(& scroll all the way down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Letter 30: Black Peter DeBary & The Massacre of Steventon: “What does he think of Glencoe or Lake Katherine?”

I have read all the comments in this thread and have a very different take on the following passage in Letter 30, which I first reproduce in its delicious entirety, below, for ready reference:

“Mr. Peter Debary has declined Dean curacy; he wishes to be settled nearer London. A foolish reason!, as if Deane were not near London in comparison of Exeter or York.-Take the whole world through, & he will find many more places at a greater distance from London than Deane, than he will at a less.-What does he think of Glencoe or Lake Katherine?-I feel rather indignant that any possible objection should be raised against so valuable a peice of preferment, so delightful a situation!-that Deane should not be universally allowed to be as near the Metropolis as any other country villages.-As this is the case however, as Mr. Peter Debary has shewn himself a Peter in the blackest sense of the Word, We are obliged to look elsewhere for an heir; & my father has thought it a necessary compliment to James Digweed to offer the Curacy to him, tho' without considering it as either a desirable or an eligible situation for him.-Unless he is in love with Miss Lyford, I think he had better not be settled exactly in this neighbourhood, & unless he is very much in love with her indeed, he is not likely to think a salary of 50 equal in value or efficacy to one of 75.-Were you indeed to be considered as one of the fixtures of the house!-but you were never actually erected in it either by Mr. Egerton Brydges or Mrs. Lloyd.”

The events relevant to the above which were happening in January 1801 were that because Revd. Austen was moving to Bath, he was giving his clerical position at Steventon to son James, and of course James was therefore moving with his family from Deane to the Steventon rectory. _That_ left a vacancy for a resident curate at Deane, and _that_ is what was what Revd. Austen apparently offered to Peter DeBary. That all is pretty straightforward, and not news to anybody.

I begin my analysis by pointing out that I read this passage as a put-on, with JA, for its duration, assuming the voice of her father. Hyperbolically, she speaks the outraged thoughts she imagines her father to be thinking at this moment, after Peter DeBary has crossed him up (sorta like Sir Thomas’s bewildered reaction when Fanny Price refuses to marry Crawford) and actually said “No, thank you” to what probably was a pretty chintzy offer, from DeBary’s perspective.

And of course Ellen is correct that Le Faye’s footnote (citing Chapman) is wrong, but I go further and say that it is quintessential cock-and-bull. It is not simply obtuse and wrong-headed to suggest a reference to “the knave of spades”, when the Biblical allusion is staring everyone in the face! Anyone can make a mistake, but it is much worse!

What offends me is that the footnote was calculated, written by Le Faye (and probably Chapman as well) for one reason alone—the desire to avoid even the slightest whiff of a suggestion that JA might have sacrilegiously and frivolously alluded to the denial of Jesus by Peter in Scripture—a particularly sacred portion of the Gospels. Which of course is _exactly_ what JA was doing, and, to boot, she was doing it (I cannot resist it) “in spades”!

But that is all prelude to the new perspective on this passage that I have just spent an enjoyable hour researching. Neither Le Faye, nor any other Austen biographer I can detect online, has ever given any attention to _another_ aspect of the question, which is the role of Peter DeBary in particular in JA’s satirical mini-melodrama, one in which JA gave us not one but two rather large hints:

“What does [DeBary] think of Glencoe or Lake Katherine?-

The Jane Austen I have come to know _never_ throws in place names like that without a reason, and so I was intrigued by her reference to these two places, one of which was obviously in Scotland (I dimly remembered the name “Glencoe” from elementary school, but could not recall why).

So I called on my old friends Google and Wikipedia (who get a bad rap from some folks, I think), and look what they told me:

“Early in the morning of 13 February 1692, in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution and the Jacobite uprising of 1689, infamous masacre took place in Glen Coe, in the Highlands of Scotland. This incident is referred to as the “Massacre of Glencoe”...Thirty-eight MacDonalds from the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were killed by the guests who had accepted their hospitality, on the grounds that the MacDonalds had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary.... Under Scots law, …[such] "murder under trust"…was considered to be even more heinous than ordinary murder….The challenge to the inquiry which had been established, was to apportion blame on those responsible for the massacre, and yet the orders which led to it were signed by the King himself, who could not be seen to be responsible. The scandal was further enhanced when the leading Scottish jurist... was, in 1692, offered the post of Lord Advocate but declined it because the condition was attached that he should not prosecute the persons implicated in the Glencoe Massacre ....The conclusion of the commission was to exonerate the King and to place the blame for the massacre upon Secretary Dalrymple. The Scottish Parliament, after reviewing the commission report, declared the execution of the MacDonald men to have been murder...The Glencoe massacre became a propaganda piece for Jacobite sympathies, which were to come to a head in the next generation in the Rising of 1745.....the massacre was romanticised in art and literature, such as Sir Walter Scott's "The Highland Widow". “

The _massacre_ of Glencoe---of course, that was what I had once read about nearly five decades ago!

And then I found the following in Google Books from an 1820geographical book:
“The Forth: This river, the most considerable in Scotland, has its origin from a lake under Ben Lomond, in the western angle of Stirlingshire, and runs Eastward toStirling,near which place it unites with the Teith, and forms_LAKE KATHERINE_. From Stirling it flows west by south, and mixes with the German Ocean by a wide estuary, called the Firth of Forth. From its origin to Berwick, at the mouth of the Firth, its course, exclusive of windings, is seventy-five miles.”

So, two seemingly random names selected by JA as “evidence” in her Through the Looking Glass sort of absurdist logical sequence, and _both_ of them point to places in _Scotland_--what could this mean?

I thought about it a moment, and my first hunch was that in some way known to JA and CEA, but unknown to the world of Janeites, Peter DeBary must have had some personal connection to Scotland.

So I called on my friends Google and Wikipedia _again_, and look what they told me this time, from the 1860 _Memoir of Andrew Dalzel, professor of Greek in the University of Edinburgh_:

Letter from Lord Adam Gordon, 11/2/1796: "Lord Henry Petty, son to Marquis of Lansdown, and MR. DEBARY, being in Edinburgh and to attend the Colleges there, Lord Adam Gordon begs leave to introduce them to Mr. Dalzel, and to request his best attentions to them during their residence in Scotland. Mr. Debary is tutor to Lord Henry Petty, and is a man of very uncommon good character, and well informed. Any attentions to them from Mr. Dalzel will be gratefully acknowledged by his faithful and obedt. humble servant, Ad. Gordon." "Per favour of Lord Henry Petty and Mr. Debary."

I immediately recognized the name “Lansdowne” as having multiple Austen connections.

Le Faye’s Bio Index entry for the Marquis of Lansdowne names him as “John-Henry Petty (1765-1809) a “widely travelled but rather solitary man” who built a Gothic castle in Southampton a la Walpole’s Strawberry Hill, and that is why, I believe, John Thorpe wants to drive Catherine “up Lansdown Hill”.

But…. that is _not_ the same “Lord Henry Petty” mentioned in Lord Adam Gordon’s 1796 letter.

_That_ Mr. Petty is described by Chris Viveash and Le Faye, respectively, as follows:

“... one of Miss Austen's novelsbecame the subject of conversation and praise, especially from Lord Lansdowne, who observed that one of the circumstances of his life which he looked back upon with vexation was that Miss Austen should once have been living some weeks in his neighborhood [when she lived in Southampton] without his knowing it. “

“…Lord Henry Petty, half brother of the 2^nd Marquis. It was this 3^rd Marquis…who admired JA’s works and was ‘grieved and affected’ in 1817 to hear of her death.”

So I think it highly likely that Peter deBary (who was born in 1764 and therefore was an older contemporary of the future 3^rd Marquis of Lansdowne) was that very same “Mr. DeBary” mentioned in Adam Gordon’s 1796 letter, and that he was, at the age of 32, several years after graduating from Cambridge, but still 8 years prior to beginning his career in Hampshire (but _not_ at Deane) as a curate,the tutor to his fellow Hampshireman the future Marquis in Ediburgh!

And _that_ is why, I claim, having reached the end of my own deadly serious chain of logical inferences, that JA, in early 1801, makes these two sly veiled references to Scotland in a passage depicting Peter DeBary as a “black” Peter! And of course CEA (indeed the whole Austen family) would have also been well aware that Peter DeBary had probably only just returned from that stint as tutor in Scotland, and was out of work and looking for a job!

But I think there is even more going on here than all of that. The reference to Lake Katherine would have been just a tag to point to Scotland, but the reference to Glencoe is extremely thematic, because the Massacre of Glencoe was a very famous historical event—so famous that even I, an American schoolboy in the early 1960’s, read about it in some book or another! How much more famous it would havebeen in England way back in 1801, especially to a young woman who at age 16 had written her own satirical (yet very learned) History of England! And it would have been even fresher news to JA, because we also all know that JA loved to espouse the Jacobite cause (Mary Queen of Scots being the most notable example), and Glencoe was a major rallying cry for that very cause, which reached fever pitch in 1746, only thirty years before JA was born, and was a major subtext of Fielding’s _Tom Jones_!

And here is the most important point. The veiled allusion to a massacre fits, in a very dark and very striking way, with the Biblical allusion to Peter and Jesus. Both of them involve fatal betrayals associated with horrific and infamous murders ordered by monarchs who sought to avoid responsibility for their murderous orders (Pontius Pilate and William & Mary, respectively). _Way_ too close for coincidence.

So, what does this suggest JA is saying, in a veiled way, about her father, her brother James (with _his_ “Queen” Mary!) and Peter DeBary? My personal sense is that JA viewed the entire process of the abrupt move to Bath as a kind of “massacre”, a sudden, completely unexpected betrayal of her and CEA by her parents, with brother James as the primary beneficiary of the massacre of JA’s life at Steventon, which indeed “died” very shortly after she wrote Letter 30.

Cheers, ARNIE

No comments: