A small but rare sample of Jane Austen’s handwriting has been found tucked into another book at the Jane Austen’s House Museum.
The scrap reads, “Men may get into a habit of repeating the words of our Prayers by rote, perhaps without thoroughly understanding — certainly without thoroughly feeling their full force & meaning.” It is thought to be a passage from one of her brother’s sermons, rather than her own composition, though the museum’s curator, Mary Guyatt, told The Guardian, “What especially intrigued us about this fragment is its apparent date, 1814, and the evidence that offers of the cross-currents between Austen’s family life and her literary reflections on prayer in Chapter 34 of Mansfield Park, published the same year.” Writing on the back of the scrap of paper is less legible, but scholars plan to use humidity to try to clean the paper and decipher it.
This find relates to my Grumbling en route to Praying post. That post was regarding chapter nine of Mansfield Park. Whereas in chapter nine Edmund, Fanny, and Miss Crawford discuss private prayers, within chapter thirty-four Edmund and Henry discuss the quality of public sermons and prayers by the clergy during a worship service.
In this scene, Mr. Henry Crawford states:
“Our liturgy,” observed Crawford, “has beauties, which not even a careless, slovenly style of reading can destroy; but it has also redundancies and repetitions which require good reading not to be felt. For myself, at least, I must confess being not always so attentive as I ought to be” (here was a glance at Fanny); “that nineteen times out of twenty I am thinking how such a prayer ought to be read, and longing to have it to read myself. ….
“A sermon, well delivered, is more uncommon even than prayers well read. A sermon, good in itself, is no rare thing. It is more difficult to speak well than to compose well; that is, the rules and trick of composition are oftener an object of study. A thoroughly good sermon, thoroughly well delivered, is a capital gratification.”
So all those involved with public prayers and sermons take note: Jane Austen declares that a slovenly style distracts literary types onto the oratory form and away from the spoken substance.
I look forward to learning what is written on the back of the fragment!