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©Sotheby's

©Sotheby’s

The Christmas Market is attracting some very interesting auction lots…ones that we ought to be interested in, certainly. As we have seen, there are some wonderful Jane Austen offerings to be had this year, but the one that I really covet is Anne Sharp’s first edition set of “Emma”, published by John Murray, which was presented to her by her friend, the authoress, Jane Austen. This  set first came to my attention in 2008, when Christiaan Jonkers of Jonkers Rare Books bought  the  set for £180,000. *gulp* Then two years later, the BBC reported that it had sold for £325,000.*double gulp*

Now Sothebys are offering the same set for sale in their auction of English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations to be held in London on the 12th December 2012.

Here is the condition report of Lot 86 from the online catalogue:

12mo, three volumes, first edition, presentation copy inscribed “From the author”in a clerk’s hand within volume one together with ownership signature of Anne Sharp in each volume, half-titles, contemporary half-calf with marbled boards, marbled endpapers, collector’s red morocco box, some light spotting, corners occasionally creased, bindings worn at extremities, some minor loss to calf, some splitting and loss to joints, slight loss to ends of spines, leaves trimmed.

The Catalogue notes record its history..up to a point…

One of twelve presentation copies recorded in the publisher’s archives and presented to Jane Austen’s “excellent kind friend”: the only presentation copy given to a personal friend of the author.

In a letter to the publisher John Murray dated 11 December 1815, Austen noted that she would “subjoin a list of those persons, to whom I must trouble you to forward a Set each, when the Work is out; – all unbound, with From the Authoress, in the first page”. Most of these copies were for members of Austen’s family. David Gilson in his bibliography of Austen lists these presentation copies, based on information in John Murray’s records, as follows:

two to Hans Place, London (presumably for Jane Austen and Henry Austen)
Countess of Morley
Rev. J.S. Clarke (the Prince Regent’s librarian)
J. Leigh Perrot (the author’s uncle)
two for Mrs Austen
Captain Austen (presumed to be Charles Austen)
Rev. J. Austen
H.F. Austen (presumed to be Francis)
Miss Knight (the author’s favourite niece Fanny Knight)
Miss Sharpe [sic]

Anne Sharp (1776-1853) was Fanny-Catherine Knight’s governess at Godmersham in Kent from 1804 to 1806. She resigned due to ill-health and then held a number of subsequent positions as governess and lady’s companion. Deirdre Le Faye notes that by 1823 she was running her own boarding-school for girls in Liverpool (see Jane Austen’s Letters, third edition, 1995, p. 572). She retired in 1841 and died in 1853.

In 1809 Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra Austen that “Miss Sharpe… is born, poor thing! to struggle with Evil…” Four years later Jane wrote to Cassandra that “…I have more of such sweet flattery from Miss Sharp! – She is an excellent kind friend” (which may refer to Anne Sharp’s opinion of Pride and Prejudice). It is known that Anne Sharp thought Mansfield Park “excellent” but she preferred Pride and Prejudice and rated Emma “between the two” (see Jane Austen’s Letters, third edition, 1995, p. 573).

There is one known extant letter from Jane Austen to Anne Sharp, dated 22 May 1817. She is addressed as “my dearest Anne”. After Jane Austen’s death, Cassandra Austen wrote to Anne Sharp on 28 July 1817 sending a “lock of hair you wish for, and I add a pair of clasps which she sometimes wore and a small bodkin which she had had in constant use for more than twenty years”.

“In Miss Sharp she found a truly compatible spirit… Jane took to her at once, and formed a lasting relationship with her… [she occupied] a unique position as the necessary, intelligent friend” (Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen A Life, 2000).

Anne Sharp is known to have visited Chawton on at least two occasions: in June 1815 and in August-September 1820. Deirdre Le Faye notes that James-Edward Austen-Leigh described her as “horridly affected but rather amusing” (see Jane Austen’s Letters, third edition, 1995, p.573)

However, what is interesting to me is the current auction estimate ….which is £150,000-£200,000…and which even I with my rudimentary grasp of maths can deduce  means that someone may be anticipating they might be taking a hit on this set. Or not….it all remains to be seen. I will be watching this one….and reporting back, you can be assured.

©Sotheby's

©Sotheby’s

Also for sale in the same sale is Lot 87,  a first edition set of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion by Jane Austen, published by John Murray. This also has another interesting connection to Jane Austen. The set is inscribed F C Fowle, and would appear to have been owned by Fulwar-Craven Fowle, the brother of Tom Fowle, who was engaged to Cassandra Austen but he sadly died in the West Indies before they could marry.

The catalogue notes:

It appears that this set was the property of the Revd Fulwar-Craven Fowle (1764-1840). He was a pupil of Rev. George Austen at Steventon between 1778 and 1781. He is occasionally mentioned in Austen’s letters; it appears he participated in a game of vingt-un in 1801 and sent a brace of pheasants in 1815. Fulwar-Craven Fowle’s brother, Thomas (1765-1797) had been engaged to Cassandra Austen in 1792.

Deirdre Le Faye notes that he had “an impatient and rather irascible nature” and “did not bother to read anything of Emma except the first and last chapters, because he had heard it was not interesting” (see Jane Austen’s Letters, 1995, p. 525).

This has a sale estimate of £4000-6000, which is more affordable than Lot 86(well, everything is relative!) but I know which set I would prefer to own. I’ll report back.

Episode 25 of series 32 of the BBC’s Bargain Hunt programme included a section filmed at Number One, Royal Crescent which is a marvellous museum devoted to displaying and explaining the workings of a grand house in Bath in the Georgian era.

Tim Wannacot, the rather wonderful presenter of BBC's "Bargain Hunt" outside Number 1 The Royal Crescent, Bath

Tim Wannacot, the rather wonderful presenter of BBC’s “Bargain Hunt” outside Number 1 The Royal Crescent, Bath

The programme had a five-minute section during which we were shown some of the items on show in the study and hall of the house. First,  items that may have provided amusement -the Comforts of Bath -during the season  were displayed on a green baize-lined card table:

Card Table displaying some of the Comforts of Bath

Card Table displaying some of the Comforts of Bath

A blue transfer decorated punch bowl, sadly denuded of its alcoholic contents…

Clay pipes…

and a twist of the Virginian tobacco which would have been smoked in them.

The bureau bookcase in the same room  also had interesting items on display.

A portable, table-top celestial globe…

and two theatre tokens which were used in the theatre at Bath.

One for the cheap seats in the Gallery, above  and one for the more exclusive seats in the boxes, below.

The programme gave us a rare opportunity to examine  a sedan chair, a very popular form of transport in Bath due to the steep and narrow streets which made travelling by carriage somewhat difficult.

The chairs were made of a wooden frame, covered with leather which was then painted to provide a degrees of waterproofing …

The edges and corners were protected by decorative stud work…

The domed roof lifted up  for ease of access, and internally there were blinds for privacy, and glazed windows…

And the all-important internal upholstery, including a down filled cushion seat, to protect the traveller from the bumps and bangs of a journey from his home to the Upper Rooms, perhaps, just like Catherine Moreland in Northanger Abbey.

The programme is still  available to view via the BBC iPlayer, here, and I do urge you to look at it if you can as  this section is very informative and enjoyable.

On Saturday, at their premises in Dublin, Whyte’s auctioneers will be auctioning a complete set of Richard Bentley’s 1833 edition of Jane Austen’s novels in five volumes:  four single volumes each containing one novel, that is, of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma, and one volume containing the full text of both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.

©Whyte's

©Whyte’s

These books were the first edition of Jane Austen’s works to appear in the format of one volume per novel and to be illustrated. According to the publishing history of these books given in David Gilson’s Bibliography of Jane Austen, the publication of the novels was overseen by Jane Austen’s sister, Cassandra and her brother, Henry. Jane Austen had, of course, died in 1817 and did not live to see these editions. In a letter dated 20th May 1831 written to John Murray, who was Jane Austen’s publisher at her death, Cassandra Austen

…makes it clear that she was then thinking of reissuing JA’s novels. Cassandra says that she does not wish to sell the copyrights, but asks about the size of the proposed edition, the number of volumes, price per set and date of publication; she also asks if Murray has approached the executors of Thomas Edgerton for PP. Since we hear no more of this, we must assume that Cassandra and John Murray could not come to terms( perhaps the latter insisted on buying the copyrights) Richard Bentley, a year later was more fortunate.

( Page xxxiv)

David Gilson also gives us the fascinating tale of the copyright of these novels:

No English reissue of JA’s novels is known after 1818 until in 1832. Richard Bentley decided to include them in his series of Standard Novels. …a letter  to Bentley from Henry Austen dated 24th July 1832, accepting on behalf of his sister, Cassandra and himself Bentley’s offer of £250 for the copyrights of SS, MP,E and NA&P ( plus two copies of “the work”) but pointing out that for the copyright of PP Bentley should apply to the executors of Thomas Egerton. The private printed List of Bentley publications for the year 1833 give the payment to Henry and Cassandra ( for the copyrights-jfw) as £210, made on 20th September 1832… Mr. Francis Pinkney, Egerton’s executor was paid as late as 17 October 1833 a total of £40 for the remainder of the copyright of PP; Bentley presumably reduced the sum paid to Henry and Cassandra Austen by that amount. The Bentley list also states that the copyrights of SS, PP, and MP were for 28 years, expiring in 1839, 1841 and 1842 respectively, while those of E and NA&P, expiring in 1857 and 1860.

(Gilson, as above, page 211)

©Whyte's

©Whyte’s

Here is the auctioneer’s description of Lot 531:

AUSTEN ( Jane ). Sense and Sensibility [with :] Emma. [and :] Mansfield Park. [and :] Northanger Abbey [and, Persuasion] [and :] Pride and Prejudice. Richard Bentley … (Bentley’s Standard Novels 23, 25, 27, 28 and 30), 1833FIRST ILLUSTRATED AND FIRST ONE-VOLUME EDITIONS, each volume with additional engraved title-page, engraved frontispiece and printed series title-page, 5 vols, small 8vo, contemporary deep olive green morocco, gilt, fully gilt and lettered spines, top edges gilt : light endpaper foxing and just a little elsewhere, the bindings just lightly rubbed but still attractive, and otherwise a very good set, rarely found complete. Complete sets of the five Jane Austen vols in this series have become notably rare.

They give an estimate of € 1500-1800….*sighs longingly* I should like to thank my good friend, Katherine Cahill of Mrs Delany’s Menus Medicine and Manners fame for sharing this tempting information with me. She will be attending the auction, has offered to act as my agent( Temptress!) and I’m sure she will be able to let us know the result of the sale.

The BBC One programme, Bargain Hunt yesterday broadcast a small film about the Georgian Kitchen at Number One, Royal Crescent,  Bath.

This building  was one of the grandest houses in the Crescent, which was designed by John Wood the Younger, and it was of course here that Catherine Morland promenaded with Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey:

As soon as divine service was over, the Thorpes and Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the pump–room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which everybody discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company. 

Chapter 5

The house has had many interesting residents including Frederick, Duke of York. It is now a wonderful museum run by the Bath Preservation Trust, and is  always worth a visit to its fabulous restored and decorated rooms, staffed by really helpful, knowledgeable and, in some cases, very entertaining guides!

The house is decorated as it would have been in the Georgian era: below is the fabulous first floor drawing-room:

And here, below,  is the ground floor dining room, the table set for a typical Georgian dessert course, with sweetmeats and nuts and decorated with some rather wonderful sugar sculpture:

But this part of the programme -a few minutes long only-was really about the Kitchen- which is rather wonderful as we do not get to glimpse inside Georgian kitchens very often. So let’s look, in some detail, at the items on show in the basement kitchen at Number One, and see how they would be used and how they would work.

From the right, on top of the scrubbed surface of the pine table you can just see the outline of some sugar nips, right next to a very typical 18th century conical sugar loaf. The nips were used to break up the sugar loaf, most likely imported from the West Indies into the nearby port of Bristol. Here is a better, clearer picture of some 18th century sugar nips, made from iron, for you to see:

In the picture below, you can see the sugar nips mounted on a piece of wood. Also on the table surface you can  clearly see a wooden lemon squeezer and a brass pestle and mortar, used  for pounding spices:

The kitchen has three types of spit turning devices on show: the first, the most infamous, a cage which was wall mounted and which would have held a Turnspit Dog,who would have run, hamster-like, in the case, turning the spit as required.

Here is another picture, from the book, Remarks on a Tour to North and South Wales, published in 1800 of a Turnspit dog hard at work:

it is really appropriate that this cage is still installed in a kitchen in Bath for it was in Bath that the last turnspit doges were used, when other parts of the country had resorted to other, mechanical devices with which to turn their roasting meat. Mechanical devices such as this clockwork jack, below. This is an 18th century counterweight jack with a flywheel:

This works by gravity : a weight is attached to a string, which winds down the mechanism, every 20 minutes or so, then it has  to be rewound. I’ve operated one of these in the food historian, Ivan Day’s kitchen, at his home in Cumbria. You can see it in my picture, below, to the right of the fireplace:

His clockwork jack had a  weight made from an old cannon ball. The sound of the clockwork mechanism working, tick-tocking away, and then being re-wound every so often, must have been a very familiar sound in smaller Georgian households.

The problem with clockwork spits was that they demanded  a lot of attention in order that they could be  re-wound, and they were not particularly efficient. Below is the frontispiece from Martha Bradley’s book,The British Housewife (1756) showing a very well equipped Georgian kitchen…

Frontispiece from Martha Bradley's "The British Housewife or, The Cook Housekeeper's and Gardiner's Companion(1756)

Frontispiece from Martha Bradley’s “The British Housewife or, The Cook Housekeeper’s and Gardiner’s Companion(1756)

You can see the kitchen maid pulling the chain of the clockwork jack, to help turn the spit:

A cook operating a clockwork jack and spit from Martha Bradley’s “The British Housewife etc” (1756)

Another type of jack was on view in the Kitchen at Number One: a bottle jack set above a screen or a “hastener”:

This jack would move the joint of meat clockwise and then counterclockwise in front of the fire so that it cooked evenly. Below is a bottle jack- note that  it gets its name from its shape- and a hastener on show in the Georgian House Museum at Bristol:

.Hastener and Bottle Jack at the Georgian House, Bristol

Hastener and Bottle Jack at the Georgian House, Bristol

 Bottle Jacks were spring driven, wound up with a key and they ran for a fair length of time before running down, and were an improvement on the clockwork jack. The meat to be roasted hung from small hooks in the bottom of the jack. They  were designed to hang inside a vertical tin, reflecting oven-the hastener- which would be set in front of the fire, facing the coal grate. This  produced heat evenly up and down the suspended joint or bird. In addition to the heat radiating from the fire, the sides and roof of the tin oven further reflected heat, making for more efficient use of fuel and more even roasting.

The drip tray, set before the fire and under the meat cooking before the it, was used to collect the fat which dropped from the meat during cooking time. The large basting spoon-which you can see underneath the tray- was used to baste the meat during the cooking process.

Also on show in the kitchen are some rudimentary  and rather smoky and smelly sources of light. Tallow candies, above, are notorious for the smell and the smoke that they produced, very inferior to expensive wax candles. Tallow was normally the fat obtained from beef or lamb.

In the centre of this photograph, above is an iron crusie lamp- a lamp powered by animal grease or fish oil. The fat would be put in the bowl of the iron lamp, and a wick would then rest in it, and be lit to provide a light.

In the centre of this photograph is a wooden and iron rush nip, or rush light,  typical of the early to mid 18th century. It was designed to hold a rush that had been covered in animal fat by immersing it in a trough, which was, ideally,  as long as the rush to ensure the rush was well saturated with the fat.  Gilbert White  of Selborne, near Chawton in Hampshire tells us of the method of choosing rushes for used as rushlights, in his book, The Natural History of Selborne:

The proper species of rush for this purpose seems to be the juncus effusus or the common soft rush, which is to be found in most pastures, by the side of streams or hedges. These rushes are in the best condition in the height of summer but may be gathered so as to serve the purposes well, quite on to Auutmn….as soon as they are cut they must be flung into water and kept there for otherwise they will dry and shrink and the peel (the rind-jfw) will not run…The careful wife of a Hampshire labourer obtains all her fat for nothing for she saves the  scummings of her bacon pot for this use: and if the grease abound with salt she causes the salt to precipitate to the bottom by setting the scummings in a warm oven….A good rush, which measured in length two feet four inches and a half burnt only three minutes shorter than an hour and a rush of still greater length has been known to burn one hour and a quarter. These rushes give a good clear light”

Even so…

And finally, something that would have been in constant use, bearing in mind the presence of tallow fat candles and  foodstuffs in the kitchen area…18th century mice traps on the pine dresser. One wooden, one iron:

You can even see some poor mice captured in the iron example to the centre right….

So, there you are, a short trip around some 18th century  gadgets that would have been found in many kitchens and homes of the era. I do hope you have enjoyed it. The episode of Bargain Hunt is available to view, here, on the BBC iPlayer for the next six days for all of you living in the UK. The part of the programme that interests us begins at approximately 24 minutes in.

at Sotheby’s this afternoon for £ 126,000  (plus buyers premium of 20%, making a total purchase piece of £152,450) to a bidder, identity currently unknown, who was bidding by telephone.

Jane Austen’s Ring, and Note from Eleanor Austen neé Jackson to Caroline Austen ©Sotheby’s

An announcement was made prior to the sale to the effect that tests have revealed that the stone in the ring is in fact a natural turquoise, and not odontolite as previously thought.

The first edition of Pride and Prejudice sold for £ 18,000:

Pride and Prejudice, First Edition, ©Sotheby’s

The first edition of Mansfield Park sold for £4,200

Mansfield Park First Edition ©Sotheby’s

The first edition of Emma was unsold, and bids up to  £7,500 were received for it.

Emma, First Edition, ©Sotheby’s

The first edition of  Northanger Abbey and Persuasion sold for £3,200

Northanger Abbey and Persuasion First Edition ©Sotheby’s

The Trafalgar Sea Chest  sold for £15,000.

Battle of Trafalgar Sea Chest ©Sotheby’s

Some other lots were unsold, notably a collection of letters written by William IV.Hmm…..

Post Script: Some of you have wondered if I was there, and the answer is no, I simply watched the auction online. Some of the comments made by the auctioneer were priceless. He seemed to be fascinated by internet bids, informing internet bidders that it  is “against you, Mightly Internet” or “Internet , it is between you and your mouse”. One of the Jane Austen first editions had “some gatherings proud”, and he thought this was an entirely poetic way to describe a Jane Austen novel. Priceless. I can highly recommend watching these auctions online via Sotheby’s website.

Professor Amanda Vickery’s splendid BBC Radio 4 series, Voices from the Old Bailey is back, and is on excellent form.

The first programme in the new, second series of four programmes was first broadcast last Wednesday at 9 a.m., but can be accessed here to “listen again via the BBC Website. This week’s episode concentrates on riots during the 18th century, and the section on the Gordon Riots, an uprising of terrible anti- Catholic violence put down with equal harshness by the army, and  which occurred in  London and the surrounding district in 1780, is absolutely riveting.

But does this have anything to do with Jane Austen, I hear you cry ? Most definitely, yes. In Northanger Abbey it is surely the folk memories of the Gordon Riots that cause Eleanor Tilney to be very easily alarmed upon misunderstanding an innocent remark made by Catherine Morland in Chapter 14:

Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence. The general pause which succeeded his short disquisition on the state of the nation was put an end to by Catherine, who, in rather a solemn tone of voice, uttered these words, “I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London.”

Miss Tilney, to whom this was chiefly addressed, was startled, and hastily replied, “Indeed! And of what nature?”

“That I do not know, nor who is the author. I have only heard that it is to be more horrible than anything we have met with yet.”

“Good heaven! Where could you hear of such a thing?”

“A particular friend of mine had an account of it in a letter from London yesterday. It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.”

Of course, Catherine is talking of nothing more serious than of the publication of one of her horrid books, but Eleanor Tilney, the better informed of the two and with an emotional interest in any potential public unrest that might have to be put down by her elder brother, who is serving in the Twelfth Light Dragoons, leaps to some serious conclusions. Henry Tilney has to set matters aright in a very Mr Bennet-ish fashion( and not in a manner of which I approve, to be brutally honest with you, despise me if you dare):

“My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out, in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy–six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first, of two tombstones and a lantern — do you understand? And you, Miss Morland — my stupid sister has mistaken all your clearest expressions. You talked of expected horrors in London — and instead of instantly conceiving, as any rational creature would have done, that such words could relate only to a circulating library, she immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window. Forgive her stupidity. The fears of the sister have added to the weakness of the woman; but she is by no means a simpleton in general.”

This weeks programme features one of my favourite historians, Professor Peter King, whose books, Crime, Justice, and Discretion in England 1740-1820 and Crime and Law in England, 1750-1840  are two of my most favourite books on the subject. Go read them now if you possibly can. Completing the discussion panel are Dr. Katrina Navickas and Professor Tim Hitchcock, co-founder of the fabulous on-line archive, Old Bailey Online.

Amanda is currently filming for her BBC TV Special on Sense and Sensibility, which will air sometime in December. She recently sent me this picture of her being filmed examining The Watsons  manuscript at Sotheby’s,which of course was recently sold for nearly £1 million. I thought you would like to see it, so here it is:

We know that Trim Street in Bath was the last place the Austen ladies- Jane,Cassandra and Mrs Austen- lived while they were in Bath because of the evidence from a letter sent by Mrs Austen to Mary  her daughter- in -law. Here is a link to a post that I wrote about it last year.

Their Trim Street home was supposed to be very temporary accommodation in which to stay while they were  looking at other properties in which to settle on a more permanent basis. They arrived there in January 1806 but were still there in April, and most probably stayed there till they finally left Bath for Clifton and on to Gloucestershire,Warwickshire and Staffordshire in the summer of 1806.

Mrs Austen’s exasperation with her situation and inability to find more suitable lodging was expressed not only in the tone of her letter but in the way she wrote her address

Trim Street Still

The letter, part of which is quoted in Deirdre Le Faye’s book, Jane Austen: A Family Record, gives some hints of the trials of searching for lodgings which suited both their social aspirations and their much reduced pockets, for at this time Mr Austen had been dead for over a year, and they were very dependant upon the charity of the Austen sons. And remember when the family were first searching for lodgings in Bath in 1801 Jane Austen wrote to Cassandra that

In the meantime she (Mrs Austen- Jfw) 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, 3rd January 1801)

So…why was Trim Street so exasperating? Well, last summer I had the very enjoyable but slightly odd experience of staying in Trim Street, in a Georgian house rented out as holiday let by a nearby hotel, and may have found some of the reasons which explain Mrs Austen’s desperation to move away.

This view of trim street shows the house where we stayed- on the bottom left by the parked car .It is a typical small, slightly narrow, single fronted  Bath town house, and it was rather plainly built with no internal architectural features of note.

But it had been altered into a wonderful suite of holiday accommodation on four floors,with a sleek modern kitchen, roof terrace, shown above, four bedrooms, excellent bathrooms and sitting room.

Above is the entrance hall…

The stairs…

One of the bedrooms….

And the sitting room on the first floor

This is the view from the sitting room looking out onto the most architecturally distinguished part of Trim Street, General Wolfe’s House.He was staying in Bath  at this house when Pitt the elder commanded him to lead his famous expedition to Quebec.

The street that runs parallel to Trim Street contains the Royal Mineral Water Hospital, which is now the National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases. It was founded in 1738 and was known as The Mineral Water Hospital.  It provided care for the many poor people who flocked to Bath  desperate for a cure for their illnesses from either bathing in or drinking the famed mineral waters.This was the other side of the coin  to fashionable Bath, the one that Mrs Smith in Persuasion was hovering above in genteel poverty in nearby Westgate Buildings.

As you can see from the map above, Trim Street is surrounded by other streets. When Baht is busy, this is a very busy street with many pedestrians cutting though on their way to the attractions of the main shopping area (then as now) -Bond Street

haunt of Sir Walter Elliot

and, of course…

Milsom Street, home to the status obsessed General Tilney…

are seconds away as are  the Pump Room

and the Bath complex and the Abbey.

Perfect for a holiday break today in a rather funkily decorated,  restored period house with all modern conveniences… except for some problems that would have been universal then as now.Do allow me to explain….

Trim Street is narrow and has rather tall buildings. As a result the rooms are sunny for a small period of time: once the sun moved over the rooms were not particularly light. Nor are there any views to be had save for other buildings. No trees, no greenery….and for someone like Jane Austen who seemed to crave the countryside, that would have been hard to endure.

And then there was the noise. The result of the tall buildings in a narrow street is that any noise is amplified and even one person walking along it echos intrusively  into the house. So…if lots of people are waking around,that equates to a lot of noise. Women walking on metal patterns on the cobbled street would be heard all over the house.

We also found the modern phenomena of Hen Partys and etc meant that we heard revellers into the very early ( or late!) hours of the morning, and most nights we didn’t have any peace until at least 3 a.m. Im sure drunken revellers are not just a 21st century phenomena.

And I could imagine that in the not particularly sanitary early 19th century, the air would not be particularly good in such a confined street……Pongs would hang about.

So,while we relished the thought that we were staying On The Street Where She Lived, and indeed it may even have been in that particular house(!) what we didn’t relish were the sort of inconveniences that I am sure would have been experienced by the Austens. No wonder after four months of living there Mrs Austen was quite desperate to get away…..

Today for the last of Lady Russell’s  Winter Pleasures posts (although there is one more tomorrow in this series,a book review) we are going to look at the Pump Room. The Pump Room in Bath was built in the lower part of the town, and was where those taking the “cure” would drink copious amounts of  the warm spring water in order to effect a cure.The first PumpRom was replaced in 1797 by the one which is still in existence today.

This is the description of it from Feltham’s Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc.,(1803):

FOR those who are unable or unwilling to join in more e and expensive amusements, the new Pump-room presents attraction unrivalled…

This noble room was built in 1797 under the direction of Mr. Baldwin, architect. It is 60 feet long by 46 wide, and 31. feet high. The inside is set round with three quarter columns of the Corinthian order, crowned with an entablature, and a covering of five feet. In a recess at the West-end is the music gallery, and in another at the East an excellent time-piece, over which is a marble statue of king Nash, executed by Hoare, at the expense of the corporation. In the Centre of the South-side is a marble vase from which issue the waters, with a fire-place on each side.

The exterior is furnished in a capital stile (sic) of architecture, having its architrave charged with the following inscription from Pindar, in gold letters which may be justly rendered,

“Bath-water is better than Bath-wine ;”

literally, water is, best.

This section of the map of Bath included in John Feltham’s book shows the position of the Pump Room,just opposite what was then the White Hart Inn in Stall Street.

This Victorian photograph, taken from the position of the White Hart shows the Pump Room in all its splendour

And this view, and engraving dating  from the late 18th century shows it and the colonnade, with the inn behind.

It is set in the Abbey churchyard, and you can see the marvellous Bath Abbey set at right angles to the Pump Room, above in a photograph I took last year

As you can clearly see with comparison with the 18th century print, not much has changed since the late 18th century, though the White Hart Inn is no longer there.

This is one of the ante rooms to the Pump room and is where you now gain access to the room.

The plan below again from Walter Ison’s magisterial book, The Georgian Buildings of Bath shows the setting of the Pump Room amid the complex of Bath; the Kings Bath, the New Private Baths and the Cross Bath which is situated at the termination of Cross Street, which in its turn is beautifully colonnaded, and will be recognised by fans of the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion as the street along which the reunited lovers-Anne and Captain Wentworth- strolled along once the Circus (and the infamous kiss) had gone away…..

This is the view from the Cross Bath to the New Baths and the Pump Room :

And this is a close up of the ground plan of the Pump Room.

The Pump Room was also, in the early days of Bath, where the book was kept, known as the Subscription Book. This was where new arrivals in the town would enter their names. Something Catherine Morland found useful when she was trying to ascertain if Henry Tilney was still in town:

As soon as divine service was over, the Thorpes and Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the pump–room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which everybody discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company. Here Catherine and Isabella, arm in arm, again tasted the sweets of friendship in an unreserved conversation; they talked much, and with much enjoyment; but again was Catherine disappointed in her hope of reseeing her partner. He was nowhere to be met with; every search for him was equally unsuccessful, in morning lounges or evening assemblies; neither at the Upper nor Lower Rooms, at dressed or undressed balls, was he perceivable; nor among the walkers, the horsemen, or the curricle–drivers of the morning. His name was not in the pump–room book, and curiosity could do no more. He must be gone from Bath.

Northanger Abbey, Chapter 5

Once new arrivals and added their names to the book, the Master of Ceremonies would then know they were in town and it was time to pay a visit of visit of ceremony to them, to inform them of the ways of Bath, should they not know of them. Having consulted this book the names of the new arrivals would also be published in the Bath newspapers. The book was kept in the early 18th century by the redoubtable Sarah Porter, shown below,

who was known for her uncanny ability to ambush new arrivals to town to ensure that their names were entered in the book(and her tip was received ).Putting ones name in the Subscription Book could also involve the outlay of serious money, for putting ones name there also “entitled ” you to subscribe to the Assemblies and concerts in the Pump Room and the Assembly Rooms, and also to the circulating libraries and bookshops.

The fashionable time to visit the Pump Room was in the morning:

Her an excellent company of musicians perform every morning, during the full season and a numerous assemblage of ladies and gentlemen walking up and down in social converse during the performance, presents a picture of animation which nothing can exceed…

(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing Places etc by J Feltham ,1803.

In the photographs above and below you can see the rounded apse and the musicians gallery within it:

The Pump Room is now a restaurant(and a pretty good one too!) and very often musicians play  there.

But nowadays they don’t play from the gallery, but on a raised dias.

This is the view towards the other end of the room….

With its magnificent Thomas Tompion timepiece

And statue of Beau Nash,the King of Bath and the original Master of Ceremonies.

Half way along the room, over-looking the Kings Bath is the King’s Spring

Where you can still purchase glasses of the water to drink,served to you by a porter. It is surprisingly warm (and no doubt that added to its purgative qualities when one was taking “the cure”)

Of course it was when she was over looking the Pump Room from the Musgrove’s Room at the White Hart Inn that Mary Musgrove discovered Mr Elliot meeting Mrs Clay in a rather clandestine manner:

They found Mrs. Musgrove and her daughter within, and by themselves, and Anne had the kindest welcome from each… with intervals of every help which Mary required, from altering her ribbon to settling her accounts, from finding her keys, and assorting her trinkets, to trying to convince her that she was not ill-used by anybody; which Mary, well amused as she generally was, in her station at a window overlooking the entrance to the Pump Room, could not but have her moments of imagining.

Persuasion Chapter 22

and

“Do come, Anne,” cried Mary, “come and look yourself. You will be too late if you do not make haste. They are parting; they are shaking hands. He is turning away. Not know Mr. Elliot, indeed! You seem to have forgot all about Lyme.”

To pacify Mary, and perhaps screen her own embarrassment, Anne did move quietly to the window. She was just in time to ascertain that it really was Mr. Elliot, which she had never believed, before he disappeared on one side, as Mrs. Clay walked quickly off on the other; and checking the surprise which she could not but feel at such an appearance of friendly conference between two persons of totally opposite interests, she calmly said, “Yes, it is Mr. Elliot, certainly. He has changed his hour of going, I suppose, that is all, or I may be mistaken, I might not attend”; and walked back to her chair, recomposed, and with the comfortable hope of having acquitted herself well.

Persuasion, Chapter 22

Hmm… Mr Elliot, proving himself to be quite the slippery eel…..

Here is a link to another panoramic view of the Pump Room, if you go here and look on the right,click on “View the Pump Room Tour, it is almost as good as being there. Almost….

And that concludes this small series of Winter Pleasures posts. I do hope you have enjoyed them.

Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days at Chawton, staying in the village that was so important to Jane Austen and her development as a writer, so I thought I’d write about it today, to celebrate the anniversary of the snowy day when she was born in 1775.

And of course I couldn’t visit Chawton without paying  yet another visit ( can we ever get enough of this place?) to Jane Austen’s happy Chawton Home, the  cottage that from 1809 gave her security and peace and stability. And enabled her to have a productive freedom for eight years. During this period she revised Sense and Sensibility,  Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, totally created Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion, and wrote her last piece of  fiction, Sandition which was left unfinished at her untimely death in July 1817.

The Cottage was owned by her brother Edward Knight, who owned the Chawton estate. The house was built in the late 17th century, is “L”-shaped, modest in size, and had six bedrooms as well as attics for the staff and storage. It was originally an inn. Edward Knight spent £45 19 shilling on structural alterations to the cottage, and another £35, 6 shillings and 5 pence on plumbing works.

Here is  a section from Edward Mogg’s map of the village of Chawton dating from 1814, which shows the position of Jane Austen’s House on the junction of the roads

and here it is with the position of the house marked in blue. (Do note you can enlarge the maps by clicking on them in order to see the detail)

The position of the house on the junction of the roads leading to Winchester, Gosport, and Southampton made it a busy place in the early 19th century, with carriage traffic passing to and from Alton which was the nearest post town…So much so that the Austen ladies (Jane, Cassandra and their mother),and Martha Lloyd who lived with them, decided to  fill in one of the drawing room windows that looked out onto the road and added the delightful Gothic window, that you can see above and below.

Shall we go in?  Yes, lets…….

The first real room you enter is the drawing-room, one of the two “parlours” that the Austen ladies had. The new Gothic window gave them a view over the garden, which was set to the side of the house, and the Winchester Road which bordered the garden was screened by a high wooden fence to give them more privacy from prying eyes in coaches travelling to Winchester and beyond.

One of my favourite things about visiting the house is that the staff always have appropriate flower arrangements in the house: in spring and summer they have simple small posies of flowers from the garden on show but at this time of the year they always decorate the house as the Austen ladies may have done for Christmas, in common with many other Georgian families. As you can see the drawing-room fireplace is decked with boughs of evergreens, ivy and yew , and some oranges studded with cloves have been added( though the Austen ladies may have preferred not to use oranges this way but to make their store of expensive oranges into wine…)

There is a tremendous atmosphere in the house. It is a mixture of peace and happiness. I love being there and this time I had it all to myself save for the staff on duty. Who are always friendly and knowledgable, but realise you might want  just to be quiet and walk around drinking in the atmosphere. They are always very sensitive.

The house is decorated in a way to suggest life as it was lived there from 1809 onwards…..

With small pictures of family places  added in a sightly rickety manner on the walls…..

And pieces of costuming  often to be found, suggest that someone similarly dressed might have once stood in the room: this is a replica of a morning dress dating from 1810.

The Bookcase contains editions of Jane Austen’s works……I wonder what she would have thought, seeing them on show….

And there is a square piano.  Not the one Jane Austen owned, but one similar to it….. From the Drawing Room you pass into the Hallway, with a glimpse of the dining room ahead……

Edward Austen Knight’s Grand Tour Portrait lived in the house for many years but has now been returned to his Great House at Chawton(which is now the Chawton House Library.)During it’s restoration it was found to be much larger than originally thought as the edge had been folded to fit a frame.

Here we can see the restored Edward Knight in his new home, with Steve Lawrence, CEO of Chawton House Library, Sandy Lerner, Chairman of the Trustees, and Richard Knight, Trustee (Photograph by kind permission of Chawton House Library)

A print of the  now restored portrait hangs in the passage and it does look much brighter than is used to, and the beautiful detail of the background is clearly revealed, as you can see .

There are always treats to be seen in the display cases in this part of the house…this visit it was one of Jane Austen’s own manuscript music books….Her music notation is a thing of clarity and beauty….and of necessity.

But there is also a portrait of Edward Knight was a child hanging over the fireplace…….no wonder the childless Mr and Mrs Knight were taken with him…..

The Silhouette showing him being presented to them is also on show in this small space…..

Then you go into the cosy dining room……

Where Mrs Austen used to sit on sunny mornings watching the world go by …

and where Jane used to write, and revise and write…..her glorious works of art…

….on this humble and very small table……

An object  I always find to be a very touching and resonant relict…if only it could talk…..what tales it could tell…

I made a short video of the room…do click on it below…you can hear the upstairs floorboards creak, as one of the attendants had kindly left me on my own to soak up the atmosphere in this room…and then the downstairs boards creaked as I walked about…the silence, however, in this house is not unfriendly. And I think I can understand how Jane Austen loved this place so much, a place which afforded her  peace and a regularity  of life so that she could write….

The dining table is now denuded of the Wedgwood China that Jane helped Edward Austen choose at Wedgwood’ s showrooms in London…for the set was to be sold today, but failed to reach its auction estimate…I hope some of it makes it back to the house……

The educational elements are sympathetically done: you can see in the pictures the very discreet information boards which are attached to the walls in the rooms……And there is always something new and entertaining to see. This visit there  was an exhibition of Rex Whistler’s costume designs for the 1936  stage production of Pride and Prejudice written by Helen Jerome and starring Celia Johnson as Elizabeth Bennet

This is one of the designs for Lady Catherine (above)

And here is another of the designs made up and on display……

The room that used to be a very tiny but wonderfully stocked shop is now a lovely quiet area where you can sit and think….

and read lots of material about Jane Austen. ……and from this room leads to the staircase to the upstairs bedrooms…

…which we shall discover in part 2, in a few days time .

In the meantime, Happy Jane’s birthday to you, from an appropriately snowy Jane Austen’s House Museum.

Amanda Vickery  very kindly agreed to let me interview her about her BBC TV series At Home with the Georgians,which is enjoying such great success on BBC2 presently. I thought you might like to read her fascinating replies to my mundane questions before the last episode of the series airs on BBC2 on Thursday evening…so here it is.

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The series is based on your book, “Behind Closed Doors” which I loved. Obviously you could not include all your real life characters in the 3 hour series so, when you were writing the series, what were your criteria for including a person’s story from the book?


The first challenge was to boil Behind Closed Doors (at a doorstopper 140,000 words) down to three one hour programmes. We carved it up into three big themes: Making Homes, Filling Homes & Protecting Homes. My key aim was to give each programme a strong over-arching theme. I had lots of meetings with Liz Hartford the series producer and Ross Wilson the executive producer from Matchlight films chewing over what would be the clearest thought-line – legible enough for non experts to enjoy without head scratching, but not so simplified as to do violence to the subtleties of history. However much I loved my characters if they didn’t serve the argument they didn’t make the cut. I especially regretted the loss of the rebellious Duchess of Grafton who strove to retain her standing in London as a separated wife. Alas. Another issue which governed our choices was whether there was enough visual material to support a TV case study. It is highly unusual for house, manuscripts and portraits to survive for individuals below the level of the greater gentry. Neil Crombie, the director of programme one ‘A Man’s Place’, was dismayed at first by the lack of beautiful well-preserved interiors in which to film. (John Courtney’s Beverly town house is no more; Wivenhoe is now a conference centre; Gertrude Savile’s Rufford Hall is a ruin etc etc.) But Neil and the wonderful researcher Eleanor Scoones were ingenious at finding ways around the absence.

They searched out the paintings hidden away in private collections of a mature Gibbs and Ryder – which I had never seen and encountered for the first time on camera. We went back to the manuscripts, the archives and I swanned about the surviving Georgian streets of Beverley and Exeter, Spitalfields and the Inns of Court. The dramatic reconstructions gave us visual diversity and a bit of relief from me talking to camera!

What was your favourite of all the stories you featured in the series and why?

For excruciating humour it has to be Dudley Ryder. We had over an hour of film of me pouring over the diary and responding to his ambivalences. I think barely 3 minutes were left in. As a feminist as well as a historian, and as a lover of realist novels, I have always felt it was important to understand the full humanity of men as well as women. Very few of the gents I have researched were the cardboard patriarchs of older theories. In fact, as bachelors they seem so self-conscious, gauche and half-baked it’s a wonder they ever headed up households.

Ryder went on to become solicitor general, but you would never have foreseen this from reading the diary he wrote in code aged 24. But I adore John Courtney too. In my mind’s eye he was something of a Mr Collins – deaf to female signals, desperate to be debonair and facing eight rejections with undiminished astonishment: “I was thunderstruck”.

What audience were you trying to reach with this series? Were you trying to reach people who are history nuts and have read your book or a completely new audience- for example, people who are fans of adaptations of Austen/Bronte/Gaskell novels not necessarily readers of the novel or indeed of serious history books?

I was asked to do the series by Janice Hadlow head of BBC2, who is writing her own 18th century history and who liked Behind Closed Doors as well as my first book The Gentleman’s Daughter. She enjoys characters, stories, details and arguments and thought viewers might too. The head of history at the BBC Martin Davidson hoped that I could make a series which would unlock a new audience for history programmes. All the surveys reveal that the current audience for history is predominantly male and middle-aged. Why should this be when women are the key audience for costume drama? Somehow a bifurcation of history has emerged on TV: putting it crudely, bonnets for the women and bombers for the men. I would love to reach an audience that wants to see a different sort of history (neither war nor Kings and Queens). I’m interested in producing documentaries which reflect what the history profession itself actually researches and teaches now. In BBC TV land, there is a vogue for “authoritative history” – i.e. history programmes written and presented by experts, rather than fronted by celebrities drafted in to go on a historical ‘journey’ of discovery or read a script written by the producer derived from textbooks. I was delighted to catch this wave.

Producers at radio 4 and BBC4 assume that the audience is keen on history. At BBC2 you can’t take that for granted. You simply cannot make programmes aimed just at 20,000 experts who have done all the background reading. The goal is entertainment and to draw a wide and varied audience into another world with colour and character, wit and pathos – all undergirded with a single driving argument. The BBC are thrilled with the result, as their investment in trailers testifies. What the audience makes of it is another matter of course. We have our fingers crossed that history refusniks as well as history buffs will switch on to discover that there’s more to history than tanks and tiaras. I am committed to a holistic history that embraces everywoman as well as everyman. I still sympathize with Catherine Morland. “Real solemn history I cannot be interested in… 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.”

How pleased were you with the end result?

I am delighted with three programmes – each reflects a collaboration with a different director, each with their own style and tone – ‘A Man’s Place’ with the theatrical and brilliant Neil Crombie (who shared my sense of humour), ‘A Woman’s Touch’ with the searching documentary maker Iain Scollay (who tried to catch me at my most honest and unguarded) and ‘Safe as Houses?’ with the stylish Phil Cairney (whose direction combined the formality of Neil’s and the observation of Iain’s). I also learnt a lot from the director of photography Dirk Nel, who had worked with several different history presenters. He instilled great confidence in me – which is half the battle – while training me to hit my mark. I will never forget him chanting “FIND the light, Amanda, FIND the light” before I set off on one of my rambles down a murky corridor. Almost everything was ad libbed to camera, so I am relieved that I came out with some coherent sentences. The aim of Dirk and all the directors was to capture my personality on camera. My friends say I am recognizably myself so in one key respect they have succeeded.

How much influence did you have in the choice of actors, locations and music?

The locations were driven by my research and availability, the actors were chosen by a casting director, Eleanor Scoones the researcher, Liz Hartford, the series director and Neil Crombie (who directed the reconstructions). All of them had read my book very closely – in the end I trusted to them. In an ideal world I would have directed the dramatic reconstructions myself! But even a control-freak diva has her moments of sanity and insight. The music was largely chosen by the directors, but I made my suggestions and had right of veto. Writing is a solitary process over which you exert total control, whereas TV is a collaboration with an army. You have to respect the talents and advice of your collaborators and accept that you are producing something which reflects them as well as you. Given my intellectual life (teaching apart) is quite hermetic, I loved working with a quick-witted and highly skilled production team. I am a gregarious person and relished the camaraderie. I also loved learning a new trade from them.

You allocated a whole chapter to Jane Austen in “Behind Closed Doors”. Do you consider her to have been an accurate recorder of late 18th early /19th century life? Did you find any of her plots/characters reflected in any of your real diarists’ lives?

I tried not to treat Austen’s work simply as descriptive evidence from which I could cherry pick juicy quotes to back up my arguments. Literary scholars are always accusing historians of simplistic cut and paste. But it is clear that Austen assumed that her readers were sensitive to the implications of taste and interior decoration. She relied on them to take domestic details (like Darcy’s gift of a piano to his sister, or General Tilney’s over-bearing choices of breakfast cups) as reliable signs of character. Even silly little tables had meaning.

Austen also relied on the social, economic and emotional importance her readers would attach to the drama of setting up home. When it comes to history, I hope my readers will make the same leap, and agree that domesticity is a universal subject, not a frivolous topic to be dismissed and patronized.

As for characters on TV, I rather enjoyed inserting Jane Austen herself into the narrative. She appears first as an anonymous spinster, living in what historians call a ‘spinster cluster’ in a small grace and favour cottage hard by the main road. Austen lovers will instantly recognize Chawton, but plenty of editors at the BBC were surprised when we revealed the impoverished sister to be none other than Austen herself. I wanted to show that however mocked by satire, the spinster’s life is no less heroic and productive than that of the smug marrieds.

Do you have another TV or radio project in the pipeline? If yes, can you tell us anything about it?

I am working on another Voices of the Old Bailey series with Elizabeth Burke of Loftus to be broadcast next summer on BBC radio 4, and we have been commissioned to produce a six part history of men and masculinity from the Medieval knight to the modern salary man. I am also working with BBC2 to develop longer span series which still aim to bring the Catherine Morlands of this world to an enjoyment of history. Floreat Clio!

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Floreat Clio indeed, and may I add Floreat Amanda because I really do think our understanding of the lives Jane Austen chronicled would be considerably impoverished were it not for her scholarly endeavours. I should like to thank her for her patience and kindness in supplying me with such fabulous replies to my questions,even though at one point our computers stubbornly refused to talk to each other!

The final episode of At Home With The Georgians Airs on BBC2 Thursday 16th December at 9 p.m. I will be watching as usual and posting my review on Friday. Do watch it if you can.  If you would like to embark on a reading project based around the programmes, Professor Vickery has kindly produced a short reading list, go here to see it (Do note many of the books will already be familiar to readers of this site!)

I do hope a DVD will soon be available, in the meantime enjoy: the series will remain available to “view again” for another week.

…but with a catch.  The exhibition at the Bodleian Library is open for one day only.

If you can make it to Oxford on Monday 25th October, you will be able to see a selection of Jane Austen’s manuscripts to include Volume the First (shown below),

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…

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Introduction

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.

(Title page of my 1819 edition, with continuation by Charles Coote)

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

Fiery outpourings

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 Englanda 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.

It might at first appear strange that I am reviewing a book that was first published in 1948, but it has recently been re-printed in facsimile foom by Spire Books Ltd in association with the Bath Preservation Trust (whose property, Number 1 The Royal Crescent, is used to illustrate the cover of this book)

Walter Ison’s book is in fact an established  classic and a deserves to be read and enjoyed by anyone who has visited Bath and has fallen under the spell of its Georgian Buildings; or, indeed, by anyone who has never been lucky enough to  visit but has likewise fallen under its spell after reading about the city in such books as Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, where  the buildings and city of Bath are  essential elements of the book,  the city being a  character in its own right.

The first copy of this book that I owned was the edition that was revised and published  in 1980 (see below) where the photographs were embedded in the text.  The new edition is much more clearly set out, as was the original 1948 edition, with two distinct sections -text and line drawings in part one, then photographs and reproductions of contemporary engravings in part two: I much prefer it.

The new edition has an informative foreword by Michael Forsyth who is the Director of Studies in theConservation of Historic Buildings at the University of Bath and  is also the author of another book on the architecture of Bath, the Yale Pevsner Guide to Baht, an excellent work, which was first published in 2003.

Walter Ison was born in another spa town, Leamington Spa in Warwickshire in 1908.He became a draftsman in an architectural practice in London where he first read Mowbray Green’s study of Georgian Bath, “Eighteenth Century Architecture of Bath“,which fired his imagination. It is no lie to say  that he became obsessed with the city and the history of its development and its buildings. Bath degenerated as a spa town from the mid to late 19th century. It was not until the 1930s that it was realised that something had to be done to stop the city decaying completely and such treasures as the Assembly Rooms were at last recognised as being buildings of merit and, as such, were deserving of restoration and protection. In 1934 the Bath Preservation Trust was established and in 1936-8 the Assembly Rooms were restored. The Second World War then intervened and Bath was badly damaged by the so-called Baedeker offensive of 1942: 400 lives were lost and 329 buildings were destroyed in those air-raids, including the newly restored Assembly Rooms. A further 732 buildings were demolished as a result of damage in later air raids,and another  20,000 buildings were recorded by the City Engineer as having been damaged in some way as a result of the attacks.

Ison moved to Bath after his war time service with the air force ended, on the encouragement of his wife, Leonora. She also donated an important personal legacy to him, so that he had the funds with which  to be able to research,write and finish his proposed book.  Taking his inspiration from earlier histories of the buildings of Bath, including John Wood the Elder’s own version(see above) his resulting book is a comprehensive history of the building of the city and all its major buildings, and the architects responsible. The book was rather touchingly and appropriately dedicated to his wife.

The book is divided into  chapters which deal with the development of the city, the pubic buildings,domestic buildings and representative buildings of the period 1700-1725, 1726-1750, 1750-1775, 1775-1800 and finally 1800-1830. The text of the book is also  studded with magnificent plans and line drawings of the important buildings. Above is his ground plan, section and elevation of the Hot Bath where Mrs Smith in Persuasion went to receive her treatment, living close by in the lowly Westgate Buildings.

The second part of the book is filled with contemporary engravings -such as this, above of the  Pump Room and the new private baths from Stall Street and photographs( all in black and white) taken mostly in the late 1940s

Now, it has to be remembered that when Jane Austen knew Bath the buildings were not yet blackened with industrial grime. This photograph of Great Pultney Street from Ison’s book shows the buildings as I first remember them from my first visit to the city aged 5 in the early 1960s. The soot and grime of the Victorian era -coal fires and grime from the nearby industrial town of Bristol- had turned most of the buildings black, and it was only from the mid 195os that a programme of cleaning and the effects of the Clean Air Acts  enabled them to be returned almost to the white glare of the newly recreated limestone buildings that so distressed Anne Elliot in Persuasion. But the photographs now have a period charm of their own-the cars and sometimes the 1940s fashions of the  people shown in them are now as fascinating to me as the sedan chair and muslins of the inhabitants of the 18th century prints and engravings

(My photograph of Pulteney Street taken this summer)

Interior views are also inlcuded: not only of the great public buildings like the Guildhall, but of more domestic settings as such as this first floor drawing  room of number 41 Gay Street: Jane Austen, remember, lived briefly at number 25 Gay Street after the death of her father, and in Persuasion it was the home of The Crofts.

The book is easy to read and comprehensively covers every aspect of the creation of the famed Georgian buildings in the city.  Walter Ison died in 1997, and this new edition ensures that his book will live on as a classic, in his memory. I can highly recommend this magnificent book, and do hope that some of you are tempted by this review to rush out and buy it.

I thought you might like to share a wonderful new resource I have found (and have just added to the “My Links Section” in the left hand column to this page), the Dressing History web-site owned and created by Serena Dyer.

Serena has been studying historical costume since 1999, developing her knowledge through reproduction and recreation of historical pieces. She has spent time in the Textiles department at Christie’s, as well as with the wonderful Snowshill Manor Costume collection.

(©SerenaDyer)

She is currently working towards studying for a BA in History, which she hopes to develop into an MA in Fashion History. Her voluntary work with the National Trust has led to the development of her historical interpretation skills, which she now does regularly at Wimpole Hall, near Cambridge,appearing as various characters from the Hall’s history.

(©SerenaDyer)

Serena makes and sells fabulously accurate reproductions of historic clothing for re-enactors, museums and the heritage industry.  She is able to supply thoroughly researched, highly accurate reproductions or recreations of historical garments from any era, and from a variety of social classes. Importantly she only uses natural fibres for the garments, and tries, wherever possible, to use authentically woven fabrics. Many of her pieces are based on original garments, portraits or fashion plates, and a research portfolio is available for each garment.

Here is her marvellous recreation of a 1797 open robe:

(All ©SerenaDyer)

For part of her dissertation on the dissemination of fashion in England c. 1770-1820 Serena made this dress-from beginning to end:

(©SerenaDyer)

She explains that:

I am using this dress to explore how closely the best sorts of dresses owned by the ladies of ‘polite society’ followed the plates of the period. Unlike simply looking at extant garments, this process allowed me to emulate aspects of the process through which a contemporary lady would make her decisions.

(©SerenaDyer)

Serena also gives talks, all vividly illustrated with her own reproduction garments. Her talks currently include Bonnets to Boots: A Regency Lady’s Wardrobe complete with garments reproduced from the 1810-1820 era which she recently performed at the 2010 Jane Austen Festival in Bath and, one for Henry Tilney, Knowing Your Muslin complete  with reproduction garments and fabrics from 1780-1820 which Serena performed at the 2009 Jane Austen Festival.

(©SerenaDyer)

She also performs a talk which is of special interest to us, Dressing Jane Austen with reproduction garments representing the period 1780-1820. In Serena’s own words:

This presentation examines both Jane’s personal attitude to fashion, and her use of it as a literary device, using the portraits, letters and novels as evidence. Reproductions of gowns described in the letters and novels are also used, as well as an examination of the Pelisse which is believed to have belonged to Jane, providing the audience with a talk that is both visually interesting and provides an insight into how Jane viewed herself and others

Serena also provides an historical interpretation service, in which she portrays  a wide range of characters, both in third and first person, and covers the 16th to 19th centuries.

Many of the characters portrayed are real historical people, and are presented as my interpretation, after thorough research, of what that person was truly like. I can also offer more general services, using a constructed character of my own, for any era, or alternatively I can give various demonstrations. Please contact for details and fees applicable.

The characters available are:

(©SerenaDyer)

Jane Austen (1790s, or 1800s),Charlotte Bronte (1830s), Jemima Yorke, Marchioness Grey (1740s), Lady Amabel Yorke (1770s), Marion Syratt (C16th),Molly Young, aMaid( C18th) and Mary Zouche (1540s)

I have to admit I am so very tempted to order one of Serena’s magnificently trimmed bonnets….

(©SerenaDyer)

But when to wear it?…would it look at all eccentric if I gardened in it? Of course not (!!) Details of Serena’s bonnet trimming service is available here and if  you like to trim your own bonnet ( or like Lydia Bennet, just like to pull something to pieces) you can buy plain straw bonnets and ribbons from Serena too, here, in her Haberdashery section.

If you want to contact Serena to buy some of her wonderful merchandise, book her for a talk or interpretation or view her fabulously interesting website, then go here and she can also be contacted (and “liked”!) via Facebook.

I do hope I get the opportunity to hear one of her talks soon and I hope you have enjoyed reading about her.

Have you ever wondered what the great State Bed of Stoneleigh Abbey looked like, especially after reading Mrs. Austen’s atmospheric description of it contained  in her letter to her daughter in law, Mary Austen, wife of James? She wrote the letter during her stay at Stoneleigh( along with Jane and Cassandra) in the summer of 1806,and the letter  is dated Wednesday, August 13th 1806:

On the left hand of the hall is the best drawing room, within that a smaller; these rooms are rather gloomy brown wainscoat and dark crimson furniture; so we never use them but to walk thro’ them to the old picture gallery. Behind the smaller drawing room is the state bed chamber, with a high dark crimson velvet bed: an alarming apartment just fit for a heroine; the old gallery opens into it; behind the hall & parlours is a passage all across the house containing 3 staircases & two small back parlours.

I adore the way Mrs Austen  lets her fancy run away with her, imagining Gothic Horrors of the Catherine Morland variety for the occupant of the great bed in the

rather alarming apartment

That bed  no longer exists, so we are left to our own imagining. Would it look like this terrific creation, newly restored and returned to its original home at Boughton House, the Northamptonshire home of the Duke of Buccleuch?

Or this one, used as Mr Darcy’s bed at Pemberley in the BBC’s1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and which can still be found  at Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, and is very stately as it was used by Queen Adelaide?

It certainly would not have resembled this one- used for Queen Victoria’s visit to Stoneleigh in 1858.

This room was not the State Bedchamber at Stoneleigh to which Mrs Austen referred: it was then the breakfast parlour and was frequently used by the party at Stoneleigh it was the only one of the rooms which afforded  wonderful views  down to the River Avon:

…on the right hand the dining parlour, within [that is, beyond the dining parlour-jfw] that the breakfast room, where we generally sit, and reason good ’tis the only room (except the chapel) that looks towards the river.

It may however have resembled one of these:

Queen Caroline’s State Bed of 1715 or this, below, the Raynham Hall State Bed which was acquired for Hampton Court Palace in 1993

And it has to be admitted that it  looks very similar, in construction, to the bed in the Blue Bedroom at Belton House, used also as Mr Darcy’s bed at Rosings in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation:

Both of these beds  -Queen Caroline’s and the Raynham bed- are written about in minute detail in  the book I am reviewing today, State Bed and Thorne Canopies: Care and Conservation by Val Davies (which to be honest could have been alternatively titled: Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know about State Beds But Were Afraid to Ask).

I do realise that recommending this book might be a step too far for some of you. It is a very,VERY detailed and specialised book about the care and conversation of state beds and throne canopies -which are all installed at Hampton Court Palace or Kensington Palace. More of a care manual than anything else.  And of course not many of us have to care for these objects on a daily basis….But if you have ever seen one of these magnificent constructions and wondered how they are put together, how the sculpted head-boards covered with damasks, passementerie and feather are created, how the curtains and tassels are preserved and cleaned, then this book is for you.

Val Davies the author, worked in the Textile Conservation Studio at Hampton Court Palace for 20 years, and while there learnt how to care for the magnificent structures. And also how to restore them after  the fire at Hampton Court in 1986 damaged some of them in a rather desperate way.  The excellent text is clear, and the illustrations (particularly the line drawings in the glossary section) allow you to understand exactly how these beds were designed, made, dismantled and installed in the palaces.

A short history of the role of state beds in country homes and palaces is included but the majority of the book explains, example by example, and step by step, how the seven state beds and three throne canopies are made and how they can be preserved for the future. The photographs (which could have been a little larger-this is my only gripe about the book) are beautiful. And sometimes give you glimpse of the bed that only the occupant would have seen, as below, where we are shown a view of the inside of the tester in Queen Charlotte’s State Bed, which dates from 1772-78.

The factual basis to the fairy tale of The Princess and the Pea is finally revealed, with the revelation that many, many mattresses are used in these stately beds. This photograph from the book shows the four mattresses that  make up the sleeping area of Queen Charlotte’s State Bed.

Bed bugs ( a common complaint of the late 18th /early 19th century housewife if the evidence of the remedies to deter them in my cookery books of this era is any thing by which to judge) are also dealt with. We learn that the Royal Household in 1814 employed one Mr Tiffin as

“Bug Destroyer to his Majesty and her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales.”

That does take the gilt off the gingerbread slightly doesn’t it? Ah, well…To conclude, this is a very different book from the norm, but a fascinating one and one I would recommend to any of you who have been entranced by these magnificent constructions still to be found in many an English country house today. Reading it will allow you to indulge your fancy and envisage which of these amazing beds the State Bed of Stoneleigh Abbey would have resembled.

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

(Do note you can enlarge all the illustrations in this post merely by clicking on them)

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 :

(Gilpin’s view of Tintern Abbey)

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.

Chapter 42

(Warwick Castle by Gilpin)

-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.

The current exhibition at the Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton is a fascinating project, the development of which I have been following, fascinated,  on-line for some time.  Entitled Under the Influence, it showcases a series of works produced by design students of the Farnham University of Creative Arts, all of which have been inspired by the special atmosphere of Jane Austen’s house and garden. It will last until the 10th September 2010.

According to the exhibition’s website (which is fascinating: do explore it for the  insights it gives into the creative process as experienced by some of the artists):

The aim of the project is to use the house and garden as a creative space and respond artistically to a sense of place. Using the museum collection and taking inspiration from Jane Austen’s life and novels, students will explore these aspects and develop contemporary artworks as a dialogue with the museum. We want to support up and coming local designers to produce artworks to sell and exhibit in summer 2010 at Jane Austen’s House Museum.

Here are two of the pieces of work inspired by the house and now on show there.

The first is a fabulous necklace, inspired by Catherine Morland’s resounding declaration for Bath in Northanger Abbey: “Oh Who could ever be tired of Bath ?” ( and please do click on it to enlarge the photograph in order to see the detail)

and this bravura ceramics piece, placed on the dining table nestling among Edward Austen Knight’s Wedgwood china.

I’m hoping to make my pilgrimage to Hampshire later in the summer to see this exhibit along with the Winchester Cathedral Exhibit on Jane Austen’s life. If I do mange to get there I will of course report back. But in the meantime I hope you enjoy this preview.

This week has been a whirl of interesting goings-on mostly in the company of Karen from BookishNYC, and should you consider it has all been devoted to mindless pleasure, then think again….a lot of the gadding about will eventually be shared with you, for nearly everything done this week had a link to Jane Austen (of course!).

I’ll be posting about the places we visited soon but today I thought I’d carry on where the last post left off.

This is the view of Bath  that Catherine Morland,Eleanor and Henry Tilney would have seen when they reached to the top of Beechen Cliff in Chapter 14 of Northanger Abbey. ( Do note all the illustrations in this post can be enlarged merely by clicking on them.)

The Tilneys called for her at the appointed time; and no new difficulty arising, no sudden recollection, no unexpected summons, no impertinent intrusion to disconcert their measures, my heroine was most unnaturally able to fulfil her engagement, though it was made with the hero himself. They determined on walking round Beechen Cliff, that noble hill whose beautiful verdure and hanging coppice render it so striking an object from almost every opening in Bath.

Again the view is taken from my copy of John Britton and Thomas Shepherd’s book, Bath and Bristol illustrated with views of Somerset and Gloucestershire (1829)

This 1803 map of Bath is annotated with the route the Tilneys would have taken from their lodgings in Milsom Street

to Bathwick via Pulteney Street.

This is John Britton’s  description of the walk and the view ; indeed he writes about the same route that Henry, Eleanor and Catherine would have taken, from Pulteney Street:

Among the pleasing excursions with which the neighbourhood of Bath abounds, none are superior in interest to those of its eastern vicinity; and of these the most attractive terminates near the pace where this view is taken. Our journey commences by passing over the Bridge to Laura Place Great Putney Street Bathwick and thence to Bath Hampton from which the village we are conducted either to the raceground by ascending to the right or pass through a range of beautiful meadows near the river to the village of Claverton…If the beautiful scenes which have given so much interest to this short excursions do not determine us to retrace our steps we shall proceed over Claverton Downs and after enjoying many pleasing views of the city, arrive at the noted station of Beechen Cliff, which commands and extensive view of Bath, with the Abbey Church nearly in the centre forming a most interesting object in the picture; and surrounding in every direction by extensive ranges of elegant houses: beyond the Abbey Church appears the Circus, The Crescent, Marlborough Buildings and St James Square with Camden Place to the right towards the London Road and other Splendid buildings

This map by John Cary of 1812 showing The Environs of Bath, is annotated with the route the Tilneys and Catherine would have taken.

John Britton is far less critical than Henry and Eleanor Tilney were  of the view:

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…

Henry and Eleanor are, of course, talking the language of The Picturesque, as promulgated by one of Jane Austen’s favourite writers, the Reverend William Gilpin. In his series of books devoted to viewing the English countryside while on his travels, he describes the views to be seen in terms of how they should be recorded in art. Very useful, but while he does this he manages sometimes to make the most amazingly pompous statements dismissing  certain magnificent aspects of the British scenery as unworthy of note as it did not comply with the rules demanded by adherents of the Picturesque

Here is a small but typical example of his style  in an extract from his book, Observations on the Western Parts of England etc., where he explains with withering references to the  rather beautiful Isle of Wight-The Isle- what he means by Picturesque Beauty:

Picturesque beauty is a phrase but little understood. We precisely mean by it that kid 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 regualrtiy of corn fields disgusts,and  is out of true with everything else….

I love his style. And I think Jane Austen did too.  But I don’t consider she worshipped his every word, slavishly.  Oh, no. I think she loved him for his  pompous attitude ,which is unintentionally funny.  He absolutely brooks no argument whatsoever and dismisses out of hand any natural feature that does not measure up to his ideal of the picturesque.  The Tilneys are obviously Gilpin disciples: they were also able to dismiss a relatively stunning scene-the view of the city of Bath from Beechen Cliff-as not worthy of being captured by art. Jane Austen quietly pokes fun at them and him, for as she knew well, the view from Beechen Cliff is and was magnificent, frankly, having regard not just to natural but t also to man made beauty.

So there you are: a trip around Beechen Cliff in the critical company of the Gilpin inspired Tilneys.I hope you enjoyed it.

A new addition to my library  is a copy of Bath and Bristol with the Counties of Somerset and Gloucester displayed in a Series of Views etc with original drawings by Thomas Shepherd and Historical and Descriptive Illustrations by John Britton.(1829) (Do note that you can enlarge all the illustrations here by clicking on them)

I shall be posting a series of posts inspired by this book, for though it is dated 1829 it contains much material of interest for students of Jane Austen, and has copious amounts of information on Bath, Bristol and the surrounding districts

Today I thought you might care to see the entry for Beechen Cliff, which was, of course, referred to in Northanger Abbey:

They determined on walking round Beechen Cliff, that noble hill whose beautiful verdure and hanging coppice render it so striking an object from almost every opening in Bath.

Chapter 14

and of course was known well by Jane Austen ( or indeed any inhabitant of Bath) especially when she lived within view of it at Green Park Buildings.

This map shows  the position of Beechen Cliff ,(marked by the blue arrow) as delineated in a section taken from my copy of John Cary’s map of the Environs of Bath taken from the map included in his

Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc. (1812)

This is the engraving by Thomas Shepherd which shows the cliff looming over Bath and the river Avon: virtually the view Jane Austen would have had of it from Green Park Buildings:

And here is John Britton’s description of it:

Beachen Cliff(sic)

The area enclosing the Hot Springs of Bath is surrounded by Stupendous Hills of a much quicker ascent to the south and to the east,than to the west and north; and the surface of the river Avon is, at this place, at least forty feet above that of the Severn sea towards which as it flows numerous streams are carried off to mills of various kinds. Beachen Cliff rises upwards of 360 feet above this river, on the southern side of Bath. This hiill appears from the city like a vast heap of earth, whose northern side has been undermined, and made to slip down, leaving a semicircular cliff above it; which is covered with wood. Its original name was Blake Leigh and this name is yet retained by the upper part of it. The ancient names of places were always significant; which is evinced by this instance , the name denoting fertile or cultivated land, in a bleak and exposed situation.

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.

Rant over.

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.;-)

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