Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’s religion’ Category

By Brenda S. Cox

“We do not much like Mr. Cooper’s new sermons;–they are fuller of Regeneration & Conversion than ever–with the addition of his zeal in the cause of the Bible Society” –Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra Austen, Sept. 8, 1816

Last month we talked about Austen’s first cousins, particularly Edward Cooper, son of Jane’s mother’s sister. He became a clergyman like Jane’s father and Edward’s father. Edward was a strong Evangelical, and he and Jane did not always see eye to eye.

Evangelicals in the Church of England

The Evangelical* movement in the Church of England started early in the 1700s. While some evangelicals left the Church of England, others stayed within it. (We use a capital “E” for this movement within the Church of England at that time.) In general, evangelicals stress the centrality of the Bible and of Christ’s death on the cross to redeem sinful people, the need for a personal conversion experience, and Christians’ responsibility to actively lead others toward Christ and do good in the world. These are the messages Edward Cooper and other Evangelicals preached. 

The most famous Evangelical of Austen’s time was William Wilberforce. Wilberforce and other Christians, especially Evangelicals, led the fight against the slave trade, supported campaigns to educate the poor in England, and much more. (While modern evangelicals may be associated with certain political stances, evangelicals in Austen’s England were associated with these issues instead: education for the poor, the campaign against the slave trade and slavery, and others.)

Cooper’s Sermons and Jane Austen’s Responses

In Jane Austen’s time, many clergymen published their sermons. Sermons were popular reading, as well as providing preaching material for other clergymen. Austen enjoyed reading books of sermons. Cooper published a number of volumes of his sermons. Apparently, though, Jane and Cassandra didn’t like them much. In 1809 (Jan. 17), she commented,

“Miss M. conveys to us a third volume of sermons, from Hamstall, just published, and which we are to like better than the two others; they are professedly practical, and for the use of country congregations.”

This was Edward Cooper’s Practical and Familiar Sermons Designed for Parochial and Domestic Instruction(meaning for reading at home and for preaching to churches), first published in 1809. The earlier volumes were one in 1803 criticizing the practice of the militia drilling on Sundays (a day of rest), and then Sermons, Chiefly Designed to Elucidate Some of the Leading Doctrines of the Gospel (1804).

Where did Jane differ from those “leading doctrines” of Evangelical preaching? Evangelicals taught that people needed a conscious, personal conversion experience, a regeneration or rebirth, to become true Christians. Other Anglicans believed that growth in faith was gradual through life, beginning with a person’s baptism as an infant; this was probably Austen’s belief.  Both groups believed that throughout life the person needed to trust in Christ, repent when they sinned, and ask God’s help to live a good life. Edward Cooper’s hymn, “Father of Heaven,” which is still sung today, asks God for His “pardoning love.”

Cover of Edward Cooper’s Practical and Familiar Sermons, which Jane Austen was to “like better than the two others.”

This theological disagreement partly explains Jane’s reaction to a later book which includes two of Edward’s sermons. It’s been speculated that the “we” here might refer to the rest of her family, perhaps to her mother and brother’s opinion more than to her own. But still she does include herself:

“We do not much like Mr. Cooper’s new sermons;–they are fuller of Regeneration & Conversion than ever–with the addition of his zeal in the cause of the Bible Society” (Sept. 8, 1816).

This refers to Two Sermons Preached . . . at Wolverhampton Preparatory to the Establishment of a Bible Institution (1816). I was surprised to find that these sermons do not use the word regeneration, and conversion is used only once (with convert used two further times). However, the concepts are implied.

Cooper does talk about the world’s need for the gospel and for the Bible. Jane Austen apparently did not disagree with these goals. In her third prayer, she wrote,

“May thy [God’s] mercy be extended over all Mankind, bringing the Ignorant to the knowledge of thy Truth, awakening the Impenitent, touching the Hardened.”

Cover of Edward Cooper’s sermons for the Bible Society, which Austen found too full of “regeneration and conversion.”

The SPCK and the Bible Society

So, why would Austen object to Cooper’s supporting the Bible Society? She and her family supported a different institution that distributed the Bible, the SPCK. In fact, Jane herself contributed half a guinea, a substantial amount of her income, to this organization in 1813.

The SPCK, or Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, is a Church of England organization that published and sold Christian literature at that time. However, many felt that they were not supplying enough Bibles in different languages (specifically Welsh, at the beginning), and so the British and Foreign Bible Society was formed.

The Bible Society included both Anglicans and Dissenters (people in other denominations). Because of this, they published and distributed only Bibles, with no commentary (which might support one set of doctrines over another). The SPCK produced the Book of Common Prayer and other materials explaining the Bible from an Anglican perspective. There was some tension or competition between these two groups.

