Anne and Henrietta, finding themselves the earliest of the party the next morning, agreed to stroll down to the sea before breakfast. They went to the sands to watch the flowing of the tide, which a fine south-easterly breeze was bringing in with all the grandeur which so flat a shore admitted. They praised the morning; gloried in the sea; sympathized in the delight of the fresh-feeling breeze — and were silent.The Narrator on Anne Elliot & Henrietta Musgrove, Persuasion, Chapter 12
From this poetic description of a stroll by the sea, I am inclined to believe that the authoress had a fondness for the seaside inspired by a romantic view of the past. Only real experience could evoke such feelings and finess of description.
Jane Austen did experience the delights of the seaside with her family during visits to both Lyme-Regis and Bath which were both prominent health and pleasure resorts in the 18th-century. In the on-line article ‘The Bathing was so delightful this morning’ from the Jane Austen Society of Australia, we learn a bit more about her experiences there.
Jane Austen was well aware that when people like Mrs Bennet claimed ‘A little sea-bathing would set me up for ever’ they were using imagined ill health to achieve their real aims of novelty, entertainment and pleasure.
Within the Austen family there was a preference for using spas for ill health and visiting the seaside for pleasure. Edward Austen visited and James Leigh-Perrott lived in Bath for treatment of their gout. Jane and Cassandra Austen visited Cheltenham in 1816 to try to cure Jane’s declining health. Their visits to the seaside were planned as recreational visits only, with no specific medical purpose attached to them. It was only the prospect of annual visits to the seaside that made the move to Bath tolerable to Jane.
Both Jane and Cassandra sea-bathed regularly while in residence at Lyme-Regis in 1804, using bath machines which were small wooden bath houses on wheels drawn by horses into the shallows. The bathers could then descend by stairs into the water, in the nude, which was the fashion of the time. (smiling while envisioning my idol Jane Austen skinny-dipping!)
*Illustration by Edmund H. Garrett, ‘They went to the sands”, Persuasion, Chapter 12, published by Robert Bros, London, (1892)