22/10/2018

The Mysteries Of London: Volume I (Part 1)

 

    Amongst these cities there is one in which contrasts of a strange nature exist. The most unbounded wealth is the neighbour of the most hideous poverty; the most gorgeous pomp is placed in strong relief by the most deplorable squalor; the most seducing luxury is only separated by a narrow wall from the most appalling misery.
    The crumbs which fall from the tables of the rich would appear delicious viands to starving millions; and yet those millions obtain them not!
    In that city there are in all districts five prominent buildings: the church, in which the pious pray; the gin-palace, to which the wretched poor resort to drown their sorrows; the pawn-broker’s, where miserable creatures pledge their raiment, and their children’s raiment, even unto the last rag, to obtain the means of purchasing food, and – alas! too often – intoxicating drink; the prison, where the victims of a vitiated condition of society expiate the crimes to which they have been driven by starvation and despair; and the workhouse, to which the destitute, the aged, and the friendless hasten to lay down their aching heads—and die!

 

 

 

 

It is hard to know where to begin with George Reynolds’ monumental penny-dreadful, The Mysteries Of London—which is one reason why, after introducing Reynolds at this blog, it’s taken me so long to get around to actually considering his writing.

Even a consideration of Volume I alone is daunting—not least because it runs some 1200 pages. Furthermore, it ends, not with any attempt to wrap up any of its numerous co-plots, but a simple promise of more of the same: a promise that Reynolds kept. Volume I is a compilation of the first 52 weekly installments of his serial, which ran from 1844 into 1845; and, having drawn a line at that point, Reynolds did it all over again from 1845 into 1846.

Consequently, a standard review is impossible (even a ‘standard review’ as long as mine usually are). Instead, what I am going to try and do is just give an overview of this first volume of The Mysteries Of London: to take a look, in this first part, at Reynolds’ approach to his writing and what he was trying to achieve—and in particular how this work stands apart from the literature of its time. (Some lengthy quotes to follow—perhaps over-lengthy, but I think it does Reynolds the best justice to let him speak for himself.) A second part will consider his characters and plot.

It can be difficult today to conceptualise the contemporary popularity of The Mysteries Of London—which was in all likelihood the best-selling book of its time. The sales figures for the weekly numbers were always high, but we must think in multiples when trying to estimate how many people were actually following the story. Many copies were bought by mechanics’ institutes, and other such communal organisations, where a single issue would be read by multiple individuals. Other single copies were read out loud in a variety of gathering places—both to save costs, and because in spite of rising literacy levels among the working-class, many among Reynolds’ potential audience could not read.

But we would be very wrong to assume that only the working-classes enjoyed Reynolds—whether or not some of the people reading his books admitted it to anyone else. When Reynolds’ publisher, George Vickers, reissued The Mysteries Of London in book form, it sold over a million copies; and while Vickers sensibly kept most of his editions at accessible prices, he also released high-quality, leather-bound sets that were very definitely not aimed at working-class readers.

However, Reynolds’ subject matter, his approach to his material, and his personal unpopularity with “the establishment” for his political agitation, saw his work buried after his death in 1879. The critical condemnation of his books as “vile” and “dangerous” was allowed to prevail; and it is only very recently that Reynolds’ reputation has been revived—and, more importantly, his books reissued.

One the things that struck me immediately about The Mysteries Of London was the extent of Reynolds’ influence upon Mary Elizabeth Braddon, whose own penny-dreadfuls began appearing some fifteen years later. Braddon is certainly the superior writer of the two, displaying better control of her material, much more lightness of touch, and a more subtle sense of humour—but we must remember that, despite her pointed social criticisms, Braddon was writing chiefly to entertain and to earn a living; whereas Reynolds was a committed social agitator using his works as an overt attack upon the numerous injustices prevailing in contemporary England. Not surprisingly, then, he favours a declamatory, tub-thumping style, with copious use of exclamation marks; while his humour tends more to the overtly sarcastic than the ironic.

Humour is not a dominant factor in The Mysteries Of London, however. More typical is a tone of outrage—for example, in this passage dealing with working-class wages:

    “Madam,” said Ellen, bursting into tears, “I have worked nearly seventeen hours at that shawl—”
    She could say no more: her voice was lost in sobs.
    “Come, come,” cried the shopwoman harshly,—“no whimpering here! Take up your money, if you like it—and if you don’t, leave it. Only decide one way or another, and make haste!”
    Ellen took up the sixpence, wiped her eyes, and hastily turned to leave the shop.
    “Do you not want any more work?” demanded the shopwoman abruptly.
    The fact was that the poor girl worked well, and did not “shirk” labour; and the woman knew that it was the interest of her master to retain that young creature’s services.
    Those words, “Do you not want any more work?” reminded Ellen that she and her father must live—that they could not starve! She accordingly turned towards that uncouth female once more, and received another shawl, to embroider in the same     manner, and at the same price!
    Eighty blossoms for sixpence!
    Sixteen hours’ work for sixpence!
    A farthing and a half per hour!!!

In fact—you could justly describe The Mysteries Of London as an attack upon “the 1%”. From its earliest passages, Reynolds draws graphic and repeated contrasts between the obscene wealth of the upper classes, and the even more obscene poverty of the lowest—and the indifference of the one to the other. He makes his agenda perfectly clear at the outset, in a passage striking when put in the context of mid-Victorian literature:

    For in this city the daughter of the peer is nursed in enjoyments, and passes through an uninterrupted avenue of felicity from the cradle to the tomb; while the daughter of poverty opens her eyes at her birth upon destitution in all its most appalling shapes, and at length sells her virtue for a loaf of bread.
    There are but two words known in the moral alphabet of this great city; for all virtues are summed up in the one, and all vices in the other: and those words are:

    WEALTH. | POVERTY.

In 1845 the German philosopher, Fredric Engels, published (translated) The Condition of the Working Class in England, which in turn was a significant influence on Benjamin Disraeli’s “social condition” novel of the same year, Sybil; or, The Two Nations. Disraeli’s subtitle entered the vernacular, while a certain passage in the novel was much quoted in public debate:

    “Well, society may be in its infancy,” said Egremont slightly smiling; “but, say what you like, our Queen reigns over the greatest nation that ever existed.”
    “Which nation?” asked the younger stranger, “for she reigns over two.”
    The stranger paused; Egremont was silent, but looked inquiringly.
    “Yes,” resumed the younger stranger after a moment’s interval. “Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.”
    “You speak of—” said Egremont, hesitatingly.
    “THE RICH AND THE POOR.”

Reynolds was there before him, however. And frankly, the idea that future Prime Minister Disraeli was plagiarising despised radical George Reynolds delights me quite as much as it infuriates me.

Reynolds’ overarching mantra in The Mysteries Of London is that the main cause of crime is poverty. Even his very worst and most unrepentant criminals are generally given the chance to tell their life-stories, which almost invariably begin with that individual’s attempts to live honestly, and to earn an honest living—and how that proved impossible, usually thanks to the “nice” people. And while the narrative itself expresses a conventional religious view, there is a constant, sneering depiction of religious hypocrisy, and of the actual behaviour of those who preen themselves upon being Christians in a Christian nation. The brutal treatment of those who have strayed from the path, whether criminally or sexually, by those in comfortable circumstances – the practical uselessness of repentance, once a false step has been taken – is one of Reynolds’ recurrent themes.

Another is the unavoidable impact of squalor and deprivation upon the physical, mental and moral wellbeing of those forced by poverty to live under such conditions:

    The wealthy classes of society are far too ready to reproach the miserable poor for things which are really misfortunes and not faults. The habit of whole families sleeping together in one room destroys all sense of shame in the daughters: and what guardian then remains for their virtue? But, alas! a horrible—an odious crime often results from that poverty which thus huddles brothers and sisters, aunts and nephews, all together in one narrow room—the crime of incest!
    When a disease – such as the small-pox or scarlatina – breaks out in one of those crowded houses, and in a densely populated neighbourhood; the consequences are frightful: the mortality is as rapid as that which follows the footsteps of the plague!
    These are the fearful mysteries of that hideous district which exists in the very heart of this great metropolis. From St. John-street to Saffron Hill—from West-street to Clerkenwell Green, is a maze of’ narrow lanes, choked up with dirt, pestiferous with nauseous odours, and swarming with a population that is born, lives, and dies, amidst squalor, penury, wretchedness, and crime…

Many passages in The Mysteries Of London either mock at or rail against government institutions, which are shown as corrupt and venal, run by the rich for the rich. In particular Reynolds attacks the Poor Laws, and the horrors of the workhouse—highlighting the starvation conditions and the brutal separation of husbands and wives, parents and children. All this was done intentionally, of course, to dissuade the poor from seeking this dubious refuge; but instead of “getting a job”, as the architects of the system smugly asserted they would, countless thousands, unable to find either work or relief, died in miserable poverty:

    Alas! that New Year’s Day was one of strange contrasts in the social sphere of London.
    And as London is the heart of this empire, the disease which prevails in the core is conveyed through every vein and artery over the entire national frame.
    The country that contains the greatest wealth of all the territories of the universe, is that which also knows the greatest amount of hideous, revolting, heart-rending misery.
    In England men and women die of starvation in the streets
    In England women murder their children to save them from a lingering death by famine.
    In England the poor commit crimes to obtain an asylum in a gaol.
    In England aged females die by their own hands, in order to avoid the workhouse…

Another significant subplot involves what Reynolds calls “the Black Chamber of the General Post-Office”, a secret department whose job is to open any letters that look like they might be important, extract any information, political or financial, that might be of use to the government, and then close the letters so that the invasion of privacy might not be detected:

    Oh! vile—despicable occupation,—performed, too, by men who went forth, with heads erect and confident demeanour, from their atrocious employment—after having violated those secrets which are deemed most sacred, and broken the seals which merchants, lovers, parents, relations, and friends had placed upon their thoughts!
    Base and diabolical outrage—perpetrated by the commands of the Ministers of the Sovereign!

(This subplot is an exaggerated version of a real scandal, in which it was revealed that correspondence directed to an Italian refugee in London had been opened under a government warrant, and the contents transmitted to the Court of Naples—resulting in summary killing of several would-be revolutionaries. The incident ruined the career of then-Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, who to that point had been responsible for several important reforms, but afterwards, as he put it himself, was only, “Remembered as the man who opened the letters of the Italians.”)

Likewise, Reynolds constantly ridicules the idea that everyone is equal under the law. The text is peppered with incidents involving corrupt and/or incompetent policemen, and magistrates and judges going out of their way to exonerate the rich and brutalise the poor. These scenes are not exactly subtle, but they have their effect. On one hand—

    The harmony was disturbed by the entrance of a constable dragging in a poor ragged, half-starved, and emaciated lad, without shoes or stockings.
    “What’s the charge?” demanded the inspector.
    “A rogue and vagabond,” answered the constable.
    “Oh! very well: put that down, Crisp. How do you know?”
    “Because he’s wandering about and hasn’t nowhere to go to, and no friends to refer to; and I saw him begging.”
    “Very good; put that down, Crisp. And I suppose he’s without food and hungry?”
    “I have not tasted food—” began the poor wretch who stood shivering at the bar.
    “Come, no lies,” ejaculated the inspector. “No lies!” echoed the constable, giving the poor wretch a tremendous shake.
    “Have you put it all down, Crisp?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Well, let him have a bit of bread, and lock him up. He’ll get three months of it on the stepper to-morrow.”
    The poor creature was supplied with a cubic inch of stale bread, and then thrust into a filthy cell.
    “What do you think that unfortunate creature will be done to?” enquired Markham
    “Three months on the stepper—the treadmill, to be sure.”
    “But what for?”
    “Why, for a rogue and vagabond.”
    “A vagabond he may be,” said Markham, “because he has no home to go to; but how do you know he is a rogue?”
    “Why—he was found begging, wasn’t he?”
    “And does that make a man a rogue?”
    “Certainly it do—in the eye of the law.”

And on the other—

    A constable then stood forward, and stated the charge. The prisoner at the bar had turned out of a flash tavern in the Haymarket at one in the morning, and commenced crowing like a cock, and ringing at front-door bells, and playing all imaginable kinds of antics. When the constable interfered, the gentleman knocked him down; and had not another policeman come up to the spot at the moment, the said gentleman never would have been taken into custody.
    The Magistrate cross-questioned the policeman who gave evidence in this case, with great severity; and then, turning with a bland smile to the prisoner, who was surveying the clerk through his eye glass in as independent a manner as if he were lounging over the front of his box at the opera, the worthy functionary said in a tone of gentle entreaty, “Now really we have reason to suspect that John Jenkins is not your name. In fact, my lord, we know you.”
    “Well, then,” exclaimed the prisoner, turning his eye-glass from the clerk upon the magistrate, “chalk me up as Lord Plymouth, since you are down upon me in this way.”
    “My lord—my lord,” said the Magistrate, with parental urbanity of manner, “these little freaks of yours are really not creditable: upon my honour they are not. I sit here to administer justice to the rich as well as to the poor—”
    “Oh! you do, do you ?” cried the nobleman. “Now I tell you what it is—if you dare talk any of your nonsense about prisons and houses of correction to me. I’ll not stand it. You know as well as I do that whenever a barrister is to be appointed magistrate, the Home Secretary sends for him and tells him to mind his P’s and Q’s towards the aristocracy. So none of your nonsense; but be quick and let me off with the usual fine.”
    “My lord,” ejaculated the Magistrate, glancing with consternation from the prisoner to the clerk, and from the clerk to the prisoner; “did I not say that I sate here to administer equal justice to the rich and the poor? The fine for drunkenness is five shillings, my lord—and in that sum I fine you. As for the assault upon the policeman, I give you leave to speak to him outside.”
    The nobleman demanded change for a ten pound note, and threw the five shillings in a contemptuous and insolent manner towards the clerk, who thanked his lordship as if he had just received an especial favour. The assault was easily settled outside…

But whatever Reynolds’ views upon the causes of crime, his narrative positively wallows in its effects. Much of The Mysteries Of London is set amongst the lowest of the low, and in the worst and most dangerous corners of London. Crimes of all sorts are plotted and committed—and described to the reader in detail. Professional criminals rank amongst the novel’s most prominent characters—one in particular:

    “And, in return,” he added, after a moment’s pause, “if I can ever do you a service, outside or in, you may reckon upon the Resurrection Man.”
    “The Resurrection Man!” ejaculated Richard, appalled, in spite of himself, at this ominous title.
    “Yes—that’s my name and profession,” said the man. “My godfathers and godmothers called me Anthony, and my parents had previously blessed me with the honourable appellation of Tidkins: so you may know me as Anthony Tidkins, the Resurrection Man.”
    “And are you really—” began Richard, with a partial shudder; “are you really a—”
    “A body-snatcher ?” cried Anthony; “of course I am—when there’s any work to be done; and when there isn’t, then I do a little in another line…”

The relationship between Richard Markham and the Resurrection Man is something I will return to in Part 2; here I will merely note that, though Richard is effectively the hero of The Mysteries Of London, and the Resurrection Man one of its main villains, this does not prevent Reynolds on occasion from—not siding with the latter, but doing him sufficient justice. Typical is this pointed exchange, when Richard finds the Resurrection Man in the vicinity of the house of the girl he loves. His unguarded protest is something he will later be made to regret:

    “Wretch! what do you mean to do?” ejaculated Richard, hurrying after him and detaining him by the arm: “you do not know that that abode is sacred—that it is the residence of probity, innocence, and honour—that if you were to breathe a hint who and what you are, you would be spurned from the door?”
    “Ah! I am accustomed to that in this Christian land—in this land of Bibles and Missionary Societies,” said the Resurrection Man, bitterly…

And this emphasis upon life amongst the lowest and most despised of society leads me to highlight what eventually struck me as the single most remarkable thing about The Mysteries Of London: the near absence of the middle-class.

So much of Victorian literature is for and about the middle-classes that this gulf in The Mysteries Of London is startling. This in itself is a commentary upon the nature of contemporary society: middle-class people might have been allured by tales of upward mobility through socially acceptable behaviour, but the poor knew very well that such aspirations were not for the likes of them; and Reynolds knew it, too—as he knew that his readers were more interested in (or at least, titillated by) tales of misbehaviour amongst the aristocracy. So while there is a scattering of middle-class characters in the story – among them Richard Markham – they all suffer either personal or financial ruin, and so end up excluded from their natural social sphere.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the narrative is split between the very highest and the very lowest levels of English society; and rather than bothering with the usual end-of-novel rewards, such as marriage and domesticity, Reynolds instead indulges his readers with a series of absurd wish-fulfillment fantasies, in which the most unlikely people are elevated to the most improbable heights.

Another really striking aspect of The Mysteries Of London is Reynolds’ relentless insistence upon smell. This is something that was completely anathema in polite society at the time, an attitude reflected in mainstream literature. Yet this was a convention that ran counter to the ugly reality of the mid-19th century. Even in the “nice” sections of London, there was no proper closed sewage system until the 1860s—and no real thought of one until the means of transmission of cholera was determined in the 1850s. Even then the government didn’t want to pay for the necessary work—not until what became known as “The Great Stink” of 1858, when a combination of an unusually hot summer and the untreated waste that clogged the Thames persuaded the powers-that-be of its necessity.

Nevertheless, you’ll look in vain in the literature of the time for any reference to, or even just acknowledgement of, the Stink. Literally—It Just Wasn’t Done; and this taboo persisted into the 20th century. It has been suggested that, as late as 1890, part of the virulent critical reaction to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray stemmed from the text’s emphasis upon odours—even though these, for the most part, are pleasant ones.

There’s nothing pleasant about the equivalent descriptions in The Mysteries Of London, however. On the contrary, Reynolds provides a series of revoltingly graphic descriptions of rubbish rotting in the streets, open sewers, slaughterhouses, and other such delights—reminding us over and over that countless people were forced to live and work in such conditions.

Most shocking of all, however, are the numerous scenes describing bodily decomposition. No doubt most of what Reynolds describes here was another sickening reality of life amongst the London poor—for instance, those forced to live near an overcrowded cemetery:

    The soil was damp; and a nauseous odour, emanating from it, impregnated the air. When the sun lay for several days upon the place, even in the depth of winter,—and invariably throughout the summer,—the stench was so intolerable that not a dwelling in the neighbourhood was seen with a window open. Nevertheless, that sickly, fetid odour penetrated into every house, and every room, and every inhabited nook or corner, in that vicinity; and the clothes of the poor inmates smelt, and their food tasted, of the damp grave!
    The cemetery was crowded with the remains of mortality. The proprietors of the ground had only one aim in view—namely, to crowd the greatest possible quantity of corpses into the smallest space. But even this economy of room did not prevent the place from being so filled with the dead, that in a given quantity of the soil it was difficult to say whether earth or decayed human remains predominated. Still the cemetery was kept open for interments; and when there was no room for a newcomer, some recently-buried tenant of a grave was exhumed to afford the required space.

—but nevertheless there is a definite sense of gratuitousness in the way he dwells upon the subject, in the body-snatching scenes in particular, but also in the way he continues his description of the operation of the cemetery:

    Baring his brawny arms to the very shoulders, he now set himself vigorously to work to dig the grave which was to receive a new-comer that after-noon.
    Throwing the earth up on either side, he had digged to a depth of about two feet, when his spade encountered a coffin. He immediately took his pickaxe, broke the coffin to pieces, and then separated with his shovel the pieces of wood and the human bones from the damp earth. The coffin was already so soft with decay that the iron rod had penetrated through it without much difficulty; and it therefore required but little exertion to break it up altogether.
    But the odour which came from the grave was now of the most nauseating kind – fetid, sickly, pestiferous – making the atmosphere heavy, and the human breath thick and clammy, as it were – and causing even that experienced grave-digger to retch as if he were about to vomit.
    Leaping from the grave, he began to busy himself in conveying the pieces of the broken coffin and the putrid remains of mortality into the Bone-House. where he heaped them pell-mell upon the fire.
    The flesh had not completely decayed all away from the bones; a thick, black, fatty-looking substance still covered those human relics; and the fire was thus fed with a material which made the flames roar and play half up the chimney.
    And from the summit of that chimney came a smoke-thick, dense, and dark, like the smoke of a gasometer or a manufactory, but bearing on its sable wing the odour of a pestilence…

And the third really shocking aspect of The Mysteries Of London is – surprise! – its attitude to sex.

