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|MP as Political Satire: Charged as a Moor Park
Written by Tarn
(9/21/2010 9:30 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, That apricot tree, penned by Louise H
I think that there might be a direct link between the dilapidations and the apricot tree that Dr. Grant found so unsatisfactory. Mrs. Norris tells us it was only the spring twelvemonth before Mr Norris's death, that we put in the apricot against the stable wall. Whatís the bet that Tomís extravagance and Sir Thomasís resolution to sell the Mansfield living when it fell vacant, occurred about a twelvemonth before Mr Norris died? And that Mrs Norris, realizing that any dilapidations would be paid out of the capital of her annuity, undertook some superficial improvements, to give the parsonage the appearance of a modern gentlemanís residence in good repair, and ensure that Sir Thomas's nursery-man and carpenter were not in want of employment?
From the advertisements in the newspapers, 'Nectarines, Apricots, Green-Gages and Plumbs' are often specified (in that order) as the fruit to be found espadrille against the stone wall of the kitchen garden of a "Desirable Freehold Estate" . Hot houses, streams and shrubberies get mentioned before them, and an orchard of apples and pears appears to rank a little below the stone fruits. Lower still are those residences where parks and gardens are not a selling point:- "Freehold Tenements and Votes for the County"(1)! I get the impression that the English garden (at least, the English Garden of Austenís era) is important as an identifier of social class- more so than chattels or carriage. At least, the sellers are describing the extent of the gardens, rather than the number of bedrooms, which leads me to suspect a new set of French doors leading out to the former, is more valued than doors leading to interior extensions.
Speaking of the French, the grocers' advertisements for preserved apricots tend to announce they have a shipment fresh from France - in spite of the war, or perhaps because of it. As one would expect, these ads are more common during the winter months, but they peter out in the winter of 1807/08 and do not reappear until 1814.The denizens of Edinburgh were able to celebrate Hogmanay 1808 with Apricots in Brandy from Bordeaux (2), but fine Ladies like Mrs Grant would have to have made their own preserves for the next six years, as foreshadowed on the obverse side of the same broadsheet, where the first news of a popular uprising in Lisbon, no reports this fortnight from Sir Sidney Smith, and rumours Sir John Moore is planning to mobilize his troops for Corunna herald the long and bloody war along the Iberian Peninsula. The supply of continental brandy sans apricots does not seem to have been so much restricted, although its consumption does not escape censure. The Ipswich Journal of Saturday 17th August, 1811 writes of the "mercantile inhabitants of a besieged town in Holland [Antwerp] that, for the sake of profit, they furnished the enemy with gunpowder, to effect their own destruction; are we not acting somewhat similar, when, in return for French wine and brandies we send specie to France for the purpose of supporting French armies in Spain and Portugal?" (3).
True More Park Apricots might console the patriotic gourmand, but there is more to Moor Park than apricots. A century earlier, Moor Park was the seat of Sir William Temple, Bart.,a former ambassador for England in the Hague and a close confidant of the Prince of Orange (he had promoted the Prince's marriage to Lady Mary, the future regent of England (not the bloody one, the other one) to great political effect in 1677). In 1707, he 'retired' to Moor Park to attend to his garden. To relieve himself of the day to day care of the various court intrigues and matters of state that followed him into retirement, he hired a young secretary called Jonathon Swift. Swift quickly proved competent to, for example, be dispatched to Kensington to assure the Prince Regent that it was perfectly safe for him to pass a bill allowing for triennial sittings of parliament, (it being an accompanying bill, preventing the monarch from dissolving a parliament in session, that had cost Charles I his crown and his head when he signed similar documents). While the monarch and his advisors cautiously ignored Swifts erudite advice on that occasion, they and many other courtiers and influential men respected Swift's intellect and knowledge, and walked through the gardens of Moor Park with him, discussing matters of state and of horticulture. Moor Park was where Swift started writing as a political hack, for the Whigs and then the Tories; where he met Gay, Pope, Addison, Johnson, Sheridan; where he joined the Scriblerus club. His Moor Park connections gave him the editorship of a newspaper, (the Examiner). Moor Park was also credited with giving Swift a long and eventually fatal malady, first suffered in 1712 and attributed to 'eating a surfeit of fruit' (4).
Of course, we know him best as the writer of Gulliverís Travels - and while the epic voyages to Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa and the land of the Honyhnhnms survive as a childrens story, they were originally written to influence the voting intentions of adults in an era of hung parliaments and war with France. The Lilliputians were the Whig parliaments of Queen Anne and George I, outwardly fair but on closer inspection, corrupt, self-promoting, inescapably petty; their Emperor, George I; Big Endians, Jacobites; Blefuscu, France; High heels, High Church; Gulliverís invasion of Blefuscu, the demolition of the fleet at Dunkirk; the dousing of the fire in the Emperors palace, the treaty of Utrecht (one part of the story that I don't recall read aloud in school). Brobdingnag shows us the idealized Tories, noble giants with nothing to strive for, but blind to their own faults, loyal, tolerant of private but not public opposition to the doctrine of the establishment. Swift vents his personal bile and accuses the Whigs of deliberately prolonging the war with France, using Jacobites as a pretext for the personal commercial gain of certain members of parliament, and to suppress any vindication of slanders from the floor of parliament in the press (Filmnap, Walpole). He then shows how much better the nation was and would be served by a Tory ministry. Similarly, Laputa exposes Natural Philosophers as the tools of stock-jobbers, and the land of the Honyhnhnms shows how much better the talents of the philosophers could be employed.(5)
Could this be why the Bertrams and Mr Rushworth are all rather tall, and the Crawfords smaller? Jacobin sentiments were still being used as an excuse to suppress the press, the corruption of the court and the commodities markets, as ever. More specifically, the Whigs were advocating a peace with Napoleon, and a reform of the electoral system, and religious toleration; the poor health of King George III, the knowledge that the Regency act was ready,and the Prince of Wales sympathetic to their causes, kept the Whigs hopeful of gaining their objects even when the government was Tory. Looking at the historic background of MP, I am inclined to agree with Ellen Moody - the summer of 1808 is a very good fit for the conversations in this chapter, although it would be about the end of the season for real Moor Parks (although this is consistent with Mrs Grant's cook having preserved most of them), because we have a conversation about the Navy and William at the same time, and it is clear that, however remote from the reforms discussed at Mansfield Parsonage, William Price is uppermost in Fanny's thoughts. I should imagine quite a few of Mansfield Park's 1814 readers would recall, possibly with grief or indignation, how in 1808 the former governor of Gibraltar, Hew Dalrymple, had, after his junior officer had defeated the French at Vimero, arranged for the Royal Navy to carry the defeated army home, loot and all, and then, when questions were raised about the Convention of Cintra (as the agreement was called) tried to pin all the blame on Sir Arthur Wellesley, on the basis that he was a politician as well as a soldier. That the politicians in England were calling for peace with Napoleon, and obliging competent officers like Wellesley and Sir John Moore to serve under Generals (and Admirals) euphemistically described as 'cautious', regardless of how many soldiers and sailors lost their lives as a consequence of their blunders and their corruption, would not be forgotten in 1814, as Wellesley enjoyed his victorious peace. William might also have been employed in the transport of troops - from Corunna or to the Scheldt, where the British were attempting to attack the northern borders of the French empire. He might have been in the Mediterranean, assisting the Spanish by deflecting the column of French Troops heading from Perpignan to Barcelona. And wherever he was, I doubt he would be flirting with women like Mary in high society drawing rooms, or loitering around watering places with men like Henry.(6)
In Jane Austen's era there was also a politician in residence at Moor Park - but at Moor Park in Hertfordshire, not Surry. He was also quite wealthy, as the Morning Post informs us, ten days after announcing his fathers death, "The late Mr Williams, of Moor Park, is ascertained to have died in possession of freehold and personal property to the amount considerably above half a million sterling: the whole of which, with the exception of 50,000l. to his second son, and a suitable provision for his widow during her life, is left by will to his eldest son, Member for Dorsetshire, Robert Williams."(7) I have decided not to delay this post until I found out more about him than that, but maybe a charge of insipidity is being levelled at him.(The Moor Park in Surry appears to be owned by Timsons.)(8) The Hertfordshire Moor Park had a naval connection, too. His neighbour was the father of a Lieutenant Sweedland, who 'fell in the arms of victory' while taking Fort Negage.(8) The newspaper reminds us of Lieutenant Sweedland's role in an earlier victory, and among the lieutenants commended for their valour in action is a Mr Crawford who I suspect (but have not yet ascertained) might have become Captain Abraham Crawford in 1830 and (hopefully)written his own account in the second volume of his "Reminiscences on the Late War with France"(9).
One more possible allusion to Swift - about the age of fifty, pointing to an Elm with a withered and leafless crown and prophesying "I shall be like that tree, I shall die at the top"(10). He spent his last years in an asylum. He failed to thrive, but the fruits of his life bear the inimitable flavour of a Moor Park.
For a typical example of an estate advertised with Apricot trees:- The Darby Mercury, Thursday 23rd of May 1811, issue number 4123, Gale Document Number BA3202730222
(2)eg.Advertisement by G. Montgomery and James Weddell&co. Caledonian Mercury Thursday 21th January 1808,Issue number 13427,Gale Document Number BB3205352260.
(4)Thomas Sheridan, Life of the Rev.Dr.Jonathan Swift,(printed in London: 1784)
|Also see Julie W's exellent post on Moor Park|
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