26 August 1806
The Rutland Arms, Bakewell, Derbyshire
Mr. Edward CooperRector of Hamstall Ridware, Staffordshire, Fellow of All Souls, devoted supplicant before his noble patron, Sir George Mumps, and my first cousinis possessed of a taste for hymns. He sings without the slightest encouragement or provocation, in a key entirely of his own choosing. Were he content to sing alone, in a subdued undertone befitting one of his dignity and station, all might be well. But Mr. Cooper has achieved a modest sort of fame as the composer of sacred music; and like the ardent shepherd of many a flock, must needs have company in his rejoicing. There are those who profess to admire my cousin's wistful baritone and remarkable lyricsSir George Mumps himself is said to have presented the Staffordshire living on the strength of his esteembut Jane Austen is not among them. Were Mr. Cooper to sing airs in the Italian, before an audience of five hundred, I should still blush for his execution and taste. My cousin is a very good sort of man, his compassion and understanding quite equal to the duties of his parish; but his strains are not for the enduring, of an early hour of the morning.
I was blushing now, as I rolled towards Miller's Dale in the heart of Derbyshire behind the horse of Mr. Cooper's excellent friend, Mr. George Hemming; and I foresaw a morning's-worth of mortification in store, did my cousin continue to sing as he had begun. I had borne with Mr. Cooper's hymns through his dawn ablutions; I had borne with a determined humming over our morning coffee. And as the pony trap rolled west through a remarkable spread of country, I now reflected thatI had borne with a stream of liturgical ditty for nearly a fortnight. To say that I possessed an entire hymnal of Mr. Cooper's work writ large upon my brain was the merest understatement. I heard his powerful strains in my sleep.
"Is it not a beautiful morning, Jane? Does not the heart leap in the human breast for the greater glorification of God?" Mr. Cooper cried. "Pray sing with me, Cousin, that the Lord might hear us and be glad!"
Poor Mr. Hemming cast a troubled glance my way. He was but an instant from a similar application, and I read his distress in his looks. My cousin's talent, we may suspect, had progressed unnoticed by his friend during the long years that interceded between their first acquaintance, and this latest renewal; had Mr. Hemming known of the recital we were to receive during our journey to Miller's Dale, he might well have retracted his invitation. I had long ago learned the surest remedy for Mr. Cooper, however, and I now hastened to employ it. Even the least worldly of men may be prey to vanity.
"Do not destroy all my pleasure in hearing you, Cousin, by requiring me to sing myself!" I cried. "My voice should never be joined with yours; it is not equal to the demands of the performance. Nor, I am certain, is Mr. Hemming's. Pray let us rest a little in your art, and be satisfied."
Mr. Cooper beamed, and commenced a tedious five verses of "The Breath That Breathed O'er Eden."
I endured it in silence; for I owed Mr. Cooper every measure of gratitude and respect. But for my cousin, I should never have set foot in Derbyshire at all. And Derbyshirewith all its wild beauty and untamed peakshad long been the dearest object of my travels.
What was a little singing, however off-key, to the grandeur of lakes and mountains? Mr. Cooper had long despaired of my mother's ever paying a visit to Staffordshire and her dearest nephew's rectory. It was many years, now, since he had first urged the scheme; his family had annually in-creased, his honours as a vicar and homilist multiplied; Mr. Cooper himself was approaching a complaisant middle-ageand still the Austen ladies remained insensibly at home.
But so lately as June my mother determined to quit the environs of Baththe town in which we have lived more than three yearsit being entirely unsuitable now that my beloved father is laid to rest. Being three women of modest means, and having endeavoured to live respectably on a pittance in the midst of a most expensive town, we at last declared defeat and determined to exchange Bath for anywhere else in England. An interval of rest and refreshment, in the form of an extended tour among our relations, was deemed suitable for the summer months; October should find us in Southampton, where we were to set up housekeeping with my dearest brother, Captain Francis Austen. We should serve as company for his new bride, Mary, when duty called Frank to sea.
And so it was decidedwe shook off the dust of Bath on the second of July, with what happy feelings of Escape!and bent all our energies to a summer of idleness.
We travelled first to Clifton, and from thence to Adlestrop and my mother's cousin, the clergyman Mr. Thomas Leigh. We had not been settled in that gentleman's home five days, when the sudden death of a distant relation sent Mr. Leigh flying to Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire, with the intent of laying claim to a disputed inheritance. After a highly diverting week in the company of Mr. Leigh's solicitor, Mr. Hill, and the absurd Lady Saye and Sele, we parted from the intimates of Stoneleigh and turned our carriage north, towards Staffordshire.
Hamstall Ridware is a prosperous little village lost in a depth of hedgerows, with a very fine Rectory and a finer church spire. Our cousin Mr. Cooper and his dutiful wife, Caroline, possess no less thaneight children, the eldest of whom is but twelve and the youngest barely a year. Some little difficulty in the matter of bedchambers was apparent from the moment of our arrival. Cassandra and I were forced to shift together; my mother claimed a bed in the next room. The little boys were grouped in pallets on the nursery floor, and it was likewise with the little girls, while the baby was taken up in its parents' chamber. And so we contrived to be comfortable; and so we should have been, despite the heat of August and the closeness of such a populous house, had not the whooping cough presently put in an appearance. After three days of Christian endurance, of instruction from the apothecary and draughts that did little good, Mr. Cooper proposed a journey into Derbyshire, with the intent of touring Chatsworth and the principal beauties of the region.
My mother acceded thankfully to the scheme. The harassed Caroline Cooper, beset with ailing children on every side, was relieved of the burden of guests, and the Austens of the fear of contagion. Having set out from the Rectory steps on the Saturday previous, we achieved Bakewell yesterday in the forenoon, very well satisfied with our progress north. But for one aspect of the journeymy cousin's unsuspected ardour for the sport of angling, which has entirely determined our course through Derbyshirewe should have found nothing in our prospects but delight.