The Winchester Verses

In May 1817, when it became apparent that Jane’s health was not improving, she and Cassandra left Chawton and took lodgings in Winchester to be closer to her doctor, Mr Lyford, who worked at the County Hospital.

I am going to Winchester instead, for some weeks to see what Mr Lyford can do farther towards re-establishing me in tolerable health.
Jane Austen to Anne Sharp, Thursday 22 May 1817

During this time, Jane received support and kind words from friends and family. In her final letters she expresses gratitude for the attentions of her mother, her brothers, and especially her sister. Cassandra was devoted to her wellbeing, and Jane’s final letters are full of praise for her steadfast care and attention.

And as for my Sister!Words must fail me in any attempt to describe what a Nurse she has been to me. Thank God! she does not seem the worse for it yet
Jane Austen to Anne Sharp, Thursday 22 May 1817

Tragically, Jane’s health did not improve and she died on 18 July, just a few weeks later.

It seems that even in these final days, Jane’s mind remained as sharp and brilliant as ever. Just days before her death, she dictated the poem shown in the case below, which Cassandra transcribed for her. Known as The Winchester Verses, it is titled Written at Winchester on Tuesday the 15th July 1817.

The topic of the poem is the Winchester Races, a popular local race day, which in 1817 fell on 15 July. This was also St Swithin’s Day, dedicated to the 9th century bishop and patron saint of Winchester. The tradition goes that if it rains on St Swithin’s Day, it will continue to rain for 40 days and nights. Jane’s Winchester Verses imagines St Swithin angered by the revelry of the races and punishing them with a month of rain on Ventra, which comes from the Roman name for Winchester, Venta Belgarum.

Ye cannot but know my command o’er July
Henceforward I’ll triumph in shewing my powers
Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry
The curse upon Ventra is July in showers.