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Book of the Month

October 2006

Lushington Papers

England: 19th century
MS Gen 557

This month we look at a recently acquired collection of papers which spans most of the nineteenth century and three generations of the Lushington family. The collection could be described as 'a Victorian family life in letters'. The majority of the letters were written to Edmund Law Lushington (1811-1893), Professor of Greek at Glasgow University, by members of his family, various friends and colleagues. They include letters from the poet Alfred Tennyson and other well-known literary figures.

My dear Papa,
You must come home. Baby is better; Lily has got a little cold. When you come home will you climb trees?

This extract is taken from one of the letters to Edmund Law Lushington written by his young son Eddy, sometime around 1850. [MS Gen 557/2/19/2] It captures the conflicting senses of intimacy and estrangement that characterise the letters in this collection and it is fitting that they should now be housed in the institution that, through Edmund's professorship, separated this family, compelling them to correspond by letter.

of a letter to Edmund Law Lushington from his young son, Eddy, c 1850.
(MS Gen 557/2/19/1)

Envelope addressed to Lushington in Glasgow.
(MS Gen 557/2/1/5)

Edmund moved to Scotland in 1838 to take up a professorship at Glasgow University, a post he held for nearly forty years. He was also rector of the University from 1884. Although he married in 1842 and his first child was born in 1844, for the most part his family remained at Park House, the Lushington family home, in Maidstone, Kent. For seven months of the year Edmund lived away from his wife, his brothers and sisters and his four children.
Flower motif on envelope
(MS Gen 557/
In order to keep in touch while they were apart, all members of the family, as well as a number of close friends, wrote regular letters to Edmund. Everything that might normally be said in person was transferred to the page and so from the letters emerges a family portrait that takes in everything from details of everyday domestic and academic life to profound expressions of grief at the series of terrible losses suffered by the family between 1854 and 1874.

Edmund's father  

The first series of letters, written by Edmund Henry Lushington (1766-1839) to his friend Wilfrid Clark, a clergyman, tell the story of the hard-won domestic happiness into which Edmund Law Lushington was born. 

In 1801 Edmund Henry Lushington and his wife Louisa travelled to Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) where Edmund had obtained a position as a judge. Edmund's first letters, written before he set sail, exhort Wilfrid to keep in touch while he is away: 'both of us shall be inexcusable then if we do not write.' [MS Gen 557/1/1/1] Knowing the personal grief and professional trials suffered by Edmund during his nine years abroad, it is hard not to read into these letters a certain reluctance to depart.

One of Lushington's letters to Clark, written before his departure.
This extract gives one of the reasons for the delay to his voyage:
'At first the King's illness prevented the signature of the Charter...'
There also appears to have been some dispute over who was going
to pay for Lushington's services as a judge. (MS Gen 557/1/1/1)

The back of a folded letter, addressed to Revd W Clark. The stamp on the
left includes the words 'Ship Letter'. The disparity between the stamped
date [April] and the date written top left [October] indicates the length
of time that elapsed between sending and receiving letters.
(MS Gen 557/1/1/5)

Following their arrival in Ceylon, Edmund's wife gave birth to a daughter, also called Louisa, but the mother died shortly after. The letters scarcely refer to this event, but follow Edmund Henry's return to England where he eventually married Sophia Philips. She was a cousin of his dead wife and about whom he had written, in an earlier letter to Clark: 'Sophia must not be lost. You or Tennant must gain her.' [MS Gen 557/1/1/1] 

Lushington re-established his legal career in England. Although the letters describe some professional struggles they also demonstrate, as in a letter of May 1811, Edmund's great appreciation of his home life and his desire to share his new happiness with his friend Clark, whose own life was blighted by loneliness and depression: 'good music and good tempered females in the house, your goddaughter so much the object of your affection and her little laughing brother hers and her aunt's delight.' [MS Gen 557/1/1/6] The 'little brother', Edmund Law Lushington, would then have been a few months old. In 1828, Edmund Henry Lushington bought Park House in Kent, which was to be the family home for a century.

Brothers and sisters

The letters show that the siblings brought up at Park House remained close throughout their lives. There are letters to Edmund Law from his brothers, Franklin and Henry, and his sisters, Emily, Ellen, Maria and Louisa Sophia. (Edmund's older half-sister, Louisa, died just before her eighteenth birthday in 1819.) Henry, Franklin and Edmund all attended Trinity College, Cambridge and the letters exchanged between them reference Edmund and Henry's connection with the select Cambridge University club, 'The Apostles'. After university their relationship was again characterised by long periods of separation; Franklin spent a large part of his life living and working in Corfu, while Henry, up until his death in 1855, spent a good deal of time in Malta. A lot of the letters have some literary or academic content and all communicate a sense of the brothers' respect and responsibility for one another.

