Chawton House Library ~ Becoming a Subscriber, Just Like Jane Austen

When Jane Austen sold the copyright of her Pride and Prejudice outright to her publisher Thomas Egerton, she, we now know, made the biggest mistake of her life. But hindsight is a dangerous beast, and easy for us to lament this 200 years later. We could also regale Cassandra for selling all the remaining copyrights to Richard Bentley in 1832 for a meager £210 pounds (Bentley also paid the Egerton estate £40 for the P&P copyright). She must have thought it a good bargain at the time – how was she to know that her sister’s novels would continue to be read through the generations, thus granting heirs much in royalty checks.

We don’t really know why Jane Austen chose to sell the Pride & Prejudice copyright rather than publish on commission, the way she published her other works; in all likelihood she didn’t want to take the financial risk. But she really had four options to publish at the beginning of the 19-th century, as did other authors of this time:


Thomas Rowlandson’s “Dr. Syntax & Bookseller” from William Combe’s
The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1812)

  1. Profit-sharing: the publisher paid for printing and advertising costs; these expenses were repaid as books sold and any profit above those production costs was shared with the author; any loss was absorbed by the publisher. This was a popular way of publishing for unknown authors. Jan Fergus notes that if Austen had used this method for the four novels published in her lifetime, she would have made more money than she did. (Fergus, p. 16)
  2. Commission: the author was responsible for all publication expenses – paper, printing, advertising – the publisher distributed the books and took a 10% commission on all copies sold. The author took all the risk here, as if not enough copies sold to cover the costs, the author would be responsible. Austen published all her books this way, excepting her Pride and Prejudice… and from her letters we know that her brother Henry Austen was her financial backer. This seems to have been the most popular way to publish in the early 19-th century, especially for women writers. And it is interesting to note that this form of publishing is in vogue again! – just see all the number of self-published works that appear on Amazon!, this “vanity” publishing no longer less respected than publishing in the traditional way.
  3. Sale of Copyright: the author sells the copyright outright to the publisher and is no longer involved. Here the publisher takes all the risk, especially for an unknown author, but also has control over any future editions and can benefit if the book sells well. In the case of P&P, sold to Egerton for £110, Austen would have done better to have published by commission – it went into three editions, though she had no further input in making changes to the text.
  4.  Subscription: the author would solicit subscribers, who would pay in advance for the promised work and have the privilege of seeing their name in print in the list of subscribers in the work itself. This option usually only worked for well-known and successful authors, or for a work that people might want to see their name identified with. We can look at the concept of modern-day “crowd-funding” as an example of how this works.


It is this last option of publishing that holds our interest today. Jane Austen published anonymously, “By a Lady” (on Sense and Sensibility), or “By the Author of ‘Sense and Sensibility’” (on P&P) (see note below) – she was an unknown authoress and would have had difficulty finding enough willing and wealthy donors to publish by subscription. But Frances Burney, a very successful author at the time, did publish her Camilla (1796) by subscription, the only work she did this way – and this first edition is notable because among the list of 1,058 subscribers (Dow, p. 38) is the name of “Miss J. Austen, Steventon,” only one of two times that Austen’s name appeared in print during her lifetime. She likely paid a guinea for the privilege (Dow, p. 40), and just look at the list on this one page of the illustrious fellow-subscribers!


[title page of Frances Burney’s Camilla, from Harry Ransom Center]


I have thought for a number of years that this was the only place to find Austen’s name, but Gillian Dow in her article on “Jane, the Subscriber” notes that there is another such title: the non-fiction work Two Sermons by the Rev. T. Jefferson, published in 1808, and where her name is listed as “Miss Jane Austen” and her brother and sister-in-law as “Mr and Mrs Edward Austen of Godmersham.” A look at her letters finds Austen’s references to this Thomas Jefferson (1760-1829) of Tonbridge:

I have read Mr. Jefferson’s case to Edward, and he desires to have his name set down for a guinea and his wife’s for another, but does not wish for more than one copy of the work. [Letter 52. Le Faye, Letters, 4th ed. (2011), p. 132-3.]  

And later:

I have now some money to spare, & I wish to have my name put down as a subscriber to Mr. Jefferson’s works. My last Letter was closed before it occurred to me how possible, how right, & how gratifying such a measure would be.” [Letter 54, p. 138]

Thus, we see Jane Austen’s name in print again – one wonders if others might yet surface!

Becoming a Subscriber at Chawton House Library 

Chawton House Library

Chawton House Library

The point of all this is to tell you about a program at Chawton House Library, where you too can become a subscriber! An age-old way of publishing, where you can see your name in print, acquire a copy of a reprint edition of an interesting old title, and support the Chawton House Library in the bargain. Slightly more than a guinea is required of you, but not too much more (a minimum of $50)… You can read about the program and how to donate at the Chawton House Library website here:

KnightFamilyCkBk-CHL“Further to the success of our most recent subscriber publication, The Knight Family Cookbook, which thrilled Subscribers and has proven to be one of the most purchased books in our shop, we are now seeking to progress our latest publication- The Duties of a Lady’s Maid; with directions for conduct, and numerous receipts for the toilette (1825).  This facsimile edition, with a new introduction by Mary Ann O’Farrell, will be a fascinating book certain to entertain those who would welcome guidance on how to behave as maid to Lady Catherine De Bourgh – or indeed those who wish to emulate Downton Abbey’s Miss O’Brien. Originally published in 1825, it is a rather rare conduct book offering a unique insight into the lives and duties of servants, as well as the trends and tastes of the Georgian age.  Readers can learn how religion should direct a maid in her work, which character traits are essential, and how to keep family secrets.  Amusing practical instructions, such as how to dress your lady using padding and bandages to improve her figure and tips on the most advantageous way to display the forehead, are also to be enjoyed.” 

[From the CHL website]

Let’s take a peek into this book that you can own in a facsimile edition – no author is noted as you can see:
The Duties of a Lady’s Maid; with directions for conduct, and numerous receipts for the toilette (1825). 


title page



Now, I must tell you that you can find this book on Google Books, or at the Hathi Trust  – but where is the fun in that? You need this book on your shelf, not only because it is a rare book (it only seems to have been published in this one edition of 1825), but also because you will find the most indispensable information in order to continue on with your life as you know it – after all, we most of us have become our own Ladys’ Maids, haven’t we? – if for any reason you don’t find this all completely relevant (the chapters on cleaning your wardrobe definitely remain so!), then at least it will be a daily reminder of exactly how far we have come. Take a look at the Contents:



-Religion 6
-Honesty and Probity 19
-Diligence and Economy 26
-Attention 39
-Familiarity with Superiors 43
-Good Temper and Civility 50
-Confidence in Keeping Family Secrets 57
-Vanity and Dress 70
-Amusements 84
-Vulgar and Correct Speaking 98
-Change of Place 123
-Courtship 128


-Taste in the Colours of Dress 135
-Carnation 145
-Florid 146
-Fair 147
-Pale 148
-Sallow 149
-Brunette 150
-Artificial Flowers 159
-Taste in the Forms of Dress 162
-Stays and Corsets 175
-Padding, Bandaging, &c, to Improve the Figure 184
-Display of the Forehead 192
-Taste in Head Dresses 199
-Taste in Dressing the Hair 220
-Practical Directions for Hair Dressing, with Receipts. 233
-Cosmetics, &c. with. Receipts 256
-Paints, with Receipts for Rouge, Pearl White, &c 289
-Use and Abuse of Soap 306
-Dress-making and Fancy Needle-work 315
-Care of the Wardrobe, and the Method of Taking out Stains 321
-Method of Cleaning Silks and Chintz, and of Clear Starching, and Getting-up Lace and Fine Linen 324


Some excerpts to entice you:

1. In case you perhaps don’t speak the King’s English – here are some pointers on correcting your shortcomings:


The first vulgarity which I shall point out to you as prevalent among the lower orders in England, from Cumberland to Cornwall, is the practice of ending every thing they say with a question. For instance, instead of saying “the bonnet looks very smart,” an English girl will add the question, “an’t it?” or “don’t it?” If this practice of ending what is said by a question, were only employed occasionally, and when it appears necessary, it might be proper enough; but when it is repeated every time a person speaks, as you may observe is the case among the ill-educated all over England, it becomes extremely vulgar. You may thus hear a person say, “I went very quick, did’nt I?” for “I always do, don’t I?” or “Susan worked that very well, didn’t she? she is a good girl, an’t she? and I am very kind to her, an’t  I?” You must carefully avoid this vulgar practice of ending what you say with a question, if you are desirous of speaking correctly….

Still more vulgar than either of these is a certain use of the words there and here, along with that and this, as when it is said “that there house,” instead of “that house,” or “this here book,” instead of “this book.” You may, however, without impropriety say “this book here,” or “that house there’s” but never, “this here” nor “that there.” …

One of the very common vulgarities prevalent in England is a peculiarly awkward way of bringing in the name of a person at the end of a sentence, with the words “is” or “was” before it. I cannot describe this more intelligibly, except by an example; for instance, you may hear an ill educated girl say “she was very kind to me, was Mrs. Howard,” instead of correctly saying “Mrs. Howard was very kind to me.” Again, “he is a very worthy man, is Mr. Howard” instead of “Mr. Howard is a very worthy man.” I say that such expressions are not only vulgar but uncouth and awkward, and more like the blunders of a foreigner than a person speaking in her mother tongue; yet nothing is more common than this awkward vulgarity, which I expect you, will never commit after it has been now pointed out to you….

The manner in which certain words are pronounced is also a very evident mark of vulgarity. One of the most remarkable instances of this kind in England is the sounding of an r at the close of words ending in a or o, as when you say “idear” for “idea,” or “fellor” for “fellow,” or “windor” for “window,” or “yellor” for “yellow.” This is extremely difficult to be corrected when once it has become a habit; and so regularly does it follow in every word of similar ending, that you may hear persons say “Genevar” for “Geneva,” as commonly as children say “mammar” and “papar.”

[etc, etc… the Author then goes on to cover the various “Vulgarities in Scotland”…]


2. Mrs. Clay might find a solution to her unsightly freckles with these solutions, Sir Walter would be pleased to know:


CE Brock – Sir Walter Elliot (Mollands)

Freckles.—The sun produces red spots, which are known by the name of freckles. These have no apparent elevation but to the touch it may be perceived that they give a slight degree of roughness to the epidermis. These spots come upon the skin in those parts which are habitually exposed to the air. To prevent freckles, or sunburn, it is necessary to avoid walking abroad uncovered; a veil alone, or a straw hat, is sufficient for most women. There are however others whose more delicate skins require a more powerful preservative. The following is recommended by an intelligent physician:—

Take one pound of bullock’s gall, one drachma of rock alum, half an ounce of sugar candy, two drachms of borax, and one drachm of camphor. Mix them together, stir the whole for a quarter of an hour, and then let it stand. Repeat this three or four times a day, for a fortnight, that is to say, till the gall appears as clear as water. Then strain it through blotting paper, and put it away for use. Apply it when obliged to go abroad in the sunshine or into the country, taking care to wash your face at night with common water, those who have not taken the precautions mentioned above must resort to the means which art has discovered for removing these spots. The following process is recommended as one of the most efficacious for clearing a sunburnt complexion, and imparting the most beautiful tint to the skin ;—at night on going to bed, crush some strawberries upon the face, leaving them there all night and they will become, dry. Next morning wash with chervil water, and the skin will appear fresh, fair, and brilliant.

[Etc, etc – there are several other rather drastic directions…]


3.  I must say that the seven pages on “Display of the Forehead” is worth the price of admission alone! But this on making a French dressing for your hair is a must-learn:

Parisian Pomatum.—Put into a proper vessel two pounds and a half of prepared hog’s lard with two pounds of picked lavender flowers, orange flowers, jasmine, buds of sweet briar, or any other sweet scented flower, or a mixture according to your choice, and knead the whole with the hands into a paste as uniform as possible. Put this mixture into a pewter, tin, or stone pot, and cork it tight. Place the vessel in a vapour bath, and let it stand in it six hours, at the expiration of which time strain the mixture through a coarse linen cloth by means of a press. Now throw away the flowers which you have used as being useless, pour the melted lard back into the same pot, and add four pounds of fresh lavender flowers. Stir the lard and flowers together while the lard is in a liquid state, in order to mix them thoroughly, and repeat the first process. Continue to repeat this till you have used about ten pounds of flowers. [my emphasis] 

After having separated the pomatum from the refuse of the flowers, set it in a cool place to congeal, pour off the reddish brown liquor, or juice extracted from the flowers, wash the pomatum in several waters, stirring it about with a wooden spatula to separate any remaining watery particles, till the last water remains perfectly colourless. Then melt the pomatum in a vapour bath, and let it stand in it about one hour, in a vessel well corked, then leave it in the vessel to congeal. Repeat this last operation till the watery particles are entirely extracted, when the wax must be added, and the pomatum melted for the last time in a vapour bath in a vessel closely corked, and suffered to congeal as before. When properly prepared it may be filled into pots, and tie the mouths of them over with wet bladder to prevent the air from penetrating. This pomatum will be very fragrant, and form an excellent preparation for improving the gloss and luxuriance of the hair.

[I’m exhausted just thinking about it…] – You might end up looking like this, flowers and all:


[Source: ‘The Flower Garden’ – hand-coloured etched engraving published by M Darly in 1777.
See Bibliodyssey for additional such outrageous hair-dos]


So that gives you a very small inkling of what lies in store in this fascinating little book. You will find insights into the daily life and work of the many rarely seen but obviously-there-lurking-about servants in all of Austen’s novels – what was it like to be the lady’s maid to Lady Catherine or her daughter Anne – dreadful thought! Was it easier being maid to Mrs. Jennings with her overwhelming busyness, or Mrs. Bennet, despite her poor fluttering nerves? We watch Downton Abbey as much for the sometimes more interesting “below-stairs” life than anything that transpires upstairs – and indeed not much changed in servant’s lives from 1825 to the early 1900s.  Certainly Anna would have been familiar with this book or something like it.

Think about adding this to your book cover - fordyce sermonscollection of conduct books [everyone should have a collection of conduct books, starting of course with Fordyce’s Sermons, Mr. Collins’ pride and joy in Pride and Prejudice, now published with an introduction by Susan Allen Ford and also available from the Chawton House Library: you can order it here through Jane Austen Books].

Hope I have convinced you of the need to become a subscriber to Duties of a Lady’s Maid – go to – click on the appropriate link for UK or US contributions. Or think what a great gift this would be for your favorite friend in need of a conduct book of her (or his) own!

The Library will be preparing for publication soon, as the list of subscribers is growing – don’t miss out in seeing your name, or a best friend’s, in print, just like Jane Austen….

Further reading:

-“Seen But Not Heard: Servants in Jane Austen’s England” by Judith Terry in JASNA’s Persuasions (vol. 10, 1988):

-See these posts at Austenonly, where Julie talks about this book:

-this post at ‘History of the 18th and 19th Centuries’ blog on “Lady’s Maid and Her Duties”:


1. Dow, Gillian. “Jane, the Subscriber.” Jane Austen’s Regency World 68 (Mar-Apr 2014), 38-43.

2. Fergus, Jan. The Professional Woman Writer.” Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Ed. Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster. Cambridge UP, 1997. See this chapter in both editions of the Cambridge Companion, as well as her Jane Austen: A Literary Life. Macmillan, 1991.

3. The title pages of each of Austen’s works read as follows: 

  • Sense and Sensibility: “By a Lady”
  • Pride and Prejudice: “By the Author of ‘Sense and Sensibility’
  • Mansfield Park: “By the Author of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’
  • Emma: “By the Author of ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ &c, &c.”
  • Northanger Abbey and Persuasion: “By the Author of ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ‘Mansfield Park,’ &c.”
c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont

13 thoughts on “Chawton House Library ~ Becoming a Subscriber, Just Like Jane Austen

  1. For what it’s worth, I may have a few more examples of Jane’s name appearing in print during her life time:

    1. The subscriptions list for the 1795 “The Traditions”: (Austen, Miss, Steventon, near Overton).
    2. An 1806 poem dedicated to “Miss Jane Austen”: (“On her saying, that, were she dead, no one would write in her praise”!).
    3. The list of subscribers to the “Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge” in the Hampshire Chronicle, 6th September 1813. “Miss Jane Austen” is listed as having contributed 10 shillings and 6 pence.

    Great article by the way!


  2. Jane tells us the reason she sold the copyright to P&P is to save Henry the problems associated with commission publishing: “Its being sold will I hope be a great saving of Trouble to Henry, and therefore must be welcome to me…” Letter 77, Nov 1812 quoted by Paula Byrne in “The Real Jane Austen”


    • Thanks for this Jim! – I know she wrote this in her letters and was always concerned about having to rely on Henry. She makes mention of putting away some funds in the event one of the novels [I can’t remember which one] didn’t sell well, so she wouldn’t have to ask Henry yet again. She wanted to be independent and able to make a go of it on her own. It is surely the reason for selling the copyright – we just don’t know what the conversations were between her and Henry and why exactly this was the road taken, in retrospect a bad one!

      Thanks for stopping by!


  3. I couldn’t find the “Leave a reply” part on my i-phone Deb. Now I am on my house computer all is possible!!!
    Great article. I really enjoyed reading it. Your research is admirable.I sent some photographs from today. I hope you get them.


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