Leonora Austen worked in the book trade at St Paul’s Churchyard, in the heart of the London booksellers’ district, for forty-six years, from 1737 to 1783. She was the younger sister of Jane Austen’s father, George Austen, Jane was her niece.
Jane’s paternal grandmother, Rebecca Austen, died in 1732, leaving her husband William with four children to care for – their newborn daughter Leonora, George, aged one, Philadelphia two, and eleven year old William Hampson Walter, Rebecca’s son from her first marriage.
William Austen, a surgeon at Tonbridge, managed alone for four years. In 1736 he married Susanna Kelk, he died the following year aged thirty six. In his will, made in 1735, he named his brothers Francis and Stephen as executors and left his estate to be divided equally between his three children. He had not amended his will after he remarried, and Susanna, aged forty-eight, reluctant to care for his children, was not obliged to do so.
Francis Austen lived in Tonbridge but was unmarried, so Leonora, now five, George, six, and Philadelphia, seven, were bundled up and sent to London. They were to live with their father’s youngest brother, Stephen, an eminent bookseller,[i] his wife Elizabeth and their five year old son at The Angel & Bible, Stephen Austen’s bookshop in St Paul’s Church-Yard.
Stephen Austen, born in Tonbridge in 1704, had attended Sevenoaks School before being apprenticed to William Innys, a publisher at the West End of St Paul’s. After completing his apprenticeship he opened his own business nearby, specialising in religious works.
He entered the book trade in a time of optimism, the Stationers’ Company’s dominance over publishing books had been terminated in 1695, and authors and publishers had been granted a degree of certainty by the Copyright Act or Statute of Anne of 1710.[ii] It gave fourteen years legal protection for newly published books and twenty one years for books already in print. The industry was blossoming with new entrants and new ideas.
Leonora formed a close bond with Stephen’s wife Elizabeth, and she was always happy to help her in the bookshop. She would hurry out along the ginnels threaded between St Paul’s Church-Yard, Paternoster Row and Newgate Street, carrying books, delivering orders and messages from The Angel & Bible. As business grew so did the range of Leonora’s tasks and responsibilities.
In 1740, Stephen Austen purchased the rights to the New History of the Holy Bible, from the beginning of the World to the establishment of Christianity by Reverend Thomas Stackhouse. Stackhouse had brought it out in 1737 in three volumes, Austen published a second edition between 1742 and 1744 in two volumes. It had numerous illustrations, the Tower of Babel, interior and exterior views of the Ark, a plan of the city of Babylon, and the like, and it sold well.
Austen collaborated in projects with other publishers, including his former master, William Innys, and Charles Hitch of Paternoster Row. In 1739, Austen and Hitch published The Travels & Adventure of Edward Brown, Esq. Formerly a Merchant of London,[iii] with two other colleagues; and in 1744, in collaboration with four others they published a second edition of Thomas Salmon’s Modern History of the Present State of All Nations.[iv]
In January 1740, Stephen Austen took up important new responsibilities away from his bookshop when he, William Innys and Charles Hitch were elected as Commoners for Castle Baynard Ward, to the Court of Common Council of the City of London.
The following year Leonora suffered a great loss, her brother George was sent away, back to Tonbridge to attend school while she and Philadelphia remained in London. Leonora missed her elder brother, it was several very long years before she saw him again. Their uncle Francis, a solicitor at Sevenoaks, enrolled George at the Tonbridge School, where he did well. In 1747, he won a scholarship to St John’s College Oxford, where he graduated in Arts and Divinity, and was ordained in 1754.
Jane Austen was very affected by the story of her father’s childhood, how he and his sisters were orphaned, then separated, their lives taking such different paths. She made repeated entreaties to hear the story of their Misfortunes and Adventures,[v] she felt for them: dispersed and left in great distress, reduced to a state of absolute dependence on some relations, who though very opulent and very nearly connected with them, had with difficulty been prevailed on to contribute anything towards their Support. [vi]
Philadelphia showed an early interest in fashion and when she turned fifteen Stephen Austen arranged her apprenticeship to a celebrated milliner in Bond Street.[vii] In 1750, the year she completed her indenture, Stephen Austen died. He had suffered twelve days with fever and a violent pain in his head, where he had been trepann’d about 28 years since, for a fracture which he received by a fall from his horse.[viii]
After Stephen’s death his brother Francis took charge of Philadelphia’s affairs. A few months later, now twenty-one, Philadelphia wrote to the East India Company asking permission to visit Fort St David, a hundred miles south of Madras.[ix] She left England in January 1752, on the Bombay Castle, an East India Company vessel, in the adventurous manner often adopted by portionless girls.[x] Jane knew the brutal truth about her aunt, that being without means or prospects she was sent out to India with the object of finding a husband. [xi]
Leonora, eighteen, remained with Stephen’s widow, there was now a great deal more for them both to do. Elizabeth was now solely responsible for managing his publishing business. In his will, made in March 1745, Stephen had bequeathed to her and her only all my Estate real and personal, and appointed her the sole Executrix.
Two years after his death Elizabeth married again, to John Hinton, a bookseller on Paternoster Row, near Warwick Lane. More than a dozen years younger than Stephen Austen, he was an enterprising publisher of a popular periodical, The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, lavishly illustrated with maps and engravings. He had obtained an Act of Parliament to publish the magazine under a Royal Licence.
Leonora stayed on as a companion to Elizabeth, helping out as she had always done, in the bookshop and the household. Jane described the arrangement in her juvenilia, with gentle derision – they treat her as if she were their own daughter. She does not go out into Public with them to be sure; but…nothing can be kinder to her than they are; they would have taken her to Cheltenham last year if there had been room enough at the Lodgings, and therefore I don’t think that she can have anything to complain of.
In February 1753, Philadelphia married a forty year old Company surgeon, Tyso Saul Hancock, at Fort St David. Her uncle Francis was his agent and attorney.
The eldest daughter had been obliged to accept the offer of one of her cousins to equip her for the East Indies and, tho’ infinitely against her inclination, had necessitated to embrace the only possibility that was offered to her of a Maintenance; yet it was one so opposite to all her ideas of Propriety, so contrary to her Wishes, so repugnant to her feelings; that she would almost prefer servitude to it; had Choice been allowed her. Her personal Attractions had gained her a husband as soon as she arrived in Bengal, and she had been married nearly a twelvemonth; Splendidly yet unhappily married – United to a Man of double her own age, whose disposition was not amiable and whose Manners were unpleasing, though his Character respectable.
Leonora missed Philadelphia, she was not married, and could yet look forward to a change in her circumstances, but situated for the present without any immediate hope of it, in a family where, tho’ all were relations she had no friend, she wrote usually in depressed Spirits, which her separation from her Sister and her Sister’s marriage had greatly contributed to make so.
Phila wrote to her family, but her letters were always unsatisfactory, though she did not openly avow her feelings, yet every line proved her to be Unhappy. She spoke with pleasure of nothing, but of those Amusements which they had shared together and which could return no more, and seemed to have no happiness in view but that of returning to England again.
Soon after Christmas 1764, the Hancocks, Tyso, Philadelphia and their daughter Eliza, left India for home on HMS Medway. They took nearly seven months to reach England where they rented a house in Mayfair and a cottage in Surrey.
Soon after she arrived Philadelphia called on Leonora, it was more than a dozen years since they had seen each other. While motherhood and India had changed Phila, her sister had altered very little. She moved quietly within the narrow confines of her service to the Hintons, seeming almost part of the little tunnel groaning with books and smelling of yellowed pages. Jane observed that she was dependent even for her Cloathes on the bounty of others, who of course do not pity her, they consider her very fortunate. [xii]
Leonora and Philadelphia had a large extended family, their mother Rebecca was one of seven children of Sir George Hampson, baronet and physician. Philadelphia, once settled in her comfortable London residence, with a husband, daughter, money and servants, was eager to re-establish relations with her large extended family, Austens, Walters, Paynes, Freemans, Stanhopes and more.
In 1768, Tyso Hancock returned to Calcutta, leaving Philadelphia and Eliza in England. His funds were getting low and he planned to get rich quickly, to provide for Phila and Eliza, to help support his sister Olivia,[xiii] his brother Colbron[xiv]and with great chearfulness, Phila’s sister Leonora.[xv]
Philadelphia appears to have written to him, unhappy with Leonora’s predicament. Tyso Hancock did not take her part, declaring, Mr Hinton has behaved very nobly to poor Leonora. He certainly had not the least Obligation to do anything for her.[xvi]
Over Christmas and New Year of 1772-73, Philadelphia and Eliza visited George Austen and his family in Steventon. Phila helped manage the household and assisted Mrs Austen with the birth of her first daughter, her fifth child, Cassandra-Elizabeth, born on 9 January 1773.
1773 and 1774 were very busy years for Elizabeth Hinton and Leonora Austen. John Hinton was away a great deal of the time, in Edinburgh, seriously engaged in the battle of the booksellers, in play between established publishers London and the newly developing book trade in Scotland. Scottish publishers had been reprinting and selling books whose legal protection under the Copyright Act had expired. They sold them more cheaply than their London counterparts, in England as well as Scotland.
John Hinton travelled to Scotland to mount a case in the Edinburgh Court of Session against three Scots booksellers, Alexander Donaldson, John Wood and James Meurose, for having infringed his rights by printing, publishing and selling copies of Stackhouse’s New History of the Holy Bible.
Hinton asserted he had the sole common law rights to publish the book. He argued that on Stephen Austen’s death, Elizabeth had inherited the right to publish the book, and that right transferred to him on their marriage. Hinton sought orders from the Court for the defendants to cease and desist publishing the New History of the Holy Bible, damages for each copy of the book they had sold, and possession of all the unsold copies, which he claimed amounted to ten thousand unsold copies.
In July 1773, Hinton lost his case, nine of the ten Scottish judges opposed granting a perpetual monopoly to London booksellers, ruling that no such common law right existed in Scotland. But all was not lost, the judgement received great public scrutiny resulting seven months later in the formal intervention of the House of Lords.
In February 1774 the Lords summoned twelve Common Law judges to attend to hear the arguments for and against copyright, and to advise them. Eighty-four Lords voted to reject the argument for common law rights, henceforth copyright was to be limited in term and that term would be established by statute.
Twice widowed, a year later, in July 1782, Elizabeth Hinton married a third bookseller Stephen Austen Cumberlege. Considerably younger, he had been John Hinton’s apprentice, he arranged for St Thomas’ Hospital to transfer John Hinton’s lease of their premises on Paternoster Row to his name, and took over publication of The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, that continued, monthly, until 1814.
Philadelphia, now widowed, was living in France with her newly married daughter Eliza. Leonora, now fifty, stayed on with Elizabeth and her new husband, perhaps considered as one of the fixtures of the house.[xviii] She died the following year.
Jane Austen who turned seven that year, remembered Leonora in her blue hat. She bristled at the unjust treatment of her aunt, asking, is that not shameful? That she should be so poor? It is indeed, with such wealthy connexions as the Family have.[xix]
Wal Walker, November 2017.
[i] Daily Advertiser, 31 December 1750, quoted by Ian Maxted, Exeter Working Papers in Book History, online.
[ii] Known as the Statute of Anne, the Copyright Act was an Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned.
[iii] The Travels & Adventure of Edward Brown, Esq. Formerly a Merchant of London, printed by J.Applebee for A. Bettesworth, and C. Hitch, at the Red-Lyon in Pater-noster-Row, William Hinchliffe, at Dryden’s-Head under the Piazza of the Royal-Exchange, and Stephen Austen, at the Angel and Bible in St Paul’s Churchyard.
[iv] Thomas Salmon, Modern History of the present state of all nations, printed for T. Longman in Pater-noster -Row, T. Osborne in Gray’s Inn, J. Shuckburgh in Fleet Street, C.Hitch in Pater-noster-Row, S.Austen in Newgate Street, and J. Rivington in St Paul’s Churchyard.
[v] Jane Austen, Love & Freindship. Juvenilia, Volume the Second.
[vi] Jane Austen, Kitty, or the Bower, Juvenilia, Volume the Third.
[vii] Jane Austen, The beautiful Cassandra, Juvenilia, Volume the First.
[viii] The London Magazine: Or Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, Volume 19, page 603.
[ix] W. & R.A. Austen-Leigh, Jane Austen Her Life and Letters, a Family Record. London, Smith Elder & Co, 1913, Chapter III.
[x] William Austen-Leigh and Montagu George Knight, Chawton Manor & Its Owners, London, Smith Elder & Co, 1911, Chapter VII.
[xi] R.A.Austen-Leigh, Austen Papers 1704-1856, Spottiswoode Ballantyne, Colchester, 1942, page 34.
[xii] Jane Austen, Kitty, or the Bower. Juvenilia, Volume the Third.
[xiii] Tyso to Philadelphia Hancock, 23 November 1769, Austen Papers, page 39.
[xiv] J. Woodman to Warren Hastings, 26 December 1781, ibid, page 98.
[xv] Tyso to Philadelphia Hancock, 17 January 1770, ibid, page 43.
[xvi] Tyso to Philadelphia Hancock, 17 January 1770. Austen Papers, page 43.
[xvii] Ian Maxted, op cit.
[xviii] Jane to Cassandra Austen, 8 January, 1801.
[xix] Jane Austen, Kitty, or the Bower. Juvenilia, Volume the Third.