Decorated initial H

arriet Martineau's Autobiography may have been the first English attempt ar a "scientific" autobiography, but in the history of the genre, it represents as much a midpoint in 150 years of autobiographical writing by scientists as it does an origin for scientific modes of self-incerpretation. The first autobiographies by writers legitimately called scientists—James Ferguson's Short Account (1773), Joseph Priestley's Memoirs (1806), and Richard Watson's Anecdotes of the Life (1817)—were published considerably earlier, although they were not scientific in any formal sense.1 Ferguson, a self-taught astronomer famous for his orreries and eclipsarcons, wrote an account of his life in preface to his Select Mechanical Exercises, but, formally, the Short Account resembles other memoirs of self-education and public achievement, "a testimony of the vigour of native intellect under circumstances of the greatest depression," as one edition describes it.2 Priestley's Memoirs and Watson's Anecdotes, too, are unoriginal in form and method. Both accounts reveal men more theological than scientific in temperament, despite their early contributions to chemistry, and both adopt the models of contemporary autobiographical literature, Watson assembling a form of life and letters and Priestley writing an account of spiritual progress (or regress) that resembles, in its incertextuality, Thomas Scott's [156/157] The Force of Truth.3 None of these writers felt a need to modify traditional forms of self-presentation or self-interpretation as a result of their scientific pursuits.

There was, in fact, no need for early scientists to avoid the conventions of autobiographical writing. Most of their accounts are versions of the res gestae memoir—either simple chronologies of experiment and invention, like James Ferguson's, or more elaborate books, like Robert Munro's Autobiographical Sketch, detailing matters of education, research, and public honor—and the conventions of the memoir changed little, even after the spread of Darwinian models to the social sciences.4 Those works that were genuine autobiographies, like Priestley's, retained the conventional patterns of spiritual and intellectual development and exhibited little tension between convention and content. Priestley describes his experiments with electricity and air in the same terms that he describes his publications in theology, and if his narrative details a movement from orthodoxy to Arianism, it is a movement initiated by his study of theology, not science. In his view, all of his activities contributed to his conviction that "a wise Providence was disposing every thing for the best" (26). The reasons for such compatibility between the old forms and the new science begin with the kinds of research that eighteenth-century Englishmen conducted. For all their novelty, neither Ferguson's discoveries in astronomy nor Priestley's experiments with air gave a direct challenge to biblical models of understanding the self and the world. Moreover, the motives that compelled these scientists to write were traditional ones. Even in the nineteenth century, most scientific autobiographies are either private memoirs, like Darwin's sketch for "my children or their children" (21) or substitutions for official biographies, like Huxley's attempt to avoid "the more or less fulsome inaccuracies" (1—2) of a biography that "some importunate person proposes to write." Most, too, are sequential records of major discoveries, focusing on colleagues or circumstances that served as catalysts and including anecdotal material wherever it seems interesting or amusing. If there are hidden motives in these accounts, they are motives of fame and public honor, not of generic reform. As Bertram Hopkinson, son of the inventor of the dynamo and himself a scientist, [157/158] explained:

[O]ne whose labours have lain in pure science or in the construction of engineering works cannot hope for immortality." The scientist adds, perhaps, a few stones to the vast and ever-increasing edifice of human knowledge and at first, no doubt, those stones are identified with him and bear his individual marks. But as time goes on those marks are inevitably obliterated. The lines which divide his work from rhat of his contemporaries become less definite and the stones that he laid become merged into the general whole.7

For those scientists who wished to prevent, as Hopkinson did, the early obliteration of such individual marks, the appropriate autobiographical form was the memoir. Res gestae memoirs called for the enumeration of public achievements, rather than the interpretation of more private aspects of life; they did not require the comprehensive hermeneutics of the traditional autobiography.

Although the early accounts by scientists tended to assume the form of memoirs, and although the incompatibility of traditional autobiography and scientific models became evident later in the nineteenth century, there were some indications at mid-century of the direction that a new autobiography might take. These indications, in the personal accounts of Darwin, Huxley, and their lesser contemporaries, suggest the possibility of replacing biblical hermeneutics with scientific methods of interpretation and of otherwise expanding or revising the autobiographical form. They foreshadow the serious attempts at scientific autobiography that we find later in Herbert Spencer and Samuel Butler and the crisis in the autobiographical genre that we find in Edmund Gosse.

Among the most prominent of these indications in Darwin's Autobiography (1876) is the attempt at a scientific methodology, particularly in the initial segments of self-presentation. Darwin considered himself, first and foremost, a practitioner of the Baconian method. Throughout his life, as Nora Barlow has documented, he insisted upon the primacy of the observation and collection of data, and he firmly dismissed "speculation" and "a strong tendency to [158/159] generalise" as "an entire evil."8 In the Autobiography Darwin notes with evident pride that, from the beginning of his scientific study in 1837, he "worked on true Baconian principles, and without any theory collected facts on a wholesale scale" (119). This insistence upon collection rather than theoretical speculation appears in his approach to autobiographical composition, which in microcosm imitates his life's work.

In the first pages of the Autobiography, Darwin simply gathers the facts. He tells of his love of angling and hunting, confesses bis theft of peaches and invention of deliberate lies, describes his early piety, his mediocrity at school, his fleetness as a runner, his passion for natural history, "and more especially for collecting"—all without reference to a comprehensive pattern or theory of life, without apparent concern for literary coherence" (21-28).10 In this undirected gathering of facts, the opening of Darwin's Autobiography is markedly different from, say, Newman's Apologia, which self-consciously begins with a record of supernatural premonitions that came to the young boy. Darwin does not anticipate the course of his future as Newman does. Only after the facts have been collected does he offer a generalization about the "qualities which at this time promised well for the future" (43). and then he does not attempt to incorporate all the facts or otter a comprehensive theory Some facts remain random data.

Few scientific autobiographers after Darwin exhibit his rigor in the patient collection of facts. Indeed, one amusing result of the publication of Darwin's Autobiography is the slavishness with which his scientific successors imitate the master and in effect make his account conventional, right down to admissions of mediocrity at school and episodes of angling, bird-nesting, and hunting — see, for example, Munro 2—5 and Galton 13-21. Nonetheless, Darwin's influence can be felt in what James Olney has called the "objective" stance of the Autobiography, a more general indication of the direction that,scientific autobiography would later take.

As Olney suggests, Darwin intends to be "as objective and as detached" in his "private-experiential" book as he had been in his "public-scientific" work: "As if he were a coral reef in the South Seas, Darwin deliberately looks at himself from without, studying a crea^re, presently not living, to whom a series of things happened in the [159/160] past and over whom a series of changes came in sixty-seven years of life" (Olney, 183). The objective stance begins in the prefatory paragraph ofche Autobiography, where Darwin explains, "I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life" (21). It continues in the account of his early life where Darwin mixes tales of both piety and moral laxity, of his achievements and his faults. And, for the reader of the Autobiography, the sense of objectivity is intensified by the editorial emendations of his son, Francis, who deleted private remarks to wife and family, as well as negative comments about friends and a deeply personal discussion of religion as Darwin saw it eroded away by his discoveries in science.15

Olney considers this attempt at scientific objectivity to have been detrimental for the Autobiography and, indeed, for autobiographical writing generally. In his view, it is not simply that Darwin's concern with "an abstractable process divorced from the living organism" runs counter to the genre's commitment to the individual self; it is also that Darwin's scientific objectivity wreaked a terrible vengeance on the autobiographer himself. Darwin "tried to deny a half and more of the psychic organism, and that whole and outraged organism," Olney believes, "took its revenge on this attempt of Darwin's at selfeffacement or self-destruction ... in the form of all the various, plainly psychosomatic illnesses" (187-88, 196). Yet even if Darwin suffered from psychosomatic ailments, and even if the ailments were causally connected to his scientific stance of objectivity, we might question whether autobiography must foreground psychic concerns, either as evidence or explanation.17 Certainly, in light of Victorian attempts at scientific self-explanation, we might question whether autobiography must focus on the individual self and whether, in face, it is possible to take another view of Darwin's "objectivity."

