You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2010.
The holidays have begun, Easter trees are ready to be decorated, eggs and hot crossed buns ready to be consumed and visitors are expected..so there will be no new posts here for the next two weeks,as life is intervening…inconvenient for posting…but good in many ways.
So along with these good people taking a Spring Promenade outside Carlton House in 1785, I wish you a Happy Easter or whatever season it is for you to celebrate, and I do look forward to seeing you in mid-April.
N.B. The posts will still be open for comments and I promise to reply to them !
Mary Anning was a famous fossil hunter who lived in Lyme Regis, England – a part of the country that is today known as the Jurassic Coast. Her story has recently been fictionalized by Tracy Chevalier in a novel, Remarkable Creatures, which I recently enjoyed reading:
And there is a slight Jane Austen link, so let’s continue her story.
Mary was the daughter of Richard Anning, a cabinet-maker of Lyme Regis. He had a supplementary string to his financial bow- he was a finder of curiosities-fossil as we would now call them- which could be found on the coasts -the cliffs and the beaches- around Lyme and Charmouth.
This is a view of the beach and cliifs of Charmouth,
and this is the view of Lyme from Charmouth beach: if you click on it to enlarge it, you can see the town, rushing down to the sea, with the arm of the Cobb jutting out into Lyme Bay.
With the death of her father in 1810, Mary and her brother Richard were the sole survivors of ten siblings and her parents . Mary took over her father’s secondary trade of fossil hunting, desperate to support her now diminished family in the only way she knew.
She had a stall on the beach where she sold her finds to the middling- sort tourists who visited Lyme in the season. In fact it is thought by some that the tongue-twister, She sells sea shells on the sea shore was inspired by Mary Anning and her finds.
Which were amazing.
In 1811, aged just 12, Anning discovered the fossilized skeleton of an Ichthyosaur Although Ichthyosaurs had been known from fragments since at least 1699, this was the first complete skeleton found . Mary first found the skull, and only later found the rest of the animal after a storm washed away the part of a cliff which contained it. Her later finds included a Plesiosaur in 1821, and the first complete specimen of a Pterosaur in 1828.
Her finds were immortalized by Henry de la Beche, in his watercolour: Duria Antiquior, A More Ancient Dorset, lithographs of which were sold for Mary’s financial benefit.
Mary’s patron and supporter during her life time was Elizabeth Philpot, a genteelly impoverished daughter of a London lawyer who moved to Lyme with her other sisters in 1805, thereby missing Jane Austen by one year. Its tantalizing to think that they might have been attending the same assembly rooms in Lyme had Jane Austens family visited Lyme one more time….
Though both Mary and Elizabeth’s knowledge and talents were widely admired in the scientific community and their finds were pivotal in allowing theories of evolution to develop, neither were ever eligible to join any scientific societies, such the Geology Society. Which is thought provoking in itself…
So what does all this have to do with Jane Austen ? (which is of course the only reason for writing about anything here) Simply that Mary Anning’s father in his role of cabinet maker came into contact with Jane Austen when the Austen family stayed at Mr Pyne’s house
in the lower part of Broad Street in Lyme in 1804.
I have written to Mr Pyne on the subject of the broken Lid: it was valued by Anning here we were told at five shillings and as that appeared to us beyond he value of all the furniture in the room together We have referred ourselves to the Owner.
Oh,dear….Mr Anning does not appear to have been very good at his job: over estimating the cost of a broken lid and not impressing the shrewd Jane Austen at all.
The museum at Lyme is the Philpot Museum, named in Elizabeth Philpot’s honour by her nephew Thomas Philpot and it has interesting collections celebrating Mary Anningand Elizabeth Philpot. And if you care to look at their events page you will see that there are some interesting talks and walks to be had about them in the forthcoming weeks.
But I find it intriguing to think that Jane Austen probably met Mary’s poor incompetent cabinet-makerfather at Lyme, and I do wonder if one her undoubted walks along this coast if she found any fossils and what she thought of them…
Ammonites from my son’s collection , collected on Charmouth Beach in 2006.
Yesterday we looked at the health benefits of asses milk. Today we shall look at the use Jane Austen made of donkeys towards the end of her life at Chawton.
After Jane Austen had visited Chetleham in May 1816 it was obvious that her health was beginning to fail and a cure had not been effected. Chetlenham was an inland spa famed, as reported in The Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing Places etc (1803), for its mineral waters which were especially noted for treating
She retuned to Chawton on 11th June. She must have begun to find it difficult to walk, and began to use her mother’s donkey cart and donkey, so that she could remain mobile. She was famous for being a desperate walker, and to find her energy levels so depleted that she could no longer go for walks around Chawton must have been devastating.
This is a picture of the cart that I took on my last visit to Chawton :
But if you go here you can see a picture of the donkey cart, together with modern occupant and donkey , in a photograph taken in the garden at The Jane Austen House Museum which gives you a better idea of the size of the carriage.
The firt mention of it in her letters is in one written to her nephew, James Edward Austen, dated 9th July 1816;
May Jane and I have been wet through once already today, we set off in the Donkey Carriage for Farringdon as I wanted to see the improvements Mr Woolis is making, but we were obliged to turn back before we got there but not soon enough to avoid a Pelter all the way back home……
By March 1817 however, Jane Austen was further weakened by her illness and this mention of the donkey appears in her letter of 13th March written to Fanny Knight. It would appear that Jane Austen did not like driving the carriage and preferred to ride the donkey:
I am got tolerably well again, quite equal to walking about and enjoying the Air; and by sitting down and resting a good while between my walks, I get exercise enough. I have a scheme however to accomplishing more as the weather grows springlike. I mean to take to riding the Donkey. It will be more independent and less troublesome than the use of the Carriage & I shall be able to go about with Aunt Cassandra in her walks to Alton and Wyards.
In her letter of the of the 23rd March 1817 again written to Fanny Knight, Jane Austen announced with some understandable excitement of the forthcoming arrival of the saddle for the donkey and her desperation to be out and about in the countryside and open air:
We are going to have Rain and after that very pleasant genial weather ,which will exactly do for me, as my Saddle will then be completed and ari and exercise is what I want….
The final mention of the donkey is in her letter to Caroline Austen of 26th Marcy 1817:
I have taken one ride on the Donkey and like it very much-and you must try to get me quiet mild days that I maybe able to get out pretty constantly….
For the financially-challenged Austen ladies- by this time Henry Austen’s bank had failed and the financial depression consequent upon the ending of the Napoleonic wars was causing them much distress- a donkey was an ideal means of transport , basically because it was the cheapest available .
This picture shows donkeys being kept by the Spurling family from Diana Spurling wonderful collection of watercolours published in the book, Mrs Husrt Dancing and Other Scenes form Regency Life 1812-1823
Donkeys cost very little to purchase and were easily fed. But the biggest saving was that unlike horses, donkey were not subject to tax.
This is a picture of three donkeys learning to draw a carriage again by Diana Spurling.
Horse used for riding for pleasure and for driving carriages were subject to tax in England from 1784 (agricultural horses and horses used in industry were taxed at lower rates and this tax was introduced in 1796,) Donkeys were exempt from this tax. Pleasure carriages however were subject to tax, and this was first imposed in 1747, but the donkey carriage, though subject to the tax, was subject to the lowest form of it.
The donkey cart was a two wheeled affair as you can see from the photograph of Mrs Austen carriage, and was the cheapest form of carriage one could buy at the time :the equivalent today of the tiniest cheapest car. Anna and Been Lefroy- who were also in financially straightened circumstances having little income and many children- had a donkey carriage too. I suppose Jane’s donkey was the early 19th century equivalent of a mobility scooter for her.
Donkeys were thought of as excellent animals for drawing carriages. This is what the agricultural “improver” and commentator Arthur Young had to say about them, reporting about the Earl of Egremont’s experiments with them:
The problem with donkeys is that they can be stubborn beings. And they do not make for a very elegant figure while riding one.
Which is something of which the townie Mrs Elton does not appear to a be aware when she wants to cut a dash riding to the Donwell Abbey Strawberry picking party in Emma by donkey:
“I wish we had a donkey. The thing would be for us all to come on donkies, Jane, Miss Bates, and me — and my caro sposo walking by. I really must talk to him about purchasing a donkey. In a country life I conceive it to be a sort of necessary; for, let a woman have ever so many resources, it is not possible for her to be always shut up at home; and very long walks, you know — in summer there is dust, and in winter there is dirt.”
Jane Austen knew all about them I’m sure: and as we can see from those touching extracts from her last letters, was grateful for the opportunity her donkey gave to her for affording her some of her last glimpses of the Hampshire countryside that she loved so well.
Some of the costmes from the latest BBC adaptation of Emma, starring Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley will be on show at the Jane Austen House Museum from the 1st April until the 16th May.
And in addition on the 7th May Rosalind Ebbutt, the BAFTA winning costume designer,
will give a talk on how she designed these costumes. Rosalind Ebbutt has designed costumes for many successful dramas, both modern and period, and according to the Events Page at the Museum’s website, has a wealth of interesting stories about her sources and inspiration.
There are going to be some really fascinating events at Jane Austen’s House over the next few months, and if you’d like to find out more about them , then do go here.
To round up my posts on Sanditon, written to coincide with Laurel’s Group Read of Jane Austen’s unfinished fragment at Austenprose, I thought I might take the opportunity of writing about Jane Austen and donkeys , or asses as they were then called.
In Sanditon we hear much of Lady Denham’s asses and her money-making plans for them:
Well, Mr. Parker, and the other is a boarding school, a French boarding school, is it? No harm in that. They’ll stay their six weeks. And out of such a number, who knows but some may be consumptive and want asses’ milk; and I have two milch asses at this present time…Going after a doctor! Why, what
should we do with a doctor here? It would be only encouraging our servants and the poor to fancy themselves ill if there was a doctor at hand. Oh! pray, let us have none of the tribe at Sanditon. We go on very well as we are. There is the sea and the downs and my milch asses.
Now if we could get a young heiress to be sent here for her health — and if she was ordered to drink asses’ milk I could supply her — and, as soon as she got well, have her fall in love with Sir Edward!”
Unfortunately for her, the stout defensive attitude of Mrs Griffiths pours cold water on her plans for her asses milk:
Lady Denham had other motives for calling on Mrs. Griffiths besides attention to the Parkers. In Miss Lambe, here was the very young lady, sickly and rich, whom she had been asking for; and she made the acquaintance for Sir Edward’s sake and the sake of her milch asses. How it might answer with regard to the baronet remained to be proved but, as to the animals, she soon found that all her calculations of profit would be vain. Mrs. Griffiths would not allow Miss Lambe to have the smallest sympton of a decline or any complaint which asses’ milk could possibly relieve. Miss Lambe was “under the constant care of an experienced physician,” and his prescriptions must be their rule. And except in favour of some tonic pills, which a cousin of her own had a property in, Mrs. Griffiths never deviated from the strict medicinal page.
Why was asses milk thought good for invalids particularly consumptives?
Lets turn to William Buchan and his book Domestic Medicine
which was a very popular home reference book in the early 19th century, and one I think Jane Austen may have read., or at least had access to.
This is what he has to say about the use of asses milk, in particular in relation to consumptive patients:
Next to proper air and exercise, we would recommend a due attention to diet. The patient should eat nothing that is either heating or hard of digestion, and his drink must be of a soft and cooling nature. All the diet ought to be calculated to lessen the acrimony of the humours, and to nourish and support the patient. For this purpose he must keep chiefly to the use of vegetables and milk. Milk alone is of more value in this disease than the whole materia medica.
Asses milk is commonly reckoned preferable to any other; but it cannot always be obtained; besides, it is generally taken in a very small quantity; whereas, to produce any effects, it ought to make a considerable part of the patient’s diet. It is hardly to be expected, that a gill or two of asses milk, drank in the space of twenty-four hours, should be able to produce any considerable change in the humours of an adult; and when people do not perceive its effects soon, they lose hope, and so leave it off. Hence it happens that this medicine, however valuable, very seldom performs a cure. The reason is obvious; it is commonly used too late, is taken in too small quantities, and is not duly persisted in.
I have known very extraordinary effects from asses milk in obstinate coughs, which threatened a consumption of the lungs; and do verily believe, if used at this period, that it would seldom fail; but if it be delayed till an ulcer is formed, which is generally the case, how can it be expected to succeed?
Asses milk ought to be drank, if possible, in its natural warmth, and, by a grown person, in the quantity of half an English pint at a time. Instead of taking this quantity night and morning only, the patient ought to take it four times, or at least thrice a day, and to eat a little light bread along with it, so as to make it a kind of meal.
If the milk should happen to purge, it may be mixed with old conserve of roses. When that cannot be obtained, the powder of crabs claws may be used in its stead. Asses milk is usually ordered to be drank warm in bed; but as it generally throws the patient into a sweat when taken in this way, it would perhaps be better to give it after he rises.
It was also thought to be helpful whenever a patient presented with a persistent cough, coupled with other complaints such as smallpox:
When a cough, a difficulty of breathing, or other symptoms of a consumption, succeed to the small-pox, the patient must be sent to a place where the air is good, and put upon a course of asses milk, with such exercise as he can bear.
Should a cough, with difficulty of breathing, and other symptoms of a consumption, remain after the measles, small quantities of blood may be frequently let at proper intervals, as the patient’s strength and constitution will permit. He ought likewise to drink asses milk, to remove to a free air, if in a large town, and to ride daily on horseback. He must keep close to a diet consisting of milk and vegetables; and lastly, if these do not succeed, let him remove to a warmer climate.
Mrs Rundell, in her section of recipes for invalids in her book A New System of Domestic Cookery, ( my 1819 edition) advises the use of asses milk too.
In actual fact it has now been proved scientifically that all these old “cures” may have some truth behind them. Ass’s milk has been found to contain less solids than any other sort of milk. It is richer in sugar than other sorts (except for human milk). It is constituted with less curd and fat than other milks and it is consequently easy to digest. A rather good thing for ill people to consume therefore.
For an ass to produce milk of course the Jenny or female donkey had to have produced a calf, which is why Lady Denham is rather proud to have two milch asses and is eager to make the most of their milk producing period. The Jennys were usually milked twice a day, and usually gave up between half a pint to a pint at each milking. Milch donkey could be hired at the cost of one guinea a week, plus expenses of transport ,and no doubt this was Lady Denham’s plan.
But if you could not obtain fresh asses milk then you could make a substitute.
My copy of The Family Receipt Book,
a fanatically detailed and comprehensive encyclopedia of domestic knowledge circa 1810, gives this recipe for artificial asses milk:
And even Mrs Rundell obliged with three alternatives to fresh asses milk:
Some of the ingredients these recipes used may now seem odd to us -snails?- but some are now virtually unknown.
Eringo root is perhaps the most puzzling ingredient. It is in fact the roots of the Sea Holly, Eryngium maritimum
which have been candied or picked.
Sea Holly is in fact no relation at all to evergreen holly trees but is a tall, bluish-green evergreen perennial found growing wild on coastal areas in England. It is in fact a member of the umbellifer family of plants ( which includes parsley, carrots and parsnips).
Here are some which have been candied by Ivan Day of Historic Foods.
You can see I think the resemblance they have to parsnip tips.
It was fantastically popular sweetmeat in the 17th and 18th centuries and used not only as a sweet addition to artificial asses milk , but as an aphrodisiac.
In The Merry Wives of Windsor by Shakespeare, Falstaff calls for them:
Let the sky rain potatoes;
let it thunder to the tune of Green-sleeves,
hail kissing-comfits and snow eringoes ,
let there come a tempest of provocation…
(See: Falstaff, Act 5, scene v,)
and I suppose at his advantaged age he might have needed them.
Next onto the other use for asses ..as a means of transport and of which Jane Austen made much use in her last months at Chawton .
Winchester Cathedral is of course where Jane Austen was buried, after dying near to it in College Street on the 18th July 1817. To begin commemorate the 200 anniversary of her death the Cathedral has decided to open a new permanent exhibition about Jane Austen and her life. They have contacted me with details of the events and I have great pleasure in sharing them to you here:
As the bicentenary decade of Jane Austen’s heyday and early death approaches, a new permanent exhibition at her resting place in Winchester Cathedral opens on 10 April 2010 to unveil the life and times of the renowned author like never before.
The exhibition, which will document Jane’s home and social life, will be supported by a mix of permanent and rolling exhibits borrowed from collections around the world. From 10 April until 20 September items from Winchester Cathedral’s and Winchester College’s archives will be on display. Some of these items have rarely, if ever, been displayed publicly before and include her burial register, first editions and fragments of Jane’s own writing.
In addition to the exhibition, new guided tours, specific special exhibitions and talks will take visitors through her life and works to mark her legacy and set the stage for Jane’s bicentenary. Some of the events planned to take place are as follows
1st May: Special Evensong to mark Jane Austen’s life, and place in the Cathedral’s history
16-18 July: Jane Austen Weekend (including Regency Dinner) which coincides with the Jane Austen Society AGM
5-6 August: Outside theatre production of Pride and Prejudice
Extended tours which take visitors beyond the Cathedral to see Jane’s final home just beyond the Cathedral Inner Close.
Charlotte Barnaville, the Cathedral’s Marketing Officer, and a team of specialist advisors have created the exhibit. Charlotte comments:
“Hampshire offers Jane Austen admirers a wonderful window into her life, at her birthplace of Steventon, where she lived at Chawton and in Winchester, her final resting place. The Cathedral provides the perfect space to bring together each element of Jane’s life through the public exhibition and to give prominence to her ledgerstone, which lies quietly in the north nave aisle and often goes unnoticed.
“Our focus will be on Jane Austen the person, her life, family and friends. So much of daily life during the regency period is so different to today, and we know this will reveal a totally different side to Jane Austen’s fans and followers.”
The exhibition will be open during Cathedral visiting hours, and visitors will be able to enjoy the rest of the Cathedral’s treasures during their visit. There is a small charge to visit the Cathedral, and an annual pass costs just £10. But note if you are making a special visit to Winchester to visit the Cathedral that it is always wise to contact the Cathedral in advance, as occasionally services and events may limit access to the exhibition.
I do hope some form of catalogue will be available for this exhibit- as yet I have no news about one- as it would make a touching souvenir for those Janeites amongst us who may not be able to physically attend any of the commemorations for her death in the city where she died.
By all their calculations there was just time for this; but as they drew near the Cobb, there was such a general wish to walk along it once more, all were so inclined, and Louisa soon grew so determined, that the difference of a quarter of an hour, it was found, would be no difference at all; so with all the kind leave-taking, and all the kind interchange of invitations and promises which may be imagined, they parted from Captain and Mrs. Harville at their own door, and still accompanied by Captain Benwick, who seemed to cling to them to the last, proceeded to make the proper adieus to the Cobb.
Persuasion, Chapter 12
Unless we are lucky enough to live at Lyme Regis, then the answer is probably, no.
But if you go here, you will able to watch the view from the Cobb all day, every day via the good offices of the official Lyme Regis Web Cam ;-) Enjoy yourselves do, but watch your steps….Remember what happened to Louisa Musgrove;-)
BBC Radio 4 , broadcast this programme last week and initially it was not available on the Listen Again facility : so I didn’t mention it…but now I’ve discovered there are indeed two days left for you to listen. Damnation.
This is a fun semi- serious look at Horace Walpole’s
Gothick novel The Castle of Otranto, written anonymously in 1764 and the first of the Gothick novels, setting the tone for the whole genre.
It inspired both Mrs Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis,who wrote The Monk. The passion aroused by these novels and the fashion for them them so fascinated Jane Austen that she lampooned the genre and its followers in Northanger Abbey.
I really enjoyed the approach of Rory McGrath and found it a fascinating journey around the “Castle” itself, which was partly based on Walople’s home at Strawberry Hill
and many other places including colleges in Cambridge .
Im writing about Horace in detail later this week, but for the moment do go and listen again and enjoy :the programme lasts only half an hour. I’m sure you will all have fun listening to it.;-)
Today’s post has nothing to do with Sandition, although Laurel’s really fascinating Group Read of Jane Austen’s fragment continues at Austenprose.
But it does concern a seaside resort of which Jane Austen was fond, Lyme Regis, and the Lyme Regis Philpot Musem’s attempt to publish a manuscript “epic” poem about the town written in 1819. Mary Godwin ,the museum’s curator, has very kindly supplied me with some images and quotes from the poem so that I can share news of their project with you here.
The Lyme Regis Philpot Museum has had in its collection since 1978, a manuscript which was given to the museum by the artist, Laurence Whistler.
Called The Lymiad, or Letters from Lyme to a friend in Bath by a Unknown Gentlewoman, the manuscript consists of a series of eight letters all written in verse, about the town of Lyme and it inhabitants as they were in 1819.
Each letter describes in turn, the streets and lodgings, the sea and beach, the civil war siege and Monmouth, the assembly room,; the mayor and worthies of the town, theatrically entitled, the dramatis personae
the surrounding scenery and bad weather; and, finally, departure from the resort. All of which would have been familiar to Jane Austen who visited the town in September 1804.
The writer John Fowles who in 1978 had just started his ten-year stewardship of the Museum as its Honorary Curator, was very intrigued by the new addition to the collection. After reading it he was so impressed with The Lymiad that he regarded it as among the Museum’s most precious possessions.
He liked it for its wit and satirical humour and its vivid evocation of the manners and pastimes of a small Regency seaside resort:
Say, is there not the mostly group among,
One generous bard, one gentle “child of song”
To celebrate thy wonders, matchless Lyme!,
In all the wild luxuriance of rhyme? …
Each letter in turn looks at at the streets and lodgings; the sea and beach; the civil war siege and Monmouth; the assembly rooms; the mayor and worthies; scenery and bad weather; and finally departure from the resort by the narrator.
The Lymiad contains many vivid portraits of local residents: for example in this extract The Lymeiad’s author probably refers to the geologist, Henry de la Beche’s sailing boat:
That “Blood-red flag” which gaily floats
On the full-swelling breeze, denotes
The Conrad Sir Fopling Fossil’s pride;…
He is the most accomplished youth,
That is, if Madame Fame speaks truth;
And more than this I cannot tell,
But some who know Sir Fopling well,
Inform me he’s a F.G.S.
During the 1980s John Fowles made a transcript of the poem, prepared a general introduction and made some explanatory notes on local references within it.
In 1997 the manuscript, which was on display in the Museum, came to the attention of Dr. John Constable, then Professor of English Literature in Kyoto University. During consultations with John Fowles over the next few years, Professor Constable studied the transcript and wrote a substantial introduction to it. He considers that The Lymiad is
“a highly political and a thoroughly Whig poem, with some leanings towards the left of that party, though stopping short of Radicalism itself.”
In this extract the author is poking fun at the fact that Lyme was a “rotten borough” in the control of the Fane family, the most senior member of that family being the Earl of Westmoreland:
Know then my friend, since last I wrote,
Here hath been pass’d a day of note,
When ‘tis the fashion to declare,
Who next shall be our worthy Mayor.
This day is honoured every year
By presence of a noble peer,…
The town of voters hath but few;
So few, that at th’Election last…
Th’Electors, and elected too,
In one horse chaise appear’d to view:
Sadly, John Fowles died in 2005 before any publication of the poem could be undertaken. But now the Lyme Museum has decided to ask for subscribers so that a first and fully annotated edition can be published.
The Museum has already secured some grants towards the cost of producing the book from charitable foundations and other donors, but in order to complete the task of publishing this manuscript they now need to attract 100 subscribers, who will pledge £20 per volume, and whose names will be recorded in the publication itself.
Once sufficient numbers of subscribers have been received the publication project will be able to be got underway.
If you go here you will find a form that can be copied, filled in and sent to the present curator of the Lyme museum, Mary Godwin (and she will even accept subscriptions made by copying and pasting the form in an email: I know because that how I subscribed) .
If you would like any more details of the publication her email address is
replacing “at” and “dot” with the necessary to fool spammers ;-)
The Lyme Regis Museum’s publication of The Lymiad will rather fittingly and touchingly be dedicated to John Fowles’s memory.
Do note that the new edition will not be a facsimile of the original manuscript. Instead, it is being cleverly designed to appear as it might have done in had it been published in 1819 .It will have stitched pages and marbled card covers .
I understand that the edition will contain an essay by John Fowles on Lyme in the early 1800s which he revised in 2003, a general introduction and textual notes by John Constable, a transcription of the text complete with editorial notes by John Fowles, John Constable and Jo Draper and that it will be illustrated with pictures from the Museum’s wonderful collection, which have also been selected by Jo Draper.
I have already subscribed because I am absolutely fascinated by the thought of reading an insider’s view of the place Jane Austen visited and liked so much that she ensured that pivotal scenes from Persuasion occurred there . And also because I adore this museum, and try visit it every time I visit Lyme.
I do hope that some of you may be sufficiently interested to subscribe to this fascinating pubication project too.
Laurel at Austenprose asked me a couple of days ago to give a little back ground to sea bathing and the medical rewards( or not) of taking the cure-all of sea bathing in the early 19th century ,and here is the post I have written about it for her and you.
The Sea air and Sea Bathing together were nearly infallible, one or the other of them being a match for every Disorder…
Sanditon, Chapter 1
The process of dipping-sea bathing-in the early 19th century is so far removed form our experience of bathing in the sea, that it might be worthwhile looking at it in some detail.
The clothes (linen sifts or chemises covering the body from shoulders to ankles and not skimpy lycra swimsuits); the dipping itself (not swimming for ladies, note)aided by “dippers” ; all undertaken from enclosed bathing machines pulled by horses; the heath benefits-all are completely different to what we consider the benefits and joys of swimming by the seaside today.
One of the most thorough descriptions of the whole process of being dipped, is to be found in epistolary novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771) by Tobias Smollett. In the letter from Jery Melford to Sir Watkin Phillips written from Scarborough in Yorkshire dated July 1st, we learn all we really need to know:
Betwixt the well and the harbour, the bathing machines are ranged along the beach, with all their proper utensils and attendants. You have never seen one of these machines.Image to yourself a small, snug, wooden chamber, fixed upon a wheel-carriage, having a door at each end, and on each side a little window above, a bench below.
The bather, ascending into this apartment by wooden steps, shuts himself in, and begins to undress, while the attendant yokes a horse to the end next the sea, and draws the carriage forwards, till the surface of the water is on a level with the floor of the dressing-room, then he moves and fixes the horse to the other end
The person within being stripped, opens the door to the sea-ward, where he finds the guide ready, and plunges headlong into the water
After having bathed, he re-ascends into the apartment, by the steps which had been shifted for that purpose, and puts on his clothes at his leisure, while the carriage is drawn back again upon the dry land; so that he has nothing further to do,but to open the door, and come down as he went up
Should he be so weak or ill as to require a servant to put off and on his clothes, there is room enough in the apartment for half a dozen people. The guides who attend the ladies in the water, are of their own sex, and they and the female bathers have a dress of flannel for the sea; nay, they are provided with other conveniences for the support of decorum. A certain number of the machines are fitted with tilts, that project from the sea-ward ends of them, so as to screen the bathers from the view of all persons whatsoever
The beach is admirably adapted for this practice, the descent being gently gradual, and the sand soft as velvet; but then the machines can be used only at a certain time of the tide, which varies every day; so that sometimes the bathers are obliged to rise very early in the morning
First lets consider the bathing machines….
This picture- taken from the frontispiece to my 1816 edition of The Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places by John Feltham show the “ tilt” –a modesty hood and -its presumably wicker framework over which it was stretched and held as the bather within was dipped into the water. This is a tiny engraving but if you do enlarge it, by clicking on it, you can see all the amazing detail.
This view of Margate show the machine being pulled out into the sea by horses and the sea looks rather as if it has rather a heavy swell.
You can also see the unused bahting mahines with tilts atatched, waiting to be used at the side of the beach.
Dippers or bathing machine women, who attended women in these machines, or Bathers (who attended men)were an interesting part of the whole process. In her letter to Cassandra Austen of the 14thSeptember 1804, Jane Austen mentions that her dipper at Lyme was a woman named Molly.
This is a picture of a rather famous dipper, Martha Gunn who operated a series of bathing machines from the beach at Brighton:
This caricature of Martha by the cartoonist Robert Dighton dating from 1801, shows her as a physically formidable woman before her bathing machines ranged on the Brighton beach. Dippers and Bathers had to be physically strong as their occupation required that standing in the water, they took their client in their arms as he/she descended the steps leading from the bathing machine, and to proceed to “dip” the bathers vigorously into the sea water, pushing them through the waves. Martha was famous for dipping the Prince of Wales, and this ditty was created in her honour:
To Brighton came he,
Came George III’s son.
To be bathed in the sea,
By famed Martha Gunn
She was also rumoured to be a procuress but we shall draw a veil over those activities for today.
Men often bathed naked and care was taken to segregate the sexes on beaches. The clothes women wore were similar to those worn at Bath: a long chemise made of flannel.
This acquatint by Rowlandson, taken from the Poetical Sketches of Scarborough (1813) shows ladies bathing at Scarborough naked. And it seems that in some places naked bathing by women continued into the early 19th century:
Men, with exceptions, continued to bathe naked until the 1870s but women began to provide themselves with bathing dresses towards the end of the 18th century, though nudity was braved by some during the first years of the nineteenth
(See English Costume for Spots and Outdoor Recreation by Phillis Cunnington and Alan Mansfield)
The whole process could be fun but exhausting. As Jane Austen herself discovered. Writing to Cassandra Austen from Lyme in Dorset in 1804, she remarked:
The Bathing was so delightful this morning and Molly so pressing with me to enjoy myself that I believe I staid in rather too long as since the middle of the day have felt unreasonably tired. I shal lbe more careful another time and shall not bathe tomorrow as I had before intended…
And what were the health benefits expected of sea bathing? William Buchan who wrote Domestic Medicine
and whose sensible advice on consumptive patients seems to accord with Jane Austen’s view of the disease as possibly manifested by Jane Fairfax, is helpful in giving us an insight into the mind of 18th century medical men. Remember that this time the medical profession was guided by the belief that health derived from a balance of the four humors in the body . Physicians and apothecaries focused upon restoring the system’s equilibrium or balance, usually by draining or purging the system of excess humors.
The theory that the body consisted of four bodily humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile derived back to Greek medicine practiced in ancient times. As the ancient Greeks considered that disease was caused by an imbalance of these humors, it was, therefore considered that the duty of a physician was to employ treatment that would restore this delicate balance.
Thus treatments consisted of curing the symptoms of the disease rather than the disease itself. Prescribed therapies were limited to diet, exercise, rest, bath, and “heroic medicine.” Despite its name, heroic medicine was in my opinion,anything but. It consisted of purging, starving, vomiting, or bloodletting, and was thought to relieve the body of symptoms like fever or inflammation by relieving it of various excess humours.
Dr Buchan recommended sea bathing- cold immersions- for the following set of people and complaints :
The cold bath recommends itself in a variety of cases; and is peculiarly beneficial to the inhabitants of populous cities; who indulge in idleness, and lead sedentary lives. In persons of this description the action of the fluids is always too weak, which induces a languid circulation, a crude indigested mass of humours, and obstructions in the capillary vessels and glandular system. Cold water, from its gravity as well as its tonic power, is well calculated either to obviate or remove these symptoms. It accelerates the motion of the blood, promotes the different secretions, and gives permanent vigour to the solids. But all these important purposes will be more essentially answered by the application of salt water. This ought not only to be preferred on account of its superior gravity, but likewise for its greater power of stimulating the skin, which promotes the perspiration, and prevents the patient from catching cold.
It is necessary, however, to observe, that cold bathing is more likely to prevent, than to remove obstructions of the glandular or lymphatic system. Indeed, when these have arrived at a certain pitch, they are not to be removed by any means. In this case the cold bath will only aggravate the symptoms, and hurry the unhappy patient into an untimely grave. It is therefore of the utmost importance, previous to the patient’s entering upon the use of the cold bath, to determine whether or not he labours under any obstinate obstructions of the lungs or other viscera; and where this is the case, cold bathing ought strictly to be prohibited. The late celebrated Dr. Smollet has indeed said, that if he were persuaded he had an ulcer in the lungs, he would jump into the cold bath: but here the Doctor evidently shews more courage than discretion; and that he was more a man of wit than a physician, every one will allow. A nervous asthma, or an atrophy, may be mistaken for a pulmonary consumption; yet in the two former, the cold bath proves often beneficial, though I never knew it so in the latter.
But he did advise certain cautions:
As it is now fashionable for persons of all ranks to plunge into the sea, and drink the mineral waters, I was desirous of rendering this work still more extensively useful, by the addition of some practical remarks on these active and useful medicines. Finding it impossible to bring these observations within so narrow a compass as not to swell the book, already too large, into an enormous size, I resolved to confine myself to a few hints or cautions; which may be of service to persons who bathe, or drink the mineral waters, without being able to put themselves under the care of a physician.
No part of the practice of medicine is of greater importance, or merits more the attention of the physician, as many lives are lost, and numbers ruin their health, by cold bathing, and an imprudent use of the mineral waters. On some future occasion I may probably resume this subject, as I know not any work that contains a sufficient number of practical observations to regulate the patient’s conduct in the use of these active and important medicines….
People are apt to imagine that the simple element of water can do no hurt, and that they may plunge into it at any time with impunity. In this, however, they are much mistaken. I have known apoplexies occasioned by going into the cold bath, fevers excited by staying too long in it, and other maladies so much aggravated by its continued use, that they could never be wholly eradicated. Nor are examples wanting, either in ancient or modern times, of the baneful consequences which have arisen also from an injudicious application of the warm bath; but as warm baths are not so common in this country, and are seldom used but under the direction of a physician, I shall not enlarge on that part of the subject.
Immersion in cold water is a custom which lays claim to the most remote antiquity: indeed it must have been coeval with man himself. The necessity of water for the purposes of cleanliness, and the pleasure arising from its application to the body in hot countries, must very early have recommended it to the human species. Even the example of other animals was sufficient to give the hint to man. By instinct many of them are led to apply cold water in this manner; and some, when deprived of its use, have been known to languish, and even to die. But whether the practice of cold bathing arose from necessity, reasoning, or imitation, is an inquiry of no importance: our business is to point out the advantages which may be derived from it, and to guard people against an improper use of it.
In what is called a plethoric state, or too great a fullness of the body, it is likewise dangerous to use the cold bath, without due preparation. In this case there is great danger of bursting a blood vessel, or occasioning an inflammation of the brain, or some of the viscera. This precaution is the more necessary to citizens, as most of them live full, and are of a gross habit. Yet what is very remarkable, these people resort in crouds every season to the sea-side, and plunge in the water without the least consideration. No doubt they often escape with impunity, but does this give a sanction to the practice? Persons of this description ought by no means to bathe, unless the body has been previously prepared by suitable evacuations.
Another class of patients, who stand peculiarly in need of the bracing qualities of cold water, is the nervous. This includes a great number of the male, and almost all the female inhabitants of great cities. Yet even those persons ought to be cautious in using the cold bath. Nervous people have often weak bowels, and may, as well as others, be subject to congestions and obstructions of the viscera; and in this case they will not be able to bear the effects of the cold water. For them, therefore, and indeed for all delicate people, the best plan would be to accustom themselves to it by the most pleasing and gentle degrees. They ought to begin with the temperate bath, and gradually use it cooler, till at length the coldest proves quite agreeable. Nature revolts against all great transitions; and those who do violence to her dictates, have often cause to repent of their temerity.
Wherever cold bathing is practised, there ought likewise to be tepid baths for the purpose mentioned above. Indeed it is the practice of some countries to throw cold water over the patient as soon as he comes out of the warm bath; but though this may not injure a Russian peasant, we dare not recommend it to the inhabitants of this country. The ancient Greeks and Romans, we are told, when covered with sweat and dust, used to plunge into rivers, without receiving the smallest injury. Though they might often escape danger from this imprudent conduct, yet it was certainly contrary to sound reason. I have known many robust men throw away their lives by such an attempt. We would not however advise patients to go into the cold water when the body is chilly; as much exercise, at least, ought to be taken, as may excite a gentle glow all over the body, but by no means so as to overheat it. To young people, and particularly to children, cold bathing is of the least importance. Their lax fibres render its tonic powers peculiarly proper. It promotes their growth, increases their strength, and prevents a variety of diseases incident to childhood. The celebrated Galen says, that immersion in cold water is fit only for the young of lions and bears: and recommends warm bathing, as conducive to the growth and strength of infants. How egregiously do the greatest men err whenever they lose sight of facts, and substitute reasoning in physic in place of observation and experience! Were infants early accustomed to the cold bath, it would seldom disagree with them; and we should see fewer instances of the scrofula, rickets, and other diseases, which prove fatal to many, and make others miserable for life. Sometimes indeed, these disorders render infants incapable of bearing the shock of cold water; but this is owing to their not having been early and regularly accustomed to it. It is however necessary here to caution young men against too frequent bathing; as I have known many fatal consequences result from the daily practice of plunging into rivers and continuing there too long.
Interestingly he agrees that early in the morning is the best time to bathe:
The most proper time of the day for using the cold bath is no doubt the morning, or at least before dinner; and the best mode, that of quick immersion. As cold bathing has a constant tendency to propel the blood and other humours towards the head, it ought to be a rule always to wet that part as soon as possible. By due attention to this circumstance, there is reason to believe that violent head-achs, and other complaints, which frequently proceed from cold bathing, might be often prevented.
But he agrees with Jane Austen’s experience about the dangerous of too much bathing:
The cold bath, when too long continued in, not only occasions an excessive flux of humours towards the head, but chills the blood, cramps the muscles, relaxes the nerves, and wholly defeats the intention of bathing. Hence, by not adverting to this circumstance, expert swimmers are often injured, and sometimes even lose their lives. All the beneficial purposes of cold bathing are answered by one single immersion; and the patient ought to be rubbed dry the moment he comes out of the water, and should continue to take exercise for some time after.
When cold bathing occasions chillness, loss of appetite, listlessness, pain of the breast or bowels, a prostration of strength, or violent head-aches, it ought to be discontinued.
Though these hints are by no means intended to point out all the cases where cold bathing may be hurtful; nor to illustrate its extensive utility as a medicine; yet it is hoped, they may serve to guard people against some of those errors into which from mere inattention they are apt to fall; and thereby not only endanger their own lives, but bring an excellent medicine into disrepute.
So there you are the practise and benefits of early 19th century sea-bathing: the cure all ( or was it?)
Continuing the theme of Sanditon for Laurel’s Group Read at Austenprose, I thought you might like to know more about Worthing, the seaside resort in Sussex which may have been the inspiration for Mr Parker’s resort.
There has been much speculation about Jane Austen’s inspiration for the town of Sanditon: was the place completely imaginary or did she base it on a resort with which she was familiar? Eastbourne in Sussex has been mooted as a candidate, though as far as I am aware, Jane Austen is not recorded as ever having visited that town.
But she is recorded as having visited Worthing, another Sussex resort, and this definitely has possibilities for being her template for the developing resort of Sanditon.
Worthing distant fifty none miles from London and eleven westward of Brighton possesses many attractions which contribute to make it a desirable residence for those who wish to enjoy the benefits of sea-bathing or air…
(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Fletham)
In the late summer of 1805, a sad year for Jane Austen during which her father died while they were living in Bath, she and her mother, her sister Cassandra and Martha Lloyd ( James Austen’s sister in law) visited Edward Austen Knight at his home at Godmersham in Kent and later in the season in September the Austen ladies and Martha together with Edward Austen and his wife, Elizabeth, his daughter Fanny
and her governess Anne Sharpe (with whom Jane Austen established a life long friendship) stayed for some time at Stanford Cottage in Worthing to take the sea air and cures and to enjoy the surrounding countryside.
Writing to Cassandra from Godmersham Park on 24th August 1805 when Cassandra was staying at nearby Goodnestone Farm with Marianne Bridges, Jane Austen confides some reasons for the planned visit to Worthing:
Little Edward is by no means better and his papa and mama have determined to consult Dr Wilmot. Unless he recovers his strength beyond what is now probable his brothers will return to School without him and so he will be of the party at Worthing. If sea-bathing should be recommended he will be left there with us ,but this is not thought likely to happen…
Her letter to Cassandra of 30th August indicates that she thought their plan to visit Worthing might have had to be cancelled due to a planned trip to London but in the end a merry party without little Edward, who must have recovered, eventually set out from Godmersham to Worthing on 17th September.
In a letter to her friend Miss Chapman Fanny Knight-who is our main informant for the details of this visit- writes:
Papa, Mama, Aunts C and Jane Miss Sharpe and myself set out on Tuesday for Worthing in Sussex where Miss S will stay some time for her eyes but Mama Papa and I return in about a week.
The trip to Worthing passed though some interesting places for Jane Austen, and indeed some are motioned in the text of Sanditon.She would certainly have passed though Hailsham, and
according to Fanny Knight’s journal, on the 17h September:
Papa, Mama, Aunts Cass and Jane and I set off from Godmersham for Battel(sic) where we arrived about 4 and finding no accommodations we proceeded to Horsebridge where we slept. We saw the Abbey at Battel
Then on September 18th:
We proceeded to Worthing at 9, spent 2 or 3 hours at Brighton and arrived there at 5.We walked on the sands in the evening.
Worthing at this time was a developing resort. According to my copy of John Feltham’s A Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing Places (1803) :
Never was there an instance of the effects of public partiality more strongly exemplified than at Worthing In a short space of time a few miserable fishing huts and smugglers dens have been exchanged for buildings sufficiently extensive and elegant to accommodate the first families in the kingdom.
Worthing had begun its development as a resort in the late 18th century. In 1798 Princess Amelia the youngest daughter of George III and Queen Charlotte came to Worthing to take the sea-cure to treat a knee complaint. She stayed for 5 months. Then began the rush to share in Worthing’s acceptability as a town with royal favour, and visitors from the highest circles of society soon began to flock there.
In 1803 Worthing officially became a town in its own right, thus gaining independence from the village and parish of Broadwater, which in effect it was really a part until it outgrew its ‘parent parish”.
Worthing had one serious drawback- a tendency to flood. John Fletham records that:
The inhabitants express considerable apprehensions from the inroads of the sea, which they say, has been progressively gaining ground for the last thirty years and some even recollect when houses stood where the sea now flows.
(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Fletham)
At high tides and during storms Worthing’s open drainage systems could not cope. And often the beach and along the walks next to the sea, large deposits of seaweed covered them.Unpleasant.. This was something that Jane Austen decided Sanditon’s rival resort, Brinshsore, should suffer from, to the delight of the competitive Mr Palmer:
But Brinshore, sir, which I dare say you have in your eye — the attempts of two or three speculating people about Brinshore this last year to raise that paltry hamlet — lying as it does between a stagnant marsh, a bleak moor and the constant effluvia of a ridge of putrefying seaweed — can end in nothing but their own disappointment. What in the name of common sense is to recommend Brinshore? A most insalubrious air — roads proverbially detestable — water brackish beyond example, impossible to get a good dish of tea within three miles of the place. And as for the soil — it is so cold and ungrateful that it can hardly be made to yield a cabbage. Depend upon it, sir, that this is a most faithful description of Brinshore — not in the smallest degree exaggerated — and if you have heard it differently spoken of — ” “Sir, I never heard it spoken of in my life before,” said Mr. Heywood. “I did not know there was such a place in the world.” “You did not! There, my dear,” turning with exultation to his wife, “you see how it is. So much for the celebrity of Brinshore! This gentleman did not know there was such a place in the world. Why, in truth, sir, I fancy we may apply to Brinshore that line of the poet Cowper in his description of the religious cottager, as opposed to Voltaire — ‘She, never heard of half a mile from home. ‘ “
Sanditon Chapter 1.
The facilities at Worthing did not include any assembly rooms, but there were circulating libraries:
The establishment of two very respectable libraries (Spooner’s and Stafford’s)at each of which the most popular newspapers are regularly received …
(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Fletham)
The first official guide to Worthing published in 1805 by the Reverend John Evans is very proud of the superior type of books that the Worthing libraries afforded the visitors to the town. Aware as he was
…of the usual trash of circulating libraries I was pleasingly disappointed in finding so many volumes worthy of attention
In the Jane Austen Society Report of 2008 Janet Clarke discovered that his phrase is strikingly similar to Sir Edward Denahm’s assessment of circulating libraries:
Sir Edward, approaching Charlotte, said, “You may perceive what has been our occupation. My sister wanted my counsel in the selection of some books. We have many leisure hours and read a great deal. I am no indiscriminate novel reader. The mere trash of the common circulating library l hold in the highest contempt. You will never hear me advocating those puerile emanations which detail nothing but discordant principles incapable of amalgamation, or those vapid tissues of ordinary occurrences from which no useful deductions can be drawn. In vain may we put them into a literary alembic; we distil nothing which can add to science. You understand me, I am sure?”
Sandition Chapter 7
I wonder if Jane Austen read this Guide when she stayed at Worthing? She would probably find the overblown and pompous style irresistible.
Worthing also won over other resorts in that it was supposed to be warmer than other resorts on the coast and therefore that meant that sea bathing could take place nearly all year round.
It is surrounded at the distance of not quite a mile by the uninterrupted chain of the Sussex downs which forming nearly an amphitheatre completely exclude even in the winter months the chilling blasts of the Northern and Eastern winds. It is a very common thing to see a considerable number of bathers here even in the depth of winter, the thermometer being generally higher than at Brighton and upon an average, between 2 and 3 degrees above London.
(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Fletham)
Fanny Knight bathed in the sea on the 19th September:
I went with Gmama (Mrs Austen-jfw) in the morning to buy fish on the Beach & afterwards with Mama and Miss Sharpe to Bathe where I had a most delicious dip…We dined at 4 and went to a Raffle in the evening, where Aunt Jane won and it amounted to 17 shillings
In addition Worthing had the advantage of an indoors warm bath-supplied with sea water for all year bathing.
..the erection of a very commodious warm baths (Wicke’s) sufficiently prove how far Worthing has risen in public estimation
(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Fletham)
Cassandra Austen used these Baths on 20th September 1805:
Mama and I sat some time with Miss Fielding and I afterwards waited on the Sands for Aunt Cassandra coming out of the warm baths and then walked with Mama and me the Johnsons in the morning when I was walking with Gmama and again in the evening. We went to the Raffle in the evening.
The Knight party left on the 23rd September. The Austen ladies and Martha Lloyd remained at Worthing until sometime in November. They were certainly there on the 4th November for on that date Martha Lloyd swore an affidavit in relation to her late mother’s will before the Rector of Broadwater parish, The Reverend Peter Wood:
The affidavit was witnessed by Jane Austen and also by Elizabeth Knight, who must have returned to Worthing before the Austen ladies left for one more visit to the seaside.
And so there you are. It has to be admitted that Sanditon and Worthing certainly possess many similar attractions and characteristics. Jane Austen’s sojourn of 2 months there certainly gave her the opportunity to assess the developing resort and the people it attracted. We shall never know for certain, but it seems likely to me that her trip to Worthing provided her with much inspiration and food for thought, which she later put to good use when writing Sanditon.
Today’s supporting post for Laurel at Austenprose for her Sanditon GroupRead is made at her specific request. She knows I love to eat this plant, and so asked me to contribute a piece on Samphire.
He began, in a tone of great taste and feeling, to talk of the sea and the sea shore; and ran with energy through all the usual phrases employed in praise of their sublimity and descriptive of the undescribable emotions they excite in the mind of sensibility. The terrific grandeur of the ocean in a storm, its glass surface in a calm, its gulls and its samphire and the deep fathoms of its abysses, its quick vicissitudes, its direful deceptions, its mariners tempting it in sunshine and overwhelmed by the sudden tempest — all were eagerly and fluently touched; rather commonplace perhaps, but doing very well from the lips of a handsome Sir Edward, and she could not but think him a man of feeling, till he began to stagger her by the number of his quotations and the bewilderment of some of his sentences.
Sanditon, Chapter 7
Sir Edward Denham, in full flood, talking overblown and hackneyed nonsense about the sea to Charlotte Hayward, in order to punish Clara Brereton. Charlotte Haywood assesses his character correctly, I think:
She began to think him downright silly. His choosing to walk with her, she had learnt to understand. It was done to pique Miss Brereton. She had read it, in an anxious glance or two on his side; but why he should talk so much nonsense, unless he could do no better, was unintelligible. He seemed very sentimental, very full of some feeling or other, and very much addicted to all the newest-fashioned hard words, had not a very clear brain, she presumed, and talked a good deal by rote.
It would have been wonderful to see how this particular intriguing character played out throughout the novel: I think he may have been the anti-hero, rather in the manner of John Thorpe, possibly causing Charlotte Heywood some potential harm to her reputation, only for her to be “rescued” by the intervention of someone……but it is not to be. Sadly, we shall never know.
In his raptures about the sea he mentions samphire, a vegetable that is now found on the menus of the trendiest restaurants, but for centuries it was poor food, free to those who picked it, usually ordinary people living by the sea .Why he mentions it is probably indicative of his deliberately overblown “romantic” and sentimental manner. Let me explain.
There are two types of samphire that grow in the United Kingdom: Rock Samphire and Marsh Samphire.
The more common Marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea) is a member of the beet family ( chenopodium) and grows on salt marches and estuaries, watered by the sea. It was also known as glasswort, because the ashes of burnt marsh samphire ( known as burilla)were used in the process of manufacturing soda glass from as early as the 12th century : the plant is an abundant, easily collected (and free) source of soda.
For epicureans this is thought to be the inferior of the two species. In the Oxford Companion to Food Alan Davidson noted:
Marsh samphire is more salty than rock and does not have the same powerful aroma.
In most trendy restaurants in the UK, this is the sort of samphire you would now eat: a fashion for it began after it was served at the wedding breakfast of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer .Barrels of it were sent to London for the feast from the Norfolk estate owned by the Queen, Sandringham.
But this is not the samphire to which Sir Edward refers. He is talking of rock samphire.
Rock samphire ( Crithmum maritmum) is a member of the umbelliferae family and is a small woody shrub. It originated in the Mediterranean. Both the Romans and Greeks used it in their culinary traditions. The plant derives it common name , Samphire, from the French name herb de Sainte-Pierre: because it grows on rocks near the sea it obviously seemed natural to name it after the fisherman saint, Peter, whose name in Greek, Petros , means “rock”. It was most commonly found on the coasts of the south coast of England and on the Isle of Wight, and as you can see from, the picture below, of it growing high up on the Dorset “Jurassic”coast, that it grows in very inaccessible places.
It was an immensely popular pickle, and that eventually led to its demise(it was over picked): it is now rather rare.
In Flora Britannica ,Richard Mabey notes that:
In the early 19th century rock samphire from the Isle of Wight and from around the cliffs of Dover was so popular that it was sent in casks of brine to London where wholesalers would pay up to 4 shillings a bushel for it.
In most recipe books dating from the 17th century onwards sadly no distinction is made between the two sorts. We must assume therefore that they were both prepared in the same way.
This recipe is taken from my copy of Richard Brigg’s book The English Art of Cookery,(1794)
and is typical of the method of pickling samphire
The reason why Sir Edward probably mentions it is that it was once so popular (and free) that people risked their lives to gather it from the cliff faces where it grew and it has become a sort of literary cliche, so often is it mentioned in travel and botanical literature from the 17h century onwards. Most of these writers make reference to Shakespeare’s famous description of the harvesting processt in King Lear,(Act IV scene vi) where Edgar, intent on fooling his father, the now blinded Gloucester, that he is standing on the edge of the cliffs near Dover describes the imaginary scene:
Come on, sir; here’s the place. Stand still. How fearful
And dizzy ’tis, to cast one’s eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles. Half way down
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head.
The fishermen that walk upon the beach
Appear like mice; and yond tall anchoring bark,
Diminished to her cock; her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight. The murmuring surge
That on the unnumbered idle pebbles chafes
Cannot be heard so high. I’ll look no more
Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong.
This vibrant image was taken up by travel writers writing about the cliffs of southern England and the Isle of Wight -from the 17th century onwards.
(Map from The Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing Places etc (1803) by John Feltham)
For instance, Robert Turner writing about the method of gathering samphire on the Isle of Wight in 1664 noted that it was
Incredibly dangerous…yet many adventure it ,though they may buy their sauce with the price of their lives
(The British Physician or the Nature and Virtues of British Plants(1664).
Sir Edward is therefore hardly being original in his “impassioned ” speech to Charlotte. The falsely overblown baronet is merely reciting these somewhat hackneyed phrases and literary clichés of the sea to Charlotte in order to …what? Impress her with his knowledge? Indicate he is a man of sensibility-a man of feeling ? Oh yes. He is a slightly more sophisticated version of Mr Collins, not quoting conduct books this time, but any romantic poet or notion instead, in order to impress and maintain his ‘romantic” persona.*shudder*
Laurel at Austenprose is conducting a Group Read of Jane Austen’s last, unfinished composition, Sanditon, this week,and I have been honoured to have been asked to provide a few background pieces to compliment the Group Read. This first post is set out below….on the subject of Jane Austen and Seaside Resorts
Jane Austen’s unfinished fragment, Sanditon, is set in a small Sussex seaside resort, a place that is being ruthlessly and relentlessly “improved” by Mr Parker, a man obsessed with his creation and the money-making opportunities it affords:
Mr. Parker`s character and history were soon unfolded. All that he understood of himself, he readily told, for he was very openhearted; and where he might be himself in the dark, his conversation was still giving information to such of the Heywoods as could observe. By such he was perceived to be an enthusiast — on the subject of Sanditon, a complete enthusiast. Sanditon, the success of Sanditon as a small, fashionable bathing place, was the object for which he seemed to live. A very few years ago, it had been a quiet village of no pretensions; but some natural advantages in its position and some accidental circumstances having suggested to himself and the other principal landholder the probability of its becoming a profitable speculation, they had engaged in it, and planned and built, and praised and puffed, and raised it to something of young renown; and Mr. Parker could now think of very little besides…
Sanditon, Chapter 2
(Sussex from John Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc.,(1812)..)
Sanditon is also under the patronage of Lady Denham, the wealthy widow of Mr Hollis and a baronet, a social climber though marriage and a woman rather in the mould of Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Pride and Prejudice,. Here she is described by Mr Parker:
“There is at times,” said he, “a little self-importance — but it is not offensive — and there are moments, there are points, when her love of money is carried greatly too far. But she is a good-natured woman, a very good-natured woman — a very obliging, friendly neighbour; a cheerful, independent, valuable character — and her faults may be entirely imputed to her want of education. She has good natural sense, but quite uncultivated. She has a fine active mind as well as a fine healthy frame for a woman of seventy, and enters into the improvement of Sanditon with a spirit truly admirable. Though now and then, a littleness will appear. She cannot look forward quite as I would have her and takes alarm at a trifling present expense without considering what returns it will make her in a year or two. That is, we think differently. We now and then see things differently, Miss Heywood. Those who tell their own story, you know, must be listened to with caution. When you see us in contact, you will judge for yourself.” Lady Denham was indeed a great lady beyond the common wants of society, for she had many thousands a year to bequeath, and three distinct sets of people to be courted by: her own relations, who might very reasonably wish for her original thirty thousand pounds among them; the legal heirs of Mr. Hollis, who must hope to be more indebted to her sense of justice than he had allowed them to be to his…
Sanditon, Chapter 3
In this satire on developing seaside resorts, commercial greed, hypochondria and the type of people these place attracted, it is perhaps no mere coincidence that Jane Austen ensures that Mr Holllis, the first husband of Lady Denham, shares the name of the man who began the development of Lyme Regis from small fishing village to a seaside resort.
Thomas Hollis (1720-1774) was an interesting character. He was a political propagandist and a radical but also a supporter of the house of Hanover. He was a benefactor, amongst other institutions, of Harvard University and owned an estate of 3000 acres at Corscombe near Beauminster. He kept, however, a suite of rooms in the Three Cups Hotel at Lyme and bought up much of the slums and derelict property in Lyme in order to demolish them and improve the town. He created the first public promenade by purchasing land on the shore to create what Jane Austen would have referred to as The Walk ( it is now part of Marine Parade).He knocked down a series of warehouses to clear a site for the building of Lyme’s Assembly Rooms complex and these were completed in 1775 just after Hollis’s death. These are the Rooms that Jane Austen visited in 1804.
(Lyme Regis from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc (1803)by John Feltham)
The growth of these seaside resorts and the surrounding industry of health tourism from the mid 18th century onwards coincided with the growth but ultimate decline in the inland spas. The pursuit of heath and taking the “cure” -taking the waters-(both mineral and sea) and sea bathing – was perceived as a health benefit and something to be encouraged.
The cessation of hostilities with France in 1815 also added impetus to the habit of visiting towns on the coast : the threat of invasion had been very real, as Jane Austen knew only too well from the experience of her brother Frank Austen at Ramsgate and his service there with the Sea-Fencibles. Kent was especially vulnerable to the threat of invasion due to its closeness to France.
This is a view of the Kent coast facing France at Hythe circa 1820: you can clearly see the rows of Martello towers, defensive towers equipped with cannon and they had been built to defend the Kent coast from invasion: they lined the coast. This daunting prospect had now subsided and the coast could be considered a place of recreation not a means of defence. Resorts proliferated and grew apace as a result
Sea Bathing was promulgated as a serious benefit to a good heath regime from the late 17th century. Though he was by no means the first to do so, Dr Richard Russell, a native of Lewes in Sussex who practiced medicine in nearby Brighton, was foremost in promoting this development.
From the 1740s, and perhaps even before, Dr Russell was prescribing bathing and even the drinking of sea-water for many ailments, and the popularity of sea-bathing rapidly increased.
Here is a picture of the frontispiece of the first Irish edition of his influential work, the Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the diseases of the Glands particularly the scurvy, Jaundice, Kings-evil, Leprosy and the Glandular Consumption:
The fashion for sea bathing rapidly caught on. Bathing machines –used to preserve the decency of bathers- were first used at Margate and Scarborough (which also had the benefits of being able to offer spa water to its visitors)
(Rowlandson’s view of the spa -spelt “spaw”- at Scarborough, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough,1813)
In Sanditon the pompous would-be seducer Sir Edward Denham extols the virtues of sea bathing, quite indelicately, to Charlotte Haywood, the heroine:
To plunge into the refreshing wave and be wrapped round with the liquid element is indeed a most delightful sensation”, he assured them. “But health and pleasure may be equally consulted in these salutary ablutions; and to many a wan countenance can the blush of the rose be restored by an occasional dip in the purifying surge of the ocean. Not, he hastened to add, trying to bow to them both at the same time, “that either of my fair listeners would need the rose restored to their lovely cheeks.”
Jane Austen’s cousin Eliza de Feuillide used sea bathing at Margate in Kent during the winter of 1790 as a desperate attempt to improve the health of her sickly child, Hastings. Sea bathing in the winter was especially recommended for the good of one’s health:
You will find by the date of this I am still the inhabitant of M (Margate-jfw) for altho’ much pressed to spend by Christmas in Surrey, the inconvenience of removing so numerous a family and the great Benefit Hastings has received and still reaps form Sea bathing made me think it better for us to all to remain where we were and putting off jaunting for another year… I had fixed on going to London the end of this Month, but to shew You how much I am attached to my maternal duties, on being told by one of the faculty whose Skill I have much opinion of that one month’s bathing at this time of the Year was more efficacious than six at any other & that consequently my little Boy would receive the utmost benefit from my prolonging my stay here beyond the time proposed, like a most exemplary parent I resolved on foregoing the fascinating delights of the great City for one month longer … Was not this heroic?
(See Letter from Eliza de Feuillide to Phylly Water dated 7th January 1791)
(Margate from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc 1803)
The fashion for sea-bathing eventually overtook in popularity the fashion for taking the waters at inland spas. In his poem Retirement, written in 1791, William Cowper, Jane Austen’s favorite poet, commented somewhat sourly on the craze for sea-bathing and the hypochondria it encouraged:
But now alike, gay widow, virgin, wife
Ingenious to diversify dull life
In coaches, chaises, caravans and hoys
Fly to the coast for daily, nightly joys
And impatient of dry land agree
With one consent to rush into the sea
Jane Austen seems to have agreed with him on this as in most things: Mrs Bennet –the malade inaginaire of Meryton- and her pathetic squeal for attention in the guise of taking the sea cure in Pride and Prejudice that
“A little sea-bathing would set me up for ever.”
Though she was careful in Sanditon, in the case of the longed for heiress, Miss Lambe -( as she was in the case of Mrs Smith in Bath in Persuasion )- not to ridicule those who were truly ill and were bravely putting a good face on their situation be they rich or poor, Jane Austen obviously had little time for those who were unnecessarily obsessed with their own health, and in Sanditon she presents to us the healthily–built, freakishly heath-obsessed Arthur Palmer as the object of her scorn:
In Miss Lambe, she decided, Arthur had encountered someone quite unique in his experience — a genuine invalid, who despised her own weakness, disliked talking about her symptoms, and overtaxed her strength in her eagerness to lead a normal life whenever she was capable of it. And Arthur, who did not usually spare much thought for anybody’s comfort but his own, had lately been forced into recognising the difference between selfish indulgence and necessary prudence. He wanted Miss Lambe’s sketches of seaweed and she was very willing to execute them; but he had begun to realise that health, which he had always regarded as an excuse for behaving exactly as he liked, could also intervene in one’s pleasures and prevent one from carrying out a favourite scheme, His sisters had always encouraged Arthur to discuss his minor ailments at such length that it astonished him when Miss Lambe denied having a headache, pretended to feel better than she really did and made so few complaints as to seem almost ashamed of her condition.
In Sanditon, Arthur Parke is portrayed mercilessly as a supreme hypochondriac, and a voluble one at that: Jane Austen obviously did not approve. Her poor heroine Charlotte Haywood clearly didn’t either, viewing his “health related” antics with much astonishment:
Arthur was heavy in eye as well as figure but by no means indisposed to talk; and while the other four were chiefly engaged together, he evidently felt it no penance to have a fine young woman next to him, requiring in common politeness some attention; as his brother, who felt the decided want of some motive for action, some powerful object of animation for him, observed with considerable pleasure. Such was the influence of youth and bloom that he began even to make a sort of apology for having a fire. “We should not have had one at home,” said he, “but the sea air is always damp. I am not afraid of anything so much as damp.” “I am so fortunate,” said Charlotte, “as never to know whether the air is damp or dry. It has always some property that is wholesome and invigorating to me.” “I like the air too, as well as anybody can,” replied Arthur. “I am very fond of standing at an open window when there is no wind. But, unluckily, a damp air does not like me. It gives me the rheumatism. You are not rheumatic, I suppose?” “Not at all.” “That’s a great blessing. But perhaps you are nervous?” “No, I believe not. I have no idea that I am.’ “I am very nervous. To say the truth, nerves are the worst part of my complaints in my opinion. My sisters think me bilious, but I doubt it.” “You are quite in the right to doubt it as long as you possibly can, I am sure.” “If I were bilious,” he continued, “you know, wine would disagree with me, but it always does me good. The more wine I drink — in moderation — the better I am. I am always best of an evening. If you had seen me today before dinner, you would have thought me a very poor creature. Charlotte could believe it. She kept her countenance, however, and said, “As far as l can understand what nervous complaints are, I have a great idea of the efficacy of air and exercise for them — daily, regular exercise — and I should recommend rather more of it to you than I suspect you are in the habit of taking.” “Oh, I am very fond of exercise myself,” he replied, “and I mean to walk a great deal while I am here, if the weather is temperate. I shall be out every morning before breakfast and take several turns upon the Terrace, and you will often see me at Trafalgar House.” “But you do not call a walk to Trafalgar House much exercise?” Not as to mere distance, but the hill is so steep! Walking up that hill, in the middle of the day, would throw me into such a perspiration! You would see me all in a bath by the time I got there! l am very subject to perspiration, and there cannot be a surer sign of nervousness.” They were now advancing so deep in physics that Charlotte viewed the entrance of the servant with the tea things as a very fortunate interruption. It produced a great and immediate change. The young man’s attentions were instantly lost. He took his own cocoa from the tray, which seemed provided with almost as many teapots as there were persons in company — Miss Parker drinking one sort of herb tea and Miss Diana another — and turning completely to the fire, sat coddling and cooking it to his own satisfaction and toasting some slices of bread, brought up ready-prepared in the toast rack; and till it was all done, she heard nothing of his voice but the murmuring of a few broken sentences of self-approbation and success…
Referring back to Cowper’s tone in his poem, we can see that it also reflects something of Jane Austen’s ambivalent attitude to these places of “health” and fashion themselves. At the time she was writing Sanditon, she was in the midst of her own critical health problem, and only a few months from death. She had tried taking the waters at Cheltenham, sadly to no avail. In my view, her clear sighted view of quackery and the cures offered by resorts such as Sandition is obviously influenced by her own experience.
Though she found a certain amount of happiness at Lyme (despite realizing it was not one the first rate places and the people it attracted reflected this) and the small resorts of the West Country, she certainly seems to have violently disliked seaside places which were large and fashionable. She seems especially to have regarded the resorts that were associated with certain members of the Royal Family as places to be avoided at all costs for the moral good of her characters. Worthing, thought to be Jane Austen’s inspiration and model for Sanditon, was patronized by Princess Amelia , fifteenth child of George III and the Prince of Wales’s sister. Brighton-the then centre of the fashionable British world- she appears to have detested as much she did its royal patron, The Prince of Wales.
(The Prince of Wales’s Marine Pavilion from The Beauties of England and Wales; or, Delineations, Topographical, Historical and Descriptive of Each County Embellished With Engravings : Sussex (1813) by Edward Wedlake Brayley and John Britton.)
Brighton is, of course, the scene of Lydia Bennet’s downfall in Pride and Prejudice, and her Lady Lesley in Lesley Castle goes there specifically because it is one of her
favourite haunts of Dissipation
Weymouth too she disliked :
Weymouth is altogether a shocking place I perceive without recommendation of any kind and worthy only of being frequented by the inhabitants of Gloucester…
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 14th September 1804)
(Weymouth from The Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Feltham)
And of course it was at Weymouth that Jane Fairfax met Frank Churchill in Emma; while there, under its unsteadying influence no doubt, this moral, sensible and intelligent woman consented to a secret engagement that was very nearly her undoing.
Even small time and comparatively retired places like Ramsgate in Kent
(Ramsgate from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc (1816) by John Feltham)
could be deceptively dangerous places in Jane Austen’s world. For it was at Ramsgate that Wickham nearly succeeded in eloping with the young and trusting Georgiana Darcy.
I suspect that it was the character of the people that these places attracted that truly irked Jane Austen, rather than the places themselves. And that disdain was not only reserved for hypochondriacs and the scoundrels on the make, but was also felt by her for those would exploit The Company- ill or only perceived to be ill- for purely mercantile reasons. The development of these coastal towns was also seen by many entrepreneurs as a sound commercial opportunity not to be missed: a situation exploited by the keen eye of Jane Austen in Sanditon.
In Sandition Mr Parker knows that in addition to the usual amusements of sea-bathing, circulating libraries filled with tempting goods for rich patrons to buy etc., he has to attract rich patrons so that others will flock to his resort, drawn by the glamour of possibly being able to associate with such people. Lady Denham is also acutely aware that the success of their resort depends largely upon the quality of The Company there:
And if we could but get a young heiress to Sanditon! But heiresses are monstrous scarce! I do not think we have had an heiress here — or even so since Sanditon has been a public place. Families come after families but, as far as I can learn, it is not one in a hundred of them that have any real property, landed or funded. An income perhaps, but no property. Clergymen maybe, or lawyers from town, or half-pay officers, or widows with only a jointure. And what good can such people do anybody? Except just as they take our empty houses and, between ourselves, I think they are great fools for not staying at home. Now if we could get a young heiress to be sent here for her health — and if she was ordered to drink asses’ milk I could supply her — and, as soon as she got well, have her fall in love with Sir Edward!”
The people who patronized these seaside places were indeed, at first, from the very highest echelons of society, but as the 18th century wore on and the 19th century began, and as Lady Denham disappointedly noted, members of the middling sort- families of the professional and mercantile classes- were very much to the fore. (Note the working classes and the poor were not part of this scene until the growth of the railway system and the development in the provision of the concept of paid holidays for workers in the mid to late 19th century).
In Sandition we are given a glimpse of exactly the sort of Company a small and yet-to-become-fashionable resort attracted. How sad it is for us that illness prevented Jane Austen from continuing and completing this fascinating fragment: for it might have thrown even more light on her attitudes to seaside resorts and the people who inhabited them for health or other reasons. Like Charlotte Heywood’s thoughts on Sir Edward Denham
The future might explain him further.
Jane Austen’s sadly shortened future did not allow enough time for her to explain Sanditon fully to us.
I do hope this short introduction has given you a little of the background to the fragment which will enable you to continue to enjoy Laurel’s Group Read.
Next at AustenOnly, a post about Samphire, the now trendy plant that was lauded by Sir Edward Denham.
A new way to support the work of the Chawton House Library project has just been launched and I thought you might like to know about it. They now have a page on the Virgin Charity Website which enables donors to make financial donations to fund specific projects via the links on the page.
The projects include the following:
To help Restore Edward Austen’s Silk Suit
To help restore The Glass Houses in the Kitchen Garden
To support the upkeep of the Chawton Shire Horses
and to fund the development of the Barn Education Centre
The work of the Library is fascinating,and I think it is a very worthy cause. I have been a supporter of the project, in various ways, since its inception(I still have the first issue of the Female Spectator on display in my study) and I hope this new way of “giving” may tempt some of you to donate to help keep this link with Jane Austen a vibrant and exciting place to be.
(Woodcut by Joan Hassell from The Folio Society’s Edition of Pride and Prejudice)
In Chapter 8 of Pride and Prejudice, we are given a small diatribe on the subject of what qualifies a woman to be deemed accomplished. Charles Bingley, declares that he thinks all young women are accomplished:
“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”
“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”
“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
The more exacting Darcy pours scorn on his list of accomplishments:
“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”
Miss Bingley, hoping her fashionably expensive, seminary acquired education will allow her to belittle the home schooled-if we can all it that- Elizabeth Bennet ,weighs in:
“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”
And it is left to Darcy –who surely as such an acute observer, knows the only woman in the room with a book in her hand is Elizabeth Bennet – to pay her this ever so slight compliment, by emphasizing the intellectual requirements of true accomplishment:
“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
This pity of it is all is that Elizabeth is already too prejudiced against Darcy to accept or even notice it; and, inevitably, she goes on the attack:
“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”
(Don’t worry-it all works out well in the end)
For many years the debate has continued to rage: was the “work” created by many genteel women of this era of any intellectual value? Or did Darcy’s view prevail, so that the ability to net a purse and cover a screen was not thought of being of any merit, and to call a women accomplished in these circumstances was rather over egging the pudding? In this revealing article by Amanda Vickery she contends that to see woman’s ”work” as a lesser achievement with no artistic or intellectual input and of lesser worth than the intellectual purists of men is to misunderstand it and them. I quite agree.
And the woman who was the subject of that article is someone who even the disdainful un-reconstructed Fitzwilliam Darcy would ,I submit have been forced to have called accomplished . Mrs Delany united a genteel women’s “work” with artistic and intellectual ability and scientific endeavor
The book Mrs. Delany and her Circle has been published by Yale to coincide with an exhibition that concentrates on her artistic and scientific endeavours, and which has been on view at The Centre for British Art in the US, and is now on view at the Sir John Soane’s Museum, London. I am hoping to get there to see later in the year, but in the meantime I wanted to review this and one more book on the subject of Mrs Delany.
First, a little background information. Mrs. Delaney lived almost the length of the 18th century; born in 1700 she died in 1788 Well connected she was no doubt a conventional accomplished woman, but had a keen intellect which raised her “work” to new levels of artistic ability and scientific truth.
Her first marriage to Alexander Pendarves was unhappy but ended in 1725 with the unexpected death of her restrictive and jealous husband. Her widowhood in London was a happier time in her life and many of her most important friendships were cemented in this period, especially that with Margaret, Duchess of Portland. The great collection of letters to these friends, and to her mother and sister to which I will refer below, began during her widowhood.
Her second marriage was much happier in all ways than her first and gave her much intellectual freedom and stimulation. The entry on Mrs Delany in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records it thus:
In 1731 Pendarves joined her friend Anne Donnellan, the daughter of Nehemiah Donnellan, chief baron of the Irish exchequer, in Ireland for a visit of eighteen months. They were widely entertained in Dublin and the country and introduced to most of Anglo-Irish society. Pendarves met Jonathan Swift, with whom she afterwards corresponded. More important was her meeting with Patrick Delany an Anglican cleric. The two were clearly attracted to each other, but he was already engaged to a rich widow, whom he married in 1732. In 1743, after his wife’s death, Delany went to England to propose to Pendarves. Her male relations opposed the match, for Delany had neither fortune nor gentle birth. But she ignored these protests, and the marriage took place in London in early June 1743.
(Silhouette by Mrs Delany)
After her husband’s death in 1768, she lived mostly with her great friend the Duchess of Portland:
Mary Delany returned to London, and lived first at Thatched House Court and then at St James’s Place. She spent most summers at Bulstrode in Buckinghamshire, the favourite country house of the duchess of Portland. There the friends improved the gardens, collected shells and botanical specimens, indulged in various arts and crafts, and entertained poets, scientists, theologians, friends, and royalty. It was there in 1774 that Delany began what she called her paper mosaics, the cut-paper illustrations of flowers and plants that were her most important artistic achievement. Using various shadings of coloured tissue, she cut freehand all the parts of the plant, which were then pasted on black paper to make a perfect specimen. Nearly a thousand pages of her Hortus siccus were completed by 1784, when she had to give up the work because of failing eyesight; these are now in the department of prints and drawings at the British Museum.
The book, Mrs Delany and her Circle, concentrates on her stunning accomplishments and is peppered throughout with stunning examples of her work
Her needlework is of the highest technical ability :
(Please do click on these illustrations to enlarge them-the detail is amazing)
But for me the most important thing to note however is the fact that she is not fanciful in her designs. The flowers-roses, hollyhocks, auriculas, sweet peas etc., etc., are all botanically correct.
This close up of a thistle being strangled prettily by a convolvulus is a tour de force
She continued with her artistic endeavors throughout her life, but in 1772 -when suffering from failing eyesight-she invented a new form of recording botanical samples with her paper mosaics. The craze for natural science was fuelled by the introductions of previously unseen/unknown plants from newly conquered lands. Her interest in botany reflected this development in science. That she used her artistic talents to capture these specimens for posterity is not I think to be derided.
The book is superbly illustrated with many, many examples of her mosaics and embroideries ( plus her drawings )
Here are a few of them for you to enjoy:
On visits to Bulstrode-the home of the Duchess of Portland- King George III and Queen Charlotte were introduced to Mrs Delany and were very impressed with her- her abilities, accomplishments and character – so that they made her many presents including this exquisitely embroidered pocket book and its contents:
On their suggestion Sir Joseph Banks of Kew sent specimens of rare plants to Mrs Delany to enable her to capture the intricate details of these plants in the most accurate form.
After the Duchess of Portland died in 1785, King George II gave Mrs Delany a house at Windsor and a pension of £300. She enjoyed her last years as a royal favourite, and died at Windsor Castle, probably of pneumonia, on 15 April 1788. She was buried at St James’s, Piccadilly.
This book is, to be frank a bargain : it is fabulously illustrated and the essays within on Mrs Delany’s life and art are well written readable and comprehensive. They even include a details analysis of the process of making the mosaics and there is a section with set by step photographs should you want to try to recreate them…
The next book on Mrs Delay I wanted to review is by my good friend Katherine Cahill, Mrs Delany’s Menus, Medicines and Manners
This is a very good companion volume to the exhibition volume, concentrating on Mrs Delany’s life and interests as expressed in her letters.Her copious correspondence to her family and friends was first edited and published in six volumes in 1861-2 by Lady Llanover, and these are now difficult to find (and if you manage that feat, they are expensive to buy)
Katherine Cahill’s book expertly summarises all aspects of the correspondence and Mrs Delany’s life as recorded in the letters : her homes, interior decoration, her advice regarding food, servants, medicine and her clothes. All these important aspects of her life are expertly explained for a 21st century reader and are clearly addressed in this slim and very affordable volume: it is a treasure. Sadly its few illustrations are in black and white only: but if you posses both these books you will have the best of both worlds and a tremendous insight into the life of a very interesting woman of the 18th century
So there you are, two books on the life and achievements of a very accomplished woman. I highly recommend both to you.
We now know what early 19th century fireworks looked like…but what about the illuminations?
We did not go till nine and then were in very good time for the Fire-Works which were really beautiful and surpassing my expectations the illuminations too were very pretty.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 19th June, 1799)
Illuminations were often used in conjunction with fireworks, and were static structures lit by hundreds of small glass lamps fuelled with oil. The structures were often temporary things, but the illuminations (the small glass oil lamps) could also be affixed to “illuminate” more solid structures, as in this picture below by Rowlandson from Ackermann’s The Microcosm of London, showing the illuminated bandstand at Vauxhall Gardens( Do click on it to enlarge it to see the beautiful detail,and the effect of the individual lamps)
The term could also refer to the strings of lamps illuminating the walks of the pleasure gardens as was the case at many of the gardens in England throughout the 18th century and up to the middle of the 19th century.
At a time when the brightness of electric light was unknown and candles used en masse was terrifically and prohibitively expensive, the sight of coloured lights illuminating the gardens at night, among the trees, must have been breath-taking.
An Irish gentlemen visiting Vauxhall Gardens in 1752, whose name is not recorded, wrote about the astonishing effect of the illuminations:
The garden strikes the eye prodigiously; it is set with many rows of tall trees, kept in excellent order, among which are placed an incredible number of globe lamps, by which it is illuminated, and when they are lighted the sound of the music ravishing the ear, added to the great resort of company so well dressed and walking about, would almost make one believe he was in the Elysian fields.
The method of lighting the lamps at Vauxhall was very dramatic. During supper a whistle was blown as a signal to a number of servants placed in strategic parts of the garden. Each servant touched a match to pre-installed fuses, and, instantaneously over a thousand oil lamps were illuminated, bathing the gardens in a warm light that would have been visible for miles around.
These illustration from the Duke of Richmond’s firework display also show examples of illuminations:
Some illuminations were rather more elaborate than others.
This one designed by the architect, Robert Adam for King George III not only included 4,000 individual oil lamps but also two large transparencies pictures painted on gauze and lit from behind to produce a luminous effect:
This design is the more elaborate of the two proposals submitted by Adam for a temporary structure to be erected in the garden of Buckingham House in June 1763 at the time of the celebrations to mark the start of royal occupation of the house, purchased in the previous year. In the event Adam’s other design, for a much simpler structure, was used. A detailed description of the party, which took place at night and employed 4,000 lamps, is included in the Gentleman’s Magazine. It was arranged by Queen Charlotte as a surprise for the King, at the time of his twenty-fifth birthday. Adam also made perspective views of both versions of the screen, which clarify the importance of the ‘transparencies’ (large back-lit pictures, within the main architectural features) in the design. The subject of the transparencies alluded to the King’s role as peace-maker – following the signing of the Treaty of Paris and the end of the Seven Years War in the same year. This style of decoration had been popular on the continent for many years: in France, Rome and also in Mecklenburg, where a small-scale ‘illumination’ had been staged to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of the future Queen Charlotte in 1761. It appears that some of the materials used in Adam’s 1763 screen were reused by Chambers in 1768, for the pavilion erected in Richmond at the time of the visit of the King’s brother-in-law, Christian VII of Denmark.
(see George III and Queen Charlotte: Patronage Collecting and Court Taste edited by Jane Roberts).
Sadly we have no record of the type of illuminations which were in operation at the Sydney Gardens but we can be assured that because of their rarity and very special effect in a world where the light from a few wax candles was thought of as miraculous, Jane Austen was quite right to be impressed.
And that concludes this series of posts on Jane Austen in Bath. I do hope you have enjoyed our time travelling to this particular part of Jane Austen’s past.
So.. continuing from our last post on Music in the Sydney Garden wherein we discovered that Jane Austen did everything in her power to avoid listening to it…for whatever reason…(which she did not share with us )…we now turn to the fireworks…..which we know she did enjoy :
We did not go till nine and then were in very good time for the Fire-Works which were really beautiful and surpassing my expectations- the illuminations too were very pretty.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 19th June, 1799)
The advertisement for the evening states that:
There will be a most
CAPTIAL DISPLAY OF FIREWORKS
By Signor INVETTO
Who will exert the utmost of his ingenious skill to produce new and astonishing effects;to enumerate the particulars would be too long for an advertisement
Signor Invetto was one of a few itinerant firework masters who traveled around England creating firework displays at the pleasure gardens in different towns during the 18th and 19th centuries.
I thought you might be interested to see this advertismentle from the Norfolk Chronicle of 1782, which gives us a little more background to the firework master from Milan who seems to have made a good living in England by supplying fireworks to various pleasure gardens .
At BUNN’s Pantheon, On Tuesday, June 18, 1782, (being Guild-Day, will be performed a Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Music.
First Violin, Mr Abraham STANNARD, jun.
The Vocal Part, by Mr LEVI, (After the Manner of Mr LEONI, of the Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden.) Act.1. “Auld Robin Gray” Act 2. The Soldier’s Tir’d, etc ” The Evening to conclude with a Brilliant Display of Fire-Works, by Sig. Baptista PEDRALIO; Consisting of many new Designs, Emblematical and Picturesque, beautifully ornamented with all the various coloured Fires, representing Suns, Cascades, Rockets, illuminated Balloons, Horizontal, Vertical, Pigeon, and Balloon Wheels, etc etc.
The Concert to begin at Eight o’Clock.
Admittance One Shilling; Sixpence to be returned in Liquor, etc QUANTRELL’s Gardens Will be illuminated on Tuesday, June 18, (being Guild-Day) when there will be a Concert of Martial Music; the Evening to conclude with a capital Display of Fire Works, by Sig. Antonio INVETTO, from Milan, who has had the Honour of exhibiting in the Presence of the principal Part of the Nobility and Gentry in these Kingdoms, and likewise at QUANTRELL’s Gardens on the 4th Instant, and gave more Satisfaction than any Person that has exhibited there for nine Years past. In the Course of the Fire-works will be exhibited the Battle and Capture of Count DE GRASSE by the gallant Admiral RODNEY, executed in a Stile (sic) far superior to any thing ever seen in this City.
Admittance at the Gate One Shilling; Sixpence to be returned in Liquor, etc.
Note. The Artist makes and sells all Sorts of Fire-works for Rooms, Wholesale and Retale (sic), in a neater and genteeler Manner than any Person in this City, and on the most reasonable Terms.– Enquire at the Gardens.
Certainly from 1780 at the pleasure gardens in England the firework displays were a prominent feature. For most of these the “ingenious Signor Invetto, the celebrated Italian Artist from Milan,” was responsible, and invariably each successive exhibition was ” the most superb display ever exhibited in this City.”
The advertisment for the postponed gala sadly does not give details of the fireworks Signor Invetto produced. However this advert, again from the Bath Chronicle of 1799, for another Sydney Gardens gala ( this time to be held to coincide the Bath Races on July 16th ) gives details of the type of fireworks which Signor Invetto, the Italian who supplied fireworks to the Sydney Gardens might have used when Jane Austen was there:
And if we cross reference these with both 18th century illustrations and descriptions in a contemporary book on fireworks - Artificial Fireworks Improved to the Modern Practice from the Minutest to the Highest Branches (1776) by Captain Jones -we should be able to get a fairy good idea of the type of fireworks Jane Austen would have seen at the Sydney Gardens that evening.
The picture above is of the firework display held by the Duke of Richmond at Richmond House near the Thames in Whitehall, London and shows both the whole effect of all the fireworks and also, very interestingly, gives individual details of the individual fireworks which made up the whole display.
The “frame” of the picture shows details of the individual fireworks.
The ones that tally with Signor Invetto’s display at the Sydney gardens are as follows:
1. Marrons and Battery of Marrons
These were named from the French word for chestnuts, because of their size and shape before they burst open. They burst into fire with a loud report. The firework was a small box of flash powder covered with a base of flame powder. As a result they flared brilliantly before they burst and exploded.
The illustration above shows a battery( i.e. more than one) of Marrons.
Captain Jones advises these are useful in musical displays:
If well managed will keep time to a march or a slow piece of music. Marron batteries are made of several strands with a number of cross rails for the marrons, which are regulated by leaders, by cutting them of different lengths and nailing them tight or loose according to the time of the music. In marron batteries you must use the large and small marrons and the nails of the pipes must have flat heads.
3. Fixed Sun (a brilliant sun fix’d)
This was a circular firework, which was fix’d to a pole and blaz’d like the sun.
This was spectacular but very dangerous: Captain Jones warns:
To make a sun of the best sort there should be 2 rows of cases which will shew a double glory and make th rays strong and full The frame must be very strong…In the centre of the block of the sun drive a spindle on which put a small hexagonal wheel whose cases must be filled with the same charge as the cases of the sun…a sun thus made is called a Brilliant Sun because the wood work is intierly covered with fire from the wheel to the middle so there appears nothing but sparks of a brilliant fire…
3. Pots de Bruin
These were rolls of paste board filled with basic gunpowder which shot vertically into the air many showers of stars, snakes, rains and crackers.
Captain Jones advises:
A number of these are placed on a plank thus: having fixed on a plank 2 rows o wooden pegs in the bottom of the plank cut a groove the whole length under each row of pegs; though the centre of each peg, bore a hole down to the grove and on every peg fix and glue a pot whose mouth must sit tight on the peg…
2 or 300 of these pots fired together make a very pretty show by affording a great variety of fires…
4. Sky Rockets
but the illustration above also shows Water rockets: which look terribly difficult to manage…
These were small rockets propelled along an horizontal rope, and sometimes they were used to ignite other parts of the display.
6. Chinese Fire
This was gunpowder which was mixed with fine cast-iron filings .The effect produced was a very brilliant and intense flame.
The recipe is as follows( but please do not try this at home…)
Saltpetre 12 oz, meal powder 2 lb, brimstone 1 lb 2 oz and beat iron( cast iron fillings-jfw) 12 oz
These were small rockets without rods, so that they rose obliquely and descended in a zig-zag manner. They could also be added to the charge inside a large rocket, so that they would explode at the summit of the rocket’s climb, thus heightening the effect.
So there you are, and I hope this has enabled you to enjoy as Jane Austen did some extraordinary early 19th century fireworks.
To conclude the series of posts about the life of Jane Austen in Bath I thought I would lighten the mood by ending with some details of the music, the type of fireworks and illuminations Jane Austen would have seen and heard at the galas she attended at the Sydney Gardens.
In her letter to Cassandra dated 19th June 1799 , written while Jane Austen was staying in Bath with her brother Edward and his family in Queen’s Square, she recorded her impressions of one such event:
Last night we were in Sidney Gardens(sic) again as there was a repetition of the Gala which went off so ill on the 4th- We did not go till nine and then were in very good time for the Fire-Works which were really beautiful and surpassing my expectations- the illuminations too were very pretty.
The Sydney Gardens usually held three Gala Evenings each season: one on the 4th June to celebrate King George III’s Birthday; one on the 12th August to celebrate the Prince of Wales birthday and another in July- a moveable feast – to coincide with the Summer Horse Race Meeting at Bath.
The fireworks to celebrate the Kings Birthday on the 4th June-which went off so ill-were postponed due to bad weather. They were rescheduled for the 18th June and that is the evening Jane Austen attended.
Here is an advertisement from the Bath Chronicle giving details of the re- scheduled date:
( If you care to you can click on the illustration above to enlarge it, so that you can read the detail)
The gardens opened for the Gala at 5p.m. The food and drink available included :
cold ham, chicken, lamb, and tongue, wine, spirits, bottled porter, cider, perry all as reasonable as possible the prices of which will be affixed on the bills of fare and placed in every conspicuous part of the Garden.
The reason the prices were so conspicuously affixed throughout the gardens was that this system prevented the waiters overcharging, a problem that was prevalent in the London pleasure gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh.
You could eat in the Banqueting Room in the Sydney Gardens Tavern or in the canvas booths outside.
If you look carefully at the engraving above, (do enlarge it !) you can see people sitting in the booths to the right of the picture. Those eating in the outdoor booths did have the option of staying in them the whole evening, and I would imagine on a chilly English summer’s evening this would have been a very tempting proposition!
The concert began at 7p.m. Note that Jane Austen managed to avoid it by arriving at 9p.m The galas generally went on till 10 p.m. which meant that Jane Austen was only there for one hour, probably only to see the illuminations and the fireworks!
She appears to have disliked the music played there, for she made this caustic comment in her letter to Cassandra of the 2nd June 1799, when writing of the planned visit to the original gala:
There is to be a grand gala on Tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens-A concert with Illuminations and Fireworks; to the latter Elizabeth and I look forward with pleasure, and even the concert will have more than its usual charm with me, as the Gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.
I would have thought that Bath with its rich orchestral and musical tradition-The Linley family begin just one example of the musicians attracted to living and working in Bath- had fine music and orchestras.
One of the musicians mentioned in the advertisement was Alexander Herscel,the violoncello playing brother of William Herscel composer and amateur astronomer, who was appointed court astronomer to George III in 1782 a year after he had discovered the planet Uranus.
He was the first person to accurately and correctly describe the Milky Way and found two new satellite of Saturn in 1789. Caroline Herscel in her Memoirs described her brother’s playing on the violoncello as “divine”… dare we suggest she may have been biased?
Another performer at the gala was a Miss Richardson, a singer: she had performed at Vauxhall Gardens in London but this diary entry by John Waldie of Edinburgh from 1805 seems to hint she may have been,well,… not the best singer in the world:
While the Minstrels were playing their weary staccato harmony all on one key I addressed myself to Mr Elliot, the singer, and we soon entered into conversation, which was to me highly entertaining and useful…We also discussed the merits of all the singers and composers. He agreed with me I thinking Braham, Harrison, Bartleman, Viganoni Mrs Billington, Mara, Banti ,Mrs Mountain and Storace the phalanx of vocal talent in the country.
He also much admires Grassini and Mrs. Tennant who I have not heard. Miss Daniel Miss Parke and Mrs Ashe are only second rate, and also Miss Sharpe and Miss Richardson
(See: The Journal of John Waldie Theatre Commentaries, 1799-1830: no. 13 [Journal 10] May 14, 1804-March 12, 1805)
Poor Miss Richardson…. I’m quite fascinated by Jane Austen’s comment and deliberate avoidance of the concert. I wonder what it was about the music that so irritated her apart from the possibility of them not being the best rate performances ? Did she not like professional singers ? She made a similar comment about a performance of Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes in her letter to Cassandra of 5th March 1814:
I daresay “Artaxerxes” will be very tiresome.
and later…after the performance
I was very tired of “Artaxerxes,” highly amused with the farce, and, in an inferior way, with the pantomime that followed. Mr. J. Plumptre joined in the latter part of the evening, walked home with us, ate some soup, and is very earnest for our going to Covent Garden again to-night to see Miss Stephens in the “Farmer’s Wife.” He is to try for a box. I do not particularly wish him to succeed. I have had enough for the present.
We shall in all probability never know what upset her so much…..?
Next post: Fireworks.
We do not know exactly when the Austen ladies quitted their rented accommodation in Gay Street but it must have been sometime at the end of 1805.
We do know that Mrs Austen, Cassandra, Jane and, by this time, their friend and sister of James’s wife, Martha Lloyd took a trip to Steventon Rectory in January 1806,and it is possible that they quitted number 25 at that time.
They visited their old home in order to visit James and Mary and their family in January 1806. Martha became part of their household on the death of her mother Mrs Lloyd in April 1805 They returned to Bath at the end of January.
When they arrived back in Bath from Steventon the Austen sisters did have some welcome news. An old friend of the Leigh Perrots , Mrs Lillingston, had left them a legacy of £50 each, which funded Jane Austen’s whole expenditure for a year. Mrs Lillington indeed, may have inspired part of the character of Lady Russell in Persuasion.
The Austen ladies then took what they hoped would be temporary lodgings right in the very heart and bustle of Bath in Trim Street.( Number 7 on the annotated map, above) A place Cassandra Austen had once hoped they might never inhabit….
In the meantime she assures you that she will do everything in her power to avoid Trim Street although you have not expressed the fearful presentiment of it which was rather expected.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 3rd January 1801)
This position was rather confined-right in the heart of the town- and had no prospects of views to the surrounding countryside. It was also old, noisy and as the street was narrow possibly dark and consequently, not a little smelly….
The street was named after George Trim, a wealthy clothier of Bath, whose mother is reputed to have been related to the architect Inigo Jones. Writing about the design of the original Guildhall in Bath (which was replaced by the present Guildhall designed by Thomas Badlwin in 1776), reputedly by Inigo Jones, John Wood in his book, A Description of Bath noted :
For if my information be true, Mr Jones not only thought it a Duty incumbent on him as Kings Architect to examine what had not many years before been repaired by the Board of Works, to see if anything remained to be done from that Office; but was led by a natural inclination to render the City all the service in his Power; he having been a near relation to Mrs Trim the Mother of Mr George Trim the founder of Trim Street…
Mr Trim was a member of the Bath Corporation (the ruling council in Bath) and he was one of the first to support the plans for the city’s expansion against much opposition as detailed by John Wood, again in his book, A Description of Bath:
But notwithstanding this Mr. George Trim a worthy Member of the Corporation thought it expedient to augment the Building of the New City and in the year 1707 that Gentleman began a new street at the North West Corner of it; His Example stirred up another Citizen to purchase a Lease of some Land at the South East Corner of the Town and to promote building there; So that as the City now began to shew graceful suburbs the Inhabitants were desirous of Promoting a trade for the better support of it; and with this view, they not only proposed to make the River navigable to Bristol but the later end of the Year 1710, they applied to Parliament for a Power to carry their design into Execution and obtained an Act accordingly…
As above, page 226
It has often been remarked that this time spent in Bath was Jane Austen’s “barren” period- years in which she did not write or achieve much by way of composition. I’m not sure. I think she used her mind like some form of word processor and “worked” on her texts, revising and composing continually , not necessarily committing it to paper before she was on to almost the final draft.
But, to my mind Jane Austen needed peace and quiet and a settled routine to be truly effective in her composition and writing : I think her life in Bath, when she was at the beck and call of the Leigh Perrots, her mother , visiting cousins etc and making a delicate balance between those with whom they could afford to keep company and those who had a far wealthier lifestyle and accordingly the Austen ladies couldn’t afford to allow “in”, was a constant vexation and distraction. I also think she found the constantly changing population of Bath- many people only stayed a matter of weeks to take the waters-totally exhausting. Just look at this telling extract from her letter to Cassandra Austen of 8th April 1805:
They want us to drink tea with them tonight, but I do not know whether my Mother will have nerves for it. We are engaged tomorrow Evening. What request we are in! Mrs Chamberlayne expressed to her niece her wish of being intimate enough with us to ask us to drink tea with her in a quiet way. We have therefore offered ourselves & our quietness thro’ the same medium. Our Tea & sugar will last a great while. I think we are just the kind of people & party to be treated about among our relations; we cannot be supposed to be very rich.
Her walks were probably the only peace and quiet she could command, and I think they were consequently rather important to her. They are certainly mentioned a lot in her letters. If you look at this section from John Cary’s map of the Environs of Bath from Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc. (1812)
you can see some of the places she waked to during her stay in Bath. Do click on the maps(as you can all the images here) in order to enlarge them:
….notably Lyncombe and Widcombe: mostly uphill out ward journeys as Bath is situated in a sort of pudding basin terrain
Some of the places she visited on foot are marked on the annotated map as follows:
To return to Trim Street. By April Mrs Austen if we can judge from the address written on her letter to her daughter in law Mary, wife of James, was feeling exasperated at still living there:
Trim Street Still.
I had a letter the other day from Edwd. Cooper, he wrote to congratulate us on Frank’s Victory and to invite us to Hamstall in the ensuing Summer., which invitation we seem disposed to accept…we are disappointed of the lodgings in St James’s Square, a person is in treaty for the whole House, so of course he will be prefer’d to us who want only a part- We have look’d at some others since but don’t quite like the situation-hope a few days hence we shall have more choice as it is supposed many will go from Bath when this gay week is over…
The St James Square house did not materialize:
which was a pity as it was a far more congenial area of Bath- on rising ground in the Upper town on the outskirts, overlooking open countryside. But obviously far more expensive accommodation than they could afford: the reality of their financial situation I think was now beginning to set in.
And though the Austen ladies did eventually make the trip to visit their cousins, the Coopers, at Hamstall Ridware in Stafffordshire , they decided it was time to leave Bath and give up the hunt for elusive good accommodation for ever…..because Jane‘s brother, Frank, fortuitously suggested they set up home with his new bride, Mary Gibson in Southampton.
And thus ended Jane Austen’s time in Bath: we shall never know if it was a wholly happy time. I tend to think it was not: a mixture of a busy period, a period of sorrow, frustration and perhaps, some pleasure for her…but Im sure she used her time there to her eventual advantage,watching and learning a lot about human behaviour in all its manifestations while she lived in that busy place.
She certainly used her knowledge of the topography of Bath to great effect in Persuasion, and also knew how to portray the lives of the seemingly rich (the Elliots in Camden Place )and those clinging onto gentility by a very slender thread (Mrs Smith in Westgate Buildings).
But I think, on the whole she was glad not to be there any more for, as she wrote to Cassandra Austen in 1808
It will be two years to-morrow since we left Bath for Clifton, with what happy feelings of escape!
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 30th June 1808)