Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, discussing their brother Edward's china from Wedgwood's, music lessons, the children's dentistry, and Mrs. Tilson's child-bearing among other intimate affairs, 4 pp, 4to (229 x 134 mm), bifolium, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813], Henrietta St, endorsed [by Cassandra?] Henrietta St. Autumn. of 1813," on laid paper watermarked 1810 (Heawood, nos 2752-62), window-mounted, closed tear to lower margin of fold, traces of red wax above address, and black wafer below.
Provenance: bequeathed by Cassandra Austen to Fanny, Lady Knatchbull; by descent to Lord Brabourne, 1882; sold Sotheby's, London, his sale, May 14, 1891, lot 1101; sold Anderson Gallery, The Collection of Louis J. Haber, Part III, New York, December 9, 1909, lot 30; Cleveland H. Dodge; by descent.
A FINE AND LENGTHY AUSTEN LETTER VIVIDLY PORTRAYING HER WORLD AND ECHOING THAT OF HER MAJOR WORKS. Written in the same year as the publication of Pride and Prejudice, this charming Austen letter covers a wide swath of territory, from gowns, and lace, shopping, to Edward's Wedgwood china (still in the Austen family), music lessons, and a trip to the dentist for her niece Marianne.
She opens with a report on her mother's health ("no longer in need of leeches"), and proceeds to discuss a gown for Cassandra from Grafton House. She continues with a note on letter-writing, including the wonderfully Austenian line, "We are now all four of us young Ladies sitting round the Circular Table in the inner room writing our Letters, while the two Brothers are having a comfortable coze in the room adjoining...." Notably, her use of "coze" predates the word's first recorded appearance in print, in her own Mansfield Park the following year.
She mentions a visit to Mrs. T, who is Fanny Tilson, the wife of Henry Austen's business partner, James Tilson, who gave birth to at least 11 children between 1798 and 1813. Austen writes, "Mrs. T. was as affectionate & pleasing as ever; & from her appearance I suspect her to be in the family way. Poor Woman! — Fanny prophecies the Child's coming within 3 or 4 days." Continuing she writes of buying Irish [linen], silk and cotton stockings at Newton's and Remmington's.
Next, she offers a full and lively description of her nieces trip to the dentist, very reminiscent of Harriet in Emma, "The poor Girls & their Teeth! ... we were a whole hour at Spence's, & Lizzy's were filed & lamented over again & poor Marianne had two taken out after all ... we heard each of the two sharp hasty screams,—Fanny's teeth were cleaned too—& pretty as they are, Spence found something to do to them, putting in gold & talking gravely ... but I think he must be a Lover of Teeth & Money & Mischief to parade about Fannys. I would not have had him look at mine for a shilling a tooth & double it."
Leaving the dentist they proceed to Wedgwoods where Edward and Fanny choose a Dinner set: "I believe the pattern is a small Lozenge in purple, between Lines of narrow Gold;—& it is to have the crest." She concludes the letter with a quick discussion of music lessons, specifying that since there "was no 2d set of Hook's Lessons for beginners—& that by my advice, she has therefore chosen her a set by another Composer."
This wonderful and lengthy letter is written at the height of Austen's literary powers, following the publication of Pride and Prejudice in 1813. While she produced manuscripts as early as 1796, it was not until the family moved to Chawton in 1809 that she was able to refocus her efforts on writing and publishing. Beginning with Sense and Sensibility in 1811, she continued to finish 6 remarkable novels before her untimely death in 1817. While 2 of these were published posthumously, these novels make up one of the finest literary outputs in the history of English letters.
Letters of Jane Austen are rare in the marketplace, largely because the bulk of them were destroyed by Cassandra in the 1840s, and by other family members, likely to protect her family and the image of good Aunt Jane (though to be fair, destroying letters was part of the custom of the time). Of an estimated 3000 letters she wrote, approximately 161 survive, primarily in institutions; of those approximately 95 are to Cassandra, her most frequent and intimate correspondent. The letter throughout is full of lively detail, wit and charm, vividly echoing the world she deftly portrayed in her novels. Le Faye Jane Austen's Letters 88.