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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.
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.
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:
A blue transfer decorated punch bowl, sadly denuded of its alcoholic contents…
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.
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)
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.
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…
You can see the kitchen maid pulling the chain of the clockwork jack, to help turn the spit:
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:
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”
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.
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:
The first edition of Mansfield Park sold for £4,200
The first edition of Emma was unsold, and bids up to £7,500 were received for it.
The first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion sold for £3,200
The Trafalgar Sea Chest sold for £15,000.
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.
I thought you would all be very interested in Sotheby’s English Literature,History,Children’s Books and Illustrations sale which will be held in London on the 10th July. The reason? There are quite a few items related to Jane Austen..so, get your cheque books ready…
There is almost a complete set of first editions for sale, all from the collection of Bridget Mary Owen:
Lot 57, Pride and Prejudice
has a pre-sale estimate of £20,000-30,000
Lot 55, Mansfield Park
has a pre-sale estimate of £3,000 – 5,000
Lot 58, Emma
has a pre-sale estimate of £10,000-15,000, and Lot 56, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion
Has a pre-sale estimate of £2,500-3,500.
Continuing the navel themes of Persuasion, Lot 20, is a sea chest owned by George Lewis Browne who served on H.M.S. Victory, Nelson’s flagship, during the Battle of Trafalgar:
This has a pre-sale estimate of £15,000-20,000 And finally, Lot 59: a piece to make every Janeite’s heart leap, Jane Austen’s Ring:
This has a pre-sale estimate of £20,000-30,000. It has a rather touching history, which is contained in the note that accompanies the ring, shown below:
The ring was Jane Austen’s and on her death it became to property of her sister, Cassandra. Three years after Jane died, in 1820, Henry Austen, her brother, married for the second time, Eleanor Jackson. She was well known to the Austen family, and was a niece of Mr. Papillon, the Rector of Chawton(who was in turn the subject of a joke: Mrs Knight the adoptive mother of Edward Austen, often wished Jane Austen had married him).
Deirdre Le Faye in the Jane Austen Society’s Report of 1989 wrote about Eleanor and Henry:
The last of the nine sisters-in-law was Eleanor Jackson, Henry’s second wife. Jane had always expected that Henry would marry again, and before his bankruptcy in 1816 there had been several ladies in his circle of wealthy London friends to whom he seemed equally attracted and on whom he sought Jane’s sisterly opinions. However, his sudden reduction to near-poverty meant that any thoughts of re-marriage had to be indefinitely postponed, and it was only his succession to the Steventon living in 1819, following James’ (Austen’s jfw) death, which enabled him to support a wife once more. Not much is known about Eleanor, save that she was the niece of the Reverend John Papillon, Rector of Chawton at the time the Austens were living there; her home was in Chelsea, so Henry could have met her in either place. It is not certain whether Jane ever knew her, but it seems probable she is the “Eleanor” mentioned in Letter no. 75 in January 1813. In 1819 she was referred to in family correspondence as having ‘a very good pair of Eyes” but no other description or picture of her is known. Persumably she was intelligent- one cannot imagine Henry choosing a dull, stupid woman-and they were married in 1820. Despite her ill-health, (by the 1830s she had developed a semi-crippling ailment, probably something rheumatic,) Henry was devoted to Eleanor:”one dearer to me than life and for whose comfort I am solicitous beyond my own existence “. Cassandra was happy to think that he had found such an excellent wife to support him in his last role in life and an impoverished country clergyman. It is thanks to Eleanor that the miniature of Mrs Hancock, now on display at the Cottage survives; after Henry’s death in 1850 one of Frank’s granddaughters came to live with Eleanor and was in turn bequeathed the little picture( see below- jaw). It descended in that branch of the family until Mr Edward Carptenter was able to acquire it on behalf of the Jane Austen Society.
According to the note in Eleanor’s hand, when Cassandra learnt that Henry was to marry Eleanor, she gave her Jane’s ring. Eleanor in turn gave it to Caroline Austen, Jane’s niece, as the note explains. It has since descended through the family: Caroline left it to her niece, James Edward Austen Leigh’s daughter, Mary, who gave it in turn to her sister, Winifred Jenkyns,and it has since descended though that branch of the family .
The ring looks as if it’s stone is of turquoise, but in fact it is odontolite, which was commonly known as Bone Turquoise.It is, in fact a fossilised tooth, that was heat-treated to turn blue, so that it could be used in imitation of the more expensive semi precious stone, fashionable in the Regency period.
I have then feeling that this ring will make far more than its estimate: I will, of course, watch out for the results of the sale for you, and report back. I confess, this is one item I would love to own.
UPDATE: Deirdre Le Faye has contacted me to correct the information given by Sotheby’s in their catalogue about the date in Eleanor Jackson’s note which accompanies Jane Austen’s Ring:
Eleanor Jackson’s note CANNOT be dated November 1869 (NINE), because she died on 3rd May 1864 (FOUR) and probate of her Will was granted 27th June 1864 (FOUR) – no doubt about that, therefore. The note must be ‘November 1863 (THREE) – with the final figure being written in a very tight, cramped fashion. I have written to Sotheboys to tell them this – too late now that the catalogue is printed, but I trust they will make an announcement in the room when the lot comes up. Best wishes to all interested readers, Deirdre Le Faye
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:
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.
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
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
For part of her dissertation on the dissemination of fashion in England c. 1770-1820 Serena made this dress-from beginning to end:
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.
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.
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:
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….
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.
Laurel of Austenprose has asked me to provide some background posts to her mammoth and laudable Group Read of Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies. Today, I offer you my last contribution, a post about William Gilpin and Jane Austen, which I do hope you will enjoy and find informative.
Having read Henry Austen’s biographical notice of her, published in the posthumously printed first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion and in subsequent editions, I knew, also from an early age, that Jane Austen was
enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque at a very early age…
so, when aged 15 or therabouts I found a copy of his Observations on the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland in what was then one of my favourite haunts, a second-hand bookshop in Dr Johnson’s home city of Lichfield, I bought it immediately…But now comes a confession…Prepare yourself for something very dreadful… I didn’t read it for another 20 years.
I thought it would be deadly boring.
How wrong I was.
I should have trusted Jane Austen’s taste and judgement, and realised exactly why she was enamoured of him…..but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before we explore his books and the reasons why I think she adored him, we ought properly to learn a little about William Gilpin’s life to find out who he was….
William Gilpin was born on 4 June 1724 near Carlisle, in Cumberland. He was the son of Captain John Bernard Gilpin and a Matilda Langstaffe . Captain Gilpin was considered to be one of the best amateur painters of the time, and this artistic talent seems to have passed through to the next generation, for William was obsessed with the correct way to view both pictures and landscape, and his younger brother, Sawrey Gilpin, was to become a famous animal painter and, indeed, later contributed some illustrations to William’s books.
After a typically indifferent education at Queen’s College Oxford, William Gilpin was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England in 1746, and was subsequently appointed to the curacy of Irthington in Cumberland.
In 1747 he preached a sermon at Buckingham, and must while staying there have taken the opportunity to visit Lord Cobham’s famous landscape gardens at Stowe. For he then wrote, anonymously, the tract, A Dialogue upon the Gardens of the Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Cobham at Stowe (1748) where, for the first time, he set out his theories on the distinctions to be made between beauty in natural scenery and in ruined buildings, theories which were to become the basis for all his later writings on the “Picturesque”.
In 1752 Gilpin married his first cousin, Margaret Gilpin, and by 1753 he had taken over the management of the Cheam School for Boys, in Surrey, where for the past few years he had been an occasional assistant teacher . He proved to be a very able teacher and an enlightened disciplinarian, replacing the school’s normal system of corporal punishment with a system of punishment dependant not on inflicting physical harm but on imposing detentions and monetary fines. Interestingly, the proceeds of the fines were put towards the maintenance and improvement of the school’s resources as well as to fund local charities.
In 1768 Gilpin published his book, Essay on Prints. It was published anonymously. It received excellent reviews.
His aim, as the title-page of my copy of the second edition ,above, indicates, was to outline
the Principles of picturesque Beauty, the Different Kinds of Prints, and the Characters of the most noted Masters
The Essay defines ‘picturesque’ as
a term expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture
He went on to expand on this theory in his series of books on the British countryside. In 1777 Gilpin left Cheam to become vicar of Boldre in the New Forest in Hampshire. The living gave him the very respectable income of £600 a year and, probably more importantly, some leisure time during which he began to write seriously on his ideas of the “Picturesque”, the meaning of which he expounded upon in his Observations on the Western Parts of England
Picturesque beauty is a phrase but little understood. We precisely mean by it that kind of beauty which would look well in a picture. Neither grounds laid out by art nor improved by agriculture are of this kind. The Isle of Wight is in fact, a large garden or rather a field which in every part has been disfigured by the spade ,the coulter and the harrow. It abounds much more in tillage than in pasturage; and of all species of cultivation, cornfields are the most unpicturesque. The regularity of corn fields disgusts, and is out of true with everything else….
Do note his tone..we will refer to it later on…
He began to work upon the sketches and copious notes that he had taken in his holidays during the period 1769-1776, in which he had made various tours throughout the British Isles. The books he subsequently produced were quite remarkable, influential and very popular.
As the entry for Gilpin in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records:
That challenge (to define exactly what was meant by the term “picturesque-JFW) was met in the series of books published between 1782 and 1809, all of which bore the same title format: “Observations on [various regions of Britain] relative chiefly to picturesque beauty.” He travelled widely in Britain, with his notebook and sketching materials, in order to identify locations which offered that particular kind of beauty in landscape ‘which is agreeable in a picture’. Picturesque tourism constituted ‘a new object of pursuit’, as he wrote in the first of these books, Observations on the River Wye (1782): the practice recommended was ‘that of not merely describing; but of adapting the description of natural scenery to the principles of artificial landscape’ (Wye, 2). Further picturesque books, with aquatint reproductions of Gilpin’s pen-and-wash drawings, included Observations on Cumberland and Westmorland (2 vols., 1786), the Scottish highlands (2 vols., 1789), south-west England and the Isle of Wight (1798), and theEeastern counties of England and north Wales (1809). Remarks on Forest Scenery (1791), illustrated with etchings by his brother, Sawrey, concentrated on the New Forest, where he lived. Three Essays of a more analytical kind, on the nature of picturesque beauty, picturesque travel, and on the sketching of landscape, together with a poem on landscape painting, appeared in 1792. In 1804 Two Essays described his methods and principles in making his sketches.
These were the books that so enamored Jane Austen, and into which we will now delve. And I confess they have now completely enamored me and I have almost a complete set-I’m lacking only the Eastern Counties and Welsh volumes-still looking for them though…
Now, My Patient Reader, you will recall that I began this post by admitting that I had avoided reading Gilpin because I thought he was going to be boring. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
He most certainly cannot be described in any way as boring. He is a highly opinionated and vital writer; and such writers, like opinionated people, make for engaging companions, even if you don’t agree with their pronouncements or views. His opinions are expressed in such a forthright manner that you cannot but engage with him. Or be started. Or burst out laughing at the outrageousness of it all.
And I think it is this that captivated Jane Austen. His style is so terribly pompous and opinionated, fixated on his search for the picturesque to the exclusion of everything else, even common sense: and that is why, to be brutal, some of his pronouncements(even when slightly modified )are of such monumental stupidity that they take your breath away.
Let me explain by quoting some examples. In his first Observations book, Observations on the River Wye etc he has this to say about Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire -a romantic ruin of a place that has inspired poets and prose writers alike. Note, I have emboldened the important part of this quote :
No part of the ruins of Tintern is seen from the river except the abbey church. It has been an elegant Gothic pile; but it does not make that appearance as a distant object which we expected. Though the parts are beautiful, the whole is ill-shaped. No ruins of the tower are left, which might give form and contrast to the buttresses and walls. Instead of this a number of gable ends hurt the eye with their regularity, and disgust it by the vulgarity of their shape. A mallet judiciously used (but who durst use it?) might be of service in fracturing some of them; particularly those of the cross-aisles, which are both disagreeable in themselves, and confound the perspective.
Do you see? He seriously suggests (even in a qualified form) that by taking a mallet to a ruin and judiciously using it , it could be made more picturesesque. (Alert Sir Roy Stong and Prince Charles immediately!) He is of the opinion that the appearance of the abbey could be improved by bashing some more holes in the ruined structure. Goodness. Written in all seriousness without a hint of humour.
And this I feel is the key to Jane Austen’s enamourment of him. He was so serious and preposterous she simply could not resist taking pot shots at him throughout her works. Henry Austen’s Biographical Notice was subtle. It meant ,I am sure to imply, that Jane Austen was a cultivated woman who through her reading of Gilpin was possessed of the refined accomplishment of appreciating landscape and painting. But I think that interpretation leads us astray. What she truly delighted in, in my humble opinion, was not slavishly adhering to Gilpin’s every dicktat, but to pricking his jlittle puffs of pomposity, which clearly delighted her sense of the ridiculous. And now if we read his books given this knowledge, we are suddenly let in on the meaning of many of her subtle jokes.
For example, in her History of England by a partial prejudiced and ignorant Historian, the 16 year old Jane Austen obviously poked fun at Goldmsith’s rather prejudiced partial and selective history text and much more besides, including a serous swipe at Gilpin at his most ridiculous. In the chapter on Henry VII she writes:
(Cassandra Austen’s drawing of Henry VIII for JAne Austen’s History of England)
The Crimes and Cruelties of this Prince were too numerous to be mentioned…& nothing can be said in his vindication, but that of his abolishing Religious Houses and leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was his principal motive for doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for ages been established in the Kingdom.
This is, in my opinion, a direct allusion and attack to the sentiments Gilpin expresses in this passage in his Observations on Cumberland and Westmorland when he is talking, quite seriously and not intending to be satirical at all, about his birthplace, Scaleby Castle near Carlisle:
(Gilpin’s view of Scaleby Castle, his birthplace)
At present one of the motes only remains. The other is filled up; but may still be traced. The castle is more perfect than such buildings commonly are. The walls are very intire; an great part of the tower which is square is till left. It was preserved its perfect form till the civil wars of the last century; when the castle, in too much confidence of its strength, shut its gates against Cromwell ,then marching into Scotland; he made it a monument of his vengeance.
What share of picturesque genius Cromwell might have I know not. Certain however it is that no man since Henry the eight has contributed more to adorn this country with picturesque ruins. The difference between these two masters lay chiefly in the style of ruins, in which they composed. Henry adorned his landscape with the ruins of abbeys; Cromwell with those of castles. I have seen many pieces by this master executed in a very grand style; but seldom a fine monument to his masterly hand than this. He has rent the tower and demolished two of its sides; the edges of the other two he ash shattered into broken lines….
So here we have Gilpin seriously telling us we are to admire Cromwell for his artistic ability when destroying castles and that both he and Henry VIII adorned the landscape of England with ruins? As if they did this deliberately to create a picturesque effect? That the English Civil War and the Dissolution of the Monasteries were contemplated merely for the decorative effect they would eventually bequeath the English countryside? “I think not ” I can hear the young Jane Austen say to herself as she as she sharpened her pen….
Another example: in Northanger Abbey during Catherine Morland’s tour around Beechen Cliff near Bath with the impeccably educated Tilneys, Jane Austen cannot resist poking fun at these unthinking disciples of Gilpin.
They were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste. Here Catherine was quite lost. She knew nothing of drawing — nothing of taste: and she listened to them with an attention which brought her little profit, for they talked in phrases which conveyed scarcely any idea to her. The little which she could understand, however, appeared to contradict the very few notions she had entertained on the matter before. It seemed as if a good view were no longer to be taken from the top of an high hill, and that a clear blue sky was no longer a proof of a fine day. She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance…
In the present instance, she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side–screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape.
Northanger Abbey Chapter 14
Poor Catherine , going from ignorance to scholarly “erudition” in the space of one afternoon’s walk! So easily able to dismiss the spectacular sight of Bath from the top of Beechen Hill: a sight which is surely “picturesque’ if any sight qualifies for that term.
Similarly Marianne Dashwood’s preference for blasted trees in Sense and Sensibility is surely based on Gilpin’s passages in his book, Remarks on Forest Scenery.
In this book he goes into the minutest detail of the picturesque nature of trees. His comments on the preference in the landscape for blasted trees ignore the practicalities required of the farmer or forestry men ,all in the name of the “picturesque”:
The blasted tree has often a fine effect both in natural and in artificial landscape. In some scenes it is almost essential. When the dreary heath is spread before the eye and ideas if wildness and desolation are required, what more suitable accompaniment can be imaged than the blasted oak, ragged, scathed and leafless; shooting its peeled white branches thwart the gathering blackness of some rising storm…..
No wonder Edward Ferrers, speaking with his creator’s voice perhaps, is able to demolish Marianne and Gipin’s fancy by the timely intervention of some sound practical principles:
“I am convinced,” said Edward, “that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect which you profess to feel. But, in return, your sister must allow me to feel no more than I profess. I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles, or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower — and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”
Sense and Sensibility Chapter 18
Apart from these examples where Jane Austen was, in my opinion reveling in her ability to ridicule Gilpin, there are clearly many other allusion she made to his works but these were of a more practical nature, due to her limited personal experience of the geography many parts of the British isles. She travelled extensively in the south of England and possibly into Tenby in South Wales, but ventured only as far north as Hamstall Ridware in Staffordshire on a visit in 1806.
In order to write about places she had never visited she needed a knowledgeable guide and she found an able one in Gilpin. For example the Juvenilia is peppered with references to places in Scotland –a country she certainly never visited-and I feel sure that Jane Austen was able to use Scottish locations and references after reading his Observations on the Highlands of Scotland
When it came to writing Pride and Prejudice, which ought really to be our focus here today, she again had to use Gilpin as a guide for I am quite certain that she never set foot in Derbyshire. The closest she may have go to it was viewing the country at a distance from Needwood Forest on her trip to her Cooper cousins in Staffordshire in 1806, as Mrs Caroline Lybbe Powys did in 1800.
In his Observations on the mountains an Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland Gilpin gives the reader an extremely detailed account of his trip though the county of Derbyshire and Jane Austen could by reference to his notes and observation describe the ideal and imaginary but definitely Derbyshire landscape of Pemberley:
Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
Pride and Prejudice Chapter 43
(Gilpin’s view of Dovedale,Derbyshire)
By studying his book, combined with her own knowledge of Warwickshire gained on that summer trip in 1806, Jane Austen could also follow the route the Gardiners took into Derbyshire-
It is not the object of this work to give a description of Derbyshire, nor of any of the remarkable places through which their route thither lay: Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenelworth, Birmingham, etc., are sufficiently known.
-for that was also the well established tourist route that Gilpin described in his Observations of Cumberland and Westmorland, making many caustic remarks on the scenery and grand houses enroute.
I ought to remark that Jane Austen was not alone in finding Gilpin unintentionally amusing. He was ridiculed rather mercilessly as Dr Syntax in a series of three books, Dr Syntax’s Three Tours: in Search of the Picturesque, Consolation and a Wife
These books were written by William Coombe and illustrated (without mercy) by Thomas Rowlandson. Here, for example, is the hapless Dr Syntax losing his money at the races at York….
And to bring this post to a close, let’s share one final Gilpin inspired joke with Jane Austen. In Chapter 10 of Pride and Prejudice, when out walking with Darcy, holding his arm, Caroline Bingley rudely abuses Elizabeth and her connections. Mrs Hurst, arriving with Elizabeth, takes Darcy’s free arm, therby effectively and rudely separating Elizabeth from the “In-Crowd’ as the path “will not admit a fourth”:
At that moment they were met from another walk by Mrs. Hurst and Elizabeth herself.
“I did not know that you intended to walk,” said Miss Bingley, in some confusion, lest they had been overheard.
“You used us abominably ill,” answered Mrs. Hurst, “running away without telling us that you were coming out.”
Then, taking the disengaged arm of Mr. Darcy, she left Elizabeth to walk by herself. The path just admitted three. Mr. Darcy felt their rudeness and immediately said, –
“This walk is not wide enough for our party. We had better go into the avenue.”
But Elizabeth, who had not the least inclination to remain with them, laughingly answered, –
“No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye.”
She then ran gaily off, rejoicing, as she rambled about, in the hope of being at home again in a day or two. Jane was already so much recovered as to intend leaving her room for a couple of hours that evening.
Here we have Jane Austen her allowing her heroine an opportunity for getting her revenge on the Bingley sisters for their continued rudeness to her. Elizabeth is quite clearly referring to a passage from Gilpin’s Observations on Cumberland and Westmorland. In Volume II Section XXXI he waxes lyrical on the picturesque qualities of the domesticated animals normally to be found in the English countryside; that is, horses, sheep and cows. This is what he has to say about the grouping of cows:
Cattle are so large that when they ornament a foreground, a few are sufficient. Two cows will hardly combine Three make a good group- either united- or when one is a little removed from the other two. If you increase the group beyond three; one of more in proportion must necessarily be a little detached .This detachment prevents heaviness and adds variety…
As you can see from his illustration of this group of cows, three is the magic number as far as he was concerned. A fourth has to be some distance off otherwise it spoils the picturesque.
By allowing Elizabeth to make this one little, seemingly innocent remark (and escape from Darcy and the Bingley sisters in the process) Jane Austen demonstrates that despite the efforts of Mrs Bennet to hinder her education, Elizabeth has, by the advantage of her extensive reading, more awareness of the principles of the picturesque than of the expensively educated ladies before her. As a man of taste and education Darcy is most probably aware of the source for her reference and cannot but be impressed by it. He also knew that she was referring to them as a group of three….cows.
Game set and match to Elizabeth Bennet walking swiftly in the opposite direction…..
So that’s my take on Jane Austen and William Giplin. She was, as Henry Austen would have us believe, enamored of him, I am certain, but not necessarily for purely innocent reasons. Like her creation Elizabeth Bennet, she found that Gilpin’s follies, nonsense, whims and inconsistencies diverted her tremendously, and she could not help but gently poke fun of him whenever the opportunity arose.
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.
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:
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.
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.;-)
After quitting the lease of 4 Sydney Place, the Austen family had to find new premises in which to live. They found Green Park Buildings, and they lived at Number 3 Green Park Buildings East from 1804-5.
This was however a place Jane Austen had originally dismissed while on her search for accommodation in 1801:
Our views on G. P. Buildings seem all at an end; the observation of the damps still remaining in the offices of an house which has been only vacated a week, with reports of discontented families and putrid fevers, has given the coup de grace. We have now nothing in view. When you arrive, we will at least have the pleasure of examining some of these putrefying houses again; they are so very desirable in size and situation, that there is some satisfaction in spending ten minutes within them.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 21st May 1801)
The situation was pleasant as the buildings didn’t look out onto the city to the north but out over a small park towards the river and across to the leafy heights of Beechen Cliff- so admired by Catherine Morland in Northnger Abbey(even if she did think it looked like France..where she had never been save in her imagination…)
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.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14
This part of the city- the Kingsmead area, was developed in the 1790s again to accommodate the expanding population of the spa town
One of the principal features of the layout (of the extension to Bath-jfw)was the formation of Green Park, a wedge-shaped open space lying between two great houses converging on Seymour Street designed as a wide continuation of the existing Charles Street
(See Walter Ison,The Georgian Buildings of Bath ,page 174)
This is a tiny engraving-its true size is 3 cms by 1 cm- from my copy of The Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing places etc (1816) by John Fletham, and it shows the view from Beechen Cliff looking towards Bath. You can just make out the disitincitve wedge-shaped buildings that were Green Park Buildings, just in front of the fashionable couple looking across at Bath from the vantage point of the cliff : do enlarge it to get the full effect ( by clicking on it and remember, you can enlarge all the illustrations in this post by doing this).
This is the setting from a section of the Environs of Bath map drawn by John Cary and taken from my copy of his book, Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc. (1812):
This section shows the position of Bath among the surrounding hills and downs, rather like a pudding basin:
And though it is not marked on the map, I have annotated the same section to show where Beechen Cliff is situated:
This house was the scene of a sad and almost calamitous event for Jane Austen: the death of her father George Austen in January 1805, coming hard on the news of the death of her great friend, Mrs Lefroy on 16th December 1804, Jane’s 29th birthday . The two letters she had to write to Frank Austen , her brother, at this time,still exist. They make for painful reading: she being so correct but also so anxious for Frank reciving the news of the death of his excellent father by letter. Here is the text of the first dated Monday 21 January 1805:
My dearest Frank
I have melancholy news to relate, and sincerely feel for your feelings under the shock of it. I wish I could better prepare You for it.But having said so much, Your mind will already forestall the sort of Event which I have to communicate. Our dear Father has closed his virtuous and happy life, in a death almost as free from suffering as his Children could have wished. He was taken ill on Saturday morning, exactly in the same way as heretofore, an oppression in the head with fever, violent tremulousness, and the greatest degree of Feebleness. The same remedy of Cupping, which had before been so successful, was immediately applied to but without such happy effects. The attack was more violent, and at first he seemed scarcely at all relieved by the Operation. Towards the Evening however he got better, had a tolerable night, and yesterday morning was so greatly amended as to get up and join us at breakfast as usual, walk about with only the help of a stick, and every symptom was then so favourable that when Bowen (the Austen’s apothecary-jfw)saw him at one, he felt sure of his doing perfectly well. But as the day advanced, all these comfortable appearances gradually changed; the fever grew stronger than ever, and when Bowen saw him at ten at night, he pronounc’d his situation to be most alarming. At nine this morning he came again and by his desire a Physician was called–Dr Gibbs–But it was then absolutely a lost case. Dr Gibbs said that nothing but a Miracle could save him, and about twenty minutes after Ten he drew his last gasp. Heavy as is the blow, we can already feel that a thousand comforts remain to us to soften it. Next to that of the consciousness of his worth and constant preparation for another World, is the remembrance of his having suffered, comparatively speaking, nothing. Being quite insensible of his own state, he was spared all the pain of separation, & he went off almost in his Sleep. My Mother bears the Shock as well as possible; she was quite prepared for it, and feels all the blessing of his being spared a long Illness. My Uncle and Aunt have been with us, and shew us every imaginable kindness. And tomorrow we shall I dare say have the comfort of James’s presence, as an Express has been sent to him.-We write also of course to Godmersham and Brompton. Adeiu my dearest Frank. The loss of such a Parent must be felt, or we should be Brutes-. I wish I could have given you better preparation but it has been impossible. -Yours Ever affectionately
Capt. Austen HMS Leopard Dungeness New Romney
Sadly for Jane Austen she had to write another letter to Frank, virtually identical to the first, because Frank was not in Dungeness in Kent but at Portsmouth in Hampshire:
January 22nd 1805
My dearest Frank
I wrote to you yesterday; but your letter to Cassandra this morning, by which we learn the probability of your being by this time at Portsmouth, obliges me to write to you again, having unfortunately a communication as necessary as painful to make to you.Your affectionate heart will be greatly wounded, and I wish the shock could have been lessen’d by a better preparation;but the Event has been sudden, and so must be the information of it. We have lost an Excellent Father.An Illness of only eight and forty hours carried him off yesterday morning between ten and eleven. He was seized on Saturday with a return of the feverish complaint, which he had been subject to for the three last years; evidently a more violent attack from the first, as the applications which had before produced almost immediate relief, seemed for some time to afford him scarcely any.On Sunday however he was much better, so much so as to make Bowen quite easy, and give us every hope of his being well again in a few days.-ut these hopes gradually gave way as the day advanced, and when Bowen saw him at ten that night he was greatly alarmed.A Physician was called in yesterday morning, but he was at that time past all possibility of cure–& Dr Gibbs & Mr Bowen had scarcely left his room before he sunk into a Sleep from which he never woke. Everything I trust and believe was done for him that was possible! It has been very sudden! within twenty four hours of his death he was walking with only the help of a stick, was even reading! We had however some hours of preparation, and when we understood his recovery to be hopeless, most fervently did we pray for the speedy release which ensued. To have seen himlanguishing long, struggling for Hours, would have been dreadful!-& thank God! we were all spared from it. Except the restlessness and confusion of high Fever, he did not suffer- and he was mercifully spared from knowing that he was about to quit the Objects so beloved, so fondly cherished as his wife & Children ever were.His tenderness as a Father, who can do justice to? My Mother is tolerably well; she bears up with great fortitude, but I fear her health must suffer under such a shock. An express was sent for James, and he arrived here this morning before eight o’clock.-The Funeral is to be on Saturday, at Walcot Church.
The Serenity of the Corpse is most delightful! It preserves the sweet, benevolent smile which always distinguished him. They kindly press my Mother to remove to Steventon as soon as it is all over, but I do not believe she will leave Bath at present. We must have this house for three months longer, and here we shall probably stay till the end of that time.We all unite in Love, and I am affec:’y Yours
Capt. Austen HMS Leopard Portsmouth
Poor Jane Austen- to have to written two, let alone one such letter.
Mr Austen was buried in Walcot Church…and so began a period of wandering for the Austen ladies. Their income immediately being reduced- the income from Mr Austen’s living ceased on his death: James Austen was the new incumbent of the Steventon living-they had a period of uncertainty before them.
We shall look at this in more detail on our next post on their home in Gay Street.
A final note about the Austen’s home in Green Park Buildings: Green Park East was bombed and destroyed during an air raid in the Second World War: it was rebuilt but in a different style to the original houses, so while it still exists, the Number 3 Green Park Buildings we can see now is not the house in which Jane Austen lived and her father died.
Jane Austen first visited Bath in 1797, staying with her uncle, James Leigh Perrot and his wife at their home in Paragon. They spent every winter in Bath, to take the waters and enjoy the fashionable social life there.
No letters that Jane Austen wrote survive for that year -1797- and so we have little evidence of her first impressions of Bath.
We can, however, guess that she saw things in this crowded, fashionable place with her unerringly clear eye for it was in 1798-99 that she wrote what was to become Northanger Abbey,a satire not only on the rage for Horrid books, but also on the busy but ultimately vacuous life to be found in Bath, husband hunting, shopping and entering into the round of fashionable entertainments…
However, some of her letters written during her second stay in Bath do survive. She travelled to the spa to stay there in some style with her brother Edward, his wife and children, Fanny and Edward, and her mother, Mrs Austen, in number 2 on this annotated 1803 map of Bath (above-do click on it to enlarge it)- in Queen’s Square.
The Austen family’s arrival in Bath was noted in the Bath Chronicle for Thursday 23rd May , 1799. A “Mr and Mrs Austin”(sic) were noted among the new arrivals to the city. On arrival in the house, Jane immediately set down to write to her sister Cassandra and it is her letter of 17th May 1799 which provides us with much information about the house, number 13 on the south side of the square :
which was to be their base for their stay of just over a month:
Well, here we are at Bath; we got here about one o’clock, and have been arrived just long enough to go over the house, fix on our rooms, and be very well pleased with the whole of it.
(One of the buildings on the south side of Queen’s Square from John Wood’s Description of Bath etc.,1765)
Queens Square was one of the first parts of Bath to be developed in the early 18th century by the architect, John Wood. It took seven years to complete – from 1728-1736- and was the first stage in the creation of the new Upper Town of Bath(the remainder was the creation of Gay Street and the Kings Circus). The concept behind the creation of the square was to provide a unifying façade to the houses so that they looked like one massive mansion on the south facing side (and indeed this range did contain a very large house for John Wood himself)
Walter Ison in his magnificently detailed book The Georgian Buildings of Bath writes about the development:
Queens Square is sited to the north-west of the old city boundaries on the high southward sloping ground which Robert Gay granted to John Wood in a series of 99 year leases…Wood envisaged the north, east and west ranges of buildings as forming a palace forecourt, the ensemble to be viewed from the south side. The magnificent north front, elaborately modeled to gain the fullest advantage of light and shade offered by a south aspect, fully realizes the body of this supposed palace, to which the east and west sides were to form wings…While the east side was carried out to this design at an early date, circumstances arose later which prevented Wood from building the complementary range. The buildings on the west side eventually took the form of a large mansion…The south side was built more or less in accordance with Wood’s original intentions
This is the plan of the square from Wood’s own book which detailed the history and the early 18th century architectural innovations designed by him, A Description of Bath etc ( 1765)
Jane Austen was pleased with the house, characteristically noting it quirks along with its good points:
We are exceedingly pleased with the house; the rooms are quite as large as we expected. Mrs. Bromley is a fat woman in mourning, and a little black kitten runs about the staircase. Elizabeth (Edward’s wife-jfw) has the apartment within the drawing-room; she wanted my mother to have it, but as there was no bed in the inner one, and the stairs are so much easier of ascent, or my mother so much stronger than in Paragon as not to regard the double flight, it is settled for us to be above, where we have two very nice-sized rooms, with dirty quilts and everything comfortable. I have the outward and larger apartment, as I ought to have; which is quite as large as our bedroom at home, and my mother’s is not materially less. The beds are both as large as any at Steventon, and I have a very nice chest of drawers and a closet full of shelves — so full indeed that there is nothing else in it, and it should therefore be called a cupboard rather than a closet, I suppose.
She also very much preferred the views over the square towards the rising ground of the Upper Town, to the rather enclosed and dark situation of her uncle’s house in the Paragon:
I like our situation very much; it is far more cheerful than Paragon, and the prospect from the drawing-room window, at which I now write, is rather picturesque, as it commands a prospective view of the left side of Brock Street, broken by three Lombardy poplars in the garden of the last house in Queen’s Parade.
Though she didn’t mention it, Jane Austen’s view across the square also took in the small square of grass in the centre of the square and its obelisk, commemorating Frederick, Prince of Wales the father of George III:
Queen’s Square is charmingly situated and composed of elegant buildings which display all the grandeur of architectural excellence. It was designed by Wood, to whose professional taste and spirit Bath owes so much. In the area is a pleasure-ground, enclosed by iron palisades, adorned in the centre with an obelisk seventy feet high shaped and pointed like a bookbinders needle and charged with the following inscription:
In memory of humours conferred,
And in gratitude
For benefits bestowed
In this city
By his Royal Highness
FREDERICK PRINCE OF WALES
in the year MDCCXXXVII.
This Obelisk is erected
by RICHARD NASH esq,
(See The Guide to all the Watering and Sea -bathing Places etc (1803) by John Feltham)
For Mrs Austen,the Square-so called for it was the first of the important squares to be built in Bath, remained THE place to stay: in 1801 when they were trying to find somewhere to live in Bath upon the Reverend George Austen’s retirement, Jane wrote almost despairingly to Cassandra that:
My mother hankers after The Square dreadfully and it is but natural to suppose my Uncle will take her part…
(Letter to Cassandra Austen, dated 21st January 1801)
Of course by the time Jane Austen was writing Persuasion – in 1815-16- The Square was one of the oldest of the new developments in Bath: it was far more fashionable to live higher up in the new town with its crescents and pleasant outlooks across the city and the river. Which allowed her to make a small joke at her mother’s expense when the fashionably minded Musgrove girls declare that Queens Square is too old-fashioned for them to contemplate as a place to stay in Bath for the winter season:
I hope we shall be in Bath in the winter; but remember, papa, if we do go, we must be in a good situation: none of your Queen-squares for us!
Persuasion, Chapter 6
The Austen’s stay in Bath ended in late June and Jane Austen returned to Steventon-away from the glare of Bath in the summer. And she could joke to Cassandra that she had better prepare a good meal for them as they were used to high level of living in Bath:
You must give something very nice for we are used to live well
(See Letter to Cassandra dated 19th June 1799)
I daresay had she been presented only with a dish of bread and cheese, the fact that she was back in her beloved Steventon home would have made it seem like a feast.
This is a map of Bath as it was in 1803 from my copy of John Feltham’s Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places etc, of that year, and I have annotated with the locations of places very much associated with Jane Austen-and ones that we shall be visiting over the next few days. You can, as ever, click on the map to enlarge it.
They are as follows:
1. Walcot Church
2. Queen’s Square
3. The Paragon
4. Sydney Place
5. Green Park Buildings
6. Gay Street
7. Trim Street
8. Great Pultney Street
Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801-1806. During this time her father had died and was buried there and the Austen ladies - Cassandra, Mrs Austen and Jane- had begun to realise exactly what living as quite poor, dependant, unmarried and widowed women meant in the early 19th century…Her intimate know ledge of Bath was used to great effect in her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, where Bath is a ‘character” of the novels in its own right. Eventually in 1806 the Austen ladies left bath, visited nearby Clifton and took a summer tour of relatives in Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire before settling in Southampton.
Prior to settling in the city in 1801 Jane Austen had visited Bath, staying at Queen’s Square and it is there that we will begin our tour of Austen related sites in Bath in the next post. Do join me, won’t you?
And so tonight is the screening by PSB in America of ITV’s adaptation of Northanger Abbey , scripted by Andrew Davies, starring JJ Feild as a rather delicious Henry Tilney. My main problems with this production that it did not film crucial scenes in Bath but instead substituted Georgian Dublin for the city in the novel. I can fully understand the financial reason for doing this, but to me a lot was lost by substituting Bath for another place( albeit another sumptuous Georgian city). Bath is a very important part of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion and not to use these famous sites menas that , for me, a certain dimension was lost.
Next week PBS is screening ITV’s version of Persuasion, which in spite of its faults did use Bath (!) and so in honour of that, I will be hosting a short Persuasion season here at AustenOnly from tomorrow.
I do hope you can join me.
As soon as divine service was over, the Thorpes and Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the pump–room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which everybody discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company. Here Catherine and Isabella, arm in arm, again tasted the sweets of friendship in an unreserved conversation; they talked much, and with much enjoyment; but again was Catherine disappointed in her hope of reseeing her partner..
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 9
The Royal Crescent in Bath- which Jane Austen referred to only as The Crescent- was, and still is, a pleasant place to promenade. It has wonderful views across the city, being part of the upper town, due to the open prospect it commands. The lack of building immediately before it was due to the building restrictions imposed in the orignal leases for the site. Here is the map of Bath which appears in my copy of The Guide to All the Watering and Sea Bathing Places etc (1803) by John Feltham
And here is a section from that map which shows you exactly the position of The Crescent
The site was acquired as building land on December 20th 1766 by John Wood the Younger from Sir Benet Garrard. The lease contained a clause which would safeguard the amenities of the Crescent by the existence of a covenant which precluded any house being built on the ground immediately before the Crescent (then known as the Kingsmead Furlong, but eventually known as the Barton Fields ), nor did it allow any plant to grow on that land if it exceeded the height of 8 feet, thus preserving the view from the Crescent down to the river Avon.
The terrain is very steep in this part of the city, something which caused some initial problems with the foundations of the buildings – and these vertiginous slopes were a feature that Thomas Rowlandson couldn’t resist making fun of in this chariacture from his series of prints, The Comforts of Bath:
Here he shows the invalids, drawn to Bath to take the waters to effect a cure, in their Bath chairs etc.,staging their own version of The Bath Races. Wicked man.
Back to the Crescent……The Bath Chronicle dated 21st May 1767 noted that
on Tuesday last the foundation stone was laid of the first house of the intended new building above the Circus called the Royal Crescent
The Crescent was made up of 30 houses: though each house had a basement,three stories and roof garrets, each house differed in size, and internally the plans of each were different,as can be noted from the differences in the rear of the buildings from this modern areal photograph. Seven independent firms of building contractors worked on the house. Each house was finished to different degrees of sumptuousness. Some were magnificently decorated with elaborate plasterwork etc. Some, intended to be let permanently to visitors to Bath for the season, were plain.
But the façade facing the city was uniform, and no alterations were allowed from Wood the Younger’s master plan. Each house had a plain ground story face: the windows and doorways are spaced at equal intervals set in plain square headed openings. Above this ground level, for the height of two stories, rises 114 Ionic order columns, each just over 20 feet tall.
The houses were separated from the lawn in front by a wide pavement-as you can see here in this print by Nattes,above. Perfect for that Sunday Promenade by people of fashion as Jane Austen describes it in Northanger Abbey- and a road which was cobbled.That road is now blocked to traffic and so if you visit the Crescent these days you can get some idea of the atmosphere as it was when Jane Austen’s characters walked around it.
Such a beautiful and prominent set of buildings, in the most fashionable area of Bath attracted many famous residents. Let’s look at some of them…Christopher Anstey the poet and author of The New Bath Guide-a poem satirising the visitors to Bath-lived there for 22 years
and the famous Linley family lived at number 11.
The Linleys were a very talented musical famly. Here is Thomas Linley Senior- portrayed by Gainsborough who was a family friend, and who also had a famous studio in Bath in the nearby Circus, where he “pickpotted the rich” by painting their portraits.
His composer son Thomas Linley junior, The English Mozart- again by Gainsborough, lived at the Crescent
but died prematurely while visiting the Duke of Ancaster ‘s Lincolnshire estate. While on on the lake at Grimsthorpe Castle a sudden violent storm below up,causing his boat to capsize. Here is Gainsborough’s wistfully beautiful portrait of his sister Elizabeth Linley, the singer:
She famously eloped from the Crescent with the playwright Richard Sheridan and eventually married him in quite scandalous circumstances, which he subsequently immortalised in his wildly successful play, The Rivals (which play of course was one of the plays performed at the barn at Steventon by the Austen family when they were infected with the itch for acting)
Frederick ,Duke of York lived at Number 1,The Crescent:
This is now a wonderful museum, owned by the Bath Preservation Trust, where many rooms are decorated as they would have been in the 18th century including the kitchen, which has (shade of our other posts this week) a model turnspit dog in his wall mounted cage (which you can clearly see by clicking on the link here) And of course, number 16, the central house in the Crescent is now a rather sumptuous and famous hotel. I’ve not stayed there but I have taken tea there and I can highly reccommend it ;-)
Jane Austen, a frequent visitor to Bath before she lived there from 1801-1806, knew the Crescent well, as is evidenced from her letters:
In the morning Lady Willoughby is to present the Colours to some Corps of Yeomanry or other in the Crescent
(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 2nd June 1799)
And obviously walked there on Sundays after church like her characters in Northanger Abbey:
On Sunday we walked a little in the Crescent Fields but found it too cold to stay long.
(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 13th May 1801)
and it was a popular thing to do, though sometimes the crowds were sparse:
We did not walk long in the Crescent yesterday, it was hot and not crouded enough: so we went into the field…
(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 11th April 1805)
So there you are, a virtual stroll around the Crescent on this wintery Sunday . I hope you enjoy it.