Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Burn as many thousand years in hell, as there be spears of grass in Hyde Park, so saith Christ

The yellovv book, or, A serious letter sent by a private Christian to the Lady Consideration, the first day of May, 1656 which she is desired to communicate in Hide-Park to the gallants of the times a little after sun-set : also, a brief account of the names of some vain persons that intend to be there, whose company the new ladies are desired to forbear is a rather remarkable prose performance, which went through several early editions (one or more in 1656, and re-issues in 1658 and 1659), and commanded a sequel, A new trial of the ladies. Hide-Park, May-Day. Or, The yellow books partner.

The author is only known as W.B., probably the same W.B. that produced an allegorical beast fable about the Civil War in Experiences and Tears, 1652. The Yellow Book also uses allegory, addressing ‘Lady Consideration’, for whom all is not yet lost spiritually, and trying to separate her from the other lost habituĂ©es of Hyde Park, “Mrs. Contempt and Mrs. Envy will be there Mrs Luxury, Mrs. Wanton, Mrs. Faith and troth, Mrs. Hop about, Mrs. Never pray, and Mrs Never go…

W.B. is basically just a puritan, who disapproves mightily of the beau monde which gathered in their coaches at the Hyde Park Ring, especially on May Day: “they shall certainly burn as many thousand years in hell, as there be spears of grass in Hide-Park so saith Christ, Mat. 25. 41”. The May Day gathering was an important social event: there’s a poem in Edward Phillips’ Mysteries of Love and Eloquence ‘Upon the fatal disaster that befell the Gallants upon May-day last in Hide-Park’ – it’s about a year when it rained in the English way:


The last sad May-day know ye not?
It was a fatal day, God wot,
Which gay new Clothes did all bespot
With mire and dirt.

But, like many religious moralists, W.B. is redeemed from dullness by the fascinated attention he pays to what he so much disapproves of – here, he imagines for a moment one come back from hell to warn others from treading the same primrose path:

“If one could come out of hell, that heretofore used Hide Park, but that cannot be, Luke 16. 26. would they hear what he would say? I believe no, If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, and they that speak by the same spirit, they will not hear him, verse 29. besides, such an one will scarce come there, nor to Mrs. Wantons Chamber neither, where there is nothing but four or five naked Pictures, a Song book, a Play book, a Lute, a History, two or three great Looking-glasses, a jackalattostick, and a Mystery in a little pot, namely, a face, to put on or off, a fair for a foul, a smooth for a wrinkled.”

What I like here is that glide from the Bible to the knowledgeable inventory of Mistress Wanton’s chamber. The OED is no help with a ‘jackalattostick’, it might be something connected with throwing, jaculation. Mistress Wanton’s rejuvenation cream recalls the ballad of the 1640’s, News from Hide-Parke: or A very merry strange passage which happened betwixt a north-country gentleman, and a very gaudy gallant lady of pleasure, whom he took up in the parke, and conducted her (in her own coach) home to her lodgings, and what chanced there, if you'l venture attention, the song will declare. The northern gentleman is delighted with his metropolitan seduction, until he observes her undress for bed, and flees the scene.

Here, W.B. starts to sound like another man with experience of the flesh, John Donne, on the resurrection of the body: “death will strip you to your skins, naked came I cut of my mothers womb, naked must I return, toe and toe must be tied together, the silken stocken and the silver shoe, the holland shirt and all most off, and naked must you return. O Madam, as you came you must go, only your mothers blood shall be washed off, Princes, Kings, and Queens, must do so too, yea to death must all lay down their Crowns, and Parliament men pull off their robes, death will strip them to there skin, but it cannot strip a Saint of this righteousness, no, no, worms may eat and eat his skin thorough & thorough, & the grave consume his bones and flesh to dust, but it cannot touch this righteousness, no, no, Christ keeps that for him as in a Cabinet of gold, until the day of resurrection, and then his dead body, though consumed to dust, and that again to nothing, yet shall that nothing be raised and arrayed too like a Princess in the morning of her espousal.”

