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Dear Diddles: Eliza Mathews writes to her friend Ann Smith

This is my third post about the David William Smith papers at the Toronto Reference Library. The first two posts, A Toronto farm, 1799–1800 and A tale of two Isaac Gilberts, drew from Smith’s service as Upper Canada’s first Surveyor General and his personal land ownership.

1764 letter from Eliza Mathews to Ann Smith

First page of a three-page letter from Eliza Mathews to her friend Ann Smith (mother of David William Smith), written in 1764 in Kilkenny, Ireland.

In addition to the documents created and received while in Upper Canada, there is considerable correspondence received by Smith while he was on leave in England, and after 1802 when he returned there for good.

The David William Smith papers also include some selected correspondence of his father John Smith, Commander of the 5th of Foot at Detroit and Niagara, and letters to D.W. Smith’s mother, the former Ann Waylen.

It is one of these letters to Mrs. Ann Smith from her friend Eliza Mathews that caught my eye and then my imagination. It was written in September 1764, just three weeks after the birth of her son David in Wiltshire, England. Eliza, having recently moved to Kilkenny, Ireland, is also expecting a baby very soon and is missing her companion. Eliza writes, as she says, “just as I used to talk to you”. It is honest, enlightening, and endearing. I hope you enjoy the transcription that follows.

You can find the original letter in the Toronto Reference Library’s Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, Fonds S126, Series A10, folder 4, pages 251–254.

Kilkenny September the 24th 1764

I am rejoiced to hear of my D’r[1] Diddles recovery, and the Diddles Diddle being well and hearty; tell [Tacky] I congratulate him upon his Papa-ship, and wish sincerely I could see you both to tell you what pleasure the news gave me when I heard it. You may imagine that a few month’s absense made me indifferent about you, but indeed you mistake, my regard is not less than at the time of our greatest intimacy. Fy! I abhor the suspicion nor do I think my D’r Smith w’d harbor it of me, therefore shall say no more of it.

Achs and pains, such as you have had yourself, prevented my writing as expeditiously as I ought to you, and even this you may look upon as a farewell, for [so]me time, for I don’t know how soon I may be confined; [d]ont you pity me, is it not dreadful; what but the highest love for your husband can make it [toler]able, nor nothing in my opinion but a return of love from him, can compensate for what we suffer; I know the generality of them only laugh at this, but that is miserable comfort to us, who experience the hardship of having children.

Good God how I pity some women, who I know heartily hate their husbands, and I am certain are as sincerely despised by them, and yet breed as fast as rabbits, what lives of misery they have, you can’t but have known some such couples—but I fear I am going on too rashly in declaring my sentiments, I forgot you have an unmarried sister with you who may perhaps come to the knowledge of this letter, and we sh’d be cautious not to say anything that would be likely to be a detriments to the matrimonial scheme; if she sh’d happen to see this, tell I spoke in general terms, for that I can assure her there are some particular people in the world, who never knew what happiness was, till the knot was tyed. I myself am one instance of it, among the many others to be found in the world.

My D’r Sam and I often wish you w’d take it into your head to come down and see our new house; there is a bed and room at your service as much, or more, than ever Mrs Robinsons was, and another for your Sister, perhaps not quite so good, but such a one as I believe she w’d dispense with for the sake of being in the house with you; I dont ask you, that there are the least public amusements going forward here for you, for in your life you never knew a place more barren of entertainment in that way; its all confined to domestic chearfulness and peace, if you have it not at home you have no other resource to fly to; do D’r Smith come down and see how we live, we can give you a Quadrille, a good fire, and a hearty welcome, whenever you please to accept it, and the sooner the more agreeable to us.

I have scarce looked at my paper since I began, so that I write just as I used to talk to you, that was with very little consideration and less coherency, so I fear you’ll find this letter, all I shall answer for it is, that it has truth to recommend it from first to last for that Diddle is my D’r Diddle and that I am hers and Mr Smiths sincere Friend is what I hope they will both believe. I am likewise [____] in the request, and assure yourself that I am your affectionate

Eliza Mathews

Compliments to your Sister

Willy is [purely] and often drinks your health remember me to the gentleman of Reg’t [D___] for me at the Parade[2]


[1] Eliza used abbreviations lavishly. This one is “dear”.

[2] Spelling and punctuation are Eliza’s. I’ve broken her letter into paragraphs for ease of reading.

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