Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Gifts

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Then the literary: Nicholas Breton offered

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the end I opted for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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