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.