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.