The last leg of my research trip was to the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, which held more letters from Jane Loudon, and a brief note from Mangles. Loudon, as I mentioned in an earlier post, wrote manuals that made botany accessible to women and children.
In Mangles’ letterbooks in the Battye Library in Perth, there are a few letters from Loudon. On 22nd October 1840, she wrote ‘I am going to begin a Lady’s Magazine of Gardening and Botany the 1st of January, with coloured plates and I shall be very much obliged to you, if you will give me a few hints and point out new flowers, etc etc.’ A few days later she followed this up with, ‘I have received a note from Mr John Murray, agreeing to take my instruction, in producing Botany for Ladies; — and I write to tell you, because I know you take an interest in all my numerous publications — I am quite delighted to begin this work, because I am sure something of the kind is wanted — I never could bear the Linnean System, it is so dry! but the Natural System is very interesting, when stripped of its formal language — I mean to render Botany entertaining and if I can do this, I think I shall deserve the thanks of every lover of flowers’. The aim of every science communicator ever!
A number of Loudon’s letters in the National Library in Edinburgh are to her publisher, John Murray. This publishing house also produced books by Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Arthur Conan Doyle and Lord Byron. In a letter of 19th April, 1843, she proposed to the current John Murray (there were seven of them between 1768 and 2002) to write a three-book series on Zoology for Ladies. It would, she suggested, ‘be on a regularly scientific plan, following the modern improvements of the system of Cuvier. At the same time my object would be to make it an entertaining book fit to be read in schools or to a family circle’. Once again, Loudon’s aspiration to make science available to children is clear.
Back in Australia, Georgiana benefitted from Jane Loudon’s publications, but in terms of gardening. In an extract of a long letter written in 1840, she thanked Mangles profusely for ‘Mrs Loudon’s “Flower Garden”’ which she described as ‘beauteous & elegant beyond description I feel highly indebted not only to you but to that superior gifted Lady for the exertions made to strike off an immediate copy’. This was likely The Ladies’ Flower Garden of Ornamental Annuals, published in 1840. In another letter dated a year later, Georgiana referred to Loudon’s description of Ipomoea, and thanked Mangles again for the work, commenting ‘How singular you should have even thought of thus gratifying my ardent wish to see this work’.
Jane Loudon’s husband died from lung cancer in 1843, leaving behind large debts. Jane’s letters, now bordered in black dwell upon means of making money such as raising subscriptions. Despite her ambition, intelligence and hard work, Loudon died penniless in 1858 at the age of 51, leaving ingenuity a daughter, Agnes. It seems a sad end for such a clever and innovative woman.
While I was in Edinburgh I also took the opportunity to update my author photo – a must if a writer wants to age gracefully! My photographer was my friend Ian, who was in our Australian/English bookclub when I lived in London, The Book Rangers. He hails from Cootamundra and is also a brilliant hairdresser. When I got home I revamped my website with one of his pics. You can see more of his work on his website, and also follow him on Facebook.