Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hoby monuments, Bisham Church

This will be my last post for a couple of weeks. I am off with my son Tim to America, a first visit for both of us. A fly-drive, with large scenic holes in the ground for me (Grand Canyon, Death Valley), and Las Vegas and Los Angeles for him.

Yesterday, I visited the Church at Bisham Abbey near Marlow, to take a look at the Hoby monuments: Tudor humanism in stone. Elizabeth Cooke, along with her four sisters, was educated by her father Sir Anthony to the highest standards of the age. She married Sir Thomas Hoby, the translator of The Book of the Courtier. He died, as the tomb says, 'at Paris the 13 of May 1566 of the Age of 36 leaving his wife great with child in a strange country, who brought hym honourable home, built this chappell and laid him and his brother here in the tombe together'. Her English verses about him are heart-felt:
Firm in Gods Tryth, gentle and faitheful friend,
Wel lernd and languaged, Nature besyde
Gave comely shape which made ruful his end
Since in his floure in Paris towne he died.
And in her Latin verses, she says he was 'my soul's far dearer part, / Life of my life and solace of my heart ... How happy we then; our wishes, joys the same / one soul inspired our double frame / But ah, how short our pleasures here below'.
The DNB entry on her father describes her as 'formidable'. She became an habitual and angry litigant, while the churchwarden at Bisham repeated to me the local story that she caused the death of one of her children who had raised her ire by (literally) blotting his copy book. There's no record of a missing child, so one has to suspect that her reputation for learning and ill temper caused such posthumous local libels. In her own monument, her will having forsworn 'vain ostentation or pomp', she kneels in a coronet topping an almost Pharonic head-dress of pleated linen, with a full entourage of her children, both living and dead, her elder daughter kneeling before her in her robes as a Countess. A daughter-in-law had the marvellous enamelled glass windows created in 1609, they celebrate the lineage of the families, and were recently restored using a large grant of money from the Glaziers' Company, so precious are they. Margaret Hoby's own monument has the swans, the Hoby's used falcons (or otherwise the 'hobby' hawk) as their heraldic bird. Edward Hoby even named a bastard son he had 'Peregrine Hoby'.
But the main monument is that Elizabeth Hoby made for her husband and his older half brother. It is almost a surprise that the V&A hasn't long ago appropriated something so perfect. In full armour, the two men recline on rush mats, heads on their helms. Sir Thomas' armour is more decorative (if you click on the image to see it enlarged, you can pick up the 'hobby' motifs his suit features), but the modelling (in alabaster) of the faces and hands of both men is very sensitive. Placed together, their being represented at the age they died has obscured the 24 year gap between them, so they have become virtuous Renaissance friends, Protestant champions ('Zealous to God whos Gospel he profest, / When gretest stormes gan dym the sacred light', says Elizabeth's verses, refering to their Marian exile), Pyrocles and Musidorus: the type of male twinning in virtue Jonson praised in his Cary-Morison Ode. There's no sprezzatura here, no 'recklessness' or courtly nonchalance, but rather, a deep Protestant seriousness, and, not suppressed amid the solemnity, the love and bewildered grief of a woman who was clearly not easy to impress.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Early modern cryptozoology

Apart from the animals they knew well, much early modern zoology was suffused with folklore and traditional fantasies. I was reminded of this 'True and Wonderful' discourse of the Sussex dragon by the BBC's notice of the latest investigation of 'Ninki Nanka' in the Gambia - another of those sauropod- survival stories which hinges on tales told by people who knew someone, who knew someone, who definitely saw something one dark night (when he was a boy).

At least nobody is marching off up river in quest this time, the investigation seems to be more into the folklore of the story than conducted with any credulity regarding the creature's existence. See

The pamphlet about the Horsham beast of 1614 is not quite what it seems to be: I claim it as the first occurence of 'silly season' journalism in English. To elucidate, in my youth, when England was a more parochial country, in the high summer, serious news would run thin. Inveterate murderers would go to the seaside with surviving members of their family, bank managers were too busy out on the links to empty the branch safe and flee abroad, trials went into lengthy recess. There was no news, but news had to be found, and so we had 'silly season' stories. In these days of a global news reach, every day brings its bad news, and trivia to all tastes, then, the journalist made the silly season news.

If you read this pamphlet from the silly season of August 1614, you can sub-read the discussion between the hack ('A.R.') and his boss the publisher. There's nothing stirring. But a large snake has been seen on heathland near Horsham. A. R. is told to write it up, despite his protests that their last outrageous stretcher was exploded. The pamphlet shows some of his feelings. He starts off with a semi-apology, to the effect that some recent stories in print were perhaps a product of 'our forward credulity to but seeming true reports' or 'false copies translated from other languages'. But this one is true, he huffs, before signing off his introduction with an ambiguous protest, 'He that would send better news if he had it'.

A.R. then shows off for a few pages, with a gratuitous account of the matings of serpents, and of serpents in history: he is staking his claim to be a real writer and a learned man, far better than this subject allows him to be. Three or four pages of actually relevant material are sandwiched in the middle: it's a serpent ('some call it' a dragon - A.R. seems to mean, people like my get-penny boss here), about 9 feet long, which preys on a rabbit warren in Sussex. It is 'a quantity of thickness in the middest, and somewhat smaller at both ends' (so making it identifiable as a Monty Python). It might have feet, 'but the eye may be there deceived'. It apparently has lumps like footballs on its back, from which its dragon wings may one day grow. A. R. now fibs like the pro he is: it can project venom so far (with two human casualties and two dead dogs already) that no-one can really witness its horror properly and survive. A.R. opines that 'when it shall please God', the serpent will be destroyed, it is rather something to be afraid of in a metaphorical, not literal sense: it is 'to be feared as an eclipse or fearfull comet'.

And he is away again, happy to leave behind this doubtfully veracious subject, and onto the subject of 'serpentine sinnes that live amongst us'. The serpent is an allegory of the corruption of the legal profession, or of drunkards (as it leaves a nauseous mess in its wake). Finally A.R. 'applies' the serpent to 'the Serpentine sisterhood of Brotherly (sic), the diseased Strumpetrie of the Suburbs'. The serpent has a white band round its neck, while you get only 'a white tiffanie about the necke of one of those tugging Gally-slaves of damnation'. There has to be a significant connection there.

And having somehow covered ten pages, he takes his money and runs, while the printer gets a promising boy artist to do the unabashed woodcut that will really sell the pamphlet. It's so good that he puts it in twice.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Thomas Shipman requests a kiss

Thomas Shipman: 'The Kiss, To Mrs. C.'

Hold not your Lips so close; dispence

Treasures, Perfumes, and Life from thence.

Squeeze not those full-ripe Cherries; this

Becomes a Simper, not a Kiss.

There’s danger to lock up your Breath,

It Cousin-German is to Death.

None bags up wind, the Merchant swears,

Unless some wrinkled Laplanders.

What needs this Guard? It is small sence

Thus to hedge in a double Fence.

Clos’d Lips express but silent Blisses,

And at best are but dumb Kisses.

You are with Cupid little kind

To make him Dumb as well as Blind.

Such Smacks but shew a silent state;

Kisses should be articulate.

An open-mouted Kiss speaks sence,

It is the lover’s eloquence.

Let your speak out then! There’s no Bliss

To the Pronunciation of a Kiss.

~ a fairly standard 17th century lyric, but giving the impression of being personal and 'practical'. Some of Shipman's other poems have dedications after their titles to identifiable women ('Right choice at last, 1662' was his well-meant poem to his wife to be, though it does accidentally flaunt his track record with such as 'Mistress C', who perhaps had her own notions of osculatory decorum. Cavalier poetry featured lots of kiss poems, most graciously in the dialogue on a kiss Lawes set from Herrick. On the specific topic of what the 1930's began to call the 'French Kiss', this is a passage from Harington's translation of Orlando Furioso, with Rogero (Harington relishes his bawdy version of 'Ruggiero') getting it together with the sorceress Alcyna:

And look how close the Ivy doth embrace
The tree or branch about the which it grows,
So close the lovers couched in the place,
Each drawing in the breath the other blows:
But how great joys they found that little space,
We well may guess, but none for certain knows:
Their sport was such, so well they leere their couth,
That oft they had two tongues within one mouth.

(Book 7, canto 1, stanza 27).

My image, from the Weg Gallery of Art, is Bartholomeus van der Helst, ' Abraham del Court and Maria de Keersegieter' of 1654: the gentleman courting, the lady in the role of a rose in bud, still attached to its native and thorny bush.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Family Cycling, Burnham Beeches

I bought this photographic print from one of my regular postcard dealers last weekend. There's no date or names, just the stamped 'Herb: Sharp and Sons, Burnham, Bucks' to locate the scene.
I surmise that they are a family group, the mother behind her children; it must be late Edwardian. I like the way that the three women look at the camera, while the young man adopts an 'I have got to here, next I will go to there' gaze, his stance resolute as an explorer's. He is towing his younger sister, a slight figure (perhaps she was considered 'delicate'), using a single speed bicycle with just a front rod brake. The tracks in Burnham Beeches roll up and down, and any kind of descent must have been potentially alarming as her weight started to push him along. His immaculate high collar makes no concession, but he must have to work hard on the flat, up any rise, and in using his fixed wheel to fight the rotation of the pedals on the down slopes.

Cycling in its days of high respectability; while the mixture of dark and white in their clothes, and the sun coming through the trees, makes them seem as if they could blur into an impressionist painting.

I must have a look for bicycles in such paintings.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

An Oxford Don Curses his Cat

‘On lute strings cat-eaten’

Are these the strings that poets feign

Have clear’d the Ayre, and calm’d the main?

Charm’d wolves, and from the mountain crests

Made forests dance with all their beasts?

Could these neglected shreds you see

Inspire a Lute of Ivory

And make it speak? Oh! Think then what

Hath been committed by my cat,

Who, in the silence of this night

Hath gnawn these cords, and marr’d them quite; 10

Leaving such reliques as may be

For frets, not for my lute, but me.

Puss, I will curse thee: Mayst thou dwell

With some dry hermit in a cell

Where Rat ne’re peeped, where mouse ne’re fed

And flies go supperless to bed

Or with some close-pared Brother, where

Thou’lt fast each Sabbath in the year,

Or else, prophane, be hang’d on Monday

For butchering a mouse on Sunday 20

Or mays’t thou tumble from some tower

And miss to light upon all four

Taking a fall that may untie

Eight of nine lives, and let them fly.

Or may the midnight embers singe

Thy dainty coat, or Jane beswinge

Thy hide, when she shall take thee biting

Her cheese clouts, or her house beshiting.

What, was there ne’re a rat or mouse

Nor buttery ope? Nought in the house 30

But harmless lutestrings could suffice

Thy paunch, and draw thy glaring eyes?

Did not thy conscious stomach find

Nature prophaned, that kind with kind

Should stanch his hunger? Think on that

Thou cannibal, and Cyclops cat.

For know, thou wretch, that every string

Is a cat-gut, which art did spin

Into a thread; and now suppose

Dunstan, that snuff’d the divel’s nose 40

Should bid these strings revive, as once

He did the calf, from naked bones,

Or I, to plague thee for thy sin

Should draw a circle, and begin

To conjure, for I am, look to’t

An Oxford scholar, and can doo’t:

Then with three sets of mops and mows

Seven of odd words, and motley shows

A thousand tricks, that may be taken

From Faustus, Lamb, or Friar Bacon 50

I should begin to call my strings

(My catlings, and my minikins)

And they, recalled, straight should fall

To mew, to purr, to caterwaul

From Puss’s belly. Sure, as death

Puss should be an Engastranith;

Puss should be sent for to the King

For a strange bird, or some rare thing,

Puss should be sought to far and near

As she some Cunning Woman were, 60

Puss should be carried up and down

From shire to shire, from town to town

Like to the camel, lean as hag,

The elephant, or apish nag

For a strange sight, Puss should be sung

In lousy ballads, midst the throng

At markets, with as good a grace

As Agincourt, or Chevy Chase

The Troy-sprung Briton would forgo

His pedigree he chaunteth so 70

And sing that Merlin – long deceased

Returned is in a nine-liv’d beast.

Thus Puss, thou seest what might betide thee -

But I forbear to hurt or chide thee

For maybe Puss was melancholy

And so to make her blithe and jolly

Finding these strings, she’d have a fit

Of mirth, nay, Puss, if that were it

Thus I revenge me, that as thou

Hast played on them, I’ve played on you 80

And as thy touch was nothing fine

So I’ve but scratched these notes of mine.

Thomas Master or Masters (1603-43), an
Oxford scholar associated with the literary circle of William Cartwright.

British Museum, Harley Ms 6917.

~ This playful poem deploys the classical sub-genre of dirae, curses, which had to be wittily apt to the subject of the curse. Donne’s Elegy IV, ‘The Perfume’ is an example. His cat having eaten the lute strings, Masters finally arrives at the idea of using magic to reanimate the cut-gut strings, and so causing his “cannibal, and Cyclops cat” to turn “Engastranith” (56), which is in the OED in the form ‘Engastromith’, an early word for a ventriloquist. After his outburst, Masters charmingly forgives Puss for her misdemeanor.

The Puritan hanging his cat on a Monday (19ff) for having profaned the Sabbath by catching a mouse the day before was a common anti-puritan joke of the time. I can’t find the story about St. Dunstan (40ff) reviving a calf from bones. Prior to his conversion, the Saint was supposed to have been a practitioner of black magic. That he tweaked the devil’s nose with his metal-working pincers when the devil tried to tempt him in the form of a young woman is in the Golden Legend. The Devil Tavern in London was opposite St Dunstan's Church, and was properly 'The Devil and St Dunstan';
gives fragment of a wall painting of this comic and popular legend.

There is a brief mention (61ff) of captive exotic animals then being shown around England: a scrawny camel and an elephant, while the ‘Apish nag’ may well be Banks’ performing horse. ‘Catlings’ and ‘minikins’ (52) are terms for the various thicknesses of lute strings.

(The image is a detail from Evaristo BASCHENIS, 'Still-life with Instruments', on the Web Gallery of Art)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

'Deoppilative virtue': A Treatise of Warm Beer

I am not at all a hot weather person. I cycled this morning, and returned so over-heated, thirsty and tired that I set about a large amount of Pepsi Max full of ice cubes, and spent the rest of the afternoon slumped in front of the Tour de France coverage (otherwise, 'Let's try and get excited about the also-rans of previous years') with a mild headache.

In committing this minor folly, I ignored the wisdom of the anonymous author of this unlikely treatise of 1641, which spends 143 pages recommending that you take your drink (taken as virtually synonymous with beer) warm rather than cold.

The medical grounds for doing this seem overwhelming to the author. One F.W., writing a preface, argues that you can see that cold beer hinders the digestion if you inspect what people who overdo it on the cold stuff throw up. The author himself energetically defends a series of major and minor propositions on warm beer preventing the stone, making women more fertile, slowing down the aging process (and many more benefits), and certainly being something we should partake of if we want to follow the ancients, who, in their wisdom, he proves by extensive quotation, took their drink hot.

The argument that swung it for me came on the penultimate page, where he notes "That it [hot drink] is used at this day among whole nations I will prove by Giovani Petro Massei the Jesuite, who in his 6. booke of histories writes that they of China do for the most part drink the strained liquor of a herb called Chia hot". I too felt restored after a cup of cha (in English from 1616, the OED indicates, with an advertisment in Mercurius Politicus, 30 Sept. 1658 throughly informed about "That excellent drink called by the Chineans Tcha, by other nations Tay alias Tee." I shall demand a deoppilative (ie., obstruction-clearing) warm beer in the pub later on this evening. At least I think so.