Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters

A Family Record

Chapter IV

Family Life


The eldest brother of the family, James, was nearly eleven years older than Jane, and had taken his degree at Oxford before she left school. He had matriculated at St. John's (where he obtained a 'founder's kin' Scholarship and, subsequently, a Fellowship) in 1779, at the early age of fourteen; his departure from home having been perhaps hastened in order to make room for the three or four pupils who were sharing his brothers' studies at that time. His was a scholarly type of mind; he was well read in English literature, had a correct taste, and wrote readily and happily, both in prose and verse. His son, the author of the Memoir, believes that he had a large share in directing the reading, and forming the taste, of his sister Jane. James was evidently in sympathy with Cowper's return to nature from the more artificial and mechanical style of Pope's imitators, and so was she; in Sense and Sensibility, Marianne, after her first conversation with Willoughby, had happily assured herself of his admiring Pope 'no more than is proper.' In 1786 we hear of James being in France; his cousin Eliza was hoping for a visit of some months from him; but in the next year he had returned, and he must have soon gone into residence at Oxford as a young Fellow of his College; for there, in 1789, he became the originator and chief author of a periodical paper called The Loiterer, modelled on The Spectator and its successors. It existed for more than a twelvemonth, and in the last number the whole was offered to the world as a 'rough, but not entirely inaccurate Sketch of the Character, the Manners, and the Amusements of Oxford, at the close of the eighteenth century.' In after life, we are told, he used to speak very slightingly of this early work, 'which he had the better right to do, as, whatever may have been the degree of their merits, the best papers had certainly been written by himself.'

Edward Austen's disposition and tastes were as different from James's as his lot in life proved to be. Edward, as his mother says, 'made no pretensions' to literary taste and scholarship; but he was an excellent man of business, kind-hearted and affectionate; and he possessed also a spirit of fun and liveliness, which made him--as time went on--especially delightful to all young people. His history was more like fiction than reality. Most children have at some time or other indulged in day-dreams, in which they succeed to unexpected estates and consequent power; and it all happened to Edward. Mr. Thomas Knight of Godmersham Park in Kent, and Chawton House in Hampshire, had married a second cousin of George Austen, and had placed him in his Rectory at Steventon. His son, another Thomas Knight, and his charming wife, Catherine Knatchbull, took a fancy to young Edward, had him often to their house, and eventually adopted him. The story remains in the family of Mr. and Mrs. Knight's asking for the company of young Edward during his holidays, of his father's hesitating in the interests of the Latin Grammar, and of his mother's clinching the matter by saying 'I think, my dear, you had better oblige your cousins and let the child go.' There was no issue of the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Knight, and by degrees they made up their minds to adopt Edward Austen as their heir. This resolution was not only a mark of their regard for Edward but also a compliment to the Austen family in general, whose early promise their cousins had probably observed; the relationship not being near enough to constitute any claim. But Mr. Knight was most serious in his intentions, for in his will he left the estates in remainder to Edward's brothers in succession in case of the failure of his issue, and Mrs. Knight always showed the kindest interest in all the family. Edward was now more and more at Godmersham and less and less at home. Under the Knights' auspices, he was sent, not to the University, but on a 'grand tour,' which included Dresden and Rome. He was probably away on this tour at the date which we have now reached.

Jane's favourite brother, Henry, was nearly four years younger than Edward, and was no doubt still profiting by his father's instructions. By 1789 he was not only at Oxford but was contributing to The Loiterer a paper on the sentimental school of Rousseau, and considering 'how far the indulgence of the above-named sentiments affects the immediate happiness or misery of human life.' Henry, whose course in life was marked by sharper curves than that of any of his brothers, was no doubt a very attractive personality. His niece, Mrs. Lefroy, says of him:--

He was the handsomest of his family and, in the opinion of his own father, also the most talented. There were others who formed a different estimate, and considered his abilities greater in show than in reality; but for the most part he was greatly admired. Brilliant in conversation he was, and, like his father, blessed with a hopefulness of temper which in adapting itself to all circumstances, even the most adverse, seemed to create a perpetual sunshine. The race, however, is not all to the swift, it never has been, and, though so highly gifted by nature, my uncle was not prosperous in life.
There can be no doubt that by his bright and lovable nature he contributed greatly to the happiness of his sister Jane. She tells us that he could not help being amusing, and she was so good a judge of that quality that we accept her opinion of Henry's humour without demur; but he became so grandiloquent when wishing to be serious that he certainly must have wanted that last and rarest gift of a humorist--the art of laughing at himself.

