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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’s religion’ Category

By Brenda S. Cox

“I like first Cousins to be first Cousins, & interested about each other.”—Jane Austen, letter to Anna Lefroy, Nov. 29, 1814

Austen’s First Cousins

Jane Austen was closely connected to her three first cousins: Eliza, Edward, and Jane. (She had additional cousins from her father’s half-brother, William Hampson Walter, though she doesn’t seem to have been as close to them.)

Eliza: Her father’s sister Philadelphia had one daughter, lively Eliza Hancock de Feuillide. Eliza, whose first husband was guillotined in the French Revolution, later married Jane’s brother Henry.

Jane: Jane’s mother’s sister (also named Jane) married a clergyman, the Reverend Dr. Edward Cooper. They had two children, Edward and another Jane. That Jane, Jane Leigh Cooper, went away to school for a time with Jane and Cassandra Austen. Her letter home from Southampton told their parents that the girls were seriously ill with typhus. Mrs. Austen and Mrs. Cooper came and took them home. The girls all survived, but, sadly, Mrs. Cooper caught the illness and died. Jane and Edward Cooper spent a lot of time with the Austen family. Jane was even married at Steventon, to a naval captain, Captain Williams, who was later knighted. Charles Austen served under him in the Navy. Tragically, Jane Cooper, by then called Lady Williams, died in a carriage accident in 1798.

Edward: Edward Cooper, Jane Cooper’s brother, became a clergyman like his father. He is mentioned frequently in Jane Austen’s letters. In her first two existing letters (Jan. 9 and 14, 1796), she talks about his visit to Steventon with his young son and daughter.

Edward Cooper, Clergyman

Many of Jane Austen’s friends and relatives were clergymen (estimated at over a hundred, including of course her father and two of her brothers). She held strong opinions on church livings. When Edward got his living, she wrote (Jan. 21, 1799):

Yesterday came a letter to my mother from Edward Cooper to announce, not the birth of a child, but of a living; for Mrs. Leigh [a relative, the Hon. Mary Leigh, of Stoneleigh] has begged his acceptance of the Rectory of Hamstall-Ridware in Staffordshire, vacant by Mr. Johnson’s death. We collect from his letter that he means to reside there, in which he shows his wisdom.

Staffordshire is a good way off [about 140 miles]; so we shall see nothing more of them till, some fifteen years hence, the Miss Coopers are presented to us, fine, jolly, handsome, ignorant girls. The living is valued at £140 a year, but perhaps it may be improvable. How will they be able to convey the furniture of the dressing-room so far in safety?

Our first cousins seem all dropping off very fast. One is incorporated into the family [Eliza de Feuillide], another dies [Jane Cooper, Lady Williams], and a third [Edward Cooper] goes into Staffordshire.  [Brackets added.]

Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Hamstall Ridware, where Jane Austen’s cousin Edward Cooper served as rector.
Bs0u10e01, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Jane commented that Edward intended “to reside” at his living, which showed “his wisdom.” At this time, many clergy hired curates to serve their livings rather than residing in them and doing the work themselves. In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram makes a strong statement about residing at one’s living:

“A parish has wants and claims which can be known only by a clergyman constantly resident, and which no proxy can be capable of satisfying to the same extent. Edmund might, in the common phrase, do the duty of Thornton, that is, he might read prayers and preach, without giving up Mansfield Park: he might ride over every Sunday, to a house nominally inhabited, and go through divine service; he might be the clergyman of Thornton Lacey every seventh day, for three or four hours, if that would content him. But it will not. He knows that human nature needs more lessons than a weekly sermon can convey; and that if he does not live among his parishioners, and prove himself, by constant attention, their well-wisher and friend, he does very little either for their good or his own.”–Mansfield Park, ch. 25

Austen also mentioned that Edward might be able to “improve” his living. That means he might increase his income by negotiating for higher tithe payments from the farmers or leasing extra farmland, as Austen’s father did. Edward Ferrars’s living in Sense and Sensibility is also “capable of improvement” (ch. 39). Cooper added to his income later by becoming rector of nearby Yoxall (much like George Austen, who served two adjacent parishes).

In 1801 Austen said Edward wrote to her after his wife Caroline had a baby.

I have heard twice from Edward on the occasion, & his letters have each been exactly what they ought to be–chearful & amusing.–He dares not write otherwise to me, but perhaps he might be obliged to purge himself from the guilt of writing Nonsense by filling his shoes with whole pease for a week afterwards.–Mrs. G. [Mrs. Girle, Caroline Cooper’s grandmother] has left him £100–his Wife and son £500 each. (Jan. 21, 1801)

It appears that while Jane thought of Edward as too serious, he was willing to write “Nonsense” to her.

Later that month, Edward invited the Austens to come visit his family at the parsonage in Hamstall Ridware. However, Jane says, “at present we greatly prefer the sea to all our relations” (Jan. 25, 1801). Her family had already visited Edward in 1799, when he was a curate at Harpsden. The Austens did visit the Coopers at Hamstall Ridware for five weeks in the summer of 1806, after going to Stoneleigh Abbey. 

