LISTON (HENRIETTA) Twenty-three autograph letters signed, to her step-uncle and adoptive father James Jackson, the postmaster of Glasgow, written before and after her husband's embassy to the United States of America and during her husband's service in the Netherlands, 1796-1802
Lot 226
Sold for £ 5,000 (US$ 6,587) inc. premium

Lot Details
Twenty-three autograph letters signed, to her step-uncle and adoptive father James Jackson, the postmaster of Glasgow, written before and after her husband's embassy to the United States of America and during her husband's service in the Netherlands after the treaty of Amiens; many with address panels and postmarks, some 70 pages, dust-staining and minor wear but overall in good and attractive condition, 4to, England, West Indies, France, Holland and elsewhere, 1796 and 1800-1802


  • 'I UNDERSTAND THAT MRS WASHINGTONS DRAWING-ROOM IS VERY FINE': a fine and lively group of letters by the friend of Martha and George Washington and wife of the British Minister to the United States. Other letters to her uncle are now in the National Library of Scotland, including a group 'reporting knowledgeably on life and politics in America' through which she has acquired a reputation as a gifted letter-writer and commentator (Deborah Manley, ODNB). The NLS has, in addition, her American and the West Indian diaries, the latter overlapping with letters in our collection (see below).

    Our letters date from three distinct periods, namely the first four written from England immediately after her marriage to the career diplomat Robert (later Sir Robert) Liston; four written on her way home from America via Antigua, Liston's posting having ended in December 1800; and the remaining fifteen written while on the Continent in 1802, during the Peace of Amiens. (The letters are dated as follows: from Carlisle, 28 February 1796; London, 6 March 1796; Portsmouth 17 March 1796; Portsmouth 18 March 1796; Antigua, 14 January 1801; Dominique, 2 February 1801; Venus Frigate, 26 February 1801; Falmouth, 11 May 1801; London, 6 August 1802; London; 14 August 1802; Dover, 19 August 1802; Calais, 20 August 1802; Paris, 23 August 1802; Paris, 23 August 1802; Paris, 31 August 1802; Paris, 3 September 1802; Paris, 4 September 1802; Brussels, 9 September 1802; Hague, 24 September 1802; Hague, 6 October 1802; Hague, 6 November 1802; Hague, 20 November 1802; Hague, 3 December 1802).

    The earliest letter was written the day after her marriage to Liston, and these first four describe preparations for their journey to America, where her new husband was to take up his appointment as Minister to the United States (he being only the second person to hold this post, it being just thirteen years since independence): "We dine with Mr Hammond late Minister to America, it is our first formal Visit, I would fain have been excused from it, but as these are things I must go through I thought it as well to comply with Mr Listons first request cheerfuly... yesterday Mr Liston dined with My Lord Grenvell [i.e. Lord Grenville, the Foreign Secretary]... My picture was begun yesterday, & Mrs Elliott meets me this day at the painters for the second sitting, it will require four, & I wish after all, that it may be finish'd before my departure if we can, however, get the likeness fix'd". She reports from Portsmouth while awaiting embarkation: "Our Equipage consisted of a great Chaise for ourselves, one with Mr Listons valet & My Maid, & two footmens riding & our Maitre d'hotel (or Steward) went the day before to provide things for Us, & these five are all the servants We take along with us, I very much wanted a Cook, as every other one necessary We can easily get in America, but I could not procure one that was likely to answer, so must take our chance of that as of the others... James Munro has charge of the picture for you, which, tho' not flatter'd, is certainly very like, & Mr Liston thinks a good picture, but dislikes the expression of gravity in the countenance, this is not, however, the fault of the painter, it is merely the expression my countenance wears when not animated by speech... You may feel some anxiety to know Mr Liston's appointment, it is four thousand a year, which sounds great, but, when I see five servants, & hear they are little more than half the number we must have, & other expences, to-gether with the style in which We must live... On our journey to London, Mr Liston mention'd My being Introduced [at Court], I said if it was a necessary things I could not object, if not, I would rather decline the honor... & it was fix'd to be on My return from America: it would have been, not only inconvenient, but expensive, as the only very fine Dress I have, must have been made-up for Court in a form which would have render'd it useless for America, & I understand that Mrs Washingtons Drawing-room is very fine". The following day, she adds that "We go on board to-morrow to Dinner, & Sail on Sunday" and throws in the grumble that Lady Bute insists they employ one of her sons on their embassy.

    The next four are written while on her way home from America, the couple sailing via her homeland of Antigua, from where she writes that she has been visited by many of her father's "old friends, black as well as white" and that "all my Fathers old Negroes have visited me". The remaining fifteen are written while Liston was serving as Envoy-Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Batavian Republic, the French client state comprising the Netherlands, during the Peace of Amiens. After Liston had gone to Weymouth "to take leave of the King", the couple travelled to Paris, from where four letters are written. Here Liston held talks with Talleyrand and was presented to the First Consul, along with "Mr Fox to whom he made a long studied speech". They also saw Bonaparte parade his troops: "He rode, very quickly, but ungracefully along the ranks... I had a tolerable view of his face, he looked at the company & smiled – his features are perfectly regular, & the face handsomely formed, his eyes are rather sunk, & his complexion pale to sallowness" (she also notes at the Tuilleries the presence of "the four beautiful Bronze Horses brought from Venice").

    The last five are from the Hague, and give a vivid description of Holland under what was, effectively, French occupation. As representatives of Great Britain, the Listons were made especially welcome. This finds its apogee in a visit they paid to the Synagogue at Haarlem where "to our astonishment, a Prayer [was] delightfully chaunted for Mr Liston & great Britain" and where she where was seated "in the body of the Church facing the Alter, the Seat, indeed, of the Elders where no Woman had ever been seen before", the service concluding with "a Hymn to the tune of God save the King, a Jew whispering Mr Liston that it was the first time they had ventured on that tune since the revolution". Indeed, she tells her uncle, "The mob was so great even with this short notice that We rejoiced they had not heard it sooner".
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