John Glassco's Squire Hardman: a Poem and its Contexts
By Michael Darling
Squire Hardman is a little-known work, rarely mentioned in either general literary histories of Canada or particular studies of John Glassco.1 Like many of his semi-pornographic works, it was published under a pseudonym, with an introduction by Glassco himself commenting on the authorship and literary merit of the poem. Though by no means a work of great distinction, Squire Hardman is worth a closer look, and in this paper I propose to examine it in the light of three interrelated contexts: first, as part of a continuing literary hoax begun in nineteenth-century England; second, as a document in the history of flagellation literature; and third, as a poem that finds its logical place in the Glassco canon.
Squire Hardman is a small book bound in greyish-white paper wrappers with a white label afffixed to the front. The title-page may be transcribed, excluding rules and ornaments, as follows: 'SQUIRE / HARDMAN / BY / GEORGE COLMAN / Reprinted from the Edition of 1871 / with an Introduction by / JOHN GLASSCO / THE PASTIME PRESS / MCMLXVI'. The attribution of the poem to Glassco is unquestionable. In a diary entry dated October 27, 1952, he wrote: "I have an erotic poem, Squire Hardman, in heroic couplets, half written inspired by Colman's Rodiad. It is quite good so far."2 And in the entry for July 9, 1954, he concluded: "Squire Hardman finished." A corrected typescript of the poem, several drafts of the introduction and two sets of galley proofs may be found in the Glassco Papers at McGill University. The papers reveal that Glassco hired Gaudet Printing of Waterloo, Québec, to print 50 copies of the book which were ready by March 1967. He also had printed an advertising flyer which offered the book to a selected list of customers at $10.00, hailing it as "unquestionably the most brilliant flagellantine poem ever written."
Glassco's introduction is, like all the prefatory remarks to his pornographic works, a masterpiece of delicacy and subterfuge. In it, he gives a brief account of the life of George Colman "the Younger" (1762-1836), a popular playwright and poet in his day. Glassco concludes his biographical summary with these words:
Glassco knew perfectly well that The Rodiad had not been written by Colman.3 But he was quite willing to incorporate his own production into a spurious canon for the sheer fun of perpetuating the hoax. In fact, the circumstances of publication of The Rodiad are essentially as Glassco sets them out in his introduction. The first edition of 250 copies was published in 1871, with a fictitious 1810 imprint, by the notorious J.C. Hotten, who did a thriving trade in flagellant literature. A reprint of the first edition in 200 copies was issued at London in 1898, again with a spurious Cadell & Murray imprint dated 1820. The third and final printing recorded in the National Union Catalogue is the Cayme Press pamphlet of 1927, with a preface by Yvon Nicolas. It is on this edition that Glassco's Squire Hardman is apparently modelled.4
The authorship of The Rodiad has never been satisfactorily determined. In his Centuria Librorum Absconditorum (London, 1879), Henry Spencer Ashbee, the foremost Victorian collector and bibliographer of erotica,5 indicates that the book was written "by one of the clients of the notorious Sarah Potter, alias Stewart, from whom it was obtained by a well-known London collector; he lent the MS. to Hotten who printed it without permission. . . ."6 Jean Overton Fuller was the first to suggest publicly that the author might be Richard Monckton Milnes, a collector of pornography and, apparently, with his friend A.C. Swinburne, an habitué of London's flagellant brothels.7 A strong case for Milnes's authorship of The Rodiad is made by Ian Gibson in his important study, The English Vice: Beating, Sex and Shame in Victorian England and After.8 I will not summarize his argument here; it is enough to be aware that The Rodiad emerged from a milieu in which such productions were valued for their literary qualities as well as their ability to amuse and titillate.
Glassco deliberately set out to imitate the Cayme Press Rodiad in his design of the title-page of Squire Hardman. In the Glassco Papers is a mock-up title-page of Squire Hardman with the author's pencilled note at the top of the page: "Imitate title of 'The Rodiad' as far as possible." An examination of the two title-pages indicates to what extent Glassco was successful in his attempt: in both the rule-frame border is almost exactly the same size and in both the arrangement of title, author, ornament and publisher is quite similar. Moreover, Glassco used the same ornamental initial letter in his introduction as appears in Yvon Nicolas's preface to The Rodiad. There is no question then that Glassco saw his work in the same tradition as The Rodiad and aimed at the same kind of audience that would have purchased the original edition of 1871 or the reprint of 1927. To say this is to imply the continuity of such an audience from the Victorian era through to recent times, and it is this second context for the poem, following logically from the first, that I wish to turn to now.
The Victorian mania for flagellation literature has been analyzed by Stephen Marcus in his classic study, The Other Victorians, and at greater length by Ian Gibson in The English Vice. The appeal of this particular form of erotica was largely confined to the upper class, but amongst that class it was pervasive. Gibson's analysis of flagellation as practiced in the public schools in the form of caning, birching or whipping leads him to conclude: "The British Empire, it might be argued, was founded on the lash."9 One indication of the fascination the subject held for the Victorians is that such otherwise innocuous publications as Notes and Queries and The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine devoted a surprisingly large proportion of their space, especially in the 1870s, to queries and responses on the subject of flagellation. Yet such correspondence was invariably conducted under pseudonyms, and the sexual connotations of the subject were never alluded to. Gibson's comment is instructive:
The two main streams of flagellant writing are represented by the two poems we have been considering here. The Rodiad deals with the flogging of boys by a schoolmaster, as do virtually all of Swinburne's writings in this vein. The following passage is enough to indicate the primary focus of the poem and the conventions of the genre:
Putting aside the obvious pleasure that the schoolmaster takes in his method of punishment, the emphasis in this passage is on flogging as an instrument of moral education: "Nothing a gentleman's demeanour teaches / More than a graceful downfall of the breeches." And the virtues that it inculcates are stoicism, bravery, forbearance, physical vigour, gravity, decorum, manliness, in other words, the traditional attributes of a British gentleman. At Eton, Harrow, Rugby and other public schools, these qualities were routinely beaten into adolescent boys, who would never forget the experience. Ian Gibson devotes a chapter of his book to Eton and concludes: "Many of those who went through the flogging system as practised at Eton were likely to end up either completely hardened to the shame involved in birching or else as flagellants."11 This is not to say that such men were mentally unbalanced. Those whose obsession with flagellation led them to write or read such things as The Rodiad, to engage in endless public correspondence, or to patronize flagellation brothels, were not cast in the mould of the Marquis de Sade. They were, rather, victims and then perpetuators of a social system that offered few outlets for open sexual activity, but which equated sex with shame, and the inducement of shame was the very object of corporal punishment. Paradoxically, the most ardent flagellomaniacs Swinburne, Milnes, Ashbee, Richard Burton, Frederick Hankey were men who "felt themselves to be in rebellion against the Establishment of the day in matters of sexual morality, and greatly disliked its hypocrisy and puritanism";12 their rebellion, however, often took the form of an adolescent indulgence in the perverse nature of their childhood experiences. In the portrait of himself that Glassco presents in Memoirs of Montparnasse, we can discern a young man of a similar temperament, and in his youthful rebellion against the bourgeois conventionality of English Montreal in the 1920s, an indulgence in interests parallel to those of the "Other Victorians."
The main difference between The Rodiad and Squire Hardman is that in Glassco's work the whipping is done by a woman. Indeed, this is by far the most common scenario in flagellant writing. The fantasy of being dominated by a woman in an elaborate ritual of crime and punishment is the essence of flagellant pornography.13 Curiously enough, the figure of the sadistic governess so prevalent in Victorian works of this nature finds its finest literary realization in Glassco's own Harriet Marwood. It is important to recognize, however, that the governess is not in fact a true sadist at all, but a projection of the masochist's desire for submission. Gilles Deleuze, in an illuminating study of the differences between sadism and masochism, observes that "The woman torturer of masochism cannot be sadistic precisely because she is in the masochistic situation, she is an integral part of it, a realization of the masochistic phantasy."14 Sadism and masochism are not complementary because the true sadist does not want a compliant victim, and the masochist does not really want to be punished indefinitely; rather, he desires an exquisitely painful deferral of pleasure, a pain that makes pleasure sweeter by enforced postponement. I shall turn later to a consideration of the sexual function of flagellation in Squire Hardman, but it should be remembered that the majority of readers of the 'sadistic governess' type of flagellant literature identified with the victims, not with the perpetrators, of the beatings.
It remains to consider Squire Hardman on its own merits and to locate its place in the Glassco canon. Since his introduction to the poem specifically compares it to The Rodiad, and since we have already had a representative sampling of the latter, it would be useful to give Glassco's own assessment of the two works:
It is hard to take very much of this seriously. If indeed The Rodiad is satire, it is satire of a very peculiar kind, since it would purport to attack the very thing that its audience would be most likely to relish. As for the comments on Squire Hardman, one might say that they are more conventional disclaimers than honest self-assessment. Yet there is something of the same duplicity here that we notice in the Memoirs: the suave elegance that does not quite succeed in masking its sensuality. The paragraph that follows may be intended as a kind of counter-balance to the above:
This would seem to throw the poem entirely into the other camp: elegance has given way to "sledge-hammer effrontery." But Glassco is really pulling our legs again, for there is little that is savage or Mephistophelean in Squire Hardman; the author never lets himself go quite that far. Indeed, the atmosphere of Squire Hardman is like a spring breeze compared to the hot-house sensuality of Harriet Marwood, Governess. The poem is perhaps closest in spirit to Pope's Rape of the Lock with its ambivalent attitude towards its subject. Just as Pope seems alternately fascinated and horrified by life at Hampton Court, so Glassco contrives to mock and praise the flagellant mania through hyperbolic description of its pleasures and pains.
The opening invocation of the Goddess of Flagellation not only serves intent of the mock-heroic mode of the verse, but in its diction locates the poem in the time and place that the introduction has prepared us for. The speaker is Squire Hardman himself:
There follows a dedication to the "priestesses" of the flagellant religion, specifically to the Squire's wife Mary Anne. Not the least of the oddities of this poem is that the "cane-bearing belle" it celebrates is a married woman and that her husband is not the one who suffers the exercise of her peculiar talents. What Glassco has done is to take the flagellant reader who derives vicarious pleasure from the whipping scenes depicted and put him into the poem as its narrator. It's clear, also, that both the Squire and his wife require the administering of corporal punishment to boys as a kind of foreplay to sexual intercourse. The memory of their wedding night, for instance, pales in comparison with the memory of the first night they had boys to whip:
The Squire justifies his inclination as the influence of "taste and moral judgment," a combination we have seen in the previously-quoted passage from The Rodiad. In this sort of writing, though, the reference to moral judgment is merely a rationalization. In the following description of himself, which is also a good passage in which to observe Glassco's style, the Squire reveals not only the sensual pleasure he gets from the sounds of corporal punishment, but also his preference that a woman administer it:
Let us compare this to a similar passage describing the schoolmaster in The Roadiad:
It should be obvious that Glassco is much the better poet. He has learned more from Pope than the simple allusion to the Essay on Man would suggest. Though Glassco echoes the author of The Rodiad in the phrase "good old," he shows himself much more capable than the latter of playing variations on the heroic couplet. Notice, for instance, the use of the caesura in the third and ninth lines, and the skilful patterning of the alliteration. The Rodiad poet, by contrast, has little sense of rhythm and his alliteration is painfully clumsy: "bold big boy," "which with my will he will." And whereas he invariably end-stops his lines, Glassco shows his understanding of the technique of enjambment, yoking one couplet to the next with internal rhymes: "the yells / And shrieks of a well flagellated boy."
Glassco's sense of the alternately inflationary and deflationary nature of the mock-heroic is conveyed by his introduction of flagellant terms into conventional scenes and conversations. His conclusion to a charmingly Wordsworthian memory of the Squire's first meeting with the governess ("O blessed hour when first I knew my Dear!") is comically abrupt:
In a similar fashion, the description of the schoolroom in Squire Hardman's house includes an epic catalogue of the equipment necessary to flagellation, and ends with a fair assessment of Mrs. Hardman's teaching methods:
It must be said that a good part of the poem is given over to descriptions of boys being flogged, but these are rarely as gruesomely violent as the corresponding passages in The Rodiad. More typical of Glassco's work is the kind of adolescent wit that manifests itself in indecent puns:
As Leon Edel notes in an article on Glassco's erotic muse, "his method has been one of imitation, of pastiche, of using well-tried models, but invariably wrapping them in the delicacy and elegance of his own large literary talent."16 This method of elegant adaptation may be seen to advantage in Glassco's use of allusions. I have not identified all of the "lively burlesques" to which he refers in the introduction, but a few examples might suffice to show his method. The Squire discourses on the attractiveness of a child's upturned bottom, concluding with an italicized phrase taken out of its culinary context in Crabbe's Tales:
