Friday, March 30, 2007

The Clean Contrary Way

I keep attempting little investigations for the blog that turn inconclusive, or simply become too big. This, for instance, I might work on properly and write up:

I came across Luke Shepherd’s broadsheet, ‘Antipus’. This is mid-16th century, fiercely Protestant stuff, printed in the reign of Edward VI. John ‘Bilious’ Bale apparently approved of Shepherd, that’s how strident he is.

The point of his set of distiches is to attack the doctrine of the real presence: “As verily as bread doth make and bake the baker / So verily these thieves the priests can make their maker.”

To do this, Shepherd launches into a series of statements which are the opposite to the truth (as he believes it to be), leading up to his climactic impossibility. The effect is (at least I thought) interestingly unstable: inventing these impossibilities, Shepherd’s mind strays into fantasy-heresies, in which Adam creates God, Christ persecutes the Jews, the Apostles refuse the gospel. All kinds of Bible passages are mingled together, so intense conviction and indiscriminateness co-mingle.

The opening couplet is a bit odd too: saying, ‘this is not the kind of thing you usually hear’, then ducking into Latin for ‘For the opposites of these things are most true’. Though I suppose that is to keep the joke alive, to allow the poem to inculcate a habit of total rejection into its readers’ minds.

I think that this may be the first of its kind, the polemical broadside poem which teaches by opposites. Well into the 17th century, ballads were written to the model, and used the refrain of ‘the clean contrary way’: read them, and understand the opposite to be true.

I append Alexander Brome’s ‘The Saints’ Encouragement’, which also circulated in broadsheet form, a poem of rankling hatred for the Roundheads, using this device of inventing words for a completely wrong-headed speaker. John Eliot’s little poem deals with an incident when fiddlers who played and sang the ‘clean contrary way’ music were sentenced to be whipped. He points out how counterproductive this action will be for the Puritan authorities.

I found another, Restoration variant, and a lot of allusions. There must be more out there.



¶To heare of such thinges ye be not wont
Nam horum contraria verissima sunt

AS verily as Adam created firste his God
So verily he tasted not, the fruite that was forbod

As verily as Abell, dyd kyll hys brother Kayn
So verily the shyppe made Noye this is playne

As verily as Isaac, hys father dyd begette
So verily the Sodomytes remayn vnburned yet

As verily as the Isralites, the Egiptians dyd oppresse
So verily dyd Moyses gyue God the lawe dowbtles

As verily as Sampson was, slayne of the lion rampynge
So verily dyd Goliad distroye Dauid the Kynge

As verily as in Babilon the meates were eate of Bell
So verily the dragon of brasse deuoured Daniell

As verily as Christe dyd crucifye the Jewes
So verily the Aposteles the gospell dyd refuse

As verily as Simon Magus the Apostles dyd confute
So verily the Apostels dyd princes persecute

As verily as the deuyll hath perfecte loue and hope
So verily goddes worde doth constitute the pope

As verily as Ise sicles wythin be hote and holowe
So verily proude prelates oure master Christe do folowe

As verily as bread doeth make and bake the baker
So verily these thefes the prestes can make their maker.

→ If Leighton wyll neades his maker make
That these are true he can not forsake
A Papiste he is and the popes owne knight
That preacheth falshed in stead of ryght
He knowith not howe to pay hys dettes
But wyth catchinge his creditors in the Popes netts
A thefe, a robber, by preachinge sedition
Is better regarded then the kings co~mission.
Amonge Papistes.

Alexander Brome, ‘The Saints Encouragement’, Written in 1643

Fight on brave Souldiers for the cause,
Fear not the Caveleers;
Their threatnings are as senselesse, as
Our Jealousies and fears.
'Tis you must perfect this great work,
And all Malignants slay,
You must being back the King again
The clean contrary way.

Tis for Religion that you fight,
And for the Kingdomes good,
By robbing Churches, plundring men,
And shedding guiltlesse blood.
Down with the Orthodoxal train,
All Loyal Subjects slay;
When these are gone we shall be blest
The clean contrary way.

When Charles we've bankrupt made, like us
Of Crown and power bereft him;
And all his loyal subjects slain,
And none but Rebels left him.
When we've beggar'd all the Land,
And sent our Truncks away,
We'l make him then a glorious Prince;
The clean contrary way.

'Tis to preserve his Majesty,
That we against him fight,
Nor are we ever beaten back,
Because our cause is right,
If any make a scruple on't,
Our Declarations say
Who fight for us, fight for the King,
The clean contrary way.

At Keynton, Branford, Plymmouth, York,
And diverse places more;
What victories we Saints obtain'd,
The like ne're seen before.
How often we Prince Robert kill'd,
And bravely won the day,
The wicked Cavaleers did run
The clean contrary way.

The true Religion we maintain,
The Kingdomes peace, and plenty;
The priviledg of Parliament
Not known to one of twenty:
The antient Fundamental Laws,
And teach men to obey;
Their Lawful Soveraign, and all these,
The clean contrary way.

We subjects Liberties preserve,
By, prisonment and plunder,
And do inrich our selves and state
By keeping the wicked under.
We must preserve Mecannicks now,
To Lecturize and pray;
By them the Gospel is advanc'd,
The clean contrary way.

And though the King be much misled
By that malignant crew;
He'l find us honest, and at last,
Give all of us our due.
For we do wisely plot, and plot
Rebellion to destroy,
He sees we stand for peace and truth,
The clean contrary way.

The publick faith shall save our souls,
And good out-works together,
And ships shall save our lives that stay,
Only for wind weather.
But when our faith and works fall down,
And all our hopes decay,
Our Acts will bear us up to heaven,
The clean contrary way.

John Eliot, ‘The Fidlers that were committed for singing a Song called, The clean contrary way’ (1658).

The Fidlers must be whipt the people say,
Because they sung the clean contrary way;
Which if they be, a Crown I dare to lay,
They then will sing the clean contrary way.
And he that did those merry Knaves betray,
Wise men will praise, the clean contrary way:
For whipping them no envy can allay,
Unlesse it be the clean contrary way.
Then if they went the Peoples tongues to stay,
Doubtless they went the clean contrary way.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

It passed for wit in the Eighteeenth Century

“Mr. Pope was with Sir Godfrey Kneller one day, when his nephew, a Guinea trader, came in. ‘Nephew’ (said Sir Godfrey) ‘you have the honour of seeing the two greatest men in the world.’

‘I don’t know how great you may be (said the Guinea-Man), but I don’t like your looks: I have often bought a man, much better than both of you together, all muscles and bone, for ten guineas.’ ”

I was preparing classes on the following texts

chosen to illustrate some of the ways in which poets and verse writers joined in the campaigning for the abolition of slavery, leading up to the act passed 200 years ago today. I looked up ‘Guinea-Man’ in the OED (‘I sail’d on board a Guinea-man’, says the sailor stricken by conscience in Robert Southey’s ‘The Sailor, who had served in the slave trade’), and found that the dictionary had, among its illustrative quotations, this robust encounter, preserved in Joseph Spence’s Anecdotes.

I imagine that Kneller, was making a joke: with Pope as poetry, and himself as painting, his nephew had indeed happened into rarified company. The ‘Guinea Man’ has of course a rather different scheme of ideas about the worth of men.

The following site does indicate that Kneller had moments of self-conceitedness; the ODNB entry represents him as hard-working and relatively modest.

On the sporting side, I undertook this event this morning: ‘The Reading CC Hilly Torture 40’: actually 44.5 miles, with 5,177 feet of climbing woven into its insanely testing route. My fellow club member and RHUL academic, Dr John Wann, is all set to generate interesting statistics. We were all weighed, standing on electronic scales, holding our bicycles, beforehand and afterwards. The idea was (I think) to award some recognition for whoever managed to shed most weight. I confounded this clever scheme by apparently finishing weighing one kilo more than when I started. I toured round slowly (it took me a leisurely 3 hours and 20 minutes, for the climbs are so awful, that my tactic is to arrive at each one as fresh as possible). But my legs just got heavier and heavier, it seems. That’s certainly how they felt.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"The onely pretiring time"

After marking a couple of M.A. essays on the songs in Shakespeare’s comedies, I thought I’d get busy and post of few mp3’s transferred from my collection of antique vinyl, and so here they all are on a site I rather hastily put together yesterday:

I had no idea that Thomas Morley, Shakespeare’s sometime London neighbour (and who set music for the lyrics ‘O Mistress Mine’ and ‘It was a Lover and his Lass’) had lived a life that was quite so far from ‘Hay ding a ding a ding’. I checked the biography by Michael W Foster in the ODNB, and though Foster seems reluctant to make much of it, Morley evidently set off as a Catholic musician, working under the tutelage of the defiantly Catholic William Byrd. The senior composer was secured by the Queen’s approval of his talent (“process to cease by order of the Queen” ran the note on a document reporting his recusancy). Morley had no such protection: he seems to have been suspected and intimidated by both Catholics and Protestants. Finally he was turned, becoming an informer against his erstwhile co-religionists (“I hear since his coming thither he has played the promoter and apprehends Catholics”, wrote the Catholic exile Charles Paget).

One can see that from their training and employment in the Cathedrals, and by their attachment to their art, senior Tudor musicians would include men strongly attached to the Catholic faith, something which might be reinforced by their travels abroad and contact with Italian musicians. But, living a life in the brazen age, Morley made his compromise: "Morley the singing man employs himself in that kind of service … and has brought diverse into danger".

The memorial brass on Thomas Tallis's tomb had paid a kind of tribute to his adaptability:

He serv'd long Tyme in Chapp[ell] with grete prayse,
Fower sovereygnes reignes (a thing not often scene),
I mean King Henry and Prince Edward's Dayes,
Quene Mary, and Elizabeth our Quene.
He maryed was, though Children had he none,
And lyv'd in Love full thre and thirty Yeres …
As he did Lyve, so also did he dy,
In myld and quyet Sort (O! happy Man).

Arriving in a younger generation, Morley seems to have had to prove his usefulness to the new regime before he could enter the protective zone of the Chapel Royal.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dark with Excessive Bright

I took myself off to a 'Rock, Gem and Mineral' Fair today, my jackdaw eye a-glint (when did I become so acquisitive?), rather hoping to buy a Devonian fish or a eurypterid, but ended up instead with various eye-catching minerals. From the dealer R D Mazda, I bought a cluster of apophyllite, and, more decoratively, a small oval bowl shaped from moss agate.

I expressed my incredulity that none of the many women at the fair had scooped up this necklace in faceted rock crystal - something that Mr Mazda had bought on his last trip back to India in February as (he put it) an 'aberration' from his normal serious mineralogy - and affirmed that, had I a particular lady friend I wanted to give a gift to, I would have bought it on sight. A little later, I went back and bought it nevertheless, some might say, for my one true love...

Trying to do justice to it, I photographed it out in the sun, on a suitable page of Milton: I liked the letters multiplied in the facets. Maybe this is a sign that I am about to turn devout, or sense that I need to start saying my prayers.

One of my friends has started a blog, under a whimsical pseudonym
Here he is indulging an undeniably pointed philippic about Global Warming. I didn't bother watching the documentary, but must ask 'Tupper' about his assertion that "One of the talking heads (a founder member of Greenpeace, no less) made the excellent if overdramatic point that to deny climate change was a bit like being a Holocaust denier". Was this really said? Surely not with any seriousness?

I must have another go at making 'Blogger' put URL's in my 'Links' section, though most previous attempts have failed (this makes me embarrassed about fellow bloggers).

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The speedy fall of man: Hugh Broughton

I was reading Paradise Lost, when it struck me that Milton is far friendlier to the Book of Tobit than he ought to be as a Protestant (see IV, 167ff and V 221-3), and I supposed that he might have favoured the apocryphal book for the curing of Tobit’s blindness by Tobias (as depicted here by Jan Massys), and the fervent wedding night prayers of Tobias and Sara (understandable in the circumstances they face – will some burnt fish guts manage to keep at bay the spirit that has jealously killed her previous seven husbands prior to consummation?). Milton will also be receptive as an author with a Christian epic to fill out to anything near-biblical in which an angel gets an active role, and develops his Raphael out of the Raphael of the apocryphal book.

I digressed around a couple of fierce Protestant denunciations of a text the Catholics held to be canonical, finding first John Vicars’ wonderfully titled Unholsome henbane between two fragrant roses, or, Reasons and grounds proving the unlawfull and sinfull inserting of the corrupt and most erronious Apocrypha between the two most pure and sacred testaments (1645). Vicars argues that the Book of Tobit contains a blasphemy, in Raphael representing himself as a mediator between man and God (i.e., taking the role reserved for Christ), and ‘Magick, or Inchantment’ in that act of curing Tobit’s blindness: “Now, if these were not plain Spels and unwarrantable wayes of Magick and Inchantment, thus to drive away devils and evil spirits, and to cure diseases, by the help of such a spirit, as Azarias and Raphael, let all truly godly say and determine.” I suppose that if The Book of Tobit had been firmly part of the Protestant Bible, the non-Catholic demonologists and exorcists would have been more inclined to get busy treating devils with cod’s liver smoke.

From Vicars, I went to Hugh Broughton’s Principal positions for groundes of the Holy Bible a short oration of the Bibles translation : positions historique and of the Apocrypha : Tobit particularly handled : Iudith severally handled (1609), which offers more of the same, from a fiercely learned source. This is the Broughton who is mentioned satirically in Jonson’s The Alchemist, where Doll Common poses as a gentlewoman driven mad by studying his writings:

Y'are very right, sir, shee is a most rare schollar;
And is gone mad, with studying Broughtons workes.
If you but name a word, touching the Hebrew,
Shee falls into her fit...

In S. Clark’s The lives of sundry eminent persons in this later age (1683), the existence of a woman who mastered Hebrew from study of Broughton actually gets mentioned: “Yea, some such there were, that being excited and stirred up by his books, applied themselves to the study of the Hebrew tongue and attained to a great measure of skill and knowledge therein. Nay, a woman might be named who did it.”

But Broughton himself, a man whose learning enabled him to humiliate learned opponents in theological controversies, brought me back to Paradise Lost with this assertion (p. 13 of his Principal positions):

Principal Positions in the holy story: and of the Apocrypha

Great matters should be knowen commonly: some chief I wil briefly touch.

1. When God had made the world, and gave Adam authoritie, he left Adam to be deceived, the day that he was created.”

So, in the view of this scholar, the blessed state didn’t last out the first day. He doesn’t offer any argument for this opinion (which surely has some devastating implications), just regards it as a salient and hard fact. What a strange creation, then! Anyway, I too must have 'gone mad, with studying Broughton's works', for what a strange way to spend a Saturday evening.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Several Ingenious Engines

John Aubrey: what a blogger the world lost through the accident of his being born in the seventeenth century! Interested in everything, addicted to hearsay, fecklessly discontinuous. He’s a writer who is always saying in effect, ‘I know this much, can anyone fill in the rest for me?’, so he’d have loved the Wikipedia.

But he was 17th century, and until we can time-warp a quantum computer back to him with instructions as to how to get on with it, we have to be content with works like Miscellanies upon the following subjects collected by J. Aubrey, Esq., (1696), which is essentially a proto-blog in print: bits contributed by others, bits he can throw together, and bits that remain no more than bits.

Still here’s one of the interesting pieces of curious information:

“Mr. Winstanly (Surveyor of the King's Works) hath built a handsome House at Littlebury in Cambridgshire near Audely-Inn where are to be seen several Ingenious Machines; one whereof is thus: A Wooden Slipper finely Carved lieth on the Floor of a Chamber about a Yard and an half within the Door, which the Stranger is to take up (it comes up pretty stiff) and up starts a Skeleton.”

I have read about the trick machines out in Renaissance gardens, especially fountains, but I don’t recall coming across such an indoor device to disconcert your guests. The trap is subtle: I assume that the slipper would be painted, a trompe d’oeil. You come across it, and naturally think to move it out of the way: but strangely it won’t budge: then the surprise. I imagine a woman’s shoe being counterfeited, something a touch intimate, even faintly sexy, but instead of anything so agreeable, up pops death.

It was clearly startling enough to give people a (and here’s a quintessential English litotes) funny turn. For Aubrey continues with those who’d had it prey on their minds, so that they revisited the moment in their dreams:

I. H. Esq had been there: And being at West-Lavington with the Earl of Abbington, dream’d December the 9th, that he was at Mr. Winstanly’s House, and took up the Slipper, and up rose his Mother in Mourning: And anon the Queen appeared in Mourning. He told his Dream the next Morning to my Lord, and his Lordship imparted it to me (then there). Tuesday Dec. 11. in the Evening, came a Messenger Post from London to acquaint Mr. H. that his Mother was dangerously Ill: He went to London the next Day: his Mother lived but about 8 Days longer. On Saturday Dec. 15. the Queen was taken Ill, which turned to the Small-Pox, of which she died Decem. 28 about two a Clock in the Morning.”

That would be Queen Mary II, of ‘William and Mary’ fame, who died in 1694. This was, I think, an early version of the ‘Jack-in-a-box’, a term not certainly recorded when applied to a toy before 1702, but looking at the OED quotations, probably used earlier (there’s a startling application of the phase to the consecrated host in its pyx in Fox’s Book of Martyrs.)

The scholar who might know about such domestic traps for the unwary guest would be Matt Kavaler, the architectural historian, who seems to be interested in such hoaxes.

These are links to a sample of the Renaissance trick fountains,

while my image is from Robert Plot’ s The natural history of Oxford-shire (1677), showing Edward Henry, Earl of Lichfield’s fountain of 1674 at Enston. You can get a sense of how the unwary were lured into the fenced enclosure, and then once they were corralled up, the device could set about soaking them. John Evelyn described the Duke of Richlieu’s Dragon Fountain, a more spectacular version of the same thing.

Henry Winstanley, who owned the house with the tricks and devices built into it, would end up the victim of his own ingenuity, for his reputation for cleverness rose so high that he was be given the task of designing the first lighthouse at the Eddystone rock, and he died there when it was swept away (in 1703). Here’s a useful brief account:

The ODNB says that after his unlucky demise, the house at Littlebury and something called ‘The Water Theatre’ in Piccadilly carried on being run as places of entertainment. It cost you a shilling to go and be frightened at the Oxfordshire house.

Yes, I was channeling the spirit of Aubrey when I wrote this one.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, Il Moderato and Il Mystico

It seems to be that time of the teaching term where every task gets rushed as Easter starts to come into view. I am in the latest EMLS

writing about some off-colour late 17th century burlesques of Hero and Leander. I guess I’d hoped EMLS would have a shorter lead time than the print journals, but getting it seems to have taken the most part of a year. My surmise is that the whole world beats the electronic path to the editor’s in-box. What an odd effect on prose numbering paragraphs (rather than pages) has! Obviously it is done to aid citation, for a web page is more of a scroll than a leaf.

Anyway, as a full text is not available on the web unless you sign up with ‘Questia’, this is a transcript of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ serious parody after Milton, ‘Il Mystico’. It isn’t very good, I’m afraid: its diffuseness tends to highlight just how well Milton avoided a flaccid list of high-brow pleasures in the real model, ‘Il Penseroso’.

First, though, this link, though, is to the libretto of ‘Il Moderato’, where Charles Jennens added a Golden Mean to the Perissa and Elissa (as Edmund Spenser would have put it), the too-much and too- little of Milton’s prior poems, mingling the three together for Handel to set.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Il Mystico

Hence sensual gross desires,
Right offspring of your grimy mother Earth!
My Spirit hath a birth
Alien from yours as heaven from Nadir-fires:
You rank and reeking things,
Scoop you from teeming filth some sickly hovel,
And there for ever grovel
'Mid fever'd fumes and slime and cakèd clot:
But foul and cumber not

The shaken plumage of my Spirit's wing

But come, thou balm to aching soul,
Of pointed wing and silver stole,
With heavenly cithern from high choir,
Tresses dipp'd in rainbow fire,
An olive-branch whence richly reek
Earthless dews on ancles sleek;
Be discover'd to my sight
From a haze of sapphire light,
Let incense hang across the room

And sober lustres take the gloom;

Come when night clings to what is hers
Closer because faint morning stirs;
When chill woods wake and think of morn,
But sleep again ere day be born;
When sick men turn, and lights are low,
And death falls gently as the snow;

When wholesome spirits rustle about,
And the tide of ill is out;
When waking hearts can pardon much

And hard men feel a softening touch;

When strangely loom all shapes that be,

And watches change upon the sea;

Silence holds breath upon her throne,

And the waked stars are all alone.

Come then because then most thinly lies

The veil that covers mysteries;

And the soul is subtle and flesh weak

And pride is nerveless and hearts meek.


Touch me and purify, and shew

Some of the secrets I would know.


Grant that close-folded peace that clad

The seraph brows of Galahad,

Who knew the inner spirit that fills

Questioning winds around the hills;

Who made conjecture nearest far

To what the chords of angels are;

And to the mystery of those things


Shewn to Ezekiel’s open’d sight

On Chebar’s banks, and why they went

Unswerving through the firmament;

Whose ken through amber of dark eyes

Went forth to compass mysteries;

Who knowing all the sins and sores

That nest within close-barrèd doors,

And that grief masters joy on earth

Yet found unstinted place for mirth;

Who could forgive without grudge after

Gross mind discharging foulèd laughter;

To whom the common earth and air

Were limn’d about with radiance rare

Most like those hues that in the prism

Melt as from a heavenly chrism;

Who could keep silence, tho’ the smart

Yawn’d like long furrow in the heart;


Or, like a lark to glide aloof

Under the cloud-festoonèd roof,

That with a turning of the wings

Light and darkness from him flings;

To drift in air, the circled earth

Spreading still its sunnèd girth;

To hear the sheep-bells dimly die

Till the lifted clouds were nigh;

In breezy belts of upper air

Melting into aether rare;

And when the silent height were won,

And all in lone air stood the sun,

To sing scarce heard, and singing fill

The airy empire at his will;

To hear his strain descend less loud

On to the ledges of grey cloud;

And fainter, finer, trickle far

To where the listening uplands are;

To pause – then from his gurgling bill

Let the warbled sweetness rill,

And down the welkin, gushing free,

Hark the molten melody;

In fits of music till sunset

Starting the silver rivulet;

Sweetly then and of fine act

To quench the fine-drawn cataract;

And in the dews beside his nest

To cool his plumy throbbing breast.

Or, if a sudden silver shower

Has drench’d the molten sunset hour,

And with weeping cloud is spread

All the welkin overhead,

Save where the unvexèd west

Lies divinely still, at rest,

Where liquid heaven sapphire-pale

Does into amber splendours fail,

And fretted clouds with burnish’d rim,

Phoebus’ loosen’d tresses, swim;

While the sun streams forth amain

On the tumblings of the rain,

When his mellow smile he sees

Caught on the dank-ytressèd tress,

When the rainbow arching high

Looks from the zenith round the sky,

Lit with exquisite tints seven

Caught from angels’ wings in heaven,

Double, and higher than his wont,

The wrought rim of heaven’s font, -

Then may I upwards gaze and see

The deepening intensity

Of the air-blended diadem,

All a sevenfold-single gem,

Each hue so rarely wrought that where

It melts, new lights arise as fair,

Sapphire, jacinth, chrysolite,

The rim with ruby fringes dight,

Ending in sweet uncertainty

‘Twixt real hue and phantasy

Then while the rain-born arc grows higher

Westward on his sinking sire;

While the upgazing country seems

Touch’d from heaven in sweet dreams;

While a subtle spirit and rare

Breathes in the mysterious air;

While sheeny tears and sunlit mirth

Mix o’er the not unmovèd earth, -

Then would I fling me up to sip

Sweetness from the hour, and dip

Deeply in the archèd lustres,

And look abroad on sunny clusters

Of wringing tree-tops, chalky lanes,

Wheatfields tumbled with the rains,

Streaks of shadow, thistled leas,

Whence spring the jewell’d harmonies

That meet in mid-air, and be so

Melted in the dizzy bow

That I may drink that ecstacy

Which to pure souls alone may be …

It’s Hopkins in 1862, before he became a Jesuit. The interest seems to me to lie in the way that allusion to Ezekiel drops into the poem. Yes, Ezekiel has a very strange vision of cherubims, but after that, is busy recruiting God to destroy sinful Jerusalem. Hopkins’ poem betrays the barely suppressed dislike of the poor which regularly appears in his work. Instead of pursuing the pattern of vengeful and not very mystical reverie of all but the select being struck down, he takes characteristic recourse to nature, and the heaven-proximate floatings-about, above all this filth, of a lark.

The picture is Raphael’s ‘The Vision of Ezekiel’ (he’s the tiny figure bottom left in the shaft of light). Raphael clearly gave up trying to work out the cherubim and their multiple wings and very confusing wheels, and just opted to have Ezekiel see something iconographically normal (well, relatively so), which just happens to be God pulling off a complex aerial stunt on the evangelical beasts.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Universal Empire of Love...

My final set of first year poetry classes for the term will fall one day after the 200th anniversary of Parliament passing the act abolishing the slave trade. We are set to look at poems about the topic by Southey, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the poems of Phillis Wheatley. I have James G. Basker’s Amazing Grace: an Anthology of Poems about Slavery 1660-1810 (Yale, 2002): surely the most important collection of historical witness ever compiled in the form of a poetry anthology.

These will be interesting sessions. My son’s recent glancing contact in his school history lessons with the subject of the slave trade does suggest that even in history taught empathetically (‘What was it like being a slave?’) there is still some evasion of the facts about Britain’s ghastly dominance in 18th century slave trading.

But Basker’s verse-writers are 99% on the side of the angels: women writers, churchmen, transported felons, witnesses to slavery, and, of course, freed slaves variously condemn, or dramatise the iniquities of the trade. The former slave ship captain, John Newton, provides the titular poem, the Olney hymn recovering its dignity and proper meaning in this context (for anyone who remembers its appearance as a best selling single).

But here, I post from Basker, for the convenience of my students, and for its inherent (if repulsive) interest, extracts from James Boswell’s piece of anti-abolition verse polemic, and a couple of Boswell’s own astonishing notes on his performance:

‘No Abolition of Slavery; Or the Universal Empire of Love’

Noodles, who rave for abolition

Of th’Africans improved condition*

At your own cost fine projects try;

Don’t rob – from pure humanity.

Go, Wilberforce, with narrow scull,

Go home, and preach away at Hull,

No longer to the Senate cackle,

In strains which suit the Tabernacle;

I hate your little wittling sneer,

Your pert and self-sufficient leer,

Mischief to Trade sits on thy lip,

Insects will gnaw the noblest ship;

Go, Wilberforce, be gone, for shame,

Thou dwarf, with a big-sounding name.

What frenzies will a rabble seize

In lax luxurious days, like these;


Must fix our rights, define our truth;

Weavers become our Lords of Trade,

And every clown throw by his spade,

T’instruct our ministers of state,

And foreign commerce regulate…

… He who to thwart God’s system** tries,

Bids mountains sink, and valley’s rise;

Slavery, subjection, what you will,

Has ever been, and will be still:

Trust me, that in this world of woe

Mankind must different burthens know;

Each bear his own, th’Apostle spoke;

And chiefly they who bear the yoke ….

Lo then, in yonder fragrant isle

Where Nature ever seems to smile,

The cheerful gang! – the negroes see

Perform the task of industry:

Ev’n at their labour hear them sing,

While time flies quick on downy wing;

Finish’d the bus’ness of the day,

No human beings are more gay:

Of food, clothes, cleanly lodging sure,

Each has his property secure;

Their wives and children are protected,

In sickness they are not neglected;

And when old age brings a release,

Their grateful days they end in peace.

But should our Wrongheads have their will,

Should Parliament approve their bill,

Pernicious as th’effect would be,

T’abolish negro slavery,

Such partial freedom would be vain,

Since Love’s strong empire must remain

O ------! Trust thy lover true,

I must and will be slave to you…

* That the Africans are in a state of savage wretchedness, appears from the most authentic accounts. Such being the fact, an abolition of the slave trade would in truth be precluding them from the first step towards progressive civilisation, and consequently of happiness, which it is proved by the most respectable evidence they enjoy in a great degree in our West-India islands, though under well-regulated restraint.

** The state of slavery is acknowledged both in the Old Testament and the New.

I only give one of his personal lampoons on the abolitionists, that on Wilberforce himself. Boswell casts his polemic as a defence of trade, but he really means a general defence of property, of private ownership of all kinds, including ownership of other people. After his blasé account of the pleasures of plantation life, he frivolously segues away into the assertion that slavery cannot ever be abolished while hearts like his are enslaved by love. I suppose he meant to sound charming and witty, and he liked this crass idea enough to build it into his sub-title. The assertion of the perpetuity of ‘love’s strong empire’ lets him try to cloak what the British empire was doing with some relation to benign or even loving sentiments. Strange that contact with Dr Johnson hadn’t lifted Boswell above this: into this episode (1777) in his Life of Johnson, Boswell retrospectively inserts his disagreement, though at the time, the two fell out about British taxation in America, not the slave trade.

“After supper I accompanied him to his apartment, and at my request he dictated to me an argument in favour of the negro [i.e. Joseph Knight] who was then claiming his liberty, in an action in the Court of Session in Scotland. He had always been very zealous against slavery in every form, in which I, with all deference, thought that he discovered ‘a zeal without knowledge.’ Upon one occasion, when in company with some very grave men at Oxford, his toast was, ‘Here’s to the next insurrection of the negroes in the West Indies.’ His violent prejudice against our West Indian and American settlers appeared whenever there was an opportunity. Towards the conclusion of his Taxation no Tyranny, he says, ‘how is it that we hear the loudest YELPS for liberty among the drivers of negroes?’ ”

I have always thought that William Empson’s 1964 essay on Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner’ was New Historicism decades before Greenblatt. Marina Warner summarises:

“William Empson linked the Ancient Mariner to Coleridge's anti-slavery stand in the years he was writing the poem: the extreme, anguished guilt the Mariner feels arises from Coleridge's view of the personal effects of public wrongdoing. The Ancient Mariner, Empson wrote, is "the great ballad of maritime expansion and empire".

(at,12084,824036,00.html )

which links to a text of the 1807 act:

The image is Sir Richard Westmacott's memorial for Fox, in Westminster Abbey, with the (white marble!) African kneeling to the expiring abolitionist.