Persuasions #15, 1993 Pages 5-6
In Memory of Jack Grey (1935-1993)
An article in the issue of Country Life dated 19 February 1970, describing Cottesbrooke Hall, Northants, failed to mention that mansion’s supposed claim to be the original of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park; the same periodical’s issue for 18 June 1970 published a letter from J. David Grey, New York, commenting on this omission and offering originals for other houses featuring in the novels. I felt impelled to write to Jack in consequence, and a correspondence ensued; from finding so much in common between us (including a birth year!), a friendship developed which ended only with Jack’s untimely death on 11 March 1993.
This friendship could have foundered very soon after its launching. Jack had already, for longer than I knew, been a collector of books and other material by and relating to Jane Austen, and was forming his archive of relevant information. When checking indexes of 1969 publications, he came across my announcement in the Times Literary Supplement of 17 April 1969 to the effect that I was planning to publish a revision of Sir Geoffrey Keynes’s 1929 Nonesuch Press bibliography of the novelist. It may not be generally known that Jack had already hoped himself to prepare a new bibliography of Jane Austen; but with the generosity which was so prominent a feature of his character he decided that it was pointless for two such works to be produced in competition, and very nobly abandoned his own plan, in order to encourage and support mine. When my bibliography of Jane Austen was at last published by the Clarendon Press, Oxford, in 1982, I was very glad to pay tribute in my acknowledgements to the help that Jack had given to me.
In our correspondence of over twenty years we constantly exchanged news of new publications (I’m sure I gained more than I gave); but Jack’s help did not stop there. We met whenever he came to England, with hospitality more often on his side than on mine (since Jack was generous in this as in all else and loved to be the host). He put me up at his East Side apartment when I visited New York in 1975 as part of a six weeks’ tour of the riches of East Coast libraries and private collections (to collect information for my bibliography), and took pride in introducing me to New York. More recently Jack entertained me royally in 1987 and 1988 at Manhattan Plaza when I was in New York in part to see the Jane Austen autograph letters at the Pierpont Morgan Library (in connection with the new edition of the letters which I then envisaged but have since had to abandon). Among the excursions I then enjoyed with Jack was a drive up to New Haven, to see again at Yale the Jane Austen collection of Charles Beecher Hogan (which I had first seen at Woodbridge, Connecticut, in 1975).
My personal collection of Jane Austen material owes much to Jack’s generosity, especially as regards American publications new and old, critical studies, continuations and dramatisations of the novels, as well as more ephemeral items, which might otherwise not have come my way. It is a matter for regret that Jack’s own collection, in some directions more extensive than my own, has not remained intact; his archive of material published in periodicals (whether in original form or in photocopy) must have been the largest ever made, and I know that he had once hoped that his collection might be preserved as a source of reference for future scholars.
Jack’s innumerable friends will always remember his kindness, generosity, hospitality; he had a gift for friendship. But he has also more tangible memorials. On the one hand there are his own publications, most notably The Jane Austen Companion (New York: Macmillan, 1986), that invaluable source of information on almost anything to do with Jane Austen, to which I was proud to contribute and of which I treasure my copy with Jack’s own far more numerous contributions all autographed, and Jane Austen’s beginnings: the Juvenilia and ‘Lady Susan’ (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989), an important collection of essays which had its origin in the 1987 New York JASNA meeting and whose extensive bibliography owes more to Jack than it does to me. Before either of these substantial volumes, Jack’s perceptive introduction to the 1982 Washington Square Press paperback edition of Pride and Prejudice was a delight to read and has permanent value.
Jack’s other more solid memorial must be, simply, JASNA. Realising the need to provide a focus in North America for lovers of Jane Austen who might never get to England, with his two eminent co-founders Joan Austen-Leigh and the late Henry G. Burke, Jack’s enthusiasm got JASNA going in 1979; he was the Society’s first President and remained deeply involved with all its activities, especially the annual meetings, all of which he attended (and even more especially those held in New York, which he organised: the first, in 1979, and the ninth, in 1987). I am sure that it gave Jack great pleasure to see JASNA expand and develop, with its regional groups and meetings as well as the great annual get-together, and the journal Persuasions similarly increasing in size and importance from 32 pages in 1979 to 147 in 1992.
Something of Jack must remain in England, which he loved and visited often, where he made so many friends (on his own travels and on the tours of the Jane Austen country which he led so effectively), and especially at Steventon where the church of St. Nicholas owes so much to the generosity of JASNA members; but more of my friend Jack Grey must remain in JASNA and in that Society’s continuing expansion and prosperity.