Posts tagged ‘anti-Catholic’

07/10/2021

Ellesmere (Part 2)


 
That he had some secret enemies did not remain a doubt, though he could not conceive why they should seek his life. Madame de Grand-Pré was certainly anxious to prevent his enforcing claims which must expose her duplicity; the Dubois’s in that case must be her accomplices. He certainly was not accidentally wounded: the very spot where the vile deed was perpetrated, seemed marked for such a purpose—there was not another equally convenient between Lausanne and the castle. Should the people who were gone in pursuit, secure the villain, he might perhaps be obliged to prosecute the mother of his daughter for an attempt upon his life. The bare idea made him shudder…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clement Davenport discovering his true identity and then taking his place in his parents’ world as the Earl of Ellesmere carries us to the end of Volume II of Ellesmere. From here the narrative undergoes a severe lurch, turning from its English-domestic scenes to an almost-Gothic European-set plot, as Clement sets out again to track down the Baroness—determined to discover her retreat and the reasons for it, and to take steps accordingly:

No longer the ardent lover ready to perform impossibilities to obtain the favour of the woman he had once so fervently adored, he could now calmly and dispassionately review his and her past conduct. Before marriage she had appeared an angel, in whom every perfection centred; but now he found she had been guilty of levity and imprudence in encouraging, nay even noticing him. Situated as he then was, and after she had, as he then supposed, blessed him for life, what homage did she not exact! How often did she obliquely glance at the great sacrifice she had made at the shrine of Love, and what a return she had made for his unbounded confidence! Therefore ought she to escape unpunished? Of what iniquity might not such a woman prove capable?—No, he must and would obtain a legal dissolution of so dishonourable a connection: he was therefore anxious for the lawyers’ answer, but his suspense no longer preyed upon his mind. Having brought himself, as he hoped, to think with perfect indifference of the Baroness, he was prepared to expect a divorce would be the result of those enquiries he was so fully determined to make…

I can’t think of any other novel of this time – or for a long time afterwards – that takes such a prosaic approach to the end of a marriage. There’s no sense here of “What therefore God hath joined together”, no agonising about the rights and wrongs of divorce: Clement wants out of his marriage, and sets about finding his wife purely so that she can cease to be his wife. Given Meeke’s general conservatism (and that allusion to the Baroness’s “levity and imprudence” absolutely captures her general tone), this is almost shocking; and I suspect she allows herself to go this road because the novel as a whole operates as a warning not just about the foolishness of “romance”, but against getting involved with “foreigners”. (There’s a plot-touch later that reinforces the latter in a most annoying way.)

The entire Ormond family ends up removing to the south of France, avoiding the English winter for the health of both Clement and his elderly father. Prior to this, Clement and Meredith are caught on the edge of an incident involving a mad bull, and offer their coach as a refuge for a young woman, Miss Belville, and her governess—the former of whom drops a letter. Rather incredibly, given the usual rules governing correspondence, Meredith reads the whole thing—and so learns, and reveals, that Clement is an object of interest (to say the least) to a certain Lady Augusta Cameron. Clement explains that the two of them knew each other as children, then met again some years later, when she was visiting a relative near Fairfield. The letter also reveals that Lady Augusta is resisting marriage to her cousin (a foreigner!), which her father, the Earl of Greville, is blaming upon her desire to “throw herself away upon that low fellow, Davenport”.

Once on the Continent, Clement and Meredith set out on their quest for the Baroness. Their first stop is Paris where, to pass the time, they attend a play. In the interval, Meredith is accosted by an old school-fellow, the Earl of Harold: a handsome but rather dissolute and selfish individual, for whom he has little liking. He is surprised to learn that Lord Harold is newly married, and rightly assumes that the lady’s money was his chief motivation:

    “I dare say your Lordship has made so prudent a choice, no one will venture to condemn you for having parted with your liberty.”
    “In my place, Meredith, I think you would have done the same. A very rich and very handsome girl fell in love with the cut of my face; and, although not absolutely an Englishwoman, out of pure compassion I offered her my hand…”

Marriage does not seem to agree with the new Lady Harold, however; with her loving husband observing dispassionately that he may be a widower soon enough. Discussing the matter afterwards, Meredith and Clement shake their heads:

    “…he has, therefore, most probably, imposed upon some silly credulous woman, who, I am apt to think, from his account, already severely repents having placed her happiness in his keeping.”
    “I never yet heard any man glory so openly in his own baseness,” replied Clement; “but he is really so fine a figure, I cannot so much wonder at his having retrieved his fortune through matrimony:—however, little as I have seen of him, I sincerely pity the poor woman who has fallen to his share.”
    “If he only turns her into ridicule,” replied Meredith, “she may esteem herself very fortunate; but depend upon it if she has either common sense, or common feelings, she must be miserable with such a character. He did right in marrying a foreigner; for I think no English woman of fortune would have accepted of his title…”

The friends travel on to Geneva, where they try to pick up information about the Baroness’s movements, prior to Clement undertaking the unpleasant task of confronting the Dubois. They learn quite as much about the latter as they do about their main quarry, which tends to confirm the suspicion that her secret marriage placed the Baroness in the power of two very unscrupulous people:

Every one had heard that Madame de Grand-Pré had quitted Switzerland; but why or wherefore no one could take upon themselves to say, nor could anyone fathom where the Dubois’s had raised the money necessary to make their recent purchase, as the husband was only a a subaltern Officer in the French service, at the time he married; and the wife was almost wholly dependent upon the Baroness. This rendered it rather astonishing that they should now be able to live quite in affluence in Rolles, a small town between Geneva and Lausanne, as they kept a carriage, regular set of servants, &c. &c. and were, in short, strongly suspected of having egregiously duped the too easy Baroness…

The financial situation is the main weapon in Clement’s armoury. The Baroness undertook the disposal of her Swiss property with his blessing, but since she was married, the sale was technically illegal—the property no longer being hers to sell. This includes the sale of the Castle de Grand-Pré to the Dubois, a matter which was clearly hinky anyway as they self-evidently could not afford the estate.

In fairness to the Baroness, as Clement pursues his search he is forced to realise how much he is to blame for her behaviour: how his concealment of his comfortable circumstances in England would have paved the way for the Dubois to convince her that he was only a fortune-hunter after all, and that hiding herself from him was her only protection against his inevitable claim to her property:

“Such are the blessed fruits of indulging romantic notions! I could not condescend to be happy in the common way. But I think my greatest enemies, even the Dubois’s, or Lord Clancastle, would allow, if they were acquainted with my feelings, I am sufficiently punished for having quitted the beaten path…”

But the situation as it exists gives him leverage with the Dubois. They are beyond dismayed to discover the Earl Of Ellesmere in the Baroness’s former courier, but not being about to give up their ill-gotten gains, their tactic is to deny, deny, deny. An ugly scene results, with Clement provoked into spelling out just how far both they and the Baroness have put themselves in his power by their treacherous conduct:

“I would have you reflect how little honour you will gain by having recourse to any more subterfuges. I told you then, whenever I should think it worth my while, I should find no difficulty in proving my right to the Baroness’s fortune; though, believe me, my contempt for her has, if possible, increased since that period:—still I now chuse to assert my claims, not because I covet her riches, but because I wish her accomplices’ infamy to be blazoned to the world. I mean to see her steward before I sleep. I have taken the advice of the most eminent lawyers in Great Britain; therefore when you are necessitated to resign your cheaply acquired castle, only reflect you are reaping the fruits of your own obstinacy; for I had much rather debate this point amicably with your friend, than publicly dishonour myself by acknowledging myself her husband…”

Driving away, Clement and Meredith agree that the Dubois could tell them everything about the Baroness, had they chosen to; Meredith advises Clement to go ahead with the legal seizure of his wife’s estates, as the best way of flushing her out. As announced, they seek out M. Monvel, the Baroness’s steward, only to learn that he is ahead of them, having set out for the Castle de Grand-Pré. Clement goes after him, resolving also to take the opportunity to call upon Mr Maynard, the current tenant, as he promised during his previous call there. He does not quite make it to the castle, however:

He had arrived within a mile of the place of his destination, when a rustling to the right, which he imagined proceeded from a bird fluttering in the hedge, induced him to turn his head: at the very instant he received a violent flash of gunpowder in his face, and the contents of a musket in his neck, which brought him to the ground…

(In the interests of full closure, I must here state that I have finally found one point of direct overlap between “Mrs Meeke” and “Gabrielli”, with both of them apparently believing that bullets do less damage the closer you are to a gun, a touch we also found in The Sicilian.)

Clement’s life is saved partly by the angle of the shot, partly by the thickness of his neckcloth (!), and mostly by swift action on the part of Mr Maynard. Knowing Clement only as the man who once came seeking the Baroness, Maynard is stunned and appalled when his possessions reveal him to be the Earl of Ellesmere—

—“Mr Maynard” being the Earl of Clancastle, not only wracked with remorse for his past crimes, but now fully awake to the implications of an attempt upon Ellesmere’s life almost on his own doorstep.

The situation also causes some attendant awkwardness for Meredith, hastily summoned, as it reunites him with the Lady Lucy Killarney. Far from intending any claim upon him, he finds her not only aware of her father’s villainy, but determined to share his fallen fortunes.

Clement reluctantly concedes that the Baroness may be behind his shooting; though he agrees with Clement that Dubois is most likely the one who pulled the trigger. Monvel, the steward, is also a suspect: though he bears a good reputation locally, he was long in the service of the Grand-Pré family, and was the other major financial beneficiary of the Baroness’s hasty disposal of her property. Monvel is called to the castle and told the whole story. He is shocked by the Baroness’s behaviour, but refuses to believe that she could have had a hand in the attempt upon Clement’s life—he, too, pointing a finger at Dubois.

The matter takes another turn when Monvel receives a letter from his former mistress, who begs him to seek her out at the Convent of St. Mary, near Chamberry, where she has taken refuge. The thought that his wife has been all this time in a convent, rather than pursuing a second marriage, or “marriage”, in Germany, as he was repeatedly told, causes a revolution in Clement’s feelings; as do her regretful references to the Dubois. He and Meredith make preparations to accompany Monvel to Chamberry, with Clement waving away his cousin’s fears for his health and indeed his life. He decides to take Monvel’s place, and interview the Baroness himself.

The three men travel a circuitous route to Chamberry, keeping their destination a secret. After taking rooms, Clement and Meredith survey the town and the convent—noting that the high, thick walls of the latter make it look more like a prison. At the agreed time, Clement sets out to call upon his wife.

He does not return…

In the dark of night, almost sick with apprehension, and with his suspicions of Monvel’s treachery fully revived, Meredith calls at the convent. His demands to see the Abbess are refused, while a surly porteress not only insists that no man called there that day at all, but denies that any such person as the Baroness de Grand-Pré is staying there.

Frantic with worry, Meredith turns on Monvel, who steadfastly denies any involvement in Clement’s disappearance. He also warns him, as a foreign Protestant in a Catholic land, to keep his head. Meredith heeds the steward’s suggestion that they call upon the convent’s confessor, Father Benedict. The latter listens seriously to their story, but tells them they will not gain entry to the convent without an order from the town Governor. He proves to be away from home and, Chamberry being a walled city, Meredith passes a night of painful suspense until the gates are opened at dawn the following morning. Intent upon his quest, Meredith pays little heed to the robed figure outside the walls, waiting conversely for entry—

—until the “monk” speaks to him in his cousin’s voice.

Clement’s adventure is the stuff of Gothic novels, though it represents only an interlude in the overall scheme of Ellesmere. It is, however, amusing to find Meeke dabbling in this sort of sensation material. Less surprising is the overt anti-Catholic tone of it: though at one point she has a character speak in defence of most convents, the Convent of St. Mary is the exception that proves the rule—receiving unwilling novitiates in exchange for payment, and acting as a prison for disobedient daughters.

Clement tells Meredith that he did not see his wife. It was Father Benedict with whom he had to deal, who began by announcing that he was fully invested with the power to act on the Baroness’s behalf. After abusing him roundly as a scoundrel and a low-born adventurer, the monk presented him with papers to sign, relinquishing all claim to the Baroness’s property. Declaring himself willing enough to give it all up, Clement nevertheless refused to sign under compulsion—hardly expecting the response from this man of God:

“…remember, your friends are at no certainty you ever entered these walls, and if you ever wish to leave them, you must first set your name to these deeds:—you shall have till midnight to reflect upon the alternative; an oath never to reveal what has passed between us, and compliance with the Baroness’s wishes, procure you instant liberty. If, on the contrary, (putting his hand in his bosom while he spoke, and discovering the haft of a poniard)—but no more—if you are wise, you will accept of your liberty upon the proposed terms. It is now ten; in two hours more you shall see me again;” once more leaving Clement to darkness and his own reflections…

Clement’s delivery comes in an entirely unexpected manner: a female voice whispers to him through a thin piece of paneling; and he learns that in the next room are confined one each of the convent’s aforementioned victims (an unwilling novitiate and a disobedient daughter), who had already been seeking a means of escape. They have a knife, and with it Clement is able to cut a way into their room, there being a way out through it into the body of the convent; while a spare monk’s robe in his own locked room offers a disguise. Coming together in total darkness, the three do not wait for introductions: Clement finds one of them bold and eager for freedom, the other shy and shrinking; he later learns that it was the monk’s pronouncement of the name “Clement Davenport” that inspired the young women to risk pleading for his succour.

Luck, courage and a little deceit combine to see the three escape their prison. After walking a considerable distance towards Geneva, Clement, in his guise as a monk, manages to borrow a cart and driver for the young ladies, sending them on to his hotel in possession of his watch and advising them to seek out a servant called Watson. He then turns back to Chamberry, where he encounters the frantic Meredith.

The two then walk almost smack into Father Benedict and, after an exchange of threats involving the Governor, make him their prisoner and carry him towards Geneva in a carriage secured via a message sent to Monvel. During the journey – the monk’s arms bound to keep his itchy fingers away from his poniard – they manage to convince him that Clement is who he says he is, and that he has been duped by the Baroness:

    “I find I have been deceived,” said he. “I little thought you could have adduced such proof of what I told you would allege by way of frightening me; your Lordship may now depend upon every atonement in my power.”
    “Now you do seem to understand your interest, Father,” replied Clement;—“for depend upon it you will gain more by endeavouring to make me your friend, than by persisting in a wilful error. Is the Baroness de Grand-Pré now at Chamberry?”
    “Not at present, I am pretty sure, my Lord; but I wonder, since you acknowledged last night you wished to be legally separated from this lady, that you should have been so averse to renouncing your claims upon her person and fortune.”
    “Had she come forward, as I expected, Father, I should have made no difficulty in complying with many of her demands; but signing those papers you presented to me last night would not unfortunately have unmarried me—that must be done publicly, and, as I said before, legally. The Baroness wishes to make quicker work of it, by sending me out of the world.”

The monk denies any such intention, and goes back to trying to get Clement to admit assisting in the escape of the young women he persists in calling “nuns”. Clement evades the point, insisting (truthfully) that he saw no women at all while in the convent.

When the carriage passes from Savoy into Genevese territory, Father Benedict is released—and roundly warned about what he says regarding his experiences. The monk turns back upon the road to Chamberry—

—upon which Dubois is later found weltering in his blood from stab-wounds…one in the back.

They really should have taken that poniard away from him…

In Geneva, Clement and Meredith discover the identities of the two convent escapees: the bolder one is Clara di St. Amori, one of the numerous progeny of a noble but impoverished Sardinian family, forced into the convent (though not yet a novitiate) by way of disposing of her; the shy, shrinking one is none other than the Lady Augusta Cameron, author of that very interesting letter to her friend Miss Belville.

I admit to some disappointment here (not with regards to Lady Augusta: nothing at all unexpected there, unfortunately): in typical second-banana style, both Meredith and Clara are livelier, more sensible and have a better sense of humour than their more “sensitive” friends, and it looks as for a time as if Meeke intends to hook them up. However, she must have remembered that Clara is a foreigner: so instead, she pulls an impoverished soldier-lover out of her hat, has Clement dower Clara as thanks for the girl’s help, and so disposes of her. Meredith, meanwhile – once her father conveniently dies – is steered back towards Lady Lucy.

(Who, it occurs to me – it may not have done to Meeke – may well be Catholic…)

Lady Augusta, on the other hand, was placed in the convent by her aunt, by way of persuading her to bestow herself and her fortune upon her cousin – a foreigner! – a match she was wholly averse to even without her secret (or not-so-secret) passion for Clement.

Clement now considers that the best thing to do is to place her under his mother’s care, until her father, currently ambassador to the Court of Madrid, can be contacted. This is arranged, and the party travels to Avignon. There, Lady Augusta’s esteem for Clement is soon obvious to everyone; while she learns soon enough of his marriage—though also, via the Marchioness, who is only too eager to gain this daughter-in-law, of his plans for a divorce.

There is much debate within the family of the appropriate action to take against the Baroness and her presumed co-conspirators, Father Benedict and the Abbess of St. Mary’s:

    Monvel had retired to the apartment allotted him, to draw up a short case concerning the manner in which Clement had been decoyed into the Monastery—the steps Meredith and himself had taken in consequence of his detention—how, and with whom, he had made his escape; which was to be submitted to the Cardinal Vice Legate, who, the steward affirmed, had unlimited power over the sons and daughters of the Church (as they were styled) of every nation, and might possibly be able to cite Madame de Grand-Pré to his tribunal as being the instigator of the Confessor and Abbess.
    To bring her forward in any way, was become so serious an object, that the Marquis had determined, if the Vice Legate did not seem likely to interfere with success, to apply, without loss of time, to the Sardinian Court, and the Sovereign Council of Berne, to order her immediate confinement, as he hardly conceived his son in safety while she continued at large.

While these larger matters are in train, tea-table gossip reveals that the Earl and Countess of Harold are in Avignon for the latter’s health, which continues to decline. No-one is very surprised at this outcome:

    “We learned that she was ill at Paris,” rejoined Meredith; “and I thought then there was very little chance of her recovery, being pretty well acquainted with the character of her unprincipled Lord. But how could a sensible, rich, and handsome woman make so preposterous a choice?”
    “I can’t see any thing so extraordinary in what I am more apt to consider as her misfortune, than as any lapse of judgement,” said the Marquis.—“Lord Harold is a remarkably fine figure, and in every sense of the word, a truly handsome man. His education, and the company he was early introduced into, have given him other advantages; and I dare say he appeared a very desirable lover. Once married, he probably threw off the mask; and, in endeavouring to break his wife’s spirit, seems to have nearly broken her heart…”

The Marchioness is sympathetic, but only up to a point:

“There is a great deal to be said on both sides in this case, though I don’t doubt but Lord Harold deceived her in many essential points; still we must suppose she once loved him, or she would have been more particular in her enquiries concerning his morals, &c.; for upon these more than his fortune, her happiness depended. Therefore I think, instead of sinking under the disappointment she has experienced, she had better have endeavoured to reclaim the man she must have chosen; for no parents would have advised such a match…”

Lady Ormond also comments that Lady Harold had evinced a desire for their friendship, when they were introduced, and hinted that she required advice as to the disposal of her property; though there she cannot feel herself justified in interfering.

All this precedes an expected visit from the Earl and Countess, in whom the young people have very little interest—except the frankly curious Meredith. Lady Augusta, who is using a false name while her issues with the convent are sorted out, and while she waits to hear from her father, withdraws altogether; while the disinterested Clement continues to play with his daughter, now a toddler:

    …she put her arms round his neck, and refused to leave her hold, closely hugging, and repeatedly calling him papa—a word that she found had hitherto procured her every indulgence she desired. He was therefore standing in this posture, unable to disengage himself from her, when the Countess of Harold stopped directly opposite him. Their eyes remained rivetted upon each other for several seconds; till Maria, not feeling herself supported as before, clung still closer to papa, and made him remember he had slackened his hold; but his emotion rendered him incapable of attending to her endearments, upon recognising, though scarcely the shadow of her former self, her mother in the wife of Lord Harold.
    Altered as she was, a second glance placed her identity beyond doubt; and hastily disengaging the lovely infant’s arms from round his neck, he put her down; but had not set her upon her feet before the Baroness, having made a sort of feeble effort to catch the child from him, sunk senseless on the carpet before anyone could prevent her fall…

Alas, though not surprisingly, Ellesmere disappoints me again: I don’t get my divorce, with the Baroness taking to her bed, never to rise again. The point remains valid, though: no other novel of this time that I know of is so casual – even positive – on the subject.

Meeke proceeds from here to absolve the Baroness of everything but abysmal stupidity, placing all the criminal guilt upon the Dubois, who parleyed their knowledge of the Baroness’s secrets into ownership of an estate and a comfortable fortune (rewards for service sliding imperceptibly into blackmail). She did not, for example, knowingly commit bigamy, having been induced to believe that Clement was married when they met—to Mrs Davenport, no less, whose footman he once was. So she is convinced by Mme Dubois—and the Earl of Harold, who doesn’t exactly understand why the latter has encouraged him to repeat a bit of gossip about a foolish old lady marrying her servant, but knows enough to see that it will somehow help him in his own scheme of a wealthy marriage.

The best thing the Baroness does in the entire novel is keep her mouth shut on that point: Clement and Harold are already at daggers drawn, and she fears for the outcome should the latter’s active role in her deception be known. She also has a will drawn up that bequeaths her entire estate to Maria and names Clement as her guardian, without declaring her true relationship to either.

At this point it becomes evident that Maria, like her father, has had a very narrow escape: when Clement prevented the Dubois from getting their hands on the child, the Baroness had just appointed them her guardians and – in the event of her death – heirs to the fortune settled on her…

Knowing herself dying, the Baroness makes what amends she can by helping to lure Mme Dubois into a legal trap, one that ends with her, Father Benedict and the Abbess handed over to the tender mercies of the Church. Dubois – confirmed as the attempted murderer of Clement, and his role in the deception / bribing of the monk revealed – is allowed to go on slowly dying of his stab-wounds.

Her sensation-plot resolved, and the notion of “romance” thoroughly debunked, Meeke then provides an almost defiantly prosaic ending to her novel (one, by the way, that suddenly fires an unprovoked pot-shot at Mary Wollstonecraft and her Vindication Of The Rights Of Women), with Lord and Lady Ormond making formal proposals to the Earl of Greville, on behalf of the Earl of Ellesmere, for the hand of the Lady Augusta Cameron…who he has learned to esteem:

…he requested the Marquis would solicit Lord Greville’s permission in proper form, as he had no wish his addresses should have a clandestine appearance; he had had enough of romantic mysteries, therefore chose to proceed this time in the usual routine.

 
 

05/10/2021

Ellesmere (Part 1)

    The painful reflection that he now had no friend solicitous for his future welfare, nor to whose care he could, with perfect satisfaction, consign his infant daughter, increased the dejection which continued to prey upon his mind; and for her sake alone he wished to live, as all his prospects of happiness seemed closed forever. An unfortunate planet, he conceived, had presided over his birth; yet when he reflected upon the almost miraculous manner in which he had been preserved in his infancy, and upon the virtues of his late benefactress—the manner in which she had brought him up, the education she had given him, so superior to his apparent rank in society, and the large fortune she had bequeathed him—he considered it almost impious to murmur against those decrees which had doomed him to survive his recent disappointment; and which he could not help acknowledging might, in some respects, be attributed to his own romantic notions.—Had he openly aspired to the Baroness’s hand, and succeeded in the attempt, no artful confidant could have undermined their conjugal felicity.
    His own duplicity, respecting his circumstances, had laid the foundation for this separation, which had nearly brought him to the brink of the grave. Though he would very fain have persuaded himself he despised the Baroness too much to make him regret the step he had taken, yet he had loved too fervently to admit of this self-deception, and at times he could not help cherishing the delusive hope, that she would yet be able to convince him of his innocence…

 

 

Sigh.

As I went seeking for a copy of this novel from 1799, it was made painfully clear how far the new argument that the Minerva Press novelist known as Mrs (Mary?) Meeke was actually Elizabeth Meeke has propagated.

I’ve made my thoughts on this subject clear in a previous post: briefly, that having ended up with two writers of the same name on his roster, William Lane made the second of them use a pseudonym, resulting in some novels by “Mrs Meeke” and some by “Gabrielli”. That these are indeed two different people, rather than one woman using two authorial names, is clear enough if you’ve read their books…but I’m quite sure I’m the only one who has, whatever other research might have been done in this area.

I have no means of halting the spread of what I believe to be misinformation, but I do have one more detail to add to my counter-argument: the fact that, as can be seen on the title page above, the ‘by the author of’ statement from the Minerva Press includes only those novels by “Mrs Meeke”, and none by “Gabrielli”.

Anyway—

Despite it running four volumes, I’m sure I can get through this review of Ellesmere in two posts—the first one being shorter than usual, as I certainly don’t want to dwell more than I have to upon the exasperating first volume and a half, which focus upon two young people behaving (each in their own way) in a frustratingly stupid manner. Thankfully, the novel improves from that point—amusingly repositioning what is ordinarily the favourite Meeke climactic revelation to the middle of Volume II and then involving its hero in some rather Gothicky adventures.

As with Meeke’s previous novels, Ellesmere lays much of its action on the Continent prior to the French Revolution—which at least this time she doesn’t pretend never happened, though nothing in its French-set passages even hint at discontent. It opens, however, in England, with the overturning of a London-bound coach and the death of a woman carrying a baby. The child is unhurt, and is rescued by a middle-aged widow called Mrs Davenport. Childless herself, she quickly becomes attached to the baby; though she scrupulously does everything in her power to find his people. None of her questioning or advertising brings information beyond where the dead woman boarded the coach, and that offers no pleasing interpretation of the baby’s background—he most likely being the bastard one of the soldiers whose regiment departed just before the still-unidentified woman likewise left town.

Regardless, Mrs Davenport decides to raise the boy herself; and she earns the disapproval of her gossipy neighbours by having him christened “Clement Davenport”. Accepting the likely lowness of his birth, Mrs Davenport resolves to prepare him to earn his own living and plans to send him to India, where his presumed origins will least hamper his rise in the world. However, as the boy grows her attachment to him becomes such that she cannot bring herself to part with him—somewhat to his own disappointment, as he too accepts his position and his need to fend for himself. Finally Mrs Davenport goes all out—willing to the young man Fairfield, her estate near London, and nearly all of her fortune, amounting to some £5000 a year.

Inheriting this property at the age of twenty, Clement consults with Dr Lewis, the clergyman who educated him and acted as Mrs Davenport’s co-adjutant during his upbringing, and decides to undertake the Grand Tour. He soon finds himself in Geneva with a group of friends—for the most part, young aristocrats whose birth is better than his, but their purses much slimmer. And it is there that Clement first hears of the beautiful and wealthy young Baroness de Grand-Pré, and her declaration that she will never marry except for love.

Here we must – or anyway, shall – cut a long story short: Clement becomes fixated upon the idea of being “loved for himself”, and enters the Baroness’s service as her courier; while she, in turn, cannot believe that his handsome, cultured, obviously adoring young man is anything less than an aristocrat in disguise, despite him being in service and what he says about his origins. The two fall in love and secretly marry—not without extreme qualms on the Baroness’s side, with her genuine feeling for Clement battling against the pride and ambition instilled in her by her English mother, who taught her to think of marriage to an English nobleman as the proper goal of her life.

Clement, meanwhile, has foolishly concealed his comfortable circumstances—planning on springing them on his bride as a pleasant surprise when they eventually reach England. First they spend a year together travelling through France and Italy, finally settling near Florence, where the Baroness gives birth to a daughter, named Maria for her mother. During this time, the Baroness begins to divest herself of her Swiss property, the young couple agreeing to a fresh start where their backgrounds are not known. Clement from the start has, despite the 18th century marriage laws, refused to take any of his wife’s money, and leaves her to dispose of her property as she chooses.

All this seems properly “romantic”—but if we have learned anything about Mary Meeke, it is that she thoroughly disapproved of “romance”. Her characters might esteem one another; they might even be permitted to feel a passion; but the intrusion into her narrative of romance invariably signals disaster, and so it is here. Clement’s scheme of posing as a servant – which even he sees before long was incredibly foolish, though he can’t bring himself to withdraw – and the Baroness’s certainty that her servant is in fact a nobleman, are both repeatedly designated – not to say stigmatised – as “romantic”; and we are not altogether surprised when their relationship implodes.

Meeke is roundly critical of both her characters—of Clement for mistaking the Baroness’s beauty and manners for character, and of the Baroness for, well…

…unfortunately, she imbibed a very romantic turn of mind, which was greatly encouraged by being permitted to read indiscriminately every novel that found its way to Vevay, the nearest town. This induced her frequently to make the declaration Mr Haller had repeated, and to peremptorily refuse a German Nobleman of the first rank, who accompanied her father into Switzerland, purposely to make her an offer of his hand. The Baron would probably have enforced obedience, had not an apoplectic stroke carried him off almost immediately, and thus left his fair daughter at liberty to pursue the dictates of her romantic imagination…

(Two “romantics” in one paragraph, oh dear. Note also Clement’s condemnation of his own “romantic notions” in the header-quote.)

There is a serpent in Eden in the form of Mademoiselle Denisir, a ward of the Baroness’s late father who acts as her companion. Behaving at any moment in a way best calculated to guarantee her own ongoing comfort and security, having encouraged the Baroness in her marriage to this supposed aristocrat, Mlle Denisir now begins poisoning her mind against her husband, and convincing her that she has thrown herself away on a base-born adventurer and fortune-hunter.

A crisis occurs when Clement is hurriedly summoned back to England to the deathbed of Dr Lewis, though he dies before his young pupil arrives. Clement must stay in England some time to settle his friend’s affairs, and also orders work done at Fairfield, in preparation for the arrival of his family. When he returns to the Continent, he finds his wife strangely elusive—sending letters of excuse rather than coming to him herself, and then falling silent. He discovers the baby and her nurse where they were left, in “Chamberry” (Chambéry) and makes plans to send them to England, but can find no trace of his wife. Upon returning to Grand-Pré, he finds it occupied by an Englishman, Mr Maynard, and his daughter: Maynard tells Clement that he rented it from M. Monvel, the Baroness’s former steward, who in turn had leased it from its new purchaser, a man called Dubois.

Clement continues to search for his wife, but the trail runs cold until an accidental encounter with Mlle Denisir – or rather, Mme Dubois – who astonishes and enrages him by speaking of him to her new husband as “the Baroness’s former courier” and denouncing him when he dares refer to their marriage; telling him, in fact, that the Baroness has gone into Germany to make preparations for her upcoming wedding…

Conversely, Clement’s revelation that he has already removed the baby and Jeanette, her nurse, from Chamberry obviously causes Mme Dubois great chagrin—which convinces Clement that they had been sent by the Baroness to bring the child to her. The meeting ends in an exchange of threats, and Clement retreats to lick his wounds:

…he now sunk under the mortifying reflection, that the obscurity of his birth had afforded his wife an opportunity of taking so base an advantage of his credulity, and of, perhaps, sheltering herself from his claims in the arms of some more fortunate rival.
Whenever this notion occurred to him, and it was generally uppermost in his thoughts, he resolved to proclaim his marriage, and thus make her as miserable as she had succeeded in making him…

Clement’s health subsequently collapses; and though the doctors pull him through, they fear he is sinking into a decline that must soon be fatal. He manages to rally under the stimulus of two forces: the thought of the precarious position his daughter would be left in, if he died without first settling his affairs; and a friendship formed with a young Welshman, Edwin Meredith. The two young men, indeed, swiftly become inseparable; and Meredith invites Clement to his own home in the foothills of the mountains of Wales. Having settled Jeanette and the baby at Fairfield, he accepts. Though his health remains somewhat precarious, and he tires easily, Clement begins to recover under the generous care of his new friend.

Though a commoner, Meredith is very well-connected, being nephew to the Marquis and Marchioness of Ormond, whose estate adjoins his own property. He runs tame in their household, and soon confides in them his friend’s troubles—as much as he knows, Clement having maintained a strict silence about the exact nature of what is so obviously preying upon his mind and undermining his constitution:

“From some disappointment of a very tender nature, I am of the opinion,” he answered, “from the visible indifference with which he seems to regard the fair sex. Had he been in mourning, I should have been tempted to suspect he had lost a beloved wife; but that not being the case, I attribute his melancholy to the death, or, at least, to the loss of a favourite lady. He certainly has been one of the handsomest men in England, nay, I hardly know whether he is not so still; though grief and bad health have robbed his cheeks of their colour, and his eyes of their natural lustre and animation. His person is as faultless as his face, and his manners and conversation are at once refined and fascinating; altogether he is, without exception, one of the most agreeable companions I ever met with; and I don’t think, short as has been our acquaintance, I could feel a much stronger regard for an only brother…”

Clement is subsequently introduced to the elderly Marquis and his much younger second wife. The latter fancies herself something of a healer, and takes the young man under her wing. Various comments from Meredith have alerted Clement to the Ormonds having suffered some cruel blow; while we have been privy to references to the Earl of Clancastle, the Marquis’s brother-in-law, being their enemy. The Marchioness is subject to outbreaks of uncontrollable grief; and there are allusions to a newspaper advertisement which has to date brought no response.

While the Ormonds and Meredith are debating how next to proceed, Clement picks up the newspaper in question and, rather than ask awkward questions, satisfies his curiosity by reading the advertisement in question:

“TEN THOUSAND POUNDS REWARD: Whereas, it has lately been discovered, that the infant son of a noble family was, for the basest of purposes, about one-and-twenty years ago, removed from under the protection of his parents, who were led to believe him no more, a dead child having been substituted in his stead, to further this iniquitous deception; there is every reason to believe, from the confession of one of the accomplices in this vile plot, that he is still living; in which case he bears a mark of two vowels, duplicates of which are in his parents’ hands, who dare not be more explicit, for fear of exposing themselves to a further imposition…”

So. Once again cutting a very long story short, the current Earl of Clancastle is a man risen from Irish obscurity, advancing through a naval career to the rank of Admiral, and then via marriage to the acquisition of a title. Obsessed with his sons advancing even more, he began to dream of their inheritance of the Ormond title and property, due to the Marquis having no heir—never dreaming that his widowed brother-in-law would remarry late in life and have a son. His subsequent mixture of intemperate threats and promised rewards with regard to his nephew moved his servant to take him at his word. Discovering that his sister’s baby had just died of convulsions, Gwillim managed to smuggle the body into the nursery, removing the infant Earl of Ellesmere and – having marked the child so he could be identified in the future – handed him into his sister’s care; allowing Lord Clancastle to believe, however, that the child had, ahem, mysteriously died.

So, yes—once again, my friends, say it with me:

BABY SUBSTITUTION!!!!

The sister is of course the anonymous woman killed in the opening scene, and “Clement Davenport” is of course Alfred Ormond, Earl of Ellesmere (though everyone continues to call him “Clement”, and so shall we).

This is Meeke’s most beloved and well-used plot-trick, but instead of keeping this revelation for the climax of her novel, in Ellesmere she puts it to very different use by foregrounding the relationship between her hero and his parents. Furthermore, though the point is never made overtly, Meeke indulges herself in a wicked irony: the fact that, when she allowed her “romantic imagination” to convince her that her servant was an aristocrat in disguise, the Baroness was absolutely right—only to end up spending three volumes fleeing exactly the husband her ambition would have chosen.

Anyway—after the hysteria recedes somewhat, it is revealed that, having believed their son dead for twenty years, the Ormonds only recently learned better when the Marquis and Meredith were present to receive the dying confession of Gwillim…who put the blame firmly upon Lord Clancastle.

Retribution had already caught up with Clancastle, with the sons for whose benefit he concocted his evil scheme both dying in action. In the wake of his bereavement, remorse took hold; and, when confronted by this ghost of his past, the Earl fled the country—taking with him his surviving child, the Lady Lucy Killarney, and causing a painful dilemma for Meredith who, though “esteeming” Lady Lucy, feels that under the circumstances he cannot marry her.

The discovery of his parents and his cousin – and of his own title and wealth, which Meeke is amusingly upfront about – and the mutual joy of the newly reunited family, completes the restoration of Clement’s health. Even his marital situation no longer has the ability to hurt him, though he dreads having to confess it to the others:

…who would probably, and very justly, blame him for having indulged the romantic notion of being loved for himself. Well, they could not condemn his conduct more than he did himself…

Clement does finally tell his story, begging his parents for their advice. Lady Ormond immediately sends for the baby, while her husband ponders his son’s situation:

    As for her mother, he hardly knew what to say: there was a bare possibility that she was not so much to blame as she appeared;—the Dubois’s seemed very designing people. Situated as his son then was, he saw nothing blameable in his disguise—it was a romantic notion, and many more young people had been attracted by the same impulse; besides it certainly afford him an opportunity of studying the Baroness’s character, rarely to be obtained.
    “But did not the blind God, my dear Clement,” he continued, “prevent you from perceiving her faults? I can’t acquit her of imprudence, even before she married—nor you of an excess of complaisance in leaving everything at her disposal. If she has abused your noble confidence, she is indeed unworthy your regret: this time alone must discover;—there is great reason to suppose that she has done neither you, nor her daughter justice; but if she seeks the child, I shall think that she has suffered herself to be misled by her artful friend…”

Lady Ormond and Meredith also weigh in, agreeing that the matter must be investigated and the Baroness’s degree of guilt, or credulity, determined, before Clement can judge how best to behave in future.

But Clement sees no way in which his wife can explain her behaviour to his satisfaction; nor does he intend to dwell upon the matter any longer:

“My prospects are now very different, and I should be unpardonable were I to suffer the desertion of an unprincipled woman any longer to affect either my health or spirits;—situated as I was at the time, it was hardly excusable, but it was a very severe disappointment.—Love and vanity, arising from the supposed preference I had met with, as my father very justly remarked, had blinded me to the imperfections of the heroine of my romance; and to find my goddess a mere mortal, was truly mortifying to my pride…”

 

[To be continued…]

14/04/2018

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08/09/2013

Steepleton; or, High Church and Low Church

Jenner1b    The term “Low Church” would seem to imply something base in its nature and levelling in its tendencies, as the term “High Church” would something noble and elevating. The one system might be supposed, from its designation, to lower, to degrade, to weaken the Church; the other to exalt, to adorn, to strengthen it. Such, probably, would be the impression which a foreigner coming into this country, or a person ignorant of parties, would receive from first hearing these terms used.
    But we must not allow ourselves to be prepossessed and imposed upon by terms, without considering their origin, and their conventional application. When we would institute a comparison between the two systems, or parties, which these terms denote, and would weigh their respective merits, we must first take into account the exact momentum of the empty vessels, so to speak, which contain the goods of the opposing claimants. These empty vessels are the names by which the respective parties are designated. Now it is an undeniable fact, which is of great moment in this inquiry, that the appellation “High Church” is assumed—the designation “Low Church” imposed: the one is arrogantly claimed—the other meekly borne.

I don’t think there’s much doubt about when and why this particular…piece of writing; I hesitate to call it a novel…ended up on The Wishlist: undoubtedly as a consequence of my consideration of Joseph Ellis Baker’s The Novel And The Oxford Movement, which examined the way in which the novel progressively became the vehicle of choice for the warring factions involved in the inter-church brawling that marked 19th century English religious life. Written by a clergyman called Stephen Jenner in 1847, Steepleton; or High Church And Low Church: Being The Present Tendencies Of Parties In The Church, Exhibited In The History Of Frank Faithful is a perfect example of the way in which the novelistic form was hijacked into the service of writers more notable for their religious fervour than their literary talents. This is a tub-thumping, anti-Tracterian, anti-Catholic, Low Church polemic…although I must say that it is not immediately evident that this is so, since Jenner hides his claws for quite a lengthy stretch of this particular work. Once the claws are unsheathed, though— Yowza!

In fact, for a while there I was falsely lulled into feeling that in drawing Steepleton from the hat, I’d gotten off lightly. The first third or so of this work is actually quite interesting, and occasionally even humorous. However, perhaps its virtues are best illustrated by the fact that for quite some time, it was not at all obvious which side of the factional fence, if any, it was going to come down upon. Steepleton opens with the entrance into the ministry of Frank Faithful, About that eventful period, twelve years ago, when the Church seemed to be awakening from the sleep of a century. This is a reference to the beginning of the Tractarian movement in the mid-1830s, which was itself a reaction to the Reform Bill of 1832 and the (perceived) increasing liberalism of the times, and in particular what was viewed as intolerable government interference in church matters. The text then jumps back still further, and we learn that, It had been Frank Faithful’s desire, from as early an age as he could first lisp his wishes, to become a clergyman. We then dwell, in a supposedly inspiring but actually quite nauseating passage, upon the many ways the precociously devout Frank expressed his calling, for example, He took it into his head to lay by all the little gifts that he received from his friends, in order, as he said, to get money enough to build a church…

We are, presumably, to read all this as Frank being touched by God, since nothing in his family environment predisposes him to a religious calling: his father, indeed, treats his ambitions as a joke*, something he will grow out of, and intends that Frank will enter his business; his mother, though sympathetic, hesitates to oppose her husband.

(*Not surprisingly, this gentleman is referred to throughout as “Frank’s father” rather than “Mr Faithful”.)

Most of the interest of the early parts of Steepleton lie in its criticisms of various common life-practices, secular as well as religious, as from these we are able to infer a great deal about normal middle-class life at the time (at least for boys). At this point in the novel, these criticisms are implicit rather than explicit, with Jenner simply describing how things were done and allowing the reader to draw their own inferences. It’s a very great pity he couldn’t keep this approach up for the duration, but I suppose that’s too much to be expected. Anyway— Here, for example, is a description of Frank’s confirmation day:

By the help of his Right Reverend Brother, the Bishop’s duties were soon over—a merry peal from the steeple announced the termination of the service: the Bishop departed, and the only question that engaged the solicitude of Frank and his companions was, whether they considered the proper Bishop, their own Bishop, had laid his hands on their heads. The rest of the day was spent by Frank, and ten others of the young gentlemen of his own parish, in playing a game of cricket against eleven of another parish. This was followed by a dinner at the Inn, with its usual accompaniments; after which Frank went to bed with a severe sick-headache, produced by the excitement.

Likewise, after his father is worn down into allowing him to pursue his vocation, we get a good insight into the educational system of the time via Frank’s awful experiences with private tutors (who send him off to university knowing little more than he did when first placed under their “care”), and his tussle with contradictory university procedures that give more weight to tradition than to preparing students for adult life, let alone for entering the Church.

Steepleton keeps a non-denominational tone for about half of its narrative, presenting Frank as devoted to his calling but unsure which party, if any, he should throw in with; the narrative follows him as he tests out each possibility in turn and begins to draw conclusions. The novel’s messages here tend towards general warnings, such as not confusing the Church with its ministers. With hindsight, however, Steepleton does tip its hand early on about what kind of novel it will eventually be. Recoiling after his parish minister is involved in an embarrassing drunken incident, Frank is briefly drawn to the “Wesleyans”, but decides that he cannot approve various of their practices. Nevertheless, Methodism is presented with a degree of sympathy that is indicative of the overall tendency of the text: indeed, a footnote by Jenner refers to the Wesleyans as “the best allies which the Church of England possesses”.

More indicative still is that when Frank goes to university, he goes to Cambridge. As has been pointed out by numerous commentators (although never really gotten to the bottom of, as far as I know), a ridiculously high proportion of “university novels” are set at Oxford, even if there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for the choice. Consequently, this particular bit of iconoclasm in Steepleton draws attention to itself. Jenner is even more critical of university practices as he was of private tutoring:

For the Church, in fact, the University affords little or no direct preparation. Though in some of the colleges they do profess to give divinity lectures, yet those who are appointed to give them are often mere novices, who know nothing of divinity themselves; and it is not to be expected that those who have never learned should be able to teach. Hence it is that our church becomes filled with such a number of inefficient, ill-prepared ministers—than whom many cottagers in their parishes have a more clear and consistent view of the Christian system, and, in all but the knowledge of words, are far more fitted to be public teachers.

It is finally Frank’s private studying rather than what he learns at university that allows him to pass his Bishop’s examination. This is for him “a season of solemn seriousness”, as he undertakes a “momentous responsibility”—

His religious views at this time were catholic and scriptural, without any decided bias of party prejudice; for with party he was as yet but very imperfectly acquainted. He fully believed the Established Episcopal Church to be the proper representative of Christianity in this country—a true apostolic branch of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church; and on this ground he became one of its ministers.

Frank’s first curacy falls amongst a predominantly Low Church clergy, though this is made little of to start with. He throws himself with devotion and energy into his duties, gaining a reputation for both his preaching and his parish work. In particular he is a believer in home-visiting as a way of getting to know his flock, and of rounding up strays. There is dissent in the parish, which is presented as the inevitable result of a lack of ministerial zeal, having little to do with actual belief, and Frank manages to bring most of these “wanderers” back to his church.

Along with his actual duties, the great attraction of Frank’s situation is the existence of a clerical society that meets regularly to discuss passages from the Scripture and to debate, and hopefully settle upon, the correct interpretation of matters of doctrine. This allows Stephen Jenner to expound – at length – about what we can take to be two of the hot-button issues at the time: the question of justification by faith alone, and baptismal regeneration. Here, I think it may be truly and not too unkindly said, Steepleton becomes much more like what we might have expected of a novel of this type; and if neither “angels” nor “the head of a pin” actually makes an appearance, I can assure you that the chapters presenting the clergymen’s tireless and minute dissection of these two topics gives that notorious piece of doctrinal dispute a fair run for its money. Here’s just a taste:

“Bear this principle in mind, then, in your interpretation of the baptismal service, which is drawn up strictly in a covenant form. It is a service constructed for the purpose of bringing persons into a covenant relationship to God and his Church. It begins by stating what is required in all persons before they can enter into the kingdom of heaven; it then exhorts the sponsors to join in praying that this blessing may be granted. The blessing is then prayed for in terms which obviously imply that baptism is only a figure and seal of the thing desired. The water is spoken of as being sanctified only to the ‘mystical‘ (i.e, emblematical, as the word means) ‘washing away of sins’. And it is a fact worth knowing that this qualifying word, mystical, is not in the Romish service, which absolutely asserts the washing away of sins by the outward rite. The prayer that follows is, that the child may be washed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost—that he ‘may receive remission of sins by spiritual regeneration‘.”

And so on…for about another 20 pages. (And in fact we get a second chapter on baptismal regeneration later on!)

Now—to cut to the chase a little—Steepleton‘s main thesis is that there is no such thing as “Anglo-Catholicism”, just Catholicism, and that the Oxford Movement and its resultant Tractarianism was a deliberate, covert, underhanded scheme to pave the way for the reintroduction of Catholicism into England under another name. (Boy…I just can’t get away from plots to reintroduce Catholicism into England, can I?? Sigh.) It is argued that one of the Tractarian tactics is to omit, or substitute, or misinterpret (accidentally or otherwise), certain words and phrases in the Scriptures, in order to give the passages that contain them a more Catholic slant. Frank Faithful proves very alert on this score, and painstakingly corrects these passages and elicits their true meaning via lengthy lectures upon grammar and language usage that (at least to this reader) are simultaneously numbingly dull and hilariously funny. But at least now I now the difference between “thereby” and “hereby”.

The second thing that emerges at this stage of the novel is that Steepleton was written in response to another novel. In my post on The Novel And The Oxford Movement, I mentioned that one of the leading exponents of the Tractarian novel, one of the first people to seize upon the novel as a weapon of propaganda in this inter-factional war, was William Gresley. In addition to publishing several extremely popular works of non-fiction, among them Anglo-Catholicism: A Short Treatise On The Theory Of The English Church, Gresley wrote half a dozen or so novels including Bernard Leslie; or, A Tale Of The Last Ten Years, a fictionalisation of his own experiences within the Oxford Movement. Though he roundly criticises both, it seems to have been the latter that provoked Stephen Jenner into taking up his own pen; and throughout Steepleton there are short passages quoting Bernard Leslie and showing exactly where Gresley is wrong / mistaken / fooling himself / lying:

    “Ah! I perceive,” said Faithful, “that you have learned the Catechism from your friend, Mr Gresley, and not from the Prayer Book. It is remarkable that twice over in his “Bernard Leslie” does he profess to quote this answer of the Catechism, in proof of his notion that the Church holds the doctrine of regeneration by baptism, and both times does he misquote it, substituting ‘thereby‘ for ‘hereby‘ (pages 68 & 173). Now my argument upon this is, either Mr Gresley did not know the difference between ‘hereby‘ and ‘thereby‘, and therefore unconsciously made the mistake, because the sense which he would put upon it required it; or he knowingly changed the word in order to deceive. You may hang him upon which horn of the dilemma you please.
    “But I don’t see,” replied Mr Roodstock, “what difference it can make, whether it be ‘hereby’ or ‘thereby’. Will you explain what you mean?”
    “Readily: ‘hereby‘ means ‘by this‘, the last thing mentioned, and that, in this case, was the ‘inward and spiritual grace’, for that is the subject of the question to which this answer relates, and not to the outward part or rite: ‘thereby‘ means ‘by that‘, the former thing mentioned, and that would be, as Mr Gresley makes it, Baptism. ‘Hereby‘ refers to the death unto sin, and the new birth unto righteousness, which is the inward and spiritual grace; and it is hereby we become really children of grace; but not thereby, that is, by baptism, ‘which is only the outward and visible sign’.”

So, are we all clear on that?

(And now, of course, I feel obliged to give the Tractarians equal air-time by reviewing Bernard Leslie. Sigh.)

On the whole Frank is happy during his first curacy; although he cannot help feeling that his openly Low Church brethren are not quite—well, quite. It was a common High Church position that its adherents were all gentlemen, while Low Churchmen were generally rather under-bred. (Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novels, for example, express their High Church sympathies via this slur, amongst others.) Though he admires and respects them for their devotion and zeal, Frank can’t help feeling that the Low Churchmen amongst whom his lot first falls are not quite the gentlemanly companions he desires; and when the parish in which he takes up his second curacy proves to be thoroughly High Church, he is relieved, anticipating that he will find himself amongst clergyman who will suit  him both doctrinally and socially.

That’s not quite how it works out…

Once settled in his new position, Frank eagerly joins the local clerical society, but finds it far different from the one founded and run by the Low Church clergy. The members eschew discussion of the Bible in favour of debates over the Prayer-Book and the Rubrics; they change the subject whenever a point of controversy seems likely to emerge; and they seem much more interested in the convivial dinner that generally follows a meeting than they are in the meeting itself. Sometimes, indeed, meetings are given over to matters not spiritual at all, although not necessarily without intense interest to the clergy:

After a long pause, Mr Sheepfleece started forward from his seat, and said;—“Mr Chairman, it is rather beside the question certainly, but I want to put a query to my brethren about the Income Tax Act, which is just coming into operation.”

Socially, meanwhile, Frank finds his colleagues given over to dissipations such as drinking and card-playing and dinner parties, and deplores their failure to set a personal example for their parishioners. His own attempts to do so find him being given the cold-shoulder in the town. While this does not trouble him, except in so far as his stance has no effect whatsoever upon his colleagues, he is more than troubled by the Tractarian slant he detects in the clerical society, and in the library for which the society is responsible. His attempts to rectify this are thwarted in a variety of ways, including counterarguments made with jesuitical subtlety (“jesuitical”, small-j, is one of Stephen Jenner’s favourite terms of abuse). Matters finally come to a head when another clergyman, a Mr Fairlight, who is “a pious, candid High Churchman, but no Tractarian”, tries to introduce into the library, “The able and learned charge of one of our Bishops against Tractarianism.” There is great consternation when this suggestion is seconded by Frank, but the threatened party has regrouped by the time of the next meeting, passing a motion banning all bishops’ charges from the library. This is of course like a red rag to a bull:

Faithful immediately arose and said, “Gentlemen, this strikes me as a most extraordinary motion—that, from a society, composed as this is entirely of clergymen, it should be proposed that bishops’ charges be excluded! I can have no doubt that this motion has arisen out of the circumstance of one particular charge having been voted into the number of your books—a charge which some are afraid to face—a charge which pours a regular broadside into the vessel which the Tractarian party have fitted out to carry all the people of England to Rome.”

(I think the charge in question is the Visitation Charge of Richard Bagot, Bishop of Oxford, of May, 1842.)

This is the final straw. It is known that Frank’s curacy is coming to an end, and the Tractarians get together to pass another motion, breaking their own rules of association in the process, that no-one may be a member of their society unless he holds a parish living or curacy. And so the troublemaking Frank is shown the door…

From this point Steepleton drops any pretence of being a novel. (Simultaneously, its footnotes get longer, more frequent, and more strident in tone.) Its final chapters amount to a series of lectures given by Frank to some convenient, Dorothy Dix-like parishioners, on such topics as  What’s Wrong With The High Church?, The Difference Between Church Principles And Scripture PrinciplesHow To Tell If Your Minister Is Sneaking Catholicism Into Your Parish – And What To Do About It, and What Are The Duties Of A True Protestant?

Steepleton, via Frank Faithful, is perfectly willing to admit that there are pious, hard-working, steady-principled High Churchman. However, it contends that too many of the party are devoted to accumulating earthly powers rather than practising heavenly duties, and put much more time and effort into obtaining preferments and larger incomes than into their obligations as ministers. Hence their insistence upon “Church principles”, which they pass off as the principles of the Church of England, but which shift the focus from the Scriptures to the person interpreting the Scriptures, as well as giving too much weight to “tradition”—thus opening the door to Catholicism. Likewise, the High Church taste for vestments and choirs is too close for comfort to pernicious Catholic ritual, while the taste of some for powers of absolution exposes their desire for greater personal importance. Low Churchmen, meanwhile, are devout, humble and dedicated. They may not always be perfect gentlemen, but they are perfect ministers of God.

But of course, misguided as the High Churchmen may be, their sins pale into insignificance compared to those of the sneaking, treacherous Tractarians and their vile Catholic masters.

To make sure he fully understands the magnitude of the threat facing England, Frank decides he needs to visit a Catholic country in order to see its practices and their effects on the people for himself—or, as the novel puts it, to take A Peep At Popery. However, while Frank may declare that he is there to learn “the real character of popery”, all he’s actually doing is confirming his own prejudices. Never at any point does he talk to anyone about their faith, or make any genuine attempt to enter into the hearts and minds of its practitioners; he simply looks on from a safe distance and so, not surprisingly, sees exactly what he expects to see. It is also noticeable that Frank observes only the additional rituals of Catholicism, and never actually gets around to attending Mass.

Two subjects in particular emerge from the rabid anti-Catholic diatribe that constitutes this chapter. The first is confession, which is seen on one hand as an encouragement to sin, and on the other as a form of corruption—particularly the corruption of young girls, whose innocence is shattered by the questioning of the priests—and which, “Sufficiently accounts for the early and general spread of corruption of morals in Roman Catholic countries.”

Not to make any sweeping generalisations, or anything.

The other target for extreme hostility is idolatry. This in general is anathema to Frank Faithful (who is passionate about undecorated, bare-board churches and calls whitewash “emblem[atic] of the holiness which ought to pervade God’s house”), but nothing in his peep at popery horrifies him as much as the tributes he sees being offered to the Catholic saints and, above all, to the Virgin Mary.

One thing you may have noticed about Steepleton is that there are no women in it. We are left in little doubt that this is an expression of Stephen Jenner’s own view of life: that women should be seen and not heard, and preferably not seen either. In this spirit, it is not until Frank moves from his first curacy to his second that we discover that there is a Mrs Faithful, not to mention “a family growing up around him, for which he required a suitable home”; and after that remark they are never mentioned again. There is a brief appearance by an uneducated cottager, who exemplifies the text’s assertion that such better understand Christianity than most university-educated ministers, but otherwise women only appear, and that very briefly, to be mocked for their foolishness and misguided beliefs.  When the Tractarians fight back against Frank’s efforts to expose them by rigging the election of a churchwarden, they do so by stooping to the lowest possible tactics: Out-dwelling landlords were hurried (not knowing why) to the rector’s help: even WOMEN were brought in post-chaises to vote…

Stephen Jenner’s loathing of Catholicism is evident throughout, but when he talks about the position held by Mary and her adoration by Catholics he gets a whole extra layer of revulsion in his voice. Mary is finally interpreted here as a ploy to draw weak-minded (and pre-corrupted) women to the Catholic church; and for all that Protestant women are not pre-corrupted, the text expresses a deep concern that they might be weak-minded enough to fall for it too.

I doubt this was what Stephen Jenner was going for, but right now I’ve never felt so furiously Catholic in all my life.

Anyway— Steepleton concludes with an exhortation to all true Protestants to be on their guard against Catholic encroachments and the Tractarian manoeuvring that, knowingly or unknowingly, makes it possible:

Regard not minor differences, where you all hold the same essential truths. Let not party distinctions keep you from co-operation. If you find any, whether called High-Church or low, who show that they really value the purity of faith more than party, enter into a friendly alliance with such. Collect, associate, combine for the defence of the truth, and of the Protestant established Church, as the great bulwark and safeguard of the truth. Let not slight variations of opinion on minor points divide and weaken you. “Union is strength.” If all true Protestant churchmen would but thus lay aside their party jealousies, and contend, as one man, for the faith that was once delivered to the saints, they would be stronger than all its enemies. Everything is at stake:—your Protestant Church, your Bibles, your liberties, the spiritual well-being of yourselves and your children. Arouse yourselves but in time, and these may be preserved to you and to your posterity: continue unwatchful and unresisting, and they are lost for ever…

Steepleton ended up being both more and less than I expected. Its early stages are surprisingly good-humoured and even (as with the sudden intrusion of the Income Tax Act) occasionally funny; but when it loses it, it really loses it. Still…I imagine that what I consider its losses, Stephen Jenner considered its gains. (Inadvertent John Henry Newman joke alert!) I will say this, though: right at this moment I am clearer in my mind than ever before about both the specifics of Protestantism and the doctrinal differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, and that’s knowledge I’m happy to have.

Oh! Right. I suppose I should explain the significance of “Steepleton“: it’s the town associated with Frank’s second curacy. It’s barely mentioned, and never relevant, and you have to wonder why it was chosen as the title of the novel. Wouldn’t just Frank Faithful have been more to the point?