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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

What would you do if you found out your very own Aunt Jane was the famous author of Sense and Sensibility?

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

Jane Austen was a very private person and throughout her career as an author she seemed to shrink from the personal acclamation that arose from the publication of her novels. Whilst her literary pursuits had always been celebrated within her immediate family circle by being read, performed and discussed, very few of her friends read her novels in their draft form.

Her first publication seemed to be a great secret; Sense and Sensibility, a novel, By A Lady, was published in 1811. Her immediate family did know of the pending publication; her brother, Henry, had acted on her behalf with the publishers, and her mother and sister were left at Chawton while Jane went to London to read the proofs before the novel’s publication. But Jane did not tell her niece, Anna, aged 18 at the time and to whom she was close. David Cecil, in his biography, relates an incident where Aunt Jane and Anna were perusing books together in the library:

…the two of them, looking at the novels in the Alton Circulating Library, saw Sense and Sensibility lying on the counter. Anna picked up the first volume. ‘It must be nonsense with a title like that’, she said and put it back again. Jane watched her amused and silent.

Jane had always expressed her desire to remain an anonymous writer and so was quite dismayed when her brother Henry spilled the secret to some acquaintances in 1813, concerning the author of the newly published Pride and Prejudice.

In 1814 Mansfield Park was published, and it was sometime in this year that Jane’s nephew, Edward Austen (later Austen-Leigh), son of James Austen, discovered that his Aunt Jane was a famous author. He was only sixteen at the time and, on finding out the truth, wrote the following poem to his Aunt.

No words can express, my dear Aunt, my surprise
Or make you conceive how I opened my eyes,
Like a pig Butcher Pile has just struck with his knife,
When I heard for the very first time in my life
That I had the honour to have a relation
Whose works were dispersed through the whole of the nation.
I assure you, however, I’m terribly glad;
Oh dear, just to think (and the thought drives me mad)
That dear Mrs Jennings’ good-natured strain
Was really the produce of your witty brain,
That you made the Middletons, Dashwoods and all,
And that you (not young Ferrars) found out that a ball
May be given in cottages never so small.
And though Mr Collins so grateful for all
Will Lady de Bourgh his dear patroness call, 
‘Tis to your ingenuity really he owed
His living, his wife, and his humble abode.
Now if you will take your poor nephew’s advice, 
Your works to Sir William pray send in a trice;
If he’ll undertake to some grandees to show it,
By whose means at last the Prince Regent might know it,
For I’m sure if he did, in reward for your tale,
He’d make you a countess at least without fail,
And indeed, if the princess should lose her dear life,
You might have a good chance of becoming his wife.

By Edward Austen-Leigh, Jane Austen’s nephew.

By 1815 many people had discovered the name of the famous authoress, even the Prince Regent. Instead of making her a countess, as Edward Austen had suggested he should, the Prince invited her to ask his permission to dedicate her next novel, Emma, to him. She did so, more because she did not wish to cause offence to such an august person than because she was delighted by the idea.

Her last two novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, were published posthumously in 1818. Her brother, Henry, wrote a biographical notice in the preface, announcing Jane Austen to be the author of these works and sharing with her readers some of the history of her life and her last moments on earth. He also mentioned her particular aversion of publicity.

Most gratifying to her was the applause which from time to time reached her ears from those who were competent to discriminate. Still, in spite of such applause, so much did she shrink from notoriety, that no accumulation of fame would have induced her, had she lived, to affix her name to any productions of her pen. In the bosom of her own family she talked of them freely, thankful for praise, open to remark, and submissive to criticism. But in public she turned away from any allusion to the character of an authoress.

In short, she wrote for the pleasure of entertaining her family and friends, rather than the public acclamation that comes with publication. So what would you do if you discovered your own Aunt Jane to be a famous authoress?

Related Posts

Christmas with Jane Austen

Sources and Relevant Links

A Portrait of Jane Austen, by David Cecil – buy on Amazon

The Letters of Jane Austen, the Brabourne edition – read online

Biographical Notice of the Author, by Henry Austen – read online

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Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was an author and poet, and some of his well-known works include Kidnapped and Treasure Island. He also wrote A Child’s Garden of Verses, published in 1885, and dedicated it to his nurse.

I have written before about this small compendium of poems, which have been formed from Stevenson’s own impressions of childhood. They are a lovely insight into the world of a child!

This poem is one of my favourites! One can just imagine Robert doing the same in the nineteenth century as my kids do today!

“I held the trunk with both my hands and looked abroad to foreign lands…”

Foreign Lands

Up into the cherry-tree
Who should climb but little me?
I held the trunk with both my hands
And looked abroad on foreign lands.
 
I saw the next-door garden lie,
Adorned with flowers, before my eye,
And many pleasant places more
That I had never seen before.
 
I saw the dimpling river pass
And be the sky’s blue looking-glass;
The dusty roads go up and down
With people tramping in to town.
 
If I could find a higher tree, 
Farther and farther I should see,
To where the grown-up river slips
Into the see among the ships.
To where the roads on either hand
Lead onward into fairy land,
Where all the children dine at five, 
And all the playthings come alive.

I remember when I was a child climbing very high up the tree in our front yard, hoping for a glimpse of some magical cloud that led to magical lands at the top (just like in The Faraway Tree, by Enid Blyton!).

Do you have special memories of climbing trees when you were a child?

Related Posts

A Poem: The Unseen Playmate – another poem by Robert Louis Stevenson

Sources and Relevant Links

Robert Louis Stevenson – website dedicated to all things RLS

A Child’s Garden of Verses – read online

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Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was an author and poet, and some of his well-known works include Kidnapped and Treasure Island. He also wrote A Child’s Garden of Verses, published in 1885, and dedicated it to his nurse.

This small compendium of poems are a lovely insight into the world of a child, and many of them have been formed from Stevenson’s own impressions of childhood. They do not use difficult or complicated words, but succinctly and poetically capture the nature of a child’s experiences.

I have recently bought a copy of these verses and was scrolling through them when I found a poem that reminded me of my own children.

The Unseen Playmate

Adventures with the Unseen Playmate

When children are playing alone on the green,
In comes the playmate that never was seen.
When children are happy and lonely and good,
The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.
 
Nobody heard him and nobody saw,
His is a picture you never could draw,
But he’s sure to be present, abroad or at home,
When children are happy and playing alone.
 
He lies in the laurels, he runs on the grass,
He sings when you tinkle the musical glass;
Whene’er you are happy and cannot tell why,
The Friend of the Children is sure to be by!
 
He loves to be little, he hates to be big,
‘Tis he that inhabits the caves that you dig;
‘Tis he when you play with your soldiers of tin
That sides with the Frenchmen and never can win.
 
‘Tis he, when at night you go off to your bed,
Bids you go to your sleep and not trouble your head;
For wherever they’re lying, in cupboards or shelf,
‘Tis he will take care of your play-things himself!

I particularly like the reference to the obviously Bad Frenchmen! Very English of him!

It is always refreshing to see life through the eyes of a child.

Hopefully I might post more of these gems soon!

Related Posts

Up into the Cherry Tree – another poem by Robert Louis Stevenson

What If?: The Road Not Taken – a poem by Robert Frost

Sources and Relevant Links

Robert Louis Stevenson – website dedicated to all things RLS

A Child’s Garden of Verses – read online

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Sarah Hurst’s diaries reside in the Horsham Museum, but have been transcribed and printed.

Sarah Hurst was born in 1736 and died in 1808, and was the eldest daughter of a tradesman. She began writing these diaries when she was 22 years old.

Her father, Richard Hurst, had a tailor’s business in Horsham, West Sussex, in England, and it is from here that the diaries were primarily written. Sarah worked in her father’s business, serving customers in the shop, keeping his accounts, assisting with tailoring, and taking frequent journeys to London to restock the shop and to bank or invest the profits.

She was often out walking around Horsham with her friends, and visiting people in the town environs. In her spare time she wrote poetry and essays, read various books, and did needlework and sewing. Sarah also managed to visit and stay for longer periods with her friends and family that lived in the nearby areas.

The Causeway in Horsham, where Sarah Hurst would often walk.

Her love of reading and writing, as well as her intelligent reflections on the world, signify that she had received some sort of education. The diaries do not give specific information about this, but it is possible she was educated in a boarding school at Lewes or Brighton, or possibly went to school in Horsham.

At the age of sixteen, Sarah had fallen in love with a Mr Henry Smith, who was a young marine in the navy. Throughout most of their relationship, he was serving in the Marine Corps during the Seven Years war against France, and steadily received promotions throughout his career.

Sarah Hurst says in her diary that she carried on a “Clandestine Correspondence” with Henry Smith for an amazing seven years, until 1758, when she sought to put an end to it and told her father. He gave his “reluctant consent” for them to correspond and they wrote to each other until their marriage in 1762.

The editor of this work writes that not many women’s diaries have survived from the eighteenth century, and even less works of writing have survived from the women of the middle classes in this era. For this reason, Sarah Hurst’s reflections and insights into life at this time are quite revealing.

I found Sarah’s writing very insightful and intelligent. Whilst a fair proportion of the diaries relate simply to the things that she had done during the day, she frequently takes the opportunity to reflect on life around her. Above all, I was quite amazed by the fact that people’s natures remain much the same, regardless of the era in which they live and the type of clothes they wear!

I also really love how reading someone’s personal letters or diaries enables you to hear their voice quite clearly, even though so much time separates you. Such personal writing ensures that their personality and passions are printed soundly on the paper you read from.

I have reprinted a selection of quotes from Sarah Hurst’s diaries, grouped below according to topic.

Role of Women in Society

15 Feb, 1759

How trifling, how unimportantly, does my time pass away, I wish I had been a man I might then have signalis’d myself in the service of my Country, but now I must live and die in wretched obscurity.

Education of Women

27 Aug, 1759

Read in Montaigne’s essays, he don’t approve of Women’s having a learned education, are our minds then not worth improving, these Lordly men will have it so.

11 Sept, 1759

Montaigne thinks poetry a proper amusement for women, am glad he will allow us to do any thing besides spin and knit.

23rd Oct, 1761

How I love to hear the conversation of learned Men, what poor ignorant insignificant creatures are we Women but as we have no business but with domestic concerns ’tis thought of no consequence, yet I cannot help repining that I know no more.

Class

28th May, 1759

‘Tis quite diverting to observe the different behaviour of the Country people, uncultivated by education, how are such generally despised and for what, their misfortune not fault.

12th July, 1759

We all walk in the Park, then on the Causeway with Mrs Tredcroft, who says that trade people going to the Assembly at Brighthelmstone has spoilt it, for people of Quality don’t chuse to be in company with them. Certainly when they chuse their private friends it shou’d be those whose education and manners bear the nearest affinity to themselves, but objecting against meeting them in public is full as absurd as disliking to travel the same road or going by the same means to Heaven. Sure these sentiments cannot be call’d noble, that word implies a general complacence and diffusive Benevolence, which are peculiar [particular] Priviledges of Quality and a generous education, while on the contrary I shou’d imagine such confin’d notions cou’d only harbour in a Plebeian Soul.

Beauty

7 April, 1760

There is something irresistably engaging in a pretty face. I cannot wonder the men are so soon struck with it. External Beauty wou’d certainly be a very great blessing, were it not too often attended by self sufficiency and affectation.

Vanity

2 Sept, 1761

Very busy all day ironing, low Work for a person of my genius, ha ha ha, hence arises all the vanities and absurdities in Life. We fancy we ought to move in a higher sphere, and so despise the employments of our station; how truly laughable is this; The highest wisdom consists in performing contentedly the duties of our situation, self is a very dangerous thing and ought never to engross our attention for as often as it does, so often do we overrate our abilities, and imagine Fortune has been extreamly remiss in not rewarding them. The hardest lesson in the World is humility, the voluptuous shall become temperate, the miser generous, and the fickle constant before the proud are humble. I have more than the seeds of this fault in my disposition, and often think my rank in Life far below my merit, when most certainly ’tis far above them.

Love

10th Feb, 1762

How much perplexity attends love affairs of all kinds whether the Heart is engag’d or not, it takes away all the pleasure of that part of Life most capable of happiness, when health glows on the cheek and the spirits move in a brisk circulation.

Marriage

27 Feb, 1759

‘Tis not without some reason that Libertines fear Matrimony, how few there are that behave well in that state. I am inclinable to think all those who disagree in marriage wou’d be equally faulty and unhappy in any other situation, ’tis a solemn alteration of circumstances and the consideration that it may be for the worse makes it more so.

Amusements

21st Dec, 1759

Mrs Bridger sends for us. We wait on her and play at cards. How trifling is this way of spending time, almost below the dignity of a rational creature, but our choice in amusements is as different as out places and indeed, if we reflect on our natural tendency to vice, ’tis well if they are only trifling, for alas they are too often criminal.

Diaries are my cup of tea!

Related Posts

A Recipe to Soften the Hardest Female Heart, a post about a poem in The Gentleman’s Magazine (1765)

The Boy and the Nettle, a post about a poem in The Gentleman’s Magazine (1765)

Sources and Relevant Links

The Diaries of Sarah Hurst, 1759-1762: Life and Love in Eighteenth Century Horsham, transcribed by Barbara Hurst, edited by Susan C. Djabri. – buy through Amazon

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The Stinging Nettle, which has been used as a medicine and can even be eaten.

The Gentleman’s Magazine was an extremely popular periodical publication in the eighteenth century, having a large readership and a commenting on a wide variety of topics.

I found this poem published by The Gentleman’s Magazine in the February edition, 1765, with the authorship attributed to an E. Pennington. This author, as far as I have been able to find, was not a famous poet and was probably a subscriber to the periodical who sent the poem to the editor for consideration.

The Boy and the Nettle. A Fable.

A Little boy, one summer’s day,
Devoid of care, went out to play;
He roves the mead, the pleasing dies
Of various flow’rs engage his eyes.
From this to that with joy he turns,
For all in quick succession burns:
The blossom’d nettle now he gains,
Which sorely stings him for his pains.
Homeward in tears he runs with speed,
And sobs complaints against the weed:
“My touch, says he, was soft and light,
Who then could think that it would bite?”
His boy the father fondly ey’d,
He kiss’d him first, and then reply’d,
“My Child, the lightness of your touch
Was that which made it bite so much;
Had but your grip been close and rude,
Its mischief had been all subdued;
A fact from which I’d now deduce
A precept for your future use.
You’ll find the world, that ample field,
A plenteous crop of nettles yield;
Men who may justly pass for such,
Whom you must gripe, or never touch;
Avoid, or treat them with disdain,
My precept in your mind retain.”

London, Feb 22, 1765.  E.Pennington.

This poem has been adapted from one of Aesop’s Fables about a boy and a nettle, where a boy was stung and went home to tell his mother.

In this poem, a boy, playing in a field, touched a nettle ever so gently and it stung him. Running home with tears in his eyes, he tells his father that he tried to be gentle. His father says that being gentle was what had caused the problem, and that if he had grabbed the nettle firmly, it would not have stung him. This is because the stinging “hairs” of the plant are squashed and can not penetrate the skin in the same manner.

From this the father deduces a moral for the future use of his son. The world is like a field, and you are bound to come across nettles in life. The trick is to either avoid them or grab them, thereby avoiding the painful sting.

In Aesop’s Fable, the moral of the story was proclaimed to be:

Whatever you do, do it with all your might.

Do you like stories or poems that have a moral? They are my cup of tea!

Related Posts

A Recipe to Soften the Hardest Female Heart – more poetry from The Gentleman’s Magazine

On Love, Shakespeare and Marianne Dashwood – a sonnet of Shakespeare’s

Sources and Relevant Links

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 35 , 1765, p. 92.

Aesop’s Fables – online

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The title page for the May edition of The Gentleman's Magazine, 1759. "Containing More in Quantity and Greater Variety, than any Book of the Kind or Price."

The Gentleman’s Magazine was one of the longest running periodical papers in England, publishing monthly editions for 191 years, across three centuries! From its beginning, in 1731, the magazine was intended to address any issue of public concern, and this may have been the key to its success. It was widely read throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century by both male and female audiences (despite its name), and it was not until the twentieth century that reading numbers began to decline. The publication finally stopped in 1922.

The articles addressed all manner of things, from the current issues of politics to the importance of Latin! It discussed the latest advancements of an extensive variety of disciplines, such as medicine, agriculture, astronomy, botany, religion, literature, fashion, manners, crime, and war. It also printed letters, sent to the editor from the concerned public, on a variety of issues of social importance. It even published poems!

I was reading the January 1765 edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine the other day when I came across this gem of a poem! The editor published poems from famous and unknown poets, but this poem had no authorship noted.

Recipe to soften the hardest female heart.

Take a youth that’s genteel, no matter for face,
And season him well with an air and a grace;
One grain of sincerity you may bestow,
But enough of assurance you needs must allow,
With flatteries, and sighs, assiduities, fears,
Insignificant smiles, significant leers,
With passion, and raptures to give it a zest,
A sprinkling of folly according to taste;
Some pieces of songs, and some spoutings of plays,
And fashion, and frolicks, and whimisical ways;
All mix’d well together with art and deceit,
And with nicety dress’d to make it compleat.
This med’cine the patient should take ev’ry day,
And the flint in her heart will soon melt away.
Sometimes a few days the complaint may remove,
Sometimes a few weeks ineffectual prove.
But seldom an instance can any produce
Where this choice panacea has fail’d of its use
The heart that’s obdurate when this has been try’d,
Has surely discernment and sense within side.
With the seeds of contempt, which next will appear,
When these symptoms are seen (which are wonderous rare)
This med’cine is useless, ’twill ne’er reach that heart
Which, harden’d by Virtue, will baffle all art.

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 35, 1765, p.92.

The author is referring to the arts that gentlemen use to woo a lady. Most of the “arts” that are mentioned here involve the external trappings that society offers – like wealth, gentility, fashionable clothes, and airs and graces that flatter and deceive. The only “ingredient” of real substance is “a grain of sincerity”, and that could not be considered a generous amount!

The writer goes on to say that this “recipe”, if given to the lady in question everyday, has a remarkable way of softening a ladies heart towards a man. However, if the unthinkable should occur and the “recipe” does not work, then the problem will be that the woman has been hardened by Virtue, and so is not easily decieved by appearances or flattery.

The one thing that worries me about this poem, is the author’s belief that this type of woman – hardened by Virtue and able to see through the fluff to the substance of a man – is rare! I had hoped that, even in eighteenth century fashionable society, there might be a few women with sense and discernment!

Is poetry your cup of tea?

Related Posts

What if?: The Road Not Taken – a poem of Robert Frost’s

On Love, Shakespeare and Marianne Dashwood – a sonnet of Shakespeare’s

The Boy and the Nettle – another poem in The Gentleman’s Magazine

Sources and Relevant Links

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 35, 1765 – read online

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Shakespeare is the author of over 150 sonnets, first published in 1609. My first introduction to the sonnets happened when I watched the 1995 movie of Sense and Sensibility, starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. Marianne Dashwood, the younger of two sisters, is a passionate girl with great sensibility, and has a great love of passionate poetry!

My favourite is, without doubt, number 116.

Marianne Dashwood, in Sense and Sensibility the movie (1995)

Sonnet 116

Let me not with the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, 
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

This sonnet talks about the nature of love, saying that love does not change, even when it finds changes in the one that it loves. Love is constant and never shaken. Love is likened to the guiding North star that ships used to estimate their position and direction. This star does not change position in the sky, and can therefore be relied upon to be constant.

Love will not be made a fool of by Time. Even though Time, like a harvester, brings his sickle to cut down and age youthful attractiveness, Love will not alter and instead bears it all despite the difficulties. The sonnet, by way of conclusion, declares that if these truths about Love are proved to be error, then no man has ever loved before (which they clearly have).

Mr Willoughby and Miss Marianne Dashwood, played by Greg Wise and Kate Winslet (1995)

The interesting thing about this sonnet, in the context of the movie, is that it represents the perspective of Marianne Dashwood perfectly. She believes love should be passionate and true to itself. Love should be constant and unwavering. It should be strong enough to bear all difficulties encountered in life.

Yet her first experience of love in her life, with Mr Willoughby, is quite different. He is initially all she could dream a suitor to be. He is handsome and rich, but what is even more important to Marianne is that he is passionate and does not hide his affection. When Willoughby is suddenly disinherited by a rich aunt, and having some very large existing debts, he is forced to reevaluate his love in the face of poverty. He sacrifices his love for Marianne – who has no dowry – to pursue marriage with Miss Grey and “her 50,000 pounds”.

Marianne is devastated. Her idealogical view of love has been pitted against the realism of life with the attractiveness of wealth and advantage and has come a miserable second.

However, despite her pain she rallies again and her passionate, wild, giddy love passes to one side, as she realises that Willoughby’s love was not really true at all. A more mature love takes its place within her; one that is calm and content; sober and soothing; reflective and restful. She marries the sedate, but chivalrous, Colonel Brandon.

So what is true love? Shakespeare’s sonnet seems to suggest that true love is of the realm of the divine, of heavenly substance, and hardly humanly possible. Is it attainable at all? Marianne seemed to think so.

Related Posts

A Recipe to Soften the Hardest Female Heart – a poem from 1765

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Lady Susan: an eighteenth century epistolary novella

Sources and Relevant Links

Shakespeare’s sonnets – online

Sense and Sensibility – the movie (1995)

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