[the letter is in the British Library and its envelope, with two fern specimens enclosed, in the Wiltshire Record Office]
Mount Edgcumbe <1>
Saturday June 21st 1862
My dear Henry
Many thanks for your letter received at Cotehele, & the little green fern it contained.<2>
It is beautifully done. Is that your invention or one I have seen specimens of before – a large book that was published somewhere? I have dried one or two ferns for you – but they are rather bulky. One is the Osmunda regalis, now coming into flower – The other is a very handsome one, coming up like large Ostrich feathers from the ground. It measured 4 ft high. But there are a great number at Cotehele & here too (11 sorts I believe) & endless wild flowers – I wish you could see them. The handsomest are White Columbine, & blue do – the most beautiful blue you ever saw – what they wd call in the shops a new colour – tho’ I imagine it must be one of the oldest. Also white Valerian. We stayed exactly 4 weeks at Cotehele, & had bad weather the last fortnight. But the woods are looking beautiful, & one day we made a long excursion to Endsleigh. Unluckily it began to pour (at Tavistock – where you know Charles II <3> said it always rained) – & we walked about the charming gardens under umbrellas. The grounds are kept up exactly as they were – & the Rhododendrons are a sight to see. They were just in their prime – & as far as the eye could reach, we saw their bright flowers, enlivening the shrubberies & woods. The seringos [sic] too were in full bloom, perfuming the air. Val <4> came back from Tunbridge Wells, (where they are established for her confinement expected in July,)<5> to Exeter, for the great Volunteer Review at Haldom. He is Colonel of the 16th Devon corps, as well as those of Plymouth, Devonport & Stonehouse. It took place in a regular deluge of rain, going on all day – but all the men behaved most creditably – though they were soaked through, as well as their provisions. Val had on a pair of waterproof boots for riding – These soon got filled at the top – & the water of course could not escape, till he got home & took them off abt ½ past 9 at night – when about a pint of water was poured out of them. I am glad to say he was none the worse for his wetting. The next day he came to Cotehele – & we all returned here the following day. We are going to stay here another week or so – but he went back to T. Wells yesterday. The chief object of this letter I have kept for the last nearly. It is to beg you to send me a little bit of your hair to put into a locket Papa <6> gave me on my Wedding day. It also contained his, Mamma’s & Horatia’s <7>
in – 4 little curls altogether – I have worn it ever since, till by some accident the glass got broke [sic] & the hair fell out. I can replace the others, but not your’s [sic], as I have not a bit. Make Constance <8> cut me off a little. Very little will do, as the locket is very tiny. I want it as soon as possible, that I may get it put in while I am here.
Banks <9> came to Cotehele last week, & has been occupied several days in putting up the Stove. <10> He came down the river yesterday & told me they had made a fire, & it answered perfectly. He was to go home today, & took with him Rollin’s Roman History, <11> neatly packed up, for the loan of which, many thanks. He also took charge of some Cotehele fern plants, for Wilkins <12> – which will ornament your rockwork, if they succeed, & a small hamper of plants from here. Wilkins told me he was very anxious to have a certain pink S. American passion flower of which he saw a specimen in a bouquet I took to Laycock the last time I was there – & Wm Couth <13> had several young plants, & has sent that, & I believe something else besides.
I wrote to Amandier <14> not long ago, at Cotehele. I hope she is pretty well & Constance & Co <15> – give them all my best love. I shd like to see Matilda & her Baby <16> – He must be very sensible, to send away tiresome morning visitors.
I am afraid the ferns are very badly dried, & will not do to reproduce in green print.
What did you think of the great Exhibition? <17>
Is not the last Punch excellent representing L. Napoléon’s <18> interview with a Yankee?
Ever yr affte Sister
Poor Banks had a most narrow escape the day he got to Cotehele. In stepping out of the Steamer he missed his footing on the plank, & fell into the water. It was luckily high water, & therefore still; for had the tide been running either way, he must have been drawn under the vessel. People seemed to think he had been drinking – but he said a woman holding an umbrella hid the plank from his view, so that he naturally stepped off it. The man in the Steamer was very quick, & fished him up instantly with a boat hook. I did not like to allude to the accident next day when I saw him. He looked rather stupified having been frightened of course – & I must confess his nose was very red. But he was none the worse afterwards.
Henry Fox Talbot Esqre
1. Mt Edgecumbe, near Plymouth: seat of the Earl of Mt Edgcumbe.
2. Letter not located. Cotehele, Cornwall: ancient house, seat of the Earl of Mt Edgcumbe, now a National Trust Property. The fern she refers to was almost certainly a photoglyphic engraving. WHFT published one in "Photoglyphic Engravings of Ferns; with Remarks. A Summary with a photoglyph, plate XIV," Transactions of the Botanical Society (Edinburgh), v. 7, June 1863, p. 569.
3. Charles II (1630–1685), king of Great Britain and Ireland.
4. William Henry Edgcumbe, ‘Val’, 4th Earl Mt Edgcumbe (1832–1917), JP & Ld Steward of the Royal Household; WHFT’s nephew ‘Bimbo’.
5. When Val’s wife, Lady Katherine Elizabeth Hamilton, gave birth to their 3rd child
6. Rear Admiral Charles Feilding (1780–1837), Royal Navy; WHFT’s step-father.
7. Lady Elisabeth Theresa Feilding, née Fox Strangways, first m Talbot (1773–1846), WHFT’s mother and Henrietta Horatia Maria Gaisford, née Feilding (1810–1851), WHFT’s half-sister.
8. Constance Talbot, née Mundy (1811–1880), WHFT’s wife.
9. Possibly George Banks, jnr (1821–1894), stonemason, Lacock.
11. Possibly The Roman History from the foundation of Rome to the Battle of Actium: that is, to the end of the Commonwealth, Translated from the French by Charles Rollin, (London: 1739).
12. George Wilkins (b. 1814), gardener at Lacock.
15. Ela Theresa Talbot (25 Apr 1835 - 25 Apr 1893), WHFT's 1st daughter; Rosamond Constance Talbot (16 Mar 1837 - 7 May 1906), 'Rose'; 'Monie'; artist & WHFT's 2nd daughter; died & buried at San Remo, Italy, with a memorial at Lacock; Charles Henry Talbot, (2 Feb 1842 - 26 Dec 1916), 'Charlie'; 'Tally'; antiquary & WHFT's only son.
16. Matilda Caroline Gilchrist-Clark, née Talbot (25 Feb 1839-1927), 'Tilly', WHFT's 3rd daughter, and her son, John Henry Gilchrist-Clark, ‘Jack’ (1861–1902), WHFT’s grandson.
17. 1862 Great London Exposition/International Exhibition, London, England.
18. Charles-Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1808–1873), President of the Republic, France.