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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, August 14, 2014

P. S. re more of what JEAL didn’t want Janeites to know about Austen Family History, Part 37

Responding to my post yesterday about Henry Austen’s letter to JEAL, in which I wrote, in relevant part…

“JEAL, in his 1870 Memoir, intentionally and deceptively suppressed evidence of JA’s satire of dark chapters in Austen family history; then RAAL, in both his 1911 JA’s Life & Letters and his later Austen Papers, sought to atone for his grandfather JEAL’s editorial sins by revealing
what JEAL had concealed or obfuscated…”

…Nancy Mayer wrote the following rebuttal in Janeites: 
“JEAL was writing the life of Jane Austen and selected the parts that affected her. He wrote of her father but not uncles and great uncles. His focus was on Jane and not the ancestors….JEAL was writing a Memoir -- a short biography of his aunt and not a long family saga.”

Nancy, I’m glad you made your case so clearly, because it allows me to easily demonstrate that your claim is patently and completely inaccurate, as follows:

First, I’ve already established that JEAL chose not to include the first 300 words of Henry’s letter  to JEAL, a passage that would have given JEAL’s readers an entertaining, informative snapshot of the life of Old  Francis Austen, who was the closest thing to a patriarch of the family that JA was born into. Plus, that pithy, witty excerpt would have had the added bonus of being written with a subtle irony that was, as Diane pointed out, strikingly reminiscent of JA’s writing its  elf. An editorial no-brainer, in other words.

Instead, JEAL chose to cherry pick and then clunkily rewrite a few tidbits from Henry’s introductory section , and weave them into a generally misleading paragraph about Revd. Austen’s beginnings. But then, in direct contradiction of your claim, JEAL immediately segued into a 600-word passage (i.e., twice as long as the introductory excerpt from Henry’s letter), a long passage providing all manner of trivia about Theophilus Leigh, who was…..JA’s maternal ANCESTOR! (that scent you now detect is the aroma of your claim about no ancestors going up in smoke).

But it’s even worse.  To add editorial insult to injury, shortly thereafter JEAL launched into a 1,200-word passage (i.e., four times as long as the Henry Austen excerpt JEAL shunned) that mostly has absolutely nothing to do with JA’s own life, and only two fleeting and oblique  touches on her writing. I reproduce that 1,200 word passage, below, in full, to illustrate just how much precious space in the Memoir JEAL was more than happy to devote to trivia and social background remote from JA’s own life.  

But, as I also realized overnight---I could have predicted that JEAL’s perverse editorial strategy would dictate JEAL taking a pass on Henry’s brilliant summary re Francis  Austen. Why? Because the last thing JEAL was going to include in the Memoir was a letter written by Henry Austen---not only because it broadly hinted at family secrets, but also because, as I posted only a few months ago, JEAL knew he was going be setting his Uncle Henry up later in the Memoir as the fall guy whose 1816 bankruptcy was the “true” cause of JA’s serious health relapse, instead of the actual main cause (as per JA’s own words), which was the disinheritance of the Austen women by Uncle Leigh Perrot, in favor of JEAL’s father James, and, ultimately behind James, JEAL himself:

So, in summary, let’s call JEAL’s editorial choices for what they are, and not  sugar-coat and rationalize his many serious editorial frauds—even though his Memoir was written nearly a century and a half ago, it continues to exert a strong influence on current thinking about JA’s life and writing—an influence that needs to be nullified, so that truth can emerge from the shadows.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


“I am tempted to add a little about the difference of personal habits.  It may be asserted as a general truth, that less was left to the charge and discretion of servants, and more was done, or superintended, by the masters and mistresses.  With regard to the mistresses, it is, I believe, generally understood, that at the time to which I refer, a hundred years ago, they took a personal part in the higher branches of cookery, as well as in the concoction of home-made wines, and distilling of herbs for domestic medicines, which are nearly allied to the same art.  Ladies did not disdain to spin the thread of which the household linen was woven.  Some ladies liked to wash with their own hands their choice china after breakfast or tea.  In one of my earliest child’s books, a little girl, the daughter of a gentleman, is taught by her mother to make her own bed before leaving her chamber.  It was not so much that they had not servants to do all these things for them, as that they took an interest in such occupations.  And it must be borne in mind how many sources of interest enjoyed by this generation were then closed, or very scantily opened to ladies.  A very small minority of them cared much for literature or science.  Music was not a very common, and drawing was a still rarer, accomplishment; needlework, in some form or other, was their chief sedentary employment.
But I doubt whether the rising generation are equally aware how much gentlemen also did for themselves in those times, and whether some things that I can mention will not be a surprise to them.  Two homely proverbs were held in higher estimation in my early days than they are now—’The master’s eye makes the horse fat;’ and, ‘If you would be well served, serve yourself.’  Some gentlemen took pleasure in being their own gardeners, performing all the scientific, and some of the manual, work themselves.  Well-dressed young men of my acquaintance, who had their coat from a London tailor, would always brush their evening suit themselves, rather than entrust it to the carelessness of a rough servant, and to the risks of dirt and grease in the kitchen; for in those days servants’ halls were not common in the houses of the clergy and the smaller country gentry.  It was quite natural that Catherine Morland should have contrasted the magnificence of the offices at Northanger Abbey with the few shapeless pantries in her father’s parsonage.  A young man who expected to have his things packed or unpacked for him by a servant, when he travelled, would have been thought exceptionally fine, or exceptionally lazy.  When my uncle undertook to teach me to shoot, his first lesson was how to clean my own gun.  It was thought meritorious on the evening of a hunting day, to turn out after dinner, lanthorn in hand, and visit the stable, to ascertain that the horse had been well cared for.  This was of the more importance, because, previous to the introduction of clipping, about the year 1820, it was a difficult and tedious work to make a long-coated hunter dry and comfortable, and was often very imperfectly done.  Of course, such things were not practised by those who had gamekeepers, and stud-grooms, and plenty of well-trained servants; but they were practised by many who were unequivocally gentlemen, and whose grandsons, occupying the same position in life, may perhaps be astonished at being told that ‘such things were.’
I have drawn pictures for which my own experience, or what I heard from others in my youth, have supplied the materials.  Of course, they cannot be universally applicable.  Such details varied in various circles, and were changed very gradually; nor can I pretend to tell how much of what I have said is descriptive of the family life at Steventon in Jane Austen’s youth.  I am sure that the ladies there had nothing to do with the mysteries of the stew-pot or the preserving-pan; but it is probable that their way of life differed a little from ours, and would have appeared to us more homely.  It may be that useful articles, which would not now be produced in drawing-rooms, were hemmed, and marked, and darned in the old-fashioned parlour.  But all this concerned only the outer life; there was as much cultivation and refinement of mind as now, with probably more studied courtesy and ceremony of manner to visitors; whilst certainly in that family literary pursuits were not neglected.
I remember to have heard of only two little things different from modern customs.  One was, that on hunting mornings the young men usually took their hasty breakfast in the kitchen.  The early hour at which hounds then met may account for this; and probably the custom began, if it did not end, when they were boys; for they hunted at an early age, in a scrambling sort of way, upon any pony or donkey that they could procure, or, in default of such luxuries, on foot.  I have been told that Sir Francis Austen, when seven years old, bought on his own account, it must be supposed with his father’s permission, a pony for a guinea and a half; and after riding him with great success for two seasons, sold him for a guinea more.  One may wonder how the child could have so much money, and how the animal could have been obtained for so little.  The same authority informs me that his first cloth suit was made from a scarlet habit, which, according to the fashion of the times, had been his mother’s usual morning dress.  If all this is true, the future admiral of the British Fleet must have cut a conspicuous figure in the hunting-field.  The other peculiarity was that, when the roads were dirty, the sisters took long walks in pattens.  This defence against wet and dirt is now seldom seen.  The few that remain are banished from good society, and employed only in menial work; but a hundred and fifty years ago they were celebrated in poetry, and considered so clever a contrivance that Gay, in his ‘Trivia,’ ascribes the invention to a god stimulated by his passion for a mortal damsel, and derives the name ‘Patten’ from ‘Patty.’
The patten now supports each frugal dame,
Which from the blue-eyed Patty takes the name.
But mortal damsels have long ago discarded the clumsy implement.  First it dropped its iron ring and became a clog; afterwards it was fined down into the pliant galoshe—lighter to wear and more effectual to protect—a no less manifest instance of gradual improvement than Cowper indicates when he traces through eighty lines of poetry his ‘accomplished sofa’ back to the original three-legged stool.
As an illustration of the purposes which a patten was intended to serve, I add the following epigram, written by Jane Austen’s uncle, Mr. Leigh Perrot, on reading in a newspaper the marriage of Captain Foote to Miss Patten:—
Through the rough paths of life, with a patten your guard,
   May you safely and pleasantly jog;
May the knot never slip, nor the ring press too hard,
   Nor the Foot find the Patten a clog.”

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