Letter to Cassandra, Saturday One November 1800–two Naval brothers, the “Petvals,” and a ball with a “Scarcity of Men.”

Austen is writing to her older sister Cassandra, away again visiting their brother’s household in Godmersham Park in Kent, from their home in Steventon.  This letter is full of news: including updates concerning their naval and seafaring brothers Frank and Charles, discussions of clothing and household purchases, a neighborhood ball Austen attended, plus other local news.

“You have written I am sure, tho’ I have received no letter from you since your leaving London;–the Post, & not yourself must have been unpunctual.”  Later on we learn, there a cross between the sisters letters along with a literary bit of Austen’s wicked wit: “Your letter is come; it came indeed twelve lines ago, but I could not stop to acknowledge it before, & I am glad it did not arrive till I had completed my first sentence, because the sentence had been made ever since yesterday, & I think forms a very good beginning.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Before acknowledging the arrival of Cassandra’s letter Austen had delved first into news of naval brother Frank: “We have at last heard from Frank; a letter from him to You came yesterday, & I mean to send it on as soon as I can get a ditto, (that  means a frank,) which I hope to do in a day or two.”   (Austen’s own emphasis, spelling and punctuation.)

Not really sure what Austen means by a “ditto” if she means her own letter from brother Frank or some sort of word from Frank to forward the letter, obviously this is understood by the two sisters as Austen continues the update on their brother Frank with specific naval maneuvers: “En attendant, You must rest satisfied with a knowing that on the 8th of July the Petterell with the rest of the Egyptian Squadron was off the Isle of Cyprus, whither they went from Jaffa for Provisions, & c., & whence they were sail in a day or two for Alexandria, there to wait the result of the English proposals for the Evacuation of Egypt.  The rest of the letter, according to the present fashionable stile of Composition, is cheifly Descriptive; of his Promotion he knows nothing & of Prizes he is guiltless.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

To note, I did only a quick online search for the Petterell the ship, but I could not locate its historical record, so I’m presuming it was a British gunship or frigate of some kind due to the time period. But the name of the ship particularly intrigues me, in similarity to: “The Petvals” — or “Mother Carey’s Chickens” — Citing/paraphrasing: Barbara Walker here: “Mother Carey, Sea Goddess, per lore English Sailors.  Mother Cara (Latin) and literally: Beloved Mother.  Her “soul-birds” called Mother Carey’s Chickens or The Petvals.  Per the French, “Birds of our lady,” and later associated with St. Peter, i.e. with the name “Little Peters.”

After the Frank update, Jane Austen dives into wardrobe matter discussions apparently answering some of Cassandra’s opinions on either ordering or altering their clothes: “Your abuse of our Gowns amuses, but does discourage me; I shall take mine to be made up next week, & the more I look at it, the better it pleases me.–”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Apparently, Cassandra was responsible for sending home certain items of clothing and glassware for the household and Austen is both confirming their arrival and everyone’s thoughts and opinions on them.  First, Austen seems very impressed with a cloak trimmed with lace her older sister selected and sent home to Steventon: “My Cloak came on tuesday & tho’ I expected a good deal, the beauty of the lace astonished me.–It is too handsome to be worn, almost too handsome to be looked at.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

However, Austen seems to be gently breaking the news that Cassandra’s purchase of glassware for their house at Steventon was not as much as a success with their mother Mrs. Austen:  “The Glass is all safely arrived also, & gives great satisfaction.  The wine glasses are much smaller than I expected, but I suppose it is the proper size.–We find no fault with your manner of performing any of our commissions, but if you like to think yourself remiss in any of them, pray do.–My Mother was rather vexed that you could not go to Pennington’s, but she has since written to him, which does just as well.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Not sure, but it seems Cassandra did not go to a specific store or merchant that Mrs. Austen preferred, and Austen gives her older sister another sibling update: “Mary is disappointed about her Locket, & of course delighted about the Mangle which is safe at  Basingstoke.”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Sort of like eavesdropping here, apparently something happened to Mary’s locket either it was lost or broken, but the mangle (an accessory to help wring out laundry) was either found or accessible at Basingstoke.  Austen doesn’t offer further details and this is a private exchange between the sisters, that obviously understand the unsaid details.

The neighborhood ball is the next topic of news Austen conveys to her sister, including her options for invitations, among other details: “I dined and slept at Deane.–Charlotte & I did my hair, which I fancy looked very indifferent; nobody abuse it however, & I retired delighted with my success.–It was a pleasant Ball, & still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly 60 people, & sometimes we had 17 couple.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

And this next part of Austen’s letter, make me think of Pride and Prejudice:  “There was a scarcity of Men in general, & still a greater scarcity of any that were good for much.–I danced nine dances out of ten, five with Stephen Terry, T. Chute & James Digweed & four with Catherine.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.) Not sure about that last name of a partner being “Catherine” as a surname for a male person, I am not familiar with Regency dance enough to elaborate, but generally I thought they were all male to female and females never danced together, but I could be wrong, and I will look into it.

“There was commonly a couple of ladies standing up together, but not often any so amiable as ourselves.–I heard no news, except that Mr. Peters, who was not there, is supposed to be particularly attentive to Miss Lyford.–You were enquired after very prettily, & I hope the whole assembly now understands that you are gone into Kent, which the families in general seemed to meet in ignorance of.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)  Again, this seems to be a private exchange or reference, between the two sisters regarding Cassandra’s often traveling to Kent.

Austen passes along a bit more about the ball, including who she chatted with; ” I said civil things for Edward to Mr. Chute, who simply returned them by declaring that had he known of my brother’s being at Steventon he should have made a point on calling on him to thank him for his civility about the Hunt.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

From there, Austen delves right back into the second of their naval brothers, “I have heard from Charles, & am to send his shirts by half dozens as they are finished;–one sett will go next week.–The Endymion is now waiting only for orders, but may wait for them perhaps a month.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Also includes a short bit about Charles had attempted a quick visit possibly to Chawton to see Edward but it did not work out: “Charles had actually set out & got half the way thither in order to spend one day with Edward, but turned back on discovering the distance to be considerably more than he had fancied, & finding himself & his horse to be very much tired.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Austen proceedings with a long paragraph filled with news and updates, closing with a little bit of extra fondness toward her nephew Edward’s son: “Love to all.–I am glad George remembers me.”  Before actually closing with two postscripts, the first with the owning up of a younger sister apparently have borrowed some of the older’s clothing: “I wore at the Ball your favourite gown, a bit of muslim of the same round my head, border’d with Mrs. Cooper’s band–& one little Comb.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.) Apparently, Austen forgot to mention this when she gave Cassandra the ball update earlier and per the notes, Mrs. Cooper was their aunt, Mrs. Austen’s sister.

The second postscript–also refers back to the second seafaring brother Charles and again crossing letters: “I am very unhappy.–In re-reading your letter I find I might have spared any Intelligence of Charles.–To have written only what you knew before!–You may guess how much I feel.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Notes/cites to: 1) Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre LeFay, Oxford University Press, 2011 & 2) A Companion to Jane Austen, by Claudia L. Johnson, 2011, via Google Books, and 3) Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Barbara Walker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Via JASNA — Name change update: Chawton House (formerly Chawton House Library). Photo credit: the official Chawton House web site.

Photo credit: The official Chawton House web site — chawtonhouse(dot) org —

Via JASNA — the name Chawton House Library has been changed/updated to Chawton House —  to fully meet the mission guidelines.

https://chawtonhouse.org/2018/02/announcing-name-change-chawton-house/

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra Tues. Jan. 8 — Thurs. January 9, 1799. Who is “he” and why did he want to throw her fan in the River?

For some time, before the invention of the telephone, and even long distance calling, there was something wonderful about receiving a long, newsy letter.  This moment in time has long disappeared, although it made a brief reoccurrence in the 1990’s, with the advent of email or electronic mail, when it first became a mode of communication.  Before spam, chain email, scams, phishing — many people would check their accounts hoping for a long, newsy letter via this electronic format, from people that lived far enough away that long distance calling was not possible or very infrequent.  But eventually technology in the other forms primarily social media and the invention of the cell phone soon to be the smart phone took that all away.

Here hundreds of years before the word “electronic” — Jane Austen is writing from her home in Steventon writes her older sister Cassandra visiting their brother in Kent, a post-Christmas letter full of early January news, although per the notes, this letter follows one missing in the collection of her correspondence.  Through the letter Austen states that she is feeling pretty ill, and in print documents, initially debates turning the letter over to their Mother to finish writing out for her.

This correspondence begins with Jane thanking her older sister for her latest letter, admiring her writing, “You must read your letters over five times in the future before you send them, & then perhaps you may find them as entertaining as I do.–I laughed at several parts of the one which I am now answering.”  Again, this makes me long for Cassandra’s letters to read her side of their correspondence.” (Underline emphasis is Austen’s own.)

Austen starts this letter stating their brother Charles, with a worry because of an upcoming ball: “The Ball at Kempshott is this Evening, & I have got him an invitation, though I have not been so considerate as to get him a Partner.” (Underline emphasis is Austen’s own.)  This continues with some sister discussion of a possible love interest, “But the cases are different between him & Eliza Bailey, for he is not a dieing way, & therefore may be equal to getting a partner for himself.”  (Spelling is Austen’s own.)

Austen acknowledges relaying a previous incorrect date for the ball and is full on pushing back with her wicked wit: “Elizabeth is very cruel about my writing Music;–& as a punishment for her, I should insist upon always writing out all hers for her in the future, if I were not punishing myself at the same time.”

Which diverts into a comment about their brother Edward, “I am tolerably glad to hear of Edward’s income is so good a one–as glad as I can at anybody’s being rich besides You & me–& I am thoroughly rejoiced to here of his present to you.”  Austen seems to be happy to hear Edward made some sort of a monetary gift to her older sister, then discusses her attire for the ball and other wardrobe issues, which includes a “Mamlouc cap,” which per the notes, was very much Egyptian inspired fashion of the time.

The next item she tackled was an upcoming visit to their Cooke cousins, which again per the notes, Cassandra may have censored to protect these relatives from the harsh if not wicked wit, “I assure You that I dread the idea of going to Bookham as much as you can do; but I am not without hopes that something may happen to prevent it, Theo’ has lost his Election at Baliol, & perhaps they may not be able to see company for some time.–They talk of going to Bath too in the Spring, & perhaps they may be overturned in their way down, & all laid up for the summer.”

Here, Austen notes, “I have had a cold & weakness in one of my eyes for some days, which makes Writing neither very pleasant nor profitable & which will probably prevent my finishing this letter myself.–My Mother has undertaken to do it for me, & I shall leave the Kempshott Ball for her.”

Austen continues joking in writing about the Wither family: “Mary grows rather more reasonable about her Child’s beauty, & says that she does not think him really handsome; but I suspect her moderation to be something like that of W-W-‘s Mama.”  Per the notes, a descendent of the Wither family stated via F. Awry, A Country Gentleman of the Nineteenth Century, “‘It was a custom of the Wither clan to fuss and talk a great [deal] about bad health.'”  So Cassandra, knowing the Withers, was well in on the joke.

Austen then describes the attendance at the event, “Catherine has the honour of giving her name to a set, which will be composed of two Withers, two Heathcotes, a Blackford, & no Bigg except herself.”  (Spelling is Austen’s own.) Per the notes, Austen again is writing a bit of an inside joke with writing about “the set” for her sister about the house party in naming everyone as Catherine is technically the only Bigg, her father and brother were Bigg-Wither and her married sister the Heathcote.

Austen then reacts very pleasantly, presumably of Cassandra writing about their nephew, “My sweet little George!–I am delighted to hear that he has such an inventive Genius as to face-making.”   Apparently, their nephew was inventive using the sealing wax, “I admire his yellow wafer very much, & I hope he will chuse the wafer for your next letter.”  (Spelling is Austen’s own.)

Now there is a brief return to wardrobe or is there? “I wore my Green shoes last night & took my white fan with me: I am very glad he never threw it into the River.”  Going to pause here for a moment, as fans were often used for communication and flirting, that doesn’t puzzle me — but sounds like there is more to the story here.  Who is he, and how did he get Jane Austen’s fan?  Did she give it to him?  Was it a joke gone wrong or an argument of some sort?  Questions remain, but Cassandra is in the know and sadly we are not and there is nothing in the notes about it.

Austen does not dwell here, presumably she continues writing with Cassandra’s understanding of the fan and river reference, and revisits the subject of their brother Edward again, and Mrs. Knight, “Mrs. Knights giving up the Godmersham Estate to Edward was no such prodigious act of Generosity after all it seems for she has reserved herself an income out of it still;–this ought to be known, that her conduct may not be over-rated.–I rather think Edward shows the most Magnanimity of the two, in accepting her Resignation with such Incumbrances.”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)  Seems to be commenting on the transition of Edward’s formal taking over the estate as well as Mrs. Knight’s yearly annuity of two thousand pounds which he must pay, but more so on their public and private personas and actions around this matter, which seems to be an ongoing issue of concern of the sisters for their brother.  Not suggesting here that they are concerned for Edward supporting or sheltering them, although he would ultimately provide the Chawton cottage for them.

Austen continues this letter with a little update that she is feeling more and has not had to recruit Mrs. Austen just yet, “The more I write, the better my Eye gets, so I shall at least keep on till it is quite well, before I give up my pen to my Mother.”  (Austen’s own punctuation.)

And so Austen describes the ball with all of her keen observations and touches of wicked wit: “Mrs. Bramston was very civil, kind & noisy.–I spent a very pleasant evening chiefly among the Manydown party.–There was the same kind of supper as last Year, & the same want of chairs.– There were more Dancers than the Room could conveniently hold, which is enough to constitute a good Ball at any time.”

Also notes for Cassandra how much she danced with a little bit of resignation: “I do not think I was very much in request–. People were rather apt not to ask me till they could not help it.”

Austen also describes a possible missed connection: “There was one Gentleman, an officer of the Cheshire, a very good looking young Man, who I was told wanted very much to be introduced to me;– but he did not want it quite enough to take much trouble in effecting it, We could never bring it about.”  Austen seems disappointed writing to Cassandra, noting how the introduction was needed — I am presuming to have it go forward, and perhaps to dancing or conversation, but just did not happen.

Continues to update her older sister about the ball, while chiding their brother, “Charles never came!–Naughty Charles.”

Continues on with a wrap up of the ball and related news of the attendees, before Austen quips: “Miss Debary has replaced your two sheets of Drawing paper, with two of superior size & quality; so I do not grudge her of having them at all now.”

Austen then relays news of a couple of recent marriages before stating: “I do not wonder at your wanting to read first impressions again, so seldom as you have gone through it, & that so long ago.”  This is an interesting reference to early draft manuscript of what would ultimately become Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  From Austen’s letter here, it seems Cassandra it seems to have an ongoing interest in the story and wanted to read and perhaps comment on it again.

There is no dwelling on her literary work here, Austen continues the letter, going back to more perhaps troubling domestic matters: “I am much obliged to you for meaning to leave my old petticoat behind You; I have long secretly wished it might be done, but had not the courage to make the request.”

Austen includes some local, business news as well: “The partnership between Jeffreys boomer & Legge is dissolved.” This was a banking partnership in Basingstoke, although the notes, do not clarify if the Austens were personally impacted, but apparently it was big enough neighborhood news for Jane to include it to Cassandra in this letter.

Austen closes with well wishes: “I wish you Joy of your Birthday twenty times over.”  And then adds at the very end an apology: “Do not be angry with me for not filing my Sheet–” Perhaps because she was still feeling ill Austen did not use the last page of the letter entirely which was unusual because paper was so expensive, people wrote on every inch, plus per the notes, Cassandra would still have to pay the same amount of postage for an empty sheet.

All notes, cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deidre LeFaye, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-Blog from JustJane1813–Caroline Jane Knight–Austen’s 5th great niece.

Good morning my dear readers and Happy Friday! Today is a day that I have been waiting a long time to share with you because I believe that anyone who loves Jane Austen is going to love meeting today’s guest, Caroline Jane Knight, Miss Austen’s fifth great niece. As many of you know, I spent…

via Just Jane 1813 Welcomes Caroline Jane Knight / Readers’ Q