And so, mostly as a treat to myself, I am going to transcribe an entire letter written on this date in 1796 to her sister Cassandra. Jane Austen was twenty-one years old at the time.
I can't help feeling tremendously close to Jane Austen as I read this particular letter, and to feel also a great sympathy for the two sisters. At the time of writing Cassandra Austen was engaged to Mr Tom Fowle, and Jane Austen herself had high hopes of a proposal of marriage from Mr Tom Lefroy, the cousin of some close family friends. A few short months later Tom Fowle was dead from yellow fever, and Tom Lefroy had been packed off home to Ireland for fear of his making an imprudent match with the virtually penniless Miss Jane Austen.
Steventon Thursday January 14th
I have received yours & Mary's letter & I thank you both, tho' their contents might have been more agreeable. I do not at all expect to see you on tuesday since matters have fallen out so unpleasantly, & if you are not able to return till after that day, it will hardly be possible for us to send for you before Saturday; tho' for my own part I care so little about the Ball that it would be no sacrifice to me to give it up for the sake of seeing you two days earlier. We are extremely sorry for poor Eliza's illness - I trust however that she has continued to recover since you wrote, & that you will none of you be the worse for your attendance on her. What a good-for-nothing-fellow Charles is to be-speak the stockings - I hope he will be too hot all the rest of his life for it! - I sent you a letter yesterday to Ibthorp, which I suppose you will not receive at Kintbury. It was not very long or very witty, & therefore if you never receive it, it does not much signify. I wrote principally to tell you that the Coopers are arrived and in good health - the little boy is very like Dr Cooper & the little girl is to resemble Jane, they say. Our party to Ashe to-morrow night will consist of Edward Cooper, James (for a ball is nothing without him), Buller, who is now staying with us, & I - I look forward with great impatience to it, as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening. I shall refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white Coat.
I am very much flattered by your commendation of my last Letter, for I write only for Fame, and without any view to pecuniary Emolument. - Edward is gone to spend the day with his friend, John Lyford, & does not return till tomorrow. Anna is now here; She came up in her chaise to spend the day with her young Cousins; but she does not much take to them or to anything about them, except Catherine's Spinning-Wheel. I am very glad to find from Mary that Mr & Mrs Fowle are pleased with you. I hope you will continue to give satisfaction.
How impertinent you are to write to me about Tom, as if I had not opportunities of hearing from him myself. The last letter that I received from him was dated on friday the 8th, and he told me that if the wind should be favourable on Sunday, which it proved to be, they were to set sail from Falmouth on that Day. By this time therefore they are at Barbadoes I suppose. The Rivers are still at Manydown, and are to be at Ashe tomorrow. I intended to call on the Miss Biggs yesterday had the weather been tolerable. Caroline, Anna & I have just been devouring some cold Scouse, & it would be difficult to say which enjoyed it most. -
Tell Mary that I make over Mr Heartley & all his Estate to her for her sole use and Benefit in future, & not only him, but all my other Admirers into the bargain wherever she can find them, even the kiss which C. Powlett wanted to give me, as I mean to confine myself in future to Mr Tom Lefroy, for whom I donot care sixpence. Assure her also as a last and indubitable proof of Warren's indifference to me, that he actually drew that Gentleman's picture for me, & delivered it to me without a Sigh.
Friday - At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, & when you receive this it will be over. - My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea. Wm. Chute called here yesterday. I wonder what he means by being so civil. There is a report that Tom is going to be married to a Litchfield Lass. John Lyford & his Sister bring Edward home to day, dine with us, & we shall all go together to Ashe. I understand that we are to draw for Partners. - I shall be extremely impatient to hear from you again, that I may know how Eliza is, & when you are to return. With best Love, &c., I am affect:tely yours
Jane Austen's own voice is as clear as a bell in this particular missive. She is obviously young, giddy and in love, but is trying to do her duty by her sister by keeping her informed of the mundane day-to-day events in Steventon. However, here and there it is as though she cannot help herself, and she must let her true feelings burst forth again, displaying her excitement at the forthcoming ball and the "offer" she hopes to receive.
Soon after this letter, we know, her hopes were shattered, and a few months later Cassandra's heart was broken with the death of her fiance.
Neither sister would ever marry. This letter represents possibly one of the last happy days where both believed that a happily married future awaited them, and as such it is precious and poignant.