Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers



UNFORTUNATELY we have not got Frank's reply to his sister's letter, but we have her next letter to him dated about two months later, when she was staying with Edward.

"GODMERSHAM PARK, September 25, 1813.

"My DEAREST FRANK,—The 11th of this month brought me your letter, and I assure you I thought it very well worth its two and three-pence. I am very much obliged to you for filling me so long a sheet of paper; you are a good one to traffic with in that way, you pay most liberally; my letter was a scratch of a note compared to yours, and then you write so even, so clear, both in style and penmanship, so much to the point, and give so much intelligence, that it is enough to kill one. I am sorry Sweden is so poor, and my riddle so bad. The idea of a fashionable bathing-place in Mecklenberg! How can people pretend to be fashionable or to bathe out of England? Rostock market makes one's mouth water; our cheapest butcher's meat is double the price of theirs; nothing under nine-pence all this summer, and I believe upon recollection nothing under ten-pence. Bread has sunk and is likely to sink more, which we hope may make meat sink too. But I have no occasion to think of the price of bread or of meat where I am now; let me shake off vulgar cares and conform to the happy indifference of East Kent wealth. I wonder whether you and the King of Sweden knew that I was to come to Godmersham with my brother. Yes, I suppose you have received due notice of it by some means or other. I have not been here these four years, so I am sure the event deserves to be talked of before and behind, as well as in the middle. We left Chawton on the 14th, spent two entire days in town, and arrived here on the 17th. My brother, Fanny, Lizzie, Marianne, and I composed this division of the family, and filled his carriage inside and out. Two post-chaises, under the escort of George, conveyed eight more across the country, the chair brought two, two others came on horseback, and the rest by coach, and so, by one means or another, we all are removed. It puts me in remind of St. Paul's shipwreck, when all are said, by different means, to reach the shore in safety. I left my mother, Cassandra, and Martha well, and have had good accounts of them since. At present they are quite alone, but they are going to be visited by Mrs. Heathcote and Miss Bigg, and to have a few days of Henry's company likewise.

"I expect to be here about two months, Edward is to be in Hampshire again in November, and will take me back. I shall be sorry to be in Kent so long without seeing Mary, but I am afraid it must be so. She has very kindly invited me to Deal, but is aware of the great improbability of my being able to get there. It would be a great pleasure to me to see Mary Jane again too, and her brothers, new and old. Charles and his family I do hope to see; they are coming here for a week in October. We were accommodated in Henrietta Street. Henry was so good as to find room for his three nieces and myself in his house. Edward slept at a hotel in the next street. No. 10 is made very comfortable with cleaning and painting, and the Sloane Street furniture. The front room upstairs is an excellent dining and common sitting parlour, and the smaller one behind will sufficiently answer his purpose as a drawing-room. He has no intention of giving large parties of any kind. His plans are all for the comfort of his friends and himself. Madame Bigeon and her daughter have a lodging in his neighbourhood, and come to him as often as he likes, or as they like. Madame B. always markets for him, as she used to do, and, upon our being in the house, was constantly there to do the work. She is wonderfully recovered from the severity of her asthmatic complaint. Of our three evenings in town, one was spent at the Lyceum, and another at Covent Garden. "The Clandestine Marriage" was the most respectable of the performances, the rest were sing-song and trumpery; but it did very well for Lizzy and Marianne, who were indeed delighted, but I wanted better acting. There was no actor worth naming. I believe the theatres are thought at a very low ebb at present. Henry has probably sent you his own account of his visit in Scotland. I wish he had had more time, and could have gone further north, and deviated to the lakes in his way back; but what he was able to do seems to have afforded him great enjoyment, and he met with scenes of higher beauty in Roxburghshire than I had supposed the South of Scotland possessed. Our nephew's gratification was less keen than our brother's. Edward is no enthusiast in the beauties of nature. His enthusiasm is for the sports of the field only. He is a very promising and pleasing young man however, upon the whole, behaves with great propriety to his father, and great kindness to his brothers and sisters, and we must forgive his thinking more of grouse and partridges than lakes and mountains. He and George are out every morning either shooting or with the harriers. They are good shots. Just at present I am mistress and miss altogether here, Fanny being gone to Goodnestone for a day or two, to attend the famous fair, which makes its yearly distribution of gold paper and coloured persian through all the family connections. In this house there is a constant succession of small events, somebody is always going or coming; this morning we had Edward Bridges unexpectedly to breakfast with us, on his way from Ramsgate, where is his wife, to Lenham, where is his church, and to-morrow he dines and sleeps here on his return. They have been all the summer at Ramsgate for her health; she is a poor honey—the sort of woman who gives me the idea of being determined never to be well and who likes her spasms and nervousness, and the consequence they give her, better than anything else. This is an ill-natured statement to send all over the Baltic. The Mr. Knatchbulls, dear Mrs. Knight's brothers, dined here the other day. They came from the Friars, which is still on their hands. The elder made many inquiries after you. Mr. Sherer is quite a new Mr. Sherer to me; I heard him for the first time last Sunday, and he gave us an excellent sermon, a little too eager sometimes in his delivery, but that is to me a better extreme than the want of animation, especially when it evidently comes from the heart, as in him. The clerk is as much like you as ever. I am always glad to see him on that account. But the Sherers are going away. He has a bad curate at Westwell, whom he can eject only by residing there himself. He goes nominally for three years, and a Mr. Paget is to have the curacy of Godmersham; a married man, with a very musical wife, which I hope may make her a desirable acquaintance to Fanny.

