Saturday, May 17, 2008

From weeping Cheese with Argus eyes

I have been doing various bits of marking, and otherwise, in the evenings, I watch tapes of the day’s stage in the Giro d’Italia: a lot of pedaling uphill, in other words.

In a rare literary moment, I was wondering about the extent of serious and satirical verse-writing based on that processional supplication, the Litany. John Donne’s ‘A Litanie’ is the most famous; the earliest Tudor literary use of the litany I’ve so far found occurs in a semi-macaronic poem at the end of the The proude wyues pater noster that wolde go gaye, and vndyd her husbonde and went her waye (1560). This is a poem that more strongly recollects the Latin litany than Cranmer's relatively new English text (link below).

Sidney did a less serious one about love having been killed by his mistress; so here’s a stanza:

Let Dirge be sung, and Trentals richly read,
For Love is dead.
And wrong his Tombe ordaineth,
My Mistress marble hart:
Which Epitaph containeth,
Her eyes were once his Dart.
From so ungrateful fancie,
From such a female frenzie,
From them that use men thus:
Good Lord deliver us.

And we will all remember Nashe’s plangent lyric in time of plague, in Summer’s Last Will and Testament (to quote from it):

Autumn hath all the Summer’s fruitful treasure,
Gone is our sport, fled is poor Croyden’s pleasure:
Short days, sharp days, long nights come on apace,
Ah who shall hide us, from the Winters face?
Cold doth increase, the sickness will not cease,
And here we lye God knows, with little ease:

From winter, plague & pestilence, good Lord deliver us.

In the 17th century, the mock-litany became a regular satiric form. There was a glut of them around 1680, many in connection with Titus Oates and the Popish plot:

That such as do render the Plot for a Fable,

And make it the talk of each Coffee-House Table;

To enter Heaven Gates may they never be able

~ from The Loyal Protestant's new litany (1680)

The Cavaliers litany of 1682 is partly political, partly lifestyle satire: here’s a sample stanza:

From a Popish black coat in a Protestant Cut

From going to bed with Gripes in my Gutt;

From rising next Morning with all our Throats cut …

This from a time when one of the things to pray for delivery from was “a lash with the quill of Satyricall Dryden”.

One of the more interesting mock litanies is a lampoon on George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (the Restoration one): here’s two stanzas about his alleged proclivities:

From Monstrous Sucking, till both Tongues have Blisters,

From making our Boasts of giving three Glisters

By giving our Claps to three cheated Sisters

Libera nos

From Transposing Nature upon our Bon—Gers,

On Keniston Acting both Venus and Mars,

From owning twenty other men’s Farce

Libera nos

That’s Edward Kynaston the actor, who did perform in Buckingham’s The Rehearsal, getting a mention for his skill performing in both genders. Pepys admired this skill in the theatre, the lampoon imputes that the Duke experienced it at rather closer quarters (The litany of the D. of B., 1679-1680). I suppose ‘Bon-Gers’ must be a version of ‘bon gars’ in French.

But my favourite litany poem is by William Vaughan, in The Golden Fleece (1626). Vaughan apparently had a lot of things he was worried about, as he spins out his prayer for divine multiple rescue to 396 lines. As available rhymes tempt him, the plagues he asks to be delivered from get more and more heterogeneous (and interesting). But then, who wouldn’t want delivery from ‘weeping cheese with Argus eyes’, ‘causeless drumming’, ‘Scammonie made into Pills’, ‘From ordring Bees, when they are mov’d’, and ‘From rampant Nuns now clad in gray: / From Strumpets wholly giv’n to play’?

I wonder, though, how bad his ‘rampant nuns’ problem could have been in rural Carmarthenshire. Maybe he had trouble with them when on his trip abroad?

Here’s a full section of Vaughan, and, below that, his prayers for delivery from idle amusements like plays, poetry, and card games (I was tempted to foist in a few extra verses about the Internet, but refrained):

From Spanish Pensions , and their Spies:
From weeping Cheese with Argus eyes,
From slumbering long in careless Peace:
From dreaming oft of cureless ease.
From fond Masks, and idle mumming:
From fain'd Plays and causeless drumming.
From preferring Peace with danger
Before just War, wrong’s revenger.
From suffering Foes to triumph still;
From letting Sathan have his will.
From falling from Saint Michael’s arms,
Not taking heed by others’ harms.
From puffing up proud Giants grown:
From pulling David’s courage down.
From loving Money more then God;
From keeping Beans within the cod.
From disbursing needful treasure,
To maintain phantastick pleasure.
From greasing Lawyers’ hands with Gold,
Which better serves to keep a Hold.
From fostring Suites (O pois'nous Toad)
For Money , which ends Wars abroad.
From those men, which sue Protections
To shroud their lewd shrewd Defections.
Great Britain’s Genius
Guard and restore vs.

From spending time at Tragedies :
Or hard got Coin at Comedies .
From reading foolish Rimers’ Books,
Or lying Tales, like baited hooks.
From much Play at Noddy and Trump:
As from the Smell of foul ship-pump.
From many Horses, Hounds, and Hawks:
Actæon’s end, or plots of Faukes.
From idle Tales, Wares, and Fables:
From Primero, Gleek , and Tables.
From Irish, Lurch, Chance, and Ticktack.
The Boot deserving, or the Rack.

Vaughan ought to have included a prayer against lightning, for his first wife died in 1608 after their house was hit by a bolt. As a memo to myself, his The spirit of detraction conjured and convicted in seven circles: a work both divine and morall, fit to be perused by the libertines of the age, who endeavour by their detracting and derogatory speeches to embezell the glory of God and the credit of their neighbours (1611) apparently answered local imputations that he was somehow implicated in this death, though it is hard to imagine how. I must investigate what he says in self-defence.

I must also read at some point this series of pamphlets in 1637, in which John Bastwick first published his own litany, was attacked, then answered the attacks, and finally went completely onto the offensive:

1) The letany of John Bastvvick, Doctor of Phisicke being now full of devotion, as well in respect of the common calamities of plague and pestilence; as also of his owne patticular miserie: lying at this instant in Limbo Patrum.

2) The ansvver of Iohn Bastwick, Doctor of Phisicke, to the exceptions made against his Letany by a learned gentleman which is annexed to the Letany it selfe, as articles superadditionall against the prelats

3) A more full answer of John Bastwick, Dr. of Phisick made to the former exceptions newly propounded by another wellwiller to him, against some expressions in his Letany, with his reasons for the printing of it.

4) The vanity and mischeife of the old letany. Or A further answer of John Bastwick, Doctor of Physick, to some other exceptions made against his Letany

My image is from A litany from Geneva, in answer to that from St. Omers (1682), which I liked because someone annotated the poem with identifications of some of the people it attacks.

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