Letters of Jane Austen -- Brabourne Edition

"She was obliged to recollect that her seeing the letter was a violation of the laws of honour, that no one ought to be judged or to be known by such testimonies, that no private correspondence could bear the eye of others, before she could recover calmness enough to return the letter which she had been meditating over"
-- Persuasion, Chapter 21

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This edition of Jane Austen's letters was edited by Fanny Knight's son Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen (the first Baron Brabourne, lived 1829-1893), and was published in 1884. It's neither complete (about two thirds of the letters now known to have survived are included), nor are the texts of the letters necessarily always transcribed with minute scholarly fidelity, but it's out of copyright, and includes many annotations and quaint comments on the letters. (The latest edition of Jane Austen's letters came out in 1995.)

The dedication is to Queen Victoria. (In 1946 a great-grandson of Lord Brabourne married a great-great-granddaughter of Victoria.)

I've restored a number of small passages originally omitted from the printed letters (based on later editions), and also added some extracts from letters printed in Austen-Leigh's Memoir.
In addition to this HTML version, the Letters are also available as a single plain ASCII e-text file, compressed in binary .zip format <320793 bytes> -- see explanation of ".zip" here. (Everything in the plain ASCII e-text may be considered in the public domain.)

Lord Brabourne edition of Jane Austen's letters -- shorter table of contents


Letters of Jane Austen, edited with an introduction and critical remarks by Edward, Lord Brabourne (London: Bentley, 1884). [This e-text represents the version reprinted in vols. 11 and 12 of The Novels and Letters of Jane Austen (Complete in Twelve Volumes), edited by Reginald Brimley Johnson (New York: 1906).]

LETTERS OF JANE AUSTEN
A MEMOIR

"He knew of no one but himself who was inclined to the work. This is no uncommon motive. A man sees something to be done, knows of no one who will do it but himself, and so is driven to the enterprise."
Help's Life of Columbus, ch I.

TO
THE QUEEN'S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY.

MADAM

It was the knowledge that your Majesty so highly appreciated the works of Jane Austen which emboldened me to ask permission to dedicate to your Majesty these volumes, containing as they do numerous letters of that authoress, of which, as her grand-nephew, I have recently become possessed. These letters are printed, with the exception of a very few omissions which appeared obviously desirable, just as they were written, and if there should be found in them, or in the chapters which accompany them, anything which may interest or amuse your Majesty, I shall esteem myself doubly fortunate in having been the means of bringing them under your Majesty's notice.

I am, Madam,
Your Majesty's very humble
and obedient subject,

BRABOURNE.

Introduction

IT is right that some explanation should be given of the manner in which the letters now published came into my possession.

The Rev. J. E. Austen Leigh, nephew to Jane Austen, and first cousin to my mother Lady Knatchbull, published in 1869 a "Memoir" of his aunt, and supplemented it by a second and enlarged edition in the following year, to which he added the hitherto unpublished tale, "Lady Susan," for the publication of which he states in his preface that he had "lately received permission from the author's niece, Lady Knatchbull, of Provender, Kent, to whom the autograph copy was given." It seems that the autograph copy of another unpublished tale, "The Watsons" had been given to Mr. Austen Leigh's half-sister, Mrs. Lefroy, and that each recipient took a copy of what was given to the other, by which means Mr. Austen Leigh became acquainted with the existence and contents of "Lady Susan," and knowing that it was the property of my mother, wrote to ask her permission to attach it to, and publish it with, the second edition of his "Memoir." My mother was at that time unable to attend to business, and my youngest sister, who lived with her, replied to the request, giving the desired permission on her behalf, but stating at the same time that the autograph copy had been lost for the last six years, that any letters which existed could not be found, and that my mother was not in a fit state to allow of any search being made. It so happened that no reference was made to me, and I only knew of the request having been made and granted when I saw the tale in print. But on my mother's death, in December, 1882, all her papers came into my possession, and I not only found the original copy of "Lady Susan" -- in Jane Austen's own handwriting -- among the other books in the Provender library, but a square box full of letters, fastened up carefully in separate packets, each of which was endorsed "For Lady Knatchbull," in the handwriting of my great-aunt, Cassandra Austen, and with which was a paper endorsed, in my mother's handwriting, "Letters from my dear Aunt Jane Austen, and two from Aunt Cassandra after her decease," which paper contained the letters written to my mother herself. The box itself had been endorsed by my mother as follows: --

"Letters from Aunt Jane to Aunt Cassandra at different periods of her life -- a few to me -- and some from Aunt Cassandra to me after At. Jane's death."

This endorsement bears the date August, 1856, and was probably made the last time my mother looked at the letters. At all events, a comparison of these letters with some quoted by Mr. Austen Leigh makes it abundantly clear that they have never been in his hands, and that they are now presented to the public for the first time. Indeed, it is much to be regretted that the "Memoir" should have been published without the additional light which many of these letters throw upon the "Life," though of course no blame attaches to Mr. Austen Leigh in the matter.

The opportunity, however, having been lost, and "Lady Susan" already published, it remained for me to consider whether the letters which had come into my possession were of sufficient public interest to justify me in giving them to the world. They had evidently, for the most part, been left to my mother by her Aunt Cassandra Austen; they contain the confidential outpourings of Jane Austen's soul to her beloved sister, interspersed with many family and personal details which, doubtless, she would have told to no other human being. But to-day, more than seventy long years have rolled away since the greater part of them were written; no one now living can, I think, have any possible just cause of annoyance at their publication, whilst, if I judge rightly, the public never took a deeper or more lively interest in all that concerns Jane Austen than at the present moment. Her works, slow in their progress towards popularity, have achieved it with the greater certainty, and have made an impression the more permanent from its gradual advance. The popularity continues, although the customs and manners which Jane Austen describes have changed and varied so much as to belong in a great measure to another age. But the reason of its continuance is not far to seek. Human nature is the same in all ages of the world, and "the inimitable Jane" (as an old friend of mine used always to call her) is true to Nature from first to last. She does not attract our imagination by sensational descriptions or marvellous plots; but, with so little "plot" at all as to offend those who read only for excitement, she describes men and women exactly as men and women really are, and tells her tale of ordinary, everyday life with such truthful delineation, such bewitching simplicity, and, moreover, with such purity of style and language, as have rarely been equalled, and perhaps never surpassed.

This being the case, it has seemed to me that the letters which show what her own "ordinary, everyday life" was, and which afford a picture of her such as no history written by another person could give so well, are likely to interest a public which, both in Great Britain and America, has learned to appreciate Jane Austen. It will be seen that they are ninety-four in number, ranging in date from 1796 to 1816 -- that is to say, over the last twenty years of her life. Some other letters, written to her sister Cassandra, appear in Mr. Austen Leigh's book, and it would seem that at Cassandra's death, in 1845, the correspondence must have been divided, and whilst the bulk of it came to my mother, a number of letters passed into the possession of Mr. Austen Leigh's sisters, from whom he obtained them. These he made use of without being aware of the existence of the rest.

However this may be, it is certain that I am now able to present to the public entirely new matter, from which may be gathered a fuller and more complete knowledge of Jane Austen and her "belongings" than could otherwise have been obtained. Miss Tytler, indeed, has made a praiseworthy effort to impart to the world information respecting the life and works of her favourite authoress, but her "Life" is little more than a copy of Mr. Austen Leigh's Memoir. I attempt no "Memoir" that can properly be so called, but I give the letters as they were written, with such comments and explanations as I think may add to their interest. I am aware that in some of the latter I have wandered somewhat far away from Jane Austen, having been led aside by allusions which awaken old memories and recall old stories. But whilst my "addenda" may be read or skipped as the reader pleases, they do not detract from the actual value of the genuine letters which I place before him. These, I think, can hardly fail to be of interest to all who desire to know more of the writer; and, although they form no continuous narrative and record no stirring events, it will be remarked that, amid the most ordinary details and most commonplace topics, every now and then sparkle out the same wit and humour which illuminate the pages of "Pride and Prejudice," "Mansfield Park," "Emma," &c., and which have endeared the name of Jane Austen to many thousands of readers in English speaking homes.

BRABOURNE.

May, 1884.

Brabourne edition of Jane Austen's letters -- longer table of contents

THE END

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Famous quotes from the letters (or quotes that should be famous)

(See also the general topics index to the letters, self-deprecatory comments by Jane Austen on her own epistolary handwriting, as compared with Cassandra's, her opinion on the infidelities of the Prince and Princess of Wales, and an image of a letter to her brother Frank in the form of a poem, congratulating him on the birth of a son, and looking forward to the Austen women's move to Chawton -- these last two from letters not in the Brabourne edition.)

  • "I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal."
    -- letter of December 24, 1798
  • "You will have a great deal of unreserved discourse with Mrs. K., I dare say, upon this subject, as well as upon many other of our family matters. Abuse everybody but me."
    -- letter of January 7 1807
  • [To her sister Cassandra, on the birth of a son to one of their sisters-in-law:]
    "I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it."
    -- letter of April 25, 1811
  • [On another of their nephews, then about three years old:]
    "I shall think with tenderness and delight on his beautiful and smiling countenance and interesting manner, until a few years have turned him into an ungovernable, ungracious fellow."
    -- letter of October 27 1798
  • "I had a very pleasant evening, however, though you will probably find out that there was no particular reason for it; but I do not think it worth while to wait for enjoyment until there is some real opportunity for it."
    -- letter of January 21 1799
  • "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 at the melancholy idea."
    -- letter of January 16, 1796
  • [At a ball, where being introduced is a prerequisite before a gentleman can ask a lady with whom he is unacquainted to dance:]
    "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."
    -- letter of January 8 1799
  • "Next week [I] shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend."
    -- letter of October 27 1798
  • [Love advice to her niece Fanny Knight:] "There are such beings in the world -- perhaps one in a thousand -- as the creature you and I should think perfection; where grace and spirit are united to worth, where the manners are equal to the heart and understanding; but such a person may not come in your way, or, if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a man of fortune, the near relation of your particular friend, and belonging to your own county."
    -- letter of November 18, 1814
  • "He seems a very harmless sort of young man, nothing to like or dislike in him -- goes out shooting or hunting with the two others all the morning, and plays at whist and makes queer faces in the evening."
    -- letter of September 23, 1813
  • [To her niece Anna, referring to characters in a novel that Anna was then writing:]
    "His having been in love with the aunt gives... an additional interest... I like the idea -- a very proper compliment to an aunt! I rather imagine indeed that nieces are seldom chosen but out of compliment to some aunt or another. I daresay Ben [Anna's husband] was in love with me once, and would never have thought of you if he had not supposed me dead of a scarlet fever."
    -- letter of late 1814
  • "At the bottom of Kingsdown Hill we met a gentleman in a buggy, who, on minute examination, turned out to be Dr. Hall -- and Dr. Hall in such very deep mourning that either his mother, his wife, or himself must be dead."
    -- letter of May 17 1799
  • "As an inducement to subscribe, Mrs. Martin [the circulating-library proprietor] tells me that her collection is not to consist only of novels, but of every kind of literature, &c. She might have spared this pretension to our family, who are great novel-readers and not ashamed of being so; but it was necessary, I suppose, to the self-consequence of half her subscribers."
    -- letter of December 18, 1798
  • "He and I should not in the least agree, of course, in our ideas of novels and heroines. Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked"
    -- letter of March 23 1817
  • "I could no more write a [historical] romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter."
    -- letter of April 1st 1816
  • "I have read [Byron's] The Corsair, mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do."
    -- letter of March 5, 1814
  • [On the appearance of a second printing of Sense and Sensibility:]
    "Since I wrote last, my 2nd edit. has stared me in the face. [...] I cannot help hoping that many will feel themselves obliged to buy it. I shall not mind imagining it a disagreeable duty to them, so as they do it."
    -- letter of November 6th 1813
  • "I... do not think the worse of him for having a brain so very different from mine. ... And he deserves better treatment than to be obliged to read any more of my works."
    -- letter of March 23 1817
  • "I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment! Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb."
    -- letter of September 8 1816
  • [On arriving in London:] "Here I am once more in this scene of dissipation and vice, and I begin already to find my morals corrupted."
    -- letter of August 1796
  • [On visiting a fashionable ladies' boarding school in London:]
    "the weather...left me only a few minutes to sit with Charlotte Craven. She looks very well, and her hair is done up with an elegance to do credit to any education. Her manners are as unaffected and pleasing as ever... I was shewn upstairs into a drawing-room, where she came to me, and the appearance of the room, so totally unschool-like, amused me very much; it was full of modern elegancies, and if it had not been for some naked cupids over the mantlepiece, which must be a fine study for girls, one should never have smelt instruction."
    -- letter of May 20, 1813
  • "Unluckily however, I see nothing to be glad of, unless I make it a matter of Joy that Mrs. Wylmot has another son, & that Lord Lucan has taken a Mistress, both of which Events are of course joyful to the Actors." [i.e. participants]
    -- letter of February 8th 1807
  • "Poor woman! how can she honestly be breeding again?"
    -- letter of October 1 1808
  • [On Mrs. Deede's giving birth to another child:]
    "I would recommend to her and Mr. D. the simple regimen of separate rooms."
    -- letter of February 20, 1817
  • "I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand to-day. You will kindly make allowance therefore for any indistinctness of writing, by attributing it to this venial error."
    -- letter of November 20 1800
  • [At a ball:] "Mrs. B. and two young women were of the same party, except when Mrs. B. thought herself obliged to leave them to run round the room after her drunken husband. His avoidance, and her pursuit, with the probable intoxication of both, was an amusing scene."
    -- letter of May 12 1801
  • "Fanny and the two little girls... revelled last night in Don Juan, whom we left in hell at half-past eleven. ... The girls... still prefer Don Juan; and I must say that I have seen nobody on the stage who has been a more interesting character than that compound of cruelty and lust."
    -- letter of September 15, 1813
  • "You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me."
    -- letter of June 15, 1808
  • [On preparing for the move from Steventon to Bath:] "You are very kind in planning presents for me to make, and my mother has shown me exactly the same attention; but as I do not choose to have generosity dictated to me, I shall not resolve on giving my cabinet to Anna till the first thought of it has been my own."
    -- letter of January 8 1801
  • "Dr. Gardiner was married yesterday to Mrs. Percy and her three daughters."
    -- letter of June 11 1799
  • "My mother looks forward with as much certainty as you can do to our keeping two maids... We plan having a steady cook and a young, giddy housemaid, with a sedate, middle-aged man, who is to undertake the double office of husband to the former and sweetheart to the latter. No children, of course, to be allowed on either side."
    -- letter of Jan 3, 1801
  • "I cannot anyhow continue to find people agreeable; I respect Mrs. Chamberlayne for doing her hair well, but cannot feel a more tender sentiment. Miss Langley is like any other short girl, with a broad nose and wide mouth, fashionable dress and exposed bosom. Adm. Stanhope is a gentleman-like man, but then his legs are too short and his tail too long."
    -- letter of May 12, 1801
  • [On buying a "sprig" for her sister's hat:] "I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit. What do you think on that subject?"
    -- letter of June 11 1799
  • [On the Peninsular War:] "How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!"
    -- letter of May 31, 1811
  • "You express so little anxiety about 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"
    -- letter of January 8 1799
  • "Kill poor Mrs. Sclater if you like it while you are at Manydown."
    -- letter of February 9 1813
  • "I learnt from Mrs. Tickars's young lady, to my high amusement, that the stays [corsets] now are not made to force the bosom up at all; that was a very unbecoming, unnatural fashion."
    -- letter of September 15 1813
  • "You deserve a longer letter than this; but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve."
    -- letter December 24 1798
  • "I shall not tell you anything more of Wm. Digweed's china, as your silence on the subject makes you unworthy of it."
    -- letter of December 27, 1808
  • "Your silence on the subject of our ball makes me suppose your curiosity too great for words."
    -- letter of January 24, 1809
  • "Fanny Austen's match is quite news, and I am sorry she has behaved so ill. There is some comfort to us in her misconduct, that we have not a congratulatory letter to write."
    -- letter of June 20 1808
  • "Miss Bigg... writes me word that Miss Blachford is married. but I have never seen it in the Paper. And one may be as well be single, if the Wedding is not to be in print."
    -- letter of late 1814
