Friday, December 31, 2010

"They feel least cold and pain who plunge at once into it" - Abraham Cowley faces up to a New Year

Two melancholy New Year poems. Cowley indulges his usual affectation of being afflicted by love, though he’s a better poet when he addresses getting older, the plangent theme of the second stanza, and the very rational fears of life simply getting sadder (stanza three) – “uncleanly poverty”, as the poem puts it with unsparing accuracy, might arrive in the New Year. The final stanza turns round on the whole endeavour of trying to look forward, imagining what misery it would be if we could look forward at all. The poem finally resolves to just plunge into the New Year – the second stanza was about having no choice but to do otherwise.

Abraham Cowley, ‘To the New Year’


Great Janus, who dost sure my Mistris view
With all thine eyes, yet think’st them all too few:
If thy Fore-face do see
No better things prepar’d for me
Then did thy Face behind,
If still her Breast must shut against me be
(For 'tis not Peace that Temple’s Gate does bind)
Oh let my Life, if thou so many deaths a-coming find,
With thine old year its voyage take
Born down, that stream of Time which no return can make.


Alas, what need I thus to pray?
Th’old avaritious year
Whether I would or no, will bear
At least a part of Me away.
His well-horst Troops, the Months, and Days, and Hours,
Though never anywhere they stay,
Make in their passage all their Prey.
The Months, Days, Hours that march i'th'Rear can find
Nought of Value left behind.
All the good Wine of Life our drunken youth devours;
Sourness and Lees, which to the bottom sink,
Remain for latter years to Drink.
Until some one offended with the taste
The Vessel breaks, and out the wretched Reliques run at last.


If then, young year, thou needs must come,
(For in Times fruitful womb
The Birth beyond its Time can never tarry,
Nor ever can miscarry)
Choose thy Attendants well; for 'tis not Thee
We fear, but 'tis thy Company,
Let neither Loss of Friends, or Fame, or Liberty,
Nor pining Sickness, nor tormenting Pain,
Nor Sadness, nor uncleanly Poverty,
Be seen among thy Train,
Nor let thy Livery be
Either black Sin, or gaudy vanity;
Nay, if thou lov’st me, gentle Year,
Let not so much as Love be there:
Vain fruitless Love, I mean; for, gentle Year,
Although I fear,
There’s of this Caution little need,
Yet, gentle Year, take heed
How thou dost make
Such a Mistake.
Such Love I mean alone
As by thy cruel Predecessors has been shown,
For though I’have too much cause to doubt it,
I fain would try for once if Life can Live without it.


Into the Future Times why do we pry,
And seek to Antedate our Misery?
Like Jealous men why are we longing still
To See the thing which only seeing makes an Ill ?
'Tis well the Face is vail’d ; for 'twere a Sight
That would even Happiest men affright,
And something still they’d spy that would destroy
The past and Present Joy.
In whatsoever Character
The Book of Fate is writ,
'Tis well we understand not it -
We should grow Mad with little Learning there.
Upon the Brink of every Ill we did Foresee,
Undecently and foolishly
We should stand shivering, and but slowly venter
The Fatal Flood to enter,
Since willing, or unwilling we must do it,
They feel least cold and pain who plunge at once into it.

Tennyson’s uncanny poem has far less of mind and resolution in it: no plunging forward into the future for him. He can’t believe in the spirit he claims one can hear, but then again, neither can he personify with Cowley’s utter lack of restraint, so it’s just a spirit who might be ‘Time’, or ‘Death’, or the Old Year, senile and demented. The heavily aspirated refrain makes anyone speaking the poem breathe out to their last bit of breath. The sunflower, the now immobile former heliotrope no longer follows the sun, but looks only down into the earth, Hamlet-like. The suggestion of the coffin below in the ‘fading edges of box beneath’ in this ill-tended parterre, and hanging on syntactically at the end of it all, ‘the year’s last rose’ – all these things could not be bettered. Wild, melancholy, indulgent Tennyson! The flowers just die, or have been hanged like some innocent in the 19th century penal system. A hollyhock produces masses of seed: “the seed is of a quick spirit and cometh up the sixth day” (if you collect and sow in March) notes Stephen Blake in his The compleat gardeners practice of 1664. So does the sunflower. But Tennyson resists all the suggestions of a natural cycle, the old flowers have their own sexton preparing them for their graves.


A spirit haunts the year’s last hours
Dwelling amid these yellowing bowers:
To himself he talks;
For at eventide, listening earnestly,
At his work you may hear him sob and sigh
In the walks;
Earthward he boweth the heavy stalks
Of the mouldering flowers:
Heavily hangs the broad sunflower
Over its grave i’the earth so chilly;
Heavily hangs the hollyhock,
Heavily hangs the tiger-lily.


The air is damp, and hush’d, and close,
As a sick man’s room when he taketh repose
An hour before death;
My very heart faints and my whole soul grieves
At the moist rich smell of the rotting leaves,
And the breath
Of the fading edges of box beneath,

And the year’s last rose.

Heavily hangs the broad sunflower
Over its grave i’the earth so chilly;
Heavily hangs the hollyhock,
Heavily hangs the tiger-lily.

I couldn't find a Tennysonian garden today, but took my photograph in some river sallows near Hambleden.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Protestant meets Catholic on the way to Smithfield

The metynge of Doctor Barons and doctor Powell at Paradise gate [and] of theyr communications bothe drawen to Smithfylde fro[m] the towar. The one burned for heresye as the papistes do saye truly and the other quartered for popery and all within one houre (1548).

So, two imminent martyrs meet on their way to Smithfield: ‘Doctor Barons’ is Robert Barnes(c.1495–1540), a reformer, and Doctor Powell is Edward Powell (c.1478–1540), a Catholic priest (since beatified). The sorry occasion was, effectively, the brand new Church of England declaring itself open for business, and ready to do the business, when on ‘30 July 1540, Barnes, Garrard, and Jerome were taken to Smithfield, where they were burnt at the same time that three Catholics, Thomas Abell, Edward Powell, and Richard Fetherstone, were hanged, drawn, and quartered for treason’ (from the ODNB life of Barnes).

Barnes got himself to the stake for knowing the wrong person (his protector and patron Thomas Cromwell had fallen), and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His Church of England credentials were apparently impeccable, as he asserted the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, unlike many reformers. Even so, because of his present and former associates, he was chosen as a protestant ‘heretic’ for this nicely symmetrical auto da fé. Powell could not accept the Act of Supremacy, and died as Sir Thomas More had done before him.

These nuances, however, are lost or ignored in the verse pamphlet about their meeting. The anonymous writer tantalized by having a good basic idea: his work, delivered in tumbling verse, is cast as a dialogue between the two doomed men. But an exploration of the ironies of a shared fate in the two different victims was outside his range. The publication date is a minor mystery: the work is mentioned by the ODNB as appearing first in 1540, but it’s only in EEBO from a 1548 text (the work refers to Edward VI, so this clearly is the proper date for this particular edition in EEBO):

“then wold they quicly open the gate

of true doctrine which of late

king henry did bring to light

god save kig Edwards noble grace

& send his highness tyme and psace

to continewe forth his godly trace…”

Despite the difficulties John Foxe would later have (says the ODNB life) with Barnes’ actual beliefs, in the verse pamphlet, he is just a protestant martyr, and Powell is his enemy, a ‘papist’.

‘The one burned for heresye as the papistes do saye truly and the other quartered for popery and all within one houre…’ says the title, but the promise of that oddly floating ‘truly’ (between ‘these people truly did call him a heretic’ and ‘they called him a heretic, and it was true’) isn’t sustained.

The interest of the pamphlet is perhaps interest by default: in the utter refusal of nuance, irony, the way the author’s mind cannot perceive inconsistency, and (of course) the selectiveness of the human sympathy. How the three Catholics and the three imputedly heretical Protestants regarded on another on that day 470 years ago can only be imagined: this author didn’t try. Barnes, who had tried his best to land an acceptable recantation, must have felt he was being burned despite holding exactly the same beliefs as his persecutors. In the verse account, the author seems to forget that Powell was also there to be hacked to pieces. The two men argue, with Powell denouncing Barnes as an “abhominable hereticke” and saying that if he carries on abusing the church, he will leave:

“do no longer rayle

for els I will not fayle

to leave thee here alone…”

But this was hardly an option; Powell’s “holi church” was no longer in power, the two men were both there to die; Barnes to be burned as heretic by the King he is made to praise for having opened the gate of ‘true doctrine’, Powell suffering as a traitor.

The stark black letter type of the pamphlet, and the way some of the terse early Tudor spelling looks more modern than high-Elizabethan habits of spelling, contribute a little to the placard-like directness of the text. This author just did not do subtle: his ‘papist’ accuses his ‘Christian’ of ‘railing’ (abuse against the true church), and the text has Barnes do just that, sometimes with macaronic touches:

“o thou popish asse

shall I let passe

the prelates iniquitas…”

Would a man facing the stake refer quite so brutally to that form of death as being ‘fried’? The author doesn’t care:

“it is wel knowne and now espied

by my bloude and other that fryed

in Smithefild god’s word hath tried…”

Finally, Barnes is given a rant against what Catholicism instills in its believers, which:

“make us beleve on stoks and stons

drunken blockes and drye bones

to be all helpers for the nones

for our wicked behaviour

holly bred and holly water

with red letters written in paper

and to the cake as to our maker

to trust they did us teach…”

This comes on [Sig. B2v] – back over the leaf on [Sig. B2], the printer put into a blank space a curiously insouciant note:

“A faut escaping on the other side of this page the iii. line for drunken blockes rede d[ ] kes bloud”

You’d have thought that rather than squeeze this into the forme, it would have been better to correct the type already set. It seems as though Barnes was meant to decry the real presence in the Eucharist, something he actually did believe in. An early owner has written ‘make good’ in the [Sig. B2v] margin. Obviously the compositor setting the passage leapt mentally from ‘stocks’ to ‘blocks’.

But how curiously unbothered! This was the very essence of difference between the shades of faith, but the error is not put straight, even in what seems to be a reprint eight years on.

In fact, the author is as careless about accuracy as the Bishops burning Barnes as a heretic. Perhaps in that sub-title the pamphlet the author really wanted to write peeps out: “The one burned for heresye … and the other quartered for popery and all within one houre”. But an honestly brutal relish at the speed with which these wretched men were dispatched disappeared in the clumsy attempt to re-make Robert Barnes into a different kind of hero.

Hardly a festive season posting, this one. Again!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Three score and twelve?

Just a short one for St Lucy’s Day. This is the 1538 Sarum primer, and there she is on her Saint’s Day, ‘saynt lucy vyrgyn’ on ‘xii i’.

But I was more amused by the verses under the woodcut (itself not concerned to end the year with a cheerful Yuletide, but depicting a dying man receiving the last rites from a tonsured priest. An acolyte holds up the service book, a young woman in a fur-edged gown prays, and one has to concede that the persective of the four poster bed has gone wrong, so that they are in front of it rather than on or beside it). These are the verses:

The yere by December taketh his ende

and so dooth man at thre score and twelve.

Nature with aege wyll hym on message sende

The tyme is come that he must go him selve.

‘Three score and twelve’?! This seems a little high-handed in the face of the much cited witness of King David (as they would have considered it) in Psalm 90:

9 For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.

10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

11 Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.

12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

I gave the whole context rather than the single verse, because verse 9 reminded me of Macbeth, the text which also ha:

“Threescore and ten I can remember well:
Within the volume of which time I have seen
Hours dreadful and things strange.”

Back in the Sarum primer, the two year extension in ‘twelve’ is the first B rhyme in the ABAB quatrain, so hardly looks forced by having to find a rhyme (‘ten’ anyone could rhyme to, after all). Perhaps it stemmed, rather, from wanting to tie the life of man more closely to the twelve months.

I chased ‘threescore and ten’ for a while: into Thomas Hardcastle’s Christian geography and arithmetick (1674), reflecting lugubriously “that our Dayes are numbred does denote the shortness of them; Eternity cannot be numbred, what ever is in God is incomprehensible and innumerable, the Dayes of God are not to be numbred. We say he is a Poor man that can number his Flock, that can tell how many sheep and cattel he has, the Dayes of a Man are soon told they are quickly reckoned up, he that hath but a little skill in Arithmetick, may cast up the number.”

I liked this epigram about desire outliving performance in Henry Parrot’s Cures for the itch (1626):

Old Limpus faine would live & see good days,
Fully attain'd to threescore years and ten,
Who though from wenching much his strength decays
Yet has he will as well as youngest men.

Richard Steele published a comprehensive guide to the topic in A discourse concerning old-age tending to the instruction, caution and comfort of aged persons (1688):

“The Antediluvians lived eight or nine hundred years. Those which were born after the Flood, did scarce live half so long; for Arphaxad, who was born after it, lived but 440 years, Gen 11. 13. And in the time of Peleg his Grand-child, the Age of man was shrunk half in half shorter; he lived only 239 years, Gen. 11. 21. And in the Age of Nahor, great Grand-child to Peleg, it fell to 150. Gen. 11. 25. And so the ordinary term of mans life was by degrees curtail'd, that in Moses time, the dayes of his years were reckon'd at threescore years and ten…

And the formula appears reliably often in comic drama, as when Old Gerald announces his plans to marry a fifteen year old in that excellent farceur Edward Ravenscroft’s The Anatomist:
The Sham Doctor (1697):


No Sir, if you had been contemporary with the Patriarchs, you had been counted now a very youth, but in this short-liv'd age we live in, Sir, you are, as one may say, worn to the stumps.

Old Gerald.

Hold your prating; Threescore is mans ripe Age.


Yes, and his rotten Age too; but you, if I mistake not, are threescore and ten.

Old Gerald.

No more of Age: 'Tis a thing never to be inquired into, but when you are buying Horses.


How? Not in Marriage Sir.

Old Gerald.

Not if a man be very rich.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I have ended the teaching term with a session on Donne’s Anniversaries, a trial of endurance alleviated for the students only by a dole of sherry and mince pie. Preparing the session led me to look for works of the same kind, and so I found my way to the mournful (sorry!) The honour of vertue. Or the monument erected by the sorowfull husband, and the epitaphes annexed by learned and worthy men, to the immortall memory of that worthy gentle-woman Mrs Elizabeth Crashawe (1620).

The situation here was all too typical: a godly young wife, dying in giving birth to her first child. But it wasn’t, in the main, the anniversaries of Donne that I was reminded of, but his verse epistle ‘To Mr Tilman, after he had taken orders’, with its candid address to the social status of the clergyman in a society which, while officially giving the church the greatest respect, evidently never forgot birth and social rank when it came to the individual cleric.

For Mistress Crashaw was a ‘gentlewoman’, as the memorial pamphlet says in its title. The little publication, its type carefully set out in places like the carving of a memorial inscription, can be thought of as a substitute for the canopied tomb her status would have secured, had she not married down, to a clergyman, a widower of twice her years.

The pamphlet repeated mentions this signal act of virtue. The funeral sermon of Doctor James Ussher (no less) is paraphrased, and it enumerated her virtues:

“2. Being yong, faire, comely, brought up as a Gentlewoman, in musicke, dancing, and like to be of great estate, and therefore much sought after by yong gallants, and rich heires, and good jointures offered, yet she chose a divine, twise her own age. 3 Her extraordinary love and almost strange affection to her husband, expressed in such excellent and well tempered passages of kindnesse, as is too rare to find in one of her age, person, and parts…”

…. “6. her husbands discretion being questioned by some, for such a choice; and it being the common conceit, that by this marriage they had lost a good Preacher: contrariwise her comeliness in attire, and excellencie of behaviour graced him everywhere; and her zeale in religion, her kindnesse to him, her care of his health, and her honorable estimation of his profession, encouraged him to do more than he ever he did…”

Or, among the elegies, my near namesake ‘R. Boothe of Cantab’ (wrong University, though) similarly cannot quite get over the choice she made:

“Religion was her soules delight,

Good workes her Recreations were

To’th’poor as free as aire and light,

That shedd their comforts everywhere.

Young, faire, wise, comely, yet refus’d

Both youth and braveries golden Rayes

And dubble her owne age she chus’d,

With a Divine to spend her dayes…”

Altogether, the tributes paid to Elizabeth Crashaw give an impression of the godly rallying round. William Crashaw the husband had been, rather hearteningly, chosen by the ‘Rara avis in terris’ (‘CW of the Inner Temple’, writing in Latin and English, actually uses the Juvenalian phrase). God had taken her away, and maybe there’s a slight insecurity behind their effusions – the very best go first, they affirm, anxious not to suggest that those whose marriages flout the social rank God had seen fit to place them in are also susceptible to an early departure.

But in the end the longest elegy in the book did look like the work of a writer who had read the Anniversaries. The italicized first couplet in the quotation below is repeated a later points, as though Donne’s ‘She, she is dead, when thou knowest this’ couplets were being imitated. The poem is impersonal, unsigned, but it might conceivably be by her husband: its extra length makes it prominent, and the writer appears really worried about his grief. Here are some extracts, with a few comments:

‘An elegie, or mournefull meditation upon the uncertainty, and vanity of this life, occasioned upon the untimely and deplorable death of that thrice worthy Gentlewoman Mistress Elizabeth Crashawe: of whom the world was not worthy.’

O Earth, Earth Earth, O all mortality,

Know God is just, and thou mere vanity:

Fooles talke of fortune, lotts, misgiving, chance,

Fooles talke of dreames, and of the fayryes dance:

Trippings of horses, bleeding at the nose,

Itching of elbowes, and rat eaten hose

Tingling of eares, and crosseing of a Hare,

Sparkling of fire, and changing of the ayre…

~ an unexpected opening. The author is talking about all the things we foolishly attend to instead of hearing the truth. I suppose having your hose eaten by rats was as good a token of misfortune as any, but I’d never heard of it before.

He turns on astrologers:

Fooles cast their figures, and believe that true,

And only that which their lewd schem doth shew…

Andhe moralises about our propensity for false worship:

Nothing in earth so deepe, in heaven so high,

But serves for some kinde of Idolatry…

The central consolatory part of the elegy depends on the bare comforts of a cliché:

Oh learne the best go first, the worse remaine

Here rests that Rare One, whose life and death do show

The truth of this to all, that troth will know

Her yeares so few, her virtues were so many…

Her time was short, the longer is her rest,

God takes them soonest whom he loveth best:

For he that’s borne too day, and dyes to morrow

Looseth some dayes of joy, but yeares of sorrow…

A more interesting passage follows, in which the writer expresses his feeling that more of the good are dyin - ‘good Prince Henry’ initiated this unfortunate trend in 1612:

Aske and observe: observe with admiration,

Since good Prince Henry great hope of our nation:

Chang’d this dull kingdom for a shining crown

How many which then stood, are now falne downe

Observe not that alone but this as most,

What they have beene, which since this land hath lost.

What they were like to prove, what need may be,

Of such, in some points which this land may see…

~ the language falters, the writer hardly seems able to say outright what he really means, but the gist of it is clear enough: God is punishing the nation by taking away those the nation needs. There’s some political point at the back of this, one suspects. He continues - and in the following lines his own consolations, as offered earlier in the elegy, are now rejected

Happy those soules (per’anter some may say)

Whose happy lott was first to flie away:

I say not so, I wish it were not so,

Sorrow and griefe may utter too much woe…

Again, he seems disconcerted to be out on a limb like this, and apologetically offers his theory as to what is going on. The hand of God is in these deaths, and that means the worst, God’s anger (he hopes he is wrong):

But sure I am, Gods scourges there are shaken

Whence in short time so many good are taken

And yet it may be I doe err in this,

I thinke I may and pray my feares may misse…

William Crashaw’s little volume in tribute to his beloved young wife, who so cruelly lost her life in delivering one, ends with words assigned to her from the here-beyond, and a return of the usual consolation. It’s in three distiches:

‘HER Answere to them all.’

It is not I that dye, I doe but leave an Inne,

Where harbored was with me, against my will, much sinne:

It is not I that dye, I doe but now begin,

Into aeternal life by death to enter in.

Why mourne you then for me deere Husband, friends and kin

Lament you when I lose, why weepe you, when I win.

Even so, all was not well with this little community of the godly. James Ussher, soon to be made a bishop by the King, had preached at the funeral taking a text from the first book of Samuel, chapter 4 (his text was verse 20, but the context would have been important and understood):

17And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken.

18And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.

19And his daughter in law, Phinehas' wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.

20And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it.

21And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken…

The text chosen was perhaps gloomy enough to have been offensive in anyone else but a revered scholar-cleric, though the godly present in such large numbers at the funeral (“At which Sermon and Funerall was present one of the greatest Assemblies that was ever seene in mans memorie at the burial of any private person. This Text, His Sermon, and that Spectacle, made many a heavy heart, and such a Churchfull of weeping eyes as have beene seldome seen”) would have known their Bibles well enough to understand beyond the text its general context, the lament that ‘the glory is departed’.

I am fairly sure that one could now guess the name of the posthumous child: it would surely have been ‘Ichabod Crashaw’.

Friday, November 26, 2010

By hippopotamus across the Irish sea: Francis Kynaston's 'Leoline and Sydanis'

My tutor back at college was C. F. Williamson, and he has come back into my mind this week, for I recall that Colin wrote his doctoral thesis on Sir Francis Kynaston, whose Leoline and Sydanis, a romance of the amorous adventures of princes (1642) I have been reading at odd moments.

This rather pleasingly silly verse romance was published by Kynaston in the year he died: he half apologises that “being old and stricken in yeares, [he] doth write of love and such idle devices; he entring into his second, and worst childhood may of course be excused.”

What is it like? In the first place, it’s like a daft Caroline theatre romance cast in verse: princes in love, worries about honour and reputation, magic by a ligatory point to make the male prince incapable of sex on his wedding night, nocturnal consultations with druids, girls dressed as page boys, a masque (described at length by someone who had clearly seen them performed), a bed trick, a very creaky dea ex machine.

As a piece of verse writing, it is in places so indebted to Marlowe’s ‘Hero and Leander’ as to suggest an older writer’s affectionate tribute to the poet he had enjoyed most. The manner of narrative is Spenserian, a Spenser without the allegory, but the characters travel from place to place, and spend a lot of time in ‘Erinland’. Kynaston describes his poeticized Ireland with every sign of having read up on the early Irish in commentators like Spenser (?) and Campion.

It is what 19th century critics would have called a ‘rather warm’ work, with an enthusiastic account of sex, and of sexual impairment miraculously lifted. The narrative leaps into bed with its protagonists, and describes the action. Prince Leoline, his manhood restored after a piece of malificium versus hanc has been lifted, comes nine times aloft on Sydanis, who has bed-tricked her way there. The detail slips over from a satyr in Spenser: something only to be expected in a satyr perhaps looks a little indecorous in the Prince. Nine times is hardly easy nonchalance, is it?

Another nostalgia, alongside that for Elizabethan authors and the desire for former potency, is for Queen Elizabeth herself, whose ‘pacification’ of ‘Erinland’ is brought in as a prophecy: an Irish princess, Mellefant, is all set to marry the British Leoline and be in at the start of Tudor ancestry. She tells her new British suitor that:

it is foretold in prophesies,
Who writ on barkes of trees, a mayden Queene
Hereafter Erinland shall civilize,
And quite suppresse those Salvage rites have beene
Amongst us, as they never had beene seene:
This Queene must of the Brittish bloud descend,
Whose fame unto the worlds poles shall extend...

But Kynaston has to drop this: the match simply cannot go ahead, for the Prince has so resoundingly consummated his previously frustrated marriage to the bed-tricking Princess Sydanis, that he is already married beyond alteration.

Another thing impedes Leoline’s Irish match. At the end of his memorable night with the woman he thinks is Mellefant, he gives her a light-emitting ring, which Sydanis rather thoughtlessly (has she not read this kind of plot?) hands on to her Irish rival. Leoline has seen the ring on Mellefant’s finger, and they are both keen to marry. However, they mistime their request to her father, mistime it in a way that is obviously important to Kynaston:

But their designe they brought to no effect,
Being commenc't in an unlucky houre,
No planet being in his course direct,
And Saturne who his children doth devour
From his Northeast darke Adamantine tower
Beheld the waining Moone and retrograde,
A time unfit for such affaires had made.

They should have made election of a day
Was fortunate, and fit to speake with Kings,
When the Kings planet, Sol's propitious ray,
Who great affaires to a wisht period brings,
And is predominant in all such things;
When Iupiter aspecting with the Trine,
His daughter Venus did benignly shine.

This was the cause proceeding from above,
Which Clerks do call inevitable fate
That was the hindrance of these Princes love,
And made them in their Suit unfortunate…

Poor astrology lets them down. I have never read a verse narrative so insistent upon the role of the planets and the stars. The two are chidden for not having made ‘election’ of a fortunate day. This is astrology urged without hesitation. (I think of Samuel Jeake, who will claim in his diaries not to have made elections of fortunate days when he sets off from Rye on his business ventures. He clearly did make elections, but obviously thought it proper to disavow having done so, even in a private diary.) The ODNB life of Kynaston says that at the academy, the Musaeum Minervae, which he founded at his Covent Garden house, ‘sons of peers and gentlemen’ were to learn, among many other things “law, antiquities, coins and medals, husbandry, anatomy, physiology and ‘physic’, astronomy…” – ‘astronomy’ clearly meant ‘astrology’, if this poem is any index to the priorities of its author.

But here’s some sample passages. Leoline’s wedding night debacle:

… woe is me: the damned hellish spite
Was first discern'd upon the wedding night.

But though the Prince enjoy'd all sweets of sence,
Her rosie lips, which with sweet dew did melt,
And suckt her breath, sweet as their quintessence,
Which like to Aromaticke Incense smelt,
Though he her dainty virgin beauties felt,
Embracing of soft Ivory and warme snow,
Arriv'd at her Hesperides below:

Though Venus in Loves wars hath domination,
Sworne enemy to every Maidenhead,
And Soveraigne of the acts of generation,
Whose skirmishes are fought in the field bed,
Although her sonne a troupe of Cupids led;
Yet thus much had the dismall charme effected,
As Venus standard might not be erected.

Leoline’s apologies are probably the best eloquence ever assigned to a man in such a trying situation:

… you still shall finde,
There is no want of love in me, no more
Than want of beauty in your heavenly minde,
Which I religiously shall still adore:
And though I as a husband lov'd before,
I'le turn Platonick lover, and admire
Your vertues height, to which none can aspire.

With sighes, and such like words, these Princes spent
The wearisome and tedious night away;
Prince Leoline by this his complement,
T'excuse his want of Manhood did assay…

Pretty though this is, it isn’t good enough for the disconcerted Sydanis, who tells her nurse as soon as possible. The nurse is horrified that things have gone wrong. Kynaston explains that back in those days, a full display of the wedding sheets was expected:

… the ancient Brittons then did use,
When any Bridegroome did a maiden wed,
A custome they received from the Jews,
To bring some linnens of the Bridall bed,
To witnesse she had lost her maiden head,
Without which testimony there was none
Beleev'd to be a Virgin, although one.

They are unable to decide what to do. No crisis occurs until the second encounter between the two. The nurse has rushed off to the local druid for a potion to aid potency. But Leoline is a dismal flop again, and his blushing bride doesn’t feel that she can say exactly what kind of remedy she has to hand, but rather more decorously suggests that they commit suicide (and she has just the thing). The prince is too preoccupied to listen properly, but gulps it down anyway because he is in need of a stiff one, and promptly falls down apparently dead. The druid had a long-held grudge against his father, and supplied a potion that’s the very opposite of a pick you up:

‘Here is a drink, which if you please to tast
And drink to me, your pledge shall be my last.’

Prince Leoline with sighs and sorrow dry,
Onely to quench his thirst with it did thinke:
But having drunke it, he immediatly,
(Such was the force of the enchanted drinke)
As one starke dead into his bed did sinke…

So begins their long separation. Here’s the multiple climax of the bed trick, which occurs over in Ireland. By this point, Leoline has found the drowned body of the jealous French courtier who had enchanted him, and retrieved from the corpse his own wedding favour, a ‘point’ which had been tied in the ligatory knot. With this restitution, the charm breaks, and Leoline is full of vim. He thinks he’s in bed with the Irish princess. Sydanis sets all this up (though she is referred to here under the alias she chooses as page boy, Amanthis). When she takes the other woman’s place, she finds Leoline a very different man, disconcertingly so:

… in her smocke and a furr'd-mantle hies
To Leolines bed-chamber, where in sted
Of Mellefant , she goes to him to bed.

No sooner did they touch each others skin,
And she was in his fragrant bosom lay'd,
But that the prince loves on-set did begin,
And in his wars the valiant Champion play'd:
What faint resistance a young silly mayd
Could make, unto his force, did quickly yeeld;
Some bloud was lost, although he won the field.

For no hot French-man, nor high Tuscan bloud,
Whose panting veines do swell with lively heat,
In Venus breach more stoutly ever stood,
Or on her drum did more alarums beat,
But Cupid at the last sounds a retreat:
Amanthis at his mercy now doth ly,
Thinking what kinde of death she was to dy.

But she must now endure no other death,
For standing mute, but either must be prest,
Or smothering kisses so should stop her breath,
As that Loves flames enclos'd within her brest,
Should burne the more, the more they were supprest,
And so she as Loves Martyr should expire,
Or Phoenix -like, consume in her owne fire.

These pleasant kinde of deaths Amanthis oft
And willingly did suffer e're 'twas day,
Nine times the lusty Prince did come aloft …

This must have been rather raunchy for the tastes of 1642. Kynaston was writing to please himself, and recollecting The Faerie Queene, where it is a satyr who can perform like this (to the horror of Malbecco):

At night, when all they went to sleepe, he vewd,
Whereas his lovely wife emongst them lay,
Embraced of a Satyre rough and rude,
Who all the night did minde his joyous play:
Nine times he heard him come aloft ere day…

Kynaston has to work hard to round off his narrative. Sydanis has told so many lies that she finds she can’t proceed without hitting new problems. In a last desperate throw, she appears as a fairy at Leoline’s bedside, and explains that she, a fairy who looks just like Sydanis, spent the night with him, not the Irish princess. He must haste back to England. By other contrivances, Kynaston gets his characters back there, for a magical denouement assisted by both the goddess Cynthia and the druid. It’s all a mess, his relief at reaching the end is obvious.

As for those hippopotami, Sydanis is sent over to 'Erinland' by the druid, who summons up 'Amphitrite the great queen of seas' to do the ferrying: 'her robes were of Sea green / Her coach four Hippopotomi did draw'.

Altogether, a strange piece of work, full of magic, astrology – and sex. (I did mention all the sex, didn’t I?)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Richard Carpenter, Bastille prisoner, apostate, dramatist

I have been reading, with bemused gratification, some of the writings of Richard Carpenter. What a discovery he is! There are, after all, not many 17th century Englishmen who could publish a book with an image incorporated into their frontispiece of the author being ordained priest by the Pope, but there it is in Carpenter. And the author of the ODNB life says that the other title page illustrated here includes an inset image of Carpenter engaged in a vomiting contest with the devil. (I have waded as far as I can bear in The anabaptist, washt and washt, and shrunk in the washing, or, A scolasticall discussion on the much-agitated controversie concerning infant baptism (1653), and can’t actually confirm that it is meant to be him, though the other writings overflow with images of purging, vomiting and excreting.)

So many of these mid 17th century men seem deranged, equipped with a learning that gave them no useful purchase upon their experience, rather running them into the confusion of having their convictions founded on ferociously argued interpretations of the Bible, which could so easily collide with contrary fanaticisms based on that same endlessly re-interpretable text. Carpenter swapped sides between Catholic and Protestant over and over again, alternating spells of vitriolic anti-Catholicism with acceptance of Rome and its teachings. He tries to represent his course as having some consistency (“I may have misplac’d and miscenter’d an Action, but in the substance I have been quadrate with Truth”, as he all too typically puts it), while shouting down opponents he had stood shoulder to shoulder with no great time beforehand. He readily associates his enemies with diabolic possession (both his Protestant independent antagonist Tombs, in the preface to The Anabaptist washt and washt, and the Jesuits in his autobiographical play, A new play call'd The Pragmatical Jesuit new-leven'd a comedy, while himself manifesting (at least in his writings) a delirium of pukings, contortions, revilings and glossolalic learning.

Reading him can be astonishing, and it’s all the more interesting because in what is possibly the one sympathetic moment in the writings (at least, as far as I have found), Carpenter gives a remarkable account of what happened to his mind. It’s in his play, where he represents himself as ‘Aristotle Junior’. Carpenter, then Catholic, had fallen out with the English Benedictines and Jesuits in Paris, and they threw him into the Bastille. The first of the paragraphs cited below describes what this did to his body, the second what happened to his mind:

“O Torment! The pangs of Death cannot be more grievous: and my pangs are notoriously more grievous to me than the pangs of Death, because mine are continual. The whole Fabrick of my body is so stifned and benum’d with cold, so bruis’d and sor’d with the hardnesse of the rocky ground, that I cannot use a limb without excessive pain, and shaking of the whole frame. They have detain’d me here in the Bastille the space of fifteen Weeks, without Bed, Covering, Cap, Wastcoate, Shirt, or other Linnen, (the French, my Executioners, rob’d me of all,) without Chair, Stoole, Table, Fire, Candle, Water, Knife, Spoone; without any succour for the necessities of nature, further than the floor of this close and dark Dungeon or Cave where I lye: and by a little peeping-hole I have discover’d a Sentinel continually standing with his Musket, to receive me, if I should appear in the least part of me. Dare these blessed-nam’d Benedictines ever professe, that they are flesh and blood?

O dear England! I have been so long watching and waking, that neither my fancy nor eyes perform faithfull service to my understanding. It seems to me, that I see strange things, Pigmies, Giants, strange Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, Monsters. All extraordinary stories that I have read or heard of, shew themselves to me, besides portents and prodigies. I hear whatsoever my fancy delivers to be said. I dream that I sleep, sometimes bedded in Snow, sometimes in the Waters, in the Field sometimes, where I am pelted with hail.”

Suffering sensory deprivation, all Carpenter’s prior reading came back to him as hallucinations. This is the writer of his subsequent works, where you never know what will press next into his mind, and seem to it portentous and relevant: how angels teach one another, how to clean pearls by getting a dove to swallow and then void them, the problems of uprooting ‘devil’s bit’ (scabious), a magician who ate (Faustus-like) a cart full of hay, but then the cart, and the horses, how alchemists transform things, all about the cardinal’s parrot which could recite the Latin creed, how Cardinal Borromeo always and only read scripture when kneeling.

All these oddities occur in a context where not longer being a Catholic enables him to say more for the Catholics than he could say when he was one: ‘Rome, I honour thee in thy truths’, ‘Many millions of Papists are saved’ (and, he avers, this is ‘generally believed in England’). ‘I never was a Jesuit’, he interpolates anxiously – a man has to draw a line somewhere, after all.

Carpenter found himself in 1657 giving to the Learned Society of Astrologers their annual sermon. It’s the kind of divide-straddling position Carpenter would end up in (most clergymen opposed astrology). But his rhetoric betrays his radical instability: in a flourish taken from the Song of Songs, and carried away, Carpenter urges the ‘learned Children of Seth’: “Wound ye the heart of Christ day and night, with your excellent works”. Surely they must have heard that with some surprise and uneasiness? (‘Which side is he on?’, they might have whispered to one another).

So, in 1665, Carpenter published an autobiographical play, in the manner of Thomas Killigrew’s Thomaso (with its gallant reminiscences of exiled cavaliers slashing the faces of Spanish prostitutes). Are there any more of these things, I wonder? Closet dramas deployed for autobiography, before autobiography itself came along?

It starts with great promise: an actor enters to speak the Prologue, bearing a urinal:

This I freely say,
The Poet’s Water 'tis that made the Play…

It ends with Lucifer, who has spent most of the play disguised as the ‘pragmatical Jesuit’, vomiting up and voiding a little Jesuit and a little monk: “Noise of straining” says the climatic stage direction. The uneven course it pursues in between sets off as quite like an allegorical play, but it runs increasingly into personal diatribes, and the naming of historically real people as his enemies and tormentors.

Cornelius Agrippa, the mage, opens the play, compelling Lucifer to “Discover here theatrically, the most deepbottom’d and profound contrivances, by which thou dost amuse, imperil, ensnare the world, and involve it in thy dragonish tayl.” At the end of the action, Lucifer fails to claim Agrippa’s soul, but rather inconsistently succumbs to an exorcism which purges him in the dramatic way I have just mentioned.

Carpenter puts his own awful experiences into the play, with a fervent word of warning:

“O ye Scholars of our most renowned Universities, set bounds to your feet, and limits to your Thoughts: I was my Fathers eldest Son, and Heir to a comfortable Estate of Houses and Lands; and I threw all behinde me, to be cheated, most religiously cheated by secular Priests, Jesuites, Monks, Friers…”

He depicts himself as drawn abroad by his early religious convictions, but finding only “the beggery of Spain, the buggery of Italy, Spain, and France”. As for the Catholic faith which drew him abroad, he compulsively picks holes in the miracles to which he is connivingly exposed. A purported feather from an archangel’s wing he confidently identifies as “a Feather from a West-Indian Bird”. An image that speaks to him (“Image. ‘Chrissime fili mi, Crede.’) he discovers to be hollow, this astuteness so impressing the Jesuit operator, that the total falsity of diabolic possessions is willingly laid bare to him (while the higher cause served by these contrivances still remains valid). Later, his particular bête noire is seen coaching two purported diabolics:

“Father Robert. Ye are both apt Scholars. But you, Boy, must learn to open your mouth wider, when the fit's upon you.

Boy. I open it as wide as I can, good Father.

Rob. Take this Apple, and extend your mouth to the wideness of the Apple: 'Tis of a fit bigness. And you, Woman, when you act the possest person, do not stare enough: your eyes must always be rounded into a larger Circle, but then especially. And if any be immodest towards you, you must not take notice of it, at such a time, but rather shew willingness, because the Devil, under whose power you are then conceiv'd to groan and lie gravell'd, is delighted with wantonness.”

Aristotle Junior’s (Carpenter’s) two years in the Bastille are recounted, in full detail: “In two years I had not the benefit of a fresh Shirt …Another French Prisoner wearied me oftentimes, with desiring me that he might use my body Sodomitically.” There follows his escape: he got himself released from the Bastille by seeming to come over to his captors’ way of seeing things, took flight to Dieppe, and just got away across the channel with some timely local assistance:

“I consented in the lip: Afterwards pleading that my Body was greatly disorder’d in respect of health, desir’d a few dayes wherein to physick it (I meant with a better Air;) and in that little Tract of Time wherein it was supposed I took Physick, hasted privately to Diep, a Port-Town in France …the Hugonots of Diep past me over the night following.”

With his dodgy past, Carpenter set out to recommend himself in England with large stories of the fearsome scope of Jesuit activities and resources: he asserts that they have transport, money, and safe houses:

“we of the English Society, have a Ship that trades betwixt London and Flanders; in the which we continually receive and return the best Goods at the best advantage: and we in these parts, receive ten thousand Pounds in ready coyn every year out of England.

Lucifer: In this Tropick of things, I have seated the Provincial of our Society here with his Council, in a Noble House near to London-Wall; whence they dispatch every day the most nimble-witted Members of our Society, into the Conventicles, and Army. When the people are pull'd up by the root from Religion, they must needs fall back upon ours.”

The threat to England, is (of course) urgent: the Jesuits are all here, and hard at work: “In all their Houses in those transmarine parts, there are none left but boyes and old Men; hither they are all come.”

That, despite all this, Anthony Wood reported that Carpenter died apparently reconciled to Rome seems all of a piece: “an impudent, fantastical man that changed his mind with his cloaths” and a “theological mountebank”.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Shakespearean or early modern pumpkin

For a malapropism:

Clown. …for mine own part, I am (as they say, but to perfect one man in one poor man) Pompion the great sir.

Berowne. Art thou one of the Worthies?

Or, of course, for rotundity:

Or ‘We’ll use this unwholsome humidity, this gross-watery Pumpion’

Merry Wives of Windsor III. iii. 38

For all kinds of jokes:

The Welsh-man purchased the Pompion for the Mare’s Egg and got never a Colt from it” (Richard Boulton, Richard, A letter to Dr. Charles Goodall (1699)

In cookery:

“Why a piece of Pompion being put into a Pot wherein Flesh is boyling, makes the same tender. A piece of Pompion put into a Pot in which Flesh is boyling, doth make the same more tender than ordinary.

The Reason is, because the Pompion abounds with strong Spirits, and a sowrish Juice: Now it is manifest that all sowr things are endued with a resolving virtue, which daily experience shews us concerning Vinegar. And PLINY assures the same concerning sharp pointed Docks, viz. that being boyld with Flesh, it makes it more soft and tender; because its sharp and corroding quality doth dissolve the Texture of the Fibres.

~ A worthwhile tip, and from no less a source than An entire body of philosophy according to the principles of the famous Renate Des Cartes in three books, 1694.

And of course for carving. Assembling this little collection took me to The Essex champion, or, The famous history of Sir Billy of Billerecay and his Squire Ricardo (1699), which is a piece of sub-Quixote buffoonery by William Winstanley. Sir Billy having taken to delusions of knight-errantry and picaresque chivalry, an Innkeeper induces a groom to try to frighten their credulous guest. The groom dresses in a bear’s skin, and carries “on his shoulder a lighted Candle in the Rinde of a Pompion, cut out with the resemblance of Nose, Eyes, and Mouth, it looked most dreadfully.” But Billerecay Billy summons his resolution, and smites him hard enough to split the pumpkin and extinguish the candle. The groom thinks the cracking noise was his own skull, and flees, leaving Billy convinced that he has vanquished the devil.

Or the OED gave me W Kenrick, Falstaff's Wedding (1760): “Hast thou never seen a pumpion, fantastically carv'd and set over a candle's-end, on a gate-post, to frighten ale-wives from gossiping by owl-light?” But that's out of my period. That's my pumpkin for tomorrow, the gourd of Avon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"I'll burn my books!" - John Allen, stationer, does just that, 1657.

John Allen's Printer's Mark. In some printing jobs, he collaborated with Richard Noon, whose sign was the seven stars.

I have been looking at the case of the printer John Allen, author of Judicial astrologers totally routed, and their pretence to Scripture, reason & experience briefly, yet clearly and fully answered, or, A brief discourse, wherein is clearly manifested that divining by the stars hath no solid foundation ... published by J.A. for publick good, Printed for John Allen (1659).

This is very typical anti-astrological writing: haggling over the Bible texts they always cited for and against astrology (like Jeremiah 10, 2), busily explaining away Daniel in the Book of Daniel as something completely different from the Chaldeans also consulted by Nebuchadnezzar.

Allen, a man rooted in the book trade, knowledgably deplores William Lilly’s massive sales: that his almanacs sold 30,000 copies a year, and Allen imagines the problem likely to be caused if all these diabolically deluded readers of astrology, morally awakened, burned all these almanacs. He does indeed appear generally interested in book burning: he cites approvingly Acts 19, 19 “Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men”. Nor is he very far off from recommending the burning of astrologers, but he settles, as the witch-hunters sometimes reluctantly did, for hanging, after the provisions of the 1604 statute against witchcraft.

Like many of these denunciations of astrology, Allen’s work is particularly interested in the converts, those who did practice the art, and then recanted of it: ‘holy Master [William] Perkins’, and the much cited case of Henry Briggs, ‘Geometry-reader at Oxford’ (the Savile professor of Mathematics, who produced tables of logarithms):

“… Mr. Briggs left that study. Yea, he affirmed that he would undertake to the skilfullest Astrologer in the world, that let him set down any conclusion touching either man or State, yea, or weather, and he would prove that it would fall out so, and that it would not fall out so, from their own Rules and Principles: He said also that his opinion was, that they that addicted themselves to the practise of divining Astrology, the Devil did at first lend his secret assistance, and at length by degrees, if God prevented not, entice them into a contract.”

 The first part of this does sound quite plausibly what a professor of mathematics might have said: that astrology has just too many variables. But when Allen claims that the Savile Professor of Mathematics came to believe the study of astrology led on to a diabolic pact, we might suspect some editorializing, in line with his own approval of drastic measures.

What’s behind all this becomes apparent in the second edition of the work, as put out by Allen ‘for publick good’. I imagine he might have been giving copies away, and hence the rapid second printing of an unremarkable book, which he’d have had done in house, ‘The Rising Sun in Paul’s Churchyard’. For we arrive at confession time:

“The former Part of this Book finding a general acceptation with the Judicious, (and Gods wonderful deliverance of me from so great a snare, when I was for many years a Student in this abominable practice of Judicial Astrology)…”

For this is the same John Allen who had published John Gadbury’s Coelestis Legatus: OR, The Coelestial Ambassadour Astrologically Predicting the Grand catastrophe that is probable to befall most of the Kingdoms and Countries of Europe in 1656, Magia Adamica (in the same year), and Astrology proved Harmless, useful, Pious – the wildly unstable Richard’s Carpenter’s sermon to the Society of Astrologers,  1657.

What happened to John Allen is amusingly told in a pro-astrological pamphlet of 1660, A brief answer to six syllogistical arguments brought by Mr. Clark, minister of Bennet-Finck, London: against astrologers, and astrologie, London : Printed for Samuel Speed, at the sign of the Printing-Press in Pauls Church-yard, 1660.

“This is the nativity of Mr John Allen, Stationer, as himself hath made it known to several: it was rectified by diverse eminent Accidents; from which I shall excerpt one onely, which I adjudge the greatest of all, viz. On Friday, August 21. 1657. he burnt and destroyed in printed books and Manuscripts, the worth of one hundred pounds, and upwards: in the height of this (strange) action, his Zeal (or Folly rather) wrought so furiously, that for haste to destroy his Books, he had nearly set a house of one of his Neighbours on fire. When the man came to himself, (for without question, he was then in a Frensie) he reported that several Presbyterian Ministers excited him thereunto. Whether that be true, I know not; but it is most certain, destroy his books he did: and in all probability (had not worthy and ingenious persons of his own profession, interposed their Moderation and reason) he had in the heat of his Enthusiastick Zeal, destroyed most (if not all) of his Estate."

The writer obviously knew Allen in the days before his dramatic conversion, and smugly points out that astrologers had foretold something like this happening. Nor does he miss the readily made joke about the Moon being in the ascendant when Allen performed his lunatic act:

“Now to shew Mr Allen a reason in Art for this his unhappy misfortune, (although he cannot deny but he was forewarned of it near three full years before it happened unto him) I shall take the boldness to acquaint him, that then the moon was directed to the Quartile of the Sun, and the place the direction happened in, was the ascendant…”

£100 worth of books was certainly a big bonfire: four thousand books if they were at the usual sixpence, though almanacs seem to have gone for half that. It was a big step for a stationer to make, and a decisive shift out of a market whose lucrative nature Allen knew well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Joseph Beaumont allegorises Hearing, complete with ear wax: Psyche, 1648

I have been lecturing on George Herbert, and this led me to Joseph Beaumont’s Psyche (1648 and 1651), where there is a remarkable tribute to Herbert’s poetry placed in a context which shows Beaumont to have been sensitive at some level to Herbert’s own moral difficulties about poetry (‘How wide is all this long pretence!’).
Beaumont wrote much of  Psyche during 1647 when ‘The Turbulence of these Times having deprived me of my wonted Accommodations of Study; I deliberated, For the avoiding of mere Idleness, what Task I might safeliest presume upon, without the Society of Books’. The work (as its title indicates it will be) is a psychomachia: ‘I endeavour to represent a Soul led by divine Grace, and her Guardian Angel, (in fervent Devotion,) through the difficult Temptations and Assaults of Lust, of Pride, of Heresy, of Persecution, and of Spiritual Dereliction, to a holy and happy Departure from temporal Life, to heavenly Felicity.
Beaumont's dedication of his work!

Psyche sounds heavy work, then, but it actually goes rapidly along. As the soul, Psyche is female, and in Canto II undergoes a trauma of temptation nearly yielded to: she goes into a grove, where her conscience falls asleep, and she is assailed by a boar charging straight out of Venus and Adonis, then is rescued into greater danger by Aphrodisias, who seems close to the hyper-verbal wooer in Shakespeare’s A Lover’s Complaint. He lays on thick a tale of her being his destined love, and of offers he has refused in anticipatory fidelity to meeting her at last:
So spake the glorious Impostor; and
Granting commission by a graceful kiss
To his own snowy yet lust-burning hand,
Sent it to treat with Psyche's , and to press
With feeling eloquence that Project He
Hop’d would conclude in tactile villainy …

(What a cad!). Psyche is wavering badly. The boar’s tusk has already torn through her ‘dainty gown’, and she’s unduly receptive: ‘Forgetful Psyche now inchanted quite / By these harmonious Wiles, set ope her breast / To the loose fancies of unclean Delight”, to the extent that she is about to yield to sex before marriage (‘We did wed above’, Aphrodisias has alleged, so they have no need for ‘human ceremonies’) when her conscience wakes up, and she runs home to repent.

Of course Beaumont could not easily have depicted a male soul. But it is remarkable how fervently this celibate Cambridge don throws himself into the assault of the male seducer upon the soul, whose female nature, via the connection with Adonis, can so readily suggest the maidenly male.

Seduction is a very male, and very literary business. Aphrodisias has all the skills of amatory literature: “with no less success
/ I tun’d my heart to those soul-conquring Charms / Which flourish in smooth Numbers”, he boasts.

After this early trauma, Psyche turns very devout indeed, and by Canto IV, ‘The Rebellion’, the senses have had enough of her austerity:

A knot of friends with Her together born,
And brought up under one soft roof of skin,
Began to stomach that imagin’d Scorn,
She heap’d on them…
First, Opsis, sight, speaks of the joys she could offer, and complains of the way she is disregarded
“To some sad blurrèd Prayerbook she ties
My cheerly Spotless sight; or forceth me
To stare so long on th’unregarding skies,
That with dull seeing I forget to see…”
We are very much in Spenser’s Castle of Alma. The interesting part comes when hearing takes over:
She (Opsis) ending thus; impatient Acoe,
Who thought her Sister’s Speech by all too long,
Step’d back into their common Treasury
Kept by Anamnesis, (where lay the throng
Of their ideal wealth,) and bade her make
Ready her Train, whilst she its Prologue spake.

Beaumont is far more anatomical than Spenser ever tried to be: here’s the dwelling of Acoe, complete with ear-wax:

My House is secret; cautious winding ways
And privy galleries into it lead:
By which abstruse state I my glory raise
 …. The outward room’s oblique, that violent Sounds
May manners learn, and not rush in too fast;
And narrow, to protect my private bounds,
Which by no stealing Vermin must be past.
Yet if they venture, I have lime-twigs there
To check their rashness, trusty Wax and Hair.

And at this Chamber’s end is plac’d my Drum
Made of a Parchment soft and thin and dry,
And ready-corded. But the second Room
Is of my active Tools the treasury:
My Hammer's and my Anvil’s dwelling’s there,
By which I forge all Sounds I please to hear.

As you’d expect, Acoe summons up the best things you could hear: oratory comes first, then music, with all of ‘Music’s Utensils’ …. the Harp, the Lute,
The Organ (moderator of all Songs)
The Viol, Cymbal, Sackbut, Cornet, Flute,
The Harpsichord, Theorbo and Bandore,
The gallant Trumpet, and a thousand more.

But things complicate further when King David appears, as an introduction to poetry. It begins to seem as though Acoe may have a point, and Psyche’s austerities may be wrong. Beaumont, who seems at this point to have taken over entirely from Acoe, mentions Pindar, and Horace, then, in a parenthetical stanza, the poetry of Herbert:

(Yet neither of their Empires was so vast
But they left Herbert too, full room to reign;
Who Lyric’s pure and precious Metal cast
In holier moulds, and nobly durst maintain
Devotion in Verse, whilst by the spheres
He tunes his Lute, and plays to heav’nly ears.)

He continues (considering his own level of indebtedness) with a rather ungrateful mention of Spenser:

Yet with a goodly Train doth Colin sweep:
Though manacled in thick and peevish Rhyme,
A decent pace his painful Verse doth keep:
Right fairly dress’d were his wellfeatur’d Queen,
Did not her Mask too much her beauties screen.

He goes on to praise the verse of his friend Richard Crashaw, by this time in exile:

those polish’d Temple Steps, which now
Stand as the Ladder to thy mounting fame;
And, spight of all thy Travels, make’t appear
Th’art more in England than when Thou wert here.

After the writers he approves of, the allegorical context returns with the dismissive mention of merely amatory poets:

Some distance thence, in flow’ry wanton groves
Luxurious Amorosos sate, who by
The thrilling Key of Sports and Smiles and Loves
Effeminated their quaint Melody.
Nimble Theocritus and Naso were
The leading Lords of all that revel'd there.

Acoe concludes mournfully:

‘This vocal Honey, and much more than this
She cry’d, ‘to court and solace Psyche, I
Would gladly drop: but she so sullen is
That what makes all Rocks move and Tempests rest,
In foul disdain she in my face doth cast.
‘She talks indeed of glorious Melody,
Seraphic and Cherubic Anthems : yet
What faith can flame with so much Charity
As to believe the holy Hypocrite…’

It’s all a bit like Satan offering Christ the pleasures of learning in Paradise Regained. Beaumont clearly thinks that he can mark out heavenly poetry from that of ‘Amorosos’. Even so, Psyche thinks she can hear a still superior poetry, and the poem partly endorses this, by indicating that the pains Psyche inflicts upon herself lead to higher (if rather masochistic sounding) pleasures:

For whilst all-ravish’d Psyche, feasts her heart
With amorous sighs and pains, and day by day
Riots and surfeits in delicious smart,
Which relish sweeter to her Soul …
Is Herbert in or out, is Psyche right, or Acoe / Beaumont? It seems to follow Herbert’s own scruples about even the most conscientious religious poetry: aren’t there simpler, yet higher, acts of worship?
The ‘rebellion’ of the senses continues. Osphresis and Geusis follows, the smell and the taste, the latter given a terrific list of the smorgasbord of animal life consumed in this period, while Touch is so rousing that even the other senses are shocked into disapproval:

Soft Ticklings, Courtings, Kisses, Dalliance,
Embraces which no modest Muse must tell;
For all the Company at their first glance
Started and turn’d from that bold spectacle.
Which Haphe marking, insolently cries,
‘Out, out on these demure Hypocrisies...

Joined by Fancy with the Passions, the senses all fall out with one another over leadership, until Disdain chosen as leader. Psyche sends Logos to negotiate, and offer pardons to all those who surrender now. But Logos is subdued and bound, and then the next emissary, Thelema, the will, is subverted. When this happens, Psyche herself wavers once more.

The politics of all this are clear up to a point: it’s a rebellion in the microcosm, and allows Beaumont to talk about rebellion in the larger world. He intrudes into his narrative to do so:

And here I challenge any heart to read
This story’s riddles, and forbear to sigh;
Seeing servile feet tread down the noble Head,
And common Slaves with tyrannous Licence fly
Upon their Lord: O who secure can be,
When Reason must be bound, and Passion free!

But in the larger rebellion, it was the royalist side that had all the followers of the senses and the passions: the psyche of the nation was assailed by austere Puritanism. Beaumont, as poet, is drawn to the side of the rebel senses, he can’t give as much imaginative life to Psyche’s austerities as he did to the pleasures which assail her. But he counted upon his reader, and had apologized in advance for any departures from sound doctrine:
“I will venture to cast my self upon thy Ingenuity, with this only Protestation, that If any thing throughout this whole Poem, happen [against my intention] to prove Discord to the Consent of Christ’s Catholic Church, I here Recant it aforehand.”

My main image is the sumptuous allegory of hearing by Jan Breughel the Elder, working in the studio of Rubens in 1618.