Jane Austen and Astley’s Amphitheatre ~ What She Saw…

Dear Readers: Here is an update to the Astley’s Amphitheatre bit I mentioned in yesterday’s “Pemberley Post” – our esteemed co-regional coordinator for the Vermont region (Hope) was by complete coincidence doing some research in the 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers and found some relevant tidbits to add to our understanding of Astley’s and what Jane Austen might have exactly seen – Hope left a comment on the blog post, but I have put it in here as its own post in order to see some of the newspaper images to best advantage…

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Austen mentions Astley’s in a letter to Cassandra on 23 August 1796:

“Edward and Frank are both gone out to seek their fortunes; the latter is to return soon and help us seek ours. The former we shall never see again. We are to be at Astley’s to-night, which I am glad of.”

And in Emma: He [Robert Martin] delivered these papers to John, at his chambers, and was asked by him to join their party the same evening to Astley’s. They were going to take the two eldest boys to Astley’s… and in the next chapter: Harriet was most happy to give every particular of the evening at Astley’s, and the dinner the next day…

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From Hope:

What a coincidence. I was just looking in an online newspaper database from that period and had noticed some Astley’s news. So, I looked up the dates around Jane’s letter [August 23, 1796, Letter 3]. Astley’s changed their program every Monday (for Tuesday’s performance). If Jane had read the advertisements Tuesday morning for the performance that night she would have seen that the program included:

The West India Heroic Spectacle, Mechanical Fireworks, Hydraulic Devices, a new comic ballad by Mr. Johannot, called “The Nine Musical Taylors, or, A Sure way to get rich (arranged, compiled, written and composed by Mr. Astley, Sen.), Mr. Johannot also singing New Cries of London (also by Mr. Astley, Sen.), a Pantomimical Dance (composed by Mr. West) called “New Wheat; or, The Mill’s Agoing, a new dance called The Provincial Sailors, Chemical experiments with Signor Romaldo, Professor of Natural Philosophy, Equestrian activities as a Minuet by two horses, a Hornpipe by another, and a variety of military pantomimes, all concluding with a Grand Pantomime “The Magician of the Alps” with a “most beautiful  and magnificent Aerial Vertical Colonnade and Brilliant Transparent Celestial Temple, the whole of which are in motion.”

– Attendees were adjured to arrive between 5:30 and 6:30 and could, if they so desired, send their servants in at 5:00 to save their seats as long as they had spoken first with Mrs. Connell.

– Tickets cost 4s for Boxes, 2s if space available after 8:00; 2s. For Pit, 1s as available after 8:00; and 1s. for the Gallery, 6d after 8:00.
– Jane may have also compared her reaction to the show with some “reviews” touting the fine entertainment to be had at Astley’s, or even have learned that on the same day she went, the traveling version of the show, led by “Young Astley” was playing in Manchester to great acclaim, Manchester being filled with troops preparing for a review two days hence.

1) Morning Chronicle (London, England), Friday, August 19, 1796; Issue 8380. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.


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A similar notice appeared in:

2) Morning Post and Fashionable World (London, England), Friday, August 19, 1796; Issue 7625. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

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3) Another can be found in Times (London, England), Friday, August 19, 1796; Issue 3666. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

4) St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England), August 20, 1796 – August 23, 1796; Issue 6033. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.


Note that this one announces some changes to the program, including the intriguing notice that: “Ballad Singer, Mr. JOHANNOT, who will sing the NEW CRIES of LONDON; written and composed by Mr. Astley, Sen.”

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5) Those changes were also duly noted in:

Whitehall Evening Post (1770) (London, England), August 20, 1796 – August 23, 1796; Issue 7168. (2949 words). 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

In slightly abbreviated form in:

Times (London, England), Monday, August 22, 1796; Issue 3668. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

6) On the morning that Austen mentions they will be going to Astley’s, they could have found the latest version with the above changes at:

– Daily Advertiser (London, England), Tuesday, August 23, 1796; Issue 21131. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.
– Oracle and Public Advertiser (London, England), Tuesday, August 23, 1796; Issue 19 407. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.
– Star (London, England), Tuesday, August 23, 1796; Issue 2504. (2372 words). 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

Throughout the year reviewers made sure to mention the fact that Astley changed the program every week, and to praise the results. Here are some examples.

7) True Briton (1793) (London, England), Saturday, August 20, 1796; Issue 1140. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

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8) Star (London, England), Tuesday, August 23, 1796; Issue 2504. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

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9) True Briton (1793) (London, England), Tuesday, August 23, 1796; Issue 1142. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

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10) And this one, referring to the end of that week’s program:

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11) Meanwhile, from Manchester, we learn that:
Star (London, England), Saturday, August 27, 1796; Issue 2508. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

The same “letter” also appears in:
Star (London, England), Saturday, August 27, 1796; Issue 2508. (1080 words). 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.

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Thank you Hope for all this information – certainly proof that Astley’s was as great a source of entertainment as it was of journalistic interest!

17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers is housed at the British Library and is available through Gale Cengage on a subscription basis – your library might have access.

c2019, Jane Austen in Vermont

One thought on “Jane Austen and Astley’s Amphitheatre ~ What She Saw…

  1. Have you read Charles Dickens account of Astleys, in Sketches by Boz?
    I love the way he recorded the comic dialogue between some of the performers.
    It always surprises me to find that every period in London’s history had its places of entertainment. Recently I have discovered the site of Richard Burbage’ pleasure grounds in Shoreditch. A council estate is now on the site with every road and alleyway named after a Shakespeare character, Lear Road, Miranda Close, Ophelia Lane, Arden Way and so on. The area is just north of Curtain Road and of course, The Curtain, was…..you get my drift? London is amazing like that.

    Like

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