Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters

A Family Record

Chapter XIII

From Southampton to Chawton


We do not doubt that the orange wine was duly made and the pleasure of unreserved conversation enjoyed during the remainder of the summer. Before the end of September, Cassandra had gone to Godmersham on what was to prove a long and a sad visit. She arrived just at the time of the birth of her sister-in-law's sixth son and eleventh child, John. For a time all went well with mother and child; but on October 8 Elizabeth Austen was suddenly seized with sickness, and died before the serious nature of her attack had been fully realised.[176] This sad event occurred, as the reader will see, between the second and third of the following letters. Edward Austen's two eldest boys, Edward and George, were now at Winchester School, but were taken away for a time on their mother's death. They went at first to the James Austens, at Steventon, no one appearing to think a journey to so distant a county as Kent feasible; and Jane, whose immediate impulse seems to have been to do what she could for her nephews, resigned them rather unwillingly for the time. On October 22 they went on to their grandmother and aunt at Southampton; and then their Aunt Jane was able to devote herself entirely to them, as her own Jane Bennet once did to her small cousins, and to show how her 'steady sense and sweetness of temper exactly adapted her for attending to them in every way: teaching them, playing with them, and loving them'--words which she probably intended as a description of what Cassandra would have done in a similar position.

Castle Square: Saturday [October 1, 1808].

MY DEAR CASSANDRA,--Your letter this morning was quite unexpected, and it is well that it brings such good news to counterbalance the disappointment to me of losing my first sentence, which I had arranged full of proper hopes about your journey, intending to commit them to paper to-day, and not looking for certainty till to-morrow.

We are extremely glad to hear of the birth of the child, and trust everything will proceed as well as it begins. His mamma has our best wishes, and he our second best for health and comfort--though I suppose, unless he has our best too, we do nothing for her. We are glad it was all over before your arrival, and I am most happy to find who the godmother is to be. My mother was some time guessing the names.

About an hour and a half after your toils on Wednesday ended, ours began. At seven o'clock Mrs. Harrison, her two daughters and two visitors, with Mr. Debary and his eldest sister, walked in.

A second pool of commerce, and all the longer by the addition of the two girls, who during the first had one corner of the table and spillikins to themselves, was the ruin of us; it completed the prosperity of Mr. Debary, however, for he won them both.

Mr. Harrison came in late, and sat by the fire, for which I envied him, as we had our usual luck of having a very cold evening. It rained when our company came, but was dry again before they left us.

The Miss Ballards are said to be remarkably well-informed; their manners are unaffected and pleasing, but they do not talk quite freely enough to be agreeable, nor can I discover any right they had by taste or feeling to go their late tour.

We have got the second volume of Espriella's Letters,[177] and I read it aloud by candlelight. The man describes well, but is horribly anti-English. He deserves to be the foreigner he assumes.

The Marquis[178] has put off being cured for another year; after waiting some weeks in vain for the return of the vessel he had agreed for, he is gone into Cornwall to order a vessel built for himself by a famous man in that country, in which he means to go abroad a twelvemonth hence.

With love to all,
Yours affectionately,
J. A.

Fanny Austen (afterwards Lady Knatchbull), Edward's eldest daughter, had nearly completed her sixteenth year. She was admirably adapted for the difficult position into which she was about to be thrown: that of companion to her father, mistress of a large household, and adviser to her younger brothers and sisters. She was sensible, even-tempered, affectionate, and conscientious. She did indeed prove 'almost another sister' to Jane, who, as Cassandra said afterwards, was perhaps better known to her than to any other human being, except Cassandra herself. Though this niece did not profess any special literary ability, her Aunt always valued her sound judgment on each new book: and in return she gave her, without fear of offending, advice[179] on the most delicate subjects. The short extracts from Fanny's diary, which her son, Lord Brabourne, gives us, show how constantly 'Aunt Jane' was the object of her thoughts.

Castle Square: Friday [October 7, 1808].

MY DEAR CASSANDRA,--Your letter on Tuesday gave us great pleasure, and we congratulate you all upon Elizabeth's hitherto happy recovery; to-morrow, or Sunday, I hope to hear of its advancing in the same style. We are also very glad to know that you are so well yourself, and pray you to continue so.

* * * * *

We found ourselves tricked into a thorough party at Mrs. M.'s, a quadrille and a commerce table, and music in the other room. There were two pools at commerce, but I would not play more than one, for the stake was three shillings, and I cannot afford to lose that twice in an evening. The Miss M.'s were as civil and as silly as usual.

* * * * *

Saturday.--Thank you for your letter, which found me at the breakfast table with my two companions.

I am greatly pleased with your account of Fanny; I found her in the summer just what you describe, almost another sister; and could not have supposed that a niece would ever have been so much to me. She is quite after one's own heart; give her my best love, and tell her that I always think of her with pleasure.

* * * * *

Martha was an hour and a half in Winchester, walking about with the three boys and at the pastry-cook's. She thought Edward grown, and speaks with the same admiration as before of his manners; she saw in George a little likeness to his uncle Henry.

[October 13.]

I have received your letter, and with most melancholy anxiety was it expected, for the sad news reached us last night, but without any particulars. It came in a short letter to Martha from her sister, begun at Steventon and finished in Winchester.

We have felt--we do feel--for you all, as you will not need to be told: for you, for Fanny, for Henry, for Lady Bridges, and for dearest Edward, whose loss and whose sufferings seem to make those of every other person nothing. God be praised that you can say what you do of him: that he has a religious mind to bear him up, and a disposition that will gradually lead him to comfort.

My dear, dear Fanny, I am so thankful that she has you with her! You will be everything to her; you will give her all the consolation that human aid can give. May the Almighty sustain you all, and keep you, my dearest Cassandra, well; but for the present I dare say you are equal to everything.

You will know that the poor boys are at Steventon. Perhaps it is best for them, as they will have more means of exercise and amusement there than they could have with us, but I own myself disappointed by the arrangement. I should have loved to have them with me at such a time. I shall write to Edward by this post.

* * * * *

With what true sympathy our feelings are shared by Martha you need not be told; she is the friend and sister under every circumstance.

We need not enter into a panegyric on the departed, but it is sweet to think of her great worth, of her solid principles, of her true devotion, her excellence in every relation of life. It is also consolatory to reflect on the shortness of the sufferings which led her from this world to a better.

Farewell for the present, my dearest sister. Tell Edward that we feel for him and pray for him.

Saturday night [October 15, 1808].

Your accounts make us as comfortable as we can expect to be at such a time. Edward's loss is terrible, and must be felt as such, and these are too early days indeed to think of moderation in grief, either in him or his afflicted daughter, but soon we may hope that our dear Fanny's sense of duty to that beloved father will rouse her to exertion. For his sake, and as the most acceptable proof of love to the spirit of her departed mother, she will try to be tranquil and resigned. Does she feel you to be a comfort to her, or is she too much overpowered for anything but solitude?

Your account of Lizzy is very interesting. Poor child! One must hope the impression will be strong, and yet one's heart aches for a dejected mind of eight years old.

* * * * *

We are anxious to be assured that Edward will not attend the funeral, but when it comes to the point I think he must feel it impossible.

* * * * *

I am glad you can say what you do of Mrs. Knight and of Goodnestone in general; it is a great relief to me to know that the shock did not make any of them ill. But what a task was yours to announce it! Now I hope you are not overpowered with letter-writing, as Henry[180] and John can ease you of many of your correspondents.

* * * * *

Upon your letter to Dr. Goddard's[181] being forwarded to them, Mary wrote to ask whether my mother wished to have her grandsons sent to her. We decided on their remaining where they were, which I hope my brother will approve of. I am sure he will do us the justice of believing that in such a decision we sacrificed inclination to what we thought best.

I shall write by the coach to-morrow to Mrs. J. A., and to Edward, about their mourning, though this day's post will probably bring directions to them on that subject from yourselves. I shall certainly make use of the opportunity of addressing our nephew on the most serious of all concerns, as I naturally did in my letter to him before. The poor boys are, perhaps, more comfortable at Steventon than they could be here, but you will understand my feelings with respect to it.

To-morrow will be a dreadful day for you all. Mr. Whitfield's[182] will be a severe duty. Glad shall I be to hear that it is over.

That you are for ever in our thoughts you will not doubt. I see your mournful party in my mind's eye under every varying circumstance of the day; and in the evening especially figure to myself its sad gloom: the efforts to talk, the frequent summons to melancholy orders and cares, and poor Edward, restless in misery, going from one room to another, and perhaps not seldom upstairs, to see all that remains of his Elizabeth.

There must be a letter missing between October 15 and October 24, containing Jane's first comment on the offer of a cottage at Chawton, made by Edward Austen to his mother. In the midst of his grief--perhaps, in consequence of his loss--he wished to bind his mother and sisters more closely to himself. He gave them a choice between a house near Godmersham, and one at Chawton; but the mother and sisters were what Jane afterwards called 'Hampshire-born Austens,' and clung to their county. The offer was particularly opportune, for Mrs. Austen was already hesitating between Kent and Hampshire as a place of residence. The attractions of a home at Chawton became greater the more they were considered; and though it was held to be necessary to consult the Frank Austens, whom they would be leaving, no doubt was entertained as to their answer.

Castle Square: Monday [October 24, 1808].

MY DEAR CASSANDRA,--Edward and George came to us soon after seven on Saturday, very well, but very cold, having by choice travelled on the outside, and with no great coat but what Mr. Wise, the coachman, good-naturedly spared them of his, as they sat by his side. They were so much chilled when they arrived, that I was afraid they must have taken cold; but it does not seem at all the case; I never saw them looking better.

They behave extremely well in every respect, showing quite as much feeling as one wishes to see, and on every occasion speaking of their father with the liveliest affection. His letter was read over by each of them yesterday, and with many tears; George sobbed aloud, Edward's tears do not flow so easily; but as far as I can judge they are both very properly impressed by what has happened. Miss Lloyd, who is a more impartial judge than I can be, is exceedingly pleased with them.

George is almost a new acquaintance to me, and I find him in a different way as engaging as Edward.

We do not want amusement: bilbocatch,[183] at which George is indefatigable, spillikins, paper ships, riddles, conundrums, and cards, with watching the flow and ebb of the river, and now and then a stroll out, keep us well employed; and we mean to avail ourselves of our kind papa's consideration, by not returning to Winchester till quite the evening of Wednesday.

* * * * *

The St. Albans, I find, sailed on the very day of my letters reaching Yarmouth, so that we must not expect an answer[184] at present; we scarcely feel, however, to be in suspense, or only enough to keep our plans to ourselves. We have been obliged to explain them to our young visitors, in consequence of Fanny's letter, but we have not yet mentioned them to Steventon. We are all quite familiarised to the idea ourselves; my mother only wants Mrs. Seward to go out at Midsummer.

What sort of a kitchen garden is there? Mrs. J. A. expresses her fear of our settling in Kent, and, till this proposal was made, we began to look forward to it here; my mother was actually talking of a house at Wye. It will be best, however, as it is.

* * * * *

I hope your sorrowing party were at church yesterday, and have no longer that to dread. Martha was kept at home by a cold, but I went with my two nephews, and I saw Edward was much affected by the sermon, which, indeed, I could have supposed purposely addressed to the afflicted, if the text had not naturally come in the course of Dr. Mant's[185] observations on the Litany: 'All that are in danger, necessity, or tribulation,' was the subject of it. The weather did not allow us afterwards to get farther than the quay, where George was very happy as long as we could stay, flying about from one side to the other, and skipping on board a collier immediately.

In the evening we had the Psalms and Lessons, and a sermon at home, to which they were very attentive; but you will not expect to hear that they did not return to conundrums the moment it was over.

While I write now, George is most industriously making and naming paper ships, at which he afterwards shoots with horse-chestnuts, brought from Steventon on purpose; and Edward equally intent over the Lake of Killarney, twisting himself about in one of our great chairs.

* * * * *

Tuesday.--The day began cheerfully, but it is not likely to continue what it should, for them or for us. We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I had intended to take them to Netley to-day; the tide is just right for our going immediately after moonshine,[186] but I am afraid there will be rain; if we cannot get so far, however, we may perhaps go round from the ferry to the quay.

I had not proposed doing more than cross the Itchen yesterday, but it proved so pleasant, and so much to the satisfaction of all, that when we reached the middle of the stream we agreed to be rowed up the river; both the boys rowed great part of the way, and their questions and remarks, as well as their enjoyment, were very amusing; George's enquiries were endless, and his eagerness in everything reminds me often of his Uncle Henry.

Our evening was equally agreeable in its way: I introduced speculation,[187] and it was so much approved that we hardly knew how to leave off.

* * * * *

Of Chawton I think I can have nothing more to say, but that everything you say about it in the letter now before me will, I am sure, as soon as I am able to read it to her, make my mother consider the plan with more and more pleasure.

Sunday [November 21, 1808].

Your letter, my dear Cassandra, obliges me to write immediately, that you may have the earliest notice of Frank's intending, if possible, to go to Godmersham exactly at the time now fixed for your visit to Goodnestone.

* * * * *

Your news of Edward Bridges[188] was quite news, for I have had no letter from Wrotham. I wish him happy with all my heart, and hope his choice may turn out according to his own expectations, and beyond those of his family; and I dare say it will. Marriage is a great improver, and in a similar situation Harriet may be as amiable as Eleanor. As to money, that will come, you may be sure, because they cannot do without it. When you see him again, pray give him our congratulations and best wishes. This match will certainly set John and Lucy going.

There are six bedchambers at Chawton; Henry wrote to my mother the other day, and luckily mentioned the number, which is just what we wanted to be assured of. He speaks also of garrets for store places, one of which she immediately planned fitting up for Edward's man servant; and now perhaps it must be for our own; for she is already quite reconciled to our keeping one. The difficulty of doing without one had been thought of before. His name shall be Robert, if you please.

* * * * *

Yes, the Stoneleigh business is concluded, but it was not till yesterday that my mother was regularly informed of it, though the news had reached us on Monday evening by way of Steventon.

* * * * *

Our brother[189] we may perhaps see in the course of a few days, and we mean to take the opportunity of his help to go one night to the play. Martha ought to see the inside of the theatre once while she lives in Southampton, and I think she will hardly wish to take a second view.

* * * * *

How could you have a wet day on Thursday? With us it was a prince of days, the most delightful we have had for weeks; soft, bright, with a brisk wind from the south-west; everybody was out and talking of spring, and Martha and I did not know how to turn back. On Friday evening we had some very blowing weather--from 6 to 9, I think we never heard it worse, even here. And one night we had so much rain that it forced its way again into the store closet, and though the evil was comparatively slight and the mischief nothing, I had some employment the next day in drying parcels, &c. I have now moved still more out of the way.

* * * * *

Adieu! remember me affectionately to everybody, and believe me,

Ever yours,
J. A.

The home at Chawton was now looked upon as a certainty; though none of its future inhabitants inspected it until February 1809, when Cassandra visited it on her way back from Godmersham.

It was some years since they had lived in the country, and their future home was likely to be very quiet; so, as Jane recovered her spirits, she determined to crowd into her remaining months at Southampton as much society and amusement as possible. She went to two of the Southampton assemblies--her last recorded appearances as an active ball-goer.

Castle Square: Friday [December 9, 1808].

MY DEAR CASSANDRA,--Soon after I had closed my last letter to you we were visited by Mrs. Dickens and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Bertie, the wife of a lately-made Admiral. Mrs. F. A., I believe, was their first object, but they put up with us very kindly, and Mrs. D. finding in Miss Lloyd a friend of Mrs. Dundas, had another motive for the acquaintance. She seems a really agreeable woman--that is, her manners are gentle, and she knows a great many of our connections in West Kent. Mrs. Bertie lives in the Polygon, and was out when we returned her visit, which are her two virtues.

A larger circle of acquaintance, and an increase of amusement, is quite in character with our approaching removal. Yes, I mean to go to as many balls as possible, that I may have a good bargain. Everybody is very much concerned at our going away, and everybody is acquainted with Chawton, and speaks of it as a remarkably pretty village, and everybody knows the house we describe, but nobody fixes on the right.

I am very much obliged to Mrs. Knight for such a proof of the interest she takes in me, and she may depend upon it that I will marry Mr. Papillon,[190] whatever may be his reluctance or my own. I owe her much more than such a trifling sacrifice.

Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected. Martha liked it very much, and I did not gape till the last quarter of an hour. It was past nine before we were sent for, and not twelve when we returned. The room was tolerably full, and there were, perhaps, thirty couple of dancers. The melancholy part was, to see so many dozen young women standing by without partners, and each of them with two ugly naked shoulders.

It was the same room in which we danced fifteen years ago. I thought it all over, and in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then. We paid an additional shilling for our tea, which we took as we chose in an adjoining and very comfortable room.

There were only four dances, and it went to my heart that the Miss Lances (one of them, too, named Emma) should have partners only for two. You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance, but I was--by the gentleman whom we met that Sunday with Captain D'Auvergne. We have always kept up a bowing acquaintance since, and, being pleased with his black eyes, I spoke to him at the ball, which brought on me this civility; but I do not know his name, and he seems so little at home in the English language, that I believe his black eyes may be the best of him. Captain D'Auvergne has got a ship.

* * * * *

Having now cleared away my smaller articles of news, I come to a communication of some weight: no less than that my uncle and aunt[191] are going to allow James £100 a year. We hear of it through Steventon. Mary sent us the other day an extract from my aunt's letter on the subject, in which the donation is made with the greatest kindness, and intended as a compensation for his loss in the conscientious refusal of Hampstead living; 100 a year being all that he had at the time called its worth, as I find it was always intended at Steventon to divide the real income with Kintbury.[192]

* * * * *

I am glad you are to have Henry with you again; with him and the boys you cannot but have a cheerful, and at times even a merry, Christmas.

* * * * *

We want to be settled at Chawton in time for Henry to come to us for some shooting in October, at least, or a little earlier, and Edward may visit us after taking his boys back to Winchester. Suppose we name the 4th of September. Will not that do?

* * * * *

Distribute the affectionate love of a heart not so tired as the right hand belonging to it.

Tuesday [December 27, 1808].

. . . Lady Sondes' match[193] surprises, but does not offend me; had her first marriage been of affection, or had there been a grown-up single daughter, I should not have forgiven her; but I consider everybody as having a right to marry once in their lives for love, if they can, and provided she will now leave off having bad headaches and being pathetic, I can allow her, I can wish her, to be happy.

Do not imagine that your picture of your tête-à-tête with Sir B.[194] makes any change in our expectations here; he could not be really reading, though he held the newspaper in his hand; he was making up his mind to the deed, and the manner of it. I think you will have a letter from him soon.

* * * * *

We have now pretty well ascertained James's income to be eleven hundred pounds, curate paid, which makes us very happy--the ascertainment as well as the income.

* * * * *

Wednesday.--I must write to Charles next week. You may guess in what extravagant terms of praise Earle Harwood speaks of him. He is looked up to by everybody in all America.

* * * * *

Yes, yes, we will have a pianoforte, as good a one as can be got for thirty guineas, and I will practise country dances, that we may have some amusement for our nephews and nieces, when we have the pleasure of their company.

Tuesday [January 10, 1809].

I am not surprised, my dear Cassandra, that you did not find my last letter very full of matter, and I wish this may not have the same deficiency; but we are doing nothing ourselves to write about, and I am therefore quite dependent upon the communications of our friends, or my own wits.

* * * * *

The St. Albans perhaps may soon be off to help bring home what may remain by this time of our poor army,[195] whose state seems dreadfully critical. The Regency seems to have been heard of only here; my most political correspondents make no mention of it. Unlucky that I should have wasted so much reflection on the subject.

I can now answer your question to my mother more at large, and likewise more at small--with equal perspicuity and minuteness; for the very day of our leaving Southampton is fixed; and if the knowledge is of no use to Edward, I am sure it will give him pleasure. Easter Monday, April 3, is the day; we are to sleep that night at Alton, and be with our friends at Bookham the next, if they are then at home; there we remain till the following Monday, and on Tuesday, April 11, hope to be at Godmersham.

* * * * *

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 morning have given satisfaction; we had great pleasure in Uncle Deedes' packet; and pray let Marianne know, in private, that I think she is quite right to work a rug for Uncle John's coffee urn, and that I am sure it must give great pleasure to herself now, and to him when he receives it.

The preference of Brag over Speculation does not greatly surprise me, I believe, because I feel the same myself; but it mortifies me deeply, because Speculation was under my patronage; and, 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.

* * * * *

We are now in Margiana,[196] and 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.

* * * * *

Wednesday.--Charles's rug will be finished to-day, and sent to-morrow to Frank, to be consigned by him to Mr. Turner's care; and I am going to send Marmion out with it--very generous in me, I think.

Have you nothing to say of your little namesake? We join in love and many happy returns.

Yours affectionately,

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.

Tuesday [January 17, 1809].

I hope you have had no more illness among you, and that William will be soon as well as ever. His working a footstool for Chawton is a most agreeable surprise to me, and I am sure his grandmamma will value it very much as a proof of his affection and industry, but we shall never have the heart to put our feet upon it. I believe I must work a muslin cover in satin stitch to keep it from the dirt. I long to know what his colours are. I guess greens and purples.

* * * * *

To set against your new novel, of which nobody ever heard before, and perhaps never may again, we have got Ida of Athens,[197] by Miss Owenson, which must be very clever, because it was written, as the authoress says, in three months. We have only read the preface yet, but her Irish Girl[198] does not make me expect much. If the warmth of her language could affect the body it might be worth reading in this weather.

Adieu! I must leave off to stir the fire and call on Miss Murden.

Evening.--I have done them both, the first very often. We found our friend as comfortable as she can ever allow herself to be in cold weather. There is a very neat parlour behind the shop for her to sit in, not very light indeed, being à la Southampton, the middle of three deep, but very lively from the frequent sound of the pestle and mortar.

Tuesday [January 24, 1809].

I had the happiness yesterday of a letter from Charles, but I shall say as little about it as possible, because I know that excruciating Henry will have had a letter likewise, to make all my intelligence valueless. It was written at Bermuda on the 7th and 10th of December. All well, and Fanny[199] still only in expectation of being otherwise. He had taken a small prize in his late cruise--a French schooner, laden with sugar; but bad weather parted them, and she had not yet been heard of. His cruise ended December 1st. My September letter was the latest he had received.

* * * * *

You rejoice me by what you say of Fanny.[200] I hope she will not turn good-for-nothing this ever so long. We thought of and talked of her yesterday with sincere affection, and wished her a long enjoyment of all the happiness to which she seems born. While she gives happiness to those about her she is pretty sure of her own share.

I am gratified by her having pleasure in what I write, but I wish the knowledge of my being exposed to her discerning criticism may not hurt my style, by inducing too great a solicitude. I begin already to weigh my words and sentences more than I did, and am looking about for a sentiment, an illustration, or a metaphor in every corner of the room. Could my ideas flow as fast as the rain in the store closet it would be charming.

We have been in two or three dreadful states within the last week, from the melting of the snow, &c., and the contest between us and the closet has now ended in our defeat. I have been obliged to move almost everything out of it, and leave it to splash itself as it likes.

You have by no means raised my curiosity after Caleb.[201] My disinclination for it before was affected, but now it is real. I do not like the evangelicals. Of course I shall be delighted when I read it, like other people, but till I do I dislike it.

* * * * *

Your silence on the subject of our ball makes me suppose your curiosity too great for words. We were very well entertained, and could have stayed longer but for the arrival of my list shoes to convey me home, and I did not like to keep them waiting in the cold. The room was tolerably full, and the ball opened by Miss Glyn. The Miss Lances had partners, Captain D'Auvergne's friend appeared in regimentals, Caroline Maitland had an officer to flirt with, and Mr. John Harrison was deputed by Captain Smith, being himself absent, to ask me to dance. Everything went well, you see, especially after we had tucked Mrs. Lance's neckerchief in behind and fastened it with a pin.

* * * * *

Adieu, sweet You. This is grievous news from Spain. It is well that Dr. Moore was spared the knowledge of such a son's death.

Monday [January 30].

I am not at all ashamed about the name of the novel, having been guilty of no insult towards your handwriting; the diphthong I always saw, but knowing how fond you were of adding a vowel wherever you could, I attributed it to that alone, and the knowledge of the truth does the book no service; the only merit it could have was in the name of Caleb, which has an honest, unpretending sound, but in Coelebs there is pedantry and affectation. Is it written only to classical scholars?

I am sorry to find that Sir J. Moore has a mother living, but though a very heroic son he might not be a very necessary one to her happiness. Deacon Morrell may be more to Mrs. Morrell.

I wish Sir John had united something of the Christian with the hero in his death. Thank heaven! we have had no one to care for particularly among the troops--no one, in fact, nearer to us than Sir John himself.

* * * * *

The store closet, I hope, will never do so again, for much of the evil is proved to have proceeded from the gutter being choked up, and we have had it cleared. We had reason to rejoice in the child's absence at the time of the thaw, for the nursery was not habitable. We hear of similar disasters from almost everybody.

Yours very affectionately,

Miss Austen, Edward Austen's, Esq.
Godmersham Park, Faversham, Kent.

This letter brings the Southampton series to an end. The party were not to take up their residence at Chawton till the beginning of September; but they left Southampton in April, and we may presume that they carried out the programme mentioned in Jane's letter of January 10, and went by way of Alton to Bookham, and on to Godmersham.

In the whole series of letters written from Southampton, there is not a single allusion to Jane's being engaged upon any novel; and it has been inferred--probably correctly--that her pen was idle during these years. The fact that she had already written three novels, but had not succeeded in publishing a single one, can hardly have encouraged her to write more. But it seems almost certain that, a few days before she left Southampton, she made an effort to secure the publication of the novel which we know as Northanger Abbey, by the publisher to whom she had sold it as far back as 1803.

The circumstances are somewhat involved, but appear to be as follows: Among the letters preserved by Cassandra, is one said not to be in Jane's hand, addressed to Messrs. Crosbie [sic] & Co.,[202] of which these are the contents:--

GENTLEMEN,--In the spring of the year 1803 a MS. novel in two vols., entitled Susan, was sold to you by a gentleman of the name of Seymour, and the purchase money 10 rec^{d.} at the same time. Six years have since passed, and this work, of which I am myself the Authoress, has never to the best of my knowledge appeared in print, tho' an early publication was stipulated for at the time of sale. I can only account for such an extraordinary circumstance by supposing the MS. by some carelessness to have been lost, and if that was the case am willing to supply you with another copy, if you are disposed to avail yourselves of it, and will engage for no farther delay when it comes into your hands. It will not be in my power from particular circumstances to command this copy before the month of August, but then if you accept my proposal you may depend on receiving it. Be so good as to send me a line in answer as soon as possible as my stay in this place will not exceed a few days. Should no notice be taken of this address, I shall feel myself at liberty to secure the publication of my work by applying elsewhere.

I am, Gentlemen, etc., etc.,
M. A. D.

Direct to Mrs. Ashton Dennis,
Post Office, Southampton
April 5, 1809.

With this letter was preserved the following reply:--

MADAM,--We have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 5th inst. It is true that at the time mentioned we purchased of Mr. Seymour a MS. novel entitled Susan, and paid him for it the sum of £10, for which we have his stamped receipt, as a full consideration, but there was not any time stipulated for its publication, neither are we bound to publish it. Should you or anyone else [publish it] we shall take proceedings to stop the sale. The MS. shall be yours for the same as we paid for it.

I am yours, etc.

From the fact that this letter was carefully preserved among Jane's correspondence, from the almost exact coincidence of the dates at which the writer was to leave Southampton, &c., and from the fact that a Mr. Seymour was Henry Austen's man of business, there can be no reasonable doubt that the letter refers to one of Jane Austen's works. It need cause no surprise that she should have written under an assumed name, or that she should have got some one else to write for her in view of the secrecy which she long maintained regarding the authorship of her novels. If we assume, then, that the letter concerns one of Jane Austen's novels--which novel is it? At first sight it might naturally seem to be the story called Lady Susan, which was published in the second edition of the Memoir; but there are two objections to this: one, that so far from making two volumes, Lady Susan could hardly have made more than one very thin volume; secondly, that Lady Susan is generally looked upon as an early and immature production; and Jane's judgment should have been too good to allow her to desire the publication of an inferior work at a time when she had already completed, in one form or another, three such novels as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey. If, therefore, it was not Lady Susan--What was it? We cannot doubt that it was the novel we now know as Northanger Abbey. When that book was prepared for the press in 1816, it contained the following 'advertisement' or prefatory note:--

This little work was finished in the year 1803, and intended for immediate publication. It was disposed of to a bookseller,[203] it was even advertised, and why the business proceeded no further, the author has never been able to learn.

So far, this accords closely enough with the history of the MS. Susan as related in the letter to Messrs. Crosby. For other details we must go to the Memoir,[204] where we read:--

It [Northanger Abbey] was sold in 1803 to a publisher in Bath for ten pounds; but it found so little favour in his eyes that he chose to abide by his first loss rather than risk further expense by publishing such a work. . . . But when four novels of steadily increasing success had given the writer some confidence in herself, she wished to recover the copyright of this early work. One of her brothers undertook the negotiation. He found the purchaser very willing to receive back his money and to resign all claim to the copyright.[205]

This, too, accords closely enough with the history of the MS. Susan, with the exception of one expression--namely, 'publisher in Bath'; but probably the writer of the Memoir here made a slip, acting on the very natural inference that a book in the main written about Bath, by a writer at that time living in Bath, would naturally have been offered to a publisher in that town.

We are, indeed, confronted by two alternatives: either that Jane Austen, in the year 1803, sold two MSS. for the sum of ten pounds each--one named Susan, to a London publisher, which has disappeared altogether, unless it is the same as the sketch Lady Susan (which, as we have seen, is improbable), and the other (Northanger Abbey) to a Bath publisher; or that the publisher was really a London and not a Bath publisher, and that the original Christian name of Catherine Morland was Susan.[206]


[176] Brabourne, vol. ii. p. 1.

[177] Southey's Letters from England, by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella (London, 1807); a lively account of this country, written in the guise of letters assigned to a fictitious Spanish traveller.

[178] Lord Lansdowne, who put off being cured too long: his death occurred about the time when he had proposed to go abroad.

[179] See Chapter XIX.

[180] Henry Austen and John Bridges.

[181] William Stanley Goddard, D.D., Head Master of Winchester, 1796-1809.

[182] The Rector of Godmersham.

[183] Anglicised form of French word for cup-and-ball--bilboquet.

[184] As to the move to Chawton.

[185] Richard Mant, D.D., Rector of All Saints, Southampton, and father of Bishop Mant.

[186] She probably wrote noonshine, a somewhat incorrect way of spelling nuncheon (luncheon). See Sense and Sensibility, c. xliv.

[187] See p. 225.

[188] His approaching marriage to Harriet Foote.

[189] Frank.

[190] The Rector of Chawton, who was a bachelor.

[191] Mr. and Mrs. Leigh Perrot.

[192] In 1806, the small living of Hampstead Marshall became vacant by the death of old Mr. Fowle; and Lord Craven, the patron, looking round for an 'honest man' who would hold the living for his nominee, offered it to James Austen. He, however, felt scruples, grounded on the wording of the bond of resignation, and declined the preferment.

[193] Her second marriage to General H. T. Montresor.

[194] A joking suggestion that Sir Brook Bridges was about to propose to Cassandra.

[195] Sir John Moore's heroic twelve days' retreat to Corunna was now in progress, and the battle was fought there on January 16. It is mentioned again in the next two letters. The news on this occasion seems to have come very quickly. The St. Albans (under the command of Francis Austen) was at Spithead, and there took charge of the disembarkation of the remains of Sir John Moore's forces (Sailor Brothers, p. 203).

[196] Margiana; or Widdrington Tower, anon. 5 vols. 1808. For a description of this romance see a reply by M. H. Dodds in Notes and Queries, 11 S. vii. pp. 233-4.

[197] Women, or Ida of Athens, by Sydney Owenson (afterwards Lady Morgan), published in 1809.

[198] The Wild Irish Girl, published in 1806.

[199] Mrs. Charles Austen, whose daughter Cassandra was born on December 22, 1808.

[200] Eldest daughter of Jane's brother Edward.

[201] This proved to be Hannah More's Coelebs in Search of a Wife, published in 1808. See next letter.

[202] Messrs. Crosby & Co. of Stationers' Hall Court, London.

[203] Mr. Austin Dobson, in his introduction to Northanger Abbey (Macmillan, 1897), makes the mistake of saying that the 'advertisement' of the first edition of 1818 tells us that the MS. was disposed of to 'a Bath bookseller.'

[204] Memoir, p. 129.

[205] This implies that (if Susan and Northanger Abbey were the same) no arrangement was concluded in 1809. Indeed, it does not appear that the author contemplated a re-purchase at that time; and the publisher was unwilling to relinquish his rights on any other terms.

[206] Later writers have not even been content to accept the 'publisher in Bath,' but have found a name and habitation for him. Mr. Peach, in his Historic Houses in Bath, published in 1883 (p. 150 note), says: 'The publisher (who purchased Northanger Abbey), we believe, was Bull.' Mr. Oscar Fay Adams, writing in 1891 (Story of Jane Austen's Life, p. 93), becomes more definite in his statement that 'nothing of hers (Jane Austen's) had yet been published; for although Bull, a publisher in Old Bond Street [sc. in Bath], had purchased in 1802 [sic] the manuscript of Northanger Abbey for the sum of ten pounds, it was lying untouched--and possibly unread--among his papers, at the epoch of her leaving Bath.'

It is true that Mr. Dobson, unable to find the authority for Bull's name, is a little more guarded, when he amusingly writes, in 1897:--

'Even at this distance of time, the genuine devotee of Jane Austen must be conscious of a futile but irresistible desire to "feel the bumps" of that Boeotian bookseller of Bath, who, having bought the manuscript of Northanger Abbey for the base price of ten pounds, refrained from putting it before the world. . . . Only two suppositions are possible: one, that Mr. Bull of the Circulating Library at Bath (if Mr. Bull it were) was constitutionally insensible to the charms of that master-spell which Mrs. Slipslop calls "ironing"; the other, that he was an impenitent and irreclaimable adherent of the author of The Mysteries of Udolpho.'

Mr. Meehan, in his Famous Houses of Bath and District (1901), is the most circumstantial of all, writing on p. 197:--

'Her novel Northanger Abbey, which is full of Bath, was finished in 1798, and in 1803 she sold the manuscript for ten pounds to Lewis Bull, a bookseller in the "Lower Walks" (now "Terrace Walk"). Bull had in 1785 succeeded James Leake, and he in turn was succeeded by John Upham. Bull was the founder of the well-known library in Bond Street, London--for many years known as Bull's Library.'