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Sunday, June 17, 2018

W.S. Gilbert's Mikado: Admiral Byng was on George II’s “little list”, and his punishment didn’t fit the “crime”!


Several days ago, I wrote my second Admiral Byng post… http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2018/06/binh-goh-uncle-toby-siege-of-namur-atom.html  …about the outcry in the aftermath of the execution of the scapegoated Admiral Byng for alleged “cowardice” in failing to “do his utmost” to relieve the Siege of Minorca during the Seven Days’ War. That outcry included, as I’ve now shown, overt or thinly veiled critical reactions by a list of no less than five literary luminaries: Voltaire in Candide; Samuel Johnson in various writings; Laurence Sterne (in Tristram Shandy); Tobias Smollett in Adventures of an Atom); and Jane Austen in Persuasion.

In the next two days, I’ll finally deliver on my promise to write another post in which I’ll greatly expand on the scope of the allusion to the Byng execution that I see Jane Austen having woven into the subtext of her final novel, Persuasion, including showing how Austen’s allusion to Byng includes both Tristram Shandy and one of Shakespeare’s plays as well.

In the interim, I follow up today to expand on a brief teaser in my previous post about “the (to my mind, obvious) allusion by W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame) to Smollett’s Atom, when Gilbert wrote the libretto for The Mikado more than a century after Smollett wrote his novella. The parallels are overwhelming, most of all with the faux Japanese names that poke sharp fun at the real life English rulers they represent…”

Here goes. As far as I can tell, after diligent online research, no other scholar has ever suggested that W.S. Gilbert, in his 1884 libretto for The Mikado, intentionally alluded to Tobias Smollett’s 1769 novella, Adventures of an Atom; let alone that such allusion to Atom by Gilbert had as perhaps its primary purpose and subtexts, that very same “unjust execution of Admiral Byng” which, as I laid out in detail in my previous post, is a clear subtext of Smollett’s novella.

I first suspected Gilbert’s allusion to Smollett’s Atom as I was composing my punny Subject Line for my previous post:    “Binh-goh! Uncle Toby, Siege of Namur & the Atom as Touchstones of Sterne/ Smollett’s Admiral Byng!”  It was at the instant of writing “Binh-goh!” that my mind traveled back a half century, to when my 7th grade class staged The Mikado for the rest of our school. The Mikado was, I now know, the most successful of all the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas; but at age 13 I had never heard of it. As a member of the stage crew, I watched many rehearsals, as well as the final performance-- and what stood out most in my memory were all the “Japonified” names of the characters, such as Nanki-Poo, Yum-Yum, Ko-Ko, etc., even as I have not seen another performance of The Mikado since then.

Fresh from writing my last post about Smollett’s Atom which also had that same sort of absurd Japanese character naming, I wondered if Gilbert might’ve had Smollett on the brain? So I Googled and searched the usual databases, and I found first that Jeremy Lewis, in his 2003 bio of Smollett, noted as part of his summary of Atom that “the story is set in 'Niphon', an imaginary Japan at war with China, and the characters are provided with pseudo-Japanese names, reminiscent of those used later in The Mikado.”

I also found a much more interesting snippet by a Berkeley prof named Grace Lavery from only a few years ago, which not only recognized that naming similarity, but also analyzed it incisively; although Lavery didn’t go so far as to argue that the character-name parallels were intentional or meaningful:

“Smollett’s The History and Adventures of an Atom offers both an early example of comic writing about Japan and an example of what The Mikado might look like if it were unambiguously a satire of English political culture. A picaresque it-narrative told by a roguish atom to an amanuensis named Nathaniel Peacock, the novel describes a trip around Japan, comprising a number of eccentric ‘political anecdotes’. Like those in The Mikado, the Japanese politicians described are variously ruthless, stupid, and pedantic and given to pointless arguments—though, written at the highwater mark of English picaresque, the jokes are much bawdier than Gilbert’s, and the narrative involves a punishingly detailed series of ass-kissing scenes, both literal and figurative. Characters’ names, too, share with “Nanki-Poo” and “Pooh-Bah” a queasily euphemistic anality: “Nin-kom-poo-po,” “Fika-kaka,” “Sti-phi-rum-poo.” Yet the most striking difference from The Mikado is that Adventures of an Atom rests on a tight allegorical correspondence between its characters and the British political figures it has set out to describe in the service of a critique of the Seven Years’ War of 1754–1763…” END QUOTE FROM LAVERY

I’ll argue, below, that the similarities first spotted by Lewis and then discussed by Lavery were not only intentional, they were also meaningful, on Gilbert’s part. I’ve concluded that Gilbert intended thereby to point in-on-the-joke readers not only to Smollett’s novella Atom, but more importantly, to the execution of Admiral Byng, the very one which Smollett himself pointed to more than a century earlier.

For starters, it’s well known to Gilbert scholars that Smollett was one of Gilbert’s favorite authors. Now, look at how closely Gilbert mirrored Smollett’s names – this is way way beyond being “reminiscent”:

Gilbert turned “Nin-Kom-Poo-Po” into “Nanki-Poo”; and
Gilbert turned “Cuboy” into “Pooh-Bah”; and
Gilbert turned “Fika-kaka” into “Ko-Ko”; and finally,
Gilbert turned “Pish” into “Pish-Tush”.

Even if I were to stop right here, do you agree that I’ve already made a prima facie case that Gilbert deliberately echoed Smollett’s Atom?

[Before I go further, having making my point about Gilbert’s transformed character names, I want to bring to your attention the strong critique of racial stereotyping in The Mikado, as well-explained in these excerpts from “The Mikado: History and Satire as Scapegoat for Yellowface” by Khaleesi:  http://casting.web.unc.edu/2017/10/the-mikado-yellowface/  
 The Mikado’s…chief aesthetic characterization comes from its fictionalized Japanese setting and the racialized caricatures that its cast embody, most often in yellowface…[one of] the play’s problematic aspects through its history…In 19th century England, there was not an abundance of Asian actors available (nor were casting directors much concerned with such casting practices) so the entire production instead relied heavily on stereotypical visual trappings of Orientalism (…fans, kimono) as well as on yellowface. This went uncontested in Europe and the U.S…
The Mikado is, even in modern productions, also steeped in racial language, from Japon-esque gibberish (…Pooh-Bah and Yum-Yum) to mockingly high-pitched accents…the previously-mentioned excuse of the racial caricature as a veil for the satirical. If The Mikado is distinctly about the English, then the ‘Japanese’ setting remains fantastical and is thus detached from any meaning….Some of the first publicized protests of The Mikado began in 1990… Performances around the country have drawn criticism and protests in recent years, including in NYC (2004), L.A. (2007 & 2009), Boston (2007), Austin (2011), Denver (2013), & Seattle (2014)….The Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s 2014 production of The Mikado features a near all-white cast …occupying the production’s 40 roles in yellowface. Considering Seattle’s racial demographics (Asians …constituting 13.8% of the city’s population…), the lack of Asian representation coupled with the use of yellowface is especially flagrant, and certainly did not go unnoticed.
…one central thread retains continuity in arguments from both the pro-Mikado and anti-Mikado camps respectively—the idea that The Mikado is about Britain and not about Japan. In other words, that the actual intellectual weight of the work is separate from its Orientalist overtones. This piece of rhetoric leads one to wonder, if detached from its racist settings and characters, is it still able to carry the same intellectual message? Would the piece be liberated by the removal of its problematic surface?...Without the racial fantasy, there is no metaphor, no guise for the “British-ness” to hide behind. There is no play. …The Mikadoas a production to which race is intrinsic, must explicitly face questions of racial representation, racial performance, and privilege, and has failed to thus far.” 
END QUOTE FROM KHALEESI BLOG POST]

Not for a moment, then, forgetting that The Mikado was an imperfect product of its racist era, I’ll now return to presenting the evidence I’ve gathered that makes me so certain that Gilbert, in a more worthy mode, meant to repeatedly but subliminally parody, and thereby critique, the execution of Admiral Byng, for which he had the model of Smollett’s parody thereof in Atom. To borrow one of The Mikado‘s most memorable lines, “I’ve got a little list”—actually not so little-- of reasons why I am so certain:

FIRST: The previously mentioned character-name echoing between Atom and The Mikado;

SECOND: Prior to writing The Mikado, Gilbert wrote not one but two successful, and today still famous, operettas which have English sailors as its lead characters: HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance; Gilbert’s father was initially a naval surgeon; and in HMS Pinafore, all the action takes place on a ship is at anchor off Portsmouth -- and it was a famous historical fact that Admiral Byng was executed on a ship at anchor off Portsmouth! Just coincidence? I don’t think so!

THIRD (closely related to SECOND): Despite the fact that the action of The Mikado takes place on land, and its cast has no sailors, the famous opening musical number of The Mikado is, inexplicably, “a song of the sea”:

NANKI-POO:
A wandering minstrel I –
A thing of shreds and patches,
Of ballads, songs and snatches,
And dreamy lullaby!
Our warriors, in serried ranks assembled,
Never quail – or they conceal it if they do –
And I shouldn’t be surprised if nations trembled
Before the mighty troops of Titipu!
CHORUS: We shouldnt be surprised, etc.
NANKI-POO:
And if you call for a song of the sea,
We’ll heave the capstan round,
With a yeo heave ho, for the wind is free,
Her anchor’s a-trip and her helm’s a-lee,
Hurrah for the homeward bound!
CHORUS. Yeo-ho – heave-ho – Hurrah for the homeward bound!
NANK.
To lay aloft in a howling breeze
May tickle a landsman’s taste,
But the happiest hour a sailor sees
Is when he’s down
At an inland town,
With his Nancy on his knees, yeo-ho!
And his arm around her waist!
CHORUS.
Then man the capstan – off we go,
As the fiddler swings us round,
With a yeo heave ho,
And a rumbelow,
Hurrah for the homeward bound!

Note also that Nanki-Poo asserts that Japan’s warriors “never quail”, which just happens to coincide with “cowardice” having been the most scurrilous and damaging charge against Admiral Byng!

And speaking of courage, look at these lyrics sung by Pish-Tush, also in Act One:

PISH-TUSH: “criminals who are cut in two can hardly feel the fatal steel, and so are slain without much pain. If this is true, it’s jolly for you; your courage screw to bid us adieu, and go and show both friend and foe how much you dare.”

These lines stop being funny, when we recall that Admiral Byng, the scapegoated “criminal”, faced his execution with extraordinary courage.

And speaking of Admiral Byng’s courage….

FIFTH: The Mikado being a comedy and not a tragedy, of course Nanki-Poo is not executed, mainly and ironically because Ko-Ko is too afraid to behead him! And this is, I suggest, Gilbert pointing to the fact widely publicized after his execution, that Admiral Byng was at his most courageous in his last moments of life, as he faced execution -- even so far as his being willing to wear a handkerchief over his face – not for his own benefit, but to make it easier for the queasy shooters to shoot him at point blank range!

And I believe I am spot-on in asserting that WS Gilbert had that historical factoid very specifically in mind when, at the end of Act Two, Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah, and Pitti are scrambling to explain to the Mikado why they executed the Mikado’s son, Nanki-Poo (when actually they had only lied about executing him, but couldn’t say that –yes, it’s typical madcap G&S plotting), we read this curious bit of dialog:

POOH-BAH. No, of course we couldn’t tell who the gentleman really was.
PITTISING. It wasn’t written on his forehead, you know.
KO-KO. It might have been on his pocket-handkerchief, but Japanese don’t use pocket-handkerchiefs! Ha! ha! ha!
MIKADO. Ha! ha! ha!

That laughter, I suggest, is really W.S. Gilbert’s laughter – but he’s not happy as he laughs, because he reminds us that it is indeed the English gentleman Admiral Byng who used a pocket handkerchief to hide his face – Gilbert finds the absurdity in this tragedy, which is to suggest that those shooting him would therefore have not known his identity!

SIXTH: There are two sly references by Pooh-Bah in The Mikado to Smollett’s hero, Atom:

POOH-BAH: …I am, in point of fact, a particularly haughty and exclusive person, of pre-Adamite ancestral descent. You will understand this when I tell you that I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial ATOMIC globule.

&

POOH-BAH: (aside to KO-KO). Well, I shan’t mean it. (With a great effort.) How de do, little girls, how de do? (Aside.) Oh, my protoplasmal ancestor!
KO. That’s very good. (Girls indulge in suppressed laughter.)

SEVENTH: One of Ko-Ko’s multiple positions in the governance of Titipu is that of “Lord High Admiral”, even though, again, there is nothing in the operetta to suggest that Ko-Ko, in the village of Titipu, is in command of any ships at all! However, I suspect that W.S. Gilbert was once again winking at Admiral Byng, who had not one but two “Lord High Admirals” at both ends, so to speak, of his life:

First, his own father, who had once been Lord High Admiral as well as a great naval hero, and who of course was one of the two persons who brought him into the world;

Second, the Lord High Admiral, George Anson, who bore an implacable hostility toward Byng, and  was right there at King George II’s side, doing everything possible to scapegoat Byng, and get him executed as soon as possible, ushering him out of the world.

To put it another way, Byng was clearly on the Lord High Admiral’s and the “Mikado’s” (i.e., the King’s) little list (or should I say, the King’s little Navy List (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navy_List ) of potential victims whom Gilbert had in mind when he wrote these memorable, acidly satirical lyrics:

KO-KO:
As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed – who never would be missed!
[…]
And that singular anomaly, the lady novelist
I don’t think she’d be missed – I’m sure she’d not be missed!
CHORUS. He’s got her on they list – he’s got her on the list;
And I don’t think she’ll be missed – I’m sure she’ll not be missed!

And, by the way, I wonder if “that singular anomaly, the lady novelist” might be Gilbert slyly referring to “the lady novelist” who, as I’ve been saying in this thread of posts, alluded to Admiral Byng in Persuasion – i.e., Jane Austen!! More on that in my next post!

EIGHTH: Perhaps most compelling of the reasons why I am certain Gilbert alluded to Atom/Byng, is that the driving force of the plot of The Mikado is the capricious, arbitrary edict by the Mikado (and by the way, a “Meckaddo” is also mentioned in Atom!) demanding an execution:

KO-KO: …A letter from the Mikado! What in the world can he have to say to me? (Reads letter.) Ah, here it is at last! I thought it would come sooner or later! The Mikado is struck by the fact that no executions have taken place in Titipu for a year, and decrees that unless somebody is beheaded within one month the post of Lord High Executioner shall be abolished, and the city reduced to the rank of a village!

So Ko-Ko must execute someone –anyone, it doesn’t matter who!- or else he will be out of one of his jobs! The problem is, though, that Ko-Ko is afraid to do the deed! That’s when Nanki-Poo happens to wander by, contemplating suicide over what seems to be unrequitable love for Yum-Yum:

KO-KO. Is it absolutely certain that you are resolved to die?   NANK. Absolutely!
KO-KO. Will nothing shake your resolution?    NANK. Nothing.
KO-KO. Threats, entreaties, prayers – all useless?   NANK. All! My mind is made up.
KO-KO. Then, if you really mean what you say, and if you are absolutely resolved to die, and if nothing whatever will shake your determination – don’t spoil yourself by committing suicide, but be beheaded handsomely at the hands of the Public Executioner!

A bit more brainstorming, and Nanki-Poo then gives Ko-Ko a “perfect” solution – he will volunteer to be the arbitrary victim of a beheading, provided he first gets to be married to Yum-Yum for one month.

Think about the obvious satirical parallel here to the arbitrary (and cynical) motives behind the King’s demand for execution of Admiral Byng. As I’ve outlined in my prior two posts about him, the general consensus of historians is that Byng was a scapegoat for English naval failure -- a slab of raw red meat flung to a bloodthirsty rabble. That rabble was making the King and his governmental toadies feel pretty insecure; and so the mob’s anger was deliberately diverted onto Admiral Byng, and then stoked up by the King’s propaganda machine.

In other words, I believe Gilbert was parodying the tragic absurdity of Admiral Byng being selected to make an “encouraging” example to other British admirals, by presenting the comic absurdities of how Nanki-Poo comes to agree to be executed by the Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko. Nanki-Poo may have been willing to die, but Nanki-Poo is not real – Gilbert also surely knew that the real Admiral Byng pulled out all the stops asking for clemency in his trial; but all, cruelly, to no avail – no fictional deus ex mikado, if you will, popped up to save him, like the solution that the desperate Ko-Ko comes up with when his own life is politely threatened by the Mikado:

KO-KO: … (To Mikado.) It’s like this: When your Majesty says, ‘Let a thing be done,’ it’s as good as done – practically, it is done – because your Majesty’s will is law. Your Majesty says, ‘Kill a gentleman,’ and a gentleman is told off to be killed. Consequently, that gentleman is as good as dead – practically, he is dead – and if he is dead, why not say so?
MIKADO: I see. Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory!

This is bitter satire indeed, since the clear situation with Byng was that he was a scapegoat – i.e., guilt was irrelevant. Gilbert’s words drip acid as he says, in effect, that King George II and his Lord High Admiral (and, in effect, executioner!) Anson could have just said Byng was dead. And since the King is like a god, wouldn’t that have been enough?

Now, I claim no expertise whatsoever in British history in the 1880’s, but if anyone reading this post does possess it, was there anything that happened between, say, 1860 and 1885 that Gilbert might also have had in mind—some similar act of cruel, arbitrary power by the British government – which he might also have been skewering, via his above eight “winks” at Admiral Byng? I’d love to hear about it if there was!

Anyway, in the end, Gilbert gets in one final satirical dig at George II, when the “humane” Mikado pats himself on the back with this ode to self-blindness:

My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time
To let the punishment fit the crime –
The punishment fit the, crime;
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment!

As Gilbert wished the world to know, if ever a punishment did NOT fit the crime, that was the case with Admiral Byng! And that is the perfect moment to end my little list, and this post along with it!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, June 15, 2018

"In vain have I struggled…for self-controul?”: Darcy’s “tender” offer, & Austen tempting bugle-band


This afternoon, I had the special semi-annual pleasure of beginning to browse in a brand new issue of an issue of a JASNA Persuasions –because it’s June, that means the print Persuasion (although it's not yet available to JASNA members in ebook form at the JASNA website, that should happen soon). 

On the fifth page of the second article (written by Peter Sabor about Jane Austen's and the books in the Godmersham library), I read Sabor’s discussion of one of those Godmersham library books:

"In her next extant letter to Cassandra, of 11-12 October 1813, Austen makes a well-known observation about rereading Mary Brunton's three-volume novel Self-Control (1811):  
‘I am looking over Self Control again & my opinion is confirmed of its being an excellently-meant, elegantly-written Work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it. I declare I do not know whether Laura’s passage down the American River, is not the most natural, possible, every-day thing she ever does.‘
….Intriguingly, Austen had also written to Cassandra about Self Control on April, 1811, when Cassandra was staying at Godmersham Park:
‘We have tried to get Self-controul, but in vain—I should like to know what [Mrs. Knight’s] Estimate is but am always half afraid of finding a clever novel too clever --- & of finding my own story & my own people all forestalled.’
The remark suggests, with mock-concern, that Brunton, three years younger and also publishing her first novel, might have scooped Austen, whose S&S would not appear until the end of October. In a missing letter of April 1811 to which Austen is replying, Cassandra had evidently mentioned that Catherine Knight was reading Self Control at Godmersham. Now, over two years later, Jane Austen had found the novel in a third edition on the shelves of the Godmersham library, where she could relish its absurdities alone, mistress of all she surveyed.”  END QUOTE FROM SABOR ARTICLE

Peter Sabor is a thorough and knowledgeable Austen scholar, who, however, rarely ventures far from the safe confines of Austen scholarly orthodoxy. In this instance, I believe Sabor did take a small but laudable leap, in asserting that Austen wrote with “mock concern” about novelistic competition from Brunton. You might be surprised to know that most Austen scholars have missed the “mock” part. However, I find other, deeper absurdities hidden by JA beneath the lines in the above-quoted passage from her April 1811 letter, than were dreamt of in Peter’s essentially mainstream philosophy of Austenian writing.

After reading Sabor’s comments, I was about to explain what else I saw in JA’s April 1811 letter, when I checked to see whether I had already done so in the past --- and sure enough, here’s what I wrote 6+ years ago in Janeites, which I had forgotten entirely in the interim:

“The above statement clearly refers to Brunton's novel, Self-Control, which was published not long before JA wrote Letter 72. However, I can't help smiling as I read JA writing "We have tried to get SelfControul,
 but in vain", because I think JA, who wrote so many deliberately ambiguous sentences during her life, was not only reporting on her difficulty (which may or may not have actually occurred) in obtaining a copy of Brunton's new novel.

No, I believe that as JA wrote ostensibly about Brunton's novel, she also seized the satirical moment, and decided to have a bit of fun as well in this sentence, playfully suggesting a strong but ultimately unsuccessful struggle on the part of JA and (her famously and fearlessly transgressive) sister-in-law Eliza, to gain control over themselves. In other words, Jane is subjecting country-mouse Cassandra to some gentle teasing, conjuring up the notion of JA herself, writing from the ‘vortex of dissipation and vice’ while in the dangerously disinhibiting company of the temptress Eliza, going a little crazy with all the freedom and temptations of the big city…which could be what Cassandra is a little worried about.
And....I further suggest that this was a turn of phrase JA might already, in 1811, have written in her manuscript of P&P, about another struggle to keep self control in the face of overpowering temptation:
"In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

But then, after that bit of fun, JA immediately reverts back to the subject of Brunton's novel, but only, I believe, in order to have some more satirical fun:
"I should like to know what her Estimate is-but am always half afraid of finding a clever novel too clever-& of finding my own story and my own people all forestalled."

Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that "Estimate" is used by JA in a meaning which is today archaic, such that I think what JA is saying, in 21st century words, is "I want to read some reviews of Brunton's novel, to see if they are positive". That would fit with the rest of JA's paragraph, which is about worrying that Brunton's novel will be too good. And so I completely disagree with any interpretation of the above which takes JA as expressing genuine sincere insecurity about some other writer stealing JA's fictional thunder. Stuff and nonsense! She no more was worried about Brunton (or any other novelist, such as Scott, about whom JA made a similar mock-concerned comment in another letter) beating JA to the fictional punch than she was that she was (supposedly) not up to the task of writing manly sketches like her nephew, or writing great historical romances like Clarke asked her to write…When it came to writing, JA did not struggle in vain to control any tendencies toward bad writing. On the contrary, her novels, like Mozart's mature music, are the epitome of a controlled and synergistic balance of imagination and realism.”  END QUOTE FROM MY 2012 POST

As I revisit my 2012 point today, I find, as often occurs in revisiting old posts, that there is even more ore to be mined from comparing Austen’s “in vain” line in her April 1811 letter to her “in vain” line in P&P.

Specifically, I missed the mark slightly, when I wrote the following snippet:

“Jane is subjecting country-mouse Cassandra to some gentle teasing, conjuring up the notion of JA herself, writing from the ‘vortex of dissipation and vice’ while in the dangerously disinhibiting company of the temptress Eliza, going a little crazy with all the freedom and temptations of the big city…which could be what Cassandra is a little worried about…”

This time around, in 2018, I thought to look at what JA wrote in Letter 72 right before she wrote about Mrs. Knight, and found a very specific reason for her trying for “self-controul”:

“…I do not mean to provide another trimming for my pelisse, for I am determined to spend no more money; so I shall wear it as it is, longer than I ought, and then—I do not know. My head-dress was a bugle-band like the border to my gown, and a flower of Mrs. Tilson’s. I depended upon hearing something of the evening from Mr. W. K., and am very well satisfied with his notice of me—‘ A pleasing-looking young woman’—that must do; one cannot pretend to anything better now; thankful to have it continued a few years longer!”

Note these telling phrases:
“I do not mean….I am determined to spend no more money…and then—I do not know…” 

Is it not perfectly clear from this context, that the “self-controul” Jane Austen, seemingly playfully, claimed to “try to get” “in vain” was not to refrain from unladylike London revels, but, more mundanely,  to stop spending money on fine clothes in London shops!

With that more specific interpretation in hand, does that tell us anything different about why Jane Austen might have written so similar a description of Darcy’s struggles, desperately searching for self-control in the face of the overwhelming temptation that Elizabeth, however inadvertently, presents to him?:

“He sat down for a few moments, and then getting up, walked about the room. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. After a silence of several minutes, he came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began:
“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

It might seem at first that JA used such similar language in these dissimilar situations, because the line in Letter 72 would then represent the kind of expectation-deflating irony, of which she was a great mistress: like her own Eliza Bennet, JA dearly loved a laugh; and this would’ve been a joke improvised by JA as she wrote the letter --- inspired to make a zany, Monty Python-esque connection between her London clothes shopping, on the one hand, and Mrs. Knight having expressed an opinion about Brunton’s popular novel, on the other. Peals of laughter, perhaps, then on to the next paragraph of news from London.

That would’ve been an injoke for Cassandra’s enjoyment, in a very similar vein as the humor behind Mrs. Allen’s deadpan fashionista reaction to Catherine Morland’s frantic pleas to substantiate Catherine’s excuses for not being around when Henry and Eleanor had called for her as planned:
“Oh! Mr. Tilney, I have been quite wild to speak to you, and make my apologies. You must have thought me so rude; but indeed it was not my own fault, was it, Mrs. Allen? Did not they tell me that Mr. Tilney and his sister were gone out in a phaeton together? And then what could I do? But I had ten thousand times rather have been with you; now had not I, Mrs. Allen?”
“My dear, you tumble my gown,” was Mrs. Allen's reply.

But, today, viewing all of the above through the lens of what I’ve figured out about the shadows of P&P in the past 6+ years, I now see a very serious and compelling explanation for why Jane Austen would have consciously written these echoes between two of her writings which on the surface might seem wholly unconnected. The key lies in a pun on “in vain” and “in vanity” which I first wrote about in 2015:

[Most relevant excerpt] “....it is a devastatingly revealing Freudian slip for Darcy to use the phrase "In vain" when "In VANITY" is what his unconscious mind is confessing in the same breath! I.e., from the immediately following narration summarizing Darcy’s statements in support of his outburst, we learn, as Elizabeth does, that Darcy's struggles have very much been the product of his own vanity, in that he assumes that Elizabeth will just say yes to his proposal. So this wonderfully apt but totally unintentional pun on his part, provokes an ironic smile from the reader, as we read that “he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority--of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit…. As he said this, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security. Such a circumstance could only exasperate farther…”
As Ecclesiastes 1 tells us: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
And Elizabeth, with her quickness on her feet, immediately takes advantage of Darcy’s unintentional revelation of his arrogant vanity, when she rejects him, and then adds, “The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation." 
In other words, she takes his unintentional revelation of his own vain certainty that she would accept him, and twists it to her own rhetorical advantage, by in effect saying, “You’re so vain in your feelings of superiority toward lowly me, that you can’t possibly be upset by a lowly nobody like me saying no.” “
END QUOTE FROM MY 2015 POST

So, behind the superficial appearance of a joke, I see two serious, related veiled meanings:

First, women being interested in clothes in JA’s era was not a joking matter in many instances. For every Mrs. Allen, who lived to shop, and the wannabe Lydia Bennet, Jane Austen knew well that clothing was a serious concern of any gentlewoman of that era, and not merely a matter of female vanity, of the kind criticized by Mary Wollstonecraft in her Vindication. Rather, to be “pleasing looking” was an economic necessity for any single woman in want of a husband; and yet, the Catch-22 for single women like Jane Austen, was that they often had little or no money to spend on achieving that pleasing appearance!

Now, as those who follow my blogging know, I believe that Jane Austen, as she wrote Letter 72, was not in the slightest bit interested in getting a husband --- but she still wanted to look fine – perhaps to female eyes which might observe her  -- and so, behind the surface of a joke, I see a serious averral by JA of her normal desire to look good – and in particular –and this is true of men as much as of women -- to look young as long as possible –not out of “vanity” so much as a healthy desire to have a pleasing appearance.

So far so good, but the even more serious meaning I see in the echoing of P&P in Letter 72 is that we may fruitfully view Darcy’s botched first proposal as a reflection of his having, since childhood, viewed women as having no more personal autonomy than inanimate articles of clothing -- commodities which could be purchased by men of financial means in the “meat market” of Regency Era courtship culture!

And, as I recently posted in my demonstration of Hamlet-Ophelia subtext behind Darcy-Eliza, the notion of Darcy believing that Elizabeth has been coming on to him sexually from the start, fits like a glove (so to speak) with his also seeing her as woman “clothing” to be bought. In effect, Darcy is as astonished at being rebuffed by Elizabeth, as he would have been had a shopkeeper in a fancy London store refused to sell him a cravat which was advertised with a big sign in the window as being on special sale!

No wonder, then, that Darcy struggled to exert “self-controul” “in vain” and “in vanity”! And no wonder that Austen’s sly narrator, as she describes Darcy’s proposal, writes “he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride.”  “Tenderness”, get it? That’s a pun on “tender”, as in legal tender, i.e., the coin of the realm that Darcy laid down to buy commodities he wanted.

So, Darcy, in effect, believed he was being cheated in a business transaction – which will come as no surprise at all to those suspicious readers of Austen’s “romances” who agree with W.H. Auden:

You could not shock her more than she shocks me,
Beside her, Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle class
Describe the amorous effects of ‘brass’,
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society.

In closing, this is just one more example of why I find revisiting these little “puzzles”, which Jane Austen left us in both her novels and in her letters, is so rarely “in vain”. Rather, it is while revisiting that these deeper connections emerge to my eyes for the first time from the shadows, and provide more and more validation of the integrity and consistency of feminism and social justice in every word she wrote.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Binh-goh! Uncle Toby, Siege of Namur & the Atom as Touchstones of Sterne's & Smollett’s Admiral Byng!


INTRODUCTION TO PART TWO: This post follows up on Part One: “Byng-Oh! Jane Austen’s complex web of ‘encouragement’ & allusion to martyred Admiral Byng” which I wrote 3 weeks ago: http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2018/05/byng-oh-jane-austens-complex-web-of.html . In it, I began with background about the tragic execution in 1757 of Admiral John Byng, who was the victim of cynical scapegoating by the highest levels of the English government, including the King, for alleged cowardice in naval command decisions during the Siege of Minorca during the Seven Years War. I also gave detail as to the present-day efforts by members of the Byng family to finally, officially clear his name.

I then went on to discuss the widely recognized contemporary allusions to the Byng execution by Voltaire in Candide and by Samuel Johnson in various ways; after which I extended Frank Bradbrook’s pioneering 1967 insight into what he saw (and I agreed!) Jane Austen as making an ironic, veiled allusion to the Byng execution, which she subtly coded into one of Sir Walter Elliot’s absurd speeches in her 1817 (and final) novel, Persuasion.

If the above very brief summary does not suffice, and you want full context for my new claims, below, you may wish to read through Part One before you go on. Today, I’ll present evidence showing two more contemporary literary allusions to the Byng execution: by Laurence Sterne in his far-ahead-of-its-time, absurdist masterpiece, Tristram Shandy, and by Tobias Smollett in his political allegory, Adventures of an Atom. As it turns out, these allusions intersect in various interesting ways with those by Voltaire and Johnson which I already addressed in Part One.

And, for even fuller context: within a few days I plan to present Part Three of this series, in which I’ll land the plane, and, building on Parts One and Two, finally show not only that the Austen family was indirectly connected to the Byng family, but also that Jane Austen’s allusion to Admiral Byng in Persuasion is, in my considered opinion, much more pervasive and thematically significant than Bradbrook (or even I, when I wrote Part One three weeks ago) dreamt of!

To wit: I see the ghost of the wronged Admiral Byng haunting the entirety of Persuasion, the way the ghost of King Hamlet haunts Hamlet. And, what’s more, it turns out that Austen’s allusion in Persuasion to Tristram Shandy, which I had previously caught glimpses of, is itself also pervasive – precisely, as I’ve now realized, because Austen, the brilliant reader of other literary works of genius, understood how Sterne wove his literary focus on Admiral Byng deep into his masterpiece, via the extraordinary  character of Uncle Toby, a character whom Austen scholars know that Austen knew well (as I’ll also explain in Part Three).

Jumping ahead for a moment, the essence and main theme of that global allusion by Austen to both the real life Admiral Byng, and to the fictional Uncle Toby, is, as I’ll show in Part Three, is -- what else?-- “courage”. You’ll see how Austen artfully transposed the realm of physical courage in battles of ships to that of personal courage in battles of the sexes.

That Austen, in a novel she wrote more than 60 years after Admiral Byng died, placed him in such a central allusive role, shows how long the literary outcry against that fatal injustice survived, in Jane Austen’s most naval novel, Persuasion. So I sincerely hope that my research will assist Thane Byng (who features prominently in Part One, and is, via Twitter, my contact in the Byng Family) in her/their worthy mission to vindicate the scapegoated Admiral 263 years after his death.

Now, with all that as prelude, on with the show.

MAIN DISCUSSION:  At the end of Part One, I wrote “at the center of that allusive matrix, I will also reveal the identity of yet another very famous work of 18th century literature by another famous English author, who engaged, as it turns out, on a massive, if covert, scale, with the memory of Admiral Byng, cut down so cruelly and unjustly in martyrdom for an alleged lack of courage which was not at all the case.”

As an opening salvo, then, here are the key passages in that very famous work, Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne, passages which all refer to the protagonist’s repeated references to his Uncle Toby’s famous, unfortunate groin injury (mirroring the injury suffered by his nephew Tristram from an ill-timed falling window) suffered at the Siege of Namur. As you read along, pay extra attention to the verbiage in italics—It will become clear to you why I selected these passages to show to you, when you read the remainder of this post.

1.21 “Yes, Madam, it was owing to a blow from a STONE, broke off by a ball from the parapet of a horn-work at THE SIEGE OF NAMUR, which struck full upon my Uncle Toby's groin.Which way could that effect it? The story of that, Madam, is long and interesting;—but it would be running my history all upon heaps to give it you here.—'Tis for an episode hereafter; and every circumstance relating to it, in its proper place, shall be faithfully laid before you:—'Till then, it is not in my power to give farther light into this matter, or say more than what I have said already…’ “

1.25: “The wound in my Uncle Toby's groin, which he received at THE SIEGE OF NAMUR, rendering him unfit for the service, it was thought expedient he should return to England, in order, if possible, to be set to rights. He was four years totally confined,—part of it to his bed, and all of it to his room: and in the course of his cure, which was all that time in hand, suffer'd unspeakable miseries…the great injury which it had done my Uncle Toby's groin, was more owing to the gravity of the stone itself, than to the projectile force of it,—which he would often tell him was a great happiness….”

1.26: “I have begun a new book, on purpose that I might have room enough to explain the nature of the perplexities in which my Uncle Toby was involved, from the many discourses and interrogations about THE SIEGE OF NAMUR, where he received his wound.
I must remind the reader, in case he has read the history of King William's wars,—but if he has not,—I then inform him, that one of the most memorable attacks in that siege, was that which was made by the English and Dutch upon the point of the advanced counterscarp, between the gate of St. Nicolas, which inclosed the great sluice or water-stop, where the English were terribly exposed to the shot of the counter-guard and demi-bastion of St. Roch: The issue of which hot dispute, in three words, was this; That the Dutch lodged themselves upon the counter-guard,—and that the English made themselves masters of the covered-way before St. Nicolas-gate, notwithstanding the gallantry of the French officers, who exposed themselves upon the glacis sword in hand.
As this was the principal attack of which my Uncle Toby was an eye-witness at NAMUR,—the army of the besiegers being cut off, by the confluence of the Maes and Sambre, from seeing much of each other's operations,—My Uncle Toby was generally more eloquent and particular in his account of it; and the many perplexities he was in, arose out of the almost insurmountable difficulties he found in telling his story intelligibly…What rendered the account of this affair the more intricate to my Uncle Toby, was this,—that in the attack of the counterscarp, before the gate of St. Nicolas, extending itself from the bank of the Maes, quite up to the great water-stop,—the ground was cut and cross cut with such a multitude of dykes, drains, rivulets, and sluices, on all sides,—and he would get so sadly bewildered, and set fast amongst them, that frequently he could neither get backwards or forwards to save his life; and was oft-times obliged to give up the attack upon that very account only.
These perplexing rebuffs gave my Uncle Toby Shandy more perturbations than you would imagine; and as my father's kindness to him was continually dragging up fresh friends and fresh enquirers,—he had but a very uneasy task of it.…My Uncle Toby could not philosophize upon it;—'twas enough he felt it was so,—and having sustained the pain and sorrows of it for three months together, he was resolved some way or other to extricate himself. He was one morning lying upon his back in his bed, the anguish and nature of the wound upon his groin suffering him to lie in no other position, when a thought came into his head, that if he could purchase such a thing, and have it pasted down upon a board, as A LARGE MAP of the fortification of the town and citadel of NAMUR, with its environs, it might be a means of giving him ease….”

1.37: With all my heart, replied my father, I don't care what they call you,—but I wish the whole science of fortification, with all its inventors, at the devil;—it has been the death of thousands,—and it will be mine in the end.—I would not, I would not, brother Toby, have my brains so full of saps, mines, blinds, gabions, pallisadoes, ravelins, half-moons, and such trumpery, to be proprietor of NAMUR, and of all the towns in Flanders with it.
My Uncle Toby was a man patient of injuries;—NOT FROM WANT OF COURAGE,—I have told you in a former chapter, 'that he was a man of COURAGE:'—And will add here, that where just occasions presented, or called it forth,—I know no man under whose arm I would have sooner taken shelter;—nor did this arise from any insensibility or obtuseness of his intellectual parts;—for he felt this insult of my father's as feelingly as a man could do;—but he was of a peaceful, placid nature,—no jarring element in it,—all was mixed up so kindly within him; MUT had scarce a heart to retaliate upon a fly.”
END OF QUOTES FROM BOOK 1 OF TRISTRAM SHANDY

So what, you say? How do all these references to the Siege of Namur, and the emphasis at one point on Uncle Toby being “a man of courage”, relate to Admiral Byng having been executed for cowardice after the Siege of Minorca?

It turns out that it has been recognized by several modern Tristam Shandy scholars, but is apparently unknown to historians expert in the Byng execution, and to members of the Byng family, that the above references to the Siege of Namur were Laurence Sterne’s code for the Siege of Minorca. How is this known to be so?

The publication of Tristram Shandy created such a sensation, that a flurry of pamphlets quickly appeared within a year or two afterwards, which picked up on the parodic, postmodern, risqué spirit of TS itself. One of those pamphlets, Explanatory Remarks by Dr. Kunastrokius, M.D. (who may have been Sterne himself---if you sound out the name of the good doctor, you’ll understand why), contained the following discussion of  Chapters 15-17 of Book 1 of Tristram Shandy, a section which refer several times to the Siege of Namur. Again, as before, pay particular attention to the all caps and italicized excerpts, and ESPECIALLY note the sentence in bold faced italics, and the connection made by Sterne between the two famous Sieges will become clear:

“In England, every coffee-house has its president, who harrangues the circle that catch his opinions, and support them in their different districts. ——
"Why, Sir, I repeat it, what have we to do with continental connections? — Are not our ships, our floating bulwarks, our only protection? — Could the king of —, in return for all the assistance we have given him, have made such a diversion as THE BRAVE CAPTAIN ELLIOT did, in St. George's channel?"
I say, Sir, would all the german princes put together, have defeated Thurot?
"Is not our trade, and our navigation, the subject of this war, — and what is our navigation to the inland parts of Germany?—trifling,—I repeat it very trifling. And yet neglect the herring fishery, — that Peruvian sea-mine! and scarce pay any attention to those elaborate and well digested schemes of the great Henriques!"
—— The learned, deep sighted, clear witted, eloquent president of ——— coffee-house, after having made this popular and sagacious harrangue — laid hold of my worthy friend Mr. Tristram Shandy, —
"Here, (says he) here is the man after my own heart, — whose political notions are as clear and self-evident as my own. — There is the TOUCHSTONE of public measures, — the whetstone of trade and navigation, and the grind-stone of malversation."
…17: It may be necessary to inform some of my readers, that we are not yet got out of — coffee-house, in — street:—No—here we are yet, as attentive as ever to Mr. Profound, (that is the gentleman's name in the black full bottom wig, and the green spectacles) who has by this time thrown down a dish of coffee in enforcing his argument upon the TOUCH-STONES, whet-stones, and grind-stones; taken two pinches of snuff, and opened Tristram Shandy exactly at page 135.
Oh excellent metaphor, cried Mr. Profound, (in extasy) worthy of the great pen from whence it flows! —"That good chear and hospitality flourish once more; — and that such weight and influence be put thereby into the hands of the squirality of my kingdom, as should counterpoise what I perceive my nobility are now taking from them."
Great—Great Tristram!...
What can he mean here, (resumed Mr. Profound) but pecuniary influence in elections, particularly in boroughs? and yet there is not one in a hundred takes it in that sense. I tell you, gentlemen, Tristram Shandy is one compleat system of modern politics, and that to understand him, there is as much occasion for a key, as there is for a catalogue to the Harleian library:
I own, that I should not myself have penetrated so far as I have, notwithstanding my great reading in works of this nature, if I had not had the opportunity of supping the other evening with the author, who let me into the whole affair. I advised him to publish a key, but he told me it was too dangerous.—What is the Siege of NAMUR, which he often mentions, but the Siege of Fort St. Philip's in Minorca?— or, the wound his uncle Toby received there but the distress the nation was thrown into thereupon? His application to the study of fortification, and the knowledge he therein gained, means nothing else but the rectitude and clear sightedness of the administration which afterwards took up the reins of government. This is a masterpiece of allegory, beyond all the poets of this or any period whatever…..”

The overarching point I want you to take away from the above quoted passages (in Sterne’s novel, and in “Dr. Kunastrokius’s” explanatory pamphlet), is that Uncle Toby’s groin injury suffered at the Siege of Namur is indeed Sterne’s code for Admiral Byng’s execution after the Siege of Minorca; and that Sterne goes out of his way to defend Uncle Toby’s “courage”.

What I’ll also be addressing in Part Three (which, as you see, will be pretty crowded!) is the literary reason why I italicized the references to “touchstones” –hint: it has to do with another famous literary character who waxes eloquent about courage – and I also bet some of you did guess why I put “the brave Captain Elliot” in all caps!

But now, let me move right along to the other contemporary literary allusion to the execution of Admiral Byng, which is found in the following quoted passage in The History and Adventures of an Atom, by Tobias Smollett, his short, 1769 political allegory, in which he transposes England to Japan in order to skewer the villains in the English government who scapegoated and then in effect murdered Admiral Byng:

“Fortune had not yet sufficiently humbled the pride of Japan. That body of Chinese which defeated Koan, made several conquests in Fatsissio, and seemed to be in a fair way of reducing the whole island. Yet the court of China, not satisfied with this success, resolved to strike a blow, that should be equally humiliating to the Japanese, in another part of the world. Having by special remonstrances already prepossessed all the neighboring nations against the government of Japan, as the patrons of perfidy and piracy, they fitted out an armament, which was intended to subdue the island of Montao, on the coast of Corea, which the Japanese had taken in a former war, and now occupied at a very great expense, as a place of the utmost importance to the commerce of the empire….
….The council being at last waked by the clamors of the people, who surrounded the palace, and proclaimed that Motao was in danger of an invasion ; the sea-sey-seo-gun, Ninkom-poo-po, was ordered to fit out a fleet of fune, for the relief of that island; and directions were given that the commander of these fune should, in his voyage, touch at the garrison of Foutao, and take on board from thence a certain number of troops, to reinforce the Japanese governor of the place that was in danger.
Nin-kom-poo-po for this service chose the commander BIHN-GOH, a man who had never signalized himself by any act of valor. He sent him out with a squadron of fune ILL-MANNED, WRETCHEDLY PROVIDED, AND INFERIOR IN NUMBER to the fleet of China, which was by this time known to be assembled, in order to support the invasion of the island of Motao. He sailed, nevertheless, on this expedition, and touched at the garrison of Foutao, to take in the reinforcement; but the orders sent for this purpose from Nob-od-i, minister for the department of war, appeared so contradictory and absurd, that they could not possibly be obeyed; so that BIHN-GOH proceeded without the reinforcement towards Motao, the principal fortress of which was by this time invested. He had been accidentally joined by a few cruisers, which rendered him equal in strength to the Chinese squadron, which he now descried. Both commanders seemed afraid of each other. The fleets however engaged; but little damage was done to either. They parted, as if by consent. BIHN-GOH made the best of his way back to Foutao, without making the least attempt to succor or open a communication with Fi-de-ta-da, the governor of Motao, who, looking upon himself as abandoned by his country, surrendered his fortress, with the whole island, to the Chinese general. These disgraces happening on the back of the Fatsissian disasters, raised a prodigious ferment in Japan, and the ministry had almost sunk under the first fury of the people's resentment. They not only exclaimed against the folly of the administration, but they also accused them of treachery; and seemed to think that the glory and advantage of the empire had been betrayed. What increased the commotion, was the terror of an invasion, with which the Chinese threatened the islands of Japan. The terrors of Fika-kaka had already cost him two pair of trunk hose, which were defiled by sudden sallies or irruptions from the postern of his microcosm; and these were attended with such noisome effluvia, that the bonzas could not perform the barbal abstersion without marks of abhorrence. The emperor himself was seen to stop his nose, and turn away his head, when he approached him to perform the pedestrian exercise….
In this general consternation, Foksi-roku stood up, and offered a scheme, which was immediately put in execution. "The multitude, my lords," said he, "is a many-headed monster--it is a Cerberus that must have a sop: it is a wild beast so ravenous, that nothing but blood will appease its appetite: it is a whale that must have a barrel for its amusement: it is a demon to which we must offer up human sacrifice. Now, the question is, who is to be this sop, this barrel, this scapegoat? Tremble not, illustrious Fika-kaka—be not afraid -your life is of too much consequence. But, I perceive that the cuboy is moved --an unsavory odour assails my nostrils—brief let me be—BIHN-GOH must be the victimhappy, if the sacrifice of his single life can appease the commotions of his country. To him let us impute the loss of Motao. Let us, in the mean time, soothe the rabble with solemn promises that national justice shall be done; let us employ emissaries to mingle in all places of plebeian resort; to puzzle, perplex, and prevaricate; to exaggerate the misconduct of BIHN-GOH; to traduce his character with retrospective reproach; strain circumstances to his prejudice ; inflame the resentment of the vulgar against that devoted officer ; and keep up the flame, by feeding it with continual fuel."
The speech was heard with universal applause: Foksi-roku was kicked by the dairo, and kissed by the cuboy in token of approbation. The populace were dispersed by means of fair promises. BIHN-GOH was put under arrest, and kept as a malefactor in close prison. Agents were employed through the whole metropolis, to vilify his character, and accuse him of cowardice and treachery. Authors were enlisted to defame him in public writings; and mobs hired to hang and burn him in effigy. By these means, the revenge of the people was artfully transferred, and their attention effectually diverted from the ministry, which was the first object of their indignation. At length matters being duly prepared for the exhibition of such an extraordinary spectacle, BIHN-GOH underwent a public trial, was unanimously found guilty, and unanimously declared innocent; by the same mouths condemned to death, and recommended to mercy; but mercy was incompatible with the designs of the administration. The unfortunate BIHN-GOH was crucified for cowardice, and bore his fate with the most heroic courage. His behavior at his death was so inconsistent with the crime for which he was doomed to die, that the emissaries of the cuboy were fain to propagate a report, that BIHN-GOH had bribed a person to represent him at his execution, and be crucified in his stead.”
END QUOTE FROM SMOLLETT

