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.

 

5 Comments to “Leandro: or, The Lucky Rescue”

  1. so begging is ignoble, but it’s fine to accept money given by one’s inferiors, just to make them feel better (and in the case of women, a WHOLE lot better).
    I see what you mean about the writing seeming to be tongue-in-cheek. It reminded me of some of Miss Austen’s spoof writing.
    Another quote that was running through my mind,
    “Shananananananananana, Get a Job.”

  2. I totally cracked up at the solution to smuggling Leandro across the channel, and am coming down on the side of believing that this is intended to be funny.

    Also, I somehow can’t help but imagine this whole farce as being conducted in a flamingly stereotype-gay manner.

    • I know! – and yet it really does not read like it. Perhaps Smythies was a bit too subtle? I found myself thinking about our conversation re: Henry Mackenzie’s The Man Of Feeling, back when I reviewed Julia de Roubigné—whether it was intended seriously, or whether it was a satire that misfired.

      (Another thing I Need To Get Back To, sigh.)

      Noblesse oblige. 😀

      Getting a job would rank lower than begging, and to be fair he’s not qualified for anything. (Or rather, he took on the one job that he *was* qualified for.)

  3. “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 so the connection with your other online life becomes clear…

    You can do a man to death and take his clothes, but only a real villain would take his wig…

    • Feels more like my other online death at the moment. 😦

      (Althoughhhh…)

      “UNHAND MY PERUKE, THOU VILLAIN!!”

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