James Stanier Clarke (1766-1834) by James Nixon (1799)
Jane Austen (!) as dawn by Clarke (the first visit?), from his Friendship Book
Dear friends and readers,
WE are come upon a few letters that have provoked much discussion and towards Clarke ridicule. I will try to summarize a very good biography by Chris Viveash when I return from my trip — it’s worth it to disseminate a juster picture of Clarke. In our time librarians have been an open targets in the US at least, laughing stocks out of anti-intellectualism, reverse snobbery, the reality that librarians have not made much money historically and also, showing human nature, a lack of respect for an occupation that is usually inside the library not so cutthroat or competitive (at least it’s thought). The letters are significant enough to warrant more than one blog even if there are only a few left.
Viveash’s book on Clarke shows the man to have been underneath his courtier’s behavior and values no fool, literary (caring about books and learning) and thus someone of a type Austen rarely came close to — and later on we see her confiding in him her worries that with Emma she is beginning to exhaust her vein, that she has not had enough experience to bring into another book necessary variety, that she repeats herself. She knew that as an unmarried woman she could avail herself of limited subjects, and that she (as the world understands these things, partly truly) had had limited access to experiences unchaperoned men can have. His suggestions for her seem ludicrous to us (and to Austen), don’t help her but after the joking over them, Persuasion does use the sea and war and implicitly at a distance romantic adventures — seen through the business and hard-headed perspective of Wentworth (that is Austen too). She also makes a comment on the courtier’s life as a life-in-death she’d rather anything than endure (maybe more than teaching which as Emma Watson she so reprehended) which suggests she watched him at times and perhaps they met more than once.
This is a duologue, first Diana Birchall and then mine:
Letter 125D to James Stanier, GOn Wednesday, 15 November 1815, Jane Austen makes a copy of her letter to James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent’s librarian and chaplain, who has just shown her around Carlton House. Respectfully she writes, and I transcribe in full:
“I must take the liberty of asking You a question. Among the many flattering attentions which I recd from you at Carlton House, on Monday last, was the Information of my being at liberty to dedicate any future Work to HRH the P.R. 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 intreat you to have the goodness to inform me of how such a Permission is to be understood, & whether it is incumbent on me to shew my sense of the Honour, by inscribing the Work now in the Press, to H.R.H. – I shd be equally concerned to appear either presumptuous or Ungrateful.”
So the famous Carlton House visit has already taken place. Deirdre describes how it came about in A Family Record, which I will summarize. During Henry’s illness he was attended by a young Mr. Charles Haden, but during the crisis another doctor, probably Dr. Matthew Baillie, who had treated Henry before, was called in. He was one of the Prince Regent’s physicians, and according to her nephew he told her:
“that the Prince was a great admirer of her novels; that he often read them, and had a set in each of his residences – That he, the physician, had told His Royal Highness was now in London, and that by the Prince’s desire, Mr. Clarke, the Librarian of Carlton House, would speedily wait upon her – Mr. Clarke came, and endorsed all previous compliments, and invited my aunt to see Carlton House, saying the Prince had charged him to show her the Library there, adding many civilities as to the pleasure his R.H. had received from her novels.”
And so on 13 November Jane was shown over the Regent’s “small but luxurious palace, which contained “A hall with walls of green and verd-antique, and Ionic columns of brown Siena marble led into ante-rooms and drawing-rooms of crimson, gold, blue and rose with flowered carpets and hangings of velvet and satin elaborately draped…” and “a cathedral-like conservatory, an Ionic dining-room and a Gothic library.” “It was during this visit that Mr. Clarke declared himself charged to say that if Miss Austen had any other novel forthcoming, she was quite at liberty to dedicate it to the Prince.”
Had Jane Austen ever seen apartments of such opulence as Carlton House, before? Deirdre suggests that “to see for herself the Regent’s extravagances if anything probably increased Jane’s disapproval of him.” She made proper acknowledgements, but evidently had no intention of accepting the.honour, until, as JEAL puts it, “she was advised by some of her friends that she must consider the permission as a command.” That was when she wrote to him, and we will contemplate his answer next week.
In the meantime we might consider the visit. This was Jane’s second time of meeting Clarke, if he called upon her first to invite her to the Palace. Nothing today remains of Carlton House, which was torn down in 1826, but Julie of the AustenOnly blog did a lovely post on Jane’s visit with contemporary pictures of the rooms, which were certainly as ornate and over-the-top as possible!
The Grand staircase
The Lower Vestibule
There are other wonderful blogs about Carlton House, especially a virtual tour laid out by a gorgeous blog I’ve never heard of before, called The Lothians
Carlton House, in St. James’s Square facing Pall Mall, was the Prince Regent’s residence from 1783 till 1826. He spared no expense in decoration, getting heavily into debt. Henry Holland did the remodeling in French neoclassical style, though with much Chinoiserie and Gothic design as well. A Gothic dining room and library were completed by John Nash, and this library must have been the one Jane Austen saw, though in all the virtual tours I have not found a picture of it. At the time of the King’s death in 1821, the Prince Regent was working on getting financing for the future Buckingham Palace. Nash declared Carlton House was in poor structural condition and it was demolished in 1827 with the exception of the portico which can still be seen in Trafalgar Square at the National Gallery. “Carlton House had become a lost palace that passed away with the Regency and late Georgian era. Those who enjoy Georgian history imagine it as the setting of not only Prinny’s extravagant lifestyle but also of Jane Austen’s visit and tour of the library there.” (From the Georgian Index blog)
Whatever Jane Austen’s feelings about the Prince Regent, she must have been sensible of the compliment and the honour done her; she, who collected the remarks and opinions of friends and strangers on her books, would have been gratified to know that the Prince, a man of taste whatever his morality, liked her books enough to have copies in his every palace. Her visit, something of a command performance, comes flashing like a lightning bolt or like Emma’s own arrow, into the quietest of domestic lives: it must have been an indication to her of how truly she had “arrived.” The woman who refused to meet Madame de Stael (which was voluntary) seems to have been quite composed, with no vapours or nerves, on visiting Carlton House. She did not, after all, have to meet the odious prince; and his clergyman/librarian was a type she very well understood. Indeed, had she not written Mr. Collins years before the visit, it might have been pardonable to think Clarke was her inspiration. There was much more to him than his rather naive, fatuous letters imply, and Chris Viveash has examined his life in an interesting book, but no time for that now. Instead, I will close by referring to the watercolour portrait James Stanier Clarke did in his “Friendship” book, that some people think is his visitor, Jane Austen (see above).
I am one of those who hopes it is, as I love this portrait. She is so fashionably dressed, with unusual and very becoming black chapeau and trimmings; surely Jane Austen would have put on her best for such an occasion, and the lady has the same sort of round face as is seen in Cassandra’s portrait. Jane Austen was approaching her fortieth birthday at the time of this visit (she would have only one more), but the lady in the painting looks animated and interested, and could be the right age; she doesn’t appear to be either very young or very old. What I like most is that it reminds me so powerfully of an Austen description, that I always associate it with the painting. In Persuasion, Austen writes about Anne, “Twelve years had changed Anne from the blooming, silent, unformed girl of fifteen, to the elegant little woman of seven-and-twenty, with every beauty excepting bloom, and with manners as consciously right as they were invariably gentle.”
If the Friendship book portrait is not that of “an elegant little woman” I do not know what is.
Austen’s dedication as printed in Chapman’s 1920s edition of Emma
The content of the letter is Austen’s anxiety over how to understand the official rhetoric of the court. What is of immediate is her obvious reluctance to dedicate her work to the regent: is it “incumbent on me” to do this with the “Work now in the Press” (Emma)? Also the formality of the language. If she and Clarke had met twice already, these were not meetings where they had become familiar. Austen’s next extant letter to Clarke a month later (11 December, 132D) is much more familiar, much less distant and more comfortable. So if there were not more meetings, maybe there was more correspondence, but my feeling is familiarity in this era could only be developed face-to-face. The open attitudes of mind we find here on the Internet are very recent.
More or equally of interest is Austen’s intense awareness of the difference between what words literally mean and a cliched conventional understanding or subtext. Is “she is now at liberty to dedicate” mean you had better dedicate the writing to the prince. This reminds me of Catherline Morland suggesting how hard it is to understand people when they say one thing and mean another.
Diana in her posting then turns to use James Edward-Austen Leigh’s proud imagining of what took place (in his Memoir) between his aunt and the royal librarian as told to JEAL by Baillie, the physician, and as quoted by LeFaye. So we have two turns here: three really: Baillie to JEAL to LeFaye. Quite a distance from Austen. We are further reading LeFaye’s quotation of JEAL by Diana. We can factually see that it was the prince’s physician who set the meeting up. Dr Matthew Baillie is clearly eager to please JEAL. In the film Miss Austen Regrets, Charles Haden (an apothecary) attends Henry — so we can know that well before the first flirtatious mention of Haden, Austen had met and become familiar with him. The film (as films do) compressed and eliminated the less eligible male (who presumably Austen did not flirt with and had a higher rank (physician). The delight in opulence is JEAL’s, not Austen’s and the way JEAL puts it “Mr. Clarke declared himself charged to say that if Miss Austen had any other novel forthcoming, she was quite at liberty to dedicate it to the Prince.” We can see JEAL was not at all reluctant for his aunt to take this invitation up.
In other words, the filter through which we see this scene skews it into another mood than we find in Austen’s letter.
By contrast, Austen is tight in tone; she has not yet unbent (as she has a month later – the courtier in Clarke presumably worked on her); as Henry’s letter about the invitation to the salon where Stael suggests, Austen was not eager to go out into these “high” circles. I would agree with LeFaye’s guess that the rich luxury of these apartments increased Austen’s dislike or disapproval — we see from the few objects that have come down to us she preferred simplicity. According to JEAL, the letter was prompted by Austen’s “friends” (an old-fashioned term which includes relatives) who told her she must dedicate Emma to the Prince.
I looked at the contemporary drawings of Carlton House as well as the rooms and agree they are as lush and theatrical as money at the time could make them: I confess my reaction to be something like Gillray’s whose satiric cartoon “Austenonly” also includes. Moreover, it’s ironic to know that the place was built in an unsound way. Money for ornamentation but not pillars and a stress system to keep the thing up.
The citation of the fashionable architects brings Mansfield Park to mind (which I’ve been slowly listening to for weeks now) to mind and the ironic attitude not so much towards Repton but those who hire him to spoil the historicity of their houses and centuries of growth of trees. In MP the sympathetic characters focus on cost (how much will it cost to fix Edmund’s parsonage so extravagantly), need, usefulness, and the narrator ironically brings in how all these changes are partly intended to hide the poverty-striken which are not too far off, and the working world around which supports the “gentlemens’” houses.
As a comparison with JEAL, I too will offer a far-away take: how Gwyneth Hughes scripts the dialogue of the imagined scene JEAL attempted for his audience in a much more satiric spirit for Miss Austen Regrets. Olivia Williams as Jane is saturnine and mocking before she shows up, and Imogen Poots as Fanny naively echoes, but Jack Huston as Haden urges them both about how useful this visit will be, that it is an honor. The march through the over-done corridors but in the film library-like corridors:
The stately parade
When Jason Watkins as Clarke shows up, the excellent actor manages to convey indirectly the probability the prince never read the books (though he may have done), but that Clarke has and that he is delighted to see her. He has set out three of her books on the table before them:
Olivia Williams directed to put a mocking expression on her face
The language Hughes gives the actor is endlessly multi-syllabic, filled with hot air (little content) but flattery and he does not give a sense he understands what Williams as Austen means when she says she fears her MP has not pleased as much as P&P because it’s “more serious” and yet other readers will find it “not serious enough” (the Hannah More or Laetitia Hawkins type?). The perspective of the one joke is that of the 20th century reader: the 19th century reader did find Byron and Scott readable:
Jane: they [her novels] are my darling children. I send them out into the world to compete with the likes of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron
Clarke (laughing lightly): No competition at all, madame, the gentlemen are unreadable.
Woolf said she found Byron often unreadable, and from experience I know modern students don’t get through much Scott with ease; he’s in deep remote storage in many modern libraries when he’s there at all.
Hughes brings in Austen’s lines to her nephew about working on ivory, doubting her accomplishment, and then reverts to JEAL’s scene with the lines from JEAL’s Clarke about how she is at liberty to dedicate Emma to his royal highness.
I agree with Diana that Austen would have been complimented, gratified to be so invited. I doubt she’d have openly made fun; if she had, Henry would have quickly urged the advantage. Francis Burney was sent to court to gain advantages for her family which never materialized. Who would not? it’s hard to resist even if say you disagree with the powerful person’s politics or dislike their social behavior. Austen had intensely longed to be published, yes she gathered every opinion she came across. But I’d say that Austen would have had to go though — a party at which Stael shows is not at all the same as the son of the head of state who himself will inherit.Literati were respected mostly by themselves. There is just so much patronage in the hands of the prince — so much the Austen family could gain if a friendship even at third hand (with the librarian) could ensue. I suggest that Mr Collins is rather based on Samuel Blackall who in Austen’s younger years snubbed Mrs Lefroy’s attempt to persuade him to court Austen at a ball. He was big and heavy as is Mr Collins in the book, and the size of the character is re-created in the stupid self-centered Rushworth.
I also agree with Diana that the small picture by Clarke may well be a drawing of Austen — and we have the experts of the Antique Roadshow and two scholars to support this. So Olivia Williams is far too plainly dressed, for, talk about opulent. The family certainly went all out for this outfit. And if she let herself be dressed up like this she could not have been that adverse. Still Austen would have felt unusually dressed up — the film Miss Austen Regrets did not pick up on this. Diana likes the outfit; I think it lovely too, the colors but the face is just so pinched — I admit it reminds me of the face in the picture Claudia Johnson wants us to believe is Austen (a nymph like chubby girl).
I note in a picture of Princess Caroline below we see the same arm position Cassandra caught Austen in more famously: tightly crossed, on guard? Caroline disliking having her picture taken too? The opulent outfit does not remind me of Anne Elliot in the passage from Persuasion which emphasizes the moral qualities of Anne Elliot, not what she is wearing. It’s much more how the ladies are dressed in the musical, My Fair Lady when at ascot — has anyone seen the older Forsyte Saga which includes a scene of such opulent dressing; Downton Abbey has the woman extravagantly dressed in this way now and again — especially the hats, Downton Abbey is big on large fancy hats.
Elizabeth McGovern may be delighted with her hat.
Let us hope Austen was too — as it enabled her to hold her own in the immediate environment, but is Downton Abbey the analogy we want for Austen’s attitudes and work?
How to end? We could look at the dedication to Emma which says as little as possible about the regent as language can get away with: simply “by his royal highness’s permission,” it’s “most respectfully dedicated” by a “dutiful and obedient humble servant.” I.e., she had to do it.
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