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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Duty (and the Beauty) of the Day

"Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day"

Thank you very much, Diana, for pointing us to the above passage from P&P. You got me wondering whether there was a common usage of that phrase "duty of the day" in JA's era, so I consulted ECCO and Google Books and here is what I found:

There were NO usages during the entire 18th century (at least, usages searchable via those two separate databases) which used that phrase. That suggests to me that it was NOT a longstanding idiom with a clear meaning, when JA wrote P&P.

However, there were three usages which popped up during the early part of the 19th century, right around the time P&P was finalized and published, and here they are (I quote at length, partly to give sufficient context, but also because, if you're a Janeite nerd like myself, it's just interesting to read accounts of political, military and clerical subcultural goings-on from JA's time):


The 1812 Annual Register (edited by Edmund Burke--but not THE Edmund Burke), a chronicle of significant events, day by day, relating to history and politics, has the following entry (edited down by me to remove apparent extranea) for September 30, 1812 (this book was published sometime in 1813, probably shortly after Jan. 29, 1813, when JA wrote to CEA about lopping and cropping P&P):

"The ceremony of depositing in Whitehall chapel the eagles and colours heroically wrested from the French in Spain, took place this morning. Soon after nine o'clock, the 1st regiment of Guards, WHO WERE TO DO THE DUTY OF THE DAY, formed on the parade facing the Horse guards, with their right resting on the wall of the Treasury. On their left the 2d regiment formed, with side-arms only, their left terminating near the great gun. The 3d regiment, also, with sidearms only, formed with the Admiralty garden in their rear....Soon after ten o'clock, the Duchess of York arrived; her Majesty and the Princesses, in two carriages, soon followed, and were received by the troops with presented arms, the different bands playing " God save the king."...The Prince Regent, on a white charger, came from Carlton house, at half-past ten, accompanied by the Duke of York on foot, the Duke of Kent, Colonels Bloomfield, Congreve, and Torrens, and several other officers on horseback. His Royal Highness, on reaching the parade, was received with the usual honours, and took his station in front.....[After more ceremonial maneuvers were completed,] the Prince Regent, Dukes of York and Kent, &c. proceeded to Whitehall to hear divine service. The concourse of people assembled on the occasion was immense, and the spectacle altogether was of the most gratifying description. It was impossible to view, without feelings of exultation, those trophies which bore witness to the prowess of British soldiers, and which were won from no despicable enemy, but from troops whose military reputation stands so high in Europe....At half-past eleven the procession moved to the chapel, amid the acclamations of many thousand spectators; the Prince Regent continued in front near half an hour, and the troops passed in review order. The Life-guards gave some fine specimens of THE RAPIDITY OF THEIR EVOLUTIONS. At half-past two, the Queen, Princesses, Princess Charlotte of Wales, the Prince Regent, and Dukes of York and Kent, came again on the parade. All the Cabinet Ministers in town were present."

So, this example clearly points to a very contemporary usage in a military context. And we can imagine JA would have been right up to date on military lingo, given that she had two brothers in the navy, another brother who had served in the militia, and all the Austens having numerous friends and family who were in or closely connected to the military.

By the way, I put that later phrase "RAPIDITY..." in ALL CAPS because I was reminded of the following narration from Emma, which Jill Heydt Stevenson took particular note of as having a different connotation:

"Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind; -- but when a beginning is made -- when THE FELICITIES OF RAPID MOTION have once been, though slightly, felt -- it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more."


The second usage I found was from The Anti-Jacobin Magazine for 1806, a publication I suspect JA was well aware of. It is a review of an 1805 book, The Stranger in Ireland; or a Tour in the Southern and Western Parts of the Country, in the year 1805, by John Carr, Esq., Author of a Northern Summer, &c.

Now, before going to the excerpt from this review, I recognized that name "Carr" and sure enough, here is what JA wrote to CEA in a late January, 1813 letter--again, exactly that same moment when she was lopping and cropping P&P!:

"{Fanny K] has got Sir John Carr's Travels in Spain, and I am reading a Society octavo, an Essay on the Military Police and Institutions of the British Empire, by Capt. Pasley of the Engineers, a book which I protested against at first, but which upon trial I find delightfully written and highly entertaining."

So it seems pretty much definite that JA, who we know read all sorts of travel accounts (which, by the way, is hardly the reading preference of a person who is uninterested in the wider world), would have been very interested in reading a well-written review of a book by this travel author she knew, especially as there would be the added interest that Tom Lefroy was by then an ambitious and upwardly mobile cleric in Ireland:

"Our opinion of Mr. Carr, as a pleasant and instructive traveller, and as an intelligent narrator of his' own tours, has, on former occasions, been sufficiently explained, so as to render any repetition of it here perfectly unnecessary. In his tour, however, through a country, forming a part of his native realm, harassed hy intestine broils, and in which religious and political differences of a serious and even /radical /nature, if we may so say, and productive of the most dire effects, prevail to an alarming extent, we were fully aware, that he would have difficulties to encounter which he had never before experienced, except, perhaps (though in a much inferior degree} in his visit to the Court of St. Clouti, during the dangerous truce of Amiens; and we think we have discovered, in the contents of the volume before us, sufficient grounds for believing that the difficulties to which we allude have, in many instances, given a bias to his opinions.

We shall not attempt to follow our tourist, step by step, nor yet to accompany him in his ^visits to buildings and places which have been described again and again, and which present little that is interesting, and nothing that is novel. But we shall stop with him at such spots as afford him matter for animadversion, and as have any thing either attractive in itself, or rendered so by his view or account of it.....

...The following is a lamentable picture of the defective state of the church establishment in Ireland. There are two thousand four hundred and thirty-six parishes, one thousand and one churches, and only three hundred and fifty-five glebe, or parsonage-houses. The benefices, or union-parishes, amount to one thousand one hundred and twenty ; so that there are [many] parishes without any residences for the clergyman, and [many] parishes without churches/..../Here again is a subject which opens a vast field for discussion, but into which discussion Mr. Carr forbears to enter. When we were first informed of this fact (but a few months ago) we were lost in astonishment; and we laid by the printed paper, containing the statement, with a full intent of animadverting upon it, much at large, as soon as a fit opportunity should occur. We have now looked for it, in order to compare it with Mr. Carr's account; hut unfortunately we cannot find it. We have no doubt, however, of our author's accuracy, and therefore we shall take it for granted that the fact is as he stales it....It cannot be denied that the residence of the clergy is a matter of necessity in every country, but more particularly so, in such a country as Ireland, where so large a portion of the population as three-fifths, are Papists. But, at the same time, it would have been particularly hard to enforce residence, without previously providing a habitation for the clergy. Had Mr. Grattan (of whose abilities as a statesman, and of whose powers as an orator, Mr. Carr thinks much more highly than we do, as will be seen hereafter) built his opposition to the bill in question on this ground, he would have been entitled to credit; but he could have informed Mr. Carr, that a clergyman who does /not /rent a house in his parish, and who has /no /curate to perform the service for him, but who resides in his own mansion at a distance, and gallops over on a Sunday to DO THE DUTY OF THE DAY, earnestly entreated him to oppose the bill, which, he feared, would reduce him to the dire necessity of giving up a living, the revenue of which is small, and no object to him; and that, in point of fact (Mr. G.) did not oppose the bill till so entreated, and therefore it is natural to conclude, that he only opposed it in consequence of such entreaty...."

So here we have a clerical connotation of that phrase, which bears a striking resonance to the passage about ANOTHER horseback-riding clergyman, Tom Chute, which I quoted yesterday from JA's April 1805 letter to CEA.


From Matthew Henry's 1805 Biblical commentary volumes, An Exposition of all the Books of the Old and New Testaments, we have the following short passage, in a commentary on the Book of the prophet Ezekiel:

"Sabbaths, if duly sanctified, are the means of our sanctification: If we DO THE DUTY OF THE DAY, we shall find to our comfort, it is the Lord that sanctifies us ; makes us holy, that is, truly happy, here ; and prepares us to be happy, that is, perfectly holy, hereafter."

What is interesting here is that the duty of the day referenced by Henry is not that of the clergyman leading the service, but of the parishioners ("we") who observe the Sabbath by (as Henry puts it) their "attendance on God in solemn assemblies on sabbath-days, [and thereby] they were made to increase in the knowledge of God..."

And that's it--no other usages from prior to 1830--any patterns of usage subsequent to 1830 would, I am sure you'd agree, be irrelevant to what JA meant by using the phrase.

So, what light do the three above usages shed on our original question of what JA meant by this phrase? I think, a great deal. It shows that contemporary usage of that phrase was comprehensible in BOTH the military AND the clerical realms! And knowing JA for the punster and double meaning hound she was, she would have folded that double meaning into the same metaphorical matrix as "taking orders".

And think about how well that duality of meaning fits the relationship of Mr. Collins to Lady Catherine. If they were an army, is there any doubt that she is the General, and Collins is her slavishly toadyish aide-de-camp, racing around in every direction to assure that every one of Lady Catherine's "orders" is not only performed to the letter, but is anticipated? For Collins, the "duty of the day" in the Anglican church only occurs once per week, but "the duty of the day" in the Church of the All Knowing and All Powerful Our Lady of Rosings Catherine de Bourgh is an EVERYDAY responsibility--but as we see, Collins is up to the task! ;)

And isn't what I've just described the diametric opposite of Wickham's Satanic and unflagging REFUSAL to take orders from Darcy, come hell or Lydia Bennet?

It is the bookend that tells us for 100% certain that this was all as conceived in the orderly, unslovenly metaphorical world of Austen's fiction!

And in light of all of that, don't you now allow for the possibility that the passage I quoted about Tom Chute from JA's 1805 letter was part and parcel of the same sort of word play concealing deeper unspoken meaning trasmitted by sister to sister?

So, you see, Diana, your response, which at first might have seemed to suggest a halt to the line of inquiry I started, actually greatly assisted me in clarifying and deepening my understanding! Discussion of such points with other knowledgeable Janeites is a beautiful thing!

Cheers, ARNIE

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