Archive for January, 2020

31/01/2020

Wilhelm Meister’s Travels (Part 2)


 
But if now after this detailed narrative I have to confess that I have still not arrived at the conclusion of my purpose, and that I may only hope to arrive there by means of a detour, what am I to say, how can I excuse myself? In any event, I should like to make the following point: if the humorist is permitted to throw his account into confusion, if he boldly leaves it to the reader finally to discover in its half significance what can possibly be got from it, ought it not to be appropriate for the man of sense and reason to aim in an apparently strange way at many points round about, so that they can be recognised and understood as finally taking place and being comprised in one focal point, just as the most varied influences surrounding the individual impel him to a decision which he would not have been able to take in any other way, neither from inner impulse nor from outer occasion?

 

 

 

 

We catch up with Wilhelm upon his return to the Pedagogic Province to collect Felix. Here we learn more about the peculiar form of education and training to which he and his fellows have been subjected: a description which feels like it’s parodying something, some contemporary theories of education, perhaps, yet is at the same time played straight.

Art and music play a vital role in the province’s educational approach, and there is much discussion and practical demonstration of both. All the arts are praised here—except drama, which is dismissed as not an art at all, but a leech upon all the real art-forms, using bits of all of them but creating nothing itself. Drama is excluded from the province:

Sighing deeply, Wilhelm cast his eyes down, for all at once everything that he enjoyed and suffered on the stage came before him; he blessed the pious men who had known how to spare their pupils such grief…

But of course it isn’t just Wilhelm who is touched on the raw by this condemnation. As mentioned during our consideration of Apprenticeship, Goethe was artistic director of the court theatre at Weimar for over twenty years; so we are not surprised to find him butting in again:

Indeed the editor of these papers may himself confess at this point that it is with some reluctance that he lets this strange passage go through. Has he not also in many ways directed more life and energy to the theatre than is reasonable? And could he indeed be convinced that this has been an unpardonable error, a fruitless effort?

Wilhelm then attends a music festival up in the mountains, where he encounters Montan / Jarno again. Their surroundings provoke a wide-ranging debate among the attendees about the broader implications of geology, and Jarno disappoints Wilhelm by refusing to say what he thinks; or rather, he agrees with each theory in turn:

“You blame me for lending a helpful hand to everybody in their opinions, as indeed there is always a further argument to be found for everything; I added to the confusion by so doing, it’s true, but really I can no longer take the present generation seriously…”

Ah, yes, yes, yes… These young people today, with their thin muslin gowns, and their indecent waltzing…and their novel-reading.

Jeez, Johann. Old and cranky much?

Mind you—if that still sounds familiar today, Jarno’s rider to this also remains depressingly relevant:

“Everyone knows for himself what he knows, and he must keep it secret; as soon as he speaks about it, conflict stirs, and as soon as he becomes involved in controversy he loses his sense of balance, and what is best about him is, if not destroyed, at least disturbed.”

We then get a lengthy interlude involving Wilhelm’s letters to Natalie—one of which contains some of this novel’s most powerful writing, as Wilhelm recounts a story of his boyhood, of a trip into the countryside with his family, and of a passionate friendship made and lost in a single day:

     It was already becoming dusk when we once more approached the woodland corner where my young friend had promised to wait for me. I peered around to the best of my ability to ascertain whether he was there; when I failed to see him, I ran impatiently ahead of the slowly moving company, dashing back and forth through the bushes. I called out, I became afraid; he was not to be seen and did not answer; for the first time I felt a passionate grief, doubled and redoubled.
     The immoderate requirement of intimate attachment was already developing within me, and already there was an irresistible need for me to free my mind of the image of that blonde-haired girl through conversation, and to release my heart from the feelings which she had aroused in me. It was full, and already my mouth whispered in preparation for flowing over; I loudly reproached the good boy on account of neglecting a friendship and a promise.
     But soon I was to face great trials. Women rushed shrieking out of the first houses of the village, howling children followed, nobody would give an explanation. From the one side we saw a sad procession move around the house at the corner; it went quietly down the long street; it seemed like a funeral procession, but a multiple one; there was no end of bearers and borne. The screaming continued, it increased, a crowd came together. “They are drowned, all of them, drowned! That one! Who? Which?” The mothers, who saw their own children round about, seemed to be consoled. But an earnest man stepped up and spoke to the clergyman’s wife: “Unfortunately I stayed out too long, Adolph is drowned, and five altogether, he wanted to keep his promise and mine.” It was the man, the fisherman himself, and he went further on with the procession; we stood terrified and benumbed. Then a little boy stepped forward and handed over a sack: “Here are the crabs, lady”…

All of this, and great deal more of reminiscence and rumination (including upon the critical moment when, as he lay wounded in the forest, he first saw the woman he came to think of as “his Amazon”), leads up to Wilhelm’s declaration of his decision to become a surgeon.

The second volume of Wilhelm Meister’s Travels breaks off here, at least in narrative terms: it actually concludes with a single poem, called Testament, and twenty pages’ worth of aphorisms (which we are later led to believe are Makarie’s): some dealing with matters already touched upon, some serious, some less so:

What is false has the advantage that it can always be chattered about, whereas what is true has to be made use of straight away, or else it is not there.

Wilhelm’s training takes place off-screen, as it were, and we rejoin him as he is riding into a town whose population has mysteriously swelled, and people spend a great deal of time singing; Wilhelm even recognises a song of his own composing. He takes a room at an inn, where over the door is inscribed, ‘Ubi homines sunt modi sunt’:

“Where people come together in society, the manner in which they wish to be and remain together immediately develops.”

Lenardo turns up unexpectedly, in company with Natalie’s younger brother, Friedrich; the former is now a member of the Society.

We are then given correspondence between Wilhelm and Hersile concerning the mysterious casket and the fallout from their possession of it. Hersile also scolds Wilhelm for his unsatisfactory letter-writing:

“Corresponding with you is completely like a monologue; for your replies are like an echo, taking syllables up only in a superficial way in order to let the sounds die away. Have you even once written something in reply to which an answer could again have been given? Your letters stop short and are rejections!”

Wilhelm decides he isn’t that interested in the contents of the casket. Instead we hear about his medical training, which took an odd turn. There is much general discussion here of the German situation with regard to the provision of cadavers for students, and we gather that a similar pattern events unfolded there as in Britain (Scotland, at least), with body-snatching and other crimes developing in response to ever-stricter regulations. Less because of this than his deep ambivalence, Wilhelm throws in his lot with an artist who specialises in minutely detailed anatomical models that, in his opinion, eliminate much of the need for bodies:

“You are to learn in brief that construction is more instructive than destruction, binding more than separating, bringing what is dead to life more than further killing what has already been killed…”

The next section of the novel gives us excerpts from Lenardo’s diary, recounting his observations among a mountain community of spinners and weavers—activities that we hear about to inordinate length. However, this is also the only section of either novel which, for all their dwelling upon arts and crafts and the choosing of careers, acknowledges the value of women’s work.

We know in passing that Wilhelm found the girl Nachodine and wrote to Lenardo about her. We now learn of his oblique report that she was safe in, “A domestic situation, based on piety, enlivened and sustained by industry and order… A succession of those working with their hands in the purest, basic sense surrounds her…” Lenardo now wonders if she is established in such a community; might even be hidden in this one…

Lenardo’s other thoughts concern a new acquaintance who earns his living travelling amongst the scattered mountain-dwellers and mending and maintaining their equipment; although he has other skills too:

“He is a master in his trade and can account completely for anything to do with spinning and weaving, he can work things out, preserve them and repair them, as they are needed and to suit everyone’s requirements.”

Lenardo ponders:

Ought not this man who handled tools and weaving equipment in such a masterly fashion to be able to become a most useful member of the Society? He thought all this over and considered how the merits of this skilful worker had already made a great impression on him. He therefore steered the conversation to that subject and asked the man the question, as if in jest, but all the more directly, whether he would not like to join a society of some significance and consider planning to emigrate overseas.

That last phrase finally brings Wilhelm Meister’s Travels into focus. At the end of Apprenticeship, we heard of the Society’s plans to establish a branch in America, and here it is finally revealed that the leaders are gathering skilled men for that purpose. This is the explanation for the influx of people to the town where Wilhelm is staying at the inn, however we do not get to the point for some further time yet.

Of course we don’t. First, we have to have two more interpolated narratives. The first of these is “The New Mesuline”, about a selfish young man who discovers that his new wife is actually the daughter of a dwarf king and capable of changing herself from her tiny natural form to become human-sized. She promises him all the wealth and luxury he could desire, but upon certain strict conditions…

Based upon European folklore (in which Mesuline was, rather, a mermaid-like figure), Goethe’s fairy-tale has been much analysed since its publication in this, its final form.

A second story, “The Dangerous Bet”, follows almost immediately (that is, there is an intervening letter from Hersile about that damned casket). This is a tale about a barber’s wager that he can pull a nobleman’s nose and get away with it, a joke which has far-reaching consequences.

And at this point, a touch under halfway through the third volume of Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, we get this:

The all-important day had arrived; it was the day when the first measures were to be initiated  in connection with the group emigration; it was the day when it would be decided who really wanted to go afar off into new lands or who would prefer to tarry and seek his fortune over here, on the cohesive soil of the old world.

The men who have gathered are artists and artisans, each highly skilled at a particular form of endeavour. It is, strangely enough, Lenardo who first addresses the assembled crowd. He is tasked with presenting the advantages of emigration, which he couches in terms of building communities from the ground up—morally as well as physically:

     “It has been said, and said repeatedly: Where things are well with me, there is my native country! Yet this comforting adage would be even better expressed if it said: Where I am of use, there is my native country!… If I now say: May everyone aim to be of use everywhere to himself and to others, this is not in fact teaching or advice, but the utterance of life itself…
     “It is in this sense that we may now see ourselves as participators in a world federation. The concept is simple and great, its execution, given intelligence and vigour, is easy. Unity is all-powerful, and so there is to be no division or conflict among us. As far as we have principles, they are common to us all… A man who devotes himself to what is most essential will always be the one to fulfil his aims most surely; on the other hand, others who may be seeking what is higher or more delicate need be more cautious in the path they choose. But whatever a man may take up, the individual on his own is insufficient; social relations are the prime need of a stout-hearted man. All useful people should be connected with one another, just as the organiser of a building operation is on the look-out for an architect, and the architect is concerned for masons and carpenters.
     “And hence everyone knows how our League came into being and what its conditions are; each one of us could at any moment use his special skill to good purpose and could be assured that wherever he might be led by chance, inclination and even passion, he would always be well recommended, received and assisted…
     “After that we have undertaken two duties in the strictest fashion: to respect all forms of worship, for they are all contained more or less in the Creed; furthermore, to be likewise tolerant of all forms of government… Finally, we consider ourselves obliged to practise and encourage morality without pedantry and severity…”

(Alas— We shouldn’t get carried away by the seeming liberality of all this. By “all forms of worship”, evidently all forms of Christian worship was intended: the Jews are explicitly excluded: How should we permit him a share in the highest cultural phenomenon since he rejects its origin and tradition?)

It did occur to me, rather too late, that a better way of addressing Wilhelm Meister’s Travels might to have been to ignore everything but this section of the novel, which crystalises the aims and purposes of the Society, as well as Goethe’s own ideas about the proper functioning of society (small ‘s’).

I have also discovered, on the way through this piece, that many people have done the reverse—that is, excerpted the interpolated narratives and analysed them as standalone works, ignoring the framework altogether. (Though it occurs to me that they may be considering the original, 1821 edition, rather than its revised successor.)

But neither of these approaches captures the peculiarly frustrating nature of this novel as a whole.

And we’re not done with the frustrations just yet. As did Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, Travels does not conclude at what appears to be its natural climax. Instead – of course it does – it offers another interpolated narrative, “Not Too Far”, about a wife led astray by her passion for society (the other kind of small-s society) and admiration.

The unhappy husband of the story, Odoard, turns out to be another Society member; and he is tasked in turn with spelling out the advantages of staying in the Old World; arguing that, properly recognised and seized, there are numerous opportunities to reclaim neglected and mismanaged land and to exercise all the gathered skills. He also expands upon the philosophy of the training insisted upon by the Society, and executed in the Pedagogic Province:

“The stages of apprentice, journeyman and master must be observed most strictly; in these too there can be many gradations, but examinations cannot be conducted too carefully. Whoever comes forward is to know that he is giving himself to a demanding art and that he may not expect that the requirements of this art will be casual; a single link that breaks in a great chain destroys the whole.”

From here we jump to the conclusion of Lenardo’s diary entries, which we were not given before (via Wilhelm’s reading) because he had sent those pages to Makarie for her judgement. We hear of the rest of his stay in the weavers’ community, his confirmation that Wilhelm had been there before him, and his discovery of the long-missing Nachodine.

We also learn that the artisans’ community is under threat from the coming of machinery, and that there too the great question of whether to stay or to emigrate is under debate.

And it is here, some twenty (!) pages from the conclusion of its narrative, if not the novel per se, that Wilhelm Meister’s Travels ties itself back into the events of Apprenticeship—and fittingly enough, in a most aggravating manner:

We must therefore report in the first place that Lothario with his wife Theresa and Natalie, who did not wish to be separated from her brother, have already gone to sea in fact, accompanied by the Abbé…

(“Did not wish to be separated from her brother”…but evidently doesn’t give a toss about being separated from Wilhelm. But then, what’s a few more months…?)

But we, in our narrative and descriptive function, should not permit these dear people, who at an earlier stage gained so much of our affection, to undertake such a long journey without our having provided more news about their intentions and actions up to this point, especially as it has been so long since we heard anything in detail about them. None the less we shall omit doing this since their activities hitherto were directed only in a preparatory manner towards the great venture to which we see them heading.

I’m learning to hate you, Johann.

Though in fact, we do get a typical end-of-novel wrap-up concerning various other characters, and who is staying and who is going; as well as another weird interlude concerning Makarie and her internal solar system; another letter from Hersile about that damned casket; plus a reference to a desperate young man on horseback who, in attempting to catch up with a boat travelling down a river, suffers a bad fall and lands in the water. He is dragged up onto the boat in critical condition, but his life is saved by a surgeon on board.

The two are then revealed as Felix and Wilhelm. The end.

No, really.

Actually…not really. After this we get another poem (untitled here, but usually referred to as “Upon Viewing Schiller’s Skull”), and nineteen more pages of Makarie’s aphorisms—including no less than sixteen of them upon a single topic, nothing less than Laurence Sterne himself. I will quote only one:

However much we are diverted by the sight of a free spirit of this type, we are equally reminded, particularly in this case, that although we find all this entrancing, it is not right for us to absorb anything of it, or at least not much.

And you didn’t, Johann. You really, really didn’t…

 

30/01/2020

Wilhelm Meister’s Travels (Part 1)


 
    I have been going round for days and cannot make up my mind to take up my pen; there are so many different things to be said; by word of mouth one thing would fit in with another, and one would perhaps develop out of another; therefore let me, as I am afar off, just begin with what is most general, it will after all eventually lead me on to the strange matter that I have to communicate.
    You have heard of the youth who found a thole-pin while walking by the seaside; the interest it aroused in him moved him to procure an oar, as necessarily belonging to it. But this likewise was of no use; he seriously longed for a boat and obtained one; however, boat, oar and thole-pin were not particularly beneficial; he acquired masts and sails and in this way gradually obtained what was needful for quick and comfortable sailing. With purposeful effort he acquired greater accomplishment and skill, luck favoured him, he finally became master and owner of a sizeable vessel; and in this way he became more successful, he gained prosperity, respect and a name among seafaring people.
    In causing you to read this moral tale again, I have to confess that it only belongs here in the remotest sense, but it paves the way for me to give expression to what I have to tell. Meanwhile there is some further and rather strange matter that I must deal with…

 

 

Given my track record, I don’t suppose there was ever any real chance of my not tackling Johann Goethe’s sequel to his 1796 novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship; but apart from the inner glow that always comes with completism, I can’t say that this time it was worth the effort.

In terms of why I was doing this in the first place, we must remember that the version of Goethe’s novels (called, simply, Wilhelm Meister) that was so influential in England thanks to the translation by Thomas Carlyle, appeared in 1824—and was therefore based upon the first editions of the two novels. As far as Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship goes, this was not a problem (though, as we discussed, Carlyle cut his translation of Apprenticeship short, at the end of Book 7 rather than of Book 8); but after initially publishing his sequel in 1821, Goethe significantly revised it in an edition first published in 1829, and this is now considered the standard text.

Wilhem Meisters Wanderjahre, oder Die Entsagenden (strictly, Wilhelm Meister’s Wandering Years, or The Renunciants; usually given as either Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years, Wilhelm Meister’s Years Of Travel or Wilhelm Meister’s Travels; for simplicity’s sake, we’ll stick with the latter) is a strange and frustrating book—although not in the same way that its predecessor is strange and frustrating. As difficult a novel as Apprenticeship is, there is never any sense that it does not have a long-term goal, however winding the road and however opaque the writing (or perhaps the translation). Travels, however, seems to lack a real purpose; or at least, any such direct philosophical purpose; and while to an extent it expands upon the arguments of the earlier work, by the end it does not feel as if much has been gained.

The writing itself also remains problematic, particularly Goethe’s tendency to overuse pronouns within lengthy passages, so that you can lose track of who is speaking, and to use descriptors rather than names. To give an example of this—at one point Wilhelm and his friend meet up with “the two ladies”…and it is four full pages before we get confirmation of which two ladies it is. (Turns out I’d guessed wrong.)

Most frustrating of all, however, is the lack of solid connection between Apprenticeship and Travels. Reading this novel is unnervingly like reading a trilogy in which the second book is missing. A few of the dots are eventually joined, but for far too long I was left feeling as if I had accidentally begun reading this book at the wrong point.

The most notable thing about Wilhelm Meister’s Travels is its structure, or the lack thereof. Much of this novel consists of interpolated narratives, quite a few of which have little if anything to do with the central plot and the main characters, around which Wilhelm’s narrative and that of Lenardo, a new character, are woven, and which are in turn periodically interrupted by poems, songs, letters between the characters, excerpts from a diary, and literally pages of aphorisms. All sorts of subplots are set up, only to peter out into irrelevance.

Furthermore, my understanding is that the first edition of the novel was nearly all interpolated narrative and very little Wilhelm: it was the passages in between which Goethe expanded upon.

In fact, the whole thing is so wilful in its refusal to be a novel that, had it not been published early in the 19th century, you’d be tempted to call it post-modern

…a reflection which suddenly caused me to wonder whether Goethe had been reading Tristram Shandy, that other great pre-post-modern novel; and much was my glee when he started quoting Sterne and expressing his admiration of him. (And while I don’t consider this on par with my deduction that Jane Austen enjoyed the novels of Catherine Cuthbertson, I still felt pretty full of myself.)

There’s one significant difference, however: though Tristram Shandy never actually gets anywhere, the reader has no trouble following where it isn’t going, if I can put it like that, while the non-journey is ultimately its own reward; whereas too often, Wilhelm Meister’s Travels just feels like experimentation for its own sake, an annoyance rather than an enrichment of the text, or perhaps a smokescreen for its limitations. In addition, Goethe entirely lacks Sterne’s sense of humour and lightness of touch.

So this is likely to be a rather lengthy “this happens, then that happens” sort of summary, rather than any kind of analysis. I apologise for that, but at the very least it should convey the issues. I really wanted to be done with this in a single post, but I decided in the end – for the sake of your sanity, mine having already taken flight – to divide it into two.

Now—I’m tempted to add, IYCCYMBTF, but it really hasn’t been that long, has it?—Wilhem Meister’s Apprenticeship closes with Wilhelm, newly engaged to Natalie and having accepted his new role of Felix’s father, nevertheless being sent away by the mysterious “society”, to act as a translator for an Italian nobleman on his travels.

So you may imagine my surprise when Wilhelm Meister’s Travels opens with Wilhelm and Felix on their own and no sign of the Marchese (to whom there is eventually a passing reference). We learn presently that Wilhelm is under orders from the “society”, none of which we heard a word about in the previous book. Wilhelm writes of his situation to Natalie:

I am not to remain more than three days under one roof. I am not to leave any lodging-place without going at least four miles away from it. These instructions are truly appropriate to making my years into years of travel and to preventing my being beset by the slightest temptation to settle down in one place. Up to now I have submitted myself entirely to this condition, indeed, I have not even made use of the permission granted to me. In fact this is the first time that I am stationary, the first time that I am spending the same night in the same bed. I am sending you from here much that I have heard, observed and saved up until now, and then tomorrow the journey goes on down the other side, first to a strange family, a holy family, as I should like to put it, about whom you will find more in my diary. Goodbye now, and put this paper down with the feeling that it has one thing to say and that it would only like to say and to keep on repeating one thing, but is unwilling to say and repeat it  until I can be happy enough to be lying at your feet and weeping into your hands because of all the renunciation…

Yes, well. Wilhelm shouldn’t hold his breath, and neither should Natalie. The two remain separated for the entire course of the novel, and this is the only time either of them expresses any particular regret about it. In fact this book is studded with separated couples who don’t much seem to care that they are. We get the feeling that while Goethe appreciated the dramatic possibilities of romantic pursuit, or romantic thwarting, he thought successful love was a complete bore.

But the critical point here is that final word of Wilhelm’s, “renunciation”.

I mentioned in my previous posts that while a number of translators of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship refer to the strange society into which he is accepted as “the Society of the Tower”, H. W. Waidson, the translator of my version, uses no particular term at all.

Yet here in Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, we suddenly find the expression “the Renunciants” being used—given something like pride of place in its German-language subtitle, and with references to the society under that name throughout the text.

That quoted letter from Wilhelm would seem to be setting up “renunciation” as a major theme of the novel; but this never really eventuates. Yes, Wilhelm’s conditions of travel both separate him from Natalie and force him to part from the people and places he encounters along the way; while some of the interpolated narratives also deal with characters having to give up something (occasionally as the third point of a romantic triangle); but it just doesn’t amount to anything substantial.

I’ll put it this way: if “renunciation” wasn’t pointed out as a theme, I’m not sure that’s what you would take away from a reading.

In fact, resignation seems to be of more significance, particularly in terms of the characters giving themselves over to one rather narrow way of living; often to one form of art, or craft, to which they bind themselves in perpetuity. I suppose in this respect they are “renouncing” a broader ambition, but then some of them never had one.

(In any event, Wilhelm eventually gets fed up and asks to be released from the conditions of his travels. Permission is granted. So much for that.)

Wilhelm Meister’s Travels plunges us immediately into weirdness, via Wilhelm and Felix’s encounter with the people he calls “the holy family”:

A sturdy, efficient-looking and not very tall young man whose robe was tucked up and who had a dark skin and black hair was stepping firmly and cautiously down the mountain path leading a donkey whose well nourished and well groomed head first came into view and then the beautiful burden it was carrying. A gentle and charming woman was seated on a large, well appointed saddle; in a blue robe which was wrapped round her she was holding a new-born child that she was pressing to her breast and regarding with inexpressible sweetness…

After this introduction, it is inevitable that their names should be “Joseph” and “Mary”. It turns out this isn’t – or isn’t only – coincidence, but (so to speak) a lifestyle choice, as we learn via the first interpolated narrative—which begins eight pages into the novel, under the general title of “The Flight To Egypt”, with the travellers gathering with a ruined church which the family calls home. However, there is no question of the baby’s secular origins, nor that of its older brother and half-brother: Mary was a young war-widow taken in by Joseph’s mother, patiently courted by Joseph through the period of her mourning.

Joseph is (of course) a carpenter; and here we get the novel’s first lengthy rumination upon the choosing of an art or craft, how it can shape a life, and the difference between innate talent and the real artistry that comes with formal training.

Wilhelm and Felix are forced to move on, and the next phase of their journey is dictated by the boy’s burgeoning interest in geology. He finds a box of specimens in Joseph’s possession, left behind by someone called “Montan”. Wilhelm is excited by this name, and he and Felix set out to find their “old friend”—who, some 191 pages of being referred to as Montan later, is revealed to be Jarno, who played a significant part in bringing Wilhelm into the society.

Geology plays quite a prominent role in Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, reflecting the important studies which emerged during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and which began to challenge the Old Testament view of the age of the Earth. (Although Travels was published before Charles Lyall’s Principles Of Geology, which was perhaps the critical work in that respect.) Goethe, however, appears to have had no difficulty in reconciling the implications of this research with his religious beliefs. He has Montan / Jarno dismiss these larger aspects, which are “beyond our understanding”, and concentrate only upon what is useful to man in this emerging body of knowledge.

Jarno also first introduces the theme that will dominate much of what follows, the idea that to be most of service to the world, a man should strive to be really good at one thing. It is the correct choosing of that thing that is difficult:

“The present is the time for specialisation; happy is he who understands this and is active in this sense on his own behalf and for others… Make yourself into an agency, and see what sort of place in life generally people will concede to you…I say that it is everywhere necessary to serve, from the bottom upwards. The best thing is to limit oneself to one craft. For the most limited person it will always remain a craft, for someone better it will be an art, and when the best man does one thing, he does everything, or, to be less paradoxical, in the one thing he does expertly he sees the symbol for everything that is done expertly.”

In the course of a lengthy conversation between Wilhelm and Jarno (is there any other kind?), we also get this—which again makes me wonder if my issues around renunciation / resignation is a translation artefact:

    “In every new circle we have to start again as children, develop a passionate interest in the subject and in the first place take pleasure in the shell until we are fortunate enough to reach the kernel.”
    “Well, tell me then how you came to acquire this knowledge and these insights,” Wilhelm replied, “For it isn’t such a long time since we parted company!”
    “My friend,” Montan rejoined, “we have had to be in a state of resignation, if not forever, at least for a good time. The first thing that occurs to an able man in such circumstances is to start a new life. New things are not sufficient for him, they are only valid as a distraction; he demands a new totality and immediately puts himself in the middle of it…”

After the friends have separated, Felix makes a discovery in the ruined church of St Joseph:

At last the bold lad came quickly up from the crevice and brought with him a casket which was no bigger than a small octavo volume and of magnificent and ancient appearance; it seemed to be of gold and decorated with enamel…

This casket will pass from hand to hand over the course of the novel, although no-one in possession of it will succeed in opening it. This is another of those touches where it is easier to see that symbolism is intended than to pin down the meaning. (Personally I’m inclined to take the casket as representative of my struggles to make head or tail of this narrative.)

Wilhelm and Felix head off under the guidance of a another boy, Fitz, with whom Felix has made friends, but who Wilhelm does not trust—and with good reason, it seems, when, after promising to show them into the grounds of an extensive estate, leads them instead into a literal trap. From there they are transferred into a room which, luxurious as it is, is yet another prison, its walls decorated with inscriptions such as: Liberty and recompense to the innocent, pity for those who have been led astray, requiting justice to the guilty.

The explanation for this is amusingly prosaic – set in place to protect the estates valuable young trees from those who, disinclined either to pay or to work for them, try to steal them instead – but the surrounding material introduces one of my real issues with this novel.

In Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship we encounter a single, mysterious society that chooses and guides its future members; fair enough. Here, however, everywhere Wilhelm goes he stumbles over yet another group of people living together and thrashing out some complicated philosophy of how to live and work. It all gets a bit much—not least because each individual group gets to expound at length upon their particular theories. Furthermore, having spent an entire book upon Wilhelm’s induction into the main Society, in this one it seems like every other person gets inducted, as long as someone recommends them.

In this specific case, Wilhelm and Felix are taken in by the elderly estate owner, his two nieces, Juliette and Hersilie, and a father and son who act as agents for the property. During their stay there is much general discussion of the duties of the wealthy to the poor, of the best methods for distributing goods so as to encourage industry, and of the true meaning of “property”. This group is also devoted to literature of various origins and types; and when Wilhelm retires for the night he is given something to read.

Here we get or second interpolated narrative, in the form of Goethe’s own short story, Die pilgernde Törin / The Foolish Pilgrim, first published in 1789. (“You must say whether you have come across anything more charming than this,” says Hersile.) Briefly, a noble father and son both fall in love with a beautiful but mysterious woman, who seems perfection—but will not reveal her true name, demanding to be taken – or not – wholly on her qualities as an individual. The story includes a ballad, “Der Müllerin Reue” / “The Maid Of The Mill’s Repentance”, which like the songs from Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship was set to music by others and found a separate fame.

There is what turns out to be a foreshadowing incident in this section, when Felix falls off his horse: medical help is summoned, with Hersile observing, “It’s not often that we need physicians, but we need surgeons all the time.”

However, the narrative takes a new turn via the interpolation of some correspondence between Juliette and Hersile, their aunt (who like the uncle maintains a separate establishment), and an eccentric cousin called Lenardo, who is always promising to come home, never does, instead sending letters inquiring minutely into people’s circumstances. This subplot is dragged out to unreasonable length, making a huge mystery out of a fairly straightforward if sad business: years before, a cottager and his daughter were being turned out because of inability to pay their rent; a young Lenardo promised solemnly to help, but was unable to fulfill his promise. The uncle died, and fear of the girl’s subsequent fate keeps Lenardo away. He finally returns home upon being assured that the girl is happy in a good marriage, only to discover that he had her name wrong and was asking after someone else.

The correspondence gives way without lead-in to our third interpolated narrative, given its own title of “Who Is The Betrayer?”, about a love-quadrangle working itself out.

Wilhelm then spends time with the uncle, who reveals his own history: that he was born in Germany but raised in America; finally choosing to return to Europe:

“Man needs patience above all and must needs be always consoderate, and I would rather come to terms with my king so that he will make me this or that concession, and make my peace with my neighbours so that they will relieve me of certain restrictions if I give way to them in something else, than be battling with the Iroquois in order to drive them out, or be deceiving them with contracts in order to expel them from their swamps where we are tormented to death by mosquitoes.”

This is a rare point in Wilhelm Meister’s Travels when we can grasp at something concrete: there are repeated references to this conflict between the Old World and the New; the corruption and oppression of the former, the pull of the latter with its promise of space and freedom—and the price that might have to be paid for it.

Wilhelm also meets the aunt, Makarie, and is introduced to an astronomer, who shows him some wonders through his telescope. Wilhelm appreciates this, but has some peculiar ideas on the subject of lenses generally:

    “…these aids which we use to augment our senses do not exert an ethically favourable influence on man. A man looking through glasses takes himself to be cleverer than he is, for the result is that his outer senses are thrown out of balance in relation to his inner judgement; a higher form of development is needed, and only outstanding people  are capable of this, so that their inner, true nature can be to some extent adjusted to this false element advancing upon them from outside. Whenever I look through a pair of binoculars I become another person and I am not pleased with myself; I see more than I ought to see, the more sharply focused world is not in harmony with my inner self, and I quickly put the glasses away again…
    “We shall no more banish these glasses out of the world than we shall any other piece of machinery, but it is important for the moral observer to be able to investigate and learn the origins of much that has found its way into human behaviour and of which we complain. Thus, for instance, I am convinced that the habit of wearing magnifying spectacles is the main reason for the arrogance of our young people.”

Ah, yes. These young people today, with their Mozart and their magnifying spectacles and their refusal to powder their hair…

Then we hear about a bizarre dream of Wilhelm’s:

“The green curtain rose, Makarie’s chair moved forward, all by itself, like a living creature; it had a golden glow, her garnets seemed priestly, her appearance was accompanied by a gentle gleam; I was on the point of prostrating myself. Clouds developed at her feet, as they rose they lifted up the holy figure as if on wings, in place of her wonderful features I finally saw in a parting in the cluds a star sparkling; it was carried continually upward and, moving through the opened vaulting of the roof, it became united with the whole firmament…”

This turns out to be an insight into the true nature of Makarie, who is mysteriously “attuned” with the heavens, capable of describing phenomena which may subsequently be confirmed by astrological observation:

“The astronomer then had an exact record made of what she saw, which now from time to time became quite clear to her, made calculations and deduced from them that she not only bore the whole solar system within herself, but that rather she moved spiritually as an integrating part in it…”

Wilhelm’s three days being up, he sets out in quest of Lenardo, finds him, and hears at length what I’ve summarised above. Lenardo tasks Wilhelm with finding the young woman, whose name is Nachodine (“the nutbrown maiden”). He agrees, but expresses concern over continuing to drag Felix all over the place, feeling that he should be placed in some good school and properly educated. Fortunately, Lenardo knows just the place, and sends Wilhelm to talk to a friend of his:

“When I last saw him, years ago, he told me quite a lot about a pedagogic association which I could only take to be a kind of Utopia; it seemed to me as if beneath the representation of reality a sequence of ideas, thoughts, proposals and intentions was meant which admittedly hung together, but in the usual course of things would hardly be likely to coincide…”

Wilhelm does end up leaving Felix in the “Pedagogic Province”, the functioning of which is conveyed through two lengthy descriptions, one when he drops him off and one when he picks him up. For the first, we hear only about the religious / historical grounding of the principles upon which the educational community is run.

The narrative is then interrupted by a rather lengthy story titled “The Man Of Fifty”, about yet another love-quadrangle working itself out, and in which the male rivals are also father and son. This is another of Goethe’s pre-existing short fictions, being originally published in 1808. This time, however, the “characters” in the story turn out to be real people known to Makarie, who helps them straighten out their confused situation.

Via letters, we then learn that Wilhelm is sending Lenardo to the Abbé, so that he can be inducted into the “society”. We also find Wilhelm requesting dispensation:

“After continuing an active self-examination I can only repeat even more earnestly the request which was brought forward some time ago through Montan; the wish to complete my years of travel with greater composure and steadiness is becoming increasingly pressing…”

Wilhelm speaks of “conditions” but we do not then learn what they are.

After the indirect reintroduction of the Abbé, we get a bizarre interlude that is one of the few successful bits of weirdness in this novel: Wilhelm meets up with a painter:

…it became evident that the fine artist, who was skilled at adorning water-colour landscapes with clever, well drawn and executed figures and accessories, was passionately captivated by Mignon’s fate, figure and nature. He had often pictured to himself and was now on a journey to copy from nature the surroundings she had known during her lifetime…

In other words—he’s been reading Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.

It is here that Wilhelm and the artist encounter “the two ladies” mentioned above, who turn out to be Hilary and the Beautiful Widow from “The Man Of Fifty”, rather than Juliette and Hersile as I assumed. A romantic interlude amongst sublime lake and mountain surroundings follows, and the artist shows himself to be a musician and a singer too, performing some of Mignon’s songs on his lute. This idyll is brought forcibly to an end by Wilhelm’s three-day arrangement. The four go their separate ways with the artist sent to Natalie, to show her where Wilhelm has been by way of his paintings.

Goethe then butts in with what he himself calls “an interpolaton”:

    At this point, however, we find ourselves in the position of announcing to the reader an interval, and what is more, an interval of some years; on this account we would have gladly brought a volume to a conclusion here, if only this could have been linked with the typographical arrangements.
    Yet surely the space between two chapters will suffice…

Or even the space between two posts, hey, Johann?

 

[To be continued…]

04/01/2020

Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue

 

Leandro could not reflect upon such a heap of misfortunes, without the cruellest grief in the World; however being of too brisk a Spirit to stoop to a sorrow, unbecoming the greatness of his courage, he at last endeavoured to evince the memory of his Miseries, by an assurance that Heaven would not utterly refuse him their protection from all those difficulties he must overcome, since ’twas for the sake of a Religion, he was absolutely satisfied was the truest in the World, that he was thus brought to this abyss of misery…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So. Chronobibliography.

Aren’t you astonished?

Back when I originally conceived this blog, I had the year 1692 pegged as “the beginning of the true English novel”, for reasons I will get to when the time is right. While I still think that, subsequent research has led me to tag 1690 as another landmark year, even though the developments in fiction that were taking place then were almost swamped by the resurgence of political writing that greeted James’ attempts to regain his throne—some of which I have looked at in detail (here, here and here), while others have been dealt with just in passing (here, here and here).

Nevertheless, it was during 1690 that a new tendency in publishing began to make itself felt: that of declaring a work of fiction to be, in no uncertain terms, “a novel”.

We have – believe it or not – covered some thirty years of English writing over the existence of this blog; and one of, if not the, most significant developments that occurred across those three decades was a shift away from a need to pretend everything was “a true story”—to the point where it was not only acceptable, but desirable, to admit that you were writing fiction. In fact – as the title-page above illustrates perfectly – you not only admitted it, you said so in a font bigger than that used for your title.

(The true-story impulse would reappear during the 18th century; but that’s story for a much later time.)

And while it was no doubt the printers and booksellers who were controlling the layout of publications, something else of significance occurred during 1690: it was then that an author revealing his or her name on the title-page became a common, if not ubiquitous, practice.

And as we see, the author of Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue went a little further, revealing also his university affiliation.

I haven’t been able to turn up anything about “J. Smythies”, though it seems I should have been: this, from the British Library’s acquisition catalogue, is the best I’ve been able to do:
 

 
The irritating thing is, I haven’t been able to find the referenced entry in the Alumni Cantabrigienses (to which I’ve turned before, successfully, in hunting up obscure authors); though I’m assuming that’s where the British Library people got “James” from.

The other point of note here is that this is yet another BL holding from the collection of Narcissus Luttrell, the 17th century bibliophile to whom we owe the survival of an incredible amount of rare material. (Also helpful is his habit of annotating his romans à clef, as we saw with The Perplex’d Prince.)

Alas—would that what was behind the title-page of Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue was half so interesting as all this. I was frankly disappointed in this short work, which over its opening pages seems to be toying with a new form of novel, but then chucks it away in favour of the same old picaresque / amatory stuff we’ve been encountering for years, albeit scaled down in both respects.

This is a very strange piece of writing. In essence it’s a low-key rogue’s biography, with its protagonist parlaying his physical perfections into a comfortable living; yet it opens with an apparently grave consideration of the persecution of the Huguenots under Louis XVI. It is hard to imagine that we’re supposed to take this work seriously overall; yet the tone is often sober, and what the hell is up with that opening? Conversely, if we are meant to take it seriously—what the hell is up with all the rest?

By which we may deduce that, in spite of the whole “a novel” thing, writers of the time hadn’t quite gotten the hang of things.

And in fact, I think I need to apologise for the unnecessary length of this piece. This is one of those works where, when you read it, you realise it’s bad; but then, when you re-read closely for reviewing purposes, you realise it’s REALLY bad (and quote accordingly). We’ve had some prat-heroes before at this blog, but Leandro might just take the cake.

Leandro opens in the wake of the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau, which revoked the provisions of the Edict of Nantes, instituted by Henri IV in 1598. This granted broad civil rights including the right of the Huguenots (French Protestants) to practise their religion free from persecution. The edict offended Louis XVI, who (among other things) set in motion various “unofficial” methods of persecution, intended to bully or frighten the Huguenots into converting. Then, with the Edict of Fontainebleau, he stripped the gloves off, forcing his Protestant subjects either to convert or flee.

Obviously there was a political purpose in the use of this material; but Leandro is unusual in the way it employs real recent events in a fictional context, in what we might call a recognisably modern manner.

Smythies’ main characters are two noble Huguenots, Arcanius and his son, Leandro:

Leandro was a Cavalier, of a very Noble Extraction, born in the Famous City of Orleans, and the Son of a rich Count, who deriv’d his Family from the most Illustrious House of Conde. History has so loudly proclaim’d the Bravery and Worth of this great Family, that I need no other Character to set out the Vertues and Glory of any of its Progeny, than to say they were allyed to the House of Conde; a Name which had carried so much terrour to the Roman Catholicks of France, that its most treacherous King could never think himself secure on this Throne, ’till the Blood of a most generous and devout Prince, of that Family, had been sacrificed to the revenge of a most unjust Monarch.

There were so many different Princes de Condé involved in so many different wars (and all of them called “Louis”), that this is not easy to pick apart. However, I am reasonably confident that the reference is to Louis de Condé 1530 – 1569 (as some histories actually call him, for obvious reasons!), who took a leading role in the 16th century Wars of Religion, and was executed by the future Henri III despite being wounded and attempting to surrender.

At this early point in Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue I was anticipating something genuinely interesting; but unfortunately the characters’ connection to the Condés turns out to be no more than an Informed Attribute, with the author insisting upon their possession of countless marvellous qualities that we never see for ourselves.

On the other hand, an amusingly pragmatic reason is offered for the beginning of Louis XVI’s persecution of the Huguenots:

    For the French King being now to begin a troublesome War with his Neighbours, was resolved to drain, as much as possible, the Coffers of his rich Subjects…
    Of those that thus suffered under these intolerable Taxes, the Hugonots to be sure were were the chief, and since Arcanius was one of the most wealthy, the Gallick Tyrant had the strictest Eye over him, and glad that such an opportunity serv’d so timely to satisfie his Revenge and Avarice, one Day summon’d him to his Court at Paris, and, in a private Discourse, told him, That it was expected by the greatest in his Kingdom, that he would no longer persist in a Religion, which was, he said, so absolutely condemn’d and confuted…

Arcanius tries the old Protestant minister vs Roman priest smackdown, winner-take-all, manoeuvre; but

…his Conversion not being the Mark that Lewis aim’d at, he could receive no other answer at a request so reasonable, than That it had already been so often put to the Tryal, that the World was now fully persuaded, that the Hugonots were an Heretical People, and that they ought to be proceeded against as so; adding, That he immediately expected his compliance, without which, he told him, he would no longer acknowledge him under his Protection, and consequently one who had forfeited his Faith and Trust to his Lord and Master; And so, after a little more Discourse, the crafty King dismissed our Count, whose judgment was too mature not to discern the Treachery, and himself too discreet not to avoid the Rock he saw he was ready to split upon…

And Arcanius indeed proves too slippery for Louis: he gathers up his son, as much of his possessions as can be carried, and a handful of trusty servants, and flees his estate; while other servants are left behind to give a false account of their intentions. The parties separate in order better to evade the search they know will be set in motion, all agreeing to meet in England.

Not all the servants are so fortunate, but Arcanius and Leandro manage to elude their pursuers—more through luck than judgement, and bad luck at that: they get lost in the woods.

Unfortunately, this is about the point at which Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue ceases to be engaging. The rest of this short novel is about Leandro’s efforts to re-establish himself at that level of society, and in possession of that wealth, that he is absolutely certain he deserves: his story told via exaggerated language that most of the time just feels like bad writing, but on occasions has a distinct air of tongue-in-cheek. It’s genuinely hard to tell.

Anyway, both Arcanius and Leandro – and, ahem, then just Leandro – are tiresome companions, perfectly convinced of their own deservingness (is that a word?), who despite their supposed piety and repeated insistence upon their intention of bowing to the Divine Will, spend most of their time moaning and wailing and having tantrums over the reversal of their fortunes.

At least, Leandro does. The father and son and their respective manservants are set upon by bandits. One of the servants is killed, the other runs away, and Arcanius is fatally wounded. The thieves strip the two of everything they possess (literally) and depart:

At first they could only behold one another, with Countenances that would have even cut the very Hearts of the most Barbarous; and when they would have vented the torment of their Souls, a flood of tears interrupted their Speech, so that they could only look upon each other with dismayed Glances, till on a sudden Leandro perceiv’d a paleness to spread it self over the Face of his miserable Father, and was just running to his assistance, when the good Arcanius, fainting, fell backwards upon the ground in a stream of Blood, which issued from a Wound in his Head, and which before lay concealed under his Perruke…

That’s some peruke.

Though Leandro clearly isn’t much use in a crisis, he does do his best with what little has been left to him:

    …stripping himself of that single Coat, which the Thieves had left him, covering with it the Body of his Father, and, with a distracted haste, ran up and down the Forrest, making the Woods and hollow Places eccho out the dolour of his complaints.
    It was his hap at last to meet with a Traveller, who, in that spacious unfrequented and uninhabited Place, had lost his way, and who, at the repeated crys of our distressed Count, fled back, being terrified at the sight of a Man naked, and who carried the appearance of one who had wholly lost the Faculties of his Reason.

Leandro manages to convince the Traveller of both his sanity and his need, but it is already too late:

He approached, softly, the Body of Arcanius, and raising him gently from the Ground, took a full view of his Face, but a Face whose paleness too evidently declared the unfortunate Arcanius to be stone dead, and as cold as that Clay of which he was first created. My dearest father, said he,— here the multitude of sighs stopping the continuance of his Speech, and his Legs not being able to support a Body loaded with so many Griefs, he let fall the breathless Carcase of the good Count, himself sliding upon the cold Body, and only saying, O God, this is above what Leandro can bear…

So you tell me: is that just lousy writing, or are we supposed to find it funny?

And actually—one of the most striking things about Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue is its tendency to dwell without criticism upon its protagonist’s emotions, in a manner that foreshadows the exaggerated sentimental fiction of the late 18th century (where it is also hard to believe that some of the writing was meant seriously).

The Traveller – who turns out to be another fleeing Huguenot – snaps Leandro out of it and helps him perform a makeshift funeral. However, he also brings him grim word of Louis’ actions: his father’s (now his) estate has been confiscated; the servants left behind were tortured into giving up their master’s plans; the other servants were captured with their goods; and there is now a price on Leandro’s head.

The two men make their way through the woods, living off berries and evading wolves, until they eventually reach Calais. The Traveller has by then served his various purposes (one of which was hopefully lending Leandro some pants, though the narrative doesn’t say so), and so—

…our good Traveller, not being able to survive the fatigue he had suffered in his Travels, dyed…

Not to worry. Leandro immediately falls in with an English merchant, who he knows by sight and reputation; and after two full pages of hearing about how his spirit is far too lofty for him ever to beg or receive charity—

…the English-man…told Leandro, He was so well pleas’d with his appearance and behaviour, that he had very advantageous sentiments of him; and, to let him see it, presented him with an English Crown, which the young Leandro accepted with such a generous humility, as neither detracted from his illustrious Soul, nor carried the least shew of an abject submission…

Leandro then tells the merchant his story, after which he is invited to hide at his lodgings. There, the merchant consults with some friends, and they try to come up with a safe way of smuggling Leandro across the Channel. Finally, only one scheme seems feasible:

…seeing the Merchant was a Batchelour, Leandro should pass for his wife…

And having committed to this plan, they don’t stint the details:

    The Day for the Marriage comes, Leandro in Women’s Cloaths is carried to the Church in a Coach, where the Friends of the Merchant wait for her, who hindring the Croud from pressing too near, receive her and conduct her to the Altar, where a corrupted Priest performs the seeming Rites, after which they return to the lodging of the Merchant, attended by a World of Peope, who give the Bride and Bridegroom joy. Two or three Days after he commands his Ship to be in a readiness. The Seamen long to see the Lady. The Guards form themselves into two ranks, to let the new married Couple pass through to the Ship. The Merchant, that their curiosity might not be too dangerous to Leandro, scatters small pieces of Money upon the Ground, throwing some before him all the way, which the Souldiers greedily and continually stooping to take up, they passed through them with admirable facility…
    …they land safely at Dover, where the Merchant privately procured an ordinary Seaman’s habit for Leandro, and then dismiss’d him, with reciprocal Embraces and endearing Expressions on both sides, the Merchant reporting to the Seamen, that he had sent his Bride to London by the Stage-Coach.

Leandro responds to all these extraordinary efforts with his usual gratitude and resolution:

Leandro now sees himself safe from the Persecution of Lewis, but not from the Malice of Fortune. He found himself in a strange Country, known to none, and but little Money in his Pocket. True, he had Cloaths, but so poor and unbecoming so brave a Person, that he seldom look’d upon ’em, but his tears and sighs evidently declared how cruelly he bore such a vast change in his State. He had about five or six Guineas about him, which he ow’d to the Bounty of the Merchant; but still he miss’d that respect and reverence he had been us’d to in Orleance; all which reflections were as at so many Darts to his grieved Spirits…

Again, not to worry. The first person Leandro bumps into in London is his own servant, who ran away when the thieves attacked, made it to England on his own, and is in the process of being arrested on suspicion of selling stolen goods—the good in question being his (Leandro’s) clothes.

Having reclaimed his wardrobe – and dismissed his servant – Leandro takes lodgings near St. James’s; where apparently he just sits around being FABULOUS and waiting for Fortune to have a change of mood and smile on him—as, of course, She must:

Leandro was a Person of such exquisite comeliness, that it was almost impossible for a Lady to look upon him without loving him, he was something above the ordinary height of Men, his Limbs and make of his Body being exactly proportionable; his Hair, after the French fashion, being exceeding long, and curiously curl’d towards the end, was a vast addition to his other Graces; his Eyes were grey, and so piercing, that they seem’d to command at one time both love and awe from the Beholder; nor did he appear in any Company, where the Eyes of all were not continually fix’d upon him, as upon an Object that did really challenge admiration. He was naturally of a pleasing conversation, and so ingeniously winning, that his Society was desired by all the young Gallants in the English Court. He was Majestick, but not Haughty; of a Noble and Generous Spirit, without the least shew of Pride or Disdain; of a brisk and gay Countenance, and without that affectation which renders our Town Fopps so intolerably ridiculous to the true Gentry. In short, he was composed of nothing but Majesty and Sweetness, and which was so natural to him, that it attributes vast presumption to my Pen, in pretending an exact Description of what is so much above Comprehension…

There is, I must stress again, no overall suggestion that this novel is not meant to be taken seriously; yet at certain moments, such as that rider to the paragraph above, it is hard not to picture Smythies snickering to himself while writing; particularly when the immediate consequence of all these perfections is that they enable Leandro to turn to prostitution to support himself.

Oooooooooooookay, the narrative doesn’t put it quite like that; though it does provide, a priori, a rationalisation even longer than that description of Leandro:

    …he saw he must fall from the highest precipice of Honour and Gallantry, to the lowest abyss of Beggary and Misery, a thought so cruel and severe, that even cut him to the very soul, at a foresight of such base unworthiness, which he must suffer. Then did he look back upon the Grandeur he once liv’d in, when the Greatness of his Birth rendred his Company acceptable to the highest in the Kingdom, and desired by all. He remembered he was then the Son of Arcanius, and the admired Leandro: But now, poor Gentleman! he saw himself the Son of Misfortune, and the poor Leandro; Leandro that once charm’d the Eyes of all that saw him, and who was now to be the derision of the very Abjects.
    These misfortunes were so hard for the brave son of Arcanius to undergo, that he could not meditate upon them, without that insupportable Grief, that often drove him to the most desperate Resolutions, that despair and anguish could suggest to him. At last he was reduced to the utmost Drachma, and now he beheld nothing but Sorrow and Poverty just seizing on him, and which was represented to his distracted Mind in such dark and dismal colours, that bursting into a Flood of tears, Heavens, said he, with a languishing tone, what has Leandro done above other Mortals, that he is thus more persecuted than they? Since you design such misery for the unfortunate Son of Arcanius, you ought in reason either to lighten his afflictions, or give him ability equal to them: But ’tis too late, added he, and starting up seriously, my misery is already decreed, which I’ll never meet but upon the point of my Sword…

Aren’t you impressed with how this devout Protestant bows to the will of Heaven?

Anyway—it turns out that God has a rather twisted sense of humour, since in response to Leandro’s petulant demand for his “afflictions” to be “lightened”, He sends in his landlady, who first prevents his suicide, then listens patiently to “his story of his Life and Miseries”. So moved is she by this—

    …extorting an Oath from him, never to make any more attempts upon his Life, she frankly flung a small Purse of Gold into his Lap.
    Leandro, at first, was too modest to receive a Gift from one who was so much his Inferiour, denying it with very pretty evasions, till Marcia pressing earnestly upon him, he at last accepted it…

Marcia then makes a passionate declaration of her wishes:

Leandro could not hear this Discourse without a bashful confusion, having to do with a Modesty of which he was a great Master: But gratitude obliging him to to reflect upon her bounty, he soon overcame all scruples of that Nature, and finding how pliant she was, and that he might hope to keep himself in his usual splendour by her means, he quickly yielded to her. We need not batter that Fort, whose breaches are wide enough already to enter, especially when the Garrison it self is willing to surrender. She stood not long to ballance her resolutions, but silently told him, she was intirely his own, which advantage our young Count taking hold of, he soon gave her all the satisfaction she was capable of receiving…

So Leandro begins a new career as Marcia’s paid toy-boy. The two are at it like rabbits whenever they can evade her husband’s notice, until they get a little careless. Jealous by temperament anyway, he becomes suspicious and pulls the old “I’ll be away from home the entire night” manoeuvre, and, sure enough, catches them at it.

But he forgets that he’s dealing with “a gentleman”:

…[Leandro] began to struggle with Corvinius, and getting him down, presented his Sword to his Throat, vowing to dispatch him presently, if he made the least outcry…

Leandro terrifies Corvinius into promising to turn a blind eye, and then takes himself off to better accommodation—which, thanks to Marcia, he can now afford:

…being Master of about fifteen Guineas, he takes his Lodgings at another part of the Town, at a rich Gentleman’s House, who was the Father of the most celebrated Fair accounted in all London…

Because rich men with beautiful heiress daughters like nothing better than to invite good-looking but impecunious young men into their houses, right?

Smythies soon makes it clear that Leandro and Felicia are destined for one another, by insisting on her perfections in that same overpowering yet curiously disinterested manner:

To endeavour to characterize the charming Felicia, would be a talk almost as difficult as to perform impossibilities. Let it suffice then, in short, she was composed of nothing but Sweetness, Beauty, and every thing that’s required to compleat an Angel.

Of course the two of them begin to fall in love, with Leandro’s courtship taking exactly the expected form:

…the Son of Arcanius gave her the relation of his own Life, but laid not the Scene in France, neither did he yet tell her it was himself who was such a Sufferer, but told it her as from the sufferings of a Friend, waiting till she had given her sentiments upon it. Leandro told the History of his Misfortunes in an Air and Stile so well and so exactly fitted to the several parts of it, that Felicia, by her often lifting her Handkerchief to her Eyes, testified what share she took in the Misfortunes of the Son of Arcanius; but when he frankly confes’d himself to be the Person, Felicia gave him a regard both of Pity and Respect…

One wonders how largely Leandro’s previous career as a gigolo featured in his narrative.

Leandro is emboldened to move on to frank declarations, and finally draws an admission from Felicia in turn; however she tells him that in respect of her marriage, her father’s word will be law. Having gone this far in entire consciousness of his own ineligibility as a suitor, in light of his current circumstances, Leandro nevertheless chooses to take this as one more act of a malign Fate:

…he began now to look upon himself, as upon a Man whom Fortune had design’d to persecute with with the greatest Misery…

Leandro nevertheless declares himself to the father, Foscarius:

…he open’d his whole Breast to him, telling him, The greatness of his Birth and Parentage; adding, that he wanted not Friends in the Court of Paris, to solicite the French King on his behalf.

That should give Louis a good laugh.

Foscarius responds to this in a perfectly reasonable manner, telling Leandro he will consent to his marriage to Felicia when he can demonstrate that he’s capable of keeping her in the style to which she is accustomed. And Leandro responds to this response as he responds to everything:

He returns to Felicia, and with distracted look, flinging himself at the Feet of that Lady, Madam, said he, all trembling, Providence has decreed my ruine, and Foscarius has signed it. I must no longer love my Felicia; nor any more think of my self, but as one of the most miserable Abjects upon the whole Earth. O God, added he, rising up, with his Hands and Eyes erected towards Heaven, for what further Miseries have you design’d the unfortunate Son of Arcanius?

Leandro realises he can’t stay at the house any longer and prepares to depart—which he does on a horse gifted to him by Foscarius, which he accepts unhesitatingly, as he does all else. And his thoughts, as he rides away, are – after all this! – about nothing less than scraping back into favour with Louis by converting to Catholicism!—

He had not yet conquered those scruples in his Conscience, so far as to think of changing a Persuasion, so true and Orthodox, for one so erroneous and ill-grounded as that of the Romans…

But happily for Leandro – no less for the rest of us:

Fortune, who had so long taken pleasure to sport her self with this unfortunate Man, at last weel’d a-bout, and happily reversed his State, when he least expected it…

Riding along, Leandro hears shots. He at first thinks it might be a duel, but then comes across a man holding off no less than four highwaymen, his servant having already been killed. Leandro plunges into the fray. He kills one of the highwaymen, but has his second pistol struck from his hand and must rely on his sword against his second attacker. Not to worry:

…with his Sword brandish’d above his Head struck him such a deep cut in the Forehead, that, descending with an unparallel’d strength, it par’d off one side of his Face, which, with a piece of his Shoulder, fell at his Horses Feet; the Thief being so amazed at the blow, that he left his Body unguarded…

Leandro is so busy killing this highwayman, he is nearly killed by another (who is carrying a scimitar!); but the stranger saves his life in turn. The last attacker runs away, leaving Leandro and the stranger to pat each other on the back—and to look each other in the face for the first time: at which point Leandro recognises the merchant of Calais, and the merchant his erstwhile “bride”.

The two make their way to the nearest town where – as it is rather bizarrely put – “orders were taken for the dead Bodies” – and Leandro catches his friend up on what has happened to him since they parted; and oh, surprise! – not without some sorrowful complaints”. The merchant, however, is the means by which everything is to be put right for Leandro: he knows Foscarius, and persuades him to agree to the immediate marriage of Leandro and Felicia, partly by vouching for Leandro’s character (!!), but more practically by bestowing a fortune upon him. Which, of course, Leandro accepts without hesitation:

I shall conclude with telling the Reader, that the next two days put a period to the fears of our overjoy’d Lovers, and they saw themselves at Night in each others Arms, attended with a triumph as splendid as the Match was extraordinary and illustrious.