The English Rogue (Part 3)

    “I must confess,” said Mistress Mary, “that in the recital I made you of my actions I only recounted to you those things that did pertain to my own story, as thinking it impertinent to relate any others; but if I had thought it pleasant, I could likewise have told you of some such robberies and cheats as some of my acquaintance were engaged in.”
    “It is not too late to do it now,” I said to her; “and seeing Mistress Dorothy is not yet pleased to continue her story, I pray you therefore to let us know some of your experiences in this nature.”

So, who did write this third part of The English Rogue?

With conflicting stories and scanty evidence, assigning authorship for this publication and for the fouth part of the story is no simple matter. What we do know is that at some point there was a falling out between Richard Head and Francis Kirkman, and that Head publicly refuted the suggestion that he had had anything to do with the two volumes of the continuing story that appeared simultaneously during 1671, three years after the publication of the second volume, which was written by Francis Kirkman alone.

Most bibliographers and commentators today seem to accept Head’s contention, listing Kirkman as sole author—but I think they may be wrong. The current belief in Kirkman’s sole authorship stems chiefly, I suspect, from the fact that it is not the original 1671 publication of this work that has survived, but the 1674 reissue. By that date, Head and Kirkman had gone their separate ways; the reissued work has a preface signed by Kirkman alone, and carries a portrait of him as its frontispiece.

However, contemporary records indicate that the preface of the 1671 edition was signed by both Head and Kirkman, and early bibliographic records list both men as its authors; so either both of them were involved in the project – or Francis Kirkman signed Richard Head’s name to his own work. We know that Kirkman, like most of his fellows in the book-selling trade at the time, was not above illegal practices like copyright infringement; the question is whether he would resort to open fraud—and beyond that, whether it really would have been worth it for him to take such a risk. It seems to me more likely that, strapped for cash, Head did involve himself in the continuation of the story, and later regretted it.

An examination of the internal evidence is, for the most part, inconclusive, since most of what could be interpreted as proof of Richard Head’s involvement in the project could equally be interpreted as Francis Kirkman trying, after the commercial failure of Volume 2, to link this third volume to the successful original work. For example, this volume carries the same subtitle as the first one, Comprehending The Most Eminent Cheats Of Both Sexes, rather than that of Kirkman’s own work, Comprehending The Most Eminent Cheats Of Most Trades And Professions; and as you would consequently predict, its story takes place predominantly within the criminal milieu, rather than in the world of trade, and features much sexual manoeuvring. 

This volume also repositions Meriton Latroon as chief narrator (although other people do most of the actual talking), not merely pushing aside Gregory, so prominent a figure in the second volume, but dismissing him from the story with no more than a few passing references, one of them frankly contemptuous – “I advised the scrivener, drugster and Gregory (their hanger-on)…” This last, in particular, feels to me more like the work of Richard Head than of Francis Kirkman. And finally – and for those of us who know the particulars of Head’s career, this is as good as a signature – the concluding section of this volume contains what looks very much like a piece of plagiarism.

So while I can’t prove it, my feeling is that Head was involved in the creation of this work – though perhaps chiefly as a kind of consultant. Even as reading the first two volumes of The English Rogue gave me an impression of the distinct personalities of Richard Head and Francis Kirkman, while I was reading this one I got a mental image of Head kicking back in an armchair, sipping a glass of wine, and throwing out suggestions for content, while Francis Kirkman jotted them down. I don’t, indeed, have much doubt that Kirkman wrote most if not all of this volume, because although it features the kind of criminal and sexual activities that we associate with the original work, its “voice” is very much that of the second volume.

Then, too, despite occasional eruptions of real ugliness, overall the story takes place in the slightly gentler world of Francis Kirkman: a world where, if everyone is dishonest, not everyone is violent; where victims of crime tend to take their troubles to a magistrate or a constable, and let the law take its course; and where, if someone is cheated in a sufficiently clever way, their reaction is likely to be, not savage personal revenge, but a shrug and a laugh—as with these two shoemakers, each of them diddled out of a single boot:

At the time appointed both the shoemakers came, so justly together that they that they met at the gate each of them with a boot under his arm. They both asked for our gentleman, but hearing he was fled and gone, they both looked blank upon the matter. Mine host was present, and understanding the story laughed heartily at it; they knew not whether they should be angry or pleased, but being both brothers of a trade and both served alike, they resolved to laugh too, though it were but with one side of their mouths; and so they sat them down and drank together.

Despite appearing three years later, Volume 3 opens exactly where Volume 2 left off, with Dorothy describing how she managed to make all three of her lovers pay for her pregnancy. There is no reminder to the reader of who any of the characters are, including the “I” who encourages Dorothy to resume her narrative. Almost immediately, we fall back into the puzzle-box format of the second volume, as Dorothy’s narrative becomes that of “an old crone” (she must be forty) with whom she falls in on her way to an isolated spot in the country, where she plans to give birth.

The crone offers Dorothy a way of profiting even more from her pregnancy, and wins her confidence by recounting her own life—or rather, puts it into Dorothy’s power to ruin her by confessing to a string of crimes that make the reader’s hair stand on end, including having, before the age of eighteen, borne and smothered to death two inconvenient babies. Along with the second of these, the child of “a blackamore” (with whom she was dallying rather in the spirit of Lily Von Schtupp), the future “crone” manages likewise to rid herself of an equally inconvenient husband, he and the blackamoor fighting and running each other through with their swords simultaneously; a highly improbable manner of death that will become something of a motif in this volume.

