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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Another truth universally admitted...

Purely as a byproduct of my looking at contemporary (to JA) usages of variants on the "truth universally acknowledged" meme, I came across the following article in the January 1813 issue of the Gentleman's Magazine (i.e., a few months too late for JA to have read it before P&P was published), which actually seemed, for several reasons, to be one which JA might have noticed, or have had it brought to her attention by family who read this Magazine:

Here is the beginning:

"Support' Of The Navy: IT IS A TRUTH UNIVERSALLY ADMITTED, that the power, wealth, and existence of the British Empire depend on maritime superiority. The support of its Navy is, therefore, an object of the greatest national importance; and to have the means of it within ourselves, must ensure our safety in the same degree, as to rely on foreign powers for that which is essential to our strength and prosperity must he supine and dangerous....."

Of course, having two sailor brothers who by 1813 had already made strides up the ladder of the British Navy and would have perhaps taken an interest in such broader policy matters as are discussed in the above article, it seems very possible to me that somehow JA would have read the above article right around the time that P&P was being published, and, if she did, surely she smiled at the favorable omen and coincidence of the opening phraseology of this article with P&P's.

The subject of timber was not unknown to JA, either. As I stated in my AGM presentation, in referring to Mrs. Tilson as perhaps JA's prime real-life source for the character of Mrs. Tilney, I also pointed out as follows:

"General Tilney has his “ancestry” partly in Mrs. Tilson’s brother in law, a Brigadier General who inherited a vast estate, and partly in Mrs. Tilson’s own husband, who, we know from one of Jane’s letters, was as willing to chop down beautiful old timber for profit as General Tilney was ready to demolish that snug old cottage at Woodston until Catherine expressed a liking for it. " (6 June 1811)

So I believe JA, with her omnivorous interest in so many diverse subjects, would have been especially interested in reading this article, which bore on _two_ topics where she had strong feelings, the Navy and England's forests.

And that's why I took the extra five minutes to skim that article to get its point of view, and can report that it was a remarkably astute and cogent assessment, by someone who clearly knew his stuff (yes, it sounded like a man to me!) of economic factors, and also intimations of corrupt cronyism, all bearing on the likelihood that the British Navy would run out of timber for the building of new ships within 20 years, if the country did not something drastic to prevent this catastrophe. I would imagine that the writer's concerns were either addressed quickly, or else he was too gloom and doom in his predictions, because we know that England's Navy did not run out of timber for its ships during the balance of the 19th century, until metal replaced wood, whenever that was.

A far cry from the concerns oft expressed in Austen's novels for the old growth timber cut down as part of "improvement" of great estates, but a topic that I bet was bandied about sometime at Chawton during discussions of the Navy, and that JA would have been interested in.

Cheers, ARNIE

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