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.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The lost hat, Midland Railway, 1909

Item 1. June 19th, 1909.

Dear Sir,

I travelled from London on Tuesday the 15th by the 3.45 train, in the 1st class Restaurant Car. When I got to Chesterfield I found that a gentleman who was sitting on the opposite side of the carriage had taken my hat and left his own. The Car-attendant said that he knew the gentleman, who lived at Bedford, and that he would arrange for me to get my hat back.

Although the exchange was, of course, a pure accident, my hat happened to be a new one, or I would not have troubled about it. It had my name in full on the leather lining.

As I have heard nothing through the Car-attendant, I should be obliged if you would have the matter enquired into.

Yours faithfully.

Item 2.

June 19, 1909

Midland Railway,

Office of Superintendent of the Line,


Sir, I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 18th inst. which shall have my attention.

Yours truly,

J. Elliott.

(Part-printed postcard addressed to H Westlake, Esq, Brimington Hall, Chesterfield)

Item 3.

June 26th, 1909

Dear Sir,

Referring to my letter of the 18th., and your acknowledgement of the 19th, I spoke to the Attendant in the Restaurant Car about the matter on Thursday when returning from London by the 3.45. It appears that he had spoken to the gentleman who took my hat, who acknowledged that he had it, but did not seem at all concerned as to returning it.

I send you the hat that was left in place of mine; and refrain from commenting upon it.

The action of the gentleman in question is most extraordinary; more especially as my hat had my name in full inside it, and was entirely different in shape to the one he left: and as it was a new one, I must ask you to be good enough to procure its return at once, or send me 12/6, the cost of it.

Yours faithfully.

Item 4.

Midland Railway,

Office of Superintendent of the Line.

Derby June 28th, 1909

Dear Sir,

In reply to your letter of the 26th. instant, I regret that your hat has not yet been returned to you. On receipt of your first letter I at once took steps to recover the hat, and hope to be able to give you a definite reply shortly.

Yours truly,

For J Elliott

Item 5.

Midland Railway,

Office of Superintendent of the Line.

Derby July 13 1909

H. Westlake Esq,

Brimington Hall.

Dear Sir,

In reply to your letter of the 11th inst. I beg to say that your hat has now been obtained from Mr Blackstone and was forwarded from Bedford to Chesterfield for you yesterday.

Yours truly

For J. Elliott

Item 6.

July 14th 1909

Dear Sir,

I am obliged by your letter of the 14th in regard to my hat which was taken from a Restaurant Car, and note that it has now been obtained from the man who took it.

After it has been in his possession for a month, it is, of course, utterly worthless to me; and perhaps you will have it destroyed, or otherwise disposed of.

Yours faithfully.

Item 7.

July 16th 1909

Midland Railway,

Office of Superintendent of the Line,


Dear Sir,

In reply to your letter of the 14th inst, I understand from Chesterfield that the hat was delivered to you on that date,

Yours truly

For J. Elliott.

Item 8.

July 17th, 1909

Dear Sir,

The Hat was returned to me on Thursday.

The Hat-box was smashed in; but that was of no consequence, as the Hat was completely spoilt, and I at once had it destroyed.

Yours faithfully.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Student, apart from men, sitteth alone

A Latin vocabulary for computer terms:

I am spending too much time at the claviatura, and really must exire. The woodcut, before I messed about with it, is another from that Comenius book for children I posted about. As excitements for a Friday evening go, well, what can I say?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Stuck in the mud.

Back in 2002 I did an edition of Donne for Wordsworth Classics, wrapping Introduction and Notes round a slightly modified Grierson text. They paid me a three figure sum as a one off, and it was published with a tasteful cover, the Lothian portrait made into a black oval, against a background of brown laid paper.

Well, it retails at £3.99 still, and I imagine my students like that price, and are mildly interested by having the editor in their midst. So I order it in to the campus bookshop each year. But look at it now! A late 19th century painting of the Thames side at Southwark at the top, and rising from below, the face of William Wordsworth, backed by the suggestion of a Byzantine halo.

What the image says to me first of all is "stuck in the mud". A blurry and tepid watercolour has been selected for a poet who was all about precision and passion. Was it left over from materials gathered for a cover design on a Dickens novel? And since when has Wordsworth become the official face of poetry?

Does it speak an attitude of "It's just poetry, innit? Wishy-washy stuff, all the same, dont'cha know?" or "This is the corporate design we have adopted after due process of consulting ourselves"?

Actually, this botched job makes the edition look ignorant about the who, when and whatness of John Donne, and so will not help sell the book to its primary promoters, teachers with students to instruct. So a futile editorial raspberry to Robert Mathias at the 'Publishing Workshop'.

I took the cheque, I cashed the cheque. Just leave it, Roy.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Early Modern Whale Boy

My last posting about demonic children naturally led my thoughts on to the apple of his father's eye, Timmo, and here he is in the hirsute form that, to his chagrin, had to be chopped back for the start of school term. My judgement is of course biassed, but here's a young man who is going to be rated cute, and perhaps already is. My eyes, but his good looks from his mother.

I was a bookish child, but suspect that if I'd been born in 1993 like Tim, I would not now be heading that way. He reads, but I can understand his fascination with on-line games like 'World of Warcraft' and 'Guild Wars', and console games like the much-esteemed Zelda series. His school was telling parents this last Wednesday that we must tell them if anything at home was going to be disrupting school work: I almost piped up and said "8th December: release date for the Nintendo Wii and 'Zelda: Twilight Princess' - so after that, expect homework with extra short-cuts applied". I'd imagine 50% of the parents of these 13 year olds would have groaned with recognition. But the school is so solemn about work, I kept quiet. No, it can't wait till Christmas, the much-postponed game has been waited for for something like 18 months already, and every delay has been bewailed. I'm just going take the easy (and only) way, and lie down in front of the Juggernaut.

Tim needs the present devices that read e-books to move on apace: yes, the straight e-book text, but with an instant manga button, which converts some plodding canonical masterpiece into graphic form, or, better still, can scurry off at any point and gather snippets of moving pictures from across the net to create a video mash-up (with a 'more ridiculous' dial that he can twist up to 11). It should work very well, and then he can talk about Sir Walter Scot with his Grandma (" I liked the bit where I galloped to Ivanhoe's rescue", he will say, bewilderingly, for what use is a narrative into which you cannot insert yourself, or chosen avatar?)

Come on, Sony, catch up with Sonny:

A sour footnote to the history of childhood: Warboys, 1593.

A busy week for me, with a return to teaching, and four lectures to give: and hence, no mid-week surfacing by the whale. I gave one session to our new MA students in which, having conscientiously shown them the way to 'Instute' and 'The Voice of the Shuttle' literary portals, I steered them towards a webpage I put up giving links to academic blogs - and my thanks to Sharon Howard at 'Early Modern Notes' for a major hand in the selection. They all seemed delighted by what they found.

The best thing this last week for early modern era scholars has been, I think, Michael Monpurgo's series on the History of Childhood reaching the Puritan child:

The first week was concerned with children in the middle ages, Monday of week 2 was the Puritan episode, and one can 'listen again'.

The gruesome inculcations of 'learn to die' delivered by some of the earliest books aimed at children were very effectively delivered by having the adult voice (reading out the Puritan writer) fade into the voice of the child recipient of such spirit-quenching ghastliness.

It came back to me while giving the introductory lecture on my 'Witchcraft and Drama' course, where I talk about the case of the 'Witches of Warboys' in 1593. That pamphlet doesn't show children as victims of a miserable ideology: in its highly detailed but credulous account, the Throckmorton children, led by the three eldest girls, utterly subvert their devout household, and contrive the deaths of a neighbouring family, by turning back hatred of life, transformed into murderous hostility. With astounding hypocrisy (I extract, above, one of the children's "Oh that you never had deserved to be thus used" -said to one of the victims, after 'scratching' her face), an astonishing consistency of purpose, and sustained by the household's implicit faith the the power of the devil, the girls both got to do pretty much as they pleased (play cards and bowls), and kill three people.

No-one intervenes effectively, but simply goggle in pious and complacent horror. The local clergyman takes the 'no smoke without fire' line about the accused, like King James did: if God allows you to be accused (by innocent children) it must be true. He fails to test the veracity of the children by, say, professing that he will read Psalm 51 in Greek to the possessing devil sent by the witches, and substituting a passage of Sophocles. They get their way unchecked, and contrive judicial murder.

One can only imagine that the two adults in the family they destroy suffer as surrogates for their latent hostility to their own pious parents, and that they punish their own filial wickedness in having the daughter Agnes hanged: the wretched Agnes whom they always cast, scandalised, as a daughter who beats her own Mother.

One older daughter develops advanced blanking techniques, in which, notionally steered by the devil the witches have put into her, she will only acknowledge the presence of the adult who has been dragooned into playing cards with her (so as to stave off her fits). The third daughter, in the other extract I give above, develops this further, professing to be simply incapable of seeing adults, while she can see items of clothing moving in the air. Making adults disappear by imaginative means is one thing: but of course, they went to the extreme of making adults disappear terminally.

Utterly remarkable, and not without precedent, but showing what children could do with the idea of the devil. It does seem curious that Puritan thinking (yes, they are a little early historically, but within the Anglican church, that's the way the family seem inclined) didn't alert the adults to the possibility of wickedness among children, but throughout, these gentry children are assumed to be innocents, driven by the devil to their cruelties, hapless instruments of the spirits who are determined to expose the witches.

But the child as perpetrator was probably not a line that Mr Monpurgo and his researcher wanted to take.