|Return to Text of Mansfield Park Vol III Ch 14.|
Return to Notes for Mansfield Park Vol III Ch 14.
Go to Full Text of Tirocinium.
In Mansfield Park the subject of religion arises several times, particularly with Edmund's ordination and with the bad behaviour of two of its characters near the end of the novel. The Tirocinium opens with a discussion on how a spiritual person can take more joy from the environment around them, than a more secular person can:
For her [the soul] the Fancy, roving unconfined,
The present muse of every pensive mind,
Works magic wonders, adds a brighter hue
To Nature's scenes than Nature ever knew.
To show him in an insect or a flowerIn other words, an individual with an enlighened soul will take greater enjoyment in nature and be more aware of its beauty and majesty than someone less enlightened. In Mansfield Park the two people of spiritual depth, Edmund and Fanny, take a great deal more enjoyment in the sights and sounds of nature than their companions ever do.
Such microscopic proof of skill and power
As, hid from ages past, God now displays
To combat atheists with in modern days;
In Mansfield Park during the scene in the chapel at Sotherton, Mary Crawford is horrified when she learns that Edmund intends to take orders. In the Tirocinium there is a discussion on how low the church and faith had fallen in the eyes of some, particularly the modern philisophers:
But now farewell all legendary tales,
The shadows fly, philosophy prevails;
Prayer to the winds, and caution to the waves;
Religion makes the free by nature slaves.
Priests have invented, and the world admired
What knavish priests promulgate as inspired;
Till Reason, now no longer overawed,
Resumes her powers, and spurns the clumsy fraud;
And, common sense diffusing real day,
The meteor of the Gospel dies away.
This quote contains two ideas which Jane Austen also used: the denigration of religion by philosopers and modern thinkers (Nietzche's "God is dead" may be from a later date, but seems applicable, nonetheless,) and the denigration of priests as knaves and manipulators.
In the novel the Crawfords represent the modern views of the philosophers, as they regard religion and faith, and the proscriptions of their religion, as nothing to be concerned about, and certainly nothing to bother with. To them prayer, chapel, adultery--nothing needs to be either promoted or avoided on the basis of religion alone. Religion is only something which makes slaves of free men--and the Crawfords wish to be free. Mary also makes plain her opinion that "a clergyman is nothing." (Vol.1, Ch.9) And wishes Edmund would choose any profession but that of a clergyman, which see sees as the worst of all possible choices.
Education is little discussed in Mansfield Park, but the effects of bad education and of bad example are seen throughout, and in the end, Sir Thomas comes to understand his own failings in the rearing of his children. The Crawfords learned from their uncle, the Admiral, to show little concideration to others or to care about the standards of the society. The Bertrams, with the exception of Edmund, seem to be wastrels: Tom selfishly spent money which would impoverish his brother and drank and partied himself into an almost-deadly fever, Maria and Julia are shown as selfish, inconciderate, vain, and ultimately foolish. Edmund alone among the Bertrams escapes with his character intact, seemingly by either luck or the misfortune of being a second son with a need for self-reliance and independence. Fanny, educated quietly under the supervision of her cousin Edmund, and kept from any self-importance by Mrs. Norris, also escapes the faults of the others.
In the Tirocinium, there are passages which seem to represent most of the children in Mansfield Park, particularly the boys. (The poem explicitly deals with the subject of the education of sons, not daughters.)
Would you your son should be a sot or dunce,
Lascivious, headstrong, or all these at once;
That in good time the stripling's finish'd taste
For loose expense and fashionable waste
Should prove your ruin, and his own at last;
Train him in public with a mob of boys,...
Would Tom Bertram have turned out a better man, less selfish--not gambling away his brother's future, less given to drink--"a neglected fall, and a good deal of drinking, had brought on a fever", if he had not been sent away to school with a mob of boys, but tutored at home under the watchful eye of Sir Thomas? Would the Miss Bertrams have also been better raised, if their father had taken more care, and a more active role, in their education?
If thou desert thy charge, and throw it wide,
Nor heed what guests there enter and abide,
Complain not if attachments lewd and base
Supplant thee in it and usurp thy place.
When the idea of putting on a play at Mansfield Park arises, Tom knows it would certainly meet with disapproval by Sir Thomas, yet it is the friends, "what guests there enter and abide", who hold sway in Tom's mind, not his father's wishes. Sir Thomas has lost his place as Tom's guide: "Supplant thee in it and usurp thy place".
This passage also deals with the ultimate responsibility parents have for their children's upbringing and the building of their characters. It seems that only a near-death experience redeemed Tom Bertram, and luck redeemed Julia.
Saved from his home, where every day brings forth
Some mischief fatal to his future worth,
Find him a better in a distant spot,
Within some pious pastor's humble cot,
Where vile example (yours I chiefly mean,
The most seducing, and the oftenest seen)
May never more be stamp'd upon his breast,
Not yet perhaps incurably impress'd.
In Mansfield Park it is stated repeatedly that the Crawfords are the product of a bad upbringing by their uncle, the Admiral. His public taking of a mistress certainly set the tone for his nephew's later behavior.
This practice of placing children in the home of a pastor for their education would have been completely familiar to Jane Austen, whose own father, Rev. George Austen, was a tutor and had students living with the family. This method of education is also used in Sense and Sensibility, where Edward Ferrars is placed with Lucy Steele's uncle, Mr. Pratt.
And labours to surpass him [a rival in school] day and night,
Less for improvement than to tickle spite.
The spur is powerful, and I grant its force;
It pricks the genius forward in its course,
Allows short time for play, and none for sloth;
And, felt alike by each, advances both:
But judge, where so much evil intervenes,
The end, though plausible, not worth the means.
Did Crawford choose to flirt with Maria instead of Julia because it was more entertaining to compete with Rushworth than to play with the affections of the unattached lady? Was his choice of Maria in part of a habit of competition learned at school?
And if it chance, as sometimes chance it will,
That though school-bred the boy be virtuous still;
Such rare exceptions, shining in the dark,
Prove, rather than impeach, the just remark:
As here and there a twinkling star descried
Serves but to show how black is all beside.
The critique of the education of the Bertram children does not seem to apply to Edmund, who survived his schooling with healthy morals and a character intact. This passage, then, explains his exception which proves the rule.
A disappointment waits him [a son] even there [at home from school]:
Arrived, he feels an unexpected change;
He blushes, hangs his head, is shy and strange
No longer takes, as once, with fearless ease,
His favourite stand between his father's knees,
But seeks the corner of some distant seat,
And eyes the door, and watches a retreat,
And, least familiar where he should be most,
Feels all his happiest privileges lost.
Alas, poor boy!-the natural effect
Of love by absence chill'd into respect.
"Chill'd into respect" that seems exactly the position of Sir Thomas in his children's eyes. What natural love they may have held for him when young, has been disipated and replaced by chill'd respect. Though Sir Thomas was present in the same house with his daughters, his emotional distance and his neglect separated them. With the boys, both his emotional distance, and their having been sent off to school chilled their love for their father.
Perhaps a father, blest with any brains,
Would deem it no abuse, or waste of pains,
To improve this diet [a student's schooling], at no great expense,
With savoury truth and wholesome common sense;...
...To show him in an insect or a flower
Such microscopic proof of skill and power
As, hid from ages past, God now displays
To combat atheists with in modern days;...
...To teach his heart to glow with generous flame,
Caught from the deeds of men of ancient fame;
And, more than all, with commendation due,
To set some living worthy in his view,
Whose fair example may at once inspire
A wish to copy what he must admire.
Again, here is the theme that a father's duty encompasses the moral, religious, and inspiration education of his children. Common sense, a sense of awe and wonder in nature and in God, and examples of heroes to emulate all should be part of a child's education, but which the poet believes is absent from public education. In Mansfield Park it is again Sir Thomas's failure to inspire his children which leads to the climax of the novel.
Art thou a man professionally tied,
With all thy faculties elsewhere applied,
Too busy to intend a meaner care
Than how to enrich thyself, and next thine heir;
Sir Thomas leaves his family behind to take care of business in Antigua. While it could be said that Sir Thomas is absent from his childrens' lives in a spiritual sense or in a sense of leadership, when he leaves for the Carribean, he is then absent both in person and in spirit.
Prepared by taste, by learning, and true worth,
To form thy son, to strike his genius forth;
Beneath thy roof, beneath thine eye, to prove
The force of discipline when back'd by love;
To double all thy pleasure in thy child,
His mind inform'd, his morals undefiled.
Then why resign into a stranger's hand
A task as much within your own command,
That God and nature, and your interest too,
Seem with one voice to delegate to you?
These two passages are the crux of Sir Thomas's failure. Instead of taking the education of his children into his own hands and, at least, closely supervising their lessons, he left it to schools in the case of the boys, and to the governess, Miss Lee, and Mrs. Norris in the case of the girls.
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