Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vacation time

I am fluttering away from my keyboard for a holiday in and around the Rockies (thus squandering more than another year of carbon credit from frantic pedaling).

I hope in the meantime ‘Blogger’ might put itself back to aesthetic rights, as it is looking sub-basic at the moment, and I can’t be bothered for now fishing about in the HTML tags to try to put things right.

My image is a composite from Thomas Marent’s Butterfly: A Photographic Portrait, which has been delighting me recently. These are Colombian eighty-eights and eighty nines (Diaethria clymena) – ‘this our life, exempt from public haunt / Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones, and good in everything’.


As I gad off enjoying myself, I will not forget my late companion Anthony Maynard, whose funeral was yesterday:


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Paul III as Volpone in Barton Holyday's 'Survey'

The morale of the harpooner at Early Modern Whale has been boosted by the blog here managing to make the cut in Ralph E Luker’s selection of blogs ‘without which, history education on the internet would be seriously impoverished.’ (Can he really mean me?)


My incidental reading for this week has been A survey of the world in ten books by the royal chaplain and archdeacon in Oxford, Barten Holyday (1661). I was intrigued to see by what means our pious author shrank such a large subject into 118 pages. He did it by following one of the few contemporary verse writers he admires, who happened (alas!) to be Thomas Tusser. Holyday writes his ‘survey’ in exactly 1,000 distiches, neatly dividing them hundred by hundred into the ten books, which cover these topics:

“Of inanimate Creatures; Of living Creatures; Of Nations; Of Languages and Arts; Of Philosophers and Historians; Of Physicians; Of Lawyers; Of Kings and Other Worthies; Of Politicians; Of Divines”.

The result is a series of moralised reflections (he calls them meditations) on everything that seems to him important. He can do a survey of the world because he lives within such a simple intellectual framework: the world, of course, is coeval with man; and everything in it was made for man. Everything exists in a divinely ordained order – order is life, he tells us:

Relations must be Own’d: Husband and Wife;

Father, Sonne; Master, Servant: Order’s Life.

Each section works in general from the past to the present, from Bible history, through classical, and so down to contemporaries, to the effect that the work also becomes a kind of mad bibliography, in which Holyday mentions all the writers he approves of – writers on the law and divinity mainly. Part of the out-of-the-way charm of the book is to see Holyday backing all the wrong horses: if only he could have written a couplet on Shakespeare or Donne, he’d have been quoted, and known to specialists. He does allude to two of Ben Jonson’s creations, but only for a satirical jibe at a pope and a famous cardinal:

Paul the Third and Morone (they so compact)

At Rome and Trent, Volpone and Mosca act.

There aren’t enough of these asperities, where Holyday’s distiches become epigrammatic.

Generally, he chooses to praise an array of names that could have come from Tristram Shandy.

Holyday does not always warm to new ideas: so he generally disapproves of astronomy – Copernicus having the sun stand still to escape doubts, has merely made new doubts; others dare to see spots blotting the sun itself – in the end, ‘the Art of starres who knows, but He that made them?’ (‘Copernicus does erre with great pretence / Of Art: but Galileus erres by sense’ is distich 389, returning to this general disapproval.) In each book, Holyday starts with the big things in creation, and works down. Book 1 starts with the heavenly bodies, and more or less ends with garlic. Similarly Book 2 (on animals) starts with some distiches about early modern whales, which are undeniably large in his account of them:

To see Nine hundred foote of Whale, may make

One think, Iland for Fish hee does mistake

But Holyday sometimes gets a quirkier observation than the time-honoured tale of whales being mistaken for islands:

The Whale’s Mouth’s a Portcullis, but Inverted!

Th’under jaw’s teeth into Holes above inserted.

My own little menagerie made me notice how he moralises the parrot:

A Parrot learn’d the Creed: may not such, greeve,

As can not say’t, or can not it Beleeve?

How anyone ever got the idea that camels particularly hate incest I cannot imagine, but here it is:

Much’t is the Afrique Camels Long can fast:

More, that they Incest hate, admir’dly chast!

‘Of nations’ critiques the English for love of two characteristic vanities:

Fashions and Prophesies are England’s staine:

Lets not bee Mad too, though wee have been vaine.

‘Of physicians’ shows Holyday at his most receptive to a new idea: William Harvey is another Columbus in the magnitude of his discovery:

Blood Circles from the Heart unto the Heart:

Man’s New America speakes Harvie’s Art

Elsewhere in the list of physicians, Holyday again shows his prejudices when he denounces the doctor and anti-demonologist Johan Weyer for not believing in witchcraft:

From Physique did Wierus runne to Evil?

Shall wee begin in Art, and End in Devil?

‘Kings and other worthies’ includes a couplet in appreciation of Charles V’s renunciation of his empire:

Charles the Fift scorn’d Glory, Pleasure, Pelfe:

Turn’d Court-Monke and the Emp’rour of Himselfe.

Among the English monarchs, Holyday makes only this cryptic remark about Henry VIII:

Henry, Our Eight, few Painters have well made:

Some give him too much Light, some too much shade.

I suppose that he might be implying that Henry VIII is either portrayed as better, or worse, than he actually was.

His take on Philip II is as a connoisseur and arch-plotter:

How Philip in his Gallery views his Mappes!

Consults! Intents in Mystery hee wrappes!

Among his politicians, Holyday was excited by Machiavelli, and actually pauses over him for several couplets; though his attitude is a predictable one:

In sadnesse Macchiavel thou didst not well

To helpe the World to runne faster to hell!

So, some of the 1,000 couplets are reasonably lively. Just occasionally, he can sound like an early modern version of Hilaire Belloc. Here he is on one of his theologians (I assume St Bernard):

Bernard so happily imploi’d his thought,

Hee scarce had time to thinke of what was nought.

Ah, that is so like me, also so happily employing my thought I scarce have time to think of what is nought. But next week, I disappear off on holiday, once again to America, a tour in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bringing bobbing and hey ho to meet

I was attracted by this woodcut (quite unfamiliar to me) to read Heywood’s play to find out what is going on in the picture.

I suppose there must be discussion of the play in McLuskie’s book. Certain plays by Heywood are getting lots of critical attention (always A Woman Killed with Kindness, The Late Lancashire Witches, while The Fair Maid of the West has had a good run of late because of Bess’s travels to the eastern end of the Mediterranean). But A Mayden-head Well Lost, which no-one seems to have devoted an article to, has plenty to be said for it. Heywood had written in his Golden-Silver-Brazen-Iron Ages sequence the raunchiest dramas of the early English stage. But there he had the excuse of classical antiquity. This play’s bold title shows that the old boy was up to his old tricks.

In the picture the chaps sitting round the dinner table have just had an illegitimate baby served in them in a covered serving dish (though the artist - to use the term loosely - has made it look like a portrait picture with hinged side-panels). The mother of this baby, Princess Julia of Milan ought to be at the table with her father and his followers. The father is for the moment off-stage; in the right hand-panel is a mild illustration of the kind of hanky-panky that leads to these little moments of family embarrassment. On the right of the main group, in his motley coat, is the play’s clown (and he’s not a bad example of the type). The Duke of Milan had been unable to have his errant daughter killed when she confessed to him that she was pregnant, but the baby boy had been abandoned by a roadside (where it was instantly taken up by its father the Prince of Parma, who has bedded Julia on the usual grounds of verbal agreement to marry afterwards. Julia reminds him “Yet ere I yielded, we were man and wife, / Saving the Churches outward Ceremony).

Urged on by the villain of the piece, Sforsa, the Duke of Milan presses his errant daughter into an urgent match with the Prince of Florence. But this potential bridegroom has heard enough about Julia (for Parma writes to him anonymously) to make threatening stipulations that she must prove to be an intact virgin. He is anyway in love with the other girl in the play, Lauretta, but she is only the daughter of a general who has died of grief at Milan’s ingratitude in regard to his greatest victory.

The inevitable bed-trick has to be played (Heywood seems to have been following Middleton closely). Sforza has learned where Lauretta and her mother are in impoverished exile, and he has 500 gold pieces for her if she agrees to act as the substitute bride.

So, here’s the central melodrama. Lauretta is in love with the Prince of Florence, and he loves her, though he faces the dynastic marriage to her morally doubtful rival. Along comes Sforsa to persuade her to go to bed with the man she loves:

Sforsa Ever rejoice faire Virgin, for I bring you
Gold, and Enlargement; with a recovery
Of all your former loss, and dignity,
But for a two hours labour: Nay, that no labour
Nor toil, but a mere pleasure.

Lauretta hears what the conditions are, and hangs tough:

Doe you not blush, when you deliver this
Pray tell the Duke, all Women are not Julia ,
And though wee bee dejected, thus much tell him,
Wee hold our honour at too high a price,
For Gold to buy.

Her Mother backs up her apparently firm resolution: “If thou consentest to this abhorred fact, / Thy Mothers curse will seize on thee for ever”. Sforsa, like Vindice, is not abashed, and continues his argument, and in one of those special Heywood moments, Lucetta performs a complete volte-face:

Sir bee answered,
If Julia bee disloyal: Let her be found
So by the Prince she weds: Let her be branded
With the vile name of strumpet: She disgrac’d
Me, that ne’re thought her harms; publicly struck me,
Nay in the Court: And after that, procur’d
My banishment: These Injuries I reap’t
By her alone, then let it light on her.

Now see your error,
What better; safer, or more sweet revenge,
Then with the Husband? what more could woman ask?

My blood rebels against my reason, and
I no way can withstand it: 'Tis not the Gold
Moves me, but that dear love I bear the Prince,
Makes me neglect the credit and the honour
Of my dear Fathers house: Sir, what the Duke desires
I am resolved to doe his utmost will.

Oh my dear daughter.

Lauretta, like Shakespeare’s Helena, will get from the Prince of Florence an array of tokens (rings, the indenture for Julia’s marriage dowry). The Prince of Florence will discover that he has been in bed with the woman he really loves; and Lucetta can explain that she did it only to save him from marrying the unchaste Julia:

“Only the love I ever bare your honour,
Made me not prize my own. No lustful appetite
Made me attempt such an ambitious practice,
As to aspire unto your bed my Lord.”

And so through to the final couplet of the play: “And let succeeding Ages, thus much say: / Never was Maiden-head better given away.” Lauretta skates through to a complete victory, Julia and Parma settle down together, and the villain is left to reflect on the error of his ways: “Who would strive, / To bee a villain, when the good thus thrive?”

So, a pleasingly racy play (for its time). The clown is occasionally allowed to point out what underlies the fine sentiments:

Oh let me lie
As prostrate at your foot in Vassallage,
As I was at your pleasure.
Sweete arise.

Your Lordship hath bin up already, when she was down: I hope if the thing you wot of go no worse forward then it hath begun…

Reading the play made me wonder if there was any connection between two ‘faults written on the body’ sentiments. In early modern plays, no man, no matter how inexperienced with women, can be deceived about her virginity; the knowledge is inescapable. And if he discovers that his new bride is not a virgin, he acquires cuckold’s horns, the invisible signs that all men can somehow see.

I took a quick read through of a set of maidenhead ballads too. This was my favourite:

The loyal maids good counsel to all her fellow-maids. To be careful of wanton young men, They'll promise they love you again and again: But if they get their will of you before you are wed You may look a new sweetheart and a new maiden-head: And believe no false young men that will dissemble and lye, Lest they send you away with salt tears in your eye. To the tune of, Come hither my own sweet duck 1685-1688.

It is a warning about the lies men will tell so as “to bring bobbing and hey ho to meet”. The final stanza is very strange: it professes to be a personal testimony by the author, a woman, about chastity till marriage as the best course in life:

“She was a Maid that did set out this Song,

she was thirty before she was Wed,

She had great care of every one,

to save her Maiden-head

At last their came an honest Man

and made her his own dear Wife

If she had yielded to some that came before

she had been undone all the days of her life.”

Was this meant seriously? To persuade? Till thirty?

Monday, July 07, 2008

At Whitchurch Canonicorum

Two objects that, in terms of theological history, ought not to have co-existed so harmoniously as they have done over the centuries. At the right, a beautifully preserved octagonal Jacobean pulpit, where an angled door admits the preacher to read the word of God, and then deliver a sermon on a Bible text. It looks like something from a cruet set, and, from it, the divine word was judiciously sprinkled down on the congregation.
In the background, against the wall of the north transept, the almost unique English survivor of a former way of faith: it is the tomb of St Wita (St White, later latinised as St Candida). The oval apertures allowed those in need of the saint's intervention to insert affected limbs - or maybe their heads - and leave their votive offerings. The saint's coffin is above, and inside that, a leaden reliquary box containing bones of a woman that were old when the shrine was built. She might have been a Breton 'Saint Blanche' martyred by Vikings.
These two objects should not co-exist, but this deeply enfolded part of the Dorset landscape must have harboured sufficient Catholic sympathy for the relics not be be cast out. Edward the Confessor is still in Westminster Abbey, and Becket must be under Canterbury Cathedral somewhere, but St Wita is the only saint who remains in the parish church founded for her. There must once have been hundreds of shrines like this.

Whitchurch Canonicorum concentrates history: Sir George Somers is buried (at least, most of him) somewhere under the chancel. He had died in Bermuda on 9 November 1610, ‘of a surfeit of eating of a pig’ and "his nephew Matthew Somers decided to go against Somers's wishes that he return to Jamestown with supplies, and, burying his uncle's heart and entrails in Bermuda, carried his body back to England, where it was buried at Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset, with pomp and ceremony in 1611" (ODNB) There's an early 20th century plaque to the man whose first shipwreck and miraculous preservation on the 'still-vexed Bermudas' was written up by William Strachey, read by Shakespeare, and went into The Tempest.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Another reason to go out cycling

After a morning yesterday in the Reading University library, I came home to log on to the usual databases, only to discover that my college library card had expired yesterday. I have no access to anything: with it my Athens password has gone. EEBO, JSTOR, LION etc are all closed to me, until I can produce in person in the library a letter from a senior colleague vouching for who I am.

In this lull, here's me in the 'Circuit of the Cotswolds' Sportive the weekend before last. I am grinning at a photographer who is just running into position and shooting as he goes. Hence the rather dramatic slope I am apparently descending with sanguine skill. This was 103 miles with a 3,000 metre height gain involved, and took me 7 hours 38 minutes: probably 7 hours on the bike, the rest in refreshment halts and a puncture.