Manuscript album of prose and poems by Rev. James Austen

Object name: Manuscript album of prose and poems by Rev. James Austen

Object number: CHWJA:JAHB35

Category: Books

Description: Manuscript album of prose and poems by Rev. James Austen written out by his son James Edward Austen Leigh for his half-sister, Anna Lefroy (née Austen).

Made: 1835

Context: Jane Austen’s eldest brother James (1765-1819) was considered to be the poet of the family.  His mother wrote of him ‘Classical knowledge, Literary taste and the power of Elegant Composition he possessed in the highest degree.’  More than fifty of his poems survive along with the prologues and epilogues he wrote to accompany the plays the Austens and friends performed at Steventon Rectory.

Many of James’ poems reflect his love for the Hampshire countryside he knew so well.  His elegy, Venta, written in memory of his sister Jane, is very moving  but perhaps the most touching are those poems he wrote for his two children by his second marriage, James Edward (known as Edward) and Caroline.  In January 1813, James and his son planted a lime tree together in the meadow in front of Steventon Rectory, which can still be seen today, and James recorded the occasion by writing a poem to Edward:

This tree, which we together plant,
If Heaven a Parent’s wishes grant,
For many a future year shall prove
A record of our mutual love.
While you, my boy, at school or college
Are absent, gaining useful knowledge,
Oft to this tree I shall repair,
And in my fancy meet you there.

In the mid-1830s, James Edward collated his father’s works and, perhaps with the help of his sister Caroline, wrote out three copies, one for each of the siblings. The book in the Museum’s collection belonged to James’ eldest daughter Anna and includes some of her drawings. Anna’s daughter, Fanny Caroline Lefroy, added copies of her own poems to the back of the book.

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