Born 13 February 1765 died 13 December 1819 (Age 54)
James Austen was the eldest of Jane Austen’s brother and the eldest sibling. Jane looked up to him as he loved to read and was a fellow writer. Although Jane was known as the writer in the family, James was the first to have his magazine The Loiterer published, and also his written papers and poems.
He followed his father into the church and became a clergyman, living in and around Hampshire for the duration of his life. He died almost two years after Jane of a similar complaint in his childhood home of Steventon Rectory and is buried in his childhood church, St Nicholas, Steventon.
Here are ten interesting things that you may not know about James Austen.
1. He was the first Austen child
Born at Deane Rectory on 13 January 1765, James Austen was the first born son of Reverend George and Cassandra Austen. He was christened on 17 March at Deane Church with his Godparents, Francis Austen (his father’s uncle) and Jane Leigh (his grandmother) in attendance.
James was the eldest brother to George, Edward, Henry, Cassandra, Francis, Jane and Charles, and the first of three boys born at Deane. He was 10 years old when Jane was born. James was his mother’s favourite and in a letter to her sister-in-law she described him as a sweet and gentle child.
2. James was quite the athlete
All the Austen boys liked to ride and hunt and James was no exception. He would often take his horse and visit his friends in the villages close by, including those who lived at The Vyne. He even rode out with the Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent) in Kempshott Park near Basingstoke. James was athletic and liked to play sport, and often enjoyed a game a cricket with his brothers and later with his son, Edward.
3. He was a clever man
Jane described her brother as ‘so good & clever a Man’ and his influence on Jane must have been great as he excelled at writing and poetry. He was an intellect like his father, and at the age of fourteen was sent to study at Oxford University followed by St John’s. As well as studing, he loved reading the classics and enjoyed writing poetry.
4. James had writing talent
Although Jane was known as the writer in the family, James was the first to achieve success and published various papers and poems. He also founded a magazine with Henry called The Loiterer, a comical weekly paper for Oxford students that ran from 1789-90. In issue No.9, it is thought that Jane penned a letter objecting to the lack of a female perspective in the articles published, and signed it Sophia Sentiment.
When James was in his twenties and the rest of the family were living at Steventon, James wrote various plays that were performed by the Austen children and family friends. These amateur theatricals were said to have inspired those Jane wrote about in her novel Mansfield Park.
James best poems he wrote were for his children. He wrote two well-known poems for Edward about the death of his first pony and the Lime Tree planted at Steventon Rectory. Two poems were for Caroline about her cat, Tyger’s Letter to Caroline and Address to Tyger, who stole a steak chop from the table!
5. Although a man of the cloth, he took a Grand Tour
At 21 years old, James embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe, visiting Spain, Holland, and his relatives in France. He arrived in France to visit to his cousin Eliza only to discover that she had already left the country and was in fact at his home at Steventon!
6. He took Holy Orders
James followed his father and became a clergyman. He was ordained at St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire, which led to a position as curate to the surrounding villages including Stoke Charity.
James took over the livings for Deane and Steventon from his father when he retired, and moved back to live at Steventon Rectory. In 1805 when his father died, James was the first to offer his mother and sisters £50 to help with their living costs.
7. His first wife was a Spinster
General Edward Mathew lived at the Old Manor House at Laverstock. He was considered a bit of a tyrant and is thought to be the inspiration for General Tilney in Jane’s novel Northanger Abbey. His daughter Anne was considered a spinster at age 30, though was rather elegant which appealed to James who asked for her hand in marriage.
James and Anne were married by his father in 1792. A year later on 15 April Jane’s fondest niece Anna was born and was christened Jane Anna Elizabeth. The family lived at the Court House in Overton before moving to the parsonage at Deane.
On 3 May 1795, Anne took ill and died a few hours later of what doctors described as a liver complaint. Her two year old daughter Anna was so stricken, she was sent to live with her grandmother and aunts at Steventon for the next few years.
8. James married Jane’s childhood friend Mary Lloyd
By 1796, James was dancing at a Ball at Ashe with his sister Jane and looking for a second wife. He firstly proposed to his cousin Eliza who was widow and unsure whether to accept. She later chose to marry his brother Henry in December of that same year.
James then proposed to a family friend Mary Lloyd, the sister of Jane’s devoted childhood friend Martha. They wed on 17 January 1797. James then took his daughter Anna back to live back with him at Deane until the family moved to Steventon Rectory in 1801.
It was said to be a strained marriage, where Mary was jealous of Anne and often ignored her step-daughter Anna. She also complained about James visiting his mother so often which Jane wrote about in her letters. Despite this, James and Mary had two children together. James Edward (who was Jane’s fondest nephew) was born in 1798 and Caroline Mary Craven was born in 1805.
9. After Jane’s death he wrote a Poem for his sister Jane
The Austen siblings were shocked and saddened by Jane’s early death. James was too ill to attend her funeral, suffering himself with symptoms similar to his sister Jane. James wrote a poem for Jane after her death.
In her, rare union, were combined
A fair form & fairer mind;
Hers, Fancy quick & clear good sense
And wit which never gave offence;
A Heart as warm as ever beat,
A Temper, even, calm & sweet:
And to one line she ever wrote
Which dying she would wish to blot;
But to her family alone
Her real, genuine worth was known.
10. Like Jane, James also died an early death
James lived out his days at Steventon Rectory. He had often suffered with ill health with similar symptoms to Jane, and almost two years after her death, he died on 13 December 1819 age 54. He was buried five days later at St Nicholas Church in Steventon alongside his first wife Anne.
Mrs Austen was 80 years old when James died, and she often remember her fondest son who excelled at Classical Knowledge, Literary Taste, and the power of Elegant Composition.
James Austen book of Poetry
James Austen Wikipedia
Jane Austen’s Prayers she wrote for her family
Attend a Service at St Nicholas Church, Steventon St Nicholas Church Services