Interior of Edward Cooper’s Hamstall Ridware church;
John Salmon via Wikimedia commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Jane seemed to have trouble keeping track of Edward’s children. Some of them died quite young. In 1811 she wrote, “It was a mistake of mine, my dear Cassandra, to talk of a tenth child at Hamstall. I had forgot there were but eight already” (May 29).

In 1808, when Jane’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth Knight, died, Jane wrote, “I have written to Edward Cooper, & hope he will not send one of his Letters of cruel comfort to my poor Brother” (Oct. 15). We don’t know what sort of “cruel comfort” Edward had written in the past. The one still-existing letter from Edward to Jane was written in 1817 and sounds heartfelt and kind. His friend and neighbor John Gisborne wrote that Edward was a great comfort to him in his son’s final illness. But perhaps Edward had taken the opportunity to preach some of his Evangelical ideas in a letter, and Jane and her family did not agree.

Edward Cooper believed and preached an Evangelical interpretation of the Bible. Many of his sermons were published in books, which were reprinted and read for many years, in a long series of editions. So even if Jane didn’t care much for them, others did!

Next month in Part 2, we’ll look at what Edward’s Evangelical ideas were, what Jane Austen thought of his sermons, and why.

Brenda S. Cox writes on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She has written a book called Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England, which she hopes will be available by the end of this year.

For Further Reading

Visiting Edward Cooper,” Gaye King, Persuasions 1987

Hamstall Ridware: A Neglected Austen Setting,” Donald Greene, Persuasions 1985 (Includes a photo of the rectory where Jane and her family visited Edward and his family)

Come and Visit Edward Cooper, Jane Austen’s Evangelical Cousin,” Jane Austen House Museum blog, Sept. 17, 2012 (includes Edward Cooper’s portrait)

Edward Cooper’s letter to Jane April 6, 1817 (article also includes commentary on the letter) 

Jane Austen in the Midlands,” scroll down for a section on Cooper.

Other Sources

Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen: A Family Record, 2nd ed.

Deirdre Le Faye, ed., Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th ed.

Laura Dabundo, Jane Austen: A Companion

Irene Collins, “Displeasing Pictures of Clergymen,” Persuasions 18 (1996): 110. Collins says Austen’s correspondence refers to at least 90 clergymen, and her biographers could add many more. 

Irene Collins, Jane Austen and the Clergy

John Gisborne and his daughter E. N. A., Brief Memoir of the Life of John Gisborne, Esq., to which are added, Extracts from his Diary (London: Whittaker, 1852), 114-115, 128, 227. 

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by Brenda S. Cox

“I have seen nobody in London yet with such a long chin as Dr Syntax”—Jane Austen, Letters, to Cassandra, March 2-3, 1814. (p. 267 in LeFaye’s 4th edition)

Frontispiece, The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1812), by William Combe and Thomas Rowlandson. Notice the chin! All of these images: Thomas Rowlandson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jane Austen and her sister apparently enjoyed the adventures of Dr. Syntax, hero of a series of popular illustrated books. Usually, the text of a book is written, then the illustrator adds pictures. However, Dr. Syntax was created the other way around.

One of the most popular cartoonists of the day, Thomas Rowlandson, drew a series of pictures of Dr. Syntax on a journey “in search of the picturesque.” A publisher commissioned William Combe to write the text of the story, in narrative poetry, and the text and pictures were published together.

Austen could only have been familiar with the first book, published in 1812, Dr. Syntax: In Search of the Picturesque. In 1820 and 1821 sequels were published, The Second Tour of Dr. Syntax: In Search of Consolation, and The Third Tour of Dr. Syntax: In Search of a Wife.

Encyclopedia Britannica tells us, “All the Dr. Syntax books satirize the many 18th- and early 19th-century writers whose ‘Tours,’ ‘Travels,’ and ‘Journeys’ were vehicles for sententious moralizing, uninspired raptures, and sentimental accounts of amorous adventures.”  Satire: right up Austen’s alley!

I’ve read the first Dr. Syntax book and it’s a delight. You can find it on archive.org. (Which, by the way, is a great source for many old books.)

Doctor Syntax Tumbling into the Water. One of Dr. Syntax’s many adventures: Trying to get a good view, in order to sketch a castle, he falls into mucky water (Canto IX).

Dr. Syntax is a downtrodden, overlooked country curate, like Charles Hayter in Persuasion. Hayter, though, has connections to move him up in the church hierarchy. Poor Dr. Syntax does not. As a curate, he performs all the duties of a rector (like Mr. Collins and Henry Tilney) or a vicar (like Mr. Elton), but receives only a small portion of the income from the parish. An absentee rector elsewhere gets most of the money. On the first page, we see his responsibilities:

Of Church-preferment he had none,

Nay, all his hope of that was gone:

He felt that he content must be

With drudging in a Curacy,

Indeed, on ev’ry Sabbath-day,

Through eight long miles he took his way,

To preach, to grumble, and to pray;

To cheer the good, to warn the sinner,

And, if he got it,–eat a dinner:

To bury these, to christen those,

And marry such fond folks as chose

To change the tenor of their life,

And risk the matrimonial strife.

