A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter IX." by Constance Hill
From: Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends (John Lane The Bodley Head, 1923) by Constance Hill.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 91] 

CHAPTER IX

LEAVING STEVENTON

"Still to ourselves in every place consign'd,
Our own felecity we make or find."
        

TOWARDS the end of the year 1800 the Rev. George Austen decided to hand over the care of the Steventon living to his son James, and to retire with his family to Bath. This resolution seems to have been taken partly on account of his own health and partly on account of that of his wife. It caused much sorrow to his daughters, who were warmly attached to their home. "Coming in one day from a walk, as they entered the room their mother greeted them with the intelligence, 'Well, girls, it is all settled. We have decided to leave Steventon and to go to Bath.' To Jane, who had been from home and who had not heard much before about the matter, it was such a shock that she fainted away . . . . She loved the country, and her delight in natural scenery was such that she would [Page 92]  sometimes say it must form one of the delights of heaven."[1]

But Jane's ready conformableness to the wishes of others, together with her true philosophy, which made her dwell upon the good rather than the evil of life, enabled her to face the new scheme bravely, and we soon find her busy with all the multifarious preparations for the great move.

Before following the family to Bath, we must allude to a bereavement which befell them in the sudden death of a gentleman to whom Cassandra was engaged to be married. A member of the Austen family has left, in manuscript, the following account of the circumstances.

"Among the pupils at Steventon was a certain Thomas Craven Fowle . . . . Between him and Cassandra Austen an attachment grew up which ended in an engagement. He must have been several years her senior, as he was a pupil at Steventon as early as 1779, when she was only six years old . . . . Thomas Fowle took Holy Orders, and as his friend and cousin Lord Craven was the patron of several livings early preferment was hoped for. Thomas Fowle went out to the West Indies with Lord Craven as chaplain to his regiment, and there died from the effects of the climate. I suppose his cousin had obtained the chaplaincy for him, for he said afterwards, in [Page 93]  speaking of his death, that if he had known of the engagement he would not have allowed him to run such a risk. I cannot find the date of Thomas Fowle's decease, nor learn how many years the engagement had lasted when it came to so unhappy an end. With it, so far as we know, ended the romance of Aunt Cassandra's life."

Rytorn in Shropshire is mentioned as the living probably intended for Mr. Fowle. There is an allusion in one of Mrs. Austen's letters, written in 1796, to Cassindra's staying in Shropshire, and its seeming likely that she will soon be settled there permanently; and Jane, in writing to her sister on one occasion, remarks that a friend of theirs supposes her to be busy making her wedding clothes. Had not many of Jane's letters been destroyed after her death we should doubtless have found references to this "domestic tragedy." Her tender sympathy with her beloved sister, however, can easily be imagined.

Jane took an active part in all the business relating to the removal from Steventon. Among other matters the faithful John Bond had to be provided with a good place. She writes to her sister, then at Godmersham, of her satisfaction when this had been accomplished. There were also many farewell visits to pay upon friends both rich and poor. The frequent mention in the "Letters" of their [Page 94]  poorer neighbours shows how much they were cared for by Cassandra and Jane,

Mrs. Austen's only brother, Mr. Leigh-Perrot, and his wife, used to spend a large part of every year at Bath. This brother had assumed the name of Perrot upon inheriting a small estate at Northleigh in Oxfordshire. The Leigh-Perrots' house was in Paragon, and there Mrs. Austen and Jane were invited to stay upon their arrival in Bath, it having been arranged that these two should precede the others, as Mr. Austen had business to detain him in Hampshire, and Cassandra was at that time visiting her brother Edward in Kent.

On the 4th of May, 1801 the move was made. We can fancy Mrs. Austen and Jane in their post-chaise, taking a last glance at the parsonage, amidst its cowslip-decked meadows and its tall branching elms and sycamores, and then driving through the village and along the familiar lanes till, by the "Deane Gate," they entered the great western road which was to lead them far from their country life to Bath and the "busy hum of men."

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Footnotes



[Page 92]
1 Family MSS.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Celebration of Women Writers.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom