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In our last post in this series,we looked at the exterior and the churchyard of the Parish Church of Holy Trinity and St Andrew in the tiny village of Ashe in Hampshire. This was the place of worship for Jane Austen’s great friend, Anne Lefroy. Her husband was the Rector of Ashe and they lived in an elegant Rectory , a few minutes walk away from the church.

As we discovered last time, the church was rebuilt in the late 19th century  due to its extremely bad state of repair, but a church appears to have been consecrated on this site since the mid 12th century. The interior does not therefore have the same appearance as it did during the time of the Lefroys, but I include a view of the Nave for you, all the same:

The Nave, looking East towards the Chancel and Altar, Ashe Parish Church ©Austenonly

The Nave, looking East towards the Chancel and Altar, Ashe Parish Church ©Austenonly

The Lefroy memorials, as I understand it, were originally installed in the Chancel. But since the restoration and re-build of the church, they have been moved, and are now on the North wall, near to the junction with the East wall. Indeed, you can see them immediately as you enter the church:

The Lefroy Memorials ©Austenonly

The Lefroy Memorials ©Austenonly

As ever, these memorials make for sad reading, particularly when you realise just how very quickly the members of this family, with whom Jane Austen was on very friendly terms, died in relation to each other.

This, below,  is the memorial to William Thomas Lefroy, Anne Lefroy’s third born son, who was nearly four years old when he died:

Below is the memorial to another of their sons, Anthony who was only 14 years old when he died, together with another son, Christopher Edward who was 71 years old at his death:

This memorial has a representation of the Lefroy arms underneath it. Here is a close-up photograph of them:

The magnificent memorial which dominates this section of the wall is dedicated to Anne Lefory and to her husband:

The Memorial to Anne Lefroy and her husband, and the Reverend Isaac Peter George Lefroy ©Austenonly

The Memorial to Anne Lefroy and her husband, and the Reverend Isaac Peter George Lefroy ©Austenonly

The wording on the memorial is rather difficult to decipher, but I hope I have transcribed it correctly for you: it is important because it tells another sad story:

The Rev’d Issac peter George Lefroy

late Rector of this Parish and of Compton

in Surry (sic) and formerly Fellow of All Souls

College,Oxford, Son of Anthony Lefroy,

esq: by Elizabeth his wife, was born Nov 1745

and died at the Parsonage House of this Parish

of a paralytic stroke on Monday Janr 13th  1806

Anne, wife of Rev’d George Lefroy 

and daughter of Edward Brydges Esq;

by Jemina his wife, was born March 1749

and died at the Parsonage House of this 

Parish in consequence of a fall from her

horse the preceding day on Sunday December

16th 1804.

Reader: The characters here recorded need no laboured panegyric; prompted by the elevate dictates

of Christianity, of whose glorious truths they are most firm believers, they were alike exemplary

in the performance of every duty, and amicable in every relationship of life; to their fervent piety

Their strict integrity, their active and comprehensive charity, and in short to the lovely and useful

tenor of their whole lives and conversations

Those amongst us who they lived, and especially the inhabitants of this parish, will bear ample and

Ready testimony, after a union of 26 years, having been separated by death scarcely more than 12

months, their earthy remains are together deposited in peace near this marble. Together to be raised. 

We humbly trust in glory when the grave shall give up her dead, and death itself be swallowed up in Victory 

Rev. 14 v. 13

Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord, even so saith the spirit for they rest from their labours.

Poor Anne Lefory died as a result of a fall from a horse , on what was her friend, Jane Austen’s birthday, the 16th December 1804. An account of her death is given in the published Reminiscences of Caroline Austen, Jane Austen’s niece. Caroline was the daughter of James Austen, Jane’s eldest brother, who had succeeded his father as Rector of Steventon:

December 16th 1804: Died Mrs Lefroy of Ashe. On the 21st my father buried her. She was greatly lamented and her end was a sad one. She was riding a very quiet horse, attended by a servant, as usual. My father saw her in Overton, and she observed the animal she rode was so stupid and lazy she could scarcely make him canter. My father rode homeward, she staying to do some errands in Overton; next morning the news of her death reached Steventon. After getting to the top of Overton hill, the horse seemed to be running away-it was not known whether anything had frightened him-the servant, unwisely, rode up to catch the bridle rein-missed his hold and the animal darted off faster.He could not give any clear account, but it was supposed that Mrs Lefroy in her terror, threw herself off and fell heavily on the hard ground. She never spoke afterwards, and she died in a few hours.

Her husband died on January 13th  in 1806, poor man. Another untimely Lefroy death.  Indeed, this period 1804-1806 was a sad year for the Austens and the Lefroys together, for George Austen , Jane Austen’s father died on the 21st January  1805, and then on April 16th, in the same year, Mrs Lloyd the mother of Mary, James Austen’s wife, also died.

The final memorial I want to write about is dedicated to Benjamin Lefory and to his wife, Anna, who was Jane Austen’s niece and Caroline Austen’s half-sister:

As we learnt in our last post, Benjamin Lefroy succeeded his brother, John Henry George Lefroy, as Rector of Ashe  in 1823.  John Henry had been appointed Rector of Ashe after his father’s death in 1806. Sadly, John died aged only 41 in 1823. Benjamin was then appointed as Rector of Ashe and he and Anna came to live at the Rectory and remained there until Ben’s very untimely death in 1829.

Reading these memorials made me feel very sad: so many lives cut short. But they still do not give us much of a picture of what Mrs Lefroy was really  like, apart from paying tribute to her piety .We still do not know much of   her character or habits, one that was apparently so bewitching to Jane Austen and many others. For that we need to look at other sources: obituary notices, Jane Austen’s letters and, indeed,Mrs Lefroy’s own letters, which luckily for us have been preserved and published. More on this in my next post in this series.

Two hundred years ago last Friday, the 11th May, Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minster, shown below, was shot in the Lobby of the House of Commons.

He was killed by John Bellingham, shown below.

He was, thus far, the only British Prime minister to have been assassinated. The assassination  came at a time that has so many parallels with our dire economic situation today. Britain was suffering from a credit crunch and  was in a recession, one of the causes  of which was the effects of the infamous Orders in Council  issued by Perceval’s government in 1809, which expanded the Orders in Council of 1807 that had been brought in by the previous Portland administration, and were designed to restrict the trade of neutral countries with France. These had been enacted in retaliation to Napoleon’s embargo on  trade by Britain with all allies of France.  Controversially, the Orders gave the British Navy the  right to board all neutral ships in search of goods destined for France. Exports sharply declined with the result that ports such as Liverpool, dependant on trade with Russia and the United States, had their trade severely reduced: legitimate trade dwindled.

John Bellingham was a merchant from Liverpool who had become involved in the Baltic trade, trading with Russia. He was imprisoned in the Russian port of Arkangel for a fraud he claimed did not commit. As a result , he lost a sum that would  amount to many hundreds of thousands of pounds today. He  appealed for help to the British ambassador in St Petersburg, who passed the case on to the consul, who did little to help Bellingham. When eventually released and back in Britain, Bellingham regarded the government as morally bound to indemnify him for his losses for his dependant family’s financial future depended upon him recovering all he had lost. He was married and had 12 children.

Bellingham believed every man in Britain had the right to petition Parliament to bring attention to grievances, and wanted to petition Parliament  about compensation for his losses.  Perceval insisted that the government had no obligation to recompense him, and refused to receive his petition. Bellingham reasoned that the only remaining chance of a remedy was to kill the prime minister. He claimed that he had no personal grudge against Perceval, but considered that to kill the Prime Minister would be a simple act of justice and would be the means of bringing his claim to court. He sincerely held the belief  that once he explained the reasons for his action at his trial, he would  be acquitted and his losses would be  repaid by the Government. This defence, which his lawyers insisted was the workings of a deranged mind, cut no ice and, indeed Bellingham insisted he was sane.  Bellingham was tried four days after Perceval died and was hung a week after the assassination.

What I find fascinating in all this, are not only the parallels with today’s economic situation, but  the reaction to the assassination of Jane Austen’s sister-in -law, Mary Austen, neé Lloyd, who was married to James Austen. She recorded her thoughts in her pocket-book, which is now in the collection of the Hampshire Record Office . This, below, is a silhouette of Mary, who was Jane Austen’s eldest brother’s second wife:

Pocket books were small red leather covered booklets which contained standardised useful information- much more on this in my next post-and a section for diary entries, and were used by many people in the early 19th century .They were rather like the small diaries we carry about today- if we don’t rely upon electronic means to keep track of our engagements. Indeed, Jane Austen kept one, and one page of it, detailing her expenses in 1807, survives in the collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. Go here to read more about it. If only the other interesting pages of Jane Austen’s pocket books could be found…..

Back to Mary Austen. Most of Mary’s pocket-book entries are concerned with day-to-day life at the Steventon, where her husband, James was rector. And in themselves these domestic entries are fascinating, giving us some glimpses of their life at home, detailing visits made , visitors received. The entries have been transcribed by Deirdre le Faye into her fantastic book, The Chronology of Jane Austen, and so if you cannot visit the Hampshire Record Office to see the real thing, you can read its interesting entries by purchasing a copy of this book. This picture of the entry in Mary Austen’s pocket-book concerning Jane Austen’s death on 17th July, 1817 comes from the Chronology:

It translates as:

Jane Austen was taken for death about 1/2 past 5 in the evening

I like to compare Mary’s sometimes  terse entries with those of Fanny Knight’s entries for the same day,especially when they are in the same company. For example  in her entry for May 4th 1812, Fanny writes:

Sweet Day.We all went to The Vine a beautiful old place of Mr Chute’s & spent the morning in going all over the House & Grounds. Mr Trimmer brought me a letter from  At.Cass.

Mary,who was used to intercourse with the Chutes at the Vyne simply wrote:

We all went to the Vine.

So, it really was with some surprise that I noticed that Mary had included a note on the Perceval assassination  in her pocketbook:

Mr Perceval was shot as he entered the house of Commons, he was the prime minister.

And , further, that this entry was actually made on the 11th May 1812, the very day the murder had taken place. This is, as far as I can see, the only political event Mary Austen ever comments upon in her pocket-book. What does that tell us? That the event was so momentous that even in sleepy Steventon the news had travelled from London the same day.Well, yes. But I think it might also tell us something about Mary and her view of politics. It sounds as if she is recording  Perceval’s status (He was the prime minister)almost  as if that  information was news to her. Perhaps I am doing her an injustice, but it does seems if she is writing a note  to herself  to explain who exactly had been killed and what his status was.

Respectable Georgian women were not, of course, supposed to entertain political ideas. It was somewhat surprising therefore to find Mary Austen including this item of news, having become aware of it the day it happened, in her pocketbook which was otherwise full of rather more mundane matters.I thought you might be interested to note that this terrible event was in some way, important to Mary Austen living in Steventon in 1812.

I thought you might be interested to learn the  details of a talk to be given by Diana Shervington at the Lyme Regis Philpot Museum on Saturday 12th February, at 2.30p.m. It will be on the subject of Jane Austen and her two naval brothers, Frank, below

and Charles, also shown below.

The talk promises to be fascinating as Diana Shervington is a descendant of Jane Austen, and is also a patron of the newly formed South West branch of the Jane Austen Society.

If you do go you might be interested to also see the Museum’s new winter exhibition which is about Mary Anning , the great finder of fossils, who had as we have learnt , a slight connection to Jane Austen. The exhibition is entitled Mary Anning and the Men of Science and according to the museum’s website…

explores Mary’s relationships with the great men of science of her day – William Buckland, William Conybeare and Henry de la Beche. It includes unique Mary Anning material on loan from other museums and features the newly-conserved coprolite (fossil dung) table owned by Buckland.

For fun, there is a 3-D re-creation of de la Beche’s famous vision of ancient Dorset Duria Antiquior, created by artist Darrell Wakelam in partnership with local children.

It all sounds fascinating, don’t you think?

Some of you may remember the BBC Radio 4 programme, Jane Austen’s iPod which was broadcast earlier in the year. A series has now been commissioned using the same idea-  taking a well known historical personality and playing music they knew or had written about them while talking about their lives with experts in the field.

Last week’s episode was concerned with Dickens (Shh!!- don’t mention him too loudly! I think we got away with it!). But today’s epiosde was of more interest to us as it featured  Emma Hamilton’s iPod. Emma Hamilton was of course the mistress of Horatio Nelson,under whom Francis Austen

served ,though to his chagrin, he missed being on duty at the Battle of Trafalagar where Nelson was killed in action.

Quintin Colville , Curator of Naval History  at the National Maritime Museum and Emma Hamilton’s  biographer Kate Williams talk to  the musician David Owen Norris about her fantastical life, and Rachel Cowgill talks about Emma’s musical ability and her taste in music, looking at her music books which are now in the Maritime Museum’s collection.  Fascinating stuff including details of her job as a “Goddess” in the Temple of Health where the infamous Celestial Bed, supposed cure for infertility was in constant demand, her marriage to Sir William Hamilton, her famous classical “Attitudes” and scandalous life including her manage a trois with Sir William and Nelson,and her meeting with Hayden. Fascinating. I’d like to have heard a little more about  Nelson’s poor, real and neglected wife, Fanny, but I suppose she would have been out of place in this programme about mistresses.

The Programme was recorded at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwhich, near to the Greenwich Naval Hospital which was of course where Nelson ‘s body laid in state before he was taken down the river Thames to be buried according to the rites of a State Funeral at St Pauls Cathedral. I rather like the sound of the new gallery to be devoted to Nelson, Emma and the 18th century at the Maritime museum…I’ll keep an eye out for any more news of that, and will report back.
In the meantime, here is a link to today’s programme which is available to Listen Again for the next seven days.

Laurel at Austenprose has begun her mammoth Pride and Prejudice without Zombies Group Read, and has asked me to join in by contributing a couple of pieces on early 19th Century Tourism. So next week (the 25th June) I will be posting about Tourism and Pride and Prejudice in a rather general but hopefully interesting way, and then the following Friday (the 2nd July) I will be posting about William Gilpin and Jane Austen with  r particular reference to his influence on her writing of Pride and Prejudice.

So to ease us in to this theme, I’m going to be posting about a couple of grand houses with Jane Austen connections over the next week. And  both are still open to the public as they were in the early 19th century ( though now it is done on a rather more egalitarian and commercial basis) . In a few days I will be writing about Chatsworth but today I am writing about a much less well known but, in my opinion, equally spectacular country house, Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire.

Grimsthorpe is an ancient building, and has had a long association with the Bertie and Willoughby families. In 1516 it was given to William Willoughby, the 11th Baron Willoughby d’Eresby by Henry VIII on the occasion of his marriage to Maria de Salinas who was lady in Waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. In the early 18th century, the castle’s appearance was altered and it was given  a  fabulous  baroque north front  by Robert Bertie the 4th Earl of Lindsay who had become the first Duke of Ancaster in 1715.

The new front was commissioned to reflect his new ducal status. He employed  Vanbrugh the playwright/architect of amongst other housesCastle Howard and Blenheim, to undertake this work, which as you can see is fantastically overblown. I adore this style of architecture, even though it was short-lived in popularity. Indeed, by the time the front was finished in 1726 it was already out of fashion….

What is Jane Austen’s association with this beautiful place? The connection is made though her eldest brother James,

who while living in Overton,near to Steventon as curate to that parish, made the acquaintance of General Edward Matthew and his wife who also lived there.  The General’s wife was Lady Jane Bertie the daughter of the 2nd Duke and Duchess of Ancaster of Grimsthorpe.

(The 2nd Duke of Ancaster)

(the 2nd Duchess of Ancaster)

The Matthews had  three daughters and James married Anne the eldest, who was over 30 years of age when they married.

As Deirdre le Faye  shrewdly notes:

Anne Matthew must have seen in James Austen her last chance of matrimony, and he had a weakness for elegant aristocratic young women. The General and Lady Jane  “could not have  considered the young curate a good match for their daughter though as his uncle Mr Leigh Perrot had no children and he was his father’s eldest son, it was possible that he might some day have a comfortable income.” But for Anne’s sake they gave their consent to the marriage and made her an allowance of £100 a year.

(See: Jane Austen: A Family Record, pp71-2)

The sole issue from this marriage was, of course, Jane Austen’s niece, Anna Austen who was born on 15th April 1793,

and who arrived with a great deal of help from her indomitable grandmother Mrs Austen :

Mrs Austen rose from her bed in the middle of the night and walked by the light of a lantern a mile and a half of a muddy country lane to attend her [daughter in-law] and to usher into the world a new grand child.

Sometimes I can’t but admire Mrs Austen however exasperated I might be by her in general…..

Anna’s godparents were the 5th Duke and Duchess of Ancaster.

(Brownlow,the 5th Duke of Ancaster)

(The 5th Duchess)

Anna Austen remembered meeting the 5th Duke and Duchess , while visiting the Austens in Bath in February 1803:

I remember the last Duke and Duchess of Ancaster and being presented to the former (who was my God Father) in the Pump Room at Bath being then about 10 years of age. My Grandmother Austen with whom I was staying took upon herself the introduction, after which I was invited once or twice to spend the day in Great Pultney Street where the Duke had a house…This Duke and Duchess had had one child a Daughter who married a handsome agreeable but dissipated Irish Peer and died early leaving one Son. This child was brought up by the Ancasters . He was rather younger than myself but I well recollect spending a day with them at Bath and giving him his first lesson in dancing

(See A Family Record page 138)

Ah, that Mrs Austen…… back to Grimsthorpe…

The castle maintains its fabulously irregular Tudor South front,

which overlooks the topiary gardens

and the East front

which in turn overlooks very formal gardens

and a formal potager.

The west front over looks the lake

which was the place where  in 1778,the English Mozart, Thomas Linley

met his untimely death while he was staying at Grimsthorpe with the 3rd Duke and Duchess of Ancaster ( who were of course Anna Austen’s aunt and uncle).

The Bath Chronicle of 13th August reported the accidental death as follows:

Mr Linley and Mr Olivarez an Italian Master and anther person agreed to go on the lake in a sailing boat which Mr Linley said he could manage but a sudden squall of wind  sprung up an overset the boat; however they all hung by the masts and rigging for some time till Mr Linley said  he found it was in vain to wait for assistance and therefore though he had his boots and his great coat on, he was determined to swim to shore for which purpose he quitted his hold but he had not swam above 100 yards  before he sunk. Her Grace the Duchess of Ancaster  saw the whole from her dressing room window and immediately despatched several servants off to take another boat to their assistance but which unfortunately came only time  enough to take up Mr Olivarez, his companion not being able to find the  body of Mr Linley for more than 40 minutes.

The church where poor old Thomas Linley is buried was the parish church used by the Ancasters,  in the neighbouring village  of Edenham. You can just see its tower though the trees in this picture taken from the south front of the castle.

The parish church of  St Michaels and all Angels, is open to the public too

and contains many fine monuments to the Ancasters.

This is a picture of the 3rd Duchess. Poor lady, witnessing such a scene.

Here she is in masquerade dress, standing before the rotunda at Ranelagh, the great pleasure garden in London.

Back to Grimsthorpe.

The interiors of the castle are wonderfully intimate , on a very humane scale, unusual in this type of house. One of my favourite rooms is the magnificent chapel, begun by Vanburgh but thought to have been completed by his assistant, Nicholas Hawksmoor.

It is a pale, peaceful confection of a room, still used for services, and is such as would not have satisfied Fanny Price in Mansfield Park at all…

They entered. Fanny’s imagination had prepared her for something grander than a mere spacious, oblong room, fitted up for the purpose of devotion: with nothing more striking or more solemn than the profusion of mahogany, and the crimson velvet cushions appearing over the ledge of the family gallery above. “I am disappointed,” said she, in a low voice, to Edmund. “This is not my idea of a chapel. There is nothing awful here, nothing melancholy, nothing grand. Here are no aisles, no arches, no inscriptions, no banners. No banners, cousin, to be ‘blown by the night wind of heaven.’ No signs that a ‘Scottish monarch sleeps below.’”

“You forget, Fanny, how lately all this has been built, and for how confined a purpose, compared with the old chapels of castles and monasteries. It was only for the private use of the family. They have been buried, I suppose, in the parish church. There you must look for the banners and the achievements.”

“It was foolish of me not to think of all that; but I am disappointed.”

(Mansfield Park, Chapter 9)

Crimson cushions abound, however……

One feature of the interiors is that there are number of thrones kept in the castle, once used by various monarchs in the House of Lords. They are kept by the family as one of the “perks” of being hereditary Lord Chamberlain. This is George IV’s throne which he used at his Coronation Banquet.

So, there we have it: a marvellous and relatively unknown country house  with some interesting Jane Austen connections. I do hope you have enjoyed this short tour and that if you are in the vicinity you are able  to tour this fascinating house and estate.

I am glad you recommended ‘Gisborne’, for having begun, I am pleased with it, and I had quite determined not to read it.

(See : Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 30th August 1805)

It seems that Jane Austen had a somewhat jaundiced view of Evangelical Anglicans. Cassandra Austen appears to have been more “enthusiastic” or supportive of the movement, but Jane Austen always seems to provide grudging praise or acceptance. As she evinces above where Cassandra has recommended her to read Thomas Gisborne’s book An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex.

This is the title page from the 1813 edition-it was originally printed in 1797.

As a conduct book, Gisborne’s is less censorious than many: he and Jane Austen would appear to have agree on quite a few subjects- for example, gaming in a small way in the country as a pastime  to keep from being bored was considered allowable -just think of the card games we encounter in Mansfield Park.  The superbly stupid game of Speculation (I know,I’ve played it!) being the only one suitable for Lady Bertram’s limited mental cpacity:

What shall I do, Sir Thomas? Whist and speculation; which will amuse me most?”

Sir Thomas, after a moment’s thought, recommended speculation. He was a whist player himself, and perhaps might feel that it would not much amuse him to have her for a partner.

“Very well,” was her ladyship’s contented answer; “then speculation, if you please, Mrs. Grant. I know nothing about it, but Fanny must teach me.”

Chapter 25

Gaming for great ruinous sums was not. Gamesters like Wickham were beyond the pale.However, I can’t help but think she would not have agreed with his pronoucements on the theatre in general but perhaps she would have been in agreement with his views on private theatricals, given the evidence of the private theatricals in Mansfield Park :

For some years past the custom of acting plays in private theatres fitted up by individuals of fortune has occasionally prevailed. It is a custom liable to prove in its effects, particularly injurious to the female performers. Let it be admitted that theatres of this description no longer present the fragrant impropriety of ladies bearing a part in drama in conjunction with professional players. Let it be admitted that the drama selected will be in its language and conduct and always irrepressible. Let it even be admitted that eminent  theatrical talents will not hereafter gain admission upon a stage for men of ambiguous or worse than ambiguous character. Take the benefit of all these favourable circumstances: yet, what is even then the tendency of such amusements?To encourage vanity; to excite a thirst for applause and admiration on account of attainments which, if they are not thus to be exhibited, it would have been commonly far better for the individual not to posses; to destroy diffidence by the unrestrained familiarity with persons of the other sex, which inevitably results form being joined with them in the drama;to create a general fondness for the perusal of plays of which many are improper to be read; and for attending dramatic representations of which so many are unfit to be witnessed…..

(See Chapter VIII: On Amusements in General pages 95-6)

I thought it might be useful for you to have some details of Gisborne’s life, for he led an interesting one .

Here is Joseph Wright of Derby’s double portrait of Thomas Gisborne and his wife which was painted in 1786, and is now owned by the Yale Centre for British Art.

Thomas Gisborne was born on 31 October 1758, and was the eldest son of John Gisborne and his wife Anne Bateman .The Gisborne family was rather well-to-do. The children were chiefly brought up at Yoxall Lodge in Needwood Forest, some ten miles south of Derby, in Leicestershire, a house which had been a hunting-lodge but which John Gisborne had rebuilt as a comfortable Georgian country house.Though one visitor, Josiah Wedgwood didn’t wholly approve of it:

“it pleases me much but not entirely”

he wrote.

(see See Benedict Nicholson, Thomas Gisborne and Wright of Derby, The Burlington Magazine 1965, pp58-62)

Here is a section from my copy of John Cary’s map of Staffordshire circa 1800, showing the position of Yoxall Lodge in the forest:

Thomas Gisborne’s early career was somewhat outstanding. As a boy he was tutored for six years by Rev. John Pickering, then went to Harrow. In 1776 he entered St John’s College, Cambridge where his lifelong friendship with William Wilberforce began.

Gisborne later recalled :

‘My rooms and his were back to back, and often when I was raking out my fire at ten o’clock, I heard his melodious voice calling aloud to me to come and sit with him before I went to bed’

(See R. & S. Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce Vol, I, (1838), pp.10-11).

Gisborne left Cambridge as “sixth wrangler” in the Mathematical Tripos, also winning the Chancellor’s Gold Medal for Classics and Sir William Browne’s Gold Medal for a Latin ode. A brilliant career was predicted for Gisborne, and a parliamentary seat was offered to him him. He turned it down, preferring instead to take Holy Orders.

In 1783, the year he was ordained as a priest, Gisborne was presented to the perpetual curacy of the parish of St James, Barton-under-Needwood. The next year he married Mary, daughter of Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, and sister of Thomas Babington who had been at St John’s with Gisborne and Wilberforce (Babington was to marry Zachary Macaulay’s sister, and to become the uncle of the yet unborn historian Thomas Babington Macaulay).

Thomas Gisborne settled down with his wife at Yoxall Lodge, inherited from his father a few years earlier, together with a considerable amount of money.

Wright of Derby’s ‘s double portrait of the couple(see above), dated 1786, was painted two years after the Gisborne’s marriage, when Thomas Gisborne was twenty-eight and Mary Gisborne ( who was born in 1760) was twenty-six.

Gisborne was an influential writer on many subjects, some of which were dear to Jane Austen’s heart. In his essay on The Clapham Sect, that band of philanthropists, evangelicals and staunch campaigners for the abolition of slavery, Sir James Stephen included Gisborne (whom he knew) along with Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay and others as members (see Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, (1849)Volume II, pp. 299-307).

Gisborne published his influential pamphlet Remarks on the Decision of the House of Commons on 2 April 1792, respecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, shortly after that debate. His other publications (as listed in the Directory of National Biography) include An Inquiry into the Duties of Men in the Higher Ranks and Middle Classes,( 1794 )and Cassandra’s recommendation, An Inquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex,( 1797). He was a learned and eloquent preacher; several volumes of his sermons were published.

Yoxall Lodge, in the heart of Needwood Forest,  with no close neighbours except passing deer, gave the Gisborne family quietness and peace of mind. Gisborne celebrated the beauties of Needwood in his Walks in a Forest, a slim volume of blank verse published in 1795, describing forest scenery at different times of the day and in different seasons. He became deeply interested in natural history and ornithology. Sir James Stephen described Gisborne’s study as:

…a chamber which it might seem no dealer in household furniture has ever been permitted to enter, but where books and manuscripts, plants and pallets, tools and philosophical instruments, birds perched on the shoulder, or nestling in the bosom of the student, or birds curiously stuffed by his own hands, usurped the places usually assigned to the works of the upholsterer (As above page 305)

William Wilberforce became a regular visitor to Yoxall Lodge from about 1794 and he made it his summer residence, arriving with vast amounts of papers, knowing that this was the one place in England where he could digest them in perfect peace (See R.I. & S. Wilberforce ,as above p.278).

Mary Gisborne appears to have been an equally intelligent woman:

When he sat with the family sipping tea, and the words poured forth as his mind jumped from point to point in that bubbling spontaneous thinking aloud which captivated his hearers, she would seize a pad and afterwards present him with her notes See John Pollack, Wilberforce,( 1977)p.145.

Gisborne was himself an amateur artist, as the portfolio he holds in the portrait by Wright , above, suggests; there are examples of his work in the British Museum. He actually became a friend of the Rev. William Gilpin, high priest of the Picturesque and one of Jane Austen’s favourite writers. Gilpin gave ,in my humble opinion, a perceptive account of Gisborne in a letter of 17 September 1792:

. . . You can enter his mind without lock or key. He is a man of considerable fortune; but went into orders, not with any view of preferment but merely, as it appears to me, to have a better pretence to be serious ...

(See Benedict Nicholson, Thomas Gisborne and Wright of Derby, The Burlington Magazine 1965, pp58-62)

A tantalising  aspect of Gisborne’s life in association with Jane Austen, was that he was a close friend  and neighbour of her cousin, the Reverend Edward Cooper.

If you look at this section from  Cary’s map of Staffordshire, you  will note that  Hamstall Ridware ,the living that Edward Cooper held is distant only a few miles form Yoxall Lodge ,and it is perhaps less well known that  Edward Cooper also held a second family living- in 1809 the Leigh family presented him with the living of St Peter’s in the village of Yoxall itself.

Irene Collins in an article on Edward Cooper contained in the Jane Austen Society’s Report for 2008 makes this interesting comment:

At what point Edward Cooper was converted to the cause( of Anglican Evangelicalism -JFW) is not clear. According to his sermons he did not believe that conversion had of necessity to be a sudden  shattering moment of comprehension like St Paul’s on the way to Damascus,and if his own  experience was more reasoned, his arrival at Hamstall Ridware towards the end of 1799 could well have been the key event. Like all movements of thought Evangelicalism took off more readily in some areas than in others and in Staffordshire the climate seems to have been exceptionally favourable. The bishop of Litchfield and Coventry had been one fo Wilberforce’s earliest recruits.The Earl of Harrowby the largest landowner in the county was also on board. Around Hamstall itself there was a nest of Evangelical clergy and above all there was the Reverend thoasm Gisborne living at nearby Yoxall hall, his family home. …He was an important figure in the Evangelical movement  not least because he was a personal friend of Wilberforce who was in the habit of spending  several weeks at Yoxall Lodge during the  parliamentary vactions.Edward Cooper was soon a frequent visitor to the lodge also and by 1802 was on close enough terms with Gisbourne to name his newborn son after him. In 1809 he was to dedicate what became his most successful collection of sermons to theReverend Thomas Gisborne.

Jane Austen and her mother and sister Cassandra famously visited the Coopers in the summer of 1806 after they had visited  Adelstrop in Gloucestershire and Stoneleigh in Warwickshire. Is it too much to speculate that Jane Austen might have met Thomas Gisborne while staying there? Certainly Edward Cooper’s mother in law, Mrs Lybbe Powys appears to have met all the neighbouring clergy and families on her  trips to Staffordshire as recorded in her diaries. I wonder what would have been the result, given that Jane Austen  seems to have agreed with him on some subjects? What a fascinating prospect this is and what a pity Jane and Cassandra were together during that trip for no letters between them therefore were written during this period. The Cooper children became ill during this visit-and that might have restricted Jane Austen’s social visits…..but such a tantalising  prospect!

However, I’m not ultimately surprised that Jane Austen eventually  approved of Thomas Gisborne’s book :he sounds just like her ideal of a clergyman, considering his  preferences for country life rather than town,and a modest way of living. What would have been wonderful to know was if they ever did meet and what she actually thought of him as a person …

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