Music Book in Jane Austen’s hand: “Juvinile Songs & Lessons”

Object name: Music Book entitled “Juvinile Songs & Lessons”

Object number: CHWJA:JAH19.2

Category: Objects

Description: Music copybook belonging to Jane Austen featuring music by a variety of eighteenth century composers. Manuscript hand copied by Jane Austen.

Oblong folio, 24 x 30 cm, with full calf binding. The manuscript is notated in a pre-ruled music book produced by the firm of Longman and Broderip, No. 26 Cheapside and No. 13 Haymarket.

The title page features the publisher’s engraving of a cherub holding a blank label; this label has been completed in ink with the words “Juvenile Songs & Lessons,” and below this, in smaller writing and what seems to be a different hand, “for young beginners who don’t know enough to practise.”

The manuscript consists of keyboard music, solo and duet. The repertoire appears in printed publications from c.1790 to 1810, 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: Late eighteenth century

Context: In the Georgian period, sheet music was expensive and hard to come by; amateur performers therefore often borrowed scores from friends and relations to copy into music albums that preserved a personal selection of favourite repertoire. Blank music copybooks were popular gifts for young women.

Jane Austen was a keen pianist throughout her life. By 1796, the family had acquired a piano and Jane was taking lessons from the Winchester organist and composer George Chard. This music copybook appears to date from around this time. It may have been a present from her musically accomplished cousin, Eliza de Feuillide; the first and third pieces are arrangements of French opera overtures that were apparently copied from Eliza’s own scores.

Though Austen’s piano and most of her printed music were sold when the family moved to Bath in 1801, she kept the copybooks that represented such personal associations and so many hours of labour; and during the Chawton years (1809-1817), when she once again had an instrument of her own, she practised the piano every day before breakfast.

Her niece Caroline remembered that “much that she played from was manuscript, copied out by herself – and so neatly and correctly, that it was as easy to read as print.”

While Austen’s neatly copied albums have much in common with those made by other gentry women of her day, in the contents and construction of her keyboard manuscript we can detect something of her individual voice.  While most such books that survive today simply feature names and dates, Austen’s keyboard copybook includes the boldly inscribed title “Juvenile Songs & Lessons” – perhaps in the hand of the person who gave her the book – while underneath, in Austen’s own script, appears the ironic aside “for young beginners who don’t know enough to practise.”

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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