Could have Danced All Night (1794)

February 27, 2015 at 4:21 pm (diaries, entertainment, jane austen) (, , , , )


Has it been staring me in the face…???

austen 1794

This transcription, from A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family, 1700-2000, by Deirdre Le Faye, copies out Eliza Chute’s diary entries for 1794. Born in 1768 and therefore only in her mid-20s, and still a fairly new bride, too, Eliza was in seventh heaven with her parents and sisters at The Vyne for a visit (January 14th), and was up for a bit of dancing.

First, some identifications:

  • Ld. C. from Weymouth” was Eliza’s brother-in-law, Lord Compton (the future Lord Northampton).
  • Ly. Compton” is of course his wife, and Eliza’s eldest sister Maria (the future Lady Northampton).
  • Papa Mama” are Joshua Smith and Sarah (née Gilbert) Smith, of Erle Stoke Park, Wiltshire – the “Stoke” from where they all arrive. (Lord Compton’s involvement with the Militia was his reason for being in Weymouth.)
  • Augusta Emma” in this early instance are the two sisters “Mamma” and “Aunt Emma”.

I’ve read this passage over and again – but only yesterday saw an image of the actual entry. And I wondered: If Henry Austen was at the Basingstoke Ball, were other members of the family?

Would this be the moment… even if neither Augusta nor Emma nor Eliza left specific word… that I could point to and say “The sisters met Jane Austen!

Perhaps not…

Claire Tomalin, in her biography Jane Austen: A Life puts Jane elsewhere; but her sister Cassandra Austen at Steventon:

austen2 1794

First then, the couple from the Vine…William and Eliza Chute. No mention of the two young ladies they had brought with them: 22-year-old Augusta Smith and 19-year-old Emma Smith. (Long before they were “Mamma” and “Aunt Emma”!). Augusta would have celebrated her birthday only a couple weeks before (January 4th).

There are, I will take a moment to say, other Smith relations present! Sir Colebrook and even that kill-joy “Squire Le Fevre” of Heckfield. (click the link, above, for the entire poem)

Not having seen the original poem, I can only give, for your consideration, Deborah Kaplan – the author of Jane Austen Among Women – although she uses it to illustrate the people Jane Austen would have known and encountered on a fairly regular basis. Kaplan ID’s the author as “Mrs Austen”; the date as “1794”; and places TWO Austens in company with each other: Henry and Cassandra.

David Selwyn merely ascribes the poem to “another occasion” of dancing, without saying when or who was there; he intimates the poem was written for both daughters. Jane Austen: A Family Record cites a Basingstoke Ball of 7 November 1799 as the source (Anna Austen Lefroy as the copyist).

Sometimes a writer can just be wrong; as in Tomalin’s assertion:

austen3 1794

“I danced six dances with Mr. H. Austin” – giving ALL the dances Eliza Chute mentioned to one partner, and attributing that excess to “Henry’s charm working as usual”. Le Faye’s transcription reinstates the additional two partners, Misters Wallop and Terry.

And, while I agree that Eliza often spelled Austen Austin, she seems not to have dotted an ‘i’ here (compare to ‘i’ in Basingstoke):

austen4 1794

But secondary interpretations are all I have to go on – That Henry was there, is a given; that Cassandra was probably there. Any chance that Jane Austen attended this particular Basingstoke Ball, 16 January 1794? Happy to hear from those in the know.

Le Faye’s Chronology uses the phrase “It is probably this month” – meaning December 1793 – “that JA and CEA go to Southampton to stay with the Butler-Harrison family, and while there dance in the Southampton Assembly…”; the entry is cited as Letters 62. That letter, written in December 1808 tosses out the comment “It [ie, a dance] was in the same room in which we danced 15 years ago!” Tomalin puts Jane Austen’s visit to the family from December 1793 up to the christening of their daughter, Austen’s godchild – which took place in Southampton on 18 January 1794. Lengthy stay versus return for the church service versus being represented by proxy? All a matter of interpreting slim source material.

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