• Deborah Yaffe

On this day in 1814. . .

Sixty-sixth in an occasional series of excerpts from Jane Austen’s letters.


We’ve all got those relatives – the ones we know about but have never met, or have perhaps been avoiding. Apparently, Jane Austen had them too, judging from the letter she began writing to her sister, Cassandra, exactly 207 years ago today (#105 in Deirdre Le Faye’s standard edition of Austen’s correspondence).


Jane was in London, visiting the fourth Austen brother, Henry, who had spent the day at the Henrietta Street office of the bank in which he was a partner. “Henry was not quite ready when I reached Hen[riett]a St—I saw Mr Hampson there for a moment,” Jane wrote to Cassandra. “He dines here tomorrow & proposed bringing his son; so I must submit to seeing George Hampson, though I had hoped to go through Life without it.—It was one of my vanities, like your not reading Patronage.”


The “Mr. Hampson” to whom Austen refers was Thomas Philip Hampson, the Austen siblings’ second cousin, a descendant of their paternal grandmother’s brother. (He was actually Sir Thomas, a baronet, but he “held republican views and therefore did not like to be known” by his title, Le Faye explains in her biographical index.) George Hampson was his son, who eventually inherited the baronetcy but apparently not the parental scruples.


Presumably, Jane Austen was joking about her dedication to never meeting poor George, then in his mid-twenties, although one can't be sure; perhaps, to paraphrase Colonel Fitzwilliam in Pride and Prejudice, there were some very strong objections – now lost in the mists of time -- against the gentleman. Meanwhile, I guess we’ll never know whether Cassandra eventually read Maria Edgeworth’s novel Patronage.

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