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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Prince Regent, Sir Walter Scott, Mr. Knightley, and Check Mate

After writing my long post a few hours ago that included my reaction to Elissa’s connecting the theme of chess in Emma to my flagging of the curious expression “zigzags of embarrassment” in Emma,  and also included my linkage of same to the Prince Regent’s commissioning Nash to create a “wiggle” in a new avenue in London, I became curious to know whether the Prince Regent might have ever been associated with the game of chess in a way that Jane Austen might have been aware before she completed the writing of Emma.  I think I found just such a thing, see what you think.

In the following post at a chess-oriented blog...
...I read the following:
"[Walter Scott's] works contains many references to chess.  He wrote a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte which contained several chess references.  As a novelist, he probably mentioned chess more than any other novel writer....Walter Scott often played chess with one of his companions in his office when he was an apprentice law clerk for his father, and had to conceal the board when he heard his father’s footsteps….
…. In 1842, an article entitled, “The Prince Regent (future King George IV) and Sir Walter Scott” appeared in the Chess Player’s Chronicle.  It was an anecdote the Sir Walter Scott told about the Prince Regent playing chess with Lord Justice Clerk Braxfield, a friend of Scott’s.”

Did you notice the anecdote about Scott concealing his playing chess from his father? Sounds awfully similar to the following anecdote that JEAL inserted in his Memoir of JA:

“She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants, or visitors, or any persons beyond her own family party.  She wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper.  There was, between the front door and the offices, a swing door which creaked when it was opened; but she objected to having this little inconvenience remedied, because it gave her notice when anyone was coming.”

That only makes me more suspicious of the veracity of that anecdote about JA—I think it far more likely that JEAL wanted to bolster his myth about Jane Austen being modest about anyone beyond the Austen family knowing about her writing, and so he recalled reading Scott’s anecdote, and appropriated it for his devious purposes! 

But back to chess--of course I just had to read that anecdote about Scot and the Prince Regent, and it did not take me long to find it, here it is, in toto:

“Scott told, among others, a story, which he was fond of telling, of his old friend the Lord Justice-Clerk Braxfield; and the commentary of his Royal Highness on hearing it amused Scott, who often mentioned it afterwards. The anecdote is this: Braxfield, whenever he went on a particular circuit, was in the habit of visiting a gentleman of good fortune in the neighbourhood of one of the assize towns, and staying at least one night, which, being both of them ardent Chess-players, they usually concluded with their favourite game. One Spring circuit the battle was not decided at daybreak, so the Justice-Clerk said, 'Weel, Donald, I must e'en come back this gate in the harvest, and let the game lie ower for the present;' and back he came in October, but not to his old friend's hospitable house; for that gentleman had, in the interim, been apprehended on a capital charge (of forgery), and his name stood on the Porteous Roll, or list of those who were about to be tried under his former guest's auspices. The laird was indicted and tried accordingly  and the jury returned a verdict of guilty. Braxfield forthwith put on his cocked hat (which answers to the black cap in England,) and pronounced the sentence of the law in the usual terms 'To be hanged by the neck until you be dead; and may the Lord have mercy upon your unhappy soul!' Having concluded this awful formula in his most sonorous cadence, Braxfield, dismounting his formidable beaver, gave a familiar nod to his unfortunate acquaintance, and said to him, in a sort of chuckling whisper 'And now, Donald, my man, I think I've checkmated you for once.' The Regent laughed heartily at this specimen of Macqueen's brutal humour; and 'I'faith, Walter,' said he, 'this old big-wig seems to have taken things as coolly as my tyrannical self. Don't you remember Tom Moore's description of me at breakfast —
'The table spread with tea and toast,
Death-warrants and the Morning Post?' “  END QUOTE

That sounds exactly analogous to what I imagine Knightley—who was a magistrate and therefore was deeply involved, far beyond Emma’s dim perceptions, in the administration of criminal justice in the parish---did in private when he strong-armed Frank Churchill into writing all that B.S. in the second half of the letter to Mrs. Weston---I see Knightley taking off for Richmond right after he hears the news of Mrs. Churchill’s death, and confronting Frank privately and saying to him, in effect, “Check mate! You’ve got to cooperate by giving up your aspirations to marry Emma, and instead agree to a sham engagement with Jane Fairfax—and if you don’t cooperate, I will expose your crime—the ‘sudden seizure” of your dictatorial aunt—and have you tried for murder in the first degree!”

So, I wonder if Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen did not have a spot of tea one day while JA was writing Emma, in which they would have compared notes about writing novels, and in which Scott would have encouraged JA to finagle a visit to Carlton House out of the gullible buffoon James Stanier Clarke!

Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott were, I think, kindred spirits, both “chess players” –but JA played the interpersonal version better than anyone!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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