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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’s family’

Sir Thomas More will be familiar to many of us from Robert Bolt’s stage play and 1966 film, A Man For All Seasons, and from Hilary Mantel’s more recent book, Wolf Hall. For those persons who confine their reading to the six novels of a certain Georgian lady and don’t recognize his name, he was Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to 16 May 1532, under King Henry VIII. He steadfastly refused to condone Henry’s desire to break from the Catholic Church to facilitate his divorce from Catherine of Aragon; Henry’s solution was to order his execution.

 

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Neither the historical record nor the dramatisations document his descendant lines to any extent, but Sir Thomas and his wife Jane Colt established a fertile line of progeny. A genealogist and descendant, the late Martin Wood, in his book The Family and Descendants of St Thomas More) [1] thought that the tally so far could number one hundred thousand. What has never been on the public record is a direct family connection between Sir Thomas and Jane Austen. The link is in the maternal line of Mrs. Austen, Cassandra Leigh, through her maternal great-grandmother, Anne Dawtrey.

George Austen and Cassandra Leigh both had some knowledge of their fathers’ ancestries but, I suspect, little of their mothers’. Cassandra was proud of her paternal lineage – her great-grandfather was the 8th Lord Chandos, her great-uncle was the first Duke of Chandos, and her distant cousin Edward Leigh was Baron Leigh of Stoneleigh. Her mother Jane Leigh (née Walker) lived with the Austens at Steventon for the last four years of her life, and the first four of their marriage. Of the Austens’ parents she was the one best known to them, and it seems safe to assume that she’d have talked about her forebears. However the current record of Cassandra’s maternal family extends back only to her great-grandmother, and it’s likely that she knew nothing of earlier generations.

Until recently I had not given Anne Dawtrey any attention – her son-in-law (and Cassandra’s maternal grandfather) John Walker, ‘Doctor of Physick at the University of Oxford,’ had both dominated and frustrated my attention. I have to report that he continues to elude not just me, but several archivists at the University of Oxford as well.

The only detail recorded for Anne, confirmed by the licence allegation for her marriage to James Perrott (dated 23 November, 1667) [2], was that she was of Petworth in Sussex. When I got round to looking, the Dawtreys revealed themselves to have been a long-established Petworth family, with additional estates in Essex and Suffolk. They were wealthy enough to leave Last Wills and Testaments that are preserved at The National Archives [3]; and bore Arms (that is, heraldic Arms), so their pedigree is recorded in the Sussex County Visitations [4]. Working through those and other sources, I was able to establish that Anne’s great-great grandfather was William Dawtrey, who had been elected MP for Sussex in 1563 and died in 1591, and that his wife was Margaret. 

Margaret’s surname had been recorded as Rogers in the Visitations; it was only on finding William’s biography in the website of The History of Parliament [5] that I learnt that she was in fact a Roper, and that she was the daughter of William Roper of Eltham, Kent. It didn’t take long to discover that this was the William Roper who had married Margaret More, the devoted daughter of Sir Thomas More. (William Roper was Sir Thomas’s first biographer; Margaret More, besides supporting her fsther during his trial, retrieved his head from the executioner; it is now interred in the Roper vault under the Chapel of St. Nicholas in St. Dunstan’s, Canterbury.)

Anne Dawtrey was a 4th-great-granddaughter of Sir Thomas; Jane Austen was an 8th-great-granddaughter. While researching Jane’s maternal pedigrees I have found many very interesting ancestors, but none so surprising as Sir Thomas. The chance that she knew this is negligible! If these details have any bearing on Jane Austen herself, it’s in the way that they illustrate that her descent was through some of the most interesting people in British history.

In the preceding paragraph I wrote “none so surprising as Sir Thomas.” But here’s another detail that comes close. Sir Thomas More’s parents, Sir John More (a Judge of the Common Pleas and of the King’s Bench) and Alice Graunger, had four surviving children, of whom he was the second eldest. His youngest sibling, Elizabeth, married John Rastell, and they too established a successful line of progeny.  One of their great-grandsons was amongst the worthiest of Jane Austen’s distant cousins, the great English poet John Donne.

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About the author:

Ronald Dunning is the creator of the Ancestry.com “Jane Austen Family Tree,” which is undergoing an update as his research continues. He learned through his grandmother that her family was in some way related to Jane Austen. After moving from Canada to England in 1972, he pursued this intriguing information and discovered that Frank Austen [Jane’s brother] was her great-great-grandfather. Find more information in Deb Barnum’s 2012 interview with Mr. Dunning for Jane Austen in Vermont, An Interview with Ron Dunning on his Jane Austen Genealogy ~ The New and Improved Jane Austen Family Tree!

References:

[1] The Family and Descendants of St Thomas More. Martin Wood. Gracewing, Leominster, 2008. ISBN 978 0 85244 681 2

[2] Marriage Allegations in the Registry of the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Harleian Society Vol. XXIII, 1886. p.142

[3] Probate Records:

William Roper, PROB 11/60/365 (in which he names his ‘daughter Dawtrey’)

William Dawtrey (d.1591) PROB 11/78/329

Sir Henry Dawtrey (d. 1646) PROB 11/196/139

William Dawtrey (d.ca 1679) PROB 11/361/238

[4] Visitations of Sussex for 1530 and 1633-4; Harleian Society, London, Vol.LIII, 1905; p.32

[5] History of Parliament Online: http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/dawtrey-william-1591

Read other articles by Mr. Dunning

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Inquiring readers: WordPress has changed its editor, and I am still wrestling with the changes, especially on different computers – Mac and Android. You can see it in the changes in spacing and font. I am also experiencing internet connectivity problems. For these reasons, this post is published 4 days later than I intended. When we celebrated Father’s Day in the U.S., I thought of my beloved father and of his dry wit, which influenced my love for Austen and her novels (especially of Mr Bennet’s comments in Pride and Prejudice that reminded me of my father’s droll, but gentle humor). As I pondered the connection, I asked: “How did Jane Austen’s father influence her writing?” Here is my very short analysis.

Jane Austen was born on December 16th in 1775 on a bitter cold day in Steventon, a village in Hampshire. One day after her birth, her father, the village’s pastor, wrote a family member about his 7th child (out of 8) and second daughter:

“You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire, and perhaps wondered a little we were in our old age grown such bad reckoners but so it was, for Cassy* certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago: however last night the time came, and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon happily over. We now have another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy** and a future companion. She is to be Jenny…” (Lane, 63). (*His wife, Cassandra; **His daughter.)

George Austen

One senses a father’s pride in the tone of this letter, as well as George Austen’s pleasure that Cassy, the only girl among his six children, and almost three years older than *Jenny*, would have a sister as a playmate. 

Reverend George Austen baptized his new daughter on December 17th in his home, as he had done with his other children. While Mrs Austen rested during her lying in, he wrote notes announcing the birth to friends and acquaintances. As far as we know, this was the last time that he called his newborn Jenny.  On April 5th, baby Jane was formally christened in St. Nicholas church. She was named after her godmother; her two aunts – Mrs Cooper and Mrs Leigh Perrot – and her maternal grandmother. 

Despite the high infant mortality rate during this era, the Austens sent their babies to “a good woman at Deane” three months after their births. This custom was commonly practiced at that time.  Cassandra Austen visited her babies daily in the nearby village, until they returned to the family fold at around 18 months of age. The reasons for this custom can be found in the following article on Breast Feeding in the Early 19th Century on this blog. 

A loving father and mother:

George and his wife were equally hard working parents who provided a stable and often joyful childhood for their children, except perhaps for the physically disabled George, who might have suffered from epilepsy. (His condition is more fully discussed in this article by Geri Walton: Jane Austen’s Disabled Brother George Austen. 

Early childhood and an education at home

Once the infants were returned to Steventon Parsonage, the parents took over raising their children. By all accounts, the Austen family was close-knit. After baby Jane’s return to the family fold, her parents’ teachings and examples during her formative years modeled intellectual, creative, and practical activities in a comfortable home and rural setting. 

“She was apparently a tomboy as a child, preferring to play cricket and roll down hills with her brothers than play ‘girls’ games, much like the character of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.” (Ivins, p 2.)

Book cover with image of a family with two parents and six childrendancing, with carpet rolled up and one of the girls playing piano.

Mrs Hurst Dancing book cover from Amazon books. The image shows a family of 8 dancing inside a drawing room, with the carpets rolled up.

Many facts exist about the timeline of Rev George Austen’s life, but what was his relationship with his family, and, in the interest of this article, with his famous daughter?  From an early age, George Austen led a hard-scrabble life. He lifted himself up through extraordinary intelligence and industry.  

Young Jane and her sister learned about history, literature, and the classics from their father and brothers. George’s library consisted of 500 volumes, an enormous (and expensive) number for a mere country parson. Shades of Mr Bennet! The library contained both classical books and novels, the latter of which were first frowned upon by academics and traditionalists, but were read with enjoyment by the Austen family. 

“…most of [the sisters’] education was undertaken privately at home, where their father, Reverend George Austen, supplemented his clerical income by taking boy pupils as boarders. It is likely that the Austen sisters benefited from their father’s library and from his informal instruction. We do not know whether or not they also sat in on any of the boys’ classes.” – Sutherland, British Library

Boarding school and “formal” education:

Jane and Cassandra acquired some formal education, although there were no expectations that their education would be as rigorous as their brothers’.

“In 1782 at the age of 7 Jane Austen went to school for the first time. Theories [conjecture] that she wanted to go to school because her elder sister Cassandra was being sent to Mrs Cawley’s school in Oxford to accompany their cousin Jane Cooper who was being sent there.” – Jane Austen Went to School

In 1783, Jane, Cassandra, and their cousin Jane Cooper caught an infectious disease spread by troops returning to Southampton. The three became quite ill. Jane Cooper sent a letter about the situation to her parents, who informed the Austens. Alarmed, Mrs Austen and Mrs Cooper immediately traveled to the school to retrieve their daughters. Mrs Austen nursed Jane back to health, but sadly Mrs Cooper caught the disease and died from it.

In the following three years, Jane and Cassandra continued their education at home. Then, when Jane was ten, the girls set off again to school, one that seemed similar to Jane’s description of Mrs. Goddard’s school in Emma:

“Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a school — not a seminary, or an establishment, or anything which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems — and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity — but a real, honest, old-fashioned boarding school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies. Mrs. Goddard’s school was in very high repute, and very deservedly; for Highbury was reckoned a particularly healthy spot: she had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands.”

The school Jane and Cassandra attended between the spring of 1785 and December of 1786 was the Abbey School in Reading (remarkably still a girl’s school today https://theabbey.co.uk), where the curriculum included writing, spelling, French, history, geography, needlework, drawing, music and dancing – subjects that were considered essential for a girl’s education during the girls’ formative years to prepare them for attracting a husband and running a household. Few roads for women in Austen’s time led to higher education, travel abroad, or a career.

Unlike most of their female contemporaries, Jane’s and Cassandra’s education did not stop when they returned to Steventon. In fact, they were exposed to a wider variety of topics, subjects, and intellectual skills than they would have encountered in boarding schools. In addition:

“[Jane] was not denied “unladylike” material; she mentioned Henry Fielding’s bawdy novel Tom Jones in one of her letters and wrote that the Austen family were “great novel readers and not shamed of being so.” – Sullivan, (p180).

Early writing

Jane wrote her Juvenilia between 12 – 18 years of age as “gifts to her family” (Ivins). She frequently read these short, hilarious pieces of fiction to her siblings, parents, and friends. An early draft of Pride and Prejudice (First Impressions) was a particular favorite of her audience and remained so for years. Importantly, Rev. Austen encouraged her writing. In later years Cassandra recalled Jane reading from Elinor and Marianne (later Sense and Sensibility) before 1796. These carefree times in the Austen family’s social lives were filled with laughter, games, riddles, plays, readings, and intellectual discussions.

“…the relationship of Jane Austen with her own father seems, from what remains of her correspondence, to have been a good one. John Halperin characterizes him as a gentle, scholarly man, a good teacher and an excellent classical scholar. It was he who gave his daughter her literary education, and he who took sufficient interest in her work to offer her first novel to a publisher.” (Gibbs).

Despite their loving relationship, Austen’s six major novels described deeply flawed fathers with a variety of issues: Sir Walter Elliot was a snob and a spendthrift (P); Mr Woodhouse was a fearful hypochondriac whose neediness bound his youngest daughter to their home (E); General Tilney, another snob, was a truly nasty man all around (NA); and Mr Henry Dashwood (SS) left the financial fate of his second wife and daughters to the mercy of his weak-willed son and heir for lack of planning and foresight. 

Sir Thomas Bertram’s fathering skills in Mansfield Park were more nuanced. While he wasn’t a model father, his understanding and insights changed. The growth of his character is one of many reasons why Mansfield Park is considered by many to be Jane’s masterpiece.

I have reserved Mr Bennet (PP), for last. When I was fourteen his character delighted me – his witticisms, his criticisms of his silly wife and three younger equally silly daughters, and his close relationship with Jane and Elizabeth, who I adored, all had my approval. But then I grew up and saw him in a different light.

In my mature years I saw a man whose wit and sarcasm hid an underlying cruelty. He was a husband who made fun of his wife; who favored two daughters above three others; a man who bought extremely expensive books, but who failed to set a portion of that expense aside for future investments for his wife and daughters. I now see a man who retreated from daily reality and, for all his intellectual curiosity, was generally lazy. 

Even after Mr Wickham compromised his daughter, Lydia, and after Mr Darcy did everything in his power to rectify the situation, including providing the shameless couple with a yearly income, Mr Bennet quipped to Elizabeth:

“I admire all my three sons-in-law highly,” said he. “Wickham, perhaps, is my favourite; but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane’s.”

That statement put the nail in the coffin to my youthful admiration of this father. 

George Austen’s support:

George Austen was proud of all his children. He actively supported Jane’s talents as a writer and encouraged her from childhood and on. In a letter to publisher Thomas Cadell, Jr., who was a partner in the firm that had published Fanny Burney’s novels, he proposed to submit her completed manuscript of First Impressions. George’s letter, written in November, 1797, offered “A Manuscript Novel, comprised in three Vols., about the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina.” Cadell, Jr. returned the letter unopened, and so the manuscript languished for 16 years.

Edward’s gift, and the fortuitous consequences of Cadell’s rejection:

George Austen’s sudden death in Bath on 21 January 1805, when Austen was nearly 30, placed his female family in uncertain circumstances. All the brothers, except for George, contributed enough funds towards their mother’s and sisters’ upkeep to relieve some of their financial burdens. Nevertheless, Jane’s creative writing suffered as her female family sought a permanent place to land after George’s death. In 1809, the group found a permanent home in Chawton Cottage, a house that Jane’s brother, Edward Austen Leigh, had refurbished for them.

Black and white pen and ink drawing of the cottage by Ellen Hill

Chawton Cottage by Ellen Hill

The move to Chawton Cottage created a perfect storm of creativity and success for Jane. Thanks to Edward, she returned to the rural countryside she loved, and once again her talent and creativity flourished. First on her to-do list was to rewrite Sense and Sensibility. A publisher had not rejected this manuscript and she sensed its commercial value. After its modest success, she turned to her other novel, First Impressions, the family favorite which had languished unpublished. We have no way of knowing how often Jane revised this beloved story, which, like Sense and Sensibility, started out as an epistolary novel. What we do know is that the finished product, renamed Pride and Prejudice (published in 1813), was well received. The book retains its literacy rock star status to this day.

I have no doubt that George Austen’s unshakable faith in Jenny’s brilliance as an author contributed to her success. His gift was his consistent confidence and encouragement in nourishing her spectacular talent. Well done, George!

______

Articles from this blog:

Online Articles

Gibbs, C. (1986) Absent Fathers: An Examination of Father-Daughter Relationships in Jane Austen’s Novels (Persuasions #8. JASNA. PDF Downloaded 6/26/21: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number8/gibbs.pdf

Sutherland, K. (2014) Female education, reading and Jane Austen, British Library. URL Downloaded 6/26/21: https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/female-education-reading-and-jane-austen

Books

Grey, J.D. (1986) The Jane Austen Companion (with A Dictionary of Jane Austen’s Life and Works by H. Abigail Bok (U.S.). Macmillan Publishing Company.

Lane, M. (1997) Jane Austen’s Family: Through Five Generations (Paperback reprint (U.K.) St. Edmundsbury Press, Ltd.

Hannon, P. (2007) 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen: The Truth About the World’s Most Intriguing Literary Heroine (U.S.). Fall River Press.

Ivins, H. (2010) The Jane Austen Pocketbook Bible (1st ed. U.K.). Crimson Publishing.

Mingay, G & Sperling, D. (1981) Mrs Hurst Dancing And Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823 (U.K.). Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Sullivan, M.C. (2007) The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England (U.S.). Quirk Books.

https://www.amazon.com/Hurst-Dancing-Scenes-Regency-1812-1823/dp/0312551290

 

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Inquiring readers: One of the activities I have missed the most during this year of COVID-19 is traveling abroad. In this blog post, Tony Grant takes us on a tour to The Vyne, which is one of England’s grand houses and is closely associated with Jane Austen and her family. Enjoy!

Gentle readers: Please note: this post is updated with corrections about the Stained Glass Windows and Flemish Tiles, as indicated in the comments by Stuart Hall, Tour Guide, The Vyne.

