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.