“And here is my sweet little Annamaria,” she added, tenderly caressing a little girl of three years old, who had not made a noise for the last two minutes; “And she is always so gentle and quiet — Never was there such a quiet little thing!”
But unfortunately, in bestowing these embraces, a pin in her ladyship’s head-dress slightly scratching the child’s neck, produced from this pattern of gentleness such violent screams as could hardly be outdone by any creature professedly noisy. The mother’s consternation was excessive; but it could not surpass the alarm of the Miss Steeles, and everything was done by all three, in so critical an emergency, which affection could suggest as likely to assuage the agonies of the little sufferer. She was seated in her mother’s lap, covered with kisses, her wound bathed with lavender-water, by one of the Miss Steeles, who was on her knees to attend her, and her mouth stuffed with sugar-plums by the other. With such a reward for her tears, the child was too wise to cease crying. She still screamed and sobbed lustily, kicked her two brothers for offering to touch her, and all their united soothings were ineffectual till Lady Middleton luckily remembering that in a scene of similar distress, last week, some apricot marmalade had been successfully applied for a bruised temple, the same remedy was eagerly proposed for this unfortunate scratch, and a slight intermission of screams in the young lady on hearing it, gave them reason to hope that it would not be rejected. She was carried out of the room therefore in her mother’s arms, in quest of this medicine, and as the two boys chose to follow, though earnestly entreated by their mother to stay behind, the four young ladies were left in a quietness which the room had not known for many hours.
Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 21
Ah, Lady Middleton. The cold, manipulative, too doting mother of spoilt, awful children. Creating these characters gave Jane Austen free rein to be scathing about both spoilt children and their appallingly self-centered mother. Adding, no doubt, fuel to the fire to some of the claims that Jane Austen “hated children”. Not at all, the evidence from her other novels and from her letters show JAne Austen to have been very keen on and kind to well-behaved,well brought up children and their mammas. I think this passage illustrates that she simply detested spoilt brats and their oblivious parents.
In this passage the Miss Steeles- Nan and Lucy- the sycophantic fools, are immediately on hand to pander to Lady Middleton’s poor, little, desperately wounded but calculating child. They proffer sugar plums( more on that subject next week) and bathe her “would” with lavender water.
From Roman times lavender water has been recognised as something good with which to bathe wounds, as it has a naturally antiseptic effect. In Jane Austen’s era you could, if you had access to lavender plants,or essence of lavender, make your own lavender water, by following some of the many recipes for it in the cookery books and advice books of the day.
Mrs Rafffald in her recipe book A New System of Domestic Cookery, (below is the title page of my 1819 copy of her book)
gave the more traditional, complicated manner of making lavender water, by using a still to extract the essence of lavender:
Martha Lloyd’s Household Book which is in the collection of the Jane Austen Memorial Trust at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, contains a recipe for making lavender water. In A Jane Austen Household Book with Martha Lloyd’s Recipes written by Peggy Hickman, published in 1977, the following recipe appears:
To one quart of the best rectified spirits of wine put 3/4 oz of essence of lavender and 1/2 scruple of ambergris; shake it together and it is fit for use in a few days
As you can see, Martha’s recipe is very similar to the simple method described in Mrs Rundell’s book, above. Martha was, of course, their life long friend and she lived with the Austen ladies in their Chawton home.
There was an alternative to making your own lavender water, of course, You could buy a proprietary brand.The brand that Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra seem to have preferred was Mr Steele’s Lavender Water. In her letter to Cassandra dated 14th January 1801 she commissions her, on behalf of Martha Lloyd, to purchase some of Mr Steele’s lavender water when she next visits london:
Martha left you her best love. She will write to you herself in a short time; but, trusting to my memory rather than her own, she has nevertheless desired me to ask you to purchase for her two bottles of Steele’s lavender water when you are in town, provided you should go to the shop on your own account, otherwise you may be sure that she would not have you recollect the request.
Mr Steele had his shop and lavender water producing workshop at 15 Catherine Street, London just off the Strand, near Somerset House. The approximate position of the shop is shown in these two sections taken from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809)
The approximate position of the shop is shown by the red arrow on both the sections:
Mr Steel also had a small house and a lavender nursery at Feltham near Hounslow Heath on the outskirts of London, approximately six miles from the city. You can see the red arrow marking the position of Hounslow on the section of John Cary’s map of the Environs of London (1812) below:
He was also in business with his brother-in-law, one Mr Alley, who distilled the lavender into lavender water at the Catherine Street premises. And now prepare yourself to hear something very dreadful…Mr Steele met with an untimely end. He was murdered in 1802 while he was on Hounslow Heath. His murderer, John Holloway was eventually found guilty of the murder in 1807. If you go here to the magnificent Old Bailey On line website, you can read a full account of the trial. It is absolutely fascinating, and for me raises many, many questions. I thought, however, that you might like to read Mr Steels sad tale, which is a reminder that Jane Austen’s era was not all lavender water and lace, and that for some unfortunate souls, violence was not far from the surface ;)