Oil painting of Rev. Edward Cooper
Object name: Oil painting on canvas of Rev. Edward Cooper
Object number: CHWJA:JAH445
Description: Oil painting on canvas of Jane Austen’s first cousin Rev. Edward Cooper by Thomas Barber.
Context: Edward Cooper was Jane’s first cousin, the only son of Mrs Austen’s elder sister Jane and her husband, Rev. Dr. Edward Cooper. He was educated at Eton and Queen’s College Oxford and whilst at Oxford, helped Jane’s brothers, James and Henry, to write some issues of their satirical magazine The Loiterer.
After graduating, Edward took Holy Orders and became the curate of Harpsden near Henley-on-Thames, following in the footsteps of his grandfather (Mrs Austen’s father Rev. Thomas Leigh) who had been Rector of Harpsden from 1731 to 1764.
In 1793, he married Caroline, the only daughter of Mr and Mrs Lybbe Powys of Oxfordshire; the couple were to have eight children together.
In 1799, Edward was offered the living of Hamstall Ridware by his distant cousin, the Honourable Mary Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey, and the family moved to Staffordshire.
Edward was a zealous Evangelical and successfully published several volumes of sermons. Books of sermons were popular reading for lay people in Jane Austen’s time and also provided other clergymen with the convenience of being able to read from a published text rather than preparing their own material. Although Edward’s sermons proved very popular, they did not always find favour with Jane. In a letter to her sister Cassandra dated September 8th 1816, she wrote:
‘We do not much like Mr Cooper’s new sermons; they are fuller of Regeneration and Conversion than ever – with the addition of his zeal in the cause of the Bible Society.’
Comments in Jane’s letters imply that she found her cousin pompous and tactless and it has been suggested that she based some aspects of Mr Collins’ character in Pride and Prejudice on Edward Cooper. When her brother Edward’s wife died in 1808 after the birth of their eleventh child, Jane wrote to Cassandra:
‘I have written to Edward Cooper and hope he will not send one of his letters of cruel comfort to my poor brother.’
Perhaps she was thinking of Rev. Cooper when she had Mr Collins write his tactless letter of ‘cruel comfort’ to Mr Bennett after Lydia’s elopement with Wickham.
In 1819, Edward had this portrait painted by Thomas Barber in which he posed with a roll of sermon notes in his hand. He had a mezzotint made from the portrait so that copies could be circulated amongst his family and friends.
He died in 1835 although some of his sermons were still in print in the 1880s.
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