His income from these “weekly journeys” is only thirty pounds a year. (To get an idea of what this means, Mrs. Jennings thinks Edward Ferrars and his wife will have to live on a curacy of fifty pounds a year. She says, “Lord help ‘em! How poor they will be!”) Syntax complains that “that thankless parent, Mother Church” has overlooked his learning, giving jobs, as rectors and deans, to “fools.” The curate “feeds the flock, while others eat, the mutton’s nice, delicious meat.” Those others take the tithe income, while the curate serves the people of his parish.

Dr. Syntax also runs a school, to supplement his income, just as Jane Austen’s father did. Syntax laments rising expenses, though, saying the boys “delighted less in books than meat.” Even birch wood, used for caning disobedient boys, had gotten so expensive that often “To save the rod, he spar’d the child.” He did not punish them because he couldn’t afford to. (This is an inversion of the biblical advice in Proverbs 13:24, saying those who love their children will discipline them. It is often summarized as “spare the rod and spoil the child.”)

Dr. Syntax, Setting out on His Tour of the Lakes. His wife calls out “Good luck!” as his horse Grizzle awaits. The church that gives him a minimal income as a country curate is in the background (Canto I).

However, Dr. Syntax has a brilliant idea. He will go on a trip in search of the picturesque, drawing what he sees, and then write a book, making a lot of money–he hopes. His wife, dreaming of “silks and muslins fine,” happily sends him off on his faithful nag Grizzle.

Dreaming of “future treasure,” he finds himself lost on an empty plain, with only a defaced, useless signpost. However, he sits down to draw a picture of it, totally revising the landscape to make it look “picturesque.” He says, “I’ll do as other sketchers do, Put anything into the view.” He is proud that finally he has “made a Landscape of a Post.”

Dr. Syntax, Losing His Way. He finds a post from which to create a landscape picture of the “picturesque.”

The book parodies the “picturesque,” just as Austen parodied it in Sense and Sensibility. Edward Ferrars says,

I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight, and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower,—and a troop of tidy, happy villages please me better than the finest banditti in the world.

Marianne, of course, is shocked.

Dr. Syntax, Stop’t by Highwaymen (Canto II). They leave him tied to a tree. Fortunately, his wife has sewn most of his money into his coat so they don’t get it.

Dr. Syntax, after creating his picturesque scene of a post, is attacked by robbers and tied to a tree—the first of his many adventures. Two passing women (whom he compares to Don Quixote’s Dulcinea) free him and give him a meal. While his horse roams, a jokester cuts off half its tail and ears, making it “a fit sight for country-fair.”

At an inn, Dr. Syntax copies down quotes from books (to use in his own book), while a dog runs off with half his breakfast. He has kissed the maid (by her invitation), but her jealous boyfriend pours boiling water into his shoes.

His adventures continue. He makes new friends along the way, one of which gives him a church living in the end. He draws many pictures, writes his story, and his book is published.

Dr. Syntax, Taking Possession of His Living. A friend met on his travels provides the connection he needs to get a good church living.

At the end, Syntax, now appreciated and with a good position,

“enjoy’d his hours of learned ease;

Nor did he fail to preach and pray,

To brighter worlds to point the way . . .

Thus the good Parson, Horse, and Wife,

Led a most comfortable life.”

Dr. Syntax Preaching. Doctor Syntax gets the opportunity to show off his skills along the way.

I can imagine Jane Austen reading this book, laughing at the absurdities of Dr. Syntax’s trials and tribulations. She may have enjoyed, as I did, his more serious poetical sermon about man being “born to trouble,” which prepares us for “better worlds and brighter skies” (Canto XXI). The satirical language throughout the book is great fun. And she probably appreciated the delightful Rowlandson illustrations. You will find many entertaining passages in the book, if you get a chance to read it.

Dr. Syntax’s long, sharp chin certainly made an impression on Austen, so that she even looked for someone with such a chin in London!

Brenda S. Cox blogs on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She spoke on “Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England” at the 2021 JASNA AGM. 

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Happy Easter, gentle readers. Many of the customs followed in the early 19th century by Jane Austen and her family are still followed today in one fashion or another. For this blog post, I have gathered information already known to many, and some that might be new. The following quote sums this holiday up nicely:

Easter during the Regency was both a holy day and a holiday.” – Lesley-Ann McCleod

Pancake Races Before Lent:

The 40 days before Easter or Lent began on Wednesday with a church service. This day was preceded by Shrove Tuesday, on which one would confess one’s sins. The date was also the last day to eat all the foods that would be prohibited during abstinence. This meant emptying the larder of rich foods, such as milk, eggs, butter, fat, wheat flour, and spices—ingredients commonly found in pancakes. An alternate name in Britain for Shrove Tuesday was Pancake Tuesday! Pancakes were made for consumption or for public races:

At the sound of a pancake bell, often the bell from the local church, women ran a course carrying a frying pan with a pancake in it. They had to successfully flip the pancake at least three times before they reached the goal. Some communities held pancake parties, with people dressed up [as] the Protector of the Pancakes, irst Founder of the Fritters, Baron of Bacon-flitch, and the Earl of Egg-baskets.” –  Regina Scott, guest author on The Regency Blog of Lesley-Anne McLeod

Pancake races with female contestants are still held today. In addition, street football, or hurling, where teams of men (country men against city dwellers, for instance) hurled the ball against the opposing team until one team won, is also a time-honored Easter tradition.

Easter Sermons:

Easter Sunday, which commemorated Christ’s resurrection from the dead, was a solemn occasion and one of obligation for parishioners, such as the Austen family and the community of worshipers. In the book, Jane Austen and the Clergy, Irene Collins writes that clergymen in Jane Austen’s day were not expected to write original sermons every Sunday, except on a few occasions.

Henry Crawford, assessing Edmund Bertram’s commitments at Thornton Lacey, judged that ‘a sermon at Christmas and Easter ‘would be’ the sum total of the sacrifice.”

She also wrote that Mr. Collins produced only two sermons between his ordination at Easter and his visit to Longbourn in November of the same year.- p. 96. Jane Austen and the Clergy, Irene Collins, August 1, 2002.

cover of Religion and Philosophy of a stack of Bibles and the title of a sermon Thomas Lloyd preached in a parish church on Easter-Day, April 8th, 1787

Easter Music

I will always remember Sunday Easter service with my parents when singing this uplifting Methodist Church hymn, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” (14th C. song rewritten in 1739 by: Lyricist Charles Wesley, Composer Samuel Arnold, initially titled Hymn for Easter Day). This hymn was also popular during Jane Austen’s day. My emotions well up when I watch this YouTube video of the King’s College choir singing the hymn.

Easter in Pride and Prejudice

When Elizabeth Bennet visits Hunsford and Rosings, she becomes aware of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s omission in inviting the Collins’ and their guests in advance for this most important holiday:

In this quiet way, the first fortnight of her visit soon passed away. Easter was approaching, and the week preceding it was to bring an addition to the family at Rosings, which in so small a circle must be important.”

Elizabeth understands that Lady Lady Catherine de Bourgh has no time for herself or Mr and Mrs Collins, but an invitation finally came:

Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners were very much admired at the parsonage, and the ladies all felt that he must add considerably to the pleasure of their engagements at Rosings. It was some days, however, before they received any invitation thither, for while there were visitors in the house they could not be necessary; and it was not till Easter-day, almost a week after the gentlemen’s arrival, that they were honoured by such an attention, and then they were merely asked on leaving church to come there in the evening. For the last week they had seen very little of either Lady Catherine or her daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam had called at the parsonage more than once during the time, but Mr. Darcy they had only seen at church.”

The ladies, we presume, arrived wearing their new Easter bonnets and gowns made especially for such an important holiday. One assumes that Easter must have presented a busy schedule for Mr Collins, the vicar of his parish. Elizabeth Hawksley, who has written an interesting article about the clergy in Jane Austen’s novels, describes Mr Collins during the days surrounding Easter. His schedule is far from busy:

So what did the vicar of a parish actually do? Elizabeth Bennet and Sir William and Maria Lucas visited the Collinses around Easter – today, the busiest time of the church year. Nevertheless, we hear of Mr Collins driving his father-in-law round the countryside every day during his visit, and of dinners at Rosings with Lady Catherine de Bourgh; but there is no mention of any church activities.” – Jane Austen and the Clergy: How the System Worked, Elizabeth Hawksley.

Tithing at Easter

Interestingly, people were punished for non-payment of tithes or attendance at Easter. In his book, The Parish Registers of England, Charles Cox (1843-1919) writes:

“…On conviction for divers of the less serious offences, such as non-payment of tithes or Easter dues, or for the non-observance of Sundays or Saints’ Days, offenders were admonished, and if obstinate excommunicated; but in such cases absolution and discharge could  usually be obtained on payment of a fine…”


The Monday After Easter—Merriment at Greenwich Park:

This image depicts Easter day for the masses in Greenwich Park in London. At the top of the hill is the Royal Observatory with astronomical equipment. According to a contemporary description, a sojourn to the park is well worth the visitors’ time! The Monday after Easter the park is filled with throngs of merry makers (ten to thirty thousand) from all walks of life and many ages. The hill is steep, with celebrants running down it in pairs or groups of males and females, sometimes tumbling head over heels, and most likely giggling.

Black and white engraving of Greenwich Park with crowds celebrating Easter

Greenwich Park with the Royal Observatory on Easter Monday, Modern London, Edward Pugh

Greenwich is crowded at these holidays.  In the public-houses is dancing from morning to evening.  Almost every private house of the lower and middle sort make tea and coffee; yet it is often difficult to find room even for a small company; and it is very usual for parties to take a cold repast and wine with them, and dine beneath the trees in the Park, in spots a little retired from the throng. “Mapping Modern London, Horwood’s Map, Greenwich Park

To view the incredible details of the park, click on an image, which will open to enlarged version.

Food:

Hot cross buns, ham, lamb in season, and potatoes were common dishes at Easter, as were colored eggs for an Easter egg hunt. These foods are still popular today. Kirstin Olsen writes about Pastor Woodforde, the author of Diary of a Country Parson,

Woodforde and his friends tended…to prefer the grass lamb, and it is in the spring that most of his references to eating lamb occur.” – Kirstin Olsen, Cooking with Jane Austen (pp. 66-67)

Grass lamb, or young lambs that still drink milk from their mothers were prized by many. Soon after they are born, the lambs start to eat hay, grass, or grain, but much of their food intake is still from their mothers’ rich milk. The lambs are slaughtered within 2-15 months of birth, weigh from 135 to 140 lbs, and are available only from April to September. Their taste is not as intense as an older lamb’s, but it is one that Pastor Woodforde prefered.

Jane Austen’s Easter

This 2011 article from the Jane Austen Centre, written by Laura Boyle, is worth reading in full. It is a comprehensive discussion about Jane Austen’s celebration of Easter, both as a solemn religious holiday and as a festive event. Click here to enter it.

All Things Georgian

I also recommend this website and its many fact-filled blog posts with well-researched, hard to find information. This link lead to an article entitled “An Early Easter Miscellany.”

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Have a happy Easter everyone. As with many of you, mine will be spent with the family. The sky is cloudless, the day is warm and perfect for the smaller fry to find Easter eggs.

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Inquiring readers, Brenda Cox has contributed yet another fascinating post. This one is about Jane Austen’s cross-stitched sampler. Is it hers or not? Find out as Ms. Cox explores the possibilities using an extensive amount of research and conversations with Jane Austen expert Deirdre Le Faye. Find her blog Faith, Science, Joy, … and Jane Austen at this link.

Picture 1 Austen Sampler

Did Jane Austen stitch this sampler? (Photos are of a reproduction. The white marks below the word “out” are damage to the print, not the sampler.)

Someone named Jane Austen stitched this lovely, well-worn sampler in 1797 or 1787. It is cross-stitched on linen, mostly in plum and green silk, with quotes from the Psalms. The text says 1797, but may have originally said 1787. Stitches below the 9 seem to have been picked out or frayed.  If it was done in 1787, Jane Austen would have been almost twelve years old. It appears the stitching could have been done by a girl around that age.

I have a reproduction of the sampler which I bought at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath some years ago. They no longer offer it. The original is in a private collection, though it was displayed at Oxford’s Bodleian Library in 2012. But was the sampler stitched by the novelist Jane Austen?

Samplers

In Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney tells Catherine Morland he was at Oxford while she was “a good little girl working [her] sampler at home.” (“Not very good, I’m afraid,” Catherine responds.)  Girls often stitched samplers as a way of learning sewing and the alphabet.

The Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton displays a sampler worked by Jane’s sister Cassandra, or possibly by their niece of the same name. Many samplers of the time were much like Cassandra’s. They display different stitches, alphabets, and numbers. The young lady could refer to her sampler later when she did more complex projects or stitched initials on items of clothing.

Picture 2 Cassandra's Sampler

Cassandra Austen’s Sampler. Courtesy of Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton

Picture 3 Jane Austen sampler - alphabet

Alphabet at the top of the Jane Austen Sampler. Letters in between each pair are in a lighter, faded color. The P’s are backwards here, but correct in the verses below.

The two samplers are about the same size. Both are about 10” wide and 11 to 12” high. The capital letters on the Jane Austen sampler are very similar to the smaller cross-stitched capital letters on Cassandra’s sampler. (Cassandra’s larger capitals are sewn with a different stitch.) These were probably standard styles of stitching.

Much of the Jane Austen sampler is different from Cassandra’s, though, since it quotes from the Psalms. This helped the stitcher learn Bible verses along with the alphabet.

Why the Psalms? Austen’s Church of England used The Book of Common Prayerfor worship. It includes daily readings from the Psalms, taken from the 1535 Coverdale translation of the Bible. The whole book of Psalms is read every month, so it was very familiar to Austen and her family. The sampler quotes various verses, in no particular order. Each line starts with a capital letter, but most verses do not start a new line.

The Verses from the Psalms

Picture 4 Jane Austen sampler - Psalms

The verses from the Psalms are in a continuous stream.

The following verses are quoted. Some are not exact quotes from the Psalms in the prayer book.

Praise the Lord o my Soul and all that is within me Praise his holy Name (Ps. 103:1)

as long as I live will I praise The Lord I will give thanks unto God while I have My Being (paraphrased fromPs. 104:33, “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live : I will praise my God while I have my being.”)

sing unto the Lord o ye Kingdoms of the Earth o sing praise unto the Lord (paraphrased from Ps. 68:32 “Sing unto God, O ye kingdoms of the earth : O sing praises unto the Lord”)

Give the Lord the Honour doe [?] unto his Name worship the Lord with holy Worship (Psalm 29:2, with “doe” substituted for “due”)

in the Time of trouble I will call upon the Lord and he will hear me (from Ps 86:7 “In the time of my trouble I will call upon thee : for thou hearest me.”)

Turn thy Face from my Sins and put out all my Misdeeds (Ps 51:9)

Picture 5 Jane Austen sampler - trees and name and more


A border of flowers (or possibly geometric shapes) surrounds the Psalms.  Below are flowering trees with a bird, and “Jane Austen, 1797.

Is this Jane Austen the novelist, or another Jane Austen?

Deirdre Le Faye, an expert on Jane Austen, believes that the stitcher was another Jane Austen, probably a second cousin of the author of Pride and Prejudice. These are her arguments, followed by my own, definitely non-expert, thoughts:

  1. The date is 1797, but appears to have originally been 1787. Sometimes a date on a sampler would be changed to make a woman appear to be younger than she was.  Le Faye asks, “Would the eminently honest and straightforward Austens have bothered with such a petty deception?”

I agree that this seems out of character for Jane Austen and her family. However, descriptions I have seen of the sampler say some of the stitching has “come away.” It may be that it was not purposely changed, but that the stitches came loose over time. The sampler has been folded and somewhat damaged. The “9” (or “8”) is at the center, possibly on a fold line. The “A” directly above the number is also not very clear.

Picture 6 Jane Austen sampler - name and date


Closeup of name and date

2. The verses seem to be chosen haphazardly and are all run together.  There is also a simple spelling error (“doe” for “due”), which Le Faye thinks our Jane Austen would not have made. Le Faye asks, “Would Jane—bright as we know she was in her childhood—have copied texts inaccurately from the psalms in her Prayerbook?”

Perhaps the young Jane Austen would not have made such a spelling error. However, there are misspellings and random capitalizations in her early Juvenilia. Also, the single stitch that makes the middle letter of “due” into an “o” is very tiny, like all the cross stitches on this small sampler. It is not very clear on my reproduction, and at first I thought it was a “u” but a bit blurred. It may be a stitching error rather than a spelling error.

The inaccuracy of the texts is a bigger issue, and it does seem odd that the verses are all run together. The changes within the verses are minor, as you can see above.  These verses would have been very familiar to the Austen family, who probably read from the Psalms daily. So we might have expected Jane to stitch them correctly. However, perhaps they were familiar enough that Jane was stitching them from memory. We know she was creative and imaginative. She may have been stitching verses as they came to mind, in ways that resonated with her. The meanings are expressed well.

On the other hand, even at a young age, it does seem more likely that “our” Jane Austen would have put the verses together in a more organized, accurate fashion. Deirdre Le Faye adds that, since Jane’s father was a rector, he probably would have corrected any mistakes that she made in quoting the Psalms. He might even have helped her choose verses to include.

 

3. The main issue is the provenance (the history of ownership) of the sampler. According to an earlier article that Le Faye refers to, in 1976 the sampler was “owned by a Mrs Molly Proctor, who was given it by Mrs I. Thompson of Rochester, whose grandfather, Mr Frederick Nicholls of Whitstable, was a grandson of a cousin of Jane Austen.” It was sold at auction in 1996 for 2,185 pounds.

This provenance was passed down orally and not in writing. There is no indication of who the cousin might be.  Austen had only a few first cousins: Eliza de Feuillide, Jane and Edward Cooper, James and Phylly Walter. Le Faye continues, “Only Edward Cooper and James Walter left descendants, all of whom lived in the Midlands” (central England).

Whitstable, mentioned in the provenance of the sampler, is quite some distance away, on the coast of northern Kent in southeastern England (north of Canterbury).  There is no record of any cousins of the Steventon Austen family living in that area. And the name “Frederick Nicholls” is not found among the Austen relations in R. A. Austen-Leigh’s Pedigree of Austen. So it seems unlikely that Nicholls was connected with the novelist Jane Austen in a different part of the country.

Le Faye therefore suggests that the sampler was probably done by a different woman named Jane Austen, of a similar age, in Kent. She gives two possibilities:

  • There was an Austen family in Ramsgate and Loose, near Maidstone in Kent. They were related to the Austens of Steventon through a sixteenth-century ancestor. It’s possible they had their own “Jane Austen.”
  • Jane Austen did have a second cousin named Jane Austen who lived in Kent. They had the same great-grandfather, John Austen IV of Broadford, who died in 1704. His son Francis Austen had a son named Francis-Motley Austen (1747-1815) who lived at Kippington near Sevenoaks in Kent. Francis-Motley had a daughter named Jane Austen. She lived from 1776 (the year after the novelist Jane was born) until 1857. This Jane Austen married William-John Campion in 1797 and had children. It’s possible that she stitched the sampler and left it to relatives who passed it down through the family.

The two Jane Austens probably met in 1788, when the George Austen family visited Jane’s great-uncle Francis Austen and his family at Sevenoaks. Our Jane was twelve, her second cousin Jane about a year younger.  We don’t know what they thought of each other.

At this point there is no definitive proof as to whether the sampler was sewn by “our” Jane Austen, by her second cousin in Kent, or by some other Jane Austen.

At the very least we can say that it was a sampler stitched at around the same time as our Jane Austen probably made her own, and most likely somewhere in southern England. It may have been in a similar style to whatever sampler she sewed. And she or one of her relatives may have stitched it. So we can enjoy it as another small window into Jane Austen’s world.

 (By the way, is there a genealogist out there who can track down a Mr Frederick Nicholls of Whitstable who was a grandson of a cousin of a Jane Austen? A Jane Austen who was a young girl in 1787 or 1797? Which Jane Austen was she?)

 

Brenda S. Cox writes on “Faith, Science, Joy . . . and Jane Austen!” She is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. Her previous contribution to this blog can be found at this link: George Austen’s Spiritual Advice to his Son Francis Austen. 

Sources

“Which Jane Austen Stitched this Sampler?” by Deirdre Le Faye.  Collected Reports of the Jane Austen Society, Vol. 5 (1996-2000), pp 233-35. Also personal correspondence with Deirdre Le Faye.

Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (1913), discusses the “Motley Austen” branch of the family in chapters 1 and 4.

Jane Austen: A Family Record by Deirdre Le Faye (Cambridge University Press, second edition, 2004) mentions the family of the other Jane Austen (the second cousin) on pages 2-3, 64, and 78.

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Blog Tour Kick-Off!

Inquiring readers,

It is my privilege to kick off the blog tour of Rachel Dodge’s book, Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen on Jane Austen’s World blog. (See calendar of the tour below.) Jane wrote masterfully insightful, funny, witty, as well as unflattering and acerbic observations of family members, acquaintances, and village characters in her private letters and novels, but, as Ms. Dodge describes in her book, she was also a religious, wise, talented, and complex woman who was hard to pigeon hole. Rachel’s book discusses Jane’s faith and rich inner life. Below, find my discussion with Ms. Dodge, who gave much thought to answering my questions.

Dodge_RachelQ: How did writing and researching Praying with Jane change your insights about Jane as a person and a writer?

 I definitely feel like I understand Jane better as a result of writing and researching Praying with Jane. I spent days, weeks, and months pouring over her letters and novels; examining and researching her prayers; and reading through the Austen family papers and memoirs. Each day when I put my research materials away, I was tired but happy because I felt as if I had spent the day with Jane! Her words were in my mind constantly. I listened to the cadence of her prayers, reflecting on her words and the meaning behind them. I studied her life and her faith, learning from her family’s home life and spiritual traditions. I even incorporated some of her habits into my own life, such as writing down my own prayers each morning in my journal.

PrayingwithJanecoverI put Praying with Jane together in a subtle, chronological order, which gave me the sense that I was watching her life unfold as I wrote. I saw her through her father’s eyes in his letter when she was born. I pictured walking up the lane to church, kneeling for prayers, reciting prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, and gathering with the family to read in the evening. I saw the changes that occurred in her life, from the Steventon years of a full house brimming with children to the Chawton years when it was just the ladies at home. I viewed her from the perspective of her nieces and nephews in their letters and memoirs, , with whom she was “the general favourite . . . her ways with them being so playful, and her long circumstantial stories so delightful” (Austen-Leigh). I read Cassandra’s letters about Jane’s final days here on Earth as though I was sitting beside her bed. I included an epilogue in the book called “A Lasting Legacy” because I wanted to honor the profound impact her life and writing has had on me and countless others.

 

 

 

 

Q: How did your research change your personal feelings towards Jane?

In my academic work, I’ve always referred to Jane Austen by her last name, but after working on the manuscript for this book for several months, she soon became Jane to me. She was no longer a famous author; she was a person. Referring to her as “Jane” in the book, and even selecting the title Praying with Jane is evidence of the bond I felt with her after such an intense study of her life, faith, and prayers. I feel a certain kinship with her now as a result of my studies.

I also understand her desire to live life well, to consider how she spent each day, and to think about how her actions or words might affect others. In one of her prayers, she says this: “Incline us, O God, to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves.” Her words are personal and relatable. I think we’ve all had moments when we thought too highly of ourselves or judged others too quickly or harshly.

In the book’s introduction, I say this: “Reading Jane’s prayers is a bit like looking into her heart. In them, we get to know another side of Jane’s personality—a more serious and reverent side. They reveal a genuine, practical faith in Jesus Christ. Every line displays a balance of robust belief and tender intimacy. And like her novels, Jane’s prayers contain meaning that reaches far beyond eloquent words or graceful phrases. They are personal and reflective, passionate and thorough.” Exploring Jane’s prayers is a wonderful way to get to know her better.

Q: Did writing this book give you a desire to reread her books from a new perspective?

Absolutely! Jane’s novels took on new meaning for me as I read, studied, and wrote about her prayers and her spiritual life. Rereading her novels over the past two years with the lines of her prayers in the back of my mind has given me a brand new perspective on her writing. Though her novels are not overtly religious or “preachy,” they each contain moral lessons, religious themes, and biblical undertones.

Jane appears to have taken her faith quite seriously. We can see from the reverent language and tone of her prayers that she meant what she wrote. For example, her first prayer has this opening line: “Give us grace, Almighty Father, so to pray, as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our Hearts, as with our lips.” This tells us she wanted to pray from the heart. She wasn’t the type to say or do one thing on Sunday and then live differently the rest of the week. Her faith was part of who she was. It makes sense, then, that her writing, which also flowed from her heart, might include spiritual themes. Anytime I can read Jane’s novels in a new light, I find it fascinating!

Q: What’s one question you wish you could ask Jane in person if you could go back in time?

If I could go back in time, I would ask Jane why she loved to write. I’m so curious to know what writing felt like to her. She obviously enjoyed it. She had a lot of fun with her characters and plots. Lines came to her as she was sitting quietly with her needlework. I’d like to take a long walk with her and ask all about her writing process. I want to know the story behind each of her novels and how she came up with her delightful characters.

