Posts tagged ‘satire’

14/05/2020

The Refugee In America (Part 3)


    On one side lay a thousand pounds; but in picking it up, he must not only soil his hands (which, though not very important to the principles of such a gentleman, was exceedingly repugnant to his taste,) but he must also put his safety into very considerable danger by the transaction.
    Nevertheless the bribe was too rich a one to be decisively rejected; it was impossible to foresee exactly how things might turn out… Should he succeed in leading Mr Gordon and Lord Darcy, by gentle degrees, to place themselves entirely in his friendly hands, he nothing doubted of the liberality with which, in one way or another, his important services would be rewarded. If, on the contrary, he failed in this, the bribe offered by Nixon Oglander would still be within his grasp; and if his offered friendship were rejected, he determined to deserve it…
    Fervently did he give thanks to his own foresight, when the reception which his overtures received from Mr Gordon convinced him, that there was nothing to be hoped from him, or his noble charge. His assertion, that Dally was alive, sealed the fate of Lord Darcy in his soul : he had no longer a secret to sell. He dies then,—was the conclusion at which he had arrived…

 

 

 

The reader has been put on guard before this revelation, by the dislike of her uncle felt by Emily Williams, which stems from her sense that his much-vaunted religious devotion is all show and no substance. Still—we are hardly expecting the history briefly sketched for us, recounting the transformation of Captain Bob Brown:

No hope or wish of becoming an honest man ever entered into his imagination; but he ardently desired to be considered as an honourable and respectable individual. The most obvious method of achieving this was to make a good marriage. His private and well conducted inquiries soon convinced him that a young lady of large fortune is not easily found in the United States, even by so handsome a man as the Rev. Mr Wilson; but influence and connexion were at least as necessary to him as money, and he finally decided upon laying Colonel Brown and his five thousand pounds, now converted into the Rev. Mr Wilson and his twenty thousand dollars, at the feet of a pretty girl, who was living with her brother-in-law, at that time one of the Secretaries of State.

Here Brown / Wilson misunderstands the society he has entered: a high government position in America does not necessarily imply a private fortune; and when his wife’s brother-in-law loses office, it casts all of them out of Washington high-life. He then realises that if he is going to climb, he is going to have to do it under his own powers; and soon discovers that, in the society he occupies, he could not have chosen a more effective disguise for doing so:

    He had the satisfaction of discovering, that his assumed title of reverend was most happily chosen: it immediately gave him rank and influence, and might, as it was easy for an intelligent mind to perceive, lead to more substantial advantages. He turned all his attention to the discovery of some happy spot wherein to fix himself, as the centre round which might revolve the faith, hope, and charity of the fair, the rich, and the righteous. The growing wonders of Rochester were too loudly vaunted, not to reach his sharp ear. He went there, examined the localities, ascertained the amount of the population, and the rate of its increase, and purchased an extensive lot, whereon to build a house and a church. His wife, on hearing the news, blessed the gods that she had been wedded to a saint on earth, and that she was going to be a greater lady in Rochester, than ever the Secretary of State’s wife had proved at Washington. And so she assuredly became.
    The unheard of exploit of building a church upon a man’s private funds, backed by the burning eloquence of the versatile preacher, produced an effect, even greater than he had anticipated; and he soon ruled the hearts, and almost the purses, of Rochester. That the church was of wood, and the lumber furnished on credit, in no way affected the exalted nature of the act, and the fame of Mr Wilson spread far. It were long to tell how such fame is turned to gold; but it was so turned, and by gentle degrees, wives’ pennies, and widows’ mites, accumulated upon him, till, at the time we find him, he had become nearly the most thriving, and decidedly the most influential citizen of Rochester…

Over the intervening years, a desultory correspondence has been maintained between the ci-devant Bob Brown and his old partner in crime, Nixon Oglander. The letter from the latter quoted in Part 1 reaches “Wilson” a week after the English party has left Rochester. His reaction is not exactly that of “a saint on earth”; and if he makes the right decision, it is hardly for the right reasons:

    For above half an hour Wilson sat in deep rumination on its contents. Was it not possible that he might get more out of Gordon by disclosing the truth, than Oglander offered for the crime? The manners of Mr Gordon, after his long fast from good company, suavity, and fashion, had charmed him; a connexion of confidence, intimacy, and profit, with such a man would be delightful. He read the letter again. Oglander was a monster—he would never more be the agent of such a being. He should win the eternal gratitude of the whole party. Lord Darcy might marry his beautiful daughter Emma, and Miss Gordon would again be thrown in the way of his son: it was decided.
    He felt himself a reformed man, and would not again plunge into the dirty gulph of iniquity from which his genius had redeemed him; no, not for a thousand pounds!

But even as he makes plans for following the English party to Niagara, dreaming pleasantly of an earl’s patronage and a return to London as he does so, Wilson receives a most unwelcome visitor. He also makes the mistake of drawing back instinctively from that visitor’s proffered handshake: the offended Richard Dally responds with an angry contempt that informs the infuriated Wilson that in order to compel his compliance, Oglander has revealed his secret to the young man.

Moreover, even a brief exposure to his company is enough to warn Wilson of how much danger is posed by Dally’s violent temper and thin skin: the slightest hint of evasion or patronisation on his part prompts a torrent of threats in return.

(Here we learn one of the reasons for Dally’s willingness to undertake this mission, besides his desire for revenge upon Darcy: he has interpreted the frequent description of America as “a free country” to mean there are no prisons!)

Placating Dally with soft words, good food and whiskey, and allowing him to sleep off the latter two, Wilson thinks fast. He first dispatches a cryptic letter to Oglander, deploring his choice of the unreliable Dally as his tool, and assuring him that he, Wilson, will take care of the business once Dally is out of his hair. He then sends the latter south rather than north, telling him that the English party are travelling in Virginia and may probably be found at Harper’s Ferry. He also feigns a reluctance to involve himself in the business, drawing Dally into offering to settle matters on his own in exchange for half of what Oglander has promised him, Wilson—which he mistakenly believes is the same fee of £100 he expects for his own services.

At this point we learn that Dally has indeed brought Susan and the baby with him, and has apparently married her in the interim. He is understandably reluctant to have them along for the next leg of his journey, however, and Wilson is glad enough to give him an immediate sum of cash for their support, in order to hasten his departure.

Dally gone, Wilson’s next task is to explain his own departure for Niagara, which he does by announcing to his sister-in-law that he has discovered the innocence of the Gordons, and therefore has an injustice to set right. Mrs Williams is extremely reluctant to give up her belief in the moral turpitude of the English party, and aggrieved when Mr Wilson insists upon carrying Emily with him to Niagara: though uncertain of his own reception, he has no doubt about how his niece will be received, and plans to use her as a peace envoy. Having given her reluctant consent, Mrs Williams is surprised to encounter resistance from Emily, who is suspicious of her uncle’s motives at the outset, and even more so when she hears for himself his fulsome expressions of remorse at having misjudged her friends. However, the thought of being reunited with Caroline (she does not allow herself to think “Darcy”), in combination with her mother’s command, finally overcomes her doubts and her discomfort at intruding upon the party without an invitation.

At Niagara, Emily is received exactly as Wilson anticipates. The party is less delighted by his presence, and likewise doubtful of his professed reasons for his journey. As soon as he can arrange it, Wilson has a private interview with Mr Gordon, and reveals to him his knowledge of Darcy’s real identity and the reason for his flight to America; adding that he is in danger from a secret enemy.

Mr Gordon is understandably surprised and alarmed by these revelations, and by Wilson’s refusal to reveal the source of his information. Nevertheless, he finds in the tale told him not reason for fear, but cause for hope:

    There was something in the eye, or the voice of Wilson, as he uttered these words, which awakened a strong, though vague feeling of suspicion in the mind of Mr Gordon.
    “And did not your informer mention also, sir, that Dally was alive?” said he.
    It generally happens in a conversation between an honest man and a rogue, where something is to be learnt, and something concealed, that the advantage lies on the side of the rogue; but in the present case it was altogether on the side of the honest man. This unexpected question quite overpowered Wilson; he turned pale, stammered, and finally said—
    “Really, sir, I cannot even guess what you mean.”

Wilson’s agitation, while confirming in Mr Gordon’s mind that he knows for a fact Richard Dally is still alive, also leads him to underestimate the hinted-at plot against Darcy. When Mr Gordon consults with his party – which includes Emily – there is a general consensus upon Wilson’s hypocrisy, and that there is certainly an intended assault upon Darcy’s bank-account.

Darcy is almost overwhelmed by the tacit confirmation that Dally is alive, not merely for his own sake, but Lady Darcy’s:

“Alas !” he exclaimed, “my poor mother! was she then in her senses, when she made this statement? and is she treated as a lunatic?”

They all agree, then, albeit reluctantly, to receive Mr Wilson in the guise of a friend, hoping to draw from him more solid information about the conspirators with whom he is certainly in touch. It never crosses their minds that in his own person, Wilson poses any danger to Darcy.

Meanwhile, with his pleasant dreams of being hailed as a saviour and battening upon the grateful Lord Darcy having evaporated, Wilson is trying to decide his next move. It is clear to him that if he is to profit by the existing situation, it can only be as Nixon Oglander’s tool…

Delighting in their reunion, Darcy and Caroline take Emily out for her first view of Niagara Falls.

It is almost too much for Emily, though perhaps for more reasons than one:

    Their young and bounding steps soon brought them to the marshy level of the under-cliff, along which the only dry path, even in summer, is over planks laid upon the grass, and in some places raised considerably above it, by means of stones or blocks of wood, placed at intervals among the grass and rushes. Along this narrow path Caroline tripped fearlessly, for she was already familiar with it; but there was much to excuse Emily if her steps faultered. Lord Darcy went before her, walking backwards, and carefully leading her by the hand; the voice of the cataract, now very near, was terrific, and Emily, dizzy with past and present emotion, proceeded with real difficulty, and trembled violently. Lord Darcy stopped. “You are frightened, Miss Williams; let us go back:—do not look at it now.”
    Emily shook her head in silence, she was afraid to trust her voice, but she went on.
    “Emily!” said Lord Darcy, almost in a whisper, “why do you tremble thus? Do you think I would lead you into danger?”
    “Oh, no!” was all she could answer, and again she endeavoured to proceed.
    Lord Darcy still held her hand, and while for a moment he attempted to detain her, his eyes, for the first time, ventured to fix themselves earnestly on hers, as if he would read there all he wished. Perhaps he did so. Certain it is, that short fleeting moment sealed the destinies of both…

Caroline is quick enough to see what has happened, even before Emily’s shy confidences, and is only pleased for both her friends—though not without doubts to which, in her ignorance, Emily gives no thought:

That he was Earl of Darcy, neither increased nor diminished her happiness in the slightest degree; and her satisfaction, therefore, was probably about as great as that of a young English girl would have been under similar circumstances. For if on the one hand, she felt insensible to the happiness condensed within the circle of a coronet, she remained at least equally so, to the probable difficulties her noble lover would have to encounter, before he could persuade his family to agree with him in thinking that the best possible use he could make of it, would be to place it on the brow of a young American…

As they gather for dinner, Mr Wilson plays his part so expertly, he would certainly have deceived any audience less sceptical; yet it is a case of smiling, and smiling, and being a villain: behind his mask of suavity, he is trying to steel himself to the act of murder…

Early the next morning, a happily sleepless Emily slips out of the hotel to take a calmer view of what was too much for her the day before. She does not venture on her own to the heights of the Table Rock lookout, which juts so precariously over the waters, but contents herself with the view from a tourist hut constructed below the lookout, but further along the path.

Harsh as she is in other contexts, Frances Trollope never fails in The Refugee In America to express her passionate admiration for the country’s many natural beauties; and it is with great fervour that she gives us, via Emily, what was no doubt her own reaction to Niagara Falls:

The air was keen, bright, and clear, beyond the conception of those who do not know the climate; but there was no wind, and all nature seemed hushed, as if looking on at the turmoil, the uproar, and the fury of the falling ocean. As the sun rose, it was speedily reflected from myriads of icicles which hung beside the many rills that bring back to the torrent the spray for ever dropping on the rocks. The dark green colour of the falling waters, darker and greener still by their contrast with the snow-clad forest on either side, the dazzling brightness of the sparkling foam, the deep and solemn sound, so awful yet so delightful, when heard unbroken by any of the paltry noises of the earth, altogether produced a strong effect upon the mind of Emily. She felt herself before the altar of the living God! She trembled and adored. Our weak natures cannot long sustain such high-wrought feeling; but when it subsides, a most delicious calmness follows, and if the spectator be fortunate enough to be quite alone, a reverie so very delightful falls upon the spirits, as only those who have felt it, can conceive…

But Emily’s exalted feelings soon receive a check. From her vantage-point, she sees a man almost upon the verge of Table Rock, and behaving in a most unaccountable manner—digging with a small shovel, and arranging fallen tree boughs and snow over the area. He has his back to her, and is so enveloped in warm clothing that she cannot get a glimpse of his face.

Reluctant to encounter anyone, Emily waits until the man has withdrawn before returning to the hotel, where a general scolding is her portion, for venturing out alone and risking both the falls and a chill. Mr Wilson does concede that Emily must have a much steadier head than his own: though a previous visitor to the falls, he has never ventured to the edge, as Lord Darcy assures him is necessary for full appreciation—leading Mr Wilson to request him as a guide to some of his favourite points.

Her uncle’s evident agitation while this excursion is under discussion strikes a terrible fear in Emily’s heart, one which she cannot bring herself to express. However, her emotion persuading where her broken words do not, she succeeds in drawing Mr Gordon out after the departure of the other two. The catch up with them upon Table Rock, where a bewildered Mr Gordon cannot help but notice Wilson’s state of extreme perturbation. Emily, meanwhile, manages to send Darcy back to the hotel—and then deliberately takes a step towards that part of the lookout which she knows has been tampered with. Instinctively, Mr Wilson drags her back…

Leaving his hasty excuses behind, Mr Wilson does a bunk back to Rochester, much to the relief of the rest, as they try to express their gratitude to the emotionally exhausted Emily. During this pause, Mr Gordon reconsiders the contents of Lady Darcy’s letter and, putting two and two together, correctly concludes that Darcy’s secret enemy – and Wilson’s source of information – must be Nixon Oglander. He sends an update of the situation to his lawyer in England, who is working to pave the way for Darcy’s return.

While they wait for a reply – and having taken Wilson’s abandonment of his niece as permission to retain her – the party sets out again, this time heading for Washington. (There is a reference here to “the new president”, who would have been John Quincy Adams.) Emily – the daughter, we might recall, of a previous Secretary of State – still has acquaintances in the capital, where she was born and raised; and the Gordons find their way into Washington society.

