Three evening prayers written by Jane Austen

Object name: A book of three evening prayers written by Jane Austen

Object number: CHWJA:JAHB45

Category: Book

Description: Three evening prayers written by Jane Austen circa 1817 with an introduction by William Matson Roth. Published by Colt Press in 1940 as a limited edition of 300 copies. The book is printed on handmade paper and bound in heavy English embroidered cloth.

Made: 1940

Context: When Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra died in 1845, she left the two manuscripts containing these three prayers to Cassandra Esten Austen, the eldest daughter of her youngest brother Charles. The first manuscript bore the inscription ‘Prayers composed by my ever dear sister Jane’ and the paper carried a watermark from 1818, the year after Jane’s death. This manuscript is written in Cassandra’s hand. The second manuscript is believed to be partially in Jane Austen’s own hand and partially in that of her fourth brother Henry.

In the 1920s, finding themselves in straightened circumstances, Charles Austen’s granddaughters, Jane and Emma Florence Austen, sold many of their Austen relics at Sotheby’s, including these prayers. They were subsequently acquired by the Californian book collector William Matson Roth. Roth cofounded Colt press in 1938 which specialised in publishing high quality limited edition literary books aimed at book collectors. Colt Press published this book in 1940, the first time the prayers had appeared in print, and it is one of only 300 copies made.

The language used in the prayers suggest they are intended for communal use rather than private prayer and may have been used by the Austen household at evening prayers before retiring for the night.

In 1957, Roth donated the original manuscripts to Mills College in Oakland, California, where they still reside.

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