A FEW years ago, a gentleman visiting the beautiful cathedral of Winchester, England, desired to be shown the grave of Jane Austen. The verger, as he pointed it out, asked, "Pray, Sir, can you tell me whether there was any thing particular about that lady; so many people want to know where she was buried?" We fancy the ignorance of the honest verger is shared by most American readers of the present day, respecting the life and character of a lady whose novels commanded the admiration of Scott, of Mackintosh, of Macaulay, of Coleridge, of Southey, and others of equal eminence in the world of letters. Even during her lifetime she was known only through her novels. Unlike her gifted contemporary, Miss Mitford, she lived in entire seclusion from the literary world; neither by correspondence nor by personal intercourse was she known to any contemporary authors. It is probable that she never was in company with any person whose talents or whose celebrity equaled her own; so that her powers never could have been sharpened by collision with superior intellects, nor her imagination aided by their casual suggestions. Even during the last two or three years of her life, when her works were rising in the estimation of the public, they did not enlarge the circle of her acquaintance. Few of her readers knew even her name, and none knew more of her than her name. It would scarcely he possible to mention any other author of note, whose personal obscurity was so complete. Fanny Burney, afterward Madame D'Arblay, was at an early age petted by Dr. Johnson, and introduced to the wits and scholars of the day at the tables of Mrs. Thrale and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Anna Seward, in her self-constituted shrine at Litchfield, would have been miserable, had she not trusted that the eyes of all lovers of poetry were devoutly fixed on her. Joanna Baillie and Maria Edgeworth were far from courting publicity; they loved the privacy of their own families, one with her brother and sister in their Hampstead villa, the other in her more distant retreat in Ireland; but fame pursued them, and they were the favorite correspondents of Sir Walter Scott. The chief part of Charlotte Bronte's life was spent in a wild solitude compared with which Steventon and Chawton might be considered to be in the gay world; and yet she attained to personal distinction which never fell to Miss Austen's lot. When she visited her kind publisher in London, literary men and women were invited purposely to meet her: Thackeray bestowed upon her the honor of his notice; and once in Willis's Rooms, she had to walk shy and trembling through an avenue of lords and ladies, drawn up for the purpose of gazing at the author of "Jane Eyre." Miss Mitford, too, lived quietly in "Our Village," devoting her time and talents to the benefit of a father scarcely worthy of her; but she did not live there unknown. Her tragedies gave her a name in London. She numbered Milman and Talfourd among her correspondents; and her works were a passport to the society of many who would not otherwise have sought her. Hundreds admired Miss Mitford on account of her writings for one who ever connected the idea of Miss Austen with the press.
It was not till toward the close of her life, when the last of the works that she saw published was in the press, that she received the only mark of distinction that was ever bestowed upon her; and that was remarkable for the high quarter whence it emanated rather than for any actual increase of fame that it conferred. It happened thus. In the autumn of 1815 she nursed her brother Henry through a dangerous fever and slow convalescence at his house in Hans Place. He was attended by one of the Prince Regent's physicians. All attempts to keep her name secret had at this time ceased, and though it had never appeared on a title-page, yet it was pretty well known; and the friendly physician was aware that his patient's nurse was the author of "Pride and Prejudice." Accordingly he informed her one day that the Prince was a great admirer of her novels; that he read them often, and kept a set in every one of his residences; that he himself therefore had thought it right to inform his Royal Highness that Miss Austen was staying in London, and that the Prince had desired Mr. Clarke, the librarian of Carlton House, to wait upon her. The next day Mr. Clarke made his appearance, and invited her to Carlton House, saying that he had the Prince's instructions to show her the library and other apartments, and to pay her every possible attention. The invitation was of course accepted, and during the visit to Carlton House Mr. Clarke declared himself commissioned to say that if Miss Austen had any other novel forthcoming she was at liberty to dedicate it to the Prince. Accordingly such a dedication was immediately prefixed to "Emma," which was at that time in the press.
Though singularly barren of events—so smooth was the current of its course—the life of this gifted woman was well worthy of the affectionate biographer it has found in the person of her nephew, the Rev. J. E. Austen-Leigh, from whose interesting volume we borrow the material and much of the language of this article. After a long period of undeserved neglect her novels are again coming into vogue with readers of quiet and refined tastes; and many may take an interest in a delineation of her mind and character. Many may care to know whether the moral rectitude, the correct taste, and the warm affections with which she invested her ideal characters were really existing in the native source whence those ideas flowed, and were actually exhibited by her in the various relations of life. "I can indeed hear witness," writes her nephew, "that there was scarcely a charm in her most delightful characters that was not a true reflection of her own sweet temper and loving heart. I was young when we lost her; but the impressions made on the young are deep, and though in the course of fifty years I have forgotten much, I have not forgotten that 'Aunt Jane' was the delight of all her nephews and nieces. We did not think of her as being clever, still less as being famous; but we valued her as one always kind, sympathizing, and amusing."
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, at the parsonage house of Steventon, in Hampshire, England. Her father, the Rev. George Austen, was of an old family. At the time of his daughter's birth he held the two adjoining rectories of Deane and Steventon. The two villages were little more than a mile apart, and their united populations scarcely amounted to three hundred, so that this was not considered a very gross case of plurality. At this time the grandfather of Mary Russell Mitford, Dr. Russell, was rector of the adjoining parish of Ashe; so that the parents of two popular female authors must have been intimately acquainted with each other.
Many changes have passed upon these parishes since Jane Austen was born, nearly a century ago. At the present time the pretty, shaded lane between Deane and Steventon is as hard and smooth as the best turnpike road; but it was then a mere cart track, so cut up by deep ruts as to be impassable for a light carriage. In those days it was not unusual to set men to work with shovel and pickaxe to fill up ruts and holes in roads seldom used by carriages, on such special occasions as a funeral or a wedding. Ignorance and coarseness of language also were still lingering, even upon higher levels of society than might have been expected to retain such mists. About this time a neighboring squire, a man of many acres, referred the following difficulty to Mr. Austen's decision: "You know all about these sort of things. Do tell us. Is Paris in France, or France in Paris? for my wife has been disputing with me about it." The same gentleman, narrating some conversation which he had heard between the rector and his wife, represented the latter as beginning her reply to her husband with a round oath; and when his daughter called him to task, reminding him that Mrs. Austen never swore, he replied: "Now, Betty, why do you pull me up for nothing? you know very well that's only my way of telling the story."
Mr. Austen was a remarkably good-looking man, both in his youth and his old age; and at seventy years he attracted observation by his fine features and abundance of snow-white hair. In Mrs. Austen also was to be found the germ of much of the ability which was concentrated in her daughter Jane, but of which others of her children had a share. She united strong common-sense with a lively imagination, and often expressed herself, both in writing and in conversation, with epigrammatic force and point. She lived, like many of her family, to an advanced age. During the last years of her life she endured continual pain, not only patiently, but with characteristic cheerfulness. She has been heard to say, "I almost think sometimes that God Almighty has forgotten me; but I dare say He will come for me in His own good time." She died and was buried at Chawton, January, 1827, aged eighty-eight.
Jane Austen had one sister—Cassandra—about three years her senior, to whom she was most tenderly attached. "If Cassandra were going to have her head cut off," said their mother, on one occasion, "Jane would insist on sharing her fate." This attachment was never interrupted or weakened. They lived in the same home, and shared the same bedroom, till separated by death. They were not exactly alike. Cassandra's was the colder and calmer disposition; she was always prudent and well judging, but with less outward demonstration of feeling and less sunniness of temper than Jane possessed. It was remarked in her family that "Cassandra had the merit of having her temper always under command, but that Jane had the happiness of a temper that never required to be commanded."
Of her five brothers, the two youngest, Charles and Francis, were sailors during the most active and glorious period of the British navy. Both were often engaged in important service, and both rose to the rank of Admiral. Francis lived to attain the very summit of his profession, having died in his ninety-third year, G.C.B. and Senior Admiral of the Fleet, in 1865. He possessed great firmness of character, with a strong sense of duty, whether due from himself to others, or from others to himself. He was consequently a strict disciplinarian; but, as he was a very religious man, it was remarked of him that he maintained this discipline without ever uttering an oath, or permitting one in his presence. On one occasion, when ashore in a seaside town, he was spoken of as "the officer who kneeled at church."
