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Watercolor, James Stanier Clarke. Portrait of Jane Austen?, 1816

For those who mistakenly think that Jane Austen wrote frothy romances, let her words speak for her. Jane had been invited to view the Prince’s library in Carlton House just before the publication of Emma and had been “encouraged” to dedicate her book to the Prince, which she did reluctantly, for she was no great admirer of his. She had written about the Prince’s long-suffering wife, Caroline: “Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband.”

While visiting Carlton House, she was escorted by Rev. James Stanier Clarke, the Prince’s librarian, who was so struck by her that he painted her watercolor image from memory and kept up a correspondence afterwards. Eventually, Rev. Clarke had the audacity to suggest how Jane might proceed in her next novel. In March 1816, he wrote: “Perhaps when you again appear in print … chuse to dedicate your Volumes to Prince Leopold: any Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg, would just now be very interesting.”

Jane penned this terse reply 195 years ago on April 1st:

MY DEAR SIR, — I am honoured by the Prince’s thanks and very much obliged to yourself for the kind manner in which you mention the work. I have also to acknowledge a former letter forwarded to me from Hans Place. I assure you I felt very grateful for the friendly tenor of it, and hope my silence will have been considered, as it was truly meant, to proceed only from an unwillingness to tax your time with idle thanks. Under every interesting circumstance which your own talents and literary labours have placed you in, or the favour of the Regent bestowed, you have my best wishes. Your recent appointments I hope are a step to something still better. In my opinion, the service of a court can hardly be too well paid, for immense must be the sacrifice of time and feeling required by it.

You are very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe-Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.

I remain, my dear Sir,
Your very much obliged, and sincere friend,
J. AUSTEN.

Chawton, near Alton, April 1, 1816.

It is so very telling (is it not?), that Jane did not characterize her own novels as serious romance. To whit, I must agree with her self-assessment.

Gentle reader: My April Fool’s joke is subtle. Those who came over after reading my tweet and compared it to the date of the letter will see that I made the announcement five years off.

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Carlton House was the town house of the Prince Regent for several decades from 1783 until it was demolished forty years later. It faced the south side of Pall Mall, and its gardens abutted St. James’s Park in the St James’s district of London. The location of the house, now replaced by Carlton House Terrace, was a main reason for the creation of John Nash’s ceremonial route from St James’s to Regent’s Park via Regent Street, All Souls, Langham Place and Park Square. Lower Regent Street and Waterloo Place were originally laid out to form the approach to its front entrance

An existing early eighteenth century house had been sold in 1732 to Frederick, Prince of Wales, and son of George I. William Kent had been employed to lay out the garden of which no trace remains. Frederick’s widow, Augusta, enlarged the house, had the entrance gates and porter’s lodge redesigned and a colonnaded porch built. She died in 1772 and for some years the house was unoccupied.

Portrait of The Prince of Wales, later King George IV (1762 – 1830) 1790. John Russell RA

In 1783 George III handed the house over, with £60,000 to refurbish it, to George, Prince of Wales on his coming of age. During the following years the interiors were remodelled and refurnished on a palatial scale.

Carlton House ca.1825. As published in Britton and Pugin, Public Buildings of London. 1825. Patrick has worked on elements from the areas marked with a cross

Initially Sir William Chambers was appointed as architect, but he was quickly replaced by Henry Holland. Both Chambers and Holland were proponents of the French neoclassical style of architecture, and Carlton House would be extremely influential in introducing the Louis XVI style to England.

The Grand Staircase

Holland began working first on the State Apartments along the south (garden) front, the principal reception rooms of the house. Construction commenced in 1784. By the time of his marriage to Mrs Fitzherbert in December 1785, however, construction at Carlton House came to a halt because of the Prince of Wales’ mounting debts. Costs continued to soar and more money had to be found by the Prince…  Continue to read this post on Patrick Baty’s blog.

Inquiring Readers, Patrick Baty is one of the foremost authorities on architectural paint and colour on historic architecture and interiors. These days, the majority of Patrick’s time is spent as a historic paint consultant, sampling paint layers on buildings, bridges and architectural details to produce a forensic history of the decoration from creation to the present day. He has graciously allowed me to link to his post about Carlton House.

Other posts by Patrick Baty on this blog:

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Jane takes care of henryThe script from Miss Austen Regrets uses language from Jane’s letters and writing, and scenes from events that actually occurred in her life. For these reasons, the film is worth watching and rewatching – in addition to Olivia Williams’ complex and mature performance. I wish the tone of the movie had been less somber (read my review here), and had concentrated more on Jane’s sparkling wit and amazing publishing success, but many months after viewing the film, I am still left with a strong and positive impression.

One of the film’s historically significant scenes shows Jane’s meeting at Carlton House in 1815 with Rev. James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent’s librarian. Jane’s favorite brother, Henry (right in movie), lived in London at the time, where he worked as a banker and acted as Jane’s agent. At this prolific juncture of her life, Jane’s writing career had taken off and her books were selling well. Several of the Austen brothers were experiencing financial setbacks, and Jane’s added income must have relieved them from no small amount of anxiety.During Jane’s visits to London in 1815 to revise proof-sheets (of Emma, one supposes), Henry fell seriously ill and Jane spent her time nursing him (Top left). The doctor who attended Henry was also one of the Prince Regent’s physicians. Edward Austen-Leigh writes about his encounter with Jane in A Memoir of Jane Austen:

In the autumn of 1815 [Jane] nursed her brother Henry through a dangerous fever and slow convalescence at his house in Hans Place. He was attended by one of the Prince Regent’s physicians. All attempts to keep her name secret had at this time ceased, and though it had never appeared on a title-page, all who cared to know might easily learn it: and the friendly physician was aware that his patient’s nurse was the author of `Pride and Prejudice.‘ Accordingly he informed her one day that the Prince was a great admirer of her novels; that he read them often, and kept a set in every one of his residences; that he himself therefore had thought it right to inform his Royal Highness that Miss Austen was staying in London, and that the Prince had desired Mr. Clarke, the librarian of Carlton House, to wait upon her. The next day Mr. Clarke made his appearance, and invited her to Carlton House, saying that he had the Prince’s instructions to show her the library and other apartments, and to pay her every possible attention.

In the film, Jane is shown as feeling some apprehension and awkwardness as she walks through the grand house accompanied by footmen in livery to meet Rev. James Stanier Clarke (left in movie). Although no record Watercolour of Jane Austen (?)of the meeting survives, Jane’s correspondence with Mr. Clarke is well known. Jospehine Ross reveals in Jane Austen: A Companion that Mr. Clarke was slightly smitten with the author (p 38). A recent exciting find of Mr. Clarke’s Friendship Book contains a small watercolour likeness of a woman that many experts believe to be one of Jane. (See image at right.)

During this meeting, Mr. Clarke revealed the Prince Regent’s request to have her next novel dedicated to him. The prince was a great admirer of Jane’s novels and he kept editions of her works in all his houses. The “honour” of the Prince’s request might have induced mixed feelings in Jane, who reveals in this letter:

“I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband…” – February 16, 1813

After Jane returned to Hans Place, she was not quite sure of the exact nature of Mr. Clarke’s request, and wrote this letter to clarify her confusion:

Sir, I must take the liberty of asking you a question. Among the many flattering attentions which I received from you at Carlton House on Monday last was the information of my being at liberty to dedicate any future work to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, without the necessity of any solicitation on my part. Such, at least, I believed to be your words; but as I am very anxious to be quite certain of what was intended, I entreat you to have the goodness to inform me how such a permission is to be understood, and whether it is incumbent on me to show my sense of the honour by inscribing the work now in the press to His Royal Highness; I should be equally concerned to appear either presumptuous or ungrateful. – November 15, 1815

When Emma was printed in March of 1816, Jane wrote this dedication to the Prince:

TO
HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS
THE PRINCE REGENT,
THIS WORK IS,
BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S PERMISSION,
MOST RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED,
BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S
DUTIFUL
AND OBEDIENT
HUMBLE SERVANT,
THE AUTHOR

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I’ve written posts about the Prince Regent and his lavish lifestyle before. Click here, here and here to read a few of them. The Prince’s association with Jane Austen is minor but crucial: He admired her novels, and she dedicated Emma to him.

The conventional wisdom is that Austen tried to squirm out of the tribute to the Prince. Was it “incumbent on [her] to shew her sense of the Honour” by dedicating her forthcoming novel to His Royal Highness? she asked Clarke. “It is certainly not incumbent on you” to do so, he responded, “but if you wish to do the Regent that honour either now or at any future period, I am happy to send you that permission which need not require any more trouble or solicitation on your Part” (16 November 1815). – Colleen A. Sheehan, Jane Austen Society of North America

Aside from his admiration of Jane Austen, this extravagant, dissolute prince was known for sponsoring major building and park projects that transformed London, including the renovations of Carlton House in London and the sumptuous Pavilion at Brighton. Both were designed in the neoclassical and Gothic styles we’ve come to associate with the Regency era’s furnishings, fashion, and architecture.

Carlton House, sumptuously decorated in the height of fashionable Francophile taste in line with the prince’s Whig sympathies by the important architect Henry Holland (1745–1806), was the setting for a series of the extravagant parties which the prince so loved to give, culminating in the famous Carlton House fete in 1811 on his appointment as Regent. The dazzled Thomas Moore wrote to his mother about this fete, detailing the delights of the indoor fountain and the artificial brook that ran down the centre of the table, and concluding, ‘Nothing was ever half so magnificent. It was in reality all that they try to imitate in the gorgeous scenery of the theatre’ (quoted in Hibbert, 1973, p.371). (A Prince at Seaside, Learning Space)

(Image from Old London Maps)

You can view some of the rooms at Carlton Hose, such as the crimson drawing room, in this link to Decorative Arts and Design History in this link.


Blue Closet, Carlton House, The Royal Collection

The Prince Regent’s friends were also known as the ‘Carlton House Set.’ Read a detailed description of the Prinny’s high roller friends in this link: The Prince Regent and His Set from the Georgian Index.

From left to right depicted are the Earl of Sefton, The Duke of Devonshire, Lord Manners, “Poodle” Byng, Byng’s poodle (name unknown), and the Duke of Beaufort.

Post script: Today is the one-year anniversary of this blog! Since early April of this year, over 20,000 of you have dropped by to visit, and I want to thank you for your support.

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