Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thomas Campion's Secret Love

I suppose I’ve always given Thomas Campion short shrift (mainly for not being John Dowland). But I’ve just been looking back at his words, and enjoying their directness when it comes to amatory subject matter. His Two bookes of ayres The first contayning diuine and morall songs: the second, light conceites of louers of 1613 clearly made Campion feel defensive at having put devout and undeniably naughty songs between the same book covers:

‘To the READER.’

That holy Hymns with Lovers’ cares are knit
Both in one Quire here, thou maist think’t unfit;
Why do’st not blame the Stationer as well,
Who in the same Shop sets all sorts to sell?
Divine with stiles profane, grave shelv’d with vain;
And some matcht worse, yet none of him complain.

The ‘light conceits of lovers’ show Campion writing out of classical models, particularly Catullus and Ovid. These were liberating influences: there’s a fine lyric requesting sex before marriage (‘Sweet, exclude me not…’), and asking (in same way that Ovid’s male lovers get absurdly aggrieved about things) why it was the doors were ever invented ‘in love’s despite’ (he’s asking his fiancée not to ‘bar not the door’, but she is doing so, and laughing at him). The lover who just daren’t speak is here, analyzing whether keeping painfully silent doesn’t in fact preserve the hope that will vanish if he speaks:

Fain would I my love disclose,
Ask what honour might deny;
But both love and her I lose,
From my motion if she fly.

Campion goes quite deep, psychologically: ‘Though your strangeness frets my heart’ is a lover’s complaint to a Lady who insists on such secrecy, and requires such arbitrary postponements of meetings that he just has to suspect her of being up to something (– it’s a good tune too).

But I’d forgotten about this set of verses for a very candid woman speaker/singer:

A secret love or two, I must confess,
I kindly welcome for change in close playing:
Yet my dear husband I love ne’ertheless,
His desires, whole or half, quickly allaying,
At all times ready to offer redress.
His own he never wants, but hath it duly,
Yet twits me, I keep not touch with him truly.

The more a spring is drawn, the more it flows;
No Lampe less light retains by lighting others:
Is he a loser his loss that ne’re knows?
Or is he wealthy that waste treasure smothers?
My churl vows no man shall scent his sweet Rose:
His own enough and more I give him duly,
Yet still he twits me, I keep not touch truly.

Wise Archers bear more then one shaft to field,
The Venturer loads not with one ware his shipping:
Should Warriors learn but one weapon to wield?
Or thrive faire plants ere the worse for the slipping?
One dish cloys, many fresh appetite yield:
Mine own I’le use, and his he shall have duly,
Judge then what debtor can keep touch more truly.

The wife loves her ‘dear husband’ well enough, but she also needs her ‘secret love or two’ (how many, though, really?) for variety’s sake. Her husband, who is given everything he wants sexually (it seems he could have plenty more if he could deal with it) is not in her view the loser by her extra-marital adventures. To justify her in all this there flows a stream of semi-proverbial instances and analogies. How unreasonable of him to want to keep all to himself all of something that he can’t in practice use all of!

Campion, writing such a splendidly uninhibited lyric voiced for a woman speaker, surely offered a very risqué piece for amateur and domestic performance. Could a man, his wife, and their friends, really ever have sat round a table singing their parts in this song-setting? Or would it always have been ‘performers’, distanced by profession from the unblushing sentiments they were voicing? She sounds, in her commonsense and socially aspirant euphemisms (‘close playing … scent his sweet rose’), a bit like one of the citizen’s wives in the comedies of Middleton, and in this way, the song is lightly ‘in character’. In my next post I will look at how one in particular of Campion’s songs was a great success with the broadside ballad audience. This poem is like one of the more outspoken state-of-a-marriage ballads.

The verb ‘twit’ is a characteristic Elizabethan usage: the OED, bless it, explains that it began with a long ‘i’ (‘twite’), and that was itself an aphetic form of ‘atwite’, which is the word in Beowulf for ‘reproach’ – if you in the later centuries were ‘twitting’ somebody, you were reproaching, as the OED sagely defines it, in a light or annoying manner. Perhaps it's still used only in English Departments? Even we no longer 'twit' one another 'in the teeth', as they did in the 16th century.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Joseph Swetnam, the Master of Defence

I have been reading, with interest and approval, Joseph Swetnam. There goes what professional reputation I have! But no, I do not mean the misogynist Swetnam, of The Arraigment of Lewd, Idle, Froward and Inconstant Women, but the same Swetnam as the author of The schoole of the noble and worthy science of defence. Being the first of any English-mans invention, which professed the sayd science; so plainly described, that any man may quickly come to the true knowledge of their weapons, with small paines and little practice (1617).

In this, his other work (which I suspect not many Renaissance specialists will have read, in comparison to those who have looked at The Arraignment), Swetnam is completely in the male world. Apart from this complete masculinism of subject, there is no sign here of Swetnam’s anti-feminism. He is calmly, and authoritatively amongst his own, and makes a very considerable instructor.

Swetnam’s anti-woman polemic caused, of course, a lasting stir. It has always seemed to me that he managed to provoke women so much (those who took up pen to answer his book) because of a very particular aspect of his style: Swetnam wrote with a flow of cliches, truisms, proverbs, and reach-me-down phrases. To a woman reading his diatribe, it would not have seemed like an individual was attacking her sex, but that here, horribly, were all the things a whole society seemed to say and hold against women: every old joke, jeer, and cynical adage, with Swetnam as merely the channel of a universal bile.

In this other book for men, Swetnam’s manner is just the same: but here, it renders him the good, untaxing companion, whose opinions make sense because they sound so universal – the ‘old saying going thus’ backing for what he says. Makes sense to me, it will make sense to you: that’s his pitch. Swetnam was clearly a tough cookie, a twenty minute hard-boiled egg. He says in passing that he has fought with rapier and dagger twenty times, and has never himself lost a drop of blood (these would not be duels, but prize fights and challenges between ‘masters of defence’ – but they would have been very hazardous, I am sure).

But Swetnam does not swagger: he addresses with understanding and latitude the kinds of hazards that early modern English men would undoubtedly have faced:

“if you meet with thine enemie in the night, and he charge upon thee, the best means for thy defence, is presently to chop up into this high guard, except thy staffe be of a sufficient length to keep him off, with charging the point upon him, or else the third means is to trust to thy heeles” (p. 139). Fight or flight: Swetnam sensibly admits either option: here’s the best guard if a man is coming at you with a big stick, he says, or run for it (“Run, and tell you old lady to run too”, as Richard Pryor might have added).

Swetnam had been Prince Henry’s “tutor in the skill of weapons”. With his patron, who had (he claims) asked him to put his instructions into print, dying so young, Swetnam dedicated his work to the less promisingly bellicose Prince Charles. He intended a second, expanded edition, with even more woodcuts showing the correct stances, and says he has that work in hand.

But ‘bellicose’ maligns the book: after he has discussed the best managing of all the hand weapons that are likely to be used if actual fighting has to be done, Swetnam produces one last weapon, one he guarantees will get you out of danger: it is “a fair tongue”. Talking your way out of trouble, avoiding the provocations of someone looking for a fight – Swetnam is absolutely sensible.

As for combat, Swetnam really does seem to know what he is talking about. If it comes to man against man combat, his instructions are completely cogent. Fight only in the morning when you are sober. If there is sunshine, maneuver round so it is your opponent’s eyes. If the ground slopes, you want to be on the lower side, for that is the more advantageous ground. If you let your rapier slip, take your dagger’s point in your hand, and shape up as though you are about to throw it: your opponent will hesitate, if you can, recover your rapier in the time you buy.

“Againe, and againe I say” (for that’s Swetnam’s tone), speed is the thing: you watch your opponent’s eyes, as the point of his rapier (if he is fighting correctly, with wrist movements only) will be moving to fast to follow if you try to do that intently. You do not try to use ‘strong blowes’: too much upper arm in it, and so it is too slow, you expose yourself to risk: “therefore strike an easie blow, and doe it quicke” (p.121).

The illustration shows the weapon Swetnam swears by: those are four foot rapiers, and two foot daggers; and you keep your twelve foot distance as an imperative. Swetnam speaks very ill of the modish ‘short sword’ – fight just as well with a tobacco pipe, he says, it's an “idle weapon”. In his measured account of the facts, ever inch counts: if your rapier has an inch on your opponent’s, that inch may be enough to save your life (and end his). Characteristically down to earth, he also notes that anyway a short sword (with its edge) will wear through your clothes three times faster than the rapier.

The choreographed Hollywood duel does not get any support: never give a weapon back, and if you are up against multiple opponents (and not in some narrow way), you are doomed, if your opponents are willing to kill you. (Swetnam is always realistic: men often don’t want to fight, and ofetn will not want to kill even when they can. But if two men really set out to kill one man, he is finished, as he just cannot be quick enough to guard against two purposeful assailants). Left-handers are always at an advantage: they get more practice fighting right-handed men than right-handed men get fighting the left-handed. It’s as simple as that.

What Swetnam lets us through to is the world of the early modern tough: the drinkers and fighters, those careless of their lives. He tells us what became of many of the best masters of defence he has known:

“Henry Adlington for killing his Maister Iohn Deevell, was hanged: Furlong he drank a pinte of Aqua vitae at one draught, and he fell downe and died presently: Westcoat, for some unkindnesse received of his owne daughter, he went into a wood neare Perine in Cornewall, and there hanged himselfe: Richard Caro, hee died most miserably of the French disease in an olde house neare Plimouth, although he had a new suite of clothes from toppe to toe, yet hee was so loathsome a creature, that no bodie would let him harbour in his house.” [Sig C4]

In instructing you to look after yourself, Swetnam will also expound, in the way that is so typical of his age, of how providence will doom those who murder. But, a man’s man if ever there was one, something in him still warms to these hacksters and bravos, with their flamboyant recklessness. “Rufus the Ruffian” (he recalls) was a sword and buckler man: he had “God pictured on the in side of his Target, and the divel on the out-side, with this poesie on the in-side, If thou wilt not have me, the other shall” (p.192).

So, alongside his book in contempt of women, he wrote a book which is (in a very odd way, considering the subject) full of compassion for men. Here’s their other anxiety (he knows) – the thought that some boozed-up thug carrying lethal weapons is going to pick a fight. He will tell you how to get safely home to that little woman… (And as for her…)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Not a happy early modern bunny?

My image here is a composite from part of the title page, the final page, and a portion of the recto of signature H2 (rotated) from the rapier and dagger manual, Vincentio Saviolo his practice, of 1594-5. I thought to look back at it, remembering its images of duellists, and thinking about my post about the challenge to a display of arms at the Red Bull theatre between Mr Gravener and Mr Blunne.

What caught my eye instead was the annotations made by the 17th century owner of the EEBO copy, one Henry Chaytor (possibly 'Chayton'). He puts his name into the book, 'Henry Chaytor his booke' on the title page. Inside the back cover, he writes a list of names: 'Thomas Thorpe, An Killinghall, Henry Chaytor, An Chaytor'. I don't know how Thomas Thorpe gets in, perhaps it's just a name that crops up in contexts of bibliographic enigma, but I surmise that 'Ann Killinghall' was in Henry's mind for alteration by marriage into 'Ann Chaytor'. Amid the usual pen-testings and doodles, he tries out the new name she will have, to see how it looks.

But in the middle of the book, running down the right hand margin, 'M An burke was wed the thirtieth day of april 1657' - the bad news that Mistress Ann Burke was wed the thirtieth day of April 1657. Now, if this were not an annotation in a rapier and dagger manual, I'd think this was a different Ann, but I suspect from the context that young Miss Killinghall opted to become Mistress Burke rather than Mistress Chaytor. And Henry is thinking of taking his honorable revenge on the over-felicitous Mr Burke...

Saviolo is still good reading if you can skip the technical details of imbroccatas, mandritas, stoccatas, punta reversas and stramazones. (I assume that the modern reader would take a merely scholarly interest, rather than be revising for tips on improving the lethality of your caricado.) He seems to know what he is talking about, and his advice can only be described as to the point. Keep striking at the face, is his basic line, as you have to intimidate your opponent, and if you can succeed in striking there, good, for 'every little blow in the face staieth the furie of a man more than anie other place of his body, for being through the bodie, it happeneth often times that the same man killeth his enemie notwithstanding in the furie of his resolution: but the blood that runneth about the face, dismaieth a man'. What do you do if the rapier twists or slips from the hand of your opponent? Kill him while you have the chance, whatever you do, don't give it back! Suppose you find yourself fighting an old friend after a quarrel, and you end up with him at your mercy, what should you do? Spare him for old time's sake? No, kill him while you can, for you never know what's in a man's mind, don't give him the opportunity to make you regret being merciful.

He has several interesting pages about giving the lie - it's like Touchstone, but deadly serious, and a marvellously addled assertion that if you are out to kill someone, you have to do this as the instrument of God's wrath, rather than for private reasons. Just take revenge in the right frame of mind, with suitable piety of purpose, and that's OK.

I doubt Mr Chaytor called out his man: he looks a bit of a dreamer to me, and the book he was swotting up on technique in is enough to unnerve anyone.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Flights of fancy


I am in the current EMLS, writing at considerable length about transvection, the purported flight of witches, and how it got represented on the early modern stage:

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A challenge at Long Picke and Half Picke

The Guardian ran a piece about the exhibition being put on by the Society of Antiquaries for the 330th birthday of the institution. Here’s the link, and another link to the accompanying slide show of some of the treasures that will be on display.,,2167486,00.html

This reminded me faintly of how printed materials owned by the Society crop up on EEBO, and here’s one of them, A Challenge, From Richard Grauener, Gentleman and Souldier, Scholler to Thomas Musgrove, & Seruant to Robert Battell, Prouis Masters of the Noble Sience of defence, against Thomas Blunne, Shoo-maker, and Scholler to Thomas Turpin, Master of the Noble Science of Defence this to be performed at the Red Bull in St. Iohns street, on Tuesday next, being the 20. of October, 1629. If God permit.

The black letter text says:

“Judicious Gentlemen and others, I being a Souldier, from me expect no complementall phrases, for in my opinion that more stuffes the eare, then please the eye; then to leave off this empty outside of verball threatenings, I in plaine termes challenge the said Thomas Blunne at these eight severall weapons hereunder named, wishing him to bring his best skill and resolution with him. This to be performed at the time and place above named, desiring from the spectators stage-room, and from him his uttermost of his malice, while then I rest.

The names of the Weapons.

Long Picke, Half Picke, Backe Sword, Sword and Buckler, Single Rapier, Rapier and Dagger, Sword and Dagger, Holberd.

And I the said Thomas Blunne will be ready at the time and place appointed, to answer this Challenge, If God permit. Vivat Rex.”

In this promotional handbill, we see the kind of thing that might have been distributed to advertise new plays by Shakespeare, and stuck up on posts in the city. A humble black letter sheet (it is about six inches high) - something very like this might have announced King Lear. Here, the amphitheatre (the Red Bull) will be showing a display of martial prowess rather than a play, with the bill assuring those who read it that both men are going to appear, and hack away at each other in some controlled and semi-safe manner through a full repertoire of weapons. I suppose that, with breaks for a breather and a small beer, it might have gone on for a couple of hours if all digits and eyes survived the early rounds. There would have been side-betting, I imagine. In Davenant's play, The Unfortunate Lovers, there's an allusion to the customary costumes worn when two men 'played a prize', which lets us see how Gravener and Blunne might wel have turned out:

"Why, dost thou thinke they goe to play a Prize?
Is't of necessity they must appeare
In scarlet Breeches, and cleane lac'd shirts?"

The two participants represent two different schools in the ‘Science of Defence’. Interesting that the gentleman and soldier Gravener will be fighting a shoemaker. Perhaps Blunne was doing the whole socially mobile ‘a shoemaker a gentleman’ thing by means of mastering methods of fighting. Maybe this is part of the commercial appeal of the bout – to get the journeyman shoemakers along to cheer on their man.

Ephemera at its most priceless.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Prince Charles visits a bullfight, 1623

This Scene again withdrawing brings
A new and empty Face of things;
A levell'd space, as smooth and plain,
As Clothes for Lilly strecht to stain.
The World when first created sure
Was such a Table rase and pure.
Or rather such is the Toril
Ere the Bulls enter at Madril…

- a stanza from Marvell’s ‘Upon Appleton House’ of course. I’ve been reading James Salgado’s An impartial and brief description of the plaza, or sumptuous market-place of Madrid, and the bull-baiting there (1683). Salgado was some kind of exile in England (“Most Noble, Puissant, Ancient and Generous English … these five years, and above, I have enjoyed Life and Sanctuary by your Protection and Benigne Generosity"), and, fallen on hard times (he writes of himself as “A Poor Distressed man past shame”), tried to make a bit of money from a publication which is sets off as a description, though he resorts to spinning out the pamphlet with an unconnected novella.

I was interested first in the picture of the plaza and its accommodation for spectators. The spaces of early modern performances are so thinly documented, that the woodcut might be considered ancillary to one of Andrew Gurr’s books, sharing some elements with the Inn stages of early modern London, public amphitheatres, and masquing houses – though doing it all sumptuously:

“Lincolns-Inn-Fields are neither so large, nor spacious, as this place of publick resort at Madrid, which is exactly Square, being surrounded with Houses Uniform all along in all their Dimensions, erected to the Altitude of five pair of Stairs, with a great many most Curious Windows, and balconies over laid with the purest Gold. Moreover the Square is Level, to the end that the Foming Bulls, and Prancing Horses may run their Courses with the greater easiness and celerity. From the ground to the first pair of Stairs are reared up Theaters made of Timber for the People: The Thirty Balconies set apart for King and Court, are sumptuously Furnish’d with the Richest Tapestry and choicest Velvet that Money or Art can purchase

None can purchase a Room in the first pair of Stairs, at a lower rate than 200. Crowns, yea, and those places which are not exposed to the Scorching Heat of the Sun after four a Clock, must be supposed to amount to a greater sum of Money.”

Salgado describes the various stages of what evolved finally into a highly ritualized performance. As he knew the bull fighting in Madrid, the night before, there was guitar and harp music in the plaza, “because generally the Spaniards can Dextrously Play on those Instruments”. On the day of the fighting, the seating would be full by 8 in the morning (apart from the balconies for the court), for the “Encierro, or the bringing forth of the Bull”. At 2pm, a general melee between twelve, “Gladiators” seems to have taken place. At Sunset, the King and court arrived, and the arena was watered with 24 hogsheads of perfumed water, then the preliminary part of the main event began.

Interestingly, this part is most like our modern notion of Spanish bullfighting: a solitary man, on foot, confronting the animal:

“The person, whose undaunted Courage or Boldness sets him a work to Encounter with this raging Creature, stands to his posture at the Door of the said House with a long and sharp-pointed Launce in his Hand, having one of his Knees set to the ground: Immediately after the Sound of a Trumpet, a Constable runs with all possible speed, and sets the Door of the Room, where the Furious Animal is enclosed, wide open. Way being thus made, and all persons Attentively looking on, the man is by and by Assaulted with great Violence, which on-set, if by Dexterity or good luck, he can evade; there is a fair occasion presented him for Killing or Wounding the Bull to purpose, which if he miss to do his life and Members are in Jeopardy.”

The early modern Spanish bullfight worked, in general, up a social scale, with some hideous extras (“Sometimes a very despicable Peasant is set upon a Lean Deformed Horse, and exposed very often to a Violent Death”). The unmounted bullfighter has a dagger and ‘Rexones’, darts six or seven inches long, garlanded with sharp points. He fights the bull as best he can, but there was usually no ‘estocada’. Rather, at the end of the bout, trumpets sounded, and then “Butchers-Dogs and men Armed with broad-Swords quickly dispatch the Strength and Violence of those formidable Animals” – the killing was done by these auxiliaries. Salgado recollects as remarkable a bout when the young man fighting sprang on the bull’s back, wounding the animal with the Rexones, and just as the trumpet was about to sound, killed the bull with his dagger. This memorable outright killing seems to be depicted in the engraving.

The bullfight proper followed, when young noblemen, on horseback, and armed with lances, set about the bulls, and were usually able to “accomplish their Noble purposes very often by Killing or Wounding the Foaming Animals”. Should the bull unhorse one of these gentlemen, he was supposed to fight on, on foot. But he was well armed for the purpose, to “encounter the Bulls a Foot, Lashing them with Broad Swords”

This was the bullfight. That “very despicable Peasant is set upon a Lean Deformed Horse, and exposed very often to a Violent Death” was a comic version of the gentlemanly role, on horseback.

The article in Wikipedia explains the general development of the modern version, with a swapping round of priorities: the matador fights on foot, his ancillaries, the two picadores ("lancers") and banderilleros ("flagmen"), are a diminished version of the once aristocratic role.

Salgado tells a story which captures this social shift, a tale in which a beautiful girl wooed by three brave noblemen astounds them by demanding that they lower themselves to fighting the bull on foot. But they desire her so much that they undertake it.

Slagado’s other, and more plausible story is about Charles I, when he was Prince of Wales, in Spain with Buckingham on his ill-fated quest to win the hand of the Infanta. He saw a bullfight, in which three bulls were killed. Then, “not long after a Brisk Lady in most gorgeous Apparel” emerged onto the plaza: “Astonishment Seized upon the Beholders that one of the Female Sex could assume the unheard of Boldness of exposing her self to the violence of the most Furious Beast yet seen, which had overcome, yea almost killed two men of great Strength, Courage and Dexterity. Incontinently the Bull rushed towards the corner where the Lady and her Attendants stood, she (after all had fled) drew forth her Dagger very unconcernedly, and thrust it most dexterously into the Bulls neck, having catched hold of his Horn … after which, turning about towards the King’s Balcony, she made her Obeysance, and withdrew herself in suitable state and Gravity.”

But no, it wasn’t what it seemed to be, as “This person was a man, though in the Habit of a Woman… whom they appointed to be disguised so much the rather, that the Prince of Wales might be the more taken with the thing”. This was actually quite astute by the Spanish hosts: the goggling Charles was very impressionable, and a stunning demonstration of the courage and cruel precision that a young Spanish woman could summon up was exactly calibrated to put him in his place.

After the aristocrats has slaughtered a suitable number of bulls, it would have been quite dark, so the show ended with taurine fireworks: “Thus three or four persons of Quality continue until it be pretty late, at which time they drive out a Bull covered all over with Artificial Fire, by which he is rendered most Furious and hurtful: For Curiosity and want of further order, induces the Rable to approach so near unto him, that by his most dreadful pushings many sustain Mutilation, yea, and Death it self”.

“You may easily object that it is a Cruel and Barbarous Recreation … Nevertheless, an uncontroull’d Custom of long continuance has given it the force and validity of a Law”, says Salgado about the obvious issue. Here's the older form of bull fighting still going on, and in trouble:,,2167714,00.html#article_continue

What is startling about the 17th century form is the way the deaths of "a very despicable peasant" or members of the "Rable" make up part of the show.