Very different again was the self-contained and steadfast Francis--the future Admiral of the Fleet; who was born in April 1774, and divided in age from Henry by their sister Cassandra. He must have spent some time at home with his sisters, after their return from school, before he entered the Royal Naval Academy, established in 1775 at Portsmouth under the supreme direction of the Lords of the Admiralty. Francis joined it when he was just twelve, and, 'having attracted the particular notice of the Lords of the Admiralty by the closeness of his application, and been in consequence marked out for early promotion,'[33] embarked two and a half years later as a volunteer on board the frigate Perseverance (captain, Isaac Smith), bound to the East Indies. His father on this occasion wrote him a long letter--of which a great part is given in Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers.[34] Nothing in this wise and kind letter is more remarkable than the courtesy and delicacy with which the father addresses his advice to the son, who was but a boy, but whom he treats as an officer, and as a young man of whom he already cherished the highest hopes, consequent upon his previous good conduct. He speaks on many topics, religious duties being given the first place among them. He rejoices in the high character Francis had acquired in the academy and assures him that 'your good mother, brothers, sisters and myself will all exult in your reputation and rejoice in your happiness.' The letter concludes thus: 'I have nothing more to add but my blessing and best prayers for your health and prosperity, and to beg you would never forget you have not upon earth a more disinterested and warm friend than your truly affectionate father, Geo. Austen.' We need not be surprised to learn that this letter was found among the Admiral's private papers when he died at the age of ninety-one.

The remaining brother, Charles, his sisters' 'own particular little brother,' born in 1779, must have been still in the nursery when his sisters left school.

p>These brothers meant a great deal to Jane[35]; 'but dearest of all to her heart was her sister Cassandra, about three years her senior. Their sisterly affection for each other could scarcely be exceeded. Perhaps it began on Jane's side with the feeling of deference natural to a loving child towards a kind elder sister. Something of this feeling always remained; and even in the maturity of her powers, and in the enjoyment of increasing success, she would still speak of Cassandra as of one wiser and better than herself.' 'Their attachment was never interrupted or weakened; they lived in the same home, and shared the same bedroom, till separated by death. They were not exactly alike. Cassandra's was the colder and calmer disposition; she was always prudent and well-judging, but with less outward demonstration of feeling and less sunniness of temper than Jane possessed. It was remarked in the family that "Cassandra had the merit of having her temper always under command, but that Jane had the happiness of a temper which never required to be commanded."'

Such was the family party at Steventon; and 'there was so much that was agreeable in it that its members may be excused if they were inclined to live somewhat too exclusively within it.[36] They might see in each other much to love and esteem, and something to admire. The family talk had abundance of spirit and vivacity, and was never troubled by disagreements even in little matters, for it was not their habit to dispute or argue with each other; above all, there was strong family affection and firm union, never to be broken but by death. It cannot be doubted that all this had its influence with the author in the construction of her stories,' in which family life often plays a large part.

The party which we have described was for many years 'unbroken[37] by death and seldom visited by sorrow. Their situation had some peculiar advantages beyond those of ordinary rectories. Steventon was a family living. Mr. Knight, the patron, was also proprietor of nearly the whole parish. He never resided there, and, consequently, the Rector and his children came to be regarded in the neighbourhood as representatives of the family. They shared with the principal tenant the command of an excellent manor, and enjoyed, in this reflected way, some of the consideration usually awarded to landed proprietors. They were not rich, but, aided by Mr. Austen's power of teaching, they had enough to afford a good education to their sons and daughters, to mix in the best society of the neighbourhood, and to exercise a liberal hospitality to their own relations and friends.' 'A carriage and pair of horses were kept'; but this could be done more cheaply in the eighteenth century than in the nineteenth. 'There were then no assessed taxes; the carriage, once bought, entailed little further expense; and the horses, probably, like Mr. Bennet's (in Pride and Prejudice), were often employed on farm work. Moreover, it should be remembered that a pair of horses in those days were almost a necessity, if ladies were to move about at all; for neither the condition of the roads nor the style of carriage-building admitted of any comfortable vehicle being drawn by a single horse'; indeed, the object of the builders seems to have been 'to combine the greatest possible weight with the least possible amount of accommodation.'[38]

Jane Austen lost no time in entering on the career of authorship. She wrote because she must, and with very little prevision of the path which her genius was afterwards to mark out for her. She was urged onward 'by the first stirrings of talent within her and the absorbing interest of early composition.

'It is impossible to say at how early an age she began. There are copy-books extant containing tales, some of which must have been composed while she was a young girl, as they had amounted to a considerable number by the time she was sixteen. Her earliest stories are of a slight and flimsy texture, and are generally intended to be nonsensical, but the nonsense has much spirit in it. They are usually preceded by a dedication of mock solemnity to some one of her family. It would seem that the grandiloquent dedications prevalent in those days had not escaped her youthful penetration. Perhaps the most characteristic feature in those early productions is that, however puerile the matter, they are always composed in pure simple English, quite free from the over-ornamented style which might be expected from so young a writer.'[39] The following is a specimen:--




SIR,--I humbly solicit your patronage to the following Comedy, which, though an unfinished one, is, I flatter myself, as complete a Mystery as any of its kind.

I am, Sir, your most humble Servant,


Sir Edward Spangle


SCENE I.--A Garden.


Corydon. But hush: I am interrupted. [Exit CORYDON.]

Enter OLD HUMBUG and his SON, talking.

Old Hum. It is for that reason that I wish you to follow my advice. Are you convinced of its propriety?

Young Hum. I am, sir, and will certainly act in the manner you have pointed out to me.

Old Hum. Then let us return to the house. [Exeunt.]

SCENE II.--A parlour in HUMBUG'S house. MRS. HUMBUG and FANNY discovered at work.

Mrs. Hum. You understand me, my love?

Fanny. Perfectly, ma'am: pray continue your narration.

Mrs. Hum. Alas! it is nearly concluded; for I have nothing more to say on the subject.

Fanny. Ah! here is Daphne.


Daphne. My dear Mrs. Humbug, how d'ye do? Oh! Fanny, it is all over.

Fanny. Is it indeed!

Mrs. Hum. I'm very sorry to hear it.

Fanny. Then 'twas to no purpose that I--

Daphne. None upon earth.

Mrs. Hum. And what is to become of--?

Daphne. Oh! 'tis all settled. (Whispers MRS. HUMBUG.)

Fanny. And how is it determined?

Daphne. I'll tell you. (Whispers FANNY.)

Mrs. Hum. And is he to--?

Daphne. I'll tell you all I know of the matter. (Whispers MRS. HUMBUG and FANNY.)

Fanny. Well, now I know everything about it, I'll go away.

Mrs. Hum. and Daphne. And so will I. [Exeunt.]

SCENE III.--The curtain rises, and discovers SIR EDWARD SPANGLE reclined in an elegant attitude on a sofa fast asleep.


Col. E. My daughter is not here, I see. There lies Sir Edward. Shall I tell him the secret? No, he'll certainly blab it. But he's asleep, and won't hear me;--so I'll e'en venture. (Goes up to SIR EDWARD, whispers him, and exit.)



* * * * *

A somewhat later venture, pure extravaganza, called Evelyn is dedicated, by permission, to Miss Mary Lloyd.

The manuscript volume which contains Evelyn is grandly entitled on the outside 'Volume the Third'; on the inside 'Effusions of Fancy by a very Young Lady, consisting of Tales in a Style entirely new.' It contains one other tale, unfinished, but of considerable length, called Kitty or the Bower, which is preceded by the following dedication, dated 'Steventon, August 1792.'


MADAM,--Encouraged by your warm patronage of The Beautiful Cassandra and The History of England, which, through your generous support, have obtained a place in every library in the Kingdom, and run through four score editions, I take the liberty of begging the same Exertions in favour of the following novel, which I humbly flatter myself possesses Merit beyond any already published, or any that will ever in future appear, except such as may proceed from the pen of your most grateful

Humble Servant,

The tale begins in characteristic style, which suggests the later Northanger Abbey.
Catharine had the misfortune, as many heroines have had before her, of losing her parents when she was very young, and of being brought up under the care of a maiden aunt, who, while she tenderly loved her, watched her conduct with so scrutinizing a severity as to make it very doubtful to many people, and to Catharine among the rest, whether she loved her or not.
Catharine lives with this aunt in Devonshire, five miles from Exeter. Some friends of her aunt, a Mr. Stanley, M.P., his wife and daughter (very foolish, and suggestive of Isabella Thorpe) come to visit them. Mr. Stanley's son turns up unexpectedly and pays great attention to Catharine, much to the disgust of the aunt, who has a detestation of all young men. The tale comes to an abrupt conclusion with the departure of the guests. The story is at times amusing, but obviously immature, and we need not regret that it was never finished.

Other early sketches are Henry and Eliza, dedicated to Miss Cooper, which must have been written before the latter's marriage at the end of 1792; The Visit, dedicated to the Rev. James Austen; Jack and Alice, and Adventures of Mr. Harley, dedicated to Francis William Austen, Esq., midshipman on board H.M.S. Perseverance (soon after 1788), and other pieces dedicated to Charles John Austen, Esq.

Evelyn and Kitty seem to mark a second stage in her literary education: when she was hesitating between burlesque and immature story-telling, and when indeed it seemed as if she were first taking note of all the faults to be avoided, and curiously considering how she ought not to write before she attempted to put forth her strength in the right direction.

[40]'Her own mature opinion of the desirableness of such an early habit of composition is given in the following words of a niece:--

As I grew older, my aunt would talk to me more seriously of my reading and my amusements. I had taken early to writing verses and stories, and I am sorry to think how I troubled her with reading them. She was very kind about it, and always had some praise to bestow, but at last she warned me against spending too much time upon them. She said--how well I recollect it!--that she knew writing stories was a great amusement, and she thought a harmless one, though many people, she was aware, thought otherwise; but that at my age it would be bad for me to be much taken up with my own compositions. Later still--it was after she had gone to Winchester--she sent me a message to this effect, that if I would take her advice I should cease writing till I was sixteen; that she had herself often wished she had read more, and written less in the corresponding years of her own life.
'As this niece was only twelve years old at the time of her aunt's death, these words seem to imply that the juvenile tales which we have mentioned had, some of them at least, been written in her childhood; while others were separated only by a very few years from the period which included specimens of her most brilliant writing.'

In the summer of 1788, when the girls were fifteen and twelve respectively, they accompanied their parents on a visit to their great-uncle, old Mr. Francis Austen, at Sevenoaks. Though Jane had been to Oxford, Southampton, and Reading before, it is probable that this was her first visit into Kent, and, what must have been more interesting still, her first visit to London. We have no clue as to where the party stayed in town, but one of Eliza de Feuillide's letters to Philadelphia Walter mentions that they dined with Eliza and her mother on their way back to Hampshire.

They talked much of the satisfaction their visit into Kent had afforded them. What did you think of my uncle's looks? I was much pleased with them, and if possible he appeared more amiable than ever to me. What an excellent and pleasing man he is; I love him most sincerely, as indeed I do all the family. I believe it was your first acquaintance with Cassandra and Jane.

Though Philadelphia's reply to this letter has not been preserved, we have a letter of hers to her brother. Writing on July 23, she says:--

Yesterday I began an acquaintance with my two female cousins, Austens. My uncle, aunt, Cassandra, and Jane arrived at Mr. F. Austen's the day before. We dined with them there. As it's pure nature to love ourselves, I may be allowed to give the preference to the eldest, who is generally reckoned a most striking resemblance of me in features, complexion, and manners. I never found myself so much disposed to be vain, as I can't help thinking her very pretty, but fancied I could discover she was not so well pleased with the comparison, which reflection abated a great deal of the vanity so likely to arise and so proper to be suppres't. The youngest [Jane] is very like her brother Henry, not at all pretty and very prim, unlike a girl of twelve; but it is hasty judgment which you will scold me for. My aunt has lost several fore-teeth, which makes her look old; my uncle is quite white-haired, but looks vastly well; all in high spirits and disposed to be pleased with each other.

A day or two later, Philadelphia wrote further:--

I continue to admire my amiable likeness the best of the two in every respect; she keeps up conversation in a very sensible and pleasing manner. Yesterday they all spent the day with us, and the more I see of Cassandra the more I admire [her]. Jane is whimsical and affected.

'Not at all pretty,' 'whimsical and affected.' 'Poor Jane!' one is tempted to exclaim, but whatever she would have said to this estimate of herself, of one thing we may be perfectly sure: that she would have been the first to agree with her critic as to her own absolute inferiority to Cassandra.

There is a passage in a letter written from Southampton, February 1807,[41] in which she says she is often 'all astonishment and shame' when she thinks of her own manners as a young girl and contrasts them with what she sees in the 'best children' of a later date.

One other mention of Jane at this period may be quoted--that of Sir Egerton Brydges, the author and genealogist. His sister had married Mr. Lefroy, who in 1783 had become rector of Ashe (the living which George Austen would have held, had it become vacant before Deane), in succession to Dr. Russell. Sir Egerton, on his marriage in 1788, had for two years rented Mr. Austen's parsonage at Deane in order to be near his sister.

The nearest neighbours of the Lefroys were the Austens at Steventon. I remember Jane Austen the novelist as a little child. She was very intimate with Mrs. Lefroy and much encouraged by her. Her mother was a Miss Leigh, whose paternal grandmother was sister to the first Duke of Chandos. Mr. Austen was of a Kentish family, of which several branches have been settled in the Weald of Kent, and some are still remaining there. When I knew Jane Austen I never suspected that she was an authoress, but my eyes told me that she was fair and handsome, slight and elegant, but with cheeks a little too full.
Sir Egerton's description is the more pleasing of the two; but it must be remembered that he was writing long after the time he mentions, and that his recollections were no doubt somewhat mellowed by Jane Austen's subsequent fame; whereas Philadelphia Walter's is an unvarnished contemporary criticism--the impression made by Jane on a girl a few years older than herself.

Fortunately, neither looks nor manners are stereotyped at the age of twelve, so we need not be surprised to find that Eliza, when writing in August 1791 in reference to a letter just received from Steventon, talks of the two sisters as 'perfect Beauties,' who were of course gaining 'hearts by dozens.' And again in November of the same year, she writes that she hears 'they are two of the prettiest girls in England.'[42] When due allowance is made for family exaggeration, we may conclude that at eighteen and fifteen years of age both Cassandra and Jane had their fair share of good looks.

Eliza's letters give us another glimpse of the sisters in 1792, and indeed of the whole Steventon party. She writes on September 26:--

I have the real pleasure of informing you that our dear Uncle and Aunt are both in perfect health. The former looks uncommonly well, and in my opinion his likeness to my beloved mother is stronger than ever. Often do I sit and trace her features in his, till my heart overflows at my eyes. I always tenderly loved my Uncle, but I think he is now dearer to me than ever, as being the nearest and best beloved relation of the never to be sufficiently regretted parent I have lost; Cassandra and Jane are both very much grown (the latter is now taller than myself), and greatly improved as well in manners as in person, both of which are now much more formed than when you saw them. They are I think equally sensible and both so to a degree seldom met with, but still my heart gives the preference to Jane, whose kind partiality to me indeed requires a return of the same nature. Henry is now rather more than six feet high, I believe; he also is much improved, and is certainly endowed with uncommon abilities, which indeed seem to have been bestowed, though in a different way, upon each member of this family. As to the coolness which you know had taken place between H. and myself, it has now ceased, in consequence of due acknowledgement, on his part, and we are at present on very proper relationlike terms. You know that his family design him for the Church. Cassandra was from home when I arrived; she was then on a visit to Rowling, the abode of her brother Edward--from which she returned some time since, but is now once more absent, as well as her sister, on a visit to the Miss Lloyds, who live at a place called Ibthorp, about eighteen miles from hence. . . . There has been a Club Ball at Basingstoke and a private one in the neighbourhood, both of which my cousins say were very agreeable.

The date 1790 or 1791 must be assigned to the portrait--believed to be of Jane Austen, and believed to be by Zoffany--which has been chosen as the frontispiece for this book, as it was for Lord Brabourne's edition of the Letters.[43] We are unable for want of evidence to judge of the likeness of the picture to Jane Austen as a girl; there is, so far as we have heard, no family tradition of her having been painted; and, as her subsequent fame could hardly have been predicted, we should not expect that either her great-uncle Frank, or her cousin, Francis Motley Austen, would go to the expense of a picture of her by Zoffany. Francis Motley had a daughter of his own, another Jane Austen, who became Mrs. Campion of Danny, and a confusion between the two Janes is a possible explanation.

On the other hand, we believe there is no tradition in either the Austen or the Campion family of any such portrait of that Jane Austen, and the provenance of our picture is well authenticated. The Rev. Morland Rice (grandson of Edward Austen) was a Demy of Magdalen College, Oxford. An old Fellow of Magdalen, Dr. Newman, many years before his death, told him that he had a portrait of Jane Austen the novelist, that had long been in his family. He stated that it was painted at Bath when she was about fifteen, and he promised to leave him (M. Rice) the picture. A few months before his death, Dr. Newman wrote to his friend, Dr. Bloxam, sending him a picture as a farewell present, and adding: 'I have another picture that I wish to go to your neighbour, Morland Rice. It is a portrait of Jane Austen the novelist, by Zoffany. The picture was given to my stepmother by her friend Colonel Austen of Kippington, Kent, because she was a great admirer of her works.' Colonel Austen was a son of Francis Motley, and it is hardly conceivable that he should give away to a stranger a portrait of his sister Jane as one of his cousin Jane. Our Jane became fifteen on December 16, 1790, and Zoffany returned from India[44] in that year. Jane is believed to have visited her uncle, Dr. Cooper (who died in 1792), at Bath. There is nothing in these dates to raise any great difficulty, and, on the whole, we have good reason to hope that we possess in this picture an authentic portrait of the author.

The Austens seem to have been possessed of considerable histrionic talent, and they were decidedly ambitious in the plays they undertook. Their cousin Eliza was out of England in 1784 when their theatricals first began; but on a later occasion she was one of the principal performers. They had their summer theatre in the barn, and their winter theatre either there or within the narrow limits of the dining-room, where the number of listeners must have been very small. In 1784 Sheridan's Rivals was acted by 'some ladies and gentlemen at Steventon.' The same year they seem to have given also the tragedy of Matilda.[45] It was the day of prologues and epilogues, and the young actors were careful to omit nothing that would make the performance complete. James, the eldest son, brought into play his skill in verse-making; and we read of Henry Austen speaking a prologue (from his brother's pen) to The Rivals, while the prologue to Matilda was given by Edward Austen, and the epilogue by Thomas Fowle.

Midsummer and Christmas were the two seasons when George Austen dismissed his pupils for their holidays, and it was at these two periods that the theatricals usually took place. For the year 1787 we have a few details as to contemplated performances. Eliza de Feuillide had come to England with her mother in the summer of 1786, and probably went to Steventon at midsummer. In September 1787 she was at Tunbridge Wells with her mother and her cousin Phila. In a letter to her brother, Phila tells us that they went to the theatre, where (as was the custom in those days) the Comtesse--presumably as a person of some importance--'bespoke' the play, which was Which is the Man?[46] and Bon Ton.[47] This is interesting, because later on in the same letter Phila says: 'They [i.e. the Comtesse and her mother] go at Christmas to Steventon and mean to act a play, Which is the Man? and Bon Ton. My uncle's barn is fitting up quite like a theatre, and all the young folks are to take their part. The Countess is Lady Bob Lardoon [sic] in the former and Miss Tittup in the latter. They wish me much of the party and offer to carry me, but I do not think of it. I should like to be a spectator, but am sure I should not have courage to act a part, nor do I wish to attain it.'

Eliza was, however, very urgent with Phila that she should send all diffidence to Coventry.

Your accommodations at Steventon are the only things my Aunt Austen and myself are uneasy about, as the house being very full of company, she says she can only promise you 'a place to hide your head in,' but I think you will not mind this inconvenience. I am sure I should not--to be with you. Do not let your dress neither disturb you, as I think I can manage it so that the Green Room should provide you with what is necessary for acting. We purpose setting out the 17th of December. . . . I assure you we shall have a most brilliant party and a great deal of amusement, the house full of company, frequent balls. You cannot possibly resist so many temptations, especially when I tell you your old friend James is returned from France and is to be of the acting party.

But Phila still stood out, and Eliza attacked her once more on November 23, begging her to come for a fortnight to Steventon, provided she could bring herself to act, 'for my Aunt Austen declares "she has not room for any idle young people."'

We hear no more news of these theatricals, but it is probable that there was a change in the selection of the plays, for there is extant a prologue by James Austen to The Wonder,[48] acted at Steventon, December 26 and 28, 1787, as well as an epilogue 'spoken by a Lady in the character of Violante.' There is also a prologue to The Chances,[49] acted at Steventon, January 1788.

The last Steventon performances of which we have any knowledge took place in January 1790, when a farce called The Sultan[50] was acted. The leading lady on this last occasion was Miss Cooper, who spoke the epilogue in the character of Roxalana, Henry Austen playing the title-rôle. On the same occasion Townley's farce, High Life below Stairs, was also given.

Of Jane's own part in these performances there is no record, for she was only just fourteen when the last took place. But even if she took no more share than Fanny Price, she must have acquired a considerable acquaintance with the language of the theatre--knowledge that she was to turn to good account in Mansfield Park. She was an early observer, and it might reasonably be supposed that some of the incidents and feelings which are so vividly painted in the Mansfield Park theatricals are due to her recollections of these entertainments.

The talent and liveliness which she would show, if ever she had an opportunity of acting herself, may be imagined. The late Sir William Heathcote is said to have remembered being with her at a Twelfth Night party when he was a little boy, on which occasion she, having drawn the part of Mrs. Candour, acted it with appreciation and spirit.


[33] W. R. O'Byrne's Naval Biographical Dictionary, 1849.

[34] Pp. 16-20.

[35] We again make use of the words of the Memoir (pp. 15-17) in the description of the family party, &c.

[36] We are told that Jane was one of the least exclusive of the family.

[37] Memoir, pp. 22, 23.

[38] The carriage was given up in 1798. See letter of November 17 in that year in Brabourne, vol. i. p. 165.

[39] Memoir, p. 42.

[40] Memoir, p. 45.

[41] See p. 201.

[42] Supra, p. 43.

[43] A reproduction of this picture appears also as a frontispiece to the first volume of Dent's illustrated edition of the novels (1892).

[44] Dictionary of National Biography, s.v.

[45] By Dr. Thomas Francklin; but said to be almost a translation of Voltaire's Duc de Foix.

[46] A comedy by Mrs. Cowley.

[47] Bon Ton, or High Life above Stairs, a comedy by David Garrick.

[48] The Wonder: a Woman keeps a Secret, a comedy by Mrs. Centlivre.

[49] Probably Garrick's version of Fletcher's comedy.

[50] The Sultan: or a Peep into the Seraglio, by I. Bickerstaffe.