Everything’s relative

I said at the outset of my posts on Munster Abbey that I wasn’t able to find out much about the short life of Sir Samuel Egerton Leigh, and while that’s true, one or two factoids did emerge while I was digging into the background of his novel.

One point that came up in a number of contexts is that Sir Samuel was related by marriage to the famous actor-producer-playwright, David Garrick: his sister, Martha, became the wife of Garrick’s nephew, Nathan.

Another, which came up far less frequently – one might even say astonishingly less frequently – is that Sir Samuel was distantly related to Jane Austen through her mother, Cassandra Leigh.

I have been unable to determine the exact degree of connectedness between the two. The Leighs were one of those sprawling, multi-foci aristocratic families, wherein determining who belongs to which branch is next to impossible for anyone but a professional genealogist with a lot of time on their hands. It doesn’t help that the Leighs managed to acquire both a barony and two different baronetcies, including the one inherited by our friend, Sir Samuel, all under the name of “Leigh”; nor that the clan had a habit of reiterating family names, hyphenated or otherwise. Thus in addition to the Austen-Leighs and the Egerton Leighs, there were also the Egerton Brydges-es, who were connections of the Dukes of Chandros, the first holder of that title being Mrs Austen’s great-uncle, James Brydges.

(There is neither an Austen nor a Leigh on the list of subscribers attached to Munster Abbey, although curiously there are three Austin-s. We do, however, find on the list (separately) Egerton Brydges Esq. and Mrs Brydges, of Wootten-court, near Canterbury, Miss Brydges of Canterbury, Mrs Charles Egerton of Bath, and John Egerton Esq. of Wellbeck-street; while the ‘C’ list is topped by the Dowager Duchess of Chandros.)

Be all that as it may—I think it may be fairly observed that all the writing talent in this extended family concentrated itself in one area.

More immediately to the point, however, it is delicious to reflect that while Sir Samuel Egerton Leigh was churning out the most deliriously over-the-top example of literary sentimentalism that I have yet come across, his distant cousin Jane was honing her own writing skills by mocking that very form of novel-writing. More than ever now do I want to believe that Sir Samuel was the anonymous author of Valentine: that novel was published in 1790, the same year that the fourteen-year-old Austen wrote Love And Freindship, her brilliantly funny deconstruction of the excesses of the genre. It amuses me no end to consider that one may even have provoked the other.

I’ve quoted from Love And Freindship before, when I was making the argument that in the final draft of Northanger Abbey, Austen was poking fun at fellow-novelist Catherine Cuthbertson. (And in fairness to Cuthbertson, gigglesome as her novels frequently are, she was a better writer than Sir Samuel, and never went quite so ludicrously far with her sentiment.) Here are a few more quotes from Austen’s burlesque: for extra enjoyment, put them side-by-side with the quotes from Munster Abbey:

    But lovely as I was the Graces of my Person were the least of my Perfections. Of every accomplishment accustomary to my sex, I was Mistress. When in the Convent, my progress had always exceeded my instructions, my Acquirements had been wonderfull for my age, and I had shortly surpassed my Masters.
    In my Mind, every Virtue that could adorn it was centered; it was the Rendez-vous of every good Quality and of every noble sentiment.
    A sensibility too tremblingly alive to every affliction of my Freinds, my Acquaintance and particularly to every affliction of my own, was my only fault, if a fault it could be called…

    I soon perceived that tho’ Lovely and Elegant in her Person and tho’ Easy and Polite in her Address, she was of that inferior order of Beings with regard to Delicate Feeling, tender Sentiments, and refined Sensibility, of which Augusta was one.
    She staid but half an hour and neither in the Course of her Visit, confided to me any of her secret thoughts, nor requested me to confide in her, any of Mine. You will easily imagine therefore my Dear Marianne that I could not feel any ardent affection or very sincere Attachment for Lady Dorothea…

“Where am I to drive?” said the Postilion. “To Newgate Gentle Youth (replied I), to see Augustus.” “Oh! no, no, (exclaimed Sophia) I cannot go to Newgate; I shall not be able to support the sight of my Augustus in so cruel a confinement—my feelings are sufficiently shocked by the RECITAL, of his Distress, but to behold it will overpower my Sensibility.” As I perfectly agreed with her in the Justice of her Sentiments the Postilion was instantly directed to return into the Country…

I was determined to speak with Philander and Gustavus, and to that purpose as soon as I left the Carriage, I went to the Basket and tenderly enquired after their Health, expressing my fears of the uneasiness of their situation. At first they seemed rather confused at my appearance dreading no doubt that I might call them to account for the money which our Grandfather had left me and which they had unjustly deprived me of, but finding that I mentioned nothing of the Matter, they desired me to step into the Basket as we might there converse with greater ease. Accordingly I entered and whilst the rest of the party were devouring green tea and buttered toast, we feasted ourselves in a more refined and sentimental Manner by a confidential Conversation. I informed them of every thing which had befallen me during the course of my life, and at my request they related to me every incident of theirs…

Footnote: Now, here’s a curiously suggestive thing: as I say, there’s no “Austen” on that list of subscribers to Munster Abbey, but amongst the list of surnames, we do find people called Elliot, Ferrars, Dashwood and Bennet. Hmm…

Advertisements

5 Comments to “Everything’s relative”

  1. do you know what the laws for libel were back then? wouldn’t it be delightful if Elliots, Ferrars, Dashwoods, and Bennets were true representations?

    • “I’ll teach you to subscribe to silly novels!”

      It seems rather harsh, that, punishing people for poor taste in novels by immortalising them as Lydia Bennet. 🙂

  2. I just reread your post on Valentine, and while it does sound awful, it doesn’t sound nearly as awful as Munster Abbey. And it sounds like Leigh is opposed to wallowing in feelings, while Valentine is in favor of it. Of course, you have read through both and I haven’t read either…

    • Not sure about that; going by Munster, while of course nobody would approved of faked sensibility, it’s regarded as entirely a sign of what a wonderful and refined person you are that your feelings are so powerful they overcome you.

      • The characters in Munster Abbey, with their years of “uninterrupted felicity”, aren’t given the same opportunities to wallow.

        I can only say that overall, the tone of the novels and the style of writing is similar. The internal philosophical contradictions caught my attention, and so did the plunge from pathos to bathos with the examination of the wills in both novels. Of course, all this is entirely speculation on my part—something I like to think, not anything I could ever prove.

        Hey, it’s a feeling – and those are privileged around here, right?? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: