Henry Fielding (1707-17540

William Booth was arrested and thrown in jail when he interfered with two footpads trying to rob an old feeble person one night in London.  Judge Thrasher sentenced him because he thought he was Irish.  Thrasher’s legal background was non-existent;  he obtained his position through bribery and political back-stabbing.  His principal talents were greed and opportunism, and his bench decisions were based on prejudice (everyone knew that the Irish were trouble-makers) and profit (bail money from accused persons).

In prison, Booth met Mr. Robinson, who was an entrepreneurial card-player, and Mrs. Matthews, an old flame he hadn’t seen for ten years, and who he became overly familiar with. Booth’s position was somewhat precarious, as he had no money, so he was grateful for Mrs. M’s friendship.  During their small dinners, which she funded, he attended to her conversation, which related the troubles and misfortunes she had suffered since the last time they had met.  Suffice it to say that she had loved and been abandoned numerous times.

After several weeks, Amelia arrives and bails William out.  She and her sister, Betty, were the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Harris, a couple living a comfortable existence as an upper-class family in their country estate.  Mrs. Harris had ambitions for her Amelia, involving marriage to a local peer, but through inadvertent circumstances, she and William fall in love, to the horror of mom.  On the brink of marriage, Amelia runs off and with the help of Dr. Harrison, a friendly cleric, she marries Booth.  Soon the father dies (Amelia’s), and Booth is called into service to fight the Spanish in Gibraltar.  He is wounded twice and Amelia journeys to Gibraltar to nurse him.  Booth recovers, takes leave from the army, borrows 12 lbs from Sergeant Atkinson, and the couple travel to Montpelier to recoup their strength.  They receive word that Amelia’s mother has died, so they return to her house and, with the 100 lbs Amelia inherited, they started farming.  But Booth bought a horse and carriage with some of their money which enraged their neighbors, because they resented his apparent snobbishness.  They used every opportunity to harass the newly-weds, sabotaging their farm equipment and damaging their reputation amidst the local produce retailers, so that at the end of four years they were 300 lbs in debt.  Leaving Amelia to shut down the farm and pay off the employees, Booth traveled to London to raise money.  And was almost immediately arrested.

The Booths move into a cheap apartment financed by a Colonel James, William’s former commanding officer in the army, and Booth looks for work.  But he gets enticed into card games and loses all his money several times, from which predicament he’s rescued by Dr. Harrison and others.  At one point the family is befriended by a rich lord (unnamed in the book) who helps them, but, as they eventually discover, actually is doing it because he’s in love with Amelia.  Sergeant Atkinson saves them from ruin several times.

There are a lot of ancillary characters who complicate the story-line:  Mrs. Ellison, who apparently is in the pay of the unidentified lord, Mrs. Bennett, a friend of Amelia’s with a notorious history, and Colonel James’ sister, who warns Amelia against the dread lord.

Booth repeatedly loses his money and needs rescuing;  Amelia escapes the clutches of amoral seducers, Sergeant Atkinson marries Mrs. Bennett, and finally Booth is imprisoned again for debt.  (spoiler ahead):  Amelia finds out that her sister Betty, with the help of Robinson and a crooked lawyer, Murphy, had forged their father’s will, leaving Amelia with only 100 lbs and taking the balance of the estate for herself.  With the help of Dr. Harrison and another attorney, the forgery is revealed and Amelia comes into her father’s fortune and bails out her husband.  The family (with two children by this point) moves into her father’s estate and they live happily ever after.

There are numerous subplots adjoining the main one:  Mrs. Bennett’s history, Mrs. Matthews role in avenging herself on various parties, Colonel James intransigent but flickering  devotions to assorted ladies, Major James’ bloodthirsty hunger for dueling, Dr. Harrison’s multitudinous charitable endeavours, Sergeant Atkinson’s efforts to deliver his friends from indigence, and more.  And more.

This was Fielding’s last book, although not his last play (he wrote a great many dramas, not all of which were successful).  The action in this book seemed secondary to Fielding’s principal object:  to expose and reveal the corruption and greed of the higher social classes, and how this amorality trickled down through the lower strata to contaminate all of English society.  He was at one time the chief judge of London, and was overtly concerned over the unscrupulous and Machievellian manipulations practiced by the legal professions and the merchant classes and how they were destroying the ethical and   moral fabric of English culture.  Interestingly enough, Fielding’s brother was also a judge (John Fielding), and they both were among the founders of London’s first police force:  the Bow Street Runners.

I must admit that this book became rather tedious with all the complicated and changing relationships and the seemingly endless and somewhat brainless predicaments that the assorted characters managed to entwine themselves in.  I suppose that persons in those days were more naive than they would be today, but, still,  it’s hard not to believe that even a person of average intelligence would know enough to stay out of card games with suspicious appearing strangers, particularly when they had a family to support.  But it was fun to read Fielding’s sometimes sarcastic and wry opinions about the diverse inhabitants of his London with its carriages, flouncy skirts, lace cuffs, and exaggerated mannerisms.



Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848)

We find ourselves, in 1699, off Beachy Head in Sussex, England where the revenue cutter “Yungfrau” is waiting for dispatches from Naval headquarters.  The captain is Cornelius Vanslyperken, lieutenant – commander in the British Navy.  He’s pacing the quarterdeck, closely followed by his more-or-less revolting dog, Snarleyyow.  The latter is described as dirty yellow in color, with a bull-dog mouth, mangy and possessed of a “villainous, sour look”.  Both Captain and dog harbor ill-concealed aversions to the purser, Smallbones, and use every opportunity to abuse and bite him.  The crew members consist of:  Dick Short, first officer, Jemmy Duck, Boatswain, and able seamen Spurey, Coble, Jansen and others.  Also Corporal Van Spitter with six marines, to provide discipline and order.

The first episode that establishes the mutual hatred between Smallbones and the Captain concerns a red herring and Smallbone’s attempts to steal it.  Snarleyyow bites him several times and runs off with it and some time later Smallbones manages to capture the dog while he’s raiding the chicken coop.  He stuffs him in a flour sack and throws him overboard.  This takes place while the ship is at anchor near the Hague in Holland.  The sack is picked up by a fisherman rowing a small boat and the dog escapes when they reach the shore.  Snarleyyow runs into the local Lusthoff (beer hall), where he hides under the bed of the owner, mistress Van Sloosh, a large lady who runs her establishment with a competent hand, assisted by her maid, Babette.  In an inopportune moment, Snarleyyow bites the owner and maid, they fall onto the bed which collapses, trapping the dog and they drive him out of the house with brooms.  Meanwhile, Smallbones is about to be keelhauled for killing Snarleyyow when the latter suddenly appears on deck, having arrived with a load of supplies.  This is but the beginning of a long series of violent interactions between Smallbones on the one side and Snarleyyow and the Captain on the other.

But the novel is not actually about the war between the three characters.  This is the period in English history when William of Orange replaced James II as King, and during which the antagonism between the Protestants and Catholics was reawakened.  James is in Cherbourg, lingering in durance vile, while William is fighting to rule the country effectively.  Revolutionary fervor leads to plans for reinstalling James as King, as Sir Robert Barclay, a stout loyalist to the Jacobite cause, enlists a band of smugglers to ferry money and supplies in anticipation of a concerted rebellion.

Captain Vanslyperken is enlisted by both sides, as his job is delivering letters between the Hague and England.  He is well paid for his service, and greed drives him to “slyly” open the letters and to sell the information to the opposing side.  This eventually leads him into difficulties.

Meanwhile, the book continues to relate a series of slapstick situations developing between Snarleyyow, Smallbones, the Captain, Jemmy Duck (whose legs are only 18″ long) and his wife Moggy, the band of smugglers living The Cave on the Isle of Wight, Nancy Corbett, various Jewish merchants, and the ambitions and desires of Ms. Van Sloosh.  Not to mention the ever-present Corporal Van Spitter.

The final scene takes place at the Cave, where the smugglers wives are under siege by a force loyal to William.  A number of confusing incidents result in some loss of life and the escape of the Jacobites, with chests of gold, by rowboat to France.  The royalists suffering under suspicion of espionage appeal to William and achieve recognition for their efforts in maintaining the legitimacy of the existing regime.  Vanslyperken and Snarleyyow get what’s coming to them, and the book ends with the Corporal and Ms. Van Sloosh being happily wed, among others.

This is a complicated book.  I’ve read quite a few of Marryat’s books and while they tend to be episodic, this one suffered from too many plot lines that intersected each other.  There are hilarious events, involving the question as to whether Snarleyyyow was actually a ghost dog or not, and if Smallbones really came back from the dead multiple times.  The ancillary characters were humorous to the point of being occasionally bizarre,  and Marryat’s gift for surprising the reader with unanticipated outcomes was in full flight.  His most famous book was “Midshipman Easy”, a simpler tale of an ensign on board with Nelson;  possibly more famous because it was easier to follow than some of his other works.

Marryat was a Captain, an inventor (he invented a better lifeboat), a traveller (his book on America  received violent reactions from Americans – they burned all the copies they could find), a magazine editor (The Metropolitan), and a prolific father.  He had eleven children, three of whom were also authors.  In spite of the plot complexities, this book was a lot of fun to read:  it’s book-droppingly humorous at times, and informative re the period in which it occurs at the same time.  Pretty completely recommended.


Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944)

Saint-Exupery was a son of an impoverished upper class French family, forced at a relatively early age to support his relations by accepting a series of more-or-less menial jobs.  Shortly after the first world war, he joined the French Army, became interested in airplanes and was able to transfer to the Air Force, where he soon qualified as a pilot.  After crashing a number of times he left the service and entered into a career with the mail service in 1926, carrying the mail from Toulouse to Dakar.

This book describes some of his adventures dealing with natives and finicky airplanes in the Sahara and other places.  Usually flying at night, it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between landing lights and stars.  He often felt as if he was trapped in a tin box with a couple of dials to look at, while being flung through the air to an unknown and merely probable destination.  Sometimes it seemed as if he was stuck in one spot, with the wind screaming past like a malevolent demon.  Once, during a torrential downpour, he tried to fly under the storm, only to encounter numerous water spouts connecting the clouds and the earth and was forced to dodge between them while only several hundred feet above the ground.  More than once he force-landed his craft because of mechanical failures, and was goaded into developing his philosophical ideas as a result of lying on his back and staring at the stars.   These notions concerned the state of consciousness and the meaning or lack of meaning thereof;  Exupery came to a sort of realization about the impermanence and transience of life, and how chance played such a large role in his occupation as a pilot.

Flying east over the desert just south of the Mediterranean Sea, he and a co-pilot, while attempting a record run from Europe to Saigon,  survived a crash at 170 miles an hour onto a convenient mesa only because the surface was covered with small, round pebbles which acted as a kind of conveyor belt which converted their vertical momentum into horizontal motion as they slid off the mountain into a gulch, destroying the airplane.
According to Exupery, they weren’t lost, they just didn’t have a very good idea of where they were.  They wandered around for miles looking for a village, but finally started walking north-east, where they estimated Cairo might be.  It was only when they’d been without water for two days that they were rescued by an itinerant Bedouin.  Exupery thought that he and the co-pilot had covered about 250 miles altogether, with only one quart of liquid for the two of them.

In a later period, having been transferred to South America, Exupery, flying solo, was caught in a windstorm and blown out to sea for 150 miles.  After fighting the controls for and hour and a half, he was able to maneuver the plane to one side and return to the coast.  Upon landing he discovered that the batteries had been blown through the plane’s roof and that the control cables were almost worn through.  On another occasion, he was forced down on a beach due to a broken connecting rod;  the craft plowed through two sand dunes and ripped off its wheels before coming to a halt.  He was rescued by another pilot, but, temporarily left behind due to weight considerations, found himself alone in a sea of sand with only a curious herd of gazelles for company.

Exupery’s adventures and realizations continued into the second World War, until he was listed as missing after failing to return from a flight over the Mediterranean.  His books are thought-provoking and informative about the early age of flight and the hazards associated with its development.  And the philosophical explorations are intriguing as well, but the main interest lies in the author’s poetical descriptions of the land as seen from the sky, and the sky as seen from the cockpit.  He was a percipient observer, and had a unique and unconventional gift for seeing and describing the world around him.  He’s written other works;  maybe i’ll get a chance to investigate his universe further.



Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

Mr. Trollope loved to travel and write books about his experiences.  In 1861 he was curious about America, the new country, and how the occupants were dealing with the Civil War.  He and Mrs. T crossed the Atlantic in one of the new Cunard liners and landed in Boston after a short stop in Halifax.  They were met by several friends “that he never knew before”, and wined and dined at several hostelries.  The talk was mostly of politics and the war.  Many of the people they conversed with were in favor of sending the Southern Slaves back to Africa.  Anthony thought that secession would probably occur, and the South would form an independent country, rather equivalent to those states in Europe that had borders in common.  But most of his hosts declared that America would never be divided, and that it was likely that it would expand to occupy the whole continent.

The Trollopes were tormented by mosquitos in Boston, so they took the train to Newport.    They had rather a lonely time of it there, as they were ensconced in a large hotel that had only 25 guests registered, instead of the 66o it had been designed for.  Anthony was also upset because he couldn’t go swimming in the ocean as it was inaccessible from their location.  He loved swimming nude, especially in salt water.  One of the fellow residents he talked to raved about “contractors robbing the army and incompetent generals” wasting the substance of the state.

At some point Mrs. Trollope returned to England and Anthony went on by himself.  The next visit was to Portland, Maine, where T admired the straight streets and the good food, but complained of too much sand on the roads.  He soon boarded the Grand Trunk Railway and traveled west over the White mountains, admiring the fall colors as he went.  At one stop, he rented a pony and rode to the top of Mt. Washington.  Continuing on to Montreal, he noted that Canada seemed less prosperous than America, and that if they had a king, they would be happier and better off.  Stopping in Quebec he deplored the state of the city streets, consisting of either mud or wooden boards with large holes worn in them.  The same was true in Montreal.

Back aboard the train, they passed lovely Massawhippi lake on the way to Ottawa, currently under construction as the intended national capitol city.  He observed that some of the “lower class” members seemed quite rude, but later speculated that this behavior was related to the citizenry’s democratic ideas, showing in an obvious way that equality was the possession of all the people, not just the upper classes.  Stepping off the train at an unspecified station, one of the porters gave him a big smile and tossed his portable desk about seven feet so that it shattered on some rocks.  Irate at first, Trollope ascribed the action as merely a demonstration of the perpetrator’s sense of parity and tried to ignore it.

Toronto had a rather square appearance:  the streets were built at right angles and parallel to each other.  Trollope was troubled by this:  he preferred the style of English villages, with winding lanes and unregulated housing dispositions.  At Niagara Falls, he took a ferry to Goat Island and sat for a long time at the end of it, entranced by the roaring waters and the huge volume of water rushing by.  He thought the Falls the most glorious spectacle on earth.

He traveled by ship to Detroit and was awed by the American penchant for inventing labor-saving devices.  The hot and cold water available in the hotels was remarkable, except that the hot water faucet was so hot he couldn’t turn it off.  Arriving in Milwaukie, he thought it was much more civilized than Detroit.  The population was mostly German and Irish, and they appeared industrious and energetic in exemplifying “frontier mind”:  an attitude of endless ambition and greed for money.  He saw that as the railroads expanded, they opened up more land for immigrants, who avidly took advantage of the increasing availability of opportunities for farming and ranching.  It was quite common for a family to work up a patch of land, with cabin and basic improvements, only to abandon the place and move further west, where the prospect of new horizons drew them with a sort of instinctive magnetism.

Moving on to Dubuque and St. Paul, he commented that westerners didn’t talk, they just chewed tobacco.  He thought the scenery on the upper Mississippi river unparalleled with it’s rolling hills interspersed with pleasant tree-clad valleys.  But he also learned that the Indians, having discovered that the War was draining the local resources and men, used the opportunity to raid and plunder unprotected homesteads and to ambush travelers and supply trains.  But he thought there was a sort of cosmic justice in this, as the local residents were habitually much involved in cheating and swindling each other, as well as the Indians.

Passing through Dixon, Illinois, corn processing complex for the area, he arrived in Chicago, city of “big shoulders” (Sandburg) which even then was the major meat processing center for the area, and continued on to Cleveland.  Here he found decorative tree lined streets and saw the penchant possessed by the city fathers for erecting pretentious architectural novelties:  colonnades, columns, and classical facades.  After Buffalo (grain elevators) he came to West Point, the military school.  He wrote quite a bit about the school, it’s cadets, the requirements to graduate, and the daily grind of the students, which seemed to him inhuman and too draconian for any normal person to keep up with.

Back in New York and with time to rest, Trollope reflected on his experiences thus far and came to some convictions:  the Americans he had seen were pale, skinny, and apparently under-nourished, all of which he attributed to the universal system of heating their house and hotels with hot water pipes.  He had suffered from over-heated rooms during the entire trip and concluded that many of the illnesses and diseases afflicting the inhabitants would be relieved if they’d just turn down the heat.  He thought the chief glory of New York was Central Park.  He could see that although there was nothing much there at present, in the future it would be an immeasurably pleasurable resource and comfort for the residents.  But T was more than a bit irate at the condition and quality of the commuting vehicles.  Trams and horse-drawn carriages were dirty and never on time, the whole industry being in the greedy hands of certain entrepreneurs who ignored the public and grabbed the money.

The next leg of his expedition was through Philadelphia, Cambridge, Lowell, and, finally, Baltimore.  The latter city was Anthony’s favorite of all he’d seen.  It had a sort of English quality and he felt quite at home there.  There were fox hunts and they ate terrapin and canvasback duck.  Baltimore was a southern city, but held the nation’s capitol, and so suffered the presence of Northern troops.  Families were split up and martial law was introduced, to the misfortune of the citizens, who saw their city groan under the iron heel of incompetent generals.  One of them gloated about having enough cannon to level the entire municipality, and was only restrained with difficulty from doing so.

Trollope moved on to Washington DC.  He noted that the whole place was built on a swamp with knee deep mud serving for streets.  Fever and ague were common.  He saw an equestrian statue of General Washington that lurched to one side and the rider seemed drunk.  T did visit Mt. Vernon, which he described as a rather moderate dwelling, undistinguished by any outstanding features.  He admired the Capitol building, lauding its appropriateness for political wrangling, but decried the presence of “huge daubs” decorating the walls:  paintings of assorted politicos.

He toured through Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, Frankfort, St. Louis and Cairo;  the latter he described as “the most wretched town in America”, partly because he was called at 3:30 AM to catch a train and had to carry his own luggage through the mud and the dark.  After investigating Louisville and Baltimore again, he returned to Boston at last , where he spent a few final days in the company of those who he opined were the most civilized in the country.  He added a list of the talented denizens, including Hawthorne, Melville, and many others.  A few days later he made his way to New York, complaining of the piles of snow inhibiting he entrance to the ferry terminal which he had to forge through to get to his Cunard liner.  Then he sailed, gratefully, one has the feeling, to Liverpool.

I should state that although this volume was a shortened version of the original, it still seemed like a cohesive production.  Robert Mason was the editor and Penguin was the publisher.  I think they did a good job, although it would be entertaining to peruse the original version sometime.  This book was Trollope to a T, with his Tory outlook and prejudices on full view.  Many of his opinions have been belied by the passing years, but Trollope is one of those writers who proffer a subliminal sense of comfort and reliability.  I enjoyed it for the most part, except when he would occasionally rant on about a pet theory or supposition.