Both societies formed auxiliary groups in various areas to support their work. According to Irene Collins, in 1813, both organizations set up branches in Basingstoke, in the Austens’ part of the country. James Austen, Jane’s brother, organized and spoke at the initial meeting of the SPCK. The Lefroy family, old friends of the Austens’, were leaders of the rival Bible Society auxiliary started at almost the same time.

A copy of James’s speech for the SPCK has been preserved. He said that the SPCK was better than the Bible Society, because along with the Bible it distributed commentaries and the Book of Common Prayer (the “Liturgy”). He explained,

“It [the SPCK] not only puts the Bible in a poor man’s hand, but provides him with the best means of understanding it.”

However, he also said that those supporting the Bible Society did so from “the purest and best of motives,” and encouraged them to support both organizations. He complimented the Bible Society, saying its “exertions” had produced “extreme good.” He called for a spirit of unity in the area and a spirit of “candour”—which meant assuming the best of one another. The speech is gentle and conciliatory; a good model for today’s controversies.

Jane Austen and the Evangelicals

So, Jane Austen had some disagreements with her Evangelical cousin Edward Cooper, and didn’t much like his sermons. However, Cooper had an Evangelical friend in neighbouring Yoxall, Rev. Thomas Gisborne. Both Cooper and Gisborne were involved with Wilberforce in working for the abolition of the slave trade. 

Austen did enjoy Gisborne’s work. In 1805, she told Cassandra,

“I am glad you recommended ‘Gisborne,’ for having begun, I am pleased with it, and I had quite determined not to read it” (Aug. 30, 1805).

The book was probably An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex

In Austen’s letters, she made two specific mentions of the Evangelicals. On Jan. 24, 1809, she wrote, “I do not like the Evangelicals.” She was telling her sister that she did not want to read a new book by Hannah More, a popular Evangelical author. She went on to say, “Of course I shall be delighted when I read it, like other people,” so she doesn’t seem to be very serious. My guess is that she did not like More’s style, which is didactic, clearly teaching lessons through her story. Austen preferred to tell a good story and let readers come to their own conclusions.

Later, on Nov. 18, 1814, she had a serious discussion with her niece Fanny Knight about marrying a man who was leaning toward Evangelicalism. She wrote, “I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals, & am at least persuaded that they who are so from Reason and Feeling must be happiest & safest. . . . don’t be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly up to the precepts of the New Testament than others.” So at that point, though she was not Evangelical herself, she admired them.

Austen’s beloved brother Henry later became an Evangelical preacher himself. But he still wrote about his sister, in the introduction to Northanger Abbey and Persuasion:

“She was thoroughly religious and devout . . . On serious [religious] subjects she was well-instructed, both by reading and meditation, and her opinions accorded strictly with those of our Established Church.”

While some have claimed that he was exaggerating here, at the time being “religious” was not necessarily popular. Jane Austen did not always agree with her cousin Edward’s theology or style of writing, but it seems to me that she was serious about her faith, as he was.

Brenda S. Cox blogs 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.

*Note that “Evangelical” and “evangelism” are two different things, though people sometimes get them confused. Evangelicals, the focus of the article above, were and are groups of Christians with certain common beliefs. Evangelism  means people sharing their religious beliefs with other people.

For Further Reading

Edward Cooper, Jane Austen’s Evangelical Cousin, Part 1

Edward Cooper, Wolverhampton Sermons, Jan. 1, 1816.

Jocelyn Harris, “Jane Austen and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,” Persuasions 34: 134-139. 

Irene Collins, “’Too Much Zeal for the Bible Society: Jane Austen, Her Family, and the Religious Quarrels of Her Time,” Jane Austen Society Reports, Collected Reports Vol. 6 (2001-2005): 21-38. This article explains the rivalry and cooperation between the Bible Society and the S.P.C.K. in Austen’s community, and Jane’s theological differences with her cousin Edward Cooper. 

Gaye King, “Jane Austen’s Staffordshire Cousin: Edward Cooper and His Circle,” Persuasions 1993 

Gaye King, “Visiting Edward Cooper,” Persuasions 1987 

Donald Greene, “Hamstall Ridware: A Neglected Austen Setting,” 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, Edward’s portrait 

Edward Cooper as a hymn writer 

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. 

’Cruel Comfort’: A Reading of the Theological Critique in Sense and Sensibility,” Kathleen James-Cavan (springboards from Jane’s comment on Edward Cooper into the ideas in S&S) Persuasions On-Line 32.2 (2012) 

Other Sources

Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen: A Family Record, 2nd ed. (p. 262 says Henry Austen became an Evangelical clergyman)

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.

Irene Collins, Jane Austen and the Clergy

Read Full Post »

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

Edward Cooper: Jane Austen’s Evangelical Cousin, Part 2

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. 

Read Full Post »

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. 

Read Full Post »

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.”

_____________________

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

More on the Topic

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: