Jane Austen family letters, ‘Wicked Ned’ works acquired by Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens announced Tuesday that it is adding unpublished letters and poems from Jane Austen’s family and the works of 19th century sailor and autodidact “Wicked Ned” to its collection. The new acquisitions also include eight pages of Louis Pasteur’s notes on brewing beer.

The Jane Austen family correspondence is from her mother’s family, the Leighs of Adlestrop. There are 52 unpublished letters, poems and other materials from the family, spanning six generations. There are no letters from Jane Austen herself; much of her correspondence was destroyed after her death. However, the family documents provide valuable insight into Jane Austen and her world.

“This is a deeply personal collection of family papers that draws back the curtain on the formalities of society in 17th- and 18th-century England,” Vanessa Wilkie, the Huntington’s William A. Moffett curator of English historical manuscripts, said in a statement. “We’re looking at correspondence revealing the intimate, mundane, playful, and tragic aspects of the times.... You get a dear mother, affectionate father, dear son, dear cousin, dear brother, dear little niece, dear Madame, and even A. Nonymous, who writes a really funny letter that cautions against the dangers of falling in love with Miss Fortune.”

The works of “Wicked Ned” -- whose real name was David E. Marshall -- include writings, drawings and brilliant watercolors. Marshall served, he wrote, “on every type of boat, from a clam boat to a 74, and in all capacities, from cook to captain.” In the 1820s, he sailed on ships “of dubious character” and, as the Huntington politely puts it, “was essentially a pirate.” Later he worked on whaling ships, circling the world, and served in the Union Navy during the American Civil War.


In a statement, Olga Tsapina, the Huntington’s Norris Foundation curator of American historical manuscripts, explains: “One of Marshall’s most fascinating journal entries is a rather savage diatribe denouncing Christian missionaries’ efforts to enlighten the ‘savages’ of the Sandwich Islands. Marshall even switches to red ink, as if to make the paper blush with outrage. Stripped of their native identity, the Sandwich Islanders were robbed of their national pride. Marshall wrote: ‘ever since he has become partially civilized and enlightened, the comparison he has been able to draw between his own and other countries has created an unnatural loathing towards his own race, or that memory still clings with regret to the customs and affectations of former days.’”

Louis Pasteur’s beer notes are scribbled on pages of various sizes, in black and blue ink. The important French chemist was studying fermentation when he developed what we now call pasteurization. The newly acquired notes, said Melissa Lo, Huntington curator in the history of science, “demonstrate how he knew that what he was doing with beer would provide conceptual tools for developing vaccines against anthrax and would lead eventually to rabies inoculations.” They also helped French drinkers brew better beer.

The acquisitions were made by the Huntington’s Library Collectors’ Council, a group 37 families who annually meet to augment the institution’s collections.

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