Q: What did you learn about Jane’s inner life? What drove her?

Most of us who love Jane Austen want to know what made her tick. Getting to know Jane’s spiritual side did that for me. I like knowing that she prayed each morning and evening on her own, prayed with her family each day, read devotional literature and sermons, and attended church on Sunday. I appreciate the way she lived out her faith in her daily life as a daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. I think love for her family drove her. She wasn’t the type to lock herself away, not to be disturbed, because she was busy writing. She wrote letters, played with her nieces and nephews, spent time with her family and neighbors, played the piano, traveled, read novels, cared for others, and enjoyed a lifelong friendship with Cassandra. Jane is a wonderful example of a well-rounded woman of faith for me.

I also admire that Jane Austen’s faith held fast during even the most difficult moments in her life. It was a firm foundation for her when she was ill. Her deep belief in a loving, gracious Father and the promise of an eternity spent in Heaven provided comfort in her final days on earth. She was taught to love and know God at an early age and she did “not depart from it” in her adult life (Proverbs 22:6). The storms of life seem to only have drawn her closer to God. She believed in the Bible and lived by it. She had a well spring of joy in her life that came from deep within and did not depend on her circumstances. Perhaps she was merely a naturally happy person, but I believe her faith, which the Bible calls a river of “living water,” was a source of inner joy and contentment for her (John 7:38).

Q: Do you think her faith played any part in her decision to remain single and pursue the non-ladylike ambition of a writing career?

If Jane’s faith did play any part in her decision to remain single, I’d say it’s only because her faith undergirded much of what she did in her life. I think she was quite content with her life, her family, and her writing. Jane understood what it meant to be loved—as a daughter, sister, and friend. I think she could have enjoyed great happiness in marriage to the right man, but I believe “only the deepest love” could have induced her to marry, much like her character Elizabeth Bennet.

Thank you, Vic, for hosting my book and for kicking off this blog tour. Thank you readers of Jane Austen’s World for your time and interest. It is my hope and prayer that Praying with Jane will help you know Jane better . . . and the God she loved.

About Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen: For more than two hundred years, Jane Austen and her novels have charmed readers from around the world. While much has been written about her fascinating life, less is known about Jane’s spiritual side. In this 31-day devotional, Austen’s faith comes to life through her exquisite prayers, touching biographical anecdotes, and illuminating scenes from her novels. Each reading also includes a thematically appropriate Scripture and a prayer inspired by Jane’s petitions.

PURCHASE PRAYING WITH JANE HERE

About the author: Rachel Dodge teaches college English and Jane Austen classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and Jane Austen groups, and is a writer for the popular Jane Austen’s World blog. She is passionate about prayer and the study of God’s Word. A true “Janeite” at heart, Rachel enjoys books, bonnets, and ball gowns. She makes her home in Northern California with her husband and two children. You can find her online at RachelDodge.com.

Rachel’s website, Facebook or Twitter pages:

Online Reading Group: Starting November 1, Rachel is hosting a “31 Days of Praying with Jane” Facebook group. Here’s the link if you’d like to join her online reading group for the month of November: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1037743546402251/

Works Cited:

Austen-Leigh, James Edward. Memoir of Jane Austen, 1870.

Blog Tour Dates:

October 31 – Praying with Jane, My changed Relationship with Jane, Jane Austen’s World, Vic Sanborn

November 1 – Praying With Jane by Rachel Dodge,  So Little Time, So Much to Read!, Candy Morton

November 2 – Praying With Jane: 31 Days Through Prayer (Review and Giveaway)Laura’s Reviews, Laura Gerold

November 3 – Praying With Jane: 31 Days Through Prayer by Rachel Dodge, Burton Book Review, Marie Burton

November 4 – Blog Tour: Praying With Jane: 31 Days Through Prayer by Rachel DodgeBLOGLOVIN‘, Sophia Rose

November 5 – Guest Post: Praying With Jane by Rachel Dodge and Book Giveaway! Jane Austen in Vermont, Deborah Barnum

November 6 – Book Spotlight and Giveaway: Praying with Jane by Rachel DodgeCalico Critic, Laura Hartness

November 7 – Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through Prayer by Rachel Dodge,  A Bookish Way of Life, Nadia Anguiano

November 8 – Book Spotlight: Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen by Rachel Dodge, Diary of an EccentricAnna Horner

November 9 – Review of Praying with JaneBecoming, Nichole Parks

November 10 – Praying with Jane: A new devotional based on the prayers of Jane AustenMy Jane Austen Book Club, Maria Grazia

November 11 – Praying with Jane Blog Tour: Interview and GiveawaysMy Love for Jane Austen, Sylvia Chan

November 12 – Laughing with Lizzie, Sophie Andrews

November 13 – Book Review: Praying with JaneFaith, Science, Joy … and Jane AustenBrenda Cox

Previous reviews:

Praying with Jane Blog Tour: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/praying-with-jane-blog-tour/

Praying with Jane, Michelle Ule: https://www.michelleule.com/2018/09/28/jane-austen/

Jane Austen in Vermont: https://janeausteninvermont.blog/2018/10/05/guest-post-praying-with-jane-by-rachel-dodge/

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