Only A Novel

On death and Austen: The power of words

Posted in Jane Austen, Letters, Life, Personal, words by onlyanovel on May 11, 2008

Reading Austen’s letters has always been a source of much-anticipated pleasure and entertainment for me. A while back, I came across one particular letter which easily became one of my favorites. This letter, though, was a somber one. It was written by Austen to her cousin, Philadelphia Walter, on April 8, 1798. Philadelphia’s father, William-Hampson Walter, had just died, and it was a letter of condolence. I note that Austen was twenty-two years of age when she wrote it. Here is the content of the letter, a short one:

    Steventon Sunday April 8th

    My dear Cousin
        As Cassandra is at present from home, You must accept from my pen, our sincere Condolance on the melancholy Event which Mrs Humphries Letter announced to my Father this morning.——The loss of so kind & affectionate a Parent, must be a very severe affliction to all his Children, to yourself more especially, as your constant residence with him has given you so much the more constant & intimate Knowledge of his Virtues.——But the very circumstance which at present enhances your loss, must gradually reconcile you to it the better;——the Goodness which made him valuable on Earth, will make him Blessed in Heaven.——This consideration must bring comfort to yourself, to my Aunt, & to all his family & friends; & this comfort must be heightened by the consideration of the little Enjoyment he was able to receive from this World for some time past, & of the small degree of pain attending his last hours.——I will not press you to write before you would otherwise feel equal to it, but when you can do it without pain, I hope we shall receive from you as good an account of my Aunt & Yourself, as can be expected in these early days of Sorrow.——

        My Father & Mother join me in every kind wish, & I am my dear Cousin,

                                                     Yours affec:tely
                                                           Jane Austen
    Miss Walter


I love this letter, for its kindness and generous compassion. For its logic and its eloquence. And I love it for the comfort it must have brought its recipient.

You see, my Mom died a couple of months ago. Losing my Mom has been the most painful experience of my life. And because I have never been, and will never be, as wise and self-denying as my Mom, I have plenty of regrets. Thank you, Mom, for everything, which is a lot of good–more good than I can ever hope to do in my life. You did very well, and I miss you. So much.

Re-reading Austen’s letter, I’d like to imagine the comfort that Philadelphia probably felt upon reading it during her time of grief. I, for one, would have welcomed a letter like it.


4 Responses

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  1. Arti said, on May 13, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    You have written a most moving post here, and my heart goes out to you. No words human can offer comfort enough to heal a wound so deep. But as Jane would have agreed, God’s infinite love and presence can console and grant peace beyond all understanding. Take care.

  2. onlyanovel said, on May 15, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Arti, those are kind and wonderful thoughts and words–thank you.

  3. Ms. Place said, on May 17, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    What a beautiful post. I feel privileged to have read it. My sincere condolences on your mother’s death. The tone of your words tell me how much you miss her. Jane’s letter is full of grace. I wish I could express myself only half as well.

  4. onlyanovel said, on May 18, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    Ms. Place, thank you sincerely for your kindness and expression of condolence. Even the shortest lines can be a source of comfort, as I have found.

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