Image of The_Vyne_House wikipediaThe Vyne, Sherborne St John Hampshire, Image from Wikipedia

The Vyne, is an 18th century mansion near the village of Sherbourne St John. It is just north of the town of  Basingstoke; eight miles from Steventon, which is located south west of Basingstoke; eighteen miles from Chawton; twenty miles north of Winchester; and just over fifty miles from the centre of London. It is a typical grand house that, although its present appearance is 18th century, has been developed and adapted over the centuries to fit different periods. In the late 18th century its proximity to Basingstoke and Steventon put it and the Chute family, who owned it, within Jane Austen’s family local connections. George and Cassandra Austen, after their marriage in Bath, moved to Steventon in 1764 when George and Cassandra Austen first took up the living of Steventon Parish and were set to start their family with their first child, James, born on February 13th, 1765. Jane, the Austen’s eighth child, was born 16th December, 1775. As the vicar of Steventon, George Austen associated with the country gentry and landowners in the area and these included the Chutes at The Vyne in Sherborne St John.

The Vyne Estate, The National Trust Map, image by Tony Grant

The Vyne Estate, The National Trust Map, image by Tony Grant

The Vyne was first built as a large Tudor mansion by William, 1st Lord Sandys, Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain who died in 1540. The King himself, was entertained three times at The Vyne by Lord Sandys. The wealth of the Sandys family declined slowly through the centuries, but the Civil Wars 1642 – 1651 finished the family as an authority in the country and their wealth declined drastically. In 1653 the estate was sold to Chaloner Chute, who was the Speaker in the House, a role which had great power in Parliament shaping how Parliament debated issues and passed legislation during the last Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was set up after the execution of Charles 1st and continued to a little after Oliver Cromwell’s death and the reinstatement of the monarchy. Chaloner Chute was a very important man in the country. He reduced the size of the original Tudor mansion and modernised it, employing John Webb, a talented pupil of Inigo Jones to redesign it.

Floorplan of The VyneThe floor plan of The Vyne, The National Trust

Chute died in 1659 and not much more was done to the house for the next hundred years. His great grandson, John Chute (1701-76) inherited the house in 1754. John Chute was a talented architect and along with his friend Horace Walpole helped Walpole design the Gothic interiors of Strawberry Hill, Walpole’s house at Twickenham. Along with Walpole he also redesigned the Gothic interior of the chapel at The Vyne. In his early thirties, he brought back mementoes from his grand tour of Europe which remain in the house today. 

John Chute died without heirs in 1776 and the house passed to his cousin Thomas Lobb (1721-90), the son of a Thomas Lobb of Norfolk who had married Elizabeth Chute (d 1725) in 1720, hence the family connection. This second Thomas Lobb assumed the name of Chute when John Chute died and passed the Vyne to him, thus keeping the family name extant. Thomas (Lobb) Chute married Anne Rachael Wiggett (1733-90) in 1753.

They had two sons, William John Chute (1757-1824) and Thomas Chute (1772-1827). William, who inherited the house in 1790, married Elizabeth Smith in 1794.

Upon his death in 1824 the Vyne passed to his younger brother Thomas, a clergyman. As neither William nor Thomas had issue, the house was left in 1827 to William John Chute’s godson and part of the Wiggett family, William Lyde Wiggett (1800-79). THIS William assumed the name of Chute in 1827 and succeeded to the Vyne in 1842 when Elizabeth Smith Chute passed away.

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James Austen, Jane Austen’s eldest brother (above image on the right), became a close and lifelong friend of Tom Chute, William John Chute’s brother. They both loved fox hunting and often rode with the hounds together. On his clergyman’s income, James Austen was able to keep his own pack of hounds. As rector of Steventon, George Austen, Jane’s father, was also a visitor to the Chute family home.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Bennet and the Bennet girls were all a flutter at wealthy landowners, such as Fitzwilliam Darcy, came to live in their neighbourhood. The game was on to get her daughters married into a wealthy strata of society and rise in the world. You had to be ambitious if nothing else and take a chance.

The local clergy were regularly invited to the local landowner’s home for dinner; they became almost a part of the family in many ways. Mr Collins waxed lyrical about his great honour of being invited to Rosings by Lady Catherine de Bourgh. 

“She had asked him twice to dine at Rosings and had sent for him only the Saturday before  to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening… she made not the smallest objection to his joining in the society of the neighbourhood.”

We can gather that James Austen became closely associated with the Chute family, first because of his father’s connections and subsequently as the vicar of  Sherborne St John, the parish in which The Vyne was located.  Later he took over the incumbency of Steventon Parish from his father, a mere eight miles from The Vyne, which kept him close to the Chutes and the great house.  

James accumulated parishes throughout his clerical career. Deirdre le Faye enumerates the following. 

“curate of Stoke Charity , Hants, 1788, (the year he completed his studies with an MA from Oxford), the curate at Overton Hants in 1790, the vicar at Sherborne St John in 1791, the curate of Deane in 1791, the vicar of Cubbington in 1792, the perpetual curate of Hunningham in 1805  curate of Steventon (under his father) in 1801 and finally the vicar of Steventon  between 1805 and 1819 (died 1819).” 

Photo of The grave of James and Mary Austen at Steventon

James is buried alongside his wife in Steventon Churchyard. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Jane and Cassandra fully took part in local society, including friendships formed through family associations and connections provided by their father and brothers. Jane often wrote about her acquaintances and the local activities she took part in, including information she knew Cassandra would be interested in, often referring to the Chutes of The Vyne.

Thursday 14th – Friday 15th January 1796

“Friday- At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over- My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea. William Chute called here yesterday. I wonder what he means by being so civil. There is a report that Tom ( Chute)  is going to be married to a Litchfield Lass.”

On Saturday 1st November 1800, Jane went to a ball , presumably at Basingstoke.

“It was a pleasant ball, and still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly 60 people and sometimes we had 17 couples-The Portsmouths, Dorchesters, Boltons, Portals and Clerks were there and all the meaner and more unusual etc etc’s- There was a scarcity of men in general and a still greater scarcity of any that were much good for much .- I danced nine dances out of ten, five with Steven Terry, T. Chute and James Digwood and four with Catherine-“

Saturday 9th November 1800

“Mary fully intended writing to you by Mr Chutes frank and only happened intirely (JA’s spelling) to forget it- but will write soon-“

On Saturday3rd January 1801 Jane saw Tom Chute when she visited Ash Park. On Friday 9th January  a few days later she saw him again at Deane. These are all houses belonging to the local gentry in Hampshire.

On Monday 22nd April 1805 she hears of Tom Chute’s fall from a horse.

“I am waiting to know how it happened before I begin pitying him.”

On the 8th January 1807, Jane adds another news item to her letter to Cassandra

“…. and another that Tom Chute is going to settle in Norfolk.” This was of course where another Chute family property was located, through the Wiggett connection.”

In January 1813, she again refers to the use of Mr Chute’s franks.

And probably most intriguing of all on Wednesday, February 26th 1817 Jane writes,

“I am sorry to hear of Caroline Wiggetts being so ill. Mrs Chute would feel almost like a mother in losing her.”

The reference to using the Chutes’ “frank” refers to the means by which the Chutes addressed an envelope. The MP wrote the address, dated it properly, and wrote the word “FREE” in the middle of his signature. This  meant that the recipient of the letter didn’t pay for its delivery (which was the custom), but that the Chutes would pay.  At the time of this last message Jane was still in the process of writing Sanditon and she had a mere few months left to live. Jane died in Winchester on the 18th July 1817. The Chutes remained in her sphere of interest to the last. 

Claire Tomalin makes links between Jane Austen’s real life associations, the Chutes, etc., and some of her novels’ characters. She surmises that William John Chute and Elizabeth Chute nee Smith could have inspired some of her ideas about Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Jane and Elizabeth Chute did not become great friends but Elizabeth Chute was well read and was an intelligent person from all accounts. There is also the matter of Caroline Wiggett, who was mentioned in the letter above. Caroline was a second cousin of William’s mother, who came to live with Elizabeth and William and thought of them as her Aunt and Uncle. She was brought up at The Vyne from 1803. From Caroline’s reminiscences we learn that she had a rather lonely childhood at The Vyne. Could she have been an inspiration for Fanny Price in Mansfield Park? Tomlin rightly warns us about making too many assumptions. Writers use many experiences from their lives but use them creatively within their works. A writer will not use personal experiences in a factual way, but aspects of their experiences can inevitably be adapted, drawn upon, and used fictionally.

However, what attracts me most about Jane’s letters, which is clearly obvious in the quotations above, is her humorous tone, often teasing, and making fun of those people and situations she writes about. Of course these letters are private letters to her dear sister Cassandra. She and Cassandra would have had their private jokes and opinions, not for publication. Haven’t we all?

Eventually in 1956, upon the death of Sir Charles Chute, the final Chute owner, The Vyne was bequeathed to The National Trust, who take care of the house today. It is open to the public.

Photo of a National Trust membership cardNational Trust Membership card.

A few years ago, Emily, one of our daughters, bought us a National Trust membership as a Christmas present. The trust looks after hundreds of old houses, estates, gardens, coastal paths and wild areas of the British Isles. With membership we get free entry into these estates, gardens and historic houses, which is an amazing thing. 

In March 2017, Marilyn and I went to visit The Vyne. I had heard of the Austen connection, of course, and also the connection with Horace Walpole (1717-1797) and the Gothic Revival movement. After university, Emily had worked as an intern at Strawberry Hill House, Walpole’s mansion at Twickenham, and we visited Strawberry Hill with Emily as our guide. We were expecting to see something of the Gothic Revival style of interior design at The Vyne, just as we had seen at Strawberry Hill. 

Photo of Sherborne St John road sign Sherborne St John. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

I have focused a lot of this article on the period when the Austens lived at Steventon and on the connections between the Austen family and the Chutes. In an earlier period, Horace Walpole was best friends with John Chute (1701-1776) before William John Chute and Thomas Chute, the Austens’ acquaintances.

The Vyne is rich in objects and paintings brought to The Vyne after John Chute returned from his grand tour of Europe. At 39, John was older than his fellow travellers. His cousin Francis Whitehead, who he went on tour with, was 23, and the friends he made on the tour, including Horace Walpole, were virtually a generation younger.

Photo of Some of John Chute's porcelain collectionPorcelain brought back by John Chute from his Grand Tour. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Marilyn and I entered through the entrance on the south side overlooking the extensive surrounding parkland and the lake.  Each room is attended by a guide. Once you ask a question you are inundated with the most interesting and detailed, in-depth information about the Chutes, the house, and the very room you might be standing in at the given moment.

Photo of the Vyne library, National TrustThe library. Image from The National Trust

We walked through the rooms packed with objects and paintings. The library has two large globes of the world, a fantastic ornate baroque fireplace, full length portraits of the Chutes, and walls with shelf upon shelf of books. I must admit to a quirky disposition when I walk through libraries in old houses. You must not touch the books. They are rare, ancient, bound in leather and cost a fortune. I have an enormous urge, which I have to fight against, to spend time with the said books, take them off the shelves and read them. It is always a difficult time having to merely walk past them. I spent a moment reading the titles on the spines though. 

We walked along the oak gallery, the walls lined with portraits and landscapes. The floor is of oak timbers. The walls are faced with oak wainscoting with an intricate “folded linen” effect carved and finely chiselled into the surface of each panel.  They are similar to the panelling I have seen in the Tudor Palace at Hampton Court and other Tudor mansions around the country. This is a fantastic example of the Gothic Revival on the walls, created in the 18th century and not the 16th century.

Photo of linen fold panelingLinen fold oak panelling. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

The chapel attached to the eastern wing of the house is a sight to behold. It is the epitome of Gothic Revival. We think Jane Austen did visit The Vyne, so there is a good chance she too gasped at what you see today. Horace Walpole advised on the decoration. John Chute employed an Italian craftsman called Spiridore Roma, who worked on the chapel between 1769-1771. He used a technique called trompe l’oeil, to create a three dimensional effect of buttresses, Gothic arched windows, and fan ceilings.

Photo of Trompe l'oeil in the chapel National Trust pictureTrompe l’oeil in the chapel. National Trust image.

I have seen the real thing in Bath Abbey and other medieval churches and cathedrals and it is obvious that this is not the real thing, but this paint effect is very impressive indeed. There are medieval-styled tiles on the floor and stained glass windows–all of 16th century medieval originals. The effect is glorious.

Image of Tudor floor tiles (Gothic Revival)

Image of Tudor Revival Gothic floor tiles, courtesy of Tony Grant

Next to the chapel is the Tomb Chamber. It is set out like a Gothic cathedral chapter house. It has valuabele 16th century stained glass windows and a stone slab floor, but the centre piece is a table tomb with a reclining white marble statue of Speaker Chute  (Chaloner Chute 1595- 1659) lying full length with his head propped up on an elbow. Horace Walpole wanted to create the emotions derived from Gothic architecture and in this chapel and tomb chamber he aided John Chute, his friend in recreating that Gothic moment.

Photo of Challoner Chutes tombChaloner Chutes tomb. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

After our tour inside the great house Marilyn and I walked in the grounds. We had a wonderful view of the long lake, smooth green lawns, and the massive cedar trees. We went inside the brick summer house and looked up at its web-like beamed ceiling.

Photo of the summer houseThe Summer House. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

We walked through the walled garden where the National Trust is recreating a great houses kitchen garden with a variety of shrubs, fruit trees, herbs and vegetables.

Photo of the kitchen garden by Tony GrantThe walled kitchen garden. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

 We walked along the Lime Walk and listened to the wind in the branches and birds singing in the canopy.

Photo of The lawns and lake at the front of The Vyne

The lawns and lake at the front of The Vyne. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

Visiting a National Trust property such as The Vyne lifts the spirits, and provides beauty, natural and man-made, that soothes the soul. Afterwards, we drove into the village of Sherborne St Peter nearby and walked to the church where James Austen was vicar.

References:

“The Vyne Hampshire,” published by The National Trust  1998 (revised 2015)

Jane Austen A Life, by Claire Tomalin published by Penguin Books 1997.

Jane Austen’s Letters Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Third Edition)  Published by Oxford University Press 1997.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen  Published by Penguin Classics 1996

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen  Published by The Penguin English Library 1966

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“Memorandums for the use [of] Mr. F. W. Austen on his going to the East Indies Mids[hip]man on board his Majesty’s Ship Perseverance Cap: [Sm]ith Decr. 1788”

Thus begins a letter from Jane Austen’s father to her older brother Francis. Francis, who Jane called Frank, went to sea at age 14. He had been at the Royal Naval Academy in Portsmouth (home town of Fanny Price of Mansfield Park) for two and a half years.

Photo 1 Lieutenant Francis Austen

Lieutenant Francis Austen, 1796, about eight years after his father sent this letter

Their father had written to Francis regularly at school. He now felt that his son needed to know more about subjects “of the greatest importance”—his relationships with God and with people.

Francis apparently treasured this letter. There is even fire damage on some of the folds, since he had it with him on shipboard. It was found among his papers when he died at age 91.

His descendants quoted much of the letter in the book Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers. However, they did not quote the second paragraph. Instead they summarized it as “some well-chosen and impressive injunctions on the subject of his [George Austen’s] son’s religious duties.” (They also left out a few later parts of the letter, such as George telling his son to keep himself clean and take care of his teeth!) We can learn a lot about the Austen family’s religious beliefs and practices from the missing second paragraph.

The “Memorandums”

At the end of the first paragraph, George Austen says his son’s own “good sense & natural Judgment of what is right” will guide him in specific circumstances. Then he writes with more general advice:

“The first & most important of all considerations to a human Being is Religion, or the belief of a God & our consequent duty to him, our Neighbour, & ourselves – In each of these your Catechism instructs you, & for what is further necessary to be known on this subject in general, & on Christianity in particular I must refer you to that part of the Elegant Extracts where you have Passages from approved Authors sufficient to inform you in every requisite for your belief & practice. To these I refer you & recommend them to your frequent & attentive perusal; observing only on this head, that as you must be well convinced how wholly you depend on God for success in all your undertakings, you will easily see that you are bound in interest as well as duty regularly to address yourself to him in Prayer, Night & Morning; thankfully acknowledging the Blessings you have received already & humbly beseeching his future favor & protection. Now this is a Duty which nothing can excus[e t]he omission of times of the greatest hurry will not hinder a well dis[pose]d mind from fulfilling it – for a short Ejaculation to the Almig[ht]y, when it comes from the heart will be as acceptable to him as the most elegant & studied form of Words.” (The parts in [brackets] are damaged areas of the letter.)

Photo 2 Rev. George Austen 1763

Reverend George Austen, rector of Steventon and Deane

Jane and Francis Austen grew up in a very religious household. Their father was a clergyman, a priest in the Church of England. Some clergymen at this time saw their job simply as a source of income, and did the minimum they could. In Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford assumes that Edmund Bertram will be such a clergyman. But Edmund is determined to live among his people and set a good example for them—as George Austen actually did in his parish.

Religious Duties and the Catechism

Reverend Austen begins by telling his son that religion is the most important thing in life. Jane Austen echoes this belief in Mansfield Park. Edmund says that the clergy “has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally . . . the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence.” (Italics added.) Religion meant religious practices and teachings; morals (which Austen also called “good principles”)  were inward knowledge of right and wrong, based on religion; and manners were outward actions towards other people (not just politeness).

Rev. Austen similarly defines religion as “the belief of a God & our consequent duty to him, our Neighbour, & ourselves.” In other words, religion includes both what people believe and how they act based on their beliefs.

He says the Catechism teaches these duties. Frank and Jane would have memorized the Catechism from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. In it, the child recites the Ten Commandments, which teach a person’s duty towards God and towards their neighbour.

Photo 3 Book of Common Prayer Cover page

The Book of Common Prayer, 1762, which includes the Catechism that George Austen refers to

When the child is asked what his duty is toward God, he responds,

“My duty towards God, is to believe in him, to fear him, and to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength; to worship him, to give him thanks, to put my whole trust in him, to call upon him, to honour his holy Name and his Word, and to serve him truly all the days of my life.” (This is considered to be a summary of the first four of the Ten Commandments.)

The child is then asked what his duty is toward his neighbour. He answers,

“My duty towards my Neighbour, is to love him as myself, and to do to all men, as I would they should do unto me: To love, honour, and succour my father and mother: To honour and obey the King, and all that are put in authority under him: To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters: To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters: To hurt no body by word or deed: To be true and just in all my dealings: To bear no malice nor hatred in my heart: To keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil-speaking, lying, and slandering: To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity: Not to covet, nor desire other men’s goods; but to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, and to do my duty in that state of life, unto which it shall please God to call me.” (This section is based on the last six of the Ten Commandments.)

Jane Austen refers to some of these duties in Sense and Sensibility. When Marianne Dashwood repents of her failures, she says, “Whenever I looked towards the past, I saw some duty neglected, or some failing indulged.” She has failed in her duties to love her neighbour as herself and “to hurt no body by word or deed,” as the Catechism says.

The Catechism refers to one’s “betters” and one’s “state of life.” In Austen’s England, each person was believed to have a specific God-ordained place in society.  George Austen later advises his son on the “three Orders of Men” he will encounter: his superior officers, his “Equals,” and his “Inferiors.” He recommends treating them with respect and kindness.

The Catechism doesn’t specifically address our duty “to ourselves,” as George Austen says. However, it does say “To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity.” That means to care for oneself by not eating or drinking too much or indulging in sex outside of marriage. Later in the letter Rev. Austen says that Frank already knows that soberness is important for his health, morals, and fortune.

George Austen probably thought that doing our duty to God and to man would also be a way of doing our duty to ourselves. The Austens were familiar with Thomas Secker’s Lectures on the Catechism, which Jane Austen owned. The introductory lecture states that “the happiness of all Persons depends beyond Comparison chiefly on being truly religious.” Rev. Austen also points out that if Frank treats others well it will add to his “present happiness & comfort” as well as his “future well-doing.”

Elegant Extracts

Rev. Austen told his son to read Elegant Extracts frequently and attentively.  It contained “approved Authors sufficient to inform you in every requisite for your belief & practice.” Elegant Extracts was a large schoolbook with a wide variety of selections from books and essays. The first section contained 135 “Moral and Religious” writings (in the second edition, 1784). More than 40 were from sermons by Hugh Blair.

Photo 4 Elegant Extracts

Elegant Extracts: This 1784 edition is probably the one Francis Austen owned.

Hugh Blair was a Scottish Presbyterian minister whose books of sermons were very popular. Jane Austen enjoyed reading sermons, as many people did in that time. Clergymen often read other men’s sermons from the pulpit. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford says a preacher should have the sense to preach from Blair’s Sermons rather than writing his own. (Blair also wrote a book on rhetoric which is mentioned in Northanger Abbey. It is quoted extensively in the introduction to Elegant Extracts.)

Blair’s first entry in Elegant Extracts emphasizes that those in any “station of life” who work hard and do right will prosper. However, those who seek only their own amusement will end up miserable. Other extracts address topics like contentment and cheerfulness.  In his letter, George Austen also stresses these themes.

It seems surprising that Rev. Austen recommended Elegant Extracts for religious instruction rather than the Bible. However, some Christian groups in Austen’s time interpreted the Bible in ways that did not fit the Austens’ orthodox Anglican faith. Therefore he may have preferred that Frank read “approved” interpretations. Or perhaps he thought his 14-year-old son might more easily understand Elegant Extracts, which was intended for schoolboys.

Prayer 

Finally, George Austen gives Frank specific instructions on prayer.

  • Why should Frank pray? Because he depends completely on God for any success in whatever he does; he needs God’s help. The Catechism also says that people need God’s grace to keep his commandments. It gives the Lord’s Prayer as a way to ask for that help.
  • When should he pray? Every night and morning, even in “times of the greatest hurry.” The Church of England follows a liturgy. Sets of prayers are read each day, along with Bible readings that change throughout the year. Austen’s family probably read “Morning Prayer” and “Evening Prayer” together daily from The Book of Common Prayer. These also include the Lord’s Prayer, which is at the end of each of the prayers Jane Austen herself wrote.
  • How should he pray? When he can’t pray from the prayer book, his father tells Frank that a brief cry to God from his heart will be just as acceptable as the formal words of the prayer book.
  • What should he pray for? He should give thanks for the blessings he has received in the past, and ask God for favor and protection in the future. This is also a way of doing his “duty to God” as the Catechism states.

 

Photo 5 Vice Admiral Sir Francis Austen

Vice Admiral Sir Francis Austen, later Admiral of the Fleet

Francis Austen went on to great honors in his profession, becoming Senior Admiral of the Fleet shortly before he died. He was known as a very religious officer, who never swore or allowed others to swear. His ships were considered “praying ships,” and he was known as “the officer who knelt in church.” He apparently took his father’s example and advice to heart.

__________

With grateful acknowledgment to Deirdre LeFaye, who provided a transcript of George Austen’s letter, and to Admiral Sir Francis Austen’s great-great-granddaughter, who gave permission to reproduce this section of the letter.

About Brenda S. Cox:

Brenda S. Cox writes at brendascox.wordpress.com on “Faith, Science, Joy . . . and Jane Austen!” She is working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England.

Sources and Further Reading

Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by J. H. Hubback and Edith C. Hubback, 1906.  www.mollands.net/etexts/jasb/jasb2.html   Available at mollands.net, at google books, and at archive.org . You can read most of the letter in this book.

Elegant Extracts by Vicesimus Knox. London: Charles Dilly, 1784. 2nd edition. archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.94215/. The Blair quote is from extract 26.

The Book of Common Prayer. Cambridge: Baskerville, 1762. books.google.com/books/about/The_Book_of_Common_Prayer_and_Administra.html?id=_sYUAAAAQAAJ The Catechism is on p. 359 ff. of this scanned file.

Lectures on the Catechism, by Thomas Secker. London: Rivington, 1771. archive.org/details/lecturesoncatech01seck/page/n13

“Reading Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer.” brendascox.wordpress.com/2019/01/03/reading-prayers-the-book-of-common-prayer/

“Jane Austen Faith Word: Duty, and Anne Elliot” brendascox.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/jane-austen-faith-word-duty-and-anne-elliot/

Marianne Dashwood’s Repentance, Willoughby’s ‘Repentance,’ and The Book of Common Prayer.“ Persuasions On-line Winter 2018. jasna.org/publications/persuasions-online/volume-39-no-1/cox/

“Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers: Francis and Charles in Life and Art,” by Brian Southam. Persuasions 25. jasna.org/publications/persuasions/no25/southam/

“Sir Francis William Austen: Glimpses of Jane’s Sailor Brother in Letters” janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/sir-francis-william-austen-glimpses-of-janes-sailor-brother-in-letters/

“Jane Austen’s Seagoing Brothers, Francis and Charles” https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/janes-seagoing-brothers-francis-and-charles/

Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter by Irene Collins. London: Hambledon, 2007. amazon.com/dp/1852855622/

Praying With Jane by Rachel Dodge. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2018. amazon.com/dp/B07D6Y5P14/

 

 

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Reverend George Austen

As many Jane Austen fans know, Rev. George Austen ran a boarding school out of his parsonage house in Steventon to augment his £230 pr year income. In1793 he began to teach the sons of local gentlemen in his home to prepare them for university. His library was extensive for a man of modest means, from 300- 500 volumes, depending on the source, an amazing collection, for books were frightfully expensive. Rev. Austen encouraged Cassandra and Jane to read from his library and supported budding author Jane in her writing. At some point, the Austens sent the girls to boarding school in Reading, for which he paid £35 per term, per girl, a not inconsiderable sum. He received around the same amount of money per boarder, and it is conjectured that the Austens hoped to replace their two daughters with many more pupils, which made economic sense. (See Linda Robinson Walker’s link below.) Mrs. Austen was not an indifferent bystander. She cooked, cleaned, sewed, and clucked over the boys like a mother hen, and was involved in their maintenance in a hands-on and caring way, acting as a surrogate mother.

In his Travels Through England in 1782, German traveler Karl Phillip Moritz describes learning academies, head masters, and boarding schools. From his observations, one gains a sense of what life must have been like for the Austens and their pupils:

A few words more respecting pedantry.  I have seen the regulation of one seminary of learning, here called an academy.  Of these places of education, there is a prodigious number in London, though, notwithstanding their pompous names, they are in reality nothing more than small schools set up by private persons, for children and young people.

One of the Englishmen who were my travelling companions, made me acquainted with a Dr. G– who lives near P–, and keeps an academy for the education of twelve young people, which number is here, as well as at our Mr. Kumpe’s, never exceeded, and the same plan has been adopted and followed by many others, both here and elsewhere.

18th Century school room. One imagines a less formal setting for Rev. Austen’s school.

At the entrance I perceived over the door of the house a large board, and written on it, Dr. G–’s Academy.  Dr. G– received me with great courtesy as a foreigner, and shewed me his school-room, which was furnished just in the same manner as the classes in our public schools are, with benches and a professor’s chair or pulpit.

The usher at Dr. G–’s is a young clergyman, who, seated also in a chair or desk, instructs the boys in the Greek and Latin grammars.

Such an under-teacher is called an usher, and by what I can learn, is commonly a tormented being, exactly answering the exquisite description given of him in the “Vicar of Wakefield.”  We went in during the hours of attendance, and he was just hearing the boys decline their Latin, which he did in the old jog-trot way; and I own it had an odd sound to my ears, when instead of pronouncing, for example viri veeree I heard them say viri, of the man,exactly according to the English pronunciation, and viro, to the man.  The case was just the same afterwards with the Greek.

Mr. G– invited us to dinner, when I became acquainted with his wife, a very genteel young woman, whose behaviour to the children was such that she might be said to contribute more to their education than any one else.  The children drank nothing but water.  For every boarder Dr. G– receives yearly no more than thirty pounds sterling, which however, he complained of as being too little.  From forty to fifty pounds is the most that is generally paid in these academies.

I told him of our improvements in the manner of education, and also spoke to him of the apparent great worth of character of his usher.  He listened very attentively, but seemed to have thought little himself on this subject.  Before and after dinner the Lord’s Prayer was repeated in French, which is done in several places, as if they were eager not to waste without some improvement, even this opportunity also, to practise the French, and thus at once accomplish two points.  I afterwards told him my opinion of this species of prayer, which however, he did not take amiss.

After dinner the boys had leave to play in a very small yard, which in most schools or academies, in the city of London, is the ne plus ultra of their playground in their hours of recreation.  But Mr. G– has another garden at the end of the town, where he sometimes takes them to walk.

After dinner Mr. G– himself instructed the children in writing, arithmetic, and French, all which seemed to be well taught here, especially writing, in which the young people in England far surpass, I believe, all others.  This may perhaps be owing to their having occasion to learn only one sort of letters.  As the midsummer holidays were now approaching (at which time the children in all the academies go home for four weeks), everyone was obliged with the utmost care to copy a written model, in order to show it to their parents, because this article is most particularly examined, as everybody can tell what is or is not good writing.  The boys knew all the rules of syntax by heart.

Reading Abbey, where Jane and Cassandra Austen were sent to boarding school

All these academies are in general called boarding-schools.  Some few retain the old name of schools only, though it is possible that in real merit they may excel the so much-boasted of academies.

It is in general the clergy, who have small incomes, who set up these schools both in town and country, and grown up people who are foreigners, are also admitted here to learn the English language.  Mr. G– charged for board, lodging, and instruction in the English, two guineas a-week.  He however, who is desirous of perfecting himself in the English, will do better to go some distance into the country, and board himself with any clergyman who takes scholars, where he will hear nothing but English spoken, and may at every opportunity be taught both by young and old.

Source: Moritz, Karl Philipp, 1757-1793. Travels in England in 1782 by Karl Philipp Moritz (Kindle Locations 645-656). Mobipocket (an Amazon.com company).

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