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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Henry's History of England: Real Solemn (and Boring) History

I just stumbled across something in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature [in 18 Volumes (1907–21). Volume X. The Age of Johnson. XII. Historians. § 8. Robert Henry’s History of England] which bears on the theme of history in JA's Northanger Abbey:

"The works of Hume and Robertson seem to have excited other Scotsmen to write history. “I believe,” Hume wrote in 1770, “this is the true historical age and this the historical nation: I know no less than eight Histories on the stocks in this country.” The letter which begins with these words refers especially to a History of England by Robert Henry, an Edinburgh minister, in 6 volumes, of which the first appeared in 1771, and which ends with the death of Henry VIII. It is arranged under various headings, as political and military affairs, religion, commerce, and so forth; and its interest lies in the assertion, already, though not so strongly, made in Hume’s History, that history is concerned with all sides of social life in the past.....

....It is mainly written from second-hand authorities and is inordinately
dull....."

The above description, from a century ago, of Henry's History of England, evidences yet _another_ veiled allusion in Letter 26, in the same paragraph which alludes to _Tristram Shandy_. Perhaps JA, while writing Letter 26, was flush with excitement and a sense of achievement from having just written the following memorable dialog for Catherine Morland in NA?:

"...I can read poetry and plays, and things of that sort, and do not dislike travels. But _history, real solemn history_, I cannot be interested in. Can you?" "Yes, I am fond of history."

"I wish I were too. I read it a little as a duty; but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all, it is very tiresome; and _yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention._ The speeches that are put into the heroes' mouths, their thoughts and designs: the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books."

"Historians, you think," said Miss Tilney, "are not happy in their flights of fancy. _They display imagination without raising interest._ I am fond of history, and am very well contented to take the false with the true. In the principal facts they have sources of intelligence in former histories and records, which may be as much depended on I conclude as any thing that does not actually pass under one's own observation..." END OF EXCERPT

And so on for another few paragraphs. So this interpretation validates interpreting JA's suggested discussion agenda, i.e., one of Henry's chapters per day, as a total joke, when actually the last thing JA and Martha would want to do is to read that long, boring, uninventive, worthless History of England.

Rather, the actual topic will be JA's "history of England", aka Northanger Abbey, which _will_ tell the true story of the lives of English _women_!

Cheers, ARNIE

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