Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Photographs of early modern church tablets and memorials

 I spend a lot of time looking at these things, so I posted a picasa web album. And as a break from the dusty dead, another of orchids. The slide show facility works pretty well.



Monday, July 26, 2010

'Kissing the Rod'

The OED cites this phrase from Sir Philip Sidney writing circa 1586:

a1586 SIDNEY Arcadia II. (1867) 190 Yet he durst not but kiss his rod and gladly make much of his entertainment. 1628 SHIRLEY Witty Fair One I. iii, Come, I’ll be a good child, and kiss the rod.

But it’s of an earlier invention, and a search on EEBO traces it back to a likely originator, William Tyndale, and that unusual but characteristic work, The Obedience of a Christian Man, 1528. There’s a chance Tyndale came up with this first, as he was such a great maker of memorable phrases and idioms (notably in his New Testament translation, of course). But this other work, once so highly regarded, also strikes me as a likely source because The Obedience of a Christian Man is so appallingly masochistic. Tyndale seems to have wrenched his mind (and the minds of his readers) free from the grip of obedience to the Catholic church at the cost of an unlimited pay-off in cringing obedience to any other authority God might mysteriously have set over you. Politically, it’s a counsel of despair: you are a child in respect of your ruler, good or bad, and you have to learn to kiss the rod with which you are chastised. Here’s the context, slightly edited:

“Let us receive all things of God whether it be good or bad … let us not take the staff by the end or seek to avenge our selves on his rod which is the evil rulers. The childe as long as he seeketh to avenge himself upon the rod hath an evil heart. For he thinketh not that the correction is right or that he hath deserved it neither repenteth but rejoyseth in his wickedness. And so long shall he never be without a rod: yea so long shall the rod be made sharper and sharper. If he 'knowledge his fault and take the correction meekly and even kiss the rod and amend himself with the learning and nurture of his father and mother then is the rod take away and burned. So if we resist evil rulers seeking to set ourselves at libertie we shall no doubt bring ourselves in to more cruel bondage and wrap ourselves in much more misery and wretchedness … If we submit ourselves unto ye chastising of god & meekly 'knowledge our sins for which we are scourged and kiss the rod and amend our living: then will God take the rod away, that is he will give the rulers a better heart.”

I surmise (perhaps unsafely, but I think the thought is worth entertaining) that from this particular work, ‘kissing the rod’ spread explosively across early modern English culture. It is even possible that what Tyndale meant metaphorically was adopted as a literal prescription, by those made sadistic by the idea of the quasi-divine righteousness of punishment:

“You have heard sometimes of schoolmasters which make their boys kiss the rod, wherewith they were beaten…” observes Robert Parsons, in his A discoverie of I. Nicols minister (1581). The basic, cruel idea was then susceptible to refinement: apparently, a father might make his child go out and select a rod to be beaten with, and restrain the child with ties so frail and easily broken that that preservation was a sign that the child had been patient throughout his chastisement:

“I have sometimes seen an indulgent father
Make his dear child, rods for himself to gather,
And then his wanton liberty restrain,
Nay make him fetters of a slender twine,
Sharply correct him, make him kiss the rod,
Tries his obedience: And just thus does God
With his dear children, (if well understood)
Wise parents know 'tis for their children’s good.”
From ‘Upon a true contented Prisoner’ in Characters and elegies. By Francis Wortley, Knight and Baronet (1646).

Tyndale directed his prescription of acceptance of punishment to all Christians. Inevitably, it was a sentiment women heard from men. Here, a puritan spiritual director addresses a ‘Gentlewoman troubled in minde’:

“12. Beware of a discontented mind in any case: yea, be contented to have your desires denied you of God: and if your prayer be not heard of God, vex not your self too much, neither vehemently covet, nor be grieved for any thing, saving the having or loss of the favour of God.

13 Labour for meekness and patience, and be ready to kiss the rod, and to offer up all to him of whom you have received your self: for if you struggle, it will fare with you as with a Bird in a Gin, the more she striveth, the faster she is.” (Short Rules sent by Maister Richard Greenham to a Gentlewoman troubled in minde, for her direction and consolation, 1612).

Here, in Stephen Denison’s The monument or tombe-stone: or, A sermon preached at Laurence Pountnies Church in London, Nouemb. 21. 1619 at the funerall of Mrs. Elizabeth Juxon, the late wife of Mr. John Juxon. By Stephen Denison minister of Gods word, at Kree-Church in the honourable citie of London (1620), the minister deploys this serviceable thought when accounting for poor Mistress Juxon having cried out in the agony of her final illness (there had apparently been some adverse comment on this evident failure of Christian patience):

“was grief and smart irksome and troublesome unto Job himself? Then it was the great mercy of God, to give patience unto this our sister in any measure. And let us not think it strange if she roared and cried with pain at some times; but let us rather fear, that if we had been in her case, and had tasted her sorrows, we had been like to fall into greater extremity then ever she fell. It is the property of a good child to cry whilst he is a-beating, as well as of a bad. But here is the difference; a good child, when the smart is gone, will kiss the rod, and love his parents, and be sorry for his fault; whereas a wicked child will murmur against and hate his parents. Now this our worthy sister showed her self to be a good child; for she cried when she felt the smart: but when she had any mitigation, she condemned her impatiency, and justified God, kissing his rod, by showing a very tender affection of love to God, whensoever she thought or spoke seriously of him.”

Shakespeare, however (and thank goodness), uses the phrase only in a far more rousing context, as Queen Anne rebukes Richard II for his supinity:
What is my Richard both in shape and mind
Transform’d and weaken’d? hath Bullingbrook,
Deposed thine intellect? hath he been in thy heart?
The Lyon dying thrusteth forth his paw,
And wounds the earth if nothing else with rage,
To be ore-power’d, and wilt thou pupil-like
Take the correction, mildly kiss the rod,
And fawn on Rage with base humility,
Which art a Lion and the king of beasts?

These are just some of the occurrences an EEBO search turns up. It’s an idiom which is so expressive of how they thought, of their sense of powerlessness. I will cite two final, related examples: perhaps both were written by the author named in the first as George Elliott, though the latter example was published anonymously. In each, the personified city of London is speaking, first about the great plague visitation of 1665, and then about the Great Fire. In each instance, ‘London’ is made to draw the almost inescapable conclusion: God is punishing you, and your business is rod-kissing:

“…Although I suffer Punishment awhile;
I willingly submit my self to God,
And with Humility will kiss the Rod…”

London’s lamentation: or, Godly sorrow and submission. By George Elliott, author of God's warning-piece to London. 1665

“My Sins have forc’d this Vengeance from my God,
Shall I then kick? No, I will kiss the Rod…”
LONDON Undone; OR, A Reflection upon the Late DISASTEROUS FIRE 1666.

I recollected how in 1988 Germaine Greer and her collaborators gave the title Kissing the Rod to their Virago Press collection of 17th century women’s verse. The end of the introduction says this:

“Before publication we were already hearing shock reaction to the title we have chosen … whether the rod is wielded by the paternal authority, the male establishment, a husband, the king, Cromwell or God himself, women have always been obliged for their own survival to humble themselves before it, and to flatter it”. And they cited Torriano’s Proverbial Phrases (1666), who explained: “taken from children, who when they do amiss, and are punished, they are made to vent their vexation no otherwise than by kissing the rod with which they were punished”.

The Virago press printed this anthology on a paper that has yellowed dramatically: it looks like 1888, not 1988, was the publication date. Even 1988 seems a long time ago…

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An answer song to Sir John Suckling's 'Why so pale and wan?'

The 1638 Folio of Suckling’s Aglaura on EEBO, with its alternate Act V, also preserves an answer song to Suckling’s famous lyric, ‘Why so pale and wan fond Lover?’, written alongside the original on [Sig G2].

Thomas Clayton does not note the existence of this answer poem in my edition of the Cavalier Poets. I suppose it will have been mentioned in other editions. I have tried to find it via searches on EEBO and LION full texts, but it does not seem to have gone into print in the 17th century. Not a distinguished poem, of course, though the down to basics aspect of the original has a conceptual simplicity which hardly spurs inventiveness in any answer poem.

Clayton notes that at least five contemporary settings of the original song survive. An answer poem was inevitable, and this could have been sung by the witty Orithie in response to Orsames. The dialogue lets us know that the poem had been around for a few years before Suckling put it in his notorious play.

The person who wrote the answer poem also appended an alternate, softened ending to the original ‘Or else – Then quite forsake her’, which does suggest that the oath, and maybe the suggestion of the devil ‘taking’ the young woman who refuses love in a sexual way was seen as potentially in need of toning-down.

There are no other annotations in this copy that I can see. I have modernised the spelling in my transcript.

Nay Ladies, you shall find me,
as free, as the Musicians of the woods
themselves; what I have, you shall not need to call for,
nor shall it cost you any thing.


Why so pale and wan fond Lover?
Prithee why so pale?
Will, when looking well can’t move her,
Looking ill prevail?
Prithee why so pale?

Why so dull and mute young Sinner?
Prithee why so mute?
Will, when speaking well can’t win her,
Saying nothing do’t?
Prithee why so mute?

Quit, quit, for shame, this will not move
This cannot take her;
If of her self she will not Love,
Nothing can make her,
The Devil take her.
 or else
Then quite forsake her.

I should have guessed, it had been the issue of
your brain, if I had not been told so;
A little foolish counsel (Madam) I gave a friend
of mine four or five years ago, when he was
falling into a Consumption …

Why so fierce & grim proud railer?
Prithee, why so grim?
Thou didst look as pale or paler,
When thou wast fool’d like him.
Prithee, why so grim?

Why so stout thou bold adviser?
Prithee why so stout?
If men would be somewhat wiser,
Women would not flout
Prithee, why so stout?

A Fool he came so let him go,
As he came hither,
The winds to Gotham freely blow,
To carry thither,
Two Fools together.

My other picture is one of the cannily ‘mad men’ of Gotham, as in the last stanza here, expecting a hedge to prevent a cuckoo from flying away, from the 1690 printing (!) of Andrew Boord’s Merie tales of the made men of Gotam gathered to gether by A.B. of phisike doctour of 1565.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A dumb fortune-teller

I am always interested in the stray lives that occasionally get mentioned in 17th century texts, people otherwise unrecorded, making their way through life as best they could.

My image is of a fortune teller by Simon Vouet. The number of early modern paintings of fortune tellers reminds us just how common a vocation this harmless activity must have been.

In the anecdote below, George Carleton, in his Astrologomania: the madnesse of astrologers (1624) drops that perpetual 17th century mode of ‘my opponent says this, but the Bible says…’ to produce a reminiscence from his childhood in Carlisle:

“Secondly I answer…

(yes, it is part of one of those arguments – a colleague points out that Milton once reaches a resounding ‘and ninthly’)

… that those Predictions do not always fall out jump and true, as they would bear us in hand; but that either the Divell doth miss sometimes, or that his instrument doeth mistake his informations. This I am able to justify and make good by a plain story of my self when I was a child, & went to School at Carleill where I was borne. There came an odd Fellow about the Country: He was reputed a Cunning man, and so called, for that he took upon him to tell Fortunes. The Fellow was dumb, or at least feigned himself speechless, but certain it was, he had an instinct or Familiarity with some Spirit. This Fellow being on a time in my Fathers House, there were some there more simply honest then Religiously wise, made signs unto him, to show what should be my Fortune, and another School-fellows of mine that was then present. Whereupon, this Wizard having looked earnestly upon us both, and paused a little; for my School-fellow, he takes me a low stool, and gets up upon it, with a Book in his hand, and began to act after his fashion, signifying thereby that he should be a Preacher: and for me, he took a Penne and a scroll of Paper, and made as though he would write, signifying thereby, that I should bee a Scrivener. Now it so fell out, that my School-fellow proved the Scrivener, and I prove the Preacher. By which it is plain to bee seen, that either the Divell himself did miss, or his instrument was mistaken in his informations.”

So, here’s a chap who may or may not be dumb: Carleton can see that dumbness might be part of the act, certainly the charades by which the fortune teller acted out his diagnoses would have added a lot to the entertainment value of his little act, and dumbness gives him a mystique that relates him to the more normal line of blind prophets. A fortune teller who cannot speak, that's quite clever, it intrigues your client.

However, although Carleton has some perception of the flummery involved in the divination, he retains a belief in it as supernatural: indeed, it is diabolical in its inspiration. “Certain it was, he had an instinct or Familiarity with some Spirit”, he says solemnly. The predictions for the two boys were both diabolically prescient, and diabolically wrong, for the devil will always tell lies – the right vocations, but each assigned to the wrong child.
Carleton cannot see a bit of harmless fun, cannot see a man surmounting a possible disability and making a living. This is a moment when the devil reached out and nearly touched his life, it has stayed with him ever since. He could not have told the story, of course, had the prediction been exact.

From Astrologomania: the madnesse of astrologers. Or An examination of Sir Christopher Heydons booke, intituled A defence of iudiciarie astrologie. Written neere vpon twenty yeares ago, by G.C. And by permission of the author set forth for the vse of such as might happily be misled by the Knights booke. Published by T.V. B. of D.