriek..."), 50 pages, plus blanks, title page dated 26 June 1814, 4to, blind tooled green sheepskin, wear to binding
iii) Diary, occasional entries from 18 October 1820 to 3 March 1821, reflecting on her illness and thoughts of death, a visit by Henry Brougham at the time of the trial of Queen Caroline, and the gradual improvement to her health, 13 pages, plus blanks, 4to, blue boards, part of entry for 3 March 1821 torn out
iv) Album containing transcription of entries from Emily Eden’s Indian diary, November-December 1838, 37 pages, with, from the reverse, cuttings, letters, etc., chiefly 1860s, including a group relating to the temporary disappearance of Rev. B. Speke in 1868, 4to, marbled boards, wear to covers and spine
Emily Eden (1797-1869) was a shrewd, witty and observant member of the Whig aristocracy into which she was born. Her father William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland (1744-1814), was a close ally of Pitt whose long diplomatic career culminated in service as ambassador to the Hague through the early period of the French Revolutionary wars, whilst her maternal grandfather Sir Gilbert Elliot (1722-77) had been a prominent politician and literary patron. Emily Eden was one of twelve children. She never married but established a household with her sister Frances and eldest brother George, 2nd Baron (later Earl) Auckland, both of whom were also unmarried. Her striking independence of mind (of Waterloo, for example, she writes that "I am quite tired of rejoicing and lamenting over this news which, upon the whole, strikes me as very melancholy, though I know that is a very wrong feeling", 24 June 1815) and her serious literary ambitions ensure that her letters provide an extraordinarily readable and insightful record of the British ruling elite in the first half of the nineteenth century.
The correspondence included here runs from the reign of George III to the widowhood of Victoria ("...the Queen looked though much older, so pretty in her widow’s cap. She had grown very thin & pale & with a look of having gone through much suffering…”, December 1861) but falls principally into two main periods. The first is the Regency. Alongside a commonplace book - which reveals her early poetic interests - and a fragmentary diary, there is a wealth of letters, full of amusing and often acid gossip, addressed to her older sister Eleanor, wife of the Earl of Buckinghamshire. Anne Isabella Noel’s betrothal to Byron, for example, draws a memorable response: “She does not seem to be acting with her usual good sense is Mama’s opinion, as by all accounts Lord Byron is not likely to make any woman very happy” (26 September 1814). Her account of a visit to Studley Royal House (built on the ruins of Fountains Abbey) skewers the taste for gothic in a manner worthy of Northanger Abbey:
“The house is but a bad one in the old-fashioned way, and my room was peculiarly liable to murder and that sort of accident, a large dark green bed with black feathers on the top, stuck in a deep alcove, and on one side of it an enormous dark closet, quite full of banditti I fancy, and all the rest of the room actually swarming with ghosts I know, only I was much too sleepy to lay awake and look at them[.]”
She also comments wryly on the frivolous side of her life as a young aristocratic woman, as when the Queen cancels a reception after extensive preparations had already been made:
"As the Queen has been so uncivil and even spiteful to me and my sattin gown, as to put off the drawing-room, our three letters per day upon dress may now cease, and this is merely a letter of thanks for all the trouble you have taken with Wynne, Pontet, lace, notes, hoops, drapery, sattin, carriers, feathers, jewels, etc., and which have unluckily, by this strange and unaccountable spitefulness of H.M., all proved useless." (9 March 1815)
The other main group of letters in the current archive date from the Emily Eden's years in India (1836-1842), for which she is now probably best remembered. Many Britons of the period travelled to India, of course, but Emily Eden did so in decidedly exceptional circumstances: as companion to her brother George when he was appointed Governor General. In Calcutta this woman, who often seems to have stepped from the pages of Jane Austen, found herself living as an Oriental princess, a central figure in extravagant ceremonials and pageantry. She escaped from the tedium of this life through travel, which was frequently less luxurious (“...The camels are slipping down and dying in all directions, the hackeries sticking in the rivers. And one’s personal comfort! Little ditches running round each tent, with a slosh of mud that one invariably steps into…”, 13 November 1838). Her letters to Charles Greville provide, for example, a remarkable record of a visit to the Sikh Maharajah Ranjit Singh. "I hardly know how to state to you delicately that the Mission was met at the frontier by troops of Cashmerian young ladies, great dancers and singers", she explains, and continues with a delighted account of the Maharajah's love of alcohol:
"He requested George to send him samples of all the wines he had, which he did, but took the precaution of adding some whiskey and cherry brandy, knowing what Runjeet Singh’s habits are. The whiskey he highly approved of, and he told MacNaghten that he could not understand why the Governor-General gives himself the trouble of drinking seven or eight glasses of wine when one glass of whiskey would do the same quantity of work. He had asked one gentleman to a regular drinking-party, which they were dreading (as the stuff he drinks is a sort of liquid fire), and his great amusement is to watch that it is fairly drunk.” (10 June 1838)
Social life and her own immediate milieu were without question Eden's great subject; several of her letters referring to the First Opium War, for example, coincide with the death of a beloved dog and it is the latter which elicits the greater emotion from her pen (“…I do not believe there ever was so clever a dog, and very few equally clever men…” 6 April 1841). Nevertheless, she was far from unaware of the political backdrop to her presence in India. Ranjit Singh died the year after the drunken visit described above, and the Punjab swiftly collapsed into instability. Eden's predicts a future for the region that was not only accurate but provides an admirably pithy summary of British imperial policy:
"It is not actually any business of ours, but it interrupts our communications with Afghanistan; and, in short, it is obvious that it might at last furnish one of those pretences for interference England delights in, and when once we begin I know (don’t you?) what becomes of the country we assist—swallowed up whole.” (12 April 1841)
Miss Eden's Letters, ed. Violet Dickinson (1919)
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