Sunday, January 24, 2010

Death rather than voluntary self-pollution: Joseph Hall on moral matters

Joseph Hall, 1574-1656, is one of those figures who really might feature more than he does in our sense of late 16th and early to middle 17th century literature and culture. Pioneer verse satirist, literary forerunner to Swift’s Gulliver in his Mundus Alter et Idem, writer of Theophrastan characters, and then antagonist of Milton over both the church and divorce, Hall perhaps lived too long, and wrote too much, while undertaking just too many kinds of writing.

I have been looking at his Cases of Conscience (1654), a reprint of his Resolvtions and decisions of divers practicall cases of conscience (1650). It is one of the scores, nearly hundreds of books of casuistry on EEBO, though one of the more readable: it concerns itself with practical examples throughout, rather having the occasional ‘example’ thrown into a long classification of kinds of conscience. Hall is, up to a point, a kind of mid 17th century A. C. Grayling, trying to arrive at what one might best think about real issues. Of course, Hall was a bishop rather than a philosopher, and completely lacks Grayling’s refreshingly brusque skepticism, so his investigations of moral dilemmas tend to halt abruptly when he has can produce what he thinks is the relevant Bible text. Discussion simply ends there; it’s the word of God, you obey it.

The Cases of Conscience therefore tend to come out as a series of ‘No!’ and ‘No, of course you may not’ answers to dilemmas. Of course you may not commit suicide, of course you cannot divorce and remarry if your marriage has broken down, of course you may not procure an abortion. Hall’s more interesting scruples come as he pursues these easy outcomes into their more difficult possibilities. As suicide is so unthinkable, he does seem to suggest that anyone with a proper conscience ought perhaps to resist at the point of execution: “indeede it may as well be disputed, whether a man condemned to dye by the Axe, may quietly lay downe his head upon the Block; and not, but upon force, yeild to that fatall stroke”. On the other hand, Hall was also a regular worshipper of secular authority in that early modern way, so if you have been condemned to death, and have the chance to escape (and inconsistent as it may seem with Hall’s view of suicide), properly you ought to forgo any such chance:

“I cannot but conclude, that whatsoever nature suggests to a man, to work for his owne life or liberty, when it is forfeited to Justice, yet that it is meet and commendable in a true penitent, when he findes the doome of death or perpetuall durance justly passed upon him, humbly to submit to the sentence; and not entertaine the motions and meanes of a projected evasion: but meekly to stoop unto lawfull authority.”

Abortion is an unthinkable, with no circumstances of mortal danger to the pregnant woman allowing it: “And if you tell me that the life of the mother might thus be preserved, whereas otherwise both she and all the possibilities of further conceptions are utterly lost; I must answer you with that sure and universall rule of the Apostle, That wee may not doe evill that good may come thereon, Rom. 3. 8.” Couldn’t another casuist press the case that a failure to intervene that doomed the pregnant woman was equally an evil, a decision that enforced a death? But Hall is so fixed against abortion that he produces rather approvingly a startling example of the sentiments of Monty Python’s ‘Every sperm is sacred’ song maintained as an absolute principle: Michael Verrinus would rather have died, than masturbated – Hall approves, with the message that as this is a commendable (if rather extreme) reverence for life, then the rest of us ought to be far more reverent about the life of a foetus:

“Upon this ground we know that in a further degree of remotenesse, a voluntary selfe pollution hath ever beene held to have so much guilt in it, as that Angelus Politianus reports it as the high praise of Michael Verrinus, that he would rather dye, than yeild to it: how much more when there is a further progresse made towards the perfection of humane life?”

The thinking here is primitive embryology, that of the homunculus being in the sperm. Nor will Hall make any differentiation between what he calls ‘animated’ and ‘inanimate’ fetuses (we would say ‘viable’ and ‘non-viable’), as some casuists tried to do.

