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Friday, September 30, 2011

Sempronius in Sarah Fielding's The Governess

In followup to my last post, I was curious to know why Sarah Fielding chose the name Sempronius for the "older man" ("Knightleyesque") suitor for Chloe and Caelia in The Governess, and I found the following excerpt in an 1813 book, entitled _The rule and exercises of holy living_ by Jeremy Taylor:

"But that which we miscall poverty, is indeed nature: and its proportions are the just measures of a man, and the best instruments of content. But when we create needs that God or nature never made, we have erected to ourselves an infinite stock of trouble that can have no period. Sempronius complained of want of clothes, and was much troubled for a new suit, being ashamed to appear in the theatre with his gown a little thread-bare; but when he got it, and gave his old clothes to Codrus, the poor man was ravished with joy, and went and gave God thanks for his new purchase; and Codrus was made richly fine and cheerfully warm by that which Sempronius was ashamed to wear; and yet their natural needs were both alike: the difference only was that Sempronius had some artificial and fantastical necessities super-induced, which Codrus had not; and was harder to be relieved, and could not have joy at so cheap a rate: because he only lived according to nature, the other by pride and ill customs, and measures taken by other men's eyes and tongues, and artificial needs. He that propounds to his fancy things greater than himself or his needs, and is discontent and troubled when he fails of such purchases, ought not to accuse providence, or blame his fortune, but his folly. God and nature made no more needs than they mean to satisfy; and he that will make more must look for satisfaction where he can."

So Sempronius was, during JA's time, a symbol of a man who has been corrupted by wealth into being unsatisfied with simple goods, that were pleasing to a poor man, Codrus, who had lower expectations.

Looking behind still further, Wikipedia told me that Codrus was the last of the semi-mythical Kings of Athens....an ancient exemplar of patriotism and self-sacrifice. Whereas there was a real life prominent Roman family named Sempronius, and one member was co-consul with Scipio during the Punic Wars---Tiberius Sempronius Congus--who apparently was reputed to be very greedy.

So....that all provides an intriguing subtext to Sarah Fielding's choice of the name Sempronius, and JA's decision to allude to Fielding's Sempronius in the character of Knightley--does it suggest a mercenary motivation in marrying Caelia.

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