Bonhams, one of the few surviving Georgian-era auction houses in London has listed a stunning set of Bentley’s five volume edition of Jane Austen’s novels for auction on June 08, 2010 at its New Bond street location. We usually see her earlier editions circa 1811-1818 published by Thomas Egerton and John Murray offered through the big auction houses, so it is interesting to see this later edition offered so prominently. Since the earlier editions are rare, and very, very dear, are the Bentley editions now the hot Austen auction item in a cooler economy? Here is the description from the online catalog.
Works, Bentley’s Standard Novel edition], 6 vol. in 5, 5 engraved frontispieces and additional titles, some light spotting to first and final few leaves, small corner tear to printed title “Pride and Prejudice”, without half-titles, ownership inscription of Eularia E. Burnaby (1856) on printed titles, bookplate of Henry Vincent, bookseller’s label of H.M. Gilbert, Southampton, uniform contemporary half calf, red and dark green morocco labels, extremities lightly rubbed [Gilson D1-D5], 8vo, R. Bentley, 1833
Estimate: £2,000 – 3,000
This edition of Jane Austen’s novels is significant for several reasons. After the publication of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey by John Murray in 1818, there is a twelve year gap where no English reissues of Austen’s novels were available for purchase. In 1818 sales of John Murray’s editions of her last two novels had started off briskly, then interest waned and the final 282 copies of the 1750 print run were remaindered and some exported to Australia in 1821. The thought of a Jane Austen first edition being offered at reduced prices to dispose of the inventory is quite startling. Today they fetch close to £40,000, or more!
When the enterprising publisher Richard Bentley of London paid £40.00 for the bargain priced copyright of Pride and Prejudice from Austen’s first publisher Thomas Egerton and £210.00 for the five other copyrights to Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey from Cassandra Austen in 1832, no one could have foreseen that a renaissance was looming for Austen’s works. Bentley would cleverly re-issue Austen six major novels into a low priced Bentley’s Standard Novels Series representing many firsts for Austen in print.
- Her full name is listed on the title page instead of “By A Lady” in S&S and “By the Author of Sense and Sensibility” and various combinations for her first editions.
- Illustrations are included of Austen’s characters and scenes with steel-engraved frontispiece’s and a second title page vignette’s engraved by William Greatbatch after George Pickering.
- Quotes of scenes from the novels are used to place the illustrations in context to the text.
- Book buyers could purchase the editions singularly or as a set of five.
The series was a success and Bentley continued to reissue them from 1836 – 1866 culminating in his grand finale, Jane Austen’s Works Steventon Edition published in 1882 which included the six major novels, her novella Lady Susan and her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s A Memoir of Jane Austen that had previously been published by Bentley in 1869.
This set offered by Bonhams is not only beautifully bound it has an interesting provenance connected to Jane Austen’s life in Southampton that they have not mentioned in the description or may not be aware of. Two previous owner’s names are listed in the books piquing my curiosity to uncover who those individuals may have been. Putting on my genealogy research hat I went sleuthing through my Austen research books and UK historical records. With a name as unique as Eularia E. Burnaby, (1856) inscribed on the printed titles and a bookplate of Henry Vincent I had my clues. This is what I discovered:
Eularia Elizabeth Burnaby was born on 3 February 1836 in Woolwich, Kent the eldest daughter of Richard Beaumont Burnaby (1793-1871), a Captain in the Royal Artillery and Eliza his wife, daughter of Major-General Sir Alexander Dickson. K.C.B (1777-1840). Her father would remain in the military his entire career and retire as a Lieutenant-General in the Royal Artillery. Her two brothers Alexander Dickson Burnaby and Eustace Beaumont Burnaby would also serve in the Royal Army obtaining the ranks of Major and Major-General respectively. Eularia was twenty years old and living in Southampton, Hampshire when she signed her name and the date on the title pages of her five volume set. She remained unmarried and would live at her parent’s house at 32 Carlton Crescent until her death there in 1925 at age 89.
In a letter to Cassandra Austen dated January 7, 1807 from Southampton, Jane Austen briefly mentions a Mrs. Dickson and again a month later on 9 February. On page 516 of the biographical index of Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deidre Le Faye, Mrs. Dickson is listed as the wife of Admiral Archibald Dickson RN (1772-1836). Mrs. Dickson is Jane nee Dickson who married her first cousin Archibald. She was the daughter of Admiral William Dickinson RN of Sydenham House, Roxburghshire, Scotland, and Archibald was the son of Lieutenant-General John Dickson RA. They share the same grandfather, Sir Archibald Dickson of Pontefract, Yorkshire. Jane Dickson’s brother was Major-General Sir Alexander Dickson. (Are you lost yet?) His daughter was Eliza Dickson who married Richard Beaumont Burnaby. They are Eularia E. Burnaby’s parents. In a nut shell, Eularia’s great aunt was the Mrs. Dickson mentioned in Jane Austen’s letters. The books are inscribed with the date of 1856, even though Bonhams has them listed as 1833 first editions. The Mrs. Jane Dickson who knew Jane Austen personally in Southampton died there in 1856. I like to imagine that they were a bequest of Jane Dickson to her grand niece Eularia who inscribed them that same year. I would need to read Jane Dickson’s will to verify that fanciful thought, but it still makes me smile at the connection through history.
Even without this interesting Austen provenance, these volumes are a wonderful example of an important first edition set of the Bentley edition of Jane Austen’s novels. I just wish I was independently wealthy enough to afford them.