"On the Dais and Under the Canopy"
A Posting of What Men Have
Said About Jane Austen—Continued

December 16, 1998

Revd Fulwar-Craven Fowle
- A Neighbor

Deirdre Le Faye quotes this neighbor in her The British Library Writer's Lives: Jane Austen, Oxford. He had this to say about our Lady:

"... she was pretty—certainly pretty—bright and good color in her face—like a doll—no that wd. not give at all the idea for she had so much expression--she was like a child—quite a child very lively & full of humor—most amiable—most beloved—"


Richard Whately
Thomas Macaulay

Richard Whately (1787-1863) was a contemporary of Jane Austen, a scholar, and a churchman. He was professor of political economy at Oxford and would rise to the position of archbishop of Dublin. He is remembered as a critic of the use of dogma in theology. He also knew how to read as he demonstrated with this review of Jane Austen's last two novels. I will quote a very small part of the much longer essay. I recommend the full version to you; the essay was written over 175 years ago, but contains an excellent analysis of novels in general and Jane Austen's novels in particular. Among the many good things that I will not quote is the best analysis of Mansfield Park that I have ever seen. (I do not reproduce Whately's spelling of either "Shakspeare" or "Austin".)

Jane Austen died in 1817 and her last two novels appeared in 1818. So, you see, Whately was an early admirer indeed.

Twenty two years later, another male voice would come, independently, to remarkably similar conclusions including a handsome comparison of Jane Austen with Shakespeare. Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), the first Baron Macaulay, though a bit younger, was also a contemporary of Jane Austen. He left a remarkable record of accomplishment; a Liberal politician, educator, colonist, essayist, Cabinet Minister, historian—I likely have left out something. His History of England is read and appreciated to this day. However, someday, his fame must rest upon these very acute observations on Jane Austen. Southam informs us that this excerpt begins just after Macaulay has distinguished between caricature and the true representation of human nature, found supremely in the characters of Shakespeare.

"Shakespeare has had neither equal or second. But among the writers who, in the point which we have noticed, have approached nearest to the manner of the great master, we have no hesitation in placing Jane Austen, a woman of whom England is justly proud. She has given us a multitude of characters, all in a certain sense, common place, all such as we meet every day. Yet they are all as perfectly discriminated from each other as if they were the most eccentric of human beings. There are, for example, four clergymen, none of whom we should be surprised to find in any parsonage in the kingdom, Mr Edward Ferrars, Mr Henry Tilney, Mr Edmund Bertram, and Mr Elton. They are all specimens of the upper part of the middle class. They have all been liberally educated. They all lie under the restraints of the same sacred profession. They are all young. They are all in love. Not one of them has any hobbyhorse...Not one has a ruling passion... Who would not have expected them to be insipid likenesses of each other? No such thing. ...[no characters in literature are more unlike] than every one of Miss Austen's young divines to all his reverend brethren. And all this is done by touches so delicate, that they elude analysis, that they defy the powers of description, and that we know them to exist only by the general effect to which they have contributed.

A line must be drawn, we conceive, between the artists of this class, and those poets and novelists whose skill lies in the exhibiting of what Ben Jonson called humours.... There are undoubtedly persons, in whom humors such as Ben described have gained ascendancy... avarice... insane desire... malevolence... The feeling which animated Clarkson and other virtuous men against the slave-trade and slavery, is an instance of a more honourable kind.

...But we conceive that the imitation of such humours, however skilful and amusing, is not an achievement of the highest order; and, as such humours are so rare in real life, they ought, we conceive, to be sparingly introduced into works which profess to be pictures of real life... The chief seats of all, however, the places on the dais and under the canopy, are reserved for the few who have excelled in the difficult art of portraying characters in which no single feature is extravagantly overcharged." [South-68, #26]

Thomas Macaulay, The Diary and Letters of Mme. D'Arblay, 1843

I like to think of Jane Austen on the dais and under the canopy—don't you? My biographical source is The Oxford Companion to English Literature, Fourth Edition.

Lord Morpeth


Or is it thou, all perfect Austen? Here
Let one poor wreath adorn thy early bier,
That scarce allowed thy modest youth to claim
Its living portion of thy certain fame!
While the clear style flows on without pretense,
With unstained purity, and unmatched sense:
Or if a sister e'er approached the throne,
She called the rich 'inheritance' her own.

Lord Morpeth, Lord-Lieutenant
Of Ireland, (1825)

Sleep well, golden loom

Jane Austen's Grave Site
Winchester Cathedral


Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson, first Baron Tennyson, (1809-1892) was eight years old when Jane Austen died. This great poet would eventually rise to the rank of poet laureate; but, before that, he would establish his credentials as an early Janeite of the first rank. My quotes are taken from the second volume of B. C. Southam's collections [South-87].

At the time, Jane Austen's letters had not been published. Macaulay regretted that fact, but Southam describes a different attitude for Tennyson: "Tennyson, equally devoted--'He would read and re-read the novels'--fulminated against such revelation. Cherishing her as 'next to Shakespeare', 'he thanked God Almighty that he knew nothing of Jane Austen, and that there were no letters preserved either of Shakespeare's or of Jane Austen's, that they had not been ripped open like pigs.' "

Tennyson is reported to have said

That remark became so widely circulated that Tennyson thought to explain himself.

The poet also admired George Eliot's genius and insight but maintained that she was not so truthful as Shakespeare or Jane Austen. In one version of this quote, it is maintained that Tennyson said this to George Eliot's face: confessing he greatly admired her insight into character, "but did not think her so true to nature as Shakespeare or Miss Austen".


Henry James

I will first quote from a letter written in 1883; this is a letter in which James replies to a friend who had left a copy of his Harvard dissertation for the great man to read.

