The Gatty/Ewing Papers: 19th-Century Celebrity Culture and Children’s Fiction

Spotlight of Sheffield Archives # 2

Throughout the summer and autumn of 2015 I undertook a huge scoping project at Sheffield Archives, looking to identify materials of interest to the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Sheffield. Now, as I look to help convert these findings into future research opportunities, I find myself in the unique and hugely privileged position of having so many incredible stories to tell!

In this strand of posts on my blog I hope to give you a fleeting insight into the many remarkable wonders held at Sheffield Archives. If you feel inspired, I implore you, make an appointment at 52 Shoreham Street and see these treasures for yourself.

Sheffield Archives

52 Shoreham Street, Sheffield Archives.

The Gatty family lived in the Sheffield area throughout the 19th century and were incredibly well-connected.

Margaret Gatty, a children’s writer and marine biologist who regularly challenged Charles Darwin on the topic of evolution, married Rev. Alfred Gatty, who had previously served as the personal Chaplain to Lord Horatio Nelson during the Napoleonic wars. Their daughter, Juliana Ewing, also went onto have a successful career as a Children’s Writer, with the archive collecting her regular correspondences with the likes of Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling. In addition to the family’s own extraordinary notes and correspondences, Alfred Gatty also instigated an impressive autograph collection which was continued on in later generations, bestowing upon the archive a number of volumes featuring the writing of such figures as William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Christina Rossetti and Florence Nightingale.


A letter from Rudyard Kipling.

However, for me, the material that is most impressive resides within a box of family ‘Juvenilia.’ Typically used with reference writers like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters the term ‘juvenilia’ is defined in the OED as ‘works produced by an author or artist whilst still young’ – and believe me, as children, teenagers and young women both Margaret and her daughter Julia were prolific.

One of the most extraordinary set of compositions present itself in the form of over sixty meticulously detailed ‘family magazines’, written in pen in imitation of those periodicals and magazines available in print at the time. More remarkable still, the collection demonstrates that this is a family tradition, with Margaret penning her own ‘Scorton Gazette’, whilst two decades later her daughter Julia produces the ‘Gunpowder plot’ and ‘Anon’ (described as being ‘a new periodical for the literary table’). And these were not fleeting of faddish endeavours, a new issue of ‘The Gunpowder plot’ appears every month from 1862-1871!

Scorton Gazette

‘The Scorton Gazette’

The detail and dedication implicit in these pieces is astonishing. What is more, Margaret’s satirical ‘Scorton Gazette’ is hilarious from the very first issue (published May 4 1832). Here, on the incredibly detailed ‘advertisements’ page we find a ‘matrimony’ section.

It reads:

“An elderly gentleman unembarrassed by fortune or personal advantages will be most happy to unite himself to any Lady possessing 3000 a year – beauty – accomplished – and good tempered. NB. In case of necessity the last three qualifications will be dispensed with.”

And then, beneath this, beside an ornately detailed manicule the works: ‘No joke is intended.’

No Joke

‘No Joke’! Humorous advert inside the ‘Scorton Gazette.’

Elsewhere in the collection there are (once again) immaculately presented examples of extended prose, produced in imitation of their printed counterparts. At age 23 Gatty embarks on a ‘multi-volume’ series under the title ‘Tales of a Chambermaid’, the first installments being ‘James Jackson or, ‘tis six years since.’ Fascinatingly, Gatty does not write as herself but instead adopts the persona of that ‘Author of Waverly’, Sir Walter Scott.


Young Margaret’s ‘novel’ in the style of Sir Walter Scott.

In addition to these incredible full ‘works’ there are fragments of pieces now lost (or perhaps never finished), such as a few pages from a untitled and undated play in which two protagonists, Fanny and Annie, find themselves on holiday in the country when they meant to visit the city. Tantalizingly the final dialogue in the manuscript finds Fanny reflecting that:

“Women may say what they please, nobody minds. What comfort it is to be born foolish and not be supposed capable of talking sense! One has some of the privileges of the court fool by virtue of the contempt in which one is held.”

As you’ll also have seen, Margaret and her daughter Juliana habitually and meticulously kept up their pocket diaries – Juliana more than Margaret.

Teenage Juliana details her daily activities in quite a lot of detail, listing where she’s been, who she’s spoken to, what she’s working on – even what she’s been reading.

By comparison Margaret is less thorough, but her diaries as objects are far more interesting in and of themselves, because every year – without fail – Margaret uses the branded Mr Punch’s Pocket Books; a humorous child-friendly diary complete with all of the facts and figures a young person might need, games, poems, songs, stories and illustrations. And the humour in these things is, well, frankly – cutting. See for instance, this Cat Tax on Spinsters:

Cat Taz

Please feel free to get in touch to discuss any academic research opportunities that might arise from working further with these collections. 


Voices needed for short film about Coffee House History

Needed: People to talk to me about why they like coffee and coffee shops at 3pm on Weds 15th Oct.

I’ll be in the University of Sheffield’s Jessop West café from 3-4pm tomorrow.

The sound bytes I record might be used in a short film about the history of the coffee shop (more info below)  

If you can help (or would like further information), drop me a line at, tweet me using @elementaladam, or just see if you can find me in the café tomorrow.


Further Information/Contacts

Adam J Smith- Email:

Twitter: @elementaladam

Gemma Thore (Film maker):

Amy Ryall (Arts Enterprises):


The background and rationale for the film

The dawn of print culture and the issues that it raised map remarkably well onto the rise of the internet. Cheap print meant that for the first time almost anybody could go to print, prompting a boom in pamphlets, periodicals and newspapers. Much of this material was anonymous, and in instances where an author was attributed to a text the reader only had their word for it that they were who they said they were; prompting anxieties over the ‘authenticity’ and legitimacy of printed material. Much of these periodicals were designed to present individual opinions on everything from politics to literature, culture, music and fashion. Quite often these papers would present opinions on other opinions, which could lead to some very heated and nasty exchanges. Analogies to the blogsphere are not only easy to make but also highly appropriate. The coffee-houses in which these papers would have been consumed and discussed formed an important part a new commercial society, in which (for the first time) the public determined artistic output by buying what they liked (rather than having taste dictated to them by the patronage of the royal court). The Britain of this era was still new (topically, the Union of Scotland had only just taken place in 1707) and languishing in a period of highly publicised austerity (after the expensive wars and financial collapse of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth-centuries). In a series of events analogous to the hung parliament of 2010 the disruption wrought by the Hanoverian Succession meant that neither political party could rely on traditionally faithful voters. Instead, as each party chased the same floating and marginal voters their respective rhetoric came to sound more and more alike, leading to a widespread disillusionment in the political system. This, combined with the on-going financial crisis, led to rioting in cities across Britain in 1715; a civil uprising exploited by politicians and their critics alike across the new print culture that provided the canvas for these events.

My research

My PhD thesis interrogates an early eighteenth-century periodical written by Joseph Addison called The Free-Holder. Originally published in 1715-1716 The Free-Holder represents Addison’s final contribution to the genre of ‘periodical writing’ before his death in 1719. Addison, whose life was retold in copious numbers of celebrative biographies throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries, is best remembered for his towering success on the earlier landmark periodicals: The Spectator and The Tatler. Each of these papers famously prescribed a polite and civilised mode of behaviour to the coffee-house culture of the early eighteenth century and apparently asserted the importance of maintaining partisan objectivity in political matters. In contrast The Free-Holder (which is usually excluded from biographical writing on Addison) demonstrates how this polite behaviour can be applied directly to politics; essentially concluding that rather than contenting or criticising a political opponent it is better to sympathise with them, adopt their language and rhetoric, and convert them to your cause without their realising it. My project argues that Addison is a pioneer in the way that he dirties the idea of politeness, applying it cynically and pragmatically to a partisan cause. It explains how it is that this process is enacted within the pages of The Free-Holder, arguing that this not only complicates our understanding of Addison’s life and writings, but also marks a striking parallel to our own condition.

Teaching the Eighteenth Century Online: A Free Resource on iTunesU

‘Welcome to the Coffee House’: The Literature of the Eighteenth Century

This free teaching resource is a collection of interactive videos created for ‘Sheffield on iTunesU’:  a platform offering ‘free access to the University’s world-class materials.’ This collection is designed to introduce A-Level and first year undergraduate students to the literature of the long eighteenth century.

Taking Joseph Addison’s The Free-Holder as a starting point the collection goes onto to encompass broader literary and historical contexts whilst encouraging viewers to construct and articulate their own close readings of the material that they encounter.

The collection discusses the literature of Eighteenth-Century London

The collection discusses the literature of Eighteenth-Century London


Episode Guide

Part 1: Introductions

An introduction to studying literature at University level and an introduction to the primary text that we will be working with in this collection: Joseph Addison’s The Free-Holder.

 Part 2: History

A whistle-stop tour of the key events and critical contexts that will inform our reading of The Free-Holder.

 Part 3: Literature

A brief survey of the types of literature in circulation and a discussion of some literary devices popular at this time.

 Part 4: Conclusions

In the final session we will apply everything we have learnt to the primary text encountered in part 1, building an interpretation through the application of close reading and appropriate historical context.

 The collection takes approximately 50 mins to complete, and can be downloaded here

(Please note, you will need to install iTunes).

‘Ann Radcliffe at 250’: A Retrospective

Over the weekend I was lucky enough to attend ‘Radcliffe at 250’, an international conference hosted by the University of Sheffield. The conference (which was co-organised by Angela Wright, Joe Bray, Maddy Callaghan, Andrew Smith and Dale Townsend) featured keynotes by Emma Cleary and Fred Botting and a full tour and banquet at Hardwick Hall.

You can find out more about the conference at the official site or by following the conference team on Twitter (@Radcliffe250).

The conference generated an enormous amount of coverage on the Twittersphere, with many delegates live tweeting the fantastic array of papers whilst others uploaded pictures of the astonishing scenery and imaginative catering on offer. I have collated some of the social media coverage into this ‘Storify’ compilation:

The conference also dove-tailed beautifully with ‘Literature of the Country House‘, the first ever MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to be produced and delivered by the University of Sheffield’s School of English. This week on the MOOC, learners have actually been reading Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, and over the duration of the course they have encountered many of the conference organiser as MOOC educators.

Since I was attending the conference (which also hosted a paper by my fellow MOOC Mentor and PhD peer, Carly Stevenson), it seemed like a good opportunity to put something special together for all of our learners on the course… The result is this short collection of interviews recorded at the conference in which delegates explain why Radcliffe and the Gothic are still so important 250 years later:

Ann Radcliffe at 250: Behind the Scenes

Literature of the Country House

The School of English at the University of Sheffield will soon be launching its very first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), and it will feature weeks dedicated to the eighteenth century! This free online course is titled ‘Literature and the Country House’, and it promises to take students on a journey through the literature of the country house from the time of Thomas More to Oscar Wilde.

This online course (which is open to absolutely anyone!) is powered by Futurelearn and will feature video content written and delivered by specialist researchers at the University of Sheffield and  filmed on location at such glorious properties as Chatsworth House, Nostell Priory, Bolsover Castle and Brodsworth Hall. Futurelearn have even prepared an interactive map, to give prospective students a sense of where these country houses are and how they will tie into the course:


In addition to this video content there will be a range of downloadable materials available and an opportunity to engage in live discussion online.

I am fortunate enough to be one of the mentors on the course and I will be participating in and helping to moderate these discussion (I’m very excited about the whole project, but am especially looking forward to one week which discuses eighteenth-century politeness and The Spectator; both of which speak to my own research).

The course is already being heralded in the press as the perfect outlet for fans of costume drama, with the Yorkshire Post suggesting that it is an opportunity to discover  ‘the truths of the real Downton Abbey.’

It will also be a lot of fun for anyone interested in literature written any time between the early modern period and the late nineteenth century.

Something that becomes clear quite quickly in the course is that the country house is afforded a constant position throughout the history of English Literature, and as such provides a perfect perspective from which to explore a rich and diverse range of fascinating and entertaining texts.

To find out more visit the official site:

I look forward to (virtually) seeing you there!


Thoughts on Feminism and 18th-century Print: ‘We Are Feminists’ One Year On

Earlier this week someone reminded me that it is now a year since I was filmed explaining how feminism helps to inform my approach to the study of early eighteenth-century print culture.

I remember there being some speculation among my close friends as to how exactly I was going to do this, given that my research is on eighteenth-century periodicals written for men, about men, to be circulated in a predominantly male coffee house culture (‘You’re off to a good start’, one of my friends quipped upon watching my introduction to the finished video).

The video I was preparing, this week last year, was to be part of the University of Sheffield’s ‘We Are Feminists’ project, produced by the School of English.

As the story goes, the project started when Amber Regis decided to film colleagues and peers discussing what feminism meant to them with a view to using the collected footage in a lecture on feminism. This was intended as a demonstration of the versatility and diversity of feminism both as a critical approach and a subject with everyday implications.

In this, it was highly successful. But, as the last 12 months have demonstrated, the story doesn’t stop there…

So, I had a weekend to decide what to say in my video.

I think it is fair to say I found the prospect fairly daunting. This wasn’t because I didn’t know what to say about feminism in my own research. I knew exactly how feminism influences my thinking. As I (now famously) say in my video, I think of feminism every time I pick up my pen. No, I was daunted because there was going to be dozens of these videos being filmed and I had no idea what everybody else would be saying. I was worried about repetition. I was nervous that my video, which seemed to me to be fairly obvious, would replicate exactly what everybody else would be saying, but possibly less eloquently…

Monday came around, and my video was recorded:

Feminism, as an approach, helps me ideologically and methodologically in my research as I attempt to uncover silenced and maligned voices, to undo canonical damage and to sensitively reconstruct a complete picture of a past literary culture.

As the webcam blinked at me and I began to speak I became increasingly concerned that everybody would be saying something similar…

As it happened I need not have worried.

The diversity and richness of the videos collected really has to be seen to be believed, as everybody did something different with the remit. I don’t have enough room here to commend and comment on all of the videos, but if you haven’t done so already I do implore you to check out the entire playlist. It is astonishing.

There were others who, like me, raised the issue of canon formation and the violence and silencing that can be implicit in this. Both Jane Hodson and Amber Regis discuss this theme, but with reference to different texts and different literary periods (and the project later produced a dedicated post upon the subject of canonical forces).

Some offered a detailed and concise introduction to feminism as a critical approach, with both Fabienne Colignon and John Miller encouraging viewers to interrogate any and all notions of the ‘natural’ that they encounter.

And then there were those who talked very personally and openly about how feminism had effected not only their research, but their own everyday lives and experiences. Dave Forrest talked movingly about his childhood, and his relationship with his mother. Angela Wright revealed that as a female academic she feels indebted to the pioneering women writers and scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And Janine Bradbury talked candidly about the influence of Black Feminism upon her life and research, revealing that the two have become one and the same and have played an enormous role in making her the person that she is today.

The lecture that these videos was produced for came and went, but the catalogue of videos kept on growing. More staff and students continued to come forward, whilst the blog on which the videos first appeared proceeded to illicit further responses from universities around the world.

In recent months the videos have even been made available to download on iTunesU, where they are enjoying a healthy second life.

On a smaller scale I have found myself referring to and using the videos in my own teaching time and again. When teaching I frequently find myself encountering a scepticism, wariness or outright antagonism towards feminism, which is usually revealed almost immediately to stem from a lack of awareness or consideration for what feminism actually is.

Where once I would have to try and dispute the misconceptions that surround feminism all by myself I can now redirect them to the ‘We Are Feminists’ playlist and they can see dozens of people explain what it means to them.

And on an even smaller scale than that, the project has had a huge impact upon my own life, thinking and research. It led me to reconsider and clarify my own relationship with feminism, and thanks to this playlist it is something I have continued to think about and engage with.

So, thank you ‘We Are Feminists’ – may the project continue to grow for many more years yet.

Samuel Johnson’s ‘Life on Screen’

This month finds me frantically fighting to add all of the final flourishes (and footnotes…) to what I hope will be the last ever draft of my PhD thesis. As such, I fear that I haven’t had chance to write anything new for this blog (although, I do implore you to check out some of the very exciting things that have been happening over on the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Garden Project).

So, instead, I humbly offer you a link to a review essay that I very much enjoyed writing earlier this year for CRITICKS (the online review site of the the British Society of Eighteenth Century Studies):

Johnson’s ‘Life on Screen’

Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson

The essay explores some of the many representations of Samuel Johnson’s story on the big and small screen, covering everything from Blackadder to The Dictionary Man, revealing as it does so that there is as yet to be a production that does justice to the remarkable life of Samuel Johnson.