Friday, December 19, 2014

Some more on "James Quince" (James Reginald Spittal)

The mystery writer James Quince, as explained in the previous post, was in actually the clergyman James Reginald Spittal (1876-1951).  Both his father and his maternal grandfather were ministers as well. Reverend John Spittal, James's father, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1833.  John's father was Sir James Spittal (1769-1842), a wealthy silk merchant and radical Whig politician who served as Lord Provost of Edinburgh from 1833 to 1837.  Sir James supported democratic municipal reform in Edinburgh, provoking the ire of conservative political opponents, who taunted him for his origins in trade, as can be seen in the broadside ballad The Downfall of Spittal:

Of ECONOMY now he may drivel and drawl,
But the thousand a-year we must always recall--
So under his counter he'd much better crawl,
In case he be tossed in a blanket or shawl--

Which nobody can deny, deny,
Which nobody can deny.

John Spittal received a BA and MA at Trinity Hall, Cambridge and was a member of the Speculative Society of Edinburgh, a prestigious private debating society.  Beginning in 1859 he served as a clergyman at a goodly number of locales, including a working class section of Leicester, where he was active in educational and social work, South Banbury, Oxfordshire, where his son James Reginald was born, the mill town of Heywood, Lancashire, and, finally, Ryde, Isle of Wight, where he died in 1897.

One of the interesting characters in James Quince's The Tin Tree (1930) is the village schoolmaster, a Scot, who makes sure the "clever" children in the village are "grounded," a character explains, "in the classics and philosophy and that kind of thing, and the history of thought from Plato to Kant," so that they have learned really to think before they study for higher examinations.  There's also a very interesting case of social mobility in the novel, but enough of that.  Let's hope The Tin Tree is reprinted so people can see for themselves.

Note: Check out the links above to see likenesses of James Quince's father and grandfather. (there is a discrepancy on Sir James's birth year, but I think 1769 is correct, which means that he would have been, had he lived that long, 107 when James Quince was born!)

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