Room 4: Health Benefits

‘He declares himself, that coming to Lyme for a month, did him more good than all the medicine he took; and, that being by the sea, always makes him feel young again.’ - Persuasion

Mermaids at Brighton
Coloured etching by W. Heath
© Wellcome Collection.

The rise of seaside resorts in the eighteenth century was rooted in a widespread belief in the health-giving and curative properties of seawater – both for drinking and bathing in. Seawater was widely promoted as being a near-panacea for all ailments, and even if one was not suffering from any particular complaint, it could be safely employed as a preventative measure.

In Sanditon, Jane Austen established a world in which health and the sea were inextricably combined. It is hard to imagine a more enthusiastic advocate for the health benefits of the sea, than Mr Parker:

‘He held it indeed as certain, that no person could be really well, no person (however upheld for the present by fortuitous aids of exercise and spirits in a semblance of Health) could be really in a state of secure and permanent Health without spending at least six weeks by the Sea every year.—The Sea Air and Sea Bathing together were nearly infallible, One or the other of them being a match for every Disorder, of the Stomach, the Lungs or the Blood; They were anti-spasmodic, anti-pulmonary, anti-septic, anti-billious and anti-rheumatic. Nobody could catch cold by the Sea, Nobody wanted appetite by the Sea, Nobody wanted Spirits. Nobody wanted Strength.’

Manuscript copy of Sanditon, in Cassandra Austen’s hand

At some point after Jane’s death, her sister Cassandra made a fair copy of the first chapters of Sanditon, written out in these three green booklets. We know from a watermark on the paper that this copy was made after 1831. Jane’s original manuscript is held at King’s College, Cambridge.