My down-time reading this week has been Robert Crofts’ The way to happinesse on earth concerning riches, honour, conjugall love, eating, drinking / by R.C. (1641). I suppose I was interested in how this author would present his message in his puritanical times.
Crofts has the (admittedly faint) merits of being without any exceptional qualities as a writer. What he thinks, he gets from the culture round him. As he compiles his ‘own’ opinions, he gets into the usual difficulties of the 17th century minor writer who follows and diligently reproduces the diversity of views he finds available: that veering round from pro to contra, the uneasiness as, for instance, he expounds the merits of being in love, for fear that this section of the discourse might be taken for his settled opinion. “I could willingly turne backe, and teare those former Love discourses out of my booke, in contempt of your frailties and vanities, were it not for their sakes, who are indeed true-lovers”, he says to women at p.247, when he has completed the transition into the thundering denunciation of marriage and women that he was evidently itching to write all through his earlier section in praise of honest love and conjugality.
Those love discourses are interesting: for Crofts sketches out the type of thing he thinks his decent male wooers ought to say to their ladies. Anticipating Dryden on Donne, he thinks it “folly to study, sing and talke to them in high straines of wit, and figurative exornations, lest they be not understood, and so perchance laughed at. But in this respect a plaine, yet artificiall, pleasing, materiall, moving, and convincing way is best”. Having said that the male wooer must not ‘study’, within a few pages Crofts expounds on how his sex must “by often and serious meditation to imprint into our minds, the grounds and heads thereof, As Numbers, Particulars, Observations, Arguments, Examples, Comparisons, Contrarieties, Similitudes, Effects, Appendances, Circumstances, and the like, as perfectly as we doe our A, B, C … as Preachers doe especially take notice, and imprint into their minds, the heads, divisions, and grounds of their Sermons” (p.208).
This sounds like badly over-egging the cake, as the training of the University and Inn of Court is laboriously deployed to win fair Lady. Now Crofts tends to write as though he is happy just to keep on covering the pages, so there may not be much in it, but if you think of all those plays in which a male wooer is ridiculed either for being tongue-tied, or speaking in a manner that lacks decorum (fitness to the person addressed), well, maybe the pressure was on men to develop a wooing discourse – ‘and as for the form, in some form’, as the clown puts it in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Perhaps women too, starved of education, took some pleasure in being the recipients of such studied and rehearsed addresses, the compliment of a higher style.
Crofts offers the kind of reheated material he thinks suitable for when the lover gets onto the topic of time: “He tells her, that to enjoy such pleasure but one hour or a day, were enough to possess the heart with marvelous joy; yea, although that houre or day were halfe a yeare hence, yet the imagination of it in the meane time, is sufficient to possesse us with very sweet pleasures till then.”
Crofts, in writing his section on love discourse, often seems to have poems somewhere in the back of his mind. He quotes quite a few pieces of verse. I could not locate sources on LION, and didn’t look very hard, because I suspect that in most cases Crofts either quotes from memory or has rewritten the poem in simpler terms. On p. 107 he says how ‘the Poet hath a Song in his Comedy, which with some alteration of words, and to another tune thus it goes’: I think he offers his own very watered-down version of the song in Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass: “So soft, so delicious, / So dainty, so sweet, so fine, / As the honey from the Bee, / is not halfe so sweet to me, / As is one sweet kisse of thine”.
But Crofts makes just one attributed quotation, and it pleased me to find it, as I have just gone through my annual tangle with John Donne as a subject for undergraduate lectures. Crofts at this point is about to switch onto the boundless topic of misogamy, how it is ‘observable that many men are commonly more sullen, dull, sad, and pensive after marriage than they were before”, and say much about the joys of “we Batchelours” (p.219). In this context, at this very point of transition, he quotes Donne’s ‘The Triple Foole’. I have it in the page image above, but he says that he knows “some very wise men indeed have confessed it to be a folly to love, and to write thereof, &c. As one of the most famous of them saith in one of his Poems,
I am two fooles I know,
For loving, and for saying so,
In whining Poetry;
But where’s the wise man
That would not be I,
If she would not deny, &c”
And, to the side of the passage, “D. I. Donne”. It's interesting that Donne crops up here. The poet might, of course, have provided material for the discourse of love, or been cited against women, but Crofts places him just on the cusp, rueful self-reproach, an admission of still having a yearning.
After this, Crofts, up and running, denounces women and marriage, until the point when he gets onto ale-house libertines (who essentially have a cruder version of the same discourse, in a language of cuckoldry and cuckold-making) of which he then lengthily disapproves.
Maybe one day I will return to Crofts for his similarly mingled praise and dispraise of drinking, a precarious attempt to find a point of balance between condemnation and indulgence. And in the end, that's his interest to the reader: in 1641, a not very talented man felt impelled to try to argue for a middle way, a tempered epicureanism. But even as he does so, he ventures to all extremes.