I know little of Jane Austen's childhood. Her mother followed a custom, not unusual in those days, though it seems strange to us, of putting out her babies to be nursed in a cottage in the village. The infant was daily visited by one or both of its parents, and frequently brought to them at the parsonage, but the cottage was its home, and must have remained so till it was old enough to run about and talk; for I know that one of them, in after life, used to speak of his foster mother as 'Movie', the name by which he had called her in his infancy. It may be that the contrast between the parsonage house and the best class of cottages was not quite so extreme then as it would be now, that the one was somewhat less luxurious, and the other less squalid. It would certainly seem from the results that it was a wholesome and invigorating system, for the children were all strong and healthy. Jane was probably treated like the rest in this respect. In childhood every available opportunity of instruction was made use of. According to the ideas of the time, she was well educated, though not highly accomplished, and she certainly enjoyed that important element of mental training, associating at home with persons of cultivated intellect. It cannot be doubted that her early years were bright and happy, living, as she did, with indulgent parents, in a cheerful home, not without agreeable variety of society. To these sources of enjoyment must be added the first stirrings of talent within her, and the absorbing interest of original composition. It is impossible to say at how early an age she began to write. There are copy books extant containing tales some of which must have been composed while she was a young girl, as they had amounted to a considerable number by the time she was sixteen. Her earliest stories are of a slight and flimsy texture, and are generally intended to be nonsensical, but the nonsense has much spirit in it. They are usually preceded by a dedication of mock solemnity to someone of her family. It would seem that the grandiloquent dedications prevalent in those days had not escaped her youthful penetration. Perhaps the most characteristic feature in these early productions is that, however puerile the matter, they are always composed in pure simple English, quite free from the over-ornamented style which might be expected from so young a writer. One of her juvenile effusions is given, as a specimen of the kind of transitory amusement which Jane was continually supplying to the family party.
AN UNFINISHED COMEDY
TO THE REV. GEORGE AUSTEN
SIR -- I humbly solicit your patronage to the following Comedy, which, though an unfinished one, is, I flatter myself, as complete a Mystery as any of its kind.
I am, Sir,
your most humble Servant,
THE MYSTERY, A COMEDY
Sir Edward Spangle
SCENE I -- A Garden
Corydon But hush: I am interrupted. [Exit CORYDON
Enter OLD HUMBUG and his SON, talking
Old Hum It is for that reason that I wish you to follow my advice. Are you convinced of its propriety?Young Hum I am, sir, and will certainly act in the manner you have pointed out to me. Old Hum Then let us return to the house. [Exeunt
SCENE II -- A parlour in HUMBUG'S house.
MRS HUMBUG and FANNY discovered at work
Mrs Hum You understand me, my love?
Fanny Perfectly, ma'am: pray continue your narration.
Mrs Hum Alas! it is nearly concluded; for I have nothing more to say on the subject.
Fanny Ah! here is Daphne.
Daphne My dear Mrs Humbug, how d'ye do? Oh! Fanny, it is all over.
Fanny Is it indeed!
Mrs Hum I'm very sorry to hear it.
Fanny Then 'twas to no purpose that I --
Daphne None upon earth.
Mrs Hum And what is to become of -- ?
Daphne Oh! 'tis all settled. (Whispers MRS HUMBUG)
Fanny And how is it determined?
Daphne I'll tell you. (Whispers FANNY)
Mrs Hum And is he to -- ?
Daphne I'll tell you all I know of the matter. (Whispers Mrs HUMBUG and FANNY)
Fanny Well, now I know everything about it, I'll go away.
Daphne And so will I. [Exeunt
SCENE III— The curtain rises, and discovers SIR EDWARD SPANGLE reclined in an elegant attitude on a sofa fast asleep
Enter COL. ELLIOTT
Col. E My daughter is not here, I see. There lies Sir Edward. Shall I tell him the secret? No, he'll certainly blab it. But he's asleep, and won't hear me—so I'll e'en venture. (Goes up to SIR EDWARD, whispers him, and exit.)
END OF THE FIRST ACT
Her own mature opinion of the desirableness of such an early habit of composition is given in the following words of a niece:
'As I grew older, my aunt would talk to me more seriously of my reading and my amusements. I had taken early to writing verses and stories, and I am sorry to think how I troubled her with reading them. She was very kind about it, and always had some praise to bestow, but at last she warned me against spending too much time upon them. She said -- how well I recollect it! -- that she knew writing stories was a great amusement, and she thought a harmless one, though many people, she was aware, thought otherwise; but that at my age it would be bad for me to be much taken up with my own compositions. Later still -- it was after she had gone to Winchester -- she sent me a message to this effect, that if I would take her advice I should cease writing till I was sixteen; that she had herself often wished she had read more, and written less in the corresponding years other own life.' As this niece was only twelve years old at the time of her aunt's death, these words seem to imply that the juvenile tales to which I have referred had, some of them at least, been written in her childhood.
But between these childish effusions, and the composition other living works, there intervened another stage of her progress, during which she produced some stories, not without merit, but which she never considered worthy of publication. During this preparatory period her mind seems to have been working in a very different direction from that into which it ultimately settled. Instead of presenting faithful copies of nature, these tales were generally burlesques, ridiculing the improbable events and exaggerated sentiments which she had met with in sundry silly romances. Something of this fancy is to be found in Northanger Abbey, but she soon left it far behind in her subsequent course. It would seem as if she were first taking note of all the faults to be avoided, and curiously considering how she ought not to write before she attempted to put forth her strength in the right direction. The family have, rightly, I think, declined to let these early works be published. Mr Shortreed observed very pithily of Walter Scott's early rambles on the Borders, 'He was makin' himsell a' the time; but he didna ken, may be, what he was about till years had passed. At first he thought of little, I dare say, but the queerness and fun.' And so, in a humbler way, Jane Austen was 'makin' hersell', little thinking of future fame, but caring only for 'the queerness and the fun', and it would be as unfair to expose this preliminary process to the world, as it would be to display all that goes on behind the curtain of the theatre before it is drawn up.
It was, however, at Steventon that the real foundations of her fame were laid. There some of her most successful writing was composed at such an early age as to make it surprising that so young a woman could have acquired the insight into character, and the nice observation of manners which they display. Pride and Prejudice, which some consider the most brilliant of her novels, was the first finished, if not the first begun. She began it in October 1796, before she was twenty-one years old, and completed it in about ten months, in August 1797. The title then intended for it was First Impressions. Sense and Sensibility was begun, in its present form, immediately after the completion of the former, in November 1797; but something similar in story and character had been written earlier under the title of Elinor and Marianne; and if, as is probable, a good deal of this earlier production was retained, it must form the earliest specimen of her writing that has been given to the world. Northanger Abbey, though not prepared for the press till 1803, was certainly first composed in 1798.
Amongst the most valuable neighbours of the Austens were Mr and Mrs Lefroy and their family. He was rector of the adjoining parish of Ashe; she was sister to Sir Egerton Brydges, to whom we are indebted for the earliest notice of Jane Austen that exists. In his autobiography, speaking of his visits at Ashe, he writes thus: 'The nearest neighbours of the Lefroys were the Austens of Steventon. I remember Jane Austen, the novelist, as a little child. She was very intimate with Mrs Lefroy, and much encouraged by her. Her mother was a Miss Leigh, whose paternal grandmother was sister to the first Duke of Chandos. Mr Austen was of a Kentish family, of which several branches have been settled in the Weald of Kent, and some are still remaining there. When I knew Jane Austen, I never suspected that she was an authoress; but my eyes told me that she was fair and handsome, slight and elegant, but with cheeks a little too full.' One may wish that Sir Egerton had dwelt rather longer on the subject of these memoirs, instead of being drawn away by his extreme love for genealogies to her great-grandmother and ancestors. That great-grandmother, however, lives in the family records as Mary Brydges, a daughter of Lord Chandos, married in Westminster Abbey to Theophilus Leigh of Addlestrop in 1698. When a girl she had received a curious letter of advice and reproof, written by her mother from Constantinople. Mary, or 'Poll', was remaining in England with her grandmother, Lady Bernard, who seems to have been wealthy and inclined to be too indulgent to her granddaughter. This letter is given. Any such authentic document, two hundred years old, dealing with domestic details, must possess some interest. This is remarkable, not only as a specimen of the homely language in which ladies of rank then expressed themselves, but from the sound sense which it contains. Forms of expression vary, but good sense and right principles are the same in the nineteenth that they were in the seventeenth century.
MY DEARES POLL,
Yr letters by Cousin Robbert Serle arrived here not before the 27th of Aprill, yett were they hartily wellcome to us, bringing ye joyful news which a great while we had longed for of my most dear Mother & all other relations & friends good health which I beseech God continue to you all, & as I observe in yrs to yr Sister Betty ye extraordinary kindness of (as I may truly say) the best Mothr & Gnd Mothr in the world in pinching herself to make you fine, so I cannot but admire her great good Housewifry in affording you so very plentifull an allowance, & yett to increase her Stock at the rate I find she hath done; & think I can never sufficiently mind you how very much it is yr duty on all occasions to pay her yr gratitude in all humble submission & obedience to all her commands soe long as you live. I must tell you 'tis to her bounty & care in ye greatest measure you are like to owe yr well living in this world, & as you cannot but be very sensible you are an extra-ordinary charge to her so it behoves you to take particular heed tht in ye whole course of yr life, you render her a proportionable comfort, especially since 'tis ye best way you can ever hope to make her such amends as God requires of yr hands, but Poll! it grieves me a little & yt I am forced to take notice of & reprove you for some vaine expressions in yr lettrs to yr Sister -- you say concerning yr allowance 'you aime to bring yr bread & cheese even' in this I do not discommend you, for a foule shame indeed it would be should you out run the Constable having soe liberall a provision made you for yr maintenance -- but ye reason you give for yr resolution I cannot at all approve for you say 'to spend more you can't' thats because you have it not to spend, otherwise it seems you would. So yt 'tis yr Grandmothrs discretion & not yours tht keeps you from extravagancy, which plainly appears in ye close of yr sentence, saying yt you think it simple covetousness to save out of yrs but 'tis my opinion if you lay all on yr back 'tis ten tymes a greater sin & shame thn to save some what out of soe large an allowance in yr purse to help you at a dead lift. Child, we all know our beginning, but who knows his end? Ye best use tht can be made of fair weathr is to provide against foule & 'tis great discretion & of noe small commendations for a young woman betymes to shew herself housewifly & frugal. Yr Mother neither Maide nor wife ever yett bestowed forty pounds a yeare on herself & yett if you never fall undr a worse reputation in ye world thn she (I thank God for it) hath hitherto done, you need not repine at it, & you cannot be ignorant of ye difference tht was between my fortune & what you are to expect. You ought likewise to consider tht you have seven brothers & sisters & you are all one man's children & therefore it is very unreasonable that one should expect to be preferred in finery soe much above all ye rest for 'tis impossible you should soe much mistake yr ffather's condition as to fancy he is able to allow every one of you forty pounds a yeare a piece, for such an allowance with the charge of their diett over and above will amount to at least five hundred pounds a yeare, a sum yr poor ffather can ill spare, besides doe but bethink yr self what a ridiculous sight it will be when yr grandmothr & you come to us to have noe less thn seven waiting gentlewomen in one house, for what reason can you give why every one of yr Sistrs should not have every one of ym a Maide as well as you, & though you may spare to pay yr maide's wages out of yr allowance yett you take no care of ye unnecessary charge you put yr ffathr to in yr increase of his family, whereas if it were not a piece of pride to have ye name of keeping yr maide she yt waits on yr good Grandmother might easily doe as formerly you know she hath done, all ye business you have for a maide unless as you grow oldr you grow a veryer Foole which God forbid!
Poll, you live in a place where you see great plenty & splendour but let not ye allurements of earthly pleasures tempt you to forget or neglect ye duty of a good Christian in dressing yr bettr part which is yr soule, as will best please God. I am not against yr going decent & neate as becomes yr ffathers daughter but to clothe yrself rich & be running into every gaudy fashion can never become yr circumstances & instead of doing you creditt & getting you a good prefernt it is ye readiest way you can take to fright all sober men from ever thinking of matching thmselves with women that live above thyr fortune, & if this be a wise way of spending money judge you! & besides, doe but reflect what an od sight it will be to a stranger that comes to our house to see yr Grandmothr yr Mothr & all yr Sisters in a plane dress & you only trickd up like a bartle-mew-babby -- you know what sort of people those are tht can't faire well but they must cry rost meate now what effect could you imagine yr writing in such a high straine to yr Sisters could have but either to provoke thm to envy you or murmur against us. I must tell you neithr of yr Sisters have ever had twenty pounds a yeare allowance from us yett, & yett theyr dress hath not disparaged neithr thm nor us & without incurring ye censure of simple covetousness they will have some what to shew out of their saving that will doe thm creditt & I expect yt you tht are theyr elder Sister shd rather sett thm examples of ye like nature thn tempt thm from treading in ye steps of their good Grandmothr & poor Mothr. This is not half what might be saide on this occasion but believing thee to be a very good natured dutyfull child I shd have thought it a great deal too much but yt having in my coming hither past through many most desperate dangers I cannot forbear thinking & preparing myself for all events, & therefore not knowing how it may please God to dispose of us I conclude it my duty to God & thee my dr child to lay this matter as home to thee as I could, assuring you my daily prayers are not nor shall not be wanting that God may give you grace always to remember to make a right use of this truly affectionate counsell of yr poor Mothr. & though I speak very plaine down-right english to you yett I would not have you doubt but that I love you as hartily as any child I have & if you serve God and take good courses I promise you my kindness to you shall be according to yr own hart's desire, for you may be certain I can aime at nothing in what I have now writ but yr real good which to promote shall be ye study & care day & night
Of my dear Poll
thy truly affectionate Mothr
Pera of Galata, May ye 6th 1686
P.S. -- Thy ffathr & I send thee our blessing, & all thy brothrs & sistrs theyr service. Our harty & affectionate service to my brothr & sistr Childe & all my dear cozens. When you see my Lady Worster & cozen Howlands pray present thm my most humble service.
This letter shows that the wealth acquired by trade was already manifesting itself in contrast with the straitened circumstances of some of the nobility. Mary Brydges's 'poor ffather', in whose household economy was necessary, was the King of England's ambassador at Constantinople; the grandmother, who lived in 'great plenty & splendour', was the widow of a Turkey merchant. But then, as now, it would seem, rank had the power of attracting and absorbing wealth.
At Ashe also Jane became acquainted with a member of the Lefroy family, who was still living when I began these memoirs, a few months ago; the Right Hon.Thomas Lefroy, late Chief Justice of Ireland. One must look back more than seventy years to reach the time when these two bright young persons were, for a short time, intimately acquainted with each other, and then separated on their several courses, never to meet again; both destined to attain some distinction in their different ways, one to survive the other for more than half a century, yet in his extreme old age to remember and speak, as he sometimes did, of his former companion, as one to be much admired, and not easily forgotten by those who had ever known her.
Mrs Lefroy herself was a remarkable person. Her rare endowments of goodness, talents, graceful person, and engaging manners, were sufficient to secure her a prominent place in any society into which she was thrown; while her enthusiastic eagerness of disposition rendered her especially attractive to a clever and lively girl. She was killed by a fall from her horse on Jane's birthday, 16 December 1804. The following lines to her memory were written by Jane four years afterwards, when she was thirty-three years old. They are given, not for their merits as poetry, but to show how deep and lasting was the impression made by the elder friend on the mind of the younger:
TO THE MEMORY OF MRS LEFROY
The day returns again, my natal day;
What mixd emotions in my mind arise!
Beloved Friend; four years have passed away
Since thou wert snatched for ever from our eyes.
The day commemorative of my birth,
Bestowing life, and light, and hope to me,
Brings back the hour which was thy last on earth.
0! bitter pang of torturing memory!
Angelic woman! past my power to praise
In language meet thy talents, temper, mind,
Thy solid worth, thy captivating grace,
Thou friend and ornament of human kind.
But come, fond Fancy, thou indulgent power;
Hope is desponding, chill, severe, to thee:
Bless thou this little portion of an hour;
Let me behold her as she used to be.
I see her here with all her smiles benign,
Her looks of eager love, her accents sweet,
That voice and countenance almost divine,
Expression, harmony, alike complete.
Listen! It is not sound alone, 'tis sense,
'Tis genius, taste, and tenderness of soul:
'Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence,
And purity of mind that crowns the whole.
She speaks! 'Tis eloquence, that grace of tongue,
So rare, so lovely, never misapplied
By her, to palliate vice, or deck a wrong:
She speaks and argues but on virtue's side.
Hers is the energy of soul sincere;
Her Christian spirit, ignorant to feign,
Seeks but to comfort, heal, enlighten, cheer,
Confer a pleasure or prevent a pain.
Can aught enhance such goodness? yes, to me
Her partial favour from my earliest years
Consummates all: ah! give me but to see
Her smile of love! The vision disappears.
'Tis past and gone. We meet no more below.
Short is the cheat of Fancy o'er the tomb.
Oh! might I hope to equal bliss to go,
To meet thee, angel, in thy future home.
Fain would I feel an union with thy fate:
Fain would I seek to draw an omen fair
From this connection in our earthly date.
Indulge the harmless weakness. Reason, spare.
The loss of their first home is generally a great grief to young persons of strong feeling and lively imagination; and Jane was exceedingly unhappy when she was told that her father, now seventy years of age, had determined to resign his duties to his eldest son, who was to be his successor in the rectory of Steventon, and to remove with his wife and daughters to Bath. Jane had been absent from home when this resolution was taken; and, as her father was always rapid both in forming his resolutions and in acting on them, she had little time to reconcile herself to the change.
A wish has sometimes been expressed that some of Jane Austen's letters should be published. Some entire letters, and many extracts, will be given in this memoir; but the reader must be warned not to expect too much from them. With regard to accuracy of language indeed every word of them might be printed without correction. The style is always clear, and generally animated, while a vein of humour continually gleams through the whole; but the materials may be thought inferior to the execution, for they treat only of the details of domestic life. There is in them no notice of politics or public events; scarcely any discussions on literature, or other subjects of general interest. They may be said to resemble the nest which some little bird builds of the materials nearest at hand, of the twigs and mosses supplied by the tree in which it is placed; curiously constructed out of the simplest matters.
Her letters have very seldom the date of the year, or the signature of her christian name at full length; but it has been easy to ascertain their dates, either from the post- mark, or from their contents. The two following letters are the earliest that I have seen. They were both written in November 1800; before the family removed from Steventon. Some of the same circumstances are referred to in both.
The first is to her sister Cassandra, who was then staying with their brother Edward at Godmersham Park, Kent:
Steventon, Saturday evening, Nov. 8th
MY DEAR CASSANDRA,
I thank you for so speedy a return to my two last, and particularly thank you for your anecdote of Charlotte Graham and her cousin, Harriet Bailey, which has very much amused both my mother and myself. If you can learn anything farther of that interesting affair, I hope you will mention it. I have two messages; let me get rid of them, and then my paper will be my own. Mary fully intended writing to you by Mr Chute's frank, and only happened entirely to forget it, but will write soon; and my father wishes Edward to send him a memorandum of the price of the hops. The tables are come, and give general contentment. I had not expected that they would so perfectly suit the fancy of us all three, or that we should so well agree in the disposition of them; but nothing except their own surface can have been smoother. The two ends put together form one constant table for everything, and the centre piece stands exceedingly well under the glass, and holds a great deal most commodiously, without looking awkwardly. They are both covered with green baize, and send their best love. The Pembroke has got its destination by the sideboard, and my mother has great delight in keeping her money and papers locked up. The little table which used to stand there has most conveniently taken itself off into the best bedroom; and we are now in want only of the chiffonniere, which is neither finished nor come. So much for that subject; I now come to another, of a very different nature, as other subjects are very apt to be. Earle Harwood has been again giving uneasiness to his family and talk to the neighbourhood; in the present instance, however, he is only unfortunate, and not in fault.
About ten days ago, in cocking a pistol in the guardroom at Marcau, he accidentally shot himself through the thigh. Two young Scotch surgeons in the island were polite enough to propose taking off the thigh at once, but to that he would not consent; and accordingly in his wounded state was put on board a cutter and conveyed to Haslar Hospital, at Gosport, where the bullet was extracted, and where he now is, I hope, in a fair way of doing well. The surgeon of the hospital wrote to the family on the occasion, and John Harwood went down to him immediately, attended by James,[3.1] whose object in going was to be the means of bringing back the earliest intelligence to Mr and Mrs Harwood, whose anxious sufferings, particularly those of the latter, have of course been dreadful. They went down on Tuesday, and James came back the next day, bringing such favourable accounts as greatly to lessen the distress of the family at Deane, though it will probably be a long while before Mrs Harwood can be quite at ease. One most material comfort, however, they have; the assurance of its being really an accidental wound, which is not only positively declared by Earle himself, but is likewise testified by the particular direction of the bullet. Such a wound could not have been received in a duel. At present he is going on very well, but the surgeon will not declare him to be in no danger.[3.2] Mr Heathcote met with a genteel little accident the other day in hunting. He got off to lead his horse over a hedge, or a house, or something, and his horse in his haste trod upon his leg, or rather ancle, I believe, and it is not certain whether the small bone is not broke. Martha has accepted Mary's invitation for Lord Portsmouth's ball. He has not yet sent out his own invitations, but that does not signify; Martha comes, and a ball there is to be. I think it will be too early in her mother's absence for me to return with her.
Sunday Evening -- We have had a dreadful storm of wind in the fore part of this day, which has done a great deal of mischief among our trees. I was sitting alone in the diningroom 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 valued elms descend into the Sweep!!!!! The other, which had fallen, I suppose, in the first crash, and which was the nearest to the pond, taking a more easterly direction, sunk among our screen of chestnuts and firs, knocking down one spruce-fir, beating off the head of another, and stripping the two corner chestnuts of several branches in its fall. This is not all. One large elm out of the two on the left-hand side as you enter what I call the elm walk, was likewise blown down; the maple bearing the weathercock was broke in two, and what I regret more than all the rest is, that all the three elms which grew in Hall's meadow, and gave such ornament to it, are gone; two were blown down, and the other so much injured that it cannot stand. 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 neighbourhood. We grieve, therefore, in some comfort.
I am yours ever,
The next letter, written four days later than the former, was addressed to Miss Lloyd, an intimate friend, whose sister (my mother) was married toJane's eldest brother:
Steventon, Wednesday evening, Nov. 12th
MY DEAR MARTHA,
I did not receive your note yesterday till after Charlotte had left Deane, or I would have sent my answer by her, instead of being the means, as I now must be, of lessening the elegance of your new dress for the Hurstbourne ball by the value of 3d. You are very good in wishing to see me at Ibthorp so soon, and I am equally good in wishing to come to you. I believe our merit in that respect is much upon a par, our self-denial mutually strong. Having paid this tribute of praise to the virtue of both, I shall here have done with panegyric, and proceed to plain matter of fact. In about a fortnight's time I hope to be with you. I have two reasons for not being able to come before. I wish so to arrange my visit as to spend some days with you after your mother's return. In the 1st place, that I may have the pleasure of seeing her, and in the 2nd, that I may have a better chance of bringing you back with me. Your promise in my favour was not quite absolute, but if your will is not perverse, you and I will do all in our power to overcome your scruples of conscience. I hope we shall meet next week to talk all this over, till we have tired ourselves with the very idea of my visit before my visit begins. Our invitations for the 19th are arrived, and very curiously are they worded.[3.3] Mary mentioned to you yesterday poor Earle's unfortunate accident, I dare say. He does not seem to be going on very well. The two or three last posts have brought less and less favourable accounts of him. John Harwood has gone to Gosport again today. We have two families of friends now who are in a most anxious state; for though by a note from Catherine this morning there seems now to be a revival of hope at Manydown, its continuance may be too reasonably doubted. Mr Heathcote,[3.4] however, who has broken the small bone of his leg, is so good as to be going on very well. It would be really too much to have three people to care for.
You distress me cruelly by your request about books. I cannot think of any to bring with me, nor have I any idea of our wanting them. I come to you to be talked to, not to read or hear reading; I can do that at home; and indeed I am now laying in a stock of intelligence to pour out on you as my share of the conversation. I am reading Henry's History of England, which I will repeat to you in any manner you may prefer, either in a loose, desultory, unconnected stream, or dividing my recital, as the historian divides it himself, into seven parts: The Civil and Military; Religion; Constitution; Learning and Learned Men; Arts and Sciences; Commerce, Coins, and Shipping; and Manners. So that for every evening in the week there will be a different subject. The Friday's lot -- Commerce, Coins, and Shipping -- you will find the least entertaining; but the next evening's portion will make amends. With such a provision on my part, if you will do yours by repeating the French Grammar, and Mrs Stent[3.5] will now and then ejaculate some wonder about the cocks and hens, what can we want? Farewell for a short time. We all unite in best love, and I am your very affectionate
The two next letters must have been written early in 1801, after the removal from Steventon had been decided on, but before it had taken place. They refer to the two brothers who were at sea, and give some idea of a kind of anxieties and uncertainties to which sisters are seldom subject in these days of peace, steamers, and electric telegraphs. At that time ships were often windbound or becalmed, or driven wide of their destination; and sometimes they had orders to alter their course for some secret service; not to mention the chance of conflict with a vessel of superior power -- no improbable occurrence before the battle of Trafalgar. Information about relatives on board men-of-war was scarce and scanty, and often picked up by hearsay or chance means; and every scrap of intelligence was proportionably valuable:
MY DEAR CASSANDRA,
I should not have thought it necessary to write to you so soon, but for the arrival of a letter from Charles to myself. It was written last Saturday from off the Start, and conveyed to Popham Lane by Captain Boyle, on his way to Midgham. He came from Lisbon in the Endymion. I will copy Charles's account of his conjectures about Frank: 'He has not seen my brother lately, nor does he expect to find him arrived, as he met Captain Inglis at Rhodes, going up to take command of the Petrel, as he was coming down; but supposes he will arrive in less than a fortnight from this time, in some ship which is expected to reach England about that time with dispatches from Sir Ralph Abercrombie.' The event must show what sort of a conjuror Captain Boyle is. The Endymion has not been plagued with any more prizes. Charles spent three pleasant days in Lisbon.
They were very well satisfied with their royal passenger, [3.6] whom they found jolly and affable, who talks of Lady Augusta as his wife, and seems much attached to her.
When this letter was written, the Endymion was becalmed, but Charles hoped to reach Portsmouth by Monday or Tuesday. He received my letter, communicating our plans, before he left England; was much surprised, of course, but is quite reconciled to them, and means to come to Steventon once more while Steventon is ours.
From a letter written later in the same year:
Charles has received 30L. for his share of the privateer, and expects 10L. more; but of what avail is it to take prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his sisters? He has been buying gold chains and topaze crosses for us. He must be well scolded. The Endymion has already received orders for taking troops to Egypt, which I should not like at all if I did not trust to Charles being removed from her somehow or other before she sails. He knows nothing of his own destination, he says, but desires me to write directly, as the Endymion will probably sail in three or four days. He will receive my yesterday's letter, and I shall write again by this post to thank and reproach him. We shall be unbearably fine.
[3.1] James, the writer's eldest brother.
[3.2] The limb was saved.
[3.3] The invitation, the ball dress, and some other things in this and the preceding letter refer to a ball annually given at Hurstbourne Park, on the anniversary of the Earl of Portsmouth's marriage with his first wife. He was the Lord Portsmouth whose eccentricities afterwards became notorious, and the invitations, as well as other arrangements about these balls, were of a peculiar character.
[3.4] The father of Sir William Heathcote, of Hursley, who was married to a daughter of Mr Bigge Wither, of Manydown, and lived in the neighbourhood.
[3.5] A very dull old lady, then residing with Mrs Lloyd.
[3.6] The Duke of Sussex, son of George III, married, without royal consent, to the Lady Augusta Murray.