Jane Austen through the eyes of Mary-Augusta Austen-Leigh

I’m re-reading the memoir of her father James-Edward Austen-Leigh, in which Mary-Augusta of course writes of his beloved Aunt Jane. I thought to share what she — who never knew Jane Austen, or Jane’s mother Mrs George Austen — wrote about their latter days at Chawton:

Memoir of James Edward Austen Leigh
published for private circulation in 1911, pp. 12-14

The cottage at Chawton still stands to testify that the constant hospitality of the owner, Mrs. George Austen, had to be shown within modest limits. Her income was modest also. A letter from her to her sister-in-law, Mrs. Leigh-Perrot, is extant, thanking the recipient for making some addition to her means, and explaining how the total of £500 a year was made up. Three-quarters of this sum came from three or four of her sons, and two of these, Henry and Frank, had not of late been in a position to contribute anything, as the first had failed in business and the second had now to support an increasing family. Mrs. Leigh-Perrot’s help was, therefore, very welcome, though Mrs. Austen is careful to add that her son, Mr. Knight, ‘is most kind and liberal; he allows me £200 a year, gives me my house rent, supplies me plentifully with wood and makes me many kind presents, and often asks Cassandra if she is sure I have enough, as if I have not he would most willingly give me more; but that I should be sorry to apply for, well knowing that, though his income is large, his family is large also.’ It was certainly not at Chawton and Godmersham that Jane observed the spirit in which the John Dashwoods acted towards their relations. In the Austen family, whether rich or poor, the contest generally seems to have been who should give up the most to the other, and her eldest son, James, who allowed his widowed mother £50 a year during his lifetime, probably made a larger proportional contribution from his income as a country clergyman than his richer brother, Edward Knight, contributed from his.

But, generous though they were, the sum total was not large for three ladies to live upon, and as Jane Austen was never, in her own home, accustomed to affluence, doubtless the sums received for her books, small though they seem to us, were a very welcome addition to somewhat narrow means. This was the little house and household in which Edward Austen had always been so welcome a guest, but now its brightest light was extinguished, and on July 24, 1817, he attended Jane Austen’s funeral in Winchester Cathedral, to represent the head of the family, his own father, the latter being too unwell to attend in person.

[And here’s wishes for Janeite Deb’s speedy recovery. Enjoying the Bowen books???]

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