Saturday, January 07, 2017

The Accomplished Cook makes Umble Pie, 1660



The image of the 17th century English aristocrat is fixed forever by Van Dyke. In this post, which is inspired by Adam Smyth’s review of Wendy Wall’s Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen in the latest LRB, I look at another artist who worked under aristocrat patronage, and what kind of image of the aristocracy he provides. He’s the cook, Robert May, author of The accomplisht cook, or The art and mystery of cookery (1660).

One of the patrons May shared with Van Dyke was Sir Kenelm Digby, and so we can think first of Venetia Stanley in her silk dresses, we see her on her pathetic and decorous deathbed, with that rose shedding its petals on the pillow beside her.

May’s version of aristocratic life is different: barbaric, carnal, fat-basted, one of tables surrounded by people enjoying banquets which were, on special occasions, kinetic events, He opens his book with a joyous account of what he considered a feast done properly should be like. What he describes for his adventurous diners is recreated for his readers: making an amazing entrée for both the feast and his book. The table set with a pasteboard galleon and a castle, exchanging fire - gunpowder is involved, then the women present throw eggshells full of rosewater at one another to allay the fumes, one of those women next being set up as victim of a guffawing hoax – asked to pull a spear from the side of a model stag, from which red wine will gush instead of blood, then her or another female victim being invited to cut into pies that were, in certain of their compartments, full of frogs, live birds, even snakes: “lifting first the lid off one pie, out skips some Frogs, which makes the Ladies to skip and shreek”. The birds, May remarks complacently, would fly in terror into the candles: “after the other pie, whence comes out the Birds; who by a natural instinct flying at the light, will put out the candles: so that what with the flying Birds and skipping Frogs, the one above, the other beneath, will cause much delight and pleasure to the whole company”. 

So we can imagine the bangs, hubbub, shrieking, laughter, cries of vexation at ruined expensive dresses. As May himself puts it, after this grand opening salvo for the feast, everyone could then settle down to talk about what happened to them during the action, before settling down to the meal itself: “at length the candles are lighted, and a Banquet brought in, the musick sounds, and every one with much delight and content rehearses their actions in the former passages.”

Robert May must have been deuced expensive to employ: it’s a principle with him to hold his patron to a level of profligate expense. Publishing his fifty years of experience as a master cook in 1660, he was advocating a return, in England, to the old English ways of eating, before the puritan interregnum, a return to meals that are a lavish medley of dead animals and animal parts (all of them: sweetbreads, lips, and noses, “first tender boiled and blanched”), displays of largesse and profusion, conspicuous consumption at a quite literal level.

Kitchen scene by David Teniers

The waste must have been terrific. One of his measures for an added element is the ‘gubbin’: “Mutton, Venison, Pork, Bacon, all the foresaid in gubbins, as big as a Ducks Egg”. No doubt every woman present was feeding her lap dogs; it’s easy to imagine larger ‘gubbins’ from the feast being thrown by the men to their larger dogs waiting round the edge of the room. Adam Smyth aptly writes that there must have been a culture of the leftover, but for May the profusion of meat at the table is always connected to charity in the proper old English way, the poor folk at the gate eventually receiving the orts and fragments.

As a master cook, May was a kind of culinary combine harvester, processing whole animals into pies, pies of many compartments, animals stuffed inside animals and coffined in pastry, pies that feature sections that are bird-filled alongside the portions full of animal meats, with easily available animals like rabbits, “pigeon-peepers and chicken peepers”, always thrown in to bulk out the fare. There’s no buying of a cut of meat. If it’s pork, May starts with a pig, venison is prepared from the whole animal. An amazing amount of boiling goes on, and the animals are hashed, stewed in gobbets, fricasseed into hearty fare for Lord or his hound, Lady and lapdog.

By 1660, May knows his culinary rivals very well, rivals to his proper English way of doing food. Royalty never appeared among his patrons, he was probably too olde tyme, too extravagant, and unsophisticated for Charles II – who hah had so many years eating abroad. It’s French cooking a la mode that May fears, and denigrates, rather superbly, as “epigram dishes”. We’d say nouvelle cuisine, a taste of something served on a plate, an epigram in food, rather than a chorographical epic of food:
“Epigram Dishes, smoak't rather then drest, so strangely to captivate the Gusto, their Mushroom'd Experience for Sauce rather then Diet, for the generality howsoever called A la mode, not being worthy of taken notice on. As I lived in France and had the Language, and have been an eye-witness of their Cookeries, as well as a peruser of their Manuscripts and printed Authours, whatsoever I found good in them I have inserted in this Volume.”

May makes no suggestions about what wine might go with a particular dish. Everyone was clearly getting on splendidly drinking just whatever was being poured, and as the dishes contain everything – avian, animal, oysters, lemons – you could hardly drink wine according to whatever had turned up in the last unctuous and dribbling mouthful.

May presided over this animal holocaust for fifty years. Fish that can now barely be found (lampreys, sturgeons), birds protected 24/7 in these days by the RSPB (bustard, or look at “To boil all other smaller Fowls, as Ruffes, Brewes, Godwits, Knots, Dotterels, Strents, Pewits, Ollines, Gravelens, Oxeyes, Redshanks, &c.”). By the sheer number of his employers, people must from time to time have looked at their kitchen bills and decided that that swan must be the last.

The cook book in his hands is a celebration of fifty years of cooking it my way. It starts with a brief life of the artist. That’s what he has become, though the narrative is also a tale of the long apprenticeship necessary for the mastery of such an art.

A short Narrative of some passages of the Authors Life.
For the better knowledge of the worth of this Book, though it be not usual, the Author being living, it will not be amiss to acquaint the Reader with a brief account of some passages of his Life, as also what eminent Persons (renowned for their good House-keeping) whom he hath served throughout the whole series of his Life ; for as the growth of the children argueth the strength of the Parents, so doth the judgement and abilities of the Artist conduce to the making and goodness of the Work: now that such great knowledge in this so commendable Art was not gained but by long experience, practice, and converse with the most ablest men in their times, the Reader in this brief Narrative may be informed by what steps and degrees he ascended to the same.

He was born in the year of our Lord 1588, his Father being one of the ablest Cooks in his time, and his first Tutor in the knowledge or practice of Cookery; under whom having attained to some perfection in that Art, the old Lady Dormer sent him over into France, where he continued five years, being in the Family of a noble Peer, and first President of Paris; where he gained not only the French Tongue, but also bettered his knowledge in Cookery: and returning again into England was bound apprentice in London to Mr. Arthur Hollinsworth in Newgate Market, one of the ablest workmen in London, Cook to the Grocers Hall and Star Chamber. His Prenticeship being out, the Lady Dormer sent for him to be her Cook under his Father, (who then served that Honourable Lady) where were four Cooks more, such noble Houses were then kept, the glory of that, and shame of this present age; then were those golden dayes wherein were practised the Triumphs and Trophies of Cookery, then was Hospitality esteemed, Neighbourhood preserved, the Poor cherished, and God honoured; then was Religion less talk't on and more practised, then was Atheism and Schisme less in fashion; and then did men strive to be good rather then to seem so.

The nation has slipped and declined from its golden days, but May’s Art has remained. His message is ‘eat like this, and make England great again‘.

The latter parts of his book, once he gets past the heroic and Rabelaisian meat-eating, offer more to appeal to the etiolated modern palate. His tarts and cheesecakes sound delicious. There are even some signs of economy, especially with venison that has been hung just too long:

“To make meer sauce, or a pickle to keep venison in that is tainted.
Take strong ale and as much vinegar as will make it sharp, boil it with some bay salt, and make a strong brine, scum it and let it stand till it be cold, then put in your venison twelve hours, press it, parboil it, and season it, then bake it as before is shown.
 … Other wayes to preserve tainted Venison.
Bury it in the ground in a clean cloath a whole night, and it will take away the corruption, savour, or stink.”

This is May on passing off inferior meats as venison:
Other meer sauce to counterfeit Beef or Mutton to give it a Venison colour.
Take small beer and vinegar, and parboil your beef in it, let it steep all night, then put some turnsole to it, and being baked, a good judgement shall not decerne it from red or fallow deer.

Otherwayes to counterfeit Ram, Wether, or any Mutton for Venison.
Bloody it in sheeps, lambs, or pigs blood, or any good and new blood, season it as before, and bake it either for hot or cold. In this fashion you may bake mutton, lamb, or kid.

I will leave him with his recipe to make umble pie. This is again a matter of eking out your venison. I gather that the edible inner organs of a deer were the perquisite of the huntsman who had given his professional assistance at the hunt. Samuel Pepys was eating Umble pie in 1663: “Mrs. Turner… did bring us an Umble-pie hot out of her oven”. It became a joke in the 19th century:

To make Umble Pyes.

Lay minced beef-suet in the bottom of the pye, or slices of interlarded bacon, and the umbles cut as big as small dice, with some bacon cut in the same form, and seasoned with nutmeg, pepper, and salt, fill your pyes with it and slices of bacon and butter, close it up and bake it, and liquor it with claret, butter, and stripped time.



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Presenting on the Stage of verity the late wofull Tragedy of the destruction of the Earle of Rutland's Children, 1618





I attended a viva voce examination last week, in which the candidate stuck out his neck and suggested that the anonymous author of The Wonderful Discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower Daughters of Joan Flower, by Beaver Castle, and executed at Lincolne the 11 of March 1618 had not actually believed his own pamphlet’s tale of deaths by witchcraft. His external examiner noted that the best guess was that the writer was Samuel Fleming, D.D., a local J.P. and often named in the text. Fleming would then have to have been a sceptic who concurred with the fatal verdicts because, in the end, to quote the examiner herself, “a witch is a person in front of a court accused of witchcraft”.

I had missed any such subtleties in a pamphlet I’d read (after a fashion), so I decided to take another look. The basic narrative is graspable enough: Joan Flower, and her daughters Margaret and Philip (“The Charwoman, and her daughters Pocketing and Filch”, as Richard Bernard quipped in 1626) were in service at Belvoir Castle, Margaret actually living at the castle, until they were dismissed for pilfering. In their revenge, a glove of young Henry Manners was stolen, rubbed on the back of their cat familiar Rutterkin, then buried, causing the young nobleman to waste away and die.


Fleming, if it is him, starts off quite well. A reason for the veracity of witchcraft lies in “those infinite Treatises of many of them convinced [‘convicted] by Law, and condemned to death”. He has also had access to sceptical positions on witchcraft: “there be certain men and women grown in years, and over-grown with Melancholy and Atheism, who out of a malicious disposition against their betters, or others thriving by them; but most times from a heart-burning desire of revenge, having entertained some impression of displeasure, and unkindness, study nothing but mischief and exotic practises of loathsome Arts and Sciences: yet I must needs say, that sometimes the fained reputation of wisdom, cunning, and to be reputed a dangerous and skilful person, hath so prevailed with divers, that they have taken upon them indeed to know more then God ever afforded any creature, & to perform no less then the Creator both of Heaven & earth.” Age, craziness, malice, the desire in the self-fashioned witch to be feared or respected; the impossibility of God allowing such powers to such people - such points touch on good, solid objections to the veracity of witchcraft and the eligibility of confession from such people.


Fleming could supplement his treatise with other papers, examinations of further local suspects: “These Examinations and some others were taken and charily preserved for the contriving of sufficient evidences against them, and when the Judges of Assise came down to Lincoln about the first week of March, being Sr. Henry Hobert, Lord chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and Sr. Ed: Bromley one of the Barons of the Exchequer.” The phrasing is unfortunate here, but the sense of ‘contriving’ was neutral.


So, ‘some’ of these ‘charily preserved’ papers he adds to his account in the most baffling way: we have been reading about Joan Flower and her daughters, Margaret and Philip. Suddenly, we have Anne Baker, Joane Willimot, and Ellen Greene brought in as further suspects, with some of the evidence taken from them post-dating the executions of Joan Flower’s daughters. Then Fleming lurches back in time to provide examinations of Margaret and Philip Flower, taken in January and February.


The pamphlet says more than once that the accused women killed both of the children of Francis Manners and his second wife Cecily. But the younger son did not die until March 5th 1619-20:
If March 1620 was the new style date of the younger boy’s death, we have a pamphlet describing the convictions of the murderers on March 11th 1618 (if that’s an old style date, then we still have a year to close).


In 1688 ‘R.B’ (Richard Bouvet) attempted to summarise the Belvoir Castle case in his compilation of paraphrases, The kingdom of darkness. R.B. cannot make sense of the chronology, so he falls back on vagueness: “About the same time Joan Willimot of Goadby a Witch was examined by Sir Henry Hastings and Dr. Fleming Justices in Leicestershire about the murder of Henry Lord Ross…”
He cannot work out why we are not told about the outcomes of the examinations of Anne Baker, Joane Willimot, and Ellen Greene: “and the rest questionless suffered according to their deserts.”


R.B. does quote this passage from the 1618 pamphlet, a passage in which the young Lord Francis Manners is still alive, though afflicted:
“At last as malice increased in them so the Earls Family felt the smart of their revenge, for Henry Lord Ross his eldest Son fell sick of a very unusual disease and soon after died; His second Son the Lord Francis was likewise miserably tortured by their wicked contrivances; And his Daughter the Lady Katherine was oft in great danger of her life by their barbarous dealings, with strange Fits, &c. the Honourable Parents bore all these afflictions with Christian magnanimity.”


R.B. sensibly leaves out all the inconsistent references in the 1618 pamphlet to the Earl having lost more than one child to the diabolic conspirators:
“I have presumed to present on the Stage of verity for the good of my Country & the love of truth, the late woeful Tragedy of the destruction of the Right Honourable the Earle of Rutlands Children …”
“the Right Honorable Earl had sufficient grief for the loss of his Children; yet no doubt it was the greater to consider the manner, and how it pleased God to inflict on him such a fashion of visitation …”
“Notwithstanding all this did the noble Earle attend his Majesty, both at New-market before Christmas, and at Christmas at Whitehall; bearing the loss of his Children most nobly, and little suspecting that they had miscarried by Witch-craft, or such like inventions of the Divell …”


What had been happening in Leicestershire? Tracy Borman was encouraged by the opacities of the case to produce a conspiracy theory (the man who sought to profit by the deaths of the boys was the Duke of Buckingham, set to marry Katherine Manners as sole heir to her father’s fortune).

I haven’t read Borman’s book, having been put off by that review. But there is  undeniably a curious and unusual strand to the witchcraft in the pamphlet, with the witches boasting that their practices will prevent to the Earl and Countess having any more children: “She further saith, that her Mother and she, and her Sister agreed together to bewitch the Earle and his Lady, that they might have no more children.”


There are certainly some things left unsaid in the text. Fleming ascribes to Francis Manners, Lord Rutland,  an exemplary acceptance of God’s inscrutable will in allowing the innocent to be tormented. Fleming is adopting the official (and rather comfortless) church line on witchcraft: that you must accept your trials. The problem was that Manners and his family were Catholics, so this exemplary Christian behaviour just has to be treated as part of Manners’ general nobility of character.


But the main unmentioned, un-located, and unidentified person has to be a Leicestershire witchfinder. Who had pushed the 1616 case in Leicester, leading to the hanging of nine women on the testimony of a demoniac boy? King James had disconcerted his circuit judges by declaring that the case had been fraudulent. But a variant upon the sentiment in The Late Lancashire Witches ‘once and ever a witch, though knowest’ could be offered: ‘once and ever a witchfinder, thou knowest’. The pleasure, at once sadistic and righteous, of sending to the gallows those you have proved to be wicked seems to have been irresistible to some. I think it might have been this same person who is proving his point in the 1618 case. Someone had broadened the investigations, drawing in Anne Baker, Joane Willimot, and Ellen Greene. They seem to have been local wise women, whose general expertise was in pronouncing whether a sick child had been ‘forespoken” or not.


Everybody accused in this case is strikingly free with their confessions: “for here you see the learned and religious Judges cried out with our Saviour, Ex ore tuo.”  The triumphant allusion is to Luke 19, 22, ‘And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.’ This aligns the court with one of Christ’s most harshly judgemental moments, in the parable of the talents. They were also willing to name names: both Willemot and Greene have been induced to say where they got their familiar spirits from. “This Examinate [Willemot] saith, That she hath a Spirit which she calleth Pretty, which was given unto her by William Berry of Langholme in Rutlandshire, whom she served three years”…  “She saith further, that Gamaliel Greete of Waltham in the said County Shepheard, had a Spirit like a white Mouse put into him in his swearing; and that if he did look upon any thing with an intent to hurt, it should be hurt, and that he had a mark on his left arm, which was cut away; and that her own spirit did tell her all this before it went from her.”


Ellen Greene “saith, that one Joan Willimot of Goadby came about six years since to her in the Wolds, and persuaded this Examinate to forsake God, and betake her to the divel, and she would give her two spirits, to which she gave her consent, and thereupon the said Joan Willimot called two spirits, one in the likeness of a Kitlin, and the other of a Moldiwarp”. The author uses such anecdotes and accusations to suggest a hinterland of cunning folk who have actually bartered their souls to the devil: “They admit of those execrable conditions of commutation of souls for the entertaining of the spirits, and so fall to their abominable practises, continuing in the same till God laugh them to scorn.”


The 1618 pamphlet makes a passing reference to torture: “because the mind of man may be carried away with many idle conjectures, either that women confessed these things by extremity of torture”. Again, an off-note: torture of women, minors in the view of the law, was not legally allowed. There’s something collusive about ‘extremity of torture’, as though a little bit of torture was only to be expected.


This pamphlet was re-printed in 1621, perhaps as part of the backwash from the Elizabeth Sawyer case, or maybe because the younger son had by then died. Whoever put this reprint together added in an account of how to set about verifying witchcraft by ‘swimming’ suspects. This notion came from other sources, but its inclusion just might have been prompted by a rumour of such rough handling having been used in Leicestershire, and used successfully.


Was this Leicestershire witchfinder in fact Samuel Fleming himself? As a Doctor of Divinity and a J.P., he had the right sort of credentials and position. He was an eager reader of witchcraft tracts (his pamphlet begins with a commentary on the books he approves, King James, John Cotta, Alexander Roberts and the rest; he has examined sceptical positions).


His fractured account of the Belvoir witches would then not be the product of a man who didn’t believe what he was saying, but rather someone who believed it all too well, masking his role, playing down the strength of his opinions. He evidently regards young Francis Manners as doomed, dead already. He pushes Baker, Willemot and Greene into the reader’s attention because they were products of his newest investigations. If you look closely at the pamphlet, you see that Fleming was working on Anne Baker on March 1st, 2nd and 3rd. On the first day, in front of Francis Manners, his brother George, and Fleming, Baker resisted quite successfully. She then had a day being interrogated by Fleming alone, and he established a connection to the main inquiry when she repeated (or was lead to repeat) the story of the buried glove. By the third day, back in front of George Manners and Fleming, she confessed to having a familiar spirit in the form of a white dog: far better for a conviction than her previous baffling talk of their being four colours of planets that can strike people.



In demonological theory, the deaths of Joan, Margaret and Philip Flower should have seen young Francis Manners recover quickly. Francis Manners, Lord Rutland, had showed little appetite for the investigation of witchcraft, but he obviously believed in it: his own memorial records the death of both of his sons as a result of witchcraft. There might have been some pressure to find other suspects when young Manners did not recover after March 11th, the date of the executions.


To conclude, there is a sense of the stories not being told in this pamphlet. Leicestershire was not at this time an area liable to foster disbelief. Samuel Fleming, D.D. and J.P. might have been a covert sceptic. But he might instead have been a covert witchfinder. 'Utinam tam facile vera invenire possem, quam falsa convincere', ends the pamphlet, Cicero's 'Would that I could find the true as easily as I can detect the false'.

An enigma!




Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The uselessness of Proquest's LION database



I do not know how much institutions round the world pay for access to this resource. It is time ProQuest cut their fees, for the database has not worked properly for years now. Here's an e-mail dating from 2014 in reply to a complaint I had made:


"Our developers are working on a fix". Yes, I bet they are. It's now two years later. Are they still working on it? This problem arose when the LION database was re-designed. As the re-design caused the problem, they should simply have reverted to the fully functional earlier version.

This is the problem: if you do a search using the 'NEAR' Boolean operator, the database simply delivers a selection of texts in which the two search terms separately occur. For example, this is a search in Victorian era prose (why the first return should be a work by Turgenev escapes me, it's just one of those LION database things) for 'gentleman NEAR horse'. The database does not find the terms in association. Nor do I necessarily believe that just 72 prose fictions of the Victorian period have somewhere in them the words 'gentleman' and 'horse'. The returns, such as they are, are not given in any kind of order that I can discern.


In some cases, usually for the two bottom items on a display of returns, the prose fiction is just a title, with no indication of the number of 'hits'. Just what is the database doing in those cases?




For the search 'lady NEAR jewellery', the database, unable to perform the Boolean function, offers seven returns (that is, ostensibly can only find seven Victorian novels in which 'lady' and 'jewellery' both occur). Trollope's Can you forgive her? provides a spectacular 1027 hits: the characters include 'Lady Macleod' and 'Lady Glencora', of course. 'Jewellery' does indeed occur once, but this is far from any notion of proximity searching.




I've been marking essays on Milton, and occasionally logged on to LION to locate relevant passages omitted by the students. Searching for Milton on the database mysteriously offers both John Milton and John Cage. When the database is being really recalcitrant, it will offer you a text by John Cage when you want Milton returns

If you set out to follow a particular word through Paradise Lost, say 'first', you can't: clicking to see the hits in Book IV shows you Book II, clicking for the hits in Book V shows you only Book III.

Why can't they put these things right? I suspect that their techies know too little of literature: they see some returns, and conclude that the database is working. As far as ProQuest are concerned, they are getting their money (librarians at my college do not seem to know of any organisation of university libraries that could confront ProQuest and demand improvements or lower fees).






Thursday, September 15, 2016

Some notes on familiar spirits


I read James Serpell’s piece on familiar spirits, ‘Guardian Spirits or demonic Pets: The Concept of the Witch’s Familiar in Early Modern England, 1530-1712, which appeared in Angela Creager and William Jordan’s The Animal/Human Boundary: Historical Perspectives (2002). It’s a thorough job, with some very good quotations and a jolly chart of the various animal forms the devil was said to have adopted.

The sources of bemusement remain: where such a strange idea came from, and in particular why it was English witchcraft that so featured the diabolic familiar in animal form.

It’s useful first to remind oneself of a widespread psychological phenomenon:
The Wikipedia writers paraphrase  from Klausen and Passman, ‘Pretend companions (imaginary playmates): the emergence of a field’ in the Journal of Genetic Psychology (2006): “Adults in early historic times had entities such as household gods and guardian angels, and muses that functioned as imaginary companions to provide comfort, guidance and inspiration for creative work.”

After a non-Christian origin, a conceptual and etymological inevitability operated to produce the familiar spirit in animal form.

In Roman times, Ronald Hutton explains, you had a lares familiares, a guardian angel called your genius (a woman might have referred to hers as her natalis Juno). On your birthday, you made special vows and little sacrifices to your genius or juno on the household shrine, the lararium. Emperors, meanwhile, had a numen, and their re-union with their numen at death was what made a dead emperor into a god. Evil spirits, says Lemprière, were the Larvae or Lemures. They were considered to be the spirits of the dead, and ceremonies, Lemualia, were performed to keep them in their graves or make them depart. These evil spirits are just a general supernatural nuisance; they are not assigned to living individuals as opposites to the genius.

The genius is considered by some lexicographers to link to the word jinn. In Moslem tradition, Jorge Luis Borges explains, Allah created three forms of intelligent beings: angels, from light, the jinn, from fire, and humankind, from earth. The jinn can be evil. They manifest, Borges reports his sources as saying, first of all as clouds or undefined pillars, then can stabilise or condense into a human or animal form, as jackal, wolf, lion, scorpion, or snake – definitely not as domestic animals. Jinn can overhear angelic conversations, and so pass on second hand vatic information to wizards. But the harms attempted by an evil jinnee are easily defeated by invoking the name of Allah, the all Merciful, the Compassionate.

For the European tradition, the OED’s etymologies take the story forwards. In post-classical Latin of the 12th century, the guardian angel is the angelus familiaris. Because the culture was Christian, and that culture was intensely given, after Prudentius’ hugely popular 5th century Christian poem, to analysing the psychomachia, the battle happening in and around an individual soul, familiar devils followed, c.1464. You now have both a Good and a Bad Angel, like Faustus, and they form a morally effective pairing, as in this illustration:


A court scene, with the person testifying between his evil and good angels.
From Ulrich Tengler, Der neü Leyenspiegel (Strassburg, 1514)


The OED assigns spiritus familiaris to the 15th century, and has the term in its English form from 1545. EEBO can be used to add further quotations. The “familier spirit of a mannes awne minde” is mentioned quite neutrally in the translation of Erasmus’ commentary of Cato’s precepts in 1553, while 1554 provides the more opprobrious “one that had a familier spyrit, and used enchauntry” in a work by Richard Smith.
Of course, the neutral use is in commentary on a Roman writer. In the context of magic, the familiar spirit may have set off like the daemon of Socrates, being the source of your knowledge. But when that knowledge was forbidden, no neutral ‘daemon’ is possible: it is a demon informing you (or, more likely, misinforming you).
Lurking in familiar was a connection to the house: Latin, familiaris, ‘of a house, of a household, belonging to a family, household, domestic, private’. Canis familiaris is the domestic dog.

The Roman lares familiaris or penates were represented in the form of dancing human-shaped figures, who carry a libation cup and dish. But when the familiar spirit is no longer a daemon but a demon, no longer a genius but an evil genius, a witch-hunter can infer that, as it would be instantly incriminating to have a largely human-shaped devil visible in the household, the devil is going to be present either invisibly, or disguised in animal form.

Genesis, as it had been interpreted from the second century, gave ample warrant for Satan assuming animal form. Nobody could imagine Jesus appearing to them in the form of a dog, but part of satanic debasement was non-angelic form. Milton has his Satan suavely passing from cormorant, to tiger, to toad, to serpent, as best serves his advantage. Intelligent writers of Genesis-based poems, like Du Bartas and Milton, were fascinated in just how Satan could get a snake to speak. Du Bartas even seems to imagine that one way round this difficulty is that Satan, invisible, is ‘playing’ the serpent, like a brilliant musician coaxing a good sound from a poor musical instrument (Sylvester, translating Du Bartas, interjects an allusion to John Dowland’s ability to coax harmonious music out of a broken-down old instrument).

Imputed 'devil's door', Warfield Church, Berkshire


I think that the medieval church in general down-played the genius or ‘good angel’. They are mentioned, but really they occupied a role the church wanted for itself: leaving aside special miraculous interventions by the Blessed Virgin Mary, the church is the best protector. Having promoted itself to guardian-angeldom, the church would naturally incline to emphasise what you were being so well protected from. As an instance, on the Heritage Open Day this last weekend, I cycled to Warfield Church in Berkshire, which has one of the reputed ‘devil’s doors’. It is asserted that such small doors, in the North wall of a church, were opened during the medieval Catholic baptismal rite – involving exorcism – of a baby in the font placed near to the devil’s door. Subsequently, ‘devil doors’ tended to be walled up: in the Reformation, it is said. Maybe very early Christian buildings had a North-side door for the not-yet baptised, and the feature was reproduced in later buildings. An exorcised devil flying out of an aperture is such a common motif that such doors probably did at some later time have that different function in a drama of exorcism (absurd though it is for a spirit to require a doorway). This is a separate issue; my point is about the church’s tendency to make the devil familiar. The devil was inside you prior to your baptism, and he is always trying to resume control, he will always be close at hand.

Once the devil had become multiplied into vast numbers of evil spirits, every sinner can have one, and the church can busy itself beating them away. Some irremissible sinners, demonology began to say, struck personal covenants with devils. Invisible devils inevitably had a neither-here-nor-there quality. It became the duty of the person accused of witchcraft, or the person who said they were bewitched, to see devils. Particularly in England, and perhaps because the English always seem to have accommodated an odd range of animals living with them, animals already in the house were co-opted as devils; or in the absence of animals, the assumed attendant devils were assigned animal forms by those who claimed to be witnesses, or by witches who were trying to confess compliantly enough to worm their way back into judicial favour.




The sinister, vice, element from psychomachia had in effect combined with the household suggestions of ‘familiaris’ (“some domestical or familiar devil” in Daneau, A Dialogue of Witches, 1575) to suggest that the spirit prompting to evil adopted disguise as a domestic animal, as when Elizabeth Stile confessed that when she went to gaol, “her Bunne or Familier came to her in the likenesse of a black Catte” (1579). The OED does not include this sense for the noun ‘bun’, but it was in regular early modern use, alongside ‘imp’, as in Great News from the West of England: “In the Town of Beckenton … liveth one William Spicer, a young Man about eighteen Years of Age; as he was wont to pass by the Alms-house (where liveth an Old Woman, about Fourscore) he would call her Witch, and tell her of her Buns; which did so enrage the Old Woman, that she threatened him with a warrant…”

If the church had appropriated the role of good genius, we can then see Milton’s Comus as powerfully re-instating the guardian angel, the daemon, sent direct from heaven to intervene - because Milton was well on the way to his repudiation of organised worship.

I think the most revealing familiar spirits are those whose forms and actions are recounted in Edward Fairfax’s Daemonologia. I say this because Helen Fairfax, the writer’s eldest daughter, was simply making them up, deliberately and in a calculated fashion, to get her father’s attention. Yes, reported familiars were always made up, but in this case there’s no ambiguity about delusions, or hysteria, or deception by a third party. Helen Fairfax simply let rip, unleashed her imagination and expanding on themes she’d heard in other reports.

She witnessed a Protean devil: human formed, then a beast with many horns, then a calf, then “presently he was like a very little dog, and desired her to open her mouth and let him come into her body, and then he would rule the world”
Her father is completely credulous. On the 16th November, 1621, a black dog, she said, had leapt onto her bed “and I tried if I could feel the dog, but I felt nothing; and the wench said ‘The dog has leaped down and gone’ ”

Then there is Margaret’s Wait’s alleged familiar “At last the woman pulled out of a bag a living thing, the bigness of a cat, rough, black, and with many feet”. This alarmingly non-tetrapodic beast keeps trying to sit on the Bible Helen is conspicuously attempting to read.

More imaginative is the black cat: “when the cat opened her mouth to blow on her, she showed her teeth like the teeth of a man or woman”. This imaginary being mixes together the devil in animal form and the witch who, in her animal form, is incompletely transformed.

The women that Helen Fairfax so heedlessly accused were taken for examination. No supernumerary teats were found on them, and they were acquitted when tried. The relentless Helen, who is making all this up, subsequently sees a witch breast-feeding her familiar, and is indignant at this crafty way of escaping exposure. She has come up with a way the women at the York assizes escaped proper detection. Finding her lies officially disbelieved only caused Helen to rally with more lies.

What moved Helen Fairfax was said to be paternal neglect. She maybe also took some pleasure in deceiving a father who had no regard at all for her intelligence. A desire to be married and away from home is also apparent. Satan appears to her as a gallant gentleman. The God himself appears to her in the hall. This is too much for the family, who can believe in the devil being present, but not God himself, and Helen swiftly adjusts her story, as the God who appeared to her produces evasive answers, and finally shows his horns.



Sunday, September 11, 2016

Something delightful in the State of Denmark


A pleasant pre-term trip to Lund University occupied me last week. One flies to Copenhagen to get to southern Sweden: this gave me the idea that I could spin out my trip home with a trip to Elsinore.

I'd already seen signs of the Danish part-ownership of Prince Hamlet (often underpinned by allusions to the Amleth in Saxo Grammaticus). In a north side suburb of Copenhagen, I saw 'Hamlet's pizza'; this is Hamlet's bike shop:


I duly penned some of the dialogue one might expect in there:

Scene: the interior of a bike shop. Hamlet stands, clad in oily black. He is trying a wheel in a bike frame, ignoring Customer 1.
Long silence.
Hamlet (to himself) "O, how the wheel becomes it ... It goes most heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame has not sold yet."
Customer 1 (finally) "Ahem, good morning, Hamlet, I popped in to see if you had fitted that replacement derailleur hanger yet?"
Hamlet: "I do not know why yet I live to say, 'This thing's to do'. Within a month ... a little month."
Customer 1: So you haven't done it, then? I was the more deceived!
Hamlet reaches under counter, produces a skull
Hamlet: "How long will a customer stand in my shop ere he rot?"
Customer 2 enters shop suddenly, and above the ringing of the door bell, shouts
Customer 2: "Tis twice two months!"
Hamlet: "Now might I do it, Pat, had I but time..."

But of course it is Elsinore that is Hamlet-central. It's about a 40 minute train journey to the town of Elsinore. The English traveller rides along, in a state of vague disbelief or unease at the processes of such an efficient railway system.
Elsinore was wonderful: my visit saw it bathed in light. You emerge from the 19th century Renaissance-styled Station, to find Ophelia with her garlands and a wardrobe malfunction, and a Hamlet, large of lower limb and suffering from a dodgy hair style. I think he's drawing his sword at Claudius, but as he's looking at her, it all looks too too symbolic.




The royal castle, Kronborg, can be seen ahead: 



But, before you get there, walk the town's other sights. St Olaf's church is a stunning mix of brilliant white limewash, gilding, and brass: 


An extraordinarily nice inhabitant of this fascinating place explained to me that Elsinore never had a major fire: everything has survived, and everything shines with care:




When you get through the later outworks and into the earlier part of Kronborg, a slightly Scandinavian William Shakespeare greets the visitor (the inscription explains about the original Amleth story):








Frederik II administered his realm from here.



I was delighted by an exhibition of photographs of productions of Hamlet at the castle. The tradition apparently goes back as far as to the bi-centenary of Shakespeare's death, 1816.


Richard Burton in 1954

Burton again, with Claire Bloom as his Ophelia.


Sir Larry, looking like a god (1937)



Vivienne Leigh wringing her hands, quite understandably.


And John Gielgud, looking like he's got up to play Widow Twanky in panto.


But here he is again with a blanched Fay Compton as Ophelia (1939)


A pair of Danish performers, Gustaf Grundgens and Marianne Hoppe, making Hamlet and Ophelia look rather too closely related (1938).


Nicolai Neilendam as Hamlet, Bodil Ipsen as Ophelia, in 1916


Bodil Ipsen again


I liked this intense and very Danish Hamlet, from 2004.


Back outside and on the quayside, I visited a 'Amlet alias Hamlet' in the cultural centre: responses by various artists to the text. The library has a delightful Shakespeare corner.


Here I looked at a book of photographs of more recent productions of the play or partly-staged reactions to the play, Shakespeare at Hamlet's Castle: 12 interpretations of Hamlet at Kronborg Castle, images taken by the photographer Arne Magnussen.

I'm posting these not-at-all copyright conscious photographs of photographs for my colleague Christie, who isn't very well at the moment, but I think she will enjoy seeing them. I will remove the images with apologies if needs be:


The ghost, in a kind of installation-performance


A more conventionally-unconventional Hamlet.



Claudius, as a kind of drinker and weather god. 




A distraught,glammed-up, ruined Ophelia.



And an operatic looking Ophelia

Altogether, 'something delightful in the State of Denmark'. A memorable day, perfect really.