Letter to Cassandra, Sunday 2 June 1799; 13 Queen Square–Bath.

This letter follows one that is missing in the chronology of Austen’s correspondence.  Here she is writing to her older sister Cassandra in Stevenson from hBath, “I am obliged to you for two letters, one from Yourself & the other from Mary, for of the latter I knew nothing till on the receipt of Yours yesterday, when the Pigeon Basket was examined & I received my due.–”

Austen dives into business first, as for shopping and receiving what seems to be a reply to an order for certain wardrobe and latest fashionable clothing items from Bath: “I will lay out all the little judgment I have in endeavouring to get such such stockings for Anna as she will approve;–but I do not know that I shall execute Martha’s commission at all, for I am not fond of ordering shoes, & at any rate they shall have flat heels.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)  So apparently, not a fan of the shoe shopping.  Duly she returns to the themes of shopping and fashion, as well as shoes later in this letter.

First, this letter proceeds with updates first on their brother with a dose of her wicked wit, “What must I tell you of Edward?–Truth or Falsehood?–I will try the former & you may cause yourself another time.”  Seems she is being a bit cheeky here, but then gives an update, as it seems Edward has been somewhat ill from their travels or adjusting to the visit in Bath and is now recovering and taking part in some of the local activities, “He was better yesterday than he had been for two or three days before, about as well as while he was at Steventon–He drinks at the Hetling Pump, is to bathe tomorrow & try Electricity on Tuesday;–he proposed the latter himself to Dr. Fellowes, who made no objection to it, but I fancy we are all unanimous in expecting no advantage from it.”  The notes does not offer any details and so presuming here that “electricity” is some sort of a curative that is a bit of a long shot, or is well known generally not too be really effective.

Hard to say at this point, if Austen is having a good stay or not on this short-term visit to Bath, along with a scheduling update: “At present I have no great notion of our staying here beyond the Month.–I heard from Charles last week; they were to sail on wednesday.”  (Austen’s own capitalization.)

And onto with a very quick update on Mrs. Austen’s health which seems to always be a required part of her letters to Cassandra: “My Mother seems remarkably well.”  Before adding, “My Uncle overwalked himself at first & can now only travel in a Chair; but is otherwise is very well.”

Austen then returns to clothing and wardrobe matters and the letter includes a short sketch of lace, “My Cloak is come home, & here follows the pattern of its’ lace.”  (Austen’s own capitalization and punctuation.)  Again there is a discussion of money for purchasing more lace and fabric, as well as Austen’s observances and experiences shopping in Bath, as well as her describing the fashion trend of flowers and faux fruit decorating hats: “Flowers are very much worn, & Fruit is still more the thing.–Eliz: has a bunch of Strawberries, & I have seen Grapes, Cherries, Plumbs & Apricots–There are likewise Almonds & raisins, french plumbs & Tamarinds at the Grocers, but I have never seen any of them in hats.”  Per the notes,Tamarinds were pods from a tree native to East India and most likely the Bath shopkeeper were stocking them as a popular item in demand.

Austen then notes how much this fruit fashion trend will actually will cost to her older sister and possible bargain hunt, “A plumb or green gage would cost three shillings; Cherries & Grapes about 5 I believe–but this is at some of the dearest Shops;–My Aunt has told me of a very cheap one near Walcot Church, to which I shall go in quest of something for You.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)  “Dear” I believe in this context means expensive or costly.

Austen continues the fashion update with noting: “Eliz: has given me a hat & it is not only a pretty hat, but a pretty stile of hat too–It is something like Eliza’s–only instead of being all straw, half of it is narrow purple ribbon.–I flatter myself however that you can understand very little of it, from this description.–Heaven forbid that I should ever offer such encouragement to Explanations, as to give a clear one on any occasion myself.”  (Austen’s own emphasis and spelling.)

The discussion of hats and fashion is left off at this point, for more of a social update, although it rings a bit of her being leery of meeting new people in Bath: “I spent friday evening with the Mapletons, & was obliged to submit to being pleased in spite of my inclination.”  After a updating Cassandra on names of new acquaintances, Austen returns with including her worries about purchases and bringing them back to Steventon, “I am afraid I cannot undertake to carry Martha’s Shoes home, for tho’ we had plenty of room in our Trunks when we came, We shall have many more things to take back & I must allow besides for my packing.”  (Austen’s own emphasis, spelling and punctuation.)

Austen then returns to telling Cassandra of the activities in Bath and apparently noting a disdain for concerts or loud music: “There is to be a grand gala on tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens;–a Concert with Illuminations & fireworks;–to the latter Eliz: & I look forward with pleasure, & even the Concert will have more than its’ usual charm with me, as the Gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.”  (Austen’s own punctuation.)

There is an off and off sad tone here I detect reading all of this, perhaps she is just missing her older sister, as well as a return to another fashion or wardrobe discussion this time of patterns and caps: “I am quite pleased with Martha & Mrs. Lefroy for wanting the pattern of our Caps, but I am not so well pleased with Your giving it to them.”  Seems a little upset that Cassandra has been so generous with the patterns, but then continues: “Some wish, some prevailing Wish is necessary to the animation of everybody’s Mind, & in gratifying this, You leave them to form some other which will not probably be half so innocent.”  (Austen’s own punctuation and capitalization.)  There is really no way to know if she is referring back again to Martha and Mrs. Lefroy here, or if this an extension or a return to a discussion of another issue with Cassandra, as it seems more detailed and complex — but the specifics are lost.

This is where I wish, and I’m sure certain scholars for the return of the lost letters, and perhaps to read Cassandra’s letters — in order to “read” or “hear” Cassandra’s side of their conversations and discussions.

Austen closes the letter saying she will not forget to write to their brother Frank and includes a post script about their sisterly correspondence: “My Uncle is quite surprised at my hearing from you so often–but as long as we can keep the frequency of our correspondence from Martha’s Uncle, we will not fear our own.”  Per the notes, this may be a reference to either Reverend John Craven or Reverend Thomas Fowle, but why either man would have an opinion on Jane and Cassandra’s often writing to each other is a mystery for me.

All notes to, Jane Austen’s Letters, Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Letter to Cassandra Friday 17 May 1799 — Regency Road Trip to Bath

There is quite a gap in the collection of Jane Austen’s letters here, because the last letter in the collection was January 1799 — when Austen was writing to Cassandra who was still visiting their brother Edward and his family in Kent — anxiously wanting to know Cassandra’s return date home.  We can only presume Cassandra traveled home in March or perhaps April 1799 — for this letter picks up the time line in mid-May 1799.  And here, Austen is writing to Cassandra, now at home in Steventon.

This letter conveys another Regency road trip, Austen writes of her experience traveling with her mother, their brother Edward, Edward’s wife Elizabeth and per the notes, Elizabeth and Edward’s two eldest children Fanny and Edward Jr.

Describes the trip in stages and starting of on a good note:  “Our Journey yesterday went off exceedingly well; nothing occurred to alarm or delay us;–We found the roads in excellent order, had good horses all the way, & reached Devizes with easy 4 o’clock.”

Seems Cassandra had a fondness for certain foods, or Austen just missed her elder sister at dinner, “At Devizes we had comfortable rooms, & a good dinner to which we sat down about 5; amongst other things we had Asparagus & Lobster which made me wish for you, & some cheesecakes on which the children made so delightful a supper as to endear the Town of Devizes to them for a long time.”

There is a sort of a pause here to Cassandra, not so much about their sister-in-law but perhaps more about Austen’s own misgivings about traveling to Bath: “Poor Eliz: has had a dismal ride of it from Devizes, for it has rained almost all the way, & our first view of Bath has been just as gloomy as it was last November twelvemonth.”

Not sure if this sort of is her own fatigue from travel, but Austen seems to be noting to her sister some sort of a pause: “I have got so many things to say, so many things equally unimportant, that I know not on which to decide at present, & shall therefore go & eat with the Children.”

Relays their continued journey, notes stopping at Paragon and meeting a few acquaintances.  Again there were some issues with Jane Austin’s trunk, specifically its weight and transporting it.  Apparently, Austen was not a light packer when she traveled: “I have some hopes of being plagued about my Trunk; I had more than a few hours ago, for it was too heavy to go by the Coach which brought Thomas & Rebecca from Devizes, there was reason to suppose that it might be too heavy likewise for any other Coach & for a long time we could hear of no Waggon to convey it.”  (Austen’s own emphasis and spelling.)

Austen notes they were able to find someone to transport it, but she notes there was to be a bit of a delay: “At last however, we unluckily discovered that one was just on the point of setting out for this place–but at any rate, the Trunk cannot be here till tomorrow.”

Then jumps to the accommodations at Bath with a dose of her eye for detail and wicked wit:  “We are exceedingly pleased with the House; the rooms are quite as large as we expected, Mrs. Bromley is a fat woman in mourning, and a little black kitten runs about the Staircase.”

Details to Cassandra, all of their room assignments and gives updates about both Mrs. Austen’s and their brother Edward’s post-journey states of health:  “My Mother does not seem at all the worse for her Journey nor are any of us I hope, tho’ Edward seemed rather fagged last not & not very brisk this morning, but I trust the bustle of sending for Tea, Coffee & Sugar, & c., & going out to taste a cheese himself will do hi good,–”  (Austen’s own spelling and phrasing.)

The notes don’t elaborate, but for anyone unfamiliar I believe “fagged” here probably means tired.  And Austen’s concern seemed to be minimal.  Perhaps just caffeine withdrawal?  Seems that Austen was certain that some form of coffee and tea and breakfast would recharge their brother Edward.

Also includes concerns about the weather and updates:  “I hope it will be a tolerable afternoon; when we first came, all the Umbrellas were up, but now the Pavements are getting very white again.”

Austen then conveys the social news with it seems a little combination of both wit and  unease: “There was a long list of Arrivals here, in the Newspaper yesterday, so that we need not immediately dread absolute Solitude–& there is a public Breakfast in Sydney Gardens every morning, so that we shall not be wholly starved.”

Closes the letter with some general news, that Elizabeth had a good report about the children still home and Kent, and returns to her concerns about the trunk: “I am rather impatient to know the fate of my best gown, but I suppose it will be some days before Frances can get through the Trunk–In the mean time, I am with many thanks for your trouble in making it, as well as marking my Silk Stockings.”  Per the notes, Frank or Frances–was most like one of Edward and Elizabeth’s servants.

All notes to Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deirdre LeFaye, 4th edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra, Friday 28 December 1798–“This letter is to be dedicated entirely to Good News.”

Just days after Christmas, Jane Austen is writing to her older sister Cassandra, who is still away visiting at their brother Edward’s estate Godmersham Park in Kent.

Austen begins this rather short letter with another brother’s career update: “Frank is made.–He was yesterday raised to the Rank of Commander, & appointed to the Petterel Sloop, now at Gibraltar.–A Letter from Daysh has just announced this, & as it is confirmed by a very friendly one from Mr. Matthew to the same effect transcribing one from Admiral Gambier to the General, We have no reason to suspect the truth of it.” Per the notes there is a little extended family connection going on here, per the notes, General Matthew is the father of James Austen’s first wife and his niece Louisa the wife of the Admiral Lord Gambier.

This is followed by a little of Austen’s wicked wit with even more news: “As soon as you have cried a little for Joy, you may go on, & learn farther that the India House have taken Captn Austen’s Petition into Consideration–this comes from Daysh & likewise that Lieut. Charles John Austen is now removed to the Tamer Frigate.–We cannot find out where the Tamer is, but I hope we shall now see Charles here at all Events.”  (Austen’s own abbreviations and underlines.)  Austen codifies all this with: “This letter is to be dedicated entirely to Good News.”

She then moves onto household matters, “If you will send my father an account of your Washing & Letter expenses & c., he will send You a draft for the amount of it, as well as for your next quarter, & for Edward’s Rent.”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

The wit returns with a bit of a sisterly rebuke: “If you don’t buy a muslin Gown now not he strength of this Money, & Frank’s promotion I shall never forgive You.–”

Reading these letters it is a quite one-sided because I haven’t seen Cassandra’s responses, but it seems to me of the two sisters, she was the more thrifty and economizing, while Jane often bought more textiles for clothing and supplies for caps.  I don’t think that Austen was trying to be more fashionable than her older sister, but it seems she felt more comfortable spending money on these items than her sister did.  Cassandra it seems did not spend much on herself, recalling from other letters, Jane Austen saying she should buy herself some drawing paper, and at times Jane just updating her that she went ahead and made the purchases for Cassandra.  Perhaps this was just the natural order or understanding between them.  But it would be interesting to know about Cassandra’s feeling on her end, if this annoyed or endeared her younger sister Jane to her, etc.

Austen then includes social update, “Mrs. LeFroy has just sent me world that Lady Dorchester means to invite me to her Ball on the 8th of January which tho’ an humble Blessing compared with what the last page records, I do not consider as any Calamity.”

Then Austen summarizes the happy news of their brothers in closing:  “I cannot write any more now, but I have written enough to make you very happy, & therefore may safely conclude.”

All notes and cites to Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra Tues. 18 — Wed. 19, December 1798

Per the notes, this letter also follows several that are missing in Jane Austen’s correspondence time line.  Austen writes to her older sister Cassandra from their home in Steventon in the weeks before Christmas, and apparently Cassandra is away visiting their brother Edward at his large home Godmersham Park.  From the opening it sounds like Austen was missing Cassandra very much, “Your letter came quite as soon as I expected, and so your letters will always do, because I have made it a rule not to expect them till they come, in which I think consult the ease of us both.”

The whole, making a rule reference — sounds like Austen is trying to assure her sister she is not hanging on her every letter, which sort of reflects both her missing Cassandra and confirming again to her older sister that she knows she is busy and doesn’t expect her to write all the time.

Next item up is a reference to some sort of legal business for Cassandra, per the notes perhaps the legacy (pension) left to Cassandra by her fiancé Tom Fowle who perished en route to a position in the West Indies, and then Austen goes right into planning for winter clothes and accessories, “I shall keep my ten pounds too to wrap myself up in next winter.” (Underline by Austen.) Per the notes, the ten pounds Austen cites here may either being their Christmas allowance from her father Mr. Austen, or a gift from Mrs. Knight — their extended family member, who adopted their brother Edward as her male heir.  Continues describing a black velvet bonnet in particular, and possible changes to it and other hats, and also she seems to be asking Cassandra for input on in trying to update a hat to one similar to one fashionable at that time, per the notes references a red poppy color, or perhaps otherwise try to save them and not replace them to avoid more expense.

Austen then talks about one of their seafaring brothers, Charles, “I am sorry that our dear Charles begins to feel the Dignity of Ill-usage. — My father will write to Admiral Gambier.”  Per the notes, it seems that Charles was trying to transfer to another post/larger ship.  Apparently there are some ideas being discussed to help Charles with his situation in the Navy, plus some scheduling plans, and apparently there was a bit of a glitch going on, “I cannot approve of your scheme of writing to him (which you communicated to [p.2] a few nights ago) to request him to come hoe & convey you to Steventon. — To do you justice however, You had some doubts of the propriety of such a measure yourself.” (Underline and page cite are Austen’s own.)

This letter then goes onto the topic of their nephew George (Edward’s son aka itty Dordy), who seems to be generally regularly discussed back and forth between the sisters in their letters.  Austen has routinely sent regards to her little nephew with comments that are sort of anxious that he will forget her. “I am very much obliged to my dear little George for his messages, for his Love at least; — his Duty I suppose was only in some consequence of some hint of my favourable intentions towards him from his Father or Mother,”  (Underlines are Austen’s own.)  Austen also includes a reference to the tradition of someone having a “dish of tea” on their birthday, and again per the notes, the saucers were so large during that time period, it was deemed socially fine to drink out of it — the idea of saying a “dish of tea” was a more popular expression than a “cup of tea.”  Wrapping up discussing their nephew little George, Austen adds, “Give my best Love to him.”  Before relaying news of a morning visit by neighborhoods to Steventon, by Mr. Holder and Mr. Harwood.

Austen then informs Cassandra she received a note about a circulating library from a Mrs. Martin, which was an invitation to subscribe to her collection, “which opens the 14th of January, & my name, or rather Yours is accordingly given.”  Circulating libraries were popular during Jane Austen’s time, and they cost money to be able to borrow the books or “subscribe.” Not sure about this, I’m wondering if Cassandra would be listed as a subscriber because she is an oldest sister, or simply because Jane Austen just could not afford her own library subscription at the time, but the notes do not offer a cite or any clarification here. Austen continues in this letter, “My Mother finds the Money — Mary subscribes too, which I am glad of, but hardly expected. — As an inducement to subscribe Mrs. Martin tells us that her Collection is not to consist only of Novels, but of every kind of Literature &c &c — She might have spared this pretension to our family who are great Novel-readers & not ashamed of being so; — but it was necessary I suppose to the self-consequence of half her Subscribers.”  (Underlines and &c are Austen’s own.)

Austen doesn’t seem to really have a great opinion of Mrs. Martin,  mostly for Mrs. Martin’s pitch that she was offering more than novels in this circulating library collection.  Chiefly because during that time period, novels were sort of looked down upon as sort of lighter or trash reading. To make a comparative popular culture reference today, I guess it would be a similar social-type stigma, if someone said they only watched reality/staged television shows and nothing else what so ever.  My take on this is: 1) on one Austen seems to be saying to Cassandra that she thinks Mrs. Martin is being pretentious in advertising the library will be more diverse with different types of books and that is fine, but Mrs. Martin could have spared this pitch to the Austens because they all as she said love to read novels and I guess everyone knows this about them, but 2) then Austen acknowledges to Cassandra, perhaps Mrs. Martin is just doing a much larger sales pitch to make other people happy and get more subscribers.

After the discussion of the subscription library, Austen returns to neighborhood and family news updates relaying them all to Cassandra, including nightly rituals at Steventon in comparison to a large house like Godmersham, “We dine now at half after Three, & have done dinner I suppose before you begin — We drink tea at half after six.  I am afraid you will despise us.  — My Father reads Cowper to us in the evening, to which I listen when I can.”  Austen then sets down a series of questions to Cassandra asking her how they are passing the evenings at Godmersham, before going into an obligatory update about their mother, concerning Mrs. Austen’s health and ongoing issues.  Austen continues with updates with the Lefroy and Digweed families, close friends and neighbors, including James Digweed being kicked by a young horse and getting a nasty cut.

Then Austen circles back to her cap and situation with the current fashion with updates to hats and gowns, as well as more news and her frustration in making plans for her own travels and visits, “Perhaps I may stay at Manydown as long as Monday, but not longer.  — Martha sends me word that she is too busy to write to me now, & but for your letter, I should have supposed her deep in the study of Medicine preparatory to their removal from Ibthrop.”  Apparently having learned from Cassandra’s letter that Martha wrote to Cassandra and not here, claiming she was busy — Austen was perhaps annoyed that their dear friend Martha had not wrote back personally to her, and throws a bit of wicked slide at Martha’s being “too busy” as if Martha were a medical student — the idea and or concept which was nearly impossible during this time period.

Another visit seems to be in the works but Austen does not seem to be looking forward to it, “The letter to Gambier goes to day. — I expect a very stupid Ball, there will be nobody worth dancing with, & nobody worth talking to but Catherine; for I believe Mrs. Lefroy will not be there; Lucy is to go with Mr. Russell.”  Per the notes, most likely Jane Austen, referencing “Madame Lefroy,” her friend and mentor who died in a tragic riding accident which inspired Austen to write a memorial poem four years after her death.  Madame Lefroy was also married/a connection to Tom Lefroy, Austen’s “Irish Friend.” Per the notes, “the earliest English Lefroys were Huguenots (French Protestants cast out of France), who came to this country in the late sixteenth (16th) century and settled in Kent.” (Notes in parenthesis are my own.)

Continues to sort of lament different circumstances here to her older sister, venting a little bit perhaps about their economical situation and those of their friends in Steventon, “People get so horridly poor & economical in this part of the World, that I have no patience with them. — Kent is the only place for happiness, Everybody is rich there; — I must do similar justice however to the Windsor neighborhood.”

This is followed by telling Cassandra that two sheets of her drawing paper were given away, and Cassandra may want to restock on drawing paper when she goes to town.  Presuming here Austen means London.  Austen closes this letter by saying she has finally heard from Martha, not citing a letter and also their other Naval brother Frank, “all well, & nothing particular.”

All notes to Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deidre LeFay, 4th edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

Letter to Cassandra Sunday, November 1798

One of many letters sent by Austen from Steventon to her older Sister Cassandra at their brother’s Godmersham Park estate — per the notes another letter missing in between in Austen’s correspondence.  Austen starts off with a bit of wicked wit, apparently the sisters were exchanging news between Godemersham and Steventon: “I shall not take the trouble of announcing to you any more of Mary’s children, if, instead of thanking me for the intelligence, you always sit down and write to James.  I am sure nobody can desire your letters so much as I do, and I don’t think anybody deserves them so well.  Having now relieved my heart of a great deal of malevolence, I will proceed to tell you that Mary continues quite well, and my mother tolerably so.”

Austen continues on with family news including an update on their brother Henry and his commission as well as news of extended family, neighbors, her report on a very small ball, Nanny (Mrs.) Hilliard, and the Littleworths — per the notes the Littleworths were often employed as servants by the Austens at Steventon.

Gives her sister also a shopping update about items purchased from a traveling pedaler  including Irish linen, detailing amounts and quality.  She then updates her sister on their father’s reading purchase, “We have got ‘Fitz-Albini’; my father bought it against my private wishes, for it does not satisfy my feelings that we should purchase the only one of Egerton’s work of which his family are ashamed.  That these scruples, however, do not at all interfere with my reading it, you will easily believe. We have neither of us yet finished the first volume.  My father is disappointed — I am not, for I expected nothing better.”

Continues on with the literary review for her sister: “There is very little story, and what there is told in a strange, unconnected way.  There are many characters introduced, apparently merely to be delineated.”

Austen then skips over to news about Mr. Austen selling sheep and requesting some of their brother Edward’s pigs before returning to literature and books incorporating mention of a favorite poet.  “We have got Boswell’s ‘Tour to the Hebrides’, and are to have the ‘Life of Johnson’; and, as some money will yet remain in Burdon’s hands, it is to be laid out in the purchase of Cowper’s works.”  Per the notes, Burdon is probably a reference to a book seller.

The letter concludes with Austen updating her sister on her efforts at correspondence which as seemed to exhaust her although she sends a whimsical message to her nephew Edward, “so that altogether I am tolerably tired of letter-writing, and, unless I have anything new to tell you or my mother or Mary, I shall not write again for many days; perhaps a little repose may restore my regard for a pen.  Ask little Edward whether Bob Brown wears a great coat this cold weather.”

All notes/cites to Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deirdre LeFaye, Fourth edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.