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Jane Austen News – Issue 56

The Jane Austen News gets set to vote

What’s the Jane Austen News this week?   

Jane Austen Fans – Lend Us Your Eyes!     

The Jane Austen News is pleased to announce that over the next few weeks we will be publishing a most interesting letter written by Hans van Leeuwen, a lovely Jane Austen fan from the Netherlands.  

Below is just a taster:

Dear Jane

It is no uncommon occurrence for me to be seen opening a book not written by yourself for the sake of propriety, but hardly have I progressed to chapter two of such a book when I find myself growing increasingly uncomfortable from an anxiousness to replace it by one of your works. How exasperating that I should think it wrong sometimes to be always seen reading the same book or a book by the same authoress! I do, in the end, follow my own inclinations rather than bend to the wishes of others, but only after caring too much about other people’s opinions and patiently putting up with their suggestions to read what they themselves probably have not read. Yet even then I feel the shackles of conventionality, as testified by my continually looking about me when, at length, I have mustered courage enough to go to our library upstairs and choose one of your books again, on which, to your credit, dust never has time to settle.

Hans is hoping to receive remarks and tips for improvements from native speakers of English, preferably Jane Austen devotees, and the purpose of sharing the letter with us is so that some valuable feedback might be gained. 

We hope you might enjoy reading it as much as we did, and that you might share your thoughts in our comments sections as it is published. 


Meeting Young Jane Austen

This week the Jane Austen News heard from Cecily O’Neill; a writer, director and workshop leader based in Winchester. She had exciting news for us that the world premiere of her stage work, Meeting Miss Austen, is going to be performed at the Winchester Discovery Centre as part of the Winchester Festival this year.

In these plays, based on Austen’s Juvenilia, we hear the voice of the teenage Jane, exuberant, saucy and often surreal in tales of love, loss, vice and victuals…

‘The company partook of an elegant entertainment. After which, the bottle being pretty briskly pushed about, the whole party was carried home dead drunk.’ (Jack and Alice)

Cecily also treated us to a sneak peek at one of her most compelling characters – Lady Greville. You can read more about what Cecily had to say about her here.

The performances will be on Saturday 8 July 2017. 8:00pm and again on Sunday 9 July 2017 3:00pm.

Continue reading Jane Austen News – Issue 56

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The Origins of Regency Era Christmas Carols

For many of us, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without many of the carols that we sing or hear on the radio. I know I start playing Christmas music early on in the fall to try and make the season come a little faster, and last just a little longer. While caroling itself dates back to the middle ages, it had long ago died out with the end of the feudal system. By Jane Austen’s day, Friends and neighbors no longer tramped door to door begging Wassail and bringing good cheer. Here We Come a Wassailing, The Twelve Days of Christmas, The First Noel, Good Christian Men Rejoice and Greensleeves are all traditional Carols from the Middle Ages

By the Regency Period, some hymns were sung in Christmas church services, but the majority of the carols we know today had not yet been written. Though Jane Austen and her family may have sung familiar words, the tunes might not be recognized by modern audiences.

Handel While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks at Night was written by Nahum Tate, in 1700 and first appeared in Tate and Brady’s Psalter in 1702. The now common tune was written by George Frederick Handel in 1728 and arranged in Harmonia Sacra, in 1812.

Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful) is commonly thought to have been written in France in 1710, though the first published version (words and music) would not be seen until 1760. It was translated into English by Frederick Oakeley in 1841.

Watts Joy to the World was published by Isaac Watts in his 1719 hymnal, The Psalms of David. Though it was sung in churches from that time, its now “traditional” melody was not written until 1836.

The Hallelujah chorus, written by Handel in 1741 as part of his Messiah Oratorio, was not yet singled out as a Christmas selection. Of the songs that were written, most appeared in poem form, only to receive their tunes during the Victorian era when a push was made to revive old traditions and carols and caroling once again became popular.

Wesley Hark the Herald Angels Sing was composed by Charles Wesley in 1739 as part of his Hymns and Sacred Poems. It was later amended by George Whitfield (1753). The tune that we sing today was written by Mendohlsson in 1840.

Angels from the Realms of Glory was written by James Montgomery, for his Sheffield newspaper, the Iris, on Christmas Eve, 1816. The tune, Regent Square, was written in 1867.

Perhaps the most interesting history we have is the origin of Silent Night, written by Joseph Mohr, in Austria, in 1816. Though not translated into English until 1863, this carol remains one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time. The story is told how the young priest of Oberndorf, a small town in the Tyrolean Alps, was alone on Christmas Eve when he heard a loud pounding on the door. He opened it to find a woman who gasped out, “Come, a child is born, and the young father and mother want you to bless their home.”

Mohr The Priest started out on a tedious journey up the mountainside, to a small cabin, miles in the distance. After many hours of climbing, he reached his destination and saw within the cabin a repetition of the Nativity scene. The young woman lay on a bed of boughs, and her newborn son lay in a roughhewn cradle made by his Alpine-mountaineer father. The priest blessed the home and left the cabin to make his return journey to the village. His heart filled with song, because of the uplifting impressive scene. Keep his feet in rhythm he made his way down the mountainside. That Christmas night, he stayed up writing the manuscript that would become Silent Night.

Two years later, on another Christmas Eve in 1818, the organ at St. Nicholas Church was damaged due to severe flooding. Mohr knew that in order to have music at their Christmas service, he would have to come up with another form of accompaniment. It was then that he visited his friend Franz Gruber, the town Organist and Schoolmaster. He asked Gruber to compose a tune for his poem and in a few hours a song was born. That night the Oberndorf villagers gathered for their Christmas Eve Midnight Mass and heard, for the first time, Stille Nacht, “Silent Night”, sung by Mohr and Gruber, accompanied by a guitar. The carol was be published in 1820 and carried by Folk singers throughout Austria and Europe. It has been translated into over 120 languages.

Gruber's Guitar
Other stories tell how this song has continued to bring peace throughout the world. During World War I, soldiers lay in trenches on both sides of the battle shivering and thinking of home. “Just before midnight on Christmas Eve (1914) the British noticed small lights being lit and held high in the air. Through binoculars it was noted that the German soldiers were holding up candles on the end of their bayonets, some even held up Christmas trees. Through the piercing silence the British heard a song in the air. One solo voice rang out. Slowly the voice was joined by others. Although the words were in German the tune was quickly recognized as “Silent Night, Holy Night” One by one the brave soldiers ventured out into the “no man’s land” the small pieces of land that lay between the two opposing trenches. The men that just hours before were trying to kill each other were now exchanging photos of loved ones, dehydrated beef, some played ball and others just told stories. When Christmas had ended the men shook hands and went back to their own trenches. A German General stood on the edge of his trench and bowed toward his enemies. A British General saluted towards his enemies.”

Similar tales are told about the Christmas of 1944, during World War II. “Fighting was suspended on many fronts while people around the globe turned to their radios on Christmas Eve to hear opera star Ernestine Schumann-Heink sing “Stille Nacht”. In addition to her status as an international opera star, Mme. Schumann-Heink was a mother with one son fighting for the Axis and another son fighting for the Allies.”

Another soldier, years later, related how, “On 24 December 1944 I was spending my Christmas at a little place called Bastogne, Belgium, with the 101st Airborne Division. As many of you already know the story about the Battle of the Bulge, I won’t go into all the details about how we were surrounded and outnumbered by the German Arm. It was a cold, bitter, dark night and around about midnight surprisingly quiet.

All of a sudden, from the German position, we heard a single voice singings “Silent Night,” in German. Soon more voices were added from the Germans. Suddenly, some American Soldier picked it up and before long most ofd us were singing along with the Germans. This went on for about 5 or 10 minutes and then stopped. A few minutes later we were back at each other, with guns blazing.”

In the middle of the worst battle of WW2 there was Peace on Earth for a few minutes.

Written by Laura Boyle, creator of Austentation.com home of custom made Regency Bonnets and Accessories. Sources quoted include The Cyber Hymnal and Silentnight.web. 

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London Theatre during the Regency: Covent Garden

Regency Covent Garden Theatre

Jane Austen Visits Regency Covent Garden

I think you judge very wisely in putting off your London visit, and I am mistaken if it be not put off for some time. You speak with such noble resignation of Mrs. Jordan and the Opera House, that it would be an insult to suppose consolation required…
Jane Austen to Cassandra
January 8, 1801

The Austen family loved the theatre. They loved attending plays, talking about plays and performances, and they enjoyed acting in plays. Some of Austen’s earliest works are in the form of a play and many scenes of plot development in her novels revolve around the acting in and attending of theatrical events.

In Austen’s day, it was not unusual for a serious work to be followed by a lighter piece of comedy or opera. Many evening performances included two or even three works in a row. When visiting the London home of her brother, Henry Austen, Jane seems to have visited the theater as often as possible, viewing some of the greatest stage artists of her time including Mrs. Siddons, Mrs. Jordan and Edmund Kean in his acclaimed role as Shylock.

Austen, herself, seems to have preferred the light comedic plays to those of operatic prowess. In 1814, she wrote to Cassandra that, “We are to see “The Devil to Pay” to-night. I expect to be very much amused. Excepting Miss Stephens, I daresay “Artexerxes” will be very tiresome.”

This was an unusual position on a play that was, “one of the most successful and influential English operas of the eighteenth century”. The story, adapted from the 1729 Italian opera, was written by Thomas Arne, in English, thus appealing to both English Music lovers and Opera fans alike. It was performed over and over again after its premiere in 1762. Mozart attended a performance in 1765 as did Hayden, who exclaimed, “I had no idea we had such an opera in the English language.”

Despite her profession that she was, “very tired of “Artexerxes,” highly amused with the farce, and, in an inferior way, with the pantomime that followed”, Jane nevertheless copied out the score of the overature of the opera into one her music books. These handwritten books give an insightful glimpse into the musical taste of the Austen family. They are held by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust, at Chawton Cottage, and contain selections from Handel, Mozart, Gay, Gluck, Clementti, and Haydn, as well as popular songs of the day. The aria, “The Soldier Tir’d of War”, from Artexerxes remains a popular showpiece to this day.

The Theatre Royal in Regency Covent Garden

The foundation of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden lies in the letters patent awarded by Charles II to Sir William Davenant in 1660, allowing Davenant to operate one of only two patent theatre companies (The Duke’s Company) in London.

Shortly thereafter, in 1683, John Blow composed Venus and Adonis, often thought of as the first true English-language opera. Blow’s immediate successor was the better known Henry Purcell. Despite the success of his masterwork Dido and Aeneas (1689), in which the action is furthered by the use of Italian-style recitative, much of Purcell’s best work was not involved in the composing of typical opera. Instead he usually worked within the constraints of the semi-opera format, where isolated scenes and masques are contained within the structure of a spoken play, such as Shakespeare in Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen (1692) and Beaumont and Fletcher in The Prophetess (1690) and Bonduca (1696). The main characters of the play tend not to be involved in the musical scenes, which means that Purcell was rarely able to develop his characters through song. Despite these hindrances, his aim (and that of his collaborator John Dryden) was to establish serious opera in England, however, these hopes ended with Purcell’s early death at the age of 36.

Following Purcell, the popularity of opera in England dwindled for several decades. A revived interest in opera occurred in the 1730s which is largely attributed to Thomas Arne, both for his own compositions and for alerting Handel to the commercial possibilities of large-scale works in English. Arne was the first English composer to experiment with Italian-style all-sung comic opera, with his greatest success being Thomas and Sally in 1760. Although Arne imitated many elements of Italian opera, he was perhaps the only English composer at that time who was able to move beyond the Italian influences and create his own unique and distinctly English voice. His modernized ballad opera, Love in a Village (1762), began a vogue for pastiche opera that lasted well into the 19th century. Charles Burney wrote that Arne introduced “a light, airy, original, and pleasing melody, wholly different from that of Purcell or Handel, whom all English composers had either pillaged or imitated”.

Besides Arne, the other dominating force in English opera at this time was George Frideric Handel, whose opera serias filled the London operatic stages for decades, and influenced most home-grown composers, like John Frederick Lampe, who wrote using Italian models. This situation continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, including in the work of Michael Balfe, and the operas of the great Italian composers, as well as those of Mozart, Beethoven and Meyerbeer, continued to dominate the musical stage in England.

In 1728, John Rich, actor-manager of the Duke’s Company at Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, commissioned The Beggar’s Opera from John Gay. The success of this venture provided him with the capital to build the Theatre Royal (designed by Edward Shepherd) at the site of an ancient convent garden, part of which had been developed by Inigo Jones in the 1630s with a piazza and church. In addition, a Royal Charter had created a fruit and vegetable market in the area, a market which survived in that location until 1974. At its opening on December 7, 1732, Rich was carried by his actors in processional triumph into the theatre for its opening production of William Congreve’s The Way of the World.

During the first hundred years or so of its history, the theatre was primarily a playhouse, with the Letters Patent granted by Charles II giving Covent Garden and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane exclusive rights to present spoken drama in London. Despite the frequent interchangeability between the Covent Garden and Drury Lane companies, competition was intense, often presenting the same plays at the same time. Rich introduced pantomime to the repertoire, himself performing (under the stage name John Lun, as Harlequin) and a tradition of seasonal pantomime continued at the modern theatre, until 1939.

In 1734, Covent Garden presented its first ballet, Pygmalion. Marie Sallé discarded tradition and her corset and danced in diaphanous robes. Il pastor fido followed by Ariodante (1735), the premiere of Alcina, and Atalanta the following year. There was a royal performance of the Messiah in 1743, which was a success and began a tradition of Lenten oratorio performances. From 1735 until his death in 1759 he gave regular seasons there, and many of his operas and oratorios were written for Covent Garden or had their first London performances there. He bequeathed his organ to John Rich, and it was placed in a prominent position on the stage, but was among many valuable items lost in a fire that destroyed the theatre in 1808.

Rebuilding began in December 1808, and the second Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (designed by Robert Smirke) opened on September 18, 1809 with a performance of Macbeth followed by a musical entertainment called The Quaker. The actor-manager John Philip Kemble, raised seat prices to help recoup the cost of rebuilding, but the move was so unpopular that audiences disrupted performances by beating sticks, hissing, booing and dancing. The Old Price Riots lasted over two months, and the management was finally forced to accede to the audience’s demands.

During this time, entertainments were varied; opera and ballet were presented, but not exclusively. Kemble engaged a variety of acts. Many famous actors of the day appeared at the theatre, including the tragediennes Sarah Siddons and Eliza O’Neill, the Shakespearean actors William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean and his son Charles.

On March 5, 1856, the theatre was again destroyed by fire. Work on the third theatre, designed by Edward Middleton Barry, started in 1857 and the new building, which still remains as the nucleus of the present theatre, opened on May 15, 1858 with a performance of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots.


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Dresssing for the Opera

The Mizra Turban and La Brada Mantle are also articles of novel elegance. They will doubtless have a great run during the winter. For the Opera-dress we think them peculiarly calculated.–The Persian costume is at this time much adopted, in every species of decoration, and we really think it is highly advantageous to British beauty.

From Le Beau Monde, and Monthly Register
Vol. 2, No. 9, December 1809

The London social season evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in its traditional form it peaked in the 19th century. In this era the British elite was dominated by landowning aristocratic and gentry families who generally regarded their country house as their main home, but spent several months of the year in the capital to socialise and to engage in politics. The most exclusive events were held at the town mansions of leading members of the aristocracy; exclusive public venues such as Almack’s played a secondary role. The Season coincided with the sitting of Parliament and began some time after Christmas and ran until midsummer (ie. around late June). The social season also played a role in the political life of the country: the members of the two Houses of Parliament were almost all participants in the season. The Season but was also a chance for the children of marriageable age of the nobility and gentry to be launched into society. Women were formally introduced into society by presentation to the monarch at Court.*

One popular venue for entertainment was the Theater. Here one could see (and be seen) the latest plays, comedies, musicals, operas and ballet performances, along with favorite classics from over 300 years of theatrical history. Naturally, going to the theater required it’s own special form of attire, called “Opera Dress”.

Opera Dress was a very formal variation of evening dress and often included a cap, turban or band decorated by a large feather. When Jane Austen attnded a ball in 1799, she wrote to her sister, “I am not to wear my white satin cap to-night. after all; I am to wear a mamalone cap instead, which Charles Fowle sent to Mary, and which she lends me. It is all the fashion now; worn at the opera, and by Lady Mildmays at Hackwood balls. I hate describing such things, and I dare say you will be able to guess what it is like. I have got over the dreadful epocha of mantua-making much better than I expected. My gown is made very much like my blue one, which you always told me sat very well, with only these variations: the sleeves are short, the wrap fuller, the apron comes over it, and a band of the same completes the whole.”

The following plates, from Cathy Decker’s Regency Fashion Page, give a good example of what would have been worn to the Opera at the turn of the Century.The Full length Opera Cloak, still in fashion today, would have been much worn to protect these gowns (as well as Ball gowns and other find evening wear) from the elements, and to provide an additional layer of warmth on a chilly evening. The Opera Pelisse, a long sleeved coat, sat closer to the body and would have been worn at any hour of the day, as this image, portraying Morning Walking Dress. In this instance the term “Opera” probably has more to do with the length (a pelisse could be knee length or longer) than occasion, as is also seen in “Opera Length Gloves” and “Opera Length Pearls”

Morning Walking Dress

A plain muslin dress, walking length, made high in front, and forms a shirt collar, richly embroidered; long sleeves, also embroidered round the wrists, and at the bottom of the dress; a pelisse opera coat, without any seam in the back, composed of orange-blossom tinged with brown, made of Angola cloth, or sarsnet, trimmed either with rich Chinchealley [sic] fur, or sable tipt with gold; white fur will also look extremely delicate. The pelisse sets close to the form on one side, and is fastened on the right should with a broach; both sides may be worn close as a wrapping pelisse. Indispensables are still much worn, and of the same colour as the dress. The Agrippina hat, made at Millard’s, corner of Southampton-street, Strand, is truly elegant and quite new; the hair in loose curls, confined with a band of hair: ear-rings are quite out of fashion. Leather gloves, and high shoes or half-boots, or orange-blossom, brown velvet or kid.

Evening Dresses for the Opera and Concerts

Opera Dresses, from Nicholas Heideloff, Gallery of Fashion, 1796

From the left:

Figure 1

The hair combed plain round the face; two white bands mixed with the curls of the toupee; the curls dressed very tight and smooth, the hind hair turned up short and plain. Small yeoman hat of blue satin, lined with white, and a gold band round the crown; two white ostrich feathers on the left side near the front, fixed with a gold pin, the head representing the Prince’s crest. Round gown of embroidered muslin, trimmed round the neck with lace; short sleeves in half plaits, with white satin épaulettes and cuffs. Pearl necklace and gold ear-rings.

Figure 2

The hair combed straight round the face; the hind hair turned up in three short loops, returned in ringlets, and crossed with two gold bands. Diamond bandeau and diamond pin on the right side; and on the left a wreath of green leaves intermixed with the hair; two white ostrich feathers in the front. Petticoat of light blue tiffany; body of the same, with short sleeves trimmed with lace. Plaiting of broad lace round the neck. Upper petticoat of white crape, spotted with white satin in chéilles; robe of the same, spotted in the same manner; the whole Vandyke scolloped. Diamond ear-rings, girdle, and clasps. Pearl necklace. White gloves and shoes, richly embroidered in silver.

Figure 3

The hair combed plain round the face. Chiffonet of silver muslin, the end trimmed with a silver fringe; the hind hair turned up in two loop; silver bandeau on the left side, and on the right a wreath of honeysuckle silver flowers. Three party-coloured green and white ostrich feathers in the front. Petticoat of white tiffany with a rich embroidered border; white satin body embroidered in silver round the neck. Robe of salmon- coloured tiffany; short sleeves épaulettes, cuffs, and binding of green satin. Full plaiting of broad blonde round the neck. Silk cord and tassels round the waist. Diamond ear-rings. White gloves and shoes.

These three ladies are in a box at a theater. The lady on the right holds a glass to let her see the stage and other theater-goers better. They were three very different headdresses: one is in plumes of assorted colors, one a hat, and the other wears garland weaths with white rose trim. The two ladies in front seem to have taken care their headdresses and dresses match, while the standing woman’s plumes are very different in color from her bold yellow dress. In Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) and Camilla (1796), the heroine attends the theater in such a box. Scenes in theater boxes also occur in Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington and Jane West’s A Tale of the Times (1799). The original text reads as follows:

Opera Dresses:

Figure 1
Dress á l’ Espagnole. The front hair combed straight on the forehead; the side hair in ringlets, and the hind hair in three loops, the ends returned in ringlets. Fancy-hat of white and lilac-coloured taffeta. White muslin gown; short sleeves, puffs, and Vandyke scollops of lilac silk. Small handkerchief trimmed with broad blonde. Pearl necklace. Diamond ear-rings.

Figure 2
The front hair combed straight on the forehead; the side hair in ringlets: the hind hair turned up plain, and the ends returned in ringlets. Turban of silver net, looped at the right side with a silver band. One light-blue, two white brush feathers, and a large diamond pin, with a diamond aigrette, on the left side. Robe of yellow stained muslin; short sleeves. White satin girdle with small roses, and shoulder clasps. Small handkerchief trimmed with blonde.

Figure 3
The toupee dressed large, and in small curls; plain chignon, falling very low on the back; two wreaths of green foil round the toupee; and a bouquet of white roses on the left side. Robe of silver tissue, embroidered in the shell pattern; short sleeves trimmed with lace; full épaulettes of Italian gauze. Tucker of broad lace. Wreath of green foil round the neck, fastened in the front and upon the shoulders with diamond rosettes. Sash of white satin riband, tied on the right side into a bow. Festoon pearl necklace, with a medallion. Large pearl earrings.

Cathy Decker has created the Regency Fashion Page which catalogs fashion plates from 1790-1820. These plates include full color photographs of the original plates as well as descriptive notes. Her page has been recommended by the History Channel.

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