French Travellers @ Plas Newydd

French travellers visit the Ladies of Llangollen
at Plas Newydd
by HEATHER WILLIAMS

The Ladies of Llangollen, Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831), were famous for their Francophilia, among other things, and they were known to welcome French visitors to their home at Plas Newydd.

Louis Simond Poor Louis Simond, a Frenchman who had lived in America for twenty years before making his tour of Britain with his English wife, discovered this fact rather too late, as he recounts in his travelogue, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, during the Years 1810 to 1811, by a French Traveller (Edinburgh, 1815), which he quickly translated into French as Voyage d’un Français en Angleterre pendant les années 1810 et 1811 (Paris, 1816).

On arrival in Llangollen they sent a note requesting permission to visit Plas Newydd, making the mistake of announcing themselves as American travellers. But the ladies were cruel: ‘Les belles dames se sont montrées cruelles’ and they refused. Later on back at the inn Simond’s landlady remarked that they would probably have been let in if only the ladies had known that they spoke French:

‘La maîtresse à l’auberge, qui probablement nous avait entendu parler français, a remarqué que ces dames aimaient la langue française, et que si elles eussent su que nous la parlions, nous aurions été admis. L’avis était venu trop tard.’ (pp. 320-321)

Basile-Joseph Ducos (1767-1836) had more luck when he visited in 1826, and describes his guided tour of their property in his travelogue Itinéraire et souvenirs d’Angleterre et d’Écosse 1814-1826, vol 4 (1834):

‘Nous avions fait demander la permission de visiter leur domaine où elles accueillent volontiers les Français. Une pente douce y conduit. Nous y sommes arrivés par un chemin ombragé, sinueux, charmant. La maison n’est qu’une chaumière ornée. Des sculptures gothiques tant soit peu prétensieuses, surchargent la porte et les fenêters qui sont cintrées en ogive. La bibliothèque est éclairée par des vitraux coloriés. Une rotonde sert de laiterie. L’ordre, l’arrangement, les soins les plus minutieux se montrent partout, dans ce modeste ménage dont lady Élénora nous a fait gracieusement les honneurs. Il nous restait à voir les jardins. Leur étendue est médiocre, mais il y a tant d’art dans le dessin des sentiers qui les parcourent, que nulle part on n’en aperçoit les limites. Un point de vue est-il ingrat? Des massifs le dérobent. Aux endroits d’où l’on domine la rivière, les ravins, hérissés de rochers menaçans, les aspects romantiques de la contrée, des percées s’ouvrent et permettent de porter au loin les regards. Quelquefois on rencontre un berceau de feuillage et de fleurs. Là se trouve un banc confident muet des plus tendres épanchemens. Peut-être attend-il les deux causeuses. Craignons de nous rendre importuns, malgré les aimables propos de notre vieille cicérone. Aussi bien sommes-nous loin de la couchée que nous nous sommes prescrite.’, pp. 190-191.

[We had asked permission to visit their property where they are keen to welcome the French. A slight slope leads to it. We arrived there by way of a shaded, winding, charming route. The house is just a decorated cottage. Some slightly pretentious Gothic sculptures weigh down the door and windows with their pointed arches. The library is lit by stained-glass windows. A rotunda serves as dairy. Order, tidiness and attention to detail are to be seen everywhere in this modest household that Lady Eleanor graciously showed us around. The next thing was for us to see the gardens. Though their surface area is not great, there is such art in the design of the paths that run through them that there is no position from which their limits can be seen. Any view that is found unattractive is screened by banks of planting. From the parts that overlook the river, the ravines, studded with threatening rocks, the romantic aspects of the land, vistas open up and guide the gaze into the distance. Here and there are bowers of foliage and flowers, a bench, discreet confidant of the most tender of effusions. Perhaps it awaits the two lady conversers. We’re afraid of getting in the way, despite the kind words of our aged guide. Also we’re a long way from the accommodation that we had arranged.]

Plas Newydd grounds with figures

One French visitor who would surely have received a warm welcome was Louis Antoine Philippe d’Orléans, duc de Montpensier (1775-1807), the son of Louis Philippe (known as Philippe Égalité) and younger brother of Louis Philippe who became King in 1830. Montpensier was living in exile in Twickenham on account of what the Ladies referred to in their letters and diaries as ‘the horrors in France’, and came to Wales in summer 1806 in order to sketch the landscape and to console himself that his family had forbidden him to travel to Scotland to visit Elizabeth Forbes, with whom he was in love. He chronicled his travels in Wales in a series of letters addressed to Elizabeth’s mother, but intended for her: Correspondence to Mrs Forbes, Seaton House, Aberdeen MS 2358 University of Aberdeen. Wearied by so many society functions in Twickenham and London, he writes on the 20th September that he had intended to make just one visit in Wales, but abandons even that plan in order to avoid the risk of further engagements:

‘The only [visit] I had an idea and intention to pay was to the female hermits of Langollen, but having heard of some races taking place under the management of Sir W.W. Wynne, just in their neighbourhood, and at the very time I meant to call upon them, I gave up even that, knowing that it would have been very difficult for me in that case to disentangle myself from Sir Watkin’s kind invitation.’

Their most famous French visitor was novelist and educationalist Madame de Genlis (1746-1830), who was also in exile because of the Revolution. She describes her visit in her Mémoires inédits de Madame la Comtesse de Genlis, published over a quarter of a century later in 1825 (with an English translation – Memoirs of the Countess of Genlis – appearing in the same year), complimenting the Plas Newydd library: ‘très-belle’( p. 349), and the ladies’ French: ‘elles parloient français avec autant de facilité que de pureté’ (p. 348).

Madame de Genlis

If you know of other French visits or near misses, I’d love to hear from you! [Heather can be contacted via her own website, or email her at:
h [dot] williams [at] cymru [dot] ac [dot] uk]

Heather’s research was undertaken as part of an AHRC-funded project http://etw.bangor.ac.uk.

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Ghostly “Knockings” at Plas Newydd

Reader LIZ, who is counting down the days until she’s standing on Llangollen terra firma, mentioned a YouTube video on paranormal sightings at Plas Newydd.

As any good investigator would do, I searched for the link myself!

most haunted

I must agree with Liz, as to the comical repetition in a show where the line “Did you hear that?’ occurs over and again (and, I must confess, with a new roof going on the house the day I watched, frankly, NO! I didn’t hear that…). But I also agree that it’s nice to be brought inside Plas Newydd!

Just in case links cause videos to get taken down, I won’t post a link to any one video (today I see two users offering the full 44-minute episode). but the photo (above) will start off those wishing to see more.

Anna Seward’s LETTERS now complete

seward_kettleAnna Seward (1742-1809) – The six-volume Letters of Anna Seward written between the years 1784 and 1807 appeared in 1811. Volumes 4, 5, and 6 include letters to the Ladies of Llangollen. The most impressive, however, in terms of first-hand accounts of the Ladies, was sent to the Rev. HENRY WHITE of Lichfield, the letter dated Barmouth, September 7, 1795. Their aeolian harp (and Seward’s production of one for her own use) is described in the letter to Miss WINGFIELD (vol. 4; letter XLVII).

I kick myself – for I find I never posted the WHITE letter! The Ladies deserved much better from me.

And I originally thought a letter to Mrs Parry Price was of equal importance until I had to hunt up the original image views of the letters (from microfilm). I was furiously typing, when, half-way through, I realized her letter dated 15 October 1795 doesn’t mention them. No wonder that one never got transcribed…

But I do find a letter to Mrs Parry Price dated 15 September 1795 does mention them. Only there seems to be no letter in my stock pile.  I transcribed it from a copy of Report of the Royal commission on Historical Manuscripts.

The letter to Miss Mary Powys mentions Sarah and Eleanor – could I have meant to highlight that letter? I just don’t remember. It is about this time of year, eight years ago, that I first put up a website (now defunct) about the Ladies of Llangollen. It was in looking for contemporary reports on them, by people who had met them, that I first found dear little Mary Gosling. Her travel diary to Wales in 1821 (Mary’s short story of meeting the ladies) is what lead me to Mary and Emma.

News of the Ladies, c1832

The great-aunt of Emma Austen (my diarist) visited Llangollen several times. In transcribing her diary for May 1832 I found the following:

19 Sa on this day Saturday we got to Langollen – where we dined and Slept the Kings Head is a most comfortable Inn – and as none of us like to travel on Sunday – we determined to remain here the whole of the next day. —

20 Su on hearing the Service was to be in the Welch language in the Morning we read our prayers at home – at one OC- we walked to Plasnewydd. Mr Hamilton who was left Executor to Miss Ponsonby having given us permission to see it – he shewed us the Cottage — and we afterwards walked over the grounds – we returned to the Hotel to rest ourselves – and at half past 3 OC– we all went to the parish Church – the prayers were mostly read in English – and the Clergyman gave us an excellent Sermon

It is very poignant, after reading earlier visits where the Ladies themselves entertained Mrs Smith, to read this last entry of a lone walk over the house and grounds of Plas Newydd, permission given by “Mr Hamilton… to see it”.

In the Grounds Plas NewyddVisit “Plas Newydd en peintre” by clicking the picture

Anonymous Gentleman, c1810

My! how time flies…

Just had to rectify the post that announced to the world: Happy September, while December is well underway!

And a delightful treat is in store: Michael in Wales, who has been steadily feeding news of visitors and their reactions, has uncovered a delightful little story. Alas, by an Anonymous Gentleman. Must admit to wanting to know more about the writer after reading this tidbit. There seems such a delightful sense of humor in his comments.

You will find him posted at the head of the page “1810-1819” in the PLAS NEWYDD TIMELINE.

For those of you new to our LADIES OF LLANGOLLEN website, I should explain. You have two ways of finding such “primary” material — comments about the Ladies, especially visitors to the Ladies — by the menus at

  • A Plas Newydd Timeline – see the menu at the right (or “hover” over that phrase on the menu above) and you’ll have a choice of dates; these are often unpublished works not found anywhere else!
  • Visitors – also on the menu at right (or “hover” over that phrase on the menu above), these visitors are mainly those whose published diaries, letters, or writings mentioned visits to Llangollen and the Ladies.

Both place an emphasis on finding what we hope are the “less-hackneyed” reactions, stories, and encounters. Michael made an interesting observation when, in sending this and an 1830 mention that I have yet to post, he wrote, “it seems the later they are in date, the more they build in their expectations and suppositions rather than actual observation”.

That is what makes such *finds* so fascinating to read!

llangollen

I simply could NOT resist this lovely photo of Winter River Dee, Llangollen.
Happy Holidays!

 

Happy September!

Have been doing a little housekeeping, catching up on the “visitors” to Llangollen. So check out some new entries for the PLAS NEWYDD TIMELINE during the years:

The weather is lovely, the walks of Llangollen beckon… Come, join the Ladies!

Plas Newydd grounds with figures

Anne Plumptre’s travels

Michael in Aberystwyth has unearthed not only a delightful vignette about “touring” the home of the Ladies of Llangollen, but also a very interesting writer.

anne-plumptreAnne Plumptre published in 1817 her Narrative of a Residence in Ireland, 1814-15; the Dublin City Public Library has a webpage dedicated to the writer, for there is a three-volume set in the Special Collections of the Dublin & Local Studies Collection. Her portrait (left) served as frontispiece.

You can find Anne Plumptre at the Orland Project (a subscription service) or at Internet Archive.

Anne authored many works, though the most intriguing to me (after this Ireland episode, which I must read) is her earlier Narrative of a Three Years Residence in France, 1802-05. Anne was a vociferous supporter of Napoleon!

Books.Google, that notorious collector of missing volumes, has Plumptre’s France, vol I; vol II; vol III.

You will find Anne’s visit to Plas Newydd in the Timeline for 1814.

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