  • [On having a little extra spending cash:] "I sent my answer... which I wrote without much effort, for I was rich, and the rich are always respectable, whatever be their style of writing."
    -- letter of June 20 1808
  • "I find, on looking into my affairs, that instead of being very rich I am likely to be very poor... as we are to meet in Canterbury I need not have mentioned this. It is as well, however, to prepare you for the sight of a sister sunk in poverty, that it may not overcome your spirits."
    -- letter of August 24 1805
  • "We found only Mrs. Lance at home, and whether she boasts any offspring besides a grand pianoforte did not appear. ... They will not come often, I dare say. They live in a handsome style and are rich, and she seemed to like to be rich, and we gave her to understand that we were far from being so; she will soon feel therefore that we are not worth her acquaintance."
    -- letter of January 7 1807
  • [On the weather:]
    • "We have been exceedingly busy ever since you went away. In the first place we have had to rejoice two or three times every day at your having such very delightful weather for the whole of your journey..."
      -- letter of October 25 1800
    • "How do you like this cold weather? I hope you have all been earnestly praying for it as a salutary relief from the dreadful mild and unhealthy season preceding it, fancying yourself half putrified from the want of it, and that now you all draw into the fire, complain that you never felt such bitterness of cold before, that you are half starved, quite frozen, and wish the mild weather back again with all your hearts."
      -- letter of January 25th 1801
    • "I am sorry my mother has been suffering, and am afraid this exquisite weather is too good to agree with her. I enjoy it all over me, from top to toe, from right to left, longitudinally, perpendicularly, diagonally; and I cannot but selfishly hope we are to have it last till Christmas -- nice, unwholesome, unseasonable, relaxing, close, muggy weather."
      -- letter of December 2 1815
  • "The Webbs are really gone! When I saw the waggons at the door, and thought of all the trouble they must have in moving, I began to reproach myself for not having liked them better; but since the waggons have disappeared my conscience has been closed again, and I am excessively glad they are gone."
    -- letter of September 28 1814
  • "By the bye, as I must leave off being young, I find many Douceurs in being a sort of chaperon [at dances], for I am put on the Sofa near the Fire & can drink as much wine as I like."
    -- letter of November 6th 1813
  • "I bought a Concert Ticket and a sprig of flowers for my old age." [She was then 37.]
    -- letter of November 3rd 1813
  • "[I] am very well satisfied with his notice of me -- ``A pleasing-looking young woman'' -- that must do; one cannot pretend to anything better now; thankful to have it continued a few years longer!"
    -- letter of April/May 1811
  • "Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected. ... The melancholy part was, to see so many dozen young women standing by without partners, and each of them with two ugly naked shoulders! It was the same room in which we danced fifteen years ago! I thought it all over, and in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then."
    -- letter of December 9, 1808
  • [Jane Austen had a running joke with her family about her marrying the poet Crabbe, whose poetry she admired:]
    "No, I have never seen [news of] the death of Mrs. Crabbe. I have only just been making out from one of his prefaces that he probably was married. ... Poor woman! I will comfort him as well as I can, but I do not undertake to be good to her children. She had better not leave any."
    -- letter of October 18, 1813
  • "I am to meet Mrs. Harrison, and we are to talk about Ben and Anna [a young engaged couple]. ``My dear Mrs. Harrison,'' I shall say, ``I am afraid the young man has some of your family madness, and though there often appears to be something of madness in Anna too, I think she inherits more of it from her mother's family than from ours.'' That is what I shall say, and I think she will find it difficult to answer me."
    -- letter of November 3rd 1813
  • "Ben and Anna walked here... and she looked so pretty, it was quite a pleasure to see her, so young and so blooming, and so innocent, as if she had never had a wicked thought in her life, which yet one has some reason to suppose she must have had, if we believe the doctrine of original sin."
    -- letter of February 20, 1817
  • "I do not like the Miss Blackstones; indeed, I was always determined not to like them, so there is the less merit in it."
    -- letter of January 8 1799
  • "I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive."
    -- letter of May 31 1811
  • "Expect a most agreeable letter, for not being overburdened with subject (having nothing at all to say), I shall have no check to my genius from beginning to end."
    -- letter of January 21 1801


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