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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’s family’

“Memorandums for the use [of] Mr. F. W. Austen on his going to the East Indies Mids[hip]man on board his Majesty’s Ship Perseverance Cap: [Sm]ith Decr. 1788”

Thus begins a letter from Jane Austen’s father to her older brother Francis. Francis, who Jane called Frank, went to sea at age 14. He had been at the Royal Naval Academy in Portsmouth (home town of Fanny Price of Mansfield Park) for two and a half years.

Photo 1 Lieutenant Francis Austen

Lieutenant Francis Austen, 1796, about eight years after his father sent this letter

Their father had written to Francis regularly at school. He now felt that his son needed to know more about subjects “of the greatest importance”—his relationships with God and with people.

Francis apparently treasured this letter. There is even fire damage on some of the folds, since he had it with him on shipboard. It was found among his papers when he died at age 91.

His descendants quoted much of the letter in the book Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers. However, they did not quote the second paragraph. Instead they summarized it as “some well-chosen and impressive injunctions on the subject of his [George Austen’s] son’s religious duties.” (They also left out a few later parts of the letter, such as George telling his son to keep himself clean and take care of his teeth!) We can learn a lot about the Austen family’s religious beliefs and practices from the missing second paragraph.

The “Memorandums”

At the end of the first paragraph, George Austen says his son’s own “good sense & natural Judgment of what is right” will guide him in specific circumstances. Then he writes with more general advice:

“The first & most important of all considerations to a human Being is Religion, or the belief of a God & our consequent duty to him, our Neighbour, & ourselves – In each of these your Catechism instructs you, & for what is further necessary to be known on this subject in general, & on Christianity in particular I must refer you to that part of the Elegant Extracts where you have Passages from approved Authors sufficient to inform you in every requisite for your belief & practice. To these I refer you & recommend them to your frequent & attentive perusal; observing only on this head, that as you must be well convinced how wholly you depend on God for success in all your undertakings, you will easily see that you are bound in interest as well as duty regularly to address yourself to him in Prayer, Night & Morning; thankfully acknowledging the Blessings you have received already & humbly beseeching his future favor & protection. Now this is a Duty which nothing can excus[e t]he omission of times of the greatest hurry will not hinder a well dis[pose]d mind from fulfilling it – for a short Ejaculation to the Almig[ht]y, when it comes from the heart will be as acceptable to him as the most elegant & studied form of Words.” (The parts in [brackets] are damaged areas of the letter.)

Photo 2 Rev. George Austen 1763

Reverend George Austen, rector of Steventon and Deane

Jane and Francis Austen grew up in a very religious household. Their father was a clergyman, a priest in the Church of England. Some clergymen at this time saw their job simply as a source of income, and did the minimum they could. In Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford assumes that Edmund Bertram will be such a clergyman. But Edmund is determined to live among his people and set a good example for them—as George Austen actually did in his parish.

Religious Duties and the Catechism

Reverend Austen begins by telling his son that religion is the most important thing in life. Jane Austen echoes this belief in Mansfield Park. Edmund says that the clergy “has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally . . . the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence.” (Italics added.) Religion meant religious practices and teachings; morals (which Austen also called “good principles”)  were inward knowledge of right and wrong, based on religion; and manners were outward actions towards other people (not just politeness).

Rev. Austen similarly defines religion as “the belief of a God & our consequent duty to him, our Neighbour, & ourselves.” In other words, religion includes both what people believe and how they act based on their beliefs.

He says the Catechism teaches these duties. Frank and Jane would have memorized the Catechism from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. In it, the child recites the Ten Commandments, which teach a person’s duty towards God and towards their neighbour.

Photo 3 Book of Common Prayer Cover page

The Book of Common Prayer, 1762, which includes the Catechism that George Austen refers to

When the child is asked what his duty is toward God, he responds,

“My duty towards God, is to believe in him, to fear him, and to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength; to worship him, to give him thanks, to put my whole trust in him, to call upon him, to honour his holy Name and his Word, and to serve him truly all the days of my life.” (This is considered to be a summary of the first four of the Ten Commandments.)

The child is then asked what his duty is toward his neighbour. He answers,

“My duty towards my Neighbour, is to love him as myself, and to do to all men, as I would they should do unto me: To love, honour, and succour my father and mother: To honour and obey the King, and all that are put in authority under him: To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters: To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters: To hurt no body by word or deed: To be true and just in all my dealings: To bear no malice nor hatred in my heart: To keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil-speaking, lying, and slandering: To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity: Not to covet, nor desire other men’s goods; but to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, and to do my duty in that state of life, unto which it shall please God to call me.” (This section is based on the last six of the Ten Commandments.)

Jane Austen refers to some of these duties in Sense and Sensibility. When Marianne Dashwood repents of her failures, she says, “Whenever I looked towards the past, I saw some duty neglected, or some failing indulged.” She has failed in her duties to love her neighbour as herself and “to hurt no body by word or deed,” as the Catechism says.

The Catechism refers to one’s “betters” and one’s “state of life.” In Austen’s England, each person was believed to have a specific God-ordained place in society.  George Austen later advises his son on the “three Orders of Men” he will encounter: his superior officers, his “Equals,” and his “Inferiors.” He recommends treating them with respect and kindness.

The Catechism doesn’t specifically address our duty “to ourselves,” as George Austen says. However, it does say “To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity.” That means to care for oneself by not eating or drinking too much or indulging in sex outside of marriage. Later in the letter Rev. Austen says that Frank already knows that soberness is important for his health, morals, and fortune.

George Austen probably thought that doing our duty to God and to man would also be a way of doing our duty to ourselves. The Austens were familiar with Thomas Secker’s Lectures on the Catechism, which Jane Austen owned. The introductory lecture states that “the happiness of all Persons depends beyond Comparison chiefly on being truly religious.” Rev. Austen also points out that if Frank treats others well it will add to his “present happiness & comfort” as well as his “future well-doing.”

Elegant Extracts

Rev. Austen told his son to read Elegant Extracts frequently and attentively.  It contained “approved Authors sufficient to inform you in every requisite for your belief & practice.” Elegant Extracts was a large schoolbook with a wide variety of selections from books and essays. The first section contained 135 “Moral and Religious” writings (in the second edition, 1784). More than 40 were from sermons by Hugh Blair.

Photo 4 Elegant Extracts

Elegant Extracts: This 1784 edition is probably the one Francis Austen owned.

Hugh Blair was a Scottish Presbyterian minister whose books of sermons were very popular. Jane Austen enjoyed reading sermons, as many people did in that time. Clergymen often read other men’s sermons from the pulpit. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford says a preacher should have the sense to preach from Blair’s Sermons rather than writing his own. (Blair also wrote a book on rhetoric which is mentioned in Northanger Abbey. It is quoted extensively in the introduction to Elegant Extracts.)

Blair’s first entry in Elegant Extracts emphasizes that those in any “station of life” who work hard and do right will prosper. However, those who seek only their own amusement will end up miserable. Other extracts address topics like contentment and cheerfulness.  In his letter, George Austen also stresses these themes.

It seems surprising that Rev. Austen recommended Elegant Extracts for religious instruction rather than the Bible. However, some Christian groups in Austen’s time interpreted the Bible in ways that did not fit the Austens’ orthodox Anglican faith. Therefore he may have preferred that Frank read “approved” interpretations. Or perhaps he thought his 14-year-old son might more easily understand Elegant Extracts, which was intended for schoolboys.

Prayer 

Finally, George Austen gives Frank specific instructions on prayer.

  • Why should Frank pray? Because he depends completely on God for any success in whatever he does; he needs God’s help. The Catechism also says that people need God’s grace to keep his commandments. It gives the Lord’s Prayer as a way to ask for that help.
  • When should he pray? Every night and morning, even in “times of the greatest hurry.” The Church of England follows a liturgy. Sets of prayers are read each day, along with Bible readings that change throughout the year. Austen’s family probably read “Morning Prayer” and “Evening Prayer” together daily from The Book of Common Prayer. These also include the Lord’s Prayer, which is at the end of each of the prayers Jane Austen herself wrote.
  • How should he pray? When he can’t pray from the prayer book, his father tells Frank that a brief cry to God from his heart will be just as acceptable as the formal words of the prayer book.
  • What should he pray for? He should give thanks for the blessings he has received in the past, and ask God for favor and protection in the future. This is also a way of doing his “duty to God” as the Catechism states.

 

Photo 5 Vice Admiral Sir Francis Austen

Vice Admiral Sir Francis Austen, later Admiral of the Fleet

Francis Austen went on to great honors in his profession, becoming Senior Admiral of the Fleet shortly before he died. He was known as a very religious officer, who never swore or allowed others to swear. His ships were considered “praying ships,” and he was known as “the officer who knelt in church.” He apparently took his father’s example and advice to heart.

__________

With grateful acknowledgment to Deirdre LeFaye, who provided a transcript of George Austen’s letter, and to Admiral Sir Francis Austen’s great-great-granddaughter, who gave permission to reproduce this section of the letter.

About Brenda S. Cox:

Brenda S. Cox writes at brendascox.wordpress.com on “Faith, Science, Joy . . . and Jane Austen!” She is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England.

Sources and Further Reading

Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by J. H. Hubback and Edith C. Hubback, 1906.  www.mollands.net/etexts/jasb/jasb2.html   Available at mollands.net, at google books, and at archive.org . You can read most of the letter in this book.

Elegant Extracts by Vicesimus Knox. London: Charles Dilly, 1784. 2nd edition. archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.94215/. The Blair quote is from extract 26.

The Book of Common Prayer. Cambridge: Baskerville, 1762. books.google.com/books/about/The_Book_of_Common_Prayer_and_Administra.html?id=_sYUAAAAQAAJ The Catechism is on p. 359 ff. of this scanned file.

Lectures on the Catechism, by Thomas Secker. London: Rivington, 1771. archive.org/details/lecturesoncatech01seck/page/n13

“Reading Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer.” brendascox.wordpress.com/2019/01/03/reading-prayers-the-book-of-common-prayer/

“Jane Austen Faith Word: Duty, and Anne Elliot” brendascox.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/jane-austen-faith-word-duty-and-anne-elliot/

Marianne Dashwood’s Repentance, Willoughby’s ‘Repentance,’ and The Book of Common Prayer.“ Persuasions On-line Winter 2018. jasna.org/publications/persuasions-online/volume-39-no-1/cox/

“Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers: Francis and Charles in Life and Art,” by Brian Southam. Persuasions 25. jasna.org/publications/persuasions/no25/southam/

“Sir Francis William Austen: Glimpses of Jane’s Sailor Brother in Letters” janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/sir-francis-william-austen-glimpses-of-janes-sailor-brother-in-letters/

“Jane Austen’s Seagoing Brothers, Francis and Charles” https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/janes-seagoing-brothers-francis-and-charles/

Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter by Irene Collins. London: Hambledon, 2007. amazon.com/dp/1852855622/

Praying With Jane by Rachel Dodge. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2018. amazon.com/dp/B07D6Y5P14/

 

 

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Reverend George Austen

As many Jane Austen fans know, Rev. George Austen ran a boarding school out of his parsonage house in Steventon to augment his £230 pr year income. In1793 he began to teach the sons of local gentlemen in his home to prepare them for university. His library was extensive for a man of modest means, from 300- 500 volumes, depending on the source, an amazing collection, for books were frightfully expensive. Rev. Austen encouraged Cassandra and Jane to read from his library and supported budding author Jane in her writing. At some point, the Austens sent the girls to boarding school in Reading, for which he paid £35 per term, per girl, a not inconsiderable sum. He received around the same amount of money per boarder, and it is conjectured that the Austens hoped to replace their two daughters with many more pupils, which made economic sense. (See Linda Robinson Walker’s link below.) Mrs. Austen was not an indifferent bystander. She cooked, cleaned, sewed, and clucked over the boys like a mother hen, and was involved in their maintenance in a hands-on and caring way, acting as a surrogate mother.

In his Travels Through England in 1782, German traveler Karl Phillip Moritz describes learning academies, head masters, and boarding schools. From his observations, one gains a sense of what life must have been like for the Austens and their pupils:

A few words more respecting pedantry.  I have seen the regulation of one seminary of learning, here called an academy.  Of these places of education, there is a prodigious number in London, though, notwithstanding their pompous names, they are in reality nothing more than small schools set up by private persons, for children and young people.

One of the Englishmen who were my travelling companions, made me acquainted with a Dr. G– who lives near P–, and keeps an academy for the education of twelve young people, which number is here, as well as at our Mr. Kumpe’s, never exceeded, and the same plan has been adopted and followed by many others, both here and elsewhere.

18th Century school room. One imagines a less formal setting for Rev. Austen’s school.

At the entrance I perceived over the door of the house a large board, and written on it, Dr. G–’s Academy.  Dr. G– received me with great courtesy as a foreigner, and shewed me his school-room, which was furnished just in the same manner as the classes in our public schools are, with benches and a professor’s chair or pulpit.

The usher at Dr. G–’s is a young clergyman, who, seated also in a chair or desk, instructs the boys in the Greek and Latin grammars.

Such an under-teacher is called an usher, and by what I can learn, is commonly a tormented being, exactly answering the exquisite description given of him in the “Vicar of Wakefield.”  We went in during the hours of attendance, and he was just hearing the boys decline their Latin, which he did in the old jog-trot way; and I own it had an odd sound to my ears, when instead of pronouncing, for example viri veeree I heard them say viri, of the man,exactly according to the English pronunciation, and viro, to the man.  The case was just the same afterwards with the Greek.

Mr. G– invited us to dinner, when I became acquainted with his wife, a very genteel young woman, whose behaviour to the children was such that she might be said to contribute more to their education than any one else.  The children drank nothing but water.  For every boarder Dr. G– receives yearly no more than thirty pounds sterling, which however, he complained of as being too little.  From forty to fifty pounds is the most that is generally paid in these academies.

I told him of our improvements in the manner of education, and also spoke to him of the apparent great worth of character of his usher.  He listened very attentively, but seemed to have thought little himself on this subject.  Before and after dinner the Lord’s Prayer was repeated in French, which is done in several places, as if they were eager not to waste without some improvement, even this opportunity also, to practise the French, and thus at once accomplish two points.  I afterwards told him my opinion of this species of prayer, which however, he did not take amiss.

After dinner the boys had leave to play in a very small yard, which in most schools or academies, in the city of London, is the ne plus ultra of their playground in their hours of recreation.  But Mr. G– has another garden at the end of the town, where he sometimes takes them to walk.

After dinner Mr. G– himself instructed the children in writing, arithmetic, and French, all which seemed to be well taught here, especially writing, in which the young people in England far surpass, I believe, all others.  This may perhaps be owing to their having occasion to learn only one sort of letters.  As the midsummer holidays were now approaching (at which time the children in all the academies go home for four weeks), everyone was obliged with the utmost care to copy a written model, in order to show it to their parents, because this article is most particularly examined, as everybody can tell what is or is not good writing.  The boys knew all the rules of syntax by heart.

Reading Abbey, where Jane and Cassandra Austen were sent to boarding school

All these academies are in general called boarding-schools.  Some few retain the old name of schools only, though it is possible that in real merit they may excel the so much-boasted of academies.

It is in general the clergy, who have small incomes, who set up these schools both in town and country, and grown up people who are foreigners, are also admitted here to learn the English language.  Mr. G– charged for board, lodging, and instruction in the English, two guineas a-week.  He however, who is desirous of perfecting himself in the English, will do better to go some distance into the country, and board himself with any clergyman who takes scholars, where he will hear nothing but English spoken, and may at every opportunity be taught both by young and old.

