Monday, July 11, 2016

Sight seeing in Alsace



A holiday in Alsace, in the celebrated village of Riquewihr. All new to me, and stemming from a recommendation from a cycling friend years ago.







Alsace reminded me in some ways of Belgium: a place that has had the tides of history sweep through it, yet remained itself. The gabled, ornamented architecture of a prosperous merchant class, a religious rubbing-along when money is to be made, the superlative artists brought to that area by that disposable wealth and taste for ostentation. The vigneron who lived in one fine house in Riquewihr had himself depicted being pulled away from his agreeable existence by Death (rather than the end of his week in a gite):



There's a fine tradition of shop signs:



This statue in Colmar is of Schwendi, excitedly brandishing not one of his weapons, but roots of the Tokay vine, which he'd brought back from a campaign in Hungary. That's a very Alsatian thing to commemorate:



A Belgium, though, with sun, and mountains, and hectares of vineyards - all that cool and smooth Reisling instead of beer-brewing. But with Germanic or Belgian moments: some mildly pornographic beer bottle labels caught my eye.



I had never seen these before, the White Storks, or heard their beaks clattering after they fly in from the fields by the Rhine:


Of course, I was at times keen to stay in early modern mode, and here I am, looking (I think) quite the part:


My chief artistic find was in this superbly-housed gallery, the Augustinermuseum in Freiburg (we motored into Germany for a day). Those are the original statues from the niches on the cathedral, elongated to be seen from pavement level.


It's a Sundenfall, a Fall of Man, carved in boxwood by Meister H.L., who was active c.1511-33. The tree of knowledge is a fig tree, its distinctive leaves carved with astonishing delicacy. There's no flattening, everything is rendered in the round.




I like the choice of a fig as the forbidden fruit.


The animals of paradise are superbly done - that fine lion, and the stag, its antlers carved (how?!)


Durer's parrot sits up the tree:


Freiburg also offers a Cathedral with extraordinary stained glass, all in the most vibrant colours. Those in the nave were funded by the city's guilds, so you have a shoemakers' window, one from the tailors, the breadmakers - and amongst these windows, one that you could only imagine had been sponsored by the torturers and executioners' guild (or, as Abhorson would say, 'our mystery'). Eye-poppingly hideous deaths





I shall have to ask medievalist colleagues to identify the saint depicted below. It must be some crazy yarn from the Golden Legend. I saw the motif in a painting in the Colmar Unterlinden museum, and here again in the glass at Freiburg. As you see, the saint shoes a horse by lopping off the horse's leg, nailing on the horseshoe to the hoof, and he then must re-attach the leg without causing the animal any inconvenience or pain. The magical act of the saint reminds me of the Alpine stories of the feasts of beef at sabbats with the nachstvolk, when the bones of the animal had to be placed back in the skin, and the animal would be alive again in the morning (though never quite as strong for work).




There's a concentration of villages fleuries around here, done so intensely that the car parks have notices explaining that the funds from parking charges go to the floral display in the village you are about to visit.

I wanted wildflowers, and at the top of the ridge by the Auberge de Heucote, and at the top of the Ballon D'Alsace, we found orchids that were long 'gone over' this year back in England, but in their prime at 2,000 to 3,000 metres in July in France. The French seem to call the Butterfly orchid the Orchidee de Montagne.

.

I was very mildly excited to find this solitary example of an orchid I'd never seen in the UK. It turns out to be the Small White Orchid: a suitably boring name for what must be one of the most boring of its kind:


New to me was Pilosella, or 'The Devil's Paintbrush' (now, that's a plant name for you). It's just a garden escape in this country, and classified as a noxious weed in other parts of the world where it is also spreading from gardens. But protected in its native habitat.



Nor had I ever seen a Spiked Rampion:


or really taken in the Yellow Gentians (The very bitter-tasted root used to be used in beer-making. The French, divided as ever between hypochondria and enjoyment of alcohol, still make a 'liqueur de gentiane' out of it.)


or such sheets of Bistort





The Unterlinden gallery in Colmar has the Issenheim altarpiece by Grunewald: a gallery in itself, bringing together art from the medieval period down to images that anticipate Blake. But I may post another time on that intense experience. Colmar also has this variant of Cranach's Melancholia - she aimlessly whittles at a stick, as the night-army hurtles through the sky, a mad mixture of mercenary landesknechts and witches.






Friday, July 01, 2016

Compare and contrast



As the nation bids farewell forever to another good that we had in common, I surprise myself by thinking that at least we have some people still who can voice such sentiments, and use such words, as would have been used on such a sad occasion back in centuries that were alive, too, the late poet's imagination.

One the other hand, the egregious Mr Gove. When he was Education Secretary, every state school received, unasked for, a copy of the King James Bible at his behest. Until yesterday, I was unaware of how he'd had the spine of the book decorated with this gilded self-reference:


(The cost! "Vanity of vanities,saith the preacher".)



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"The beasts may teach the Atheist": Godfrey Goodman's 'The Creatures Praysing God', 1622








What was Godfrey Goodman’s The Creatures Praysing God: or, The religion of dumbe creatures. An example and argument for the stirring up of our devotion and for the confusion of atheism, G. G. (1622)? 

The ODNB life of the author, by Nicholas Cranfield, says that it was published as “an anonymous satire on the irreligion of his day”, which Goodman “used as a vehicle for dissemination of his sacramentalist understanding of the church.” This is probably the most sensible line one could take on a very odd little book. It’s not quite anonymous, being signed G.G. on the title page. The dedication to the reader (and I’m sure it’s Goodman himself writing) explains that “The Authour himselfe not vouchsafing his name, title, or preface to this his worke, and very unwilling that it should be published, I thought fit to let thee understand, that the booke it selfe containes no paradox, notwithstanding the title …” So the title we have read is not authorial, ‘G.G.’ is somehow fully anonymous, and it isn’t written as a prose paradox.

So, we are alerted to the chance that it might be a paradox, something to be read as not written sincerely.

The Creatures Praysing God might be bundled up with other early examples of failed irony (The Knight of the Burning Pestle; The Shortest Way with the Dissenters). The argument would go that Goodman means to incite more fervent devotion to God by shaming his Christian readers with an account of how pious the animals are. The animals he talks about (and they remain a very generalised concept, though he does mention a few species of birds) are like the citizens of Utopia, fictional beings designed to shame us into doing better.

The trouble is, though, that Goodman, like a 17th century Boris Johnson, gets drawn into an ardent advocacy of a point of view he doesn’t necessarily hold. Instead of establishing a satiric distance – ‘these are just animals: while this is how we humans behave’ – he gets drawn into making his case as though the general notion of animal piety has become both plausible and pleasing to him.

Here, he considers ‘The use of the creatures’:

   “Thus as they were ordained for [man's] naturall use, for his food, clothing, labour: so it should seeme, they were appointed for his spirituall use, to serve him in the nature of   Chaplaines, that they should honour and praise God, while their master, sinfull and wretched man, dishonours him, yet their service might seeme to be done by his appointment.”

The satire wavers into view: just as a wealthy man delegates piety to a chaplain, so animals can be imagined to taking up the slack on worship on behalf of us all. This is a step towards Douglas Adams’ ‘robot monk’. The necessary satiric outrage, though, doesn’t appear, for Goodman seems (to me at least) to be pleased by this fancy of mute worship because that’s actually how he’d like people to be. In theory, he’s all for active and intellectual faith, but his politics are very monarchical, and his faith was really drawn towards a borderline ceremonial-Catholic display of the divine mysteries to a trusting lay congregation. So his animals (however he pictures them, for he never specifies any particular quadruped) actually are his ideal believers.

Now, Goodman can’t have been unaware that creatures engaged in worship was a motif in earlier art in this country, and contemporary Catholic art abroad, especially in images of St Francis preaching to the birds. Therefore the thought that the animals might actually be crypto-catholics crosses his mind, and he hastens to assure us that animals are perfectly orthodox, if a little more reticent than good Church of England Protestants should be:

“Let us then enquire of the Creatures, whether they acknowledge one God, or will admit a plurality of gods in their service. And here upon the first view and appearance, they seeme unto me to cry and to testifie one God, one God, for all nature is directed to one end …the Creatures do testifie of God, which in effect is their faith; but I will passe this over: yet give me leave to passe my censure upon it … Upon due examination I finde them to be sound and Orthodoxall, I cannot taxe them with Atheisme or Heresie, but what they say or testifie of God, it is most true; onely with this defect, that they say not enough; nature cannot be raised above nature; the mysteries of grace fall not within the compasse of naturall bounds.”

Again, humour almost comes into view, but he can too readily think of human members of the church who are exactly like animals, and require things to be said for them:

“all of them [the animals] testifying the same truth, do in a sort make one common confession of their faith, they say their Creed together, as we do; this is enough, to save and excuse them from the imputation of infidelity: for children do no more in their baptisme, whom notwithstanding we know to be in the number of Gods faithfull people.”

His piety keeps taking off the satiric edge; he adores his dumb animals who can somehow say their creed.

The obvious next step was to decide whether these good but four-legged Anglican believers who happen to be animals will go to heaven. Rather surprisingly, he decides they will, if not necessarily in the same nature. 

It was a very long debate, the one about whether animals had souls. One thinks of John Wesley playing his flute to the lions in the Tower of London, or Boswell trying to argue that “when we see a very sensible dog, we know not what to think” (and Dr Johnson’s howl of derision, which I recall as being along the lines of “and when we see a very silly fellow…”).

What Goodman says is this, in a vein of pious witticism:

“If this seeme a strange doctrine then, let this reason confirme it: Creatures were first created in Paradise. Then surely they were not so much ordained for slaughter, and mans use, as for the setting forth of Gods glory. Now since our fall, they groane and travell in paine together with us under the burthen of our sinnes, and our miseries, the punishments of sinne, Rom. 8.22. yet still they continue innocent in themselves, they are often imployed in Gods service, alwaies praysing God in their owne kinde, and never incurre the breach of his law, but are patient, notwithstanding our immoderate and inordinat abuse. Then surely by a course of justice, according to their manner, and the capacity of their owne nature, though not in themselves, (that is) in the fiercenesse, malignity and corruption of their nature, yet in their owne first elements and principles, or as they have now entred into mans body, and are become parts of mans flesh, all the Creatures in generall shall partake with us, in our future intended renovation.”

This is just a proof from "reason", not from faith (and he has the Bible text at Revelations 22: 15 directly against him regarding dogs). Maybe animals get into the Holy City as they were first created, or, as we have eaten some of them, our reincarnation will involve something of them being mixed up with us in heaven,

The purportedly satirical work sounds in places very much like neo-platonically influenced writing of the Vaughan / Thomas Traherne kind:

“Thus the stocks and the stones in their silence, and in their naturall properties; the beasts in their sounds and their cries, in their sence and in their motions, all serue to praise him: for God requires no more then he hath first giuen, the right imployment of his gifts is indeed to praise him.”

That reminds me of Vaughan’s assertion that even stones “are deep in contemplation” of God, and that ecstatic brushing aside of anything as petty as facts is like Traherne.


This odd work can perhaps be thought of as a kind of pendant to his earlier and better-known work, The fall of man, or the corruption of nature, proved by the light of our naturall reason, 1616, That work involved Goodman in a long contemplation of the fallen state of God's creation, and he has much to say about 'the creatures'. In fact, an incredible amount: he can't think about humankind without triangulating between the angels (sketchy data) and the animals (a point of reference on almost every page). In this earlier text, there's no fanciful imagining of the animals as worshiping God in some silent fashion. They are simply the lower creation, and the decayed state of humankind means that we are falling closer to them, and that they are in many ways better off than us. "It should seeme wee live upon the borders, betweene God and the creatures", reflects Goodman, in thinking about why mankind is more susceptible to illness than animals are. That's because God's plagues light first on us, as is just.

And suddenly, it bursts out of Goodman:

"I have often seene and observed in the streets, an ould blinde decrepit man full of sores, and inward griefe; hungry, naked, cold, comfortlesse & harbourlesse, without patience to sustaine his griefe, without any helpe to releive him, without any counsell to comfort him, without feare of Gods justice, without hope of Gods mercy, which as at all times, so most especially in such distresse should be the sole comfort of a christian man. I protest before God that were it not, for the hope of my happines, and that I did truly beleeue the miseries of this life, to be the just punishments of sinne, I should much prefer the condition of dumbe creatures, before the state of man."

The human condition he sees as wretched. This destitute old man is damned in both worlds, this and the next ("without hope of Gods mercy"). Doctrinally, Goodman accepts that there is justice in God's having it so, it is the punishment we deserve. But otherwise, he'd prefer to be an animal. This seems to me to go beyond mere rhetoric. Can you really accept such a punitive God as being just? Goodman suddenly sounds like Faustus:

     O, no end is limited to damned souls!
     Why wert thou not a creature wanting soul?
     Or why is this immortal that thou hast?
     Ah, Pythagoras' metempsychosis, were that true,
     This soul should fly from me, and I be changed
     Unto some brutish beast! all beasts are happy,
     For, when they die,
     Their souls are soon dissolved in elements;

     But mine must live still to be plagued in hell.

Or like John Donne:
If lecherous goats, if serpents envious

     Cannot be damned, alas, why should I be?

The condition of the animals really is enviable. And it's because they prompt such disturbing reflections that Goodman goes on to reinvent the animal creation into perfect four-legged Christians, always worshipful, never questioning because unable to question.




Thursday, June 16, 2016

I.M. Jo Cox,'best and bravest'





... Yes, you'd like an army of Sidney Cartons,
The best world made conveniently by wasters, second rates,
Someone we could conveniently spare,
And not the way it has to be made,
By the loss of our best and bravest every where.
All this is not more than we can deal with.





Extract from Margot Heinemann's 1937 elegy for John Cornford:

Grieve in a New Way for New Losses

And after the first sense "He will not come again"
Fearing still the images of corruption,
To think he lies out there and changes
In the process of the earth from what I knew,
Decays and even there in the grave, shut close
In the dark, away from me, speechless and cold,
Is in no way left the same that I have known.
All this is not more than we can deal with.

The horror of the nightmare is that it evades
Your steady look, steals past the corner of the eye,
Lurks in the sides of pictures. Death
Is fearful for the fifth part of a second,
A fear that shakes the heart: and that fear lost
As soon, yet leaves a sickness and a chill,
Heavy hands and the weight of another day
All this is not more than we can deal with.

If we have said we'd face the dungeon dark
And gallows grim, and have not meant to face
The thin time, meals alone, in every eye
The comfortless kindness of a stranger- then
We have expected a privileged treatment,
And were out of luck. Death has many ways
To get at us: in every loving heart
In which a comrade dies he strikes his dart
All this is not more than we can deal with.

In our long nights the honest tormentor speaks
And in our casual conversations:
"He was so live and young - need he have died
Who had the wisest head, who worked so hard,
Led by his own sheer strength: whom I so loved?"
Yes, you'd like an army of Sidney Cartons,
The best world made conveniently by wasters, second rates,
Someone we could conveniently spare,
And not the way it has to be made,
By the loss of our best and bravest every where.
All this is not more than we can deal with.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

'To heaven on a gibbet': the repentance of Nathaniel Butler, murderer, 1657



Because of Frank Thorney in The Witch of Edmonton, I have been thinking about exemplary penitence in early modern culture, and the way the felon who, accepting their punishment as just, and making all the right noises about contrition, is rehabilitated by a communal forgiveness (where ‘forgiveness’ means not remission of punishment, but assurances from the spiritual leaders of the community that they can die with some certainty of not being damned).

The case I’ve found as a historical parallel is that of Nathaniel Butler, who in 1657 perpetrated a brutal murder, attacking his sleeping bedfellow, a nineteen year old apprentice named John Knight. The motive was nothing to do with sex, or shame: nobody in any of the pamphlets about the case finds anything unusual about two young men sharing a bed. Rather, John Knight had been left in charge of his master’s business, a silk mercery, and Butler had seen just how much money was in the till. Knight had invited Butler to stay with him because he didn’t want to be alone with the responsibility of holding the keys to the till.

Only Knight knew that Butler was in the premises: Butler been leaving his own master’s house on the quiet, and had come and gone late and early to spend the nights with Knight. Again, this surreptitious aspect to his behaviour sprang, as far as you can tell, from not being under his own master’s roof at night.

It should also be said that Butler may have had a reputation as a bad sort, exactly the wrong sort of companion for a trusted apprentice. He had twice been moved on (‘turned over’ is the expression used), master to master. For a young male inhabitant of Oliver Cromwell’s London, Butler was managing to live a surprisingly rakish life, drinking and visiting brothels: “He lived in Fornication, frequenting the company and the Houses of Harlots”, asserted Samuel Ward in a later work, A Warning-piece to all drunkards and health-drinkers. He financed this way of carrying on by befriending other apprentices (who, in their trammelled lives, might have found a wicked friend intensely stimulating). Soon his friends or victims would be robbing the shop to fund their interesting new life with young Nathaniel.

I do recognise that part of the way Butler could tell his story was as a journey from what John Ford had Frank Thorney call the 'abyss' back to salvation, Butler might well have played up his vices as part of that narrative, as when he "condemned himself in his general ill led life, as having been addicted to gaming, drinking, and abusing himself with women, and other vices whereto the Devil had inured him, in order to this his black or rather bloody sin of Murder. He hath been often heard to cry out of his too licentious course of life, And as oft hath he cried out of the sight of the money, which led him into the snare of temptation to this vile Act." (A Full and the truest narrative of the most horrid, barbarous and unparalled murder, p.9. A word or two may have dropped from the text, the devil inuring him to vice in order to lead to his black or rather bloody sin of murder.)

The murder was most foul. Butler had seen two bags of full of money (there was £110) in the till on Tuesday, and had been brooding about getting his hands on it. During the daylight hours of Wednesday, August 5th, Knight and he had a ‘morning draught’ together at The Black Swan, and agreed to spend the afternoon fishing. Knight bought Butler a rod. They went fishing, having bought bread bait at a tavern called The Sun, from 2pm till 5pm. Then, “We appointed to meet together at eight of the clock that night, which we did at Honey-lane end, and thence went into Fish-street to the Maiden-head, and drunk three half pints of Sack, and eat a piece of Salmon of twelve pence.”

After briefly going back to his own lodgings, Butler was hiding in the warehouse when the silk merchant’s premises were locked up at 10pm. In Knight’s bed, Butler could not sleep: “I made proffer many a time with my knife to the intent to cut John's throat, and once put my knife up again: And between three and four of the clock, on Thursday morning, I took my knife and cut his Mouth to his Ear, at which he shrieked out and cried Murder. Then I put my right hand into his Mouth, and so lay struggling together for about half an hour, and at length I strangled him: after which I looked about the Chamber, and the Devil instigated me to cut his Throat, which I did with my right hand, we being both naked.

Then I slipped off my bloody Shirt, and wiped the blood off me, and put on my clothes, and having taken the Keys of the Till, where the money lay, out of John's pocket: I brought down my bloody shirt, and laid it on the Counter in the shop, and opened the Till and took out two Bags of money, and went away with them, leaving the Keys in the Till, and the shop door open standing a char.”

The murderous assault did not leave Butler unscathed: when the normal business of Thursday morning started: “A sad spectacle is discovered by a bloody shirt found (lying on the Counter in the Shop in the morning,) by the maid servant of the house, who presently called in some of the neighbours, who going to the chamber where the Apprentice lay, they found him lying with his feet on a corner of the bolster, and his head towards the lower end of the bed, in gore blood, and with a lock of hair in his right hand, and some scattering hairs were found in his left-hand also; they were all struck with amazement! The house is raised! The neighbourhood called in! A tumult about the door! The murder visible! The Murderer unknown and escaped in the morning, presently after the fact.”(A Full and the truest narrative, p.3.)

The various approved narratives of the killing stress that Butler was then incapacitated by guilt, conscience-stricken by what he has done. He did, despite this assertion, buy himself a new trunk, and had locked the two bags of money in it, but he stayed under his master’s roof. Back at Mr Worth’s shop, everybody in the neighbourhood queued up the stairs to view the victim’s body. A young man volunteered that he saw Knight fishing with another youth, not known to him, the day before. Asked to describe this person’s clothing, the witness unluckily described clothes exactly as worn by a young man who happened to be peeping round the door, who was seized and questioned.

Then a neighbour’s servant named Butler as an acquaintance of Knight, not as a suspect, but as someone who might know more about other acquaintances of the dead apprentice. Those sent to find Butler found him in a shop in Bread Street, and “asking him whether he knew one John Knight, he being as it seems smitten in his own heart, faltered in his speech, & made out of the shop with a dejected Countenance; at first denying that he knew him, but presently after confessed that he did know him; whereupon they asked him to accompany them to Milk-street? but he pretended businesse and said he could not go then, and went his way: In this discourse with him, having perceived his hands to be scratched, they began to be suspicious of him, so that they followed him at a distance, till they saw him in his Masters house in Carter lane.”

When this was reported back, one of the marshal’s men was sent to detain Butler at his master’s house in Carter Lane. He was brought to the scene of his crime without him making any resistance “where he was caused to be stripped, and in searching him, his Leather Drawers were found to be bloody, and some blood about his Clothes; also stains of blood on his Stockings, which with the scratches on his Face and Hands, were strong presumptions, that he had a hand in this Murder, with which he being charged, several times denied. During the time of this search of him, the Marshal of this City with another Gentleman went down to his Masters house, and enquiring for Butler's Trunk, a new Trunk was shewed them, which being instantly broke open, they therein found two Bags of money, one of which Bags had Mr. Worth’s Mark on it, which being brought by the Marshal to Mr. Worth’s house, and being thrown down upon a Table with acclamation! that they had not only found out the Murderer, but the money also: The Marshal’s man then called for a Cord, wherewith he bound his Hands; Some of his Hair being plucked off to be compared with the Hair which was found in the young man’s hand that was Murdered; and being ready to carry him away: He then began in a crying manner to Confess; the Coroner and some of the Jury with two Constables being present, he began by degrees to acknowledge one thing after another; and at last confessed the whole Murder, and the manner thereof before them.”

So much for the murder: Butler’s trial was a formality, his death sentence inevitable.
This is the entry in the newsletter, Mercurius Politicus for the week of August 13th-20th:


As you see, two men and three women received death sentences in the same week, with 14 branded and 7 set to be whipped. Why Butler jumped to prominence among this company of felons and unfortunates stems from (obviously) the awfulness of his crime, a discovery of his guilt that was seen as under providential direction, and, most importantly, the elaborate thoroughness of his repentance.

At his trial, Butler confessed everything: his only plea to the court was that he be given more time to repent. It was objected by the Lord Mayor himself that he had given poor Knight no chance to die having purged his soul of sins. Nevertheless, Butler’s plea was upheld. One by one, divine by divine, then in numbers, clerics and chaplains came to his cell in Newgate. This mobilisation apparently stemmed from moral alarm at the bloodiness of this crime in Oliver Cromwell’s God-fearing London. In 1657, they were near enough in time to earlier habits of discourse to be shocked by a crime against friendship, but there’s also a real sense that they felt a money-motivated murder just ought not to be happening. Butler had revealed to them a worrying vision of apparently integrated and virtuous young men, London apprentices stealing from their masters to finance a range of urban debaucheries that ought not to be there. Butler represents a malaise: so he had to be turned into a figure of reclaimed godliness. One of the pamphlets says that "he hath declared some of his Complices, and what an ill instrument he had been for them, with their wicked practices in wronging of their Masters, and many other things tending to their Masters wrong, and their own ruins; which in time will be further enquired into." But that sounds like a vague assurance, half-expressive of a reluctance to find more trouble than is necessary. The main aim was getting Butler's life told to proper and instructive effect.

The Puritans set to work on him. Randolph Yearwood, the Lord Mayor’s chaplain, recounts how Butler needed to move beyond simply acknowledging his sins, to a full understanding of his sinful nature:

“At my first Conference with him which was about five or six days after his Condemnation, I found him very ready to acknowledge his actual sins, and to charge himself with them and the aggravations that did accompany them, and this with sad tears of complaint, and indignation against himself and his sins; but did take no notice of his sinful Nature; Which myself and a Friend with me (Mr Griffith of the Charter house) perceiving, We endeavoured by Scripture to shew him his sinful Nature, as the Root of all his sinful actions.”

This seems curious, or unexpected. 'Actual sin' is a technical theological term, and in the OED ("after post-classical Latin peccatum actuale ...Theol. sin committed through a person's own actions; opposed to original sin"). But it makes me see that Frank Thorney in the play, who talks so thoroughly about his accumulated sin from his earliest years, while barely saying anything in the way of pertinent regret and contrition for the dreadful killing he perpetrated, is conforming to the same type of idea: your larger and innate sinfulness is as important a priority as the specific sin in your specific crime, or maybe even more important. Once you acknowledge your 'sinful nature', then you can realise your utter dependence on divine grace, and so proceed towards salvation.

The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Robert Titchbourne, himself visited Butler’s cell four days after the murder, to instruct him.  The Lord Mayor contributed to one of the pamphlets describing the case and its outcome: part of Yearwood's The Penitent Murderer is "under his Lordships own hand."

This mobilisation, born of a desire to control ad manage this piece of news, explains is why there is such an emphasis within the surviving pamphlets on how London readers must not pay attention to sensational, lying, slanderous pamphlets and ballads that have been published. (A Full and the truest narrative of the most horrid, barbarous and unparalled murder, committed on the person of John Knight was “Published after many Lying and false Relations both before and since his Death, with a detection of many lies and absurdities; and that the truth may be known.”) The story has to be a victory for faith, a re-assertion of civic order, not a fictionalised and sensationalised tale of gore. Of the pamphlets vilified by the various chaplains and Puritan divines dealing with the good outcome of this murder, I can only find Heavens cry against murder. Or, a true relation of the the bloudy & unparallel'd murder of John Knight. This would seem to be a plausible account of events, but was vehemently accused of various inaccuracies, such as impugning the probity of Butler’s father, asserting that the two young men had been baptised in the same font, and even alleging that Butler paid his master Mr Goodday half a crown a day to employ a journeyman to work in his place so that “he might have the more freedom of excess and riot”, adding “('Tis the more pity and misery, that such base gifts should blind a Master’s eyes and judgement too)”. I think this pamphleteer went too far in spreading blame to the senior adult generation. The convincing details in the pamphlet are probably novelistic in nature (the writer imagines that Butler turned up at Knight's funeral, and gave himself away). The author certainly spins out his sketchy knowledge of the events with not very illuminating moralisations about the evil of murder, which fill most of the little book.

Meanwhile, in the newsletter, Mercurius Politicus, a series of adverts announced the forthcoming approved version:


In his last fortnight, Butler became more and more the exemplary instance of the sinner reclaimed. His various counsellors express extraordinary confidence about his chance of salvation. Randolph Yearwood told the Lord Mayor, his patron, that “I verily believe you will see him yet once more; not as a Malefactor in an obscure disparaging Goal, but as an Angel of God in the Kingdom of Christ, whither (I am confident) he is gone, and you are going.” J.D. began his Blood washed away by tears of repentence with a letter to Butler, which he then took to the prison, paid his fee to enter, and delivered to the malefactor




In this febrile atmosphere, heady with repentance and a sense of the sinner reclaimed, the young man himself appears hysterically joyful, eager for the scaffold. This is the account of his last night, from Yearwood's The penitent murderer - "Evangelical joy" was an expression of approval used from 1617 onwards.

"About five a clock he fell into such a rapture and extasie of consolation as I never saw, nor (I believe) any of my fellow-Spectators; for he would shout for joy that the Lord should look on such a poor vile creature as he was: He often cried out, and made a noise, and indeed did not know how to express, and signifie fully enough his inward sense of Gods favour, saying, Must he be an heir, an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ, a fellow Citizen with the Saints, &c.He could not bear such a glorious discovery. Now that his joy was right Evangelical joy, appeareth thus, in that mourning and bitterness went before it; yea, he rejoiced with trembling, and could exceedingly often say that he would yet have a deeper, and a more thorough sense of sin; he could never be sufficiently abased before the Lord.Now the time was at hand that he should be carried forth to Execution, but he thought it was not near enough; for he asked several times, What a clock is it? I demanded why he enquired so concerning the time of the day? Would you gladly die? said I. Yes, yes, saith he, I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ which is best of all." 

One can note that the forgiveness is determined and led by the Puritan divines, in charge of community response. In the present day, perpetrators of awful crimes are expected to exhibit remorse, and the reactions to that remorse by friends or family of the victim is faithfully reported. Among all these pamphlets, I have not seen any indication of what poor Knight’s family thought about the murderer. Their opinion was not sought, not important.


In that bible-addled age, it only needed a platform for almost any person to set up as amateur preacher: the scaffold was one, the demonically possessed also tend to embark on emulations of the sermonising to which they had always been exposed. Butler did his best, trying to address the vast crowd that gathered to see him hanged from papers, and going on in sweaty terror and exultation for over an hour, before being asked to abbreviate and cease reading out from his papers what was anyway inaudible to most. Butler found further favour by officiously denouncing ‘papists’ who had visited him in prison, which he alleges they did to put the argument to him that only the true Catholic church could absolve his crime. Butler further asserted that among such visitors were ‘papist’ ladies. Anyone who paid the fee to the gaoler was admitted, and the thought of such a propaganda coup, executed right under Cromwell’s nose, as Butler’s late conversion and embrace of Rome may indeed have induced such an attempt, whatever its risks.


This is the first report of the murder I have discussed, from the newsletter (Mercurius Politicus) of the same week:

That is the bare report, unadorned, un-spun. There's little about it to suggest what an outpouring would follow:







One of the famous books of the age was John Reynolds' big anthology of stories in The triumphs of Gods revenge against the crying and execrable sin of murther. There had been an edition in 1656, but a new one appeared in 1657. The title page seems to have been augmented from a relatively plain 


to one that didn't simply point to murders abroad, but acknowledged trouble at home: "histories which contain great variety of mournful and memorable accidents, historical, moral, and divine, very necessary to restrain and deter us from the bloody sin, which in these our days makes so ample, and large a progression". That would, I think, be Butler.



The quarto of The Witch of Edmonton was printed in 1658. I've often wondered why then, in that particular year, and very tentatively wonder now whether Frank Thorney didn't come into somebody's memory, triggering the thought that there had been a play with a very penitent murderer in it (and that type of person sold well).











Thursday, June 02, 2016

The frustrations of Sapphic love, according to 'Cheat upon Cheat', 1680's.











This week, a piece of mild Restoration era smut, delivering something rather less strong than the title promises. The ballad deals with a marriage contracted between two women, Susan, who dresses like a man to woo Sarah, who is delighted to have such a beautiful gallant as her suitor, marries in haste, and then is disappointed on the wedding night. 

More comment below the text, which I have slightly tidied up in spelling and punctuation.



Cheat upon Cheat, OR, The Debaucht Hypocrite.


Being a True Account of two Maidens, who lived in London near Fish Street, the one being named Susan, the other Sarah. Susan, being dressed in Man's Apparel, Courted Sarah, to the Great Trouble of the deceived Damsel, who thought to be pleasured by her Bridals Night's Lodging, as you may find by the sequel.

          When Maidens come to Love and Dote.
          And want the use of man,
          Against their wills they needs must shew't
          Let them do what they can.

To the Tune of, ‘Tender hearts of London City’.

Come and hear the strangest Story, 
Ever Fortune laid before ye, 
of a wedding strange but true, 
For such a one was never known, 
as I will now declare to you. 

There was two maids in London City 
One was wanton, t'other witty; 
Sue and Sarah were their Names, 
It doth appear they married were, 
and Sarah tasted Cupid’s flames. 

A Gentleman that lived nigh 'um, 
Had a mighty mind to try 'um, 
and this Susan did engage, 
That she would go and court her so, 
that she her passion might assuage, 

Disguised went she, and fell to wooing 
Sarah she would needs be doing, 
so she quickly gave consent, 
They soon agreed to match with speed, 
but now poor Sarah doth lament. 

Susan strangely was disguised, 
Sarah’s heart was soon surprised, 
so that she did condescend, 
She ne'er denied to be a Bride, 
but her young Lover did commend. 

While her joys were thus completed, 
Sarah was extremely cheated, 
which did make her vitals fail, 
To bed they went with joint consent, 
and she found a cat without a tail. 

Now is Sarah much concerned, 
But by this some wit she learned, 
though she for it paid full dear, 
For from her eyes, with fresh supplies, 
down trickles many a brackish tear. 

Sarah thought love her befriended, 
Tho’ but mark what this attended, 
and twill make you much admire, 
That Susan she, so arch should be, 
to set poor Sarah’s heart on fire. 

With sword and wig was Susan dressed 
Sarah thought that she was blessed, 
with a gallant none more fair, 
But pity 'twas, a wanton lass, 
should be so much mistaken there. 

Now is Sarah discontented, 
Her misfortune much lamented, 
Maidens then pray have a care, 
Lest Susan comes with sugar plums, 
to bring poor damsels into a snare. 

Quoth Sarah ‘Why would you abuse one, 
Whom you loved, deceitful Susan, 
why would you me thus betray?’
‘Oh’ then quoth she, 'twas jollitry, 
that made me thus the antic play. 

Let no one know how you miscarried, 
How mistaken when you married, 
for twill make the world to laugh, 
You walked your round, and then you found 
a constable without a staff.’ 

      Wonder not why this I write you, 
      To be merry I invite you, 
      and to none I harm do think, 
      Let Sarah grieve, Sue did deceive, 
      which made poor Sarah’s heart to sink. 

      To all Maids let this be a warning, 
      All are wise that still are learning, 
      Beauty is a mere decoy, 
      Then have a care, least Cupid's snare, 
      do make you curse the blinking Boy. 

Printed for J. Blare, at the Looking-Glass in the New-Buildings on London-Bridge.


Not a sophisticated performance, and written for unsophisticated readers - men, men who want to feel part of the libertinage and sexual knowingness of the era. The narrative stutters badly over the wooing/wedding night, which one would have thought a simple sequence to describe.

The superfluous parts of the narrative are revealing: that the inception of Susan's deception comes from a man, glancing at the literary motif of 'trying' a potential partner before making a final choice to commit. But this third party is quickly forgotten, once he has served his function of removing the possibility that one woman might want to try sex with another woman.


The message of the rest of the ballad is to reassure the reader that women may indeed be beautiful (so a woman dressed as a man makes a very winning gallant). But, lacking a penis, such a wooer will only disappoint a woman, being a cat without a tail, a constable without a staff, etc.

Who would have predicted that? Susan is a cheat because she's not a man; Sarah, surely cheated rather than cheating, can only be another cheat because she deserts true masculinity (ugly-faced but virile) with such rapidity in her haste to marry her (female) gallant. Imaginary female readers, 'Maids', are solemnly warned that Susan may still be out there, alluring young women with sugar plums rather than testicles.

I suppose pornography, smut anyway, must always have a large element of the naive about it.






Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Jenner's Stages of Sin, 1635



These admonitory images are from Thomas Jenner's The ages of sin, or Sinnes birth & groweth With the stepps, and degrees of sin, from thought to finall impenitencie.  

The book appeared in 1635, and seems to have been popular enough for two further editions to appear in 1655, and what appears on EEBO to be a single sheet version in 1675, suitable for pasting up to edify the godly members of your godly household while they are in your godly privy.

It looks as if the woodcuts were local versions of a continental emblem book. The final image is signed with 'Ja. v. L. fecit'. Jan van Leyden came to mind, though 1635 seems to be rather early for the marine artist. A Dutch name anyway.

The book takes a seven ages of man format, and re-applies it to illustrate seven ages, or rather steps of sin, progressing from sinful thoughts to the sinful act, and so onwards to the latter stages of decline into a permanent sinful state.

My interest was fired by a student, who is going to be working on personifications of Thought in Shakespeare. Taking the subject quite literally, I reflected that the poet often writes about his or her thoughts in Petrachistic poetry, thoughts being apostrophised as unquiet, restless, etc. Then Sidney's pastoral lyric "My sheep are thoughts, which I both guide and serve" came to mind, and so to this set of images, where sinful thoughts are personified, or embodied, as various kinds of animals.





1 Suggestion.


Original-Concupiscence doth make 
Our Nature like a foul great-Bellied Snake: 
For, were not Sathan apt to tempt to Sin; 
Yet, Lustful-Thoughts would breed & brood, within: 
But, happy he, that takes these Little-Ones, 
To dash their Brains (Soon) 'gainst repentant-Stones. 

So, in this cheering opening image and verse about 'Suggestion' (we'd use 'Temptation'), original sin makes us like a pregnant viper, a snake of the non-oviparous kind. We hardly need Satan tempting us,because we breed sins within, like baby snakes (not the tinned pasta kind). Well, we must dash their brains out, before they grow up to be dangerous.



2. Rumination.
When Lust hath (thus) conceived, it brings forth Sin, 
And ruminating-thoughts its Shape begin. 
Like as the Bears oft-licking of her whelps. 
That foul deformed Creatures shape much helps. 
The dangers great, our Sinful thoughts to Cherish, 
Stop their growth, or thy poor Soul will perish.

Here we are like mother bears,in the Plinian natural history of the day, licking our newly arrived sinful thought into shape, maybe planning how we will not just covet our neighbour's ass, or his wife, but actually carry out some theft or abduction.

Here's a picture of me in the former church at Castle Richard in Shropshire, thinking penitently about how often I have indeed coveted my neighbour's ass, and trying to resolve to do better:






DELECTATION. 3
If Sinful Thoughts (once) nestle in man’s heart, 
The Sluice is ope, Delight (then) plays its part: 
Then, like the old-Ape hugging in his arms, 
His apish-young-ones, sin the Soul becharms: 
And, when our apish impious-thoughts delight us, 
Oh, then, (alas) most mortally they bite us. 

Here we are, then, our sin resolved upon, our scheme to carry it out fully formed. Now we are like an old ape hugging its offspring, delighted with it. (But we will get bitten.)



CONSENT. 4
For, where Sin works Content, Consent will follow; 
And, this, the Soul, into Sin’s Gulf, doth swallow. 
For, as two rav'ning Wolves (for, tis their kind) 
To suck Lambs-blood, do hunt with equal-mind: 
Even so, the Soul & Sin Consent, in One, 
Till, Soul & Body be quite overthrown. 

Pleased with the sin we contemplate, we give in to it. Content and Consent are two wolves ravening a lamb. Jenner does concede that to do such a thing is only natural to wolves. This whole publication does quite ruthlessly treat animals as merely present to be moral examples to human beings, making them embody sinful human thoughts which of course, as Jenner concedes here, they simply do not have.



5 Act.
Sin and the Soul (thus) having stricken Hands, 
The Sinner (now) for Action ready stands; 
And Tyger-like swallows-up, at one-bit, 
Whatever impious Prey his Heart doth fit: 
Committing Sin, with eager greediness, 
Selling his Soul to work all wickedness. 

Sin in action is this splendid 'Tyger' (I suppose Blake scholars might have put the point that Blake might have seen this engraving), gobbling down its prey, boots, spurs and all.



Iteration. 6
From eager-acting Sin, comes Iteration, 
Or, frequent Custom of Sins perpetration; 
Which, like great Flesh-Flies' lighting on raw-Flesh, 
Though oft beat-off, (if not killed) come afresh: 
Hence, Be'lzebub is termed Prince of flesh-flies, 
'Cause Sin, still Acts, until (by Grace) It Dies. 

This unsavoury image of a menace to public health is a butcher trying to keep flies off his meat with a fly-flap. Our sins are now like flies, they will not go away, but, chased off, come buzzing right back.



GLORIATION. 7

Custom in Sin takes Sense of Sin away, 
This makes All-Sin seem but a Sport, a play: 
Yea, like a rampant-Lyon, proud and Stout, 
Insulting  o're his Prey, stalking about, 
The Saucy-Sinner boasts & brags of Sin. 
As One (oh woe) that doth a City win. 

'Gloriation', rare or obsolete says the OED, a splendid word meaning, or course, boasting of our actions, proud as a lion over what we have done.



8 Obduration.

When Sin brings Sinners to this fearful pass, 
What follows, but a hard heart, brow of brass· 
A Heart (I say) more hard then Tortoise-back; 
Which, nether Sword nor Axe can hew or hack; 
Judgements nor mercies, treats nor threats can cause 
To leave-off Sin, to love or fear Gods Laws. 

Oh dear, now we are hardened in sin. Like a tortoise, nothing can get through to us, we are obdurated in it (OED says 'obdurate' was a word to express hardening of the soul before it had anything to do with anything merely material in nature simply being made harder).



9 FINAL IMPENITENCY.
And (now, alas) what is Sins last Extent? 
A hard-Heart makes a Heart impenitent. 
For, can a Leopard change his Spotted Skin? 
No, nor a Heart accustomed (thus), his Sin. 
Then, Conscience, headlong, casts impenitence, 
With horrid frights of Hellish Recompense.

Can a leopard change his spots? Neither can a sinner. The leopard/sinner is I think meant to be committing suicide, driven by conscience into a final sin.

Setting off with original sin, and ending with conscience leading us to kill ourselves, 'The stages of sin' has little space for positives (but it does manage to mention repentance and grace). The animals are, however, quite jolly in some of the illustrations, and are generally doing what's natural to them