Included on the 2016 butcher’s bill was our friend from the literary world, Richard Adams, and thusly I’d like to say a few words here regarding Watership Down as it relates to our present situation:
Of Woodbridge and Hedgely is first and foremost a literary examination of the phenomenon of science denial, superimposing the mechanics of climate change denial onto science subjects from the early eighteen hundreds, which, like the former at present, perhaps were a bit fuzzy or unfamiliar to the largely science illiterate public, and as a function of such, allowed opportunistic detractors to hold an undeserved level of perceived credibility then, as they do now. We in the climate communications and advocacy community like to focus on these detractors because it’s rather simple to do so – there’s little effort in scapegoating the fellow with the horns singing, ’Ba-ha-ha!’ at the top of their lungs; they are indeed a credible goat to scape.
However, as we enjoy demonizing, say Exxon for funding climate denial and doubt, we are, in the end, the voluntary users of its product – all it does is facilitate the transaction. We tend to forget about the collective actions of all human animals, whether they be – figuratively – goats, chicks, burrows, or rabbits, that too create an excessive paw-print upon the planet when such needn’t be so with but the smallest self reflection. Most of us purchase cars, appliances, homes, and other energy and resource consumables with little thought concerning the efficiency of their use, even though it would be financially wise to do so, both personally and regarding the system as a whole: The market is full of ill advised consumers making irrational choices secondary to large advertisement campaigns, as well as cultural cues. We are indeed that gluttonous rabbit warren in Watership Down, that lived in the hutch near their morbid Garden of Eden.
And just like that warren of content over-consumers we too embrace the tacit agreement that from time to time one of us will be randomly knocked on the head and eaten to pay for the sins of the group. Sometimes it’s a climate related storm, flood or famine that presents as the snare; other times it comes in the form of poisoned freshwater, or destroyed property values and maple syrup small businesses as the oil and gasman comes for one’s land; in the long run it will be an insatiably hungry taxman as the cost of running modern society soars in the face of climate disasters and resource depletion.
There’s a section in the novel where the wandering rabbits chance upon a particular society who are all well fed and seemingly content. But the price to pay for that luxury was that every once in a while a member gets snared and eaten by the farmer whose food they gorge on. There is a tacit agreement in place that the luxury of over consumption will be randomly paid by members in catastrophic fashion. No one knows who’s next but they know the probability of it being them is low. This low probability randomness is the key feature to such an agreement.
So our society’s tacit agreement thus far goes something like: OK, you got hit by a flood; glad it wasn’t me; look at all the ways mass consumption makes life better. OK, you got hit by a drought; glad it wasn’t me; look at all the way mass consumption makes life better.
Except, because of the interconnectedness of society (further enhanced by globalization), as the frequencies of these events go up, the cost burden we all have to pay goes up, and such is no longer assigned to the sole random rabbit here and there.
And in closing let us briefly mention Fiver and his role of keeping his companions from getting knocked on the head in the face of environmental destruction. We too have our visionaries in science – those able to create a model, test it, and then make future predictions based upon it – indeed a core tenant of science. Our visionaries too paint a grim environmental picture and it would be wise for our particular warren to follow their instruction. Thankee, Mr. Adams – thankee sir.
Ahoy readers! There is not a moment to lose, and thusly let’s clap on directly to the plum in the pudding here:
One of the themes of the novel – the manifestation of the effects of propaganda on society – has come to mind as of recent, upon observing the several variants of reported news and related divisiveness concerning such, nebulous to the 2016 US presidential election and party primaries. Let us see if we may spot a morsel of prescience in Of Woodbridge and Hedgely by the rousing out of some parallel features concerning these current events and that which was said on the subject during my scribbling of the book.
In the middle of the fifth episode we do indeed find the lower rungs of society suffering from one part of such having been molested by the ill hands of disinformation – this generating an apparently chronic series of intra-class altercations, physical in nature, with the Hedgely’s tribally seeking blood from their brothers, the Woodbridge’s – and the subsequent legal adjudications regarding these, presided over by the elder Mr. Moore – the two towns’ squire and community leader:
The corn harvesting in Woodbridge and Hedgely had come a bit late in the year, and as most farmers in the region were of a mixedhusbandry sort, their post-gathering schedules had been affected, so that there were still a significant number of deciduous laborers hanging about, quite willing to make themselves drunk and sociable when such could be afforded, and who were positively beastly in comparison to their more permanent brethren of the towns. Nevertheless the former’s itinerate qualities, they did possess a fierce loyalty to their employers, especially in the cases of the steadily returning hires, and by default were sympathetic, if not in total agreement, with their master’s religion and politics, that those in Baptist Hedgely’s camp thought rather poorly of Jonathan Moore’s scientific sermons, and on intoxicated occasion had made such known in the presence of their cohorts in the Woodbridge camp.
A few men from each of these respective sets who were unrepentant brawlers had indeed engaged each other over philosophical conflicts similar to those apparently illuminated in The Balanced Scale – the unusual periodical which did of recent plague the Moore’s so, and whose contents had been generously passed down and along by those that could read the material, framing such as a radical attack on Christian orthodoxy and the soul’s path to preservation. Little attention was paid to their initial excursion, as those nebulous to such had presumptively considered it an individual event, but as more material concerning the age of the earth, that of the fossils, and the nature of animal forms and kinds trickled down upon, and circulated around these pawns, such fueled a steady supply of minor violence that was eventually deemed fit for reconcile, and brought to the attention of the area’s lay magistrate: George Moore.
Mr. Moore’s Michaelmas session had already occurred and it was not yet time for the winter Epiphany, but the squire saw fit to address the issue in an unofficial capacity with the tacit understanding by the offenders that such could convert to a Petty Offence were they not to come to an agreeable conclusion with him. He was tolerant of a drunken brawl, provided no chronic harm was done to any participant – and indeed there was but a small a number of those to be had over a credible length of time in their small community – yet this particular situation was starting to escalate into an ongoing feud, placing the towns’ reputations one notch closer to the butcher’s block. Thusly he sat at his desk with the Hedgely lot before him, just as he had done with the Woodbridge’s a few days prior:
‘Please to explain sir – your initial objections with the men of the other party’, he asked of one of the more rational members.
‘Well sir, I believe ‘twas the night o’ the social meet at the inn, which we were mind’n our own, next t’ the lot which was mind’n their own, whenst one o’ our fellas here says t’ one o’ theirs, “Praise be t’ God mate – our day o’ rest!”’, as we all o’ us were fixed t’ make ourselves drunk – sorry, sir. ‘twas then that the man gave us joy, but followed with that he was very sorry t’ tell our fellas that there was no day o’ rest, ‘cause God made the earth not in one day, but in a great many ten-fold-a-thousand years, having it on good authority by his parson that that be true.’
‘I see’, said George Moore, who noted a certain reluctance in the voice of the laborer, who was indeed bashful to insult the ‘good authority’ – he of course being the brother of the justice before him. ‘Go on then sir’, he commanded in as fair a voice as he could intonate, not wishing the man to be the least bit shy on any detail of his case.
‘Yes sir, which I then told the man that we was attentive that that was being told to folk ‘round our village, but it did not signify ‘cause the Bible says otherwise, and there were a right many learned chaps – like the Cuvier fellow their good parson was obliged to – who were just as clever as that ol’ Hutton lad, which knew it t’ be true by their own philosophizin’. Then I cautioned their lot not t’ dig into every bone a learned man had for ‘em, ‘specially if they was – excuse me, sir – pay’n ‘em in supper t’ believe ‘em, for those university gents are returned even better than that by the thought, no matter was it ill or not, just as long as it be plausible t’ their audience – and half of ‘em atheists at any rate’.
The Baptist laborer further explained that the Anglican lot had then accused them of ‘biting into their own ill plausibilities, for ‘twas the recent hand o’ man that penned the Creation date o’ four thousand and four years before the birth o’ the Savior onto the start o’ the Holy Book’, to which the Hedgely’s hastily countered that were God not to have had it so, he would have smote the hand of the amender, which put them in an anxious position regarding their masters’ reverence of traditionalism. This had then grown a bushel of disagreements, including the laborers’ stand that volcanoes were greatly exaggerated things – mere coal seam fires – and surely not evidence of some deep earthen furnace that motivated change from the Lord’s original intentions:
‘“The learned’s lust for boasting a catastrophic strength of a but gently puffing mountain is founded in a latent desire for tragic playwritin’ and self importance”, I says t’ ‘em, directly from the mouth of my master, which such a thing riled ‘em up so, that after an exchange o’ more impolite notions we took t’ the street t’ pink each other’s cheeks a bit more than the grog had done’.
Incidentally the phrase ‘framing such as a radical attack on Christian orthodoxy’, with regard to the work of the propaganda rag, The Balanced Scale, in the novel, brings to mind ‘Fair and Balanced’ Fox News’ War On Christmas theme (and variants of such) that is drummed up at this time of year. Readers should also note that in the last quoted paragraph, there lies a bit of satire regarding modern climate denial propaganda which seeks to belittle those that are concerned with the long term costs of unregulated carbon pollution, often qualifying them as ‘Chicken Little’s with their radical notion of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming who seek popular attention and the money brought with it’, authored by those that consider short term reactions to problems to be more valuable than long term prophylaxis; they having not put much thought into the weight of this particular problem or suffer that it will not affect them personally to any significant degree. However we will stray directly back to the goose we are chasing:
Firstly we will note that were we to place these fictional characters on our own history’s timeline, little has changed in the last two hundred years with regard to stoking the fire of tribalism in the lower classes for the purposes of political leverage; and the general effect of such is too preserved. There was plenty of bruising to be had this year engendered by the enthusiasms shared by the Hilary’s and the Trump’s, secondary to the primarily negative messaging that was volleyed at and around each camp, naturally so concerning strategy, considering these were two of the most disliked politicians in recent history (or perhaps not so recent). Some of this occurred at rallies, some of it presented but randomly in the regular goings-on of the American day-to-day, and we had one anomalous case exemplifying how embellished and nuanced an ill sentiment can grow, where an armed man showed up at a local District of Columbia pizza shop with the intention of getting at the plum of a pedophile ring that Hillary was supposedly administrating there; this story fabricated not by the masters of mankind, but by the pawns themselves, thusly exemplifying the archetypal notion that there is little which cannot be presented as plausible to the ignorant, by the skillful sophistrist and storyteller, especially in the presence of a particular grudge.
Indeed in the last chapter of Of Woodbridge and Hedgely we have men than have become so attached to the propaganda they were initially fed (not unlike the Drain the Swamp/Brick & Mortar Mexican Wall proponents or their Russia Cost Hillary the Election counterparts), that they continue to both embrace and self generate ridiculous bits of fiction, in an effort to continue to preserve their flawed belief systems, even after adequate information has become available that definitively unmakes such. Here is one explaining how all the town’s farmland is to be converted to greenhouses so that their political rival, Mr. Winter, can indirectly benefit from the money generated from the taxing of glazed windows – a feature of the tax policy at that particular time in England:
‘Sir, you know it to be true: In ten year’s time, there will be glasshouses all up and down the fields and the Moore’s and Winter’s will have lined their coffers with tax money from Cheltenham to Cirencester!’, cried one of the old fellows, uncommonly proud of his distrust of the said parties and the tax collector. And though the lass was a bit less trusting of this man – the counterarguments against him having always been more well thought out than his repetitive snippets of debate – she nodded her head affirmatively at the idea of glasshouses as far as the eye could see.
And one should observe as the conversation continues, the man continuously has to invent new flawed rationals to support the old ones, creating an exponential rise in ridiculousness upon every new level of support for such:
‘Oh Lord, here we are again; and again I will ask of you: Who would pay for such a thing?; ‘cause ain’t none of it cheap!’, returned another from the more sensible camp across the table.
‘Oh the parties in question will pay, for the taxes are just that compelling! Look at ‘em trying to bleed the ground out of a few more bushels of wheat! That’s a rich man’s greed for ya! And not only that, but there will be one in every cottage’s back yard that their tenants may garden all year ‘round; which’ll put all our right farmers out of work!’, the man insisted in as gushing a voice as could be exhibited without him being asked to move along by Mrs. Bagley or one of her men employed at the inn. His proposal was, by any reasonable man’s part, entirely fictional – indeed it conflicted within itself in that the first part required farmers, whilst the second destroyed them – yet it afforded him an ill temper as were it not, but something credibly to be worried upon; and such then did cause his opponent too to become more animated:
‘Unreasonable, sir! Our farmers provide for all the county and more, and one backyard glasshouse per cottage here could scarcely keep enough corn to make half of a loaf of bread a year for its tenant and their family, much the less that for all of Cheltenham or Gloucester!’
‘Oh?; and are you so naïve that you suppose they would stop building once the limits of our towns were achieved?’, the fellow queried, as if all there was to the art of argument was to continue to rabidly answer with ever more cynical and conspiratorial sentiments. Indeed perceived truth and cynicism had so passionately embraced within him that he gloated in having brought – by his own consideration – such cleverness to their table.
Secondly, of course there are several distinctions between the propaganda of current events and that occurring in the novel, namely the latter is concerned with misinformation designed to confound acceptance of scientific truths/facts, authored by men in fear of what they perceived as an existential threat facilitated by these (paralleling the current attack on climate science by the fossil industry), whilst the former has more to do with two rival sides manufacturing untruths for political gain (sometimes targeting each other, sometimes targeting middle class wealth and livelihood on behalf of the establishment), exacerbated by disinformation agents whose living depends on creating outrageous headlines and content to opportunistically prey upon those inflicted with emotionally driven partisanism. On another incidental note, regarding these arbiters of so called ‘fake news’ (as were the ‘real news’ that much cleaner), the presence of child or teen related rape propaganda directed at and redistributed by both factions does indeed work as a proxy measure for the present level of smoldering anger in the country.
And in closing (apologies on the abbreviated posting) we must always keep to mind that there is a lighthouse in this tempered sea of low quality information – the scientific method. I will let Sir Humphry Davy close this day’s missive with the selfsame words he did in the novel concerning the effect of enlightenment in the pursuit of rigorous science:
There are sufficient motives connected with both pleasure and profit, to encourage ingenius men to pursue this new path of investigation. Science cannot long be despised by any persons as the mere speculation of theorists; but must soon be considered by all ranks of men in its true point of view, as the refinement of common sense, guided by experience, gradually substituting sound and rational principles, for vague popular prejudices…
Ahoy readers! A minor window has at present come to open – merely enough that I may fold and slip this missive through it by the use of two hands on a body that indeed requires at best a doubling of such; for I am constantly awash in multiple disciplines, each owning seemingly infinite demands. Let us not joke about then, and tackle directly question four of the literary questions existing in the back of Of Woodbridge and Hedgly, after the story has concluded. This will be my second shot at the questions; the first – my examination of the seventh question – can be found here.
4. Throughout the novel, the antagonists – a faction of Hedgely Particular Baptists and their agrarian laborers – have latched onto geological hypotheses and theories that were in the process of falling out of favor at the time (ex. Werner’s Neptunism). Why did these men hold so fervently to these ideas? Did each individual and socioeconomic class have its own reasons for this?
In addressing question four, we shall sail to the head of chapter four in the novel, which serves as an introduction to the antagonists’ propagandistic designs – those that confound Mr. Winter and Parson Moore throughout the story. It is here that they – the antagonists, Preacher Edwards, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Wyatt – start to enthusiastically clap hold of obsolete geological theories, that, were these men not in the throes of rivalry, would have been found to be of little good by any of them. Their tutor, and fellow they’ve hired to incorporate these weary ideas into counterarguments against our protagonists, goes by the name Princep – a man with credible talent for understanding natural philosophy but who possesses none of such regarding personal contributions to the discipline:
Mr. Princep was something of a fading grey dandy, haggard but well shaved, and missing a hand’s area of hair his junior self did once possess atop his forehead. More importantly to his company though, was that he was a natural philosopher and Fellow of the Royal Society of London – the title everything to their wants – and it was neither here nor there that he was a most unproductive member, having contributed no articles to the Philosophical Transactions along his tenure.
Mr. Princep represents those which are known in our modern era as ‘fake experts’: Men that antagonize a right scientific theory with sophistry and who hold no viable alternative against it, but who gain a large misguided following for being highly advertised in the media, which is complicit in the manifestation of this antiscience propaganda. An example of such is Professor Richard Lindzen who teaches atmospheric sciences at MIT. His Lindzen and Choi ‘series’ (in quotations as he has rewritten this selfsame paper multiple times, trying to sneak it past peer review, which does never occur) entitled On the Observational Determination of Climate Sensitivity and Its Implications seeks to argue climate sensitivity (the steady state temperature the air close to the surface of the Earth will own upon a doubling of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere) is much lower than what the rest of his colleagues propose. In the version I’ve linked above, the professor admits (after colleagues point such out during peer review) in the Feedback Formalism section of the paper that previous versions of the paper contained a novice error in the basic construction of his feedback algorithm. Further the paper is riddled with unbacked assumptions which are explained by Skeptical Science here. Lindzen is the most unsuccessful climate scientist of the modern era, and my character Mr. Pricep is in this respect modeled on him; he too having failed to publish anything substantial in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions, the prestigious journal cataloguing the scientific discoveries of the day. And just as science denialists prop up Lindzen by way of his position as a MIT professor, our antagonists wish to prop up Mr. Princep by way of his position as a member of the Royal Society – an ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy.
Let us hear what Mr. Princep has to say in our chapter of interest:
‘It is natural that he would be a champion of Hutton, having cut his teeth in Edinburgh’, said Mr. Princep to his dinner companions, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Wyatt. ‘But it is poor form not to allow Cuvier and Werner their proper places, foreign as they are, and may I also note that Comte de Buffon retracted his findings regarding the age of the earth?’
Here we will break to note that Comte de Buffon only retracted his written ideas on an ‘aged earth’ – an earth he calculated to be 75,000 year old – because of pressure put on him by the powerful religious component that occupied Sorbonne (the former University of Paris), and not from some scientific revelation. But our propagandist has communicated such to his audience in a manner that makes it seem as though the latter could indeed be the true reason, and that their rival, who continues to use the retracted number, is in the wrong. Mr. Princep is using the selfsame propaganda technique Fox News, or any of the climate denial blogs use: They give the audience the rest of the story in a simple, quick, and elegant package, piquing their arrogance that they know something the others – the simpletons – do not; agitating them in the process, that they may become active in the political process against the ‘charlatans’.
Mr. Princep continues to reel the men in with more on the Comte and age of the earth:
‘But the spots in the pudding have to do with this three million year number, supposedly entered into Buffon’s manuscript, based on his sediment observations; not because that too was self removed, as it did not appear in the published addition of Les époques de la nature, but because it varies so much from his first number, such that it is the like to an admission that he knows not a true figure. Which is it? Seventy five thousand or three million years? If we subtract the latter by the former we have two million nine hundred and twenty five thousand years. And if we subtract the former by the age of the earth then we have sixty nine thousand one hundred and seventy six. There is a greater discrepancy between the man’s two numbers than there is between his formerly published number and the true age of the earth! Would I had a quill and paper I could show you that the fractional difference between the division of his lesser and greater numbers and the true age and the greater number is quite insignificant. He could just as well claim the earth to be but fifty years old and there would be little difference in such and what he has thus put forth.’
Here Princep offers some mathematical non sequiturs. He tries to dismiss the growing evidence that the earth is older than what the Biblical generations infer by illuminating the large discrepancies in the earliest calculations on the subject. As I was authoring this section of the novel, I was recollecting a particular mathematical non sequitur that was making the rounds in the low information climate denial community four or five years ago, which presented as the following: ‘The difference in atmospheric concentration of CO2 concerning today’s readings and those of the preindustrial era only amounts to a 0.013% change.’ This number was billed as the ‘real’ number to ‘debunk’ the actual rise in concentration from 270 to 400 ppm (which works out to be 400-270/270 = 48%). What the propagandists had done then was simply subtract the original atmospheric percentage from the present one: 400/1,000,000 – 270/1,000,000 x 100 = 0.013% (with respect to atmospheric diluent), or in other words, the CO2 concentration was 0.027% and now it is 0.040% (and this was supposed to ‘feel’ like a small, insignificant change to those without the capacity to question the effects of such).
After Princep riles the antagonists up into a righteous fever, he offers this:
‘You’ve told me of your parson’s account of Hutton, and now I will tell you of two equally compelling philosophical explanations of the origin of our world that vary considerably from The Theory of the Earth; one by each of these men:
‘First I must say that Steno’s superposition does govern all these men’s work – Smith, Cuvier,…; in this there is no divergence with the parson’s offerings. Indeed, it can be rightly supposed that all these respective philosophers agree that stratification requires some measure of time to be accomplished. But let us examine Werner who offers that all rock was indeed precipitated or deposited from a receding ocean, originally stocked with all the necessary elements that our strata presently contain. On Werner’s earth, we start with an irregular solid body surrounded completely with a primitive ocean that is heavily saturated with these elements or minerals, who over time fall out in series based upon their particular qualities: the primitive series precipitates first, still underwater, which contains our primeval rock – granite, granite gneiss and the like; a transition series then follows, universally depositing our most indurated limestone and seemingly intrusive interstices, by Hutton’s eye at least; after such comes our stratified series with our fossils, and then our sands, gravels, and clays which were deposited on land as the ocean permanently retreated; and lastly local lava flows. I should add that these lava flows are not the product of some unproven, universal underground heat source, invented by a sprightly imagination to confound the sweeping of Hutton’s erroneous assumptions out the door. Instead they are the consequence of local coal bed burning, which any man who’s warmed his hands by the material can readily understand: I fancy the least burdensome explanation is quite often the most true, that I stand by such dogma fearlessly!’
‘Hear him!’ Mr. Wyatt generously applied to the room. ‘Mr. Princep, a glass!’ he added emptying the decanter into each of the men’s glasses, they all suffering a boiling excitation arising from the discourse. It wasn’t that the two staunch Baptists were suddenly great enthusiasts of Werner’s hypothesis, but that there existed such articulate opposition to what indeed was flowing out of the Woodbridge parish every other week. ‘To ease in explanation’ was jollily toasted at such a barking fortissimo, that the serving maid presented some moment later, unprovoked, with a new decanter.
After glasses were replenished, Mr. Edwards and Wyatt then reinvented conversations first had a few decades before, concerning the similarity of Werner’s all encompassing ocean and the Noahic Flood, each convincing the other that the hypothesis was evidence for the event and visa versa. Mr. Princep then added a secondary piece of evidence by regaling the men of Cuvier’s interpretations of what he had found in the geologic column around Paris – a series of strata with alternating sea and freshwater fossils consistently ordered in the rock: such he found was the residuum of multiple singular and catastrophic events, each being followed by periods of stability in which a new succession of flora and fauna would repopulate the land. The last of these catastrophic events, the naturalist explained, was what Cuvier believed to be the founding of Genesis, for the abrupt nature in which each series of fossil did appear over stratigraphic time, gave him cause to find no fault with biblical creation.
It should be noted here that Cuvier did not accept evolution (which is why he is plopped upon Princep’s dinner table), and at one point argued against his colleagues with respect to such by offering that they were relying too heavily on deep time to satisfy their desire for the success of the concept. This has been wrongly inferred to mean that Cuvier was a proponent of the young earth hypothesis (derived from Archbishop Usher). Indeed the father of modern geology, Charles Lyell, actively promoted this untruth, which one may read about here: Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century (page 174).
But the plum in the pudding regarding Princep’s lecture is that the antagonists joyfully devour these ideas as they are presented, for they find merit in the function of their existence on a few counts: Firstly, that they are in eloquent opposition to their rival’s position, and secondly, they can be sold in a facile fashion to not only their Hedgely flock, but to the Woodbridge community as well, as seemingly valid counterarguments against Mr. Moore’s scientific lectures, causing individuals to confusedly question the merit of the material from the parson. That these outdated hypotheses are true or not is neither here nor there for their – the antagonists – part: When immortal souls are at stake, or other issues of great importance, necessity compels the use of any devilish means. This is the tragedy of holding fast to any rigid ideology, whether it be the religious conviction that Archbishop Usher was correct in his methodology and calculation of the age of the earth, or the religious conviction that greenhouse gas concentrations don’t affect the energy budget of the planet – at some point one will have to ally themselves with not merely untruths, but widely known and settled untruths, and look like a flat for doing so.
I’ll be back later to talk of each antagonist’s motivations for conspiring against the Enlightenment, whether these be rigid ideologies, indifference to change, or perhaps a bit of romantic and business related rivalry for the part of one man.
International (automatically redirects to correct Amazon for your country)
When my thoughts have recently blown drearily onto the act of book promotion, they’ve swirled and coalesced about the dates of November 27th (Black Friday), through Cyber Monday, to December 1st, for the obvious reason, having to do with capitalizing on the large volume of online traffic during such period. Yet when I went to set the promotion on KDP Select, I noticed that I had not expended my ‘free promo’ days for this particular fiscal quarter, ending on November 6th, if memory at all serves presently. And thusly, I arbitrarily chalked in an October 29th through November 2nd schedule to burn off the days, and have thrown a few advertising dollars out to some of the higher Alexa ranking sites that don’t charge arms, legs, nor otherwise the like.
This go ’round, I’ve changed my advert copy to something less literary or intellectual in impression, but instead, in an almost contradistinguishing fashion, to a more humanistic and popular entertainment quality. In such, I’ve slightly reinvented my protagonist from a thoughtful man of applied scientific accomplishment, who tangentially is thrown upon the belches and quakes of love, to a lady’s man, devoted to winning a woman by means of extraordinary accomplishment, which of course is only enacted as a function of amorous pursuit. I’m not the most quick minded in the realm of base social interaction, but I believe that is what popular mythology – aka, products generated from the entertainment industry to attract young consumers – promulgates in order for such to maximize profit: Some quintessential version of old world Chivalry, that can be summarized by the Bryan Adam’s song, ‘Everything I Do, I Do it for You’, constructed for the film, Robin Hood; certainly not the realized version of such, where if one defeats a woman’s husband in some battle sport, they are thus, um, privy to his armor, &c., and her – his wife.
At any rate, let us examine the ways in which I’ve perjured myself in the quest for a continuance of lunch money, of which this novel does provide, by means of Amazon Kindle sales. Here is the newly minted synopsis donned on the Amazon page:
In 1820, in the binary country towns of Woodbridge and Hedgely, Gloucestershire, England, Thomas Winter, bachelor of independent means, had a problem. He was in love with a young woman from a prominent family in the area, thoroughly attached to her countryside, but he having always kept a rather itinerant life, working as an engineer about the country, had to prove to her kin that he could be a reliable and productive member of their society before a marriage proposal would be deemed proper. The industrious Mr. Winter therefore endeavored to increase the agricultural yields of the land surrounding these towns by applying the latest science and engineering of the day, yet to his surprise, he soon discovered a large faction of his neighbors, comprised of several of the towns’ farmers, didn’t believe in science! He found himself the target of a propaganda war, alongside his ally, parson Jonathan Moore, who had begun a lecture series focused on natural history, their antagonists motivated by religious ideology and, for the part of a handsome but dull landowner, romantic adversity. This is the story of how manufactured science denial can tear apart two neighborly towns, pitting brother against brother, and how just, right and scientific men do prevail over such.
As I said, a more human element is the focus of this summary; no inorganic chemistry, dimensional analysis, olden geological or evolutionary theories, hints of political satire, or anything else the like: science denial is not the literary nucleus, but rather just a nebulous barrier that gets between a man and the woman he is pursuing. But let us take this in parts, that the true story may be discovered:
In 1820, in the binary country towns of Woodbridge and Hedgely, Gloucestershire, England, Thomas Winter, bachelor of independent means, had a problem. He was in love with a young woman from a prominent family in the area, thoroughly attached to her countryside, but he having always kept a rather itinerant life, working as an engineer about the country, had to prove to her kin that he could be a reliable and productive member of their society before a marriage proposal would be deemed proper.
Sure, it’s true Mr. Winter is in love with a particular young lady whose identity is not revealed until the middle chapters, and it’s further correct that in his mind, he is obliged to accomplish his wholly self-defined endeavorments before he believes this woman’s family will heartily accept him showing up unannounced at their front door, in order to convince her father that their attachment is beyond any simple, worldly explosion. But more than likely, even if Mr. Winter had failed in his scientific pursuits, he would still have been accepted by this woman and her family, by function of his income and inheritable assets alone, and perhaps further, on the notion that he intended to quit the industrial scene and set up shop in Hedgely for as long as his father – an industrial master of mankind – was alive.
Mr. Winter therefore endeavored to increase the agricultural yields of the land surrounding these towns by applying the latest science and engineering of the day, yet to his surprise, he soon discovered a large faction of his neighbors, comprised of several of the towns’ farmers, didn’t believe in science!
Here again is the implication that everything Mr. Winter does, he does it for her, yet again I will emphasize he is not so one dimensional: He tosses and turns on whether or not he should even pursue her, and once a rival presents to their society, he puts it in mind to give her up altogether, and concentrate on his work at hand. Were it not that his love secretly reciprocated his sentiments, and was able to travel outside the bounds of social construct and admit as much, his cowardice would have paid him but tragedy in the end.
With regard to the man being surprised at the farmers’ indifference toward his prerogative to apply scientific knowledge for the purpose of augmenting crops yields, there are a few points to make: Firstly, Mr. Winter is an impartial observer of everything around him; he takes in information without assigning any rash prejudices or acute tempers to such, and later quietly contemplates the mechanics involved in their presentation. In other words, he’s rarely surprised by any event, proximally or not. Unfortunately, in the writing of advert copy, dramatic emotional swings hold greater weight than thoughtful stoicism: The average entertainment consumer is attracted to over-the-top action, with the category ‘action and adventure’ polling high in what novel readers are interested in.
Secondly, as we’re dealing with a credible amount of realism here – where character motivations aren’t derived from some inherent ‘good’ or ‘evil’ standing, arbitrarily defined for the sake of instilling the plot with necessary conflict, but conversely, come organically, through the convergence of a suite of situational forcings – it’s unnecessary for Mr. Winter to be even the least surprised at anything the farmers offer (they are, after all, acting rationally, given their particular positions); much less exude the melodrama implied in the synopsis. In fact, he – again, the astute observer – knows perfectly what they’re about:
Here is a relatively young upstart with no agricultural experience, no practice under his belt, trying to convince old veterans of the field that he can make their businesses more profitable – a profit none of them are particularly missing, nor have any desire in achieving, so late in life and uninterested in innovation they are: When one becomes old and accomplished, it is a credible level of constancy that is held in high regard, not sweeping change that may knock certain unlucky fellows off their feet. Indeed, it is illuminated in the later chapters, that they realize any increase in profit only stimulates their local master of mankind – the squire and extensive landowner, whom several of their mates rent their farms from – to increase their let, leaving them with the obligation of increased productivity year after year and no net benefit from their original enthusiasm.
Further these men have been indoctrinated by a staunch religious component intricately woven inside their culture which 1) has a certain penchant for orthodoxy and tradition; and 2) offers a world view that is uncommonly comforting in its simplicity, so much so that anything which is perceived as disruptive to such must either be ignored or dissolved with a confident might; its wielder never questioning the morality of such, so convinced they are of their righteousness. This too lends a given level of resistance by the farmers against anyone who is, or is perceived to be representing The Enlightenment, which of course holds rationalism and empiricism in higher regard than the set of bronze age fables that comprise the Bible; surely the gravest of sins. They are also not unique among the indoctrinated in that they are apt to find a rational for whatever they are pleased to do by way of a particular passage or principle in the Bible: They have no desire to increase yields – certainly not by instruction from an outsider – and therefore are not gluttons, coveting their neighbor’s profit or the like.
He found himself the target of a propaganda war, alongside his ally, parson Jonathan Moore, who had begun a lecture series focused on natural history, their antagonists motivated by religious ideology and, for the part of a handsome but dull landowner, romantic adversity. This is the story of how manufactured science denial can tear apart two neighborly towns, pitting brother against brother, and how just, right and scientific men do prevail over such.
Here I have little to add other than some of the antagonists and propagandists do become somewhat reformed in the end, so it is not as though the scientific men have crushed their enemies, but rather the antagonism is culled for the sake of the towns’ fellowship. One point I do make in the novel in the ending chapters is that even though there is a cessation of the propaganda at that point, the effects of such still linger in the communities. I’ve designed this, like many passages in the novel, as a comment on climate change denial propaganda: Exxon no longer funds the radical right-wing think tanks that in turn distribute money to science denial bloggers and media regulars, but we still have half of the inhabitants of states like West Virgina unwilling to accept the basic scientific findings related to climate change.
Welp, wish me luck on the promotion folks. Last time around I was able to achieve the top ten list for Historical Literary Fiction and Romance Literary Fiction without spending one penny on advertising. This time I’ve designed to try a very modest advertisement budget. Results from last April:
Here I am posting something a bit variant than what has become the spirit of this blog – to showcase the historical research behind, and literary merit of Of Woodbridge and Hedgely. It is indeed a quick, late-night review I posted on Goodreads yesterday, of something I read on Kindle this summer – The Privateersman, by Andrew Wareham. Certainly I would not bother readers with my poor thoughts on a murder-mystery novel; certainly I would not read one in the first place, nor have anything to say about it in the second. However The Privateersman proved to be something after my own heart: A credible survey of the history of the Industrial Revolution – or at least a sliver of such pertaining to the goings-on of the protagonist, as he makes his way to the top of the food chain in America and England, bustling with the details of mid to late 18th century business, and the social constructs revolving around such. Here we are folks:
Having achieved an extensive campaign with Patrick O’Brien’s twenty one book, Aubrey/Maturin canon, rereading several in the set over the years in lieu of starting anything else, so as I may not suffer that which, in comparison to this literary master, can only be described – as politely as possible, of course – as the dilute offerings of other men, I decided to jump ship and attempt another nautical themed book – this The Privateersman. Here I will incidentally note that though my pen name is Thomas Smyth, in the flesh I am Andrew Thomas, whilst the novel’s protagonist is Thomas Andrews. Perhaps something of a connection was stirred, if but through this coincidence alone; I am nothing the like to Wareham’s character.
It turns out this is not another nautical themed book. There is some swift naval action in the opening chapters, and the author is certainly well researched – much more so than the average wordsmith; however, as O’Brien could fill an entire chapter with an extensive action between two frigates, Mr. Wareham’s approach is as I’ve stated – swift; and not just with naval action: The novel’s prerogative is apparently to accomplish Mr. Andrew’s growth from boy to man. He starts off a lad of sixteen in chapter one, and by the last he is, I believe, in his mid-thirties and has experienced five major settings, existing in both America and England. The book is certainly fast paced; though I must say, not in a detrimental way: Mr. Wareham has the chops to pull it off, which I attribute, again, to his extensive historical knowledge of the period. My finest compliments to him.
Indeed, I was quite partial to the middle chapters of the book which dealt with Mr. Andrews negotiating the Industrial Revolution: coal, cotton, iron manufacturing, the volatility of booms and busts, &c., and the social history nebulous to such. Wareham has us shaking our heads at laissez-faire scenes, like that of whole families – men, women an children – being lowered a hundred feet into a coal mine, by way of a bucket tied to a rope, owning a diameter not much more than that of a human thumb; the place presumably being pumped somewhat dry by a Watt’s steam engine. The notion that such rope occasionally broke with the expected result, though this method of transport was far cheaper than the construction of a set of ladders down a separate shaft for the safety of the desperate folks expected to do the work, and thus was the one that prevailed, was not lost on I, nor probably any other modern reader that has benefited from the previous endeavorings of historical workers’ rights organizations.
At any rate, having spent many a night, week, and year excavating historical details concerning the state of agricultural science, glass and iron manufacturing, boiler and pipe heating of buildings, coal gasification, the mechanics of tithes, natural history, natural philosophy, social customs, &c., that I too would have something credible for my own historical novel, Of Woodbridge and Hedgely, set in 1820, I felt a bit of a kinship with Mr. Wareham, during my reading of his work, though we are decades apart in our respective periods of interest, regarding our two novels. I say read his novel for the comprehensive historical survey he has assembled through the eyes of Mr. Andrews, as he hops about the world of the 18th century. Sure, another reviewer could prattle on about the characters, the examination of race relations during this moment in time, how staunch religious views impacted both business and family relations, and so on, and be perfectly in the right in focusing on these, but I believe I will leave it for another reviewer to indeed accomplish such, and make this my closing thought: 4.5 stars – huzzah, huzzah!
In my last post, I partly published Sir John Sinclair’s missives on liming farmland in his General Report of the Agricultural State, Volume II. from 1814. The man had divided his instructions into four parts and my design is to keep this format intact for both the readers of Of Woodbridge and Hedgely, who would enjoy further information on the agrarian chemistry mentioned in the novel, and also for those with a historical curiosity on the state of farming in the early 19th century. Let’s get started:
3. How Land is Managed After Lime is Applied
Many farmers have found, to their cost, that land which has received a complete liming should be rested from cropping or laid down for pasture as early as can be accomplished. But this being often inconvenient, a gentle and easy mode of cropping is generally adopted, such as may be sufficient to counteract the effects that lime would otherwise produce. Alternate white and green crops are peculiarly calculated for obtaining so desirable an end, and if these are properly cultivated the soil will not soon be exhausted.
4. What Are the Effects of Lime?
In bringing in newer maiden soils the use of lime is found to be so essential that little good could be done without it. Its first application in particular gives a degree of permanent fertility to the soil which can be imparted by no other manure. Its effects indeed are hardly to be credited, but the correctness of the following facts cannot be disputed. Maiden soils in Lammermuir of a tolerable quality will, with the force of sheep’s dung or other animal manures, produce a middling crop of oats or rye, but the richest animal dung does not enable them to bring any other grain to maturity. Peas, barley, or wheat will at first assume the most promising appearance, but when the peas are in bloom and the other grains are putting forth the ear, they proceed no farther and dwindle away in fruitless abortion. The same soils after getting even a slight dressing of lime will produce every species of grain, and in good seasons, bring them to maturity, always supposing the ground to be under proper culture, and the climate adapted to the crop. Lime is also peculiarly beneficial in improving moorish soils by making them produce good herbage, where nothing but heath and unpalatable grasses grew formerly.
This is Part Two of a series I originally entitled ‘Excerpts on Mineral Manuring, Before the Advent of Commercial Fertilizer,’ and in such, I will be covering the application of lime shells (sea shells found in calcareous strata) to farmland for the purposes of regulating an acidic soil’s pH, improvement of its general texture (especially if it is a light, sandy soil) and thusly its ability to retain nutrients from plant and animal manures later applied, and perhaps adding calcium supplementation. The full post will be in four parts, according to my reference’s author, Sir John Sinclair, who has divided it so in his General Report of the Agricultural State, Volume II. from 1814. Such was profitable when devising my character, Mr. Winter’s suggested improvements to the land around Woodbridge and Hedgely; though if I recall correctly, I (rather, he) cut down the prescribed doses in a few situations to accommodate the large volumes of marl that too would eventually see the fields. But before we get to my reproduction of his instructions on liming, I will add a few vocabulary terms:
Calcination (as it applies to limestone and lime shells) – this is the process of heating the substance to a high enough temperature, that an endothermic reaction occurs, in which the calcium carbonate degases carbon dioxide, leaving behind the more reactive calcium oxide (quicklime).
CaCO3 + heat —> CaO + CO2
Slacking (or slaking) – this is the process of adding water to quicklime, causing it to degrade to a powdery slurry of particulates (for the purpose of integrating such into the soil). The result is also called ‘limewater’.
CaO + H2O —> Ca(OH)2
Limestone, after undergoing the process of calcination, has long been applied, by Scotch husbandmen, as a manure of stimulus to the soil; and, in consequence of such, an application luxuriant crops have been produced, even upon soils apparently of inferior quality, and which would have yielded crops of only trifling value had this auxiliary been withheld. In fact the majority of soils, unless naturally possessed of calcareous matter, cannot be cultivated with advantage till they are dressed with lime, and hence it is justly considered to be the basis of good husbandry.
In treating of lime, it is proper to explain, 1. How it is prepared for use, 2. How it is applied to the soil, 3. How the land is managed after the lime is applied, 4. What are its effects upon the soil, and 5. What are the rules for its application.
I. How Lime is Prepared for Use
The preparation of lime for laying on the soil consists in the operations of 1. Calcining or burning, and 2. Of slacking it:
The burning of limestone is conducted generally by the proprietors of land whose estates contain limestone rock, or by persons who rent lime quarries from them. They erect kilns, either standing or drawing ones, according to the expected demand, and sell it in shells or calcined limestone at certain rates per measure, varying according to circumstances.
The operation of slacking is extremely simple: It is only throwing water upon the shells until they crack and swell, and finally dissolve into a fine powder. But instead of watering it in great heaps, the practice which at present most commonly prevails is to lay it down in the state of shells upon land under summer fallow, in portions of one firlot, barley measure (1 bushel and 1/2) upon a fall of ground, or thirty six square yards. These heaps will be six yards asunder from centre to centre, upon an eighteen feet ridge and the quantity applied will, under these circumstances, be forty bolls (240 Winchester bushels) per Scotch acre. But if sixty bolls, or 360 bushels per acre, are required, the heaps of the above size must occupy only twenty four square yards, and be at the distance of four yards four inches from each other, and so on, when other quantities of lime are applied. Some farmers however prefer laying up slaked lime in heaps of a size to serve two or three English acres each, instead of those of smaller dimensions, though in this way an additional expense is incurred.
When lime can with any tolerable degree of convenience be watered, that operation ought never to be neglected. When watered soon the whole shells easily dissolve and leave not a particle unpowdered if properly burnt, which is a great acquisition. But when the shells are not completely reduced before they are ploughed in, they afterwards turn into clotted half reduced lumps which lie in the soil for years, and till broken or dissolved by water, are of no use whatever.
In place of watering, which is often inconvenient, sometimes impracticable, the heaps are covered with earth thrown up around the circumference of the base of each heap, in which way the shells are gradually brought into a powdered state. This is an excellent device; and in spreading out the lime thus slightly compounded, it is in a state fit to be divided with the utmost regularity. After spreading lime on fallow, it is of great advantage to harrow the fallow and wait till it gets a shower before ploughing. In this way the first shower becomes a shower of lime water which unites with a large proportion of the soil.
Mr Mitchell, late surgeon in Ayr, strongly recommends a new mode of slacking lime by means of sea water converted into brine. He calculates that 3000 gallons of sea water boiled down to about 600 gallons will slack 64 bushels of lime shells – a quantity sufficient to manure two acres, the expense of which he estimates at only 30s. per acre. Slacking lime with urine, he also considers as an excellent practice.
II. How to Apply Lime
So great is the variety of soils, and other circumstances, that no general rule can be devised for fixing the quantity of pure lime that is required for an acre of land. Thirty two barley bolls, or 192 Winchester bushels of shells per Scotch, or 153 bushels per English acre have been applied with success to light, soft land: a beautiful verdure has been the consequence, and this verdure always indicates a certain degree of melioration, which will appear in future crops. From wanting even this small powdering, some parts of the same field left unlimed had, in comparison, the appearance of barren land. But from forty to sixty bolls, barley measure, (i.e. from 240 to 360 bushels), are generally esteemed proper for different degrees of clay. Indeed from sixty to one hundred bolls have been applied successfully, for both corn and grass, on strong land. The application is generally made when land is under the process of summer fallow, though it is not unusual to apply lime to grass land when the surface is tolerably level.
On the whole it seems agreed, that from 50 to 80 bolls of lime shells per Scotch acre (i.e. from 300 to 480 bushels per Scotch, or from 240 to 384 bushels per English acre), are quite sufficient for the greater part of the most fertile districts in Scotland, and that light soils, which require less in the first instance, are greatly benefited by a frequent repetition.
Lime operates powerfully with earth, particularly when mixed with half rotted vegetable substances requiring farther decomposition. It makes an excellent compost also, with the scourings of ditches, sea ooze, or mud and moss, or wherever there is inert vegetable matter. But it should be rendered mild to answer these purposes without waste, and the rubbish of old walls or old plaster is accordingly preferable.‡
‡ Note: The chemist, Sir Humphry Davy, recommended lime not be applied to nutriment that was already decomposed, as it would render it less active with regard to plant adsorption, but instead would recommend caustic lime (quicklime) for use with inert organic matter (old roots, branches, &c. yet to have broken down) to encourage it into a state of putrefaction.
Of Woodbridge and Hedgely takes place in the Regency years of 1820 and 21, firmly planted in the midst of the Romantic Era, which was defined by a constellation of movements inside literature, music, art, natural philosophy, &c., where particular attention was placed on the depth and quickness of man’s emotion, and his interaction with, and the examination of the beauty of nature. Indeed it was a reactionary phenomenon against the consuming nature of the Industrial Revolution and its resultant rise in human population, no longer at its Medieval steady state: Appreciation of the natural world spiked in the face of this industrial monster, whose prerogative was to chew it all up and spit it out broken, and do so year by year in an exponential fashion, creating the conceivability of a future where such, decimated, would no longer exist as it did in the early 19th century. Alas the magnitude of one’s appreciation of an object is partially a function of their contemplation of its failing longevity, be it man, flora, fauna, or otherwise.
Given this connection between man, nature and romance during this period, a historical author setting their story in such would not do wrong in attempting description of the natural world, weather, and climate, especially when romantic notions are being plucked. Further, with specific regard to Of Woodbridge and Hedgely, as it functions as a historical lens to criticize modern propagandists that seek to downplay the significance of global warming – whose ramifications indeed do converge upon the end game that our Romantic Era predecessors lamented upon – ecosystems destroyed, natural populations in shambles, the diversity of the biosphere significantly contracted; and as the novel also concerns itself with man’s stewardship of the earth, the agrarian countryside, and a romantic subplot involving two main characters, all of such has obliged me, the author, to do just that. And even further, as the novel is driven mostly by dry literary mechanics, and not by taking great advantages of those found in the genres of suspense, horror, action, or even full-on romance, the characters therein sometimes experience the bliss of nature as a means of momentarily emotionally connecting with the reader. The audience should also observe that our main character, Thomas Winter, has at the beginning of the novel quit his job as a mechanical engineer, working in the heart of England’s mechanized industry, in order to escape back to the natural countryside, and apply his scientific mind to agrarian science and botany; he is the quintessential romantic.
Here I will harvest select passages from the novel which illustrate its attention to the natural world, and publish a few relevant comments alongside those, with the above sentiments in mind.
Natural Observations in the Novel
The first chapter, rightly entitled ‘Setting’, allows us several glimpses of the picturesque Cotswold countryside preparing to dress itself for autumn. On page six of the novel (effectively page two of the prose) we have an introductory taste of the countryside as seen through the eyes of the young curious girl whose main function as a character is indeed to witness the local setting of Mr. Winter’s home:
Momentarily she cranked her neck southward down Mr. Winter’s backyard – a small agrarian field that extended three hundred feet gradually down the hill from his home – open to the possibility of her mother’s voice retrieving her for dinner. Her cottage was one of many King Street homes that lined the field’s southern edge, sitting quite lower than such that but rooftops and shyly peeking second floor windows were to be had from her present vantage. Beyond these rose another hill not quite as tall as Mr. Winter’s which kept a field for a belly and woodland for a ridge, currently in the first stage of autumn dressing. Such a scene was not uncommon to the little girl nor anyone else she knew, for both the town and surrounding farmland existed thusly on rolling hill that defined their particular plot on England’s greatest isle.
She gives us another little hint at man’s intimate connection with nature during the period in a few places where her cottage garden – an important source of her family’s nutrition – is mentioned. Here is one:
The next morning found the tailor’s daughter examining the gooseberry bushes outback of her family’s cottage, regretting the end of their fruit, which had been jammed a month before, and the caterpillars, who had quit the plot several months before that; she having encouraged them to do so. It also found – as did the girl – Mr. Winter in a fine stretch of leg, hastily traveling southward down his backyard field with a footman running after him, calling out the necessity of a waistcoat and jacket, these flapping about in the poor man’s hands. She watched as the servant caught up to him and helped him into his fine, dark blue coat over a simple, white riding cravat and a gray-lilac waistcoat. Then, refusing his top hat, he peered further down the field at his original intention – King Street – and then the opposite direction, finally gesturing to the wheezing fellow that they should retrace their paths, back toward his home. The servant, still looking rather ill after having achieved the farmhouse, gave him a nod and disappeared through the kitchen entry, yet he continued northward, until from the vantage of the tailor’s garden he too was gone.
Mr. Winter himself gives us a tour of the countryside as he walks from his farmhouse, situated in the northern Hedgely fields, northward through Woodbridge Wood and Hedgely Wood – the extensive woodland that separates his town from its sister, Woodbridge – eventually emerging in this latter setting and continuing on to Woodbridge Manor. This woodland becomes of importance in the resolution of Part 1 of the novel, which I will flush out, further on down in this missive, but in order to fully grasp the significance of this, it must firstly be understood that all the younger characters in the novel – Mr. Winter, Harriet and Charlotte Moore, and the nameless tailor’s daughter – have been born into this spirit of romanticism, and find the utmost pleasure in walking these woods. Let us follow Mr. Winter into the trees:
Mr. Winter plunged into the forest and continued northward on a path that showed some regular use; perhaps in the innocent collection of fallen wood by Hedgely’s northern occupants. He took in, deeply, the cool air flavored by the scent of the first batches of freshly fallen leaves littering the path, and noted the songs of the tree pipit and sparrow which confounded those of the grey partridge, lapwing and corn bunting he had just left behind in the hedges and fields. These birds he had identified as a novice naturalist – a trait born that summer when he had come to town to examine the renovations to his new home and adventure in the countryside. He had also done quite well concerning the trees: This particular wood kept a vast population of Ash, but other common species noted thus far were local varieties of Beech, Oak, Maple, Sweet Chestnut, Horse Chestnut, Willow, and Birch, though his portfolio was far from complete. In one particular park west of Woodbridge Woods he had also seen Common Yew, Sycamore, and a few lonely Norway Spruce that were more than likely transplants brought by one of the park’s ancient owners.
After several hundred feet, his path ran perpendicularly into another, and he continued on the western leg of such, running alongside a credible brook whose turbulent waters added to the soundscape of calls, buzzes, knocks, clicks, chirps, and the scattering of leaves by unseen creatures making their way to safety upon his determined approach. And as he momentarily halted his march to examine a particular stream pool for trout, he contemplated the extensive variance between olden woodland and the modern farmland which now dominated the countryside at the expense of the former.
Just as Mr. Winter’s erection of his boiler-heated glasshouse represents the Industrial Revolution beginning to saturate the English countryside, we are given another aspect of man’s destruction of nature for his own gain; save this one occurred much earlier, in ancient times, when it is said that the amount of farmland then was of the selfsame geographical area as what is present today. The olden English forests held no chance against the sharp set stomach of even bronze age man. Just examine the UK on Google Maps against the eastern US, and observe the difference in coverage of forest.
In this section, we also find the trend of amateur naturalism in motion, which was the thing during the era, from Sir Joseph Blaine’s large ‘bug’ collection – ha, ha! – to the Patrick O’Brien character, Stephen Maturin’s roaming the world on a Royal Navy frigate, in search of old and new species alike – a man after Charles Darwin’s heart. My character Charlotte Moore is also an avid bird watcher and keeps close to her person a particular book on the subject in the front chapters of the novel:
Charlotte had failed (or was presently failing) to marry not from want of interest, but from a combination of lack of suitable interest concerning income, and her personal necessity of staying close at hand to, perhaps Woodbridge Manor, but more so to its lush countryside of rolling hills and forests; for like the younger Ms. Moore, and her father, regarding his apples, she too adored the local natural surround – a family trait, one might suppose. She was not as venturous as Harriet, wandering about the wood alone, but was vigilant to the daily opportunities at hand, such as today’s accompaniment of her cousin to the Edwards, for which she brought along the missing book that inspired such trouble in their library the day Mr. Winter had been introduced – Bewick’s History of British Birds.
And here we observe all three of the younger, main characters walking to Hedgely from the Woodbridge parish with design to identify a few entries in Charlotte’s book:
‘Well then ladies – shall we begin our journey?’ he said through a genuine smile with his arm extended, gesturing at the path before them. Alas such was taken well, and they found much to say about the triumph of walking as opposed to the stuffy, cramped, and sometimes physically shocking experience that a carriage would provide on an uneven road. They too did all agree that Compton Lane, with its wooded embellishments, sounds of the river, and voidance of post coaches was the superior walking path in comparison to the upper leg of Westfield Road, and took the route in hopes of sighting a few specimens from Charlotte’s book.
Love, Lust and the Luxuriation in Nature
Let us now examine the amalgam of nature and amorous notions with Mr. Winter’s shoddy poetical prose, which he secretly writes at his desk in his bedroom. In the provided section, he is describing he and a young lover discovering themselves by chance on their lonesome country walks, and falling in love whilst witnessing the waking of the countryside on an early Sunday morning.
We did little to deserve each other, than what we did those few moments rising into the morning sun. Sure, such were no less soluble than any of the hundred scents conjured by the flourishing warmth, yet they did raise to the highest power what was, just before she existed, seemingly ordinary countryside. I fear the younger audience might tend to find love a void to be occupied as soon and as frequently as possible; its depth discovered by fervent thrusting. Perhaps I am grown simple, that it may, with equal credibility, be just the accidental brushing of her hand to mine, as she gestured at some creature I pretended to see for the sake of her excitement, roused out by the starting day…
[Some material removed]
…As the Sun’s titan tongue lapped further at our position, the world was reduced to two odd figures, the wind, the railed fence that marked our converging paths, and the soft permeation of cathedral chimes in the wooded distance; it must have been Sunday, the day we met. I felt it proper to mar at last a tacit interval born from trailing observations we had for each other about the boxed fields and their contents beyond our fence. In doing so – my begging of her name, for she had painted every other aspect of her character necessary for me to stumble about – a damnable hobbledehoy – my topside overweighed – I was confounded by an ungovernable discharge of emotion. Depth begets depth by the sounding of a name.
Her name. Faith, her name! Her name – a charmed amulet thus hung ‘round my neck, suffuse with supernatural will and revelry, that I may stand to the world with enlivened resolve, ingest its colors with an irrational augment of resonance, and have no doubt of comfort these last few earthly steps trusted to me. For these moments do arise that love is careless of curfew and refuge, that an indelible mark is made – the maker unexpected – and that a recognition so strong is to be found in another who has by naked chance shared one’s bit of walking path.
This next section concerns what I had previously stated about the woodland, and the younger characters’ reverence toward it, playing a significant role in the resolution of Part 1 of the the book. [Spoiler Alert!] Here Mr. Winter and Harriet Moore, both desiring to confront one another regarding their thus far unspoken love, which has, at this point, reached a flash point, are coincidentally walking toward each others residences – Harriet from Woodbridge, Mr. Winter from Hedgely. They converge upon one another inside the vast woodland that separates their towns during the beginning of a large thunderstorm, which not only represents their inner turmoil and the ‘sinful nature’ of their behavior, with the extremity of nature playing out both internally and exogenously around them, but also adds a heightened sense of emotion to the scene, and taps into the primitive human desire for shelter seeking against the harsh, climactic elements in their environment, again informing the audience that it is the primal aspects of the human experience that is of concern in that moment: Who hasn’t woken up to a thunderstorm, and finding themselves in a cozy bed, untouched by the elements, desired some manner of physical romance with their partner next to them, as a function of this transient phenomenon?
‘Mr. Winter!’ – a white flash as the figure sprinted her last few yards at him, her cloak inadvertently opening. Harriet Moore. Her face was entirely wet, yet not entirely from the rain; such was clear from the reddened distress in her eyes.
‘Ms. Moore! It is uncommon wet and only becoming worse. To where shall I take you?’
Ms. Moore looked away and stumbled for words that did not answer in the crescendoing elements. She eventually became overwhelmed and began to weep: ‘Mr. Winter, I am come to see you!’ There was not much of a height difference between the two of them, but still she looked up at him, warming him in the manner he terribly feared, to which his mind became dosed with riotous chemistry.
‘Well, come on then’, he said grabbing her hand and pulling her into Woodbridge Woods for shelter. They stormed the underbrush toward the small path known to the both of them, which led to a crop of olden oaks that were prized by the locals for their quality of shelter in a blow. There it was wet but tolerable, as they stood alongside one’s particularly massive trunk.
‘Oh Mr. Winter, I’ve something horrid to say to you…’
‘Ms. Moore!’, he burst out, ‘I’ve something for you as well – I beg before you do any damage that you hear me first, that I may spare you such. I was headed to Woodbridge to call…’
Mr. Winter felt the passage of time become gnarled as if the great perpetual clock of the wood was gently amiss: some ten fathoms above, the wind did dart to and fro through their tree’s oldest branches, causing sharpened wisps of sound to cry ‘hurry’ to the already shortened day; but below there was no such haste: Droplets lazily fell from the lowest branches and quietly and flatly puttered upon the forest litter, and the gusts were never quite so quarrelsome as to be the cause of their reddened cheeks. He was vaguely aware of the harm he was then to accomplish, but more so he was paradoxically at ease, for this woman calmed him and kept him from suffering the work of the clock, that he was indifferent to the consequences of the next year, the next month, or the next day…
[Large volumes of dialog-driven material omitted]
Thunder came from overhead and cracked time back into its natural setting. Wind, wet and hail surged through and through, numbing their extremities beyond tolerable, that they both uncontrollably shook. But the couple could not proceed to Woodbridge: they two, unchaperoned, presenting like soaked dogs would indeed be the fuel for rumors and those for injury with respect to Mr. Wyatt and by extension, Mr. Moore. Sneaking about unchristian-like, whist the squire was sincerely presenting an opportunity to his niece with the best of intention, even if such was fundamentally flawed, would surely be an insult that could justify a withheld blessing, and further jeopardize Mr. Winter’s social capacity to which his experiments relied. Ditto for Mr. Winter’s home: for they would be betrayed by the servants, and possibly the Edwards’ at their window, marveling at the weather, within the week – they wearily reasoned.
And so it came to pass that they carried westward through the various splotches of groves to a grounds keeper’s cottage, which Mr. Winter had observed months before as unlet, and which presently displayed no variance in that respect. It took the best part of half an hour for Mr. Winter to ignite a fire, even though the former owner had left a few days’ dry kit for the rudimentary chimney that divided the two rooms of the dwelling. And when he was done, quite worked up and warmer for it, he threw down his grand cloak in front of the fire, offering Harriet the driest section, and alleviated her of her own ill weeping garment, and saturated gloves and hat.
‘Faith woman, your hands are the like to the weather!’, he exclaimed, noting the difference in temperature between them and his. He put a few deep breaths to them and rubbed them inside his own. ‘Sit in front the fire, Miss Harriet, and I will open my jacket and waistcoat just so that I may sit behind you and warm you from behind; between my person and the fire, we will see you warm in ten minute’s time’.
She leaned back into him and nestled her temple and cheek bone into the more supple part of his, that her ear felt afire. He laid his arms and cupped palms of his hands upon the selfsame of hers, contralaterally, that it was no longer just her ear that suffered pleasant inflammation, but the entirety of her skin and deeper still. She closed her eyes and recalled the cathedral chimes and faint smell of the clover and cocksfoot which had saturated her senses that long ago summer day. Then, looking back at him, she found herself unexpectedly fragile for the amount of natural laudanous spirits that boiled into her blood, dismissing everything proper before her king, country and God. It was but twelve beats of her heart that she ensnared an impeccant glance on his part with her resolute stare, that no other enterprise was reasoned or engendered, save the ungovernable collision of their lips; love knowing no honor…
Let the fountains, falls and gushes cease; and of the faintest match or greatest ripple of fire inside the earth – let these spare that which they are nourished; let no moon, nor earth, nor heavenly body crank one more inch; for thrusting into her, I am home and never wish again to depart, he inwardly professed just before the thunder clapped and he filled her with joyous living filament.
The last line is the novel’s ultimate culmination of the merging of nature and romance: Mr. Winter ejaculates inside of his lover as the thunderstorm continues to present its own moments of climax. The term ‘living filament’ is a biological term used by Erasmus Darwin inside his chapter on generation – the sexual reproduction of animals with the concept of evolution of species in mind – found in his book Zoonomia. Harriet Moore’s father had just presented a lecture on E. Darwin and his evolutionary philosophies, earlier in the chapter.
[I had originally planned a part III to this post, but alas family tragedy and time limits have exploded my intentions.]
[This, I believe, is my last post necessary for the complete reconstruction of my blog which suffered a data erasure a month or so ago. From this point forward, when time allows, new postings will indeed be such, and not previously published.]
I’ve often asserted that the material in Of Woodbridge and Hedgely is, to at least some degree, derived from the examination of the works of Jane Austen, and the woman herself. This has mostly to do with the construction of the female characters, their interpersonal interactions throughout the novel, and perhaps the theme of the progressive female protagonist, somewhat defiant of the orthodox social norms that appeared to be in place in early 19th century England. These are not what I wish to presently address (there is a brief overview of such in a video I posted in the introductory entry of this blog), but instead, I desire the audience will observe that Jane Austen has achieved a certain amount of veneration with regard to the literary phenomenon of realism, and that I too, in my novel, have drunk from this selfsame well; save I’ve plunged a little further in, having addressed the rather rough edges of cultural perceptions by small town country folk. (Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!)
One of the main themes of the novel is the examination of the mechanisms in which flawed belief systems, existing secondary to base desires, fears, and religious, or otherwise self-reinforced group thinking, explode the acceptance of science by those outside of the scientific community. Here a parallel can be drawn in that these deficiencies can also manifest as chauvinistic nationalism, and the publishing of impolite thoughts on cultures removed from that of those doing the act. In other words, those that cannot escape scientific ignorance, by their own character deficits, may indeed also fail to avoid cultural ignorance and the rudeness that coexists with such. Incidentally, climate activist and journalist Peter Sinclair often blogs about the intimate coupling of anthropogenic climate change denial and racism among a subset of often-uneducated, American conservatives, which are represented in my novel by the Hedgely Particular Baptists. So with that introduction, let’s take a look at some of the passages from the novel:
Firstly, we have the character Mr. Edwards, the Hedgely Particular Baptist preacher, who introduces the audience to the reality of 19th century English elitism in Episode One, when he instructs his chronically brash wife on the subject of tolerance:
‘Tolerance, Mrs. Edwards! Tolerance, my love,’ Mr. Edwards kindly offered in the baritone voice that matched his tall, grey, near plump and leathery exterior, as he came within range of the ladies after having settled with their carriage. ‘For we are but one set of folk upon this earth out of countless others. And though across our oceans we do find inferior varieties with which we do our best in their keeping, our own countrymen, regardless of their extremity shall not be treated any worse than they, and therefore tolerance must be issued. Oh, how do you do Ms. Moore?’
This exemplifies the hypocrisy of a few of our more outspoken American Christian conservatives: They luxuriate in pontificating morality, whilst simultaneously holding conspicuously immoral positions, as they hold fast to the communal beliefs of their local social circles, which seek to justify their particular prejudices with convenient interpretations of the Bible. This is the only instance of elitism that the preacher showcases throughout the story, but it is implied that such is well ingrained inside the Edwards’ household, as his wife, from time to time, will profess the Englishman’s superiority over his French, German, or otherwise European counterparts. Such initially happens just a few paragraphs removed from her husband’s Episode One offering:
…Great minutes went by as Ms. Moore politely acknowledged this or that in the inexhaustible prose of the minister’s wife as she issued a flight of thoughts along many a subject: the Union’s internal strife and how caviler the newer members were at molesting orthodoxy for the sake of growing a following; Mr. Winter’s horrid glass-shed-of-a-thing that spoiled his backyard; and how poor the cooking had been at the inn recently and the demise of servitude in general. But as she started to pontificate on French and German inferiority, Mr. Edwards thankfully stepped in, noticing that the slight pink in Ms. Moore’s cheeks began to smolder…
In Episode Two, as Harriet and Charlotte prepare to entertain Mrs. Edwards by way of voice and piano in her private parlor, we gather a little more of her disdain for Europeans. The significance in her use of the word ‘medieval’ is that England was at ground-zero of the Industrial Revolution, and at the forefront of engineering innovation, whilst other countries were laggards in comparison. This likely informed Englishmen that they were indeed superior to their European brethren; their breeding being conflated with their technical advantage:
After having explained she fell square in the mezzo range and that in want of a score she and Harriet were only proficient in but a few ancient songs from a historical compellation that had found its way from overseas to the manor’s library long ago – and such not overtaking Mrs. Edward’s sense of English superiority, for ‘there were composers that may almost rival the three ‘H’s’: Handel, Haydn, and Henry Purcell’, though she would not commit that much further, so many of the ‘medieval continentals having stunted thoughts from malnutrition and inbreeding’ – Harriet sat at the pianoforte and gave Charlotte her first note.
And just a few paragraphs down we have Mrs. Edwards struggling with her primal reaction to the Moore ladies’ song, despite it being performed in the ‘inferior’ Italian language:
…The first few passages, steeped in piano driven sensitivity, capitulated to bold fortes, that the poet would certainly not be mistook: ‘Doubt not its truth; Open my breast and see it written on my heart’, she sang in his native language as he referred further to his love. And though Mrs. Edwards spoke not a lick of any inferior language, she was frightfully stirred by the Moore ladies’ interpretation which exuded a relentless magnitude of female sensuality that went far beyond what was expected of English women, much less gentlewomen. Indeed she was powerless against it, and despite the small, remaining pin prick of her now anesthetized rationality working it hardest to cause her shame, the rest of her mind, and body, was flooded by the universally appealing Renaissance tonalities the ladies afforded the room so that she could not move to object. She surely was bewitched…
Now let us examine the indiscreet approach to cultural relations by oWaH’s field workers, who keep dispersed agrarian duties along the outskirts of the binary towns, but are shown to congregate at times, especially at The Plough or Woodbridge Inn – their local pubs – on account of these serving scrumpy (apple cyder) and other alcoholic beverages. In the following example we have these men – some of which having likely been impressed as able men upon Royal Navy ships during the Napoleonic Wars, and others having naturally embraced the nationalist rivalry between England and France secondary to these wars – displaying contempt for the latter country in their private, class-warfare humor involving the gentleman Mr. Winter, whom they’ve dubbed ‘The Frenchman’ or ‘The Crapaud’, as he chronically wears the selfsame blue jacket, reminiscent (for jesting purposes) of a French soldier’s. The joke was certainly not meant to breach their personal circle, but in this scene at The Plough, inside Episode Four, the men’s drunkenness affords them boldness enough so that Mr. Winter indeed overhears their revelry:
The manners on the inside of the inn were no better: He struggled quite profoundly with the folding of his umbrella, and by the time one of Mrs. Bagley’s men came to his assistance, he was breathed and in a slovenly state, concerning his hair and posture. Then at the disposal of his cloak, his now famous blue jacket made its appearance, and that, wrapping such an unkempt person, inspired a set of laborers watching him from the dining hall to offer a few private comments, which were unfortunately inflamed to a roar by their mates:
‘No sir, no sir – the gentleman is not a crapaud! He is no so loathsome!’
‘Huzzah!’, yelled a chorus of drunkards nebulous to the jester.
‘Nor sallow faced!’
‘Nor hollow eyed!’
‘Nor herring gutted’
‘Nor spindle shanked, goiter necked, sore mouthed, sad looking, half clad, tatterdemalion, petty, swaggering; an’ nor at all a bog trotting potentate!’
These are actual insults from Victorian England, pulled from an elitist essay malignantly describing the German people, if I recall correctly; though I’ve forgotten my source.
The laborers’ unrefined notions on exogenous cultures and races again presents in the front of Episode Seven, as an argument unravels involving the transmutation of species (and variants within a species):
‘Sir – though I do not follow you with the creatures, I believe you have become too colourful with Mr. Darwin, for ‘plain chance’ is not reasonably followed by ‘all possible chances’, and in what Mr. Moore has told us of the man’s philosophies there does not appear the like to what you say,’ returned the Woodbridge’s best man, further adding, ‘But were it that Mr. Darwin indeed has pointed in the direction you suggest, then just as Mr. Cuvier’s great mammoth no longer walks the earth as his cousin the elephant does, there then exists the chance that some cousin of man may be long buried in the earth, but awaiting the naturalist’s shovel. And have you not heard of the physical variants of the savages from the lesser continents?’ A hard pinch of dissatisfaction came over him and his mates as he improvised on topics absorbed from Mr. Moore’s last lecture.
‘I heard ‘ems was of a rather strange physique and colour, but on account o’ their savagery an’ not more. Oh, oh, oh!’ the Hedgely cried in alarm as he pointed over the heads of the Woodbridge’s at their table, causing them to turn around only to find the keep with their scrumpy. ‘My apologies, sirs: I reckoned it were a winged boar or a crocodilian-duck! Ha, ha, ha!’
The ‘winged boar’ is obviously a flying pig, and its implication is sincerely held by the man uttering the term as a means to cause injury to his opponents at the pub; but the ‘crocodilian-duck’ is a hat tip to science journalist Potholer54, who runs/ran a YouTube channel dedicated to confounding anti-science positions kept by men with both religious and political motivations for doing so.
Incidentally, the scene also portrays the reality of how those without scientific backgrounds accept science: through the acceptance of the opinions of experts in their respective fields. Ironically, this too almost parallels blind faith, save that our scientific systems consistently produce credible results and progress, and thus it is perfectly reasonable to consider those as trustworthy. (And this is why the modern conservative think tanks, funded by the fossil fuel industry, spend a great deal of their time trying to smear climate experts with non-scandals like Climategate or conspiratorial notions of government tax allocation abuse, &c. They seek to confound the public’s trust in our modern scientific systems; at least along the topics of climate and geophysics.)
Readers should further note that even though the Woodbridge laborers are defending these early notions of evolution, again merely by deferring to their town’s scientific authority, Johnathan Moore, as a trustworthy source of information (and in many cases just defending the man out of loyalty), they too are struggling with the concept, having been indoctrinated by religion all their lives. Indeed, even the protagonist George Moore, Johnathan’s brother and benefactor, has trouble with the subject throughout the story, though he is never brazenly dismissive of it, as the antagonists are. This, I believe, adds a handsome dose of realism to the novel.
But let us turn back to our original subject with a few closing thoughts: I’ve mostly portrayed the antagonists in the novel as the ones keeping improper or immoral stances on cultural and race relations. This is where the realism stops. The truth is a man can be good, right, and heroic in some areas of this life, whilst also being a total failure in others, especially concerning cultural sensitivity during the era in which the novel is set: The cherished opera composer, Richard Wagner, is said to have held antisemitic view points in some of his essays and writings, for example. Indeed, several of our greatest American presidents were slave owners. Thus it would not be so burdensome to conceive that both the Woodbridge field workers, as well as their Hedgely counterparts would have individuals among them, equal and significant in number, that were indifferent to cultural sensitivity at this point in history; and that this circumstance is certainly not limited to the lower caste, if you take my meaning. Alas, a writer can only chip so much morality away from a protagonist, for the sake of realism, before the audience rejects them as such, and so they – the readers – are contentedly left with either characters awash in false purity, or a don’t ask, don’t tell policy, regarding this subject of cultural sensitivity. Asking, of course, gets uncomfortable: How many friends did Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley have, that fought politically against the Slave Trade Act of 1807? And did Darcy, Bingley, or any other of the prominent figures in Jane Austen’s books themselves gather on the ‘wrong side of the fence’ with respect to the Act?
And finally we come to end with one last thought concerning evolution, xenophobia, elitism, racism, and structured social conflict in general. Are not these rooted in primal, hunter-gatherer tribalism, which originated secondary to evolutionary pressure regarding the competition for resources, mates, shelter, &c.? In other words, individual early hominids that coagulated into small clans and who declared outsiders, or other clans, as enemies when necessary (as they were competing for limited resources) were more likely to pass their genes on to the next generation, than the ‘lone-wolves’ in their area, or those with some altruistic prerogative. And not only does an evolutionary explanation exist for these constructs, a generalized definition of their manifestation can be afforded in fairly simple terms: 1) group together in a clan; 2) find something different between your clan and another competing clan in a formal manner; 3) use that as a rallying point to influence your clan to (sometimes viciously) interact with the competitors for the purposes of grabbing as much resources as possible; and 4) do so. And it matters little what variable one picks in defining the said difference: race, culture, geographical location, religious affiliation, political ideology, &c. The idea is to pick a difference, and then convince your brethren that they are superior with respect to such, in order to justify the taking of the other side’s resources.
Mr. Princep illustrates this in Episode Ten of oWaH:
‘I had thought on it a little sir; but if there were as steady work as you say, then I will do so even more. And if I have indeed caused such a sand storm, even at present, I suppose it would therefore be my duty to reverse it, if at all possible; but you will observe that one could place a race of men, who do not vary in the least their physical, emotional, and ceremonial qualities, onto a plot of land where none was less equal in situation to any other, but in the end let half be of blue eyes and the other of brown, and before long they would be at each others’ throats over it. What might the articles entail, do you think?’ asked Mr. Princep as he attempted to massage his lower back in his chair as they occupied Mr. Winter’s study.
[Note: this is a re-posting of a blog article I wrote in July of ’15, my WordPress account having been unexpectedly wiped clean for an unknown reason.]
I’ve had a few days off from work, and instead of dutifully attending other projects that need to be resolved, I’ve spent a few hours here and there throwing out a rough draft to a beginning chapter of a novel I’m thinking about writing here in a few years, as mentioned in my last post, Pistoning Into the Victorian Era. In lieu of the literary insights I’ve been posting to the blog, I will publish my rough draft here, so that my regular readers may have something presently to do.
Note similarity to the beginning of Of Woodbridge and Hedgely which should clue in readers that Charlotte Winter is the selfsame nameless, 10-year-old girl that Mr. Winter comes to adore in the novel. Readers may now rejoice the girl finally gets a name (her adoption of Winter’s last name is explained below in the new story).
A young lass, probably not yet twenty years of age, quietly sat in the lobby of a London patent office, staring into nothingness, lost in the inner turmoil of the overambitious mind. Whatever impatience she initially kept upon the expense of something between one half and three quarters of an hour’s time, on the hard chair she was politely asked to wait in, had long been destroyed by yet another interval after this, at least equal in magnitude if not longer. Indeed having succumbed to the lure of attempting to define a particularly troublesome mathematical formula that had plagued her these last several days, the only connection she presently held to the world outside her mind was a semiconscious grasp she had on several large rolls of paper she kept on her lap; their contents being her entire reason for sitting there, her arse near completely numb.
Alas she was called. She did not hear it at first, but eventually she was awoken by the selfsame clerk that initially guided her to her chair, kneeling down so that he may reside in her supposed field of vision and wave his hands about. Fairly handsome he was. She was too thankful for the handsome length of the hallway, the stairs at its ending, and yet another of the selfsame dimension on the second floor of the patent office, such allowing her to regain most of the feeling in her backside, as this young man guided her to a more aged and venerable clerk’s office.
‘Alright, young miss! Come in, come in, and let us see what you have for us!’ this aged clerk called, perhaps feigning a level of industriousness he could not rightly own, having in all probability awoken from a post dinner slumber to find himself at his desk, just moments ago.
‘I have for you, sir, a secret, were you at all to honor it, and in exchange for its telling, I only wish to seek your advice on the proper formalities here,’ returned the young miss, referring to his office.
For a moment he looked her up and down as she stood before his desk, seemingly quite frightened of the chairs that existed on the guests’ side of it. A pleasant face to be sure, but she seemed to have been grievously betrayed by her tailor, for she donned a Frenchman’s shirtsleeves, ruffled at the cuffs, and a pair of Englishmen’s riding trousers. About the only thing possibly ladylike on her was her boots and even those were some variation on Wellington’s. He then comforted her in the assurance that he was indeed fairly credible with secrets and that she should unroll her papers onto the desk in order for him to assess whatever formalities they many require.
‘You see sir, the pistons keep underside the apparatus for a smarter ride,’ she instructed, after introducing him to her expertly drafted mechanical pictures, embellished with all manner of dimensions, pressure ranges, velocities, load capacities, &c. ‘Note how they are directly connected to the forward drive wheels and there are no coupling rods to reduce the weight, keeping the thing under four and one half tons. The goal is twenty to twenty five miles per hour in velocity, pulling a load of three times its weight, and to achieve such I’ve increased the boiler efficiency using twenty five copper tubes to maximize surface area of the exhaust, and a water jacket between it and the firebox that further heats the water directly through the coke’s own radiant energy.’
‘I see – yes – uncommon clever! Young miss, who indeed is your master!?’ the clerk asked almost absently as his focus darted to and fro along the pages, for he was almost sure he’d never seen a boiler with more than two exhaust tubes.
The young miss’s lips pursed and her brow furrowed at this. She eyed him squarely and with a scow, determinedly pronounced, ‘Sir, I Am My Own Master!’, her head slightly shaking with each syllable, causing the man’s eyes to quit the drawings and reciprocate his guests’ sizable gawk. Perhaps such a slight was not uncommon to her with her rather unique ambitions, and the clerk had brushed upon a sore spot, well worn; or perhaps it was merely the passion of youth that bolted through her blood which delivered her into impropriety.
‘You will forgive me miss,’ the man eventually said in a tone that failed to acknowledge her distress, but instead continued as if none of it was there, ‘for most of the young’ – he glimpsed at her pants – ‘ladies I’m acquainted with care only to draw relatives, or the Thames at sunset – that the sight may be had without the accompaniment of the smell; you will observe one such piece hanging on the wall behind me. I’ve yet to come across a miss that applies her pen for the sake of boilers, engines, and locomotives.’
‘Well sir,’ she said in a more relaxed manner, having conceded the man meant no injury, ‘what I was getting at was that my drawings are not just some picturesque flim-flam; they are of course a function of mathematical formulae – calculations that take into account variations of pressure in the boiler, as well as its evaporating power, and other new discoveries I’ve made on the subject of locomotion – nothing your office has seen before, save the crude renditions of individual components that were previously applied for under my employer’s name – a Mister Thomas Winter. But do not be mistook,’ she emphasized with a moderate crescendo, having now revealed her master, ‘this is not the first time this office has seen work from my sole pen: Mister Winter and his wife spend most of their time botanizing out in the countryside of Gloucestershire, whilst I do the opposite.’
‘Yes, yes – I understand you completely, young lady,’ the man returned, again in a flat, unaffected tone, still enamored more with the drawings of the locomotive than with one of his larger sources of income, for Mr. Winter held an entire cabinet’s worth of patents at his very office, and by its familiarity, it was neither here nor there to have his name there mentioned.
‘You will then instruct me on the cost and the format then sir?’ she asked, having no notion on the process of being granted a patent, other than it was a grievous process involving multiple offices in the throes of Royal bureaucracy, and that it was preferable that a man of thorough experience work on one’s behalf in the matter. Alas, Mr. Winter had a man, but she herself had no personal clerk, lawyer, or otherwise; nor did she think it wise for an unknown engineer to share one’s work about the town, lest it find its way into another man’s design.
‘But miss, it is always the same fee and procedure for all of Mister Winter’s dealings here’, he replied, surprised she was ignorant of the subject, having digested everything she had offered thus far in earnest.
‘Sir, I beg pardon, I do not believe I’ve given you cause to follow my design: I would be applying under my own name, with my own coin. There is a storm brewing up in Rainhill that I intend to capitalize on, and “sharps the word” as they say,’ she explained.
‘Oh,’ he began in slower, more forlorn color, adding, ‘But you are at least aware that what we have here is a game that gnaws up the finest impoverished inventors, that right gentlemen of some competency may profit? I say this not because I have any assumptions on your situation madam, but only that I may not catch you unaware: The price is a hundred pounds and a great many fathom’s time. As to the format, you may spend as much time as you like, looking over Mr. Winter’s previous applications if they are not available to you at work; Mr. Winter’s agent is, after all, a right busy man. And we will make sure you do not leave this afternoon without the proper forms to bring back to us.’
At the revelation of the price she had started a bit, for she was of absolute ignorance on the matter: She dared not ask about such things at work, nor would she visit with the agent, without raising suspicion. It’s not that Mr. Winter, one of her dearest and oldest friends, wouldn’t happily dispense the amount to her, as seed money to help build her own fortune; it was that she sought the ideology of success derived from entirely one’s own means. ‘One hundred did you say?’ she asked hoping the man may further offer a few negative contingencies to the price, but he only affirmed his original quote.
‘Alright then,’ she replied with a renewed fervor, ‘Within a double fortnight – or at least the turning of two new moons – I will have your coin, alongside the drawings in full kit.’ She then, to the clerk’s distress – the only time he showed any emotive gesture during their meeting – snatched her drawings off the desk, rolled them up, and swiftly said her thank-you’s and good-day’s, intending to storm out of the building, as if to directly make good on her word.
‘And miss – do alas you have a name?’ the clerk called out as she fled down the hallway.
‘Alas I do sir and a right one it is – remember your oath and mine – I will indeed return, upon my word…’, she belted out without bothering to stop or turn and face her inquirer.
And once back to his office, with his door shut, and a small moment of time passing, the man let out a sigh and muttered to himself, ‘Yes, yes – you’re your own master. In august company I was, as usual. Damnable young folk these days – always their own masters…‘til the first lick of trouble leaps out the fire. Then it’s “Papa! Papa! Oh, dear Papa!”’ as were he drawing on some personal experience; he likely being a father many times over at his age.
Charlotte Winter jumped off the post carriage that had freshly presented to the town of Manchester. Charlotte Winter – that was indeed her name – at least among those that weren’t familiar with her past, for her surname was recently borrowed from her benefactor – the Mr. Thomas Winter. She had come to know the man at around ten years of age, when he had set up shop in a renovated farmhouse sitting in a field just behind her father’s cottage, in the town of Hedgely, in the afore mentioned county of Gloucestershire. From a childhood infatuation with a small set of apple trees that existed on his property, she had introduced herself to him, and a relationship had been born which had blossomed into an informal apprenticeship, where she assisted the man on endeavors having to do with his hobbies of agricultural science and botany, and in return he had taught her all that he knew of engineering, mathematics, and experimentation along these subjects, for he too had been a proper engineer in a former life: Mr. Winter had worked many years for his father – one of England’s wealthy industrial masters of mankind – before he had retired to Hedgely to save himself from the fetid air and mechanized noise that came along with factory work.
But these events alone had not been enough to transform Charlotte May into Charlotte Winter: Firstly, Mr. Winter’s father had retired within the last few years, having no longer the health nor heart to continue to pursue the constant, pernicious struggle of keeping an empire rightly afloat, and Mr. Winter had reluctantly taken over their operations, which had significantly eaten into his and Charlotte’s time dedicated to increasing crop yields around their small country towns, through their experiments. Secondly, and probably more to the point, Charlotte, failing at anything properly ladylike, had had for the last few years the prerogative to consistently entertain scandalous affairs with several of the local fellows around her towns of Woodbridge and Hedgely, the discovery and conclusion of each resulting in her refusal to marry any of them on the grounds that though most offered a handsome physique, they were rather deficient in cognition. Further any marriage would have castrated her ambitious desires to improve her own financial position in society – just as Mr. Winter’s father had done long ago – whilst attaching her to another who likely had not the slightest idea nor the talent for doing so. Her father, noting no repentance for her part upon the nth gentleman’s discovery, had given up and disowned her for the sake of his own tailoring business in Hedgely, as the small town’s rumor mill there had steadily increased its product in direct proportion to the number of men Charlotte had bedded thus far. And therefore it fell to the lot of Mr. Winter, her second father, to set her up as an engineer in one of his many subsidiaries – her task being to improve upon the components and efficiency of steam engines – with a salary of £100 which allowed her a comfortable apartment in a town well away from her past, and the dispensation of the necessity for gardening for one’s sustenance. Manchester was that town, and by the post, there she was again in it, with enlivened resolve to make something of herself.
‘Ahoy Charlotte!’ called out a young Lieutenant Fish who had been lingering around the town post office for quite some time waiting for her to arrive; after all, a young half-pay Royal Navy man at the dawn of a relatively peaceful era for his country was credibly experienced in the act of waiting; the postmaster himself remarked on the fellow’s steadfast patience and uncommon, nay heroic, ability to do absolutely nothing for hours on end. ‘What of London? And were you at all near Whitehall? And if so did you have any cause to converse with any naval officers? And what of the road? Are you sore from the ride? And how many hills were you obliged to walk? And…’ Though the young man had appeared rather docile to the post workers those last few hours, his mind, on the other hand, had been cracking on rather sprightly the entire interval.
‘Ahoy Will!’ she returned as she waited for the case that held her drafts to be handed down to her from the carriage, ‘What of London? Yes, I’m sure it’s quite ravishing but what I saw of it was drizzle, smoke, and a certain meanness in beggary of its children!’
‘Oh, come now!’ he objected, ‘For you have the widest smile published across your face as were you a silly little girl but half your age. We are to dine at The Jenny as soon as our boots may carry us there, and you shall tell me all about it; I insist!’
‘My God, were it roast venison tonight! I’m so sharp set from the journey that I could scarcely put two words together to spare my life at present. Oh, thank’ee,’ she said, the last part to the postman as he hurriedly encouraged her to take her drawings.
‘A hundred pounds!!?’ Lt. Fish cried as they indeed tucked into the roast venison. ‘Where the devil are you going to get a hundred pounds? Is not the contest in October of next year? You’ve but a little over thirteen months to achieve your patent and find some means of building your engine.’
The contest Lt. Fish spoke of was a subject that came up more times than not whenever the two committed to long winded conversation; in fact, ever since Charlotte had learned of it, it had consumed a great deal of her working mind, as she was convinced that were she to properly capitalize on the event, her fortune would thus materialize from such. The contest was indeed what would become known as the Rainhill Trials. The masters of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway – presently nearing completion – had decided on a contest to resolve the best means of pulling trains between the two towns – either by fixed engines or locomotives – and Rainhill, with its uncommon flat terrain, had been chosen to host the open locomotive contest. Charlotte’s strategy was to secure a patent for her design for the contest, which required a uniquely light but powerful engine, and then appeal to an experienced builder of the superiority of her design, and thereby strike a either a lucrative partnership or the sale of her patent for a large return; perhaps with the contingency that were her design to win, she would sell several other more refined ones to the selfsame man in order to build the Railway’s fleet, or at least negotiate a credible royalty in lieu of any sales. It was a dangerous game, as men that could commit the several thousand pounds of capital for an engine as easy as kiss their hand held the ultimate advantage, even if they limited themselves to playing fair, which was not guaranteed. In Boulton and Watt’s days, the courts were rife with these men’s calls of infringement against other engineers, and when their wasn’t an active suit occurring, there was surely the threat of one. Other, contradistinguishing men cared little for obliging patent laws and did what they pleased, stringing up any agents of the court by their feet, were they at all to bravely show upon their doorsteps.
‘It’s a tough nut to be sure, Will, but I do have twenty sovereigns at M&L’s I’ve nothing to do with, so the situation is not near as sharp as it feels.’
Lt. Fish gave a rather thoughtful look, swallowed what he had been chewing and offered, ‘Perhaps a private investor might give you the remain for a proportion of the returns. Mister Winter even may…’
‘Certainly Not!’ she cried, confounding the posterior of his suggestion before it could bloom. ‘The less moneyed dandies buzzing about me the better my odds of success become. Giving a rich man the opportunity to proportionately profit off of my work may as well be the like to giving it all away to him after his lawyer swoops down to bait and switch me in my ignorance of patent law! And Mister Winter has been kind enough to me. He would indeed issue me the guineas, for his engines are mostly to do with factory work and I would not be taking business from him, but I will not take that amount from a friend after all he’s already done. What if I fail and owe him for years on end?’ she posed, shivering inside at the prospect of a ruined friendship and business relationship. ‘Besides, I must do this on my own,’ she posed, her convictions well dug.
‘Your banker then?’
‘He’d want it back and more within three month’s time, if he understood my drawings at all. Considering that the patent office has their time glass filled with molasses there’d be a terrible want of leeway to maneuver before the bank’s lawyers came looking for the patent, that they and they only may profit from it – damn their eyes and mouths – come October of ‘twenty nine.’
Other Jenny guests looked up in reaction to Charlotte’s strident tone and the whispers began…as usual. Often they were over Ms. Winter’s pirate costume which accompanied speculation regarding were the whisperers actually in the presence of a castrati, actor, opera singer, or madwoman. Buckskins indeed! Yet on this particular occasion it seemed they were less concerned with her rudeness of dress, but instead, that of her manner.
A few of the regulars present, used to Charlotte’s voluble character, took little note of it, having long ago marked it as ‘the daft stupidity of youth and inevitable destruction of propriety by the latest generation’. Others not so far along in absorbing such impolite manners at dinner were instead kept from issuing the woman some manner of jagged instruction, solely by the existence of the youthful lieutenant at her table: The fellow kept a boarding cutlass on his uniform, and it couldn’t be guaranteed that he would not demand quick satisfaction were he to assume an insult to his dinner partner was there afforded. After all, he was more close to twenty years of age than thirty, without a present commission, entailing a likely perpetual thirst for action, and further did exude a protective air around her which was conspicuous to even the greatest of dullards.
Charlotte looked around the room as the conversation once again began to pick up and approach its baseline, and the darting glares toward her direction attenuated. At once her eyes lit up and the broad smile she had displayed earlier at the post office anomalously returned. The pause had afforded her something of an epiphany and she motioned the lieutenant to lean forward so that she could talk in a more secretive tone.
‘I believe I’ve just picked the plum from the pudding, Will!’ she excitedly whispered. ‘Thus far, I’ve committed my mind to the avoidance of being swallowed by men of much greater means; every last one of them anxious to do so as a function of their station. What I’ve failed to muse upon was the very opposite of this – how best to chew them up for my own advantage! From this vantage the solution is quite simple: I need only find out who else means to enter at Rainhill and propose to them the purchase of some of my previous designs!’
‘Hmm. That appears to give these men more of an advantage,’ Lt. Fish observed, and smiling in anticipation, for it was clear Charlotte had only just began to weave her design, he added, ‘But please do go on.’
‘Yes, it would appear that way, but you see, this appearance is for the greater good of the game. Certainly, with my recent discoveries, they would be getting ideas much superior to their own, but I would not be selling any individual the full apparatus: I would be giving one fellow the design to a more efficient boiler – perhaps the selfsame one that sits in my office at work, whilst another fellow – his competitor – would be sold the idea for a blast pipe. Certainly this would increase the flow of heat through his boiler, but for one or two-tube designs – as is common practice – such ends up ripping the top off the fire and throwing hot cinders out the chimney, causing the fuel to be prejudicially consumed at a greater rate – ha, ha, ha!’
To this Lt. Fish had a credible objection. ‘Oh, faith! The boiler in your office? But do you not often, and rightly, profess that a working model trumps a hundred fold even the cleverest of schemes that exist merely on paper? And how can it be assured that once these men absorb your components into their designs, this won’t allow them to move that must quicker forward and discover what you already have, in your latest work?’ he posed, cocking his head a little to the left, whilst squinting at his companion.
Charlotte somewhat capitulated to this with an affirmative nod but offered, ‘Well I ain’t saying there won’t be risks. All I can do is set the thing up to maximize the probability of my success. But I must insist that my latest work is of the finest refinement compared to the objects I have skulking about my office, and you’ll observe I’m willing to throw a hundred quid at that notion. Let’s see, I need but four cork-brains to issue me twenty pounds a pop – not entirely impossible!’ Charlotte’s eyes then did sparkle and her tone became much more cordial and ladylike: ‘Lieutenant Fish, would you be so good as to shortly accompany me down to the Railway office, that we me rummage around for some names? We may rent a cabriolet here if you are so inclined.’
Lt. Fish’s eyes reciprocated and he confidently grinned a small grin, for there wasn’t much he wouldn’t do for Ms. Winter. ‘I would be delighted to so accompany you, Miss Winter. It’s getting late: I will walk you back to your apartment, then tomorrow morning…’
‘Stay with me tonight, Will!’ Charlotte cut in, again in her whispered, scheming tone. ‘Half the town thinks we’re secretly married; the other half, that we’re secretly engaged, so there is little danger in it. Only promise me there will be no queer talk of proposals this time, yes? Lord, I was awoke this morn’ at the coach inn by some early foxed hostler practicing of all things the Spanish guitar, and the vexation has travelled about me and found its way into places that only a man may resolve.’