The Ship of Stars: a study

Introduction

The novel The Ship of Stars was published in 1899, when Q was 36 years old and at the height of his creative powers. He had already published five novels and numerous short stories. The book’s dedication is in the form of a letter to the Right Hon. Leonard Henry Courtney, M.P., an Independent Liberal. Courtney’s sister, Louisa Courtney, had worked with Thomas Couch on the Cornish Glossary of 1880. 1899 was a year when free trade and anti-Boer War sentiments were uniting radicals such as Q, Courtney and Lloyd George in opposition to the Conservative and Liberal Unionist administration of Lord Salisbury, Balfour and Joseph Chamberlain.

The dedication is essential reading for those interested in a critical appreciation of the work. It establishes ‘Nannizabuloe’, the parish which claims most of the action, as a fictitious construction of an actual place, almost certainly Perranzabuloe, on the north Cornish coast. According to Padel in Cornish Place Names it means Perran, the patron saint, in the sands. The stress falls on ‘zab’ in both the real and fictional versions of the name. Sir Harry Vyell of Carwithiel, who plays a subsidiary role in the story, is identified in part as a Dartmoor character called Harry Terrell from a memoir by W.F. Collier. For a fuller account of the wreck of the Samaritan in 1846, graphically described by Q in Chapter XXV, the reader is directed to the work of the priest-poet of Morwenstow, R.S. Hawker. The naming of Hawker is significant as the ‘devil hunt’ of Chapter XVII appears to be based on a controversial account written by the priest to the discredit of the Bible Christian church. Q claims his novel to be ‘true in a fashion, even to fact’, indicating a subtle interweaving of knowledge and imagination, thus making it ‘true to more than fact’. This is a statement of the Romantic vision which informed his creative powers and by which he interpreted reality.

In the preface of the 1928 ‘Duchy’ edition Q reveals the inspiration of the novel as his boyhood in Bodmin and his student days at Oxford. The original purpose of the work was the awakening of the authorities to the need for a harbour of refuge on the exposed north Cornish coast. The failure of the authorities to respond, through the indifference of the shipping companies, roused Q’s ire. However, in addition to the welfare of seamen, Q appears to have had other concerns, unstated in the introduction. The final paragraph is personal and reflective. It records how the novelist of the 1890’s suffered from a ‘puritanically severe artistic conscience’, which the post-war years had somewhat abated. This seems to indicate a conflict between conventional literary form and imaginative freedom, resulting in a failure of artistic confidence. This puritanism can only be explained in terms of his public school-Oxbridge training. Maybe this provides another insight into the nervous breakdown Q had suffered a few years earlier.

Dating the Plot

The dating of the plot presents an intriguing problem, as certain elements revolve around 1850 and others around 1880. The autobiographical Bodmin chapters suggest 1872, while the Oxford ones indicate 1882-3. The Bodmin events must post-date the Crimean War of 1853-6, because the guns in the town square were captured by the Russians, while the greying colonel who presides at civic banquets fought at Sebastopol. The death of Samuel Raymond echoes the demise of Thomas Couch in October 1884, as both Arthur and ‘Taffy’ were in Oxford at the time.

Chapters IV to XVIII centre on the experiences of Taffy, the Q figure, at Nannizabuloe from the age of nine to about 18. Q was nine in 1872. Central to these chapters is the restoration of Nannizabuloe church under the direction of the Rev. Samuel Raymond. The renovation of Perranzabuloe church, under the direction of the Rev. William Haslam, commenced in 1843. The antiquated dress of Squire Moyle and the practice of cock-fighting amongst the squirearchy, as described in Chapter VI, cannot be later than 1840. The events relating to Jacky Pascoe, the Billy Bray figure, suggests 1854.

In Chapter XIV, Samuel Raymond records in his vestry book the burying of the crew of the brigantine James and Maria on November 3, 187- [sic].  The subsequent foundering of the brigantine Samaritan, described in Chapter XXV, must come in the late 1870s. The reconstruction of the lighthouse, a consequence of the wreck, and described in Chapter XXIX, has to be dated to 1880. The historical wreck of the Good Samaritan took place at Bedruthan Steps, to the north of Perranzabuloe, in 1846. The lighthouse associated with the disaster was completed at Trevose Head in 1847.

The novel, therefore, appears to span two distinct generations: the first centres on 1850, with elements of the free-booting and revivalistic eighteenth century; the second approximates to 1880, with its Victorian emphasis on education and respectability, along with an advancing secularism. The later generation Q knew first hand and arguably this produced his best writing. The earlier generation he had to construct from other sources. The marrying of the two historical periods is not necessarily to the advantage of the novel.

Philosophy

Brittain (1948, p. 31-2) and Rowse (1988, p. 67-9) agree in judging The Ship of Stars as probably Q’s best work. Brittain singles out for praise the quality of the characterisation and Taffy’s philosophical statement in Chapter XXIII. Rowse reflects on the nostalgia of the Oxford passages. In the introduction to the 1928 edition Q identifies the need on the north Cornish coast for a harbour of refuge as the novel’s central concern. While all this is certainly true, the work is philosophically complex and not necessarily consistent. It is a transitional document reflecting his views in 1899.

In that year Queen Victoria occupied the throne, the country was convulsed in Boer War jingoism and industrialisation was achieving the urbanisation of society. Scepticism continued to erode Christian belief amongst the educated classes, imposing instead a nominally Christian ethic without the theological sub-structure. Cornwall was de-industrialising, with the mines and associated industries closing, and rural based occupations, such as farming and tourism, re-asserting themselves. Methodism was numerically at its height, yet with a moralistic rather than a revivalistic flavour, while the axe of secularism bit into the root. Furthermore, national education was eroding folk-culture and oral tradition, bringing an increasing uniformity of thought and opinion. The Ship of Stars combines a reflection on a passing world with a concern for contemporary issues.

It is not difficult to see Q’s social philosophy in the pages of the novel. Central is a belief in an independent yeomanry, skilled workers and a responsible squirearchy, supported by Anglicanism and education. Against this range the deleterious forces of Nonconformity, a hedonistic secular and ecclesiastical ruling class and an uneducated proletariat. The surrender of social responsibility by those in authority drew Q’s particular ire. Figures such as Squire Moyle, Sir Harry Vyell and the Bishop of Truro, who appears to have more in common with Vyell than with his own clergy, are scathingly exposed. The working-class emotionalism of a local Nonconformist sect is also castigated. Order and stability, threatened yet finally triumphant, are symbolised in the figures of the Revd Samuel Raymond, the prosperous and independent farming family of Joll, the Trinity House workers and the humanistic Taffy Raymond.

The dramatic tension of the work ebbs and flows in a series of confrontations between order and disorder, learning and ignorance. Only the Oxford passages, redolent with the atmosphere of a timeless learning and academic calm, anchor the reader momentarily in calmer waters. Otherwise, the novel is social criticism at its most pointed, with issues as relevant today as when the novel was first published.

At a specifically literary level, Q’s novel explores the position of the writer in society. Brittain (1948, p.31) asserts that Taffy’s recognition of the loneliness and integrity of the individual is an expression of Q’s own creed. A refusal to surrender to the compromises and corruptions usually attendant upon adulthood and influence is essential for true creative vision. The idea is further explored in the essay ‘Shelley III’ from Studies in Literature of 1922.

Style

The Ship of Stars shows a considerable development in Q’s style of writing. The descriptions of Bodmin and Oxford are detailed and atmospheric, enabling the reader to identify the location as though under direct observation. This is not so much the case with Ardevora – St. Ives in Ia, where the tumbling streets and granite harbour remain relatively anonymous. Q has gained greater confidence in his readers’ powers of concentration and his own ability to engage. Yet Q transcends simple description. The Bodmin chapters reveal the town through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy, while the Oxford passages present the impressions of an 18 year-old student. So what was all colour, sounds and movement in Bodmin town square, with the regiments, the bands and the banqueting, becomes at Oxford a profound sense of history and culture. The common thread is a sense of almost mystical vision, providing as it does a perspective of depth or inwardness.

Q’s real trademark, however, reveals itself in passages relating to the sea. In Ia this only shows itself in the section where Paul and Ia row out at night into St. Ives bay, and to a lesser extent in the seining passages. The coastal writing is bland by comparison. The same cannot be said of The Ship of Stars. Q’s evocation of boyhood on the towans at Nannizabuloe is more satisfying than the episode where Ia is sprawled on the sand before the approaching figures of Joel Spargo and Dr. Hammer. To Taffy the ‘towan’ is a paradise of sensual delight, not just a place of meeting. The movement of the grains in the wind, the wetting of the sands and the riven nature of the waters after the rush of the wave up the beach, show not so much Q’s powers of observation, as a recall of personal experience. The maritime writing is instinctual rather than crafted, thus freeing it of the self-consciousness which mars the other passages. Q’s fiction attains its richest power in Chapter XV, ‘The Wreck of the Samaritan’. No doubt Q read accounts of the foundering of the historical Good Samaritan and might have been privy to a first hand account, but no model is discernable. The description has all the life and freshness of the event itself, and all its awefulness. There is no clearer way of appreciating Q’s development as a writer than in contrasting the ‘Samaritan’ passage with the earlier wrecking scenes from I Saw Three Ships. Both are good, but the latter shows sustained power. Many writers have described the oceans in their more ferocious moods. Only fellow seaman Joseph Conrad has attained the same concentrated inwardness recognisable to anyone reared to the life of the sea.

Of the literary techniques Q employs in the novel, one of the most effective is that of paradox. The wild and primitive coastal areas, peopled with vividly passionate characters, are set against the cultured civility of Oxford and the ordered calm of the town square in Bodmin. So from the melodious sounds of a military band, the reader is transported in a few pages to Taffy’s fight on Nannizabuloe towans, with a smear of fox gore across his face. Later in the novel, the reader is at one moment walking with Taffy in the Oxford Botanical Gardens and in the next labouring with him on the foundations of a lighthouse, with the waters swirling but inches below. The contrast could have proved even more effective if the Oxford passages had been extended. They are beautifully written, representing an unrivalled evocation of a university town in the 1880s. This failure of development is where Q falls below the highest standards of Hardy and Trollope.

Politics and Religion 

At the time of The Ship of Stars was being written Q was active in national politics as a Liberal radical. He was writing for the Speaker, as was the Rt. Hon. Leonard Courtney, to whom the novel is dedicated and who shared Q’s anti-Boer War sentiments. In Cornwall, as elsewhere, the Conservatives drew much of their support from Anglicans, and to a lesser extent from Wesleyans, Wesley having been a Tory, while the Liberals, and later the Socialists, drew their support from Nonconformists. The radicalism of the Couches derived from Jonathan Couch, who led the Wesleyans of Polperro out of Anglicanism in 1814, and in the 1830s helped establish a more democratic form of Methodism outside of Wesleyan Methodism.

The move to religious democratisation, which looked back to the Puritanism of the English Civil War (an event Q explored in The Splendid Spur) was strongest in Cornwall to the east of Truro and in Devon to the north and west of Exeter, where Puritanism itself had been strongest. This was to have important political consequences in the twentieth century, helping to preserve the Liberal Party in the south-west when it was facing annihilation elsewhere.

The political sympathies of the characters in the novel can easily be guessed at. Samuel Raymond would have been a ‘Church and Crown’ Conservative in the mould of Jack Marvel and Sir Bevil Grenville from The Splendid Spur. Moyle would have been a Tory squire and Sir Harry Vyell a Whig aristocrat. The ‘Bryanites’, a working-class sect and fiercely democratic, would not have been enfranchised but later would have supported the Liberals and, in the industrial areas, Labour. In the constituencies to either side of the River Tamar, the former ‘Bryanites’ and independent Methodists were to prove the indestructible bedrock of Liberalism following the collapse of the Liberal Party after the First World War. North Devon, South East Cornwall and North Cornwall have consistently returned Liberals to the House of Commons for over a hundred years. Although Q was a Liberal it was the ‘Bryanites’ or Bible Christians which The Ship of Stars satirises.

This is in part a consequence of the influence upon him of the Rev. Hawker of Morwenstow.  Yet Hawker, even though in many ways a model priest, shows clearly the divide in understanding between the Anglican clergy and the Cornish working population. Hawker was frequently disgusted at the sight of Bible Christian brides being led heavily pregnant to the altar rail in his church. He failed to understand that in the working population, and the Bible Christians were a working-class sect, pregnancy was invariably a condition of marriage. Children were seen as the only insurance against the inevitable destitution of old age, and in the nineteenth century the dreaded work-house, that working couples possessed. In fact, this was the continuation of a traditional Celtic practice. It was not until Lloyd George brought in his Old Age Pensions Bill in 1908, a Bill that Q most certainly supported, that the old were given a degree of security. The over 70s were given 5s. a week if their incomes did not exceed 8s. a week, with a decreasing amount if their incomes did, up to 11s. This was a measure of the Liberal radicalism for which Q stood and an example of the responsible government, as against revolutionary overthrow, in which he believed.

Leonard Courtney, who came from Penzance, where he would have known the family of Dr. Richard Quiller Couch, Q’s uncle, was also a Liberal and an Anglican. Courtney was elected to parliament for Liskeard in 1876 and held various posts in the Gladstone administration from 1880. After Liskeard was incorporated into the Bodmin Constituency in 1885, he won the seat in 1886 as a Liberal Unionist (who sat with the Conservatives), having fallen out with Gladstone over Home Rule for Ireland. Ten years later, having severed his links with the Conservatives, he became an Independent Liberal, before retiring in 1900, with Lewis Molesworth, a Liberal Unionist, replacing him as M.P.

Fowey, where Q lived, was in the Bodmin Constituency from 1885 to 1974. Nothing shows more clearly than the political career of Leonard Courtney the problem of being an Anglican and a Liberal. Both Q and Courtney were instinctive Liberals who held independent views on certain important subjects. One of these, at least for Q, was education, and even the Liberal Unionists, led by Joseph Chamberlain, bitterly opposed it.

The leading Liberal family in east Cornwall, one Q had regular contact with, was that of Agar-Robartes of Lanhydrock. John Robartes, later Lord Robartes of Lanhydrock, had been a leading Parliamentarian and Presbyterian at the time of the English Civil War. It was John Robartes who opposed the historically based characters – Sir Bevil Grenville, Sir Nicholas Slanning and John Trevanion (Honoria Callastair possessed Trevanion blood) – in The Splendid Spur and stood for all the novel opposes. The family remained faithful to John Robartes’ radicalism, becoming Whigs in the eighteenth century and Liberals in the nineteenth. Jonathan Couch probably thought well of them.

T.J. Agar-Robartes was M.P. for North-East Cornwall, excepting boroughs like Liskeard, from 1847 to 1868, and in 1880 was followed by his son Thomas. In 1885, Cornwall was reorganised into five divisions, with Bodmin as part of South-East Cornwall. The division was won by Thomas Agar-Robartes (Tommy Robartes) in 1906, but lost on petition, whereupon Robartes represented St. Austell. He was killed in the Battle of Loos, during which Harold Macmillan, later Prime Minister, was wounded, in 1915. His brother Gerald, seventh Viscount Clifden (1885-1966), retained Lanhydrock as a Liberal centre. Foy, Q’s daughter, was an intimate of the family, living for a time at Lanhydrock after Q’s death.

With the demise of Robartes’ representation in the House of Commons, the leading Liberal family in east Cornwall and west Devon became the Foots of Pencreber in Callington. Isaac Foot fought his first campaign at Totnes in 1910 and John Foot his last in the Bodmin division in 1950. Dingle Foot and Michael Foot joined the Labour Party, Dingle becoming Solicitor General in the Wilson government of 1964 and Michael the leader of the Labour Party in the 1983 General Election. Q would probably have known them all.

Isaac Foot, a Methodist local preacher, a prohibitionist and an authority on Parliamentarianism at the time of the English Civil War, was Liberal M.P. for the Bodmin division from 1922 to 1924 and from 1931 to 1935. Q signed his election papers in 1922. Rowse’s biographical and autobiographical writings tend to be critical of Foot and inter-war Liberalism.

After the war Q, Foot and Robartes must have been hoping for a continuation of the Liberal Party’s reforming agenda. The Seebohn Rowntree study of poverty in York, which probably influenced Winston Churchill in defecting to the Liberals in 1904, brought working-class poverty into the political arena (Jenkins, 2002, p. 80-1). Q’s father, Dr. Thomas Q. Couch, had been more than aware of poverty, disease and insanitary conditions in the lower areas of Bodmin, making himself a thorn in the side of an indifferent council. As a surgeon working in Bodmin jail he was also cognisant of conditions there. Shortly before he died, Dr. Richard Q. Couch of Penzance, Q’s uncle, made a study of disease and its relationship to mining conditions and localities. The Liberal administration of 1906 to 1914 confronted issues which Q was knowledgeable and about which he had written.

The Merchant Shipping Act of 1906 improved conditions on board and ensured that foreign ships using British ports, of which Fowey was one, conformed to British standards. In 1911 there was a Mines Act, while Home Secretary Winston Churchill improved conditions in jails. National Insurance was introduced. Closest to Q’s heart was the Education legislation of 1906 and 1907 which enabled the Local Education Authorities to establish School Care Committees to oversee medical inspection and treatment and to ensure that the poorest were fed.

Divisions in the Liberal Party in 1918 and its subsequent demise must have been a bitter blow, especially as it was followed by the death of his son in the flu outbreak of 1919. He never completed another novel. Education became his main concern.

Rowse’s biography of Q appears to show him moving away from Liberal radicalism after the First World War and towards the Conservatism of Stanley Baldwin. After Baldwin had been elected Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1930, Q had regular dealings with him (see Brittain, 1948, pp.101, 105 & 130; Rowse, 1988 pp.181, 194 & 200), with the relationship becoming increasingly close. Rowse disapproved of Baldwin as an ‘appeaser’ as can be seen in the autobiographical A Man of the Thirties (1979). Rowse maintains that Q had an aversion to Foot (p.176), but the evidence is ambiguous. When Isaac Foot fought Plymouth Sutton Q sent a message of support (dated 14-11-1919), while in 1922 Q signed Foot’s election papers as his principal proposer (see Foot & Highet, 2006, pp. 110, 132, 138 & 144).

Q and Foot possibly grew apart subsequently, but that is also true of Q and Rowse. Q’s refusal to support Rowse’s Labour campaign for the St. Austell division in 1930 and 1935 disappointed the candidate, particularly so in 1935 when Rowse ran on an anti-appeasement ticket and had the support of Robartes (Rowse, 1979, p. 92). The man who swung much of the working-class vote behind Rowse was Nonconformist Sam Jacobs (Rowse, 1979, p. 92), one of the leaders of the clay-miners’ strike of 1913, which Q supported, and Sunday school superintendent at Trethosa Methodist, formerly Bryanite, chapel. Jacobs was a close friend of poet and novelist Jack Clemo, whose parents had also been Bible Christians. Rowse failed to appreciate that at a time when Soviet Russia appeared to be as great a threat to Britain as Nazi Germany, his own left-wing, materialistic and atheistical views made support for him from the likes of Q rather difficult. It speaks well of Jacobs, even though Rowse had little regards for Nonconformity, that he saw through prejudice to the central issue, as did many other Nonconformists. Rowse lost in St. Austell as did Foot in Bodmin to appeasement candidates. Foot lost to J.R. Rathbone, who subsequently visited Germany, changed his views, joined the R.A.F. and lost his life in the skies over Germany in late 1940. His widow represented Bodmin division for the rest of the war, with Foot standing aside.

How far Q’s rapprochement with Baldwin was for political reasons and how far for educational is unclear. Brittain clearly suggests that Baldwin took an interest in the developments of the English Tripos at Cambridge (Brittain, 1948, p.101), which Q must have appreciated. Q came to the professorship at Cambridge as the writer of novels with a radical edge – The Ship of Stars, Shining Ferry and Major Vigoureux – and in the face of considerable opposition. His development of the Tripos also faced opposition because it was taking the teaching of literature in a direction not appreciated by all, at least in Cambridge.

Rowse suggests that the Tripos was aiming at an expansion of ‘understanding’ as against ‘memorised information’ (Rowse, 1988, p.196) and certainly against a dry philology. This needs to be appreciated when reading the educational sections of the novels. In fact, the novels themselves were aimed at the expansion of understanding. Q had a clear view of what education should and should not be. He must have been grateful for Baldwin’s support and interest. It was this view of education which ensured Q’s support for the Conservatives’ Education Bill of 1902, led through the Commons by Arthur Balfour, later Prime Minister.

Some will see the issues Q confronted in The Ship of Stars and other writings of the period as:

‘For old, unhappy, far-off things
And battles long ago,’

of Wordsworth’s highland lass in ‘The Solitary Reaper’. Such is not the case. What Q had to say about education is more than relevant to the current debate.

Furthermore, the political-religious situation today bears remarkable similarity to that which Q faced. In Britain and in other parts of the world there has been a remarkable rise in evangelical-charismatic sects for which the Bible Christians were forerunners. The difference is that in Britain some of the independent churches tend to the political right while the Bible Christians tended to radicalism. These sects espouse a theology similar to the ‘Bryanites’ and the ‘Independents’ of the English Civil War. They see the Church of England as insufficiently reformed and espouse freer forms of worship and a Bible-based approach. As many people attend the independent churches as the Church of England, with an inevitable rise in parliamentary representation. What the future holds is unclear.

The Theme of Education

Shortly after Q had published The Ship of Stars and was engaged on The Shining Ferry, the country was convulsed in a debate regarding education which had begun with the fiasco of the 1896 Education Bill and ended with the General Election of 1906. The education and upbringing of the young were of importance to Q, becoming ever more important as he grew older, and these themes appear in The Blue Pavilions of 1891, The Ship of Stars of 1899 and The Shining Ferry of 1905, in addition to works such as Adventures in Criticism of 1896. There can be no doubt that when the Balfour Education Act came before the House of Commons in 1902, largely formulated by Robert Morant of the Board of Education, and proposed by Conservative minister A.J. Balfour, Q was an enthusiastic supporter, even if his party was not. He could see the Bill as the means for transforming his literary vision into practical fact.

In 1927, Q reflected in his Preface to the Cornwall Education Week Handbook upon the battle over the 1902 Bill, the victory won and the progress it facilitated. It was a battle in which he took the side of Balfour and the Salisbury government against the Liberal Party and its Nonconformist backers – including Liberal Unionists such as Joseph Chamberlain. Lloyd George even endeavoured to galvanise opposition in Wales into a campaign to disestablish the Church of England in the principality. The abolition of the Education Bill was included in the Liberal Party manifesto for the 1906 General Election and dropped subsequently.

The Balfour Education Bill abolished the locally elected School Boards, transferring control to the Education Committees of the County Councils, thus ensuring proper elementary educational provision and appropriate funding in all parts of each county, plus responsibility for the development of secondary education. Opposition centred on the loss of control and the fear of religious education falling into the hands of an Established Church. It is not difficult to see the roots of the controversy lying back in the issues fought over in the English Civil War, explored by Q in The Splendid Spur, and in the events of 1688 which lie behind The Blue Pavilions.

An Education Committee was established in Cornwall with R.G. Rows, a leading Liberal and Methodist local preacher, as chairman and F.R. Pascoe as secretary. Q, still principally known as a popular novelist and Liberal activist, was offered the position of chairman of the School Management Committee. The three worked together for many years in complete amity, sharing a common purpose and a common vision. Brittain (1948, p.51) is correct in saying that Q was frequently prepared to sacrifice his personal preferences for the sake of more profound convictions. The same can be said of Rows.

This ‘vision’ Q explains in his Preface of 1927. All children, male and female, from rugged moor to coastal creek, have a right to formal education in appropriate buildings and with trained teachers. Education is not a marketable commodity or for the ‘market’, nor can it be imposed on the basis of political, religious or academic dogma. Its ‘secret lies hidden in the child’ and has to be ‘germinated’ from a ‘latent’ potential, resulting in ‘enlightenment’ and ‘happy faces’. This vision had to be fought for in 1902 and still had to be fought for in 1927.

One of the earliest beneficiaries, as the Handbook celebrates, was A.L. Rowse of St. Austell, who progressed from Carclaze Secondary School to Christ Church, Oxford (1927, p.54).

Although the repeal of the Balfour Education Bill was in the Liberal manifesto of 1906, once the power was attained the promise disappeared. Modest steps were taken in 1906 and 1907 to establish School Care Committees to improve the physical health of children, although educationalists such as Q must have felt disappointed at such modest progress from an otherwise radical and reforming administration. That Q committed so much time and energy to the Cornwall L.E.A., when he was financially dependent upon income from his creative fiction and was at the height of his creative powers, shows how seriously he took education, even to the point of considerable self-sacrifice. It is not surprising that when he came to the Cambridge professorship he was more popular with the students than with his fellow academics – he was far more than an academic!

The ‘vision’ expounded in 1927 lies behind the references to childhood and education in the novels and short stories he wrote and the lectures he gave. The inability of Honoria Callastair to find educational fulfilment and her retreat into an unsatisfactory marriage, and the financial catastrophe which ruined Taffy Raymond’s university career, all reveal Q’s concern at the inadequacy of nineteenth century educational provision. Part of the popularity of Q’s novels can be explained in that readers saw their own educational difficulties in the characters drawn. Whether the novels influenced the House of Commons debates is another matter. However, by 1927, Q claims, even the most dogmatic opponent could not but admit the beneficial effects of the 1902 Education Act and acknowledge Cornwall as a leading L.E.A.

Those interested in the current debate about the nature of education and educational provision cannot fail to notice that the issues surrounding the 1902 Education Act and the English Tripos at Cambridge in 1928 have resurfaced with a vengeance. Successive governments have talked of ‘freeing schools’ from L.E.A. control so as to bring back the ‘local autonomy’ of pre-1902; while their opponents accuse them of wishing to impose central control and to organise schools as exam factories, emphasising memory and exam cram over appreciation and understanding, all overseen by Ofsted officials.

Q’s emphasis on ‘understanding’ did not involve the rote learning of theories but on observation and experimentation. He was drawing from an intellectual tradition going back to Jonathan Couch. The Ship of Stars is replete with observational details of flora and fauna, weather and tides, rocks and streams. In his lectures he guided his students away from theories about literature itself. These themes are explored more fully in two other studies which look at Q's lectures on 'The Art of Reading' and the scientific work of his grandfather, Jonathan Couch.

 

 

The Ship of Stars: Bibliography

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