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

Monday, February 15, 2016

The shocking hidden meaning behind Mary Crawford’s parody of Browne’s paean to tobacco: Part 1

In Chapter 17 of Mansfield Park, in the midst of the Lovers Vows amateur theatricals episode, Mary Crawford and sister Mrs. Grant discuss brother Henry Crawford’s dangerous flirtations with sisters Maria and Julia Bertram: 
“...Fanny's heart was not absolutely the only saddened one amongst them, as she soon began to acknowledge to herself. Julia was a sufferer too, though not quite so blamelessly.  Henry Crawford had trifled with her feelings; but she had very long allowed and even sought his attentions, with a jealousy of her sister so reasonable as ought to have been their cure; and now that the conviction of his preference for Maria had been forced on her, she submitted to it without any alarm for Maria's situation, or any endeavour at rational tranquillity for herself. She either sat in gloomy silence, wrapt in such gravity as nothing could subdue, no curiosity touch, no wit amuse; or allowing the attentions of Mr. Yates, was talking with forced gaiety to him alone, and ridiculing the acting of the others.
For a day or two after the affront was given, Henry Crawford had endeavoured to do it away by the usual attack of gallantry and compliment, but he had not cared enough about it to persevere against a few repulses; and becoming soon too busy with his play to have time for more than one flirtation, he grew indifferent to the quarrel, or rather thought it a lucky occurrence, as quietly putting an end to what might ere long have raised expectations in more than Mrs. Grant. She was not pleased to see Julia excluded from the play, and sitting by disregarded; but as it was not a matter which really involved her happiness, as Henry must be the best judge of his own, and as he did assure her, with a most persuasive smile, that neither he nor Julia had ever had a serious thought of each other, she could only renew her former caution as to the elder sister, entreat him not to risk his tranquillity by too much admiration there, and then gladly take her share in anything that brought cheerfulness to the young people in general, and that did so particularly promote the pleasure of the two so dear to her.
"I rather wonder Julia is not in love with Henry," was her observation to Mary.
"I dare say she is," replied Mary coldly. "I imagine both sisters are."
"Both! no, no, that must not be. Do not give him a hint of it. Think of Mr. Rushworth!"
"You had better tell Miss Bertram to think of Mr. Rushworth. It may do her some good. I often think of Mr. Rushworth's property and independence, and wish them in other hands; but I never think of him. A man might represent the county with such an estate; a man might escape a profession and represent the county."
"I dare say he will be in parliament soon. When Sir Thomas comes, I dare say he will be in for some borough, but there has been nobody to put him in the way of doing anything yet."
"Sir Thomas is to achieve many mighty things when he comes home," said Mary, after a pause. "Do you remember Hawkins Browne's 'Address to Tobacco,' in imitation of Pope?—
     Blest leaf! whose aromatic gales dispense
     To Templars modesty, to Parsons sense.
I will parody them—
     Blest Knight! whose dictatorial looks dispense
     To Children affluence, to Rushworth sense.
Will not that do, Mrs. Grant? Everything seems to depend upon Sir Thomas's return."
"You will find his consequence very just and reasonable when you see him in his family, I assure you. I do not think we do so well without him. He has a fine dignified manner, which suits the head of such a house, and keeps everybody in their place. Lady Bertram seems more of a cipher now than when he is at home; and nobody else can keep Mrs. Norris in order. But, Mary, do not fancy that Maria Bertram cares for Henry. I am sure Julia does not, or she would not have flirted as she did last night with Mr. Yates; and though he and Maria are very good friends, I think she likes Sotherton too well to be inconstant."
"I would not give much for Mr. Rushworth's chance if Henry stept in before the articles were signed."
"If you have such a suspicion, something must be done; and as soon as the play is all over, we will talk to him seriously and make him know his own mind; and if he means nothing, we will send him off, though he is Henry, for a time."
Julia did suffer, however, though Mrs. Grant discerned it not, and though it escaped the notice of many of her own family likewise….’ “  END QUOTE

As you saw above, it was in the context of discussing the soon-to-return Sir Thomas’s power to further  Rushworth’s Parliamentary prospects that Mary, “after a pause” (suggesting she’s been thinking) offers up an adlibbed parody of a famous couplet from (Isaac) Hawkins Browne’s 1736 imitation of the much more renowned Alexander Pope. Here is Browne’s “Address to Tobacco”, a short poem, in full:

Epigraph: “Vanescit Solis ad ortus Fumus”—Lucan
[translated as “the smoke that fades away at sunrise” and explained in Browne’s 3rd edition as follows: “This is intended as a great Compliment to the Poet imitated, who is here represented as the Sun, at whose Rising the Smoke, or Fog, is immediately dispers’d; his Writing being so fine and pure, that it suffers no Obscurity to attend it.”]

Blest Leaf! whose aromatic gales dispense
To Templars modesty, to parsons sense:   
So raptur'd priests, at fam'd Dodona's shrine
Drank inspiration from the steam divine.
Poison that cures, a vapour that affords
Content, more solid than the smile of lords:
Rest to the weary, to the hungry food,
The last kind refuge of the wise and good:
Inspir'd by thee, dull cits adjust the scale
Of Europe's peace, when other statesmen fail.
By thee protected, and thy sister, beer,
Poets rejoice, nor think the bailiff near.
Nor less, the critic owns thy genial aid,
While supperless he plies the piddling trade.
What tho' to love and soft delights a foe,
By ladies hated, hated by the beau,
Yet social freedom, long to courts unknown,
Fair health, fair truth, and virtue are thy own.
Come to thy poet, come with healing wings,
And let me taste thee unexcis'd by kings.

Until today, I was entirely unaware of the pun hidden in plain sight in the very same opening couplet that Mary parodies--- can you spot it now?  [scroll down for the answer]



The pun rests on Browne’s satirical conceit that “aromatic gales” of tobacco smoke can magically “dispense” “sense” to those who inhale it. The ironic counterpoint is that if not “sense”, at the very least the tobacco smoke will literally “dispense” “scents”! But here’s what caught me totally by surprise: it turns out that this pun is one of four crucial textual clues in Browne’s poem, which all point to a deeper, shocking source behind Browne’s parody, and behind Mary’s parody of a Browne’s parody, all to be revealed by this post’s end.

I’ve quoted you that passage from MP, and also Browne’s poem, because I sleuthed out today that while Browne did indeed imitate the general style of Pope in the above parody, he also covertly imitated one specific poem by another famous English author, an elegy mourning the death of still another famous English author! My analysis, below, of the above quoted passage from MP will reveal that Mary C. (and therefore also, of course, her creator, Jane Austen) was aware of all aspects of Browne’s covert allusion –indeed, such awareness is why Mary, after that pregnant pause, pops out that particular parody at that particular point in her tete-a-tete with Mrs. Grant.

So without further ado: the specific poem by an author (other than Pope) that I say Browne was pointing to, is one which fits all four of the following very specific clues:

CLUE #1: It contains a couplet, the two lines of which end with the identical words as the Browne couplet parodied by Mary; and

CLUE #2: It contains that same pun on sense/scents which we find in that Browne couplet; and

CLUE #3: It contains a stanza which fits perfectly with Browne’s explanation of his Latin epigraph as reflective of the imitated poet as being “represented as the sun”; and

CLUE #4: It contains a reference to a historical name shared with a character in Mansfield Park mentioned five times during Mary’s brief discussion with Mrs. Grant.

I.e., the answers to these 4 clues converge on my 2 related claims: (a) that Browne consciously imitated a poem by a writer other than Pope; and (b) that Mary C. and Jane A. were aware of Browne’s imitation of that earlier poem. You may well now ask, why should we suspect Mary Crawford of a secret allusion, when she so matter of factly calls Browne’s poem an imitation of Pope, and when the general Regency Era understanding was the same, as per Warton’s 1782 quotation of Pope’s approval of Browne’s poetry:  “Brown is an excellent copyist, and those who take his imitations amiss, are much in the wrong; they are very strongly mannered, and few perhaps could write so well if they were not so.”

Here’s why. On a couple of occasions over the past decade, always suspecting both Mary Crawford and Jane Austen of a trick, I’ve attempted to locate the specific passage in Pope’s poetry which Browne imitated, hoping it would reveal something interesting. But each time I was disappointed that I met with no success, despite exhaustive computer keyword searching of volumes of Pope’s collected poetry. While I did find a nonspecific sort of echoing of the style of Pope’s famous couplets in those verses of Browne’s, I always found it unsatisfying that Browne apparently had no specific Pope poem in mind. It didn’t make sense that JA would insert such a wormhole in her novel, if it led nowhere interesting. Plus, Browne’s teasing explanation of the Lucan epigraph struck me like a deliberate clue, as if telling the reader that the poem being imitated had sun imagery in it. And, finally, Browne did NOT name the poet, which left the intriguing possibility that it wasn’t Pope, or, at least, it wasn’t ONLY Pope!

And it luckily turned out that my instincts were good. So, now I’ll take up each of the above four clues one by one, and then at the end of this post reveal the identity of the imitated poet, and the title of the imitated poem:

CLUE #1: It contains a couplet, the two lines of which end with the identical words as the Browne couplet parodied by Mary:

Here is Browne’s couplet:

Blest leaf! whose aromatic gales dispense
To Templars modesty, to parsons sense:   

And now here is the couplet I say Browne was imitating, which is the beginning of the second stanza of the poem that contains it:

His name’s a genius that wou’d wit dispense
And give the Theme a Soul, the Words a sense.

Do I have to explain why I’m certain that Browne’s couplet was based directly on that other couplet? It’s not just the identical final words of each line, and the closely parallel phrasing, it’s also the parallel sense (ha ha) of each couplet. I.e., in Browne, tobacco smoke magically dispenses “sense”; in his model, it’s the name and the “wit” of the genius being eulogized which has the same magic power.

CLUE #2: It contains that same pun on sense/scents which we find in that Browne couplet.

Here is the first half of the final stanza of the poem I say was imitated by Browne:

Large was his Fame, but short his Glorious Race,
Like young Lucretius and dy'd apace.
So early Roses fade, so over all
They cast their fragrant SCENTS, then softly fall,
While all the scatter'd PERFUM’D leaves declare,
How lovely 'twas when whole, how sweet, how fair.

Is it just a coincidence that the other poem, which consists of a total of only five stanzas, has one stanza significantly referring to the dispensation of “sense”, and then another one significantly referring to the casting of “scents”? Especially when combined with the answers to the other three clues, NO!

CLUE #3: It contains a stanza which fits perfectly with Browne’s explanation of his Latin epigraph as reflective of the imitated poet as being “represented as the sun”.

Here is the first stanza of the poem I say was imitated by Browne:

Mourn, Mourn, ye Muses, all your loss deplore,
The Young, the Noble Strephon is no more.
So rich a Prize the STYGIAN GODS ne're bore,
Such WIT, such Beauty, never grac'd their Shore.
He was but lent this duller World t'improve
In all the charms of Poetry, and Love;
Both were his gift, which freely he bestow'd,
And like a God, dealt to the wond'ring Crowd.
Scorning the little Vanity of Fame,
Spight of himself attain'd a Glorious name.
But oh! in vain was all his peevish Pride,
As piercing, pointed, and MORE LASTING BRIGHT,

Again, it should be clear how totally the above stanza revolves around the conceit of the eulogized poet as a “sun” who brings light to the world, which is exactly what Browne’s explanation of his Lucan epigraph was all about.

CLUE #4: It contains a reference to a non-English name shared with another character in Mansfield Park, a character who is mentioned five times during Mary’s brief discussion with Mrs. Grant that includes Mary’s adlibbing her parody.

For the answer, check out the second half of the final stanza of the poem I claim Browne was imitating:

Had he been to the Roman Empire known,
When great Augustus fill'd the peaceful Throne;
Had he the noble wond'rous Poet seen,
And known his Genius, and survey'd his Meen,
(When Wits, and Heroes grac'd Divine abodes,)
He had increas'd the number of their Gods;
The Royal Judge had TEMPLES rear'd to's name,
And made him as Immortal as his Fame;
In Love and Verse his Ovid he'ad out-done,
And all his Laurels, and HIS JULIA WON.
Mourn, Mourn, unhappy World, his loss deplore,
The great, the charming Strephon is no more.

So, here we see a reference to “his Julia won” and guess what? Julia was the name of ‘great Augustus’s’ only child, and here’s an online synopsis of the life of the royal Roman daughter Julia, whose life trajectory (loveless marriage to a rich husband, repeated adultery, then banishment to soft exile as punishment for that adultery) sounds uncannily similar to that of Maria Rushworth in Mansfield Park:

“Augustus was married three times but those marriages produced only one child, a daughter, Julia.  The Emperor had divorced Julia's mother before the birth in about 39 BCE. Julia's first husband died after only two years when she was just 16 years old. Hoping for a grandson to groom to take over the reigns of government, Augustus arranged for her to marry Agrippa, a rich man more than double her age. Rumor had it that she enjoyed many affairs during the marriage. Agrippa died after 9 years, leaving Julia wealthy enough to live as she pleased until her father stepped in and arranged yet another marriage, this time with Tiberius, son by another husband of the Emperor's wife.  Julia's third husband, like the others before him, had been forced by Augustus to divorce an earlier wife in order to be free to marry the Emperor's daughter.  Julia had not wished to marry again and simply resumed her many affairs; Tiberius retired to Rhodes to live a quiet life as a private citizen. Augustus had shamelessly arranged three marriages for his daughter in order to suit his own political ends.  Though he had simply taken it for granted that that was the Roman way, he really did love her, but Julia's behavior was putting him in a very difficult position. The moral reforms that Augustus had insisted on making law required a father to act if a husband was unwilling or unable to curb a wife's adultery.  With each new affair public pressure on Augustus increased.  He had to make an example of her or rescind the entire family values program.
Julia was banished to a barren island.  Her daughter, also called Julia, took up her mother's ways and was sent into exile by her grandfather to an island in the Adriatic. Tiberius eventually became Emperor and allowed his ex-wife to move to a somewhat less inhospitable island where she remained until her death.”  END QUOTE

Plus, we can also see in this stanza another reason why Browne included that epigraph from a poem by Lucan about the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey, which preceded the reign of Augustus”!

So now we begin to understand one big reason why Mary pauses, and then recalls and parodizes Browne’s parody of the earlier poem I’ve been quoting from: Mary recalls Julia, daughter of Augustus!
And see how neatly this piece fits in the jigsaw puzzle of the novel as a whole. Sure, Mary had not yet arrived at Mansfield Park when the teenaged Julia or Maria complains to Aunt Norris that Fanny is ignorant “of the Roman emperors as low as Severus; besides a great deal of the heathen mythology, and all the metals, semi-metals, planets, and distinguished philosophers.". But now that we understand the Roman Augustan subtext behind Mary’s parody on Browne, we can connect the dots back a half dozen chapters to Mary’s first thinly veiled allusion to compulsory Roman royal loveless marriage as the model for Maria and Mr. Rushworth’s impending nuptials upon Sir Thomas’s return from Antigua:

"How happy Mr. Rushworth looks! He is thinking of November."
Edmund looked round at Mr. Rushworth too, but had nothing to say.
"Your father's return will be a very interesting event."
"It will, indeed, after such an absence; an absence not only long, but including so many dangers."
"It will be the forerunner also of other interesting events: your sister's marriage, and your taking orders."
"Don't be affronted," said she, laughing, "but it does put me in mind of some of the old heathen heroes, who, after performing great exploits in a foreign land, offered sacrifices to the gods on their safe return."
"There is no sacrifice in the case," replied Edmund, with a serious smile, and glancing at the pianoforte again; "it is entirely her own doing."
"Oh yes I know it is. I was merely joking. She has done no more than what every young woman would do; and I have no doubt of her being extremely happy….”

And finally I am also now certain that Jane Austen was broadly winking at the public furor in 1813-4 England, while JA was writing Mansfield Park, about the Prince Regent’s attempts to force his daughter Princess Charlotte to marry a man she didn’t love, as described in Wikipedia:

“In 1813…George began to seriously consider the question of Charlotte's marriage. The Prince Regent and his advisors decided on William, Hereditary Prince of Orange…Such a marriage would increase British influence in NW Europe. William made a poor impression on Charlotte when she first saw him, …when he became intoxicated, as did the Prince Regent himself and many of the guests. Although no one in authority had spoken to Charlotte about the proposed marriage, she was quite familiar with the plan through palace whispers…Believing that his daughter intended to marry William, Duke of Gloucester, the Prince Regent saw his daughter and verbally abused both her and Gloucester…The matter soon leaked to the papers…The Prince Regent attempted a gentler approach, but failed to convince Charlotte who wrote that "I could not quit this country, as Queen of England still less" and that if they wed, the Prince of Orange would have to "visit his frogs solo". However, on 12 December, the Prince Regent arranged a meeting between Charlotte and the Prince of Orange at a dinner party, and asked Charlotte for her decision. She stated that she liked what she had seen so far, which George took as an acceptance, and quickly called in the Prince of Orange to inform him.
Negotiations over the marriage contract took several months, with Charlotte insisting that she not be required to leave Britain….On 10 June 1814, Charlotte signed the marriage contract. Charlotte had become besotted with a Prussian prince whose identity is uncertain; according to Charles Greville, it was Prince AUGUSTUS [a Prussian general]…At a party at the Pulteney Hotel in London, Charlotte met a Lieutenant-General in the Russian cavalry, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The Princess invited Leopold to call on her, an invitation he took up, remaining for three quarters of an hour, and writing a letter to the Prince Regent apologising for any indiscretion. This letter impressed George very much, although he did not consider the impoverished Leopold as a possible suitor for his daughter's hand.  The Princess of Wales opposed the match between her daughter and the Prince of Orange, and had great public support: when Charlotte went out in public, crowds would urge her not to abandon her mother by marrying the Prince of Orange. Charlotte informed the Prince of Orange that if they wed, her mother would have to be welcome in their home—a condition sure to be unacceptable to the Prince Regent. When the Prince of Orange would not agree, Charlotte broke off the engagement. Her father's response was to order that Charlotte remain at her residence at Warwick House (adjacent to Carlton House) until she could be conveyed to Cranbourne Lodge at Windsor, where she would be allowed to see no one except the Queen. When told of this, Charlotte raced out into the street. A man, seeing her distress from a window, helped the inexperienced Princess find a hackney cab, in which she was conveyed to her mother's house. Caroline was visiting friends and hastened back to her house, while Charlotte summoned Whig politicians to advise her. A number of family members also gathered, including her uncle, Frederick, Duke of York—with a warrant in his pocket to secure her return by force if need be. After lengthy arguments, the Whigs advised her to return to her father's house, which she did the next day….The story of Charlotte's flight and return was soon the talk of the town….The Opposition press made much of the tale of the runaway Princess.” END QUOTE

And that vivid historical account brings me to the close of Part One of my posts about the first half of the astonishing hidden meaning I see in Mary Crawford’s seemingly trivial parody of Browne. In Part Two, tomorrow, I will unpack the other half of the hidden meaning I see—i.e., the rich implications behind Mary’s (and therefore Austen’s) covertly but unmistakably allude to the particular poet, and to the particular poem, which Browne was really imitating when he wrote his parody that Mary parodied.

The name of the poet?: Aphra Behn!
The name of the poem?: “On the Death of the late Earl of  Rochester”!!

Consider this a coming attraction: in several posts during the past month, I demonstrated the pervasive presence of John Wilmot, the infamous 2nd Earl of Rochester, inside the complex, mysterious character of Mr. Darcy in P&P. In Part Two, I’ll explain how Henry Crawford is a much more overt portrait of the mercurial, brilliant, theatrical, scandalous, and sexually profligate Earl, and how Jane Austen emulated, not just in P&P and in MP, but also in Lady Susan, Aphra Behn’s complex portrayals of her friend, the larger than life Earl, in her writings (both in that eulogizing poem and also in Behn’s most famous play, The Rovers).

And finally I will conclude by explaining why I am the first Austen scholar to see all of the above—by showing that this is a particularly good example of the terrible power of the Myth of Jane Austen to cloud the plain meaning of JA’s allusions, such as her inclusion of the Earl of Rochester in her subtext, because they do not fit with the conventional (and utterly wrong) wisdom of what she is supposed to have done.

Mary Crawford saw the “sunlight” and knew better, and after you read Part 2, so will you!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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