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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Scott’s 1816 Review, Emma & Reynolds’s Cupid As Link Boy: “at Highbury Cupid walks decorously, and with good discretion, bearing his torch under a lanthorn, instead of flourishing it around to set the house on fire.”



Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve periodically revisited my recent major post in which I claimed that Jane Austen alluded, via Mr. Woodhouse’s recollections of Garrick’s sexually disturbing Riddle, to Sir Joshua
Reynolds’s famous and equally sexually disturbing 1774 painting Cupid as Link-Boy...
...I’ve wanted to make sure that I leave no historical or literary stone unturned vis a vis my discovery. And one major stone I turned over this morning was in search of anything else JA might have written about Cupid or link-boys, in the same suggestive vein as her observation in her May 20, 1813 Letter # 84 to CEA: “if it had not been for some naked Cupids over the Mantlepiece, which must be a fine study for Girls, one should never have smelt instruction.” As I commented before, Jane Austen went to the major Reynolds exhibition in London right after that, as per Letter 85 written four days later.

So I Googled “Jane Austen” together with “link-boy”, and found nothing, and then, thinking about words pertaining to illumination at night, I Googled her name with “lanthorn” and found the following from her 1804 letter from Lyme:  “…The ball last night was pleasant, but not full for Thursday. My father staid contentedly till half-past nine (we went a little after eight), and then walked home with James and a lanthorn, though I believe the lanthorn was not lit, as the moon was up; but sometimes this lanthorn may be a great convenience to him. My mother and I staid about an hour later.”

So James, an Austen family servant, has in 1804 acted as personal link-bearer for Revd. Austen (who would die within a year thereafter) after a ball, a fact not particularly noteworthy except for verifying what we could have guessed anyway, i.e., that JA was familiar with this after-dark town practice of carrying torches to guide pedestrians through dark city streets.

So I kept Googling various other combinations, until I struck pure gold when I searched “Jane Austen” together with “torch”. My eyes widened as I saw that I had been transported by Google to Sir Walter Scott’s very famous 1816 review of Jane Austen’s novels, specifically to the latter part of Scott’s elegant synopsis of the plot of Emma! But as soon as I read the specific text that Google had led me to, I knew I had found exactly the supporting evidence I had hoped would exist, not from the pen of Jane Austen, but from the pen of Sir Walter Scott!

I have previously noted the amazing perspicacity of Scott’s review vis a vis his cynical take on the romantic climax of P&P…
…but as you will note in that August 2012 blog post of mine, I actually quoted two of Scott’s references to Cupid, not realizing, as I will explain, below, that those references were actually more about Emma than P&P. Now my respect for Scott has increased tenfold, and you will shortly know why.

If you’ve read my above-linked post about  Reynolds’s disturbing painting, then you will instantly understand why I have placed certain passages in ALL CAPS. I.e., it’s crystal clear that Scott understood, as I understand, that Emma is pointing directly at Reynolds’s painting, placing  the reader, as it were, right before it, so we can study it and be disturbed by what we see:

“Harriet has in the interim, fallen desperately in love with Mr. Knightley, the sturdy, advice-giving bachelor; and, as all the village supposes Frank Churchill and Emma to be attached to each other, there are cross purposes enough (were the novel of a more romantic cast) for cutting half the men's throats and breaking all the women's hearts. But AT HIGHBURY CUPID WALKS DECOROUSLY, AND WITH GOOD DISCRETION, BEARING HIS TORCH UNDER A LANTHORN, INSTEAD OF FLOURISHING IT AROUND TO SET THE HOUSE ON FIRE. All these entanglements bring on only a train of mistakes and embarrassing situations, and dialogues at BALLS AND PARTIES OF PLEASURE,
in which the author displays her peculiar powers of humour and knowledge of human life. The plot is extricated with great simplicity. The aunt of Frank Churchill dies; his uncle, no longer under her baneful influence, consents to his marriage with Jane Fairfax. Mr. Knightley and Emma are led, by this unexpected incident, to discover that they had been in love with each other all along. Mr. Woodhouse's objections to the marriage of his daughter are overpowered by the fears of house-breakers, and the comfort which he hopes to derive from having a stout son-in-law resident in the family; and the facile affections of Harriet Smith are transferred, LIKE A BANK BILL BY INDORSATION, to her former suitor, the honest farmer, who had obtained a favourable opportunity of renewing his addresses. Such is the simple plan of a story which we peruse with pleasure, if not with deep interest, and which perhaps we might more willingly resume than one of those narratives where the attention is strongly riveted, during the first perusal, by the powerful excitement of curiosity. The author's knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of PAINTING. The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader. This is a merit which it is very difficult to illustrate by EXTRACTS, because it pervades the whole work, and is not to be comprehended from a single passage. The following is a dialogue between Mr. Woodhouse, and his elder daughter Isabella, who shares his anxiety about health, and has, like her father, a favourite apothecary. The reader must be informed that this lady, with her husband, a sensible, peremptory sort of person, had come to spend a week with her father.”

Note that Scott not only creates an unmistakable image of Cupid as a pandering link-boy carrying a flaming phallus “decorously”, so as not to set the “house on fire” (think about Garrick’s Riddle and Miss Bates’s chimney), for good measure he points out the cynicism of the transaction by which Harriet is “indorsed” over to Robert Martin like a “bank note” (recall JA’s famous charade to which “bank note” is the answer. This reflects Scott’s Audenesque take on JA’s cynicism about the economic basis of love.

And….by his reference to the difficulty of illustration by “extracts”, Scott winks that HE knows that Garrick’s Riddle never appeared in Elegant Extracts, and also connects the dots, as I do, between Garrick’s Riddle  and Reynolds’s link—boy.

But there’s more, much more! Scott lays his veiled allusion to Reynolds’s painting on thick, so that it cannot be missed. After Scott quotes at length from the sexual-innuendo-laden scene when Perry, Wingfield, and London and South End “bad air”, he returns to his commentary on Emma:

“…Upon the whole, the turn of this author's novels bears the same relation to that of the sentimental and romantic cast, that cornfields and cottages and meadows bear to THE HIGHLY ADORNED GROUNDS OF A SHOW MANSION, or the rugged sublimities of a mountain landscape. It is neither so captivating as the one, nor so grand as the other, but it affords to those who frequent it a pleasure nearly allied with the experience of their own social habits; and what is of some importance, the youthful WANDERER may return from his promenade to the ordinary business of life, without any chance of having his head turned by the recollection of the scene through which he has been WANDERING. One word, however, we must say in behalf of that once powerful divinity, CUPID, king of gods and men, who in these times of revolution, has been assailed, even in HIS OWN KINGDOM of romance, by the authors who were formerly his DEVOTED PRIESTS. We are quite aware that there are few instances of first attachment being brought to a happy conclusion, and that it seldom can be so in a state of society so highly advanced as to render early marriages among the better class, acts, generally speaking, of imprudence. But the youth of this realm need not at present be taught the doctrine of selfishness. It is by no means their error to give the world or the good things of the world all for love; and before the authors of moral fiction couple CUPID indivisibly with calculating prudence, we would have them reflect, that they may sometimes lend their aid to substitute more mean, more sordid, and more selfish motives of conduct, for the romantic feelings which their predecessors perhaps fanned into TOO POWERFUL A FLAME. …”

Aside from the apparent winks to Burney’s Wanderer, Scott has referred twice more to Cupid, in close proximity to a gratuitous reference to “the highly adorned grounds of a show mansion” (the Duke of Dorset’s great estate Knole being the quintessence of such a mansion in Southern England, and Emma’s famous meditations on the landscape at Donwell Abbey), to Cupid’s “kingdom” (a wink at the “courtship” charade in Emma, and to “devoted priests” of Cupid—as to that last one, what association does that somewhat sacrilegious pagan imagery bring up for  you from late 18th century England? Who would be the “devoted priests” of Cupid? Of course, that would be the Hellfire Club, composed of many of the close aristocratic associates of the 3rd Duke of Dorset (although I don’t know if he was himself a member).

So, in brief conclusion, I never expected to find validation of my connection of Mr. Woodhouse’s recall of Garrick’s Riddle to Reynolds’s Cupid as Link-Boy from a contemporary published source, and especially from Sir  Walter Scott’s review of JA’s novels—but I do not look this gift horse in the mouth, I am just grateful to live in the era of Google, when making such connections depending only on the ingenuity of the Googler.

Cheers, ARNIE
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