But what I really found remarkable about W.B. was his ability to render a stream-of-consciousness. Here, he places Lady Consideration of her death-bed, as the singing of a supernatural bird replaces her busy London and its street-sounds:

“when you lie panting like the poor Partridge in the tearing talents of the Falcon, and what is a bed of state in such a condition, though surrounded with a thousand Lords and Ladies, who are but vain comforters, or as flesh flies, when the strong men shall bow themselves, the legs, arms and sinews of strength all shrinked up, yea the whole man turned to the wall like Hezekiah, and weep like a child, the grinders cease, as not able to do their office, and they that look out of the windows be darkened, the light and sight of thine eyes, dim and creamy, the throat rattle, and the breath earthly, when the doors shall be shut in the streets, all the intellects of the soul, that take in and shut out visible appearance be locked up, then the sound of the grinding shall be low, no noise or motions hardly heard, when you shall rise up at the voice of the bird, the secret chirpings of conscience, the private bird, that tells all old, and almost forgotten things, and ungodly acts, when the daughters of musick are brought low, all your former vain, and sinful vanities, and delights are husht still, blown over and gone through the fear of that which is coming on, namely, death, hell…”

W.B. drifts from the voice of admonition to the voice of the worldling who did not heed him, who sees his point, who becomes him, too late to save herself:

“the Sun is setting, the glory going, and all the company from the Park, and this May-day will come no more, nor we nor they from the grave which are once there; let this be my last to the love, to the life of sin, and delights of this world, and let me take my leave; farewell, farewell Ladies, Lords, farewell pleasures of the day, I shall never see you more, fields no more, nor hedges, Sun Moon nor Stars, Saints nor Sinners, Churches nor Stages, Houses of Prayer, or Houses of Sin; yea, nothing more that I now see shall I ever see again, in the way, in the manner, in the state and condition that I now see, I shall never see more. O Christ, where am I? Oh Christ, what do I here?”

He’s just very good at details of language and behaviour. This is how his pamphlet starts:
“LADY, I Am informed, fine Mrs. Dust, Madam Spot, and my Lady Paint, are to meet at Hide-Park this afternoon; much of pride will be there: If you please to take an Hackney, I shall wait upon your Honour in a private way: But pray let us not be seen among the foolish ones, that ride round, round, wheeling of their Coaches about and about, laying of the naked breast, neck and shoulders over the boot, with Lemon and a Fan, shaking it at young Mrs. Poppet, crying, Madam, Your most humble Servant, your very humble servant sweet Madam, while some are doing worse.”

The ‘lemon’ would have been bought on the spot, according to Edward Phillips’ The mysteries of love & eloquence, or, The arts of wooing and complementing as they are manag'd in the Spring Garden, Hide Park, the New Exchange:

“In the spaces among the Coaches there walk up and down Objects of Charity, and Enticements to Liberality. Beggars, and Fruiterers, who are bold Wenches, and by their own, well knowing the disposition of other Women, with their Eyes fix'd upon the Ladies, and their Ware held up to the Gentlemen, they cry so as they may easily be heard, My Lord, Will your Honour have any Civil Oranges!
Madam, Will your Honour buy a Basket of Cherries!”

Fascinated by the world he condemns, W.B. earnestly wishes for its conversion, telling the lords and ladies that:

“we know there is in you a noble spark, a free and gallant spirit, an humble and ingenious disposition, affable and courteous to all, some of you are so, and the sweetest natures in the World, truly noble in all things, only the blood of Christ, the blood of Christ is wanting in your veins, the spirit or the appearances of Christ in your lives…”

He has a postscript to his reader (in the 1659 edition) about his little book:

“For Christ’s sake do not tear nor fling this about, but tell the Lords and Ladies of it; and ask for the green Book, or, the Ladies Tryall.”

‘The Green Book’ I haven’t found, nor do I know why W.B. gave this work a title so redolent of another era, ‘The Yellow Book’:

My image is from one of the printings of the Hyde Park ballad.

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