She knew poetry by Milton, George Crabbe, Robert Burns, Thomas Campbell, Wordsworth, and Byron, and the sermons of Hugh Blair, Thomas Sherlock, and Edward Cooper. She mentions conduct literature by Thomas Gisborne, James Fordyce, Jane West, and Hannah More, and plays by Shakespeare, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, John Home, Richard Cumberland, George Colman, Hannah Cowley, Susanna Centlivre, and Elizabeth Inchbald. She read political history by Thomas Clarkson, historian of the slave trade, and Charles Pasley, historian of the government of India, travelogues by Joseph Baretti and Lord Macartney, and the correspondence of Hester Thrale Piozzi and Dr. Johnson. She knew works by the French authors Stéphanie Félicité de Genlis, Arnaud Berquin, and Anne Louise Germaine de Staël, and the Germans, Johann von Goethe and August von Kotzebue. She read the efforts of relations and acquaintances such as Cassandra Cooke and Egerton Brydges, and the nascent novels of her nieces and nephew.
The snippets from Austen’s letters remind us that books were relatively expensive luxury items, often bought by circulating libraries or private reading societies and circulated among the members or subscribers. Jane Austen got hold of books in many different ways—reading them in her father’s library at Steventon and her brother’s Godmersham library, borrowing from circulating libraries in Bath and Southampton, joining the Chawton Reading Society, and borrowing the latest publications from her publisher—but she rarely bought books. Those bought during her youth were sold with her father’s before the move to Bath in 1801, and presumably regularly purchasing books was quite simply outside the limited means of the Austen ladies’ household during their years in Bath, Southampton, and Chawton.