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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, September 2, 2013

The “Multiplicity”, “Divisions” & “Stupid Pamphlets” of Northanger Abbey’s General Tilney & his Secret Doppelganger, Samuel Morland

In my recent exchange with Anielka Briggs, she asked for more information to back up my claim that the famous late 17th century historical personage, Samuel Morland….

….was a major allusive source for the character of General Tilney in Northanger Abbey, and I responded initially by pointing to Morland’s personal life, and how he could have been the poster villain for Bluebeard-like English husbands who “murdered” their (often much younger)  wives by serial pregnancy and childbirths, which I claim is the dominant thread of the feminist themes of Northanger Abbey.

I also mentioned in passing that Samuel Morland would still have been famous in Jane Austen’s lifetime, a century after his death, for his mechanical and mathematical prowess….

…including his invention of calculating machines, as discussed in a 19th century bio of Morland….

“Samuel Morland was one of the chief mechanicians of his time. Besides two arithmetical machines, which have been already mentioned in the description of the Morland's calculating devices, he as was credited for inventing of various machines.“

…and in a 2008 dissertation:

 “Rabdology was also used in various other mechanical calculating machines. Samuel Morland, for instance, designed one calculating machine on Napier’s principle… Morland, “A New and Most Useful Instrument for addition and subtraction of pounds, shillings, pence, and farthings (London, 1672).”

When you think about it, General Tilney, in his heartless mercenary greed, would have found frequent use for Morland’s machine for counting money, every time he met a young heiress who he viewed as a potential wife for himself (not for his son Henry, who was actually his rival for Catherine’s hand in marriage!). And, amazingly onpoint, late in life, Samuel Morland also sought to marry an heiress to try to raise money to pay his own debts!  

But there’s more, much more, that unites Samuel Morland and General Tilney at the hip. I had a hunch back in 2009 that Jane Austen would have found some way to work Samuel Morland’s famous calculating achievements into wordplay in Northanger Abbey, and sure enough, she did:  

Ch. 1: A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs ENOUGH FOR THE NUMBER

Ch. 21: The NUMBER of acres contained in this garden was such as Catherine could not listen to without dismay, being MORE THAN DOUBLE the extent of all Mr. Allen's, as well her father's, including church-yard and orchard. The walls seemed COUNTLESS IN NUMBER, ENDLESS IN LENGTH; a village of hot-houses seemed to arise among them, and a whole parish to be at work within the enclosure.

23: They took a slight survey of all; and Catherine was impressed, beyond her expectation, by their MULTIPLICITY and their convenience. The purposes for which a few shapeless pantries and a comfortless scullery were deemed sufficient at Fullerton, were here carried on in appropriate DIVISIONS, commodious and roomy. The NUMBER of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the NUMBER of their offices.

I particularly like how JA managed to squeeze both multiplication, division and numbers (twice) into successive sentences, without being too obvious about what she was doing!

But JA saved the two best usages, both on the word “calculate”, for last, as she attributes to General Tilney the act of calculation of two numbers with personal significance----the number of dancers who might attend a dinner party at the Abbey, and then his “false calculations”, i.e,. his attributing to Catherine  a much larger fortune than she actually had coming to her:  

Ch. 26: He often expressed his uneasiness on this head, feared the sameness of every day's society and employments would disgust her with the place, wished the Lady Frasers had been in the country, talked every now and then of having a large party to dinner, and once or twice began even to CALCULATE THE NUMBER of young dancing people in the neighbourhood.

Ch. 30: Henry and Eleanor, perceiving nothing in her situation likely to engage their father's particular respect, had seen with astonishment the suddenness, continuance, and extent of his attention; and though latterly, from some hints which had accompanied an almost POSITIVE command to his son of doing everything in his power to attach her, Henry was convinced of his father's believing it to be an advantageous connection, it was not till the late explanation at Northanger that they had the smallest idea of the FALSE CALCULATIONS which had hurried him on. That they were false, the general had learnt from the very person who had suggested them, from Thorpe himself,

But  I still have one more tidbit for you. I will leave you with even more detail about the uncannily close link between Samuel Morland’s famous high-level spying, and Jane Austen’s massive wink at same in the passage describing General Tilney’s late night activities as a kind of Regency Era Dick Cheney:

“Upon his return from Sweden in 1654, Morland was appointed as an assistant to the secretary (Clerk of the Signet) of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell—John Thurloe. His most substantial role under Cromwell was in intelligence-gathering, including developing devices for postal espionage: instruments for opening, deciphering, copying and resealing intercepted communication.”

Ch. 23 of NA: When the butler would have lit his master's candle, however, he was forbidden. The latter was not going to retire. "I have many pamphlets to finish," said he to Catherine, "before I can close my eyes, and perhaps may be poring over the affairs of the nation for hours after you are asleep. Can either of us be more meetly employed? My eyes will be blinding for the good of others, and yours preparing by rest for future mischief."
But neither the business alleged, nor the magnificent compliment, could win Catherine from thinking that some very different object must occasion so serious a delay of proper repose. To be kept up for hours, after the family were in bed, by stupid pamphlets was not very likely.

So, in summation, with the allusive multiplicity of (i) the Bluebeard murder by childbirth of young wives via memorials in an ancient abbey, (ii) the government spying, (iii) the greed for money, and (iv) the numbers wordplay connected to famous primordial calculating machines, I suggest that there is no more complete example than Samuel Morland as doppelganger for General Tilney, of subtextual allusion by Jane Austen in any of her novels.  

All of which imparts additional ironic meaning to the following famous discussion among Catherine, Henry and Eleanor in NA about the merits of historical study:

"[Catheirne]…. history, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in. Can you?"
"Yes, I am fond of history."
"I wish I were too. I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all—it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the heroes' mouths, their thoughts and designs—the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books."
"Historians, you think," said Miss Tilney, "are not happy in their flights of fancy. They display imagination without raising interest. I am fond of history—and am very well contented to take the false with the true. In the principal facts they have sources of intelligence in former histories and records, which may be as much depended on, I conclude, as anything that does not actually pass under one's own observation; and as for the little embellishments you speak of, they are embellishments, and I like them as such. If a speech be well drawn up, I read it with pleasure, by whomsoever it may be made—and probably with much greater, if the production of Mr. Hume or Mr. Robertson, than if the genuine words of Caractacus, Agricola, or Alfred the Great."
"You are fond of history! And so are Mr. Allen and my father; and I have two brothers who do not dislike it. So many instances within my small circle of friends is remarkable! At this rate, I shall not pity the writers of history any longer. If people like to read their books, it is all very well, but to be at so much trouble in filling great volumes, which, as I used to think, nobody would willingly ever look into, to be labouring only for the torment of little boys and girls, always struck me as a hard fate; and though I know it is all very right and necessary, I have often wondered at the person's courage that could sit down on purpose to do it."
"That little boys and girls should be tormented," said Henry, "is what no one at all acquainted with human nature in a civilized state can deny; but in behalf of our most distinguished historians, I must observe that they might well be offended at being supposed to have no higher aim, and that by their method and style, they are perfectly well qualified to torment readers of the most advanced reason and mature time of life. I use the verb 'to torment,' as I observed to be your own method, instead of 'to instruct,' supposing them to be now admitted as synonymous."  END QUOTE

The wonderful extra irony comes, of course, from realizing that Jane Austen herself clearly wove her own historical studies (in this case, of both the personal and professional life of Samuel Morland) deeply into the subtextual fabric of her novels, obliterating the false distinction between history and fiction, as each, to be at its best, must incorporate the spirit of the other in order to both teach and engage the reader who wishes for a rich reading experience.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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