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 bĂȘte 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”.