Monday, September 10, 2007

It was cold that year!

Following on rather unseasonably from my last post about pack ice in the Channel off Plymouth, I thought to have a look at what else went on, and now liberate from 'EEBO' this image of the London Frost Fair of that winter.

It was published by Joseph Moxon, a globe maker, type founder, and the first tradesman to be elected to the Royal Society.

The view (click on the image to get it at a more readable scale) is orientated south, with London Bridge at the left. Moxon has done a rough map of the iced-over Thames, with its temporary roads, shopping mall, and diversions. Ignoring the land topography, he has transferred from the Thames a series of vignettes of the typical activities of the frost fair. Just to the right of the dedicatory cartouche is 'Futtball Play', vividly depicted. Bottom right just above the hat of the figure holding the scale bar is 'Cock Throwing' (which clearly involved throwing items at a live bird).

To the right of the central thoroughfare 'Temple Street' is a 'Whirl Sledg', which apparently involved a gang of operators spinning a sledge in circles on a rope. Hard to tell from the picture, but a fixed point perhaps drilled into the ice might have helped. 'Skate sliding' is taking place on the river, mere 'sliding' for the unequipped, and an ice yacht is bottom left.

'Webb's bull' is being baited amid a circle of spectators, with no evident fencing off of the action from the crowd watching, and there is 'Fox Trialing' with dogs below the cartouche.I also spy a muster of soldiers, games of nine pins and pigeon holes, and a whole lot of catering going on: I wonder about the solitary strolling ladies too, whether they were just sight-seers, or looking for clients.

The surprising amount of attention to printing presses (top right) and 'Letter Founding' (to the right of the central way across the ice) is, I suppose, Moxon giving prominence to his own profession operating out there.

Moxon addresses the Lord Mayor of London: 'My Lord, that so remarkable a Frost as this Winter has produced may as much as may be known to Posterity; I have taken the pains to survey the appearance of the Frozen river of Thames from London Bridge to Fox Hall...'

A Map of the river Thames. Merrily cald Blanket Fair as it was frozen in the memorable-year 1683/4. : Describing the booths, foot-paths, coachs, sledges, bull baitings and other remarks upon that famous river.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Walking ashore through pack ice: Plymouth, 1684

This link is the Guardian reporting the likely disappearance of the polar icecap in the next three decades, while in this pamphlet of 1684, two survivors of a hideous series of ship-board calamities walk six hours across the frozen waters of the Channel to make landfall near Plymouth, leaving their ship, “the De Ruyter of Rotterdam”, icebound: “which we see at a distance, but as yet the Frost is so hard we cannot get to her”.

The author of the little pamphlet is one J.G., who is housing the survivors at his home in Plymouth. In August 1683, Heer van Essell, a prosperous Dutch Merchant, hired a ship to take him and his family (his “exceedingly Beautiful wife” and their two children) home to Holland from the West Indies. For the first two months, the voyage went well, but they then were becalmed for several weeks. Besides this family of four, there were sixteen seamen and the ship’s master on board the ship. Several of the crew die of disease, the rationed food runs out, the rest go for four days go without any food. They are unable to make land. The two children of the Van Essels die, and their corpses are eaten.

It is then resolved that they must draw lots for the next to be killed and eaten, with a second draw in the same lottery, to settle the executioner. The draw falls to the wife to be eaten, and her husband to kill her. Van Essel is reported to have said words to this effect: “ ‘I am resolved never to be her Executioner, who hath been so loving a just a Wife to me, but in her stead am resolved my self the Sacrifice.’ He drew a Pistol from his Pocket, which he so unexpectedly discharged, they had not time to prevent it, shot himself in the Head, of which Wound he Immediately died”. His body is divided up, but “No entreaties could perswade her to Feed on that dear Corps she had so often cherished, but what share thereof the hardship of her Fate allowed her for her Food, she Embalmed with her Tears.” An English seaman on board manages to catch two rats, which she eats instead. There follows another lottery to be killed and eaten: once again, the lot falls to the luckless and by now suicidal woman to be eaten, but the Englishman on board is committed to saving her: “Carpinger with two more he hired, steps in and resolutely withstood the Execution; Upon which Quarrel they drew their Falchions, and four Persons were Slain, amongst whom the Faithful Servant was one. This was sufficient Morsel for the present, and staid the Bloody Hunger of the Survivors.”

J.G. does not indicate quite how the heroic Carpinger and Mistress Van Essell were keeping themselves alive. The purgatorial voyage is almost over in terms of distance, “But such was the Rigour of their Fate, that by the unused Dyet most of the Men were Dead, just as they got sight of the Lands end of England, and having but very few hands to work their Vessel, they found that from the danger they had been so long in, a second threatned them from the Severity of the late Season, for the Ice being there in very great Flakes, they found themselves drove amidst the same towards the Shore.”

The ship is, rather astonishingly, fast in pack ice in the western English channel for six more days, leaving all dead but Carpinger, the woman, and two others, ‘and these so Miserably weak they could not leave their Cabbins, so that being Froze in, that they could not stir, Carpinger with the Lady resolved to venture on the Ice, and set towards the Shore…’ Equipped with a long pole and a plank (I assume to get from floe to floe), Carpinger and the Lady walk for six hours, and reach shore near Plymouth.

J.G.’s novelistic brief account, with its well-defined English hero, beautiful heroine in extreme distress, invented speeches and abundant sentiment, manages a kind of happy ending to all these woes: “Where at my own House the said Parties do now remain, in reasonable Health. And considering the care and kindness of Carpinger, the Lady seems much to Favour him, and when the time of Mournings over, will undoubtedly make him happy in her Embraces.”

The work is signed and dated, and witnesses to its truth appended, 'J.G., Plymouth, Feb. 3d. 1683'.

There’s currently a whole genre of books documenting disasters at sea (Nathaniel Philbrick, Edward Leslie, Stephen Taylor, John Rousmaniere, Tami Ashcraft, Douglas Robertson). I don’t know if any of these authors has picked up on the sad voyage of the de Ruyter. We jump on a plane, travel the world, and think it worth anecdote if there’s a scrum at Heathrow. Here are the awful hazards of travel, early modern style.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Well, Blogger allows video posts

Nothing to do with early modern literature, or whales, but Blogger now lets users post videos, so here is a bit of the geothermal activity north of Hveragerthi, one of the hot springs that contribute to the warm stream that runs down the valley. I liked this one, so busy, and making its steam-engine noise. Blogger will have to work on transmitting the rotten eggs smell.
Iceland as a place (you might say) would have required mythology of its first settlers - how else but by dragons and trolls could you account for so inexplicable a landscape?
But from the start, Icelanders seem to have been the cleanest people in dark age, medieval and early modern Europe (there, I got it in). You can still visit Snorri Sturluson's bathing pool at Reykholt

Jacobean Memento, Scilly Isles Museum

When Sir Cloudesley Shovell's 'Association' went down on the Gilstone in 1707, it took with it what was possibly his (or the ship's captain's) private possession, this ornate bronze two-pounder cannon, decorated with Jacobean strap-work and the Prince of Wales' feathers. One might guess that it was mounted in the rear cabin as a talking-point, an antique that could conceivably be called into use.
It had been the lethal toy of that bellicose prince, Henry, Prince of Wales, and, after his early death, might have found its way into Navy stores, or sold off during the Commonwealth as essentially useless in naval combat. Now mute, but still telling its story of continued joy in finely made weaponry, loss and that 'what might have been' if its original owner had survived to lead the nation into battle abroad, rather than his younger sibling's Civil War at home.

But I am still mentally half in Iceland. I was delighted to discover this evocative film of Iceland's most evocative musicians, Sigur Ros performing 'at home':