Hall had run into Milton before over the ‘Smectymnuus’ controversy, and here he lets fly at one of Milton’s divorce pamphlets. He can see it was well written (Hall names neither writer nor which title, I suppose it was The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce) : he claims that he assumed that it was penned as a defence of an outrageous paradox, then slowly came to the horrified realization that Milton was actually in earnest:

“I have heard too much of, & once saw a licentious Pamphlet thrown abroad in these lawlesse times, in the defence and encouragement of Divorces (not to be sued out, that solemnity needed not, but) to be arbitrarily given by the disliking husband, to his displeasing and unquiet wife; upon this ground principally, that Marriage was instituted for the help and comfort of man; where therefore the match proves such, as that the wife doth but pull downe a side, and by her innate peevishnesse, and either sullen, or pettish and froward disposition brings rather discomfort to her husband, the end of Marriage being hereby frustrate, why should it not, saith he, be in the Husbands power (after some unprevailing means of reclamation attempted) to procure his own peace, by casting off this clog, and to provide for his own peace and contentment in a fitter Match?”

“Woe is me, To what a passe is the world come that a Christian pretending to Reformation, should dare to tender so loose a project to the publique? I must seriously profess when I first did cast my eye upon the front of the book, I supposed some great wit meant to try his skill in the maintenance of this so wild, and improbable a paradox; but ere I could have run over som of those too wel-penned pages, I found the Author was in earnest, and meant seriously to contribute this peece of good councel in way of Reformation to the wise and seasonable care of superiors; I cannot but blush for our age, wherein so bold a motion hath been amongst others, admitted to the light: what will all the Christian Churches through the world, to whose notice those lines shall come, think of our wofull degeneration in these deplored times, that so uncouth a designe should be set on foot amongst us?”

Hall’s opening to this particular discussion shows his typical limitation:

Whether Marriage lawfully made may admit of any cause of divorce, save only for the violation of the marriage bed, by Fornication or Adulterie. Our Saviour hath so punctually decided the case in his Divine Sermon upon the mount, that I cannot but wonder at the boldnesse of any man, who calls himself a Christian, that dares raise a question after so full and clear a determination from the mouth of truth it self…”

The impression so far is of 17th century English casuistry as a general laying down of the law, with what the Bible says balanced as nicely as possible with due reverence for the behaviour of secular authority. Just occasionally Hall might have made uncomfortable reading: he is pretty much firmly against colonialist ventures, though once again his Christianity becomes the weak point, the place where qualification enters. He basically feels that Christians have no right to plantation in any country with a native population (the Bermudas, “which were only peopled with Hogs and Deer, and such like bruite cattle”, would be suitable). Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, so Christians should not look to extend their rule, and to invade would be to disrupt local order and authority: “The barbarous people were lords of their owne; and have their Sagamores (he means ‘chiefs’); and orders, and formes of government under which they peaceably live, without the intermedling with other nations. Infidelity cannot forfeit their inheritance to others.”

Hall holds the line against colonisation as a morally justifiable crusade too: “Their Idolatries, and sins against nature are hainous and abhominable and such as for which God of old condemned the seven nations to an utter extirpation; But what Commission have wee for their punishment?” But in the end, the notion of propagating the gospel is too strong for him: “But an higher and more warrantable title, that we may have to deale with these barbarous Infidels, is, for the propagation of Christian Religion; and the promulgation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ amongst these miserable savages.” Even as Hall tries to expound a gentle winning over of the locals as part of this vague ‘dealing’, he slips into imagining ever stronger sanctions if they resist.

Joseph Hall was not a bad man, but his faith vitiated his morality. Christianity lowers the blade of its moral bulldozer, and everything is resolved. Hall wrote a couple of autobiographical pieces, one of which is OBSERVATIONS Of some Specialties of DIVINE PROVIDENCE In the Life of JOS. HALL, BISHOP of NORWICH, printed in The shaking of the olive-tree (1660). Here’s his ominous account of an early success with an effectual prayer against an ‘atheist’:

