Pencil drawing of James Edward Austen-Leigh

Object name: Pencil drawing of James Edward Austen-Leigh

Object number: CHWJA:JAH434

Category: Object

Description: Pencil drawing of Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh at Tring Park, Hertfordshire. Mounted and in a wooden frame.

Made: circa 1828

Context: James Edward Austen (who later adopted the surname Austen-Leigh) was born in 1798, the son of Jane’s eldest brother James and his second wife Mary Lloyd; he is said to have been Jane Austen’s favourite nephew. In a letter to her friend Alethea Bigg in January 1817, Jane wrote of the 18-year-old James Edward ‘He grows still, and still improves in appearance, at least in the estimation of his Aunts, who love him better & better as they see the sweet temper & warm affections of the Boy confirmed in the young Man’. He was one of only four mourners at his Aunt Jane’s funeral in July 1817 and towards the end of his life, was to become her first biographer.

Known in the family as Edward, he was educated at Winchester College and Exeter College Oxford.  Ordained in 1822, he married Emma Smith, a niece of his father’s friends Eliza and William Chute of The Vyne, Hampshire, in 1828. This drawing was done at Tring Park in Hertfordshire where Emma’s mother and siblings had moved after the death of Emma’s father. James Edward was staying at Tring Park when he proposed to Emma; it is quite possible the drawing was done by Emma herself around this time.

Emma’s diary entry for the day of their engagement records ‘We read ‘Emma’ in the morning.  After luncheon Mamma and Fanny went to call on Mrs Badcock. We all walked towards the woods at Terrets and during the walk I was engaged to marry Mr Austen…..I after walked with him in the shrubbery’. A very ‘Jane Austen’ engagement!

James Edward’s capricious aunt Mrs Leigh Perrott, the widow of Mrs Austen’s brother, was delighted with the match and left much of her fortune to James Edward on her death in 1838 at which juncture he added the name Leigh to his surname. In 1852 he was awarded the valuable living of Vicar of Bray in Berkshire and the family (he and Emma had ten children) moved to the Rectory by the River Thames where he lived for the rest of his life.

A rising tide of interest in Jane Austen throughout the 1850’s and 1860’s led James Edward, with help from his sisters Anna and Caroline, to put together a biography of their Aunt Jane based on their personal memories. A memoir of Jane Austen was published on the anniversary of Jane’s birthday on 16th December 1869. James Edward died at Bray in 1874.

Other objects you might like: