Letter no. 3 ~ “Scene of Dissipation & Vice”

Letter No. 3. 

  • August 23, 1796
  • Jane (in Cork Street, London) to Cassandra (Steventon? not noted)
  • Boston Public Library (since 1966)

There has been a gap of seven months since Letter no. 2 (of January 1796), but Letter 3 finds Jane in London, likely staying at at the home of Benjamin Langlois in Cork Street (see below) and she hurriedly pens a quick letter to Cassandra.  She begins with her oft-quoted

Here I am once more in this Scene of Dissipation & vice, and I begin already to find my Morals corrupted.


and “hoping you are all alive after our melancholy parting.”  She reports on the trip in a Chaise and “without suffering so much from the heat as I had hoped to do.”  She has traveled with her brothers Edward and Frank and “they are both gone out to seek their fortunes; the latter is to return soon & help us to seek ours.  The Former we shall never see again.”

They are off to “Astley’s” to night” [ Astley’s Amphitheatre near Westminster Bridge, an equestrian circus open from Easter through November or so]  See Emma chapters 54 and 55 for references to Astley’s.

Then a reference to Henry driving his then fiance Miss [Mary] Pearson to Rowling, where Jane is headed on Thursday, so her visit to London is a short one [Rowling is in Kent, and the home of the Bridges family; Jane’s brother Edward married Elizabeth Bridges]; and Austen signs off with hopes that Cassandra “pursued your intended avocation with Success.-” not sure what this refers to…will see if mention is made in a subsequent letter.

 An interesting note about this letter is in the viewing of it in Modert’s compilation of facsimiles; one finds Austen’s writing  much larger and sprawling than most of her other letters…. she perhaps had no concerns here about the costs of posting, or wrote it very quickly and just wanted to send it off without thinking of adding more the next day, as she often did…


 One of my great finds at the AGM was this book titled Jane Austen Visits London by Vera Quin.  Ms. Quin was one of the presenters, giving a delightful talk on Austen’s Landscape.  In this book, just published in 2008 by Cappella Archive, Quin takes us through Austen’s letters from London, numbering thirty out of the 160 or so extant letters.  So I will return to this book again and again as I read the letters.  But here I am interested in what she says about this letter and Austen’s stay at Cork Street.  Quin takes us along the street to identify what was there during Austen’s time…and the house she likely stayed in was that of Benjamin Langlois, an MP and Under-Secretary, and a bachelor who lived alone in this small house at 18 Cork Street, but more importantly the Uncle to Tom Lefroy, the subject of Jane’s previous two letters, and this home is where Tom stayed when he was in London.  Ms. Quin references the theory, albeit she adds with no evidence, that Jane stayed here with perhaps the intention of seeing Tom and seeking his Uncle’s approval for a possible engagement… (p. 9)

…but that not forthcoming, Quin continues with her thoughts that Jane would have walked the streets of the surrounding squares and perhaps put her imagination to work…this is where you find Mrs. Ferrars, Mrs. Jennings and her daughters, John and Fanny Dashwood, all of S&S and the Hursts of P&P. (p. 10)  Austen’s later trips to London found her at her brother Henry’s.  All speculation aside, it is an interesting question as to why Jane spent these two days at this house, noted as being too small to house guests comfortably…is there any more thought or research on this?  I know that Joan Ray’s article on Austen and Lefroy makes it clear that Tom would not have been there at this time because his classes were not in session.  And I agree wth Ray that there is no reason to link the comment about her “morals being corrupted” with Lefroy being there… this is just Austen making fun of the prevailing take on London as a place of lose morals….

Further reading: there is no beginning with links to Regency London; I collect books on London and am well-aware that it is a lifetime commitment!  Here are just a few of the good sources out there.  I will refer to more of them as I come upon other Austen letters sent from London.

  • Wikipedia on Philip Astley
  • Ray, Joan Klingel.  “The One-Sided Romance of  Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy” Persuasions Online, vol.28, no. 1 (Winter 2007)
  • There are a number of good books on London at this time, notably Liza Picard’s Dr. Johnson’s London [St. Martins Press, 2000] with its tantalizing sub-title:  “coffee-houses and climbing boys, medicine, toothpaste and gin, poverty and press-gangs, freakshows and female education.”
  • Also Roy Porter, London: A Social History [Penguin, 1996] and Stella Margetson Regency London [Cassell / Praeger, 1971]; and Peter Thorold, The London Rich, the Creation of a Great City, from 1699 to the Present [ St Martin’s, 2000]
  • and there is an excellent collection of essays on Jane Austen in London at the JASA website, which covers a number of topics on life in London during the Regency.
  • Regency London Tour at Sara Freeze’s Romancing the Regency page.

3 thoughts on “Letter no. 3 ~ “Scene of Dissipation & Vice”

  1. I’ve just enjoyed ‘London in the Nineteenth Century’ (Vintage) by Jerry White and one out of print that is written as if by a contemporary is An Illustrated Guide to London by Mary Cathcart Borer.


  2. Hello Jane,

    Thanks for those references… as I said, there is an unending supply out there! I have had the Borer book on my “to buy immediately” list for some time, so I appreciate the reminder!


  3. Pingback: In My Mailbox ~ « Jane Austen in Vermont

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