A Fragment of a Letter in Jane Austen’s Hand

Image of a two-page manuscript letter

Contributor: Kathryn Sutherland

Location: Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire, England

Description: This fragment is a single leaf, pages 1 and 2 (20 + 20 lines; 281 words) of a letter bifolium, of which the second leaf is missing. The paper is weak at the original folds, with a short tear at the head. There is no signature, no date, and no address. An origin-address and date [‘From Hans Place | Nov. 29 1814’] have been added in pencil in another hand at the upper edge of page 1. The ink (iron gall) is bright, showing little evidence of light exposure. Written in Jane Austen’s clear, round hand, the leaf corresponds to the first section of Letter 112 in the authoritative Oxford edition. Austen writes from her brother Henry’s London home to her niece Anna Lefroy. The fragment opens ‘I am very much obliged to you, my dear Anna’; it ends at the foot of page 2 with the words: ‘& hugs Mr Younge delightfully’. In between, Austen discusses her social life during a London stay that includes a disappointing trip to the theatre (‘I fancy I want something more than can be. Acting seldom satisfies me. I took two Pocket handkercheifs, but had very little occasion for either’). These two pages are a resilient survival of an act of loving destruction, representing the largest part of a four-page letter, dismembered for keepsakes, into at least five portions, one of which is now lost; two are in the British Library’s Charnwood Autograph Collection; and a further portion was sold at Sotheby’s into private hands on 11 July 2017, at which time the present portion failed to sell. We might see the dismemberment, private, and public fortunes of this letter as an expression in miniature of the fate and import of Austen’s letters, and indeed celebrity author’s letters, more generally.

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The Hellespont

Image of The Hellespont. A hilly horizon with blue water below and blue sky above

Contributor: Catriona Seth

Location: Turkey

Description: The name ‘Dardanelles’ might make you think of a busy shipping canal or of the site of a deadly first World War campaign. The ‘Hellespont’, which refers to the same body of water, might lead you to Hero and Leander’s sad story, recounted in classical sources, but also revived by Christopher Marlowe in (1598) or by Leigh Hunt in 1819. Both terms refer to a single strait. At its narrowest—where its currents are extremely strong—it is 1.2 kilometres across. Whilst it was made famous in myth and in history for tragic deaths, the site is also important for having offered Byron an occasion to accomplish a seemingly heroic act—swimming safely across—and use this as an occasion for self-publicity which tells us something about how he viewed himself as an individual and as an author.

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Leigh Hunt’s Parlour at Surrey Gaol

Two engravings of Leigh Hunt sitting at his desk in his cell at Surrey Gaol.

Contributor: Serena Baiesi

Location: Surrey Gaol, Horsemonger Lane, London. Detail from Edmund Blunden, ed., Leigh Hunt. A Biography (Archon Books, 1930)

Description: In 1812 Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) wrote that the Prince Regent was a violator of his word and a disreputable libertine in an article published in The Examiner — a radical newspaper he edited with his brother John. As a result he was sentenced to prison for two years from 1813 until 1815 for seditious libel and sent to Surrey Gaol, Horsemonger Lane. After a month spent in a small dwelling, Hunt was moved to a two-room suite in the prison infirmary. Here Hunt spent his days reading, writing, meeting with friends who constantly visited him, and enjoying the company of his wife and children. Even though during his prison days Hunt suffered several nervous attacks, characterised by palpitations, headaches, and uncontrollable anxiety, he describes this period in his autobiography, in many letters, and in reported conversations, as very convivial. Secluded in prison, Hunt became very productive, constantly contributing to The Examiner, writing poetry later collected in Foliage, composing the long poem The Story of Rimini, and beginning his drama The Descent of Liberty. He also became the centre of a very animated literary and liberal intellectual circle, which became legendary as a model for Romantic intellectual sociability.

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‘Les Adieux de l’Hermite de Dronning-Gaard’

‘Les Adieux de l’Hermite de Dronning-Gaard’

Contributor: Cian Duffy

Location: Næsseslottet, 136 Dronninggårds Allé 136, DK-2840, Holte, Denmark

Description: This monument, tucked away in the gardens of the Dronninggård estate, northwest of Copenhagen, is, remarkably, the source of an essentially unknown poem by James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), the influential essayist, critic, journalist and poet, and the leader of the so-called ‘Cockney’ school of English Romanticism. Designed by the Danish neoclassical sculptor Johannes Wiedewelt (1731-1802), the monument features a twenty-nine line poem in French by the Dutch cavalry officer Jean Frédéric Henry de Drevon (1734-97), inscribed on a tablet of Norwegian marble. De Drevon’s lines are the source for Hunt’s poem, which was first published by John Carr (1772-1832) in A Northern Summer, in 1805.

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