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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Reverend Benjamin-William Portal Represented by Edward Ferrars

In Austen L and Janeites, Anielka Briggs has just written two very interesting posts about the allusion she saw in Mansfield Park, whereby Reverend Benjamin William Portal, the real life contemporary, and possible love interest, of Jane Austen, was, Anielka claims, with considerable justification, in my opinion, represented by the character of Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park:

I responded to her first post in part as follows:

"...are you aware of the diabolical clue in S&S that convincingly points to Edward Ferrars as a representation of Revd. Portal? I wonder whether you know it already, but if not, I will be glad to post it to these groups."

As neither Anielka nor anyone else responded, I am now following through on my promise to post that diabolical clue in S&S which points to Reverend Benjamin William Portal. And here it is:

The letter F.

Is that all? What does it mean?

Well, first, all Janeites will recognize that I am referring to the scene in Chapter 21 of S&S when Sir John and Mrs. Jennings tease Elinor about her secret affection for a man whose name is represented by "the letter F", i.e., Edward Ferrars:

"Elinor could not suppose that Sir John would be more nice in proclaiming his suspicions of her regard for Edward, than he had been with respect to Marianne; indeed it was rather his favourite joke of the two, as being somewhat newer and more conjectural; and since Edward's visit, they had never dined together without his drinking to her best affections with so much significancy and so many nods and winks, as to excite general attention. THE LETTER F—had been likewise invariably brought forward, and found productive of such countless jokes, that its character as the wittiest letter in the alphabet had been long established with Elinor."

But… what has the letter F to do with Revd. Portal, who initials are BWP?

Because Revd. Portal was also, as Anielka pointed out, an Oxonian friend of both Henry and James Austen, and was the sole author of two of the issues (#26 and #30) of The Loiterer. But what Anielka did not notice is that he signed both of those issues with......the letter F! (and the Austen brothers also used different one letter initials to code their _own_ authorship of the other Loiterer issues)

But, you reply, that could be a coincidence, and, standing alone, I acknowledge, it surely could be. But then consider the following additional evidence:

Loiterer #45….

…is a very strange bit of writing, which contains the following satirical passage describing a fanciful machine for measuring the movement of "air":

"...But, before I proceed to inform my Readers that he immediately applied an elastic Tube to the Machine, which could easily be moved to every part of the house, it is only necessary that _I should disclaim every idea of personal application_ in the result of our Experiments, as it would give me very sincere concern to have my very worthy publisher obliged to _go down on his knees_ before the House, or my own papers and bureau to be ransacked. In short, though I would wish the Loiterer, No. 45, to be as much read, and equally celebrated with the North Briton of the same Number; yet I flatter myself that none of the other extraordinary consequences which attended that publication, will be experienced upon the present occasion. _To do away, therefore, every thing like personal allusion, I shall pursue the common letters of the alphabet, A, B, C, &c. _

From the letter A nothing remarkable was to be obtained……..The letter D produced a phenomenon of the most singular nature; for at every revolution of the wheel, instead of Air, there ascended little particles of Gold Leaf. And here I ought to inform my Readers, that there is a very narrow part in the Tube of this Machine, exactly similar to that in the Throat of the real Orator, which Anatomists have denominated the Rima Glotidis, or, in plainer terms, the entrance into the wind pipe; which, upon an unusual Exertion of the Machine, became suddenly choaked up, so great was the quantity of these Leaves, which rushed all at once into this narrow passage.

The E’s like the A’s produced nothing remarkable; but no sooner did the Tube come within _THE VORTEX OF THE LETTER F_, than torrents of Air of various Qualities, rushed through the Machine with the greatest impetuosity; nor did this Air differ more in its real Properties, than in the Opinion which the World entertained of its Purity……To our great astonishment this Air had intimately combined with that produced by _THE LETTER F_, forming a compound which at first appeared likely to fill the whole House, till pursuing the alphabet a little further, we discovered a surprising quantity of Air of a nature diametrically opposite, issuing from the Letter P, the flavour of which was so peculiarly powerful, as very soon to predominate....."

If you read the entire Loiterer #45, you quickly realize that the entire issue is one extended joke about verbal flatulence, i.e., the idea of overblown rhetoric as generating the same sort of foul smelling hot air that normally issues from a person's rear end! And it is the words of “F”—which happens to be the first letter of the Latinate “flatulence” and the Anglo-Saxon “fart”---also which generate a powerful torrent of very impure air!

So I claim, first, that it is not a coincidence that Loiterer #45, with its personifications of letters of the alphabet, and its disingenuous disclaimers of personal allusion---should contain this satirical piece that just happens to coincide with the veiled signatures of the authors of the Loiterer themselves, with particular negative judgment rendered on the writings of Benjamin Portal, aka “F”!

Which is why I now guess is that Loiterer #45, along with the issues containing the Sophia Sentiment and Luke Lickspittle letters which I attribute to JA, might be a _third_ Loiterer issue authored by the 14 year old Jane Austen!

But that’s just the beginning of all the smoke in S&S that points to Edward Ferrars as a representation of Reverend Portal—and not at all a favorable one! I will briefly summarize some of it now:


Portal’s obituary makes a very big deal about his lifelong love of poetry. It is therefore curious that Edward Ferrars’s spiritless reading of Cowper makes Marianne cringe, and even Mrs. Dashwood cannot bring herself to pretend he reads poetry well.


Like Edmund Bertram, Edward has an aversion to the practice of law which his family would like him to pursue, preferring to be a country clergyman. Portal’s obituary made a very big deal about that particular point, as Anielka pointed out earlier.


Ferrars is a surname of French origin, suggesting that the Ferrars family were of Huguenot origin. Henri de Portal was the ancestor who fled persecution in France and settled at Laverstoke and became very rich, ase the Ferrars family is rich.


The wealth of the Portal family is symbolized by the way that the family fortune was made and sustained. I.e., by acquiring, and then holding over a period of centuries, the exclusive right to print the distinctively water-marked paper used for all bank notes issued by the Bank of England! The paper mill was located at Laverstoke (not far from the Portal-owned rental mansion where James Austen was married!) , and this is why, I claim, JA wrote her youthful charade on the word "bank note"….

You may lie on my first by the side of a stream,
And my second compose to the NYMPH you adore,
But if, when you've none of my whole, her esteem
And affection diminish--think of her no more!

…, and also why the only specific reference to “bank notes” in all of JA's novels appears in S&S, in Chapter 33:
"Is Mr. Edward Ferrars," said Elinor, with resolution, "going to be married?"
"It is not actually settled, but there is such a thing in agitation. He has a most excellent mother. Mrs. Ferrars, with the utmost liberality, will come forward, and settle on him a thousand a year, if the match takes place. The lady is the Hon. Miss Morton, only daughter of the late Lord Morton, with thirty thousand pounds. A very desirable connection on both sides, and I have not a doubt of its taking place in time. A thousand a-year is a great deal for a mother to give away, to make over for ever; but Mrs. Ferrars has a noble spirit. To give you another instance of her liberality:—The other day, as soon as we came to town, aware that money could not be very plenty with us just now, she put BANK-NOTES into Fanny's hands to the amount of two hundred pounds. And extremely acceptable it is, for we must live at a great expense while we are here."
JA’s joke seems to be that the Portals were so rich they could print their _own_ money!


Robert Ferrars speaks the following snobbish drivel in Chapter 36 of S&S:
"For my own part," said he, "I am excessively fond of a cottage; there is always so much comfort, so much elegance about them. And I protest, if I had any money to spare, I should buy a little land and build one myself, within a short distance of London, where I might drive myself down at any time, and collect a few friends about me, and be happy. I advise every body who is going to build, to build a cottage. My friend Lord Courtland came to me the other day on purpose to ask my advice, and laid before me three different plans of Bonomi's. I was to decide on the best of them. 'My dear Courtland,' said I, immediately throwing them all into the fire, 'do not adopt either of them, but by all means build a cottage.' And that I fancy, will be the end of it.
When Robert Ferrars speaks of tossing architectural plans created by Bonomi into the fire, preferring a simple cottage, this is an ultra-sly joke about the fact that this very same architect Bonomi, whose name was a household word in JA’s era, actually designed Laverstoke for Joseph Portal, the cousin of Benjamin-William Portal, and the proprietor of the paper mill which generated the money necessary to fund some extravagant construction designed by the “it” architect of the day! There is therefore something wicked in JA suggesting, via Robert Ferrars, that Bonomi’s plans were not quite up to par!

And last but not least, it occurred to me after detecting the extended “fart joke” in Loiterer #45, which, as I said above, I believe was the wicked work of the 14-year old Jane Austen, I think it is no coincidence at all that this connects directly to my claim last year about another passage in S&S involving Edward Ferrars, which has to do with the “rears” of people:

The punch line of my above linked post is “dirty bottoms”, and we read the passage in which it appears with fresh eyes if we think about Edward Ferrars as representing Revd. Portal, both as the author of pompous prose in the Loiterer and also as a member of the local family which made its fortune from a paper mill---which, if you think about it, must have generated a _very_ disgusting smell throughout its near environs:
"It is not every one," said Elinor, "who has your passion for dead leaves."
"No; my feelings are not often shared, not often understood. But sometimes they are."—As she said this, she sunk into a reverie for a few moments;—but rousing herself again, "Now, Edward," said she, calling his attention to the prospect, "here is Barton valley. Look up to it, and be tranquil if you can. Look at those hills! Did you ever see their equals? To the left is Barton park, amongst those woods and plantations. You may see the end of the house. And there, beneath that farthest hill, which rises with such grandeur, is our cottage."
"It is a beautiful country," he replied; "but these bottoms must be dirty in winter."
"How can you think of dirt, with such objects before you?"
"Because," replied he, smiling, "among the rest of the objects before me, I see a very dirty lane."
"How strange!" said Marianne to herself as she walked on.

Of course, “dead leaves” is a nice bit of word play to describe……paper!

So, for all of the above reasons, and many more which are beyond the scope of where I want to go today, I claim that JA was sending up Revd. Benjamin William Portal in the character of Edward Ferrars!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: [Added at 4 pm EST]

I was just rereading Loiterer Issue #45 to see if I had missed any clues pointing to Benjamin-William Portal and look what I found, right near the beginning:

"In short, the subject of my present Paper is nothing less than the celebrated Air Machine, by the King’s Royal Letters Patent. The politeness of the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers had induced them to grant the use of their Hall for the Display of this very elegant, though simple Machine, to its worthy and facetious Proprietor the Patentee; with whom I soon found myself on very free, easy, and familiar Terms. And whilst he was demonstrating its wonderful Powers by filling the whole Edifice with the Fumes of Gum Benjamin, drawn from an Apartment at a considerable distance...."

Did you see it? "Gum Benjamin"!!! Of course there really is such a thing as Gum Benjamin (I just Googled it to see), but even so, in a satirical piece like this, filled from beginning to end with fantastical pseudo-scientific verbiage, the author clearly chose to include a reference that included the name "Benjamin" for a reason, which was to point to Benjamin Portal!

And...(close your eyes if you are easily offended) also occurred to me that JA would not have been blind to the punny potential of the surname "Portal", especially in the context of a satirical piece based entirely on the notion of oratory as a species of farting. And surely, if you think for a second about what a "portal" is, you will realize that Loiterer #45 boils down, in the end, to the fact that it points to Benjamin Portal, and then screams "He is a "portal"!" in more ways than his last name, i.e., it is saying that Benjamin Portal is an ******* (being the vulgar name--that is used by millions of speakers of the English language---for that part of the human body whence foul air sometimes escapes)!

And finally, note the epigraph for Loiterer #45, in Latin and in English, which fits perfectly with the subject matter:

"The Goddess, by herself revolving such Thoughts in her inflamed Breast, repairs to Æolia, the native Land of Storms, Regions pregnant with boisterous Winds. Here, in a capacious Cave, King Æolus controuls with imperial Sway the reluctant Winds and blubbering Tempests, and confines them with Chains to their Prison. "

Nimborum in Patriam, Loca fæta furentibus Austris
Æo1iam venit. Hic vasto rex Æolus antro
Luctantes Ventos tempestatesque sonoras
Imperio premit, ac Vinclis et Carcere frenat.
Illi indignantes magno cam murmure Montis
Circum Claustra fremunt. Virgil, The Aeneid

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