Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Onyx Underpants of Paradise

The real life Malvolio here is Sir John Pettus (1613?-1685). He was one of those types of people I love to find: transitional, displaced, cranky, all his learning making him all the more foolish.

For instance, at the end of his memorably peculiar Volatiles from the history of Adam and Eve containing many unquestioned truths and allowable notions of several natures (1674) he gets onto the topic of the resurrection of the body, and the conceptually difficult practicalities of that great future event. Now, to bother about such things casts him back in time: he’d have got on well conversing with Donne on the topic. But his observation is pure Royal Society: he has an experiment that will reassure you of the physical resurrection, ‘because the reunion of our parts is the knottiest piece of our belief’. He asserts that if you carefully float little pins of various metals on the surface of water, you will see that brass is attracted to brass, tin to tin ‘and drawing near to their own, will seem to embrace with a certain joyful vigour’. This is a visible proof of the way things will re-cohere, in part because it is in their nature to do so: it demonstrates ‘the magnetick and concatenating virtue of most creatures’. Being the man he was he also says that if you boil two pieces of beef from the same animal in a pot with some comfrey, when you have boiled them for a while, the two pieces will reunite ‘but if the flesh be from two beasts, the Comfrey will not cement them’.

Volatiles from the history of Adam and Eve was a strange project: Pettus is writing a commentary on the opening of Genesis in what he thinks of as the ‘Extravagant’ (unfettered, spontaneous) manner of Montaigne (again, in that wild mismatch of subject and mode a glimpse of two different consciousnesses in the writer). He works through most of the biblical verses, expounding on any particular passage that catches his interest.

Pettus was a kind of anti-Milton: prosy and Royalist, but, like his opposite, fascinated by the Bible, and made crotchety by the departure of Lady Pettus, who left him to turn Catholic abroad, was reconciled to him just long enough (or so he says) to clean him out a second time, then bolted for a foreign nunnery. This persuasive lady managed to get him excommunicated from the (Anglican) Church in a dispute about alimony payments. This post-matrimonial scrap went on even after the King had personally ordered Pettus to cough up £2 a week. I didn’t know that excommunication like this could happen, but that’s what I understand from A narrative of the excommunication of Sir John Pettus of the county of Suffolk, Knight obtained against him by his lady, a Roman Catholick, and the true state of the case between them with his faithful answers to several aspersions raised against him by her, to the prepossessing the judgments of some honourable persons and others. This publication isn’t as bewildered and querulous as you might maliciously hope: he doesn’t come out of it sounding too bad (he largely sticks to doing the sums), but it was published in the same year as his commentary on Adam and Eve: so Eve in his hands was never going enjoy a revisionary approach to the Genesis story.

So much was predictable: but what amazes is the kind of surreal learning Pettus had gathered from Bible commentaries and Talmudic scholarship. He gets onto the fig leaves (‘It is probable that Adam made choice of these fig-leaves rather than any other, both for the breadth, substance, and excellent qualities of repelling all Tumours’), but this prompts him to mention the very special clothes that Adam and Eve (although usually supposed naked) wore before the fall (according to ‘The Targum of Jerusalem’): “They were disrobed of their Garment, which in the time of their Perfection was made of Onyx stone. For there are stones in Italy of which they make most curious threads … and the like might be made of this.”

Leaving us tantalised by what seem to be asbestos garments woven in Italy, Pettus doesn’t evade speculation on what the effects of somehow wearing onyx might have been: “Now this Onyx hath a peculiar quality (as Authors write) to strengthen the Spirits, and heighten Venery: And whether their offence was Venereous, adumbraged under the name of forbidden Fruit may be Considered on.”

Pettus comes up with the notion, unexpected to say the least, that wearing these sexy onyx garments caused Adam and Eve to jump the gun and start having ordinary human sex before God had quite decided what kind of propagation his new beings were going to have:

“And great Reason had God to be Angry, if they had injoyed that forbidden Fruit, till God (as it were) had fully considered whether it had been more advantageous to Man to arise from the ground like the Mandrake, or the Sensitive Lamb, or like Barnacles from trees or shells) or that there should have been Incubents and Succubents to dispose of their Nocturnal ejaculations or decostations” (I regret to say that this clearly important word is NOT in the OED).

All the biology being in place did not necessarily mean God had decided to let it be used, and He might in His wisdom have come up with other means of dealing with it. Pettus, incidentally, seems quite happy with the notion that Adam and Eve were only in Paradise for six hours, with the fall taking place after just three of them. I daresay anyone could put up with onyx underpants for three hours, but by then fig leaves might have looked more, well, comfortable. (Later in the book, Pettus, maybe a tiny bit worried about the strange garb of prelapsarian Adam and Eve, does seem to allegorise ‘onyx’ as ‘Virtue’.)

