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 Romein 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 Pasquinpublications 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 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