Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Chapter 22. 'Remarkable, but still True'

The 1871 census found a diminished household at the vicarage – Robert, his sister Mary (here called Maria), whose age is now given as 75, and his sister Isabella (here for some reason called Jane), whose age is given as 72.  They had one maid of all work living in the house – 20-year-old Mary Chipchase, born in Appleton Wiske. 

New industries had come – there were now jet miners living in the village and working in Scugdale and a busy timber mill stood at the top of Sexhow Lane.  George Wilson's Sailcloth Mill employed 24 men and 9 women and was being converted from water to steam power, while over on the Rudby side of the river, the bleach house employed three men.

Mr Barlow was occupied with a new project.

Not for him the usual topics of the clergyman scholar – he was engaged in a lively volume of disguised autobiography and colourful anecdote, under the pen-name Walter Fitzallen.  It is interesting to note that nearly all the names he gives his characters were used by Sir Walter Scott – Graham, Clutterbuck, Barnard, Seymour and the name Fitzallen itself.  Perhaps, although he does not mention reading Scott, he was so fond of his works that he had absorbed the names without noticing.

The novel was printed for Mr Barlow in 1872 by Wyman & Sons of Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields – again, he had evidently no desire to use the local printers – and appeared as a small octavo volume (19cm tall) of 406 pages divided into 34 chapters.

It was dashed off in his usual way, as he relates at the beginning of Chapter 28:
People may say, why did you not make a fair copy?  I reply that it would take too much time, it would not be worth the trouble, and I am of opinion, too, that no one should ever write a novel who cannot put his thoughts upon paper fit for the press without the toil of writing it a second time.
This rousing declaration is somewhat marred by the inconsistencies of names and the loose ends of plot left dangling throughout the novel.  The style is generally direct and conversational, sometimes surprisingly blunt, and with few flourishes.  Mr Barlow did not pass up the opportunity to settle a few old scores and to lay the blame for his present situation where he felt it belonged.

He began at Chapter One:
It has often been a matter of surprise to me that authors should continue to write prefaces to their books, because, I think most people will agree with me in concluding that they are seldom or ever read [sic].  For instance, I myself am a great reader of all sorts of books, from Baron Humboldt's 'Cosmos,' down to the veriest romance, at times, to relax the tension upon the mind and memory necessary for the profitable perusal of scientific reasoning.  And yet, it has rarely happened to me to read the preface to a book; and when I have chanced to do so it has been sorely against my will.
Now finding that "I actually want and cannot do without" a preface, he has decided that
it shall be read by all who accidentally may cast their eyes over this tome.  Because I wish to inform my readers of the fact that they may find in these pages, not only verses and sonnets, and anecdotes, but the contents of solid chapters that are not mine at all … I should also like to explain why I have given my book such a common, trashy title.  "Remarkable, but still true."  I have given it that name because every tale in it is a truth … [and] because I look upon it as rather a remarkable thing when one meets with truth in the present day … Moreover, although confessedly a plain man, I am yet somewhat proud, and therefore should be glad to be out of the common ruck of scribblers, though myself one of that tribe; and the world, we know, has been so ransacked for attractive titles that it is no easy matter to find one of any description at all. 
He then lists with some scorn the titles of various recent books which he finds ridiculous – titles that show he was indeed aware of a wide variety of literature, including books by American authors and translations from Swedish and German.

It is not entirely surprising to find John Richard Digby Beste's recent work [1] in the list:
Lo! behold! two portentous-looking volumes make their appearance, called, Now-a-days, at Home and Abroad.  How easy to fill an empty barrel with dribblets, when you are 'on the way everywhere'.  
The Beste family was evidently never far from his mind – one wonders how he and his sisters had taken the news that their only niece Louisa was now an Italian marchioness, having married in 1861 a Florentine nobleman, the Marquis Guadagno Guadagni. 

Nor does he refrain from a sarcastic allusion to his neighbour and colleague, the Revd Charles Cator of Stokesley:
Again, we have a short treatise with the solemn title, The Writing of a Man's Hand.  To prevent, I suppose, people from fancying it might be the production of 'another animal.'"
This was a book of 119 pages, "to the reformed British Parliament, in defence of the union of the Church and State", written by Cator in 1833 [2].

It was Mr Barlow's desire to explain his title that made him wish for a preface.  In disguising it as Chapter One
I have carried out my proud and independent boast, 'that I was resolved you should read it'.
Explanations over, he launches into his tale:
It was about the close of the American War in the year 1783, that our heroine was left an orphan, or rather, I might say, left alone in the world, for her only sister, although correct as to conduct, and unimpeachable as to integrity of purpose, was scarcely indued with sense enough to bustle through life without a close friend to advise and protect her.
His heroine is, of course, his mother.

He tells the story of her girlhood, her married life and the amazing good fortune of his brother James.  It is a pæon of praise to his mother, who is described in loving detail.  She was:
of a nice middle size, her figure good and graceful, with an erect and dignified carriage.  Her head, well set upon a neck and shoulders gracefully shaped, was adorned with almost a superabundance, if such could be the case, of fine hair of a beautiful golden brown tint flowing down to her waist, as it was then worn, the admiration of all who saw it, and the envy of not a few.  Her feet and ankles were good.  Her hands were rather plain than otherwise, and her face might be thought too square for beauty, but then there beamed forth from it such a countenance as won the admiration of every one, not for its beauty, as I have said, but because it displayed great intelligence, lit up, if I may use the term, by a lively, good-tempered, cheerful expression.
[Her] accomplishments were not numerous, 'tis true; yet few could surpass her graceful movements in the dance, or equal her in a minuet, to exhibit in which was the fashion of the day for such young ladies as had ability to attempt it at a ball.  Nature, not art, bestowed upon her a voice such as is rarely heard in private life; it was of considerable compass, and breathed forth a sweet harmony that was perfectly touching.
The narrative is interspersed with anecdotes.

The first is a lengthy and amusing story, which he probably often recounted to an audience as a party piece, of a Dublin lottery agent who manages to cheat the system and win the prize, told with plenty of Irish dialogue ("by jabres, Pat, but ye've done it well, my boy"), songs, and the words and music to the 'Widow Malone'.

Another story is of the "bold steady hand" Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey, and there are tales of dancing, drinking and duelling in late 18th century Dublin, together with accounts of his father John Barlow's prowess as a horseman.  His father is depicted with loving sympathy throughout – it is his "easy yielding nature" that leads to him becoming a "complete drunkard".

Another lengthy digression is the story of a friend of his mother, tricked into an unhappy marriage with an abusive gambler who deserts her, and how she kept a school and worked as a companion to earn enough to bring up her daughters. 

Chapter 33 is, incongruously, a reworking of his pamphlet of 1856, The Queen, the Head of the Church.  This he has included as it was
composed by the youngest son of our heroine, and, as this youngest son was a prime favourite with poor Kate, and used to be called her white-headed boy.  
This son was Robert:
Long before Church reform was even dreamed of … Robert was deeply impressed with the necessity of a great change in the Establishment …

… Of sound religious opinions, but free from enthusiasm, and free also from those subsequent innovations that troubled the Church, he was an energetic, zealous clergyman, of great promise had he been given opportunity, but he was buried many, many years ago, leaving behind him an able paper, entitled, The only true way to Defend the Church, which, amongst other documents, were handed to me …
A sad epitaph on himself.

The novel's author has "merely added a few words to bring it down to the present day".  Since the pamphlet came out in 1856, there had been renewed concern about the Church.  Clergy were supposed to be gentlemen and graduates, but increasingly men coming for ordination were non-graduates, while young gentlemen had a widening choice of professions and careers from which to choose.

There was anxiety about the suitability of university education as training for clergy.  Growing numbers of ordinands meant long delays in finding livings.  There was great concern about clerical poverty, and attempts to produce a suitable pension scheme had so far failed.  Church reform was greatly hindered by a lack of clear command structure and any method for making policy centrally [3].

In 1872 Mr Barlow had some new and interesting suggestions.

Bishops should be able to appear unannounced in a congregation, rather than sending out exhortations and visitations.  The Ecclesiastical Commissioners should have "one sole and all-absorbing object" – that is, "to improve the spiritual condition of the poor".  To reach them, they should build "simple churches in destitute localities" and "provide earnest ministers for them".

His views had become more uncompromising over the years.

He hailed the Liturgy as "perfectly faultless", but excoriated the Church for failing to bring "spiritual aid" to the people.  This was why "many parishes were driven to build Methodist chapels".

Action had been taken by the church but nevertheless "not a tithe was done that might have been effected had the Church gone the right way to work".

He turned his scorn not only on nepotism but also on the number of Colonial Bishops with benefices in England, and the "fair sprinkling of Papists, under the guise of Ritualists, in the Church".  (The anti-Ritualist movement had begun in 1866, with Lord Shaftesbury introducing a Vestments Bill in 1867 attempting to make it illegal for clergymen to wear any ecclesiastical vestments except the surplice and hood.)

The Church "had fallen in public esteem" and consequently lost its rights and privileges. 

Bishops had seen their patronage "as their own private property" to be given away "just as they pleased, and not as the reward of merit".  The hierarchy had not tried to equalise the value of benefices, but instead "cooked them up as nest eggs for their favourites".  As a result the junior clergy had lost respect for their seniors and become "lax and careless in their office".

"I am totally at a loss to discover the utility of Deans and Chapters", he declared.  His final conclusion was that "The whole system is rotten." 

In 1833 he had declared that without Bishops "we should be as an army without a leader, a body without a head" and that they were needed in Parliament "to watch over the interests of Christianity".  Now he called for the church in England, like that of Ireland, to be disestablished.

It is in Chapter 26 that Robert Barlow introduces the character of his sister-in-law Marian D'Oyley Bird and her mother, and lets rip – his engagement with the story and his enjoyment of his revenge are evident. 

It is noticeable that Robert depicts his brother James as charming and noble, but essentially ineffective and gullible.  This James is quite unlike the strong and determined character conveyed by the surviving contemporary documents, which suggest an adventurous and attractive man who had enjoyed challenges and had lived his life with zest and energy.

Robert gives Marian and her mother the surname Hawk, and depicts them as scheming harpies who seize upon James like birds of prey.  Their true character does not however deceive Robert, and unlike his infatuated brother, he does not believe Mrs Hawk's bad temper is the result of the state of her health; he distrusts mother and daughter from first acquaintance.

After the wedding Mrs Hawk says to Robert, "It was talked of getting you a living near your brother, but it would never answer."  This, he says darkly, later "proved a key to unravel a subsequent mystery" – but this mystery is never explained or referred to again.  It is easy to imagine that something similar was said – and that it reflected the state of relations between Robert and Marian, and possibly, sadly, between Robert and James.

Mr Barlow gathers pace as he describes Marian's family.  Of her grandmother, he says,
When I saw her she was both as vulgar and as vulgar-looking a heap of goods as any one need wish to behold.  Her husband, I am told, was a low, vulgar specimen. 
Bizarrely, given that he has recounted how his own mother had worked in a lunatic asylum, he remarks with scorn,
Poor old Mammy Clutterbuck, when her husband died, kept a sort of Dame's School.  
Marian's mother and aunts were received favourably by Queen Charlotte – who was, Mr Barlow surprisingly tells us, sometimes "vulgarly called Snuffy Cha" – and were sent out to India "to obtain husbands, of which there was little chance at home".  Consequently they were known as the "Queen's ware" – one was "returned as 'cracked goods'", and another was as ugly as a hyaena. 

Marian was jealous of her husband's affections, but his family suspected that she was a "very great and impudent flirt".  In an amazing passage, Mr Barlow describes her as
like an unbacked filly, which it was not in the power of anyone to keep within the bounds of decency when walking the streets, and that, in truth, she was almost on the Pavé [4], and had many singular little egarements du coeur, as a sort of by-play or amusement, while at the same time a regular courtship, under the sanction of the old Hawk, had been going on for a couple of years with a young officer in the Navy.
She was an "artful imp" who "pried into all his family secrets, and mixed herself up in all his public and private business", but James was "totally unequal to cope with the craft of this mere girl" and believed her to be a paragon of excellence.

She wanted to undermine James's affection for his family.  She hid calling cards so that when they did not return calls the neighbours would think ill of them; she gave her child "a dose of nauseous medicine" so that she could blame her mother-in-law for over-indulging the children.

She had her "Hyaena aunt" come to live with them, and cheated James of money which she passed to her aunt.  She was being blackmailed by her maid.  When they came home from their foreign travels, she criticised the way her husband arranged their new works of art.

She was a "termagant … never at rest.  She perfectly hated all ladies"; she "wanted to be the prima donna of their neighbourhood"; and she had a "violent and overbearing disposition".

Now quite carried away, Robert Barlow creates a fairy-tale ending to his story.

James and Marian go abroad, and news comes back of James's death.  His mother, however, dreams that he had a miraculous escape, and a fortnight later receives a letter from him – he is really alive, but she must keep it a secret.  Marian, meanwhile, has
once more approached the altar, leaning upon the arm of her future spouse, the old, ugly, vulgar-looking, privileged friend [Captain Meredith].  
Soon he "sickened and died" but at that time
there was a gentleman on a visit, the religious controversialist whom I alluded to [5], and she fell in love with and married him a short time after the funeral.
Now James returns at last incognito to England to tell his loving family that it had been his "privileged friend" who had pushed him over a ravine.

Miraculously unharmed, he had been taken in by locals.  Suspicious of his wife, he decided to let everyone think he was dead – and fortunately his executors refused to carry out the terms of his Will, as his body had never been found.  He confronts his erring wife and her third husband, and demands that they return to him his estate and his children.  Everyone lives happily ever after, and Marian and her third "husband" go abroad.

This strange work – in parts warm and loving, in others bitter and resentful, and towards the end frankly malicious and vindictive – was distributed to his friends. 


[1]  'Nowadays : or, courts, courtiers, churchmen, Garibaldians, lawyers and brigands at home and abroad Chapman & Hall 1870, 2 volumes, 8vo

[2]  copies at the British Library, the Cambridge University Library, the York Minster Library

[3]  cf Alan Haig

[4]  streets

[5]  I could not find this allusion to John Richard Digby Beste

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