Monday, 23 December 2013

A New Find – Jane Austen’s publisher and his letter to Cassandra Austen

It has long been known that on May 20, 1831 Jane’s sister Cassandra Austen wrote to John Murray, Jane Austen’s publisher, regarding the possibility of republishing Austen’s novels.  We know she wrote in reply to a letter from him because her letter opens with ‘In answer to your letter received the 14th’.

Cassandra goes on to say that she is ‘not disposed to part with the copy-right of my late sister’s works, but I feel inclined to accept your proposal for the publishing another edition.’ She then goes on to list a number of queries she has with regard to Murray’s proposal: how large an edition, at what price and when did he propose to publish, all reasonable enough enquiries. Murray never did republish Austen's novels. In the absence of this letter from Murray, Austen scholars have only been able to speculate as to its contents. Did Murray insist on the copyright? Is that why in the end he did not republish Jane Austen’s novels? Or were there other financial reasons why he did not, in the end, go ahead?

The letter to which Cassandra was replying, Murray’s original letter that she received on 14 May 1831 has not been found. Presumably it was not retained by Cassandra. 

But after hours spent trawling through the John Murray Archive I have now found a transcript of that letter from John Murray to Cassandra Austen.

The Archive contains ‘letter books’ – copies of letters written by John Murray. Important letters were transcribed into the letter book – the precursor of keeping a photocopy.  In one of these books was a transcription of a letter John Murray wrote to Cassandra Austen on 12 May 1831.

I have long entertained a great desire of being the means of trying to induce the public to become far more generally acquainted with the admirable novels of your late estimable sister.
I should be glad therefore if you would be so good as to inform me whether you approve this plan by which I would undertake at my own cost & risque to bring them forward, in a new & attractive form, & engage to give you half the profits , or if you should prefer disposing of the copyright at once, if you would do me the favour of naming the sum which you would be disposed to part with them for.
I am Madam
Your obedient servant
(signed) John Murray

Here is a copy of the transcript held by the John Murray Archive:

Transcript of letter from John Murray to Cassandra Austen
Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

I have consulted Austen authority Professor Kathryn Sutherland and she has confirmed she believes this to be the letter Cassandra is referring to in her letter of 20 May 1831.

This letter sheds a different light on Cassandra’s response. It seems Murray was not fixed on gaining the copyright at all. He offers it as an option but he does not appear to be set on it. Furthermore he is offering to publish ‘at my own cost and risqué’.

‘I have long entertained a great desire of being the means of trying to induce the public to become far more generally acquainted with the admirable novels of your late estimable sister.’  I love Murray’s opening sentence. He clearly has a high opinion of Austen, but as he hints, Austen’s work is not generally well known at this point. ‘I have long entertained a great desire’, he says. No passing whim then, soon deterred by Cassandra’s reluctance to part with the copyright. The reissue was clearly Murray’s idea not Cassandra’s and I see nothing in her reply to deter him.

As I have previously posted, Edward Smedley wrote to John Murray as early as  28 February 1831 enquiring about Murray’s plan to republish Austen. (See here for my case for Edward’s brother Henry Smedley being the artist responsible for  the drawing owned by Paula Byrne.) In that letter he says ‘are you not about to republish Miss Austin’s novels in a pocket book form?’ He does not state where he heard this, but it suggests that the plan had been forming for at least the last three months.

Excerpt from Edward Smedley's letter to Murray dated 28 Feb 1831
Reproduced with kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

Murray declares he has a wish that the public may be ‘more generally acquainted’ with Austen and that they will appear in a ‘new & attractive form’. Coupled with Smedley’s comment above, it seems likely that Murray is thinking about including Austen in his recent project – the Family Library and the sister volumes of the Dramatic Series. The Family Library had been launched in 1829, as a venture to bring books to a wider audience.

But by August 1831 it was becoming clear that the venture was losing money. Murray had been extravagant in his expenditure on copyrights and the volumes were not achieving the success that he had hoped. In the light of the new information provided above, it would seem Murray’s finances, rather than Cassandra’s reluctance to part with the copyright was the most likely reason he failed to republish Austen’s novels, leaving it to Richard Bentley to do so the following year.

Merry Christmas all,


Monday, 16 December 2013

Maria Edgeworth and Mansfield Park

I wrote here about the author Maria Edgeworth and her opinions on Jane Austen's writings.

Since then I have come across a more detailed opinion of Edgeworth's on Mansfield Park and so I'm sharing it here. Hope you enjoy it.

She says in a letter to Lady Romilly dated Dec 31st1814 *

We heartily join with you in your opinion of Mansfield park – which, as you say, is a true picture, a copy of nature – I had almost said a facsimile – for it seems in some of the conversations as if the paper had been laid down upon the words of the speaker and had taken off the impression exact and fresh from their lips – The novel wants what you missed in it, some characters a little above every-day life, some above the standard of mediocrity to touch the heart and raise enthusiasm (you will allow that Waverly is not deficient there?) – I do not know whether the author of Mansfield park meant to give her heroine Fanny, a touch of the selfishness which is described so variously and so admirably in her mother aunt and all the rest of her family – but certainly Fanny has a portion of family selfishness – When she married and is rich she never does anything for her wretched father and mother – Whilst with them she gives them nothing, but a silver knife, and buys biscuits and buns for her private eating – I absolutely hate her for that stroke – the whole Portsmouth scene is admirable – Mrs Morris excellent – but I do not think it in character for her to go live with her aunt in adversity. It should at least have been stated that said niece had a considerable separate maintenance and that Sit Thomas was to tired of Mrs. Morris that he would not let her live with him any longer. That poor father: that poor Sir Thomas: is very ill used through the whole story and for no good reason that appears – all his children and Fanny to whom he is so kind fear and tremble before him – yet all that he does and says is good – We are continually assured that he is severe and odious but we never see any instance of it – I never saw any man take the finding his house turned upside down on his return from a long voyage more quietly  - some instances of his severity to his children should have been given to excuse or render possible their horror of him – a very annuatural horror of a father: The mistakes in the early education of the Miss Bertrams should have been more distinctly pointed out, should not they? –But perhaps my dear Lady Romilly this novel has by this time completely faded from your memory though it is so fresh in ours.

* from The Lost Letters of Maria Edgeworth

Happy Birthday Jane Austen

© Paula Byrne
Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

Last week saw the sale for £164,500 of the James Andrews portrait of Austen. The portrait  is the most well known portrait of Jane Austen, albeit a prettified, late Victorian version of her.

As I have previously posted, I am more interested in the portrait that caused a bit of a stir a couple of years ago, the one belonging to Dr Paula Byrne and currently on display at Jane Austen’s House Museum.

I want to address some of the objections that have been raised against this being a portrait of Jane Austen and share some of the research I have been doing of late into the Smedley family. 

The background view is not a real one/It has no relevance to Jane Austen

It is now known that the view from the window of the portrait is of St Margaret’s Church and Westminster Abbey. According to Paula Byrne, from the line of sight it is probable that this is the view from The Sanctuary, a building that used to stand behind St Margaret’s Church and which was occupied during the early nineteenth century by the Smedleys.*

Map showing the Sanctuary
Line of sight from the Sanctuary

It has been argued that the portrait is likely to be of someone connected to either St Margaret’s or Westminster Abbey and that the artist used an engraving of the churches for the portrait. I don’t find this very persuasive. Surely if that was the case the view would be of either St Margaret’s or Westminster Abbey. The fact that it shows both adds credence to the contention that this is a real view from a real window. Furthermore, it is argued, backgrounds of portraits are significant and these churches are not significant to Jane Austen. But perhaps the view is significant, but to the artist rather than the sitter. It strikes me that the artist wanted to show the location where the portrait was drawn. If this is indeed Jane Austen then perhaps the artist wanted to show that the novelist was sitting there, in that house, the Smedley household.

We know from his letters that Edward Smedley was an admirer of Jane Austen’s work:

It is most truly kind, both in your mother and your self, to wish me to partake of that from which you are to derive pleasure ; but 1 think Mr. John Knightley* would reject me from that bond of brotherhood which I have established with him from the earliest moment of our acquaintance, if, on the night of the 2nd of January 1 were to quit my armed chair, my fire- side, my pen, my books, and my writing-desk, for a twelve miles' drive, six hours' ennui, a spoonful of orange-jelly, and a small glass of lukewarm negus. Letter Edward Smedley to Miss B____December 30th, 1831

 And as early as 1813 Maria Edgeworth mentions in a letter that after visiting Smedley at his rooms at Cambridge she is reading Pride and Prejudice in the carriage; no doubt Austen would have been discussed at some point during their day together. 

Now we are again on the London road, and nothing interrupted our perusal of ' Pride and Prejudice' for the rest of the morning. I am desired not to give you my opinion of ' Pride and Prejudice/ but desire you to get it directly, and tell us yours. Maria Edgeworth letter to C. S. Edgeworth May 1, 1813.

So, given that Edward read Austen perhaps he wanted a momento to record the fact she visited them there. Perhaps he thought it would be something to show to his new bride, Mary Hume, whom Edward married in January 1816. According to the experts it is likely that it was drawn at about that time.

There is no connection between Jane Austen and the Smedleys

The Smedleys are not in the Austen’s known circle of friends and there is no mention of them in any of Jane Austen’s extant letters. That Edward Smedley Snr. (1750-1825) was married to Hannah Bellas I don’t believe is particularly significant, despite the familiarity of the name Bellas. (Austen’s niece’s daughter married a Bellas.) I believe the connection is too distant to be relevant.

But there are other connections. Edward Smedley Snr’s close and long standing friend was Gerrard Andrewes, Dean of Canterbury and Rector of St James’ Church, Piccadilly. Andrewes is buried in the church at Great Bookham where he was vicar for a time. Great Bookham, of course, was where Jane’s aunt and uncle lived for many years. Samuel Cooke, vicar of Great Bookham, was Jane’s godfather and we know she visited them there. Gerrard Andrewes was vicar of the neighbouring parish of Mickleham, and must have known Samuel Cooke well. Perhaps that is why Henry Austen attended St James’s Church, Piccadilly when he lived in London, as mentioned in two of Jane Austen’s letters:

Mr. Tho. Leigh is again in Town - or was very lately. Henry met up with him last Sunday in St James's Church Jane Austen letter to Cassandra Austen dated 1 July 1808

The events of Yesterday were, our going to Belgrave Chapel in the morning, our being prevented by the rain from going to evening Service at St James, Jane Austen letter to Cassandra Austen dated 24 May 1813

The younger Edward Smedley was offered a preachership at St James Chapel by Andrewes and then in July 1815 he was appointed clerk in orders at St James’s Parish. So Edward Smedley was a minister at the church attended by Henry Austen and no doubt by Jane too when she was staying with Henry and both know Gerrard Andrewes. They must at least have met Edward Smedley during this time.

Smedley contributed to John Murray’s Quarterly Review amongst other things and Murray published later published several books of Smedley’s. But in his thirties Edward began to show signs of ill health. By 1828 he was totally deaf and in later years he also began to lose his sight. In 1836 Lord Northampton (Spencer Compton), who knew Smedley, collected together contributions from a number of living writers for a volume of poetry, with the idea that the proceeds would go to Smedley to ease the financial strain he was then under. Contributors included many of the best known poets of the day including Compton himself, Tennyson and Wordsworth. Smedley died before it could be published and so the proceeds went to Smedley’s family. Among the subscribers to The Tribute are a Miss Austen and Rev. E Austen-Leigh.

The writing on the back is not contemporaneous with the drawing

The drawing is in pencil yet the writing on the back is in ink. It is likely therefore that either the artist wrote the name on the back later, or ‘Miss Jane Austin’ was written on the back of the portrait by someone else. Whoever wrote the name could be mistaken or the picture could be been of any one of a number of Miss Jane Austins living in London in the early nineteenth century.

However – in the John Murray Archive in Edinburgh there is a folder with a number of letters from Edward Smedley to John Murray II (as I’ve mentioned Murray was Smedley’s publisher). I am no graphologist but to my untrained eye the handwriting of Edward Smedley is very like the handwriting on the back of the portrait. Here is a specimen – note the distinctive epsilon E. And as I discuss in more detail below, Edward Smedley spelled Jane Austen’s name with an ‘i’.

Deirdre le Faye in her article in JASA's Sensibilities publication entitled Black Ink and Three Telltale Words observes that 'JanE is spelt with a Greek epsilon (ε), suggesting it was written by someone who had had a classical eduction - therefore more likely to be a man than a woman.' 

Edward Smedley was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge whose first published work in 1812 was A Few Verses English and Latin. According to his Memoir he was proficient in Latin and Greek at the age of eleven:
That he was clever and forward is proved by the age at which he got into Westminster College, or, in less local phrase, was elected one of the scholars on the foundation. He was only eleven years old when he stood this searching trial of his proficiency in Greek and Latin grammar. 

Frances Rolleston in a letter to Edward Smedley's widow Mary dated 6 February 1864 refers to: 
H. and E. Smedley, the accomplished brothers, younger than myself, but far before me in acquirement; Henry in Greek and Latin, Edward also in Italian

Letter from Edward Smedley to John Murray dated 28 February 1831
Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library Scotland
Note the use of the epsilon (ε) - the same as on the back of the portrait

The name on the back of the portrait

There is also the style of ‘miss’, oddly written and without the long ‘s’, customary in the early nineteenth century but gradually on its way out. The writing is a little shaky, and it looks as though the ‘M’ of miss was started as a ‘J’ then changed. Might it be the handwriting of a man who was losing his sight and was infirm? Edward Smedley died in 1836 at the age of 48 after battling illness for many years. Perhaps it was in these last years that he wrote Jane Austen’s name on the back of the portrait, until then there had been no need, after all he knew who she was.

Alternatively, maybe Edward wrote her name on the back because he intended to send it to someone else. His publisher perhaps. In February 1831 Edward Smedley asked Murray whether he was about to republish Jane Austen’s novels ‘in a pocket book form.’ Maybe he was wondering whether Murray would want to use the portrait in his new edition. At the very least, his enquiry shows an interest in the author, many years after her death.

Austen’s name is spelt incorrectly

The name on the back of the portrait is ‘Miss Jane Austin’ not ‘Austen.’ Surely whoever drew the portrait would not have spelled her name incorrectly? Well, her publisher John Murray did, even on cheques made payable to her, consistently spelling her name with an ‘i’ rather than an ’e’. And so does Edward Smedley. The artist is unlikely to be someone vey close or related to the Austen family who probably would not have spelled her name that way. But the Smedleys, rather more on the periphery, might.

Certainly whoever put the picture in a frame around the middle of the nineteenth century believed it to be a portrait of the novelist, her name and dates are on the frame.

Austen would not want to be portrayed as a writer

It is argued that Austen would not have sat for a portrait in a pose which shows her as a writer, and conversely is has also been argued that if she had, then where are all her novels?

I agree, I believe that despite her own pride in and passion for her work, she would not have sat for a commissioned portrait. I’m not sure how much her brothers Edward and James approved of her writing as a profession (there is no mention of it in her epitaph) and I don’t think she would have formally sat for a portrait that portrayed her as such. But her family, especially Henry, were proud of her work and Henry was unable to resist proudly bragging that she was the author of the novels. On her part Jane does not seem to mind that her identity is becoming known.

But this portrait is unlikely to be a formal commission. It is drawn by an amateur, although possibly one who has received some professional training. Someone like Edward Smedley’s brother Henry perhaps. Henry Smedley trained as a lawyer but soon found that law was not really to his taste. Instead he devoted his time to art and antiquarian interests and to politics. His friends included the artist and engraver John Thomas ‘Antiquity’ Smith, friend and tutor to the artist John Constable. It is entirely possible Smith also taught Henry Smedley. The pair used to spend time seeking out art and antiquities on behalf of collectors.

" Well," said I to my respected friend, Mr. Henry Smedley, whose house I had entered just as the chimes of the venerable Abbey and St. Margaret's had agreed to complete their quarters for nine, "I am delighted to find that Inigo's beautiful front of Whitehall is in so fair a way of recovery." Bonington's drawings held at a respectful distance from the butter dish, were the next topic of conversation. "I agree with you," observed my friend; "they are invaluable, even his slightest pencil touches are treasures. I have shown you the studies from the figures which surround Lord Morris's monument in the Abbey; have they not all the spirit of Van Dyck?"  From Smith’s A Book for a Rainy Day

Another great friend of Henry Smedley was Charles Tennyson D’Eyncourt, a man of some pretension who spent some time trying to revive the Order of Knights Templar as a British order of chivalry. One of those who Tennyson D’Eyncourt named as being admitted as a Knights Chevalier was his good friend Henry Smedley, together with Henry’s father-in-law, Richard French.

There is just one letter in the Murray collection that is in Henry Smedley’s hand. His writing is small and neat, described as a ‘Porsonian hand’ in his obituary, consistent with someone who would draw the meticulous detail of, for example,  the lace on the dress of the sitter which is beautifully drawn.

Like his brother, Henry Smedley also died young, on March 14th 1832 at the age of 47. According to his obituary:

His kindness and liberality to artists were very conspicuous, and many there are who can testify to the advantage they derived, not only from the correct- ness of his judgment, but from his friendly introduction to more opulent patrons. His extensive and valuable collection of etchings, his large port folios of engravings, his rare specimens of Niello, and his curious works on the fine arts, were always open to their inspection ; and if he was at home himself to comment on their rarity or excellence, he astonished by his knowledge of the old masters, in which he had few, if any superiors in this country. Mr. Smedley was seldom without a pencil in his hand, and amused himself with annotating the margin of almost every book and every print he had in his library. From The Annual Biography and Obituary Vol 17.

Henry strikes me as the archetypal amateur gentleman with some pretentions of grandeur, a man that would choose vellum as the medium for his portrait, a man that would embellish the background with classical columns and drapes which look like theatrical props but yet was not quite good enough an artist to execute the portrait as competently as a professional artist would.

Would Austen consent to sit for an amateur portrait for a friend and admirer who wanted to draw her in the act of writing? I think it is possible that had she been visiting the Smedleys she may well have consented to this, may even have been pleased to do so.

The family were not aware of the portrait

When Richard Bentley republished Austen’s novels in 1832 he asked Henry Austen if there was a portrait of his sister that he could use. Henry said that he thought that there was, but then could not find one and had to tell Bentley that there was no useable portrait of his sister.

If the portrait was drawn in 1815 then Henry had more pressing worries on his mind at the time - at the end of the year he was seriously ill, so ill the family feared he might not survive. Then his bank was in trouble and by March 1816 he was declared bankrupt and left London. Perhaps Jane did not think the little drawing done while she was visiting the Smedley’s to be significant enough to tell him. Or maybe she just preferred to keep it to herself.

If the Smedleys connection was more with Henry Austen via his church than the rest of the family and he was no longer in London after March 1816 then it is possible that the family never learned of the existence of the portrait. There is no reason why Smedley would have known that Bentley was republishing, once the deal with Murray had fallen through. His brother Henry had died in the March of 1832 and his own health was deteriorating and with it, his financial security. No doubt he had other things on his mind. 

Jane Austen did not own a cat

The cat in the portrait is an oddity. It is badly drawn and looks out of proportion with the rest of the drawing.  What is it doing there? I don’t find the argument that the cat was added to denote spinsterhood very convincing.

Richard Jenkyns says that no-one would have their portrait drawn with someone else’s cat. True enough if she had commissioned the portrait, but I think it is unlikely that she did. If the picture was intended to be kept by the artist, maybe he would have drawn the cat that was on the table. Everybody kept cats, it helped keep the mice and rats at bay. 

Perhaps the cat was a detail that was added later, it looks like it might be, slightly out of proportion to the rest of the drawing. Perhaps he wanted to give the portrait a more homely feel. Maybe he messed up that corner of the drawing and added a cat to cover it up. Maybe he just liked cats. We must not forget, if this was drawn by Henry Austen, he was an amateur.

The jewellery and the dress are too expensive

There seems to be two jewellery objections – firstly that the sitter is wearing too much jewellery to be Jane Austen and secondly that she is not wearing jewellery that we know she owned, primarily the topaz cross. Again, these arguments only have credence if the assumption is that the portrait is being done as a commission. If it was done during 1815 when Jane was spending a lot of time in London with Henry, then she would hardly be likely to send home for her topaz cross for the portrait. It was more casual than that. On the point about she is wearing too much jewellery,, we simply do not know what jewellery she owned. Who outside the Austen family knew about the gold and turquoise ring before it came up for auction in 2012? And it is impossible to tell from the portrait whether the jewellery is expensive or paste. What is obvious from reading her letters however, is that every time Jane Austen was up in London, she loved to shop. Her letters to Cassandra are full of accounts of shopping trips. And if the portrait was drawn in 1815 this was when she was feeling at the top of her game. Her fourth novel was about to be published and she had been noticed by the Prince Regent. If there was any time when Austen would have splashed out some paste jewellery and a new dress this would have been it. The argument that she is wearing too many rings to write comfortably is  strange to my mind. She is being captured in the act of writing, she is not actually writing (if so she is writing backwards which would be odder still). The artist is showing that she is a writer, nothing more that.

Lack of documentary evidence and lack of provenance

This is a problem for anyone wishing to prove this is a portrait of Jane Austen. There is not a shred of known documentary evidence for the portrait outside of itself. Neither is it yet clear what happened to the portrait or why it ended up in the possessions of Helen Carruthers, ex-governess of John Foster MP.   Perhaps she bought it in a sale - on the backing is marked 'Price £3-3s-0d Frame £0-5s-0d'. Miss Carruthers lived in King's Bench Walk, London almost all her life and could have picked up the picture at an auction. She was a member of the English Association which she joined as a new member in 1836  so clearly had an interest in literature. It does not help that there is, I believe, some deliberate obsfuscation on the part of the Fosters with regard to Miss Carruther’s identity, the reasons for which I may discuss in another post. But for the meantime who she was and how she obtained the portrait remains a mystery. Lack of provenance remains a difficulty. 

She does not fit with Brand Austen

The current popularity of Jane Austen is phenomenal. Over the past twenty years interest has grown to heights she would never of thought of even in her wildest, most optimistic dreams. It borders on the hysterical. Take the brouhaha from some quarters when Kathryn Sutherland made the reasonable point that Austen’s work was probably mediated through the work of an editor, in her case William Gifford. Any writer knows that the first challenge is to get one’s work past the red pen of the editor before getting anywhere near a printing press. But Austen has grown to such hagiographic proportions that any reasoned analysis is met with hostility. Jane Austen has become a brand, in part because of the paucity of information we have about her. Author, fictional character and the director’s casting conflate  into a vague romantic image of the early nineteenth century writer. It is ‘Brand Austen’ carefully and cleverly constructed to market Jane Austen for all its worth. Take the oft used silhouette of 'Jane Austen' ‘L'Amiable Jane.’ What is this portrait’s claim to be that of Jane Austen? It was found in a copy of the second edition of Mansfield Park. It’s a claim that is thinner than pond ice on a sunny day in spring, but the image fits the brand.

We are all guilty of partiality – the Byrne image suits my imaginary picture of Jane Austen and so I want it to be genuine as much as others want the opposite. But so far I have not come across any argument that has swayed me against my opinion that this is a portrait of Jane Austen, even though it may never be proved. 

And you never know. Maybe, just maybe, one day it won't be this picture that everyone uses to wish Jane Austen a happy birthday...

The Smedleys were:
Edward Smedley Snr (1750-1825) married Hannah Bellas (1755-?)

Their sons:

Henry Smedley (1785-1832) married Elizabeth Calvert French (1779-1859)
Edward Smedley (1788-1836) in 1816 married Mary Hume (1786-1868). Unless stated otherwise it is this Edward Smedley I am referring to in the above post.
Francis Smedley (1791-1859) married Frances Ellison (1795-?)
There were also at least two daughters of whom I can discover nothing at all at present.

Of the Smedleys I know about it is clear they were something of a literary family.

Edward Smedley Snr was the author of Erin, a geographical poem.
Edward Smedley published a number of poems and several longer non-fiction works including Religico Clerico and Sketches from Venetian History for Murray’s Family Library.

Two of Edward Smedley’s daughters- Menella Bute Smedley and Elizabeth Hart achieved minor success with their writing, as did Francis (Frank), son of Francis Smedley. (Menella Bute Smedley lived with her cousin Frank. She introduced him to the writing of her second cousin, the grandson of her aunt. His name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. Jabberwockyit had been claimed was based on an early work of Menella’s.)

POSTSCRIPT - 18.12 13
Reading again Deirdre Le Faye's critique of the portrait referred to above I note that she says: 'the fact that she is shown writing the wrong way round, may mean the portrait was intended to be engraved as the frontispiece for the publication of her works, but perhaps was adjudged too badly drawn and so was never used.'

If my theory is correct then everything points to the portrait having been drawn in the autumn of 1815. The dress has been dated to 1814-1816. Jane was in London at that time for three months, staying with her brother Henry Austen. Henry was ill for some time so Jane was going out on her own. Edward Smedley was clerk in orders at Henry Austen's church. And Emma was about to go to the printers. Perhaps, then, Edward Smedley asked his brother Henry to draw a portrait for the frontispiece for the novel but it was indeed adjudged too badly drawn to use.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Jane Austen's Portrait - postscript

Following my post about the Smedleys and Jane Austen, Paula Byrne kindly supplied me with a copy of the map which shows the sightline indicated by the view in the portrait. The same sightline was  plotted independently by four different historians, convincing evidence, I believe, that the portrait was drawn by a room in the house where the Smedleys lived.

Here is the map:

10 April 2013

Over on Twitter @unseenAusten also posted a map showing a very similar sightline which she has given me permission  to reproduce here:

The view from the window in the portrait of 'Miss Jane Austin' does indeed appear to be the view which would be seen from the window of the property known as The Sanctuary, residence of the Smedleys. 

Another map of the area, courtesy of @unseenAusten

Friday, 15 March 2013

Why 'Miss Jane Austin' really is Jane Austen

Jane Austen sketch by Cassandra
Last week I went to a fascinating talk given by Dr Paula Byrne about her new book on Jane Austen. Inevitably the subject of the 'new' portrait came up. Dr Bryne says that her husband bought her the portrait as a gift for their wedding anniversary, at the time he bought it, it was assumed that the portrait was either of another 'Miss Jane Austin' or that it was not drawn from life. Paula Byrne however, felt instinctively that the portrait was of Jane Austen, not least because of the family resemblance, especially the Austen nose. This short clip on BBC news discusses the nose and the portrait. When I watched the BBC documentary about the picture broadcast late in 2011 I too was convinced it was her. Or, as I posted last year, I really wanted it to be her.

Perhaps understandably, there was a lot of scepticism about the portrait when the programme was first aired. The portrait was in a frame with Jane Austen's name on it, but the name on the back of of the portrait was 'Miss Jane Austin. The background was a view of a church with no obvious connection to Jane Austen. The Austen family apparently were oblivious to the existence of the portrait. The sitter was wearing fashionable clothes and jewellery. There was a cat on the table. The portrait could be of another Jane Austin, or it could have been someone's idea of Jane Austen, drawn from imagination. It didn't look that promising.

Last year I did some research on the provenance of the portrait which had ended up in the possessions of human rights barrister John Foster. This ended up in a complete dead-end and for a while I forgot about it, concentrating instead on research for my next book about cycling around Ireland. Then, earlier this year my daughter Anne and I decided to take a trip away for a few days. We stayed at Salisbury and as Anne is a big Jane Austen fan we went to visit Chawton House. The portrait was there on display, and I stared at it for a long time. I loved it.

Chawton House

When I got home I decided to take time out from Ireland and do some more research into the portrait. Since last year things had moved on somewhat. Dr Byrne had written an article for the Times Literary Supplement summarising developments. It seemed that the background to the portrait had been located - it was a view of St Margaret's Church, Westminster and Westminster Abbey - but a very particular view - consistent, according to Dr Byrne's research, with the view from the window of the Sanctuary, a house belonging to Reverend Smedley the Elder. It had also been pinpointed by fashion experts to a very specific period - 1814-1816. The article prompted several replies, including one from Deirdre Le Faye who pointed out, amongst other objections, that any connections with the Smedleys was circumstantial. There is an excellent summary of the debate on the Austenonly blog here. It was a fair point, what did Edward Smedley have to do with Jane Austen, if anything?

Since then my own book has been sadly neglected as I became more and more fascinated with this question. Over the past few weeks I have posted my discoveries on this blog. What I have discovered has convinced me that the portrait is of Jane Austen herself. I hope it convinces you too.

Edward Smedley the Elder (1750-1825) is aged around 64/65 at the time the portrait was drawn. He lived for another ten years at the Sanctuary. Edward Smedley had two sons, Henry Smedley (1785-1832) and Edward Smedley (1788-1836).

The name on the verso of the portrait

I personally have no doubt that the writing on the back of the portrait is that of Edward Smedley (Jnr). In his letter to John Murray (Smedley and Austen's publisher) dated February 28, 1831 he spells her name 'Miss Jane Austin'. The writing is also very similar - especially the 'e' as shown here:

Edward Smedley's letters show he was very familiar with Austen's novels whilst Henry Smedley, antiquarian and collector of art is a strong candidate for being the artist. I have posted about them herehere and here.

The link with Jane Austen

This is all very well, but nothing so far indicated that either Henry or Edward Smedley knew Jane Austen. I speculated that Edward may have known her through Maria Edgeworth, who knew both Henry and Edward, but there is no evidence that Maria Edgeworth ever met Jane.

I was, therefore, very pleased to discover that there is a link between Jane Austen and the Smedleys, and I think it's a strong one. It comes, not from any literary contacts, but from the church. As Irene Collins points out, Jane Austen was the daughter of a clergyman, the sister of two others and the cousin of four more. (I have not yet read Irene Collins book, having only come across it recently, but it's just risen to the top of my must read list!) Maybe because, although I am not a Christian, I come from an Anglican family myself, with vicars and vergers, bishops and missionaries in my immediate family, it's not hard for me to understand how Jane can both lampoon individuals and yet still maintain a strong faith. (You should have heard how one local vicar got a regular slating over the Sunday lunch in our house!) There were a lot of clergymen in Jane's life and the church was important to her.

Henry Austen's church in London was St James's, Piccadilly. When Jane was in London this was the church she attended with her brother. She mentions it twice in her letters:

1 July 1808 to Cassandra: "Mr. Tho. Leigh is again in Town - or was very lately. Henry met up with him last Sunday in St James's Church"


24 May 1813, again to Cassandra: "our being prevented by the rain from going to evening Service at St James".

Why St James's? I think for a very good reason - the vicar was known to the family. From 1802 until his death in 1825 the rector of St James's, Piccadilly was Gerrard Andrewes.

Gerrard Andrewes Snr
Gerrard Andrewes (1750-1825) was the son of a Leicestershire clergyman. After becoming a priest he was something of a hit with Lady Talbot and was presented with the Living of Mickleham in Surrey in 1800 which he kept for the next thirteen years.

Mickleham was the next parish to Great Bookham, less than two miles away, and both within the Diocese of Winchester. The vicar at St Nicholas, Great Bookham for 52 years from 1769-1820 was Rev. Samuel Cooke (1741-1820), Jane Austen's godfather. Cooke had married Cassandra Leigh (1744-1826), Jane's mother's cousin, in 1768. Cooke would definitely have known Andrewes, and in fact on Cooke's death in 1820, Andrewes son, Gerrard Thomas Andrewes (1795-1851) became rector for a year until the latter's brother-in-law, William Heberden (1797-1879) was ordained in 1821. William's father, also William Heberden (1767-1845) the renowned royal physician and resident of Great Bookham, had bought the living in1820 for his son.

Jane Austen's letters are sprinkled with references to Bookham and the Cookes, we know she visited them and corresponded regularly. This from her letter to her sister Cassandra on 11 January 1809:

"Easter Monday, April 3rd is the day; we are to sleep that night at Alton, & be with our friends at Bookham the next, if they are then at home;-there we remain until the following Monday, & on Tuesday April 11th hope to be at Godmersham. If the Cookes are absent, we shall finish our journey on  5th."

From May 1811 to Cassandra again: "I have a message to you from Mrs Cooke;-the substance of it is that she hopes you will take Bookham in your way home, & stay there as long as you can"

Mickleham was also well known to Jane Austen, as was Box Hill to the south of the village, scene of the rather unsuccessful picnic in Emma. (Juniper Hall in Mickleham was earlier in 1792/93 leased to a group of French émigrés including Madame de Staël and General D'Arblay. D'Arblay married Fanny Burney at Mickleham Church in 1793 and subsequently lived for four years at Great Bookham and wrote Camilla there.)

These are not large places, in 1870 the Parish of Mickleham had a population of 721 and the Parish of Great Bookham 1106.

We know then that Henry and Jane and no doubt other members of the family would have known Rev. Gerrard Andrewes. Andrewes' close friend, born in the same year - 1750 - and who coincidentally died in the same year- 1825 - was Edward Smedley Senior. They attended both Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge together, both graduating in 1773. Only natural then, that Andrewes should assist his friend's son. From Edward Smedley's Memoir:

That admirable preacher and excellent man, the Rev. Gerrard Andrewes, Dean of Canterbury and Rector of St. James's, was the earliest and most intimate friend of Mr. Smedley's father, and was much attached to his son, and anxious to promote his interests. He had given him a preachership at St. James's chapel, Tottenham Court Road; and in July, 1815, he appointed him clerk in orders to St. James's parish; an office of moderate emolument and considerable labour. 

Mr. Smedley held the clerkship five years; and during this time, became acquainted with the most arduous and most important duties of a clergyman. He preached every Sunday at either St. James's chapel or church, to highly cultivated and fastidious congregations, to whom truth must be presented with every allowable ornament, and who often listen in the spirit of critics rather than of Christians.

Edward Smedley
Edward Smedley then, was clerk in orders at St James's at the period in 1815 when we know Jane Austen was in London, negotiating her contract with John Murray and visiting the Library of the Prince Regent, and no doubt attending church at St James on Sundays when the weather allowed. By now, the fact that Jane Austen was the author of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility was an open secret. Smedley had been published by Jane's new publisher, John Murray, contributed to his magazine QuarterlyAccount and was a friend of his. We know that Maria Edgeworth two years earlier had been reading Pride and Prejudice when she visited Smedley at his rooms in Cambridge. Gerrard Andrewes, a close friend of the family, also would have known Jane Austen and the family from his connections to Mickleham. Edward Smedley is an admirer of her work. He must surely have known who she was. That Jane should call on the Smedleys, perhaps for afternoon tea, and that her likeness was drawn whilst she was there, seems now to be the most natural thing in the world.

Jane Austen died in 1817 and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. As the website 'Literary Winchester' remarks, her burial in the nave of the Cathedral is perhaps surprising, but she does have some serious literary and clerical clout behind her:

By the time of her death, she and  her books were gathering an influential band of admirers and she was enjoying the literary attention. This band naturally included Mrs Elizabeth Heathcote, widow of a cathedral canon, resident in the Close and still with firm connections there; her father-in-law, Sir William Heathcote Bt of Hursley Park; brother Henry, ever enthusiastic and curate at Chawton; brother Edward Knight, lord of the manor at Chawton; and brother the Revd James, the eldest and like Mrs Heathcote, well acquainted with the Dean Thomas Rennell. Taken altogether, there was considerable social and literary weight behind the family’s undoubted desire for Jane to be laid to rest in the cathedral (rather than the crowded graveyard outside on the north side) and the Dean and Chapter appears to have played its part handsomely.

It was not only Rev James that was well aquainted with Dean Thomas Rennell. Rennell was a member of the 'Hackney Phalanx', a group of Anglican Ministers committed to defending Anglican orthodoxy whose mouthpiece during this period was the British Critic, a publication to which Edward Smedley Jnr was also a frequent contributor. Both men were members of the 'Club of Nobody's Friends'. Perhaps Edward Smedley also put pressure to bear on the authorities to have Jane buried in the Cathedral.

Samuel Cooke died in 1820 at the Vicarage in Great Bookham. Gerrard Andrewes senior died at St James's in 1825 but was also buried at Great Bookham, in a family vault which presumably belonged to his son, Gerrard Thomas Andrewes.

Memorials to Samuel Cooke and Gerrard Andrewes
in St Nicholas Church, Great Bookham
Henry Smedley died at his home in the Sanctuary in 1832 aged 42, I have been unable to establish the cause. Edward Smedley Junior died in 1836 aged 48 after a long battle with a progressive neurological disease which had resulted in him becoming totally deaf some years earlier. The year after Edward Smedley's death his Memoirs were published. There were an impressive number of subscribers including Rev. Gerrard Thomas Andrewes and four members of the Heberden family of Great Bookham.

The links between the Smedleys and Jane Austen, far from being tenuous or circumstantial are, on the contrary, strong ones forged through the organisation that both the Austens and the Smedleys knew so well - the Anglican Church. Nothing I've discovered suggests anything other than the fact that the portrait owned by Paula Byrne is that of the author Jane Austen, drawn by either Henry or Edward Smedley, in around 1814/1815. What do you think?


Monday, 11 March 2013

Maria Edgeworth, Edward Smedley and Jane Austen

Maria Edgeworth

This post is a continuation of the previous two posts about the Smedleys and Jane Austen. The Smedley household is where the 'new portrait' of 'Jane Austin' is thought to have been drawn and I have been examining the possibility of it being of Jane Austen herself. The Smedleys, it turns out, were rather closely linked to literary London, both through the publisher John Murray and through links with the Edgeworth family. In this post I look more closely at Edward Smedley's friendship with Maria Edgeworth and what is known of  Maria's opinion of Jane's novels.

By 1813 Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) had established herself as one of the most famous writers of her day. Her novels Castle Rackrent and Belinda, published in 1800 and 1801 respectively had been hugely successful and we know that Jane Austen admired her work. It has been said that Maria Edgeworth did not reciprocate this admiration but I wonder whether this is the whole story? 


 On 28 March 1813, Maria Edgeworth, her father Richard and step-mother Frances set out from their home in Edgeworthstown, Ireland on a trip to England and Wales. Over the next month they travelled to Bangor, Conway, Liverpool and Derby. They then travel south to Cambridge, travelling overnight and arriving on Wednesday 28th April 1813:

"my mother will tell you the history of our night travels over the bad road between Leicester and Kettering; my father holding the lantern stuck up against one window, and my mother against the other the bit of wax candle Kitty gave me". (letter to Honora Edgeworth - April 1813)

That day Edward Smedley, friend of Maria's brother Charles "Sneyd" Edgeworth, calls on the Edgeworths. This is evidently the first time they have met him. Maria says: "Mr Smedley has just called : tell Sneyd we think him very pleasing."

The following day the Edgeworths call on Edward Smedley for breakfast at his rooms in Sidney College "in neat, cheerful rooms, with orange fringed curtains, pretty drawings and prints". After breakfast Smedley took the Edgeworths on a tour around Cambridge. They visit the University Hall and Library: "not nearly so fine as the Dublin College Library", Trinity Library "beautiful!" and call on the Vice Chancellor Davis "to see a famous picture of Cromwell".  Smedley evidently is getting on well enough with Maria to joke with her. She says, "As we knocked at his Vice Chancellorship's door, Mr Smedley said to me, 'Now, Miss Edgeworth, if you would but settle in Cambridge! here is our Vice- Chancellor a consider about it.' A paragraph later: "The Vice-Chancellor entered, and such a wretched, pale, unhealthy object I have seldom beheld! He seemed crippled and writhing with rheumatic pains, hardly able to walk. After a few minutes had passed, Mr. Smedley came round to me and whispered, 'Have you made up your mind?' 'Yes, quite, thank you.' "

The party apparently have a fine time and spend the evening with Mr Smedley and a Mr Farish at dinner. On Friday the party left Cambridge and Mr Smedley, and after calling on Dr Clarke at Trumpington on the outskirts of Cambridge they head to London. En route they pass the time by reading a recently published novel: "Now we are again on the London Road, and nothing interrupted our perusal of 'Pride and Prejudice' for the rest of the morning. I am desired not to give you my opinion of 'Pride and Prejudice', but desire you to get it directly, and tell us yours."

So - here we have Maria Edgeworth reading Jane Austen at the same time that she visits Edward Smedley at Cambridge. The extracts above are all from Maria's letter to Charles Sneyd Edgeworth dated 1 May 1813. Clearly Maria owns a copy of Pride & Prejudice before her brother Sneyd - is it Maria that introduces Smedley to Austen too? Maybe on this visit? We know that Smedley later is a fan of Austen, surely as a writer and poet they would have discussed the book? (It is Smedley's father's house in which Paula Byrne thinks that the 'unseen portrait' of Miss Jane Austin was drawn. See previous posts for my suggestion that Edward Smedley's brother Henry may have been the artist.) The Edgeworths stayed in London until 16 June 1813 when they left for Clifton, Bristol.

In September 2014 Jane Austen famously writes to her niece Anna that "I have made up my mind to like no novels really, but Miss Edgeworth's, yours & my own." At that stage in any event, it seems Maria Edgworth is also a fan of Jane Austen. On Boxing Day of that year Maria Edgeworth writes from Edgeworthstown to her cousin Sophy Ruxton: "'A merry Christmas and a happy New Year' to you, my dear Sophy, and to my aunt, and uncle, and Margaret. I have just risen from my bed, where I have been a day and a half with a violent headache and pains, or as John Langan calls them, pins in my bones. We have been much entertained with Mansfield Park." (Lady Anne Romilly had written to her in November recommending the novel.)

Maria Edgeworth was not so taken with Austen's Emma it seems. There is an oft quoted extract from a letter from her to Sneyd and Harret Edgeworth from 1816 in which she states: "There was no story in it, except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet's lover was an admirer of her own -& he was affronted at being refused by Emma and Harriet wore the willow -and 'smooth, thin, water-gruel' is according to Emma's father's opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by 'smooth thin water gruel'!!" I would love to read Maria's original letter and the context in which the statement was made, so far I have been unable to track it down. 

It is also commonly said that Maria snubbed Jane Austen by not acknowledging the copy of Emma which Austen sent her. I am however, unable to discover how this is known? It cannot simply be the absence of a letter, so how can it be stated with certainty that Maria didn't acknowledge Jane's gesture? If anyone out there can guide me on this point I would be very grateful! Maria certainly refers to receiving a copy of the book.  In a letter to her aunt Mrs Ruxton dated January 10, 1816 she says: "The authoress of 'Pride and Prejudice' has been so good as to send me a new novel, just published, 'Emma.'"

In her defence of the novel in Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen demonstrated her regard for Maria Edgeworth's 'Belinda' as well as Fanny Burney's work: "'And what are you reading, Miss - ?' 'Oh! It is only a novel!' replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. 'It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda'; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language."

On 13 June 1817, a month before the death of Jane Austen, Maria's father died. According to her stepmother, in the months that followed, Maria wrote hardly any letters. Furthermore she was struggling with her eyes which were giving her a great deal of pain and until January of 1818 she 'had the strength of mind to abstain almost entirely from reading and writing.' It must surely say something of her opinion of Jane Austen then, that despite this, by February 1818 she has already read Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. (Both novels were published in one volume in December 1817.) If Maria Edgeworth did not think highly of Austen, would she have chosen these novels to read at a time when she was seeking to limit her reading for the sake of her eyes?

This is what she says in her letter to her aunt, Mrs Ruxton, dated February 21, 1818:

"I must and will write to my Aunt Ruxton to-day, if the whole College of Physicians, and the whole conclave of cardinal virtues, with Prudence primming up her mouth at the head of them, stood before me. I entirely agree with you, my dearest aunt, on one subject, as indeed I generally do on most subjects, but particularly about 'Northanger Abbey' and 'Persuasion.' The behaviour of the General in 'Northanger Abbey,' packing off the young lady without a servant or the common civilities which any bear of a man, not to say gentleman, would have shown, is quite outrageously out of drawing and out of nature. 'Persuasion' - excepting the tangled, useless histories of the family in the first fifty pages - appears to me, especially in all that relates to poor Anne and her lover, to be exceedingly interesting and natural. The love and the lover admirably well drawn: don't you see Captain Wentworth, or rather don't you in her place feel him taking the boisterous child off her back as she kneels by the sick boy on the sofa? And is not the first meeting after their long separation admirably well done? And the overheard conversation about the nut? But I must stop: we have got no further than the disaster of Miss Musgrave's  jumping off the steps."

Here is Maria Edgeworth, unable to contain herself, writing (against medical advice) to her aunt with such enthusiasm about the characters in Persuasion. And although she is critical of Jane's portrayal of General Tilney in Northanger Abbey, this seems to me indicate a specific criticism of a minor point rather than a dislike of the novel as a whole. This is Maria Edgeworth's style: in an earlier letter to Walter Scott, whom she greatly admired, she says of a passage in Waverley: "I recollect in the first visit to Flora, when she is to sing certain verses, there is a walk, in which the description of the place is beautiful, but too long, and we did not like the preparation for a scene-the appearance of Flora and her harp was too like a common heroine, she should be far above all stage effect or novelist's trick." Criticism of a particular point does not necessarily mean she did not approve of the work in its entirety.

Edward Smedley died young, as did his brother Henry, neither of them reached the age of 50. After Edward Smedley's death in 1836 his wife published his poems and memoirs. On December 17, 1837, Maria Edgeworth writes to her cousin, Margaret Ruxton. Margaret's sister Sophy has been seriously ill and the letter opens: "We are very anxious indeed to hear of Sophy: the last account Harriet gave was quite alarming." (In fact Sophy died two weeks later.) Yet Maria in the same letter goes on to say: "I long to hear that you have had, and that you like, the 'Memoirs of Mr Smedley.' I am sure that, when Sophy is well enough to hear or to read anything, that book will be the very thing for her." Edward Smedley must have been someone she rated highly for her to recommend the book at such a time. Included in the Memoirs are a selection of Edward Smedley's letters, including a number of letters to 'Miss B', a friend who Smedley frequently wrote to for literary advice on his writings. In a letter to her dated December 21 1830, Smedley refers to theatricals which 'very agreeably disappointed me'. 'But alas! what would Sir Thomas Bertram say?' he asks. In another letter sent in December 1831 in which Smedley is refusing an invitation:

"It is most truly kind, both in your mother and yourself, to wish me to partake of that from which you are to derive pleasure; but I think Mr John Knightley would reject me from that bond of brotherhood which I have established with him from the earliest moment of our aquaintance, if, on the night of the 2nd January I were to quit my armed chair, my fire-side, my pen, my books, and my writing desk, for a twelve miles drive, six hours ennui, a spoonful of orange jelly, and a small glass of lukewarm negus."

Smedley talks familiarly of the characters of Austen's novels like they are old friends. he is clearly very familiar with Austen's work, as is Maria Edgeworth. I believe Maria Edgeworth (who incidentally was also very good friends with Tom Lefroy who lived but five miles from her at Edgeworthstone) may have thought more highly of Jane Austen than is sometimes suggested. Edward Smedley - Maria Edgeworth - Jane Austen. Is there a connection so far overlooked?

*postscript 14.03.13 - I have just uncovered another rather exciting Smedley-Austen link which I am researching and will post in the next couple of days.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Austen and the Smedleys

Another post on the Smedleys and their possible links to that portrait.

As I have prevously stated, my research begins from a position of pretty much complete ignorance so if I make any howlers please a) forgive me and b) put me straight. I make no claims to be an expert on Austen, the Smedleys, or indeed on anything at all really. But I do like a good bit of detective work, especially when I should be doing something else (like finishing my own book...). So here we go.

Edward Smedley

Following Dr Byrne's research into her portrait I have been nosing about in the lives of the Smedleys, whom Dr Byrne believes own the house where the portrait may have been drawn. In my previous post I took a look at Edward Smedley (1788 - 1836) and Jane Austen and the possible links between them via their publisher John Murray and wondered whether it was Edward's hand that inscribed the reverse of the portrait.

In this post I am taking a look at Edward's brother Henry Smedley. I also want to take another look at the social circle of the Smedleys and any possible links with the Austens.

Henry Smedley

Dr Byrne has suggested that the view of Westminster Abbey and St Margaret's Church appears to be a real view rather than an imaginary one. Consulting experts on Westminster at the time she has suggested that the view is from number 3 The Sanctuary, occupied at the time by Rev. Edward Smedley Snr. (1750-1825), and, it seems, also by Henry Smedley.

Henry Smedley (1785-1832) was the Rev. Edward Smedley's Snr's eldest son. Henry was called to the bar in 1812 and for some years practised on the Western Circuit but according to his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1832, he found the ‘laborious profession of the law unsuited to his inclinations’ and stopped practicing law. Henry's real interests were in art and antiquities and he became a prolific collector over his lifetime. According to his obituary, cited above, he had 'a remarkably cultivated taste in the Fine Arts' and 'was seldom without a pencil in his hand, and amused himself with annotating the margin of almost every book and every print he had in his library.’

Henry was friendly with other antiquarians, in particular with John Thomas 'Antiquity' Smith. Smith was a painter, engraver and antiquarian and keeper of prints for the British Museum. He also worked as a drawing master and taught John Constable in his early years as an artist.

Here is a quote from Smith's Memoir, A Book for a Rainy Day:
On the 25th of July, 1829, being on my way to the great Sanctuary, my pleasure was inconceivable upon observing that the intended repairs of Whitehall Chapel had commenced. The scaffolding was erected before its street-front, and the masons had begun their restorations at the south corner, strictly according with the fast decaying original. "Well," said I to my respected friend Mr Henry Smedley, whose house I had entered just as the chimes of the venerable Abbey and St. Margaret's had agreed to complete their quarters for nine, "I am delighted to find that Inigo's beautiful front of Whitehall is in so fair a way of recovery". Bonington's drawings, held at a respectful distance from the butter-dish, were the next topic of conversation.

Smith describes how he and Henry Smedley then go to Clapham Common to visit Mr William Esdaile, a collector of art and antiquities. Henry is interested in Mr Esdaile's collection of Hogarth prints, he is acting on behalf of Henry Standly and is wondering whether Mr Esdaile has any prints of interest to Standly.

Henry Smedley by
Frederick Christian Lewis the elder
Held by National Trust

We also know that Henry Smedley was, like his brother Edward, an associate of Austen's publisher John Murray. In the Lewis Pocock papers at Harvard University there is a letter from John Murray to Henry Smedley (attributed with a question mark to 1836 but more likely to be 1830 or 1831) thanking Smedley for assistance with the Samuel Johnson biography published by John Wilson Croker. Croker, frequent contributor to Murray's Quarterly Review and co-founder of the Athenaeum Club with Murray, refers in this 1831 edition of Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson to the 'valuable and interesting collection of Henry Smedley, Esq., in which will be found almost every print of him which has been published'. Both John Murray and Henry Smedley were original members of the Garrick Club when it formed in 1831. It seems Henry, as well as Edward Smedley, had links with the Murray publishing house

Experts agree that the portrait claimed to be of Jane Austen was executed in plumbago on vellum by a competent amateur or low-end professional. Would not Henry Smedley, friend of artists and authors, collector of engravings and antiquities and resident of the house with a view which matches the background of the portrait, fit the bill rather admirably? 

The Smedley Brothers and the Edgeworths

There is also the question of the identity of the sitter. How likely is it that 'Miss Jane Austin' refers to the Jane Austen? Is it possible that the Smedleys would have known her? Looking at the Smedley's circle there is another link between the Smedleys and Jane Austen in addition to John Murray. That link is the  Edgeworths.

Richard Edgeworth
Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817) - writer, inventor and, later landowner and politician - had been a neighbour of Jane Austen's uncle and aunt, James and Jane Leigh-Perrot when the latter had lived at Scarlets, Hare Hatch in Berkshire. Edgeworth and his wife had taken a house at Hare Hatch in 1765 after eloping to Gretna Green two years earlier and they remained there until 1771. James Leigh-Perrot had built Scarlets at about the same time. In his Memoirs, Richard Edgeworth acknowledged help he had received from Mr Leigh-Perrot in experiments with telegraphing between Hare Hatch and nearby Nettlebed using windmills:
'With the assistance of Mr. Perrot, of Hare Hatch, I ascertained the practicability of my scheme between these places which are nearly sixteen miles asunder.'

Maria Edgeworth
Charles Sneyd Edgeworth (Sneyd) was one of Richard's many children (22 in total!) and for much of the time his elder half-sister Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) helped bring him up. Maria became a highly successful author, much admired by Jane Austen. (I intend to explore the links between Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth a bit more in a later post.) Sneyd's close friend at Cambridge was Edward Smedley.

In 1813 in a letter to her sister Honoria, Maria Edgeworth writes from Cambridge:
My mother will tell you the history of our night travels over the bad road between Leicester and Kettering; my father holding the lantern stuck up against one window, and my mother against the other the bit of wax candle Kitty gave me. I don't think we could have got on without it. Pray tell her, for she laughed when I put it in my box and said it might be of vast use to us at some odd place.
Mr. Smedley has just called: tell Sneyd we think him very pleasing. I enclose the "Butterfly's Ball" for Sophy, and a letter to the King written by Dr. Holland when six years old: his father found him going with it to the post. Give it to Aunt Mary.

In a letter to Sneyd on 1 May 1813 Maria recounts in detail a visit to Smedley for breakfast:

Mr. Smedley made us feel at home at once: my mother made tea, I coffee; he called you "Sneyd," and my father seemed quite pleased.

Maria was evidently quite taken with Smedley. Later in the same letter she says:
"Good-bye, Mr. Smedley! I hope you like us half as well as we liked you." We thought it well worth our while to have come thirty miles out of our way to see him and Cambridge, and you, Sneyd, have the thanks of the whole party for your advice.

That year Smedley won the Seatonian prize at Cambridge for his poem The Death of Saul and Jonathan which was published by John Murray the following year. In 1814 he also won the Seatonian Prize for a second time.

I was initially thrown by a later reference to Smedley in a letter from Maria Edgeworth to her aunt Mrs Rexton dated Sept 10, 1822. She says:
Things are odd till they pair off, and so become even. Sneyd and Henrica, who were at Geneva, have been invited to the Baron Polier's, near Lausanne, the brother of Madame de Montolieu, whom I told you of. Madame Polier was the intimate friend of an intimate friend of Henrica's, Miss French, of Derby, who has married a Cambridge friend of Sneyd's, Mr. Smedley, and they are now on a visit at the said Madame Polier's—a Derbyshire party in the heart of Switzerland, and by various connections felted together!

Edward Smedley's wife was Mary Hume, daughter of James Hume who resided at Wandsworth Common. (Mary's sister Lucy Hume, incidentally, was Lewis Carroll's grandmother.) I realised that Maria must be referring to Henry Smedley. In 1814 Henry married Elizabeth Calvert née French (1779-1824), daughter of Richard French of Abbots Hill, Derbyshire. A year previously, in 1813 
Henrica Broadhurst (d 1846),  daughter of John Broadhurst  of Foston Hall, Derbyshire had married Sneyd Edgeworth. So Elizabeth Smedley and Henrica Sneyd Edgeworth, both from Derbyshire, were apparently close friends. The connections spread out like a spiders web: Elizabeth Smedley's father Richard French was a founder member of the Derby Philisophical Society in 1783 along with Erasmus Darwin and others, whilst Sneyd and Maria's father, Richard Edgeworth, was also a longstanding friend of Erasmus Darwin and through him met his second and third wives, Honora and Elizabeth Sneyd. 'By varous connections felted together' indeed!

In 1834 Maria Edgeworth writes to Sneyd referring to Edward Smedley:
Having now done with business I may turn to a little pleasure; a great deal you have given me, my dear Sneyd, by your friend Mr. Smedley's approbation of Helen. His polite playful allusion to the names of the horses, which names at this moment I forget, reminds me of a similar touch of the Duchess of Wellington in describing one of the Duke's battles, she quoted from the Knapsack, "Let the sugar basin be my master."
Despite being a highly successful author, Maria clearly values Smedley's opinion of her work.

These connections show that both Edward and Henry Smedley were more closely entwined with the literary circles of the early nineteenth century than I for one initially supposed. It seems to me that the idea that Jane Austen would have known both Henry and Edward Smedley is perfectly plausible. They certainly had ties with Jane's publisher John Murray and with Maria Edgeworth, who Jane hugely admired as a writer. I think there is hope for the Unseen Portrait yet!