My Dear Cassandra..
A Year of Cassandra spring exhibition opens at the Jane Austen House Museum on 22 March and will run until 29 October 2023.
At the forefront of the exhibition is a letter written by Jane.
I bought some Japan ink likewise, and next week shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend..Jane Austen letter to Cassandra Austen, 27-28 October 1798
The letter is dated 27-28 October 1798 and it is one of the earliest that Jane wrote of the 160 or so letters that have survived. Many of Jane’s letters to her sister were destroyed by Cassandra shortly before her own death, making surviving examples rare.
Prof Kathryn Sutherland, a trustee of Jane Austen’s House, said it would be a ‘bright jewel’ in the museum’s collection.
Jane wrote the letter from the Rectory at Steventon to Cassandra who was staying with their brother Edward at Godmersham Park, Kent.
It is full of Jane’s usual wit about their family and friends, as well as domestic news. Jane had just returned from a journey to Staines where her travel trunk was almost lost when put on a carriage going elsewhere.
In this letter she talks about Nanny, and how she let her do her unpacking for her. Jane talks about bad weather and how the grapes could be spoiled, the gloves she purchased for Cassandra. All mixed with updates throughout about their mother’s heath which was a constant concern – although she lived to be 88 years old!
Almost everything was unpacked and put away last night. Nanny chose to do it, and I was not sorry to be busy. I have unpacked the gloves, and placed yours in your drawer. Their color is light and pretty, and I believe exactly what we fixed on.Jane Austen letter to Cassandra Austen, 27-28 October 1798
Jane was a much loved aunt and ends the letter with, ‘Pray give Fanny and Edward a kiss from me, and ask George if he has got a new song for me’. She was no doubt missing them dearly.
You can read the letter in full below.
Cassandra Austen (1773 – 1845) continued to live at Chawton Cottage after Jane’s death and is buried in St Nicholas Church, Chawton alongside her mother.
After Cassandra’s death, the letter was bequeathed to their fondest niece Fanny who was Edward’s eldest child. She later became Lady Knatchbull upon her marriage. She in turn bequeathed to her son, Lord Brabourne in 1882, who published it in the Letters of Jane Austen.
The letter comes to Jane Austen’s House Museum through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by the Arts Council and Cheffins Auctioneers in Cambridge. A Cambridge resident acquired the letter in 2000, and after their death, the family wanted the letter to go to Jane Austen’s House.
A Year of Cassandra Exhibition
A Year of Cassandra spring exhibition at the Jane Austen House Museum opens on 22 March and will run until 29 October 2023. It is free with your House Entry Ticket. There is also an online series of events.
Book your ticket for the exhibition at Jane Austen House Museum
Join a unique online guided tour of Jane Austen’s House featuring Jane’s sister Cassandra ‘virtually’ on 1 May 2023: Buy Ticket Here
Find out more about A Year of Cassandra events and others at our Events Page
Full Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen
Godmersham Park, Faversham, Kent.
Steventon, Saturday (October 27).
My dear Cassandra,—Your letter was a most agreeable surprise to me to-day, and I have taken a long sheet of paper to show my gratitude.
We arrived here yesterday between four and five, but I cannot send you quite so triumphant an account of our last day’s journey as of the first and second. Soon after I had finished my letter from Staines, my mother began to suffer from the exercise or fatigue of travelling, and she was a good deal indisposed. She had not a very good night at Staines, but bore her journey better than I had expected, and at Basingstoke, where we stopped more than half an hour, received much comfort from a mess of broth and the sight of Mr. Lyford, who recommended her to take twelve drops of laudanum when she went to bed as a composer, which she accordingly did.
James called on us just as we were going to tea, and my mother was well enough to talk very cheerfully to him before she went to bed. James seems to have taken to his old trick of coming to Steventon in spite of Mary’s reproaches, for he was here before breakfast and is now paying us a second visit. They were to have dined here to-day, but the weather is too bad. I have had the pleasure of hearing that Martha is with them. James fetched her from Ibthorp on Thursday, and she will stay with them till she removes to Kintbury.
We met with no adventures at all in our journey yesterday, except that our trunk had once nearly slipped off, and we were obliged to stop at Hartley to have our wheels greased.
