“What a certainty of instinctive faith I have in heaven, and in the Mama’s living on”: Unpublished letters of Mrs. Gaskell and unpublished Gaskell family letters.
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Four letters of Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, four letters from her daughter Margaret Emily (“Meta”) Gaskell (1837-1913), two letters from Henry Crompton (1836-1904), whose brother Charles (1836-1890) married Florence Gaskell (1836-1884), and a letter from Charles Gaskell Higginson to Mrs Henry Crompton (Lucy Henrietta Romilly), have recently come to light. The eleven unpublished holograph letters are found amongst the papers of the Crompton family now in the Department of Manuscripts at the British Library (Add Mss. 71, 701, ff. 44-65). @I wish to thank the Department of Manuscripts and the British Library for permission to consult and quote from manuscripts in their holdings. Special thanks are due to Professor Donald Hawes for his assistance with the far from easy task of deciphering these holograph letters. Thanks are also due to Professors Peter Kitson and Nancy Henry for help with the Welsh references in Letter 3. The letters illuminate our knowledge of Mrs. Gaskell’s family relationships, friendships, fascination with detail, gossip, attitude to North Wales, and epistolary qualities. Those letters written after her death demonstrate the emotional impact her memory and death had upon her daughter Margaret Emily (“Meta”). They also exhibit a late Victorian affirmation of faith and belief when faced with the fact of mortality.
The letters written by Mrs. Gaskell are addressed to Henry Crompton, political activist, barrister and Clerk of Assize, Chester and North Wales Circuit. He became a leading Positivist and Attorney General to the Trade Union Congress. He was the son of a distinguished judge Sir Charles John Crompton (1797-1865) @For Henry Crompton see The Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), Supplement (London: Oxford University Press, 1966 reprint), I, 445-446. See also T. R. Wright, The Religion of Humanity: The Impact of Comtean Positivism on Victorian Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986): 118-119, and passim (subsequently cited as Wright). For Sir Charles John Crompton, see DNB., 5: 146-147., a distant relative of Elizabeth Gaskell, who died a fortnight before her (see Letter 8). The relationship between Henry Crompton’s elder brother Charles and her daughter Florence was something of a surprise to Mrs. Gaskell. Charles, a barrister, was ten years older that Florence. On hearing of their engagement, Mrs. Gaskell, in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton, written on 13 July 1863, commented “Mr. Crompton is not exactly a Unitarian, nor exactly broad Church.” Further “he has almost perfect health, and perfect temper; I should have said not clever. . . I suppose he has those solid intellectual qualities which tell in action, though not in conversation.”@The Letters of Mrs Gaskell, ed., J.A.V. Chapple and Arthur Pollard (Manchester: Mandolin [Manchester UP], 1997), 706, 505: subsequently cited as Letters, followed by page numbers. No lack of affection or reservation is revealed in the letters published now for the first time from Mrs. Gaskell to Charles’ younger brother Henry. In a letter written by “Meta” to Henry a few days following her mother’s death, she refers to him as being “one who loved my own Mother so dearly” and of whom her Mother spoke “as ‘my very dear Harry’” (Letter 7).
No letters to Harry Crompton are found either in John Chapple and Alan Shelston’s Further Letters of Mrs Gaskell (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000; subsequently cited as Further Letters). In the letters published here for the first time the lengthiest Mrs. Gaskell letter to emerge (Letter 3), is addressed to Henry Crompton. Dated 30 September  Mrs. Gaskell relates a sudden trip to North Wales. The visit, the places seen, the emphasis upon the light, recalls in descriptive emphasis the account of her honeymoon spent in North Wales in the late summer of 1832. She and William Gaskell spent three weeks at Aber, five miles from Bangor. They subsequently went to Conway, Caernavon, Llanberis, Beddgelert, and then Portmadoc to stay at Plas Penrhyn. Leaving Aber, William Gaskell relates, “they took the coach to Conway, ‘as beautiful a ride as heart could desire.’” In his letter to his sister Eliza Gaskell [(1812-1892), Mrs. Charles Holland] dated 16 September 1832, William writes “On the left we had Beaumaris and the sea shining and sparkling in the morning light, and on our right the hills covered with the richest and warmest tints, and the air so fresh and pure . . . . We went through the fine old castle at Conway.” At Llanryst “William remembered they had brought some cake.” There is even in the honeymoon account a “boa”@William Gaskell to Eliza Gaskell, 16 September 1832, cited Jenny Uglow, Elizabeth Gaskell ‘A Habit of Stories’ (London: Faber and Faber, 1993): 80-81: subsequently cited as Uglow). See also J.A.V. Chapple, “The Gaskell Honeymoon,” Gaskell Society Newsletter, 9 (March 1990): 5-7 and Jo Pryke “Wales and the Welsh in Gaskell’s fiction,” Gaskell Society Journal, 13 (1999): 69-84. echoing the snake found towards the close of Mrs. Gaskell’s 30 September  letter to Henry Crompton.