London periodicals, Scottish novels, and Italian fabrications: Andrew of Padua, the Improvisatore re-membered.
It goes without saying that the 191-page text of Andrew of Padua, the Improvisatore has never been reprinted. Remarkably, though, a full-text version is freely available on the internet. (1) The title page (Fig. 1) presents Andrew of Padua as an anonymous translation of a popular Italian novel by the Abbate Furbo. (Educated or well-travelled nineteenth-century readers might have recognized with a tinge of unease that furbo is Italian for "wily," "artful," or "cunning," before they surrendered to the considerable charm of the tale itself.) In what follows, I will first discuss the unusual features that make this novel eminently worth recovering--in particular, its use of metafictional devices to create a mise en abime of story-telling and performance. After summarizing the evidence for attributing the novel to a Scottish Romantic writer, I will explore what the newly re-sited text can teach us about the relations among authors, publishers, and reader-consumers in early-nineteenth-century print culture. Andrew of Padua turns out to be a nexus for several interrelated practices and fashions, including anonymous and pseudonymous publication, the marketing of periodicals and new novels, the popularity of travel accounts, and even contemporary trends in educational publishing. The novel's most remarkable achievement, I will argue, is its self-conscious representation of these features of the Romantic literary marketplace on the level of narrative and character, whereby the Italian improvvisatore becomes an allegorical figure for the British periodical writer.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Andrew of Padua begins abruptly with the author and narrator, Abbate Francisco Furbo, locating the narrated events in Rome "some years ago, during the Carnival" (1). (The setting of the story in the midst of a festival of masking and disguise might again give a prudent reader pause.) Here Furbo's curiosity is aroused by Andrew, an aged street performer or improvvisatore. Variations on the question "Who is this Andrew of Padua?" echo throughout the opening chapter, and bystanders seem surprised that Furbo is not already acquainted with Andrew, for they consider him "the funniest man in all Rome" (3). Andrew introduces himself, however, as "a poor, friendless old man" who must literally sing for his supper (5). And that is exactly what he does throughout the novel: after the introductory chapter, the voice of the narrator Furbo is almost entirely superseded by Andrew's first-person account of his own history, which he frequently interrupts in order to request a meal or a glass of wine from his host Furbo. The novel unfolds as Andrew spins his story, and the story is his way of earning his subsistence.
According to his autobiographical narrative, Andrew counts as an orphan, although there is good reason to believe that he is actually the fruit of an illicit romance between his foster-mother, Signora Stomaticho, and the monk Padre Urbano, who makes frequent visits to their home. Nevertheless, in the absence of established family ties, Andrew must improvise a place for himself in society; his story, accordingly, is that of a picaresque adventurer. As a young man, he is installed as a clerk in a Venetian countinghouse, but he leaves this mercantile career for the theater after falling in love with an actress. Despite Andrew's choice of the theater over the counting-house, the themes of mercantile exchange and self-conscious performance continue to intersect, and to overlap, throughout the remainder of the story. This is a tale about the performances that go on in the marketplace, and the marketing that goes on in the theater.
The story of Andrew's career on the stage centers on performances of the self and features several performances-within-performances. The first time he treads the boards, Andrew realizes that he stands to profit most by playing versions of himself: "To tell the truth," he admits, "I was certainly not a good actor; for instead of performing the part which the author had conceived, I threw into it the peculiarities of my own individual character" (68). And his character is, par excellence, that of an improvvisatore, a person with the talent for extemporizing stories and verses, as well as for spontaneously reinventing himself so as to gratify and enchant his listeners. Thus, Andrew succeeds as an actor only in dramas where he gets to play the role of an improvvisatore--and even then, he finds the verses that playwrights script for him to recite as an improvvisatore to be "execrable," and correctly believes he will "produce a better effect" by really extemporizing in the midst of the performance (71). In other words, Andrew manages to perform the stage role of a clever improviser by actually being a clever improviser, extemporizing poetry that astounds the audience, his fellow actors, and even himself:
Images thickened upon me; the rock was touched by the prophetic wand, and the stream, as it flowed, gave life to the sands of the desert. My spirit mounted; and in the fervour of its flight, I became so entranced in the topic which I undertook to embellish, that I lost all sense of the scene before me, and continued to vindicate my poetical powers, with such a vehemence of elocution, such a glorious consciousness of power and abundance, that the actors on the stage stood amazed at what they heard, and the audience were scarcely less transported by my success, than I was myself with the rapture of the moment. (72-73)
While the experience is described as one of inspired transport, Andrew's motivation is thoroughly mercenary. The dramatic scenario requires the improvvisatore-character to "display his abilities to convince an austere old man that he was indeed gifted with genius" (72). When Andrew catches sight of a Marquis in the audience whose approval he has been trying to win, he feels himself transported with inspiration by the opportunity to dazzle a rich old man "for real." More than method acting, this represents an elision of the actor's stage role with his pragmatic role in a social system where he literally needs to sell himself as a performer. It is in this moment of combined salesmanship and meta-performativity that Andrew discovers his vocation: to become a star improvvisatore. He henceforth becomes known by the epithet "Homer," the inspired bard, and he embarks on a career that takes him to Sicily, where "the climate, and the garrulous simplicity, and sly ingenuity of the inhabitants" suit him admirably (136). He then goes on to perform in Marseilles, London, Paris, and again in Rome, the city he considers "the best market to which I could carry my wares" (178).
A recurrent theme in Andrew's account of his career is that his ability to improvise is dependent on the sympathy and responsiveness of the audience. When he is paralyzed by stage-fright at his first appearance, only the acclaim of the audience helps him along; later, cowed anew by the size of a London theater, he is roused to enthusiasm once the audience begins to applaud. But Andrew's rapport with an audience is equally important on another level, as he performs his entire autobiographical tale for his host, Francisco Furbo. Near the end of the novel, Furbo begins to notice that the improvvisatore, who has already got him to pay for multiple suppers and many bumpers of wine, is "shrewdly" (177) observing the effect that the narrative is having on his listener. And, at the opportune moment, his guest pulls the rug out from under the feet of Furbo as well as the reader when he comes out with the revelation that he himself is not Andrew of Padua, the improvvisatore. Far from being an international star who has played the stages of Paris and London, the speaker is an illiterate story-teller with bad teeth who has never left the streets of Rome since he came there from Padua as a boy, as part of a "raree show" (186). The pretended autobiography is an invented tale--as Furbo would have noticed, Andrew chides him, if he had been paying careful attention to inconsistencies between the story and the story-teller. Furbo is at first indignant about having been taken in:
Then you are really the impostor that you were represented to be, and all this long story is but a pack of falsehoods contrived to beguile me of my wine and suppers, cried I, waxing wroth with resentment. 'Softly, softly,' said Andrew; 'do not call it falsehood, fiction is the term, and if it has amused you as well as if it had been all true, what signifies the little stratagem that I have played.' (186)
Improviser or impostor, fiction or falsehood? In admitting that he is not the improvvisatore whose story he has been telling and claiming as his own, Andrew demonstrates, of course, that he is nothing but an improvvisatore who has, as Furbo charges, "invented all this romantic narrative without any premeditation" (186).
The unreliable narrator and the performances-within-performances of Andrew of Padua lend it an almost postmodern self-reflexivity--an effect multiplied by the frame narrative that surrounds the tale just told. For, from the revelation that Andrew is not Andrew, it is a short step--albeit a step that no critic has taken--to the realization that the purported author Furbo ("the wily") is not Furbo, either. Andrew of Padua's fictionality begins with its paratext: a frame purportedly written by the anonymous English translator, consisting of a preface at the beginning of the novel and a translator's note at the end. The preface immediately introduces yet another text, as the translator cites a lengthy extract of what he claims is a letter "from the gentleman to whom he is indebted for the only entire copy of the Abbate Furbo's works, perhaps in this country" (v). This extract consists of a "Biographical Sketch of the Abbate Furbo," complete with the author's birthdate (11 September 1722) and a brief history of his works and their reception.
The Biographical Sketch claims to draw on the scholarly apparatus in Italian editions of Furbo's complete works, but it also refers extensively to the novels themselves, and the characters in them. Yet none of these novels or characters actually exists. The preface to Andrew of Padua is a brief but remarkable exercise in writing a reception history of a non-existent corpus of texts, and using these texts as authoritative sources for the biography of their equally non-existent author. Moreover, this reception history takes some care to imitate scholarly convention, identifying misattributions and skirting around spurious information, some of which it purports to correct, while cautiously admitting ignorance on other points. Furbo's lack of celebrity in Italian social circles and abroad is explained by a bizarre accident with a boiling coffeepot, which left him "so deformed in the mouth ... that his articulation was scarcely intelligible" (xiii). Although he literally cannot speak for himself, Furbo is credited with understanding fourteen languages and writing fluently in nine. Finally, the biographical sketch details the location of Furbo's funeral monument in a Roman church, and refers the reader who may be interested in a detailed account of his funeral to his "Pisan biographer" Altravista (i.e., "another point of view").
There is, then, no Italian original of which this novel is a translation. When the posing translator nevertheless ends the story with an editorial note on the inadequacy of his rendition into English, Andrew of Padua becomes even more of a raise en abime. It offers the reader an inadequate English translation of an Italian novel about an orally improvised story about Andrew's career as an improviser who plays the role of an improviser on the stages of European capitals: performances over the top of performances. Jerome McGann has recently written about what he terms the "Romantic postmodernity" of Walter Scott, referring to the paratextual elements of Scott's novels that "make the subject of tale-telling an explicit and governing preoccupation of the fiction." (2) This sort of "Romantic postmodernity" characterizes the present novel even more than it does Scott, because of Andrew of Padua's explicit preoccupation with the tale-telling improvvisatore, the figure that supplies the plot of the novel and resonates through its paratexts.
In its audaciousness, the pseudo-scholarly paratext of Andrew of Padua goes a step beyond the convention of the fictional editor as commonly used in late-eighteenth-century novels, important as this convention is to what the hidden author is doing. Andrew of Padua belongs to the tradition of fakery that was revived for use in the Romantic novel by Horace Walpole when he put forward The Castle of Otranto, on its first publication in 1764, as a translation from a sixteenth-century Italian writer. By constructing an identity--complete with biography, bibliography, and reception history--for the fictional author Francisco Furbo, it even crosses the line from fakery to forgery, imposing on readers and institutions the lasting belief that it is the work of someone other than it actually is.
Fakes and forgeries have recently been gaining substantial attention as features of Romantic poetics. (3) In the process of working out a definition of literary forgery, K. K. Ruthven focuses on the paratextual apparatus, showing how its normal function of guaranteeing authority makes it peculiarly adaptable for the opposite purpose of subverting authority. "Theoretically, the function of paratextual features is to indicate exactly what sort of book confronts us, and thus prevent misreadings that arise from misidentification," Ruthven writes; yet "writers ... see fictional opportunities in the paratext" (43-44). The author of Andrew of Padua sees so many opportunities for echoing and perpetuating the themes of the tale in the translator's prefatory and concluding notes that these framing elements cease to be neutral "paratexts," in Genette's term, and take on the status of a parergon, or what Derrida called the "supplement outside the work." (4) As in the Derridean parergon, Andrew of Padua plays with the traditional hierarchy that would assign prefatory material a secondary status in relation to the story itself. The biography of Furbo that surrounds the autobiography of Andrew is "supplemental" insofar as it constitutes an addition that is also a substitution: just as Andrew plays the improvvisatore and the unreliable narrator in relation to Furbo, so Furbo plays the same role in relation to the reader. The notion of parergon--which Derrida also calls the hors-d'oeuvre, a culinary metaphor that is peculiarly apt in the case of Andrew of Padua--emphasizes the necessity of the paratext for filling in what is left out, or only hinted at, in the story itself. For if Andrew's tale functions as a demonstration, for his host Furbo, of how (not) to read well, it takes the tale together with its paratext to bring that experience home to the reader, to determine whether the experience of reading this novel has been successful (i.e., whether the English reader has learned to be sufficiently observant and prudent when it comes to evaluating narrative authority). The recurrent motif of dining in Andrew of Padua, especially the fungibility of the improvvisatore's story into food and drink, also reappears in the paratext, making the hors d'oeuvre all the more intrinsic to the novel's exploration of consumption and consumerism.
The pseudo-scholarly hoax perpetrated by Andrew of Padua was convincing enough to impose itself on the novel's reception, then and now. Virtually all libraries and bibliographic resources still catalogue the text under "Furbo, Francisco." (5) But how should it be catalogued correctly?
The sketchy path to an accurate attribution eventually leads to the Scottish writer John Galt (1779-1839). Incredibly prolific though largely forgotten, Galt was a contemporary of Walter Scott's who began writing novels of Scottish life even before Scott did, and was almost as well known for them during his lifetime. He was also a public figure in British society and business, personally acquainted with most of the influential personalities of his day, and a land agent responsible for significant immigration and settlement efforts in Upper Canada. Galt published biographies of Cardinal Wolsey, Benjamin West, and Byron, among several others, as well as dozens of novels, dramas, travel accounts, children's books and school textbooks, statistical surveys and government reports. Significantly for the present argument, his essays and tales appeared regularly in the leading British periodicals of the early nineteenth century.
During the last decade of his life, the bed-ridden Galt dictated a two-volume Autobiography and a three-volume Literary Life, each of them ending with a bibliography of his own works. There is no mention at all of Andrew of Padua in the first of these memoirs, the Autobiography of 1833. A year later, though, the title "Andrew of Padua" appears in the list of published works at the end of Galt's Literary Life, and the Life itself contains a single, tantalizing mention of the novel in the final paragraph of its main text. This mention takes the form of an afterthought--another Derridean supplement--added after Galt's completion of the Life on 24 June 2834, when an unnamed friend reminds him about two titles he has omitted from his memoirs: Glenfell and Andrew of Padua. While he dimly recollects the former, Galt admits that
Andrew of Padua ... has entirely, even to the name, escaped my memory. There can, however, have been nothing remarkable about the history of either, or I would have remembered them; and I only mention the fact as an illustration of the kind of forgetfulness to which I am subject, perhaps I should say of the little heed which I give to my own works, but nobody will believe me. (6)
And there the summary of his literary life ends.
Leaving aside the irony of concluding a desperately sincere memoir (7) with the words "nobody will believe me," this last paragraph underlines a theme of forgetting and remembering that dominates Galt's Literary Life. There is a straightforward explanation: before he began his autobiographical projects, Galt suffered the first of the debilitating strokes that affected his memory and left him semi-paralyzed. But the thematic of forgetting in Galt's autobiography goes beyond personal memory to collective memory and the issue of reception. His Literary Life is obsessed with what can be recollected about the composition and reception of literary works, by the writer himself and by the reading public. He often reflects on why entire works have been forgotten or never sufficiently noticed by the public, even though they appeared to him topical and not inferior in quality to other books on the market. It would perhaps be uncharitable not to believe the ailing Galt of the Literary Life when he implies that it is due to illness that he does not recollect writing Andrew of Padua. Yet the supplementary, superfluous, but precisely dated reference to Andrew of Padua as the one book that its author cannot remember seems to have more than a little "furbo" about it.
Andrew of Padua has been equally forgotten by existing Galt criticism. Only the most searching literary biography of Galt mentions the novel at all, and then only to cast doubt on its authorship. (8) Yet circumstantial as well as internal evidence marks the novel as his. Galt was familiar with the Italian setting of Andrew of Padua from his two years travelling in the Mediterranean between 1809 and 1811; on his return to Britain, he published an account of these experiences under the title Voyages and Travels (1812). He had an especially detailed knowledge of Sicily, a setting that plays an important part in Andrew of Padua, since he completed a statistical survey of the island. He was fluent in Italian and undertook translations of Goldoni and Alfieri while staying at Messina in Sicily. The picaresque theme of Andrew of Padua resonates with two other novels based on Galt's Mediterranean travels, The Majolo (1816) and The Earthquake (1820), and there are telling coincidences of detail among these novels. The hero of The Majolo plays the flute, as Galt did during his youth, and as does Andrew of Padua. Indeed, Andrew's temporary obsession with flute-playing is a bizarre episode that may have been placed in the novel more as a coded authorial signature than for the sake of any connection with the plot. The protagonists of several of Galt's novels are named Andrew--a name that is hardly Italian, in any case, but rather signposts the real author's nationality, since Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. There is a tantalizing echo of both "Andrew" and "Furbo" ('the wily') in the title character of one of Galt's most famous and successful works, Sir Andrew Wylie. (9) Similarly, the narrator of Galt's The Provost is James Pawkie, whose surname is a dialect word meaning "sly" or "cunning."
What puts Galt's authorship of Andrew of Padua beyond doubt, though, is the appearance of other "Furbos" in his writings. Galt's 1820 novel The Earthquake features minor characters named Furbo (a highway robber) and Father Francisco, who together provide the pseudonym "Francisco Furbo." But the germ of Andrew of Padua, the Improvisatore is already to be found in Galt's Voyages and Travels of 1812. A brief section entitled "An Improvisatore" recounts the author's meeting with an unnamed individual in Sicily who vaunts his own services as a tour guide, claiming to be "the best improvisatore in all Palermo." As in Andrew of Padua, the narrator invites the improvvisatore to visit him at his lodgings, only to have his landlord advise him to avoid this character at all costs: "'Oh my God!' cried he, 'that is one grand Furbo.... When he come again, you tell him to go to hell.'" (10) In the end, just as in Andrew of Padua, the absurdities of this Palermitan improviser make the narrator laugh rather than putting him in any danger, but the character comes off rather negatively as a card shark, a police informer, a charlatan, and a liar. This real-life improvvisatore who is a "furbo," a clever rascal, reappears in three different fictional guises in Andrew of Padua: Andrew the professional improvvisatore on the international stage, "Andrew" the story-teller on the streets of Rome, and Furbo the counterfactual eighteenth-century Italian novelist. The common origin of these characters in the Sicilian charlatan of Galt's travel narrative suggests that behind every improvvisatore lies a "furbo," and that behind all these Furbos lies John Galt. It suggests, in other words, that story-tellers, travel writers, novelists, improvisers, and wily rascals are cut from the same cloth.
If Andrew of Padua, the Improvisatore--by John Galt--is re-placed into the literary marketplace of London in 1820, it becomes a nexus for several interrelated phenomena: the popularity of travel literature, especially about Italy and the Mediterranean; the explosion of periodical publication, and the shaping of reading audiences by and for these publications; the practice of writing and marketing novels in the era dominated by Walter Scott; the convention of anonymous and pseudonymous publication, and its limit case--forgery.
Andrew of Padua was, first of all, part of an experiment in serial publication by a writer and a publisher who were thoroughly invested in the burgeoning business of literary magazines. During the years 1819 and 1820, Galt was publishing heavily with the London firms of Sir Richard Phillips and John Souter and contributing to Phillips' Monthly Magazine, among other periodicals. Both Phillips and Souter had an orientation toward educational publishing, including historical, geographical, and language textbooks, and they commissioned Galt to write several pedagogical works under the pseudonyms "Rev. T. Clark" and "Captain Samuel Prior." (11) One of these works deserves special mention for its use of a cryptic authorial signature: The Wandering Jew (1820), a historical and geographical tour de force, appeared under the name "Rev. T. Clark," but the first letters of the book's last sentences spell out "THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN BY JOHN GALT." This bit of authorial hide-and-seek is of a piece with the more elaborate fabrications of Andrew of Padua, which was published almost simultaneously. Moreover, there is an odd connection between pedagogy and trickery in these books, whereby they seek to teach readers to read carefully--and, what is more, to demonstrate the pragmatic benefits of attentive reading. The lesson learned within Andrew of Padua is that careful attention to the details of Andrew's story, along with a considered "reading" of the story-teller's face, would have prevented the narrator Furbo from being conned out of his wine and dinners. The lesson learned by reading Andrew of Padua is that a reflective critical attitude toward narrative authority--not to mention some knowledge of Italian--will prevent the English reader from being taken in by a "Furbo" of a writer.
The improvvisatore Andrew of Padua--or whoever he is, in the end--clearly expounds the moral of his own tale: caveat lector. Readers and audiences should, as he says, "exercise their own faculties a little more cleverly" (188), and evaluate according to criteria other than the assumed authority of the story-teller, so as not be to taken in by everything they hear or read. Reflecting this point, once again, onto various narrative levels, the novel also contains several embedded "scenes of instruction" in which a group of listeners must decide on the credibility of a story that someone is telling; typically, only one particularly observant listener correctly identifies a tale as fiction, because he is well educated or unusually observant. (12) The suspiciously suggestive proper names used in the novel--such as those of Andrew's foster-parents, the earthy Signora Stomaticho and the urbane Padre Urbano--also contribute to the pedagogical purpose. Ironically appropriate names are characteristic of Galt's fiction, but in Andrew of Padua they also serve as a hint to the reader to scrutinize a name like "Furbo," or even "Andrew." "Andrew of Padua" turns out, after all, not to be the incomparable celebrity whose story he has been telling, but simply "a man" (Greek aner, andros) from Padua. "Padua," on the other hand, may have resonances with pedagogy, being the site of one of the oldest and most renowned universities in Europe.
If Andrew of Padua was meant to instruct, it was also meant to delight--and to do both for the purpose of selling books. The novel forms part of a short-lived venture, likely a collaboration between Richard Phillips and John Galt, to publish a monthly series of novels aimed at private purchasers as well as circulating libraries. The series was first announced in the October 1819 issue of Phillips' Monthly Magazine as consisting partly of "translations from the French, Italian, German, Spanish, and oriental languages," and partly of original works for which "some of the first writers of the day have pledged their co-operation." (13) It was advertised under the series title "THE CIRCULATING LIBRARY, or Periodical Series of Original Novels, Romances, and Tales," and variously referred to as "NEW NOVELS AND NOVELLETTES," "Novelties for Novel Readers," "Classical New Novels," and "the Periodical Novelist." (14) Besides the eminence of the proposed writers and the quality of the translations, a particular selling point was to be the stable price of 5s 3d (six shillings if half bound and lettered) per volume, regardless of the volume's size. The first installment in the series, which appeared in January 1820, was a Scottish novel entitled Glenfell that Galt had rewritten based on one of his own earlier dramas. The February volume was an anonymous translation of Madame de Genlis' Petrarch and Laura. Though the translator remains anonymous, it is within the realm of possibility that this, too, is Galt's work, since he is known to have undertaken speed-translations from Romance languages.
However, the series rapidly faltered, likely for lack of both sales and contributors. According to the Monthly Magazine advertisement of November 1819, the third volume was to have consisted of "Translations from the German" (347); these would have to have been by another contributor, because Galt neither knew German nor liked German literature. By March 1820, though, any plan there was had apparently changed, and volume three was now advertised with the suspiciously curt and vague promise that it "will consist of a work of great interest" (156). When the volume appeared later that month, it consisted of Andrew of Padua, the Improvisatore together with another, shorter tale entitled The Vindictive Father, or Lorenzo and Claudia.
This second tale is advertised as a translation "from the Spanish of Leandra of Valladerras." Its provenance is somewhat obscured by the enigmatic phrasing and misspelling of the Spanish title and name, but The Vindictive Father is, in fact, translated from "Claudia y Don Lorenzo," one of several inset stories in the nine-volume novel La Leandra written by Spanish Enlightenment writer Antonio Valladares de Sotomayor (1738-1820), and published in periodical form in Madrid between 1797 and 1807. Whether Galt translated the story himself is uncertain, but it seems entirely possible. In 1812-1813, he made a second trip to Gibraltar where, as he records in his Literary Life, he worked on his Spanish and read in the town libraries (1: 141). La Leandra would have been congenial reading material for Galt, not only because it was a recent and popular publication likely to show up in a public library, but because its author, Valladares de Sotomayor, was something like a Spanish counterpart to Galt: a highly prolific poet, dramatist, and periodical writer who often published under pseudonyms or anagrams. On his earlier Mediterranean trip, Galt had undertaken various feats of speed-translation from Italian as a pastime--for instance, when confined indoors by wet weather in Missolonghi, or while in quarantine at Messina. (15) He may well have engaged in the same pastime while in Gibraltar, and later given the hasty translation of The Vindictive Father to Phillips to round out the third volume of the "Periodical Novelist." Regardless of who translated The Vindictive Father, however, the appearance of this genuine translation side by side with the spurious Andrew of Padua lends another layer of disguise to the Furbo forgery.
The Monthly Magazine soon gave the volume containing Andrew of Padua and The Vindictive Father a brief but predictably favorable review, commending especially the first of the two stories:
The adventures of the Improvisatore, related by himself, are little inferior in nature and genuine humour to the exploits of Gil Bias, and the best itinerant heroes of Fielding; Andrew is a true son of Fortune, but bears her vicissitudes in so good humoured a manner, and relates them with so much grace and nature, that (which is now seldom the case) we laid down the book with an actual feeling of regret. (16)
The anonymous reviewer's comparisons with the early-eighteenth-century French novel Gil Blas and with Fielding relate primarily to the picaresque character of Andrew of Padua, but they also raise, once again, the issues of translation, imitation, and dubious authorship. Fielding's Joseph Andrews, for instance, claims on its title page to be "Written in Imitation of the Manner of Cervantes, Author of Don Quixote." Gil Blas, a popular French novel set in Spain, that Galt recalls reading as a child (Autobiography 1: 11), became the focus of controversy about the extent to which its author Lesage had made use of unacknowledged translations from Spanish sources.
Short-lived as it was, the "Periodical Novelist" series merits attention for its marketing strategies and what they reveal about the making of reading audiences. A monthly fiction series was an idea that both Galt and Phillips could get enthusiastic about in 1819-1820, both of them having had previous experiences with publishing in series format. Some six years earlier, Galt had pitched a similar periodical series of dramas to Henry Colburn, for whose New Monthly Magazine he was writing at the time. The drama series was initially entitled "The Rejected Theatre," and was to consist of plays that had been rejected by the licensed theaters of Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Not just a marketing ploy, this title reflected the origin of the project in Galt's frustration over the rejection of the plays he had submitted to the theaters, and his suspicion that the managers had not bothered to read them properly, or at all. After the second number, the title of the series was changed to the more neutral "New British Theatre." But this series, like the later "Periodical Novelist," did not make it beyond the first few issues. Finding, in essence, that Covent Garden and Drury Lane had been right--that the quality of submitted dramas was too poor to sustain a monthly series--Galt soon realized that he would have to "cut and run" (Autobiography 1: 267). Richard Phillips, for his part, had successfully used the series concept for other genres, such as a series of children's tales in chapbook form in 1804 and, in the 1810s, a series of translated and abridged travel books. (17) In 1820, he may have thought of a series of one-volume original novels and translations as a way to get back into the business of publishing fiction. (18)
The two alternative titles that were used for the Phillips/Galt series, "The Circulating Library" and "The Periodical Novelist," indicate a desire to capitalize on two trends dominating the literary marketplace. Phillips' puffing of the series in every issue of the Monthly Magazine from October 1819 onward exposes his hope that readers of the magazine would also become regular buyers of the serial novels. The advertisements in the Monthly Magazine, as well as an Advertisement prefixed to volume one of "The Periodical Novelist," underline the reliable periodicity and regular spending habits targeted in Phillips' decision to offer all the volumes at a stable price, like issues of a magazine. The Advertisement to volume one (Galt's novel Glenfell) is quite explicit about the intention of cultivating a readership by providing a commodity that counts as a luxury item and yet is available at a "cheap rate," (19) equally suitable for private consumers and literary collectives:
To Private and Family Libraries it will therefore afford a monthly luxury above all price; and for all Circulating Libraries and Book Societies, it will at once supply a desideratum, and prove an indispensable requisite. (Glenfell iii)
Nevertheless, the Advertisement protests that the series is catering to an existent public taste--indeed, bowing to overwhelming demand--rather than seeking to manipulate consumers:
In truth, the Stores, gratifying to persons of taste, which exist in this department of Literature, are so inexhaustible, that, in bringing them before the Public, it will be more difficult to avoid the continuity of a commanding interest, than difficult to create it. (Glenfell iii-iv)
In the event, however, the "Stores" of original novels and translations proved all too quickly exhaustible and could not sustain a monthly series, despite the "Periodical Novelist"'s canny attempt to capitalize on a market niche. Novels published in the form of a series had already shown themselves successful, as in the case of the fifty-volume British Novelists collection edited by Anna Barbauld in 1810. But Phillips' "Circulating Library" of new novels differs markedly from Barbauld's collection of reprinted novels by already-canonical writers of the previous century. It also needs to be distinguished from the practice of serialized publication of single works in the form of individual chapters or multiple installments. By marketing original novels and translations complete in one volume, Phillips could offer new novels at a cheaper rate than the longer, three-volume format that was standard for new fiction. Phillips and Galt also seemed to have their eyes on a corresponding niche on the supply side. The Advertisement published with the "Periodical Novelist"'s first volume intimates that the series will allow for quick publication ("an early view") of new novels and translations, and offer new authors ("LITERARY AMATEURS") an outlet for publication (Glenfell ii), because it is designed to publish stories that would be rejected elsewhere as too short, in an era when the three-volume novel is the norm. There is a clear echo of Galt's earlier series of "rejected" dramas: both series are intended to accommodate works that existing modes of publication discriminate against or overlook, and thus to intervene in the conventions of what gets into the literary market.
Located thus within the context of British publishing, book-buying, and reading habits in 1820, the elaborate hoax of Andrew of Padua's Italian authorship takes on additional resonances. Two concurrent developments are particularly relevant: the active speculation and controversy, in 1820, over Walter Scott's anonymously published "Scotch Novels," and the practice of pseudonymous publication engaged in by most of the contemporary literary magazines, but by none more so than the still relatively new Blackwood's. While the frame narrative of Andrew of Padua mimics these fashions and causes celebres, the manner in which the novel and the rest of its series were advertised suggests an attempt to capitalize on their popularity.
In the Monthly Magazine, announcements of Andrew of Padua and the "Circulating Library" series appeared side-by-side with notices of Walter Scott's works. In November 1819, for instance, the "Literary and Philosophical Varieties" section of the magazine began by announcing the imminent publication of "Ivanhoe, a romance, by the author of 'Waverley,' &c," continued with the imminent publication of the Poetical Works of Walter Scott, then immediately went on to advertise the forthcoming "Circulating Library" series. In the April 1820 issue, the list of newly-published novels commences with "The Periodical Novelist; vol. III. consisting of 'Andrew of Padua' from the Italian of Francisco Furbo" and concludes with "The Monastery, by the Author of Waverly [sic]" (264). Even if the "Furbo" hoax is not intended as a specific parody of the "Great Unknown" author of Waverley, the coincident timing and the proximate advertising of Andrew of Padua and the latest performances of the Great Unknown nonetheless suggest that readers of one were expected to have the other in mind.
The publication of the three "Periodical Novelist" volumes in the first three months of 1820 coincides, in fact, with an intensification of the buzz surrounding the Waverley Novels, since it was in January 1820 that the publisher John Scott relaunched his London Magazine with an (anonymous) article on "The Author of the Scotch Novels." This is a long piece that attempts to draw clues to the Great Unknown's identity from the characterization and setting used in the Waverley Novels; in other words, it is biographically-oriented criticism of the style mimicked so adroitly in Andrew of Padua's preface. The article ends by giving the Great Unknown a proper name:
We can only say, that from all we have heard of the personal character and accomplishments,--the talents, worth, and patriotism of the most popular Scottish poet of the present day, we should be very much mortified were it afterwards to turn out, that these fine works have been improperly attributed by the public voice to--WALTER SCOTT. (20)
The same issue of the London Magazine reviewed a pseudonymous book of poetry entitled A Sicilian Story, speculating at length about which prominent poet (Leigh Hunt, Southey, Lamb, Shelley, Byron) might be its author, and reflecting on the practice of pseudonymous publication in general:
These are the days of authors in masquerade; and we do not pretend to be able to say, in every instance, je vous connais, beau masque. Mystification is now added to the other allurements of popular writers: as a trick of trade it is at least innocent, and we believe has been found pretty effectual; nor, particularly at Christmas-time, are such puzzles without their amusement. (85)
Enthusiasm for ferreting out attribution was in the air, as was the authorial concealment that provoked it. In this climate, Galt's construction of an elaborate, fake biography for the author of Andrew of Padua is more than timely. It may even have been composed immediately after the appearance of the above issue of the London Magazine in January 1820, just in time for the March volume demanded by the relentless periodicity of the "Periodical Novelist."
If the Monthly Magazine and London Magazine contributed to the hype surrounding the Scotch Novels, the epitome of pseudonymous publication was reached by a Scottish periodical, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. Inaugurated in 1817 with the bogus and libelous "Chaldee Manuscript"--which purported to be the translation of a manuscript discovered in Rome, but was really the fabrication of James Hogg and his collaborators--Blackwood's led in the practice of publishing in the guise of "personalities" or "impersonations." Its articles were signed with pseudonyms such as "Z." or "Christopher North," each of which was more or less the property of one of its regular writers, although it could occasionally be appropriated for use by someone else. (21) During the first half of 1820, John Galt was in the process of shifting his allegiance and professional services from Phillips and the Monthly Magazine to William Blackwood in Edinburgh. From mid-1820 until 1822, he was to publish several short pieces in Blackwood's, along with a steady stream of Scottish novels that, perhaps because of William Blackwood's astute editorial involvement, are generally taken to represent Galt's best work. Andrew of Padua already seems to take part in the pseudonymity that crosses the (Scottish) border into imposture. Like "impersonation" of the style that became a trademark for Blackwood's, the elaborate meta-fiction that Galt constructs around the pseudonym "Francisco Furbo" goes a step or two beyond the near-universal practice of anonymous publication in Romantic periodicals. Instead, it anticipates the better-known novel that Galt's countryman (and fellow Blackwood's contributor) James Hogg would publish in 1824. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner uses the same tactics as Andrew of Padua: an anonymous editor's frame narrative about the provenance of the manuscript, and pseudo-documentary evidence to authenticate its status. "Galt" is a dialect word for "boar or hog" (OED): setting these two novels side by side reveals Galt and Hogg as doppelganger in the role of second-most-famous Scottish Romantic novelist, and as equally skilled hoaxers.
Weaving Walter Scott's anonymity and Blackwood's practice of pseudonymity together with the literary hoaxing of Hogg, Margaret Russett has deftly analyzed the tremendously complex network of forgery and imposture that characterized Scottish Romantic writing. Looking back to its eighteenth-century background, Russett suggests that the "legacy of imposture" could be considered a "trope of national identity" for Scots (155). A contemporary consciousness of this legacy is evident in Joseph Ritson's comment in a 1794 anthology of Scotish Songs: "The history of Scotish [sic] poetry exhibits a series of fraud, forgery, and imposture, practised with impunity and success" (qtd. in Russett 155). Similarly, Ian Duncan writes that "The 'authenticity effect' that advertises a problematic, unstable boundary between history and fiction, evidence and invention, textual surface and ontological depth, may be called the foundational trope of this Scottish tradition." (22) While Russett and Duncan both identify a national affiliation, both also propose literary-historical and historico-economic motivations for the Romantic novel's use of concealment and disguise. For Russett, the novel is intrinsically a genre founded on dissimulation, "a text that lies about its own origins" (15). Duncan, following Susan Stewart, links the crisis of authenticity and forgery in the novel with eighteenth-century antiquarianism: both are forms of nostalgia within print culture for a time prior to the market relations brought about by bourgeois capitalism. "As 'literature' becomes an abstracted and commodified object (a printed book for sale)," Duncan writes, "it must recuperate what Stewart calls its 'contexts,' an alienated world of organic relations of production, which it does by representing itself as a trace or relic of lost, precapitalist origins" (96). Andrew of Padua participates quite explicitly in this alternating appeal to, and dissimulation of, originary modes of story-telling. Not only does the novel dissimulate and defer the origin of Andrew's story by introducing more and more story-tellers--the improvvisatore, the eighteenth-century Italian author, the English translator, the translator's friend who has provided him with the Italian "original"--but, in Andrew's epithet "Homer," it also conspicuously evokes the oral bard of antiquity. The motif of the improvvisatore brings with it an originary scene which, if notoriously unreliable and unstable with regard to authority, is also nostalgically oral and dialogic, recalling the ancient function of the bard who provides entertainment at a communal feast and is rewarded for his tales with food and wine. Like Thomas Lovell Beddoes' almost contemporaneous, but much less effective use of the improvvisatore figure in his early volume of pseudo-medieval poetry, The Improvisatore (1821), the poetic improviser suggests a continuity with precapitalist forms of literary activity. In Andrew of Padua, though, these traces are counterpointed with, and soon overwhelmed by, a modern reinterpretation of the improvvisatore that cannot evade the conditions of the nineteenth-century market for literature or performance.
If literary imposture can be considered part of the Scottish cultural heritage, then, Andrew of Padua disguises this national affiliation, substituting the characteristically Italian improvvisatore for the author of Scottish novels, a Furbo for a Galt. Yet of all the first-person narrators telling their spurious stories in Andrew of Padua, the Improvisatore--"Andrew," "Furbo," "the translator"--the one who ultimately needs to be identified as a modern-day improvvisatore is the concealed Scottish writer. In terms of speed as well as manner of composition, John Galt worked in improvisational mode, especially during the period 1819-1822 when he was writing primarily for Phillips' and Blackwood's magazines and firms. One reasonably authoritative bibliography, while it misses Andrew of Padua, nevertheless lists eight other works by Galt published in 1820 alone: three novels, three geographical textbooks, a biography of Benjamin West, and a long poem on the Elgin Marbles. (23) This does not include shorter pieces published in periodicals, nor other pseudonymous or anonymous works in which Galt may have had a hand. In his memoirs, Galt admits that after the publication of his first book, Voyages and Travels--that is, once he began writing for publishers rather than working directly with the printer, as he did in the case of Voyages--his work is typeset almost as soon as it is written. "My custom since is to write and print simultaneously, and to go to press when there is about a sheet of copy ready," he recalls in the Autobiography (1: 233).
Galt's writing is an improvisational practice, manuscript-to-print and, indeed, hand-to-mouth. The determining factor for the majority of his writing career, and even the cause of it, is to earn a living for his family despite the repeated failure of his enterprises in business and trade. Thus Andrew the improvvisatore is an all-too-realistic avatar of Galt the "bookseller's hack," as he called himself (wryly echoing a comment by John Cam Hobhouse) after he began writing for Richard Phillips (Autobiography 1: 187). Indeed, the parallel becomes perfectly explicit in chapter 12 of Andrew of Padua, where Andrew contracts with a printer to publish his improvisations, and the "translator" explains in a footnote that "the printers in Italy occupy, with respect to authors, the same place that the booksellers do in London" (94). One wonders just how accurate the parallel between "Masano" the Italian printer and Richard Phillips the London bookseller is meant to be, when Masano is described as "a little fat man, with a face of singular rotundity and fullness" (96) who proves avaricious, impatient, and irascible--details that recall contemporary descriptions of Phillips' appearance and personality. (24) The plot device used in the novel, whereby Andrew manages to cajole a glass of wine or something to eat from his listener Furbo at the end of almost every chapter, is an all too thinly veiled rewriting of Galt's relation to Phillips, Blackwood, and other publishers, from whom he was constantly forced to ask for cash advances on his next piece of writing. Ultimately, Andrew's precarious status in the social economy of Rome reflects Galt's dependence on the reading public of London or Edinburgh. Improvised tales are objects of exchange, fungible with the improviser's subsistence, and Andrew of Padua, the Improvisatore is a remarkably honest fable illustrating the reciprocal consumption engaged in by the nineteenth-century periodical writer and the reading public.
It is, then, no accident that Andrew of Padua was published in a periodical series--indeed, as I suspect, that it was written more or less spontaneously in February 1820 to supply the imminent demand posed by the March issue--for the novel explicitly represents the periodical writer as improvising performer. This representation counterpoints many other versions of the popular Italian improvvisatore that were to be met with in early-nineteenth-century Britain. But as with the novels of Scottish life that Galt began trying to publish before Waverley hit the market, so too with his use of the improvvisatore figure, he was inconveniently a few years ahead of his time. Interest in the poetic improviser was to reach a peak in London some four years later, with the publication of Letitia Elizabeth Landon's popular long poem The Improvisatrice. In the same year, 1824, London audiences were able to hear lecture-performances on improvisation by a number of Italian exiles, expatriates, or visitors, including Ugo Foscolo, Gabriele Rossetti, the Roman Filippo Pistrucci, and the Marchese Spinetto. These events, as well as theatrical performances by internationally famous poetic improvisers on the Continent, were avidly covered by the London literary magazines. While the Monthly Magazine was in decline (1824 was also the year that Richard Phillips finally sold it), other periodicals concerned with the literary culture of the metropolis and the Continent, particularly the New Monthly Magazine and the Literary Gazette, registered an active interest in extemporized poetry. The 1824 volume of the New Monthly Magazine, for instance, included a substantial essay on "Italian Improvisatori" that surveyed the history of improvisation in Italy from the Renaissance until the late eighteenth century. (25) This coverage may point to an underlying affinity between periodicals and improvisational performance: both are popular but ephemeral forms of literary activity that maintain an uneasy relationship to high literature.
Ephemeral as it is, then, Andrew of Padua deserves notice for being the only one of the numerous nineteenth-century novels and poems on the fashionable figure of the improvvisatore or improvvisatrice that develops the potential of this figure for a reflection on narrative authority and the act of telling--and selling--one's stories to a targeted audience. Despite its Italian setting and pseudo-Italian provenance, the novel effectively imports the tradition of poetic improvisation into the early-nineteenth-century British literary marketplace, using it to thematize current practices of publishing, reading, and reception, as well as tendencies toward consumerism and commodification. Andrew of Padua, the Improvisatore was all too successful in achieving the status of a commodity, losing its individuality and memorability as a piece of imaginative fiction as it became interchangeable with other pieces of periodical fiction that were circulating in the libraries and bookstores of the metropolis. Yet, once remembered, it reveals itself as singular in its insightful reflection on its own commodity status, and its presentation of Andrew the improvvisatore as an avatar of the periodical hack in the world of British print culture.
University of Zurich
(1.) At http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/resources/ archival_&_specialcollections/the_collections/digital_collections/ john_gait/Andrew_Padua/, a resource created by Tim Sauer at the University of Guelph, Canada. The on-line text reproduces the pagination of the original, copies of which are held by the Guelph Public Library, the Harvard College Library, and the British Library.
(2.) Jerome McGann, "Walter Scott's Romantic Postmodernity," Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism, ed. Leith Davis, Ian Duncan, and Janet Sorensen (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004) 119.
(3.) See K. K. Ruthven, Faking Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001) and Nick Groom, The Forger's Shadow: How Forgery Changed the Course of Literature (London: Picador, 2002). Margaret Russett's recent book Fictions and Fakes: Forging Romantic Authenticity, 1760-1845 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006) focuses more specifically on the significance of forgeries for the construction of Romantic subjectivity and authenticity, as well as the development of the novel as a genre.
(4.) Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987) 55.
(5.) See the catalogues of the British Library and Harvard College Library, and The English Novel, 1770-1829: A Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles, ed. Peter Garsicle, James Raven, and Rainer Schowerling, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000).
(6.) The Literary Life and Miscellanies of John Galt, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Blackwood and London: Cadell, 1834) 1: 349.
(7.) In the separate essay "Estimate of Myself" that concludes the Literary Life (1: 354-61), Galt self-consciously identifies frankness and sincerity as primary qualities of his character.
(8.) Ian A. Gordon, John Galt: The Life of a Writer (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1972) 25, fleetingly and dubiously mentions Andrew of Padua, but the title is not included in the lists of Galt's works in the bibliography or appendices. I have not found any other Galt criticism that mentions the novel or includes it in a bibliographical listing of Galt's works.
(9.) Sir Andrew Wylie, though set in London and Scotland, echoes the picaresque theme of Galt's earlier Mediterranean novels; not unlike Andrew of Padua, Andrew Wylie is an orphan making his way in the world of business and fashion by means of his wits. Another namesake is Andrew Pringle in The Ayrshire Legatees, the popular novel of Scottish life that Galt published anonymously in instalments in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine immediately following the publication of Andrew of Padua.
(10.) John Galt, Voyages and Travels in the Years 1809, 1810, and 1811 (London: Cadell and Davies, 1812) 45. The full text with original pagination is available at http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/resources/archival_&_special_collections/ the_collections/digital_collections/john_galt/Voyages_Travels/.
(11.) Gordon lists at least nine works fitting this description that can be attributed to Galt (23-24). The word-play and the clerical title in the name "Abbate Furbo" are typical of the pseudonyms used for books that Phillips commissioned, or wrote himself, during these years. Among these books are several that intersect thematically with Andrew of Padua, such as Italian and Continental travelogues, and dictionaries and grammars of Romance languages.
(12.) The most elaborate episode of this kind takes place in chapter 15, during a voyage by ship from Leghorn to Messina, where a multicultural group of passengers entertain one another with tall tales. A Frenchman who pretends to be an Academician, but eventually turns out to be a barber, is able to use his authoritative tone and pseudo-chemical terminology to fool everyone except a Sicilian doctor who has a superior scientific education. Andrew, lacking scientific knowledge of his own, quickly learns to base his own belief or disbelief on a careful observation of the doctor's reactions.
(13.) Monthly Magazine October 1819: 262.
(14.) Monthly Magazine November 1819: 347; December 1819: 446; February 1820: 70; March 1820: 156; May 1820: 357.
(15.) The Autobiography of John Galt, 2 vols. (London: Cochrane and McCrone, 1833) 1: 215-16.
(16.) Monthly Magazine May 1820: 357.
(17.) William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004) 567, 556.
(18.) In the early years of the nineteenth century, Phillips published several novels by prominent writers: Thelwall's The Daughter of Adoption (1801), Godwin's Fleetwood (1805), Owenson's The Novice of St. Dominick (1806) and The Wild Irish Girl (1806). The number of novels published by his firm generally increased until 1809--the year he declared bankruptcy, for obscure reasons. The 1820 "Periodical Novelist" volumes represent the only novels published by Phillips later in his career.
(19.) Glenfell, or MacDonalds and Campbells: An Edinburgh Tale of the Nineteenth Century (London: Phillips, 1820) ii. The full text with original pagination is available at http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/resources/archival_&_special_collections/ the_collections/digital_collections/john_galt/Glenfell/.
(20.) London Magazine January 1820: 22.
(21.) On the practice of impersonation and its significance, see Peter T. Murphy, "Impersonation and Authorship in Romantic Britain," ELH 59 (1992): 625-49, and Russett 174.
(22.) Ian Duncan, "Authenticity Effects: The Work of Fiction in Romantic Scotland," South Atlantic Quarterly 102 (2003): 101.
(23.) Frank Hallam Lyell, A Study of the Novels of John Galt (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1942) 230; see also Gordon 31-32.
(24.) See Cyrus Redding, Fifty Years' Recollections, Literary and Personal, 3 vols. (London: Skeet, 1858) 1: 65.
(25.) New Monthly Magazine 11 (1824): 193-202.
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|Publication:||Studies in Romanticism|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2009|
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