Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Wind in your Teeth, and other Ills

Back from a stay with my sister. Being praised for eating well is something (lucky) children often experience: my sister always reinstates me in that juvenile role. A near continuous supply of delicious and rich food challenges you to do justice to it. Here at home, mealtimes tend to be interruptions to the business of the day. Particularly under the stimulus of Christmas, my sister makes mealtimes the main daily activity.

I fled (in a way) back here, and soon found myself reading A New and Needful TREATISE of Wind Offending Mans Body (1676, William Rowland’s translation of Jean Feyens’ de Flatibus of 1582). Talk about the hopeless patients of mad doctors! If you tend to wonder whether it is theologians or doctors that have perpetrated the greater accumulation of imposture on humankind, here is the madhouse half way between the two. Via a pervasive confusion about pneumatology, Feyens and his translator confidently treat the wind (flatulence) as a spirit. The wind can therefore be accounted a master explanation for all kinds of physical ills: for instance, toothache is the wind in your teeth; tinnitus is (Chapter XV) when ‘wind gets into the organ of hearing, and sticks there strongly (as by the ringing, hissing, rustling, crackling and murmur is gathered).’ Makes sense to you? A sufferer yourself? Then why not take the cure? ‘Castor and Spike Oyls with Vinegar and Oyl of Roses, do wonders, dropt into the ears, and juice of Leeks with Breast-milk’.

If we can put aside puzzlement about how even the human brain could come up such a concoction as leeks in breast milk, the most invigoratingly bizarre chapter concerns what happens when wind invades the penis. This is Chapter XXVII, ‘Of Priaprismus’. Feyens turns to Galen for clinical experience:

“It chiefly comes to such as dream of Venereal fancies, and the pain is like the Cramp; for the Yard is as in a convulsion, being pufft up and stretched, and they dye suddenly except cured.’

As this is a condition of acute emergency, and if we do not have Shakespeare’s Marina around to radiate a quenching chastity (‘Shee’s able to freeze the god Priapus, and vndoe a whole generation’), then we must undergo the cure:

“Therefore against the pain and inflammation, presently open a Vein, and use a small Diet three dayes, and foment the parts about, and the Yard, with Wool dipt in Wine and Oyl: give a gentle Clyster not sharp and feed him with a little Corn and Water. If it last long, cup and scarifie: if there be much blood, use leeches to the part, and cataplasms of Barley flour: loosen the belly with Beets, Mallows, and Mercury boiled … Lay Coolers to the Loyns, as Nightshade, Purslane, Houseleek, Henbane. Let the space between the Fundament and the Yard be cooled with Litharge of Silver, Fullers Earth, Ceruss, Vinegar and Water … He must lye upon one side, and lay under him things against the emission of Sperm: And he must see no Venereal pictures, nor hear no wanton discourse”.

I’d think a medley of boiled mercury, hallucinogenic plants and applied leeches would more than do the job. Pursuing these inquiries into past delusions, I didn’t know whether I was pleased or alarmed to find myself working the same side of the street as the doctissima Professor Steven Connor, who here writes with a broad imaginative vision of the body, including his own, envisaged as a series of (windy) vacuities:

The never-failing internet allows you to peruse a 1592 copy of de flatibus humanum corpus molestantibus (I guess that my learned colleague found the shorter title, de Flatibus, irresistibly Rabelaisian). The images 200-202 give the pages concerned with priapism, and demonstrate that Rowland’s translation was very close.

I was interested to see that the publishers of Rowland's translation end the volume with a list of the texts Billingsley has for sale and the salves, pills, elixirs and sympathetic powder he also kept in stock. I am going to tell my pharmacist friend that he must negotiate a commercial tie-in, sharing premises with Waterstones.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Our stomacks are strengthened ...

“As for our Plum-Pottage, and Minc’d Pies, stand off, and doe not let them trouble you, we dare eat, making no question for conscience, because our stomacks are strengthened by that forecited piece of invitation, Nehem. 8,10, Eat the fat, and drink the sweete’ … As for our Baies and Rosemary, and other green trimmings of our Churches and Houses, truly Brethren, we doe, and may doe it, by the same warrant that the Israelites doe it in the Feast of Tabernacles, Nehem. 8, 16. ”

I have been reading Commonwealth-era pamphlets for and against the celebration of Christmas, and so offer (in this posting) a seasonally-themed spasm of self-edification. This is an instance where New Historicism’s central claim for significance comes undone: modern consciousness is not to be seen developing, rather the winning side in this 17th century controversy managed to preserve and transmit medieval norms and practices.

The seriousness of the Puritan assault on Christmas should not be underestimated: the title Certain quaeries touching the rise and observation of Christmas; propounded to the consideration of all such as are zealously (but blindly) affected towards the observation of it. To which an answer is desired and expected by Joseph Heming (1648) captures the confidence that the case against celebration of Christmas is unanswerable: Heming offers sixteen trenchant questions about whether the observances made have ‘sure footing on the Word of God’. ‘The Observation of this Feast hath no warrant in the holy Scriptures’, begins Mercurius religiosus: faithfully communicating to the whole nation, the vanity of Christmas (1651): and that’s really both the beginning and the end of the author’s argument.

My image – which we might see as a 17th century English anticipation of a Christmas card – comes from Edward Fisher’s learned The feast of feasts. Or, The celebration of the sacred nativity of our blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ; grounded upon the Scriptures, and confirmed by the practice of the Christian Church in all ages (1644).

Perhaps more interesting as a writer is the persistent – and finally triumphant - Allan Blayney, author of my opening quotation. His Festorum metropolis: The metropolitan feast. Or the birthday of our Saviour Jesus Christ, annually to be kept holy, by them that call upon him in all nations looks in its first printing (1652) almost like one of those fugitive pamphlets about religious matters the Jesuits or defenders of John Darrel put out: poorly impressed, its author operating under the pseudonym of ‘Poor Pastor Fido’ (‘exiled a while agoe’), signing his dedication only with a ‘B’.

‘Come zealous Lovers, solemnize with me,

The despis’d day of Christs Nativity.

Wake lungs, wake Heart, wake Tongue, and let us sing,

The glorious praises of our now-borne King.

Sing, sing aloud, feare noe Timeservers Rod,

Let them serve Hogs, Themselves, while we serve God…’

Subsequent (and expanded) editions are less embattled. Blayney, a clergyman excluded from his parish, has to be Christmas’s main defender in the century, and in keeping with his pious purpose, he lifts sections (more or less acknowledged) from Fisher’s shorter tract. In the second edition he notes that the first was ‘fearfull’. Writing pseudonymously, he didn’t hold back: ‘alas, I find of late, Jewes in England, to whom Christ came and they received him not John 1. 11. Who unlesse they see signs and Wonders, they will not believe … let them know, that divers and sundry Miracles have been wrought in divers Nations, upon the twenty fifth day of December, to confirme it to have been the very day of our Saviours Birth, as the Fountaine of Oyle breaking out in Rome, the tongue-tying of the Devils Oracles, the amity of the Beasts, and many more’.

Blayney has at this point done a thorough job on the biblical precedents (the angel’s command to the shepherds and the rest), and the opinions of the assembled church fathers. He even cites two Arabic manuscripts in the Bodleian, transcribed and Englished by ‘painful Mr. Gregory’, which relate to the dating of the nativity. Like Fisher, but more categorically, he has dismissed the Puritan’s connection between the ‘–mas’ of Christmas and the mass itself. Rival dates for Christ’s birth have been mentioned and dismissed (they included my own birthday, September 24th), and every symbolic value for a midwinter, nocturnal birth of the saviour expounded.

And after all this, he surrenders to miracles. I don’t know anything about a fountain of oil in Rome; Blayney cannot resist a sacred oak tree in the New Forest, with, ‘on this very day, new and greene leaves upon it’, and, still more extraordinarily, the Glastonbury thorn tree, which he can’t bear to let go: ‘But whether that be true or no, I know not, it may be; this I am certaine, that the whole Countrey cryes it up for a truth, and a knowne one, that time out of mind, even to this day, it hath every year blossom’d in full measure upon the 25 day’ (p.75).

The thing about Blayney, is that he has a poetic imagination. Literature does seem to be on the side of Christmas. Blayney sounds exactly like he would, a man who has read Herbert, and maybe Vaughan. A long verse translation of a ‘divine hymn’ by Prudentius occupies a number of his pages: it is a bit stumbling in places, and I have tried to clarify the punctuation

…O noble Virgin do’st not see

(Made pregnant by humility)

The Honour of thy chastity

By him enhaunc’d, that’s born of thee.

O how great joyes themselves entomb:

Of things below in thy chast womb,

Out of which, this day came in sight

A new age and a golden light.

The crying of thy Babe began

The worlds spring; before the Sun,

For then the world made new that day

Her old foul coat did cast away…

In these ways, Blayney defended ‘the day of his power … in the morning whereof, his power was manifested in breaking open the gates of MARIES Wombe’. And with that odd piece of thinking through, I will leave the topic. Merry Christmas (and no small thanks to the Reverend Blayney for that).

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Exit Term, and 'Exit Tyrannus'

Term at last over, and my sense of being left physically out-of-sorts was not lifted by a meeting with a consultant on the penultimate day of term, whose appointed mission seems to be to get the Department teaching more students more economically.

I’ve since been reading John Man’s book Alpha Beta: How our alphabet shaped the western world, which taught me plenty (I’d no idea that the Korean alphabet was so cleverly invented), but thought that in describing the beginnings of writing systems in record keeping, he neglected the desire to record proper names, of gods, and kings - and your business partners.

Imagining statues with and without inscriptions (‘My name is Ozymandias…’), I fetched up recollecting the ‘talking statues’: the statues of ‘Pasquin’ and ‘Marforius’ in Rome, to which it became traditional to affix stinging epigrams, or satiric questions and answers.

They knew all about Pasquin in early modern London: R.W. published his anti-Catholic A recantation of famous Pasquin of Rome in 1570, explaining that “Pasquin is the Image of Herculus the sonne of Iupiter, and is commonly vsed in Rome for to set writinges vppon: the which writinges hath so disclosed the abuses of the Pope and his College of Cardinalls”. The real flurry of English Pasquin publications came in the late 17th century, with pamphlets like Pasquin risen from the dead, or, His own relation of a late voyage he made to the other world in a discourse with his friend Marforio (1674), A Dialogue between Pasquin and Morforio two statues in Rome (1681?), and An extraordinary express sent from Pasquin at Rome, to all the princes and potentates of Europe (1690). “I am a Man, no Statue, / No Pasquin, only to hang Libels on”, says a Duke, denying that he would be stoic about being defamed, in John Crown’s play, The Ambitious Statesman (1679). Henry Fielding would later write a political farce simply called Pasquin.

Roman remains were too deeply buried in early modern London for there to be pasquinades centered on grotesquely battered statuary, and there was probably a general dearth of accessible public statues. Andrew Marvell (if it is him), half in mockery of Waller’s poem about the equestrian statue of Charles I, produced his ‘Dialogue between two horses’ satire, in which the brass and the marble nags bestridden by Charles I and his son meet to make pointed contrast of their riders, and to reminisce subversively about the merits of ‘Old Nol’. But I have not found anyone following where this poem led.

The big moment for inscriptions on (or around) royal statues had come in 1659: two broadsheets and a pamphlet celebrate the moment when, with the Rump parliament failing, a painter took a ladder and obliterated with black paint the golden letters the Commonwealth had inscribed on a wall plaque above the location of a statue of Charles I in the Royal Exchange: News from the Royal Exchange, or Gold Turned into Mourning. What had read (most stirringly) ‘Exit Tyrannus Regum Ultimus Anno Libertatis Angliae Restitutae primo' (translated as ‘The last tyrant of Kings died in the first year of the liberty of England restored’) was now construed as a message of mourning black. Samuel Pepys mentions the event:

The broadside An Exit to the Exit Tyrannus is transcribed in this fine collection of texts about the Restoration:

The pamphlet The Loyal Subjects Teares for the sufferings and absence of their SOVEREIGN, Charles II, asserts that General Monk ordered the painting-out to be done, which looks like hopeful rumour-mongering.

In idly fitting these things together, I came across this interesting but frustrating site, of odd civic statues around the world. Instead of affixing scurrilities to the real objects (and most of them seem well suited to that purpose), browsers add their comments to the post – and add some of the information the compiler left out

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Supernatural Reading with Mr Blagrave and Mr Morro

A couple of hours ago, I was cycling back through the Reading town centre along Blagrave Street; since then, I’ve been looking at a work written by one of the Blagraves (he passes among local historians as a famous resident), the book being [Joseph] Blagraves astrological practice of physick discovering the true way to cure all kinds of diseases and infirmities ... being performed by such herbs and plants which grow within our own nation ... : also a discovery of some notable phylosophical secrets worthy our knowledge, relating to a discovery of all kinds of evils, whether natural or ... from sorcery or witchcraft, or by being possessed of an evil spirit, directing how to cast forth the said evil spirit out of any one which is possessed, with sundry examples thereof (1671).

One reads in Hugh Trevor-Roper and the rest about the intellectual reasons for the decline in the belief in witchcraft - that orderly Cartesian universe (and the rest). Operating in Berkshire in the later 17th century, Blagrave was as remote from these developments as he could be. His book is garrulous, boastful, repetitious (and poorly printed by his nephew Obidiah), while his opinions date from the previous century. Joseph Blagrave was, essentially, a cunning man, who practiced herbal medicine, and whose cures often involved him in discovering that the afflicted person had suffered a ‘take’ inflicted upon them by a witch. He conceals from himself what he really is, by a fussy piety (patients under his care will be found to have neglected their morning prayers on the day of the first supernatural attack), and by a pompous astrological methodology (“how can any Doctor cure such distempers, when they are ignorant of the cause, for Witchcraft or Sorcery can no way be discovered, nor yet cured, but by the way of Astrology, except a Miracle be wrought’).

The typical anecdote in Blagrave tells of an afflicted person (fits, chronic obesity, dumbness, paralysis), unrelieved by a long regime of medical attention. A family member turns to Blagrave, who will work on a no-win no-fee basis. He erects a figure which points to witchcraft as the cause, and to a suspect witch. Counter-measures are launched: ‘Here followeth some experimental Rules, whereby to afflict the Witch, causing the evil to return back upon them’ – reads a section heading: and what follows is: ‘One way is by watching the suspected party when they go out of their house, and then presentlyto take some thatch from over the door, or a tile, if the house be tyled; if it be thatch you must wet and sprinkle it over with the patients water, and likewise with white salt, then let it burn or smoke through a trivet, or the frame of a skillet: you must bury the ashes that way, which the suspected Witch liveth. Its best done either at the change, full, or quarters of the Moon: or otherwise, when the Witches significator is in Square or Opposition to the Moon.’

He explains that ‘The reason why the Witch is tormented, when the blood or urine of the patient is burned, is because there is part of the vital spirit of the patient in it, for such is the subtlety of the Devil, that he will not suffer the Witch to infuse any poisonous matter into the body of man or beast, without some of the Witches blood mingled with it.’

Blagrave tends to see the Devil as working to secure the exposure of the witch; the Devil sucks the blood of the witch so as to be able to place some of it in any veneficial potion they make, rendering them liable to exposure by such sage practitioners as Blagrave: they suffer agony as the thatch is burned or tile is heated red-hot, because their vital spirits are in the urine of the person they have afflicted.

I am rather shocked by all this: Blagrave, cobbling together astrology, herbalism, demonology and sympathetic magic, goes around accusing people (including a local clergyman) of witchcraft, practicing exorcisms, and apparently gets away with it.

He knew he was among the last of his kind: in the Preface, he comments ‘I find that many being unsatisfied concerning the legality of my way of Cure, have refused to come or send unto me for help to cure their infirmities: and many of those who did come, came for the most part privately, fearing either loss of reputation or reproaches from their Neighbours, and other unsatisfied people; and also fearing that what I did, was either Diabolical, or by unlawful means.’ This in a book where he publishes ‘a wonderful Oyntment for Wounds’ made up from ‘the Moss of a dead Mans Scull… Mans Grease … Mummy…Mans Blood’, linseed oil, oil of roses and ‘Bolcarmeniack’.

No one stops him, but no-one he has accused seems to get arrested, tried and executed. Rather, he seems to counsel against prosecution of the witch exposed by his methods. They tend, in Blagrave’s tales, interestingly, either to be reported to have to run away, or to end up in prison on other charges.

Blagraves astrological practice might in the end be seen as an account of someone’s odd fantasy life. No doubt many potential patients shunned him, and that, on many, his odd methods had no effect, but he can write up his best cases, no doubt with improvements.

Mr Morro’s flyer came through my letter box a couple of weeks ago. I will urge the students on my ‘Witchcraft and Drama’ course at least not to consult a man of such uncertain grasp of grammatical agreement over their ‘Academic’ problems. Good name, though.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Early Modern and Modern

I offer one of my favourite poem-pairings. When I happened across the Samuel Rowlands poem I mentioned in my last entry, I was trying to find analogies for William Browne’s famous last line in his epitaph on Mary Sidney – Donne’s ‘Death, thou shalt die’ goes close, but doesn’t have the idea of Time slaying Death with his own weapon of choice. Rowlands’ Death sarcastically offers his dart to Time (‘Why what a bragging and a coile do'st keepe? / Best take my dart, be Time, be Death and all’), but they make up before falling to blows.

This is William Browne of Tavistock:

On the Dowager Countess of Pembroke

UNDERNEATH this sable hearse

Lies the subject of all verse,

Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother;

Death, ere thou hast slain another

Fair and learned and good as she,

Time shall throw a dart at thee.

The ODNB more or less explains that Browne was a kind of elegist-in-residence at Wilton, practicing on every Sidney as they came available, and that practice made perfect in 1621.

Alongside it I put X J Kennedy’s wonderfully adroit neo-Jacobean ‘Little Elegy’

Little Elegy
for a child who skipped rope

Here lies resting, out of breath,
Out of turns, Elizabeth
Whose quicksilver toes not quite
Cleared the whirring edge of night.

Earth whose circles round us skim
Till they catch the lightest limb,
Shelter now
And for her sake trip up death.

I can’t think that any 17th century writer used so perfectly a decorum so attuned to a child.

More about X J Kennedy at

The image is the tomb of Elizabeth Nightingale, by Roubiliac (1758 she died, the monument was completed in 1761) – in Westminster Abbey. It strikes me as quite a late appearance for a Holbein-like Death. Mr and Mrs Nightingale – we can imagine them the moment before as a complacent Gainsborough couple - suddenly intruded upon by this impolite and archaic horror from a different style of representation. The modern hospital has (in most cases of mortal illness) robbed Death of his sudden dart, though he remains on his bony feet.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Early Modern Terry Pratchett

Ah, Saturday night, and here I am reading Samuel Rowlands's 'Terrible Battle between Time and Death' (1606). I got there via a series of ambages (nice word, ambages, apparently one that Francis Bacon was rather drawn to). Considering it is Rowlands, this is quite a sprightly poem, a kind of Terry Pratchett narrative for early modern grown-ups.

Time and Death are characterised as a pair of frightful old codgers, who spend the first part of the narrative talking about the high old times they've had in days gone by, prompting one another with memories of opportune and satisfying fatalities they have caused. These include a love poet, who gets his hyperbole taken literally:

Where went we then, dost thou remember, Time?
Yes, very well, we visited a poet ...

... This Poet thus a-sonneting we found,
Riming himself even almost out of breath,
(quoth he) ‘thy cruel Dart doth wound,
Oh graunt me love, or else come gentle Death’:

Death. I heard him say, ‘Come gentle Death’ in Jest;
And in good earnest granted his request.

The ghastly pair then start bickering: Time mentions to Death that whenever someone dies, the mourners tend to say, 'His time had come' - why, asks Time, should I get the blame for your killings? Death answers querulously, and they fall into trying to pull rank on one another ('I have bin Death almost six thousand yeares'), and mutual denigration. Death had commented complacently upon his ubiquitous iconography early on in the poem -

Some make my picture a most common thing,
As if I were continual in their thought,
A Deaths head seale vpon a great gold ring,
And round about Memento Mori wrought...

But now Time reminds him of how over-familiar and vulgar his images can be:

Thy picture stands upon the Ale-house wall,
Not in the credit of an ancient story,
But when the old wives guests begin to braule,
She points, and bids them read Memento mori:
Looke, looke (saies she) what fellow standeth there,
As women do, when crying Babes they feare.

They descend into name-calling, but then recollect that the world would laugh if it were known that Time and Death were falling out, and so they make up, and at the end of the poem are about to embark on another killing spree together:
Our bloody businesse let us go about,
Thousands are now at point of death, breath failes:
To worke, to worke, and lay about thee man,
Let's kill as fast, as for our lives we can.
Harke, listen Time, I pray giue eare,
What bell is that a tolling there?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

‘In Xanadu did Bin Laden, / A stately pleasure dome decree’

The effect of too much (and too easily accessed) information on practical criticism.

I was preparing a class on some Coleridge poems, for a set of first year students/victims.

I'd fairly quickly located the exciting hypertexted ‘Kubla Khan’ at

and after not very much browsing in that ‘three dimensional’ rendering of the poem and its sources, I came across Samuel Purchas’s account of Aloadine, the Old Man of the Mountain:

I leapt from there to read the on-line OED’s entries on the related words ‘hashish’ and ‘assassin’, and then scramble off to the Wikipedia to read more about the drug:

and there, with gathering interest, I also read all about Hassan-i-Sabah and the assassins:

~ the Wikipedia is most alive as a resource when the heading for an entry indicates that its neutrality is disputed (as this material is) and so I buzz through it all and the related talk page:

Coleridge’s poem is now small in my rear view mirror, as I speed away. Pursuing the Old Man of the Mountain, from link to link, by now has opened up a continuum from Marco Polo to present day Shiite against Sunni violence: the tangent I have gone off on is so interesting that the poem just has to be about that - so in the end, the poem is going to be read with more violence than it has ever been read before: the poet as the drugged assassin, insane with desire to get back to the paradise he had been allowed to glimpse, and ready to go off:

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Weave a circle round him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread,

For he on honey-dew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

I declaim my new version of the poem (‘And mid this tumult Osama heard from far’) to a class stupefied by my bad taste and glaring desire to provoke. Sweetly reasonable, they fend me off, and the poem as expressive of Coleridge’s suppressed desire to stick a dagger deep in Wordsworth manages not to happen (to my retrospective relief).

We move on to ‘The Aeolian Harp’, and have to troop off to a wireless zone so as to listen to one:

The students, relaxing now they are out of the room where they were sequestered with this mad interpreter, seem to think that it would be an OK noise if you were on drugs. This at least seems relevant.

Just think, we used to have to look at the poem on the page.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

More fleeting things

Another busy week, with some first year teaching again outside my usual Renaissance repertoire. Wordsworth this time, 'The Leech-Gatherer', which I coupled with Lewis Carroll's ineffable parody, 'I met an aged, aged man', which ever so delicately turns Wordsworth's tale into an encounter between two raving lunatics. The deadly accuracy with which Carroll locates Wordsworth's failure to tip the poor old chap a shilling amused me, though my class seemed to feel that I was being uncharitable about Wordsworth's failure to be charitable. I didn't force the point, though the complacency of Wordsworth's reference to the homeless leech-gatherer housing 'with God's good help' 'by choice or chance' is a bit provoking.

Anyway, all the students are to find two poems on the same theme from different centuries, and compare them. This alarming demand has distressed one or two of the less confident, who want to be pointed in the right direction.

One way or other, I found myself on LION looking for poems about bubbles, the kind of thing I would recommend, to the consternation of those students who like poems to have big subjects, ideally World War One. Quarles the emblematist seems to be the champion bubble poet of early modern England. His efforts are, of course, predictably moralistic, and so I was pleased to find this lyric by Robert Herrick, previously unknown to me among the vast tracts of the Hesperides:

'The Bubble: a Song'

To my revenge, and to her desp'rate fears,

Fly thou made Bubble of my sighs, and tears

In the wild air - when thou hast roll'd about,

And (like a blasting Planet) found her out,

Stoop, mount, pass by to take her eye, then glare

Like to a dreadful Comet in the Air:

Next, when thou dost perceive her fixed sight,

For thy revenge to be most opposite,

Then like a Globe, or Ball of Wild-fire, fly,

And break thy self in shivers on her eye.

It's a bit like his 'Tear sent from Staines, to his Mistress', but more pleasingly malicious. My photograph is of Timmo adding lift to a monster bubble created with his bubble wand one summer evening. You know all about it when one of these pops and fills your eye with detergent.

The following web page describes the science of bubbles, and offers (groan) a 'bubbliography' (OK, I admit it, I wish I'd thought of it). From that bubbliography, I do recommend the Nasa link on water films in zero gravity: if you ever wondered if the ISS was worth the billions, doubt no more.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

(Non-) Awakenings, 1646

One of my students is writing a third year dissertation on sleep in Shakespeare: not dreams, just images of plain sleep. I've a feeling that a critical piece by David Roberts on this very subject may be hard to shake off.

But I've duly gone through a couple of early modern home doctors, talking about sleep (Humphrey Brooke, 1650, and Tobias Venner, 1637). Pretty much as one would expect - a lot of spurious advice, and that very English mania about the digestion (start off lying on your left, then turn onto your right, as that sequence aids 'decoction'; never on your back or you invite 'the Nightmare', and only under advice lie on your stomach). I suppose that we can draw some fine points about the type of conclusions audience members might have drawn had they seen Innogen or Bully Bottom lying flat on their backs.

But what turns up as well are the pamphlets and broadsides about 'wonderful sleepers': those who slipped into (I suppose) an encephalitic coma and who could not be roused by nose-tweakings, pinches, and dashings with water. The pamphlet illustrated has a healthy middle-aged woman going to bed in the daytime, falling and staying asleep, and finally dying without ever waking up again. The last paragraph gives some sense of the desperate haste of the compiling author to finish his copy, and not be drawn into too prolonged an investigation - for even as he writes, news of a second sleeper has come in (just when he'd got the job nearly done too!):

Whilst we were endeavouring to satisfie our thoughts on this melancholy contemplation, Newes is brought, that a man lies fast on sleep in the same manner in Gravell-Lane, I was desired to go and see him, to the end, that having taken a perfect observation of him, my Pen, my more readiness might follow the instructions of my eye: His name is as I am informed John Underwood; His age is about forty, or something upwards; And he sleeps so soundly, that they who have seen him tell me that you may heare him into the next roome. We heare that he hathe already slept out the full space of nine daies and nights: It seemes he is of a clear complexion, for his breast being uncovered, that the beholders might be the better satisfied, it is reported that the bitings of the Fleas upon his Necke and Brest, do looke like to many Strawberries strowed upon Creame. It is true in the Metaphysicks, that the outward sences being overcome by sleep, the Soule (incapable of sloth) doth actuate at that time more pure and lively. The people in the Suburbs have gained some little understanding of it, and therefore they come every day in crouds unto him, expecting when he awakeneth, to heare some wonderful intelligence.

I like (I recognise!) the way the author couldn't in fact be bothered to go along himself, but offers instead a secondhand report of the small crowd gathering at the sleeper's bedside in the expectation that he will have some remarkable vision to recount when or if he wakes. They'd all been reading too many broadside ballads in the vein of Saint Bernard's Vision. In the absence of L-dopa, not very much anyone could do - though they could at least have tried to get rid of the fleas.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Strange and foreign forms, 1807

A busy week for me, but teaching prompted me to look at texts I’d never read before – Nahum Tate’s absurd version of Richard II briefly entertained me (what a silly project for a proponent of James II that was!). I also spent some time reading the poems of Charlotte Smith. The Elegiac Sonnets are, in Hugh Kenner’s term, counterfeit. But I liked ‘Beachy Head’, and as it is some time since I did a posting about geology in literature, I shall mount that hobbyhorse.

Smith begins her poem imagining the formation of the Channel, and later speculates about the fossil bivalves and ammonites she sees in the chalk. Her first line is to entertain the old notion that they are just freaks of nature. But that explanation doesn’t satisfy her, and she speculates (as in the opening of her poem) about real geological processes, of the chalk being formed under water, and uplifted to form her local landscape, the South Downs:

And still, observing objects more minute, 372
Wondering remark the strange and foreign forms
Of sea-shells; with the pale calcareous soil
Mingled, and seeming of resembling substance.
Tho' surely the blue Ocean (from the heights
Where the downs westward trend, but dimly seen)
Here never roll'd its surge. Does Nature then
Mimic, in wanton mood, fantastic shapes
Of bivalves, and inwreathed volutes, that cling 380
To the dark sea-rock of the wat'ry world?
Or did this range of chalky mountains, once
Form a vast bason, where the Ocean waves
Swell'd fathomless? What time these fossil shells,
Buoy'd on their native element, were thrown
Among the imbedding calx: when the huge hill
Its giant bulk heaved, and in strange ferment
Grew up a guardian barrier, 'twixt the sea
And the green level of the sylvan weald.

More interestingly, in a subsequent passage Smith is apparently reacting to large fossil bones being found, and she wonders if these might be the remains of elephants brought into England by the Romans: 'Some lone antiquary' she says

perhaps may trace,

Or fancy he can trace, the oblong square
Where the mail'd legions, under Claudius, rear'd
The rampire, or excavated fossé delved;
What time the huge unwieldy Elephant
Auxiliary reluctant, hither led,
From Afric's forest glooms and tawny sands,
First felt the Northern blast, and his vast frame
Sunk useless; whence in after ages found,
The wondering hinds, on those enormous bones
Gaz'd; and in giants dwelling on the hills
Believed and marvell'd---

There had been, and would be, worse guesses. The intriguing aspect of this is that her poem is published in 1807, while Gideon Mantell did not start finding local dinosaur bones until 1820, in the quarry at Cuckfield, North of Lewes. Perhaps Charlotte Smith was no longer thinking of local fossil finds, but has heard about Baron Georges Cuvier, who was already publishing on extinct mammalian fauna – though his study was not in English till quite a bit later. Cuvier himself would assert that Mantell’s iguanodon teeth belonged to an extinct rhinoceros. But bones from dinosaurs are not unheard of in the chalk, and Smith does seem to be writing with local reference. Mantell’s early collection was of marine fossils from that formation, so maybe his efforts to collect fossil bones owed something to what was being talked about locally.

This anticipation in poetry of the historically recorded moment of discovery reminds me of Shelley scooping Dean Buckland in Prometheus Unbound IV, 309 ff – writing in 1819, while Buckland would not name the first dinosaur till 1824 (Megalosaurus):

the might
Of earth-convulsing behemoth, which once
Were monarch beasts, and on the slimy shores,
And weed-overgrown continents of earth,
Increased and multiplied like summer worms

On an abandoned corpse, till the blue globe

Wrapped deluge round it like a cloak, and they
Yelled, gasped, and were abolished; or some God
Whose throne was in a comet, passed, and cried,
'Be not!' And like my words they were no more.

Shelley’s prescience outdoes Charlotte Smith’s, for he brilliantly surmises the extinction of the monarch beasts as a consequence of a passing comet, an idea that would wait for Luis and Walter Alvarez in 1980.

My photograph is of Tim not enjoying being at Beachy Head a year or so ago.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Child Art, 1914

The eleventh of the eleventh, and Remembrance Sunday tomorrow, prompts me to post this drawing by my maternal grandfather, Harry Handforth, in 1914.

It was probably done at Apperknowle school (near Sheffield) some time around the outbreak of the war. He would have been 10 at the time, and one surmises that the children were given paper and the chance to express their feelings. This image of defiance was clearly thought to have been a great success, and it got taken home and was pinned up for years in the family cottage in Summmerlee, before finding its way into a book for safe-keeping.

Grandad left school at 12 to work on a farm, and would take cart-loads of turnips over to Sheffield to sell. Later, he worked down a coal mine called the Mackerel Colliery because its workings were so wet. He was a foundryman throughout World War 2, making tanks and repairing 17-pounder guns (some of those brought in still smeared with the blood of their former gun-crews).

My mother does not think that they had enough money at home for the drawing to have been done there (making such a luxury as sheets of drawing paper unlikely). My grandfather's mother had died when he was seven, seven weeks after the birth of her fourth child. All four children were taken in by their grandmother, who was 72, but who lived to see all the children married, and herself a great-grandmother.

There cannot be much surviving child art from World War One. Grandad got it all in - Nelson, jutting chin, a bulldog guarding the flag, sabre, pistol and bandolier. It might be a copy from a newspaper image, but Grandad was a good draughtsman, and used a fine copperplate script when he wrote. He was an awesome - and yet surprisingly tolerant - figure to me in my childhood, immoderately proud of my academic success. He died in 1993, just before the birth of his great-grandchild Tim, but the kind of patriarch that you made sure knew that the family was going to extend again.

Friday, November 10, 2006

My kind of scene.

I’ve been asked to declare myself. As ever, I wrap myself in the cloak of literature (maybe a little less tightly), and offer by way of reply John Berryman’s 4th Dream Song:

Filling her compact & delicious body

with chicken paprika, she glanced at me


Fainting with interest, I hungered back

and only the fact of her husband & four other people

kept me from springing on her

or falling at her little feet and crying

“You are the hottest one for years of night

Henry’s dazed eyes

have enjoyed, Brilliance.” I advanced upon

(despairing) my spumoni. – Sir Bones: is stuffed,

de world, wif feeding girls.

- Black hair, complexion Latin, jewelled eyes

downcast … The slob beside her ... feasts … What wonders is

she sitting on, over there?

The restaurant buzzes. She might as well be on Mars.

Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.

- Mr. Bones: there is.

Laying it on thick

I’ve been reading the Miscellany Poems (1691) of Thomas Heyrick. In themselves, quite interesting, but surpassed in artistry by his prefatory material dedicating the collection to Katherine, Countess of Rutland. Being a clergyman obviously gives you a certain edge when it comes to the art of flattery (all that practice, after all), and Heyrick laid it on shamelessly:

“When I first intended to Dedicate these Poems to Your Name, beside the Thoughts of their Unworthiness, I was chiefly deterr'd by the Consideration of these Two Things, the Greatness of Your Quality and the Perspicuity of your Judgment: But then I was a little Encourag'd again, when I reflected, that the Meanest Creature was not debarr'd making Address to the Highest of Beings, but was rather commanded it …”

Isn’t that excellent in its kind? The cleric reflects that we are commanded to pray to God, and so (he humbly insinuates) this gives him an excuse for addressing her. There’s more, much more:

"… I confess even there what belongs to Me is full of Weakness; but it could be no otherwise, since in Subjects so Sublime, as Your Self, the most Towring Flights must of necessity flag, Things too High above Us not admitting a Definition; and as in Beauteous Faces there is something, We cannot Name, that exceeds the Pencil's Art, so in Excellent Personages there are Vertues, of which Common Souls have no Notion; but they Soar above the Description of the Loftiest Fancy … And doubtless though Poetry is usually suspected of Flattery, yet any One, who considers the Charms of Your Beauty, the Sharpness of Your Wit, the Depth of Your Judgment, the Candour of Your Temper, and Nobility of your Birth, will acknowledge, that You are plac'd above the reach of it; that, which would be Flattery to another, not measuring the least Part of Your Perfections."

In case her attention flagged when the poems themselves started, Heyrick followed up with another effusion, this time a rhapsody in verse:

‘To the Right Honourable Katherine Countess of Rutland.’

the bold Artist, that of You would speak,
Should Patterns from Celestial Natures take;
And stamp his Soul in an Angelick Mold;
Er'e he Your Vertues should attempt to' unfold …

… He that, how Good, of Great You are, would show,
Had need the Depth of Heavenly wisdom know:
For all we deal with here doth flag too low.
Angels the Mighty work should undertake …

… Had but the Early Centuries, that could find
The Vertues and the Graces Woman-kind,
Seen the Fair Draughts of Your Celestial Mind:
New Sexes to their Deities they 'had given,
Nor left one Single God to rule in Heaven.

This imagining of a heaven filled with Goddesses all modeled on her seems to leave reference to Olympus behind, and half-indicate that he is ready to worship her in place of God. As he has been doing: that he’s a clergyman just adds to the value of it all. Then he gets started on her children.

I’ve since been browsing on the MLA database, and really, there doesn’t seem to be enough scholarship on what was, for the early modern author, a most important form of writing. Among the potentially interesting pieces are Andrew McCrae on ‘The Poetics of Sycophancy: Ben Jonson and the Caroline Court’ and Frank Whigham on ‘The Rhetoric of Elizabethan Suitor’s Letters’, but there seems to be a large gap in relation to the master himself, John Donne, and no obvious single study. But it is the kind of thing that early criticism did remark upon: I recall Dr Johnson weighing up whether Dryden or Aphra Behn was the better butterer.

Maybe there have been conferences (and what fun they would have been, if everyone rose to the subject in an orgy of co-laudation). My picture is of course Van Dyck doing the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham as Venus and Adonis.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Itch of Learning

I ought to be forging ahead marking essays (thirty-odd first year students falling over themselves in an effort to sound like Emeritus Professors of Literature while discussing any two of Milton’s sonnets). Instead, I have been reading every Renaissance flea poem on the LION database. If someone has to do it, then why shouldn't that someone be me? As I pottered, the project shaped up into another of my visionary critical studies. Primo Levi would be my guide (because of his essay, ‘The Leap of the Flea’: “only a few decades ago [the flea was] part of European civilization and folklore”). But then I remembered Steven Connor's disquisitions on flies

and decided that fleas were clearly just too large a project to take on.

I'd been reading Thomas Heyrick’s Miscellany Poems of 1691, when I found that it includes, rather bafflingly, the following extravagance by one Joshua Barnes:

'On a Flea presented to a Lady, whose Breast it had bitten, in a Golden Wire, Extempore 1679.'

Here, Madam, take this Humble Slave,
Once vile, but, since your blood is in him, Brave!
I saw him surfeit on your Lovely Breast;
And snatch'd the Traitor from that precious Feast.
For his Attempt sure He by me had died;
But the respect I bore your Blood deny'd.
The Gods forbid, fair Madam, that by me
Your Blood be shed although in this poor Flea!---
'Twas Sacrilege in him those Drops to draw;
But now that Treasure in his skin doth lie,
It consecrates his Life and strikes an awe;
That no bold Nail dare make the Traitor die.
Nay if a Quaff of Nectar once could make
Mankind Immortal, as the Poets feign,
This Flea can never die for that Drop’s sake,
Which he hath suck'd, sweet Madam, from your Vein;
At least no human Power his life can spill,
(Which lies in your pure blood, that can't decay:)
But You, whose Property's to save and kill,
As you did lend that Blood, may take't away.
Then lo! ---this Royal Slave in chains of Gold,
Here I submit most humbly to your doom:
Either let Mercy him your Prisoner hold,
Or let your Ivory Nail prepare his Tomb!
Oh! could he speak, I'm sure the Wretch would crave
A Prisoner's life, to be confin'd with You:
Nay he could be content to meet his Grave;
If by your Hand death might to him accrue.
Go, happy Flea! for now to One you go,
Gives Bliss, if She's your Friend, and Glory, if your Foe.

I guess that spotting a flea springing from a lady friend was just one of those things that might happen - William Cavendish, a man not unfamiliar with a variety of bed companions, regards fleas as something that ‘females are moste given to’. Maybe such an incident was one of those mildly embarrassing moments of common frailty which it was polite to laugh off, like wind or a gurgling stomach. So Barnes’s poem makes gallant fun of it all, in a vein of comic exaggeration. If the Donne poem is in the background, it stays there, and any memory of its naughtiness served to render Barnes’s poem harmless fun (in the knowledge that the topic could have been exploited so much more insidiously).

I thought I’d done quite well to include in the notes to my Donne edition the other flea poem attributed to Donne (it begins ‘Madam, that flea which crept between your breast /I envied…’) and John Davies of Hereford’s try at this sub-Ovidian genre. But I missed William Drummond (who did two), this by Barnes, and many more references.

But that’s computer databases for you. I suspect that LION, and what it can do, is by now a bigger influence on what we study and write than, say, Stephen Greenblatt. Or maybe that's just me betraying my foibles.

The picture is Giuseppe Maria Crespi’s rather charming ‘The Searcher for Fleas’, of about 1730. The artist did two flea pictures, but Georges de la Tour’s take on the theme is the most famous. It’s on the Web Gallery of Art, whose estimable compiler takes a wild interpretative swing at it: “No authentic De La Tour depicts such an obviously banal theme without a deeper meaning. The only symbol in the picture is the solitary candle burning on the chair, and it is surely not too speculative to suggest that the picture might represent the pregnant Virgin, isolated by Joseph when he discovers that she is with child, the candle thus symbolizing the forthcoming Christ as the Light of the World.”

Which reminds me to get back to my year one essays.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Such admirable art...

I was looking at John Dowland's First Book of Songes, and noticed that it concludes with 'an invention by the sayd Author for two to playe upon one Lute'. So I hied me to the in-house greenwood, etc, and was disappointed to find that my purported 'Complete Lute Music' of Dowland (vinyl LP's that already feel quite thrillingly ancient, almost Elizabethan themselves) do not include this rather jolly stunt - and frankly, my dears, the delicate young men who twangle their way through the five discs look as though the close proximities required by the two-men-on-a-single-lute business might have been just too overwhelming to contemplate.

But too the rescue comes the internet, with, amazingly, a whole collection of free mp3's of Dowland duos, including the 'Lord Chamberlain's galliard', the piece in question.

So here's the link:

and here's the full page of their other toys, fancies, dumps, almains (and the rest):

(***Now, I hope repaired: 7th November)

What you don't get is any assurance that Kenji Sano and Jinke Nosa performed the galliard together on the single instrument. There are no giggles or brief breaks for self disentanglement. Maybe there's a film on YouTube one could use to verify. The galliard was very much a dance for male display, I think Dowland maybe did divert it a little here towards male intimacy. But I assume male players, rather we might imagine that if your plucking was up to it, you might have canoodled pleasantly in this manner with Lady Mary Wroth, bassus to her cantus (though the arch lute she totes in her famous portrait perhaps allowed plenty of space for chaste distance anyway).

Thomas Coryate, footing it towards Venice, heard another remarkable performance in the Tuileries Garden:
"At the end of this garden is an exceeding fine Eccho. For I heard a certain Frenchman who sung very melodiously with curious quavers, sing with such admirable art, that upon the resounding of the Eccho there seemed three to sound together" (Coryates Crudities, 1611, p. 27). The only example I know off-hand of a song with an echo is the wonderful 'In a dark shady grove/Our charms we prepare/Too dreadful a practice/For the open air' chorus in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. But I am ignorant, and there must have been hundreds. But music sung to a literal echo?

One of our first year students happened to play me 'Greensleeves' on her psaltery last week. It is not often you can use a sentence like that (and it's hard to write without getting the giggles). On College premises too. No, literally. Things are looking up.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

'In love we live, in love we die/ But we conceive no reason why'

My latest bad 17th century poet is Hugh Crompton (and to say so means starting just like the 'snotty Zoilus' he heared would read his poems). 'O pity, pity him that fryes / Upon the grid-irons of thine eyes' ('The petition') - yes, that bad, but at least he half knows it, and anybody that can conclude one of his books of poetry with a 'Fornicator's farewell' cannot be all bad.

My students are all reading Donne, with various tasks on and about the much-belaboured Elegy 19 in mind, and with much stroking of our chins and shaking of our heads, we will doubtless come to some kind of compromise position between 'Good, but ...' and 'Bad, but ...'

Crompton's merit is that, being a bad poet, you get his feelings straight. The two topics closest to his heart were Venus and Bacchus, sex and drink. Over and over, he returns to having sex with women - poems imagining asking for it, expressing pleasure in it, advising how this end can be achieved ('The Way to Wooe'), and nattering on to women about 'The Mysterie' (my title, perhaps Crompton's best couplet, comes from that poem).

No-one could complain that the women in his poems are excluded from the imaginary conversation - he loves to write a poem that gets right to the point, and then an equally forthright answer (from 'The request to walk'):
... Speak then, where shall we dance a round?
On Sylvan's floor, or Ceres ground?
Or with Priapus shall we play?
Speak now, and chuse the best you may.
The Answer.
The thorny back't and rough Sylvanus
Shall not refresh nor entertain us:
... But 'tis Priapus I desire;
There we will play until we tire.

If we are all set to have a little moral agony over 'O, my America, my new found land', this is Crompton doing woman's body as territory:
Let my hand
Wander along thy unknown land,
To find how well the fruit doth rise,
(As in Canaan Israels spies)
And if the same I do approve,
Therein I'll plant my vine of love
And with a pleasant pain I'le frame
A fertile vineyard in the same.
Come, do not weep; 'twill do thee good
It will refine corrupted blood.
Then struggle not, nor do not shriek,
I have no weapon that can strike
A deadly blow...

At this tender moment, it occurs to him to head off any alarm she might have at the thought of getting pregnant. His poem is called, 'To Caelia, in the fields', and it's the pastoral scene which gives him a useful pointer:
See yon big-bellied ewe, that (late)
Receiv'd the marrow of her mate:
She looks most lovely; so will you
Now you receive your lovers too...

Caelia, perhaps surprisingly, is won by this gallant ovine comparison, and afterwards Crompton, typically, writes her a reply poem, in which she confesses that before 'I abhorr'd / Thy proferr'd love; / But now I see thy spirits, and their energie; / My soul to thee I will resigne'.

'Present your naked bodies unto men' says our poet, in 'To our Mistresses', probably remembering the end of Elegy 19, as he rounds off his set of stanzas with the resounding call to arms (or, a kind of 'Come, madams, come'):
Cast by your blankets once agen,
Present your persons unto naked men.
(cf, of course, Donne's 'cast all, yea, this white lynnen hence ... to teach thee, I am naked first').

But, once again, I don't feel that I have enough in this comparison to get Donne off on all charges. Crompton's amateurishly expressed enthusiasm for getting it on is so endearingly universal (and silly) that Donne just looks 'the worse for being clever', the remark with which a mature student once sank a previous scholarly investigation of the case.

I wonder if Crompton is the first writer to use 'frigidity' with reference to a woman not being interested in sex? The OED indicates that this lamentable sense to the word kicks in early 20th century with Havelock Ellis: "In dealing with the characteristics of the sexual impulse in women ... we have also to consider the prevalence of frigidity, or sexual anæsthesia".

But Crompton, as you'd expect from him, sees such a lapse as only a temporary thing:
So 'tis with my faire Rose, for she
But now ('cause with frigiditie
She's toucht) seem'd dul and dead; but when
Loves spring returns, she'l love agen ('The Comparison').

'Sexual anaesthesia' is not a concept he'd readily have taken on board, I think.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Henry Goodcole burns and saves you

I’ve been doing a lot of teaching, and among my texts, the very familiar Witch of Edmonton. Doing this prompted me to do what I haven’t previously bothered to do, that is, read all the writings of Henry Goodcole (usually mentioned only as the writer of the pamphlet used by Dekker, Ford and Rowley for that play).

The brief Oxford DNB entry on Goodcole mentions a series of salary increases and, later, a substantial loan he elicited from the court of aldermen in London – a body that at one point doubled his salary without any prompting. As ‘lecturer’ at Ludgate prison, then ‘visitor’ at Newgate prison, Goodcole clearly pleased his employers, and, looking at his pamphlets, one can see why.

Goodcole was assiduous in his praise of the system he served, and those who controlled it. His role began after the felon had been condemned: he dealt with the frightened, resentful, anguished or stupefied products of the brusque Elizabethan courts, which handed out sentences whose horrors in actual execution would in all likelihood have been well known to the condemned. People went en masse to see executions, and the recently executed: in one of his pamphlets Goodcole mentions those who owned the land adjacent to a gibbet petitioning successfully to get the executed man moved further away, so flattened were crops in its vicinity.

He represents himself (and probably was) as being highly conscientious in his duties. His recurrent image is of himself as a doctor to something more important than the body, the soul, and ‘Physitians of the Soule ought to immitate those learned Physitians of the body, [with] frequent visitations of those sicke patients, whose diseases are desperate and inveterate’ (The adultresses funerall day). ‘Miserable end, when men end in their sinne’ (Prodigall’s Tears, p.142), was his guiding thought, and he laboured to produce proper contrition in the condemned. Of course, he writes up his successes. The multiple murderer Thomas Shearwood, whose use of Elizabeth Evans as a decoy to lure his victims to their deaths impresses Goodcole as a new and unparalleled wickedness, died (in Goodcole’s view) in a valuable manner: “his death he joyfully embraced, and mortall life cheerfully did surrender up, and sent his soule out of his Body flying, calling on the name of the Lord Jesus to receive him. And all the people speaking to God for him, likewise with their lowd voices, and strong acclamations, Lord Jesu take mercy on him, sweet Jesu forgive his sinnes, and save his Soule”.

Goodcole lived a life you would think of as potentially traumatic, or brutalising, being in attendance at execution after execution. His writings manifest a typical ‘puritan’ concern with blasphemy – cursings bring the devil to Elizabeth Sawyer. A truculent end on the gallows is something he considersmost desperate, deuillish and damnable, and sauours no whit of the least sparke of Gods grace”. He wants to hear the right words, for the execution to have more than an aspect of a religious rite, with a congregation responding properly. Francis Robinson, a gentleman hanged, drawn, and quartered for forging the Great Seal of England and using it for fraudulent gain, was an ideal subject. Goodcole transcribes all Robinson’s prayers, and, at the end: “Like a Lambe going to the slaughter so went he unto his death, prepared before to suffer the same, willingly, patiently, and joyfully: and our confidence is such of him, that he is receiued into the Fold of that most blessed heavenly Flocke”.

That final note is one Goodcole recurrently makes: Londons Cry Ascended to God ends with solemn thoughts: ‘Judges, Men made of earth, turnes these miserable wretches unto the Grave, Dust, and Earth’, but then reflects that ‘they shall rise out of the dust of their Graves; for their Corruption, then to put on Incorruption’. He is apparently perfectly convinced that punishment here, and reconcilement to the true faith, will save the soul of the condemned.

His most dramatic intervention came in the case of Alice Clark, who faced being burned at the stake for her adultery and murder: “Uppon Wensday morning, on which shee was executed, there assembled unto Newgate multitudes of people to see her, and some conferred with her, but little good they did on her, for shee was of a stout angry disposition.” Goodcole decides that, like Barnadine in Measure for Measure, she was, in her state of mind, “no fitting guest for the Table of the Lord Iesus. He then plays his last card: “thereupon, I made as though I would have excluded her thence, in denying the benefit of the holy Communion, of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, inferring the benefit of the unspeakeable blesse, by the worthy receiving of it by Repentance and Faith, and the most woefull malediction to all impenitent and unworthy receivers. Whereupon, it pleased God, so to mollifie her heart, that teares from her eyes, and truth from her tongue proceeded, as may appeare by this her ensuing Confession at the very Stake”.

He is convinced that his clients will go be saved if they die contrite, and that helps Goodcole with his dreadful duties. He also believes in a God whose anger is the model for the judicial system he so piously endorses. Londons Cry Ascended to God has the running title ‘Londons Cry for Revenge’. God’s anger is assumed, and is unquestionable, even if not always very discriminate.

Goodcole’s pamphlet A true relation of two most strange and fearefull accidents (1618) is largely about the death of a man taking the Lord’s name in vain with a false oath: “if I sweare amisse, (quoth he) or if I speake wrongfully, let God I beseech him make me a fearfull example to all perjur’d wretches, and that this house wherein I stand, may sodainely fall upon my head, and that the fall thereof may bee seene to bee the just judgement of God upon me”. That the court house collapsed at that very moment manifests God’s wrath. Goodcole is undaunted in detailing the multiple fatalities, including “certaine Esguires and Gentlemen of good calling, by the fall of the said walls and timber, [who] were sodainly strooke dead”.

God’s anger being so splattery in its operation, Goodcole was not going to baulk at the rough judgments handed down at court, which zealously imitates the divine displeasure (perhaps with a sense that if they act quickly, they prevent some larger chastisement). Maybe just once he almost wavers: he interlaces his zealous account of Alice Clark going to the stake with a tale of an unnamed woman, who he knows was abused hideously by her old and ‘peevish’ husband, and who resolved to poison her husband, then commit suicide. She administered the poison, but repented what she had done. The consequences were extraordinary:

But better motions now comming into her thoughts, and she truely repentant of what she had done, finding the confection begunne to work with him, fell downe before him upon her knees: First acknowledging the fact, then humbly desiring from him forgivenesse, with all, beseeching him to take some present Antidote to preserve his life, which was yet recoverable: on whom he sternly looking, as he lay in that Agony gasping betwixt life and death, returned her answere in this manner; nay thou Strumpet and murderesse, I will receive no helpe at all but I am resolvd to dye and leave the world, be it for no other cause, but to have thee burnt at a stake for my death: which having said, and obstinate in that Hethenish resolution, he soone after expired.

Goodcole clearly regards her case as having been a hard one, but they had duly carried out the judicial murder her horrible husband anticipated.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Demonological Urine Test, Glasgow, 1693

I’ve been reading a minor and belated Scottish demonologist, John Bell, who produced two brief pamphlets, in 1697 and 1700. Opinions may have moved on elsewhere, but Bell sounded the old notes of alarm.

His ‘evident and probable tokens, whereby a Witch, or such as have made express League and Compact with the Devil, may be decerned from all others’ starts conventionally enough. First, look for the insensible devil’s mark. Then, that witches can’t be drowned, either because they are rejected by the element with which they were baptised, or ‘perhaps … for that they be destinat for another Element’. Then, they cannot weep, with the usual Jean Bodin-style proviso that they will ‘distort, throw and wring their faces, making as though they were weeping’. Witches, he next alleges, have a ‘Basilisk, or Serpentine sight’, and they will not repeat ‘the heads of the Christian Religion’, the ten commandments, Lord’s Prayer, or Creed except ‘with several minckings, eikings, or inversions’.

At this point, Bell comes up with a sign that was new to me ‘if you put any great or gross Salt in the Pipe of a Kye (key), and put all into the Fire, upon hearing the crackling, and seeing the blewish low (flame) thereof, which is like that of Brimstone, instantly they shall let go their urine…’

Finally, witches have a ‘peculiar sent or smell … which neither flows from the nestiness of Cloaths, vermine, or the like, but a contradistinct smell from any such thing’. It is in fact the smell of the Devil, who ‘being in full possession of their Soul, must needs emitte his own sent even that of the Pit’.

Perhaps Bell’s list, in its very preposterousness, served the cause of enlightenment. It is hard to imagine anyone putting into practice his test of a witch being unable to hold her urine if salt is burned, or having much clue of how to identify the smell of the Devil.

In his other pamphlet, The Tryal of Witchcraft (1700) I was interested to see that, among the limited number of texts available to him, was the pamphlet of the ‘Witches of Warboys’, which I posted on a small while back. Bell, even 107 years on from the publication, reads that tract absolutely as the author intended it to be read, unable to see its inadvertent exposure of the three Throckmorton children in all their malignancy and narcissism.