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This is a map of Bath as it was in 1803 from my copy of John Feltham’s Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc, of that year, and I have annotated with the locations of places very much associated with Jane Austen-and ones that we shall be visiting over the next few days. You can, as ever, click on the map to enlarge it.
They are as follows:
1. Walcot Church
2. Queen’s Square
3. The Paragon
4. Sydney Place
5. Green Park Buildings
6. Gay Street
7. Trim Street
8. Great Pultney Street
Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801-1806. During this time her father had died and was buried there and the Austen ladies - Cassandra, Mrs Austen and Jane- had begun to realise exactly what living as quite poor, dependant, unmarried and widowed women meant in the early 19th century…Her intimate know ledge of Bath was used to great effect in her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, where Bath is a ’character” of the novels in its own right. Eventually in 1806 the Austen ladies left bath, visited nearby Clifton and took a summer tour of relatives in Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire before settling in Southampton.
Prior to settling in the city in 1801 Jane Austen had visited Bath, staying at Queen’s Square and it is there that we will begin our tour of Austen related sites in Bath in the next post. Do join me, won’t you?
She thought you might also like to know of her other forthcoming appearances, and so I list them here for you all to note.
She is doing a reading and holding a question and answer session at the Geffrye Museum in London on 4 March.
As I have already pointed out, and am hoping to attend, Professor Vickery is also giving a lecture at Fairfax House, York on the 18th March. Sadly, she thinks this event is now fully booked, but do note she is hoping to be able to do a repeat performance of the lecture the following morning, the 19th March, as there are already 20 people on waiting list. Do phone Fairfax House to see if they can book you a place, or put you on the waiting list if you are keen on attending it.
On the 19th May she is speaking on the subject of on private lives at the Brighton Festival , and is contributing to what looks like being a lovely interiors & garden history day at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire.
As to radio appearances, on Wednesay the 3rd March, Professor Vickery is appearing on BBC Radio 4 on Thinking Allowed, talking about 18th century servants with Laurie Taylor and Carolyn Steedman : this will be available on the Listen Again feature and as a podcast.
Finally I ought to pass on Professor Vickery’s comments about our little community here:
I cannot tell you how cheering it is to know that there’s so much genuine and knowledgable enthusiasm for the 18th century out there.
I think that sums us up nicely!
Rae, a friend of AustenOnly,and someone who will be already known to some of you, was lucky enough to go to Amanda Vickery’s Lecture at the Georgian Group’s headquarters this week. She kindly consented to write a report of it for me, and so I have great pleasure in posting it here for you all to read.
Amanda Vickery ,23 February 2010
Amanda Vickery gave an animated and fascinating lecture based on her recent book ‘Behind Closed Doors‘ to a packed room at the Georgian group. She began by describing the ways in which the rituals of ‘visiting’ both transformed and reflected polite society in Georgian England.
The role of tea and its associated paraphernalia was illustrated by slides of the range of teapots in circulation and a discussion of the commodification of that paraphernalia – the search by silversmiths in the early part of the century for ways to cash in on the drink’s popularity led to the disaster of silver handled pots and silver cups – and the development of what we now instantly recognize as the shape of a teapot.
Another lovely slide showed an accounting book for visiting, with all the socially important addresses in London and columns for the recording ‘in’ and ‘out’ of cards. I particularly enjoyed her description, in the Q&A session, of the ‘set dressing’ that went on for many households. Houses or apartments taken for the season might be freshly papered for tenants, and furniture could be rented by the season.
Beyond this, she provided an analysis of the gendered nature of domestic life, often made visible to us now through instances of the norms and expectations of marital relations being denied or failed; the sad letters of wives whose husbands did not allow them the expected authority to order either the home or the activities within it. More happily many other couples shared the rights and responsibilities of setting up home (a man’s seriousness and willingness in discussing such things before marriage was an omen for the future) and she reminded us that there was no suggestion of effeminacy in a man’s taking an interest in choosing and decorating the home.
The Dinner-Locust or the Advantages of a Keen Scent from “Behind Closed Doors”
Her work is particularly interesting for the way she explores masculinity, and an important insight she gives us is into the significance of marriage and the home to men. We are familiar with their importance in the lives of women, particularly those Austen women we all love and care about, but she reminds us that a bachelor’s lot was seen as a rather limited one, and that marriage, with its accompanying establishment of a home, was as much the gateway to adulthood for men as it was for women.
‘Behind Closed Doors’ is a joy of a book, full of detailed and evidenced insights (how could we not love a book which uses Jane Austen as a primary source?) and Amanda Vickery’s lecture was an excellent elaboration and discussion of its themes.
Thank you so much ,Rae for your considered and detailed report of what must have been a fabulous lecture. Behind Closed Doors has very quickly become one of my favourite books on this era(I only wish it were available on Kindle then I’d have it with me always!)and I think you will join me in recommending it highly.
Thank you so much once again for allowing us all to share your wonderful experience.
Jane Austen, Cassandra and Mrs Austen lived with and Mary Austen, wife of Frank, in Southampton from 1806 to 1809.
The old port of Southampton had by this time long been in decline but when Jane Austen lived there Southampton had a short lived popularity as a fashionable place to live, take the waters and bathe in the Solent. From the mid 18th century, new houses were built, inns were modernised and communications with London improved and the fashionably rich built villas in the surrounding countryside. Promenades were created and shops boomed along with circulating libraries etc.
This is a general description of it from my copy of A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-bathing Places etc (1803) by John Feltham
EQUALLY adapted for health, pleasure, and commerce, Southampton, distant about seventy-seven miles from London, is bounded on the east by the river Itchin which flows past the ancient city of Winchester, and on the west by the Tese or Anton, which rises near Whitchurch. It occupies a kind of peninsula, the soil of which is a hard gravel ; and, as the buildings rise from the water with a gentle ascent, the streets are always clean and dry. The approach from the London road is uncommonly striking and grand; in fact, it is almost unparalleled in the beauty of its features, for the space of two miles. At first appear an expanse of water, and the distant Isle of Wight, the charming scenery of the New Forest, and Southampton itself, in pleasing perspective. Elegant seats and rows of trees, nearer the town, line the road on both sides ; and, on entering the place, by one of its most fashionable streets, that venerable remain of antiquity the Bargate, gives a finish to the scene, and fixes the impression of the objects through which we have passed.
But by the time of Jane Austen’s death in 1817 its star had faded, and it was only with the introduction of the railway system, in the 1840s that Southampton once again became a port and place of some import.
However, it was undoubtedly a pleasant place to be in Jane Austen’s time:
THE lovely situation of Southampton, the elegance of its buildings, the amenity of its environs, and the various other attractions which it possesses, in a very high degree, will always render it a place of fashionable residence, as well as of frequent resort. As a sea-bathing place, indeed, it has less reputation than some others that are described in this work. It has no machines, nor is its beach favorable for immersion; the marine is, also, deeply mixed with the fresh water; but, if the opinion of those is correct, who maintain, that water acts only by the shock and ablution, and that one cold or one warm bath is the same as another, Southampton, notwithstanding the disadvantages we have mentioned, is as eligible as any other station on the coast, and, in many respects, it is superior. The air is soft and mild, and sufficiently impregnated with saline particles to render it agreeable, and even salutary, to those who cannot endure a full exposure to the sea, on a bleak and open shore.
(See: A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-bathing Places etc (1803) by John Feltham)
Jane Austen as we know from her letters was a keen play goer, and there was a theatre in Southampton which she could visit. However, the theatre in Southampton was a far cry from the theatres she knew in Bath and in London. It was a place where amateur and provincial theatre companies performed. I suppose we can assume that the performances Jane Austen saw there were probably not always first rate evenings.
The first theater built in Southampton as not at all salubrious, despite this description of it, again from The Guide to all the Watering Places etc by John Fletham (1803):
THE Theatre, which was built by subscription in 1766, is commodious, and capable of admitting a large audience. It is under the management of Messrs. Collins and Davies, who exert themselves to give satisfaction, and have a full attendance during the season.
They usually open their campaign in the beginning of August, and perform every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, till the end of October, after which they take a regular circuit to Portsmouth, Chichester, and Winchester.
This theatre was however thought to be in such a run down and dowdy condition that the Company-the fashionable people who visited Southampton to take the waters or to bathe, or lived in the fashionable villas, did not care to go there. So in 1803-4 a new theatre opened in French Street, almost exactly opposite the site of the old theatre:
The Theatric Tourist (1805) written by the actor/manager James Winston , gives this account of the history of the new theatre:
The elegant fashionables visiting Southampton refused to patronize the theatre on consequence of its ruinous condition and most deplorable entrance; therefore as the lease was nearly out on the 12th September 1803 they commenced campaigning in another built under the regulation of Mr Slater. Collins gave 450 guineas for St John’s Hospital and the ground on which it stood in French Street nearly opposite the former theatre: the charity being discontinued this old building furnished him with ample materials for this new one. He says his theatre cost him £3000 which with due deference we should suppose an error; if we give credit for £2000 besides the purchase of the ground we think it not amiss.
He did not think much of the interior of the theatre, and as an actor/manager his opinion has some worth:
It has a bad gallery; the Pit is much too low; the Stage is short and the Boxes so near the Pit that the lower tier resemble the Orchester (sic) boxes of Drury lane the company appearing to sit below the level of the stage. The old theatre had this fault also; but we acknowledge the Green Room to be good. The house holds upwards of £100; 4 shillings admission to the lower boxes, which have a good lobby; as have also the upper tier. Charges £23. The benefit of favourite performers generally amounts to £60 or £70 .
The illustration of the theatre which was included in The Theatric Tourist and was also drawn by James Winston has this withering “explanation”:
The right hand entrance is to the Boxes to which there are two lobbies, lighted by the only two windows in the elevation; the door on the left is to the Pit,gallery and Stage; here the old saying is verified,”spoil the ship”etc.,- for the niche over each door,meant undoubtedly for Statues of Tragedy and Comedy; and the plinth at the top for the Royal Arms, both remain blanks.
As Southampton had minor fashionable status as a spa and sea-bathing resort- Charles Dibdin, the dramatist,
who was born in Southampton, related the popularity of Southampton to the increasing number of;
“genteel families who have made it their residence-
it is no surprise that stars from the London stage made occasional visits-for example Mrs Siddons visited in 1802
and Dorothea Jordan, one of Jane Austen’s favourites
appeared there in 1803.
We know that Jane Austen took the opportunity, while in Southampton, to visit the theatre. She took her niece Fanny Knight to the theatre in French Street on 14th September 1807, (Fanny recorded the event in her diary) and that night they saw the famous comedy actor, John Bannister
in “The Way to Keep Him” .
Interestingly The Way to Keep Him by Arthur Murphy includes the following lines, spoken by Sir Brilliant Fashion:
Never be so abrupt. Who knows but Lady Constant may be the happy wife, the Cara Sposa of the piece ! and then, you in love with her, and she laughing at you for it, will give a zest to the humour, which every body will relish in the most exquisite degree.
Paula Byrne in her book Jane Austen and the Theatre posits the theory that Jane Austen, after hearing the phrase Cara Spousa delivered with relish at Southampton, then took this ‘fashionable Italisniam” and ran with it in Emma:
For Emma there is no clearer mark of Mrs Elton’s vulgarity than her references to her husband as “Mr E “ and “my caro sposo”…Scholars have debated the source of Austen’s use of the phrase, but no one has noticed its presence in Murphy’s comedy, where spoken by the coxcomb Sir Brilliant Fashion, it surely got a laugh in the theatre.
Amateur dramatic performances took place in the theatre as well as professional ones.
In 1807 Hume’s tragedy Douglas- was performed at the French Street theatre by the local grammar school boys for the benefit of British prisoners of war in France.
This may explain why Jane Austen put these words into Tom Bertram’s mouth in Mansfield Park , when he was reminiscing about reading aloud at home as a young lad;
“And I am convinced to the contrary. Nobody is fonder of the exercise of talent in young people, or promotes it more, than my father, and for anything of the acting, spouting, reciting kind, I think he has always a decided taste. I am sure he encouraged it in us as boys. How many a time have we mourned over the dead body of Julius Caesar, and to be’d and not to be’d, in this very room, for his amusement? And I am sure, my name was Norval, every evening of my life through one Christmas holidays”
Mansfield Park , Chapter 13.
Jane Austen certainly had the opportunity of seeing this play at the theatre, and I would not be surprised if she had seen these productions at Southampton and they had made a mark.
I do love these speculations, don’t you?
Elliston, she tells us has just succeeded to a considerable fortune on the death of an Uncle. I would not have it enough to take him from the Stage; she should quit her business, & live with him in London
Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 20th Feburary ,1807
This of us who may occasionally be keen to hear some gossip about out favourite actors and actresses can take hart: Jane Austen like to gossip about her faves too. As this tiny snippet of gossip referring to Robert Elliston, rather confirms. He was it appears one of her favourite actors.
And his rise to fame coincided with Jane Austen’s stay in Bath from 1801-6.
He was born on the 7 April 1774 in Orange Street, London, the only child of Robert Elliston , a watchmaker, and his wife. Sadly, his father was an alcoholic,and Elliston was cared for by two uncles, Dr William Elliston, master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and Dr Thomas Martyn, professor of botany, of the same college. And it was form one of these uncles that in 1807 he inherited £17,000……but we are getting ahead of ourselves in his story….
Under his uncles supervision he was educated at St Paul’s School, London, where he took a special interest in oratory. It would appear that his uncles intended him for the church but spurning this role they had mapped out for him, he “ran away to the theatre” at Bath. Scandalous!
A this time as we have already noted, the Orchard Street theatre in Bath was second in importance in the English dramatic world only to the two London patent theatres- the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and Covent Garden. In conjunction with the theatre at Bristol the Bath company provided a very fashionable and knowledgeable audience with entertainment suitable for the most discerning of tastes.
Eliston made his first appearance at the Orchard Street Theatre in Bath in 1791. He stayed at the Bath theatre till 1804, performing many roles in plays with which Jane Austen was very familiar. Of particular note is the fact that he played the part of Frederick in Mrs Inchbald’s adaptation of Kotzebue’s Lover’s Vows at least ten times in that period.
In 1796 he eloped with and married Elizabeth Rundell, a Bath dance teacher. They had ten children before she died in 1821. Through her dancing academy she helped Elliston’s productions when he later became a theatre manager. Interestingly, she continued her occupation after her marriage despite Ellistons sucess as a leading actor. She first, from 1801, had premises in Trim Street and then from 1812 in Milsom Street. Hence Jane Austen’s rather interesting comment above…..
Elliston finally left Bath for London in 1804, as Richard Sheriden wanted him to appear at his Drury Lane theatre . Initially Elliston had refused a permanent postion in Sheridan’s company but gradually the lure of the London theatre and the riches it could command sucked him in. On 20 September 1804 Elliston began appearing as the leading actor at Drury Lane. He had played successfully in London during the summers of 1796 and 1797, mainly at the Haymarket Theatre, run by the playwright George Colman, but cannily waited until his reputation in Bath was secure before making a complete break with Bath and Bristol in order to move to London.
Although he was versatile, Elliston’s appearance was thought rather against him for the playing of tragedy, for his face was described as:
…the very Mirror of Comedy. His countenance was round and open, his features small, yet highly expressive; laughter lay cradled in his eye, and there was a muscular play of lip, so pregnant of meaning, as frequently to leave the words that followed but little to explain.
(See G. Raymond, Memoirs of Robert William Elliston,(1844)
He seems to have been best in the Charles Surface sort of role from Sheridan’s play The School for Scandal: rakish but generous and warm-hearted chaps, versions of which character were available by the score in the comedies of this era.
He was known as a great lover on stage, just as he was a notorious womanizer off stage……The theatrical critic Leigh Hunt has left us an interesting analysis of Elliston’s skill in this area, when Elliston played opposite Dorothy Jordan in 1805 in the facre Matrimony by James Kenney . They provided
‘altogether the most complete scene of amorous quarrel that I have witnessed’
(see Leigh Hunt Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres (1807)page 190.)
When Drury Lane was destroyed by fire in 1809, Elliston looked around for new worlds -or rather theatres- to conquer and hit upon theatre management. He became known as ‘the Great Lessee’ and ‘the Napoleon of the Theatre’ for his interest in acquiring new property. He also tried very hard to break the monopoly held by the two patent theatres on performing plays. In this aim he was not successful.
He began his theatrical property empire with the Royal Circus in St George’s Fields, which he transformed and managed for five years. At the same time he leased the Manchester Theatre Royal from 1809–10 then purchased Croydon in 1810 but it was seized by creditors in 1826. He leased Birmingham from 1813–18,
to which he added Worcester and Shrewsbury in 1815 to make up a midlands area theatrical circuit, where his company of players could perform.
He then purchased the Olympic Pavilion in London-also known as Astleys for it was built by none other than Phillip Astley- in 1813,and this may have been the site of Harriet Smith and Robert Martin’s reconciliation in Emma!
Elliston leased Lynn in Norfolk from 1817–18, Leicester, and Northampton both from 1818 and Leamington (where he also had a lending library and assembly rooms!!) from 1817, and Coventry in 1821.
When he became the manager of the newly built Drury Lane in 1819 Elliston was indeed “king of the theatre”, and was soon to play that role in his magnificent coronation spectacle of 1821. During his “reign” at Drury Lane, Elliston had many successes with spectacular melodramas, operas, and pantomimes but with not a single new ‘legitimate’ play of any significance ,even though he was at last the manager of a patent theatre which could legitimately perform plays. Theatrical extravaganzas, not drama, and novelty of every kind were what the public now demanded. Edmund Bertram would clearly not have approved ;-)
Following a severe stroke in August 1825, by which time the now sadly severely alcoholic Elliston was but a shadow of his former self, his place as manager was taken over by his eldest son, William Gore Elliston, who formed a successful partnership with his brother, Henry Twissleton Elliston. The results of his pressured lifestyle and alcoholism were making themselves felt earlier than this, however. Certainly in 1814, Jane Austen-that very acute observer- on seeing him perform in London had noted that something was taking a toll on his performance and his appearance:
We were quite satisfied with Kean. I cannot imagine better acting, but the part was too short; and, excepting him and Miss Smith, and she did not quite answer my expectation, the parts were ill filled and the play heavy. We were too much tired to stay for the whole of “Illusion” (“Nour-jahad”), which has three acts; there is a great deal of finery and dancing in it, but I think little merit. Elliston was “Nour-jahad,” but it is a solemn sort of part, not at all calculated for his powers. There was nothing of the best Elliston about him. I might not have known him but for his voice.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 5th March 1814)
Elliston returned to the stage, however, to create his last original role, “Falstaff” in The First Part of King Henry IV, in May 1826. As sometimes happens, he was brilliant in the final rehearsal but unable to reproduce that quality in public. Elliston finished his career as a theatrical manager of the Surrey theatre , where he also acted out his last appearances.His last appearance was as “Sheva” in Cumberland’s The Jew, one of his most popular characters, on 24 June 1831. Two weeks later, on 8 July 1831, Elliston died of an ‘apoplexy’,which was, presumably, a cerebral haemorrhage, and was buried at St John’s Church, Waterloo Road London’
Given his womanising reputation, it would seem that Jane Austen’s advice to his wife was, as ever, quite perceptive….
A few days ago I commented on the wonderful news that the British Library is to make available to Kindle users some of its rare first editions as free digital downloads.
More details of the digital books have now been released. All are unique to the British Library collection. Go here to read a press release from the British Library with all the delightful details.
As a fan of early 19th century theatre I can’t wait to read The Amorous Knight and the Belle Widow, (1809): a three act original comedy produced in dedication of Valentine’s Day…and the intriguingly titled The Bishop and the Parson’s Beard, a tale in verse (1810)
And this book, A Useful Compendium of Many Important and Curious Branches of Science and General Knowledge by the Rev. Thomas Watson (1812) sounds irresistible ;-)
These will also be available to buy as print-on-demand editions. So we will have the best of both worlds. Amazing.
but not the Deirdre Le Faye edition…..the Brabourne edition;-)
This may initially appear to you as a strange thing to include in a book review, a set of books that have been out of print for over 100 years…but wait …you well probably be as surprised and pleased as I was to discover that Cambridge University Press have recently taken on the concept of print-on-demand books and have made it into something that has the potential to be very special indeed.
They are re-issuing scholarly out of print books from the unimaginably wide range of books in their libraries.
The edition of Jane Austen’s letters edited by Jane Austen’s nephew, Lord Brabourne, is among the first digitally reprinted books to be issued in the new series –The Cambridge Library Collection
It comes in the form of two very reasonably priced volumes, both in paperback editions.
They are facsimiles of the original books, first published in 1884 by Richard Bentley and Son.
The originals have become so expensive that I have long since put my reasonably-priced-when-bought-all those- years-ago volumes on The Not To Be Touched Shelf.
So now I am pleased to own these two volumes in this accessible form so that I can examine them once again without fear of breaking the spine, spilling tea over them or otherwise damaging them in my usual klutzy way.
This Brabourne collection is, of course, available on-line, and has been superseded by the Le Faye Edition, but it still has some merits, the introductions by Lord Barbourne and interesting family documents etc, and there is a charm in examining the first proper selection of Jane Austen’s letters in its original form. Especially when the original volumes are now so scarce and…so ruinously and hideously expensive. And despite, or rather because of being a fond Kindle owner, I find I do like to hold a book in my hands, rather than read one on line, especially if I’m doing it for prolonged periods of time. So this re-issue is wonderful.
My only gripe is that the two illustrations in the books are quite fuzzy and indistinct.
The portrait supposedly of Jane Austen as a child, commonly known as The Rice Portrait ,
is rendered (as in the original books) in black and white but as you can see, below, this version is very blurred :
The view of Godmersham from The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 7 (1798) by Edward Hasted in Volume II of the letters is also not particularly clear…
…especially if you compare it with the original print , of which I have a copy
However this is nitpicking on my part, a minor quibble. It is the text that is important and these books deliver it in a perfectly legible way.
The Cambridge University Press have only just begun to reissue many titles on many subjects in this series. Follow this link here to read a general introduction, and this link here gives the current list, subject by subject
Below is a very lovely and informative video of the whole process-accompanied by heavenly music by William Byrd sung by the choir of Girton College. Just click on it to play….
I love the idea that they are open to suggestions for further reprints and I am compiling a list with a few suggestions. Their own collection of books must be mind bogglingly immense, but if you suggest a title of merit that they do not own or is not out of copyright but out of print ,they will attempt to pursue the matter and try to produce their own edition of the books.
As someone whose ancestor was John Baskerville, who was commissioned to print books for Cambridge University in the 18th century, I have always had an affection for the CUP. I can only laud this whole process, and urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to own your own copies of hard to find and sometimes impossibly expensive texts.
I have been unable to travel to New York (Begone dull and dreaded credit crunch! ) to see the much lauded Jane Austen exhibition currently on show at the Morgan Library. Luckily for me , one of my good friends and superb fellow blogger, Karen of Bookish NYC, undertook this onerous task and visited it this week, on my behalf, promising at the same time to write a reveiw of the exhibit for AustenOnly.
Before reading her review, may I formally introduce you to Karen? ( though I think some of you may already be visitors to her witty site. ) Her blog is about her life in New York and her reading habits. She is a voracious reader -a trait we share- a fellow lawyer, and all round good egg. Her wickedly funny Seen on the Subway feature, which appears very Friday, always brightens up my day with its keen observations of her fellow New Yorkers and their sometimes surprising reading material.
Do go and explore her blog- I am sure you will enjoy it and her ;-)
And now to her review……..
I finally got to see the superb exhibit at the Morgan Library here in New York, entitled: A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy. The Morgan, housed in a Renaissance-style palazzo specially built by Pierpont Morgan to contain his unparalleled collection of priceless manuscripts (later expanded and opened to the public by his son, J.P. Morgan), has amongst its many treasures the largest collection of Austen’s letters in the world. (Scholars estimate that she wrote approximately 3,000; 160 survive; the Morgan owns 51.)
The title of this exhibition derives from Rosalind’s speech in the fourth act of As You Like It:
“Make the doors upon a woman’s wit and it will out at the casement; shut that, and ‘twill out at the keyhole; stop that, ‘twill fly with the smoke out of the chimney.”
Austen’s wit is in full evidence in the dozen or so of her letters that form the core of this exhibit. The oldest letter in the Morgan’s collection dates from 15th September 1796, written from Rowling to her most constant correspondent, her sister Cassandra. She write of a party at Nackington from which her party “return[ed] by Moonlight,” at which “Miss Fletcher and I were very thick, but I am the thinnest of the two – She wore her purple Muslin, which is pretty enough, tho’ it does not become her complexion. There are two Traits in her Character which are pleasing; namely, she admires Camilla, & drinks no cream in her Tea.”
Another letter given pride of place in the exhibition is an example of a “crossed” letter, in which, in order to save paper, Austen filled a page, then turned it ninety degrees and wrote over the original text, rendering it impossible for this modern reader to decipher it! (In Emma, Miss Bates refers to having received such a crossed letter from her niece, Jane Fairfax.) Austen’s letter, dated 8-9 February, 1807, was written to Cassandra from Southampton. She begins the letter lamenting that she has “nothing to say,” but manages to fill four sheets, crossing two, and concludes,
“There, I flatter myself I have constructed you a Smartish Letter, considering my want of Materials. But like my dear Dr. Johnson, I believe I have dealt more in Notions than Facts.”
Perhaps my favorite of the letters in the exhibit was that written by Jane to Cassandra on 24 May 1813, from London, where she had gone with her brother Henry to a picture exhibition where she was
“very well pleased – particularly (pray tell Fanny) with a small portrait of Mrs. Bingley, excessively like her; I went in hopes of seeing one of her Sister, but there was no Mrs. Darcy; — perhaps however, I may find her in the Great Exhibitions which we shall go to, if we have time; . . . Mrs. Bingley’s is exactly like herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favorite colour with her. I dare say Mrs. Darcy will be in Yellow.”
This teasing letter, in which Austen imagines the appearances of two of her most loved characters (Jane and Elizabeth Bennett), is displayed next to another treasure from the Morgan’s seemingly bottomless collection – a pristine engraving of the very portrait that she viewed that reminded her of Mrs. Bingley – Portrait of Mrs. Q (Mrs. Harriett Quentin), by William Blake:
But this marvelous exhibit contains much more than Austen’s precious letters. There are pristine – and no doubt priceless – first editions of each of “The Six” (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.) Also displayed is a twelve-page fragment of a rough draft of The Watsons in Austen’s hand, full of revisions and cross-outs, and a fair copy, also in her hand, of the first six letters of the epistolary novel, Lady Susan. (The Morgan has been able to date this copy to 1805, based upon the watermark of the paper on which it was written.) I myself covet the exquisite 1907/08 edition of The Six with watercolor illustrations by Charles E. Brock, which was displayed in a case adjacent to the first editions.
One of my favorite aspects of the exhibit was the inclusion of several perfectly preserved cartoons by James Gillray from the Morgan’s collection. Gillray, a contemporary of Austen’s, shared her satirical eye. My favorite of these cartoons is a beautifully-colored three-parter satirizing the laboriousness of ladies’ fashions, entitled Progress of the Toilet: The Stays, The Wig, and Dress Completed. The caption accompanying this display points out that Austen, while herself enjoying being as well-dressed as her limited budget would allow, had scant patience for those consumed solely by finery, such as the foolish Mrs. Allen in Northanger Abbey.
Regular readers of Austen Only may be familiar with the incident whereby Austen, after the publication of Emma, was urged by no less than James Stanier Clarke,
the domestic chaplain and librarian to the Prince Regent (despised by Austen), to write a new novel bearing a marked resemblance to Stanier’s own life. The Morgan exhibit contains a Plan of a Novel, according to Hints from a Certain Quarter, dated 1816. This document, in Austen’s hand, was obviously constructed as a fireside amusement, and in the margins indicates which of Austen’s friends and family suggested and/or improved upon certain plot points. A wicked piece of fun!
The curator also decided to treat us to some Austen-related gems from the Library’s vast holdings. There is a letter from William Butler Yeats to Lady Gregory, dated 14 June 1920, written while he was on a lengthy lecture tour of the U.S. “I read all Miss Austen in America with great satisfaction.” Also featured are the original lecture notes of Vladimir Nabokov (of Lolita fame) while he was a professor at Cornell teaching a course entitled “Masters of European Fiction,” circa 1948. His notes on Mansfield Park include his hand-drawn and detailed floor plans of both Mansfield Park and Sotherton, his sketch of a barouche (with a notation comparing it to a convertible), as well as a chronology of the novel.
The most poignant item in the exhibit is a letter from Cassandra Austen’s pen to Fanny Knight, relaying the details of Jane’s final hours. Dated 20 July 1817, Cassandra laments her beloved sister as the
“sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow . . . “
The only fault of this otherwise faultless exhibition: NO CATALOGUE!! Not even so much as a flimsy pamphlet handed out in the gallery. However, those who are interested in the exhibit but cannot make it in person may check out the Morgan’s website, on which one can watch a fifteen-minute film featuring various modern authors and Austen aficionados commenting on her work and what it’s meant to them. This film was, frankly, the least interesting part of the exhibit, but does show a few of the original letters being handled in the Library’s archives.
The exhibit runs through March 14th at the Morgan Library and Museum, 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, New York, New York.
