On a Saturday evening, Jane Austen begins this letter to her older sister Cassandra away again in Kent at their brother’s estate Godmersham Park. Per the notes, this letter follows one that is missing in the order of Austen’s correspondence. Full of news from home in Steventon including their neighbors in Ashe and Dean — the first order of business is thanking Cassandra for her recent letters , and interesting story (including a request for updates), and then updating her sister on the state of the rest of the Austen household’s correspondence: “I thank you for so speedy a return to my two last, & particularly thank you for your anecdote of Charlotte Graham & her cousin Harriet Bailey, which has very much amused both my Mother & myself. If you can learn anything further of that interesting affair I hope you will mention it.–I have two messages; let me get ride of them, & then my paper will be my own.–Mary fully intended writing to you by Mr. Chute’s frank, & only happened to entirely to forget it–but will write soon–& my father wishes Edward to send him a memorandum in your next letter, of the price of the hops.” (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)
Concluding these “messages,” Austen continues on describing to Cassandra recent furniture purchases and rearrangements at home in Steventon: “The two ends put together form our constant Table for everything, & the centre peice stands exceedingly well under the glass; holds a great deal most commodiously, without looking awkwardly.–They are both covered with green baize & send their best Love.” (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)
Furniture update complete — this is Austen’s transition: “So much for that subject; I now come to another, of a very different nature, as other subjects are very apt to be.”
Moving on Austen relays what I’m presuming must’ve have been a shocking story that rocked the local neighborhood around Steventon concerning Earle Harwood: “About ten days ago, in cocking a pistol in the guard-room at Marcou, he accidentally shot himself through the Thigh.” Austen relates all of the details including “Two young Scot Surgeons” suggesting the amputation of the leg which Earle Harwood refused: “accordingly in his wounded state he was put on board a Cutter & conveyed to Haslar Hospital at Gosport: where the bullet was extracted, & where he now I hope in a fair way of doing well.”
Austen continues about news being brought back to the family and their neighbors: “They went down on tuesday, & James came back the next day, bringing such favorable accounts as greatly to lessen the distress of the family at Deane, tho’ it will probably be a long while before Mrs. Harwood can be quite at ease.” (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)
Next up a bit of sisterly correspondence on wardrobe: “I cannot possibly oblige you by not wearing my gown, because I have made it up on purpose to wear it a great deal, & as the discredit will be my own, I feel the less regret.–You must learn to like it yourself & make it up at Godmersham; it may easily be down; it is only protesting it to be very beautiful, & you will soon think it so.”
From here to a relaying a little adventure: “Mary drove me all in the rain to Basingstoke, & still more all in the rain back again, because it rained harder; & soon after our return to Dean a sudden invitation & an own putsches took us to Ash Park, to dine tete a tele with Mr. Holder, Mr. Gauntlett & James Digweed; but our tete a tete was cruelly reduced by the non-attendance of the two latter.–” Austen and Mary were left to dine only with Mr. Holder one of primary residents of Ash Park, and also per the notes this may possibly be a reference to the Rev. Samuel Gauntlett, in Hampshire during this time.
Austen despite being stood up by the other two gentlemen, wrote that she enjoyed the dinner, and their visit to this comfortable home, but wrote to Cassandra, that Mary perhaps not so much: “We had a very quiet evening, I believe Mary found it dull, but I thought it very pleasant. To site in idleness over a good fire in a well-proportioned room is a luxurious sensation.” Interesting perhaps Austen really relished the idea of dining out and enjoying the food and resources of a larger house and estate.
Here, another transition, again per the notes sliding into news of correspondence from one of Mr. Austen’s former students: “I have had a most affectionate letter from Buller; I was afraid he would oppress me by his felicity & his love for his Wife, but this is not the case; he calls her simply Anna without any angelic embellishments, for which I respect & wish him happy–and throughout the whole of his letter indeed he seems more engrossed by his feelings toward our family, than towards her, which You know cannot give any one disgust.” Wondering if this former student’s zeal for the Austen family affairs is perhaps attached to a former attachment or crush he had on one of the Austen sisters? The idea that Austen’s wicked wit here is targeting the idea she was expecting too much cloying or braying about his wife, but instead finds him asking about their family has me wondering. Again I wish we had Cassandra’s letters back to read the rest of this story between the two sisters.
Austen continues with news,a report of another injured neighbor, invitations and acceptances for local balls, and the ongoing debate between their brother Edward and Mr. Holder (from Ash) about a proposed plan for a Rookery. Then adds news of a recent engagement and an item of news concerning Frank one of their seafaring brothers: “Mr. Holder’s paper tells us that sometime in last August, Capt: Austen & the Petterrell were very active in securing a Turkish Ship (driven into a Port in Cyprus by bad weather) from the French.–He was forced to burn her however.–You will see the account in the Sun I dare say.–” (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)
Noting Sunday evening Austen gives an update on the severity weather apparently overnight that Saturday night, and its damage to their “Elm Walk” and maypole, as well: “We have had a dreadful storm of wind in the forepart of this day, which has done a great deal of mischeif among our trees.–I was siting alone in the dining room, when an odd kind of crash startled me–in a moment afterwards it was repeated; I then went to the window, which I reached just in time to see the last of our two highly value Elms descend into the Sweep!!!!!! The other, which had fallen I suppose in the first crash, & which was the nearest to the pond, taking a more easterly direction sunk amongst our screen of Chestnuts & firs, knocking down one spruce fir, beating the head of another, & stripping the two corner chestnuts of several branches, in its fall.–This is not all—.One large Elm out of two on the left hand side, as you enter what I call the Elm walk, was likewise blown down, the Maypole bearing the weathercock was broke in two, & what I regret more than all the rest, is that all the three Elms which grew in Hall’s meadow & gave such ornament to it, are gone.–Two were blown down, & the other so much injured that it cannot stand.” (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)
After the reportage of the damage Austen adds though: “–I am happy to add however that no greater Evil than the loss of Trees has been the consequence of the Storm in this place, or in our immediate neighborhood.–We greive therefore in some comfort.–” (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)
This letter concludes with a short post script, making me think she received another letter and news from Cassandra about Charles — before sending this off: “You spend your time just as quietly & comfortably as I supposed you would.–We have all seen & admired Fanny’s letter to her Aunt.–The Endymion sailed on a cruize last friday.” (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)
All notes/cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th Edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.