Episode 14: Practically Prefect in Every Way?
Hello friends, welcome to Ents and Sensibility, the podcast for everyone who loves bold witty women, awkward handsome men, and second breakfast.
I’m your host Casey Meserve.
Folks before we get started today I want to share a huge announcement with you about the 4th annual Virtual Jane Con.
Submissions for programming for Virtual Jane Con are open!
Virtual Jane Con is a free online convention about all things Jane Austen. The volunteers who run Virtual Jane Con work hard to create and maintain a radically inclusive space for all Austen and Regency fans.
Previous Virtual Jane Con programs ranged from Regency costuming and gaming, to deep discussions on Austen’s works and Regency history. It’s a fun, wide-ranging event that captures the wide variety of interests and talents within the Jane Austen community on a free online, accessible platform. But the best thing about it is that you do not need to have a PhD to be a presenter. All you need is an interest in the topic you want to present.
Austen fans of all backgrounds and interests are welcome to submit a program. If you have an Austen-related obsession that you’d like to share with the community, we want to hear from you! Submissions are open until April 15, 2023 and Virtual Jane Con will be held July 15-16 on YouTube. You can submit a programming proposal on virtualjanecon.com/submissions-2023.
Now back to our regularly scheduled podcast.
Today I have a really fun episode for you and first, let’s meet another member of the Austen family.
Meet the Austens: Henry Austen
While Jane’s oldest brother James followed in his father’s footsteps to become a rector at Steventon, and Edward was adopted by relatives to become a member of the landed gentry, and Frank and Charles went into the Royal Navy, rising eventually to the rank of Admiral, Henry had another path, and in my opinion a more interesting one.
He was a militia officer, a banker, a clergyman, and Jane’s publicist and literary agent.
Henry was the funny, sunny, handsome, garrulous and charming member of a funny, garrulous and charming family.
Henry Thomas Austen was born June 8, 1771 at Steventon Rectory, the fourth son, after James, George and Edward to George and Cassandra. He was taught at home by his father and went to Oxford at 17 in 1788, following James where he studied to become a clergyman like his father. While at St. John’s College on a Founder’s Kin Scholarship, thanks to his mother’s family connections, he helped James publish and write his weekly magazine, The Loiterer.
In 1792 Henry received his bachelor’s degree and intended to continue for a master’s. The college gave him a scholarship and a stipend and he worked as an assistant Logic Reader teaching undergrads until 1793, when war broke out between England and France.
Henry changed his mind about the church and school and accepted a commission as Lieutenant with the Oxfordshire Militia and went to Southampton to help protect the English Channel from French invasion.
Henry was a good fit for the militia and the next year he became acting paymaster for the regiment, ensuring soldiers and officers were paid correctly.
Henry served for seven years while taking occasional time off to complete his degree. After Southamptom, the regiment was stationed at Brighton, Ipswitch, Dublin and Portsmouth.
As acting and then official paymaster for his regiment, Henry used his charm to make important friends, including powerful men like Col. William Gore-Langston, a member of Parliament who sat in the House of Commons for 45 years starting in 1795.
In 1801, Gore-Langston helped Henry begin a career as a financial agent,working as a middleman between the government agency tasked with military payroll and the regiment’s paymaster. He also bought and sold officer commissions and acted as a banker for some officers, all while collecting the pay of each company’s fictitious “warrant man.” He eventually struck up a partnership with Henry Maunde and formed Austen & Co. bank which operated for 15 years.
While his career was taking off, Henry was also successful in his personal life. In 1797, he married his cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, who had been widowed in 1794 when her husband the Comte de Feuillide was guillotined for his royalist loyalties during the Reign of Terror in Paris.
Henry and Eliza had flirted as teenagers in Steventon but she and her mother Philadelphia traveled around Europe, eventually settling in France. Eliza and Henry are thought to be the subjects or the models for some of Jane’s early works, including “Henry and Eliza.” Henry and Eliza had no children, but he cared for her son Hastings, who had a seizure condition that may have been similar to the condition suffered by Henry’s brother George. Little Hastings died in 1801.
In 1802, the Treaty of Amiens made Henry’s work in military finance less profitable and he and Eliza moved to France where he worked to export French wine to friends and acquaintances in England until 1803 when Austen & Co moved offices to Parliament Street in London, near government office where he continued making new powerful friends.
His connections to the government led to Austen & Co’s great success and Henry to becoming a partner in additional 3 banks. In 1806 Frank Austen, who was now a commander in the Royal Navy, became a partner and the banks’s name changed to Austen, Maunde & Austen. They were later joined by a fourth partner, James Tilson, the brother of one of Henry’s militia friends, and changed the name of the firm again to Austen, Maunde & Tilson.
Henry used his financial boon to help his sisters and mother, who were left bereft after his father George Austen died in 1805. James and Henry had to decide how the four brothers would provide for their mother Cassandra, and sisters, Jane and Cassandra. Edward and Frank collectively contributed £150 per year, leaving James and Henry to pledge £50 each per annum. It was financially stressful but Henry promised to “do as much as long as [his] precarious income remains.”
Henry’s success continued and he turned some of his attention to Jane’s writing, which he had always supported. Years before, their father had successfully sold Jane’s novel “Elinor and Marianne” to a publisher, but the book had never been printed. Now, he worked to get Jane published. He took Sense and Sensibility to an acquaintance, Thomas Edgarton, a publisher of military books, and once the distributor of Henry and James’ The Loiterer.
Lucy Worsley conjectures that Edgarton only published the novel because he knew that if it bombed, Henry the banker would be able to pay him back for the loss (309).
When the novel finally came out in October 1811, it was a success and sold out its first printing. With that Henry became Jane’s literary agent, working with Edgarton and then helping Jane change publishers later after Pride and Prejudice when she was unhappy with the terms Edgarton set. He hustled, bargained, read proofs and copy edited, hustled the printers and bookbinders and worked hard to make Jane’s characters the household names we know today.
Henry’s gossip even got Jane an invite to the Prince Regent’s house.
In 1815 Jane was staying with Henry in Hans Place, London to both deal with her new publisher John Murray publishing her next novels, Mansfield Park and Emmal. Eliza had sadly died, likely of breast cancer in 1813, and Henry, now a widower, often had Jane visiting to act as the lady of the house, and to work with him on her publishing efforts.
In the fall of 1815, Henry’s illness took a serious turn and Jane became his agent, writing business letters and family notes for him. A doctor was called to his bedside. The doctor, Matthew Baillie, just happened to be the physician of the Prince Regent, and Henry couldn’t help himself, but to tell the doctor about his sister. Dr. Baillie told him that the Prince Regent was a huge fan of her novels and kept a set of them in every one of his residences.
Well, Dr. Baillie told the Prince Regent that the author of Pride and Prejudice was staying in London and the Prince asked his personal librarian Rev. Janes Stanier Clarke to pay her a call, and invite her to tour the Prince’s London home, a modest little palace called Carlton House. While there, Stanier Clarke suggested that Jane dedicate her next novel to the Prince Regent, and while Jane really hated him personally, because he was a philanderer, she couldn’t say no.
Henry managed to recover, but suffered a major professional loss when Austen, Maunde and Tilson failed in March 1816. It wasn’t a major surprise because banks across the country were failing in the post-war depression, but he was left bankrupt and he could no longer afford to give his mother 50 pounds a year to support her and the girls. The bankruptcy meant that other family members lost thousands of pounds they had invested or saved with the bank. His brother Edward lost 20,000 pounds and his Uncle James Leigh-Perrot lost 10,000 pounds.
But like all the Austens, setbacks did not keep Henry down for long.
Henry finally decided to enter the church, becoming an ordained deacon in December 1816 and becoming the curate of Chawton, where Jane, Cassandra and their mother lived, and where Edward just happened to have an estate.
He continued to act as Jane’s literary agent until she died in July 1817, and helped to publish her final two books, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. He also wrote the biographical notice at the beginnings of the two novel set, identifying his sister as the author of all six of her published novels.
When James died in 1819, Henry took over as rector at Steventon and married Eleanor Jackson. The couple later moved to Farnham in Surrey, and during this time he also worked as a master at Farnham Grammar School. He eventually became the curate of Bentley in Hampshire.
In 1824, with the French Revolution settled a bit, Henry tried, and failed, to get back some of the French land fortunes that Eliza had left when she and Hastings had fled two decades before. But the French courts decided that the Comte’s siblings had a better claim than a remarried English widower.
Henry lived a quiet life in his retirement, having no children with Eleanor.
Despite his resourcefulness and many occupations and preoccupations, Henry never rebounded financially from his losses in 1816. Debts of £800 and £400 are mentioned in letters to his nephew, James Edward, in 1828 and 1832. In the latter year he and Cassandra sold the copyright to five of Jane’s novels to Richard Bentley (the firm already owned the rights to the sixth) for £250 “& two copies of the work.” The “Bentley Editions” were published in 1832-33 andJane’s works were made available to eager new readers for the first time since their original publication.
Henry retired in 1839 thanks to a legacy from his aunt, Mrs. Leigh-Perrot. He and Eleanor then spent some time in France possibly for his wife’s health.
In 1840, Henry served as a delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. He was one of two delegates from Colchester and sat among nearly 500 delegates who came from around the globe create a political platform for anti-slavery measures and support formerly enslaved Black people who’d been recently freed in the British colonies.
Henry died of gastritis in 1850 at 79 at Tunbridge Well, and was buried in Woodbury Park Cemetery, Tunbridge Wells. Eleanor outlived him by 14 years, dying in 1864.
Henry’s niece Anna LeFroy summed up Henry.
“He was the handsomest of his family and, in the opinion of his own father, also the most talented. There were others who formed a different estimate, and considered his abilities greater in show than in reality; but for the most part he was greatly admired. Brilliant in conversation he was, and, like his father, blessed with a hopefulness of temper which in adapting itself to all circumstances, even the most adverse, seemed to create a perpetual sunshine. The race, however, is not all to the swift; it never has been, and though so highly gifted by nature, my uncle was not prosperous in life.”
Willoughby Admires a Cottage
Well we covered a lot of ground in our last episode so I’ll provide a very brief recap, but if you haven’t listened to it yet, you should put this one on pause, go listen to Episode 13, You’ve Got Mail, Colonel Brandon, and then come back and listen to this one.
So last episode, the entire neighborhood was planning to go tour a park owned by Colonel Brandon’s brother in law. But Brandon got mail during breakfast and immediately took off to London. Everyone but Elinor begged him to stay,especially Mrs. Jennings who hinted it had something to do with his “natural” daughter.
So he left, and the entire crew decides to take off onto the downs for some fun, except Marianne and Willoughby who took his carriage and disappeared all day and refused to tell anyone where they’d been, until Mrs. Jennings got the servant gossip. They had toured Allenham, the park and home owned by Willoughby’s aunt Mrs. Smith. Well, this was imprudent even for Marianne, and Elinor gives her a thorough scolding, but Marianne says if it feels good, it must be good and then tells Elinor about every room in the house.
We begin Chapter 14 with Mrs. Jennings, who still can’t get over Brandon’s mysterious disappearance.
The sudden termination of Colonel Brandon’s visit at the park, with his steadiness in concealing its cause, filled the mind, and raised the wonder of Mrs. Jennings for two or three days; she was a great wonderer, as every one must be who takes a very lively interest in all the comings and goings of all their acquaintance. She wondered, with little intermission what could be the reason of it; was sure there must be some bad news, and thought over every kind of distress that could have befallen him, with a fixed determination that he should not escape them all.
“Something very melancholy must be the matter, I am sure,” said she. “I could see it in his face. Poor man! I am afraid his circumstances may be bad. The estate at Delaford was never reckoned more than two thousand a year, and his brother left everything sadly involved. I do think he must have been sent for about money matters, for what else can it be? I wonder whether it is so. I would give anything to know the truth of it. Perhaps it is about Miss Williams and, by the bye, I dare say it is, because he looked so conscious when I mentioned her. May be she is ill in town; nothing in the world more likely, for I have a notion she is always rather sickly. I would lay any wager it is about Miss Williams. It is not so very likely he should be distressed in his circumstances now, for he is a very prudent man, and to be sure must have cleared the estate by this time. I wonder what it can be! May be his sister is worse at Avignon, and has sent for him over. His setting off in such a hurry seems very like it. Well, I wish him out of all his trouble with all my heart, and a good wife into the bargain.”
This is a lot of information. And I’m wondering if this was all in a single conversation, or if it’s an example of the things Mrs. J said over those two or three days?
This is definitely something we humans do. We mull and think about something that happened or upset us, we talk about it constantly and bring it up in totally unrelated conversations.And Austen shows a synopsis of these conversations in a succinct way that demonstrates Mrs. Jennings’ meddlesome nature.
Austen does this type of narration alot when a character is likely saying things on a topic over a period of time. For instance, I believe Fanny Dashwood’s narrative with her husband in Chapter 2 is a similar type. In the 1995 movie version of “Sense and Sensibility,” Fanny spends days talking to her husband about the inconvenience of helping the Dashwood family after their father dies. Remember Mr. Dashwood had made his son John promise to support Mrs. D and their three daughters. But Fanny meddled and that’s why the Dashwoods ended up in Devonshire!
Fanny spent days convincing John not to give his sisters or stepmother a penny and here Mrs. Jennings spends days obsessing over Brandon’s reasons for leaving so suddenly.
So what are the things she’s musing over? Well, it could be Brandon’s estate, which we learn is worth about 2000 pounds a year, which is quite a nice income, although not grand. We learn that Brandon’s brother owned it before he did, so Brandon isn’t the oldest male in his family, and that his brother mortgaged the property, that’s what Mrs. J means by “involved,” so this brother had money troubles, but Mrs. J believes enough time has gone by that Colonel Brandon has paid off the mortgage.
Then she wonders if her initial guess is correct and it’s Miss Williams, Brandon’s “natural” daughter–that means born out of wedlock, and Mrs. J really believes this could be the reason because of Brandon’s reaction–he blushed–when she brought it up in front of 20 people over breakfast remember. She wonders if this Miss Williams is ill in London, where she’s supposed to be–probably at a girls’ school or with a governess–we’re not told which.
She thinks it could be Brandon’s sister in southern France, who has moved there for the warm weather.
Finally, she thinks maybe a future wife has something to do with it? Or maybe that’s just the way her matchmaker brain works.
But whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes–as Dr. Suess would say–, Elinor has far bigger, closer and more immediate things to worry about.
Elinor, though she felt really interested in the welfare of Colonel Brandon, could not bestow all the wonder on his going so suddenly away, which Mrs. Jennings was desirous of her feeling; for besides that the circumstance did not in her opinion justify such lasting amazement or variety of speculation, her wonder was otherwise disposed of. It was engrossed by the extraordinary silence of her sister and Willoughby on the subject, which they must know to be peculiarly interesting to them all. As this silence continued, every day made it appear more strange and more incompatible with the disposition of both. Why they should not openly acknowledge to her mother and herself, what their constant behaviour to each other declared to have taken place, Elinor could not imagine.
She could easily conceive that marriage might not be immediately in their power; for though Willoughby was independent, there was no reason to believe him rich. His estate had been rated by Sir John at about six or seven hundred a year; but he lived at an expense to which that income could hardly be equal, and he had himself often complained of his poverty. But for this strange kind of secrecy maintained by them relative to their engagement, which in fact concealed nothing at all, she could not account; and it was so wholly contradictory to their general opinions and practice, that a doubt sometimes entered her mind of their being really engaged, and this doubt was enough to prevent her making any inquiry of Marianne.
So while Mrs. Jennings obsesses over Brandon, all Elinor, and probably her mother, can think about is why Marianne and Willoughby haven’t announced their engagement.
Elinor believes that they must be engaged or they wouldn’t act the way they do. Over the last two episodes we’ve discussed these actions: Willoughby gave Marianne a horse, Marianne gave him a lock of hair, he called her by her first name rather than Miss Dashwood, and finally they took off in his carriage for his family estate while everyone else was on the downs. Now we find that Marianne also refuses to dance with anyone but Willoughby at Sir John’s innumerable balls and parties. They’re also incredibly obvious around everyone and oblivious to everyone in their social group, and every action shows that they’d rather be together than spend time with anyone else.
Now, we in the 21st century might think that six weeks or however long it’s been since they met, isn’t long enough for the pair to have known each other, but couples didn’t need to know each other for long in Georgian England. According to the Clandestine Marriage Act of 1753 engaged couples only had to wait three weeks before getting married, during that time, their impending nuptials would be announced each Sunday in the parish churches of both parties for three weeks. Other than that, they didn’t need to know each other well. Remember, Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas only knew each other for two weeks before he proposed three days after being rejected by Elizabeth.
So lengthy courtships weren’t necessary. It was more important that the two parties were of similar backgrounds and class.
But why would Willoughby and Marianne remain silent? Elinor thinks it might be because Willoughby can’t afford to marry immediately. Sir John says his current estate is only worth about 6 or 700 a year, which is not enough for a gambling man like Willoughby to get married on, and Elinor knows he’s living beyond his means because he’s constantly talking about how poor he is. Although we never hear this from Willoughby himself, it’s only reported by the narrator.
But beyond this, the two of them hiding anything is totally out of character for both of them. Marianne is all about truth in feeling, that’s what sensibility and sentimentality is about. She, as an honest and open person, would definitely tell her family if she were engaged, but mum is her word. However, she’s acting like she is engaged.
So this is driving Elinor nuts and she won’t just ask Marianne, because she believes Marianne would tell her if she was. Because that’s what sensible Elinor thinks she herself would do. Elinor has all these doubts running around inside her head because she knows what she’s seen, but she hasn’t heard the truth yet.
This makes my head spin. So let’s take a step back for a minute and look at one more interesting point in this section.
We have a brief description of Brandon’s brother and then one of Willoughby.
There are a lot of similarities in these two characters, one of whom is dead. We will definitely get into the personalities of both of them as the story progresses, but we’re starting to piece together more about them. Austen leaves hints and trails everywhere about characters, even those we never actually meet.
Brandon’s brother left his estate deeply in debt, according to Mrs. Jennings, and Sir John says Willoughby isn’t rich by any means, his estate is only worth a few hundred a year but we’ve also seen hints that he gambles heavily, which we guessed last episode, and that he spends far more than he earns.
OK, let’s get back to the text where Willoughby is visiting the Dashwoods.
One evening in particular, about a week after Colonel Brandon left the country, his heart seemed more than usually open to every feeling of attachment to the objects around him; and on Mrs. Dashwood’s happening to mention her design of improving the cottage in the spring, he warmly opposed every alteration of a place which affection had established as perfect with him.
“What!” he exclaimed, “Improve this dear cottage! No.
That I will never consent to. Not a stone must be added to its walls, not an inch to its size, if my feelings are regarded.”
“Do not be alarmed,” said Miss Dashwood, “nothing of the kind will be done; for my mother will never have money enough to attempt it.”
“I am heartily glad of it,” he cried. “May she always be poor, if she can employ her riches no better.”
“Thank you, Willoughby. But you may be assured that I would not sacrifice one sentiment of local attachment of yours, or of any one whom I loved, for all the improvements in the world. Depend upon it that whatever unemployed sum may remain, when I make up my accounts in the spring, I would even rather lay it uselessly by than dispose of it in a manner so painful to you. But are you really so attached to this place as to see no defect in it?”
“I am,” said he. “To me it is faultless. Nay, more, I consider it as the only form of building in which happiness is attainable, and were I rich enough I would instantly pull Combe down, and build it up again in the exact plan of this cottage.”
“With dark narrow stairs and a kitchen that smokes, I suppose,” said Elinor.
“Yes,” cried he in the same eager tone, “with all and everything belonging to it—in no one convenience or inconvenience about it, should the least variation be perceptible. Then, and then only, under such a roof, I might perhaps be as happy at Combe as I have been at Barton.”
“I flatter myself,” replied Elinor, “that even under the disadvantage of better rooms and a broader staircase, you will hereafter find your own house as faultless as you now do this.”
“There certainly are circumstances,” said Willoughby, “which might greatly endear it to me; but this place will always have one claim of my affection, which no other can possibly share.”
Mrs. Dashwood looked with pleasure at Marianne, whose fine eyes were fixed so expressively on Willoughby, as plainly denoted how well she understood him.
“How often did I wish,” added he, “when I was at Allenham this time twelvemonth, that Barton cottage were inhabited! I never passed within view of it without admiring its situation, and grieving that no one should live in it. How little did I then think that the very first news I should hear from Mrs. Smith, when I next came into the country, would be that Barton cottage was taken: and I felt an immediate satisfaction and interest in the event, which nothing but a kind of prescience of what happiness I should experience from it, can account for. Must it not have been so, Marianne?” speaking to her in a lowered voice. Then continuing his former tone, he said, “And yet this house you would spoil, Mrs. Dashwood? You would rob it of its simplicity by imaginary improvement! and this dear parlour in which our acquaintance first began, and in which so many happy hours have been since spent by us together, you would degrade to the condition of a common entrance, and every body would be eager to pass through the room which has hitherto contained within itself more real accommodation and comfort than any other apartment of the handsomest dimensions in the world could possibly afford.”
Mrs. Dashwood again assured him that no alteration of the kind should be attempted.
“You are a good woman,” he warmly replied. “Your promise makes me easy. Extend it a little farther, and it will make me happy. Tell me that not only your house will remain the same, but that I shall ever find you and yours as unchanged as your dwelling; and that you will always consider me with the kindness which has made everything belonging to you so dear to me.”
The promise was readily given, and Willoughby’s behaviour during the whole of the evening declared at once his affection and happiness.
“Shall we see you tomorrow to dinner?” said Mrs. Dashwood, when he was leaving them. “I do not ask you to come in the morning, for we must walk to the park, to call on Lady Middleton.”
He engaged to be with them by four o’clock.
Mrs. Dashwood is discussing those updates and rehabs she wants to do to the cottage, but Willoughby is absolutely against it, and Elinor throws water on the whole idea by reminding her mother that she won’t have the money to do anything. Willoughby continues insisting that the cottage is practically perfect in every way and that if he could afford to tear down his own house, he would rebuild it exactly like Barton Cottage. Exaggerating as usual. While Elinor sensibly and sarcastically points out the dark stairway and a smoky kitchen, which were both common problems in smaller, older houses. But that just makes Willoughby double down on his statement and he insists that he is happier at Barton Cottage than at Combe.
Elinor of course says that she doesn’t believe him, and that even though his house has wider stairs and a chimney that doesn’t smoke, he’ll likely be happier at Combe than at Barton Cottge.
And Willoughby answers that there are some circumstances that could make Combe more pleasing to him, but that Barton will always have one claim on his affection that no other place has.
And this is interesting, he explains that when visited Mrs. Smith last year, he had wished the cottage were inhabited. He says that when he returned this year and Mrs. Smith told him that the cottage was rented, Willoughby says he felt “immediate satisfaction and interest…which nothing but a kind of prescience of what happiness I should experience from it, can account for. Must it not have been so, Marianne?”
By using words like prescience, which means knowing something before it happens, or foreknowledge, Willoughby is displaying the same kind of sensibility that Marianne would. His senses tell him that he will experience happiness via the cottage, before he knows anything about the renters. Now, is he saying this because he’s a believer in sensibility or because he knows Marianne appreciates this type of thought?
I think it’s a mix of both, I think Willoughby does have a vein of the romantic sensibility in his character, but he also calculates that it’s exactly what Marianne likes to hear.
And of course it works on Marianne. Her eyes are fixed on him, and Mrs. D notes this when he subtly says without saying that Combe would be perfect if Marianne were his wife and lived at Combe with him. But this as is obvious as he can be, because neither he nor Marianne have said anything about marriage yet, as far as Mrs. D and Elinor know.
And of course, Mrs. D, being the indulgent woman with a dash of sensibility herself, promises Willoughby that not a stone will be turned at Barton.
Then Willoughby demands, so politely and warmly, that Mrs. D and her daughters remain at the cottage always. Now this is funny, because the only way Combe could be better than Barton was if Marianne was at Combe, but Willoughby just asked that the Dashwoods stay at Barton for the rest of their lives…Which is it Willoughby? And do you really want Elinor and Margaret to stay there forever becoming old spinsters with their widowed mother? He’s being a little ridiculous and a little selfish.
He’s displaying a potential a negligence of other people’s comfort and feelings in favor of his own comfort and ease. He both wants Marianne as his wife, and for her to stay a maiden at Barton Cottage forever.
But both Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne only see his interest in Marianne, not his self-interest.
Anyways, Willoughby promises that he’ll be at the cottage for dinner tomorrow. And that’s the end of the chapter and where we will end for today.
Thank you for listening to Ents and Sensibility. This episode was written and edited by me, Casey Meserve.
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