"I thank you very warmly for your kind consent to my application, and the kind hint which followed it. I was previously aware of what I should be laying myself open to; but the truth is that the secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the shadow of a secret now, and that, I believe, whenever the third appears, I shall not even attempt to tell lies about it. I shall rather try to make all the money than all the mystery I can of it. People shall pay for their knowledge if I can make them. Henry heard P. and P. warmly praised in Scotland by Lady Robert Kerr and another lady; and what does he do, in the warmth of his brotherly vanity and love, but immediately tell them who wrote it. A thing once set going in that way—one knows how it spreads, and he, dear creature, has set it going so much more than once. I know it is all done from affection and partiality, but at the same time let me here again express to you and Mary my sense of the superior kindness which you have shown on the occasion in doing what I wished. I am trying to harden myself. After all, what a trifle it is, in all its bearings, to the really important points of one's existence, even in this world.

"I take it for granted that Mary has told you of —'s engagement to —. It came upon us without much preparation; at the same time there was that about her which kept us in a constant preparation for something. We are anxious to have it go on well, there being quite as much in his favour as the chances are likely to give her in any matrimonial connection. I believe he is sensible, certainly very religious, well connected, and with some independence. There is an unfortunate dissimilarity of taste between them in one respect, which gives us some apprehensions; he hates company, and she is very fond of it; this, with some queerness of temper on his side, and much unsteadiness on hers, is untoward. I hope Edward's family visit to Chawton will be yearly; he certainly means it now, but we must not expect it to exceed two months in future. I do not think, however, that he found five too long this summer. He was very happy there. The new paint improves their house much, and we find no evil from the smell. Poor Mr. Trimmer is lately dead, a sad loss to his family, and occasioning some anxiety to our brother; for the present he continues his affairs in the son's hands, a matter of great importance to them. I hope he will have no reason to remove his business.

"Your very affectionate sister,
"J. A.

"There is to be a second edition of S. and S. Egerton advises it."

At the time when this letter was written Charles was on the Namur, as Flag-Captain to Sir Thomas Williams. His wife and two small children lived with him on board, an arrangement of somewhat doubtful advantage. In the published letters of Jane Austen there are some of the same date as this one to Frank, written to Cassandra from Godmersham, and giving an account of the visit of Charles and family which she was expecting in October.

"September 23.—Wrote to Charles yesterday, and Fanny has had a letter from him to-day, principally to make inquiries about the time of their visit here, to which mine was an answer beforehand; so he will probably write again soon to fix his week."

"October 14.—A letter from Wrotham yesterday offering an early visit here, and Mr. and Mrs. Moore and one child are to come on Monday for ten days. I hope Charles and Fanny may not fix the same time, but if they come at all in October they must. What is the use of hoping? The two parties of children is the chief 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 here to-day. It depends upon the weather, and the weather now is very fine. No difficulties are made, however, and, indeed, there will be no want of room; but I wish there was no Wigrams and Lushingtons in the way to fill up the table, and make us such a motley set. I cannot spare Mr. Lushington either because of his frank, but Mr. Wigram does no good to anybody. I cannot imagine how a man can have the impudence to come into a family party for three days, where he is quite a stranger, unless he knows himself to be agreeable on undoubted authority. I shall be most happy to see dear Charles."

"Friday, October 15.—They came last night at about seven. We had given them up, but I still expected them to come. Dessert was nearly over; a better time for arriving than an hour and a half earlier. They were late because they did not set out earlier, and did not allow time enough. Charles did not aim at more than reaching Sittingbourne by three, 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 and well, just like their own nice selves, Fanny looking as neat and white this morning as possible, and dear Charles all affectionate, placid, quiet, cheerful good humour. They are both looking well, but poor little Cassy is grown extremely thin and looks poorly. I hope a week's country air and 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 and bewildered just at first to seem to know anybody. We met them in the hall, the women and girl part of us, but before we reached the library she kissed me very affectionately, and has since seemed to recollect me in the same way. It was quite an evening 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 and his wife, which Fanny and I attended. Then we moved into the library, were joined by the dining-room people, were introduced, and so forth; and then we had tea and coffee, which was not over till past ten. Billiards again drew all the odd ones away, and Edward, Charles, the two Fannies, and I sat snugly talking. I shall be glad to have our numbers a little reduced, and by the time you receive this we shall be only a family, though a large family, party.

"I talked to Cassy about Chawton (Cassandra wished to have her there for the winter). She remembers much, but does not volunteer on the subject. Papa and mamma have not yet made up their minds as to parting with her or not; the chief, indeed the only difficulty with mamma 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 mamma 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 best love to you, and 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, and therefore placed him under the schoolmaster, and he is very much improved, and goes into the office now every afternoon, still attending school in the morning."

This is interesting as an example of the way in which the young men learnt their work as midshipmen.

The domestic side of Charles' character is always rather inclined to obtrude itself. Perhaps it was of him that Jane was thinking when Admiral Croft sums up James Benwick in the words, "An excellent, good-hearted fellow I assure you, a very active, zealous officer, too, which is more than you would think for perhaps, for that soft sort of manner does not do him justice;" and when later on she protests against the "too common idea of spirit and gentleness being incompatible with each other." Nevertheless, we have ample proof that both sisters thought his domesticity somewhat overdone, though it is hardly fair to quote even friendly criticism of such an intimate nature. One sentence from a letter on October 18 gives the hint of what seems to have been Charles' one defect in the eyes of his sisters.

"I think I have just done a good deed—extracted Charles from his wife and children upstairs, and made him get ready to go out shooting, and not keep Mr. Moore waiting any longer."

Before Jane's death in 1817, Charles had opportunity to show the stuff of which he was made, and from that time till his death in 1852, under circumstances which called for great courage and endurance, he fully realised her best hopes.

The question of Cassy living with her father and mother on the Namur reminds one of the discussion in "Persuasion" as to the comforts of ladies on board ship.

"The admiral, after taking two or three refreshing turns about the room with his hands behind him, being called to order by his wife, now came up to Captain Wentworth, and without any observation of what he might be interrupting, thinking only of his own thoughts, began with—'If you had been a week later at Lisbon, last spring, Frederick, you would have been asked to give a passage to Lady Mary Grierson and her daughters.'

"'Should I? I am glad I was not a week later then.'"