Source: Moritz, Karl Philipp, 1757-1793. Travels in England in 1782 by Karl Philipp Moritz (Kindle Locations 645-656). Mobipocket (an Amazon.com company).

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Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street, has contributed a post for this blog before about the City of Bath as a Character. He has graciously sent in an article about crime and an incident involving Jane Austen’s aunt, Mrs James Leigh-Perrot. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

Arrest of a woman at night, 1800. Thomas Rowlandson. Image @The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

Apart from the Bow Street Runners in London there was no organised police force in 18th Century England. The capture and prosecution of criminals was largely left to their victims to deal with. Every parish was obliged to have one or two constables, but they were unpaid volunteers working only in their spare time. A victim of crime who wanted a constable to track down and arrest the perpetrator was expected to pay the expenses of their doing so.

Sometimes victims of crime hired a thief-taker to pursue the wrong-doer. Again, they were private individuals working much like latter day bounty hunters. Sometimes, thief-takers would act as go-betweens, negotiating the return of stolen goods for a fee. Many though were corrupt, actually initiating and organising the original theft in order to claim the reward for the return of goods, or extorting protection money from the criminals they were supposed to catch.

Covent Garden watchhouse. Image @The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

For the most part, unless a criminal was “caught in the act” (probably) by their intended victim it was unlikely they would be brought to justice. In the absence of a police force, the maintenance of “Law and Order” therefore came to depend more on deterrence rather than apprehension and the harshest penalty of all came to cover more and more crimes. In 1799 there were 200 offences that carried the death penalty, including the theft of items with a monetary value that exceeded five shillings.

In practice, judges and juries often recognised the barbarity of the punishment in relation to the crime. Juries might determine that goods were over-priced and bring their value down below the five shilling threshold. Defendants might claim “benefit of clergy” which by virtue of stating religious belief and reading out an oath allowed the judge to exercise leniency. In other cases the Government could review the sentence. Between 1770 and 1830, 35,000 death sentences were handed down in England and Wales, but only 7000 executions were actually carried out.

Milliners shop, after Henry Kingsbury

On the 8th August 1799, Jane Leigh-Perrot was accused of stealing a card of white lace from a millinery shop in Bath. The Leigh-Perrots, a wealthy couple, were Jane Austen’s mother’s brother and sister-in-law (Jane’s Uncle and Aunt). The white lace valued at £1 was found in Mrs Leigh-Perrot’s possession together with a card of black lace that she had bought and paid for from the same shop. Mrs Leigh-Perrot denied stealing the lace, saying that the sales clerk must have given it her by mistake when he handed over her purchase. She was nevertheless arrested on a charge of “grand theft” and the lace she was said to have stolen was worth four times the five shillings that carried the death sentence.

Jane Cholmeley Perrot, aka Jane Austen’s Aunt Perrot

In practice it was unlikely (given her standing) that if she had been found guilty she would have been sentenced to death. The alternatives, however, included branding or transportation to the Australian Colonies with the prospect of forced labour for 14 years. Jane Leigh-Perrot was refused bail and committed to prison on the sworn depositions of the shopkeeper. Due to her wealth, social standing and age she was allowed to stay in the house of the prison keeper, Mr Scadding, at the Somerset County Gaol in Ilchester, rather than being kept in a cell. Mrs Leigh-Perrot still wrote though that she suffered ‘Vulgarity, Dirt, Noise from morning till night’. James Leigh-Perrot insisted on remaining with her in prison.

Mr James Leigh-Perrot. Image @JASA

During her trial Jane Leigh-Perrot spoke eloquently for herself. Several testimonials as to her character were also read out to the court. At the conclusion of the trial the jury took only 10 minutes to find her “Not Guilty.” It does, however, make you wonder how someone less well refined, less well-connected, less eloquent, less educated, less wealthy might have fared. The evidence of her guilt, might have been quite sufficient to send someone else to the gallows, or transported, or branded with a hot iron. She was after all caught in possession of the item and identified by the shop-keeper. In “Persuasion” Captain Harville asks Anne Elliot, ‘But how shall we prove anything?’ Anne replies, ‘We never shall.’

Mrs. Leigh-Perrot. Image @JASA

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Inquiring readers: Jane Odiwe’s blog features a portrait of a Regency family that had sold in 1983. She wrote to several bloggers recently: “I’m writing to you on Mrs. Henry Rice’s behalf to ask if you would be interested in showing the painting with the information I’ve learned about on your blogs. The family would really like some help in publicising the picture, and wish to make an appeal to see if we can find its whereabouts, as Christie’s do not seem to have any record. They are hoping the painting is by Ozias Humphry, which will help to strengthen his association as a painter of the Austen family.”

Jane Austen's family?

Is this a portrait of Jane Austen’s family that has gone unnoticed until now?  The image was made in 1781, when young Jane would have been six years old. What say you?

To learn more about this art work and possible image of the Austen family, click on this link to Jane’s blog. Thank you for joining in!!

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Gentle Reader: This Father’s Day weekend, I salute Jane Austen’s father, George Austen. This post, which I wrote three years ago, has been resurrected and updated for this occasion.

Rev. George Austen was by all accounts a handsome man. Anna LeFroy, Jane’s niece wrote,

I have always understood that he was considered extremely handsome, and it was a beauty which stood by him all his life. At the time when I have the most perfect recollection of him he must have been hard upon seventy, but his hair in its milk-whiteness might have belonged to a much older man. It was very beautiful, with short curls about the ears. His eyes were not large, but of a peculiar and bright hazel. My aunt Jane’s were something like them, but none of the children had precisely the same excepting my uncle Henry.”

George Austen was born in 1731. His mother died in childbirth and his father died a year after marrying a new wife, who did not want the responsibility of taking care of the young lad. George then lived with an aunt in Tonbridge and earned a Fellowship to study at St. John’s. Smart, ambitious, and self-made (with the support of his uncle Francis), he received a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Arts, and a Bachelor of Divinity degree at Oxford. Considered good looking all his life, he was called “the handsome proctor” as he worked as an assistant chaplain, dean of arts, and Greek lecturer while going to school.

George first met Cassandra Leigh in Oxford when she was visiting her uncle Theophilus, a renowned scholar. After marrying Cassandra in Bath, George became rector in several country parishes, including Steventon. The family grew by leaps and bounds, and eventually he and Cassandra had six sons and two daughters.

Shortly after Jane was born, her father said: “She is to be Jenny, and seems to me as if she would be as like Henry, as Cassy is to Neddy.” But the little girl was known as Jane all her life.

By all accounts George and Cassandra Austen had a happy marriage. His annual income from the combined tithes of Steventon and the neighboring village of Deane was modest. With so many mouths to feed, the family was not wealthy. To augment the family income,  George Austen opened a boarding school at Steventon Rectory for the sons of local gentlemen, and sold produce from his farm.

George Austen presents his son Edward to the Knights, who adopted him. This was a common practice in that era. Image from Chawton House.

Rev. Austen, a doting father to all his children, encouraged Cassandra and Jane to read from his extensive library, and taught his boys in his boarding school. For entertainment, the family read to each other, played games, and produced poetry, novels, and plays. James, the eldest son, an accomplished writer and poet, was considered to be the “writer” of the family, especially by his mother, Cassandra, who doted on him. George Austen was proud of his youngest daughter’s accomplishments, and tried to get First Impressions, the first draft of  Pride and Prejudice published. The “Memoir of Jane Austen” by Edward Austen-Leigh contains a letter from George Austen to Mr. Cadell, publisher, dated November 1797, in which he describes the work as a “manuscript novel comprising three volumes, about the length of Miss Burney’s ‘Evelina'” and asks Mr. Cadell if he would like to see the work with a view to entering into some arrangement for its publication, “either at the author’s risk or otherwise.” Unfortunately, nothing came of this query, but P&P became hugely popular among the friends and family who read it before it was published. The original 3-part manuscript no longer exists, and a much shorter form of the novel was finally published in 1813, long after George’s death and only four short years before Jane’s fatal illness.
Rev. George Austen died unexpectedly in Bath on  January 1, 1805, where the Austen family had moved after living in Steventon for over 30 years. This move did not sit well with Jane, who, as legend goes, fainted when she learned that the family was moving to Bath. (The silhouettes above are of George and Cassandra, who had not aged well). Rev. Austen did not linger long after falling ill, and on January 21,  Jane Austen would write sorrowfully to her brother, Frank, one of two sailors in the family:

“We have lost an excellent Father. An illness of only eight and forty hours carried him off yesterday morning between ten and eleven. His tenderness as a father, who can do justice to?” – Sir Francis William Austen

Rev. Austen was buried in St. Swithin churchyard in Bath. The inscription on his grave reads:

Under this stone rests the remains of
the Revd. George Austen
Rector of Steventon and Deane in Hampshire
who departed this life
the 1st. of January 1805
aged 75 years.”

Double click on this grave marker to read the words. (From: Find a Grave Memorial. Image of George and his grave is from this site.)

More on the topic:

The Austen Family:

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Upper School, Tonbridge, where George Austen taught

Upper School, Tonbridge, Where George Austen taught

A circular walk in Tonbridge celebrates the family links of Jane Austen, including Tonbridge School, where Jane’s father studied and taught. Learn more about Jane Austen’s family in this fascinating video. Learn more about Jane Austen’s Tonbridge relations in this link to Tonbridge History. Read the first chapter of Jane Austen: A Life, by David Nokes. The link is cached, since the New York Times now charges for their online subscriptions.

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“We have this comfort, he cannot be a bad or a wicked child,” George Austen writing about his second son, George

George Austen 2George Austen, Jane’s second oldest brother is an enigma, rarely glimpsed and hardly known to the world. No image exists of him, which is why the image I used for this post has no face to speak of. George Austen was thought to be mentally or physically impaired, or suffering from an infirmity. Nearly ten years older than Jane, Claire Tomalin wrote that he still lived in Steventon village in 1776 (See Boris’s comment in the comment section) and that the very young Jane knew him.

“He could walk, and he was not a Down’s Syndrome child, or he would not have lived so long, lacking modern medication. Because Jane knew deaf and dumb sign language as an adult— she mentioned talking “with my fingers” in a letter of 1808— it is thought he may have lacked language; it would not have stopped him joining in the village children’s games.” – Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen, A Biography

The Austens produced remarkably hardy children, for all survived their childhood. At forty-one, Jane was the youngest to die. George, who survived to a ripe old age, was cared for along with his Uncle Thomas (a mentally defective person), by Francis Cullum, who lived in Monk Sherborne, a nearby Hampshire village. Although George was not mentioned in Austen family letters, he was not totally forgotten, for the family contributed to his upkeep. The wildly sentimental film, Becoming Jane, shows George as an active member of the family, walking with Jane in the woods and attending church with them, but an article in JASNA rightly states, “It is not likely that he attended church with the Austens, as depicted in the movie.”

Jane, George, Rev. Austen, Eliza de Feuillide and Cassandra after church service in Becoming Jane.

Jane, George, Rev. Austen, Eliza de Feuillide and Cassandra after church service in Becoming Jane.

After Jane’s death, mention of George disappeared from several family sources. John and Edith Hubback in Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers wrote: “In a family of seven all turned out well, two rose to the top of their profession, and one was—Jane Austen.”  Their math is obviously wrong. In the Memoir of Jane Austen, her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh mentions that James was the first brother and Edward the second. This historical oversight has outraged some authors, David Nokes in particular, whose reaction is described in a Washington Post review of his book, Jane Austen: A Life:

A second “family secret” hitherto little mentioned is the existence of Jane Austen’s brother George, 10 years older than Jane, who “never learned to speak” and was boarded out for the rest of his life in another Hampshire village along with Thomas Leigh, Mrs. Austen’s mentally defective brother. This George Austen (perhaps the origin of “poor Richard” Musgrave in Persuasion) long survived his sister Jane and lived on into his seventies. David Nokes devotes an indignant last chapter to “poor George” and contrasts the Austen family’s ruthless jettisoning of him — apart from payment of a small, regular fee for his upkeep — with their family’s rather sickening adulation, after Jane’s death, of their “dear angel” Aunt Jane — whose propensity for satire and malice was almost entirely played down, while her simple religious beliefs were elevated into near-canonization.

The Loiterer cautions us about first-hand accounts, saying they can be wildly inaccurate:

“There were eight children in the family and the second brother was George and not Edward who, in fact, was the third brother. George, apparently, was epileptic and may have been deaf and dumb as well. He simply was not allowed to join the family in their home. None of Jane’s existing letters mentions him—not one single time. (In spite of his infirmities, he outlived Jane by at least ten years!) Now, there is something to give one perspective on “first-hand accounts”. – The Loiterer

Another source of outrage for David Nokes was Mrs. Austen, who died in 1823. In her will she had divided the money from her South Sea Annuities equally among the surviving Austen children, with the exception of  George.

“He, as usual, was excluded and forgotten. It was Edward Knight who, as an act of kindness, made over his share of the money ‘for the use of my brother George, being his full share of the £3,350 old South Sea Annuities. – David Nokes, p. 525

Francis Cullum, George caretaker, died in the spring of 1834. After his death, his son George took over the responsibilities of caring for George Austen, who died of dropsy in 1838. Once again, David Nokes writes with melodramatic flourish about the loving way in which Jane’s memory was perpetuated by her family, even as they neglected poor George:

“Less than twenty miles away [from Jane’s grave], Jane’s brother George was laid to rest in an unnamed grave in the churchyard of All Saints church, Monk Sherborne. In death, as in life, he was to be forgotten, his remains unmarked by any stone. Only George Cullum was in attendance at George Austen’s death. It was he who noted for the death certificate that George Austen was ‘a gentleman’. – Nokes, p. 526

I cannot express how much I disagree with David Nokes in this instance. The Austens arranged to have George and Cassandra’s brother, Thomas Leigh, looked after by a caring family, and supported these two family members financially. One imagines that with eight children, a boarding school, a small plot of land to tend to with chickens and a cow, and two livings as a clergyman, that the two elder Austens had their hands full overseeing their burgeoning household. The addition of a special needs child who required constant care would have added a great strain to their living situation.

Bedlam inmate shackled in irons, Bethelehem Royal Hospital, London

Bedlam inmate shackled in irons, Bethelehem Royal Hospital, London

This was an age where few asylums for the mentally disabled or the physically disabled existed. People with infirmities were looked upon as defectives and many became sideshows at fairs or carnivals, or as beggars on the streets. It was a custom at this time to visit Bedlam and stare at the people in the lunatic asylum. In fact, there were very few institutions available during this era for people of special needs and very few places that could take them in. Bedlam was the only hospital of its kind in London during Jane’s lifetime. Workhouses and almshouses were the only other places where the physically and mentally handicapped could be deposited, and these were places that people strove to avoid at all cost. In addition, there has been a history since the beginning of time in almost all cultures that looked the other way when parents left their defective babies in the wild to die. (This situation still exists today.) Unlike David Nokes, my conclusion is that, given the era the Austens lived in, the family behaved in a remarkably responsible manner towards George, who lived a quiet life of peace and relative comfort for 72 long years. As for the inaccuracies in later biographies written by Austen family members, one wonders how effectively George had been hidden from view. Out of sight is out of mind, and these mistakes of omittance may well have been the natural result of – as David Nokes accused the Austens of doing – the extended family forgetting that George had ever existed.
Austen family

Gentle reader: In honor of JASNA’s annual meeting in Philadelphia this week, this blog, Austenprose, and Jane Austen Today have devoted posts to Jane Austen and her siblings. This is the last of seven articles devoted to her brothers and sisters. Tomorrow, Laurel Ann and I will recommend several biographies on Jane Austen.

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