Archive for February 8th, 2012

Anne Grant’s Memoirs of an American Lady (1st edition), among the books Austen mentions in this letter

Dear friends and readers,

I am in the ironic position of having pictures to illustrate this letter with for everything but what is most interesting (and to some unexpected) in it: Austen’s repeated identification or at least written awareness of servants and poor frozen-to-death or crippled people. It is very cold.

An 18th century Flemish painting of a village in winter

I note also once again that letters are missing. Letter 64 is a transcription from an ms and traveled about to 6 places or people it is now in the Maine Historical Society. How many times published? 3 Looking at capitalizations, dashes; punctuation, abbreviation, spelling it seems faithful. (I will make an effort from here on in to pay more attention to the letters as ms’s or from wherever they come.)

This is a longer letter than Jane has written since the earliest phase of their coming to Southampton. Austen responds to a letter from Cassandra, and one from Bookham. (As a side issue I’ve mentioned before how puzzling it is to me that Burney never mentions Austen and how when Austen mentions the Cookes and Bookham, Burney never comes up. Here is a family and group of people whom both knew, and Burney by 1809 a famed novelist.)

The second portion (or page) of the letter concerns plans to visit Bookham and a reference that is so tantalizing: Jane speaks of her “political correspondents” who have been writing her of the Portuguese colonialist war. This conjures up a whole other correspondence beyond that to Frank where Austen discusses politics. Walpole’s correspondence is said to divide this way: with some to one interlocutor all politics and another all literature; to Madame du Deffand he is all gallantry; she (poor blind aging too woman) pours out her soul to him as she does not quite to Voltaire. Except that perhaps Jane is ironic, and referring to her frustrating lack of information in this deflective playful way she has.

Then we get detail about Godmersham, showing Jane entering minutely and empathetically into Cassandra’s troubles mothering 11 children. Here we fina a back-handed reference to Edward’s not about to give a generous present just at the time they are moving into Chawton (which Mrs Birch wishes for Cassandra). Much on life at Godmersham which anticipates evenings at Mansfield Park (playing cards)

Then back to the aunt at the Paragon with her stringent ideas that all the world should be catering to her, at Scarletts her rich country house (she found it “so dirty and so damp”); how dare John Binns engage himself elsewhere. (This is not Downton Abbey it seems, no Lord and Lady Granthams in sight. Forgive the contemporary media reference, gentle reader)

Then we hear of her and her mothers’s reading (and Martha too? perhaps Martha still there). Austen reading Anna Grant’s second book, her Memoir from her life as a girl in Albany New York. Semi-mockery of a popular gothic novel by Mrs Sykes.

She puts her pen down, and so to the next day, Wednesday: she worries Eliza’s health – she did die in a couple of years; Henry now getting wealthier which by contrast association brings to Austen’s mind his over-worked horse, and the freezing to death of a farmer’s wife and child. Here we do feel a genuine note of humanity and distress. In the letters Jane Austen repeatedly shows real identification and sympathy for servant and working class people: eating non-pretentiously with them was in a previous letter.

Charles’s rug comes to her mind: it’s to keep people warm. Then Marmion. Austen reading Scott’s poem and sending it to Charles “very generous in me I think.”

Finally no letter from Adlestrop — Cassandra’s aging godmother, Mrs Elizabeth Leigh of Adlestrop, said to have been very ill, still dying (not yet dead). No news is good news. That’s the world I live in. Does Cassandra continue well? her namesake? the ball Anna Austen makes do with would not have done for her.


The Battle of Corunna (16 January 1809): Brigadier General Craufurd with 95th Rifles, 43rd & 52nd Light infantry during the retreat to Corunna

To begin,

Austen responds to one of Cassandra, and one from Bookham.

I am not surprised my dear Cassandra, that you did not find my last Letter very full of Matter, & I wish this may not have the same deficiency; — but we are doing nothing ourselves to write about, & I am therefore quite dependant upon the Communications of our friends, or my own Wit. —

Casssandra had perhaps complained Austen was unusually contentless.

This post brought me two interesting Letters, Yours, & one from Bookham, in answer to an enquiry of mine about your good Godmother, of whom we had lately received a very alarming account from Paragon. Miss Arnold was the Informant there, & she spoke of Mrs E.L.s having been very dangerously ill, & attended by a Physician from Oxford. —

Cassandra’s godmothe’s ill health ended Jane’s previous letter (63). Cassandra’s letter to Jane said Cassandra had also sent one to Adlestrop. The whole of these lines breathes real concern and distress; I take it this is Jane identifying with Cassandra who cared about this woman. In this era godmothers could be second mothers easily — the role was taken seriously not just from religious practices and feelings, but because death was so common. if you lost your biological parents, the godparents were supposed to step in in some way.

Your Letter to Adlestrop may perhaps bring you information from the spot, but in case it should not, I must tell you that she is better, tho’ Dr Bourne cannot yet call her out of danger;­ such was the case, last Wednesday — & Mrs Cooke’s having had no later account is a favourable sign. — I am to hear again from the latter next week, but not this, if everything goes on well. — Her disorder is an Inflammation on the Lungs, arising from a severe Chill, taken in Church last Sunday three weeks; — her Mind, all pious Composure, as may be supposed. — George Cooke was there when her Illness began, his Brother has now taken his place. — Her age & feebleness considered, one’s fears cannot but preponderate-tho’ her amendment has already surpassed the expectation of the Physician, at the beginning.­I am sorry to add that Becky is laid up with a complaint of the same kind. —

Becky is the servant, presumably much younger.

I am very glad to have the time of your return at all fixed, we all rejoice in it, & it will not be later than I had expected. I dare not hope that Mary & Miss Curling may be detained at Portsmouth so long, or half so long — but it would be worth twopence to have it so. —

Mary is Francis’s, Austen’s older sailor brother’s wife and Miss Curling Mary’s aunt (her father’s sister). It would be worth twopence to have them stay at Portsmouth? that’s the price of the stamp so despite the plangent tone of Austen’s longing to have Cassandra home, it’s abruptly cut off with this dry surmise. She does not herself miss Mary. Jane Austen would have had to be superhuman not to resent Mary’s rejection of the Southampton household and refusal to return. She probably had done all she could (reading to her) to make Mary comfortable and had not realized how all her efforts just made the women even less comfortable. I suggest Francis’s wife was like Edward’s Elizabeth: of a very ordinary intellect, didn’t find her sister-in-law (or mother-in-law) comfortable to be around.

Then the very interesting bitten off bit about politics:

The St Albans perhaps may soon be off to help bring home what may remain by this time of our poor Army, whose state seems dreadfully critical.­ The Regency seems to have been heard of only here, my most political Correspondants make no mention of it. Unlucky, that I should have wasted so much reflection on the subject! —

Now I wonder if she is kidding. Are her “political Correspondants are an ironic invention; in fact Jane Austen has no source of special information and wishes she did. Since the St Albans is Francis’s ship and she means that he will soon be off to bring home what remains of the slaughtered suffering men, she could be that Francis does not speak of it in any detail. Not surprising. Either of these possibilities could be what she means rather than she writes to political people.

This is the story of John Moore at Corunna — part of the Portuguese colonialist war. (See Charles Esdaile’s The Peninsular War) the retreat occurred in dreadful conditions. The story is also told (briefly) in Park Honan’s biography of JA and her times (p. 243). Frank is now a captain sailing to China and India and he was paid handsomely for doing the East India’s company’s bidding — Honan offers a good deal of special pleading to make us sympathize with the man’s hard work despite the ignoble sordid goal (opium trading). Honan thinks Jane Austen was reasonably well informed with what the nature of the business was and the battle of Corunna. He suggests that Mansfield Park could be meant implicitly to function as Jane’s quiet critique of distant wealth gotten this ways.

(In later letter Jane’s honest relief she knew no one has been criticized as heartless; it’s tactless to us but not Cassandra.)


The old rectory at Bookham, a 1961 photo

They (Jane and mother) are to leave their Southampton home for good on
April 3rd. Apparently Cassandra did not like Bookham or she would feel
the lack of Austen so strongly that the day spent at Bookham needs to
be made amends for. Why the knowledge does Edward no good I don’t know
since a little later we are told Jane is not holding her breath for the Mrs Birch’s expected present:

— I can now answer your question to my Mother more at large, & likewise more at small­ with equal perspicuity & minuteness, for the very day of our leaving Southampton is fixed — & if the knowledge is of no use to Edward, I am sure it will give him pleasure. Easter Monday, April 3d is the day; we are to sleep that night at Alton, & be with our friends at Bookham the next, if they are then at home;-there we remain till the following Monday, & on Tuesday April 11th, hope to be at Godmersham. If the Cookes are absent, we shall finish our Journey on y” 5th These plans depend of course upon the weather, but I hope there will be no settled Cold to delay us materially. .- To make you amends =for being at Bookham, it is in contemplation to spend a few days at Barton Lodge in our way out of Kent. —

Now Barton Lodge was the home of Cassandra’s friend, Mrs Birch. It’s
not clear whether Cassandra would be there or not (I’m not sure the
arrangement is that Cassandra will set forth and visit Mrs Birch with
Jane and then Jane and she return to Godmersham), but Jane I suppose
would be a substitute and she could convey news of Mrs Birch to
Cassandra. She has already written to Mrs Birch who has written back
teasingly hoping that Edward would fork across with something when it
is so obviously needed. “Odd’ is the polite word for someone breaking
a polite barrier. Edward would not permit his daughter, Fanny, to come; she has become another substitute for his wife. Jane says anyway we have no bed for her. Since all will come to Godmersham afterward, the loss is small

— The hint of such a visit is most affectionately welcomed by Mrs Birch, in one of her odd, pleasant Letters lately, in which she speaks of us with the usual distinguished kindness; declaring that she shall not be at all satisfied unless a very handsome present is made us immediately, from one Quarter. Fanny’s not coming with you, is no more than we expected, & as we have not the hope of a Bed for her, & shall see her so soon afterwards at Gm — we cannot wish it otherwise. —


18th century playing cards

Austen now turns her attention to imagining life at Godmersham. We have breezy irony about William and his cross-stitch. What was in Uncle Deedes’s packet. He is a relative of the dead Elizabeth. Uncle John is a Bridges relation to Marianne. While speculation is a bridge type game and said to be simple, brag is yet simpler, it’s mostly luck and no thinking. That Speculation was under Aunt Jane’s “patronage” testifies to everyone’s sense of her relative wittiness. There is an insightful disquisition on this passage in David Selwyn’s JA and Leisure (271-72) and it is the game played in Mansfield Park; it is an older game and had lost popularity by the 18th century, the more complicated gambling game was preferred. this is a cheerful passage, spirited

William will be quite recovered I trust by the time you receive this. — What a comfort his Cross-stitch must have been! Pray tell him that I should like to see his Work very much. — I hope our answers this morng have given satisfaction; we had great pleasure in Uncle Deedes’ packet — & pray let Marianne know, in private, that I think she is quite right to work a rug for Uncle John’s Coffee urn, & that I am sure it must give great pleasure to herself now, & to him when he receives it. — The preference of Brag over Speculation does not greatly surprise me I beleive, because I feel the same myself; but it mortifies me deeply, because Speculation was under my patronage; — & after all, what is there so delightful in a pair-royal of Braggers? it is but three nines, or three Knaves, or a mixture of them.-When one comes to reason upon it, it cannot stand its’ ground against Speculation-of which I hope Edward is now convinced. Give my Love to him, if he is.-

But then leaves the gaiety and drops down to more grimness because she must consider the aunt. Now our reading of the letters helps us out here. We know that Jane Austen indeed loathed Bath and what she feels about this aunt’s niggardliness, egoism: Mrs Norris is a portait of Aunt Jane. We have seen the legacy the uncle got and their behavior over Stoneleigh; not one dime for the Austens once of Steventon. So we can rejoice Robert and Martha have escaped her. Of course a carriage. Holders are people now in Bath (See LeFaye’s index) and the marriage is explained there. Miss Irvine. Remember her? a maiden lady who missed Jane Austen and regretted not getting letters, how Jane felt guilty not to have responded. But she did value Miss Irvine and of course the aunt would not mention her.

The Letter from Paragon, before mentioned, was much like those which had preceded it, as to the felicity of its Writer. — They found their House so dirty & so damp, that they were obliged to be a week at an Inn. — John Binns had behaved most unhandsomely & engaged himself elsewhere. — They have a Man however, on the same footing, which my Aunt does not like, & she finds both him & the new Maidservant very, very inferior to Robert & Martha. — Whether they mean to have any other Domestics does not appear, nor whether they are to have a Carriage while they are in Bath. — The Holders are as usual, tho’ I beleive it is not very usual for them to be happy, which they now are at a great rate, in Hooper’s Marriage. The Irvines are not mentioned.-

On Anne Grant’s letters see my foremother poet blog. This is not Jane’s first reference: she looked for and enjoyed Grant’s Letters from the Mountains, but not enough to hold onto them. Austen’s reference to or way of referring to Grant does show a certain sophistication. Ausetn realizes this is not the real woman we are encountering, but her persona through a book showing a specific kind of face. It’s very frustrating the way Austen does not explain what are these faults. Sufficient for her not to want to hold onto Grant’s book. I’d like to think Austen tired of the sentimental effusions, did not go for the romantic nature of the text, but then she does value travel and descriptive writing.

The American Lady improved as we went on — but still the same faults in part recurred. —

Now the tone of this next passage does not give much comfort to those who want to see Austen reading Gothic with intense seriousness. It’s apparently a gothic novel very recently published, 5 volumes. They read the latest thing. I don’t have the resume to hand (it’s an older Notes & Queries article) but have sent for it through interlibrary loan. As it’s publication date was 1808 one can’t get it out of ECCO either. (I will note separately that LeFaye’s literary entries under “subject” are good; she has read a lot of the works and her references are thorough)

— We are now in Margiana & like it very well indeed. ­We are just going to set off for Northumberland to be shut up in Widdrington Tower, where there must be two or three sets of Victims already immured under a very fine Villain. —

Jane put her pen down until the next day


A later illustration for Marmion by John Edmund Buckley

A new day brings an asperity of tone (slight mockery) in the reference to Henry’s great business success (Austen never forgets it’s not she who is making this money) but the tone of her hoping Eliza’s health is
better is simple and sincere. Austen then speaks not of Henry but Henry’s horse. Here Austen shows an attitude like that
of Southey: genuine awareness of the horse who is overworked hard.

Wednesday. — Your report of Eliza’s health gives me great pleasure — & the progress of the Bank is a constant source of satisfaction. With such increasing profits, tell Henry, that I hope he will not work poor High-diddle so hard as he used to do. —

She turns to newsprint. The sentiment reminds us how she was glad they didn’t know anyone dead in Corunna but it is not meant to be read so harshly. Austen is again registering her awareness of the ordinary and servant lives around her. Frozen almost to death. It is January in Southampton and it did snow and ice over. Miss Wood — another maiden lady, another one on the edge unmarried. The Middletons had no home or estate, the sister is the wife’s sister, another maiden woman. Austen’s world was made up of maiden women far more than we realize. It was to them she was acceptable. She does feel for the dead child. The maiden sister may end up a cripple. So on the edge, unmarried, a cripple>. This is matter for a poem by one of Austen’s favorite poets, Crabbe:

Has your Newspaper given a sad story of a Mrs Middleton, wife of a Farmer in Yorkshire, her sister & servant being almost frozen to death in the late weather — her little Child quite so?-I hope this sister is not our friend Miss Wood — & I rather think her Brotherinlaw had moved into Lincolnshire, but their name & station accord too well. Mrs M. & the Maid are said to be tolerably recovered, but the Sister is likely to lose the use of her Limbs. —

A rug is used for warmth – the association is clear. And at last a reference to a literary work of value again: Marmion, and Austen knows it is because she says it is generous of her to send it. Scott by the way did not undervalue his work. Only later reprints were cheap. I’ve never read all of Marmion, only started it. Its content is wholly out of what she usually tells of — or is allowed to have told of to us — ballad violence, heavy rhythmic stuff, Scottish history. She does not mention Scott’s name here:

Charles’s rug will be finished today, & sent tomorrow to Frank, to be consigned by him to Mr Turner’s care — & I am going to send Marmion with it; — very generous in me I think —

Cassandra’s god-mother is dying and Cassandra not getting any younger

As we have no letter from Adlestrop, we may suppose the good Woman was alive on Monday, but I cannot help expecting bad news from thence or Bookham, in a few days. — Do you continue quite well? —

Cassandra not sentimental. She also now has 11 children to care for
and the birthday of one might not loom large in her mind when she sits
down to write to Jane

In the postscript I detect a real sniff. In my time I was better served, had a better time. Slightly priggish in feel and puffing herself up, but from other comments she has made about Anna, and from our knowledge of Anna’s situation (kept at home, kept down, has a hard time getting shoes for a ball), I still surmise that Jane is aware of the impoverished youth the stepmother and environs are delivering Anna. Jane had it better than this. Nevertheless, it’s not just ungracious or clunky; it’s show-offy.

The Manydown Ball was a smaller thing than I expected, but it seems to have made Anna very happy. At her age it would not have done for me.-

Poor Anna, married off soon and then many pregnancies and genteel poverty as a widow. She burnt her attempt at a novel she began in Austen’s lifetime but did publish three other books.

Anna later in life

See JALetters; Jane Austen Letters


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