Archive for August 27th, 2011

27/08/2011

You should be ashamed of yourself, Mark Twain!

Talk about strange bedfellows.

I was rummaging around for information about Francis Kirkman – girding my loins, as it were – when I stumbled over a most unexpected conjunction. The notes appended to the edition of The Prince And The Pauper released by the Iowa Center for Textual Studies contains these remarks:

    Moreover, in Trumbull’s final chapter on the ‘Blue Laws of England, in the Reign of James the First’, Clemens found an account of punishments inflicted upon gamblers, beggars, and vagrants which suggested a number of possible adventures for his young hero in the clutches of a ‘gang of tramps who rove like gypsies’…
    Clemens found a less scholarly view of England’s laws in a seventeenth-century work by Richard Head and Francis Kirkman, The English Rogue…Being A Compleat History Of The Most Eminent Cheats Of Both Sexes. While purporting to inspire its readers with a ‘loathing’ for ‘Villainy’ and ‘Vice’, the book furnished a lively account of the lawless and immoral escapades of one Meriton Latroon and, incidentally, served as a complete guide to seventeenth-century ‘cony-catching’ practices. In his footnotes to The Prince And The Pauper Mark Twain acknowledged only a part of his debt to The English Rogue. In fact, the book not only provided details concerning confidence games and argot for the chapters dealing with Edward’s captivity among the vagabonds, it inspired dialogue, descriptions, and several specific incidents…

“Lively”? Personally, I found it deadening. I admit to being rather taken aback by this revelation…although it’s certainly interesting that even in the most respectable of centuries, The English Rogue hadn’t been entirely banished from polite society. Apparently there’s a journal article out there dealing with this topic in more detail, but I don’t have JSTOR access from home, so I’ll have to chase it up next week.

It’s also interesting that Twain went back to the source – or rather, given Head’s magpie habits, a source – rather than taking the softer option of stealing from William Harrison Ainsworth, whose Rookwood was a huge success in the US as well as in its country of origin.

In other news— Ah, those insidious Stuarts! – they just just won’t leave me alone, even in my outside-the-goalposts reading, and even in books by American authors. In short, when I sat down to Booth Tarkington’s Wanton Mally, I was more than a little aggrieved, upon turning to the title page, to find the subtitle, A Romance Of England In The Days Of Charles II.

Well… Thankfully, most of this novel is set a refreshing distance away from the court, with only a few direct references to Charles, and one to the Duchess of Portsmouth (i.e. Louise de Kérouaille), the latter of which places the action of the novel after 1675. The story itself reminds us that it was not only the Catholics who were being blamed for everything at the time, but that there were those equally virulent against the Quakers—who, having no political weight, feature comparatively little in the literature of the day.

Elsewhere, in spite of my resolutions and promises, I’ve managed to get two reviews behind again: I’ve read The Gilberts And Their Guests by Julia Day for Reading Roulette, and Palmira And Ermance by Mary Meeke for Authors In Depth. That makes me due to read Volume 2 of The English Rogue, which ought to slow me down quite nicely.

On a more positive note, I’ve also spun the wheel again, and my next pick for Reading Roulette (or theoretically: it’s a GoogleBooks scan, so its readability remains to be seen) is Leap Year by Margaret Anne Curtois, from 1885. Curtois is yet another author about whom I can tell you very little, except that she published several works seemingly intended for girls and young women. And as I always say at these moments—we’ll see.