Whilst my mother and Mr. Lyford were together I went to Mrs. Ryder’s and bought what I intended to buy, but not in much perfection. There were no narrow braces for children, and scarcely any notting silk; but Miss Wood, as usual, is going to town very soon, and will lay in a fresh stock. I gave 2s. 3d. a yard for my flannel, and I fancy it is not very good, but it is so disgraceful and contemptible an article in itself that its being comparatively good or bad is of little importance. I bought some Japan ink likewise, and next week shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend.
I am very grand indeed; I had the dignity of dropping out my mother’s laudanum last night. I carry about the keys of the wine and closet, and twice since I began this letter have had orders to give in the kitchen. Our dinner was very good yesterday, and the chicken boiled perfectly tender; therefore I shall not be obliged to dismiss Nanny on that account.
Almost everything was unpacked and put away last night. Nanny chose to do it, and I was not sorry to be busy. I have unpacked the gloves, and placed yours in your drawer. Their color is light and pretty, and I believe exactly what we fixed on.
Your letter was chaperoned here by one from Mrs. Cooke, in which she says that “Battleridge” is not to come out before January, and she is so little satisfied with Cawthorn’s dilatoriness that she never means to employ him again.
Mrs. Hall, of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.
There has been a great deal of rain here for this last fortnight, much more than in Kent, and indeed we found the roads all the way from Staines most disgracefully dirty. Steventon lane has its full share of it, and I don’t know when I shall be able to get to Deane.
I hear that Martha is in better looks and spirits than she has enjoyed for a long time, and I flatter myself she will now be able to jest openly about Mr. W.
The spectacles which Molly found are my mother’s, the scissors my father’s. We are very glad to hear such a good account of your patients, little and great. My dear itty Dordy’s remembrance of me is very pleasing to me,—foolishly pleasing, because I know it will be over so soon. My attachment to him will be more durable. I shall think with tenderness and delight on his beautiful and smiling countenance and interesting manner until a few years have turned him into an ungovernable, ungracious fellow.
The books from Winton are all unpacked and put away; the binding has compressed them most conveniently, and there is now very good room in the bookcase for all that we wish to have there. I believe the servants were very glad to see us Nanny was, I am sure. She confesses that it was very dull, and yet she had her child with her till last Sunday. I understand that there are some grapes left, but I believe not many; they must be gathered as soon as possible, or this rain will entirely rot them.
I am quite angry with myself for not writing closer; why is my alphabet so much more sprawly than yours? Dame Tilbury’s daughter has lain in. Shall I give her any of your baby clothes? The laceman was here only a few days ago. How unfortunate for both of us that he came so soon! Dame Bushell washes for us only one week more, as Sukey has got a place. John Steevens’ wife undertakes our purification. She does not look as if anything she touched would ever be clean, but who knows? We do not seem likely to have any other maidservant at present, but Dame Staples will supply the place of one. Mary has hired a young girl from Ashe who has never been out to service to be her scrub, but James fears her not being strong enough for the place.
Earle Harwood has been to Deane lately, as I think Mary wrote us word, and his family then told him that they would receive his wife, if she continued to behave well for another year. He was very grateful, as well he might; their behavior throughout the whole affair has been particularly kind. Earle and his wife live in the most private manner imaginable at Portsmouth, without keeping a servant of any kind. What a prodigious innate love of virtue she must have, to marry under such circumstances!
It is now Saturday evening, but I wrote the chief of this in the morning. My mother has not been down at all to-day; the laudanum made her sleep a good deal, and upon the whole I think she is better. My father and I dined by ourselves. How strange! He and John Bond are now very happy together, for I have just heard the heavy step of the latter along the passage.
James Digweed called to-day, and I gave him his brother’s deputation. Charles Harwood, too, has just called to ask how we are, in his way from Dummer, whither he has been conveying Miss Garrett, who is going to return to her former residence in Kent. I will leave off, or I shall not have room to add a word to-morrow.
Sunday.—My mother has had a very good night, and feels much better to-day.
I have received my aunt’s letter, and thank you for your scrap. I will write to Charles soon. Pray give Fanny and Edward a kiss from me, and ask George if he has got a new song for me. ‘Tis really very kind of my aunt to ask us to Bath again; a kindness that deserves a better return than to profit by it.
Yours ever, J. A.