The Bodleian Library in Oxford recently exhibited a sampler (along with other items) for one day to celebrate World Book Day on March 1. This linen cross stitch sampler, purportedly made by a 12-year-old Jane Austen in 1787, was displayed for the very first time. The stitching has become frayed and undone, so that the sampler appears to have been made in 1797. A stylized border with flowering trees surround the words to the psalm, “Praise the Lord O my soul.”
The sampler was purchased in 1996 for over £2000. According to the sale catalogue, the “present owner, who lives in Gloucestershire, received the sampler as a present, folded inside a tobacco tin.” A note on the back of the frame states that an early owner was “related to Jane Austen the novelist” and that she had “received it as a memento” of Austen’s life. (Such a practice was very common after a person died. Letters and personal items were given to close friends and family members as a remembrance.)
I must add that this sampler’s provenance is doubtful. The provenance cannot be directly traced to Jane Austen, and “an early owner related to Jane Austen” simply does not provide enough reliable information.
Jane Austen prided herself on her precise sewing skills. This sampler shows a more inexperienced hand than a seamstress in her later years. (I must add that a sampler I made at a similar age does not look nearly half as good.)
Jane mentions a young needlewoman in Northanger Abbey. Henry Tilney remarks upon the age difference between Catherine Morland and himself:
“I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your sampler at home!”
To which she responds: ”Not very good I am afraid.”
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