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Austenonly P+P 200 LogoWe have seen in our previous post that an efficient, attentive Master of Ceremonies was essential to the smooth running of the large assemblies. Someone had to maintain control of the company, constituted as it often was in spa towns and resorts, of a constantly changing group of people. In today’s post let’s look at the role of the Master of Ceremonies in some more detail.

In most spas and sea bathing places that had any pretensions to greatness and fashion, the position of Master of Ceremonies was an official one. In Bath, from the time of Beau Nash in the early 18th century there was only one Master of Ceremonies even though from 1771 there were two sets of rooms, the new Upper set and the older Lower set. However, the role was eventually split between two M.Cs  in 1777 after the resignation of the sole Master of Ceremonies,Captain Wade, due to his involvement in a scandal ( see below for more details).

The decision as to who would be appointed as the Master of Ceremonies was usually taken in the form of an election, and the evidence from Bath is that they could be hotly and fiercely fought. As the Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1812) tells us:

On the resignation or abdication of this gentleman ( Wade- jfw)  in 1777, no less than seven candidates started; who, however, were at last reduced to two, Mr. Brereton and Mr. Dawson; and, as neither party would yield, it was agreed on to appoint two kings with equal rights; but that the one should preside at the Lower, and the other at the Upper or New Rooms. Mr. Brereton was nominated to the former, and Mr. Dawson to the latter.

Those entitled to vote were  the subscribers to a particular set of rooms, or the controlling committee.  Though the role of Master of Ceremonies was therefore official, and a beautiful badge of honour was supplied to the Bath M.C.s to distinguish them ( go here to see a portrait of William Dawson, the Master of Ceremonies at the Upper Rooms from 1777-1786: wearing his bade. His badge of office  is still in the collection of the City of Bath) it might interest you to note that the Bath M.Cs were not paid an official salary. Instead, they were entitled to share the receipts from four benefit balls held every year. From 1771 two benefit balls were held in the Lower and two in the Upper Rooms every year and the Master of Ceremonies kept all the receipts. It was in his best interests therefore to makes sure these assemblies were popular with The COmpany in the town and were well attended. It is quite simple equasion: more happy people at a ball, more income for the M.C.

The eventual appointment of two Master of Ceremonies in Bath meant two badges of office and again we have this description from The Guide to all the Watering places etc (1812):

Mr. Tyson’s medallion is of gold, enamelled and enriched with brilliants, on one side displaying a figure of Minerva, over which is the motto Decus et Tutamen, and under, Dulce est desipere in loco; on the reverse Arbiter Elegantiardm. Oct. 1777, decorated with leaves of laurel and palm.

Mr. King’s medallion is also of fine gold, enamelled blue, and enriched with brilliants, having on one side a raised figure of Venus, with a golden apple in one hand and a rudder in the other: the motto Venus dccens. The reverse is a wreath of laurel, with the words, Arbiter elegantiardm, Communi consensu.

So, what did being a Master of Ceremonies entail? What were his duties? The amateur  Master of Ceremonies had to act in exactly the same manner as a professional one, keeping the peace in the public rooms and assemblies, enforcing the Assembly rules and making sure everything ran smoothly. He was simultaneously diplomat, judge, arbiter of fashion and policeman… Here is a contemporary take on their role by Jospeh Moser:

… introduce regularity into large assemblies, to keep order, to repress the ebullitions of passion, to banish, if possible, that contraction or thrusting out of the lips which Shakespear calls pouting; to prevent violent suffusions or flushings in the female countenance; to keep the ladies from tossing, and their noses from turning up, when precedence, partners, and people that nobody knows, with a hundred other serious circumstances, excite those emotions.  He has also annexed to his office something clerical, it being his business to join hands:  but he goes still farther, he frequently procures partners, who sometimes under his banners enlist for life.

( See  The Sports of Ancient LondonThe Sporting Magazine  1807. )

The Bath Masters of Ceremonies could also supplement their incomes by becoming Masters of Ceremonies at different spas or resorts. This was due to the length of the Bath season, which ran from October to May.  The seasons at the other spas and sea bathing places usually ran from June to September, though it could vary in detail from rooms to rooms in  these provincial resorts. This system can be  illustrated by looking at the career of James King, the Master of Ceremonies whom Jane Austen mentions by name in Northanger Abbey, and who effected the introduction between Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney. He was the Master of Ceremonies at the Lower rooms from 1785. In 1805 he became the Master of Ceremonies at the Upper Rooms. But he was also the Master of Ceremonies at another spa with which Jane Austen was familiar. He served, during their summer season, at Cheltenham in Gloucestershire  from 1803 until his death in 1816.

The Bath Masters of Ceremonies  were often suave and handsome figures and it was not unknown for them to be involved in affairs of the heart. Perhaps the most famous of these is Captain Wade, due to his being immortalised in this magnificent portrait by Thomas Gainsborough which hangs in the Great Octagon Card Room of the Upper Rooms:

Captain Wade, Master of Ceremonies at Bath by Thomas Gainsborough

Captain Wade, Master of Ceremonies at Bath by Thomas Gainsborough

He was the Master of Ceremonies at Bath when the new, magnificent Upper Rooms were built. As a result he became the of Master of Ceremonies of both the Lower and the Upper Rooms, and took up his post at the new rooms  in September 1771 when they opened. However, he had to resign  his post as Master of Ceremonies in Bath in 1777 after he was involved in

an affair of gallantry

as Pierce Egan in Walk’s Though Bath (1819) coyly describes it.  What had happened was that in July 1777 Wade was named in the divorce proceedings of Elizabeth Eustatia Campbell and  her husband, John Hooke Campbell.  He was forced to resign his post as Master of Ceremonies at Bath due to the scandal. However, Wade’s attachment to Elizabeth Campbell continued and following the death in 1787 of his first wife, Katherine with whom he had five children, he and Elizabeth were married on 30 June 1787 at St Marylebone, London. Wade had held the post of M.C at Bath and at  Brighton since 1767  and on being made to  leave Bath, he became full-time Master of Ceremonies at Brighton where he reigned over the principal assemblies at the Castle  and the Old Ship Inns. He also issued a set of rules intended to regulate the behaviour of the company in the town  and in 1787 . for example, he  prohibited the playing of games on the Steine, which was an open space in the town set just in front  of the Prince of Wales’ home the Pavilion, and a scene of fashionable promenading. By 1806 he was in dispute with the Old Ship and as a result, form then on, presided only at assemblies  at the Castle Inn.  Wade’s last season was 1807, and he  died at his home in New Street on 16 March 1809.

If the room’s committee permitted it , some provincial M.Cs could also split their duties between two sets of rooms. Charles Le Bas, shown below,

A profile of Charles Le Bas from The New Margate Ramsgate and Broadstairs Guide (1809)

A profile of Charles Le Bas from The New Margate Ramsgate and Broadstairs Guide (1809)

was the Master of Ceremonies of both sets of assembly rooms in the nearby towns of Margate and Ramsgate in Kent. Ramsgate was of course, the scene of Georgiana Darcy’s near disaster, the sea-bathing resort from which Wickham attempted to elope with her, an attempt that was happily, not successful.

Poor Mr le Bas. He succeeded  Richard Tyson as Master of Ceremonies of the Lower Rooms in Bath in 1805. But, the Lower Rooms were becoming very unpopular, and most of the Company preferred to spend their time at the new, more fashionable, Upper Rooms in the more fashionable part of Bath. The poor attendance at the Lower Rooms made it financially impossible to support a separate Master of Ceremonies. The monies raised from the benefit balls could not support two such officials. And so, after struggling on for three years, he had to resign.

In small towns like Meryton, no official would have been paid to act as Master of Ceremonies, and in many smaller towns where everyone knew each other, it would not have appeared necessary  to appoint one.  But, if the rooms did need consider they needed one then often a local gentleman would be asked to preside. For example, in the small Derbyshire town of Chesterfield, the nearest town to his estate at Chatsworth, William the fourth Duke of Devonshire presided at their assemblies as Master of Ceremonies.  Mrs Lybbe Powys, a friend of Jane Austen’s aunt and uncle the Leigh Perrots,  described in her diary  just how active he was in the role when she visited the town in the mid 18th century:

On the Wednesday, having dined early, we set off in different carriages, and seven gentlemen on horseback for the course, about three, came back to tea about eight. Sir Harry Hemloak, his two sisters, and more company returned with us, and about ten we went to the Assembly Room, where The Duke of Devonshire always presided as master of the ceremonies, and after the ball gave an elegant cold supper, where, by his known politeness and affability, it would be unnecessary for me to say how amiable he made himself to the company.

Interestingly, if a committee of patronesses organised the assemblies then one of their number would be asked to preside over the running of the assemblies. Girl power, indeed.

Our friend Thomas Wilson, dancing master of the King’s Theatre in London, in the chapter,  Etiquette of the Ballroom in his book The Complete System of Country Dancing (1813) and a Master of Ceremonies himself, gave explicit and minutely detailed instructions as to how an amateur master of ceremonies should conduct himself, and order the night. For example,

When the ball commences the company should not leaves their places or rest till after the second dance. Should the sets be short they may dance three dances before they rest. During the remainder of the evening it is the business of the Master of Ceremonies to direct the company as to the proper time for resting….

He also realised the Master of Ceremonies should be easily recognisable and thus :

The Master of Ceremonies should wear a sash or some other conspicuous ensignia, to distinguish him from the rest of the company

He also has this to say to prospective Masters of Ceremonies as a warning:

Persons should be very careful in taking upon themselves the office of Master of Ceremonies unless properly and fully qualifies for that office,as they take upon themselves very great responsibility 

So, would Meryton have had a Master of Ceremonies at their assemblies ?Jane Austen does not mention one, but…does it not occur to you that Sir William Lucas, that civil man about that particular town, might have been the prefect candidate? He was courteous to a fault and had little to do now he had prematurely retired, “unshackled by business” as Jane Austen terms it:

Sir William Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the King, during his mayoralty. The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly. It had given him a disgust to his business, and to his residence in a small market town; and, quitting them both, he had removed with his family to an house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from that period Lucas Lodge, where he could think with pleasure of his own importance, and, unshackled by business, occupy himself solely in being civil to all the world. For, though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly, and obliging, his presentation at St. James’s had made him courteous.

and he does take an interest in how people dance:

At that moment Sir William Lucas appeared close to them, meaning to pass through the set to the other side of the room; but on perceiving Mr. Darcy he stopt with a bow of superior courtesy to compliment him on his dancing and his partner.

   “I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear sir. Such very superior dancing is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles. Allow me to say, however, that your fair partner does not disgrace you, and that I must hope to have this pleasure often repeated, especially when a certain desirable event, my dear Miss Eliza (glancing at her sister and Bingley) shall take place. What congratulations will then flow in! I appeal to Mr. Darcy — but let me not interrupt you, sir. You will not thank me for detaining you from the bewitching converse of that young lady, whose bright eyes are also upbraiding me.”

Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 18

I will admit that against this argument is the fact that Bingley suggested that Jane Bennet might introduce Darcy to Elizabeth at the Assembly, not the Master of Ceremonies:

You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

   “Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you…

Pride and Prejudice Chapter 3

But, nevertheless, I like to think that Sir William might have take this role upon himself, as I think with all  his experience at court (!!) and with his ample leisure time and determined to be civil to all the world  he was the prefect candidate. My opinion only…Despise me if you dare…;)

I am absolutely delighted with them :

P1020974

The pack is very well presented, as you can clearly see, and contains some very good biographical information

P1020977

and a short essay on Pride and Prejudice written by P. D. James:

P1020976

The postcards are also very lovely, as you can clearly see:

P1020979

P1020978

I have another set- of both the post cards and the presentation pack with the complete set of stamps- and you may be pleased to note that I will be adding them to the steadily growing pile of gifts for this year’s anniversary giveaway in December ;) If you would like to order your own set, ( or, indeed, sets!) you can do so by clicking on this link to the Royal Mail website, here.

Austenonly P+P 200 LogoI think we imagine that each set of assembly rooms operated on similar lines, but that really was not the case: each set of rooms would have its own standards of behaviour and level of social acceptability. And, accordingly, the social mix of The Company- those admitted to the social events at the assembly rooms- varied considerably.

Beau Nash, who was the Master of Ceremonies at Bath in the early 18th century, had a very catholic and comprehensive attitude to the company there. He forbade all private parties but invited everyone to the Assembly House for dinners, teas, breakfast concerts and balls provided that two conditions could be met. These were that the Company would be made up of:

people of every degree, condition and occupation of life, if well dressed and well behaved.

He was also wise enough to realise that such a potent mix of people had to be regulated in some way and so he created his influential Rules by General Consent. His rules were displayed ( and still are!) in the Pump Room, below, where, of course, every family wishing to take part in the activities of the town announced their arrival in Bath by adding their names to the “subscription book” kept there for that purpose.

The Pump Room, Bath ©Austenonly

The Pump Room, Bath ©Austenonly

Their names were also subsequently listed in the local newspapers. The subscription book was kept by an employee of the Bath Corporation( the first known was a Mrs Porter)and paying the subscription fee of 2 guineas procured three tickets to the twice weekly balls. Note that in addition, Nash took it upon himself to visit every family who attended the city to make certain everyone understood what was expected of them and to see if they would be acceptable members of The Company. His rules were somewhat capricious, but they certainly make strong points about the standard of behaviour and dress required:

That a visit of ceremony at first coming, and another at going away, are all that are expected or desired by ladies of quality and fashion–except impertinents.

