Thursday, February 22, 2018

Nella Fontaine Binckley: "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter III, Part 2

[Nella Fontaine Binckley, "Odds and Ends from an Artist's Life," Chapter III, part 2. From a transcription annotated by Patricia D'Arcy Binckley of typewritten original, February 25, 2005. Original "written some time after 1941 by Nellie F. Binckley, 1860-1950 or 51." Notes in brackets are mine, unless followed by the initials "P.D.B." Occasionally, additional paragraph breaks inserted for easier reading. 

Many thanks to William Myers, Mary Davy, Sally Young and Sue Davis for their ongoing research collaboration; specifically to William for providing a scan of the original document, and in turn many thanks to Peter Binckley and Patricia D'Arcy "Trish" Binckley (1951-2007), at the source.]

My two grandmothers visited us, and my education was not neglected. Grandmother Michel had started me in French and Latin when I was nine years old. Her own education had been very unusual for a woman of her day. She was an excellent Latin scholar, spoke French like a native, and also knew Spanish and Italian. When she was a girl, young ladies had been taught to be notable housewives, to sew and embroider, and were prepared to preside over a household with grace and dignity. They were sent to a finishing school, where they acquired some accomplishments and got a smattering of a few other things. Beyond that, nobody cared what was in their heads, if anything. It did not matter.

Grandmother never went to school a day in her life. It was then the custom among the landed gentry of Virginia to have their sons prepared for college at home by a tutor. She was the youngest of a large family and the only daughter. She had nine brothers. She studied with their tutor and studies whatever she wished. She didn't like English grammar, so never studied it, and spoke the most beautiful English I ever heard. But of course, one does not learn one's native tongue from a grammar.

When she was 13, her mother [Mary Wood Johnston -- M.J.B.] died and she went to live in Washington with her brother Edward and his wife. He was a lawyer [he was an educator/editor/librarian], and a very accomplished linguist. His wife [Marie Antoinette Estelle Costar (De Cressac Villagrand) Johnston (circa. 1802-1848)] was French, from Martinique [from Saint-Domingue/Haiti], and she never learned English, nor did her mother, Madame Villegrand [Joséphine Labarrière Costar, whose second husband was Jerome De Cressac Villagrand, Estelle's step-father],who lived with them. So nothing but French was spoken in their house. 

[Nella is probably conflating her grandmother Jane with her mother, Mary Louisa, who lived for a time with Edward in Washington City; Edward and Estelle were married in New York City on February 7, 1824. They moved to Columbia, South Carolina in the second half of the 1820s. By the time they moved to Washington City, in the early 1840s, Jane had been married to Harvey Mitchell/Michel for a decade. However, Jane may have stayed with them for a while in New York City or in Columbia.]   

Uncle Edward once had a lawsuit to conduct in Mexico. He [knew] no Spanish, but in six weeks he had learned to read, write and speak it fluently. 

On Grandmother's 14th birthday [November 26, 1825], Aunt Estelle gave her an exquisite necklace, tiny opals set in a delicate gold chain, with a small carnelian cross as a pendant. Grandmother gave it to Mother on her 14th birthday [February 16, 1852], and Mother gave it to me on mine [September 1, 1874].

When I was 10, I won a contest in a child's magazine for best translation of a French story -- my first appearance in print.

When Spring came and the snows melted, we were living in a lake. But when Summer got there it was beautiful. Most of the ground was virgin prairie, not yet uprooted by the prairie plough, and covered with wonderful wildflowers. But I didn't care much for prairies -- too monotonous. And such an awful lot of sky. I missed my beloved Peaks. 

A sculptor friend of Father's brought me a lump of clay and I used to model little heads. Mother wanted me to take it up seriously, but I loved color [too] much. In fact, I loved it so much that Father never allowed me to have any paints, as he feared I might neglect drawing. But I'm sure it would not have mattered, for I love line just as much as color. Father said that I must have my college education first, and then he'd give me my art education.

Dad and I were great chums. I adored him. I would never have dreamed of disobeying him. If he'd told me to jump out of the window, I'd have done it instantly. I was a biddable creature anyhow, having been born with an inferiority complex, and believing that everyone knew better than I did. And my upbringing tended to accentuate this, as Grandmother Michel had the old fashioned idea that children should be kept down and not be allowed to get above themselves, as she expressed it. She was devoted to me, but thought it her duty to sit on me occasionally.

Mother liked to go to bed early, but Dad liked to work at night, and [always] sat up more than half the night. He and I used to sit up till all hours talking. Finally, with a guilty glance at the clock, he'd say hurriedly, "Run along upstairs, honey," then add shamefacedly, "You needn't say anything to your mother about it." Dad was born a few centuries too late. He was a knight errant in spirit, always ready to help the weak and oppressed with no thought of himself. His motto was "Noblesse Oblige."

[Ellen/Nellie/Nella Fontaine Binckley (September 1, 1860-April 27, 1951). Family names and dates were whimsically tweaked by their owners during their lifetime, adding mystery and sometimes causing confusion. For Binckley's "Artist's Life," I'm opting for the full artist's signature name, Nella Fontaine Binckley. 

Grandmother = Jane Johnston Mitchell/Michel (1811-1892).
Mother = Mary Louisa/Louise Mitchell/Michel Binckley (1838-1930).
Father = John Milton Binckley (circa 1831-1878).

Grandma = Charlotte Stocker Binckley /aka Charlotta Stoker (February 19, 1788-November 25, 1877). 
Mary Wood Johnston = Mary Valentine Wood Johnston (May 8, 1769-June 17, 1825).

For French translation, see "Borrowing Trouble," translated by Nellie Binckley, St. Nicholas: Scribner's Illustrated Magazine for Girls and Boys. Conducted by Mary Mapes Dodge. Volume I (November 1873-November 1874). Scribner & Co., 1874. See page 430 (Volume 1, Number 7, May 1874). The French title was "Emprunt de Peine."]

No comments:

Post a Comment