Letter from Jane Austen to her brother Frank, 26 July 1809

Description

On 26 July 1809 Jane Austen wrote a short letter to her brother, Francis William (Frank), to congratulate him on the birth of his son. In 1809 Frank was serving as a Captain in the Royal Navy. He had a long and successful military career, becoming an Admiral in 1848.

What form is the letter written in?

Austen’s letter of congratulation is written in verse, and consists of four stanzas. In the first three stanzas Austen writes about her happiness on the birth of her nephew and her hopes for his future. In particular Austen hopes that the new baby, also called Francis William, will take after her beloved brother, who is ‘considerate & kind’. At times, Austen’s tone is teasing: she writes that she ‘would not with one fault dispense/ to weaken the resemblance’ – in other words, she hopes the baby has her brother’s faults as well as his virtues! 

In the final stanza Austen writes about herself and the rest of the family. Austen had recently moved to a house in the Hampshire village of Chawton with her sister Cassandra, her mother and Martha Lloyd, a friend of the family. Austen writes that they are settling into their new home very well, and they are sure that ‘when complete/ It will all other Houses beat’. 

Riddles, word-games and the composition of humorous verse were popular pastimes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and feature in Austen’s novel Emma (1815). The Austen family were keen writers of such verses, sometimes to mark occasions (as in the case of this letter) and sometimes as part of a game – in which, for example, all players would write a poem where the last word of every line rhymes with ‘rose’, or conforms to a prearranged series of words. Such poems would have been read aloud to family and friends for their amusement.

Austen’s siblings

Jane Austen was the seventh of eight children born to Reverend George Austen and his wife, Cassandra Leigh. Her close relationship with her brothers and sisters may have provided her with useful insights when writing her novels, many of which focus on family life and sibling relationships, such as those between Elizabeth and Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (1813), Elinor and Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility (1811), and Fanny and William Price in Mansfield Park (1814).

Transcript

Chawton, July 26. - 1809. -

My dearest Frank, I wish you joy
Of Mary’s safety with a Boy,
Whose birth has given little pain
Compared with that of Mary Jane. -
May he a growing Blessing prove,
And well deserve his Parents’ Love! -
Endow’d with Art’s & Nature’s Good,
Thy Name possessing with thy Blood,
In him, in all his ways, may we
Another Francis William see! -
Thy infant days may he inherit,
Thy warmth, nay insolence of spirit; -
We would not with one fault dispense
To weaken the resemblance.
May he revive thy Nursery sin,
Peeping as daringly within,
His curley Locks but just descried,
With “Bet, my be not come to bide.” -
Fearless of danger, braving pain,
And threaten’d very oft in vain,
Still may one Terror daunt his Soul,
One needful engine of Controul
Be found in this sublime array,
A neighbouring Donkey’s aweful Bray.
So may his equal faults as Child,
Produce Maturity as mild!
His saucy words & fiery ways
In early Childhood’s pettish days,
In Manhood, shew his Father’s mind
Like him, considerate & kind;
All Gentleness to those around,
And eager only not to wound.

Then like his Father too, he must,
To his own former struggle just,
Feels his Deserts with honest Glow,
And all his self-improvement know.
A native fault may thus give birth
To the best blessing, conscious worth.
As for ourselves, we’re very well;
As unaffected prose will tell. -
Cassandra’s pen will paint our state,
The many comforts that await
Our Chawton home, how much we find
Already in it, to our mind;


And how convinced that when complete
It will all other Houses beat
That ever have been made or mended,
With rooms concise, or rooms distended
You’ll find us very snug next year,
Perhaps with Charles & Fanny near,
For now it often does delight us
To fancy them just over right us. -

J.A. -


Full title:
Letter from Jane Austen to her brother Frank, 26 July 1809
Created:
26 July 1809, Chawton, Hampshire
Format:
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
Creator:
Jane Austen
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Add MS 42180

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