For sale: Jane Austen poem she wrote just for fun

Writer's pun filled 'playful response' to couple's engagement now valued at £120k

Thursday, 1st June 2017 — By Dan Carrier


Book expert Jessica Starr with the poem

WHEN Jane Austen was flicking through her local newspaper, she came across an announcement that a chap called Mr Gell was engaged to a Miss Gill – and was prompted by the imminent betrothal to pen a poem in their honour.

Now the 206-year-old, weathered, two-stanza work is up for sale by Bloomsbury-based antiquarian bookseller Jarndyce. The poem was written by Austen in 1811 – before Sense and Sensibility was published and when she was still an unknown author. Book expert Jessica Starr, from Jarndyce in Great Russell Street, has researched and catalogued the poem – and spoken of the thrill of holding a link to Austen. Ms Starr’s usual area of expertise is 17th and 18th century books but she loves Austen so shop owner Brian Lake asked her to investigate the manuscript and write about it for the catalogue.

“I am a big Jane Austen fan and so researching this was particularly special,” she said. “The Austen family did this a lot – they would write poetry for each other for fun.” Austen was moved to pen the lines when she was staying at her brother’s house in Chawton, near Alton in Hampshire.

It is described as a “playful response” to the announcement of the engagement of Mr Gell, of Eastbourne, to Miss Gill, of Well Street, Hackney, which ran in the pages of The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle on February 25, 1811.

Ms Starr added: “The Austen family often entertained each other with puns and wordplay, and this is not the first time a marriage announcement was used as inspiration. Jane’s uncle, James Leigh Perrot, wrote the similarly derived ‘On Capt Foote’s Marriage with Miss Patton’.”

The poem reads:

On the Marriage of Mr Gell of Eastbourne to Miss Gill.

Of Eastbourne, Mr Gell

Feeling perfectly well

Became dreadfully ill

For the love of Miss Gill.

So he said with some sighs

I’m the Slave of your i.s

Ah! Restore if you please

By accepting my e.s.

Manuscripts by Austen rarely come up for sale. The poem had remained in the family until the 1920s, when it was sold to Austen scholar RW Chapman. It was then later sold at Sotheby’s in 1979 for £520 and then sold on again.

It is now offered by an anonymous collector and reckoned to be worth upwards of £120,000. Recently, four letters by Jane to her sister Cassandra were sold for £150,000, while an Austen signature reached £23,000.

Ms Starr added: “The poem was written on the back of a frontispiece to a Gothic novel, Lover, Murder and Misery, by Anthony Frederick Holstein. This piece is interesting not only because it is in Austen’s hand, but also because it offers insight into the books she was reading in the months leading up to the publication of Sense and Sensibility. Though it’s debatable how much she enjoyed Holstein’s novel if she was writing unrelated poetry on the frontispiece.”

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