Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters

A Family Record

Chapter XIX

Aunt Jane


Any attempt at depicting the charm and attractiveness of Jane Austen's character must be quite incomplete if it fails to take into account the special manner in which she showed these qualities as an aunt. She herself says in joke to a young niece that she had always maintained the importance of aunts; and she evidently felt, in all seriousness, the responsibility of that relationship, though she would have been one of the last to display her sense of it by any didactic or authoritative utterance. The author of the Memoir tells us that her two nieces who were grown up in her lifetime could say how valuable to them had been her advice in 'the little difficulties and doubts of early womanhood'; and Lord Brabourne quotes here and there extracts from his mother's diary, such as these: 'Aunt Jane and I had a very interesting conversation'; 'Aunt Jane and I had a delicious morning together'; 'Aunt Jane and I very snug'; and so on, until the sad ending: 'I had the misery of losing my dear Aunt Jane after a lingering illness.'

Some letters of hers to three of her nieces give a good idea of her value and importance to them, whether as grown women or as children.[332]

Fanny Knight, sensible as she was, and early accustomed to responsibility, felt at a loss how to distinguish in her own mind between inclination and love when seriously courted in 1814 by a man of unexceptionable position and character. A reference to her aunt brought her two delightful letters.[333] No definite opinion was expressed or formal advice given in these letters, but they must have helped her by their sympathy, and cleared her mind by the steadiness with which they contemplated the case in all its bearings.

Chawton: Friday [November 18, 1814].

I feel quite as doubtful as you could be, my dearest Fanny, as to when my letter may be finished, for I can command very little quiet time at present; but yet I must begin, for I know you will be glad to hear as soon as possible, and I really am impatient myself to be writing something on so very interesting a subject, though I have no hope of writing anything to the purpose. I shall do very little more, I dare say, than say over again what you have said before.

I was certainly a good deal surprised at first, as I had no suspicion of any change in your feelings, and I have no scruple in saying that you cannot be in love. My dear Fanny, I am ready to laugh at the idea, and yet it is no laughing matter to have had you so mistaken as to your own feelings. And with all my heart I wish I had cautioned you on that point when first you spoke to me; but, though I did not think you then much in love, I did consider you as being attached in a degree quite sufficiently for happiness, as I had no doubt it would increase with opportunity, and from the time of our being in London[334] together I thought you really very much in love. But you certainly are not at all--there is no concealing it.

What strange creatures we are! It seems as if your being secure of him had made you indifferent.

* * * * *

He is just what he ever was, only more evidently and uniformly devoted to you. This is all the difference. How shall we account for it?

My dearest Fanny, I am writing what will not be of the smallest use to you. I am feeling differently every moment, and shall not be able to suggest a single thing that can assist your mind. I could lament in one sentence and laugh in the next, but as to opinion or counsel I am sure that none will be extracted worth having from this letter.

* * * * *

Poor dear Mr. A.! Oh, dear Fanny! your mistake has been one that thousands of women fall into. He was the first young man who attached himself to you. That was the charm, and most powerful it is. Among the multitudes, however, that make the same mistake with yourself, there can be few indeed who have so little reason to regret it; his character and his attachment leave you nothing to be ashamed of.

Upon the whole, what is to be done? You have no inclination for any other person. His situation in life, family, friends, and, above all, his character, his uncommonly amiable mind, strict principles, just notions, good habits, all that you know so well how to value, all that is really of the first importance--everything of this nature pleads his cause most strongly. You have no doubt of his having superior abilities, he has proved it at the University; he is, I dare say, such a scholar as your agreeable, idle brothers would ill bear a comparison with.

Oh, my dear Fanny! the more I write about him the warmer my feelings become--the more strongly I feel the sterling worth of such a young man and the desirableness of your growing in love with him again. I recommend this most thoroughly. There are such beings in the world, perhaps one in a thousand, as the creature you and I should think perfection, where grace and spirit are united to worth, where the manners are equal to the heart and understanding; but such a person may not come in your way, or, if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a man of fortune, the near relation of your particular friend, and belonging to your own county.

Think of all this, Fanny. Mr. A. has advantages which we do not often meet in one person. His only fault, indeed, seems modesty. If he were less modest he would be more agreeable, speak louder, and look impudenter; and is not it a fine character of which modesty is the only defect? I have no doubt he will get more lively and more like yourselves as he is more with you; he will catch your ways if he belongs to you. And, as to there being any objection from his goodness, from the danger of his becoming even evangelical, I cannot admit that. I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be evangelicals, and am at least persuaded that they who are so from reason and feeling must be happiest and safest.

* * * * *

And now, my dear Fanny, having written so much on one side of the question, I shall turn round and entreat you not to commit yourself farther, and not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection; and if his deficiencies of manner, &c. &c., strike you more than all his good qualities, if you continue to think strongly of them, give him up at once. Things are now in such a state that you must resolve upon one or the other--either to allow him to go on as he has done, or whenever you are together behave with a coldness which may convince him that he has been deceiving himself. I have no doubt of his suffering a good deal for a time--a great deal when he feels that he must give you up; but it is no creed of mine, as you must be well aware, that such sort of disappointments kill anybody.

Yours very affectionately,

23 Hans Place: Wednesday [November 30, 1814].

Now, my dearest Fanny, I will begin a subject which comes in very naturally. You frighten me out of my wits by your reference. Your affection gives me the highest pleasure, but indeed you must not let anything depend on my opinion; your own feelings, and none but your own, should determine such an important point. So far, however, as answering your question, I have no scruple. I am perfectly convinced that your present feelings, supposing you were to marry now, would be sufficient for his happiness; but when I think how very, very far it is from a 'now,' and take everything that may be into consideration, I dare not say 'Determine to accept him'; the risk is too great for you, unless your own sentiments prompt it.

You will think me perverse perhaps; in my last letter I was urging everything in his favour, and now I am inclining the other way, but I cannot help it; I am at present more impressed with the possible evil that may arise to you from engaging yourself to him--in word or mind--than with anything else. When I consider how few young men you have yet seen much of; how capable you are (yes, I do still think you very capable) of being really in love; and how full of temptation the next six or seven years of your life will probably be (it is the very period of life for the strongest attachments to be formed)--I cannot wish you, with your present very cool feelings, to devote yourself in honour to him. It is very true that you never may attach another man his equal altogether; but if that other man has the power of attaching you more, he will be in your eyes the most perfect.

I shall be glad if you can revive past feelings, and from your unbiassed self resolve to go on as you have done, but this I do not expect; and without it I cannot wish you to be fettered. I should not be afraid of your marrying him; with all his worth you would soon love him enough for the happiness of both; but I should dread the continuance of this sort of tacit engagement, with such an uncertainty as there is of when it may be completed. Years may pass before he is independent; you like him well enough to marry, but not well enough to wait; the unpleasantness of appearing fickle is certainly great; but if you think you want punishment for past illusions, there it is, and nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound without love--bound to one, and preferring another; that is a punishment which you do not deserve.

* * * * *

I shall be most glad to hear from you again, my dearest Fanny, but it must not be later than Saturday, as we shall be off on Monday long before the letters are delivered; and write something that may do to be read or told.

* * * * *

I cannot suppose we differ in our ideas of the Christian religion. You have given an excellent description of it. We only affix a different meaning to the word evangelical.

Yours most affectionately,

Miss Knight, Godmersham Park, Faversham, Kent.

Two remarks in these letters seem to betray the close observer of human nature from the novelist's point of view. Her optimistic opinion as to recovery from disappointments in love may perhaps be adduced by some critics as an argument to show that her feelings were not very deep; we should rather quote them as an instance of her candour--of her saying what other writers cannot help thinking, though they may not like to express the thought. Readers of Persuasion are well aware that the author made room for cases (at all events, in the lives of women) where such disappointments, though they may not kill, yet give a sombre tone to the life and spirits of the sufferer through a long series of years.

There is close observation also in the distinction drawn between the amount of love sufficient for a speedy marriage, and that necessary for a long engagement, if unhappiness and possible discredit are to be avoided. On this occasion, neither marriage nor engagement happened to Fanny Knight. Her son tells us that differences in religious ideas tended by degrees to separate the lovers--if lovers they could be called. Her doubt as to caring enough for 'Mr. A.' became a certainty in the course of the year 1815. When her aunt, in November of that year, joked with her about an imaginary tenderness for Mr. Haden, 'the apothecary,' it was no doubt pure 'chaff'; but we may be sure she would not have indulged in it if any serious attachment had then occupied her niece's mind.

The remaining letters of this series which we possess were written, after an interval of more than two years, in February and March 1817,[335] only a few months before Jane's death. All idea of Fanny's engaging herself to 'Mr. A.' has now passed away; yet, with natural inconsistency, she lives in dread of his marrying some one else. By this time there is a 'Mr. B.' on the stage, but his courtship, though apparently demonstrative, is not really serious; and the last letter keeps away from love affairs altogether. As to 'Mr. A.,' we are told that he found his happiness elsewhere within a couple of years; while Fanny became engaged to Sir Edward Knatchbull in 1820.

Chawton: [February 20, 1817].

MY DEAREST FANNY,--You are inimitable, irresistible. You are the delight of my life. Such letters, such entertaining letters, as you have lately sent! such a description of your queer little heart! such a lovely display of what imagination does! You are worth your weight in gold, or even in the new silver coinage. I canno express to you what I have felt in reading your history of yourself--how full of pity and concern, and admiration and amusement, I have been! You are the paragon of all that is silly and sensible, common-place and eccentric, sad and lively, provoking and interesting. Who can keep pace with the fluctuations of your fancy, the capprizios of your taste, the contradictions of your feelings? You are so odd, and all the time so perfectly natural!--so peculiar in yourself, and yet so like everybody else!

It is very, very gratifying to me to know you so intimately. You can hardly think what a pleasure it is to me to have such thorough pictures of your heart. Oh, what a loss it will be when you are married! You are too agreeable in your single state--too agreeable as a niece. I shall hate you when your delicious play of mind is all settled down into conjugal and maternal affections.

Mr. B---- frightens me. He will have you. I see you at the altar. I have some faith in Mrs. C. Cage's observation, and still more in Lizzy's; and, besides, I know it must be so. He must be wishing to attach you. It would be too stupid and too shameful in him to be otherwise; and all the family are seeking your acquaintance.

Do not imagine that I have any real objection; I have rather taken a fancy to him than not, and I like the house for you. I only do not like you should marry anybody. And yet I do wish you to marry very much, because I know you will never be happy till you are; but the loss of a Fanny Knight will be never made up to me. My 'affec. niece F. C. B----' will be but a poor substitute. I do not like your being nervous, and so apt to cry--it is a sign you are not quite well.

* * * * *

I enjoy your visit to Goodnestone, it must be a great pleasure to you; you have not seen Fanny Cage in comfort so long. I hope she represents and remonstrates and reasons with you properly. Why should you be living in dread of his marrying somebody else? (Yet, how natural!) You did not choose to have him yourself, why not allow him to take comfort where he can? In your conscience you know that he could not bear a companion with a more animated character. You cannot forget how you felt under the idea of its having been possible that he might have dined in Hans Place.

My dearest Fanny, I cannot bear you should be unhappy about him. Think of his principles; think of his father's objection, of want of money, &c., &c. But I am doing no good; no, all that I urge against him will rather make you take his part more, sweet, perverse Fanny.

And now I will tell you that we like your Henry to the utmost, to the very top of the glass, quite brimful. He is a very pleasing young man. I do not see how he could be mended. He does really bid fair to be everything his father and sister could wish; and William I love very much indeed, and so we do all; he is quite our own William. In short, we are very comfortable together; that is, we can answer for ourselves.

* * * * *

Friday.--I had no idea when I began this yesterday of sending it before your brother went back, but I have written away my foolish thoughts at such a rate that I will not keep them many hours longer to stare me in the face.

* * * * *

Ben and Anna walked here last Sunday to hear Uncle Henry, and she looked so pretty, it was quite a pleasure to see her, so young and so blooming, and so innocent.

* * * * *

Your objection to the quadrilles delighted me exceedingly. Pretty well, for a lady irrecoverably attached to one person! Sweet Fanny, believe no such thing of yourself, spread no such malicious slander upon your understanding, within the precincts of your imagination. Do not speak ill of your sense merely for the gratification of your fancy; yours is sense which deserves more honourable treatment. You are not in love with him; you never have been really in love with him.

Yours very affectionately,

Chawton: Thursday [March 13, 1817].

As to making any adequate return for such a letter as yours, my dearest Fanny, it is absolutely impossible. If I were to labour at it all the rest of my life, and live to the age of Methuselah, I could never accomplish anything so long and so perfect; but I cannot let William go without a few lines of acknowledgment and reply.

I have pretty well done with Mr. ----. By your description, he cannot be in love with you, however he may try at it; and I could not wish the match unless there were a great deal of love on his side.

* * * * *

Poor Mrs. C. Milles, that she should die on the wrong day at last, after being about it so long! It was unlucky that the Goodnestone party could not meet you, and I hope her friendly, obliging, social spirit, which delighted in drawing people together, was not conscious of the division and disappointment she was occasioning. I am sorry and surprised that you speak of her as having little to leave, and must feel for Miss Milles, though she is Molly, if a material loss of income is to attend her other loss. Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony, but I need not dwell on such arguments with you, pretty dear.

To you I shall say, as I have often said before, do not be in a hurry, the right man will come at last; you will in the course of the next two or three years meet with somebody more generally unexceptionable than anyone you have yet known, who will love you as warmly as possible, and who will so completely attract you that you will feel you never really loved before.

* * * * *

Aunt Cassandra walked to Wyards yesterday with Mrs. Digweed. Anna has had a bad cold, and looks pale. She has just weaned Julia.

Chawton: Sunday [March 23, 1817].

