Obviously not a manuscript, definitely not seasonal, but with most of us shivering at freezing conditions and the thought of further blizzards, this image forms both a cheerful distraction and also a connection with the often nautical and always candid world of novelist Jane Austen.
It was the anniversary of Austen’s birthday yesterday and this got us thinking whether there were any maritime connections – we do like a good maritime connection in the Caird Library! The photograph shows the beach at Cromer in Norfolk, which features in Emma (1816) as ‘The best of all the sea-bathing places’. A small fishing village then, noted for its crabs, by 1887 the railway had arrived. The pier (which still stands) was built in 1901.
The sea and the Royal Navy in particular formed an ever present backdrop in Austen’s novels, reflecting how entrenched and visible the profession was in Georgian society. Throughout her novels, a naval officer is never far away as Jane Austen devotees will be well aware.
It goes without saying that Jane liked the Navy. In the Caird Library we have a copy of Brian Southey’s Jane Austen and the Navy which shows just how pervasive this attitude could be: ‘She was convinced of sailors having more worth than any other set of men in England; that they only know how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved!‘. (Persuasion)
None of this should come as a surprise. Two of her brothers, Francis and Charles had successful careers in the Navy. In 1805 Francis captained the Canopus and narrowly missed the Battle of Trafalgar. Charles was a midshipman at Camperdown (1797), and went on to capture many prizes in the Endymion, active in the suppression of piracy and slavery, and surviving to become Rear Admiral, only to be felled by cholera in 1852 while leading an expedition to Burma: at the age of 73!
What may come as more of a surprise is that the Manuscript collections at the NMM hold the papers of this naval side of the Austen family. Included is the log of the Canopus from 1805, for those curious to know more about why Francis missed Trafalgar. Even more remarkable are the complete set of diaries kept by Charles from 1815 until his death in 1852, covering his entire naval career. Any of these original manuscripts are available for viewing with 4 days notice; though do bear in mind the Caird Library will be closed over the Christmas period, from Friday 24 December 2010-Monday 3 January 2011, reopening on Tuesday 4 January 2011. Browse the collection in the Archive catalogue by selecting ‘advanced search’ and typing the collection reference AUS. Better than the very best of all the sea-bathing places at this time of year…
Martin (Manuscripts Cataloguer)