The admiral abused him for his want of gallantry. He defended himself, though professing that he would never willingly admit any ladies on board a ship of his, excepting for a ball, or a visit, which a few hours might comprehend. "But, if I know myself," said he, "this is from no want of gallantry towards them. It is rather from feeling how impossible it is, with all one's efforts and all one's sacrifices, to make the accommodations on board such as women ought to have. There can be no want of gallantry, admiral, in rating the claims of women to every personal comfort high, and this is what I do. I hate to hear of women on board, or to see them on board, and no ship under my command shall ever convey a family of ladies anywhere if I can help it.'"

This brought his sister upon him.

"'Oh, Frederick! But I cannot believe it of you. All idle refinement! Women may be as comfortable on board as in the best house in England. I believe I have lived as much on board as most women, and I know nothing superior to the accommodation of a man-of-war. I declare I have not a comfort or an indulgence about me, even at Kellynch Hall' (with a kind bow to Anne), 'beyond what I always had in most of the ships I have lived in, and they have been five altogether.'

"'Nothing to the purpose,' replied her brother. "You were living with your husband, and were the only woman on board.'

"'But you, yourself, brought Mrs. Harville, her sister, her cousin, and the three children round from Portsmouth to Plymouth. Where was this superfine, extraordinary sort of gallantry of yours then?'

"'All merged in my friendship, Sophia. I would assist any brother officer's wife that I could, and I would bring anything of Harville's from the world's end, if he wanted it. But do not imagine that I did not feel it an evil, in itself.'

"'Depend upon it, they were all perfectly comfortable.'

I might not like them the better for that, perhaps. Such a number of women and children have no right to be comfortable on board.'

"'My dear Frederick, you are talking quite idly. Pray, what would become of us poor sailors' wives, who often want to be conveyed to one port or another, after our husbands, if everybody had your feelings.

"'My feelings you see did not prevent my taking Mrs. Harville and all her family to Plymouth.'

"'But I hate to hear you talking so like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.'

"'Ah, my dear,' said the Admiral, 'when he has got a wife he will sing a different tune. When he is married, if we have the good luck to live to another war, we shall see him do as you and I, and a great many others, have done. We shall have him very thankful to anybody that will bring him his wife.'

"'Ay, that we shall.'

"'Now I have done,' cried Captain Wentworth. 'When once married people begin to attack me with—"Oh, you will think very differently when you are married," I can only say, "No, I shall not," and then they say again, "Yes, you will," and there is an end of it.'

"He got up and moved away.

"'What a great traveller you must have been, ma'am,' said Mrs. Musgrove to Mrs. Croft.

"'Pretty well, ma'am, in the fifteen years of my marriage, though many women have done more. I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies and back again, and only once; besides being in different places about hotne: Cork, and Lisbon, and Gibraltar. But I never went beyond the Straits, and was never in the West Indies. We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies.'

"Mrs. Musgrove had not a word to say in dissent: she could not accuse herself of having ever called them anything in the whole course of her life.

"'And I do assure you, ma'am,' pursued Mrs. Croft, 'that nothing can exceed the accommodations of a man-of-war. I speak, you know, of the higher rates. When you come to a frigate, of course you are more confined; though any reasonable woman may be perfectly happy in one of them; and I can safely say that the happiest part of my life has been spent on board a ship. While we were together, you know, there was nothing to be feared. Thank God! I have always been blessed with excellent health, and no climate disagrees with me. The only time that I ever really suffered in body and mind, the only time that I ever fancied myself unwell, or had any ideas of danger, was the winter that I passed by myself at Deal, when the Admiral (Captain Croft then) was in the North Seas. I lived in perpetual fright at that time, and had all manner of imaginary complaints from not knowing what to do with myself, or when I should hear from him next; but as long as we could be together, nothing ever ailed me, and I never met with the smallest inconvenience.'

"'Ay, to be sure. Yes. indeed, oh yes. I am quite of your opinion, Mrs. Croft,' was Mrs. Musgrove's hearty answer. 'There is nothing so bad as a separation. I am quite of your opinion. I know what it is, for Mr. Musgrove always attends the assizes, and I am so glad when they are over, and he is safe back again.'"