Jean Henri De Latude (1725-1805) escaping
Dear friends and readers,
We returned from the East Central American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies conference late Saturday night. I found it rejuvenating — there may be in the world a set of people as enthusiastic over 18th century studies, but surely nowhere is any group more devoted.
The topic for the conference was “What does infamy matter — when you get to keep your fortune” [Juvenal], but of course not everyone does. I had not realized what a fruitful angle this could be until I came to listen to the papers. This was not the emphasis of the papers, but it seems to me a craving for money and all it can buy of luxury, and for respect and all it can gratify of pride and self-esteem were primary motivations leading to the infamy all figures I heard about the first day of the conference endured when they failed, perhaps kept failing, and then tried and tried again. Chance and and the changes of times then wove the kind of curtain or exit each won when they grew old and/or died. This does not cover all cases: women become infamous if they lose their virginity or chastity in an socially unacceptable way. Sometimes people can courageously defy a powerful man and yet not he but they become infamous.
For the 2nd part click here.
Typical vision of a period trial: the seven bishops at trial
Three superb papers in the first session on Friday morning: “Infamous Conduct: Treason, Bigamy and Escape Artistry.” The chair was Jack Fruchtman. In these three cases (as in a couple of others) I offer more detail than I have of late or I do of the others because the papers offered in the first session had such interesting and (to me) new content, but it should not be taken that I’ve gotten the whole of these papers; these are just outlines where I omit much detail, nuance, and post-modern and other arguments.
Jane Wessel spoke on the trial of the 7 bishops. A man could be hung, drawn, and quartered for performing a seditious text in 1688. In 1687 James II suspended the penal laws against Catholics, and debates everywhere (public, private, at work) ensued whether he had the right to do so. James then asked that clergy and bishops read his proclamation;’ in May 1688 the bishops in effect declared that the king had not the right unitaterally to impose tolerance and suspend the penal laws for Catholics. The clergy did not want to read this petition because that was tantamount to saying they approved (they did not).
Well, the bishops had been foolish enough to show up at James’s request to talk to him. It seems the two sides had been alone. James then had them indited for a misdemeanor. The bishops themselves did not publish their petition, but it quickly appeared and no one could say how or who was responsible. So the prosecution focused on publication: they argued that the act of writing was itself a form of publication, writing an armed act of rebellion, a violent act. The defense rejoined that a peer of the realm could not be brought to trial for a misdemeanor.
The prosecution was unsuccessful when the justices could not come to a decision and the jury were appealed to. So the prosecution tried again; a new inditement accused the bishops of “vi et armis.” One of the peers who challenged this was Heneage Finch, later 4th early of Winchilsea (Anne Finch’s husband); a state of mind was not treason. Again the prosecution countered that the Anglican church had a doctrine of passive obedience; writing was active rebellion. Justices split and jury again ruled in bishops’ favor.
This case bring before us the interrelationship of publishing, writing, political engagement with and without arms. The trial transcript was printed, and was over 100 pages.
Barbara Villiers Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland (1640-1709)
Ashley Shoppe discussed the liaison and marriage of Robert (Beau) Fielding to Barbara Villiers, Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland and Castlemaine. Fielding was nearly allied to some powerful people, and he inherited a fortune from his father-in-law. He proceeded though to squander it, and from then on made a career for himself by marrying rich older women. She was 65 when they married; she demanded a divorce and got it pronta. It was on Nov 25th that they married. Meanwhile much earlier Fielding had tried to marry another woman for money and instead ended up marrying Mary Wadsworth. He was before this involved with Anne de Laure. The time together and part included brutal beating by Fielding of Cleveland, emotional humiliation, assault. He was imprisoned as a Jacobite though he had not involved himself in politics. In 1706 Fielding was found guilty of bigamy, which carried a death penalty. Nothing like it was ever inflicted. It should be noted that Fielding and Cleveland later reconciled themselves to one another. It’s important to remember that Cleveland could have had children but apparently did not.
Two popular memoirs were printed not that long after:one memoir defended her as an upper class woman and therefore allowed; Henry is someone who is used to watching his wife flirt and more with his friends and brothers. The other condemned her a worse than useless aristocrat; it has Steele in it as someone who acted out of individual desire and that the reader should emulate his actions.
The one by Richard Steele lampooned Fielding as Orlando the Fair and ridiculed both people, showing real disdain for aristocratic corruption. Steele is criticizing the Tories and that Fielding was mad. Steele was an orientalist and applied sexualized imagery to Valeria. In this tale the seraglio exercises a fascination, and the Stuart abuse of power roundly criticized. His usage of Cleveland is called barbarous; and he is presented as effeminate, ridiculous.
Michael J. Mulryn delivered the last paper. Jean Henri de Latude was a man who achieved notoriety by his many escapes from prison, the persecution (as he felt it) from the Marquise de Pompadour armed with an initial lettre de cachet. She had gained power first as the king’s mistress and then as the woman who organized his seraglio and saw to his every need. Today she has been given a positive press as a patroness of the arts. Latude has been depicted as a con artist and madman; he depicted himself as a victim of the excesses of the ancien regime. His Memoirs were popular, and part of the anti-Bastille literature. (One should remember there were people who supported the lettre de cachet system and Bastille, e.g., Sade’s mother-in-law.) The Bastille was stormed to get arms.
Who was he? A fast-talking “Houdini” who eventually had 4 aliases, and could talk himself into and out of situations; he had been the illegitimate child of a domestic servant, and so could not inherit anything. He decided to tell the Marquise of a plot to assassinate her and threaten her that if she did not pay him, the plot would go through. She did fear assassination and put him in prison. Probably this plot was a bunch of lies.
He then (like Sade) spent many years in prison; he became famous for his extraordinary escapes but would be brought back. One of the most famous occurred in the Bastille, notoriously difficult to get out of. This escape included building a ladder, climbing chimneys, getting past grates and sentries, hours spent in a frozen moat. He was helped by a friend, a famous engineer, who organized the escape and he ended up in Charenton. He said he’d rather die than write a letter of apology to the Marquise. He claimed she cast spells on him. In 1777 the Charenton monks at Charenton helped him to escape but when he got out on the streets he mugged someone. One of his re-arrests occurred in Holland in 1756 when he cashed a letter of exchange sent him by his mother. The Marquise herself kept hunting him down, using the state’s resources for this. At last he ended in one of the worst prisons, meant for ordinary people (no gentlemen), where he somehow managed to write copiously (he would use his own blood it’s said).
His Memoirs were then transferred to someone outside the prison and in 1784 published. Many people sympathized and came to his defense; Louis XVI revoked the original lettre de cachet and he was freed. Later in life he dined with celebrities like Thomas Jefferson. After the demolition of the Bastille he was paraded through the streets like a revolutionary hero. Stories of all sorts were printed and it is very hard to distinguish fact from fiction. One historian, Brentano, wrote a tract on behalf of the gov’t; another defended Latude who could present himself as a gentleman. It is possible he was simply a clever common criminal. He was probably emotionally disturbed; his father never would recognize him. Towards the end of his life he had a pension and lived in a lovely apartment.
Then we had a lively question-and-answer period. Someone asked where do the trial transcripts of the Fielding-Cleveland case come from? Ms Wessel said the state published them after the “glorious revolution” (James II ousted); the 1706-7 Memoir is a 9 page cheap publication; Lawrence Stone told the story and there was a popular biography in the 1980s. Someone else was surprised that the King met the bishops alone and had himself insisted on the interview. What went on in the bigamy trial itself? Fielding tried to insert his marriage to Mary Wadsworth and was able to use benefit of clergy to avoid execution. I asked if the brutality he displayed at all influenced the outcome and she said it’s hard to know. A final set of questions were about Latude. Mr Murphy suggested that Latude had a grandiose view of himself, that he never was a loner type. What is telling is how quickly the Marquise could enlist the state apparatus and spies to locate Latude and extradite him from Holland.
It seemed to be felt by everyone that the way the powerful king, the lawyers, and the 7 bishops behaved and the stories of Latude and Pompadour had parallels to our own era of eroding civil rights, and how cases prosecuting whistle-blowers and so-called terrorists show the same avoidance of central issues to argue small points to get the case thrown out of court, the same use of harassing hounding police forces and state apparatus. The class parallels: upper class people are allowed; or upper class people are drones. I see a parallel in the Fielding case in that he was let off and had been so treacherous and brutal to the women he preyed upon.
Sir John Hill (1716-75) where he’s called a botanist and that his “provocative and scurrilous writings involved him in many quarrels, both in the field of science and that of literature.”
Mid-morning we listened to George Rousseau’s plenary lecture on John Hill; this session and a reception later on were really book launches. As Mr Rousseau’s was a talk and included many anecdotes about himself, the Royal Society (he’s a fellow), and the people he’s known, I omit much only bringing in what seems to me might be of interest about Hill and the book. Mr Rousseau’s salient idea is that Hill sought celebrity as a way of getting money; that he was socially a borderline personality, often “badly behaved,” an outsider whose untamed genius led him to offend and outrage all sorts of people so he was continually changing professions or simply involved himself in many areas of life so that he can function as a sort of “filter” or mirror which manifests central aspects of 18th century life. To me Hill seemed a polymath.
Among the stories told were how Hill was blackballed three times by someone in the Royal Society and so Hill never was a member. He was the 2nd son of a clergyman who owned more than 100 books and taught the boy himself (including Greek, Latin, science). His employers included Stukeley (who uncovered Stonehenge); his patrons included the Earl of Richmond, a man living on a cosmopolitan estate, Goodwood, where a highly cultured informal community interacted; Emmanuel de Costa was a geologist and friend whom Hill betrayed by plagiarizing Costa’s research, but then de Costa embezzled funds from the Royal Society and went to prison for this. Hill went after Christopher Smart and was badly behaved to Garrick. Through Hill’s connection with Bute (see below) and Linneaus Hill was knighted. One he tried to fake his own death.
Hill’s writing was enormously varied and continual: like a Grub Street denizen he wrote around the clock to make money, scandal chronicles, early fiction, science, operas, farces, routs (perhaps as many as 200 works). He paid 50£ to get a certificate as a physician; he began a newspaper with Ralph Griffiths called The Daily Advertiser where Hill wrote twice-weekly columns where he made 1500£ a year. He wrote on reproductive science, a treatise on tobacco which correlates it to cancer. Angry that he never got into the Royal Society, he wrote a prose satire about it which like the Dunciad degrades people and names names. Lord Bute, George III’s tutor became a friend, both loved botany and Hill functioned as a master gardener and then published a huge work on vegetables.
Among those who drew or painted him was Allan Ramsay when Hill was 37. Hill married twice, the first time to the daughter of Earl of Burlington, she died early. He then remarried the Viscountess Ranelagh with whom he had 10 children; 6 survived
Mr Rousseau did not seem to like Hill very much, nor be sympathetic. He assumed that his audience would not care for Hill either. In the question-and-answer period someone seemed to suggest perhaps Hill was really most driven into extremes by a need for money. For my part the portrait as presented prompted some empathy nonetheless. I liked Hill for his reactive defiance and anger and non-conformity, counter-productive though some may find it.
After lunch, I went to two sessions, and heard five papers altogether. In the first session, Caroline Breashears’s “Secret and Celebrated: Life-Writings by and About Notorious Figures” Ellen Malenas Ledoux’s on Mary Robinson’s Memoirs, was on the now familiar material of a subjective reading of the actress’s images: did Robinson invite interviews half-undressed and breast-feeding and chose the peculiar format of her memoir, 3/4s written by a pious daughter in order to frame herself as good mother to exonerate herself from the infamy of having been the prince regent’s mistress or was she titillating her reader.
Jonathan Wild (1683-1725) in his prison (1725)
Jack Sheppard (1702-24) just before he was executed as drawn by John Thornhill
Peter Staffel’s paper presented Wild in four ways: what we can know of his life, how he is presented by Defoe, John Gay, and finally Fielding. Wild was a highly successful cutthroat businessman type who as first someone in the prison and then a fence-receiver and thief-taker governed a ring of associates, cunning and cruel, he was unable to recognize the resentment and angers of others (e.g., Sheppard), and himself was terrified of execution and tried to kill himself by poison in order to avoid the abuse (physical too) of the hanging scene. His grave was in fact robbed and the body stolen 3 days later — perhaps by people fascinated by him who thought they could learn about his brain this way. As with Michael Murphy, Mr Staffel showed us the difference between what we know of the actual facts of the man’s ilfe and character, the writer’s texts, and various legends.
One question was how did he achieve such notoriety? Prison had been a step up for him, a place he could organize from, terrible though such places were and despised the people in them in this era, with incarceration not seen as a punishment, but a period of waiting either to be freed or murdered by the state apparatus. Wild became Mary Melliner’s lover, herself an effective brothel madam there; he learned a lot from Hitchen, a master in Newgate and the Old Bailey. Wild kept a ledger, had stolen goods to offer others, was a good interviewer of people, could extract high fees and recognized strong desires for given things and manipulated this into high fees.
We didn’t talk very much about the three texts, all of which are read today, nor was there any time to go into the different realizations of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, out of Gay, as black farce (Bertold Brecht), as opera (Benjamin Britten). I found myself remembering how Jonathan Miller in a brilliant BBC production in 1987 aided by theatrically effective actors turned the comic material into invigorating satiric bleak tragedy by its close. More interesting perhaps how certain characters and details Mr Staffel had mentioned still turn up in this production
For the last session of the day, Eleanor Shevlin’s “Book History, Bibliography and Textual Studies” see comments.