Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Gifts

As another seasonal posting to follow on from last year’s effort,

I thought I would access all the ‘New Year’s Gift’ title returns on EEBO, and pull out a plum. There’s material for a whole whacky doctorate out there in the unexpected range of early modern ‘new year’s gift’ publications. There are the godly:

A lecture or exposition vpon a part of the. v. chapter of the epistle to the Hebrues As it was read in Paules the. 6. day of December. 1572. By Edward Deryng. Prepared and geuen for a new yeres gift to the godly in London and els where, for this yeare. 1573.


Londons Nevv-yeeres gift. Or The vncouching of the foxe A godly sermon preached at Pauls Crosse, the first of Ianuarie. 1608. By Thomas Iackson, Bachelour of Diuinitie

(and alongside these, the denunciatory ‘gifts’, admonishing Catholics, etc). Then there are the gifts of advice, to offspring and godchildren, like:

The father's new-years-gift to his son containing divers useful and necessary directions how to order himself both in respect to this life and that which is to come / written by the Right Honourable Sir Matthew Hale


The lady's new-years gift, or, Advice to a daughter, 1688 ~ I had forgotten that Lord Halifax’s life-and-spirit-withering admonitions about enduring marriage to a husband with any one of a range of ‘inconvenient’ vices was published under this banner.

Then the literary: Nicholas Breton offered

A smale handfull of fragrant flowers selected and gathered out of the louely garden of sacred scriptures, fit for any honorable or woorshipfull gentlewoman to smell vnto. Dedicated for a Newe-yeeres gyft, to the honorable and vertuous lady, the Lady Sheffeeld.

and also Thomas Churchyard’s unconvincing attempt to reverse the real roles of the producers and consumers of poetry:

A light bondell of liuly discourses called Churchyardes charge presented as a Newe yeres gifte to the right honourable, the Earle of Surrie, in whiche bondell of verses is sutche varietie of matter, and seuerall inuentions, that maie bee as delitefull to the reader, as it was a charge and labour to the writer, sette forthe for a péece of pastime (1580).

~ ‘delightful’ to the writer, and a ‘charge and labour’ to the reader, surely?

Over and over again, New Year’s gift books were political. This one has a particular pathos in its complete failure to anticipate (amid its heartfelt wishes that the King come to London and make reconciliation with Parliament) the very near and impending future:

A new-yeers gift for the Kings most excellent Majesty now at Windsore, from his loyall and faithfull subjects residing in and about the cities of London and Westminster; and a declaration of the Kings Majesties speedy coming to London., (1649).

In the end I opted for:

THE NEW-YEERES GIFT: PRESENTED AT Court, from the Lady PARVULA to the Lord MINIMUS, (commonly called Little JEFFERIE) Her Majesties Servant, with a Letter as it was penned in short-hand: wherein is proved LITTLE THINGS are better then GREAT. Written by MICROPHILVS. (1636).

As you see, this is addressed to one of the few people at court capable of making King Charles look tall, his pituitary dwarf Jeffrey Hudson, and it is the kind of predictable ragging that finally led Hudson to shoot one of his tormentors dead:

“SIR, MAY it please your diminutive eminence, permit a devoted lover of your concise dimensions, to present very lowly, as most fitting to your person, (in remembrance of this New-yeare) a small Token of my unparralleld affection. Confesse I must Compendious SIR my gift is somewhat of the least, but my hope is, being there in so like your selfe it will not displease you.”

It is indeed an appropriately diminutive volume, mainly taken up with a paradox in praise of littleness: “little women (as most nimble-spirited) best for generation” and such factoids. There’s a more immediately relevant passage about the meaning of having dwarf-attendants in a royal court: ‘Master Slater’, the author, adds deeper possibilities to the overt reason:

“Your little low person (me thinkes) is natures humble pulpit, out of which shee reads graces diviner lectures to High-aspiring Mortals: and whereas some in the world (wedded to errour) may fondly imagine your residence at Court, to bee rather for wonder and merriment, then for any use or service; you may require from them no lesse satisfaction then a publique recantation: For as it hath beene the custome of famous Princes to use (at chiefe times) some ceremony which represented some hidden Morall … So (at all times) the residence of dwarfes in Courts hath a twofold Representment, Theologicall, and Politicall, the first to the Soveraigne, the second, to the Subiect: For the first, as Philip King of Macedon betimes every morning had a little boy came unto him, and cryed, Philippe, memento te esse mortalem, O Philip, remember how thou art mortall: So little dwarfes (boyes in proportion, though perchance men in discretion) being about a Monarch, though silent, yet their very persons (being with Princes of the same naturall extraction) are as a voice crying, Rex, memento te esse minimum: O King remember how thou art little, borne like others little, to teach thee to Heaven, humility, to Earth, humanity: For the second, the civill regard in relation to the subiect: the residence of dwarfes about Monarchs hath beene by those who are grounded Politicians accounted emblemattically necessary, to denote those who desire to approach neere Princes ought not to bee ambitious of any Greatnesse in themselves, but to acknowledge all their Court-lustre is but a beame of the Royall Sunne their Master, which when, and to whom, he please hee can send forth or withdraw.”

I did enjoy (at this time of sales and credit squeezes) the digression onto “Peripateticall madcaps” who shop high and purchase low:

“another, who going to the Faire, after hee stately stalked thorow the chiefe Streets, cheapning Orient Iewels, choise pictures, new-fashion'd plate, rich hangings, and the dearest imbroideries, departed home with the buying only of a woodden dish: or of a third, who going to their shops that sell costly apparrell, calls confidently to see a suit of an hundred pounds, and when they were agreed of the price, quarrels with his boy for following him without his purse.”

~ which more or less describes my habitual promenade from John Lewis to TK Maxx. I wonder when the 'New Year's Gift' lost out to present-giving on Christmas Day? I recall once reading through all the exchanges of gifts between Elizabeth Tudor and her courtiers, which gave me a strong impression that you gave gold, and got back 'parcel-gilt'.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Splat that pike! Disfigure that peacock! - words for early modern festive occasions

“It was the opinion of Lucallus the Noble Roman, that there was as much care to be taken in the well managing a Feast, as in the Marshalling of an Army; that the one might be as pleasing to Friends, as the other terrible to Enemies;

in cutting up therefore all manner of small Birds,

We say ‘thigh them’ as Wood-cocks, Pidgeons, Partridges, &c.

The term for a Plover, is, ‘Mince it’;

for a Quail, ‘wing it’;

for a Pheasant, ‘allay it’;

a Curlew, ‘attach it’;

a Bittern ‘unjoynt it’;

a Peacock, ‘disfigure it’;

a Crane, ‘display it’;

a Hern, ‘Dismember it’;

a Mallard, ‘unbrace it’;

a Chicken, ‘frust it’;

a Hen, ‘spoil her’;

a Capon, ‘Sawce it’;

a Swan, ‘chit it’;

a Goose, ‘tear her’;

a Coney, ‘unlace her’;

a Dear, ‘Creak it’;

Brawn, ‘leach it’;

and for Fish, viz. A Salmon, ‘chine it’;

a Lamprey, ‘string it’;

a Pike, ‘splat it’;

a Place or Tench, ‘sawce it’;

Bream, ‘splay it’;

a Haddock, ‘side it’;

a Barbel, ‘tusk it’;

a Trout, ‘culpon it’;

an Eel, ‘transon it’;

a Crab, ‘tame it’;

a Sturgeon, ‘Tranch it’;

and a Lobster, ‘barb it’.

Thus having the terms, we shall direct such as need it how to cut up some of these, by which means being brought dexterously to handle their Knife and Fork, they may the better manage the rest, To life a Swan, slit her right down in the middle of the breast, also through the back bone, from the Neck to the Rump, and so laying the divided parts in the Dish, the inward parts downwards; let your Sauce be chaldron, apart in Saucers, and then every one may cut as best likes the party. To rear or break a Goose, is to take off the legs very fair, then to cut off the belly piece round, close to the lower end of the breast, and with your Knife lace her down, quite through the breast on each side, a thumb’s breadth from the breast bone, then take off the wings on each side, with the Flesh you first laced, raising it from the bone, and then cut up the Merry-thought, and having cut up an other piece of Flesh which you formerly laced, then turn the Carcass and cut it asunder, the back bone above the Loins, take the Rump end of the back and lay it at the sore end of the Merry thought with the Skinny side upward, then lay your pinions on each side contrary, set your legs on each side contrary behind them, that the bond end of the Leg may stand up in the Middle of the Dish, and the wing pinions on the out sides of them put under the wing pinions on each side, the long slices of Flesh which you cut off the breast bone and let the ends meet under the leg bones. To deal in like manner with a Turkey or Bustard, raise the leg very fair, then open the Joint with the sharp point of your Knife, but take not the legs off, then lace down the breast on both sides, and open the breast pinion, but take it not off; then raise up the Merry-thought between the breast bone and the top of the Merry-thought; lace down the Flesh on both sides of the breast bone. And raise up the Flesh called the Brawn, turn it outwards on both sides, but break it not, nor cut it off, then cut off the wing pinions, at the Joint next the Body, and stick on each side the pinion in the place where you turned out the Brawn, but cut off the sharp end of the pinion, take the middle piece, and you will find it just fit the place: and in the like manner a Capon, Pheasant, and most Fowls of largeness may be cut up. A Capon cut up in this manner, only differs in placing, slit the Gizzard, in the place where the pinions, of the Turkey, as aforesaid are laid. In dismembering a Hern, take off both the legs and lace it down the breast, then raise up the Flesh, and take it quite off with the pinion, then stick the head in the breast, and set the pinion, on the contrary side of the Carcass, and the leg on the other side, by which means the bones ends will meet cross over the Carcass, and the other wing crossing over, on the top of the Carcass. To unbrace a Mallard, raise the pinions and legs, but take them not off, raise the Merry thought from the breast, and with your Knife lace it sloping on each side the breast. To unlace a Coney, place the belly upwards, and take off the flaps from the Kidneys, then put in the point of your Knife between the Kidneys, and loosen the Flesh from the bone on each side, then turn up the back, and cut it cross between the wings, and lace it down close by the done on each side, then open the Flesh from the bone against the Kidneys, and pull open the legs softly with your hands, but not quite off, then thrust in your Knife, between the Ribs and Kidneys, and slit out, and lay the Legs close together. In displaying a Crane, unfold his Legs, and cut off his Wings by the Joints, then take up his Wings and Legs and sauce them with Mustard, Vinegar, Salt, and Powder of Ginger well mixed together: The same Sauce is for a Hern, and though a Bittern is to be dismembered, after the same manner, yet seldom any thing is used with it, except Salt: And for a Partridge minced, Wine, Ginger and Salt over a Chafing-dish of Coals, and the like for Quails. In allaying a Pheasant, you must raise the Wings and Legs, and cut it up as a Capon.

--- This may give an Insight to the Art of Carving, which however it may be disesteemed by some, and thought beneath their Notice, yet we tell them that to be ignorant is it, shows a great defect in Table-knowledge, for a Carver not being at hand at all times in all places. It will look very odd to see Ladies with covered Table before them, to which they have brought keen Appetites, and yet sit gazing on each other, and none of them knowing how to begin according to the accepted way of dividing their Dainties; or to tear them to pieces, after the rustick manner, is very undecent, and not only upbraids them with want of all, but in some manner shows, such delicates have often strangers to their Bills of Fare…”

Adapted from The ladies dictionary, being a general entertainment of the fair-sex a work never attempted before in English (1694). Imagine unjointing and munching through a bittern or a bustard (it recalls the surreal recipes in James Hamilton-Paterson’s Cooking with Fernet Branca – ‘bustard with custard’ was one). Out cycling last Sunday, we saw a flock of fieldfares: Birds Britannica tells me how tasty they were considered.

I had trouble deciphering some of this: the EEBO images are from a tight-bound copy, but I did get ‘frust’ right for carving a chicken (and this made me think of Hector in Troilus and Cressida announcing that he will ‘frush’ the Greek who unwisely shows up in ‘goodly’ armour – ‘strike violently’, but with this sub-sense of carving a chicken.

As for your own carving at Christmas, we seem to have lost ‘merrythought’ as a word for the wish-bone. John Aubrey cannot be right can he?

1697 J. AUBREY Remaines Gentilisme & Judaisme (1881) 92 'Tis called the merrythought, because when the fowle is opened, dissected, or carv'd, it resembles the pudenda of a woman. 1708 Brit. Apollo 26 Nov., For what Reason is the Bone next the Breast of a Fowl, &c. Called the Merry-thought..? The Original of that Name was doubtless from the Pleasant Fancies, that commonly arise upon the Breaking of that Bone.

Image off the Web Gallery of Art, Vincenzo Campi, a poulterer's stall, painted 1580's.

Season’s greetings to all fellow bloggers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

“The understanding being a most subtile fire”: the 'virtuosi of France' talk

I have been reading A general collection of discourses of the virtuosi of France, upon questions of all sorts of philosophy, and other natural knowledg made in the assembly of the Beaux Esprits at Paris, by the most ingenious persons of that nation, render'd into English by G. Havers, Gent. (1664). (Usual early modern title: inviting a coffee break after reading it all, only 500-odd pages to go…)

The introduction, which explains that the ‘virtuosi of France’ demanded anonymity in the record made of their debates, is signed ‘Eusebius Renaudot’, so a very little poking around discovers that the original compiler was Théophraste Renaudot (c.1586-1653). I assume it was his son who ushered the English translation into print. As the brief Wikipedia entry says of the very considerable figure of Théophraste: “French physician, philanthropist, and journalist”. Renaudot invented the recruitment agency (the ‘bureau d'adresse et de rencontre’), published the first weekly newspaper in France, and, the Wikipedia entry says, ‘starting in 1633, he organized weekly public conferences on subjects of interest and published the proceedings; the conferences were discontinued in 1642, when Richelieu died. About 240 conference proceedings were translated into English and published in London in 1664 and 1665’.

The translation’s other introductory material briefly points out the merits of the work: the original penseurs were committed to the vernacular language for their discussion, and, seeking brevity, omitted all parading of authorities. And (most politely), these ‘French Gentlemen’ have left “the Determination of each Question to the judgement of the Reader, who is made the Arbiter of the Dispute, and may, in the grateful Variety of Opinions, freely give his suffrage to That which shall seem to him founded upon the most convincing Reasons; or else having them all before him, establish a better of his own.”

So we have here the discussions of an earlier and more public (French) Royal Society, ranging over all kinds of topics, expressing viewpoints that fluctuate unpredictably between the Cartesian and the credulous, and generally opening out the kunstkammer of the early modern mind.

Here are discussions of women, the soul, sorcerers, the senses, the arts, codes, sleep-walking, fossilia, and all kinds of matters medical. As ever, the incidentals amaze: the early 17th century apparently saw the first self-winding watch (they are discussing – what else? - perpetual motion): “his Invention who exactly fastned a Girdle to his skin, which rising and falling as he took his breath, serv'd for a perpetual spring to a Watch that hung at it, (which by that means needed not winding up) was not the Perpetual Motion which we mean...”

Or here, in a discussion of feigned diseases, one of the most hazardous ways of earning a living in early modern showbiz I have ever come across:

“One of the hardest cheats to be discover'd was that of a Jugler of Flanders, who every morning, having first stopp'd his fundament very exactly, swallow'd down half a pound of Butter and some Quicksilver after it: which put him into such hideous motions and gestures, that every one judg'd him possest. At night he unstop'd himself, and voided his Devil backwards.”

I can’t think that the performer would have lasted long, but his trick seems to have been feigning a very convincing diabolic possession by inducing symptoms he simply couldn’t control. A pair of Siamese twins (revealingly discussed as just a singular ‘monster’) whose speciality act was singing are remembered as: “mention'd by Buchanan in the fifteenth Book of his History, born in Northumberland with two heads, four armes, two breasts, and onely two leggs; It was instructed in Musick, so that each head sung its part melodiously, and discours'd together pertinently.” This made me think of Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban.

Perhaps appropriately, considering the nationality of these thinkers, the sections on eating and fasting are good. Here are two terms very familiar to our culture, which I did not expect to see in an early 17th century text:

“Amongst which we should speed ill if we look'd for abstinence in those who have a Boulimie, or Canine Hunger, proceeding either from the too great suction of the Mesaraick Veins, of which the Stomack is made sensible by the Nerves of the sixth Conjugation; or because the Melancholy humour design'd to stimulate the stomack, and provoke Appetite by its acrimony, continually flows thither, and not after the concoction is perfected: The cure of which Malady consists in eating, and chiefly in drinking pure Wine, which is distributed more speedily then any nourishment. But when those Mesaraick Veins suck no more Chyle, either because their passages are stop'd, or for that the above mentioned acide liquor is diverted elsewhere, then ariseth a disease call'd Anorexie, or Nausea, whereunto the abstinence of those must be referr'd who have continu'd some weeks, yea moneths, and years, without eating and drinking.”

But I was, as ever, ignorant, and find that both are named disorders well before this date. Here are the OED’s earliest entries:

1398 TREVISA Barth. de. P.R. VII. xlv. (1495) 258 Bolismus is inmoderate and vnmesurable as it were an houndes appetyte. Ibid. XVIII. xxvii. 786 Houndes haue contynuall Bolisme, that is inmoderat appetyte. 1598 SYLVESTER Du Bartas (1608) 210 One while the boulime, then the anorexie…rage with monstrous ryot. 1651 FULLER Abel Rediv. (1867) I. 222 He fell into a most devouring and unsatiable bulimy. 1661 LOVELL Hist. Anim. & Min. 365 The boulimos and dog like appetite.

1598 SYLVESTER Furies 450 (D.) Then the Anorexie, Then the Dog-hunger or the Bradypepsie. 1650 BAXTER Saints Rest IV. vi, These are sick of the anorexia, and apepsy, they have neither appetite nor digestion.

And, oh dear, this naturally sent me off to Joseph Sylvester’s translation of du Bartas, and the grim relish of his account of ‘The Furies’ who assail Adam after the fall of man. Unsurprisingly (considering the nature of the sin he committed) Adam and his descendents get afflicted by eating disorders:

Now, the third Regiment with stormy stours
Sets-on the Squadron of our Naturall Powers,
Which happily maintain us (duly) both
With needfull food, and with sufficient growth.
One-while the Boulime, then the Anorexie,
Then the Dog-hunger, or the Bradypepsie,
And childe-great Pica (of prodigious diet)
In straightest stomacks rage with monstrous ryot…

Close to this passage, either Du Bartus or his translator interjects a personal note about the horror of fever, and the effect of fours years of illness on his mental capacities. But I have no time to pursue that secondary question, my subject here was ‘the virtuosi of France’, and this informal and yet highly committed book, one that makes them look like proto-bloggers.

My image is Annibale Carracci's astonishingly modern 'The Bean Eater'. Not exactly 'the Dog-hunger', but a marvellous picture.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Early Modern Teeth Veneers

Yesterday evening I was giving an M.A. class on Shakespeare’s so-called ‘Dark Lady’ sonnets. Instead of doing some solid class preparation, I’d spent a deal of Thursday afternoon frantically interrogating EEBO with keyword searches, ‘Mistress NEAR black’, ‘black NEAR beauty’, etc, as ever in the hope that something might emerge that had been missed by those diligent Victorian gentlemen who actually read the books themselves (well, what can I say? I have a busy life).

So I have looked at lots of commentaries on the Song of Songs, and being ‘black, but comely’, but on this last day of term I don’t have the energy to sum up early modern opinions about that smokingly hot Bible text. Instead, I dwindle down to one of the poets I turned up, John Collop.

Collop’s vauntingly titled Poesis rediviva, or, Poesie reviv'd (1656) was not up to the aim projected in its title. Perhaps part of his notion of ‘reviving’ poetry involved echoing earlier writers rather closely:

‘Prophanum vulgus. The People.’

“Th'rabble's an echo made 'twixt Knave and Fool,
To work his ends, the politician’s tool:
While he the Devil’s quilted Anvil is,
On which he frames all that we find amiss…”

That’s a direct crib from Webster’s Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi:

“A Polititian is the divells quilted anvil,
He fashions all sinnes on him, and the blowes
Are never heard”

but with Collop rather witlessly losing the point of the silent fashioning of sins on that ‘quilted anvil’. In the book as a whole, after our poetaster has aired his opinions about various preachers, sects, doctors and treatments, he gets onto the subject of women. Not having anything much to say, he falls back on praising yellow skin, ‘Ethiopian Beauty’, the larger lady (in ‘To Dionysia the plump Lady, S D.’), etc. - anything on which he can jangle out a few conceits and paradoxes.

One poem did strike me:

‘On Pentepicta: A Lady with enamell'd Teeth, black, white and yellow. F.W.

The wiseman teeth call'd flocks of sheep;
Sure Jacob’s speckled flocks here keep.
Where teeth are checker'd black and white,
Nay gilt too to enrich delight:
Her mouth ope, you at Chess may play,
With teeth resembling night and day.
Each fondling reach will praise what's white;
Is there in Chalk such strange delight?
Give me the mouth like th'Temple floor,
With speckled Marble paved o're,
Or - oh more rich! - in gold thus set,
A row of pearl, then one of jet.

I think that this is just a burlesque (any foolish poet can attain the praise of white teeth, he says) but it does seem that you could get your stained teeth enameled. In the poem by Royall Tyler (there’s a name for you!) below, jeering at the cosmetic construct that is ‘Flirtilla’, one 18th century practitioner of this particular aid to beauty is actually named. White enamel is obvious, gold quite conceivable, but having your teeth enameled black seems altogether implausible. Another stray reference in a play of 1655 by William Rider turns up a character writing a burlesque poem to a ‘loathly lady’, whose teeth are enameled with blue, black and yellow (i.e., simply discoloured: but the reference does suggest that white enameling existed as a practice).

[Collop’s opening line took me back to the Song of Solomon anyway: ‘Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.’]

Royall Tyler, 1757-1826: ‘To Miss Flirtilla Languish’

Flirtilla, the pride of the street,
Oh listen to Tippy's fond lay;
I swear, by my shoe bows, so neat,
No beauty was ever so gay.

Her pudding is puff'd to her chin,
Her chignon is frizzled with taste,
Milk of roses has soften'd her skin,
And her neck is white over with paste.

The rouge on her cheeks spreads its rose,
Her braids on her neck sweetly play;
No waist has my love to her clothes.
And her hair is, with Marechalle, gray.

With a grace my Flirtilla trips in,
Her umbrella display'd to the wind,
From her ruff in and out bobs her chin;
And her spencer keeps bobbing behind.

Of the mouse's sleek skin are her brows,
And her eyes they so languish beneath;
She is scented with Jonquil and rose
And GREENWOOD enamel'd her teeth.

I have found out a gift for my fair,
To LANE'S sweet scented shop did I go,
I there bought her a Tete of false hair,
But she pouted at all I could do.

For he ne'er could be true, she oft said,
Who a present could make to his fair;
Who could purchase a Tete for her head,
Without any braids to the hair.

To see, when my charmer trips by,
Some beau point his Opera glass;
How he looks down Cornhill, with a sigh,
As a shopping Flirtilla doth pass.

On him she may leer, if she please,
Or nod as she passes the street;
But let him not kiss her, or squeeze,
For he'll rub the Carmine from her cheek.

I'd give my Canee and Bootees,
My Pantaloons, Pudding and Vest,
If once my Flirtilla would please,
To press me to what once was her breast.

In wedlock I'd keep her from harm,
No nurs'ry should spoil her soft health,
Fleecy hosi'ry should keep my dear warm,
If I failed for to warm her myself.

My image is from the Web Gallery of Art, and is Goya's 'Out Hunting for Teeth!' The commentary there suggests that the young lady is pulling teeth from the jaw of the hanged man for purposes of witchcraft. This is wrong: witches are never depicted as disgusted at what they do. Rather, she is collecting nice white teeth to push into the gap the barber surgeon is about to make in her own discoloured smile. Like 'Waterloo teeth'.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Visiting Professor of Melancholy Studies, 1640?

“Heartbeating, swelling of the face, want of appetite, greife, sighing, causeles teares, insatiable hunger, extreame thirst, sownings, oppressions, suffocations, continuall watchings, Headach, Melancholy, Epilepsy, Ragings, Furor uterinus, Satyriasis; and diverse other desperate Symptomes, which for the most part admit neither cure, nor mitigation…”

~ some of the dire symptoms of love melancholy, as described in Dr Jacques Ferrand’s

Erotomania or A treatise discoursing of the essence, causes, symptomes, prognosticks, and cure of love, or erotique melancholy (1640).

A worse symptom still (I suppose) is spontaneous gender-reassignment, references to which Ferrand dutifully notes, but ‘dare not believe’. If it happens, it affects women love-melancholics:

Hippocrates seemes to attribute to passionate love the power of transforming women into men; where he sayes, that in the citty Abdera, Phaethusa, being stricken with the love of Pytheus, and not being able to enjoy him for a long time; by reason of his absence; she became a Man, and grew hairy all over her body, had a mans voyce, and a long beard on her chin. The same he affirms in the Aphorisme following to have befallen to Namysia, wife to one Gorgippus: and addes withall, that it was impossible for her to have recovered to her former womanhood againe.”

Ferrand discusses the anatomical probabilities of this, and finds that, if it does occur, Aristotle’s account of the difference of the two genders perhaps allows a mechanism:

“It may very easily then be, according to this doctrine of Aristotle, and of Galen that a woman, being enflamed with the violence of love, may put forth those her genitall parts, which are no other, then those of a man reversed, or turned inward as the same Doctour affirmes: whom not withstanding all our Modern Anatomists doe unanimously contradict: as you may see at large in the Anatomicall Quaestions of Andreas Laurentius.

These things are amusing enough, but there’s a real mystery about this book (I use this cliché in the sense of ‘I haven’t the time or inclination to research this properly’). Whoever James or Jacques Ferrand was, his connections are all with Christ Church, Oxford. The book has the usual parade of commendatory verses, all by students of that college.

Now 1640 was the year of the death of the Christ Church author who ought to be cited throughout this work, but isn’t, Robert Burton, whose Anatomy of Melancholy treats largely of love melancholy. Maybe I will post a large section of this latter text, and a similar extract from Burton’s work up to ‘Turnitin’, and see if I can make pioneering use of that resource to detect a 17th century plagiarist.

Ferrand’s first name appears as James or Jacques, and he refers to his own medical practice (and successes in diagnosing love melancholy) abroad. Unless someone did a translation for him, he writes a normal 17th century learned English, with the usual polyglot smattering of Greek and Latin phrases.

I think he was ‘Visiting Professor of Melancholy Studies’ at Christchurch, drawn there by Burton’s reputation. Burton’s will survives – I must check if he left any legacy to promote continued study of his big subject.

But, to round this off, some of the many ways listed to prevent, diagnose and cure love melancholy:


1. “The most powerfull and effectual cause of all, and therefore the most dangerous, is, the use of hot, provocative, Flatulent and Melancholy Meats”

2. “But they must be sure to take heed of all manner of Aromaticall things, and all fried or salt meats: because that Salt, by reason of its Heat and Acrimony, provokes to lust those that use to eate it in any great quantity … And this is the reason that Fishes are more fruitfull, and multiply faster, then any other living creatures whatsoever. And we see that vessells of salt commonly produce great store of Mice: the Female conceaving without a Male, meerely by licking of the salt: if we may believe Aristotle.

  1. “It is also very good to bath the privy members in Vineger.”


1. Valescus de Tarenta, the most famous Physitian of his Age, observes the chapping of the Lips in Women to be a signe of their Inclination to this Malady: for that it denotes the Intemperate Heat of the Matrix … Aristotle in his Lib. 2. de Gener. Animal. cap. 7. will have the Eyes also to bee very considerable in these Predictions … because, saith he, the Eye is the most Spermaticall part about the Head.”


Ferrand offers (in what is possibly the only sensible piece of advice in the whole book), the amenable Ovid:

1. “Let each man have two Mistresses in store:

And 'twere much better, if he could have more.

Thus, whilst the mind 'twixt two it selfe doth share,

One Love will still each others force impaire.”

2. “But the most famous, and certaine Remedy of all, was the Leucadian Rocke, from the top whereof distracted Lovers would throw themselves downe headlong into the sea.”

(Ferrand does concede “the harshnesse and unpleasantnesse of this Remedy.”)

There’s a Shakespeare allusion in one of the commendatory verses, that by Richard Goodridge of Christ Church:

“Were thy story of as much direfull woe,
As that, of Iuliet and Hieronymo:
Here's that would cure you…”

He imitates the closing couplet of Romeo and Juliet, and gives us a nice pairing of Elizabethan woe-tragedies.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A General History of Whoring, 1697

I have been reading, with gratified astonishment, the anonymous publication of 1697, God's judgments against whoring. being an essay towards a general history of it, from the creation of the world to the reign of Augustulus (which according to common computation is 5190 years) and from thence down to the present year 1697: being a collection of the most remarkable instances of uncleanness that are to be found in sacred or prophane history during that time, with observations thereon.

I pointed out this simultaneously learned and ill-judged book to my colleague Blair Worden (who really knows about this period) and he noticed straight away that the printer, Richard Baldwin, was a regular printer of radical tracts. It was all intended very seriously by a late 17th century writer immensely antagonized by what he calls “Advocates of Lechery”. He writes against libertinage, and foresees trouble – if anyone rebuked to their face theBeaux and Debauchees of this present Age, he would run a hazard of being whipp'd through the Lungs, with a Damn him for a canting foul-mouth'd Coxcomb”.

Apart from that of being run through by an indignant rakehell, the author did see the inherent problem in his project: “the Design of the following Essay is not to minister Fuel to those Impure Flames which have consum'd so many particular Persons, Families, and Nations, but is intended as a Caveat and Warning to all those who are guilty of that reigning Sin of Uncleanness” (he begins). But he then embarks on a work which tactlessly gathers together every discreditable Bible episode, and supplies chapter and verse on every classical depravity. So, if you wanted a detailed summary of what Tiberius got up to at Capraea, here it all is. What emerges is a version of Sir Walter Ralegh’s History of the World (which has the same type of historical scope and sources), but focused almost entirely on fornication, history’s “remarkable instances of uncleanness”. Our pious-minded author, oblivious to his effect, runs first through Bible history, then the Jewish Historians, and on into the classical historians, pursuing his learned theme with unremitting enthusiasm (and giving the impression that humanity in general has also pursued the practical matter with unremitting enthusiasm too).

The introductory list of contents is fabulous: here are some extracts from D, F and W:

  • Damocles leaps into scalding Oyl to avoid Sodomy. 211
  • David's Amours with Maacha, and the Opinions of the Rabbins concerning it. 68
  • David's Adultery and Punishment, and Remarks on it. 64, 65
  • David's Concubines, their uncleanness and punishment. 75
  • Darius's Incest and Punishment. 148, 225

  • Firmus drank two Buckets of Wine at once. 273
  • Fishes, the luxury and niceness of the Romans in them, mourn'd for when dead, deck'd with Jewels, Octavius's Expence about 'em. 282, 283.
  • Fore-skin, why circumcis'd. 13
  • Fornication, why so called. 307
  • ---Schoolmens Opinion of it. 315
  • Fowl, the niceness and luxury of the Romans about 'em. 283
  • Furniture of Houses excessive. 292, 294
  • War occasion'd at Sparta by the Lust of Chelidonis. 200
  • Wenches naked wait at Table. 277
  • Whores and Whoremongers, their Character by Solomon. 87

· Whoredom the cause of Apostacy, and of the Deluge. 6, 7

  • ---the Judgments denounc'd against it in the New Testament. 122, &c.
  • ---its Original. 1, 2, 3
  • Wild Beasts, vast numbers of 'em in the Theatres. 287
  • Women that kill'd themselves to avoid being defil'd. 304
  • Woman taken in Adultery, the reason of our Saviour's acquitting her; what he wrote upon the Ground at that time. 109

Immensely hot under the collar though he is about adultery, ‘digamy’, polygamy, concubinage, and the ‘keeping of misses’, as you see, the author still has spare indignation about the other depravities his fornicators have indulged.

Generally, the author can keep more or less on track, as bad things happen to most of the adulterers in the Bible. However, there are episodes where due condemnation is not to be found. And there is a certain, scarcely deniable raciness to the commentary … for instance, when he gets to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The author speculates about what drove the inhabitants to demand intercourse with the angels visiting Lot:

“This is the first Instance we meet with of Lusts arriving to such a prodigious height, as to seek after Unnatural Objects, and it would seem their Incontinence was so fierce, that they furiously sought after every opportunity, to gratifie their brutish desires, especially upon Strangers; for they had so mutually polluted one another, that it's probable their villainous pleasures that way, had lost much of their relish.

From there, he plunges on with the continued story of Lot, and how his daughters came to seduce him. No immediate thunderbolt ensues: the author points this out himself, which is to his credit. But I was struck by his ingenious speculations on the way the behaviour of Lot’s daughters might be attributable to the adverse environmental factors of their upbringing. He has a point, but an oddly worldly one:

“The next Instance we meet with, is that of Lot's Incest with his own Daughters, or rather their Incest with him. This passage has many strange Circumstances that deserve our observation. It is not improbable that the lewd Conversation of the Sodomites had before-hand infected the minds of those Damsels, for it's a hard matter to touch pitch and not to be defiled; Divines are of different opinions concerning those Women, some believing that they had actually been married, and others, that they were only betrothed, but which soever of 'em it was, it's certain they had lost their Males; and perhaps their Fathers offer to prostitute them to save his Guests, and their having been ear witnesses at least to those unnatural villanies practis'd by the Sodomites, might possess them with extenuating thoughts of the wickedness they had in design: Yet it appears by their abominable Intrigue to Intoxicate their Father, that they durst not propound any such thing to him when he was Sober, their wickedness appears to be so much the greater, that they had but just escap'd from that storm of divine Wrath which over took the Sodomites for their Vile Lusts; That they had but a very little before seen their Mother turn'd into a Monument of God's displeasure, for having a hankering mind after that impure City, and her wicked Relations in it; That they had no doubt been often times witnesses to the vexation of their Fathers Righteous Soul at the lustful practises of the Sodomites, and yet all this was not able to restrain them from pursuing their unclean design, and commiting one sin to obtain the Commission of another. Their pretence that there was no Man left to come in unto them after the manner of all the Earth, and that therefore they were under necessity a of raising up Seed to their Father, appears to have been an ill founded suggestion of the Devil, to hide their sin from their Eyes, for they could not but know that they had left men behind them in Zoar, they might have seen from the hill, that the whole Country was not ruined, and those divine Judgments had only swallowed up the Cities of the Plain; or they might speedily have been better inform'd by their Father. Their wickedness is also aggravated by this, that as they were Sisters by Nature, they were Sisters in Iniquity, and they had no regard to their own, nor their Father's good Name, nor the scandal which by this lewd practice they gave to the Enemies of true Religion. The Scripture is silent as to any Judgments inflicted either upon their Father or themselves, but informs us plainly that the issue which they had by this Unlawfull Congress, were accursed, and their posterity like other spurious brood were mortal Enemies to the people of God, and perpetually excommunicated from the Church by Divine Command, Deut. 23. 3. And thus Lot had an eternal blemish fixt upon his Chastity, which did formerly so much distinguish him from the other Inhabitants of Sodom, and was punished by being the Author of Debauching his Daughters himself, whom he so rashly offered to be Debauched by others; so that we see raging Lust leaps over all the bounds of Law and Nature, and if not curb'd in time may rise to a surprizing and prodigious height, and bring down stupendous Judgments upon People and Persons.

In this next passage, he considers one of the odder biblical prohibitions and punishments, which he finds strongly indicates just what an overriding priority with God chastity must be:

“Chastity was so strictly enjoyned unto this select people of God, that they were not only forbid to suffer any of their Daughters to be Whores, or any of their Sons to be Whore-Masters, as some think the word which in our Translation Deut 23. 17. is Sodomites, ought to be rendered, but all manner of immodesty was strictly forbid; and therefore if any Woman seeing her Husband and another Man a Quarrelling, should be so impudent in her Fury or Passion as to take the other Man by the Secret Parts to oblige him to forbear Quarrelling with her Husband, her hand was to be cut off without any pity, tho' every Man knows that a Pressure or Gripe in those parts would quickly Force her Husband's Antagonist to quit the Fray.---And by much more reason would those Judges have Condemned Women who put their hands to those parts upon a Lustful Account.

Unsurprisingly, he interprets circumcision as “a mark of God's displeasure at Incontinence upon the Instrument of Generation. The author nowhere escapes the charge of knowing rather too much about the subject he is denouncing. Here, the zoophiles of his universal history of sexual misdemeanor run on into what looks dangerously like a learned joke:

“The Egyptians and Canaanites are also charged with Bestiality, their Men and Women having committed Confusion with Beasts, and thus Pasiphae is accused of having accompanied with a Bull, Polyphantes with a Bear, Semiramis with an Horse, and the Women of Mendis in Egypt with Goats.---Nay if we may believe the Fables of the Jews, the false Prophet Balaam, who was slain amongst the Midianites, was guilty of Bestiality with his Ass, which they foolishly collect from those Words of the Beast, viz. Am not I thine Ass which thou hast ridden upon?

Once into the madder Roman emperors, the author can really enjoy himself (in whatever way it was that he was enjoying himself). But rather than any out-and-out naughty passage, I extract finally his version of the famous passage in North’s Plutarch describing Cleopatra at Cydnus. I cannot see here that he had so far weakened as to read a profane text like Antony and Cleopatra: it his independent rewrite. But anyone wanting to set a literary-critical exercise could print together North, Shakespeare, and this remarkable ‘Anon’:

Dalleus, who carried the Message to her, had no sooner seen her admirable Beauty, but he told her, It was impossible that so beautiful a Creature could receive any ill treatment at the Hands of Antony, and therefore advis'd her to make towards him in splendid Equipage. Accordingly she embarks in the River Cydnus, the Head of her Barge did shine with inlaid Gold, the Sails were of Purple Silk, the Oars of Silver, which beat Time to the Flutes and Hautbois, she her self lay all-along under a Canopy of Cloth of Gold curiously embroider'd, dress'd as Venus is ordinarily represented, and beautiful young Boys stood on each side like Cupids, to fann her; her Maids were dress'd like Sea-Nymphs and Graces, some steering the Rudder, some working at the Ropes; the Perfumes diffus'd themselves from the Vessel to the Shore, which was all cover'd with Multitudes, the People running out of the City to see this strange Sight, left Antony alone upon the Tribunal, and a Rumor was spread abroad, That Venus was come to feast with Bacchus, for the common Good of Asia. As soon as she arriv'd, Antony sent to invite her to Supper, but she thought it more decent that Antony should come to her, who made no great Difficulty to do it; he found the Preparations very magnificent, but nothing was so admirable as the great number of Lights, which were all of a sudden let down in such a multitude of Branches, and so ingeniously dispos'd, some in Squares and some in Circles, that Fame cannot speak of a greater piece of Curiosity.”

It is among the 12,500 texts which the text creation project over on EEBO has made a full text of, so it is very readily accessible. (How I wish they’d get round to doing Paul Fairfax’s English Faustbook!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A failed early modern memory theatre

I had reason to look at the various early editions of Florio’s translation of Montaigne. I had never seen this ‘comely frontispiece’ before, and thought I’d do a brief post on it. It appeared in the 1632 edition.

It comes with a variant on those ‘the mind of the frontispiece’ sets of verses that you sometimes get in early printed books.* These are graceful and well turned, and they adroitly turn the failure of an over-ambitious plan to advantage, for they explain how the picture doesn't convey the sense of the work.

As you will see if you read my transcript of the verses below, the scheme had been to do a woodcut of a many-roomed palace to symbolise the ‘Essays’ as a totality. The decoration of the many rooms would have been a memory theatre of the notable things in Montaigne; it would have displayed a cabinet of his wonders and rarities.

That was the plan, anyway. But the verses gracefully excuse its failure: Montaigne overwhelmed the capacity of visual art to represent his variety of subjects. So, the palace was dropped for a gateway (opened to all English readers by Florio’s translation) which invites the readers to pass through to see the riches beyond.

Who was working on this? Martin Droeshout, no less, did the engraving (and, I suppose, had struggled briefly with the scheme to depict a palace stuffed with visual allusions to Montaigne’s many subjects). My guess at the poet is Francis Quarles, as he has a rather similar conception in his Argalus and Parthenia frontispiece, also in 1632, but from a different publisher (John Marriott, and the engraving by Thomas Cecill: in Quarles’s vapid poem, the engraving is of a curtained ‘argument’ with supporting figures, to get you reading on).

Mary Edmonds has a brief ODNB life of Droeshout, and her publications may include some more informed comment on this elegant failure.

To the Beholder of this Title

When first this portlike Frontispiece was wrought,

To raise a Pile compleat, it was out thought,

Whose Roomes and Galleries should have been trim’d

With Emblemes, and with Pictures, fairly lim’d,

And drawne from those neat Peeces, which do lurke

Within the Closets of this Authors worke:

So placing them, and them contriving so,

That ev’ry Reader (passing to and fro)

By casting thereupon a glauncing eye,

Might in that Model or Epitomie

(Ev’n at the first aspect) inform’d have beene,

Of ev’ry Raritie contain’d within.

But walking through that Palace of Invention,

(The better to accomplish our Intention)

Wee found unlookt for, scattred here and there,

Such Profits, and such pleasures, ev’ry where,

In such Variety, that, but to name,

Each one, would make a Volume of the same.

For, in those Angles, and among those Leaves

Whereon the rash Beholders eye perceives

No shewes or promises, of such choice things

A diligent unfolder of them brings

Concealed Fruits to light: Ev’n thus did we

In such abundance, that they prove to bee

Beyond a brief expression, and have stop’t

Our purpose in presenting what wee hop’d.

In stead of Emblemes therefore, to explaine

The scope of this great Volume, we are faine

To fixe the Authors Title, on the Gate,

Annexed to his Name, presuming that

Will give this following Treatise much more praise

Then all the Trophies which our skill can raise.

For, he that hath not heard of Mountaine yet,

Is but a novice in the schools of wit.

You that so please may enter: For, behold

The Gate stands open, and the doores unfold

Their leaves to entertaine you. That French ward

Which lately kept you forth, is now unbard,

And you may passe at pleasure ev’ry way

If you are furnish’d with an English-key.

That, wee suppose you want not: If you do,

Wee are not they, whom this was meant unto:

Pray passe along, and stare no more on that

Which is the picture of you know not what,

Yet, if it please you, Spell it, And if than

You understand not, Give them roome that can.

* Edward Sherburne’s translation of Manilius has a fine Wencelaus Hollar, with explanatory verses giving explicitly the ‘mind of the frontispiece’. Funds for The London Bully (1683) either ran short or the picture of the prodigal was saucy enough to be swiped. I feel that I will want to post soon on the illustration to the work by Cave Beck, M.A.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

An early modern fart-lighting contest, and other sonic delights.

I cannot remember what I was looking for when I strayed that way, but I found myself reading through Catch that catch can, or, A choice collection of catches, rounds & canons for 3 or 4 voyces collected & published by John Hilton (1652).

These are jolly songs for drunken amateur performers – male performers, that is to say. Among my ancient vinyl, I do not have any catches from this collection performed, but have posted here

members of the Hilliard Ensemble doing very nicely a similar naughty song, Purcell’s catch, ‘Since time so kind to us does prove’, with Paul Hillier as the baritone, Leigh Nixon, tenor, and David James singing counter-tenor (and having great fun as the girl). All over in a minute and a half, so no wonder the lady is less enraptured than the gentleman. This was released on ‘The Merry Companions’ back in 1981.

But my life is the poorer for not having heard this splendidly bawdy catch performed, ideally at the Wigmore Hall:

“My Lady and her Mayd upon a merry pin, they made a match at farting, who should the wager win. Jone lights three Candles then and sets them bolt upright, with the first fart she blew them out, with the next she gave them light. In comes my Lady then with all her might and maine, and blew them out, and in, and out, and in, and out againe. My Lady, &c.”

I suppose that Dame Emma Kirkby is too grand these days to enact such fooleries.

Here’s another naughty one, about lovers on May Day, and it exploits the way a word can be syllabically divided in a musical setting to produce its bawdy:

“See how in gathering of their May, each Lad and Lass do kiss and play, do kiss love’s hole, & play with love’s hole, do kiss and play, do kiss and play, each thing doth smile as it would say, this is love’s hole, love’s Holiday, love’s hole doe kiss, and play with love’s hole, love’s hole, love’s Holyday, & while love’s kindly fires doe sting, hark Philomel doth sweetly sing, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, doth sweetly sing. See, &c.” William Lawes, no less, is responsible.

This one by ‘Mr. Cranford’ uses a low pun for the same joke:

“Here dwells a pretty Mayd, whose name is Sis, you may come in and kisse: Her hole, her hole, her hole, her whole estate is seventeen pence a yeare, yet you may kisse, you may kisse, you may kisse, you may kisse her, if you come but neare. Here, &c.”

But to come to a serious point, I have heard many, many versions of Shakespeare songs using the limited surviving early settings, but I have never heard anyone picking up on Hilton’s own setting of the catch in As You Like It:

“What shall he have that kill’d the Deere, his leather skin and horns to wear, take you no scorn to wear a horn, it was a crest e’re thou was born, thy father’s father bore it, and thy father wore it, the horn, the horn, the lusty horn is not a thing to laugh to scorn. What shall he, &c.”

In the Shakespearean text, Act IV scene 2, the words with a minor variation, and indication that the original setting was a solo voice and then a chorus:

What shall he have that kill'd the deer?

His leather skin and horns to wear.
Then sing him home;
(The rest shall bear this burden)
Take thou no scorn to wear the horn;
It was a crest ere thou wast born:
Thy father's father wore it,
And thy father bore it:
The horn, the horn, the lusty horn
Is not a thing to laugh to scorn.

This is jolly too: I can imagine finding these words funny after a glass or two
“Let Simon’s beard alone, alone, let Simon’s beard alone, 'tis no disgrace to Simon’s face, for he had never one: then mock not, nor scoff not, nor jeer not, nor fleer not, but rather him bemoan. Let, &c.”

I do not think that I have sung songs in a pub since I was an undergraduate, and it seems so long ago it might as well have been the Carmina Burana.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The piety of early modern shorthand

I have been looking again recently at the religious poems of Donne and Herbert: in regard to the latter, I read for the first time The Arminian nunnery or, a briefe description and relation of the late erected monasticall place, called the Arminian nunnery at Little Gidding in Huntington-shire. Humbly recommended to the wise consideration of this present Parliament. The foundation is by a company of farrars at Gidding (1641), where a puritan reports on his snooping around at Little Gidding, and his disapproval of the practices (to his mind, ‘papist’) which he saw there.

Thinking about the spectacular piety of Herbert, and the 24 hour worshippers at Little Gidding, led me to early modern shorthand, and to Rich redivivus or Mr Jeremiah Richs short-hand improved in a more breife & easy method then hath been set forth by any heretofore. Now made publique for generall advantage by Nathaniell Stringer a quondam scholar to the said Mr Rich. [1675?].

You might loosely think that shorthand would be a secular accomplishment, useful for taking transcripts of business meetings or other important group deliberations. The book put out by Rich and his pupil Stringer brings you up short. As one of the commendatory verses says:

… Quicke as an Angell darting through the Air

When he conveys to Heaven a good man prayer

With equall pace Can this rare Art Expresse

Each quaint Oration in its native Dresse

The fluent sermons word for word wee Reach

Though utter’d faster then shee Quakers preach…

This was a system of shorthand aimed at taking exact notes in church. To the title page illustration (which shows the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments in the shorthand), I have added a composite image from the later, intricate images. It shows that, once you had absorbed the basic rules (and the promoters reckon that you would spend one hour memorizing a rule, and then another hour on the next day on the next precept, and so on), this shorthand system had a range of ‘simbolicall characters’ designed to help the user take down sermons verbatim. There are signs for each book of the Bible, for names in the Bible, and for the common phrases of pulpit oratory. Obviously, a name like 'Melchizedeck' needs a lot of writing: but how often did you hear it?!

I suppose that this was in the days when hearing a famous preacher was like going to a concert given by a major star, though to take along your recording device was allowed. Once you’d scratched away through the hour, back home to make your transcript.

Amazing, really.

Friday, November 09, 2007

How true that is!

'He that sitteth sleeping signifieth slothfulness amongst teachers, whose desire being satisfied, careth not for the charge: the children idleness, whose minds without a careful tutor, are bent to nothing but ease and vanities'

A splendid emblematic picture from:

A christall glasse of christian reformation wherein the godly maye beholde the coloured abuses vsed in this our present tyme. Collected by Stephen Bateman Minister (1569)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

You make me feel like (not) dancing: early modern Salome

I was spending an idle but contented hour this last Sunday afternoon looking at YouTube clips of Rita Hayworth dancing, and singing (I mean, gosh, chaps), sometimes with Fred Astaire, sometimes solo. I do not think I have ever seen her as Salome in the 1953 film, and maybe this is one of those things that will always be better in one’s imagination, for all that inimitable Hollywood style surely turned cheesy when historical or biblical subjects were attempted.

But I was led back to the early modern versions: mainly, and predictably they disapprove mightily. Salome as a name doesn’t have its later resonance: she is generally referred to as either ‘Herodias’s daughter’, or simply as ‘Herodias’. She crops up with regularity in general dispraises of women, and stars in that most woman-hating of early modern plays, Elizabeth Cary’s Mariam. But for the early modern stage-hating Puritan (John Rainolds, and William Prynne, and to an extent in Thomas Beard) Salome is the great Bible instance of the wickedness of performance. Prynne is apoplectic (and silent about David dancing before the Lord):

“All these, with sundry others, unanimously condemne all mixt, effeminate, lascivious, amorous dancing, (the epidemicall pastime of our dancing, loytring age) as sinfull, hurtfull, unlawfull to all chaste, all sober Christians, as the reasons they alleage against it will more plainely evidence. For first, (say they) as there is no allowance, no approved example of any such dancing in the Scriptures, the Primitive Church, the Fathers, or in the lives and practice of the Saints of God in former ages, (who as appeares by the fore-quoted Councels and Fathers have alwayes censured and exploded Dancing:) (Prynne here supplies dozens of bible citations) doe either absolutely in expresse tearmes, or else by way of necessary consequence, condemne such dancing as Idolatrous, Heathenish, carnall, worldly, sensuall, and misbeseeming Christians.

Prynne now moves on to the revelation, derived from various fathers of the church, that the girl who danced before the leering Herod was in fact the multi-talented Devil himself:

“Secondly, the very Devill himselfe (write they) who danced in the Daughter of Herodias Math. 14 6. 7. (as Chrysostome, Fulgentius, Theophylact. and others write) was the originall Author of this dancing, the onely instrument who excites men to it; the onely person that is present at it, that is honored, pleased, and delighted with it; (he being ever-more present and president where such dancing is) as Chrysostome, Basil, with the other Marginall Authors have plentifully recorded.

I wonder in what church father or rabbinical tradition the death of Salome was first invented? Joseph Beaumont had something of a specialism in writing disapproving poems about the bible’s best dancing girl (so we can imagine he was particularly susceptible to these things). So his (for him) short poem about John the Baptist ends with a vehement account of her fate:

One Dance for Thee is still behind
By which Revenge thy Crime will find:
The Ice perfidious to Thee,
But unto Justice true shall be,
When it shall catch
Thy neck, & snatch
Its Head away,
Which there shall play
And dance a tragik Measure on
That fatall Pavement: then shall John
Wth greater glory view Thee from his Sphear,
Then Herod at his Feast beheld Thee heere.

Here we see that her command of a performance space leads to appropriate retribution: the thin moral ice on which she fandangoed was literalised into ice which broke beneath her, and as she went through, visited on her the decollation she’d inveigled out of Herod. All positions having changed, the Baptist is now the gloating spectator. Henry Vaughan has a similar poem, which also alludes to this, and here it is with his marginal note:

‘The Daughter of Herodias

Vain, sinful Art! who first did fit
Thy lewd loath'd Motions unto sounds,
And made grave Musique like wilde wit
Erre in loose airs beyond her bounds?

What fires hath he heap'd on his head?
Since to his sins (as needs it must,)
His Art adds still (though he be dead,)
New fresh accounts of blood and lust.

Leave then yong Sorceress; the Ice*
Will those coy spirits cast asleep,
Which teach thee now to please his eyes
Who doth thy lothsome mother keep.

But thou hast pleas'd so well, he swears,
And gratifies thy sin with vows:
His shameless lust in publick wears,
And to thy soft arts strongly bows.

Skilful Inchantress and true bred!
Who out of evil can bring forth good?
Thy mothers nets in thee were spred,
She tempts to Incest, thou to blood.

*Her name was Salome; in passing over a frozen river, the ice broke under her, and chopt off her head.

My image is taken from the impressive collection assembled over in Bucharest by the owner of this weblog:

It is by Guido Reni, and shows a fabulously demure Salome receiving the Baptist’s head. I chose this from Mihai’s scholarly collection of these things because I thought it was latently self-subverting. Surely, here, there is some kind of contamination from memories of David with the head of Goliath? The boy staggering under the weight of the Baptist’s severed bonce giganticises the prophet: Salome is so modest, that she becomes saintly, a Judith.

But, of course, appearances are deceptive, and I must remember that Mr Prynne has let me know that she is really the devil. All change places now.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The devil puts in an appearance: 1655 and 1663

Two supernatural ballads to the same (incongruous) tune: the full synoptic titles give the narratives. I will simply offer a rational reading of each, to show how easily we can make the devil disappear (or conversely, how easily they could write him in).


The devils conquest, or, a Wish obtained: Shewing how one lately of Barnsby-Street, in Leg-Ally, in St Olaves Parish, Southwark, one that Carded Wooll for Stockings, carried home some work to her Mistris, living on Horsly-Down, who asked her how much shee owed her for; the Maid answered eight pounds; her Mistris said 'twas but six whereupon the Maid began to Swear and Curse, and wisht the Devil fetch her, if there was not eight pounds owing for; the Mistris loving quietness, paid her for eight pound: the Maid, with two of her Companions, walking over Horsly-Down, she having a Childe in her arms, one came and throwed her down, and presently took her up again, which caused her to say, Thou Rogue, dost thou fling me down and take me up again, and suddenly he vanished away, neither she, nor the two women with her, could discern which way he went, which caused them to say, it was the Devil, which for all this, nothing terrified the Maid, who went boldly home, and to bed, and the two women with her; at midnight she heard a voice, which called her by her name very often; she answered, I come, I come; but the voice still continuing, she swore she would come, and being got out of the bed, fell down upon her face, and was taken speechless, yet her body moving in most terrible manner, manifesting her inward pangs; her Mistris was sent for, who freely forgave her, and wisht God might forgive her too, and then shee departed, and her body was found as black as pitch all over; and all this was for no more than the value of eleven pence, which was done on the 6th of this instant May, 1665. and was written for a warning to all, to avoid the like course. The tune is, Summer Time.


Strange news from Westmoreland. Being a true relation of one Gabriel Harding, who coming home drunk, struck his wife a blow on the breast and killed her out right; then did he forswear the evil deed which he knew himself guilty of. Likewise how a stranger did come to the house cloathed in green, the people that were eye witnesse said it was an angel. Likewise how the stranger or angel did give sentence upon the man for killing of his wife. Also how Satan did break the mans neck that did forswear himself; and the stranger or angel did command Satan to hurt none else, and to vanish: which being done, there was a pleasant harmony of musick heard to sound: then did the stranger cloathed in green, take his leave of the people; whereof the chiefest in the parish desired it might be put in print, and have hereunto set their hands. To the tune of, In summer time.

The story about Margery Perry (in The Devil’s Conquest) gives a glimpse of the lives of a group of low income single women in a poor parish of 17th century London. With her companions, Perry carded wool:

The three women lodge and sleep together. The notion of ‘joy’ in their place on the bottom rung of the stocking-making process would have seemed far away. One day, Perry makes her false claim to her ‘Work Mistress’ to have carded eight pounds weight of wool, having only done six:

She wisht the Devil fetch her straight
If that she had not done eight pounds,
Ah woman! Caught with such a bait,
That came not to half a crown.

Perry was not made penitent by the warning attack on the way home, so she then succumbed to the devil at the proper hour of midnight. I suppose that Perry had a heart condition: the quarrel with her forewoman brought on her first attack as she walked home agitated, but in triumph; the AMI from which she didn’t recover came later. Yet in her extremity, she had the additional misery of believing that this was the devil come for her soul, and seems, as far as her condition allowed, to have acted as if she were complying with a supernatural summons.

Gabriel Harding was a wealthy alcoholic from Tredenton in Westmorland (the ballad says his rents came to £500 a year). The ballad tells how, in a drunken rage, he struck his wife, who died on the spot. Their children rushed into the street, and their cries alerted the neighbours. Harding was detained in his own house by his neighbours, but he denied the killing. They decided to summon the coroner. But instead, a knocking at the door heralds the arrival of a splendid angel:

His eyes like to the Stars did shine,
He was cloathed in a bright Grass green;
His cheeks was of a Crimson red
Of such a man was seldom seen…

He tells them that they should not send for the coroner, but to bring him ‘the man that did the deed / And boldly hath deny’d the same’.

The angel then gives Harding a brisk lecture. It contains a lot of local knowledge (or local ill feeling):

Thy full delight was drunkenness,
And always griping on the Poor:
Beside thou hast murdered thy Wif[e]
Alack what salve will cure thy sore.

Thy family within the house
Food thou wouldst grudge continually
O wicked man, thy self prepare!
A fearful death thou’rt sure to die…

The angel tells the neighbours not to be frightened about what will happen next: and the devil duly appears, first like ‘a brave Gentleman’, and then dancing round the hall in an ‘ugly shape’ after being given the charge to ‘Do no more then thou hast command’:

The Devil then he straight laid hold
On him that had murdered his Wife,
His neck in sunder then he brake,
And thus did end his wretched life.

The Devil then he vanished
Quite from the people in the Hall…

Yes, I am sure that is precisely what happened: a group of morally-revolted neighbours had after all been trying to deal with a drunken, angry and frightened man, aiming to keep him restrained in the hall of his own house. In the melee, they broke his neck. Afterwards they might have felt exactly as the ballad accidentally puts it – the devil had for that moment got into them. But, well, Harding was a drunk, a miser, they all hated him, and he had just killed his own wife. They just needed a story about why they hadn’t called the coroner: an angel told them not to, and that angel summoned up a devil to do his dirty work, before disappearing to a pleasant melody.

To authenticate itself, the ballad ends with a list of “the Names of some of the chiefest men that live in the Parish. Christopher Rawly, Esquire, James Fish, Gent. William Lisle, Gent. Simon Pierce, Ambrose Whir, Oliver Craft, Robert Ford, Thomas Clifford, Yeomen. George Crawly, Peter Vaux, Pilip Cook, Francis Martin, George Horton, Abraham Miles, Husbandmen.”

I surmise that among them were the men who accidentally killed the murderer Harding, and also those who concocted this spectacularly moral cover story, and maybe passed on the details to some passing Autolycus.

(I like the way that this ballad was reprinted as almost 30 years later, around 1690, but still as ‘News from Westmorland’.)

The images of the priapic devil decorate both ballads. It seems to be the same design. The later ballad probably uses the older block. For the 1663 ballad, it looks as though the old design had been stamped onto a new block, and been used as the basis of a re-cutting, so producing the crisper reversed print (devil on the left in my composite image).

I couldn’t exactly locate Margery Perry’s address on it, but I did find the promising new online Map of Early Modern London that is in development:

I might have to volunteer myself to help fill up their information boxes.