The Voices of Men in Praise of Jane Austen
Messages on the Bulletin Board - c. Dec. 25, 2001


          9-11

Dear Folks,

Jane Austen's favorite poet was William Cowper (pronounce that, "Cooper"). It is said that her family members teased her that she must marry him someday (she never actually met him). However, for the most part I want to discuss Cowper's good friend and collaborator, John Newton 1725-1807, on this Christmas Day. (My reference is this external web site.)

John Newton was born in London, the son of the commander of a merchant ship. John was seven years old when death took the mother who had been his teacher and friend. This made him bitter and he began a decline into rebellion and degradation that lasted until his 24th year. At age eleven, he went to sea with his father and made six voyages with him before the elder Newton retired. In 1744 John was forced into service on a man-of-war. He deserted but was soon recaptured, publicly flogged, and demoted from midshipman to common seaman.

Ultimately, Newton was exchanged into service on a slave ship, which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone. He then became the servant of a slave trader and was brutally abused - some say he became a slave himself. John was rescued by a sea captain who had known his father.

John Newton ultimately became captain of his own slave ship. He was so wretched at times that even his crew regarded him as little more than an animal. Newton's self-described "great deliverance" began during a violent storm. The gale was so severe that the livestock were washed overboard and the crew members lashed themselves to the ship to avoid the same fate. As Newton was attempting to steer the ship, when all seemed lost, and when it seemed the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, "Lord, have mercy upon us." Later he reflected on what he had exclaimed and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him. For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion, a day of humiliation in which he subjected his will to a higher power. "Thro' many dangers, toils and snares / I have already come; / 'Tis grace has bro't me safe thus far / And grace will lead me home."

Newton kept extensive journals and wrote many letters. Historians accredit his journals and letters for much of what is known today about the eighteenth century slave trade.

In 1750 he married a woman with whom he had been in love for many years. By 1755, after a serious illness, he had given up seafaring forever. Even during his days as a sailor he had begun to educate himself, teaching himself Latin among other subjects. From 1755 to 1760 Newton was surveyor of tides at Liverpool, where he came to know George Whitefield, deacon in the Church of England, evangelistic preacher, and leader of the Calvinistic Methodist Church. Newton became Whitefield's enthusiastic disciple. During this period Newton also met and came to admire John Wesley, founder of Methodism. Newton's self-education intensified, and he learned Greek and Hebrew.

In Cardiphonia, or the Utterance of the Heart, a series of devotional letters, he aligned himself with the Evangelical revival, reflecting the sentiments of his friend John Wesley and Methodism.

Newton hoped to become a minister and applied to the Archbishop of York for ordination. He was denied but persisted in his goal. He was ordained eventually and provided the curacy of Olney, Buckinghamshire. His sermons were very popular and Newton's church became so crowded during services that it had to be enlarged.

William Cowper settled at Olney in 1767, and he and Newton became friends. This poet helped Newton with his religious services and they held not only the regular weekly church service but also began a series of weekly prayer meetings. It became their goal to write a new hymn for each such meeting. So it was that the curate and the poet collaborated on the Olney Hymns, which achieved lasting popularity. The first edition, published in 1779, contained 68 pieces by Cowper and 280 by Newton. (Jane Austen was four years old in December of that year.)


William Cowper
1731-1800

Among Newton's contributions, which are still loved and sung today, are How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds and Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, as well as the famous one I am about to present to you - the hymn composed between 1760 and 1770 in Olney.


John Newton
1725-1807

In 1780 Newton left Olney to become rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, St. Mary Woolchurch, in London. There he drew large congregations and influenced many, among them William Wilberforce, who would one day become a leader in the campaign for the abolition of slavery. Newton continued to preach until the last year of life, although he was blind by that time. At 82, shortly before he died he said, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour." He died in London December 21, 1807 but left his executors instructions for this epitaph:

JOHN NEWTON, Clerk
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour
JESUS CHRIST,
restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy.
He ministered,
Near sixteen years in Olney, in Bucks,
And twenty-eight years in this Church.

Here is that hymn I promised you. I present it to you with its original title, but with the wording more familiar to our times. It is believed that someone else wrote the final verse; in fact, through the years, other writers have composed many additional verses to this particular hymn. The origin of the melody is unknown but most hymnals attribute it to an early American folk melody, New Britain

Faith's Review and Expectation

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, Who called me here below,
Shall be forever mine.

When we've been here ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Dear Voices,

MERRY CHRISTMAS
AND A
HAPPY AND PEACEFUL NEW YEAR
WITH LOVE FROM LINDA


Dear Voices,

Every now and then the opinion that Jane Austen's sphere was limited to her narrow environs and a small number of acquaintances is brought up and agreed to by most people.  I wish to add some thoughts for your consideration.  Here are the quotes from Cindy's thread with the relevant words in boldface that prompted this rant.

Cindy said:


I was born and reared in a small community of approximately a twenty mile radius. In the first twenty years of my life I can count on the fingers of one hand the times we ventured further than that.  The people in that community were basically middle class.  The local officials were our "aristocracy" who commanded all the condescension of being our superiors.  Baton Rouge was fifteen miles away but we only went there about twice a year to visit relatives or shop.  I attended the same school for 12 years, graduating with the same ones I started out in the first grade.  My horizons expanded a bit when I went to college about 30 miles away in another small country town.  Thereafter I hit the "big Cities" of New Orleans and the suburbs of New York City.

The point being that I did my traveling via books.  The education provided by the school system was not the best possible.  Those books that I did read on my own provided the "education" I really received.  As I said before, there was a lot of fluff, but fortunately I managed to stumble across some good ones.  I say "stumbled" because there was precious little guidance in what to read.  Shakespeare was left in the dust.  The only profitable memory I have of him is when my senior English teacher read one play (I don't remember which one) aloud to us.  That I understood.

My salvation was the historical novels I read.  In those I not only learned more history than the textbooks provided, but also the customs of other peoples.  In later years I astonished my cousin who had just returned from a stay in Europe when I asked if they still used a small glass rectangle to rest their used utensils on after eating.  I had read about that in a Frances Parkinson Keyes book.  Her prologues were extensive with lots of information about the places she visited in researching her books.  I was an excellent armchair traveler.

As for the sordid and poor side of life, we did not even claim the distinction of having a town drunk to walk the streets because ours was a "dry" parish.  However, if so inclined, everyone knew what was available "across the river".  Our family had a couple of drunks, so we saw that side of life as well.  We had our own community characters who provided the "soap opera" carryings on.  On the other end of the scale there was the uncle who was a preacher.  Our sphere included a man with a beautiful soul who was cripple and sold peanuts for a living on the town streets.  Everyone loved him. We had a few "poor" families who had less than the rest of us, but we treated them just the same as everyone else.  We saw what it was like to be poor.

Then there was New Orleans about 90 miles away.  We knew about the nice points of interest as well as Bourbon Street.  We had an Uncle and his family living there whom we visited twice in twenty years.  It wasn't until I lived there after graduating that I first saw the inside of a bar (no, I didn't get drunk!).

The point I am slowly getting to is that even with my "limited" sphere, and as a "frustrated" writer, the stories I preferred to write would have been similar to the subjects and "sphere" as JA wrote.  Because of my personal interest, goals, lifestyle, ambitions, etc. I would not have chosen to write about those not in my immediate sphere even though I was well aware of their existence.

Another point is that I am not too quick to state exactly how "limited" Jane's sphere was.  She grew up having older brothers who went away to school, traveled as sailors, and a close cousin, Eliza Hancock, who traveled and mixed with the aristocracy - all of whom had stories to tell. Yes, what she heard is "hearsay" but I also heard a lot of "hearsay" in my life and do not consider myself as being too backward, uncultured, and inexperienced (though not firsthand).  I believe she did travel to London at least once.   I have not yet read Le Faye's Jane Austen's Letters which includes a lengthy biographical index and a topographical index.  Both lead me to believe that she was not that "limited".  As a matter of fact I am coming to the realization that she was probably better educated than I was.

My bottom line is that she chose to write what she did, not because she was limited IMHO.  Well, there you have it.

Hope you all had a very nice Christmas.
Linda


Dear Voices,

Cindy said:
Linda, I'm glad you agree and hope you feel better soon. Look forward to your comments.
Thank you, it took a little longer than I expected.

Ash said:
This good friend is desperate to get into this conversation, but her computer has the hiccups. When she arrives, she will take your side on everything, but that doesn't frighten me!
The computer is usable now but needs some more attention to get it back to where it was. Unfortunately, after the crash I was hit by a 7 day bug which took another 7 days of recovery. You are quite right about taking Cindy's side on everything (and Cheryl's too) and I will do my best to scare the daylights out of you!


Ash said:
To me, Jane Austen's novels are love stories and not subliminal political messages. Perhaps I will reject the truth and cling to that notion. Although, I do believe that I have always been able to refute those who suggest that the novels are encrypted feminism when particular passages are used to justify that idea.
You believe that if it gives you comfort!  "Love stories" - yes, but I would not use the term "subliminal political messages" instead "social/life commentary" or some such (if it has to have a label) - Cindy's explanation is great.  I, also, would exclude "encrypted feminism".


Next some comments on quotes from my dear Cheryl.  Cheryl, my daughter was passing by as I cut and pasted these quotes and I just want you to know that she loves them as much as I do.

Happy marriages are also those where each partner's talents are utilized best.
I want to cross stitch this onto a sampler and hang it next to my Narelle quote (see below). To me, this is what Cindy meant when she used the term "complement one another". AND ...

As I've gotten older I've come more and more to believe that the Women's Rights movement created a semantic fiction in order to further the political ends of certain individuals within the movement, not women in general.  Fewer movements have taken the maxim "The truth is so important it must be protected by a bodyguard of lies." to heart more thoroughly than Feminism. When a group claiming to represent women in general manufactures lies it discredits not only the group, but the individual as well and is the main reason why I no longer consider myself a "feminist" in the currently accepted definition of the word.
So that is why I, also, am not a "feminist"!  Thank you for explaining - I knew something was wrong; I just couldn't put my finger on it!


On that subject Cindy said:
I don't think I consider myself a feminist really.  I believe in equal rights for all people of all sexes and all races.  I believe there is a great complexity in human relationships and that one of the hardest to fathom is that of love between a man and a woman.  But in the final analysis--I believe follow a Christian philosophy would heal most wounds and resolve most conflicts.  I think Jane believed that too. That's the dream she and I share.
Me, too! I wish I could write like that - but then why should I? - God gave us you!


Cindy said:
And yes, I do believe that real art depicts truth.
I also believe that, because if it did not then I am not interested.  Yes, I know that some is purely for escapism, and that's okay, but not for a steady diet.  I read way too many fluffy "romances" growing up and now realize it was a waste of valuable time.

Cindy said to Ash:
Do you believe that ultimately evolution and its natural selection will ultimately eradicate the plague of original sin and enable us to achieve perfection, the garden of Eden?
I wish! - but evolution takes so long!  I know, even God is taking His own sweet time about it!

Or do you subscribe to traditional Christian scripture that this can only be achieved by the second coming of Christ at the end of the world? I tend to adhere to traditional thinking on this front. And yet, I believe it is our duty to continue to strive, as Jane did, to imagine the world as it could be. As Martin Luther King said, "I have a Dream..."  and we must hold fast to its principles. As Shakespeare said, "Hope springs eternal in the human heart..." While that hope is often a tragic plague it beats cynicism and moves us closer to perfection--although we will never achieve it.
Oh, yes! Cindy, that is so well said I had to repeat it!


And this to Bruce:
I think she wanted better human relations between all people.  But particularly between men and women. Just my opinion mind you.
As a reflection of her own beautiful heart and soul, I must believe that!


My two cents regarding Jane Austen's purpose, scope, etc. is summed up in my post 4/24/00 concerning this one sentence from Pride and Prejudice:  "But no such happy marriage could now teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really was."  If you have a minute to check out that post you will see how that sentence blew me away - and why I can relate to all you have said. I believe there is more than just a love story.


So as to not overburden this already long post, I will make separate posts on Jane's limited "sphere" and a question re women's education that includes a report on Inchbald's A Simple Story.


Dear Voices,

Every now and then the opinion that Jane Austen's sphere was limited to her narrow environs and a small number of acquaintances is brought up and agreed to by most people.  I wish to add some thoughts for your consideration.  Here are the quotes from Cindy's thread with the relevant words in boldface that prompted this rant.

Cindy said:


I was born and reared in a small community of approximately a twenty mile radius. In the first twenty years of my life I can count on the fingers of one hand the times we ventured further than that.  The people in that community were basically middle class.  The local officials were our "aristocracy" who commanded all the condescension of being our superiors.  Baton Rouge was fifteen miles away but we only went there about twice a year to visit relatives or shop.  I attended the same school for 12 years, graduating with the same ones I started out in the first grade.  My horizons expanded a bit when I went to college about 30 miles away in another small country town.  Thereafter I hit the "big Cities" of New Orleans and the suburbs of New York City.

The point being that I did my traveling via books.  The education provided by the school system was not the best possible.  Those books that I did read on my own provided the "education" I really received.  As I said before, there was a lot of fluff, but fortunately I managed to stumble across some good ones.  I say "stumbled" because there was precious little guidance in what to read.  Shakespeare was left in the dust.  The only profitable memory I have of him is when my senior English teacher read one play (I don't remember which one) aloud to us.  That I understood.

My salvation was the historical novels I read.  In those I not only learned more history than the textbooks provided, but also the customs of other peoples.  In later years I astonished my cousin who had just returned from a stay in Europe when I asked if they still used a small glass rectangle to rest their used utensils on after eating.  I had read about that in a Frances Parkinson Keyes book.  Her prologues were extensive with lots of information about the places she visited in researching her books.  I was an excellent armchair traveler.

As for the sordid and poor side of life, we did not even claim the distinction of having a town drunk to walk the streets because ours was a "dry" parish.  However, if so inclined, everyone knew what was available "across the river".  Our family had a couple of drunks, so we saw that side of life as well.  We had our own community characters who provided the "soap opera" carryings on.  On the other end of the scale there was the uncle who was a preacher.  Our sphere included a man with a beautiful soul who was cripple and sold peanuts for a living on the town streets.  Everyone loved him. We had a few "poor" families who had less than the rest of us, but we treated them just the same as everyone else.  We saw what it was like to be poor.

Then there was New Orleans about 90 miles away.  We knew about the nice points of interest as well as Bourbon Street.  We had an Uncle and his family living there whom we visited twice in twenty years.  It wasn't until I lived there after graduating that I first saw the inside of a bar (no, I didn't get drunk!).

The point I am slowly getting to is that even with my "limited" sphere, and as a "frustrated" writer, the stories I preferred to write would have been similar to the subjects and "sphere" as JA wrote.  Because of my personal interest, goals, lifestyle, ambitions, etc. I would not have chosen to write about those not in my immediate sphere even though I was well aware of their existence.

Another point is that I am not too quick to state exactly how "limited" Jane's sphere was.  She grew up having older brothers who went away to school, traveled as sailors, and a close cousin, Eliza Hancock, who traveled and mixed with the aristocracy - all of whom had stories to tell. Yes, what she heard is "hearsay" but I also heard a lot of "hearsay" in my life and do not consider myself as being too backward, uncultured, and inexperienced (though not firsthand).  I believe she did travel to London at least once.   I have not yet read Le Faye's Jane Austen's Letters which includes a lengthy biographical index and a topographical index.  Both lead me to believe that she was not that "limited".  As a matter of fact I am coming to the realization that she was probably better educated than I was.

My bottom line is that she chose to write what she did, not because she was limited IMHO.  Well, there you have it.

Hope you all had a very nice Christmas.
Linda



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