February the 8th 1856.
My dear Papa,
It is a long time since we have had any news of you; what has become of you? Are you at the Winter Villa <1> or at Lacock? – However, I suppose you would like to know what we are doing here. Since you left us we have had a great many invitations to soirées, dinner parties etc, and have made acquaintance with a good many people. One, Sir John McNeill, <2> the same who was one of the commissioners sent out to the Crimea by Gouvernment. possesses the little island of Colonsay off the west coast, and there he passes the greatest part of the summer with his family and a few friends, the only other habitations on the island being a few cottages occupied by farmers and peasants.
We have been to three of the assembly room balls, the last of which, yesterday, was so crowded it was almost impossible to move about the room. The masonic ball was a very pretty and animated one; all the masons wearing their badges and curious devices. There was the great duke of Athole, <3> the chief mason, a little short, rather ferocious looking man, not tall and imposing as they pretended at Dunkeld. The music hall was very prettily decorated with flags and banners, and there people walked about in the cool, to the music of a very good military band. A great many gentlemen were in highland dress, and they danced tremendous Reels of Tulloch, shouting and yelling all the time like any thing.
We have been several times to the Opera and enjoyed it very <4> much. Mamie <5> thinks the singers though not first rate are very good indeed, especially for Edinburgh. They have got up the Prophète <6> with magnificent costumes and decorations, too expensive, I should think, for the means of the poor manager, who they say is not getting on very prosperously, for this season people do not go so much to the Opera as last year.
All Edinburgh is in a ferment on account of the election of the new member to replace Mr Macauley. <7> The polling begins today, and tomorrow we shall know who has gained the victory. They say there will be a very fierce contest between Mr Brown Douglass of the liberal party, and Mr Black <8> the famous bookseller, and composer of guides, who is to be voted for by the Provost and all the lower classes. We know Mrs Brown Douglass a little.
All last week we had hard frosts and beautiful clear weather. The great national curling match, which had once before been put off on account of the thaw, was fixed for tuesday [sic] last, and was to take place on a little lake near Stirling, but alas! on Monday
the Monday came a complete thaw, and put an end to all hopes for this winter. Since then we have had several rainy days of heavy rain, and on Wednesday night the most awful hurricane I came on, surpassing anything we ever felt at Greta Bank. <9> We sustained no damage, but in several houses the windows were blown in, but some chimneys were thrown down, and the iron railings round the Royal Institution were torn up. Fortunately no fatal accidents occurred. Such storms as this they say are very rare, though Edinburgh is somewhat windy.
I forgot to tell you that all the officers we have been dancing with
are seem always to be just returned from the Crimea, and give very interesting descriptions of all the dangers and privations they have gone through. Several were in the terrible cavalry charge, <10> and they say they their escape seems still to them almost miraculous, after seeing all their companions falling around and beside them. A very young lieutenant, Mr Mackenzie MacKenzie, was serving in the Baltic <11> last year; a shell fell on the deck of his ship, and he immediately seized it in both hands and threw it over board before it had time to burst. Was not that a daring action!
Mama <12> had a letter from Charles <13> this morning. I suppose he has told you that he is trying for the prize at the Natural Philosophy examination at Easter. I am sorry that all his projects of learning to skate, were so soon defeated by the thaw.
If I knew you were at the Winter Villa, I would ask you to give our love to Aunt Caroline <14> and to Ernestine. <15> How much she must be grown and altered since we last saw her, I think nearly five years ago.
Goodbye, dear Papa, hoping you are well and that you will write soon, I remain your affectionate daughter
Rosamond C. Talbot
H. F. Talbot sqre
1. Winter Villa, near Plymouth: estate of the Earls of Mt Edgcumbe.
2. Sir John McNeill (1795–1883), diplomat.
3. George Augustus Frederick John, 6th Duke of Athole (1814–1864), of Blair Castle, Blair Athole and Dunkeld, Perthshire.
4. Written over ‘many’.
6. Le Prophéte by Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864). The opera was first performed in Paris in 1849.
7. Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–1859), MP & historian.
8. Adam Black (1784–1874), publisher and Liberal MP for Edinburgh (1856–1865).
9. Greta Bank, Cumberland, near Keswick.
10. One third of the cavalrymen who took part in the charge of the Light Brigade perished. The charge, against a heavily defended Russian position, was the result of a misunderstanding between commanders, in that mismanaged war.
11. There were two expeditions against Russia in the Baltic during the Crimean War.
12. Constance Talbot, née Mundy (1811–1880), WHFT’s wife.
13. Charles Henry Talbot (1842–1916), antiquary & WHFT’s only son.
14. Caroline Augusta Edgcumbe, née Feilding, Lady Mt Edgcumbe (1808–1881); WHFT’s half-sister.
15. Ernestine Emma Horatia Edgcumbe (1843-1925), WHFT’s niece.