I admire the Sagacity & Taste of Charlotte Williams. Those large dark eyes always judge well. — I will compliment her, by naming a Heroine after her — Tues Oct 12th.
Edward has driven off poor Mrs Salkend. — It was thought a good opportunity of doing something towards clearing the house — Thurs, Oct 14th
I should be most happy to see dear Charles, & he will be as happy as he can with a cross Child or some such care pressing in on him at the time … They had a very rough passage, he would not have ventured if he had known how bad it would be — Thurs-Fri, Oct 14th-15th
Charles Austen, 1796, in his lieutenant’s uniform
Fanny Palmer Austen, his wife, perhaps around 1807 when they married
Dear friends and readers,
A genuine “In continuation.”
We could call this letter more of the same, except, alas, it is much sourer than earlier in the week, and I cannot dispute Diana Birchall’s general assessment:
Let me say right up front that if I had to pick one, I believe this is the letter of Jane Austen’s with the highest number of nasty sniping comments. Some are famous. If we counted, there’s quite a total!
I suggested something had occurred to grate on Austen’s soul viscerally, and she just can’t stand the intrusion of so many “stupidish” (in both senses of the word), “ill”-dressed and “very plain” people who wear far too many “flounces:” “You must really get some flounces” (to Cassandra). A momentary relief:
We have got rid of Mr Mascall [who ate all that butter in the previous letter] however; — I did not like him either. He talks too much & is conceited — besides having a vulgarly-shaped mouth … [italics hers]
Everyone is very “wearying” and not only are “Mr and Mrs Moore & one Child” coming (on top of all these others) but it seems “Charles and Fanny” are coming “in October” as
if they come at all … in October they must. What is the use of hoping? — The two parties of children are the cheif Evil. To be sure, here we are, the very thing has happened, or rather worse, a Letter from Charles this very morning which gives us reason to suppose they may come today. It depends upon the weather, & the weather now is very fine. — No difficulties are made however & indeed there will be no want of room ….
Still she does not want them. Beyond the frustration of not writing enough, perhaps not reading enough:
The Comfort of the Billiard Table here is very great. — It draws all the Gentlemen to it whenever they are within, especially after dinner, so that my Brother [Edward], Fanny & I have the Library to ourselves in delightful quiet …
she does seem exasperated with Edward Bridges and his “motley crew,” which she returns to as a kind of suppurating sore. Mr Lushington is still available “for franking,” and he was nearby enough to write the address of this letter.
I was going to open by saying, let’s be frank for once: what we have are letters written to and saved by a narrow woman without general insight and no interests outside her family (i.e., Cassandra), who saves passages which condemn Jane (as when Jane laughs at a maid harassed by her nephews) and destroys the ones which exonerate her, but after all it’s Jane who wrote it. And the spirit coheres with her usual dislike of unknown company, possible boredom, snubbing, (justified I should concede) distrust of others’ motives and preference for going where there will be nobody (countryside which is not valued hypocritically).
I have indeed brought over from Tuesday a line I overlooked in my last blog: Charlotte Williams (about whom LeFaye seems to know nothing), who Austen was so taken with, she remembered her when she sat down to begin Sanditon — unless this the line may be taken as suggesting notes towards Sanditon had not already begun. I did in my last quote some of the famous bleak and bitter ripostes in this letter, only saving her unusual lack of sympathy for a single woman turned off, and in my last emphasized the coquetry with Lushington, Hatton and (antagonistically) Edward Bridges.
What’s left? cross remarks which I’ll spare the reader; that he “Brown Bombasin” was “much admired;” that although Cassandra has been sending details of Chawton house, Edward wants more (he “wants to be expressly told that all the Round Tower &c. is entirely down, & the door from the Best room entirely stopt up; — he does not know enough … “); a moment of relenting over Miss Benn (whom she does keep a kindness for), which spills into the genuinely comedic:
Have you done anything about our Present to Miss Benn? — I suppose she must have a bed at my Mothers whenever she dines there. — How will they manage as to inviting her when you are
gone? — & if they invite how they will contrive to entertain her? — Let me know as many of your parting arrangements as you can, as to Wine &c. — I wonder whether the Ink bottle has been filled. — Does Butcher’s meat keep up at the same price? & is not Bread lower than 2/ 6. — Mary’s blue gown! — My Mother must be in agonies. — I have a great mind to have my blue gown dyed some time or other — I proposed it once to you & you made some objection, I forget what. — It is the fashion of flounces that gives it particular Expediency
and Charles and Fanny’s visit.
Charles Austen, 1810
Charles appears least of all the brothers and sisters in Austen’s letters. When last seen he was an eager dancer at parties (both the uniform and this eagerness reminding us of William Price, Letter 17), and his sister enjoyed that. We saw him asserting himself tenaciously, stubbornly to be promoted just as rapidly as his older brother Francis, and Austen was not unsympathetic (e.g., Letters 14,15, & 18, 1798-99). We did hear when he was married (but no one went and the remark easy to overlook), and then light passing remarks about how hard-up he and Fanny were, living on board ship, and references to their problems in managing when they came on land in England, and their children insufficiently disicplined, but when we think of Frank (poems to him upon his liminal transitions), Edward (many and varied) and even Henry (not as sympathetic or understanding as we might wish her), we realize in comparison Charles seems hardly on her mind.
I suggested that we get some insight into her distancing herself from her brother in the telling flat announcement of Fanny’s death in yet another childbirth (Letter 107, 1807). The family did not approve of Fanny as a colonialist who brought nothing even if the daughter of a former attorney general (details in LeFaye’s Family Record, 143), a dismissal which comes out very distastefully when Charles remarrried, and chose her sister. Mrs Austen: “I am now very glad that his residence is at such a distance” (LeFaye, 138).
LeFaye says the remarks show their disapproval of his ignoring the Married Wife’s Sister Act (it was forbidden), but the content of the remarks gives the family’s real feelings away: Harriet is vulgar; “to elegance she has no pretensions.” Neither did Fanny living aboard ship with her husband, giving birth there, bringing up children (see Deborah Kaplan, “Domesticity at Sea: the example of Charles and Fanny Austen,” Persuasions 14 (1992a):113-22). The complaints about his children fit in here. He gets insufficient respect, if from Cassandra at any rate (it’s to her letters expressing worry over how Charles and Fanny will manage, that Austen’s brief remarks are addressed).
If any one doubts that Austen’s attitude is shaped by an idea that the Palmers are inferior, read her comment on the child being “so Palmery:”
I talk to Cassy about Chawton; she remembers much but does not volunteer on the subject. — Poor little Love — I wish she were not so very Palmery — but it seems stronger than ever. –I never knew a Wife’s family-features have such undue influence. –Papa & Mama have not yet made up their mind as to parting with her or not-the cheif, indeed the only difficulty with Mama is a very reasonable one, the Child’s being very unwilling to leave them. When it was mentioned to her, she did not like the idea of it at all. — At the same time, she has been suffering so much lately from Sea sickness, that her Mama cannot bear to have her much on board this winter. — Charles is less inclined to part with her. — I do not know how it will end, or what is to determine it. He desires his best Love to you & has not written because he has not been able to decide.- They are both very sensible of your Kindness on the occasion. — I have made Charles furnish me with something to say about Young Kendall. — He is going on very well. When he first joined the Namur, my Brother did not find him forward enough to be what they call put in the Office, & therefore placed him under the Schoolmaster, but he is very much improved, so goes into the Office now every afternoon — still attending School in the morns …
Kendall was a volunteer first class. No matter how Palmery Austen found the child it’s clear that life at sea is not healthy for her. The modern norm would leave her with relatives.
So let us situate this visit to Godmersham in the context of Charles’s whole career (I’ve culled this chronology from several sources, Sailor Brothers, Kaplan’s article on Charles and Fanny at sea in Persuasions most prominently):
1779 Charles Austen born
1791 (July) Charles matriculated into Royal Naval Academy
1794 Charles goes to sea; served first in Daedalus, first as Volunteer (?),then as midshipman (he is there as midshipman while Francis is on Glory); then on Unicorn, both ships under Captain Thomas Williams, at time of capture of La Tribune; June 8, 1796. Now Captain Thomas Williams was husband to Jane Cooper, an
Austen cousin. Last in the Endymion
1797 year of many mutinies
1797 December Charles promoted to be a Lieutenant, serving in the Scorpion, under command of Captain John Tremayne Rodd; chief event the capture of the Courier, a Dutch brig carrying 6 guns. He gets restless, agitates for removal.
1798 Nelson sails from England and joins St Vincent at Cadiz; goes on into Mediterranean. French seize Malta and British blockade it.
1798 1 August: Battle of Nile, Aboukir Bay, British victory cuts off Bonaparte in Eygpt; Turkey declares war on France; Nelson establishes himself off coast of Palermo, Sicily. Rear-Admiral Perrée had served in immense fleet which Bonaparte took to Egypt; most seniors killed or captured; he takes charge of remaining frigates, anchored at Alexandria, blockaded by Captain Toubridge (Sailor Brothers 78)
1798 December: Letters from Jane to Cassandr in which we learn:
Charles: George Austen writes to Dayshto desire Daysh inform him when Commission is sent (pushing it); Charles writes to Lord Spencer himself 28 Jane announces Frank is made, rank of Commander for Peterel sloop, now at Gibraltar; letter from Daysh announces, confirmed by friendly one from Mr Matthew transcribing one from Gambier to General; India House taken Charles’s petition into consideration (says Daysh), Lieutenant Charles to be removed to Tamar frigate
1799, January: Charles at home, not pleased with existing arrangements; leaves on 21st for Tamar in the Downs; only gets as far as Dean Gate because coaches full; calls on Daysh the next day to see if Tamar has sailed or not; he does get off, writes a few days later to say he is Second Lieutenant on Tamar; also in Downs was Endymion, and in February or 3 weeks later Charles appointed Lieutenant to this frigate in which he saw much service, chiefly Algeciras, under Thomas Williams once again
1799-1800: Endymion serves in Western Mediterranean too; attacks Spanish gunboats off Algecrias and captures privateers, including La Furie, from which Charles’s prize money is £40. Scipio in a violent gale captured, Charles and 4 men capture it, Le Faye, Family Record 111. Captain Thomas Williams is replaced by Philip Durham, Sailor Brothers, 91
1800, autumn: Endymion returns to Gosport, and Charles awaits new duties; Jane is to make shirts by the half dozens, 1 November 1800
1800 1 November: Jane to Cassandra reports on Francis’s activities as described by him in a letter:; Charles on the Endymion, ‘waiting only for orders, but may wait for them perhaps a month’, LeFaye, JA’s Letters, 1 November 1800, 52; Sailor Brothers, 95
20-21 November, Thurs-Fri: Charles came home on previous Tuesday; they walked to Deane and he danced the whole evening & is today no more tired than a gentleman ought to be, she got another letter from Frank dated 2nd of October (see above), LeFaye 60, Sailor Brothers, 96-97
1801 11 February: Jane to Cassandra reports on a letter received from Charles written 7 February: Charles coming from Lisbon on Endymion with Captain Boyle who reports he has not seen Frank, Captain Inglis [he had been a lieutenant in Penelope, distinguished himself in capture of Guillaume Tell] at Rhodes going to take command of Peterel; supposes Frank will arrive in England in about 2 weeks with dispatches from Sir Ralph Abercrombie; Charles surprised they are to leave Steventon for Bath ‘of course’, but will visit once more while place still theirs, LeFaye, Lets, 79-80; Sailor Brothers, 104-5
1803, after May 18: Charles reappointed to Endymion, served with distinction (until October 1804 when given command of Indian sloop): Captain of Endymion is Paget, prizes caught while Charles on board, the French corvette Bacchante on 25 June 1803, Sailor Brothers 123
1804: Charles Austen in Bermuda assigned to North American station, main duty as captain of Indian under Admiral John Warren is to prevent neutral countries from trading with France, DKaplain, Persuasions, 14, p 115; it would seem that from 1804 to 1810 Charles was basically stationed in North America whenever England was at war, Sailor Brothers, 205
1805, 23 April: Jane to Cassandra, from Gay street: they visit Lord and Lady Leven, are almost shownaway, then lied to about Lady: but theyare Charles’s friends so this ordeal must be endured, Le Faye 105
1807, Charles Austen in his late twenties marries Francis Fitzwilliam Palmer, daughter of Attorney General of Bermuda, in Bermuda, DKaplan, Persuasions, 14, p 115; Jane Austen mentions him in her letters
1808, the Indian Charles’s ship captured La Jeune Estelle, a small privateer, but work unprofitable as regards prize money, Sailor Brothers, 207
1808, 24 December: Charles to Cassandra, quoted in Sailor Brothers, 209-10: tells same story of almost capturing ship; to this he adds death of 12 men; he expects to sail on Tuesday for St Domingo.
1809, 24 January: Jane to Cassandra about a letter she has received from Charles; written at Bermuda on 7 & 10 December; he took a small prize in late cruize (La Jeune Estelle), a French schooner laden with Sugar, but bad weather parted them, and he didn’t get the prize his cruize ended Dec 1st, Le Faye 169
1810, Charles gains post rank as captain of Swiftsure flagship to Sir John Warren, Sailor Brothers, 207; he stayed there but five months, 210.
1810, 28 May, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Bermuda, Fanny Palmer
Austen to her sister: she and husband arrived there today
1810, September: Charles takes command of Cleopatra and brings her home in April 1811, after he had been gone from England 6 and 1/2 years, Sailor Brothers, 210
1811, 25 April: Jane to Cassandra hears from Captain Simpson who had heard from another Captain just come from Halifax: Charles bringing Cleopatra home, she was probably in Channel by now, Le Faye 184
1811, November: Charles appointed to Namur, as Flag Captain to old friend, Sir Thomas Williams, now Commander-in-Chief at Noire, his job is to supervise naval recruits in Thames and eastern ports, to man warships being readied for action, Sailor Brothers, 211; DKaplan, Persuasions 14, p 115
1812, early in year: Fanny Palmer Austen expresses insistent cheer, hyperbolic unreal praise, DKaplan, Persuasions 14, p 115; Cassandra in Austen Papers calls them rather ‘very tolerably comfortable’
1813, 3 July: Jane to Frank, Let 86 in Le Faye; referring to his occupations in light way as form of sightseeing when it comes to Sweden; refers to lessons about Sweden they must have shared as children; at this time Charles and his wife Fanny at South End, Sailor Brothers, 233-38
1813, September: according to Hubbard while Jane writing her letter to Frank, Charles aboard the Namur with his wife and two small children, Sailor Brothers, 250
1813, 25 September: Jane to Frank, thanking him for his, said to be very full, Let 90 in LeFaye: he has said how poor people are in Sweden, how Mecklenburg is the fashionable bathing place, cost of food; she is at Godmersham for two months; Charles and Family are coming to Godmersham in October; Mary Gibson Austen had invited her to deal; she is sorry she cannot come but Jane avers Mary Gibson Frank is aware of improbability of her being able to get to Deal,
1813, October: Fanny Palmer Austen to a brother-in-law: difficult to hire and retain female servants, DKaplan, Persuasions 14, 117: she is at home and not looking forward to going to sea again; calls herself spoilt for last 3 years
1813, 14-15 October: Jane from Godmersham to Cassandra, Le Faye No 92, includes a long description of Charles (a letter of September 23, includes details of their plans to come from Fanny Austen [Knight]; ‘a very rough passage’, Charles and Fanny look well, the daughter Cassy ‘extremely thin and looks poorly; talks about having Cassy with them at Chawton Cottage as Aunt Cassandra wants her, Sailor Brothers, 250-54
1813, November: Fanny Palmer Austen insists how cozy it is to sleep with infant next to her; meanwhile other daughters sent to live in England with relatives to escape months of harsh weatherand rough seas, DKaplan, Persuasions 14, 118
1814: Fanny Palmer Austen to sister Esther in Bermuda: unhappy at
separation from Harriet, daughter in London living with Palmers; servant more a plague than anything; long given up planning occasions; pregnant in winter of this year with fourth child; she hides her discomfort from her husband, DKaplan, Persuasions 14, 118
1814, 6 September: death of Fanny Palmer Austen; a few weeks later the newborn baby dies too, Le Faye, xvii
1814, 26 December: Charles and Jane Austen at Winchester with Mrs Heathcote and Miss Bigg, Le Faye, xvii
1815: Charles’s diaries show him to have been grief-striken and lonely when his wife died in childbirth a few months after 1814 letters to her sister, DKaplan, Persuasions 14, 120
1815, 2-16 January Charles and Jane Austen at Steventon; visit Ashe and Laverstoke, Le Faye, xvii
1815, after January: Charles appointed to more active post, Phoneix, heads for Mediterranean, leaving children in London under care of sister-in-law, Harriet, DKaplan, Persuasions 14, 120
1815, March: Napoleon escapes Elba and war resumes; Charles is sent as captain of Phoenix with Undaunted and Garland in pursuit, 266 organizes a blockade of Brindisi; from here occurred his pursuit of a Neapolitan squadron in Adriatic; Sailor Brothers, ; poignant letter shows him dreaming his wife alive again; DKaplan,
Persuasions 14, 120
1815, 6 May: Charles to Jane Austen: he is kept busy with Greek pirates in the Archipelago until his Phoenix lost off Smyrna in 1816 after which he was returned to England,
1815, November, LeFaye No 128, Jane to Cassandra: she is grateful for a sight of Charles’s letter to Cassandra, Sailor Brothers, 261-62
1817, 6 April: Jane to Charles when she is a couple of months away from death, Le Faye, 157; Sailor Brothers, 270-71; he is living in Keppel Street
The rest of Charles’s career as told in Sailor Brothers, 274-81, and corrected by reading letters.
1826: Charles on West Indies station, employed for 2 years suppressing slave trade;
1828: Charles: stationed on board Aurora as second in command he again appointed Flag-Captain to Admiral Colpys in Winchester same place
1830: Charles invalided home as the result of bad accident and stays at home until 1838
1838: he is appointed to Bellerophon still just a Captain after 30 years of service; took part in bombardment of Beyrout forts at Acre; also stationed in a neighbouring bay, gauring the entrance of the pass by which Commodore Sir Charles Napier advanced up the Lebanon to attack Ibrahim Pasha’s army and Egyptians (it seems to have been British policy to intervene militarily to prevent alliances they feared would end up counter to their interests); Charles’s diary quoted to tell of his ship’s participation at Acre. Charles awarded a Companionship of the Bath for his part in this campaign
1846 Charles made a Rear-Admiral
1850 Charles appointed Commander-in-Chief on the East India Station; at 70 then he leaves England in P& steamer Ripon for Alexandria, crosses desert to Suez. In a series of battles which were the result of an attempt to stop the Burmese from exacting sums from people attempting to travel and trade on Rangoon, Charles forms part of naval expedition (there was an army) on the coast of Burma by end of March
1850, March: Charles now shifts his flat from Hastings to Rattler at Rincomalee in Ceylon, and proceeds up mouth of Ceylon river
1850, 3-14 April: Rattler with two more ships and troops attack Martaban and capture; took a place held by 5000 me, move onto Rangoon, Rattler on outlying stockades; cholera set in and Charles now ill; he goes to Calcutta where he appears to recover
1850, September – October: war resumes, Charles now on steam slop Pluto takes men up channel of Irrawadi; he waits in unhealthy region for 2 weeks for main boyd of men; last notes on October 6: ‘Received a report that two steamers had been seen at anchor some miles below, wrote this and a letter to my wife'; dies October 7. Whole area eventually became British
It’s worth it to direct the reader to an online description of Charles’s
We see him behave with compassion toward the abducted people (i.e., now enslaved people). While this might have been a legal requirement, we see the man had a heart. This is a man acting out of his own strong bent.
The capture of La Jeune Estelle, a slave ship (print)
And here he is gaining a prize: Sheila Kindred, “Charles Ausyen’s capture of the French privateer, La Jeune Estelle, Jane Austen Society Report (2006):50-53.
And now for Jane Austen at Godmersham on Thursday, 1813, greeting them:
By her own desire Mrs Fanny is to be put in the room next the Nursery, her Baby in a little bed by her; & as Cassy is to have the Closet within & Betsey William’s little Hole they will be all very snug together. — I shall be most happy to see dear Charles, & he will be as happy as he can with a cross Child or some such care pressing on him at the time.– I should be very happy in the idea of seeing little Cassy again too, did not I fear she would disappoint me by some immediate disagreableness. –
It does seem singularly disagreeable in Austen to judge the little girl by some standard of bad taste. This is the idea these Palmers are vulgar?
And then Friday:
They came last night at about 7. We had given them up, but I still expected them to come. Dessert was nearly over; — a better time for arriving than an hour & 1/2 earlier. They were late because they did not set out earlier & did not allow time enough. — Charles did not aim at more than reaching Sittingbourn by 3, which could not have brought them here by dinner time. — They had a very rough passage, he would not have ventured if he had known how bad it would be. — However here they are safe & well, just like their own nice selves, Fanny looking as neat & white this morns as possible, & dear Charles all affectionate, placid, quiet, chearful good humour. They are both looking very well, but poor little Cassy is grown extremely thin & looks poorly. — I hope a week’s Country air & exercise may do her good. I am sorry to say it can be but a week. — The Baby does not appear so large in proportion as she was, nor quite so pretty, but I have seen very little of her. — Cassy was too tired & bewildered just at first to seem to know anybody-We met them in the Hall, the Women & Girl part of us — but before we reached the Library she kissed me very affectionately — & has since seemed to recollect me in the same way. It was quite an evens of confusion as you may suppose at first we were all walking about from one part of the House to the other — then came a fresh dinner in the Breakfast room for Charles & his wife, which Fanny & I attended-then we moved into the Library, were joined by the Dining room people, were introduced & so forth. — & then we had Tea & Coffee which was not over till past 10 –
A photo of Godmersham today from the rear
There are a number of better impulses here. For the conclusion see comments.
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