From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:
Henry Thomas Austen was Jane’s favorite brother and the most instrumental influence upon furthering her writing career. Literature owes a debt of gratitude to him far greater than can be every repaid. Without his assistance her first four novels might not have been published during her lifetime, and certainly he deserves all the credit for negotiating the last two posthumously in 1817.
“P&P is sold. – Egerton gives £110 for it. – I would rather have had £150, but we could not both be pleased, & I am not at all surprised that he should chuse to hazard so much. – Its’ being sold will I hope be a great saving of Trouble to Henry, & therefore must be welcome to me.” Jane Austen – 30 November 1812
He was also her first official biographer, contributing the ‘Biographical Notice’ included in the publication of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. It would remain the only biographical information available to the public for over fifty years until the publication of the 1870 ‘A Memoir’ by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh
Impetuous, impatient and sanguine in nature, Henry’s careers were as varied as his fortunes. Jane described her brother as “not a mind for affliction” and that he “writes very superior sermons“. His niece Anna Lefroy, daughter of his brother James, left this description of him in her family recollections written in the 1850’s.
“My Uncle Henry Thomas Austen was the handsomest of his family, and, in the opinion of his own father, also the most talented. There were others who formed a different estimate, and considered his abilities greater in shew than in reality, but for the most part he was greatly admired. Brilliant in conversation, and like his Father, blessed with a hopefulness of temper, which, in adapting itself to all circumstances, even the most adverse, seemed to create a perpetual sunshine of the mind. The Race is not however always to the swiftest – it never has been – and though so highly gifted by Nature, my Uncle was not prosperous in life.“
SIGNIFICANT LIFE EVENTS
- 1771 – Henry Thomas was the fourth child born to George and Cassandra Austen on the 8th of June at Steventon rectory, Hampshire
- 1788 – Graduated from St. John’s College, Oxford (his father’s & brother’s alma matre)
- 1789-90 – Editor and contributor of the literary publication The Loiterer with his brother James
- 1793 – Joined the Oxfordshire Militia rising from lieutenant to captain before he resigned in 1801
- 1796 – Received his Masters of Arts from Oxford
- 1797 – Married his widowed cousin Eliza de Feuillide at Marylebone Church in London. (editor’s note: several people have written to me correcting my use of widowed in this sentence. According to The Cambridge Dictionary, widowed in an adjective used to describe a person whose husband or wife was died.
- 1804 – Founded with two associates the bank Austen, Maunde and Tilson of Covent Garden in London
- 1805 – Contributed £50 a year to the support his mother & sisters after the death of his father George Austen
- 1813 – Wife Eliza died on the 25th of April and is buried in Hampstead
- 1815 – Henry buys back “Susan” (Northanger Abbey) from the publisher Crosby, to whom he had sold it in 1803
- 1816 – Bank failure and bankruptcy of Austen Maude & Tilson in London
- 1816 – Received Holy Orders and became curate of Chawton
- 1817 – Attended the funeral of his sister Jane on 24 July at Winchester Cathedral
- 1818 – Wrote the first ‘Biographical Notice’ of his sister included in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion
- 1820 – Married Eleanor Jackson at Chelsea
- 1820 – Served as rector of Steventon until 1822
- 1850 – Died on 12 March at Tunbridge Wells and is buried in Woodbury Park Cemetery
In honor of JASNA’s annual meeting in Philadelphia this week, this blog, Jane Austen’s World, and Jane Austen Today will be devoting posts to Jane Austen and her siblings. Look for new links each day.
- Cassandra Austen: Jane’s confidante, supporter and helpmate
- Jane Austen’s Siblings – Rev. James Austen 1765-1819
- Edward Austen Knight: A tightwad or a man with heavy responsibilities?
- Sir Francis William Austen: Glimpses of Jane’s sailor brother in letters
- Jane Austen’s Siblings – Charles John Austen 1779-1852
- George Austen: Jane Austen’s almost forgotten, invisible brother
- Jane Austen Biographies – Guided by Reason
- Illustrated Books About Jane Austen and Her Milieu
Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2009, austenprose.com.
How true, LA, without Henry’s efforts and his support of Jane, we might never have read Janes books. Their father tried to get First Impressions published with no success and she sold Susan (Northanger Abbey), but it languished on the publisher’s shelves, so it was Henry, who lived in London, and could negotiate on her behalf, who got the wheel rolling.
We owe him so much! His contribute and support to Jane’s work was precious and, even more, indispensable!
What a wonderful family Jane seems to have had, therefore giving her so much inspiration for her works. And so glad this brother persevered in getting Jane published!
Thank you Laurel Ann and Vic for these great posts on Austen’s siblings! – I think she was closest to Henry and he was very proud of her writings – letting it too often slip among friends that she was the author of S&S and P&P! and as Vic says we can be most grateful to him that her books were ever published.
I have been reading the book by Deirdre Le Faye about Eliza, Austen’s “outlandish” cousin, and find it interesting that the two brothers [James and Henry] vied for her affections, Henry winning out – she was very likely the inspiration for Mary Crawford! We also too often believe that Austen led such a closed life, but the lives of her brothers alone show us how involved in and knowledgeable about the wider world she really was.
Thanks to you both for keeping us informed!
We do indeed owe Henry a great debt for getting Jane’s work published. I agree with Janeite Deb – Jane had quite the family. Through her travels and her family she was indeed able to experience a great deal in her lifetime.
Thanks for another great post!
A soul sister in Cassandra and a fierce PR manager in Henry… Jane is (and consequently we are) very fortunate to have been born into a family who understood and supported her talent!
Another lovely post, Laurel Ann. Thank you!