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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Searching for (the real) Henry Austen (and, thereby, the real Jane Austen, too)

In Janeites, in reaction to a recent review of Emma Clery's biography of Jane Austen's brother, Henry, Ellen Moody just posted links to two 2012 blog posts of hers about Henry Austen. I replied as follows:


Thank you for reopening the topic of the mystery of the personality of Henry Austen. I happen to be in general agreement with you that Henry’s reputation has in some ways gotten a raw deal, but I strongly disagree with you as to how and why this came about.

I will show how, via my disagreement with two assertions in your second blog post:


First, you wrote: “Henry’s letters, as his nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh bravely avers to his vengeful resentful aunt (whose legacy he desperately needed), show a man of “feeling” (“he does feel” says JEAL, risking all).”

I’m pretty sure you are mistakenly attributing a defense of Henry to JEAL instead of to the actual averrer, JEAL’s father, James. I base my argument on the following letter (in the Austen Papers) from Aunt Leigh Perrot to James Austen dated Jan. 31, 1819 (i.e., not long before James passed away):

“My dear Nephew,
Your letter to-day the less surprised me as I had heard from Mr. Fonnereau that the sale of the Hawkhurst  Farm was postponed…I am grieved you should have so much vexation, nor would I have Henry’s feelings (if he does feel) for more than he has occasioned us to lose by his imprudence- pray do not let this business hang on your mind! Better think of everything as quite lost, & feel no more about it…
Thank you, my dear Nephew, for your anxiety on my account—I should certainly have wished everything had turned out differently on both your account & my own….I am thankful it is no worse. Where would my pretty Scarlets have gone then? I wish you thought as fondly of this place as I must ever do…”

It is clear that in James’s letter to which she replies, he must have complained about his own financial “vexation” in the aftermath of Henry’s bank fiasco four years earlier. I read between the lines, and I infer that James’s defense of Henry (in which he expressed sympathy for Henry’s feelings, as well as his own) damned Henry, so to speak, with faint sympathy --- precisely so as to elicit from his mean-spirited aunt the desired condemnation of Henry (and he succeeds, because she replies “if he does feel”).

Now, the reason why James would stab his own brother in the back in this way is clear. It’s because this was a desperate zero-sum game, and Henry’s loss would be James’s (or JEAL’s) gain.

We know full well that both James and James Edward harbored no illusions about that game; they knew exactly what sort of ogre they were dealing with in Aunt Leigh-Perrot. This is not a matter of mere inference – read the opening of JEAL’s letter to his father written sometime in 1818 (i.e., about a year before that 1819 letter):

“My dear Father…
I am very sorry and certainly surprised at this last motion of Mrs. L. Perrot, but I have long thought too meanly of her, to be much astonished at any fresh instance of want of feeling or of hypocrisy. So much for your reduction of income: now for the effects it is to have…”

So both James and James Edward understood that Aunt Leigh-Perrot took sadistic delight in dangling largesse in front of her financially desperate nephews (James, Frank, and Henry), the better to make them bow and scrape for her favor. And that shows what a consummate, patient suck-up and family politician JEAL was, because in the end, in 1833, it was he who took home the grand prize, beating out both Henry and Frank: Scarlets and the accompanying personal property and wealth left by Aunt Leigh-Perrot.

So, no – nothing I’ve seen suggests that JEAL was ever “brave” in dealing with his Aunt, to defend Henry or otherwise. All I’ve seen shows he was only cynically self-interested, in knowing exactly how to deal with her (just as Lucy Steele knows how to deal with Mrs. Ferrars), and the proof is in the financial pudding, so to speak. If you read all his letters (also in the Austen Papers) to her in the years leading up to her (long-awaited) demise, you almost have to admire the cynical master suck-up he is. He plays her like a violin.

And, apropos JEAL’s attitude toward Henry, and the idea that he would have defended Henry, it is particularly offbase from another motivation besides greed. I’ve argued repeatedly in the past few years that JEAL’s Memoir actually contains a deliberate rewriting of Austen family history in regard to the Leigh Perrot inheritance. JEAL took great pains to conceal that Jane Austen (in her own words!) became sicker because of being disinherited by Uncle Leigh-Perrot, not due to Henry’s earlier bankruptcy. For example, read this:

“Reviving the 1817 news that made Jane Austen sicker, that nephew JEAL tried to submerge”

Embedded within my above-linked 2015 post is an earlier post I wrote in 2014, in which I present the details of JEAL’s deliberate and self-serving editorial deceit, that essentially and falsely places the blame for Jane Austen’s getting sicker in 1816 on Henry’s 1815 bankruptcy:
JEAL made sure that history would (mistakenly) record that (after his father’s death) his ultimate inheritance of Scarlets was a wonderful thing which was in no way connected to the premature death of  Jane Austen, instead of the outrageous, injurious property grab that it actually was.


Which brings me to the second thing you wrote with which I disagree:
“One of Henry’s most remarkable and revealing (about him) texts is his life of his sister. Yes it’s hagiographic, absurdly so. She never had a hard thought in her life, never uttered a cruel statement….”

You must not have read the two posts I wrote a few months ago after reading Juliette Wells’s Persuasions article, in which she for the first time in Austen scholarly history raised excellent questions about the true authorship of the 1818 Biographical Notice.

In essence, I went beyond Wells’s modest suggestion that Cassandra contributed to the writing of that 1818 Notice, and instead I made the more radical argument that it was JEAL, not Henry, who wrote that entire 1818 hagiography. It was only in 1833, I suggest, that Henry Austen got involved, and made that Biographical Notice much less hagiographic in his revision thereof for the Bentley edition. But then, in the 1870 Memoir, JEAL, once again, as with the Austen family inheritance story, had the final word:

But calling it “hagiography” puts a far rosier tint on it than it deserves. This was not about JEAL having an unrealistically positive memory of Aunt Jane. One of JEAL’s absurd claims was the one about JA never uttering a cruel statement about anyone else, and he thereby got the sweetest revenge of all for his late parents. How so?

Because he knew that Aunt Jane had, in her very first published words, in 1811, thoroughly skewered his parents James and Mary Austen in Chapter 2 of S&S. JA had made it clear to all who knew the actual Austen family history and had any “ingenuity” at all, that the vile John and Fanny Dashwood were thinly veiled portraits of James and Mary, and their avaricious grab of the lion’s share of the Steventon assets in 1801. It is only a century and a half after JEAL’s Memoir that I and a few other Austen scholars (like Emily Auerbach) have finally been able to scrape off his “veneer” and revealed those ugly portraits once again!

But there’s even more personal nastiness behind JEAL’s seeming “hagiography”. While he was at it, JEAL also made sure that history would (mistakenly) record that his Aunt Jane was the conservative, pious, unambitious, conformist milquetoast depicted in his Bowdlerized image of her for the 1870 Memoir -- instead of the fiercely nonconformist, non-heterosexual feminist Cassandra actually sketched in 1810, and whom his mother Mary Lloyd Austen fiercely hated. Sweet revenge, indeed!

If you have any disagreement with any of my claims, I welcome your pointing it out to me.


Nancy: "I still see no proof that JEAL wrote the biographical  note in 1818"

And if you read Juliette Wells's recent article here... know that (to quote Wells) "The first hint [that Henry Austen wrote the 1818 version] appeared in 1892, when Reginald Brimley Johnson, editor of a ten-volume edition of Austen’s novels, stated that the “Biographical Notice” was “probably written by Miss Austen’s brother, the Rev. Henry Austen”.

As Wells goes on to say, it was only AFTER that passing, unsubstantiated comment by Reginald Brimley Johnson (who, I will also point out, was born in 1867, and therefore couldn't have spoken to any Austen family member who was old enough to have personal knowledge of who wrote the 1818 Bio Notice) that subsequent 20th & 21st century Austen scholars treated Henry Austen as definitely having written the 1818 version. That's not proof, that's not even close to proof--- it's sloppy scholarship being repeated over and over again till people assume it is true.

So, NOBODY has anything resembling definitive proof about the actual author of the 1818 version; and I've previously made my case that it was JEAL, based not on my "gut feeling", but on demonstrable, striking similarities between the 1818 version and JEAL's 1870 Memoir, similarities which are ABSENT in the one version we DO know (from correspondence written by him to Bentley) that Henry wrote, which is the 1832 revision! As I asked in my Dec. 2017 post, why in the world would Henry delete significant claims in 1832 that he had made in 1818, only for JEAL to restore those very same claims in 1870? Common sense and Occam's Razor suggests instead that JEAL was the author in 1818 and 1870, who did not like that his Uncle had deleted some of his pet claims, and so restored them when Henry's hand was long mouldering in the grave.

Based on all that, I'd say that my argument is the stronger one on the table.

Nancy: "...or that Austen  was a  "fiercely non-conformist, non-heterosexual"."

And we know you and I are never going to agree on that one, but I claim that my position is more plausible than yours, and in any event, JEAL's editorial fraud does not depend on my larger claims also being true.

Nancy: "The description of Jane in the bio was most likely the true feelings of a brother. Just because he was an intelligent  didn't mean that he was aware of irony. Though JEAL was chosen to help carry the coffin, I do not think he would have been chosen to write the biography when a brother was around to do so."

You're guessing, just as I am guessing, but I base my argument on a consistent pattern of distortion on JEAL's part, a pattern that, even when it was previously noted, no Austen scholar before me (except, to some extent, Emily Auerbach) has called it for what it is -- even (as I also blogged back in 2010) DW Harding, way back when, and Kathryn Sutherland, much more recently, stopped short of crossing the proverbial "t" by calling out fraud as fraud on JEAL's part. 

Think I'm exaggerating? Look at what Sutherland wrote in 2000, in her footnotes to JEAL's "severely edited" version of JA's last surviving letter to brother Charles (rather than in Sutherland's Introduction to JEAL's Memoir, where it would've been much more prominent and likely to be noticed by a reader):

“"...some family troubles..."”: apparently a discreet reference to HA’s bankruptcy, which occurred in March 1816. But the letters from which JEAL goes on to quote date from April and May 1817 and refer to the disappointment felt in the Austen family at the will of James Leigh Perrot, Mrs. Austen’s brother, who had died on 28 March 1817….As chief beneficiary on Mrs Leigh Perrot’s death in 1836, JEAL would obviously be discreet in recording this disappointment as he was earlier in his omission from the Memoir of Mrs. Leigh Perrot’s prosecution for theft. But family tradition, as well as her own correspondence, suggest that the terms of the will were a considerable shock to JA and even exacerbated her illness. (Fam. Rec. 221-3).
“...a letter…to Charles...”: JEAL prints a severely edited extract. JA wrote: “…I am ashamed to say that the shock of my Uncle’s Will brought on a relapse…I am the only one of the legatees [JEAL alters this to ‘party’] who has been so silly….”

I.e., Sutherland tries to explain JEAL's editorial fraud as merely "discreet", just a case of "a severely edited extract" as if the reason for the alteration was to save space?; and Sutherland draws an analogy to JEAL's omission of mention of Mrs. Leigh Perrot's prosecution for theft. But that is an utterly invalid analogy, because neither JEAL nor either of his parents, were at all culpable in Aunt Leigh-Perrot's purloining of lace in Bath --that was all her "bad".  Whereas, changing "legatees" to "party" is, prima facie, a total smoking gun that reveals JEAL's intent to conceal the true cause of what Sutherland correctly calls "a considerable shock to JA and even exacerbated her illness." There is NO other rational explanation, JEAL's personal conflict of interest is overwhelmingly probative.

But such is the enduring power of the Myth of Austen which you so persistently seem to defend, Nancy, and in particular, in this case, the desire of many present-day descendants of James Austen to keep a lid on such an odorous bit of dirty family laundry that reflects badly on their ancestor (JEAL, that is). Even scholars like Harding and Sutherland, who have not shunned controversy about Jane Austen, were not free to straight-out say that JEAL was a self interested, untrustworthy liar.

Nancy: "As for the inheritance of the Perrott Leigh money and property. Who had the prevailing vote on that? Mr. Leigh Perrott or his wife? Both of them probably subscribed to the idea that money and property was best handled by a male who would need it to support a family and aged aunts."

Balderdash! (I just checked--that colorful term was indeed in use in JA's lifetime, even though she herself never used it, at least in print). Your suggestion implodes from within, ignited by the fact that Mr. Leigh Perrot actually left his estate completely in his wife's control-- and I think we can at least agree on that point, which is that Aunt Leigh Perrot was indeed a woman! So it was apparently perfectly okay for that woman to decide who would receive the remainder of his estate after her death, when he had all those same male family members at his disposal, whom he could have named as trustees. 

No, what we had in 1817 was nothing less than a dreadfully ironic repetition of what happens in Chapter 2 of S&S -- once again, a weak minded dying man puts a predatory female relative in charge of dispensing much-needed largesse to impecunious relatives. It turns out that JA's 1811 expose of what happened in 1801 and 1805, turned out to be a prophecy of what happened in 1817 -- and in all these cases, the finger of guilt is pointed at James & Mary Austen, and their "knight" and son, James Edward.

Nancy: "Though Austen and her mother were disappointed about the way the property and money was left, most of those who heard about  the legacy would agree that giving it to the oldest son of the oldest nephew was proper. The mind set was different. Though females could and did rail against such thinking, it was the prevailing attitude of the day."

Again, balderdash! This was not an all or none scenario. Nothing, absolutely nothing, prevented Uncle Leigh Perrot from carving out a portion (say, a quarter) of his estate, and thereby easing the precarious financial status of his impecunious sister, and several of her impecunious children. Unlike Mr. Dashwood in S&S, he had full power to divide his estate any way he chose-- but he didn't.

Nancy: "I don't believe that Austen would allow herself to be made ill by such a thing. Unfortunately, her illness worsened at this time  and probably increased her disappointment."

So now, as your piece de resistance, you now say that JA did not mean what she actually wrote in her letter to Charles! She is so obviously doing her best to soft-pedal the shock that she suffered from the disinheritance news, and keep the tone low-key, that we may safely infer that it was much much worse -- and factually, we know that JA died only a few months later. 

No wonder JEAL, a half century later, made it a point to distort the written evidence, so as to get him and his parents off the hook. ]  

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The more Eliza Bennet sees of the world, the more she angsts like Mary Wollstonecraft, female Werter!

INTRODUCTION: A year ago I began work in earnest on the talk I eventually presented at the last JASNA AGM in October 2017. My topic was Jane Austen’s persistent literary focus throughout her writing career on the idea of “the power of the strong mind (like hers) over the weak”. In observance of the bicentennial of JA’s death, I zeroed in on three of her lesser known writings from 1817, her last year of life: the Sanditon fragment; her letter to Anne Sharp, former Godmersham governess and, say I, lesbian beloved of JA; and Austen’s defiant claim of immortality, her deathbed “When Winchester Races”. Those late writings repeatedly made explicit the “strong mind” theme which I claim was implicit from JA’s juvenilia onward.

Since I gave that talk (and also an expanded version thereof, to my Portland JASNA friends), I’ve continued to collect more evidence in that same vein. It all tells me that maybe the greatest single influence on Austen’s thinking, morality, and writing was not (as I’ve long argued) Shakespeare, or even Richardson or the Bible, but, by a slight margin over the Bard, the great proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (hereafter WSC for short), JA’s near contemporary and inspirational role model.

WSC died a horrific early death in 1797 in the immediate aftermath of giving birth to a daughter, also a Mary (Shelley), who would herself gain fame two decades later for writing a tale of a horrid birth perhaps inspired by her own, i.e., that of Frankenstein’s tragic monster. I believe that WSC’s death ignited JA’s writing career, by giving her a defining mission – to not merely carry on the protofeminist ideals of her fallen idol, but to surpass WSC by embodying radical feminist ideas in fictional stories that would (as two centuries of evidence prove) take the reading world by storm, even more powerfully than even WSC’s nonfiction brilliance could. To paraphrase Edmund Bertram, behind his loud praise for Shakespeare, I hear Austen whispering: “WSC one gets acquainted with by reading her writings, both fiction and nonfiction, and also about her life. She ought to be a part of an Englishman's constitution, but she’s not (yet). I will spread her thoughts and beauties abroad, so that one touches them everywhere; I must make every English person intimate with WSC by instinct….” .

PART ONE:  I now present a discovery I recently came upon, which not only adds to my varied collection of veiled Wollstonecraft allusions in Austen’s writings; it also provides crucial context that illuminates Austen’s Hamletian preoccupation with the literary “ghost” of Mary Wollstonecraft.

In a famous passage in Chapter 12 of Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth patronizes Bingley, unwittingly revealing her own narcissistic cockiness. Bingley, I suggest, mocks her (just as Mr. Bennet will similarly mock Mr. Collins, the self-styled expert at complimenting, two chapters later) by calling her a “studier of character”. As you read this passage, please focus on the Wollstonecraftian question under debate: is a village as good a “classroom” for the development of a strong mind -- particularly for the study of character -- as a big city?:

“Whatever I do is done in a hurry,” replied [Bingley]; “and therefore if I should resolve to quit Netherfield, I should probably be off in five minutes. At present, however, I consider myself as quite fixed here.”
“That is exactly what I should have supposed of you,” said Elizabeth.
“You begin to comprehend me, do you?” cried he, turning towards her.
“Oh! yes—I understand you perfectly.”
“I wish I might take this for a compliment; but to be so easily seen through I am afraid is pitiful.”
“That is as it happens. It does not follow that a deep, intricate character is more or less estimable than such a one as yours.”
“Lizzy,” cried her mother, “remember where you are, and do not run on in the wild manner that you are suffered to do at home.”
“I did not know before,” continued Bingley immediately, “that you were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study.”
“Yes, but intricate characters are the most amusing. They have at least that advantage.”
“The country,” said Darcy, “can in general supply but a few subjects for such a study. In a country neighbourhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society.”
“But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.”
“Yes, indeed,” cried Mrs. Bennet, offended by his manner of mentioning a country neighbourhood. “I assure you there is quite as much of that going on in the country as in town.”
Everybody was surprised, and Darcy, after looking at her for a moment, turned silently away. Mrs. Bennet, who fancied she had gained a complete victory over him, continued her triumph.
“I cannot see that London has any great advantage over the country, for my part, except the shops and public places. The country is a vast deal pleasanter, is it not, Mr. Bingley?”
“When I am in the country,” he replied, “I never wish to leave it; and when I am in town it is pretty much the same. They have each their advantages, and I can be equally happy in either.”
“Aye—that is because you have the right disposition. But that gentleman,” looking at Darcy, “seemed to think the country was nothing at all.”
“Indeed, Mamma, you are mistaken,” said Elizabeth, blushing for her mother. “You quite mistook Mr. Darcy. He only meant that there was not such a variety of people to be met with in the country as in the town, which you must acknowledge to be true.”
“Certainly, my dear, nobody said there were; but as to not meeting with many people in this neighbourhood, I believe there are few neighbourhoods larger. I know we dine with four-and-twenty families.”

The battle lines have been clearly drawn between Darcy and Mrs. Bennet in the debate --- but is that last diplomatic comment by Eliza a hint to the alert reader that Darcy has planted a seed of doubt in Eliza’s mind, as to whether he might be correct? I.e., has Eliza’s confined village existence at Longbourn near Meryton really provided her with as a good education in human nature as her mother seems to claim?

Hold that question in mind as we now skip forward a dozen chapters to the following speech (which verges on pontification) by Eliza in Chapter 24. Eliza first gently chastises Jane for her Pollyannish willingness to ascribe good motives to all people; but then, in a burst of post-adolescent angst (which the truly worldly-wise Jane Austen no doubt smiled indulgently at as she wrote it), Eliza almost seems to echo Hamlet’s despairing “What a piece of work is man” speech:

“Nay,” said Elizabeth, “this is not fair. You wish to think all the world respectable, and are hurt if I speak ill of anybody. I only want to think you perfect, and you set yourself against it. Do not be afraid of my running into any excess, of my encroaching on your privilege of universal good-will. You need not. There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. THE MORE I SEE OF THE WORLD, THE MORE AM I DISSATISFIED with it; and every day confirms my belief of the INCONSISTENCY of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense. I have met with two instances lately, one I will not mention; the other is Charlotte's marriage. It is unaccountable! In every view it is unaccountable!”

May I suggest that it is crucial that one of the two instances which elicits Eliza’s bewildered anger is Charlotte’s “unaccountable” marriage to Mr. Collins? Why? Because, in a post a few years back, I gave reasons for believing that “unaccountable” was, in part, code for “lesbian” –i.e., that Eliza unwittingly is expressing anger, because she is jealous of Charlotte, who is being “inconsistent” by marrying a man; and what’s worse, then moving far away, instead of remaining at home and continuing her intimate relationship of several years with Elizabeth. And some of you may be aware that WSC’s intensely close relationship with Fanny Blood has led a number of scholars to view WSC as bisexual.

That leads me to my “punch line” --- a penultimate quotation from P&P, three chapters further on, in Chapter 27, when Eliza, still clearly upset about Charlotte and other things, vents her spleen to her wise confidant, her aunt Gardiner, just before Eliza is to leave for Hunsford to see (who else?) Charlotte!:

“Oh! if that is all, I have a very poor opinion of young men who live in Derbyshire; and their intimate friends who live in Hertfordshire are not much better. I am sick of them all. Thank Heaven! I am going to-morrow where I shall find a man who has not one agreeable quality, who has neither manner nor sense to recommend him. Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing, after all.”
“Take care, Lizzy; that speech savours strongly of disappointment.”

Elizabeth just can’t get Charlotte’s marriage to Collins off her mind; whereupon, Mrs. Gardiner presents her generous antidote to Eliza’s romantic ennui – during the intermission at the theatre (were they by any chance watching Hamlet?), she proposes an exciting road trip to a place her niece Eliza has never been before!:

“…Before they were separated by the conclusion of the play, she had the unexpected happiness of an invitation to accompany her uncle and aunt in a tour of pleasure which they proposed taking in the summer.
“We have not determined how far it shall carry us,” said Mrs. Gardiner, “but, perhaps, to the Lakes.”
No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. “Oh, my dear, dear aunt,” she rapturously cried, “what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We will know where we have gone—we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarreling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers.”

Her aunt’s scheme is an immediate success, as it immediately perks Elizabeth up, eliciting Gilpinesque rhapsodies, which slyly echo Eliza’s earlier sly joke on Gilpin’s three or four picturesque cows in the Netherfield shrubbery. But Eliza is curiously vague as to the identity of “the generality of travellers” who, per her evidently wide reading of travel literature, fail “to give one accurate idea of anything” they see during their trip. Might one of those travellers by any chance be….Mary Wollstonecraft?

PART TWO: In answering my last question, above, consider now the following two passages about travel by writers whose works Jane Austen clearly knew very well -indeed, I’ve already hinted at both of them in my Subject Line!:

First, here is the passage which I  now assert JA deliberately alluded to in Elizabeth’s above-quoted speech beginning “The more I see of the world…”, in WSC’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, Letter 2 (1796):

“THE MORE I SEE OF THE WORLD, THE MORE I AM CONVINCED that civilization is a blessing not sufficiently estimated by those who have not traced its progress; for it not only refines our enjoyments, but produces a VARIETY which enables us to retain the primitive delicacy of our sensations. Without the aid of the imagination all the pleasures of the sense must sink into grossness, unless continual NOVELTY serve as a substitute for the imagination, which, being impossible, it was to this weariness, I suppose, that Solomon alluded when he declared that there was nothing new under the sun!—nothing for the common sensations excited by the senses. Yet who will deny that the imagination and understanding have made many, very many discoveries since those days, which only seem harbingers of others still more noble and beneficial? I never met with much imagination amongst people who had not acquired a habit of reflection; and in that state of society in which the judgment and taste are not called forth, and formed by the cultivation of the arts and sciences, little of that delicacy of feeling and thinking is to be found characterised by the word sentiment.  The want of scientific pursuits perhaps accounts for the hospitality, as well as for the cordial reception which strangers receive from the inhabitants of small towns. Hospitality has, I think, been too much praised by travellers as a proof of goodness of heart, when, in my opinion, indiscriminate hospitality is rather a criterion by which you may form a tolerable estimate of the indolence or vacancy of a head; or, in other words, a fondness for social pleasures in which the mind not having its proportion of exercise, the bottle must be pushed about.”

In a future post I’ll provide a full interpretation of how and why I believe the above passage was echoed by JA in P&P. For now, however, at a minimum, please note that WSC not only provides the model for the exact, epigrammatical verbiage of the beginning of Eliza’s speech; JA’s wink at WSC is carefully situated in the context of ennui about the world as it is and not as we wish it would be, as well in a discussion of village vs. city as “classroom” for education in human nature. And WSC’s analysis is prompted by travel to a new place, just as in the above quoted dialog in Chapter 27 of P&P!

PART THREE: I believe the above discovery is worthy of consideration by those who love Jane Austen and/or Mary Wollstonecraft. Being obsessive, I felt there might be more behind it, so I searched for any other contemporary literary usages of the phrase “The more I see of the world”. Imagine my delight when I found the following additional bit of angst about the human condition in, of all places, another travel account by another famous contemporary author! I refer to Goethe’s Italian Journey, which was drawn from his diary about his travels from 1786-8, but (as far as I can tell) was not published until 1816 (i.e., 20 years after Wollstonecraft’s travel account, and 3 years after P&P was published):

"THE MORE I SEE OF THE WORLD, the less hope I have that humanity as a whole will ever become wise and happy. Among the millions of worlds which exist, there may, perhaps, be one which can boast of such a state of affairs, but given the constitution of our world, I see as little hope for us [in our world] as for the Sicilian in his.”

So, we have not one, not two, but three of the most influential authors of that era each using that same distinctive turn of phrase (the above English translation is from the later 19th century) in an angsting  passage inspired or relating to travel far from home.

What does this mean? Candidly, I’m uncertain, mainly because if’s accurate that Goethe wrote his version a decade before WSC’s was published, but it remained private in his then unpublished diary, then how would WSC have read what he wrote (which was in German to boot)? Did Wollstonecraft and Goethe meet during her Continental travels –by which time they were both prominent public intellectuals known throughout Europe? I’m unaware of any evidence pointing to such a meeting, or to any correspondence between them.

And yet, there’s just far too much resonance between these two passages to be coincidental. That’s especially so, when we recall that Richard Godwin, WSC’s famous widower, a few short years after his wife’s death, described her as a “female Werter”, while describing her passionate letters to Imlay, from that same collection of letters which included her version of “The more I see of the world”. By “female Werter”, Godwin was of course referring to Goethe’s most famous literary production, The Sorrows of Werther (a super-famous work which JA alluded to in at least two of her juvenilia, Love and Freindship and Lesley Castle).  

All I know for sure at this early point in my delvings into this new information is that it makes Elizabeth Bennet’s world-weary comments about human inconsistency, and her trip to Pemberley during which she undergoes an extraordinary “Wertherian” transformation, much more interesting, when we read them through a Goethean, Wollstonecraftian pair of lenses.

And….I will note in passing that Charlotte Lucas in P&P, like Charlotte Lutterall (sounds a lot like “butter all”) in Lesley Castle, are two Austen characters based in no small part on the fictional Werther’s beloved (Char)Lotte—as I think about JA reading Godwin’s take on Wollstonecraft as a ‘female Werter’, I wonder about the Goethean, Wollstonecrafian overlay of the mysterious Charlotte Lucas.

CONCLUSION: One last point about Austen and WSC, relating to novel-reading. At my 2017 AGM talk, I said this on that point:
“Wollstonecraft decried novel reading as an activity which would never develop strong female minds:
“Novels, music, poetry and gallantry, all tend to make women the creatures of sensation, and their character is thus formed during the time they are acquiring accomplishments, the only improvement they are excited, by their station in society, to acquire. This overstretched sensibility naturally relaxes the other powers of the mind, and prevents intellect from attaining that sovereignty which it ought to attain, to render a rational creature USEFUL to others, and content with its own station; for the exercise of the understanding, as life advances, is the only method pointed out by nature to calm the passions.”
Curiously, Wollstonecraft wrote the above a few years after an attempt at novelizing of her own called Mary, a Fiction, which she abandoned as a failure. But it appears she reconsidered in 1797, the year she died, when she began working hard on Maria, The Wrongs of Woman—a novel fragment which her husband Godwin published after her death, along with his Memoir. As Susan Lanser observed in 1999:
“Wollstonecraft appeared to experience a “complicated anxiety around the intersections of feminism and sexuality, [which] might explain why [she], once romantically attached to Fanny Blood, figured ‘romantic friendship" in Mary, a Fiction, as "resembl[ing] a passion," yet in The Vindication gratuitously warns women against staying up together at night even to talk, because of the "nasty customs" that girls may have learned "from ignorant servants."
So Wollstonecraft was huge on the idea of useful knowledge in The Vindication, but deeply ambivalent about the role of novels in conveying “useful knowledge” to women. Perhaps that’s why she wasn’t very good at creating characters who lived and breathed, like Austen’s.” 

In this post today, I’ve provided dramatic new validation for my above-quoted assertions 6 months ago. And that brings me to my final quotation from P&P, which, I suggest, is Jane Austen, speaking through the mouth of Elizabeth Bennet, about the superiority of her most famous “darling child”, P&P, over any attempt by WSC, however eloquent, to “teach” women readers how to strengthen their minds:

We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing.”

I’d say that literary history has proven that JA has indeed taught what is worth knowing, by concealing her pearls of difficult wisdom within a light, bright, and sparkling “shell” which readers will wish to open again and again and again throughout their lives, and therefore the sharp elves keep learning from it.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Comprehending the Young John Milton’s ‘Aspicious’ Acrostic in his In Quintum Novembris

I ended my previous message about the “papist”, “pact”, and “Hera” acrostics in Milton’s In Quintum Novembris (IQN) as follows:

“I’d ask anyone reading this who IS fluent in Latin…to give IQN a once-over:
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to learn that the already diabolically clever 17 year old John Milton had slipped in a thematically relevant Latin acrostic there as well!”

Not long afterwards, despite my not being a Latin scholar, I decided, just for fun, to skim through this short poem, and see if anything looking remotely like a Latin word might pop out at me. Instead, I was surprised to find yet another English-language acrostic hiding in plain sight, which, as I’ll argue below, I’m confident was also intentional on Milton’s part.

The word is “aspic” and it is found in lines 3-8, at the very start of the poem; and, what’s more, the first line of the acrostic is the very same line that containing the Latin word “foedus”, which means “pact”, which is the bookend to the “pact” acrostic at the end of the poem, as I argued in my first post. Here it is:

Iam pius extrema veniens Iacobus ab arcto
Teucrigenas populos, lateque patentia regna 

A    Albionum tenuit, iamque inviolabile FOEDUS
S     Sceptra Caledoniis coniunxerat Anglica Scotis, 
P     Pacificusque novo felix divesque sedebat 5
I      In solio, occultique doli securus et hostis:
C     Cum ferus ignifluo regnans Acheronte tyrannus,

Eumenidum pater, aethero vagus exul Olympo,
Forte per immensum terrarum erraverat orbem, 
Dinumerans sceleris socios, vernasque fideles        10
Participes regni post funera moesta futuros.

The above excerpt is translated as follows:
“Now pious James, coming from the extreme North, possessed the Teucer-born peoples and the widespread realms of the folk of Albion, and now an inviolable PACT conjoined English scepters to the Caledonian Scots, and James sat as a peacemaker and a prosperous man on his new throne, secure from hidden wiles and any foe, when the savage tyrant of Acheron, flowing with fire, the father of the Eumenides, the vagrant exile from celestial Olympus, chanced to be wandering through the world, counting his allies in crime, his loyal servants, destined to be partners in his kingdom after their sad demise.”

It also comes right before that “Hera” acrostic I identified in my prior post, which, again, is contained in a passage describing Satan, like Vergil’s Juno, stirring up discord.

When I had originally scanned the above passage looking for acrostics, I did see the English word “spice”, but I couldn’t see how that related thematically to Milton’s portrayal of Satan, so I initially dismissed it as coincidental. However, this second time around, my eye moved, and I saw “aspic”, and recalled instantly that this related to Shakespeare using that word in the very famous climactic scene of Antony & Cleopatra.

First, just before Cleopatra allows the asp to bite her, she kisses her attendant Iras, who then falls and dies, leading the Queen to ask:

Not long after that, Cleopatra puts the asp on her breast, it bites her, she dies, and then we read:


So, it is clear from the above that “aspic” in Shakespeare’s lexicon referred to both the fluid left behind by an asp, but also to the asp itself –i.e., aspic was just another word for asp.

There are two more, very interesting usages of “aspic” in Shakespeare:

In a tragic context, Othello uses it metaphorically, after he has been sufficiently provoked by Iago’s subtly serpentine campaign of slanderous innuendoes of Desdemona:

Othello’s unwittingly describes how his trust of Desdemona has been destroyed by the “poison” from Iago’s tongue.

And there’s also a comic, inadvertently punny usage by Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, which is shocking resonant with the above speech by Othello:

DOGBERRY  One word, sir: our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two ASPICIOUS persons, and we would have them this morning examined before your worship.

In his malapropism, Dogberry inadvertently correctly describes Don John & Borachio’s subtly serpentine (‘aspicious’, meaning, literally, like an ‘asp’!) scheme to slander Hero in Claudio’s eyes. This is the identical situation as with Iago and Othello, with both Iago and Don John/Borachio sowing discord between a man and the woman he (initially) loves. And that tells me that Shakespare used the word “aspic” and “aspicious” to connect both of these passages.

Speaking of asps, note also that at line 90-91 of IQN, we read:

Subdolus at tali SERPENS velatus amictu
Solvit in has fallax ora execrantia voces;

Translation:  Thus disguised, the crafty SERPENT parted his foul lips and uttered these words…

Given all of the above, I am certain that Milton intended his “ASPIC” acrostic at the very start of In Quintum Novembris to evoke his erudite readers’ recall of all these Shakespearean antecedents, to inform the portrait of Satan as an Iago-like serpent sowing discord in the United Kingdom.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

The diabolically clever acrostics in the 17-year old Milton’s In Quintum Novembris

Yesterday, in Milton-L, I posed the following quiz:

Does anyone notice anything unusual in each of the below-quoted, Latin  passages from “In Quintum Novembris” (IQN)? 

Attamen interea populi miserescit ab alto 
Aethereus pater, et crudelibus obstitit ausis
Papicolum, capti poenas raptantur ad acres.
At pia thura Deo et grati solvuntur honores, 
Compita laeta focis genialibus omnia fumant,
Turba choros iuvenilis agit: quintoque Novembris
Nulla dies toto occurrit celebratior anno.

Protinus ipse igitur quoscumque habet Anglia fidos
Propositi, factique mone: quisquamne tuorum         
Audebit summi non iussa facessere Papae?
Perculsosque metu subito, casuque stupentes
Invadat vel Gallus atrox, vel saevus Iberus.
Saecula sic illic tandem Mariana redibunt,
Tuque in belligeros iterum dominaberis Anglos.
 IQN is the precocious 17-year old Milton’s famous poem about Satan, Guy Fawkes, and the Pope vis a vis the Gunpowder Plot, a theme which several Milton scholars have noted as being (obviously) revisited by Milton 4 decades later in Paradise Lost.  I first read about IQN yesterday, and I just noticed something very unusual today in these two passages, and wonder if I’m the first to see it.

Hint #1:  the two passages are both unusual in the same way, and are especially connected to each other by what is unusual in each.
Hint #2: What is unusual in these two passages is the same as what is unusual in numerous passages in Shakespeare's plays, and also in some in Paradise Lost.
Hint #3: Based on my prior interpretations of Paradise Lost, I predicted that I would find at least one of these unusual things in IQN, even before I read it. 
Hint #4: You don’t need to understand a word of Latin in order to see this unusual thing in each of these two passages -- although understanding Latin (or reading a translation) is necessary in order to begin to understand what it means!

Within a day, I received two correct answers in Milton-L, as follows:

First John Savoie replied as follows:  
“Papae (124), Papicolum (222), and PAPIST, as acrostic spanning 123-28,  I presume? In any longer poem, though IQN is not particularly long, there are bound to be  coincidental acrostics, but this one, as with SATAN across PL 9.510-14, does precisely fit the context, and these two acrostics, despite the decades between, do lend each other a curious bit of harmonic support as well.”

John Leonard then also replied:  
“Also "A PACT" (between God and England?) in the poem's final lines (first passage). One possible sceptical response: why use English acrostics in a Latin poem? Are there precedents for this practice?

Thank you, gentlemen, your two correct answers are already sufficient for me to jump in and give my own explication as to why I believe both are incontrovertibly genuine, intentional acrostics on Milton’s part.


Atque dare in cineres, nitrati pulveris igne
Aedibus iniecto, qua convenere, sub imis.
Protinus ipse igitur quoscumque habet Anglia fidos 

P    Propositi, factique mone: quisquamne tuorum          [PAPIST acrostic going down]
A   Audebit summi non iussa facessere PAPAE?
P    Perculsosque metu subito, casuque stupentes
I     Invadat vel Gallus atrox, vel saevus Iberus.
S    Saecula sic illic tandem Mariana redibunt,
T   Tuque in belligeros iterum dominaberis Anglos.

Et necquid timeas, divos divasque secundas
Accipe, quotque tuis celebrantur numina fastis.” 130
Dixit, et ascitos ponens malefidus amictus
Fugit ad infandam, regnum illaetabile, Lethen.
Iam rosea eoas pandens Tithonia portas
Vestit inauratas redeunti lumine terras,
Maestaque adhuc nigri deplorans funera nati
Irrigat ambrosiis montana cacumina guttis,
Cum somnos pepulit stellatae ianitor aulae,
Nocturnos visus et somnia grata revolvens. locus aeterna septus caligine noctis….

Here is an English translation of lines 122-129, the excerpt which contains the entire “papist” acrostic: “Further, you must warn whomever of the faithful England still possess of your intention and of the deed. Will none of your countrymen dare carry out the mandates of the supreme Pope? When they are stricken by sudden terror and amazed at their misfortune, either the cruel Frenchman or the fierce Spaniard will invade. Thus at length the Marian centuries will return there, and you will gain mastery of the warlike English.

Even standing alone, it is, as John Savoie observes, beyond the realm of coincidence, but for more reasons than he stated. To find the Latin word “Papae” (“the Pope”) in the second line of a perfect 6-letter acrostic of the word “papist” (“follower of the Pope”), in a sentence which warns of the danger to England of an invasion by two nearby Catholic (i.e., papist) countries, which would lead to a return to the kind of rule England experience under Catholic (i.e., ‘papist”) Queen “Bloody” Mary I, cannot possibly be coincidental, the odds are astronomical against such a quadruple coincidence, especially in a work written by a genius of clever literary construction like Milton. It is noteworthy, however, to see him doing this at age 17!

However, this does not stand alone, it’s only the first part of a larger matrix of covert wordplay:


Attamen interea populi miserescit ab alto
Aethereus pater, et crudelibus obstitit ausis 

P    PAPICOLUM, capti poenas raptantur ad acres.   [PACT acrostic going down]
A   At pia thura Deo et grati solvuntur honores,
C   Compita laeta focis genialibus omnia fumant,
T   Turba choros iuvenilis agit: quintoque Novembris

Nulla dies toto occurrit celebratior anno.

Here is an English translation:  “But meanwhile the heavenly father looked down from above with pity on his people, and thwarted the Papists' cruel attempt. They are seized and taken off to severe punishments. Sacred incense is burned and grateful honours paid to God. All the joyous crossroads smoke with genial fumes; the young people dance in crowds, for in all the year there is no day more celebrated than the fifth of November.

The perfect acrostic “PACT” occurs right before the end of IQN at line # 226. As such, it is a virtually perfect bookend to the meaning conveyed explicitly in the initial lines of IQN:

Iam pius extrema veniens Iacobus ab arcto
Teucrigenas populos, lateque patentia regna
Albionum tenuit, iamque inviolabile FOEDUS
Sceptra Caledoniis coniunxerat Anglica Scotis, 
Pacificusque novo felix divesque sedebat 5
In solio, occultique doli securus et hostis:
Cum ferus ignifluo regnans Acheronte tyrannus,
Eumenidum pater, aethero vagus exul Olympo,
Forte per immensum terrarum erraverat orbem, 
Dinumerans sceleris socios, vernasque fideles        10
Participes regni post funera moesta futuros.
Hic tempestates medio ciet aere diras,
Illic unanimes odium struit inter amicos,

This is translated as follows: “Now pious James, coming from the extreme North, possessed the Teucer-born peoples and the widespread realms of the folk of Albion, and now an inviolable PACT conjoined English scepters to the Caledonian Scots, and James sat as a peacemaker and a prosperous man on his new throne, secure from hidden wiles and any foe, when the savage tyrant of Acheron, flowing with fire, the father of the Eumenides, the vagrant exile from celestial Olympus, chanced to be wandering through the world, counting his allies in crime, his loyal servants, destined to be partners in his kingdom after their sad demise. Here he stirred up great storms in mid-air, there he sowed hatred between like-minded friends, armed unconquered nations against each others’ vitals, overturned kingdoms flourishing in peace that bears the olive branch, and whoever he saw to be enamored of pure virtue, these he craved to add to his empire.”

“Foedus” is Latin for “treaty” or “compact” (“pact” for short). So we have Milton at the beginning of IQN referring explicitly to “the inviolable pact” which united the English and the Scots; and then, at the end of IQN, Milton implicitly (via the acrostic “pact”) summarizes how James fulfilled and preserved that “inviolable pact”! Talk about a rounded Aristotelian unity!

And, finally, getting back to the excerpt containing the “pact” acrostic, I also note that it contains the word “Papicolum”, which means “Papists” --- who are the ones, led by Satan, who are endangering that pact, as described in that excerpt, and who are the villains skewered by that earlier “papist” acrostic!

So, taking the above two acrostics and the passages they occur in as a unit, they could not be more tightly interlinked, with the two acrostics serving as subliminal thematic glue.

But still there’s another piece –when Milton writes James as preserving the “inviolable pact” that united the United Kingdom, he is also reacting to the following passage regarding the Gunpowder Plot which is found in Francis Herring’s Latin poem “Pietas Pontificia” (1606). I am sure a number of you know that Estelle Haan, a quarter century ago,  made an overwhelming case for Herring’s poem as one of Milton’s primary allusive sources for IQN. And guess what? Herring’s poem refers to a “wicked pact” between Percy, referred to as the Pope’s attendant and vassal, and  the bad guys (the “Papists”) in this passage:

“But it is better to go to the sly Sinon (whom we have recently left walking about in the splendid court). When he turns over the undertaking in his cunning mind, he goes to meet Percy (he was the king's attendant and vassall to the pope), and discloses the business entrusted to him. He eagerly embraces both the message and the man, they both promise steadfast loyalty (which neither of them possessed), and joining hands they swear a wicked PACT. Lords of the world, you are fostering dreaded Vipers in your bosoms, you who admit PAPISTS inside your dwelling. A serpent lies hidden, concealed in the grass. Infamous betrayal, pernicious rebellion, dreadful slaugther and poisons reeking of Stygian fraud constitute their pursuits, already notorious to the whole world, and are the eternai monuments of the Catholic sect. By these services they ascend to the heavens; in this way they proceed to the stars.”


So we see we have the convergence of three distinct lines of textual evidence-- each of them sufficient in its own right, but taken together they are exponentially more sufficient!

But I have one final tidbit to add to this spicy mix, which I had seen but not fully appreciated its significance until I had already posted my quiz.

As Estelle Haan also explained in lavish detail 25 years ago, one of Milton’s primary allusive sources in writing IQN was Vergil’s Aeneid, and, in particular, how the goddess Juno (of course, Rome’s name for the Greek “Hera”) stirred up conflict, and how Juno was particularly reflected in IQN by the character of Satan, doing exactly what is described in its opening passage. What Hahn did not realize, is thatl at the end of the initial lines of IQN, we find the following acrostic “Hera” in the very same lines which describe how Satan turned country against country:

Hic tempestates medio ciet aere diras,
Illic unanimes odium struit inter amicos,

A    Armat et invictas in mutua viscera gentes,
R    Regnaque olivifera vertit florentia pace,
E     Et quoscunque videt purae virtutis amantes,
H     Hos cupit adiicere imperio, fraudumque magister   [HERA acrostic going up]

Tentat inaccessum sceleri corrumpere pectus,
Insidiasque locat tacitas, cassesque latentes
Tendit, ut incautos rapiat, ceu Caspia tigris 
Insequitur trepidam deserta per avia praedam
Nocte sub illuni, et somno nictantibus astris. 

Standing alone, an intentional “Hera” acrostic would not have been certain, I freely ackowledge. But given all of the above evidence in this post, I believe that “Hera” it is yet another part of the young Milton’s extraordinary wordplay hidden in plain sight (as all acrostics are by definition hidden)!


Before I conclude, I want to tie up a few loose ends:

“Hint #2: What is unusual in these two passages is the same as what is unusual in numerous passages in Shakespeare's plays, and also in some in Paradise Lost.

What I meant by this, is that Milton’s use of acrostics in his youthful poem about Satan is not only (as John Savoie’s answer suggests) a harbinger of the “SATAN” acrostic in Paradise Lost - which Paul Klemp was the first to discover in 1977. It’s also, I now see, Milton’s first allusive reaction to the “SATAN” acrostic in Friar Laurence’s speech to Juliet in Romeo & Juliet -- an acrostic hidden in plain sight in the particular lines in which the Friar describes the future effect of the sleeping potion he is giving her:

To rouse thee from thy bed, there art thou dead:

in several posts in 2014, including these two:           
I had previously argued that Milton’s “SATAN” acrostic in PL (which in part includes the verbiage ‘the heighth of ROME”, sounds a lot like “ROMEO”!) was Milton’s reaction to Friar Laurence’s “SATAN”. But now I see that IQN is a way station, forty years earlier, on the way to the “SATAN” acrostic in PL.

And in that same regard, note also that in IQN, Satan comes to the Pope in a dream disguised as a mendicant Franciscan monk, which is exactly what the “diabolical” Friar Laurence is – and which taps into that deep well of Protestant anti-Catholicism which runs through Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Milton, among many other writers of that religiously divided time in England.

“Hint #3: Based on my prior interpretations of Paradise Lost, I hoped that I would find at least one of these unusual things in IQN, even before I read it.”

I hoped I would find at least one acrostic in IQN, because I already knew about the “SATAN” acrostic in PL, and I saw IQN as a primordial version of PL. So I wasn’t psychic, I just knew Milton loved acrostics, and it made sense that he would already have loved them at 17.

Hint #4: You don’t need to understand a word of Latin in order to see this unusual thing in each of these two passages -- although understanding Latin (or reading a translation) is necessary in order to begin to understand what it means!”

Responding to John Leonard, that Milton wrote these acrostics in English makes perfect sense to me, when I consider that all of his intended readers would be fluent in English, whereas not all would have been fluent in Latin. But you raise another interesting possibility --- I would ask anyone reading this who IS fluent in Latin (my JHS Latin 50 years ago wont cut it!) to give IQN a once-over (:
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to learn that the already diabolically clever 17 year old John Milton had slipped in a thematically relevant Latin acrostic there as well!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter