We’re very happy to be able to publish a piece by Holly Wright of the West Sussex Record Office exploring their recently-catalogued archive of materials relating to Anna Eliza Bray, which promises to be a really great resource for Romanticists.
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Papers of Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883)
The papers of 19th Century author Anna Eliza Bray have recently been catalogued at West Sussex Record Office and are now available for researchers to access. The catalogue can be viewed via our Search Online facility at http://www.westsussexpast.org.uk/searchonline/.
Anna Eliza Bray (formerly Stothard, neé Kempe) was born on 25th December 1790 in Newington, Surrey and died on 21st January 1883 in London. She was originally destined for a career in the theatre; however, this endeavour was cut short as she fell ill days before a much anticipated performance at Bath’s Theatre Royal in May 1815, and subsequently lost the opportunity to appear on the stage again. The archive contains letters from this period between her mother, her brother Alfred John Kempe (the antiquarian) and theatre directors from Bath and Cheltenham.
In February 1818, she married Charles Alfred Stothard (eldest son of the Royal Academy artist Thomas Stothard) and her first book was published in 1820 entitled Letters written during a tour through Normandy, Britanny and other parts of France in 1818. This publication would establish her as a writer and advance her into the literary circles of her day, acquainting her with such notable figures as Sir Walter Scott, Amelia Opie, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, John Murray and the most influential character in her career, the Poet Laureate Robert Southey. Her husband died shortly afterwards in a tragic accident on 28th May 1821, when he fell from a ladder in Bere Ferrers Church in Devon while drawing the stained glass window. In 1822, she married Reverend Edward Atkyns Bray and moved to Tavistock Vicarage in Devon; shortly thereafter her next book Memoirs of Charles Alfred Stothard was published in 1823. The West Country became a significant influence on her writing and it was during her life in Tavistock when most of her literary output was accomplished, including her most well-known work A Description of the part of Devonshire bordering on the Tamar and the Tavy, published by John Murray in 1836. This was a 3-volume descriptive account of the history, customs and folklore of West Devon, the idea for which was first suggested to Mrs Bray by Southey in 1831 and later published as a series of letters she had written to him on the subject. It proved very popular and was reprinted in 1879 in a two-volume edition. Other works included a well-received 10-volume set of historical novels, another travel book entitled Mountains and Lakes of Switzerland, biographies of Thomas Stothard and the composer George Frederick Handel and a children’s book entitled A Peep at the Pixies. After her husband’s death in 1857, she moved back to London and continued to write well into the 1870s, editing and publishing her late husband’s sermons and writing further books on French history and Devon folklore.
This archive will, no doubt, be of great interest to Romantic scholars as it contains over 100 letters from Caroline Southey, the second wife of Robert Southey, with whom Mrs Bray was first acquainted in 1840. This correspondence continued over a period of 14 years, which is even more remarkable when considering the fact that they never ended up meeting one another. Not only did Caroline Southey write frequently of her husband and his children, but some of the earlier letters also refer to other Romantic-era figures including William Wordsworth and members of the Coleridge family.
There is also ‘Mrs Southey’s Narrative’, a biographical piece written by Caroline Southey in 1840 regarding her courtship and marriage to Robert Southey, copied by Mrs Bray’s niece from the original manuscript. Other correspondence includes letters from the poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Charles Cuthbert Southey and Edith May Warter (nee Southey), son and daughter respectively of Robert Southey and his first wife Edith Fricker. The most unusual and unique items in the collection are undoubtedly three locks of hair belonging to Robert and Caroline Southey, given to Mrs Bray in 1854.
The archive also contains a wealth of correspondence, travel journals, a scrapbook of drawings and watercolours, printed books and numerous draft manuscripts including the 3 volume manuscript of her autobiography, published posthumously in 1884. This work includes an account of the visit made by Robert Southey and his son Charles to Tavistock Vicarage in December 1836 as well as transcriptions of his letters to Mrs Bray. There is also a handwritten poetry book dating from the early 1820s which belonged to Mary Maria Colling, a maidservant and amateur poet from Tavistock. Mrs Bray bestowed her patronage upon Mary and privately published a selection of her poetry in 1831 entitled Fables and Other Pieces in Verse. This publication also included letters written by Mrs Bray to Robert Southey who assisted in gathering together many notable subscribers for the book, including John Murray and William Wordsworth.
I will be presenting a talk on the Bray archive at West Sussex Record Office in Chichester entitled ‘A Peep at the Pixies’: exploring the life and literary archive of Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883) on Tuesday 24th November 2015 at 7pm. Tickets cost £7.50 including refreshments, and a selection of documents from the archive will be out on display. If you would like to book a place, please contact our reception on 01243 753602.
For any enquiries regarding the collection, catalogue or the November talk please contact West Sussex Record Office on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Searchroom Assistant, West Sussex Record Office
All images are reproduced with the permission of West Sussex Record Office.