Saturday, April 26, 2008

'Knubby knuckles rusty rough' and early modern ring wearing

I have spent the week reading a doctoral thesis, a task from which almost anything could distract me, even the extreme ineptitude of the madly obscure and oddly named C.Thimelthorpe, who in 1581 published what he himself describes as a ‘hotpotch’ (and even this is perhaps immodest), to which he gave the floundering title, A short inventory of certayne idle inventions the fruites of a close and secret garden of great ease, and litle pleasure.

It mainly consists of a dialogue between Idleness, and a Student (the idea is more winning than its execution), introduced like this:

The friendly greeting and comminge together betweene Idlenes, & a student

The godly & wel disposed man, satlinge hymselfe both in body and mynd, (bowing as faithfully the knees of his hart, as many do faynedly in most dissemblyinge manner the knees of their outward bodyes) unto his devoute meditations, & prayers, is very sensibly to his feeling as he certaynlye thinkes, pulled oftentimes by the head oftimes by the legg, and some tyme by other parts of the body…”

I doubt that Thimelthorpe really meant the innuendo, as he isn’t that sharp. Such talents as he was persuaded he had also extended to versing, and here he is on the subject of ring wearing. He can’t quite make his mind up whether it’s a good or bad thing, but as (to his regret) every man wears rings, he is eager to propound a small restoration of social distinction, by laying down some rules about what finger it is proper to wear a ring upon, according to your status:

For wearing of rings

For that it is a proverbe olde,

the winners may best weare the gold

We knubby knuckles rusty rough

do see more fit to lead the plough,

Which fond to see their fingers shine,

in steede of fatt, with golden mine


But wisely wayed it is most vayne

and brings such thinges in great disdayne,

When ringes be knackes for every knave

for then no wiseman wil them crave


But were it trim to ring the nose

I thinke I might soone fynd out those

That would to please their dainty gyrles

rend that with ringe and pretious pearles


Disorder marreth every thinge

so doth miswearing of your ringe,


Cost is comly wher order is

good order therefore should not misse

And such as weare them as they ought

the worthier then shall they be thought


But some men thinke and so do I

that natures flesh when it is bare,

Without such pearles or paultery

if fayre, is fittest for the glare.


For when dame Venus plainly shows

her selfe in natures naked weed

Your eyes then flye not after crows,

but stayes to feede your wanton neede


To this the wisest men of all

as we see dayly they be thrall


But as for pearles, of precious stones

they passe not for they be but toyes

And gaudy geaugawes for the nones

which they accompt as childish joyes


But since they have bene greatly usd

though much perhappes by some abusd

It is not good to take awaye

such comly costly gold array


But who so useth it aright

reserves the thumbe as for the knight

And here in order as they lye

your finger rynges you may apply.


Miles, Marcator, Stultus, nuptie, & amator


To weare the ringe upon the thum is for the Knight


The forefinger for the Marchaunt.


The middle finger for the Foole


The third finger for the maried man


The little finger for the Lover


My first image is Rogeir van der Weyden’s portrait of Francesco d’Este, of c.1460. The Web Gallery of Art commentary suggests thatthe ring and hammer he holds may be emblems of office or tournament prizes’. That looks like a goldsmith’s hammer, type of tool wielded in Niklaus Manuel’s ‘St Eligius in the Workshop’. Francesco wears a ring on his little finger, and has a ruby set in a ring of gold to offer. He is half St Eligius, the saint who could fashion, and then scorn such worldly things, and half the wooer who has an ultimatum: ‘accept it this instant, or I put it under the hammer’.

The second is a composite of ringed fingers from Renaissance portraits (Weyden, Memling, Lotto), just for fun. Two more ring poems, both sexual, neither as good as Donne’s ‘A Jet Ring Sent’:

Richard Lovelace, from Lucasta

Depose your finger of that Ring,
And Crowne mine wi
th't a while
Now I res
tor't---Pray do's it bring
Back wi
th it more of soile?
Or shines i
t not as innocent,
As hones
t, as before 'twas lent?

then inrich me with that Treasure,
Will bu
t increase your store,
And please me (faire one) wi
th that pleasure
t please you still the more:
t to save others is a curse
The blackes
t, when y'are ne're the worse.

Sir John Harington, ‘In Cornutum’ (1618)

What curld-pate youth is he that sitteth there
So neere
thy wife, and whispers in her eare,
takes her hand in his, and soft doth wring her,
Sliding his ring s
till vp and downe her finger?
tis a Proctor, seene in both the Lawes,
tain'd by her, in some important cause;
t and discreet both in his speech and action,
And do
th her busines with great satisfaction.
thinkest thou so? a horne-plague on thy head:
t thou so like a foole, and wittoll led,
thinke he doth the businesse of thy wife?
He do
th thy businesse, I dare lay my life.

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