Monday evening Sepr 7th
My dear Henry
I hope this will reach you before you leave Lacock because I want you to tell Fitzsimmons <1> not to send any more grapes if they will keep till my return home – My Mother <2> says she is quite sure that our hothouse will be cleared in less than no time if they continue to cut the fruit so fast. – and this would be a great pity as we are rather over-stocked at the present moment & more are expected to arrive shortly from Markeaton. <3> – Peaches may as well come as usual & melons, as they will not keep. – I hope you have done full justice to the peaches – they are magnificent indeed & amply redeem the character of our garden for fruit, which en fait de groseille <4> you may remember was rather deficient. – Here at Cowes, <5> in Mrs Corbet’s <6> garden we have delicious figs & the mulberries which we sometimes purchase [sic] from the green grocer are the ripest I ever tasted. – How charming the weather is grown now dear Henry is it not? – perfect for your touring, which I hope soon to hear you have really commenced. – We have bright clear days without that excessive heat which a little while ago was really too much for any one – This evening (for I am writing to you in my own little parlour before going to bed) we, that is the ladies of our party, my Father <7> having declined to enter into so romantic a scheme, have been out above an hour on the water, rowing in the bright moonlight. – We were fully rewarded by the beauty of the scene – so much prettier everything looked than by daylight, though by daylight too Cowes is a pretty place. – The colouring reminded me a good deal of some of your shadows, <8> especially of the moonlight scene at Venice. – I wish you could have taken the outline of the castle & fine elms behind just as I saw them – but I think you told me you could not produce the desired effect by any light except that of the sun – Shall you take any of your mousetraps with you into Wales? – it would be charming for you to bring home some views. –<9>
I am thriving so well here you cannot think – I take a shower bath every other morning before breakfast & find it wonderfully refreshing as well as circulating – I am afraid I shall grows [sic] so fond of it as to wish for one at Lacock – & it certainly would be worth while to get one if it would prevent my feeling so chilled in the winter. I have all sorts of comfortable projects for Lacock, some of which perhaps you will allow me to put in execution. – one [sic] is to convert that pretty tower room which is now used only for lumber, into a snug little morning room for myself, where I may be quiet & warm & studious whenever it suits my inclination. – If Mlle Amélina <10> comes to see us, I think some such retreat as this will be almost indispensable. – I hope you will not forget to tell me whether I should allude to her coming when I write to her – She will expect me to write to her very soon, & it will appear strange perhaps if I say nothing about it – but I will do exactly as you wish. – A thunderstorm came on the other evening when the Coles <11> &c should have drunk tea with us – they have however promised themselves for tomorrow & I hope we shall not be disappointed again –
I am growing fond of sailing at last. I did not like it 2 or 3 times that I tried, owing partly to the heat of the sun – but we had a delightful day on Friday last & were out nearly six hours – Our object was to reach Alum Bay <12> & look at the Needles <13> – but though we were prevented from accomplishing this by a fresh breeze which arose against us & occasioned so much delay that we lost the tide, we had a very pleasing expedition & inhaled a
sal large portion of salubrious air. – My Father has some thoughts of treating for a small ya[cht] <14> which is at liberty for the next month. – if [sic] he should succeed in hiring it & we should have any very beautiful settled days, I dare say you would not object to Ela <15> & her nurses accompanying us occasionally. – We should never think of taking her when the weather was not very promising, & if a shower or cool breeze should come on unexpectedly of course she would retreat to the cabin. – If you have the smallest objection pray say so; but we her Mother & Grandmother cannot think but that the sea air would benefit her considerably. – My Sisters <16> are become so doatingly [sic] fond of her, that they will be quite in despair when I am obliged to take her away, & my Mother begins to think that she acted rashly in inviting her here at all!!
Tuesday morning –
We are just going to set out on a grand expedition to Shanklin, <17> the under-cliff &c &c. therefore how fortunate that I felt inspired to write to you last night- The post is not yet come in but I have some hopes that it may bring me a letter from you- Do the Parliamentary accomodations suit you?<18> Love from your darlings two - Mamma & Baby<19>
I was just going to seal my letter when yours arrived- many thanks for it.- I am please withyour arrangement about Mlle Amelina.- O how sorry I am that you still feel indisposed from your late fatigues!!
Henry Fox Talbot Esqre
1. Cornelius Fitzsimmons, Scottish gardener at Lacock Abbey.
2. Sarah Leaper Mundy, née Newton (d. 1836), WHFT’s mother in law.
3. Markeaton Hall, Derbyshire, NW of Derby: home of the Mundy family.
4. In terms of currants.
5. North coast of Isle of Wight.
7. Francis Mundy (1771–1837), politician and father of Constance Talbot.
8. See Schaaf, Out of the Shadows; Herschel, Talbot & the Invention of Photography (London: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 41.
9. This is the first and only known instance where WHFT's small home-made cameras were given the evocative term of 'mousetraps'. They were little wooden boxes, about the size of an apple, with a microsope or similar lens attached to the front. Since WHFT's original process of photogenic drawing was a print-out process, the image appeared directly from the action of light, without further development. In at least some of his cameras, a cork plugged a hole in the front next to the lens - it could be removed briefly to observe the progress of the exposure. Constance may have thought of the mousetrap comparision when her husband placed these little boxes directly on the ground. An example is 'A Grove of Trees at Lacock Abbey, from the Point of View of a Mouse,' reproduced in Larry J. Schaaf, The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), plate 3.
11. Lady Mary Lucy Cole, née Fox Strangways; (1776- 3 Feb 1855); and her 2nd husband, Capt Sir Christopher Cole (1770 - 24 Aug 1836), 1815; WHFT's aunt.
12. North west coast of the Isle of Wight.
13. The Needles are the western most point of the Isle of Wight and are a series of chalk stacks which protrude into the sea.
14. Text torn away under seal.
15. Ela Theresa Talbot (25 Apr 1835 - 25 Apr 1893), WHFT's 1st daughter.
16. Laura Mundy (1805– 1 September 1842); Emily Mundy (1807– 5 November 1839); Marian Gilder, née Mundy (1806 – 14 October 1860); m. 6 August 1844 William Troward Gilder (d. 1871), Army Surgeon (ret).; WHFT’s sisters-in-law.
17. Coastal town on the south east of Isle of Wight.
18. WHFT was then an MP in the Reform Parliament.
19. The five month old Ela (see note 15).