Thursday, December 22, 2011

“Don’t forget the good old way” … “Nappy Ale both brown and stale”. The ideal Christmas, 1688.

My festive text is an anonymous late 17th century book of carols A Cabinet of choice jewels, or, The Christians joy and gladness set forth in sundry pleasant new Christmas-carrols, 1688.

That’s the title page woodcut: a nativity scene. The oxen in the byre aren’t bad, but as for the rest of it, well, the artist has hardly risen to the subject, with a very large Mary, and a micro cephalic Christ-child. Perhaps one should not expect much, as this is only the cheapest end of the popular market, and our anonymous author most probably spent the rest of his year turning out ballads. Even so, it’s a dire woodcut: one feels that the Dutch wood block cutters of this era would have been astonished and derisive.

We are in the reign of James II, and there’s a precarious insistence on everyone being loyal, with a kind of rallying cry implied, that England can, despite everything, still be like it was in the old days. That nostalgia for Christmas past is typographically rendered: when he remembers to do so, the compositor puts words like ‘Christmas’ or ‘wassail’ into black letter (along with refrains and Bible names).

The author gets the religious material over quite quickly, with two carols for Christmas Day. They say this kind of thing:

Let Christians now with joyful mirth

Both young and old, yes great and small,

Still think upon our Saviours Birth

Who brought Salvation to us all…

Upon this day let none be found

To practice any idle game,

And though thy mirth do much abound

Yet let it not be so prophane …

He can then turn to his real subject, copious Christmas food and strong drink. The two are often taken together, in that distinctive early modern way of loading foodstuffs into their drink. If you drank small ale all the time as your main liquid intake, the festive versions would be tend to end up as ale spiced, strengthened, and thickened. Noticeable about the carols is that way of demanding ‘wassail’ with mild menaces: loyal addresses to the gentry, and effusive good wishes are extended to them, but apparently on the understanding that now’s the time for the rich folk to divvy up, and let the plain folk in to feast mightily and meatily, and drink ‘bumpers’ (vessels full to the very brim) of strong (‘nappy’) beer, or ‘lamb’s wool’ (“A drink consisting of hot ale mixed with the pulp of roasted apples, and sugared and spiced”). At least that’s what the gentry should do if they want to keep things sweet. That metaphorical turn about laying siege to the roast goose allows talk about ‘fury’ if there’s any resistance or grudging.

We complain annually these days about the Christmas season starting around October in our shops. The early modern Christmas season may have not had the long commercial lead-in, but they did sustain the festive season. My author bids farewell to Christmas at Candlemas day (usually February 2nd).

So, after the religious carols, here’s the author getting down to the important matter for his target readership of songs to elicit seasonal food and drink:

A Carrol for Christmas Day at Night

My Master your Servants

and Neighbours this Night,

Are come to be merry,

with love and delight.

Now therefore be Noble,

and let it appear,

That Christmas is still

the best time of the Year:

To sit by the fire,

rehearse an old tale,

And taste of a bumper

of nappy old Ale.

It flows from the Barley,

that fruit of the Earth,

Which quickens the fancy,

for pastime and mirth;

And therefore be jolly,

now each bonny Lad,

For we have no reason

at all to be sad:

remember the season,

and then you’l ne’er fail,

To bring in a bumper

of nappy brown Ale.

Now some of your dainties,

let us freely taste,

My stomach is ready,

I am now in haste;

And therefore sweet Mistress,

I hope you’ll be brief,

To bring out the Sirloin

or Ribs of Roast Beef;

With other choice dainties,

I hope you’ll not fail,

At this happy season,

with nappy brown Ale.

And now let me tell you

what dainties I prize,

I long to be doing

with curious minc’d pies;

Where plumbs in abundance,

lies crowding for room,

But if I come near it,

I’le tell you its doom;

I’d soon part the quarrel,

But hold, let’s not fail,

To think of a bumper

of nappy brown Ale.

The Pig, Goose and Capon,

I’de like to forgot,

But yet I do hope they’ll

come all to my lot;

We’ll lay a close siege

to the walls of the Goose,

And storm her strong Castle,

there is no excuse

Shall hinder our fury,

therefore let’s not fail,

To have a full bumper

of nappy brown Ale.

All those that are willing

to honour this day,

I hope that they never

will fall to decay;

But always be able,

their Neighbours to give,

And keep a good Table,

as long as they live;

That love, peace and plenty,

with them may ne’er fail,

And we may ne’er miss

of good nappy Ale.

It is rather stridently demanding: detailed and specific about what is wanted, drifting from a collective and festive ‘we’ into the voice of the individual and greedy-sounding food-fantasist. Only ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’, supposedly 16th century, preserves into our present repertoire of carols that note (‘we won’t go until we’ve got some’).

A clutch of brief carols then carries the revellers towards the main gift-giving day at the New Year. All these saints remind us that a Catholic king was on the throne:

A Carrol for St Stephens Day (December 26th)

A carrol for St John’s Day (December 27th)

A Carrol for Innocents Day (‘Tune of, Bloody fate’) (December 28th)

Then a fuller length ‘A Carrol for New-Years-day’ (‘Tune of, Caper and Jerk it’), full of this kind of sentiment about gift-giving:

“The young men and maids on New Years day,

Their loves they will present,

With many a gift both fine and gay,

Which gives them true content,

And though the gift be great or small,

Yet this is the custom still,

Expressing their loves in Ribbons and Gloves,

It being their kind good will …

Young Batchelors will not spare their coins,

But thus their love is shown,

Yoing Richard will buy a Bodkin fine,

And give it honest Jone…”

Twelfth Night returns us to hectoring the gentry for more supplies of drink: ‘What the House doth now afford / Should be plac’d upon the board’, etc.:

A Carrol for twelfth-Day

(‘Tune of, O mother, Roger’)

Sweet Master of this Habitation,

with my Mistress, be so kind,

As to grant an Invitation,

if we may this favour find:

To be invited in,

Then in mirth we will begin

Many a sweet and pleasant Song,

Which doth to this time belong,

Let every Loyal honest Soul,

Contribute to the Wassail Bowl.

So may you still enjoy the Blessing,

of a loving virtuous Wife,

Riches, honour still possessing,

with a long and happy life;

Living in Prosperity,

Then let Generosity,

Always be maintained I pray,

Don’t forget the good old way,

Let every Loyal honest Soul,

Contribute to the Wassail-bowl.

Before this season is departed,

in your presence we appear,

Therefore be so noble-hearted,

to afford some dainty cheer;

Freely let us have it now,

Since the season doth allow,

What the House doth now afford,

Should be plac’d upon the board,

Whether it be Roast Beef or Fowl,

And liquor well the Wassel-bowl.

For now it is a time of leisure,

then to those that kindness show,

May they have Wealth, peace and pleasure,

and the spring of bounty flow,

To enrich them while they live,

That they may afford to give,

To maintain the good old way,

Many a long and happy day;

Let every Loyal honest soul,

Contribute to the Wassail Bowl.

You worthy are to be commended,

if in this you will not fail,

Now our song is almost ended,

fill our bowl with nappy Ale;

Then we’ll drink a full carouse,

To the Master of the House,

Aye, and to our Mistress dear,

Wishing both a happy Year,

In peace and love without control,

Who brought joy to our wassel-bowl.

By February 2nd, our author is finally ready to say farewell to Christmas. That’s quite a spell on the lash. ‘Nappy Ale both brown and stale’ does rather capture this fag-end of the revels, a dogged effort by faded celebrants to down every drop.

A Carrol for Candlemas-Day

Now Candlemas is come at last,

therefore my dearest friend,

Since Christmas time is almost past,

I mean to an end

Of this our mirth and merriment,

and now the truth to tell,

He must be m our presence sent,

O Christmas now farewell.

Now Christmas will no longer stay,

my very heart doth grieve,

Before from us he take his way,

of him I’ll take my leave:

It is a time none of the least,

as I the truth may tell,

For him we’ll make a worthy Feast,

Then Christmas now farewell.

I do declare as I am true,

I’ll love him while I die,

I’ll call my Friends and Neighbours too,

to keep him company:

With nappy Ale and dainty Cheer,

our grief we will expel;

And Christmas while another year,

We’ll bid thee now farewell.

To make our joys the more complete,

we court the charming bowl,

In Merriment and music sweet,

let e’ry loyal soul

Drink off his glass, and let it pass,

in mirth we will excel,

In sweet delight we’ll spend the night,

Then Christmas now farewell.

With nappy Ale both brown and stale,

we’ll fill our Bumpers full;

And pippins too, as I am true.

they make the best Lambs wool:

So fast and smooth it will go down,

They sorrow to expel,

And then as last, when all is past,

Christmas we’ll bid farewell.

Earlier in the century, Robert Herrick was the verse-anthropologist or sociologist of all these customs: the bad luck of keeping up Christmas trimmings after Candlemas, the Christmas brand burned again, and then extinguished to be used to kindle the fire next Christmas.

Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve.

Down with the Rosemary and Bays,
Down with the Mistletoe;
In stead of Holly, now up-raise
The greener Box (for show.)

The Holly hitherto did sway;
Let Box now domineer;
Until the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easters Eve appear.

Then youthful Box which now hath grace,
Your houses to renew;
Grown old, surrender must his place,
Unto the crisped Yew.

When Yew is out, then Birch comes in,
And many Flowers beside;
Both of a fresh, and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsontide.

Green Rushes then, and sweetest Bents,
With cooler Oaken boughs;
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

The Ceremonies for Candlemas day.

Kindle the Christmas Brand and then
Till Sun-set, let it burn;
Which quenched, then lay it up agen,
Till Christmas next return.

Part must be kept wherewith to tend
The Christmas Log next year;
And where 'tis safely 'kept, the Fiend,
Can do no mischief (there.)

Upon Candlemas day.

End now the White-loaf, & the Pie,
And let all sports with Christmas dye.

Herrick’s two wassail poems are far more alive to the grateful tour of all the food-production sites of the parish, with libations to secure another year of the same, and less anxious than the anonymous writer to bully a good welcome for the wassailers. In his poem, they take offence at not having been given the expected drink, and leave with an expression of certainty that the inhospitable household shall come to know dearth:

The Wassail.

1. Give way, give way ye Gates, and win
An easy blessing to your Bin,
And Basket, by our entering in.

2. May both with manchet stand replete;
Your Larders too so hung with meat,
That though a thousand, thousand eat;

3.Yet, ere twelve Moons shall whirl about
Their silv'rie Spheres, ther’s none may doubt,
But more’s sent in, then was serv’d out.

