Jane Austen's Letter
Jane Austen's Letter to Cassandra, January 8th 1799
24-year-old Jane wrote this letter to her older sister Cassandra who was staying with their brother Edward and his family at Godmersham Park in Kent. The correspondence between Jane and Cassandra began when Jane was grown up as they were seldom separated as children. After that, they exchanged letters almost twice a week and their content proves Cassandra was, above all other members of the family, Jane’s closest companion.
The letter is filled with joy and spontaneity, wit and candour so typical of Jane’s nature. It includes not only the usual sisterly gossip, but also an indirect hint to Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile and Jane’s perception of her standing in society. Most importantly the letter contains the first reference to the novel First Impressions that later became Pride and Prejudice.
Jane would have used a quill pen and ink to write this letter and due to very high cost of paper during the Regency period, she covered every inch of space.
After Jane’s death, her letters were distributed by Cassandra to members of the family, this one was given to Jane’s favourite niece Fanny, Lady Knatchbull.
My dear Cassandra Steventon, Tuesday January 8th 1799
You must read your letters over five times in future before you send them, and then perhaps you may find them as entertaining as I do. I laughed at several parts of the one which I am now answering. Charles is not come yet, but he must come this morning, or he shall never know what I will do to him. The ball at Kempshott is this evening, and I have got him an invitation, though I have not been so considerate as to get him a partner. But the cases are different between him and Eliza Bailey, for he is not in a dying way, and may therefore be equal to getting a partner for himself. I believe I told you Monday was to be the ball night, for which, and for all other errors into which I may ever have led you, I now humbly ask your pardon.
Elizabeth is very cruel about my writing music, and as a punishment for her, I should insist upon always writing out all hers for her in future, if I were not punishing myself at the same time. I am tolerably glad to hear that Edward’s income is so good a one - as glad as I can at anybody’s being rich besides you and me - and I am thoroughly rejoiced to hear of his present to you.
I am not to wear my white satten cap tonight after all, I am to wear a mamaluke cap instead, which Charles Fowle sent to Mary, and which she lends me. It is all the fashion now, worn at the Opera, or by Lady Mildmays at Hackwood Balls. I hate describing such things, and I dare say you will be able to guess what it is like. I have got over the dreadful epoch of Mantuamaking much better than I expected. My gown is made very much like my blue one, which you always told me sat very well, with only these variations: the sleeves are short, the wrap fuller, the apron comes over it, and a band of the same completes the whole. I assure you that I dread the idea of going to (word deleted) as much as you can do, but I am not without hopes that something may happen to prevent it. (Word deleted) has lost his election (word deleted), and perhaps they may not be able to see company for some time. They talk of going to Bath too in the spring, and perhaps they may be mentioned in this way anon, and all laid up for the summer.
Wednesday. I have had a cold and weakness in one of my eyes for some days, which makes writing neither pleasant nor very profitable, which will probably prevent my finishing this letter myself. My mother has undertaken to do it for me, I shall leave the Kempshott Ball for her.
You express so little anxiety my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mrs Hulbert’s servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not, and shall only say that I did not return home that night or the next, as Martha kindly made room for me in her bed, which was the shut-up one in the new nursery. Nurse and the child slept upon the floor, and there we all were in some confusion and great comfort. The bed did exceedingly well for us, both to lie awake in and talk till two o’clock, and to sleep in the rest of the night. I love Martha better than ever, and I mean to go and see her if I can, when she gets home. We all dined at the Hawoods on Thursday, and the party broke up the next morning.
This complaint in my eye has been a sad bore to me, for I have not been able to read or work in any comfort since Friday. But one advantage will be derived from it, for I shall be such a proficient in music by the time I have got rid of my cold, that I shall be perfectly qualified in that science at least to take Mr Roope’s office at Eastwell next summer, and I am sure of (illegible), thr’ recommendation, be it only on Harriet’s account. Of my talent in drawing I have given specimens in my letters to you, I have nothing to do, but to invent a few hard names for the stars. Mary grows rather more reasonable about her child’s beauty, and says that she does not think him really handsome, but I suspect her moderation to be something like that of W_W_’s mama. Perhaps Mary has told you that they are going to enter more into dinner parties, the Biggs and Mrs Holden dine there tomorrow and I am to meet them, I shall sleep there.
Catherine has the honour of giving her name to a set, which will be composed of two Withers, two Heathcotes, a Blashford, and no Bigg except herself. She congratulated me last night on Frank’s promotion as if she really fears the day she talked of.
My sweet little George! I am delighted to hear that he has such an inventive genius as to face-making. I admired his yellow wafer very much, and hope he will (illegible) the wafer for your next letter. I wore my green shoes last night, and took my white fan with me. I am very glad he never threw it into the river.
Mrs Knight giving up the Godmersham estate to Edward was no such prodigious act of generosity after all, it seems, for she has reserved herself an income out of it still; this ought to be known, that her conduct may not be over-rated. I rather think Edward shows the most magnanimity of the two, in accepting her resignation with such incumbrances. The more I write, the better my eye gets, so I shall at least keep on till it is quite well before I give up my pen to my mother.
Mrs Bramston’s little moveable apartment was tolerably filled last night by herself, Mrs H. Blackstone, her two daughters and me. I do not like the Miss Blackstones, indeed I was always determined not to like them, so there is less merit in it. Mrs Bramston was very civil, kind and noisy. I spent a very pleasant evening, chiefly among the Manydown party. There was the same kind of supper as last year, and the same want of chairs. There were more dancers than the room could conveniently hold, which is enough to constitute a good ball at any time.
I do not think I was very much in request. People were rather apt not to ask me till they could not help it; one’s consequence, you know, varies so much at times without any particular reason. There was one gentleman, an officer of the Cheshire, a very good looking young man, who, I was told, wanted very much to be introduced to me; but as he did not want it quite enough to take much trouble in effecting it, we never could bring it about.
I danced with Mr John Wood again, twice with a Mr South a lad from Winchester who, I suppose, is as far from being related to the Bishop of that Diocese as it is possible to be, with G. Lefroy and J. Harwood, who I think takes to me rather more than he used to do. One of my gayest actions was sitting down two dances in preference to having Lord Bolton’s eldest son for my partner, who dances too ill to be endured. The Miss Charterises were there, and played the parts of the Miss Edens with great spirit. Charles never came! Naughty Charles. I suppose he could not get superseded in time. Miss Deleany has replaced your two sheets of drawing paper, with two of superior size and quality and so I do not grudge her having them at all now. Mr Ludlow and Miss Pugh of Andover are lately married, and so is Mrs Skeete of Basingstoke and Mr French, chemist of Reading.
I do not wonder at your wanting to read ‘First Impressions’ again, so seldom as you have gone through it, and that so long ago. I am much obliged to you for meaning to leave my old petticoat behind you; I have long secretly wished it might be done, but had not courage to make the request. Pray mention the name of Maria Monteson’s love when you write next. My mother wants to know it, and I have not courage to look back into your letters to find it out.
I shall not be able to send this till tomorrow, and you will be disappointed on Friday; I am very sorry for it, but I cannot help it. The partnership between Jefferys Farmer and Legge is dissolved - the two latter are melted away into nothing, and it is to be hoped that Jefferys will soon break for the sake of a few heroines whose money he may have.
I wish you joy of your Birthday twenty times over. I shall be able to send this to the post today, which exalts me to the utmost pinnacle of human felicity, and makes me bask in the sunshine of prosperity, or gives me any other sensation of pleasure in studied language which you may prefer. Do not be angry with me for not filling my sheet and believe me. Yours affectionately, J. A.