Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Early Modern Henry Root Letters

To: Enquiry, British Horse Society
Subject: Inquiry from a scholar

Hello: a strange one for you, this. I am an academic at the University of London, with a teaching and research interest in cases of witchcraft in 17th century England. Below is an extract from Joseph Glanvill’s Saducismus triumphatus, or, Full and plain evidence concerning witches and apparitions in two parts (1681). It describes one a series of events deemed supernatural at the house of a Mr Mompesson in Tedworth:

“About the beginning of April, 1663. a Gentleman that lay in the house, had all his money turned black in his Pockets; and Mr. Mompesson coming one Morning into his Stable, found the Horse he was wont to Ride, on the Ground, having one of his hinder Leggs in his Mouth, and so fastened there, that it was difficult for several Men to get it out with a Leaver.”

I know nothing of horses. This does not sound feasible to me at all. Do you have any comment, or suggestion about anyone I might ask about this?

Best wishes,

Dr Roy Booth


Dear Dr Booth

Thank you for your enquiry which is, indeed, an unusual one! In theory, a horse could make contact between his mouth and his hind leg quite easily - some animals do it if they have an irritation in the area. That said, it is not a usual movement / position for them and it would be done standing up rather than when recumbent. However, it would not be possible for a horse to actually place a foot in his mouth - anatomically the mouth does not open wide enough to permit this. It is not at all feasible to have a leg so stuck in the mouth that it requires several men to remove it. The only possibility - and I would consider this extremely unlikely - is that the animal had dislocated its jaw. This is not common and it is hard to say whether inserting the foot / leg into the mouth would be possible even if the jaw was dislocated. I am not a veterinary surgeon but I don't believe it is a satisfactory or sensible explanation. For confirmation you may want to contact BEVA (British Equine Veterinary Association)

Hopefully I have provided you with some useful information but if not, or you would like to ask more questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Best wishes


Dear Mr Hackett,

Many thanks for your considered response to what might have looked like an inquiry from a madman. It is always perplexing to read 17th century books and pamphlets in which the most outrageous things are vehemently asserted as true. There is always a background polemic going on: my reporter here (Glanvill) was a die-hard maintainer of the veracity of witchcraft. But, always with these people, the question is how far down the slippery slope into absurdity they will go, where will they draw the line and say, ‘no, that’s incredible’? They are very committed to their evidence having truth in it.

I think that this anecdote betrays Glanvill’s boundless credulity. Someone rural was having a laugh (which one of them?), with an assertion that would have been preposterous to anyone with real knowledge of horses, but all part of the fun that the Tedworth case was creating locally back in 1663.

Thank you for making me feel far more confident about this,

Roy Booth

[My thanks to the kind man at the British Horse Society:

The quotation from Glanvill is, despite my ‘Henry Root’ quip, quite genuine. The image is Hans Baldung Grien’s ‘The Enchanted Groom’, which seemed appropriate.

I’m aware that Balthasar Bekker took on Glanvill in his The world bewitch'd, or, An examination of the common opinions concerning spirits their nature, power, administration and operations, as also the effects men are able to produce by their communication. Part one of this was translated into English in 1695, and the synoptic Preface indicates that there were counter arguments about fraudulence in the Tedworth case. However, the translation did not get as far as that later part of the book. I’d be interested to read it.]

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Avon calling from the grave

…That both of them coming to the said Copse about 9 of the clock in the morning, the said William Aven took the sword, and laid it down neer the place, as this relatant was directed by the said Apparition; and both of them turning about to come away from thence, this relatant looking back saw the Apparition in like habit of cloth, as aforesaid; which when this relatant discovered, he said to his brother-in-Law, Here is the Apparition of Father; but he said, I see it not; so this relatant falling on his knees, praying to God to preserve them both, asking his said Brother in law whether he did see it, who said, No; and then he said, Lord open his eyes, that he may see it; who then replyed, Lord grant that I may not see it, if it be thy blessed will; & then the Apparition beck’ned his hand to him to come to it, & this relatant then said, In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost what would you have me to do? And the Apparition said to this relatant, Thomas, take up the sword and follow me, & this relatant said, Should both of us come, or one of us, to which it said, Thomas, do you take up the sword, so this relatant took up the sword, & the Apparition went on before him further into the Copps-Wood about 20 lugs [same as a pole or perch, 16½ feet]; & this relatant stood about a lug and a half from it, his said Brother standing neer the place, where he first laid down the sword, & this relatant laid down the sword upon the ground, & saw something like a Mastiff-Dog of a brown colour, and the Apparition waving towards this relatant, he stepped back about 3 steps, & the Apparition said, Do not be afraid Thomas, for I have a permission for to reveal things unto thee, but have a Commission not to touch you; & when it had taken up the sword, & went back to the place at which before it stood, when this relatant saw the Mastiff-dog which as before, the Apparition pointed the top of the sword into the ground, & said, In this place lyeth buried the bones of him that I murthered in the year 1635, which are now rotten and turned unto dust…

We are in Wiltshire in 1674, on the road between Marlborough and Alton Barnes.,-1.81467|16|8

(keep the map centered, switch to ‘aerial view’, then go to zoom factor 16: you should have the only wood on the Marlborough-Alton Barnes minor road, shaped like a broken U. That’s Shaw House, near the site of the lost village of Shaw. Work south along the road for the White Horse on the downs. My image is the Google Earth one.)

The copse is (I surmise) now called Boreham Wood. It’s a landscape so rich in history as to be faintly spooky still. Just to the south is ‘Adam’s Grave’, and an associated assembly of barrows, tumuli, encampments. The famous ‘Led Zeppelin’ Alton Barnes crop circle (which I visited, paying 50p to wander round it at field level) was a kind of tribute to that quality of mystery.

Our bucolic Hamlet is in fact a son-in-law, Thomas Godard, ‘a Man of good Understanding, Honest Life and Conversation’, an illiterate weaver. His dead father-in-law started appearing to him on November 9th, when Godard was delivering serge to a man in the village of Ogbourne St Andrew, north of Marlborough. Suddenly, at a stile, he saw his late father-in-law, who had died the previous May, and who ought to have been in his grave in Marlborough. ‘I perceive you are afraid, I will meet you some other time’, said the ghost, but it hardly made things easier to bear by surprising his son-in-law at his loom that same evening at seven, when it lifted ‘the lid of his window’. Thomas rushed out in terror. It was even worse the next night: ‘after this relatant went forth into his back side about the same hour with a candle in his hand to make water, and as he was so doing the like Apparition came round his Wood house, and this relatant also being in a fear and his Candle waxing out, he ran into his house.’ Joseph Glanvill, retelling the story almost verbatim in Sadducisimus Triumphans (1681), part two, relation IX, leaves out the homely motive for the trip outdoors. On the succeeding Thursday, as Goddard was coming back from Sir Bulstrode Whitelock’s house in Chilton, and was passing near Ramsbury manor house, a hare caused his horse to rear up and throw him. He got up to face his late father-in-law once again: ‘Thomas you have tarried long’.

This time the impatient ghost imparted its full requirements: Thomas is to tell his brother-in-law William to bring the sword he inherited to that wood at the roadside ‘as we go to Alton’. The ghost reinforces the message: ‘he never prospered since he has had the sword’. Will is also to give some 20 shillings to his sister Sarah, while Goddard himself is to pay off a debt that Aven had denied in his lifetime.

Godard told his story to the mayor of the town and others: they advise him to order William Aven to take the sword to the copse where the last part of the drama will be played out. Which is where I began.

Interpretation 2007:

I think we can see what was going on. Goddard has married into an unhappy and divided family. Avon had fallen out with and disinherited one of his daughters on her marriage (Sarah). Goddard’s wife Mary, the ghost says, ‘is troubled for me, but tell her that God hath showed mercy to me beyond my desarts’ – so the ghost announces at their first meeting, amid the catching-up conversation between the dead man and the living (‘How do Will and Mary? … what? Taylor is dead…). Even in his account of this first meeting Godard is shaping up to getting the family to put right the wrong Avon had done to their newly widowed sister, Sarah Taylor. He says that the apparition held out a hand, with twenty or 30 shillings in silver in it, to be given from the dead Avon to the daughter he’d quarrelled with on her marriage. But Godard did not dare take money from the ghost: he wants the family to do this, his wife and her brother to relent.

The dead father was clearly a man with a temper, a known owner of sword. His daughter Mary (as Godard her husband knows) fears that he may be in hell. His son Will is not making a go of things, but has hung onto the sword, which feels to Godard like a promise of future trouble. He wants to get the sword off his brother-in-law.

And so Godard imaginatively brings the dead man back to earth, a troubled ghost (but not damned). He does not think anyone will protest against the notion that Avon had been a denier of his debts, a thief and a murderer. His brother-in-law cannot see the ghost, but did say he heard sounds like words, but he could not make them out. The ghost himself underlines that his victim has long turned to dust, so there is no point digging where Godard alleges that he could see a bare patch of sunken earth shaped like a grave. No-one is meant to ask the name of the victim, the former owner of the sword: it is not his function to be investigated, he is being invented to lift Avon’s influence over Will and Mary by blackening his character while at the same time righting his more minor (but real) wrongs (to Sarah, and some other small debts and legacies). The hare and the mastiff dog are diabolic creatures, and Avon becomes for the pamphlet “the deemon of Marleborough”: but Mary has to know that God has spared him despite it all.

Godard told this elaborate story to exorcise the bad feeling the father had left in the family. I suppose it was produced in him by family pressures real enough to make him credible, even to himself. But he told it rather too well. It took some pressure to get the brooding William to give up that dangerous sword: the mayor and town elders are behind Thomas’s ordering of him to that lonely roadside wood. Thomas needed a community of believers: but they took up his story. He wanted the ghost laid (“Vanished out of his sight, and he saw it no more”), but, as people will do, what they’ve heard someone say he can see, they claim that they can see it too: “Sir, This is to Certifie you, that Edward Aven doth still appear, and shews himself to several people … and in the same Cloaths, which he wore in his lifetime; as a long White-Crown’d hatt, Blew Cloaths, and White Stockings: All this Last Week he was seen.” Not only are other people seeing Avon, but (as the later investigation of the case in Joseph Glanvill says), the Mayor of Marlborough, mixing credulity with pragmatism, has the ‘grave’ Godard designated dug up: there was nothing there, of course.

The deemon of Marleborough, or, More news from VVilt-shire in a most exact account of the aparition of the ghost, or spirit of Edward Aven : published heretofore, but now much augmented, with many more discoveries, containing wonderful passages, from its first appearance there, to the 24th of Jan., 1674/5 : being the examination of Thomas Godard, the said Avens son in law, taken before the major, and other magistrates of that borough., [London : s.n.], 1675.

I append, just for interest and contrast’s sake, the examination of this case given in Joseph Glanvill’s Saducismus triumphatus, or, Full and plain evidence concerning witches and apparitions in two parts (1681). Glanvill died before he had his treatise ready for the press, his posthumous editor seems to have added these commentaries. Glanvill and his editor (who completed the book from papers Glanvill had left behind) are predisposed to believe in any supernatural manifestation, as part of their rearguard action to keep up the fading belief in witches.

“That Tho.Goddard saw this Apparition, seems to be a thing indubitable; but whether it was his Father in Law's Ghost, that is more questionable. The former is confirmed from an hand at least impartial, if not disfavourable to the story. The party in his Letter to Mr. G---writes briefly to this effect. 1. That he does verily think that this Tho. Goddard does believe the story most strongly himself. 2. That he cannot imagine what interest he should have in raising such a story, he bringing Infamy on his Wives Father, and obliging himself to pay twenty shillings debt, which his poverty could very ill spare. 3. That his Father in Law Edward Avon, was a resolute sturdy fellow in his young years, and many years a Bailiff to Arrest people. 4. That Tho. Goddard had the repute of an honest Man, knew as much in Religion as most of his rank and breeding, and was a constant frequenter of the Church, till about a year before this happened to him, he fell off wholly to the Non-Conformists.

All this hitherto, save this last of all, tends to the Confirmation of the story. Therefore this last shall be the first Allegation against the credibility thereof. 2. It is further alledged, that possibly the design of the story may be to make him to be accounted an extraordinary some-body amongst the dissenting party. 3. That he is sometimes troubled with Epileptical fits. 4. That the Major sent the next Morning to digg the place where the Spectre said the Murdered Man was Buried, and there was neither bones found nor any difference of the Earth in that place from the rest.

But we answer briefly to the first, That his falling off to the Non-Conformists though it may argue a vacillancy of his judgment, yet it does not any defect of his external senses, as if he were less able to discern when he saw or heard any thing than before: To the second, That it is a perfect contradiction to his strong belief of the truth of his own story, which plainly implies that he did not feign it to make himself an extraordinary some-body: To the third, That an Epileptical Person when he is out of his fits, hath his external senses as true and entire, as a Drunken Man has when his Drunken fit is over, or a Man awake after a night of sleep and dreams. So that this argument has not the least shew of force with it, unless you will take away the authority of all Mens senses, because at sometimes they have not a competent use of them, namely in sleep, drunkenness or the like. But now lastly for the fourth which is most considerable, it is yet of no greater force than to make it questionable whether this Spectre was the Ghost of his Father, or some ludicrous Goblin that would put a trick upon Thomas Goddard, by personating his Father-in-Law, and by a false pointing at the pretended grave of the Murdered make him ridiculous. For what Porphyrius has noted, I doubt not but is true, That Daemons sometimes personate the Souls of the deceased. But if an uncoffined body being laid in a ground exposed to wet and dry, the Earth may in 30 years space consume the very bones and assimilate all to the rest of the mold, when some Earths will do it in less than the fifteenth part of that space: Or if the Ghost of Edward Avon might have forgot the certain place (it being no grateful object of his memory) where he buried the murdered Man, and only guessed that to be it because it was something sunk, as if the Earth yielded upon the wasting of the Buried body, the rest of the story will still naturally import that it was the very Ghost of Edward Avon. Besides, himself expresly declares, as that the body was Buried there, so that by this time it was all turn'd into dust.

But whether it was a ludicrous Daemon or Edward Avons Ghost, concerns not our scope. It is sufficient that it is a certain instance of a real Apparition, and I thought fit as in the former story, so here to be so faithful as to conceal nothing that any might pretend to lessen the credibility thereof. Stories of the appearing of Souls departed are not for the tooth of the Non-conformists, who, as it is said, if they generally believe this, it must be from the undeniable evidence thereof nor could Thomas Goddard gratifie them by inventing of it. And that it was not a phansy the knowledge of the 20 Shillings debt imparted to Thomas Goddard ignorant thereof before, and his Brother Avon's hearing a voice distinct from his in his discourse with the Apparition, does plainly enough imply. Nor was it Goddard's own phansy, but that real Spectre that opened his shop-window. Nor his imagination, but something in the shape of an Hare that made his Horse start and cast him into the dirt; The Apparition of Avon being then accompanied with that Hare, as after with the Mastiff-Dog. And lastly the whole frame of the story, provided the Relator does verily think it true himself (as Mr. S. testifies for him in his Letter to Mr. Glanvil, and himself profest he was ready at any time to swear to it) is such, that it being not a voluntary invention, cannot be an imposing phansy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The sumptuous Dalila floating this way

About time this blog had a musical interlude, and heavens knows I need one. So, if you click this link, you get, off a very old recording of I own, an unknown mezzo giving it some large in Delila’s aria from Saint-Saens’ Samson and Delila. ‘My heart opens to your vows…’ Superlative stuff: I love the way pious old Camille has got his anti-heroine expressing such convincing desire, such an outpouring of love, for the man she intends to betray.

One of my favourite passages from
Milton is the dialogue between Samson and Dalila in Samson Agonistes. I tend to think of it as Milton-as-Noel-Coward, writing a bitter comedy of divorce: his antagonists know one another all too well, their mutual rancour is both perfected (this is what they have both been saving up to say should they ever see him/her again) and ineffectual, because each withering accusation sees its receiver so comically unwithered.

It’s right that there’s an echo of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, for Samson has to live with that unbearable sense of having been turned into a cliché, something shared with the deuteragonists of Shakespeare’s play (“to ages an example”). The Chorus is there hearing the precarious excess of loathing even before Dalila arrives: “a deceitful concubine who shore me / Like a tame wether, all my precious fleece, / Then turned me out ridiculous, despoiled, / Shaven, and disarmed among my enemies.” Shaven and shorn, there’s something bathetic about the way Samson fell, and he knows it. Dalila makes her spectacular entry at lines 710ff, her train of damsels balancing Samson’s tattling Chorus, which faithfully narrates her operatic gestures. Her perfume creeps across to her blinded ex-husband.

Associated as she is, straight away, with ambiguity (‘hyena’), Dalila’s motive remains ambiguous (“conjugal affection … Hath led me on desirous to behold / Once more thy face”). Samson simply applies to her an anti-feminist generalisation (“these are thy wonted arts, / And arts of every woman false like thee”). The satiric accuracy of what follows makes it dryly funny (“not truly penitent, but chief to try / Her husband…”). Samson is so wised-up, that he can for a while keep his personal feelings behind a barrage of anti-feminist aphorisms. But Dalila subverts it all expertly (‘If these are the weaknesses of women, why did you give your secret to a woman, then?’). ‘Weakness’ is going to be the central word in this particular argument, and they will volley it backwards and forwards mightily. Soon Dalila is playing for victory: ‘what if love … caused what I did?’ Samson can’t quite reply to this direct, he has to show his strength to his supporters first (“How cunningly the sorceress displays / Her own transgressions, to upbraid me mine!”), before he blasts back at her. Dalila, dropping love as though it had never been mentioned, turns to her religious motive, sounding for a moment like the Catholic wife who has betrayed her good Protestant husband (“and the priest / Was not behind, but ever at my ear…”).

It is in Samson’s sneering reply to this that he unknowingly undermines the larger argument which he is in: he speaks in emphatic contempt of the Philistines and their god: “gods unable / To acquit themselves and prosecute their foes / But by ungodly deeds, the contradiction of their own deity / Gods cannot be”. So speaks the terrorist who kills three thousand by destroying the building at the end. Dalila, self-preoccupied and not realising that she has devastatingly won the real argument, in eliciting this, pretends that she has lost her personal cause:
In argument with men a woman ever
Goes by the worse, whatever be her cause.
To which Samson jovially replies: ‘For want of words no doubt, or lack of breath’.

She goes for the trump card she knows she holds, with supreme effrontery and nerve: ‘though sight be lost … other sense want not their delights’. Milton gives Samson a superb poetry of divorce: “thou and I long since are twain”. As he rejects, he recalls (“Thy fair enchanting cup…”). The crisis follows: “Let me approach at least, and touch thy hand, and Samson’s response is full of genuine terror – is there nothing the woman won’t risk? – “Not for thy life, lest fierce remembrance wake…”

Fearing this ‘fierce remembrance’, he bids for her departure “At distance I forgive thee, go with that”, and finds his equilibrium with some devastating sarcasm, to which Dalila, at last confident that she did the right thing, responds with the last word, on his “unappeasable” anger and her assured fame.

The Chorus then entertains Samson’s mood with some of Milton’s scratchiest poetry, in a misogynistic choral ode, which concludes with the screechy sentiments that:
God’s universal law
Gave to the man despotic power
Over his female in due awe,
Nor from that right to part an hour,
Smile she or lour:
So shall he least confusion draw
On his whole life…
What does
Milton mean by this acoustic harshness? It is at this moment that Harapha the Philistian strong man unluckily appears: Dalila has got Samson up to full charge, and all that energy will flash out on Harapha, on whom Samson is instantly ready to carry out one of the two options he’s recently entertained for the intrepid Dalila.

Has anyone written a sketch with Samson and Delila exploring reconciliation with the counselling services?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cast them as cousins

Here's the latest Chinese dinosaur, Gigantoraptor, side by side with Jacques de Gheyn's zoomorphic monster in one of his drawings of witches' sabbaths. I vaguely recall that in A C Clark's SF, Childhood's End, when the advanced civilisation (and benign) aliens arrive on earth, their form is that of Satan - the first steps out of his UFO with a carefully chosen child playing with his leathery wings, as a way of managing the local PR problem. Reveries about the diabolic were just an anticipation of what will happen, but without the terror.

The one tonne, twice man height raptor is all over the web today: this is the best site I found. The Chinese assume it had feathers.

I looked for the complete de Gheyn drawing, and my cursory Google image search only hit my old academic course site. Basic, but there it is:

A tanner will last you nine year...

I have always harboured suspicions about archaeologists – their vociferous pretensions to exclusive ownership of the past, the endless flexibility with which they manage to discover instructive relevance to contemporary preoccupations (usually climatic, these days), their eager protestations that their discipline is nothing to do with treasure-hunting. (Why don’t they accept that function? When so many artists shun producing the beautiful, they supply a need by digging it up). But above all else, it is the ghoulishness of archaeology that repels me: obsessing over the Ice Man Oeti, the bog people, the mummies, all that fuss about diagnosing of the causes of forgotten deaths…

In February 1647, Mr. Hill, the sexton of St Leonard’s, Eastcheap, was digging in the chancel of the church to prepare a grave for a wealthy parishioner. The anonymous reporter casually writes that the intention was, ‘according to usual custom went to take up, and throw away, the long lying, and fleshlesse, bones’. ‘Throw away’ did surprise me – was that the ‘usual custom’? It seems unexpectedly brusque (‘how the knave jowls it to the ground, as if 'twere Cain’s jawbone!’). But ‘contrary to custom, expectation, or nature, he found a body firm …Much wonder was raised, at the raising of this long dead and buryed body; for all his lims and lineaments, his hair, both of head, beard and other usual places, all as firmly growing, or rather fixt, as it was when he was first buried’

So, ‘search was made, both within and without book, who it should bee that had been so long agone buried in that place’, and it was finally determined that these were the mortal - or maybe immortal - remains of a Mr. Pountney, buried there 34 years before.

I have remarked before in this blog about the unusual crowd-gatherers of mid 17th century, puritan London.
In the general absence of anything better to go and see, this more-or-less uncorrupted body ‘was made, for the more ample manifestation of his miraculous preservation, a general spectacle to multitudes of beholders’.

Did anyone quote Hamlet, as dead body became spectacle? 'How long will a man lie i'th'earth ere he rot?' Then there’s that suggestion of them all simply coping well with the sight of a body which was (counter to the pamphlet’s talk of miracles) in not that good a condition (‘Briefly all parts within and without were compleat and might challenge any thing but life it self, save his face something disfigured and skinlesse, his nose fallen, and his eys sunk into his head or otherwise perished.’)

The usual gentleman virtuosos arrived, and wanted more to see and wonder at: ‘it pleased the honorable spectators who had with admiration beheld the external frame so strangely preserved from corruption to have a view of the internal parts and to that end two men sufficiently experienced in the art of chirurgery were sent for to open him’.

Nobody seems to have blinked at this early manifestation of the archaeological assumption that the dead are fair game, even though it was a fellow Christian buried in the sacred building they still used, and not really that long-dead either. It was found that ‘his intrels with his bowels were as supple and moist as if he had been but newly departed from this life’.

As archaeology does, the relevance of the discovery to its time is announced. Mr Pountney is, ‘by his wonderful and miraculous preservation from common corruption, though dead, become a living Preacher unto thee of the power of God’.

Of course, they were used to the dead as a spectacle, their civic authorities put bodies on view. I've been intrigued by the way Henry V's wife, Katherine of France, had never been buried, and her coffin was still to be seen on the sill of a window in Westminster Abbey (this must be mentioned in Stow's Chronicle somewhere). Those who saw Henry V must have felt oddly familiar with the heroine of Act V.

Title page of:

Immortality in mortality magnifi'd in a strange (yet true) narration of one Master Pountney, merchant, sometimes living in the parish of Mary le Bow in Cheapside, who was buried in the chancell of the church of Leonard East-cheap, anno Dom. 1613. and was found on this present Feb. 15. 1647. whole and sound without any diminution or corruption of his members or body inward or outward, having lain in his grave (according to the precedent date, which is extracted from the register book of the aforesaid parish, Leonards East-cheap) 34 years, published as a wonder of wonders in this age. Printed and published according to order of Parliament, 1647.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Buried alive in early modern England

It is hard, off hand, to think of many cultures as ill-served by their medicine men as early modern England, where catastrophically unhygienic, ignorant and violent medical interventions were the norm. Maybe in sentimental moments we might imagine that below the elite cultural level, cunning women and herbalists operated gentler and less drastic regimes. The practices of midwives, however, seem to have copied the worst propensities of male medicine. Maybe it takes deep and widespread ignorance to support an ignorant medical profession. In the benighted population at large, confronted by the unusual, horrible mistakes could be made.

In a line of morbid reading, I have been following up a horror which sometimes followed on from amateur misdiagnosis, that is, the cases of premature burial recorded in 17th century pamphlets. In writing about the case of Anne Greene
I did not mention the awful addition at the end of one of the pamphlets about her case (after being hanged, Greene was in her coffin and about to be dissected when she was heard to be alive and making noises). To his account, the writer “annexed another strange wonder from Ashburn in Darbishire, shewing how a young woman dying in child-bed, was buried, and delivered of a young son in the grave”.

(In: A declaration from Oxford, of Anne Green a young woman that was lately, and unjustly hanged in the Castle-yard, 1651).

This appalling anecdote has stayed with me since I read it. I do not believe that post-mortem parturition is possible (I am not minded to try any research about that), but the baby was heard crying in the grave, and had died before the exhumation of his unfortunate mother. ‘We come to seek a grave…’

Laurence Cawthorn was a young butcher, an epileptic and a drinker, who after the 17th century version of a late night (ending before 10pm), during which he had drunk a quart of ‘hot waters’, asked to be woken at the 17th century version of early, that is at 3am, as he had slaughterman’s work to do ahead of the succeeding market day (Friday, June 21st). But banging on his door had no effect, by 5am they had decided to get a smith to open his locked bedroom. There they found him apparently dead on his bed, still in the clothes he had worn the night before. According to the more lurid of the two pamphlets published in 1661 about his awful fate, his landlady disregarded the advice of the searchers (there to check that the death was not caused by the plague), and brow-beat her husband into having Cawthorn buried that same Friday afternoon. This pamphlet says that she wanted the man’s goods; the other, more sober pamphlet discounts this, and indicates that the searchers decided he had died of quinsy.

During the weekend after his burial (one pamphlet says it was on Sunday, the other, Saturday) poor Cawthorn regained consciousness in the grave. His coffin was just a yard below the surface, and ‘lamentable Screeks, sad crys and a rumbling noise’ could be heard from beneath the ground. A crowd gathered, and ‘some of them spoke to the Sexton to dig up the Grave’, but he told them he could not do so without authorisation. All Sunday night the local residents could hear continued ‘sad groans’.

Finally the grave was re-opened on Monday. Cawthorn was dead by then. He hadn’t just asphyxiated, in his traumatic struggle, demented by terror, he had ‘beaten himself to Death in the Coffin’. The first pamphlet was either written or even in print by the Tuesday:

An Exact relation of the barbarous murder committed on Lawrence Corddel a butcher who was buryed alive at Christ Church on Fryday last ... with lamentable screeks, groans, and horrid cryes made by him in his grave on Sunday night, and the sad, wounded, and mortify'd condition he was taken up in on Munday, June 24 : as also the examination and confession of his land-lord and land-lady ... before the Right Honorable the Lord Mayor of London by whom they were both committed to New-gate(1661).

Later, but still before the hearing, the other pamphlet appeared. ‘Murder’ has become ‘accident’, but the landlady is still seen as culpable. (Somebody had to be.)

The Most lamentable and deplorable accident which on Friday last, June 22, befell Laurence Cawthorn, a buccher in St. Nicholas Shambles in Newgate Market who being suspected to be dead by the two hasty covetousness and cruelty of his land-lady ... was suddenly and inhumanely buryed : together with the report of his moving of the body as it was carrying by the bearers to his grave, and the treating of his winding sheet with his own hands, and the lamentable shrieks and groans he made on the Saturday and Sunday following : as also the examination and commitment of his land-lord and land-lady by the lord mayor to the prison of Newgate (1661).

The case of Joan Bridges was just as frightful. She was a woman of a reasonably good reputation, who worked for a baker, but she was another drinker, and one morning after a drinking session in a Rochester ale-house she seemed to have died in her sleep. She was buried the next day. That night, dogs were seen digging at her grave, and a passer-by who saw this thought he heard ‘a very dolefull cry or noyse’. Her family are told, but did nothing. The dogs could not be beaten from the grave. So ‘the women of the Town gathered mony amongst themselves to take up the Corps’. Her awful final struggles are told in the title here:

A strange and wonderfull relation of the burying alive of Joan Bridges of Rochester in the county of Kent. Also, the manner if her tearing open of her own belly, the getting of the cloath off her face, and loosing of her feet in the grave, and that she was afterwards seen by above 500. persons. With a description of her life, and severall other circumstances very admirable, and exceeding remarkable for all sorts of people (1646).

‘The muffler which was tyed about her face was rubbed off, her nose by the low roof of her prison house was beat flat with her cheeks, the strings which tyed her toes together had torn the skin from the bone…’ The rest of it is worse. I suppose a dead person’s toes were (are?) tied together for ease of handling.

My image features the fantastically minimalist woodcut executed for the Joan Bridges pamphlet.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Conojodicall jaws and other delights

“Scriptures declare many men to be condemned to eternal torments, when no woman at any time condemned may be read of …”

So, next time I regale a lecture audience with John Donne provocatively entertaining the notion of women not having souls, I can half rectify the situation by pointing out that the unremitting interrogation of what the Bible says and doesn’t say, so characteristic of his age, had also produced this unanticipated finding.

I’ve been reading The glory of women: or, A treatise declaring the excellency and preheminence of women above men, which is proved both by scripture, law, reason, and authority, divine, and humane. Written first in Latine by Henricus Cornelius Agrippa Knight, and doctor both of law and physicke. And presented to Margaret Augusta, Queen of the Austrians and Burgundians. And now translated into English, for the vertuous and beautifull female sex of the Commonwealth of England By Edward. Fleetwood, Gent.

This was a generically normal rhetorical oration, in this case arguing pro rather than contra, written to display wit, tongue-in-cheek, and just sometimes approaching seriousness in its attacks on men. Fleetwood’s prose translation was seized upon by Hugh Crompton, who put it into verse as:

The glory of women or, a looking-glasse for ladies: Wherin they may behold their own excellency and preheminence, proved to be greater then mans, by scripture, law, reason & authority, divine & human. Written first in Latine, by Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, Knight and doctor both of law and physick. Afterwards translated into English prose, but now turned into heroicall verse. By H. C. Gent.,1652.

I have posted on Hugh Crompton before (link below): he seems to be a case of a man writing verse to promote and display his uninhibited delight in women. But in glancing then at the titles listed to him on EEBO, I missed this versification. Prose was not elevated enough for Crompton’s notion of his favourite subject, and so, off he went.

Here’s the set description, the standard topos, the blazon, of a woman’s physical beauty as Fleetwood rendered Agrippa’s Latin:

“beauty, is nothing else but the divine light, and splendor shining through faire bodies, he certainly hath chose to dwell in, and fill with it, Women rather than Men.

Hence the Body of WOMAN is most delicate to the eye, and touch, her flesh most soft and tender, her colour bright and lustring, Skinne cleare, Head comely, Locks faire, haire soft, shining, and long, her Countenance majesticke, Aspect pleasant, her Face surpassing in beauty, necke milke white, fore-head high, eyes sparkling with a lovely chearfulnesse, mixed with tenne thousand graces above them, eye-browes smooth and thin, divided with decent distance, from the middle of which descendeth her nose, straight and of due proportion, under which is her mouth neat, round and lovely, with small, fresh and red lips, within which her teeth appeare when she gently smiles, being very small, and evenly placed, overcoming Ivory with their whitenesse, and to whom they are fewer in number then to man, because she is not given so much to eating, and consuming. Above them her jaw-bones rise handsomely, and cheeks of a tender softnesse, a rosie brightnesse, and full of modesty.

Next, take view of her round and dimpled Chinne, in a pleasant manner, under which the neck is placed, which is small, but something long, fairly erected upon her round shoulders, a delicate throat, white, and of an indifferent thicknesse, her voice sweet and pleasant, her brest somewhat large and prominent, adorned with two Nectar-fill’d Paps, the roundnesse of which, doth suite and agree well with the roundnesse of her belly, her sides soft, back smooth, and erect, armes stretched out, hands small and slender, fingers neatly jointed, her flanks and hips more full, the calves of her legs more fleshly, the tips of her hands and feet ending in a round orbicular compleatnesse, and every member full of juyce and moisture.”

And this is what Crompton did in versifying it:

the man is but the work of Nature,
But woman is the print of the Creator:
She's full of Beauty to inrich her fame,
She's often found abounding with the same;
This will appear within her cheeks to lie,
Excelling man in her serenitie;
Since Beauty then is nothing but the light,
And splendor shining in each body bright:
Then certainly Females the Lord did chuse
To fill with it, when man he did refuse.
But that I might them more illuminate,
I'le shew their bodies are most delicate,
In form, and colour, which for to behold,
Shines far more bright then the refined Gold:
Her locks are comely, and her head's most clear,
And it's adorned with her silken haire;
Her aspects lovely, glancing from her face,
Her forehead high, for beauty doth surpasse;
Her twinckling eyes plac't in their silver cases,
Are mixt and blended with ten thousand graces;
'Bove which there hang the curtains of her eyes,
And in the midst there doth her nose arise,
Plac't like a ballance, or an even weight
Descending downwards by a comly height:
Next unto this is made her mouth below,
Surrounded with those Ruby Lips that grow
In decent order, shining bright and clear,
And when she smiles, her candid teeth appear,
Both sharp and small, and placed equally,
Th'are far more bright then bones of Ivory;
They rest within the cheeks that do inclose
Both red and white, the Lilly and the Rose;
Behold her chin made Conojodicall,
Her neck beneath is placed long and small,
Erected neatly on her shoulders round;
Her throat but slender, yields a pleasant sound:
Her breasts adorn'd, her paps with Nectar fill'd,
Which dulcid drink she doth to infants yield:
Her belly's round, back small, sides soft & tender;
Her arms erect, her hands are thin and slender:
Her feet divide it neatly, and her hips
Are trimm'd with fatnesse; but her finger tips
End all compleatly, in a circle round:
Each part with sanguine moisture doth abound.

Maybe some qualm stopped him from rendering properly the assertion that female beauty manifests the divine light. The absurd proposition that women, with their smaller appetites, have fewer teeth than men also disappears (did he do some practical research rather than accept his author?) Both writers make a round belly part of the general physical appeal, but I do not recall seeing the ‘round orbicular compleateness’ of a woman’s fingers and toes being singled out before. It might be true to say that hands got more erotic attention back then (all that palm-paddling!).

The vocabulary of both writers is generally unremarkable (‘dulcid’ was a 17th century variant of ‘dulcet’). But 17th century writers are never completely predictable, and Crompton suddenly takes a punt on ‘conojodicall’ for the jaw: not in the OED, perhaps once on a reader’s index card and lost in the Atlantic with so many of the OED’s 16th and 17th century citations. I can’t crack it: ‘cono-’ clearly is the ‘wedge’ shape of the mandible, but ‘jodicall’ beats me. Anyone help?

For my picture, the celebrated Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle, who is just posted there as the major 17th century babe.