A Letter from Henry Austen ~ October 20-21, 1815

Henry Austen

Today in Jane Austen’s life: October 21, 1815

One of my favorite letters in the collection Jane Austen’s Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye (Oxford, 1995) is Letter No. 122 (A)(D), 21 October 1815.  This is a draft of a letter from Henry Austen to John Murray on his sister’s behalf and it gives us the rare direct glimpse into the wit of Henry Austen. Jane Austen is in Town and working on negotiations with John Murray for the publication of Emma. This is the visit of her famous meeting with the Prince Regent’s Librarian James Stanier Clarke and his request for Austen to dedicate her next work to the Regent.  The amusing correspondence between Austen and Clarke follow this letter, as well as Austen’s own letters to Murray, written directly to the publisher due to Henry’s grave illness and his inability to correspond.  These, plus her few letters to Cassandra during this time, are strong evidence of  Austen’s direct involvement and concerns in the negotiations and publication of her work – all these letters make great reading!  But today, let’s just look at Henry’s letter:

  ?Friday 20 / Saturday 21 October 1815

[A Letter to Mr. Murray which Henry dictated a few days after his Illness began, & just before the severe Relapse which threw him into such Danger. – ]

Dear Sir

Severe illness has confined me to my Bed ever since I received Yours of ye 15th – I cannot yet hold a pen, & employ an Amuensis [sic]. – The Politeness & Perspicuity of your Letter equally claim my earliest Exertion. – Your official opinion of the Merits of Emma, is very valuable & satisfactory. – Though I venture to differ occasionally from your Critique, yet I assure you the Quantum of your commendation rather exceeds than falls short of the Author’s expectation & my own. – The Terms you offer are so very inferior to what we had expected, that I am apprehensive of having made some great Error in my Arithmetical Calculation. – On the subject of the expense & profit of publishing, you must be much better informed that I am; – but Documents in my possession appear to prove that the Sum offered by you, for the Copyright of Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park & Emma, is not equal to the Money which my Sister has actually cleared by one very moderate Edition of Mansfield Park –(You Yourself expressed astonishment that so small an Edit. of such a work should have been sent into the World) & a still smaller one of Sense & Sensibility…


Such a Brother was he! – a good businessman and witty in the process! an ‘error in my Arithmetical Calculation’ indeed!

Henry’s very serious illness prompted Austen to call all her family members to his bedside, and it was not until a few weeks later that Austen herself takes on the writing of letters to Murray to complete the Emma negotiations – she writes requesting him to call on her in Hans Place because “a short conversation may perhaps do more than much Writing.”  [Ltr. 124, Nov. 3, 1815; To John Murray]

[Henry’s Draft letter in Austen’s hand is in the Bodleian Library; a facsimile is in Modert, F-361 and F-362]

4 thoughts on “A Letter from Henry Austen ~ October 20-21, 1815

  1. Pingback: Jane Austen on Her Mansfield Park | Jane Austen in Vermont

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