PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.28, NO.1 (Winter 2007)

Reading Elegant Extracts in Emma: Very Entertaining!



susan allen ford

Susan Allen Ford (email: is Professor of English and Writing Center Coordinator at Delta State University in Cleveland, MS.  She is a Life Member of JASNA and Editor of Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line.


After the model of Fanny Price—who seems to have taken to heart Darcy’s precept that the truly accomplished woman improves her mind by extensive reading—the occupants of Highbury seem content with, if not quite the natural woman or man, at least the unimproved.  Despite Emma’s talent for drawing up reading lists, and despite the mention of a few novels and a handful of poems, the only scenes of reading in Emma involve charades or letters—except when Mr. Elton is set to read to keep him out of the way of Emma’s drawing.  Nevertheless, in Highbury reading is itself read as a mark of social and cultural status.  Emma’s challenge to Robert Martin’s suitability for Harriet first centers on his literacy:  “‘He does not read?’”  In Harriet’s weak defense against that declarative interrogative, she mentions “‘the Agricultural Reports and some other books, that lay in one of the window seats’” as well as the Vicar of Wakefield.  She also provides an insight into the domestic pastimes of Abbey Mill Farm:  “‘sometimes of an evening, before we went to cards, he would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts—very entertaining” (29).  Although Emma dismisses Robert Martin as “‘illiterate’”—“‘What has he to do with books?’” she asks rhetorically (34)—she later cites Elegant Extracts as a source for a riddle she and Harriet have copied into their collection.  From the earliest stages of the novel, then, Elegant Extracts links Hartfield and Abbey Mill Farm, the highest reaches of Highbury “society” and what, at least in Emma’s view, lies just beyond its borders.1


            More than in any other of Austen’s novels, we see the characters through the heroine’s eyes.  Emma’s judgment of Robert Martin is, of course, a willful misapplication of sense, to borrow Mr. Knightley’s formulation, but it can have the effect of coloring readerly perception.  These mentions of Elegant Extracts certainly constitute small moments in the rich world of Emma.  But reading Jane Austen’s characters—themselves readers of various kinds—in the context of their own habits of reading can add to our understanding of her methods of characterization and to the thematic resonance of her novel.  Reading Elegant Extracts helps us comprehend some at least of Robert Martin’s qualities and suggests the significance of Highbury to Austen’s vision of England.


            The massive anthologies assembled by Vicesimus Knox were extremely popular, going through many editions from the early 1780s through the 1820s.  That popularity is reflected in the Austen family libraries. According to Irene Collins, the Reverend George Austen “thought so highly” of Elegant Extracts in Prose that in 1788 “he gave the fourteen-year-old Frank a copy of it to take with him on board ship bound for the East Indies, assuring him that its passages from approved authors would furnish him with ‘every requisite for belief and practice’” (51).2  Jane Austen herself owned a copy of the volume of prose (now at Jane Austen’s House, Chawton), which she gave to her eight-year-old niece Anna in 1801 (Gilson 433), when the family’s library was sold preparatory to the move to Bath.  And Alice Marie Villaseñor has pointed to a copy of Elegant Extracts in Poetry signed “Edward Austen 1808,” part of the Knight Collection at Chawton House Library.


The goal of the volumes was immediately defined in their lengthy titles:  Elegant Extracts: or useful and entertaining Passages in Prose selected for the Improvement of Scholars at Classical and other Schools in the Art of Speaking, in Reading, Thinking, Composing; and in the Conduct of Life and Elegant Extracts: or useful and Entertaining Pieces of Poetry, Selected for the Improvement of Youth, in Speaking, Reading, Thinking, Composing; and in the Conduct of Life; being similar in Design to Elegant Extracts in Prose (1784, 1789).  These were school books.  In fact, when Thomas James, headmaster of Rugby, in 1798 advised Samuel Butler, new headmaster at Shrewsbury, on developing a library of English books, he thriftily emphasized anthologies.  First among these was Elegant Extracts:  “Make a library for your boys as I did. . . . Buy Knox’s Elegant Extracts in Poetryin Prose—and of Epistles; L’Emprière’s Classical and Historical Dictionary; Johnson’s Dictionary (in 2 vols., 8vo); with Beauties of Pope (in 2 vols., 12mo, 7s); Beauties of Spectators, Tatlers, and Guardians (2 vols., 12mo, 7s); Beauties of Adventurer, Connoisseur, Rambler, and Idler (2 vols., 7s)” (Fergus 126-27).  Knox suggests that the extracts can be read in public or in private, can serve as copy texts, or can be committed to memory for recitation.  The two title pages for the prose volumes depict a boy chasing butterflies behind a beehive signifying industry, and boys reading and thinking with statues of Aristotle, Cicero, and Lord Chatham (William Pitt the Elder) in the background.  Those for the poetry volumes show boys reading, listening (while fishing), and writing in a natural landscape, and a boy on a small platform declaiming dramatic poetry to his fellow scholars.  Elegant Extracts initially took the form of small duodecimo volumes but almost immediately shifted into octavo and sometimes quarto sizes.  Edmund Blunden observed that they were as “portly as tall. . . . Their daily cartage must have helped the bodily as well as mental and spiritual development of the young recipients” (225).


The Library Company of Philadelphia


            And they were full of matter.  Each page was crowded with two columns of print.  By 1791, the volume of Prose, for example, had grown to five books (capable of being bound in separate parts):  moral and religious writing; classical and historical subjects; orations and characters from ancient and modern historians; narratives, dialogues and other humorous or entertaining pieces; introductions to geography, astronomy, chronology, natural history, etc.  There were prose bits from Shakespeare’s plays and extracts from essays that had appeared in The Spectator and The Tatler but also many extracts from “modern” (v) authors.  Johnson—particularly his Rambler and Idler essays—and Blair were represented, as well as Benjamin Franklin, Laurence Sterne, Edmund Burke, and Hester Chapone.  The volume of Poetry was similarly organized:  sacred and moral; didactic, descriptive, narrative, and pathetic; dramatic; and epic and miscellaneous.  Among other works, the 1789 edition included extracts from Shakespeare’s plays (taken wholesale from Dodd’s Beauties of Shakespeare), Pope’s translation of the Iliad, Spenser’s Fairy Queen [sic], Milton’s Paradise Lost, and poems by Swift, Goldsmith, Cowper, and Barbauld.  Knox’s intent, as expressed in the Preface, was to provide “such a number and variety [of poetic pieces] as might furnish something satisfactory to every taste,” chiefly from works “such as were publicly known and universally celebrated” (iii, Knox’s emphasis).  Indeed, Elegant Extracts contains the quotations Catherine Morland has learned while “in training for a heroine”—“those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of [heroines’] eventful lives” (NA 15).


            These anthologies, perhaps not surprisingly given the magnitude of their grasp, include works appropriate to the development of character and to the themes of Emma.  Might both Robert Martin and Emma herself have read an extract—in the early pages of the anthology—on the “Duty of Children to their Parents”?  A few pages later is a selection from the Rambler entitled “Folly of mis-spending Time.”  In the same part of the volume (Book I. Moral and Religious), a selection from Hugh Blair’s sermon on Gentleness is headed “Gentleness not to be confounded with insincere Politeness.”  Gentleness, Blair says, “by a constant train of humane attentions, studies to alleviate the burden of common misery” (1797 ed., 71).  And, in a direct statement to which neither Emma nor Mr. Elton has attended, he adds, “I must warn you, however, not to confound this gentle wisdom, which is from above, with that artificial courtesy, that studied smoothness of manners, which is learned in the school of the world” (71).


Cultural and moral development was certainly the object of these volumes, a purpose that reached beyond the school.  Barbara Benedict defines this goal as common to anthologists of the period:  “In the second half of the eighteenth century, anthologies adopt a pedagogical discourse that charges the audience to read for moral improvement and commends it for seeking cultural literacy; their prefaces construct readers as those who desire to cultivate their individual ‘taste’ in order to belong to a moral elite” (Making 213).  In the “Preface to the First Edition” of the Prose volume, Knox defined his project as a school book with cross-over potential:


It may . . . very properly constitute . . . a little Library for Learners, from the age of nine or ten to the age at which they leave their school:  at the same time it is evident, upon inspection, that it abounds with such extracts as may be read by them at any age with pleasure and improvement.  Though it is chiefly and primarily adapted to scholars at school; yet it is certain, that all readers may find it an agreeable companion, and particularly well adapted to fill up short intervals of accidental leisure.  (1784 ed., v)


In the preface to the volume of poetry, Knox urges the sufficiency of the “innocent pleasure” and “harmless delight” of Poetry, but argues for an even greater utility:  “many young persons of natural genius would have given very little attention to learning of any kind, if they had been introduced to it by books appealing only to their reason and judgment, and not to their fancy” (1789 ed., i).  Validating poetry’s ability both to delight and instruct, Knox quotes Sir Philip Sidney’s comparison between the “allurement” (Knox’s word) of poetry and the gift of “a cluster of grapes” at the beginning of a journey through a vineyard—a delight that makes us “long to pass farther.”  It’s as if, as Sidney says, turning to another analogy Knox includes, we were brought to love goodness by taking “a medicine of cherries” (i).  Though pleasure is held out to the readers, moral and cultural health is central:  readers of Elegant Extracts will come to know the beautiful (“many pleasing subjects of Taste and Literature”) and the good (“the purest principles of Virtue and Religion”).


            So what does Elegant Extracts suggest about Robert Martin?  First of all, Harriet’s mention of Elegant Extracts helps define the charms of the domestic circle of Abbey Mill Farm.  Her description of “the pleasures of her visit” (27) includes “moonlight walks and merry evening games” and the appearance of the “‘shepherd’s son [in] the parlour one night on purpose to sing to her’” (28).  Knox, in his preface to the Poetry volume, expresses the hope that it “will be particularly agreeable and useful in the private studies of the amiable young student, whose first love is the love of the Muse, and who courts her in his summer’s walk, and in the solitude of his winter retreat, or at the social domestic fire-side” (1805 ed., vii).  Robert Martin’s reading aloud from the Elegant Extracts to his mother, sisters, and their friend plays a significant role in this domestic scene.  Even before the excursion to Donwell, Abbey Mill Farm is revealed as a home in harmony with nature, in which English culture—as represented by the authors whose works fill up Elegant Extracts—is central.  Emma’s presumption that the Martins “must be coarse and unpolished, and very unfit to be the intimates of a girl who wanted only a little more knowledge and elegance to be quite perfect” (23, my emphasis) is quite pointedly revealed as misguided. 


Further, the presence of Elegant Extracts is of a piece with the prosperity and comforts of Abbey Mill Farm.  As Harriet enthusiastically points out, the Martins have “‘two parlours, two very good parlours indeed,’” one of them large, as well as “‘a very handsome summer-house in their garden, . . . large enough to hold a dozen people’” (27).  His sisters have had the “‘superior education’” (30), as Emma flatteringly terms it, available from Mrs. Goddard’s school.  Although Mr. Knightley describes him as a “‘respectable, intelligent gentleman-farmer’” (62), the nature or extent of Robert Martin’s own education is undefined, but certainly it would be reasonable (to anyone but Emma) to assume its equivalence to that of his sisters.  The possession of Elegant Extracts, from which he reads aloud of an evening, might suggest either that it’s a book from his own school days that remains useful “for those short intervals of accidental leisure” (Prose, 1784 ed., v) or that he (or his late father) has purchased it for the family’s instruction and entertainment, another market Knox has in mind.  Knox points out that anthologies such as this one supply “[a]t an easy expence . . . the place of a great variety of English Books . . . and lay the foundation for improvement and entertainment in advanced life” (Prose, 1791 ed., iii).  And as Benedict suggests, in the Martin household “some social and moral instruction precedes pleasure” (Making 217).


In the hands of Robert Martin, then, Elegant Extracts suggests an ongoing commitment to education.  Mr. Knightley’s judgment validates the effect of such education:  “‘I never hear better sense from any one than Robert Martin.  He always speaks to the purpose; open, straight forward, and very well judging’” (59).  Harriet’s admiration, comically, mirrors the comprehensiveness of the anthology:  Robert Martin, she avers, is “‘very clever, and underst[ands] every thing’” (28).  Indeed, part of Knox’s educational project, as both the title page illustrations and the prefaces reveal, is to educate young men in the habits of speaking and reading with taste and eloquence.  In order to facilitate that goal, the Prose volume of Elegant Extracts begins with the introductory essay “On Pronunciation, or Delivery” (another borrowing from Blair).  Blair warns his readers against “all affectation”:


Let your manner, whatever it is, be your own; neither imitated from another, nor assumed upon some imaginary model, which is unnatural to you.  Whatever is native, even though accompanied with several defects, yet is likely to please; because it shows us a man; because it has the appearance of coming from the heart.  (1791 ed., xii)


Robert Martin has certainly learned such lessons well enough to be “‘very entertaining,’” at least to Harriet and the women of his family (29).  To Emma’s “quick eye,” Mr. Robert Martin appears “very neat” and “like a sensible young man,” but, as she almost immediately decides, “Mr. Martin looked as if he did not know what manner was” (31-32).  She quickly, for Harriet’s benefit, converts that judgment into the characterization of an “‘awkward look and abrupt manner—and the uncouthness of a voice, which I heard to be wholly unmodulated’” (33), before she imagines Robert Martin aging into “‘a completely gross, vulgar farmer—totally inattentive to appearances, and thinking of nothing but profit and loss’” (33).  And then she quickly offers Mr. Elton as “‘a model’” (34), one whose virtues, as attention to Blair might have suggested, turn out to be “imaginary.”


            And what of Robert Martin’s letter of proposal to Harriet?  It arrives enclosed in a parcel of music Harriet has lent Elizabeth Martin to copy.  Harriet responds with a combination of excitement, desire, and judgment grown hesitant:  “‘a very good letter, at least she thought so.  And he wrote as if he really loved her very much—but she did not know—and so, she was come as fast as she could to ask Miss Woodhouse what she should do’” (50).  Emma reads it,


and was surprized.  The style of the letter was much above her expectation.  There were not merely no grammatical errors, but as a composition it would not have disgraced a gentleman; the language, though plain, was strong and unaffected, and the sentiments it conveyed very much to the credit of the writer.  It was short, but expressed good sense, warm attachment, liberality, propriety, even delicacy of feeling.  (50-51)


Emma, of course, makes it her business to discount its function as evidence of love, or as evidence of Robert Martin’s respectable gentility.  It is “‘so good a letter . . . that every thing considered, I think one of his sisters must have helped him.  I can hardly imagine the young man whom I saw talking with you the other day could express himself so well, if left quite to his own powers . . .’” (51).


            Beginning in 1790, Knox published what came to be a very popular companion volume to Elegant ExtractsElegant Epistles: or, a Copious Collection of Familiar and Amusing Letters, selected for the Improvement of Young Persons, and for General Entertainment.  In the next year’s edition, the subtitle was adjusted to align it more securely with its companions:  being a proper Supplement to Extracts in Prose, & in Poetry.  They seem to have been often sold and bound (as in the case of the 1791 edition belonging to Chawton House Library) as a set.  The volume of Epistles provides “copious specimens” (1791 ed., ii) ranging from the “most entertaining Letters from Cicero and Pliny” (1807 ed., ix), to those of “persons of our own nation, some at a very early period,” to letters of Dr. Johnson and his circle.  Knox’s dual goal of entertainment and instruction governs this volume as well.


