declined by Return of Post
I have in my possession a Manuscript Novel, comprised in three Vol.s 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 it’s first appearance under a respect: :table name I apply to you. Shall be much obliged therefore if you will inform me whether you choose to be concerned in it; what will be the expense of publishing at the Author’s risk; & what you will venture to advance for the Property of it, if on a perusal it is approved of? Should your answer give me encouragement I will send you the work.
I am pretty weak in health and work a good deal in the garden, but for these last 3 or 4 weeks have had a[?] Weakness in my Eyes; it was luck for you it did not come sooner, for I could not now make petticoats pockets & dressing gowns for any Bride expectant – I can not bear[?] my spectacles, and therefore can do hardly any work but knitting white yarn and platting white willow. I write & read without spectacles, and therefore do but little of either – We have a good appearance of flowers in the shrubbery and borders, & what is still better, a very good crop of small fruit, even your goosberry tree does better than heretofore, when they gooseberries are ripe I shall sit upon my Bench, eat them & think of you, tho I own to that without the assistance of ripe gooseberries; indeed my dear Anna, there is nobody I think of oftener, very few I love better – my Eyes are tired so I must quit you – farewell
– I am very much obliged to you for sending your MS. It has entertained me extremely, all of us indeed; I read it aloud to your G.M. – & Aunt.C. – and we were all very much pleased. – The Spirit does not droop at all. Sir Tho: - Lady Helena, & St. Julian are very well done - & Cecilia continues to be interesting inspite of her being so amiable. – It was very fit that you should advance her age. I like the beginning of D. Forester very much – a great deal better than if he had been very Good or very Bad. – a few verbal connections were all that I felt tempted to make – the principal of them is a speech of St. Julians to Lady Helena – which you will see I have presumed to alter. – As Lady H. is Cecilia’s superior, it would not be correct to to talk of her being introduced; Celia must be the person intro- -duced – and I do not like a Lover’s speaking in the 3.d person; - it is too much like the formal part of Lord Orville, & I think is not natural. If you think differently however, you need not mind me. – I am impatient for more – & only wait for a safe conveyance to return this Book –
Miss Austen Steventon
I am quite ashamed to find that I have never answered some questions of yours in a former note. - I kept the note on purpose to refer to it at a proper time, & then forgot it. – I like the name “Which is the heroine?” very well, & I dare say shall grow to like it very much in time but “Enthusiasm” was something so very superior that every common Title must appear to disadvantage. – I am not sensible of any Blunders about Dawlish. The Library was particularly pitiful & wretched 12 years ago, & not likely to have anybody’s publication. – There is no such Title as Desborough – either among the Dukes, Marquisses, Earls, Viscounts or Barons. – These were your enquiries. – I will now thank you for your Envelope, received this morning. – I hope Mr. W. D will come. – I can readily imagine Mrs. H. D may be very like a profligate young Lord – I dare say the likeness will be “beyond everything”. Your Aunt Cass: – is as well pleased with St. Julian as ever. I am delighted with the idea of seeing Progillian again. Wednesday 17. – We have just finished the 1st. of the 3 Books I had the pleasure of receiving yesterday; I read it aloud – & we were all very much amused, & like the quite as well as ever. – I depend upon getting Folio 3v through another book before dinner, but there is really a great deal of respectable reading in your 48 pages. I was an hour about it. – I have no doubt that 6 will make a very good sized volume. – You must be quite pleased to have accomplished so much. – I like Lord P. & his Brother very much; - I am only afraid that Lord P. –‘s good nature will make most people like him better than he deserves. – The whole Portman family are very good – & Lady Anne, who was your great dread, you have succeeded particularly well with. – Bell Griffin is just what she should be. – My Connections have not been more important than before; - here & there, we have thought the sense might be expressed in fewer words – and I have scratched out his Tho: from walking with the other men to the stables &c the very day after his breaking his arm – for though I find your Papa did walk out immediately after his arm was set, I think it can be so little usual as to appear unnatural in a book – & it does not seem to be material that Sir Tho: should go with them. – Lyme will not do. Lyme is towards 40 miles distance from Dawlish & would not be talked of there. – I have put Starcross indeed. – If you prefer Exeter, that must be always safe. – I have also scratched out the Intro= =duction between Lord P. & his Brother, & Mr. Griffin. Folio 4r A Country Surgeon (dont tell Mr. C. Lyford) would not Be introduced to Men of their rant. – And when Mr. Portman is first brought in, he would not be introduced as the Honourable. – That distinction is never mentioned at such times; - at least I believe not. – Now, we have finished the 2d book – or rather the 5th. – I do think you had better omit Lady Helena’s postscript; to those who are acquainted with P. & P. it will seem an imitation. – And your Aunt C. & I both recommend your making a little alteration in the last scene between Devereux F. & Lady Clanmurray & her Daughter. We think they press him too much – more than sensible Women or well-bred Women would do. Lady C. at least, should have discretion enough to be sooner satisfied with his determination of not going with them. – I am very much pleased with Egerton[?] as yet. – I did not expect to like him, but I do; & Susan is a very nice little animated Creature – but St. Julian is the delight of one’s Life. He is quite interesting. – The whole of his Break-off with Lady H is very well done. – Yes – Russel Square is a very proper distance from Berkeley St. – We are reading the last book. – They must be two days going from Dawlish to Bath; they are nearly 100 miles apart,. Thursday. We finished it last night, after our return from drinking tea at the Gt. 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 Folio 4v ( to Bath & the Foresters. There you will be quite at home. – Your Aunt .C. does not like desultory novels, & is rather fearful yours will be too much so, that there will be frequent as change of ^from one set of people to another, & that circumstances will be some: :times introduced of apparent consequence which will lead to nothing. – It will not be so great an objection to me, if it does. I allow much more Latitude than she does - & think Nature & Spirit cover many sins of a wandering story – and People in general do not care so much about it – for your comfort I should like to have had more of Devereux. I do not feel e: :nough acquainted with him. – You were afraid of meddling with him. I dare say. – I like your sketch of Lord Clanmurray, And your picture of the two poor young girls enjoyments is very good. – I have not yet noticed St. Julian’s serious conver: :sation with Cecilia, but I liked it exceedingly; - what he says about the madness of otherwise sensible women, on the subject of their Daughters coming out, is worth it’s weight in gold.- I do not see that the language sinks. Pray go on.Folio 3r
There bits of Irish belong to you. – They have been in my work bag ever since you. were here, & I think they may as well go to their right owner.
About this text
IdentificationOxford, St John's College Library, SHELFMARK
Five letters from Jane Austen (novelist, 1775-1817) to her niece Anna Austen, (later Lefroy, 1793-1872), dated to 1814 and offering advice on writing a novel. Prefaced with a letter of 1797 from Jane’s father, George Austen (1731-1805), apparently to Thomas Cadell (the Younger?, bookseller, 1773-1836). These letters remained in the Lefroy family until those from Jane were donated to the College by Anna’s grand-daughter, Mary Isabella Lefroy in 1939. Miss L.L. Lefroy donated the letter from George Austen in 1940.
- Item 1 (fol. 1, between leaves 3 & 4 of guard book): Autograph letter. Single quarto leaf, 228 x 184 mm. Date: November 1st, 1797. Sender’s address: “Steventon near Overton, Hants.” From George Austen enquiring about the expense of publishing a three volume novel, whose manuscript he has in his possession, and whether the recipient would choose to be concerned in the venture. With the legend “declined by Return of Post” at its head in a similar hand. In a later hand on the verso: “letter from to M. Cadell from Jane’s Father offering Pride & Prejudice which was declined by return.”
- Item 2 (fol. 2, between leaves 6 & 7 of guard book): Final leaf of an autograph letter. Single quarto leaf, 219 x 182 mm, with wafer seal. Undated but endorsed? 1814. From Cassandra & Jane Austen to Anna Austen, addressed to “Miss Austen, Steventon.” The final leaf of a letter from Jane’s mother, Cassandra (1739-1827), to her grand-daughter, referring to her good health and efforts at gardening, whilst also bemoaning her eyesight. She makes a passing reference to Anna’s impending marriage. On the verso, on either side of the address panel, Jane appends her contribution saying that the family has read Anna’s manuscript and enjoyed it, and offers encouragement and advice.
- Item 3 (fols 3-4, between leaves 10 & 11 of guard book): Autograph letter. Two quarto leaves, 224 x 182 mm. Date: Chawton Wednesday Aug. 10. From Jane Austen to Anna Austen, addressed to “Miss Austen.” Jane apologizes for leaving some of Anna’s queries unanswered, and then answers them. Provides more encouragement and advice regarding the most recent instalment of Anna’s novel, particularly regarding the proposed title, “Enthusiasm.” Updates on the following Wednesday,
- England, 1797 & 1814 17th, and Thursday (18th?) inform Anna that the family have finished reading her manuscript which they enjoyed although they were not as pleased with the last chapter. Jane offers more advice on the location of Dawlish and other matters.
- Item 4 (fols 5-6, between leaves 12 & 13 of guard book): Autograph letter. Two quarto leaves, 227 x 186 mm, with wafer seal. Date: Chawton Sept 9. From Jane Austen to Anna Austen, addressed to “Miss Austen.” Jane continues to enjoy a further 3 books of Anna’s novel, but has “a good many criticisms to make – more than you will like.” During her discussion she mentions her ideal of a novel – “3 or 4 families in a country village is the very thing to work on.” An update on Sunday 18th makes reference to the death of her brother’s wife in childbirth and her mother’s fortitude, and also passes on a message from her mother that she has now finished Anna’s shoes and looks forward to seeing her before Anna leaves the country.
- Item 5 (fols 7-8, between leaves 13 & 14 of guard book): Autograph letter. Two quarto leaves, 222 x 182 mm. Date: Chawton Wednesday Sept 28. From Jane Austen to Anna Austen, addressed to “Miss Austen, Steventon.” Jane offers continuing criticism, encouragement and advice regarding Anna’s novel. This takes in brief allusions to her assessments of other novelists and novels, including Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley, Mrs West’s Alicia de Lacy and Maria Edgworth. Enquires after Anna’s fiancée’s, Benjamin Lefroy, opinions of the book. Also mentions the impending departure of “Your Aunt Frank’s housemaid” and enquires as to whether Anna might be interested in taking her on. Brief allusions to the rather welcome departure of the Webb family from Chawton and her fondness for Thomas Sherlock’s sermons.
- Item 6 (fol. 9, between leaves 19 & 20 of guard book): First leaf of autograph letter. One octavo leaf, 184 x 114 mm. Date: Ham Place Wednesday [30th November]. From Jane Austen to Anna Austen, now Lefroy. Jane continues advice and encouragement to Anna on her novel. She teases Anna regarding a plot device in which one character has been in love with an aunt: “I dare say Ben was in love with me once ... .”
Materials: Paper. Fol. 9 leaves mounted in a guard book of 25 leaves (later pencil foliation to each leaf of letter: 9 leaves). Letters of various sizes tipped into volume with page area 253 x 211 mm.
20th c. blue leather half bound with blue buckram over millboard, with gilt fillets to the joins. Spine divided into 6 compartments by 5 raised bands. Gold-stamped shelf mark in top compartment, and single gilt fillets at top and bottom of spine. 263 x 228 mm.
Written in England in 1797 and 1814
On front pastedown 20th c. bookplate of St John’s College, and also current shelfmark, in 20th c. pencil.
Information transcribed from Stewart Tiley, Catalogue of Western Modern Manuscripts (unpublished draft) Record 279..
- Austen, Jane. Jane Austen’s letters, ed. Deirdre Le Faye. 3rd ed. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995. Letter nos 103, 104, 107, 108 &113.
- Austen, Jane. Jane Austen’s manuscript letters in facsimile, ed. Jo Modert. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1990.
- Le Faye, Deirdre, 1988. ‘Jane Austen: some letters re-dated.’ Notes and Queries. Vol. 232, no. 4 (Feb. 1988), pp. 478-481.
- Austen-Leigh, William & Richard Arthur, 1913. Jane Austen : her life and letters, a family record. London, Smith Elder, 1913.
The digital edition of MS 279 covers three of a collection of six letters written by Jane Austen (novelist, 1775-1817) and members of her family. The letters were held by the Lefroy family until Mary Isabella Lefroy, Anna Lefroy’s (née Austen, 1793-1872) grand-daughter, donated those written by Jane to St John’s College in 1939. Miss L. L Lefroy later donated the letter from George Austen (1731-1805) to the college in 1940.
The first of the letters was written by Jane’s father, George Austen, to the bookseller Thomas Cadwell (1773-1836). The letter enquires about publishing one of Jane’s manuscripts, which, according to a later hand on the verso, eventually became Pride and Prejudice (1813). As it is noted to have been ‘decline by Return of Post’, it is uncertain if Cadwell ever read George’s letter.
The second letter is the final leaf of a letter from Cassandra Austen (née Leigh, 1739-1827), Jane’s mother, to her granddaughter, Anna Lefroy. In the letter, Cassandra writes of her good health and gardening efforts, while also referring to her declining eyesight and Anna’s recent marriage. On the verso of Cassandra’s letter is a letter from Jane also to Anna Lefroy, who was her niece. Jane thanks Anna, a budding author, for sending her manuscript and expresses that her family enjoyed it. She offers Anna advice and encourages her to write more. This letter is written on both sides of the address panel.
The third letter is written from Jane to Anna. Jane offers further encouragement about Anna’s manuscript, including her opinions about Anna’s title choices. She provides Anna advice regarding geographical locations and how characters of certain ranks should address each other. The final leaf of the letter is written around the address panel.
About this edition
This is a facsimile and transcription of Jane & George Austen, Letters..
The transcription was encoded in TEI P5 XML by Simone Gaddes.
Publication: Taylor Institution Library, one of the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford, 2021. XML files are available for download under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License . The images are reproduced from St John's College Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License .
Jane & George Austen, Letters 1797-1814
Created by encoding transcription from manuscript.
This is a diplomatic transcription of three Jane Austen's letters in St John’s College Library & Study Centre’s special collections. Austen’s original spellings and punctuation have been maintained throughout, as well as contractions and nicknames. All legible text has been included, semi-legible words or phrases have been marked as ‘unclear’. The letters have been transcibed in the order they were intended to be read. Postscripts have been included at the end of their respective letter, rather than the leaf they were originally written on. Links to WikiData webpages have been included for places and persons mentioned in the text, unless unidentifiable or in reference to fictional characters. This edition includes choice elements which corrects spellings and expands contractions, creating a semi-diplomatic version of the letters.