Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Blackmailer and His Wife -- Sir Walter Scott's Rob Roy

There are a few times in the novel Rob Roy were Sir Walter Scott makes reference to Joseph Addison. In all the instances, Scott kind of makes fun of Addison. In his Lives of the Poets, Samuel Johnson idolizes Joseph Addison, along with Sir Richard Steele, as the creators of the "Tatler" and "Spectator," two daily papers that helped to broaden the average English person's knowledge and conversation base, as well as his manners and the regularity of his language.

The way Johnson puts it, he makes Addison sound like a master of style, a kind of first proponent of "cool." Sir Walter Scott makes Addison's work sound like a bit of a bore.

In the introduction to Rob Roy, Scott actually seems to pit Rob Roy, as an ideal, against Joseph Addison and the poet Alexander Pope. Scott says:

"[Rob Roy] owed his fame in a great measure to residing on the very verge of the Highlands, and playing such pranks in the beginning of the 18th century, as are usually ascribed to Robin Hood in the middle ages -- and that within forty miles of Glasgow, a great commercial city, the seat of a learned university. Thus a character like his, blending the wild virtues, with subtle policy, and unrestrained license of an American Indian, was flourishing in Scotland during the Augustan age of Queen Anne and George I. Addison, it is probable, or Pope, would have been considerably surprised if they had known that there existed on the same island with them a personage of Rob Roy's peculiar habits and profession."

I'm not really sure whether Addison would have been too surprised. But Samuel Johnson would certainly have been surprised. Johnson can barely believe when a grocer's son becomes an official letter-writer for a queen, or when a joiner's son becomes the man negotiating peace between England and France. And I think Sir Walter Scott might think of Addison as being like Johnson.

Anyhow, Scott himself, in his introduction to Rob Roy, paints a less than favorable picture of Rob Roy. I'm not sure if there's an additional story to Scott's Introduction. It was written in 1829, it appears, while Rob Roy was first published, I believe in 1818. So there might have been a kind of change of attitude in Scott regarding Rob Roy between the time he wrote his novel and the time he wrote the introduction.

The introduction to the book is really good. But I think I'm going to leave it to the side for a bit. The truth is, there's a lot of history in Rob Roy. And I feel like part of Scott's whole point to writing the introduction is that he wasn't able to put all this copious history into the novel.

But it's a good thing he didn't. One of the really nice things about the book is that it is an historical novel, but that it lets history play the role of backstory, rather than smashing up, sometimes awkwardly, against the action of the story.

The main character of the book, Francis Osbaldistone, finds himself up in the north of England, and eventually in Scotland. He finds himself in all these places because of the action of the story. And as he finds himself in each new place, he learns more about the history of the place.

Like Sir Walter Scott's quote above says, Rob Roy, or "Red Rob" MacGregor, was thought of as a Robin Hood of the 18th century. He was, in general, a cattle rustler -- although, at that time in Scotland, cattle rustling wasn't thought of as such a bad thing.

He was also a "blackmailer." Blackmailing was something a bit different than what we think of it nowadays. Actually -- I was at the Paley Center for Media in New York City today. The Paley Center is what used to be known as the Museum of TV and Radio.

It's basically a library full of computer screens. You sit down at the computer screens and pull up old TV shows. It's not so different from YouTube. Actually, sometimes YouTube is easier to navigate and has better availability of stuff to watch. But Paley actually has some really interesting items, that you can only see at Paley. Plus, it's nice to be in a room with a lot of other people, all watching all different kinds of TV shows.

Anyway, I watched the first episode of Days of Our Lives, from 1965, I guess. In the episode, the patriarch, Dr. Horton, jokingly mentions blackmailing his son with a photo he has of him as a three-month-old baby. Dr. Horton's son is now a lawyer, and Dr. Horton's wife says, therefore, that the son would probably not be too worried about blackmail.

I watched a few minutes of another show, a detective show called Honey West. Honey is a female detective. At the beginning of this show she is trying to obtain negatives of a photo that a man is trying to blackmail a rich woman with. The man is threatening that if he doesn't get fifty thousand dollars from the woman, he'll publicize the pictures.

So, in these examples, you can see what we think of as blackmail: a person threatening to do something to somebody unless the threatened person does soemthing for the threatening person. Usually the threatening person wants money. And usually the person is threatened with something that would ruin his social standing.

But in Rob Roy's day, blackmail was the taking or giving of payment in exchange for protection of lands. In Rob Roy's day, the early eighteenth century, Scotland ran rampant with cattle thieves. Cattle thieves weren't necessarily looked down on. But, still, people didn't want their cattle stolen.

So Scottish chieftains, warrior chiefs, were paid to "protect" certain lands for the owners of those lands. They didn't necessarily protect the lands, according to Sir Walter Scott. They would simply allow only a certain amount of cattle to be stolen. They would then take a cut of the money from the sale of the stolen cattle. They might even give a cut of this cut to the owner of the stolen cattle. But if they were paid to "protect" the lands, according to my understanding of Scott, they only allowed a certain amount of cattle to be stolen.

In America, we've had the tradition with the mafia, of "protection." It's a similar idea. As the mafia movies tell us, some guy opens up a shop, let's say, in New York City. The mafia muscles in on him and tells him, "You pay us, we'll protect you." The guy asks what would happen if he didn't pay them for protection. The mafia implies, at least in the mafia movies, that they'll rob or wreck the guy's shop.

In this sense, "protection" isn't protection. It's easy money. And this is basically the idea that Scott gives us, in his introduction and throughout his novel, about the tactic of blackmail in Scotland.

But Rob Roy is the mysterious hero of Scott's novel. Francis Osbaldistone is the main character and the real hero. But he's kind of an innocent young man, going through a kind of coming of age or initiation ritual in his journey from London into the Highlands of Scotland.

Rob Roy is -- really, a kind of constant deus ex Machina. He's always appearing at just the right moment to save everybody from all kinds of trouble. He kind of reminds me of The Lone Ranger. Everybody always asks, "Who was that masked man?"

But how is this mysterious hero such a morally ambiguous kind of person? Well... that's kind of a silly question for a 21st century American to ask. It's been decades since our comic book superheroes have been anything other than morally ambiguous. And the characters of comic books like Watchmen are living in a world that would, I often think, make Charles II's poets blush.

And that's the point, in a way. Poetically, Rob Roy is a kind of counterpoint to the poets Samuel Johnson held up as exemplary, while being something more like the people whose lives Johnson holds up as disgusting. Scott seems to want to show that there is something admirable in the life of Rob Roy, while Rob Roy is not always the most exemplary a character.

I think that by Sir Walter Scott's time, Abraham Cowley had been smothered out of view by Johnson's criticism, while poets like Joseph Addison had been cultivated into favor. In the meantime, other poets were completely forgotten, most likely because Johnson said their poetry wasn't worth anything at all.

One good representative of this class, from the first half of the second volume of Johnson's Lives, is Sheffield of Buckinghamshire. Sheffield doesn't seem to have written any poetry of merit. But his Life is incredible. He fought in a number of different wars. He didn't just fight bravely on the sea, in the midst of a rain of bullets and cannon balls: he was so cool-headed that he actually made scientific observations regarding the projectiles. Like this one, which Johnson records:

"I have observed two things, which I dare affirm, though not generally believed. One was, that the wind of a cannon-bullet, though flying never so near, is incapable of doing the least harm; and, indeed, were it otherwise, no man above deck would escape. The other was, that a great shot may sometimes be avoided, even as it flies, by changing one's ground a little; for, when the wind sometimes blew away the smoke, it was so clear a sun-shiny day that we could easily perceive the bullets (that were half-spent) fall into the water, and from thence bound up again among us, which gives sufficient time for making a step or two on any side; though, in so swift a motion, 'tis hard to judge so well in what line the bullet comes, which, if mistaken, may by removing, cost a man his life instead of saving it."

This was early in Sheffield's life, when he was fighting at sea against the Dutch, during the reign of King Charles II. But Sheffield also fought for King James II. King William, even though he liked Sheffield, was a bit suspicious of Sheffield, because Sheffield was very loyal to King James. So Sheffield didn't get as much of a chance to act (or be compensated for his actions) during the reign of King William.

But Sheffield had actually courted Queen Anne. So when Queen Anne took the throne, Sheffield was given a number of titles and preferments. But Sheffield disagreed with Queen Anne, like he'd disagreed with King William, on a number of things. He virtually retired from business -- although he was by that time wealthy enough to build Buckingham House, an estate large enough to accommodate the tastes, a few decades later, of Queen Charlotte.

What little show in the business world Sheffield made were put to a complete halt once King George took the throne -- Sheffield was a total opponent of King George. And so Sheffield busied himself in writing tragedies until his death in 1721.

After Johnson so captivatingly relates to us Sheffield's life of bravery in war, honesty in politics, and achievement in business, Johnson then goes on to completely ruin Sheffield's reputation by calling saying that Sheffield has a Hobbesian religious outlook (bad in those days), loose morality, terrible views regarding women, a gambler's idea of property, and tendencies toward covetousness, idleness, and neglect.

Johnson seems to believe that the lives of great, active men are often full of great fault. Even scholars, like Milton, Dryden, and Addison, seem to have the great fault -- of being too scholarly. But the vices of men of action are, according to Johnson, often the lives of licentiousness. And, when it comes to the poetry of these men, it often falls flat, in Johnson's opinion. Like Johnson says of Sheffield:

"His verses are often insipid; but his memoirs are lively and agreeable; he had the perspicuity and elegance of an historian, but not the fire and the fancy of a poet."

Again, another poet too wild for Johnson's tastes -- like Cowley. And -- like Cowley, this poet is "cold" he doesn't have "fire" or "fancy." He's another man of action, like Prior. And -- like Prior, he is more of an historian than a poet. Prior could write tales, according to Johnson, but not poetry. Sheffield can write memoirs, but not poetry.

Johnson is most likely correct about the high quality of Prior's tales and Sheffield's memoirs. But Johnson's overall criticism of Sheffield reduces him in the sight of so many people that his reputation, I'd argue, has just withered away. If people can't put a few of his poems into a book, and say what Johnson said about him, he likely won't go into an anthology. So he won't be remembered. His memoirs won't be used in an anthology -- regardless of what Johnson says about them -- because they aren't poetry.

I don't think Abraham Cowley was much of a factor in English poetry by Scott's time. I don't think Scott would have really conceived of Cowley. And I think that was largely because of Johnson.

But the stance that Johnson seems to have taken against Cowley, against wild speech, and for Joseph Addison, and his promotion of refined, easy, cool-headed speech, seems to be opposed, by Scott, by the use of Rob Roy and his kinsmen -- especially his wife Helen MacGregor, who gives some of the most beautiful speeches in the book.

Here is a passage that Scott puts into the mouth of his main character, Francis Osbaldistone, regarding the speech of Helen MacGregor and the Scots:

"There was a strong provincial accentuation, but otherwise, the language rendered by Helen MacGregor, out of the native and poetical Gaelic, into the English, which she had acquired as we do learned tongues, but had probably never heard applied to the mean purposes of ordinary life, was graceful, flowing, and declamatory. Her husband, who in his time had played many parts, used a much less elevated and emphatic dialect; -- but even his language rose in purity of expression, as you may have remarked, if I had been accurate in recording it, when the affairs which he discussed were of an agitating and important nature; and it appears to me in his case, and in that of some other Highlanders whom I have known, that when familiar and facetious they use the Lowland Scottish dialect -- when serious and impassioned, their thoughts arranged themselves in the idiom of their native language; and in the latter case, as they uttered the corresponding ideas in English, the expressions sounded wild, elevated, and poetical. In fact, the language of passion is almost always pure as well as vehement, and it is no uncommon thing to hear a Scotchman, when overwhelmed by a countryman with a tone of bitter and fluent upbraiding, reply by way of taunt to his adversary, 'You have gotten to your English.'"

One interesting thing about this passage is that Scott uses the word "vehement," which Johnson always uses in terms of the controversy writers. One part of John Milton's career that Johnson absolutely hates is Milton's spreading of controversy. And Johnson always calls these writings of Milton's "vehement." But as well as this language being "vehement," it is also "wild, elevated, and poetical." This language of "passion," having all the characteristics opposite of what Johnson thinks of as poetical, is actually a strongly poetic language, for Scott.

Compare the passage above with Johnson's passage below, which I love, just as much as I love the above passage by Scott:

"It has been suggested that the Royal Society was instituted soon after the Restoration, to divert the attention of the people from publick discontent. The 'Tatler' and 'Spectator' had the same tendency: they were published at a time when two parties, loud, restless, and violent, each with plausible declarations, and each perhaps without any distinct termination of its views, were agitating the nation; to minds heated with political contest, they supplied cooler and more inoffensive reflections; and it is said by Addison, in a subsequent work, that they had a perceptible influence upon the conversation of that time, and taught the frolick and the gay to unite merriment with decency; an effect which they can never wholly lose, while they continue to be among the first books by which both sexes are initiated in the elegances of knowledge."

So we have through Scott's passage, a picture of a Rob Roy who, because he is more experienced with the world outside the Highlands than his wife Helen is, can speak English with a jocular kind of style, known as the Lowlands dialect.

Rob Roy has become experienced enough in the world, through trading (stolen) cattle to the Lowland Scottish and Northern English, that he can speak a freer kind of language. But this is just the kind of language that I'm sure Johnson would think is vulgar, while Scott declares that the less refined, less experienced person of the married couple, Helen, is only capable of speaking in an elegant language.

Nevertheless, for Rob Roy, the freer language isn't the language of his heart. His emotions are similar with his wife's emotions. His business experience only gives him the ability to wear the mask of the freer language. For Rob Roy, the world of an Addison, where people may have the leisure or freedom to fashion their thoughts in such a way as "to unite merriment with decency," is not Rob Roy's world.

Rob Roy is, first of all, an outlaw, by circumstance. Secondly, he comes from a family which has, for over a hundred years, and up until only recently, been banned from using their own name, "MacGregor," due to the criminal acts of some of their ancestors. Third, Scotland, having united with England, now must adhere to England's principles, and to a King which, apparently, not much of Scotland actually likes.

When we first meet Rob Roy, at the beginning of the book, he heaps "preferments" onto everybody at the table of a public house, as Johnson seems to relate to us the preferments often heaped upon some of the more active men among his poets. Rob Roy declares:

"'Gentlemen... I havna much dubitation that King George weel deserves the predilection of his friends; and if he can haud the grip he has gotten, why, doubtless, he may make the gauger, here, a commissioner of the revenue, and confer on our friend, Mr. Quitam, the preferment of solicitor-general; and he may also grant some good deed or reward to this honest gentleman who is sitting upon his portmanteau, which he prefers to a chair: And questionless, King James is also a grateful person, and when he gets his hand in play, he may, if he be so minded, make this reverend gentleman Archprelate of Canterbury, and Dr. Mixit chief physician to his household, and commit his royal beard to my friend Latherum. But as I doubt mickle whether any of the competing sovereigns would give Rob Campbell a tass of aquivitae, if he lacked it, I give my vote and interest to Jonathan Brown, our landlord, to be the King and Prince of Skinkers, conditionally that he fetches us another bottle, as good as the last.'"

In one sense, this could just be a typical game of imagining greatness. Kids crown each other King, Queen, Princess, or Knight, all the time. But this heaping of preferments does seem to be a lot like Johnson's litany of preferments, titles, and positions in many of his Lives.

But what Rob Roy is really stating here is his resentment that he would never be approved of by the King. Rob Roy, we find out later in the book, actually has a price on his head in Scotland, at least. He's an outlaw, like Robin Hood, except a bit shadier.

But Rob Roy's real problem seems to be the situation of Scotland. Scotland's Union with England has put Scotland, it seems, under England's complete subjection. Scotland no longer even has a parliament of its own. There is no real freedom, then, for the Scots. Or -- at least this is what Rob Roy's thoughts seem to be.

In the novel, Helen MacGregor, Rob Roy's wife, is definitely of this sentiment. Rob Roy might take a bit of a different view of the whole situation. But Rob Roy is definitely more driven by Helen than he is, often, by his own emotions.

Rob Roy was, the novel says, driven to his life as an outlaw, not by the Union of England and Scotland, but by a financial crisis, which led him to lose his money. He was driven into bankruptcy and had his lands taken away from him, not by an Englishman, but by another Scotsman.

The shame of losing the family lands seems to have affected Helen's pride worse than it affected Rob Roy's pride. And it appears that Helen has become a sort of chieftain to the chieftain, driving Rob Roy not only to be an outlaw, but to be something of a revolutionary.

At least, I should say, this is how I understand it. A lot of the backstory of the book is written in the Scottish dialect, which I think I did fine with. But I don't think I caught every bit and piece. And, when push comes to shove, I feel a lot like Willfred, the fool of the family, of whom Francis says, during the small Scottish uprising near the end of the book:

"I have heard he was never able exactly to comprehend the cause of the battle, and did not uniformly remember, on which king's side he was engaged."

The two Kings are King George and King James. James was still alive, though he had been dethroned (two monarchs previous to George). There were many in England, mostly the Catholics, who were trying to bring King James back to the throne. But in Scotland there was a large contingent of people working for a revolution against King George and for King James.

The groups of people fighting for King James were -- I think -- called the Jacobites. And a larger Jacobite uprising actually occurred, I believe, toward the middle of the eighteenth century in Scotland and the North of England. But the smaller Jacobite uprising, which is foreshadowed through most of the book, and which forms a few episodes toward the end of the book, is the type of event which Helen MacGregor hopes to drive her husband toward.

In fact, many of the problems in the book seem to arise from Rob Roys attempts, largely inspired by his wife, to get some kind of strategic information which will really make a Jacobite uprising from Scotland down into England possible.

But because of his dealings as both an outlaw and a revolutionary, Rob Roy, though he is always doing business with people, is always on the outskirts of society. And he feels like he is simply doomed to be that way. He was once a law-abiding citizen. But circumstances have made him something else. And now he has to live that way.

But -- because he was born into the clan of the MacGregors -- a clan that for so long wasn't even able to use its own name -- he feels a dark shadow over the destiny, not only of his own life, but over the lives of his family.

This is illustrated toward the end of the book, when one of Rob Roy's cousins, Nicol Jarvie, a Scottish merchant and judge (?) who lives in Glasgow and has done much to help out Francis Osbaldistone, the hero of the story, offers to educate Rob Roy's two sons, Robin and Hamish, at no charge. Rob Roy becomes annoyed -- almost violently annoyed -- at Jarvie's attempts to convince Rob Roy.

Rob Roy seems to believe that he's stuck in this kind of life -- that his whole family is stuck in this kind of life. But I think that his real reason for not sending Robin and Hamish to be educated by Jarvie is that he's afraid of his wife. His wife would hear nothing of a Glasgow man -- a Lowland Scotland man -- raising her two sons! Lowland Scotland is just as bad as England in her eyes. And England is an abomination for her.

Helen even regrets the fact that Rob Roy has to do any kind of business with the Lowland Scots or the English. And, in her opinion, any time he does business with them, he ends up only bringing trouble on himself. Nobody ever remembers or is grateful for what he's done for them. Helen says of Rob Roy that:

"'Wise only when the bonnet is on his head, and the sword is in his hand, he never exchanges the tartan for the broad-cloth, but he runs himself into the miserable intriguies of the Lowlanders, and becomes again, after all he has suffered, their agent -- their tool -- their slave.'"

When Francis wishes for Helen to add "benefactor" to the epithets, Helen replies:

"'Be it so... for it is the most empty title of them all, since he has uniformly sown benefits to reap a harvest of the most foul ingratitude.'"

Helen herself fights in battles, and, in Rob Roy's absence, is herself a leader of the Scotch warriors. She drives the men on with her vehement, impassioned speech. And it seems pretty obvious that she drives on Rob Roy in the same way.

In the introduction to Rob Roy, however -- maybe I didn't read carefully enough -- Scott's "historical" Rob Roy doesn't seem to be driven on as much by Helen as the fictional Rob Roy. I only found three solid references to Helen.

In one of these references, Rob Roy's wife has been extremely insulted by one of the men to whom Rob Roy owes a large debt. In another one of them, just before Rob Roy is set to get into a fight, Helen hides the sword of the opponent (although the opponent manages to find a sword and actually scare Rob Roy away). In the final reference, when Rob Roy was an aged man and dying, Scott says:

"He expressed some contrition for particular parts of his life. His wife laughed at these scruples of conscience, and exhorted him to die like a man, as he had lived. In reply, he rebuked her for her violent passions, and the counsels she had given him. 'You have put strife,' he said, 'betwixt me and the best men of the country, and now you would place enmity between me and my God.'"

But, I would assume, from my understanding of Scott's ideas, that the best men in the country, in Rob Roy's opinion, were Highland Scots, not Lowland Scots. Englishmen weren't even included in the statement.

So, it would seem that the historical Rob Roy was on his own as far as being a revolutionary was concerned. Scott implies in the Introduction that the "historical" Rob Roy was actually carrying out the strategy of war much like the common blackmailer of the Scottish days carried out the strategy of "protection." Scott was actually fighting, if not for King George, then at least in such a way that King George wouldn't lose through any action of Rob Roy's warriors.

In one decisive battle, as Scott relates, Rob Roy even stood, with his men, up at the top of a hill, while other Scottish clans fought the British. When it became clear that the Scots were not going to win the battle, Rob Roy had his men charge down the hill.

Rob Roy, with the men, didn't arrive at the scene of battle in time to do much else than plunder the purses of the dead men lying on the field. This eventually became the notorious subject of a satirical poem which Scott quotes.

Again, regarding the education of Rob Roy's sons, Scott gives us a scene that shows the "historical" Rob Roy as a man who believes that his life is the exemplary life. Instead of having to fend off a relative who wishes to educate his children, Rob Roy has to be -- very delicately -- dissuaded from almost kidnapping one of his relatives' children, so that he can educate him in the life of a blackmailer.

"At length the perplexed Professor pleaded that his son was very young, and in an infirm state of health, and not yet able to endure the hardships of a mountain life; but that in another year or two he hoped his health would be firmly established, and he would be in a fitting condition to attend on his brave kinsman, and follow out the splendid destinies to which he opened the way. This agreement being made, the cousins parted, -- Rob Roy pledging his honour to carry his young relation to the hills with him on his next return to Aberdeenshire, and Dr. Gregory, doubtless, praying in his secret soul that he might never see Rob's Highland face again."

Then why does Scott show his fictional Rob Roy to be the kind of man he is? The Rob Roy of the novel is a hero -- almost like The Lone Ranger, except with a few moral ambiguities. But his moral ambiguities don't stop him from being directed in action, eloquent, brave, and diligent. The "historical" Rob Roy, as Scott shows him, lacks each of these virtues in turn, story by story. And why is Helen such a driving force in the "fictional" Rob Roy's life, when she doesn't seem to have been such in the "historical" Rob Roy's life?

The answer is that Rob Roy is a kind of "medicine" for the hero, Francis Osbaldistone. Like I said earlier, the story of Rob Roy, from Francis' viewpoint, is a kind of coming of age story.

The story begins with Francis coming home from France, where he's been tutored by one of his father's business relations. But Francis hasn't been very strictly tutored, for a number of reasons. Francis has developed a taste for poetry. There are a few examples of his poetry. They seem fine enough. But as Francis himself warns us, these were the early years of the eighteenth century, when poets were thought of as impoverished drunkards and thieves.

Francis' father is educating Francis so he can take over the family business -- one, apparently, of the most famous banking houses in all of London. But Francis doesn't want to have anything to do with his old man's business. He'd rather be a poet.

Francis' father tells Francis that he'll either take over the business or be disowned. Francis, as hard-headed as his father, decides he'd rather be disowned. So, instead of being completely disowned, Francis is sent up to the North of England, to Northumberland, to Osbaldistone Hall, to live with his Uncle Hildebrand Osbaldistone. Hildebrand is to send down one of his own sons to live with Francis' father and be educated so that he may take over the business.

The cousin who is chosen to live with Francis' father is a young man named Rashleigh. I think both Francis and Rashleigh are about the same age -- about twenty years old. Rashleigh is, before he even steps onto the stage, the villain of the piece. He had been studying for the priesthood (Hildebrand's family, despite being English, are Roman Catholics).

But Rashleigh hasn't been studying in order to save men's souls. He admits to Francis later in the book that he's been working to become a priest because he wants the power of the priesthood: he wants Kings kneeling before him.

Rashleigh has involved himself, through Rob Roy, with the minor Jacobite uprising that takes place at the end of the book. And for the ends of the revolt (I think -- I'm not totally sure), Rashleigh, upon arriving in London and gaining the trust of Francis' father, takes advantage of being in almost complete control of the Osbaldistone banking-house in order to cause a few troubles with accounts in Scotland. These accounts also threaten to bankrupt the Osbaldistone banking house. They also threaten, through some machinations I didn't understand, to incite the Jacobite Scots into an uprising.

Rashleigh has, by this point, removed himself from London up to Glasgow. Francis, learning all the details of Rashleigh's deceits, goes up to Glasgow to try to find either Francis, the records of the accounts that Francis has absconded with, or both.

In the meantime, Francis has fallen in love with one of his distant cousins, Diana, or "Die," Vernon. Die has a past that she is reluctant to share with Francis. But she is also an extremely elegant, almost brashly honest person. She lives in a mansion filled with men. But she can do anything the men can do. She's also been trained to be incredibly intelligent.

As part of her past, Die has been contracted to marry one of her cousins at Osbaldistone Hall. The patriarch of the Hall, Francis' Uncle Hildebrand, will make the decision on the marriage. Rashleigh had hoped he'd be the one who could marry Die. But she rejected him. So he took to the idea of becoming a priest. In the meantime, he still harbored a violently jealous love for her.

Francis and Rashleigh, before Rashleigh leaves for London, get into fights as Rashleigh tries to pit Francis against Die -- it's obvious how much Francis and Die feel for each other, and Rashleigh doesn't want that relationship to work out at all. Rashleigh and Francis part with animosity. This animosity is renewed when Rashleigh and Francis again meet in Glasgow.

But Die's secret is eventually revealed. Her father, a Jacobite was involved in a previous revolution. It is rumored that he's died. But he is only lying low Northumberland until the political climate becomes more favorable for him. Die's father is such a staunch Jacobite that he won't hear of Die marrying a non-Catholic.

There's no question of Die marrying someone like Francis, who, Francis tells us, due to the cosmpolitan education of France, doesn't have a very specific religion at all. So it looks, over and over again, like Die and Francis are going to be split apart forevery. This is the technique, Anne Carson tells us in her book Eros the Bittersweet, of a good romance. I'm not sure what Scott would think about that. But I agree.

Anyhow -- after a number of scenes of Francis working his way up into Glasgow, and then up into the Highlands, in order to receive the documents to save his father's business -- Francis finally decides that he will, after all, compromise with his father and work at the family bank.

Rob Roy, then, is an image that Francis has of himself: the wild poet with the passionate voice. He also sees Helen as Die Vernon.

Francis, through a kind of pampered, undisciplined life, has figured that he can live a life without any focus, without any kind of business purpose. Die Vernon has lived as the daughter of a revolutionary, and has had to harden and focus her mind, close off her emotions, more than a woman would in those days. So Scott sees these two young people, Francis and Die, as people who have, due to their life histories, grown up a bit out of tune with their natures and with the nature of society.

Like Camille Paglia would say about Shakespeare's As You Like It, the aim of the story is to bring the two young lovers into a kind of integration with their society. The same thing is going on for Francis and Die all throughout Rob Roy.

Rob Roy is the wild part of Francis. Francis has to see that the wild part of himself can be effective, can save him and protect him. Once he has allowed himself to recognize that it can act as a functional part of himself, he can integrate it into himself. But he can't integrate that part into himself -- and thereafter integrate himself into society -- until that part of himself has shown that it can protect him. And, thus, Francis must go on his initiation ritual.

Helen, as Francis' anima, is a strong and extremely eloquent character. She's in charge of all the Highlanders -- all of the male elements of Francis' mind. But she has experienced a great deal of shame. When Francis first meets Die, she's partly like a stately, refined English woman, and partly like the brave but rude Helen. Like Helen, Die lives all among men. Like Helen, Die can do anything the men surrounding her do, equally well, if not better.

Die's family history is her own history. And I'm sure that one could easily see this story as Die's unconscious journey just as easily as they could see it as Francis' journey. But Die's family history is also a projection of Francis' own experience with his anima onto Die. So, seeing Die, Francis gets a first glimpse of his anima.

Just as a side note, this double-view is a characteristic that Sir Walter Scott shares with Western novel writer Zane Grey. Many of his books could be seen as initiation rituals for young men. And the women in those stories could be seen as anima projections. But, I believe, especially in the books The Thundering Herd, Wildfire, and Desert Gold -- the conclusion of which, by the way, is, formally, very similar to that of Rob Roy -- the journey could just as easily be seen as the woman's rite of passaage, and the man could just as easily be seen as the woman's animus projection.

But, for purposes of the example, let's look, for now, at Die Vernon as holding, at least to some degree, the projection of Francis' anima.

In the form of Helen, the anima, in her full strength, is driving Francis away from integrating himself into society (his father's business), and into a kind of profession which, at that time, was pretty much synonymous with drunken dissolution (or envelopment in the unconscious, which would mean complete possession by the anima).

Francis is given an image of himself, by turning his back on society, as a rebellion, a rebellion as noble as that of a subjugated country against the ruling country. But his anima only has the power she has to convince him of this because she is imprisoned in the space in which she is imprisoned by society -- a society of men.

Francis has been exiled to France, in a manner of speaking, by his father. It is obvious throughout the book that Francis and his father share a loving relationship. But their relationship is definitely one that the father rules. Maybe the father rules the relationship a bit too much, and a bit too cruelly.

Francis has no space, in his feelings, for the world of men, because, it seems to him, his father controls it so completely. So he exiles his sensitivity, his anima, deep in his unconscious, just like he's been exiled to France.

I think this idea, that Francis' emotions were too overpowered by his father as such a dominant male, so that his anima became not only an exile, but a figure that drove Francis on to hard-headed rebellion, is reinforced by a lot of the speeches that Die gives -- as the kind of first view, or projected-view, that Francis gets of the anima.

In these speeces, Die often laments being born a woman at all. She actually gives three reasons for her discontent, which I will condense, as they take place in the midst of a dialogue on sympathy between Die and Francis (in which Francis keeps pledging sympathy, and then keeps criticizing everything Die says):

"'There are three things for which I am much to be pitied, if any one thought it worth while to waste any compassion upon me.

"'In the first place, I am a girl, and not a young fellow, and would be shut up in a madhouse if I did half the things I had a mind to; -- and that, if I had your happy prerogative of acting as you list, would make all the world mad with imitating and applauding me....

"'The second count of my indictment against fortune... [is that] I belong to an oppressed sect and antiquated religion, and, instead of getting credit for my devotion, as is due to all good girls beside, my kind friend, Justice Inglewood, may send me to the house of correction, merely for worshipping God in the way of my ancestors....

"'My third cause of vexation... [is that] I am by nature, as you may easily observe, of a frank and unreserved disposition -- a plain, true-hearted girl, who would willingly act openly and honestly by the whole world, and yet fate has involved me in such a series of nets and toils, and entanglements, that I dare hardly speak a word for fear of consequences -- not to myself, but to others.'"

In all of these instances, Die mentions either the possibility of being entrapped or the actual state of bieng entrapped. But she has just rescued her cousin from being imprisoned by Justice Inglewood, the judge she says "may send [her] to the house of correction."

Francis is threatened with imprisonment, sent to rescue friends from prison (and getting trapped there himself), captured as a traitor by British soldiers, and captured as a traitor by Scottish soldiers.

It is only in the last case that Francis is subjugated by a female. But by that time, he's far up North (which, I'm coming to learn, after having read William Morris, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and, now, Sir Walter Scott, must be, or must have been, an aspect of the unconscious for the English). He's finally in the realm of the anima. And he is under her control.

Die is, personally, entrapped in her contracted marriage to an Osbaldistone. Her only other option is to become a nun. But, being entrapped, as a woman, in society, she also stands for Francis -- who has been so overwhelmed by male society that he has had to exile his anima deep into his unconscious.

But certain elements of Francis' male side, also in a state of underdevelopment, also exiled to Francis' unconscious, are under the control of Francis' anima. The strongest of these male figures is Rob Roy, who enters the outskirts of the conscious world, scarcely going farther south (or scarcely going farther into the English conscious), than Northumberland.

However, once Francis has come face to face with his anima, once he has been imprisoned by her, like Rob Roy had been imprisoned by her, he learns that Rob Roy has been imprisoned, by male, English soldiers. Francis and Rob Roy have changed places. Now Francis is sent, by the anima, to rescue Rob Roy for her.

Francis meets the English troops and Rob Roy. Rob Roy makes a daring escape -- for which, it seems, Francis needed to be there. Francis, inspired, in turn, by Rob Roy, later makes an escape as well. They both escape by means of a river.

After Francis has escaped from the English troops, outwitting the English troops, by himself, with help neither from Die Vernon, Rob Roy, or Helen MacGregor, Francis is met, mysteriously, on the road by Die Vernon, who, apparently escaping from Britain altogether with a mysterious man, hands all Francis' father's account documents back to Francis. Somehow Die has managed to steal these accounts away from the villain Rashleigh, in order to restore Francis' father's business.

Not long after Die and the man disappear, Francis is again met on the road by Rob Roy. Rob Roy and Francis approach Rob Roy's wife Helen, and Helen takes a much milder tone. Rob Roy and Francis have, to a certain degree, managed some kind of integration of personality in a functional way, and are able to withstand the world of male society, which was previously overwhelming. So Helen, as the anima, is less able to possess the male aspects of the personality.

This, I think, also would explain why Rob Roy is so against his two sons, Hamish and Robin, being instructed by their Uncle Nicol Jarvie. Rob Roy is an element of the unconscious, or, possibly, of the pre-conscious -- like a dream. His sons may be a mix between the unconscious anima and himself. They live in a kind of liminal world. They can't be brought out into Jarvie's world of the conscious. Rob Roy has to resist such an offer. Every part of personality must be integrated as it is.

The remainder of the book follows this development. But I think I'd like to leave some of the final scenes alone. They're probably a lot more fun when you read them freshly, without anybody telling you what happens. I think it's fine to give away a lot of the surprising scenes in a book.

Sometimes, in complicated books, it's actually helpful to talk about some of the scenes -- I mean, just to say right out what happens in them. I've always appreciated books or essays that did that kind of thing, simply because then it helps me know what to look for in the language. It helps me read difficult passages. The scenes don't lose any excitement. The excitement may actually be enhanced.

But I don't feel so comfortable doing that with the final scenes in books, since there's something about the freshness of the scene that makes it exciting. So I'll leave the final exciting scenes for you all to read.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Beastly Manners -- The Hound of the Baskervilles

I'm going to begin this post with a mild spoiler. But I'm sure this whole post will be just full of spoilers.

I personally was annoyed, when I read Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and found out the identity of the two ladies' murderers. The murderer was a beast. At the same time, there was something very comic-booky about it that I liked a lot.

Like in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book Hound of the Baskervilles depends on a beast to commit the murder which serves as the starting-point for the book. But whereas the man who "owns" the beast in Poe's story is not in control of the beast -- in fact, he's just as afraid of the beast as the women being murdered -- there is a bit more of an element of control in Doyle's story.

Poe's story, in my opinion, is also not much of a story, whereas Doyle's story is more of a story. By that I mean what I suppose most people as shallow as I mean -- there's not a lot of real action. In fact, Poe's Auguste Dupin stories, which are said to be the beginning of the detective novel genre, don't seem to be much like stories at all. Rather, a murder occurs, the details are all laid out, and there either is or -- in "The Case of Marie Roget" -- isn't a resolution.

But in Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles, there is a story, a dramatic through-line, I guess I mean: plenty to hold a person's interest. And there's plenty of action.

But what also interests me about Poe's stories and Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles is that they begin in somewhat the same style: the detective has to kind of show off his skills by using his assistant as something of a foil. This shows the audience that the detective is really a smart guy, I guess. But it also, I think, must put the audience in the mood for thinking a little bit outside of day-to-day life and logic in order to participate in solving the mystery.

In Poe's story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the story is told from the viewpoint of the assistant-character, who is more of a benefactor to Poe's detective, Auguste Dupin, than an assistant. But I can't remember the name of this assistant character off-hand. The story actually begins, I think, with the man discussing how he met Dupin. But it then moves into Dupin doing a little detective work at the assistant-character's expense.

The detective Dupin has watched the assistant-character's reactions to some bit of jostling on the street, followed by the man's eye movements to the ground and up to the sky. As Dupin watches the man react to various pieces of scenery, and possibly make some kind of body gestures as well, Dupin deduces that the man is thinking about a play the two men had seen the previous night, and of the physical deficiencies of one of the main characters.

This bit of deduction by Dupin, based on nothing more than the glances of the assistant-character and his body gestures, amazes the man almost as much as if Dupin had actually read his mind. And, I suppose, the audience is also supposed to be amazed to the same degree. But to me it seems to require a whole lot of leaps of faith -- and not for much purpose. I don't find Dupin's deduction very interesting, anyway.

This piece of showmanship is often used at the beginning of the Sherlock Holmes stories, often at the expense of Holmes' assistant, Dr. Watson. Like in the Auguste Dupin stories, the Holmes stories are told from the point of view of Dr. Watson. So we, as the audience, can experience Dr. Watson's amazement with Holmes' deductions along with Watson.

The difference is that in the Sherlock Holmes stories, even if the deductions are "elementary" as opposed to being huge stretches, they're often practical and fun.

The showmanship at the beginning of Hound of the Baskervilles is also very interesting because Dr. Watson is first charged with making the deduction. A person has visited the house on Baker Street, where Watson and Holmes live. He's left after not receiving an answer from Holmes or Watson. But he's left his walking-stick at the Baker Street house.

Watson is asked by Holmes to deduce who the owner of the walking-stick could be, given certain characteristics of the thing. After Watson has made a full round of observations, Holmes appears to be very pleased with Watson. But, it turns out -- Watson has basically made all the wrong deductions!

As Holmes puts everything right regarding the deductions that should properly be made based on the characteristics of the cane, the owner of the cane shows up, confirming everything Holmes has said.

The owner of the cane is a Dr. Mortimer, who once practiced medicine at Charing Cross Hospital, but, having gotten married, has moved to the country to practice. Dr. Mortimer has moved up into the north of England, to an area called Dartmoor. He lives out on the moors -- an area partly desolate with craggy, grey rocks, and partly imposing with sinking, muddy mire.

The neighborhood of Dartmoor is really small. There are only a few households of any consequence, and only a couple of intellectually interesting people. There are Mr. Stapleton, the naturalist, Mr. Falkland, an eccentric lawyer, Mr. Baskerville, a wealthy landowner, and Dr. Mortimer himself.

Only -- Baskerville has died. Dr. Mortimer explains the details by showing Holmes and Watson a couple of documents. One is an old paper discussing the curse of the Baskervilles. There was one extremely vicious Baskerville, generations ago, who had brought down on himself and all his descendants, apparently, the curse of a hell-hound. This Baskerville had actually been killed by something like a hell-hound.

Now, only recently, as Dr. Mortimer illustrates to Holmes and Watson by another document, the most recent Baskerville has been killed, also, according to Dr. Mortimer, by something very much like a hell-hound. Dr. Mortimer doesn't want to believe that the murder was actually committed by some supernatural being such as a hell-hound.

But Dr. Mortimer really doesn't know how the murder could have been committed. What's more, the new tenant of the Baskerville residence, a young man named Henry, who's been living in America, is arriving in London today to be taken to Dartmoor by Dr. Mortimer. Dr. Mortimer wants to know what's going on so he can protect the Sir Henry Baskerville. So Mortimer enlists the help of England's greatest practical mind, Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes needs time to think over the case. So he asks Mortimer to come back the next day, along with Henry. Mortimer agrees. The next day Henry and Mortimer arrive. Holmes, at Mortimer's request, doesn't discuss the curse of the hell-hound.

But Henry already has a foreboding of evil. He's received an anonymous letter, made by pasting words from a newspaper to a blank piece of paper. The letter tells Henry not to come up to Baskerville Hall because his life is in danger. In addition, Henry, after spending one night at his hotel, has found himself missing one boot of a brand new pair he'd bought!

After this discussion, Henry and Mortimer leave Baker Street (I can't remember why -- they may have to make some kind of arrangements for something). Holmes and Watson follow Henry and Mortimer back into the heart of London. But Holmes and Watson, keeping their distance, notice that Henry and Mortimer are being followed by a man in a horse-drawn carriage!

Holmes dashes for the horse-drawn carriage. But it speeds up and escapes before Holmes can practically get into a carriage of his own. The only thing Holmes could make out about the man in the carriage was that he had a long beard with a square cut. Holmes assumes that the beard was fake.

After some investigation and some diversion (I think going to a picture gallery), Holmes and Watson -- I think -- go back home. They investigate the man who had been driving the horse-drawn carriage that had been following Henry and Mortimer. But they don't get much information out of him.

The next morning, Holmes and Watson meet Henry and Mortimer at their hotel. Henry's brand new boot is still missing. But Henry is also missing one of his old boots as well, now! Henry seems to be really upset. But then he finds his new boot in a place where he was sure he'd looked for it a few times.

Holmes is interested in Henry's case. But he says he can't investigate it -- he's dealing with a very important case in London. So he has to stay here. Instead -- Holmes sends Watson up to Baskerville Hall, Dartmoor, with Mortimer and Henry. The next day Watson, Henry, and Mortimer all head up to the north of England, to the desolate moors of Dartmoor.

Watson is charged with sticking close to Henry whenever Henry leaves Baskerville Hall. But he also has to do investigations of the people in Dartmoor, and send his accounts of his investigations to Holmes in letters.

Watson generally conducts these investigations by himself, while Henry is busy taking care of the accounts left to him by the previous Baskerville. Baskerville Hall is something of a center of funds for Dartmoor. Dartmoor has become dependent on the wealth of Baskerville Hall for its subsistence.

So Watson heads out to the neigborhood of the moor to meet the various people here. Everybody lives pretty separated from everybody else. Dr. Mortimer seems to live quite a distance away.

A Mr. Falkland, an eccentric lawyer who is always sueing everybody at Dartmoor for some infringement or another, also lives at a small distance. He would have plenty of money. But he wastes money on his legal cases, and so has found himself in tight conditions. To make money, he sits on his roof and uses a telescope to do some kind of work for some government agency -- but I can't remember what.

Another resident of the hall is a young naturalist named Stapleton. Watson crosses paths with Stapleton as Stapleton is running through the moors, trying to catch a rare and elusive butterfly in his net.

This would be, for most people, a dangerous occupation, as the moors -- even though in many places they look like regular meadows of grass -- are filled with muddy areas that are just as entrapping as quicksand. These areas could lead to a man's death. They often lead to the death of wayward horses or cattle. But Stapleton brags that he knows these areas better than anyone else, and that he can navigate the most dangerous portions of them.

Stapleton is thin, suave, charismatic (it's all telegraphed right there, in my opinion, and anybody interested only in the whodunity could probably just stop reading the book at that point). He invites Watson to his house, just a ways down the road. As Watson and Stapleton are talking, a terrible howling sound fills the air. Watson wonders what it is. Stapleton says that he doesn't know, but that all the villagers (of whom you don't actually see too many in the story) say it's the hell-hound that has killed the previous tenant of Baskerville Hall.

Watson goes to Stapleton's house and meets Miss Stapleton, who is introduced as Stapleton's sister. Stapleton, it is told, used to be run a boarding-school on the west, I believe, of England. But, Stapleton says, some kind of epidemic really affected the school, and so the school had to be shut down. Stapleton and his sister decided to move out to Dartmoor because of its quietness and remoteness, which Stapleton thought would help him study his science better.

Watson leaves Stapleton's house and walks down the road. Apparently, Stapleton's sister is just as much a master of navigating the dangerous mires of the moors, as well: for she has cut across one of the meadows to meet Watson further on down the path. Miss Stapleton warns Watson against the curse of the Baskervilles. Watson tells Miss Stapleton that if she likes, she can come meet Henry Baskerville himself at Baskerville Hall.

So Stapleton and Miss Stapleton go to Baskerville Hall for dinner one night. Henry falls in love with Miss Stapleton. But Miss Stapleton seems only concerned with getting Henry out of Dartmoor and back to safety. Nevertheless -- and much against Watson's better wishes -- Henry and Miss Stapleton start taking opportunities to go out walking by themselves.

Watson manages to spy on Henry and Miss Stapleton on one of these occasions. On this occasion, which Watson watches from a nearby promontory, Henry finally makes romantic advances toward Miss Stapleton. But Stapleton intervenes. He pulls Miss Stapleton away violently. He seems tremendously angry at both Henry and Miss Stapleton.

Later on Stapleton justifies his anger by saying he's always been extremely attached to his sister. However, he will approve of Henry's love for Miss Stapleton as long as Henry can keep from mentioning or acting on his love for Miss Stapleton for the next three months, to help Stapleton get accommodated to the fact of Henry's love for the woman. Henry agrees to this proposition.

In the meantime, the two servants at Baskerville Hall, a Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore, are posing a mystery of their own. Watson has seen Mr. Barrymore approach a window late at night. He waves a lantern in front of the window and then lets out a kind of haunted moan.

Watson doesn't know what this is all about. But it turns out that Henry has also heard the strange noises made by the servant in the hallway late at night. So Watson and Henry decide to find out what Barrymore is doing at the window.

It turns out that, just before Henry arrived at Baskerville Hall -- but after the previous tenant had been murdered -- a murderous convict had escaped from a nearby prison. This convict, it turns out, is Mrs. Barrymore's little brother.

The convict is hiding in the craggy hills of Dartmoor, evading the police, for a couple of weeks. He plans to take a steamship to South America when it leaves. But he has to wait to leave Dartmoor until right before the ship is ready to leave.

In the meantime, Barrymore, at Mrs. Barrymore's request, has been bringing out food for the convict at night. The light before the window is a signal to the convict regarding where to go for his food. Barrymore's groan, obviously, is his detestation for having to be a part of the whole scenario at all.

Watson and Henry decide to see how much of Barrymore's story is true. So they decide on this night to take the food out to the convict. But the convict gets startled by the two men and makes a mad dash away from them. Watson and Henry can't keep up.

But when Watson and Henry are walking out of the craggy hills and back to Baskerville Hall, they see a completely different figure standing up in the full circle of the moon atop one of the hills. Who this man is is a complete mystery to them.

Barrymore and Henry have an argument the next day. Henry wants to talk to the police about the convict. But Barrymore and Mrs. Barrymore win Henry over to their side. In exchange for having hurt Barrymore's feelings, Henry is convinced by Barrymore -- I think -- to give Barrymore some of his old wardrobe, as Henry has just bought a new wardrobe.

Not long after this -- I can't remember how it happened, now -- but either Henry or Watson retrieved a half-burnt piece of paper from a chimney in the study at Baskerville Hall. The paper had been intended for complete destruction. It appeared to be addressed to the murdered Baskerville. It had been, apparently, from a lady. And it directed the Baskerville to meet the lady at an appointed time and place -- very nearly the time and place where the man had been murdered!

The initials of the lady who had written the letter were L.L. The only L.L. known in the area was a Laura Lyons, in a neighboring town. So Watson goes to the neighboring town and interviews Laura Lyons.

Mrs. Lyons is actually the estranged daughter of the eccentric lawyer Mr. Falkland. A while back, an impulsive poet came up to the north of England. Laura Lyons caught the poet's eye. The poet married Laura but then up and left her. Mrs. Lyons had been trying for some time to get a divorce from the poet, Mr. Lyons. Laura's father wouldn't help her.

Eventually, Mrs. Lyons says, Mr. Stapleton suggested that the previous Baskerville be enlisted to help Laura get her divorce. After all, Baskerville Hall was a source of funds and, often, counsel for Dartmoor's residents. So Mrs. Lyons went along with Mr. Stapleton's suggestion. Stapleton said he'd help.

Stapleton finally came to Mrs. Lyons one night and urged her to have the previous Baskerville meet her on the very night on which he'd ended up being murdered. But Mrs. Lyons insisted she didn't know anything else about the whole situation.

Watson asks Mrs. Lyons if she'd talk about this with anybody. But she won't. She finds the whole matter shameful. And, besides, she won't talk about it at all if it would do anything to compromise Stapleton's standing. And it would. Already she looks suspect -- she'd written a note to Baskerville to get him to come out. But if anybody knew it was at Stapleton's bidding, Stapleton would look suspect as well.

Watson can't understand Mrs. Lyons' allegiance to Stapleton. But Watson, to see what else he could come to understand about the character of Mrs. Lyons, goes to visit Mrs. Lyons' estranged father, Mr. Falkland.

Mr. Falkland, upon meeting Watson, is worked up about some case he's involved with. Somehow the police were against him -- I can't remember how. But Mr. Falkland brags that if the police won't help him, he won't help the police. He confides in Watson that he knows where the convict is.

Watson is terribly frightened at this prospect. He assumes it could get Henry and even himself in trouble. They've just decided not to say anything to the police. That's basically the same thing as aiding a crime. And if the convict gets caught, would he give everything away?

But Watson keeps his cool and lets Mr. Falkland tell his story. As Falkland tells his story, he actually, looking out the window, sees a figure dotting the hills. Excited to show Watson the convict, Falkland pulls out his telescope and lets Watson use it. What Watson sees is actually a young boy carrying a knapsack of goods up to a stone hut on one of the hills.

Watson assumes this child isn't carrying the food to the convict -- the Barrymores do that. He assumes the food is being carried to the mysterious figure he and Henry had seen on the night they'd chased the convict.

So Watson makes some excuse and leaves Falkland to go back to working on his law cases. He rushes out to the hills, to where he'd seen the child. He works his way through the hills, to the stone hut to which he'd assumed the child had delivered the food. He actually finds the foods, still wrapped up in the knapsack. Along with the food in the knapsack is a message: "Watson has gone to visit L.L."

Watson realizes that this mysterious figure has been following him! He suddenly hears the steps of the mysterious person returning to the hut. Watson has a gun with him. He draws his gun and prepares to meet --

None other than Sherlock Holmes!

Holmes explains that he'd been conducting his own investigations in parallel with Watson, though in secret. He used the other investigation as a front, so nobody would suspect that he was here. He had received all of Watson's reports, which he'd found useful as a supplement to his own investigations.

Holmes is now certain that the person guilty of the murder of the previous tenant of Baskerville Hall was -- Stapleton. But he doesn't have enough evidence to go to trial yet. However, Holmes has a secret. Miss Stapleton isn't Stapleton's sister. She's Stapleton's wife. Holmes also guesses that Stapleton has fooled Mrs. Lyons into falling in love with him, making the need for getting the divorce even more urgent.

Holmes believes that if he can prove to Mrs. Lyons that Stapleton is actually married to Miss Stapleton, Mrs. Lyons, feeling betrayed, will willingly provide her witness against Stapleton. This -- and a trap Holmes hopes to lay for Stapleton -- should be enough evidence for a trial.

The sun is setting, and Holmes tells Watson to go back home and make sure Henry is doing alright. But just at that moment, the horrendous howl splits the air again -- the howl Stapleton had pointed out as belonging -- according to the villagers -- to the Hound of the Baskervilles, the murderous hell-hound. But Holmes and Watson also hear a man's scream!

Holmes and Watson run in the direction of the man's scream. They find, at the bottom of a cliff, a man in Henry Baskerville's clothes, dead from a jump from the top of the cliff. Watson and Holmes are sorely ashamed. They both figure they'd been in charge of protecting Henry. But the Hound of the Baskervilles had reached him, while they were both busy talking about the case. Now he's dead.

But as Holmes and Watson prepare to carry the body back to Baskerville Hall, they realize it isn't Henry at all. It's the convict! The convict had been given Henry's old clothes, which Henry had given Barrymore. The hell-hound -- whatever it was -- had been set on the convict because it had been mistaken for Henry.

Of no surprise to Watson and Holmes, Stapleton soon approaches the murder scene. Stapleton is surprised to see Holmes, who he'd though was in London, investigating a different mystery. But he's even more surprised to see a man who isn't Henry lying dead on the ground. Stapleton leaves the scene.

Holmes and Watson go back to Baskerville Hall to explain everything to Henry. Holmes expects that Henry will likely get an invitation to dinner from Stapleton. In fact, Henry says, he has just received one. Holmes tells Henry to go to the dinner. It's for the very next evening. In the meantime, Holmes and Watson pretend as if they are going back to London the next day.

The next day, Holmes and Watson both go investigating in secret. They go back to Mrs. Lyons' house and give her the proof, which Holmes had dug up by going through the records of old boarding-schools -- Stapleton said he'd run a boarding-school in the west of England. Mrs. Lyons, feeling betrayed, says that she certainly will testify, regardless of what it would do to Stapleton.

In the evening, Holmes and Watson, along with a police officer -- along to witness the scene of Stapleton's new crime in progress -- hide in the shadows outside while Henry is having dinners with the Stapletons.

I'll save the final details of the story for anybody who's interested. Needless to say, there is a chase, it does involve a hell-hound. And the hell-hound is quite scary.

There are some fun similarities between this detective novel and another detective novel I've recently read: The Robots of Dawn, by Isaac Asimov. The Robots of Dawn moves from the planet Earth to the planet Aurora. Earth is a land of underground caves and cities crammed full of people. Aurora, by contrast, is populated and designed such that the world, in general, looks almost empty -- but far too manicured to look uninhabited.

In The Robots of Dawn, the detective Lije Baley has to go from residence to residence, or from office building to office building, to interview one person at a time. As Baley interviews each person, he gets a whole new picture of the world he's visiting.

I think this technique is a kind of mainstay of science fiction. It's a part of all fiction, though. Fiction gives you something new. It -- doesn't necessarily have to teach you. But it's nice if it makes you feel like it takes you away to some new place. You learn something new because you've gone somewhere new. I think of this aspect of fiction as being like a "travelogue."

I don't think it's any surprise to people that science fiction, to some degree, sprung out of allegory, and especially out of utopian visions. One of the first science fiction works, William Morris' News from Nowhere, is a combination of science fiction and Utopia.

But The Robots of Dawn is part science fiction and part detective novel. And -- I think -- while science fiction explores new worlds, detective novels explore manners. Dashiell Hammett's book The Thin Man is a pretty good example of this. You get to know the manners of an upper class family through the investigation of a murder. Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye is even better as an exploration of the manners of a certain group of people.

Actually, I think Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe mystery The High Window is an even better example -- not because it's better written, but because the joint-work is all more obvious -- of how detective novels work to explore manners as well as mysteries.

A lot of times -- as in the case of The Hound of the Baskervilles -- it's pretty well telegraphed who the murderer is. What's more interesting is the drama surrounding the murder. What are the conditions that led to the murder? What are everybody's connections to each other? These kinds of things are often revealed to the detective at first through his interviews.

These interviews are almost painfully obvious in The Robots of Dawn -- where all Lije Baley can do is drive from place to place, like a travelling salesman, and learn new things about the situation from the people he talks to. They're almost as obvious in The High Window, where Marlowe has tons of lengthy conversations with the various family members of the father who'd fallen to his death from -- a high window.

What's nice about The Long Goodbye, though, is all the action that Marlowe goes through as he's doing his detective work. And there is a similar pattern of action in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The beginning of the story is a kind of moving away from Edgar Allan Poe's style of detective story, with the showmanship and the logical discussion of things. And as it goes farther on, the story becomes more of an exploration of manners in situ, according to the more modern tradition of detective stories, founded on, I guess, the allegory, utopia, and science fiction story.

But Doyle punctuates these interviews with action, drama, romance. Holmes chases the horse-drawn carriage through the London Street. Watson watches as Henry's advances toward Miss Stapleton are rebuffed violently by Stapleton. Watson and Henry take food out to the convict and are almost attacked -- only to find another mysterious figure peering down on them. Watson draws his gun on Sherlock Holmes unintentionally, then Holmes and Watson find a murdered man. Not to mention the great climactic scenes!

The story of The Hound of the Baskervilles isn't just the main mystery. If it were the main mystery, it could possibly make a pretty good short story, but not a novella. The real draw that keeps people reading is all the other stuff going on: the love story, the story of the convict, the quirky characters. And, of course, Watson is such a charming character, and so earnest about doing a good job on his own, that you root for him.

I think that Agatha Christie's book The Mirror Crack'd is a lovely outgrowth on this kind of story, in terms of the overall atmosphere and drama being what really draws people in. In that book, however, the drama is much more powerful, much more sinister, too, even though it's not about something as monstrous as a hell-hound.

Christie's book is about a quiet suburban town being developed in the 1960s. Instead of moving from a hustling, bustling London scene and into a quiet scene, like The Robots of Dawn and The Hound of the Baskervilles do, The Mirror Crack'd watches a new society being implanted on the older society -- watches as the quiet society is supplanted by a developing, hustling, bustling society.

Christie's detective, Jane Marple, also gleans her information about the society coming into her world through fashion and gossip magazines -- even though Marple eventually says that she mainly learns from those magazines that the lives of stars are very similar to the lives of average people.

This could, of course, also be said about Dartmoor. Dartmoor life isn't too far off from London life. And the different households in Dartmoor are representative of different households in London. The thing is, that they're all put into isolation -- isolation from each other, and isolation with each other. So one may really see how these various aspects of society interact with each other.

But, even though I am rather dull, I don't want to make it sound like I'm so dull that I think the portrait of manners is just a subject for detective novels. However -- if you look, for instance, through Dickens' book Bleak House, there's a kind of portrait of manners that is very similar to and yet different from the portrait of manners in a detective novel.

In my opinion, the characters of Dickens, though they are often in rather dire straits, are often also in situations where they have a lot of leisure time. This is very pronounced, in my opinion, in Bleak House. And I feel like a lot of novels, while they have that "travelogue" feel to them, base that "travelogue" feel on a sense of free time or vactation time or leisure time.

Detective novels make leisure time into a profession. So Watson isn't out in the country on a holiday. He's out in the country on an assignment. He's taking care of a job. All detectives may look like they have nothing but leisure time. But they're all out working.

And so I think the detective novel is a kind of singular way of exploring the manners of society while also not implying that free time is needed in order to do this. It's a kind of way of integrating the increasingly profession-driven element of society into literature.

There's an interesting section of The Hound of the Baskervilles, where Henry is told by Sherlock Holmes that he must trust Holmes, do whatever Holmes says, and not second-guess anything Holmes says he himself is going to do. Henry agrees to this. Holmes later tells Henry that he is going to leave Dartmoor and go back to London with Watson. Henry is immediately going to give up his trust in Holmes. Thankfully he doesn't, and the story is allowed to work its way to the climax.

This air of secrecy, of one character not knowing what the other character is doing or thinking, becomes more and more a part of the professional environment, especially in competitively capitalistic societies. The less people know about a project. Projects become compartmentalized, too -- and people don't "need" to know the other secret parts of the overall secret project.

Watson himself doesn't know what Holmes is doing. He doesn't know that Holmes is actually in Dartmoor. And, at first, when Holmes tells Henry he and Watson are going back to London, Watson genuinely believes Holmes. Holmes doesn't tell Watson otherwise, in fact, until the train leaves for London without Holmes and Watson on it.

There's a hierarchy of knowledge. Everybody in the situation is exploring the manners of their society in their own way. But only certain people know certain things. It's the part of the detective to know all the main secrets and to disclose only those necessary to disclose, and to work at discovering the secrets other people aren't willing to disclose.

This may just sound like a regular part of society in general, and may not have anything to do with being a phenomenon of an increasingly competitive, professional, and compartmentalized world-view. But I think if you look at this phenomenon in its full development, you'll see how it relates to professionalism very plainly.

The full development, in my opinion, would be the TV show Star Trek. In many of the episodes of Star Trek, Spock or Kirk will surprise the rest of the crew (and hopefully the TV-viewing audience) by making some decision that seems to assist evil. Or sometimes -- god, Spock seems to do it all the time -- Spock or Kirk will accept death penalty as a punishment for something instead of giving away all the information regarding something.

If you look at the hierarchy of Star Trek, it's basically an office in space. And I know that partly there's supposed to be a feeling of the ship being like a peaceful version of a military unit. But I think what mainly shows itself is that quality of the ship being like a big office in space.

And so, there are times when Kirk, as the boss, or Spock, as the second in command, has to carry out these secret projects. They can't tell anybody what's really going on. Sometimes Spock can't even tell Kirk, and sometimes Kirk can't even tell Spock. The holder of the most information has to carry out the project in complete secrecy. Once the project is completed, most of the information will be plain. And it can all be discussed.

So this is a really developed level the professional outlook. But it's also, apparently, exploring manners of society in some kind of allegorical form, like mystery on one level, might be supposed to do as well. After all, Star Trek is about a crew on a five-year mission to explore new worlds and so forth.

I guess the courtroom drama would be even more developed, and it would be a return to the detective novel style. But Star Trek obviously developed as a phenomoenon after the soap opera dramas that were, in a sense, the beginnings of courtroom dramas. So my ideas may not be fully clarified on that point -- or any point -- yet.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Hierarchy of "Cool" -- Johnson's Lives of the Poets, Volume Two (Part One)

(Note: The quotes below are from the Bohn's Standard Library version of Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets, edited by Mrs. Alexander Napier. The rights-free version of the text is available for download on Google Books.)

One of my favorite contemporary authors, William Gibson, famed for his cyberpunk Neuromancer novel, has said, on some You Tube post I saw from him from around the time, I think, of the release of his novel Spook Country, that he believed that the idea of "cool" came as a result of the Industrial Revolution.

I actually just did some hunting and found the YouTube post: William Gibson on Cool

"Cool" -- that modern idiom of fashionable approval which rules so much of our lives -- is a big theme in Gibson's work. His main character in the novel Pattern Recognition, Cayce Pollard, I believe, has the job of being a "Coolhunter," a real-world job, apparently, where a person is assigned to judge the "coolness" of a product or logo -- i.e. its acceptability by a wide audience.

As I understood Gibson, "cool" was a term that came with the Industrial Revolution, with machines, and with the accompanying concepts of effortlessness. If something is cool, it is, in some way effortlessly effective. You have power without having to raise your body temperature. Or, possibly, you exert your own social power without necessarily having to raise the body temperature of others.

What Gibson said made a lot of sense to me -- that is, if I understood it correctly, which -- knowing me -- isn't always certain! But I still agree with Gibson in a lot of ways about this idea.

But I was actually surprised, on reading through the first half of the second volume of Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets, to find hints or clues to the possibility that "cool" really came about through Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, the creators of the daily journals "The Tatler" and "The Spectator."

The "Tatler" was the first of the two papers to be created, and it was made as a direct response to the condition of English manners. England had long been torn apart by Civil Wars which largely centered around factions of religion -- despite what all of their causes may have been.

Even after the Civil Wars, Reformation, and Restoration, there were still revolutions. Cromwell murdered Charles I. Cromwell was defeated and Charles II took over the throne. This was the period of Restoration. But after Charles II died, King James II took over the throne. Suddenly there was more religious strife in England: King James II brought Catholicism back to England.

King William removed King James II from the throne, and the Anglican religion was again restored to England. Queen Anne succeeded King William. By this time, the confict in England had turned from one of religion to one of parties. The Whigs were set up in opposition to the Tories. And I really can't say what the one stood for and what the other stood for. But it seems to me that the main point was, if you were a Whig, you hated the Tories, and if you were a Tory, you hated the Whigs.

I believe that Samuel Johnson felt that English thought had become lopsided. Almost all the focus of English people was on these very high-level issues. And almost everybody had access to these issues, regardless of whether they could understand the issues. This was because propaganda was constantly being spread. And the propaganda, if not actually in daily papers, was being circulated in papers just as cheap as daily papers.

So this cheap, widely-circulated information, about very high-level issues and nothing else, was becoming the cultural staple of the world. As Johnson says:

"This mode of conveying cheap and easy knowledge began among us in the Civil Wars, when it was much the interest of either party to raise and fix the prejudices of the people."


"Hitherto nothing had been conveyed to the people, in this commodious manner, but controversy relating to the Church or State; of which they taught many to talk, whom they could not teach to judge."

So plenty of people were learning about these high-level topics, but nobody was learning how to acquire the temperance of wit and wisdom that would help them really understand how to judge and make decisions on these topics.

Joseph Addison and Richard Steele saw the situation in their age and hoped to remedy it. They wished to create a cheap, daily paper that would follow in the manner of Casa and Castiglione, people who, in Johnson's words, taught:

"the minuter decencies and inferior duties, to regulate the practice of daily conversation, to correct those depravities which are rather ridiculous than criminal, and remove those grievances which, if they produce no lasting calamities, impress hourly vexation."

These lessons, Johnson argues, would be taught by a "master of common life," which England did not yet have. Before being a judge of higher-level ideas, one might do well to be a common judge of propriety -- an "arbiter elegantarium."

Johnson expresses his belief that daily papers are the best vehicle for the propagation of education in this sphere:

"For this purpose nothing is so proper as the frequent publication of short papers, which we read not as study but as amusement. If the subject be slight, the treatise likewise is short."

With short papers like this, Johnson says, "The busy may find time, and the idle may find patience."

The real strength, as Johnson seems to have seen it, with the pamphlets of the Civil War controversists, was that they provided "cheap and easy knowledge" (though I'd probably put "knowledge" in its own set of quotes). But this "cheap and easy knowledge could be put to better use. As Johnson says:

"An instructor like Addison was now wanting, whose remarks being superficial, might be easily understood, and being just, might prepare the mind for more attainments."

So cheap and easy information, with just thoughts added, would be a cheap and easy knowledge which could actually help people. Johnson doesn't seem to think being superficial is so bad. And he doesn't seem to think that easy lessons, "Dummies' Guides," I guess we might call them, are so bad. He also doesn't think too lowly of a middle path for morality -- not too high, and not too low:

"As a teacher of wisdom, [Addison] may be confidently followed... His morality is neither dangerously lax, nor impractically rigid. All the enchantment of fancy, and all the cogency of argument, are employed to recommend to the reader his real interest, the care of pleasing the Author of his being."

And this quality, I believe, leads thematically into the passage where Johnson actually uses the epithet "cool":

"It has been suggested that the Royal Society was instituted soon after the Restoration, to divert the attention of the people from publick discontent. The 'Tatler' and 'Spectator' had the same tendency: they were published at a time when two parties, loud, restless, and violent, each with plausible declarations, and each perhaps without any distinct termination of its views, were agitating the nation; to minds heated with political contest, they supplied cooler and more inoffensive reflections; and it is said by Addison, in a subsequent work, that they had a perceptible influence upon the conversation of that time, and taught the frolick and the gay to unite merriment with decency; an effect which they can never wholly lose, while they continue to be among the first books by which the sexes are initiated in the elegances of knowledge."

In my opinion, Johnson's ideal of "coolness" would be more directed toward domesticity, which I believe was taken as an ideal for people after Queen Elizabeth's time, and was embodied as a wise way of living by John Milton. But it also shows itself in Addison, as Johnson says:

"His humor... is so happily diffused as to give the grace of novelty to domestic scenes and daily occurrences."

Johnson's praise for most of the poets in the whole work, as I've read it so far, has been when the verse is elegant, spritely, easy, lively. The greater poets are marked for copiousness of sentiment or force of imagination. But, especially with drama, one great theme of praise from Johnson depends on how well the writer portrays domestic scenes.

Thus, with Nicholas Rowe, Johnson says that Rowe's play Tamerlane, an allegorical play comparing King William's feats with those of Tamerlane, is not understandable. But of Rowe's play The Fair Penitent, Johnson says it is:

"One of the most pleasing tragedies on the stage... The story is domestick, and therefore easily received by the imagination, and assimilated to common life; the diction is exquisitely harmonious, and soft or spritely as occasion requires."

Again, Johnson comments on Rowe's play Jane Shore:

"This play, consisting chiefly of domestick scenes and private distress, lays hold upon the heart. The wife is forgiven because she repents, and the husband is honored because he forgives. This therefore is one of the pieces which we still welcome on the stage."

But what's also interesting to me about the long passage above is what Johnson says about the Royal Society: that it was set up to divert people from discontent after the Restoration. The Royal Society was started by a group of intellectuals in England who, after the Restoration, met on a regular basis to hold discussions on philosophy and science.

Here is another interesting example of people trying to spread knowledge about something other than Anglicans, Papists, and Puritans, or Whigs and Tories. The members of the Royal Society were trying to give the English people a broader base of knowledge. A broader base of knowledge would help people make wise decisions.

The history of the Royal Society was written by Thomas Sprat, who also wrote the Life of Abraham Cowley for the edition of Cowley's poems which was printed after Cowley's death.

Now, in Samuel Johnson's terms, I've come to think of Abraham Cowley as a kind of bellwether for the English poets. Joseph Addison has one aspect of "cool" -- the aspect of elegance and effortlessness.

But for Johnson, effortlessness and elegance are typically products of coming of good breeding. People who don't come of good breeding can be brilliant, geniuses, even terrific statesmen. But they can't be "cool" in the sense of doing things elegantly and effortlessly. I'm not sure why this would be the case.

Abraham Cowley, in my opinion, might stand for the kind of "coolness" we think of with rock stars. His verses are wild and free. His style of Pindaric Odes was, for his time, the epitome of poetic freedom. And many people who wrote poetry mimicked his style.

This wild side to coolness is not in Johnson's definition of coolness. And, in fact, Johnson -- though he seems to revere Cowley more than he'd like to admit -- seems to judge a poet by how he acts in relation to Cowley.

Thus, Johnson says of Sprat:

"He considered Cowley as a model; and supposed that, as he was imitated, perfection was approached. Nothing therefore but Pindarick liberty was to be expected. There is in his production not want of such conceits as he thought excellent; and those of our judgment may be settled by the first that appears in his praise Cromwell, where he says that Cromwell's 'fame, like man, will grow white as it grows old.'"

That dizzingly wide conceit makes me giggle every time I read it. And, for some reason, that's exactly why I think it's good. But I think that comes from listening to rock music, which is full of dizzying conceits -- when it's good.

But Johnson does seem to equate a love for Cowley with a love for licentiousness. The first poet in the second volume of the Lives, Edmund Smith, is probably -- morally -- the wildest person in the whole first half of the volume. I'd assume he's probably the wildest of all the poets in the second volume -- but I'm not into the second half yet.

Edmund Smith went to Christ Church in Oxford and was so ill-behaved there that he basically got expelled -- *after* he was a Bachelor! But Christ Church, Johnson claims, had such indulgence toward geniuses, that it kept him on until he'd finally just gotten so wild and rowdy that Christ Church had at last, in 1705, to kick Smith out altogether.

Smith came to London and was treated well there by a number of people who also appreciated genius. He wrote some really good works, including his Phaedra and the elegy to his good friend John Philips. But he continued in his wild ways.

In fact, in London, Smith became known as Captain Rag -- a name he received from the habit he had of never paying any attention to his dress. Captain Rag became in his own right, as a second persona for Smith, a legend in London.

Nevertheless, Smith was a genius, albeit a fiery, impulsive one, as Johnson points out in this quote:

"One practice he had, which was easily observed: if any thought or image was presented to his mind that he could use or improve, he did not suffer it to be lost; but, amidst the jollity of a tavern, or in the warmth of conversation, very diligently committed it to paper."

As well as being impulsive, Johnson quotes one man, Gilbert Walmsey, as saying of Smith, or the Captain: "Rag was a man of great veracity."

Captain Rag proposed to write a play about Lady Jane Grey. One of the patrons of his genius, a Mr. George, allowed Rag to live with him in Wiltshire for quiet and concentration. However, at this point, Smith's over-indulgence, if not his licentiousness, was fatal:

"Here he found such opportunities of indulgence as did not much forward his studies, and particularly some strong ale, too delicious to be resisted. He ate and drank till he found himself plethorick; and then, resolving to ease himself by evacuation, he wrote to an apothecary in the neighborhood a prescription of a purge so forcible, that the apothecary thought it his duty to delay it till he had given notice of its danger. Smith, not pleased with the contradiction of a shopman, and boastful of his own knowledge, treated the notice with rude contempt, and swallowed his own medicine, which, in July, 1710, brought him to the grave."

So this wild poet, really the last wild poet of the era, a poet of William's and Anne's reigns, but more like the poets from the days of Charles II, is characterized by Johnson as poor, wild, licentious, and over-indulgent. And -- who does he take as his model?

"He has several imitations of Cowley."


"The simile by which an old man returning the fire of his youth is compared to Aetna flaming through the snow, which Smith has used with great pomp, is stolen from Cowley, however little worth the labor of conveyance."

But the most interesting character given by Johnson in conjunction with Johnson's admiring distaste for Cowley is that of Matthew Prior.

Matthew Prior was born in 1664 in Dorsetshire. Little is known about his family. But Johnson assumes that Prior's father was a "Joiner in London." In Johnson's mind, this would equate Prior's father, I'd assume, with one of Bottom's theatre company in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. Only, in the play, the position is charming, where in Johnson's reality, it's slightly disgusting.

Matthew Prior was a man of incredible gifts. And Prior's life is a story of rising through the ranks, to become an incredibly important statesman.

In the beginning, Prior was a poet in King William's era. Johnson seems pretty certainly to claim that King William himself was not a great patron of the arts. But, according to Johnson, many of the most powerful people of William's court were patrons of poets.

Prior, along with Montague, later the earl of Halifax, wrote the comic response to Dryden's "Hind and the Panther," the "City Mouse and the Country Mouse." This got both Montague and Prior preferments at court, although Montague saw his preferments first.

Montague went on to become a great patron for poets, introducing Joseph Addison to Court. Addison, in addition to creating the "Tatler" and "Spectator" with Steele, as well as writing such great works as "Rosamund" and "Cato," rose through the ranks himself, eventually becoming Secretary of State. This was largely thanks to Montague.

Montague also saw dramatist William Congreve's talents later on and gave Congreve preferments that basically lasted him all through his life.

But Montague was the son of an earl, while Prior was the son of Snug. Nevertheless, he and Montague both received preferments. Prior's position sent him to The Hague, where Prior acted as secretary to the embassy when "an assembly of princes and nobles, to which Europe has scarcely seen anything equal," was forming a plot against King Louis of France.

This plot didn't acutally work out. But King William himself was so impressed with how Prior conducted himself during this that he made Prior one of the gentlemen of the bedchamber. And, as Johnson says of Prior, "he is supposed to have passed some of the next years in the quiet cultivation of literature and poetry."

Prior had a great admiration for King William. Prior was, Johnson says, "professedly encomiastic." He seemed to have no problem with writing poems to flatter people. But his poems to King William, Johnson says, were genuine:

"King William supplied copious materials for either verse or prose. His whole life had been action, and none ever denied him the resplendent qualities of steady resolution and personal courage. He was really in Prior's mind what he represents him in his verses; he considered him as a hero, and was accustomed to say, that he praised others in compliance with the fashion, but that in celebrating King William he followed his inclination."

Nevertheless, as Johnson describes King William as "resplendent," it must also be remembered that he described King William as no great patron of the poets. King William's life of "action" was, I believe, a bit repugnant to Johnson, just as Prior's upbringing was.

Prior ended up serving as an ambassador on a number of occasions in France. Prior performed so well that he was remembered fondly at the French Court.

When Queen Anne took the throne, England was so overwhelmed with war that an ambassador, a person mainly used, in Johnson's mind, for drawing up treaties, wasn't of much use.

But finally Queen Anne wanted peace with France. She sent Prior to France. Prior brought back some French ambassadors. Queen Anne, these ambassadors, and Prior, all met in Prior's house to come up with a treaty for peace. This led to the Conferences of Utrecht, in 1712, which were supposed to lead to peace. But things still moved slowly.

Queen Anne sent Bolingbroke as ambassador and Prior as a private representative to make peace in France. Bolingbroke had to go back to England. Shrewsbury was sent to France to accompany Prior. But he didn't want to work with somebody so mean-born as Prior. So he left. Prior was left to himself and took the role of ambassador.

Prior must have done a good job as ambassador: when Queen Anne made a misstep in some diplomatic move, the former ambassador, Bolingbroke, wrote this message to Prior:

"Dear Mat, hide the nakedness of thy country; and give the berst turn thy fertile brain will furnish thee with to the blunders of thy country-men, who are not much better politicians than the French are poets."

He had such an intimate relationship with the French court that once, when Prior returned to England, King Louis sent Queen Anne this message:

"I shall expect, with impatience, the return of Mr. Prior, whose conduct is very agreeable to me."

But Queen Anne died, the Tories lost power in England, and Prior found himself out of favor -- while he was still in France! He wasn't getting paid. He was incurring debts. He was finally recalled to England. But he couldn't leave France until he'd paid his debts. But he wasn't getting paid so he could pay his debts, "though," as Johnson says, "his old friend Montague was now at the head of the Treasury."

On returning to England, Prior found himself put under house arrest. According to the Whigs now in power, Prior's having held the conference between the French and Queen Anne in his own house was considered an act of treason. Prior was put on trial and imprisoned for a little over two years. Finally, a while after an Act of Grace had been enstated by King George, Prior was granted freedom.

Prior was left with next to nothing to live on. However, Prior's friends, including the poet Jonathan Swift, and lord Herley, helped Prior put together a volume of his poetry, which he sold on subscription, gathering two-thousand pounds from the sales. Lord Herley doubled this sum so that Prior could buy Dora-hall, where he spent the remainder of his life in quiet and contemplation.

This story is very much like the story of Cowley -- not quite the story of Cowley as Johnson tells it -- but the story of Cowley as gleaned from various bits of Johnson, Sprat, and the scholars.

Cowley distinguished himself intellectually and became a favorite at court. He was sent on dangerous missions to deliver messages during the Civil Wars. He eventually followed the Queen to France, where he became her official letter-writer. But when he returned to England he was put in prison. He was basically, thereafter, put under house arrest.

When the Restoration occurred, Cowley would have been forgotten altogether, had it not been for his friends, who helped him get a place to live in peace and contemplation for the remainder of his years.

The difference is that Prior was a bit more active than Cowley -- and that he had a bit less poetic talent. Nevertheless the story is similar: a mean-born man proves himself and rises through the ranks to become trusted to royalty.

Johnson mentions Cowley in conjunction with Prior on three occasions. In the first, he says that Prior's poem cycle "Amorous Effusions" "have the coldness of Cowley, without his wit."

Johnson often talks about Cowley being emotionally cold. I think this is a compensating reaction to what Cowley really is in a lot of cases: explosively hot.

In the next instance, Johnson says that in his poem "Solomon," Prior perhaps "thought, like Cowley, that hemistichs ought to be admitted into heroic poetry."

But the most telling paragraph on Prior by Johnson is this:

"Some of his poems are written without regularity of measures; for, when he commenced poet, we had not recovered from our Pindarick infatuation [which, in Johnson's mind, is Cowley's direct responsibility]; but he probably lived to be convinced that the essence of verse is order and consonance."

In other words, Prior grew up mean-born, like Cowley, but he attained some elegance in his later age.

This might seem like an unfair equivalence of terms. But I think I'm right in making it. When Johnson talks about Prior's character he says that nobody ever spoke bad about Prior's character. But he then turns around to say of Prior that:

"Tradition represents him as willing to descend from the dignity of the poet and the statesman to the low delights of mean company. His Chloe [in the "Amorous Effusions" poem cycle"] was sometimes ideal; but the woman with whom he cohabited was a despicable drab of the honest species. One of his wenches, perhaps Chloe, while he was absent from his house, stole his plate and ran away."

Johnson mentions that some people have tried to guess why Prior would like "the low delights of mean company." The people guess that Prior had spent so much of his time in extremely lofty intellectual pursuits that he could only relieve himself by spending time with people who were not so morally lofty. It would be a kind of Jungian compensation.

But Johnson thinks this idea is just silly. Prior was mean-born. So of course he'd love "the low delights of mean company." As Johnson concludes Prior's life:

"A survey of the life and writings of Prior may exemplify a sentence which he doubtless understood well, when he read Horace at his uncle's; 'the vessel long retains the scent which it first receives.' In his private relaxation he revived the tavern, and in his amorous pedantry he exhibited the college. But on higher occasions and nobler subjects, when habit was overpowered by the necessity of reflection, he wanted not wisdom as a statesman, nor elegance as a poet."

So Prior, as a mean-born vessel, always will "retain" the "scent" of a mean-born vessel. And Johnson's quality of a mean-born genius, versus a high-born genius, in my opinion, is that the high-born genius can do things with ease and measure, while mean-born geniuses take effort to achiever their greatness, and never do it with satisfactory measure.

This idea, I think, is exemplified in the following passage:

"His diction, however, is more his own than that of any among the successors of Dryden. ... His phrases are original, but they are sometimes harsh; as he has inherited no elegances, none has he bequeathed. His expression has every mark of laborious study; the line seldom seems to have been formed at once; the words did not come till they were called, and were then put by constraint into their places, where they do their duty, but do it sullenly. In his greater compositions there may be found more rigid stateliness than graceful dignity."

Matthew Prior's Life ends on the same note as William Congreve's Life, which directly follows Prior's in Johnson's book. But in Congreve's Life, the paragraph is in praise of Congreve as being the person finally to help the English poets break free of Cowley's style, rather than a criticism, like in Prior's case, for being influenced by it:

"Yet to [Congreve] it must be confessed that we are indebted for the correction of a national error, and for the cure of our Pindarick madness. He first taught the English writers that Pindar's odes were regular; and though certainly he had not the fire requisite for the higher species of lyric poetry, he has shown us that enthusiasm has its rules, and that in mere confusion there is neither grace nor greatness."

Well, who is this person who could have cured England of low-born Cowley's "Pindarick madness?" William Congreve, who, as Johnson says, was "descended from a family in Staffordshire, of so great antiquity that it claims a place among the few that extend their line beyond the Norman Conquest." A well-born, high-born Englishman -- with an important father as well.

Congreve's life, like Milton's (for the most part), and like Dryden's, was all about writing. His writing was recognized by Montague, then Halifax. Congreve was given easy work so that he could continue writing comfortably. And he didn't seem to have ambitions above his easy positions. He wasn't like Addison, and he wasn't like Prior.

He was, then, a high-born man of ancient stock who lived a somewhat domestic life, focused on studying. It was this kind of personality that produced poetry which managed to break free of that wildness which Johnson seems to characterize directly with Cowley.

But there are some other interesting things that Johnson says about Congreve's style of writing:

"Congreve has merit of the highest kind; he is an original writer, who borrowed neither the models of his plot, nor the manner of his dialogue."

Apparently the highest-born man we've seen so far, in Johnson's cosmology, would have the highest merit. But in the following passages, we see how Johnson equated Congreve's poetry with an aristocratic style of wit, which I find very interesting:

"He formed a peculiar idea of comick excellence, which he supposed to consist in gay remarks and unexpected answers; but that which he endeavored, he seldom failed of performing... his personages are a kind of intellectual gladiator.

"His comedies have, therefore, in some degree, the operation of tragedies; they surprise rather than divert, and raise admiration oftener than merriment. But they are the works of a mind replete with images, and quick in combination."

This sounds very much like something Camille Paglia, in her book Sexual Personae, might say about Oscar Wilde. In her book, Paglia describes Wilde's wit as a kind of belief in order. The wit in Wilde's work is a kind of worship of style. Style provides lines, order, and beauty, and protects, it seems, Wilde's male consciousness from the threats of the disorder of the primeval female unconscious of his anima.

Many people see in Wilde's work a kind of cynicism toward society, fashion, and style. But Paglia believes that Wilde worships society and rules, and believes in their power to protect. He desperately believes in style. And, as a part of worshipping society and style, Wilde seems to believe in the necessity of hierarchies. Wilde believes in aristocracy, in elitism, to the point of cruelty -- or, at least, he did -- before he got thrown in prison.

Congreve's writing style seems to match Wilde's style. But anecdotes from his life also seem to match this belief in hierarchy. He wished to be known, not as a poet, but as a part of the social hierarchy. He wanted to be stylish. As Johnson relates:

"He treated the Muses with ingratitude; for, having long conversed familiarly with the great, he wished to be considered rather as a man of fashion than of wit; and, when he received a visit from Voltaire, disgusted him by the despicable foppery of desiring to be considered not as an author but a gentleman; to which the Frenchman replied, 'that if he had only been a gentleman, he should not have come to visit him.'"

Nevertheless, it is this "despicable fop" who has apparently delivered England from low-born Cowley's clutches. Just like Milton was nothing more than a silly boarding-school teacher.

And I think this is where I would put a kind of disconnect between the concept of "cool," as Johnson left it for posterity, and "cool" as we see it now. Cowley was obviously cool. He drove people wild with his poetry. And everybody thought his Pindarick style was the only way to write poetry for a long time. But Cowley's cool was so hot that Johnson thought it was ice-cold.

On the other hand, Addison's cool was dignified and mild. It was refined and aristocratic, highly learned, but superficial, easy to digest, not overly thoughtful. And Congreve took this to an even more refined level.

For Johnson, "cool" had to be elegant and effortless. But nothing could be effortless unless it came from a mind that was so high-born that elegance would inherently require no effort.

Addison does have one aspect of cool -- because being effortlessly elegant is a part of being cool. But Cowley has the other aspect -- the aspect of being able to be wildly, almost absurdly active and imaginative. Congreve, like Wilde, almost combines these two things. Oscar Wilde probably gets closer than William Congreve.

What I think the Industrial Revolution added to the concept of "cool" was that it probably combined the elements of Addison with the elements of Cowley.

As technology becomes more and more a part of our lives, it is assumed, more of the aspects of our lives will become effortless and elegant. As the same time, as technology develops, the things we think of nowadays as only imaginary will become more and more practical. So as our imagination becomes freer, so will our practical world become wider and fuller.