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The Microcosm of London: Astley’s Amphitheatre

Edward and Frank are both gone out to seek their fortunes; the latter is to return soon and help us seek ours. The former we shall never see again. We are to be at Astley’s to-night, which I am glad of. Edward has heard from Henry this morning. He has not been at the races at all, unless his driving Miss Pearson over to Rowling one day can be so called. We shall find him there on Thursday.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
August 1796

In 1808, Rudolph Ackerman (famous for his Repository of Arts and Literature) published a multi volume set entitled The Microcosm of London, wherein, he described various locals and hotspots with a tour guide’s enthusiasm, leaving an illustrated, detailed record of the London that Austen knew. Astley’s Amphitheatre, famous for both the riding school and circus type show they offered was just such an attraction, attended by Jane and her brothers on at least one trip to London in 1796. Advertising for the Amphitheatre offered such delights as an eight year old girl who could ride two galloping horses, simultaneously, Astley’s son, who was reported to dance the minuet on the backs of three running horses, and of course, ‘the Little Military-Learned Horse’ who could, it is said, “play dead, set a tea table and heat a kettle to make tea, jump through hoops, play hide-and-seek, do mathematical calculations and fire a pistol.”*

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