Today is of course, the anniversary of the death of Jane Austen.
Jane Austen spent her last days at 8 College Street in Winchester, a small compact dwelling that she took in the hope of help from Giles King Lyford, a surgeon who practiced at the nearby Winchester County Hospital. Mr King Lyford had been able to help relieve symptoms of Jane’s illness at an earlier time.
But Mr King Lyford realised that Jane was beyond help by this stage, all he could do was make her final days more comfortable.
On 17th July, Jane Austen was very weak, and slept for much of the day. She asked Cassandra to pray for her, as she only wanted death. Mr King Lyford gave her a draught to calm her and by 7pm the compound had fully sedated her.
She died peacefully the next morning, her head in the lap of her ever loving sister, Cassandra, who closed her eyes.
It is a short walk from College Street to Winchester Cathedral where Jane Austen is buried. It is a truly beautiful building with a soaring ceiling, with elaborate decoration, and is just breath taking.
She was laid to rest on July 24th 1817, her family’s Hampshire clerical connections permitting her to be interred in the north aisle of the cathedral, as Winchester in Jane Austen’s day, was the major city of Hampshire county.
Her tombstone, laid into the floor of the cathedral is very simple and makes no mention of her writings, but only mentions her goodness and virtues.
The brass memorial plaque that is in situ now was placed there by James Edward Austen-Leigh, her nephew who used the profits of his memoir of his aunt to pay for it. This tablet was placed sometime after 1870 on the north wall of the nave near Jane Austen’s grave, and it does acknowledge her life as a writer.
To go to Jane Austen’s burial site is very emotional. More than you’d probably anticipate, especially for someone who has been long dead. Possibly the reason that many are moved by it, is that it is such a simple tombstone set into the floor of the cathedral. You would expect a more noticeable memorial, one that mentions her achievements as a writer, one of such elegance, wit and observation that she already had a following for her compositions at the time of her death.
There is also a memorial stained glass window to Jane Austen which was made possible by a public fundraiser in 1900. It depicts St Augustine (abbreviated name Austin – with an ‘i’) at the head. David plays the harp at the centre top of the window, whilst St John holds an open Bible at his gospel at the bottom centre of the piece. Other figures therein, carry scrolls that have quotations from Psalms and are representative of Jane Austen’s religious character. There is a Latin inscription which reads – ” Remember in the Lord Jane Austen, who died 18 July, A.D. 1817″
Of course life for Cassandra continued, and it is to her that we owe most of our knowledge about her now very famous sister, as she ensured that her nieces and nephews learned about their aunt. But conversely, Cassandra also was the means of the loss of much more information. It is estimated that she destroyed up to 3.500 letters from Jane, possibly due to the fact that they contained details that Cassandra deemed too personal for others to read.