Jane Austen's Names: Riddles, Persons, Places (2016)
* Chapter 8 *
Humans Making and Naming a Landscape
A place can be a small piece of earth’s surface, a room, or a kitchen garden. In the eighteenth century, “place” often meant a mansion amid fine grounds. Henry Crawford encourages Edmund to make “improvements” to his parsonage, to “raise it into a place” (MP, II, ch. 7). But each of us lives in some place; some spot of earth—a “birthplace” has defining power. “Place” feels like something outside us, yet intimate. The body itself, however, might be considered the first place. Neither quite “self” nor not-self, it feels like the home of personality, site of emotion and decision. It deteriorates, very much like a property, if faster. This first of places is never stable, as it must move through space. Our inevitable experiments in space can be dangerous. Marianne runs, and falls. Louisa Musgrove jumps through space—and falls.
Many eighteenth-century poets gloried in graveyard settings, but eighteenth-century novelists (unlike their nineteenth-century successors) do not—partly because ladies did not attend funerals and graveyards chiefly served the poor.1 Austen shows us only one funeral monument; respectable Mrs. Tilney’s epitaph is placed on the church wall, as befits her rank. Buried under the church floor, not raw earth, Mrs. Tilney is abstracted into her plaque. Catherine is right—the monument cannot prove the corpse; it is but words, displaced from the body they purport to represent. Death hovers over Austen’s fiction, though part of her excellence is being able to distract us from that shadow. The body is a place that won’t last. But before we lose that place, we will have lost some others, changed and moved about, timidly or expansively, on our region of the globe.
The vulnerable body is always close to the center of Austen’s vision. It is easy to understand why a Mr. Woodhouse chooses immobility. Immobility, seemingly safe, is rarely achievable. Austen’s characters are often not fixed in place, but in the process of moving to new places. Homes (especially those of young women) are not permanent. Pleasure, health, marriage, war, or financial fluctuations bring on change of location. Change of place (even of a mere three miles) may be a stress or a tonic. A body in motion is a body displaced. One’s place on the earth as well as in social station is treated as “nature.” Place, however, is not “Nature,” but a concept caught in the apparatus of history, law, and language. Beneath human “places,” however, is the earth itself—claimed but not possessed.
Making a Place
England was once a true “wilderness”—imitated artificially on gentlemen’s grounds, as at Sotherton. Before history, the “British Isles” were covered in deep forest. In the Iron Age human beings began hacking down the trees and making clearings. This process accelerated after the Saxon invasions. What happened in the colonies in North America from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century happened in England from the sixth century onward. The same program applies: clear a patch in the forest, create a crude dwelling, grow some food, take named possession. The Saxons made a determined push into the wilderness, just as their successors were to do in the New World. They chopped down trees, cleared fields, and built houses and settlements. Saxons acquired children, neighbors, houses, and barns. The population of England, like that of much of Europe, was on an upward curve. The Black Death terribly reduced that population. England had nearly six million people around 1350, but after the ravages of the great plagues only some three million. Succeeding eras looked very favorably on population increase. In the eighteenth century England reached its old medieval population level. Between 1700 and 1800 the population of England and Wales doubled in size—from about four million to about eight million. The eighteenth century is a young person’s century.
There was scarcely time to rejoice. Before the century’s end, after a sequence of bad harvests and wartime austerities, the Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus published his gloomy tract An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), warning Britain of the danger of overpopulation. Population, Malthus warned, grows by geometrical progression; food production, by mere arithmetical progression. We cannot afford—at least the poor cannot afford—to go on begetting; the food supply would run out. Overpopulation is the central problem. (It didn’t seem to occur to Malthus—any more than to his modern successors—that the overconsumption of earthly resources by the rich might be curtailed.) The procreation of the poor was to be prevented. Partly from alarm at Malthusian prophecy and partly in order to determine wartime manpower and resources, the English government (following the Americans) decided on a ten-year census. The first census of 1801 gave England (for the first time since the Domesday Boke) some idea of who lived where and how many people there were, county by county. The results may be surprising to any reader of Malthus—the numbers inhabiting even the large prosperous southern counties seem small, scarcely enough to make good-sized modern town. Yet the total of well over eight million was more than expected. The first census is probably a serious undercounting, but the relative size of counties appears trustworthy. Most of England was still deeply rural, much of its populace living in small villages and hamlets, engaged in agricultural work and its support.2
The place names of any country or region seem a kind of “found poetry,” a tribute to the relations of humans with a place within “Nature.” In his invaluable work The Making of the English Landscape (1955) W. G. Hoskins points out that the majority of English village names, like the villages themselves, existed in the Middle Ages: “Nearly every village we know today had appeared on the scene by 1086.”3 Larger towns came into existence later, often founded as the result of deliberate planning by landowners, including bishops and religious foundations. “It is remarkable how many English towns have come into existence since the Norman Conquest, most of them as a result of ‘the fever of borough creation’ in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.” At Stratford-upon-Avon, for example, “The bishop of Worcester in 1196 . . . laid out, on the edge of the Saxon village . . . a piece of his demesne covering 109 acres. This was marked out in building-plots . . . and six streets were planned, three running parallel with the river and three at right angles to it.” Shakespeare’s Stratford was a planned town. The town (or cathedral “city”) of Salisbury (or “New Sarum”) was “the bishop of Salisbury’s creation,” its original gridiron plan laid out by Bishop Richard de le Poore in 1220–25. As well as straight streets the town plan included a market place and a guildhall.4
Names speak of the original creators of settlements. Sometimes the effect is macaronic, a mixture of tongues, as is the case with “Salisbury,” based on a Celtic name Serviodunum (fort [duno] at Sorvio) with the Saxon suffix -burh attached. (The form “Sarum” arose in the fourteenth century from a misreading of old documents.) Roman terms could be layered upon earlier place names, as in “Towcester” in Hampshire, which combines an old Celtic name for a river (the Tove or “slow-moving”) with the Roman ceaster. Place names in Cornwall, Wales, or Scotland are Celtic in origin; even in the center of England root words from the pre-Saxon inhabitants, the earlier Britons or Romano-Britons, survive. The majority of villages and small towns, however, sustain Anglo-Saxon names. Most English place names refer to an original settlement and may tell us what kind of settlement this was or what landmarks distinguished it. There are notably different names for groups of trees. The word “forest” (as in other parts of Europe) stands for the original wildwood, outside the world of settlement and civilization. A “coppice” is quite different, a managed stand of trees supplying perpetual growth and new shoots for cattle feed. A “shaw” is woodland set apart, or trees around a field. “Hay” is a hedge, or a field surrounded by a hedge.
The common suffix -ham indicates an enclosure, a land possessed—hence our word “home.” The word -ton can indicate something larger, an enclosure with a set of buildings. This suffix is different from don (or dun) which means “hill.” “Estate” is a misleading word apply to a ton; most tons were not what we would consider “towns” but farmsteads, each a messuage with main house, barns, a shelter for cattle (byre), and other outbuildings. The suffix -thorp(e) implies a secondary holding, a hamlet or a dairy farm at a distance from its parent farm. But many a “thorpe” becomes a self-standing entity. The prefix carl or charl indicates Old English “churl,” commoner or serf, as in “Carleton” (ceorl + ton, a place for serfs’ dwellings). “Hampden” means settled enclosure in a valley (ham + dene [valley]). The element wick carries the Roman vicus; a “wick” indicates a dwelling place on the basis of a similar Roman settlement. “Particularly in the West Country-wick and -wickham names are often close to Romano-British settlements.”5
Place names in England are a surviving repository of Anglo-Saxon, the Old English which not even the Conquest was able to erase. There were many indicators of boundaries and division. Stane or stone may indicate a boundary stone. The prefix or suffix bourn(e) first means a stream; streams offered natural boundaries, so “bourne” came to indicate a boundary or border. Boundaries could also be marked by hedgerows or earthworks, in the Early English period and in later times. Crosses of stone served several important functions:
Crosses were frequently erected to mark the boundaries of townships, monastic land-holdings, warrens, estates, sanctuary and other territories. They were also placed in non-boundary locations to mark the venues of preaching or markets, while the erection of a cross could be a condition of the holding of land from the Knights Hospitallers [sic].6
Frequent documentary references to crosses and “cross” place names are evidence of their common use. Hence we have a believable name like “Uppercross” in Persuasion, indicating a stone boundary marker set in medieval times (which may still be there).
Hedges were an important feature of the English landscape from early settlements to the mid-twentieth century; they kept off marauding cattle and sheltered birds which fed on insects that threatened crops. Hedgerows in the fertile southern counties could be quite large and variegated installations. They often consisted of two lines of tall growth with a track between them. Hazel, walnut, and thorn trees, both blackthorn and whitethorn, contributed to hedgerows. Holly was valued not just as a prickly barrier, but on its own account, as a winter cattle feed. This old sustainable system of the hedgerow has been put under “assault of unprecedented severity.”
By using air photographs, it has been estimated that, of around 5000,000 miles of hedge existing in England and Wales in 1946–7, some 140,000 miles had been removed by 1974.7
Further miles of hedges have disappeared in the onslaught of mechanized farming and new motorways—a loss of habitat for birds and small animals. Hedges had provided man-made boundaries even in prehistoric Britain and emerge into history in legal documents. “References to hedgerows in Anglo-Saxon charters are abundant, with the hedges frequently being employed as boundary-markers.”8 In Austen’s time the hedgerow was an important working part of the human landscape. Digging drainage ditches and planting hedges was among the hardest labor of the poorest paid rural laborers, “hedgers and ditchers.” We must imagine Jane Austen’s handmade landscape as worked by human beings creating and maintaining visible functional boundaries.
In his Memoir of Jane Austen the novelist’s nephew J. E. Austen-Leigh describes hedgerows at Steventon:
A hedgerow, in that country, does not mean a thin formal line of quickset, but an irregular border of copse-wood and timber, often wide enough to contain within it a winding footpath, or a rough cart track. Under its shelter the earliest primroses, anemones and wild hyacinths were to be found. . . . Two such hedgerows radiated, as it were, from the parsonage. One . . . proceeded westward, forming the southern boundary of the home meadows. . . . the other . . . led to the parish church, as well as to a fine old manor house. (Memoir, 23–24)
These two hedgerows functioned as boundaries, marking off the meadows and the lands of the Steventon manor house, rented during Austen’s early life by a family of gentlefolk with the bucolic name of Digweed, but later to come into the possession of Edward Austen Knight. W. G. Hoskins bears out Austen-Leigh’s observation, noting a decline in quality of new enclosures of the eighteenth century: “The new fields were hedged around with quickset, whitethorn, or hawthorn, to give its alternative names, with a shallow ditch on one side.”9 New hedges offer thin if prickly obstacles to men and cattle, lacking fruit, flowers, or nuts. Richard Muir observes that “medieval and older hedges” tend to include a greater variety of species, including “crab apple, field maple, oak . . . hazel. . . . and various others that are lacking in younger hedges.”10
The hedgerow at Steventon described by Austen-Leigh is a medieval style of hedgerow. The reference to “copse-wood” shows that it was used not only for shelter but also for cattle feed. “Coppicing,” or cropping the tops of young trees, encouraged the sustainable repeated production of new green shoots that could be used to feed cattle. This type of old hedgerow is evoked to great effect in Persuasion. But there is a lighter glimpse of old hedgerow in Emma. The heroine, enjoying some cheering news (Frank Churchill is actually coming!) after a period of discomfort and frustration, looks out her carriage window. On this February day, Emma sees something to remind her of new life: “When she looked at the hedges, she thought the elder at least must soon be coming out” (Emma, II, ch. 5). The elder in the old hedges around Donwell Abbey lands will soon be springing—not yet into flower but into new green leaf.
The creation of man-made visible boundaries inevitably reminds us that the “Early Modern” period from Tudor times to the Victorian era saw an enormous land grab by the well-to-do. Common land was steadily seized, enclosed for the use of private owners. The single biggest grab had been King Henry’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, removing valuable lands altogether from serving the public good and transforming them into private property. Powerful families were to follow suit in seizing land that was traditionally “common” to the people and eventually acquiring also an ideology explaining the beauty of the concept of private property. Throughout Austen’s work we can find an implicit criticism of this privatization. She often differentiates between older practices and newer ones, especially when new ways of dealing with the land cause destruction for the sake of showing off. John and Fanny Dashwood at Norland destroy old walnut trees and what is evidently an old thorn hedge at the brow of a hill, a natural protection to insect-eating birds and a windbreak sheltering both humans and crops.
What Could Austen Know about Saxon Place Names?
We are entitled to ask if in Austen’s time an ordinary reader could have known the implications of terms, the connections of traditional verbal labels with the land and its man-made settlements? Could Jane Austen have known what she was doing when she composed her place names?
Interest in English geography and the history of places and their names was not new. In the 1570s, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, William Camden (1551–1623) began research for his important treatise Britannia. This topographical study of England, Scotland, and Ireland took him some thirty years; a version was published in 1586, and a larger edition in 1607, in the reign of James I. A serious production in Latin, intended primarily for European readers, Britannia was soon translated into English by Philémon Holland and went into many editions. Camden, deeply concerned with facts, also writes con amore; Edmund Gibson, his translator of 1695, says that allowance must be made “if in some places there appear more of the Poetical Style than is usual in Prose; which could not be avoided without deviating from the Original, because . . . Mr. Camden’s Style . . . leans much to the Poetical way.”11Camden’s work goes through Britain county by county, with details relating to landscape, buildings (extant and ruined), and historical connections. He searches out traces left by successive waves of different inhabitants.
Subsequent editors and translators shared Camden’s interests, making corrections and adding new information. Handsome engraved maps and other visual images proliferated. Gibson’s translation/edition of 1695 was republished and expanded. A second edition came out in 1722—in time to influence Daniel Defoe’s Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724–26). A third edition of Gibson’s version appeared in 1753. Gibson, Bishop of London, a serious scholar of Anglo-Saxon, speaks in his own “Preface” of the love of his country as his motive. In his Britannia; or, A Chorographical Description of Great Britain and Ireland, together with the Adjacent Islands, Gibson adds considerably to content and word count with “new discoveries,” just as Camden himself had hoped. As Camden says in his own preface, “A new age, a new race of men, will daily produce new Discoveries. It is enough for me, that I have broken the Ice.”12 Information regarding the meanings of the names of persons and places was rendered readily available to the general reader—at least, to a reader with access to a good library. Camden’s translators ensured vernacular access to clearly presented information about—among other things—root meanings of traditional names. Camden originally offers his reader explanations of many English names of noblemen or gentlemen, which Gibson retains, adding explanations of place names:
Mr. CAMDEN had furnished his Reader with some General Rules for discovering the Original and Import of the ancient English Names of PERSONS; but it seemed to be a Defect in the Undertaking, that there was no Help of the like kind, to discover the Original and Import of the names of PLACES; especially in a Topographical Work. Which defect is now supplied.13
We can see the “General Rules to know the names of places” following upon “The Names of the English Saxons” in the front matter of Gibson’s Britannia (fig. 17).
In Jane Austen’s lifetime a new production of Camden’s great work appeared. In 1789 Richard Gough published Britannia; or, A Chorographicall Description of the Flourishing Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the Islands Adjacent; From the Earliest Antiquity. Gough says that this edition is “the result of twenty years journeying, and a longer term of reading and enquiry; the labour of seven years in translating and enlarging Mr. Camden’s valuable work; and of nine more in attending this edition through the press.”14 Gough’s heroic labor of love as translator and editor took—like the work of the original author—some thirty years. Gough modernizes spelling and organization and adds greatly to the contents. He gets rid of Gibson’s antiquarian etymological rendition of county names such as “Suth-Sex” (“South Saxon,” which is what “Sussex” means) or “Ham-Shire” for the now customary “Hampshire.” Gough retains word lists of Anglo-Saxon names and components of personal names (1:cviii–cix), as well as adding “names of places . . . improved from Mr. Lye’s dictionary.” Gough largely retains though he does not enthusiastically pursue the botanical information about rare local plants in each county that Gibson had included (based on the work of “Mr. Ray”). Gough notes that Camden was not interested in listing manufactures or in cataloging plants. True, because William Camden did not have time, but he might well have approved of such additions.
17. “General Rules to know the names of places” (1753). From Camden’s Britannia, edited and translated by Edmund Gibson (London), clxxi–clxxii. Photograph: © The British Library Board.
This stupendous edition of 1789 consists of three (later four) handsome and thick folio volumes, illustrated with maps and other pictures in copper-plate engraving. Britannia becomes more and more detailed, in some regions showing every mile or half mile filled in. This work fulfills some of the objectives of the Ordnance Survey maps—but the Ordnance Survey is a military project. Begun chiefly as a response to the Scots invasion of 1746, it was made more urgent by the threats from France at the end of the century. The Ordnance Survey (the original GPS) is in a kind of competition with the peaceable Camden. Successive editions of Britannia added abundantly to the maps, fulfilling what was evidently Camden’s own desire, if not within his capacity in 1607. Richard Gough in his own Preface (patriotically dated “St. George’s Day, April 23, 1789”) modestly states that he has not traveled as extensively through the kingdoms as the original author did, and he acknowledges informative material from other sources. (Gibson, however, is actually superior in supplying detailed bibliographies.) Gough also knows that he is writing for readers of an age accustomed to tourism—an activity aided for over a century by Camden’s topographical guide:
I warn the reader not to complain of a disappointment if he does not trace me in every part of the kingdom; and if I request him to content himself in many cases with the researches of others, though I will not offer such an insult to his discernment, as to intrude on him the rude observations of every rambler, now the rage of travelling about Britain is become so contagious, that every man who can write or read makes a Pocket Britannia for himself or others.15
Even before the age of cell-phone photos and blogging, Gough evidently feels too many people are now capable of writing their own travel books.
Gough compliments his immediate predecessor as translator and editor:
The republic of letters has great obligations to Bishop GIBSON. For if Camden first restored Antiquity to Britain, and Britain to Antiquity, his lordship restored Camden to himself, rescuing him from the confusion of that universal translator, Philemon Holland, and building on his latest and most improved edition a valuable superstructure.16
Camden intended his introductory essays to offer a history of England and the English people from the Britons through the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons, Danish incursions and the Norman invasion. The meanings of familiar place words are supplied. Camden enjoyed such etymological work, adding to it in the supplemental Remains concerning Britain, published modestly in 1605 as the “outcast rubbish of a greater and more serious work.” In the Remains, Camden goes into the formation of surnames and the meanings of Saxon and other names, an encouragement to future editors to retain and even amplify linguistic material.
Few readers of Britannia will have gone from start to finish, but it is an excellent book for dipping into. The reader would be most likely to look up counties or towns of greatest personal interest. The narration is varied. Camden throws in stories told in quick but entertaining ways—such as, for example, the martyrdom of Saint Edmund.17 The beautifully illustrated 1789 Britannia is the kind of book that a country gentleman would wish to purchase for his library. It is not unlikely that Jane Austen first came upon Gibson’s Britannia in her childhood. (Although a decided Whig, nicknamed “Walpole’s bishop,” Edmund Gibson the scholar—author also of a famous tract on family prayers—might support Fanny Price’s rhapsody upon the name “Edmund.”) Later, Austen could have seen the new Gough Britannia, with its more modern spellings and usages.
Successive editors always tried to include more places and were evidently besieged by complaints of landowners whose estates did not yet figure. Camden warned that he didn’t intend to publish information about every little castle and manor, but late eighteenth-century publishers knew their best customers. Greater efforts were made to include relatively small landowners and minor historical sites. The Knight family of Godmersham—the estate to be inherited by Jane Austen’s brother Edward—were likely purchasers of the 1789 version. Godmersham would have been even more inclined to acquire the second edition in 1806, which, as well as the Brydgeses’ Goodnestone, includes their estate:
Godmersham . . . was another residence of the priors, much improved by priors Chillenden and Selling: the old hall remains, with the figure of the former carved over the porch. The estate belongs to Thomas Knight, Esq.:18
An unusual strength of William Camden’s work (honored by his editorial successors) is his steady attention to the sites and histories of former religious foundations. The revised Gough edition sets Godmersham itself within that history; Godmersham is originally a priory—hence, perhaps, the amusement of Jane and Anna Austen at “Newton Priors.” Recovering the memory of religious foundations is central to Camden’s enterprise, desire for such recovery a major motive of this Elizabethan historian. Camden began his work when the Dissolution was only some forty years in the past—well within human memory. Recollections and ruins were still fresh. A great change had come over the spiritual and physical landscape of England in a very short time. Camden desired not only to record that alteration but to fix the memory of what had been. To preserve that memory he was willing to undertake a taxing and prolonged labor, arduous mentally and physically. In his own “Preface” William Camden takes note of this aspect of his book:
There are some, I hear, who take it ill that I have mentioned Monasteries and their Founders. I am sorry to hear it; but (with their leave) they are possibly such who are angry, and would have it forgotten, that our Ancestors were, and we are, Christians; since there are not any more certain and glorious Monuments of their Christian piety and devotion: nor were there any other Seminaries for the propagation of Religion and Learning; however, in a corrupt Age, weeds might run up which were necessary to be rooted out.19
That Camden does not approve of what was done to the religious houses is made abundantly clear at the end of the section “Division of Britain”:
Till the reign of Henry VIII. there were, if I may be allowed to say so, monuments of the piety of our ancestors, erected to the honour of God, the propagation of Christianity and learning, and support of the poor, religious houses, viz. monasteries or abbies, and priories, to the number of 645. . . . About the 36th year of Henry VIII. a storm burst upon the English church like a flood breaking down its banks, which, to the astonishment of the world and grief of the nation, bore down the greatest part of the religious with their fairest buildings. For what the Pope permitted the Cardinal to do, the king with consent of parliament took the liberty of doing. In 1536 all the religious houses, with all their revenues . . . were granted to the king. The next year, under the specious pretence of destroying the remains of superstition, the rest, with all colleges, chantries, and hospitals, were surrendered to the king. . . . These were almost all shortly after destroyed, their revenues squandered away, and the wealth which the Christian piety of the English had from the first conversion of England dedicated to God, in a manner dispersed, and, if I may be allowed the expression, profaned.20
Gough introduces the “tempest” that arguably we encounter in Catherine Morland’s first night at Northanger Abbey. Gibson is truer to Camden’s original Latin in deploying the imagery of a torrent, a flood bearing things away with it. Sir John Denham’s Cooper’s Hill (1655; 1668) is an implicit meditation on Camden. This celebrated “topographical” poem (admired by Dryden and Pope) taught successors how to describe a view. The poet looks along Thames valley with a historical eye—seeing abbeys, their ruins, storm, and torrent:
The adjoyning Abby fell: (may no such storm
Fall on our times, where ruine must reform).
Denham follows the image of the river, whose smooth flowing his own writing would like to imitate “Strong without rage, without o’erflowing full.” Denham ends with the river uncontrollable and destructive:
No longer then within his banks he dwells,
First to a Torrent, then a Deluge swells
Stronger, and fiercer by restraint he roares,
And knows no bound, but makes the bounds his shores.21
The tranquil stream becomes a raging tyrant, like Henry VIII—Camden’s “torrent.” The genius of the poem is its combination of past with present. Far from a tranquil observation of a pleasant view, Denham’s poem—directly inspired by Camden—is a contemplation of disaster. Observation of topography makes us witnesses to crime.
To contemplate a landscape truly is to know its history, which invites a sense of anxiety, even when mixed with overt complacency. Jane Austen’s fictional landscapes are often suffused with an awareness—sometimes very uneasy awareness—of former things. The period in which Jane Austen lived saw increasing interest in the history of the places, peoples, and languages of the British Isles. In mid-century the poet Thomas Gray had experimented with verse forms and ideas derived from Welsh or Old Norse. In 1761 James Macpherson published “Fingal,” the first of the poems allegedly by the Dark Ages bard “Ossian.” Macpherson was embroiled in controversy well before his Works of Ossian were published in 1765. Dr. Johnson debunked the Ossian works as “forgery,” while others, especially Scots like James Boswell and Hugh Blair, defended them as genuine heroic epics of Scottish (or Irish-Scottish) heroes of antiquity. Macpherson’s poetry, a modern production tailored to mid-eighteenth-century tastes, was yet based on traditional lore and some orally transmitted lays. The concept of an oral tradition was unwelcome to critics (like Johnson) bred on manuscript and print transmissions. British Celts could have no claim to a “literature” if oral culture were to be excluded. The controversy turned fresh attention to the transmission of culture before the printing press. New prominence was given to oral works like ballads. Goethe, Napoleon, and Thomas Jefferson continued to admire Ossian.
The Ossian controversy stimulated interest in literature of the margins. In 1770 the Irish surgeon Sylvester O’Halloran published his Introduction to the Study of the Antiquities of Ireland; O’Halloran contributed to Charlotte Brooke’s translations of Irish narrative poems and ballads, in her Reliques of Irish Poetry (1789). Brooke’s title alludes to Thomas Percy’s well-known Reliques of British Poetry (1765). Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802–3) represents a determined new endeavor to collect actual folk material and oral literature of Lowland Scotland. Austen would have known Scott’s collection; she quotes Scott’s poetry and is stylistically acute enough to be confident in identifying him as the author of the anonymous Waverley (28 September 1814; Letters, 277).
Thomas Moore’s A Collection of Irish Melodies appeared in installments from 1808 to 1815. This important work infiltrated England through domestic musicians. Moore’s Irish Melodies come to Jane Fairfax along with her mysterious pianoforte. (They will permit double-tongued Frank to keep up the private jest with Jane regarding Emma’s mistaken suspicion of an Irish attachment on Jane’s part.) The first song we hear Jane play, however, the Scots and Irish song “Robin Adair,” is by Lady Caroline Keppel, although the air is the Irish melody “Eileen Aroon.” In this popular song, the woman laments the loss of her beloved Robin, now cold to her. Indeed, obstacles impeded the course of the love of young Lady Keppel and the real Robert Adair, a military surgeon; after separation, the pair was united in marriage. The song is unusual in permitting a woman to express her own erotic feeling for a man. Jane’s singing of it in Frank’s presence is a code. A clever reader could divine right here that this couple are in some sense separated but will find union at last. The vogue for Irish melodies encouraged the Romantic interest in the harp. Mary Crawford (herself Celtic by descent) presumably is acquainted with works like Moore’s, as well as “Scotch airs.”
Austen’s lifetime coincides not only with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic War, but also with a new era of English—or British—patriotism. Academic scholarship, primary research, tourism, popular culture, and inventive composition were combining both to stimulate and feed curiosity about the history and nature of Britain itself—its religions, its tribes, its languages, its multiplex history. Fanny Price is not the only person of her time who wishes to “warm her imagination with scenes of the past” (MP, I, ch. 9). The new taste for the British past was met by expensive productions in folio, fit for the libraries of great houses, reflecting an interest in archaeological remains of the Dark Ages as well as in medieval illustrations and manuscript records. Images of ancient things could now be scientifically reproduced in handsome engravings, presented along with diagrams and explanatory drawings. Joseph Strutt took a keen interest in representing English (Anglo-Saxon) people, language, and customs. In 1775 (the year of Austen’s birth) Strutt published Horda Angel-cynnan; or, A Compleat View of the Manners, Customs, Arms, Habits, &c. of the Inhabitants of England from the Arrival of the Saxons till the Reign of Henry the Eighth. This large production was followed by Glig Gamena Angel Đeod; or, Sports and Pastimes of the People of England. Illustrated by Engravings selected from Ancient Paintings. In which are represented most of the POPULAR DIVERSIONS (1801). Although “the Enlightenment” is often associated with casting off all that was medieval, the eighteenth century actually saw a strong interest in reviving knowledge both of the Middle Ages and of the medieval English. Camden trains his reader in linguistic history by offering early versions of the Lord’s Prayer, working on up from “ancient Saxon” in 700 through 900 and circa 1200 to the late medieval period.22 The taste for the “Gothic” in decor and fiction corresponds with a dominant interest in connections between past and present. Readers became engaged in cultural archaeology, including a wider interest including not only in structures like Stonehenge, but even the games of earlier centuries. In her taste for such “sports and pastimes” as cricket and baseball, Catherine Morland proves herself true Anglo-Saxon (fig. 18). Britannia’s understanding of “Englishness” (or “Britishness”) is in the background of eighteenth-century travel writers of all kinds, including the aesthetic William Gilpin in his many Observations, starting with Observations on the River Wye and Several Parts of South Wales (1782). The works of Gilpin are well known to Henry Tilney and Marianne Dashwood, as they were to the young Austen, although she makes fun of the new touristic interests.
“Gilpin’s Tour to the Highlands” (Observations . . . on the Highlands) is alluded to in “Love and Freindship” where it inspires “a Tour to Scotland” (Juvenilia, 136). Laura in “Love and Freindship” dwells picturesquely on the Welsh fringe, in a cottage in the Vale of Usk. “A Tour through Wales—in a Letter from a young Lady” mocks the vogue for Welsh travel. The three women on their Gilpin-inspired “ramble” (a rather dangerously sexual term) counteract Gilpin by going much too fast to contemplate any scenery at all:
My Mother rode upon our little poney and Fanny and I walked by her side or rather ran, for my Mother is so fond of riding fast that She galloped all the way. You may be sure that we were in a fine perspiration. . . . Fanny has taken a great Many Drawings of the Country, which are very beautiful, tho’ perhaps not such exact resemblances as might be wished, from their being taken as she ran along. (Juvenilia, 224)
Gilpin offers us “Many Drawings” of structures and landscapes; the Johnson family, however, want to get Wales over with and allow no time for contemplative “Observations.” The picturesque cannot exist in acceleration.
The well-informed William Gilpin can perform, often in Camden’s manner, feats of instructing the touristic eye, celebrating—in determined Protestant vein—the beauties of Britannia. Some of Gilpin’s effects depend on historical reconstruction, in making us feel the presence of real historical beings that lived or died here in the past. Observations on the Western Parts of England is full of historical descriptions or references that modulate into imaginative sympathy, as in the story of King Alfred at Athelney, for instance, or the remarks on Monmouth’s defeat at “Sedgmore” and the fate of his followers. (See below, chapter 11.) But Gilpin never views the monasteries and convents with any sympathy. To him the original abbeys are but a waste of resources. As we have seen, he rejoices (almost gleefully) at their overthrow, celebrating only their ruined survival as picturesque beauty spots. In justifying the ruination of the abbeys Gilpin is the anti-Camden. In making readers aware of layers of historical association and potential meaning, Gilpin is a child of Camden.
18. Joseph Strutt, Bat and Ball (1801). Plate viii from Glig Gamena Angel Đeod; or, Sports and Pastimes of the People of England. Illustrated by Engravings selected from Ancient Paintings. In which are represented most of the POPULAR DIVERSIONS (1801). Reproduced from the original held by the Department of Special Collections of the Hesburgh Libraries of the University of Notre Dame.
Camden and his subsequent editors all encourage awareness of Saxon influence upon the elements of place names. Gibson and Gough both not only retain but even expand the list of common components of place names. Gibson added a list of such elements in personal names, in very digestible form. As we have seen, a reader could easily find out that “BERT is the same with our bright; in the latin [sic] illustris and clarus.” “EAD . . . denotes happiness, or blessedness.” As well as “The Names of the English-Saxons” we are also given “General Rules, whereby to know the ORIGINAL of the NAMES of PLACES.”23
We will learn in names of places to detect Saxon origin in the compound of Saxon elements:
“BRUN, BRAN, BROWN, BOURN, BURN, are all derived from the Saxon born . . . burna; all signifying a River.” “THORP, THROP, THREP, TREP, TROP, are all from the Saxon, þorp, which signifies a Village.” “TON, TUN, are derived from the Saxon tun, a hedge or wall; and this seems to be from dun, a hill; the towns being anciently built on hills, for the sake of defence and protection, in times of war.”
The reader is offered assistance in gaining some grasp of the Saxon linguistic elements within place names. At the front of the Britannia the reader of Gibson or Gough is offered an elementary key to the Saxon languages and the commonest components of place names such as the following: -bury (dative of burh, a fortified place, a term later applied to a manor house, then to village or town); -by (Scandinavian for farmstead or settlement); -dun for hill; -ham (Old English for homestead, manor, estate); -hurst (Old English, “wooded hill”); -ley (Anglo-Saxon, originally leah, a wooded area, then a man-made clearing in the wood, hence eventually open space, meadow); -ton from Old English tun (fortified private land, as in farm dwelling, manor house, or settlement).
The Norman Conquest of 1066 changed the language. Invading Normans as a superior aristocracy imposed their own language on England’s inhabitants. Yet most place names remain true to the Anglo-Saxon. The typical Anglo-Saxon “English” place name is a compound of two syllables (more rarely three), each of which is a complete word. The expression thus breaks down readily into its component parts (“Wick-ham,” “Ash-ford”) in the manner most suited to a “charade” or “enigma” (e.g., “woe-man,” “court-ship”). English place names are well suited to decoding and to wordplay. Austen enjoys them—and, even more perhaps, making up (or borrowing) names of places that sound historically convincing, realistically Saxon in their elements (“Mery” + ton; “High” + bury; “Woods” + ton). Austen takes great care to attach place names (real or made up) to persons who also have a convincing personal name of the right flavor. But place names above all others carry the poetry of England and the story of a relationship with the land—and the land is central to Austen and to her poetics of naming.