Friday, August 31, 2007

Memoir of Jane Austen (by James Edward Austen-Leigh): Chapter VII

Seclusion from the literary world—Notice from the Prince Regent—Correspondence with Mr. Clarke—Suggestions to alter her style of writing.

Jane Austen lived in entire seclusion from the literary world: neither by correspondence, nor by personal intercourse was she known to any contemporary authors.  It is probable that she never was in company with any person whose talents or whose celebrity equalled her own; so that her powers never could have been sharpened by collision with superior intellects, nor her imagination aided by their casual suggestions.  Whatever she produced was a genuine home-made article.  Even during the last two or three years of her life, when her works were rising in the estimation of the public, they did not enlarge the circle of her acquaintance.  Few of her readers knew even her name, and none knew more of her than her name.  I doubt whether it would be possible to mention any other author of note, whose personal obscurity was so complete.  I can think of none like her, but of many to contrast with her in that respect.  Fanny Burney, afterwards Madame D’Arblay, was at an early age petted by Dr. Johnson, and introduced to the wits and scholars of the day at the tables of Mrs. Thrale and Sir Joshua Reynolds.  Anna Seward, in her self-constituted shrine at Lichfield, would have been miserable, had she not trusted that the eyes of all lovers of poetry were devoutly fixed on her.  Joanna Baillie and Maria Edgeworth were indeed far from courting publicity; they loved the privacy of their own families, one with her brother and sister in their Hampstead villa, the other in her more distant retreat in Ireland; but fame pursued them, and they were the favourite correspondents of Sir Walter Scott.  Crabbe, who was usually buried in a country parish, yet sometimes visited London, and dined at Holland House, and was received as a fellow-poet by Campbell, Moore, and Rogers; and on one memorable occasion he was Scott’s guest at Edinburgh, and gazed with wondering eyes on the incongruous pageantry with which George IV. was entertained in that city.  Even those great writers who hid themselves amongst lakes and mountains associated with each other; and though little seen by the world were so much in its thoughts that a new term, ‘Lakers,’ was coined to designate them.  The chief part of Charlotte Brontë’s life was spent in a wild solitude compared with which Steventon and Chawton might be considered to be in the gay world; and yet she attained to personal distinction which never fell to Jane’s lot.  When she visited her kind publisher in London, literary men and women were invited purposely to meet her: Thackeray bestowed upon her the honour of his notice; and once in Willis’s Rooms, {117} she had to walk shy and trembling through an avenue of lords and ladies, drawn up for the purpose of gazing at the author of ‘Jane Eyre.’  Miss Mitford, too, lived quietly in ‘Our Village,’ devoting her time and talents to the benefit of a father scarcely worthy of her; but she did not live there unknown.  Her tragedies gave her a name in London.  She numbered Milman and Talfourd amongst her correspondents; and her works were a passport to the society of many who would not otherwise have sought her.  Hundreds admired Miss Mitford on account of her writings for one who ever connected the idea of Miss Austen with the press.  A few years ago, a gentleman visiting Winchester Cathedral desired to be shown Miss Austen’s grave.  The verger, as he pointed it out, asked, ‘Pray, sir, can you tell me whether there was anything particular about that lady; so many people want to know where she was buried?’  During her life the ignorance of the verger was shared by most people; few knew that ‘there was anything particular about that lady.’

It was not till towards the close of her life, when the last of the works that she saw published was in the press, that she received the only mark of distinction ever bestowed upon her; and that was remarkable for the high quarter whence it emanated rather than for any actual increase of fame that it conferred.  It happened thus.  In the autumn of 1815 she nursed her brother Henry through a dangerous fever and slow convalescence at his house in Hans Place.  He was attended by one of the Prince Regent’s physicians.  All attempts to keep her name secret had at this time ceased, and though it had never appeared on a title-page, all who cared to know might easily learn it: and the friendly physician was aware that his patient’s nurse was the author of ‘Pride and Prejudice.’  Accordingly he informed her one day that the Prince was a great admirer of her novels; that he read them often, and kept a set in every one of his residences; that he himself therefore had thought it right to inform his Royal Highness that Miss Austen was staying in London, and that the Prince had desired Mr. Clarke, the librarian of Carlton House, to wait upon her.  The next day Mr. Clarke made his appearance, and invited her to Carlton House, saying that he had the Prince’s instructions to show her the library and other apartments, and to pay her every possible attention.  The invitation was of course accepted, and during the visit to Carlton House Mr. Clarke declared himself commissioned to say that if Miss Austen had any other novel forthcoming she was at liberty to dedicate it to the Prince.  Accordingly such a dedication was immediately prefixed to ‘Emma,’ which was at that time in the press.

Mr. Clarke was the brother of Dr. Clarke, the traveller and mineralogist, whose life has been written by Bishop Otter.  Jane found in him not only a very courteous gentleman, but also a warm admirer of her talents; though it will be seen by his letters that he did not clearly apprehend the limits of her powers, or the proper field for their exercise.  The following correspondence took place between them.

Feeling some apprehension lest she should make a mistake in acting on the verbal permission which she had received from the Prince, Jane addressed the following letter to Mr. Clarke:—

‘Nov. 15, 1815.

Sir,—I must take the liberty of asking you a question.  Among the many flattering attentions which I received from you at Carlton House on Monday last was the information of my being at liberty to dedicate any future work to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, without the necessity of any solicitation on my part.  Such, at least, I believed to be your words; but as I am very anxious to be quite certain of what was intended, I entreat you to have the goodness to inform me how such a permission is to be understood, and whether it is incumbent on me to show my sense of the honour, by inscribing the work now in the press to His Royal Highness; I should be equally concerned to appear either presumptuous or ungrateful.’

The following gracious answer was returned by Mr. Clarke, together with a suggestion which must have been received with some surprise:—

‘Carlton House, Nov. 16, 1815.

Dear Madam,—It is certainly not incumbent on you to dedicate your work now in the press to His Royal Highness; but if you wish to do the Regent that honour either now or at any future period I am happy to send you that permission, which need not require any more trouble or solicitation on your part.

‘Your late works, Madam, and in particular “Mansfield Park,” reflect the highest honour on your genius and your principles.  In every new work your mind seems to increase its energy and power of discrimination.  The Regent has read and admired all your publications.

‘Accept my best thanks for the pleasure your volumes have given me.  In the perusal of them I felt a great inclination to write and say so.  And I also, dear Madam, wished to be allowed to ask you to delineate in some future work the habits of life, and character, and enthusiasm of a clergyman, who should pass his time between the metropolis and the country, who should be something like Beattie’s Minstrel—

Silent when glad, affectionate tho’ shy,

   And in his looks was most demurely sad;

And now he laughed aloud, yet none knew why.

Neither Goldsmith, nor La Fontaine in his “Tableau de Famille,” have in my mind quite delineated an English clergyman, at least of the present day, fond of and entirely engaged in literature, no man’s enemy but his own.  Pray, dear Madam, think of these things.

‘Believe me at all times with sincerity

and respect, your faithful and obliged servant,

J. S. Clarke, Librarian.’

The following letter, written in reply, will show how unequal the author of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ felt herself to delineating an enthusiastic clergyman of the present day, who should resemble Beattie’s Minstrel:—

‘Dec. 11.

Dear Sir,—My “Emma” is now so near publication that I feel it right to assure you of my not having forgotten your kind recommendation of an early copy for Carlton House, and that I have Mr. Murray’s promise of its being sent to His Royal Highness, under cover to you, three days previous to the work being really out.  I must make use of this opportunity to thank you, dear Sir, for the very high praise you bestow on my other novels.  I am too vain to wish to convince you that you have praised them beyond their merits.  My greatest anxiety at present is that this fourth work should not disgrace what was good in the others.  But on this point I will do myself the justice to declare that, whatever may be my wishes for its success, I am strongly haunted with the idea that to those readers who have preferred “Pride and Prejudice” it will appear inferior in wit, and to those who have preferred “Mansfield Park” inferior in good sense.  Such as it is, however, I hope you will do me the favour of accepting a copy.  Mr. Murray will have directions for sending one.  I am quite honoured by your thinking me capable of drawing such a clergyman as you gave the sketch of in your note of Nov. 16th.  But I assure you I am not.  The comic part of the character I might be equal to, but not the good, the enthusiastic, the literary.  Such a man’s conversation must at times be on subjects of science and philosophy, of which I know nothing; or at least be occasionally abundant in quotations and allusions which a woman who, like me, knows only her own mother tongue, and has read little in that, would be totally without the power of giving.  A classical education, or at any rate a very extensive acquaintance with English literature, ancient and modern, appears to me quite indispensable for the person who would do any justice to your clergyman; and I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress.

‘Believe me, dear Sir,

‘Your obliged and faithful humbl Sert.

Jane Austen.’ {122}

Mr. Clarke, however, was not to be discouraged from proposing another subject.  He had recently been appointed chaplain and private English secretary to Prince Leopold, who was then about to be united to the Princess Charlotte; and when he again wrote to express the gracious thanks of the Prince Regent for the copy of ‘Emma’ which had been presented, he suggests that ‘an historical romance illustrative of the august House of Cobourg would just now be very interesting,’ and might very properly be dedicated to Prince Leopold.  This was much as if Sir William Ross had been set to paint a great battle-piece; and it is amusing to see with what grave civility she declined a proposal which must have struck her as ludicrous, in the following letter:—

My dear Sir,—I am honoured by the Prince’s thanks and very much obliged to yourself for the kind manner in which you mention the work.  I have also to acknowledge a former letter forwarded to me from Hans Place.  I assure you I felt very grateful for the friendly tenor of it, and hope my silence will have been considered, as it was truly meant, to proceed only from an unwillingness to tax your time with idle thanks.  Under every interesting circumstance which your own talents and literary labours have placed you in, or the favour of the Regent bestowed, you have my best wishes.  Your recent appointments I hope are a step to something still better.  In my opinion, the service of a court can hardly be too well paid, for immense must be the sacrifice of time and feeling required by it.

‘You are very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in.  But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem.  I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.  No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.

‘I remain, my dear Sir,

‘Your very much obliged, and sincere friend,

J. Austen.

‘Chawton, near Alton, April 1, 1816.’

Mr. Clarke should have recollected the warning of the wise man, ‘Force not the course of the river.’  If you divert it from the channel in which nature taught it to flow, and force it into one arbitrarily cut by yourself, you will lose its grace and beauty.

But when his free course is not hindered,

He makes sweet music with the enamelled stones,

Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge

He overtaketh in his pilgrimage:

And so by many winding nooks he strays

With willing sport.

All writers of fiction, who have genius strong enough to work out a course of their own, resist every attempt to interfere with its direction.  No two writers could be more unlike each other than Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë; so much so that the latter was unable to understand why the former was admired, and confessed that she herself ‘should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses;’ but each writer equally resisted interference with her own natural style of composition.  Miss Brontë, in reply to a friendly critic, who had warned her against being too melodramatic, and had ventured to propose Miss Austen’s works to her as a study, writes thus:—

‘Whenever I do write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call “melodrama.”  I think so, but I am not sure.  I think, too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen’s “mild eyes,” to finish more, and be more subdued; but neither am I sure of that.  When authors write best, or, at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them which becomes their master—which will have its way—putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature, new moulding characters, giving unthought of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones.  Is it not so?  And should we try to counteract this influence?  Can we indeed counteract it?’ {126}

The playful raillery with which the one parries an attack on her liberty, and the vehement eloquence of the other in pleading the same cause and maintaining the independence of genius, are very characteristic of the minds of the respective writers.

The suggestions which Jane received as to the sort of story that she ought to write were, however, an amusement to her, though they were not likely to prove useful; and she has left amongst her papers one entitled, ‘Plan of a novel according to hints from various quarters.’  The names of some of those advisers are written on the margin of the manuscript opposite to their respective suggestions.

‘Heroine to be the daughter of a clergyman, who after having lived much in the world had retired from it, and settled on a curacy with a very small fortune of his own.  The most excellent man that can be imagined, perfect in character, temper, and manner, without the smallest drawback or peculiarity to prevent his being the most delightful companion to his daughter from one year’s end to the other.  Heroine faultless in character, beautiful in person, and possessing every possible accomplishment.  Book to open with father and daughter conversing in long speeches, elegant language, and a tone of high serious sentiment.  The father induced, at his daughter’s earnest request, to relate to her the past events of his life.  Narrative to reach through the greater part of the first volume; as besides all the circumstances of his attachment to her mother, and their marriage, it will comprehend his going to sea as chaplain to a distinguished naval character about the court; and his going afterwards to court himself, which involved him in many interesting situations, concluding with his opinion of the benefits of tithes being done away with . . . .  From this outset the story will proceed, and contain a striking variety of adventures.  Father an exemplary parish priest, and devoted to literature; but heroine and father never above a fortnight in one place: he being driven from his curacy by the vile arts of some totally unprincipled and heartless young man, desperately in love with the heroine, and pursuing her with unrelenting passion.  No sooner settled in one country of Europe, than they are compelled to quit it, and retire to another, always making new acquaintance, and always obliged to leave them.  This will of course exhibit a wide variety of character.  The scene will be for ever shifting from one set of people to another, but there will be no mixture, all the good will be unexceptionable in every respect.  There will be no foibles or weaknesses but with the wicked, who will be completely depraved and infamous, hardly a resemblance of humanity left in them.  Early in her career, the heroine must meet with the hero: all perfection, of course, and only prevented from paying his addresses to her by some excess of refinement.  Wherever she goes, somebody falls in love with her, and she receives repeated offers of marriage, which she refers wholly to her father, exceedingly angry that he should not be the first applied to.  Often carried away by the anti-hero, but rescued either by her father or the hero.  Often reduced to support herself and her father by her talents, and work for her bread; continually cheated, and defrauded of her hire; worn down to a skeleton, and now and then starved to death.  At last, hunted out of civilised society, denied the poor shelter of the humblest cottage, they are compelled to retreat into Kamtschatka, where the poor father quite worn down, finding his end approaching, throws himself on the ground, and after four or five hours of tender advice and parental admonition to his miserable child, expires in a fine burst of literary enthusiasm, intermingled with invectives against the holders of tithes.  Heroine inconsolable for some time, but afterwards crawls back towards her former country, having at least twenty narrow escapes of falling into the hands of anti-hero; and at last, in the very nick of time, turning a corner to avoid him, runs into the arms of the hero himself, who, having just shaken off the scruples which fettered him before, was at the very moment setting off in pursuit of her.  The tenderest and completest éclaircissement takes place, and they are happily united.  Throughout the whole work heroine to be in the most elegant society, and living in high style.’

Since the first publication of this memoir, Mr. Murray of Albemarle Street has very kindly sent to me copies of the following letters, which his father received from Jane Austen, when engaged in the publication of ‘Emma.’  The increasing cordiality of the letters shows that the author felt that her interests were duly cared for, and was glad to find herself in the hands of a publisher whom she could consider as a friend.

Her brother had addressed to Mr. Murray a strong complaint of the tardiness of a printer:—

‘23 Hans Place, Thursday, November 23 (1815).

Sir,—My brother’s note last Monday has been so fruitless, that I am afraid there can be but little chance of my writing to any good effect; but yet I am so very much disappointed and vexed by the delays of the printers, that I cannot help begging to know whether there is no hope of their being quickened.  Instead of the work being ready by the end of the present month, it will hardly, at the rate we now proceed, be finished by the end of the next; and as I expect to leave London early in December, it is of consequence that no more time should be lost.  Is it likely that the printers will be influenced to greater dispatch and punctuality by knowing that the work is to be dedicated, by permission, to the Prince Regent?  If you can make that circumstance operate, I shall be very glad.  My brother returns “Waterloo” with many thanks for the loan of it.  We have heard much of Scott’s account of Paris. {130}  If it be not incompatible with other arrangements, would you favour us with it, supposing you have any set already opened?  You may depend upon its being in careful hands.

‘I remain, Sir, your obt. humble Set.

J. Austen.’

‘Hans Place, December 11 (1815).

Dear Sir,—As I find that “Emma” is advertised for publication as early as Saturday next, I think it best to lose no time in settling all that remains to be settled on the subject, and adopt this method as involving the smallest tax on your time.

‘In the first place, I beg you to understand that I leave the terms on which the trade should be supplied with the work entirely to your judgment, entreating you to be guided in every such arrangement by your own experience of what is most likely to clear off the edition rapidly.  I shall be satisfied with whatever you feel to be best.  The title-page must be “Emma, dedicated by permission to H.R.H. the Prince Regent.”  And it is my particular wish that one set should be completed and sent to H.R.H. two or three days before the work is generally public.  It should be sent under cover to the Rev. J. S. Clarke, Librarian, Carlton House.  I shall subjoin a list of those persons to whom I must trouble you to forward also a set each, when the work is out; all unbound, with “From the Authoress” in the first page.

‘I return you, with very many thanks, the books you have so obligingly supplied me with.  I am very sensible, I assure you, of the attention you have paid to my convenience and amusement.  I return also “Mansfield Park,” as ready for a second edition, I believe, as I can make it.  I am in Hans Place till the 16th.  From that day inclusive, my direction will be Chawton, Alton, Hants.

‘I remain, dear Sir,

‘Yr faithful humb. Servt.

J. Austen.

‘I wish you would have the goodness to send a line by the bearer, stating the day on which the set will be ready for the Prince Regent.’

‘Hans Place, December 11 (1815).

Dear Sir,—I am much obliged by yours, and very happy to feel everything arranged to our mutual satisfaction.  As to my direction about the title-page, it was arising from my ignorance only, and from my having never noticed the proper place for a dedication.  I thank you for putting me right.  Any deviation from what is usually done in such cases is the last thing I should wish for.  I feel happy in having a friend to save me from the ill effect of my own blunder.

‘Yours, dear Sir, &c.

J. Austen.’

‘Chawton, April 1, 1816.

Dear Sir,—I return you the “Quarterly Review” with many thanks.  The Authoress of “Emma” has no reason, I think, to complain of her treatment in it, except in the total omission of “Mansfield Park.”  I cannot but be sorry that so clever a man as the Reviewer of “Emma” should consider it as unworthy of being noticed.  You will be pleased to hear that I have received the Prince’s thanks for the handsome copy I sent him of “Emma.”  Whatever he may think of my share of the work, yours seems to have been quite right.

‘In consequence of the late event in Henrietta Street, I must request that if you should at any time have anything to communicate by letter, you will be so good as to write by the post, directing to me (Miss J. Austen), Chawton, near Alton; and that for anything of a larger bulk, you will add to the same direction, by Collier’s Southampton coach.

‘I remain, dear Sir,

‘Yours very faithfully,

J. Austen.’

About the same time the following letters passed between the Countess of Morley and the writer of ‘Emma.’  I do not know whether they were personally acquainted with each other, nor in what this interchange of civilities originated:—

The Countess of Morley to Miss J. Austen.

‘Saltram, December 27 (1815).

Madam,—I have been most anxiously waiting for an introduction to “Emma,” and am infinitely obliged to you for your kind recollection of me, which will procure me the pleasure of her acquaintance some days sooner than I should otherwise have had it.  I am already become intimate with the Woodhouse family, and feel that they will not amuse and interest me less than the Bennetts, Bertrams, Norrises, and all their admirable predecessors.  I can give them no higher praise.

‘I am, Madam, your much obliged

F. Morley.’

Miss J. Austen to the Countess of Morley.

Madam,—Accept my thanks for the honour of your note, and for your kind disposition in favour of “Emma.”  In my present state of doubt as to her reception in the world, it is particularly gratifying to me to receive so early an assurance of your Ladyship’s approbation.  It encourages me to depend on the same share of general good opinion which “Emma’s” predecessors have experienced, and to believe that I have not yet, as almost every writer of fancy does sooner or later, overwritten myself.

‘I am, Madam,

‘Your obliged and faithful Servt.

J. Austen.’

‘December 31, 1815.’


{117}  See Mrs. Gaskell’s ‘Life of Miss Brontë,’ vol. ii. p. 215.

{122}  It was her pleasure to boast of greater ignorance than she had any just claim to.  She knew more than her mother tongue, for she knew a good deal of French and a little of Italian.

{126}  Mrs. Gaskell’s ‘Life of Miss Brontë,’ vol. ii. p. 53.

{130}  This must have been ‘Paul’s Letters to his Kinsfolk.’

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Memoir of Jane Austen (by James Edward Austen-Leigh): Chapter VI

Habits of Composition resumed after a long interval—First publication—The interest taken by the Author in the success of her Works.

It may seem extraordinary that Jane Austen should have written so little during the years that elapsed between leaving Steventon and settling at Chawton; especially when this cessation from work is contrasted with her literary activity both before and after that period.  It might rather have been expected that fresh scenes and new acquaintance would have called forth her powers; while the quiet life which the family led both at Bath and Southampton must have afforded abundant leisure for composition; but so it was that nothing which I know of, certainly nothing which the public have seen, was completed in either of those places.  I can only state the fact, without assigning any cause for it; but as soon as she was fixed in her second home, she resumed the habits of composition which had been formed in her first, and continued them to the end of her life.  The first year of her residence at Chawton seems to have been devoted to revising and preparing for the press ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’; but between February 1811 and August 1816, she began and completed ‘Mansfield Park,’ ‘Emma,’ and ‘Persuasion,’ so that the last five years of her life produced the same number of novels with those which had been written in her early youth.  How she was able to effect all this is surprising, for she had no separate study to retire to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting-room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions.  She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants, or visitors, or any persons beyond her own family party.  She wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper.  There was, between the front door and the offices, a swing door which creaked when it was opened; but she objected to having this little inconvenience remedied, because it gave her notice when anyone was coming.  She was not, however, troubled with companions like her own Mrs. Allen in ‘Northanger Abbey,’ whose ‘vacancy of mind and incapacity for thinking were such that, as she never talked a great deal, so she could never be entirely silent; and therefore, while she sat at work, if she lost her needle, or broke her thread, or saw a speck of dirt on her gown, she must observe it, whether there were any one at leisure to answer her or not.’  In that well occupied female party there must have been many precious hours of silence during which the pen was busy at the little mahogany writing-desk, {102} while Fanny Price, or Emma Woodhouse, or Anne Elliott was growing into beauty and interest.  I have no doubt that I, and my sisters and cousins, in our visits to Chawton, frequently disturbed this mystic process, without having any idea of the mischief that we were doing; certainly we never should have guessed it by any signs of impatience or irritability in the writer.

As so much had been previously prepared, when once she began to publish, her works came out in quick succession.  ‘Sense and Sensibility’ was published in 1811, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ at the beginning of 1813, ‘Mansfield Park’ in 1814, ‘Emma’ early in 1816; ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’ did not appear till after her death, in 1818.  It will be shown farther on why ‘Northanger Abbey,’ though amongst the first written, was one of the last published.  Her first three novels were published by Egerton, her last three by Murray.  The profits of the four which had been printed before her death had not at that time amounted to seven hundred pounds.

I have no record of the publication of ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ nor of the author’s feelings at this her first appearance before the public; but the following extracts from three letters to her sister give a lively picture of the interest with which she watched the reception of ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ and show the carefulness with which she corrected her compositions, and rejected much that had been written:—

Chawton, Friday, January 29 (1813).

‘I hope you received my little parcel by J. Bond on Wednesday evening, my dear Cassandra, and that you will be ready to hear from me again on Sunday, for I feel that I must write to you to-day.  I want to tell you that I have got my own darling child from London.  On Wednesday I received one copy sent down by Falkener, with three lines from Henry to say that he had given another to Charles and sent a third by the coach to Godmersham . . . .  The advertisement is in our paper to-day for the first time: 18s.  He shall ask 1l. 1s. for my two next, and 1l. 8s. for my stupidest of all.  Miss B. dined with us on the very day of the book’s coming, and in the evening we fairly set at it, and read half the first vol. to her, prefacing that, having intelligence from Henry that such a work would soon appear, we had desired him to send it whenever it came out, and I believe it passed with her unsuspected.  She was amused, poor soul!  That she could not help, you know, with two such people to lead the way, but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth.  I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know.  There are a few typical errors; and a “said he,” or a “said she,” would sometimes make the dialogue more immediately clear; but “I do not write for such dull elves” as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.  The second volume is shorter than I could wish, but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being a larger proportion of narrative in that part.  I have lop’t and crop’t so successfully, however, that I imagine it must be rather shorter than “Sense and Sensibility” altogether.  Now I will try and write of something else.’

Chawton, Thursday, February 4 (1813).

My dear Cassandra,—Your letter was truly welcome, and I am much obliged to you for all your praise; it came at a right time, for I had had some fits of disgust.  Our second evening’s reading to Miss B. had not pleased me so well, but I believe something must be attributed to my mother’s too rapid way of getting on: though she perfectly understands the characters herself, she cannot speak as they ought.  Upon the whole, however, I am quite vain enough and well satisfied enough.  The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense, about something unconnected with the story; an essay on writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparté, or something that would form a contrast, and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and epigrammatism of the general style . . . .  The greatest blunder in the printing that I have met with is in page 220, v. 3, where two speeches are made into one.  There might as well be no suppers at Longbourn; but I suppose it was the remains of Mrs. Bennett’s old Meryton habits.’

The following letter seems to have been written soon after the last two: in February 1813:—

‘This will be a quick return for yours, my dear Cassandra; I doubt its having much else to recommend it; but there is no saying; it may turn out to be a very long and delightful letter.  I am exceedingly pleased that you can say what you do, after having gone through the whole work, and Fanny’s praise is very gratifying.  My hopes were tolerably strong of her, but nothing like a certainty.  Her liking Darcy and Elizabeth is enough.  She might hate all the others, if she would.  I have her opinion under her own hand this morning, but your transcript of it, which I read first, was not, and is not, the less acceptable.  To me it is of course all praise, but the more exact truth which she sends you is good enough . . . .  Our party on Wednesday was not unagreeable, though we wanted a master of the house less anxious and fidgety, and more conversable.  Upon Mrs. ---’s mentioning that she had sent the rejected addresses to Mrs. H., I began talking to her a little about them, and expressed my hope of their having amused her.  Her answer was, “Oh dear yes, very much, very droll indeed, the opening of the house, and the striking up of the fiddles!”  What she meant, poor woman, who shall say?  I sought no farther.  As soon as a whist party was formed, and a round table threatened, I made my mother an excuse and came away, leaving just as many for their round table as there were at Mrs. Grant’s. {107}  I wish they might be as agreeable a set.  My mother is very well, and finds great amusement in glove-knitting, and at present wants no other work.  We quite run over with books.  She has got Sir John Carr’s “Travels in Spain,” and I am reading a Society octavo, an “Essay on the Military Police and Institutions of the British Empire,” by Capt. Pasley of the Engineers, a book which I protested against at first, but which upon trial I find delightfully written and highly entertaining.  I am as much in love with the author as I ever was with Clarkson or Buchanan, or even the two Mr. Smiths of the city.  The first soldier I ever sighed for; but he does write with extraordinary force and spirit.  Yesterday, moreover, brought us “Mrs. Grant’s Letters,” with Mr. White’s compliments; but I have disposed of them, compliments and all, to Miss P., and amongst so many readers or retainers of books as we have in Chawton, I dare say there will be no difficulty in getting rid of them for another fortnight, if necessary.  I have disposed of Mrs. Grant for the second fortnight to Mrs. ---.  It can make no difference to her which of the twenty-six fortnights in the year the 3 vols. lie on her table.  I have been applied to for information as to the oath taken in former times of Bell, Book, and Candle, but have none to give.  Perhaps you may be able to learn something of its origin where you now are.  Ladies who read those enormous great stupid thick quarto volumes which one always sees in the breakfast parlour there must be acquainted with everything in the world.  I detest a quarto.  Capt. Pasley’s book is too good for their society.  They will not understand a man who condenses his thoughts into an octavo.  I have learned from Sir J. Carr that there is no Government House at Gibraltar.  I must alter it to the Commissioner’s.’

The following letter belongs to the same year, but treats of a different subject.  It describes a journey from Chawton to London, in her brother’s curricle, and shows how much could be seen and enjoyed in course of a long summer’s day by leisurely travelling amongst scenery which the traveller in an express train now rushes through in little more than an hour, but scarcely sees at all:—

‘Sloane Street, Thursday, May 20 (1813).

My dear Cassandra,

‘Before I say anything else, I claim a paper full of halfpence on the drawing-room mantel-piece; I put them there myself, and forgot to bring them with me.  I cannot say that I have yet been in any distress for money, but I chuse to have my due, as well as the Devil.  How lucky we were in our weather yesterday!  This wet morning makes one more sensible of it.  We had no rain of any consequence.  The head of the curricle was put half up three or four times, but our share of the showers was very trifling, though they seemed to be heavy all round us, when we were on the Hog’s-back, and I fancied it might then be raining so hard at Chawton as to make you feel for us much more than we deserved.  Three hours and a quarter took us to Guildford, where we staid barely two hours, and had only just time enough for all we had to do there; that is, eating a long and comfortable breakfast, watching the carriages, paying Mr. Harrington, and taking a little stroll afterwards.  From some views which that stroll gave us, I think most highly of the situation of Guildford.  We wanted all our brothers and sisters to be standing with us in the bowling-green, and looking towards Horsham.  I was very lucky in my gloves—got them at the first shop I went to, though I went into it rather because it was near than because it looked at all like a glove shop, and gave only four shillings for them; after which everybody at Chawton will be hoping and predicting that they cannot be good for anything, and their worth certainly remains to be proved; but I think they look very well.  We left Guildford at twenty minutes before twelve (I hope somebody cares for these minutiæ), and were at Esher in about two hours more.  I was very much pleased with the country in general.  Between Guildford and Ripley I thought it particularly pretty, also about Painshill; and from a Mr. Spicer’s grounds at Esher, which we walked into before dinner, the views were beautiful.  I cannot say what we did not see, but I should think there could not be a wood, or a meadow, or palace, or remarkable spot in England that was not spread out before us on one side or other.  Claremont is going to be sold: a Mr. Ellis has it now.  It is a house that seems never to have prospered.  After dinner we walked forward to be overtaken at the coachman’s time, and before he did overtake us we were very near Kingston.  I fancy it was about half-past six when we reached this house—a twelve hours’ business, and the horses did not appear more than reasonably tired.  I was very tired too, and glad to get to bed early, but am quite well to-day.  I am very snug in the front drawing-room all to myself, and would not say “thank you” for any company but you.  The quietness of it does me good.  I have contrived to pay my two visits, though the weather made me a great while about it, and left me only a few minutes to sit with Charlotte Craven. {110}  She looks very well, and her hair is done up with an elegance to do credit to any education.  Her manners are as unaffected and pleasing as ever.  She had heard from her mother to-day.  Mrs. Craven spends another fortnight at Chilton.  I saw nobody but Charlotte, which pleased me best.  I was shewn upstairs into a drawing-room, where she came to me, and the appearance of the room, so totally unschool-like, amused me very much; it was full of modern elegancies.

‘Yours very affectly.,

‘J. A.’

The next letter, written in the following year, contains an account of another journey to London, with her brother Henry, and reading with him the manuscript of ‘Mansfield Park’:—

‘Henrietta Street, Wednesday, March 2 (1814).

My dear Cassandra,

‘You were wrong in thinking of us at Guildford last night: we were at Cobham.  On reaching G. we found that John and the horses were gone on.  We therefore did no more than we had done at Farnham—sit in the carriage while fresh horses were put in, and proceeded directly to Cobham, which we reached by seven, and about eight were sitting down to a very nice roast fowl, &c.  We had altogether a very good journey, and everything at Cobham was comfortable.  I could not pay Mr. Harrington!  That was the only alas! of the business.  I shall therefore return his bill, and my mother’s 2l., that you may try your luck.  We did not begin reading till Bentley Green.  Henry’s approbation is hitherto even equal to my wishes.  He says it is different from the other two, but does not appear to think it at all inferior.  He has only married Mrs. R.  I am afraid he has gone through the most entertaining part.  He took to Lady B. and Mrs. N. most kindly, and gives great praise to the drawing of the characters.  He understands them all, likes Fanny, and, I think, foresees how it will all be.  I finished the “Heroine” last night, and was very much amused by it.  I wonder James did not like it better.  It diverted me exceedingly.  We went to bed at ten.  I was very tired, but slept to a miracle, and am lovely to-day, and at present Henry seems to have no complaint.  We left Cobham at half-past eight, stopped to bait and breakfast at Kingston, and were in this house considerably before two.  Nice smiling Mr. Barlowe met us at the door and, in reply to enquiries after news, said that peace was generally expected.  I have taken possession of my bedroom, unpacked my bandbox, sent Miss P.’s two letters to the twopenny post, been visited by Md. B., and am now writing by myself at the new table in the front room.  It is snowing.  We had some snowstorms yesterday, and a smart frost at night, which gave us a hard road from Cobham to Kingston; but as it was then getting dirty and heavy, Henry had a pair of leaders put on to the bottom of Sloane St.  His own horses, therefore, cannot have had hard work.  I watched for veils as we drove through the streets, and had the pleasure of seeing several upon vulgar heads.  And now, how do you all do?—you in particular, after the worry of yesterday and the day before.  I hope Martha had a pleasant visit again, and that you and my mother could eat your beef-pudding.  Depend upon my thinking of the chimney-sweeper as soon as I wake to-morrow.  Places are secured at Drury Lane for Saturday, but so great is the rage for seeing Kean that only a third and fourth row could be got; as it is in a front box, however, I hope we shall do pretty well—Shylock, a good play for Fanny—she cannot be much affected, I think.  Mrs. Perigord has just been here.  She tells me that we owe her master for the silk-dyeing.  My poor old muslin has never been dyed yet.  It has been promised to be done several times.  What wicked people dyers are.  They begin with dipping their own souls in scarlet sin.  It is evening.  We have drank tea, and I have torn through the third vol. of the “Heroine.”  I do not think it falls off.  It is a delightful burlesque, particularly on the Radcliffe style.  Henry is going on with “Mansfield Park.”  He admires H.  Crawford: I mean properly, as a clever, pleasant man.  I tell you all the good I can, as I know how much you will enjoy it.  We hear that Mr. Kean is more admired than ever.  There are no good places to be got in Drury Lane for the next fortnight, but Henry means to secure some for Saturday fortnight, when you are reckoned upon.  Give my love to little Cass.  I hope she found my bed comfortable last night.  I have seen nobody in London yet with such a long chin as Dr. Syntax, nor anybody quite so large as Gogmagolicus.

‘Yours affly.,

J. Austen.’


{102}  This mahogany desk, which has done good service to the public, is now in the possession of my sister, Miss Austen.

{107}  At this time, February 1813, ‘Mansfield Park’ was nearly finished.

{110}  The present Lady Pollen, of Redenham, near Andover, then at a school in London.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Memoir of Jane Austen (by James Edward Austen-Leigh): Chapter V

Description of Jane Austen’s person, character, and tastes.

As my memoir has now reached the period when I saw a great deal of my aunt, and was old enough to understand something of her value, I will here attempt a description of her person, mind, and habits.  In person she was very attractive; her figure was rather tall and slender, her step light and firm, and her whole appearance expressive of health and animation.  In complexion she was a clear brunette with a rich colour; she had full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and well formed, bright hazel eyes, and brown hair forming natural curls close round her face.  If not so regularly handsome as her sister, yet her countenance had a peculiar charm of its own to the eyes of most beholders.  At the time of which I am now writing, she never was seen, either morning or evening, without a cap; I believe that she and her sister were generally thought to have taken to the garb of middle age earlier than their years or their looks required; and that, though remarkably neat in their dress as in all their ways, they were scarcely sufficiently regardful of the fashionable, or the becoming.

She was not highly accomplished according to the present standard.  Her sister drew well, and it is from a drawing of hers that the likeness prefixed to this volume has been taken.  Jane herself was fond of music, and had a sweet voice, both in singing and in conversation; in her youth she had received some instruction on the pianoforte; and at Chawton she practised daily, chiefly before breakfast.  I believe she did so partly that she might not disturb the rest of the party who were less fond of music.  In the evening she would sometimes sing, to her own accompaniment, some simple old songs, the words and airs of which, now never heard, still linger in my memory.

She read French with facility, and knew something of Italian.  In those days German was no more thought of than Hindostanee, as part of a lady’s education.  In history she followed the old guides—Goldsmith, Hume, and Robertson.  Critical enquiry into the usually received statements of the old historians was scarcely begun.  The history of the early kings of Rome had not yet been dissolved into legend.  Historic characters lay before the reader’s eyes in broad light or shade, not much broken up by details.  The virtues of King Henry VIII. were yet undiscovered, nor had much light been thrown on the inconsistencies of Queen Elizabeth; the one was held to be an unmitigated tyrant, and an embodied Blue Beard; the other a perfect model of wisdom and policy.  Jane, when a girl, had strong political opinions, especially about the affairs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  She was a vehement defender of Charles I. and his grandmother Mary; but I think it was rather from an impulse of feeling than from any enquiry into the evidences by which they must be condemned or acquitted.  As she grew up, the politics of the day occupied very little of her attention, but she probably shared the feeling of moderate Toryism which prevailed in her family.  She was well acquainted with the old periodicals from the ‘Spectator’ downwards.  Her knowledge of Richardson’s works was such as no one is likely again to acquire, now that the multitude and the merits of our light literature have called off the attention of readers from that great master.  Every circumstance narrated in Sir Charles Grandison, all that was ever said or done in the cedar parlour, was familiar to her; and the wedding days of Lady L. and Lady G. were as well remembered as if they had been living friends.  Amongst her favourite writers, Johnson in prose, Crabbe in verse, and Cowper in both, stood high.  It is well that the native good taste of herself and of those with whom she lived, saved her from the snare into which a sister novelist had fallen, of imitating the grandiloquent style of Johnson.  She thoroughly enjoyed Crabbe; perhaps on account of a certain resemblance to herself in minute and highly finished detail; and would sometimes say, in jest, that, if she ever married at all, she could fancy being Mrs. Crabbe; looking on the author quite as an abstract idea, and ignorant and regardless what manner of man he might be.  Scott’s poetry gave her great pleasure; she did not live to make much acquaintance with his novels.  Only three of them were published before her death; but it will be seen by the following extract from one of her letters, that she was quite prepared to admit the merits of ‘Waverley’; and it is remarkable that, living, as she did, far apart from the gossip of the literary world, she should even then have spoken so confidently of his being the author of it:—

‘Walter Scott has no business to write novels; especially good ones.  It is not fair.  He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and ought not to be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths.  I do not mean to like “Waverley,” if I can help it, but I fear I must.  I am quite determined, however, not to be pleased with Mrs. ---’s, should I ever meet with it, which I hope I may not.  I think I can be stout against anything written by her.  I have made up my mind to like no novels really, but Miss Edgeworth’s, E.’s, and my own.’

It was not, however, what she knew, but what she was, that distinguished her from others.  I cannot better describe the fascination which she exercised over children than by quoting the words of two of her nieces.  One says:—

‘As a very little girl I was always creeping up to aunt Jane, and following her whenever I could, in the house and out of it.  I might not have remembered this but for the recollection of my mother’s telling me privately, that I must not be troublesome to my aunt.  Her first charm to children was great sweetness of manner.  She seemed to love you, and you loved her in return.  This, as well as I can now recollect, was what I felt in my early days, before I was old enough to be amused by her cleverness.  But soon came the delight of her playful talk.  She could make everything amusing to a child.  Then, as I got older, when cousins came to share the entertainment, she would tell us the most delightful stories, chiefly of Fairyland, and her fairies had all characters of their own.  The tale was invented, I am sure, at the moment, and was continued for two or three days, if occasion served.’

Again: ‘When staying at Chawton, with two of her other nieces, we often had amusements in which my aunt was very helpful.  She was the one to whom we always looked for help.  She would furnish us with what we wanted from her wardrobe; and she would be the entertaining visitor in our make-believe house.  She amused us in various ways.  Once, I remember, in giving a conversation as between myself and my two cousins, supposing we were all grown up, the day after a ball.’

Very similar is the testimony of another niece:—‘Aunt Jane was the general favourite with children; her ways with them being so playful, and her long circumstantial stories so delightful.  These were continued from time to time, and were begged for on all possible and impossible occasions; woven, as she proceeded, out of nothing but her own happy talent for invention.  Ah! if but one of them could be recovered!  And again, as I grew older, when the original seventeen years between our ages seemed to shrink to seven, or to nothing, it comes back to me now how strangely I missed her.  It had become so much a habit with me to put by things in my mind with a reference to her, and to say to myself, I shall keep this for aunt Jane.’

A nephew of hers used to observe that his visits to Chawton, after the death of his aunt Jane, were always a disappointment to him.  From old associations he could not help expecting to be particularly happy in that house; and never till he got there could he realise to himself how all its peculiar charm was gone.  It was not only that the chief light in the house was quenched, but that the loss of it had cast a shade over the spirits of the survivors.  Enough has been said to show her love for children, and her wonderful power of entertaining them; but her friends of all ages felt her enlivening influence.  Her unusually quick sense of the ridiculous led her to play with all the common-places of everyday life, whether as regarded persons or things; but she never played with its serious duties or responsibilities, nor did she ever turn individuals into ridicule.  With all her neighbours in the village she vas on friendly, though not on intimate, terms.  She took a kindly interest in all their proceedings, and liked to hear about them.  They often served for her amusement; but it was her own nonsense that gave zest to the gossip.  She was as far as possible from being censorious or satirical.  She never abused them or quizzed them—that was the word of the day; an ugly word, now obsolete; and the ugly practice which it expressed is much less prevalent now than it was then.  The laugh which she occasionally raised was by imagining for her neighbours, as she was equally ready to imagine for her friends or herself, impossible contingencies, or by relating in prose or verse some trifling anecdote coloured to her own fancy, or in writing a fictitious history of what they were supposed to have said or done, which could deceive nobody.

The following specimens may be given of the liveliness of mind which imparted an agreeable flavour both to her correspondence and her conversation:—

On reading in the newspapers the marriage of Mr. Gell to Miss Gill, of Eastbourne.

At Eastbourne Mr. Gell, From being perfectly well,

Became dreadfully ill, For love of Miss Gill.

So he said, with some sighs, I’m the slave of your iis;

Oh, restore, if you please, By accepting my ees.

On the marriage of a middle-aged Flirt with a Mr. Wake, whom, it was supposed, she would scarcely have accepted in her youth.

Maria, good-humoured, and handsome, and tall,

   For a husband was at her last stake;

And having in vain danced at many a ball,

   Is now happy to jump at a Wake.

‘We were all at the play last night to see Miss O’Neil in Isabella.  I do not think she was quite equal to my expectation.  I fancy I want something more than can be.  Acting seldom satisfies me.  I took two pockethandkerchiefs, but had very little occasion for either.  She is an elegant creature, however, and hugs Mr. Young delightfully.’

‘So, Miss B. is actually married, but I have never seen it in the papers; and one may as well be single if the wedding is not to be in print.’

Once, too, she took it into her head to write the following mock panegyric on a young friend, who really was clever and handsome:—


In measured verse I’ll now rehearse

   The charms of lovely Anna:

And, first, her mind is unconfined

   Like any vast savannah.


Ontario’s lake may fitly speak

   Her fancy’s ample bound:

Its circuit may, on strict survey

   Five hundred miles be found.


Her wit descends on foes and friends

   Like famed Niagara’s Fall;

And travellers gaze in wild amaze,

   And listen, one and all.


Her judgment sound, thick, black, profound,

   Like transatlantic groves,

Dispenses aid, and friendly shade

   To all that in it roves.


If thus her mind to be defined

   America exhausts,

And all that’s grand in that great land

   In similes it costs—


Oh how can I her person try

   To image and portray?

How paint the face, the form how trace

   In which those virtues lay?


Another world must be unfurled,

   Another language known,

Ere tongue or sound can publish round

   Her charms of flesh and bone.

I believe that all this nonsense was nearly extempore, and that the fancy of drawing the images from America arose at the moment from the obvious rhyme which presented itself in the first stanza.

The following extracts are from letters addressed to a niece who was at that time amusing herself by attempting a novel, probably never finished, certainly never published, and of which I know nothing but what these extracts tell.  They show the good-natured sympathy and encouragement which the aunt, then herself occupied in writing ‘Emma,’ could give to the less matured powers of the niece.  They bring out incidentally some of her opinions concerning compositions of that kind:—


‘Chawton, Aug. 10, 1814.

‘Your aunt C. does not like desultory novels, and is rather fearful that yours will be too much so; that there will be too frequent a change from one set of people to another, and that circumstances will be sometimes introduced, of apparent consequence, which will lead to nothing.  It will not be so great an objection to me.  I allow much more latitude than she does, and think nature and spirit cover many sins of a wandering story.  And people in general do not care much about it, for your comfort . . .’

‘Sept. 9.

‘You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life.  Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on; and I hope you will write a great deal more, and make full use of them while they are so very favourably arranged.’

‘Sept. 28.

‘Devereux Forrester being ruined by his vanity is very good: but I wish you would not let him plunge into a “vortex of dissipation.”  I do not object to the thing, but I cannot bear the expression: it is such thorough novel slang; and so old that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel that he opened.’

‘Hans Place (Nov. 1814).

‘I have been very far from finding your book an evil, I assure you.  I read it immediately, and with great pleasure.  Indeed, I do think you get on very fast.  I wish other people of my acquaintance could compose as rapidly.  Julian’s history was quite a surprise to me.  You had not very long known it yourself, I suspect; but I have no objection to make to the circumstance; it is very well told, and his having been in love with the aunt gives Cecilia an additional interest with him.  I like the idea; a very proper compliment to an aunt!  I rather imagine, indeed, that nieces are seldom chosen but in compliment to some aunt or other.  I dare say your husband was in love with me once, and would never have thought of you if he had not supposed me dead of a scarlet fever.’

Jane Austen was successful in everything that she attempted with her fingers.  None of us could throw spilikins in so perfect a circle, or take them off with so steady a hand.  Her performances with cup and ball were marvellous.  The one used at Chawton was an easy one, and she has been known to catch it on the point above an hundred times in succession, till her hand was weary.  She sometimes found a resource in that simple game, when unable, from weakness in her eyes, to read or write long together.  A specimen of her clear strong handwriting is here given.  Happy would the compositors for the press be if they had always so legible a manuscript to work from.  But the writing was not the only part of her letters which showed superior handiwork.  In those days there was an art in folding and sealing.  No adhesive envelopes made all easy.  Some people’s letters always looked loose and untidy; but her paper was sure to take the right folds, and her sealing-wax to drop into the right place.  Her needlework both plain and ornamental was excellent, and might almost have put a sewing machine to shame.  She was considered especially great in satin stitch.  She spent much time in these occupations, and some of her merriest talk was over clothes which she and her companions were making, sometimes for themselves, and sometimes for the poor.  There still remains a curious specimen of her needlework made for a sister-in-law, my mother.  In a very small bag is deposited a little rolled up housewife, furnished with minikin needles and fine thread.  In the housewife is a tiny pocket, and in the pocket is enclosed a slip of paper, on which, written as with a crow quill, are these lines:—

This little bag, I hope, will prove

   To be not vainly made;

For should you thread and needles want,

   It will afford you aid.

And, as we are about to part,

   ‘T will serve another end:

For, when you look upon this bag,

   You’ll recollect your friend.

It is the kind of article that some benevolent fairy might be supposed to give as a reward to a diligent little girl.  The whole is of flowered silk, and having been never used and carefully preserved, it is as fresh and bright as when it was first made seventy years ago; and shows that the same hand which painted so exquisitely with the pen could work as delicately with the needle.

I have collected some of the bright qualities which shone, as it were, on the surface of Jane Austen’s character, and attracted most notice; but underneath them there lay the strong foundations of sound sense and judgment, rectitude of principle, and delicacy of feeling, qualifying her equally to advise, assist, or amuse.  She was, in fact, as ready to comfort the unhappy, or to nurse the sick, as she was to laugh and jest with the lighthearted.  Two of her nieces were grown up, and one of them was married, before she was taken away from them.  As their minds became more matured, they were admitted into closer intimacy with her, and learned more of her graver thoughts; they know what a sympathising friend and judicious adviser they found her to be in many little difficulties and doubts of early womanhood.

I do not venture to speak of her religious principles: that is a subject on which she herself was more inclined to think and act than to talk, and I shall imitate her reserve; satisfied to have shown how much of Christian love and humility abounded in her heart, without presuming to lay bare the roots whence those graces grew.  Some little insight, however, into these deeper recesses of the heart must be given, when we come to speak of her death.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Memoir of Jane Austen (by James Edward Austen-Leigh): Chapter IV

Removal from Steventon—Residences at Bath and at Southampton—Settling at Chawton.

The family removed to Bath in the spring of 1801, where they resided first at No. 4 Sydney Terrace, and afterwards in Green Park Buildings.  I do not know whether they were at all attracted to Bath by the circumstance that Mrs. Austen’s only brother, Mr. Leigh Perrot, spent part of every year there.  The name of Perrot, together with a small estate at Northleigh in Oxfordshire, had been bequeathed to him by a great uncle.  I must devote a few sentences to this very old and now extinct branch of the Perrot family; for one of the last survivors, Jane Perrot, married to a Walker, was Jane Austen’s great grandmother, from whom she derived her Christian name.  The Perrots were settled in Pembrokeshire at least as early as the thirteenth century.  They were probably some of the settlers whom the policy of our Plantagenet kings placed in that county, which thence acquired the name of ‘England beyond Wales,’ for the double purpose of keeping open a communication with Ireland from Milford Haven, and of overawing the Welsh.  One of the family seems to have carried out this latter purpose very vigorously; for it is recorded of him that he slew twenty-six men of Kemaes, a district of Wales, and one wolf.  The manner in which the two kinds of game are classed together, and the disproportion of numbers, are remarkable; but probably at that time the wolves had been so closely killed down, that lupicide was become a more rare and distinguished exploit than homicide.  The last of this family died about 1778, and their property was divided between Leighs and Musgraves, the larger portion going to the latter.  Mr. Leigh Perrot pulled down the mansion, and sold the estate to the Duke of Marlborough, and the name of these Perrots is now to be found only on some monuments in the church of Northleigh.

Mr. Leigh Perrot was also one of several cousins to whom a life interest in the Stoneleigh property in Warwickshire was left, after the extinction of the earlier Leigh peerage, but he compromised his claim to the succession in his lifetime.  He married a niece of Sir Montague Cholmeley of Lincolnshire.  He was a man of considerable natural power, with much of the wit of his uncle, the Master of Balliol, and wrote clever epigrams and riddles, some of which, though without his name, found their way into print; but he lived a very retired life, dividing his time between Bath and his place in Berkshire called Scarlets.  Jane’s letters from Bath make frequent mention of this uncle and aunt.

The unfinished story, now published under the title of ‘The Watsons,’ must have been written during the author’s residence in Bath.  In the autumn of 1804 she spent some weeks at Lyme, and became acquainted with the Cobb, which she afterwards made memorable for the fall of Louisa Musgrove.  In February 1805, her father died at Bath, and was buried at Walcot Church.  The widow and daughters went into lodgings for a few months, and then removed to Southampton.  The only records that I can find about her during those four years are the three following letters to her sister; one from Lyme, the others from Bath.  They shew that she went a good deal into society, in a quiet way, chiefly with ladies; and that her eyes were always open to minute traits of character in those with whom she associated:—

Extract from a letter from Jane Austen to her Sister.

‘Lyme, Friday, Sept. 14 (1804).

My dear Cassandra,—I take the first sheet of fine striped paper to thank you for your letter from Weymouth, and express my hopes of your being at Ibthorp before this time.  I expect to hear that you reached it yesterday evening, being able to get as far as Blandford on Wednesday.  Your account of Weymouth contains nothing which strikes me so forcibly as there being no ice in the town.  For every other vexation I was in some measure prepared, and particularly for your disappointment in not seeing the Royal Family go on board on Tuesday, having already heard from Mr. Crawford that he had seen you in the very act of being too late.  But for there being no ice, what could prepare me!  You found my letter at Andover, I hope, yesterday, and have now for many hours been satisfied that your kind anxiety on my behalf was as much thrown away as kind anxiety usually is.  I continue quite well; in proof of which I have bathed again this morning.  It was absolutely necessary that I should have the little fever and indisposition which I had: it has been all the fashion this week in Lyme.  We are quite settled in our lodgings by this time, as you may suppose, and everything goes on in the usual order.  The servants behave very well, and make no difficulties, though nothing certainly can exceed the inconvenience of the offices, except the general dirtiness of the house and furniture, and all its inhabitants.  I endeavour, as far as I can, to supply your place, and be useful, and keep things in order.  I detect dirt in the water decanters, as fast as I can, and keep everything as it was under your administration . . . .  The ball last night was pleasant, but not full for Thursday.  My father staid contentedly till half-past nine (we went a little after eight), and then walked home with James and a lanthorn, though I believe the lanthorn was not lit, as the moon was up; but sometimes this lanthorn may be a great convenience to him.  My mother and I staid about an hour later.  Nobody asked me the two first dances; the two next I danced with Mr. Crawford, and had I chosen to stay longer might have danced with Mr. Granville, Mrs. Granville’s son, whom my dear friend Miss A. introduced to me, or with a new odd-looking man who had been eyeing me for some time, and at last, without any introduction, asked me if I meant to dance again.  I think he must be Irish by his ease, and because I imagine him to belong to the honbl B.’s, who are son, and son’s wife of an Irish viscount, bold queer-looking people, just fit to be quality at Lyme.  I called yesterday morning (ought it not in strict propriety to be termed yester-morning?) on Miss A. and was introduced to her father and mother.  Like other young ladies she is considerably genteeler than her parents.  Mrs. A. sat darning a pair of stockings the whole of my visit.  But do not mention this at home, lest a warning should act as an example.  We afterwards walked together for an hour on the Cobb; she is very converseable in a common way; I do not perceive wit or genius, but she has sense and some degree of taste, and her manners are very engaging.  She seems to like people rather too easily.

‘Yours affectly,

‘J. A.’

Letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra at Ibthorp, alluding to the sudden death of Mrs. Lloyd at that place:—

‘25 Gay Street (Bath), Monday,

April 8, 1805.

My dear Cassandra,—Here is a day for you.  Did Bath or Ibthorp ever see such an 8th of April?  It is March and April together; the glare of the one and the warmth of the other.  We do nothing but walk about.  As far as your means will admit, I hope you profit by such weather too.  I dare say you are already the better for change of place.  We were out again last night.  Miss Irvine invited us, when I met her in the Crescent, to drink tea with them, but I rather declined it, having no idea that my mother would be disposed for another evening visit there so soon; but when I gave her the message, I found her very well inclined to go; and accordingly, on leaving Chapel, we walked to Lansdown.  This morning we have been to see Miss Chamberlaine look hot on horseback.  Seven years and four months ago we went to the same riding-house to see Miss Lefroy’s performance! {75a}  What a different set are we now moving in!  But seven years, I suppose, are enough to change every pore of one’s skin and every feeling of one’s mind.  We did not walk long in the Crescent yesterday.  It was hot and not crowded enough; so we went into the field, and passed close by S. T. and Miss S. {75b} again.  I have not yet seen her face, but neither her dress nor air have anything of the dash or stylishness which the Browns talked of; quite the contrary; indeed, her dress is not even smart, and her appearance very quiet.  Miss Irvine says she is never speaking a word.  Poor wretch; I am afraid she is en pénitence.  Here has been that excellent Mrs. Coulthart calling, while my mother was out, and I was believed to be so.  I always respected her, as a good-hearted friendly woman.  And the Browns have been here; I find their affidavits on the table.  The “Ambuscade” reached Gibraltar on the 9th of March, and found all well; so say the papers.  We have had no letters from anybody, but we expect to hear from Edward to-morrow, and from you soon afterwards.  How happy they are at Godmersham now!  I shall be very glad of a letter from Ibthorp, that I may know how you all are, but particularly yourself.  This is nice weather for Mrs. J.  Austen’s going to Speen, and I hope she will have a pleasant visit there.  I expect a prodigious account of the christening dinner; perhaps it brought you at last into the company of Miss Dundas again.

Tuesday.—I received your letter last night, and wish it may be soon followed by another to say that all is over; but I cannot help thinking that nature will struggle again, and produce a revival.  Poor woman!  May her end be peaceful and easy as the exit we have witnessed!  And I dare say it will.  If there is no revival, suffering must be all over; even the consciousness of existence, I suppose, was gone when you wrote.  The nonsense I have been writing in this and in my last letter seems out of place at such a time, but I will not mind it; it will do you no harm, and nobody else will be attacked by it.  I am heartily glad that you can speak so comfortably of your own health and looks, though I can scarcely comprehend the latter being really approved.  Could travelling fifty miles produce such an immediate change?  You were looking very poorly here, and everybody seemed sensible of it.  Is there a charm in a hack postchaise?  But if there were, Mrs. Craven’s carriage might have undone it all.  I am much obliged to you for the time and trouble you have bestowed on Mary’s cap, and am glad it pleases her; but it will prove a useless gift at present, I suppose.  Will not she leave Ibthorp on her mother’s death?  As a companion you are all that Martha can be supposed to want, and in that light, under these circumstances, your visit will indeed have been well timed.

Thursday.—I was not able to go on yesterday; all my wit and leisure were bestowed on letters to Charles and Henry.  To the former I wrote in consequence of my mother’s having seen in the papers that the “Urania” was waiting at Portsmouth for the convoy for Halifax.  This is nice, as it is only three weeks ago that you wrote by the “Camilla.”  I wrote to Henry because I had a letter from him in which he desired to hear from me very soon.  His to me was most affectionate and kind, as well as entertaining; there is no merit to him in that; he cannot help being amusing.  He offers to meet us on the sea coast, if the plan of which Edward gave him some hint takes place.  Will not this be making the execution of such a plan more desirable and delightful than ever?  He talks of the rambles we took together last summer with pleasing affection.

‘Yours ever,

‘J. A.’

From the same to the same.

‘Gay St. Sunday Evening,

‘April 21 (1805).

My dear Cassandra,—I am much obliged to you for writing to me again so soon; your letter yesterday was quite an unexpected pleasure.  Poor Mrs. Stent! it has been her lot to be always in the way; but we must be merciful, for perhaps in time we may come to be Mrs. Stents ourselves, unequal to anything, and unwelcome to everybody . . . .  My morning engagement was with the Cookes, and our party consisted of George and Mary, a Mr. L., Miss B., who had been with us at the concert, and the youngest Miss W.  Not Julia; we have done with her; she is very ill; but Mary.  Mary W.’s turn is actually come to be grown up, and have a fine complexion, and wear great square muslin shawls.  I have not expressly enumerated myself among the party, but there I was, and my cousin George was very kind, and talked sense to me every now and then, in the intervals of his more animated fooleries with Miss B., who is very young, and rather handsome, and whose gracious manners, ready wit, and solid remarks, put me somewhat in mind of my old acquaintance L. L.  There was a monstrous deal of stupid quizzing and common-place nonsense talked, but scarcely any wit; all that bordered on it or on sense came from my cousin George, whom altogether I like very well.  Mr. B. seems nothing more than a tall young man.  My evening engagement and walk was with Miss A., who had called on me the day before, and gently upbraided me in her turn with a change of manners to her since she had been in Bath, or at least of late.  Unlucky me! that my notice should be of such consequence, and my manners so bad!  She was so well disposed, and so reasonable, that I soon forgave her, and made this engagement with her in proof of it.  She is really an agreeable girl, so I think I may like her; and her great want of a companion at home, which may well make any tolerable acquaintance important to her, gives her another claim on my attention.  I shall endeavour as much as possible to keep my intimacies in their proper place, and prevent their clashing.  Among so many friends, it will be well if I do not get into a scrape; and now here is Miss Blashford come.  I should have gone distracted if the Bullers had staid . . . .  When I tell you I have been visiting a countess this morning, you will immediately, with great justice, but no truth, guess it to be Lady Roden.  No: it is Lady Leven, the mother of Lord Balgonie.  On receiving a message from Lord and Lady Leven through the Mackays, declaring their intention of waiting on us, we thought it right to go to them.  I hope we have not done too much, but the friends and admirers of Charles must be attended to.  They seem very reasonable, good sort of people, very civil, and full of his praise. {80}  We were shewn at first into an empty drawing-room, and presently in came his lordship, not knowing who we were, to apologise for the servant’s mistake, and to say himself what was untrue, that Lady Leven was not within.  He is a tall gentlemanlike looking man, with spectacles, and rather deaf.  After sitting with him ten minutes we walked away; but Lady Leven coming out of the dining parlour as we passed the door, we were obliged to attend her back to it, and pay our visit over again.  She is a stout woman, with a very handsome face.  By this means we had the pleasure of hearing Charles’s praises twice over.  They think themselves excessively obliged to him, and estimate him so highly as to wish Lord Balgonie, when he is quite recovered, to go out to him.  There is a pretty little Lady Marianne of the party, to be shaken hands with, and asked if she remembered Mr. Austen: . . .

‘I shall write to Charles by the next packet, unless you tell me in the meantime of your intending to do it.

‘Believe me, if you chuse,

‘Yr affte Sister.’

Jane did not estimate too highly the ‘Cousin George’ mentioned in the foregoing letter; who might easily have been superior in sense and wit to the rest of the party.  He was the Rev. George Leigh Cooke, long known and respected at Oxford, where he held important offices, and had the privilege of helping to form the minds of men more eminent than himself.  As Tutor in Corpus Christi College, he became instructor to some of the most distinguished undergraduates of that time: amongst others to Dr. Arnold, the Rev. John Keble, and Sir John Coleridge.  The latter has mentioned him in terms of affectionate regard, both in his Memoir of Keble, and in a letter which appears in Dean Stanley’s ‘Life of Arnold.’  Mr. Cooke was also an impressive preacher of earnest awakening sermons.  I remember to have heard it observed by some of my undergraduate friends that, after all, there was more good to be got from George Cooke’s plain sermons than from much of the more laboured oratory of the University pulpit.  He was frequently Examiner in the schools, and occupied the chair of the Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy, from 1810 to 1853.

Before the end of 1805, the little family party removed to Southampton.  They resided in a commodious old-fashioned house in a corner of Castle Square.

I have no letters of my aunt, nor any other record of her, during her four years’ residence at Southampton; and though I now began to know, and, what was the same thing, to love her myself, yet my observations were only those of a young boy, and were not capable of penetrating her character, or estimating her powers.  I have, however, a lively recollection of some local circumstances at Southampton, and as they refer chiefly to things which have been long ago swept away, I will record them.  My grandmother’s house had a pleasant garden, bounded on one side by the old city walls; the top of this wall was sufficiently wide to afford a pleasant walk, with an extensive view, easily accessible to ladies by steps.  This must have been a part of the identical walls which witnessed the embarkation of Henry V. before the battle of Agincourt, and the detection of the conspiracy of Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey, which Shakspeare has made so picturesque; when, according to the chorus in Henry V., the citizens saw

The well-appointed King at Hampton Pier

Embark his royalty.

Among the records of the town of Southampton, they have a minute and authentic account, drawn up at that time, of the encampment of Henry V. near the town, before his embarkment for France.  It is remarkable that the place where the army was encamped, then a low level plain, is now entirely covered by the sea, and is called Westport. {83}  At that time Castle Square was occupied by a fantastic edifice, too large for the space in which it stood, though too small to accord well with its castellated style, erected by the second Marquis of Lansdowne, half-brother to the well-known statesman, who succeeded him in the title.  The Marchioness had a light phaeton, drawn by six, and sometimes by eight little ponies, each pair decreasing in size, and becoming lighter in colour, through all the grades of dark brown, light brown, bay, and chestnut, as it was placed farther away from the carriage.  The two leading pairs were managed by two boyish postilions, the two pairs nearest to the carriage were driven in hand.  It was a delight to me to look down from the window and see this fairy equipage put together; for the premises of this castle were so contracted that the whole process went on in the little space that remained of the open square.  Like other fairy works, however, it all proved evanescent.  Not only carriage and ponies, but castle itself, soon vanished away, ‘like the baseless fabric of a vision.’  On the death of the Marquis in 1809, the castle was pulled down.  Few probably remember its existence; and any one who might visit the place now would wonder how it ever could have stood there.

In 1809 Mr. Knight was able to offer his mother the choice of two houses on his property; one near his usual residence at Godmersham Park in Kent; the other near Chawton House, his occasional residence in Hampshire.  The latter was chosen; and in that year the mother and daughters, together with Miss Lloyd, a near connection who lived with them, settled themselves at Chawton Cottage.

Chawton may be called the second, as well as the last home of Jane Austen; for during the temporary residences of the party at Bath and Southampton she was only a sojourner in a strange land; but here she found a real home amongst her own people.  It so happened that during her residence at Chawton circumstances brought several of her brothers and their families within easy distance of the house.  Chawton must also be considered the place most closely connected with her career as a writer; for there it was that, in the maturity of her mind, she either wrote or rearranged, and prepared for publication the books by which she has become known to the world.  This was the home where, after a few years, while still in the prime of life, she began to droop and wither away, and which she left only in the last stage of her illness, yielding to the persuasion of friends hoping against hope.

This house stood in the village of Chawton, about a mile from Alton, on the right hand side, just where the road to Winchester branches off from that to Gosport.  It was so close to the road that the front door opened upon it; while a very narrow enclosure, paled in on each side, protected the building from danger of collision with any runaway vehicle.  I believe it had been originally built for an inn, for which purpose it was certainly well situated.  Afterwards it had been occupied by Mr. Knight’s steward; but by some additions to the house, and some judicious planting and skreening, it was made a pleasant and commodious abode.  Mr. Knight was experienced and adroit at such arrangements, and this was a labour of love to him.  A good-sized entrance and two sitting-rooms made the length of the house, all intended originally to look upon the road, but the large drawing-room window was blocked up and turned into a book-case, and another opened at the side which gave to view only turf and trees, as a high wooden fence and hornbeam hedge shut out the Winchester road, which skirted the whole length of the little domain.  Trees were planted each side to form a shrubbery walk, carried round the enclosure, which gave a sufficient space for ladies’ exercise.  There was a pleasant irregular mixture of hedgerow, and gravel walk, and orchard, and long grass for mowing, arising from two or three little enclosures having been thrown together.  The house itself was quite as good as the generality of parsonage-houses then were, and much in the same style; and was capable of receiving other members of the family as frequent visitors.  It was sufficiently well furnished; everything inside and out was kept in good repair, and it was altogether a comfortable and ladylike establishment, though the means which supported it were not large.

I give this description because some interest is generally taken in the residence of a popular writer.  Cowper’s unattractive house in the street of Olney has been pointed out to visitors, and has even attained the honour of an engraving in Southey’s edition of his works: but I cannot recommend any admirer of Jane Austen to undertake a pilgrimage to this spot.  The building indeed still stands, but it has lost all that gave it its character.  After the death of Mrs. Cassandra Austen, in 1845, it was divided into tenements for labourers, and the grounds reverted to ordinary uses.


{75a}  Here is evidence that Jane Austen was acquainted with Bath before it became her residence in 1801.  See p.[25].

{75b}  A gentleman and lady lately engaged to be married.

{80}  It seems that Charles Austen, then first lieutenant of the ‘Endymion,’ had had an opportunity of shewing attention and kindness to some of Lord Leven’s family.

{83}  See Wharton’s note to Johnson and Steevens’ Shakspeare.