Last month saw the two-hundredth anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Whilst Austen (1775-1817) is surely as popular in Wales as elsewhere, it’s fair to say her Welsh connections are few and far between. Therefore it was a nice and unexpected surprise, when cataloguing a manuscript recently, to stumble upon its writer’s connection with one of the most famous authors in the English language.
The manuscript in question, NLW MS 24023A, is a journal of a picturesque tour in the summer of 1812, mainly through Wales and parts of Ireland. Amongst its quite detailed and lengthy entries are descriptions of the sights of the lower Wye valley and the journey up through Wales to Holyhead, then onwards from Dublin to Killarney and its lakes.
The author of the journal doesn’t name himself at any point in the volume. However there are enough clues – his initials, mentions of friends and family (his travelling companion is his brother Maximilian), references to Kent and Harrow – to allow one to work out his identity after a bit of research. He was William Osmund Hammond (1790-1863) of St. Alban’s Court, Nonington, Kent.
St Alban’s Court is barely a mile from Goodnestone, the family home of Elizabeth Bridges (1773-1808) – wife of Jane Austen’s brother Edward (1767-1852) – and not far from Edward’s main estate at Godmersham Park. Both are places Austen visited often over the years. The Hammonds and their friends and neighbours the Plumptres of Fredville (who have a cameo appearance in the journal, following a chance meeting in Cheltenham) were part of the Kent county society that Austen knew well.
Austen mentions William Hammond, in passing, a grand total of twice in her surviving letters (see Jane Austen’s Letters, ed. by Deirde Le Faye, 4th edn (Oxford, 2011)). Discussing a concert in her letter of 6 November 1813, she writes ‘The Faggs & the Hammonds were there, Wm Hammond the only young Man of renown’ (Letters, p. 262). It’s good to know that the impression made by the author of our journal, such as it was, seems at least to have been favourable.
Rhys M. Jones