Letter to Cassandra — 24 October 1798

Here, Jane Austen is quite literally: “on the road again”  traveling with her parents home.

This letter was written from the Bull and George, “a coaching inn,” that was located in Dartford, Kent.  Per the notes, Dartford was originally a market town with manufacturing 19 miles southeast of London, and “the first post-town on the Dover road; now nearly part of Greater London.”

Jane Austen is reporting news, details and mishaps to her older sister Cassandra, as they traveled through Kent, starting with: “You have already heard from Daniel, I conclude, in what excellent time we reached and quitted Sittingbourne, and how very well my mother bore her journey thither.”

Two observations here: 1) the Austens had left and were returning home but Cassandra apparently stayed behind for a longer visit, and 2) Daniel via the notes, was very likely a coachman from Godmersham estate owned by Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight (EAK),  and apparently Daniel worked for EAK for quite some time — per the notes: “possibly the Daniel Boys who was buried at Godmersham on 22 December 1835 aged 75.

Again via the notes, — Sittingbourne is a “country town” in Kent, 46 miles southeast of London, and 16 miles from the Godmersham estate.

Mrs. Austen seems to wax and wane in her traveling and health complaints, as Austen notes about their mother: “I am now able to send you a continuation of the same good account of her.  She was very little fatigued on her arrival at this place, has been refreshed by a comfortable dinner, and now seems quite stout.”

Per previously reading the notes to these letters, and paraphrasing other Regency era references — during this time period, the word “stout” was used to convey “healthy” or “being of good general health and nourishment.”

Their visit at the country town of Sittingbourne was short: “It wanted five minutes of twelve when we left Sittingbourne, from whence we had a famous pair of horses, which took us to Rochester in an hour and a quarter; the postboy seemed determined to show my mother that Kentish drivers were not always tedious and really drove as fast as Cax.

Per the notes, Cax is probably a misprint or a misreading of Cox or Cook’s which was a coach company — running a route from Salisbury to London and back. Another example of Austen’s wicked wit here — basically writing to Cassandra about how they had a crazy-fast driver, in comparing him to the London route drivers — which I guess had a reputation for speed at the expense of safety — in any case, Cassandra I presume would have gotten the reference and or joke.

Austen’s letter then gives another update on Mrs. Austen’s well being:  “My mother took some of her bitters at Ospringe, and some more at Rochester, and she ate some bread several times.”

Apparently there were several inns located in Dartford, Kent, during the time Jane Austen visited during her travels, “but the best was the Bull (later called the Royal Victoria and Bull), opposite was a smaller establishment, the Bull and George.”

Austen then details their quarters at the Bull and George, which again was the smaller inn, located in Dartford, which she noted, resulted in some compromise, “We have got apartments up two pairs of stairs, as we could not otherwise be accommodated with a sitting-room and bed chambers on the same floor, which we wished to be.”

And then kind of a major crisis:  “I should have begun my letter soon after our arrival but for a little adventure which prevented me.  After we had been here a quarter of an hour it was discovered that my writing and dressing boxes had been by accident put into a chaise which was just packing off as we came in, and were driven away towards Gravesend in their way to the West Indies.  No part of my property could have been such a prize before, for in my writing-box was all my worldly wealth, 7l, and my dear Harry’s deputation.”  (The underline is Austen’s own notation.)

Okay so her writing box was put on the wrong coach en route to the West Indies no less.  Austen seems to be upset more about the money kept in the box, and EAK apparently had issued a letter to allow their neighbor Harry Digweed back home — giving Henry the right to shoot on the Steventon estate — so Austen was acting as a courier and transporting this official letter.

Although I think the worldly or historical impact would have been the loss of her literary work in the writing-box.  Austen seems more matter of fact — fixated on the loss of the money.  Luckily, Mr. George Nottley (via the notes could have been Knottley), the landlord of the George & Bull inn in Dartford stepped in, “immediately despatched a man and horse after the chase, and in half an hour’s time I had the pleasure of being rich as ever; they were only got about two or three miles off.”  Phew crisis avoided.  (The spelling ‘despatched’ is Austen’s own.)

Austen continues noting the journey has been pretty pleasant and goes into accounts and exchanges about the weather, and a little account about their dad via a little book and reading update, “My father is now reading the ‘Midnight Bell,’ which he has got from the library, and my mother is siting by the fire.”  The notes describe this book as: The Midnight Bell, a German  Story, Founded on Incidents in Real Life, by Francis Lathom (1798), with a reference to Austen’s Northanger Abbey, chapter six (6).  So another connection from Austin’s letter to a novel she wrote. It’s unclear though which library Austen is referring to here in this letter — thinking possibly it was from the library at Godmersham or from a lending library back at home — although I think the former is more likely as they were leaving EAK’s estate and traveling back to Steventon.

Austen closes this letter with the uncertainty of their scheduling and route home, and noting the strong opinions of the inn’s landlord which differ from the Austens, “Our route to-morrow is not determined.  We have none of us much inclination for London, and if Mr. Nottley will give us leave, I think we shall go to Staines through Croydon and Kingston, which will be much pleasanter than any other way; but he is decidedly for Clapham and Battersea.”  (The spelling ‘to-morrow is Austen’s own.)

The very last line: “God bless you all!”  And then she adds a postscript, referencing the nickname of EAK’s second son George, “I flatter myself that itty Dordy will not forget me at least under a week.  Kiss him for me.”  (The underline is Austen’s own.) Think this is a reference to why Cassandra remained, most likely to help with EAK’s children.

Addendum here per the notes, in this collection of Austen’s letters: “Letter missing here, dated Thursday 25 October 1798.”  Which denotes a missing letter in chronological order, etc.

All notes unless otherwise noted are to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Fay, Oxford University Press 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra–Sunday 18 September 1796–Doubt & Deliberation

Jane Austen begins her letter from Rowling to her older sister Cassandra home in Steventon with this bit of news: “This morning has been spent in Doubt & Deliberation; in forming plans, and removing Difficulties, for it ushered in the Day with an Event which I had not intended should take place so soon for a week.”

In this letter, there was both good and bad news to relay to Cassandra.  Their brother Frank had received an appointment to a ship, and therefore, the delay/difficulties were in the scheduling of Frank escorting Jane Austen to her next destination.  Per Austen’s post script and the notes the ship Frank was newly assigned to was a frigate called the Triton.

Austen in leaving Rowling, was supposed to travel for a visit with Mary Pearson and her family, before they would leave together for Stevenson, but leaving Rowling early via Frank was an issue. Austen was not sure this would line up with the Pearson’s schedule, and there was an issue on confirming this change: “I wrote to Miss P — on friday, & hoped to receive an answer from her this morning, which would have rendered everything smooth & easy, and would have enabled us to leave this place tomorrow, as Frank on first receiving his Appointment to do so.”

Seems Austen did not hear back from Miss Mary Pearson and plans as she continued to write/describe were unsettled.  Per the notes, Mary was the eldest daughter of Captain Sir Richardson Pearson of the British Royal Navy, Lt. Governor of the Greenwich Hospital for Seaman.

Austen indulges here in a bit of her wicked wit with a bit of a confidence to her sister, “If Miss Pearson should return with me, pray be careful not to expect too much Beauty.”  And following with a little bit of a snarky reference to Mrs. Austen as well, “My Mother I am sure will be disappointed, if she does not take great care.”

Austen relays that her brother Frank had to change things around, “He remains till Wednesday merely to accommodate me.”  She adds that she had written to Ms. Pearson again and was trying to see about alternative plans with another brother, “Edward has been so good as to promise to take me to Greenwich the following Monday which was the day before fixed on, if that suits them better–”

And this letter continues: “If I have no answer at all on Tuesday, I must suppose that Mary is not at Home, & must wait till I do hear; as after having invited her to Steventon with me, it will not quite do, to go home and say no more about it.–”

Then noting perhaps Mr. Austen could also assist, “My Father will be so good to fetch home is prodigal Daughter from Town, I hope, unless he wishes me to walk the Hospitals, Enter at the Temple, or mount Guard at St. James.”  Per the notes “walk the Hospitals” is a term meaning to study medicine/become a medical student.

Austen’s tone seems to be light-light hearted and joking, but there does seem to be an underlining concern to confirm plans and prevail one or more of her brothers and father, “It will hardly be in Frank’s power to take me home; nay, it certainly will not. I shall write again as soon as I to Greenwich.”

Seems to be anxious awaiting from Miss Pearson relaying to Cassandra alternative plans proposed and shot down by her brothers.  Apparently Austen felt bad the letter was dominated by scheduling issues and schemes she did include this one other tidbit of news: ‘Mary is brought to bed of a Boy; both doing very well.  I shall leave you to guess what Mary I mean–”  Per the notes this is presumed a reference to Mary Robinson a maidservant at Rowling.  So perhaps this was a bit of gossip and Austen was a bit guilty to indulge for she closed the letter with, “How ill I have written. I begin to hate myself.”

All notes/cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre LeFaye, Oxford University Press 2011.

 

Mrs. Austen & Mrs. Bennet

Today on this Mother’s Day holiday in the U.S., I’m thinking about two ladies, both British — one fictional, mother of a beloved literary character, and the one was the mother of one of my favorite authors.

Of all of Austen’s maternal characters — probably think Mrs. Bennet is the most well known, if not iconic in her own way.  Tends to come off the page as obsessed with marrying off her many  daughters, a bit of a gossip and busy body — via mean and dismissive remarks about her neighbor’s the Lucas’, her sister Mrs. Gardener and her husband, and also as a bit of a hypochondriac.  This image has been cultivated and reaffirmed by many of the film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.

Reading through Austen’s collection of letters, there are many references to Mrs. Austen, chiefly about her health or more specifically comments about her health, complaints, and mostly if she felt she is improving or becoming ill — using the latter.

In these letters to her older sister Cassandra, Jane Austen almost always refers to “my mother” — which seems a little bit stiff or formal.  And realize there were conventions and civilities during this time, in personal correspondence and letters — still it seems strange she would not say or write: “our mother.”  Makes me think it was some sort of intimate code or signal between sisters.  But perhaps more likely, this is just my writerly imagination taking hold here.

All cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth edition, collected and edited by Deirdre LeFay, Oxford University Press, 2011