It is difficult to describe Reynolds’ approach to this touchy topic. Overtly, his narrative plays out within a framework of conventional religion and morality, and this applies to his female characters: at one extreme his heroine is a perfect angel, and at the other his women criminals are much more depraved and vicious than his men. So far, so familiar.

Almost at once, however, we get a sense of a split-vision; of lip-service. There are “fallen women” aplenty in The Mysteries Of London, and although Reynolds classes a few of them amongst his “depraved criminals”, most of them are presented as victims and treated with sympathy—and sometimes more than that.

There are many passing references to young women being forced to sell themselves to stay alive, or being seduced and abandoned. That too is in its way familiar. Where Reynolds surprises us is giving us not one, but several, such women among his main characters—each one with different circumstances and motivations, but all – or almost all – treated with dignity and an almost matter-of-fact acceptance of their situation, at least once you wave away the smokescreen of, “Tut, tut!” One of them, indeed, can almost be considered this novel’s heroine!

I will deal with Ellen Monroe’s subplot in detail in Part 2, rather than here; but two other of Reynolds’ transgressing women are worth considering in this context. One is Diana Arlington, known as “Mrs Arlington”, though she has never been married. She is originally the victim of the man to whom she thought she was to be married, but after her father is financially ruined (by him, as it turns out), he stops meaning marriage. When her father dies and she is left destitute, she has little choice but to become her once-fiancé’s mistress. In time he gets bored with the arrangement, and hands Diana off to an acquaintance of his, a Sir Rupert Harborough. She doesn’t care for him at all, but tries to feel grateful for his generosity. However, her progressive discovery of Sir Rupert’s dishonesty and, finally, criminal behaviour disgusts her, and she decides to separate from him and – accepting that while she’d like to be “an honest woman” again, there’s really no way back – find another keeper.

She has no shortage of men to choose from—and her doing so is presented to us with extraordinary facetiousness:

    Diana hastened to unlock an elegant rosewood writing-desk, edged with silver; and from a secret drawer she took several letters – or rather notes – written upon paper of different colours. Upon the various envelopes were seals impressed with armorial bearings, some of which were surrounded by coronets. She glanced over each in a cursory manner, which showed she was already tolerably familiar with their contents. The greater portion she tossed contemptuously into the fire;—a few she placed one upon the other, quite in a business-like way, upon the table.
    When she had gone through the entire file, she again directed her attention to those which she had reserved; and as she perused them one after the other, she mused in the following manner:—
    “Count de Lestranges is brilliant in his offers, and immensely rich—no doubt; but he is detestably conceited, and would think more of himself than of his mistress. His appeal must be rejected;” and she threw the French nobleman’s perfumed epistle into the fire.
    “This,” she continued, taking up another, “is from Lord Templeton. Five thousand a-year is certainly handsome; but then he himself is so old and ugly! Away with this suitor at once.” The English Peer’s billet-doux followed that of the French Count.
    “Here is a beautiful specimen of calligraphy,” resumed Diana, taking up a third letter; “but all the sentiments are copied, word for word, out of the love-scenes in Anne Radcliffe’s romances. Never was such gross plagiarism! He merits the punishment I thus inflict upon him;—and her plump white hand crushed the epistle ere she threw it into the fire.
    “But what have we here? Oh! the German baron’s killing address—interspersed with remarks upon the philosophy of love. Ah! my lord, love was not made for philosophers—and philosophers are incapable of love; so we will have none of you.”
    Another offering to the fire.
    “Here is the burning address of the Greek attaché with a hard name. It is prettily written;—but who could possibly enter upon terms with an individual of the name of Thesaurochrysonichochrysides?”
    To the flames went the Greek lover’s note also.
    “Ah! this seems as if it were to be the successful candidate,” said Diana, carefully perusing the last remaining letter. “It is written upon a plain sheet of white paper, and without scent. But then the style—how manly! Yes—decidedly, the Earl of Warrington has gained the prize. He is rich—unmarried—handsome—and still in the prime of life! There is no room for hesitation.”

So she doesn’t: she writes, offering herself; he accepts, and sets her up in a luxurious house. And perhaps most extraordinary of all, their subsequent connection is presented almost as a quasi-marriage—two people comfortable together and glad of each other’s company—though Reynolds daringly insists that neither is in love with the other.

Eventually the relationship comes to grief, due to the Earl’s thin-skin and pride; and Diana meets a grim fate that, in another context, would certainly be a case of cosmic punishment—but which here just doesn’t read like that. Before this, Diana is one of the characters who is indisputably on the side of right, waging an anonymous battle against the ongoing depredations of her original seducer, and becoming bosom friends with another of the novel’s prominent female characters, Eliza Sydney, who despite knowing all about Diana, begs to be allowed to call her “sister”—something, by the way, that our hero, Richard Markham, also insists upon.

But Reynolds’ greatest daring is in the character of Cecilia Harborough—a serial adultress because she likes sex.

She REALLY likes sex.

The fact that such a character was conceived and written in 1844 is mind-boggling. There were other serial adultresses in Victorian literature, sure, but it was always about the money; here, Reynolds makes it hilariously clear that, while Cecilia certainly likes money, there’s something else she likes even more. In an era in which some men were desperately trying to convince society at large that women lacked the capacity to enjoy sex, Cecilia is not only unprecedented, but would remain unparalleled for many decades to follow.

Amusingly in retrospect, when we first meet her, Cecilia is presented as one of the novel’s “victims”: she is seduced by Sir Rupert Harborough and impregnated, and marries him after her parents agree to pay Sir Rupert’s outrageous demands. The marriage is miserable, of course, chiefly because the money dries up. Sir Rupert embarks upon a series of criminal enterprises to retrieve his fortune, while Cecilia becomes the mistress of one George Greenwood—in exchange for his retrieval of her diamonds, which Sir Rupert stole and pawned. When Greenwood gets bored and moves on, Cecilia finds a rich, handsome Guardsman to replace him—and Reynolds has the audacity to write an overt sex-farce scene, in which both Sir Rupert and Cecilia try to sneak their respective lovers out of the house at the same time, all four bumping into one another in the vestibule.

But it is what comes next that takes the reader’s breath away, as Cecilia sets her sights on a minister, who is celebrated for his eloquence, his devotion—and his chastity. In (literally) Cecilia’s experienced hands, Reginald Tracy has no chance. Afterwards, wracked with guilt and religious terror, he tries to tear himself away from her, but Cecilia isn’t having any of that; and when he won’t approach her voluntarily, she finds a way of bringing him back to her.

An old woman approaches Tracy with a story of a poor sculptor and a remarkable stature, for which he wishes to find a purchaser. Tracy agrees to see it—and finds it somewhat…familiar:

    In somewhat bold relief, against the dark wall, stood the object of his interest,—seeming a beautiful model of a female form, the colouring of which was that of life. It was naked to the middle; the arms were gracefully rounded; and one hand sustained the falling drapery which, being also coloured, produced upon the mind of the beholder the effect of real garments.
    Lost in wonder at the success with which the sculptor had performed his work,—and experiencing feelings of a soft and voluptuous nature,—Reginald drew closer to the statue. At that moment the light of the fire played upon its countenance; and it seemed to him as if the lips moved with a faint smile. Then, how was his surprise increased, when the conviction flashed to his mind that the face he was gazing upon was well known to him!
    “O Cecilia, Cecilia!” he ejaculated aloud: “hast thou sent thy statue hither to compel me to fall at its feet and worship the senseless stone, while thou—the sweet original—art elsewhere, speculating perhaps upon the emotions which this phantasmagorian sport was calculated to conjure up within me! Ah! Cecilia, if thou wast resolved to subdue me once more—if thou couldst not rest until I became thy slave again,—oh! why not have invited me to meet thine own sweet self, instead of this speechless, motionless, passionless image,—a counterpart of thee only in external loveliness! Yes—there it is perfect:—the hair—the brow—the eyes—the mouth— Heavens! those lips seem to smile once more; those eyes sparkle with real fire! Cecilia—Cecilia—”
    And Reginald Tracy was afraid—he scarcely knew wherefore: the entire adventure of the evening appeared to be a dream.
    “Yes—yes!” he suddenly exclaimed, after having steadfastly contemplated the form before him for some moments,—standing at a distance of only three or four paces,—afraid to advance nearer, unwilling to retreat altogether,—“yes!” he exclaimed, “there is something more than mere senseless marble here! The eyes shoot fire—the lips smile—the bosom heaves— Oh! Cecilia—Cecilia, it is yourself!”
    As he spoke he rushed forward: the statue burst from chill marble into warmth and life;—it was indeed the beauteous but wily Cecilia—who returned his embrace and hung around his neck;—and the rector was again subdued—again enslaved!

And afterwards—

    The barrier was now completely broken down; and the rector gave way to the violence of the passion which hurried him along.
    That man, so full of vigour, and in the prime at his physical strength, abandoned himself without restraint to the fury of those desires which burnt the more madly—the more wildly, from having been so long pent-up.
    Day after day did he meet his guilty paramour; and on each occasion did he reflect less upon the necessity of caution. He passed hours and hours together with her at her abode; and at length he ventured to receive her at his own residence, when his housekeeper bad retired to rest.
    But he did not neglect his professional duties on the Sabbath;—and he now became an accomplished hypocrite. He ascended the pulpit as usual, and charmed thousands with his discourse as heretofore. Indeed his eloquence improved, for the simulated earnestness which displaced the tone of heart-felt conviction that he had once experienced, seemed more impassioned, and was more impressive than the natural ebullition of his feelings.
    Thus as be progressed in the ways of vice, his reputation increased in sanctity…

But while he’s busy exposing everyone else’s sexual peccadilloes, Reynolds also gives away a couple of fetishes of his own. First of all, he clearly had a thing about women in drag—and finds several excuses for cross-dressing scenes. Most significantly, the novel opens with a young man getting lost in the wilds of London during a violent storm, and undergoing a terrifying, near-fatal adventure after accidentally taking refuge in a thieves’ den. This “young man” is later revealed as the aforementioned Eliza Sydney, who (for complicated reasons I won’t go into here) is carrying out an extended impersonation of her own dead brother, Walter. Meanwhile, when Ellen Monroe becomes convinced that Richard Markham is walking into a trap set for him by the Resurrection Man, she disguises herself in men’s clothes and arms herself with pistols, in order to go to his aid.

But above all else—George Reynolds was a breast-man: he proves quite incapable of describing an attractive woman without telling us everything we might have wanted to know about the size and shape of her breasts. On several occasions this is entirely inappropriate—for instance, even when the point is that an unmarried woman has borne an illegitimate baby, Reynolds can’t help observing how much bigger her breasts are as a consequence. This, meanwhile, is a description of what Ellen Monroe conceals under her men’s clothes:

Those swelling globes of snow, each adorned as with a delicate rose-bud, needed no support to maintain them in their full and natural rotundity…

Even Queen Victoria is not exempt!—

At that time Victoria was yet a virgin-queen. If not strictly beautiful, her countenance was very pleasing. Her light brown hair was worn quite plain; her blue eyes were animated with intellect; and when she smiled, her lips revealed a set of teeth white as Oriental pearls. Her bust was magnificent…

And speaking of Victoria— Though the monarchy was one of the infinite number of British institutions of which Reynolds disapproved, he mostly* lays off it in The Mysteries Of London (unlike some of his later works, as we shall see)—putting it to a most unexpected alternative use.

(*Mostly: there is still a suggestion that George III’s mental illness was hereditary and transmitted to his descendants, another that George’s alleged morganatic marriage to Hannah Lightfoot meant that the entire royal family was illegitimate, and a third that the marriage produced “issue”. And yes: for Reynolds, that is “laying off”.)

I have said that Reynolds resorts to absurd wish-fulfillment fantasies in this novel: the most interesting of these involves a plot concocted by the Resurrection Man, his colleague, Tom the Cracksman, and an urchin called Henry Holford, to rob Buckingham Palace. The boy is sent in as a scout and, penetrating security with embarrassing ease, spends several days concealed within the palace—gorging on stolen food, gawping at its various luxuries, and above all spying and eavesdropping from his favourite vantage point of beneath the Royal Sofa. As it happens, Henry’s unofficial visit coincides with the official one of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, so there is much for him to spy upon. Long passages describing the glories of the palace and the (visual) splendour of the nobility follow.

Reynolds, as we have seen, could be vicious in his attacks, but in this case – to mix a metaphor – he sheathes his sword and keeps his tongue in his cheek—offering an outrageous moment in which Henry not only sits on Victoria’s sofa, but dares to occupy the same space as the Royal Buttocks:

Holford emerged from beneath the sofa, and seated himself upon it. He was proud to think that he now occupied the place where royalty had so lately been…now in a palace, and seated upon the very cushion which a few hours previously had been pressed by royalty…

Reynolds follows this up with a typical bit of nose-thumbing—having his scruffy urchin, a mere “pot-boy”, invade the throne-room itself:

    At length he reached the Throne Room. The imperial seat itself was covered over with a velvet cloth, to protect it against the dust. Holford removed the cloth; and the splendours of the throne were revealed to him.
    He hesitated for a moment: he felt as if he were committing a species of sacrilege;—then triumphing over this feeling – a feeling which had appeared like a remorse – he ascended the steps of the throne;—he placed himself in the seat of England’s monarch.
    Had the sceptre been there he would have grasped it;—had the crown been within his reach, he would have placed it upon his head!

 

[To be continued…]

 

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30/09/2018

Enough is enough!

I took what I considered a well-earned break after dealing with a number of the relevant documents identified during my most recent return to the Chronobibliography. Now it seems that I accidentally chose just the right place to do it. A quick sweep of the remaining ones, meant to organise them into the proper historical and in-fighting order, reveals that they are actually less relevant than it initially seemed.

Moreover, when I realised that in fact most of them refer right back to the reign of Charles, and re-hash all the same old stuff yet again—well, as I say, it was a case of enough is enough.

So I’m neither going to read or review (most of) these documents. Instead, I’ll post about them briefly – and for once I do mean briefly – and explain (i) what they are, and (ii) why not.

First and least on the list of rejects is The Pagan Prince: or, A Comical History Of The Heroick Achievements Of The Palatine Of Eboracum, published in 1690 “By the Author of the Secret History of King Charles II. and K. James II.” (who my research indicates was probably Nathaniel Crouch). This roman à clef is such a farrago of incomprehensible nonsense, it’s nearly impossible to tell who it is supposed to be about. Thus we find Srinivas Aravamudan, in his Enlightment Orientalism: Resisting The Rise Of The Novel, commenting that The Pagan Prince “…continues this literary obsession with Charles II’s love life…”; whereas the listing of the document in the Early English Books Online database describes it as, “A satire on James, Duke of York, later James II.” As for me, while trying to make head or tail of it I began to think it may even have been about Louis XIV, who inspired his own crop of scurrilous literature at about this time.

You can just imagine how well this thing works as a satire.

Anyway—one passage, slightly more interpretable than the rest, finally made it clear that, not surprisingly, the EEBO people were correct:

After this the Palatine sold the Reversion and Remainder of the three Kingdoms of Albion, Caledonia and Hibernia, with all the Giblets thereto belonging, after the King of Albions decease, to the King of Astopia and his Heirs forever; Provided that the Palatine should hold them in Vassalage of the King of Astopia during his own Life. On the other side it was covenanted and agreed that the King of Astopia should furnish the Palatine with whatever summ or summs of Money he should ask or demand, to be expended all toward the Extermination of the Christians from the face of the Earth…
 

 
Another 1690 publication which does continue the literary obsession with Charles II’s love life is the anonymous The Secret History Of The Dutchess Of Portsmouth: Giving an Account of the Intrigues of the Court, during her Ministry. And of the Death of K. C. II. The ‘Dutchess of Portsmouth’ was Louise de Kérouaille, the most hated of all of Charles’ mistresses because of the (probably correct) perception that she was really there to spy for Louis, or at least push French interests. Even so—five years after both Charles’ death and Louise’s return to France, this one seems like a piece of supererogation. Perhaps the persistence of the campaign against her was due to the widespread belief that she was involved in, if not outright responsible for, the sudden death of Charles. Like its similar predecessor, The Amours Of The Sultana Of Barbary, The Secret History Of The Dutchess Of Portsmouth concludes with “Francelia” (as she is called in this roman à clef) poisoning “the Prince” after he discovers her infidelity:

It was there, that a little before he fell ill of his last fit of Sickness, coming into her Chamber, and finding fault with some odd kind of smell, which did offend him, she treated him with some excellent Cordial, which she said, she had newly received from Spain or Italy, but the Prince did very much dislike the taste of it, and divers times found fault with it that night; however, he retired Indispos’d, and never held up his Head after that…

Actually—the more I look at this thing, the more it seems to me to be a plagiarised version of The Amours Of The Sultana Of Barbary, with the names changed and the story tweaked just a bit; which makes it ever more unnecessary.
 

 
Meanwhile, the same year gives us an example of the anti-Louis literature I mentioned, in—

—wait for it—

The Most Christian Turk: or, a view of the life and bloody reign of Lewis XIV. present King of France: Containing an account of his monstrous birth, the transactions that happened during his minority under Cardinal Mazarine; afterwards his own unjust enterprizes in war and peace, as breach of leagues, oaths, &c. the blasphemous titles given him, his love-intrigues, his confederacy with the Turk to invade Christendom, the cruel persecution of his Protestant subjects, his conniving with pirates, his unjustly invading the empire, &c. laying all waste before him with fire and sword, his quarrels with the Pope and Genoieze, his treachery against England, Scotland, and Ireland, the engagements of the confederate princes against him; with all the battles, sieges, and sea fights, that have happened of consequence to this time.

I see no need to add anything to that.

(Ooh! Except, now that I look at its title-page, to point out that this is the first publication I have so far noticed as emanating from Fleet Street!)
 

 
A more interesting subset of literature (if not interesting enough to make me read any of it) finds recent historical events being turned into plays, or pseudo-plays: it is not clear that any of them were ever performed, or indeed ever meant to be. Either way, these are really just romans à clef in a different format; there’s nothing new here but the presentation.

Three of these would seem to be the work of the same anonymous author. The first is actually an account of the Monmouth Rebellion: The Abdicated Prince: or, The Adventures of Four Years. A Tragi-Comedy, As it was lately Acted at the Court of ALBA REGALIS, By Several Persons of Great Quality. This was followed by The Bloody Duke: Or, The Adventures for a Crown (which has the same subtitle), an account of the reign and downfall of James; with the trilogy completed by The Late Revolution: Or, The Happy Change. A Tragi-Comedy, As it was Acted throughout the ENGLISH DOMINIONS In the Year 1688. This last signs itself, “Written by a Person of Quality.”

I gather that these documents were a revival of sorts of something that went on during the English Civil War; that seems to be where the term ‘tragi-comedy’ originated, in any event.

Possibly not by the same author but cashing in on the same idea is 1693’s The Royal Cuckold: Or, Great Bastard. Giving an account of the Birth and Pedigree of Lewis le Grand, The First French King of that Name and Race. A TRAGY-COMEDY, As it is Acted by his Imperial Majesty’s Servants.
 

 
And this, by a circuitous path, brings me to the one piece of this literature that I did read, and do want to comment upon: The Great Bastard, Protector Of The Little One, from 1689.

“The Little One” is of course the infant Prince of Wales…or the Sham Prince, if you prefer. However, he really figures only in passing in this short piece of writing, which instead is an attack upon Louis XIV. It starts well and amusingly:

We find in holy writ, that, in the Jewish law, it was expresly provided by the supreme legislator, That a bastard should not enter into the congregation of the Lord, even to the tenth generation: but it seems the unhappy kingdom of France allows the bastard himself, not only to enter into the congregation, but to settle himself upon the throne, and to bear it higher than all the preceding kings before him, which had a better right to do it, as being the offspring of kings, and not the sons of the people, the proper term the Roman law gives to bastards. We have heard of the Salick law, in force in that kingdom, for a great many ages, by which the crown of France cannot fall from the sword to the distaff; but, ’till the blessed days of our august monarch, we never had the happiness to be acquainted with a law or custom, by which that was in the power of a Queen of France, to provide us an heir to the crown, without the concurrence of her husband, and to impose upon us, for our king, a brat of another man’s making. All the reign of our invincible monarch has been a constant series of wonders; but, amongst them all, this is none of the least, That he, who was, in the opinion of all the world, the son of a private gentleman, from his birth to the end of the Prince of Conde’s wars, has had the good fortune to be ever since, no less than the son of Lewis the Thirteenth.

Unfortunately, the tone is not maintained throughout. Instead, the author devotes most of the document to “proving” that Louis XIII could not have been the father of Louis XIV due to his impotence, and that Cardinal Mazarin probably was. (Whatever the whole truth, historians have established that Mazarin was in Rome at the time of Anne’s conception.) Most of this is tiresome, except for a reference to something I certainly hope was a real phenomenon—

Common fame was ever looked upon as a great presumption of the truth of a thing, especially if joined to other concurring circumstances; and never did that prating goddess extend her voice louder, than in proclaiming to the world the spurious birth of our august monarch. Time was, when she did not whisper it in corners, but expressed it in publick pictures, plays, farces, and what not? Modesty will not allow me to mention the bawdy shapes of these two sorts of bread, called to this day the Queen’s Bread, and the Cardinal’s Bread, sold through Paris, and in most places of France; so that, at that time, one could scarce sit down to eat, but he was put in mind of the queen and the cardinal’s amours…

Without getting into the details, it seems that doubt over Louis XIV’s parentage has long been a point of argument amongst historians (and others with an axe to grind). It is not the doubt itself, but the reason – or excuse – for it that caught my interest. I was unaware, until now, that a similar situation surrounded the birth of the future Louis XIV, as did that of—well, let’s call him James Francis Edward Stuart: that is, that Louis XIII and Anne of Austria had been married for twenty-three years before the birth of their first surviving child, with several stillbirths preceding that event, and with several long periods of estrangement punctuating those years. As with the pregnancy of Mary of Modena, there was widespread suspicion about the baby’s paternity, partly because of the long unproductive years, partly because of Anne’s behaviour, but also, I gather, because Louis may well have been homosexual and therefore a bit lax about his royal duties. (“Impotence” was probably a euphemism.)

In any event, when the boy was born, he was seen (ironically or not) as a miracle; and consequently he was baptised Louis Dieudonné, literally Louis the God-Given.

There is, as I say, a body of anti-Louis literature that emerged towards the end of the 1680s, and which tends to fall into one of two categories—both of which we’ve seen here. Most are straightfaced denunciations of Louis as a tyrant: The Most Christian Turk is an example. A few, however, question Louis’ parentage, and therefore his right to the throne—as in The Great Bastard, Protector Of The Little One.

But all of this is only the background to the truly fascinating thing about this last document—which is that it is perfectly clear that the anonymous author took a good long look at what had gone on in England, and how the Sham Prince propaganda contributed to forcing James off the throne—and decided to try it on with Louis.

It didn’t work, of course; something which the author (who I am very sure was not French) attributes, in the document’s funniest passage, to France being a Catholic country, and therefore accustomed to miracles:

    Among a great many other quarrels I have with the English nation, this is one, That they are a people too nice in believing miracles; and their haughtiness is such, as they scorn, forsooth, to believe Impossibilities: for albeit they, and all the rest of the world about them, are firmly persuaded, that the little bauble Prince of Wales was never of Queen Mary’s bearing, much less of King James’s begetting ; yet, if these infidels had been as well-mannerly credulous, as we in France have been, of the wonderful transmutation of our Lewis le Grand, they needed not have made all this noise about the little impostor infant, but might have comforted themselves in the hopes, that he, who was a spurious Prince of Wales to-day, might some years hence, by a new French way of transubstantiation, become a lawfully begotten King of England. But the mischief of all is, these stiff-necked hereticks, ever since they fell off from the communion of the holy church, make bold to call in question all our miracles ; and such a one, as this would be, I am afraid they would stick at, amongst others.
    Good God! how happy had it been for France, yea, for a great part of the world, that the French had been as great infidels, upon the point of miracles, as the heretick English; and that our Lewis the Fourteenth had been hurled out of France, when but Dauphin of Viennois, as the little mock Prince of Wales has been out of England, when scarce well handled into the light? What dismal tragedies has our French impostor caused in Christendom? How many cities laid in ashes, countries ruined, families extinguished, and millions of lives sacrificed to the vanity and ambition of a bastard?

 

 

 

29/09/2018

The Prisoners Of Hartling

 

    As he read, Arthur lost the sense of his surroundings. He visualised the narrow sitting-room of the little Peckham house, and heard Somers’s voice telling him that he ought to be doing hospital work or getting varied experience as a general practitioner; that he was becoming soft, going to pieces from a professional point of view. He blushed like a student under the rebuke of the demonstrator.
    Then he looked up and the illusion vanished. He saw that all his circumstances were now changed. All that advice would be sound enough if he were forced to return to such a general practice as Peckham. But if the old man left him, say £10,000, he might have a shot for his Fellowship; try for a registrarship at one of the bigger hospitals; perhaps get on the staff of one and set up in Wimpole Street. With a certain amount of capital, this would be so much easier, and the war had given him a taste for minor surgery. Indeed, it had always appealed to him more than medicine. Meanwhile, it was true that he must not let himself get rusty. He ought to go on reading, order some books from town; or at least have the Lancet sent to him every Friday. He must keep himself up to date while he was waiting. At the outside he could not have to wait more than five years…

 

 

 

While stories of ‘The Lost Generation’ may represent the most public face of the phenomenon, the between-the-wars era naturally gave rise to a significant body of work dealing with the readjustment of returned service people to society—or their inability to do so. The British subset of this literature deals, almost invariably, with life in the country, and the passing into history of the “long summer” of the Edwardians. It tends to fall into one of two categories: either a soldier, filled with longing for home, faces disillusionment in discovering that home has irrevocably changed; or conversely, in the face of his old life he discovers that he has irrevocably changed.

One odd but interesting example of this form of novel is J. D. Beresford’s 1922 psychological drama, The Prisoners Of Hartling, which finds a young medico returned from battlefield service growing increasingly restless and dissatisfied with his life as a panel-doctor in London.

(A ‘panel-doctor’ was a creation of Britain’s first, well-meant but mostly unsatisfactory system of health insurance, established in 1911 under David Lloyd George: those contributing to the scheme were entitled to – limited – healthcare from one of a panel of doctors who attended a particular geographical area. The work could be thankless and the turnover of medicos in poor districts was high. However, a positive consequence of this situation was that quite a considerable number of female doctors, who struggled to secure positions in hospitals and more ‘prestigious’ areas, gained both employment and practical experience working on the panels.)

Arthur Woodroffe went straight into his partnership with his older friend and mentor, Bob Somers, upon being demobilised, and the nature of the work and, in particular, his surroundings are beginning to tell upon him. His feelings remain unfocused and unspoken until he receives an invitation to spend a weekend in the country…

During a dinner, an acquaintance mentions to Arthur that he has been invited down to Hartling, the country estate of the wealthy Garvice Kenyon. This prompts Arthur to reveal that he is a connection of Kenyon’s, one of the old man’s sons being Arthur’s uncle-by-marriage. This conversation is, evidently, repeated during the visit to Hartling: Arthur receives a letter from his Aunt Hannah, written on behalf of the elderly Mr Kenyon, offering him a weekend in the country.

Childhood memories of the beautiful country estate, mental comparisons of the Kenyons’ life of ease and relative wealth with his own narrow financial circumstances, and the unpleasant realities of his working-life trigger a reaction in Arthur; and what starts as a desire to get away for a weekend escalates into a wholesale rejection of his current life and circumstances.

Arthur’s passionate longing for space, and beauty, and cleanliness, after the filth and misery of war, is entirely reasonable. Something of a problem arises, however, with his expression of that longing:

    “But you still avoid the real issue,” Somers persisted; “why this invitation has unsettled you.”
    “I don’t know,” Woodroffe said, settling himself a little deeper in his arm-chair. “I suppose if one analyses it, the thing set me thinking of—of the differences between Kenyon’s position and mine. Here I am with no decent clothes, and no money; sweating myself thin over a dirty job like trying to mitigate the sickness of Peckham, while old Kenyon’s got more money than he knows what to do with.”
    “Incipient socialism, this,” Somers confided to the wall opposite.
    “It isn’t,” Woodroffe said. “I’ve no sympathy with the greasy proletariat; not my line at all. It is that the whole thing has just set me wondering how I’m going to get out of it. It’s no damned good pretending, my dear Bob, that I wouldn’t sooner be lying snug in a clean comfortable bed than delivering women like Nellie Mason. And, oh! Lord, the accent is on the clean all the time.”
    “You don’t mean to imply…” Somers began.
    “My dear chap, of course I don’t,” Woodroffe cut in. “My bed here is clean enough for any one, but for about twelve hours of the day I am mixing with dirtiness of every sort and kind, and I had more than my fill of it in the war—lice by the yard and every sort of filth… I used to tell myself stories of getting clean, fantasy hot baths in exquisite surroundings, and picture myself going straight from them into brand new clothes and that sort of thing. Instead of which I’ve dropped straight into this…”

So much for the long-suffering people of Peckham—whose inescapable living conditions evidently resemble those of a battlefield. Yet having delivered himself of this comprehensive dismissal, Arthur is nevertheless startled and somewhat offended when Bob Somers responds to this not merely by releasing him from their partnership, but by telling him frankly that he wouldn’t keep him if he wanted to stay: that in his present state of mind, he’s not fit for the work.

The upshot is that Arthur departs for Hartling without any idea of where he is to go or what he is to do when the weekend is over—his vague future plan of emigrating to Canada notwithstanding. During his journey, he realises that the conversation with Somers, which was unplanned, brought into focus both his dissatisfactions and his desires; in particular, his resentful sense that the world owes him, if not a living, then at least a good time, in exchange for the years given up to the war. That good time will start with a weekend of luxury in the country; and should the weekend turn into something more, all the better…

He was beginning life again. Everything was coming right. He had visions of some delightful, improbable enlargement of his condition. Old Kenyon might take a fancy to him. Some one in the house, some special favourite of the old man’s, might be taken seriously ill, and Arthur Woodroffe, the brilliant young general practitioner from Peckham, would work a miracle at the eleventh hour. Old Mr Kenyon’s gratitude would take a practical form, and the thing was done. There were other variants of the dream, but this seemed to be the most promising.

Arthur’s fantasies take on a more concrete form when, during their drive from the station to Hartling, Mr Kenyon’s chauffeur reveals to him that the old man has a curious health complaint. Otherwise a surprisingly vigorous ninety-one years, Mr Kenyon is periodically afflicted by strange, almost catatonic seizures that the doctors have so far been unable to diagnose or treat.

Upon arrival at Hartling, Arthur is somewhat taken aback when he discovers that the people he assumes at first to be a houseful of guests are actually all residents of the estate: he meets his aunt, Mrs Hannah Kenyon, who he has not seen for many years; and he is introduced to Joseph, his uncle-by-marriage, and his cousins, Hubert and Elizabeth; to sixty-year-old Miss Esther Kenyon, the eldest daughter of the house; and to Charles Turner, who is married to Catherine, another daughter. He also hears of Eleanor, Mr Kenyon’s granddaughter, an orphan who works as his secretary.

Arthur immediately notices an attitude of only partly veiled suspicion amongst his relatives, and thinks he understands it when he has a talk with his rather hangdog young cousin, Hubert, who finally asks him tentatively if he is expecting to get something out of Mr Kenyon? – a recommendation for a job, for instance. Arthur puts Hubert in his place easily enough, summing him up in his own mind as a “feeble sort of rotter”, and concludes that the rest are jealous of their own privileges.

Meeting Eleanor, Arthur is immediately attracted to her. However, she too begins to quiz him about his presence at Hartling and his intentions for the future; while her attitude to his work is the last thing he wants to hear:

    “You’re a full-fledged doctor, aren’t you? Aunt Hannah said you wrote from Peckham. Were you practising there?”
    As they made their way to the terrace she had indicated, Arthur told her something of his work in Peckham and of his reasons for wishing to leave it. He expected sympathy from her, but he found none.
    “I dare say it was dirty,” was her comment—his insistence on that aspect had demanded a reply—“but it was work, real work. You were doing some good in the world.”

Arthur continues his attempt to win understanding, if not sympathy, from her, but in the end grows resentful of her lack of response, and what appears to him an interrogation of his intentions unwarranted by their degree of acquaintance:

He knew that he was not saying the things she wanted him to say. He could feel her longing to hear him disparage the delights of Hartling and enlarge upon those of what she had called “real work.” But her very urgency made it impossible for him to respond in his present mood. Also, he was aware of a curious desire to contradict her, even to hurt her. It was, as he put it to himself, all very well for her to talk about things she knew nothing about. He looked at her with a new criticism, and her youth and freshness seemed almost an offence. The whiteness of her hands, the spotlessness of her pale grey linen dress, the clearness of her complexion and of her blue eyes, even the lines of her firm, well-nourished young figure were all effects of the protected life she had led. It was not for her to find fault with him for wanting some share of the luxury that to the Kenyons had become commonplace.

When a message arrives from the as-yet unseen Mr Kenyon, asking Arthur to extend his stay from the weekend to “a few more days”, he accepts with alacrity; his defiance turning into giddy glee when he sees…his bathroom:

    He had a bathroom all to himself—a perfect bathroom with white walls above a tiled dado of pale green that curved round smoothly at its base to form a tiled floor of the same colour. The bath and lavatory basin were of white porcelain with nickel-silver taps, and the ample bossy towel rails, heated by hot water, were also of nickel silver…
    With a sudden whoop of joy he came back into the room and began to strip himself. He would have a bath at once, and another when he came to bed. Lovely hot water, nice soap, and splendid hot towels. Ripping house! Would he stay as long as he could? Wouldn’t he rather! He would stay altogether if he had the chance…

(It is perhaps worth pointing out that many English country houses, rich as well as poor, retained the most primitive of plumbing arrangements until after WWII, never mind WWI: running hot water and an – implied – flush toilet represent a height of luxury that few aspired to at the time. These details come of the back of the revelation that Hartling has electricity, another rare luxury in the country, generated by its own powerhouse.)

At dinner, Arthur finally meets his host, and is impressed with the power of his personality, which makes itself felt in spite of Mr Kenyon’s great age. However, during the meal he notices a strange, strained atmosphere: conversations seem to die for no reason he can elucidate. An unnerving distraction then occurs in the form of one of Mr Kenyon’s fits: he simply freezes, as if having fallen sound asleep with his eyes open. The others present, apparently accustomed, fall silent and wait for the fit to pass, as it duly does. Arthur notes that Mr Kenyon seems unaware of his withdrawal.

Arthur sees little of either Mr Kenyon or Eleanor over the next few days. During this time the others seem to pull back from him, their interaction settling into a sort of “boarding-house acquaintance”, as Arthur puts it to himself, a superficial passing of the time. This chiefly takes the form of games, at which several of his relatives excel: Elizabeth at croquet, Charles Turner at billiards and, most to Arthur’s surprise, Hubert at golf, at which he displays professional-level ability. The more he sees of his relatives, the more contemptuous of them he grows, interpreting their wary attitude towards himself as resentment of anyone sharing Mr Kenyon’s bounty. Their very passivity annoys him, with only the autocratic Miss Kenyon displaying any backbone—though that tends to take the form of a scornful and dictatorial manner. Arthur eventually becomes aware of the erection of a silent barrier between himself and the rest—as if the others all share a secret from which he is excluded.

It briefly crosses Arthur’s mind that the family secret which the rest seem to share, and are determined to exclude him from, might have regard to Mr Kenyon’s sanity; he even mentally casts Eleanor in the role of ‘keeper’. However, this suspicion is banished when Mr Kenyon surprises him one evening by visiting him in his room and settling in for a long talk. Arthur soon discovers a shrewd intellect behind the physical infirmities of age. Mr Kenyon questions him closely about his wartime experiences, his medical training and his intentions for the future. He then offers him a job: to stay on at Hartling as his medical attendant; although, as he admits, the main task would be to monitor his health so as to give him sufficient warning of his likely demise, so that he will have an opportunity to put his affairs in order, and write a proper and binding will—his current one consisting of, as he puts it, “a mass of codicils”.

Despite his enjoyment of Hartling, Arthur is repelled by the mental image of his future conjured up by this offer—passing the days as the others do, making a profession out of games, and waiting for an old man to die. Mr Kenyon sees his reluctance, and assures him quietly that he is sure within himself that Arthur’s attendance would be a matter of six months to a year at the outside; and of course Arthur would be properly recompensed for his services: there would be a legacy in that will.

They are interrupted by the dinner-gong before Arthur can respond, and he is given time to reflect. He is annoyed later to discover that everyone else seems aware of his situation, and even more annoyed by the general assumption that he will accept the offer. Once again he is conscious of a sort of unspoken conversation going on about him, an exchange of significant looks and cryptic remarks. He concludes, in his anger, that these battening relatives resent the possibility of having to share their presumed legacy with an outsider. Even Eleanor, whom he consults expecting honest advice, seems to have an ulterior motive behind what he views as her over-urgent insistence that he not only refuse the offer, but leave Hartling at once. They part coldly, with Arthur left nursing feelings of mingled disgust and hurt pride:

    It had come to him that he had an honourable purpose to serve by remaining: he might be a true help and support to the aged head of the house. Old Kenyon was so pitiably isolated from his family. He must always be aware that he was marked down, that the circle of harpies was forever closing more tightly about him, that the only interest his descendants took in him was in the search for symptoms of his approaching death. He would surely welcome some one coming from the outside, who would have no selfish object in view, who would give him real sympathy and understanding.
    Arthur felt a glow of self-satisfaction at the thought. He would make it quite clear, of course, in the coming interview, that no question of any legacy must complicate the arrangement. That should be absolutely definite; and yet—it was just a whimsical fancy, and he shrugged his shoulders—what fun it would be to cut out the rest of the family, to be made one of the principal heirs and disappoint those ghastly birds of prey! The disappointment would be only momentary. He would take the fortune solely to hand it back to them, but in doing that what an admirable lesson he might read them; what contempt he might show for the pitiful gaud of wealth. (He might possibly retain just enough to give him a small—a very small independent income?)

He stays, of course; though as it turns out his intention to demand – or at least request – a regular salary rather than a legacy comes to nothing. This causes him increasing worry, as his own resources are dwindling—his weekend at Hartling having stretched to five weeks…

The first break in the unvarying daily routine at Hartling is the arrival of Kenyon Turner, the only son of Charles and Catherine, which sends ripples of unwonted anxiety through the relatives. It emerges that Ken is in severe financial difficulties and, both in search of help and to avoid his creditors, has returned to his family. Arthur is present during a curious conversation between Ken and Hubert:

    Turner almost whimpered. “He’s got to put me right,” he protested, “absolutely got to.”
    Hubert rocked silently from foot to foot. “He hasn’t,” he said quietly, “and you can’t make him. You know that well enough. What did Eleanor say?”
    “She promised to do all she could,” Turner replied unhopefully, and added: “I’d sooner emigrate than come to live down here.”
    “Got the money for your passage?” Hubert inquired.
    “I suppose I could get that somehow,” Turner said. “Trouble’d be to dodge my creditors. Besides, some of the money must be paid—fellows in the office and so on. I couldn’t let them down.”
    “You’ll be living here before you’re a week older,” Hubert decided. “Safe as houses.”

Left alone with Hubert, Arthur becomes the recipient of confidences. He learns that Hubert is engaged, or would be, if either he or his intended had any money, or saw any opportunity for earning some. This coming out into the open in the wake of the revelation of Ken’s difficulties engenders a mood of suppressed panic amongst the Kenyons, which exasperates Arthur. He sees a revolting selfishness in their reluctance to rock the boat by supporting Hubert. Rashly, he promises to speak a word for Hubert to the old man—preening himself upon being above the petty financial considerations which he assumes are holding the others silent.

However, there is a delay before he can. As he stares at the rain falling in torrents outside, Arthur feels his moment of self-confidence giving way to doubt; all sorts of doubt:

    It was not a day, he reflected, remembering many such days, to spend going from house to house through fountains of London mud; nor in receiving poor patients at the surgery. How their wet clothes reeked! They brought all the worst of the weather in with them, the mud and the wet invaded the consulting room; one was never dry or clean on such days as this.
    Instinctively he rubbed his hands together, and then looked down at them. They were better kept than when he first came to Hartling; it had been impossible to keep his hands like that in Peckham. He liked the brown of their tan, deeper on the back than at the finger tips, and his nails were rather good. It was worth while now to spend a little time on them.
    Were the Kenyons to be pitied? They were not free, of course, but no one was free. They were certainly more free here than he would be if he went back to Peckham… If the old man turned him out for interfering in a matter in which he was not concerned, he would have to go back to Somers for a night or two. If he were not very careful with the little money still left to him, he would have to give up the idea of Canada altogether. Living in a place like this for five weeks changed one’s scale of values. He did not look forward to “roughing it” so much as he had before he came away from Peckham.
    Was he pledged in any way to plead Hubert’s cause with his grandfather?…

And indeed, it is very likely that Arthur’s “word” would never have been spoken, had he not encountered Eleanor on his way in to see Mr Kenyon. Even though he considers their fears exaggerated and probably unjust, the sincerity with which the others try to dissuade him from speaking, their conviction that he will be turned out if he opposes the old man’s will, all have their effect. He is putting it to himself in terms of doing more harm than good when he encounters Eleanor: clearly, she wants him to speak; and even more clearly, she thinks he won’t:

    “You admit that I shan’t do any good to Hubert,” he said. “Why are you so anxious that I should get myself into trouble by interfering—unless it is that you want to be rid of me? Because if that’s all, I can go any time of my own free will.”
    “I don’t want you to go,” she said coldly.
    “Then why are you so keen on—on my taking the chance of offending Mr Kenyon?” he insisted.
    She faced him with a cool, ready stare. “You can’t seriously believe,” she said, “that I should be so mean and small as to persuade you into this for any purely selfish purpose of my own? Why, none of them would be as paltry as that.”
    He blushed, but he would not drop his eyes from hers. “I’m to respect your motives, of course,” he said defiantly; “But you’re at liberty to impute any sort of cowardice to me?”
    “Isn’t it cowardice then?” she asked, returning his stare without flinching. “Haven’t you changed your mind because you’re afraid of having to leave here?”

In the face of that, Arthur’s wounded amour propre propels him into Mr Kenyon’s presence. Once the leap is taken, to his astonishment and relief, the old man takes his intervention in good part. Arthur learns that the old man’s objections to the engagement are, in his own view, entirely reasonable: Miss Martin has no money, no more than Hubert himself; and as the daughter of the agent of a neighbouring estate, she isn’t quite quite: a position with which the snobbish Arthur sympathises. So calmly reasonable is Mr Kenyon that Arthur, not for the first time, finds his entire way of thinking swayed by a conversation with him; while the apprehensions of the rest of the family come to seem foolish, even hysterical.

Mr Kenyon, meanwhile, is very far from wanting to turn Arthur out for his boldness:

    “I have taken a peculiar fancy to you, Arthur,” he continued after a brief pause, “and I need not be ashamed to tell you why; it is because I admire the independence of your spirit. I liked the way you spoke to me just now; your disregard of what might have been against your own interests; your championship of Hubert. I could wish—I have often wished—that there was more of the same spirit in my own family.”
    Arthur flushed with pleasure. But it seemed to him that he understood now, finally, conclusively, the secret of the Kenyons.
    They were all cowards, and Mr Kenyon despised them for their cowardice; not one of them had ever had the courage to stand up to him. If he had, in a sense, bullied them, it was because he had tried to stimulate them into some show of active response…

The flattering conversation then embraces Arthur’s future intentions. He has already been led into into holding himself up as a contrast to the others on the basis of his greater life-experience and need to earn a living; but he is more alarmed than pleased when Mr Kenyon takes it for granted that he must be “pining to get back into the struggle”:

    “And yet, Arthur, I should be so glad if you could stay with me—till the end. I gave you my reasons when we first talked the matter over together. I can add still another, now; I’ve taken a great liking for you… I wouldn’t ask you to make the sacrifice if I were a younger man. But as it is what difference will a year, two at most, make to you at your time of life? Come, now,” he smiled with a flash of roguery, “let’s make a bargain! Your friend Hubert shall have his Miss Martin, if you’ll promise to stay with me…”
    “Oh, of course, sir, rather,” Arthur said, blushing with pleasure and embarrassment. “I would promise that in any case. There’s no need for any—any quid pro quo, I mean.”
    Mr Kenyon still had his hands on the young man’s shoulders, and he gave him a gentle shake as he said, “Very well, that’s a bargain then; and I may tell you that you’ve taken a very great weight off my mind…”

Arthur’s sense of triumph soon fades when the others hear of the agreement. There is astonishment over Hubert’s engagement, but no sense of gratitude. If anything, the wariness with which the rest regard him increases. Arthur thinks he understands, and is nettled into a blundering assurance that he has no intention of accepting a legacy from the old man, at least, not an unreasonable one; and his offer to sign an agreement to that purpose only makes things worse. There is an embarrassed scattering of the relatives, with Charles Turner and Uncle Joe left to reject any such arrangement as unnecessary—assuring Arthur that they trust him to keep his word, should it become necessary:

    There was apparently nothing more to be said, and Arthur was on his feet preparing to go when Turner remarked casually to his brother-in-law, “Totting ’em up pretty fast just now, isn’t he? That’ll make three more of us if poor Ken has to come in.”
    Joe Kenyon’s only reply was to draw down the corners of his mouth and raise his eyebrows.
    Arthur did not want to hear any more. He was sorry he had heard so much. These petty criticisms of old Kenyon made him despise Turner and his uncle; they represented another aspect of their cowardice.

Nor is Hubert’s attitude to his grandfather at all altered, despite his excitement over his engagement. Rather, he complains that he has had no chance to see Miss Martin since the edict was handed down, being instead dispatched to do a job on the estate:

    “Probably he did it just to tantalise me a bit,” Hubert complained; “teach me that I couldn’t have everything my own way.”
    “Oh, surely not!” Arthur protested. He was offended, again, by this imputation of unworthy motives to old Mr Kenyon. “I don’t believe any of you understand him,” he continued warmly. “We had quite a long talk this morning and he rather came out of his shell. He may seem a bit hard and inhuman at times, you know, but underneath, I’m sure he’s trying to do the best for everybody.”
    Hubert looked faintly surprised. “Oh! that was the way he took you, was it?” he remarked.

When the family reconvenes for dinner, Arthur is surprised to find himself the object of Elizabeth’s attentions. Though she is attractive in an obvious sort of way, he is not at all drawn to her—and annoyed to realise that Eleanor’s image keeps getting in the way. This instinctive choice receives reinforcement the next day when Eleanor, albeit rather ungraciously, invites Arthur to accompany her on a long walk on the Downs—intimating that she has something to say to him which cannot be said under the roof of Hartling. The miles they cover, a simple lunch at an inn, and a rest on a hilltop overlooking the beauties of the countryside combine to bring down the wall of misunderstanding that has grown up between them, and finally Eleanor brings herself to say what she feels she must: that one of them must leave Hartling immediately.

To Arthur’s astonishment, Eleanor speaks bitterly of her grandfather’s intention to use her as bait—an added attraction to hold him, Arthur, at Hartling. He protests instinctively, yet cannot help remembered the old man’s urging of a closer relationship between the two of them. Seeing his resistance to the idea, Eleanor allows herself to speak frankly of herself and her family for the first time: her own father’s defiance in the matter of his marriage, which led to his banishment from Hartling, and ultimately his death under conditions of unrelieved illness and destitution; and her own, strange upbringing after being orphaned, isolated from the world to the point of barely knowing that there was a war. All the rest, too, trapped in a web of financial dependence and a failure of willpower: turned into the playthings of the old man’s selfishness and need to dominate…

In spite of Arthur’s lingering incredulity. Eleanor continues to insist upon the departure of one or the other of them: in that, at least, she is determined that Mr Kenyon will not get his way. Appalled by what he considers her unrealistic plans for herself, in securing either an office job or undergoing nursing training, if she can afford it, Arthur determines that if one of them must go, it will be him. Recklessly, he promises to write immediately to Bob Somers and accept an offered partnership, in a slightly better practice and at a slightly increased income—albeit still in Peckham. He will depart Hartling within the week.

But even this is hardly good enough for Eleanor: if he is going, why not go at once? Why wait? – risk it…?

Eleanor’s evident unselfish fear for him – her willingness to stay, if only he will make his escape – puts a new idea into Arthur’s head: why should they not both go—together?

Before he can act upon his new resolve, there is upheaval at Hartling. Far from “coming in”, as his father feared, Ken bolts—borrowing enough to pay the worst of his debts and to secure his passage to South Africa, where he has the offer of a job. In the wake of this, Mr Kenyon makes one of his exceedingly rare journeys away from the estate, a paraded departure that means only one thing: a visit to his solicitor in London and an alteration to his will…

In his absence, Arthur and Eleanor come to an understanding. They will depart together, and immediately. Arthur takes upon himself the task of telling Mr Kenyon their intentions upon his return…and finds it even more difficult and unpleasant than he anticipated:

    “Have you had it in your mind that you might be married quite soon?” he asked.
    “I think so, sir; yes, quite soon,” Arthur replied, andf then frowning and keeping his eyes averted from the old man’s face—he went on quickly. “As soon as ever we can find somewhere to live, in fact. Flats and so on are fearfully difficult to get just now. And in Peckham, where I shall be practising…”
    He paused and looked up. The old man had changed neither his position nor his expression. “But I know of no reason why you shouldn’t be married while you are still here,” he said, apparently missing all the implications of Arthur’s speech.
    “We—we thought of leaving here—at once,” he replied, making an effort that even as he made it seemed gross and brutal. “In fact I meant—that is, I’m leaving today.”
    Mr Kenyon’s keen blue eyes slowly concentrated their gaze with an effect of extraordinary attention on Arthur’s face; and as they did so, their lids, which commonly drooped so that the iris was partly hidden, were lifted until the pupils, completely ringed by white, stared with the cold, intent watchfulness of a great bird.
    “But that’s impossible,” he said quietly…

At its best The Prisoners Of Hartling is an unnerving psychological drama, particularly in its slow revelation of the domineering monster behind the kindly if autocratic façade of Garvice Kenyon, and of the various means of progressive entrapment by which he claims and holds his victims. As we watch in detail his manipulation of Arthur, we become aware that similar tactics have worked in the past—certainly the plea for companionship “until the end”. There is a subtle if morbid humour about the way Arthur’s likely “term” increases every time the subject is raised, from six months to one year, then to two, then to five… At the same time, the novel’s most chilling moment is Charles Turner’s response when Arthur tells him that he will be extending his visit from a weekend to a week—that he too once came to Hartling for a week’s visit…thirty years ago…

(In retrospect, we are able to appreciate that to Mr Kenyon, Dorothy Martin’s lack of money probably makes her a more, not less, suitable bride for Hubert.)

The main problem with this novel is that we have to see everything from the perspective of the distinctly dull-witted Arthur. Now, I do not need to like or admire a novel’s protagonist in order to like the novel, and were this a story of the drawing in to his destruction of Arthur Woodroffe, that would be just fine. Unfortunately, there’s a sense in The Prisoners Of Hartling that we’re supposed, at least, to sympathise with Arthur and worry about his fate—though for the life of me, I can’t think why. Despite his medical training and having served in war as both a soldier and a surgeon, Arthur’s dominant trait is his emotional immaturity; and that, combined with his conceit, and his snobbery, and his total lack of perception, makes him a thoroughly exasperating companion.

And that, finally, is where this novel really fails—the realisation that almost anyone would have made a more interesting protagonist than the one we were given. There are so many stories here: that of Miss Kenyon, living the life of a Victorian spinster more than two decades into the 20th century; or of Uncle Joe, the oldest son, kept from a career because he will inherit the estate…eventually (and maybe: there’s no entail); or even the Turners, finding a welcome refuge at Hartling from their struggles against the world, hardly noticing that the gates have closed behind them… And Eleanor; particularly Eleanor, clear-sighted and intelligent; raised in ignorance of the world but ironically learning about it from novels; holding hard to her resistance to her grandfather’s grip—even as she fears that her own willpower might fail when the crisis comes…

That crisis is another failing: there’s no earthly reason why Arthur and Eleanor should fall in love, except that it’s necessary for the plot. We can appreciate that Eleanor might fear for and even pity Arthur, seeing him walking unresisting into the Hartling trap; but that such feelings should turn to love is wholly incredible, particularly given the mixture of rudeness and petulance with which Arthur treats her whenever he realises that she doesn’t share his high opinion of himself. The idea that the two of them might provide ballast for one another, and together create the impetus for escape, is sound but the working out of it certainly is not.

Still—there are some devastating touches in The Prisoners Of Hartling, even if most of them exist outside of Arthur’s limited perceptions. The idea of this group of people being drawn into financial dependence through acts of seeming generosity, and their lives being reduced to waiting in helpless passivity for an old man to die, is a disturbing concept, and all the more so since none of them have any knowledge of the contents of the will dangled in front of them whenever Mr Kenyon is in any way defied—still less any guarantee. The possibilities of this situation are exploited to the full as The Prisoners Of Hartling builds to its climax: this is a story with a vicious sting in its tail…

 

 

26/09/2018

It’s been a while, by gar!

No, not just since I updated the blog: sadly, that almost goes without saying.

What I actually meant was that it’s been quite a stretch since Reading Roulette landed me on something outside my comfort zone.

The ‘goalposts’ for this particular subsection are set at 1741 – 1930, so we really should be mixing it up more; but the always-capricious Reading Gods have seemed content for some time to present me with a series of sentimental and didactic 18th and 19th century novels.

So I was a bit taken aback suddenly to find myself dealing with something from 1922.

John Davys Beresford was born in 1873 and, after being crippled by polio, devoted himself early in life to academic pursuits and a writing career. His marriage produced two children, Marc Brandel (Marcus Beresford) and Elizabeth Beresford, both writers of supernatural fiction—although the latter is best known for creating The Wombles.

As a young man, Beresford grew estranged from his clergyman father and his conventional views, embracing first agnosticism and later more esoteric beliefs including Theosophy. But however unconventional his religious views, Beresford always professed a sincere spirituality that was reflected in his writing, which often dealt with miraculous events and the triumph of the spiritual over the material. He also studied psychology as a different way of understanding the world.

Today, J. D. Beresford’s literary reputation rests chiefly on his works of speculative fiction, which cover a spectrum from outright science fiction to alternative / dystopian fantasies to allegories of religious doubt. An admirer of H. G. Wells (about whom he wrote the first critical study, titled simply H. G. Wells, which was published in 1915), Beresford followed though not copied him in writing novels about the clash between the miraculous – or even merely unusual – and narrow-thinking modern society. His first and most famous novel, The Hampdenshire Wonder, is the story of a super-child born to ordinary parents, and his rejection by the world around him; while his 1913 novel, Goslings, is the first literary attempt to depict seriously an all-female society. In 1921’s Revolution, Beresford imagined a full-scale socialist revolution in the United Kingdom.

However—my roll of the dice landed me upon none of these, but instead a between-the-wars psychological drama, The Prisoners Of Hartling.

Trust me.

 

 

10/05/2018

Family Pictures (Part 2)

 

    The good man opened the fatal epistle, therefore, with a trembling hand and a heart deeply agitated, and found this new calamity more insupportable than any he had before experienced. He blamed himself as a kind of accessory to the untimely blasting of this tender flower, was amazed at his own remissness in not immediately transplanting it to a more natural soil, and saving this tender pledge, this emblem of their beloved child, from being subject to the capricious flights and giddy management of young unthinking relations, who had not the same call, to watch with carefulness over her.
    Mrs Parker said in a heart-wounding accent, that her Eliza had exhausted all her tears, nor had she one left for poor Louisa; but, continued she, I hope, the measure of my affliction is now completed, and that it will not be long before we are all re-united in that glorious state, exempt from misfortunes, where sin and sorrow are no more…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first volume of Family Pictures, as we have seen (and quoted), opens with a standard scree about the rewards of virtue—part of a preface declaiming the high moral purpose of the novel and its fitness for reading by the young and innocent.

This is how the second volume opens:

Mrs Bentley was so kind to her niece, as to suffer Arabella to beat and pinch her, without check or controul. The poor infant was uneasy for some time, at the great change she experienced, and would alternately call upon her Papa and Mamma to save her; but at length custom began to reconcile her even to the cruel usage…

We’re left to ponder whether the novel’s title was intended to be ironic, or just baldly honest.

The shift in tone and subject matter between the two volumes of Family Pictures, from the familiar sentimentalism of the romance / tragedy of Anthony and Eliza, to the cruelty and crime that set in motion the second half of the narrative, is jolting. We seem, suddenly, to have picked up a different book. Again, we can only wonder if the period’s volume-by-volume publishing style prompted authors to hide their more sinister lights under a bushel, until they were safely into the marketplace—and if readers knew to stick it out through a dull or soppy first volume, in expectation of something better.

Having lost both her parents (mostly, we have to say, through their own faults), poor Louisa emerges as the new focus of Family Pictures, with an all-new plot set in motion by her father’s incredibly stupid decision to leave her to the tender mercies of her uncle, aunt and cousins—who are, as we have seen, devoted to casual cruelty even without the added motivation of Louisa standing between them and the family property.

It is true that Anthony meant for Louisa to be left predominantly with her grandparents; but he took no steps to ensure that this happened—instead trusting the parties involved to take care of it. However – and with a distinct lack of submission to God’s will – Mrs Parker is so devastated by the death’s of her daughter and son-in-law, she isn’t fit for the task of caring for her granddaughter; and since Mr Parker is unfamiliar with the true characters of Daniel and Arabella, he sees no harm in leaving Louisa with her uncle and aunt, at least for the present.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

    [Daniel] judged it very hard to be kept out of seven hundred pounds a year by such a little child. This noble sentiment he frequently revolved in his own mind, before he was so far abandoned as to communicate it to his wife; nor did he abruptly open his heart even to her, but just insinuated that it was a mortifying circumstance, that his brother and sister had not been taken off three years sooner than they were, as Anthony would not then have been excluded from his right by a little snivelling girl…
    Daniel had so much artifice as to leave her to reflect upon what he had hinted, in hopes of drawing a proposal from her of some kind or other, which might bring his purposes to bear, as he chose to appear to follow in this respect rather than lead.

Nope: nothing immoral in THIS novel.

Much oblique back-and-forthing between Daniel and Arabella follows, the upshot of which is a sudden journey to London, the Parkers being left in ignorance of this step until it is too late for them to countermand it. The Bentleys take up residence with Arabella’s aunt, a Mrs Blackiston, a widow in dire financial straits, and without the means to protest the uses she is put to, even if she had the inclination.

It is Mrs Blackiston who proposes an alternative to the outright murder of Louisa. She suggests farming the child out—that they find a poor woman in low circumstances who is willing to take the child in and, effectively, raise her as her own. She further sketches a cover-story that makes Louisa the illegitimate child of an unnamed “great man”, such that the need for secrecy may be stressed without raising questions.

Mrs Blackiston even knows a suitable candidate; though here she perhaps does better than her co-conspirators would have preferred, in that Mrs Brisco is a kind and honest, if rather simple woman, who has suffered many personal misfortunes including the loss of her husband and child. She willingly takes in Louisa, swallowing the story fed to her, and obediently passing the girl – who is now known as “Susan” – off as her own. The two retire to a small cottage in Bedfordshire.

But of course, this is only half of the plot. In order for the Bentleys to gain the property, Louisa must die. They therefore concoct a serious illness, of which they inform the Parkers by letter, along with many expressions of fear and grief, and contrition for having carried such a young child to London. Then the terrified Parkers receive another letter announcing the death of their grandchild…

Here too Mrs Blackiston proves invaluable:

    She applyed…to a body-stealer, to furnish her with the body of a female infant of Louisa’s age… Accordingly the next evening a flag basket was provided for the conveyance of the departed babe, recently committed to the earth by its afflicted parents, but which was almost as speedily taken up by this disturber of the dead.
    The poor little sacrifice to their ambition and avarice had a gentle opiate administered to her that evening, which, taking effect at nine o’clock, they knew would continue in operation ’till twelve the next day… At length the hour of deliverance arrived, and the sleeping babe was successfully conveyed into the carriage, destined to remove her from the knowledge of her relations, friends and fortune. This great work completed, the basket was unpacked, and the lifeless imposition dressed, by the hardened Mrs Blackiston, in a cap and bed-gown of Louisa’s, reserved for the purpose, and being laid in the bed…

Okay. I know that this isn’t our usual scenario, but I’m calling it anyway:

BABY SUBSTITUTION!!!!

For Mrs Parker, this third blow is almost the end, and she sinks into a permanent stupor of grief; while Mr Parker, with a distinct lack of resignation, is in a condition little better.

Despite the violent upheavals in her circumstances, Louisa / Susan revives under the loving care of Mrs Brisco; and she begins to forget her past in her new life as a humble cottager.

Some eleven years are then skipped over, until the next significant landmark in Susan’s life: the coming to her neighbourhood of a wealthy family, the Banstons. The husband and wife have nothing in common and are bitterly estranged; while their peculiarities of temperament and constant warfare make life unpleasant for their children, a boy and a girl of around Susan’s own age. In particular, Mr Banston is a domestic tyrant: his abrupt passions, his instantaneous likes and dislikes and their violent consequences, impacting his entire household:

He was extremely ambitious, and from an anxious pride, that his children should surpass every other person’s, he sometimes led them an uneasy kind of life… He was so accustomed to disapprove of their behaviour and conversation, that when he was present, they acted under continual fear and constraint. It seems, his disposition had been early soured by disappointments, and the loss of a beloved friend, which he had never overcome, so that he, who at twenty was an easy and most amiable youth, now at fifty was become a capricious and intolerable old man.

Mrs Banston, meanwhile, is a kind if underbred woman, weak-minded and easily influenced by stronger wills, who prefers the company of her own servants to that of her husband’s social acquaintances. The family money is hers, though, which only increases the state of ongoing tension.

The mother of Dame Brisco was the the nurse of Mr Banston’s father, and a connection has always been maintained. With her quiet tact and willingness to serve, Dame Brisco makes herself useful to the Banstons in a variety of ways, not least in helping to manage a household where daily tasks are often neglected. Seeing the need for a sewing-woman, she ventures to recommend Susan who, with her neatness of person, steady habits and fine work, is soon a fixture in the house. She becomes, indeed, almost a companion to Caroline Banston, and shares some of her lessons; acquiring smatterings of both education and accomplishments.

Consequently, when Charles Banston returns home after an absence of some months on a visit to his grandmother, he finds his family rather startlingly supplemented:

Master Charles soon informed himself by his sister’s means of all the internal graces and valuable endowments of this young girl, whose person had so exceedingly engaged his admiration, and he secretly wished, that fortune had been more liberal in her favours, so as to have enabled this master-piece of Nature to have shone in a less humble light. In consequence of these impressions he treated her with the utmost respect and kindness on every occasion; for two years together that this brother and sister were inseparable, now in all these youthful pursuits and diversions Susan had a share along with them, nor, indeed, could they enjoy any pleasure without her, her modesty, humility, and good nature recommending her most irresistibly to their favour.

But of course this pastoral interlude cannot last; and after a visit to some old acquaintances in Worcestershire, where he spent his youth, Mr Banston comes home to announce that he has arranged an advantageous marriage for Charles—or at least, he has arranged it with her father; he expects Charles to seal the deal when the family comes for a visit.

With visions of Susan dancing in his head, Charles is anything but delighted; though under his father’s scowling gaze he manages to mumble something that might be compliance. Undeceived, his father reacts with one of his volcanic outbursts:

“Ungrateful and insensible wretch, cryed he, is this the utmost sensation thy groveling heart is capable of; this the return for my sollicitude for your advancement? Your veins, I find, are replete with the mean blood of your mother, not one spark of my spirit being in your whole composition; but mark me well, continued he, darting a furious look at the poor dismayed youth, you have but this one alternative in your power, viz. either to marry the lady whom I have chose for you, or to turn out, for I will harbour no disobedient children.”

Charles has little option but to play along. Caroline soon notices his disturbed state of mind and, when he explains to her his situation, tries to console him by suggesting he might like the chosen young lady—which of course prompts him to blurt out his feelings for Susan, much to his sister’s dismay, as she knows that any such connection is impossible.

But whatever apprehensions Charles might be experiencing, the reader has them one-hundred-fold—for there is little doubt about the identity of the young lady in question, given her first action upon arrival at the Banstons’:

…but, added she, this sick beast, turning about and hauling at the same time a poor little puppy out of the carriage by one leg, has made my journey very uncomfortable. Mr Banston would have relieved her of her charge, and expressed some obliging concern for her (as he supposed) little favourite; but she soon gave him to understand, that she was superior to every weak attachment of that kind, and only kept the poor animal for the pleasure of tormenting it.

Sure enough, the visitors are none other than the Bentleys; and the contrast between the attractive but brazen and unfeeling Arabella, and the gentle Susan, is almost too much for Charles—who sees with despair that Arabella is fully informed of the purpose of the visit, and expects his co-operation. His embarrassed shrinking and timid demeanour provoke Arabella, who takes a dislike to him; but she resolves to conceal her feelings until she can see if there is meat more to her taste in the neighbourhood.

Arabella and Caroline are likewise antipathetic; the latter longing for the companionship of Susan, who has been banished to Dame Brisco’s cottage to free up room at table for the visitors. The brother and sister count the minutes until the conclusion of the planned fortnight visit, only to learn that while the senior Bentleys must depart – Mrs Bentley expressing concern over the health of her only son, who (it is implied) is drinking himself into an early grave – Mr Banston persuades Arabella to stay for the entire summer.

The only compensatory aspect of this for the young Banstons is that Susan may now be recalled. Caroline drives over to collect her, in company with Arabella who, mostly out of spite and snobbery, but also having taken one look at Susan’s pretty face, refuses to have a servant admitted to the carriage and orders her to walk instead. The mortified Caroline hastily intervenes, telling Susan to stay at the cottage overnight and to come to the house in the morning, and to bring Dame Brisco with her.

From this incident an infinity of misery results. Recounting the matter to Mrs Banston, Arabella turns it around, complaining of Susan’s “sullen refusal” to walk when denied the carriage. The dull-witted Mrs Banston sees nothing odd in this assertion about a girl well-known for her retiring modesty; and when Susan does arrive, she is stunned to be rebuked for misbehaviour and pride:

She was as yet but a novice to the injustice and unkindness of the rich; nor did she imagine that they conceived themselves licenced to treat their inferiours with occasional contempt and disregard, (without being accountable for their actions) merely from their superior possessions; that the wind was not more uncertain than their favour; that they were out of reach of expostulation, and deaf to conviction; that from their determinations there was no appeal, however disgracefully or unjustly they might discard their favourites; and that the world was prepared to acquit the mighty and condemn the weak, even without a hearing; that in the single epithet rich was comprehended all merit, beauty, grace, and that consequently the horrid sound of poverty conveyed sentiments diametrically opposite…

Ouch! I wonder who Miss Minifie had in mind when penning that passage? – and if this is why she and her sister started writing: because they had to, after someone let them down?

From this point matters go from bad to worse. Arabella doesn’t want Charles, and in fact begins a secret liaison with Mr Banston’s steward, who is the kind of “man of spirit” she prefers (in other words, a coxcomb and a cad); but the fact that Charles doesn’t want her is mortifying; while his evident preference for a servant is intolerable. Consequently, she sets about destroying Susan: a task simple enough, between Mr Banston’s insane pride and Mrs Banston’s weak will; and she succeeds in the first instance in having her banished from the house altogether.

Meanwhile, the sneaking Mr Letcroft, who can barely believe his own luck, persuades Arabella first into correspondence and clandestine meetings, then into a secret marriage:

The ceremony over, the happy pair spent a short time together at a farm-house, and then returned to Mr Banston’s with as hardened a countenance, as if nothing had happened…

Soon afterwards, Arabella receives word of the death of her brother, Anthony. She is personally unmoved; and the main consequence is that she becomes, in Mr Banston’s eyes, an even more desirable daughter-in-law, since her brother’s fortune will now augment her own. Naturally he increases the pressure on Charles—who, however, has a secret weapon in his armoury. The local parish-clerk is a relative of Dame Brisco’s, and informs her of Arabella’s marriage; and she, in turn, lets Caroline know. Charles, therefore, is able for once to face his father with relative equanimity; replying coolly to his menaces:

“Time and reflection have removed all my objections, and I am ready to receive Miss Bentley’s hand, whenever she shall be disposed to bestow it upon me.”

Mr Banston is so pleased with this, he grants Charles a three-month stay of execution (so to speak). Charles makes prompt use of the time and, finally giving in to temptation, declares himself to Susan by letter. She is moved and touched by this but, in spite of her own secret feelings, she immediately declares that there can never be anything between them. When Caroline finds out, she is furious with her brother; but she knows she can rely upon Susan’s strength of character, if not Charles’, to prevent the matter going further.

And fate has another bitter blow in store for Susan, when Dame Brisco suddenly dies:

The old woman had got her relation, the parish-clerk, to scrawl out a kind of a will, by which she bequeathed to the poor girl all she was worth. This all, after everything was sold, (Mr Banston burying her at his expense) amounted to eight guineas…

Susan decides that she must leave the country for London, in order to find a way of supporting herself—and to put distance between herself and Charles. Her departure and its circumstances are widely discussed amongst the Banstons, in the course of which Mrs Banston makes reference to Dame Brisco “countenancing a bastard”, much to Arabella’s delight. Her sneering response provokes a furious outburst from Charles—also remarkable for 1764:

“Was the poor bastard, you mention with such detestation, in the smallest degree accessory or a partaker in her parents guilt? I think, added this gentleman, the world is not more cruel or unjustifiable in any one respect, than in its consideration of such unhappy beings. Is it not sufficient, that a poor child shall be brought into existence involuntarily; and, from the culpable behaviour of those who ought to protect and provide for it, not only be excluded from the comfort of relations, and every title to property or provision, but also that a considerable share of the contempt and shame, incurred by the authors of its being, should devolve upon its innocent and inoffensive head? Wickedness of heart is the same in marryed as unmarryed persons, and if the adulterers children are allowed to be uncontaminated by their parents guilt, why should the simple crime of fornication be hereditary?”

Nope: nothing in THIS novel that the moralists could object to…

We are then reminded that lawful sex, too, has its consequences:

    Six months had now elapsed since the marriage of Mr Letcroft, and Miss Arabella had evaded from time to time the importunities of her father and Mr Banston, to receive Mr Charles as a husband, when she suddenly became altered, to an uncommon degree, in her shape. The servants soon perceived it, and having easy access to the ear of their mistress, communicated their observations to her. She communicated them again to her son and daughter; but they were far from being either surprised or sorry at the event, as it would infallibly in a very short time deliver them from her disagreeable company.
    Mrs Banson was unable, long to conceal her suspicions from her husband, who resented them highly, and said, “that if he could fix upon the original authour of such a scandalous report, he would prosecute him at his own expense.” Miss Arabella, however, discovering by a hint, which, if she had been innocent, would have been perfectly unintelligible, that her condition was suspected in the family…retreated to the house of Mr Letcroft, whose marriage to her was then promulgated all over the country, to the inexpressible chagrin of Mr Banston, the diversion of his wife and servants, the satisfaction of his son and daughter, and the great disappointment and vexation of the lady’s own family.

No sooner has this departure occurred than another visitor arrives, the son of an old friend of Mr Banston and an acquaintance of Charles, who has come to invite the latter to accompany him to London. Mr Banston is persuaded, and gives Charles various commissions to carry out during his holiday, including delivering some letters for him. One of these in to a certain Mrs Blackiston, who Charles finds in extremely reduced circumstances, consumed by thoughts of vengeance against a party or parties who she blames for her miserable situation. Charles doesn’t really listen to her ravings, however: he just wants to get out of there and, having given the old woman some money, slips away as soon as he can.

He and his companion then set themselves to see all the sights of London.

Ahem. ALL the sights of London.

In the wake of a rather boozy dinner at a tavern, Charles allows himself to be led to “a certain house under Covent-garden-piazzas”:

    Their youth and genteel appearance soon gained them admittance, and a bottle of Burgundy being brought, Mr Rutland enquired, if they could not be introduced to some young ladies that were tolerably decent and not very old practitioners? The mother abbess who presided in this temple of Venus, after having presented two or three, without giving satisfaction, said, “she had one damsel under her roof, whom she feared they would find as objectionable for her coyness, as the others were for the opposite extreme; but as there were two of them, if they would make it worth their while, they should separately try what they could do with her.”
    The enflamed Mr Rutland emptied his pockets upon the table, and swore, if that was not sufficient, he would give his note for as much more; but the conscientious lady said, as he was a customer, she was satisfied with what was before her, and Mr Banston, consenting to be served after his friend, was accepted upon easier terms.

Nope: nothing in THIS novel you’d want to keep away from innocent young girls.

Wow. Seriously. I’ve encountered scenes like this before in novels by men, but I have never come across anything like it, let alone this explicitly rendered, in a novel by a woman—and that woman a clergyman’s daughter!?

Anyway—

The aptly named Mr Rutland, having paid for his privilege, tries his luck first. The lovely young girl, in ignorance of her true situation, is first shocked, then terrified and repulsed by his behaviour. Discovering to her horror that she is locked in, she can only weep and plead for mercy. Mr Rutland refuses to be dissuaded by what he perceives as “artifice”, driving his potential victim to extremes:

    “I must inform you, that you have a person to deal with, that is neither capable of being intimidated by threats, nor allured by promises, and that your triumph over her can never be completed whilst her power of resistance remains; nor will she survive such a calamity to become a prey again to avarice and prostitution, for this weapon, snatching his sword out of the scabbard, shall be more merciful than you…”
    “Well, Madam, said the half-vanquished hero, as I find I can do nothing with you by fair means, and detest a rape as much as you, I shall resign you to my friend…”

So saying, he retreats downstairs:

    The abandoned procuress, who was in the room, asked him, what success he had met with? “Why faith, said he, none at all; she is the most squeamish little b—h I ever met with: but come, Charles, continued he, she expects you, pray, do not make her wait.”
    Mr Banston was not in his nature a debauchee; but fearful of exposing himself to the laugh of his more hardened companion, he arose, and, with a reluctance and agitation he could not account for, suffered himself to be led in to the frighted prisoner…

Having sobered up, he has no intention of doing anything, though; and he tries to reassure the terrified girl he finds cringing away on the far side of the room, even promising her that he will be her protector if she needs one. This makes her turn around:

…to her unspeakable surprise, she discovered her young master Banston, and he his beloved Susan…

Yes, well. The reader is probably a little less unspeakably surprised.

Susan explains to Charles that she was betrayed by the wagoner who had conveyed her to London, who had told her that he was in a position to help her secure the assistance of “a good charitable lady”; that she had entered the lady’s house in all good faith, and spent a fortnight doing needlework there, in constant expectation of being recommended to a position; that the clothes she is wearing, she had been persuaded to don on being told that in London, even servants were expected to dress finely; and that this night had been the first time she received an inkling of her true situation.

Charles promptly proposes—pointing out that one month’s residence in any parish will enable them to marry, despite their both being under age. Susan resolutely refuses, insisting that the distance between them is too great, and that she must live single and earn her own living. However, she does accept Charles’ secondary offer of rescue—

(—a rescue, by the way, in which his drunken visit to a brothel and his participation in the purchase of a virgin go politely unremarked—)

—and a refuge under the roof of a respectable woman.

But as it turns out, Charles’ own acquaintance in London is so very limited, the only person he can think of to leave Susan with is Mrs Blackiston…

I think we can all see where this is headed.

The sudden resurrection of Louisa Bentley produces all sorts of fallout—including the belated revelation that “Mr Banston” is actually Anthony Bentley’s old friend, Frank Taylor, who changed his name as a condition of his mercenary marriage. Family Pictures then closes with the expected flourish of rewards and punishments; and while the former take up more space (a romance for Caroline Banston is hurriedly conjured up, for instance), the latter are more interesting for their sense of prosaic reality, in place of the expected speeches about the inscrutable ways of Providence, which generally close novels of this sort.

Despite her repentance and active assistance in exposing the cruel fraud, Mrs Blackiston is rather dismally killed off:

…vexation, disappointment, and the inconveniences that poverty exposed her to, in conjunction with her wounded pride, and turbulent and impatient spirit, brought a complication of disorders upon her, which kept her in a lingering state of misery and suffering, which continued for a whole twelve-month, and then put a period to her existence…

—while the Bentleys are allowed to get away with full restitution of their ill-gotten gains and a hasty retreat, their corporeal punishment consisting of having to share digs with the Letcrofts; with rather more focus given to the consequences of all this for Arabella:

Mr Letcroft and his lady, and Mr and Mrs Bentley, led a very uncomfortable life. The goddess Discord had established her seat under their roof. His being disappointed in obtaining the immense fortune he expected, notwithstanding Mrs Letcroft was likely to inherit some few thousand pounds, changed the meek, servile adorer into the morose, untractable husband. He contracted many improper intimacies, and when his weak brain was heated by a too frequent repetition of the social glass, he was wonted to bestow some rough compliment upon his lady’s delicate bones…

And sure, there is some speechifying; but even here we are struck by the matter-of-fact admission that life doesn’t usually work out as neatly – or as justly – as novels would have us believe:

Thus did the chain of events, derived upon this family, run. Agreeably to our limited notions of rewards and punishments, and though many instances in life are the reverse of this equitable distribution, it must nevertheless by acknowledged, that villainous practices are frequently discovered and detected, and that a perseverance in well-doing is productive of the most happy and agreeable consequences.

And as if this shruggingly half-hearted moralising isn’t odd enough, we are then offered this thoroughly unconvincing closing argument:

Mrs Banston was the only person who remained unchanged, uninterested, and consequently unaffected by these happy revolutions, though I really do her injustice when I say, she did not partake in some measure of the general satisfaction; for her house was clear of every imcumbrance for a long season, and she at liberty to pursue her particular inclinations without interruption, which self-enjoyment was derived from an insensibility of mind, neither to be envyed nor coveted, as surely, to a rational being it must be highly satisfactory to possess a heart capable of generous sympathy, and every humane and tender disposition; for whatever exemption from the participation of others calamities this selfish narrow principle may confer upon its possessor, it can be by no means adequate to the reflected joys of friendship and benevolence.

You know—I rather find myself in sympathy with Mrs Banston…

 

 

08/05/2018

Family Pictures (Part 1)

 

Virtue is here its own reward, nor is it a deception or false colouring; for though success may not always be the attendant on well-doing and well-meriting, yet the peace and satisfaction that result from conscious virtue, are superiour to every other support or dependence: for however prosperous the villain may continue for a period, his prosperity is mere;y external. That worm, which never dies, preys perpetually upon his heart, nor can he either bribe or compel it to spare him, though but for a moment: whereat the meanest condition my be rendered truely great, by a perseverance in justice and integrity; for whosoever possesses an honest soul, capable of disdaining, and industriously shunning the paths of vice, is greatest, wisest, best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So having spent a ridiculous amount of time pondering the correct attribution of various 18th and early 19th century novels to Susannah Gunning, Margaret Minifie and Elizabeth Gunning, I picked up a copy of the next book in line for this section of Authors In Depth—and immediately concluded that I’d made a mistake.

Published in 1764, Family Pictures, A Novel. Containing Curious and Interesting Memoirs of several Persons of Fashion in W—re opens with one of those familiar, female-authored novel-prefaces, which simultaneously admits the pernicious qualities of some novels while protesting the moral value of this particular novel.

I had concluded previously that Family Pictures was probably written by Margaret Minifie; but all of a sudden I was confronted by this:

I myself have children, and unfeignedly lament the danger their morals are exposed to, from the trash and obscenity the Press is daily pouring forth for their amusement, as it is called…

…which unthinkingly led me to conclude that this novel must, perforce, have been written by Susannah Gunning…

…until it occurred to me that (i) Susannah didn’t marry until 1768; (ii) that in any event, she only had one child; and (iii) that this, consequently, was a big fat lie—and therefore quite in keeping with what we know of the Gunning / Minifie menage.

In any event, referring to the author as “Miss Minifie” is, given the novel’s 1764 publication date, correct regardless.

Family Pictures is a minor work, quite without literary value, but not uninteresting in some of what it has to say; and its preface is, oddly, one of the things worth noting. There is a significant gap between its the-lady-doth-protest opening and the content of the narrative—which in fact something I’m learning to look out for. That said, the questionable content doesn’t really appear until the second of the two volumes…when, presumably, the publisher had committed to that volume’s appearance. (As we have noted before, at the time novels were sometimes published a volume at a time, to test the waters, with the publisher retaining the right to pull the plug.)

At the outset the author states her position:

The tale is literally true; the morals and sentiments are very opposite to the generality of productions of this nature. I was induced to publish it from a tender regard to the female part of this Metropolis, whose more immediate province I apprehend Novel-reading to be.

Curiously, high-flown – and highly artificial – sentiment then becomes interwoven with some fairly shrewd observations on human nature: the fact that anything being “forbidden” makes it automatically more desirable, for example, and consequently the pointlessness of “banning” novel-reading, as young people will doubtless find a way; and that therefore the sensible thing is not less novels, but better novels. We also get a lengthy criticism of what passes for female education, and its ongoing consequences with regard to both individual women and society in general of a focus upon appearance and superficial “accomplishments”:

Should Miss have the misfortune to be handsome, she is early taught to hold her person in the greatest estimation… She must not learn to write, for fear of becoming round-shouldered, or work, lest she impair her fine eyes. Therefore a little imperfect French, an easy (and too frequently an insufferable) assurance, to tingle a harpsichord, and play quadrille, includes the whole of female education.

Mind you, she’s little more impressed with the nature of boys’ education (or, for that matter, boys per se); though in that respect, she does have an interesting theory about the origins of girls’ addiction to novel-reading:

Whereas the rougher bred boys, by having acquired a superficial knowledge of History and the Classicks, assume the privilege of laughing at their illiterate sisters, who instantly resolve to be upon an equality with the affected pedants. In consequence of this resolution, they get their Mamma’s waiting-woman to enroll them members of some circulating-library, where they obtain an easy and inexhaustible supply of such authours, as it had been better for them, (for the bad effects of their works,) they had never been born.

Present company excepted, of course, and our author – or “Editor”, as she styles herself, this being yet another novel to masquerade as a true story – says of her own work:

This performance has the single merit, (the Editor flatters herself,) that, at worst, it will prove inoffensive; a merit which the sensible and ingenuous will not deny it, whatever may be the opinions of some few over-nice cavillers…

How DARE you call me an over-nice caviller!? Hmmph!

It is interesting though, how sensible argument and misplaced self-congratulation are interwoven here. So that every time the author makes a reasonable point (however sarcastically)—

As long as the world continues to be distinguished into the learned and unlearned, male and female, young and old, performances in the Novel-way will never be unseasonable; for it is no less absurd to suppose pedants capable of dipping into so mean a work as a Novel, than ridiculous to imagine the larger part of Novel-readers capable of comprehending the Classicks: consequently, unless our capacities and educations could be reduced to one common lesson, amusements of this inferiour kind will be essential. The grand point, therefore, is to render them, if not improving, at least innocent.

—she undercuts it by making herself her own illustration:

The characters introduced to the readers acquaintance in this little work, are not fictitious ones, nor the several remarkable incidents of their lives merely the product of a fertile brain. I would, therefore, recommend the serious consideration of them to the young and inexperienced…

Family Pictures opens…confusingly…with a couple of potted histories that jump back-and-forth over generations and leave us momentarily confused about who we’re actually dealing with. When the fog clear, we are presented with two young men, Anthony Bentley and Frank Taylor, whose close friendship is disrupted when the latter is dispatched to India by his father, with orders, basically, to stay there until he has made his fortune, no matter how much he hates it. The two young men agree to maintain their friendship via the sort of minutely detailed correspondence usually associated with young women in epistolary novels.

Anthony, meanwhile, is a properly moral and principled individual, thanks chiefly to his tuition from the Reverend Mr Parker. The latter, a very good man, is also a very poor one, as he married for virtue instead of money. The Parkers have one child:

    The little Eliza, their daughter, had a person, which, though it could not come under the denomination of beautiful, was perfectly agreeable. In her countenance was displayed a most charming sensibility, every feature glowing with visible emanations of an intelligent and capacious mind. He eye spoke softness and love, but modesty sat enthroned on her brow, while meekness, gentleness, and simplicity of manners were her amiable characteristics.
    Besides the advantages of education before observed, she had in her father and mother the daily and striking examples of conjugal affection, universal philanthropy, and charity in all its loveliness and attendant graces…

However, what we think we see coming is prevented, or at least forestalled, when Mr Parker receives the gift of a new and better living, and the family moves to Herefordshire.

Some years later, Anthony’s father dies, and he inherits the family property. His loss is all the more severe since it leaves him with no relative but a brother with whom he has nothing in common, and who in turn resents him as the elder son:

The ruling passion of Daniel (such was the brother’s name) was an unbounded avarice; his nature was groveling, suspicious, and revengeful. Master of a deep cunning, he directed himself by that, and endowed with no inconsiderable share of low ambition, made use of his craft, as the means to rise… He, therefore, prudently resolved to make the utmost of his brother’s generosity, (which, in his heart, he deemed weakness) by living upon him, in many particulars, beyond what could be done with a good grace. This was his motive for treating his brother with an outward show of respect…

This passage is juxtaposed with one of Anthony’s letters to his friend, Frank Taylor, wherein he comments that, despite being an uncongenial companion due to his obsession with sport, Daniel is behaving better generally. This is supposed to illustrate for us Daniel’s “deep cunning” but, such are the various descriptions of his conduct, the reader comes away thinking, rather, that Anthony must be a bit thick. Since a major plot-turn later depends upon Anthony being completely deceived by his brother, this is all rather problematic.

Nevertheless, Daniel’s sporting habits make home unpleasant for Anthony, and he decides to visit the Parkers in their country retreat. This interlude (conveyed in more letters to Frank) is shot through with the by-now familiar sentimentalism of the period; albeit we’re more accustomed to hearing it from young ladies. Naturally Anthony falls in love with the perfect Eliza; although he does not recognise the state of his heart until she falls ill with smallpox.

In Barford Abbey, four years later, there is also a subplot in which the heroine contracts smallpox. This in itself is not an issue: the disease was endemic in England, and killed up to 10% of the population each year, leaving countless other sufferers scarred for life. What I do object to is the miraculous way in which, in these novels, the disease keeps refusing to disfigure attractive young women—Eliza escaping here as does Fanny Powis in the later novel.

At the same time, the plot takes an unexpected turn with respect to Anthony. When Eliza falls ill, and he realises he loves her, he keeps quiet about the fact that he has not had smallpox, preferring to remain in danger rather than be away from Eliza at this critical time. And sure enough, no sooner is Eliza on the mend than Anthony falls dangerously ill—and we discover that smallpox is less considerate when dealing with young men. We also get intimations of an exasperating but realistic double-standard:

    Eliza…was extremely shocked at the unhappy alteration in him, which had occasioned the poor lover himself an infinite share of chagrin. He had too much good sense, indeed, to suffer the least mortification from any value he set upon his person, but he was not sure, that it might not injure him in the eyes of the only woman he had ever been ambitious of being approved by; and as lovers are always tormenting themselves with unnecessary fears, he imagined she could not behold him without both horrour and disapprobation.
    He did the young lady, however, great injustice in his conjectures, for notwithstanding she really felt some concern at his sudden metamorphosis, yet she had a mind incapable of being very deeply affected by externals, and consequently whatever effect that alteration might have upon her with regard to her person, her esteem for his internal qualities still remained unshaken.
    These were the attractions that had wrought upon her, attractions whose lustre was not to be impaired by disease, and therefore she felt not the least abatement of that cordial approbation she had begun to entertain of him before her own and his illness. She secretly thanked heaven, however, that her face had not undergone the same fate…

Anthony soon declares himself to Eliza, and the two become engaged after many pages of high-flown speechifying, first between the young lovers, then between Anthony and Mr Parker.

The author is conscious that, in having Anthony speak to Eliza before her father, she has sacrificed propriety to romance; and she hurriedly interjects the following. The fact that this is supposed to be Anthony speaking – and that he has been meeting, not secretly, but certainly privately, with Eliza – gives an amusing edge to this display of Miss Minifie’s evidently low opinion of the male sex:

Were I writing for the press, I would here warn the tender, unexperienced maid from consenting to private interviews, even with the man whose intentions were truely honourable, as the dexterity, which clandestine meetings require, would but too probably rise in judgement against her, at a time, when she might least expect it; for life is subject to such and infinite variety of changes and chances, and the mind of man so frequently affected by them, that it is twenty to one but the same action, which was by the obliged lover magnified into the into the generous and meritorious, would by the reflecting husband be condemned, as the effect of a too fertile invention, and a mind turned for intrigue…

(This is a milder example of an infuriating scenario depressingly common in 18th century novels, wherein a man will relentlessly pursue a young woman in the name of his unalterable love, demand her sexual surrender as proof of her unalterable love—and then dump her because, if she surrenders to him, obviously she’s a whore who’ll have sex with anyone…)

Anthony is soon pouring out his happiness on paper (a typo has him announcing his engagement to “Louisa”, i.e. his prospective mother-in-law), and is disconcerted, to say the least, when he gets no response from his friend. He reminds himself that there have been lapses in his own correspondence, after his father’s death and during his illness; but eventually he begins to fret that either Frank so thoroughly disapproves his engagement, he won’t even respond, or that he too has fallen ill, or worse.

He finally does get a letter—one which severs their friendship, not because of anything Anthony has done, but because Frank has succumbed to temptation and his desperate desire to return to England (which his father will not permit him to do until he has made his fortune), and married a rich woman whom he despises; although not as much as he now despises himself. However, he promises Anthony an explanation when he does return to England…

Meanwhile, the announcement of his brother’s engagement does not exactly fill Daniel with fraternal joy:

Daniel was greatly chagrined at the unexpected news. He cursed his intended sister most heartily, and wished, his brother had had a taste for the pleasures of the chase, as that would have secured him from bringing home a pert minx to subvert all the ancient customs of Bentley-hall. The marriage, indeed, was a stroke he little expected. He had experienced during his brother’s absence what he called a full enjoyment of life, which amounted to an exemption from expense, a daily hazarding of his neck in the noble pursuit of a miserable defenceless animal, and closing the evening in a total subversion of reason. Anthony’s cellar (in the refined language of this sportsman) had bled freely; his horses had been harassed to death, and his servants had hourly trembled at oaths they were utterly unaccustomed to hear…

Anthony and Eliza are married, but spend their first weeks together with the Parkers. Daniel, therefore, has the opportunity to throw one last bash for his sporting friends—

—and we get a fabulous piece of accidental meta-humour, when Miss Minifie observes tartly of the debauched gathering:

Had Mr Hogarth been admitted to a view of these mid-night-revellers, the Publick might have been presented with a piece by no means inferiour to the greatest of that ingenious artist’s productions.

—recalling as we do that it was Hogarth’s chief pupil / competitor, James Gillray, who dragged the Gunning scandal out into the light of day.

On the other hand, I was interested and to a degree won over by the realisation that Family Pictures is one of those 18th century novels in which we can see the treatment of animals beginning to emerge as a social issue. Most commonly at this time, this was expressed with respect to dogs and horses (we saw the latter in the anonymous 1797 novel, Milistina). What we have here, however, is one of the earliest protests against fox-hunting that I have so far encountered.In fact, Miss Minifie makes a love of hunting a signifier for deficiency of heart and character. For 1764, that is remarkable.

When the newlyweds return home, Daniel does his best to seem pleased and to get along with Eliza, but he is incapable of regulating his behaviour. Indeed, he barely sees the need to; and tries to entertain his sister-in-law with a graphic description of his day’s hunting:

    When he came to [the fox’s] death, a savage ardour sparkled in his eyes, and the cries of the poor tortured animal but furnished him with witticisms.
    The tender-hearted Eliza was shocked to a very great degree at the inhumanity which displayed itself in every circumstance of this description. She was at first silent, but as he still continued his encomiums on the chase; “Can the worrying of a poor animal, said she, out of its existence deserve the commendations you bestow on it? Excuse me, Sir, if I take the liberty of saying, that there is rather barbarity in it. The exercise may, indeed, conduce to the bodily health, but the mind, I am afraid, is often hardened by it to a degree that renders it much less sensible of the feelings of humanity.”

Of course, as far as Daniel is concerned, she might as well be speaking Martian. The immediate consequence of this little scene is that he accepts that the good times are over, and that he needs to find somewhere else to live. He therefore courts and wins a Miss Bowling, who shares his views on hunting, and has five thousand pounds and a weak-willed brother, who Daniel duly persuades into letting him take up residence under his own roof. The marriage produces four children in as many years, three girls and then a boy; the latter named “Anthony” in the hope of a creating a financial as well as an emotional tie to his uncle. It is the eldest girl, however, named Arabella for her mother, who is closest to her parents’ hearts:

…notwithstanding her early time of life, [she] had betrayed such a complication in her nature of both father and mother, as promised to render her a most complete character. She was absolute master and mistress at home, had several unfortunate animals in her possession, which she tortured at her pleasure; fear, tenderness, and affection having the least share in her composition… She was accustomed to follow her father in the visitation of his hounds and horses, without either fear or dismay, and taught to examine the wounds of the various game, sent home weltering in gore, with all the transports of savage delight…

Meanwhile – without even pretending sorrow at Daniel’s departure – Anthony and Eliza settle down to a life of conjugal bliss.

However—this is an 18th century sentimental novel, after all, and – as we well know – they like dishing out absolute misery as much if not more than absolute happiness. That said, the misery in Family Pictures takes an odd form. Inevitably the novel is framed within the dictates of Christianity, and many solemn protestations of religious duty and submission to God’s will pepper the early stages of the narrative.

Yet the one thing all the characters share – even Mr Parker, the minister – is a complete inability to move on from a death. Instead, they either become almost permanently catatonic with grief, or outright die of it: the triumph of sentimentalism over conventional religion.

The novel’s shift in tone is announced with an almost hilariously perfect sentimental-novel “mission statement”:

The days of the happy pair were now one uninterrupted scene of happiness for some time, but fortune had only smiled to make her frowns more terrible…

Eliza falls pregnant (and the novel uses the p-word!), which after four childless years initially brings everyone great joy. However, when this first phase has passed, Anthony is seized with a terrible premonition—one marked by an unusual dwelling upon the contemporary dangers of pregnancy and childbirth, and by the pragmatic separation of Anthony’s roles:

Mr Bentley’s delight at the engaging name of father was checked and allayed by the apprehensions of the fond husband. The bare possibility of his exchanging for a dear infant his much dearer wife shook his very soul, and this painful reflection still continually intruding itself, as the time advanced that must determine the event, his anxieties were not a little augmented by it…

Eliza herself is in a state of mixed optimism and properly religious submission; and gently lectures her husband on his duty:

“Subdue then, my dear Anthony, these terrours so unbecoming a breast enlightened by a single ray of that religion we profess. Endeavour to acquire an implicit resignation to that power which bestowed, and consequently has a right to recall, if improperly used, every blessing you are now in possession of. Beware of that too frequent practice of idolatry, nor imagine, whilst you cherish in your heart a superiour affection to that of your great creatour, that you are innocent of a breach of the commandment, which so positively says, Thou shalt have no other God than me.”

As it turns out, Eliza survives the birth of her daughter, named Louisa for her own mother; and for three years, all is well—or so it seems. In fact, Eliza is in that mysterious condition known as “a decline”:

She had felt some inward decay, but forbore complaining, from a too tender consideration for her husband’s repose, until it was advanced beyond the power of medicine to remedy…

So Eliza dies; and, showing how deeply he took that pre-childbirth lecture to heart, Anthony reacts by going into a decline himself, and dying of grief.

Now— During the first four years of Anthony and Eliza’s marriage, Daniel and Arabella gradually taught themselves to look upon the family property as their own, or at least as ultimately belonging to their son. The advent of Louisa, therefore, in the absence of an entail, was a shock and a mortification.

The succeeding deaths of Eliza and Anthony, however—well, that’s a different matter. Daniel is summoned to his brother’s death-bed, where he is assured of a “generous” legacy, though the bulk of the property goes to Louisa. He also learns that – really, Anthony? REALLY!? – he has been appointed Louisa’s joint guardian, along with her grandfather.

The solemnity of the situation prompts a promise:

“Your child, said he, shall be considered by me as my own, and may God so deal with me and mine, as I shall acquit myself with respect to her.”

However—

Daniel was a little affected, but soon got the better of it…

 

[To be continued…]

 

 

18/04/2018

Attribution confusion

Having succeeded in getting Chronobibliography moving again, I wanted to see, while I was on something at least resembling a roll, whether I could get another neglected blog section kick-started. And for obscure reasons with which I need not bore you, I came down upon the Authors In Depth section, and specifically the next novel by one or both of the sisters, Margaret Minifie and Susannah Minifie Gunning.

And almost immediately I hit a speed-bump…which my OCD promptly magnified into a brick wall.

It is known that the sisters wrote novels both separately and together, but correct attributions are difficult due to the range of ways in which they referred to themselves on their title-pages, and by Susannah changing her surname when she married (naturally enough, for the time).

Another complication is that Susannah’s daughter, Elizabeth, also became a novel-writer; and though she is referred to correctly as “Miss Gunning” in some quarters, in others her works have been attributed to her mother, that is, as by “Mrs Gunning”.

So instead of relying upon what seem, frankly, to be some people’s best guesses, I thought I would try to access the ladies’ books online and see what the title-pages actually say; and, working with the knowledge that Susannah got married in 1768 and that Elizabeth was born in 1769 and married in 1803, see what I could pin down, and what remains obscure.

The Histories Of Lady Frances S—, And Lady Caroline S— (1763) : “Written by the MISS MINIFIES, of Fairwater, in Somersetshire”
Family Pictures (1764) : “By a LADY”
The Picture (1766) : “By the MISS MINIFIES of Fairwater in Somersetshire, Authors of The Histories Of Lady Frances S—, And Lady Caroline S—”
Barford Abbey (1768) : Neither the Dublin first edition nor the London second edition carries an attribution, although the latter carries a handwritten note, “By Mrs Susannah (Minifie) Gunning” (NB: this is the year Susannah married) [NB: epistolary]
The Cottage (1769) : “By Miss MINIFIE, Author of Barford-Abbey”
The Hermit (1769) : “By a LADY” (NB: the 1770 edition is attributed to “Miss MINIFIE, Author of Barford-Abbey, The Cottage, &c”; the 1771 edition is attributed to “Miss MINIFIES”, which we can cautiously assume to be a typo rather than a joint-attribution)

Apparently both Margaret and Susannah then fell silent for some eleven years (during which time, some of their works did appear in second and third editions; incredible as that may seem if you’ve actually read them).

The Count de Poland (1780) : “By Miss M. Minifie, one of the authors of Lady Frances and Lady Caroline S—” (the latter suggesting that the ladies’ first novel had been reissued under a revised title; though I can find no record of it)
Coombe Wood (1783) : “By the author of Barford-Abbey and The Cottage” [NB: epistolary]

More silence followed, until the eruption of the Gunning scandal in 1791; in which Margaret was (rightly or wrongly) implicated. And it was after that – after John Gunning had booted them out in an attempt to save his own skin – that both Susannah and Elizabeth began writing to support themselves.

Susannah died in 1800; Elizabeth married John Plunkett in 1803, and after that published as “Mrs Elizabeth Gunning Plunkett” (or a variation thereof). Margaret, meanwhile, almost certainly died during the 1790s: the date of her death is not known, but the last records to show her alive are from April 1791.

Anecdotes Of The Delborough Family (1792) : “By Mrs Gunning”
Memoirs Of Mary (1793) : “By Mrs Gunning”
Delves, A Welch Tale (1796) : “By Mrs Gunning”
Love At First Sight (1797) : Reviewed by Tobias Smollet in The Critical Review as “From the French. With Alterations and Additions. By Mrs Gunning”
Fashionable Involvements (1800) : “By Mrs Gunning”
The Heir Apparent (1802) : “By the late Mrs Gunning” (Susannah died in 1800, leaving this unfinished; Elizabeth finished and published it; it is sometimes listed as “Revised by Miss Gunning”)

The Packet (1794) : “By Miss Gunning”
Lord Fitzhenry (1794) : “By Miss Gunning”
Memoirs Of Madame de Barnveldte (1975) : “Translated from the French by Miss Gunning”
The Foresters (1796) : “Altered from the French by Miss Gunning”
The Orphans Of Snowdon (1797) : “By Miss Gunning”
The Gipsy Countess (1799) : “By Miss Gunning”
The Farmer’s Boy (1802) : “By Miss Gunning” (in some editions; others have it as “By the author of Love At First Sight–Gipsy Countess”, which is just confusing)
The War-Office (1803) : “By Mrs Elizabeth Gunning Plunkett”
The Exile Of Erin (1808) : “By Mrs Plunkett, late Miss Gunning”
Dangers Through Life (1810) : “By Mrs Plunkett (late Miss Gunning)”; may have been reissued in 1815 as “The Victims Of Seduction”

And an outlier: The Union (1802), listed as “By Miss Minifie”, at a time when Susannah was dead, and Margaret presumed so.

We can appreciate that, cashing in as they were on the family scandal, both Susannah and Elizabeth wanted their authorship known. It is those earlier novels where the mystery remains—and while most of them have traditionally been attributed to Susannah (probably because her name is better known), the weight of that title-page evidence suggests that Margaret wrote all of the earlier solo efforts; and that Susannah did not write a novel on her own until the 1790s. It also makes more historical sense, if I can put it that way, that the unmarried Margaret went on writing, while Susannah did not take it up in earnest until she had to earn her own living.

One of the consequences of this research is that I now believe that, in originally attributing Barford Abbey to Susannah, I was probably wrong; and that I need to revise my post about the novel to reflect this.

As for the book that brought me to all this, 1764’s Family Pictures – “By a LADY” – the jury is out. Granted, it’s one of the works usually attributed to Susannah—but then, nearly everything is. And if I needed any more of a reminder to tread cautiously in that respect, I have it in The New Cambridge Bibliography Of English Literature, edited by George Watson, which on one page of the second volume lists both Family Pictures and Barford Abbey, attributing both to Susannah—and offering of the latter the following synopsis:

Heroine, disfigured with smallpox, rewards hero with riches.

…when in fact:

  • she catches smallpox but is not disfigured;
  • she has no riches;
  • she marries the hero.

 

16/04/2018

The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d

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The Reader needs but Reflect on this Description, as he peruses this Libel, and he will all the way discover that the Poets Idea of Calumny, is the perfect Pourtraicture of this Contumelious Scribler; for he will observe how he plays upon all the Keyes of Satyr that can be imagin’d; and, according as his Passion tunes his Fancy, he either wrawls discontentedly, or grunts churlishly, or grins and snarls angrily, or rails licentiously, or barks currishly, or stings venomously; and this indifferently both High and Low, Kings and all sorts of Subjects that are not of his own Blatant Kind; either blotting their Names infamously, or biting them injuriously…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most immediately striking thing about this entry in the ongoing political brawl is how late it was to the party.

There was a reason (of sorts) for this, however, as the reader is informed via a pre-title page:

The Copy of this Treatise was Given out to be Printed a Year and half ago; but by Accident or Negligence, was laid by, and could not be Retriev’d till very lately; which may, I hope, serve to Excuse this Delay in Publishing it.

In context, we can only be thankful that there was thought to be any point in publishing The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d at all—that “Year and half” encompassing the Battle of the Boyne and the final crushing of the hopes of the former James II, and the settling down of England under the almost pugnaciously Protestant rule of William and Mary.

There are several extremely interesting things about this “treatise”, however, that makes me glad the author, who identifies himself only as ‘N. N.’ (and for whom I have not been able to come up with even a guess as to his full name), persisted in getting it into print.

In informational terms, the most worthwhile aspect of this publication is not its main text, but its lengthy preface. It is within this introduction that the author rails against the explosion of crude and slanderous writing via which the reality of James, and the memory of Charles, were being attacked: thus bringing to my attention a whole new batch of political writing from this time of growing unease.

The preface also explains the author’s choice of title, which is drawn from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and which comprises a fascinating piece of cross-textual referencing. As academic Christopher Hill puts it in a recent paper, The Blatant Beast: The Thousand Tongues Of Elizabethan Religious Polemic:

“This article addresses the final two books of the 1596 edition of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, in which there arises a formidable adversary: the Blatant Beast. This monster, whose presence dominates the end of Book Five and a substantial portion of Book Six, represents the worst excesses of caustic and satirical rhetoric as manifest in the theological and ecclesiastical pamphlet disputes that erupted after Fields and Wilcox’s 1572 Admonition to Parliament.”

From this we see that the author could hardly have chosen a better symbol for the anti-Stuart / anti-Catholic writing of the time, which is perfectly summed up in the phrase, The worst excesses of caustic and satirical rhetoric.

Throughout his own text, the author refers to “the Blatant kind” and “the Blatants”, lumping together all the objectionable attacks upon Charles and James under a single heading. However, the individual who infuriated him the most was the one responsible for The Secret History Of The Reigns Of K. Charles II, And K. James II – who he insists that he knows, though he does not identify him by name:

I shall do the Author a greater Kindness than he deserves, by not naming him at present, though he is known to more than he dreams of, and may justly fear that his second Recantation will not be so easily prevalent to procure his Pardon, as was his first. His Character is best drawn by himself; for the whole Meen of his Books do amply acknowledg, that he is a wild Debauchee, who has devoted him Life to Sensuality and Amorous Intrigues with his Misses; whence his Heart being full of Affection for those Darling Pleasures, his Fancy could not be at ease till it was delivered of them, by venting them after a very pathetical manner; and, hoping the better to ennoble his own Beastly Conceptions, he applies (without regarding whether there be the least shadow of Ground for it) his own Immodest Pranks to Kings and Queens…

(It is clear from the text, which references a publication supporting Titus Oates, that the author was one of those who believed that John Phillips wrote The Secret History… Whether this description fits Nathaniel Crouch is another matter.)

Though we do not know who the author of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d is, we do know something about him from his writing. He was not a Catholic—but he was a Tory, the kind of Tory who believed sincerely in the sacredness of kings—and who managed, somehow, to hold onto that belief despite living through the Stuart era. The whole tone of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d makes it clear that the author was both astonished and mortally offended by the discovery that someone had dared be so disrespectful towards royalty. In fact, he can only explain this body of literature to himself by supposing that its authors are all – gasp! – republicans.

But there’s royalty, and then there’s royalty. There are tacit criticisms of William scattered through this text, oblique but unmistakable; not least the charge that he was actually behind this school of writing. I should note here that the entirety of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d is presented in the form of a letter to a friend of the author, who asked his opinion of it. In this way, the author can pass off his most extreme opinions as being those of his friend, which he himself deprecates. For example:

Nay, were that Unlikely Supposition of yours True, yet ’tis incredible, that Persons even of Ordinary Prudence, (much less such as they) would not have been chary to abuse Princes so nearly Ally’d to them, with such Foul and Contumelious Language; but would rather have made Choice of some sober and grave Writer, who knew what good Manners and Decency meant, to lay open the plain Naked Truth, (had Necessity so requir’d) in a Style full of charitable and respectful Expressions towards their Persons, and with a sensible regret that he was forced to expose their Faults…

But if no-one else will defend slandered royalty, the author will. Putting ladies first, he weighs in on the insults offered to Mary of Modena:

But alas! What a most improper Subject has this poor unfortunate Ribald made choice of, to fix that Disgraceful Character upon! A PRINCESS, whose Incomparable Worth and Unblemish’d Virtue is such, that it never permitted any occasion to the least sinister Imagination in any that knew her. Nor durst Malice it self ever be so bold, as to taint her Unspotted Life so much as with a Suspicion of deviating from the severest Rules of Modesty…

…which, after “Malice” being “so bold” as to produce three years’ worth of Sham Prince literature, seems an odd thing to say.

Also odd, and extremely revealing, is the attitude taken towards James. Explaining his reasons for writing this defence, the author remarks:

Nor shall I be afraid heartily to own that I had a dutiful Respect, very particularly to the Honour of those two Excellent Princes, whom he so Injuriously and Barbarously traduces, as the Blackest Monsters that ever liv’d, and little less than Devils Incarnate.

Here’s the thing, though: that is one of very few mentions of James in the document; the author makes only a half-hearted effort to defend him against the specific charges brought by his antagonist, even though these encompass crimes including complicity, to put it no more strongly, in the murder of Charles. And in fact, even those efforts tend more to attacks upon his rival author, than true support of James.

Instead, the author devotes almost his entire publication to vindicating Charles. I can only assume that James’ behaviour, including – or perhaps specifically – his leaguing with Louis XIV, offset his inherent “sacredness”.

Despite offering a point-by-point counter-argument to everything proposed by The Secret History…, The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d is a much easier read. The author, while highlighting the innumerable idiocies and lies of his target, keeps his temper surprisingly well—instead employing a tone of disgusted sarcasm that not only deconstructs the opposing text much better than ranting could do, but is pretty funny to boot.

Here, to start with, are just a few of the author’s opinions of his rival:

The Author places a peculiar Felicity in expressing everything waspishly; and no Ragoust of Eloquence pleases his Palate, but that of Satyr and Invective. Never was Man in a higher Salivation with Rage, or drivell’d more Foam. I should take him to be possest with Fits of Madness, but that he has no Lucid Intervals…

I desire you to Note how candidly this Libeller tells you what you may expect from him in that kind, and how plainly he not only confesses, but excellently proves himself to be an Insulting Barbarian…

I am given to understand for Certain, That this Gallimawsry of Scurrility, was writ by an Atheistical, Damning, Swearing, Drunken Fellow…

…such a foul-mouth’d Thersites, whose whole Book is woven quite thorow with such rancorous Invectiveness, that, could a Mad Dog speak, he could scarce vent his Cereberean Foam with more Venome…

With what impertinent and ridiculous Flams does this Baffling Fellow hope to fool his Readers! Yet this is his constant handy-dandy method in every point he handles: Voluntary Talk serves him for Well-Grounded Truth, meer Pretences for Proofs, and flimflam Stories for clear Evidences…

As for The Secret History… itself, the author is not slow to seize upon its overarching absurdity; nor to jeer at its main thesis:

He Fancies himself a little God Almighty, and dives into their very Thoughts; and (which is a Prerogative peculiar to the Divinity) searches their very Hearts and most retruse Intentions; and when he has done, he turns their Consciences inside-outwards: For, otherwise, the Particulars he huddles up together, will fall short of inferring what is still the Burthen of his Song, The Design of introducing Popery and Slavery.

Taking the high ground, the author makes a shrewd and well-reasoned argument against his rival’s approach, pointing out the absurdity of his insistence (highlighted in my post on The Secret History…) that EVERYTHING in the reigns of Charles and James tended to this outcome, and that even the most seemingly commonplace events of the time held a secret and sinister meaning, if only we knew it. Again and again the author shows the bizarre illogic inherent in the efforts made to prove this contention, mocking the notion that EVERYTHING was cause and effect, that EVERYTHING had “consequences”—

But let our Blatant take the business in hand, with his special Gift of drawing Consequences, the whole Action, and every Step that was taken in it, shall clearly demonstrate an arrant Design of introducing Slavery and Popery, however remote and impertinent the Premisses are from the Conclusion.

—even Charles’ sexual adventures:

But, alas! This is one of his stoutest and most Achillean Arguments; K. Ch. the Second could not keep a Miss for his Pleasure, but, have-at-him with a Consequence, cries Blatant, ergo, it was a meer Plot of his to debauch the Nation, and so to introduce Popery and Slavery…

He also takes a somewhat more prosaic view of war with the Dutch than we find in the earlier document:

The Dutch War is levell’d by him at the meer bringing in of Popery and Slavery. Whereas, they being our known Competitors in Shipping and Trade, and daily encroaching upon us…a War once in Seven or (at farthest) Ten Years was ever held by our wisest Statesmen, in former times…as seasonable and necessary, as is the lopping off the under-growing Suckers, that intercept the Sap from the Tree…

And of James’ supposed sabotage:

The then D. of York took an innocent Nap at Sea. A clear Case, says our man of Consequences, that it was a meer treacherous Plot, to let the Dutch  beat the English, and make ’em destroy one another to bring in Slavery and Popery. Our all-seeing Blatant could peep into his Fancy, though all the Windows of his Senses were shut up, and craftily spy out his very Dreams, and there read plainly, that he was still plotting Slavery and Popery, even in his Sleep. Nay more, he makes him to be a man of such a Chimerical Composition, that he both procur’d the firing the Dutch Ships in their Harbours, and also procur’d the firing of our Ships at Chatham; and to mend the Jest, our implacable Blatant, whose ambi-sinistrous Humour nothing can please, is very angry with him for doing both the one and the other…

As for Charles’ supposed incestuous affairs with Barbara Villiers and his sister, Henrietta, the author passes over the shocking nature of the accusations to focus on the ridiculous details of the presentation:

But Blatant makes that Lady King Ch. his sister by the Mother’s side only, which renders it but Incestuous to the half part, and so in his Opinion does not blemish the King enough. Have-at-him then once again (says he) with another and a more compleat Incest with the Dutchess of Orleans, who was his own Sister by Father and Mother’s side both… I demand then his Proof for this double foul-mouth’d Calumny: Not a jot, he thanks you; his own ipse dixit, and bare Affirmation, is all he can afford us: For, sure he cannot think that the D. of B—‘s holding the Door looks, in the least, like a Proof, were it true, which ’tis very unlikely to be; for, Why could they not (were such a shameful Wickedness intended) go into a Room where they could themselves fasten the Door on the inside?

The author sobers when considering the accusations made with respect to the Popish Plot and its associated executions and murders; but he regains his voice after refuting the various attempts to show Charles in a conspiracy with the Pope:

…what gives a kind of Counterfeit Life to his whole Discourse, is his sputtering, and keeping a great coil and clutter to amuse weak Readers, and put them at theit Wits-end what to think. Only, they can see, that either Blatant is the Greatest Lyar living, or, every man he is offended at, is the Greatest Knave in Nature. Whether of them is thus faulty, any sober man may easily divine by his Natural Reason, without needing to go to a Wizzard…

But notwithstanding, he supposes that a few readers will come down on Blatant’s side:

So, if any had to sute with Blatant’s Fancy, (and as will be seen anon, ’tis hard to hit it, without complying with both sides of the Contradiction) then you shall be Saints, Cherubims, or what else you would wish; but if you do not, your Doom is passed; for, be as many for Quantity, or as great for Quality as you please, Igad you are all stark naught, every Mothers Son of you, and he packs you all away in a Bundle to Old Nick, for a company of Doting, Frantick, Knavish, Villanous, Treacherous, Incestuous, Murthering, Fasting, Popish and Atheistical Rogues and Rascals…

If The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d had left it there, it would have served its dual purpose of vindicating Charles and exposing the vindictive lies of the author of The Secret History… – with the bonus of making us laugh – but alas, it did not.

Instead, almost half of the document – no less than 45 pages out of 93 total (including the preface) – is handed over to an attempt to refute one accusation made, by direct testimony:

These few Instances are more than sufficient to demonstrate, that this Self-conceited Coxcomb makes it his least concern to regard either Sense, Reason, Authority, Truth, or Honesty, but rails on contentedly to himself and his Friends. I could have presented you with thrice as many, had it been needful; yet, tho’ I omit them, I stand engaged to add one more…which I was the willinger to examin, because I was inform’d, that he was held by all that knew him (the Lords of the Privy-Council amongst the rest) to be a man of Sincerity and Ingenuity.

The person in question is John Sergeant, of whom The Secret History… has this to say:

Nor must it be omitted as an Argument of His Majesty’s great Zeal for the Protestant Religion, That when one Sergeant, a Priest, made a discovery of the Popish Plot from Holland, which he caus’d to be transmitted to the Court, with an intention to have discovered several others, he was first brib’d off…then sent for into England, slightly and slily examined, had his Pardon given him, and sent back with Five Pound a week, to say no more.

According to the author of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d, he made a point of seeking out Sergeant, sending him the excerpt in question from The Secret History… and asking for his version of events. Sergeant’s response occupies those 45 pages. He explains how, while he was in exile in Holland, and so presumed to be disaffected against Charles, an attempt was made to draw him into the Popish Plot, one way or the other: that on one hand he was offered a very large bribe to implicate James in the Plot; that on the other, if he would not, he would be ruined by accusations that he was himself involved in that plot and several others; and that this double-threat was immediately acted upon, via accusing letters sent to England, which resulted in Sergeant being summoned to Court.

Sergeant goes on to explain how, luckily, he had contacted Henry Sidney, ambassador to The Hague, when matters first began to stir; and that he could call him to witness that he brought the matter to the attention of the authorities as soon as he reasonably could; and that by spending as much of the intervening time in Sidney’s company, he could account for his movements and disprove many of the accusations against him. Called to England to give his version of the matter, Sergeant was therefore able to convince Charles and the Court of his innocence.

This inserted document is a clear, detailed account of events and how, more by luck than judgement, an innocent man avoided the snare that had been laid for him.

The trouble is—as far as I have been able to determine, it’s also a complete lie. Ironically enough, this seems to be one time where the author of The Secret History… is making claims with some validity (at least up to a point; the part about Sergeant being bribed to shut up by Charles is of course nonsense).

John Sergeant was a Catholic, and a secular priest (that is, he was not a member of a particular order). He was a controversial figure both with and without his faith—carrying on long-running disputes with Protestant divines, but also being critical of English Catholic priests for acting too much on their own authority, and having a hostile, disputatious relationship with the Jesuits. His role in the Popish Plot remains controversial: it has even been suggested that he was one of the originators of the plot, and that it was he who convinced Titus Oates of its reality; while others contend, conversely, that Oates convinced him.

A third line of argument (the one most generally accepted) was that Sergeant no more believed in the Plot than anyone else, but saw an opportunity to act on his hatred of the Jesuits. To the scandal of the Catholics, and the delight of the Protestants, Sergeant volunteered to give evidence – or “evidence” – against the Jesuits to the Privy Council. He was questioned a second time some months later, and on that occasion his testimony was supported by that of another secular priest, David Morris (or Maurice); their depositions were printed, and widely distributed, and contributed to the growing hysteria that finally claimed some twenty victims on the scaffold before there was a revulsion in public feeling. It was later proved that both Sergeant and Morris were paid for their efforts.

This, then, is the individual whom the author of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d singles out to support his own line of argument.

(The official Catholic stance on Sergeant, by the way, is that, “His mind was unbalanced at the time”…)

Here’s the thing, though: in its own right, the testimony offered by Sergeant within the pages of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d (assuming he did in fact write it, but either way) is, as I have remarked, clear and detailed—and convincing. Therein lies its danger. We have no difficulty recognising in The Secret History…, with its bluster and hysteria, a specious piece of politicking; but this is something else: a presentation of “the facts” as false as anything offered by its overtly exaggerated predecessor, but one whose leading quality is its seeming reasonableness.

In other words, a textbook example of “truthiness”…
 
 

15/04/2018

A Letter From Lewis The Great, To James The Less

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it turns out that the next entry in our journey through this particular outbreak of political brawling is not prose – still less an actual “letter” – but a poem. Given its relatively short length, I’ve decided to transcribe it rather than deal in excerpts.

This work, whose complete title is A LETTER From LEWIS the Great, To JAMES the Less, His Lieutenant in IRELAND. With Reflections by way of ANSWER to the said LETTER, or serious CONTEMPLATIONS at an Unseasonable Time, is one of the slander-writings that provoked the anger of the author of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d; although in this case, we assume that it was the crass language and crude sexual innuendo which upset him, rather than the content.

Obviously this poem was part of that subset of political writing which decided that the best way to deal with James was not ranting and raving and tub-thumping, but mockery. It offers the by-now standard view of James as a fool and a cuckold; but it also adds a further smear—presenting him as a coward.

The dating of this poem is uncertain, being unhelpfully listed as 1689-1690 in the catalogues; but there isn’t any doubt that it was published after the Battle of the Boyne, when James’ fate had been decided.

And while there is plenty of crude humour in the text, the poem’s best joke is actually a pretty subtle one: it has Louis XIV offering James the choice of two fates, Death or Glory; but as we know, he found a third option…

(I suppose I should add a warning here for “coarse language” and “sexual references”. Just noting that the censored language is in the original document. And that some of the censoring choices, and non-choices, seem…odd.)

 

I

TO James our Lieutenant this greeting we send:
As you hope to preserve us your Patron and Friend,
As you trust to the vertue of us and your Wife,
Who leads in your absence a dissolute life;
          Now you’ve sold us your Land,
          Obey Our Command,
As your Spouse does our Pego when e’re it will st—,
And what I enjoyn you be sure to observe,
Since you know not to Rule, I will teach you to Serve.

II

To reduce our new Subjects, we sent you ’tis true,
But be sure take upon you no more than you’re due;
Submit to the Fetters your self have put on,
You’ve the Name of a King but the Majesties gone.
          For your bold Son-in-Law,
          The valiant Nassaw,
Who values not you nor my self of a straw,

Will neither be cullied nor bubbled like you,
I’ve a prospect already of what he will do.

III

Let not Infant or Bedrid your pity implore,
You’ve lost all your Kingdoms by that heretofore,
A Hereticks life like a Dog’s I do prise,
Murther all that oppose you, or ‘gainst you dare rise:
          They were Subjects to you,
          Therefore make ’em all rue,
And either give them, or I’le give you your due:
I acknowledge your folly has made me more wise,
I see with my own, and not Jesuits eyes.

IV

These Courses in Ireland, I charge you to steer,
In the Head of your Army be sure to appear,
You’re a Souldier of Fortune and fight for your pay,
You know your reward, if you once run away;
          Either Conquest or Death,
          I to you bequeath,
And therefore prepare for a Shrowd or a Wreath:
So thus I commit you to one of the Two,
If I see you no more here, I bid you adieu.

**********

I

WHEN that Remnant of Royalty Jimmy the Cully,
Had receiv’d this Epistle from Lewis the Bully,
His Countenance chang’d, and for madness he cry’d,
I’ve the Devil to my Friend, and his Dam to my Bride;
          Sure I am the first
          That’s in all things accurst,
Nor can I determine which Plague is the worst,
That of losing my Realms or the News I’ve receiv’d,
Which from any Hand else, I could ne’re have believ’d.

II

I find they agreed when for Ireland they sent me,
And if I knew how, ’tis high time to repent me;
I’ve abandon’d my reason to pleasure a Trull,
Who has made me her Bubble, her Cuckold, and Fool;
          We’re all in the Pit,
          Our designs are besh-t,
And hither I’m sent to recover my Wit:
If this be the fortune proud Este does bring,
Wou’d I’de been a Tinker instead of a King.

III

How or which way to turn me, or whither to go,
By the Faith of a Jesuit I’me a Dog if I know;
For this going to War I do mortally hate,
Tho’ of Sieges and Battles I ever cou’d prate;
          I thought I had Valour,
          But I find it was Choler,
Tho’ thirty years I have been Lewis’s Scholar;
I’ve trac’d all his Policies, Maxims and Rules,
By which I’ve attain’d to be chief of his Fools.

IV

Had I courage to dye I’de refuse to survive,
I’m buried already altho’ I’m alive,
My Story’s like that of unfortunate Jack,
I’ve shuffled and cut till I’ve quite lost the Pack:
          He that trusts to the Pope,
          No better must hope,
Or to Lewis or she whom that Pagan does grope:
For no Monarch must ever expect a good Life,
Who is rid by a Priest, or a damn’d Popish Wife.

V

May Lewis succeed me in all Circumstances,
His Arms unsuccessful where e’re he advances,
May his ill gotten Laurels be blasted and dry,
May a Shrowd be deny’d him when e’re he does dye;
          May his Land be o’re-run,
          By that Champion our Son:
So I’le close up with her who that mischief begun;
May the Curse of Three Kingdoms for ever attend her,
While to WILLIAM and MARY my Crown I surrender.

 
 

 

 

14/04/2018

The Secret History Of The Reigns Of K. Charles II, And K. James II

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…the Prince who strives to subvert the Fundamental Law of the Society is the Traytor and the Rebel, and not the People who endeavour to preserve and defend their own. Nor must we ascribe the Miscarriages of his Reign altogether to the remissness of his Nature but to a Principle of Revenge, which his Mother had infus’d into him, not so much for the loss of her Husband, but out of her inbred Malice to the Protestant Religion, which no where flourish’d in that Splendour as in England, foster’d and cherished by the vow’d Enemy of this Nation, his Brother the D. of York, who has been openly heard to declare in his Bedchamber at St. James’s, “That he was resolv’d to be reveng’d upon the English Nation for the Death of his Father”: And what an Ascendant this Brother had over him, the whole Kingdom has felt by sad and woeful experience. For indeed the King had all along an Affection for him, so entire and baneful to the Nation, that he could only be said to Reign, while his Brother Rul’d.

 

 

 

 

Though Pierre Jurieu allowed himself both anger and contempt in his A Defence Of Their Majesties King William And Queen Mary, compared to the second reaction to Antoine Arnauld’s attack upon the incumbent English monarchy his response was only a mild admonition.

Published in 1690, The Secret History Of The Reigns Of K. Charles II, And K. James II is equally furious and scurrilous: an ugly and ultimately absurd piece of scandal-writing that devotes itself to the thesis that Charles was from the start a secret Catholic; and that the sole goal of his reign was the establishment in England of – get used to hearing this expression, folks! – Popery and Slavery.

The Secret History… has been attributed over the years to two different authors—most commonly to John Phillips, a nephew of John Milton, who wrote well-received poetry, translations and history, but also supported himself by hack-work. Phillips’ attribution may have originated in his support of Titus Oates, and his efforts to “prove” the Popish Plot. But whatever the original reason, this looks like a case of one person saying something and everyone else copying it.

Anthony Wood’s extraordinary bibliographical work, Athenæ Oxonienses. An Exact History of All the Writers and Bishops who have had their Education in the University of Oxford, remarks of Phillips that:

He is also supposed to be the author of The Secret History of the Reigns of King Charles II. and King James II. printed 1690. oct. ‘Tis a vile piece.

However, in the 1813 edition of the Athenæ Oxonienses, edited by Philip Bliss (which updates and annotates the original entries), we find the comment:

That it is a vile piece is most certain; but that Phillips was the author rests on no good authority, nor is it probable either from the style or the matter of the book.

The first Secret History was followed by The Secret History Of K. James I And K. Charles I. Compleating The Reigns Of The Last Four Monarchs. By The Author Of The Secret History Of K. Charles II And K. James II—which was itself followed by an updated compilation, The Secret History, Of The Last Four Monarchs Of Britain, which contains the same texts, along with an altered preface and an appendix describing James’ movements between his abdication and “this present January, 1691”, and focusing upon events in Ireland. This document is widely attributed to Nathaniel Crouch, although apparently without anyone joining the dots backwards.

Nathaniel Crouch was a printer and bookseller, and also a writer who generally published under the initials “R. B.”, standing for Richard or Robert Burton, his pseudonym of choice. A pseudonym was necessary, as Crouch had  a reputation as a plagiarist. Debate continues over his legacy, however, because though he certainly plundered other people’s writing, he used it to create simplified history texts aimed at the newly literate, the first such “opening up” of material previously aimed exclusively at the upper-classes. Historians tend to be kinder to his memory than publishers and authors.

Further, albeit indirect, support for this alternative attribution of The Secret History… to Crouch may be found in what seems to be yet another re-working of the material, a much-toned-down document entitled, The History Of The Two Late Kings, Charles the Second and James the Second, which promises an account of “secret French and Popish Intrigues and Designs”. This 1693 publication carries the initials “R. B.” and the detail, “Printed for Nath. Crouch”.

But whoever the author—it is not exactly surprising that The Secret History… was published anonymously, and without any publication details. Even by the standards of the scandal-histories with which we are familiar, this is an outrageous attack with no limit to what the author is willing to accuse the Stuarts of: treason, murder, national sabotage and incest being only the head-liners.

However, the very relentlessness of the attack ultimately makes this a wearisome read—and an absurd one. The anonymous author was, apparently, everywhere during the reigns of Charles and James: lurking in corners at Court, hiding in bedrooms, onboard ships in the English navy, hopping between England and France and back again, somehow getting access to everyone’s correspondence; even getting literally inside people’s heads, or so we assume from his willingness to tell us what everyone was thinking and planning.

All this is intended to prove not merely that Charles was devoted to establishing Popery and Slavery in England, but that everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – he did during his reign was with this goal in mind; and if it sometimes looked like he was doing something to the benefit of England, well, that was just because you didn’t know the secret history.

And here we hit the real issue with The Secret History… because, while in order to argue his thesis the author needs to present Charles as a kind of master-conspirator, manipulating the people around him and pulling strings across Europe, at the same time every word he writes drips with a contempt for Charles so profound, you can hear the sneer inside your head while you’re reading.

But this contradiction is perfectly in tune with the subject matter presented, wherein we learn such interesting facts as that England went to war with Dutch not over trade and territory, but because the Dutch were the defenders of the Protestant faith; that to to damage England, Charles (via James) sabotaged the English fleet during the Raid on the Medway; that Charles was behind the Popish Plot, even though (as the author seems to have forgotten) *he* was the target of it; and that the Pope was so intent upon backing Charles in bringing about Popery and Slavery, he instituted a levy upon Roman Catholic priests all over the world, in order to fund his efforts.

And so on.

I don’t intend to consider The Secret History… in any detail, partly because it would be tedious for both of us, and partly because someone else already did—and I’ll be considering that. Instead, I thought I would simply provide a series of quotes, which would give you a taste of this document, while highlighting a few things that struck me as particularly outré.

This early passage (dealing with the negotiations for the Restoration) gives a good idea of the author’s approach to his material: sweeping condemnatory statements about events that for one reason or another, he can’t produce any proof of just at the moment, or that didn’t come to light at the time for one reason of another…

And as for the second, his Zeal for the Protestant Religion, nothing could render him more a Hypocrite then such a Profession, when at the same time he was both himself a Papist, and under Promises and Obligations to the Pope and the Romish Clergy, to destroy the Protestant and introduce the Roman Catholick Religion, as afterwards appear’d by the Attestations of Ocular Witnesses, who often saw him at Mass during his Exile: and was yet more evident by a Letter under his own Hand, written in the Year 1652 to the Pope himself; which once was printed in Whitlocks Memoirs; but upon considerations of the danger that might ensue upon divulging it at that time to the World, torn out before the publishing of the Book.

We also learn that Charles’ sexual irregularities were even more irregular than we thought:

Soon after he arrived in England, where he was receiv’d with all the Pomp and Splendour, and all the Demonstrations of Joy that a Nation could express; but then, as if he had left all his Piety behind him in Holland, care was taken against the very first Night that his Sacred Majesty was to lie at Whitehall, to have the Lady Castlemain seduc’d from her Loyalty to her Husbandand entic’d into the Arms of the happily restor’d Prince. Which was not only Adultery, but Incest in the Lord’s Annointed, it being the Opinion of several Persons, who had reason to know more than others did, that she was his Sister by the Mother’s Side, as being begotten by the E. of St. A. upon the Queen’s Body, after the Death of C. the First: which is the rather to be believ’d, for that I my self have often heard Mr. R. Osborn, then at Paris with the Exil’d King, affirm, That he saw the said E. and the Queen solemnly marry’d together.

(I don’t know who Mr. R. Osborn is; there was a Sir Richard Osborne, an Irish baronet, but he doesn’t seem to have had any connection to Charles.)

But indirect, possibly unknowing incest isn’t good enough for our Charlie:

To which purpose the Duchess of Orleans was sent over, as one that would be a welcom Guest to her Brother, and whose Charms and Dexterity, joyn’d with her other advantages, would give her such an ascendent over him, as could not fail of Success; and indeed she acquitted herself so well of her Commission, that she quite supplanted all the King;s good Councils, and by yielding to his Incestuous Embraces, while the D. of B. held the Door, so charmed his most Sacred Majesty, that he quite and clean forgot his Tripple League…

But there’s more to all this than just Charles’ overactive hormones:

…he gave these lewd Examples himself, on purpose, that after he had thus Enervated the Minds and Resolutions of his Subjects, he might the more easily trample upon their Necks, and reduce them under the perpetual Yoke of Antichrist, in expectation of his Mothers Blessing, and to fulfil the Agreement between himself, the Pope, and the French King.

Much of the text of The Secret History… is devoted to explaining how the Triple Alliance between England, Sweden and the United Provinces, formed to support Spain against France, was actually meant to help France; and how the Popish Plot – supposedly a Catholic plan to murder Charles, for the benefit of James – was actually part of Charles’ plot to introduce Popery and Slavery:

So that now all things running on the Papistical side to their Hearts desire, what with Popish Souldiers, Popish Officers, Popish Counsels, Popish Priests and Jesuits swarming about the Town and Country, and France at leisure to help them who help’d him to be more a Conqueror by the Peace, than he could have expected by a War; the Duke of York was for the King pulling off his Vizard, and for setting up Alamode of France, according to what had been so often debated at White Hall and St. James’s…

Having explained the role of Charles in the Popish Plot, and similarly his guilt with respect to the deaths of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey and the Earl of Essex, the author huffs:

If this be not enough to discover his Inclinations, and the whole drift of his Intrigueing Reign, there can be nothing sharp enough to penetrate the stupid and besotted Bigotry of those that stand up in his Justification. But notwithstanding the wilful Blindness of such People, it is to be hoped, that other Men less biassed, and having the same just pretensions to common Understanding, have a greater value for their Reason, than to forfeit it to Prejudice, and an Interest, now exploded by all the sober part of the World…

Despite all this, Charles is eventually considered too dilatory in his introduction of Popery and Slavery; and James is tasked with putting someone more active in charge of proceedings—i.e. himself. Thus Charles dies, conveniently enough.

…it was as plain, That he had a mortal Antipathy against the Protestant Religion, and more particularly against the Professors of it in England; but more especially the Dissenters, upon the score of Revenging his Father’s Death. An Imbitter’d Hatred, which he deriv’d from his Mother, who mortally malic’d England upon the same Account, and which he acknowledg’d in his Bedchamber at St. James’s, where he openly declar’d: That he was resolv’d to be reveng’d upon the English Nation for his Father’s Death. Which if those unthinking People, who are so eager to have him again, would but consider, they would not be so forward for his return…

One of the few genuinely interesting things about The Secret History… is its twinned views of Charles and James—the former a better plotter than his brother, but selfish and greedy, stringing along his co-conspirators while he demanded money, and more money, until he overreached himself; the latter red-hot and incautious in his rush to Catholicism, so that he undid his own design.

The text is on firmer ground here, inasmuch as most of what is laid to James’ charge is open fact instead of “secret intrigue”: his alterations to the religious laws, the placing of Catholics in high civil and military positions, and the horrifying reprisals that followed the Monmouth Rebellion.

On the other hand, James is accused of abetting the Catholics who started the Great fire; and we have to hash over the Popish Plot yet again; and of course, there’s always the Sham Prince:

    The World that grows Wiser every day than other, will never be made believe, that a Person debilitated by the unfortunate Effects of the exasperated Revenge of an injured Bed, and meeting a Consort no less infirm, by whom he never had before any Child, but what dropt into the Grave, as soon as Born, not having any substantial Rafters for Life to build upon, should so seasonably nick it, to be both the Parents of a sound Off-spring for the preservation of Popery…
    It was look’d upon all over Europe, as a very low and mean Condescension of a Sovereign Prince, Hedge-Sparrow like, to hatch the Cuckoo’s Egg…

Fortunately, help was at hand—or at least in Holland. Or maybe heaven:

For now the Nation, no longer able to brook such such a deluge of illegal Oppressions, and the whole Body of the Nobility and Gentry of the Kingdom, observing such a general Desolation impending upon their Religion, Lives, and Fortunes, apply themselves to their Highnesses the Princess and Prince of Orange, as the only Cherubims on Earth, under whose Wings they could retire for Safety and Protection…

And if our author’s language has been extreme in dealing with Charles and James, well, you ain’t heard nothing yet; even if it is now tending in the other direction:

It seem’d a Labyrinth of Providence, to which the Belov’d of Heaven WILLIAM HENRY only had the Clue; while Prudence and Fortitude were the Ariadnes that gave him their Assistance to subdue the Minotaur that devoured our Religion and Liberties. Two conspicuous Examples at one of Heaven’s Indignation , and the Almighty’s Favour; the one pursuing to his downfal an Apostate from God, and an Oppressor of his People, and exposing him among unbelieving Bog-trotters upon the lingering death-bed of his gasping Glory, the fetter’d Vassal of his once fawning Confederate. The other prospering with Miracles of Success, the Generous Redeemer of the True Reformed Religion, from the devouring Jaws of that double-headed Monster, Popery and Slavery; By whose Auspicious Conduct two late languishing Kingdoms, groaning under the heavy weight of Misery and Tyranny, enjoy a Jubilee of Peace and Tranquility, and freed from the daily fears of Massacre and Destruction, in the fair way to recover their Pristin Glory, have now no more to do, but to repay their Praises to Heaven, and their due Acknowledgments to Them that have approv’d themselves the truly Indulging Father and Mother of their Country: A Prince, the Wonder of His Age; a Princess, the Miracle of Her Sex; in whom all Virtues, as in their proper Center meet; rendring the Nation happy in Two in One, as the whole World is blest in Three in One…