Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sir Charles Grandison, Volume 5: Italy vs. England



In Volume 4 Sir Charles returned to Italy in an attempt to heal his friend Sir Jeronymo and to renew his addresses to Lady Clementina. So perhaps before we delve into Volume 5, which is largely concerned with that lady, it's time to examine how Italy and England are contrasted in Sir Charles Grandison.

Opera vs. oratorio

The musical form most strongly associated with Italy, of course, is opera. And in Sir Charles Grandison opera signifies passion, danger, impropriety, extravagance, display, frivolity, and sensuality. Opera is associated with characters who are morally questionable, such as:
  • the tempestuous Lady Olivia, who first sees and conceives a fierce (and nearly murderous—see Volume 4) love for Sir Charles at the opera in Florence.
  • the profligate Sir Thomas Grandison, the father of Sir Charles, Lady L. and Charlotte, who enthusiastically entangled himself "in the diversions of this great town; and was the common patron of all the performers, whether at plays, operas, or concerts." [1]
  • the frivolous Mr. Everard Grandison, Sir Charles' cousin, "a great frequenter. . .of all manner of public spectacles; a leader of the taste at a new play, or opera." [2]
Interestingly, opera is also associated with mixed characters such as Charlotte Grandison and Emily Jervois, who are fundamentally well-meaning but do not always exercise good judgment or behave with proper decorum. Both of them often sing "Italian airs" while accompanying themselves on the harpsichord. And once Charlotte marries, opera becomes the audible symbol of her defiance of her husband's authority:
Nay, it was but the other day that he attempted to hum a tune of contempt, upon my warbling an Italian air. An opera couple, we! Is it not charming to sing at (I cannot say to) each other, when we have a mind to be spiteful? . . .Such a foe to melody, that he hates the very sight of my harpsichord. He flies out of the room, if I but move towards it. [3]
Italy is not only the source of that exotic and irrational entertainment, opera, it is also "the land of masquerades." [4] After Harriet Byron comes to London for the first time she is taken under the wing of the fashionable Lady Betty Williams. As Harriet writes her country confidante, Lucy Selby:
I am to be carried by her to a Masquerade, to a Ridotto; when the season comes, to Ranelagh and Vauxhall: In the mean time, to Balls, Routs, Drums, and-so-forth;. . .If you find that I prefer the highest of these entertainments, or the opera itself, well as I love music, to a good play of our favourite Shakespeare, then, my Lucy, let your heart ake for your Harriet: Then, be apprehensive that she is laid hold on by levity; that she is captivated by the Eye and the Ear; that her heart is infected by the modern taste. . . [5]
The masquerade ball that Harriet attends (and is abducted from) in Volume 1 is held "at the Opera-house in the Hay-market." This theater (then known as the King's Theatre) had been associated with Handel's Italian opera companies in the 1720s and early 1730s, and in the late 1740s was the site of "Balls, Masquerades and Assemblys." [6]


The Old Opera House, Haymarket, London, by William Capon, 1783. Image: Victoria & Albert Museum.

A recurring motif in the novel is Harriet's mortification that when she is rescued from Sir Hargrave Pollexfen by Sir Charles she is still wearing her eye-catching masquerade costume. Sir Charles, we learn, does not approve of masquerades: "Masquerades. . .are not creditable places for young ladies to be known to be insulted at them. They are diversions that fall not in with the genius of the English commonalty." [7] Indeed, many of the attendees are dressed as characters from the commedia dell'arte, including Sir Hargrave, who comes dressed as Harlequin.


Mr. [Tom] Ellar as Harlequin. Image: Museum of London

Ridottos were balls featuring masquerade that often involved gambling on cards and other games of chance. Ranelagh and Vauxhall were Italianate pleasure gardens on the banks of the Thames featuring musical performances, al fresco dining, and assignations among revelers on the tree-lined paths.


Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson, ca. 1784. Image: Victoria & Albert Museum

This print by Thomas Rowlandson depicts a Vauxhall concert by singer Mrs Weichsel. In the audience at the center are the society beauties Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and her sister Henrietta, surrounded by men. To the right, the young Prince of Wales whispers in the ear of his mistress, the actress Mrs. Mary "Perdita" Robinson, who is accompanied by her much older husband. Seated at the table on the far right is "The Old Bawd of Sutton Street," a notorious madam.

James Boswell, who is depicted in the supperbox at the left dining with Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and Hester Thrale, wrote that Vauxhall was "a mixture of curious shew, — gay exhibition, — musick, vocal and instrumental, not too refined for the general ear." [8] The "not too refined" songs performed at Vauxhall were written by opera and theater composers such as John (Johann) Christian Bach, James Hook, and Thomas Arne. The subjects of many songs, according to a Vauxhall songbook published in the mid-18th century, included "the bottle, hunting, mirth and jollity," as in Arne's duet "Colinet": "Ring the Bells and fill the Bowl / Revel all without controul." Not the kind of music, one imagines, with which demure unmarried women should admit a familiarity. [9]


Colinet, sung by Mr. [Thomas] Lowe & Mrs. [Ann] Lampe.
Image from the "Pleasure Gardens Compendium" in the collection of the Handel House Foundation, Halle.

In a scene from Volume 2 that encapsulates the way Richardson employs music to reflect moral values, Harriet is asked to perform for the Grandisons while staying with them after her rescue from Sir Hargrave:
I was asked to give them a lesson on the harpsichord after tea. Miss Grandison said, Come, come, to prevent all excuses, I will shew you the way.

Let it then be, said Mr. [Everard] Grandison, Shakespeare’s Cuckow. You have made me enter with so much comparative shame into myself, that I must have something lively to raise my spirits.

Well, so it shall, replied Miss Grandison. . . Accordingly she sung that ballad from Shakespear; and with so much spirit and humour, as delighted every-body. [10]
This is a moment that can slip by a modern reader, but which is very telling. The song Charlotte sings, although not further identified, is likely to be "When daisies pied," the song of Spring from Act V of Love's Labours Lost, in the setting by Arne [11]:



When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white,
And cuckoo-buds of ev'ry hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo;
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws
And merry larks are ploughmen's clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo;
Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

The cuckoo's song is a harbinger of spring, of course, but "cuckoo" is also a word of fear for married men because the word "cuckold" derives from it (cuckoos, of course, lay eggs in other birds' nests). A ribald song alluding to women's sexual infidelity could only be rendered fit to be sung by an unmarried woman due to its origins in Shakespeare. It tells us much about Everard Grandison that he requests this song, and something about Charlotte that she accedes to his request.

After Charlotte's eyebrow-raising performance, it is her sister Lady L.'s turn:
Come, my dear, said the kind countess, I will prepare you a little further. When you see your two elder sisters go before you, you will have more courage.
She sat down, and play'd one of Scarlatti’s lessons; which, you know, are made to shew a fine hand. And surely, for the swiftness of her fingers, and the elegance of her manner, she could not be equalled. [12]
Domenico Scarlatti's Essercizi per gravicembalo (Exercises for harpsichord), K. 1-30, is a collection of thirty harpsichord sonatas published in London in 1738 or 1739. Perhaps Lady L. played the technically challenging Sonata K. 18, here performed by the swift fingers of Chiara Cattani:




Scarlatti's music, like opera, connects Italian flamboyance with feminine display.

Finally, it is Harriet's turn:
It is referred to you, my third Sister, said Sir Charles (who had been taken aside by Mr. Reeves; some whispering talk having passed between them) to favour us with some of Handel’s musick: Mrs. Reeves says, she has heard you sing several songs out of the Pastoral [Ode L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, ed Il Moderato], and out of some of his finest Oratorios.

Come hither, come hither, my sweet Harriet—Here’s his Alexander’s Feast: my brother admires that, I know; and says it is the noblest composition that ever was produced by man; and is as finely set, as written.

She made me sit down to the instrument.

As you know, said I, that great part of the beauty of this performance arises from the proper transitions from one different strain to another, any one song must lose greatly, by being taken out of its place: and I fear—

Fear nothing, Miss Byron, said Sir Charles: your obligingness, as well as your observation, intitle you to all allowances.

I then turned to that fine piece of accompanied recitative,
Softly sweet, in Lydian measures,
Soon he sooth’d his soul to pleasures. [13]



Alexander's Feast is Handel's setting of Dryden's ode to the power of music. The air Harriet performs is part of a section devoted to music's capacity to awaken and express the most tender feelings. The contrast with Charlotte's indecorous theater song and Lady L.'s elaborate showpiece could not be more stark.

Later, at Charlotte's wedding to Lord G. in Volume 4, Sir Charles is himself prevailed upon to perform, and he conspicuously chooses a piece from the same work:
. . .they besought Sir Charles to sing to my playing. He would not, he said, deny any request that was made him on that day.

He sung. He has a mellow manly voice, and great command of it.

This introduced a little concert. Mr. Beauchamp took the violin; Lord L. the bass-viol; Lord G. the German-flute; and most of the company joined in the chorus. The song was from Alexander’s Feast; the words,
Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the good deserves the fair;
Sir Charles, though himself equally brave and good, preferring the latter word to the former.  [14]
As Richardson's readers would have known, this air includes a duet in its second part in which the Sir Charles's and Harriet's voices would have intertwined. The duet is an expression of the harmony of their intimate feelings which they have not yet been able to acknowledge openly.



The chief barrier to the acknowledgment of those feelings, of course, is Sir Charles's prior attachment to Lady Clementina (first revealed in Volume 3), to whom he is about to renew his offer of marriage. First, though, her "disturbed intellects" must be calmed.

The first meeting does not go well.


"Quitting her mother's hand, now changing pale, now reddening, she arose, and threw her arms about her Camilla."
Illustration engraved by Walker from a drawing by Stothard (1783). Image: Internet Archive

Sir Charles visits the della Porretta family's house in Bologna, to which Lady Clementina has lately been returned. The entire family is present at their reunion:
She saw me. Saw me greatly affected. She started. She looked again; again started; and, quitting her mother’s hand, now changing pale, now reddening, she arose, and threw her arms about her Camilla—O Camilla! was all she said; a violent burst of tears wounding, yet giving some ease to every heart. I was springing to her, and should have clasped her in my arms before them all; but the general taking my hand, as I reached her chair, Dear Grandison, said he, pronouncing in her ear my name, keep your seat. . .

When I turned to the company, I found the dear Clementina, supported by the two marchionesses, and attended by Camilla, just by me, passing towards the door, in order, it seems, at her motion, to withdraw. She stopt. Ah, Chevalier! said she; and reclining her head on her mother’s bosom, seemed ready to faint. I took one hand, as it hung down lifelessly extended (her mother held the other); and kneeling, pressed it with my lips—Forgive me ladies; forgive me, Lady Clementina!—My soul overflowed with tenderness. . .I could not say more. I arose. She moved on to the door; and when there, turned her head, straining her neck to look after me, till she was out of the room. I was a statue for a few moments; till the Count, snatching my hand, and Father Marescotti’s, who stood nearest him, We see to what the malady is owing—Father, you must join their hands!—Chevalier! you will be a Catholic!—Will you not?—O that you would! said the Father—Why, why, joined in the Count, did we refuse the so-earnestly requested interview, a year and half ago?

The young marchioness returned, weeping—They will not permit me to stay. My sister, my dear sister, is in fits! [15]
Sir Charles is now being pressured once again by Clementina's family to change his religion, and Clementina's "malady" has returned full force. As musicologist Jessica Waldoff has written, quoting historian John Mullan, "In the sentimental genres. . .'feeling is above all observable, and the body through which it throbs is particularly excitable and responsive. . .It is "sensibility," connoting both the involuntary action of the organs and muscles and the susceptibility of men and women to shocks of passion or disappointment, which, in excess of anatomy, allows internal disorder to become observable.'" Waldoff further notes of scenes such as Clementina's fits, "Contemporary audiences valued what modern commentators resist, namely, the sentimental artwork's willingness to represent the immediacy of feeling. . .Illness, Mullan suggests, is 'the last retreat of the morally pure.'" [16]

The renewal of the offer


"Leave me, leave me, said she; and putting a paper in my hand, and shutting to the door, instantly, as I saw, fell on her knees."
Illustration drawn and engraved by R. Vinkeles (1800). Image: Internet Archive

Sir Charles gains the family's permission to renew his offer of marriage to Lady Clementina on the same terms as before: she would be able to keep her religion and her own confessor, and raise any daughters in her faith (Sir Charles reserved the religious education of any sons to himself). Sir Charles further promises that their family would spend significant time in Italy with her relatives.
Tears stood in her eyes; she seemed in great perplexity. She would twice or thrice have spoken; but speech was denied her: at last, she gave me her hand, and directed her steps, trembling to her closet. She entered it. Leave me, leave me, said she; and putting a paper in my hand, and shutting to the door, instantly, as I saw, fell on her knees; and I, to avoid hearing sobs which pierced my heart, went into the next apartment, where were her mother and Camilla, who had heard part of what had passed between us. [17]
Lady Clementina, aware that a renewal of the offer was planned, gives a response to Sir Charles in writing; she expresses her fear that with his example before her daily, she would not be able to remain steadfast in her faith:
My duty calls upon me one way: my heart resists my duty, and tempts me not to perform it. . .O thou most amiable of men! How can I be sure, that, were I thine, thou wouldst not draw me after thee, by Love, by sweetness of Manners, by condescending Goodness? [18]
Once again she refuses Sir Charles's offer.

The farewell


"She condescendingly inclined her cheek to me: I saluted her; but could not utter to her what yet was upon my lips to speak."
Illustration drawn and engraved by R. Vinkeles (1800). Image: Internet Archive

There is nothing left for Sir Charles to do but to bid Lady Clementina farewell:
Dear Lady Clementina, my happiness is bound up with yours.

Ah, Sir, I am not greater than you: and I am less than myself. I was afraid when I came to the trial—But is your happiness bound up with mine? O that I may be happy for your sake! I will endeavour to make myself so. . .Bear witness, my sister; forgive me, my mamma: but never did one mortal love another, as I do the man before us. . .Be you my brother, my friend, and the lover of my soul: this person is unworthy of you. The mind that animates it, is broken, disturbed—Pray for me, as I will for you—. . .
I kneeled to her, clasping my arms about her: May you, madam, be ever, ever happy! I resign to your will—And equally admire and reverence you for it, though a sufferer by it. . .

I raised her, and arose; and kissing first one hand, then the other, and bowing to the two marchionesses, was hastening from her.

She clapt her hands together—He is gone!—O stay, stay, Chevalier—And will you go?—

I was in too much emotion to wish to be seen—She hastened after me to the stairs—O stay, stay! I have not said half I had to say—

I returned, and taking her hand, bowed upon it, to conceal my sensibility—What further commands, with a faltering voice, has Lady Clementina for her Grandison?

I don’t know—But will you, must you, will you go?

I go; I stay; I have no will but yours, madam. . .

Clementina sighed, sobbed, wept; then turning from me, then towards me; but not withdrawing her hand; I thought, said she, I had a thousand things to say—But I have lost them all!—Go thou in peace; and be happy! and God Almighty make me so! Adieu, dearest of men!

She condescendingly inclined her cheek to me: I saluted her; but could not utter to her what yet was upon my lips to speak. [19]
Sir Charles returns to England, and to Harriet.


  1. Samuel Richardson, The History of Sir Charles Grandison, Volume II, Letter XI. Miss HARRIET BYRON, To Miss LUCY SELBY.
  2. Sir Charles Grandison, Volume II, Letter II. Miss BYRON[, To Miss LUCY SELBY]. In continuation. 
  3. Sir Charles Grandison, Volume V, Letter IX. Lady G. To Miss BYRON. 
  4. Sir Charles Grandison, Volume II, Letter XXXI. Miss BYRON[, To Miss LUCY SELBY]. In continuation. 
  5. Sir Charles Grandison, Volume I, Letter V. Miss BYRON, To Miss SELBY.
  6. 'The Haymarket Opera House', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, ed. F H W Sheppard (London, 1960), pp. 223-250. British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols29-30/pt1/pp223-250 [accessed 24 September 2019].
  7. Sir Charles Grandison, Volume I, Letter XXVII. From Mr. REEVES, To GEORGE SELBY, Esq, In Continuation. 
  8. Information about Rowlandson's print is from the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Yale Center for British Art. The print was issued ca. 1784, but it depicts an imaginary scene of no specifiable date. Goldsmith died in 1774, the year the Prince of Wales turned 12. 
  9. Vauxhall Gardens, 1661-1859: Vauxhall Songbooks: http://www.vauxhallgardens.com/vauxhall_gardens_songbooks_page.html
  10. Sir Charles Grandison,  Volume II, Letter II. Miss BYRON[, To Miss LUCY SELBY]. In continuation. 
  11. From the Folger Shakespeare Library: "The words of the song are from Shakespeare’s Love’s labour’s lost, apparently used in the version of As you like it [performed at Drury Lane in 1740] for which Arne supplied incidental music; otherwise, there is no Love’s labour’s lost music by Arne." See https://hamnet.folger.edu/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=232951
  12. Sir Charles Grandison,  Volume II, Letter II. Miss BYRON[, To Miss LUCY SELBY]. In continuation.  
  13. Sir Charles Grandison,  Volume II, Letter II. Miss BYRON[, To Miss LUCY SELBY]. In continuation.
  14. Sir Charles Grandison,  Volume IV, Letter XVI. Miss BYRON[, To Miss SELBY]. In continuation.
  15. Sir Charles Grandison,  Volume V, Letter I. Sir CHARLES GRANDISON, To Dr. BARTLETT.
  16. Jessica Waldoff, Recognition in Mozart's Operas, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 133, 145, and 163.
  17. Sir Charles Grandison,  Volume V, Letter XXIV. Sir CHARLES GRANDISON, To Dr. BARTLETT.
  18. Sir Charles Grandison,  Volume V, Letter XXIV. Sir CHARLES GRANDISON, To Dr. BARTLETT.
  19. Sir Charles Grandison,  Volume V, Letter XXXIX. Sir CHARLES GRANDISON, To Dr. BARTLETT.

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