Thank you so much, Karen. What a fabulous review- I almost feel as if I’ve been there ;-) I too lament the fact that no catalogue of any kind was published to commemorate this exhibit. And I daresay that I speak for deprived Janeites all over the world on that score. I’m sure it would have been a sure-fire best seller. Frankly, I’d have loved a facsimile edition of the Plan of a Novel etc., complete with scholarly introduction and explanatory notes… Ah, well. Let’s see (D.V.) what 2017 will bring. Not too long to wait ;-)
So, tonight PBS airs Persuasion starring Rupert Penry-Jones and Sally Hawkins. This is not my favourite adaptation of Persuasion, sadly, not by any stretch of the imagination. No, my favourite is Nick Dear’s wonderfully atmospheric film which first appeared in 1995. The latest version contains too many oddities and anachronisms for my addled brain to compute. Too many to list here. And the sight of poor Anne Elliot running up and down the incredibly steep Bath terrain was (unintentionally) hilarious rather than touching to my eyes, I’m afraid.
Still, each to his or her own.
So, tomorrow we begin a new season and as we have concentrated on the novels recently I thought it was time to give some space to the woman who so inspired us. So from tomorrow, for a few days, we will concentrate on Jane;-)
The season will begin with my first post written by a Guest Blogger, Karen of Bookish NYC, who will be reviewing the Morgan Library of New York’s exhibition devoted to entirely to Jane Austen- A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy
I do hope you will join me.
Sophie Croft is possibly my favourite of all Jane Austen’s female characters. Intelligent, kind, shewd, witty and self sufficient(as long as she is near the Admiral).
Mrs. Croft, though neither tall nor fat, had a squareness, uprightness, and vigour of form, which gave importance to her person. She had bright dark eyes, good teeth, and altogether an agreeable face; though her reddened and weather-beaten complexion, the consequence of her having been almost as much at sea as her husband, made her seem to have lived some years longer in the world than her real eight-and-thirty. Her manners were open, easy, and decided, like one who had no distrust of herself, and no doubts of what to do; without any approach to coarseness, however, or any want of good humour.
She is very much part of the Admiral’s world and their relationship is one of the most balanced and loving in all Jane Austens works:
The Crofts knew quite as many people in Bath as they wished for, and considered their intercourse with the Elliots as a mere matter of form, and not in the least likely to afford them any pleasure. They brought with them their country habit of being almost always together. He was ordered to walk to keep off the gout, and Mrs. Croft seemed to go shares with him in everything, and to walk for her life to do him good. Anne saw them wherever she went. Lady Russell took her out in her carriage almost every morning, and she never failed to think of them, and never failed to see them. Knowing their feelings as she did, it was a most attractive picture of happiness to her. She always watched them as long as she could, delighted to fancy she understood what they might be talking of, as they walked along in happy independence, or equally delighted to see the Admiral’s hearty shake of the hand when he encountered an old friend, and observe their eagerness of conversation when occasionally forming into a little knot of the navy, Mrs. Croft looking as intelligent and keen as any of the officers around her.
Persuasion Chapter 18
And of course, Mrs Croft is the most travelled of any of Jane Austen’s female characters:
“What a great traveller you must have been, ma’am!” said Mrs. Musgrove to Mrs. Croft.
“Pretty well, ma’am, in the fifteen years of my marriage; though many women have done more. I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies and back again, and only once; besides being in different places about home: Cork, and Lisbon, and Gibraltar. But I never went beyond the Streights, and never was in the West Indies. We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies.”
Persuasion Chapter 8
And it is her travels that interest me, for this recently published book, Birds of Passage edited by Nancy K Shields, details just the type of journeying Mrs Corft would have undertaken when she traveled to the East Indies, via the cape of Good Hope. I have been waiting since Christmas for the oportunity to tell you of this book. I thought today was perfect timing with the airing of Persuasion on PSB tonight.
Birds of Passage records the journey to India made by Lady Henrietta Clive- seen on the cover of the book, above as portrayed by Sir Joshua Reynolds- and her two daughters, Harry (Hernitetta) and Charly (Charlotte). She was married to Lord Edward Clive, son of Clive of India. Lord Edward was Governor of Madras. Accompanying them on their journey was the children’s governess, Anna Tonelli, and her paintings of the places they encountered on the whole expedition illustrate this book.
This is one of the Government House and Council Chamber in Madras.
The book consists of extracts from Lady Henrietta’s diaries and letters written to her brother, Geroge Herbert, second Earl of Powis, a rather Byronic figure. Extracts from Charly’s journals are also presented. They detail the journeys to and from the East Indies, stopping at the Cape of Good Hope en-route, and at St Helena on the return journey to England.
When in India Lady Henrietta and her children made a journey of over 1000 miles from Madras via Bangalore, Mysore, Coimatoor,Tranquebar and Ponidcherry, returning to Madras seven months later. Her aim was to see the recently conquered Seringapatam and the remains of Tipu Sultan’s capital – the fall of which was part of the foruth Anglo-Mysore cmpaagin. In 1799 the English Army had attacked Seringapatam. Lady Henrietta’s original plans to vist Seringupatam were postponed by Lord Mornington- Wellington’s brother, and the Governor General of India-a difficult character by Lady Hernietta’s account.
The journals are chock full of interest for those of us who like the teeny-tiny details of life in the early 19th century, and are of extra special interest to those of us who adore Mrs Croft, for naturally Lady Henrietta chronicles many of the sights, sounds and experiences that Mrs Corft must have shared.
The book recounts, in some great detail, life on board ship-sadly unlike Mrs Croft Lady Henrietta never felt entirely well while at sea. We accompany her while she learns Persian(the language of the India Courts) and she frequently expresses her exasperation with the limited role that women could play in this and indeed the wider world, dominated by men.
We learn from the journals what was considered to be essential travelling equipment in India for an aristocratic party: harp and pianoforte of course; fourteen elephants; a hundred bullocks to carry provisions and, not forgetting a train of camels which were essential for the delivery of express messages.
The trials if family and domestic life is also related. Unlike Sophie Croft, Lady Henrietta’s marriage was not entirely happy. Lord Edward Clive was not at all lively and was a poor intellectual match for his spirited wife. As Wellington noted-he was also part of their world in India, leading the British Army’s campaign against Tipu Sultan- Lord Edward was :
A mild moderate and remarkably reserved man having a bad delivery and apparently heavy understanding…
We learn of Lady Hernitta’s maid becoming pregnant as a result of a dalliance with an officer and discretion is the key: mother and prospective child are treated with utmost kindness, a way life for them both being provided by Henrietta, and discretion at home in England being insisted upon by Henrietta to save the poor girl’s reputation. She thinks very ill of the officer involved indeed.
She was, of course, viewing India from the standpoint of 18th century British colonialists: this is not a treatise on the Indian way of life, but notes of the lives of British in India. She was interested in the people, the flora and fauna, their religion and language but clearly on her terms. In no way did she “go native” as you can see from this small extract:
March 16th 1800
We breakfasted in the commanding officer’s fort -house..I went at seven o’clock to the fort and an old pagoda, magnificent and well carved, constructed of granite now converted into a military storehouse. The sculpture is much better than any I have yet seen, some of the open work is extremely neat and well executed…I breakfasted at the commanding officer’s house and afterwards the Princes came to see me…The Padshaw begin a legitimate son is extremely interesting. I understand that Col Wellesley was much pleased with his manners in Seringapatam….
That being said, I adored this book, and was grateful for the glossary explaining the Indian words Lady Henrietta used often. If anything is lacking I would say it is some more explanatory footnotes…but then I’ve been thoroughly spoiled by the extreme notation of the excellent Deirdre le Faye;-)
This book is a bargain. Buy it and revel in the fascinating details with which Lady Henrietta regales us: of the plants she collects and sees, the travails of travel by sea-leaks, mutinies, prize taking-all are recounted here; the strangeness of travel within India itself; the social life of the British at the Cape and in India all of which would have been familiar to my favourite Austen lady, Sophie Croft.
You may have realised by now that I like to know the teeny-tiny details of social history…How exactly did people make a whipp’t syllabub ? What exactly did having a putrid throat mean? How was it treated? The list is endless…Hence this blog.
But I confess that until I read Dr Helen Doe’s fascinating book Enterprising Women and Shipping in the Nineteenth Century, I had not really given a second thought to how the ships on which Captains Benwick, Wentworth and Harville ( not to mention Admiral Croft) sailed to war were actually created. And not for one moment did I consider that among the shipyard owners would be some amazing women who were not only owning the yards but were hands-on running some of the ship yards that created the British naval fleet of the early 19th century, managing complex business scenarios, and importantly, ordering labouring and professional men.
Dr Doe’s book is a tour de force. A very readable and detailed overview of the ship making process, the communities that surrounded the shipyards, the law relating to women- most of the female owner of ship yards inherited them from their husbands, ancillary maritime trades and the women who were involved in them.
The book does cover the whole of the 19th century and therefore a lot of the content, while of great interest, does not specifically have much relevance to Jane Austen’s era. But the chapters on warship builders and the detailed studies of shipyard owners such as Mrs Frances Barnard of Deptford are engrossing.
(Remember you can click on the picture above- not included in the book,sadly-and all the illustrations in this post to enlarge them.)
The story of Mrs Mary Ross of Rochester, Kent (below) is, to me, a revelation.
The most prominent business in a maritime community was the shipyard. It was physically large, noisy and used a large amount of labour and on its output rested may other businesses such as sailmakers, ropemakers and blockmakers. The largest yards were major industrial concerns in their time directly employing hundreds of men…The building of warships was high value and high risk to the shipbuilder and the peak time for navy contracts with merchant yards was during the French revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars.
Frances Barnard inherited her shipyard form her husband in 1760,and it was one of the foremost yards on the Thames at Southwark. She eventually retired from the business in 1803. Mary Ross inherited her ship yard from her husband in 1808. Mary took control of the yard, showing amazing business acumen and skill. Dealing with the rather slippery Navy Board could be difficult: she managed it with aplomb.
This book will alter your perceptions of genteel women in our era. Once widowed they resolved not to live the life of a poor dependant widow ,but with practical sense and intelligence ran shipyards- for profit. Rational creatures indeed.
Admittedly, this is a very expensive book, but I have to say as someone who is not that keen on reading about matters maritime ( low be it spoken), I found it fascinating. The depth of detail is so just so satisfying to read. Dr Doe, a Fellow of the Centre for Maritime Historical Studies at the University of Exeter, leaves virtually no stone unturned in her attempt to convey to us that, in our era, the term a woman in business did not automatically mean that this woman was a milliner or a manuta maker.
“Well, mother, I have done something for you that you will like. I have been to the theatre, and secured a box for to-morrow night. A’n't I a good boy? I know you love a play; and there is room for us all. It holds nine. I have engaged Captain Wentworth. Anne will not be sorry to join us, I am sure. We all like a play. Have not I done well, mother?”
Persuasion Chapter 22
When Jane Austen wrote about attending the theatre in Bath in Persuasion the old Orchard Street theatre in Bath had been closed for some years. Its last performance was on the 13th July 1805.
As we have seen in a previous AustenOnly post, this small theatre, during its fifty year history, built a solid reputation for good if not excellent performances, and had established itself as the best and most influential provincial theatre, rivalling the two London patent theatres-Covent Garden and Drury Lane-for the quality of its performances, actors and actresses.
No, in Persuasion, Jane Austen was writing about the theatre that replaced it, the Theatre Royal, Beaufort Square.
Here is a map of Bath in 1803 from my copy of A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places(1803) by John Feltham:
And this is a section of it which shows the position of the new theatre:
Proposals to build a new theatre in Bath to replace the tiny, old-fashioned Orchard Street theatre were first mooted in 1802. In August 1804 a final decision was taken to build a larger, modern theatre on land forming the south side of Beaufort Square. Here is part of the history of the old theatre and the decision to build a new theatre from A Guide to all the Watering Places etc (1816):
The liberal and enterprising spirit of Mr John Palmer, father to the yet more entertaining and truly amiable John Palmer Esq. and grandfather of one of the present representatives of his native place, prompted him, amidst various other extensive concerns and speculations, to engage very deeply in the risk and expense of building a new and commodious theatre here, which had long been extremely wanted. In 1760 he obtained His Majesty’s patent for this purpose; and from him the property devolved on his son (the late amiable and intelligent gentleman who invented and successfully carried into execution the popular plan for the improvement of the posts of this kingdom by mail coaches etc), who rebuilt and considerably enlarged the house and, having connected the Bristol theatre with it, disposed of the greater part of that valuable concern. The old theatre at Bath was superior to any out of the metropolis; when the increasing population of Bath, and the rank of the company, seemed to require a new one, more capacious than the old and to which the access should be more commodious.
The funds needed to build the theatre were raised by way of a tontine. The tontine-named after Lorenzo Toni a Neapolitan banker who introduced this device- worked in this way: members of the tontine bought shares, and when they died their shares were shared between the surviving members of the tontine, and in theory the last standing survivor inherited it all.
On hundred first shares were issued of the theatre tontine, each costing £200 each. Each shareholder received income on that share of 3 per cent per annum, plus free admission to all performances at the theatre once it was built. A secondary issue of shares at a price of £150 per share did not entitle the holders to free admission, just to the income.
The subscribers to the shares included the great and the good. And the not – so – good .The Prince of Wales headed the list along with his brother, the Duke of York.
The foundation stone of the theatre was laid in 1804 and less than a year later the building, built in accordance with a design by George Dance, then the professor of architecture at the Royal Academy, was complete:
The following description of the sumptuous new theatre appeared in The Beauties of England and Wales (Volume XIII) by Edward Weylake Brayley and John Britton:
There are three entrances, in as many directions, the grand front being in Beaufort Square. The audience part is somewhere less than that of the late Covent Garden Theatre, but the space behind the curtain is much larger. The length, within the main walls is on hundred and twenty feet; and breadth, sixty feet; and the height seventy.
The exterior buildings including dressing rooms, scene room, wardrobe and every other convenience for the artistes, servants etc; the ante rooms and saloons to the boxes, rooms to the numerous private boxes; taverns etc ; are very extensive.
There are three tiers of boxes excessively lofty and affording a depth of rows towards the centre.
Cast iron bronze pillars are placed at a distance of two feet from the front, by which the first row of each circle appears as a balcony, independent of the main structure, and as inconceivable lightness is communicated to the tout ensemble.
The private boxes are inclosed with gilt lattices; the entrance to them is by a private house, part of the property connected with the theatre, and they are accommodated with a suite of retiring rooms.
The decorations are very splendid, particularly the ceiling, which is divided into four compartments, each of which is adorned by one of those exquisite paintings by Cassali, formerly belonging to Fonthill ,Wiltshire.
The wreathes of flowers etc which connect these paintings are executed with great skill and taste. The walls are covered with stamped cloth stuffed of a crimson colour and are papered above to the tops of the boxes with paper of the same colour; and Egyptian pattern fringed with gold stripe. The seats and edges of the boxes are also covered with cloth. The front is painted of the same colour with four broad stripes of gold and the centre ornamented with tasteful scrolls of gold.
This is the description from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing Places (1816) by John Feltham:
The whole south side of Beaufort-square was accordingly purchased in 1804, and such was the activity employed that in twelve months a theatre was opened, which, in elegance of structure, and magnificence of decoration, may vie with any in Great Britain. Its size is considerably larger than that of the little theatre in the Haymarket, being one hundred and twenty-five feet in length, sixty wide and seventy high. Four private boxes are taken from the first tier, on each side next the stage, and handsomely fitted up. There is an air of warmth,comfort and ease, about the house, not to be found in any other theatre in England; and two of the back rows of the front boxes, with similar conveniences as in many of the theatres in Italy. The scenery and stage-apparatus are not inferior to those of the London houses, and the actors are considerably the best out of the metropolis.
The Bristol theatre now belongs entirely to the same proprietors and it is needless to observe that these theatres have been long held next in consideration to those of London; and that there have arisen under their fostering care, the greatest ornaments of the British stage: we need enumerate only the names of Henderson, King, Edwin, Abingdon, Crawford, Siddons, Murray, Incledon and Kean; and though last, certainly not least in the esteem of the public, Elliston.
When the company is at Bristol, the performances are on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays there and on the Saturday at bath; and, during the season at the latter place, the performances are on Monday at Bristol and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at Bath…
As you can imagine from the descriptions, the new theatre was altogether a very different and larger theatre than the intimate Orchard Street playhouse where Henry Tilney really has no excuse for not seeing Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.
Let’s compare the interiors. Here is the Orchard Street theatre drawn by Rowlandson circa 1790:
And here is the interior of the Beaufort Square theatre, ready for a ball, circa 1820.
It was much larger,and very ornate, as you can see. Do remember you can enlarge all the illustrations here merely by clicking on them. The new theatre had its first performance on 12th October 1805, nine days before the battle of Trafalgar.
This is the playbill for that opening night. Sadly, it was a flop- the role of Richard III was given, rather unwisely as it turned out, to an unknown actor who was overcome with stage fright and forgot his words….Poor soul.
Jane Austen was living in 1805 at 25 Gay Street, where the Austen ladies lived after the death of Mr Austen. In 1806 they lived in temporary accommodation in Trim Street- both not far from the new theatre as you can see on this map.
The theatre is still in existance, though it is somewhat changed from Jane Austen’s day for it was destroyed by fire in 1862: go here to see it as it now appears.
Back to Persuasion….
Sadly because of the prior engagement at the Elliot’s evening party the Musgroves and Anne could not go to see a play at the relatively new Bath theatre. Charles Musgrove is not impressed:
“Phoo! phoo!” replied Charles, “what’s an evening- party? Never worth remembering. Your father might have asked us to dinner, I think, if he had wanted to see us. You may do as you like, but I shall go to the play.”
He is eventually persuaded to go to the Elliot’s…..My sympathies are with him. I’d much rather have spent time in congeal company at the theatre than spend a night-with not even a dinner in sight- in the company of the coldly elegant Elizabeth and the idiotic, egotistical Sir Walter…not to mention Mrs Clay.
I thought you might like to know that Amanda Vickery will be giving some lectures in England in relation to her new book, Behind Closed Doors. Here is a link to her web page where she has kindly included my review of her book among much more exualted reviewers!
There will be one next week at The Georgian Group premises at 6 Fiotzroy Square,(which some of you may recognise as being used for some of the location filming of the BBCs production of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South )but sadly, this ,I a now informed , is fully booked.
Snow permitting I will be attending the one Professor Vickery is giving at Fairfax House, York, on the 18th March which is part of the York Literature Festival and at the same time I hope to be able to undertake some research into the Knight family in and around South Yorkshire..
I have had the privilege of hearing Professor Vickery talk before and she is a marvellous speaker so if you can possibly get to the York venue I commend it. And as it is being held at Fairfax House which in itself is a treat, being a fabulously restored Georgian town house, you cannot fail to take every opportunity to enjoy yourselves, as Mrs Bennet might say ;-)
Of all the family, Mary was probably the one most immediately gratified by the circumstance. It was creditable to have a sister married, and she might flatter herself with having been greatly instrumental to the connexion, by keeping Anne with her in the autumn; and as her own sister must be better than her husband’s sisters, it was very agreeable that Captain Wentworth should be a richer man than either Captain Benwick or Charles Hayter. She had something to suffer, perhaps, when they came into contact again, in seeing Anne restored to the rights of seniority, and the mistress of a very pretty landaulette; but she had a future to look forward to, of powerful consolation.
Persuasion, Chapter 24
Typically, in one small passage, Jane Austen gives us a lot of information about Anne Wentworth (as she now is), her husband’s essential nature and that of her sister Mary.
Frederick Wentworth is shown to be a man of a generous and practical nature, but not without a certain wicked style.
For he gives his wife a very pretty Landaulette to enable her to be driven around the country and be independent when it came to travel.
This is what William Felton, London coachmaker has to say about this type of vehicle in his Treatise on Carriages etc (1797):
A Landaulet or Demi-Landau.
This carriage has the same advantage as the landau only that the number of passengers are proportionally less; but, for convenience, where only one carriage is kept, none exceeds it for country use.
This was quite an expensive two-seater vehicle and a rather impressive gift on Captain Wentworth’s part.
Mr Felton gives the cost of a new one, fitted out with all the top level furnishings and finishes, at £156, 10 shillings and 3 pence. In addition to the purchase cost, it also required the services of a coachman,
and perhaps also a groom( though the two jobs could be combined) and a footman, if he was employed by the Wentworths, could also stand on the back to accompany his mistress on her journeys.
Note that this is also a rather grand gesture by Frederick Wentworth. Employing male servants at the time incurred an extra tax: they were therefore a ‘luxury’ for from 1777 onwards an annual tax of a guinea was imposed on households that employed one male servant. The rate increased with the number of make servants one kept. This tax remained in force( thought it was modified occasionally) until 1937.
And of course, in addition to the cost of male employees, the Wentworths would have to factor in the cost of stabling the horses which would draw the carriage.
Sandy Lerner, the chatelaine of Chawton House, in her article in The Female Spectator Volume 4 number 1 has this to say about Wentworth’s gift:
This light four-wheeled conveyance gained popularity as it was well suited to England’s uncertain climate in that it could be converted from an open to a closed carriage with little trouble. The landaulette was a smaller version of the landau, a very formal postillion driven vehicle. The landaulette was also known as a demi-Landau with only a rear seat. Again this is a lady’s vehicle, and its inclusion denotes Captain Wentworth’s extreme generosity to his wife as well as a remarkable concern for her independence
William Bridges Adams in his book English Pleasure Carriages (1837) remarks that these vehicle ,along with their close-cousins landaus, were rather expensive to maintain in good order:
This is an expensive carriage to build and very liable to get out of order as the leather and wood work of the head is affected by cold and heat, damp and dryness. The expense of repairs is considerable.
So, this gift on Wentworth’s part to his wife of a very pretty landaulette was one made with much consideration for her ability tot ravel independently, in safety, and in some considerable style at no little extra cost to himself.
A much more practical carriage than Charles Musgrove’s curricle, being an all weather vehicle. Small- only a two-seater- but very stylish,with its moveable roof, perfect for summer driving.
In effect, Wentworth has given Anne the equivalent of a luxury convertible sports car.
And it rankles with Mary because she (and we !) know that she only has the services of Charles’s rather masculine and impractical curricle to call upon. No wonder she sees Anne’s gift through the green eyes of jealousy.
And now to Extravagant Monsters. We know that Sir Walter Elliot has to retrench and leave Kellynch Hall, tenanted out to the far superior ( in every way)Admiral and Mrs Croft, but does he leave Kellynch for Bath in any penitent style?
Of course not.
The last office of the four carriage-horses was to draw Sir Walter, Miss Elliot, and Mrs. Clay to Bath. The party drove off in very good spirits; Sir Walter prepared with condescending bows for all the afflicted tenantry and cottagers who might have had a hint to shew themselves: and Anne walked up at the same time, in a sort of desolate tranquillity, to the Lodge, where she was to spend the first week.
Persuasion, Chapter 5
Four carriage horses draw Sir Walter’s coach, note. Not two…four.He could never be expected to retrench that far….And can you imagine what sort of coach it might be? Not a serviceable comfortable coach like the Musgrove’s might own, I fear, but one like this, again from William Felton’s Treatise.
An Elegant Crane Neck Coach
Which would cost at least £337 pounds (gasp!) fitted with every conceivable luxurious extra…
In addition no doubt the panels of the coach were emblazoned with Sir Walter’s arms and emblems, as garish as his servant’s livery…..
Oh, yes, I’m sure his tenants and cottagers were impressed as he rode away, in his grand extravagant coach pulled by four horse with coachman and footmen galore, retrenching like mad….Don’t you think?
There are numerous mentions of carriages in Persuasion, and if we examine them they are very interesting: considering the owners and their choices of carriage reveals much about their essential characters.
Today we shall consider Charles Musgrove and his curricle. The existence of which so irritates his wife, Mary…well, to be fair, it is not its sole existence which irritates her but their lack of a coach.
Let me explain further. To Curricles…..Dashing, wealthy young men owned them in the late 18th /early 19th centuries and this was reflected in Jane Austen’s books. Darcy had one in Pride and Prejudice, Henry Tilney had one in Northanger Abbey, Mr Rushworth ( not dashing but very rich) in Mansfield Park; Willoughby (not rich but deceptively dashing – boo, hiss- )owned one in Sense and Sensibility. Mr Elliot, in Persuasion, also owns one, though he is driven in his by his servant, properly kitted out in mourning for Mr Elliot’s dead but unlamented wife :
They had nearly done breakfast, when the sound of a carriage (almost the first they had heard since entering Lyme) drew half the party to the window. It was a gentleman’s carriage, a curricle, but only coming round from the stable-yard to the front door — somebody must be going away. It was driven by a servant in mourning.
The word curricle made Charles Musgrove jump up, that he might compare it with his own; the servant in mourning roused Anne’s curiosity, and the whole six were collected to look by the time the owner of the curricle was to be seen issuing from the door, amidst the bows and civilities of the household, and taking his seat, to drive off.
Persuasion, Chapter 12
They were smart, fashionable carriages and gave the young man the opportunity to drive himself ….an opportunity to show the world that he knew how to do these things in style and was a competent sort of chap.
Sandy Lerner, the chatelaine of Chawton House and noted carriage owner/driver, wrote this interesting passage about curricles in The Female Spectator ,Volume 4, Issue 1 (Winter 2000):
The curricle was a conspicuous display of wealth and fashion analogous to the ownership of a high-priced, 2-seater convertible sports car. It was an unnecessary and expensive addition to an establishment as one necessarily had at least one other traveling all-weather vehicle. Also called a “bankrupt cart” because in the words of a contemporary judge they were “frequently driven by those who could afford neither the Money to support them nor the Time spent in using them, the want of which in their Business, brought them to Bankruptcy”. It was a young person’s vehicle noted for its lightness and speed, especially as it was drawn by two horses.
In Pride and Prejudice ”when the sound of a carriage drew them to a window, and they saw a gentleman and lady in a curricle driving up the street. Elizabeth, immediately recognising the livery, guessed what it meant, and imparted no small degree of surprise to her relations by acquainting them with the honour which she expected.” Mr Darcy is, in one word, portrayed as stylish wealthy and competent.
The curricle shown above was designed by William Felton. He was a coach-maker, of 36, Leather Lane, Holborn, London and the illustration (along with all the others in this post) comes from my copy of his Treatise on Carriages, published in 1794
This is how he describes a curricule and its owners (and frankly sounds a little blase about the type of customers this vehicle attracted :
The proprietors of this sort of carriage are in general persons of high repute for fashion and who are continually of themselves, inventing some improvements, the variety of which would be too tedious to relate
In his book he estimated the cost of a new curricle at between £58, 9 shillings and 3 pence and £,103, 5 shillings depending on the finish and extras added to it.
And now we can see a little more clearly one of Charles and Mary Musgrove’s problems: Charles has a curricle ( a rich man’s plaything) …but as they have a growing family, they really needed not a flash sports car but a “people carrier” -a coach- in order to travel around all year in the countryside without constantly having to rely on the goodwill of Mr and Mrs Musgrove.
“I am very glad you were well enough, and I hope you had a pleasant party.”
“Nothing remarkable. One always knows beforehand what the dinner will be, and who will be there; and it is so very uncomfortable, not having a carriage of one’s own. Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove took me, and we were so crowded! They are both so very large, and take up so much room; and Mr. Musgrove always sits forward. So there was I crowded into the back seat with Henrietta and Louisa; and I think it very likely that my illness to-day may be owing to it.”
Persuasion, Chapter 5
Mr and Mrs Musgrove senior own a coach-a good all-weather vehicle that can carry at least four, plus lots of luggage when they travel about the country.
Where only one carriage is kept, and the use of it is almost constantly required, a plain, substantial coach is to be recommended, in preference to a slight ornamental one: as by being exposed to all weathers and rough roads it is less liable to require expensive repairs and if well formed and neatly executed in the finishing, will always preserve a genteel appearance: in this pattern of a coach there is nothing superfluous or wanting to make it complete; and for convenience may be considered as one of the cheapest of all four wheeled carriages.
A coach commissioned from Felton would cost at least £133, 9 shillings.
Mary Musgrove is, in my very humble opinion more than a little justified in saying that it is very disagreeable not having a carriage “of their own”. The curricle is hardly a practical all-year-round vehicle: it cannot comfortably hold more than two passengers and has limited capacity for carrying luggage as non can be stored on the roof for it is in effect, a soft top which cannot bear a load. Living in the country where the effects of the weather would be more keenly felt than in a city, a good plain coach would surely make her more mobile and comfortable. She cheers up immensely when “tending” Louisa in off-season Lyme:
Mary had had her evils; but upon the whole, as was evident by her staying so long, she had found more to enjoy than to suffer. Charles Hayter had been at Lyme oftener than suited her; and when they dined with the Harvilles there had been only a maid-servant to wait, and at first Mrs. Harville had always given Mrs. Musgrove precedence; but then she had received so very handsome an apology from her on finding out whose daughter she was, and there had been so much going on every day, there had been so many walks between their lodgings and the Harvilles, and she had got books from the library, and changed them so often, that the balance had certainly been much in favour of Lyme. She had been taken to Charmouth too, and she had bathed, and she had gone to church, and there were a great many more people to look at in the church at Lyme than at Uppercross; and all this, joined to the sense of being so very useful, had made really an agreeable fortnight.
Persuasion, Chapter 14
I think a lot of her unhappiness stems from boredom and isolation. A coach would alleviate some of that by providing her with all year-round traveling opportunities. Felton himself advises that if only one carriage is to be owned ( by a family )it ought to be a good plain coach. You can clearly see why Charles wants a fashionable, smart curricle , as a fully paid up member of the ”Heirs to a Pretty Little Estate Club”.
But I think in this case you can see that he is being a little selfish and Mary Musgrove really is more than a little justified in saying that it is very disagreeable not having a carriage “of their own” .
Its rather like a 21st century man not wanting to sell his two- seater soft top Porsche when the family has grown and what they really need is a Citroen Picasso.
Did Jane Austen ever base her characters on real people?
I’m not sure she ever did.
And she certainly told her friend, Mrs Ann Barrett of Alton that her creations were all her own:
On one occasion soon after the inimitable Mr Collins had made his appearance in literature and old friend attacked her(Jane Austen-jfw) on the score of having pourtrayed (sic)an individual: in recurring to the subject after wards she expressed a very great dread of what she called an “invasion of social proprieties.” She said she thought it fair to note peculiarities, weaknesses and even special phrases but it was her desire to create not to reproduce and at the same time said “I am too proud of my own gentlemen ever to admit they were merely Mr A or Mr B…..
(See Deirdre le Faye Jane Austen : A Family Record page 233.)
However, recent research by Deirdre le Faye, published in Bath History, Volume VII seems to suggest that Lady Russell, Anne Elliot’s sometimes exasperating mother-substitute in Persuasion, may have been based on the facts surrounding a member of Jane Austen’s acquaintance in Bath.
We have had Mrs. Lillingstone and the Chamberlaynes to call on us. My mother was very much struck with the odd looks of the two latter; I have only seen her. Mrs. Busby drinks tea and plays at cribbage here to-morrow; and on Friday, I believe, we go to the Chamberlaynes’. Last night we walked by the Canal.
( See: Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 5th May 1801)
We met not a creature at Mrs. Lillingstone’s, and yet were not so very stupid, as I expected, which I attribute to my wearing my new bonnet and being in good looks.
(See: Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 12th May, 1801)
Were to have a tiny party here tonight; I hate tiny parties-they force one into constant exertion-Miss Edwards and her father, Mrs Busby and her nephew, Mr Maitland and Mrs Lillingstone are to be the whole
(See: Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 21st May 1801)
My evening visit was by no mean disagreeable. Mrs Lillingstone came to engage Mrs Holder’s conversation and Miss Holder and I adjourned after tea to the inner drawing room to look over Prints and talk pathetically.
(See : Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 26th May 1801)
There are not many mentions of Mrs Lillingston in Jane Austen’s letters from Bath: these quoted above- reflecting a little flurry of activity concerning her slightly - are all that survive. But she does merit our attention…..
She was a member of the Leigh Perrots’ circle of friends, and her story is an interesting one, so If you will allow it I will tell you it and of her relationship with Jane Austen.
When Jane Austen met her in 1801 she was 60 years old and was a widow, living at 10 Rivers Street in Bath where she lived alone save for her little dog, Malore and her staff. She was attended by her faithful maid, Molly Stowe , her man servant, Francis Varley and a seeming endless succession of cooks.
I think both Jane Austen and Cassandra must have met Mrs Lillingston before the dates of these letters quoted above _ probably on a previous visit to Bath?-because Jane Austen does not mention her or describe her to Cassandra as a new acquaintance.
We do not know exactly how Mrs Lillingston became part of the Leigh –Perrots’s circle of friends. But Mrs Lillington was born Wilhelmina Johanna Dottin in 1741 in Barbados. This may have been the link between her and the Leigh Perrots, for Mrs Leigh-Perrot was born Jane Cholmeley also in Barbardos. At the time of writing her letter’s, quoted above, Jane Austen was living with the Leigh Perrot’s at their home at Number 1, the Paragon,
which as you can see was not far from Rivers Street.
Poor Mrs Lillington’s nearest relations seem to have made her the subject of much litigation, and much legal dispute seems to have taken place regarding her late husband’s will ; there may have been legal disputes arising from marriage settlements made in favour of her daughter and her husband.
The exact nature of these claims is not known, but there still exists a letter from Mrs Lillington’s London lawyer, a Mr Coulthurst of Bedford Row who was very happy to inform her that the Lord Chancellor had thrown out the case in Chancery against her and her late husband’s estate:
…your Cause was heard yesterday & I am happy to add that the Chancellor has dismissed so much of the Bill as seeks to set aside the Release saying there was not the least Pretence for it, and that the Bill was filed from Spleen and ill Humour, but he thought that as you had executed the deed of August 1797 which from the Purport of it might be so construed as to induce a Belief in the Husband that no debt was due from the daughter to you, the Chancellor thought that you was not from the Words of the Deed intitled to call upon the plaintiffs for any money due at the time of the marriage- the Chancellor and everyone present were perfectly satisfied with the purity of your Conduct and the general opinion was that the Bill was a most unjust and unnatural one.
After all the trials her own family put her to, when she made her will on the 11th July 1804 she, quite understandably, cut out her family completely. She appointed Mr Leigh Perrot to be her chief executor and residuary legatee : and in the will also made provision for her servants: Molly Stowe was to have £90, a wide selection of the lesser valuable household effects and to take care of
my favourite Little dog Malore ,a faithful Companion though all my suffering. Francis Varley was to have £220 plus all his bedroom furnishings plus Mrs Lillingston’s old black mare “Sissy”
requesting that she shall never be Road worked or Shod but enjoy the same indulgences she has done the last eight years of her life.
Mrs Lillington’s library was a treasured possession and she had taken care to label each volume with a direction confirming the name of its final recipient under her will.
Now, here we come to the interesting part of the story.
She must have taken a shine to Jane and Cassandra, for in her will she left them the then rather large sum of £50 each. Mrs Lillington died on the 30th January 1806.
This is the balance sheet drawn up by Mr Leigh Perrot, made when he was settling all Mrs Lillingston’s estate.
This is the an extract from it detailing the legacies paid to Jane and Cassandra Austen
Mr Leigh Perrot organised her funeral ( the undertaker’s account of which makes for fascinating reading) and then set about disposing of her estate according to the instructions in the will.
Her house at 10 River Street in the fashionable upper town in Bath was sold privately to …..a Mr Russell. Hmmmmm….doesn’t that set you thinking?
So- what did Jane Austen do with this welcome and very large lump sum of £50 which she received in late 1806 ? Remember that unlike Cassandra who had a little annual income from the £1000 capital left to her by her fiancé Tom Fowle (who sadly died prematurely while on service in the West Indies as the chaplain to Lord Craven in San Domingo in 1797) at this time in her life Jane Austen had absolutely no independent income. She relied at this time totally on income from gifts from relations or friends. Her father had died in 1805, and so the female side of the Austen family were finding it particularly difficult to live in their somewhat straightened financial circumstances.
Well, in this case we do know what happened for, luckily and almost unbelievably for us, there is still in existence Jane Austen’s account of her expenditure for the year 1807 from her pocket book and the Jane Austen Society published it (See the article Jane Austen’s Piano by Patrick Piggot ,Jane Austen Society’s Report 1981)
This page is now in the possession of the Pierpoint Morgan Library of New York.
One item that is of note is that the legacy enabled Jane Austen to hire a PianoForte in 1807 at a cost of £2 13 shillings and 6 pence. Her piano at Steventon had been sold along with most of the other Austen articles of furniture and library at Steventon when they left to live in Bath in 1801. We know that playing the piano was important to Jane and so it appears that Mrs Lillingston’s legacy enabled her to indulge her interest by hiring a piano while she lived in Southampton.(The Austen ladies left Bath in 1806 and from the autumn of that year lived in Southampton until 1809 when they removed to Chawton).
So I do wonder if Lady Russell, sometimes of River Street, Bath an intellectual and ,IMHO, mostly kindly widow sometime subject to the indifference of youth was based on this kind benefactress of Jane Austen and her sister? We shall never know for sure,but it is fun to speculate upon it.
Surprise was the strongest emotion raised by their appearance; but Anne was really glad to see them; and the others were not so sorry but that they could put on a decent air of welcome; and as soon as it became clear that these, their nearest relations, were not arrived with any views of accommodation in that house, Sir Walter and Elizabeth were able to rise in cordiality, and do the honours of it very well. They were come to Bath for a few days with Mrs. Musgrove, and were at the White Hart. So much was pretty soon understood; but till Sir Walter and Elizabeth were walking Mary into the other drawing-room, and regaling themselves with her admiration, Anne could not draw upon Charles’s brain for a regular history of their coming, or an explanation of some smiling hints of particular business, which had been ostentatiously dropped by Mary, as well as of some apparent confusion as to whom their party consisted of.
Persuasion Chapter 22
I’ve been researching The White Hart Inn, Bath for some time.
The reason why it excites my curiosity is that, for such a famous and celebrated place, it was demolished in 1869 and never rebuilt. And information about it is hard to find. In its heyday it was one of the most famous inns in the country let alone Bath and was duly celebrated for its style and efficiency
Images of it are scarce.
In this print of the Pump Room, you can just discern the roof of the inn appearing over the colonnade running to right angels of the Pump Room.
And this very early photograph is of the view from the site of the White Hart after its demolition.
You can imagine my delight when, a few years ago, I found this picture of it in its busy glory days
….with all its amazing detail…The White Hart -a deer- standing proud above the entrance. The print also conveys just how very busy it was-(do I count 7 coaches?)
It must have been very noisy. Something Jane Austen alluded to in one of her letters:
Poor F. Cage has suffered a good deal from her accident. The noise of the White Hart was terrible to her-They will keep her quiet I daresay…
(See: Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 15th September 1813)
Hopefully, you will be able to envisage its situation, just to the north of Bath Street ( see the colonnade running to the left of the print). You can also guess its size and how many visitors it must have accommodated. It says a lot for its organization and for its proprietor that I have never been able to find a bad review of the facilities ;-)
Here is my map of Bath of 1803 from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc by John Feltham
Here is a section of it showing Stall Street
and this is the same section annotated with the positions of the Inn and the Pump Room
The Guide from which this map was taken gave the Inn a good review:
The principal inns and Taverns are the White Hart in Stall-street where the accommodations and treatment are excellent.
Here are a few of the other reviews I have collated over the years. Parson Woodford, from Norfolk, in his dairy gives us these two brief but glowing mentions of the inn:
28 June 1793
About 10 o’clock this Evening, thank God, we got safe and well to Bath to the White Hart Inn, where we supped & slept – a very noble Inn
11 October 1793
We got to Bath … about six o’clock this Evening, to the White Hart in Stall Street, kept by one Pickwick, where we drank Tea, supped and slept, a very good, very capital Inn, everything in stile.
Louis Simond , the rather puritanical American who wrote his Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britian during the years 1810 and 1811 ( published in 1815) wrote in detail of the White Hart. He was clearly impressed:
January 8th 1810.
We arrived at Bath last night. The chaise drew up in style at the White Hart. Two well-dressed footmen were ready to help us alight , presenting an arm on each side. Then a loud bell on the stairs, and lights carried before us to an elegantly furnished sitting –room where the fire was already blazing. In a few minutes a neat looking chamber maid with an ample white apron pinned behind, came to offer her services to the Ladies and shew the Bed-rooms. In less than half an hour five powdered gentlemen burst into the room with three dishes etc and two remained to wait. I gave this as a sample of the best or rather of the finest inns. Our bill was £2 ,11 shillings sterling dinner for three, tea, beds and breakfast. The servants have no wages-but depending on the generosity of travellers, they find it in their interest to please them. They (the servants-jfw) cost us about five shillings a day.
Here is a link to the portrait by John Saunders of the proprietor of the inn-sadly in black and white and rather small. He was one Eleanzer Pickwick, who would have been the owner of the inn when Jane Austen knew of it (and when the Musgroves stayed three). The portrait shows him as a bluff ruddy-cheeked man in simple riding habit, clearly at ease in a country setting.
Eleazer Pickwick was the son of Moses Pickwick and his wife, Sarah Smith, and was baptized at Freshford parish church, Somerset, on 2 February 1749. His parents were from the village of Limpley Stoke just outside Bath.
Eleazer was the grandson of a foundling, baptized Moses Pickwick in 1695 due to his being discovered as a baby at Pickwick in Corsham, Wiltshire He was immortalized in Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, which made his name a household word.
In 1780, building on his experience as serving as a postboy at the Bear Inn, he was able to provide the services of a post-coach to London from the Angel Inn in Bath whose license he held. He soon enlarged his business by increasing the number of services scheduled, especially to London, from Bristol as well as Bath, and by transferring his base to the White Hart, which was, as we have seen, a major inn in the city
He was made a freeman of Bath in 1799, and a member of the common council in 1801, becoming mayor in 1826. In 1797 he purchased the manor house and lands in the parish of Bathford in Somerset. To this land he added Hartley Farm in Batheaston, Somerset, as well as a manor house and lands in the parish of Wingfield in Wiltshire.
He owned a freehold property in Bath, in Bath Street, but actually resided in Westgate Buildings from 1800. He died on 8 December 1837. His wife had predeceased him, dying in 1835; they were both buried at Bathford parish church.
I have one last “review” to add to all this and it is from my copy of John Cary’s Itinerary etc. (1798).
This book originated from the library of John Ruskin at his Lakeland home of Brantwood.
Authentication of the handwriting in the book is ongoing at present, but the owner of this book in the early 19th century was a sort of early “Egon Ronay” and he devised his own code to describe the places he was staying and their facilities.
Above is the page in the Itinerary for the White Hart, and you can see that he marks the entry for the inn with a lower case “a”.
I am pleased to report that, as you can see from his annotations above, this is his code for
So we can rest assured that the Musgroves will have every attention , good food and that the service will never be “indifferent and inattentive” or (horrors) the pale will not be “doubtful as to beds”-two categories which he indicates by the use of the initials q and b.
They deserve no less, frankly.
And so tonight is the screening by PSB in America of ITV’s adaptation of Northanger Abbey , scripted by Andrew Davies, starring JJ Feild as a rather delicious Henry Tilney. My main problems with this production that it did not film crucial scenes in Bath but instead substituted Georgian Dublin for the city in the novel. I can fully understand the financial reason for doing this, but to me a lot was lost by substituting Bath for another place( albeit another sumptuous Georgian city). Bath is a very important part of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion and not to use these famous sites menas that , for me, a certain dimension was lost.
Next week PBS is screening ITV’s version of Persuasion, which in spite of its faults did use Bath (!) and so in honour of that, I will be hosting a short Persuasion season here at AustenOnly from tomorrow.
I do hope you can join me.
As soon as divine service was over, the Thorpes and Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the pump–room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which everybody discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company. Here Catherine and Isabella, arm in arm, again tasted the sweets of friendship in an unreserved conversation; they talked much, and with much enjoyment; but again was Catherine disappointed in her hope of reseeing her partner..
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 9
The Royal Crescent in Bath- which Jane Austen referred to only as The Crescent- was, and still is, a pleasant place to promenade. It has wonderful views across the city, being part of the upper town, due to the open prospect it commands. The lack of building immediately before it was due to the building restrictions imposed in the orignal leases for the site. Here is the map of Bath which appears in my copy of The Guide to All the Watering and Sea Bathing Places etc (1803) by John Feltham
And here is a section from that map which shows you exactly the position of The Crescent
The site was acquired as building land on December 20th 1766 by John Wood the Younger from Sir Benet Garrard. The lease contained a clause which would safeguard the amenities of the Crescent by the existence of a covenant which precluded any house being built on the ground immediately before the Crescent (then known as the Kingsmead Furlong, but eventually known as the Barton Fields ), nor did it allow any plant to grow on that land if it exceeded the height of 8 feet, thus preserving the view from the Crescent down to the river Avon.
The terrain is very steep in this part of the city, something which caused some initial problems with the foundations of the buildings – and these vertiginous slopes were a feature that Thomas Rowlandson couldn’t resist making fun of in this chariacture from his series of prints, The Comforts of Bath:
Here he shows the invalids, drawn to Bath to take the waters to effect a cure, in their Bath chairs etc.,staging their own version of The Bath Races. Wicked man.
Back to the Crescent……The Bath Chronicle dated 21st May 1767 noted that
on Tuesday last the foundation stone was laid of the first house of the intended new building above the Circus called the Royal Crescent
The Crescent was made up of 30 houses: though each house had a basement,three stories and roof garrets, each house differed in size, and internally the plans of each were different,as can be noted from the differences in the rear of the buildings from this modern areal photograph. Seven independent firms of building contractors worked on the house. Each house was finished to different degrees of sumptuousness. Some were magnificently decorated with elaborate plasterwork etc. Some, intended to be let permanently to visitors to Bath for the season, were plain.
But the façade facing the city was uniform, and no alterations were allowed from Wood the Younger’s master plan. Each house had a plain ground story face: the windows and doorways are spaced at equal intervals set in plain square headed openings. Above this ground level, for the height of two stories, rises 114 Ionic order columns, each just over 20 feet tall.
The houses were separated from the lawn in front by a wide pavement-as you can see here in this print by Nattes,above. Perfect for that Sunday Promenade by people of fashion as Jane Austen describes it in Northanger Abbey- and a road which was cobbled.That road is now blocked to traffic and so if you visit the Crescent these days you can get some idea of the atmosphere as it was when Jane Austen’s characters walked around it.
Such a beautiful and prominent set of buildings, in the most fashionable area of Bath attracted many famous residents. Let’s look at some of them…Christopher Anstey the poet and author of The New Bath Guide-a poem satirising the visitors to Bath-lived there for 22 years
and the famous Linley family lived at number 11.
The Linleys were a very talented musical famly. Here is Thomas Linley Senior- portrayed by Gainsborough who was a family friend, and who also had a famous studio in Bath in the nearby Circus, where he “pickpotted the rich” by painting their portraits.
His composer son Thomas Linley junior, The English Mozart- again by Gainsborough, lived at the Crescent
but died prematurely while visiting the Duke of Ancaster ‘s Lincolnshire estate. While on on the lake at Grimsthorpe Castle a sudden violent storm below up,causing his boat to capsize. Here is Gainsborough’s wistfully beautiful portrait of his sister Elizabeth Linley, the singer:
She famously eloped from the Crescent with the playwright Richard Sheridan and eventually married him in quite scandalous circumstances, which he subsequently immortalised in his wildly successful play, The Rivals (which play of course was one of the plays performed at the barn at Steventon by the Austen family when they were infected with the itch for acting)
Frederick ,Duke of York lived at Number 1,The Crescent:
This is now a wonderful museum, owned by the Bath Preservation Trust, where many rooms are decorated as they would have been in the 18th century including the kitchen, which has (shade of our other posts this week) a model turnspit dog in his wall mounted cage (which you can clearly see by clicking on the link here) And of course, number 16, the central house in the Crescent is now a rather sumptuous and famous hotel. I’ve not stayed there but I have taken tea there and I can highly reccommend it ;-)
Jane Austen, a frequent visitor to Bath before she lived there from 1801-1806, knew the Crescent well, as is evidenced from her letters:
In the morning Lady Willoughby is to present the Colours to some Corps of Yeomanry or other in the Crescent
(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 2nd June 1799)
And obviously walked there on Sundays after church like her characters in Northanger Abbey:
On Sunday we walked a little in the Crescent Fields but found it too cold to stay long.
(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 13th May 1801)
and it was a popular thing to do, though sometimes the crowds were sparse:
We did not walk long in the Crescent yesterday, it was hot and not crouded enough: so we went into the field…
(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 11th April 1805)
So there you are, a virtual stroll around the Crescent on this wintery Sunday . I hope you enjoy it.