Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Regency letters’ Category

What did ladies do in the morning 200 years ago? Why, write letters and draw and paint, of course. A genteel lady knew all three arts and achieved them with varying skills. This delightful La Belle Assemblee print details how a well-dressed woman would look at her work table. This young Regency miss works like me, btw: with everything out and cluttering surfaces.

Morning Dress, March 1812, La Belle Assemblee

First, a description of the outfit:

MORNING or HOME COSTUME: A white cambric frock with a demi train, short sleeves fastened up in front with cordon and tassels, a necklace formed of two rows of opal; the hair dressed in full curls, and confined by a demi turban of very fine muslin tied on the right side with a small bow; silk stockings with lace clocks richly brocaded; and plain black kid slippers.”

Detail of hair and bodice, La Belle Assemblee, March 1812. Note the lovely bandeau, the ringlets framing the face, and the relatively high neckline with ruff.

The magazine goes on to say that embroidery on all gowns, whether for domestic parties or home attire, seems very prevalent. Embroidery on evening gowns made of costly materials is frequently of gold and silver. India muslins are again coming much into wear and were very decently priced:

for the information of our Fashionable Readers, we have observed, at the house of Millard, in the City, some of the choicest production of the East Indies from the Company’s recent Sale of Bengal Muslins, &c. Their beauty is exquisite…”

Detail of ladies round worktable with drawer. La Belle Assemblee, March 1812. This one most likely had a top and decorative swaths made of green baize, which prevented sliding.

These small and elegant worktables were portable and could be easily carried near a light source or fireplace, or stashed against a wall when company came. They varied, some coming with a variety of compartments – some hidden – that contained writing and painting supplies. Many had book stands for reading, others had drawers that contained paper or embroidery threads and sewing supplies.

Ackermanns Lady’s work table, 1823. Image from EK Duncan

This work table was “equally adapted to the boudoir and drawing-room, and answers the purpose of a drawing-table as well as a work-table, and a desk for writing and reading.”

This was a very elegant and expensive work table for a rich lady.

This English work table, circa 1815, is a curious fusion of the refined neoclassicism of Robert Adam and the exotic eclecticism which emerged during the Regency period.  The finely carved tri-form giltwood stand, based on a Roman form, is typical of Adam’s adaptation of the antique. - Carlton Hobbs Work Table

… it was also a Regency characteristic to employ finely tooled scarlet leather, such as that fitted to the interior of this piece.”

Jane Austen’s niece, Fanny Knight, paints watercolors on a regular table.

This rather plain octagonal worktable has four legs instead of the pedestal on Fanny Knight’s table.

As you can see, work tables varied in design and construction. This simpler and smaller cocuswood work table suited a lady’s purpose as well as a fancier one, but it has fewer compartments.

This plain worktable with a single drawer is an:

Early 19th century regency cocuswood work table with a rectangular top and single drawer.The turned legs are joined by a turned stretcher with circular platform, with paper label to underside inscribed purchased by ABM.

A few months ago I featured a short video of an 18th century French mechanical worktable, which showed how the hidden mechanisms worked and how easily the table could be moved from place to place. Click on this link to view it.

Note: The blue links are mine: the green links are ads placed here by WordPress. I make no money from this blog.

Read Full Post »

When Lady Caroline Lamb met Byron in 1812, the waltz was starting to gain traction with the more progressive elements of Society. This couples dance was considered rather racy in an age when stately group English country dances were the primary offerings at Almack’s.

Thomas Rowlandson’s image of the waltz in 1806

The vivacious and racy Lady Caroline Lamb met Lord Byron in 1812. She recalled that time in a letter she wrote 12 years later:

Devonshire House at that time was closed from my uncles death for one year – at Melbourne House where I lived the Waltzes and Quadrilles were being daily practised – Lady Jersey, Lady Cowper, the Duke of Devonshire, Miss Milbank, and a number of foreigners coming here to learn…

You may imagine what forty or fifty people dancing from 12 in the morning until near dinner time all young gay & noisy were.
In the evenings we either had opposition suppers or went out to Balls and routs – Such was the life I then led when Moore and Rogers introduced Lord Byron to me… Caroline Lamb, 1824, in a letter to Captain Thomas Medwin

It is interesting to note that Caroline mentions Lady Jersey and Lady Cowper, two of the patronesses of Almack’s, where the waltz was banned. Eventually, however, the ultra exclusive Almack’s would cave in, and by 1814 the waltz was finally sanctioned. Young ladies would still need approval before a gentleman could clasp his arm around her waist, but the doors had been opened beyond the confines of the upper classes.

La Walze, Le Bon Genre, 1810. This caricature has a feeling of decadence.

By 1815, when Jane Austen’s Emma was published, the waltz has become so respectable that it would be danced in Highbury at the home of the Coles.

Mrs Weston, capital in her country-dances, was seated, and beginning an irresistible waltz; and Frank Churchill, coming up with most becoming gallantry to Emma, had secured her hand, and led her up to the top.” - Emma

The waltz looks gentrified in this 1816 illustration.

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

I recently finished reading a charming book by Cora Harrison, I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend, in which Jane Austen has just reached the age of 15. It is February, 1791, and 16-year-old Jenny Cooper has slipped out of Mrs. Crawley’s boarding school to post a letter to Steventon Rectory warning Rev. and Mrs. Austen that their daughter, Jane, is seriously ill. By doing so, Jenny risks her reputation, for she ventures out alone and unescorted in a rough area of Portsmouth.

This scene sets the stage for the rest of the novel, in which young Jenny Cooper chronicles the months she spends with her best friend Jane and the Austens at the rectory.  The girls are avid writers: while Jane spins her creative tales, Jenny describes their routine days in her journal. And what days they were! Jenny observes Jane’s family and friends minutely: her gentle father and stern mother; her charming favorite brother, Henry, and the mentally challenged George, who lived with another family; Cassandra’s love for Tom Fowle; exotic cousin Eliza; the well-dressed Bigg sisters; and other vivid portraits of the people who inhabited Jane’s and Jenny’s world.

Jane Austen reads at Jenny's bedside. Image@Susan Hellard

The scenes are culled from actual events in Jane’s life and from letters that others wrote about her (for none of her letters from that time have survived). As teenagers are wont to do, Jenny and Jane dream of romantic encounters and parties and balls, engage in outdoor activities, and while away their time reading and writing and play-acting, or wishing for pretty gowns.

Image @Susan Hellard

The scene in which a pinch-penny Mrs. Austen must decide which color muslin would look best for ball gowns for all three girls (Cassandra, Jane and Jenny) is priceless, and the descriptions of tender romance between Cassandra and young Tom are heartbreaking to those who know he will die before they can be married. Tom LeFroy makes a suitably short appearance, and Jenny meets handsome Captain Thomas Williams, who in real life became engaged to her within three weeks of their first meeting, and whom she later married before her own untimely death.

Jenny witnessed Jane writing constantly and being inspired by the people she observed. For example, Jenny’s shrill sister-in-law, Augusta, becomes the prototype for Mrs. Elton and Mr. Collins is somewhat inspired by Jenny’s preachy brother.

Augusta. Image @Susan Hellard

While I found the book a delight, not everyone has been thrilled with its purchase. The American cover of I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend is a bit mature for a novel that targets young girls of eleven or so, but it explains the reason why so many older readers are buying the book.

This is what a high school  reviewer had to say about the U.S. cover: “… if you plan on buying [the book] at any time soon, make sure to check out the U.K. version… the cover art is so much cuter!” In fact, the U.K. cover (below) enjoyed the author’s full approval, and was drawn by Susan Hellard, the artist responsible for the charming illustrations displayed in this post and that are sprinkled throughout the book.

Page from the book, in which Jane describes some of her siblings. The style of writing is aimed at a very young audience. Drawings @Susan Hellard.

In writing this novel, Cora Harrison has kept her very young audience in mind. As you can see from the sample page above, the sentences are short and written in plain English, speech patterns and terms from the 18th century are kept to a minimum, the romance is sweet, and the story is written from a young lady’s point of view. While Ms.Harrison hoped that this book would introduce Jane Austen to very young readers, she also envisioned that mothers and grandmothers would enjoy reading the novel as well.

The book's U.K. cover

I have gone into great detail about the author’s intentions for a reason. Reviews of this book, while largely favorable, are varied. Lower rankings come largely from disappointed adult readers who expected a mature romance and a “more interesting plot.” But as the author wrote to me: “I didn’t want to do an in-depth analysis of love. I wanted to do a fun book, romantic in an old-fashioned style.”

Purists have also decried the changes in facts, dates, and characters, but isn’t it the novelist’s prerogative to change historical facts in order to move the plot forward? Besides, Ms. Harrison made her reasons for these changes clear in her Author’s Note in back of the book, which should have been placed as a Foreword. I also think that annotated notes for juvenile readers (such as those included for book clubs), would help adults explain some of the more obscure facts about the Georgian period to their children and place events in the novel in context.

Be that as it may, I rarely read review books from cover to cover, but I kept reading this one until I was finished (and then wished I had a daughter to give it to). This is a sweet book, filled with useful details about life in England 200 years ago. Ms. Harrison’s conjectures on how the Austens lived and interacted with each other is based on the letters and information about Jane that survived. After reading these pages, it is clear that Cora Harrison wrote her novel as an homage to Jane Austen. She also is an author with a mission. “As a teacher I am realistic enough to know that girls won’t automatically read Jane Austen unless their interest is awakened and I hoped to do that…”

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

( A discussion about what friendship might be. A few thoughts and considerations while writing about Jane and Martha. You might agree. You might not. I am open for criticism. Guest writer Tony Grant of London Calling)

The Letter, Edmund Blair Leighton

Jane Austen didn’t marry. There are suggestions she did have love affairs but they did not come to fruition. Did this make her human experience less than those who have the love of another human? She had the love of her family and especially her sister Cassandra. She had the love of Martha Lloyd her best friend. She experienced love from other human beings and she gave love to others.

Lets have a look at what we can find out about Jane’s relationship with Martha Lloyd, her best friend.

Who was Martha Lloyd?

Martha Lloyd was born in 1765. Her mother, Martha Craven, had been the daughter of the Royal governor of South Carolina. Martha Craven , although coming from a wealthy background, married an obscure country vicar called the Reverend Nowis Lloyd who was the rector of Little Hinton, Wiltshire and who also, in 1771, became the vicar of Enborne near Newbury in Berkshire. After the Reverend Nowis died Martha and her two sisters, Mary and Eliza were left with their cruel and some say insane mother. They escaped by going to live with an aunt who lived in Newbury. They also have a brother but he died in a smallpox epidemic. Martha and Mary were both left scarred for life by the same epidemic. The younger sister, Eliza, is supposed to have escaped the epidemic unscathed. She married

It is not known how exactly the Lloyd family and the Austen family met but they had many acquaintances in common. The two families became very close after the Reverend Nowis died in 1789. The Reverend Austen gave the widow and her three daughters his unused parsonage at Deane a mile from Steventon. So Jane and Cassandra lived very close to the Lloyd sisters and they saw a lot of each other. There were not many chances to form close acquaintances in the countryside and the daughters of both families all became close friends, especially Martha Lloyd and Jane Austen. Jane was ten years younger than Martha but they obviously got on very well. Martha became like a second sister to Jane.

When James Austen married in 1792 he took over the parish at Deane and so required the parsonage there. The Lloyd family had to move out and went to Ibthorpe, a small hamlet near Hurstbourne Tarrant in Hampshire, fifteen miles further away. This must have been hard for Jane and Martha. They had no independent transport to visit each other.

Mary Lloyd, the younger of the two sisters, married James Austen as his second wife, after his first wife died.

The Reverend George Austen died on January 21st 1805 in Bath. Martha’s mother died soon after. Mrs Austen, Cassandra, Jane, and Martha decided to pool their resources and live together. They first moved to Southampton together to live with Jane’s brother Frank’s wife Mary, in Castle Square. Frank and Mary had only just got married and Frank had to go away to sea. The arrangement was beneficial to all concerned. Apparently they all got on well together.

On July 7th 1809 Jane, her mother, her sister Cassandra and Martha moved to the cottage at Chawton on their brother Edward Knight’s estate.

Martha knew all about Jane’s writing exploits, something Jane kept secret from most people. She even dedicated some early works to Martha, her friend. A sure sign of Jane’s close trusting affinity with Martha.

Jane’s letters show evidence of her easy and close relationship to Martha. Her comments are often teasing and full of fun about Martha but always show love for her friend. Sometimes there are mere asides mentioning Martha within a discussion about other people or other things. Martha’s opinion or what Martha is doing at the moment of writing. It’s as though she is always in Jane’s mind and presence.

Tuesday 11th June 1799, writing from Queen Square, Bath, to Cassandra.

“ I am very glad You liked my Lace, & so is Martha-& we are all glad together.-I have got your cloak home, which is quite delightful!….”

Again on Friday 9th December 1808 from castle Square to Cassandra.

“ Our Ball was rather more amusing than I expected, Martha liked it very much, & I did not gape until the last quarter of an hour.-It was past nine before we were sent for & not twelve when we returned…”

Jane Austen Invites, Sue Humphreys.* A Theatre Someone production ‘Jane Austen invites…’ written by Susan Leather, Lesley Sherwood & Sue Humphreys.

Jane’s letters have many short references to Martha. She is always present.

Other letters tell more detailed stories about Martha. While living in Castle Square, Southampton, the Austen’s attended services at All Saints church in the High Street where Dr Mant was the vicar. Dr Mant was well known in Southampton. He had been the headmaster of King Edward VII’s Grammar School in the town . He had also been a professor of Divinity at Oxford and written religious discussion pamphlets. He was a super star in the firmament of vicars. He was a very charismatic preacher too. Dr Mant had his following of inspired young ladies. Martha was apparently a besotted member of this clan.

Tuesday 17th January 1809 from castle Square to Cassandra.

“ Martha and Dr Mant are as bad as ever, he runs after her for having spoken to a Gentleman while she was near him the day before.- Poor Mrs Mant can stand it no longer; she is retired to one of her married daughters.”

This story sounds quite scandalous. One wonders what is Martha’s attractiveness. She obviously has a passionate heart and is prone to,”love.” A certain, young girlish tendency towards infatuation. And, poor Mrs Mant, what of her, indeed. Scandal is in the air or is Jane being creative with the truth? She feels free to be personal. She definitely has a relaxed attitude towards her dear friend. She is being very personal in this letter. Being able to get that close to somebody and maybe even play with their emotions is a sign of something close in a relationship.

Another letter highlights this playfulness again.

Tuesday 11th June 1799 form Queen Square to Cassandra.

“ 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 will enable her to do it.”

And then there is the close affection and freedom each feels in the others presence expressed in this story of a night spent together. You can imagine the enjoyment of each others presence in this letter. Jane is full of fun and teasing.

Wednesday 9th January 1799 from Steventon to Cassandra.

“ You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mr Hulbert’s servant that I have a great mind not to tell whether I was or not,&shall only say that I did not return home that night or the next, as Martha kindly made room for me in her bed, which was the shut up one in the new nursery.-Nurse and the child slept on the floor;&there we all were in some confusion& great comfort;- the bed did exceedingly well for us, both to lie awake in and talk till two o’clock,& to sleep in the rest of the night.-I love Martha better than ever …….”

These are two girls having the time of their lives. Totally at one, relaxed and full of fun with each other.

There are only four letters in existence that Jane wrote to Martha. The first, written in 1800 has two parts. Jane’s letters are always full of news about people and places she and the recipient of the letter have in common and in some ways we the present day reader of those letters are left out of this private world unless we find out for ourselves about her references. This first letter we have to Martha is partly taken up with this sort of news about people and places. However what makes this letter different is the opening, where Jane expresses her wish to be with Martha. There is an intensity shown in these words maybe even a passion to see her friend, revealed here.

Martha Lloyd lived long enough to be photographed

To Martha Lloyd, Thursday 13th November 1800 from Steventon:

“-You are very good at wishing to see me at Ibthorpe so soon, & 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 have done with Panegyric & proceed to plain matter of fact.-In about a fortnights time I hope to be with you; I have two reasons for being not being able to come before; I wish so to arrange my visit to spend some days with you after your mother’s return, in the 1st place that I may have the pleasure of seeing her, & 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 & I will do all in our power to overcome your scruples of conscience.- I hope we will meet next week to talk all this over, till we have tired ourselves with the very idea of my visit before my visit begins.”

Compare this to an exchange between Romeo and Juliet.

Act III Scene V Capulet’s Orchard:

Juliet:
Art thou gone so? Love, lord, ay husband, friend! I must hear from thee every day in the hour
For in a minute there are many days!
O, by this count I shall be much in years
Ere again I behold my Romeo!

Romeo:
Farewell! I will omit no opportunity
That may convey my greetings, love, to thee.

Juliet:
O thinks thou we shall ever meet again?

Romeo:
I doubt it not; and all these woes shall serve
For sweet discourses in our time to come.

The two situations are not exactly the same. There is no added angst of the forbidden meeting driving on the will to meet between Martha and Jane but there is the want brought about by separation.

Friendship indeed.

Is this what it’s all about?

Are we hard wired to get the friends we have? Hard wired meaning, made to relate with and find love with a certain person or type of person.

How do we get a friend? We choose friends, or do we? They have to come into our proximity, live near us, or be near us for part of our lives so we can actually meet. We could meet them at school, or university. They could be neighbours, attend a club we go to, work in a place we work in or be introduced to us. We have to make regular contact for some time in our life, with them, for the friendship to take wing and fly. So finding friends is accidental to a certain degree. But, we meet many people accidentally. They don’t all become our friends. So what is it, this friendship thing?

My opening question asked, “Are we hard wired to get the friends we have?” Our personality, our way of thinking, what we say, how we say it, our sense of humour, our moods, all these intangible things that make us the individual we are must in some way meld with these intangible things found in another person and somehow they are illuminated, expanded, ignited with this coming together.
Is friendship love? We love our husband , wife or partner. We love our children. We do love our friends. What are these different aspects of love? Or, are they different? Aren’t they the same?

Our children come from our bodies. Marriage is formalised in a church ceremony or a civil ceremony. Partners are people we at some stage decide to stay with. But do these guarantee love, friendship, a close relationship? A loving relationship of whatever label is beyond the label. The labels are just signs. But signs can be false. Do we all really love our husband, wife or partner all the time, part of the time or never? Do we really love our children because they come from us? Don’t we fall out drift apart, sometimes? Relationships can be split and the name friend, partner, wife, husband loses it’s meaning. So a real deep love and friendship is beyond the outward signs and words.

Why do we need a loving relationship?
They take us beyond ourselves. They take us beyond and out of ourselves. Phrases come to mind, “I love them more than life itself. I love them more than myself.” And there are other phrases, which describe it.

What is it all about? It’s a sort of searching and if we are lucky, a finding of something that necessary, life ennobling, deep within ourselves and even outside of ourselves. But is a husband, wife, partner, son, daughter, friend, enough and finally necessary? Do those relationships go deep enough? Does our real need go deeper?

What about those who stay single or people whose relationships are broken? Or consider the contemplative monk or nun who hardly ever speak, the celibate in or out of the religious life, the rejected and dejected, the drug addict, alcoholic, the tramp, the drop outs from society, those who have nobody, is their human experience less and are they denied love somehow because they don’t appear to have a close loving human relationship with someone? How deep can we go with this love thing? Is there something more infinitely deeper than the merely human side of it? Are human relationships, human love, really just a taste of something deeper and even more profound? Human relationships can be fickle, wither and dry up. People also die. Is the need and search for love within us naturally there? Are we born with the desire and need for it? What could it all be out? I don’t know.

But Jane had her friend.

Other posts by Tony Grant

*Image from Theatre Someone

Read Full Post »

francis william austen

My dearest Frank, You will be glad to hear that every copy of  S. and S. is sold, and that it has brought me £140 besides the copyright, if that should ever be of any value.

In 1788,  14 ½ year-old Frank Austen prepared to put out to sea and leave his family. After excelling in his courses at the Portsmouth Naval Academy, the Commissioner of the Dockyards recommended that Frank join the Perserverance under the direction of Cornwallis, who was recently appointed Commander-in-Chief of India. The letter that young Francis received from his father, Rev.  George Austen, upon his departure was one that he would treasure for the rest of his life. In part, the Reverend wrote:

As you have hitherto, my dear Francis, been extremely fortunate in making friends, I trust your future conduct will confirm their good opinion of you; and I have the more confidence of this expectation because the high character you acquired at the Academy for propriety of behaviour and diligence in your studies, when you were so much younger and had so much less experience, seems to promise that riper years and more knowledge of the world will strengthen your naturally good disposition. That this may be the case I sincerely pray, as you will readily believe when you are assured that your good mother, brothers, sisters and myself will all exult in your reputation and rejoice in your happiness …

Ten years later, Jane would write with exultation:

My dear Cassandra, Frank is made. He was yesterday raised to the rank of Commander and appointed to the Petterel sloop, now at Gilbraltar. – Dec 28, 1798

Vice Admiral Sir Francis Austen

Vice Admiral Sir Francis Austen

By 1800, Frank, was still single, although his captain’s salary would enable him to marry and support a family in reasonable comfort. The letter Jane would write him on January 21, 1805 was heartbreaking:

My dearest Frank

I have melancholy news to relate, & sincerely feel for your feelings under the shock of it.—I wish I could better prepare you for it. But having said so much, your mind will already forestall the sort of event which I have to communicate.—Our dear Father has closed his virtuous & happy life, in a death almost as free from suffering as his Children could have wished. He was taken ill on Saturday morning, exactly in the same way as heretofore, an oppression in the head, with fever, violent tremulousness, & the greatest degree of Feebleness….towards the Evening however he got better, had a tolerable night, & yesterday morning was so greatly amended as to get up & join us at breakfast as usual, & walk about with only the help of a stick, & every symptom was then so favourable that when Bowen saw him at one, he felt sure of his doing perfectly well. But as the day advanced, all these comfortable appearances gradually changed; the fever grew stronger than ever, & when Bowen saw him at ten at night, he pronounc’d his situation to be most alarming. At nine this morning he came again—& by his desire a Physician was called in;—Dr. Gibbs—But it was then absolutely a lost case—. Dr. Gibbs said that nothing but a Miracle could save him, and about twenty minutes after Ten he drew his last gasp…My Mother bears the Shock as well as possible; she was quite prepared for it, & feels all the blessing of his being spared a long Illness. My Uncle & Aunt have been with us, & shew us every imaginable kindness. And tomorrow we shall I dare say have the comfort of James’s presence, as an express has been sent to him. Adieu my dearest Frank. The loss of such a Parent must be felt, or we should be Brutes—. I wish I could have given you better preparation—but it has been impossible. Yours Ever affectly – J A.

The news must have been a great blow to Frank, who sailed the world over and only saw his family sporadically. Perhaps his grief was somewhat ameliorated by Jane’s next letter a little over a week later:

My mother has found among our dear father’s little personal property a small astronomical instrument, which she hopes you will accept for his sake. It is, I believe, a compass and sundial, and is in a black shagreen case…Yours very affecly, JA.

When Frank asked Miss Mary Gibson to marry him, Jane and Cassandra discovered that they liked her extremely well. Their cordial relationship had an opportunity to flourish after Rev. George Austen’s death. Frank invited his mother and sisters to live with him and his bride in Southampton from 1806 to 1808.  It was to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, for Frank did not want his young wife to be alone while he was away on his next voyage. He rented a house in Castle Square  with a fine garden and a view across Southampton Water to the Isle of Wight, which Jane found very much to her liking. The invitation included the Austen women’s close friend, Martha Lloyd, sister to James Austen’s wife Mary.

Sir Francis Austen lived until 1865, well into the age of photography

Sir Francis Austen lived until 1865, well into the age of photography

Unfortunately, like Edward’s wife Elizabeth, Mary did not survive into old age and died after the birth of her 11th child in 1823.  In an ironic turn of events, Frank asked Martha Lloyd to be his second wife in 1828 and she accepted. By any stretch of the imagination, Frank’s career was illustrious. He eventually achieved Knighthood as Sir Francis Austen and rose to the position of Admiral of the Fleet. Jane last saw her brother in the New Year of 1817, when a lull in her fatal illness allowed her to visit Frank and his large rambunctious family in Alton.

Thirty-five years after her death there came also a voice of praise from across the Atlantic. In 1852 the following letter was received by her brother Sir Francis Austen:

Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 6th Jan. 1852

Since high critical authority has pronounced the delineations of character in the works of Jane Austen second only to those of Shakspeare, trans-atlantic admiration appears superfluous; yet it may not be uninteresting to her family to receive an assurance that the influence of her genius is extensively recognised in the American Republic, even by the highest judicial authorities. The late Mr Chief Justice Marshall, of the supreme Court of the United States, and his associate Mr Justice Story, highly estimated and admired Miss Austen, and to them we owe our introduction to her society. For many years her talents have brightened our daily path, and her name and those of her characters are familiar to us as ‘household words’. We have long wished to express to some of her family the sentiments of gratitude and affection she has inspired, and request more information relative to her life than is given in the brief memoir prefixed to her works.

Having accidentally heard that a brother of Jane Austen held a high rank in the British navy, we have obtained his address from our friend Admiral Wormley, now resident in Boston, and we trust this expression of our feeling will be received by her relations with the kindness and urbanity characteristic of Admirals of her creation. Sir Francis Austen, or one of his family, would confer a great favour by complying with our request. The autograph of his sister, or a few lines in her handwriting, would be placed among our chief treasures.

The family who delight in the companionship of Jane Austen, and who present this petition, are of English origin. Their ancestor held a high rank among the first emigrants to New England, and his name and character have been ably represented by his descendants in various public stations of trust and responsibility to the present time in the colony and state of Massachusetts. A letter addressed to Miss Quincey, care of the Honble Josiah Quincey, Boston, Massachusetts, would reach its destination.

Sir Francis Austen returned a suitable reply to this application; and sent a long letter of his sister’s, which, no doubt, still occupies the place of honour promised by the Quincey family. – A Memoir of Jane Austen by her nephew, Chapter IX

More links:

Gentle reader: In honor of JASNA’s annual meeting in Philadelphia this week, this blog, Austenprose, and Jane Austen Today will be devoting posts to Jane Austen and her siblings. Look for new links each day.

Read Full Post »

write letter byron 2003Gentle readers,

The Lady Susan Soiree is going full tilt at Austenprose, where Laurel Ann and her band of readers are finishing up Jane Austen’s last published novel. Lady Susan is an epistolary novel, or one that is written in letter format. Last week I wrote a post about Upper Seymour Street, one of the prominent addresses in the novel, this week I will be writing about the postal service during the Georgian era. Not only did Jane Austen write a novel in letter format, she was a great letter writer herself. Sending a letter over two hundred years ago was much like sending an email today: the service was expensive and it depended upon the smooth running of a money making operation. But in London the service was different, for the Penny-Post had been introduced. This form of sending letters was both easy, affordable and practical, and explains how a lady with straitened finances like Lady Susan Vernon could afford to write so many letters in such a short space of time.

During the eighteenth century a letter from London to Bath could take three days to arrive, but by the 1820s, mail was delivered the morning after posting in towns more than 120 miles apart. In central London the postal service was so efficient, and there were such frequent deliveries, than an invitation issued in the morning could be acknowledged the same afternoon. – High Society, Venetia Murray, ISBN: 0670857580, p. 2.

Venetia Murray’s entry about the postal service was short and to the point, but it does not come close to telling the entire story. Because I uncovered so much information, I am dividing this post into three parts: 1) Letters and the Penny-Post, 2) Post Roads and Post Boys, and 3) John Palmer and the Royal Mail Coach.

Part One: Letters and the Penny-Post

In 1635 Charles I opened up his ‘royal mail’ for use by the public. Oliver Cromwell established the General Post Office in 1657 and after the Restoration, Charles II authorized the General Post Office to operate the ‘royal mail’, with the revenue from the postal service going to the Government.

Small cross written letter

Small cross written letter

In those early days, postal rates were calculated according to the distances traveled and the number of sheets that comprised a letter. Because of their cost, only businesses and the wealthy could afford to send letters. Others simply had to entrust their missives to friends and family members, or ask people traveling to another town to serve as a messenger. Even the wealthy kept their sheets of paper small and wrote in a cross writing style to conserve space. (See the  image at right and click here to read my post on Letter Writing in Jane Austen’s Time.) Envelopes would have been considered an additional sheet, so these very early letters did not include them.  A letter was simply folded over and sealed with wax that was stamped by a signet ring or a seal.  Recipients, not the sender, had to pay for the cost of a letter. This system caused hardship in cases where the recipient did not have the money, and as a result many letters languished on a post office shelf or were thrown away. Knowing these facts about the postal system of the period helps the reader to understand the following passage from Mansfield Park. Even though this scene occured in the early 19th century, the costs associated with sending letters from one city to another had not changed in over 100 years, for the postal system would not significantly improve until 1837, when Rowland Hill set out to reform it.

    “But William will write to you, I dare say.” “Yes, he had promised he would, but he had told her to write first.” “And when shall you do it?” She hung her head and answered hesitatingly, “she did not know; she had not any paper.”

    “If that be all your difficulty, I will furnish you with paper and every other material, and you may write your letter whenever you choose. Would it make you happy to write to William?”

    “Yes, very.”

    “Then let it be done now. Come with me into the breakfast room, we shall find every thing there, and be sure of having the room to ourselves.”

    “But, cousin—will it go to the post?”

    “Yes, depend upon me it shall; it shall go with the other letters; and, as your uncle will frank it, it will cost William nothing.”

    “My uncle!” repeated Fanny, with a frightened look.

    “Yes, when you have written the letter, I will take it to my father to frank.”

    Fanny thought it a bold measure, but offered no farther resistance

Edmund also sits down to write “with his own hand his love to his cousin William, and sent him half a guinea under the seal.” This was a remarkable sum of money for the day, and demonstratedEdmund’s character like no words could. From this point on, William would have enough money to pay for Fanny’s letters as they came.

William Dockwra's postal markings

William Dockwra's postal markings

Interestingly, the Post Office did not handle letters sent from one London address to another. The city was a thriving metropolis and trading center, yet merchants had to employ private messengers to carry letters and packages across town, much like the poor in other parts of the country. In 1680, an enterprising merchant named William Dockwra introduced a local Penny-Post in London, which carried letters within a ten mile radius. His service also introduced the pre-payment of letters, a revolutionary idea. William’s advertisement in the Mercurius Civicus read:

“The Undertakers for the Incomparable and Advantageous Design for the Speedy and safe Conveyance of Letters and packquets under a pound weight, to all parts of the Cities of London and Westminster, and the suburbs thereof … [have] ordered their Messengers to call for all Letters at all Coffee-Houses in the High Roads and Streets following . . . And all persons, who leave their Letters at any of the places aforesaid, may be sure to have them speedily dispatched for ONE PENY”.

William’s method of operation was immediately successful, “particularly as letters left at any Penny-Post House were sent out “successively every hour of the Day, till Eight of the Clock at Night”. Furthermore, to ensure that correspondence was delivered as soon as possible, each letter was stamped with the hour of the day on which it was sent out. This way, people could work out whether the “delays that may happen be really in the Office, or their own Servants (or other) with whom their Letters were left in due time”. “– Potted History by Ben Locker

Dockwra used two main postmarks for each letter. One was a triangular stamp with “Penny-Post Paid” on the three sides and the initials of the sorting office in the centre. This indicated that the rate had been paid and there was no further charges necessary on receipt. The second postmark was a heart shaped stamp indicating the date and time of dispatch.

There was a great deal of opposition to Dockwra’s post from porters and messengers whose livelihood was affected by the service. The church, a powerful force at the time, also had strong opposition!

The most serious opposition to Dockwra’s system came from the General Post Office, which heavily resented the competition. As such, in 1682 legal action was taken against William Dockwra in the name of the Duke Of York (Later King James II.) who was responsible for overseeing the Post Office at the time. - William Dockwra

Unfortunately, the Duke of York  held the monopoly on collecting revenue from the mail. He prosecuted Dockwra for £100 (Wikipedia says it was £2,000)  in damages and forced the merchant to relinquish control of his enterprise. Four days after the judgement, the London Gazette announced that the Penny-Post would shortly be reopened as part of the General Post Office.  For nine years Dockwra petitioned the Duke to save him and his “family of 9 children from Ruine.” Eventually in 1689, after James II’s death, Dockwra received a “seven-year pension of £500 “in consideration of his good service in inventing and setting up the business of the Penny-Post.” (Potted History by Ben Locker)

General Post Office in Lombard Street, London

General Post Office in Lombard Street, London

“The Penny-Post was quickly adopted in other cities and towns, like Dublin, Edinburgh and Manchester. Revenues steadily increased, and by 1727 the London District Post was so well regarded that ‘Daniel Defoe praised it for not charging for “a single Piece of Paper, as in the General Post-Office, but [sending] any Packet under a Pound weight . . . at the same price.’” The employment of extra letter carriers increased the number of deliveries, so that the system became even more efficient. From the 1770s the numbering of houses began, and by 1805 this system became mandatory in London Streets, making it even easier for letter carriers to deliver mail (Potted History by Ben Locker).  In contrast to the Penny-Post, letters that went out via the General Post Office still charged recipients for distance traveled and the number of sheets used, so that a letter sent from Steventon Rectory to Chawton would be quite expensive as compared to a letter sent from one London address to another, or one Manchester address to another.

Letter carrier, 1800, with bell and satchel

Letter carrier, 1800, with bell and satchel

For ordinary people the cost of receiving a letter was a significant part of the weekly wage. If you lived in London and your relatives had written to you from Edinburgh you would have to pay one shilling and one pence per page – more than the average worker earned in a day. Many letters were never delivered because their recipients could not afford them, losing the Post Office a great deal of money.” – Rowland Hill’s Postal Reforms

To help finance the war against Napoleon, the London Penny-Post was increased to tuppence in 1801; in 1805 the amount was raised to three pence. The beginning of uniform penny postage in 1840 made sending mail affordable to all for the first time. In 1837, English schoolmaster, Rowland Hill, wrote a pamphlet, Post Office Reform: its Importance and Practicability, which was privately circulated. In that year, he also invented the postage stamp, which necessitated the use of an envelope. “The Penny-Post system that began in 1840 used a lozenge-shaped sheet more akin to today’s aerogrammes, though in the same year George Wilson patented a system for printing several envelopes from one large sheet of paper, and in 1845 a steam-driven cutting and folding machine was invented.”  History of the Humble Envelope

Hill’s famous pamphlet, Post Office Reform, was privately circulated in 1837. The report called for “low and uniform rates” according to weight, rather than distance. Hill’s study showed that most of the costs in the postal system were not for transport, but rather for laborious handling procedures at the origins and the destinations.

Costs could be reduced dramatically if postage were prepaid by the sender, the prepayment to be proven by the use of prepaid letter sheets or adhesive stamps (adhesive stamps had long been used to show payment of taxes – for example, on documents).

Letter sheets were to be used because envelopes were not yet common – they were not yet mass produced, and in an era when postage was calculated partly on the basis of the number of sheets of paper used, the same sheet of paper would be folded and serve for both the message and the address. In addition, Hill proposed to lower the postage rate to a penny per half ounce, without regard to distance. He presented his proposal to the Government in 1838.

Postal service rates were lowered almost immediately, to fourpence from the 5 December 1839, then to the penny rate on the 10 January 1840, even before stamps or letter sheets could be printed. The volume of paid internal correspondence increased dramatically, by 120%, between November, 1839 and February, 1840. – Rowland Hill

More on this topic:

Read Full Post »

Jane’s beloved niece, Fanny, recalled Jane and Cassandra in 1869, when Fanny was in her seventies.

[Jane] was not so refined as she ought to have been from her talent . . . They [the Austens] were not rich & the people around with whom they chiefly mixed, were not all high bred, or in short anything more than mediocre & they of course tho’ superior in mental powers and cultivation were on the same level as far as refinement goes . . . Aunt Jane was too clever not to put aside all possible signs of “common-ness” (if such an expression is allowable) & teach herself to be more refined . . . Both the Aunts [Cassandra and Jane] were brought up in the most complete ignorance of the World & its ways (I mean as to fashion &c) & if it had not been for Papa’s marriage which brought them into Kent . . . they would have been, tho’ not less clever & agreeable in themselves, very much below par as to good Society & its ways.*

Fanny’s seeming ungratefulness to an aunt who doted on her is deplored by many Jane fans. A forgiving Claire Tomalin explains this passage, saying “it should be remembered that Fanny was very fond of her aunt, and that she ended the passage, which was written in a private letter to her sister Marianne, ‘If you hate all this I beg yr. pardon, but I felt it at my pen’s end, & it chose to come along & speak the truth.’”

Image #1: Jane Odiwe’s watercolour of Jane and Cassandra

Image #2: Cassandra’s watercolour portrait of Fanny Knight.

*Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin, ISBN 0-679-44628-1, pages 134-135

Read a book review about Jane and Fanny in Austen’s Ungrateful Niece

Read Full Post »

During her short life, Jane Austen was a prolific writer of letters, yet few survive. It is widely known that a majority of Jane’s letters were burned by her sister Cassandra and destroyed by other members of her family. Their reasons were varied. This excerpt from Jim and Ellen Moody’s website: English and Continental Literature, discusses the destruction of these letters and the reasons for it:

Not all the Austens of Jane’s generation and increasingly fewer who belonged to the later generations wanted the family’s private papers destroyed. It was not Jane but Cassandra who burnt ‘the greater part’ of Jane’s letters, and she only committed them to the fire when in 1842 she understood her own death could not be far off. Jane’s letters to Eliza and Henry and hers to them were left in Henry’s hands, and they have not survived. However, Frank, throughout a long mobile life, carefully preserved Jane’s letters to his first wife, Mary Gibson, and her packets of letters to himself and to Martha Lloyd (who became his second wife). It was Frank’s youngest daughter, Fanny-Sophia, who destroyed these and she did so after her father’s death (Family Record, p. 252). She acted without consulting anyone beforehand because by that time mores had changed and other of Frank’s children and grandchildren would have objected. Happily Philadelphia Walker had no direct descendants who felt their reputations or self-esteem put at risk by the existence of Eliza’s letters to her, and she lived long enough so that upon her death these letters fell into the hands of someone disinterested enough to save them, though in a somewhat mutilated state. A record of Jane Austen’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Weller Austen’s steady courage, which enabled Jane’s branch of the family to maintain the status of gentleman and amass wealth and prestige, survives in a seventeenth century manuscript because several generations of Austens who descended from her second oldest son, the attorney, Francis Austen of Sevenoaks, preserved it (Austen Papers, p. 2).

As a result of the destruction of Jane’s own words, biographers have over the years come to widely different conclusions about Jane’s thoughts and motives. Ellen Moody outlines some of these varying interpretations in the link I have provided.

To read Jane’s letters, click on the following sites:

Read Full Post »



During Jane Austen’s time, letters were written on sheet of paper that were folded and sealed, as in this sample. The recipient of the letter had to pay for the delivery. Therefore, the fewer pages that were used, the less expensive the cost, since the fee was based on the size of a letter and the distance it traveled.

Envelopes were not used. They would have added an additional sheet of paper and cost more for the recipient. To keep the letter affordable, people also wrote in a cross letter style as shown below.
Hand made papers were made in molds, hence one could readily observe the paper marks and ribbing from the parallel wires in the mold. Often these “laid” papers also bore distinctive watermarks. Double click on the image below to view these distinctive markings up close.

Writing implements included the quill pen, an inkstand filled with ink, pen knife, and sometimes a writing box.

Roller blotters made their appearance during the 19th century. Before this time, writers dried wet ink by sprinkling grains of sand over the words.


Creating quill pens was an art, since the nib had to be carefully cut with a knife so that the hollow core would hold just the right amount of ink and release it steadily under pressure. If the writer wrote for any length of time, fingers on the writing hand would often become ink stained. Quill pens, most commonly obtained from the wing feathers of a goose, had to be sharpened often with a pen knife. The average quill pen lasted for only a week before it was discarded.

After folding the paper, a sender would seal the letter with a custom wax seal stamp, that in some instances bore the family crest or the sender’s initials. The address on the outside remained simple, directing the bearer of the letter to the city or town, street, and the name of the receiver.
This is a photo of Jane Austen’s writing table and chair at Chawton, where she wrote the bulk of her novels and, I imagine, her letters as well.

Find out more about letter writing here:

Jane Austen’s Writing (Sloping) Desk

The Writing Implement of Jane Austen: The Quill Pen

London Mail and Postal Service: The Georgian Index

18th and 19th Century Wooden Seal Boxes

Cutting a Quill Pen

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,299 other followers