Letter from Jane Austen to James Stanier Clarke, 1 April 1816

Text by Sophie Reynolds, Collections and Interpretation Manager at Jane Austen's House

Towards the end of 1815, Jane came into contact with Rev. James Stanier Clarke, the Prince Regent’s Librarian.

The Prince, it appeared, was an avid reader of novels and was a particular fan of Jane Austen’s works – keeping a set at each of his residences.

Stanier Clarke invited Jane to visit the Prince’s lavish library at Carlton House, and during the visit he suggested that, as the Prince admired her work, she would be ‘at liberty to dedicate any future novel to him’.

Jane did not like or approve of the Prince (or the ‘P.R.’ as she charmingly dubs him in her letters), who was famously debauched and profligate. Nevertheless, she complied with the royal request, dedicating Emma to the Prince in the following words:

‘To His Royal Highness, The Prince Regent. This work is, by his Royal Highness’s permission, most respectfully dedicated by His Royal Highness’s dutiful and obedient humble servant, The Author.’

Her correspondence with Stanier Clarke continued into the spring of 1816, when this letter was written. In it, Jane responds to Stanier Clarke’s suggestion that for her next work she might attempt a ‘Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg’.

She tactfully declines the idea, writing that although such a work might be more profitable or popular than her ‘pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages’, she ‘could no more write a Romance than an Epic Poem’.

The letter is on display at the House until the end of 2020.