Edward Knight's Family

Elizabeth Austen, later Knight. [2]
Born January 27th 1800.
A portrait of Elizabeth with her husband, Edward Royd Rice

This account of Elizabeth Knight, extending to fourteen pages in the original manuscript, was written by her granddaughter, the 84-year-old Miss Marcia Alice Rice.

Elizabeth was married at eighteen (on October 6th 1818) to Edward Royd Rice of Dane Court, Kent. Mr Rice, who was later Member of Parliament for Dover for over 20 years, was ten years older than Elizabeth. They first met in Paris in 1817. Mr Knight had taken his two elder daughters, Fanny and Elizabeth, there for a period of enjoyment. Edward Rice had been there for the same reason for some considerable time. He was a friend of Elizabeth's brother George, who while staying with his father and sisters, took him to call. "How remarkably pretty your sister is" said Edward as they left the house – it was love at first sight! He followed up the acquaintance when they all returned to Kent, and soon proposed. Elizabeth refused him. She was only seventeen and very happy at home. But she became deeply troubled as letters, wise and tender, from her father: who had to act a mother's part to his motherless children, show. She found herself deeply in love and when Edward Rice again proposed, he was accepted.

The old Godmersham nurse, Katie, was rather disturbed. Her sense of propriety was offended because Edward took Elizabeth out for long walks alone. Katie felt she must protect her charges to the utmost, and perhaps she was pleased when Elizabeth decided to call her future husband 'Mr. Rice'! For some weeks after her engagement she wrote to him as 'Edward', and then came a letter beginning 'Mr. Rice'. He expostulated, his letters were kept by her and are still extant. But she replied that she had first known him as 'Mr. Rice' and liked that best. He retorted that she would think it odd if he called her sister Fanny 'Miss Knight', but of course 'she must do as she likes' and so she did!

The day of the wedding came. 'There was much less fuss about weddings in those days', comments Elizabeth's daughter, Caroline, 'although my father and mother were said to be the handsomest couple who ever went to church'. This statement is confirmed by their granddaughter, Evelyn, Lady Templetown, daughter of Fanny, Lady Winchilsea who wrote, 'an old shopkeeper in Dover, whose name escapes me – though I knew him well, told me that when Grandpa and Grandma first married, they were such an extraordinarily handsome couple that people used to follow them when they walked in Dover streets – and ran down side streets to meet them again!' I am sure the bride and bridegroom were quite unaware of their good looks, and Elizabeth's children just took it for granted that their mother should be as beautiful as she was in every other way perfect. I have never heard my father or my uncles or aunts dwell specially on their mother's beauty.

To return to the wedding, so quiet and simple was it in its arrangements that when the company returned to the house, the bridegroom went out shooting – and the bride with her sister Marianne, 'walked all round the chicken houses, and climbed up to the top of the cow houses to say good-bye.' This always delighted my father – who thoroughly sympathized with his mother in the proceedings; and, when a few years ago, I paid my only visit to Godmersham (then standing empty and for sale) I divided the time between wandering through the rooms where Aunt Jane had lived, visiting the Pagoda, where I believe she sometimes wrote – and insisting on inspecting the cow houses to see if I could identify her final girlhood's climb with Marianne.

After these separate occupations the newly-married couple departed from Godmersham, going first to Wingham and later to Dane Court, 'and there,' comments their daughter Caroline, 'began one of the most perfect life-long attachments of sixty-two years.'

We must now pass over the greater part of these years. How rich they were, in joys and sorrows. Fifteen sons and daughters grew up in Dane Court, the house was filled with the laughter of children and with the coming and going of sons as they grew to manhood and entered their professions – with the love affairs of the daughters as they walked with their lovers in the garden wood. There were the long anxious years of the Crimean War, in which five of the sons were engaged – and when news travelled very slowly. There was the Naval son, George, wounded in the Burmese War and coming home to die. There was the enrichment of the births of grandchildren, and their constant visits. There was the interest of the father's active life, both as a landlord and as a Member of Parliament – and later, the great sorrow of his accident, when he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his back – and was crippled for the rest of his life. Over all these years was his constant sound judgment and strong influence, and even more precious was the watchful love of the mother 'who was never angry, but whose word was law.'

The ten brothers were a remarkable group of men, of outstanding good looks and attainments, high bred, vigorous, gifted with great charm of manner, witty, courteous, very acceptable to their neighbours, making friends with care and bringing into whatever society they entered an atmosphere of animation and friendliness that seemed to dominate the assembly. Two things in particular bound these brothers together: their devotion to their mother, and their passionate love of their home. This the sisters shared to the full, and they gave their brothers not only love, but respect and admiration, deferring to their opinion to an extent hardly now accorded by the feminine to the masculine members of a family!

Evelyn Templetown, who knew her uncles and aunts in far younger days than I did, wrote of them. 'They truly were an exceptionally attractive and interesting family and one and all devoted to each other – and all of them adored their mother and had a deep affection and respect for their father.' It should also be recorded of them that, without exception, they were deeply, though quietly, religious – taking for granted that Sunday church-going, Holy Communion and daily prayer were their duty to God, and would be their help through life. This religion they owed to the example of their father and mother who, though reticent on such matters, showed throughout their long lives a simple piety characteristic of their day.

Evelyn Templetown, to whom Dane Court was a second home from her earliest childhood, has left on record her impressions of her loved grandmother, placing her in the setting of her home – and this priceless account must now be given. It formed part of a paper termed 'Beautiful old Ladies', which she sent to me, her cousin, and which fortunately I have preserved.

“My grandmother was the most beautiful old lady I have ever seen; one whose name recalls a vision so rare and delicately sweet that one despairs of putting into words a vision that brings with it the faint perfume of cedar and sandalwood, of bergamot and summer flowers! The background is an old English home, white-walled, with steep brown-tiled roof and tall white chimneys – in front of low hills crowned with woods where bluebells and primroses made a glory in the Spring and the nightingales filled the Summer nights with melody.

“Splendid old trees, elm, oak, beech and lime, surrounded the house and threw their long shadows across the rich, deep meadows in the golden sunset, and sheltered from the mid-day heat the herd of Jersey cows and the many little South Down sheep which passed their lives in peace and plenty.

“An old house, full of lovely old Chippendale furniture, beautiful pictures and old china, all of them so entirely a necessary part of the house that they went for the most part almost un-noticed.

“There was a 'breakfast room' and a 'Cedar' recess, a Powdering-closet and a wide shallow staircase with twisted balusters of black oak, little flights of stairs in every direction, leading to long, narrow passages and wide landings and sweet old-fashioned bedrooms with four-poster beds, blazing fires in old hob grates where copper kettles sang. Quaint old prints on the walls, wide sofas and welcoming armchairs covered with tiny-patterned chintzes.

“Downstairs, the Drawing Room (Parlour it was called not so long ago) had small-paned high windows with deep low window seats, the windows always thrown wide open in Summer – and protected from the sun by striped red and white awnings. Through them floated the perfume of heliotrope and roses, scented geranium and sweet verbena, the lazy cawing of rooks in the tall elm trees and the song of blackbird and thrush, the faint rich smell of potpourri in old vases and bowls, old-fashioned chintz covers and curtains and, through the door which almost always stood open to the library - the scent of hot-house flowers from the conservatory beyond, and the song of many birds whose carefully tended cages hung on its walls.

“A fit setting for my beautiful old lady!

“But how shall I find words to describe her or do justice to the unconscious fascination she exerted over anyone who had to do with her? I can see her now, walking about her dressing-room with light, quick steps or sitting in her own particular armchair – her beautiful hands, with their old fashioned diamond, pearl and turquoise rings, busy with some soft piece of knitting, destined for one of her many children or grandchildren; or tending her flowers in the conservatory, and the beautiful golden canaries which lived there and had their nests, and brought up families of young ones year after year under her careful management; for whatever she did was perfectly done and the management of her house was always a wonder to me! No one, not even her own children, knew when the housekeeping was done – and yet what house was ever run as that one was, the orderly quiet comfort of it! Behind which, if one had thought of it, one would have recognized the firm, unseen hands; the servants grown old in the service of the 'Master and Mistress' and whose interests were identical with their own – the perfection of every detail, and the utter absence of any apparent effort to attain it!

“What did my beautiful lady mean? Soft old brocades and silks, finest of lawn and lace yellowed by age; soft Indian shawls, a cap of delicate old lace and coloured ribbon on the soft brown hair, more brown than grey to the last day of her long life.

“Beautiful in her youth, she was yet more beautiful in her old age, high bred, gracious and witty – with an ever-young interest in all that went on about her, a keen sense of humour and a smile which an adoring grandson compared to 'the light of a thousand lamps'; yet there was still something more, the feeling when one was with her that one was ever on the verge of fresh discoveries, and that behind the delicate veil of reticence, unknown to this generation, there were depths of character still ungauged, but, as one felt, based on and pervaded by a religion about which she did not talk, but which brought her through every trial and sorrow calm and undismayed. Small wonder that such an old lady was worshipped alike by husband, children, friends and relations – and that even to her grandchildren to claim her attention, 'To get her to themselves' if only for a few minutes, was a thing to covet and scheme for!

“Small wonder that her memory is evergreen and that loving hearts look forward to the time when they will see her again in the land that is very far off!

– Signed: Evelyn Templetown.”

Here we might well leave Jane Austen's niece Elizabeth, but I am the only one of her grandchildren left now, who have known her and stayed at Dane Court – both in her husband's lifetime and after the 'most perfect life-long attachment of sixty-two years' had ended; and so I must record my own experiences. My visits to Dane Court in these years took place when I was four, five and eleven years old. Little need be said of the first two visits, my memory of them is strangely vivid but there is only a general impression of the grandmother who was well and active, who took full part in the family life and who was kind to her little grandchildren, giving them presents and walking about with them under the trees, amusing them! My grandfather was then alive; he propelled himself about the downstairs rooms and corridors in a big chair, and was hoisted, somehow, into a pony carriage – in which he tore about his property and even went as far as Dover. Nothing could prevail on him not to do so, he was as brave as a lion and determined to carry on his active life as far as he could. But in this respect he was a constant anxiety to his family! It is remarkable that, scattered as his sons were by their professions, all the twelve surviving sons and daughters of Edward Rice stood round his grave to take leave of him when he died, in 1878.

Very different the memories of my third visit, when, in the Summer of 1880, at eleven years old, I travelled alone from Devonshire to pay a fortnight's visit to Dane Court and 'grandmama'. This fortnight was wonderful from beginning to end, and has always been a treasured memory. All that Evelyn Templetown wrote was true, the house, the grounds are wonderfully described and just as I remember them, even to the sheep which came so close to the front door, unimpeded by any wall or paling! The house with its perfume of cedar wood, the sweet scents which pervaded the drawing-room, the indescribable charm of the winding passages and beautiful rooms so full of treasures, at once took possession of my senses. But though all was rare, even more was all pleasant and lovely within and without; the feeling was that of a home loved and lived in for long years. Dane Court at once held me in its embrace and through succeeding years has been one of the joys of my long life.

By now my grandfather had been dead for two years, and my grandmother was much of an invalid. I do not remember her even going out of doors, and she spent a good deal of time on the drawing room sofa. There was much coming and going in the house; her sister Marianne was there, very active and witty and gay, and, in addition to my Aunts Lou and Cam, there were uncles and aunts and little cousins who lived in Tilmanstone village, or near by. Then there were splendid uncles – to my mind – who came to stay; I was happy with them all.

But no one was like grandmama! Evelyn has described her most truly. I at once fell under her spell, and was much with her. Every day after tea, when the others had gone about their business, she liked me to sit at the foot of her sofa and rub her feet. It was then that she talked to me softly in her beautiful voice and I had the happiness of her enchanting smile. She was most easy to talk to. I felt at home with her and loved her at once, and more so as the days went by. But I also reverenced her greatly, not only for her age and relationship to me, but for a quality about her that gave me the knowledge that she was goodness itself. In those late afternoon hours I did not want to talk, but only to listen – it was enough to be alone with her. But there were other times, she made me her companion daily as she walked about her conservatory, showing me her favourite flowers and tending her birds. This was a lengthy process; I think by then her birds were one of her chief interests, she looked after them entirely herself – or so it seems to me – with the most scrupulous and loving care. There were many cages, including at least one breeding cage. She was an enthusiastic and very successful breeder of canaries, and told me much of how to become the same, going into details of how best to mate them, how to look after the mother bird, and how to feed and foster the little offspring. How she loved flowers and birds!

I don't think that at that time of her life she read much, and, alas! in all her talks she never mentioned her Aunt Jane, and I had never been told of her. What an opportunity I missed – I cannot say that I have heard stories of any description of Jane Austen from one who had known her. 'No one could read Aunt Jane like grandmama' said Aunt Cam – why, oh why, did she not read to me?

When I left Dane Court I knew a great deal about goldfinches, bullfinches, and canaries, and grandmama made me a present of one of her best songsters, a lovely golden canary, the first in my life of a very long succession, only ended by the second war!

My aunts were very much afraid of my tiring my grandmother, but she seemed to enjoy having a little girl about. They kept a vigilant guard and when I left Dane Court I said good-bye to grandmama the night before – she must not be disturbed in the morning. But she eluded their watchfulness and when I got into the carriage, the last thing I saw of Dane Court was dear grandmama at the window, in her shawl and night cap, waving me good-bye.

I never saw her again, she died four years after this, in the spring of 1884. But I have loved and reverenced her and held this visit in my heart ever since, and I rejoice that I did know 'Grandmama'.
– Marcia Alice Rice, aged 84. February, 1953.
Marcia Alice Rice

Edward Royd Rice M.P. – a Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant for the county of Kent, and High Sheriff in 1830 – died November 27th 1878, and was buried in Tilmanstone churchyard. (Epitaphs page 228)

Elizabeth died April 27th 1884, and was buried with her husband (Epitaphs page 228).
Elizabeth Rice (née Austen, later Knight)
Edward Royd Rice

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