Letter from Jane Austen to Francis Austen, 26 July 1809

Object name: Copy letter from Jane Austen to Frank Austen, 26 July 1809

Object number: CHWJA:JAHLTR.3

Category: Letters

Description: Jane Austen’s copy of her letter to her brother Frank, on the birth of his son. It is titled ‘Copy of a Letter to Frank, July 26. 1809’ and is written in verse. A single sheet, measuring 18.6cm x 11.6cm, written on both sides.

Made: 1809

Context: This is a draft copy in Jane Austen’s hand of a poem-letter written to her brother Frank, on naval duty in China (Frank’s copy of the letter is to be found in the British Library).

The letter delivers the important news of the safe delivery of Frank’s first son, Francis William, on 12 July 1809. This prompts a rare glimpse into Austen’s early family life in the shape of affectionate memories of Frank’s childhood naughtiness, his ‘warmth, nay insolence of spirit’.

The important announcement of the birth is followed in the poem’s closing lines by another cause for congratulation: the Austen women at last have a home of their own. Mrs Austen, her daughters Cassandra and Jane, together with their lifelong friend Martha Lloyd, moved to Chawton Cottage on July 1809.

The offer of a cottage as a permanent home on brother Edward’s Chawton estate only came in 1808 after the death of Edward’s wife. Jane described its ‘six Bedchambers’ and ‘Garrets for Storeplaces’ (the ‘rooms concise or rooms distended’ of the poem) in a letter to Cassandra on 20 November 1808, when plans were already in place for renovations. Now, in possession, she cannot hide her pleasure at the prospect the cottage affords for comfort and security: ‘when complete, | It will all other Houses beat’.

Jane Austen shared the family tradition of writing light, often comic, verses to amuse those she loved. This verse-letter is in the same metrical form as Walter Scott’s bestselling romance Marmion (1808), which a few months previously she had sent to Frank to pass on to their brother Charles, giving more point to the use here of its borrowed rhyme scheme.

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