Is It Just?
"HAD Miss Austen felt more deeply, she would have written differently."
These words in a recent number of 'TEMPLE BAR' are the reason why this paper is written. They are, in whatever point of view we look at them, very wide of the truth, and are not the only error their author has fallen into, nor is he the only person who thus misjudges her. It is, notwithstanding all the praises bestowed, becoming the fashion to accuse her of being shallow and cold-hearted, and her heroines of being prudish; and undoubtedly there is not to be found in her novels those highly-spiced love scenes with which we are all so familiar, but which, while requiring little genius to write, only deprave the taste and imagination of the reader.
Without exaggeration, it may be said that on few other female writers has such an amount of study, criticism, and praise been bestowed as on Jane Austen. Others, notably Miss Burney, enjoyed far more fame during their lives. They sowed one week and they reaped the next; admiring crowds followed them, and their name was in everybody's mouth. They were the lions of their day and enjoyed their own lionhood. But she never knew that she was a lion, and lived and died scarcely more widely known than Cowper's old woman, who "never was heard of half a mile from home." and now her name and the praise of her works is for ever cropping up in the most unlikely places, and her admirers and readers are innumerable, ranging from Cardinal Newman (nay, it would not astonish us to find the Pope himself amongst the number) to the young Hindus in the college at Calcutta. And yet there is no modern writer of equal fame of whom the public know so little. The blank of her life in some sort impairs the interest of her books, and so far is, and has been, an injury to her fame. That blank is mainly owing to her own nearest relations. They did not perceive that genius must always, bon grè, mal grè, lift its possessor out of the class of private individuals and more or less deprive them of the shelter, as it does of the obscurity, of private life. The more rare and excellent the genius, the mor einteresting to the public is the character of its possessor and the incidents of his or her life. Fame cannot be separated from publicity, and those who secure it do not often wish that it should be; but now and then it comes to those who have never sought it, and to whose modesty and reserve it is really painful. To Jane Austen it would have been a heavy penalty to pay for the delights of authorship; and her family, though no doubt rejoicing in the growing success of her writings, desired nothing better than to keep her exclusively to themselves. She was their own, "their dear Aunt Jane." "The public," they said, "have her books; with her private life they have no concern," and they could not see any reason why the world should want to know what manner of woman it was who had supplied it with such an inexhaustible fund of enjoyment. Nor was this feeling of jealousy, for such it was, the principal one which has made the materials so scanty out of which to construct her memoirs. With all the playful frankness of her manner, her sweet sunny temper and enthusiastic nature, Jane Austen was a woman most reticent as to her own deepest and holiest feelings; and her sister Cassandra would have thought she was sinning against that delicacy and reserve had she left behind her any record of them. To destroy every trace of every thing that Jane would hever have revealed, was in her eyes a sacred duty. That, on the contrary, it was her duty to the public to preserve whatever could throw any light on her sister's life and character never occurred to her.
To strengthen her hold on the world and deepen and prolong her fame by leaving some record of her, which might have enabled those who read it to appreciate the charms and sweetness which made her so dear to all who knew her, was apparently the last thing Cassandra would have desired to do, for it was her fear, not her hope, that some day a life would be written, and her desire was to leave nothing behind her which could help or tempt anybody to undertake it. Was she right or wrong? We feel ourselves aggrieved that we have lost so much, but if Jane Austen had been asked, she would undoubtedly have approved of her sister's conduct. We cannot therefore condemn it. Surely people, even geniuses, have a right to keep their lives hidden if they shrink from fame, and their relations a right to respect such a wish, even though it injures, as it must often do, the permanence of the renown. But the destruction of Miss Austen's letters has we think hurt, not so much her literary fame, as the loveableness of her character as shown to us. This her family could not have foreseen, and would not have desired. It could not have been their wish that she should be esteemed by any of her readers and critics, hard and shallow-hearted. Let us try to remedy this injustice. We think a careful study of such scraps as have come down to us will show that the manner of her writing certainly did not arise from any such cause. But first we must observe that it is incorrect to say that she had "only her own taste to guide her." From her earliest youth she had the help and guidance of a father and mother much above the average in point of ability, and the companionship of brothers almost all of whom were clever and scholarly. Her nephew, Mr. Austen Leigh, who gave us the very pleasant recollections and memoir published a few years ago, says that her father was so good a scholar that he could himself prepare his sons for the university, and was able to increase his income by taking pupils; and that in her "mother was to be found the germ of that ability which was concentrated in Jane, but of which almost all of her children had a share." The boys were all brought up at home, until they went out into the world, no small advantage to their sisters, who, if they did not share the teaching, must often have heard it, and have listened to grammatical instructions which, though primarily concerning Latin and Greek, could not but influence their own language.
Bad grammar Jane Austen never heard spoken, and if she ever fell into it in her juvenile writings, she would have been corrected and set right. The home conversation was rich in shrewd remarks, bright with playfulness and humour, and occasional flashes of wit. There was no slang in those days, and none of that aesthetic cant, which is now such a nuisance that it is enough to make one forswear everything in the shape of art. If instead of studying Ruskin, people who mean to write would only study Bishop Lowth's or some other English grammar, what a blessing it would be to their readers. To speak and write their own language correctly, was a hundred years ago the distinguishing mark of the gentleman and lady. Grammatical lapses would never have been permitted to either the tongues or the pens of Cassandra and Jane Austen. Their "that's" and their "which's," their "who's" and their "whoms," always stand in their right places. Such a vulgarism "as like I do," and the habitual use of that adjective of comparison as an adverb, now so common, would never have escaped their lips, nor would they have fallen into that last and worst vulgarism of these evil days, and intruded the adverb between the infinitive mood and its sign.
Jane Austen's mother, Cassandra Leigh, was a woman who could express herself equally well either in prose or in rhyme, the rhyme being nothing but the playful expression of good sense, strung together as she sat at her work or lay on her sofa in the midst of the family circle—impromptu for the most part, and making no pretensions to poetry either of thought or feelings, but often containing some sparkle of humour, and often bright with some hearty homely kindness, such as shines in many of her letters. They were generally called forth by some of the nonsense of the moment, or by some trifling incident, as when Jane, who inherited this gift from her mother, as she did that of being a beautiful needlewoman, standing in one of the windows of Godmersham waiting the arrival there of her brother Frank and his newly married wife, amused the impatience of the little nephews and nieces watching with her, by a poetical account of the bride and bridegroom's journey from Canterbury, the places they passed through, the drive through the park, and the arrival at last at the house.
Cassandra Leigh was a well educated woman and a thorough lady, though she sat darning the family stockings in a parlour into which the front door opened. She loved all country things, and had a vigorous nature and a contented mind that kept her young and cheerful in spirit until extreme old age. She was an excellent letter-writer, and several of her letters have been preserved. Here is one written in early youth, just before she was married, which has in it a certain quaint and pretty formality that reminds one of Harriet Byron and Sir Charles Grandison. We feel the care with which it was composed, and are almost sure that more than one copy was written before the writer was satisfied with the turn of her sentences. It was addressed to a gentleman who was a near connection and old neighbour, but not a relation. Had there been any love passages between them, unsuccessful on his side? If so, it would account for the young lady writing and not her mother, on whom the duty would have more naturally devolved.
"Permit me, dear Mr. P-----, to appear in the list of your congratulatory friends, for not one of them I am certain can feel more real joy on the occasion than myself. In any instance of your good fortune I should have rejoiced, but I am infinitely happy to know you the Rector of F-----, as I well remember to have heard you wish for that appellation, at a time when there was little probability of our living to see the day. May every wish of your heart meet with the same success, may every blessing attend you, for no one more deserved to be blessed; and as the greatest felicity on earth, may you soon be happy in the possession of some fair one, who must be one of the very best of her sex or she will not merit the good fortune that awaits her. If her heart be as full of love and tenderness towards you as mine is of esteem and friendship, you will have no cause to complain, but will find yourself as completely happy in that respect as you are sincerely wished inevery other, by your very affectionate and infinitely obliged, Cassandra Leigh."
Fifty years afterwards she wrote in a very different style, with an ease and freshness and kindliness which constitute some of the greatest charms that any letters can have. The following were addressed to one of her granddaughters, the only child by his first wife of the Rev. James Austen. She was engaged to be married to the youngest son of that Mrs. Lefroy mentioned in the 'Memoirs' as having been much loved and greatly mourned by Jane Austen:
"For the last three or four weeks I have had a weakness in my eyes, and it is lucky for you it did not come sooner, as I could not now be making dressing-gowns pockets, and petticoats for any bride expectant." She was a good bit past seventy when she was doing all this fine work.
"We have the promise of a very good crop of small fruit: even your gooseberry-tree is doing better than heretofore. When the fruit is ripe I shall sit on my bench and eat it and think of you, though I can do that without the assistance of ripe gooseberries. Indeed, my dear Anna, there is nobody I think of oftener, and very few I love better."
These were the days of what Mr. Selby would have called "hugger-mugger weddings, only fit for doubtful happiness," and Anna Austen's was even more quiet, not to say dismal, than most. "A very pitiful business," like Emma Woodhouse's, "with very little white satin, and no white lace."
A month after the marriage, Mrs. Austen wrote to her in her new home:
"I am to send you the kind congratulations of your cousin, Mrs. C-----. Your aunt, Jane, says they ought to have been transmitted to you long ago, but I hope they will be equally acceptable, and the good wishes equally efficacious now, as at some future period. Last week I received from Southampton, with Mr. and Mrs. W. Austen's kind regards, a nice piece of bride cake just like yours; but their wedding was a much grander affair. Ten couples walked to church (they had not far to walk, you know), entirely composed of near relations—the bride's father, mother, aunts, brothers, sisters, and cousins, and two of the bridegroom's brothers. . . . If you have seen Westminster Abbey, I hope it has afforded you as much pleasure—pleasure of a particular sort—as it always did me, and I believe I have seen it three times. I have just finished 'Waverley,' which has given me more entertainment than any modern production of the novel kind—Aunt Jane's excepted—that I have read for a long time. Your aunts set of to-morrow for Winchester, and from thence they go to Steventon for a week. I hope to see them again on January the 14th. Aunt Jane desires me to tell you, with her love, that she has heard some bad news lately, namely, that Mr. Crabbe is going to be married. My correspondents must for the future put up with short letters, for my eyes will not permit me to write long ones, but however weak my eyes may be, my affection for you is as strong as ever. God bless you, my dear A."
The "Mr. Crabbe" was the poet whose writings Jane Austen admired so much that she used playfully to declare that when she married he should be her husband.
But it was not only her excellent English Jane Austen owed to the influence of her father and mother and brothers. To her family she was indebted for that high estimation of her countryment, which enabled her to feel that her heroes were "very inferior to what she knew English gentleman often were." Her brothers were men of whom any sister would have been proud, and who shone in their own homes. Kindly affectioned they were one towards the other, and as sons most attentive, and generous to the verge of imprudence. At the father's death, the mothe rand sisters were left in what must be called straitened circumstances, for he had no private fortune, and his wife but a small one. So narrow were their means that they had for a short time to live in lodgings. "One hundred and forty pounds a year," Mrs. Austen wrote to her wealthy sister-in-law from her comfortable home in Chawton, "is the whole of my own income. My good sons have done all the rest."
We are told that neither in Miss Austen's letters nor her books do we find any traces of a spirit ill at ease and restless, and dissatisfied with its lot, and it is therefore inferred that she had never had any "serious attachment," or met with any disappointment. If by disappointment be meant the having loved without meeting any return, that is undoubtedly true. No such trouble befel her. But does the absence of restlessness and discontent imply that no "serious attachment" has ever been felt? What if the love have ended in the grave? May there not be so perfect an acceptance and submission to the sorrow, such a power of living on the hope of the future, as would maintain the heart in a peace deeper than even happiness can give? May there not be so perfect an acceptance and submission to the sorrow, such a power of living on the hope of the future, as would maintain the heart in a peace deeper than even happiness can give? Now and then is it not possible that love may survive the death of its object without creating either melancholy or restlessness? Free from all the anxiety of hope, may it not live on in the heart, where there is the steadfastness of will so to resolve, without impairing the cheerfulness of the temper or the playfulness of the mind?
Jane Austen could indeed draw "the pangs of disappointed love," and certainly knew "they were curable." And truly she must have been a fool to suppose otherwise in the vast majority of cases, but when she painted Marianne Dashwood's misery she was not describing any suffering the like of which she had herself endured, and still less in drawing Harriet Smith was she giving us any picture of her own finer nature.
Of the romance of her life, owing to the care with which her sister destroyed all record of it, and to the silence in which she buried it, we know very little, and a precise date cannot be fixed; but from some memoranda recently come to light it is almost certain that it happened between the years 1797 and 1800. The later date would make Jane five-and-twenty. Cassandra was two years older, and already engaged to a young clergyman, who had gone out to the West Indies as chaplain to the forces.
The village of Steventon lies about half a mile from the great western road from London to Exeter, and about six from Basingstoke. Just where the lane turned off from the turnpike there stood a small public-house, where the coaches stopped before mounting the next hill to water their horses and to pick up parcels and letters, and, occasionally, passengers. Here it was, no doubt, one summer's morning that Mr. and Mrs. Austen and their daughters set off on their memorable tour into South Devon. They moved from place to place, halting at each a short time; but there is no record of where they went. It was in one of these halts that they made the acquaintance of two brothers, one of whom was a doctor and the other a clergyman. The latter fell in love with Jane Austen, as others had vainly done before. But he was so charming that he won her heart—and not only so, but such were his gifts of person and manner that even Cassandra, highly as she rated her sister, allowed he was worthy of her; and when in after-years she once spoke of him, did so as something quite exceptionally captivating and excellent. How the acquaintance was made we do not know. It might have been that Mrs. Austen, whose health was not good at the time, needed medical advice and called in the doctor, and the acquaintance with one brother led naturally to that of the other. But this is only conjecture. The clergyman was himself only a visitor in the place, as were they. However the introduction was effected, they could not have been long together. A week, or a fortnight at most, had seen the beginning and the end of the acquaintance. But brevity as to time does not always prove that the regard is only slight and fleeting. Two people staying in the same house for three or four days may have as much intercourse and come to know each other as well, or better, than they would have done in as many years if living half a dozen miles apart. And thus a few long summer days spent together in sight-seeing or in admiring the same lovely views, and the daily meetings, which a very little exertion on the gentleman's side must have been able to secure, might have given time not only for love to arise, but to have struck its roots deeply into the heart. Jane Austen so delighted in beautiful scenery that she thought it would form one of the joys of Heaven. Was it because it was in her mind associated with this sweetest summer of her life?
When the day came for their moving on, the gentleman asked for permission to join them again at some farther point of their travels, and the permission was given. What time elapsed we do not know, but when they reached the place at which they were to meet, they received a letter from his brother announcing his death. No tidings of previous illness could have reached them to soften the shock. The hard pitiless fact is all we know. Of her suffering no word has reached us, but we do know that her sister so cherished his memory that many years afterwards, when an elderly woman, she took a good deal of trouble only to see again the brother of the man who had been so dear to Jane—surely proof enough of how dear he had been to her, and how mourned! Two facts also point to the same conclusion. Jane Austen never married, though she was solicited to do so, and from 1798 until 1810 there fell on her a strange, long silence. She wrote nothing for twelve years. Somewhere in 1804 she began 'The watsons,' but her father died early in 1805, and it was never finished. Nearly at the same time as this grievous blow fell on her, a similar sorrow fell also on her sister. The young clergyman to whom she was engaged died of yellow fever in the West Indies. He had been one of her father's pupils, and she must therefore have known him from childhood and the attachment have been the growth of many years; but scarcely more is known of this story than the other.
United in the closest and tenderest affection, Cassandra's sorrow could have been scarcely less to Jane than her own, or Jane's to Cassandra. To each other their griefs were confided, and to each other alone.
Is it not much more probable that this double affliction was the cause of Jane Austen's long silence, than that she who had been writing ever since she was sixteen, or indeed ever since she could hold a pen, should have lost both power and inclination because a single publisher had rejected 'Pride and Prejudice'? She had written, as all true genius does, as the bird sings, because she must, neither for fame nor for money; and it is not one disappointment which would have stopped her. To write was a necessity of her nature, and nature is only suddenly changed by some sudden shock. The blow must have paralysed her imagination. The sweet temper and the cheerfulness, and even playfulness of manner might have hiddenthe change from all save her sister, but the inclination to write was gone. She who at three-and-twenty had produced 'Lady Susan,' 'Northanger Abbey.' 'Sense and Sensibility,' and 'Pride and Prejudice,' during what should have been the finest and most productive years of her life wrote nothing! excepting the fragment which, as it seems to us, her father's death made her lay aside. Had her feelings only been skin deep, how much more might she not have given tot he world! What a loss the tenacity of her affections has been! But if a happier end had been granted to her love, perhaps in the wife and the mother the genius would have disappeared altogether. It is impossible not to grieve over the destruction of the letters which would have given us a better insight into so true and lovely a spirit as hers. We are the richer for her genius, but we might have been enriched also by the posthumous companionship with a heart of such rare sweetness and strength that it would have exalted our standard, not only of the capacity of feeling in feminine nature, but in all humanity.
As far as the letters to her sister are concerned, we may say that not one has been preserved in which there is the smallest allusion to this part of their lives, nay, not one, as far as we know, that could give us any insight into her religious feelings and graver thoughts. What are left are so few that it owuld almost seem as if the family had agreed together to destroy them. The best we have are those written during the last years of her life to her nephew, Mr. Austen Leigh, and his sisters. In them we catch some glimpses of her true nature, and can see her warm heart shining through the humour and the playfulness. We find some traces of her patient, submissive spirit in a few words she wrote concerning a great family trouble, "but this is too nearly bordering on complaint. It is God's ordering, however second causes may have worked;" something of her humility when she described herself as "unworthy of the love shown her;" and we have one precious vision of her grateful and tender heart in her last mention of her sister and family, "As to what I owe her, and the anxious affection of all my beloved family on this occasion, I can only cry over it and pray God to bless them more and more."
In her novels, although she makes us feel both in Fanny Price and in Anne Elliot that their goodness is not merely natural sweetness, she never says a word about religion. She seems to have kept her own graver thoughts entirely apart from her writing, and never to have mixed up her personal feelings with her stories. Many writers might have found consolation in confiding their sorrows to the public, and describing their own sufferings under the disguise of those of their heroines, and perhaps have healed their broken hearts by thus working out in words their private griefs. But Jane Austen's reticence made any such relief to her impossible. Once only her true heart slipped into her pen when she wrote that most touching conversation between Anne Elliot and Captain Harville.
""Oh!" cried Anne eagerly, "I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow-creatures. I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No; I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as, if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object—I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (and it is not a very enviable one—you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.' She could not immediately have uttered another sentence; her heart was too full, her breath too much oppressed.
The ring of deep and true feelings make these words beautiful, even in the ears of those who know nothing of the private history of the writer; but read by the light of her own romantic story, how pathetic they grow! How impossible it seems that they should have been anything less than the very truth from her own heart.
Is it true that, had she felt more deeply, she would have written differently? Is such deathless love as she claims for womankind to be described as shallow? Passionate indeed it need not be, but deep it must, or the accumulating dust of daily life would speedily dry it up. Why should she be accused of a cold heart because she had no delight in dwelling on suffering and on the dark and evil side of human nature? To her, vice was a "hateful subject." That her genius was not tragic is true, and perhaps it is true that to have a tragic genius you must have the capacity of passionate feeling, but passion is not necessarily deep, and much less is it long-lived. It can sometimes clothe itself in words so eloquent as to stir the hearts of others, though eloquence is more often an intellectual gift of so speaking as to simulate it, and genuine passion more commonly finds its vent in broken sentences and disjointed words. Even at seventeen, Jane Austen had discovered that deep feeling did not usually express itself in rounded periods and well-chosen phrases. The power of being tragic, of moving people to tears, is not a very uncommon one, but the books that break our hearts are the books we scarcely care to read a second time. It is Shakespeare's humour and wit that have made his sayings household words. If his tragedies were swept away, as long as his fools remained he would still be immortal; and we look to Jane Austen's fools, whether men or women, to give her, if anything can, a permanent place in English literature.
The accusation of shallowness both in her own character and in her writings, is not the only one brought against her and them. She and they are called prudish and hard, and no doubt the suppression of her personal history has left a certain hardness in the outline of her character as represented in her writings; but sufficient allowance is not made for the difference between the fashions and manners of her day and of ours. Think of the change in dress and paraphernalia. We cannot take up a novel, even one of those written by men, without page upon page of descriptions, not only of the faces and figures of their heroes and heroines, but of the country in which they lived, the roads they trod, their parks and gardens, their houses, rooms and furniture, their dresses to the minutest particulars, their dogs, their horses, and their very meals. In this they are not untrue to the times. The externals of life never occupied so large a share of care and thought as they do now. There was nothing in the rooms in which our grandfathers and grandmothers lived to tempt them to describe them. We should call them bare and homely, and, likethe dress of the period, wanting in taste. And in that matter of dress, what a change there is! Nowadays, to deck herself out to the best of her ability, is considered every young lady's duty, and the love of fine clothes meritorious; they are all quite ready to answer Dr. Watts' question by affirming that whatever garments were first made for, they are now become a vehicle for the display of art and refinement of mind, and are promoted to be one of the serious occupations of life. Some of our authoresses even seem to take as great a delight in dressing their heroines as in their own adornment, and think they add to the charms of the former by painting the care with which they array themselves; and if it be true as Countess Harberton asserts, that it affords a man as keen a delight to see his wife and daughters decked out in costly and fashionable garments as it ever afforded any woman to wear them, no doubt they are right. But what a change has come over the world since Jane Austen wrote! She declared that "man only could be aware of the insensibility of man to a new gown, and that woman was fine for her own satisfaction alone."
In her heroines there is no trace of any love of dress, or taste for millinery. In this they resembled herself and her sister, who, if not entirely without it, kept it under strict control.
In her eyes such a love was a vulgarity, only to be found in vain, pretentious, second-rate women, like Mrs. Elton and Isabella Thorpe, or in a very foolish one, like Mrs. Allen. Of the dresses of her heroines, with the exception of the glossy spots on Fanny Price's gown, we hear nothing, nor does she strive by elaborate description to set them personally before us, and apparently they had no tricks. They do not hunch up their shoulders, or arch their eyebrows, or pout their lips, she never strives to give them reality by such trivialities. In manner, also, the change between those days and these is as great as in the matter of clothes, and here the change does no doubt give an appearance of coldness. It is not feeling, but the expression of feeling which has altered. If we do not wear our hearts on our sleeves, we seem to keep them on our lips, much more than formerly. Family affection was as strong then as now, but there was much more reticence in the expression of it, whether between parents and children or brothers and sisters. It is not only that nicknames were not in fashion, but "loves, dears and darlings" were much less plentifully used. People were called by their Christian names, which are now sometimes so entirely laid aside that when a young lady is married it is necessary to attach the better known sobriquet to the announcement, lest her friends should not recognise it as hers. When Jane Austen's heroines are described as prudish because they abstain from throwing themselves into their lovers' arms, or rather because the love-making is left to the imagination of the reader, it should be remembered that as sisters they are equally self-restrained. Dear as Jane is to Lizzie in 'Pride and Prejudice' she is to her Jane and Jane only—and Elinor and Marianne in 'Sense and Sensibility,' who would in these days have certainly been Nellie and Minnie, are contented with their own unabbreviated names, without any prefix of affection. The only person she paints as addicted to the use of exaggerated terms of endearment is Isabella Thorpe, who talks of her "dearest sweetest Catherine," without having any real regard for her, or for any one else save herself.
Miss Austen and her sister had no pet names for each other, unless her occasional shortening of Cassandra into "Cass" could be so termed, but to Cassandra she was never anything but "Jane," and no doubt had given the word "such reality of sweetness" that no other could have described her.
The loss of Jane Austen's letters is all the greater, because only a very imperfect understanding of her character can be gathered from her books, for she is the least egotistical of writers. Would any one suppose from them that her delight in natural scenery was as intense as we know it was, or would any one imagine from them her love for children, her pleasure in playing with them, and the trouble she would take for their amusement? We should almost conclude that she did not like them; but her nephews and nieces knew better. No one but her sister could have done her full justice. In addition to the natural affections which in their case was very strong, they were wedded to each other by the resemblance of their circumstances, and in truth there was an exclusiveness in their love such as usually only exists between husband and wife. Their full opinions and feelings were known only to each. They alone knew the sorrows of their own hearts, and to each other only was known the road by which their cheerful submission and contentment was attained. Each had their own especial friends, whose secrets and confidences each respected, but as far as their own thoughts were concerned, there was the most perfect confidence.
Jane looked up to her elder sister as one far better and wiser than herself, and in Cassandra's eyes no one was equal to Jane in beauty, in sweetness, or in genius. No truer, closer bond of love ever existed between any two spirits. Death had no power over it, and though they were separated by nearly thirty years, those who heard Cassandra Austen speak of her sister knew that she loved her to the last with undiminished tenderness.
There were changes and incidents enough in Jane Austen's life to have made an interesting biography, if her letters had been spared us, to fill up the bare outline. She moved about the world as much or more than most clergymen's daughters of the time, for those were days when the necessity of an annual change had not arisen, and people lived, with no other variety than a certain amount of visiting, year after year in their own houses. The Austens seem to have been more locomotive than most of their neighbours.
In 1798 or 1799 they made their tour in South Devon; in 1802 they went to Teignmouth, where they resided some weeks in a house called Belle Vista, which is still standing. Two years afterwards they were at Lyme Regis, which Jane Austen has immortalised.
In 1806 she went with her mother to stay at Stoneleigh Abbey, which on the death of Mrs. Mary Leigh, under the will of her brother Edward, the last Baron of the old creation, reverted to the elder branch of the family. Here she met her cousin, the Lady Saye and Sele of whom Miss Burney has given us so amusing a picture, and who afforded Jane many a hearty laugh. What ecstasies her ladyship would have gone into, if she could only have foreseen the future fame of her relative!
These, with visits to her brothers in Kent and London, and to her other friends, formed the varieties and pleasures of her life. Not its happiness; that she found in her home and in her own warm family affections. From these also arose all her cares and most of her sorrows. In 1798 she lost her cousin, Lady Williams, who had been almost brought up with her and Cassandra, and who was married from Steventon some six years before. She was thrown from her carriage, and killed on the spot. In 1801 her father and mother left Steventon and settled in Bath, to her great grief. No young person can leave what has been the happy home of her childhood unconcerned, and to her Steventon was much more. It was not only the fun and frolic of early life, its pretty dreams and fancies, which endeared to her the house and the garden, the lanes, meadows, and coppices, where she and her sister had lived and wandered together, they were all consecrated by the deep sorrow which had so recently befallen both. The move was made on account of Mrs. Austen's health, which had for some time been very indifferent and to which it was hoped Bath would be beneficial; but there, she had a long and very severe illness, from which, she said, she owed her recovery to the prayers of her husband and the great care of her daughters. Here the father died in 1805, and the three ladies were obliged to give up the house and move into lodgings. Jane disliked Bath and thought it disagreed with her, and she must therefore have rejoiced when they were able to remove to Southampton, where they shared a house with one of her brothers. In 1809 they settled in the cottage at Chawton, which was the last home of all three; and the year after, what may be called her all too short literary life began. Perhaps it would have been longer, and she might have been spared to have given us more, but for the anxiety and fatigue she underwent in 1815 in nursing a brother through an illness, which brought him down to the very edge of the grave. She was staying with him alone when it came on, and upon her fell the greatest part of the strain. In a letter written soon afterwards, we find the first indication of failing health. It was followed by the bankruptcy of the firm of which this brother was head, the dread of which had caused his breakdown. No blame attached to him, the misfortune was produced in part by the failure of some other bank. Most of his brothers lost more or less, but they all behaved most kindly and nobly. Nevertheless it was a great blow, and Jane's health gave way beneath it. "I am the only one," she wrote, "so foolish as to have been made ill by it, but feeble nerves make a feeble body." She rallied, but never recovered, and died, to the inexpressible sorrow of all who loved her, in 1817.
"I am certainly in great affliction," her mother wrote in the simple, unexaggerated language of deep feelings. "I trust God will support me. I was not prepared for the blow, for though it in a manner hung over us, I had reason to think it at a distance, and was not quite without hope that she might in part recover. I had a letter from Cassandra this morning; she bears her sorrow as a Christian should."
Anonymous [presumed Lefroy, Fanny Caroline.] "Is It Just?" Temple Bar 67 (1883): 270-284.