Besides being a source of pleasure and entertainment, [these letters] will prove of considerable advantage in the conduct of life, and [the reader’s] necessary intercourse with the world.  The beautiful and amiable portraits which they exhibit, will have the effect of powerful examples, in recommending the useful and ornamental virtues.  And they afford excellent models in a practice, to which every person must, in some measure, be accustomed; and which forms a necessary branch of polite and liberal education.  (1791 ed., i) 


So Emma’s speculations as to how Robert Martin comes to write such a very good letter can be answered by his reading of Elegant Extracts.


            Emma, of course, cannot imagine a way of life involving education and improvement, a life of the mind, for the likes of Robert Martin.  Even as she discounts the possibility that his sisters might have helped him—“‘no, certainly, it is too strong and concise; not diffuse enough for a woman’”—she nonetheless reads him in a way that stresses his nature rather than credits his nurture.


“No doubt he is a sensible man, and I suppose may have a natural talent for—thinks strongly and clearly—and when he takes a pen in hand, his thoughts naturally find proper words.  It is so with some men.  Yes, I understand the sort of mind.  Vigorous, decided, with sentiments to a certain point, not coarse.  A better written letter, Harriet, (returning it,) than I had expected.”  (51)


While Emma’s explanation manages to conclude with a judgment limiting Robert Martin’s intellectual and moral culture—“‘sentiments to a certain point, not coarse’”—Robert Martin actually embodies the success of Knox’s project.  In his preface, Knox looks to Locke to help him define his instructional method and goals, recommending “‘best patterns, whether for business or conversation,’ [and] that young persons, after being taught to write English with due correction, propriety, and order, should only be instructed ‘to express their own plain easy sense, without any incoherence, confusion, or roughness’” (1790 ed., ii).  Such instruction apparently works.  Mr. Knightley’s insistence on Robert Martin’s “‘good sense and good principles’” (472) is emphasized in his presentation at Hartfield at the end of the novel as Emma finally “acknowledge[s] in him all the appearance of sense and worth” (482), just the qualities Knox is hoping for.


            Before the changes in Emma and Mr. Knightley bring Robert Martin and Emma together, Emma shares more with Robert Martin than an interest in Harriet Smith.  The kind of reading habitual at Abbey Mill Farm has not succeeded at Hartfield.  Emma’s “views of improving her little friend’s mind, by a great deal of useful reading and conversation, had never yet led to more than a few first chapters, and the intention of going on to-morrow” (69).  Instead, they collaborate on an anthology, the purpose of which comically recalls Knox’s serious cultural and moral goals:  “[T]he only literary pursuit which engaged Harriet at present, the only mental provision she was making for the evening of life, was the collecting and transcribing all the riddles of every sort that she could meet with, into a thin quarto of hot-pressed paper, made up by her friend, and ornamented with cyphers and trophies” (69).  An anthology whose purpose is largely to forward the courtship game, “assisted” by Emma’s “invention, memory and taste,” transcribed for the most part in Harriet’s “very pretty hand,” and supplemented by “any really good enigmas, charades, or conundrums that [Mr. Elton] might recollect” (70), this slender collection is set against the bulk and gravitas of Elegant Extracts.


“In this age of literature,” the narrator intones, “such collections on a very grand scale are not uncommon” (69).  In fact, I’ve recently looked at nineteen (of many) such books of riddles, bon mots, jests, charades, and enigmas, published between 1780 and 1814.  Most are small, pocket-sized books, containing a variety of forms—anecdotes, epigrams, riddles or charades in verse, toasts.  Many of the specimens of wit are repeated from one collection to another.  The “well-known charade” that Mr. Elton recalls with “joy and exultation . . . and rather sentimentally recite[s]” (70)—“My first doth affliction denote”—can be found in both A New Collection of Enigmas, Charades, Transpositions, &c. (1806) and Exercises for Ingenuity: Consisting of Queries, transposition, charades, rebuses, and riddles (1813).  Some of these books define themselves as pastime:  The Trial of Wit, or, a new Riddle-Book (1782) offers a rhyme as an epigraph:  “For mirth they are compos’d for you, / To pass the time away, / Both in the winter ev’nings long, / And heat of summer’s day.”  Some suggest a serious purpose:  The Gentleman’s Companion . . . selected from the works of foreign authors of distinguished merit (1810) claims selections “worthy . . . by the wit they possess, the moral they convey, or the instruction they afford” (vi).  The epigraph of A New Riddle Book, or a Whetstone for Dull Wits (1800) defines its effect as medicinal:  “’Tis as a Purging PILL; / To carry off all heavy Grief, / And make you laugh your Fill.”  Some, like Old Puzzle-Cap; or, a New Riddle-book, are meant for children.  And some, like Pour Deviner . . . Selected from the best authors by a Lady, for the Exercise of Genius (1814) and Ralph Wewitzer’s The School for Wits, or the Cream of the Jests (1814), emphasize their innocent, educative purpose, as does the latter on its title page:  “A Jest-book should be such as may be admitted into every boarding-school, as an instructive recreation; and which parents may place in the hands of their sons and daughters, without danger of corrupting their morals, or contaminating the purity of their tender minds.”


This emphasis on the dangers of corruption or contamination suggests that these books quite frequently contained riddles and jests that Mrs. Norris might describe as “‘a little too warm’” (MP 141).  The British Jester (1800) proclaims in its Advertisement that “[e]very care has been taken to exclude any thing bordering on indelicacy, so that it may claim a preference to most collections of the kind to the countenance of the Fair Sex.”  Its frontispiece depicts a family scene:  a child teasing a cat before a garden bench, upon which are seated a woman and a man who reclines with a book in one hand and her breast in the other.  The Trial of Wit (1782) contains the kind of riddle that concerned parents might have been thinking of:


            Pleasantly growing in a bed,

            Of complexion white and red,

            The fairest lady in the land,

            Desires to have me in her hand,

            And put me in her hole before,

            And wish she had two handfuls more.


Such riddles “seduce” the wit into enjoying the indelicate answer before providing the innocent solution—in this case, “A Strawberry” (2). 


            Mr. Woodhouse’s offering for Harriet’s collection, “Kitty, a fair but frozen maid,” a 1771 riddle by David Garrick, also flirts with sexual mischief (in this case syphilis and sodomy) before ending in an “innocent” answer.  Variants of Garrick’s riddle (minus the stanza about turning to Fanny) appear in A New Collection of Enigmas, Charades, Transpositions, &c. (1806) and Pour Deviner (1814), one of those collections advertised as “perfectly chaste” and suitable for young readers (xxiv, original emphasis).  Emma’s response to her father—that she and Harriet have “‘written [it] out on our second page.  We copied it from the Elegant Extracts’” (79)—is, given Knox’s moral seriousness and careful scholarship, unlikely.  David Selwyn assumes that Jane Austen “was confused,” having given her copy of Elegant Extracts to her niece thirteen years earlier (199).  Jill Heydt-Stevenson, however, argues that this misdirection is Austen’s joke, that the riddle, “on a vulnerable border between the acceptable and the illicit, . . . collapses the gulf between the sexual underworld of Austen’s time and Highbury’s respectable world” (163).  Emma’s citation of Elegant Extracts, then, highlights the distance between the sexual play in which she, however unwittingly, is engaged and the “merry games” of Abbey Mill Farm, perhaps in its invocation of disease even suggesting Hartfield’s distance from the bucolic health of the Martin home.  The “elegant letters” that Emma finds herself “inventing” (264) as she imagines the progress of her courtship with Frank Churchill probably owe less to Elegant Epistles than does Robert Martin’s letter.


And there’s another turn to Austen’s joke.  When Emma and Harriet pass Mr. Elton’s parsonage, Emma promises, “‘There go you and your riddle-book one of these days’” (83).  That Emma is wrong here, having misread Mr. Elton’s charade and his courtship behavior, is not news.  But in the riddle of Highbury relationships, the substitution of Robert Martin for Mr. Elton means that Harriet’s riddle book goes instead to Abbey Mill Farm, the thin quarto of hot-pressed paper to lean perhaps against the upright solidity of Elegant Extracts.


That projected move to Abbey Mill Farm is the necessary step to Emma’s resolution.  It comically and ironically confirms Emma’s initial judgment of Harriet’s “inclination for good company, and power of appreciating what was elegant and clever, [which] shewed that there was no want of taste” (26).  Knox argues that “polite learning is found by experience to be friendly to all that is amiable and laudable in social intercourse:  friendly to morality. . . . True and correct taste directly tends to restrain the extravagancies of passion, by regulating that nurse of passion, a disordered imagination” (Liberal Education 11-12).  Those qualities Emma has earlier believed she’s understood—good company, elegance, taste—reside not merely (perhaps not even principally) at Hartfield but define Abbey Mill Farm, which Emma now reads as a place “of security, stability, and improvement” (482), and which, of course, serves as the novel’s image of “English verdure, English culture, English comfort” (360).3


The Englishness of Abbey Mill Farm is underscored by Knox’s notion of education—and of Elegant Extracts in particular—as a national project.  “True patriotism and true valour,” he writes, “originate from that enlargement of mind, which the well-regulated study of philosophy, poetry, and history tends to produce; and if we can recal the ancient discipline, we may perhaps recal the generous spirit of ancient virtue” (Liberal Education 4).  The anthology—both a collection and a selection, made up of many fragments, many voices, but controlled by an editorial vision—is itself sign and symbol of the nation, as Barbara Benedict defines it, “[i]nclusive and exclusive, communal and fractured, a physical representation of sociability and of elitism, heteroglossic yet homogeneous” (“Paradox” 252).  It is also an image of Highbury, of the world Jane Austen imagines in Emma.


The Library Company of Philadelphia





1.  I’d like to thank Jan Kelly, who traveled to the AGM in Vancouver with a well-read copy of Elegant Extracts brought by her family from Ireland to Ohio in 1822, for sharing with us that fascinating and very palpable bit of history.


2.  Thanks to Sara Bowen for alerting me to this very interesting piece of information. 


3.  In a 1996 essay, Joan Austen-Leigh playfully speculates that Frank Churchill’s “handsome letter” from Weymouth was written not by Frank himself but by Jane Fairfax, “who had a conscience and who wanted to be sure Frank Churchill did the right thing” (57).  I’m the more willing to accept such a version of events because I think it’s likely that, unlike the responsible Robert Martin, Frank Churchill has not been reading Elegant Extracts.  Thanks to Marsha Huff for reminding me and those assembled in Vancouver of this charming piece.


Works Cited


Austen, Jane.  The Novels of Jane Austen.  Ed. R. W. Chapman.  3rd ed.  Oxford: OUP, 1933-69.

Austen-Leigh, Joan.  “Two Queries Concerning Emma: Did Jane Austen forget Mr. Knightley? Who wrote Frank Churchill’s ‘handsome letter’?”  Persuasions 18 (1996): 54-57.

Benedict, Barbara.  Making the Modern Reader: Cultural Mediation in Early Modern Literary Anthologies.  Princeton: PUP, 1996.

_____.  “The Paradox of Anthology: Collecting and Differénce in Eighteenth-Century Britain.”  New Literary History 34 (2003): 231-56.

Blunden, Edmund.  “Elegant Extracts.”  Essays on the Eighteenth Century: Presented to David Nichol Smith in Honour of his Seventieth Birthday.  Oxford: Clarendon, 1945.  225-37.

The British Jester; a Collection of Bon Mots, Witty Stories, and Anecdotes; to which are added Humorous Poetry, and Toasts and Sentiments.  Ipswich and London, 1800.

Collins, Irene.  Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter.  London: Hambledon, 1998.

Exercises for Ingenuity: Consisting of Queries, transpositions, charades, rebuses, and riddles.  London, 1813. 

Fergus, Jan.  Provincial Readers in Eighteenth-Century England.  Oxford: OUP, 2007.

The Gentleman’s Companion; or, An Assemblage of Anecdotes, Aphorisms, and Bon-Mots, adapted for instruction and amusement; selected from the works of foreign authors of distinguished merit.  London, 1810.

Gilson, David.  A Bibliography of Jane Austen.  New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, 1997.

Heydt-Stevenson, Jillian.  Austen’s Unbecoming Conjunctions: Subversive Laughter, Embodied History.  New York: Palgrave, 2005.

Knox, Vicesimus, ed.  Elegant Epistles: Being a Copious Collection of Familiar and Amusing Letters, Selected for the Improvement of Young Persons, and for General Entertainment.  London, 1807.

_____, ed.  Elegant Epistles: or, a Copious Collection of Familiar and Amusing Letters, selected for the Improvement of Young Persons, and for General Entertainment.  Dublin, 1790.

_____, ed.  Elegant Extracts: or useful and entertaining passages in Prose selected for the Improvement of Scholars at Classical and other Schools in the Art of Speaking, in Reading, Thinking, Composing; and in the Conduct of Life.  2nd ed.  London, 1784.

_____, ed.  Elegant Extracts: or, useful and entertaining Passages in Prose, Selected for the Improvement of Young Persons: being similar in Design to Elegant Extracts in Poetry.  London, 1797.

_____, ed.  Elegant Extracts: or useful and Entertaining Pieces of Poetry, Selected for the Improvement of Youth, in Speaking, Reading, Thinking, Composing; and in the Conduct of Life; being similar in Design to Elegant Extracts in Prose.  London, 1789.

_____, ed.  Elegant Extracts: or useful and Entertaining Pieces of Poetry, Selected for the Improvement of Youth, in Speaking, Reading, Thinking, Composing; and in the Conduct of Life; being similar in Design to Elegant Extracts in Prose.  London, 1805.

_____, ed.  Epistles, Elegant, Familiar, & Instructive, Selected from the Best Writers, Ancient as well as Modern; intended for the Improvement of Young Persons, and for General Entertainment: being a proper Supplement to Extracts in Prose, & in Poetry.  London, 1791.

_____, ed.  Extracts, Elegant, Instructive, and Entertaining, in Poetry; from the most approved Authors: Disposed under proper heads, with a view to the Improvement and Amusement of Young Persons: being similar in design to Extracts in Prose.  London, 1791.

_____, ed.  Extracts, Elegant, Instructive, and Entertaining, in Prose, &c.  London, 1791.

_____.  Liberal Education: or, a Practical Treatise on the Methods of Acquiring Useful and Polite Learning.  9th ed.  2 vols.  London, 1788.

A New Collection of Enigmas, Charades, Transpositions, &c.  London, 1806.

A New Riddle Book, or a Whetstone for Dull Wits.  Derby, 1800.

Old Puzzle-Cap; or, a New Riddle-book.  Juvenile Library.  London, 1809.

Pour Deviner.  New Enigmatical Propositions, &c. . . . Selected from the best authors by a Lady, for The Exercise of Genius.  2 vol.  London, 1814.

Selwyn, David.  Jane Austen and Leisure.  London: Hambledon, 1999. 

The Trial of Wit, or, a new Riddle-Book. Some of which were never before published.  Composed for the Benefit of all those who desire to try their Wit, by reading these merry Questions and Answers.  Glasgow, 1782.

Villaseñor, Alice Marie.  E-mail to the author.  19 Oct. 2007.

Wewitzer, Ralph.  The School for Wits, or the Cream of the Jests.  London, 1814.

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