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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The infallible economic sense/scents of Mary Crawford’s poetic Popish pause in Mansfield Park

It’s been nearly a year since I last revisited the scene in Chapter 17 of Mansfield Park when Mary Crawford chats with sister Mrs. Grant about brother Henry, and the shadow his rakish flirtations are throwing on Maria Bertram’s impending marriage to Mr. Rushworth:

"I rather wonder Julia is not in love with Henry," was [Mrs. Grant’s] 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."  END QUOTE

I live for fresh epiphanies about bits of narration like “said Mary, after a pause”, because I’ve long since learned that such seeming throwaways are often important hints that Jane Austen has hidden in plain sight for her proactive readers. They invariably alert us to speculate as to what a character is thinking during such an unexplained pause—and so in this case, I asked myself what Mary thought about, before she popped out her witty parody of Browne’s imitation of Pope. As my Subject Line suggests, Mary’s pause is indeed pregnant with rich hidden meaning, as you’ll learn, below.

To start, part of Mary’s pause was surely to give even the quick-witted Mary time to recall Browne’s parody of Pope, and then to generate her own version. And by the way, as with all of Mary’s bon mots (particularly “rears and vices”), don’t you agree that this one is perfectly, sarcastically tailored to describe the situation the clear-eyed Mary observes in the unholy trinity she observe: the reckless and cynical Maria, who marries purely for money and status; the foolish and naive Mr. Rushworth, who lacks the slightest clue why Maria is really marrying him; and the imperious and mercenary Sir Thomas, who barely lifts a finger to discourage Maria from her loveless, cynical engagement, because, it is clear from this and many other passages in the novel, his fatherly eyes are full of pound notes falling like aromatic fruit from the large, tempting Tree of Money at Sotherton.

So we can see, at least in part, why Mary pauses, and then comes up with that particular couplet of Browne’s as her starting point. Its verbiage and cadence provides her with a ready and suitable template onto which she can quickly graft the themes of Rushworth’s stupidity and Sir Thomas’s dictatorial greed. But is there more to Mary’s pause, and the Browne allusion, than that?  To begin to figure this out, we must start with the full text of Browne’s 1736 short poem, “A Pipe of Tobacco: In Imitation of Six Several Authors [of which Alexander Pope is actually only one of the six]”:

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.

It is clear that for some reason Browne is playfully extolling an apparent absurdity--- the miraculous benefits, to various categories of little people, from smoking tobacco. In that sense, it seems an early 18th century satirical precursor of Marx’s very serious and very famous dictum issued a century later: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people". Had the worldly wise Mary Crawford somehow lived to read Marx, she’d have nodded in agreement, don’t you think?

And that (seemingly accidental) resonance got me wondering -- perhaps beneath the seeming frivolity of Browne’s doggerel, written a half century before the French Revolution, there was some more serious, even proto-Marxian, meaning concealed in it --- a veiled critique of class- and money-stratified European society, a world in which the little people could be easily seduced by cheap, simple physical pleasure into accepting a system totally and permanently rigged against them. Was this sort of critique on Mary Crawford’s mind as well, as she observed Maria marrying for money with her greedy father’s hypocritical approval? I think so!

Those speculations reminded me of yet another question I had considered a few times before, but had never found the answer to, nor did I ever learn that any other Austen or Pope scholar had found it either: i.e., if Browne’s poem was (as Mary states) in imitation of Pope, which specific Pope poem was it in imitation of? And why is it that none of the annotations and other discussions of MP that I searched in online even asked that question? If we could find it and read it, surely we would then find clues to Browne’s deeper meaning. And, in turn, that would surely tell us the rest of the story as to why Mary chose that particular couplet as her parodic base.

This time around, using Google, I quickly located what I am certain is that specific Pope poem that Browne and Mary Crawford had in mind. It can be found in his Moral Essays: Epistle III: “Of the Use of Riches”  written to Allen, Lord Bathurst. The Argument explains the title:

“That it is known to few, most falling into one of the extremes, Avarice or Profusion. The point discussed, whether the invention of money has been more commodious or pernicious to mankind. That Riches, either to the Avaricious or the Prodigal, cannot afford happiness, scarcely necessaries. That Avarice is an absolute frenzy, without an end or purpose. Conjectures about the motives of avaricious men. That the conduct of men, with respect to Riches, can only be accounted for by the Order of Providence, which works the general good out of extremes, and brings all to its great end by perpetual revolutions. How a Miser acts upon principles which appear to him reasonable. How a Prodigal does the same. The due medium and true use of riches. The Man of Ross. The fate of the Profuse and the Covetous, in two examples; both miserable in life and in death. The story of Sir Balaam.”

Avarice, covetousness, misery. May I pause at this moment and say “BINGO!” Just as I suspected, Mary Crawford was clearly aware that “Of the Use of Riches” was the theme of Pope’s poem behind Browne’s parody-she was thus a very sharp elf indeed, to have both Pope and Browne at her mental fingertips, ready for just such an occasion. Maria, Rushworth, and Sir Thomas are all totally busted!

And that is more the case, the more closely we look. Here is the opening couplet of Pope’s poetic Epistle III which Google led me to:

Blest paper-credit! last and best supply!   [Is that an echo of Henry’s Miltonian “Heaven’s last best gift”?]
That lends Corruption lighter wings to fly!  [Like Satan’s wings flying into Eden?]
Gold imp’d by thee, can compass hardest things,  [Satan and his imps]
Can pocket States, can fetch or carry Kings;
A single leaf shall waft an Army o’er,
Or ship off Senates to a distant Shore;
A leaf, like Sibyl’s, scattered to and fro
Our fates and fortunes, as the winds shall blow, (lines 69-76)

The above short poetic passage has actually had a surprisingly complicated publication history (because despite JA’s having playfully referred to Pope as “infallible” in an 1813 letter which she wrote while deeply engaged in the writing of Mansfield Park, Pope was fallible—or finicky-- enough to have regularly revised lines in his poems over the course of several editions). However, the keywords and phrases that Browne so clearly echoed are, I am sure you’ll agree, obvious in the above quotation.

For those of a truly wonky disposition, I include, in the remainder of this post, a few brief excerpts from Julian Ferraro’s article, “The Presentation and Representation of Epistles to Several Persons” in Proceedings of the British Academy  #91, 111-124 (1998), analyzing the sharp economic critique in Pope’s poem, which I assert was on Browne’s, Mary Crawford’s, and Jane Austen’s minds

“…the reader is provided with alternatives, all of which derive their authority directly from the poet….the result that the boundaries of the prime text become blurred… The Epistle to Bathurst in particular seems to have been contrived to defy any easy accommodation within a moral scheme. Rather than providing a firm foundation for its maxims and aphorisms, Pope’s reworkings of that poem seem directed towards giving full play to ironies and ambivalences...The section of the Epistle to Bathurst in which Pope describes the effects on society of paper-credit is one which evolves significantly as he revises the poem for the various editions of the second volume of the Works...
…In the 1744 text, the qualification ‘advanc’d so high’ is removed. It is no longer paper-credit taken to extremes but paper-credit per se that contributes to corruption, a shift reflected in the removal of ‘now’ from the second line. Thus, the revised couplet embraces the concept of paper-credit in a wholly ironic way, directed explicitly at the current state of affairs:
Blest Paper-credit! Last and best supply!
That lends Corruption lighter wings to fly!
[This image of paper-credit ironically echoes Proverbs 23.5: ‘Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven’.]
…the fact that the poet has felt it necessary to alter his text is itself a further indictment of the society that he criticizes. .…Pope has replaced the nebulous ‘they’ with his original villain. It is not just the new fangled paper-credit and the corruption it facilitates that ‘may’ destroy established hierarchies, but the perennial evil, ‘Gold.’
In the text of the 1735 Works, the second line of the couplet is revised…’may’ being replaced by ‘can’; what is described is no longer a potential but a proven ability. In the 1744 ‘deathbed’ edition, the lines are revised once more. Pope now addresses the lines directly to ‘Blest paper-credit’ and reinforces the sense of immediacy by emphasizing the power of the winged monster with a threefold repetition of the word ‘can’:
Gold, imp’d by thee, can compass hardest things,
Can pocket States, can fetch and carry Kings;
This revision reestablishes paper-credit as an agent rather than an object, giving it an identity that the poet addresses, as it were, face to face….the satirist boldly confronting a virtual personification of the economic system whose vices he denounces, a physical realization of paper-credit which Pope continues to develop in revision to the imagery in the lines that follow.
…In the last lines of the poem, Pope again suppresses controversial –possibly treasonable—lines until the poem is incorporated in the 1735 Works. MS 1 reads
His Wife, Son & Daughter, Satan! Are thy own;
His Wealth, yet dearer, forfeit to the Crown’
The Devil and the King divide the prize,
And sad Sir Balaam curses God and dies.”   END QUOTE FROM FERRARO

Those last references to Satan, the Devil, and the cursing of God, all further point to the well recognized Paradise Lost subtext of MP. And so, let me conclude by pointing out that once again Mary Crawford, under the superficial appearance of thoughtless selfish inappropriate joking, is actually the Truthteller and Whistleblower about all the moral rot at Mansfield Park.

In a followup post, I will relate all of the above to my February 2016 ruminations about the Aphra Behn subtext that I previously saw in Pope’s, Browne’s, Mary Crawford’s, and Jane Austen’s meanings, but for now, I think I’ve given you enough --- so, in honor of Browne’s ode to tobacco, just put all my Austenian heresies in your pipe and smoke ‘em!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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