Jane Austen’s aunt, Jane Leigh Perrot, and her husband, Uncle James Leigh Perrot, kept a number of letters sent by friends and well-wishers while they were confined in the Somerset County Gaol at Ilchester during the nearly eight months between her arrest for shoplifting in Bath in August 1799 and her trial at Taunton Assizes in March 1800. The letters passed to the Austen-Leigh family, who lent them to Sir Frank Douglas MacKinnon, who used them when he was writing Grand Larceny (1937). MacKinnon did not transcribe them in full but carefully indicated all omissions with three dots. I wondered what he had left out. With some difficulty I finally tracked down copies of the letters in the Winchester Record Office. Some of the omissions are extensive and important. See, for example, the letter from RW to James Leigh Perrot on 29 October 1799, An enlightening letter on the Leigh Perrot shoplifting case (which can be read here, on the Austen blog).
On pages 58-9 MacKinnon transcribes a letter from Mrs A Foley to Jane Leigh Perrot. There are two substantial omissions. Here is a complete transcription of the letter with the two passages omitted by MacKinnon in square brackets. It is interesting to compare the sentence, “He has publicly stated that you are the Whole World to him,” with her statement on 8 March 1835, “Whilst I had him, he was the Whole World to me.” (Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen, A Family Record, 2ed, 2004, 120)
Feb 11th, 1800.
My dear Friend,
[I am sorry to hear from your Servants that you are far from well. When you consider how so much of your excellent Husband’s happiness depends on you, I am sure no other inducement can be necessary for your exerting, to the Utmost of your power, every Nerve to recover the strength of Mind your unmeritted sufferings require, it must be in some degree comforting for you to know how greatly every one of them is interested in your cause;] the Vile promoters of your present Affliction feel the ill effects of their malice already, as their shop is in a manner deserted, everyone dreading a similar trick. Your old Neighbour Counsellor Morris, who is reckon’d remarkably clever in legal Matters is one of your warmest defenders. Although he says he does not even know you by sight, but having for many a year heard you spoken of as a woman of the most unblemished Character, and most Lady like manners, he is convinced that you are the last Person who would do an unjust Action, and besides if anybody will take the trouble of studying the Evidence they must discover that the evident design has been to extort a Sum of Money to support the falling Credit of that infamous set of fraudulent Shopkeepers.
I am told that Gye, the Printer in the Market Place, is the chief engine in this business, as by some sinister Contrivance he has a share in the profits, and had even gone so far as to portion out the sum that he meant to have received as hush money. His Character has been long more than doubtful; on more Occasions than one he has barely escaped punishment. [If your Knocker could speak it would tell you how much it was used by your many enquiring Friends. Your Servants all seem as much devoted to your Interest as if the case was their own. I think I can say that there are very few Women in Bath who would not cheerfully bear your present troubles if they could be sure of receiving such proofs of firm Attachment & Affection from a Husband as you have done. He has publicly stated that you are the Whole World to him. There is but one opinion of him, I leave you to guess what that is. Perhaps it was the knowledge of the strong affection he bears you that you were marked out as the Victim of their Avarice.
Pray indulge me with a Line as I am anxious to know how you both are.] Mrs Dowdeswell unites with me in kind regards and best wishes. Believe me, my
Yours ever most affectionately,
David Pugsley is the Hon Archivist of the Western Circuit, an organisation for barristers between Gloucester and Winchester and Land’s End. He gives talks and writes articles about the history of colourful barristers and leading criminal cases, mainly murders, and the law of duelling in the area of the Circuit. He read Emma with a lawyer’s critical eye, looking at the evidence. He would have liked to cross-examine Augusta Elton.
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