I have read elsewhere that the forbidden fruit was identified as an apple because ‘Malum is Latine for an Apple, as also for Evil’, but Pettus has another reason: ‘the small reason that I have heard for the Apple is, because if one Cut an Apple cross the Core, that is, between the stalk and the top, the Beds of the Seeds are just ten in number, representing the ten Commandments; all which Eve did at once break by eating the Apple’. (By the way, I have just dissected a Golden Delicious. It contained nine seeds in five compartments. But the Golden Delicious is a very fallen kind of apple.)

But here to conclude on this worthy and curious man, a typical passage, with that between-two-worlds aspect to it, on Genesis 1:20

“This Green is the first Colour that is mentioned in Scripture, and this properly the first place, and indeed is so pleasing to nature, and so stupefies the understanding, it being impossible to find out why nature should mantle her self more universally with this colour then any other”.

In part, I now feel that I could hold my own at any Marvell conference, with that first sentence (above) to drop in timely fashion into discussion (‘Oh, ‘The Garden’, well, you have to realise that green interested 17th century people as the first colour mentioned in the Bible…’). But Pettus then suggests that the sun is yellow, and the sky is blue, and so we get a lot of green through mixture “And where it is denied to the superficies of the earth by shades or otherwise, it unites its force, and runs into the bodies of trees, & after a secret ascention mounts to the highest branches with a more sublime verdure”. Leaves, it seems, are green, because there is a lot of green around, and if it can’t get onto the ground, it concentrates in trees. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Pettus was also a writer on mineralogy, especially silver mining: here’s a sample: “There appertains to the harsh flowing Copper Oars ... what is splendy, mispickly, glimery or spady.”

Sunday, May 27, 2007

In loving memory of Lusitania Andrews

To round off a very dull wet Sunday, TV offered a choice of either a documentary about the wreck of a pirate ship, or the BBC's full blown drama-documentary on the sinking of the Lusitania. In this, Winston Churchill and the Admiralty manipulated some perfectly decent German submariners into torpedoing the liner. The ship was also packed full of some contraband explosives, though the programme did stop short of implying they had been loaded aboard to make sure that the loss was catastrophic.

The BBC's offerings (what I see of them, I certainly spend far more time on their website than actually watching the box) are often enlivened by contempt for and revulsion at 'the government'. I recall a particularly egregious episode of Doctor Who, in which flatulent alien pigs had taken over 10 Downing Street. Here in this case, the account of the historic likelihoods was so skewed as to suggest that the Lusitania was being treated as a metaphor or a symbol of bad faith between government and civilian population. I have no objection to the BBC scoring points, but does history have to be so unscrupulously co-opted?

But it all reminded me of this child's gravestone in Langley Marish churchyard: dying at 2 years and 11 months on July 6th, 1917, Lusitania Andrews had been born at around the outbreak of the war. For decades in the first half of the 20th century, ocean liners were a source of national prestige. Locomotives competed. In these latter days of unheroic technology, we have to make do with celebrities, who strive to be thinner, faster, consume more resources, etc. The name seemed suitable to Mr and Mrs Andrews for their little baby girl, as parents do pick on names that are in the media. After the terrible loss of the ship, perhaps they felt they had not after all chosen well, and that the little Lusitania was unluckily named. Sadly, they soon had reason to think as much.

I recall that in the Cinthio source narrative for Othello, Desdemona's father is (after it all) blamed for having given his murdered daughter such an unlucky name.

Millions of Elephants multiplied into one

A Sunday morning of interminable rain, so no cycling: I find myself reading an interminable book, Donne’s Fifty Sermons of 1649.

In this passage from the 40th sermon, Donne considers congregations who applaud or acclaim their preacher. Watchfully monitoring himself for vaingloriousness as he did, he disapproves, but, ever histrionic in his piety, one can sense his fascination. He has gathered a lot of examples of such behaviour from the church fathers:

“…When we consider the manner of hearing Sermons, in the Primitive Church, though we doe not wish that manner to be renewed, yet we cannot deny, but that though it were accompanied with many inconveniences, it testified a vehement devotion, and sense of that that was said, by the preacher, in the hearer; for, all that had been formerly used in Theaters, Acclamations and Plaudites, was brought into the Church, and not only the vulgar people, but learned hearers were as loud, and as profuse in those declarations, those vocal acclamations, and those plaudites in the passages, and transitions, in Sermons, as ever they had been at the Stage, or other recitations of their Poets, or Orators …As we may see in Saint Augustin, the manner was, that when the people were satisfied in any point which the Preacher handled, they would almost tell him so, by an acclamation, and give him leave to pass to another point …”

Donne then notes that the practices he evidences widely in the early church have not died out:

“… And, to contract this consideration, wee see evidently, that this fashion continued in the Church, even to Saint Bernard’s time. Neither is it left yet in some places, beyond the Seas, where the people doe yet answer the Preacher, it his questions be applyable to them, and may induce an answer, with these vocal acclamations, Sir, we will, Sir, we will not.

Finally, he considers his own congregation in St Paul’s, where, although the noises his auditory make are relatively subdued, he is very much aware of their importance:

“And truly wee come too near re-inducing this vain glorious fashion, in those often periodical murmurings, and noises, which you make, when the Preacher concludeth any point; for those impertinent Interjections swallow up one quarter of his hour, and many that were not within distance of hearing the Sermon, will give a censure upon it, according to the frequency, or paucity of these acclamations.”