Now you know why I used “Binh-Goh” in my Subject Line (and why my mind was blown by the spooky coincidence that I used “Byng-Oh” in the Subject Line of Part One, even though at that time I wrote Part One, I had absolutely no idea about Smollett’s “Bihn-Goh”!).

[And now I find I have yet another blog post to write in the near future – about the (to my mind, obvious) allusion by Gilbert to Smollett’s Atom, when Gilbert wrote The Mikado more than a century after Smollett wrote his work. The parallels are overwhelming, most of all with the faux Japanese names that poke sharp fun at the real life English rulers they represent. So I look forward to finding out more about the satire of the late 19th century England government that Gilbert must have been writing via The Mikado, following in the footsteps of Smollett’s satire of 18th century England.]

But back to Admiral Byng, I’m not quite done with Part Two. It seems very clear that Smollett wrote his Atom after having read Tristram Shandy, written several years earlier. Perhaps Smollett felt that Sterne had been too coy in his “Siege of Namur” coding, and so he made it crystal clear that it was Admiral Byng he was defending. But, there may be good karma in Smollett being inspired by Sterne, given that I believe it highly likely that Smollett provided Sterne with inspiration to use the Siege of Namur as code for the Siege of Minorca.

How? Just check out the following passage in Smollett’s History of England, written not long after Byng was executed, and not long before Sterne wrote Tristram Shandy. The title is “The French take Namur in Sight of King William”, but wait till you get to Smollett’s final assessment of what happened.

“…Having reviewed his army, which amounted to about one hundred and twenty thousand men, [France’s King Louis] undertook the siege of Namur…The citadel was deemed one of the strongest forts in Flanders…The place was well supplied, and the governor knew that king William would make strong efforts for its relief, so that the besieged were animated with many concurring considerations. Notwithstanding these advantages, the assailants carried on their attacks with such vigour that in seven days after the trenches were opened, the town capitulated and the garrison retired into the citadel.”

So far so good, but now here’s where we read how King William at Namur, from a position of greater strength than Byng held at Minorca, failed to act, very much as Admiral Byng did -- but being King, he was never put on trial – and, in the “Bad History Repeats Itself” category, read the final sentence in particular, to see that another underling, the governor of besieged Namur, who took the fall instead of the King, who apparently could do no wrong!:

“King William, being joined by the troops of Brandenburgh and Liege, advanced to the Mehaigne at the head of one hundred thousand effective men, and encamped within cannon shot of Luxembourg’s army, which lay on the other side of the river. That general however had taken such precautions, that the king of England could not interrupt the siege nor attack the French lines without great disadvantage. The besiegers, ENCOURAGED by the presence of their monarch, and assisted by the superior abilities of Vauban their engineer, repeated their attacks with such impetuosity that the fort of Cohorn was surrendered after a very obstinate defence, in which he himself had been dangerously wounded. The citadel being thus left exposed to the approaches of the enemy, could not long withstand the violence of their operations; the two covered ways were taken by assault. On the twentieth of May the governor capitulated, to the unspeakable mortification of king William, who saw himself obliged to lie inactive at the head of a powerful army, and be an eye-witness of the loss of the most important fortress in the Netherlands. Louis having taken possession of the place, returned in triumph to Versailles, where he was flattered with all the arts of adulation; while William’s reputation suffered a little from his miscarriage, and the prince of Barbason incurred the suspicion of treachery or misconduct.”

And, as you can see from my putting “ENCOURAGED” in all caps, I wonder whether Voltaire, like Sterne, also read the above description of English regal hypocrisy, and borrowed that verb, and put it in Candide, to such everlasting ironic effect!

One last (scholarly irony). I should not have been the first scholar to connect all of the above dots.
In “The Eastern Tale and the Candid Reader in 18th Century Europe: Tristram Shandy, Candide, Rasselas”, RSEAA 17-18 67 (2010), Prof. Ros Ballaster began as follows:
“Voltaire’s Candide, Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas and the first two volumes of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy appeared in 1759. All three works pursue an agenda of practical scepticism. Textual allusions to the Mille et une Nuit inform the ambivalent pursuit of sceptical reading in these works.”

Later in that same article, Ballaster then wrote:
“Voltaire’s Candide sees the lady Cunegund and her mother raped and their bellies cut open…Candide’s Leibnizian tutor Pangloss is hanged…the lovely princess of Palestrina narrates the story of the excision of her left buttock as a sacrifice for the cannibalistic survival of 20 Moroccan Janissaries…South-American monkey-lovers who bite the buttocks of their mistresses…, the execution of an admiral at Portsmouth to encourage his fellow combatants to fight in chapter 23 (a reference to the execution of Admiral Byng for his failure to relieve the English garrison at Minorca against the French).
In the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy, we hear of Toby’s injury in his groin from a stone broken off by a cannonball from a parapet at the Siege of Namur, his corporal Trim’s wound in the left knee from a musket ball at the battle of Landen, while Tristram’s nose is damaged in his violent delivery to the distress of a father who theorises that the fineness of the human soul depends on the temperature and clearness of the liquor in the cerebellum requiring that the head not undergo severe compression in childbirth.”

Ballaster writes about Admiral Byng in the subtext of Candide in one sentence, and then about Uncle Toby at the Siege of Namur in the next sentence—but she did not realize that Admiral Byng was the subtext of Uncle Toby as well.  

And that provides a perfect moment to end Part Two, and promise that I’ll do my best to end the suspense created above, and deliver Part Three so that you’ll see how Jane Austen paid her respects to Admiral Byng in Persuasion!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter