Friday, January 27, 2012

Robert Bage (1730-1801)

Having recently completed a 60,000 word thesis on the social concerns of Robert Bage I feel reasonably well disposed to try to introduce him to a wider audience. He lived quite locally, Elford, in Staffordshire, where he ran a paper-mill, then later four miles away at Tamworth. He wrote six novels, the most famous being Hermsprong (1796). To acquaint readers of this blog with his writing style and wit the following extract is from James Wallace (1788) in one of his early adventures. Wallace is always running away and this episode is one which also drives him from his place of employment. To condense the extract I have summarised some of the plot.

The complexity and fickleness of human nature is well captured following the seduction of Rachael Potts, a maid-servant. The instrument of her undoing is Thomas Gamidge, son of the family to whom Rachael is a servant. Mr Gamidge senior is a justice, but his wife feels herself quite as well equipped to pass judgement on the young ruined girl. 'What vile man have you been connected with, you abominable strumpet?' Rachael remains silent through a barrage of accusations and insults until she is brought before Mr Gamidge.

'Rachael Potts, you stands indicted before me, Thomas Gamidge, Esq; justice of the peace and quorum, for the wicked and heinous sin of fornication. Rachael Potts, I suppose you knows what fornication is? I hopes I have no occasion to instruct you in the nature of it: It is a thing abhorred by God and man, and nobody never commits it without lustful and evil desires.‘

'And all manner of concupiscence you nasty slut,' adds Madam Gamidge.

'What say you, Rachael Potts, guilty or not guilty?' — Rachael answered only with tears, and she was beautiful in tears.

Mrs Gamidge would like to see Rachael whipped and the father sent to a house of correction. Mr Gamidge insists that the wretch will marry her and make her an honest woman. There then follows a scene where the Justice does indeed try to instruct the young girl in the nature of fornication, until, to avoid further advances, she confesses that his son is the father of her predicament, and in a neatly contrived Malapropism informs the Justice it would be 'so like in — in — incense — God would never forgive me.' This comedy is lost on Gamidge, whose son, another Thomas, wants to marry Rachael. But Mrs Gamidge would rather James Wallace accommodate the pretty and pregnant maidservant and to such an end she offers a bribe of one hundred pounds. Wallace would rather have the 'getting' of his own children and after the Gamidge‘s daughter throws herself at him he plans a hasty retreat to escape having the getting of his own children too early in his career and life.

Thomas, junior, tells James Wallace on the day Wallace is dismissed, that he intends to marry Rachael within a week despite what his parents think. However a letter from his sister, Mary, a fortnight later, while expressing strong feelings for James, simply informs that Thomas is hearing enough about his sins with Rachael from his parents, but no mention of any marriage is made.

Hope this little extract awakens in you a desire to read more. Hermsprong is available online from Googlebooks.