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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"What have you got there, my love?" - knives and children

Anielka Briggs posted the following in Janeites and Austen L earlier today:

"What do you make of these two quotes? Do they stand out for you as alarming and or do they blend into the long Eighteenth century background as an acceptable combination of small children and knives?"

"What have you got there, my love?" said Fanny; "come and shew it to me."It was a silver knife. Up jumped Susan, claiming it as her own, and trying to get it away; but the child ran to her mother's protection, and Susan could only reproach, which she did very warmly, and evidently hoping to interest Fanny on her side. "It was very hard that she was not to have her own knife; it was her own knife; little sister Mary had left it to her upon her deathbed, and she ought to have had it to keep herself long ago." (Mansfield Park)

"Henry is a fine boy, but John is very like his mamma. Henry is the eldest, he was named after me, not after his father. John, the second, is named after his father. Some people are surprised, I believe, that the eldest was not, but Isabella would have him called Henry, which I thought very pretty of her. And he is a very clever boy, indeed. They are all remarkably clever; and they have so many pretty ways. They will come and stand by my chair, and say, 'Grandpapa, can you give me a bit of string?' and once Henry asked me for a knife, but I told him knives were only made for grandpapas. I think their father is too rough with them very often." (Emma)

"I can't help thinking that these quotes are somehow a surreptitious satire of the following explanation of the Golden Rule (Matthew: 7:12)"


I have just responded thusly:


Very, very interesting suggestion on your part, as to which I have a few comments, which I hope you will enjoy.

First, I read over the Hale passage which you linked to, and while it does have one key element in common with the passages in Mansfield Park having to do with the knife that Betsey and Susan quarrel over—dealing effectively with the excessive fondness of a child (actually two children) for a knife—it does _not_ correspond to the principal element of the Mansfield Park vignette, which is the conflicting claims of two children for the same knife. The problem in MP is not that a knife is dangerous in a young child’s hands, which is the case in Hale’s little aphorism.
Whereas the passage you quoted from Emma _does_ relate to both of these key elements, danger plus a child’s desire to have a knife. So I’d say that I agree with the Emma allusion to Hale, but I’d like to suggest an even more apt Biblical source for this episode in MP , this one from the Hebrew Bible, in the chapter in Kings when Solomon performs his most famous adjudication.

It seems to me that Fanny, like Solomon, finds a way out of a seemingly insoluble fight between two claimants for one loved object which cannot be split without destroying it, by in effect “giving birth” to another “baby”!; i.e., by giving Susan the money to buy Betsey a new knife, Fanny makes it possible for Susan to finally reclaim the old (and, for Susan, irreplaceably precious) knife.

And….spurred by your having found (I would imagine, from Google Books) the Hale passage, I gave Google Books a little spin of my own, and came up with the following passage:

Richard Hooker, The Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie:

“…we are not to look that the Church should change her publick Laws and Ordinances, made according to that which is judged ordinarily and commonly fittest for the whole, although it chance that for some particular Men the same be found inconvenient, especially when there may be other remedy also against the sores of particular inconveniencies. In this case therefore, where any private harm doth grow, we are not to reject instruction, as being an unmeet plaister to apply unto it; [HERE BEGINS THE RELEVANT PART] neither can we say, that he which appointeth Teachers for Physicians in this kind of evil, is, as if a Man would set one to watch a Child all day long lest he should hurt himself with a knife, whereas by taking away the knife from him, the danger is avoided and the service of the Man better employed. For a knife may be taken from a Child, without depriving them of the benefit thereof which have years and discretion to use it. But the Ceremonies which Children do abuse, if we remove quite and clean, as it is by some required that we should; then are they not taken from Children only, but from others also; which is as though because Children may perhaps hurt themselves with knives, we should conclude, that therefore the use of knives is to be taken quite and clean even from Men also. Those particular Ceremonies which they pretend to be so scandalous, we shall in the next Book have occasion more throughly to sift, where other things also traduced in the publick duties of the Church whereunto each of these appertaineth, are together with these to be touched, and such reasons to be examined as have at any time been brought either against the one or the other. In the mean while, against the conveniency of curing such evils by instruction, strange it is, that they should object the multitude of other necessary matters wherein Preachers may better bestow their time, than in giving Men warning not to abuse Ceremonies.” END QUOTE

I gathered from the context of the above passage that Hooker is saying that the English Church should not dispense with certain ceremonies altogether in catering to aversion to such ceremonies in some, when that would deprive everyone else of a perfectly good ceremony He analogizes ceremonies to knives, which should not be denied to everyone because some cannot even tolerate seeing others enjoying them responsibly.

Given Hooker’s analogy to knives and children, that passage is close enough to the knifely conundrum that Fanny solves in MP for me to speculate that JA was also referring to Hooker, as well as to Hale, when she wrote that passage in MP.
You may ask, who was Hooker, exactly, and why would JA have even heard of him? The following Wikipedia blurb (after I edited out the dross) explain why Hooker would very likely have been on JA’s radar screen:

“Hooker (1554-1600) was an Anglican priest and influential theologian, who exerted a lasting influence on the development of the Church of England, and as a co-founder of Anglicanism in its theological thought. Details of Hooker's life come chiefly from Izaak Walton’s’s biography of him…In The Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie published over last years of his life, Hooker argued for a middle way between the positions in his time of the Roman Catholics and the Puritans. In these books, it was argued that reason and tradition were important when interpreting the Scriptures, and that it was important to recognise that the Bible was written in a particular historical context, in response to specific situations… its principal subject is the proper governance of the churches ("polity"). The Puritans…advocated the demotion of clergy and ecclesiasticism. Hooker attempted to work out which methods of organizing churches are best. If doctrine were not to be settled by authorities, and if Luther's argument for the priesthood of all believers were to be followed to its extreme with government by the Elect, then having the monarch as the governor of the church was intolerable. On the other side, if the monarch were appointed by God to be the governor of the church, then local parishes going their own ways on doctrine were similarly intolerable. The Lawes is remembered not only for its stature as a monumental work of Anglican thought, but for its influence in the development of theology, political theory, and English prose (being one of the first major works of theology to be written in English). Hooker considerably influenced many political philosophers, including Locke who quotes Hooker numerous times in The Second Treatise of Civil Government. “

I know that JA was very familiar with Locke, so she would have known about Hooker from a young age, and sooner or later would have gotten her hands on Hooker’s famous tome, and found that evocative passage in it.

And all of the above is in keeping with the allusions to the Books of Lamentations and Timothy in MP which I recall you posted about some months back, and also the multiple allusions I posted about several months ago about Fanny Price as one of the Israelites in the Book of Exodus, lost in the “desert” (what an irony, to choose a seaport!) of Portsmouth, which began with this one:

Again, thanks for bringing that to us.

Cheers, ARNIE

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