Jane Austen, Humphry Repton & The Pierpont Morgan

A post to merely to remind you that the exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library & Museum on Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design will be there only until August 29, 2010:

Scenic vistas, winding paths, bucolic meadows, and rustic retreats suitable for solitary contemplation are just a few of the alluring naturalistic features of gardens created in the Romantic spirit. Landscape designers of the Romantic era sought to express the inherent beauty of nature in opposition to the strictly symmetrical, formal gardens favored by aristocrats of the old regime.
The Romantics looked to nature as a liberating force, a source of sensual pleasure, moral instruction, religious insight, and artistic inspiration. Eloquent exponents of these ideals, they extolled the mystical powers of nature and argued for more sympathetic styles of garden design in books, manuscripts, and drawings, now regarded as core documents of the Romantic Movement. Their cult of inner beauty and their view of the outside world dominated European thought during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
 [from the Morgan website; the Catalogue of the exhibition is available here


Jane Austen, as her brother Henry Austen writes in his Biographical Notice [included in the Northanger Abbey and Persuasion edition of 1819]:

“was a warm and judicious admirer of landscape, both in nature and on canvass.  At a very early age she was enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque; and she seldom changed her opinions either on books or men.”  

 And so just how did Austen express her opinions on these matters?

From Northanger Abbey, ch. 14: 

Jane Odiwe's Beechen Cliff

They were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste. Here Catherine was quite lost. She knew nothing of drawing — nothing of taste… she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side–screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence….   

[The lovely watercolor of Henry, Miss Tilney and Catherine is from Jane Odiwe’s post on Beechen Cliff ]


Edward Ferrars in Sense & Sensibility, ch. 18:

“You must not inquire too far, Marianne — remember, I have no knowledge in the picturesque, and I shall offend you by my ignorance and want of taste, if we come to particulars. I shall call hills steep, which ought to be bold! surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged; and distant objects out of sight, which ought only to be indistinct through the soft medium of a hazy atmosphere. You must be satisfied with such admiration as I can honestly give. I call it a very fine country — the hills are steep, the woods seem full of fine timber, and the valley looks comfortable and snug — with rich meadows and several neat farm houses scattered here and there. It exactly answers my idea of a fine country, because it unites beauty with utility — and I dare say it is a picturesque one too, because you admire it; I can easily believe it to be full of rocks and promontories, grey moss and brush wood, but these are all lost on me. I know nothing of the picturesque.” …    I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles, or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower — and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”   

[I love this passage from Sense & Sensibility.  Edward is bantering with Marianne, and one sees here a relaxed and humorous Edward – he is comfortable with Marianne and so much more himself – he is more stilted and uncomfortable with Elinor because of the feelings he has for her – this passage has always given me hope of the real Edward when the obstacle of Lucy is removed from the equation – and thankfully she is!]…


And let’s not leave out Mr. Rushworth and his efforts to “improve” Sotherton!  Mansfield Park, ch. 6: [image from Molland’s]

Mr. Rushworth at the gate at Sotherton

He [Mr. Rushworth] had been visiting a friend in the neighbouring county, and that friend having recently had his grounds laid out by an improver, Mr. Rushworth was returned with his head full of the subject, and very eager to be improving his own place in the same way; and though not saying much to the purpose, could talk of nothing else. The subject had been already handled in the drawing–room; it was revived in the dining–parlour…

 “I wish you could see Compton,” said he; “it is the most complete thing! I never saw a place so altered in my life. I told Smith I did not know where I was. The approach now, is one of the finest things in the country: you see the house in the most surprising manner. I declare, when I got back to Sotherton yesterday, it looked like a prison— quite a dismal old prison.”

“Oh, for shame!” cried Mrs. Norris. “A prison indeed? Sotherton Court is the noblest old place in the world.”

“It wants improvement, ma’am, beyond anything. I never saw a place that wanted so much improvement in my life; and it is so forlorn that I do not know what can be done with it…I must try to do something with it,” said Mr. Rushworth, “but I do not know what. I hope I shall have some good friend to help me.”

“Your best friend upon such an occasion,” said Miss Bertram calmly, “would be Mr. Repton, I imagine.”

“That is what I was thinking of. As he has done so well by Smith, I think I had better have him at once. His terms are five guineas a day.”  …

After a short interruption Mr. Rushworth began again. “Smith’s place is the admiration of all the country; and it was a mere nothing before Repton took it in hand. I think I shall have Repton.”

“Mr. Rushworth,” said Lady Bertram, “if I were you, I would have a very pretty shrubbery. One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather.” …

… Mr. Rushworth, however, though not usually a great talker, had still more to say on the subject next his heart. “Smith has not much above a hundred acres altogether in his grounds, which is little enough, and makes it more surprising that the place can have been so improved. Now, at Sotherton we have a good seven hundred, without reckoning the water meadows; so that I think, if so much could be done at Compton, we need not despair. There have been two or three fine old trees cut down, that grew too near the house, and it opens the prospect amazingly, which makes me think that Repton, or anybody of that sort, would certainly have the avenue at Sotherton down: the avenue that leads from the west front to the top of the hill, you know,”

Fanny, who was sitting on the other side of Edmund, exactly opposite Miss Crawford, and who had been attentively listening, now looked at him, and said in a low voice—

“Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’”

He smiled as he answered, “I am afraid the avenue stands a bad chance, Fanny.”


[Humphry Repton, from Wikipedia]

The exhibit at the Morgan includes two of Humphry Repton’s Red Books.  Repton [1752-1818] was the leading landscape architect of his day, as Mr. Rushworth so notes – his Red Books were the compilations of his observations in words and watercolors of his landscape plans for a client’s property, and included the use of overlays for a before-and-after scenario.  – The Morgan has made available an online page-by-page view of two of these books:  The Hatchlands and Ferney Hall. 

Hatchlands Red Book

Ferney Hall Red Book

and a view of Hatchlands Park today [Ferney Hall was replaced in 1856 with a Victorian mansion and has recently been restored]


[A short note here also on William Gilpin: please visit Austenonly where Julie has posted a recent article for the Austenprose P&P event on Gilpin and Austen that covers this subject quite nicely!]

Gilpin first introduced the term “picturesque 1782 in his Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, etc. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; made in the Summer of the Year 1770, a book that outlined for travelers in England a way to view the beauties of the country based on his rules of the picturesque.  Austen was very familiar with Gilpin’s writings – as seen above, both Henry Tilney and Edward Ferrars comment on and satirize his theories. And the trip taken by the Gardiners and Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice closely follows a travelogue set forth by Gilpin, and so to Elizabeth relies on Gilpin to escape a walk with Mr. Darcy and the Bingley sisters:

But Elizabeth, who had not the least inclination to remain with them, laughingly answered, —

   “No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye.”  

[Pride & Prejudice, ch. 10]


Further Reading: [all Google Books sources are full-text]

 The two must-have books for your Austen Library on Jane Austen and the landscape:

Alistair Duckworth.  The Improvement of the Estate:  A Study Of Jane Austen’s Novels.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins U Press, 1971; reprinted in paperback, 1994  –  brilliant 

Mavis Batey.  Jane Austen and the English Landscape.  London:  Barn Elms, 1996   –  absolutely lovely!

Humphry Repton:

William Gilpin  and the “Picturesque”:

[Posted by Deb] 

Janeites at the Morgan

A triple series of Janeite interest in the Pierport Morgan Library & Museum’s Austen Exhibit —

From Janeite Hope:

From now until March 14th the Morgan Library and Museum is exhibiting “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy.” According to the website, the exhibition “explores the life, work, and legacy of Jane Austen (1775–1817), regarded as one of the greatest English novelists. Offering a close-up portrait of the iconic British author, whose popularity has surged over the last two decades with numerous motion picture and television adaptations of her work, the show provides tangible intimacy with Austen through the presentation of more than 100 works, including her manuscripts, personal letters, and related materials, many of which the Morgan has not exhibited in over a quarter century.”

There is an online exhibition that includes images of pages from the manuscript of “Lady Susan” along with a short documentary film commissioned for the exhibit. The film contains brief interviews with several writers, scholars, and actors (you’ll recognize Harriet Walker – Fanny Dashwood in the Thompson Sense and Sensibility). Though the interviews are interesting, what I like best about the documentary is watching the participants handle Austen’s letters and manuscripts. Bit of a vicarious thrill, there.

More at: www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/exhibition.asp?id=22


From Janeite Suzanne:

I’d never been to the Morgan, so I’m glad to have discovered it. There was a little film showing downstairs in the theater to introduce the JA exhibit. It had a variety of people giving their thoughts about the letters. It was ok, but seemed like rather a stretch to pad the exhibit and not particularly valuable. And it bothered me a bit to see someone actually handling the letters. They were also playing the movie, none too quietly, in the actual exhibit room which I found annoying because at that point I wanted to enjoy looking at the letters undisturbed.

They were hard to read, of course, but one could read much of it, even with cross writing and that was nice. Seeing the actual “JA” was a thrill. I was surprised that one letter had the JA squished right down to the edge of the paper and the “a” was a large lowercase a, not the one we think of as her signature and which was on everything else.

 There were period copies of the books she would have read and some delightful period satirical illustrations, but what I liked best was a letter she’d written to a youthful Cassy. It would have been better if the presenters hadn’t “translated” it for us because that was the fun. I felt that I gained some insight into J’s character from seeing how she wrote this to a child and also that she was able to form the words as smoothly as if they had been familiar letters sequences. I shall have to make up my own text, but it will give you the idea of her “code”.

Read Yssac,

Ew Era ta emoh yadot dna ti si gniniar. Spahrep ew lliw eb elba ot og rof  a egairrac edir siht noonretfa. I ylniatrec epoh os esuaceb ereht era ynam sgniht ew dluohs tisiv erofeb ew evael Thab.

Rouy gnivol tnua, Enaj

Now, wasn’t that fun! It’s much harder than simply writing backwards, especially the capitalization. Now I have to wonder if she thought it up herself.


from Janeite Bonnie:


Last night, I went to the Morgan Library and Museum’s exhibition “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy”, and, oh, what I saw!! I didn’t know that the Morgan holds the world’s largest collection of Austen’s letters, 51 of the 160 known ones. The curators trotted out many of the more well-known letters, and it was thrilling to see them in the original hand. Among the Austenalia I got to examine:

–cross-hatched letters and letters with lines excised by Cassandra
–the backwards letter to her niece Cassy
–the letter in which she writes of the gentleman on which she “once doated”
–the letter in which she writes of having a shaking hand from having drunk so much wine, and mentions the woman with the diamond bandeau, pink husband, and fat neck, and James Digweed having made a gallant remark about the two elms falling down in grief over the absence of Cassandra (a particularly enjoyable letter, and dated November 20–serendipitously read by me 209 years to the day later)
–the letter in which she drew the pattern of the lace for her new cloak
–the letter in which she asks Cassandra to tell Fanny that she has found a portrait that looks “excessively like” how she pictures Mrs. Bingley
–the page on which she sums up her expenditures for a year
–her satirical “Plan of a Novel” (very difficult to read)
–Cassandra’s letter to Fanny describing Austen’s last days and her death
–some pages of the manuscript of “The Watsons” with much editing
–some pages of the manuscript of “Lady Susan” (of which the Morgan holds the entire manuscript)
–James Stanier Clarke’s letter to Austen, in which he tells her that it is not *incumbent* on her to dedicate her next novel to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, but…
–first editions of all six novels, including the spines of a three-volume set of “Emma” with the price on the original labels
–one of the books that Austen owned, “The Spectator”, with her signature and “Steventon” inscribed inside

There was other material on display related to Jane Austen, such as books by Richardson and Cowper, a copy of “Camilla” open to the page of subscribers where “Miss J. Austen, Steventon” is listed (believed to be the only time her name was in print before her death), Walter Scott’s original journal open to the page of his comment about Austen’s “exquisite touch” versus his “Big Bow-wow strain”, material by Yeats, Nabokov, and Kipling, an edition of Pride and Prejudice with a preface by George Saintsbury (he who coined the term “Janite”, now “Janeite”), and, to top it off, original prints by James Gillray interspersed among Austen’s letters to punctuate some of the trenchant comments she made in them.

As a little bonus, on the way out I stopped by Mr. Morgan’s library and took a peep at the original 1843 manuscript of “A Christmas Carol” and one of the three Gutenberg Bibles (1455) in the Morgan collection.

All I can say is, I’m so thankful for the Morgans’ use of their money in this manner.

in a second email, the following wonderful & exciting tidbit was added:

I have one more thing to tell. It happened during the question-taking portion of the gallery talk. One of the enthusiasts in the crowd questioned Declan Kiely, the curator of the exhibition, about the attribution of one of the documents — a scrap attributed to Jane Austen, with the titles of all her novels. The woman questioned whether it was actually Jane Austen who had written it, as the title “Persuasion” was listed, and she thought that that was the title Henry had given it after Jane’s death, and that she had always called it “The Elliots”. I had read that too, but I wasn’t sure that it had not been settled on before her death, as there are other theories out there.

Afterwards, a few of us compared it with the note that she wrote summing up some profits from her books, which was in the same frame, and we saw that the capital P’s didn’t match. However, now that I see the “Profits” scrap close up on the Morgan website, I do see two different ways that Austen wrote capital P on the same scrap

(See the P in “Mansfield Park”, then compare it to the P in “Profits from Emma” quite near the blot of ink.)

If it is the case that Jane Austen habitually wrote her capital P two ways, then the scrap with all the titles of her novels that is attributed to her would confirm that she intended the title of her last novel to be “Persuasion”, and all the speculation should be laid to rest.

I think it will require another trip to take a closer look and see if there are similarities of script in Cassandra’s letter to Fanny, and look for capital P’s in all of Jane Austen’s other letters…

I don’t know if people are aware of this, but the Morgan has no entrance fee from 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM on Fridays.

Jane Austen at the Pierpont Morgan Library

The Pierpont Morgan Library announces its upcoming Austen exhibit:


morgan exhibit letterA Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy
November 6, 2009,
through March 14, 2010

[Jane Austen, Lady Susan, autograph manuscript, written ca. 1794–95 and transcribed in fair copy soon after 1805. The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased in 1947; MA 1226.]






“This exhibition explores the life, work, and legacy of Jane Austen (1775–1817), regarded as one of the greatest English novelists. Over the past two decades, numerous successful motion picture and television adaptations of Austen’s novels have led to a resurgence of interest in her life and work. Providing a close-up portrait of Austen, this exhibition achieves tangible intimacy with the author through the presentation of her manuscripts and personal letters, which the Morgan has not exhibited in a generation.

 The Morgan’s collection of Austen’s manuscripts and letters is the largest of any institution in the world and includes the darkly satiric Lady Susan, the only surviving complete manuscript of any of Austen’s novels. The exhibition also includes first and early illustrated editions of Austen’s novels as well as contemporary drawings and prints depicting people, places, and events of biographical significance. In addition to the literary influences that inspired and informed Austen’s works will be responses by later writers as diverse as Auden, Kipling, Nabokov, Scott, Yeats, and Woolf. A specially commissioned film of interviews with contemporary authors and actors commenting on Austen’s work and influence will also be shown in the gallery.”

[See the Library website here]


The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street
New York, NY 10016

Tel: (212) 685-0008

Posted by Deb