Monday, August 28, 2006

Oh, come on, cheer up...

"Foole that I was, who had so faire a state
Fower or five thousant by the year at least
And waste it so as I have done of late
On Whores and Bawdes, and like a filthie beast
Caught foule diseases, which consume me sore.
And all proceedes from loving everie whore
As manie as I ere have laine withall
See here their faces how they face my gowne
Of all sortes: little, middle-sized and tall
Some Lovelie faire, some black, and some are browne
Some Wives, some Maidens, some rich and others poore
Some old, some young, yet everie one a whore
With all these sometime I have been acquainted
Which were they in their lively cullors limnd
Some should you see how they themselves have painted
How others with their borrowed hair are trimmd
How like this monkey sick themselves they faine
When in their bones, indeed, lies all the paine.
But since these daies are done, all warning take
How with their wealth they do their bodies wast
And then themselves to Hospitalls betake
Or Scorned Beggars do become at last.
Vice, by my example, then learn to flie
But most of all (the basest) LETCHERIE."

1642, and apparently a collaboration between Wencelaus Hollar and Thomas Killigrew. I've added some punctuation. A failed satire, blunted by the banality of Killigrew's text, and the benignity of Hollar's engraving. The repentent philanderer shows no sores or lesions, his nose hasn't collapsed with syphilis, he still looks wealthy, and he remains crowned (politically quite odd that he should be) in his masculinity, while the ape, which ought to signify his lechery, is in a woman's lace cap and falling band. Hollar had a special sensibility (which Gerald Hammond has identified as particularly akin to Cavalier poetry) for tertiary sexual characteristics in women, their clothes and accoutrements, as in his strange and wordless catalogues of the varieties of women's dress. Instead of pornographic parts of bodies, the artist has drawn rather uniformally attractive faces, and headdresses, and on the buttoned-on facings of the man's gown, as though he could slough off these memories in a moment: they are not inscribed on him. 'Everie one a whore', he mournfully announces - that slippiest of words in 17th century discourse about women, linking any unmarried partner, however faithful and long-term, to the sex professional. That the women all seem to be partners any man would be happy to be intimately involved with perhaps makes an unintended point about the effects of those Judeo-Christian inculcations of sexual guilt.

Hollar is not well served by the internet. His large output, too vast for book publication, would be ideally served by an Art History version of something like literature's commercial databases. In an ideal world... This single sheet print was presumably created (Hollar's engraving above his lettered version of Killigrew's text) as an up-market version of the illustrated ballad, for framing or simply pasting up as a wall decoration.

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