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The Mariner

Anne thought she left great happiness behind her when they quitted the house; and Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy; their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.



A Mariner is in common language the same as sailor or seaman. Mariners are sometimes employed on board merchant ships, and sometimes in men of war. In merchants’ employ, the mariners are accountable to the master, the masters to the owners of the vessel, and the owners to the merchant, for any damages that may happen. If a vessel is lost by tempest, the mariners lose their wages, and the owners their freight: this is intended to make them use their utmost endeavors to preserve the ship committed to their care.

Mariners on board the king’s ships are subject to strict regulations, which, however, depend on certain fixed laws passed at different times by parliament. Mariners who are not in His Majesty’s service are liable during the time of war to be impressed, unless they enter voluntarily, to which they are encouraged by bounties and high wages: and every foreign seaman, who, during war shall serve two years in any man of war, merchantman, or priviteer, becomes naturalized.

The mariner represented in the plate is of a higher rank and estimation than common sailors: he understands the art of navigation, or of conducting a vessel from one place to another, in the safest, shortest, and most commodious way. He ought therefore to be well acquainted with the islands, rocks, sands, and straits, near which he has to sail. He should also know the signs which indicate the approach to land: these are, the appearance of birds; the floating of weeds on the surface of the sea; the depth and the colour of the sea. He should, moreover, understand the nature of the winds, particularly the times when the trade winds and monsoons set in; the seasons when storms and hurricanes may be expected, and the signs of their approach; the motion of currents and tides. He must understand also the working of a ship; that is, the management of the sails, rigging, &c.

Navigation, or the proper employment of the mariner, is either common or proper. The former is usually called coasting; that is, where the ships are on the same or very neighboring coasts; and where the vessel is seldom out of sight of land, our out of reach of sounding. In this case little more is required than an acquaintance with the lands they have to pass, the compass, and the sounding line.

To gain a knowledge of the coast, a good chart or map is necessary.

The compass, or mariners compass, as it is usually called, is intended to direct and ascertain a ship’s course at sea. It consists of a circular brass box, which contains a card, with the thirty two points of the compass fixed on a magnetic needle that always turns to the north, or nearly so. The needle with the card turns on an upright pin fixed in the centre of the box.

The top of the box is covered with glass, to prevent the wind from disturbing the motion of the card. The whole is inclosed in another box of wood, where it is suspended by brass hoops ot keep the car in a horizontal posisition, whatever the motion of the ship may be: and it is so placed in the ship, that the middle section of the box may lie over the middle section of the ship along its keel.

The method of finding, by the compass, the direction in which a ship sails, is this: The compass being suspended, the mariner looks horizontally over it in the direction of the ship’s wake* , by which he sees the point of the compass denoting the direction of the wake; the point opposite to this is that to which the ship is sailing according to the compass; and knowing how much the compass varies, he can tell the true point of the horizon to which he is going.

The sounding-line is a line with a plummet at the end: it is used to try the depth of the water and the quality of the bottom.

In Navigation proper, which is where the voyage is long, and pursued through the mail ocean, there are many other requisites wanted besides those already mentioned. Here a considerable skill in practical mathematics and astronomy is required, and an aptness in using instruments for celestial observations.

One of thiese instruments the mariner in the plate is represented holding in his right hand, while he is pointing to his ship with the other. The boat which is to carry him on board the ship is drawn to shore.

At a distance in the sea is represented a light-house, erected on a rock, and having in the night a fire or other considerable light at the top, so as to be seen at a great distance from land. The use of the light-house is to direct the ships on the coast, to prevent them from running on the shore, and from other injuries by an improper course.

The wages of a mariner depend upon his employment, that is, whether he be in the King’s service or on board a merchantman: they depend also upon the size of the ship, and upon the situation which he holds in it.

There is no profession of more importance to the interests of this country than that of the mariner. Government therefore provides, for those who are disabled, a place in Greenwich Hospital; and to the widows and children of those who are slain in defending their country, small pensions are granted. Greenwich Hospital is supported by the nation, and by sixpence a month deducted out of every seaman’s wages.

*The wake of a ship is the print or track impressed by the course of the ship on the surface of the water.

From “The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts” published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving.

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The Subscription Library and the Rise of Popular Fiction

The Circulating Library

The Subscription Library and the Rise of Popular Fiction

I have received a very civil note from Mrs. Martin, requesting my name as a subscriber to her library which opens January 14, and my name, or rather yours, is accordingly given. My mother finds the money. May subscribes too, which I am glad of, but hardly expected. As an inducement to subscribe, Mrs. Martin tells me that her collection is not to consist only of novels, but of every kind of literature, &c. She might have spared this pretension to our family, who are great novel-readers and not ashamed of being so; but it was necessary, I suppose, to the self-consequence of half her subscribers.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
December 18, 1798

In a time before television and recorded music, live entertainment, sewing and reading provided the main occupation for leisurely hours. While a great house or estate like Pemberly might boast a well endowed library most middle class families would have been hard pressed to expand their private collections at a pace well able to keep up with the family’s demands. Books were an expensive luxury in Austen’s day– Sir Walter Scott’s three volume novels were sold at the exorbitant rate of 31s. 6d (or close to £90 in today’s currency).

With the growing middle class gaining previously unheard of free time, there was a great demand for new works of entertainment– hence the popularity of the “Novel”, an only recently created genre, with the publication of Robinson Crusoe in 1719. Into this void came the idea of a circulating or subscription library. By definition, it is “a library that is supported by private funds raised by membership fees or endowments. Unlike a public library, access is often restricted to those who are members”.

For as little as 1£, 11s, 6d. per year, one could purchase a first class library subscription entitling them to “10 volumes at a time in town and 15 in the country,” well supplying a household of young ladies, like the Bennets, with all the delightful reading they could require (bear in mind that most novels at the time were published in three volume sets). Second and third class subscriptions could also be purchased at a lower cost, with fewer benefits.

Circulating libraries were often a combination library and bookstore and even a quick perusal of period library catalogs shows both the titles and the prices of the selections available. This offered the reader a chance to purchase a favorite book as well as quickly realize the value of his subscription. The first circulating library was begun in 1730, by a Mr. Wright who owned a book shop in the Strand. By 1800 twenty-six such establishments had been opened and by the middle of the century records show 540 subscription libraries in England and Scotland, 266.

Unlike circulating libraries, subscription libraries were largely privately run, such as the one Jane Austen’s neighbor proposed in 1798. Often these were started in opposition to the “trash literature” (mainly novels) offered by the more commercial Circulating library, though they could just as easily be begun in neighborhoods without the benefit of a circulating library.

Most library catalogs contained not only novels and other light reading, but also a variety of other works: plays, biographies, drama, periodicals, travels, memoirs, dictionaries, poetry, pictorial works, etc. Pamphlets were usually not included as being too “here and gone” to long sustain the public’s interest. A library, such as the one Lydia visits in Brighton, might also serve as a sort of gift shop for its clientele, containing such charming items as brooches, shawls, parasols, gloves and fans, all sold for their customer’s enjoyment.

Libraries were not, as they are today, heralded as wonderful institutions bringing literacy to the masses. Far from it; outspoken critics to the new availability of books and the following trend of writing to please the “masses” claimed that “the pressures toward literary degradation which were exerted by the booksellers and circulating library operators in their efforts to meet the reading public’s uncritical demand for easy vicarious indulgence in sentiment and romance” caused “a purely quantitative assertion of dominance” by female authors and readers, and by the gothic romance genre. Namely, that, “circulating libraries vulgarized literature, by pandering fiction to women, servants, and other people who had previously been excluded from reading by the high cost of books or by illiteracy.”*

No wonder Jane Austen offers such a strong defense to her chosen mode of expression. In Northanger Abbey the topic of novels arises, and in a rare outpouring of personal feeling, writes:


The progress of the friendship between Catherine and Isabella was quick as its beginning had been warm, and they passed so rapidly through every gradation of increasing tenderness that there was shortly no fresh proof of it to be given to their friends or themselves.

They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together.


Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding — joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard?


I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers.


And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens — there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.


“I am no novel-reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant.


“And what are you reading, Miss — ?”


“Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame.


“It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.


Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it.

Regardless of one’s feelings on the subject, it is impossible to deny the benefit the subscription library had on the selection of titles available to readers during the Regency. According to Yvonne Forsling, “Through the whole Eighteenth century about 150,000 titles were published in the English language. During the last two decades of that century book publishing increased around 400% and continued to grow in the Regency era.”

With the passing of the Public Libraries Act in 1850, most of the subscription libraries were replaced or taken over by town government and opened free of charge to the public. Free to the public libraries were not a new thing, originating with the Greeks and Romans, and made famous in 1606 by Thomas Bodley’s Bodleian Library, which was open to the “whole republic of the learned”, but these repositories of learning and higher education were few and far between and likely to house more academic than entertaining literature.

Without the Subscription library and the public they catered to, it is likely that many of the most beloved literature classics, including all of Austen’s novels, would never have been published. For that, we are ever grateful.


Sources for this article include:

Anonymous Signatures: Circulation Libraries, Conventionality and the Production of Gothic Romances by Edward Jacobs; ELH – Volume 62, Number 3, Fall 1995, pp. 603-629; The Johns Hopkins University Press

Janeites: Austen’s Disciples and Devotees by Dierdre Lynch; 2000 by Princeton University Press

Regency Shopping: Booksellers and Publishers by Yvonne Forsling; Regency England

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The Life of a Seamstress

March 15th – The seamstress came this morning to begin my wardrobe. We were with her for more than two hours and Mama ordered so many new gowns as that I am sure I shall never wear the half of them, but she insists that I must be properly dressed.
– From The Journal of a Regency Lady, Chapter 5
By Anne Herries


Dressmaker shop in 1775. Image from Regency England by Yvonne Forsling

The above quote, though coming from a contemporary author, might well have been written during the regency era. Women’s clothes were made at home during this period by the ladies themselves, their servants, or a professional seamstress. A dressmaker (or mantua maker) would charge about 2 pounds per garment and come to the house for fittings, where she might be served tea. A successful mantua maker who had set up shop in the fashionable part of Town would also provide a pleasant environment in which a lady could relax, serving tea and refreshments to prolong the shopping experience.

In her letters, Jane Austen mentioned a Miss Burton, who made pelisses for her and Cassandra in 1811. The cost of cloth and labor were reasonable, she wrote, but the buttons seemed expensive. Fabrics, increasingly mass produced, became more affordable during the Industrial Revolution, and demand for clothes grew among the newly wealthy middle class women. Young girls who sought work in the cities became seamstresses in homes and sweat shops. A little over twenty years after Jane’s death, the poor working conditions described below were common for seamstresses.

EVIDENCE TAKEN BY Children’s Employment Commission
February 1841
Miss — has been for several years in the dress-making business…The common hours of business are from 8 a.m. til 11 P.M in the winters; in the summer from 6 or half-past 6 A.M. til 12 at night. During the fashionable season, that is from April til the latter end of July, it frequently happens that the ordinary hours are greatly exceeded; if there is a drawing-room or grand fete, or mourning to be made, it often happens that the work goes on for 20 hours out of the 24, occasionally all night….The general result of the long hours and sedentary occupation is to impair seriously and very frequently to destroy the health of the young women. The digestion especially suffers, and also the lungs: pain to the side is very common, and the hands and feet die away from want of circulation and exercise, “never seeing the outside of the door from Sunday to Sunday.” [One cause] is the short time which is allowed by ladies to have their dresses made. Miss is sure that there are some thousands of young women employed in the business in London and in the country. If one vacancy were to occur now there would be 20 applicants for it. The wages generally are very low…Thinks that no men could endure the work enforced from the dress-makers.

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Source: Hellerstein, Hume & Offen, Victorian Women: A Documentary Accounts of Women’s Lives in Nineteenth-Century England, France and the United States, Stanford University Press.

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The Carpenter

Captain Harville was no reader; but he had contrived excellent accommodations, and fashioned very pretty shelves, for a tolerable collection of well-bound volumes, the property of Captain Benwick.
His lameness prevented him from taking much exercise; but a mind of usefulness and ingenuity seemed to furnish him with constant employment within.


He drew, he varnished, he carpentered, he glued; he made toys for the children; he fashioned new netting-needles and pins with improvements; and if everything else was done, sat down to his large fishing-net at one corner of the room.

From Persuasion, By Jane Austen

The following article is from “The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts” published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving.

There is no art more useful than that which is exercised by the carpenter. It is his business to cut, fashion, and join timber and other wood for the purpose of building. There are several kinds of carpenters: but the term is usually applied to those who perform the rough work in the building of houses; such as hewing out, and putting in their places, the beams, rafters, joists, &c.: and those who do the lighter kind of work, as the making of doors, wainscoting and sashes, are called joiners: most of those, however, who are brought up to the trade are both carpenters and joiners.

The wood which they principally make use of is deal, oak, elm, and mahogany.

Deal is the wood of the fir tree, and is chiefly brought from Sweden, Norway and other Northern European countries. The most common species of fir trees are the silver-leafed, and the pitch, or Norway, or spruce fir. The first of these grows in many parts of Germany, from whence turpentine is sent into England; but the most beautiful are those that grow on mount Olympus. The Norway fir produces the white deal commonly used by carpenters: from this pitch is also drawn; when it takes its second name.

Oak is too well known in this country to need any description; it is chiefly used by ship-builders, of who we shall speak hereafter.

Mahogany is a species of cedar: it is a native of the warmer parts of America, growing plentifully in the islands of Cuba, Jamaica, and Domingo. In some instances these trees grow to so large a size, as to be capable of being cut into planks of six feet in breadth: they rise to immense heights, notwithstanding they are sometimes found growing on rocks where there is scarcely any depth of earth.

The carpenter stands in need of a great variety of tools, such as saws, planes, chisels, hammers, awls, gimlets, &c. Common workmen are obliged to find their own tools, a set of which is worth from ten to twenty pounds, or even more. But for different kinds of mouldings, for beads, and fancy work, the master carpenter supplies his men with the necessary implements.

The practices in the art of carpentry and joinery are called planing, sawing, mortising, scribing, moulding, &c. The great difference in the trades of a carpenter, and a joiner, is, that the former is employed in the larger, stronger, and coarser operations, and the latter in the smaller and more curious works.


The carpenter in the plate is represented in the act of planing the edge of a board, that is held in to the side of the bench by means of a screw which is always attached to it. On his bench ar the hammer, pincers, mallet, and the two chisels; a box also containing the turkeystone with which he sharpens his tools: the shavings taken off by his plane are scattered on his bench and on the ground: at the right hand corner stand some boards, and his bag in which he carries his tools: on the other side is the saw, upon the four-legged stool which he uses for various purposes. Behind him is a new door, some other boards, a saw hanging against the wall, and a basket in which he puts his smaller tools.

He is represented preparing boards to lay upon the roof of a new house in the back ground. The rafters are already in their places: the boards are to be laid next, in order to receive the slates.

The art of sawing, and the different kinds of saws made use of, will be described when we come to speak of the sawyer.

A mortise is a kind of joint, in which a hole of a certain depth is made in the thickness of a piece of wood, in order to receive another piece called a tenon.

Scribing is a term made use of when one side of a piece of stuff is to be fitted to the side of some other pieces which is not regular. To make the two join close together all the way, the carpenter scribes it; that is, he lays the piece of stuff to be scribed close to the other piece he intends to scribe it to, and opens his compasses to the greatest distance the two pieces any where stand from each other; then bearing one of the legs against the side to be scribed to, with the other led he draws a line on the stuff to be scribed. Thus he gets a line on the irregular piece parallel to the edge of the regular one; and if by a saw, or other instrument, the wood be cut exactly to the line, when the two pieces are put together they will make a neat joint.

Planing consists of taking off, as occasion may require, all the rough edges from wood, boards, &c. A plane consists of a piece of boxwood, very smooth at the bottom, serving as a stock, or shaft; in the middle of which is an aperture for a steel edge, or very sharp chisel, to pass. This edge is easily adjusted by a stroke of the hammer at one of the ends of the stock.

Planes have different names, according to their forms, sizes, and uses; as the

Jack-plane, which is about eighteen inches long, and intended for the roughest kind of work:

The long-plane is two feet in length: it smoothes the work after the rough stuff is taken off: it is one of this kind that the carpenter in the plate is represented using, and it is well adapted for smoothing the edges of boards that are to be joined:

The smoothing-plane is only six or seven inches long, and is used on almost all occasions.

The rabbet-plane cuts the upper edge of a board straight or square, down into the stuff, so that the edge of another, cut after the same manner, may join with it on the square.

Besides these there are the ploughing-planes, moulding-planes, round-planes, hollow-planes, snipes’-bill-planes, &c.

Glue is a very important article in the carpenter’s and joiner’s trade. It is made of the skins of all kinds of beasts, reduced to the state of jelly; and the older the animal, the better is the glue that is made of its hide.

A ship-carpenter is an officer at sea, whose business consists in having things in readiness for keeping the vessel in which he is stationed, in repair; and in attending to the stopping of leaks, to caulking, careening, and the like. He is to watch the timber of the vessel, to see that it does not rot; and in time of battle he is to have everything prepared for repairing and stopping breaches made by the enemy’s cannon.

A journeyman carpenter, when he works by the day, receives from three shillings and sixpence to four shillings and sixpence a day.

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The Apothecary


He had been at the pains of consulting Mr Perry, the apothecary, on the subject.

Mr Perry was an intelligent, gentlemanlike man, whose frequent visits were one of the comforts of Mr Woodhouse’s life; and upon being applied to, he could not but acknowledge (though it seemed rather against the bias of inclination) that wedding-cake might certainly disagree with many — perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately.

From Emma ~ By Jane Austen


The following article is from “The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts” published by Jacob Johnson, in 1807, with the original copper plate engraving. Continue reading The Apothecary