Archive for May, 2012

26/05/2012

Related ramblings

A while ago, in the comments thread for The Adventures Of Sir Bartholomew Sapskull, we were discussing the short fictions published posthumously under Aphra Behn’s name, and whether they were in fact written by her. I’ve finally managed to track down a copy of A Genius For Letters: Booksellers And Bookselling From The 16th To The 20th Century, edited by Robin Myers and Michael Harris, which contains an essay by Germaine Greer which touches upon this subject.

Greer’s essay, ironically titled Honest Sam. Briscoe, opens by saying:

Among the many problems confronting the student of women’s literature the sheer difficulty of establishing the provenance, authenticity and reliability of the texts has not been sufficiently emphasised. The shakiness of the Aphra Behn canon, to cite the best-known example, is in a large measure due to the role played by the mysterious collapsing bookseller, Samuel Briscoe.

Greer’s tracing of the ups and downs – mostly down – of Honest Sam’s publishing career concerns us only as far as he played a part in the posthumous career of Aphra Behn.

In 1696, Charles Gildon edited and provided a dedication for a compilation work that Briscoe released under the title The Histories And Novels of the Late Ingenious Mrs. Behn. This volume contained Oroonoko, The Fair Jilt, Agnes de Castro, The Lover’s Watch, The Ladies Looking-Glass and The Lucky Mistake, works all written or translated and previously published before Behn’s death. In addition, it offered Love Letters To A Gentleman: Never Before Printed, written to “Lycidas” from “Astrea” (Behn’s well-known code-name), and purporting to be genuine letters from Behn to John Hoyle, who according to gossip was at one time her lover and possibly her “keeper”. (That Hoyle was bisexual at least, and at one time stood trial accused of homosexual acts, seems to have had no impact upon this particular rumour.)

By 1696, letters, and the more salacious the better, were Sam Briscoe’s stock-in-trade. One of his early publishing successes was Letters Of Love And Gallantry And Several Other Subjects. All Written By Ladies by “Olinda” (Catherine Trotter), and from that time Briscoe persistently advertised for correspondence to publish—writing it himself, or hiring others to do so, if none was forthcoming. He became notorious for the bait-and-switch, promising the public the full correspondence of a celebrity and then padding out a handful of previously published letters with new ones by no-one in particular. The authenticity of the Lycidas / Astrea correspondence is therefore doubtful; although a number of scholars have been beguiled into analysing them as if their authorship was certain. Furthermore, whatever its significance, several analysts have pointed out the similarity in tone between these letters and The Love-Letters Of A Portuguese Nun.

Like Letters Of Love And Gallantry, Histories And Novels was a financial success for Sam Briscoe; and again, we find him following up with a second release of far more dubious provenance. In 1698, he published All The Histories And Novels Written By The Late Ingenious Mrs Behn, also edited by Charles Gildon. This volume reproduced the earlier collection but added to it three more, previously unpublished short fictions: Memoirs Of The Court Of The King Of Bantam, The Nun and The Adventure Of The Black Lady. Then, in 1700, Briscoe issued a second volume called Histories, Novels And Translations, which bragged “the greatest part never before printed“, and added three more translations and five more pieces of short fiction: The Blind Lady A Beauty, The Dumb Virgin, The Unhappy Fortunate Lady, The Wand’ring Beauty and The Unhappy Mistake.

The authenticity of these posthumous works have been challenged since the time of their publication, although no-one has a definitive answer one way or another. Sam Briscoe himself seems to have been aware that people were likely to be sceptical: to the 1698 volume he appended an “Advertisement to the Reader”, which declared:

The stile of the Court of the King of Bantam being so very different from Mrs. Behn’s usual way of Writing it may perhaps call its being genuine into Question; to obviate which Objection, I must inform the Reader, That it was a Trial of Skill, upon a Wager, to shew that she was able to write in the Style of the celebrated Scarron, in imitation of whom ’tis writ, tho’ the Story be true. I need not say anything of the other Two, they evidently confessing their admirable Author.

Unfortunately, though she makes her own scepticism clear in her essay in A Genius For Letters, Germaine Greer has no more solid information for us touching the authenticity or otherwise of these posthumous works. She does, however, give more credence to The Court Of The King Of Bantam than to the other works, on the grounds that if it were a forgery, it would certainly be more in Behn’s usual style. Her main objection to the claim of Behn’s authorship is a purely pragmatic one: if two eternally cash-strapped individuals like Sam Briscoe and Charles Gildon had possession of Aphra’s Behn’s unpublished writings, why did it take them eight, ten and even twelve years to publish them?

Then, of course, there’s the question of how they would have come into possession. Charles Gildon, who we’ve met before at this blog (albeit playing the unlikely role of the denouncer of dishonesty), is another of the anomalous literary figures that proliferated in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, working variously as an editor, a publisher and a hack-for hire, his name cropping up again and again with reference to scams and cheats of all kinds. (He was also another of the coffee-house crowd, which is where Briscoe met him.) He was a friend of Behn’s, and is often referred to vaguely as her ” literary executor”, which really does nothing to answer the overriding questions. Over the decades that followed, Gildon made a steady income re-issuing Behn’s works – and “works” – at regular intervals.

Gildon’s most important historical role is not as Behn’s executor, nor even as her editor, but as her biographer. In 1696 (there’s that year again!), Gildon staged a previously unperformed play of Behn’s, The Younger Brother. It was not a success. Nevertheless, Gildon published the text – “with some alterations” – and prefixed to it a short memoir of Behn, An Account Of The Brief Life Of The Incomparable Mrs. Behn, in which he gives her maiden name as Johnson, her birth-place as Canterbury, asserts that her husband was “an eminent merchant” and makes mention of both the journey to Surinam and the spying in Flanders.

The 1696 release of Histories And Novels carries, in addition to the works purportedly by Behn, a biographical sketch called The History Of The Life And Memoirs Of Mrs. Behn, Written By One Of The Fair Sex. This elaborates but essentially repeats the earlier information, and it is generally believed that Gildon wrote it himself. So far the underlying details are only what a friend of Behn’s might have known; but it is presented here like one of Behn’s own tales, while exaggeration and misinformation are rife. The emphasis is very much upon Oroonoko, here reissued for the first time since its initial publication: Aphra is given a gentleman-father who was “governor of Surinam”, and Oroonoko is asserted to be a true story. There are even hints of a scandalous relationship between Behn and her slave-hero, with the author indignantly refuting “some unjust aspersions” that have allegedly been made—which of course had the effect of establishing the relationship as fact in many readers’ minds. There are many allusions to Behn’s beauty and charm, and the section dealing with her visit to Antwerp suggests amorous adventures rather than espionage. This “biography” was reissued with each reissuing of Behn’s works, undergoing expansion and elaboration until it became quite a lengthy tale; although it is noticeable that it gains most details at those points where Behn’s fiction and her life are supposed to be in parallel.

Whatever his motive, Gildon’s biographical accounts of Behn’s life did her no favours in the long run. Firstly, as Gildon’s own reputation sank, the association dragged Behn down, too. Secondly, these sketches are the origin of Behn as “the passionate Astrea”, a woman dominated by her emotions, who wrote purely to express them. In the various responses to her memoirs we see Behn’s reputation as a writer being overtaken by her reputation as a scandalous woman: the first stirrings of the moral condemnation that was to bury her for literally centuries, and remove her from the literary timeline. And finally, when it was belatedly realised that certain “biographical” details of Behn’s life and various narrative assertions in Behn’s fiction were virtually indistinguishable, it had the peculiar effect of seeing Behn condemned as a shameless liar. As a result, they effectively threw out the baby with the bath-water, with both the journey to Surinam and the mission to Flanders for many years dismissed as just more fiction; and it is only recent scholarship that has managed to extract the real Aphra from behind the fictionalised “Astrea”.

Which is a great deal more than I intended to say upon this subject. Just for a change.

Another essay in A Genius For Letters that caught my eye was From the warehouse to the counting-house: booksellers and bookshops in late 17th-century London by Giles Mandelbrote. Not only does this piece obviously deal with matters pertinent to this blog’s pursuit of the rise of the novel, but we find within its pages a couple of old friends:

Contemporary satire was not kind to shopkeepers. Some of the most lively descriptions of bookselling in the later 17th century come from the pens of two writers who themselves had chequered careers as booksellers. Richard Head (1637? – 1686?), after apprenticeship in the book trade, set up as a bookseller in his own right in the 1660s, but was soon ruined by gambling debts and earned a living thereafter as a hack writer. Francis Kirkman (1632 – 1683?), who was a member of the Blacksmiths’ Company, had a bookshop in various parts of London between about 1657 and 1680, was an active publisher of plays and light literature, and published his own fictionalised memoirs, The Unlucky Citizen, in 1673. Kirkman is usually credited with writing, as well as publishing, the continuation to Head’s The English Rogue (1668), which includes several chapters where the narrator is a bookseller’s apprentice.

Several lengthy quotes of the relevant passages of The English Rogue and The Unlucky Citizen then follow. Hilariously, however, even while using Francis Kirkman so extensively as a source, Mandelbrote adds a footnote in which the reader is warned to treat the veracity of anything said by Kirkman with “extreme caution”.

The other relevant essay in A Genius For Letters is Simon Elliot’s Bookselling by the backdoor: circulating libraries, booksellers and book clubs 1876 – 1966, which traces the history of the book trade during the demise of the circulating libraries in the late 19th century and the rise of various new entities that competed with the full-time booksellers during the early 20th century, including public libraries and book clubs. While the essay is wide-ranging, the section most relevant here deals with the collapse of the “three-volume novel” and of the two great competitive circulating libraries, Mudie’s and W. H. Smith, towards the end of the 19th century. 

Before this time, the libraries were already struggling, under threat from inexpensive reissues of novels too close to the original release date of the first edition (a situation comparable to the cinema / DVD release dichotomy for new movies today). Consequently, on 27th June 1894, Mudie’s and Smith issued a joint declaration, in which they demanded that the price of three-volume novels be reduced to no more than four shillings per volume, and that there be a gap of at least a year between the publishing of first editions and the appearance of cheaper reprints. The publishing houses’ response was effectively to stop issuing multi-volume novels at all, experimenting instead with single-volume editions that cost less than the combined-volume prices of the multi-volume works. They also began to rely less upon the circulating libraries as an outlet for their books, and more upon advertising directly to the public, who at the new, reduced priced were willing to buy rather than borrow first editions. Effectively, the long-standing publishing approach of small editions at high prices had been replaced by large editions at low prices; while from an artistic viewpoint, authors were no longer constrained to produce works of a pre-defined length, and the circulating libraries’ long-standing threat of censorship was gone for good.

Finally—yes, finally, I promise—I have yet again stumbled over those blasted Stuarts in my off-blog reading, and the same person is to blame. Following on from the part played by a portrait of James II in R. Austin Freeman’s short story, The Great Portrait Mystery, his 1923 novel The Cat’s Eye features an extensive subplot about a boy who has been excluded from the inheritance of the family property because the marriage of a direct ancestor cannot be proved. Certain documents from the 18th century dealing with the situation are still extant, however, from which we learn the following:

Like his father, Percival Blake was an ardent supporter of the Stuarts, and it is believed that he took an active part in the various Jacobite plots that were heard of about this time; and when, in 1745, the great rising took place, Percival was one of those who hastened to join the forces of the young Pretender, a disastrous act, to which all the subsequent misfortunes of the family are due…

Sounds about right.

Later in the novel, John Thorndyke and his sidekick-narrator du jour, the lawyer Robert Anstey, pay a visit to the ancestral halls of the Blake family, and find in the local village an ancient pub:

    But the most singular feature of the house was the sign, which swung at the top of a tall post by a horse-trough in the little forecourt, on which was the head of a gentleman wearing a crown and a full-bottomed wig, apparently suspended in mid-air over a brown stone pitcher.
    “It seems to me,” said I, as we approached the inn, “that the sign needs an explanatory inscription. The association of a king and a brown jug may be natural enough, but it is unusual as an inn-sign.”
    “Now, Anstey,” Thorndyke exclaimed protestingly, “don’t tell me that that ancient joke has missed its mark on your superlative intellect. The inscription on the parlour window tells us that the sign is the King’s Head, and the pitcher under the portrait explains that the king is James the Second or Third—His Majesty over the water.”

I have no idea whether this recurrence of Stuart themes in Freeman’s writing indicates a particular historical interest or political sympathy (as the reference to “James the Third” might suggest), or whether it is simply that the machinations and conflicts of the era provide a delightfully wide scope for stories involving long-standing family secrets, hidden documents, and houses full of concealed passage-ways and priest-holes.

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12/05/2012

…and the case for the prosecution

Perhaps the most interesting example of the “sham prince” literature of 1688 is a boadsheet issued late in the year bearing the (not particularly grammatical) title, The Sham Prince Expos’d. In A Dialogue Between The Popes Nuncio And Bricklayers Wife. Nurse To The Supposed Prince Of Wales., which in spite of its brevity manages to cover a surprising amount of pertinent ground.

The content of this single sheet consists, as we would expect, of a mock conversation between two of the major players in the faux-drama surrounding the Prince of Wales: the papal nuncio, Ferdinando d’Adda, who everyone was determined to believe was behind the conspiracy in one capacity or another, and the woman who was either simply nurse to the fake prince, or the self-sacrificing Catholic who gave up her baby to play the role of the spurious James Francis Edward, according to which version of events you chose to believe.

The two conspirators have met together to mourn the miscarrying of their scheme (so to speak), and the bad way things are going in England generally for Catholics.

The nuncio remains optimistic – the Catholics have, after all, the Mother of God and a whole battery of saints on their side – but the nurse thinks their moment in the sun has passed:

Nurse:  Well, you may flatter yourself with Restitution, &c. but your satisfaction is likely to be no greater than a Hungry Mans Dream of a plentiful Supper. Your late short Scene of Glory was like the last Blaze of a Candle, spent in the Socket; and the unmannerly Whigs think it has left as bad a stink behind it too.

But Father d’Adda remains convinced that their production of a prince on cue has spiked their enemies’ guns:

Nuncio:  Come, come Children, we have a reserve yet left, what, do you think a Council of Jesuits can be out-witted by a Dutch man. I can but laugh to think what a thorn in their Sides our young Prince Prettyman will prove.
Nurse:  O Lord Sir, Now the whole Kingdom laughs at the Sham; and there’s never a Joyner in Town but has a pattern of the Bed Stead: Nay, next Bartholomew-Fair they intend to have a droll, call’d, The Tragedy of Perkin Warbeck; you have read the Story of that Perkin, Sir, have you not?

While I’m amused by the suggestion that beds modelled on Mary of Modena’s (with or without secret compartments for hiding babies) had become a fashionable collector’s item by late in 1688, the important reference here is of course that to Perkin Warbeck; particularly in the contradictory context of a “tragic droll”.

Perkin Warbeck was a pretender to the throne of Henry VII; his claim was that he was Richard of Shrewsbury, the son of Edward IV and one of the infamous “Princes in the Tower”. His claim was supported by Margaret of York, Edward’s sister, and for some time he gained ground, being received at various courts, using the title the Duke of York, and marrying into the nobility. He found his strongest ally in James IV of Scotland, who (mostly for his own purposes) raised a force and invaded England on Warbeck’s behalf, but retreated when the anticipated support failed to materialise. On his own account, Warbeck raised a force in Cornwall and was declared “Richard IV”, but when he heard that Henry VII’s troops were on the way, he panicked and fled. Warbeck was captured, confessed – under duress – to being an imposter, and was executed in November 1499.

There was, evidently, some resemblance between Edward IV and Warbeck, and some people did believe he was Richard; others that he may have been Edward’s illegitimate son; although in many cases it was undoubtedly a matter of people choosing to believe. The majority opinion has always been that Warbeck was a “pretender” in more ways than one, the word at this time taking on the double meaning. Over time, his name became shorthand not just for a sham, but a sham in high circles.

During the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, Queen Anne applied the nickname “Perkin Warbeck” repeatedly and scornfully to her half-brother, who would of course go down in history as “the Old Pretender”. In The Sham Prince Expos’d, we see that the association was nothing new, but that the prince had been the target of such references from the time of his birth.

(There is, by the way, a whole body of literature about Perkin Warbeck, some for and some against. We shall probably stumble across it sooner or later.)

“Prince Prettyman”, meanwhile, is an allusion with both literary and political roots (which doubtless would have been a lot easier to dig up if Prince had never recorded a song called “Prettyman”, sigh): Prince Pretty-man is a character in  The Rehearsal, a play written by George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, in 1671. As a work, it is (like Tristram Shandy) “post-modern before there was modern”: it consists of a play within a play, with various bewildering half-scenes being rehearsed while the playwright defends them against criticisms from onlookers. The Rehearsal was aimed specifically at the heroic dramas of John Dryden, mocking both their high-flown morals and sentiments and their over-reliance on hoary devices like the overheard plot; and it was successful enough to put a temporary kink in Dryden’s dramatic career. (He revenged himself on Buckingham by writing him into Absalom And Achitophel, as Zimri.)

The Rehearsal contains any number of self-reflexive allusions, including the characters of “the two kings”, who were clearly meant to be Charles and James. Prince Pretty-man, meanwhile, is a figure of dubious parentage, found abandoned as a baby and raised by a fisherman, who is eventually accused of kidnapping him. Prince Pretty-man stays loyal to the man who raised him – “Bring in my father! Why d’ye keep him from me? Although a fisherman, he is my father” – and declares that he would rather be the son of a fisherman than a bastard.

The combination of a prince of ambiguous parentage and an explictly Stuart setting  must have made a reference to “our Prince Prettyman” irresistible to the anonymous author of The Sham Prince Expos’d. And as with the sneering allusion to “Perkin Warbeck”, “Prince Prettyman” subsequently became a commonly used, shorthand insult.

The nuncio reflects upon how carefully the birth was arranged, and in the face of formidable opposition:

Nuncio:  Did not our Roman Almanacks speak of the Queens being to be with Child, at least half a Year before ’twas said she was conceived? Did we not declare it must be a Prince of Wales? nay we could have told the very time and place too, but that we fear’d the Chamber would have been crowded with Hereticks, and that would have troubled her worse than her Labour: For we had Prognosticated before, that the presence of a Bishop, &c. would be very Obnoxious and Hurtful to the Birth of a Prince of Wales.

The conspirators then analyse what went wrong:

Nurse:  Why they say the Queen lay under such Circumstances at the time of the Report of her Conception, that not all the Stallions in Europe could have got her with Child; nay, they say neither the Irish Champion nor the Italian Count, no nor the strongest Backs in Covent Garden could have done it.
Nuncio:  Nay to speak the Truth between you and I, we chose a bad time, but we thought the very Notion of a Prince of Wales, would make such a noise, as would drown all Probability and Reason; besides, who thought People would have been so uncivil, to peep as it were under the Queens Cloaths, or Question the Word of a King.

I haven’t been able to determine who the “Irish Champion” or the “Italian Count” were, but no doubt (along with Father d’Adda himself) they were favourites in the running for the title of Surrogate Royal Father.

And here again we see one of the most persistent touches in this body of literature, the idea of the witnesses to the prince’s birth (who did in fact stay in the next room) going in for a closer look.

Interestingly, while this broadsheet sits comfortably within the body of anti-Catholic / anti-Stuart literature, it is not uncritical of the other side of the political fence. There is a suggestion here that the author, while in sympathy with the Whigs’ cause, deplored their tactics and how far they were prepared to stoop to achieve their end:

Nurse:  ‘Tis true, these Church of England Whigs are so Inquisitive (forsooth) that the Queen never went to piss, but they’d be casting of her Water.

Although the sheet is dated only “1688” (we note, by the way, that printer’s details are conspicuous by their absence), internal details place it as having been issued quite late in the year, when everyone was aware that William was on his way. The nurse, mourning the loss of the perks that accrued through her participation in the sham prince scheme, wonders if they might not try it on again – there is, we learn, already a rumour current that, The Queen’s big again with a Duke of York – but the nuncio regretfully scotches the idea:

Nuncio:  O Lord, do you think she’d be mad to lye in these troublesome times; besides the very noise of the Dutch Soldiers would spoil her Milk, as Thunder does Ale…
Nurse:  Well Sir, I wish I could see it, but all the Protestant Astrologers fore-tell that she’ll mis-carry: And O my Conscience, I believe they’re a sort of Conjurers, for they Calculate every thing to a Hairs breadth.
Nuncio:  Nay, nay, now you talk of Conjurers I can fit you: I am sure I and my Brethren foretold things so miraculous, that few or none could believe them, till they saw them.
Nurse:  Nor then neither, may be.

James, meanwhile, has ceased to be an object of reverence or fear, and instead has become one of mingled pity and contempt; not a part of the conspiracy, but merely the conspirators’ tool; and, like all Catholics, forced to choose between religion and honour:

Nuncio:  But tell me how the People think of the King in this matter?
Nurse:  Why they that are Moderate amongst them, think he was so very fond of the very Notion of having a Son in his Old Age, that in a little time he might have been (good man) deluded into the belief of it; as some have us’d themselves to tell a Lye so often, that at last they have been perswaded that it was true: Others think the Queen wore the Breeches so long, that His Majesty durst not venture to unbutton them, or try the truth of the Matter: But the more general, and more probable Opinion, is, that being led by a Zeal, inflamed chiefly by you and your Worshipful Society, he thought the merit of the Act, in relation to his Church, would ballance the Stain which the dismal Consequences thereof would certainly imprint on his Memory and Reputation.

The Catholic church, in short, ought to be ashamed of itself, not least for being willing to ruin the honour of a king in pursuit of its ends:

Nurse:  The thoughts of this, if you had any Grain of Conscience, Religion, or Honesty (which is very much dispair’d of in men of your Profession) should touch your Hearts, with either Shame or Repentance, for so black a design of Suppressing the Church, ruining the State, and murthering more honest and conscientious men, than all your boasted Universality can show…