Letter to Philadelphia Walter — Sunday April 8, 1798

Jane Austen wrote to her cousin Philadelphia Walter, of Seal, Sevenoaks, Kent — from her home in Steventon.  Per the notes, Seal, Kent is a village two miles north of Sevenoaks.  The Walter family lived in Seal from 1785-1811 — possibly on Church Street in the “The Gray House.”

Also referencing the notes — this is the only letter sent from Austen to her cousin Philadelphia that survives in this part of the family lineage/descendants, which was then donated to the British Museum in 1993.

Austen leads right off informing her cousin that Cassandra is home, and “our sincere Condolence on the melancholy Event with Mrs. Humphries Letter announced to my Father this morning. — The loss of so kind & affectionate a Parent, must be a very severe affliction to all his Children, to yourself more especially, as your constant residence with him has given you so much the more constant & intimate Knowledge of his Virtues.”

Austen is writing to convey sympathy at the loss of Philadelphia’s father William-Hampson Walter, and Austen alludes in her letter that he was ill and perhaps suffering for some time: “the Goodness which made him valuable on Earth, will make him Blessed in Heaven. — This consideration must bring comfort to yourself, to my Aunt & to all his family & friends; & this comfort must be heightened by the consideration of the little Enjoyment he was able to receive from this World for some time past.”

Per the notes he passed away on 6 April 1798.  Austen closes this letter with the following: “My Father & Mother join me in every kind wish, & I am my dear cousin.”

All notes and references to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, collected and edited by Deirdre LeFaye, 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.

 

Letter to Cassandra, Thurs. 15-Friday 16, September 1796

In this letter to her older sister Casandra at home in Steventon, Jane Austen continues to write from Rowling, giving a full account of social activities including: “dining at Nackington, returning by Moonlight, and everything quite in Stile, in to mention Mr. Claringbould’s funeral.”  Per the notes the Claringboulds are described as “a farming family, at Goodnestone, Kent.”  Austen goes onto say that their brother Edward was considering taking “Claringbould” as a name, but: “that scheme is over” —  apparently this is well before Edward became Edward Austen Knight.  And apparently this “scheme” was also monetary in nature, and did not work out too well because Jane Austen continued, “nothing was said on the subject, and unless it is in your power to assist you Brother with five or six Hundred pounds, he must entirely give up the idea.”

Jane Austen cheerfully describes their visit to Nackington, home in Kent of the Milles family, giving Cassandra a round down of their house tour, including a portrait painted by Reynolds.

Glimpses here of her wicked wit abound:  “Miss Fletcher and I were very thick, but I am the thinnest of the two — She wore her purple Muslin, which is pretty enough, tho’ it does not become her complexion.  There are two Traits in her Character which are pleasing; namely, she admires Camilla & drinks no cream in her Tea.”

Sort of a vibe of eavesdropping here between sisters, I’m not saying that Jane Austen is being catty, rather she is painting a portrait for her older sister with words, and apparently two standards were very important by which she did judge new acquaintances: by the writers they admired, and how they took their tea.

The letter relays the rest of the particulars of their visit to Nackington, as well as the carriage ride home and large swath of news concerning both the Field and Digweed families.  Once news of neighbors of news is finished,  Jane Austen adds news about their brothers, and discusses travel and scheduling.  Just shy of two hundred years later, pouring over this correspondence it may seem unlikely, but this was again a large part of her life, which all had to be arranged and approved by their male relatives, “I want to go in a Stage Coach, but Frank will not let me.”

Austen closes this letter with orders for shopping and errands, “If anybody wants anything in Town, they must send their Commissions to Frank, as I shall merely pass thro’ it. –”  Followed by a referenced to buy candles?  “The Tallow Chandler is Pennington, at the Crown & Beehive Charles Street, Covent Garden.”  However, she wrapped this correspondence up by assuring Cassandra, “Buy Mary Harrison’s Gown by all means.  You shall have mine for ever so much money, tho’ if I am tolerably rich when I get home, I shall like it very much myself.”

All notes to Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre LeFaye, Oxford University Press, 2011.  The underline emphasis was not added but was retyped as it appeared in the text.

Letter to Cassandra, September 5, 1796

Writing from Rowling, to her older sister Cassandra home in Steventon, Austen opens with a big query: “I shall be extremely anxious to hear the Event of your Ball, & shall hope to receive so long & minute an account of every particular that I shall be tired of reading it.”  Sounds like someone wanted the 411!

Austen’s insistence on details from Cassandra continue, as well as updates of her own social activities, noting that she opened the ball, and she gives her sister many details of her dancing partners, attendees, and continues to recount activities, people seen and spoken to including this bit of clandestine news: “Mr. Richard Harvey is going to be married; but as it is a great secret, & only known to half the Neighborhood, you must not mention it.  The Lady’s name is Musgrove.”

This is pretty interesting, since Austen incorporates secret engagements into her narratives: including Sense and Sensibility (Lucy Steele and Edward), and Emma (Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax).  It seems then, that Jane Austen  was inspired by real life events.  Also worth to note the last name Musgrove — which Austen will use for one of her minor but important characters, Louisa Musgrove in her novel Persuasion — Louisa in full flirt mode takes a ill-timed fall off the Cobb (walkway) in Lyme.

Returning to Austen’s letter, she directly appeals to Cassandra for advice about a parting gifts to her hosts?  “I am in great Distress. — I cannot determine whether I shall give the Richis half a guinea or only five Shillings when I go away. Counsel me, amiable Miss Austen, and tell me which will be the most.”  Definitely seems, like Austen relied for Cassandra to give her direct and appropriate advice in handling the matter, protocol, and Jane Austen seemed to be concerned about not doing the right thing, or committing some sort of faux pas.

This letter closes with even more news, and another imploring of Cassandra: “Pray remember me to Everybody who does not enquire after me.”  Not sure if this another aspect of Austen’s wicked wit — I tend to think it is — sort of a private joke between sisters, because she ends with this: “Give my Love to Mary Harrison, & tell her I wish whenever she is attached to a Young Man, some respectable Dr. Marchmont may keep them apart for five Volumes.  Apparently, this reference to Dr. Marhmont a character the novel Camilla.  All cites/notes 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