Tuesday, April 08, 2008

“Once Nurse, sev’n year the worse” – the married life of 'The Cotswold Muse'

To the Cotswolds this last weekend to see my sister and her family, and so my posting will be on Clement Barksdale (1609–1687), he of ‘The Cotswold Muse’ (“When I am weary of prose, and Grotius / His Gravity is to my stomach nauseous / Then call I up my Cotswold Muse…”).

Not that Barksdale wrote anything about the Cotswolds as a landscape. As chaplain, preacher or schoolmaster (according to Royalist and Anglican fortunes), he lived his life through books; much of his time was dedicated to translating and promoting the teachings of Grotius.

Antony à Wood half disdainfully described him as ‘a good Disputant, a great admirer of Hugo Grotius, a frequent Preacher, but very conceited and vain, a great pretender to Poetry, and a Writer and Translator of several little Tracts, most of which are mere Scribbles’.

Barksdale may have had his officious side, and he can produce strange things in verse. A Grateful MENTION of Deceased BISHOPS consists of a series of eulogistic couplets on high-ranking clergymen whose works he approved of (“May Primate Bramhall, with prime Authors go; / His Divine Works we have in Folio”), and only Barksdale could write a rhyming set of book recommendations (‘An English Library’: I might transcribe it in a future post!). But from some of the poems there emerges a devoted father, and a poet who writes best on his own itch to write.

Here he is writing about his wife’s determination to manage to breast feed, finally, one of their children, the seventh:

To his Wife at last a Nurse

After six nours’d by others, youl’d ne’r rest

Untill the seventh Child drew out your own Brest.

The seventh some secret virtue has, they say:

Tis then, I hope will prove a fortunat Boy.

And as in this (your Brest being often sore)

Your labours were; so will your Joyes be more.

Children would all be obedient sure

Knew they what pains their Mothers did endure.

The Proverbs false: Once Nurse, sev’n year the worse

Best Nurse is Mother; and best Mother’s Nurse.

I don’t recall seeing elsewhere that harsh proverbial lore against breast-feeding Barksdale cites here. He records their almost inevitably mixed fortunes with all these babies in poems like ‘Upon the Decease of my Infant-Lady’, or

Upon his seven Children: two Girls dead, one alive, and four Boyes

The divine Goodnesse! Which I have often try’d!

A pair to seven is quickly multiply’d.

Two that were wisest, quickly made return,

(Pardon me this one tear, faln on their urn:)

The female remanent, with observant eye,

I’d have to learn her Mothers huswifry.

To the four boyes, I’d leave this legacy

(God giving) my Arts and Theologie….

Because he likes children, Barksdale often ends up writing some kind of consolation after any local or family case of an infant dying. One of his lady cousins actually seems to have given birth during the funeral of her first child. This was exactly the kind of thing that would attract him, showing offspring as source of sorrow and joy. Barksdale’s poem would seem to us rather abrupt, not really very sensitive in expressing its Christian convictions, but I suppose it was accepted in his day (children are always going off to assume their thrones in heaven in his infant elegies)

To Mris Jane Commelin, upon the birth of her second Daughter, at the burial of the first

Cosin, See what reward from Heav’n you have!

So soon as your lov’d Daughter was in the Grave

Whom God took from you, for Correction

Of your excessive love; a resurrection,

To recompense your patience, from the Tombe

Is granted her, thorough your fruitfull wombe.

You may conceive, that as she languisht here,

She, by degree, did take a new growth there.

Nor need you call this child another name;

But fancy it to be the very same…

As I say, the other topic that seems humanly alive to me is verse about his own writing of poetry. In this poem, he combines small children and his writing (there may be a misprint here; the third couplet doesn’t make sense to me):

As I in bed, fore day, did verses make,

My Bedfellow, my little Boy, did wake.

Father, you write on everything, said He,

Let me intreat you, make one Verse for me.

I presently reply’d (He cannot say black:)

Thou’rt my white boy, although thy eyes be clack.

Thou bringst my Book; my Candle thou dost light;

I love thee next unto thy Sister bright.

If thou wilt learn thy Book, I’ll leave to thee,

Not one verse, but all my Poetry.

We also see his children learning to flatter the interests of their book loving father. One poem celebrates a better typeface that’s been found for his latest publication, and we glimpse in passing his children humouring him as best they can:

This Print’s so fair and bright, in th’others stead,

The Letter now invites and crys, Come, read.

My little Boys are so tane with’t, that They

Printers will be and Stationers, they say…

Barksdale is rather good, I think, on trying hard, but one way or other missing good poems (as I’m afraid he did):

Upon Verses made in his sleep

Me thought, I said, They are very well, and so!

They shall continue. Then I wak’t, and O!

I cry’d They vanish! Where d’ye take your flight?

Stay! Now I have them. Now they are out of sight.

A while they doe thus on my Fancy wave:

A piece or two, but now; now, none I have.

Waking, I never shall recover them. Once more

I’ll sleep: They’ll come, as they did come before.

In his ‘Upon the losse of some Copies’, he admonishes himself for being anxious about misplacing some papers: “Unless the Reader take all to the Best, / You may complain, you did not lose the Rest”. He worries about writing poems after the age of 40, about how it could be that Fletcher, Davenant and the rest can so obsess him. But the ‘great pretender to poetry’ was modest about what he actually did manage to write:

To the Printer

I pray, take care; Th’Erratas are enow

I’th’Book it self, although you Print it true.

My photograph shows one glimpse of what Barksdale didn't write about, the landscapes of the Cotswolds.

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