Thursday, February 28, 2013

Selected Verses by Jane Austen, Compiled and Adorned by Alexa Adams

I gave a preview of this project in my last post, when I announced the publication of Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Continues.

We do not have many poems from Jane Austen. Presumably, she wrote far more than what survives, but those that do display the same wit and taste that characterize her prose. I selected eight short verses that hold particular appeal to me as the subject of the five small folios I made out of card stock, bound with a modified Japanese technique, and decorated with paper images I cut using stencils. I think they came out quite handsome.

Like me, I'm sure many of you do not have time for as much Austen as you want. It is as big of a problem as not having enough Austen to read in the first place. Often I only have a few minutes to spare, and craving the company of my dear friend, I turn to her shorter writings. I hope my Selected Verses by Jane Austen may be counted on for a quick smile during a hectic day.

I plan to give away four of the five copies (must keep one for myself) as part of a series of giveaways in promotion of Second Glances, but first let's take the time to discuss the contents. The inside cover is embellished with a profile of Miss Austen, and the title page was created to resemble those of her novels.

I have not taken a picture of the first page of verse, for it is unadorned. It is the only page to contain more than one verse. The subject of the first, unsurprisingly, is love and marriage:

Maria, good-humoured, and handsome, and tall,
For a husband was at her last stake;
And having in vain danced at many a ball,
Is now happy to
jump at a Wake.

Mr. Wake was the successful suitor of Maria. Austen manipulates his name to convey amusement at the lady's lowered standards and her advancing age, all while shinning light on a very real and troubling concern for unmarried ladies, is absolutely superb. Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas come vividly to mind.

The next, composed for Mary Loyd and enclosed with the housewife Austen made for her when the family moved, is the earliest piece I've included. It provides insight into Austen's qualities as a friend, for the gift could not have been nearly so valuable without the sentiments conveyed in the verse:

This little bag I hope will prove
To be not vainly made—
For, if you should a needle want
It will afford you aid.

And as we are about to part
T'will serve another end,
For when you look upon the Bag
You'll recollect your friend. 

The last poem on this page reminds me of Mr. Woodhouse and displays the ease of Austen's wit:  

'I am in a Dilemma, for want of an Emma,' 
Escaped from the Lips, of Henry Gipps- 

That always make me feel good.
Page two features a stencil design I recently used in my Valentine's Day cards and the following lines, said to be inspired by the newspaper announcement of strangers:

At Eastbourn, Mr. Gell, From being perfectly well,
Became dreadfully ill, For the love of Miss Gill.
So he said, with some sighs, I'm the slave of your iis,
Oh restore, if you please, By accepting my ees.
The pun is twofold, involving both the vowels differentiating the lovers' names and a play on "eyes" and "ease". Clever Miss Austen!

The next poem is one of my favorites, and I had a lot of fun working with the new church stencil I found for it:

Happy the lab'rer in his Sunday Clothes!
In light-drab coat, smart waistcoat, well-darn'd hose,
And hat upon his head, to church he goes;
As oft, with conscious pride, he downward throws
A glance upon the ample cabbage rose
That, stuck in button-hole, regales his nose,
He envies not the gayest London beaux.
In church he takes his seat among the rows,
Pays to the place the reverence he owes,
Likes best the prayers whose meaning least he knows,
Lists to the sermon in a softening doze,
And rouses joyous at the welcome close. 

The forth page is unadorned, but the poem is priceless. In the unfinished novel Sanditon, we get a strong sense of Austen's views on doctoring. This verse captures well the fine line its practitioners walked between science and quackery, illness and hypochondria:
 'I've a pain in my head'
Said the suffering Beckford;
To her Doctor so dread.
'Oh! What shall I take for't?'

Said this Doctor so dread
Whose name it was Newnham.
'For this pain in your head
Ah! What can you do Ma'am?'

Said Miss Beckford, 'Suppose
If you think there's no risk,
I take a good Dose
Of calomel brisk.'--

'What a praise worthy Notion.'
Replied Mr. Newnham.
'You shall have such a potion
And so will I too Ma'am.' 

Calomel is mercury chloride. It was commonly used as a purgative. Thank goodness for modern medicine!

Next comes "Poor Brag". Brag and Speculation were both round card games, meaning they could involve more than four players, unlike Whist, which required two sets of partners (think Bridge). This poem was written while spending the holidays at Godmersham Park, the home of Jane's brother, Edward Austen Knight. I love how she personifies the games:

'Alas! poor Brag, thou boastful Game!-What now avails thine empty name?
Where now thy more distinguished fame?-My day is o'er, and Thine the same,
For thou, like me, art thrown aside, At Godmersham, this Christmas Tide;
And now across the Table wide, Each Game, save Brag or Spec. is tried.'-
Such is the mild Ejaculation, Of tender-hearted Speculation.-

The final poem is Austen's second ode to cambric (yes. she wrote two), which may or may not, like it's predecessor, have been composed for Miss Catherine Bigg (though I think it was), six years after Austen broke a very brief engagement to her brother. Cambric is a finely woven fabric, made of linen or cotton, and was commonly used for linens and needlework. Whoever was the recipient of this particular bundle, they apparently intended to use it for handkercheifs:

Cambrick! Thou'st been to me a good,
And I would bless thee if I could.
Go, serve thy mistress with delight,
Be small in compass, soft and white;
Enjoy thy fortune, honour'd much
To bear her name and feel her touch;
And that thy worth may last for years,
Slight be her colds, and few her tears.

And so ends my little book. I have not completely worked out how the giveaways will work, but please check back soon as I intend to announce the first no latter than Tuesday (hopefully over the weekend, time allowing). Along with a chance to be the owner of one of these lovingly constructed volumes, I will also be sharing a great deal of information about Second Glances and giving away copies of both it and First Impressions. If I get a good response to Selected Verses, I will probably produce different collections, as I had a great deal of enjoyment putting these together. Of my regard, they are assured. Have they succeeded in securing yours?


  1. Wow! You are so talented. The verses and the settings are so beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Jen Red

  2. The verses are perfect as is the setting. Thank you so much for sharing and for all of your other good works. Jen Red