Longbourn, near Meryton, Hertfordshire,
19th December, 1792
May I take this opportunity to wish you and Mrs Collins and indeed all in Rosings Park the most wonderful of Christmas’s. I find myself at home alone this evening as the rest of the family are away at the annual Meryton Christmas Ball. Anxiety that Kitty is not yet married preys terribly on Mrs Bennet’s nerves yet she appears to hold out not a jot of hope for Mary, nor does Mary, for that matter. I, alone, cling to the belief that some ruffian or other will be kicking in my library door someday requesting her hand (who is good enough, I would wonder?) The lady of the house, however, tells me not to be ridiculous, that no one will come for Mary, when the truth is, that she herself does not want to be left without a companion - for who will hold her smelling salts and fluff her pillow,if not Mary?
And so I find myself in my library with a bottle of port which the good Reverend Green gave me by way of payment for a goose. Did I mention to you that he walks an imaginary dog, our Reverend Green? No one has had the heart to tell him that Spot has been dead these twelve years. He even believes that Spot has sired my current litter of pups so, as a kindly gesture, I offered him to take any one of his choosing believing the company of a real animal might be of benefit to him but he refused, stating most firmly, that he cannot be responsible for all that Spot begets.
I must confess myself more than a little merry, this fine winter evening. It is a very good port, I must say, I have not had one as good in many years but then, the goose was also good,and it makes one think of the complicated way in which geese are plucked and port is made and how we trade one good thing for another…amazing people, the Portugese, when one thinks about them….setting sail there one day and finding the Americas and what not. Marvellous people. I met a man from Lisbon once back in my youth when I was staying with an aunt in Bath. She was an aunt from my mother’s lineage so would not be related to your good self but you may have heard me mention her on occasion, a Mrs Stern (in nature as well as name). She was a sizeable lady. I once overheard a maid say she was obliged to throw Gowland’s lotion on her mistress from a distance for she ‘was as wide as she was tall’ and could not get within several feet of her person. But, yes,I remember meeting a man from Lisbon at the Assembly Rooms when forced to go there and indeed, I struck up conversation with this man from Lisbon or is it Lisboa they call it? We spoke about coffee in fact, he told me some very interesting things about coffee and that the first coffee house was in Damascus so you see it was not only Saul, from the Good Book, on the side of the road that made Damascus famous. Now that I consider it, this gentleman was, in all likelihood, from Madrid, howsoever the case, we spoke a good hour about coffee beans. Fascinating subject! If the coffee bean could talk of its travels, what stories it could tell!
And a very happy Christmas to you and your entire household, dear cousin. I must confess, I would not give up our correspondence for all the geese in the land, or for all the port either, for that matter,although the sacrifice be greater. Since we have become acquainted through the mending of an old dispute, which I must commend you again for your diplomatic extending of olive branches, I must say the relationship has enriched my life. Your tales and intrigues from life in Kent are, beyond comparison, my favourite source of entertainment and I feel all the benefits of the connection without the need to be present myself, for such is your eloquence and gift with words that I have the impression that I am there, witnessing for myself, the scenes as they unfold. How grateful your congregation must be and how mesmerised they must appear upon your utterances and sermons for such is your way with words. It is a gift from on High. And it is not you, sir, who is fortunate in the connection to Rosings,but Lady Catherine is the fortunate one and I dare say, she knows it too for she keeps a tight rein on your comings and goings.
I too am fortunate, indeed, to have a person of your calibre and disposition whom I can call ‘friend’. Which is more than I can say for those frivolous gatherings at assembly rooms and balls – such tedious conversation to be had with cantankerous farmers and gouty gentlemen. And as for the ladies! If you had seen the satin, sir, which exited this house this very evening, in such a flap and in such vast quantities, as could have put sails on Admiral Nelson’s entire fleet, you would have been most alarmed! Give me my library, cousin, a glass or two or four of port and Edward Gibbons ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ any day or night.
And so we prepare for Christmas or, in truth,we leave it in the very capable hands of Mrs Hill, and admire the smells coming from the kitchen, from afar. Ah, Christmas, a time when the weather gives us permission to stay at home and mind our own business!
I will bid you farewell now, cousin, but to say do not fret over the offspring which will soon be born. It is a blessing and by the time you have moved onto your fifth, you will be well accustomed to it and to finish by wishing yourself, Mrs Collins and all at Hunsford and Rosings, the most wonderful Christmas and New Year, if I have not done so already!
Your affectionate cousin,
Henry BennetWhere Pride and Prejudice ends, a new relationship begins.
Good-humoured but detached and taciturn, Mr Bennet is not given to intimacy. Largely content with his life at Longbourn, he spends his evenings in the solitude of his library, accompanied only by a glass of port and a good book. But when his cousin, the pompous clergyman Mr Collins, announces his intention to visit, Mr Bennet is curious to meet and appraise the heir to his estate.
Despite Mr Bennet’s initial discouragement, Mr Collins quickly becomes a frequent presence in his life. They correspond regularly, with Mr Collins recounting tales of his follies and scrapes and Mr Bennet taking great pleasure from teasing his unsuspecting friend.
When a rift develops between the men, Mr Bennet is faced with a choice: he must withdraw into isolation once again or acknowledge that Mr Collins has brought something new and rich to his life.
Tender, heart-warming and peppered with disarming humour, The Longbourn Letters reimagines the characters of Pride and Prejudice and perfectly captures the subtleties of human relationships and the power of friendship.