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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

So Tysoe Hancock really WAS a Jonathan Swift fan after all!

After my speculation in my post last week that Tysoe Hancock may well have been inspired, by a passage in Jonathan Swift’s off-the-wall Polite Conversations, to concoct his strange fantasy about being hung by young women with garters sent to him by the elderly Miss Freeman, imagine my pleasant surprise when I read the following comment by Ellen this morning:

 “…reread his letter 3 September 1773 for why he says the Governor will give him nothing. I don’t know which Swift text his analogy comes from: the man wanted to be my Lord’s Chaplain ends his postilion.”

The following is the answer to Ellen’s question, as you’ll see, it makes my speculation seem more like a certainty—it tells us that beneath a lugubrious personality almost certainly was a primary source for Colonel Brandon’s being such a downer, Tysoe Hancock (perhaps identifying with Jonathan Swift, who was, for all of his satirical output, not the happiest camper in the world) had a sense of humor, and was a reading man who was not just about the ka-ching of pounds and rupees. And his persistent desire for Eliza to get an excellent education can then be seen as his wanting his daughter (whether biological or not) to follow in his own learned footsteps.

First, the allusion by Hancock is to Tatler #52 from 1709, Steele’s first periodical, to which Swift made a handful of contributions, under the same fake name that Steele had invented, Isaac Bickerstaffe. And here is the relevant quotation from Tatler #52:

“We have one peculiar elegance in our language above all others, which is conspicuous in the term 'fellow.' This word, added to any of our adjectives, extremely varies, or quite alters the sense of that with which is it joined. Thus though 'a modest man,' is the most unfortunate of all men, yet a modest fellow' is as superlatively happy. 'A modest fellow' is a ready creature, who with great humility, and as great forwardness, visits his patrons at all hours, and meets them in all places, and has so moderate an opinion of himself, that he makes his court at large. If you will not give him a great employment, he will be glad of a little one. He has so great a deference for his benefactor’s judgment, that as he thinks himself fit for any thing he can get, so he is above nothing which is offered. He is like the young bachelor of arts, who came to town recommended to a chaplain's place; but none being vacant, modestly accepted that of a postillion.”  END QUOTE

And we know from RAAL’s  intro to Chapter 3 that he learned about the Hancock correspondence  from a passage in a 1904 article by one  Sydney Grier, and here it is, which includes more verbiage from Hancock’s letter:

“A Friend of Warren Hastings” by Sydney C. Grier in Blackwood’s Magazine:
“…The extraordinary compact between Hastings and Imhoff and his wife was still a secret, and Hancock puts the worst construction upon the lady's remaining. It is impossible not to suspect that a certain jealousy of her influence had invaded his mind. If the theory we have propounded be correct, it was natural that he should object to find Phila's sister supplanted by a foreigner whose position he considered equivocal, and he had certainly not reaped the benefits he anticipated from Hastings' appointment. "I have not," he complains, "a hundredth part of the influence with the Governor which his head-bearer enjoys. At present I am somewhat in the situation of the clergyman mentioned by Swift, who made interest to be a lord's chaplain, but was obliged to be contented with being his lordship's postilion." When he attempted to obtain a post for an acquaintance, Hastings had answered, "As to my friends, I shall be glad to serve them, but as to my friends' friends, I neither can nor will serve them." The words must have been uttered in a moment of unusual irritation, but Hancock felt that he could ask no more, though this was not his worst disappointment. He had hoped to become his friend's private secretary, "on account of our long intimacy and my education," but was passed over in favour of the Hon. John Stewart.
"I will venture to assure you," he says tartly, "that the abilities of this gentleman are circumscribed within a narrow compass; but he is a Scotsman, and blessed with a happy opinion of his own importance." When Stewart became Secretary to the Council, Hancock ventured again to ask Hastings whom he meant to appoint, and learned that it was Belli, the protege of John Macpherson, his Madras colleague. Poor Hancock writes that the answer had cured him of vanity, as the young man was very worthy, and better qualified for the post than himself, and though much hurt, he feels that Hastings is right.”

I wonder why RAAL did not quote the full passage that Grier sets out  from the actual letter, but in the era of Google, it was easy to retrieve Grier’s article.

And so, there is the full explanation that Ellen sought. A postilion was the second fiddle who rode on the left lead horse in a team of six horses pulling a chaise, while the driver was the one sitting up top, in effect the “captain”.  So, the part of the letter that RAAL quoted sounded as if Hancock was resentful of Hastings’s treating him like a stranger (a mere Friend’s Friend), but the other parts quoted by Grier make it sound like Hancock, with his low self-esteem, rationalizing Hastings giving him the cold shoulder.

And one final point that connects to my recent posts about Mary Crawford as in part a portrait of Eliza Hancock Austen.  When Hancock writes that learning of Macpherson getting another valued appointment ahead of him “had cured him of vanity”, it reminded me of what Mary says:

“Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure."

Somehow I have to believe that Mary’s witty, paradoxical aphoristic genius is a reflection of the same trait in the real life Eliza, and that Eliza’s ironic sense of humor was in some part a legacy from her “father” Tysoe Hancock.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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