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

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Clarkson's A Portraiture of Quakerism: Another Covert Jane Austen Allusion

The other day, Diane Reynolds wrote a post in Austen L and Janeites where she made a great case for Jane Austen having alluded to the chapter in Thomas Clarkson's 1806 book about Quakerism in which Clarkson frowned on women reading a certain kind of inappropriate novel:

I responded as follows:

Diane, your zeroing in on Clarkson's chapter about Quaker concerns about novel reading is a wonderful catch by you---I am not at my desk, but will have something further to say about that when I am. For now, I would say that it is clear that JA had Clarkson's thoughts on reading on her radar screen sometime along the way while she was writing Northanger Abbey.

In the meantime, what I wanted to bring to your attention now is _another_ chapter in that same 1806 book by Clarkson, where he writes, in relevant part, the following, which I think will be an eye-opener for any Janeite familiar with Pride & Prejudice:

"...the pleasure is neither less, nor less involuntary, nor less natural, which we receive, through the organ of the ear, from a combination of sounds flowing in musical progression.

The latter pleasure, as it seems natural, so, under certain limitations, it seems innocent. The first tendency of music, I mean of instrumental, is to calm and tranquillize the passions. The ideas, which it excites, are of the social, benevolent, and pleasant kind. It leads occasionally to joy, to grief, to tenderness, to sympathy, but never to malevolence, ingratitude, anger, cruelty, or revenge. For no combination of musical sounds can be invented, by which the latter passions can be excited in the mind, without the intervention of the human voice.
But notwithstanding that music may be thus made the means both of innocent and pleasurable feeling, yet it has been the misfortune of man, as in other cases, to abuse it, and never probably more than in the present age. For the use of it, as it is at present taught, is almost inseparable from its abuse. Music has been so generally cultivated, and to such perfection, that it now ceases to delight the ear, unless it comes from the fingers of the proficient. But great proficiency cannot be obtained in this science, without great sacrifices of time. If young females are to be brought up to it, rather as to a profession, than introduced to it as a source of
occasional innocent recreation, or if their education is thought most perfect, where their musical attainments are the highest, not only hours, but even years, must be devoted to the pursuit. Such a devotion to this one object must, it is obvious, leave less time than is proper for others that are more important. The knowledge of domestic occupations, and the various sorts of knowledge, that are acquired by reading, must be abridged, in proportion as this science is cultivated to professional precision. And hence, independently of any arguments, which the Quakers
may advance against it, it must be acknowledged by the sober world to be chargeable with a criminal waste of time. And this waste of time is the more to be deprecated, because it frequently happens, that, when young females marry, music is thrown aside, after all the years that have been spent in its acquisition, as an employment, either then unnecessary, or as an employment, which, amidst the new cares of a family, they have not leisure to follow....."

I think it's clear that JA embeds a complex, ironic allusion to this chapter about music in Clarkson in the following passages in P&P:

"If I," said Mr. Collins, "were so fortunate as to be able to sing, I should have great pleasure, I am sure, in obliging the company with an air; for I consider music as a very innocent diversion, and perfectly compatible with the profession of a clergyman. -- I do not mean, however, to assert that we can be justified in devoting too much of our time to music, for there are certainly other things to be attended to...."

[Lady C] "Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. How does Georgiana get on, Darcy?" Mr. Darcy spoke with affectionate praise of his sister's proficiency.

"I am very glad to hear such a good account of her," said Lady Catherine; "and pray tell her from me, that she cannot expect to excel if she does not practise a great deal." "I assure you, madam," he replied, "that she does not need such advice. She practises very constantly."

"So much the better. It cannot be done too much; and when I next write to her, I shall charge her not to neglect it on any account. I often tell young ladies that no excellence in music is to be acquired without constant practice. I have told Miss Bennet several times that she will never play really well unless she practices more; and though Mrs. Collins has no instrument, she is very welcome, as I have often told her, to come to Rosings every day, and play on the piano forte in Mrs. Jenkinson's

Which all means first that your catch of the allusion to Clarkson re novels receives significant validation from my catch of the allusion to Clarkson re music, and vice versa, and also that when JA wrote the following in a February 1813 letter....

"I am reading a Society octavo, an "Essay on the Military Police and Institutions of the British Empire" by Capt. Pasley of the Engineers, a book which I protested against at first, but which upon trial I find delightfully written and highly entertaining. I am as much in love with the author as I ever was with Clarkson or Buchanan, or even the two Mr. Smiths of the city."

....I think we are meant to read her so-called love for Clarkson in the same ironic way that we are meant to read the following "ever was" passage in P&P:

""And pray, may I ask -- ?" But checking himself, he added, in a gayer tone, "Is it in address that he improves? Has he deigned to add ought of civility to his ordinary style! -- for I dare not hope," he continued in a lower and more serious tone, "that he is improved in essentials."

"Oh no!" said Elizabeth. "In essentials, I believe, he is very much what he ever was."

While she spoke, Wickham looked as if scarcely knowing whether to rejoice over her words, or to distrust their meaning. There was a something in her countenance which made him listen with an apprehensive and anxious attention while she added --
"When I said that he improved on acquaintance, I did not mean that either his mind or manners were in a state of improvement, but that, from knowing him better, his disposition was better understood."

Cheers, ARNIE

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