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Stories Before 1850. 0209: A. Selwyn, Montague Park

Author: Selwyn, A.
Title: Montague Park: or, family incidents. By A. Selwyn, Author of 'Tales for a Winter's Fire-side,' etc.
Cat. Number: 0209
Date: 1825
1st Edition: 1825?
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: William Cole, Newgate Street
Price: Unknown
Pages: 1 vol., iv + 176pp.
Size: 14 x 8.5 cm
Illustrations: Frontispiece and three further engravings
Note: An inscription, with book-plate, at the beginning of the volume is dated 1827

Images of all pages of this book

Page 005 of item 0209

Introductory essay

Montague Park opens, as many novels close, with the triumphal return of the Montague family to their ancestral home. Such is their love for the family that all the staff and tenants of the house and its grounds have gathered to welcome home Mr. and Mrs. Montague, and their children, Charles (perhaps about 14 years old), Emma (aged 12) and Jane (aged 10; her name given as 'James' on p.1). The tenants are feasted, and they happily and gratefully toast their landlord, who, we learn, would rather let twelve tenants deviously escape from paying rent than distress one honest individual with too severe a demand for payment, and who was in the habit of returning half the rent to each tenant if the harvest has been a poor one (p.8).

Also at Montague House is Dr. Martyn, who had been tutor to Mr. Montague and is about to begin his instruction of Charles Montague. Throughout the text, in fact, Selwyn condemns schools, which she says teach only artificial accomplishments (amongst which she includes Latin and Greek, e.g. pp.35-36), and endorses private, home-based education. Mr. Martyn soon departs with Charles to his own rectory, and the reader follows instead the education of the two Montague daughters. They are instructed by Mrs. Belton, a governess. Successive chapters detail her conversation with the two girls about the various subjects on their curriculum. The basic importance of a knowledge of geography to any cultivated person is demonstrated by the visit to the house of the foolish Maria Sudnil, who insists that she would rather drive all the way to the Isle of Wight than embark on a boat (p.39ff). A long discussion of art history is also given, centring on the origins of the modern artistic tradition (pp.76ff, and 94ff). These discussions are contrived to deliver useful factual information. The reader is vouchsafed lessons in the origins of spices and the manufacturing process of rubber, for example (pp.155f and 79ff). Above all, the study of history is recommended by Mrs. Belton (p.61ff). It ought, she says, to be studied at least one hour a day. However, one must be on one's guard lest the mind become 'too fascinated by some vain-glorious feat'. After all, historians are prone to celebrate the great and the glorious, when it is the just and the good who really deserve praise (p.64). The lesson is illustrated by a commentary on the careers of Alexander the Great and others, which again affords Selwyn the opportunity of providing factual information.

On the whole, though, Selwyn seeks to provide moral lessons, and these, she clearly hopes, will be transmitted through the example that each of the daughters sets to the reader. Long passages commend their behaviour in the most glowing terms. Much of the text reads like this: 'My dearest girls (cried Mrs. Belton, pressing a hand of each), how truly amiable is your conduct, and how fortunate am I in being privileged to form the preceptress of sisters whose first wishes are to promote each other's good: such conduct is beyond all praise, and will be richly rewarded by an approving conscience.' (p.63) Though such lessons are mostly secular in character, Selwyn is also careful to instill a religious rectitude into her young protagonists, and thus the reader. Mr. Montague, for example, relates an anecdote condemning the impiety of a farmer who congratulates himself of the success of a good harvest, but blames God for the preceding bad harvests (p.17ff). This is hypocrisy, but also impiety.

It is not until p.82 that a plot begins to manifest itself. An old, raving woman is discovered in the Montague park. She has come to seek the charity of the Montague family, for, she says, she wishes to implore them to intercede in her son's case. He has illegally drawn money from Mr. Montague's banker, and has fled the country to avoid capture and punishment. Almost as soon as she is taken into the house, the woman dies, her dying warning that one must love and obey one's parents having a powerful effect on the two Montague girls (p.89). Out walking soon after, the girls come across a four-year old girl sitting outside a cottage on their estate. This is revealed to be Mary Haldy, the grand-daughter of the dead old woman, and the daughter of her renegade son. The Montagues take in the girl, vowing to educate her for the position of a governess.

The Montagues depart to spend some time at Mr. Martyn's rectory. On the way the stumble across a scene of parental tyranny. They overhear a boy telling his sister than he has accidentally dropped their father's fishing rod in the river, and that he fears that he will be beaten severely (p.118ff). When his father, a military man, does arrive to discover what has happened only the intervention of Mr. Montague saves the boy from this chastisement. Later that day, this strict military father is revealed to be Captain Martyn, the nephew of Dr. Martyn. Mr. Montague learns that years of service as an army officer have accustomed him to the harsh discipline which he now inflicts in his own home. Although Selwyn goes some way to explaining away his severity, she remains unequivocal about her opposition to such parenting methods. Taken together with her attack on the vain-gloriousness of Alexander the Great's career, this episode might be taken to suggest Selwyn's hostility to the values, especially the tyrannical tendencies, of the soldier.

The Montagues visit, or are visited by, various other local families. The Masters and Misses Sudnil and Trifleton are introduced to the narrative to emphasise the virtuous behaviour of Charles, Emma and Jane Montague. Mr. Montague is forced to step in to punish Gregory Sudnil, for instance, who for a prank has impersonated a ghost to frighten the servants (p.159ff). By this stage the book's plot, such as it was, has been forgotten, but it re-emerges when Charles Montague discovers a distracted man walking on the estate. This turns out to be James Haldy, Mary's father, returned from the United States to seek out his daughter. He has been spotted by law-enforcement agents however, who are on his tail. Charles shuts the gates against them, promising Haldy sanctuary. He does this partly out of charity, but partly also because he thinks he has recognised Haldy as the man who, as had been described the beginning of the book (p.23ff), had rescued him from the sea off the Isle of Wight. Charles had dived in to the sea to rescue another boy, Augustus Ingram. Both boys would surely have drowned had not a fisherman suddenly come by in his boat and plucked them from the water. Mysteriously, the fisherman had never given his name, and had departed immediately. But, as Charles had suspected, Haldy is indeed that fisherman. He explains that since that time he has fallen into a life of vice. But in gratitude for his rescue of Charles, Mr. Montague forgives Haldy his crimes and arranges a lucrative position for him in America, 'on his solemn promise of renouncing the vices of his past life' (p.172).

Though short on plot and long on didactic lessons throughout, the book ends with the conventional denouement of a novel - a wedding. Charles has grown up and attended university. In the final chapter, he politely rejects the offer of marriage to the rich and titled Maria Sudnil, preferring instead to wed Louisa Martyn, the patient and kindly daughter of the strict Captain Martyn.

Nothing is known about the author, A. Selwyn, except her sex and the impressive number of her books which were published within just a few years in the mid-1820s. Besides Montague Park, the British Library catalogue attributes ten works to her, all for children. Allibone's Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1859-71) adds another three titles. Selwyn wrote several novels and moral tales besides Montague Park, such as Tales of the Vicarage (for John Harris, 1824), The Little Creoles (no date, but c.1825) and Revenge; or, the Young West Indian (no date, but c.1825). There were also several collections of short tales, such as Tales for a Winter Fireside (no date, but c.1825: 0210 in the Hockliffe Collection) or A New Year's Gift, or Domestic Tales for Children (definitely 1825). She was also responsible for Mary and Jane, or, Who Would Not Be Industrious? A Moral Fairy Tale (no date, but c.1825?) which was collected with others to form a volume of 'Moral Fairy Tales' which exists in the Osborne Collection. Last, there were several purely didactic works, namely A Key or Familiar Introduction to the Science of Botany (1824) and Ancient Grecian and Persian Biography.