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A Forgotten Novelist

By Hermione Ramsden

THERE is no sufficient reason to account for the manner in
which Robert Bage has been forgotten, while numbers of
his contemporaries have been canonised among the classics. It
may be true that his works have not the enduring qualities of
Samuel Richardson’s many-volumed novels, yet they are not
without many of the attributes which go towards the making of
popular romances, and in many respects they are better calculated
to appeal to the reading public of our time. His style is brighter
than Richardson’s, less sentimental than Fielding’s ; his good
men are less priggish, and his young women have more of nature
in them ; while, as regards his subjects, he may be said to have
much in common with some modern authors, who would find it
no easy matter to surpass him in the boldness with which he up-
holds his opinions.

Bage was born on the 29th of January, 1728, at Darley, where
his father was a paper manufacturer, which profession he after-
wards followed. In politics he was a Whig, while in religion it is
said that, for a time at least, he was a Quaker, which would ac-
count for his peculiar way of writing ; but if this was the case, he
does not appear to have remained one long, for, to use the expres-
sion of a contemporary, he very soon “reasoned himself into


                        292 A Forgotten Novelist

infidelity,” and all the traces that remained of his former religious
persuasion were a sincere esteem for the Quakers and an uncon-
querable dislike for the clergy. The characters of Miss Carlill in
Man as He Is, and of Arnold in Barham Downs, are delineated
with a touch of sympathy which is quite unmistakable, while
Mr. Holford and the Rev. Dr. Blick, who differ so little as to be
virtually the same man, are both of them the beau-idéal of the
sporting parson of the period, and are described as the toadies of
a rich lord, for ever holding up the example of the patriarchs as an
excuse for the behaviour of their wealthy patrons. Mr. Holford
“was a sound divine, orthodox in preaching and eating, could
bear a little infidelity and free-thinking, provided they were ac-
companied with good wine and good venison.”

But to return to Bage’s own life. Shortly after the death of
his mother, his father removed to Derby, and Robert was sent to
school, where it seems that he soon proved himself a distinguished
scholar, for at the age of seven he was already proficient in Latin.

In 1765 he entered into partnership in an iron manufactory
with three persons, one of whom was the then celebrated Dr.
Darwin ; but the business failed, and Bage lost a considerable
portion of his fortune. It was partly as a distraction from these
pecuniary troubles that he wrote his novels. Of these, Mount
Henneth was the first, and it was written, as he informs his readers
in the preface, in order that he might be able to present each of
his daughters with a new silk gown. The fashions appear to
have been as tyrannical in those days as they are now, for our
author declares that it was with feelings approaching to dismay
that he observed that his daughters’ head-dresses were suffering
“an amazing expansion.”

This novel was written in the form of letters, and was pub-
lished in 1781, when the copyright was sold for the sum of £30.


                        By Hermione Ramsden 293

It is filled with the most surprising and improbable situations,
while many of the characters appear to have been introduced for
the sole purpose of relating other peoples’ histories, the result
being awkward and unnatural. Mount Henneth was speedily
followed by works of a similar nature ; Barham Downs, two
vols., published in 1784, which, by some, was considered his
best; The Fair Syrian, two vols., 1787; James Wallace, three
vols., 1788 ; and, finally, his two masterpieces: Man as He Is,*
and Hermsprong, or Man as He Is Not.†

The epistolary style in which Richardson had succeeded so
well was not suited to the lighter substance of Bage’s novels, and
it was not until he dropped it and developed a style of his own
that he can be said to have achieved anything worthy of immor-
tality. It was his careful studies of character, no less than the
fidelity with which he pictured the manners and customs of the
times, to which he owed the wide-spread reputation that he en-
joyed in his life-time, when translations of his novels were pub-
lished abroad in France and Germany. In his own country,
fresh editions were continually called for, and after his death in
1801, they were republished under the editorship of Mrs. Bar-
bauld and Sir Walter Scott. The poet Cowper may also be
counted as one of his admirers, for, in a letter to William Hayley,
dated May 21, 1793, he writes as follows :

. . .” There has been a book lately published, entitled Man as
He Is. I have heard a high character of it, as admirably written,


* Man as He Is. A novel in four volumes. London : printed
for William Lane, at the Minerva Press, Leadenhall Street. 1792.

† Hermsprong ; or, Man as He Is Not. A novel in two volumes.
By the author of Man as He Is. Dublin : printed by Brett Smith,
for P. Wogan, P. Byrne, J. Moore, and J. Rice. 1796.

                        294 A Forgotten Novelist

and am informed that for that reason, and because it incul-
cates Whig principles, it is, by many, imputed to you.”

And the same year, in a letter to Samuel Rose, dated Dec. 8,
he writes :

“We find it excellent ; abounding with wit and just sentiment,
and knowledge both of books and men.”

According to his friend, William Hutton, Bage cared little for
the world, although he seems to have resembled Richardson in
the preference which he evinced for the society of ladies, and he
undoubtedly surpassed the latter in his manner of describing some
of them. Maria Fluart, for instance, in Hermsprong, is a woman
of the same type as Charlotte Grandison, yet it cannot be denied
that her character is better drawn and her frivolous moods more
consistently sustained ; for Charlotte, in spite of her flightiness,
partakes too strongly of the Grandison temperament, and there
are moments when she relapses into conversations worthy of her

Of Bage’s domestic life we know very little, beyond the fact
that he had three step-mothers, and that he married, at the age of
twenty-three, a lady possessed of beauty, good sense, good temper,
and money. In a letter, written a few months before his death,
we learn that his wife sometimes scolded him to the extent of spoil-
ing his appetite at breakfast, but that he bore it patiently we may
conclude from the following passage, quoted from Man as He Is,
which seems likely to have been the result of personal experience :

Every man whose education has not been very ill-conducted, has
learned to bear the little agreeable asperities of the gentle sex, not
merely as a necessary evil, but as a variety, vastly conducive to female
embellishment, and consequently to man’s felicity.

In Bage, as in almost all authors, the autobiographical note is


                        By Hermione Ramsden 295

not absent, and when we come upon sentences as astounding as
the following, we cannot avoid the suggestion that one or other
of those three step-mothers must have inspired it :

“Ladies,” said Sir George, “have no weapons but their tongues
and their nails. . . . .”

But Lady Mary Paradyne by no means confined herself to
these, for when suffering from one of her periodical attacks of
gout, a “slipper or a snuff-box thrown at the head of her nurse or
her woman gave her tolerable ease.” And on one occasion “she
enforced her observations with a knife,” and inflicted a wound
on the nurse’s arm which resulted in “an eloquence superior to
her own.”

Domestic happiness is decidedly not a characteristic of Bage’s
novels, and here, as elsewhere, it is the women who receive all the

“What shall I say of our women ?” exclaims Mr. Mowbray.
“Heavens ! What pen or tongue can enumerate the evils which
arise from our connections, our matrimonial connections, with
this frail and feeble sex ? Which of our corruptions may we not
trace to their vanities ? …. In every connection with woman,
man seeks happiness and risques it—and the risque is great. It
is so much the greater, because in the usual mode of connection,
the laws come in to perpetuate it, and the misery is for life.
Gentlemen endeavour to avoid this …. and no doubt that ‘as long
as we love,’ is a more advantageous formula than ‘as long as we
live.’ Yet there are drawbacks.”

Mr. Fielding, a friend of Sir George’s, goes further still in
maintaining that “matrimony kills love, as sure as foxes eat

Sir George Paradyne was a model son, and always respectful
in his behaviour towards his mother, although her complaints,


                        296 A Forgotten Novelist

poured forth over five glasses of Madeira in succession, must often
have been a severe trial to his patience. It was Lady Mary’s
desire that he should be the most accomplished gentleman of his
age, and in order that this wish might be realised, she was anxious
to procure him a tutor who had studied manners under Lord
Chesterfield, in place of the worthy Mr. Lindsay, whose views on
education were the direct antithesis to her own. Of Lady Mary
it is said that “her affections went to the whole duties of a
mother. . . . . It was she who regulated his taste in dress,
who superintended the friseur in the important decoration of his

Poor Sir George ! What a vision of powdered hair and pig-tail,
flowered satin waistcoat and velvet coat, to say nothing of the
shoes with diamond buckles ! He was only just twenty when the
story begins, and as yet quite unspoilt by the world ; his chief
delight at this period was to converse with Lindsay on Cicero and
Demosthenes, Horace and Virgil, or to spend a quiet evening “in
moralizing upon the various follies of mankind.” It was not
without reason that he had asked Lindsay to become his friend and
guide, for he sadly needed some one to whom he could confide his
love for Miss Cornelia Colerain. Mr. Lindsay was a man of
parts ; he had met with a variety of misfortunes, and was a philo-
sopher, if, also, somewhat of a pessimist. His chief aim at this
time seems to have been to warn his pupil against the dangers of
matrimony, because, as he says :

“The love of woman and the love of fame lead to different
things ; no one knows better than myself how fatal love, as a
passion, is to manly exertion.”

Even the worthy Lindsay does not seem to have held the
ordinary views on the subject of marriage, for on one occasion he
shocks the fair Quakeress by observing that :


                        By Hermione Ramsden 297

“If it was the law or usage of the country for men and women
to make temporary contracts, no one would call it a vice.”

“According to thee, then,” said Miss Carlill, “vice and virtue
are mode and fashion ?”

“Not wholly so, perhaps,” Mr. Lindsay said, “nor wholly
otherwise. . . . . It is a pity a tender mistake, as it often does,
should involve two people in wretchedness for life.”

Yet he is not afraid to risk his happiness with Miss Carlill, and
she condescends to marry him at last, in spite of their differences
of opinion.

“I like not the doings of thy steeple-house,” she tells him;
“there is much noise and little devotion. . . . . If I take thee, it
is out of pity to thy poor soul.”

And with this reason he is obliged to be content.

Sir George, on the other hand, is no pessimist with regard to
marriage ; he feels assured that a good wife is the greatest blessing
that Heaven can bestow ; but when Miss Colerain will not accept
him because she considers that their acquaintance has been too
short, the effect upon his character is not all that could be desired.
These circumstances result in a strained relationship with
Lindsay, they part in anger, and Sir George is left to continue
his “airy course.” “Youth,” he argued, “must have its follies ;
the season would be over soon ; a few years oeconomy would free
him from their effects,” . . . and for the time being he forgot
Miss Colerain.

The author here excuses himself for his hero’s conduct by
saying that the rules of probability would be violated were he to
depict the character of a young gentleman of quality in the reign
of George III. with too many virtues.

Sir George goes to Paris, gets into debt, and is obliged to have
recourse to Lindsay to help him out of his difficulties. Three

The Yellow Book—Vol. XII. s


                        298 A Forgotten Novelist

years he intends to devote to the business of regeneration ; the
remainder of his life to his country, to friendship, and, if he can
obtain her, to Miss Colerain. But the lady in question requires
to be fully convinced of the sincerity of his repentance before she
will marry him, and because of this delay “his spirits flagged ; his
appetite ceased ; his bloom changed ; and it was too apparent that
he must soon be lost to his friends and to himself.” His days
were spent in the contemplation of Miss Colerain’s picture which
he had hung in a temple in the garden, and so great was the
depression of his spirits that he would most certainly have died
but for the timely intervention of a certain Mr. Bardo, who thus
addressed him :

“Paradyne,” said he, “you are a fool.”

Thus roused, Sir George regained his courage, and before long
the fair Cornelia consented to become his wife.

If we may trust the combined testimony of eighteenth century
authors, Man as He Is may be studied as a faithful representation
of a time when emotional natures were more common than they
are now, when young men wept because their mothers scolded
them, and turned dizzy at an unexpected meeting with the lady
of their choice. Sir George, on one occasion, after he had been
severely reprimanded by his mother for fighting one of the many
duels in which he was constantly engaged, “withdrew to his
library with his handkerchief at his eyes.” With women, fainting
was more than a fashion, it was an art, and Cornelia, like other
fair ladies of her time, could faint at a moment’s notice.

Another very interesting point in Bage’s novels is the important
part played by the lady’s maid and the valet. That this was
actually the case, and was not merely an invention of the author’s,
is proved by the frequency with which like incidents occur in the
works of contemporary novelists ; readers of Richardson will


                        By Hermione Ramsden 299

remember how a dishonest footman assisted the villainous Sir
Hargrave Pollexfen in the abduction of Miss Harriet Byron, and
how that that young lady herself sees no harm in cross-questioning
her friend’s maid on the subject of her mistress’s love affairs.
Miss Grandison’s maid was the daughter of a clergyman, and it
does not appear to have been at all unusual for young ladies in
distressed circumstances to earn their living in this way, for even
the learned Mrs. Bennet, in Fielding’s Amelia, had some thoughts
of going into service and was advised by her aunt to do so, in spite
of her knowledge of Latin.

In Man as He Is, the ladies’ “women” and gentlemen’s
“gentlemen” are persons of influence, and Sir George Paradyne,
the first time that he is refused by Miss Colerain, drives off,
leaving his purse in the hand of Susanna, her “woman,” with the
request that she shall pray for him three times a day to her
mistress. And another time, whilst he is discussing the subject
of his sister’s matrimonial happiness with Mr. Lindsay, his
“gentleman,” who happens to be in waiting at the breakfast
table, suddenly assumes the air of having something of importance
to say, and, upon being pressed, he reads a love-letter which he
has just received from the above-mentioned lady’s “woman,”
which serves to confirm Sir George’s worst fears.

Bage’s last and best work, Hermsprong, or Man as He Is Not,
marks a new stage in contemporary thought, and this time the
change is brought about by a woman. Nora realises that she is
being treated like a doll ! In other words, the “woman question,”
which had slumbered since the days of Mary Astell, had just made
its re-appearance in the person and writings of Mary Wollstone-
craft, whose Vindication of the Rights of Woman first saw the
light in 1792. That Bage was strongly influenced by it is


                        300 A Forgotten Novelist

proved by the fact that his hero—who, it must be remembered,
represents man as he is not—is very eloquent in his arguments in
favour of the higher education of women. Women, he
maintains, are allowed too little liberty of mind, and he adds :

“Be not angry with me . . . be angry at Mrs. Wollstone-
craft . . . who has presumed to say that the homage men pay to
youth and beauty is insidious, that women for the sake of this
evanescent, this pitiful dominion permit themselves to be persuaded
that their highest glory is to submit to this inferiority of character,
and become the mere plaything of man. Can this be so ?”

“Now, the devil take me,” said Sumelin, “if I know what
either you or this Mrs. Wollstonecraft would be at. But this I
know, that the influence of women is too great ; that it has
increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.”

“Well then,” Mr. Hermsprong answered, “let it be diminished
on the side of charms; and let its future increase be on the side of

“To what purpose?” the banker asked. “To invade the
provinces of men ? Weaker bodies, you will allow, nature has
given them, if not weaker minds.”

“Whatsoever may be the design of nature, respecting the sex,
be her designs fulfilled. If she gave this bodily weakness, should
education be brought in to increase it ? But it is for mind I
most contend ; and if ‘a firm mind in a firm body’ be supposed
the best prayer of man to the gods, why not of women ? Would
they be worse mothers for it ? or more helpless widows ?”

“No,” said the banker ; “but they would be less charming

“Let us be more just, Mr. Sumelin. They are our equals in
understanding, our superiors in virtue. They have foibles where
men have faults, and faults where men have crimes.”


                        By Hermione Ramsden 301

Hermsprong is the necessary complement to Sir George
Paradyne. He is the ideal, while the other is the real. Herm-
sprong is a native of America, and in many respects he resembles
the Alien of Mr. Grant Allen’s hill-top novel. In Bage’s time,
America was still sufficiently unknown to supply the novelist from
Mrs. Aphra Behn * onwards with an original character for which
now-a-days he is obliged to seek among the phantoms of the
twenty-fifth century, or in the person of an angel visitant.
Hermsprong, like the Alien, or Mr. H. G. Wells’s angel, is a
thoroughly unconventional being who finds it impossible to
accustom himself to the ways and habits of British barbarians.
He is, according to his own description, a savage whose wish it is
to return to nature, and who holds up the habits and customs of
the American Red Indians as worthy of being imitated. He is
in fact an Anarchist, who maintains that virtue is natural to man,
and that a return to nature is a return to the primeval state of
innocence before the laws had taught men how to sin.

Hermsprong’s views, however, do not assume any very
dangerous proportions. The utmost that he does to astonish the
natives is to announce his intention of going to London on foot,
a journey which is likely to occupy three days. But if he had
suggested flying, the announcement could hardly have excited
more surprise.

“Surely, Mr. Hermsprong, you cannot think of walking ?”

“Oh, man of prejudice, why ? In what other way can I
travel with equal pleasure ?”

“Pleasure ! Pleasure in England is not attached to the idea of
walking. Your walks we perform in chaises.”

                                                “I pity

* Oroonoko ; or, the Royal Slave. By the Ingenious Mrs. Behn.
Seventh Edition. London, 1722.

                        302 A Forgotten Novelist

“I pity you for it. For myself, I chuse not to buy infirmity
so dear I must be independent, so far as social man can
be independent. In other words I must be free from the
necessity of doing little things, or saying little words to any
man. . . . . ”

It is said of him that his singularities of character unfit him for
the society of English gentlemen ; he eats only to live, instead of
living to eat ; he cares nothing for the pleasures of the bottle,
nor for the still greater pleasures of cards and dice, yet his manners
are such that he never fails to please. An English dinner he
considers melancholy :

“If to dine,” says he, ” were only to eat, twenty minutes would
be ample. You sit usually a couple of hours, and you talk, and
call it conversation. You make learned remarks on wind and
weather ; on roads ; on dearness of provisions ; and your essays
on cookery are amazingly edifying. Not much less so are your
histories of your catarrhs and toothaches. . . . . It is said that
physicians have much increased in your country ; one great
reason may be, because you dine.”

He has, moreover, a secret, but deep-founded contempt for
the forms of politeness, and is often found to err on the side of
plain speaking, to the intense anxiety of those who are anxious to
befriend him.

“I have often been told,” he says, “that in very, very civilised
countries no man could hold up the mirror of truth to a lady’s
face, without ill-manners. I came to try.”

In this experiment he is fairly successful, for the ladies do not
resent his truthfulness as much as might have been expected.
His mission, like the Alien’s, is to rescue a lady from tyranny,
only this time the tyrant is a father and not a husband. By
degrees he overcomes her filial prejudices by bidding her lay aside


                        By Hermione Ramsden 303

all pre-conceived notions of duty, and declaring that “in vain
would the reasoners of this polished country say everything is due
to the authors of our existence. Merely for existence, I should
have answered, I owe nothing. It is for rendering that existence
a blessing, my filial gratitude is due.”

The lady of his choice is a certain Miss Campinet, the daughter
of Lord Grondale, but the latter does not favour his suit, which is
the less surprising when we consider that it is one of the
characteristics of the savage that he does not love lords. It will
be remembered that the Alien did not love lords either, and that
he, too, was equally contemptuous of rank and riches. The
conversation which takes place between Hermsprong and his
father-in-law elect is sufficiently original to be worth tran-
scribing :

“Before I condescend to give you my daughter,” says Lord
Grondale, “I must have a more particular account of your family,
Sir ; of its alliances, Sir ; and of your rent roll.”

“Upon my word, my Lord; here is a great deal of difficulty
in this country to bring two people together, who are un-
fortunate enough to have property. For my part I have thought
little of what your lordship thinks so much. I have thought
only that I was a man, and she a woman—lovely, indeed, but
still a woman. Nature has created a general affinity between
these two species of beings ; incident has made it particular
between Miss Campinet and me. In such situations, people
usually marry ; so I consent to marry.”

We must observe that it was a gross inconsistency on the
part of Hermsprong that he should be guilty of one of the most
barbarous customs of the times. When applying to Lord Gron-
dale for permission to marry his daughter, he never contemplates
the necessity of first consulting the wishes of the young lady


                        304 A Forgotten Novelist

herself ; these he takes for granted, and when reproached for his
lack of humility, he defends himself by saying :

“I consider a woman as equal to a man ; but . . . I consider
a man also as equal to a woman. When we marry we give and
we receive. Where is the necessity that man should take
upon him this crouching mendicant spirit, this excess of
humiliation ?”

All this is very plausible, of course, but his notions of love-
making were curious, to say the least, and it is difficult not to feel
some compassion for Miss Campinet. In course of time how-
ever, his arguments convince her, and his efforts on her behalf are
crowned with the success they deserve. He turns out to be none
other than her long-lost cousin, Sir Charles Campinet, the lawful
heir to Lord Grondale’s estate, and the son of his ship-wrecked
brother. A reconciliation takes place, Lord Grondale dies, and
the young couple are happy ever after.

As an author, Robert Bage resembles Mr. Grant Allen in more
than one respect, for in the first place his publisher was one named
Lane, and in the second his object was to instruct women. In-
struction intended for them can only be offered in the form of a
novel as they are not likely to read works of a more serious nature,
and Man as He Is is intended especially for the fair sex, amongst
whom he hopes to find twenty thousand readers ; in it he treats
of the subjects which he thinks will be most agreeable to them,
i.e., love and fashion. In like manner, Mr. Grant Allen, in his
British Barbarians, informs us that he writes not for wise men,
because they are wise already, but that it is the boys and
girls and women—women in particular—whom he desires to

The study of Man as He Is and Is Not, or rather, as he was
and was not, in the years 1792 and 1796, is very instructive and


                        By Hermione Ramsden 305

also distinctly salutary, and as such it deserves to be recommended
as an antidote to pessimism. Both these books prove in the most
convincing manner that a great change for the better has taken
place in the ways and customs of English men and women since
the close of the eighteenth century. Men no longer fight duels
at the smallest provocation, nor weep in public, and women have
long ceased to cultivate the art of fainting, nor do they—in
polite society—use their nails as weapons of defence, while
even the art of writing fiction has made considerable progress
since the days when Robert Bage first began to write his

MLA citation:

Ramsden, Hermione. “A Forgotten Novelist.” The Yellow Book, vol. 12, January 1897, pp. 291-305. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020.