This is the sermon where Donne subsequently has a go at conveying the disparity between God’s immensity and man’s next-to-nothingness. One wonders if his congregation murmured their acclaim when Donne asked them to grapple with the notion of God being vaster than “millions of elephants”?

“… Amongst natural Creatures, because howsoever they differ in bigness, yet they have some proportion to one another, we consider that some very little creatures, contemptible in themselves, are yet called enemies to great creatures, as the Mouse is to the Elephant.(For the greatest Creature is not Infinite, nor the least is not Nothing.) But shall man, between whom and nothing, there went but a word, Let us make Man, That Nothing, which is infinitely less then a Mathematical point, then an imaginary Atom, shall this Man, this yesterday’s Nothing, this tomorrow worse then Nothing, be capable of that honour, that dishonourable honour, that confounding honour, to be the enemy of God, of God who is not only a multiplied Elephant, millions of Elephants multiplied into one, but a multiplied World, a multiplied All, All that can be conceived by us, infinite many times over; Nay, (if we may dare to say so,) a multiplied God, a God that hath the Millions of the Heathens gods in himself alone, shall this man be an enemy to this God? Man cannot be allowed so high a sin, as enmity with God. The Devil himself is but a slave to God, and shall Man be called his enemy?”

This was a favourite passage of my late tutor, Colin Williamson, who had the 1649 copy of Fifty sermons preached by that learned and reverend divine, John Donne from the Fellows’ Library on his own bookshelves, and would at least once a term leaf through that immense folio to regale his tutees with it. In Donne's volatile imagination, totalities are always turning into nothingness; he has to keep making God bigger to stop Him from disappearing (like love does in the poems).

My image is by the devout Pieter de Grebber, ‘God inviting Christ to sit on the Throne at His Right Hand’, as I wanted a 17th century artist depicting God as impressively as he can manage (but, like Donne, emerging with a rather murky conception). I suppose that God’s bowling ball is the universe, while He appears in His wisdom to have switched over to a low energy lightbulb version of the Holy Spirit. From the Web Gallery of Art, of course.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Early Modern Sat-Nav

Captain James Hind was a highwayman and Royalist soldier, widely believed to have assisted in Charles II's escape after the Battle of Worcester. He was the subject of a spate of pamphlets after his capture and around the time of his execution. He has his own ODNB entry. The sympathetic accounts of his adventures make him into a Robin Hood figure. Supernatural elements creep in, this one to add to the entertainment and explain his many escapes and final arrest:

How Hind was Inchanted by a cunning woman, who after some discourse switched him with a Charmed Rod, not to be taken or harmed during the time this Charm should last; which was for Three years.

After Hind had robbed the High-way-men of their money; It was his chance to ride to Hatfield … as he rod along Hatfield, at the Towns end, an old Ill-favoured woman asked an Almes of him: his horse presently staid, and would go no further; Sir, said the old woman, I have something to say to you, and then you shal be gon; Hind not likeing her Countenance, puld out five shillings and gave her, thinking she would but like a Gipsee, tell his fortune: Said, good woman I am in hast: Sir, said she, I have staid all this morning to speak to you; and would you have me lose my labour: speak your mind, said Hind.

The old woman began thus:

Captain Hind, You ride and go in many dangers; wherefore by my poor Skill, I have thought on a way to preserve you, for the space of Three Years: but that time being past, you are no more then an ordinary man, and a mischance may fall on you, as well as another: but if you be in England, come to me, and I will renew the Vertue of this Charm again: in saying these words, she puld out of her bosom, a little box, almost like a Sun-Dyal, and gave it Capt in Hind, and said to him, When you are in any distress, open this, and which way you see the Star turn, ride or go that way, and you shall escape all dangers: so she switched him with a white Rod that was in her hand, and strook the horse on the buttocks, and bid him farwell: the horse presently leaped forward with such courage, that Hind could not turn him to give her thanks; but guessing it was her will it should be so, rod on his way. The time of this Charm was expired in Ireland about some two months before Youghall was surprised by the Inhabitants for the Commonwealth of England, where Hind was wounded: as hereafter you shall hear in his Voyage to Ireland.

Chapter 13 of George Fidge, The English Gusman; or The history of that unparallel'd thief James Hind. Wherein is related I. His education and manner of life; also a full relation of all the severall robberies, madd pranks, and handsom jests done by him. II. How at Hatfield he was enchanted by a witch for three years of space; and how she switch'd his horse with a white rod, and gave him a thing like a sun-dial, the point of which should direct him which way to take when persued. And III. His apprehension, examination at the councel of state, commitment to the gatehouse, and from thence to Newgate; his arraignment at the Old Baily; and the discourse betwext his father, his wife and himself in Newgate. With several cuts to illustrate the matter (1652).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Diabolic possession at the theatre: 'Antapologia' (1672)

Rather than pressing on with other tasks, I have been reading John Sheffield’s Antapologia, or, A discourse of excuses setting forth the variety and vanity of them, the sin and misery brought in by them, as being the greatest bar in the way to heaven, and the ready high way to hell: being the common snare wherein most of the children of men are intangled and ruined (1672). Who wouldn’t?

The subject did call (I’m afraid in vain) for the tolerance of Montaigne; as a disquisition on a pervasive human foible it does sometimes recollect Robert Burton, but Sheffield managed to keep things pious throughout, and gave his subject an unexpectedly rigorous treatment:

‘Nothing but Excuses, Excuses, none so young, so ignorant, but is skilled in them; none so poor, but is stored with them; none so good, but one time or other hath had one; none so bad but hath many of them’ (p.220).

He deplores it all, and I have made a composite image of his beguiling charts of the excuses we inveterately make, forgetting every time we do so that ‘Christ is our great, and only Excuse-maker’ (p.266).

Reading the whole thing made me realise afresh how the Bible was the ‘sea of stories’ for the 17th century mind: Sheffield does sometimes mention a profane author (Juvenal pops up), but he ranges across the Bible with unflagging application, he can exemplify every vice, and every virtue from it.

Occasionally, an anecdote from contemporary life comes in – Mistress Honeywood, despairing of her election, throwing a Venetian glass to the floor, saying that she is as certain of damnation as the glass is to break (and it rebounds unscathed off the ground – where have I read this cited before?).

He is anti-theatrical: his Samson pulls down ‘the Play-house’ on the Philistines (p.26). And here, in a passing comment betraying that attitude, a fabulous story I’d love to know more about: ‘Keep to thy Calling, and ways, and so keep thee off the Devils ground, (as he said once of a Maid that he took possession of, finding her at a Stage-play)’ (p.28). A case of diabolic possession, its inception sinful attendance at a theatre! Oh, Mr John Sheffield, when, where, who, seeing what play?!

He takes time off (p.143) to praise George Herbert: ‘And will not any one that hath any savour of piety, or fancy, confess our Herbert to have as good a vain in Poetry, and to have as lofty strains as any of our frothy and wanton Poets?’

It struck me that a denunciation of excuse-making these days would retail many, many more excuses based on the failure of objects: where would we be without our cars and computers to blame for our failings? But Sheffield lived in a simpler world, where all capacity or incapacity lay in the individual.

The best excuse I ever heard was my friend Rod, explaining away a poor performance in a cycling time trial: honeydew, excreted by aphids on the trees that canopied the road, had (he alleged) made the road surface sticky, and retarded his progress, which would otherwise have been most puissant. Hearing this, one instantly thought: ‘That’s an excuse which has never ever been made before! Delayed by aphid action! When can I use it?’

All very well, but it still doesn't excuse posting lascivious images, does it?

Infamy! Infamy!

My good friend Tupper, man of many and fearless opinions, urges me to ‘lighten the pudding’ (his very words) with one or two less formal posts.

And therefore, from the Blogger’s own collection, this publicity still of Amanda Barrie, goofing around for Carry on Cleo (1968), a cinematic magnum opus rather tendentiously credited to William Shakespeare (book) and Talbot Rothwell (screenplay).

I think the delectable Amanda may not at this point even have been cast as Cleopatra, for her costume is exotic dancing girl, and not the full works as Queen of Egypt, but Cleopatra she became. I have very fond memories of Sid James as Mark Antony goggling at her as she reclines in her bath of asses’ milk, a cockney Cleopatra yattering away in tones raucous enough to strip the paint off the set.

Like all of such delights, it cannot possibly be as good as I remember it being.

There, at last I can truly feel I have enriched the internet with the kind of thing it lacked (for an image search didn't show anywhere such a pleasing image of the subject).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Satan in the form of a flock of geese: Newbury, Berkshire, 1650’s

Resourceful sort of being, Satan, able to take on all kinds of shapes – but, a flock of geese? I mean, steady on…

“I have thought convenient for thy Information to touch of one passage more which hath some resemblance to this some few years since at Newbury, of some Women who fell off from the Faith they once professed, into new pretended Revelations, amongst whom one pretended to have a revelation, That on a certain day she should be carried to Heaven in a fiery Charriot: Hereupon she took leave of her friends, and it being rumoured abroad, The same day some hundred of Spectators came to see the event; and after long waiting, at last there flew over the place a flock of Wildegeese, (or as it is supposed the Devill in that shape) which they of the Sect seeing cryed out, Hee is come, he is come, expecting to see her carried away presently; but the Wilde geese were gone, and she left to see the folly of her new pretended Revelations…”

This anecdote is tacked on as a postscript to The Snare of the devill discovered (1658). Clearly, then as now, life in Newbury was not without its periodic excitements. They’d scarcely had chance to get over the surfing witch of 1643 (A most certain, strange, and true discovery of a witch) then they were gathering to watch one of their number either ascend to heaven in a fiery chariot or be punished for her impious pretensions (according to whichever line you took). As tends to happen in these cases, the wait for the rapture was long, but they held on in hope. Now, geese are a pretty common site alongside the River Kennet, but finally the long-awaited aerial action seemed about to begin. Quite who or when somebody decided that it might be Satan in an unusual guise, the narration leaves open. The whole pamphlet is written to deplore women who fall off from the true faith: the main subject, one Lydia Rogers ‘was formerly a great Professor of Religion, and was a Hearer of godly Ministers (though now a Member of an Anabaptisticall Church)’, and she fell into despair for lack of money and made a pact with the devil. Some maybe the pamphleteer endorses the idea that this female anabaptist has had, quite deservedly, Satan appear to her.

Was there no moment when everyone started laughing and went for a drink?

My picture is a couple of demonic goose-thingies from a Hieronymus Bosch sky-scape.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Cataclysm, an Opera

‘Floreat’ – and then a date. It usually means a writer only known of from a solitary publication: in that year, through the kindness of the bibliographer’s usage, he ‘flourished’, he briefly bloomed.

Edward Ecclestone, floreat 1679, produced one work, which rather amazingly appealed enough to his age to be printed three times (1679, 1685 and 1690). The middle edition uses the terrific title The Cataclysm, or the General Deluge of the World, an Opera, and added to the proud author’s usual tarantara of an oleaginous dedication and stupefied commendatory verses a set of specially commissioned woodcuts, one of which forms my image for this posting.

As Ecclestone ingenuously says in his introduction, each act of his Opera, though based on no less a book than Genesis, only took him a week to write. Much the most studied part of his composition is in fact his dedication to the Duchess of Monmouth, which surely ranks with the most shamelessly flattering dedications of an era which specialised in the mode (“You may justly Challenge, to Your self, the Title of a visible deity”).

His friends, in that befuddled age, are genuinely unable to make a proper literary judgement, and all agree that Ecclestone’s masterpiece combines all that was good in Milton and Dryden (“Had Milton liv’d to see how thou hast writ, / He’d, for the Charms thou giv’st it, Rhime admit” … “Milton reviv’d, or rather Dryden trac’d” … “We plainly see, / In every individual line of thee, / Milton and Dryden in Epitome”). These commenders of the work would have been thinking of Dryden’s The State of Innocence: an Opera (1674) which was not performed, but became a great success in print - with nine editions by 1700 it vastly outsold Milton’s poem, and probably made literary ‘Opera’ a form that attracted Ecclestone.

His Opera is full of treasures: my favourite bit is a description by Noah’s son Shem of an elderly and previously wise elephant getting fatally drunk on grape-like but noxious berries (this cleverly prepares for the discovery of wine, and Noah’s drunkenness):

He had not long fed on this fatal food,

But that his Eyes grew dim, he trembling stood;

His Legs like Pillars that might even Towers bear,

Were, like a Bulrush, waver’d by the Air:

His nimble Trunk that cookt him all his meat,

Hung dangling down, and trail’d beneath his feet:

On’s Ivory Teeth he lean’d his drowsie Head,

Then on a sudden reel’d, and fell down dead

But the best sense of Ecclestone’s unique theatrical vision is perhaps conveyed by a selection of his wondrous stage directions:

Enter several pious men …Enter divers fair women in wanton Garments, they pass over the Stage Singing and Dancing…

As they advance towards them, great flashes of Lightning are seen breaking from the Cloud that covers the Sun, after which dreadful claps of Thunder are heard, the Cloud breaks in two, and a shower of fire falls on 'em and destroys 'em…

Enter Despair melancholy…

Throws himself from a precipice into the sea…

The Scene opens, and discovers several horrid Murthers, drinking to Excess, Quarrels, Broils, Rapes, &c.

Lightning and Thunder falls down upon Lucifer, with which he sinks, after which, a horrid noise is heard.

Scene, the Deluge, representing Men and Beasts, of all sorts, promiscuously swimming together…

The Scene changes, and discovers a throng of Women and Children on the highest Mountain, who on a sudden are all overwhelm’d with the Waves …

Here they all assault the Ark, and almost overturn it. Several Flaming Chariots full of Angels fly down, from whence breaks Thunder and Lightning, which drives them headlong into the Deep…

Enter Sin and Death

The Dove with an Olive Branch flies cross the Stage.

Enter Ham with a Bough of Fruit bleeding in his hand … all his hand turns black.

They all draw and fight, and mortally wound each other; then reel to several places, and on a sudden sink…

The Scene shifts, and represents the building of Babel, some digging, others making of Brick, and tempering of Mortar…

And, closing the action with the last fireworks left in town:

They all disperse themselves to several parts of the Earth, but as they go, with amazement they look back on their Tower surrounded with bellowing Thunder and flakes of Lightning. – The Angel flies to Heaven.

Could it ever have been meant to be good, or is it Restoration camp, like Dryden casting Nell Gwynn as a virgin martyr? There’s a ripping speech about the evils of drink (causes lots of incest, apparently) which would go well either to earnest shuddering or raucous hooting.

