MONT BLANC, POMPEI, CHINA (AND DANCING MUMMIES)

A large archive of printed and manuscript material, including drafts of shows and lectures, including portions of Mont Blanc, Mont Blanc to China, poetry, dramatic pieces, a juvenile poem, letters to his sister Laura, a copy of his will.

[1820s to 1860s.]

Condition variable but generally good, some portions tightly folded or rolled, some secured with a pin or stitched, many loose.

£15000

Approximately:
US $19067€17561

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A large archive of printed and manuscript material, including drafts of shows and lectures, including portions of Mont Blanc, Mont Blanc to China, poetry, dramatic pieces, a juvenile poem, letters to his sister Laura, a copy of his will.

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Albert Richard Smith (1816–1860) trained as a surgeon but shortly afterwards turned to the world of letters, becoming a regular contributor to Bentley’s Miscellany and Punch; he adapted works by his friend Dickens for the theatre and edited The Man in the Moon (1847–9). ‘During the course of his career Smith published nearly thirty books. His novels, more notable for their wit than their plots, enjoyed modest commercial success but little critical acclaim … Smith became best known, however, for his entertaining lectures about his travels in the 1850s.’ He journeyed to Constantinople and Egypt in 1849 and ascended Mont Blanc in 1851, both of which became the subject of shows. Mont Blanc was a runaway success, running for 6 years (and 2000 performances), and was even performed before the Queen in 1854. It earned Smith a fortune in merchandise; it also established the peak as a major tourist destination at a time it was still infrequently climbed. In between each season he would travel to the Alps, taking a different route, in search of new content and exhibits for his shows. In 1854 for example his route to Chamonix took in Holland and Germany not France, and in 1856 he travelled via Genoa, Naples, Pompei and Capri. Seeking more exotic material, in 1858 Smith went to Hong Kong. The result of this last journey was Mont Blanc to China, which combined all his famous shows into one blockbuster. This series was cut short by his death of bronchitis in May 1860.

The present archive is a fascinating one, spanning Smith’s whole career, with a few pieces relating to other members of his family. The earliest item is some touching autograph ‘Verses written … at the time he was in affliction and crying. 24 Miles from his dear Mama and home’ (c. 1826?), when he was sent to board at Merchant Taylor’s School at the age of ten. The last are copies of his will and the sale notice for his house North End Lodge in Fulham in 1860; and the printed In Memoriam for his brother and business partner Arthur Smith in 1861.

The main body of the archive though comprises more than 45 autograph drafts (or partial drafts) for scenes from Smith shows, some present in multiple versions, and most showing evidence of the extensive process of revision that Smith undertook as he performed then re-used material – there are collages of printed cuttings and manuscripts, carbon copies, sections cut out and new portions inserted, and loose scraps of notes. Many contain instructions for staging and for the music to be played at certain points of the action.

Contents include:

Shows
The Ascent of Mont Blanc 1857 – scripts for new scenes describing his visits Pompei, Naples, Malta and Capri as well as chapter in Chamonix (in total 60+ leaves); an issue of The Mont Blanc Gazette for 1858.

Mont Blanc to China: a printed programme, draft manuscripts (with heavy editing) of Part I sections 1-4 (complete), and Part II sections 1-5, some fragmentary, section 1 in two drafts. Also ‘China (second season)’ (in total 50+ leaves). 

Other dramatic pieces and prose
‘Anthony and Cleopatra’. A curious pageant featuring a conversation between Osiris, a mummy, and the comedian Robert Keeley (Smith’s father-in-law). With the fantastic line ‘The mummies join awkwardly in the dance …’

‘The Water of Life’. Scenes 1, 3 (fragile and fragmentary) and 4 of an unidentified piece featuring King Pantagruel, Prince Fastiman, Prince Prettyman, and Princess Amy. At one point they travel in a ‘steam nautilus’. Carbon copies.

‘“Tell Truth and shame the –!” (A supernatural interlude, in one act)’.

‘The Pedigree of a Petticoat’.

‘The Gentleman who feared he was not believed’, two drafts.

Several interludes involving a Yankee, and others featuring the travellers Brown Senior and Junior (recurring characters in the shows).

Poetry
‘Verses written … at the time he was in affliction and crying. 24 Miles from his dear Mama and home’ (c. 1826?).

‘The Table d’Hote’. Written on the blank versos of four copies of The Destruction of Chamouni by Fire 1858, a leaflet printed by Smith soliciting subscription funds in aid of the inhabitants.

‘The Mediterranean Steamer’.

A packet of verse written on cards, mostly political in nature.

Personal material
Autograph letter to his sister Laura Eady, December 1859, inviting his nephew for a visit ‘during the pantomimes’.

Letters to Laura Smith (later Eady) from Richard Smith (father, d. 1857), c. 1820-30; Eliza Frances Smith (sister), 1838; and Harriet Boileau (several, London and India, 1840).

Conduct book of Eliza Frances Smith, 1-28 August 1832. A charming juvenile behaviour diary: e.g. Sunday 5. ‘Was shockingly tiresome – suppose it was because of the sad wet day. 6. Worried sadly & was so irritable I was obliged to be beaten but was much bitten by gnats & itched which I think was the cause’.

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