Happy Birthday, Mary Gladstone!
Because Mary was born on the 23rd of this month (November), today’s post features her birthday rather than her father's (as previous posts have done). Specifically, I want to look at her thirteenth birthday as described in a thank you letter to W.E. Gladstone.
Mary wrote the letter in 1860, a year after Gladstone had joined a group of Whigs and radicals to form the Liberal party. She celebrated her birthday at Hawarden Castle, the family home in Wales, while her father was staying at their London house, 11 Carlton House Terrace (C.H.T.). This fashionable London address reveals Gladstone's aspirations. Despite the family's own sense of their lifestyle as frugal, quite a different impression is given by the refurbished rooms at 11 C.H.T., including what is thought to have been the Gladstone's music room (11 Carlton House Terrace now houses the British Academy).
Gladstone was an important man on the political scene, but he balanced this work with the responsibility and fun of parenting seven children. The statesman took an active role in instilling Christian values in his children, which was not inconsistent with a sense of levity. Mary’s playful address to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (‘&.c. &.c. &.c. &.c. &.c. &.c. &.c.’) sets the tone for a letter expressing gratitude for the 'beautiful' gift that she seems to have requested from Papa (John Keble’s The Christian Year – an extremely popular book of religious poems).
Other presents are further evidence that the family partook in fashionable trends: the locket was new to the 1860s and shell flowers under glass was a typical sea-side gift (from Penmaenmawr, in this case). The teasing of Gladstone life is again evident when Mary reports that her 'naughty' eldest brother wrote about the family dog, Tim (presumably instead of reporting on how Willy himself was faring):
If this letter is considered alongside other birthday letters (discussed in other postings), quite a complex sense of family identity begins to emerge.
We see Gladstone's committed parenting in Mary’s awareness that, despite Papa’s work schedule, he always finds 'some spare minute' to write. Clearly, he was a family man as well as a Liberal statesman in charge of the national budget.
Moreover, the proof is in the pudding. The Gladstone youngsters were funny, well mannered and sweetly attentive to other children (here, Mary plays with ten-year-old cousin Gertrude Glynne, Uncle Henry’s daughter). Thank yous were expected not only for bona fide gifts, but also for the six birthday letters. The immediacy was further evidence of good conduct (Mary apologizes for taking a day to respond).
Finally, the end of the letter shows a mid-century perception of the role of father as protector, even on the short walk from the Church of St Deiniol’s to Hawarden Castle (about 3/4 mile). Mary obviously recognizes her father as filling an important public role (hence the tongue-in-cheek address of 'Chancellor of the Exchequer, &.c. &.c. &.c. &.c. &.c. &.c. &.c.’), but with the heavy underscoring at the end of the letter, Mary expresses just how much she missed her loving Papa.
[Letter transcription follows citation information.]
Weliver, Phyllis. “Victorian thank you letter.” Gladstone's Daughter: Living Liberalism. November 20, 2014. Web log post. Date accessed (http://www.phyllisweliver.com/new-blog-1/2014/10/31/tlycq3qgxkyx7bmhuhk53m7knuvn6i ).
Weliver, P. (2014, Nov 20). Victorian thank you letter. Web log post. Retrieved from http://www.phyllisweliver.com/new-blog-1/2014/10/31/tlycq3qgxkyx7bmhuhk53m7knuvn6i
The full letter transcription is below: