Squire Moyle

Moyle of Tredinnis is a typical eighteenth century figure, parading through Bodmin town square in a dilapidated silk hat, cut-away coat and knee-breaches. A number of accounts of such nominally Anglican, fox-hunting squires can be found in the journals of John Wesley. Moyle possesses an unstable and superstitious temperament, veering between the pleasures of hunting, cock-fighting and gaming on the one hand and remorseful conviction on the other. This conflict between the sacred and the profane parallels the early life of Captain Harry Carter, a character satirised in Q’s short story ‘King O’Prussia’. Devoid of religious concerns Moyle might have come straight out of Jorrocks' Jaunts and Jollities (1838) or Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour  (1853) by R.S. Surtees. Q appears to have known the latter novel for the farming family of ‘Springwheat’ gives the impression of having been the model for Mr. and Mrs. Joll, whose farm abutted Mendarva forge, where Taffy laboured as an apprentice.

The parish of Perranzabuloe itself provides another insight into the character of Moyle. The curate in charge from 1842 to 1846 was the Rev. William Haslem, whose experiences are recounted in From Death to Life (1976). His wealthiest parishioner was an uneducated mine captain, whose uncomfortable disposition was compensated for by the renting of a large box seat in the parish church. From Moyle’s box seat, only the top of his bald head was visible. The mine captain owned a substantial property, of which he used but two rooms, and he developed a penchant for revivalistic preaching. The similarity to Moyle is clear. Haslem’s account dates from the 1870s, which is the latest date a Moyle figure would have existed. From actual experience Q could have known no-one like him. As an aside, Rowse informs us of how the historical family of Moyle, sporting the appropriate crest, lived at Trevissick, near St. Austell, but emigrated to America, where their descendants now live in Salt Lake City. Moyle is Cornish dialect for mule.

In The Ship of Stars Squire Moyle is portrayed as the product of an old established family, with the parish living in his possession. His deceased wife was a certain Suzannah Trevanion from the Roseland peninsula. The Trevanions were associated by marriage to the Byrons, so in real life, Suzannah would have been a relative of Lord Byron. Before the opening of the novel Moyle’s daughter absconded with a penniless captain called Callastair, a suitably Byronic touch, and Honoria had been born in India. With the demise of both parents Honoria returned to Tredinnis, where she was called upon to tolerate her grandfather’s vagaries. These increasingly centre upon the state of his soul, an inherited obsession. The nebulous theology of Raymond provides little comfort, with the result that Moyle becomes obsessed with the Wesleyan doctrine of conversion, wrongly interpreted as ‘instant conversion’. The failure of this experience to materialise and relieve him of his fears produces increased moral effort, with Jacky Pascoe encouraging him to ‘try harder’. This takes the reader back to the sermon of Paul Heathcote on the island at Ardevora in the novel Ia. As Hammer is the objective observer of Heathcote’s sermon, so Lizzie and Honoria observe Pascoe’s inflaming of Moyle at the Bryanite chapel. The reader is left with little doubt of the writer’s disapproving attitude to revivalistic religion. How far Q has truly portrayed it, the religion of his own grandfather, is a debatable point.

The character of Moyle moves from the absurd to the grotesque in Chapter XVII, when a revival is ‘organised’ to concur with the Midsummer bonfires. In fact, as Hamilton Jenkin explains (1961, pp. 184-187), services were organised but revivals were spontaneous. There follows a paganised procession, including flaring torches, smoke and confusion, led by a libidinous Lizzie Pezzack and lashed to fury by Moyle’s claims of salvation. With a spurious assurance the squire commences a ‘Devil Hunt’, which ends with his death inside the church as his hounds bay at the door. One can but imagine what Dr. Jonathan Couch would have made of such writing. Yet Q’s target is clear. It was revivalistic religion in its Bible Christian (Bryanite) form. His justification was probably a story related by R.S. Hawker, the Anglo-Catholic vicar of Morwenstow, a parish on the north Cornish coast above Perranzabuloe.

For more details of Hawker's story, see here.