Before Darwin, Harriet Martineau had argued that scientific—or, in her terms, positivistic—autobiography must forego the language of the self. In order "to form any true notion whatever of any of the affairs of the universe," she insisted, "we must take our stand in the external world,—regarding man as one of the produces and subjects of the everlasting laws of the universe" (II, 333—34) With the adoption of this [160/161] "stand in the external world" (and with it the demise of theological and metaphysical modes of understanding), Martineau envisioned a release from "the prison of the self." Her "external" stand is the "objective" stance of Darwin's account, and if her vocabulary is more Comtian than Darwin's, the position she argues is nonetheless his own. Martineau identifies this position, we should note, with intellectual and emotional "release," not with the "self-destruction" that Olney describes.

Late in the nineteenth century, scientific autobiographers would try to take literally Martineau's "stand in the external world" and look at themselves as "objects." They would call their accounts "natural histories" and treat themselves as specimens; they would begin their lives not with themselves, but with their progenitors. Darwin's cousin Francis Galton, for instance, makes "Parentage," the first chapter of Memories of My Life, an analysis of the "six nearest progenitors, namely the two parents and four grandparents," who "bequeathed very different combination of [traits] to their descendants" (1-12). Galton includes in the bequeathal both physical traits (which lead him into a discussion of the bronchitis and asthma he inherited from his greatgrandfather, Samuel Galton) and what he terms "an hereditary bent of mind" (which leads to a discussion of the evolutionary receptivity he and his cousin Charles inherited from their grandfather, Erasmus Darwin). Such "objectivity" was a logical conclusion of the scientific stance. And even if Galton's theories of human heredity and eugenics do not seem to us scientific, his approach had significant possibilities for the form of the autobiography.

It is in Herbert Spencer's Autobiography (1904), however, that the implications of Darwin's work become fully evident. In his preface, Spencer introduces his account as "a natural history of myself," and, like Galton, begins not with his birth but with his "extraction" (I, vii,xi). For seventy pages. Spencer details his family antecedents, noting the "nonconformist tendency" of the maternal Bretells, the "prudence" of the paternal Spencers, the regard for "remote" rather than "immediate results" of both, and so on. Not only does Spencer analyze the dominant characteristics of parents and grandparents, he also cites those of his father's siblings, for "family-traits," he argues, may be [161/162] "displayed in other lines of descent."21 At the conclusion of "Family Antecedents," as he calls the first parc of his autobiography, Spencer sums up the traits common to members of his family and evident in himself: "independence, self-asserting judgment, the tendency co nonconformity, and the unrestrained display of their sentiments and opinions; more especially in respect of political, social, religious, and ethical matters" (I, 47).22

These traits establish the interpretive strains of the work, which then repeats and develops examples of Spencer's own independent spirit and forthright intellectual manner. Although much of his autobiography after part I reverts to the conventional res gestae form, Spencer never forgets to remind his readers of the effecrs of his inherited characteristics. He notes the predictable "disregard of authority" during boyhood: "The mere authoritative statement that so-and-so is so-and-so, made without evidence or intelligible reason, seems to have been from the outset constitutionally repugnant to me" (I, 89, 95). He notes, too, the independence of judgment intensified through contact with his father, the rebellion against an arbitrary educational regime during his youth, and the tendency throughout life to "castle-building," which he relates to the "regard for remote results" of his nonconformist ancestors and to the "constructive imagination" inherited through the paternal line (I,86,101,106; II,509-10). What is remarkable about the Autobiography is not simply this unity of narrative and theme, bur the explicit articulation of the scientific hermeneutics which informs both. For Spencer, as for Newman, autobiographical narrative and hermeneutic system cohere.

Such coherence testifies to the evolution of the scientific autobiography as a literary form. In Darwin's Autobiography, there had been an incipient version of a Baconian method and a stance of objectivity, but no self-conscious discussion of interpretive principles. Moreover, because Darwin's account was in form more closely related to the memoir than to the developmental autobiography, it did not attempt a comprehensive interpretation of his life. Nevertheless, when Darwin did generalize, he chose his language from a fund of scientific metaphors— and here the potential for scientific autobiography is significant. At various points Darwin calls his passion for collecting "innate," [162/163] he questions whether the quality of "humanity" is "natural or innate, ' and he sees in the gradual development of mental rather than physical pursuits "the primitive instincts of the barbarian slowly yield[ing] to the acquired tastes of the civilized man" (23, 26, 79). [This last statement was evidently too strong for Francis Darwin, who deleted it from the official version of the Autobiography.] Such interpretations are local or partial, but they appear without reference to theological categories of good and evil and with the same avoidance of moral questions that characterizes the Origin of Species. Implicitly, they replace old generic conventions with new scientific metaphors.

The occasional scientific metaphors in Darwin's Autobiography become more pervasive attempts at scientific self-interpretation in the accounts of his successors. Whereas Darwin hesitates to apply evolutionary theory full-scale to an individual life, autobiographers after him are less cautious. In a short personal memoir, for instance, Thomas Huxley comments that the boys in his public school "were left to the operation of the struggle for existence among [them]selves" (4). Galton interprets his quick understanding of the concept of natural selection as an inherited trait: "I felt little difficulty in connection with the Origin of Species," he notes in Memories of My Life, "but devoured its contents and assimilated them as fast as they were devoured, a fact which perhaps may be ascribed to an hereditary bent of mind that both its illustrious author and myself have inherited from our common grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin" (Galton 288). And Robert Munro, who testifies that the effect of Darwin's Origin "was virtually to change the whole tenor and prospects of my future life," shapes his Autobiographical Sketch into "a description of the successive steps by which a country lad[,] without possessing any exceptional ability either inherited or inspired by the social environment," may attain "to a position of some distinction in the scientific world" and "be an inspiring object-lesson to others who harbour the laudable ambition to emerge from the proletarian rut" (7-8, 77-78). These autobiographers show a fervent commitment to extending Darwin's evolutionary metaphois and to "facing the world" resolutely, as Huxley put it, "when the garment of make-believe by which pious hands have hidden its uglier features is stripped off" (13).

Spencer's Autobiography represents the realization of this new "facing of the world" without the hermeneutics of the pious. The "creed [163/164] of Christendom" had been from his youth, as Spencer explains "evidently alien to my nature, both emotional and intellectual" (I, 171). and thus his account shows no inclination to religious modes of thought. His Autobiography is not, however, a facing of the world without hermeneutics. Four years after he completed the work, in an appendix entitled "Reflections," Spencer articulated the scientific theories that inform his interpretation of his life. Like Newman's final chapter of the Apologia, the theories present in expository form the hermeneutic principles latent in the autobiographical narrative.

Spencer begins with reflections on supernatural doctrines of metempsychosis which, in his view, deny "a relation between character and bodily structure" and which work against scientific theories of the human organism. He then argues a "connexion between mind ami brain," one that exists "in both amounts and kinds": "Mind is not as deep as the brain only," he posits, "but is, in a sense, as deep as the viscera" (II, 489-90). With this hypothesis in view, Spencer re-interprets his past—here proceeding not chronologically, but systematically. He discusses "psycho-physical connexions," including die alimentary and cardiovascular structures that he inherited from his parents and thiir both influenced and inhibited his intellectual, emotional, and ethical activities throughout life" (492-503).33 Building upon "these psychophysical interpretations of character," he moves to more purely "psychical" considerations, analyzing the structure and working capacity of his brain. These considerations lead him finally to an analysis of his intellectual traits—the capacity for intuition, the synthetic tendency, the analytic tendency, and the ability to discern inconspicuous analogies—all of which he considers rooted in the physical and, in part, transmitted through heredity.

Within these scientific categories, the episodes of his life become not narrative pieces, but evidence for a hermeneutic system. That Spencer understands the connection between narrative and hermeneutics is clear from the Reflections," which describe his books as the "products of experience" that "have been organized into a coherent whole" and his autobiography as the addition of personal evidence roa coherent theory of life. In the "Reflections," too, he identifies the motivating force of his life as "the conception of Evolution in its [164/165] comprehensive form": "the desire to elaborate and set it forth was so strong that to have passed life in doing something else would, I think, have been almost intolerable" (538-40).34 That comprehensive form of evolution was the hermeneutic possibility Spencer bequeathed to posterity. It was possible, as he had shown, to avoid the traditional categories of theological hermeneutics. One might root an understanding of the self in a psycho-physical theory of life and apply a pattern of evolution aucobiographically to the individual organism.

Decorated initial I

t is one of the ironies of literary history that Spencer's Autobiography, begun in 1866, should not have been published until 1904, the year after Samuel Butler's literary executor released The Way of All Flesh. Spencer's work provided the basis for a new form of autobiographical writing, one with a coherent scientific theory to replace the old biblical hermeneutics and with a new method for examining the antecedents and experiences of the individual human being. But Butler's work, begun a decade after Spencer's, was published first in 1903.35 Because it was sensational in its satiric content as well as innovative in form, it became the more memorable attempt at "scientific" autobiography.36

Like Spencer, Butler introduces a scientific method for interpreting the self, one that treats the protagonist of his (pseudo)autobiography as a scientific specimen. Ernest Pontifex, or The Way of All Flesh was the original title of the work, but Butler deliberately ignores Ernest for the first sixteen chapters, concentrating instead on family antecedents. Chapter 1 treats old George Pontifex, the unpretentious carpenter who lived in harmony with nature and bequeathed to some of his descendants his musical ability, manual dexterity, and generally complaisant temperament. Chapter 2 introduces his son, George Jr., the successful Victorian businessman who inherited his mother's obstinacy and father's intelligence, without his father's sense of humor or tastes for music and drawing. Chapter 3 presents Theobald Ponnfex, the miserable scion of George Jr., worn-out from the remarkable achievements of the previous generation and no more [165/166] able, as an offspring of the Pontifex race, to "repeat its most successful performances suddenly and without its ebbings and flowings of success than the individual can do" (19). Chapters 4 through 16 continue to analyze, through the consciousness of Edward Overron Butler's adult alter ego, the history of the Pontifexes prior to Ernest's birth and thus his genetic inheritance. As in Spencer's Autobiography, the emphasis throughout the early chapters of The Way of All Flesh falls upon what Spencer termed the psycho-physical and psychical traits of its subject's recent ancestors.

With this analysis of family antecedents, Butler offers a scientific theory of heredity and human development. In the original preface to the novel, R. A. Streatfeild suggested that Ernest Pontifex's tale may be read "as a practical illustration of the theory of heredity" embodied in Life and Habit (1878), and various critics since have discussed the influence of Butler's theory of "purposive" evolution, an original blend of concepts from Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin which stresses the "oneness of personality between parents and offspring" and the offspring's "unconscious" memory of "certain actions which it did when in the person of its forefathers."37 Had Butler written his autobiographical novel a few years later, he might instead have turned to psychological theories of the self and to Freud's concept of parricide as "the principle and primal crime of humanity as well as of the individual" (103). Butler's concern in self-interpretation focused, after all, on the conflict between parents and offspring, of which his own unhappy familial situation was a prime example.39 His representation of that situation in The Way of All Flesh, moreover, anticipates Freud in its understanding of the oedipal nature of the far her-motherson triangle: it is his father, not his mother, whom Ernesr considers his enemy, and the source of the rivalry between father and son is Christina, from whom both Ernest and his father desire unequivocal love and attention.40 Freud's work might have provided a vocabulary with which to discuss this Victorian father-son relationship, with its rivalry for sexual and financial power.

Writing before the advent of Freudianism, however, Butler turned to evolutionary theory, the most sophisticated science of his day, and interpreted his past in biological rather than psychological terms. In [166/167] his view, all forms of life, the human included, demonstrate a conflict between the older forms (the parent generation) and newer, modified forms (the offspring). In his notebooks he commented that the common antipathy between human parents and children was "part of the same story with the antipathy that prevails throughout nature between an incipient species and the unmodified individuals of the race from which it is arising": "The first thing which a new form does is to exterminate its predecessor; the old form knows this and will therefore do its best to prevent the new from arising. Every generation is a new species up to a certain point—and hence every older generation regiirds it with suspicion" (quoted Silver 28).

The novel offers a similar explanation for our common desire to do away with our parents and for the consequent parental struggle to preserve life and authority. Overton laments that human beings must endure an unpleasant situation that other animals are spared: "Why should the generations overlap one another at all? Why cannot we be juried as eggs in neat little cells with ten or twenty thousand pounds each wrapped round us in Bank of England notes, and wake up, as the sphex wasp does, to find that its papa and mamma have not only left ample provision at its elbow but have been eaten by sparrows some weeks before we began to live consciously on our own accounts" (71). Ernest articulates an equally cynical view: "Certainly there is no inherent love for the family system on the part of nature herself. . » The ants and the bees . . . sting their fathers to death as a matter of course" (91).

Such conflicting responses in the novel fit within Butler's larger theory of personality, described in Life and Habit as "many component parts which war not a little among themselves" (64). What is noteworthy about The Way of All Flesh as (pseudo)autobiography, however, is not simply that Butler offers a "scientific" theory to explain a generational conflict, nor even that he places this conflict within a larger theory of heredity and "unconscious memory," eventually allowing Ernest to recover the almost forgotten traits of his great-grandfather George, but that, as an experiment in autobiographical form. Butler self-consciously substitutes a scientific theory for a religious system of interpreting his protagonist's experience. At the same time that [167/168] Overton is offering a scientific analysis of Ernest's behavior, the narrative structure of the novel is undermining the conventional episodes of the spiritual autobiography.

We can trace this narrative movement by examining the "key" events of Ernest's life: his baptism, confirmation, ordination, and marriage. Each of these conventional episodes presents itself as a moment of significance, as a starting point or turning point in Ernest's life. At birth he is specially baptized with water from the River Jordan; at confirmation he feels that he has "arrived at one of the great turning points of his life, and that the Ernest of the future could resemble only very faintly the Ernest of the past" (166); at ordination he experiences a spiritual awakening and feels again "that the turning point of his life had come" (196); and at marriage he thinks "of the wonderful goodness of God towards him" (273). These turning points represent the "conversions" of Ernest's spiritual autobiography, and Butler satirizes each for the disaster it brings and for the false significance it claims. Ernest's baptismal waters have been dirtied and then sopped up "as though they had been a common slop" (67); the true meaning of his confirmation asserts itself in the burning of his father's effigy; his ordination soon leaves him "appalled at the irrevocable nature of the step" that "he had taken much too hurriedly" (200); and his marriage turns out to be a union with an alcoholic and polygamist. These key episodes demonstrate the nugacity of traditional religious hermeneutics.

If Butler's treatment of narrative structure insists that religious systems cannot provide direction for Ernest's life, his narrator also suggests that more reliable sources of human understanding may be found in science or natural history. When Ernest finally collapses from the weight of religious convention, the remedy that Overton pursues is one of "crossing," a new "scientific" treatment of fresh exposure, assimilation, and change that Butler had formulated in Life and Habit. Such "crossing" brings Ernest in contact first with the larger mammals of the Regent's Park Zoo but eventually with Darwin's theories of evolution and the descent of man. "Of course," Overton remarks, "he read Mr. Darwin's books as fast as they earns out and adopted evolution as an article of faith" (317).

Overton describes Darwinian theory as a new creed, an "article of faith, and, indeed, in The Way of All Flesh Butler's own version of Darwmianism replaces the conventional articles of biblical hermeneutics. Yet we might ask if, ultimately. Butler considered it a sufficient replacement. In the first two volumes of the novel, contemporaneous with his work in Life and Habit, he seems to have embraced evolutionary theory as a superior system for understanding human development, individual and corporate both. By the time he composed the third volume, however. Butler had misgivings. The semisatirical example of "crossing," a concept he had presented seriously in Life and Habit, su^esrs as much. Moreover, in the penultimate chapter of The Way of All Flesh Butler parodies his own religious and scientific publications in his descriptions of Ernest's writings— which, as Overton remarks, "rang with the courage alike of conviction and of an entire absence of conviction" (343). Even in Life and Habit, Butler formulates a coherent theory of heredity, but warns his readers against accepting it unskeptically: "Above all else," he comments, "let no unwary reader do me the in justice of believing in me. In that I write at all I am among the damned."43

The skepticism about scientific systems that Butler only hints at becomes a primary focus in Gosse's Father and Son, a work char both embodies an attempt at scientific autobiography and. self-consciously critiques it. In writing his Autobiography, Spencer had introduced an evolutionary model, fully confident of its superiority to biblical (or any other) hermeneutics. Similarly, Butler had replaced religious patterns of self-interpretation with more modern scientific models, if finally expressing some doubt about their validity. It was Gosse, however, who raised the crucial question of scientific autobiography and hermeneutic authority.

Decorated initial L

ike Butler's (pseudo)autobiography, Edmund Gosse's Father and Son delineates a generational conflict between a father committed to religion and a son requisitive of new ideas. Given the description of the conflict in the first chapter, between a man "born to fly backward" [169/170] and a son destined to be "carried forward," the reader anticipates Edmund's substitution of a new autobiographical hermeneutic for the old biblical typology that was the mainstay of his father, Philip Henry Gosse (5). Certainly, the preface to the autobiography intimates a generic conflict within the text to come. Its language falls into patterns of opposition—between solemnity and merriment, tragedy and comedy, the record of spiritual struggle and a genuine slice of life. It seems conscious, too, of a violation of traditional generic boundaries. "It is not usual," Gosse explains, "that the narrative of a spiritual struggle should mingle merriment and humour with a discussion of the most solemn subjects . . . But life is not constituted thus, and this book is nothing if it is not a genuine slice of life" (4). A defense of generic violation such as Gosse makes here—on the grounds of empirical evidence and in the terms of "scientific," slice-of-life realism—suggests a conflict between older and newer forms of autobiographical writing and a revision, if not a replacement, of the older form. 45

Despite the dialectical formula of "backward" and "forward," however, there are no clear generic oppositions in Father and Son to parallel the-generational struggle. Unlike Butler's Way of All Flesh, in which a scientific theory clearly replaces conventional religious forms of self-analysis, or Ruskin's Praeterita, in which an extroverted form of memoir vies with an introspective form of spiritual analysis, Gosse's autobiography tangles the generic elements. The thematic conflict between science and religion produces no generic equivalent. At times, Gosse offers scientific metaphors as a means of interpreting the self, but if they contest the spiritual form of his father's religion, they do not finally supersede it. Instead, Gosse hints of many generic possibilities and sends contradictory signals—not only of tragedy and comedy, but of biography and autobiography, of document and diagnosis, of spiritual narrative and genuine slice of life.46

What we are witnessing is the breakdown of a coherent generic form. In place of the traditional autobiography, with its comprehensive narrative pattern and hermeneutic system, we find the substitution, locally, of other patterns and modes of self-interpretation. Science offers one of these modes, and for Gosse its metaphors serve a [170/171] crucial function. Science cannot interpret the self authoritatively, however—at least not in Father and Son.

But this is to anticipate the conclusion of an argument rather than to offer its basis. For, in spite of local substitutions, the primary literary genre that gives shape to Father and Son is the spiritual autobiography, even when Gosse works against it. Gosse imbibed the typological henneneutics characteristic of the form as he grew up, the spiritual milk and meat of the Bible and other devotional literature being served up regularly with family meals. He knew literary examples of the form through his religious tradition, the Plymouth Brethren being among the few nineteenth-century sects that conrinued to write intensely hermeneutic, almost Bunyanesque versions of the spiritual biography and autobiography.47 And he also knew the form of spiritual autobiography directly through family tradition. As James Hepburn has described, Gosse's grandfather underwent and recorded a religious conversion to Wesleyan Methodism: "He was walking in Fleet Street and suddenly saw "Christ risen and received into heaven as my accepted Righteousness." His father, too, left a religious memoir that narrated the events leading to a decision "to live a new, a holy life; to please and serve God" (196-97).

It was not these autobiographical texts, however, but the spiritual diary of his mother that most directly influenced the writing of Father and Son. Gosse quotes from his mother's diary extensively, almost obsessively—eight times in contrast to the two instances he cites his father's. All eight quotations focus on his mother's decision to "dedicate" her son to God, or they describe the effects of her religious beliefs upon the shape of his life. Moreover, the only other texts that Gosse quotes to any significant extent are spiritual memoirs written about his mother—one by his father, another by a family friend, Anna Shipton—and, again, in quoting these memoirs, Gosse focuses on his mother's illness, especially the deathbed scene of dedication. Perhaps his mother's diary and the biographical memoirs account for some of the anxiety about generic violation that the preface to Father and Son betrays.

Gosse's first citations from his mother's diary concern his dedication, virtually from birth, to the service of God. Opening "a locked [171/172] volume," which he claims has been "seen until now, nearly sixty years later, by no eye save her own," Gosse turns an actual key and supplies the metaphorical key to his life:

We have given him to the Lord; and we trust that He will really manifest him to be His own, if he grow up; and if the Lord take him early, we will not doubt that he is taken to Himself. . . . Whether his life be prolonged or not, it has already been a blessing to us, and to the saints, in leading LIS to much prayer, and bringing us into varied need and some trial. [9]

This dedication—a typological repetition, we later learn, of Hannah's dedication ot her son, the prophet Samuel—determines the pattern by which Edmund's life will be developed. Because Emily Gosse believes that her son, like Samuel, will serve God in some major role, she contemplates in her diary (and discusses with husband, servants, and saints) the possible destinies he might face, from becoming the Charles Wesley ot his age to serving in the tropics in "the field of missionary labour" (19). Because she believes that inventing stories is a sin, a conviction she records in her diary, she forbids Edmund to read fictitious narratives of any kind, whether religious or secular in content(l6-17). And because she believes in a "covenant God" (38), she secures the original dedication on her deathbed, binding her husband and son to it. The scene of binding is narrated in both biographical memoirs and repeated in Father and Son in some of the same language, but with greater dramatic power: "When the very end approached, and her mind was growing clouded, she gathered her Strength together to say to my Father, "I shall walk with Him in white. Won't you take your lamb and walk with me?'" The dedication was "sealed with the most solemn, the most poignant and irresistible insistence, at the death-bed of the holiest and purest of women" (41-42).49

The fact that Gosse discloses the contents of the locked diary "now, nearly sixty years later," suggests that he finds in it a key to his life and, in a special sense, to its written form in Father and Son. The pre-interpretation that the diary contains must be countered by Gosse, the adult autobiographer. If he reveals what before only his [172/173] mother's eyes had seen, it is to re-interpret it from his own perspective. In this sense, Father and Son is virtually an answer to his mother's diary. It rejects of the interpretation of his life that she sought to impose, and thus attempts to avoid the influence of the traditional form of spiritual autobiography, whether in diary or hermeneutic narrative.

Decorated initial I

n a generic sense, however, Gosse's autobiography does not avoid the form of spiritual autobiography—either by rejecting it, as Ruskin does in Praeterita, or by substituting another, as Martineau does in her Autobiography. Rather, Father and Son embraces the traditional form by means of parody. Gosse's parody is not the usual sort, an "exaggerated imitation of a work of art,"50 but a sophisticated version that involves the repetition of formal generic patterns with a displacement of meaning.

In common usage, parody suggests the extreme or abnormal, the ludicrous or malicious, but in Gosse's vocabulary, the term designates a formal rather than an intentional relationship. Gosse distinguishes between imitation, which involves a duplication of the structure, style, and content of some original work, and parody, which involves a repetition of the structure or style of the original work, but with a new or different content. In Father and Son, the literary work that illustrates this distinction between imitation and parody is his own first "book." Indeed, it is this "book" that necessitates the distinction.

At the age of ten, Gosse suggests, he had unwittingly created just such a parody of the scientific treatise, his father's literary form, by preparing a series of "little monographs on seaside creatures." These he assembled into a book, "arranged, tabulated and divided as exactly as possible on the pattern of those which my Father was composing for his 'Acnnologia Britannica.'" The description of his method is significant:

I wrote these out upon sheets of paper of the same size as his printed page, and I adorned them with water-colour plates, meant to emulate his precise and exquisite illustrations. ... I [173/174] invented new species, with sapphire spots and crimson tentacles and amber bands, which were close enough to his real species to be disconcerting. . . . The subject did not lend itself to any flow of language, and I was obliged incessantly to borrow sentences, word for word, from my Father's published books. (95-96)

As he interprets this activity, Gosse insists that the juvenile work cannot be called imitation because he did not simply copy his father's studies of sea anemones. The term he insists upon is parody. In parody, a formal continuity is maintained, but content is altered; that is, his juvenile work replicates the size of his father's book, uses the same paper, and contains the same formal combination of plates and words, while it invents a different content. The content may be fictitious, as occurs when Gosse invents what he should have copied scrupulously from nature, or it may be displaced, as results when he borrows his father's words ro refer to creatures that do not exist in the reality that scientific treatises seek to explore. Satiric intention, ridicule and mockery, however, have nothing to do with parody—at least not essentially or consciously, as Gosse defines it. He claims that his intention was "innocent and solemn" (95).

This example allows Gosse to suggest that parody as a form need not, in and of itself, signal destructive or ironical intention. Whether such a distinction between formal and intentional matters can be maintained is questionable, and Gosse's insistence on the possibility of being "innocent and solemn" is perhaps motivated more by his own present guilt than by a faultless logic. Innocence aside, however, it is worth considering Gosse's attempt at the distinction as it relates to his autobiography, for in it lies a clue to the generic revision of Father and Son.

The parodic book that young Gosse creates resembles a mode of repetition that Hillis Miller has described in his study of Victorian ind modern novels, Fiction and Repetition. Following Gilles Deleuze, Miller posits two forms of repetition: (1) a Platonic repetition which, "grounded in a solid archetypal model," establishes the world as icon and "embodies basic metaphysical beliefs in origin, end, and an inderlying ground that makes similarities identities," and (2) a [174/175] Nietzschean repetition which, against the Platonic, "posits a world based on difference," and thus suggests that similarities are merely simulacra, "ungrounded doublings which arise from differential interrelations among elements which are all on the same plane."51 In Miller's terminology, we might say that Philip Henry Gosse wrote his book assuming the first mode of repetition, believing in the world as icon; he justified his scientific investigation "by regarding it as a glorification of God's created works," as "one more tribute humbly offered to the glory of the Triune God."52 His son Edmund uncannily assembles his book according to the second mode of repetition, creating a world of multiple simulacra. The sea creatures he draws and describes resemble those contained in his father's book, but the resemblance is a false one. His words and images, the usual means of verbal and visual representation, feign reference to real things. His style may be the hard realism of the scientist, a realism he associates with Pre-Raphaelice painting, but his imaginary sea creatures resemble nothing, and his words and images refer to nothing. The effect was "disconcerting," Gosse remembers—they literally disturb, as the adjective suggests, the harmonious union of word and world that his father's book conceives.

The form of parody that Gosse describes in his juvenilia is a prefiguration of the form that his mature autobiography assumes. But whereas the childish book represents an "innocent and solemn" parody. Father and Son is a more deliberate version of the second form of repetition, a version which calls into question the theological underpinings of the spiritual autobiography and the possibility of certain meaning which that form traditionally embodies. Generically, Gosse maintains formal continuity with the main English tradition of spiritual autobiography, including the lesser examples in his own familial tradition. While maintaining formal continuity, however, he alters or displaces the traditional content. Words, phrases, and sentences create episodes that are simulacra; they use the language of genuine spiritual experience to expose a feigned or hollow experience that the language tends to (or tries to) disguise.

Whether Gosse would go the whole way with Nietzsche and posit a world of similarity/simulacra against his father's world of similarity/identity [175/176] seems unlikely. It is true that Father and Son begins with a dialectic, presented as a struggle between a father "born to fly backward" and a son who "could not help being carried forward," and that Gosse describes the result of this struggle in terms of different languages: "There came a time when neither spoke the same language as the other, or encompassed the same hopes, or was fortified by the same desires" (5). But it is also true that Gosse was in many ways conservative. Even in his rejection of his father's spiritual system, he maintained a belief in God, Christ, and the Christian "scheme of the world's history,"53 and he had little tolerance for contemporary thinkers like Samuel Butler who did go the way wirh Nietzsche and embrace a world of contradictory and mutually self-exclusive meanings. Butler might have been willing to see "the texture of the world" as "a warp and woof of contradiction in terms; of continuity in discontinuity, and discontinuity in continuity"; of subject and countersubjecr.54 Gosse nonetheless considered the holder of such a view an "inspired 'crank,'" rejecting the extremity of such intellectual and spiritual rebellion (Averts and Impressions 60).

Decorated initial W

hatever his philosophical position, the definition of parody that Gosse constructs in chapter VIII becomes the formal basis of his self-presentation throughout Father and Son. It illumines his method of composition in the two central episodes of the book: his public baptism (viii) and his de-conversion (xii). It suggests as well his parodic revision of the system of biblical hermeneutics standard in the spiritual autobiography. And it anticipates his fundamentally skeptical use of scientific metaphors in the later chapters of his book.

In writing of his public baptism, Gosse calls the experience the "central event" of his "whole childhood": "Everything, since the earliest dawn of consciousness, seemed to have been leading up to it. Everything, afterwards, seemed to be leading down and away from it" (105). This statement sounds as if it belongs in a traditional spiritual autobiography. Gosse also describes his baptism, however, as an illusion, an instance of perhaps "temporary sincerity"; it was, like [176/177] other instances he witnessed at his father's chapel, a "simulacrum of a true change of heart" (108). Both versions of his response must figure into the account of baptism. In the episode, then, as the subject, is the paradoxical convergence of an apex and an illusion, of a central event that poses as substance but is really simulacrum. In it also, as the formal difficulty, is the presentation of this convergence in a way that maintains the centrality of the event while simultaneously revealing its illusory nature.

Gosse's solution is parody. Conceptually, Gosse makes his baptism central by presenting it as the fulfilment of his "dedication : just as his parents, modern-day Elkanahs and Hannahs, had given their child to the service of the Lord, so in this episode the saints debate whether he in fact is "another infant Samuel" (100), thus meriting admission to their communion at the tender age of ten years. Structurally, too, Gosse gives the baptism centrality by making it the dramatic climax of the autobiography, placing it in the position conventionally assumed by conversion. In the evangelical doctrine of the Plymouth Brethren, baptism was inseparable from conversion, the public act bearing witness to an inner, personal experience, and not, as among what Gosse calls "pedobaptists," the public act anticipating or promising a future experience. As Philip Gosse understood the doctrine and taught his son:

There must be a new birth and being, a fresh creation in God . . . There might have been prolonged practical piety, (deep and true contrition for sin, but these, although the natural and suitable prologue to conversion, were not conversion itself. . . . The very root of human nature had to be changed, and, in a majority of cases, this change was sudden, patent, palpable. [98-99]

This understanding of conversion provides the basis for parody, by means of a transference of what occurs in the religious ritual to what is recorded in the literary account.

The direct relationship of a formal, public act to an inner "birth and being" is what the written spiritual autobiography, like the sacrament of baptism, claims to represent. In Hillis Miller's terms, [177/178] spiritual autobiography claims the world as icon, embodying "basic metaphysical beliefs" in "an underlying ground that makes similarities identities." In Gosse's terms, both baptism and the writing of autobiography are acts of imitation. They reproduce publically—visibly, patently, palpably—a personal, if invisible reality. They attempt a coherence of form and content. They embody a belief in the possibility of the sign converging with its meaning.

In retrospect, Gosse suggests that his public baptism began as an act of imitation: "[A]s I look back, I see that I was extremely imitative, [chat] the imitative faculty got the upper hand" (98). But what began as imitation soon became parody: form became emptied of—or displaced from—content. While the formal procedures of baptism were maintained, the coherence of term and meaning was lost, and young Edmund proceeded into baptism without the requisite "deep and true contrition for sin" or the act of grace that conversion embodies.

What makes this parody in Gosse's terms (rather than satire, as it would be in Butler's work) is the loss of coherence coupled with the young boy's attitude, which was initially innocent and sincere. Critics like James Woolf tend to blame the loss of coherence upon the father, upon his "pathetic" desire "to secure" his son "finally, exhaustively, before the age of puberty could dawn, before [his] soul was fettered with the love of carnal things" (9). But Gosse's account deliberately refrains from assigning culpability. It never suggests that, previously or potentially, a coherence of form and meaning existed for the young boy. That question is left indeterminate.

Whatever the case, in the climax of the episode, Gosse offers not the burning coal of Isaiah sanctifying a young boy's lips (100) but the tongue of a ten-year-old put out in mockery of other children, "to remind them that I now broke bread as one of the Saints and that they did not" (106). With baptism Gosse's childhood seems to end, as does his innocence and sincerity. His moral majority begins on 12 October, "almost exactly three weeks after [his] tenth birthday" (103) when he is physically immersed and a "sonorous voice" seems "to enter [his] brain and empty it, 'I baptize thee, my Brother, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost' (106). At [178/179] this point in the autobiography, too, a generic emptying begins. All events after the baptism acknowledge its significance, but they attempt to undo it.

The undoing occurs throughout the second half of Father and Son, but becomes most urgent in the final stage of the process, a second parodic episode which attempts a more complex form of parody. Whereas the baptismal episode works by placing a (self)deceptive experience at the center of the autobiography and then by defining explicitly what a true conversion would entail, the final episode of Father and Son relies similarly upon structural position, but creates parody through a revision of autobiographical conventions. Conventionally, the final episode of the spiritual autobiography takes the form of a Pisgah vision. In the Confessions Augustine closes the narrative books with a prayer for his parents, "my fellow-citizens in that eternal Jerusalem which Thy pilgrim people sigheth after from their Exodus, even unto their return thither." In Grace Abounding Bunyan meditates on a text from Hebrews that sums up the movement of biblical history toward the Second Coming, "Ye are come unto mount Sion and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." In Cowper, the promise of a new life with the Unwins becomes an entry into an earthly Canaan, a type of the heavenly paradise, and in Carlyle, Teufelsdröckh's wanderings end as a prospect from a "skyey Tent, musing and meditating, on the high table-land, in front of the Mountains."56 For Gosse, the Pisgah vision occurs on a late summer afternoon, as he gazes down from one of the windows of his father's Devonshire villa onto "a labyrinth of garden sloping to the sea, which twinkled faintly beyond the towers of the town":

There was an absolute silence below and around me, a magic of suspense seemed to keep every topmost twig from waving. Over my soul there swept an immense wave of emotion. Now, surely, now the great final change must be approaching. I gazed up into the faintly-coloured sky, and I broke irresistibly into speech. "Come now, Lord Jesus," I cried, "come now and take me to be forever with Thee in Thy Paradise." [164—65] [179/180] The experience has its origin in Moses' vision on Mount Nebo, when the prophet overlooks the promised land from the plain ofGilead even . "unto the utmost sea" (Deut. 34:1—4) and escapes death, being translated directly into God's presence. Its language is complicated by St. John's apocalyptic vision of the new Canaan, Gosse's "Come now. Lord Jesus" echoing the final words of the Revelation: "He which testifieth these things saith. Surely I come quickly: Amen. Even so, come. Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20). And the episode is enriched by the tradition of spiritual and secular autobiography from Augustine to Wordsworth, the garden setting finding its locus classicus in the Confessions and the saturation of natural scenery showing the influence of Romantic epiphanies in such works as The Prelude.

These biblical and literary traditions also provide the means of parody. When Wordsworth returns from a country dance and, at dawn, views a similarly rapturous scene:

The sea lay laughing at a distance; near
The solid mountains shone, bright as the clouds,
Grain-tinctured, drenched in empyrean light
And in the meadows and the lower grounds
Was all the sweetness of a common dawn—

He feels assured that he is a "dedicated Spirit" and walks on "in thankful blessedness." When Augustine similarly "leans out from a window overlooking a garden and contemplates a vision of God's world," his vision, as Roger Porter has pointed out, unites him with Christ and connects his soul's rebirth "with the resurrection of the whole Christian community" (188-89). Augustine hears a voice from a neighboring house, "as of a boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, Tolle lege'"; he interprets it as a command from God to open the book, and in obeying, he experiences "a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away" (131). Gosse's experience repeats Augustine's, but parodically. Gosse leans out the window, but what he hears is the "chatter of the boys returning home" and then a tea-bell, "the last word of prose to shatter my mystical poetry." The light of serenity that in Augustine [180/181] dispels spiritual darkness becomes, in Gosse, a natural light, whose "colour deepened, the evening came on" (165).

It seems srrange to Gosse, even in retrospect, that this religious experience should have ended in parody. He writes that, before the episode, he had experienced no "doubt or hostility to the faith," but on the contrary, "a considerable quickening of fervour" (16,3). He calls the experience "the highest moment of my religious life, the apex of my striving after holiness (165)—and the emphasis on the first-person pronoun suggests that, in this instance, the spiritual impetus came from within rather than from external pressure. Yet, once again, the episode represents form without substance, form devoid of meaning. Does it then, like the baptism, represent another parodic reduction of conventional motifs? And is it a reduction that implies a rejection of (even derision for) evangelical religion and the form of spiritual autobiography through which that religion has traditionally found expression?

It is possible to blame the failure of religious ecstacy upon Gosse himself, upon an inner absence that manifests itself in what he calls a "theatrical attitude" (165). "Theatrical" suggests a kind of playacting, a stance of artificiality or superficiality, and thus a fundamental disjunction of form and meaning. Yet the "theatrical attitude" is recognized and labeled such only in retrospect: "I waited awhile, watching; and then I felt a faint shame at the theatrical attitude I had adopted" (165, italics mine). In fact, this theatrical attitude is another instance of the imitation that Gosse earlier defined in non-pejorative terms: an expression of a genuine desire to repeat a form in order to experience or validate its content. It does not, at least not initially, represent parody.

Nevertheless, the final episode follows the same pattern that marks earlier attempts at imitation. Just as Edmund had replicated the forrBt of his father's scientific treatises or imitated the ritual of public baptism, so he here repeats the formulae of visionary experience. As in other instances, an action that begins as spiritual imitation becomes parody. The experience is emptied of its traditional or pre-ordained meaning; its content is lost or displaced. [181/182] This pattern of parodic repetition that Gosse inscribes in Father and Son testifies to his own lack of spiritual experience—and to something more. The loss of a certain correlation between form and meaning, action and substance, undercuts the authority of traditional religious formulae and the validity of the form of spiritual autobiography. It acknowledges that repetition of formulae or literary forms, even in sincerity, cannot assure meaning nor guarantee a continuity between one's personal experience and that of others who have expressed themselves in similar forms. Similarities may turn out to be simulacra.

This was no small discovery in the history of spiritual autobiography, and its effect upon the typological basis of the genre was significant. Typological hermeneutics depended upon a continuity of meaning; it implied a version of repetition in which form and meaning had genuine correspondence. When the possibility of such continuity was disturbed, the typological basis of self-interpretation could no longer be engaged in the usual way. As Gosse empties the key episodes of spiritual autobiography of their meaning, then, he also empties the hermeneutic system upon which those episodes depend of its authority. That authority is not re-invested in a single, alternative system, as it is in Martineau's or Spencer's autobiographies or in Butler's The Way of All Flesh. Instead, it is dispersed to a variety of interpretive strategies, which are applied locally rather than comprehensively.

Decorated initial S

uch patterns of emptying and dispersal become the mode of the second half of Gosse's account, and we might consider in detail one culminating pattern in chapter xii, where Gosse recollects the hermeneutic practice of his parents in its full power. This episode involves the abandonment of their hermeneutics, but includes also the introduction of other metaphors—scientific and literary—in its place.

In chapter XII Gosse again recollects his dedication to the "manifest and uninterrupted and uncompromised 'service of the Lord,'" and [182/183] his parents' understanding of that event. The act of dedication, extreme even by the standards of the Plymouth Brethien, involves a direct appropriation of a biblical type:

In their ecstasy, my parents had taken me, as Elkanah and Hannah had long ago taken Samuel, from their mountain-home of Ramathaim-Zophim down to sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts in Shiloh. They had girt me about with a linen ephod, and had hoped to leave me there; "as long as he liveth," they had said, "he shall be lent unto the Lord." [147]

The role of an "infant Samuel" is not unusual in spiritual autobiography. (Ruskin's mother, for example, had similar plans for her son.) But his parents' complete immersion in the language of Scripture is—at least in the nineteenth century. Their thinking illustrates a typological system which treats experience as a repetition of patterns pre-ordained by the Word of God. And the syntax of the passage itself suggests the power of their language sysrem. What begins as a simile—as Elkanah and Hannah did X, so my parents did Y— collapses from comparison to identification, with no differentiation between the actions of a righteous couple in age of Israelite judges and Christian parents in the nineteenth century. According to the syntax, it is Philip and Emily Gosse who descended from the mountains, sacrificed at Shiloh, and clothed their son in a linen ephod. What appears to be an interpretation here is nothing less rhan a total assimilation of the parents' action into the originating type.

Or perhaps this is the ultimate form of typological interpretation. For what typology aims at—at least in autobiographical writing—is an understanding of personal experience completely and exclusively within the framework of biblical patterns and principles. It seeks to merge the contemporary into the biblical in the legal sense of that verb: to "lose character or identity by absorption into something else" (OED). Thus, the Pauline ideal of beholding Christ in the mirror and being transformed into his image (2 Cor. 3:18) describes visually what typology attempts verbally: a loss of self-identity through absorption into the types—which are, finally, patterns of Christ. [183/184] The absorption is total for Gosse's parents. They have no consciousness of a separation between their lives and the Scriptures, and they employ typology with what must be called hermeneutic naiveté. Gosse the autobiographer, however, is fully conscious of their system qua system. He understands that it operates so powerfully for them precisely because they do not think of it in such terms. This is why he calls it, in retrospect, the "Great Scheme," admitting that he cannot resist the "mortuary honour of capital letters" (147). The mortuary label becomes a means of negating the scheme, of deadening its effect. Yet verbal mortuarization proves not to be an effective means of negation, and Gosse's technique of parody, so effective in the baptism and conversion episodes, does not operate here.

Instead of parody, Gosse tries a dispersal of interpretive authority. Immediately after this passage, he counters his parents' interpretation of his life with a biblical alternative: Gehazi, the servant of Elisha. Like Gehazi, he suggests, he was more interested in material profit than in spiritual service, and when his Step-uncle offered him a position in banking, only to have the offer refused by his father, he was sharply disappointed: "I felt very much like Gehazi, and I would fain have followed after the banker if I had dared do so, into the night. I would have excused to him the ardour of my Elisha, and I would have reminded him of the sons of the prophets—'Give me, I pray thee,' I would have said, 'a talent of silver and two changes of garments'" (148—49). The writing serves as counterexample, the truth of Gosse's experience testifying against his father's interpretation. In the extremity of its choice—Gehazi was a type of the "avaricious and ungodly man" and his punishment with leprosy, "the proper emblem of the polluted stage of his soul"—it has the potential to become parody.59> But Gosse suppresses this potentiality, allowing neither an exaggeration of the form of interpretation nor a displacement of its traditional meaning. Instead, the counterexample attempts to limit the power of the Great Scheme. It prevents the autobiographical self from being assimilated into the biblical model and keeps the two elements of the analogy distinct through the manipulation of possessive pronouns and conditional verbs. It stays [184/185] conscious of the fact, unlike the example it counters, that this is an act of interpretation.

Despite its hermeneutic distinctions, the counterexample does not significantly disrupt the system of interpretation within which Gosse's parents operate and his own autobiography struggles. Gosse seems unable to parody here, perhaps because the Great Scheme is too powerful in its reading, too inclusive in its understanding of human motivations. Although elsewhere he does attempt to parody the form of typological interpretation, in this culminating example what he substitutes for the traditional system of biblical typology is not a system at all but an unsystematic series of local interpretations, each one adopted to read a particular passage of his life.

Identifying these local interpretations has been the effort of Other literary critics, and their discoveries need not be repeated hete, even to argue against the inclination to impose upon Father and Son a single generic category. Two of these local interpretations, however, are suggestive of Gosse's stance toward hermeneutic systems in autobiographical writing and representative as well as the end of the tradition of Victorian autobiography. These interpretations—one scientific, the other literary—follow the Samuel and Gehazi example and counterexample in chapter xii, although one could as easily examine other scientific or literary analogies in Father and Son to demonstrate the unsystematic nature of Gosse's approach.

The first example uses the speckled soldier-crab, a sea creature from his father's aquarium, and like the Gehazi correlation, it follows close upon the account of his parents' dedication ot their son to the Lord. As if in response to their typological vision of his joyful departure from his "mountain-home of Ramathaim-Zophim" to serve and "sacrifice to the Lord of Hoses in Shiloh," Gosse records his actual feelings upon leaving Devonshire to work in London:

I compared my lot with that of one of the speckled soldier-crabs that roamed about in my Father's aquarium, dragging after them great whorl-shells. They, if by chance they were turned out of their whelk-habitations, trailed about a pale soft body in [185/186] search of another house, visibly broken-hearted and the victims of every ignominious accident. [l6l]

The tone of the comparison is elegiac rather than celebratory; its mode, biological rather than biblical. It allows the adolescent Gosse to explain to himself and in his own terms the reluctance he feels upon leaving home, his fear of danger and of exile. More important, it provides Gosse the autobiographer with an interpretation thai cannot be incorporated into the Great Scheme.

The effect of this biological mode of interpretation can be gauged by comparing it to a similar example in Grace Abounding. In its explicit anthropomorphism and visual keenness, it resembles Bunyan's comparison of himself to "a Bird that is shot from the top of a Tree": so "down I fell . . . into great guilt and fearful despair" (sec. 140-41). In Bunyan, however, the local metaphor is immediately subsumed into a more comprehensive hermeneutical act. By the next sentence, Bunyan is analyzing his sin as a type of Esau's betrayal: "And withal, that Scripture did seize upon my Soul, Or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his Birthright." In Gosse, the comparison remains a local one, neither superseded by a biblical model nor incorporated into a scientific system of interpretation. Beyond its visual keenness, it has limited authority. Biological metaphor is not elevated to the status of system. It never becomes fully "scientific."

Nonetheless, it does have a personal effect. Like Gosse's earlier comparisons of his soul to a flower in a crannied nook (12) or his state to that of "a small and solitary bird, caught and hung out hopelessly and endlessly in a great glittering cage" (111), it provides a means of resisting his father's powerful language system. "The clearness of the personal image affected me as all the texts and prayers and predictions had failed to do," he notes, commenting on the caged-bird image. "I saw myself imprisoned for ever in the religious system which had caught me and would whirl my lielpless spirit as in . . . concentric wheels" (111). Visual keenness silently counters a hegemony of language.

A verbal resistance follows the visual, originating in the discovery [186/187] of forbidden literature and manifesting itself in an ability to create metaphors and make literary allusions. Throughout Gosse's childhood, most literature (but specifically fiction) had been prohibited as sinful lie-telling and antagonistic to his religious dedication. That this should necessarily have been so Gosse denies, arguing that the prohibition only served to remove "supernatural fancy" from his psyche and make him "positive and skeptical" (17). Gosse's argument has authority, in part because it derives from an autobiographical tradition—including Wordsworth's Prelude, book V, and Mill's Autobiography, chapter III—that gives priority to imaginative literature in the growth of the human mind. But the autobiographical tradition may here blind Gosse to the truth of his own autobiographical insight. The use of literary example and language in Father and Son is more ambivalent than Gosse explicitly acknowledges. The creative acts of the young boy, which the autobiography preserves and extends, challenge the biblical hermeneutics of his father even more effectively than do the biological metaphors.

Most of the literary examples seem innocent enough, like the use of Aurora Leigh to describe his haphazard education (91) or the quotation from Coleridge ro evoke his first encounter with poetry, "a breeze mid blossoms playing" (91). A few are nasty but apt, like the lines from Paradise Lost ("so huge a rout / Encumbered him with ruin") used to suggest his father's fall from popularity with the publication of Omphalos and, by association, his father's Satanic pride (62). But innocence and aptness do not account for their collective power. These literary analogies and allusions, five times as frequent as the scientific, are substitutions for biblical patterns of interpretation. In most instances, they do not complement a biblical scheme; they contradict it.

The text of Father and Son, like its texture, reveals what Gosse cannot admit. Its narrative belies his argument that literature enfolds its reader in "supernatural fancy," and the texture of its literary examples not only belies, but reenacts the means by which "supernatural fancy" is exposed for what it is. When Gosse cites Prospero's speech to Caliban from The Tempest, for example: [187/188]

I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other, when thou didst not, savage,
Know chine own meaning, but wouldst gabble, like
A thing most brutish; I endowed thy purposes
With words that made them know.

—his interpretation concentrates on the power that books give to articulate "the image and the idea" out of "darkness into strong light" (153—54). The interpretation assumes a creative, constructive power, one that Gosse identifies with poetry or, more broadly, with literary writing. He makes this interpretation, however, only by suppressing the counterspeech of Caliban:

You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse.

The negating, destructive impulse of language is felt in the texture of the literary example, whether or nor Gosse foregrounds it in his interpretation. It is as much a part of what the reader understands about a literary substitution for a biblical hermeneutic as Gosse's direct statement of constructive power is—perhaps more so because it replicates the process and effect of the substitution.

In a compelling reading of Father and Son, Vivien and Robert Folkenflik have suggested that the primary movement traced in the autobiography is that from the Word of God to a personal word: "The informing principle of this portrait of the artist as a young man is the opposition of the child's attempt to find the authentic word to his father's belief in 'The Word,' the fundamentalism of the Plymouth Brethren." They suggest, too, that Gosse finds a personal language in "the language of fiction," which "both reaffirms his inner self and permits him to escape the sterility of feeling himself as other" (157, 170). This reading accurately stresses Gosse's opposition, both as protagonist and autobiographer, to the Word of God and his turn to the language of fiction as a substitute of word for Word. We might question, however, whether the language of fiction can ever reaffirm (or confirm) an "inner self"; an understanding of the former may, as Paul de [188/189] Man has suggested, preclude an affirmation of the latter.63 Gosse himself was never deceived about the possibility of fiction providing an "authentic" word. For him, authenticity—in its fundamental sense of originality, priority, and authority (a word which derives from the same Latin root)—was an impossibility. Hence his piecemeal substitutions in Father and Son of discrete scientific and literary interpretations for a comprehensive biblical system.

Decorated initial M

e can sense the absence of an authentic, authoritative word throughout Father and Son. It is noticeable in passages like the climactic one of chapter XII, which deals explicitly with Gosse's abandonment of biblical hermeneutics and recreates narratively his movement from one interpretive system to another. It is noticeable in many less dramatic passages, which demand that Gosse by some means interpret his reality.

The hermeneutic predicament that the absence of authority creates for Gosse—and, indeed, for all late and post-Victorian autobiographers—can be illustrated with one such undramatic passage, a seemingly simple moment that involves an act of retrospection with little apparent self-interpretation. It appears in chapter VI (77—78), where Gosse attempts to recreate through figuration the Devonshire coast as it existed during his childhood and where that figuration brings into play competing literary, biblical, and scientific systems. The passage, which I read as an example of a late Victorian mode of self-interpretation and as an emblem of generic demise, begins this way:

Half a century ago, in many parts of the coast of Devonshire and Cornwall, where the limestone at the water's edge is wrought into crevices and hollows, the tide-line was, like Keats' Grecian vase, "a still unravished bride of quietness."

One expects the Keatsian simile to control the subsequent memory, to evoke a desire for permanence and create a sense of loss, perhaps even to testify to the truth of beauty rather than the truth of religion or science. The simile does, in a sense, accomplish these things. As [189/190] the reader moves through the passage, its latent promise of loss becomes a manifest threat:

These rock-basins, fringed by corallines, filled with still water almost as pellucid as the upper air itself, thronged with beautiful sensitive forms of life,—they exisc no longer, they are all profaned, and emptied, and vulgarised.

If, however, this language interprets the memory of the unspoiled Devonshire coast by means of literary simile, its mortal "rock basins" of "still water" fulfilling Keats' immortal and "still unravished" urn even (paradoxically) in their emptying and profanation, the passage in no sense offers a comprehensive interpretation of Gosse's experience. Within it, other means of interpretation contribute to—and compete with—the literary.

There is the biblical, for instance. The rockpools at the water's edge, Gosse continues, lay "undisturbed since the creation of the world": "if the Garden of Eden had been situate in Devonshire, Adam and Eve, stepping lightly down to bathe in the rainbow-coloured spray, would have seen the identical sights that we saw now." The sense of rockpools "undisturbed since the creation of the world augments the initial suggestion of an "unravished" urn, and the imagined Adam and Eve, like the figures in Keats' ode, contribute to a sense of a "paradise" that might be and has been "violated." These two systems of understanding experience—and ultimately the interpretations they produce—are competitive. One soon realizes this fact if one tries to rind a single adjective for the world Gosse describes: Is it prelapsarian? eternal? (im)mortal? (im)mutable? Such labels suggest different schemes of time and different stances vis-a-vis experience.

No longer can a biblical hermeneutic provide, as in a pre-critical era, a comprehensive understanding of experience. In Gosse we witness "the eclipse of biblical narrative" (Frei 3), the inability of the biblical text to encompass the experience of the modern age or its inhabitants. But neither can another single system replace the biblical. For if Gosse uses a biblical figure to supplement the Keatsian, he then adds a scientific to supplement them both: "The exquisite product of centuries of natural selection has been crushed under the rough paw of [190/191] well-meaning, idle-minded curiosity." How does this biological metaphor, with its allusion to the scientific system of the Origin of Species, fit with the others? What adjective now can describe the world Gosse recollects: Darwinian? evolutionary material?

In reading narrative, whether fictional or autobiographical, we tend to grant authority to final moments as to first instances, to ends as to origins. In this passage, however, because the scientific reading occurs last, it does not thereby gain authority. For Gosse there would be too much irony in granting an evolutionary metaphor such authority, and there are too many literary and biblical figures that appear subsequently in Father and Son to draw that conclusion anyway. All three systems—literary, biblical, scientific—allow possible and alternative recollections of the past, and all three occur throughout Gosse's autobiography as modes of self-interpretarion. The reader may choose among them and, like the autobiographer, view experience according to his wont.


Victorian Web Genre and Style Literary Technique  Autobiography next

Last modified 10 February 2014