Having then fixed my foot at Halsted, I found there a dangerous Opposite to the Success of my Ministry, a witty and bold Atheist, one Mr. Lilly, who by reason of his Travails, and Abilities of Discourse and Behaviour, had so deeply insinuated himself into my Patron, Sir Robert Drury, that there was small hopes (during his entireness) for me to work any good upon that Noble Patron of mine; who by the suggestion of this wicked Detractor was set off from me before he knew me; Hereupon (I confess) finding the obduredness and hopeless condition of that man, I bent my prayers against him, beseeching God daily, that he would be pleased to remove by some means or other, that apparent hindrance of my faithful Labours, who gave me an answer accordingly: For this malicious man going hastily up to London, to exasperate my Patron against me, was then and there swept away by the Pestilence, and never returned to do any farther Mischief; Now the coast was clear before me…"

It would have been interesting to ask Hall whether there was any case of conscience that raised moral difficulty about prayers against one of your fellow humans. If you believed prayer to be effectual, are there any circumstances in which you might pray for the removal, or destruction, of someone who is blocking your progress, and be moral in doing so? Not even at the end of his long life, and after all his labours as casuist, had Hall come to any second thoughts about this episode. Of course he wasn’t being self-seeking: he was saving Sir Robert Drury’s soul!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Two Horatian Odes

Two ‘Horatian Odes’ after Marvell, using his famous, but surprisingly little used metre. Both poems are elegiac, about General Sherman after his death in old age, and Abraham Lincoln after his assassination. This tends to remove the inner tremor of Marvell’s poem, drawn as it is between rejoicing and misgiving at the living and very active Cromwell’s fearsome potential.

The poem by Louise Guiney is, I think, superior. The Stoddard poem is too long, isn’t quite able to overcome its own snobbery, and veers into a deplorable racism. But then maybe Stoddard, uneasy with Abraham Lincoln’s untutored genius, has more of the Marvellian weighing up.

But the interesting thing is that these are two poems in the critical heritage of Marvell, Marvell as the republican who can, like Horace before him, recognise Augustan greatness and allow it scope. Guiney seems deliberately to re-work Marvell’s opening in hers – that pleasingly quirky ‘early-armoured citizen’ is the ‘forward youth’ who rises to the moment, taking the corselet off the wall, ready for the struggle ahead. Guiney liked Sherman’s refusal of high office, and in the stanza beginning ‘Would have nor seat nor bays, nor bring / The Caesar in him to be king’ she is also thinking about Cromwell. In the quatrain from line 17, ‘In whom the Commonwealth withstood / Again the Carolinian blood’, we hover between Sherman’s campaign through Carolina, and the English Civil War.

Marvell perhaps also supplies a model for a certain slipperiness. Sherman’s recourse to, or indeed, invention of total war as he marched his armies through the south turns into the grand, carefully bland praise of ‘To conquer like a friend’, which reminds me of Marvell’s Irish implausibly affirming Cromwell’s praises best.

Guiney subscribes to the Roman model for her hero (‘A simple Roman excellence’), Stoddard has such big ideas (one suspects) about the Romans that Lincoln (‘Common his mind’) doesn’t match up (‘No hero this of Roman mould’). Stoddard’s seems to me a more Victorian poem. It moralises with an explicit reference to the Christian God ‘(God lets bad instruments / Produce the best events)’, which Marvell’s poem avoided doing in such a studied fashion. And this happens at a point where Stoddard has to correct violently after the reflections on John Wilkes Booth (‘Tyrants have fallen by such as thou’) seem to be pulling him far away from his proper theme, as his evident difficulties accepting a hero who was ‘One of the people’ surface and bring him to side for a moment with the assassin. ‘Victorian’ too is the way Stoddard poeticizes that most American of machines for Lincoln’s funeral procession, a wood-burning railway engine, into ‘the awful car!’

Guiney is more enthusiastically republican. She does go in for some of that American obsession with flags, but the sentimental note of the battle flags fading over the tomb worked well in its way.

What I cannot imagine, is Browning or Tennyson producing poems that engage as intelligently with the Marvellian mode. For this, one has to blame Queen Victoria (her existence, and England with its a compromised democracy).

