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Frances Burney's Evelina:
Mirvan and Mezzotint
John Hart
n the spring of 1779, the year following the publication of Evelina,
Robert Sayer, Map and Printseller, brought out a humorous mezzotint,
"An English Jack-Tar Giving Monsieur a D~bbimg"(figure 1): in which
a sailor and a gloating ship's boy get the better of a fashionable gentleman. The print captures the battle in progress-the Frenchman's hat
knocked off, wig in disarray, and sword broken at his feet. The tar
cocks his stout oak staff for a finishing blow. While the print postdates Frances Bumey's novel, it recalls images in related droll and satiric
mezzotints from earlier in the 1770s that are in turn echoed in incidents
involving Captain Mirvan, and suggests the milieu of the sea-officer's
rough humour. Beyond that, the prints reveal social tensions also evident in Evelim, and in selected instances may offer sources for specific
episodes. This paper surveys those images in the mezzotints from the
1770s which are relevant to a reading of Evelina, especially the figures
of "monsieur," the "macaroni," and the "monkey." In this social context Mirvan can be read as a character responsive to concerns specific
to the 17705, rather than as the flawed caricature that critics have defined. The aim is to test the extent to which the topicality that underlies
Bumey's portrayal lends complexity to his character.
Bumey's Captain M i a n drew protests from the outset. Despite the
nod to Smollett in the preface, Bumey's characterization of a "surly,
I Reproduced by permission of The Library of Conpss. Print8 and Photographs Division; all
other illustrations art horn the collection of Ihc Hon. C.A. Lennox-Boyd, Burlord. Oxfordshire.
EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION. Volume 7. Number 1. Oclober 1994
vulgar, and di~agreeable"~
sea captain ran counter to the image of the jolly
jack-tar that was more typical of the period. The first published notice
in the Monthly Review, though generally admiring, ended with a rebuke:
"From this commendation, however, we must except the character of a
son of Neptune, whose manners are rather those of a rough, uneducated
country 'Squire than those of a genuine sea-captain.") In a similar vein,
Burney's diary entry from 1780 catalogues adverse comments by seaofficers. Here Mrs Thrale responds to Lord Mulgrave's raillery that "Miss
Burney ... is one of the greatest of our enemies!"-"a
rub," Burney
writes,"for my old offence, which he seems determined not to forget."
"All the sea captains," said Mrs. Thrale, "fall upon Miss Burney: Captain Cotton,
my cousin, was for ever plaguing her about her spite for the navy."
This, however, was for the character of Captain Miman, which, in a comical
and good-humoured way, Captain Cotton pretended highly to resent, and so, he
told me, did all the captains in the navy.
Augusta Bymn, too, tells me that the Admiral, her father, very often speaks
of Captain Mirvan, and though the book is very high in his favour, is not half
pleased with the Captain's being such a brute."
Earlier, twenty months after Evelina appeared, in a letter to Hester Maria
Thrale, Samuel Johnson could already refer to that "old objection to the
Captain's grossness."' C.N. Robinson's classic study on the British tar
sustains the complaint into the early twentieth century: "an age ... which
drew satisfaction from the 'Evelina' of Miss Bumey, could hardly give
us a real seaman in the pages of its novelist^."^ Modem discussions
of Evelina, while less inclined to dispute the justice of Burney's portrait, extend this tendency to read Miwan as caricature and, accordingly,
as one among several stereotypes upon which Burney and her naive
narrator rely. Recent feminist readings attribute more rhetorical control
to Evelina's epistolary voice and ascribe cultural resonance to figures,
such as the Branghtons, formerly considered caricatures. M i a n , however, continues to be viewed as a caricature, although, at least within the
2 Prances Bumey,Evrlina; or The History ofa Young Lady's Entmnce into the World,ed. Edward
A. Blwm and Lillian D. Blwm (Oxford: Oxford University Rsss. 1982). p. 38. Refa=xces an
to this edition.
3 Diary Md Lcners ofModwv d'Arblq, ed. Austin Dadson. 6 vols (London. 190Q-5). 1:28.
4 Diary Md Letters, 1:375.
5 The LcncrsofSmel Johnron, ed. B ~ c Redford,
3 vols (Princeton: Rioceton Univmity Press,
1992). 3:213.
6 C.N. Robinson, The British Tar in F a d Md Fiction (London: Harper, 1909). p. 292.
Howard/Miwan households, he comes to signify male hegemony along
with other aspects of the tar.'
Of course, to claim that a caricature misses the mark is problematic. Burney's journals reveal that she can sketch the conventional type
well enough, as in her reference to her officer brother James, whom she
describes elsewhere as the "true English tar":8"honest, generous, sensible, unpolished
very careless, but possessed of an uncommon share
of good nature; full of humour, mirth & Jollity."9 But she does otherwise with M i a n . Indeed, Bumey's manner of representing persons
raises questions as to whether her portraits can be labelled caricature or
type. In general, caricature exhausts the social meanings that can be attributed to it; it is what it appears to be and little else besides. Caricature
becomes character when the fiction brings into view elements of an inner
life-conflict, desire, or pain-or a sense of self forming and changing
as events or circumstances are brought to bear upon it.lo Gdrard Genette
describes the tension between "fixed significations" such as those in caricature and the uncertainty that breathes life into character by positing
"a rhetoric of silence. Its art consists entirely in making language, a vehicle of knowledge and rather hasty opinion, a locus of uncertainty and
interrogation." In relation to character or "people," he continues:
instead of imposing on them definite, fixed significations, as does social speech
(and also, of course, ''bad'' literature), it leaves them, or rather restores to them,
by a very subtle technique ... of semantic evasion, that "shaky," ambiguous,
uncertain meaning, which is their huth. Thus it breathes new life into the world,
freeing it from the pressure of social meaning, which is a named meaning ...
maintaining as long as possible that opening, that uncertainfy of signs, which
allows one to breathe."
Bumey's representations resist such "named meaning" by leaning towards the unresolved, what Kristina Straub calls "a divided text that
7 Judith Lowder Newton. Women, Power, ond Subversion: Smial SnorcgicJ in British Fiction,
1778-1860 (Athcns: University of Gengia Ress, 1981). pp. 5b.54; Kristina Stranb, Divided
Fictions: F m y Bumey ond Fcmininc Strotcgy (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1987).
pp. 5 H 2 ; Julia Epstein, The Imn Pen: FIMCCSBurmy ond t k Polirifs of W o r n ' s Writing
(Madison: Univmily of W~smnsinRess. 1989). p. 99.
8 Diary ond Letters, 4:375.
9 The Early Journals ond Lenm of F m y Bumcy, ed. Lars E. Troide, 2 vols (Oxford: Oxford
Univmity Ress, 1988-90). 1:94.
10 See MtugBIU A m Doody, Fmnces Bumey: The fife in the Worh (New Bruaswick, NI: Rutgers
University Ress. 1988). p. 48.
11 G h d Genene. Figuns o j f i t e w y Direourrc, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Columbia
Univmity P m s . 1982), p. 41.
reveals its own dividednes~."'~
Rather than exemplifying the genial tar,
Mirvan plays against the type. While he lives in its shadow, he implicitly
reveals the insufficiency of the type to capture the tensions, antagonisms,
even rancour associated with the navy during the 1770s. Similarly, while
Mme Duval may seem to be a type, Burney introduces her through a series of questions about who she is and what this mdlange of extravagant
dress and accent may represent. Rather like Genette's "locus of uncertainty and interrogation," she resists the easy labelling one would expect
of a type. Thus, it often appears in E v e l i ~that there is more to be
known about persons than mere type would yield. As we will see, the silence surrounding Mirvan tempts at least one modem critic to conjure
up a biographical sketch for him for which there is no textual support.
The intent here is not to propose yet another biography but to explore
contexts upon which a reading of his character could depend. These include social developments and tensions surround'mg the navy, some of
which are the result of the service's emerging preeminence during the
preceding half century, while others are more specific to the 1770s.
As Edward Bloom notes, "Fanny herself thought her portraiture was
realiitic,"l3 a conviction revealed in her response to the sea-officers' criticisms cited above: "I have this to comfort me.-that the more I see of
sea captains, the less reason I have to be ashamed of Captain Mirvan; for
they have all so irresistable a propensity to wanton mischief, to roasting
beaux, and detesting old women, that I quite rejoice I showed the book
to no one ere printed, lest I should have been prevailed upon to soften
his character."lb Evidently some readers agreed. Neither Dr Johnson nor
Mrs Thrale, whose comments are well documented in the diary, seems to
have objected to M i a n . Indeed,Johnson points out Admiral John Montagu to Bumey as material for more naval characters.15 Johnson's letter
to Hester Maria Thrale, cited above, records Lady Edgeworth's observation that she too had known such a captain. Noting the current vices
of various professions in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).
Mary Wollstonecraft raises objections to naval officers that recall Burney's character, Mirvan: "Sailors, the naval gentlemen, come under the
same description [as army officers], only their vices assume a different and a grosser cast. ... More confined to the society of men, [they]
I2 Smub, p. 24.
13 lntrodvnion m E v e l i ~ p.
, m
14 Diary andkmrs. 1:375.
15 D i q ondknen. 1:7W6.
56 E I G H T E E N T H - C E N T U R Y PlCTION
acquire a fondness of humour and mischievous tricks."16 One remembers as well the tyrant father in her The Wrongs of Woman; or, Maria
(1798). a retired "captain of a man of war" who, l i e Miwan, carries
his authority ashore with him. This divided response, a contested reading in its own time, points up the value of reviewing the contexts that
lend the character its complexity.
In the British Museum Catalogue of topical prints,17the comic mezzotint
appears in 1770 and throughout the decade remains a popular medium
for droll and satiric prints. Since the mid-century, through the work of
a group of Irish printers, James MacArdal, Andrew Miller, and John
Brooks, the mezzotint, because of its capacity for reproducing half-tones,
had flourished in the London market as a means of reproducing portraits
and paintings. Adapting the mezzotint to the representation of humorous, contemporary scenes renewed a fashion that Hogarth had cultivated
in his engravings and Rowlandson would later follow in both etchings
and engravings. The droll mezzotints of the 1770s. however, gave rise
to no artist of similar stature; individual prints were usually identified
not with artists but with printseuers, such as Robert Sayer and Carington and John Bowles, or their shops, Sayer and Bennett, and Bowles and
Carver. The medium's application to sketches from everyday life continued throughout the 1770s, but by the next decade such topical prints
tended to be etched or engraved.
The brevity of the life of the humorous mezzotint was probably due
to a technical limitation of the mezzotint process-the durability of the
copper plate. For mezzotint, a copper plate is first scored or burred until
the inked plate will produce a uniformly black print. The scored surface
is then engraved, burnished, or scraped in order to produce l i e s , shades
of gray, and areas of white. The process yields rich blacks and subtle
grays, but the burred plate is more fragile than that of an engraving or
16 Mary WollsIonecraft A Vindicorion of the Rights of W o r n , ed. Cam1 H. Poston (New Yo*
N m n , 1975). p. 17.
17 Catalogue of Political Md Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints MdDmwings
in the British M~urcwn,ed. Pnderick George S~ephnsand Mary DomIhy Oenge. 11 vols
(London, 1871-1954). Rintr mentioned hrre are included in the Catalogue, execpt for thc
1779 "An English lack-Tar Giving Monsieur a Drubbing" fmm the Ubrary of Congrsss. F'rinIs
and Photographs Division, and thc following fmm the collection of The Hoa. C.A. h o x Boyd: thc 1788 "An English lack-Tar Giving Monsieur a Drubbing:' 'Roast Beef and Soup
Maigre," 'The Ladie's DisasIer:' and "Bless me Ladies Is il I or My BroUlcrT'
etching where the image is inscribed into a hard surface. Therle Hughes
estimates that, for fine prints, a printer could expect only forty prints of
the best grade and another hundred of diminishing quality.ls Sayer and
Bowles may have pulled more of the relatively cheap mezzotints they
produced, but an expanding market for popular art would have favoured
techniques that yielded larger editions.
While some humorous mezzotints represent specific incidents, most
depict familiar subjects the frequent repetition of which suggests that
print-makers and sellers knew they were certain to amuse their audience.
Since jokes are relatively short-lived, it is not surprising that those being
reviewed here surface and fade within the decade,19but they were very
much in vogue from 1775 to late 1777-when Burney was completing
Evelina. While the prints mentioned below are related to Bumey's representation of Mirvan, the selection includes typical and common subjects.
For instance, antecedents for "An English Jack-Tar Giving Monsieur a
Drubbing" can be found in several prints that portray Frenchmen set
upon in London Streets, an occasional subject used earlier-for example, in the first state of Hogarth's "Beer Street" (1751)-but during the
1770s a topic that appears with more frequency. The earliest in the decade
are a pair of engravings after John Collett: "The Frenchman at Market" (1770) shows a tall Frenchman assaulted by a butcher outside his
shop, while a chiieysweep, on the shoulders of a companion, drops a
mouse into the Frenchman's wig-bag and a small dog fouls his leg; "The
Frenchman in London" (1770) depicts another butcher punching a finely
dressed Frenchman as he comes out of an establishment marked "Foreign Gentlemeflaught English." "Roast Beef and Soup MaigreW(1773)
pictures a sturdy Englishman shaking hands with a thii French gentleman who grimaces in pain from the Englishman's grip. 'lko prints from
the mid-1770s portray Frenchmen in protracted fights similar to "An English Jack-Tar Giving Monsieur a Drubbig" rather than as the target of
a single aggressive act. In both prints the Frenchman's antagonist is a
woman. In "Billiigsgate Triumphant, or Poll Dab a Match for a Frenchman" (1775), a marketwoman squares off against a Frenchman who,
having removed his coat for battle, is shown naked from the waist up,
18 Thule Hugks. Prints for the Colkctor (New Yo& Racgar, 1971). p. 115.
19 The exception would be those targeting Frenchmen, prolonged by the French alliance with the
America colonists from 1778-83. When the French befom an issue again after 1789, the
Fmoch dandy will be replaced by the sonr culotte. See also the exhibition catalogue. English
Gxiemn 1620 to the Pmenr W o n , 1984). pp. 15-16, by the Victoria and Albert Muscum,
citing the distiaetive turn saliric prints taLe in 1770 end their popularity.
wearing only false collar and cuffs (to save on cloth), his breeches tailored in a manner to expose his posterior. The coarsest of the prints, it
shows a stream of excrement which suggests the extent of the Frenchman's fear of the beating he is about to suffer. A similar print, "Sal
Dab Giving Monsieur a Reciept in Full" (1776). is even more closely related to "An English Jack-Tar Giving Monsieur a Drubbing." Beyond
their echoing titles, both are published by Robert Sayer and catch their
subjects in mid-battle; in composition they are virtually mirror images.
Outside a pub--"The Good Woman"4al Dab, bare-breasted like an
Amazon, backs monsieur down with a right cross while from behind a
seated fishwife holds a live lobster to his exposed buttock (figure 2).
These prints are of interest in relation to Burney's Mirvan because
they illustrate the climate of rough humour within which he performs
his brutal pranks and because the xenophobic French-baiting prefigures
his badgering of Mme Duval. In addition, a parallel between Frenchmen
and macaronies exploited in the prints is matched by Mirvan's abuse
of both Mme Duval and Beaux Lovel for their dress. While the epithet "macaroni" for a dandy dates from the early 1760s. the macamni
surfaces as a figure in satiric prints around 1770. The macaroni, like monsieur, also suffers from attack, though the assault is usually against the
elaborately coiffed hair and queue bags rather than the person. For instance, in "Docking the Macaroni" (c. 1770), a butcher (a familiar figure
from prints about the Frenchman) hacks at a macaroni's pigtail from behind. F i t published by Carington Bowles, the print was copied four
years later as "English FUM or Docking the Macaroni" (1774) by Sayer
and Bennett, who add a barking dog and two marketwomen to cheer
the butcher on. "Billingsgate Triumphant, or Irish Peg in a Rage" (c.
1770) shows a marketwoman grabbing the queue of a macaroni in retaliation for his kicking over her canister of beer. Seizing his pigtail,
the tradeswoman threatens, "Make good the damage, you dog, or 1'11
cut away your parsnip." The common setting-Billingsgate marketand the disputed reckoning l i i "Irish Peg" to the prints celebrating Poll
and Sal Dab. Indeed the play on the Frenchman as macaroni is seen in
two other prints from the period. "A French Macarony Eating of Macaroons" (1772) and "The Tuilleries Macaroni" (1774). Miman echoes the
accent on fashion that underlies the convergence of the Frenchman and
macaroni when he names the monkey, dressed to mimic Lovel, Monsieur
GriMgain. Monsieur Clapperclaw, and Monsieur Longtail (pp. 400-2).
Lovel's encounter with the monkey may recall the embattled Frenchmen, for Lovel provokes the attack when ''forgetful of consequences,
[he] vented his passion by giving a furious blow to the monkey" (p.
The monkey itself turns up more frequently in the prints of the 1770s
than in earlier decades and assumes a singular role as a scourge of high
fashion. To a degree the figure, l i e Swift's Yahoos or the monkey in
Hogarth's "Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn," extends the tradi. ~ example, in the
tional aping of human pretension or b e h a v i o ~ r For
print "Bless me Ladies Is it I or my Brother?" (1774) a dandy with a gigantic wig confronts a simian double; similarly, Mirvan describes the
monkey to Lovel as "your twin-brother" (p. 399). But other prints of the
1770s go further than mirroring to represent the monkey as an active
spoiler or scourge of foppery: for instance, a monkey in 'The Ladie's
Disaster" (c. 1770) sets fire with a candle to a gentlewoman's towering hairdo. Perhaps the best-known and most often reprinted of these
was Carington Bowles's "Slight of Hand by a Monkey, or the Lady's
Head Unloaded" (1776); the monkey from atop a wall hoists a lady's tall
wig (figure 3). Her alarm will be echoed in Mme Duval's distress over
her lost curls and in early illustrations for this famous episode in which
baldness is the most vivid sign of her deshabille.ll
The monkey both as mirror and spoiler shows up in a pair of mezzotints, "The Exhibition of Wild BeastsV(1774).The first, from Carington
Bowles, is subtitled "Mankind is Fond of Looking at Their Lienesses,"
and depicts animals displayed under such labels as "American Buffalo,"
"Indian Hog," and "Icelandic Goat." The onlwkers are five men and one
woman, each of whom resembles one or another of the beasts. One exhibit features a "Silken Monkey" with a high pompadour, pigtail, and
little striped coat, closely observed by a macaroni similarly coiffed and
outfitted. Of all the animals, only the monkey has its resemblance enhanced by being, l i e M i a n ' s ape, "full dressed, and extravagantly b
la mode" (figure 4). In the print's counterpart by Sayer and B e ~ e t t ,
"An Exhibition of Wild Beasts, or the Macaroni in Distress," the monkey grabs the macaroni's pigtail from behiid, resembling the earlier
"Docking the Macaroni" and "Irish Peg." The victim screams his distress to the delight of onlookers, a small boy and older couple, all plainly
dressed (figure 5). These two mezzotints are of particular interest because
20 W.B. Camaehan. h u e 1 Gulliver's Mimrfor Mon (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1968), pp. 7-8, Sean Shesgmn, Hogmtk ~d tk Tmws-of-the-Doy Tradition (Ithaca: Comell
University Press. 1983). pp. 148-49.
21 See John Mortimer's illusfrations for the 1779 fowth edition or those '%olouRd engravings by
the first arfist~" for aa illusmated edition (London. 1822).
they anticipate so well the semiotics and sequence of events in the scene
from Evelina played out between Mirvan, the monkey, and Lovel. The
prints reveal that Burney draws upon humorous materials in vogue during
the period. Thus, they may belong among other influences--the "tissue of allusions" in Margaret Anne Doody's words-that lend the novel
i n t e r t e ~ t u ~ tThrough
y . ~ ~ recurrent subjects and images, through reprintings, borrowings, and transmissions from printer to printer, the prints
form a discourse which, once identified, amplifies a sense of the ways
in which this novel joins, in Stephen Greenblatt's terms, the "collective
negotiation and exchange'" of Burney's culture. In addition, if the surviving prints accurately reflect the comic life of their subjects, the brief
duration of a joke's risibility may indicate that Burney plays on social
contests-tensions, divisions, and incongruities-specific to the 1770s.
The exuberant Francophobia and beaux-baiting of the prints surface in
the two scenes Chauncey Brewster T d e r calls the novel's most famous, "the ducking of Madame Duval and the attack of the monkey
upon Beau Lovel's ear,"u both of which involve Mirvan. M i a n ' s zeal
for acting out his xenophobic hatred of the French mirrors the violence
in the mezzotints. Here the targeting of Mme Duval reflects what we
have seen Burney noting in her diary as the sea captain's "propensity to
wanton mischief, to roasting beaux, and detesting old women," a misogyny shaded, however, by a Francophobia common among naval officers.
V i a l l y every biography of Nelson, for instance, records the fond memory he treasured of his mother, who &ed when he was nine: "she hated
the French." The wars of the century had been, and would continue to
be, a struggle between British and French navies for hegemony, and antagonisms were particularly inflamed at this time by fear that the French
would side with the Americans, as indeed they did by February 1778.
For unqualified misogyny, Miwan must yield to Lord Merton, who arranges the footrace of old women and berates all women over thirty.
22 Margare( Anne Doody, "Beyond Evelina: 'Ih Individual, the Novel, and the Community of
LitetaNre:'EiglUccnlh-Cenmry Fiction 3 (1991). 365. Doody also suggests areading of Evclinn
responsive to its "political time:' particularly the war and its u n d i n g of identity. In part, my
argument complemsnts her observation by indicating how Milvan's repnsentaljon reinforce3 the
novel's mntemporaneity, reflecting tensions also evident in the prints.
23 Stephen Jay Greenblatt, S&spcarcan
Ncgoriarions: The Cinulnlion of Social Energy in ReM~'SSMCC Enghnd (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1988). p. vii.
24 Chauncey Brewster linker, Dr. J o h o n Md F m y Bumey (Landon: Andrew Melmse, 1912).
p. 11.
Miwan's verbal abuse resembles Merton's, but his focus on "old Mrs.
Frog" qualifies his misogyny by adding to it Francophobia, an antagonism linked to his profession. In a similar vein, Mirvan's manner of
exercising the other propensity, that is for "roasting beaux," reveals a
characteristically naval bias in favour of a conservative standard of gentlemanly dress and demeanour-polish without modish excess. As an
officer home from seven years at sea, his is a satiric voice, the outsider's
perspective on new fashions that have taken over civil society. At the
same time, his view may reflect the self-consciousness about manner
and status evident, as we will see below, in the mid-eighteenth-century
navy. Miwan's comments on fashion display a wish to preserve a balance between professional and gentlemanly dignity. Hence, he replies to
Mme Duval's recommendation that he visit Paris to off-set his "rude,
old-fashion way": "you'd have me learn to cut capers?-and dress like
a monkey?-and palaver in French gibberish?" (p. 61). An early exchange with Lovel anticipates their later, more famous, encounter. When
Lovel chides him for his send-up of rhetorical gallantry, Miwan's answer moves from rhetoric to dress and manners: "I'm almost as much
ashamed of my countrymen, as if I was a Frenchman ... before long,
we shall hear the very sailors talking that lingo, and see never a swabber without a bag and a sword ... the men, as they call themselves, are no
better than monkeys; and as to the women, why they are mere dolls"(p.
What is remarkable also is how persistently the prints represent class
antagonism. The figures initiating an assault and those cheering them on
are consistently lower-class: butchers, seamen, pub keepers, barmaids,
fishwives, shop's boys, and other tradespeople. Labelling the genteel
victim a Frenchman, a macaroni, or the female counterpart of a macaroni permits aggression that conld otherwise be regarded as socially
subversive. The visual semiotics are often so ambiguous that the prints
depend on text-the title and other textual elements incorporated in the
composition-to guide interpretation. Without its title, for example, "An
English Jack-Tar Giving Monsieur a Drubbing" could at first glance be
taken for a sailor and ship's boy beating up a gentleman. In this case, what
supports the Francophobe reading of the title is the internal text. Naming
25 In lane Austen's Persumion, Admiral Crows comment on Sir Walter EIBM, though milder, also
reflects this eanservalive stance: "very much the gentleman I am slue ... rather a dressy man
for his time of t i f e . S u c h a number of looking-glasses!" The Novelr of Jme Ausfm, ed. R.W.
Chapman. 3rd ed.. 5 vols (London, 193349). 9127-28. Refcnnces are lo this edition.
the pub the Admiral Keppel, the drink it offers as "Keppel's Cordial, Harland's Intire,"26 and identifying the ship in the background as "Victory"
link, as we will see, the fight between the tar and monsieur with the recent
naval battle off Ushant in July 1778. Despite the success of the prints in
muting questions of subversion by inscribing a context within which assault is permissible and justified by wit, the lower-class parallels for the
fiercely Francophohic and beaux-baiting sea-officer problematize a reading of Mirvan. To juxtapose him with Sal and Poll Dab, the butcher, Irish
Peg, and others who find an opening to badger their betters is to point up
ambiguities in social standing and the historic anomaly of the naval officer as gentleman. Evelina sharpens rather than mutes this issue, since
association in the novel makes such a difference. The Branghton connection compromises Mme Duval and threatens Evelia; certainly, Lord
Orville takes it upon himself to weigh Evelina's associations in assessing
the significance of her being so "peculiarly situated."
The anomaly of the sea-officer as gentleman reflects the troubled
course of developing a professional 6lite to meet the technical requirements of modem naval warfare. The feudal assumption that gentlemen
lead during wartime had proved impractical in the navy as command
increasingly required expertise in artillery and blue-water navigationskills beyond the inclination or capabilities of many gentlemen. The
challenge to the traditional gentleman-officer emerged in the tendency
for command to pass to those, often from the merchant service or below decks, who combined sailing experience with a capacity for leadership and the requisite mathematical knowledge. While these so-called
tarpaulin officers acquired status as gentlemen because of the traditional
respect accorded a military officer, their rough manners often betrayed
their origins. The anomaly can be seen in the semiotic confusion of
the term "tar," applicable indiscriminately to any sailor whether ordinary seaman or officer and in either the merchant or naval fleets. The
potential social dissonance of the gentleman-officer becoming the officergentleman-this is, where good breeding yields to professional merit
as the precondition for gentility-was perceived as problematic. Daniel
Baugh discusses repeated efforts by British ministries and the Admiralty to sustain an officer corps that would mirror the traditional social
order: for instance, seventeenthcentury attempts to resist the rise of
tarpaulin officers through divided command-a ship's master for navigation and pilotage paired with a gentleman officer whose authority
26 The OED identifies 'Pntirc" as a variant of "entire," a s m g malt liquor or p i e r .
M l R V A N A N D M E Z Z O T I N T 67
was limited to tactical manoeuvres. A government initiative in the 1730s
established the Royal Naval Academy, whose goal was to resolve the
social disparity between gentlemen and tarpaulin officers by recmiting
only young gentlemen and training them to be sea-officers. Even this design met with only limited success. Young gentlemen often preferred the
army to the rigours of sea duty, and indeed manpower needs far exceeded the Academy's capacity to produce polished but able officemn
Sailors of less than gentle birth still mse from below decks or entered
the navy as midshipmen sponsored by standing officers who may themselves have had humble origins. Hence, while historians agree that the
navy drew its officers prominently from among the gentry, young men
whose chief distinction was ability continued to gain commissions-for
example, George Vancouver and James Bumey, whose fathers, a customs official and a music historian, were middle-class, or James Cook,
whose father was a farm labourer.
Even those of gentle bilth, commonly the younger sons of peers, landed
gentlemen, or clergy, often entered the navy at so early an age-ten
to fourteen-that an education confined to the cockpit (and as Wollstonecraft complains "to the society of men") might produce manners
rougher than their origins would suggest. Miwan may be one of these
young gentleman, though it is also possible that his mots are as humble as those of his beaux-baiting counterparts in the prints, for instance,
a sailor risen by virtue of his talents or the shopkeeper's son become
ship's boy, then midshipman, under a skipper's patronage. With such a
spectrum of possibilities, all reasonably plausible, a biography such as
that imagined by Judith Lowder Newton, which describes Miwan as a
"mling-class male," lacks foundation: "The captain would appear to be
the younger son of a country gentleman, the untutored sort for whom a
naval commission might be purchased but the sort who remained mde
and countrified."28 This tale of a young 'squire Miwan is unsupported by
the text, and in fact naval commissions were earned, not purchased. According to N.A.M. Rodger, "The Navy was the only profession for a
gentleman which did not require-indeed, did not admit-the application of money or influence."19 Once posted, whether upstart sailor or
27 Daniel Baugh. British N a w l Adminisnotion in the Age of Wnlpole (Princeton: Rinceton University Press. INS), pp. 99-102; N.A.M. Rodger, The Wooden World: An A ~ f o m yofthe Georgian
Navy (Landon: Collins. 1986). p. 265.
28 Newton, pp. 5&5l.
29 Rodger, pp. 253-54.
gentleman's son, the midshipman had to gain at least six years' service at sea and pass a rigorous examination to become eligible for a
M i a n in this context calls to mind uneasiness about the
class affiliation and influence of naval officers under the changing social and economic conditions of the late eighteenth century. British sea
power manifested itself in victories over the French, in colonial expansion, and in new wealth in sugar and slaves. The late-eighteenth-century
British navy, writes Rodger, "was by far the largest and most complex
of all government services, and indeed by a large margin the largest industrial organization in the western world."m Such institutional influence
fostered careers and fortunes that in turn threatened those who relied on
good breeding and old money. Horace Walpole complained in 1761 of
the new men thrusting themselves forward: "West Indians, conquerors,
nabobs, and admirals."" It seems reasonable then that a literary treatment, such as Burney's, of a sea-officer would reflect ambivalence about
acknowledging him as a gentleman while calling to mind the manners
and behaviour that identify him as an outsider. Later, in Persuasion,
Sir Walter Elliot will object to the navy's "being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction" (p. 19). From her
perspective among the rising Burneys, Frances Burney is adept at discovering the tensions and comic possibilities at the fault line between the
established gentry and potential upstarts like Mme Duval, the Branghtons,
and Captain M i a n .
In addition to the social milieu of Burney's Evelina, the political climate of the 1770s may inform her abrasive captain as well. The rancow
grew out of divisions in the navy that reflected both opposition charges
that the government had allowed the navy to decline and resistance to the
American war. Rodger describes the temper of the decade: "Party feeling ran higher than it had done since King William's time, and none
were more partisan than the naval officers, many of them rough, censorious men, lacking the urbanity of London politicians, and ever ready to
suspect their opponents of treachery."3' Sayer's print "An English Jack30 Rodger. p. 29.
31 The Yale Edition of Homcr Wolpole's Cornspondencr, 4. W.S.Lewis, 48 vols (New Haven:
Yale University Press. 1937-83). 21:4&2.
32 N.A.M. Rodger, The Admirally Ovenham: T. Dalton, 1979). p. 72. See Rodncy on naval
eharaefer and politics in The British Tar in F a t nnd Fiction, pp. 28-29.
Tar Giving Monsieur a Drubbing" speaks to the most acrimonious point
of the conflict, the court martial of Admiral Keppel prompted by his conduct of the Battle of Ushant. Following his earlier refusal to serve against
the Americans, Keppel, a prominent parliamentarian and opposition supporter, had been deeply suspicious of the ministry's motives when he
was offered command of naval operations against the French. His fear
that he was being set up seemed confirmed after the indecisive battle off Ushant, when he was charged by Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, a
government supporter, with failing to pursue and engage the enemy aggressively, in effect the crime for which Admiral Byng had been executed
in 1757. In an atmosphere of charge and counter-charge, Keppel accused
Palliser of failing to respond to signals ordering support. Both were
acquitted, though the Keppel verdict included commendation while Palher's was without comment. Sayer's print appears to declare victory
over the French, siding with Keppel and Harland (his second in command) whose names grace the strong English brew the "Admiral Keppel"
pub advertises. W i l e Ushant and its aftermath post-date E v e h a by several months, the affair simply brought to a head the partisan rancour
associated with the navy that had been evident throughout the decade.
Bumey's characterization of Miwan reflects these cross-currents in the
status of the sea-officer which were manifest by the 1770s. He is treated
as a gentleman throughout the novel, the respect due his profession augmented by his marriage to a daughter of Lady Howard, but, at the same
time, he remains the tar with barnacles. Burney accentuates the uneasiness by setting Mirvan in surroundings-the bmu monde of London
and Bath-that lend his character a sharper social silhouette than Smollen's tars are given. In this polite milieu, he is all the more remarkable
for his abusive manner, his contempt for modish dress and behaviour,
and his brutal pranks. It is chiefly through Evelina's responses that we
recognize how jarring his presence and actions can be. Freed from pretence by the intimacy of letter-writing, Evelina introduces him in terms
that cut through the respect he may claim by virtue of his service or
his maniage: "He seems to be surly, vulgar, and disagreeable. ... I cannot imagine why the family was so rejoiced at his return" @. 38). The
discontinuity between her constemation at Miwan's actions and the polite forbearance of those who treat him as a gentleman links him to
other characters-Evelina, Mme Duval, the Branghtons, MacCartney,
and Mrs Selwyn-who receive a divided response because their status is
contested or because they challenge the status ascribed to them. The dissonance lends them an air of uncertainty that, to echo Genette, breathes
new life into their characters. The association also locates Mirvan within
a dominant rhetorical motif of the novel, questioning or puzzling over
uncertainties-some of it Evelina's-as we hear both in her introduction of Mirvan above and in her description of Mme Duval soon after:
"There was something foreign in her accent, though it was difficult to discover whether she was an English or a French woman" (p. 49). Later, the
inquiry will focus on Evelina as Orville plays detective, leading to encounters no less puzzling to her than her circumstance is to him. Yet
when Orville appears to have settled many of his questions conceming one so "peculiarly situated ... left totally to her own direction" (p.
346), he still values the opaque in Evelina as an aspect of her singularity: "She is not ... l i e most modem young ladies, to be known in
half an hour" (p. 347). In a similar vein, part of what makes her narrative so engaging is the degree to which it sustains the unresolved and
Like Evelina itself, "An English Jack-Tar Giving Monsieur a Drubbing" resists a simple resolution between text, appearance, and circumstance, thus preventing a self-evident reading or exhaustive interpretation.
For instance, what is the drubbing celebrated here? If it is supposed to be
the battle of Ushant, the print offers merely xenophobic bluster or wishfulfilment. Both would be qualified in 1779 by the common knowledge
that the outcome was a stalemate, not to mention the notoriety generated by the charge and countercharge of serial court martials. The only
victory Keppel would enjoy was acquittal. The British would wait another three years for victory at sea; indeed, to honour this, Robert Sayer
in 1788 will reissue the print with "Rodney's Cordial, Hood's Intire"
now inscribed over the pub dmr. Or perhaps the subtext supports Keppel over Sir Hugh Palliser and the Ministry, a conflict in which Keppel,
though himself the son of a peer, was viewed as a champion by ordinary seaman and commoners. The print raises more questions than it
settles. It underscores the ambiguities evoked during the 1770s by both
print and fictional representations of the British sea-officer.
Lewis and Clark College