I am very much obliged to you, my dearest Fanny, for sending me Mr. W.'s conversation; I had great amusement in reading it, and I hope I am not affronted, and do not think the worse of him for having a brain so very different from mine; but my strongest sensation of all is astonishment at your being able to press him on the subject so perseveringly; and I agree with your papa, that it was not fair. When he knows the truth he will be uncomfortable.

You are the oddest creature! Nervous enough in some respects, but in others perfectly without nerves! Quite unrepulsable, hardened, and impudent. Do not oblige him to read any more. Have mercy on him, tell him the truth, and make him an apology. He and I should not in the least agree, of course, in our ideas of novels and heroines. Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked; but there is some very good sense in what he says, and I particularly respect him for wishing to think well of all young ladies; it shows an amiable and a delicate mind. And he deserves better treatment than to be obliged to read any more of my works.

Do not be surprised at finding Uncle Henry acquainted with my having another ready for publication. I could not say No when he asked me, but he knows nothing more of it. You will not like it, so you need not be impatient. You may perhaps like the heroine, as she is almost too good for me.[336]

* * * * *

Thank you for everything you tell me. I do not feel worthy of it by anything that I can say in return, but I assure you my pleasure in your letters is quite as great as ever, and I am interested and amused just as you could wish me.

The Papillons came back on Friday night, but I have not seen them yet, as I do not venture to church. I cannot hear, however, but that they are the same Mr. P. and his sister they used to be.

Very affectionately yours,

Miss Knight, Godmersham Park,

Very different in tone and subject were the letters, addressed about the same time as the two earlier of this series, to her other niece, Anna. Not that Anna was without her own love story: on the contrary, it came to a straightforward and satisfactory climax in her marriage to Ben Lefroy, which took place in November 1814; and no doubt, she, like her cousin, had received letters of sympathy and advice on the realities of life from her aunt. Her own romance, however, did not prevent her from interesting herself in the creations of her brain: indeed, all the three children of James Austen--Anna, Edward, and little Caroline--had indulged freely in the delights of authorship from a very youthful age. It was a novel of Anna's which caused the present correspondence; and we can see from the delicate hints of her aunt that Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park had not been without their influence over its matter and style. Readers of these letters will note the kindness with which Jane, now deep in the composition of Emma, turns aside from her own work to criticise and encourage, associating her views all the time with those of Cassandra--who was to her like a Court of Appeal--and allowing ample freedom of judgment also to Anna herself. They will see also that her vote is for 'nature and spirit,' above everything; while yet she insists on the necessity of accuracy of detail for producing the illusion of truth in fiction.

[May or June, 1814.]

MY DEAR ANNA,--I am very much obliged to you for sending your MS. It has entertained me extremely; all of us, indeed. I read it aloud to your Grandmama and Aunt Cass, and we were all very much pleased. The spirit does not droop at all. Sir Thos., Lady Helena and St. Julian are very well done, and Cecilia continues to be interesting in spite of her being so amiable. It was very fit you should advance her age. I like the beginning of Devereux Forester very much, a great deal better than if he had been very good or very bad. A few verbal corrections are all that I felt tempted to make.

* * * * *

I do not like a lover speaking in the 3rd person; it is too much like the formal part of Lord Orville,[337] and, I think, is not natural. If you think differently, however, you need not mind me. I am impatient for more, and only wait for a safe conveyance to return this book.

[August 10, 1814.]

I like the name Which is the Heroine very well, and I dare say shall grow to like it very much in time; but Enthusiasm was something so very superior that every common title must appear to disadvantage. I am not sensible of any blunders about Dawlish; the library was particularly pitiful and wretched twelve years ago and not likely to have anybody's publications. There is no such title as Desborough either among dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, or barons. These were your inquiries. I will now thank you for your envelope received this morning.

* * * * *

Your Aunt Cass is as well pleased with St. Julian as ever, and I am delighted with the idea of seeing Progillian again.

Wednesday 17.--We have now just finished the first of the three books I had the pleasure of receiving yesterday. I read it aloud and we are all very much amused, and like the work quite as well as ever. I depend on getting through another book before dinner, but there is really a good deal of respectable reading in your forty-eight pages. I have no doubt six will make a very good-sized volume. You must be quite pleased to have accomplished so much. I like Lord Portman[338] and his brother very much. I am only afraid that Lord P.'s good nature will make most people like him better than he deserves. The whole Portman family are very good, and Lady Anne, who was your great dread, you have succeeded particularly well with. Bell Griffin is just what she should be. My corrections have not been more important than before; here and there we have thought the sense could be expressed in fewer words, and I have scratched out Sir Thos. from walking with the other men to the stables, &c., the very day after his breaking his arm; for, though I find your papa did walk out immediately after his arm was set, I think it can be so little usual as to appear unnatural in a book.

* * * * *

Lyme will not do. Lyme is towards forty miles' distance from Dawlish and would not be talked of there. I have put Starcross instead. If you prefer Exeter that must be always safe.

I have also scratched out the introduction between Lord Portman and his brother and Mr. Griffin. A country surgeon (don't tell Mr. C. Lyford) would not be introduced to men of their rank.

* * * * *

I do think you had better omit Lady Helena's postscript. To those that are acquainted with Pride and Prejudice it will seem an imitation.

* * * * *

We are reading the last book. They must be two days going from Dawlish to Bath. They are nearly 100 miles apart.

Thursday.--We finished it last night after our return from drinking tea at the Great House. The last chapter does not please us quite so well; we do not thoroughly like the play, perhaps from having had too much of plays in that way lately,[339] and we think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland; but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath and the Foresters. There you will be quite at home.

Your Aunt C. does not like desultory novels, and is rather afraid yours will be too much so, that there will be too frequently a change from one set of people to another, and that circumstances will be sometimes introduced of apparent consequence which will lead to nothing. It will not be so great an objection to me if it does. I allow much more latitude than she does, and think nature and spirit cover many sins of a wandering story, and people in general do not care so much about it for your comfort.

I should like to have had more of Devereux. I do not feel enough acquainted with him. You were afraid of meddling with him, I dare say. I like your sketch of Lord Clanmurray, and your picture of the two poor young girls' enjoyment is very good. I have not yet noticed St. Julian's serious conversation with Cecilia, but I like it exceedingly. What he says about the madness of otherwise sensible women on the subject of their daughters coming out is worth its weight in gold.

I do not see that the language sinks. Pray go on.

[September 9, 1814.]

We have been very much amused by your three books, but I have a good many criticisms to make, more than you will like. We are not satisfied with Mrs. Forester's settling herself as tenant and near neighbour to such a man as Sir T. H., without having some other inducement to go there. She ought to have some friend living thereabouts to tempt her. A woman going with two girls just growing up into a neighbourhood where she knows nobody but one man of not very good character, is an awkwardness which so prudent a woman as Mrs. F. would not be likely to fall into. Remember she is very prudent. You must not let her act inconsistently. Give her a friend, and let that friend be invited to meet her at the Priory, and we shall have no objection to her dining there as she does; but otherwise a woman in her situation would hardly go there before she had been visited by other families. I like the scene itself, the Miss Lesleys, Lady Anne, and the music very much. . . . Sir Thomas H. you always do very well. I have only taken the liberty of expunging one phrase of his which would not be allowable--'Bless my heart!' It is too familiar and inelegant. Your grandmother is more disturbed at Mrs. Forester's not returning the Egertons' visit sooner than by anything else. They ought to have called at the Parsonage before Sunday. You describe a sweet place, but your descriptions are often more minute than will be liked. You give too many particulars of right hand and left. Mrs. Forester is not careful enough of Susan's health. Susan ought not to be walking out so soon after heavy rains, taking long walks in the dirt. An anxious mother would not suffer it. I like your Susan very much indeed, she is a sweet creature, her playfulness of fancy is very delightful. I like her as she is now exceedingly, but I am not quite so well satisfied with her behaviour to George R. At first she seems all over attachment and feeling, and afterwards to have none at all; she is so extremely composed at the ball and so well satisfied apparently with Mr. Morgan. She seems to have changed her character.

You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life. Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on, and I hope you will write a great deal more, and make full use of them while they are so very favourably arranged.

You are but now coming to the heart and beauty of your book. Till the heroine grows up the fun must be imperfect, but I expect a great deal of entertainment from the next three or four books, and I hope you will not resent these remarks by sending me no more.

* * * * *

They are not so much like the Papillons as I expected. Your last chapter is very entertaining, the conversation on genius, &c.; Mr. St. Julian and Susan both talk in character, and very well. In some former parts Cecilia is perhaps a little too solemn and good, but upon the whole her disposition is very well opposed to Susan's, her want of imagination is very natural. I wish you could make Mrs. Forester talk more; but she must be difficult to manage and make entertaining, because there is so much good common sense and propriety about her that nothing can be made very broad. Her economy and her ambition must not be staring. The papers left by Mrs. Fisher are very good. Of course one guesses something. I hope when you have written a great deal more, you will be equal to scratching out some of the past. The scene with Mrs. Mellish I should condemn; it is prosy and nothing to the purpose; and indeed the more you can find in your heart to curtail between Dawlish and Newton Priors, the better I think it will be--one does not care for girls till they are grown up. Your Aunt C. quite enters into the exquisiteness of that name--Newton Priors is really a nonpareil. Milton would have given his eyes to have thought of it. Is not the cottage taken from Tollard Royal?

[September 28, 1814.]

I hope you do not depend on having your book again immediately. I kept it that your grandmama may hear it, for it has not been possible yet to have any public reading. I have read it to your Aunt Cassandra, however, in our own room at night, while we undressed, and with a great deal of pleasure. We like the first chapter extremely, with only a little doubt whether Lady Helena is not almost too foolish. The matrimonial dialogue is very good certainly. I like Susan as well as ever, and begin now not to care at all about Cecilia; she may stay at Easton Court as long as she likes. Henry Mellish, I am afraid, will be too much in the common novel style--a handsome, amiable, unexceptionable young man (such as do not much abound in real life), desperately in love and all in vain. But I have no business to judge him so early.

* * * * *

We feel really obliged to you for introducing a Lady Kenrick; it will remove the greatest fault in the work, and I give you credit for considerable forbearance as an author in adopting so much of our opinion. I expect high fun about Mrs. Fisher and Sir Thomas.

* * * * *

Devereux Forester's being ruined by his vanity is extremely good, but I wish you would not let him plunge into a 'vortex of dissipation.' I do not object to the thing, but I cannot bear the expression; it is such thorough novel slang, and so old that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel he opened.

* * * * *

Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people's mouths.

I do not like him, and do not mean to like Waverley[340] if I can help it, but fear I must.

I am quite determined, however, not to be pleased with Mrs. West's Alicia De Lacy, should I ever meet with it, which I hope I shall not. I think I can be stout against anything written by Mrs. West.[341] I have made up my mind to like no novels really but Miss Edgeworth's, yours, and my own.

What can you do with Egerton to increase the interest for him? I wish you could contrive something, some family occurrence to bring out his good qualities more. Some distress among brothers and sisters to relieve by the sale of his curacy! Something to carry him mysteriously away, and then be heard of at York or Edinburgh in an old great coat. I would not seriously recommend anything improbable, but if you could invent something spirited for him it would have a good effect. He might lend all his money to Captain Morris, but then he would be a great fool if he did. Cannot the Morrises quarrel and he reconcile them? Excuse the liberty I take in these suggestions.

* * * * *

The Webbs are really gone! When I saw the wagons at the door, and thought of all the trouble they must have in moving, I began to reproach myself for not having liked them better, but since the wagons have disappeared my conscience has been closed again, and I am excessively glad they are gone.

I am very fond of Sherlock's sermons and prefer them to almost any.

Anna's marriage took place on November 8. Her husband was afterwards a clergyman, but he did not take Orders until about three years after the marriage; and the first home of the young couple was at Hendon, to which place the following letter was addressed, Jane being at that time with her brother Henry, in Hans Place:--

Hans Place: [November 28, 1814].

MY DEAR ANNA,--I assure you we all came away very much pleased with our visit. We talked of you for about a mile and a half with great satisfaction; and I have been just sending a very good report of you to Miss Benn, with a full account of your dress for Susan and Maria.

We were all at the play last night to see Miss O'Neill in Isabella. I do not think she was quite equal to my expectations. I fancy I want something more than can be. I took two pocket-handkerchiefs, but had very little occasion for either. She is an elegant creature, however, and hugs Mr. Young delightfully. I am going this morning to see the little girls in Keppel Street. Cassy was excessively interested about your marriage when she heard of it, which was not until she was to drink your health on the wedding day.

She asked a thousand questions in her usual manner, what he said to you and what you said to him. If your uncle were at home he would send his best love, but I will not impose any base fictitious remembrances on you. Mine I can honestly give, and remain

Your affectionate Aunt,

Early in December, Anna sent her aunt another packet, which elicited the following letter:--

Hans Place: Wednesday.

MY DEAR ANNA,--I have been very far from finding your book an evil, I assure you. I read it immediately, and with great pleasure. I think you are going on very well. The description of Dr. Griffin and Lady Helena's unhappiness is very good, just what was likely to be. I am curious to know what the end of them will be. The name of Newton Priors is really invaluable; I never met with anything superior to it. It is delightful; one could live upon the name of Newton Priors for a twelvemonth. Indeed, I do think you get on very fast. I only wish other people of my acquaintance could compose as rapidly. I am pleased with the dog scene and with the whole of George and Susan's love, but am more particularly struck with your serious conversations, etc. They are very good throughout. St. Julian's history was quite a surprise to me. You had not very long known it yourself, I suspect; but I have no objection to make to the circumstance, and it is very well told. His having been in love with the aunt gives Cecilia an additional interest with him. I like the idea--a very proper compliment to an aunt! I rather imagine indeed that nieces are seldom chosen but out of compliment to some aunt or another. I dare say Ben was in love with me once, and would never have thought of you if he had not supposed me dead of a scarlet fever.

* * * * *

[Mrs. Heathcote] writes me word that Miss Blachford is married, but I have never seen it in the papers, and one may as well be single if the wedding is not to be in print.

Your affectionate Aunt,
J. A.

In August 1815 the Lefroys moved from Hendon, and took a small house called Wyards, near Alton, and within a walk of Chawton. Wyards is more than once mentioned in our letters.

This is the last letter we possess dealing with Anna's story; and we can understand that the attention of either writer was soon diverted from it by more serious considerations: that of Anna by family cares, that of her aunt by Henry's illness and bankruptcy, and by her own publication of Emma and subsequent failure of health. The last history of the MS. was sad enough. After the death of her kind critic, Anna could not induce herself to go on with the tale; the associations were too melancholy. Long afterwards, she took it out of its drawer, and, in a fit of despondency, threw it into the fire. Her daughter, who tells us this, adds that she herself--a little girl--was sitting on the rug, and remembers that she watched the destruction, amused with the flame.

A similar fate befell a tragedy written at a very early age by Anna's little sister Caroline, who was her junior by about twelve years. Caroline believed it to be a necessary part of a tragedy that all the dramatis personae should somehow meet their end, by violence or otherwise, in the last act; and this belief produced such a scene of carnage and woe as to cause fits of laughter among unsympathetic elders, and tears to the author, who threw the unfortunate tragedy into the fire on the spot.

Caroline, however, continued to write stories; and some of them are alluded to in a series of little childish letters written to her by her Aunt Jane, which survive, carefully pieced together with silver paper and gum, and which are worth preserving for the presence in them of love and playfulness, and the entire absence of condescension.

December 6.

MY DEAR CAROLINE,--I wish I could finish stories as fast as you can. I am much obliged to you for the sight of Olivia, and think you have done for her very well; but the good-for-nothing father, who was the real author of all her faults and sufferings, should not escape unpunished. I hope he hung himself, or took the sur-name of Bone or underwent some direful penance or other.

Yours affectionately,

Chawton: Monday, July 15.

MY DEAR CAROLINE,--I have followed your directions and find your handwriting admirable. If you continue to improve as much as you have done, perhaps I may not be obliged to shut my eyes at all half a year hence. I have been very much entertained by your story of Carolina and her aged father; it made me laugh heartily, and I am particularly glad to find you so much alive upon any topic of such absurdity, as the usual description of a heroine's father. You have done it full justice, or, if anything be wanting, it is the information of the venerable old man's having married when only twenty-one, and being a father at twenty-two.

I had an early opportunity of conveying your letter to Mary Jane, having only to throw it out of window at her as she was romping with your brother in the Back Court. She thanks you for it, and answers your questions through me. I am to tell you that she has passed her time at Chawton very pleasantly indeed, that she does not miss Cassy so much as she expected, and that as to Diana Temple, she is ashamed to say it has never been worked at since you went away. . . .

Edward's visit has been a great pleasure to us. He has not lost one good quality or good look, and is only altered in being improved by being some months older than when we saw him last. He is getting very near our own age, for we do not grow older of course.

Yours affectionately,

Chawton: Wednesday, March. 13 [1815].

MY DEAR CAROLINE,--I am very glad to have an opportunity of answering your agreeable little letter. You seem to be quite my own niece in your feelings towards Mme. de Genlis. I do not think I could even now, at my sedate time of life, read Olympe et Théophile without being in a rage. It really is too bad! Not allowing them to be happy together when they are married. Don't talk of it, pray. I have just lent your Aunt Frank the first volume of Les Veillées du Château, for Mary Jane to read. It will be some time before she comes to the horror of Olympe. . . .

I had a very nice letter from your brother not long ago, and I am quite happy to see how much his hand is improving. I am convinced that it will end in a very gentlemanlike hand, much above par.

We have had a great deal of fun lately with post-chaises stopping at the door; three times within a few days we had a couple of agreeable visitors turn in unexpectedly--your Uncle Henry and Mr. Tilson, Mrs. Heathcote and Miss Bigg, your Uncle Henry and Mr. Seymour. Take notice it was the same Uncle Henry each time.

I remain, my dear Caroline,
Your affectionate Aunt,

Hans Place: Monday night [October 30, 1815].

MY DEAR CAROLINE,--I have not felt quite equal to taking up your Manuscript, but think I shall soon, and I hope my detaining it so long will be no inconvenience. It gives us great pleasure that you should be at Chawton. I am sure Cassy must be delighted to have you. You will practise your music of course, and I trust to you for taking care of my instrument and not letting it be ill-used in any respect. Do not allow anything to be put on it but what is very light. I hope you will try to make out some other tune besides the Hermit. . . .

I am sorry you got wet in your ride; now that you are become an Aunt[342] you are a person of some consequence and must excite great interest whatever you do. I have always maintained the importance of Aunts as much as possible, and I am sure of your doing the same now.

Believe me, my dear Sister-Aunt,
Yours affectionately,

[January 23, 1817.]

MY DEAR CAROLINE,--I am always very much obliged to you for writing to me, and have now I believe two or three notes to thank you for; but whatever may be their number, I mean to have this letter accepted as a handsome return for all, for you see I have taken a complete, whole sheet of paper, which is to entitle me to consider it as a very long letter whether I write much or little.

We were quite happy to see Edward, it was an unexpected pleasure, and he makes himself as agreeable as ever, sitting in such a quiet comfortable way making his delightful little sketches. He is generally thought grown since he was here last, and rather thinner, but in very good looks. . . . He read his two chapters to us the first evening--both good, but especially the last in our opinion. We think it has more of the spirit and entertainment of the early part of his work.[343] . . .

I feel myself getting stronger than I was half a year ago, and can so perfectly well walk to Alton, or back again, without the slightest fatigue that I hope to be able to do both when summer comes. I spent two or three days with your Uncle and Aunt[344] lately, and though the children are sometimes very noisy and not under such order as they ought and easily might, I cannot help liking them and even loving them, which I hope may be not wholly inexcusable in their and your affectionate Aunt,


The Pianoforte often talks of you; in various keys, tunes, and expressions, I allow--but be it Lesson or Country Dance, Sonata or Waltz, you are really its constant theme. I wish you could come and see us, as easily as Edward can.

J. A.

Wednesday night. [1817.]

You send me great news indeed, my dear Caroline, about Mr. Digweed, Mr. Trimmer, and a Grand Pianoforte. I wish it had been a small one, as then you might have pretended that Mr. D.'s rooms were too damp to be fit for it, and offered to take charge of it at the Parsonage. . . .

* * * * *

I look forward to the four new chapters with pleasure.--But how can you like Frederick better than Edgar? You have some eccentric tastes however, I know, as to Heroes and Heroines. Goodbye.

Yours affectionately,

Chawton: Wednesday, March 26 [1817].

MY DEAR CAROLINE,--Pray make no apologies for writing to me often, I am always very happy to hear from you. . . .

I think you very much improved in your writing, and in the way to write a very pretty hand. I wish you could practise your fingering oftener. Would not it be a good plan for you to go and live entirely at Mr. Wm. Digweed's? He could not desire any other remuneration than the pleasure of hearing you practise.

I like Frederick and Caroline better than I did, but must still prefer Edgar and Julia. Julia is a warm-hearted, ingenuous, natural girl, which I like her for; but I know the word natural is no recommendation to you. . . .

How very well Edward is looking! You can have nobody in your neighbourhood to vie with him at all, except Mr. Portal. I have taken one ride on the donkey and like it very much--and you must try to get me quiet, mild days, that I may be able to go out pretty constantly. A great deal of wind does not suit me, as I have still a tendency to rheumatism. In short I am a poor honey at present. I will be better when you can come and see us.

Yours affectionately,

Caroline Austen contributed to the Memoir written by her brother many of the personal reminiscences of their aunt. She was the niece to whom Jane in her last illness sent a recommendation to read more and write less during the years of girlhood. Caroline obeyed the injunction; she became a very well-read woman, and never wrote stories for publication. She was, however, an admirable talker: able to invest common things with a point and spirit peculiarly her own. She was also an ideal aunt, both to nieces and nephews, who all owe a great deal to her companionship and devotion.


[332] The first two batches of letters are to be found in Lord Brabourne's book, vol. ii. p. 277 et seq.; of the third set (to Caroline) only a few isolated quotations have been published. The second and third sets have been compared with the originals, but we have been unable to do this in the case of the first.

[333] Cassandra was evidently not in the secret; and we learn from their niece Anna the interesting fact that, close and intimate as were the relations between the two sisters, they were absolutely silent to each other when the confidences of a third person had to be guarded.

[334] Perhaps in March 1814.

[335] Lord Brabourne dates them in 1816, and Mr. Oscar Fay Adams and Miss Hill naturally follow him; but such a date is impossible, as they contain allusions to two or three family events which had not then happened. This correction makes the account of her own health in the letters of March 13 and March 23 (which will be found in Chap. XX, p. 383) fit in much better with our information from other sources as to the progress of her illness than would have been the case had it been written in 1816.

[336] See p. 336.

[337] In Evelina.

[338] It must be remembered that there was no 'Lord Portman' or 'Lord Desborough' in 1814.

[339] In Mansfield Park.

[340] Published July 7, 1814. Jane Austen had no more doubt as to who was the author than Miss Mitford had.

[341] See p. 376.

[342] On the birth of Anna Lefroy's eldest daughter, Jemima.

[343] See p. 374.

[344] No doubt the Frank Austens.