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

Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Pious Hypocrite of Hunton….or Hunsford?: Austen's Anti-Slavery Parody in Pride & Prejudice

My eye was caught today by a retweet by a sharp Twitter elf of the following article: 
“The ‘Slave Bible’ is Not What You Think” by Jill Hicks-Keeton June 3, 2020

Hicks-Keeton presents a sharp critique of the hypocrisy of The Museum of the Bible, skewering it for its deceitful attempts to whitewash the Bible’s pivotal role in the historical development of colonial slavery, for which scripture provided “moral justification” for enslaving other human beings.

I’ve long been aware of the subversive subtext of slavery in Austen’s novels – not just in Mansfield Park, but also significantly in Emma and Pride and Prejudice, too -- and that’s why the title of that article caught my eye – what exactly was the “Slave Bible”, and did it have any Austen connection?
I was not disappointed when I read the following excerpts:

“On one exhibit wall [at the Museum of the Bible] appeared an 1808 quotation attributed to Rev. Beilby Porteus, identified as Bishop of London and Founder of the Society for the Conversion & Religious Instruction and Education of the Negro Slaves. It read: “Prepare a short form of public prayers for them . . . together with select portions of Scripture . . . particularly those which relate to the duties of slaves towards their masters”….The quotation is excerpted from a letter to “the Governors, Legislatures, and Proprietors of Plantations, in The British West-India Islands.” 
Rev. Porteus’s aim is to convince these readers to allow enslaved Africans time and resources to receive Christian religious instruction. Porteus envisions a labor-free Sunday so that the enslaved can gather and be formed into Christian slaves.
He speculates that local clergy would be willing to prepare “a short form of public prayers for them [the enslaved], consisting of a number of the best Collects of the Liturgy, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, together with Select portions of Scripture, taken principally from the Psalms and Proverbs, the Gospels, and the plainest and most practical parts of the Epistles, particularly those which relate to the duties of slaves towards their masters.
The museum has taken Porteus’s quotation out of its context and edited it to make it say something it does not say. When we read the unabridged statement, we find that he was not issuing a command, and specifically that he was not issuing a command to produce a Bible. Porteus envisioned a collection that expanded beyond biblical texts and included liturgy for public worship. Such an anthology would have been similar to other compilations of biblical and religious texts intended for liturgical or devotional use, examples of which can be found displayed with appreciative tone at the museum.
…The full context of Porteus’s statement gives us a clue as to what his criteria for inclusion of material would have been. Museum curators have excised a significant segment of Porteus’s statement that makes the phrase “particularly those which relate to the duties of slaves towards their masters” appear to refer to all of scripture, when it actually refers to “the plainest and most practical parts of the Epistles”—a phrase which shows that Porteus was motivated principally by a desire to offer enslaved readers texts deemed easily digestible and relevant to their experiences. He was not playing seek and hide with freedom-themed Bible verses.
Plenty of people with “whole” Bibles have read their Bibles and concluded that they supported slavery. Even though the missionaries who produced Select Parts of the Holy Bible were not manipulating a Bible with malintent, they were engaged in other activities that we are likely to find abhorrent today. Lest Reverend Porteus be exculpated, we must note that racism and paternalism fueled his commendation of Christian education for the enslaved. 
In his letter, Porteus portrays converted slaves as feathers in the caps of their owners, calling them a “pleasing and interesting spectacle, of a new and most numerous race of Christians ‘plucked as a brand out of the fire,’ rescued from the horrors and superstitions of Paganism.” Yet if conversion was intended to rescue enslaved Africans from horrors, it was not horrors in the here-and-now. 
Porteus reasons that Christian slaves work harder and are more compliant than those who do not convert. He argues that plantation owners should allow their slaves to receive Christian religious education so that their sexual activity can be controlled with the hope of producing more offspring. More enslaved babies, more slaves, more labor, more profit…”

When I read the above, two words immediately popped into my head:   MR. COLLINS!

Now, two hours later, rather than making an elaborate argument as to why I’m certain that Bishop Porteus (the abolitionist who gave helpful advice to slaveowners) was a primary real-life inspiration for Mr. Collins, Jane Austen’s incomparable portrait of clerical hypocrisy, I will simply quote for you the relevant passages from each of their writings, and it will be obvious to all.

First, here are all the relevant passages from Porteus’s 1809 “masterpiece” that Hicks-Keeton brought to our attention, as he explains how he would implement his plan to convert all the slaves in the British West Indies to Christianity -- all, basically, for their own good, and also, incidentally, that of their masters as well. Note in particular how he lists his reasons, one by excruciating one, just like Mr. Collins:

“Assuming, then, that you are resolved upon the measure, the next consideration is, how are sufficient funds to be provided for carrying it into effect? Now I apprehend that in this there will be very little difficulty, as one great excellence of Dr. Bell's plan is, that it is attended with but a very trifling expence. To defray this expence, I would propose:
1: That a general subscription should be set on foot in this country, which I am persuaded would be an extensive and a liberal one. In my own diocese, and particularly in the opulent cities of London and Westminster, I would exert my utmost influence to promote it, and would myself begin it with the sum of £.500; and if the occasion called for it, would at any time be ready to double that sum. 
2: I can entertain no doubt but that the British legislature, which has already manifested so laudable a concern for the temporal happiness of the Negroes, will not be indifferent to their spiritual welfare, nor refuse their assistance in promoting it, by encouraging the establishment of these parochial schools.
3: The Society for the Conversion and religious Instruction and Education of the Negro Slaves in the British West-India Islands (of which I have the honour to be President) have I think the power, and would not, I am confident, want the inclination to contribute some share of their moderate revenue towards forwarding the plan proposed; as one part of their institution is the education of the young Negroes, and they are allowed by their charter to send out schoolmasters to the islands, as well as missionaries. 
4: Lastly. If these funds should not prove sufficient, a very small parochial rate might be raised on the Proprietors of lands in every island, to which (as they are to reap all the benefits of the institution, in the increase of their native Negroes, and will consequently save all the enormous sums formerly expended in the importation of fresh Slaves from Africa) they cannot, I think, reasonably object.
These are the sources which will, I doubt not, furnish an abundant supply for the support of the establishment here proposed; and the Planters will in a few years, at a very trivial expence to the Proprietor, raise up a race of young Christian Negroes, who will amply repay their kindness by the increase of their population, by their fidelity, their industry, their honesty, their sobriety, their humility, submission, and obedience to their masters; all which virtues are most strictly enjoined, under pain of eternal punishment, by that divine religion in which they will have been educated, and render them far superior to their unconverted fellow-labourers. 
This is not merely assertion and speculation. It is proved by fact and by experience; by the conduct of the Slaves who have been converted from Paganism and instructed in the Christian religion by the Moravian missionaries in the English and Danish islands, where the number of converted Negroes amounts to upwards of 24,000; who so far excel the unconverted Negroes, in the conscientious discharge of all the duties attached to their humble station, that they are held by the Planters in the highest estimation, and are purchased at a higher price than their Heathen brethren.
I cannot therefore help flattering myself that you will, without hesitation, adopt this benevolent system. It may be tried at first in one parish in any of the islands, and if it should succeed in that (of which there can be no doubt) it will of course encourage you to extend it gradually through every parish in every British island.”

“…the clergyman of the parish in which they reside will probably have the goodness to add his influence and exhortations for the same important purpose; and also to prepare a short form of public prayers for them, consisting of a certain number of the best Collects of the Liturgy, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, together with select portions of Scripture, taken principally from the Psalms and Proverbs, the Gospels, and the plainest and most practical parts of the Epistles, particularly those which relate to the duties of slaves towards their masters. 

“…The other objection which may possibly impede the introduction of the parochial schools into the West-India islands is the idea taken up by some of the Proprietors, that by making their Negroes good Christians they make them bad Slaves; that by admitting them to baptism, to divine worship, to the holy sacrament, and the other privileges and advantages of the Gospel, they bring them too much on a level with themselves, they. raise their ideas above their condition, they inspire them with pride and ambition, render them less fit for labour, less disposed to fulfil the duties of their humble station, and less submissive and obedient to their masters.”

“…As well might it be affirmed that the laws of England have a natural tendency to encourage despotism, tyranny, oppression, and persecution. But there is no need for reasoning upon the subject. Let us go to experience and to fact. There are, as I have already observed, many thousands of Negro Slaves converted to Christianity in some of the British islands, especially that of Antigua; and what is the case with them? Are they by conversion rendered proud, insolent, idle, disinclined to labour, rebellious and disobedient to their masters? 
Quite the contrary. They so much excel all the unconverted Slaves in sobriety, industry, honesty, fidelity, submission and attachment to their masters, that every Proprietor is anxious to procure them, and, as I have before observed, will give a higher price for them than for their Heathen brethren. 
And how can we wonder at this superiority over their Pagan fellow-labourers, when we recollect that the DIVINE RELIGION which they have embraced most expressly enjoins them, under pain of God's displeasure here, and of the severest punishment hereafter, “to be subject to their masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward: to please them well in all things, not answering again; not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, with “goodwill doing service as to the Lord and not to man. 
If anyone wished to form a slave exactly to his mind, could he possibly do it in terms more adapted to the purpose than these? And accordingly such effects have been produced on the minds and conduct of converted Negroes as might naturally be expected from them. Having thus, I trust, effectually answered the only plausible objections which I have ever heard stated against the introduction of Christianity among the Negro Slaves, and shewn that such a measure would be no less conducive to your temporal advantage than to their eternal interests; I should hope that this consideration alone would be sufficient to determine you in favour of the proposition here made to you. 
But you must allow me, Gentlemen, to add, that I by no means rest this great question on the ground cither of private or public utility, but on much higher and nobler principles; on the principles of justice, of humanity, of religion, of duty; by which most sacred ties you are bound as men and as Christians, to take care of the souls as well as of the bodies of that numerous race of men, over whom you have obtained the most absolute dominion. 
They are yours, the whole man, both body and soul. They are your sole and entire property. Their welfare is placed exclusively in your hands; their happiness or misery depends absolutely on your care of them, and by taking entire possession of them, you have made yourselves responsible for them, both here and here after. To you they look up as their masters, governors, guardians, and protectors; as the guides that are to open to them the way to a better world; and they will not, I trust, look up to you in vain. It is a debt which is strictly due to them; an act of compassion to which they have the strongest possible claim.
By that very large share which the British Nation and the British Islands have, for several centuries, taken in the importation of Slaves from Africa, many thousands, many millions of innocent unoffending human beings have been torn from their native land, from every blessing that was valuable, every connexion that was dear to them, have been conveyed against their will to a country and to a people unknown to them , and without any offence or fault of theirs have been doomed 'TO PERPETUAL SERVITUDE, a servitude too which at their death they leave (the only inheritance they have to leave) entailed upon their latest posterity. 
These surely are sufferings which call for some compensation; and what better, what more proper compensation can there be, than that of communicating to them the blessings of the Gospel, and opening to them the reviving prospect of eternal felicity in another life, since their fate has been so unfortunate in this. This will be an act of kindness, of benevolence, of charity in its highest and sublimest form, and productive of the most extensive and substantial good. It is a boon which, comparatively speaking, will cost you nothing, but to the objects of it will be invaluable. It will be a cordial to their hearts, and a support under their toils; it will sooth their minds with all the consolations of religion; it will make even servitude itself sit light upon them, and cheer their souls with the hope of eternal freedom and felicity in another world. 
Instead of lessening their inclination to labour, it will increase their industry and their desire (in conformity to the commands of the religion they have embraced) to please their masters in all things. It will redouble their attachment to those masters, and bind them down to the performance of all their duties by the strongest ties of affection and gratitude. Nor will you, Gentlemen, be without your reward, and that the highest and most gratifying that a human being can receive, the approbation of God , and the applause of the whole world. 
You will have the immortal honour of founding a new school for piety and virtue in the bosom of the Atlantic Ocean, of erecting a noble structure of religion and morality in the Western world, of exhibiting to mankind the interesting spectacle of a very large community of truly Christian Negroes, and of leading the way to the salvation of more than 500, 000 human beings, (immersed before in the grossest ignorance, superstition, wickedness, and idolatry) with all their countless descendants to the end of time. 

What a load of crap! And now, here are the passages in P&P relating to Mr. Collins that I suggest clearly were inspired, in no small part, by Porteus’s exotic mixture of hypocrisy and self-importance:

Ch. 17: “She was not the better pleased with [Mr. Collins’s] gallantry from the idea it suggested of something more. It now first struck her, that she was SELECTED from among her sisters as worthy of being mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of assisting to form a quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligible visitors.

Ch. 19: “Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty, so far from doing you any disservice, rather adds to your other perfections. You would have been less amiable in my eyes had there not been this little unwillingness; but allow me to assure you, that I have your respected mother’s permission for this address. You can hardly doubt the purport of my discourse, however your natural delicacy may lead you to dissemble; my attentions have been too marked to be mistaken. Almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it would be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying—and, moreover, for coming into Hertfordshire with the design of SELECTING a wife, as I certainly did.”
The idea of Mr. Collins, with all his solemn composure, being run away with by his feelings, made Elizabeth so near laughing, that she could not use the short pause he allowed in any attempt to stop him further, and he continued:
My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish; secondly, that I am convinced that it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly—which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. 
Twice has she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this subject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I left HUNSFORD—between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkinson was arranging Miss de Bourgh’s footstool, that she said, ‘Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry. Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her.’ 
“Really, Mr. Collins,” cried Elizabeth with some warmth, “you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as to convince you of its being one.”
“You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My reasons for believing it are briefly these: It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy of your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into further consideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”

Ch. 57: “…Mr. Collins moreover adds, ‘I am truly rejoiced that my cousin Lydia’s sad business has been so well hushed up, and am only concerned that their living together before the marriage took place should be so generally known. I must not, however, neglect the duties of my station, or refrain from declaring my amazement at hearing that you received the young couple into your house as soon as they were married. It was an encouragement of vice; and had I been the rector of Longbourn, I should very strenuously have opposed it. You ought certainly to forgive them, as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing.’ That is his notion of Christian forgiveness!...” 

And it turns out that Porteus’s striking resemblance to Mr. Collins was actually first noticed 120 years ago:

The Home Counties Magazine 1901
“Sundridge, Kent” by Arthur Maude
“Sundridge… is a village of some interest. The manor has been in the hands of various well- known houses… it is entered in Domesday Book as the property of the archbishop…
…The most important grave in the churchyard is that of Dr. Porteus, once Bishop of Chester, whom Pitt made Bishop of London in 1787. He lived in the house in Sundridge still known as Bishop's Cottage, and was buried there in 1809. Porteus is almost forgotten now, but was a hierarch of importance in his day. He was one of the many scandalous pluralists of that time; he held the living of HUNTON at the same time as Lambeth, kept both when master of St. Cross Hospital, and was rector of HUNTON as long as he was Bishop of Chester. 
He was not a great scholar, and was coarsely attacked by Porson, and by that ponderous pedant Parr (who would attack any bishop whom Pitt appointed ), as “a poor paltry prelate, proud of petty popularity and perpetually preaching to petticoats. 
There is very good internal evidence in Pride and Prejudice that the diction and foibles of the good bishop were in Jane Austen's mind when she produced that delicate satire on the clergy of the day, the character of Mr. Collins. 
We should prefer to remember the excellent position taken by Dr. Porteus on the slavery question, and his judicious support of Robert Raikes' movement for the establishment of Sunday schools.” 

Did you notice that little touch – that “Hunton” became “Hunsford”???

And from Anecdotal Reminiscences of Distinguished Literary and Political Characters
by Leigh Cliffe, Esq. (1830, we also learn these Mr. Collins-esque details:

“Though Dr. Porteous was religious in the strictest sense of the term, no man was a stronger advocate for rational amusement. He liked his rubber at whist, and could be pleased with a song.”

However, I doubt that Maude, despite his good ear for echoes of diction, understood that this was not just Jane Austen covertly satirizing a ridiculous hypocrite. It was also, under the surface, a searing condemnation of the complicity of the Anglican clergy in colonial slavery – and of the kind of self-deluding absurdity that could, without a trace of irony (a la The Onion or Borat), construct an elaborate argument for why abolition of the slave trade was good -- and yet, at the same time, making slaves good Christians would also make them good (meaning, productive) slaves – all the while, as Jane Austen would put it, “keeping his countenance” (i.e,. a straight face).

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter