The journey is the thing

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. 

The Morning Post of the 25th of October 1830, under the heading Interesting Voyage of Discovery, announced the arrival of:

His Majesty’s surveying-vessel Adventure…with the Beagle…from South America, where both vessels have been engaged nearly five years…in surveying the coasts from the River Plate on the East, round Cape Horn, to Chiloe on the West.

Sadly, the report went on to say, four officers and seven seaman died while on the voyage. It did not mention that the leader of the expedition Commander Pringle Stokes had committed suicide, thus giving Robert Fitzroy his command of the Beagle. 

Robert Fitzroys's map of Tierra del Fuego. Source: magnoliabox.com

Robert Fitzroys’s map of Tierra del Fuego. Source: magnoliabox.com

However, there were some passengers on board the Beagle who had joined the ship in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of South America. As the Morning Post explained:

The Beagle has brought to England four natives of Tierra del Fuego…These Fuegians were taken prisoner during the time that the Beagle was employed on the S.W. coast of that country, in consequence of their tribe having stolen a boat…

Seeing that they had quickly settled into life on board the Beagle, Fitzroy decided to bring them to England, educate them (which meant converting them to Christianity) and then return them to Tierra del Fuego. Thus by improving their lot, the life of the tribe could be improved, and lifted up from its present condition, described by the Morning Post as:

…the lowest of mankind…

adding that they were:

…without a doubt, cannibals.

Fuegia, Jemmy and York. Three of the Fuegians brought back by Fitzroy. from his account of the journey Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle, at darwinonline.org

Fuegia, Jemmy and York. Three of the Fuegians brought back by Fitzroy. from his account of the journey Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle, at darwinonline.org

 

Fitzroy did indeed look after them. He organised lodgings for them, found a school which they could attend and called on the Church Missionary Society to help with their Christian education. Whatever else he thought of them, and he also believed them to be cannibals, he wrote of the need to vaccinate them:

I was, of course, anxious to protect the Fuegians, as far as possible, from the contagion of any of those disorders, sometimes prevalent, and which unhappily have so often proved fatal to the aboriginal natives of distant countries when brought to Europe…                                                             “Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle”

During the summer of 1831 King William IV asked to meet the Fuegians. The meeting was a success. The King, wrote Fitzroy:

…asked me so many sensible and thoroughly pertinent questions respecting the Fuegians and their country also relating to the survey in which I had myself been engaged…

Queen Adelaide went one further. She presented Fuegia with one of her own bonnets, the ring from her finger and a sum of money to buy clothes before she returned to Tierra del Fuego.

Darwin describes their return to Tierra del Fuego in The Voyage of the Beagle.

It was interesting to watch the conduct of the savages when we landed towards Jemmy Button: they immediately perceived the difference between him and ourselves…The old man addressed a long harangue to Jemmy, which it seems was to invite him to stay with them. But Jemmy understood very little of their language, and was, moreover, thoroughly ashamed of his own countrymen.

His own tribe welcomed Jemmy and the other Fuegians. With them was a Mr Matthews, a missionary who had been sent with them from England. His mission was a short one. Three weeks later, the Beagle returned to find that the members of the tribe had stolen everything and threatened Matthews – among the robbers was Jemmy’s own brother. Fitzroy decided to take Matthews with them. They returned for the final time in the March of the following year. Jemmy, naked except for a blanket, with his hair long and messy, was ashamed at first to meet with them. The sadness of their parting was very real as Jemmy has always been popular with the crew. Darwin wrote:

When Jemmy reached the shore, he lighted a signal fire, and the smoke curled up, bidding us a long and last farwell, as the ship stood her course into the open sea.

There is an epilogue. In October 1854 the schooner Allen Gardiner, paid for by the Patagonian Missionary Society, sailed for Tierra del Fuego, with the aim of spreading Christianity and also searching for Jemmy Button. Like previous missions it was not a success, not because of theft or murder, as in the case of the missionary Allen Gardner after whom the schooner was named, but through dissension between the schooner’s captain Parker Snow and, well, just about everyone else. But in the appropriately named Button Islet, attracted by the British colours raised by Parker Snow, two canoes approached the schooner.

I sang out to the natives interrogatively, “Jemmy Buttom? Jemmy Button? To my amazement and joy…an answer came from one of the four men in the canoe , “Yes, yes; Jam-mes Button. Jam-mes Button!”

Button Sound from the book A Two Year's Cruise off Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, Patagonia and in the River Plate. Source: archive.org.

Button Sound from the book A Two Year’s Cruise off Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, Patagonia and in the River Plate. Source: archive.org.

His English returned bit by bit. He asked to wear trousers in the presence of Parker Snow’s wife; when they sat down to eat he wanted to use cutlery; shown the captain’s library he asked for three books. Stepping on deck for the first time, he saluted Parker Snow which impressed the crew. Of this first meeting Parker Snow wrote:

..with his shaggy hair and begrimed countenance; I could not help assimilating him to some huge baboon dressed up for the occasion.

Which, I guess, says it all.

In the return visit six weeks later, over a hundred of the tribe came to greet the schooner. The tone of the encounter had changed. Jemmy’s brothers demanded gifts from Parker Snow while Jemmy chatted with the missionary on board the schooner. Parker Snow ordered the anchor raised. Jemmy’s wife called to him from the canoe. As the wind caught the sails the Fuegians on board returned to their canoes and the schooner turned to the open sea. Parker Snow wrote of Jemmy:

…the man of many hopes, of much talk, of great name in getting interest in the mission…yet none less a nude savage like his brethern.

It was never going to have a happy ending, was it?

But of literary taste, what can we say? I would say “Charlie, do you fancy a pint? ” And the crack, as they say in Oban, would be good. So, it’s a hearty (7,5) and set course for the open sea.

Har, me hearties!

Next time, the temperature drops as we head to the South Pole with Captain Scott, in The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard.

I am completely operational, and all my circuits are functioning perfectly.

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week the Book Genome Project.

What would the DNA of a book look like? According to the Book Genome Project it would look like this for Anthony Trollope’s novel The Warden: 

Pandora's Box, and why not?

How do they do this? Here’s what they say on their FAQs page:

Simply put, we trained the computers to read and look for elements of writing style and theme – though differently than a person would – and translate that into an opinion that is consistent across thousands and thousands of books.  In other words, each time the computer looks at a scene, it asks itself, “If I were human, how Dense (among others) would I rate this particular scene?”

Is this anything more than a misplaced metaphor? More than likely. Does that negate the project to measure, not the worth of a book or even its genre, but its structural elements? If this means rejecting the possibility of robots ever reading books I think we’d all agree the answer is a hearty no. 

Why?

In a word meta-study. Back to Trollope. There are eleven of his novels listed in the Book Genome Project. By converting the StoryDNA into a numerical value for each book, then we end up with a graph that looks like this:

Nice, isn't it?

Putting aside any objections – moral, literary, personal – what can we learn from the results? Well, money and family stand out as the two key themes in his work; in second rank, jury trialspolitics, social class and letter writing; coming up in third place extended familypolitical office, romance, time and secrets; and trotting along in fourth Catholic institutions and church services. Despite his love of hunting, all things equine come in at a poor 0.3. It would, of course, be easy to explain the importance of family and money in the light of Trollope’s own difficult childhood where the social leanings of his parents were not equalled by his father’s management of his farm. As it is easy, damnit, let’s go with it. 

Does the Book Genome Project tell us anything we don’t already know? Probably not. It just does it faster. With the results of Trollope’s meta-analysis, I feel I’ve got enough useful insight into his works to pass muster at a Trollope literary do. Of course, what the Book Genome Project can’t do  is tell me how good his books are. For that we still need the human touch. For now.

Enough of the theorising about dystopian futures. I promised you facts and facts you will have. The Voyage of the Beagle is now over, the specimens have been examined and a full report is being written for the Society of Travellers and Gentlefolk.

‘Journey all over the universe in a map…’

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, the Mindly application for the iPhone. 

Regular readers will know that I occasionally like to point out apps that might help throw new perspectives on novels and novelists. Or at least pass a happy hour when you know you should be working. The Mindly app meets both those requirements. It allows you to create mind maps on any subject, include images, build up sub-categories and impress your colleagues. It is, in a word, a stonker. Here’s one I made earlier:

Arnold Bennett mind map.

It is a work in progress, which is not to say I will go back and refine it. But, as someone averse to organising my thoughts in any way, it has made me think it might not be a bad idea. It allowed me, if nothing else, to see what it is that I regard as important in the life and work of Bennett. It also takes all the hard work out of the process, namely making it look neat. I do not know enough about the life and works of Virginia Woolf, but I would be intrigued to see a mind map with her name in the middle.

No graph is included only the assurance that books filled with facts are soon to be ordered.

Chance meeting? Not on your statistical nelly.

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, Wyndham Lewis’ Tarr

Lithograph of Wyndham Lewis by the artist. Source: the National Gallery

Lithograph of Wyndham Lewis by the artist. Source: the National Gallery

The Annuaire Statistique is a triumph of counting, if by “triumph” you mean counting on a massive scale, and I certainly do. The website http://www.economie.gouv.fr/ explains its role as:

L’Annuaire statistique de la France est une collection qui regroupe dans un seul volume les statistiques de différentes branches économiques et sociales puis plus tard, industrielles. Cette collection s’étend de 1878 à nos jours et elle est toujours vivante.

Which when put through Google Translate comes out as:

Statistical Yearbook of France is a collection that brings together in one volume statistics of various economic and social sectors and later, industrial. This collection spans from 1878 to the present day and is still alive.

In it you can discover that whereas in 1902 the High Pyrenees had 103 steam locomotives, the Seine Département had  a mighty 486, representing an impressive 5,710 horsepower.

There is an international aspect to the data as well. In 1901 Russia exported  raw materials to the worth of  149,682,000 francs to France and a measly 3,446,000 francs of manufactured goods; France, on the other hand, exported to Russia manufactured goods to the value of 9,989,000 francs. There is enough data to keep a graph nerd happy for a lifetime.

I have made one graph: German and British nationals resident in France, 1896-1921.

German and British nationals resident in France.

German and British nationals resident in France.

Even in 1921, three years after their last attempt to capture it in their spring offensive, there were still more Germans than British resident in Paris (there are no statistics for 1914-1918 but I imagine there were guy few Germans hingin aboot Paris). What were they all doing there? Most had come to work: they cleaned, they served meals, they cooked, some had their own businesses. Looked at in terms of gender, it is German women who formed the largest group, working, like their British counterparts, in the service industries and earning a lot less than the men. Another group, probably smaller and largely confined to German and British intellectuals, settled in Paris, attracted by its “otherness.” In the case of the German artists and intellectuals, they felt in equal parts repelled by the rapid growth and urbanisation of Berlin and attracted to the combination of modernity and tradition represented by Paris. In 1900 much of Paris still  lay within the city walls that had resisted the German siege of 1870; the scattered settlements outside the walls still had the appearance of small villages. But by 1900 you could also use the recently opened Paris metro. You could also, if you were British or German, and not working 12 hours a day scrubbing floors, have a lot more sex than in your own country. 

Wyndham Lewis and his literary creation Frederick Tarr, the hero of the novel, both fall into this last category. Tarr, like Lewis, is a painter in Paris who has to decide between the bourgeois Bertha Lunken and the intellectual, sexual and meat-obsessed Anastasya. Into this wanders the mad German artist Otto Kreisler who, unable to have sex, becomes even more mad. On any level it is an odd novel, given the content and the date of publication (begun before the First World War, Lewis revised it considerably during it and it was finally published in 1918). If you wish you may, after reading it, wish to draw the cultural threads together of German nationalism, Nietzschean philosophy and indeed, a prescient prediction of the rise of nazism. Or you may wish to cut those same threads, and argue that statistically Lewis was bound to meet Ida Vendel in Paris in 1906 just as Tarr was to meet Bertha in the novel, the former being the inspiration for the latter. And why not?

Be that as it may, it is stuffed to the free-loving gunnels with literary taste. A life-affirming (5,3) is therefore plotted.

How's them apples?

Next time, I shall follow the example of Mr.Gradgrind and read only “Fact, fact, fact.”

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 38 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Swing on Captain Swing

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, Mary Russell Mitford’s Our Village .

Mary Russell Mitford from the American 1949 edition. Source: Amazon.com

Mary Russell Mitford from the American 1949 edition. Source: Amazon.com

The Chelmsford Chronicle carried the following report from The Athenaeum on the 19th of January 1855:

After a long period of decline and helpless suffering, cheerfully borne, the author of “Our Village” died at Swallowfield Cottage, near Reading, on Wednesday last…

Mary Russell Mitford (1787 – 1855), it went on to say, had seen her cottage become:

…a place of pilgrimage to some of the highest and most accomplished persons in Europe.

Of these accomplished persons, the Dictionary of National Biography wrote that:

Charles Lamb declared that nothing so fresh and characteristic had appeared for a long time; Christopher North spoke of their ‘genuine rural spirit;’ Mrs. Hemans was cheered by them in sickness; Mrs. S. C. Hall acknowledges that they suggested her own ‘Sketches of Irish Character;’ Mrs. Browning called Miss Mitford ‘a sort of prose Crabbe in the sun;’ while Harriet Martineau looked upon her as the originator of the new style of ‘graphic description.’

The success of her village sketches, later published in five volumes between 1824 and 1832, was as immediate as it was dramatic. First published in 1819 in the Lady’s Magazine, this little-known journal saw its sales rise from 250 to 2,000.  Coachmen and post-boys pointed out to visitors to the village of Three Mile Cross in Berkshire (where Mary Russell Mitford lived for thirty years ) the locations of scenes from the stories, and parents named their children after those in the fictional village and also after the narrator’s pet greyhounds. The Scot’s Magazine of August 1825 may have identified the cause of this critical and popular success (most of the money she made was squandered by her spendthrift father, including the £20,000 she won in a lottery) when it wrote:

In tracing the likeness of its portraits, the reader need not go far from his own fireside, or the residence of his neighbours; he will find, we think, very accurate resemblance in those features which a little observation will enable him to trace among his friends or acquaintances.

Mary Russell Mitford's house at Three Mile Cross. Source: Flickr, user Leslie Dray.
Mary Russell Mitford’s house at Three Mile Cross. Source: Flickr, user Leslie Dray.

I’m not sure what George Moore,  James Dunk, James Pointer and George Holland would have recognised from the “portraits,” had they read any of the books. In December 1830 at the assize for the County of Kent they were all sentenced to seven years transportation. George Barrow, carpenter; John Ballard, labourer; John Tickner, tailor and John Beale, carpenter were also sentenced to seven years transportation. All had been found guilty of destroying threshing machines. They could, however, consider themselves lucky. Mr. Justice Bosanquet found Henry Packman and William Packman guilty of burning down a barn belonging to Mr. Wraight, and sentenced them to be hung, the sentence to be carried out the following week.

Wanted poster for suspected arsonists. Source: The National Archives.
Wanted poster for suspected arsonists. Source: The National Archives.

Throughout that summer and autumn of 1830, in a swathe that ran across the south of England, barns were burnt and threshing machines smashed.  Agricultural labourers, who had seen incomes drop after the ending of the Napoleonic Wars, turned their resentment against the threshing machines which were now being used by  farmers to cut costs further, by doing away with their jobs. Letters were sent to local farmers, threatening that their threshing machine would be targeted if they did not get rid of them. The letters were signed “Captain Swing,” the notorious/invisible/mythical leader of the machine breakers.

A Captain Swing letter.  Source: The National Archives
A Captain Swing letter.
Source: The National Archives

The poor, the sad and the mad can be found in the stories in Our Village, but not a tailor or a carpenter who, sympathising with the landless labourers left jobless by the new technology, went out at night and set fire to hay ricks, maimed cattle and smashed threshing machines. Mary Russell Mitford speaks with pride when she writes:

We have the good fortune to live in an unenclosed parish, and may thank the wise obstinacy of two or three sturdy farmers, and the lucky unpopularity of a ranting madcap lord of the manor, for preserving the delicious green patches, the islets of wilderness amidst cultivation, which form, perhaps, the peculiar beauty of English scenery.

She was, however, writing of an English rural society that had long vanished by the time she was writing her portraits, when labourers had often been paid in kind, worked on their own land on the unenclosed commons, sat with the farmer and his family to eat and at the head of it all, patriarchal and with roots deep in the local soil, the local lord, “preserving…the islets of wilderness amidst cultivation.”

Would I be so petty as to deny the literary value of a book solely because it did not reflect accurately the experiences of the labouring poor? Of course I would. But the truth is, I do not know what to make of Our Village. There is no one to talk to about it, unless it is on a reading list somewhere for a university course. But Mary Russell Mitford wrote it to appeal to like-minded people who believed that an older truth could be found in the countryside; and in our GM world we have moved on so much further from threshing machines and threatening letters from Captain Swing. Like the machine breakers of 1830, she is out of joint with the times. A disappointing (2,9) will have to be plotted.

Make yourself at home Arnold.

Enough of the nineteenth century, next time I will be bang up to date with Wyndham Lewis’ 1918 novel Tarr. I shall do my level best not to call him an insufferable little shit.

Calculations in search of an explanation.

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, just how much literary taste do I have? 

Time for a time out and ask the question, how much literary taste have I accumulated so far from reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett?  Below in the first chart is the raw data:

The graph!

This can be broadly understood as:

When I'm good I'm very, very good.

Turn it into a pie chart and it looks like this (ignoring any points that have fallen on the dotted line, giving them a value of zero):

Fancy some pie?

Thus giving me a literary taste rating of 59%. However, and I’m sure you saw that coming, what does Not Literary Taste mean? In this calculation it all seems very passive whereas you would think it should be taking a much more active role in determining my literary taste. It is not an absence of literary taste, rather it is a collection of data in its own right which demands to be considered.

So, if 100 equals an average literary taste then the books I read will provide variations, plus and minus, from that mean. This can be expressed as 100 + Literary Taste – Not Literary Taste, in this case (100+59)-41, giving me a result of 118. Thus, according to this calculation, my literary taste is 18 points above the mean. Which, to me at least, sounds better than a literary taste reading of 59%.

All of the above assumes every coordinate is of equal value, i.e. 1. But, and I’m sure you saw that coming too, the position of the coordinate in relation to the dotted line is an indication of the strength, or otherwise, of the literary taste given to me through the reading of a book. Should that not be reflected in any calculation? For example, good coordinates nearer the dotted line should have lesser value than those further away, i.e. the closer to Not Literary Taste the less impact the book has had on me, and the reverse for bad coordinates, as in:

Now for the big sums.

Weighted like this, the coordinates now give a pie chart which looks like this:

Damn, that's good!Using the same weighted data, I come out with a literary taste 84 points above the mean. All of which seems to point out previously unknown depths to my literary taste, and which would doubtless come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. I know what you are going to say. Literary taste is composed of a huge range of ideas, beliefs, prejudices, all of which in turn draw on historical contexts, class backgrounds, that it is pointless to quantify such a nebulous and subjective concept. To that objection I say that we live in a age of wonder and change, where technology strides across the world like a behemoth. It is only a matter of time before someone develops an app for the iPhone.

Meanwhile, I will take refuge in the bucolic idyll of Mary Russell Mitford’s Village Walks and plant a coordinate in the graph once I have read it.

Putting the text into Textals.

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, what the Textal app can do for you. Oh, and for you too.

After Google Ngrams and Google Trends  comes the wonderful iPhone App Textal. As the developer’s introduction puts it:

Textal is a free smartphone app that allows you to analyze websites, tweet streams, and documents, as you explore the relationships between words in the text via an intuitive word cloud interface. You can generate graphs and statics, as well as share the data and visualizations in any way you like.

It’s easy to use and gives you words clouds that look like this:

How to Live on 24 Hours a DayThis was generated using Arnold Bennett’s self-help book How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, first published in 1910, and it is very intuitive, as you can see. You can build a more detailed picture by selecting a word from the cloud, for example, focusing on the word literature we can see that:

Statistics Or what about those collocations:

Collocations

Word pairings? Why, the work of a moment:

Pairs

And, of course, my own favourite – the graph:

Graph

I wrote a piece about How to Live on 24 Hours a Day. Running that through Textal produced the following cloud:

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day blog post

I’m not sure why the colours but it was after an update and I imagine they show correspondence in the use of words in the text. Now the fun begins. Looking back at the word cloud for Bennett’s book, and passing over the core comprising of words such as one, will and time, it is words such as business and programme that stand out. Not surprising, given that Bennett was writing the book for the growing class of white-collar workers. Looking at the word cloud for my post, it is literary, family, Virginia (Woolf) and servant that stand out. Not surprising, given that I was using Bennett’s book to point out the part played by servants in British society in the opening decades of the twentieth century. And having a go at Virginia Woolf, of course. Do the Textal word clouds point to a wilful misunderstanding on my part of Bennett’s book? Speaking for myself, I would be surprised if it was otherwise.

Should an application such as Textal be used with care, keeping in mind the need at all times for context and the widest perspective possible? Of course it should. But if experience shows us anything, it is that genies do tend to jump out of bottles at the earliest opportunity.

Next time, graphs to show the state of my literary taste.

A Republic of Wolves. A City of Ghosts.

Image

My novel has a brand new cover and also some very nice reviews: five and four stars on Amazon and five 5 stars on Goodreads. I’d be delighted to send a copy to anyone who’d like to review it for their blog. Please drop me an email at acityofghostsATgmailDOTcom. You can find the Amazon reviews here.

A manner of payment involving very great evils.

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage. 

First page (with illustration) of the first appearance of Framley Parsonage in print, in Cornhill Magazine, 1860-1861. Source: Wikipedia.

First page (with illustration) of the first appearance of Framley Parsonage in print, in Cornhill Magazine, 1860-1861. Source: Wikipedia.

Step forward William Green and take a bow. Without him, and countless others (all landowners and tenants), Trollope’s world of high and low churchmen could never have existed. It was William Green’s farmhouse and fields in the parish of Rock in Worcestershire – the Back Green, Little Orchard, House Meadow, Furlong and Upper Meadow (all arable or meadow) – and the £1 10s 8d (valued thus in 1841) he paid in tithes upon them (worth £109 in 2010) that went toward providing the income for the vicar. In The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5 the parish was listed as having a net value of £637 (£57,400 in 2010), more than enough to allow ample free time to any vicar to wonder if he should ally himself with the rich and fast or the rich and humble with it, as Mark Robarts does in Framley Parsonage. 

Anthony Trollope 1815 -1882. Source: Wikipedia.

Anthony Trollope 1815 -1882. Source: Wikipedia.

The paying of tithes is, of course, a requirement laid down in the Bible – Genesis 14:19 is the first of many such commands. Leviticus 25:8-13 also mentions the obligations of forgiving debts and returning slaves every fifty years under the auspices of a jubilee. The Christian churches, however, appear to have put these obligations to one side, along with the prohibition on eating shellfish and killing witches. Tithes are recorded as having been paid in England since the Anglo-Saxon era, usually in the form of a share of the harvest. The Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 converted these payments in kind into ready cash. Lord John Russell, the Home Secretary, introducing the Bill into the House of Commons said:

Tithe was now, as it was then, a manner of payment involving very great evils, forcing the clergy to forbearance at the expense of what they deemed to be their rights, or leading them to enforce those rights at the expense of the influence which they ought to possess with their parishioners, compelling them to lose either their income by their indulgence, or their popularity by, he would not say, the exaction of what the law gave them for the support of themselves and their families.

To which, I am sure, we would sagely nod our heads and wonder silently just what on Earth he was talking about. But in 1836 these were the things to be debated, pondered and resolved. Maps were therefore drawn up by commissioners in which every English field, meadow, copse and spinney was noted, plotted and valued. It was from these maps, such as the one made available online by Worcestershire Council, that the likes of William Green was asked to cough up his £1 10s 8d. The Dorsetshire tithe maps (the likely inspiration for Trollope’s imaginary Barsetshire) are behind the paywall of Ancestry.co.uk so to hell with them.

The location of William Green's land in the Parish of Rock. Source: http://ukga.org/england/Worcestershire/

The location of William Green’s land in the Parish of Rock.
Source: http://ukga.org/england/Worcestershire/

William Green, and all those like him, are absent from the pages of Framley Parsonage. Trollope, I imagine, did not have to think long and hard to make up his mind to leave them in the fields, praying for wet summers and clear winters. Whatever their opinions were of the internecine struggles between the high and low factions in the Church of England, or whether a vicar should or should not ride with the local hunt, he was merely happy to see them pay their tithes every year, and let others in better-fitting clothes discuss such matters at soirees and the such like. But it is these silent heroes who make Trollope’s delightful machine whirr into action like the enormous whirry thing it is.

Have I, once again, missed the point in my Marxist-light reading of Framley Parsonage? I can only hope so. However, I am not blind to it being filled to the top of the churn with freshly-milked literary taste and I unhesitatingly add a sturdy rural plot of (8,1) to the chart.

How's them apples?

Next time, an attempt to quantify numerically my literary taste.

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