Acquainted with Shakespeare

Henry Crawford: “Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of an Englishman’s constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct.”

Edmund Bertram: “No doubt one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree … from one’s earliest years. His celebrated passages are quoted by everybody; they are in half the books we open, and we all talk Shakespeare, use his similes, and describe with his descriptions …”

— Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Chapter 34

Jane Austen and William Shakespeare are my favorite authors. The two have frequently been compared. Jane Austen enjoyed Shakespeare (she saw the actor Edmund Kean in the role of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice at London’s Drury Lane theater — this article notes her reaction) and there are quite a number of references to his works in her novels (particularly in Mansfield Park). Now, although this blog is dedicated to Jane Austen, this post is to bring attention to a Shakespeare project.If you like Shakespeare as much as I do, you may be interested in Erin Nelsen Parekh’s new Shakespeare for Babies project. Last year, she came out with the beautiful Behowl the Moon board book, featuring a passage from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and charming illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini. Now she is using Kickstarter to fund another book using text from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. If you are interesting in being a part of this project, the fundraising is on until May 19. You can read more about it, see some of the lovely illustrations, and make a pledge on the Kickstarter page: “Shakespeare for babies: real literature to read on a lap”. Those who participate can come away with some fun rewards — copies of the book, notecards, art prints, etc. You can even be part of a scholarship to send out copies of The Wild Waves Whist “to a school, library, or kid that needs a break.” Behowl the Moon turned out delightful and, from the looks of it, The Wild Waves Whist will be just as captivating.P.S. If you enjoy both Jane Austen and Shakespeare, you may also enjoy this quiz, which I just came across, pairing Jane Austen and Shakespeare characters. I took the quiz and got 100%! The website also has a fun article showing eleven actors who have played Shakespeare and Jane Austen roles.




Lovers’ Vows

“Let us do nothing by halves. If we are to act, let it be in a theatre completely fitted up with pit, boxes, and gallery, and let us have a play entire from beginning to end; so as it be a German play …” (Ch. 13)

Lovers’ Vows is a play by Elizabeth Inchbald. She adapted it from the German play Das Kind der Liebe (literally “Child of Love” or “Love Child”) by August von Kotzebue. It was first performed in 1798 at Covent Garden and was successful, though some considered it too risqué.

Lovers' VowsThe story begins with Agatha being thrown out of an inn because she can no longer pay. A soldier comes across her and gives her the very little money he has. Agatha recognizes him as her son Frederick, who has been away  in the army for five years. He has come for his birth certificate which he finds he needs to gain employment. Sorrowfully, Agatha tells him that he has no birth certificate, for he is illegitimate. She tells him how she was seduced by the Baron Wildenhaim. Instead of fulfilling his promise to marry her, the Baron marries another woman. Agatha was turned out of her home and struggled to bring up her son on her own. Frederick leaves his mother with some generous Cottagers and goes to beg for money. Coming across a hunting party, he begs of them and, not receiving enough money for his mother’s wants, draws his sword and attempts to rob one of them and gets arrested.

The man Frederick attempted to rob was Baron Wildenhaim. He is trying to get his daughter Amelia to marry Count Cassel, a stupid, dissolute man. The Baron asks Amelia’s tutor Anhalt, a chaplain, to discuss marriage with her. Unknown to him, however, Anhalt and Amelia are in love. Amelia takes the opportunity to force a declaration of love from Anhalt. They are interrupted by the “rhyming Butler” who tells them in verse of Frederick’s arrest. The Baron insists that Frederick must be punished as an example, but Amelia takes pity on him and brings him “a basket of provisions”. From her, Frederick learns the identity of the man he attempted to rob and requests a private interview with the Baron.

Amelia has learned of Count Cassel’s dissolute behaviour and reveals it to her father who confronts him. The Count readily admits to having made promises of marriage to other women and points out that “if every man, who deserves to have a charge such as this brought against him, was not permitted to look up—; it is a doubt whom we might not meet crawling on all fours”. Reminded of his own behaviour to Agatha, the Baron is embarrassed. Amelia tells her father of her love for Anhalt. Anhalt tells the Baron of Fredericks wish for an interview. Frederick reveals his relationship to the Baron and then leaves. Anhalt goes to Agatha and explains how the Baron came to marry another woman. Persuaded by Anhalt, the Baron agrees that he must marry Agatha despite her low social position. He also allows Anhalt and Amelia to marry, despite Anhalt’s poverty. Everyone is reconciled.

In Mansfield Park, the characters were cast as follows:

Baron Wildenhaim … John Yates
Count Cassel … James Rushworth
Anhalt … Edmund Bertram
Frederick … Henry Crawford
Verdun the Butler … Tom Bertram

Agatha Friburg … Maria Bertram
Amelia Wildenhaim … Mary Crawford
Cottager’s Wife … Mrs. Grant

Elizabeth InchbaldElizabeth Inchbald lived from 1753 to 1821. She was an English actress, playwright, and novelist. She was born Elizabeth Simpson, one of the nine children of John and Mary Simpson. The family was Roman Catholic. Elizabeth’s brother George became an actor in 1770, and when she was 19 she went to London to act. In 1772, she married the actor Joseph Inchbald. They travelled with a theatre company. After her husband’s death in 1779, Elizabeth continued to act. She wrote many plays, including Lovers’ Vows, and two novels. She quarreled with Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797 when it was discovered that Mary had not been married to her daughter Fanny’s father. Elizabeth died in August 1821 in Kensington.

August von KotzebueAugust von Kotzebue had a rather dramatic life (pun intended). He was a German dramatist and writer and lived from 1761 to 1819. He also worked as a consul in Russia and Germany. As a young man he studied legal science. After graduating in 1780, he practiced law in Weimer. He then became secretary to a Governor General in Russia. He married the daughter of a Russian lieutenant general in 1783. His first literary works were well received. His first wife died in 1790 and Kotzebue left Russia. He was appointed dramatist to the court theatre in Vienna in 1798, but the position did not last long. He returned to Germany, but had troubles there due to disagreements with Goethe as he had attacked the romantic style which Goethe was known for. In 1800 he tried to return to Saint Petersburg, but was arrested on suspicion of being a Jacobin and was transported to Siberia. He was rescued by Tsar Paul I of Russia and was appointed director of the German theatre in Saint Petersburn. After the Tsar’s assassination, Kotzebue returned to Germany. After Napoleon’s victory in 1806, he fled back to Russia. Beethoven suggested that Kotzebue write libretto for an opera, which never ended up being written. However Beethoven composed music for two of Kotzebue’s plays. His famous “Turkish March” was originally written for Kotzebue’s play Ruin of Athens. Eventually he returned to German as consul general for Russia. He was disliked by nationalist liberals due to his writings against Germans who wanted free institutions. On March 18, 1819, soon after moving to Mannheim with his family (he had eighteen children), he was murdered in his own home by one of the national liberalists, Karl Ludwig Sand.

A Very Nice Dictionary

For part of my “Literary Allusions” series, where I have collected various literary allusions from Mansfield Park, I wrote a post on “Dr. Johnson’s Celebrated Judgment”. In it, I included a link to a page with the definition of the word “nice” from Johnson’s dictionary, for “those who are as curious as I was as to what [his] definition” was. As the page that I linked to is down, I have decided to repost that definition here.


In Northanger Abbey, Miss Tilney refers to Johnson’s Dictionary:

“But now really, do not you think Udolpho the nicest book in the world?” [said Catherine]

“The nicest—by which I suppose you mean the neatest. That must depend upon the binding.”

“Henry,” said Miss Tilney, “you are very impertinent. Miss Morland, he is treating you exactly as he does his sister. He is forever finding fault with me, for some incorrectness of language, and now he is taking the same liberty with you. The word ‘nicest,’ as you used it, did not suit him; and you had better change it as soon as you can, or we shall be overpowered with Johnson and Blair all the rest of the way.”

“I am sure,” cried Catherine, “I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should not I call it so?”

“Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement—people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.”

“While, in fact,” cried his sister, “it ought only to be applied to you, without any commendation at all. You are more nice than wise. Come, Miss Morland, let us leave him to meditate over our faults in the utmost propriety of diction, while we praise Udolpho in whatever terms we like best.” (Northanger Abbey, Chapter XIV).

The definition of “nice” and its forms “nicely”, “niceness”, and “nicety” fill more than an entire column of Johnson’s Dictionary—no small accomplishment, considering that a column is nothing short of 13-1/2 inches long, not including the margin. For those who are as curious as I was as to what Johnson’s definition of “nice” is, here it is, complete with all of the quotations:

NICE. adj. [ne_e, Saxon, soft.]
1. Accurate in judgment to minute exactness; superfluously exact. It is often used to express a culpable delicacy.

Such a man was Argalus, as hardly the nicest eye can find a spot in. Sidney.
He that stands upon a slipp’ry place,
Makes nice of no vile hold to stay him up.                                     Sha. K. John.
Nor be so nice in taste myself to know,
If what I swallow be a truth or no.                                               Dryd. Persius.
Thus critics, of less judgment than caprice,
Curious, not knowing, not exact, but nice,
Form short ideas, and offend in arts,
As most in manners, by a love to parts.                                         Pope on Crit.
Our author, happy in a judge so nice,
Produc’d his play, and begg’d the knight’s advice.                                    Pope.

2. Delicate; scrupulously and minutely cautious.

          The letter was not nice, but full of charge
Of dear import.                                                               Shakes. Romeo and Juliet.
Dear love! continue nice and chaste;
For if you yield, you do me wrong;
Let duller wits to love’s end haste,
I have enough to woo thee long.                                                              Donne.
Of honour men at first like women nice,
Raise maiden scruples at unpractis’d vice.                                         E. Hallifax.
Having been compiled by Gratian, in an ignorant age, we ought not to be too nice in examining it.                                                                                Baker.

3. Fastidious; squeamish.

          God hath here
Varied his bounty so with new delights,
As may compare with heaven; and to taste,
Think not I shall be nice.                                                                Milt. Par. Lost.

4. Easily injured; delicate.

          With how much ease is a young muse betray’d?
How nice the reputation of the maid?                                             Roscommon.

5. Formed with minute exactness.

          Indulge me but in love, my other passions
Shall rise and fall by virtue’s nicest rules.                                   Addison’s Cato.

6. Requiring scrupulous exactness.

Supporting an injury done, it is a nice point to proportion the reparation to the degree of the indignity.                                                           L’Estrange.
My progress in making this nice and troublesome experiment, I have set down more at large.                                                                       Newton’s Opt.

7. Refined.

          A nice and subtile happiness I see
Thou to thyself proposest, in the choice
Of thy associates, Adam; and wilt taste
No pleasure, tho’ in pleasure solitary.                                            Milt. P. Lost.

8. Having lucky hits. This signification is not in use.

          When my hours
Were nice and lucky, men did ransom lives
Of me for jests.                                                            Shakes. Ant. and Cleopatra.

NI’CELY. adv. [from nice.]
1. Accurately; minutely; scrupulously.

          These kind of knaves in this plainness
Harbour more craft, and more corrupter ends,
Than twenty silky ducking observants
That stretch their duties nicely.                                         Shakespeare’s K. Lear.
What mean those ladies which, as tho’
They were to take a clock to pieces, go
So nicely about the bride?                                                                           Donne.
He ought to study the grammar of his own tongue, that he may understand his own country-speech nicely, and speak it properly.      Locke.
The next thing of which the doses ought to be nicely determined, are opiates.                                                                                    Arbuthnot on Coins.
At nicely carving shew they wit;
But ne’er presume to eat a bit.                                                     Swift’s Miscell.

2. Delicately.

The inconveniences attending the best of governments, we quickly feel, and are nicely sensible of the share that we bear in them.              Atterbury.

NI’CENESS. n. s. [from nice.]
1. Accuracy; minute exactness.

          Where’s now that labour’d niceness in thy dress,
And all those arts that did the spark express.                                       Dryden.

2. Superfluous delicacy or exactness.

A strange niceness were it in me to refrain that from the ears of a person representing so much worthiness, which I am glad even to rocks and woods to utter.                                                                                            Sidney.
Unlike the niceness of out modern dames,
Affected nymphs, with new affected names.                                        Dryden.
Nor place them where
Roast crabs offend the niceness of their nose.                                       Dryden.

NI’CETY. n. s. [from nice.]
1. Minute accuracy of thought.

Nor was this nicety of his judgment confined only to literature, but was the fame in all other parts of art.                                                                 Prior.

2. Accurate performance.

As for the workmanship of the old Roman pillars, the ancients have not kept to the nicety of proportion and the rules of art so much as the moderns.                                                                                       Addison on Italy.

3. Fastidious delicacy; squeamishness.

          He them with speeches meet
Does fair intreat; no courting nicety,
But simple true, and eke unfeigned sweet.                                            Fairy Q.
So love doth loath disdainful nicety.                                           Spenser.

4. Minute observation; punctilious discrimination; subtilty.

If reputation attend these conquests, which depend on the fineness and niceties of words, it is no wonder if the wit of men so employed, should perplex and sublitize the signification of sounds.                                     Locke.
His conclusions are not built upon any niceties, or solitary and uncommon appearances, but on the most simple and obvious circumstances of these terrestrial bodies.                                                                                        Woodw.

5. Delicate management; cautious treatment.

          Love such nicety requires,
One blast will put out all his fires.                                                 Swift’s Poems.

6. Effeminate softness.

7. Niceties, in the plural, is generally applied to dainties or delicacies in eating.



I got the definitions from a reprint (New York: AMS Press, 1967) of a 1755 edition of A Dictionary of the English Language: in which The WORDS are deduced from their ORIGINALS, and ILLUSTRATED in their DIFFERENT SIGNIFICATIONS by EXAMPLES from the best WRITERS, volume II, by Samuel Johnson. I updated some of the text, dropping the long “s” (ſ), etc.

All images in this post are publicity shots from the 2007 adaptation of ‘Northanger Abbey’ with Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland and J. J. Feild as Henry Tilney. I used these pictures, despite the fact that the delightful scene quoted above was completely eliminated from that adaptation. I obtained the images from Period Films.

Literary Allusions: The Pleasing Plague

In chapter 30 of Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford tells his sister, Mary, of his intention of marrying Fanny Price.

“Yes, Mary,” was Henry’s concluding assurance. “I am fairly caught. You know with what idle designs I began; but this is the end of them. I have, I flatter myself, made no inconsiderable progress in her affections; but my own are entirely fixed.”

“Lucky, lucky girl!” cried Mary, as soon as she could speak; “what a match for her! My dearest Henry, this must be my first feeling; but my second, which you shall have as sincerely, is, that I approve your choice from my soul, and foresee your happiness as heartily as I wish and desire it. You will have a sweet little wife; all gratitude and devotion. Exactly what you deserve. What an amazing match for her! Mrs. Norris often talks of her luck; what will she say now? The delight of all the family, indeed! And she has some true friends in it! How they will rejoice! But tell me all about it! Talk to me for ever. When did you begin to think seriously about her?”

Nothing could be more impossible than to answer such a question, though nothing could be more agreeable than to have it asked. “How the pleasing plague had stolen on him” he could not say … (Mansfield Park, Ch. XXX)

Mr. Crawford is quoting the last line of the first verse of this poem by William Whitehead:

The Je Ne Scai Quoi. 1

A Song.

Yes, I’m in love, I feel it now,
    And Cælia has undone me;
And yet I’ll swear I can’t tell how
    The pleasing plague stole on me.

‘Tis not her face which love creates,
    For there no Graces revel;
‘Tis not her shape, for there the Fates
    Have rather been uncivil.

‘Tis not her air, for sure in that
    There’s nothing more than common;
And all her sense is only chat,
    Like any other woman.Her voice, her touch might give th’ alarm—
    ‘Twas both perhaps, or neither;
In short, ’twas that provoking charm
    Of Cælia altogether.

This charming little poem is by the little-known poet and playwright William Whitehead (1715 – April 14, 1785). He is probably best remembered now for his comedy School for Lovers. William Whitehead was born in 1715 (he was baptized on February 12, 1715) in Cambridge, the second son of a baker. His father was a spendthrift, who spent much time and money on a piece of land which came to be known as Whitehead’s Folly. He left debts behind him when he died, which William paid off. Through the patronage of Henry Bromley, at the age of fourteen he went to Winchester College. In 1735, he entered Clare College, Cambridge on a scholarship and as a sizer.2 He became a fellow of Clare Hall in 1742. While there he wrote “The Danger of Writing Verse” (first printed in the year 1741), as well as some other poems, including Ann Boleyn to Henry the Eighth (1743), and Essay on Ridicule (1743).

In 1745, Whitehead became tutor to the Viscount Villiers, the son of the Earl of Jersey, and began living in London. There he wrote two tragedies: The Roman Father (1750, based on Corneille’s Horace) and Creusa, Queen of Athens (1754, based on Ion of Euripides). The Roman Father was well-received and probably the work he was best known for in his day. In June 1754 he went abroad with Viscount Villiers and Viscount Nuneham (son to Earl Harcourt) as tutor to both young men. They travelled in France, Germany, and Italy, returning to England in the autumn of 1765.

Sometime ca. 1755, due to the interest of Lady Jersey, Whitehead was made secretary and registrar of the Order of the Bath.3 In 1757, after Thomas Gray (author of ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, a poem which contains the lines Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen, / And waste its sweetness on the desert air, stanza 14, lines 55-56, and Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, stanza 19, line 73) refused the position, Whitehead was offered and accepted the position of Poet Laureate.4 While Poet Laureate, he wrote the humorous poem “A Pathetic Apology for all Laureates, past, present, and to come”. Unfortunately, upon becoming Poet Laureate, Whitehead was subjected to much criticism, especially from Charles Churchill, who did much damage to Whitehead’s poetical character. In 1762, in the third book of The Ghost, Churchill described Whitehead as “the heir of Dullness and Method”.

In 1762, Whitehead wrote a successful comedy, the School for Lovers. It was well-received, but his reputation continued to go downhill. Whitehead made no reply to his critics, and even wrote verses complimenting Churchill. In 1770, Whitehead’s farce The Trip to Scotland was performed, but, due to the contempt he was held in, only on condition that its author be concealed. The play was well-received by the public. Also applauded was his poem “Variety”, which he published anonymously due to his poor reputation. Other works by Whitehead include a burlesque poem The Sweepers, the poem “The Goat’s Beard”, &c. In his Specimens of the British Poets, Vol. VII, Thomas Campbell wrote that Whitehead “certainly wrote too many insipid things; but a tolerable selection might be made from his works, that would discover his talents to be no legitimate object of contempt”.5

After his return to England, Whitehead continued to live with his patrons on the invitation of Lord Jersey, but from 1769 until his death he lived in London. In 1774, he collected his Plays and Poems, which were published in two volumes. Thomas Campbell writes that his “health began to decline about his seventieth year, and in 1785 he was carried off by a complaint in his chest. His death was sudden, and his peaceable life was closed without a groan.” 6

For further reading:

Google Books has available for free Whitefield’s School for Lovers, Creusa, Queen of Athens, a volume of some of his poems (containing also The Roman Father), and other works by him. They also have volume vii of Thomas Campbell’s Specimens of the British Poets, of which pages 1-29 are devoted to a short biography of William Whitehead (one of the sources which I used in writing this article), as well as his poem “Variety: A Tale for Married People” and an excerpt from his tragedy of Creusa.

Several websites were useful to me in compiling this post. The Wikipedia article on William Whitehead includes the text of The Je Ne Scai Quoi. English Poetry 1579-1830 has some good information on William Whitehead, as well as the text to several of his poems.


1 The title of this little poem is French and translates as “The I don’t know what”. Je ne sais quoi [ˌ zh ə nə sā ˈkwä] is a French phrase, literally translated as “I don’t know what”, used to describe that certain, undefinable something, “an intangible quality”, the “I don’t know what it is” that “makes something or someone distinctive or attractive” (see Wiktionary on the phrase). For those who are interested, the French verb “to know” is savoir, the first person present indicative form of which is saisju sais = “I know”. Obviously the word in the title of the poem differs from the current French word. Apparently the verb savoir used to be spelled sçavoir, with sçai or sçay being the je form. This was changed in the 19th century. (See this page on the poem.)

2 A student who receives assistance in return for performing certain duties.

3 The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry found in 1725 by King George I. (For more information see and

4 In Britain, a poet laureate is the title of a poet appointed by the monarch. For more information see the Wikipedia article. William Whitehead was Poet Laureate 1757-1785. He was preceded in the position by Colley Cibber, and succeeded by Thomas Warton. Some well-know poets were Poets Laureate of Great Britain, including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who held the position 1850-1892. A list of past poets laureate can be found here.

5 Thomas Campbell, Specimens of the British Poets, Vol. VII (London: Printed by Thomas Davison, Whitefriars, 1819), pp. 11-12.

6 Ibid., p. 12.

The illustrations in this post are of, first, Mr. Crawford and Miss Crawford, played by Robert Burbage and Jackie Smith-Wood in the 1983 version of ‘Mansfield Park’, second, William Whitehead, an engraving by William Ensom, and, third, William Whitehead, a painting by Benjamin Wilson. The two latter portraits can be found here on the online National Portrait Gallery.

Literary Allusions: Dr. Johnson’s Celebrated Judgment

The living in incessant noise was, to a frame and temper delicate and nervous like Fanny’s, an evil which no superadded elegance or harmony could have entirely atoned for. It was the greatest misery of all. At Mansfield, no sounds of contention, no raised voice, no abrupt bursts, no tread of violence, was ever heard; all proceeded in a regular course of cheerful orderliness; everybody had their due importance; everybody’s feelings were consulted. If tenderness could be ever supposed wanting, good sense and good breeding supplied its place; and as to the little irritations sometimes introduced by aunt Norris, they were short, they were trifling, they were as a drop of water to the ocean, compared with the ceaseless tumult of her present abode. Here everybody was noisy, every voice was loud (excepting, perhaps, her mother’s, which resembled the soft monotony of Lady Bertram’s, only worn into fretfulness). Whatever was wanted was hallooed for, and the servants hallooed out their excuses from the kitchen. The doors were in constant banging, the stairs were never at rest, nothing was done without a clatter, nobody sat still, and nobody could command attention when they spoke.

In a review of the two houses, as they appeared to her before the end of a week, Fanny was tempted to apply to them Dr. Johnson’s celebrated judgment as to matrimony and celibacy, and say, that though Mansfield Park might have some pains, Portsmouth could have no pleasures.

(Mansfield ParkChapter XXXIX)

The reference here is to a sentence in Dr. Johnson’s book The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. Towards the end of chapter 26, it is written, “Marriage has many pains, but celibacy has no pleasures.” Johnson wrote Rasselas in one week. He began writing it when he heard, on January 13, 1759, that his mother was seriously ill, so as to be able to meet her expenses. She died, however, on January 23, just as he was finishing it, so the money paid for her funeral and covered some debts that she had left. The work was immediately popular. By 1764, it had been translated into French, Dutch, German, Russian, and Italian, and was eventually traslated into many other languages.1

In addition to being referred to in Mansfield Park, Rasselas is alluded to in many other works of fiction, including Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, Middlemarch by George Eliot, and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Besides his Rasselas, Jane Austen also refers to Johnson’s Idler in Mansfield Park:

“I shall walk down immediately after breakfast,” said he [Edmund], “and am sure of giving pleasure there. And now, dear Fanny, I will not interrupt you any longer. You want to be reading. But I could not be easy till I had spoken to you, and come to a decision. Sleeping or waking, my head has been full of this matter all night. It is an evil, but I am certainly making it less than it might be. If Tom is up, I shall go to him directly and get it over, and when we meet at breakfast we shall be all in high good-humour at the prospect of acting the fool together with such unanimity. You, in the meanwhile, will be taking a trip into China, I suppose. How does Lord Macartney go on?”—opening a volume on the table and then taking up some others. “And here are Crabbe’s Tales, and the Idler, at hand to relieve you, if you tire of your great book. I admire your little establishment exceedingly; and as soon as I am gone, you will empty your head of all this nonsense of acting, and sit comfortably down to your table. But do not stay here to be cold.” (Chapter XVI).

In Northanger Abbey, Miss Tilney refers to Johnson’s Dictionary:

“Henry,” said Miss Tilney, “you are very impertinent. Miss Morland, he is treating you exactly as he does his sister. He is forever finding fault with me, for some incorrectness of language, and now he is taking the same liberty with you. The word ‘nicest,’ as you used it, did not suit him; and you had better change it as soon as you can, or we shall be overpowered with Johnson and Blair all the rest of the way.”

“I am sure,” cried Catherine, “I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should not I call it so?”

“Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement—people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.”

“While, in fact,” cried his sister, “it ought only to be applied to you, without any commendation at all. You are more nice than wise. Come, Miss Morland, let us leave him to meditate over our faults in the utmost propriety of diction, while we praise Udolpho in whatever terms we like best.” (Northanger Abbey, Chapter XIV).

For those who are as curious as I was as to what Johnson’s definition of “nice” is, I have posted it here, as it is too long to include in this post. The definition of “nice” and its forms “nicely”, “niceness”, and “nicety” fill an entire column’s worth (and then some!) of Johnson’s dictionary—no small accomplishment, considering that a column is nothing short of 13-1/2 inches long, not including the margin.

Dr. Johnson was said to be one of Jane Austen’s favorite authors, and one that had a great influence on her own writing. In his A Memoir of Jane Austen, James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote: “Amongst her favourite writers, Johnson in prose, Crabbe in verse, and Cowper in both, stood high. It is well that the native good taste of herself and of those with whom she lived, saved her from the snare into which a sister novelist had fallen, of imitating the grandiloquent style of Johnson.” (Chapter V). Jane Austen herself wrote to her sister Cassandra, “There, I flatter myself I have constructed you a smartish letter, considering my want of materials, but, like my dear Dr. Johnson, I believe I have dealt more in notions than facts.” (February 8, 1807). In a poem she wrote, ‘To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy’, Jane Austen refers to Dr. Johnson as “the first of Men”:

At Johnson’s death by Hamilton ’twas said,
‘Seek we a substitute – Ah! vain the plan,
No second best remains to Johnson dead—
None can remind us even of the Man.’

So we of thee – unequall’d in thy race
Unequall’d thou, as he the first of Men.
Vainly we search around the vacant place,
We ne’er may look upon thy like again.

When Jane Austen’s brother James began, in January 1789, his own weekly magazine, he called it The Loiterer. Claire Tomalin comments in her Jane Austen: A Life, The Loiterer “was modelled on Dr. Johnson’s great periodicals, the Rambler and the Idler, each number consisting of a single anonymous essay or story.” 2

Samuel Johnson, an English author, lived from September 18, 1709 to December 13, 1784. He wrote, among other things, A Dictionary of the English Language, Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, and, of course, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. Besides his other books, he also wrote various essays (The Idler was a series of 103 essays, 91 of which were written by Johnson), pamphlets, sermons, poetry, periodicals, biographies, criticism, and a play.

He was born to a bookseller, Michael Johnson, and his wife, Sarah Ford. Very soon he contracted scrofula (a form of tuberculosis that affects the lymph nodes of the neck). An operation was performed on him, which left him with permanent scars on his face and body. While still a young boy, he began exhibiting tics, which affected him the rest of his life. His mother’s cousin, Elizabeth Harriotts, died in February 1728, leaving the Johnsons enough money that they were able to send Johnson to college. A friend of Johnson’s, Andrew Corbet, made up the deficit. Johnson entered Pembroke College, Oxford on October 31, 1728 at the age of nineteen. He did not finish college due to a lack of funds, leaving after thirteen months with no degree. Just before the publication of his Dictionary in 1755, Oxford University awarded Johnson the degree of Master of Arts. Later, he was awarded two honorary doctorates, one in 1765 by Trinity College Dublin, and another in 1775 by Oxford University. Johnson’s father died in December 1731.

On July 9, 1735, Johnson married Elizabeth Porter, the widow of his friend Harry Porter. Johnson was 25 at the time and Elizabeth was 21 years older. Johnson told a friend of his, “It was a love marriage upon both sides.” Neither the Porter nor the Johnson families were pleased with the marriage, not only because of the disparity in age, but because Johnson was, at the time, penniless. Elizabeth’s son Jervis (she had three children from her first marriage) refused to see her ever again because of her marriage. Her daughter Lucy, however, accepted Johnson, and, years later, her son Joseph became reconciled to the marriage.

In 1735, Johnson open a school, which failed. In October 1737, he moved to London, and found employment writing for The Gentleman’s Magazine. In May 1738, he anonymously published his first major work—his poem London. On June 18, 1746, Johnson signed a contract to write a dictionary of the English language. He finished it in nine years. In his biography Samuel Johnson, W. Jackson Bate writes of Johnson’s Dictionary, “The finished work … easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever performed by one individual who labored under anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time.”3 The dictionary was published in April 1755. While working on the dictionary, Johnson also wrote essays, poems, and sermons. In 1749, Johnson wrote his poem The Vanity of Human Wishes.  A periodical by Johnson, The Rambler, was published on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 1750 to 1752.

Elizabeth Johnson, due to poor health, returned from London to the country in 1752 while Johnson was working on his Dictionary. She died on March 17, 1752. Johnson was very upset by his wife’s death.

Johnson began to write a weekly series called The Idler, in 1758. It ran from April 15, 1758 to April 5, 1760. Rasselas was published on April 19, 1759. Comments being made about his procrastination prompted Johnson to finish the annotated edition of Shakespeare’s plays that he had begun some time ago, and had been putting off working on. In July 1762, King George III granted Johnson an annual pension of £300 in recognition of his Dictionary, which enabled him to concentrate on this work. It was published in 1765. In 1773, Johnson visited Scotland. In 1775, he wrote A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, an account of his travels there. In the 1770s, Johnson published a series of pamphlets on various government polices. His last major work, Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, a work which he had begun in 1740, was published in six volumes in 1781.

On June 17, 1783, Johnson suffered a stroke, due to poor circulation. Later he had a surgery for his gout, and was confined to his room from December 14, 1783 to April 21, 1784. He began to improve, and, on May 5, 1784, he travelled to Oxford. On November 16, 1784, Johnson moved to London. He died there on December 13, 1784.

More information:

Samuel Johnson on Wikipedia

Rasselas on Wikipedia

The text of Rasselas on Wikisource

The Rambler on Wikipedia

The Idler on Wikipedia

Johnson’s Works on Project Gutenberg

Jane Austen and Dr. Johnson in Persuasions


1 Much of the information about the writing of Rasselas, I found in the 19th chapter, pp. 336-337, of Samuel Johnson, by Walter Jackson Bate, Washington D.C.: Couterpoint, 1998.

2 Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998, Ch. 6, p. 63.

3 Bate, Ch. 15, p. 240.

4 The illustrations in this post are of, first, the title page from a 1755 edition of Johnson’s Dictionary, second, Samuel Johnson, a portrait by Joshua Reynolds, and, third, a portrait of Elizabeth Porter before she became Johnson’s wife, by an unknown artist.

Literary Allusions: Address to Tobacco

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on January 30, 2010, 9:00 AM

“I dare say he [Mr. Rushworth] will be in parliament soon.  When Sir Thomas comes, I dare say he will be in for some borough, but there has been nobody to put him in the way of doing anything yet.”

“Sir Thomas is to achieve many mighty things when he comes home,” said Mary, after a pause.  “Do you remember Hawkins Browne’s ‘Address to Tobacco,’ in imitation of Pope?—

Blest leaf! whose aromatic gales dispense
To Templars modesty, to Parsons sense.

I will parody them—

Blest Knight! whose dictatorial looks dispense
To Children affluence, to Rushworth sense.

Will not that do, Mrs. Grant?  Everything seems to depend upon Sir Thomas’s return.”

“You will find his consequence very just and reasonable when you see him in his family, I assure you.  I do not think we do so well without him.  He has a fine dignified manner, which suits the head of such a house, and keeps everybody in their place.  Lady Bertram seems more of a cipher now than when he is at home; and nobody else can keep Mrs. Norris in order.” (Mansfield Park, Chapter XVII)

Isaac Hawkins Browne was born in Burton-upon-Trent in England and lived from January 21, 1705-February 14, 1760. He wrote several imitations of contemporary poets on A Pipe of Tobacco. They were in imitation of Cibber, Ambrose Phillips, Thomson, Young, Pope, and Swift, although the imitation of Ambrose Phillips was not written by Browne, but by a friend of his. In Mansfield Park, Miss Crawford quotes the fifth imitation, the one of Pope:


–Solis ad ortus
Vanescit fumus. Lucan.

Blest leaf! whose aromatic gales dispense
To templars modesty, to parsons sense:
So raptur’d priests, at fam’d Dodona’s shrine
Drank inspiration from the steam divine.
Poison that cures, a vapour that affords
Content, more solid than the smile of lords:
Rest to the weary, to the hungry food,
The last kind refuge of the Wise and Good.
Inspir’d by thee, dull cits adjust the scale
Of Europe’s peace, when other statesmen fail.
By thee protected, and thy sister, beer,
Poets rejoice, nor think the bailiff near.
Nor less the critic owns thy genial aid,
While supperless he plies the piddling trade.
What tho’ to love and softs delights a foe,
By ladies hated, hated by the beau,
Yet social freedom, long to courts unknown,
Fair health, fair truth, and virtue are thy own.
Come to thy poet, come with healing wings,
And let me taste thee unexcis’d by kings.

A book published by Browne’s son, containing all six of the imitations, can be found on Google Books.

Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope (May 21, 1688 – May 30, 1744) was an English poet. His family was Catholic, and around 1700 they were forced to move from London due to a statute prohibiting Catholics from living within ten miles of London or Westminster. He contracted Pott’s disease (a tuberculosis affecting the bones) at age twelve. Because of this he become hunchbacked and never grew taller than four feet, six inches. In 1709, following the publication of his Pastorals, Pope became famous. His next publication, An Essay on Criticism, was also very well received. One of his best known works is his Essay on Man. At his death, he was considered one of the greatest poets of his time.

Jane Austen mentions Pope in Sense and Sensibility (“Well, Marianne,” said Elinor, … “You have already ascertained Mr. Willoughby’s opinion in almost every matter of importance. You know what he thinks of Cowper and Scott; you are certain of his estimating their beauties as he ought, and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper.”–Chapter X), and quotes him in both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. In one of her letters to her sister Cassandra, Jane Austen wrote, ‘ “Whatever is, is best.” There has been one infallible Pope in the world.’

Literary Allusions: Blair’s Sermons

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on January 16, 2010, 7:57 AM

You assign greater consequence to the clergyman than one has been used to hear given, or than I can quite comprehend. One does not see much of this influence and importance in society, and how can it be acquired where they are so seldom seen themselves? How can two sermons a week, even supposing them worth hearing, supposing the preacher to have the sense to prefer Blair’s to his own, do all that you speak of? govern the conduct and fashion the manners of a large congregation for the rest of the week? One scarcely sees a clergyman out of his pulpit.” (Mansfield ParkChapter IX)

Mansfield Park is abundant in literary allusions. In the quote above, Miss Crawford has just learned that Edmund Bertram intends to become a clergyman, and is speaking in a demeaning way of the profession and its influence, although allowing slight exceptions, as in the case of the Revd. Hugh Blair.

Hugh Blair lived from April 7, 1718 to December 27, 1800. He was a popular Scottish Presbyterian preacher and author. He received his license as a preacher in 1741. He is best known for his last three works, A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian, the Son of Fingal, five volumes of Sermons, and Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. He also published several other books, including an edition of Shakespeare’s works edited by himself.

The first volume of Blair’s Sermons was published in 1777. The fifth was not published until 1801, after his death. They had all been published by the time Jane Austen wrote Mansfield Park. Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (47 lectures written during his twenty-five years as professor of rhetoric and belles lettres at the University of Edinburgh, and published in 1783, after he retired) are alluded to in Northanger Abbey:

“Henry,” said Miss Tilney, “you are very impertinent. Miss Morland, he is treating you exactly as he does his sister. He is forever finding fault with me, for some incorrectness of language, and now he is taking the same liberty with you. The word ‘nicest,’ as you used it, did not suit him; and you had better change it as soon as you can, or we shall be overpowered with Johnson and Blair all the rest of the way.” (Northanger Abbey, Chapter XIV)

Further information:

Hugh Blair on Wikipedia

A website about Hugh Blair

Jane Austen And The Presbyterians