– March 7th 1856
My dear Papa,
I meant to have written yesterday to give you an account of our party, but, as you may easily imagine, the house was in such a confusion with getting things in order again that there was not a quiet corner to remain in all the morning.
The party went off very well indeed, although we had fewer people than we expected, as a good many failed at the last moment owing to indisposition and other causes. More than a hundred were invited, but only about eighty came, so that our three rooms were not nearly full. All the doors were taken off and white muslin curtains hung in the doorways, and the lights shining through made it look very brilliant and pretty. The back drawing room was cleared for dancing, only a few seats being left in the recesses of the windows; – on the floor was stre
tched tightly a white cloth which does almost as well as boards to dance on. The fenders were removed and the fire places in each room filled with holly and evergreens. In the front drawing room all the tables were removed and as many seats as possible placed in their stead. Supper was served in the dining room, the table being elevated on a wooden frame, which contrivance was much commended by the company. I cannot tell you all the good things there were, and which were all done full justice too. A fine turkey, ham, lobster etc etc. jell yies, cakes in abundance; – four kinds of ices, fruit s negus <1>, lemonade, orang eade, coloured eggs, oysters, and heaps of other things too long to enumerate; – and in the centre a magnificent trifle, crowned with an elevated structure of ratafees <2> covered with a cloud of pink and white spun sugar. – People have taken the habit of coming to parties so late, that though they were invited at nine, few arrived till half past and dancing did not commence till past ten. The music consisted of two persons, one playing on the piano, the other on the violin and cornet-à-piston alternately. Only two gentlemen came in highland dress, which we were sorry for, for reels especially are so much gayer when there are many in their picturesque costume. Johnny,whose only business it was to open the door, had his highland dress on, and every body said he looked so well with it. Dancing was Kept up with great spirit to nearly three o’clock, the finale being a tremendous Reel of Tulloch – Every one seemed pleased and happy, and said that after so many dreadfully crowded parties they had been to lately, they were delighted to find one where there was plenty of room and where the heat was not overpowering.
On tuesday we dined at Granton house, Sir John McNeill’s; <3> a charming place, three miles from Edinburgh, close to the sea. The house is full of indian and persian curiosities, Sir John McNeill having been as you probably know, twelve years ambassador in Persia. He is a man of most gentlemanly appearance, with charming manners; I am sure you would like him extremely if you knew him. He is in bad health and very much tormented by all these investigations on his report, but he has most wisely determined, unless called upon, to do nothing on this affair. Lady McNeill is a sister of Professor Wilson, <4> and is a very agreeable person. We met there Colonel Hamley, <5> whose book on the Crimea is accounted the best that has been written on the war. It has been lent to us, but we have not yet had time to read it. He was in the cavalry charge, and escaped unhurt, but on the day of the capture of Sebastopol, his horse fell among the rubbish, and he cut his knee so severely against the stones, that he was obliged to return to England and is not yet recovered sufficiently to rejoin the army. –
Granton is a very favourable place for flowers, and there are now a quantity of large rhododendrons, of a kind I never saw before, entirely covered with the most beautiful purple flowers, without a single green leaf. The bushes are, I dare say, some of them five feet high, the blossoms are rather small. I hope you will be in time to see them before they are out of flower. We have had the most magnificent spring weather for some days past. Yesterday we walked in quite a new direction and discovered a cemetery, situated on a steep bank sloping down to the water of Leith, and so beautifully ornamented with trees and flowers that it looked quite like a garden. There are snowdrops, hepaticas in large tufts, white, blue, and pink, bushes of that same purple rhododendron and your favourite yellow jasamine and syririnchium[?] grandiflorum etc.– Today is quite a day for an expedition, but as we are going to two parties this evening we must content ourselves with a quiet drive.
Now, I think, my letter is grown so long that you will never have patience to get through it, so I must come to an end. – Ela <6> wishes me to thank you for your letter. We are very much pleased to hear that Charles <7> is getting on so fast. He has not written for some time, I suppose because he is so busy. –
Goodbye, dear Papa, your affectionate daughter
Everybody here is most anxiously expecting you, and inquiring each time we meet them when you are likely to arrive. –
H. F. Talbot Esqre
1. Port or sherry with hot water and sweetened.
2. Ratafias – almond biscuits.
3. Sir John McNeill (1795–1883).
4. John Wilson (1804–1875), orientalist.
5. Sir Edward Bruce Hamley (1824–1893).
6. Ela Theresa Talbot (1835–1893), WHFT’s 1st daughter.
7. Charles Henry Talbot (1842–1916), antiquary & WHFT’s only son.
8. Constance Talbot, née Mundy (1811–1880), WHFT’s wife.
9. Prof James David Forbes (1809–1868), Scottish scientist.