Today in Jane Austen’s life: on November 13, 1815, Jane Austen visited Carlton House, the London home of the Prince Regent, at the invitation of the Prince’s Librarian James Stanier Clarke. Austen was “asked” to dedicate her next book – Emma – to the Prince – it is the only dedication in her six novels [her juvenilia was humorously dedicated to her family members – see Peter Sabor’s article in Persuasions 31 (2009) “Brotherly and Sisterly Dedications in Jane Austen’s Juvenilia”].
This is Austen’s letter to Clarke on the 15th:
Wednesday 15 November 1815
I must take the liberty of asking You a question – Among the many flattering attentions which I rec’d from you at Carlton House, on Monday last, was the Information of my being at liberty to dedicate any future Work to HRH the P.R. without the necessity of any Solicitation on my part. Such at least, I beleived to be your words; but as I am very anxious to be quite certain of what was intended, I intreat you to have the goodness to inform me how such Permission is to be understood, & whether it is incumbent on me to shew my sense of the Honour, by inscribing the Work now in the Press, to H.R.H. – I sh’d be equally concerned to appear either presumptuous or Ungrateful.-
I am etc…
[Le Faye, Ltr. 125 (D), p. 296]
Clarke responded immediately:
“It is certainly not incumbent on you to dedicate your work now in the Press to His Royal Highness: but if you wish to do the Regent that honour either now or at some future period, I am happy to send you that permission which need not require any more trouble or solicitation on your Part.” (Ltr. 125 (A), p.296)
Austen and Clarke engaged in a lively correspondence about this dedication and Clarke’s efforts to have Austen write a book about a clergyman… Austen responded in her most humorous fashion:
“I am fully sensible than an Historical Romance founded on the House of Saxe Cobourg might be more to the purpose of Profit or Popularity, than such pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages as I deal in – but I could no more write a Romance than an Epic Poem. – I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other notice than to save my Life, & if it were indispensible for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I finished the first Chapter.- No – I must keep to my own style & go on in my own Way…” (Ltr. 138(D), p. 312).
It is unfortunate that no letter exists in which Jane writes Cassandra her impressions of Carlton House and the Prince’s request – it surely must have been written – how could Austen resist sharing her thoughts about Clarke and Carlton House with her sister! – it is likely one of those that Cassandra felt could not be passed on perhaps for its anti-P.R. sentiments. – In Letter 128 to Cassandra (Le Faye, 300), Austen writes “I did mention the P.R.- in my note to Mr. Murray, it brought me a fine compliment in return…” – which seems to indicate that Austen had written just previously to Cassandra about this request for a dedication. But all we have is Austen’s very humorous dedication to Emma:
TO HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE PRINCE REGENT,
THIS WORK IS, BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S PERMISSION,
MOST RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED,
BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS’S
DUTIFUL AND OBEDIENT HUMBLE SERVANT,
- Carlton House at Wikipedia
- Ray, Joan Klingel and Richard James Wheeler. “James Stanier Clarke’s Portrait Of Jane Austen” Persuasions 27 (2005): 112-118.
- Sheehan, Colleen A. “Jane Austen’s ‘Tribute’ to the Prince Regent: A Gentleman Riddled with Difficulty.” Persuasions On-Line 27.1 (Winter 2006).
- Summerson, John. Georgian London. 1945. New Haven: Yale U Press, 2003
- Viveash, Chris. James Stanier Clarke. Winchester: Sarsen Press, 2006.
- Austenonly post on “Jane Austen and London: A Visit to Carlton House“
[Images from the Wikipedia article on Carlton House]