Per the notes, this letter follows one that is missing, sent from Jane Austen, is sent from Steventon to her older sister Cassandra, still away at their brother’s estate Godmersham Park in Kent. Wondering if there is only one letter missing — Mr. Austen has apparently announced his retirement, and plans our being made to leave Steventon and move to Bath: “As you have by this time received my last letter, it is fit that I should begin another; & I begin with the hope, which at present uppermost in my mind, that you wore a white gown in the morning, at the time of all the gay party’s being with you.”
Austen has shifted what she writes about significantly. Gone from the sister relaying all the latest family, neighborhood news and gossip, and updates on balls Cassandra either missed or attend and needed to provided detailed accounts back to Jane — to focusing mostly on family and household concerns connected to this very large transition in the lives.
Most of this letter concerns what the Austen family members will be doing to move from their home in Steventon to Bath. Overall, Austen’s tone sounds positive, with pockets of her wicked wit and sometimes even playful. “My Mother looks forward with as much certainty as you can do, to our keeping two Maids–my father is the only one not in the secret.–We plan having a steady Cook, & a young giddy Housemaid, with a sedate, middleaged Man, who is to undertake the double office of Husband to the former & sweetheart to the latter.”
Austen seems to be also referring to the loss of a male servant John Bond, and how he will be employed when the Austen family leaves Hampshire, and apparently Cassandra had a better opinion of him and worries than her younger sister: “You feel more for John Bond deserves;–I am sorry to lower his Character, but he is not ashamed to own himself, that he has no doubt at all of getting a good place, & that he had even an offer many years ago from Farmer Paine of taking him into his Service whenever he might quit my fathers.”
Austen lays out the various options of houses, apartments in streets in Bath they are considering noting issues of expense and location, and also the furniture they may or may not be taking with them. There is also a large discussion of distributing the art work: “Upon all these different situations, You & Edward may confer together, & your opinion of each will be expected with eagerness. As to our Pictures, the Battlepeice, Mr. Nibbs, Sir William East, & all the old heterogenous, miscellany, manuscript, Scriptoral pieces dispersed over the House are to be given to James.” (Austen’s own spelling.) To paraphrase the notes, Anna Lefroy recalled that “‘The Battlepeice” was an oil painting of the battle in 1565 between the Swedes and the Poles, which hung in the rectory dining room. Mr. Nibbs and Sir William were family nicknames given to the figures in the painting, which again cites to Anna Leroy as recalling been stored in cottage of John Bond, the Austen’s former servant in Hampshire and lost when the cottage burned down.
Austen also mentions Martha Lloyd visiting to see Cassandra before they quit the neighborhood, and there is some discussion of scheduling to move everything and everyone from Hampshire to Bath, but I think this is the most telling part of Austen wrestling with this move in her life: “It must not be generally known however that I am not sacrificing a great deal in quitting the Country–or I can expect to inspire no tenderness, no interest in those we leave behind.”
All cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th Edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.