September 28 1814: Jane Austen and Walter Scott

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On September 28 1814, Jane Austen writes to her niece to  Anna Austen Lefroy. Jane has heard about Walter Scott’s publication of his first novel “Waverley”. She writes in mock anger: “Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of the mouths of other people. I do not like him, and do not mean to like “Waverley” if I can help it, but fear I must.” In turn, Walter Scott was a great admirer of Jane Austen’s novels. Scott wrote on March 26 1826 in his journal:

Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of “Pride and Prejudice”. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!

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Chawton: Wednesday (Sept. 28).

MY DEAR ANNA, I hope you do not depend on having your book again immediately. I kept it that your grandmama may hear it, for it has not been possible yet to have any public reading. I have read it to your Aunt Cassandra, however, in our own room at night, while we undressed, and with a great deal of pleasure. We like the first chapter extremely, with only a little doubt whether Lady Helena is not almost too foolish. The matrimonial dialogue is very good certainly. I like Susan as well as ever, and begin now not to care at all about Cecilia; she may stay at Easton Court as long as she likes. Henry Mellish will be, I am afraid, too much in the common novel style — a handsome, amiable, unexceptionable young man (such as do not much abound in real life), desperately in love and all in vain. But I have no business to judge him so early. Jane Egerton is a very natural comprehendable girl, and the whole of her acquaintance with Susan and Susan’s letter to Cecilia are very pleasing and quite in character. But Miss Egerton does not entirely satisfy us. She is too formal and solemn, we think, in her advice to her brother not to fall in love; and it is hardly like a sensible woman — it is putting it into his head. We should like a few hints from her better. We feel really obliged to you for introducing a Lady Kenrick; it will remove the greatest fault in the work, and I give you credit for considerable forbearance as an author in adopting so much of our opinion.

I expect high fun about Mrs. Fisher and Sir Thomas. You have been perfectly right in telling Ben Lefroy of your work, and I am very glad to hear how much he likes it. His encouragement and approbation must be “quite beyond everything.”[1] I do not at all wonder at his not expecting to like anybody so well as Cecilia at first, but I shall be surprised if he does not become a Susan-ite in time. Devereux Forester’s being ruined by his vanity is extremely good, but I wish you would not let him plunge into a “vortex of dissipation.” I do not object to the thing, but I cannot bear the expression; it is such thorough novel slang, and so old that I daresay Adam met with it in the first novel he opened. Indeed, I did very much like to know Ben’s opinion. I hope he will continue to be pleased with it, and I think he must, but I cannot flatter him with there being much incident. We have no great right to wonder at his not valuing the name of Progillian. That is a source of delight which even he can hardly be quite competent to.

Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of the mouths of other people.

I do not like him, and do not mean to like “Waverley” if I can help it, but fear I must.

I am quite determined, however, not to be pleased with Mrs. West’s “Alicia De Lacy,” should I ever meet with it, which I hope I shall not. I think I can be stout against anything written by Mrs. West. I have made up my mind to like no novels really but Miss Edgeworth’s, yours, and my own.

What can you do with Egerton to increase the interest for him? I wish you could contrive something, some family occurrence to bring out his good qualities more. Some distress among brothers and sisters to relieve by the sale of his curacy! Something to carry him mysteriously away, and then be heard of at York or Edinburgh in an old great coat. I would not seriously recommend anything improbable, but if you could invent something spirited for him it would have a good effect. He might lend all his money to Captain Morris, but then he would be a great fool if he did. Cannot the Morrises quarrel and he reconcile them? Excuse the liberty I take in these suggestions.

Your Aunt Frank’s nursemaid has just given her warning, but whether she is worth your having, or would take your place, I know not. She was Mrs. Webb’s maid before she went to the Great House. She leaves your aunt because she cannot agree with the other servants. She is in love with the man and her head seems rather turned. He returns her affection, but she fancies every one else is wanting him and envying her. Her previous service must have fitted her for such a place as yours, and she is very active and cleanly. The Webbs are really gone! When I saw the waggons at the door, and thought of all the trouble they must have in moving, I began to reproach myself for not having liked them better, but since the waggons have disappeared my conscience has been closed again, and I am excessively glad they are gone.

I am very fond of Sherlock’s sermons and prefer them to almost any.

Your affectionate Aunt, J. AUSTEN.

If you wish me to speak to the maid, let me know.

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