A Jane Austen Letter, with other 'Janeana' from an old book of autographs
By M. A. DeWolfe Howe
On July 18, 1917, there would doubtless have been a fitting celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the death of Jane Austen if at that moment the civilized world had not been battling for its life. Instead of waiting for another century to pass, it is well to recall the fact that Jane Austen was born December 16, 1775, and, since a centennial acknowledgement of the world's debt to her was impracticable, to remind the multitudes who recognize this debt that the sesquicentenary of her birth may be celebrated on December 16, 1925.
But for the approach of this anniversary, I should hardly have been led—as I have been recently—to look into an old collection of autographs which illustrates conspicuously the wisdom of not throwing too many private papers away and of preserving in some degree of order those that are spared. It was after the turning of many pages that I came upon the autograph letter of Jane Austen's which there was reason to hope the collection might contain. If that had been all, it would have been a pleasant but relatively unimportant discovery, for the greater part of the letter may be found in print in the second edition of J.E. Austen Leigh's "Memoir" of his aunt. In both the first and the second edition the letter to Jane Austen's brother, Admiral Sir Francis William Austen, which caused the "a.l.s." to be sent to America, is printed; and, to set the scene for the correspondence now to be shown, it is reprinted here.
Miss Quincy to Admiral Austen
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
6th Jan. 1852.
Since high critical authority has pronounced the delineations of character in the works of Jane Austen second only to those of Shakspeare, transatlantic admiration appears superfluous; yet it may not be uninteresting to her family to receive an assurance tha tthe influence of her genius is extensively recognised in the American Republic, even by the highest judicial authorities. The late Mr. Chief Justice Marshall, of the supreme Court of the United States, and his associate Mr. Justice Story, highly estimated and admired Miss Austen, and to them we owe our introduction to her society. For many years her talents have brightened our daily path, and her name and those of her characters are familiar to us as "household words." We have long wished to express to some of her family the sentiments of gratitude and affection she has inspired, and request more information relative to her life than is given in the brief memoir prefixed to her works.
Having accidentally heard that a brother of Jane Austen held a high rank in the British Navy, we have obtained his address from our friend Admiral Wormley, now resident in Boston, and we trust this expression of our feeling will be received by her relations with the kindness and urbanity characteristic of Admirals of her creation. Sir Francis Austen, or one of his family, would confer a great favour by complying with our request. The autograph of his sister, or a few lines in her handwriting, would be placed among our chief treasures.
The family who delight in the companionship of Jane Austen, and who present this petition, are of English origin. Their ancestor held a high rank among the first emigrants to New England, and his name and character have been ably represented by his descendants in variuos public stations of trust and responsibility to the present time in the colony and state of Massachusetts. A letter addressed to Miss Quincy, care of the Honble Josiah Quincy, Boston, Massachusetts, would reach its destination.
To this letter from Miss Eliza Susan Quincy, one of the five daughters of Josiah Quincy, President of Harvard University from 1829 to 1845, and a collaborator with her father in much of his writing, Admiral Austen made reply in the following letter, hitherto unprinted. This brother, born in 1774, one year before Jane Austen, and seventy-eight years old in 1852, died at ninety-one in 1865, as Admiral of the Fleet, the officer of highest rank in the British Navy. Early in his distinguished career he had borne an important part in the naval warfare of the Napoleonic period, especially as captain of the Canopus in the battle of St. Domingo.
Portsdown Lodge, Portsmo
Jany. 31st 1852
Altho' a letter I lately received dated "Boston Massachusetts Jany. 6th 1852" bears no signature, yet I can hardly be mistaken in attributing it to the Lady to whom I am requested to address my reply.
I can have no hesitation in assuring you that it was most gratifying to me to receive such a testimonial to the merits of my late sister's works, and thereby to learn that their celebrity had reached across the Atlantic.
With reference to the wish of obtaining more information relative to the life of Jane Austen, than is given in the brief memorial affixed to her latest work, I can only say, that there is little I could add to it of a nature to be interesting to strangers. Passing the greater part of her life if not in absolute retirement, yet so much out of what is commonly meant by the World, rarely mixing with any but intimate Friends and near Relations, that it would be a matter of some difficulty to recall any circumstance worth relating.
Of the liveliness of her imagination and playfulness of her fancy, as also of the truthfulness of her description of character and deep knowledge of the human mind, there are sufficient evidence in her works; and it has been a matter of surprise to those who knew her best, how she could at a very early age and with apparently limited means of observation, have been capable of nicely discriminating and pourtraying such varieties of the human character as are introduced in her works.—In her temper she was chearful and not easily irritated, and tho' rather reserved to strangers so as to have been by some accused of haughtiness and manner, yet in the company of those she loved the native benevolence of her heart and kindliness of her disposition were forcibly displayed. On such occasions she was a most agreable companion and by the lively sallies of her wit and good-humoured drollery seldom failed of exciting the mirth and hilarity of the party. She was fond of children and a favorite with them. Her Nephews and Nieces of whom there were many could not have a greater treat than crouding around and listening to Aunt Jane's stories. I have in my possession several of her letters written to an intimate friend, who subsequently became my wife and is now deceased. From these I select one to forward herewith in the confident belief that no improper use will be made of it. It will be at once a specimen of her hand-writing and of the playfulness of her mind. The incidents to which it adverts could be interesting only to those acquainted with the parties. All mentioned in it are dead with the exception of the one named "Charles." There is no date of year affixed, but from collateral circumstances it must have been written as early as 1798 or 99. I scarcely need observe that there never was the remotest idea of its being published.—I shall be glad to know that my letter arrives safely at its destination.
have the honor to be Madam
Yours very truely
Francis Wm Austen
The letter of Jane Austen's which her brother sent, with this communication, to Miss Quincy appears in the "Memoir" with several small omissions and lacking entirely the postscripts written on the same page—the last of the four—with the address. It should be said that Miss Martha Lloyd and Miss Austen's brother Francis were not married until 1828, when she became his second wife.
Jane Austen to Miss Lloyd, Up-Hurstbourne, Andover.
Steventon Wednesday Eveng. Nov:r 12th .
My dear Martha
I did not receive your note yesterday till after Charlotte had left Deane, or I would have sent my answer by her, instead of being the means, as I now must be, of lessening the Elegance of your new Dress for the Hurstbourn Ball by the value of 3d. You are very good in wishing to see me at Ibthrop so soon, & I am equally good in wishing to come to you; I beleive our Merit in that respect is much upon a par, our Self-denial mutually strong. Having paid this tribute of praise to the Virtue of both, I shall have done with Panegyric & proceed to plain matter of fact.—In about a fortnight's time I hope to be with you; I have two reasons for not being able to come before; I wish so to arrange my visit as to spend some days with you after your Mother's return, in the 1st place that I may have the pleasure of seeing her, & in the 2d, that I may have a better chance of bringing you back with me.—Your promise in my favour was not quite absolute, but if your Will is not perverse, You & I will do all in our power to overcome your scruples of conscience.—I hope we shall meet next week to talk all this over, till we have tired ourselves with the very idea of my visit, before my visit begins.—Our invitations for the 19th are arrived, & very curiously are they worded.—Mary mentioned to you yesterday poor Earle's unfortunate accident I dare say; he does not seem to be going on very well; the two or three last posts have brought rather less & less favourable accounts of him. This morning's letter states the apprehensions of the Surgeon that the violent catchings of his Patient have done material injury to the bone, which from the first has appeared so nearly broken that any particular irritation or sudden movement might make the fracture certain.—John Harwood is gone to Gosport again to day.—We have two families of friends that are now in a most anxious state; for tho' by a note from Catherine this morning there seems now to be a revival of hope at Manydown, its' continuance may be too reasonably doubted.—Mr Heathcote however who has broken the small bone of his leg, is so good as to be doing very well. It would be really too much to have three people to care for!—
Mary has heard from Cassandra to day; she is now gone with Edward & Elizabeth to the Cages for two or three Nights.—You distress me cruelly by your request about Books; I cannot think of any to bring with me, nor have I any idea of our wanting them. I come to you to be talked to, not to read or hear reading. I can do that at home; & indeed I am now laying in a stock of intelligence to pour out on you as my share of Conversation.—I am reading Henry's History of England, which I will repeat to you in any manner you may prefer, either in a loose, disultary, unconnected strain, or dividing my recital as the Historian divides it himself, into seven parts, The Civil & Military—Religion—Constitution—Learning & Learned Men—Arts & Sciences—Commerce Coins & Shipping—& Manners;—So that for every evening of the week there will be a different subject; The friday's lot, Commerce, Coin & Shipping. You will find the least entertaining; but the next Eveng:'s portion will make amends.—With such a provision on my part, if you will do your's by repeating the French Grammar, & Mrs Stent will now & then ejaculate some wonder about the Cocks & Hens, what can we want?—Farewell for a short time—you are to dine here on tuesday to meet James Digweed, whom you must wish to see before he goes into Kent.—We all united in best Love, & I am
Yr very affecte JA.—
It is reported at Portsmouth that Sir T. Williams is going to be married—It has been reported indeed twenty times before, but Charles is inclined to give some credit to it now, as they hardly ever see him on board, & he looks very much like a Lover.—
Thursday.—The Harwoods have received a much better account of Earle this morning; & Charles, from whom I have just had a letter, has been assured by the Hospital-Surgeon that the wound is in as favourable a state as can be.
Miss Quincy had not overestimated the enthusiasm with which an autograph of Jane Austen would be received in her family. Witness the following note from her sister Anna, Mrs. Robert C. Waterston, whose lines on Robert Gould Shaw
O fair-haired Northern hero
With thy guard of dusky hue!
Up from the field of battle
Rise to the last review
were "booked" for an anonymous immortality, when in her old age they were carved, all inconspicuously, on the masonry of the Shaw Memorial by St. Gaudens on Boston Common.
I am quite excited at the idea of the Austen letter which Papa has described,—not exactly in the style of Miss Bates,—but still the facts that you have received a letter from the Admiral & have actually in your possession one written by the very hand to which we owe so much, quite carries me off my feet!—Mr Wm Jennings delight at the idea of Col. Brandon's marrying Elinor is nothing to it! I can hardly resist rushing up instanter to behold them, and nothing but being obliged to remain at home this evening prevents me.—Dear Admiral Austen I think he must have been like Capt Wentworth when he was young,—and just like what Capt Wentworth would be at his age.—He has replied with true naval promptness, and evidently deserves to be Miss Austen's brother. Robert desires to add his sincere congratulations and thinks you most fortunate in such an autograph.—I never expected we should get so near Miss Austen in this world, tho' I have always hoped to find some "little coterie in Heaven" where I might catch a glimpse of her.—
I have had a nice visit from Papa.—With love to all and congratulations to all true lovers of Miss Austen
I am ever thine
If the house catches fire to night,—please save the letter. I cannot die without the sight.
Evidently Miss Quincy, in thanking the Admiral for his letter and its precious enclosure, forwarded to him a copy of her sister's note, for thus in turn he made acknowledgement of the second letter from his Boston correspondent. Devotees of Miss Austen need not be told in which novels to look for the characters of her creation to whom allusions are made in this and other letters.
In the trial following the "Boston Massacre," John Adams and Miss Quincy's grandfather, Josiah Quincy, Jr., appeared in defense of the British Captain Preston and his soldiers. It is apparently to this trial that Admiral Austen refers in the third paragraph.
Admiral Austen to Miss Quincy
March 29th 1852
I have great pleasure in acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 2nd inst and desire to assure you of the high gratification the perusal of it afforded me, the members of my family and some intimate friends to whom it has been shown. They were all delighted with the enthusiasm displayed by yourself and friends on the occasion of your receiving my letter with its enclosure, and are satisfied that the autograph of my late sister could not have been placed in any hands where it would have been more highly appreciated.
I presume we all have vanity. Mine could not but be gratified, perhaps I ought to say flattered, by the warm and complimentary expressions used by your sister in her note. I do not know whether in the character of Capt Wentworth the authoress meant in any degree to deliniate that of her Brother. Perhaps she might, but I rather think parts of Capt Harville's were drawn from myself; at least the description of his domestic habits, tastes and occupations bear a considerable resemblance to mine. Though I had not previously met with the lines you have quoted from Lord Morpeth, yet I find they were well known to some of my children, and having been published in one of the Annals are easily procurable. It would therefore be taxing your kindness needlessly to give you the trouble of transcribing them, but my sincere thanks are due for the obliging offer. I have not the honor of Lord Carlisle's acquaintance, but am well aware of the high estimation in which he held my sister's works; as a proof of it, a report has been circulated that on one occasion while absorbed in the perusal of Pride & Prejudice his Lordship was summoned to attend a Cabinet-council, but unable or unwilling to lay down the book, he did not reach the Council-chamber in time to escape a sharp rebuke from the Minister for his tardiness.
I feel greatly obliged by the particulars you have communicated relative to your own Family. They could not be otherwise than interesting. It is always gratifying to hear of the conduct and acts of public men, which bespeak a noble and generous mind, and doubtless they are never more striking than when exercised in behalf of an Enemy in distress. Perhaps you can inform me if there is any published account in existence of the trial to which you have referred, and if so how or where it could be procured. I should much like to see it. I accept with much thankfulness your very kind offer of the Panoramic view of Boston, if you can send it without inconvenience. It may be addressed to the care of my son, Henry E. Austen Esqr Barrister No 7 New Square Lincoln's Inn.
Shortly after sending off my former letter I discovered that the manuscript I forwarded with it was written in 1800; the day of the week and month agree therewith.—I was in London last week and showed your letter to a very intimate female friend who had known my sister she mentioned that some years ago she met at the house of a Mrs Coxe, a young lady of the name of Anna Quincy a native of the U.S.—if your sister was ever in England perhaps she was the person. My friend's maiden name was Cushing, but she married first a Capt. Hore of the Navy, and secondly Mr. Bedford, whose widow she now is. I must not omit to thank you for the kind wish of making acquaintance with any of my family who may chance to visit Boston. I am not aware that such an occurrence is at all probable, but should it be so, I feel assured any one of them would be delighted to profit by the very friendly feelings you have evinced towards the name of Austen. I may as well mention two small mistakes you made in the direction of your letter—the first is that my second name is William, tho' I can well believe my signature is as likely to be read M. as W.—the other is that I am not a Vice Admiral, having for the last 3 years attained the higher rank of Admiral. I wish I could believe that in the change of rank I had left every vice behind me.
I must offer my best respects and good wishes to all your family, and assure you how sincerely I am your obliged and faithful friend and humble Servant
Francis Wm Austen.
The two ensuing letters relate to a visit paid by Miss Quincy's sister, Mrs. Waterston, with her husband and daughter, to Admiral Austen in 1856.
Miss Quincy to Admiral Francis Wm Austen
U.S.A. April 22 1856.
The kindness with which you replied in 1852, to letters from us, induce me to give a line of introduction to my sister Mrs Waterston.—You may remember, that to prove the autograph you sent us was duly valued, I enclosed her note to me, on its arrival, in which she asserted, you must have been the original of Captain Wentworth.—As she is now to embark on a visit to England, with her husband, & daughter, one of her chief objects is to perform a pilgrimage to the places once the abode of Jane Austen.—To see and to converse, with so near a relative of that gifted authoress as yourself, would be so high a gratification, that I cannot hesitate to claim a few moments of your time & attention.
Thus you perceive the Electric Telegraph of Genius,—annihilates the barriers of time & space, & brings into friendly communication, those who are strangers to each other, & who dwell in distant regions.—
I trust that the same health & prosperity which has been our favored lot, since we last exchanged letters, has also been yours.
And with renewed thanks for your kindness and our best wishes for the future
I am respectfully
Eliza Susan Quincy.
Admiral Austen to Miss Quincy
June 19th 1856
My dear Madam,
Your friendly letter of the 21st of April, was forwarded to me a few days since in one from your sister Mrs Waterston, with the very agreeable information, that together with Mr W. and her daughter she hoped to be able to come to this place on yesterday; and I have now the pleasure of adding that we have had (my 2 daughters and one son I mean) the gratification of making their acquaintance, and I can assure you we have all derived much pleasure in the meeting. They came up to this place from Portsmouth soon after 12, took luncheon with us and remainted till 4 o'clock; I would have persuaded them to have remained to dine with us at 6 o'clock, but it did not suit their plan, which I understood was fixed for their departure for Oxford the next morning.
I cannot easily describe to you the degree of enjoyment I derived from thus becoming acquainted with your Relations, and from the various details I had to enter into with your sister, relative to my late sister; and indeed I may say others of my deceased family, respecting whom both Mr and Mrs Waterston seemed desirous of obtaining all possible information. I will not tell you all I thought of my Visitors, lest you should suspect me of flattery, but I may say this much, that I found them as far as a visit of a few hours could enable me to judge, truly amiable, as well as right minded and well-informed. The day they were here was beautifully fine, so as to enable us to be out of doors, during the greater part of their stay, and I do hope they derived pleasure from the meeting. Of their past & intended wanderings, you will of course hear from themselves; but I entertain a hope that before they undertake their return voyage across the Atlantic, we shall have the pleasure of seeing them again; Mr Waterston expressed an intention of visiting Hampshire again before returning home, and in that case has kindly promised to come again to Portsdown Lodge, where I shall be (if spared so long) truly happy to see him with his amiable wife and pretty daughter, and shall hope to persuade them to favor me with a visit of a few days.—I feel that I ought to apologize for not having made any effort to keep up the correspondence which in so friendly a spirit you began some four years ago; but besides that at my advanced age letter writing, except on business, is somewhat more of a toil than it used to be, there are so few subjects on which I could hope to interest you, that I rather shirked the attempt. If you will kindly admit of this as a sufficient explanation, I shall be glad; if not I can only say I have no better to offer, and must suffer "Judgement to go by default"—Your sister will probably have told you, that the son whose address you furnished her with as a mean of enquiring respecting myself, was taken from this world in May 1854 after a short illness; and I may add that from his character and conduct since he arrived at manhood, I have the strongest assurance that he has from a firm belief in the doctrines of our Holy Religion, passed to a happy Eternity. It is a solace to Parents when called to follow a child to the grave, to have such a hope, as I have respecting my departed son.
I hope that the clouds, which have been for some months past threatening the political atmostphere of our respective countries are now clearing away, and that we shall be spared the heartrending thought of war between two nations of the same blood, same language, and nearly similar institutions, the only nations in the civilized world, who live under the blessing of free constitutions. Horrible would be such a war!
With every good wish I beg to subscribe myself your faithful and obliged friend
Francis Wm Austen.
In the midst of our Civil War the correspondence between Admiral Austen and Miss Quincy was resumed. This letter, written as he was approaching ninety, is the last from him that is found in the book of autographs. The allusions to the Prince Consort, the Prince of Wales, and the war between the North and South explain themselves. There can be little doubt that "Mr. Quincy's speech," to which Admiral Austen refers, was the vigorous patriotic address delivered by Josiah Quincy before the Union Club of Boston, on February 29, 1863, when he had just passed his ninety-first birthday. In 1864, he died.
Admiral Austen to Miss Quincy
May 19th 1863
My dear Madam,
I was very much pleased a few weeks ago by the receipt of your letter. It was gratifying to be assured that although we are not personally acquainted, I held that place in your regard which could lead you to wish to continue such an intercourse as under existing circumstances might be maintained between us. It was most gratifying also to receive a further proof of the high estimation in which my late sister's works are held by yourself and near connections, and to be further assured that her talent as an authoress was duely appreciated on the other side of the Great Atlantic; such testimony affords reasonable expectation that her name will be well known long after the present generation has passed away, wherever the English language is spoken or understood. I was glad also to be assured that the Books I took the liberty of requesting you to accept the produce of my Daughter's pen, had been received and that the perusal of them had afforded you some pleasure. She has as you probably know, published several other works of imagination; not all in my opinion of equal merit, but the last she has given to the world, called "The Mistakes of a Life," is I think equal, if not superior in deliniation of character, as well as beauty of language, to any of its predecessors.
Sad indeed was the day for England, when it pleased the Almighty to deprive our gracious and beloved Sovereign of her consort, to whom she was most fondly as well as deservedly attached, and who by his example as well by his precepts was doing all that depended on him to educate his children in such principles as would best insure their future well-doing, and make them what they ought to be Examples and Patterns to the rising generation; To the prudent care and good judgment of Prince Albert in the education of the Royal Progeny, may I think be attributed (supported as we are assured it was by the Queen's influence), the many estimable points of character which have been exhibited by the Prince of Wales. It is to be sincerely hoped he will in his future life continue to adorn his high station, so that whenever in process of time he may becomes Sovereign of these realms, he may remember that he has high and important duties to perform, and that he is placed in that exalted station not for his own gratification, but for the good of the many millions of his fellow creatures, who will be his subjects, but not his slaves. His union with the Princess of Denmark, has as we all hope taken place under the most auspicious circumstances, and will it is hoped, help to keep him from those vices which too many of the youths of the Aristocracy fall into and of which there was so sad an example in the life of the last who held the same title as he now enjoys. All that we hear of the Princess, beyond the fact of her personal attractions which are admitted to be very great, is greatly in her favor; she is said to be most pleasing in her manners, and amiable in disposition.
I am unwilling to enter on the discussion of Political matters, as regards the two parties into which the Inhabitants of the U.S. of N. America are unhappily divided, fearing that I might give utterance to opinions which would militate against your feelings, but one thing I may venture to say, namely that I have deeply deplored the events which have taken place causing such dreadful loss of life, and consequent spread of misery throughout the whole population: One shudders at the thought of the horrors which have been enacted in the last two years! Any thing surely would be preferable to a continuance of such scenes,—and yet as far as can be judged from passing events, there seems no present prospect of a termination being put to them.—I received the Printed paper containing Mr Quincy's speech, which I was glad to read; To have heard it delivered viva voce, must have [been] very delightful to those who had the happiness of his acquaintance. I was very glad to hear of Mr & Mrs Waterston's welfare, and must beg you to present my best regards to both, in which my Daughter Fanny most cordially joins. The Dell and Garden where they sat is now getting on its summer attire, and I am told is looking beautiful—I say I am told, for unhappily I am unable to get so far. I have been for a considerable time suffering from severe rheumatic attacks, which have so far crippled me, as to keep me confined to two rooms, from which I am moved by the means of a wheel-chair. I must not however complain, having for many years of a long life been blessed with an unusual degree of health. You may perhaps have seen in some English Paper, that I have been raised to the highest grade in the Naval Service, that of Admiral of the Fleet which is equivalent to Field Marshal in the Army. There never have been at one time more than 3 Officers of this rank, of which there are now three, and I am the second. It is gratifying to have attained this last step; But it would be bad for England if all her Admirals were such poor enfeebled objects as he who is now addressing you.
Believe me my dear Madam to be most respectfully and sincerely your's
Francis Wm Austen.
With the death of Admiral Austen the correspondence with his family did not come to an end. Five years after his death his nephew, the Rev. J. E. Austen Leigh, a nineteenth-century Vicar of Bray, having produced the first edition of his "Memoir" of Jane Austen, and planning for the second, wrote to Miss Quincy, received the copy of the letter of November 12, 1800, to Martha Lloyd which he used in that volume, and expressed his thanks for this piece of co-operation. His two letters were as follows:
J. E. Austen Leigh to Miss Quincy
Nov. 28th 1870
My dear Madam
Early in this year I received from you a very kind & acceptable letter on the subject of my memoir of my Aunt Jane Austen. I now venture to trouble you with a renewal of our correspondence for two reasons.
1st I wish to inform you that I am preparing a second Edition of my work. It will be smaller & less expensive than the former edition, being made to range with, & to form an additional Vol. to Bentley's last Edition of the novels; but it will contain more matter. The narrative itself will be a little enlarged. Some more, I do not yet know how many more letters will be added. The cancelled Chapter in Persuasion will be given: and it will contain a short tale, never before published, written in letters, & entitled "Lady Susan." The autograph copy of this little work was bequeathed by the author to her neice, (my cousin) Lady Knatchbull, formerly Fanny Knight: the widow of a Sir Edward Knatchbull, who some twenty years ago was a member of a Tory Cabinet. She has just given me permission to print this tale. She has also many letters from our Aunt, which she would willingly place in my hands, but unfortunately they cannot be found. She is a very old Lady, and though perfectly intelligent on any subject that may be brought before her, has quite lost her memory, & does not know what she has done with them. It is the hope of recovering this lost treasure that delays my 2d Edition. Whenever it is published, I hope that you will accept a copy, if Mr. Bentley can undertake to send such a trifle in safety across the Atlantic.
2dly, I have a favor to beg of you, one which has already been offered & declined, namely that you would send me a copy of the letter which the Admiral sent to you. I need not trouble you with stating how it came to pass that I have no longer a copy of this letter in my possession, but simply assure you that I shall be truly grateful if you would grant this request. I do not desire to insert it in my work as a whole, but there are parts of it which would be very useful to me.
I am, my dear Madam,
ever sincerely yours,
J Edwd Austen Leigh
Dec. 30th 1870
Bray Vicarage, Maidenhead
My dear Madam
More than common thanks are due to you for the minute accuracy with which you have copied for me my Aunt's letter. The task which I ventured to impose upon you has indeed been executed as if it were a labour of love. The right date of the letter is certainly Nov. 1800. Another of hers will appear, written just four days before; and these two are the earliest of her letters that I have ever seen. Lady Knatchbull's peculiar condition of health precludes all hope of obtaining more letters from her: & it is determined to wait no longer for them, but to procede to publication at once. The new Edition however will be enriched with more of my Aunts unpublished writings than I before mentioned; especially with extracts from a work which she began within six months of her death, & continued to work at as long as she could work at all. It is a rough unfinished sketch, requiring much pruning & polishing; but I do not think that it 'smells of apoplexy' like the homilies of Gil Blas' famous Archbishop.
I am much obliged by the notice of Jane Austen which you sent. Few if any of the notices which my memoir elicited in England have pleased me so well. There is a beauty & delicacy of touch about it which is delightful to my taste. It is curious how much it contains which I had to hunt out for myself some years later. Surely no language was ever so widely spread as the English, which, not to mention our innumerable Colonies, is written & spoken in equal purity on both sides of the Atlantic. We are having what we consider a severe winter. The ground has been covered with snow, about 2 inches deep, for the last 9 days. There has been continuous frost all that time, with every appearance of continuance. My sons & one of my daughters are skating every day.
This letter will leave me in one year, to be received by you in another. I beg you to accept my wishes that it may be a year of health and happiness to you, and all in whom you are interested.
I am, my dear Madam,
Js Edwd Austen Leigh
I ought not to forget to thank you for your offer of copies of the Admiral's letters, but I have no occasion to give you that trouble: I have already given you enough.
It remains only to be added that had the Vicar of Bray accepted Miss Quincy's offer of copies of the Admiral's letters, the fragments of information and of sidelight upon Miss Austen and her brother which have waited all these years for publication might have become accessible to her host of lovers more than half a century ago.
Howe, Mark Antony DeWolfe. 'A Jane Austen letter with other "Janeana" from an old book of autographs,' Yale Review 15 (1925-1926), 319-335. [Gilson M445]