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|Wentworth's journey from Plymouth to Portsmouth (another long one
Written by Rae
(10/16/2008 6:51 p.m.)
"The Laconia had come into Plymouth the week before; no danger of her being sent to sea again. He stood his chance for the rest -- wrote up for leave of absence; but without waiting the return, travelled night and day till he got to Portsmouth, rowed off to the Grappler that instant, and never left the poor fellow for a week. That's what he did, and nobody else could have saved poor James. You may think, Miss Elliot, whether he is dear to us!”
Here is another ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment which actually tells us something very important about Wentworth. In order to be the one who tells Benwick about Fanny’s death, he leaves his own ship without leave. This is no minor thing to do – Captains were not even supposed to sleep on shore, when their ships were in port, without permission. He goes off for a whole week. He travels non stop from Plymouth to Portsmouth. Both are on the south coast of England, and we can trace the route of his journey, which crosses the whole of Devonshire ( Plymouth is right on the border with Cornwall), Dorsetshire, Wiltshire and Hampshire. He would have gone through Exeter, Dorchester, Salisbury and Southampton to get to Portsmouth (just above the Isle of Wight on this map). This would have been a journey of 181 miles, going by these main roads.
So how did he get there? I had always imagined him riding madly on horseback, but JulieW tells me that his would be unlikely as he would have had to rest up at intervals, plus a lone rider with no servants might be regarded with suspicion in some inns. The most likely means of conveyance would have been a post chaise – an enclosed four wheel carriage or ‘chaise’, with hired horses. You can see a picture of a post chaise on the carriages page of the Georgian Index (scroll down).
He could have hired the chaise in Plymouth Dock (see the Fountain Inn mentioned in the Persuasion Gazetter for Plymouth), but would have needed to change horses regularly along the route – every fifteen or so miles, so in most of the towns he passed through, changing ten times or more. Here you can see the Golden Lion in Asburton, Devon, which was one of the inns on the route that supplied post horses and so where he might have changed horses. As Captain Harville says, he must have traveled night and day.
So what is the significance of his action? Benwick and Fanny have done what he and Anne might have done – got engaged and been a year or two waiting for fortune and promotion. Benwick was Wentworth’s first lieutenant, and so Wentworth must have had some hand in Benwick’s achieving both fortune (his prizemoney as lieutenant being great), and also his promotion – his reports on Benwick as lieutenant would have been part of his being made commander earlier that summer. But now, instead of this meaning Benwick and Fanny could marry, the story had ended with her death.
Wentworth, who I am sure had never revealed his own story to anyone, chooses to travel at great inconvenience and some expense to be with him. He is even prepared to risk not being granted leave and so to be technically in breach of his duties as a captain, to be with Benwick and see him through his initial grief. Doesn’t that tell us something of how deeply he still, in 1814, feels about his own broken engagement?
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