Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

CHAPTER XV

A LETTER FROM JANE

THE time of Captain Austen's service in the Elephant is divided into three periods. For over a year she was employed with Admiral Young's fleet in the North Sea, which was stationed there to watch Vice-Admiral Missiessy, then at anchor at the mouth of the Scheldt, ready to slip out if occasion offered. The ships under his command had been newly built in Napoleon's great dockyard of Flushing, which was rendered ineffective by the constant British blockade. In the autumn of 1812 the Elephant was cruising off the Azores with the Phœbe and Hermes. The disputes concerning trade had by this time resulted in war with the United States. On this cruise we have the record in the log of the capture of an American privateer, the Swordfish.

"December 27.—At two, saw a strange sail bearing W. by N. Made the signal to the Hermes with a gun. Made all sail in chace. At sunset, chace distant two miles. The chace had all the appearance of an armed vessel.

"28.—Fired several shots at the chace. At five minutes to two perceived her hoist two lights and bring to. At two shortened sail, hove to, boarded, and took possession of the chace, which proved to be the American schooner privateer Swordfish, out sixteen days from Boston, armed with twelve six-pounders and eighty.two men. During the chace ten of her guns and several spars were thrown overboard."

After her return to England with the prize and another turn at the Flushing blockade, the Elephant was ordered to the Baltic. They were engaged in convoying vast numbers of small vessels through the Sound and the Belt past the coasts of Denmark, which was still under the power of France, and in keeping at a distance such armed craft of the enemy as were dangerous. We find, in these short cruises to and fro, as many as two hundred and fifty or three hundred sail in company, under the charge of three or four men-of-war. An entry in the log on October io will show the nature of the work: "A boat from the Zealous came with letters for the Admiral, and to say that the galliott chaced yesterday was one which had drifted out of the convoy the preceding night, and was captured in the morning by a row-boat privateer off Nascoi, which, on the Zealous' approach, abandoned her and escaped into Femerin. It appearing on examining the master of the galliott that he never had belonged to the convoy, but had merely joined them off Anholt and continued with them for security sake, without applying for instructions, it was decided to consider the vessel as a recapture, and to take her on to Carlskrona as such. She is called the Neptunus, Daniel Sivery, master, belonging to Gottenberg, and bound from that place to Stralsund with a cargo of rice, sugar, coffee, and indigo."

The Island of Anholt, captured in 1809, was a possession of great importance to the English when engaged in this work, on account of its lighthouse, which could signal to the ships of the convoy and keep them all in their places. Of this island Captain Austen had a few words to say which show that its importance lay therein alone. After a lengthy and minute description of the lighthouse and all which appertained to it, he continues: "The garrison at present consists of about three men of a veteran battalion, and a few marine artillery, which form by many degrees the most considerable portion of the population, for, exclusive of the military and their appendages of wives and children, there are but sixteen families on the island, who all reside at the only village on it, near the high ground to the westward, and whose principal occupation is fishing, in which they are generally very successful during the summer.

"Antecedent to the war between England and Denmark and the consequent occupation of the island by the English, the Anholters paid a small rent to the proprietor of the soil, who is a Danish nobleman residing at Copenhagen; but at present they are considered and fed as prisoners of war by the English. They are an exceedingly poor people, and seem to enjoy but a small proportion of worldly comfort."

The Island of Rugen, which was another anchoring station for the Elephant, was the only portion of the conquests of Gustavus Adolphus which still remained under the Swedish flag. The whole tract of country which he conquered was called Swedish Pomerania, but the mainland districts had lately been occupied by part of Napoleon's army under Marshal Brune.

Of Rugen, Captain Austen writes: "The British ships of war were not supplied with fresh beef and vegetables whilst the Elephant was there, and I understood because (though they might have been procured) the price was too great, which may probably be in a great degree owing to the neighbouring part of Pomerania having been last year occupied by the French troops, and having suffered much from the effects of war, as well as having still large armies in its vicinity, which must of course very materially affect the state of the markets for provisions of all kinds."

While the Elephant was employed in this way in convoying small vessels backwards and forwards, great events were going on all round. The southern shores of the Baltic were included this year in the great arena of the battles which preceded the downfall of Napoleon.

Napoleon's day was now nearly over. The retreat, in 1812, from Moscow had shaken his reputation, and Prussia no longer attempted to keep up the disguise of friendly relations with France. The revolt of the Prussian regiments of Napoleon's army gave the signal for a national organisation, and the whole country turned openly against France. The garrisons left in the fortified towns, conquered seven years earlier, were the only remnants of French dominion. Marshal Bernadotte, who had fought for his Emperor at Grezlaw and Wagram, had lately been selected to be Crown Prince of Sweden. His interests were now centred in Sweden, and his great desire was to conquer Norway. That kingdom was ceded in 1814, in exchange for Rugen and the Pomeranian territories, and has been, almost from that date, a source of increasing difficulty to the Crown of Sweden. Bernadotte had asked help towards his project from Napoleon, at the same time promising to give him reinforcements for the Russian invasion. This offer was refused, and Bernadotte remained neutral until he saw that matters were going against his former sovereign. Now, in 1813, he declared himself an ally of the Russians and Austrians, and brought across the Baltic into Swedish Pomerania a contingent of 12,000 men, of whom a considerable number were convoyed by English men-of-war.

In the log for May 28, 1813, we read "Sailed the Princess Caroline and several of the brigs, with a large fleet of transports, for the Sound. The transports have 4900 Swedish troops on board, to be landed in Swedish Pomerania." These soldiers assisted in the defeat of Marshal Oudinot, and were among the force which drove back Napoleon from Leipzig in the next October, just at the same time that Wellington had completed the liberation of Spain and was leading his army through the passes of the Pyrenees.

It is scarcely remarkable that the signal asking for news should be so frequently made from the Elephant when such events were in progress.

A letter from Jane to her brother, written while all this was going on, must have been truly refreshing, with its talk of hayfields, and abundance of cheerful gossip about nothing in particular:

"CHAWTON, July 3, 1813.

"My DEAREST FRANK,—Behold me going to write you as handsome a letter as I can! Wish me good luck. We have had the pleasure of hearing from you lately through Mary, who sent us some of the particulars of yours of June 18 (I think), written off Rugen, and we enter into the delight of your having so good a pilot. Why are you like Queen Elizabeth? Because you know how to chuse wise ministers. Does not this prove you as great a Captain as she was a Queen? This may serve as a riddle for you to put forth among your officers, by way of increasing your proper consequence. It must be a real enjoyment to you, since you are obliged to leave England, to be where you are, seeing something of a new country and one which has been so distinguished as Sweden. You must have great pleasure in it. I hope you may have gone to Carlscroon. Your profession has its douceurs to recompense for some of its privations ; to an enquiring and observing mind like yours such douceurs must be considerable. Gustavus Vasa, and Charles XII., and Cristina and Linneus. Do their ghosts rise up before you? I have a great respect for former Sweden, so zealous as it was for Protestantism. And I have always fancied it more like England than other countries; and, according to the map, many of the names have a strong resemblance to the English. July begins unpleasantly with us, cold and showery, but it is often a baddish month. We had some fine dry weather preceding it, which was very acceptable to the Holders of Hay, and the Masters of Meadows. In general it must have been a good hay-making season. Edward has got in all his in excellent order; I speak only of Chawton, but here he has better luck than Mr. Middleton ever had in the five years that he was tenant. Good encouragement for him to come again, and I really hope he will do so another year. The pleasure to us of having them here is so great that if we were not the best creatures in the world we should not deserve it. We go on in the most comfortable way, very frequently dining together, and always meeting in some part of every day. Edward is very well, and enjoys himself as thoroughly as any Hampshire-born Austen can desire. Chawton is not thrown away upon him. He talks of making a new garden; the present is a bad one and ill-situated, near Mr. Papillon's. He means to have the new at the top of the lawn behind his own house. We like to have him proving and strengthening his attachment to the place by making it better. He will soon have all his children about him. Edward, George and Charles are collected already, and another week brings Henry and William. It is the custom at Winchester for Georges to come away a fortnight before the holidays, when they are not to return any more; for fear they should overstudy themselves just at last, I suppose. Really it is a piece of dishonourable accommodation to the Master. We are in hopes of another visit from our true lawful Henry very soon; he is to be our guest this time. He is quite well, I am happy to say, and does not leave it to my pen, I am sure, to communicate to you the joyful news of his being Deputy Receiver no longer. It is a promotion which he thoroughly enjoys, as well he may; the work of his own mind. He sends you all his own plans of course. The scheme for Scotland we think an excellent one both for himself and his nephew. Upon the whole his spirits are very much recovered. If I may so express myself his mind is not a mind for affliction; he is too busy, too active, too sanguine. Sincerely as he was attached to poor Eliza moreover, and excellently as he behaved to her, he was always so used to be away from her at times, that her loss is not felt as that of many a beloved wife might be, especially when all the circumstances of her long and dreadful illness are taken into the account. He very long knew that she must die, and it was indeed a release at last. Our mourning for her is not over, or we should be putting it on again for Mr. Thomas Leigh, who has just closed a good life at the age of seventy-nine, and must have died the possessor of one of the finest estates in England, and of more worthless nephews and nieces than any other private man in the United Kingdom. We are very anxious to know who will have the living of Adlestrop, and where his excellent sister will find a home for the remainder of her days. As yet she bears his loss with fortitude, but she has always seemed so wrapped up in him that I fear she must feel it dreadfully when the fever of business is over. There is another female sufferer on the occasion to be pitied. Poor Mrs. L. P. (Leigh Perrot) who would now have been mistress of Stoneleigh had there been none of the vile compromise, which in good truth has never been allowed to be of much use to them. It will be a hard trial. Charles' little girls were with us about a month, and had so endeared themselves that we were quite sorry to have them go. They are now all at South End together. Why do I mention that? As if Charles did not write himself. I hate to be spending my time so needlessly, encroaching too upon the rights of others. I wonder whether you happened to see Mr. Blackall's marriage in the papers last January. We did. He was married at Clifton to a Miss Lewis, whose father had been late of Antigua. I should very much like to know what sort of a woman she is. He was a piece of perfection—noisy perfection—himself, which I always recollect with regard. We had noticed a few months before his succeeding to a College living, the very living which we recollected his talking of, and wishing for; an exceeding good one, Great Cadbury in Somersetshire. I would wish Miss Lewis to be of a silent turn and rather ignorant, but naturally intelligent and wishing to learn, fond of cold veal pies, green tea in the afternoon, and a green window blind at night.

"You will be glad to hear that every copy of S. and S. is sold, and that it has brought me £140, besides the copyright, if that should ever be of any value. I have now, therefore, written myself into £250, which only makes me long for more. I have something in hand which I hope the credit of P. and P. will sell well, though not half so entertaining, and by the bye shall you object to my mentioning the Elephant in it, and two or three other old ships? I have done it, but it shall not stay to make you angry. They are only just mentioned.

"July 6.—I have kept open my letter on the chance of what Tuesday's post might furnish in addition, and it furnishes the likelihood of our keeping our neighbours at the Great House some weeks longer than we expected. Mr. Scudamore, to whom my brother referred, is very decided as to Godmersham not being fit to be inhabited at present. He talks even of two months being necessary to sweeten it, but if we have warm weather I daresay less will do. My brother will probably go down and sniff at it himself, and receive his rents. The rent-day has been postponed already.

"We shall be gainers by their stay, but the young people in general are disappointed, and therefore could wish it otherwise. Our cousins, Colonel Thomas Austen and Margaretta, are going as aide-de-camps to Ireland; and Lord Whitworth goes in their train as Lord-Lieutenant; good appointments for each. I hope you continue well and brush your hair, but not all off.

"Yours very affectionately,
"J. A."

The "something in hand" in this letter was "Mansfield Park." The mentions of ships occur in one of the scenes at Portsmouth, when the whole of the Price family are full of the Thrush going out of harbour, and have no eyes or ears for Fanny, who has just come home after an absence of seven or eight years. The scene is worth quoting almost in extenso.

"Fanny was all agitation and flutter—all hope and apprehension. The moment they stopped, a trollopy-looking maid-servant, seemingly in waiting for them at the door, stepped forward, and, more intent on telling the news than giving them any help, immediately began with—'The Thrush is gone out of harbour, please, sir, and one of the officers has been to—' She was interrupted by a fine tall boy of eleven years old, who, rushing out of the house, pushed the maid aside, and while William was opening the chaise-door himself, called out, 'You are just in time. We have been looking for you this half-hour. The Thrush went out of harbour this morning. I saw her. It was a beautiful sight. And they think she will have her orders in a day or two. And Mr. Campbell was here at four o'clock to ask for you; he has got one of the Thrush's boats, and is going off to her at six, and hoped you would be here in time to go with him.'

"A stare or two at Fanny, as William helped her out of the carriage, was all the voluntary notice which this brother bestowed; but he made no objection to her kissing him, though still engaged in detailing farther particulars of the Thrush's going out of harbour, in which he had a strong right of interest, being to commence his career of seamanship in her at this very time.

"Another moment, and Fanny was in the passage and in her mother's arms. She was then taken into a small parlour. Her mother was gone again to the street-door to welcome William. 'Oh, my dear William, how glad I am to see you! But have you heard about the Thrush? She is gone out of harbour already, three days before we had any thought of it; and I do not know what I am to do about Sam's things; they will never be ready in time; for she may have her orders tomorrow perhaps. It takes me quite unawares. And now you must be off to Spithead, too. Campbell has been here quite in a worry about you; and now what shall we do? I thought to have had such a comfortable evening with you, and now everything comes upon me at once.

"Her son answered cheerfully, telling her that everything was always for the best, and making light of his own inconvenience in being obliged to hurry away so soon.

"'To be sure, I had much rather she had stayed in harbour, that I might have sat a few hours with you in comfort, but as there is a boat ashore I had better go off at once, and there is no help for it. Whereabouts does the Thrush lie at Spithead? Near the Canopus? But, no matter—here is Fanny in the parlour, and why should we stay in the passage? Come, mother, you have hardly looked at your own dear Fanny yet.'

"Lastly, in walked Mr. Price himself, his own loud voice preceding him, as, with something of an oath kind, he kicked away his son's portmanteau and his daughter's bandbox in the passage and called out for a candle; no candle was brought, however, and he walked into the room.

"Fanny, with doubting feelings, had risen to meet him, but sank down on finding herself undistinguished in the dusk, and unthought of. With a friendly shake of his son's hand, and an eager voice, he instantly began—' Ha! welcome back, my boy. Glad to see you. Have you heard the news? The Thrush went out of harbour this morning. Sharp is the word, you see. By G—, you are just in time. The doctor has been inquiring for you; he has got one of the boats, and is to be off for Spithead by six, so you had better go with him. I have been to Turner's about your mess; it is all in a way to be done. I should not wonder if you had your orders tomorrow; but you cannot sail in this wind, if you are to cruise to the westward with the Elephant. By G—, I wish you may. But old Scholey was saying, just now, that he thought you would be sent first by Texel. Well, well, we are ready, whatever happens. But, by G—, you lost a fine sight by not being here in the morning to see the Thrush go out of harbour. I would not have been out of the way for a thousand pounds. Old Scholey ran in at breakfast-time, to say she had slipped her moorings and was coming out. I jumped up, and made but two steps to the platform. If ever ~there was a perfect beauty afloat, she is one; and there she lies at Spithead, and anybody in England would take her for an eight-and-twenty. I was upon the platforms two hours this afternoon looking at her. She lies close to the Endymion, between her and the Cleopatra just to the eastward of the sheer hulk.' 'Ha!' cried William, 'that's just where I should have put her myself. It's the best berth at Spithead. But here is my sister, sir; here is Fanny,' turning and leading her forward; 'it is so dark you did not see her.' With an acknowledgment that he had quite forgot her, Mr. Price now received his daughter, and having given her a cordial hug, and observed that she was grown into a woman, and he supposed would be wanting a husband soon, seemed very much inclined to forget her again."

The statement in the beginning of "Mansfield Park" that "Miss Frances (Mrs. Price) married, in the common phrase, to 'disoblige her family,' and by fixing on a lieutenant of marines, without education, fortune or connections, did it very thoroughly," is not difficult to believe.