Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers



IN the letter quoted in the last chapter, we hear how Henry let out the secret of Jane's authorship. She has also something to say to Cassandra about the matter. "Lady Robert Kerr is delighted with P. and P., and really was so, as I understand, before she knew who wrote it, for, of course she knows now. He (Henry) told her with as much satisfaction as if it were my wish. He did not tell me this, but he told Fanny." Perhaps the pleasure that she gained in hearing how people enjoyed her books partly made up for the annoyance of having her wishes for secrecy forgotten. She goes on: "And Mr. Hastings, I am quite delighted with what such a man writes about it. Henry sent him the books after his return from Daylesford, but you will hear the letter too." This is tantalising for those who cannot hear the letter too, and still more so when she adds later on: "I long to have you hear Mr. H.'s opinion of P. and P. His admiring my Elizabeth so much is particularly welcome to me."

The interest of Warren Hastings in the Austen family was a long-standing one. Hastings' only son was brought up under the care of Jane's father and mother at Steventon. When he died, in early manhood, the grief of Mrs. Austen was as great as if she had lost one of her own children. Probably they were entrusted with the care of this boy through the influence of George Austen's sister, who was married to Dr. Hancock, of Calcutta, a close friend of Warren Hastings. Their daughter, Eliza Hancock, after losing her first husband, a French count, under the guillotine in the Reign of Terror, married Henry Austen. She died in 1813, and Henry's loss was a subject of much concern in the family. We can see this from Jane's letters at the time to Cassandra, and in the one to Frank quoted at length in the last chapter, where she expresses her belief that Henry's mind is not "a mind for affliction."

Frank got home from the Baltic early in 1814. We hear of him in June trying to arrange for a visit to his mother. Jane writes: "I heard yesterday from Frank. When he began his letter he hoped to be here on Monday, but before it was ended he had been told that the naval review would not take place till Friday, which would probably occasion him some delay, as he cannot get some necessary business of his own attended to while Portsmouth is in such a bustle." Her books seem to have become more and more of a family interest. Mentions of them come in constantly in the midst of all the family gossip. "Sweet amiable Frank, why does he have a cold too? Like Captain Mirvan to Mr. Duval. 'I wish it well over with him.' Thank you very much for the sight of dearest Charles's letter to yourself. How pleasant and naturally he writes, and how perfect a picture of his disposition and feeling his style conveys! Poor fellow! Not a present! I have a great mind to send him all the twelve copies (of "Emma"), which were to have been dispersed among my near connections, beginning with the Prince Regent and ending with Countess Morley." The mention of Miss Burney's "Evelina"is characteristic. It was one of her favourite books.

On Frank's return he naturally wishes to settle somewhere with his wife and family after so many years afloat, but he did not at once find the sort of home he wanted. He occupied Chawton Great House for a few years, but this was oniy a temporary arrangement. It must be one of the chief pleasures of a novelist to bestow upon her characters all the blessings which she would like to portion out to her friends. Perhaps it was something of this feeling which induced Jane to draw the ideal home of a naval man in "Persuasion." Certainly in tastes and feelings there is much similarity between Harville and Frank Austen.

"Captain Harville had taken his present house for half a year; his taste, and his health, and his fortune, all directing him to a residence unexpensive, and by the sea; and the grandeur of the country, and the retirement of Lyme in the winter, appeared exactly adapted to Captain Benwick's state of mind. Nothing could be more pleasant than their desire of considering the whole party as friends of their own, because the friends of Captain Wentworth, or more kindly hospitable than their entreaties for their all promising to dine with them. The dinner, already ordered at the inn, was at last, though unwillingly, accepted as an excuse, but they seemed almost hurt that Captain Wentworth should have brought such a party to Lyme, without considering it as a thing of course that they should dine with them.

"There was so much attachment to Captain Wentworth in all this, and such a bewitching charm in a degree of hospitality so uncommon, so unlike the usual style of give-and-take invitations, and dinners of formality and display, that Anne felt her spirits not likely to be benefited by an increasing acquaintance among his brother officers. 'These would all have been my friends,' was her thought, and she had to struggle against a great tendency to lowness.

"On quitting the Cobb they all went indoors with their new friends, and found rooms so small as none but those who invite from the heart could think capable of accommodating so many. Anne had a moment's astonishment on the subject herself, but it was soon lost in the pleasant feelings which sprang from the sight of all the ingenious contrivances and nice arrangements of Captain Harville to turn the actual space to the best possible account, to supply the deficiencies of lodging-house furniture, and defend the windows and doors against the winter storms to be expected. The varieties in the fitting up of the rooms, where the common necessaries provided by the owner, in the common indifferent plight, were contrasted with some few articles of a rare species of wood, excellently worked up, and with something curious and valuable from all the distant countries Captain Harville had visited, were more than amusing to Anne; connected as it all was with his profession, the fruit of its labours, the effect of its influence on his habits, the picture of repose and domestic happiness it presented, made it to her a something more or less than gratification.

"Captain Harville was no reader; but he had contrived excellent accommodations, and fashioned very pretty shelves, for a tolerable collection of well-bound volumes, the property of Captain Benwick. His lameness prevented him from taking much exercise; but a mind of usefulness and ingenuity seemed to furnish him with constant employment within. He drew, he varnished, he carpentered, he glued; he made toys for the children; he fashioned new netting-needles and pins with improvements; and if everything else was done, sat down to his large fishing-net at one corner of the room.

"Anne thought she left great happiness behind her when they quitted the house; and Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the Navy, their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved."

No one reading "Persuasion" could doubt that, ready as Jane always was to laugh at absurdities of fashion, yet the national enthusiasm for the Navy had not failed to touch her heart any more that it had missed her sense of humour. Trying as Louisa's encomium must have been to Anne, with her mind full of regrets over her broken engagement with Captain Wentworth, it was the inward agreement of her mind with this admiration for simplicity and affection which gave her the worst pain. The nation had passed through a crisis, and after the stress of war, the happy family life was the one thing admirable.

Captain Charles Austen had spent ten years on active service, outside the theatre of hostilities, but now he was brought into closer touch during the confusion caused by the escape of Napoleon from Elba. The Phœnix frigate under his command was sent with the Undaunted and the Garland in pursuit of a Neapolitan squadron cruising in the Adriatic. Since 1808 Naples had been under the rule of Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law. It was, therefore, Murat's flag which was attacked by the British men-of-war.

Joachim Murat's history is a curiously romantic one. As his dealings with Napoleon created the situation in Naples which called for British interference, it will not be a digression to give some account of him. His origin was a low one, and it was chiefly as the husband of Napoleon's sister Caroline that he came to the front. As a soldier his talents were great, but he was no diplomatist, and too impetuous and unstable to be successful. He fought under Napoleon in most of the campaigns from Marengo to Leipzig, and first entered Naples as the victorious general of the French army. In 1808, at a time when Napoleon was giving away kingdoms, Joseph Bonaparte, the King of Naples, was awarded the somewhat empty and unsatisfactory honour of the kingdom of Spain; and at the same time, to take his place, Murat was raised to the dignity of "King of the Two Sicilies." The Bourbon King Ferdinand, who bore the same title, had been maintained in power in the island of Sicily by the British fleet ever since Nelson's time~ Murat's great idea was the unity of Italy, under himself as King, and he perhaps had hopes that Napoleon would support him. At all events, he was loyal to the Emperor until i8i i, when he went to Paris for the baptism of Napoleon's son, but came away before the ceremony on learning that the infant was to be "King of Rome." He dismissed his French troops, and resolved to govern without reference to Napoleon. Unable, however, to resist a call to arms from his former chief, in 1812 he went to Russia in command of the heavy cavalry, and was the first to cross the frontier. He went twenty leagues beyond Moscow, and finally left the army on the retreat at the Oder. He handed over the command to Eugene Beauharnais, and returned to Naples.

Among others who saw that Napoleon's power was on the wane, Murat now turned against him, and proposed, through Lord William Bentinck at Palermo, a treaty of ace with England, on the basis of the unification of Italy under his own sovereignty. This agreement was made, and needed only the formal consent of the British Government, when Murat suddenly threw it all over, and at Napoleon's bidding went off to fight for him in the campaign of 1813 at Dresden and Leipzig. On his return, however, the King again began his negotiations with the allies,and arranged a treaty with Austria. The Congress of Vienna debated the question of allowing him to remain King. As matters stood, it was difficult to find a reason for turning him out, as he now appeared to have definitely abandoned the Emperor's cause. But, naturally, it was impossible to repose much confidence in his assertions. He himself seems scarcely to have known his own mind, and was ready to ally himself with either side, if by that means he could secure his heart's desire of the kingdom of Italy. His wife cared more for her brother's cause than for her husband's, but Joachim trusted her completely. They had for long kept up the appearance of disagreement, in order to collect round them the leaders of all parties; and now when the dissension was real, he hardly realised how little her sympathies were with him. It seems not unlikely that England and Austria would have trusted him, and allowed him to retain his throne, as, on the whole, he had governed well ; but he himself decided the question in a characteristic way. He had tidings of Napoleon's projected escape from Elba, and espoused his cause. The kingdom of the Two Sicilies was thereupon attacked by the allies, and before Waterloo was fought the Bourbon King Ferdinand was reinstated at Naples under the protection of the fleets. Queen Caroline, Murat's wife, was escorted by British sailors from the palace. The ship bearing her away passed another British ship, which brought Ferdinand back to his capital.

The city of Naples had surrendered, but Brindisi still held out. It was here that Charles Austen was employed in blockading the port as Captain of the Phcenix, with the Garland under his orders. After a short time negotiations were begun, and, without much serious fighting, he induced the garrison of the castle and the commanders of the two frigates in the port to hoist the white flag of the Bourbons, in place of the crimson and white on a blue ground which Joachim Murat had adopted. It is a matter of history how Murat, with a few followers, attempted to set up this flag again a few months later in Calabria, but was taken prisoner and shot. It is evident that his estrangement from Napoleon originated with the title of "King of Rome "being conferred on the boy born in 1811—a clear indication that the- Emperor was no party to his schemes of uniting Italy. Whether or not the change of monarchs was a good one for the Neapolitan people, the restored kingdom of the Two Sicilies lasted until Garibaldi caused its complete collapse in 1860, and accomplished Murat's ideal for Italy.

After this episode Captain Charles Austen was kept busy with Greek pirates in the Archipelago until the Phœnix was lost off Smyrna in 1816. He then returned to England.

There is an extract from one of his letters to Jane at this time, dated May 6, 1815, from Palermo, which shows something of the degree of popularity which her books had then attained. "Books became the subject of conversation, and I praised 'Waverley' highly, when a young man present observed that nothing had come out for years to be compared with 'Pride and Prejudice,' 'Sense and Sensibility,' &c. As I am sure you must be anxious to know the name of a person of so much taste, I shall tell you it is Fox, a nephew of the late Charles James Fox. That you may not be too much elated at this morsel of praise, I shall add that he did not appear to like 'Mansfield Park' so well as the two first, in which, however, I believe he is singular."

Early in 1816 Jane's health began to fail, and she grew gradually weaker until she died, in July 1817. There is a letter from her to Charles, dated from Chawton on April 6, 1817, which is inscribed in his handwriting, "My last letter from dearest Jane." It is full of courage, even through its weariness. Most of it relates to purely family matters, but the tenor of it all is the same—that of patient cheerfulness:

"My DEAREST CHARLES,—Many thanks for your affectionate letter. I was in your debt before, but I have really been too unwell the last fortnight to write anything that was not absolutely necessary. . . . There was no standing Mrs. Cooke's affectionate way of speaking of your countenance, after her seeing you. God bless you all. Conclude me to be going on well, if you hear nothing to the contrary.

"Yours ever truly,
"J. A.

"Tell dear Harriet that whenever she wants me in her service again she must send a Hackney Chariot all the way for me, for I am not strong enough to travel any other way, and I hope Cassy will take care that it is a green one."

Both Francis and Charles Austen were at home at the time of Jane's death in 1817. In the May before she died she was prevailed upon to go to Winchester, to be under the care of Mr. Lyford, a favourite doctor in that part. She and Cassandra lived in College Street. She had always been fond of Winchester—in the true "Jane Austen spirit," partly because her nephews were at school there—and her keen interest in her surroundings did not desert her even now, when she, and all around her, knew that she was dying. A set of verses, written only three days before her death, though of no great merit in themselves, have a value quite their own in showing that her unselfish courage and cheerfulness never failed her. Only a few hours after writing them she had a turn for the worse, and died early on the morning of July 18.

"WINCHESTER, July 15, 1817.

"When Winchester races first took their beginning
'Tis said that the people forgot their old saint,
That they never applied for the leave of St. Swithun,
And that William of Wykeham's approval was faint.

"The races however were fixed and determined,
The company met, and the weather was charming;
The lords and the ladies were satined and ermined,
And nobody saw any future alarming.

"But when the old saint was informed of their doings,
He made but one spring from his shrine to the roof
Of the palace that now stands so sadly in ruins,
And thus he addressed them, all standing aloof:

"'Oh, subject rebellious! Oh, Venta depraved!
When once we are buried you think we are dead;
But behold me immortal—by vice you're enslaved,
You have sinned, and must suffer,' then further he said—

"'These races, and revels, and dissolute measures,
With which you're debasing a neighbouring plain;
Let them stand—you shall meet with a curse in your pleasures.
Set off for your course. I'll pursue with my rain.

"'You cannot but know my command o'er July;
Thenceforward I'll triumph in showing my powers;
Shift your race as you will, it shall never be dry,
The curse upon Venta is July in showers.'"