A much larger number of letters, however, come from Edmund's sisters, who remained unmarried and all of whom resided for parts of the year with Edmund's wife and children at Park House. It is from these letters that we get a detailed picture of the day-to-day life of this household of women: walks they take (Ellen begins one letter, 'We have today managed our walk up the hill, and very pleasant it was' [MS Gen 557/2/20/6]), books they read, guests they entertain, as well as information about practical matters ('I find from Frank,' writes Emily 'that he cannot pay any of the London bills as he says you have no money in the bank.' [MS Gen 557/2/21/3]). The fact that it is Edmund's sisters and not his wife who write to him about such matters provides an insight into the way the household operated.

Envelope addressed to Edmund Law Lushington
at Park House. (MS Gen 557/2/23/4)

A joint letter from Maria, Louisa and Henry Lushington to their
brother Edmund. (MS Gen 557/2/27/1)

Opening lines of a letter to Edmund from his wife Cecilia. (MS Gen 557/2/17/2)

Wife and children 

O happy hour, behold the bride
        With him to whom her hand I gave,
        They leave the porch, they pass the grave
That has today its sunny side.
(Tennyson, In Memoriam, Epilogue, 61-4)

The marriage of Edmund Law Lushington and Cecilia Tennyson (younger sister of the poet Alfred Tennyson, who describes their wedding in the concluding section of his poem In Memoriam) is shown, in Cecilia's letters to her husband, to be one of close and enduring affection. What is also evident is that Cecilia's life and, to a great extent, the life of her family, was dominated by her ill health. The earliest of Cecilia's letters in the collection sets the tone for many of the others, beginning: 'Well dearest the doctor thinks I am going on very well and on the whole I am much stronger with much less headache' and ends 'I must lie down.  Ever thine own C.L.' [MS Gen 557/2/17/1]
One of the reasons why the family remained at Park House while Edmund was working in Glasgow was that Cecilia felt unable to cope with the harsh climate and conditions of the city. The family were separated further through Cecilia's frequent trips to the coast, which she found to be beneficial. She would often take her daughter Lucy with her as a companion but leave the other children, Eddy (Edmund Henry), Zilly (Cecilia) and Emily at Park House with one or other of their aunts.

There are letters from each of the children to their father, but also a number of letters that passed between Lucy and her sisters during their time apart. One, written to her elder sister, Cecilia, expresses Lucy's excitement at the prospect of receiving photographs of her sisters: 'My dear Zilly, thank you so much for being photographed. I am so glad, I hope they'll be good, promise to send me one as soon as they come, whether good or bad.' [MS Gen 557/2/26/9]

 Extract from a letter to Lucy from her sister Emily.
(MS Gen 557/2/22/1)

 A letter from Lucy to her father 'My dearest Papa' and sister, Zilly.
Her mother Cecilia has also added a note. (MS Gen 557/2/26/5)

These letters appear even more poignant given the early deaths of Eddy in 1856; Emily, from typhoid fever in 1868 and Lucy, from a tubercular disease in 1874. Their deaths were mourned by family and friends, but especially by Zilly, Edmund and Cecilia's eldest daughter. A year after the death of Emily she writes, 'I am never without thinking of her, and yet I feel unable to think of her as I would. I long to be like her by being like the saviour she followed.' [MS Gen 557/2/18/14] Zilly's letters chart her development from a playful girl into a responsible young woman who, in the absence of her father and with a mother often indisposed, increasingly took on the responsibility of the household.
Flower motif on envelope
(MS Gen 557/

Envelope addressed to Edmund at Alfred Tennyson's home
on the Isle of Wight (MS Gen 557/2/17/2)

Friends & The Tennysons

As well as the letters from Park House, the collection includes letters from numerous friends and acquaintances, some of them well-known literary figures including the artist and writer
Edward Lear (1812-1888) and the editor and biographer, James Spedding (1808-1881). Lear wrote in 1855 inviting Lushington to visit the newly opened Crystal Palace and also mentions other figures within his circle including the artists Millais and Ruskin.

The most eminent person with whom the Lushingtons could claim friendship was the poet, Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892). Both Edmund and his brother Henry had been friends with Tennyson while at Cambridge, a connection that was strengthened by Edmund's marriage to Tennyson's sister. The relationship between the two families, Edmund's regular visits to the Isle of Wight (sometimes accompanied by Cecilia) and the visits of various Tennysons to Park House are well documented by the letters. Although mainly convivial, these letters do occasionally reveal frictions between Cecilia and her siblings. One letter in particular, written by Harriet Tennyson, refers to an occasion in 1863 when she and Arthur Tennyson were thrown out of Park House because Cecilia had caught Arthur smoking indoors. She writes that Cecilia need only give 'one word to show that she felt in any way the injury she had done us not only by cruel and false accusations, but in actual deed.'.  [MS Gen 557/2/49/2] Another is a brief apology note from Arthur to his sister, which he slipped under her door having burst into a room in which she was sleeping. [MS Gen 557/2/45/2]

The majority of Alfred's correspondence appears to have been undertaken by his wife Emily, who keeps up a fairly frequent correspondence with her brother-in-law. However, in the two years before the death of his son, Edmund suffered the loss of his sister Louisa Sophia, and his brother Henry. Alfred wrote on both occasions; 'Dearest Edmund.The loss of one who seemed almost, as far as humanity can be, perfection must needs tell upon you all.' [MS Gen 557/2/44/1] He refers to Henry's death in 1855 as 'an unspeakable loss'. [MS Gen 557/2/47/5]. In 1879 the roles were reversed when Alfred's brother died and he thanks Edmund for his 'lines on dear Charles' and kindness during the last illness. [MS Gen 557/2/44/2]

 Emily ends a letter to her father by asking him to give
her love to 'Aunt Alfred' [Emily Tennyson] and
her cousins. (MS Gen 557/2/22/5)

Postcript of a letter from Edmund's sister
Ellen, asking him to pass on an enclosure
to Emily Tennyson. (MS Gen 557/2/20/4)

Two of the most interesting sequences of letters in the collection are from Florence Bairdsmith and Eleanor Sellar. Bairdsmith was the daughter of Thomas De Quincey and her letters give a glimpse of a friendship that thrived on literary discussion and the exchange of ideas: 'Thanks for the Tennyson-Turner volume, which it interested me to see.His thorough understanding of and tenderness for animal life interests me much too. I have the same Buddhist tendency.' [MS Gen 557/2/1/3] Eleanor was the wife of William Sellar, a classics professor at St Andrews and Edinburgh and was a close friend of Bairdsmith. Her letters are chiefly interesting because of their descriptions of her travels through Europe with her husband.  Reading the letters of Eleanor and Florence it is everywhere apparent that it is only their sex that prevented these women from enjoying the academic success of their husbands and fathers.

Opening lines of a letter from Florence
Bairdsmith following a visit to Park House.
(MS Gen 557/2/1/5)

Extract from a letter from Eleanor Sellar describing her reading
material while abroad. She is sent The Spectator and obtains
French and English books from a library in Lausanne.
(MS Gen 557/2/40/3)

Glasgow University

Through all the letters from Edmund Law's family and friends run enquiries about his life in Glasgow. In 1870 the university moved from the east of the city into its current premises at Gilmorehill and his sister Ellen was concerned to know whether Edmund found 'the new college position colder than the old one?' [MS Gen 557/2/20/10] His daughter Emily refers to stories that her father had told her about university life:  'You never told us what happened to the snowballing students, and how easily they got off when they were taken up by the police.'

Portrait of Edmund Law Lushington c 1871
by the photographer Thomas Annan
(Sp Coll Photo B25

Extract of a letter from Zilly to her sister Lucy, wondering how
their father will manage to move all his books to the new
university buildings. (MS Gen 557/2/18/13)

There are letters from fellow academics referring to various university matters and one from an ex-student, sending Lushington a copy of 'the first literary venture of an old pupil.The pleasure of sending it is great, for it gives me the opportunity of expressing the affectionate reverence and gratitude of its author towards the University of Glasgow, and in particular, if you will permit me to say so, towards yourself.' [MS Gen 557/2/2/1]

Similar sentiments are expressed about Edmund Law Lushington throughout the collection. Although there are no letters from Edmund himself, the letters that he received provide an insight into domestic and academic life in the nineteenth century and also offer a likeness of the man to whom they were addressed: the father, brother, husband, colleague and friend.

Flower motif and postmark on envelope
(MS Gen 557/2/52/1

John O Waller, A Circle of Friends. The Tennysons and the Lushingtons of Park House, Ohio State University Press, Columbus: 1986) Level 9 Main Lib English MT133 WAL


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Original article by Anna Barton, June 2006
Edited for the web by Sarah Hepworth, October 2006