When a private US collector paid £16,000 in September 2017 for a book of historical autographs (including those from such prominent figures as George Washington and Queen Victoria) they probably weren’t expecting to come across something which Jane Austen fans worldwide are always longing for – a lost extract from one of her letters. That is just what they found however.
Although the text of the extract had been known for many years as it was featured in Letters of Jane Austen, edited by Edward Lord Brabourne and published in 1884, the letter itself had been missing for years. Part of the reason for this being that as Jane Austen’s popularity grew in the 19th century her relative Lord Brabourne sold off a lot of her notes, since the desire to possess some of her hand written work was one felt keenly by many. This is part of the reason that there are scraps from letters found rather than whole letters. In the case of this letter scrap, the autograph is missing – so that was probably sold separately at some point previously.
The contents of the six handwritten lines in the autograph book come from letter 87 – a letter Jane wrote in September 1813 to her sister Cassandra, detailing advice to her brother Henry’s French housekeeper:
By the time you get this, I hope George & his party will have finished their Journey.
God bless you all. I have given Mde. B. my Inventory of the linen, & added 2 round towels to it by her desire.
She has shewn me all her storeplaces, & will shew you & tell you all the same. Perhaps I may write again by Henry.