But one thing: in the course of the varied action, we see Ham start to turn black. I expected the worst, but even ahead of Behn’s Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave, Ecclestone rather meritoriously opts to make Ham, black and under his father’s curse, proud and defiant:

Since I am curst, and curst a Slave to be,

Ile reign a Royal one with Majesty ..

'Tis brave to live Magnificently great;

So though a Slave, yet will I rule in State…

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Langley Marish: Milton, and the hair of the dog.

At last, with the arrival of the first summer month, first Sunday of the month, a trip over to the Kederminster Library in the church at Langley Marish, which adjoins Slough.

Here Sir John Kederminster (I suppose the family name locates their origins in the town of Kidderminster) was granted permission in 1613 to rebuild the south aisle, and he at that time “intendeth by Gods favour for ever to annex and have within the said ile or chappell many good and godly books for the use, good instruction, better help and benefit in study of such vicars or curates as shall for ever hereafter enjoy the cure or vicaridge”.

A library of 296 books was purchased, most of them books published between 1610 and 1631, the year Sir John died, though his widow, Mary, followed the terms of his will by adding a further 11 books before her death in 1637. Sir John must have had an agent at the Frankfort book fairs: these are theological works in Latin, great solid multi-volume editions of Luther, Augustine, Aquinas, Bede, Calvin. Among the English books are Jewel’s Defence of the Apology of the Church of England (1570), the sermons of Lancelot Andrews (perhaps the mighty XCVI sermons of 1629), and those of Bishop Arthur Lake (also 1629). (I saw just one or two of these books, of course, as opened by the volunteer curator, Muriel Kemp.)

“For ever hereafter”, Kederminster, a London draper made good, and so concerned to have a learned clergy, established his library: and, amazingly, it is still there, apart from one or two volumes too precious for even this carefully tended refuge.

Edward Jones is the Miltonist who has been through all these books, hoping to find Milton’s hand in a marginal annotation.

For it is likely that Milton came here to study: as Gordon Campbell says in his ODNB entry, “On 12 May 1636 Milton's father resigned as assistant to the Company of Scriveners on the grounds of his ‘removal to inhabit in the country’. This phrase (in a manuscript that is now lost) indicates the retirement of Milton's family to Horton, Buckinghamshire (later Berkshire). Milton may have used the nearby libraries at Eton College and Langley (the Kedermister Library) to support his programme of private study.”

So, I spent an afternoon in the 17th century. My photographs include of the former family pew of the Kederminsters, moved to the aisle wall at some point, and now a kind of foyer to the library itself. This is all Jacobean woodwork, with Bible texts (mostly from the Psalms), an eye-of-God motif all along the ceiling. The imitation marble painting is all apparently original, just cleaned. The work seems to have been finished in 1623 – the year of the Shakespeare first folio. The belfry was open too, with the bell-ringers on duty. I got to ring a 1649 bell, half a ton of metal swinging with astonishing ease, or resting poised at the top of its movement with the ease of a perching bird, before you ever so gently start its unstoppable rush back round. The bell-ringers even demonstrated ringing the bells ‘backwards’, the old alarm signal to the parish.

My other photograph is something that I had never seen before: the illuminated title page of John and Mary Kederminster’s Pharmacopolium (1630): their meticulous five hundred page manuscript collection of remedies. The husband and wife were clearly very proud of their joint book, had the grand title page made, and placed this cure of bodies among their benefactions for the cure of souls.

Here’s ‘For the biting of madd dogg’:

“Take Liver, lightes and hearte of the dogg and boyle them very drye, and let the partie eate some of it, and beate some of it to powder and lett him drincke of it, until three Changes of the moone be past; and fill the wound with the Hayre of the Dogg until the ranckling of the Sore bee past, then annoynt it with Sallett oyle to get out the Haire, Then you must applie some good Salve unto it to heale it.”

A near-original ‘hair-of-the-dog’ cure. So, to round off, here’s the OED’s ‘dog’ quotations in relation to the phrase, as used in relation to alcohol, and also still apparently recommended in its original literal sense as a piece of sympathetic magic in the later 18th century:

1546 J. HEYWOOD Prov. I pray thee let me and my fellow have a hair of the dog that bit us last night. 1611 COTGRAVE Our Ale-knights often use this phrase, and say, Give us a hair of the dog that last bit us. [1760 R. JONES Treat. Canine Madness 204 The hair of the dog that gave the wound is advised as an application to the part injured.]

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Two versions of wonder

I happened across the 1651 pamphlet, A Wonder of Wonders. Being a faithful Narrative and true relation of one Anne Green. It was written by one W. Burdet, who then seems to have produced a second version, for he signs off this effort by saying that he will ‘(at present) desist from reciting any further circumstances’, which makes him a likely author for the second, expanded version of the pamphlet. In this, the synoptic title has lost its conventional catchpenny ‘wonders’, and become a plainer Declaration from Oxford, and it speaks confidently of Anne Green having been ‘unjustly hanged’, and having received ‘an unjust sentence’. The chief addition is an edifying prayer which she is alleged to use ‘morning, noon, and night’ – its content is predictable.

But what is interesting about all this is that there is also an account by an Oxford scholar, Richard Watkins: Newes from the dead. Or A true and exact narration of the miraculous deliverance of Anne Greene, who being executed at Oxford Decemb. 14. 1650. afterwards revived and by the care of certain physitians there, is now perfectly recovered. Together with the manner of her suffering, and the particular meanes used for her recovery. Written by a scholler in Oxford for the satisfaction of a friend, who desired to be informed concerning the truth of the businesse. Whereunto are added certain poems, casually written upon that subject., Oxford 1651. As Watkins says, what happened was “a very rare and remarkeable accident, which being variously and falsely reported amongst the vulgar (as in such cases it is usual)”: he is writing a consciously scholarly, non-populist account – he has probably seen Burdet’s.

This duplication allows us to catch a popular writer in operation, tailoring his account for a readership in the English Commonwealth. I will interline his narrative with the more sober version given by the scholar.

Burdet tells a story that started at the house of Sir Thomas Read at Duns Tew in Oxfordshire, when Anne Green, a servant, working hard turning malt, retired in pain to the ‘house of office’, and there spontaneously aborted a foetus ‘about a span long’. She covered the little corpse with dust and rubbish that lay to hand, and left it in a corner of the toilet. She immediately told a fellow servant. Burdet gives her words that could come from a ballad: ‘Alas, alas, Mary, that ever I was born, to live and die in shame and scorn’. She uncovered the body, and ran shrieking into the house, and this alerted her master and mistress. They soon learn from her that the father was ‘a Gentleman of good birth, and kinsman to a justice of Peace’.

~ Watkins agrees the facts, and also describes Anne as being “of a middle stature, strong, fleshie, and of an indifferent good feature”. He can say that she had been seduced by Jeffery Read, Sir Thomas’s grandson, who was 16 or 17, and explains further that she did not know that she was pregnant until she aborted.

Back with Burdet, instead of the matter being dealt with inside the household, or the parish, Anne was carried before a justice, who found her guilty of fornication, though not of infanticide. Nevertheless he committed her to prison to await trial. Her trial came quickly, and it was short one: she was sentenced to death by hanging. At the gallows, she fell down on her knees at the foot of the ladder, and asked God ‘to show some remarkable judgement on her, for a signal and testification to the world of her innocency’. It was Saturday 14th December, and I assume that she was hanged at dawn.

~ Watkins makes no substantial comment on the trial itself. Of Green at the gallows, he merely reports that “those that were present do testify that she spake very sensibly”, when explaining that she could not subsequently remember anything she had said or done.

Burdet reports Green at the gallows making an elaborate speech to the people ‘which was with great comfort, and undauntedness of spirit by this poor soul performed’: as so often, that suggestion that it is up to the condemned to make the onlookers feel morally reconciled to the spectacle they have gathered to watch. She was then turned off the ladder. As she has requested, a kinsman of hers hangs his full weight onto her legs to speed her death. A trooper hammers at her breast with the butt of his musket to the same end – these things are in the woodcut. After half an hour, her dead body in taken down, and packed ‘into the Chyrurgions chest’, for it has been begged for the purposes of an anatomy lecture.

~ Watkins agrees these basic facts, with the added detail that the under sheriff asked her friends to stop hanging onto her, or the rope she was being hanged with might break. Green was put into a coffin, Watkins says, and the corpse taken for dissection. His account is far more concerned to expound what the doctors did, and is convincing about the medical details. When the coffin was re-opened, she was heard to be breathing still, or at least rattling in her throat. A ‘lusty fellow’ that stood by started stamping on her to end her misery (!), but at that moment, 9 am, Dr Petty and Thomas Willis arrived: they gave her cordials, let her blood, put tourniquets on her limbs, administered the inevitable enema, and massage. More usefully – alongside its more obvious discomforts, it must have been cold, being hanged at Oxford Castle in a mid-seventeenth century December, and she has been laid out in a wooden box since – the doctors put her in bed with a woman to act as a source of warmth. In Watkins’ account, in which, throughout, those in authority behave like gentlemen, the under sheriff now solicits the governor to let her live if she revives, and the governor is ‘willing to co-operate with divine providence’

By Monday, in Watkins’ account, she had revived enough to be questioned. He affirms that she didn’t know she had been on the gallows, and could not recall anything she said (‘notwithstanding those that were present do testify that she spake very sensibly’). He comments that she seemed simply to resume just where she had left off, on the topic of her innocence regarding the infanticide, which she had spoke of when in prison: ‘seeming to go on where she had so long time left off; like to a clock whose weights had been taken off a while, and afterwards hung on againe.’

Green was, according to Watkins, wholly recovered within a month, and during this time she, living, was visited in the room where she was due to be dissected, by gentry who were admitted for a voluntary payment- and their generosity was such that what was gathered paid the apothecary’s bill. The castle governor was a major contributor. Finally Green took herself away, carrying off with her own recently occupied coffin to show her friends in the country.

