Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thomas Campion's Secret Love

I suppose I’ve always given Thomas Campion short shrift (mainly for not being John Dowland). But I’ve just been looking back at his words, and enjoying their directness when it comes to amatory subject matter. His Two bookes of ayres The first contayning diuine and morall songs: the second, light conceites of louers of 1613 clearly made Campion feel defensive at having put devout and undeniably naughty songs between the same book covers:

‘To the READER.’

That holy Hymns with Lovers’ cares are knit
Both in one Quire here, thou maist think’t unfit;
Why do’st not blame the Stationer as well,
Who in the same Shop sets all sorts to sell?
Divine with stiles profane, grave shelv’d with vain;
And some matcht worse, yet none of him complain.

The ‘light conceits of lovers’ show Campion writing out of classical models, particularly Catullus and Ovid. These were liberating influences: there’s a fine lyric requesting sex before marriage (‘Sweet, exclude me not…’), and asking (in same way that Ovid’s male lovers get absurdly aggrieved about things) why it was the doors were ever invented ‘in love’s despite’ (he’s asking his fiancée not to ‘bar not the door’, but she is doing so, and laughing at him). The lover who just daren’t speak is here, analyzing whether keeping painfully silent doesn’t in fact preserve the hope that will vanish if he speaks:

Fain would I my love disclose,
Ask what honour might deny;
But both love and her I lose,
From my motion if she fly.

Campion goes quite deep, psychologically: ‘Though your strangeness frets my heart’ is a lover’s complaint to a Lady who insists on such secrecy, and requires such arbitrary postponements of meetings that he just has to suspect her of being up to something (– it’s a good tune too).

But I’d forgotten about this set of verses for a very candid woman speaker/singer:

A secret love or two, I must confess,
I kindly welcome for change in close playing:
Yet my dear husband I love ne’ertheless,
His desires, whole or half, quickly allaying,
At all times ready to offer redress.
His own he never wants, but hath it duly,
Yet twits me, I keep not touch with him truly.

The more a spring is drawn, the more it flows;
No Lampe less light retains by lighting others:
Is he a loser his loss that ne’re knows?
Or is he wealthy that waste treasure smothers?
My churl vows no man shall scent his sweet Rose:
His own enough and more I give him duly,
Yet still he twits me, I keep not touch truly.

Wise Archers bear more then one shaft to field,
The Venturer loads not with one ware his shipping:
Should Warriors learn but one weapon to wield?
Or thrive faire plants ere the worse for the slipping?
One dish cloys, many fresh appetite yield:
Mine own I’le use, and his he shall have duly,
Judge then what debtor can keep touch more truly.

The wife loves her ‘dear husband’ well enough, but she also needs her ‘secret love or two’ (how many, though, really?) for variety’s sake. Her husband, who is given everything he wants sexually (it seems he could have plenty more if he could deal with it) is not in her view the loser by her extra-marital adventures. To justify her in all this there flows a stream of semi-proverbial instances and analogies. How unreasonable of him to want to keep all to himself all of something that he can’t in practice use all of!

Campion, writing such a splendidly uninhibited lyric voiced for a woman speaker, surely offered a very risqué piece for amateur and domestic performance. Could a man, his wife, and their friends, really ever have sat round a table singing their parts in this song-setting? Or would it always have been ‘performers’, distanced by profession from the unblushing sentiments they were voicing? She sounds, in her commonsense and socially aspirant euphemisms (‘close playing … scent his sweet rose’), a bit like one of the citizen’s wives in the comedies of Middleton, and in this way, the song is lightly ‘in character’. In my next post I will look at how one in particular of Campion’s songs was a great success with the broadside ballad audience. This poem is like one of the more outspoken state-of-a-marriage ballads.

The verb ‘twit’ is a characteristic Elizabethan usage: the OED, bless it, explains that it began with a long ‘i’ (‘twite’), and that was itself an aphetic form of ‘atwite’, which is the word in Beowulf for ‘reproach’ – if you in the later centuries were ‘twitting’ somebody, you were reproaching, as the OED sagely defines it, in a light or annoying manner. Perhaps it's still used only in English Departments? Even we no longer 'twit' one another 'in the teeth', as they did in the 16th century.

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