Louise Imogen Guiney, ‘Sherman: An Horatian Ode’

This was the truest man of men,
The early-armored citizen,
Who had, with most of sight,
Most passion for the right;

Who first forecasting treason's scope
Able to sap the Founders' hope,
First to the laic arm
Cried ultimate alarm;

Who bent upon his guns the while
A misconceived and aching smile,
And felt, thro' havoc's part,
A torment of the heart,

Sure, when he cut the moated South
From Shiloh to Savannah's mouth,
Braved grandly to the end,
To conquer like a friend;

In whom the Commonwealth withstood
Again the Carolinian blood,
The beautiful proud line
Beneath an evil sign,

And taught his foes and doubters still
How fatal is a good man's will,
That like a sun or sod
Thinks not itself, but God!

Many the captains of our wrath
Sought thus the pious civic path,
Knowing in what a land
Their destiny was planned,

And after, with a forward sense,
A simple Roman excellence,
Pledge in their spirit bore
That war should be no more.

Thrice Roman he, who saw the shock
(Calm as a weather-wrinkled rock,)
Roll in the Georgian fen;
And steadfast aye as then

In plenitude of old control
That asked, secure of his own soul,
No pardon and no aid,
If clear his way were made,

Would have nor seat nor bays, nor bring
The Cæsar in him to be king,
But with abstracted ear
Rode pleased without a cheer.

Now he declines from peace and age,
And home, his triple heritage,
The last and dearest head
Of all our perfect dead,

O what if sorrow cannot reach
Far in the shallow fords of speech,
But leads us silent round
The sad Missouri ground,

Where on her hero Freedom lays
The scroll and blazon of her praise,
And bids to him belong
Arms trailing, and a song,

And broken flags with ruined dyes
(Bright once in young and dying eyes),
Against the morn to shake
For love's familiar sake?

The blessèd broken flags unfurled
Above a healed and happier world!
There let them droop, and be
His tent of victory;

There, in each year's auguster light,
Lean in, and loose their red and white,
Like apple-blossoms strewn
Upon his burial-stone.

For nothing more, the ages thro',
Can nature or the nation do
For him who helped retrieve
Our life, as we believe,

Save that we also, trooping by
In sound yet of his battle-cry,
Safeguard with general mind
Our pact as brothers kind,

And, ever nearer to our star,
Adore indeed not what we are,
But wise reprovings hold
Thankworthier than gold;

And bear in faith and rapture such
As can eternal issues touch,
Whole from the final field,
Our father Sherman's shield.

Richard Henry Stoddard,

Not as when some great Captain falls
In battle, where his Country calls,
Beyond the struggling lines
That push his dread designs

To doom, by some stray ball struck dead:
Or, in the last charge, at the head
Of his determined men,
Who must be victors then.

Nor as when sink the civic great,
The safer pillars of the State,
Whose calm, mature, wise words
Suppress the need of swords.

With no such tears as e'er were shed
Above the noblest of our dead
Do we to-day deplore
The Man that is no more.

Our sorrow hath a wider scope,
Too strange for fear, too vast for hope,
A wonder, blind and dumb,
That waits---what is to come!

Not more astounded had we been
If Madness, that dark night, unseen,
Had in our chambers crept,
And murdered while we slept!

We woke to find a mourning earth,
Our Lares shivered on the hearth,
The roof-tree fallen, all
That could affright, appall!

Such thunderbolts, in other lands,
Have smitten the rod from royal hands,
But spared, with us, till now,
Each laurelled Cæsar's brow.

No Cæsar he whom we lament,
A Man without a precedent,
Sent, it would seem, to do
His work, and perish, too.

Not by the weary cares of State,
The endless tasks, which will not wait,
Which, often done in vain,
Must yet be done again:

Not in the dark, wild tide of war,
Which rose so high, and rolled so far,
Sweeping from sea to sea
In awful anarchy:

Four fateful years of mortal strife,
Which slowly drained the nation's life,
(Yet for each drop that ran
There sprang an armèd man!)

Not then; but when, by measures meet,
By victory, and by defeat,
By courage, patience, skill,
The people's fixed " We will !"

Had pierced, had crushed Rebellion dead,
Without a hand, without a head,
At last, when all was well,
He fell, O how he fell!

The time, the place, the stealing shape,
The coward shot, the swift escape,
The wife, the widow's scream---
It is a hideous Dream!

A dream? What means this pageant, then?
These multitudes of solemn men,
Who speak not when they meet,
But throng the silent street?

The flags half-mast that late so high
Flaunted at each new victory?
(The stars no brightness shed,
But bloody looks the red!)

The black festoons that stretch for miles,
And turn the streets to funeral aisles?
(No house too poor to show
The nation's badge of woe.)

The cannon's sudden, sullen boom,
The bells that toll of death and doom,
The rolling of the drums,
The dreadful car that comes?

Cursed be the hand that fired the shot,
The frenzied brain that hatched the plot,
Thy country's Father slain
Be thee, thou worse than Cain!

Tyrants have fallen by such as thou,
And good hath followed---may it now!
(God lets bad instruments
Produce the best events.)

But he, the man we mourn to-day,
No tyrant was: so mild a sway
In one such weight who bore
Was never known before.

Cool should he be, of balanced powers,
The ruler of a race like ours,
Impatient, headstrong, wild,
The Man to guide the Child.

And this he was, who most unfit
(So hard the sense of God to hit,)
Did seem to fill his place.
With such a homely face,

Such rustic manners, speech uncouth,
(That somehow blundered out the truth,)
Untried, untrained to bear
The more than kingly care.

Ay! And his genius put to scorn
The proudest in the purple born,
Whose wisdom never grew
To what, untaught, he knew,

The People, of whom he was one.
No gentleman, like Washington,
(Whose bones, methinks, make room,
To have him in their tomb!)

A laboring man, with horny hands,
Who swung the axe, who tilled his lands,
Who shrank from nothing new,
But did as poor men do.

One of the People! Born to be
Their curious epitome;
To share yet rise above
Their shifting hate and love.

Common his mind, (it seemed so then,)
His thoughts the thoughts of other men:
Plain were his words, and poor,
But now they will endure!

No hasty fool, of stubborn will,
But prudent, cautious, pliant still;
Who since his work was good
Would do it as he could.

Doubting, was not ashamed to doubt,
And, lacking prescience, went without:
Often appeared to halt,
And was, of course, at fault;

Heard all opinions, nothing loath,
And, loving both sides, angered both:
Was--- not like Justice, blind,
But, watchful, clement, kind.

No hero this of Roman mould,
Nor like our stately sires of old:
Perhaps he was not great,
But he preserved the State!

O honest face, which all men knew!
O tender heart, but known to few!
O wonder of the age,
Cut off by tragic rage!

Peace! Let the long procession come,
For hark, the mournful, muffled drum,
The trumpet's wail afar,
And see, the awful car!

Peace! Let the sad procession go,
While cannon boom and bells toll slow.
And go, thou sacred car,
Bearing our woe afar!

Go, darkly borne, from State to State,
Whose loyal, sorrowing cities wait
To honor all they can
The dust of that good man.

Go, grandly borne, with such a train
As greatest kings might die to gain.
The just, the wise, the brave,
Attend thee to the grave.

And you, the soldiers of our wars,
Bronzed veterans, grim with noble scars,
Salute him once again,
Your late commander---slain!

Yes, let your tears indignant fall,
But leave your muskets on the wall;
Your country needs you now
Beside the forge---the plough.

(When Justice shall unsheathe her brand,
If Mercy may not stay her hand,
Nor would we have it so,
She must direct the blow.)

And you, amid the master-race,
Who seem so strangely out of place,
Know ye who cometh? He
Who hath declared ye free.

Bow while the body passes---nay,
Fall on your knees, and weep, and pray!
Weep, weep---I would ye might---
Your poor black faces white!

And, children, you must come in bands,
With garlands in your little hands,
Of blue and white and red,
To strew before the dead.

So sweetly, sadly, sternly goes
The Fallen to his last repose.
Beneath no mighty dome,
But in his modest home;

The churchyard where his children rest,
The quiet spot that suits him best,
There shall his grave be made,
And there his bones be laid.

And there his countrymen shall come,
With memory proud, with pity dumb,
And strangers far and near,
For many and many a year.

For many a year and many an age,
While History on her ample page
The virtues shall enroll
On that Paternal Soul.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

"We took particular Notice of one of those She-Astrologers": 17th century Venice

I have posted before about a woman astrologer’s advert in mid 17th century London (both the adverts reproduced in this post have George Thomason’s hostile annotations about their being circulated by ‘one of Lilly’s whelps):

In late 17th century Venice, women astrologers were part of the fun of carnival. I found the following story in Jean Dumont’s A new voyage to the Levant containing an account of the most remarkable curiosities in Germany, France, Italy, Malta, and Turkey; … done into English, and adorn’d with figures (1696). I have added paragraphs and modernized the spelling. During these public (and largely jocular) consultations, a ‘trunk’ – a tube – was used for more discreet communication between the woman astrologer mounted on her stage and the particular client below. In the story, the German officer asks for the tube to be reversed, so it must be a kind of elongated speaking trumpet. He then propositions her…

“During the Fair, the whole Place of S. Mark, and part of the Broglio, is covered with Shops: The other part is full of Jugglers, Tumblers, Puppet-Players, Bears, and Mountebanks, who are dancing frequented by all sorts of People, from the Nobleman to the Gondolier.

But the greatest Crowd is about certain Female-Astrologers, who are mounted on little Stages or Scaffolds, covered with Lace and Ribbons like Puppets; their Faces painted white and red, and surrounded with a great Number of Books, full of Figures and Characters, tho' they understand no more of 'em than to distinguish the White from the Black. There are also some Men who follow the same Trade; but they are not so much followed as the Women, whose triple Top-knots draw the Multitude after 'em. They sit upon a Chair, from whence, as from a Tripos, they blow good Fortune to their Customers thro' a Tin Trunk eight or ten Foot long, the Querist putting the other End to his Ear. The Price of a Consultation is no more than Five-pence; and for so small a Sum you may have the Promise of as much Honour and Riches as you please.

These Wenches, who sometimes are not ugly, observe an admirable Gravity in pronouncing their Responses; but they are not so starch’d in private, and may be easily prevailed with to lay aside their affected Severity. One of my Friends, who is a German Officer, happened t’other Day to try the Experiment; and since the Story is not unpleasant, I shall make bold to entertain you with it. As we were taking our Diversion in the Fair, we took particular Notice of one of those She-Astrologers, who was one of the prettiest and gravest of the whole Tribe. She was surrounded with a Crowd of People of all Ages and Ranks, who approached one after another to the End of her Trunk to learn their Fate, and to hear the Oraculous Sentences which she pronounced with an incredible Majesty and Authority. My Friend took his Turn among the rest, and after she had acquainted him with his Fortune, told her that he was desirous to consult her about some private Affair, and therefore entreated her to turn the other End of the Trunk, that he might communicate his Secret to her without disclosing it to the Company. But instead of proposing some Questions to her about his Fortune, he told her thro' her Trunk, that he came not to desire the Assistance of her pretended Art, which served only to amuse the Vulgar; that 'twas in her Power to grant him a more solid Favour; and that his Business was to enquire where and when he might spend a Night with her.

As soon as she had heard his Proposal, she turned the Trunk and replied, that he ought not to be surprised at her way of Living, by imposing upon the Credulity of the People, since the only Occupation of the greatest part of Mankind consisted in cheating one another, every one in his own Way, and according to the Nature of his Employment; and that for her part she thought five or six Crowns a day but a moderate Recompense for the Pains she took in deceiving those that were willing to be deceived; adding however that she was glad she had found a Man of Sense, that knew the Infirmities of Humane Nature, and would laugh with her at the Follies of Mankind, and concluded with giving him an Assignation at an Inn, where she promised to meet him that Evening. Her agreeable Humour furnished us with Matter of Discourse for above an Hour; but this was the End of the Adventure, for the Officer did not think fit to drive the Jest further.”

That’s a poor ending to the story: she ought to have been given the chance to swindle him in private. But he doesn’t even go as far as to ‘make an excuse and leave’, the craven. The image is a Venetian painting (for I have failed to find an image of the women astrologers, though I am sure there must be one), Antonio Zanchi’s ‘Abraham teaching astrology to the Egyptians’, out of Josephus, a painting of c.1665, says WGA.

Friday, January 01, 2010

John Chapman’s New Year’s Gift: documenting the Westerham landslip, 1596.

Google Earth image contributed by Malcolm Page,
see comment from him below the post


John Chapman presented his pamphlet A most true report of the myraculous moving and sinking of a plot of ground, about nine acres, at Westram in Kent, which began the 18. of December, and so continued till the 29. of the same moneth to Margaret, Baroness Dacre as a New Year’s gift early in 1596 (she was the sister of the Gregory Fiennes, Baron Dacre, who had been executed for murder in 1594).

It’s an interesting pamphlet, carefully written and unsensationalised, about a creeping landslip near Crockham Hill, in Kent. 27 male witnesses verify the account – the local JP, the vicar, a physician, 12 gentlemen and 12 yeomen. As far as I can pick up from local village websites, there does not seem to be any current local knowledge of this historical happening in their pretty landscape.

Chapman supplies everything we need to understand what happened, geomorphologically. We are in 1596, and Shakespeareans all remember how at that time

the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which, falling in the land,
Hath every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents.
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green,
For lack of tread, are undistinguishable.

Chapman confirms this at local level, writing finally of how by “the great aboundance of water, and continuall rayne which have fallen so many months together of late, sundry great bowrnes (bournes), and violent streames have broken out in many places of this land, and at the least seaven such within xii miles of this place every way, the least whereof is able to drive a corne Mill”.

That’s a lot of ground water. England was saturated, and if you look at this map, my best guess as to where the landslip occurred, you can see (switch to the OS map) the spring line beneath the higher ground to the north.
Chapman makes, for his own reasons, which I will come to, a big point about how the rain water did not increase the flow of two ‘gozelles’ in the area that slipped (for ‘gozelle’, the OED cites 1695 KENNETT a gutter is in Lincolnshire a Gool, in Kent a Guzzle, in Wiltshire a Gushill, and Gooshill”). I imagine some feature of the local geology saturated the top soils, which maybe traveled on a slippery clay layer below. As far as I can judge by my geological map, Crockham Hill seems to be precisely at the northern boundary of the Weald Clay, which is succeeded by the overlying Lower Greensand. I think that would be the impermeable layer which prompts the spring line upslope.

This Wikipedia page has a nice animated gif of a similar slump landslide over several days: . Though that’s on a far steeper slope, with no saturation. As Chapman writes, vividly, the two ‘closes’ or fields that slipped and merged into one further downslope “were Adant (sic? Not in OED), and upon the shoot (= rising?) of an hill, but not so much that a bowle being cast up against the hill might easily have layen and settled without tumbling backe againe perforce”. The ground was not steep enough for a sudden slide, but just gave way in a gradual slumping.

On the 18th of December, the whole area (nine acres!) started to move, leaving a scar at the point of detachment of six and a half feet. On the 19th December, there was thirteen feet more of slippage, then eighty feet on the 20th. People stood on it, experiencing how it managed “to move, slide, and shoote southward, not with any suddaine shot, but creeping by little, and little, so as the motion and stirring thereof was not discerned nor perceived, by them that were presently standing upon it, but onlie by the sundrie effects that followed, as the cracking of the roots of trees, the brushing of boughs, the noise of the hedge-wood breaking, the gaping of the ground, and the riving of the earth asunder”.

