Wednesday, August 28, 2013

'Eutopia nothing to it yields': Thomas Peyton on Paradise and the Fall, 1620







The youthful and pious Thomas Peyton published two books of his intended verse paraphrase of Genesis, The Glasse of Time, in 1620. Peyton was not a very inventive narrator of the sparse story given in Genesis (he got as far as Noah), while as a versifier, it is easy to suspect he was pushing on too quickly, often filling out his lines to meet obvious rhyme words, achieving no sustained style. But his reflections on other people’s reflections on what might have happened to Adam and Eve must have catered to a taste not even the scale of Du Bartas’s Divine Week could satisfy, and his work was reprinted in 1623 and 1625. One can imagine the young Milton looking at it for maybe five minutes, at least until he read something like this suggestion of the devil lying in wait to accost Eve alone
 … watching Time, when Adam stept aside, 

Even but a little from his lovely Bride, 
To pluck perhaps a Nut upon the Trees, 
Or get a combe amongst the honey Bees…

(as stepping aside ‘to pluck a rose’ was a euphemism of the time, this was doubly inept).


Peyton hoped that “my speech as generall to all, /May like a Sermon in the Pulpit fall: /And not to wade in curious questions deepe…” - that he would be instructive and not over-curious. “In God’s book we love to pry and peeke’, he wrote, deploringly, while doing exactly that himself. But he was unable to inhabit mentally, and so fill out the life of Adam and Eve in Eden and afterwards; instead he is drawn into rabbinical lore and all the other speculations about their lives after the Fall, as well as such matters as the location of Paradise, or what the forbidden fruit actually was.

His own multiple retelling of possible events after the Fall follows a distraught Adam after his expulsion all the way east (Adam’s quest is to reconnect with the divine light) to the final insurmountable barrier of the River Ganges, where Adam (“some say”) circumcised himself, and then stood in the river until he was “overgrown with green”. Then Peyton withdraws all this agreeably zany rabbinical legend with a comment that it’s unlikely Adam was so long separated from his wife, or even be able to bear to be so far away from Paradise itself, but have stayed close to her and their former dwelling place.

The quest for the site of Paradise takes Peyton rather willingly back on another excursion to the Far East, this time to Zeilan (Ceylon), and Adam’s Peak’s_Peak

which Peyton says is surrounded by a freshwater lake eighteen miles across and four foot deep, ‘distilled’ from the tears of the penitent Adam and Eve (we can be generous and imagine that distilling their tears would make the lake freshwater), while a ‘flaming hill’ nearby symbolized the flaming sword guarding paradise (Ceylon does not have volcanic activity).

Describing Ceylon and its climate makes Peyton as paradisal in description of a place as he ever gets – but his account then moves on to Mount Amara in Ethiopia, and finally to Assyria ‘the likeliest place indeede’, and also equipped with a ‘smoky hill’ to memorialize the sword guarding the Tree of Life. On the great mystery of the nature of that carefully guarded ‘Tree of Life’ Peyton offers a suggestion that the tree was probably not yet ripe: for it was a symbol of the Christ to come.  


These long sections of his poem where he canvasses various possibilities are only remarkable as illustrations of that characteristic mix of Bible history and world travel they went in for in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. When it comes to the Forbidden Fruit, Peyton learnedly opts, in the end, for the banana, which has to his mind the right combination of taste, scent and multiple cropping, and has a built-in ‘signature’ which shows its nature:

            more like and probable it is: 
If that their iudgements do not erre amis, 
The dainty tree that in their country growes, 
And twice a yeare his pleasant fruite that showes, 
Yeelding a fragrant and a lovely scent, 
If but the same be either crusht or rent: 
A Cucumber much like it is in shew, 
Of pleasing taste, and sweet delightfull hew. 
If with a knife the fruite in two you reave, 
A perfect crosse you shall therein perceave: 
The spatious leaves are full a fadome long· 
In breadth three spans…

It is rather a pity that no artist ever adopted this identification – an Eve by Titian or Rubens tempting Adam with a banana would have been glorious.

But what gives Peyton some individual interest is his gradual superimposition of his own story onto his retelling of Genesis. Evil came into the enclosed and ideal world he shared with his beloved Urania (meaning, of course, the muse of Christian poetry he shared with Du Bartas). Peyton, identifying himself strongly with innocence and true faith, inserts his account of what envious folk did to him, into the main narrative of the Fall under Lucifer’s envious assault.

It is not certain that Peyton would have seen any incongruity in this, had it been pointed out to him, rather, it is all one (as far as he’s concerned), and his own life experience validates the Bible truths. Peyton is not in the least abashed about his faith, which is of the right kind, as is his art: God sends Urania down to him on a mission up there in importance to Peyton with the ministry of Christ: 

That thou my Breast dost with Urania fill, 
Sending her Downe as thou didst send thy Son … 

Whatever it was happened to Peyton, it was clearly something he felt very aggrieved about, but it is never made entirely clear what it actually was. A self-righteous and touchy man (I infer), it may have been the case that adverse comment on his opinions, which he considered to distort them, prompted him to sound off about Envy, whose venom which has besmirched even his beloved Urania:

Urania (deere) thy very case is mine, 
How did my Foes still to this day combine, 
Backe sliding friends (much like to slippery Eels) 
Have undermin’d, to turne up both mine heeles: 
With fawning tearmes my company have sought, 
Inverted that (which yet) I never thought; 
Reported words, the which were never spake… 

Nothing about The Glasse of Time itself strikes me as heterodox. When he invents, he tends to do so under the influence of Spenser, in highly descriptive allegory. We hear a lot about the daughters of God, the allegorical figures of Mercy, Justice, Charity and Truth. Here, God just sounds indecisive when faced by female tears (of course, the compassion is His own, talked out of Him by His justice):

But God himselfe his daughter deare that sees, 
With weeping eyes before his face to crave, 
That but on Eve he would compassion have: 
Began to stay his minde, to alter cleane, 
And to the woman now began to leane: 
But that hard by stood Justice in the place, 
And urg’d him much to prosecute the case: 
When all the reason Mercy well could render, 
Was that her selfe was of the female gender …

And this following passage is not well handled, in which a fit of papal petulance about a lost peacock (Peyton repeatedly denounces both Catholics and ‘Puritants’) unluckily collides with God’s reaction to the disappearance of the Forbidden apple (wasn’t it a banana?):

What may we thinke of that ambitious Pope, 
Which dar’d to scoffe under heauens glorious Cope, 
Against that God, that in his sacred frowne 
Turns up his heeles, and hurles his pride soone downe? 
When having mist a simple childish toy, 
A Peacocke bird which seem’d his onely joy. 
Distempered much began in heate to chide, 
That few men could his holy presence bide. 
And afterward asham’d of what was past, 
To shew his choller not long time did last; 
Excusde himselfe, that he might angry be, 
As well for that, as was the Trinitie. 
When discontented for an Apple lost, 
Both Eve and Adam to their paine and cost, 
From Paradise were thrust quite out and beaten, 
And much disgrac’t for one poore Apple eaten …

Peyton’s major problem was most likely vexatious litigation, causing him great losses to his estate, and spells in prison (I assume that people he had thought his friends, turned legal opponents, had paid for him to be arrested).

Nay thou thy selfe, noble Urania deere, 
Since first thy landing and arrival heere, 
Hast thou not beene on every side turmoyl’d, 
Tost too and fro, by Envy overtoyl’d? 
Whose viprous tongue within a sacred place, 
Hath belcht her venome, aim’d at thy disgrace; 
Like to the Divell in Paradise at first,  
That banefull poyson in his Brest hath nurst, 
To wrong thy person, weaken much thy state, 
Enrich himselfe to satisfie his hate, 
 Tooke all advantage working on thy youth, 
Suggested lies instead of naked truth: 
Lock’t thee up close (Immur’d) within a Wall, 
When not a Groate was due to him at all; 
But by the order of this noble Land, 
He in that place for debt to-thee should stand. 

But holy God, what will become of those, 
Which in an open publike place shall chose, 
To give occasion first to shew their gall, 
Do call a man both this and that and all, 
And afterwards shall lye upon the catch, 
Their friends estate, into their hands to snatch, 
By Deedes, Conveyance, Obligations, Bonds, 
To wring and wrest, to make them sell their Lands, 
Before such time as any thing is due, 
To clap up such with Cerberus his crue, 
In wofull prison sick to lye and rot … 

Complaints about how he had been treated continue, and with him, his Muse suffers

 … all the spight against me she [Envy] can use, 
May waste my State, and hinder thee my Muse. 

                        by her I am misused, 
Hurried about by slandrous tongues abused, 
Kept long from home, unto my great expence, 
Weakened my Lands and living ever since, 
On all sides crost (by Greatnesse) over sway’d, 

… So deerest Muse here in this mortall life,  
That swarmes in troupes of those delight in strife, 
Which never rest till all my state be spent, 
But at my Ruine all their aime is bent, 

The importance to Peyton of money, and hanging on to the wealth you have, impinges on his Paradise narrative. His Garden of Eden is surprisingly opulent; Adam has wealth just lying about. Then of course he loses it all, and hangs about in the vicinity, hoping to get it back:

.. all the world thou hadst in ample store, 
Plenty of wealth and gold at thy command, 
And all the creatures in the earth to stand, 
Before thy face subjected to thy will, 
And thou the Lord of Paradise yet still.

 … How is thy ground exceeding rich and faire· 
A region seasoned with a temperate aire, 
Thy channels crawling full of golden Ore …

One might think the excluded Adam could pick wealth enough off the outside walls of this opulent Paradise:

The lofty walls were all of Jasper built, 
Lin’d thick with gold, and covered rich with gilt 
Like a quadrangle seated on a hill, 
With twelve brave gates the curious eye to fill, 
The sacred luster as the glistring Zone, 
And every gate fram’d of a severall stone…

I deduce that Peyton got married too. He makes some passing remarks about having, regrettably, less time for Urania than he’d wish: “And what if Hymen something doe annoy / Thy tender Fruit, yet shalt thou live in joy…” 

One of his favourite motifs as he deals with the Bible patriarchs is to praise their continence of life until marriage at mature years, marriage contracted out of a spirit of duty to the church rather than any youthful lust. 


Though I can’t quite see exactly how it connects to his legal problems, Peyton seems to have got into a quarrel about Eve, perhaps with a clergyman who then litigated with a mind to “Enrich himselfe to satisfie his hate”.

Prior to the Fall, Eve is (conventionally enough), for Adam a “Glittring sugred hooke, / She drawes thy love to mind her speeches more, / Then God himselfe that gave thee her in store.” Peyton does not attempt to describe her, he actually pays more attention to the beauty of Adam:

As the two lights within the Firmament,  
So hath thy God his glory to thee lent, 
Compoz’d thy body exquisite and rare, 
That all his works cannot to thee compare, 
Like his owne Image, drawne thy shape divine, 
With curious Pencill shadowed forth thy line: 
Within thy Nosthrils blowne his holy breath, 
Impal’d thy head with that inspiring wreath, 
Which binds thy front, and elevates thine eyes …

I suppose Peyton imagines Adam with a kind of Bacchic wreath. But the second book includes a sudden upsurge of sympathetic interest in Eve. As Peyton tells it, Adam (after the Fall), quite ignorant of what he is doing, has sex with his wife:

                                    upon a time it fell, 
The circumstance I must forbeare to tell, 
Playing with Eve within that shady bowre, 
And in his armes his loveliest sweetest flowre, 
Embracing, toying, smiling, kissing sweete, 
The sports most chaste unto a Spouse bed meete, 
Thinking the time he had with her beguil’d, 
Forgets himselfe, and she conceives with child. 

Peyton is fond of projecting innocence onto Adam – alone in Paradise prior to the creation of Eve, in one of the many similes Peyton proudly points out to us in his margins, he’s like a school boy, peeking in every bush for birds’ nests. Adam’s eyes do not seem very much opened by having tasted the Fruit of Knowledge. After this inadvertent coupling, Adam is baffled by Eve’s behaviour – she keeps eating bizarre things, and demanding that Adam find a way back into Paradise and get her the stuff she really has a fancy for:

Strange is the change she in her selfe doth find, 
An extreme Passion working in her mind, 
Longing oft times some sops in Tarre to lick, 
Her bodies altred, and her stomack sick, 
Black ugly Berries, fulsome unripe Plums, 
And every thing that in her way next comes, 
The goodly fruits which are within the walls, 
Of Paradise, she to her husband calls, 
Desires, intreates him, as he loves his Wife, 
Forth with to hast, and fetch to save her life. 

But this erratic and conventionally anti-feministic Eve, cursed by God after the disobedience with ‘Sick loathsome vomits’ in pregnancy, suddenly starts to receive what seems to be Peyton’s sincere tribute. When Adam returns from one of his excursions for Twiglets, he finds that she has given birth in his absence, and Eve explains to Adam:

She knew not well how first to her it came, 
But that she thought although her sence was weake, 
This was the Seed the Serpents head should breake, 
Told him in words and gentle speeches mild, 
That by the Lord she had conceiv’d that Child.

Peyton underlines his point, insisting that Eve would not have known where her baby had come about, and that her deduction was pious and correct. He suddenly breaks out in anger:

How damn’d prophane are those accursed lips,  
Which in Gods Church shall make such dangerous slips, 
Within the same to belch to thy disgrace, 
Even in a sacred and most publike place, 
Behinde thy back when thou art dead and past, 
And canst not answere what their mouth out cast, 
Thus to be lye, mens soules to sin allure, 
Wresting thy speech with banefull breath impure: 
Not terrifide with Heavens all threatning Rod, 
But dares to teach (that thou didst sweare by God  
Thou hadst a Child) and oftentimes to speake it, 
If it were true, unto the world to breake it, 
Is worse then was that Serpent damn’d accurst, 
In Paradise which wrong’d thy Person first. 

As far as this is coherent, it indicates a fierce dispute about Genesis 4, 1 (“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord”), in which Peyton took the text at face value, and someone else, a clergyman, asserted that Eve was telling a profane lie (with the possibility that this other person asserted the common enough notion that the real father of Cain was the devil).

For Peyton, however, such opinions are another assault upon well-meaning inexperience: it’s what happened at the Fall, it is what happened when he was ensnared by litigants. The plain words of a pure mind, such as his, or Eve’s, get ‘inverted’ or ‘wrested’ into something scandalous to the person that uttered them. He continues with a vision of Eve in heaven:

Deare Eve, thy worth I ever must admire, 
Thou sitst above within the Angels Quire, 
Tuning thy voyce unto their sacred layes, 
To sound forth Glory to the Prince of prayse.

while her detractors (like his, for so we can extrapolate)

“headlong downe to damned divels shall reele: 
Whilst Eve shall sit triumphant on the skies, 
Viewing their fall, hearing their moanes and cryes, 
Joying to see the sacred Truth prevaile, 
Her meaning clear’d, her foes to weepe and waile.

Eve goes on to have “about some threescore more / Of sons and daughters”. For Peyton, Cain’s story is just another example of the poisonous nature of Envy, a man who set out well, but was then polluted (Peyton makes a parallel with Faustus).

I’m sorry to say that Peyton opts completely for the mark of Cain as being black skin:

That Cains most fearefull punishment and marke, 
For raking up his brother in the darke 
Was that his skin was all to blackensse turn’d, 
Like to a Coale within the fire halfe burn’d.

He scoffs at the notion that dark skin is something to do with climate:

If this be true, how is it that there bee 
In Africa, America, to see 
Under the line both people white and faire, 
As many men that now in Europe are …(?)

Here’s early modern racism in a couplet:

“The Southerne man, a black deformed Elfe, 
The Northerne white like unto God himselfe …”

I will end with Peyton at his most paranoid. In this personal anecdote, even as he is working with Urania on this divine poem of his (it’s a wonder he didn’t get it printed in white ink), his enemies gather outside, just as happened to Lot in Sodom. But his good friend God (that would be the white one) sends him a dream that makes him wake up, secure his doors, and escape:

(Ah dearest God) even whilst my Muse was working 
Upon this Place, how were my foes all lurking 
About my house, to undermine my state, 
With secret traines, close to my dores and gate. 
But thou didst wake when I was fast asleepe, 
To make me know that thou dost alwayes keepe, 
Thy sheepe from danger of a Wolfe most fierce, 
Which in my bloud (next to my state) would pierce 
Then didst thou give me at that instant howre, 
A Vision strange to shew thy secret powre, 
That in a dreame when once my body wak’t, 
My inward thoughts and all my sences shak’t; 
But Reason guides and swayes me downe her streame, 
To make me prize it 'bove an usuall dreame. 
Whereat I went, lockt up my dores most sure, 
To keepe me safe from treacherous pawes impure, 
Which never yet in all my life was done, 
The hatefull lawes of cruell foes to shun; 
But (Heavenly God) when least I knew of harme, 
How did they then about my house all swarme 
On every side, with raving speeches hot, 
Like Sodomits about the walls of Lot,  
Till thou protectedst broughtst me safely out, 
From the curst fury of that griping Rout; 
Stroke them with blindnesse all like Tygers lay; 
While thou conveydst my body sure away, 
To sound thy prayse, and blaze thy glorious name, 
To end (this worke) to thy renowned fame. 

My illustrations are from the book: the title page ‘vinnet’, as he calls it (‘vignette’), with Time leading forth Truth, Noah’s Ark, either Paradise or the heavenly Jerusalem, pious scenes, and himself. Then we have bowlers sinfully bowling on the Sabbath when others are in church (Peyton has much to say about this, and how God has punished even Geneva, which allowed shooting on Sundays, by bringing war to it), a temptation scene with Time and his glass rather oddly intruded, and the death of Adam and Eve, four of Seth’s sons bearing them away.