The satirical note in The Refugee In America re-emerges here, as the English people again find themselves the object of scrutiny, misunderstanding and speculation. Mr Gordon takes the opportunity to investigate the American style of politics, and Caroline accompanies him to a debate in the House of Representatives, where a certain young man hopes to impress her with his eloquence; although it just possible that he chooses the wrong topic on which to speak…

“…but what is of far greater importance, and infinitely more associated with our accountability as citizens, is the daring tone of antagonisation against the most ancient laws of our glorious Republic, which it has been my fate, or fortune, or rather let me say, my misfortune to listen to in this chamber. The question of negro slavery, Mr Speaker, is one which none but a set of associational fanatics can blunder upon. The glorious principles of our immortal Republic decree, have decreed, and shall decree to the end of time, that the negro race belongs to us by indefeasible right. What, Mr Speaker, are we, the enlightened citizens of the most enlightened country upon earth, are we to take a page of politics from the decrepid code of the wretched land whence, unhappily, we in some sort trace our origin? Forbid it, glory! forbid it, justice! forbid it, pride! forbid it, shame! Easy is it for us, Mr Speaker, to trace the causes which have led the worn-out government of England to advocate the emancipation of slaves. It is, Mr Speaker, that being slaves themselves, they feel a brother’s fondness for the race. And shall we, the light of the world, the glory of the earth, the only free-born people on the globe, shall we deign to follow, basely follow, mimic, imitate, and adopt the slavish feelings of such a country as Britain?”

The winter passes away, and with the coming of spring various sorts of restlessness seize the party. Having had quite enough of Washington, Caroline proposes a journey through the Virginian countryside, circling back in the hope of letters from Mr Gordon’s lawyer which will allow Darcy to return home. This forces the young lovers to face a few realities, such as the eventual necessity of their separation before they might come together forever. Darcy, at this time, is not quite of age; and for the first time begins to ponder his mother’s likely reaction to his engagement. He anticipates her approval, however, in spite of the social gulf involved:

…his confidence rested on two facts, which he felt might either of them singly have removed all objections to his choice; but which, taken together, must beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt, make his mother rejoice at it. First, he owed his life to Emily. Secondly, and this ten thousand times outweighed the first, Emily was—Emily.

Prior to their departure, the party attends one last presidential levée: gatherings they have found to be simply a more crowded and formal version of the Rochester evenings. At this one, the sensitive Emily becomes aware that someone is watching Darcy. She draws this to his attention, but in the shifting crowds he finds it hard for a time to get a clear look at the person she means:

…when at length, however, he turned his head, the figure to which she directed his attention, was standing conspicuously apart, his arms folded, and his eyes still fixedly bent upon their party. Lord Darcy gazed at him for a moment, and then almost with a scream exclaiming, “It is he!” sprung towards the spot where he stood.

A pursuit, a brawl, and the imprisonment of Richard Dally in an anteroom follows; but to their dismay and mortification, the English people cannot get anyone present to lend their assistance—in fact, on the contrary:

Meanwhile the noise still continued, and it was evident that, however the disturbance originated, a great number of persons were now taking part in it. As they passed in their promenade the great door leading to the hall, they heard many loud voices asserting their national freedom, in a manner that seemed to indicate that some attack had been made upon the constitution of the country. “Freemen are not to be treated in this way.” “Let the door be opened instantly.” “This is false imprisonment, gentlemen.” “This is not a country for such tricks.” “It is an undue exercise of authority.” “There is tyranny in it.” “It cannot be permitted.” “Americans are not to be locked up to please an Englishman.”

And despite everything that Darcy and Mr Gordon can plead, Richard Dally is turned loose.

Another blow follows: Emily receives word that her mother is seriously ill, and that a servant is being sent to escort her back to Rochester. Her parting from her friends is therefore both sudden and sad.

The morning following her departure, Mr Gordon and Darcy institute a search for Dally; but while they find no trace of him, they eventually find his wife, who is staying at a small hotel under the name of Price, and beginning to fear that her husband has deserted her. The Englishmen’s kindness, and their offers of assistance, almost overwhelm her; but, left to herself, Susan’s loyalty to Dally reasserts itself; and to the dismay of the others, she too slips away, leaving behind a note of thanks, but explaining her fear that her gratitude will lead her to betray her husband.

This is almost too much for Darcy, who begs the Gordons to return to England and leave him to deal with the situation on his own; though of course they will have none of it. They finally decide to stick to their plan of filling in time in Virginia, and set out accordingly in a hired, private coach. They are all much struck with the unfolding beauties of the countryside; though the roads lead a great deal to be desired. They also begin to have a series of strange encounters – with a tall, muffled-up man, then with an apparently deaf, elderly man, then with an equally old woman – the latter of whom ends up sharing their doubtful accommodation, when fading light strands them at what, led astray by references to “Colonel Smith’s house”, they do not at first realise is a public-house.

Nor are they entirely prepared for their introduction to Colonel Smith:

    At this moment Sambo entered with a fresh supply of wood, and Mr Gordon again inquired if they could have the pleasure of seeing Colonel Smith.
    “Massa busy flogging Becky; he come here when he be done,” answered the boy…

It is the Gordons’ hired coachman who distracts them from this, by remarking that each of the very different characters they encountered upon the road seemed be wearing the same sort of boots…

The elderly woman is at that moment sharing an ill-lit room with them, and appears to Caroline to be taking inordinate pains to hide her face:

    …forgetful of all ordinary civility she seized with both her hands the back part of the head-gear, which was presented to her, and attempted to pull it off, certainly with more violence than curiosity could justify; the woman started to her feet, pushed her rudely aside, and rushed towards the door.
    “Stop her, Darcy! stop her, father,” screamed Caroline; and both attempted to obey her. Mr Gordon, who was nearest to the amazon, was felled to the ground by one blow of her fist, then springing by Lord Darcy, with the other arm she thrust him forcibly down, as he was rising from his chair…

In the mêlée that follows, Richard Dally is eventually secured, but given his strength and rage, it takes Darcy, Mr Gordon and their servant, Robert, to hold him, let alone bind him: a task which Colonel Smith declines. As for Dally, he has clearly picked up a few useful tricks on his travels:

    “It is false,” exclaimed Dally, “I am no Englishman, but a Kentuckian, and by God you had better let me go, before some of my countrymen come to help me out with your eyes, for laying your hands on a free citizen.”
    “Upon my word he gives you good advice,” said the Colonel, laughing complacently, “we Americans don’t approbate having the hands of an Englishman put on us, that way. I expect you had better let the young man alone, and sit down and eat your supper; you’ll have to pay for it any how.”
    “But is it not evident that this man is a criminal? Why was he travelling in this disguise?”
    “It is quite remarkable,” replied Colonel Smith, “how hard it is to learn you English the nature of real liberty, and freedom: why, in our country, a man is at liberty to travel just as he likes; our glorious revolution wasn’t for nothing, I expect; but you cannot comprehend the principle, that’s a fact; no Englishman, as I ever met, could take in the notion that every white man was free to do and to say just what he likes, in our country. They have always got their heads full of the king, and the lord chancellor; but it won’t take here; better let the man go, and let’s eat our supper peaceable.”
    “Good God!” exclaimed the unfortunate Lord Darcy, “is it possible that you refuse us the means of securing this villain, who we can prove is in a conspiracy against my life?”
    “Why, bless you,” replied the Colonel, laughing, “you don’t know these Kentucks; why they’ll threaten your life if you do but affront them the least bit; but it most commonly comes to nothing. I reckon, however, this time, you had best not aggravate too much; you English have no notion of gouging; but it’s done in a minute, I can tell you.”

At length an uneasy detente is reached, chiefly because they’re all stranded in the isolated Virginian countryside in the pitch darkness. The Colonel and his new Kentuckian friend withdraw to get drunk together, giving the others hope that, come the dawn, one of the men might be able to find something resembling a magistrate, in something resembling a town. Fear of the consequences if Darcy is left alone behind with Richard Dally makes him the obvious choice; and as soon as there is any light, he slips away with the coachman as his guide.

But the hours pass, and he does not return…

Meanwhile, Caroline has been interesting herself in the Colonel’s slaves. Her kindness leads one of them, the unfortunate Becky, to take the risk of confiding a secret to her: that despite what the Colonel has been telling them, Dally too has gone, leaving even earlier than Darcy.

And in fact both Darcy and his guide, Tomkins, have been ambushed by Dally and two runaway slaves, who are assisting him in exchange for his offers of help in getting them away. The men are carried to a secret hiding-place used as a refuge by runaways. In the confusion, Tomkins gets away; but Darcy is held fast—his only hope of survival lying in Dally’s declared purpose of making his death as painful and protracted as possible…

On the back of Caroline’s panicked message, Mr Gordon himself sets out—partly in hope of coming across some sign of the missing Darcy, partly to complete his mission of appealing to a magistrate. He finds the latter gentleman, a Mr Butler of Damascus, but is once again unable to raise any assistance:

    Mr Gordon opened his business, by stating as much of Lord Darcy’s history as sufficed to show that Dally was a person he had reason to fear; and he then related the events of the last four and twenty hours.
    “Strange story as ever I heard,” observed the justice. “Now such a business as that would never have happened in our free country, if—”
    Mr Gordon was not in the cue to talk or hear talk of the glorious American constitution, which it was very evident was coming on. “I beg your pardon, sir; but can you point out to me, without delay, what you think best to be done under these circumstances? Can you, upon the statement I have made, issue a warrant for the apprehension of this Richard Dally?”
    The justice had replaced the segar in his mouth, when Mr Gordon stopped him at the ominous words, ” free country”; he now again removed it, and having discreetly and deliberately made use of the spittoon, answered the question by another.
“And do you really look to find a free-born American who will grant a warrant against a man for all, or any thing that you have told against this one? Why, I’d hardly do it if it was a negur.”

Butler eventually advises Gordon to stay overnight at the local hotel, and to borrow from there two slaves with knowledge of the surrounding countryside. Though loath to lose more time, Gordon follows this suggestion, setting out on his search the following morning—and after an unnerving midnight escapade, when what he first takes for an assassination attempt turns out to be several hungry slaves quietly breaking into his sitting-room, to eat any leftovers from his supper. He leaves them to it with his blessing, and soon reaps the benefit: when they realise exactly what stretch of land is involved in Darcy’s disappearance, the borrowed slaves confide to him the existence of the runaways’ secret refuge—and help him to interrupt an improvised hanging…

Dally bolts again, but all Mr Gordon’s concern is for Darcy, who has been tightly bound and deprived of food and drink since his capture. With the help of his guides, he manages to lift the young man onto a horse and carry him back to the hotel, relieving the terrors of the waiting Caroline.

So much for Virginia; and indeed, so much for America. The party head back to Washington, where they find no letter from the lawyer, but are glad of one from Emily, reporting the better health of her mother. From there they pass quickly to New York and embark on the next ship, agreeing that by now they should be able to make a strong enough case for Darcy to secure his freedom, even if he must stand his trial first.

Their immediate destination, however, is Harding Abbey; and if the mother and son are overcome with emotion, well, they are not the only ones…

    Lord Darcy sprung past him, much too agitated to listen either to him or to Mr Gordon, who hastened after, urging caution, and forbearance.—It was in vain. Lord Darcy knew her favourite seat beneath a walnut tree, which stood on the lawn, and passing through the door that opened upon it, he was on his knees with his arms clasped round her, before one word, one thought of the consequences had time to reach him. Mr Gordon, Caroline, and the servant followed, but before they reached the walnut tree, Lady Darcy was lying quite insensible on the bosom of her son.
    Were it not that the majority of novel readers would be outraged by the description of a lover’s feelings, who had passed the sober period of forty, I might be tempted to dwell for a moment upon the sensations with which Mr Gordon beheld this idol of his heart and imagination, after an interval of twenty years…

When he can tear himself away, Mr Gordon heads to London to consult his lawyer, who is sanguine about matters. Darcy is, however, obliged to surrender himself to the authorities and, being who and what he is, passes the time before his trial imprisoned in the Tower of London.

(A function it was still performing as late as 1952! – its last such occupants being none other than Doug and Dinsdale Piranha Ronnie and Reggie Kray.)

Now—we all know – don’t we? – the expression, A jury of his peers. We are reminded here that it was originally meant literally, that is, that a peer should be judged by other peers. So that when Darcy’s trial commences, it is not in a court of law, but at Westminster, before the House of Lords.

Public feeling is running high against Darcy, fueled by newspaper articles cunningly arranged by Nixon Oglander—who concludes philosophically that if he can’t get the young man murdered, at least he can help to get him hanged. Nevertheless, in view of the testimony they have to give, Darcy and his friends are optimistic—only for their hopes to receive a crushing blow.

The prosecution unfolds as anticipated, telling the tale of Richard Dally’s “death”; but when it is time for the defence—

Mr Gordon, and his servant Robert were then called into court, and sworn; but before the counsel for the defence had proceeded to question them, the Attorney General interfered, and asked, whether these were not the persons sworn to by the witnesses for the prosecution, as aiding and abetting the escape of the prisoner, and thereby rendering themselves accessories after the fact?

Oops.

With most of the evidence in his favour therefore excluded, matters look extremely dark for Darcy; but fortunately, a surprise witness is on the way…

We learn now that Emily’s letter declaring her mother’s recovery was premature, and that Mrs Williams later suffered a relapse and died.

We learn something else, too: that during her journey back to Rochester, Emily’s fellow-passengers including a young mother and her baby. The two young women take to each other, Emily helping with the baby, and Susan – so she is named – doing whatever she can to make Emily’s journey more comfortable. Susan finally begins to open up about her desertion by her husband, and her dream of returning home to England, until finally Emily realises who she is. She is wise enough to keep her knowledge to herself, however, and determines that under no condition will she lose sight of her. The illness and death of Emily’s mother further serve to bring the two together, with Susan helping with the nursing.

Matters are brought to a crisis when Richard Dally suddenly reappears, much to Susan’s joy and relief. His desertion of her, he assures her, was not intentional – though he gives no details – and his feeling for both her and the child being deep and genuine, he set himself to find them immediately he discovered that they had departed the Washington hotel where he left them. His gratitude to Emily is equally sincere.

Of course—Dally doesn’t know who Emily is; nor does she know the worst of him.

It is the couple’s intention to leave immediately for England, and Susan counsels Emily to go with them. She, in addition to her grief, is terrified that she will be forced to put herself under Mr Wilson’s authority, fearing both for herself and (not without reason) for her inheritance; and without revealing a second, even more powerful motive for wishing to cross the Atlantic, she agrees to go: slipping quietly away from Rochester before Mr Wilson can take any action.

During the journey to New York, Emily strives in every way to bind the Dallys to her, including via promises of ongoing shelter and support for Susan and the baby. As they cross the ocean, recognising that the critical moment has come, she arranges for a private conversation with Richard Dally:

    “You have already often expressed gratitude towards me, and I hope to give you more substantial cause for it than I have yet done. Now hear me. You are not yet aware that you have it in your power to do me a most essential service. Chance has made me acquainted with the accident which happened to you before you left your home. I am willing to believe that there are others more guilty than yourself in the fraud that was practised afterwards.
    “I am engaged to marry Lord Darcy; I love him as dearly as Susan loves you; and all that is necessary to secure my happiness is, that your recovery from the wound he gave you, should be publicly acknowledged.”
    Dally’s blood rushed to his brow; he hesitated for a moment what to answer, and then said, “Mayhap Lord Darcy may not be willing to let me off so.”
    “Trust me,” said Emily eagerly, and holding out her hand as a pledge; “trust me, he will never in word or deed remind you of any thing that has happened.”
    “If I thought so—”
    “What pledge shall I give you?” said Emily.
    “Stand godmother to my child, and settle twenty pounds a year on him for life.”
    “Agreed!” concealing with difficulty the rapture this agreement caused her…

Arriving in London, Emily takes immediate steps to discover the situation of Lord Darcy. Shrewdly taking Susan with her, while leaving the baby with Dally, she calls at Mr Oglander’s house, and hears not only that the trial is underway, but the current state of it. With all possible haste, Emily returns to Dally and carries him almost bodily towards Westminster…

    She sprung from the carriage, and held out her hand to Dally, as if to help him out. Another step, another moment, and all would be safe.
    With a strength of resolution, which nothing but the intensity of her anxiety could give, she pushed her way to the door, whispered distinctly in the ear of the officer who stood there, “A witness,” and in the next moment found herself, with the startled Dally at her side, in the midst of the august assembly which has been described.
    Lord Darcy, who through the whole trial had retained his composure, nor even lost the appearance of it at the dreadful moment which concluded the last chapter, was the first who recognised the pale and lovely girl, now urging on her faultering steps towards the throne, near which the Lord High Steward was stationed.
    The next instant showed him that Dally was beside her. The revulsion was too violent; and faintly uttering the name of Emily, he sunk on the floor.
    Mr Gordon saw him fall, and was rushing towards him when his eye encountered the two figures, who had now nearly reached the bar. For an instant he stood transfixed, and then pronounced the name of Dally in a voice that rung through the vaulted roof, echoed from the walls, was heard by every ear, and welcomed by every heart in the vast and crowded chamber…

Well. Not that we imagine Lady Darcy would really have objected to “the little republican”; but still—

    The kindness of the last night’s farewell had prepared Emily for as kind a greeting in the morning; yet she was somewhat startled on entering the breakfast-room, to see the whole party rise to receive her. Lady Darcy stepped before the rest, and fondly embraced her.
    “My daughter, my dear daughter!” she exclaimed, adding in a whisper, as she kissed her cheek, “My Darcy ‘s wife!”

But Frances Trollope, God love her, barely wastes a glance upon the inevitable happy-ever-after that follows all this drama and emotion; being far more interested in quite a different wedding:

Notwithstanding the absurdity which most young people saw in such a marriage, Mr Gordon and Lady Darcy were united a very few weeks after they had attended Emily to the altar…

The recovery of Trollope’s usual wry tone, employed as she casually dispenses fates to her remaining characters, puts The Refugee In America back on an even keel—or as even as possible in a novel this uneven.

But whatever readers made then, and whatever we make now, of Trollope’s constant slapping at America, the rest of her narrative has a couple of genuinely unusual features which need to be highlighted before we close.

The first is the pragmatism which allows all three of this novel’s main villains – Richard Dally, Robert Wilson, and Nixon Oglander – to get away with their crimes; with Dally going perilously close to being rewarded for his. (Though this is not to say they don’t come to a sticky end in the long run…)

But still more striking is the refusal of all three of this novel’s main female characters to behave at all in the manner that the reading of far too many Victorian novels – which this of course is not – have led us to expect.

All this serves as an illustration of exactly why Frances Trollope’s novels were increasingly buried over the course of the following decades…but it also serves as a reminder that the 19th century novel is much bigger and more interesting than the Victorian novel; as well as acting as a warning against those critics who, to this day, want to tell you that between Jane Austen and Walter Scott, and William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Dickens, there’s nothing worth reading…

 

13/05/2020

The Refugee In America (Part 2)


    Mr Mitchel cheered the hearts of all the ladies, and Mrs Williams was one of them, with the broad assertion, that the iniquity of those who had scorned their betters was brought to light; and that in the Lord’s good time, they would be punished for their misdeeds; for that to his certain knowledge, the officers of justice were after Mr Gordon, &c. &c. &c.
    It is hardly necessary to trouble the reader with a detailed account of the horror expressed, or the pleasure felt, on this occasion.
    “I thought so!”
    “I was very sure how it would be!”
    “I said it would issue in mischief.”
    “I am not one bit surprised.”
    “I saw it clearly from the first,”
    and “The Lord be good unto me! what will brother Wilson say?” formed the chorus with which the news was received.
    Mr Mitchel shook his head, as the ladies purred around him, and almost squeezed the hand of Miss Duncomb, in the sympathy he felt for her detestation of such wickedness.
    “It is perfectly astonishing,” observed Mrs Cornish, “how often my prognostics have been right, respecting English people…”

 

 
 
Those aspects of The Refugee In America concerning Lady Darcy’s efforts to prove her son innocent of murder, Nixon Oglander’s counter-efforts, and her final thwarting are not presented as a complete narrative, but interwoven with the experiences of Edward and Caroline Gordon and Lord Darcy – aka “Edward Smith” – after they land in New York.

There is also further back-story concerning Gordon’s raising of his daughter. In a number of ways, Caroline is the most interesting character in this novel, far more shaded than was often true of girls in the novels of this time. We learn that she resembles the late Mrs Gordon physically, but that her father – never having lost sight of Eleanor Oglander as his secret ideal – has attempted to give her the education that nobody bothered to give her mother. It hasn’t worked, simply because Caroline doesn’t have that kind of mind; but she is a bright, well-read girl who takes an interest in the world. She has a good opinion of her own capabilities and a strong will, and is used to getting her own way—not in an obnoxious sense, but just because she usually does.

But with all this, Caroline is devoted to her father, and allies herself with him in his desperate and sudden effort to protect Lord Darcy from the consequences of his actions. (She never appears to seek for a deeper motive in his doing so.) She makes no protest or complaint at being snatched away from England just when she is making her social debut as a young lady of wealth and fashion, but makes up her mind to enjoy the adventure associated with her journey to America, even when this means roughing it.

Caroline also strives to keep up the spirits of Lord Darcy, who is overcome with guilt and remorse at having, as he believes, killed a man. His awareness of how much the Gordons are sacrificing for him and his feelings of gratitude compel Darcy to make an effort; but often he is overcome with deep fits of depression, and tends to withdraw into himself whenever he is left alone, or the travellers find themselves in company.

Caroline’s tender care of Darcy has natural consequences: she finds herself falling in love with the quiet, wounded young man; but he is so inwardly focused that he doesn’t even notice, let alone return her affection.

Despite various difficulties along the way, the party eventually arrives in Rochester, where they make themselves known via Captain Birdmore’s letters of introduction. One of these is to a Mr Warner, a successful and prominent lawyer, who invites them to stay in his house; the other is to a Mrs Williams, the widow of a government man, who has relocated to Rochester from Washington in order to settle near her sister, who is married to a clergyman, and to eke out her slender income.

It is here that Trollope allows her satire almost to overwhelm her crime / pursuit plot. She lets herself go when depicting Rochester “society”, just as she did in Domestic Manners Of The Americans, with all the things that most exasperated her during her own time in America taking a thorough beating.

The first of these is predictable enough—and familiar enough: the Gordons are subjected to endless dogmatic lectures upon the natural superiority of America to Europe in every single respect; and the profound envy and jealousy with which the latter naturally views the former, also in every single respect.

Less familiar, though significant in context of Trollope’s struggles in Cincinnati, is her depiction of what passes for “social gatherings” in Rochester (and even in Washington, where the English people later travel): dull and dreary evenings during which the sexes remain strictly divided, the men clustering in groups for conversation, while the women sit around the walls in largely unbroken silence. Caroline’s attempts to disrupt this arrangement go about as well as did Trollope’s own: when she approaches them, hoping to join in, the men simply halt their discussion until she goes away again.

Mr Gordon does better, in at least being invited to join the conversation; though whether he enjoys the results is another matter:

    “Why, surely, sir, you do not mean that you never heard of the first poet of the age—decidedly the first poet of the age: you do not mean that you never heard of Bryant?”
    “Indeed, Mr Chambers, I am sorry to say it is so…”
    “I take it for granted the gentleman will allow us this superiority,” said Judge Burton; ” we certainly do possess vastly more the spirit of liberal inquiry than the English do.”
    “Not on all subjects, I hope, sir,” said Mr Gordon, with much good humour, “I assure you, on all points of practical improvements in machinery, a most important branch of knowledge, we pay great attention to what you are doing here—”
    “Yes, yes,” interrupted the Judge, “that’s of course, sir; you would have been rather in a deplorable condition of ignorance if you had not—but we must keep to the subject of books, for this is a literary soirée. I am happy to find, Mr Gordon, that the example our moralists have set of condemning altogether the worthless productions of your ‘noble poet’, as you call him, has been pretty considerably followed up in England. I presume Lord Byron’s works have become pretty well a dead letter since our critics have begun to exert themselves to put him down.”
    “Perhaps you have later intelligence on this subject than I have, sir,” said Mr Gordon; “but I was not aware of Lord Byron’s works being out of fashion.”
    “Oh, quite altogether, I assure you. They could not stand a week after Paulding’s incomparable attack upon him in the Azure Hose,—no, not a day, sir.”
    “Really,” said Mr. Gordon.
    “We are the most moral people upon the earth,” said another gentleman of the party; “and it is a blessing to the earth that there is such a people existing upon it. Were it not for us, the world would sink deeper into vice with every passing year. Our Paulding is a giant, sir; and he has stretched out a giant’s hand to crush the paltry insect, whom you islanders have thought fit to magnify into a poet. No, sir, Byron can no more stand before Paulding than butter before the sun. He can never rise again, sir; it is quite out of the question, I assure you.”

To be fair, Trollope – who, nota bene, frequently uses quotes from Byron as her chapter epigraphs – isn’t just being mean here: despite her characters’ references to their literary “antients”, American literature was barely fifty years old at this point, and had only just begun to cross the Atlantic. Washington Irving was the first American writer to gain popularity in Britain—although at that point (that is, with the publication of The Sketch-Book Of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1820), he was living in England and writing much about English subjects. The first properly American works to win a British audience were the novels of James Fenimore Cooper.

While Trollope finds humour in such displays of insularity, she is less amused and more scathing when it comes to the local attitude to religion, or rather the very public way in which it manifested. Even here the visitors find themselves judged and condemned by the locals:

    But at length she fortunately recollected that brother Wilson had specially charged her to discover what the young woman’s religious feelings appeared to be; and beyond all else, to certify from her own mouth, to what congregation it was her purpose to belong. Conscience-struck at the long delay, Mrs Williams abruptly broke into a disquisition on the fashion of Washington, and the size of the Capitol, by saying, “Pray ma’am what church may you be of?”
    “Madam?”
    “What church do you attend?”
    “I shall probably go to the nearest, as I have no carriage here.”
    To the nearest! what an answer for a Christian woman to make. It was true that brother Wilson’s church was the one nearest to Mrs Oak’s house; but was that to be her only reason for going there?
    “The Lord be good unto us!” inwardly prayed Mrs Williams, as these thoughts suggested themselves. “I meant to ask, ma’am,” she resumed, “what denomination of Christians you belong to?”
    “We belong, madam, to the established church of England.”
    Mrs Williams dropped her eyes, and doubled her chin with a little diplomatic air of contempt, as she answered, “I expect, ma’am, that England has no establishments in this country at this day…”

Of course, there’s an unintentional irony here: The Refugee In America was published one year before John Keble’s landmark sermon on “the national apostasy” triggered the Oxford Movement, and as much public airing of religious opinion – and as much factional in-fighting – in Britain as anything that might have been observed in America. Moreover, Frances Trollope – like her son, Anthony – was ‘High Church’, and would not only have perceived the American evangelicals as ‘Low Church’, but been as swift to condemn them as her characters are to condemn the Gordons—and on the same (if opposite) grounds: insufficient fervour versus too much display.

And it seems to be the latter that really grated. It is not difficult to deduce that, in Trollope’s opinion, anyone who made such a parade of their faith was likely to be a hypocrite; and in many of her characters, an overt display of devotion goes hand-in-hand with some extremely un-Christian attitudes and behaviours—not the least of which is a willingness, not to say eagerness, to think the worst of everyone – at least, everyone who isn’t a member of their own congregation – a practice that tends to come coupled with a relentless acquisitiveness.

Trollope has a lot of nasty fun with the American attitude to having and getting; and it is the careless way in which the British party spend their money that first gets them into trouble. Blithely unaware of the impression they are making with their openhandedness and tendency to pay whatever is asked, the Gordons inadvertently convince those with whom they interact that the gains in question were undoubtedly ill-gotten, since money so easily parted with could not possibly have been honestly earned.

(All through this part of The Refugee In America I couldn’t stop thinking about the false-beard sellers in The Life Of Brian: “Bert! – this bloke won’t ‘aggle!” “Won’t ‘aggle!?”)

    “…she went last night to the factory to buy some soap, and there she saw that Christian man Simon Hicks, who is one of the partners; he was telling something so earnestly to two or three gentlemen in the store, that she stopped to listen, before she did her errand, and she heard him say, that if ever there was a run-away chap in America, there was one now in Rochester. She then related the manner of his meeting these people, and how he had found them out; he did not know their name, which he said they concealed most carefully; the people that was with them always calling the man sir, and master; and that,” continued Miss Duncomb casting down her eyes, “is not the worst either, for Simon Hicks stated, that there was a creature with him, that called him father, but that it was perfectly clear to see that she was something else.”
    “Mercy on me!” exclaimed Mrs Williams, “and my Emily is there now. How could Captain Birdmore let himself be cheated this way? But I must run this instant, and take my child away. Oh, what horrid wickedness there is in the world!”
    She was hurrying away, when Miss Duncomb stretched out her long arm to stop her; and making it evident that she had not yet finished her story, the chorus of “Mys!” and “Ohs!” and “Possibles!” was stopped.
    “Judy says, that the gentlemen asked Simon Hicks how he came to find him out; and then he told them such a history of the manner in which he had thrown about his money, as seemed to convince them all. Mr Cartwright was there, who is certainly the smartest lawyer in town, and he said he had no doubt the Bank of England had been robbed…”
    Mrs Oaks coloured to the ears. She thought of the fifty dollars that she had in her pocket, and felt as certain of the fact as if she had already seen one or two of the party hanged…
    After her exit, the rest of the party…crowded closer round the orator, who, perfectly in her element, went on for a considerable time detailing further particulars from the narration of Judy, and farther commentaries from herself, in that spirit of peculiar malevolence which she denominated Christian charity…

While Trollope is clearly working off a lingering grudge here (one wonders what the Cincinnatians said of her), she finds matter for far more serious and justified scorn in the gulf between the constant harping upon “freedom” and “equality” and certain social realities.

Typically for Trollope, it is Caroline who is most given to speaking her mind upon such subjects; and she challenges Rochester authority, in the form of Mr Warner, whenever she sees an opening—forcing him to fall back upon condescending concern for such as she “worrying her pretty head” about matters she cannot possibly understand:

    “But, Mr Warner,” playfully persisted Caroline, “what I quarrel with most, is the fallacy of your nominal institutions. You tell your labouring poor that they are your equals, when really, except in the permission of being as rude as they like, I do not as yet observe at all more equality of condition between those who labour, and those who do not, than at home.”
    “Ah, my dear miss! that is because you have not been long enough amongst us to understand the inestimable advantages they enjoy. But come now, confess that your alone reason for disliking our glorious country is, that your aristocratical feelings cannot bear to see all the people happy together.”
    “Indeed I cannot confess that; for I protest that one of my most particular complaints against you is, that your people never do look happy together; I have never heard a hearty laugh since I entered the country.”
    “Now that is a curious fine complaint, as ever I heard; and that from an English girl. Why, my dear Miss Caroline, you are come from a country where the cries of famine ring back and forth in your streets, and you are got here, where the people are rolling in plenty, and now you fault their want of happiness! Pretty as you are, Miss Caroline, I cannot approbate this.”
    “Well, Mr Warner, perhaps the labouring people here may look grave from indigestion; but I do assure you, that notwithstanding the famine you talk of, the working classes laugh and sing much more in my country than they do in your’s.”
    “I know that young ladies think they can make black seem white, but I expect you’ll find it difficult to make me realise that.”
    And here Mr Warner got up, and took a turn across the room with a look of some discomposure…

Everywhere they go, the fact that the Gordons have two menservants is greeted with upraised hands and cries of disbelief and contempt. Americans, they are told solemnly, don’t have “servants”: that is a foul British institution.

However…references are soon forthcoming to what Americans do have, namely, the help; nor is the real issue slow in emerging:

    Here William, who was too far acquainted with the situation of Lord Darcy, not to feel that this questioning must be troublesome, stept in to his relief by saying, “I do assure you, time is very important with us, and you may be quite sure that my master will approve every thing my young master orders about the carriage.”
    “Your MASTER! and your YOUNG MASTER! Why, how can you, being a white man, do such a wrong to yourself, and the children as may come after you, as to call any man your master?”
    “And what would you have me call him then? Is’n’t he my master?”
    “Call him? why call him the man what you helps, or Mister; pray what may his name be? I don’t remember seeing names on any of the boxes.”
    William, however, was born in Yorkshire, and not to be so caught. “I do assure you, friend,” he replied, “that my master, or the man what I helps, or whatever it may be your fashion to call him, will not be over well pleased, if I stay here talking of how he is to be called: I call him my master, and a very good master he is, and I’ll see to get horses for him, if any are to be had, for love or money.”
    So saying, he sallied forth into the yard, leaving the coachman, and two other men smoking with him, expressing their profound contempt for a white man who could call another his master…

****

    Robert looked at his master. “Sit down, both of you,” said Mr Gordon; “sit down, Robert, in the place offered you, and make room for William beside you.”
    “Why, sure them bean’t your sons, Mister?” said the ‘squire.
    “No, sir, they are my servants.”
    “And them that colour— My!” exclaimed the wife.

But the note of satire vanishes when Frances Trollope directly tackles the question of slavery. A few years after the publication of The Refugee In America, she would write an overt abolitionist novel; but here she contents herself with a few harshly critical interludes (including a later, close-up look at the treatment of slaves when her characters are travelling through Virginia):

    “Oh! Miss Caroline, (pausing opposite her chair,) you have got a deal of British insularity about you. You don’t like to jeopardise your gentility by our freedom and equality.”
    “Do you know, Mr Warner,” replied Caroline, “that I begin to suspect that though we both talk English, there are some few words which have exactly contradictory meanings on the different sides of the Atlantic. Freedom and equality—for instance.”
    “How so, my pretty lady? how so?”
    “May I speak plainly?”
    “Surely, surely.”
    “Then, will you tell me how you manage to reconcile your theory of freedom, with the condition of your negroes? or your treatment of the Indians, with your doctrine of equal rights?”
    “I calculate, Miss Caroline, that these subjects are considerable much beyond the scope of the female; so it would be partly unfair to make a requirement of more learning from you, than from an older. Mr Gordon, sir, what say you to a glass of mint julap?”

Scenes such as these eventually result in the Gordons and Darcy removing from Mr Warner’s house and settling themselves in a rented property (Mrs Oaks’, hence the fifty dollars in her pocket). They then complete their offending of the locals by all but withdrawing themselves from public visiting—content with the two real friends they have made, each in her own way an outsider like them.

One of the oddest touches in this novel is the supporting character of Madame de Clairville, a French widow stranded in America while she tries to save enough money to return to Paris, and the young daughter she left behind there with her mother. Trollope draws upon her own miserable experience  at “Nashoba” in sketching the Frenchwoman’s background: she and her husband make the mistake of joining another “utopian” settlement; unlike the author herself, they don’t escape unscathed:

On arriving at Perfect Bliss, the name Mr Wimble had given to his settlement, it was signified to M. de Clairville that he was to hew down a tree, cut it into rails, and fix it as a zig-zag, or serpentine fence.
The poor Frenchman, whose visions had been of scientific lectures, amateur concerts, private theatricals, and universal philanthropy, was startled; but he bore it well… But when he found that his delicate wife was expected to milk cows every morning, standing ancle deep in water, and moreover to assist in washing linen; when he learned that all the little comforts which he had spent his last thousand francs to purchase at New York, were seized upon, as general stock, and a scanty pittance of necessaries doled out to them at each meal; his gay heart sunk within him… But he was totally without funds to carry them across the immense distance which divided him from his country, now loved in vain; he had irreconcilably offended his wife’s mother, the only wealthy relative they had, by taking her daughter from France, and seeing no chance of escaping from Perfect Bliss, he fell into a deep decline, and died before the end of the year…

Eventually the Gordons arrange for Madame de Clairville’s return home. Until then, she and Caroline find allies in each other, thanks to a shared sense of humour and a similar opinion of Rochester evening parties.

However, it is Caroline’s growing friendship with Mrs Williams’ young daughter, Emily, that becomes of the greatest importance to the narrative.

Here Trollope does take us off-guard: because in spite of criticising and/or poking fun at almost all of her other American characters, it is Emily Williams who unexpectedly emerges as her novel’s real heroine – even, in the broadest sense of the word, its hero – as well as being offered up as proof that when America did produce something good, it was likely to be excellent.

When we are introduced to Emily, she is barely seventeen; but in spite of her youth and natural shyness, she proves to be intelligent, sensitive and artistically inclined. Moreover, Trollope assures her, there is great potential of character in her, which only requires the correct opportunity to develop and show itself; this in addition to a fine instinct about people, which (although in her innocence she does not always understand their motives) allows her to sense what might lie beyond the smokescreen of their public personas.

This instinct also operates with respect to Lord Darcy, the truth of whose identity and situation is eventually confided to her. The two first come together over their mutual love of music; and it is not long before Emily is aware of a deeper feeling for him. It never crosses her mind that he might return it, but as it happens she is the immediate beneficiary of the arrival of a letter from Lady Darcy. It is not an entirely happy one, written during the time of her confinement as “a maniac”, and without holding out hope that it might be possible to prove that Richard Dally still lives; but it removes from Darcy’s shoulders the crushing weight of his guilt. In his joy and relief, he is restored to something like is natural spirits for the first time in many weeks; and when he looks around, seeing the world with fresh eyes, the first thing those eyes alight upon is Emily Williams…

Here again, Frances Trollope’s handling of Caroline Gordon is unusual and clever. Fully aware of her own charms, and with more than a good opinion of herself, Caroline is mortified when she realises that, having shown himself impervious to her own attractions, Darcy is falling in love with “the little republican”, as she is sometimes called, and who (if truth be known) Caroline first adopted in something of a patronising spirit; though to her credit, she soon realised that Emily needed no polishing that she could give her. Furthermore, so sincere is her affection for both Darcy and Emily that she sets herself to crush her own feelings for the young man, determined to be a true friend to both—though at the distance she stands from the situation, she sees obstacles in the path of the young couple to which, as each of them deals with their still-secret feelings, they are currently oblivious.

Meanwhile—the various threats directed at Darcy by Nixon Oglander begin to make themselves felt.

The first of these is the detective Hannibal Burns, whose mishandling of his inquiries actually alerts his quarries to their danger. He approaches his quest by questioning a Rochester store-keeper called Mr Mitchel, who is both a member of the same congregation as the “boarding-house ladies” with whom Caroline has been butting heads since her arrival, and “a thorough-bred New England Yankee”…and consequently gets a lot more out of Burns than Burns gets out of him: all of which he then recounts (with personal interpretations and editorialisations) to his flock of female admirers.

The thought of “what brother Wilson will say” quickly carries Miss Duncomb to the minister’s house, where she finds instead his wife, his daughters, and his eldest son—the latter of whom has been dallying (or attempting to do so, against the ladies’ wills) with both Caroline and his cousin, Emily Williams. The outspoken Emma Wilson causes offence by questioning Miss Duncomb’s assertions, on the grounds of her father’s professed liking for Mr Gordon; but Mrs Wilson receives the news in the same spirit as her boarding-house sisters:

    “God forbid, Mrs Wilson, that we should any of us soil our lips with the words that would go to tell the particulars. You know it would be worse for me than for you; for blessed as you are, Mrs Wilson, in being the wife and helpmate of a holy minister of God, (and, oh! such a minister!) it must be allowed that I am still less fit than you to speak such words.”
    “Go out of the room, Lucy,” said the mother; “it is not fitting that such as you should hear of such things as these. Go and read the ‘Sinner’s Guide,’ my daughter.”
    The young lady left the room, but evidently with a reluctant step. Mrs Wilson waited till the door closed after her, and then resumed the conversation.
    “The Lord in his holy mercy forbid that I should ever lead maid or wife into saying what was not befitting for a Christian woman to speak, Miss Duncomb; but I cannot but think that sisters of the same congregation, as we are, it is our bounden duty to relieve our minds to each other on such matters as these. ‘Offences will come, saith the Lord;’ you know where that is, Miss Duncomb? And then follows, ‘Woe unto them by whom offence cometh;’ but there is not a word about woe to any Christian women who talk together about it, for the edification of their own souls.”
    “Well, then, Mrs Wilson, I am willing to tell all I know, though I must make allusion therein to what should neither pass the lips nor enter the head of a Christian sister, whose life is dedicated to works of holiness and religious love. That girl they call Miss Gordon is—”
    Miss Duncomb paused to breathe. Mrs Wilson’s mouth and eyes were open, as well as her ears.
    “What is she, Miss Duncomb? In the name of the Lord, tell me.”
    “No better than she should be;” replied the holy oracle, in a tone of most exciting mystery…

The flying gossip eventually reaches the ears of its subjects. The initial terror of Caroline and Emily subsides when they realise that it is Mr Gordon who is assumed to be the wanted criminal – as has been the case from the beginning, as it is he who pays the bills – and that no-one is giving much thought to the silent, withdrawn “Mr Smith”.

The first real blow suffered by the party is Mr Wilson forbidding Emily to have any more contact with them. At first inclined to uphold them, out of a genuine liking and respect for Mr Gordon, Mr Wilson back-flips when he discovers that the minister of a rival congregation is being very vocal about the Gordons’ iniquities. He does not in fact believe Gordon guilty of all the vulgar crimes laid to his discredit by those pious members of his congregation, the boarding-house ladies – though he thinks some sort of political transgression not out of the question – but decides that he cannot afford to flout public opinion.

But Emily does flout his authority, slipping secretly away to keep her friends apprised of the situation, and to spend as much time with them as possible before the inevitable, painful parting.

Quickly enough, though with no undignified haste, the Gordons and Darcy remove from Rochester, bringing forward their planned visit to Niagara. They are accompanied by Madame de Clairville, who has burned her bridges by declaring her belief in them.

Unbeknownst to the travellers, they are immediately freed from the first threat against them, with Hannibal Burns receiving new orders not to pursue them; though without any explanation forthcoming.

The truth, however, is that Nixon Oglander has decided to deploy the other weapons in his arsenal—namely, Richard Dally himself, and the former Captain Bob Brown…who in a moment of genuine shock is revealed to the reader to be none other than the Reverend Mr Wilson…

 

[To be continued…]

 

10/05/2020

The Refugee In America (Part 1)


    Lord Darcy stood like stone beside his victim; his dress was stained with blood, his face livid with horror, and the fatal knife still in his hand, when a small pleasure-boat, its white sail glancing brightly in the evening sun, shot directly into the little bay where the smuggler’s skiff lay moored.
    The cry of the unfortunate youth had been heard by the party in the boat, which consisted of Mr Gordon, his daughter, and two men servants. Mr Gordon instantly leaped on shore, ordering his servants to keep the boat steady.
    He started as he looked at the petrified figure before him; for in that young and pallid face he saw the copy of one, never to be forgotten. It was the first time he had beheld the son of Miss Oglander.
    To mistake the meaning of the dreadful picture before him was impossible.
    “What is your name, rash boy?” said Mr Gordon.
    “Edward Oglander Harding, Earl of Darcy,” answered the youth, in the tone he would have done had the same question been put to him before a magistrate.
    “Alas, Eleanor!” exclaimed Mr Gordon, in a voice of agony; and, looking anxiously round, he saw a group of people, whom, before landing, he had observed watching the scene below, now hastily descending the cliff, with a noisy tumult, which sufficiently marked their purpose. Not a moment was to be lost; Mr Gordon seized the arm of Lord Darcy, and dragged him to the boat…

 

As we have touched upon before (including here and here, and in particular during our consideration of the novel Hargrave), Frances Trollope was an important figure in the early development of the British crime and mystery novel. While at the time the genre was dominated by the so-called “Newgate Novel”, which focused upon criminals and criminal life, Trollope – like her contemporary, Catharine Crowe – focused rather upon the solving of a crime; and while she did not (as far as I am currently aware) ever create an overt detective figure, her novels nevertheless helped pave the way for both the French feuilleton and the British sensation novel.

This isn’t the place for a full biography of Frances Trollope, but there are aspects of her life that we need to be aware of before we launch into an examination of her first novel. She was unusually well-educated for a woman of her time, and she married relatively late – at age 30 – possibly in reaction to the remarriage of her father. She then had seven children over as many years, six surviving. The family initially lived in comfort, but financial and other difficulties swamped them from 1820 onwards: Thomas was disinherited when the uncle he relied upon remarried; and the family was forced to rent out their house and live and work upon a leased farm; though agricultural depression eventually forced them from there too. Thomas grew increasingly depressed and withdrawn, which impacted both his legal practice and his relationship with his family. Later he began to experience recurrent headaches, which exacerbated the situation still more. (It is now believed that he was in the early stages of brain cancer.)

Increasingly, Frances was forced to take financial responsibility for the family—although she went about this in a wholly unexpected way. She had formed a close friendship with Frances Wright, a radical and abolitionist who was involved with a “utopian” community in Mississippi: one of many such experimental communities founded in America during the 19th century. The aim of “Nashoba” was to provide education for former slaves. The project appealed to Frances Trollope in all respects, and in 1827 she relocated to America with four of her children. However, she had either misinterpreted or been misled about how primitive were the arrangements at the settlement: it was certainly no place for children; and after only a brief stay Trollope relocated her family to Cincinnati—perhaps drawn there by its somewhat optimistic moniker, “The Athens of the West”.

Now considered America’s first mall, Frances Trollope founded and ran “the Cincinnati Bazaar”, which brought together apartments, retail shops, museums, concert halls, restaurants, a ballroom, and meeting spaces. Initially a success, the project ultimately failed firstly because the disapproving Thomas Trollope refused to forward money inherited by Frances to support the business, and then because of a fall-off in support from the residents of Cincinnati, due to an ever-widening philosophical divide. Trollope herself grew frustrated and angry with the subordinate position occupied by the local women, and the social structures which separated the sexes. Already resented both as a Britisher and a woman conducting business on her own account, her open promotion of her bazaar as both educational and a place where men and women could mingle was considered offensive at all points and led to its eventual failure.

Arriving back in England in 1831, now with debts of her own in addition to Thomas’s, and with Thomas unable to work, Frances Trollope took the obvious step: she began writing. Her first publication was an unabashed money-grab, a work that shrewdly appealed to the prejudices of the British reading public while allowing her to work off her lingering resentments. At the age of 53, Frances Trollope found herself a best-selling author and in a comfortable financial position for the first time in over a decade when Domestic Manners Of The Americans became a smash hit.

Having taken this first step, Trollope then turned to fiction, producing 34 novels over the following two decades, plus six travel-books.

(Plenty of people have marvelled at Anthony Trollope’s late blooming as a novelist, his subsequent fecundity, and the strict work-habits which saw him produce a set minimum number of pages on a daily basis, regardless of his situation. All too few people have even noticed, let alone commented upon, the obvious model for all of this.)

Frances Trollope’s first novel, The Refugee In America, is not, as we might assume, an examination of the contemporary position of the immigrant, but an uneasy blending of a crime / pursuit plot into an unkind satire of American provincial life. Awkwardly as the two halves sit together, the book was popular in England, and became another financial success.

As an outsider to both sides of the argument, I found myself rather pulled in two directions by Trollope’s snarky depiction of her American characters. There is no question at all that she herself is guilty in this novel of overarching snobbery and class consciousness, and a thoroughly British assumption of superiority – BUT – at the same time, I have to say that an unnerving amount of her satire was instantaneously understandable and recognisable, right to this day; and I found myself snickering at it more often than I’m quite comfortable with.

I’ll refrain from editorialising on this point, going forward. I’ll just include some quotes and let you make up your minds for yourselves.

As was often the case with novels of this period, The Refugee In America opens a generation before the main action. A quick background sketch introduces us to Edward Gordon, a young man of “station, wealth, and independence”…although he doesn’t have the latter for long, being dazzled and manoeuvred into an engagement with Miss Caroline Armitage not long after his twenty-first birthday.

The wedding is postponed some months, however, to allow Gordon to fulfill a prior commitment which requires travelling on the Continent. While in Florence, he is introduced to a Mr Oglander and his daughter, Eleanor—and soon discovers he has made a terrible mistake. Like Caroline Armitage, Eleanor Oglander is “eminently handsome”; but in addition to her beauty, she has a cultured mind and depths of character which – Gordon now realises – his fiancée is entirely lacking.

A gentleman of honour, Gordon flees his danger, returning to England and going through with his marriage. Before two years have passed, he is a widower with a baby daughter, named for her mother. By this time, Miss Oglander has become the Countess of Darcy. She herself is widowed when her son is eighteen, in the year 1825.

And it is with the new Lord Darcy that the main narrative of The Refugee In America largely concerns itself. He is in almost all respects a worthy son of his mother, sharing her dark good looks, her strength of character and her generosity. His only real failing is a “sudden and vehement” temper, which tends to overwhelm him—not casually, but in the face of any “baseness, cruelty, or oppression”.

Between Eton and Oxford, Lord Darcy is sent to the seaside town of Carbury, in Dorsetshire, to undertake a year’s private tutoring in the household of the clergyman, Mr Wilmot. Unlike several well-patronised resort towns nearby, including Lyme, Carbury remains quiet and undeveloped—known chiefly as a base for a notorious family of smugglers. The nobleman and the criminal cross paths when Darcy comes across the scion of the family, Richard Dally, plundering a poor poultry-woman of her chickens, and ruthlessly intervenes. Vicious and vindictive, Richard conceives a passionate hatred of Darcy, and swears to be revenged upon him—and it is this dark passion which subsequently drives our plot.

Dally’s first attempt at revenge sees him kidnap the earl’s dog and (trigger warning!) try to drown it in front of him. Darcy goes plunging into the water and succeeds in rescuing his pet; but as he and Dally struggle hand-to-hand, the smuggler pulls a knife and stabs the dog to death.

Darcy’s response is that of any reasonable person: he wrenches the knife from Dally and plunges it into him.

Appalled by what he has done, Darcy is still standing frozen over the body of the young man when he is approached simultaneously by a mob of people – including Dally’s mother and uncle – who witnessed the struggle from the cliffs nearby, and by the occupants of a small boat sailing on the waters of the bay. The latter are no less than Mr Gordon and his daughter, Caroline, with their two servants. Mr Gordon knows at a glance who the young man must be, though he has not laid eyes on his mother for some twenty years; and as the furious mob descends, he drags Darcy into his boat and sails away with him.

In fact, Mr Gordon does a great deal more. Comprehending instantly that Darcy is in danger of his life, he commits himself to the young man’s rescue—going so far as to make immediate arrangements for a journey for Darcy, himself and Caroline to New York, on board a commericial ship captained by a good friend of his. By the time the forces of law and order have started their pursuit, the wanted man is on his way to America.

It is from here that the narrative of The Refugee In America divides. The larger half of it concerns the experiences of the three British travellers; the rest deals with the reaction to the situation by Lady Darcy—which isn’t what we might anticipate from this set-up:

    The verdict of the coroner was— Wilful murder against Edward Oglander Harding, Earl of Darcy.
    This was an awful sentence to listen to, but Lady Darcy heard it almost unmoved. It seemed difficult to entertain any doubt respecting facts so substantiated; yet when she had heard the whole of Mr Wilmot’s statement, and read all the documents which confirmed it, she declared herself unconvinced of the death of young Dally…

In short, Lady Darcy begins to suspect that Richard Dally is alive but being kept out of sight by his family, partly for revenge, and partly in hopes of extorting “compensation”. The British half of the story, therefore, deals with her efforts to prove that her son is not guilty of murder: a quest which finds her, unknowingly, in league with the one person in the world who has the most to gain from proving he is.

Many years before, Eleanor’s hand was sought by her cousin, Nixon Oglander. His suit was rejected by Mr Oglander, who had been apprised of his nephew’s gambling habits. (In fact, Nixon was guilty of much worse, although we do not learn this for some considerable time.) Giving up the army for the bar, when our story opens Nixon Oglander is a successful lawyer—though he has not fundamentally changed, merely gained the ability to put on a false front. He also bears a lingering grudge against his uncle.

When Mr Oglander, stunned like Lady Darcy by the catastrophe that has befallen them, turns to his nephew for legal help, Nixon is quick to see that with Darcy out of the way – and preferably hanged for murder – he himself is the most likely heir of Mr Oglander’s great fortune…particularly if he could, after all, persuade his cousin Eleanor to marry him at last.

Lady Darcy’s suspicions are aroused in the first place by Mrs Dally having supposedly asked her brother, William West, to bury her son at sea, and immediately:

    “It is difficult to understand it,” said Lady Darcy; “but to me it is still more so to believe the tale of the sea burial: there is no nature in it, to my feelings; and in my judgement, there is no truth.”
    Mr Oglander, almost against his will, was staggered by her strong conviction; yet he feared to encourage a hope, the disappointment of which would be so terrible. It was, however, in vain that he continued to point out the strength of the evidence, nothing could shake her conviction…

One of the pleasures – and one of the deliberately infuriating touches – of The Refugee In America is Trollope’s handling of the character of Lady Darcy, who is (for the most part) a strong-minded, capable woman…but one beset by men who think they know better than her.

A letter sent back at the last moment informs Lady Darcy of her son’s rescue by Mr Gordon, and the latter’s intention of keeping him safe in America. She is therefore freed from her immediate fears, and able to turn her thoughts to the question of Richard Dally’s fate. She and her cousin Nixon travel to Carbury together, supposedly so that the latter can reinvestigate the matter; and it is not long before Lady Darcy’s instincts tell her that Nixon is no friend to her cause. She begins taking action on her own behalf, slipping out of the inn where she is expected to pass her weary days while her cousin reports in as it suits him, and questioning people for herself.

Much to his own dismay, Nixon has found cause to believe that Lady Darcy is right, particularly in the description of the aftermath of the supposed murder given to him by Susan Norris, an unfortunate young girl who has borne Richard Dally’s child:

    “And how are you sure he was killed? Did you see him afterwards?”
    “Ah, no! I wish I had! But I never saw nothing of him after he left me, singing as gay as a lark in the morning, till I saw his dear blood here.”
    “How soon did you come to the spot?”
    “I come down that very evening, before ’twas dark, and here I saw it, here, and here, and here;” and as she spoke, she stepped forward towards the sea. “I traced the red blood from there, where they say he fell, to the very edge of the sea, where he was put into his uncle’s boat, and carried out to the sea to be buried.”
    The young creature sobbed violently, and turned her agitated face from the inquirer.
    “You traced his blood, my girl, from that place to the sea?”
    “Yes, sir, and further too, for the tide was out then. His blood must have run like water to soak into the sand that fashion; oh, my poor baby, it was your blood that run then!”
    He was silent for a moment, and then said, ” Go home, my girl, and try to forget the father, while doing your best for his boy.”
    The girl shook her head, and turning from him, took her way up the cliff.
    Nixon Oglander remained a few moments standing exactly where she had left him; then turning round, he looked in all directions, as if to assure himself that he was alone.
    “The lovely countess is right, upon my soul! the blood of a dead man does not flow forth like water.”
    He paced the beach for half an hour, revolving all the probabilities of the case. “He lives,” he exclaimed, ” but does not show himself even to this girl; he hides himself, to be revenged on Edward, and to get money from the family. Let him live; but it shall be for me, or I will finish my kinsman’s work.”

Lady Darcy, meanwhile, has found an ally in Mrs Gardiner, the poulty-woman, who is only too happy to devote herself to her defender’s cause; as well as a neighbour of the Dallys’, who shares her opinion:

    “Where was he buried ?” said Lady Darcy…
    “Mother Dally tossed him into the sea, she says,” said the woman with a sneer.
    Lady Darcy was greatly agitated, but said distinctly, “That was strange, good woman—was it not ?”
    “Strange enough, if it was but true,” answered the woman.
    A light from heaven seemed to dart upon the mind of Lady Darcy, as she heard these words. She looked in the face of the speaker, as if she had been an angel sent thence to comfort her. The hard features of the woman bespoke habitual intemperance, and another of the group attempted to stop her loquacity, by saying,—
    “Hold your tipsy tongue, Molly; what for do you say that? what for should it not be true?”
    “I sha’n’t hold my tongue for you, Sally Wells; and I know, if you don’t, that Mother Dally would have sold his body to the surgeons as soon as look at him… No, no,” she continued, with a drunken laugh, “I knows Mrs Dally of old, and tisn’t to-day that she’ll take me in.”

Lady Darcy’s detective efforts culminate in an extraordinary passage on the cliffs of Carbury. She is walking alone on the beach when she spots a wisp of smoke issuing from somewhere above her, and concludes that there is a hidden cave in the cliff face. She does not hesitate:

    Nothing at all resembling a path appeared, but Lady Darcy had travelled in search of the picturesque, and was no contemptible crags-woman… She determined to attempt the ascent. The point at which it appeared the most feasible was where the cliff and the projecting rock formed an angle; this would lead her very close to the point from which the grey vapour still continued to issue… She commenced her arduous undertaking, and found that, though laborious, it was by no means dangerous to her steady head. She made her way from crag to crag, nor paused to look below, till obliged to stop from exhaustion of strength, and want of breath. While resting to recover herself, she fancied she heard the sound of human voices near her. She felt frightened, but the eager glance she threw round, showed no object to justify her fear. Assured that for the present she was alone, her courage returned, and she determined to avail herself of her singular position to ascertain, if possible, the situation of the persons whose voices she still distinctly heard…
    The small level space on which she stood terminated at an abrupt angle of this wall, and it appeared to her, that if she could make her way round it, she would probably be again within hearing of the voices. She drew near the verge, but the giddy precipice that fell directly from it, made her recoil.
    Again she approached it, and by clinging to a natural buttress contrived to look round the corner of the rock. The objects which then met her view convinced her that she was within a few feet of the cavern. A terrace of about fifty yards long, but not more than five in width, stretched along the face of the cliff at right angles from the spot where she stood, but eight or ten feet lower. It was covered with coarse grass, and on this were laid many small utensils of domestic use, which appeared to have been recently washed, and placed there to dry; several muskets rested against the rock, round which she leant, and at a frightfully short distance from her, lay a huge wolf dog, on a spot so evidently trodden, as plainly to indicate the entrance to the cave. The consciousness that the slightest movement might alarm the dog, who, by giving notice of her proximity, would inevitably throw her into the power of his owners, made her retreat most cautiously to the farthest corner of her giddy station…

It is passages such as this that remind us most forcibly that Frances Trollope was not a Victorian, but a product of the late Georgian era, writing during that awkward hiatus that we tend to call either the late Regency or the pre-Victorian period. (Poor old William IV never did win an individual identifier.)

And it is also passages like this that explain why Trollope’s books were buried during the Victorian era, and why they are, consequently, so little known today: her ideas about what was fit and proper for women to do were not at all the ideas of later in the 19th century.

Lady Darcy is rewarded for her courage and tenacity: what she overhears in the cave informs her absolutely that Richard Dally is still alive. However, she has put herself in a position from which retreat is extremely difficult, and she is finally forced to go on climbing up the cliff-face, rather than down again to the beach. She reaches the top safely, but is so physically exhausted, on top of the emotional strain of the past weeks, that she collapses.

Fortunately, she is near the cottage of her friend, Mrs Gardiner. Her cousin and the local apothecary are summoned; and under the latter’s care she revives just long enough to proclaim her triumph, and urge Nixon to return to the main town and round up a band of men, to search the cave and secure Richard Dally. She then collapses again, and is soon in a high fever.

Nixon Oglander leaves the cottage, as directed; the puzzled Mrs Gardiner watches as he turns, not right, towards the town, but left, towards the cliffs…

    The smoke had ceased to ascend, but Oglander discovered the aperture without difficulty, and placing his head over it he pronounced clearly, but not loudly, the name of West. He instantly heard the clatter of arms, and the whispered consultation of the trio; but before it was over he called again, adding, “Hist! hist! fear nothing,” which produced an answer half surly, half confidential, of—
    “Who the devil are you?”
    “A friend, as you shall see;” and a heavy purse dropped through the opening upon the embers, like the black pudding of old.
    It was not left to burn there; and the voice of West answered to the pleasing summons as gently as such a voice could, “All’s right, friend; I’ll be with you presently.”
    And the next moment he swung himself up from the front of the cavern, followed by his enormous dog, who, however, stood behind him perfectly still, though with that look of watchful ferocity, that indicated a willing readiness to attack, the moment he should be ordered to do so.
    “West,” said Oglander, holding out his hand to him, “there must be no more disguise between us,—we must plot together, and not apart; our course is the same: aid me, and you shall be richly paid for it.”

So it is that by the time a belated search is instigated, there is no sign of a cave at all at the spot indicated—just a blank wall of piled-up rocks.

Lady Darcy, meanwhile, is in a condition to cause extreme concern to the apothecary, Mr Barnes; Mr Wilmot, the clergyman; her father, who has been summoned to her bedside; and of course, her cousin Nixon. They take her insistence upon the existence of the cave – and the existence of Richard Dally – as the ravings of fever; but when the fever recedes and she still insists upon her story—when she continues to ignore what the men tell her to the contrary—the only possible conclusion is that she has lost her mind…

    “I greatly fear,” he continued, “that if her life be spared, her mind will not regain its tone. In my opinion, her reason has been partially disordered ever since the dreadful catastrophe reached her; and now I fear it is entirely gone.”
    Nixon Oglander sighed deeply as he replied to this most distressing supposition.
    “Alas, my dear sir, I have but too much reason to believe that you are right. It was impossible for me not to see that her fine intellect has been wandering ever since I have been with her. But I have constantly flattered myself, that when once she could be brought to admit the truth of the statements which she has hitherto denied, she would by degrees become accustomed to her misfortune, and recover her composure.”
    “Never, my dear sir,” replied Mr Wilmot, “never. The statement of the facts which I drew up, and which was substantiated by so many witnesses, was so clear and convincing, that nothing but insanity could have made it possible for any one to doubt its truth.”
    Oglander felt that these were the words of wisdom, and with another deep sigh, he pressed the speaker’s hand, and took his leave…

Yes, well. I have recently been discussing in a different context (and hope to be discussing here, before too much longer) how terrifyingly easy it was for someone to be condemned as “insane” during the 19th century; a woman, in particular.

And what could more thoroughly demonstrate a woman’s insanity than her continuing to hold to an opinion that four men have told her is wrong?

Lady Darcy is luckier than most, in that being an aristocrat, a widow and independently wealthy, she is permitted by her menfolk to suffer her “insanity” at her country house, rather than in one of the numerous (and highly profitable) private asylums which flourished at this time.

As she recovers her physical strength, she makes further efforts to get someone to listen to her—but to no avail:

It was in vain that the unhappy Lady Darcy reined in all natural vehemence of feeling, however quiet the manner in which she spoke, she saw that the instant she alluded to the conversation she had overheard from the cavern, her hearers considered her as a maniac. It was impossible to reason with them on the subject; for by Dr Barnes’ advice, they broke off the conversation, and left her, as soon as she alluded to it…

So all that she can do is trust to time and the efforts of Mr Gordon—and, of course, Providence.

It is, however, perhaps just as well that she was not privy to the full conversation between Nixon Oglander, William West and Richard Dally:

    “Now listen then to the rest: you must be off to Bridport to-night; it will not be the first you have spent at sea. You must take passage on board the first ship that sails for America, for New York, if possible. When there you must wait for further orders, and as you obey them, so shall you be paid!”
    “And what will you give me at starting, master? I don’t do dirty work for nothing.”
    “You shall be satisfied, Dick; but before I do all I intend for you, I must know that you are in earnest; remember, I shall know all,—and that by more ways than one, I promise you.”
    “What do you expect of me, then?—speak out.”
    For one short moment Nixon Oglander faltered; not in his purpose, but in the avowal of it.
    “Speak out, man,” repeated West, with a sneer; and the tone of swaggering equality with which this was uttered, gave a sharper pang to the last lingering feelings of the gentleman, than any his worn-out conscience could feel. He mastered it, however; nay, he smiled as he answered,—
    “Dally, I want to see young Darcy laid as low as he intended to lay you.”
    “For that,” said the young man, sulkily, “I don’t believe he wished to kill me; but it’s no matter, I owe him a grudge—I want money, and I’ve made Carbury too hot to hold me;—so I’ll do your work, if you’ll pay high enough…”

Curiously, it turns out that Richard Dally really is in love with Susan Norris, and that he did intend to marry her; and he insists upon carrying her and their child to America with him. The sudden disappearance of the girl and her baby causes some talk around Carbury; but it is assumed that she has gone the way of too many young women in her disgraced situation…

Nixon Oglander, meanwhile, has two more irons in his fire.

In the first place, he contacts a certain Hannibal Burns, a New York detective who has earned a reputation as a man-catcher—and likes nothing better than catching “foreigners” who think to use America as a refuge from their crimes.

From the letters received from Mr Gordon, the contents of which Lady Darcy did not at first hesitate to share with him, Oglander knows that Gordon, Caroline and Lord Darcy are planning on spending the winter in Rochester, both to avoid the possibility of meeting someone they know in New York, and because Gordon’s friend, Captain Birdwood, who was the pilot of their cross-Atlantic ship, has friends and contacts there, and can supply them with letters of introduction.

It is purely a coincidence that Nixon Oglander, too, has a contact in Rochester…

When he was a young man – when his gambling habits rendered him an unsuitable husband for his beautiful and wealthy cousin – Oglander was in fact part of a syndicate of young men who made their money as professional gambling cheats. After a long run of success, their foul methods were suspected. One of the group, a Captain Robert Brown, as the one with the least to lose personally, agreed to take all the blame and opprobrium upon himself, while the others walked away with clean hands. In exchange, he was granted sufficient funds to begin a comfortable new life in America, under an assumed identity.

And under that identity, the former Bob Brown is perhaps the most respected man in Rochester…even if, due to his misunderstanding of American society, he did not gain what he expected to through his marriage to the sister of the then-Secretary of State.

Still…he has a great deal to lose when he receives one of the infrequent letters sent to him by his former companion in crime, Nixon Oglander:

    “There is a boy who stands between me and my inheritance. Accident has thrown him into danger; he is suspected of a crime, of which he is innocent, and has fled to the town in which you live. He calls himself Smith, and the person he is with, is called Gordon; but the boy is Earl of Darcy, and heir to enormous wealth, a noble part of which will fall to me if he if he ceases to trouble me.
    “Now mark me. It is my will, that boy should perish. But you tell me you are of ‘high standing’, and you may not like to do the job. Though I have known the time, Bob, when you would not have let your standing come between you and a thousand pounds.
    “It may be, however, that I shall not want your hand. I will pay you for your head. The fellow my young cousin fancies he has murdered, is in my pay. I have sent him to America, both to keep him out of sight, and to act as a spy upon Master Smith; for which office he is better fitted than any other, as he hates him, for some petty spite of his own…
    “You understand me, Bob: I must have the business done. Let it be done between you, and I care not how it be divided. Accidents sometimes happen, you know, in your wild country. I have been told that the Indians are dangerous; and it has been said that more than one life has been lost by falling over rocks, while looking at water-falls—manage as you will, I care not…”

 

[To be continued…]

15/04/2018

A Letter From Lewis The Great, To James The Less

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I

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

II

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

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

III

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

IV

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

**********

I

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

II

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

III

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

IV

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

V

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

 
 

 

 

25/03/2017

The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land

 

    The object of the Essays which are compiled in this small Volume, is to impart information upon the state of manners and society in the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land; to hold up to deserved ridicule, some of the vices and follies by which they are distinguished; to present a mirror wherein good qualities are exhibited, the possession of which is not always acknowledged—in a word, to present a picture of this infant state, which, it is hoped, may prove interesting as well as instructive, not only to its own component Members, but to the general Reader.
    The Author has endeavoured to avoid any expressions which might be calculated to cause pain to a single individual—his aim has been to “lash the vice, but spare the name”; and he will be sufficiently rewarded, if, in addition to the notice which his first few essays have already attracted, and which has induced him to re-published them in this form, he should witness that they produce the good effects, the hope of which originated their publication.

 

 

 

 

In my examination of Quintus Servinton, generally considered to be “the first Australian novel”, and of the peculiar life of its author, it emerged that Henry Savery had earlier published another work—one of “fiction” only in the broadest sense. The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, which appeared in 1830, was a series of satirical essays skewering various personalities and institutions to be found in the colony of Van Diemen’s Land—and, like almost everything else in Henry Savery’s life, it caused a lot of trouble.

A reading of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land reveals it as a work so much of its time and place as to be largely incomprehensible to the modern reader: in addition to its author’s generally allusive style, he avoids names at almost all points (even false names), peopling his essays with references to the tall Gentleman, the young Gentleman, the Lady, my Acquaintance, and so on; which over the course of the volume requires considerable effort on the part of the reader simply to keep up with the thread of his discourse.

The edition of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land published in 1964 by the University of Queensland Press, and edited by Savery scholar Cecil Hadgraft and Margriet Roe, provides a key to the characters. This was sourced from the copy of the book held by the Mitchell Library in Sydney, in which its original (unknown) owner not only went to the trouble of identifying most of the people in its pages, but wrote out a list in his copy’s end-papers matching the superscript numbers he had appended to the text. That an original reader was able to do this shows how recognisable was Henry Savery’s portraiture. Nevertheless, with the exception of a handful of people who had public careers, or impacted Henry Savery’s life in some other way, these contents are not particularly informative today. It does not, for instance, help us much to know that “a certain tall slender person” appearing on page 124 was meant for Horatio William Mason, “a member of the Agricultural Association”, and “a wine and spirit merchant and licensee of several hotels in Hobart and New Norfolk”.

Consequently, I am not going to try to analyse the contents of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, but to see where the writing of these sketches fits into the erratic and increasingly sad life of Henry Savery.

As we may recall, late in 1828 Henry Savery’s wife, Eliza, arrived in Hobart to find her husband – who had encouraged her to sail from England on the basis of his own secure position in the settlement – widely unpopular, in trouble with the law again, and on the verge of being imprisoned for debt. Terrible scenes ended with Henry attempting suicide by cutting his own throat, although his life was saved by the the prompt and skilful attentions of a Dr William Crowther. Henry was nevertheless carried off to Hobart Town Gaol, where he lay recovering while his wife turned around and went back to England, at least in part to avoid her own slender means being seized.

There is no doubt that the forced inactivity of jail life did Henry Savery some good: in addition to recovering his health, he underwent a period of introspection which led to the writing of Quintus Servinton, that peculiar, infuriating, self-pitying yet strangely honest novel. Also, for the first time since his arrival in Hobart Town late in 1825, Henry Savery made a real friend.

Thomas Wells was a man whose life had in many ways paralleled Henry’s own: he had been convicted and transported on a charge of embezzlement; worked for a time for the government, including as secretary for Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell (George Arthur’s predecessor); received his pardon and gone into business for himself—and ended up in a financial mess that landed him in Hobart Town Gaol. Wells made the most of his time in prison, setting up an accounting business, and writing what is considered the first work of general literature to be published in Australia: a pamphlet entitled, Michael Howe, The Last And Worst Of The Bushrangers. He also began contributing articles to the Colonial Times.

It was illegal for convicts to write for the newspapers, but the Colonial Times was owned and operated by Andrew Bent, himself a former convict and a constant thorn in the side of George Arthur. Ironically, it was income received for working as a government printer that allowed Bent to pursue his real interest. Then called the Hobart Town Gazette, Bent’s baby was the first and, for some time, only newspaper published in Van Diemen’s Land, growing from a struggling two-page effort printed with homemade ink into a powerful voice in the Colony: one which devoted considerable space to criticisms of the government.

George Arthur, furious on all counts, tried to have it declared illegal for printing-presses to be operated without a license: his failure was rudely celebrated in the pages of the Gazette as the defeat of tyranny. Arthur’s next move was to set up a rival newspaper, owned and operated by the government—and called the Hobart Town Gazette. He also brought against Bent a successful action for libel.

If Arthur thought this would frighten Bent off or spike his guns, he misunderstood his man: as soon as he was able, Bent was back publishing the Colonial Times, and becoming the power behind a campaign of harassment that would make Arthur’s tenure as Lieutenant-Governor miserable and help to bring it to a premature conclusion.

With his own convict background, Andrew Bent often ignored the laws forbidding convicts to write for the press, and Thomas Wells – struggling from behind bars to provide an income for his numerous family – was one of his frequent jailhouse contributors.

Then, in June of 1829, a new column appeared in the Colonial Times

Satirical essays highlighting the foibles of men and manners had been a staple of publication in England since the early 18th century: the Spectator magazine was celebrated for its social analysis, and many writers turned to this form of criticism over the succeeding decades. Oliver Goldsmith, in his The Citizen Of The World, had introduced to the genre the subsequently standard figure of the outside observer, looking with fresh eyes upon a scene perhaps taken for granted by its residents. Henry Savery himself had had experience with this sort of satirical writing, after he bought the Bristol Observer in 1819: he introduced a column called The Garreteers, which promised scandalous revelations about the population of Bristol, of course in the interests of “reformation”. The resulting columns, however, rarely went further than some unkind observations about certain people’s habits and appearance.

Also in 1819, a man called Felix McDonough had written a popular series of columns called The Hermit In London, which followed the pattern by having an inexperienced individual commenting naively upon the bustling and often brutal London scene. The success of this venture was such that McDonough turned it into something of a cottage industry, following up with The Hermit In The CountryThe Hermit Abroad, and so on. Henry Savery and Andrew Bent borrowed this idea, announcing in the Colonial Times:

Perhaps it may be in the recollection of some portion of our readers, that a few years ago, a series of numbers appeared in one of the London publications, under the title of “The Hermit In London”. We have great pleasure in acquainting them, that a younger brother of this family has lately arrived in the Colony; and, having acquired, almost intuitively, considerable information upon the general state of Manners, Society, and Public Characters of our little community, has partially promised to adapt his observations to such a shape, as shall fit them to meet the eye of the Public.

The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land purported to be written by one “Simon Stukeley”, a new arrival in Hobart Town casting interested and critical eyes upon the embryo settlement. Scholars attempting to trace this choice of pseudonym to its source found the following nugget in John West’s remarkable 1852 work, The History Of Tasmania:

The original Simon Stukeley was a Quaker, who went to Turkey with an intention of converting the Grand Turk: he narrowly escaped decapitation, by the interposition of the English ambassador. He was afterwards confined in an asylum: in answer to inquiries how he came there, he replied— “I said the world was mad, and the world said I was mad; and they out-voted me.”

Whether truth or shaggy-dog story, we can see how this anecdote may have appealed to Henry Savery.

The characters commented upon by “Simon Stukeley” in his columns may be mysteries to modern readers, but there is no doubt that the people sketched therein recognised themselves. Henry Savery might have been writing from jail, but he had spent the preceding four years working in government departments, and he had not wasted his powers of observation: almost everyone who was anyone in Hobart Town wandered through the columns of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, subject to criticism – or less frequently, approval – for their appearance, dress, habits and conduct.

The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land ran in the Colonial Times from 5th June – 25th December 1829, thirty columns in all. It seems that at first Henry Savery had no idea of anything so extensive, but the columns’ reception prompted Andrew Bent to propose their reissue in book form, requiring Henry to keep his idea running. On 8th January 1830, Bent announced the volume’s imminent publication—and a week later was forced to announce that publication was suspended, pending an action for libel brought against his newspaper.

When it came to the government of Van Diemen’s Land, Henry Savery and Andrew Bent found themselves in private agreement but public odds. Whatever he may really have felt, Henry avoided criticism of George Arthur in his columns, and often praised in a general way the conduct of the Colony. He is less kind as he works his way through the lower layers of government, however; while understandably, much of his venom is directed at members of the legal profession.

At one point “Simon Stukeley” is called to sit on a coroner’s jury, and extensively mocks the process, or lack thereof, as well as those conducting it; a friend of his, “the Informant”, as he calls him, offers him professional and character readings of most of the practising lawyers in Hobart Town, with only one or two escaping unflayed. One in particular attracts his negative attention: a certain “Mr Cockatrice”, upon whom Stukeley later calls hoping to negotiate some leniency with respect to a debt: not his own, but that of an acquaintance who is desperately selling everything in order to stave off an arrest which would leave his wife and children destitute:

…in an evil hour, requiring pecuniary assistance upon some occasion, he had recourse to one of the “Withouts” who dealt in that line, to the tune of “never exceed twenty per cent.,” and by whom the needed help was bestowed, upon the joint security of a Mortgage and Warrant of Attorney.—I was sceptical upon the latter point, thinking he was mistaken in telling me they were both for the same transaction; but he was positive, and in the end convinced me he spoke the truth. He farther told me, that the Lawyer’s fangs having once been fixed on his property, never left hold of it, until by foreclosure, writs of fieri facias, compound interest of twenty per cent. upon twenty per cent., and all the other damnables which followed in the Lawyer’s train, he was shorn as closely of all his possessions, as ever was a six month’s lamb…

Stukely calls upon the Lawyer, but one glance is enough to convince him that his mission will be futile:

He was dressed a là dishabille; inasmuch as he wore a grey beaver dressing-gown, slippers down at heel, a yellowish, half-dirty night-shirt; his neck-cloth tied loosely, and he did not appear to have shaved that morning. In person and stature, there was nothing prepossessing… He had a shrewd cunning look about the eye, which had rather a tendency to create repulsion on the part of strangers, than to invite familiarity. Still there was a constrained politeness in his manner, a servility in his mode of replying to me which argued that he could be all things to all men; and warned me, that I was not to be misled by superficial speciousness. One thing struck me as very remarkable, in his countenance; all the lines of which where uncommonly sharp and picked;—that, whenever he attempted to smile, or to utter words which might lead to the suspicion that his heart sympathised for a moment, with other’s sorrows, two sorts of furrows were exhibited, one on each side of the mouth; reminding me to the very life, of the two supporters of the Arbuthnot Arms…

Stukeley’s mission is indeed a failure:

…the Lawyer replied to me, “I can do nothing for him, Sir; he must go to gaol, or pay the money; I only know my duty to my client.” “Surely, Sir, your client cannot suffer by allowing the poor fellow a little more time for payment of the debt—you would never think of separating a man from his wife and children, by so cruel a process as imprisonment, when no possible good can arise from it.” “I know nothing of wives and children, Sir—my duty to my client is all I think about. People have no business to have wives and children, if they cannot pay their debts. I have but one rule, Sir—I always say in reply to the question, what is to be done with so and so, Let him go to gaol, and I say so now.”

The lawyer turns up again a little later, when Stukely is invited to accompany some friends to a meeting with him about the settlement of yet another debt. He finds his opinion shared by the others:

“There’s no doubt of that, so long as you have money in your pocket,” said the Doctor; “he has a wonderful scent where cash is concerned, and will lick your hand like a spaniel, whilst it remains filled with the needful; but woe betide you, if chance place you in his way afterwards.”

Stukeley does accompany them, out of curiosity: since their meeting, “Mr Cockatrice” has made his appearance in The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, and Stukeley is curious to see if his strictures have had any effect. The three men walk in to a surprising reception:

No sooner had we passed the threshold, than Mr Cockatrice started from his chair, as if he had been electrified—a spitfire Grimalkin, when, with upraised back, and distended brush, she shews her high displeasure, if her territories are invaded by a luckless wanderer of the canine race, is nothing in point of rage and fury, compared with what was exhibited upon the brow of this “stern dispenser of Laws rigours under their most rigorous shape”… He cried out, in a voice half choked with rage and anger, “How dare you put your foot within my doors, Sir? You are the Hermit—you are, Sir—“

To Stukeley’s intense amusement, he realises that for some reason Mr Cockatrice believes the Doctor to be his anonymous attacker. The Doctor himself is taken aback, and torn between anger and laughter: he for one has recognised the Hermit’s target:

    Presently he replied, “Whether I am the Hermit or not, he has produced one good effect at all events, by teaching your wife to allow you a clean shirt more frequently. I see she has taken a hint if you cannot, and that your half-dirty yellow night-shirt has given place to one a little more consistent with good manners.—You may exhibit the Arbuthnot Arms as you like (observing that at this moment two deep furrows appeared in all their native hideousness)—I care not for you, nor for any thing that your iron heart may produce—People shouldn’t have wives and children if they can’t pay their debts, you know—you understand me, don’t you?—There! take your money, and I’ll wash my hands in future of such company as yours, or any that could be found in your house. I tell you that it is well for you, I am not the Hermit; for if I had been, I would have produced a list of your acts of iron-heartedness as long as my arm; the mildest of which would have been ten times as biting as the poor horse dealer’s story.—Egad! man, that’s nothing to what I could have told him. Good bye, Arbuthnot Arms! Good morning to you! Mind the wives and children! Good bye—good bye.”
    We did not stay to hear any more, but left the house, conversing as we went through the streets, upon what had occurred; all agreeing that the moderate blister which had been applied, could not have produced such an effect as we had witnessed, if it had not been put upon a raw place…

It was Gamaliel Butler who brought an action for libel against the Colonial Times—the same Gamaliel Butler who had tried but failed to have Henry Savery jailed after the collapse of the horse-trading business for which he acted as accountant, and who – when the money was available, had he waited only a short period while matters were adjusted – had enforced his financial claim upon Henry, precipitating the disastrous chain of events that led to Eliza Savery’s departure, Henry’s suicide attempt, and his imprisonment.

The libel action against the Colonial Times was in fact the first instance of trial-by-jury in a civil proceeding in Van Diemen’s Land: the case was delayed until all relevant statutes were in place. Andrew Bent stood firm throughout, staunchly guarding the secret of Henry Savery’s authorship (of course, he would have been in trouble himself had it come out), but was doomed from the outset: the Hermit had waved his pen a little too widely.

Apart from the vindictive Butler – did he suspect who his real enemy was? – the case was tried before Chief Justice Pedder, who had been mocked for his rambling speech and various personal peculiarities including his snuff-habit; Butler was represented by Solicitor General Alfred Stephen, who had been ridiculed as a “fop” and a “dandy”; while the limited population of Hobart Town meant that three other people skewered by the Hermit were on the jury. In the face of these arrangements, there was little doubt of the outcome despite the efforts of former Attorney General Joseph Gellibrand, who was representing Bent (and who had himself been none too gently handled by the Hermit),

The defence offered by Gellibrand, moreover, was basically to argue that Butler had it coming: that he was widely known and despised as a wrecker of lives; that he profited off the misery of others; that he was notorious for preferring to send men to jail than to agree to accommodation that would allow them to pay off their debts, often rejecting offered assistance from friends of his debtors. The “list as long as my arm” of incidents, mentioned in the relevant column, was aired in court, with Gellibrand summoning John Bisdee, the head-keeper, to testify that of the thirteen debtors in Hobart Town Gaol, nine of them were there under writs brought by Butler.

Furthermore, Dr William Crowther was called to testify that the scene in the office of “Mr Cockatrice” played out exactly as reported, with an enraged Butler accusing him, Crowther, of being the Hermit. This, we should note, is the same Dr Crowther who saved Henry’s life after his suicide attempt, and who appears at various points throughout The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land in an affectionate but not altogether flattering way which balances his general kindness and mastery of languages with his love of the bottle.

But truth is no defence against libel, and Bent was found guilty—damages being awarded by allowing each of the twelve jurors to decide on an amount, adding up the total and dividing it by twelve. A large but not outrageous amount, the £80 which Bent was ordered to pay was still more than he could afford at the time: he was already in debt, and ended up selling the Colonial Times to Henry Melville.

And it is to Henry Melville that most of the subsequent few positives in the life of Henry Savery are owed. Despite the libel suit, Melville and Bent went ahead with the volume publication of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, albeit in a far more low-key way than originally planned; while Melville hired Henry as assistant editor at the Colonial Times, a position which allowed him to support himself while he completed Quintus Servinton.

The years 1830 – 1832 represented a rare up-swing in the affairs of Henry Savery, but disaster struck again soon enough—inevitably, it seems. Embarking upon business ventures, Henry overreached yet again and found himself once more within the grip of the law. Having long since worn out any sympathy within the settlement, this time he was banished to the notorious penal colony of Port Arthur, where he died in obscurity in 1842—and remained forgotten until, in the mid-20th century, cultural cringe receded far enough for a few iconoclasts to consider the history of Australian literature worth studying and celebrating. In fits and starts, the story of Henry Savery then emerged.

It was Henry Melville who took the risk of publishing “the first Australian novel”, and who arranged for its subsequent reissue in England. It is also he to whom we owe our knowledge of Henry Savery’s authorship of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land. While there had been plenty of speculation about the identity of “Simon Stukeley”, the person most widely believed to be the Hermit was Thomas Wells, who had introduced Henry to Andrew Bent and helped him to prepare his columns for publication; we assume that something of this finally leaked out. However, the copy of The Hermit held by the British Library has a lengthy annotation written and signed by Melville, wherein he declares the work’s authorship: a fact nowhere else disclosed.

Not many, but a number of copies of Quintus Servinton survived in both Australia and England, and the autobiographical nature of the narrative makes it clear to anyone familiar with Henry Savery’s story who wrote it. Very few indeed, however, are surviving copies of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land; and the story of Henry Savery closes with an odd detail which the preface of the 1964 edition reveals:

This reprint is dedicated, by permission, to Dr W. E. L. H. Crowther, direct lineal descendant of the Dr Crowther who attended Henry Savery after his suicide attempt in 1828. In addition, Dr Crowther is the only private collector to possess both Savery’s works—The Hermit and Quintus Servinton. The former came to him, while he was still a small boy, as a worn little volume that his father had been given by a patient, Mrs Stokell. Packed away among youthful treasures, it was not until after World War I that its scarcity and value became apparent…

.


Left and centre: Henry Melville’s handwritten annotation of the British Library copy of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, identifying Henry Savery as the author. Right: part of the handwritten key found in the Mitchell Library copy, identifying Gamaliel Butler (#61), Dr William Crowther (#62) and Joseph Gellibrand (#67).

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12/05/2012

…and the case for the prosecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The conspirators then analyse what went wrong:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/12/2010

Thomas Shadwell, superstar

I wonder what odds the Las Vegas bookies were offering last January, about there being two unrelated blog-posts on Thomas Shadwell during the same calendar year?

I suppose that’s unfair. There’s no more reason why people shouldn’t write about Shadwell than that they should write about, oh, I don’t know –  Alexander Oldys? –  to whose legacy I have just contributed 3000 words. Still, I couldn’t suppress a surprised yelp of laughter when I stumbled across this post…nor a sigh of admiration as I explored more thoroughly the blog that contained it.

As you might recall, my own mention of Thomas Shadwell was a rumination over whether he might have been the author of The Perplex’d Prince. Professor Robin Bates, blog-master of Better Living Through Beowulf, chose to draw comparisons between Shadwell and today’s more irresponsible political commentators, making outrageous remarks merely to get themselves noticed. Both of us alluded to John Dryden’s attack on Shadwell in the satirical smackdown, Mac Flecknoe. Shadwell may at length have won the political war against Dryden, but in the artistic one he crashed to bloody, humiliating defeat:

      Now Empress Fame had published the renown,

      Of Sh——’s coronation through the town.
      Roused by report of fame, the nations meet,
      From near Bun-Hill, and distant Watling Street.

      No Persian Carpets spread th’imperial way,

      But scattered limbs of mangled poets lay:
      From dusty shops neglected authors come,
      Martyrs of Pies, and Relics of the Bum.
      Much Heywood, Shirly, Ogleby there lay,

      But loads of Sh—— almost choked the way.

As for Better Living Through Beowulf, it’s a heady mixture of literature, film, poetry, politics, religion and social issues. And if that doesn’t grab you, there’s tennis, ice hockey and (American) football. Off you go.

03/11/2010

The Western Wonder; or, O-Brazeel

“On October the 9th, 1672, we set Sail, bearing our course due West, sometimes West and by South, and sometimes West-North-West, each traverse not exceeding Fifteen Leagues in Longitude. We thus continued doing about seven days: on the eighth day in the morning, we espyed a blue Cloud at West-South-West…”
— Richard Head (1674)

And likewise— The Western Wonder; or, O Brazeel, an inchanted island discovered with a relation of two ship-wracks in a dreadful sea-storm in that discovery. To which is added, a description of a place, called, Montecapernia, relating the nature of the people, their qualities, humours, fashions, religions, &c.

Am I the only one who suspects that Richard Head was getting paid by the word?

The 17th century was a time of voyage and discovery, and travelers’ reports were eagerly devoured by the English reading public. However, as we have seen, the 17th century was also a time of shams, a form of joking to which the travelogue lent itself very well. Side by side in the bookshops sat true accounts of fabulous discoveries in distant lands, and accounts of discoveries that were, literally, “fabulous”, and it took a very wary and analytical reader indeed to spot the difference. This situation was a source of great frustration to many who were genuinely interested in the geographical, anthropological and biological revelations of the age.

We’ve already taken a look at two forms of faux­-travelogue, Henry Neville’s The Isle Of Pines and Richard Head’s The Floating Island. Although widely differing in their intentions and tone, these pamphlets are similar in that, not only do they use the travelogue as a framework for their satirical intentions, but they make little effort to disguise their true natures – although The Isle Of Pines, as we have seen, did fool some people for a time. Head’s follow-up to The Floating Island, The Western Wonder; or, O-Brazeel is, however, another matter. It purports to be a genuine account of a journey to a possibly mythical body located off the coast of Ireland.

As usual with Richard Head, it seems, the back-story to his writing is much more interesting than the writing itself. The island of Hy Brasil – or Hy Breasal, or Hy Breasil, or a dozen other variants – has a long history in Celtic folklore, and a strangely divided one. On one hand we have an account of the “Irish Atlantis”, a mist-shrouded land that only becomes visible once every seven years (and thus tying in with the persistent mythology of the “floating island”), a paradise where those lucky few able to reach land were loaded down with riches by its inhabitants; on the other, an apparently real land mass described by sailors for centuries, yet strangely elusive, defying the attempts of any number of explorers to land on it or even accurately to map its position. Nevertheless, belief that such an island did exist was strong during the 17th century, and indeed for centuries to come. It was not until the 1860s that the putative location of Hy Brasil was removed from British maritime charts once and for all. Small wonder, then, that when Richard Head wrote The Western Wonder in 1674, many of its readers accepted it as a true story without hesitation.

Head’s own presentation of Hy Brasil is a melding of both aspects of its mythology: a real island that yet has magical properties. The pamphlet opens with its unnamed narrator deploring the number of false reports in circulation, which make it so difficult for the truth to gain a foothold. However, he bravely soldiers on, briefly summarising what “the ancient Geographers” have had to say about “O-Brazeel” before recounting for us the various stories told to him personally, which sparked his interest in locating the island. One sailor, we hear, spied what was definitely a land mass, but despite sailing towards it for ten hours, never got any closer to it. Another was sailing towards it when, without warning, it suddenly began to move towards him (the “floating island” again) – coming so close to his boat that he could see upon the shore, Men of a prodigious stature, who as they mov’d, look’d like walking Oaks, as well as, Beasts of several shapes, and all so dreadful and horrid to look on. Terrified, the sailor turned his boat and tried to flee, but was engulfed by an impenetrable mist, which cleared following a tremendous lightning strike…and there was no longer an island to be seen.

A third sailor also approached the island, only to be caught in a tremendously violent storm. He immediately turned his boat away, but found that his compass was no longer working. Finally, an entire crew came suddenly upon a strange mist-bank which, clearing suddenly, left them almost upon the rocks surrounding an island. Their struggles to turn away were futile, and they had given themselves up for lost when the rocks seemed to drop away, their boat passing safely over their former location.

The narrator gathers more, similar stories, finally carrying them to, Some ingenious men of my acquaintance, who at first smiled at my fond Credulity…and endeavoured to jeer me out of my opinion. These acquaintances do more: they try to convince the narrator that believing in O-Brazeel is as ridiculous as believing that, There are multiplicity of Worlds, or that one wherein we live, had its matter and form from a confused conflux of Atoms.

The narrator is not dissuaded, however, and that night dreams of being carried off by a gigantic eagle and taken to an island where, A person of a lovely presence, and with an angelic countenance appears to him and acts as his guide. They are beset by devils and various horrible creatures, but the guide vanquishes their foes and leads the narrator to a seeming paradise on Earth, where, Men, Women and Children ascend out of the bowels of the earth…who were all naked, very white, and well-featur’d. To the narrator’s surprise, these people fall down and worship, A deform’d, ill-shapen thing that is clearly the Devil. His guide explains that the island is under the dominion of, The Prince of the Air, and has been for many years – but soon will be so no longer. At this, tremendous thunder and lightning sweep across the island. The eagle returns and carries the narrator safely home – where he wakes to the conviction that it is his destiny to be the one to set foot upon O-Brazeel and break any spells that lie upon it.

Fortunately, the narrator has a friend who just happens to have a fully fitted out, thirty ton vessel and nowhere to go. The two set out upon their voyage of discovery, and succeed in locating the “inchanted island”; but as they draw near, they suffer the fate of their predecessors. There is a tremendous crack of lightning, and the island disappears. The explorers wait out the night, and in the morning the island is visible again; but as they make another attempt to land, a storm of deadly magnitude breaks. The ship is tossed about for two full days, and then begins to take on water…

This opening stretch of The Western Wonder is easily the best and most enjoyable piece of Richard Head’s writing that I’ve read so far. Unfortunately, it’s downhill all the way from here, as Head first succumbs to temptation, or bad habit, and starts making puerile jokes in the middle of what ought to be a terrifying account of imminent death. Subsequently, the narrator and a few of the crew make it into the life-boat, and are eventually rescued by a crew of “Wallisians*”, whose own boat is then caught in the storm and driven onto rocks (the second of the “ship-wracks” of the subtitle). Everyone makes it to shore, and when the day breaks they find themselves in “Montecapernia” – which is either Ireland or Wales, I’m not entirely sure. However, given that Head – who was Irish – produces an unprovoked Welsh joke in The Floating Island, too, I’m going with the latter.

In either event, the rest of the pamphlet consists of an extended satire of “Montecapernia” and its people that is neither particularly clever nor particularly funny. I can only assume that a deal had been struck for a pamphlet of a particular length, and that not choosing (or not daring) to have his narrator land on the island, Head was forced to pad out his story another way; and in the end, the narrator’s account of life in “Montecapernia” is longer than the section about O-Brazeel. Reading this, you can understand how people might have believed in the truth of the first half of The Western Wonder, but at the same time, you’d think that the second half would have opened their eyes.

But—we’re not done with O-Brazeel just yet. It turns out I had my facts wrong a little earlier: in 1675, two pamphlets were released by different booksellers bearing the title O-Brazile; or, The Inchanted Island. One was indeed a reprint of The Floating Island under a new name; but the other was a new pamphlet, a follow-up to The Western Wonder. Which means, alas, that I haven’t quite shaken off Richard Head just yet (at least until I hit 1688) – and consequently, nor, my friends, have you.

[*I don’t know where Head got the term “Wallisians” from in 1674 – Wallis and Futuna wasn’t named until about a century later.]

27/10/2010

The Floating Island

Or, to give it its full title: The Floating Island; or, A new discovery relating the strange adventure on a late voyage from Lambethana to Villa Franca, alias Ramallia, to the eastward of Terra del Templo, by three ships, viz., the Pay-naught, the Excuse, the Least-in-sight, under the conduct of Captain Robert Owe-much, describing the nature of the inhabitants, their religion, laws and customs. Published by Franck Careless, one of the discoverers.

The longevity of satire is by its nature often dependent upon the identity and/or scope of its target. Attacks upon nations and rulers may be understandable decades, even centuries, afterwards; while the more specific a reference to a certain time and a certain place, the more likely it is that a particular work will be of relevance only to that time and place. Thus, while at this distance I was able to grasp a number (although certainly not all!) of the concerns that prompted Henry Neville to write The Isle Of Pines, a perusal of Richard Head’s 1673 pamphlet The Floating Island left me largely baffled. It was certainly set in London, despite its promise of voyages to fabulous lands, and it was certainly satirising something – but what?

Fortunately, help was at hand – a surprising amount of it, actually. I am indebted to the writings of Matthew Steggle (from Notes And Queries) and Nigel Strick (from Social History and the British Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies) for being able to shake a meaning from this faux-travelogue.

The Floating Island, as its extended title indicates, is supposedly an account of a voyage of discovery; although the names of the intrepid explorers and their vessels makes it clear that this is anything other than a serious scientific report. We hear at the outset that, A Council was held of Indigent persons, and such who were both Indebted and Insolvent; these individuals (failed tradesmen, as it turns out) meet to consider, What course might be most expedient, for the present relief, and future prevention of such insufferable mischiefs, which dayly threatened the utter ruine of the poor and distressed Society, called the Owe-much, or Bankrupt. The decision is to mount an expedition to distant shores, seeking new territories to colonise well away from the terrible laws of their own country, where the explorers live in imminent risk of, A dreadful Judgment, and irremediless cruel Execution. Setting out, the voyagers discover a number of exotic new lands – which, according to his or her knowledge of geography, history and literature, the contemporary reader may recognise as various regions and landmarks in London, their names twisted and Latinised. Meanwhile, the costumes and customs of the inhabitants of these strange realms are reported with mock solemnity by our narrator, Captain Owe-Much.

We have already touched upon Richard Head’s life-long battle with gambling and debt, and there’s a nice irony about him using his own difficulties as the basis of an effort to earn a little money via the publication of his pamphlet. However, the purpose of The Floating Island goes far beyond one man’s financial woes, and into an area about which I previously knew very little. Nigel Strick’s papers discuss not only the bizarrely counterintuitive English debtors’ laws (with which anyone who has done any 18th- or 19th-century reading would certainly be familiar), but the co-existence of debtors’ sanctuaries, areas within or near London to which those in debt could flee and live in relative security.

The medieval church had upheld the custom of sanctuary within London, but following the Reformation these traditional areas of protection were progressively undone. Nevertheless, certain regions around London, particularly those on which church buildings had previously stood, such as Whitefriars and the Minories, remained accepted as sanctuaries under common law well into the 17th century; and although protection for criminals ceased to be recognised, protection for debtors remained de facto even after technically outlawed.

The largest and most notorious of these sanctuaries was the Mint, a region in Southwark whose protective properties stemmed from a strangely mixed history that gave it some solid basis for its rejection the jurisdictional laws of the City of London. Its residents, the “Minters”, implemented their own laws and processes, claiming that their protection was only offered to the insolvent and bankrupt, and was exerted to allow those individuals an opportunity to pay their debts, as indefinite imprisonment under the actual laws did not. However, while the Minters certainly made their territory a place that any bailiff would enter at his peril, too often the “protection” turned violent – and far too often serious criminals were also given shelter. These breaches of the tacit agreement between the outside powers and the Minters gave parliament the weapon it needed, and the Mint, the last of London’s sanctuaries, was legally dismantled in 1723.

The Mint features in several well-known literary works, particularly the writings of Daniel Defoe. Despite his own financial woes, Defoe does not seem to have claimed sanctuary himself – but his characters do. It is within the Mint that his Moll takes the name “Mrs Flanders”, while for Roxana the prospect of ending up there was one to be dreaded. Fifty years earlier, however, when Richard Head was writing, the Mint was only one of several sanctuaries in which those in debt could hide from the threat of prison. The “journey” of Captain Owe-much and his crew, then, is in and out of these areas, with the men zig-zagging between these “territories”, where they are made welcome and feel safe amongst the inhabitants, and venturing out into dangerous new realms, such as the Fleta, or that ruled by the terrible King of Marshelsia, where danger and destruction lurk at every turn.

While we can (with expert help) make sense of the bulk of Head’s writing, the purpose of the object to which his pamphlet owes its name is less evident. The “floating island” encountered by Owe-much and his men, Called the Summer Island, or Scoti Moria, is situated in the middle of Golpho de Thame-Isis: the Christian-shore lying to the Norward, and the Turkish-shore to the Southward. This strange land mass appears only in the warmer months, when it becomes the site of a mysterious female ritual, its only means of ingress being, For the more convenient reception of the Christian and Barbarian Amazons, who in the Summer time constantly repair thither, to meet with their Bully-Huffs and Hectors to generate withall. Owe-much makes the acquaintance of one of the “Christian Amazons”, who turns out to be a native of Westmonasteria, a region that, Lyeth to the Westward of Pallatium Regale, which place is too splendent for common eyes to behold, and too virtuous for vulgar breath to prophane. An extended satire on the less-than-virtuous habits of the “Westmonasterians” follows.

Matthew Steggle points out in his article that the emphemeral floating island, which travelled across or even above the surface of the sea, was a potent symbol in these troubled and uncertain times, and had been throughout the 17th century. In 1636, a play called The Floating Island: A Tragi-Comedy, by William Strode, was performed at Oxford University by the students of Christchurch for Charles I and Henrietta Maria; the play was finally published in 1655. Various other works make use of this symbol, which became particularly popular in the period following the financial disaster known as “the South Sea Bubble”. Evidently, none of the emblematic potency of this idea was lost over the succeeding 150 years: Jules Verne eventually used it as the basis for his satire of “the Gilded Age”, The Floating Island: The Pearl Of The Pacific, published in 1895.

Steggle points out a few other things about The Floating Island, too – one of which probably tells us everything about its author that we need to know: namely, that significant portions of it were plagiarised. The source of these passages, which Richard Head barely bothered to alter, was a collection of essays called The Art Of Thriving, published by Thomas Powell in 1636, and in particular the 1623 tract, The Mysterie of Lending and Borrowing. There, we hear of an expedition undertaken by one “Oliver Owe-Much”. Oliver’s ships carry exactly the same designations as his descendant’s do, but he does journey from Ram Alley to Lambeth, instead of the other way around.

It seems that in some academic circles, Head’s plagiarisms are too well-known to attract much attention, or even criticism: the tone of Steggle’s paper is more resigned than outraged; and he moves on to make a cogent point about Head’s “borrowing”, the fact that in spite of England having suffered the upheaval of the execution of a king, a civil war, a Protectorate and the Restoration, the pinched passages, dealing with the unhappy lives of debtors and their necessary manoeuvrings, were still just as valid in 1673 as they were in 1623 – as indeed was London’s geography, even after the Great Fire, a reference to which is almost Head’s only updating of his stolen material.

The Floating Island, like much of the financially desperate writing of the time, is a strange hodge-podge of content, sometimes entertaining, sometimes baffling, sometimes crude, sometimes pointless – and then it just stops. I was, I confess, amused to find within it several versions of that eternal legal joke, Who’s to blame? – “…whereupon Jasper had like to have slain Theophilus, which when Edward espied, he made it appear to both Luke and to Francis, that Rowland was the cause of the falling out…” However, I see no reason – no inherent reason – why this should be the one amongst all Richard Head’s pamphlets to be reprinted and propagated (and made available as a free eBook*); but then it isn’t about inherent reasons, is it? I know little more about this than I do about “Lambethana” and “Ramallia”, but my understanding is that, mystifyingly enough, Captain Robert Owe-much is one of the minor players in the world of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where he is celebrated for his discovery of Scoti Moria. I can only suppose that Alan Moore’s research, while impressive, didn’t go far enough to unearth the tales of Robert’s ancestor, Oliver, to whom Robert himself owed so much.

[*For which I’m actually very grateful. Part of my irritation with Sony was that, as with the delay over kicking off the blog properly by refusing to move on from The Love-Letters Of A Portuguese Nun, I’d made up my mind that my eReader’s baptism was going to be The Floating Island and was too stubborn to just read it in PDF instead while I was waiting. Besides…the thought of using this piece of 21st century technology to read an obscure pamphlet from 1673 made my brain melt in the nicest way.]