That ladies coming to the ball appoint a time for their footmen coming to wait on them home, to prevent disturbance and inconvenience to themselves and others.

That gentlemen of fashion never appearing in a morning before the ladies in gowns and caps show breeding and respect.

That no person take it ill that anyone goes to another’s play or breakfast and not theirs; except captious by nature.

That no gentleman give his ticket for the balls to any but gentlewomen. N.B.–Unless he has none of his acquaintance.

That gentlemen crowding before the ladies at the ball show ill manners; and that none do so for the future except such as respect nobody but themselves.

That no gentleman or lady takes it ill that another dances before them except such as have no pretence to dance at all.

That the elder ladies and children be content with a second bench at a ball, as being past or not come to perfection.

That the younger ladies take notice how many eyes observe them.

That all whisperers of lies or scandal be taken for their authors.

That all repeaters of such lies and scandal be shunned by the company; except such as have been guilty of the same crime.

Other important Assembly Rooms were run by professional master of ceremonies, like Nash, but most small, provincial assembly rooms, like the Meryton set, would have been organised by amateurs: a local chap might act as Master of Ceremonies( more on this later) or a committee of local patrons or patronesses might have organised the balls and enforced the rules. In my copy of The Complete System of English Country Dancing by Thomas Wilson, in his chapter entitled The Etiquette of the Ballroom, he gives very detailed instructions to prospective masters of ceremonies as to how an assembly should be run so as to avoid any unnecessary problems with dress or behavior. Thomas Wilson was the dancing master at the Kings Theatre in London at the turn of the 18th century, but in addition to this post he frequently organised public balls and his rules do seem to have been written from hard won experience. For example:

Gentlemen are not permitted to enter a Ball room in boots,spurs, gaiters, trowseres(sic) or with canes or sticks: nor are loose pantaloons considered proper for a Full Dress Ball.

He also sagely advises;

To preserve the greater order and to prevent disputes , it is advisable that the proprietors or the conductors of Public Balls and Assemblies should have the foregoing etiquette, particularly so much of it as relates to the company ,written and hung up in some conspicuous part of the room during such evenings as the Balls or Assemblies maybe held.

But, of course human nature being what it is, Assemblies did not always work out in the democratic way that Nash envisaged. For example in York, Whig families patronised Thursday night assemblies and Tory families attended Monday night assemblies.The Company in that town was clearly divided on political lines. The “company” in Derby took social segregation to extremes. This assembly room was under the control of a committee of Lady Patronesses ( who were Dorothy Every; Elizabeth Eyre; Bridget Baily and Hester Mundy)and it had quite strict rules regarding attendance.
They were:

No attorneys clerk shall be admitted

No shopkeeper or any of his family shall be admitted except Mr Franceys.

No lady shall be allowed to dance in a white apron

All young ladies in Mantuas shall pay 2/6d

No Miss in a coat shall dance without the Leave of the Lady of the Assembly

Whosoever shall transgress these rule shall be turned out of the assembly.

But they had not reckoned on Mr Franceys, mentioned in the second of three rules. He was a very rich Derby apothecary who entertained very lavishly at his home on the market place in the town. Even though he was exempted from the Lady Patronesses’ snobbery, he disliked their scheme for attendance so much that he established a second set of rooms which was for the use of all those who were not admitted to the first : that is, people in trade and the unfortunate attorney’s clerks! The same sort of situation existed in Lincoln, which is, as any one who has been there knows, dominated by the vertiginous Steep Hill at the top of the town which was the administrative and social centre, for the castle, law courts and cathedral were all to be found at plateau at the top of the hill. The members of the county set met at the Assemblies held at the top of the hill: the people of the city (traders) met at a second assembly room built at the bottom of the hill. And never the twain did meet.

The Ballroom of the Athenaeum , Bury St Edmunds

The Ballroom of the Athenaeum , Bury St Edmunds

The rooms at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk (the Atheneum, see the Ballroom above ) were also strictly segregated reading class as this passage taken from Volume XIV of The Beauties of England and Wales by Frederic Shoberl makes abundantly clear:

At the south side of the open place known as Angel Hill stand the Assembly Rooms, a newly erected building of simple exterior. Teh ballroom is well proportioned…The three balls held annually during the great fair in October, are in general attended by great numbers of persons of the first rank and fashion as are also the four or five winter balls; but trades-people, however respectable and opulent, are rigourously excluded. It has been universally remarked that there is not perhaps a town in the kingdom where the pride of birth,even though conjoined with poverty’s so tenaciously and so ridiculously maintained as at Bury.

The tone suggests that the author was quite disgusted by this exlusivelity. But what sort of company was there at Meryton? In chapter 4 of Pride and Prejudice we are given Bingley( who is rich from his father’s efforts in trade, but not landed) and Darcy’s thoughts on the assembly:

The manner in which they spoke of the Meryton assembly was sufficiently characteristic. Bingley had never met with pleasanter people or prettier girls in his life; everybody had been most kind and attentive to him; there had been no formality, no stiffness; he had soon felt acquainted with all the room; and as to Miss Bennet, he could not conceive an angel more beautiful. Darcy, on the contrary, had seen a collection of people in whom there was little beauty and no fashion, for none of whom he had felt the smallest interest, and from none received either attention or pleasure. Miss Bennet he acknowledged to be pretty, but she smiled too much.

In chapter 5 we learn that in addition to the Bennets,the Lucases and Miss King, Mrs Long and a Mr Robinson were also at the assembly. Mrs Long , Mrs Bennet’s friend cannot afford to keep a carriage. Perhaps she was the widow of a tradesperson, and Mr Robinson associated with trade too? In any event it appears, to me at least, that the Meryton assembly seems to have been an inclusive rather than an exclusive group. And perhaps this was what helped form Darcy’s poor opinion of the evening? Perhaps he would have had a better time had he travelled to Suffolk, or nearer to home at Derby….

Austenonly P+P 200 LogoThe Upper Rooms in Bath were probably the most magnificent set of rooms in England and Wales. Situated in the fashionable, upper part of the town, they were and are, quite magnificent to behold. But what went on at a winter assembly there, and how did it differ from assemblies held in provincial towns such as Meryton. Let’s find out.

The Bath Winter Assemblies, part of the Bath Winter season which ran from October each year,  began at six o ‘ clock in the evening when the guests began to arrive and the musicians were scheduled to begin to play the minuets that made up the first dances of the evening. Some guests arrived by carriage but most of the company arrived either on foot ( if they were men) or by sedan chair ( or, as it was often referred to simply as a “chair”) if they were women or infirm. Because of Bath’s hilly terrain the chair was the preferred mode of transport, and in this floor plan of the Upper Rooms, below, you can clearly see the area set aside for the chairs and the chairmen to set down their passengers- a colonnade, where they would wait for the evening to end. It was rather similar to a taxi rank today, which similarly can be found near place of entertainment in towns.