But now hear Burdet. In his account, after 14 hours in bed with the woman placed there to warm her, Green spoke, and to dramatic effect: “Behold Gods providence, and his wonder of wonders” (you see the two women in bed together in the woodcut, and the word-scroll coming from Green’s mouth).

Burdet reflects that this miracle should remain on record ‘for a president to all Magistrates, and Courts of Judicature, to take special care in denouncing of sentence, without a due and legal process, according to the known Laws of the Land, by an impartial and uncorrupted Jury’. But this recovery, he says, ‘moved some of her enemies to wrath and indignation, insomuch, that a great man amongst the rest, moved to have her again carried to the place of execution’. However, ‘some honest Souldiers then present, seemed to be very discontented thereat, and declared, That there was a great hand of God in it’. These words ‘bought a final end and period to their dispute and controversie’.

In his re-worked version, the Declaration from Oxford, Burdet makes Green, who has come back from the dead, deliver some of the expected visions: ‘This poor Creature is now well recovered, and in perfect health; since which time, being asked what apparitions she saw during her Trance, she replied, That being (as it were) in a Garden of Paradise, there appeared to her 4 little boyes with wings, being four angels, saying Woe unto them that decree unrighteous Decrees, and take away the right from the Judges, that the innocent may be their prey.’ She said that she remembered nothing of being taken to the gallows, but could recall what she said to the crowd, and asserted that ‘being upon the ladder … she saw her chief enemy dead before her (which is observable, that within some hours after, Sir Tho. Read died.)’

~ This, conversely, is Watkins’s debunking: “It may perhaps be expected by some (and 'tis pity I can give them no satisfaction) that I should relate some story … of what fine visions this maid saw in the other world … But for such matters the Ballad-makers must rest contented: since she (as you have heard) was so far from knowing anything whilst she was dead, that shee remembered not what had happened to her even when she was yet alive … One thing more hathe been taken notice of by some, as to the Maid’s defence; that her Grand Prosecutor Sir Thomas Read died within three daies after her execution; even almost as soon as the possibility of her reviving could be well confirmed to him. But because he was an old man, and such events are not too rashly to be commentated on, I shall not make use of that observation.”

So Burdet embroidered his story piously, adding words, visions and miraculous proofs. But he also tells the truth in his own way, a truth which Watkins is busy to suppress. It seems clear that Green was hanged because of Sir Thomas Read’s anger and humiliation. One way or the other, Read swayed the court to a guilty verdict. Burdet’s account gives a Green who talks about her enemies, ‘great’ men: Sir Thomas Read, and the unnamed man who urges that the recovered woman should go again to the scaffold. Saved by ‘honest Souldiers’ – the armed Parliamentarian forces, exercising their new strength – Green survived this second threat. Instead it is the unjust great man who dies, struck down in answer to the prayers Anne Green made at the foot of the gallows ladder.

Watkins, as I say, minimises all gentlemanly unpleasantness, and is expansive about the expert care Green received from the doctors, who also have the final word about the non-viability of her foetus, so that “That foul stain of murder, which, in most mens judgments (and, perhaps, Heaven it selfe also bearing witness) was so harshly charged upon her” was removed – and that parenthesis is as far as Watkins will go on the miraculous possibilities of her survival.

Two authors, one describing class animus repudiated by heaven, the other, kindness. Burdet reworks Anne Green into a repentant sinner now justified by heaven, she has ceased to be a balladic fallen woman, and has become a new model puritan. Watkins shows decent behaviour and expert medical intervention. The wonder in one is from heaven, the only wonderful thing in the other account is the skill of the doctors. But there was more in Watkins’ publication, and what follows exposes his misrepresentations: ‘Whereunto are added certain poems, casually written upon that subject’. The last section of his pamphlet, transcribes poems written by about 40 Oxford undergraduates, in English and Latin about Anne Green (they include the young Christopher Wren). It is a heartless and callow display of thin witticisms: women will cheat even Charon; like cats, women have many lives; women always have another trick. A Mr Pope reflects that
“One thing both hang’d and sav’d her, shee was light
and that
“Had but a modest soule that under gone
'twould soon for shame have quitte its mansion.”

She has been “both hanged, and pressed”, but is still alive, scoffs Mr Mathew.

Anne’s seducer is given a jocular warning that she will be coming after him for more:
“Read this thou youthful, Read, and be afraid,
Shee’s a maid twice, and yet is not dismaid.”

Antony Wood enjoys Anne’s bravado in facing death on the scaffold, like the heroine of a play:
Nan plays a prize with death, she mounts
The stage, and there brave soul recounts
Her former pranks …”

As “Death’s puzzler! Selfe-surviver!”, she prompts these undergraduates to consider her paradoxical status, Death’s apparently diminished power. It is all callous and unfeeling, a matter for jokes. All the class fault lines Watkins had tried to conceal are displayed: if Burdet had wanted to write a third pamphlet, he would have found plenty to fuel his indignation.

See also for Dr Thomas Willis: