Photo credit via The Hampshire Cultural Trust web site, re: The Andover Museum.
This lively letter starts out bursting and wraps with many accounts of news and updates, as Jane Austen writes to her older sister Cassandra, still away in Kent — but here Jane is also away from home as well — visiting their friend Martha Lloyd in Ibthrop in Hampshire. Per the notes, sounds like: “Ibtrop.”
Apparently, the weather was poor: “…because it is too dirty even as such desperate Walkers as Martha & I to get out of doors, & we are therefore confined to each other’s society from morning till night, with very little variety of Books or Gowns.” (Austen’s own punctuation.) Along with this initial report, Austen describes: “You know it is not an uncommon circumstance in this parish to have the road from Ibthrsp to the Parsonage much dirtier & more impracticable for walking than the road from the Parsonage to Ibthrop–”
Austen adds a quick update on Mrs. Austen’s health filled with her wicked wit: “I left my Mother very well when I came away, & left her with strict orders to continue so.”
Also describes her shopping en route to Ibthrop: “I spent an hour in Andover, of which Messrs Painter & Redding had the larger part;–twenty minutes however fell to the lot of Mrs. Poore & her mother, whom I was glad to see in good looks & spirits.–” Per the notes, Austen probably made references to having visited Thomas Painter a haberdasher and Grace Redding, a “linen-woolen-draper.”
Continues giving Cassandra a colorful run down of her meeting a Mrs. Poore & her mother and perhaps is joking around and or possibly speculating on a pregnancy: “The latter asked me more questions than I had very well time to answer; the former I believe is very big; but I am no means certain; she is either very big, or not at all big. I forgot to be accurate in my observation at the time, & tho’ my thoughts are now more about me on the subject, the power of exercising them to any effect is diminished.” (Austen’s own spelling and grammar.)
Her arrival is then described in her own words: “The two youngest boys only were at home; I mounted the highly-extolled Staircase & went into the elegant Drawing room, which I fancy is now Mrs. Harrison’s apartment;–and in short did everything extraodinary Abilities can be supposed to compass in so short a space of time.–” (Austen’s own spelling.) Per the notes, this house as pictured above is The Andover Museum in Hampshire, England.
Provides Cassandra a full litany of news concerning Sir Thomas Williams and the Wapshires of Salisbury including all news, rumors, including prospectives regarding the upcoming marriage of Miss Wapshire who is getting up there in marriageable age with some editorial commentary: “…where Miss Wapshire has been for many years a distinguished beauty.–She is now seven or eight & twenty, & tho’ still handsome less handsome than she has been.–This promises better, than the bloom of seventeen; & in addition to this, they say that she has always been remarkable for the propriety of her behavior, distinguishing her far above the general class of Town Misses, & rendering her of course very unpopular among them.–I hope I have now gained the real truth, & that my letters in future may go on without conveying any farther contradictions of what was last asserted about Sir Thomas Williams & Miss Wapshire.–I wish, I could be certain that her name were Emma; but her being the Eldest daughter leaves that circumstance doubtful.” (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)
Per the notes, as Austen is referring to gossip/stories about an eldest daughter aka Miss Wapshire there is no way to convey her Christian and/or first name. Find it interesting though on the speculation, Austen can sometimes be a little bit of a “mean girl” but she particularly mentions the name Emma here, which has me wondering if she would have given Miss Wapshire the benefit of the doubt if that were truly her first name, because she [Austen] obviously was attracted to the name and would use it for a title character in her novel. Or is she only regretting she can not confirm more detail in this report to her older sister, or perhaps a combination of a short hand between these two sisters? Just saying…it is worth a pause to consider.
Continues with Austen returning to their friend Martha, who wants letters from Cassandra, and apparently is in favor of Austen’s recently acquired gown which has garnered mixed reviews among family members via previous letters: “She is pleased with my Gown, & particularly bids me to say that if you could see me in it for five minutes, she is sure you would be eagar to make up your own.” (Austen’s own emphasis.)
Austen backtracks back to shopping and what she spent, coming clean and telling her older sister of her purchases at the stores, “I have been obliged to mention this, but have not failed to blush the whole time of writing it.–Part of the money & time which I spent at Andover were devoted to the purchase of some figured cambric muslin for a frock for Edward–a circumstance from which I derive two pleasing reflections; it has in the first place opened me a fresh source of self-congratulation on being able to make so munificent a present, & secondly it has been a means of informing me that the very pretty manufacture in question may be bought for 4s. 6d. pr yd — yard & half wide.” (Austen’s own spelling and abbreviations). Makes no explanation of who she is buying this fabric to gift to Edward, so presumably Cassandra is aware of it.
This letter flits along to Austen’s return plans and scheduling: “Martha has promised to return with me, & our plan is to [have] a nice black frost for walking to Whitchurch & there throw ourselves into a postchaise, one upon the other, our heads hanging out the door, & our feet at the opposite.” Which sounds a bit unladylike but fun!
Austen adds another run down of news and updates, plus upcoming balls that follow, with another dose of her wicked wit, “Pray do not forget to go to the Canterbury Ball. I shall despise you all most insufferably if you do.–By the bye, there will not be any Ball, because Delmar lost so much by the Assemblies last winter that he has protested against opening his rooms this year.” However, she have missed the advertisement, because, per the Notes: “Delmar…rooms. The Kentish Gazette of 4 November 1800 announces ‘A Ball at Delmar’s Rooms,’ the first of a series, to be held on 6 November. The subscription for six balls was a guinea ₤1.05.”
In this letter, Austen continues joking about having a network to report on all local gossip from different balls to her sister: “I have charged my Myrmidons to send me an account of the Basingstoke Ball; I have placed my spies at different places that they may collect the more; & by so doing, by sending Miss Bigg to the Downhill itself, & posting my Mother at Steventon I hope to derive from their various observations a good general idea of the whole.”
For more information about The Andover Museum please visit the website of the Hampshire Cultural Trust — please see below for a link:
All notes to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deidre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.