Manuscript book of vocal music

Object name: Manuscript book of vocal music titled ‘Songs and Duetts’, copied out in Jane Austen’s hand.

Object number: CHWJA:JAH19.3

Category: Objects

Description: Oblong folio music book, 24 x 30 cm, full calf with  binding.  The manuscript is notated in a pre-ruled music book sold by the firm of ‘Henry Holland, Nephew and Successor to Mr Pyke organ builder to his Majesty at his manufactorys Bedford Row and St James Street, Piccadilly’. Holland’s firm traded at these two addresses between c.1786 and January 1789.

The title page features the publisher’s green ornamental border with a blank centre for purchasers to fill in; this has been inscribed in ink ‘Songs and Duetts’ and there are signs that further words have been erased. The verso of the title page includes a handwritten index to the contents.

The manuscript consists of vocal music with mainly keyboard accompaniment. The repertoire appears in printed publications from c.1790 to c.1805, suggesting that the manuscript was copied from the early to mid-1790s onward. The hand for both the contents and the manuscript index has been securely identified as belonging to Jane Austen.

Made: 1790s

Context: When Jane moved with her parents and sister Cassandra from Steventon to Bath in 1801, most of the family’s belongings were sold by auction.  According to the auctioneer’s advertisement in the Reading Mercury, the sale included Jane’s Ganer piano and ‘a large collection of music by the most celebrated composers’.  Jane however kept the music books which she herself had painstakingly copied out from borrowed sheet music, of which this is one.

Almost all the pieces in this manuscript book are vocal pieces, most with keyboard accompaniment.  According to Jane’s nephew James Edward  Austen Leigh, Jane had a ‘sweet voice, both in singing and in conversation; …..In the evening she would sometimes sing, to her own accompaniment, some simple old songs, the words and airs of which, now never heard, still linger in my memory.’

Included in this manuscript book is ‘The Soldier’s Adieu’ by Charles Dibdin, a prolific song composer of the time; with two brothers in the Navy, Jane however crossed out the reference to ‘soldier’ and replaced it with ‘sailor’.

Also in the book is a song titled ‘The Irishman’.  The song compares the prowess of lovers of several countries concluding that ‘Nobody loves like an Irishman’.  We can’t know exactly when Jane copied the song into her book but it is tempting to reflect that, during the period she created this music book, she met and flirted with the young Tom Lefroy from Limerick.

In 2013-15 this music book and others from the Museum collection were digitised by the Library Digitisation Unit at the University of Southampton. Find out more and see high res images of the book.


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