The Blue Pavilions: a study


The Blue Pavilions was Q’s fourth novel and the first to be completed following his marriage in 1889. It was published by Cassell in 1891. It was finished in London shortly before he was joined there by his wife and son (Brittain, 1947, pp. 19 & 20). Rowse (1988, pp. 43–44) quotes from a letter that shows Q was seriously overworking at the time he was writing the last chapters (pp. 43 & 44). Shortly afterwards, in the autumn of 1891, he suffered from a nervous breakdown. This led him to consult a specialist and eventually relocate from London to Fowey, a move completed in 1892.

The Blue Pavilions was the last novel to be written in London and the first to lack any Cornish content. This suggests that Q was intent upon becoming a ‘London’ writer. It is possible that the breakdown was as much a result of a crisis of identity as of overwork. Unlike his sisters Mabel and Lillian, Q was unable to sever the Cornish link. Even when at Cambridge University he spent all permitted time at Fowey.

Although the novel represents a geographical and historical break with Cornwall, being set in Harwich, The Hague and Dunkirk, it continues from The Splendid Spur the theme of the Stuarts and their political legitimacy.

The novel opens in 1673 with Charles II on the throne, with the French as allies and with the Dutch as enemies. The hero of The Splendid Spur, Jack Marvel, lived to see the Restoration, and might well have been alive in 1673. Just as Jack Marvel was a supporter of Charles I, so Captains John Barker and Jeremy Runacles are supporters of Charles II and see James as the legitimate sovereign. Runacles had served under Prince Rupert aboard the Galloper in 1667; and it was Rupert who had effected Marvel’s exit from Oxford, with the King’s letter to Ralph Hopton in Cornwall, on 30 November, 1642. More amusingly, Captain Runacles was the commander of the Galloper at the Texel on 5 June, 1671, when Captain Cornelius van Adrienssen, commander of the Zeelandshoop, threw a ‘boot’ at him, an incident recalled 20 years later when the two captains meet in The Hague and prolong their animosity.

While Q was writing The Blue Pavilions he was involved in journalistic work for The Speaker, a radical paper. He was a novelist, like Trollope, who thought politically. He was interested in the question of legitimacy, but also in the problem of political power and corruption. In the novel, the Earl of Marlborough endeavours to play William of Orange and James Stuart off against each other, possibly hoping to win the throne for Princess Anne. Anne was the younger daughter of James, Duke of York, and Anne Hyde, daughter of the Earl of Clarendon – whose history of the ‘Civil War’ was used by Q in the writing of The Splendid Spur. During the 1690s the Earl of Marlborough and Lord Godolphin were intimates of Princess Anne. The Godolphins were a Cornish family from Mounts Bay who appear as characters in The Splendid Spur but not in The Blue Pavilions. Anne was a Stuart and an Anglican and became Queen following William’s death in 1702, after the close of the novel.

The novel introduces new themes, one of which came to dominate the second half of Q’s life, the upbringing and education of the young. John Barker has to rear Tristram Salt, an adopted son, while Jeremy Runacles has to rear Sophia, his natural daughter. The captains’ educational methods are ham-fisted and frequently humorous, but they can rely on the common sense and astuteness of Dr. Beckerleg. Later works investigate these issues at greater length.

Another theme is that of a just and beneficent providence, whereby even tragedy and catastrophe can ultimately be seen as part of a larger design, at least for those who follow the ‘good’, as far as they understand it.

What is not new is the writer’s passion for ports and the sea. Although much of his earlier life was spent inland, he loved the sea and appears to have inherited a seafaring sense from his Quiller forbears. Few writers equalled Q in their knowledge of and descriptions of the sea.

The novel explores two romantic entanglements. Firstly the love of Captains Barker and Runacles for Mistress Margaret Salt, the daughter of Sir Jabez Tellworthy and the widow of Roderick Salt. She had rejected both of them in favour of Roderick before the novel began. With the news of Roderick’s death they return to the charge. Shortly afterwards they learn from Dr. Beckerleg of Margaret’s death in childbirth and they squabble over the adoption of the child. This responsibility eventually falls to John Barker.

The second is the love of Tristram Salt for Sophia Runacles. This love is complicated by the return of Roderick Salt. It is further complicated by the appearance in Harwich of a Boston lawyer with news of the will of Silvanus Tellworthy, brother of Jabez, who had passed away in the previous November. Silvanus has left his estate to Tristram Salt, with Roderick Salt and Jeremy Runacles as co-trustees.

All ends happily. Tristram and Sophia are eventually united and will be able to consummate their love; which is different from what happens to Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew in The Splendid Spur. Captains Barker and Runacles return to a state of complete amity.

The novel follows a strict chronology, although there is one serious anomaly. On 2 May, 1691, Captain Barker is seriously wounded and spends the next ten weeks convalescing. This brings the plot to mid-July. He then travels with Captain Runacles to The Hague for an audience with King William, arriving on the morning of the 17 July. William puts them in charge of a frigate and 36 merchantmen, moored at Amsterdam, and ready for immediate despatch to the Thames. As the fleet crosses the channel it is intercepted by six French galleys. The interception is dated to 22 August. The interception must have taken place on 22 July, with Tristram arriving back at Harwich in mid-August and with the meeting of Tristram and Sophia taking place in mid-September. The anomaly is not corrected in later editions.

Q sets his characters very much in opposition to each other. Sophia Runacles maintains her devotion to Tristram Salt in spite of the bickering of the two captains and Tristram’s impressment. This is set against the unsatisfactory marriage of her mother and father and the dubious romantic influence of Margaret Tellworthy. How Margaret came to marry Roderick Salt, in spite of the opposition of her father, is left unexplained, as is her rejection of Jeremy Runacles, who then married on the rebound. How far Margaret was the equal to or the victim of Roderick Salt is unclear. The relationship left her in poverty.

Captains Barker and Runacles, for all their faults and failings, are essentially decent and honourable. They are set in opposition to the Earl of Marlborough and Roderick Salt, for whom ‘the end justifies the means’. Marlborough’s end is wealth and power, Salt’s is to be associated with wealth and power. But for all Salt’s intelligence and persuasiveness, his corrupt nature leads him only to an untimely death. Marlborough employs threats, blackmail and deceit, yet without achieving meaningful success. King William, himself a person with two sides, remains undecided about Marlborough and Salt. The honest and shrewd William Bentinck, Earl of Portland, can see through both of them: just as he quickly discerns the integrity of Barker and Runacles.

Tristram is not set in opposition to anyone, unless it is in opposition to everyone except Sophia. He is an innocent who passes uncorrupted through corrupting experiences and remains unembittered by the injustices of the world. He appears as Jack Marvel in The Splendid Spur, Taffy Raymond in The Ship of Stars and John á Cleeve in Fort Amity. There is possibly something of the young Q in these characters. However, the ‘Couch’ figure is Dr. Beckerleg.

The Theme of Education

Chapters III and IV describe the upbringing and education of Tristram and Sophia. Although there is a satirical element to them, the fundamental ideas derive from Dr. Jonathan Couch and are explored by Q at greater length in other writings. These ideas provided the basis of his own practice as a university lecturer, a member of the Cornwall Education Committee and a school inspector – and presumably as a parent. While many practising teachers will view these ideas with sympathy, the present educational system is based on other ideas, with the inevitable result.

Instruction on upbringing and education is provided by Dr. Beckerleg. In this and other stories, such as Ia and Castle Dor, Q uses doctors to deliver the Couch message.

Dr. Beckerleg begins by explaining to Captains Barker and Runacles that education should relate to the nature and abilities of the child, with the child’s development studied and recorded – the ‘Tristrapaedeia’. Although children inherit tendencies from their parents, education fosters the good and checks the bad, provided that the instruction is consistent, delivered sensitively and in an environment free from corruption. This appears very much in line with Rousseau’s Emile (1762).

A knowledge of the natural world must start with observation and experiment. This is pure Jonathan Couch. Even at the age of 16, Jonathan was keeping a record of his observations. Q inherited this tradition through his father, who loved to wander the moors with microscope in hand (Memories and Opinions, p. 15).

It needs to be supplemented, however, by extensive reading and Captain Barker furnishes himself with a remarkable collection of books, including Pliny’s Naturalis Historia. Jonathan Couch made a translation of this for the ‘Wernerian Club’ of London, although only the first three volumes were published (1847-50).

From pages 55 to 58, Q explores the problem of intelligent girls who are deprived of education and opportunity. Sophia longs to escape from her servitude by becoming a boy. Captain Runacles makes the remarkable decision of educating her himself. Before long she is studying Euclid. It was Euclid that Miss Jemima Lutman taught Q at Bodmin. Memories and Opinions calls her knowledge ‘extensive’.

The sort of practical and theoretical education Sophia received from her father can be gauged from a description of his workshop: written material of various types, a telescope for observing the stars, and tools for construction. Runacles claims his teaching to have been reasonably comprehensive. It is not surprising that in some respects Sophia was more advanced than Tristram. Yet Sophia falls in love with Tristram however much Barker and Runacles want the two to be in competition. Q did not value competition as an educational tool.

In the face of current scientific, political and educational views to the contrary, Q saw harmony centred in love as the fundamental driving force of the universe. Harmony is repeatedly threatened by the forces of disharmony – even to the point of rebellion and war, as demonstrated in The Splendid Spur – but conflict, competition and violence are temporary and do not represent the ultimate reality. Q explores this view most fully in his lectures on the metaphysical poets, later printed under the title of ‘Seventeenth Century Poets’ in Studies in Literature (1919).

Both Tristram and Sophia have to encounter and overcome the forces of competition, conflict and corruption before they can mature and be united. Just as England has to fall under the control of a Dutch Calvinist monarch and counsellors as corrupt as the Earl of Marlborough before it can return to legitimacy under the Anglican Queen Anne. Innocence has to be tempered with experience before maturity can blossom: which can never happen with those locked into conflict-dominated creeds.

Between the wars Q worked assiduously to realise his educational vision in the English department at Cambridge and through the Cornwall Education Committee. It was one of the tragedies of his life that while his students and his teachers revered him, the academic establishment was moving in other directions.

In the last chapter of The Blue Pavilions, Dr. Beckerleg arrives during the final altercation of Captains Barker and Runacles. He begins by reflecting upon the scepticism of doctors, a scepticism of theory which all the Couch doctors shared. But he then alludes to a belief in an overarching providence, whereby even apparent catastrophe can ultimately be seen as part of a larger design. Q had no time for the idea of an impersonal universe governed by pure chance. The concluding pages describe the love of Tristram and Sophia and the amity of Barker and Runacles. The proper end of education is a return to harmony, with the individual no longer seeing him or herself as isolated in conflict, but as part of society, the universe and the divine. How far Q had thought all this through by 1891 is unclear, but the basis of the lectures on the seventeenth century poets he gave in 1918 and wrote up in 1919 is clearly evident in the novel.

The Politics of the Novel

Marlborough does not want England governed by James, a Catholic associate of Louis XIV of France, or by William of Orange and his Dutch entourage, but by the Anglican Anne, the daughter of James. To outward appearance he is the faithful servant of William, and is seen in Chapter V riding with the King to Harwich, on 1 May 1691, for embarkation to The Hague. Yet in Chapter VI, Marlborough confesses to having in his possession a letter of pardon from James for having deserted him for William in November 1688.

Later in Chapter VI, Marlborough and Captain Salt discuss plans for a mutiny in the fleet and in the army, but a mutiny that will fail. Marlborough’s intention is to incite a rising amongst those sea captains with Stuart sympathies. Having learned of the anti-Dutch sympathies of Captain Barker and Captain Runacles, he endeavours to persuade or blackmail them into returning to the sea so as to instigate the mutiny and then to suffer betrayal. In this he fails. On reaching The Hague he informs William of a possible plot, providing him with a list of potential plotters. At the same time, he sends Captain Salt to James to inform him of a mutiny in his favour – a mutiny already doomed to failure. The affair is intended to place Marlborough in a good light with James and William, but also to convince them of their unpopularity in England.

Marlborough then proposes to raise the matter of discontent in navy and army in the House of Lords, with the hope that pressure from the House will persuade James and William that neither can effectively govern the country, with Anne as the obvious compromise candidate for Whigs and Tories. As Anne is under the influence of Sarah Churchill, Marlborough will become the most powerful man in the state.

William, however, appears to have suspected Marlborough and Captain Salt of double dealing. The movements of Salt are watched. During his journey to St. Germain a warrant is issued for his arrest, which Salt evades through a change of clothes with his son at the White Lamb inn, near Nieuport. Salt delivers the message to James but dares not return to The Hague. James has Salt placed in charge of naval forces gathering at Dunkirk. Salt then endeavours to clear his name by informing Marlborough and William of the preparations for a French descent upon the Thames from Dunkirk.

Marlborough finds Salt a convenient tool because both fought with the French, under Stuart command, against the Dutch. Possibly at the siege of Maestricht, Salt had defected to the Dutch after becoming a POW. He had contacts in both camps. Only Marlborough, however, knows the truth about Salt and he uses this knowledge for the purposes of blackmail.

Neither Marlborough nor Salt come out of the novel with much credit. As a political radical, Q was never slow to expose the corruptions of the rich and powerful, and to show how these corruptions filter down through society, perverting the lives of the poor and innocent. Marlborough is possibly one of Q’s most evil creations as he is willing to destroy the lives of others to effect his own purposes. Q also endeavours to show the other side. Captains Barker and Runacles, for all their petty faults, are still individuals of principle and moral conviction. Self-interest does not dominate. Even though caught up in the machinations of Marlborough, they triumph in the end.



The Blue Pavilions: Bibliography