Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Austin, Sarah
AUSTIN, SARAH (1793–1867), translator, wife of John Austin the jurist, was born at Norwich in 1793. Her father, John Taylor, a yarn maker of that city, and a descendant of John Taylor, a celebrated divine, was a man of literary tastes. Her mother, whose maiden name was Susanna Cook, was accomplished and beautiful. Sarah Austin, who was the youngest of her family, received an excellent education under the direction of her mother. She was remarkably handsome and attractive, and it caused some surprise in Norwich when she married the grave John Austin [see Austin, John]. The marriage, which took place in 1820, was a union of rare intellectual sympathy, and one to which she brought an unusual share of devotion. During the first years of their married life they lived in Queen's Square, Westminster. Mrs. Austin's stately yet charming manners, her talk always full of information, interesting and sensible, if not brilliant, and her many-sided nature made her many warm friends. The younger Mill testified the esteem which he felt for her by the title of Mutter, by which he always addressed her. The only child of the marriage, Lucie (afterwards Lady Duff Gordon), was born in 1821. Her husband's scanty measure of success stimulated Mrs. Austin's literary labours, and for many years she was unceasingly busy with her pen. In 1833 she published 'Selections from the Old Testament,' arranged under heads to illustrate the religion, morality, and poetry of the Hebrew Scriptures. 'My sole object has been,' she wrote in the preface, to put together all that presented itself to my own heart and mind as most persuasive, consolatory, or elevating, in such a form and order as to be easy of reference, conveniently arranged and divided, and freed from matter either hard to be understood, unattractive, or unprofitable (to say the least) for young and pure eyes.' In the same year she published one of the many admirable translations by which she is best known: 'Characteristics of Goethe from the German of Falk, Von Müller, and others,' with valuable original notes, illustrative of German literature. Her own criticisms are few, but they are excellent, and are marked by that temperance and good sense which distinguished every line she wrote.
In 1834 she translated 'The Story without an End' by Carové, and this admirable translation has since been often republished. In the same year she translated the famous report on the 'State of Public Instruction in Prussia,' addressed by Cousin to Count Montalivet, minister of public instruction. In the preface she pleads eloquently for the cause of national education. 'Society,' she says, 'is no longer a calm current, but a tossing sea; reverence for tradition, for authority, is gone. In such a state of things who can deny the absolute necessity of national education.?' In 1839 she returned to the same subject in a pamphlet, originally published in a short-lived periodical, Cochrane's 'Foreign Quarterly Review.' Arguing from the experience of Prussia and France, she urged the establishment in England of a national system of education. One of her last publications (1859) consisted of two letter's addressed to the 'Athenæum' on girls' schools and on the training of working women. In these she shows that she had modified her opinions. Speaking of the old village schools, she admits that the teachers possessed little book lore. They were often widows 'better versed in the toils and troubles of life than in chemistry or astronomy.... But the wiser among them taught the great lessons of obedience, reverence for honoured eld, industry, neatness, decent order, and other virtues of their sex and stations,' and trained their pupils to be the wives of working men. In 1827 Mrs. Austin went with her husband to Germany and settled in Bonn. She collected in her long residence abroad materials for her work, 'Germany from 1760 to 1814,' which was published in 1854. Some (chapters of it had previously appeared as articles in the 'Edinburgh Review' and the 'British and Foreign Review.' This book, by which she is best known, still holds its place as an interesting and thoughtful survey of German institutions and manners. In the autumn of 1836 she accompanied her husband to Malta, busying herself while there with investigations into the remains of Maltese art. On their return from that island, she and her husband went to Germany. Thence they passed to Paris, where they remained until they were driven home by the revolution of 1848. In 1840 she translated, Ranke's 'History of the Popes,' which was warmly praised by Lord Macaulay and Dean Milman. When this translation was published, her intimate friend Sir George C. Lewis wrote to her saying, 'Murray is very desirous that you should undertake some original work. Do you feel a Beruf of this sort?' But she did not feel such a Beruf; most of her subsequent works consisted of translations. In 1861 she wrote, as a preface to a new edition of 'The Province of Jurisprudence determined,' a memoir of her husband full of pathos. From that time to 1863 she was laboriously engaged in preparing for the press a large mass of manuscript notes of his lectures, and in that year appeared 'Lectures on Jurisprudence, or the Science of Positive Law.' She was meditating the preparation of a new edition when she died on 8 Aug. 1867 at Weybridge from an acute attack of heart disease. Sarah Austin did not possess genius, but all she wrote is marked by nice discrimination and the touch of the true literary artist. Her style is clear, unaffected, and forcible. She had a high standard of the duties of a translator, and she sought to conform rigorously to it. 'It has been my invariable practice,' she herself said, 'as soon as I have engaged to translate a work, to write to the author of it, announcing my intention, and adding that if he has any correction, omission, or addition to make, he might depend on my paying attention to his suggestions.' She did much to make the best minds of Germany familiar to Englishnien. and she left a literary reputation due as much to her conversation and wide correspondence with illutrious men of letters as to her works.
The following is a list of her principal works, besides those already named: 1. 'Translation of a Tour in England, Ireland, and France by a German Prince,' 1832. 2. 'Translation of Raumer's England in 1835,' 1836. 3. 'Ranke's History of the Popes,' 1840. 4. 'Fragments from German Prose Writers,' 1841. 5. Niebuhr's Stories of the Gods and Heroes of Greece,' 1843. (6. 'Ranke's History of the Reformation in Germany,' 1845. 7. 'Translation of Guizot on the Causes of the Success of the English Revolution,' 1850. 8. 'Letters of Sydney Smith,' 1855 (second volume of Lady Holland's Life and Letters). 9. ' Memoirs of the Duchess of Orleans,' 1859. 10. 'Lady Duff Gordon's Letters from Egypt,' edited by Mrs. Austin, 1865.[John Stuart Mill's Autobiography; Sir George C. Lewis's Letters; Times, 12 Aug. 1867; Athenæum, August 1867.]