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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

In the subtext of Emma: Garrick’s Riddle, Reynolds’ Cupid, Darwin’s Step Grandmama, Granddaughter of a Royal Mistress




I was rewarded today for paying Anielka Briggs the respect of looking more closely at her ingenious (but to me, ultimately unconvincing) claim today in Austen-L that Garrick’s Riddle at its bottom is a pro-Protestant riff on sectarian struggles for the English throne circa 1667. It turns out that serendipity led me to something remarkable, unexpected, indeed, compelling, about Garrick’s Riddle and its meaning in Emma

Here's a teaser....




....you'll have to read down further to find out why I included it in this post. 

I initially was just curious to check out some of Anielka’s claims. So I Googled various word combos, in search of evidence for Anielka’s assertion that James, son of James II & his Catholic consort, Mary Modena, had been referred to in code as “Cupid” by Jacobite sympathizers. Well, I found no such evidence after several attempts—but then, perhaps my searches were faulty, or the evidence wasn’t accessible online, so I do hope that Anielka will eventually bring her evidence forward on that point.

Be that as it may, serendipity arose when one of my searches, “Mary James England Cupid Catholic”, led to what quickly revealed itself to be a very promising candidate as an allusive source for Garrick’s Riddle. The second Google Books hit was a discussion of late-17th century English royal politics, which included two stanzas from a poem I found very resonant with both Garrick’s Riddle and the courtship/ Prince of Whales charade in Emma. Here is that source, History of the Revolution in England in 1688 by Sir James Mackintosh (1834), and the quotation: 

“…Mary [Modena] of Este, the consort of James, was married at the age of fifteen; and had been educated in such gross ignorance, that she never had heard of the name of England until it was made known to her on occasion of her marriage. She was trained to a rigorous observance of all the practices of her religion, which sunk more deeply into her heart, and more constantly influenced her conduct, than was usual among Italian princesses. On her arrival in England, she betrayed a childish aversion to James, which was quickly converted into passionate fondness. But neither her attachment nor her beauty could fix the heart of that inconstant prince; who reconciled a warm zeal for his religion with an habitual indulgence in those pleasures which it most forbids. Her life was imbittered by the triumph of mistresses, and by the frequency of her own perilous and unfruitful pregnancies. Her most formidable rival, at the period of the accession, was Catherine Sedley; a woman of few personal attractions, who inherited the wit and vivacity of her father, Sir Charles Sedley, which she unsparingly exercised on the priests and opinions of her royal lover. Her character was frank, her deportment bold, and her pleasantries more amusing than refined.  These defects are probably magnified in the verses of Lord Dorset:—

"Dorinda's sparkling WIT and EYES
UNITED, cast too fierce a light,
Which blazes high, but quickly dies;
Pains not the heart, but hurls the sight.

Love is a calmer, gentler joy:
Smooth are his looks, and soft his pace;
Her CUPID is a blackguard BOY,
That runs his link full in your face."……[followed by 3 more stanzas]”   END QUOTE

The resonance of that poem with both Garrick’s Riddle and the charade was great. But so, too, was the name of the woman who inspired it--Catherine Sedley, whom I instantly recalled as having been not only one of James II’s high-profile mistresses, but also paternal grandmother of the very same Mrs. Pole whom I first identified 8 years ago as being both the last wife of Erasmus Darwin and also (of relevance to Janeites) the author of the following opinion about Mansfield Park that Jane Austen collected…..

"There is a particular satisfaction in reading all Miss A----'s works -- they are so evidently written by a Gentlewoman -- most Novellists fail & betray themselves in attempting to describe familiar scenes in high Life; some little vulgarism escapes & shews that they are not experimentally acquainted with what they describe, but here it is quite different. Everything is natural, & the situations & incidents are told in a manner which clearly evinces the Writer to belong to the Society whose Manners she so ably delineates." Mrs. Pole also said that no Books had ever occasioned so much canvassing & doubt, & that everybody was desirous to attribute them to some of their own friends, or to some person of whom they thought highly. -- "

…as Mrs. Pole has been more fully discussed in this sampler from my blog:


So, now to be unexpectedly led to a poem about the progenitrix of Mrs. Darwin/Pole, a poem that seems to connect to the puzzles of Emma--that was truly a reward for my diligence! And my excitement only increased when my old files reminded me that Catherine Sedley’s father had been a very famous, notorious Restoration rake, and also that Catherine Sedley’s son had not only sired the future Mrs. Darwin, he had also been one of the founders of the New Foundling Hospital (yes, the same sponsor of the famous 1771 literary miscellany that included a version of…..Garrick’s Riddle!)  

But here’s the capper. I decided to Google further and see what else might be out there on the Internet about that poem’s unsavory satire of Catherine Sedley, in particular looking for an informative gloss on that puzzling reference to a “link boy”---and I struck pure gold:

Link Boys as Cupid  December 3, 2010  by Susan Holloway Scott, historical novelist

While I urge you to click on the above link and browse around in what appears to be a first rate blog, I  will now give you some highlights from that excellent essay:

“…Katherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester (1657-1717), was not a typical royal mistress. Considered plain, even ugly, by her contemporaries, Katherine relied not on beauty to make her way at court, but on her scathing wit. She also made her share of enemies, including Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset… Dorset asked Katherine to become his mistress, suggesting she was too homely to expect any better offers. Not surprisingly, she declined, and the earl retaliated by publishing a series of scurrilous lampoons about her, including these lines:
   Love is a calm and tender joy,
   Kind are his looks and soft his pace; 
   [Katherine's] Cupid is a blackguard boy
   That runs his link into your face.
Seventeenth century gossip-hounds would have understood the snark factor here as clearly as their modern counterparts devour Perez Hilton. Most court beauties would have had a rosy-cheeked Cupid to guide their love affairs, but Katherine deserved a much less adorable version: a malicious link boy.
Link boys were a necessary evil in London before street lights. Poor boys carried lighted torches, called links, and loitered outside taverns and playhouses, hoping to be hired to light the way through dark streets –and, often, to lead unsuspecting gentlemen into a dark alley with waiting thieves. But link boys were also known to be victims themselves, child prostitutes catering to wealthy pederasts. In the unsentimental 17th-18th c., link boys were seen as despicable creatures: poor and dishonest, perverted and untrustworthy, their faces blackened by their sooty links. If you were a respectable Londoner, you likely believed the soul of a link boy was equally as black. Lord Dorset chose his words to be insulting, and they are.
Which brings me around to this curious painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) [see full color image at the blog post]. Painted a century after Lord Dorset's slander was written, this picture also portrays a link boy as Cupid. Instead of the white-feathered wings that Cupid usually sports, the link boy version has black bat's wings, as befits a creature of the night. He is also holding his link in a most suggestive manner, making his role as a sexual plaything abundantly clear. As a classical Cupid, his phallic link could also be ready to fan the flames of love in the unsuspecting. Beneath his tattered coat, he appears to be wearing an ancient tunic instead of an 18th c. shirt, and across his chest is a strap that could hold a quiver of arrows, those "love darts" that cause so much amorous mischief in mythology.
Yet although the elements for a satiric print are all there, the mood isn't. While Reynolds was famous for his society portraits, he also painted smaller "fancy," or fanciful, pictures like this one for his own amusement. For these he drew his inspiration not from great ladies, but from common people he glimpsed in the street. This Cupid must have been one of those, some unknown link boy whose face captured Reynolds' imagination, and whose poverty is indicated by his tattered clothes and the derelict buildings in the background. But instead of a traditionally impish Cupid, this boy's expression seems dark and introspective, and almost too sensitively painted by Reynolds. Did the painting begin as a ribald dirty joke, only to have the conventional smirking Cupid waylaid by the poignant reality of the young model?”  END QUOTE

And now you know what that teaser was about!  A picture does tell 1,000 words!

Recall first that the above essay was writing without the slightest awareness that any of what was written there might have anything to do with either Garrick’s Riddle or with Jane Austen’s Emma. So I found it almost shocking to read “Link boys…Poor boys carried lighted torches, called links, and loitered outside taverns and playhouses, hoping to be hired to light the way through dark streets –and, often, to lead unsuspecting gentlemen into a dark alley with waiting thieves. But link boys were also known to be victims themselves, child prostitutes catering to wealthy pederasts.

That fits exactly with the notion that JA included Garrick’s Riddle in Emma for a really important reason, and that wasn’t in order to exhibit religious bigotry toward Catholics!

I first suggest that Reynolds’s painting Cupid as a Link Boy, circa 1771-3, and Garrick’s Riddle, published under Garrick’s name for the first time in 1771, must have been related in some way—recall that Garrick and Reynolds were very close friends!  It seems almost impossible to me that they would not have been in some sort of artistic dance, in these productions in words and paint, respectively.

Now, most Janeites in the know are aware about “What Jane Saw”….


…Janine Barchas’s recent, highly publicized reconstruction of the art exhibit of Joshua Reynolds paintings that JA attended in London in 1813. As soon as I recollected that, I wondered whether Reynolds’s dark Cupid was part of that exhibit? Well, I just browsed through the catalog (which includes, marvelously, clickable links to each of the paintings), and although there were several paintings that included Cupids, none of them was Cupid as a Link Boy.

Which is in a way aligns Reynolds’s dark Cupid with Garrick’s dark Riddle, both of them a little too dark for respectable public display, whether the art gallery or the poetry anthology. But definitely worthy of attention from Jane Austen, who never forgot the victims of her society, I strongly maintain.

And so I believe that somehow JA, by the time she wrote Emma, was familiar with Reynolds’s painting, recognized its obvious strong resonance to Garrick’s Riddle. In particular the dark subtext of Reynolds’s painting, as so succinctly summarized by Susan Holloway Scott in her above blog post, which fits PERFECTLY with my interpretation of Garrick’s Riddle as having as its primary focus the sexual abuse of powerless victims (whether male or female) by powerful men.  

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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