Fort Amity: a study


Fort Amity is a historical novel with the main action taking place in the St Lawrence area of north-eastern America from 1758 to 1760, but with a number of flashbacks, and with three forward extensions to 1775, 1818 and 1875. Working at various levels and with a plot of considerable complexity, the novel makes demands upon the reader and the critic that at first might not appear obvious.

It is a work that in Q’s day would have been purchased at a kiosk on a railway platform or from a stall on the high street to while away a few leisure hours. The reader is carried breathlessly along from the battle of Fort Carillon at Ticonderoga in the forests of the Adirondack Mountains to the fall of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River two years later. The woods, lakes and valleys are peopled with red-coat soldiers, tomahawk-wielding Indians and resolute French colonists. Heroic and treacherous deeds are enacted in settings of unspoilt nature, where ancient divinities still laugh at the follies of men. Fort Amity appears to be a historical fiction at its most thrilling and authentic.

A second reading casts doubt on this assessment. Can the reader honestly believe, as the novel suggests, that the whole Ticonderoga campaign came to grief as the result of one chance shot taken by an unknown gunman in an impenetrable forest ? Did Fort Amity (or Amitié), mentioned on no map of the time or since, actually exist? And how did a humble ensign in the British 17th Regiment of Foot, who fought at Quebec in 1760, lead the American assault on Quebec in 1775, and find a final resting place at the cenotaph in New York? This novel of historical fiction seems to owe little to history and all too much to fiction!

At a third reading the work appears to change like a chameleon into an anti-war tract. The British and American soldiers who are comrades from 1758 to 1760 in their fight against the French slaughter each other at Quebec in 1775 with the French supporting the British. While the Indians who scalp M. Armand in a pass above the St. Lawrence River and endeavour to do the same to his sister, Diane des Noel-Tilly, in an attack upon the flagstaff tower of Fort Amitié, thus bringing the heroine to an untimely end, show themselves at home to be peace-loving natives with impeccable environmental credentials.

The violence and the victories are ultimately self-defeating. John à Cleeve, the hero of the novel, who fought with blind fury on the ramparts of Fort Carillon, recoils in horror at the futility of it all when recuperating from his wounds at Fort Amitié. The commandant of Fort Amitié, out of a misguided sense of honour, refuses to surrender to the British although he knows that New France is doomed and death will be the only consequence. At the Prés-de-Ville, in December 1775, John à Cleeve helps lead the defence of Quebec only to find from the corpses at the barrier that his cousin, Richard Montgomery, has been leading the enemy charge.

The reader has a right to question this pacifist or semi-pacifist underlie. The justification appears to reside in a number of political-military events which pertain to the years around 1900. It suggests the novel to be a curious historically-based allegory.

Parallels with Events around 1900

It is significant that the novel was written shortly after the close of the Boer War in 1902, a conflict in which Q took particular interest and which he actively opposed. As a serialisation in the Monthly Review preceded full publication in 1904, there is every indication that Q was planning and researching in 1902. Evidence to be discussed later suggests that Q outlined the possibility of such work to Henry Newbolt, a political friend, in 1901 when some of the horrors of the war were coming to public attention. It is likely that Q saw parallels between the extension of empire in Canada in 1758-60 and the same in southern Africa in 1899-1902. In reflecting upon any possible parallels the reader is advised that Q was not viewing the Boer War as an academic historian but as a political radical engaged in a singularly unpopular political campaign.

The Consequences of Corruption

Q’s anti-war and anti-imperialist polemics are not the only message of the novel. He saw and wished to explore a connection between moral corruption at the centre and military catastrophe at the periphery. The British defeats at Fort Carillon in June 1758 (Chapters I and II) and at Fort Henry in September 1757 (Chapters I and XX) were the result of ‘Pall Mall promenaders’ and the governmental problems facing Pitt in London. The ultimate fall of New France to the British in 1760 was the consequence of Pitt’s ascendancy in the House of Commons and the descent into corruption of the French political establishment in Quebec and Montreal. The rottenness of the ‘Old Noblesse’ and their grasping associates are symbolised in the figures of Marquis Pierre de Vaudreuil, Governor of New France, and Francois Bigot, Intendant of Canada (Chapter XV). The corruption at the centre was initially hidden behind the efforts of individuals of a higher moral standing, such as the military leaders, Marquis de Montcalm, Chevalier de Bourlamaque and Langy and the minor nobility in outlying estates, such as the Noel-Tillys of Boisveyrac and Fort Amitié (Chapters X and XIII). It is Montcalm with 4,000 who in July 1758 defeats Abercromby at Fort Carillon with 15,000; yet within days of the fortress of Louisburg had fallen (with Richard Montgomery taking part (Chapter I)), and within three months M. Payan de Noyan had evacuated Fort Frontenac where Lake Ontario flows into the St. Lawrence (Chapter XVI). Montcalm’s efforts were insufficient to halt the implosion.

The financial corruption at Quebec and Montreal was the result of moneys being spent on balls, spectacles and gambling parties rather than on soldiers and improved fortifications, with bastions such as Fort Frontenac, crumbling under the incompetent leadership of Noyan, being supplied with prostitutes rather than with defenders (Chapters XIV and XVI). The cities inevitably absorbed capital from the Seigniories and attracted the upwardly mobile, such as Armand des Noel-Tilly of Boisveyrac. The Seigniories fell into desuetude, with out-of-date farming practices resulting in agrarian poverty. Boisveyrac, although outwardly idyllic, was mortgaged by way of inflated government bonds to the city merchants in order to pay off the gambling debts Armand had acquired at the Palace of Intendant Bigot (Chapters XV and XXII). Yet Boisveyrac, run on semi-feudal lines, was incapable of producing a sufficient surplus to redeem the estate. Dominique Guyon of Boisveyrac fumes at the backwardness of the Seigniory, while being a middleman between the Seigneur and the moneylenders. As a tenant farmer he is in danger of losing his own farm along with any improvements made. Q was all too aware that the situation he describes in the novel, historically accurate as it is, also applied to substantial areas of contemporary Britain and virtually all of Ireland, with the consequences enumerated. 20 years after the publication of Fort Amity the Liberal Party was to make land reform a central plank in its manifesto, known as ‘The Green Book’ and published by the Liberal Land Committee in 1925.

When the novel is seen in the context of Q’s political activities, although the issues are now distant and little understood, the relevance of the fictional-historical approach, remarkable in itself, becomes apparent.

The ability of the American historian Francis Parkman, in Montcalm and Wolfe (1884), to connect the political, moral and military, not as separate units, but in a continuous narrative, served Q’s purpose perfectly. Q was able to perceive in New France many of the factors which he and fellow radicals saw as afflicting Britain at the time of the Boer War. Q kept sufficiently close to the narrative of Parkman’s work for there to be little doubt about it being his main, although not his only, source.

Fort Amity was written at the beginning of the Edwardian Age when Britain’s outward prosperity and superficial decadence hid poverty, deprivation and disease. Q was fully cognizant of this through the medical work of his father and through the reports of his uncle, Dr Richard Q Couch of Penzance, specifically the internationally known Statistical Investigation into the Mortality of Miners. Q had also available Charles Booth’s Life and Labour in London (1889–1902) and Seebohm Rowntree’s Poverty, a Study of Town Life (1901). Furthermore, Q was aware of the crippling effect of debt from the unpaid bills he was left after his father’s death.

Liberal radicals like Q wanted social and political change but were aware that this was blocked by an electorate of only 20 per cent of the adult population, a Conservative government under the reactionary Lord Salisbury and then the less reactionary A.J. Balfour, and a reactionary and totally unelected House of Lords. Even more bitter to them was the presence in the Conservative Party of Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, one time ‘Radical Joe’, who had almost destroyed the Liberal Party over Home Rule for Ireland and was now warmongering in southern Africa. Even within, or on the periphery of, the Liberal Party the radicals had to confront Liberal Imperialists and Liberal Unionists.

The rising star of this radical wing of the Liberal Party was David Lloyd George. His fire was directed at the Conservatives to his right and the Socialists to his left. Just as the power of the nobility in France had eventually plunged that country into revolution, and as New France would inevitably had followed it without British conquest, so Lloyd George feared that unless social and political reforms were effected in Britain, revolutionary socialism would result. Yet none could be effected unless the Liberal Party gained power and the House of Lords was nullified.

Parallels with the South African Campaign of 1899

Although faced with a bellicose and jingoistic London establishment, the Liberal radicals saw their chance when news of military disasters on the veldt started to percolate through in December 1899. Q possibly noticed, when reading Parkman’s account of the disastrous attack on Fort Carillon, sanctioned by General James Abercromby, in July 1758, that General Sir Redvers Buller and Joseph Chamberlain were sanctioning the same at Magersfontein and Colenso in what became known as ‘Black Week’ in December 1899. The parallels are indeed remarkable.

As the first two chapters of Fort Amity relate, in July 1758 General James Abercromby led some of the finest regiments in the British army up Lake George to the newly renovated stronghold of Fort Carillon, situated on a peninsula between two rivers, with no room for a flanking manoeuvre but with Rattlesnake Mountain overlooking the position, a perfect place for artillery. Failing to reconnoitre the battlefield, in the expectation of a French withdrawal, Abercromby ordered a frontal attack, with the inevitable result of carnage. Although still in possession of a superior force he retreated (Chapter III). This resulted in consternation in London and the demise of the general.

In December 1899, General Sir Redvers Buller marched some of the finest regiments in the British army from the Durban and the Cape to the Boer entrenchments at Magersfontein and Colenso and ordered frontal attacks, believing the Boers to be about to withdraw. He conducted the operation at Colenso, a town named after Bishop Colenso, originally from St. Austell, in person but failed to reconnoitre the Boer position. Assuming an easy victory he threw his army of 21,000 men against 3,000 entrenched Boers, with the Thukele River preventing a flanking manoeuvre. He suffered a humiliating defeat and withdrew his still superior force. The full losses of ‘Black Week’ in December 1899 amounted to 7,000. Boer losses were minimal. This led to consternation in London and the demise of Buller. The parallels between the Fort Carillon campaign of July 1758 and the South African campaign of December 1899 are clear and must have been so to Q. (The same failings were reproduced from 1915 to 1917 on the Western Front.)

From 1899 to 1902, at the time the first ideas regarding Fort Amity were taking shape, Q was engaged with the Liberal radicals in opposing the Conservative government of Lord Salisbury and the war it had sanctioned. Cornwall was singularly well-informed about South Africa because both London and South African mining newspapers were available from the paperstands, while letters streamed back from the mining camps on the Rand. Q was not alone in making a link between the Conservative government in London and military disasters in South Africa. The Cornish radical was increasingly allying himself with the Welsh firebrand David Lloyd George. Lloyd George’s criticism of the Salisbury government in general and the Colonial Secretary in particular were virtually mirror images of Parkman’s criticisms of Vaudreuil’s administration in Quebec and Montreal.

From 1899 to 1902 Lloyd George aimed his attacks at an unelected House of Lords, Lord Salisbury’s reactionary government, its connections to arms manufacturers in the Midlands and to mining interests in South Africa and North America, and to military adventuring abroad when poverty and unemployment stalked the streets at home. Parkman aimed his works at exposing the government of the ‘old Noblesse’ and their officials in New France. He identified Francois Bigot, Intendant of Canada, as corrupt and a corrupter (Parkman,1884, Chapter XVII), as does Q (Chapter XV); and M. Vaudreuil, Governor of Canada, as the protector of Bigot and the denigrator of Montcalm, who became increasingly concerned about the corruptions of the civil government (Parkman, 1884, Chapter XXVIII).

On 6 February, 1900, David Lloyd George rose to his feet on a hostile House of Commons to launch a scathing attack on Lord Salisbury and Joseph Chamberlain in relation to the Boer War. He pointed out that on the Rand, under the Boer government, miners were paid four times as much for fewer hours than at home, with social conditions financed from a tax on ‘mine capitalists’. He made a connection between what he regarded as a privileged and corrupt government in London and international mine owners and American businessmen (Owen, 1954, pp. 96–8). He then commenced a speaking tour of the country, starting in Glasgow and finishing in Cornwall, during which he accused Joseph Chamberlain and the Chamberlain family of profiting from the war through their connections to arms manufacturers in Birmingham. The Prime Minister Lord Salisbury was the protector of Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary.

Although the Liberal Party was divided over the Boer War between the Liberal Imperialists, including A.H. Asquith, and the Liberal radicals, including Lloyd George, Leonard Courtney and Q, a meeting for Liberal women was proposed for the Queens Hall in London to oppose the war. In his biography of Emily Hobhouse, John Hall states that the meeting of 13 June, 1900, was arranged by Emily Hobhouse and the ‘sister’ of Leonard Courtney, one time minister under Gladstone. Hobhouse came from St. Ive, between Liskeard and Callington, in the constituency of Leonard Courtney. Her mother was a Trelawney. It was Sir Harry Trelawney of Trelawne who had facilitated Jonathan Couch’s removal to London for medical training in 1808. The ‘sister’ is presumably Margaret Anne Courtney of Penzance who would have known Drs Richard and John Quiller Couch of Penzance and collaborated with Dr Thomas Quiller Couch of Bodmin, Q’s father, on the Cornish Glossary of 1880. The meeting attracted three to four thousand women and the bile of the London newspapers (Taylor, 1965, pp. 50–1).

Emily Hobhouse travelled back to Cornwall with David Lloyd George who was booked to speak at Liskeard public hall (reported in Cornish Times on 7 July, 1900) with Q as chairman. It was hoped that a successful meeting would result in Leonard Courtney’s readoption as Liberal candidate for South-East Cornwall. This meeting is recorded in virtually all biographies of Lloyd George because of its remarkable nature and because Cornwall and Devon were Liberal strongholds which they hoped to retain in the coming ‘Khaki Election’. Q opened the meeting in the face of strong vocal opposition, which rose to a crescendo when Lloyd George rose to speak. How far Lloyd George actually proceeded with his denunciations of the government is unclear, but one wonders whether an echo of his speech can be detected in the denunciations of Vaudreuil by Frs Joly and Launoy in Fort Amity (Chapters XV and XXI). Subsequently, chairs were thrown, the platform was rushed and a note passed to Q that a member of the audience possessed a pistol. Lloyd George, Emily Hobhouse and Q were escorted through a back door of the hall which was then closed against their pursuers. It is a wooden door in the flagstaff tower that protects John à Cleeve and Diane des Noel-Tilly from violence in Chapter XXIII of the novel.

Although Q was too astute to place all the blame for ‘Black Week’ on the shoulders of General Sir Redvers Buller, this is what Arthur Balfour tried to do in a letter from 10 Downing Street to Lord Salisbury on the 19 December, 1899, as printed in the biography of Balfour by B. Dugdale (1939), and by inference in three speeches in the following January. The government and the War Office were exonerated (Dugdale, 1939, pp. 224–232).

Further Comparisons with Parkman’s Account

According to Parkman, Vaudreuil endeavoured to deny Montcalm any credit for the French victories of 1757–8, while in a letter to the Minister of Marine and Colonies, and in another to the Minister of War, dated November 1759, he totally blamed Montcalm for the fall of New France (1884 pp. 317–322). The novel states that Vaudreuil surrendered Quebec, and with it the whole of New France, for political rather than for military reasons, to the humiliation of the military leaders (Chapter XXVI). The Marquis de Montcalm died as Vaudreuil was capitulating, with his body transferred to the chapel of the Ursuline convent, where he was buried. Diane des Noel-Tilly had been educated at the convent, to which she almost certainly returned after the occupation of Boisveyrac, staying until the meeting with John à Cleeve in 1775 (Parkman, 1884, pp. 257–259).

Parkman details the spread of social and financial corruption outwards from the privileged elite of Quebec and Montreal by including in his list of delinquents Le Verrier, commander of the French fort at Michillimackinac, at the junction of lakes Michigan and Huron. In the novel, Menehwehna and Muskingon, Ojibwas or Ojibway chiefs who fight with the French at Fort Carillon, have their residence nearby, as does John à Cleeve during his sojourn with the Ojibway Indians (Chapters XVII to XX). Dominique Guyon of Boisveyrac has business connections from Quebec and Montreal to Fort Carillon in the east and in the west to Fort Mackinac at Michillimackinac (Chapter XI). Dominique appears to be involved in the corrupt system of moneylending, mortgaging and government bonds whose tentacles had even reached the commanders of distant forts—although not the military commanders or the parish missionary priests (Chapter XXII).

Vaudreuil and Dominique Guyon endeavour to involve the Seigneur of Boisveyrac in embezzlement through his position as commander of Fort Amitié so as to pay off the gambling debts his son Armand had amassed at Bigot’s Palace (Chapter XV). It appears that the merchants used the fort as trading stations with the Indians through payments to the commander. The merchants received natural products in exchange for guns and powder, no doubt purloined from the military – a practice the British later refused. This refusal was a contributory factor in the Indian rising of 1763, which Parkman explores in The Conspiracy of Pontiac (1874). The Seigneur had also refused, but without deleterious consequences as the Iroquois of the Adirondacks were associates of the British and kept away from the fort. Boisveyrac was guarded by Etchemin Indians who had been displaced from Nova Scotia by the British. Vaudreuil tries to involve Payan de Noyan, commander of Fort Frontenac, in organised prostitution but is frustrated by the Seigneur (Chapter XV). The novel clearly suggests that de Noyan held the position because of social connections, not because of military ability (Chapter XIV).

Land Reforms

Q is not blind to the failings of the Seigneur of Boisveyrac even if the Seigneur refuses the institutionalised corruption of Quebec and Montreal. The novel indites him for maintaining in New France the semi-feudal system of the mother country, including the corvée (Chapter XIV). Although Boisveyrac appears prosperous, it is stagnant, with indifferent peasants, dated work practices and hidden poverty. The profits, as far as there are any, are creamed off to the money lenders in the city (Chapters X and XI). Even the capable and entrepreneurial family of Guyon rent their land from the Seigneur and have to respect his authority (Chapters X and XIV). Dominique Guyon wishes to marry the Seigneur’s daughter but is rejected as socially inferior (Chapter XXII). Mrs. Hicks of Fowey considered a doctor’s son from Bodmin socially inferior and opposed Q’s marriage (Rowse, 1988, p. 29). Dominique believed himself capable of running the affairs of Boisveyrac on far superior lines (Chapter XI).

The novelist’s interest in land ownership and farm improvements was shared with other Liberal radicals. The hereditary ownership of land and the insecurity of tenant farmers, especially those who improved the quality of the soil and introduced advanced practices, was seen as a national problem and one linked to the political power of the landed class. 20 years after the publication of Fort Amity the Liberal Party brought the same issue centre stage with the publication of The Land and the Nation or the ‘Green Book’. This proposed transferring land from private landowners to the state, offering fair rents and providing security for forward-looking tenant farmers. The prime mover was David Lloyd George. He had tried to move in that direction in his pre-war budgets. However, in 1904 any solution to the land problem was purely academic, depending upon the defeat of the Conservative Party at a general election and a reduction of the powers of the House of Lords. 

Sir Redvers Buller

Pitt certainly did blame Abercromby for the military disaster of Fort Carillon and it is to Q’s credit that he appears to have remained silent regarding Buller and ‘Black Week’, although the families of Buller and Couch had known each other for countless years. Although Sir Redvers Buller came from Downes in Devon, the family home was at Morval in the Looe valley. Sir Redvers was a direct descendant of James Buller, Mayor of East Looe in 1752. At the time of the English Civil War the Bullers of Morval and Shillingham were Puritans and Parliamentarians who stood for all that the heroes of The Splendid Spur opposed. In the eighteenth century the Bullers were Whigs and in the nineteenth century members of the House of Commons and to a lesser extent the House of Lords. From 1789, the year of Jonathan Couch’s birth, to 1837 the municipal life of Looe was dominated by a certain Thomas Bond, the Aeneas Bond of Q’s stories. According to A.L. Browne (1904, pp.180–182), Bond owed his position to a powerful faction which included the Bullers but excluded the local population. Jonathan Couch, who knew Bond well, supported the Reform Act of 1832 and subsequent acts in the hope of the power of local oligarchies being neutralised.

Jonathan Couch’s early life was dominated by the revolution and war across the channel. He received his initial training in Latin from M. Arzell, an émigré priest who found sanctuary with Sir Harry Trelawney at Trelawne. In the short story ‘The Singular Adventure of a Small Free-trader’, written about four years before Fort Amity and apparently taken from the records of his grandfather, Q relates the arrival from Brittany of Heloise Keranguin, a Diane figure, fleeing with her lover from the ‘Terror’. Q had no illusions about where the practices and attitudes of the Noel-Tilly family would ultimately lead had the British not taken over, and in supporting the status quo, Frs Joly and Launoy were propping up a doomed structure, as doomed as the structure supported by Lord Salisbury and other estate owners in the House of Lords.

The odium into which Sir Redvers Buller fell following ‘Black Week’ was deepened when in May 1900 his proposal of a peace settlement with the Boers was rejected by the Salisbury government, a settlement supported by Lloyd George and the Liberal radicals. As a result South Africa descended into two years of slaughter and suffering which included the invention of the ‘concentration camp’. To the radicals this finally established the moral culpability of the Salisbury administration, Joseph Chamberlain and the London Establishment. However, the radicals possibly saw this in a wider context. In South West Africa, now Namibia, three thousand Germans controlled 70 per cent of the land, with the native Herero population being reduced by 1904 from 80,000 to 15,000 and the Nama from 20,000 to 10,000. Timothy Snyder in Black Earth (2015) has stated that the Germans justified their policies from what had happened to the American Indian. In Fort Amity, Q clearly calls for a correct understanding of native peoples and spends three chapters on the life of the Ojibway or Ojibwas Indians.

Q shared his political and moral stance with the historian G.M. Trevelyan (tre — homestead; vellan — mill). The family home was and still is at Trevelyan in the parish of St. Veep, across the river from Fowey. In his biography of Trevelyan David Cannadine (1993) explains that he was a Liberal radical who opposed the Boer War, was concerned with social reform, regarded Balfour as a ‘reactionary’ and dismissed the Conservative Party as ‘corrupt and inept’. Trevelyan was also concerned to identify the ‘contemporary significance of historical events’ (1993, pp. 62–63).

Q’s Use of his Sources

Fort Amity is based on the British campaign in New France from July 1758 to September 1760, with flashbacks to John à Cleeve’s earlier life in Devon and at the seminary school at Douai in France. Chapter XXVII takes the reader forward to the defence of Quebec by a British and French force against an American army led by Richard Montgomery in 1775. Epilogue I describes the removal of the body of Richard Montgomery from Quebec to New York in 1818. Epilogue II describes the centenary celebrations of the defence of Quebec in 1775. The geographical area is bounded by Lake George and Lake Champlain in the east, and in the west by the Great Lakes as far as the junction of Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior.

Q appears to have based the novel, historically and geographically, on the writings of the American historian Francis Parkman, specifically Montcalm and Wolfe (1884) and The Conspiracy of Pontiac (1874). Not only did Parkman have access to ‘voluminous records’ but he had contact with the descendants of some of the actors, such as Marquis de Montcalm, and visited all the important historical locations. (See the Introduction to Montcalm and Wolfe). What enabled Q to write the chapters set in Indian territory (XVII–XX), appears to have been the knowledge gained by Francis Parkman in the 1840s when he spent time living in areas where native traditions had been maintained largely free from European influence. (See the Preface to The Conspiracy of Pontiac). Parkman was not Q’s only source as the novel contains material not found in his writings. This source or these sources have not yet been identified. Q must have admired Parkman for his scholarship, his descriptive power, his clear style and his moral depth. He represented Q’s ideal historian.

The military campaigns are correctly related and dated. The historical figures take on the characteristics given to them by Parkman: Brigadier-Lord Howe, the model military leader who is always up with his troops; General James Abercromby, the military incompetent who is always at the rear; Francis Bigot, Intendant of Canada, the corrupt administrator; and General Amherst, the unimaginative but competent military commander whose moral stature is beyond question. The fictional characters are true to fact. The historical figure who most combines fact and fiction is Richard Montgomery, with the facts being stranger than fiction.

There is however a caveat. At times Q adapted a location or combined locations to facilitate the plot. Virtually all locations are identifiable although not necessarily under the name given. Fort Amity or Amitié is a construct of the geography and history of two separate locations, Fort Levis on the St. Lawrence River and a small fort at the mission station of La Presentation or La Gallete on the junction of the Oswagtachie and St. Lawrence rivers.

The Writing of the Novel

The novel was written at ‘The Haven’, overlooking the harbour entrance to Fowey, in 1903. Q’s unhappy London days were far in the past and his professorship far in the future. He was happily married, financially secure and residing in ideal surroundings. The range of his activities suggests a constitution of remarkable robustness and an inexhaustible supply of energy. No one could accuse him of being a literary recluse or a self-obsessed novelist. Not only was he politically active, he was also a member of Cornwall’s Local Education Authority.

Fort Amity was one of two novels set in North America, the other being Lady Good-for-Nothing (1910), set in Boston, Massachusetts from 1744 to 1752, but with an epilogue dated to 1775, the year of the declaration of American independence from Britain. The second half of Poison Island (1907) is also set in America, on the east coast from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Honduras sometime after the close of the Napoleonic War, although with Captain Coffin’s log and treasure map dated to a period from 1776 to 1812.

Fort Amity was initially serialised in The Monthly Review before being published in novel form by John Murray in 1904. The preface to Poison Island relates that at that time Q was endeavouring to create stories of adventure, with the emphasis on plot and characterisation as against standardisations of plot and fruitless interior monologues.

The novel’s dedication informs the reader that the work was initially discussed with Henry Newbolt (1862–1938), who had progressed from Clifton College to Oxford University a year in advance of Q, at a chance meeting in Paddington station. The dedication claims the meeting at the station to have been 20 years after their time in the Sixth Form, suggesting 1901. We can therefore assume that the novel took about two years to research and write. Newbolt, a poet in his own right, was editor of the Conservative The Monthly Review from 1900 to 1904, but was forced to resign owing to the Liberal bias of too many of the contributions. No doubt Fort Amity was one of these. Another contributor was fellow Cornishman Arthur Symons (1865-1945) writer of The Symbolist Movement in Poetry. As something of a libertine, Symons was not altogether to Q’s taste (Rowse, 1988, pp. 13–4).

The first edition of Fort Amity contains a dedication to Henry Newbolt (1862-1938), dated April 20th, 1904, with the place of writing identified as ‘The Haven’ at Fowey. There is no preface. The Duchy edition of 1928, 24 years later, contains the original dedication and a newly written preface. In 1928 Q was a very different person than he had been in 1904 and Britain a very different place. When Fort Amity was published Q was 41, a political activist, a family man and a novelist at the height of his creative powers. In 1928 he was 65, having outlived his father by seven years and his uncle, Dr. Richard Couch, by 18. His son had died in the flu outbreak of 1918–19 after having served four years on the western front, the Liberal Party was in irreversible decline and his powers as a novelist had failed. The cares of his professorship weighed heavily upon him as he endeavoured, against some opposition, to develop the English Tripos at Cambridge. It was no longer Lloyd George, lost in the political wilderness, that he looked to but Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister and Chancellor of the University. In 1904 Q had been a fierce critic of the Establishment, in 1929 he was a member of it, being criticised by others.

The situation Q found himself in is captured by A.J.P. Taylor in English History, 1914–1945 (1065, pp. 177–9). Between the wars men saw themselves living in ‘disintegrating’ times with an ‘unbridgeable chasm’ opening up between pre-war and post-war writers. The ‘rebels’ of an earlier generation suddenly seemed ‘old fashioned’ and the ‘subversive’ ‘unwillingly respectable’. The post-war writers accepted ‘cultural and moral disintegration’ as a norm, looking to T.S. Eliot and James Joyce. Q’s broadside against T.S. Eliot came in the Cambridge lecture of 16th May, 1934. He castigates contemporary writers as individualistic, seeing originality as an end in itself. ‘Post-war disillusionment’ had resulted in a ‘sordid’ pseudo-art. The conclusion of Fort Amity makes it clear that disintegration cannot be an end in itself but must be followed by reintegration—British, French and Indian living in tolerable harmony.

The preface can be seen more as an introduction to Q’s thinking in 1928 than in 1904. It tries to deflect the reader’s attention from the novel’s radical aspects by elevating the romantic. Centre stage comes the relationship of John à Cleeve and Diane des Noel-Tilly. Romantic love is explained in terms of the Medieval romance Tristan and Iseult. It is ultimately tragic as it transcends the parameters of normal human experience. Q’s interest in Tristan and Iseult was ignited, or reignited, through an incident in the Easter vacation of 1925. This is explained in a letter to Dr H.F. Stewart, fellow of Trinity College, dated to April 1925, and printed in Brittain’s biography (1947, p. 117). Q believed that his discovery had established the historical and geographical references of the Medieval romances to relate to the valley of the Fowey.

Problems and Strengths of the Novel

To interpret or reinterpret Fort Amity in terms of Tristan and Iseult is difficult to sustain. Tristan and Iseult is about the love of two men—King Mark of Cornwall and Tristan of Brittany—for one woman—Iseult of Ireland. Fort Amity is about the love of two women—Diane des Noel-Tilly of Boisveyrac and Ojibway squaw Azoka of Michilimackinac on Lake Huron—for one man—the Devonian John à Cleeve. Furthermore, if romance stands at the centre of the novel it is difficult to understand why Diane does not appear until Chapter XIII, disappears at the end of Chapter XVI, reappears at the end of Chapter XXI and disappears after three chapters until 15 years later, in Chapter XXVII, when she drifts onto the page as a shadowy and unnamed figure in Hospitalière dress. The preface of 1928 seems to be casting a red herring before the reader to deflect attention from the radical agenda to which Q no longer subscribed.

The problem of disappearing characters applies to others apart from Diane and in places makes the plot difficult to follow. For instance: when travelling through the Adirondack mountains from Fort Carillon to the St. Lawrence River, Sergeant Barboux and his party are tracked by a group of Iroquois Indians (Chapter VIII). Barboux and à Cleeve escape westwards to the St. Lawrence with two Ojibway Indians, while Bateese Guyon and the wounded McQuarters retreat back to the Richelieu River. McQuarters disappears from the text and Guyon is only heard of as a character off-stage (pages 89, 94 and128). It is not until page 143 that we learn of the escape of McQuarters and Guyon and by that time the reader’s mind has been diverted onto more immediate matters. In giving an account of the escape Guyon fails to mention McQuarters at all. McQuarters then mysteriously reappears in Chapter XXVII as the sergeant in charge of artillery at the Près-de-Ville in Quebec in December 1775, 17 years later; and in Epilogue II, dated December 1875, as the hero who died at his post.

The novel has many compensating strengths. Q never visited North America, although his novels sold well there, with the vivid and detailed descriptions of the natural world being the product of study and imagination. His portrayal of Abercromby’s flotilla sweeping up Lake George, with the waters reflecting forest and mountain to either side, is unforgettable. Action related to water in any of its accumulations—river, lake or sea—always brought out the best in him.

Similarly with battle scenes. This was first attempted in The Splendid Spur and achieved its highest perfection in the Peninsula War tales. The battles of Fort Carillon in July 1758 (Chapter III) and Quebec in December 1775 (Chapter XXVII) are both vivid and historically accurate. Q’s knowledge of military fortifications and technical manoeuvres, however this was actually acquired, increases the sense of authenticity. 

The Treatment of Cultural Differences 

The authenticity of the novel is further enhanced by his deft handling of the relationship between Europeans and native Americans. Q rejected the idea of the ‘noble savage’, Parkman’s The Conspiracy of Pontiac making it untenable, but he also rejected the idea, found in fictional and nonfictional writings of the time, of the noble Briton fighting for Empire against uncivilised and brutal natives—the General Gordon syndrome. No doubt he had read Winston Churchill’s The River War. An account of the reconquest of the Sudan (1899), a reconquest Gladstone’s Liberal government had rejected but which was effected by Lord Salisbury’s Conservative administration with the backing of Joseph Chamberlain and the military involvement of General Sir Redvers Buller. He would also have read many novels celebrating such conflicts. His interests in southern Africa would have brought him to confront the uncomfortable fact that, as Timothy Snyder (2015) relates, the Germans saw the ‘fate of Native Americans as a precedent for the fate of native Africans under their control’ (p. 15). Fort Amity presents native Americans as different from Europeans only in culture, with harmonious relationships possible and desirable. Although this is accepted today, at least in theory, it was not in 1904. The basis of Q’s understanding of the American Indian is not a product of the romantic imagination but based firmly in the writings of Francis Parkman. It is also based in the knowledge that he himself belonged to a native race.

Fort Amity involves three races, British, French Canadian and Ojibwas Indian, but only one religion, Roman Catholicism. Although the Ojibwas were pagans who had refused all missionary endeavour—Diane is correct in calling Menehwehna a ‘heathen’ (p. 121)—Q does not investigate their paganism. John à Cleeve is a cradle Catholic who embraces scepticism after reading Voltaire (p. 8). The Noel-Tillys are believing and practising Catholics whose religion enables them to accommodate the potential and actual loss of New France. In certain respects Diane Noel-Tilly is the most interesting character in the novel, the only one to discover true selflessness and compassion. Q’s attitude to Catholicism, although he never appears to have wavered from Anglicanism, is fair and balanced. This was not true of all novelists at the time. Two of the best selling were Silas and Joseph Hocking of St. Austell. As Alan M. Kent explains in Pulp Methodism (2002), Silas Hocking was the first novelist to sell a million copies of a single title—Her Benny of 1879. The Hockings were also leading Liberals, anti-war activists and social reformers. As Joseph Hocking’s novel of 1899 makes clear from its title The Scarlet Woman, they were strongly anti-Catholic. Q may have had his disagreements with Roman Catholicism, as is made clear in the character of Dr Hervey from Tom Tiddler’s Ground, but this was in terms of the detail. The aim of Fort Amity is not to sow division but to find common ground for order and harmony. Just as Bishop Colenso enabled the Zulus of southern Africa to discover a place within Anglicanism, in the face of acrimony from the Anglican Establishment in Canterbury, and the governor of Canada found a place for Catholicism in the conquered province, in the face of acrimony from the political Establishment in London, so Q aimed at accommodation beyond political, religious and military conflicts in Fort Amity.

Bibliography: Fort Amity


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