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Diary, 1862 August 25-September 9

 Item — Box: Vol. 9
Call Number: MSS 28

Scope and Contents

Holograph journal describing Ellen Fenton’s family vacation at Boulogne-sur-Mer, 1862. Includes 42 pages of watercolor drawings of local people, scenery and landscapes to accompany journal descriptions--the most numerous of all of her volumes. This volume contains three clippings, “The Nouveau Riche in Boulogne” (September 24, 1862), “Our Leader of Last Week” (October 1), a brief synopsis of the burlesque “A Fuss Amongst the Fogies” (October 8), along with letters to the editor. It also includes Mademoiselle Legendre’s calling card, affixed above her portrait. Pages 27-32 are partially or completely torn. Pages 91-94 are missing. The journal is incomplete or missing the last few pages.

Fenton begins this volume describing her “heavy heart,” but quickly moves on from her unspecified sorrows by reminding “I intend to write to amuse you, dear Mrs. Ibotson, and my children, who in years to come, may read this, will know it all too well” (1). Fenton’s husband is entirely absent from this volume, perhaps an indication of strained relations. Another of her sorrows seems to be the death of her child, Horace, who is recalled by his grief-stricken mother. It appears that Fenton may have anticipated his early death, possibly due to a congenital illness: “Responsible for his birth, for his training, for the life he leads, yet powerless for good. Seeing the Vessel hurrying to a wreck, and yet told, that if I speak, I shall hasten its doom” (20).

Despite this melancholy, Fenton continues to engage in lighthearted fun-making, and she especially enjoys challenging the snobberies of others. When she observes an artist aboard her steamship who “affected exclusiveness, and after several disgusted inspections of people at breakfast, he waited to breakfast alone,” Fenton decides to sit down “opposite to his Lordship, the artist! Did he not stare!” simply to cause discomfort (4). She, herself, is not immune to rash discrimination however, when she puzzles over one lady on board “with very pretty aristocratic features” but the “bronzed complexion of a gleaner” (4). The woman, a Miss Breakspear and her sister (see Fenton’s portrait, same volume) are English orphans who Fenton later befriends, expressing guilty feelings about her initial rash judgments. Fenton’s party (which includes her younger children ‘Dall’, ‘May,’ ‘Deeny,’ ‘Fred,’ and ‘Hal’) arrives at Boulogne, where they spend only one fortnight. Clara, who has spent three weeks already at Boulgone staying with John Emmett’s family, joins them at an apartment above an Estaminet’s (small café).

Fenton’s second daughter, Evelyn (‘Dall’) seems to have ‘debuted’ by 1862, as she and the eldest, Clara, are the subject of much of talk in Boulogne: “Care had been hoping Dall would make a sensation, and so she did. It was quite a study to observe mens faces shade over, seriously, as they stared at her, puzzled and awed by her purity” (26). Dall is characterized by both her grace and by her ‘indifferent’ look, which seems to put off some of her suitors. Count Voiscourt is particularly enchanted by Dall, and he asks her to dance several times at the balls. On an outing, Fenton meets a young Captain named De Savigny (see his portrait in this volume), an officer of the Tuileries artillery guard who waxes on about her daughters’ innocence and perfection: “He assured me… that they were the most beautiful girls of the whole season, by far, and that every young man was raving”(58). Indeed, it seems everywhere they go, Fenton observes men in groups staring and talking about her daughters as “Quelles demoiselles” and Clara as “la princess Clotilde.” Fenton is particularly taken by a “singularly handsome Englishman” she nicknames “Richard, Coeur de Lion,” who appears to be interested in Clara (Fenton produces two watercolors of the gentleman). He shocks Fenton and her friend, Mrs. Hunter, who think him deceitful by masquerading with “very French manners, and that perfect accent” (45). A “handsome stern looking man” is also the subject of much scrutiny, and Fenton depicts him in several sketches. “Argus” as they nickname him, is “dreadfully strong in purposes” when asking Clara for dances. The lighthearted mischief-maker, Captain De Savigny, makes several overtures for Clara’s hand in marriage, but Fenton discourages him. Finally, he concludes that England and France “would never unite, and it was [England’s] fault for we indulged 'orgueuill' as a virtue” (95).

As the children grow older and more self-reliant, Fenton seems to rely less on her servants, who only peripherally figure in this volume’s entries. Fenton takes her children to the Vallée du Nacre, traveling the whole distance by foot. They are joined by Fenton’s niece, Fanny Emmett, and soon meet with Major and Mrs. Hunter, and Mrs. Russell and her children. They return to the same mill they visited in 1854 (see vol. 2, and like then, her children are accused by the miller of eating his apples. Fenton retorts in French that she ”knew them in 54 as uneatable crabs, fit for his pigs” (22). ‘May’, who is now fourteen, figures more prominently in this volume, most distinctly for her over-active imagination and the anti-Catholic views she seems to have inherited from her mother. “She has a source of constant fright here, from having read of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and the priests are her constant dread” (12). ‘May’ and ‘Deeny’ are characterized “as the soul of propriety” and seem increasingly scandalized by raucous parties of carousers or processions of nuns and priests.

Fenton refers to a book of her own sketches, entitled Week at Boulogne, which draws favorable attention from her friends, especially the Hunters. The Hunters ask if “they might lend my ‘weeks sketches’ to Mrs. Crowe, the authoress, as she had seen some and been much delighted, so much so, as to refuse walking with a party of people to look at them. They asked me to call on her, but I do not feel inclined for a selfish engagement that the children would not share” (46). The admirer of Fenton’s sketches is likely Catherine Crowe, the popular English novelist, playwright and mesmerist whose works at this time period revolved around supernatural subjects.

At the thought of leaving Boulogne, Fenton again returns to her melancholy: “I could see the English coast, and being reminded our holiday is over here, I also remembered I should soon return to a full sense of all my woes, which I own I have made, alas! For myself… When I am here again, on these ramparts, if I come – how shall I then fell, upon this subject?” (87). She includes a rare self-portrait to illustrate this scene. It is unclear what predicament Fenton will face upon her return to England.


  • 1862 August 25-September 9


Language of Materials

From the Collection: The diaries are in English, with some French.

Physical Description

1 volume (170 pages); 42 pages of watercolor drawings; 1 card; 3 clippings

; c. 32.5 x 20.5 cm.

Conditions Governing Access

From the Collection: The materials are open for research.

Part of the Yale Center for British Art, Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

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