Floor plan of the Upper Rooms,Bath from Walter Ison’s book, “The Georgian Buildings of Bath”

Floor plan of the Upper Rooms,Bath from Walter Ison’s book, “The Georgian Buildings of Bath”

Most of the attendees would have paid for their entrance ticket by way of a subscription, especially if they were staying in Bath for some time. You can see the terms upon which subscriptions ticked were issued during the season of 1811-12 below:

Dress Ball Advertisement for Subscribers

Dress Ball Advertisement for Subscribers, Bath Upper Rooms 1811-12.

On arrival the guests would deposit their cloaks or coats at the Cloakroom, which you can see was situated to the right of the entrance vestibule ( where the gift/bookshop shop is now to be found ). Those not interested in dancing, or merely watching and listening to the music would make their way directly to The Card Room, as Mr Allen did in Northanger Abbey, where they could gamble the night away:

Mrs. Allen was so long in dressing that they did not enter the ballroom till late. The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could. As for Mr. Allen, he repaired directly to the card–room, and left them to enjoy a mob by themselves.

Northanger Abbey, Chapter 2

The Card Room, the Upper Rooms, Bath ©Austenonly

The Card Room, the Upper Rooms, Bath ©Austenonly

But those intending to dance would turn left into the magnificent ballroom. This very large, double-height room had four large fireplaces, five magnificent crystal chandeliers  lit with many candles, all  hanging from the high ceiling, which together with candles set into mirrored griandoles which were hung on the walls, illuminated the room. At a time when light was a luxury this must have been a magnificent sight, though probably to our modern eyes it would probably not seem very brilliant at all.

The Ballroom at the Upper Rooms,Bath ©Austenonly

The Ballroom at the Upper Rooms,Bath ©Austenonly

The walls were set around with benches, sometimes there were up to four tiers of them as you can see from the illustration, below:

Scan 1

These benches were also mentioned by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey: poor Catherine Morland mistakenly thinks she will be easily be able to get a seat in the ballroom of the Upper Rooms but, due to their late arrival, caused by Mrs Allen preoccupation with dressing for the evening, that was not to be:

…she had imagined that when once fairly within the door, they should easily find seats and be able to watch the dances with perfect convenience. But this was far from being the case, and though by unwearied diligence they gained even the top of the room, their situation was just the same; they saw nothing of the dancers but the high feathers of some of the ladies. Still they moved on — something better was yet in view; and by a continued exertion of strength and ingenuity they found themselves at last in the passage behind the highest bench. Here there was something less of crowd than below; and hence Miss Morland had a comprehensive view of all the company beneath her, and of all the dangers of her late passage through them. 

From six to eight o’clock minuets danced by single couples were performed before the scrutiny of the company. In this great room between 500-600 could watch the scene  but on special occasions  this number could rise to over 800. Note there were no fire regulations or health and safety concerns limiting attendance numbers in those days, and the crush could have been very uncomfortable, as Catherine Morland discovered:

With more care for the safety of her new gown than for the comfort of her protégée, Mrs. Allen made her way through the throng of men by the door, as swiftly as the necessary caution would allow; Catherine, however, kept close at her side, and linked her arm too firmly within her friend’s to be torn asunder by any common effort of a struggling assembly. But to her utter amazement she found that to proceed along the room was by no means the way to disengage themselves from the crowd; it seemed rather to increase as they went on…Still they moved on — something better was yet in view; and by a continued exertion of strength and ingenuity they found themselves at last in the passage behind the highest bench. Here there was something less of crowd than below; and hence Miss Morland had a comprehensive view of all the company beneath her, and of all the dangers of her late passage through them. It was a splendid sight, and she began, for the first time that evening, to feel herself at a ball

Northanger Abbey, Chapter 2

A Bath Assembly from: "The Comforts of Bath" by Rowlandson ©Austenonly

A Bath Assembly from: “The Comforts of Bath” by Rowlandson ©Austenonly

At eight o’clock the country dances began and were performed by the musicians in the Musicians Gallery, which you can see on the floor plan, above . This section of the evening lasted for an hour, till nine o’clock when the company retired to the Tea Room for refreshments of tea, coffee and small items of food. The food and drink was served to the company by waiters, who served the refreshments to the company from long trestle tables set behind the columns under the musicians gallery in the room. Poor Catherine Morland’s experience of tea in this room was rather uncomfortable, socially, despite the grand surroundings :

Everybody was shortly in motion for tea, and they must squeeze out like the rest. Catherine began to feel something of disappointment — she was tired of being continually pressed against by people, the generality of whose faces possessed nothing to interest, and with all of whom she was so wholly unacquainted that she could not relieve the irksomeness of imprisonment by the exchange of a syllable with any of her fellow captives; and when at last arrived in the tea–room, she felt yet more the awkwardness of having no party to join, no acquaintance to claim, no gentleman to assist them. They saw nothing of Mr. Allen; and after looking about them in vain for a more eligible situation, were obliged to sit down at the end of a table, at which a large party were already placed, without having anything to do there, or anybody to speak to, except each other.

Northanger Abbey, Chapter 2.

The company then returned to the Card Room or to the Ballroom when the dancing of country dances resumed until eleven o’clock when everything stopped. In Bath the assemblies stopped at this early hour in mid dance if necessary.  The company then collected their coats from the cloakroom, and then waited at the entrance for their chair or carriage to arrive to take them home. Less formal “fancy “or “cotillion” balls were also held at the Rooms: these balls were distinguished from Dress balls by the fact that minuets were not danced at these types of balls.

In the provincial towns other than Bath the assemblies differed in that minuets were seldom, if ever, performed. Interestingly the summer was the most important time for assemblies in the provincial towns.  They were larger and more prestigious, and often coincided with important local events such as  fairs,  the assizes or races week in the towns. The assizes was the time in the year when the Circuit judges appeared in town to hear locally important civil and criminal trials and they were a time of much entertaining and ceremony. The same held with any local horse racing meeting( without the pomp of the judges’ processions etc). Here is an advert from the Stamford Mercury of 1766  advertising two assembly balls (and a concert) during its race week:

Advert from the 1766 Stamford Mercury

Advert from the 1766 Stamford Mercury

By far the grandest of these weeks was the horse racing week in York ( now known as the Ebor meet) when the town was occupied by local aristocrats  and gentry arrived  from the surrounding countryside , small towns and villages and from Town, taking up residence in their smart town houses, like Fairfax House, to attend the round of racing, concerts and  assemblies in the assembly room. For that week the number of the musicians in the York assembly rooms were increased from five to ten, and tickets were sold so that those who wanted to could observe the dancing etc from the gallery above the ballroom.

In the winter provincial assemblies were held monthly, coinciding with the time of the  full moon so that the company could travel  when there might be some natural illumination in the sky to make their journey to and form the assembly less perilous. And these assemblies often began much later than six o clock as was the norm in Bath.As a result hey continued into the small hours of the morning.

Like the Bath assemblies tea,coffee and light refreshments were provided at the provincial assemblies. A supper served with wine and other alcoholic drinks was recovered for very special occasions such as assemblies  held to celebrate the King’s Birthday or for assembles held during a general election.

The Meryton Assembly is seen as a perfect place for Jane Austen to introduce the rich, new-comers in the area to her cast of Merytonians, and to us. This was exactly what happened in real life.  New visitors to towns or spas could meet people at assemblies, and the Master of Ceremoines( of whom more later) could be asked to make introductions. Something Mrs Allen, Catherine Morland’s useless chaperone in Northanger Abbey failed to  manage at the visit to the Upper Rooms: the situation changed for the better in the Lower Rooms:

They made their appearance in the Lower Rooms; and here fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck.

Northanger Abbey, Chapter 3

Eliza de Feuillide,  Jane Austen’s dazzling cousin, wrote of the sad state of affirms in Lowestoft in Suffolk when she was living there in 1797 with her husband Henry Austen, Jane Austen’s brother. Henry was stationed in Lowestoft, with the Oxfordshire Militia. The threat of invasion from France and the rest of Europe was real and intense at this time, and the Militia ‘s object was to defend the vulnerable low-lying East coast of England from attack. There were no assembly rooms in the town, so the opportunities for meeting new friends was limited:

This place (Lowestoft-jfw)  still contains a good many families but as there are no Rooms there is no opportunity of getting acquainted with them( there is a PLay House but I have not yet been there) however I am not in total solitude for there are three families here with whom I am acquainted and what with walking, occasionally driving over to Yarmouth with which I am delighted, and plenty of Books to say nothing of dipping in the Sea ,(which) I detest, I contrive to fill up my time tolerably & for Hastings( her son’s-jfw) sake and that of my own bathing from which I mean to reap great benefit I shall remain here till ye 12th of next month, when I shall once more repair to the great City…

(See: Jane Austen’s Outlandish Cousin, by Deirdre Le Faye, page 149)

Next in this series, the Master Of Ceremonies.Who was he and what he did ….

The Remains of the "Pride and Prejudice" Celebratory Cake

The Remains of the “Pride and Prejudice” Celebratory Cake

…..it was delicious:)

I thought you might like to see the beautiful cake that was made for the Jane Austen House Musuem’s celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice…Mr Woodhouse would have  been appalled;)

Austenonly P+P 200 LogoNo, you’ve not spotted another of my infamous typos…the arguments are quite persuasive that the town of Ware in Hertfordshire is Jane Austen’s inspiration for Meryton in Pride and Prejudice. In my last article I was a little economical with the truth, and deliberately failed to mention other pressing reasons why Jane Austen may have chosen to base her novel in  Hertfordshire, because I wanted to write this separate post. Let’s take a look at them now, shall we?

Jane Austen gives us tantalising and teasing references to Meryton and Longbourn’s situation in the text of  Pride and Prejudice. The most definite information we have is that Longbourn, Meryton and the nearby  town of ____(Blank) are in Hertfordshire. But in fact it is not until Chapter 3 of the novel that we are given this vital information:

An invitation to dinner was soon afterwards dispatched; and already had Mrs. Bennet planned the courses that were to do credit to her housekeeping, when an answer arrived which deferred it all. Mr. Bingley was obliged to be in town the following day, and, consequently, unable to accept the honour of their invitation, etc. Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted. She could not imagine what business he could have in town so soon after his arrival in Hertfordshire; and she began to fear that he might be always flying about from one place to another, and never settled at Netherfield as he ought to be..

We eventually learn that Longbourn is about one mile from Meryton, and that the journey from London, (Gracechurch Street) to Longbourn is exactly 24 miles( Chapter 27). In Chapter 46 we learn, via Jane’s letter to Elizabeth, which discloses the fact of Lydia’s elopement, that Longbourn must be within a ten-mile radius of The Great North Road,  as it was assumed that Wickham and Lydia were travelling from Brighton via London to Scotland on to the final but dubious destination of Gretna and a clandestine marriage:

They were off Saturday night about twelve, as is conjectured, but were not missed till yesterday morning at eight. The express was sent off directly. My dear Lizzy, they must have passed within ten miles of us.

Dr. R. W. Chapman in his Oxford University Press edition of Pride and Prejudice has this characteristically blunt assessment of the situation:

Note._ There is no reason to suppose that Longbourn, Meryton and the town of ____ are other than fictitious. Longbourn was 24 miles from London and within 10 miles of the North Road through Barnet and Hatfield. Assuming this was West or East, Meryton and ___ would correspond , roughly, to Hemel Hempstead and Watford or to Ware and Hertford.

Here is a section from John Cary’s map of Hertfordshire dating from 1787, and I have annotated it with all the places that have relevance to our quest to find “Meryton” (Note, you can enlarge it by clicking on it):

Section of Hertfordshire from Cary's map of 1787 ©Austenonly

Section of Hertfordshire from Cary’s map of 1787 ©Austenonly

They are:

1. Kimpton

2.Harpenden

3.Redbourn

4.Hemel Hempstead

5.Watford

6. The great North Road-Barnet and Hatfield

7. Hartford

8 Ware.

9.Welwyn

The first indication that Jane Austen may have based her fictional town on a real one, and indeed, had some personal knowledge of Hertfordshire, was given to us  in an article written by William Jarvis and published  in the Jane Austen Society’s Report of 1978. In his article  he revealed that the Reverend Thomas Bathurst who was curate at Steventon from 1754 until George Austen, Jane’s father took up his duties there in 1764, was in fact George Austen’s cousin and after his time at Steventon, in

 1765 he was inducted into the valuable living of Welwyn in Hertfordshire

He remained there till his death in 1797.

In their 1992 article,  Jane Austen and the Militia published in JASNA’s Persuasions (no 14),  John Breihan and Clive Caplan established that the Derbyshire Militia were quartered in Hertford and Ware in 1797-5. Welwyn is six miles west of Hertford as you can see on the map, above. Deirdre le Faye in an article in the 1996 Jane Austen Society Report argued that it was possible that Jane Austen became aware of the existence of the Derbyshire’s billeting in Hertfordshire  (and made aware of  news of possibly scandalous behaviour) through correspondence George Austen may have had at this point from his cousin, Thomas. First Impressions, the early version of Pride and Prejudice was written by  Jane Austen between October 1796 and August 1797, and it is possible that Jane Austen was inspired by some gossipy letters between her father and his cousin…..but, further in an article entitled Meryton Revealed: The Derbyshire Militia at Hertford and Ware, Clive Caplan argued that Jane may have had another, more direct source of news about the goings-on of the Derbyshire militia in Hertfordshire:

During the winter of 1794-5 while the Derbyshire were in Hertfordshire, Jane Austen’s closest brother, Henry was studying at Oxford University. Simultaneously he was serving as an officer in the Oxfordshire regiment of militia and showing an interest in financial affairs by becoming acting regimental paymaster. This may have been the time when he established relationships with two officers, both then serving in the Derbyshire regiment, who were to feature prominently in his future financial dealings. One man was Captain Winfield Halton who in 1806…was involved in the award of the army agency of the Derby shires to Henry’s firm, Austen and Co. The other was Captain George Goodwin who later left the militia and returned to private life. In 1809 opening the Buxton and High Peak Bank he adopted Austen and Co as his London corresponding bank.

I think it might be entirely possible that Jane Austen received information about the Derbyshire militia and its time in Hertfordshire though both sources. One should imagine that the contents of the correspondence from Henry Austen differed significantly in tone from the letters written by Reverend Bathurst. However , on reading the article the presence of the Derbyshire militia in Hertfordshire – always referred to as the __(blank) militia in the text-  makes absolute sense when considering the career path of George Wickham.Hailing from Derbyshire – Pemberley itself- he would no doubt choose to be commissioned into that regiment above others. And Darcy, as a prominent landowner in the county would no doubt have had close connections with the regiment.

In the 2005 edition of JASNA’s Persuasions the argument was taken in a different direction by Kenneth Smith in his article, The Probable Location of Longbourn in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. He speculates that Harpenden was the location for Meryton. I think this unlikely given the distance Harpenden is from London, but, nevertheless, he makes some interesting points in his article, most importantly about places near to Harpenden that may have inspired Jane Austen, especially the village of Kimpton which she may have altered in her text to Kympton, the living that never was for “poor” George Wickham. He also argued  that Redbourn, a village but a mile from Harpenden , may have inspired the name “Longbourn”. I’m not so convinced of that point, but I have no doubt that when writing Pride and Prejudice ( or First Impressions) Jane Austen studied a map of Hertfordshire very closely and, therefore  she may have been inspired by the name of Kimpton. We shall never know for sure.

However, you may be interested to learn that while researching this article I discovered that a Bennet (and a Lucas!) family actually lived a mile from Kenneth Smith’s Meryton. Do take a look at this section from my Cary’s Itinerary of 1802:

Extract from Cary's itinerary (1802) ©Austenonly

Extract from Cary’s itinerary (1802) ©Austenonly

As you can see, I trust,  a Bennet and a Lucas family clearly lived in the area. Cary’s itinerary not only detailed routes between towns but gave the reader notes on points of interest. It recorded the  fine houses and country seats that the traveler might see as he rode along in his carriage, book in hand. According to this entry, a Mrs Bennet was then the owner of this particular estate:

Within 1 Mile of Harpenden on l(left) is Rothamstead House, Mrs Bennet

Rothamstead House, or rather, Manor, still exists, see below, and is now a research and conference centre.

Rothampstead House

Rothampstead House

Here is an extract from the history of the house on the website:

The present appearance of the house is due to John Wittewronge, who, in the 17th century, gave it its Dutch style. John graduated from Trinity College, Oxford in 1634 and by the time he was 18 had taken up his duties as Lord of the Manor. He was knighted by Charles I, made commander of the Aylesbury garrison by Cromwell and made a baronet by Charles II. Hr served as M.P. for Hertfordshire on several occasions, married three times and had six children. He wrote his family history and kept a diary and weather book, all of which give fascinating details of the times. 

During the 18th century little was done to the Manor House, which was inhabited by John’s descendants until 1763. In that year Thomas Wittewronge died and the Manor passed to his cousin John Bennet, who eventually died childless. The house was left to John Bennet Lawes, the elder, son of John Bennett’s sister Mary, who had married Thomas Lawes, a London lawyer. John Bennet Lawes the elder lived at Rothamsted for part of the time he owned it, but did little to it – his friendship with the Prince Regent left little money for that!

In 1814 his son, John Bennet Lawes the younger, the founder of Rothamsted and a descendant of Jacob Wittewronge, was born here. He was educated at Eton and Oxford but never took his degree. As well as experiments on fertilisers and plant nutrition, and the factories he set up at Deptford and Barking Creek for fertiliser manufacture, he played a prominent part in local affairs and showed a great concern for the wellbeing of the people of Harpenden. In 1863 he added the Great Drawing Room to the Manor to celebrate the majority of his son Charles. He was created a baronet in recognition of his services to agriculture in 1882. 

Now to Lucas. According to my copy of Daniel Lysons’ Magna Britannica (1806) the Grey family had lived at Wrest for centuries but

On the death of Marchioness Grey in 1797, without male issue, that title became extinct; but the barony of Lucas…descended to her eldest daughter Annabel…now baroness Lucas who is the present owner of the manors of Flitton and Wrest.

( Note, the current main building of Wrest Park is a product of the 1830s.)

Jane Austen could clearly have had access to a road book such as Cary’s and when studying it to work out the movements of her characters may, indeed, have discovered a Bennet family living in Hertfordshire, and was inspired. Or not, as the case may be. Again we will probably never know.

 

Austenonly P+P 200 LogoToday we shall look at Hertfordshire, the county where the Bennet family lived and where a lot of the action in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice takes place, especially after Charles Bingley decides to take a lease of an estate, Netherfield, there. Jane Austen didn’t ever, or so it would seem, visit Hertfordshire. Deirdre Le Faye has discovered that Jane Austen had some distant cousins living in the county. There is no evidence, as far as I can see, that she visited them, however. When she travelled on her one recorded journey  to the northern midlands county of Staffordshire, in 1806,  she travelled there from Gloucestershire via Warwickshire. All her other recorded journeys avoid the county. Does this matter? Well, writing about a county with which she was unfamiliar goes against the grain of her professional advice to her literary minded niece, Anna Austen, as expressed in her letter of the 10th August 1814:

We finished it last night after our return from drinking tea at the Great House. The last chapter does not please us quite so well; we do not thoroughly like the play, perhaps from having had too much of plays in that way lately , and we think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland; but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath and the Foresters. There you will be quite at home.

So the choice of this county this might then seem surprising.  However,  Jane Austen clearly had access to a map or Itinerary like John Cary’s, which was used for planning journeys around England and Wales by the main and cross roads, and given its position with regard to London and the North,she may have decided to set her novel there, as given her characters’ movements and status, it was a logical choice.

Here is a section from John Cary’s 1812 map of England showing the position of Hertfordshire and the important counties in this novel:

Section taken from John Cary's map of England and Wales taken from his Itinerary (1812)

Section taken from John Cary’s map of England and Wales taken from his Itinerary (1812)

The Main points numbered on the map and indicated by the red arrows, are as follows:

1. Derbyshire

2. Hertfordshire

3. London, in Middlesex

4. Kent

5. Sussex

Let’s look at some contemporary descriptions of the county. First, this geographical description taken from my copy of John Atkin’s book, England Described  (1818).

The county of Hertford has to the north Cambridge and Bedfordshire; to the west the latter county and Buckinghamshire, with the last of which it is singularly intermixed; to the south Middlesex; and to the east, Essex. Its boundaries are nowhere marked by nature, except where the rivers Lea and Stort separate it from Essex. Its shape is rendered extremely irregular by projections and indentations  especially on the western side. Its greatest length from north to south may be reckoned at twenty-five miles; its extreme breadth at forty miles. Its area in square miles is 602. It is divided internally into eight hundreds.

A Map of Hertfordshire from John Cary's Itinerary of 1812

A Map of Hertfordshire from John Cary’s Itinerary of 1812

So now we can place this county with some certainly…what was it like? Today, the southern part of the county is commuter land, very developed with housing and with busy motorways- the M25, A1(M) and M1-  running through it. In Jane Austen’s time things were slightly different, but its proximity to the capital did have an affect on its character, even then.

Here are some descriptions of it taken from Volume VII of The Beauties of England and Wales by Edward Wedlake Brayley (1808):

The general aspect of this country is extremely pleasant; and though its eminences are not sufficiently elevated, nor its vales sufficiently depressed and broken to afford decisive character of picturesque or romantic beauty, yet its surface is enough diversified to constitute a very considerable display of fine scenery. The southern part is its most hilly; and a range of high ground stretches out from the neighbourhood of Kings Langley toward Berkhampstead and Tring, which in many parts commands a great extent of country.

Most of the country is inclosed; and the inclosures being principally live hedges, intermixed with flourishing timber,  have a verdant and pleasant effect. Independent of the wood thus distributed in hedgerows, large quantity of very fine timber are grown in the parks and grounds belonging to the numerous seats of the nobility and gentry that are spread over almost every part of Hertfordshire, and give animation to almost every view.

The country was primarily an agricultural one, and in addition to the usual crops, it had this interesting one: cherries

In the south west corner of the county…are many orchards; apples and cherries are their principal produce. The apples are most profitable ; but the cherries are very beneficial to the poor in the quantity of employment which they can afford in gathering the crop. In ten years after planting, cherry trees begin to bear; each tree should have nine square perches of land.  A full grown tree will produce fifty dozen pounds in a favourable year; and from ten to twenty years, six dozen; prices vary from ten pence to three shillings per  dozen. The Caroon and small black are the favourite sorts;the Kentish will not thrive here…The orchards whether of cherries or apples should be under grass and fed with sheep and for ten years after planting great care should be taken to keep the trees from the sheep as their rubbing impairs them.  The size of the orchards seldom exceed four or five acres and their greatest vale does not exceed £4 per acre.

So, would Bingley have found he had many houses and estates from which to choose when he decided to settle in Hertfordshire? It would seem he would…

The landed property of Hertfordshire is greatly divided: the vicinity of the capital (London-jfw) the goodness of the air and roads and the beauty of the county have much contributed to this circumstance, by making this country a favourite residence, and by attracting great numbers of wealthy persons to purchase lands for building villas; this has multiplied estates in a manner unknown in the distant counties. Freehold estates here have of late sold at twenty-five and twenty-eight years purchase and under particular circumstances some very large tracks have obtained from thirty to thirty-two years purchase. The largest estate in the county is about the annual value of £7000. Several others averaged at from £3000 to £4000 annually; more at £2000 and below that sum they may be met with every amount

So, yet again it would appear that  Jane Austen knew exactly what she was doing when she allowed Bingley to settle in this county, despite her probably not having any first hand experience of it herself. The evidence is that he was not the only rich man looking for a home not far from the capital and there were many available to him in this particular county. The opening sequence of this novel, having a rich batchelor testing the water by taking a lease of an estate in this county, would not I submit, have seemed such an out of the ordinary thing for Bingley to have done. Living here gave him easy access to London and yet it still afforded him access to the north along the Great North Road, which went through the county( more on this later) and connected him with his old friends and possibly, family.  It is clear from the accounts of his movements in the novel that the Bingleys still had many social connections in the north, and of course it is from the north that they originally hailed:

They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother’s fortune and their own had been acquired by trade.

Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 4

So, placing him near London, but  in Hertfordshire a county just north of the capital. makes perfect sense, rather than allowing him to settle in the more southern counties,such as Surrey or Kent which would have made frequent visits to the north longer and less easy to accomplish.And this was probably the deciding factor for Jane Austen.

Next, where exactly was Meryton?

Austenonly P+P 200 Logo

So..let’s begin our tour of the places in Pride and Prejudice  in earnest.

Today, I thought we ought to have an overview of England and Wales, to ascertain just how the country was organised in Jane Austen’s day. Looking at modern maps with reference to Pride and Prejudice is not really acceptable to my mind because modern country boundaries have changed so much, and, indeed, some old counties to which Jane Austen refers have now disappeared during the numerous local government reorganisations that have taken place since she wrote her most famous novel.

It is much easier to orient yourself in Jane Austen’s world if you refer to a contemporary map.

And first an apology to you, my readers. I have again been the subject of theft: another person, who really should have known better, has used some of my images published here for commercial use, without my permission. So from now on my images will be watermarked to prevent theft. Or at least deter it. I have resisted doing this for nearly four years but my patience has now worn too thin. I do apologise and hope it does not detract from your enjoyment.

Back to happier topics.

Here, below, is a rather beautiful map, engraved by John Cary and hand coloured( by some poor child no doubt) which appears in my copy of his Itinerary of 1812.

You will see that I have annotated it to indicate all the historic counties in England that are mentioned by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice. And also to indicate that one spot in Scotland- Gretna Green – that receives  an honourable( or should  that be dishonourable?) mention in the novel.

England and Wales, a hand coloured map from John Cary's Itinerary of 1812 ©Austenonly

England and Wales, a hand coloured map from John Cary’s Itinerary of 1812 ©Austenonly

The numbers relate to the counties as follows:

1. Gretna in Scotland ( Note this arrow does not indicate the precise location of Gretna.We will be coming back to it in due course)

2.  The Lakes. The Lakes were situate in three counties in Jane Austen’s lifetime: Lancashire, Westmoreland and Cumberland. Westmoreland and Cumberland no longer exist, and since 1974 they have formed the new country of Cumbria.

3. Warwickshire.

4. Somersetshire. Bath features in all six of Jane Austen’s completed novels and was found in this county.

5. Oxfordshire.

6. Hertfordshire.

7. Middlesex. London was found in this country. Since 1965 it no longer exists for official administrative purposes.

8. Surrey,  spelt “Surry” by Jane Austen and many of her contemporaries.

9. Sussex.

10. Kent.

11. Cambridgeshire.

12. Derbyshire, home of Mr Darcy

13. Yorkshire.

14. Northumberland.

You will see that the novel roams far and wide over the country, which I think some of you may find surprising. Next in this series, we shall take a closer look at Hertfordshire, home of the Bennet family.

Austenonly P+P 200 Logo200 years ago today, Jane Austen’s most famous novel, was published in London by Thomas Egerton. Her own darling Child  as she termed the final published form of her book, had a long gestation period.  According to Jane’s sister, Cassandra Austen’s memorandum, Jane Austen began her novel, then called First Impressions, in October 1796, and finished it in August 1797. We have no idea what literary form this first version of this novel took: some have argued that the existence of so many letters in the finished book indicate it was an epistolary novel, written in a series of letters like Jane Austen’s earlier work, Lady Susan and the first draft of Sense and Sensibility.  Sadly, as no manuscript of First Impressions or indeed the final version, Pride and Prejudice exists, we shall never know for certain. I’m not particularly convinced by that argument, to be frank, and I am more inclined to the view that the earlier version of this novel took a narrative form for if we know one thing about Jane Austen as a professional writer, it was that she didn’t rest on her laurels, but experimented and experimented, pushing the accepted boundaries of literary form. I think she would have moved on to a more exacting style…

Her wonderfully supportive father, George Austen, was an early fan. He took the extraordinary step of approaching a London publisher on Jane’s behalf. His letter to Thomas Cadell written in 1797 tells us all we need to know of his pride and not a little prejudice in favour of his talented daughter:

Sirs,

I have in my possession a Manuscript Novel, comprised in three Vols, about the Length of Miss Burney’s Evelina. As I am well aware of what consequence it is that a work of this sort should make its first appearance under a respectable name, I apply to you. Shall be much obliged therefore if you will inform me whether you chose to be concerned in it; what will be the expense of publishing it at the Author’s risk; & what you will advance for the Property of it, if on perusal it is approved of.

Should your answer give me encouragement, I will send you the work.

I am, Sirs Yr. obt. hble. Servt.

Geo.  Austen,

Steventon near Overton,

Hants.

1st November 1797.

The publishers wrote on this letter, the fateful phrase, “Declined by Return of Post”

And thus Jane Austen suffered the fate common to many writers, a rejection. As it was of her own darling child she must have felt it acutely. And she must have felt some frustration for it is clear from  the evidence of her letters that her close family and her great friend, Martha Lloyd loved it. In her letter to Cassandra Austen dated two years after this rejection, the 8th January 1799,two hers after being rejected professionally, it seems that this early form of the novel was still being read amongst the family  and was popular within the Austen’s close circle, as evidenced by this typically ironic statement by Jane Austen:

I do wonder at your wanting to read First Impressions again, so seldom as you have gone through it, & that so long ago.

This is all borne out by another amusing reference to this novel being read and re-read within the family circle, in Jane Austen’s letter to Cassandra written six months later:

I would not let Martha read First Impressions again upon any account, & I am very glad that I did not leave it in your power. – She is very cunning, but I see through her design; – she means to publish it from Memory, & one more perusal must enable her to do it.

This all suggests that Jane Austen’s family valued her work and further that she kept her precious manuscript with her, alive and being read and appreciated, even though it had been turned down by a distinguished London publisher. I agree with Professor John Mullan that she knew she was a good writer and that her works were extraordinary. It surely takes strength of character to continue to write and  hope that eventually you will be published: I  believe she had that self belief.

She needed it would seem, peace, routine, freedom from domestic cares  and security in order to be able to write creatively (“Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb”)  Her peripatetic and financially uncertain life after the death of her father in Bath in 1805 was, it would seem, not conducive to this at all, though I support the theory that she continued to “work” on her manuscripts if not on paper, then in her head, constantly revising ordering and collecting new material. (If only she has possessed a word processor) But in 1809 she moved to Chawton Cottage, which is now the Jane Austen House Museum, by the grace of her wealthy brother,Edward,and began revising her existing manuscripts in earnest.

Sense and Sensibility,which began life in the 1790s as Elinor and Marianne, was published in 1811. And Pride and Prejudice, as it eventually became, was published on this day in 1813.

Pride and Prejudice, Title Page, First Edition, via Wikipedia

Pride and Prejudice, Title Page, First Edition, via Wikipedia

A change of title was necessary because in the intervening 16 years  quite a few publications had appeared under the title,First Impressions :  Margaret Holford published a four volume novel called First Impressions in 1801, and Horatio Smith, one of Jane Austen’s favourite dramatists and satirists, had written a comedy called, First Impressions or Trade in the West. Her inspiration for the new title of Pride and Prejudice may have come from an author with whom she was wholly familiar and with whom she had some connection, Fanny Burney. Fanny Burney lived at Great Bookham in Surrey and there became great friends with  the local clergyman, the Reverend Samuel Cooke and his family. He was rector of Cotsford  in Oxfordshire and vicar of Great Bookham and, importantly for us, was married to Cassandra Leigh who was Jane Austen’s mother, Mrs George Austen’s cousin. The Reverend Cooke was Jane Austen’s godfather and, interestingly, his wife was a published authoress. Her novel, Battleridge was published anonymously in 1799 . The phrase Pride and Prejudice appears inFanny Burney’s book, Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782) which we know that Jane Austen read, and, if she did use the phrase with reference to Fanny Burney, it may have been as some sort of  tribute to a fellow professional.

This novel has transfixed us for 200 years. For many of us, certainly for me, it was my entrée into Jane Austen’s world when I was aged 12 years old. A world which so captivated me I not only greedily read her other works, but began to explore, as far as I was able, books and museums to discover what her world really would have been like. As a result, over the intervening years, I have tried to recreate that world in my head with reference to  artefacts, prints, maps and books of the early 19th century. This search to find out as much as possible about her world and the world her characters  have inhabited  has led me down many varied alleyways and paths and has enlivened my life ( and impoverished my pocket!) Thoughout this Year of Pride and Prejudice 200 I hope to be able to share some of this knowledge and artefacts with you on our Journey Through Pride and Prejudice. I do hope you will join me.

Next, The Places of Pride and Prejudice….

Some of you very keen souls have sent emails to me asking when I’m going to begin my celebratory Pride and Prejudice posts…so,to have a little mercy on your poor nerves, I thought I ought to tell you all that they are scheduled to begin on the 28th January, as that date marks the 200th anniversary of its first publication by Thomas Egerton.

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All the special Pride and Prejudice posts will have this logo, above, attached to them, and will have their own category/tag should you wish to search for them in the future once they have disappeared from the opening page of the site. I am so looking forward to beginning this series, as this book was my introduction to Jane Austen and her world, a situation common to many of you, no doubt,  and this interest has taken me down many unexpected and interesting alleyways all my life, since the age of twelve. I’m looking forward very much to sharing some of them with you this year, so  do mark the 28th of this month in your diary :)

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