The slide was measured at one stage as fourteen “handfulls by measure in one houre and a halfe” – 56 inches, nearly 6 feet. After eleven days of movement, Chapman outdoes the Beatles’ count of ‘10,000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire’ with a conscientious tally of “eleven thousand furrows, riffes, cracks, and clefts in diverse places here and there”. The nine acres of ground had moved by eight perches or more (a perch is that useful old English measure, of sixteen and a half feet, or coincidentally close to five metres). He describes the way the upslope material ended up on top of the lower lying ground: “the hinder ground coming faster forward … then the former ground did give way unto it, caused it to swell uppe in rounde hillocks like unto graves, the green turf remaining still whole and unbroken above”. In other places, the higher material had gone like a broken wave over the lower.

Everything went with the topsoil layers: a hedge that ran across the slip was displaced southward by seven perches, its trees either still upright and apparently growing, or overthrown. There had been “two standing water pools” in the upper of the two fields. These also moved “four perches south, with their tuftes of Alders still standing upon them, but withal, they are mounted up aloft, and become hilles, standing yet to be seen with their sedge, flags, and black mudde upon the toppe of them still”. In their place, dramatically, a “great hole made by sinking of the earth, to the depth of 30 feet” opened further down the slide.

This gentle slumping after a very rainy year hardly seems unaccountable. But what is interesting (from the early modern mindset side of things) is the way that Chapman sets out to interpret all this: as he saw no increase in the runoff through the ‘gozelles’ (the flow in each could be accommodated by an auger hole of one and a half inches, he says, and it didn’t rise at all during all the deluge), the landslip, he firmly decides, “cannot be imputed to the aboundance of water enforcing it as the cause thereof”.

The great Crockham Hill landslip is in fact for him a tremendous act of God, through which the deity gives ‘unto our eies a sencible testimony of his most certaine being”. We do not have to travel far, Chapman says, to have stirred up in ourselves “a strong and fruitfull impression of the great deitie”. Fifteen miles south of London will do.

This local and rather quietly impressive event is a manifestation of the God who “hurleth downe hilles … and exalteth the lowe vallies”. “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low” said Isaiah, and here it is locally, as Chapman triumphantly, and piously, concludes his description: “By means of all which confusion, it is come to passe, that where the highest hilles were heretofore, there the deepest dales be now. And where the lowest dales were then, now the ground lyeth mounted heist”.

As the creeping earth was moving so slowly, people had plenty of time to get aboard for the ride. Chapman says that 4,000 people have visited the site, from London and elsewhere: “to whom it hath seemed to be a very strange and fearefull sight, giving occasion unto some of them, to thinke upon that great opening of the earth that shalbe in the latter day when she shall yeelde up her dead, that be in her to come to the resurrection”. He makes their experience one of supernatural, not natural, wonder.

So it was, in Chapman’s eyes, as though the visitors were on a slow ride in a divine theme park. He remarked at the start of his pamphlet that God by his “wonderfull and unsearchable providence … doth from time to time … alter and change” the world He created. Here was the local instance, though it is rather evident that Chapman would have liked it rather better if God could have contrived to swallow up a few atheists, those who ‘in their own hearts … saye plainely … that there is no God at all’. He has an excellent Bible example in mind. Chapman says “this damnable impiety deserves to be punished”: either with the fires that fell on Sodom, “or the sudden gaping of the ground that swallowed up Corah.”

He refers to Korah, in Numbers 16, who complained to Moses about having left behind one land flowing with milk and honey, and not having arrived in the promised land: Moses refutes these objections to his handling of the wilderness years, remarking to the Israelites: “But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD. And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.”

Chapman emerges well from the pamphlet. I think he has to be the ‘yeoman’ of the same name listed among the witnesses. He is a credit to local education: meticulous, observant, and capable of writing very vividly. But this bit of local slope instability cannot for him be accounted for by secondary causes: the primary cause is the important one. God is reshaping his world. Or rather, bible texts fill out Chapman’s response to what he witnessed: it’s Isaiah, The Book of Numbers, and what the earth will look like when the dead awaken. His religious beliefs give meaning to what he saw.