(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Austen/Shelley/Lamb: the Matrix of the Prince of Whales, the Devil’s Walk, & Queen Mab

In Austen-L and Janeites today, Anielka Briggs surfaced and wrote the following response to my post in which I revisited my shadow interpretations of the second charade in Emma, including my repeating my long standing claim that Frank Churchill is the “abominable puppy” who gives (then) Miss Hawkins “an acrostic on her name”—and that the “acrostic” is none other than Mr. Elton’s charade, which contains not one but two anagram acrostics on the name “Lamb”: 

Anielka: “The puppy was indeed Frank Churchill aka a young Shelley who parodied Lady Caroline Lamb aka part of Augusta (Elton = L Ton = Lady Ton*) in 1813 just after Byron "disposed" of her as follows:

A s breathing marble, perish?
M ust putrefaction's breath
L eave nothing of this heavenly sight
B ut loathsomeness and ruin?

Would Lady Caroline's public protestations, compared to putrefaction's breath, ultimately reduce the love she had shared with Byron to his hatred of her and her own public ruin? ie Shelley says in 1813 she was the architect of her own downfall - bear in mind Shelley was not an intimate of Byron in 1813, just an admirer.”

Anielka, thanks for your interesting response to my revisiting of subtexts of the second charade in Chapter 9 of Emma. Your suggestion, above, that Shelley is parodying Lady Caroline Lamb in “Queen Mab” is ingenious, but before I go along with it (I’d like to, as it would fit with my claim that she’s one of two “Lambs” in Austen’s charade), I want to see more allusions to Caro in “Queen Mab”.

I say that, also because I’ve got an alternative interpretation, which has the advantage of being virtually certain rather than highly speculative, because it is so clearly part of a larger and well-established matrix of veiled allusion. I.e., I say Shelley meant thereby to refer to Charles Lamb--more specifically, to his “Triumph of the Whale”, which, as we all know, was a satire of the Prince of Whales which Jane Austen specifically pointed to in her “courtship” charade for Emma. My case is simple and straightforward.

First, it is a well-established fact that Shelley, like Lamb, had the Prince Regent in the sights of his satirical rifle in March 1812. How so? Because Shelley, not long afterwards, anonymously published a short poem “The Devil’s Walk”, which reads like a virtual restatement of Lamb’s “Triumph of the Whale”----just better poetry! Here’s the Prince Regent part:

Satan next saw a BRAINLESS KING,
Whose house was as hot as his own,
Many imps in attendance were there on the wing,
They flapped the pelmon and twisted the sting,
Close by the very Throne.

Ah, ha! thought Satan, the pasture is good,
My Cattle will here thrive better than others,
Mr. Rossetti substitutes he for the Devil.
They dine on news of human blood,
They sup on the groans of the dying and dead,
And supperless never will go to bed;
Which will make them fat as their brothers.
FAT as the fiends that feed on blood,
Fresh and warm from the fields of Spain,
Where ruin ploughs her gory way,
When1 the shoots of earth are nipped in the bud,
Where Hell is the Victor’s prey,
Its glory the meed of the slain. '

FAT as the death-birds on Erin’s shore?
That glutted themselves in her dearest gore,
And flitted round Castlereagh,
When they snatched the Patriot’s heart, that his grasp
Had torn from its widow's maniac clasp,
And fled at the dawn of day.

FAT as the reptiles of the tomb
That riot in corruption’s soil
That fret their little hour in gloom,
And creep, and live the while

FAT as that PRINCE’s maudlin brain,
Which addled by some gilded toy,
Tired, gives his sweetmeat, and again
Cries for it, like a humoured boy.

For he is FAT, his waistcoat gay,
When strained upon a levee day,
Scarce meets across his princely paunch,
And pantaloons are like half moons
Upon each brawny haunch.

All the exact same imagery is there as in Lamb’s poem—Shelley’s urbane Devil is a recasting of Lamb’s mock-Satanic Prince of Whales, as is the focus on the Prince’s obesity as a symbol of his having gorged on the lifeblood of the English people. It makes perfect sense: Shelley read Lamb’s poem, then expanded “The Devil’s Walk” (first draft written in 1811) to include that same satire on the Prince of Whales!

And then, a year later, in 1813, I see “Queen Mab” as Shelley’s poetic expansion of the kernel of “The Devil’s Walk”. Shelley lays out a vision of utopia which arrives when the tyranny of the Prince of Whales has been overthrown. So, reread that opening stanza in “Queen Mab” where you found the anagram-acrostic on “Lamb” through the lens of a satire on the PR rather than a parody on Caro Lamb:
How wonderful is Death,
Death, and his brother Sleep!
One, pale as yonder waning moon
With lips of lurid blue;
The other, rosy as the morn
When throned on ocean’s wave
It blushes o'er the world;
Yet both so passing wonderful!
Hath then the gloomy POWER
Whose REIGN is in the tainted sepulchres
Seized on her sinless soul?
Must then that peerless form
Which love and admiration cannot view
Without a beating heart, those azure veins
Which steal like streams along a field of snow,
That LOVELY outline which is FAIR
A   As breathing marble, perish?
M   Must putrefaction’s breath
L    Leave nothing of this heavenly sight
B    But loathsomeness and ruin?

In the ending of “Queen Mab”, Shelley gives a resounding answer of “NO!!!” to that question of whether the human spirit (Ianthe) will die. Queen Mab (Poetry) takes Ianthe in her “magic car” (like Raphael giving Adam a really Grand Tour in Paradise Lost) to open Ianthe’s eyes to the path to freedom.

With all of that as prelude, now read the conclusion of Canto 4 of “Queen Mab”, which covertly revisits the satire of the satanic PR and his minions in “The Devil’s Walk”. I’ve put in ALL CAPS the echoes of that satire, which I say Jane Austen intentionally picked up on in her two charades in Chapter 9 of Emma:

‘MAN is of soul and body, formed for deeds
Of high resolve; on fancy’s boldest wing
To soar unwearied, fearlessly to turn
The keenest pangs to peacefulness, and taste
The joys which mingled sense and spirit yield;
Or he is formed for abjectness and WOE,
To grovel on the dunghill of his fears,
To shrink at every sound, to quench the flame
Of natural love in sensualism, to know
That hour as blest when on his worthless days
The frozen hand of death shall set its seal,
Yet fear the CURE, though hating the disease.

So, JA saw the above passage as resonant with the short charade that Emma had preserved in her book:
My first doth affliction denote,    [answer is “woe”]
Which my second is destin'd to feel  [answer is “man”]
And my whole is the best antidote     [answer is “woman”]
That affliction to soften and heal.   [the original riddle-book version used “cure” instead of “heal”]

Now, back to “Queen Mab”:

The one is man that shall hereafter be;
The other, man as vice has made him now.
‘War is the statesman’s game, the priest’s delight,
The lawyer’s jest, the hired assassin’s trade,
And to those royal murderers whose mean thrones
Are bought by crimes of treachery and gore,
The bread they eat, the staff on which they lean.
Guards, garbed in blood-red livery, surround
Their palaces, participate the crimes
That force defends and from a nation’s rage
Secures the CROWN, which all the curses reach
That famine, frenzy, woe and penury breathe.
These are the hired bravos who defend
The tyrant’s throne -the bullies of his fear;
These are the sinks and channels of worst vice,
The refuse of society, the dregs
Of all that is most vile; their cold hearts blend
Deceit with sternness, ignorance with pride,
All that is mean and villainous with rage
Which hopelessness of good and self-contempt
Alone might kindle; they are decked in WEALTH,
Honor and POWER, then are sent abroad
To do their work….
Those too the tyrant serve, who, skilled to snare
The feet of justice in the toils of law,
Stand ready to oppress the weaker still,
And right or wrong will vindicate for gold,
Sneering at public virtue, which beneath
Their pitiless tread lies torn and trampled where
Honor sits smiling at the sale of truth.
‘Then grave and hoary-headed hypocrites,
Without a hope, a passion or a love,
Who through a life of LUXURY and lies
Have crept by flattery to the seats of POWER,
Support the system whence their honors flow.
They have three words -well tyrants know their use,
Well pay them for the loan with usury
Torn from a bleeding world! -God, Hell and Heaven:
A vengeful, pitiless, and almighty fiend,
Whose mercy is a nickname for the rage
Of tameless tigers hungering for blood;
Hell, a red gulf of everlasting fire,
Where POISONOUS and undying worms prolong
Eternal misery to those hapless SLAVES
Whose life has been a penance for its crimes;
And Heaven, a meed for those who dare belie
Their human nature, quake, believe and cringe
Before the mockeries of EARTHLY POWER.
‘These tools the tyrant tempers to his work,
Wields in his wrath, and as he wills destroys,
Omnipotent in wickedness; the while
Youth springs, age moulders, manhood tamely does
His bidding, bribed by short-lived joys to lend
Force to the weakness of his trembling arm.

And now, after that litany of the abuses of power in society, we get to the part of the poem which I think is specifically—but subtly--pointing to the Prince of Whales—and I see this passage as one that Jane Austen focused on in choosing the specific imagery of her second charade, which she wrote herself:

They rise, they fall; one generation comes
Yielding its harvest to destruction’s scythe.
It fades, another blossoms; yet BEHOLD!
Red glows the tyrant’s stamp-mark on its bloom,
Withering and cankering deep its passive prime.
He has invented lying words and modes,
Empty and vain as his own coreless heart;
Evasive meanings, nothings of much sound,
To lure the heedless victim to the toils
Spread round the valley of its PARADISE.
‘Look to thyself, priest, conqueror or PRINCE!
Whether thy trade is falsehood, and THY LUSTS
DEEP WALLOW in the earnings of the poor,        [So, we had “Prince” and “Wallow” within a few lines]
With whom thy master was; or thou delight’st
In numbering o'er the myriads of thy slain,
All misery weighing nothing in the scale
Against thy short-lived fame; or thou dost load
With cowardice and crime the groaning land,
A POMP-fed KING. Look to thy wretched self!
Ay, art thou not the veriest SLAVE that e'er
Crawled on the loathing earth? Are not thy days
Days of unsatisfying listlessness?...[two dozen more lines to the end of Canto 4]

And finally, apropos my claim that Knightley can be viewed as both the Prince of Whales and as Satan, these are interesting earlier verses in “The Devil’s Walk”:

The devil was an agriculturist:
And, as bad weeds quickly grew,
In looking over his farm, I wist,
He wouldn’t find cause for woe.
He peeped in each hole, to each chamber stole,
His promising live-stock to view.
Grinning applause, he just showed them his claws ;
And they shrunk with affright from his ugly sight
Whose work they delighted to do.
Satan poked his red nose into crannies so small
Qne would think that the innocents fair,
Poor LAMBKINS! were ust doing nothing at all,
But settling some dress, or arranging some ball;
But the devil saw deeper there.

So, thanks, Anielka, for prompting me to revisit and better understand this very interesting web of Austenian/ Shelleyan/ Lambian subtext!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

No comments: