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I have been bewitched by the idea of an 18th century pleasure garden for years. Too many years to comfortably remember, if I’m painfully honest. I’ve visited the only remaining one in England -the Sydney Gardens in Bath- where Jane Austen used to love to walk when she lived opposite them at Sydney Place. I’ve collected books on them, and visited exhibitions, notably The Muse’s Bower held at Gainsborough House Museum in Sudbury, in Suffolk in 1974…
and the Vauxhall Garden section of the Rococo Exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1984.
I’ve even visited the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, in an attempt to sample something of the atmosphere of the original. Vauxhall on the Surrey bank of the Thames was the first and the most famous of them all. In fact, the term “Vauxhall” became the generic term for a pleasure garden, and its successful format was copied all over England, Europe and even in early 19th century America. A new book, Vauxhall Gardens: A History has recently been published by Yale. It is published to accompany an exhibition on the garden, which will open later in the year at the Foundling Hospital Museum in Brunswick Square. Entitled The Triumph of Pleasure, I simply cannot wait to visit it ( and report back here).
This book is exactly what I have desired to find, after all these years. A comprehensive guide to EVERY aspect of the gardens: its history, the owners, The Tyers, shown below in a portrait by Francis Hayman…
The performers, especially the music and the musicians…
The art on show in the dining booths – it was the first contemporary art exhibit in the world open to the general ( paying) public…
The fashions worn there…
The way the gardens worked, the visitors..even details of the latrines or necessary houses……
it is all covered in exquisite detail, enough even to satisfy me. The book is co- written by David Coke past curator of Gainsborough’s House Museum (where he organised the Vauxhall Garden exhibit of 1978, and he also curated the Vauxhall Garden section of the Rococo exhibit at the Vand A in 1984), and by Dr Alan Borg.
They manage to capture the atmosphere of this magical place- lit by thousands of tiny coloured-glass oil lamps,where you could wander among the leafy groves, see and hear the latest art and music, and mingle with all classes of people who cloud afford to pay the entrance fee. The only exception being servants in livery- they were not admitted to teh gardens for as David Coke remarked to me yesterday,
Servants in livery were only excluded from Vauxhall because Tyers did not want any of his visitors to be seen as obviously subservient to any other visitor. Of course, it also meant that wealthy visitors could not use their own servants to serve them supper, and had to use the Vauxhall waiters, but I’m sure this was a minor consideration.
This is all very well, I hear you say, and all very interesting, but did Vauxhall have any association with Jane Austen? It did. She wrote about it in Lesley Castle when she was 16 years old in 1791. She may not have visited it personally, and there is no mention of it in her letters, but she may have known of it by repute or by reading other novels such as Evelina (1778) or Cecilia (1782) both written by Fanny Burney, one of Jane Austen’s favoured authors, and which both mention the pleasure garden. In Letter the Seventh from Miss C. Lutterell to Miss M. Lesley, Bristol 27th March, JAne Austen wrote:
In spite of all that People may say about Green fields and the Country I was always of the opinion that London and its Amusements must be very agreeable for a while, and should be very happy could my Mother’s income allow her to jockey us into its Public-places during Winter. I always longed particularly to go to Vaux-hall to see whether the cold Beef there is cut so thin as it is reported, for I have a sly suspicion that few people understand the art of cutting a slice of cold Beef so well as I do: nay it would be had if I did not know something of the Matter, for it was a part of my education that I took by far the most pains with…
This is one of the things Vauxhall was infamous for- the thinness of the cold meat served in the dining booths. As we find in the book under discussion:
It is impossible to discuss the food without again mentioning the famous Vauxhall ham; this, like the beef, was always served in notoriously thin slices. Many stores circulated about it ,and it even made its appearance in contemporary comic poetry….eventually the thinness of the ham once picturesquely described as “sliced cobwebs” became proverbial; at homes all over London if any diner was feeling abstemious they would ask for their serving of meat to be carved “Vauxhaully”…
It would seem that, unlike this country gentleman, below, Jane Austen, living in rural Hampshire, had heard all about it…
I can thoroughly recommend this well-written, witty, informative and scholarly book to you, if you are at all interested in the pleasure garden, its history or how it prospered then eventually closed in 1859. I cannot envisage having to buy another book on the subject, so comprehensive is this one. I will be reporting on the Foundling Hospital Museum exhibit in the summer. But if you want to explore a little on line then do go to Dr Borg and David Coke’s website, here, to experience a little of the Vauxhall Magic.
are now on sale at the iBook store on iTunes. Go here to see all the titles made available thus far.
At present there are 16 eBooks are available to download, but it is envisaged that during the next two years 75 titles, all taken from the magnificent collection at the British Library, will be available to purchase. I’m having to restrain myself, for I find I’ve already downloaded 4 titles…this could be ruinously expensive….but cheaper than ever trying to buy the originals( she writes to console herself)
For Jane Austen fans the treat has to be The History of England, Jane Austen’s manuscript book with Cassandra Austen’s illustrations, written when Jane was only 15 years old:
Not only are the books animated so that you can actually turn the pages, but some are also audio books. Touch the “listen” button and the page is read to you. The voice on the History is a rather chirpy female, who has delicious comic timing. I’ve yet to discover her identity….
This is a wonderful feature-especially if the manuscript as in this case- is sometimes difficult to read. You can also pinch and pull the pages to see closeups of parts that interest you.
One of the four (FOUR!!!) I downloaded was The First Folio of Shakespeare’s works dating from 1623. Apparently this eBook Treasures edition also includes several speeches from the play performed by actors using 17th century pronunciation, allowing you to hear the play as Shakespeare would. I’m looking forward to playing with this feature this evening.
The books available – which include Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Arundel, William Blake’s Notebooks,
Audubon’s Birds of America, Henry VIII’s psalter and the Tyndale New Testament are just fearsomely interesting For example, Henry VII’s psalter has annotations written in his own hand…
Oh dear…all this is not going to help my bank balance one bit, is it?
The Bodleian Library has recently released a new free application for iPads and android phones etc. Treasures of the Bodleian is a fabulous application and it will take me many hours to explore all of it, as it highlights the treasures to be found in the University of Oxford’s library ‘s collection:
It contains access to many, many wonderful treasures, not the least being Jane Austen’s manuscripts of Volume the First, which contains some of her juvenilia:
and The Watsons, which along with the Cancelled Chapters of Persuasion, are her only surviving adult manuscripts, albeit this is unfinished.
There is also a wonderful five-minute long podcast type lecture by Professor Kathryn Sutherland, Professor of Bibliography and Textural Criticism at the University of Oxford, wherein she talks about the history, significance and literary importance of the manuscript of The Watsons to us, and indeed, how this manuscript is really Jane Austen’s literary DNA:
Amongst other fascinating points, she details Jane Austen’s manner of working which is fascinating and is revealed by these precious few pages. And all this is free, I write, wonderingly. I could listen to Professor Sutherland’s intelligent and sympathetic lecture on Jane Austen for hours on end. As I say, ALL THIS IS FREE…
The application accompanies a physical exhibition of the treasures which is also free and which closes on the 23rd December 2011. Go here to see the website for the exhibition, You can also down load pdf of a guide to the exhibit here. And you can also take part in a very interesting debate on what constitutes a “treasure” and vote for one item that is not normally on show, to be “The People’s Choice” and be part of the Library’s new Weston Library opening exhibit, when it opens in 2015.
If you can, please do download this wonderful application. AND IT IS FREE!!!
I heard this BBC Radio 4 programme this morning. It was quite interesting. Professor Janet Todd and artist and writer Posy Simmonds were heard examining Jane’s manuscripts of the Juvenilia at the British Library. Anna Maxwell Martin read shortened version of “Frederick and Elfrida”, “Henry and Eliza” and “Love and Freindship” (sic) beautifully and some interesting observations on the youthful writer and her desire to entertain her older bothers and sister were made. . Here is a link again to Professor Todd’s article in last week’s Sunday Telegraph which gives you some idea of her thoughts on the Juvenilia as expressed in the programme.
In my very humble opinion, this programme would have been much more interesting and satisfying however, had it been expanded to a three part series, so that we could have heard more about the importance of these juvenile pieces, their inspiration and targets and, perhaps, have heard them read in their entirety. Perhaps when the bi-centenary of Austen’s death occurs in 2017, there will be more opportunities to hear something like this but in an expanded form.
On Tuesday 22nd November there is a treat waiting in store for us on BBC Radio 4. Professor Janet Todd is presenting a programme based on Jane Austen’s juvenilia entitled Juvenile Jane.
Here is a link to the programme’s page on the BBC 4 website. It will, I hope, be available to listen to and to ‘listen again’( for one week only from the date of transmission) for all of us and not just those of us in the UK. Her co-presenters are Posy Simmonds, the writer and illustrator, and the actress, Anna Maxwell Martin who will give readings from Frederic and Elfrida, Henry and Eliza and Love and Freindship
Writing in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Professor Todd describes in some detail her love of the juvenilia, which inspired the programme, and also comments on what makes Jane Austen’s crazed youthful writings so fantastical and different:
Jane Austen was inspired by what she saw, heard and read – and what she noticed others reading and sighing over, the invented world of romances. In her burlesques, the mundane and the fictional cliché both become magical by being speeded up, turned over, and mixed with fantasy. Some topics especially amused her: for example, ageing. Over and over again a lover will be 52 or 63 or 36, all equally absurd in the child’s eyes, or a gentleman of the village of Pammydiddle will exclaim at finding that, 12 months after being 54, he should become 55 and be so delighted that he decides to hold a masquerade to celebrate.
Go here to read the very entertaining article in full. Then put the date and time in your diary and enjoy.
…but with a catch. The exhibition at the Bodleian Library is open for one day only.
which includes most of her very early writings and the manuscript of Sanditon. Also on display will be Edward Knight’s set of his sister, Jane s novels.
The display is to coincide with the official launch of the Jane Austen Ficiton Manuscripts website which we have discussed before. This site will be fully operational and open to all from Monday, so even if you can’t travel to Oxford to see the manuscripts, etc, you can luxuriate in studying them from the comfort of your own computer, wherever you are in the world. I must confess I am already fining this site terribly useful for my own research, and am so pleased it has been brought not existence before the advent of the culture of vicious budgets cuts in which we now seem to live .
Professor Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford University is the curator of the exhibit. She writes:
Being able to view Austen’s original manuscripts reveals fascinating details about the mechanics and quirks of her handwriting. Her famous description of her way of working – “the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour” is borne out by the tiny homemade booklets into which she wrote – her style is obsessively economical, in her formation of carets from recycled elements of other letters, and her layered punctuation (the merging of a caret with the down stroke of a ‘p’ and a semi-colon with an exclamation mark), and her near compulsive use of the dash to maintain a material connection between her thoughts and the paper.
She has given some interesting interviews recently to coincide with the launch of the website. The article in the Telegraph, though ever-so-slightly incorrect and with its misleading and slightly sensational headline is of interest for it demonstrates that a close reading Jane Austen’s surviving manuscripts reveals her to be a very different person than usually portrayed, and certainly completely different from the carefully crafted image presented to the world by Jane Austen’s Victorian descendants, a process of “beatification” begun by Henry Austen in his Biographical Notice of his sister, published posthumously in December 1817 in the first edition of Persuasion.
I love reading Jane Austen’ Juvenilia. Anarchic,witty, cartoonishly violent, even….I find it fascinating and wondrous that it survived. My favourite of the pieces is The History of England and so, in an openly self-indulgent act, I have decided to commence a new AustenOnly series where week by week we shall take an in-depth look at this witty, angry polemic against the history books of her era written by a 16 year old genius.
Do join me…
But history, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in… I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all — it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the heroes’ mouths, their thoughts and designs — the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14
Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings…….This damming pronouncement by Catherine Moreland of the sort of history she was taught at her long-suffering mother’s knee, must surely have echoed Jane Austen’s feelings too-she was after all her creator. And the evidence to support this argument can be found in her History of England, written to give vent to her frustrations and irritations with the conventional view of history that she and other late 18th century children were taught. Austen’s History is an anarchic work of genus, a monumentally clever 16 years old’s diatribe against the view of English history that she was taught and that she read as a child.
Jane Austen dated her dedication – to her elder sister Cassandra- on the 26th November 1791 (a date which much later in 1813 became the night of the Netherfield Ball). As the work of a precocious 16 year old it is a breathtakingly brilliant and confident work of art.
I have loved this piece of Jane Austen’s juvenilia since I first bought a copy of it in 1977 in Warwick. It was a small book, illustrated not with Cassandra Austen’s equally anarchic original water colours, but with tiny black and white wood cuts and the bare, un-annotated text. I confess it was the size of the book and the illustrations that first attracted me, but the text soon caught my imagination. I found it intriguing and funny, the confident authorial voice ringing clearly in my ears. But to be truthful, I didn’t fully understand what her targets were( and there seemed to be many of these) and, more importantly, the reasons why she was on the attack. Were Jane Austen’s irritations with the monarchs themselves, or was it something else?
I had loved 1066 And All That by Sellers and Yeats both in the form of both the play and the book, and it was clear that Jane Austen’s history was written in the same manner- ridiculing the way history is taught, what history we can remember ( which is usually a garbled version of our lessons with very few accurate dates) and contrasting taught history- the wars, quarrels of Popes and pestilences- with what is of “real “ importance or what aspects of history are really interesting.
In this new series of posts, I intend to look at each entry in the History of England, explain the jokes and the reasons Jane Austen’s targets were her targets. Without knowledge of the books/incidents/plays to which Jane Austen refers it is hard to understand exactly the points she was trying to make.
Today, in the first post of this series, let’s take a look at her title page, and what targets she was intending to attack from this innocent looking beginning…
Jane Austen’s main target was the standard history book of school children of the time, The History of England from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II by Oliver Goldsmith.
Goldsmith’s book was terribly popular from when it was first published in 1771, and it continued to be published in many editions( with additional articles on the reigns of monarchs reigning after George II) till well into the 19th century. Goldsmith had also written another history book in the form of a series of letters in 1764. The full title is, as you can see from the title page to the 1807 edition, below, as follows:
(Title page of my copy of A History of England in a Series of Letters
from a Nobleman to his Son (1807) edition)
The Austen family had a copy of Goldsmith’s 1771 History, which was published in four volumes, at their home at the Steventon rectory, and it is also quite possible that Jane Austen read Goldsmith’s other histories. The Austen’s edition included miniatures of the monarchs heads which were executed by the famed Northumbrian wood engraver, Thomas Bewick, whose portrait taken in 1816 by James Ramsay, is shown below.
And it is surely these that inspired ( or perhaps even infuriated) Cassandra Austen,who illustrated The History of England for her sister. The woodcuts in the Austen family’s edition were all coloured in by some unknown Austen child, but family tradition, as recorded in David Gilson’s Bibliography of Jane Austen (1997), records that it was Jane Austen herself who was the prepetrator. The same hand- or owner of the same watercolours!- has also decorated /highlighted certain letters, words and phrases in Goldsmith’s book. More on these illustrations in later posts on the individual monarchs.
But there is no doubt that it was Goldsmith’s view of history that she was attacking in her own slim volume, as she was very familiar with it.
(Oliver Goldsmith by Joshua Reynolds)
The four volumes of the Austen family’s edition of Goldsmith’s history are all signed by James Austen, Jane’s eldest brother, and one front free endpaper is missing- which has made experts speculate that Jane Austens signature may have been recorded there and then torn out and given away to an early autograph hunter. The books were passed from James to his son and Jane’s nephew and first biographer, James Edward Austen Leigh.
By 1919 the books were owned by his daughter, Mary Augusta Austen Leigh, and they are still, as I understand it, in the possession of her descendants, a Mr L. A. Impey. Mary Augusta is of interest to us for she was the first person to decipher the many comments made the margins of this book by Jane Austen and various other members of her family, and which were published in her book Personal Aspects of Jane Austen in 1920. Though The History of England was not published until 1922, along with the rest of the contents of Volume the Second, the marginal notes made by Jane Austen- imperfect and incomplete as they were presented to the public- fascinated two esteemed authors. Virginia Woolfe wrote about them in her essay Jane Austen and the Geese (1920), where she maintained that, for her, the marginalia were of tremendous significance for they easily refuted the concept, often taken as fact in the early 20th century, that Jane Austen was
Unemotional unsentimental and passionless.
Katherine Mansfield, in her essay Friends and Foes (1920) also found them fascinating, calling them Jane Austen’s
Too, too true.
The marginalia made by Jane Austen appear mostly in the 3rd and 4th volumes of Goldsmith’s History. The first volume has no marginalia but does contain a summary of events and dates written by an infuriated Jane Austen (see below). In the second volume she restricted herself to inserting only one comment: she added the word “wretches” next to the passage describing the deaths of the Young Princes in the Tower, the sons of Edward IV who were murdered in the Tower of London in the late 15th century.
(The Princes in the Tower by Sir Edward Millais)
In the 3rd Volume her marginal note commentary begins with the commencement of the English Civil War, when her beloved Stuarts were set against the Puritanical section of society and Oliver Cromwell. Her comments then continue until the end of Volume 4 with the death of George II in 1760.
Some of the notes were written in ink but most were made in pencil. Some of the pencil notes have faded with time and others have been overwritten in ink by some different (and unknown ) hand, but presumably, by someone who was still a member of the Austen family.
Continuing in the family tradition, James Edward Austen Leigh also added his own set of marginalia to the Austen family copy of Goldsmith’s History. Also peppered amongst the pages are doodles or sketches and some portraits of the monarchs. There are also some dates in the margins which scholars have interpreted as meaning that a few pages were allotted reading for the Austen children to study each day.
Back to that title page…..Jane Austen’s fiery outpourings are clearly evident in her admission, freely given on the title page to her work, that her history is written by a
partial prejudiced and ignorant Historian.
She was obviously irritated by the statements Goldsmith made within his History claiming to be impartial, when his prose suggested he was anything but. His History of 1771 concluded with the following sentiment:
I hope that the reader will admit my impartiality
And at the beginning of his chapters on George I, Goldsmith wrote this about the character of the Old Pretender, James Edward Stuart:
The Jacobites had long been flattered with the hopes of seeing the succession altered by the new ministry…Upon recollection, they saw nothing so eligible in the present crisis ,as silence and submission: they hoped much from the assistance of France and still more from the popularity and councils of the pretender. This unfortunate man, seemed to possess all the qualities of his father; his pride, his want of perseverance and his attachment to the catholic religion. He was but a poor leader, therefore, to conduct so desperate a cause; and in fact all the sensible part of the kingdom had forsaken it as irretrievable.
Jane Austen’s appalled marginal note to this passage –she was, as we will learn, an ardent admirer and supporter of the Stuarts in all their guises- was as follows:
Oh! Dr Goldsmith Thou art as partial an Historian as myself!
The marginal notes make fascinating reading and, when read in conjunction with Jane Austen’s History of England, throw more light on Jane Austen’s criticism of Goldsmith’s works. They have all recently been translated in the latest Cambridge University Press edition of Jane Austen’s works and I shall included extracts from them, where appropriate, in this series of posts.
On the title page there is also the caustic comment by Jane Austen that:
N.B. There will be very few dates in this History.
This is again a clear and direct attack on Goldsmith. His first history, published, in 1764 contained no dates whatsoever. The four-volume history of 1771 contained a few more, -two in fact!-but they were unsystematically given, dotted about the test in no particular order. Jane Austen obviously disliked this feature, probably finding it frustrating and she most likely expected more of a book purporting to be used as a school text. Hence her deliberate warning for her prospective readers, and the reason why she had written the following dates on the front free endpaper of Volume I of the Austen family’s copy of the 1771 History, in semi-scholarly frustration:
Caesar landed Ante Christ 8
Caractacus conquered by Ostorius Scupula 50
Romans left England 488
Alfred beat out the Danes 876
Battle of Hastings 1066
William Rufus came to the Throne 1067 (in fact, wrong-he came to the throne in 1087-jfw)
Henry 1st came to the Throne 1100
Stephen ditto 1135
There, you see: at least she knew of these dates even if Goldsmith was not so forthcoming with sharing his knowledge with students…..*giggle*
To help enliven this series you can access a facsimile reproduction of Jane Austen’s History of England –a Virtual Book- online at the British Library’s site, here. I do recommend it as it is a magical experience : you can “turn” the pages to see all the text and illustration as written by Jane Austen. I will be linking this every time I post on the subject,and I will also link to it on the AustenOnly Juvenilia page, accessible either through the header or the column to the left, and links to all the posts in this series and more will be accessible from there.
The History of England was bound into a collection of Jane Austen’s early works and was known in the Austen family as Volume the Second ( Jane Austen’s other juvenilia was collected in Volume the First and Volume the Third). The British Library acquired Volume the Second in 1977. Volume the First is now available to view online as a facsimile here, Volume the Second here and Volume the Third here, via the wonderful Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts site.
There is much more of this fascinating material to come, and I do hope you will join me on this voyage of discovery….into English history, how it was taught and the thought processes/reactions to it of our very special but partial and prejudiced narrator.
Sheridan’s wonderfully funny farce, The Critic is currently being performed at the Chichester Festival Theatre, and I thought I ought to bring it to your attention not only because it is a superb 18th century play that is rarely performed these days, but also because it would appear that Jane Austen admired it too.
This was Sheridan’s opportunity to expose his own experiences in the theatre: of his exasperation with pompous and fretful actors, playwrights who could not abhor criticism, hapless directors, scene designers and, of course, critics, gleefully modelling some of the play’s characters on people with whom he had worked. His play, a satire on the fashions of the theatre of the day, concerns the doings of The Critic, Mr Dangle, and, during the last act, how he and another critic, Mr Sneer and the anxious playwright, Sir Fretful Plagiary, react to the rehearsal of Mr Puff’s “historical tragedy”, The Spanish Armada.
This play within the play needless to say is ridiculous, a romance that is historically inaccurate and satirizes the theatrical conventions of the day : ranting, addressing soliloquies only to the pit, all concluding with crazed processions that were the stock in trade of many of the productions in the 18th century repertoire:
“Flourish of drums-trumpets-cannon etc etc Scene changes to the sea- the fleets engage- the musik plays ”Britons strike home”-Spanish fleet destroyed by fire ships etc-English fleet advances-musick plays Rule Britannia-The procession of all the English rivers and their tributaries and their emblems etc begins with Handel’s water musick ends with a chorus to the march in Judas Maccabeaus-During this scene Puff directs and applauds everything-then
PUFF: Well, pretty well-but not quite perfect-so ladies and gentlemen if you please we’ll rehearsh this piece again tomorrow.
Exactly the type of production Edmund Bertram sneers at in Chapter 13 of Mansfield Park
“Nay,” said Edmund, who began to listen with alarm. “Let us do nothing by halves. If we are to act, let it be in a theatre completely fitted up with pit, boxes, and gallery, and let us have a play entire from beginning to end; so as it be a German play, no matter what, with a good tricking, shifting afterpiece, and a figure–dance, and a hornpipe, and a song between the acts. If we do not outdo Ecclesford, we do nothing.”
By the time of The Critic’s premiere, Richard Brinsley Sheridan had already enjoyed great success as a playwright: his first comedy, The Rivals, had opened at Drury Lane four years earlier and was followed by The School for Scandal (1777), which was widely regarded as his masterpiece. Sheridan had by this time also purchased an interest in Drury Lane and eventually became its manager.
Jane Austen must certainly have read the play by the 1790s when she was writing her History of England, for she ironically uses The Critic- or really the play within the play, Mr Puff’s The Spanish Armarda- as a primary source for her statement about Sir Walter Raleigh in the section concerning James I:
Sir Walter Raleigh flourished in this & the preceding reign & is by many people held in great veneration & respect-But as he was an enemy of the noble Essex, I have nothing to say in praise of him& must refer all those who wish to be acquainted with the particulars of his Life to Mr Sheridan’s play of the Critic, where they will find many interesting Anecdotes as well of him as of his freind(sic) Sir Christopher Hatton.
In Love and Freindship (sic) from Volume the Second of the juvenilia, there is another reference.
“We fainted Alternatively on a Sofa”
This is a clear allusion to the stage direction in Act III Scene 1 of The Critic, when during rehearsal of The Spanish Armarda The Justice’s Lady is melodramatically reunited with her son :
Mother: O ecstasy of Bliss!
Son: O most unlook’d for happiness
Mother : O wonderful event!
[They faint alternatively in each others arms]
Sheridan in his turn, was an admirer of Jane Austen’s works:
Richard Brinsley Sheridan speaking to a Miss Shirreff at a dinner party ”at Mr Whitbread’s when Pride and p came out…asked her if she had seen it, and advised her to buy it immediately for it was one of the cleverest things he ever read
( see David Gilson: A Bibliography of Jane Austen, page 26)
The current production has had rave reviews. Libby Purvis writing in The Times said
The rendering of the rehearsal of Mr Puff’s heroic patriotic Armarda play is blissful.
As you can see from the wonderful production photographs in this post taken by Manuel Harlan it is a beautifully correct staging of this period piece. It is being performed as a double bill in conjunction with the same cast taking part in a performance of The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard-which was of course originally entitled …The Critics ;-)
And for fans of the BBC’s 1995 production of Persuasion, there is an additional reason to go and see it. Captain Benwick, played by Richard McCabe is in this production: see him first on the left in the picture below,as the hapless Mr Puff.
So, do, if you can go to Chichester Festival Theatre before the 28th August when this production closes to see it and discover exactly the sort of clever and hilariously funny wordplay that so attracted Jane Austen. You will not be disappointed.
I should like to give my profuse thanks both the staff at the Chichester Festival Theatre, with especial praise to Ellen Holbrook, and to their amazing photographer, Manuel Harlan, for their kindness in granting me permission to use their wonderful images of the production in this post.
Laurel of Austenprose has asked me to provide some background posts to her mammoth and laudable Group Read of Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies. Today, I offer you my last contribution, a post about William Gilpin and Jane Austen, which I do hope you will enjoy and find informative.
Having read Henry Austen’s biographical notice of her, published in the posthumously printed first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion and in subsequent editions, I knew, also from an early age, that Jane Austen was
enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque at a very early age…
so, when aged 15 or therabouts I found a copy of his Observations on the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland in what was then one of my favourite haunts, a second-hand bookshop in Dr Johnson’s home city of Lichfield, I bought it immediately…But now comes a confession…Prepare yourself for something very dreadful… I didn’t read it for another 20 years.
I thought it would be deadly boring.
How wrong I was.
I should have trusted Jane Austen’s taste and judgement, and realised exactly why she was enamoured of him…..but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before we explore his books and the reasons why I think she adored him, we ought properly to learn a little about William Gilpin’s life to find out who he was….
William Gilpin was born on 4 June 1724 near Carlisle, in Cumberland. He was the son of Captain John Bernard Gilpin and a Matilda Langstaffe . Captain Gilpin was considered to be one of the best amateur painters of the time, and this artistic talent seems to have passed through to the next generation, for William was obsessed with the correct way to view both pictures and landscape, and his younger brother, Sawrey Gilpin, was to become a famous animal painter and, indeed, later contributed some illustrations to William’s books.
After a typically indifferent education at Queen’s College Oxford, William Gilpin was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England in 1746, and was subsequently appointed to the curacy of Irthington in Cumberland.
In 1747 he preached a sermon at Buckingham, and must while staying there have taken the opportunity to visit Lord Cobham’s famous landscape gardens at Stowe. For he then wrote, anonymously, the tract, A Dialogue upon the Gardens of the Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Cobham at Stowe (1748) where, for the first time, he set out his theories on the distinctions to be made between beauty in natural scenery and in ruined buildings, theories which were to become the basis for all his later writings on the “Picturesque”.
In 1752 Gilpin married his first cousin, Margaret Gilpin, and by 1753 he had taken over the management of the Cheam School for Boys, in Surrey, where for the past few years he had been an occasional assistant teacher . He proved to be a very able teacher and an enlightened disciplinarian, replacing the school’s normal system of corporal punishment with a system of punishment dependant not on inflicting physical harm but on imposing detentions and monetary fines. Interestingly, the proceeds of the fines were put towards the maintenance and improvement of the school’s resources as well as to fund local charities.
In 1768 Gilpin published his book, Essay on Prints. It was published anonymously. It received excellent reviews.
His aim, as the title-page of my copy of the second edition ,above, indicates, was to outline
the Principles of picturesque Beauty, the Different Kinds of Prints, and the Characters of the most noted Masters
The Essay defines ‘picturesque’ as
a term expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture
He went on to expand on this theory in his series of books on the British countryside. In 1777 Gilpin left Cheam to become vicar of Boldre in the New Forest in Hampshire. The living gave him the very respectable income of £600 a year and, probably more importantly, some leisure time during which he began to write seriously on his ideas of the “Picturesque”, the meaning of which he expounded upon in his Observations on the Western Parts of England
Picturesque beauty is a phrase but little understood. We precisely mean by it that kind of beauty which would look well in a picture. Neither grounds laid out by art nor improved by agriculture are of this kind. The Isle of Wight is in fact, a large garden or rather a field which in every part has been disfigured by the spade ,the coulter and the harrow. It abounds much more in tillage than in pasturage; and of all species of cultivation, cornfields are the most unpicturesque. The regularity of corn fields disgusts, and is out of true with everything else….
Do note his tone..we will refer to it later on…
He began to work upon the sketches and copious notes that he had taken in his holidays during the period 1769-1776, in which he had made various tours throughout the British Isles. The books he subsequently produced were quite remarkable, influential and very popular.
As the entry for Gilpin in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records:
That challenge (to define exactly what was meant by the term “picturesque-JFW) was met in the series of books published between 1782 and 1809, all of which bore the same title format: “Observations on [various regions of Britain] relative chiefly to picturesque beauty.” He travelled widely in Britain, with his notebook and sketching materials, in order to identify locations which offered that particular kind of beauty in landscape ‘which is agreeable in a picture’. Picturesque tourism constituted ‘a new object of pursuit’, as he wrote in the first of these books, Observations on the River Wye (1782): the practice recommended was ‘that of not merely describing; but of adapting the description of natural scenery to the principles of artificial landscape’ (Wye, 2). Further picturesque books, with aquatint reproductions of Gilpin’s pen-and-wash drawings, included Observations on Cumberland and Westmorland (2 vols., 1786), the Scottish highlands (2 vols., 1789), south-west England and the Isle of Wight (1798), and theEeastern counties of England and north Wales (1809). Remarks on Forest Scenery (1791), illustrated with etchings by his brother, Sawrey, concentrated on the New Forest, where he lived. Three Essays of a more analytical kind, on the nature of picturesque beauty, picturesque travel, and on the sketching of landscape, together with a poem on landscape painting, appeared in 1792. In 1804 Two Essays described his methods and principles in making his sketches.
These were the books that so enamored Jane Austen, and into which we will now delve. And I confess they have now completely enamored me and I have almost a complete set-I’m lacking only the Eastern Counties and Welsh volumes-still looking for them though…
Now, My Patient Reader, you will recall that I began this post by admitting that I had avoided reading Gilpin because I thought he was going to be boring. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
He most certainly cannot be described in any way as boring. He is a highly opinionated and vital writer; and such writers, like opinionated people, make for engaging companions, even if you don’t agree with their pronouncements or views. His opinions are expressed in such a forthright manner that you cannot but engage with him. Or be started. Or burst out laughing at the outrageousness of it all.
And I think it is this that captivated Jane Austen. His style is so terribly pompous and opinionated, fixated on his search for the picturesque to the exclusion of everything else, even common sense: and that is why, to be brutal, some of his pronouncements(even when slightly modified )are of such monumental stupidity that they take your breath away.
Let me explain by quoting some examples. In his first Observations book, Observations on the River Wye etc he has this to say about Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire -a romantic ruin of a place that has inspired poets and prose writers alike. Note, I have emboldened the important part of this quote :
No part of the ruins of Tintern is seen from the river except the abbey church. It has been an elegant Gothic pile; but it does not make that appearance as a distant object which we expected. Though the parts are beautiful, the whole is ill-shaped. No ruins of the tower are left, which might give form and contrast to the buttresses and walls. Instead of this a number of gable ends hurt the eye with their regularity, and disgust it by the vulgarity of their shape. A mallet judiciously used (but who durst use it?) might be of service in fracturing some of them; particularly those of the cross-aisles, which are both disagreeable in themselves, and confound the perspective.
Do you see? He seriously suggests (even in a qualified form) that by taking a mallet to a ruin and judiciously using it , it could be made more picturesesque. (Alert Sir Roy Stong and Prince Charles immediately!) He is of the opinion that the appearance of the abbey could be improved by bashing some more holes in the ruined structure. Goodness. Written in all seriousness without a hint of humour.
And this I feel is the key to Jane Austen’s enamourment of him. He was so serious and preposterous she simply could not resist taking pot shots at him throughout her works. Henry Austen’s Biographical Notice was subtle. It meant ,I am sure to imply, that Jane Austen was a cultivated woman who through her reading of Gilpin was possessed of the refined accomplishment of appreciating landscape and painting. But I think that interpretation leads us astray. What she truly delighted in, in my humble opinion, was not slavishly adhering to Gilpin’s every dicktat, but to pricking his jlittle puffs of pomposity, which clearly delighted her sense of the ridiculous. And now if we read his books given this knowledge, we are suddenly let in on the meaning of many of her subtle jokes.
For example, in her History of England by a partial prejudiced and ignorant Historian, the 16 year old Jane Austen obviously poked fun at Goldmsith’s rather prejudiced partial and selective history text and much more besides, including a serous swipe at Gilpin at his most ridiculous. In the chapter on Henry VII she writes:
(Cassandra Austen’s drawing of Henry VIII for JAne Austen’s History of England)
The Crimes and Cruelties of this Prince were too numerous to be mentioned…& nothing can be said in his vindication, but that of his abolishing Religious Houses and leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was his principal motive for doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for ages been established in the Kingdom.
This is, in my opinion, a direct allusion and attack to the sentiments Gilpin expresses in this passage in his Observations on Cumberland and Westmorland when he is talking, quite seriously and not intending to be satirical at all, about his birthplace, Scaleby Castle near Carlisle:
(Gilpin’s view of Scaleby Castle, his birthplace)
At present one of the motes only remains. The other is filled up; but may still be traced. The castle is more perfect than such buildings commonly are. The walls are very intire; an great part of the tower which is square is till left. It was preserved its perfect form till the civil wars of the last century; when the castle, in too much confidence of its strength, shut its gates against Cromwell ,then marching into Scotland; he made it a monument of his vengeance.
What share of picturesque genius Cromwell might have I know not. Certain however it is that no man since Henry the eight has contributed more to adorn this country with picturesque ruins. The difference between these two masters lay chiefly in the style of ruins, in which they composed. Henry adorned his landscape with the ruins of abbeys; Cromwell with those of castles. I have seen many pieces by this master executed in a very grand style; but seldom a fine monument to his masterly hand than this. He has rent the tower and demolished two of its sides; the edges of the other two he ash shattered into broken lines….
So here we have Gilpin seriously telling us we are to admire Cromwell for his artistic ability when destroying castles and that both he and Henry VIII adorned the landscape of England with ruins? As if they did this deliberately to create a picturesque effect? That the English Civil War and the Dissolution of the Monasteries were contemplated merely for the decorative effect they would eventually bequeath the English countryside? “I think not ” I can hear the young Jane Austen say to herself as she as she sharpened her pen….
Another example: in Northanger Abbey during Catherine Morland’s tour around Beechen Cliff near Bath with the impeccably educated Tilneys, Jane Austen cannot resist poking fun at these unthinking disciples of Gilpin.
They were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste. Here Catherine was quite lost. She knew nothing of drawing — nothing of taste: and she listened to them with an attention which brought her little profit, for they talked in phrases which conveyed scarcely any idea to her. The little which she could understand, however, appeared to contradict the very few notions she had entertained on the matter before. It seemed as if a good view were no longer to be taken from the top of an high hill, and that a clear blue sky was no longer a proof of a fine day. She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance…
In the present instance, she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side–screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape.
Northanger Abbey Chapter 14
Poor Catherine , going from ignorance to scholarly “erudition” in the space of one afternoon’s walk! So easily able to dismiss the spectacular sight of Bath from the top of Beechen Hill: a sight which is surely “picturesque’ if any sight qualifies for that term.
Similarly Marianne Dashwood’s preference for blasted trees in Sense and Sensibility is surely based on Gilpin’s passages in his book, Remarks on Forest Scenery.
In this book he goes into the minutest detail of the picturesque nature of trees. His comments on the preference in the landscape for blasted trees ignore the practicalities required of the farmer or forestry men ,all in the name of the “picturesque”:
The blasted tree has often a fine effect both in natural and in artificial landscape. In some scenes it is almost essential. When the dreary heath is spread before the eye and ideas if wildness and desolation are required, what more suitable accompaniment can be imaged than the blasted oak, ragged, scathed and leafless; shooting its peeled white branches thwart the gathering blackness of some rising storm…..
No wonder Edward Ferrers, speaking with his creator’s voice perhaps, is able to demolish Marianne and Gipin’s fancy by the timely intervention of some sound practical principles:
“I am convinced,” said Edward, “that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect which you profess to feel. But, in return, your sister must allow me to feel no more than I profess. I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles, or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower — and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”
Sense and Sensibility Chapter 18
Apart from these examples where Jane Austen was, in my opinion reveling in her ability to ridicule Gilpin, there are clearly many other allusion she made to his works but these were of a more practical nature, due to her limited personal experience of the geography many parts of the British isles. She travelled extensively in the south of England and possibly into Tenby in South Wales, but ventured only as far north as Hamstall Ridware in Staffordshire on a visit in 1806.
In order to write about places she had never visited she needed a knowledgeable guide and she found an able one in Gilpin. For example the Juvenilia is peppered with references to places in Scotland –a country she certainly never visited-and I feel sure that Jane Austen was able to use Scottish locations and references after reading his Observations on the Highlands of Scotland
When it came to writing Pride and Prejudice, which ought really to be our focus here today, she again had to use Gilpin as a guide for I am quite certain that she never set foot in Derbyshire. The closest she may have go to it was viewing the country at a distance from Needwood Forest on her trip to her Cooper cousins in Staffordshire in 1806, as Mrs Caroline Lybbe Powys did in 1800.
In his Observations on the mountains an Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland Gilpin gives the reader an extremely detailed account of his trip though the county of Derbyshire and Jane Austen could by reference to his notes and observation describe the ideal and imaginary but definitely Derbyshire landscape of Pemberley:
Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
Pride and Prejudice Chapter 43
(Gilpin’s view of Dovedale,Derbyshire)
By studying his book, combined with her own knowledge of Warwickshire gained on that summer trip in 1806, Jane Austen could also follow the route the Gardiners took into Derbyshire-
It is not the object of this work to give a description of Derbyshire, nor of any of the remarkable places through which their route thither lay: Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenelworth, Birmingham, etc., are sufficiently known.
-for that was also the well established tourist route that Gilpin described in his Observations of Cumberland and Westmorland, making many caustic remarks on the scenery and grand houses enroute.
I ought to remark that Jane Austen was not alone in finding Gilpin unintentionally amusing. He was ridiculed rather mercilessly as Dr Syntax in a series of three books, Dr Syntax’s Three Tours: in Search of the Picturesque, Consolation and a Wife
These books were written by William Coombe and illustrated (without mercy) by Thomas Rowlandson. Here, for example, is the hapless Dr Syntax losing his money at the races at York….
And to bring this post to a close, let’s share one final Gilpin inspired joke with Jane Austen. In Chapter 10 of Pride and Prejudice, when out walking with Darcy, holding his arm, Caroline Bingley rudely abuses Elizabeth and her connections. Mrs Hurst, arriving with Elizabeth, takes Darcy’s free arm, therby effectively and rudely separating Elizabeth from the “In-Crowd’ as the path “will not admit a fourth”:
At that moment they were met from another walk by Mrs. Hurst and Elizabeth herself.
“I did not know that you intended to walk,” said Miss Bingley, in some confusion, lest they had been overheard.
“You used us abominably ill,” answered Mrs. Hurst, “running away without telling us that you were coming out.”
Then, taking the disengaged arm of Mr. Darcy, she left Elizabeth to walk by herself. The path just admitted three. Mr. Darcy felt their rudeness and immediately said, –
“This walk is not wide enough for our party. We had better go into the avenue.”
But Elizabeth, who had not the least inclination to remain with them, laughingly answered, –
“No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye.”
She then ran gaily off, rejoicing, as she rambled about, in the hope of being at home again in a day or two. Jane was already so much recovered as to intend leaving her room for a couple of hours that evening.
Here we have Jane Austen her allowing her heroine an opportunity for getting her revenge on the Bingley sisters for their continued rudeness to her. Elizabeth is quite clearly referring to a passage from Gilpin’s Observations on Cumberland and Westmorland. In Volume II Section XXXI he waxes lyrical on the picturesque qualities of the domesticated animals normally to be found in the English countryside; that is, horses, sheep and cows. This is what he has to say about the grouping of cows:
Cattle are so large that when they ornament a foreground, a few are sufficient. Two cows will hardly combine Three make a good group- either united- or when one is a little removed from the other two. If you increase the group beyond three; one of more in proportion must necessarily be a little detached .This detachment prevents heaviness and adds variety…
As you can see from his illustration of this group of cows, three is the magic number as far as he was concerned. A fourth has to be some distance off otherwise it spoils the picturesque.
By allowing Elizabeth to make this one little, seemingly innocent remark (and escape from Darcy and the Bingley sisters in the process) Jane Austen demonstrates that despite the efforts of Mrs Bennet to hinder her education, Elizabeth has, by the advantage of her extensive reading, more awareness of the principles of the picturesque than of the expensively educated ladies before her. As a man of taste and education Darcy is most probably aware of the source for her reference and cannot but be impressed by it. He also knew that she was referring to them as a group of three….cows.
Game set and match to Elizabeth Bennet walking swiftly in the opposite direction…..
So that’s my take on Jane Austen and William Giplin. She was, as Henry Austen would have us believe, enamored of him, I am certain, but not necessarily for purely innocent reasons. Like her creation Elizabeth Bennet, she found that Gilpin’s follies, nonsense, whims and inconsistencies diverted her tremendously, and she could not help but gently poke fun of him whenever the opportunity arose.