Spring Fling in Tring (2014)

September 18, 2015 at 11:53 am (a day in the life, books, diaries, entertainment, estates, history, people, research) (, , , )

Note: This article was published in the most recent JASNA News (Jane Austen Society of North America’s newsletter), in an abbreviated form. The pictures (by Mike in Tring; thanks, Mike) looked GREAT! But the story I wanted to tell was only half-told.

Here is the story of my Spring Fling (last May, 2014) in a place that is THIS YEAR celebrating it’s 700th anniversary (chartered in 1315), Tring in the county of Hertfordshire, England.

Tring Welcomes You

In the Shadow of James Edward Austen

The recipient of the (in)famous “piece of ivory” letter, Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen authored two late-in-life books: Recollections of the Early Days of the Vine Hunt (1865) and A Memoir of Jane Austen (1869; 1871); and served as the subject of a memoir by daughter Mary Augusta Austen Leigh (1911). In concentrating on his wife Emma Smith — one half of my “Two Teens in the Time of Austen” project — it’s easy to overlook the young husband who joined the predominately-female Smith household on 16 December 1828.

Tring church b-w

The wedding ceremony took place in the parish church of Tring; Edward was to serve as curate until the Austens left in November 1833. His stipend: ₤20 per annum. “The place must have a curate,” wrote Emma’s sister Fanny Smith, “as there are three churches to serve”.  With an income of £850 a year (not counting the stipend, earmarked for Edward’s own substitute when he had to be away), the couple had the opportunity to build a nest egg by living with Emma’s large family at Tring Park, a substantial estate once owned by great uncle Sir Drummond Smith. Five sisters and two brothers, under the watchful eye of the widowed Mrs (Augusta) Smith, provided Edward Austen with a bustling household that he came to adore. Edward’s superior, the Rev. Mr. Charles Lacy, was an unmarried man (though with an intended), only three years older than himself, who had held the living for nearly ten years. The Smiths all commented favorably on their vicar’s preaching, conversation, and singing. Edward looked back on the Tring years, during which the Austens welcomed their first three children, with great fondness.

Present-day Tring Park

Present-day Tring Park, altered by late-19th-century additions (by Rothschild).

During the wedding breakfast, the servants had danced in the hall. The day I visited Tring Park (now a performing arts school), the pale light of a rainy English day filtered through the super-sized window on the far side of the stair well, weakly illuminating the hall that echoes still with notes from violins and dance. My tour guide, Mike, was able to show the nooks and crannies thanks to school being out for the week. The soft rain dampened thoughts of tramping the grounds, so we ventured no further than the small church where Edward Austen “did the duty,” to use the phrase Edward used [see uppermost photo]. Vestry Minutes for September 1832 marked a milestone in the church’s history: “The Revd J.E. Austen proposed on the part of the Miss Smith’s [sic] of Tring Park to present the Church with an Organ.” A vote was moved, seconded – and passed! Mr Lacy was tasked with conveying the news to Emma’s sisters. Mike and I had hoped to glimpse the little organ, as it may still exist – but the church of Long Marston was unfortunately closed, except for service.

Wigginton Church b-w

The third church – at Wiggintonwas open to visitors! Described by Mary Austen Leigh as “a scattered village on a picturesque common,” it was in the “damp and cold little church” at Wigginton that chills caught while preaching and teaching affected Edward’s throat to such an extent that his voice grew weak and was never again the same. His diary entry for January 13 (1833) places him in Wigginton, and ends in the remark “I did no more Sunday duty on account of my throat”. His ability to read aloud, his family’s “evening enjoyment” since Edward “could always make the characters, to use his Aunt Jane’s expression, ‘speak as they should do,’” was also affected. During months of inactivity, Edward Austen cut keenly-observed silhouettes, now published as Life in the Country with Quotations by Jane Austen (2008).

Life in the Country

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Leigh Letters @ The Huntington

September 13, 2015 at 12:45 pm (diaries, history, jane austen, news, people, research) (, , , , )

Several weeks ago (I always have GOOD intentions about posting *News*… then don’t do it!) I came across Geri Meftah‘s blog post from FEBRUARY 2015, mentioning the purchase of a letter book by the Huntington Library in California. I visit Geri’s delightful JANE AUSTEN blog (kleurrijkjaneausten) with some regularity, but am not (and never will be) one “on top of” new news….

Better late than never, right?

But one thing about being half a year behind the time: The Huntington has had time to DIGITIZE the collection!

kleurrijkjaneausten @ blogspot will fill you in on the background of the purchase – and has a link to The Guardian‘s article about it. The letter book was at the time described as “52 unpublished letters, poems and other material from six generations of the Leigh family”.

As you might imagine, I held my breath: Anything from the family in the nineteenth century? Indeed: YES! and two letters (though late for my research) from James Edward Austen Leigh!

edward austen letter snippet huntington

I see that the catalogue will be off-line on September 16th (2015), but before or after, do look through the images. The Huntington has made it exceptionally easy to read the LEIGH LETTERS online, or download images. [use search term: leigh family papers]

The above “snippet” is from the first Edward Austen Leigh letter, and is a DELIGHTFUL snippet of memories of his aunt, Jane Austen, and Stoneleigh Abbey.

The Huntington describes the small collection as “letters, poems and other manuscripts written by various members of the Leigh family and other people in their circle. The letters are mainly concerned with the intimate, mundane, playful and tragic aspects of family life from the early modern period until the middle of the 19th century”. They would be a wonderful addition to anyone reading Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s Family: Through Five Generations.

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A Little History: Tring Park

July 6, 2015 at 11:15 pm (diaries, estates, history, jane austen, jasna, places, research, travel) (, , )

We shall see, in the next month or two, if an article I wrote for JASNA-News, the bulletin of the Jane Austen Society of North America, gets published. Otherwise, you may hear about my visit, last May, here on Two Teens. Meanwhile, I invite readers to VERSAILLES TO VICTORIA, a fabulous website talking about architecture & history of “Beautiful places”. Like: Tring Park!

tring-church-and-town

Readers hopefully remember that one of the estates Emma Austen knew as a girl, and lived in as a new wife and mother was Tring – the former home of her great uncle Drummond Smith. Tring has a special “Austen” connection, in that it was in the little parish church that Emma married James Edward Austen. And their first children took their first steps in the rooms of the mansion. A recent “find” among letters is one that pointed out the return of Mamma and Maria (Emma’s mother and youngest sister), in a trip of Mary 1835. The family had moved to Mapledurham in October of 1834! Yet here was a couple of people – and a couple of letters – talking about missing their former home.

And now you can see more the place they so reluctantly left.

Austen_Edward-Carpenter

By 1835, Edward (pictured above) and Emma had moved into their own home. It is from this point that Emma – MY main source for information on her siblings – begins to have her own topics of conversation. Edward’s ill health, the illnesses of her children, the pregnancies of herself and four of her sisters. Edward felt the “Tring Years” to have been special; and _I_ firmly agree! With Charles and Mary off on their own at Suttons, it was everyone else hanging out together at Tring.

mary_emma_entry

TRING was also the beginning of this research project! The above diary entry (belonging to Mary Smith, Emma’s sister-in-law) was the first inkling I had that Mary’s family included Austen family members. Click on the entry to enter the World of Tring Park.

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Jane Austen’s (family) Portraits

December 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm (books, jane austen, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , )

In a follow-up to the news of the Sotheby’s sale, I’ve pulled out the one source I have that discusses this very portrait’s “reason for being”: Deirdre Le Faye’s (2nd ed.) Jane Austen: A Family Record.

Near the end of the book, the genesis of James Edward Austen Leigh’s biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen, is treated. It is a rather disappointing story, from the view of the Memoir‘s author: his two sisters were most giving and generous. However, his eldest sister, the former Anna Austen [born 1793] now long the widowed Mrs Lefroy, declared how little she remembered! But then, after sitting down with her pen and paper and exercising her recollections, she did come up with a highly entertaining narrative. Hard to be harsh with Anna: how many of us will recall people from our past, sixty years later?

Edward’s younger sister Caroline Mary Craven Austen [born 1805] also supplied her memories for her brother to incorporate as he wished. Her piece was later published as My Aunt Jane Austen.

Other sources were, of course, attempted. According to Le Faye, “Rather surprisingly, it seems that even at this late date Anna [Lefroy] still did not know that Cassandra had kept Jane’s letters and distributed some of them to the younger nieces, for she wrote to her brother [James Edward Austen Leigh, born 1798]: ‘The occasional correspondence between the Sisters when apart from each other would as a matter of course be destroyed by the Survivor — I can fancy what the indignation of Aunt Cassa. would have been at the mere idea of its being read and commented upon by any of us….'”

Anna also wrote to her brother, “‘You must have it in your own power to write something; & Caroline, though her recollections cannot go as far back even as your’s, is, I know acquainted with some particulars… [they] were communicated to her by the best of then living Authorities, Aunt Cassandra — There may be other sources of information, if we could get at them — Letters may have been preserved’.”

“As far as letters held by other branches of the family were concerned James Edward’s approaches met with only limited success.” Le Faye then details that one of Frank Austen’s son’s “knew that no letter to Henry had been kept”, and that Frank’s daughter Fanny Sophia “had destroyed [Jane’s letters to Frank], following his death in 1865, without consulting anyone else beforehand.” Martha Lloyd Austen’s (Lady Austen) letters had come into Frank’s hands, and “it was one of these that he sent to the Quincy family in 1852 — but how many more of them may have been in his possession at that date is unknown.”

Fanny Sophia was willing to let Edward look at the few letters she had retained, “but only on the condition that he did not publish any”. He evidently did not, therefore, take her up on the offer.

Then there comes the tale of Lady Knatchbull, the former Fanny Knight. “She was now drifting into querulous senility and could not — perhaps would not — remember where she had put her letters from Jane.” These, which Edward did not live to see published, came out in 1884 in the so-called Brabourne edition (vol. 1) [other works by Brabourne, including vol. 2 of Jane Austen’s letters, at Internet Archive].

Certainly, Edward Austen had done the best any biographer can try to do, in amassing all the known “primary materials”.

So what of the portraits?!?

“After these disappointments, the help which James Edward received from Cassy Esten, Charles’s eldest daughter, must have been particularly welcome. She allowed him to use those of Jane’s letters which she had inherited in 1845, and it was she who proffered the two simple watercolour sketches by Cassandra…” These two being the “Sketch” (now at the National Portrait Gallery” and the “Bonnet Portrait”, the view of Austen, sitting out-of-doors, where her face is obscured by her bonnet. “Anna thought there was ‘a good deal of resemblance’ in the figure of the latter, but that the former was ‘so hideously unlike’.”

NPG 3630; Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen

Henry had admitted “in 1832 when Bentley wanted a likeness [of Jane Austen] for his new edition of the novels” that “no professional artist has ever painted Jane’s portrait at any time in her life”. {But did Henry know “all” about his sister?}

“James Edward commissioned a local artist, James Andrews of Maidenhead, to redraw the Cassandra-portrait, working under the superintendence of himself and his sisters. They considered his version good enough to appear in the Memoir, and a stipple vignette was steel-engraved from this watercolour to use as the frontispiece.”

austen-watercolor

“Those members of the family who had known Jane best were on the whole rather disappointed by the frontispiece. Casey Esten [born in 1808] wrote ‘I think the portrait is very much superior to any thing that could have been expected from the sketch it was taken from. — It is a very pleasing, sweet face, — tho’, I confess, to not thinking it much like the original; – but that the public will not be able to detect…’  Caroline was equally lukewarm: ‘The portrait is better than I expected — as considering its early date, and that it has lately passed through the hands of painter and engraver – I did not reckon upon finding any likeness — but there is a look which I recognise as hers — and though the general resemblance is not strong, yet as it represents a pleasant countenance it is so far a truth – & I am not dissatisfied with it.’

NPG D1007; Jane Austen after Cassandra Austen

Lizzy Rice [born 1800], now a stately matriarch, wrote from Kent to James Edward: ‘I remember her so well & loved her so much & her books always were and always will be my delight … how well the portrait has been lithographed I think it very like only the eyes are too large, not for beauty but for likeness, I suppose making them so was Aunt Cassandra’s tribute of affection…’.”

Caroline agreed with the comment about the portrait’s eyes: “‘they are larger than the truth: that is, rounder, & more open – I am very glad she sees a general likeness tho’—‘.”

Mrs Beckford, the former Charlotte Maria Middleton, a Chawton neighbor, “considered that: ‘Jane’s likeness is hardly what I remember  there is a look, & that is all…’.” Le Faye records no comments – and perhaps none exist, from Emma or Edward Austen Leigh, regarding the portraits.

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Sotheby’s: Jane Austen Portrait

December 10, 2013 at 9:09 pm (jane austen, news, people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , )

Got wind of a very informative article at ArtDaily.org – discussing the Austen portrait that sold at auction today. The BIG Mystery: Who purchased the portrait?!?

  • New York Times’ blog quotes that Chawton’s Jane Austen’s House Museum felt they could not raise the required funds (estimated to fetch £150,000 to £200,000) after purchasing Jane Austen’s ring.
  • Death Threats over the £10 Bill portrait?
  • Lotta Jane Austen on the block!

The ArtDaily article offers a “behind the scenes” idea as to how Cassandra Austen‘s little drawing (now at the National Portrait Gallery, London) was used to produce the watercolor (ie, Sotheby’s auction item), which, in turn, was made into the etching that graced as frontispiece the Memoir of Jane Austen, written by her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh (husband to my Emma!).

austen-watercolor2

The watercolor portrait has been in family hands – and rarely seen. So, for me, it’s a thrill to see a decent image of the little portrait. Letters have recorded what Edward and his sisters thought of the work of watercolorist James Andrews. That discussion will be Part II – unless the mystery owner is revealed! Gotta wonder if the buyer – if outside the UK – is prepared for backlash. After the furor Kelly Clarkson’s purchase of the Jane Austen ring aroused, it is unlikely the portrait would not arouse the same.

  • If you owned this portrait – could you have sold it?

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Jane Austen Auction

October 30, 2013 at 7:34 pm (jane austen) (, , , , , )

An update on the James Edward Austen Leigh copy of Memoirs of Jane Austen claims CHAWTON’s JANE AUSTEN’S HOUSE MUSEUM has purchased the book:

edward austen and jane autographs

Their own website, of course, is currently giving “thanks” for donations which helped purchase from singer Kelly Clarkson the Austen Turquoise Ring:

jane austen ring

This item, too, has a family of the Rev. James Austen connection: it once belonged to Edward’s sister (i.e., my Emma’s sister-in-law), Caroline Mary Craven Austen!

Inaugural Swearing In

Former owner of Jane Austen’s Ring, Kelly Clarkson was not allowed to export the ring from the UK.

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11,000 Pounds Buys Jane Austen Collectable

October 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm (jane austen, people) (, , , )

edward austen and jane autographs

Of special concern for Two Teens in the Time of Austen: a book that went up for auction at Gorringes today:

Jane Austen, “An autograph manuscript fragment, comprising four lines, attached to another leaf bearing authentication, in turn attached to a letter from her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, written on paper bearing watermark date 1868, at Bray Vicarage, February 7, 1870, presenting the fragment to Rev. G. C. Berkeley”.

Estimate before the sale: £2,000-3,000. As the hammer dropped, the cost closed at £11,000!!

Click on the photo for full auction details and more photos.

The note, letter, and authentication are attached to a copy of Edward’s book, A Memoir of Jane Austen.

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Anna Lefroy: “the sloppy lane through Steventon & Dean”

May 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm (history, jane austen, news, people, research) (, , , , , )

Anna Lefroy – sister-in-law to my Emma Austen Leigh – left a fourteen-page letter, written at the behest of James Edward Austen Leigh (when he was working on the Memoir of Jane Austen), describing her memories (or lack of) of their Aunt Jane.

anna-lefroyAnna (1793-1872), the eldest child of Jane’s eldest brother James, was certainly in a position to recall her aunt: if only she’d kept diaries or retained letters written in her youth! Her half-sister Caroline, had recourse to her mother’s diaries, those written by Mary (Lloyd) Austen, when writing up her own reminiscences.

Reading an article published by Deirdre Le Faye in 1988 (in The Review of English Studies), in which Anna’s letter was published in full, caused me to chuckle reading the first image young Anna recalled:

“I look back to the first period but find little that I can grasp of any substance, or certainty: it seems now all so shadowy! I recollect the frequent visits of my two Aunts, & how they walked in wintry weather through the sloppy lane between Steventon & Dean in pattens, usually worn at that time even by gentlewomen.”

In the course of writing, however, anecdotes slowly came back to Anna; this is one of the most delightful:

“I have been told that one of her earliest Novels (Pride & Prejudice) was read aloud (in MS of course) in the Parsonage at Dean, whilst I was in the room, & not expected to listen — Listen however I did with so much interest, & with so much talk afterwards about ‘Jane & Elizabeth’ that it was resolved for prudence sake, to read no more of the story aloud in my hearing.”

and

“the two years before my marriage, & the two or three years after, when we lived, as you know almost close to Chawton when the original 17 years between us seemed to shrink to 7 — or to nothing — It comes back to me now how strangely I miss her…”

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No Words Can Express…

January 28, 2013 at 8:25 pm (books, jane austen) (, , , , )

EdwardAusten-silhouetteAccording to his daughter, Mary Augusta Austen Leigh, it wasn’t until the end of 1814 that James Edward Austen was “admitted to the knowledge of a well-kept secret, this being that his Aunt Jane had lately published two books, though he had read these books with a keen enjoyment.”

The two books, of course, were Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813). The latter first saw the light of day TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO TODAY (28 January).

Many in the family traded poems, and Edward composed this one after finally being let in on the “secret” of Jane Austen’s authorship:

To Miss J. Austen

No words can express, my dear Aunt, my surprise
Or make you conceive how I opened my eyes,
Like a pig Butcher Pile has just struck with his knife,
When I heard for the very first time in my life
That I had the honour to have a relation
Whose works were dispersed throughout the whole of the nation.

….

And though Mr. Collins, so grateful for all,
Will Lady de Bourgh his dear Patroness call,
‘Tis to your ingenuity he really owed
His living, his wife, and his humble abode.

Cheers! to the author who invented Elizabeth Bennet, Mr Darcy of Pemberley, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, my dear Charlotte Lucas, and of course the sisters Bennet and their relation the Reverend Mr Collins.

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Paula Byrne: The Real Jane Austen

December 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm (books, jane austen) (, , , , , , )

I was planning to read Paula Byrne‘s biography of Jane Austen — how could I not?!? Not after the near-miss of having Jane’s portrait sketched by the likes of Eliza Chute (which I no longer think probable).

But so many biographies! So little *new* information…

However, after reading the following publisher’s description, I’m rather looking forward to it. So enjoyable to think of items and how they illuminate small pieces of a whole – like someone’s life.

Publisher’s preview of The Real Jane Austen (2013)

Who was the real Jane Austen? Overturning the traditional portrait of the author as conventional and genteel, bestseller Paula Byrne’s landmark biography reveals the real woman behind the books, exploring the forces that shaped the interior life of Britain’s most beloved novelist.

Byrne uses a highly innovative technique whereby each chapter begins from an object that conjures up a key moment or theme in Austen’s life and work—a silhouette, a vellum notebook, a topaz cross, a laptop writing box, a royalty cheque, a bathing machine, and many more. The woman who emerges in this biography is far tougher, more socially and politically aware, and altogether more modern than the conventional picture of ‘dear Aunt Jane’ would allow. Published to coincide with the bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice, this lively and scholarly biography brings Austen dazzlingly into the twenty-first century.

I, of course!, can never denigrate the Memoir: there is no denying that James Edward Austen Leigh knew his ‘Aunt Jane’ extremely well; and unlike many of the next generation of Austen offspring, he was in his late teens when she died — old enough to retain memories, and he was a bit of a jotter-down as well.

In applying for the Leon Levy Fellowship in Biography, I cited two books that I find useful in writing biography: The “slice” of life approach that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich used in her winning A Midwife’s Tale — whereby vignettes in Martha Ballard’s life are closely examined. (Martha Ballard left one diary… The Smiths and Goslings have left TONS of material.) And the more recent Behind Closed Doors, in which Amanda Vickery dissects the lives of dozens of letter-writers and diary-keepers in order to open a window on their Georgian World. (I have about as many people – and they’re all one family!) How to “handle” a mass of material is almost as difficult as how to present slimmer pickings… Personally, I can’t wait to read about Austen’s vellum notebook and her royalty check!

Here’s the two covers I’ve come across:

byrne1

real austen

UK

US

In mulling over the (presumed) emphasis in The Real Jane Austen this morning, I was rather pleasantly surprised to finally remember where such a treatment had been utilized to great success: The Paper Garden, by Molly Peacock.

Molly Peacock’s device of choosing one “flower mosaic” made by Mary Delany, and discussing its history and her history at a certain point in life, be it youthful marriage or elderly patronage by the Queen of England, was a fascinating way to encounter both the artist and her art. I hope Byrne uncovers her “real” Austen half so skillfully. (By the way, I hope someone at Harper-Collins corrects this notice of the book – whereby Edward Austen Knight has usurped his brother JAMES for the mantle of “eldest Austen” sibling!)

If you wish to read an excellent biography, while awaiting the Austen release, do think about Mary Delaney (1700-1788):

paper garden2

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