And as the nightingale is to Keats, so the sound of spanking is to the Squire:
For a final example, I can't resist quoting the last lines of the introductory invocation, in which the poet hopes his work will find
Both poems end with a sort of "demented peroration;" whereas The Rodiad's schoolmaster evokes the image of the flagellating satirist the scourge of vice Squire Hardman goes much further in its invocation of the "Genius of Flagellation." The dark vision that concludes the poem recalls The Dunciad in its perverse apocalyptic tone, almost leading us to forget for a moment the absurdity of the subject:
This fantasy of an orgy of sadistic whipping is not uncommon in flagellant writing, but its comic extremity makes it atypical of Glassco's work in this genre. If we compare Squire Hardman with the prose works on this subject, we find that the narrator of the poem is unusual in that he does not suffer at all for his obsession. The true flagellant is not a cheerful spectator at the whipping game, but the actual recipient of the blows. Richard Lovel in Harriet Marwood, Governess, Mairobert in The Black Helmet, and Severin in Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs (the classic masochist novel translated by Glassco) are not interested in the punishment of others but revel in their own abasement.17 Richard's relationship with his governess is summed up in his desire "to feel her imperious and powerful while he himself was all weakness and submission."18 Indeed, only in subjection and humiliation can he experience true happiness. The depths of suffering and depravity which are explored in the prose works are never plumbed by Glassco's heroic couplets. Yet all his work devoted to this theme is unified by the image of the femme fatale. Mary Anne, as briefly sketched as she is, takes her place with Miss Marwood and Sacher-Masoch's Wanda as a representative of the Fatal Woman Glassco has called "my constant Muse."19 Loen Edel has drawn attention to Glassco's fear of women,20 but reading the diary which he kept on and off for a period of 27 years one is struck not so much by his fear of women as by his obsession with them. What makes his gynaecophobia so fascinating, in fact, is its combination with a strong sexual attraction to women. I do not wish to speculate on the nature of Glassco's upbringing or "early memories" to which he alludes in the preface to Harriet Marwood, Governess. What matters is that he was able to transmute such experiences or fantasies into art. If the art of Squire Hardman is indeed an art of pastiche, even of parody, it becomes all the more necessary to read it in its proper context. When read in context, it proves to be not at all unworthy of the talents of its creator, and transcends the achievement of most other works of its kind.
"Intimate Journal 1934-1961," John Glassco Papers, Box 2, Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University. Quoted by permission of McGill University Libraries and the estate of John Glassco.[back]
In a letter to me dated Jan. 21, 1979, he wrote: "This poem is my own, and only foisted on Colman just as The Rodiad was by Moxon. Poor Colman . . ." Glassco here confuses Moxon with Hotten, who had replaced Moxon as Swinburne's publisher following the outcry over Poems and Ballads.[back]
I have not been able to see either of the earlier printings which are extremely rare and frequently purloined from libraries. It is possible that the Cayme Press pamphlet is itself modelled on its predecessors in terms of layout and typography. [back]
Under the pseudonym of "Pisanus Fraxi" he published three monumental bibliographies of erotic literature. See Stephen Marcus, The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth Century England (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966), pp. 34-76. According to G. Legman, Ashbee was the author of My Secret Life, the classic erotic autobiography to which Marcus devotes two chapters of his study.[back]
Quoted in Jean Overton Fuller, Swinburne: A Critical Biography (London: Chatto & Windus, 1968), p. 68.[back]
Fuller, p. 68.[back]
London: Duckworth, 1978.[back]
Gibson, p. 64.[back]
Gibson, p. 194.[back]
Gibson, p. 106.[back]
Gibson, p. 257.[back]
Marcus argues that the flagellant fantasy is a homosexual one. He concludes that "the entire immense literature of flagellation produced during the Victorian period, along with the fantasies it embodied and the practises it depicted, represents a kind of last-ditch compromise with and defense against homosexuality." (p. 260). Homosexual pornography was virtually unknown in the Victorian era and flagellation literature may well have substituted for it.[back]
Gilles Deleuze, Sacher-Masoch: An Interpretation, trans. Jean McNeil (London: Faber and Faber, 1971), p. 37.[back]
Glassco has altered "this is" to "this his" in the corrected proof copy in the Glassco Papers.[back]
Edel, p. 115.[back]
The editions I have consulted are as follows: Harriet Marwood, Governess (Don Mills, Ont.: General Publishing, 1976), The Fatal Woman (Toronto: Anansi, 1974); Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in Furs, trans. John Glassco (Burnaby, B.C.: Blackfish Press, 1977).[back]
Harriet Marwood, Governess, p. 29.[back]
"Preface," The Fatal Woman, p. iv.[back]
Edel, p. 110.[back]