“I sat next to Sydney Smith, who was delightful–I don’t remember a more agreeable party.” ~ Benjamin DisraeliIn late 1797, Jane Austen, her sister Cassandra, and their parents made a visit to Bath. They had connections there; Mrs. Austen’s brother and his wife, the Leigh Perrots, lived there, and the Austens had courted and been married there. 1797 was the year of Cassandra’s bereavement, when her fiancé Tom Fowle died of yellow fever during military service in the West Indies, and perhaps Mrs. Austen thought her daughter’s grief would be alleviated by the gaiety of the resort town.In 1797 Bath was still relatively fashionable and attracted a large crowd in the winter months. But that particular winter a gentleman was in town, a young clergyman who was acting as a tutor to the eldest son of a family from near Salisbury. His name was Sydney Smith, and he would go on to become one of the most celebrated wits of his day. “He drew such a ludicrous caricature that Sir James Mackintosh rolled on the floor in fits of laughter.” ~ Lord John Russell But in the winter of 1797, Sydney Smith was tutor to Michael Hicks Beach. The Hicks Beach family was related to the Bramstons of Oakley Hall in Hampshire, very near to Steventon, and the Austens were acquainted with the Hicks Beaches through that connection. And, as Irene Collins says, “Even without such information, the Master of Ceremonies would have regarded a clergyman-tutor as the very person
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