Let me repeat "...Emma Woodhouse and Anne Elliot give us as great an impression of 'passion'--that celebrated quality—as the ladies of G. Sand and Balzac." - yes, exactly.

Next, I quote here from two essays by Henry James. The first excerpt is from 1905; I omit a portion of the quote which contains some condescending remarks about the rising estimate of Jane Austen's art a result, to some extent, of a marketing ploy. I couldn't force myself to type that. In general, one is tempted to agree with the opinion of that waggish, male voice who observed that James was giving "a pat for the giant Jane!"

I suspect that this "little" praise could have been composed with fewer commas. It is difficult to believe that his sense of curiosity was so stunted - in either instance.

An irony here is that a number of literary people have decided that Jane Austen is the artistic mother of Henry James.

Sir Francis Darwin

Evolution and heredity were Darwin family preoccupations. Charles Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1732-1802) was from the same generation as Jane Austen's father. (Charles himself was about eight years old when the great Jane died.) Erasmus was a physician, naturalist, and writer of prose among other things. He recognized the implications of the fossil record, as did so many others, and published his own theory of evolution in Zoonomia (1794-96)—in plenty of time to have been read, perhaps, by the divine Jane. So you see, his more famous grandson, Charles Darwin (1808-82), did not invent the basic idea. What Charles did was supply a carefully constructed description of the fossil record, especially that significant portion he had assembled himself, and he described a plausible theoretical mechanism—natural selection. (Erasmus's theories depended upon mutation as the mechanism for evolution.) In the meantime, another grandson (the younger cousin of Charles Darwin), Francis Galton was expostulating on the related subject of heredity. Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) was a world traveler, anthropologist, meteorologist, applied statistician, writer, and what else.

Francis Galton's studies would take a slightly sinister turn when he founded the theory of eugenics. That certainly contributed to the furtherance of "social Darwinism", which contributed, in turn, to American racism and to justifications of English imperialism and the English class system. Also—it must be said—twentieth century fascist politics borrowed from the eugenics movement. Other than that, eugenics is not so bad—well. Galton has to take some of the blame for all that; read this quote from the great man: "[eugenics] has indeed, strong claims to become an orthodox religious tenet of the future, for Eugenics cooperates with the workings of Nature, by securing that humanity shall be represented by the fittest races. What Nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly, and kindly". Hmmm, not so quickly there, Sir Francis!

The focus in this posting is on Sir Francis Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin. He greatly admired his father, of course, but he admired his father's cousin as well. He published a set of his own essays and speeches under the same cover in 1917. His Chapter V is titled Jane Austen and contains some interesting observations that I will quote. (That same chapter also contains some looney tunes.) I have read that Jane Austen was a family favorite with everyone including Charles but I have not, as yet, found a quote from him.

True enough but Sir Francis seems to confuse sedentary with quietude. He also does not seem to notice that the mobility of Emma's sister, Mrs. Elton, and Jane Fairfax destroys his idea of things. It is true that none of them traveled outside of England, but then there were those inconveniences thrown up by the French Army and the Irish patriots. In spite of even that, Mary Wollstonecraft and then her daughter traveled all over Britain and the continent. I should think that Emma, or any other gentlewoman, could have attended any meeting she wished and she would have chosen to attend any place where some of her own monies were being budgeted. I mean, can you imagine Lady Catherine being told that she couldn't attend a meeting because of her gender? I don't think so.

That chapter concludes with some foolishness in which Sir Francis, among other things, arranges Jane Austen's characters into phyla.—Silly, silly eugenics.—Spare me, Sir Francis.

D. H. Lawrence

By all means, push me around all you want - as long as you feel at one with me - that will make all the difference. Well, Jane Austen's family was upwardly mobile beginning with her father; the Austens were seeking entrance and hardly had anything to be snobbish about unless it was their talents and accomplishments. I don't have the faintest glimmer of what the great man is suggesting.

Thornton Wilder

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill authored a multi-volume History of the Second World War. This is from the fifth volume, Closing the Ring, Chapter 7. The Prime Minister was quite ill in December 1943 and found himself "on the flat of his back amid the ruins of ancient Carthage" (modern Tunisia). He was under the pressure of a great workload but was required to rest in order to restore his health. He says this:

Acknowledgement to Kate2 (11/5/98). It was Kate2 who also informed us that "'M and B' refers to May and Baker, a well known pharmaceutical firm who supplied Churchill's anti-pneumonia drugs."

In December of 1943, America had passed the halfway point in its involvement in World War II. It is now clear that all the issues were settled by that time, the outcome was inevitable. However, many millions more would die before the war would end. And, before the end, all the world would learn particular place names - Dachau, Auschwitz, Dresden, and Hiroshima. And, in that same short time frame, the world would be introduced to new machines. Hitler called his rockets the "V2"; the "V" stood for "vengeance weapon". The same name could equally well have been applied to the other machines - the tools of the holocaust, the incendiary bombs of the British, the Kamikaze planes, and the atomic bomb. But, illness carries one benefit, it makes time stand still—stand still enough to allow a great man to dream of another reality, another time when a pair of fine eyes would first eagerly examine Darcy's letter.


Other Male Voices
In Praise of Jane Austen

W.H. Auden
Sir Francis Austen
Henry Austen
James Austen
James Edward Austen
Lord Brabourne
Patrick O'Brian
G.K. Chesterton
Frank O'Connor
E.M. Forster
John Hubback
Paul Jennings
Rudyard Kipling
George Henry Lewes
C.S. Lewis
Chief Justice John Marshall
Sir Walter Scott
Anthony Trollope
Mark Twain

Local Links

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What Some Women Shouldn't
Have Said About Jane Austen

Jane Austen's Time

Jane Austen's contemporaries
Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Shelley
Women in the Regency Period
The Death of Jane Austen