Scabies and scheduling are the first concerns of this letter, written by Jane Austen visiting Bath with her brother Edward and his with Elizabeth (Eliza). Promptly thanks her older sister Cassandra for her previous letter and expresses relief that she was not exposed to scabies (per the notes small parasites that borrow under the skin and cause a horrible itch), that are affecting their friends the Bigg family at Deane, as well as their avoiding the problem by their traveling schedule being changed: “not sorry as it turns out that our stay here has been lengthened.–I feel tolerably secure of our getting away next week, tho’ it is certainly possible that we may remain ’till Thursday the 27th.”
Duly she reports to her older sister about their brother Edward and their purpose for the visit, “Edward has been pretty well for this last Week, & as the Waters have never disagreed with him in any respect, We are inclined to hope that he will derive advantage from them in the end;–everybody encourages us in this expectation, for they all say that the effect of the Waters is felt afterwards more than on the spot.” (Austen’s own emphasis.)
Aside from the health benefiting waters, Bath is known for shopping –Austen then reviews her shopping errands including her efforts to address the latest fashions of women’s hats including decorations or flowers or fruit. “I cannot decide on the fruit till I hear from you again.–Besides, I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit.–What do you think on the subject?”
Austen then jumps to addressing and joking about some of what Cassandra has written to her, including a reference to her work that would eventually become Pride and Prejudice, “I would not let Martha read First Impressions again upon any account & am very glad that I did not leave it in your power.–She is very cunning, but I see through her design;–she means to publish it from Memory, & one more perusal must enable her to do it.” Aside from the wicked wit here, wondering if Austen was tinkering with the manuscript and that is why she didn’t want Martha Biggs to read it — perhaps she wanted to make some edits or changes?
Austen then jumps to lace she sent Cassandra and her cloak, going from subject to subject and acknowledges, “I do not know what is the matter with me to day, but I cannot write quietly; I am always wandering away into some exclamation or other.–Fortunately I have nothing particular to say.”
Austen then relates walking to Weston one night and then clarifies at just being happy at having the chance at a long walk. She describes their visit at Bath as being mostly at home and not visiting that much. Edward’s health matters it seems to keep them out of the social circle and from her tone, Austen, her brother and his wife seem reluctant circulate, “We have not been to any public place lately, nor performed anything out of the common daily routine of No. 13, Square Bath.
Austen then relays that a dinner invitation was made and then cancelled because of the health of the other gentleman. “Edward renewed his acquaintance lately with Mr. Evelyn who lives in the Queen’s parade & was invited to a family dinner, which I believe at first Eliz: was rather sorry at his accepting, but yesterday Mrs. Evelyn called on us & her manners were so pleasing that we liked the idea of going very much.–The Biggs would call her a nice Woman.–But Mr. Evelyn who was indisposed yesterday, is worse to day & we are put off.”
Her letter jumps to a reference to their party’s eventually arrival from Bath, “It is rather impertinent to suggest any household care to a Housekeeper, but I just venture to say that the Coffee Mill will be wanted eery day while Edw: is at Steventon as he always drinks Coffee for Breakfast.”
Austen then sends all kinds of regards to Cassandra and the family, before another injection of wicked wit, “‘On more accounts than one you wishes for our stay here to be lengthened beyond last Thursday.’–There is some Mystery in this. What have you going on in Hampshire besides the Itch from which you want to keep us?” (Austen’s own emphasis.)
Jumps again to addressing news of a recent or a soon to be wedding and concern over the gift which was another shopping concern, along with their budget for the hat decorations, “Now I will give you the history of Mary’s veil, in the purchase of which I have so considerably involved you that is my duty to economies for you in the flowers.”
Jane’s dislike of shopping or her description of getting overwhelmed in trying to make quality purchases on their shared budget is apparent, “I had not difficulty in getting a muslin veil for half a guinea & not much more in discovering afterwards that the Muslin was think, dirty & ragged, & would therefore by no means do for a Gift.–I changed it consequently as soon as I could & considering what a state my impudence reduced me to, I thought myself lucky in getting a black lace one for 16 shillings—. I hope the half of that sum will not greatly exceed what You had intended to offer up on the alter of Sister in-law affection.
Austen includes a post script in the letter to Cassandra and per the notes, perhaps finally addressing the issue she was referencing before, about other activities in Hampshire besides the scabies. “They do not seem to trouble You much from Manydown. I have long wanted to quarrel with them, & I believe I shall take this opportunity.–There is no denying that they are very capricious!–for they like to enjoy their elder Sister’s Company when they can.” Per the notes, the elder sister referred to is probably Jane Bigg, so perhaps this was a misunderstanding or some sort of riff around Jane Bigg’s visits or scheduling that somehow affected Cassandra?
All notes/cites to Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition, Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.