4. Next, may your Dairies Prosper so,
As that your pans no Ebb may know;
But if they do, the more to flow.

5. Like to a solemn sober Stream
Banked all with Lillies, and the Cream
Of sweetest Cow-slips filling Them.

6. Then, may your Plants be pressed with Fruit,
Nor Bee, or Hive you have be mute;
But sweetly sounding like a Lute.

7. Next may your Duck and teeming Hen
Both to the Cocks-tread say Amen;
And for their two eggs render ten.

8. Last, may your Harrows, Shares and Ploughs,
Your Stacks, your Stocks, your sweetest Mows,
All prosper by your Virgin-vows.

9. Alas! we bless, but see none here,
That brings us either Ale or Beer;
In a dry-house all things are near.

10. Let's leave a longer time to wait,
Where Rust and Cobwebs bind the gate;
And all live here with needy Fate.

11. Where Chimneys do for ever weep,
For want of warmth, and Stomachs keep
With noise, the servants eyes from sleep.

12. It is in vain to sing, or stay
Our free-feet here; but we'll away:
Yet to the Lares this we'll say,

13. The time will come, when you’ll be sad,
And reckon this for fortune bad,
T’have lost the good ye might have had.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A monumental henosis

This is the attractive wall monument in Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, to John St Barbe and his wife Grissell. (‘Griselda’, for here’s a 17th century Englishwoman whose name testifies that the martyrdom in matrimony suffered by ‘Patient Griselda’ was still considered a suitable reference and example). Everyone looks somewhat alike on the monument: John is Grissell with a wispy Cavalier moustache and tuft, the boys below look like two pairs of twins – which they may have been, of course.

But the monument does so much with symmetry that whoever penned the epitaph attempted, with some success, a symmetrical poem for this symmetrical couple.

I have been puzzling over how best to read the interlaced verses on the monument. Read strictly left to right and then downwards, in the normal fashion of eye movement across a text, it is mainly a jumble that strongly suggests that you have to do something else:

Earth’s Rich in Mines of Precious Dust

Whom Nature Wedlock Grace did tie

And faithfull ones

Since in her Bowels rest these Just

In one fast Chain of unity

Whose silent bones

Dead here do Rest yet Left not Earth

Because such Righteous & theire seed

In fame & state

But brought fower sonns to Perfect Birth

Shall Florish here and shall in Deed

Tryumph o’re fate

It goes a bit better if, after a long line on the left, you dip to the short central line beneath, and then rise to the long line on the right:

Earth’s Rich in Mines of Precious Dust

And faithfull ones

Whom Nature Wedlock Grace did tie

Since in her Bowels rest these Just

Whose silent bones

In one fast Chain of unity

Dead here do Rest yet Left not Earth

In fame & state

Because such Righteous & theire seed

But brought fower sonns to Perfect Birth

Tryumph o’re fate

Shall Florish here and shall in Deed

If you think of the verses as corresponding to his left side of the monument, and her right side, then you can read just down the left and centre to produce the verses for John St Barbe (I editorialise a little):

Earth’s Rich in Mines of Precious Dust

And faithful ones

Since in her Bowels rest these Just

Whose silent bones

Dead here do Rest yet Left not Earth

In fame & state

But brought four sons to Perfect Birth:

Triumph o’re Fate!

It doesn’t work at all for a composite of centre lines and Grissell’s right hand side. One might say that is as you’d expect: that it makes sense from the man’s side, no sense at all from the woman’s.

I tried to produce an optimum text in which the reading eye jiggles up and down. I am now editing the verses more heavily still, and introducing a repetition for effect:

Earth’s rich in mines of precious dust

and faithful ones

Since in her bowels rest these Just

whom Nature, Wedlock, Grace did tie

in one fast chain of unity.

Whose silent bones

Dead here do rest, yet left not Earth

but brought four sons to perfect birth

shall flourish here and shall indeed

in fame & state

Triumph o’re Fate:

Because such righteous & their seed

Triumph o’re Fate!

I suppose that the poet wanted you to do something like this, and the point of the poem wasn’t so much sequential sense as an interlacing that paid tribute to two lives lived as one flesh, so we have two poems as one poem.

He (or she) then produced an interlacing of two into one in an anagram that is fairly strict by the generally loose 17th century standards. Again, as a product from their two names, the poet produces an idea of unity, them both partaking equally of glory. I think there’s an A left over from the names, an E from the anagram.

All this reminded me of George Herbert’s poem, ‘The Watercourse’, in that it’s a poem you can’t actually read out loud, but which exists for the eye, as we take in visually those alternatives which can’t be simultaneously pronounced, but which are the rhyme, ‘life’ and ‘strife’, ‘salvation’ and ‘damnation’.

The St Barbe family were Hampshire gentry, perhaps originally from Somerset, but living at Broadlands. How the married couple came to be buried on the same day (2nd Sept 1658) is a minor mystery. Smallpox might have done for them both.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'O, Mr Carter, what shall I do?' The worthy life of John Carter 1554-1635

After another term in which work made it impossible for me to add to my blog here, I finally return to ‘Early Modern Whale’.

Here’s a work of filial and religious piety to start off again with, THE TOMB-STONE, OR, A broken and imperfect Monument, of that Worthy Man (who was just and perfect in his Generations;) Mr. JOHN CARTER, Pastor first of Bramford, and last of Belsted in SUFFOLK.BY His unworthy Son JOHN CARTER, Preacher of the Gospell, and as yet sojourning in the City of NORWICH.

When I came across this one, I was actually thinking about a post on the centenarian puritan divine Laurence Chaderton (which will follow one day), an associate of Carter. But this memoir by the younger Carter struck me as so unusually intimate, giving us a real sense of what it might have been like to live with one who was genuinely ‘godly’. John Carter senior was a credit to his faith, egalitarian and charitable. His son’s effort to memorialize his father has such sense of godly community that at the end of his account he had this printed: “I leave these ensuing Pages vacant, that so as thou remembrest any of his holy sayings, and doings, not mentioned before, thou mayst write them down, for thine own benefit, and the good of others.” It would be fascinating to come across a copy with reader annotations, like a pious version of the descriptions Sterne invites of the reader’s ideal Widow Wadman.

Carter was born “about the year of our Lord 1554”, near Canterbury (one notices that even his son isn’t sure of the exact date – how often we partly confirm our identities to banks and the like with recital of a date of birth, and how little they cared!). A wealthy citizen funded his education in Cambridge, where he was a member of a very elite seminar (we’d call it): “all that while he continued a gremial in the bosom, and Lap of his Mother the University, he had constant meetings with divers of his famous contemporaries, and that weekly: Doctor Chaderton, Doctor Andrews (afterwards a Prelate) Master Culverwell, Master Knewstubs, &c. and divers others, whom God raised up, and fitted to send forth into his Harvest, to gather his Corn, then ripe for the Sickle, into his Barne. At their meetings they had constant exercises. They prayed together: they bent themselves to the study of the Scriptures: one was for the original Tongues, another’s task was the Grammatical interpretations; another for the Logical Analysis: another for the true sense, and meaning: another to gather Doctrines. Thus led they their several employments”.

A ‘gremial’ is a ‘resident member’. That’s quite clearly a hostile note about Lancelot Andrewes becoming a bishop. Carter’s son, preacher himself, evidently takes some pride that his father “was always a Nonconformist, one of the good old Puritans of England. He never swallowed any of the Praelatical Ceremonies against his Conscience. He was often in trouble by the Bishops; but God ever raised him up friends that brought him off.”

As pastor of Bramford, “Every Lord’s day [Carter] preached twice very powerfully, and catechised the younger sort. He preached a Lecture every Thursday; to which multitudes from Ipswich and other adjacent places did resort.” When obliged to shift parish to Belsted, Carter carried on as though he was still serving the larger parish: “His Church at Belsted stood in a very solitary place: He always kept a Key of it, and would often resort thither all alone. A Gentleman once espying him going to the Church-ward on a private day, hid himself till my Father was past, and in the Church; then he came close up to the Church wall, desirous to peep in at some Window to see what he did, and to listen him, if he said any thing. And the Gentleman told me … that he prayed, then read a Chapter, and after that prayed largely, and very heavenly, as if he had been in his Family, or in the public Congregation.”

It is what the son tells us about his father’s daily life that is more striking. It was of course a very devout household: “his house was a Church. Twice a day he had Scripture read, and after the Psalm or Chapter were ended, he would ask of all his Children and Servants, what they remembered; and whatsoever sentences they rehearsed, he would speak something to them that tended to edification.”

Carter starts his account with a remark that his father’s “lively voice … cannot be recalled”. It was clearly a voice that dominated his upbringing. His father’s private prayers were deliberately loud, pour encourager les autres:

“Besides his Family prayers, and duties, he prayed constantly in his Closet, whensoever he went into his study, and before he came out to Dinner or Supper. He prayed very loud, and mostly very long. For the extension of his voice (I conjecture) he had a double reason; one, that by his earnest speech he might quicken up his own heart and devotion: the other, that he might be a pattern of secret prayer to his Children and Servants.”

John Carter senior gradually comes to life for us as we learn the little things: his clothes he wore, the even tenor of his married life, how he ate:

“For his habit, and my dear Mother’s apparrelling, it was very plain, and homely; of the old fashion, yet very cleanly and decent; insomuch that all that came to the house would say, they had seen Adam and Eve, or some of the old Patriarchs.

“He and my Mother were married together well-nigh sixty years; and I am confident in all that time, there never was a distasteful word between them. And indeed, how could there be? He lived with her as a man of knowledge; he was a wise, faithful, and tender guide; and she was humble and meek, did reverence, and highly esteem him: Every word he spake was an Oracle to her, and her will ever closed with his Judgment.”

“In all his House there was nothing but honest plainness … He never used Plate in his house, but Vessels of Wood, and Earth: Pewter and Brass were the highest Metals for his utensils. All the days of his housekeeping he used constantly at his Table a little wooden Salt, which with age was grown to be of a duskish black, which was much taken notice of by all comers.”

“He never feasted, but always had wholesome, full, and liberal diet in the house. And all fared alike: He, and my Mother, never thought his Children, and Servants, and poor folks, did eat enough.” (Carter adds later that his father in fact fasted regularly, just taking on those days toast and beer ‘to sustain nature.’)

Old Carter treated his servants as friends, and his son almost finds a fault in just how egalitarian his father was: “if he failed in any thing, it was in his carriage to his Servants; for truly he did not carry himself as a Master to Servants, but as a familiar friend to his friends. He would make them to sit down with him, and drink to them at meat … On the Sabbath day he never had any thing roast to Dinner, because he would have none detained at home from the public Ordinances. The Pot was hung on, and a piece of Beef and a Pudding in it; that was their constant Lords-day Dinner for well-nigh sixty years.”

Carter senior was charitable in ways that puritans are sometimes supposed not to be: “He never went to the house of a poor creature, but he left a Purse-Alms, as well as a spiritual Alms of good Heavenly advice, and Prayer.” Nor did he exercise a lordly dominion over the rest of creation: “The righteous man is merciful to his Beast: he was careful even for the brute Creatures, that they should be fed to the full. All his Cattle were like the first Kine that Pharoah saw feeding in the Meadow, they were fat-fleshed, and well-favoured; in so much that I have heard some godly people say merrily, If they would be a Cow, or a Horse, or a Hog, or a Dog, they would choose Mr. Carters house.”

The local people (besides their jocular wishes to be as well-treated as Old Carter’s livestock) knew that their pastor was a life-long specialist on the Book of Revelations (“His pains in the study of the Revelation were indefatigable”, says his son), and, assuming - as 17th century protestants would do - that the book foretold their times, consulted him about what his studies led him to deduce:

“When others came to him, and pressed him with importunity, to tell them his judgement concerning the future state of the Church; saying to him, That he had traveled much in the Revelation, and they were persuaded, God had revealed something more then ordinary to him: What do you think? Shall we have Popery once again, or no? He answered, You shall not need to fear fire and faggot any more, but such dreadful divisions will be amongst Gods people, and professors, as will equalize the greatest persecutions.”

Carter junior gives other examples of the distressed coming to him for advice (“O Mr. Carter! what shall I do?”): it usually came down to him urging them to pray, and of course joining them in prayers.

The habit of prayer became obsessive with the old man. In his last days, as he became mentally confused at last, he would ask his daughter, who was by then his housekeeper, “shall we not go to Prayer? and when she should answer him, you have been at Prayer already, and you are weary; he would answer, I fear we have not done what we should do.” He had invested so much in prayer: there’s a tremor of anxiety there that his account nevertheless needed topping up. Old John Carter died on a Sunday morning, February 22nd, 1635 (new style). He was unable to eat his usual frugal Sunday breakfast, an egg. He had written his sermon for the day, but realized that he could not manage to get to church. His daughter helped him into bed: laid his head down, then lifted one leg in, but discovered when she went to lift up the other leg up and into the bed, that her father had that instant passed away.

His son describes his own experiences after being summoned (it’s a very moving account):

“He had given order before he died, that his body should not be put in the Coffin till his Son John came. God carried me through the journey in hard weather: and through his good providence, I arrived at Belsted early on the Tuesday. And going to the house of mourning, I found the body of my deceased Father still lying upon the Bed. They uncovered his face: Sweetly he lay, and with a smiling countenance, and no difference to the eye between his countenance alive and dead, save only that he was wont to rejoice and bless me at my approach, now he was silent. I fell upon his face, I confess, and kissed him, and lift up my voice and wept, and so took my last leave of him, till we meet in a better World.”

The funeral was an occasion restrained by the dead man’s own scrupulousness: “Old Mr. Samuel Ward, that famous Divine, and the glory of Ipswich, came to the Funeral, brought a mourning Gown with him, and offered very respectively to Preach his funeral Sermon, now that such a Congregation were gathered together, and upon such an occasion. But my Sister and I durst not give way to it: For so our Father had often charged us in his life time, and upon his blessing, that no Sermon should be at his burial. ‘For’, said he, ‘it will give occasion to speak some good of me that I deserve not, and so false things will be uttered in the Pulpit’.

My image is a page from John Carter senior’s Winter-evenings communication with young novices in religion. Or Questions and answers about certaine chiefe grounds of Christian religion wherein every answer, rightly understood, hath the force of an oracle of God (1628). The title one imagines quite typical: when he cannot himself get out to talk to his younger parishioners, they can look at his little book. There's maybe a touch of the old man’s humour too: none of the answers are ‘his’ answers at all, every answer is in fact a bible text. My image is the section he gives to ‘Good Works’: he was clearly quite certain that they had to be performed. And, as we hear, his put his theory (supposedly uncharacteristic of a Puritan) continually into practice.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Adam's rib

Not much time in my weekly routine for blogging these days, now that teaching term has started. But I found this woodcut on EEBO, which says only this about it: “Illustration of the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib Date: 1600-1699. Reel position: Tract Supplement E3:1[183]”.

I found it a quite remarkable version of the creation of Eve. It isn’t the usual unnatural obstetrics, where a full sized Eve rises upright from Adam’s side. God has extracted the rib, and is at work upon it, blessing it. Eve’s head has already taken shape, but has yet to fill out to full size, so it looks like a shrunken head, the rest of her is still rib. It’s a disconcerting image: even the elephant seems to be looking uneasy at these strange goings-on. No wonder this version of the moment is not the usual iconographic type.

But I have possibly found a passage in Sylvester’s du Bartas that it just might have been cut to illustrate. Below is the creation of Eve as given in the sixth day of creation. That du Bartas says that God works with Adam under anesthetic, like a surgeon performing an amputation, is the first surprise. One tended to think that they just sawed away with the poor patient strapped or held down. But then again, they did know about opiates – and strong liquor. Once the rib has been extracted, God refines and carves ‘on the living bone’:

Even as a Surgeon, minding off-to-cut
Some cure-less limb; before in ure he put
His violent Engins on the vicious member,
Bringeth his Patient in a sense-less slumber,
And grief-less then (guided by use and Art)
To save the whole, sawes off th' infected part:
So, God empal'd our Grandsires lively look,
Through all his bones a deadly chilness strook,
Seal'd-up his sparkling Eyes with Iron bands,
Led down his feet (almost) to Lethè Sands;
In brief, so numb'd his Soul's and Body's sense,
That (without pain) opening his side; from thence
He took a rib, which rarely he refin'd,
And thereof made the Mother of Mankinde:
Graving so lively on the living Bone
All Adams beauties; that, but hardly, one
Could have the Lover from his Love descry'd,
Or known the Bridegroom from his gentle Bride:
Saving that she had a more smiling Eye,
A smoother Chin, a Cheek of purer Dye

A fainter voice, a more enticing Face,
A Deeper Tress, a more delighting Grace,
And in her bosom (more then Lillie-white)
Two swelling Mounts of Ivory, panting light.

Du Bartas’ narration of life in Eden is obsessed with Adam, whose small activities the narrative follows around. Adam even seems to sleep alone (though the narrative may at that point have drifted back imaginatively to the time before Eve’s creation). Here, all Eve’s beauty is secondary to Adam’s, which primary male beauty God merely reproduces in softer form as he carves.

Continuing with Eve, I was looking with my students at the moment when Eve’s pregnancy is announced. Adam has just mastered fire: he was trying to bring down an animal by throwing:

A knobbie flint that hummeth as it goes;
Hence flies the beast, th' ill-aimed flint-shaft grounding
Against the Rock, and on it oft rebounding,
Shivers to cinders, whence there issued
Small sparks of fire no sooner born then dead.

Adam instantly knows what he has:

This happy chance made Adam leap for glee,
And quickly calling his cold company…

His ‘cold company’ is of course Eve, and it falls to her to tend the spark to a flame. The narrative then passes swiftly to the birth of her first offspring:

Eve, kneeling down, with hand her head sustaining,
And on the low ground with her elbow leaning,
Blows with her mouth: and with her gentle blowing
Stirs up the heat, that from the dry leaves glowing,
Kindles the Reed, and then that hollow kix
First fires the small, and they the greater sticks.

[Note: Beginning of Families. ]
And now, Mankind with fruitful Race began
A little corner of the World to man:
First Cain is born, to tillage all addicted …

It’s a very telling transition: Adam supplies the spark; she tends the fire. Adam has supplied the seed (imagined then as being, in small, the complete child-to-be, which Eve’s role is merely to nurture).

Interesting work, du Bartas, and at least I may be the first person to try teaching extracts from it to undergraduates – this is in my ‘Paradise in Early Modern Literature’ course …

Monday, September 19, 2011

The witch at Newbury, 1643

On or about this day 368 years ago, the woman purportedly depicted in this woodcut was summarily shot by parliamentary forces near Newbury. The picture gets reproduced in museum displays, etc: it was the title page of A most certain, strange, and true discovery of a witch being taken by some of the Parliament forces as she was standing on a small planck board and sayling on it over the river of Newbury: together with the strange and true manner of her death, with the propheticall words and speeches she used at the same time. Printed by John Hammond, 1643. George Thomason dated the publication more precisely to September 28th, which was the day the Earl of Essex led his undefeated army back into London after getting rather the better of the first battle of Newbury (Sept 20th). The image of course attempts no likeness, but makes the unknown, unnamed victim of the soldiers conform to a witch stereotype.

My main project here was to set off the pamphlet’s account against other references to this incident in the periodical press of the day. Having transcribed those accounts and passing mentions I have found made the newsletters, I then discovered that EEBO has not yet done a full text transcript of the 28th September pamphlet. So I did one, and here it is; but between the two long paragraphs (and after them) I will insert some comments of my own.

A most certain, strange, and true discovery of a witch, etc, 1643

“Many are in a belief, that this silly sex of women by no means attaine to that so vile and damned a practice of sorcery and Witch-craft, in regard of their illiteratenesse and want of learning, which many men have by great learning done, Adam by temptation toucht and tasted the deceiving apple, so some high learnd & read by the same temptation that deceived him hath bin so insnared to contract with the Divel; as for example, in the instancing a few, as English Bacon of Oxford, Vandermast of Holland, Bungay of Germany, Fostus of the same, Franciscus the English Monke of Bury, Doctor Slackleach, and divers others which were too tedious to relate of, but how weake women should attain unto it many are incredible of the same, and many too are opposite in opinion against the same, that giving a possibility to their doubtings, that the malice, and inveterate malice of a woman entirely devoted to her revengefull wrath frequenting desolate and desart places, and giving way unto their wished temptation, may have converse with that world roaring lion, and covenant and contract upon condition, the like hath in sundry place, and divers times been tried at the Assises of Lancaster, Carlisle, Buckingham, and elsewhere, but to come to the intended relation of this Witch or Sorceresse, as is manifest and credibly related by the Gentlemen, Commanders, and Captains, of the Earl of Essex his Army.

(RB: like many of these pamphlets, the recital of the incidents is offered as a proof that witchcraft exists, and in this case that sorcery can be practised by women, even if illiteracy prevents them from making a written contract. A female civilian had been executed without trial. Newbury was town which generally favoured the parliamentarian cause, so there needed to be a good reason for this atrocity. At the start of the following paragraph, we will see confusion as to exactly where this fatal encounter took place. If the army really was marching through Newbury, then it happened after the battle. But at the end, the ‘witch’ finally breaks down into speech, and makes prophecy of Essex’s forthcoming victory. The straggling march with troops foraging in the hedgerows sounds like conditions in Essex’s half-starved force as it moved east from Hungerford towards Newbury on Sept. 19th. Royalist forces moving from Wantage got to Newbury before Essex’s advance party, and were withdrawn towards Oxford after the battle, leaving Essex free to march through Newbury and on towards London.)

“A part of the Army marching through Newbury some of the Souldiers being scattered by the reason of their loitering by the way, in gathering Nuts, Apples, Plummes, Blackberries, and the like, one of them by chance in clambering up a tree, being pursued by his fellow or Comrade in waggish merriment, jesting one with another, espied on the river being there adjacent, a tall, lean, slender woman, as he supposed, to his amazement, and great terreur treading of the water with her feet, with as much ease and firmnesses as if one could walk or trample on the earth, wherewith his softly calls, and beckened to his fellows to behold it, and with all possible speed that could be to obscure them from her sight, who as conveniently as they could they did observe, this could be no little amazement unto them you may think to see a woman dance upon the water, nor could all their sights be deluded, though perhaps one might but coming nearer to the shore, they could perceive there was a plank or deale overshadowed with a little shallow water that she stood upon, the which did beare her up, anon rode by some of the Commanders who were eye witnesses, as well as they, and were as much astonished as they could be, still too and fro she fleeted on the water, the boord standing firm bout upright, indeed I have both heard and read of many that in tempests and on rivers by casualty have been shipwracked, or cast over board, where catching empty barrels, rudders, boards, or planks have made good shift by the assisting providence of God to get on shore, but not in this womans kind to stand upon the board, turning and winding it which way she pleased, making it pastime to her, as little thinking who perceived her tricks, or that she did imagine that they were the last she ever should show, as we have heard the swan sing before her death, so did this divellish woman, as after plainly it appeared make sport before her death, at last having sufficiently been upon the water, he that deceived her always did so then, blinding her that she could not at her landing see the ambush that was laid for her, coming upon the shore she gave the board a push, which they plainly perceived, and crossed the river, they searched after her but could not find her she being landed the Commanders beholding her, gave order to lay hold on her and bring her to them straight, the which some were fearfull, but some being more venturous then other some, boldly went to her and seized on her by the arme, demanding what she was? But the woman no whit replying any words unto them, they brought her unto the Commanders, to whom though mightily she was urged she did reply as little: so consulting with themselves what should be done with her, being it so apparently appeared she was a Witch, being loth to let her goe, and as loth to carry her with them, they so resolved with themselves, to make a shot at her, and gave order to a couple of their Souldiers that were approved good marks-men, to charge and shoot her straight, which they prepared to doe: so setting her boult upright against a mud banke or wall; two of the Souldiers according to their command made themselves ready, where having taken aime gave fire and shot at her as thinking sure they had sped her, but with a deriding and loud laughter at them she caught the bullets in her hands and chew’d them, which was a stronger testimony then the water, that she was the same that their imagination thought her so to be, so resolving with themselves if either fire or sword or halter were sufficient for to make an end of her, one set his carbin close unto her brest: where discharging the bullet back rebounded like a ball, and narrowly he mist it in his face that was the shooter: this so enraged the Gentleman, that one drew out his sword & manfully run at her with all the force his strength had power to make, but it prevailed no more than did the shot, the woman still though speechlesse, yet in a most contemptible way of scorn, still laughing at them, which did the more exhaust their furie against her life, yet one amongst the rest had heard that piercing or drawing bloud from forth the veines that cross the temples of the head, it would prevail against the strongest sorcery, and quell the force of Witchcraft, which was allowed for triall: the woman hearing this, knew that the Devill had left her and her power was gone, whereupon she began alowd to cry, and roare, tearing her haire, and making piteous moan, which in these words expressed were; and is this come to passe, that I must dye indeed? Why then his Excellency the Earl of Essex shall be fortunate and win the field, after which no more words could be got from her; wherewith they immediately discharged a pistol underneath her eare, at which she straight sunk down and dyed, leaving her legacy of a detested carcase to the wormes, her soul were ought not to judge of, though the evils of her wicked life and death can scape no censure.

(The writer makes the desperate foraging sound like schoolboy fun, exactly like the boy Robinson looking for ‘bullaces’ at the start of The Late Lancashire Witches. In the imputed mood of levity, the ‘witch’ is sighted. I imagine that people who lived by lakes and rivers got very good at balancing on the slightest of craft: the woman’s apparent enjoyment of her skill brought to the mind of her assailants the kind of images of sorcerers floating on mere planks that we see in Olaus Magnus' Historia de gentibus Septentrionalibus, and hear about in tales of witches sailing in eggshells, sieves, etc.

It seems possible that the woman did scoff at or ridicule the soldiers. The Parliamentary cause had not gone well up to this point of the war, the Royalists were winning. Rather than larking about up trees, the soldiers were more likely to be very much on edge. A confused passage in the narrative seems to indicate that the woman thought she could cross the river to safety, but they seem to have gone to the trouble of rounding her up. She had said too much, they decided to finish her off. The initial impression that she was walking on the water itself, rejected by the very baptismal element itself, remains more potent in their jumpy response than any rational attention to her body board. Notice that they ask ‘what’, not ‘who’ she was: they seem at no point to have been interested in her name; her personal individuality was simply swallowed up in this new one, ‘witch’. Their attempts to shoot her are in effect her trial: that she is seemingly impervious to shot proves that she actually is what she is being shot for being, a pacted witch (and it says nothing about their potentially worrisome inability to shoot straight). After ‘scratching’, her power of ‘charmed life’ is broken, like Macbeth’s finally was, and she succumbs to a pistol shot beneath her ear. Had she been reported to have died after the first shots, this might have looked more like the murder it was, but she was by then safely incriminated to men who had no inclination to take her with them for trial (they all faced a battle, after all).

Here’s the account of the incident in Certaine Informations from Severall Parts of the Kingdome, September 25, 1643 - October 2, 1643; Issue 37.

“The general vote of the souldiers that are returned from the fight at Newbery is, that a Witch was sent by the Cavaliers into their Army to do mischiefe, who being shot at, was so impenetrable, that no bullets would pierce her, whereupon a Captaine bid shoot her with a button, and one of the souldiers pulled a brasse button from his doublet, and therewith charging his pistoll, fired it upon her head, and slew her. If it be true that she were a witch, and sent by the Cavaliers, as the common voice it, [illeg.] will verify the old verse, viz. Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo

But it will be thought ridiculous that any man should be shot free. Whereunto we answer, that we have heard some English Commanders that have been in the Swedes wars, credibly affirme, that it is an ordinary thing in those parts.”

In this other parliamentary account, the witch was a royalist agent. The forces of hell are deployed against the trained bands. The 1645 pamphlet, Signs and wonders from heaven shows the persistence of this belief that eliminating witches would nullify Prince Rupert’s preternatural invulnerability: “It is likewise certified by many of good quality and worth that at the last Assises in Norfolke there were 40 witches araigned for their lives, and 20. executed: and that they have done very much harme in that Countrey, and have prophesied of the downfall of the King and his Army, and that Prince Robert (sic) shall be no longer shot-free: with many strange and unheard of things that shall come to passe.” Curious, then, that the September 28th pamphleteer made so little of the ‘witch’ as a spell-casting antagonist, or as an associate of Prince Rupert: she is surprised (in his account) while intent on her own recreations, like Acrasia being caught unawares in her Bower of Bliss. I had not come across buttons as efficacious against supernatural things – a silver coat button would have been more familiar. But a brass one worked (as it would).

For the royalist side Mercurius Britanicus Communicating the Affaires of Great Britaine, October 10, 1643 - October 17, 1643; Issue 8, offered this derisive account of what was claimed. It in turn shows no compassion for the dead woman, but does insinuate something of the injustice: the witch was killed ‘before she was born’ (where I think the intended sense is, before she became one):

“And that the Citie may have plenty of strange things together, the Faction made a fine new Witch, borne and brought forth at Newbury, which (you must know) was the true cause why so many trained bands lost their lives, and this Witch (for certaine) they saw walke upon the water, being as light-heeld as any of the She-Committee, and had an impenetrable skin till a faithful Shoomaker scratched her on the arme, by which meanes they put a Pistoll to her eare, and so discovered her to be a Malignant woman, that is (said master Peard) a Witch or Sorceresse. So this Witch being killed (before she was borne) their victory went on bravely.

And for the Witch, since you have so much faith in her as we heare, we will sell ye her grissels and bones, you may make spels and charmes of them to keep you Shot-free and Scot-free: I am persuaded you are so superstitious, you thinke one tooth of such a grave, old woman may be the preservation of Prince Rupert himselfe, and His majesties whole Army.”

Mercurius Aulicus (1643: Oxford) (Oxford, England), Sunday, October 15, 1643 reports on the contents of some intercepted letters. The incident appears (for this writer) among the other follies the parliamentarian forces entertained: prejudices, lies, hopeful rumours, and absurdities, the wild words of a defeated rabble:

“Though their forces are not many their lyes are, which since they prosper so ill in print, they convey them confidently in writing (though sometimes they expresse a sensible sigh for the unluckinesse of their cause) many of which were this weeke were intercepted. One writes to his sister Mistresse Mary Greene, that he saw the French Ambassador come into London, but Oh sister (said he) his very horses head had all Crosses on. (sure they were not horses) Another, one Broughton, writes to Alderman Basnet at Coventree, that his unkle George Gresley saw an old Witch at Newbury with his very eyes (nay with his very eares). Another writes to his friend at Coventry that he received a wound at Auburne by one of my Lord Jermyn’s Souldiers nine inches deepe. Another writes that, Prince Rupert is mortally wounded…”

Whoever she was, perhaps an eel-catcher, trout fisher or reed-bed cutter on the Kennet, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and had the folly to laugh at tired, hungry and nervous soldiers, men who were capable of believing anything of their enemy. She was, after a bit of shooting and missing, killed, and then posthumously incriminated according to that dictates of that convenient excuse, witchcraft.