Charles was generally serving in frigates or sloops. At one time he was absent from England for seven years together. In 1850 he went out in the Hastings in command of the East India and China station but on the breaking out of the Burmese war, he transferred his flag to a steam sloop, for the purpose of getting up the shallow waters of the Irrawaddy, on board of which he died of cholera in 1852, in the seventy-fourth year of his age. His sweet temper and affectionate disposition, in which he resembled his sister Jane, had secured to him an unusual portion of attachment, not only from his own family, but from all the officers and common sailors who served under him. One who was with him at his death has left this record of him:
"Our good Admiral won the hearts of all by his gentleness and kindness, while he was struggling with disease, and endeavoring to do his duty as Commander-in-chief of the British naval forces in these waters. His death was a great grief to the whole fleet. I know that I cried bitterly when I found he was dead."
These two brothers have been dwelt on because their honorable career accounts for Jane Austen's partiality for the navy, as well as for the readiness and accuracy with which she wrote about it. She was always very careful not to meddle with matters which she did not thoroughly understand. She never touched upon politics, law, or medicine; but with ships and sailors she felt herself at home, or at least could always trust to a brotherly critic to keep her right. It is said that no flaw has ever been found in her seamanship either in "Mansfield Park". Or in " Persuasion."
The first twenty-five years—more than half of the brief life of Jane Austen—were spent in the parsonage of Steventon, a small rural village upon the chalk hills of North Hants, situated in a winding valley about seven miles from Basingstoke. It is not a picturesque country. The surface continually sinks and swells, but the hills are not bold, nor the valleys deep; and though it is sufficiently well clothed with woods and hedgerows, yet the poverty of the soil in most places prevents the timber from attaining a large size. Still, it has its beauties. The lanes wind along in a natural curve, continually fringed with irregular borders of native turf and lead to pleasant nooks and corners.
Of this somewhat tame country, Steventon, from the fall of the ground and the abundance of its timber, was one of the prettiest spots. The house where the Austens lived stood in a shallow valley, surrounded by sloping meadows, well sprinkled with elm-trees, at the end of a small village of cottages, each provided with a garden, straggling along on either side of the road. The chief beauty of Steventon consisted in its hedgerows. In that country a hedgerow does not mean a thin formal line of quickset, but an irregular border of copse-wood and timber, often wide enough to contain within it a winding foot-path or rough cart track. Two such hedgerows radiated from the parsonage garden; one westward, called "the wood walk," furnished here and there with rustic seats; the other leading over the hill, and named "the church walk," because it led to the parish church, as well as to a fine old manor-house of the time of Henry VIII. The church itself, at that time
This was the residence of Jane Austen for twenty-five years. This was the cradle of her genius. These were the first objects which inspired her young heart with a sense of the beauties of nature. In strolls along those wood walks, thick-coming fancies rose in her mind, and gradually assumed the forms in which they came forth to the world. In that simple church she brought them all into subjection to the piety which ruled her in life, and supported her in death.
The home at Steventon must have been, for many years, a pleasant and prosperous one. The family was unbroken by death, and seldom visited by sorrow. Their situation had some peculiar advantages beyond those of ordinary rectories. Steventon was a family living. Mr. Knight, the patron, was also proprietor of nearly the whole parish. He never resided there, and consequently the rector and his children came to be regarded in the neighborhood as in some sort representatives of the family. They shared with the principal tenant the command of an excellent manor, and enjoyed, in this reflected way, some of the consideration usually awarded to landed proprietors. They were not rich, but, aided by Mr. Austen's powers of teaching, they had enough to afford a good education to their sons and daughters, to mix in the best society of the neighborhood, and to exercise a liberal hospitality to their own relations and friends. A carriage and a pair of horses were kept. This might imply a higher style of living in our days than it did in theirs. There were then no assessed taxes. The carriage, once bought, entailed little further expense; and the horses, probably, were often employed in farm work. Moreover, it should be remembered that a pair of horses in those days was almost necessary, if ladies were to move about at all; for neither the condition of the roads nor the style of carriage-building admitted of any comfortable vehicle being drawn by a single horse. When one looks atthe few specimens still remaining of coach-building in the last century, it strikes one that the chief object of the builders must have been to combine the greatest possible weight with the least possible amount of accommodation.
The style of living in England when Jane Austen was a child was very different from what it is in our day. The dinner-table in country houses presented a more plain and substantial appearance. There was little glitter of plate, and even silver forks had not come into general use. The dinners themselves were more homely, though not less plentiful and savory; and the bill of fare in one house would not be so like that in another as it is now, for family recipes were held in high estimation. A grandmother of culinary talent could bequeath to her descendant fame for some particular dish, and might influence the family dinner for many generations. One house would pride itself on its ham, another on its game-pie, and a third on its superior pudding. Beer and home-made wines, especially mead, were more largely consumed. Vegetables were less plentiful and less various. Potatoes were used, but not so abundantly as now; and there was an idea that they were to be eaten only with roast meat. They were novelties to a tenant's wife who was entertained at Steventon parsonage, certainly less than a hundred years ago; when Mrs. Austen advised her to plant them in her own garden she replied, "No, no; they are very well for you gentry, but they must be terribly costly to raise."
But a still greater difference would be found in the furniture of the rooms, which would appear to us lamentably scanty. There was a general deficiency of carpeting in sitting-rooms, bedrooms, and passages. A piano-forte, or rather a spinnet or harpsichord, was by no means a necessary appendage. It was to be found only where there was a decided taste for music, not so common then as now, or in such great houses as would probably contain a billiard-table. There would often be but one sofa in the house, and that a stiff, angular, uncomfortable article. There were no deep easy-chairs, nor other appliances for lounging; for to lie down, or even to lie back, was a luxury permitted only to old persons or invalids. It was said of a nobleman, a personal friend of George III., and a model gentleman of his day, that he would have made the tour of Europe without ever touching the back of his traveling-carriage. But perhaps we should he most struck with the total absence of those elegant little articles which now embellish and encumber our drawing-room tables. We should miss the sliding book-cases and picture-stands, the letter-weighing machines and envelope-cases, the periodicals and illustrated newspapers—above all, the countless swarm of photograph books which now threaten to swallow up all space. A small writing-desk, with a smaller work-box or netting-case, was all that each young lady contributed to occupy the table; for the large family work-basket, though often produced in the parlor, lived in the closet.
How far the family life of Jane Austen conformed to this general picture her biographer leaves the reader somewhat in the dark. He mentions two little matters, however, which certainlv differ from modern customs. One is, that when the young men went out before the family breakfast-hour, for shooting or hunting, they generally took their morning meal in the kitchen—a practice to which, in these days, servants would object quite as much as masters. The other is, that when the roads were dirty the sisters took long walks in pattens. This defense against wet and dirt is now seldom seen. The few that remain are banished from good society, and are employed only in menial work; but a hundred and fifty years ago they were celebrated in poetry, and considered so clever a contrivance that Gay, in his "Trivia," ascribes the invention to a god stimulated by his passion for a mortal damsel, and derives the name "patten" from "Patty."
"The patten now supports each frugal dame,
Which from the blue-eyed Patty takes the name."
But mortal damsels have long ago discarded the clumsy contrivance. First it dropped its iron ring and became a clog; afterward it was refined down into the pliant India rubber—lighter to wear and more effectual to protect.
The general coloring of Jane Austen's life was bright. She lived with indulgent parents, in a cheerful home which afforded an agreeable variety of social intercourse. To these sources of enjoyment must be added, in her case, the first stirrings of genius in her mind, and the absorbing interest of original composition. She began to write at a very early age. There is extant an old copy-book of hers, containing several tales, some of which seem to have been composed while she was quite a little girl. These stories are of a slight and flimsy texture, and are generally intended to he nonsensical; but the nonsense has much spirit in it. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about them is the pure and idiomatic English in which they are composed, quite different from the over-ornamented style which might be expected from a very young writer. She herself was afterward of opinion that she had devoted too much time to composition at this period of her life for she advised a niece, who had shown an early aptitude for such pursuits, to write no more till she should he turned sixteen, adding that it would have been better for herself if she had read more, and written less, before that age. But between these childish effusions and the composition of her living works, there intervened another stage of her progress, during which she produced several tales, not without merit, but which she considered unworthy of publication. During this preparatory period her mind seems to have been working in a very different direction from that into which it ultimately settled. Instead of presenting faithful copies of nature, these tales were generally burlesques, ridiculing the improbable events and exaggerated sentiments which she had met with in sundry silly romances. The family have declined to let these early works he published. Mr. Shortreed observed very pithily of Walter Scott's early rambles on the borders, "He was makin' himsel' a' the time; but he didna ken, maybe, what he was about till years had passed. At first he thought of little, I dare say, but the queerness and the fun." And so, in an humbler way, Jane Austen was "makin' hersel'," little thinking of future fame, but caring only for "the queerness and the fun;" and it would he as unfair to expose this preliminary process to the world, as it would be to display all that goes on behind the curtain of the theatre before it is drawn up.
It was, however, at Steventon that the real foundations of her fame were laid. There some of her most successful writing was composed, at such an early age as to make it surprising that so young a woman could have acquired the insight into character and the nice observation of manners which they display. "Pride and Prejudice," which some consider the most brilliant of her novels, was the first finished, if not the first begun. She began it in October, 1796, before she was twenty-one years old, and completed it in about ten months, in August, 1897. The title then intended for it was "First Impressions." "Sense and Sensibility" was begun, in its present form, immediately after the completion of the former, in November, 1797; but something similar in story and character had been written earlier under the title of "Elinor and Marianne ;" and if as is probable, a good deal of this earlier production was retained, it must form the earliest specimen of her writing that has been given to the world. "Northanger Abbey," though not prepared for the press till 1803, was certainly first composed in 1798.
In 1801, Mr. Austen, then seventy years of age, determined to resign his duties to his eldest son, who was to be his successor in the rectory of Steventon, and to remove with his wife and daughters to Bath. Jane was absent from home when this resolution was taken; and, as her father was always rapid both in forming his resolutions and in acting on them, she had little time to reconcile herself to the loss of her first home. Their life at Bath was very quiet. In February, 1805, Mr. Austen died, and a few months afterward the mother and daughters removed to Southampton. The only record of the four years passed in Bath are two letters from Jane to her sister, which are mainly interesting as showing that she went a good deal into society, in a quiet way, chiefly with ladies; and that her eyes were always open to minute traits of character in those with whom she associated.
In 1809, Mrs. Austen's second son, who had heen adopted by a wealthy cousin, Mr. Knight, of Godmersham Park in Kent and Chawton House in Hampshire, whose name he had assumed on coming into possession of the property, was able to offer her the choice of two houses on his estates. She chose one near Chawton Honse, and removed there with her daughters. Chawton Cottage may be called the second, as it was the last, home of Jane Austen; for at Bath and Southampton she was only a sojourner in a strange land, but here she found a real home among her own people. It was also the place most closely connected with her career as a writer; for here, in the maturity of her mind, she either wrote or rearranged and prepared for publication the books by which she has become known to the world. Here, also, a few years later, while still in the prime of life, she began to droop, and went away only at the earnest persuasion of her friends in the last stage of her fatal illness.
At the time of her removal to Chawton Cottage, Jane Ansten was very attractive in person: her figure was rather tall and slender, her step light and firm, and her whole appearance expressive of health and animation. In complexion she was a clear brunette with a rich color; she had full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and well formed, bright hazel eyes, and brown hair forming natural curls close round her face. If not so regularly handsome as her sister, yet her countenance had a peculiar charm of its own to the eyes of most beholders. At this time she never was seen, either morning or evening, without a cap. She and her sister were generally thought to have taken to the garb of middle age earlier than their years or their looks required; and that, though remarkably neat in their dress as in all their ways, they were scarcely sufficiently regardful of the fashionable or the becoming.
She was not highly accomplished according to the present standard. Her sister drew well, and it is from a drawing of hers that the likeness prefixed to this article has been taken. Jane herself was fond of music, and had a sweet voice, both in singing and in conversation; in her youth she had received some instruction on the piano-forte; and at Chawton she practiced daily, chiefly before breakfast. In the evening she would sometimes sing, to her own accompaniment, some simple old songs, the words and airs of which, now rarely heard, still linger in the memory of old people. She read French with facility, and knew something of Italian. In those days German was no more thought of than Hindostanee, as part of a lady's education. In history she followed the old guides—Goldsmith, Hume, and Robertson. When a girl she had strong political opinions, especially about the affairs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She was a vehement defender of Charles I. and his grandmother Mary; but this was rather from an impulse of feeling than from any inquiry into the evidences by which they must be condemned or acquitted. As she grew up, the politics of the day occupied very little of her attention, but she probably shared the feeling of moderate Toryism which prevailed in her family. She was well acquainted with the old periodicals, from the Spectator downward. Her knowledge of Richardson's works was such as no one is likely again to acquire, now that the multitude and the merits of our light literature have called off, the attention of readers from that great master. Every circumstance narrated in Sir Charles Grandison, all that was ever said or done in the cedar parlor, was familiar to her; and the wedding-days of Lady L. and Lady G. were as well remembered as if they had been living friends. Among her favorite writers, Johnson in prose, Crabbe in verse, and Cowper in both, stood high. Scott's poetry gave her great pleasure; she did not live to make much acquaintance with his novels. Only three of them were published before her death.
It was not, however, what she knew, but what she was, that distinguished her from others. The fascination which she exercised over children can not be better described than by quoting the words of one of her nieces. She says:
"As a very little girl I was always creeping up to Aunt Jane and following her whenever I could, in the house and out of it. I might not have remembered this but for the recollection of my mother's telling me privately that I must not be troublesome to my aunt. Her first charm to children was great sweetness of manner. She seemed to love you, and you loved her in return. This, as well as I can now recollect, was what I felt in my early days before I was old enough to be amused by her cleverness. But soon came the delight of her playful talk. She could make every thing amusing to a child. Then, as I got older, when cousins came to share the entertainment, she would tell us the most delightful stories, chiefly of Fairy-land, and her fairies had all characters of their own. The tale was invented, I am sure, at the moment, and was continued for two or three days if occasion served."
Her unusually quick sense of the ridiculous led her to play with all the commonplaces of everyday life whether as regarded people or things; but she never played with its serious duties or responsibilities, nor did she ever turn individuals into ridicule. With all her neighbors in the village she was on friendly, though not intimate terms. She took a kindly interest in their proceedings, and liked to hear about them. They often served for her amusement; but it was her own nonsense that gave zest to the gossip. She was as far as possible from being either censorious or satirical. The laugh which she occasionally raised was by imagining for her neighbors, as she was equally ready to imagine for her friends or herself impossible contingencies, by relating in prose or verse some trifling anecdote colored to her own fancy, or in writing a fictitious history of what they were supposed to have said or done, which could deceive nobody.
Jane Austen was successful in every thing that she attempted with her fingers. No one could throw spilikins in so perfect a circle, or take them off with so steady a hand. Her performances with cup and hall were marvelous. The one used at Chawton was an easy one, and she has been known to catch it on the point above a hundred times in succession till her hand was weary. She sometimes found a resource in that simple game, when unable, from weakness in her eyes, to read or write long together. Her handwriting was clear and strong. Happy would the compositors for the press he if they had always so legible a manuscript to work from. But the writing was not the only part of her letters which showed superior handiwork. In those days there was an art in folding and scaling. No adhesive envelopes made all easy. Some people's letters always looked loose and untidy; but her paper was sure to take the right folds, and her sealing-wax to drop into the right place. Her needle-work, both plain and ornamental, was excellent, and might almost have put a sewing-machine to shame. She was considered especially great in satin stitch. She spent much time in these occupations, and some of her merriest talk was over clothes which she and her companions were making, sometimes for themselves and sometimes for the poor.
The first year of Jane Austen's residence at Chawton seems to have been devoted to revising and preparing for the press "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice;" but between February, 18ll, and August, 1816, she began and completed "Mansfield Park." "Emma," and "Persuasion," so that the last five years of her life produced the same number of novels with those which had been written in her early youth. How she was able to effect all this is surprising; for she had no separate study to retire to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting-room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions. So much having been prepared beforehand, when once she began to publish, her works came out in quick succession. "Sense and Sensibility" was published in 1811, "Pride and Prejudice" at the beginning of 1813, "Mansfield Park" in 1814, "Emma" early in 1816; "Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion" did not appear till after her death, in 1818. The profits of those which had been printed before her death had not at that time amounted to seven hundred pounds. Her first attempts at publication were discouraging. The manuscript of "Pride and Prejudice" was declined without a reading; and that of "Northanger Abbey," after being sold for ten pounds, lay for many years in the publisher's drawer, until it was gladly relinquished for the original purchase-money.
Her literary fame was of slow but certain growth. At first received with but little favor by the public or the reviewers, her novels have won an honorable and permanent position in English literature. Southey writes of them, in a letter to Sir Egerton Brydges: "You mention Miss Austen. Her novels are more true to nature, and have, for my sympathies, passages of finer feeling, than any others of this age." Coleridge praised them as "being, in their way, perfectly genuine and individual productions." The admiration felt by Lord Macaulay for the character and literary talents of Miss Austen would probably have taken a practical form if his life had been prolonged. It is stated, on the authority of his sister, Lady Trevelyan, that he had intended to write a memoir of Miss Austen, with criticisms on her works, to prefix it to a new edition of her novels, and from the proceeds of the sale to erect a monument to her memory in Winchester Cathedral. Sir Henry Holland, in his printed but unpublished recollections of his past life, says:
"I have the picture still before me of Lord Holland lying on his bed, when attacked with gout, his admirable sister, Miss Fox, beside him, reading aloud, as she always did on these occasions, some one of Miss Austen's hovels, of which he was never wearied. I well recollect the time when these charming novels, almost unique in their style of humor, burst suddenly on the world. It was sad that their writer did not live to witness the growth of her fame."
The most interesting as well as the most hearty testimony to the merits of Miss Austen's novels came from the pen of Sir Walter Scott, who wrote as follows, in his diary for March 14, 1826:
"Read again, for the third time at least, Miss Austen's finely written novel of 'Pride and Prejudice.' That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!"
Jane Austen's health began to fail in the early part of 1816, and before summer came her strength had declined so low as to confine her to the house. Gradually, too, her habits of activity within doors ceased, and she was obliged to lie down much. The sitting-room contained only one sofa, which was frequently occupied by her mother, who was more than seventy years old. Jane would never use it, even in her mother's absence; but she contrived a sort of couch for herself with two or three chairs, and was pleased to say that this arrangement was more comfortable to her than a real sofa. Her reasons for this might have been left to be guessed but for the importunities of a little niece, which obliged her to explain that if she herself had shown any inclination to use the sofa, her mother might have scrupled being on it so much as was good for her. Her mind, however, did not share in the general decline of her bodily strength. While unable to sit up, she rewrote several chapters of her last novel, "Persuasion," with a vigor of imagination and force of style unsurpassed in any of her former works. In the spring of 1817 she was persuaded to remove to Winchester, to obtain superior medical advice; but all that was gained by the removal from home was the satisfaction of having done the best that could be done, together with such alleviations of suffering as the highest medical skill could afford. She was fully aware of her danger, though not appalled by it. It is true, there was much to attach her to life. She was happy in her family; she was just beginning to feel confidence in her own success; and, no doubt, the exercise of her great talents was an enjoyment in itself. We may well believe that she would gladly have lived longer; but she was enabled, without dismay or complaint, to prepare for, death. She was a humble, believing Christian. Her life had been passed in the performance of home duties and the cultivation of domestic affections, without any self-seeking or craving after applause. She had always sought, as it were by instinct, to promote the happiness of all who came within her influence, and doubtless she had her reward in the peace of mind which was granted her in her last days. Her sweetness of temper never failed. She was ever considerate and grateful to those who attended on her. At times, when she felt rather better, her playfulness of spirit revived, and she amused them even in their sadness. When the end at last came she sank rapidly, and on being asked by her attendants whether there was any thing that she wanted, her reply was, "Nothing but death." These were the last words spoken by Jane Austen. In quietness and peace she breathed her last on the morning of July 18,1817.
On the 24th of that month she was buried in Winchester Cathedral, near the centre of the north aisle, almost opposite to the beautiful chantry tomb of William of Wykeham. A large slab of black marble in the pavement marks the place. Her own family only attended the funeral. Her sister returned to her desolated home, there to devote herself, for ten years, to the care of her aged mother, and to live much on the memory of her lost sister, till called many years later to rejoin her. Her brothers went back sorrowing to their several homes. They were very fond and very proud of her. They were attached to her by her talents, her virtues, and her engaging manners; and each loved afterward to fancy a resemblance in some niece or daughter of his own to the dear sister Jane, whose perfect equal they yet never expected to see.
Conant, Samuel Stillman. 'Jane Austen,' Harper's New Monthly Magazine 41 (1870) 225-233 [Gilson M127]