What likewise becomes a motif, as it was in Volume 2, is whoever happens to be talking at the time being compelled to go on with their story whether they really want to or not. Here, Dorothy feels she has said quite enough about the crone, only to have her auditors – Latroon himself, and his other discarded mistress, Mary – beg her for more:

    “Thus,” said Mrs Dorothy, “did the old hag give me an account of her mischievous beginning; and indeed, in the prosecution of her story, she acquainted me with so many horrible actions that I was aghast; and wondered that the earth did not open to swallow up a wretch so monstrously wicked. But I think,” said she, “by what I have said, I have told you enough to know her, and therefore shall pass over the rest of her actions in silence.”
    “Nay,” said I, “Mrs Dorothy, since you have begun to give us so fair an account of the foul actions of this your wicked acquaintance, I shall desire you to take the pains to proceed therein.”
    “Truly,” said Mrs Mary, “although I have known many wretched people in my days, yet I never heard the like of the like; and I suppose by what you have already recounted, that all you have further to say will be both remarkable, admirable, and pleasant (if we may account that pleasant which is so mischievously and wickedly witty); and therefore I, as well as our friend here, desire you to continue your relation; and if you will take the pains, we will have the patience to hear you to the least particular.”

The moral hesitancy in this – the hypocrisy, if you prefer – “It’s horrifying! Tell me more!” – is rather interesting. We’re certainly a long way from the tone of The English Rogue, which wallowed unapologetically in its own nastiness. Here there is at least an acknowledgement of wrong, even while the text leaves room for a reader so inclined to just “enjoy” the story. This uncertainty may be the result of a divided authorial voice, or it may be indicative of a shift in social mores—which is a point we’ll return to at the end of this piece.

The crone eventually acquires a second husband, an innkeeper; bears him two children, a boy and a girl; and as a family they embark upon all manner of criminal enterprise. Dorothy re-enters her own story when the crone is called upon by an acquaintance of hers, a gentlewoman whose husband can only inherit an estate if she bears him a son, to help perpetrate a fraud. It is for this that the crone recruits Dorothy, who enters into a scheme to allow the gentlewoman to fake a pregnancy, gives up her baby, a boy, to her, and walks away considerably heavier in the pocket. She then takes up residence at the inn, and as a spectator rather than a participant is able to give an account of the illegal doings of her adopted family.

Amusingly – and perhaps this is another indication of Richard Head’s involvement – it turns out that its author, or authors, have again forgotten exactly when this story is supposed to be taking place. It was, as you might recall, 1650 when Meriton Latroon was convicted of his crimes and sentenced to transportation (although this in itself was a chronological blunder, as Latroon was born in 1637); but suddenly, during the parallel story of Gregory and his friends, it was the Restoration. Here, however, we’re back in “the time of the Rebellion”; and the story suddenly becomes genuinely interesting as we get a brief sketch of life during the Civil War, with different towns occupied by the opposing factions and the people forced to behave according to the prevailing authority. The innkeeper and the crone are residents of a Roundhead town, and aren’t particularly happy about it – and not just because it’s costing them money:

…all observations of Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide, or any holy-days, were by the factious accounted superstitious, especially any observation of Christmas. Therefore, the more to cross the desire and humour of those who would observe the feast of Christmas, the men then in power commanded a strict fast to to be on that day kept and observed, with penalties on all those who should dress ay victuals; and although the town, and especially our house, was of another persuasion, yet such was the prevalency of the faction that it was strictly observed, and it was given out that the officers of the town would search houses, to find and punish offenders…

Dorothy’s narrative meanders on, taking up a ridiculous proportion of the volume, and eventually shifting from being the story of the crone and her husband to being that of a soldier of fortune with whom Dorothy takes up. When Dorothy eventually (understandably) runs out of steam, Latroon himself picks up the narrative, adding to her stories of the various criminal enterprises which she observed or was told about an account of some of his own adventures as part of a gang of highway-robbers – adventures he evidently forgot to tell us about in Volume 1. And finally, at the urging of her companions, Mary picks up the baton by repeating stories told to her by one of her regular customers when she was an inmate of a London brothel.

Between the three narratives, we run the gamut of wrongdoing from abduction and murder, to robbery with violence, and the ways in which professional thieves try to avoid detection and capture, to instances of fraud, to the myriad ways in which a visitor to an inn might be cheated, to a series of practical jokes, most of them perpetrated in the course of an ongoing feud between a boy and a maidservant employed at the inn; although there is also the tale of a judge who hires a pickpocket to teach his careless nephew a lesson. And it probably goes without saying that this last portion of the story contains a scene, mercifully a brief one, in which someone loses control of his bowels.

By the time we manage to wade through this reeking bog of criminality, we are no less than 85% of the way through the volume; at which point we abruptly revert to “the present”, which as you may or may not recall is set in India, with Mary’s own meandering narrative interrupted by, The return of the captain, drugster, and scrivener, and Gregory. The captain then learns of Latroon’s sexual history with both Dorothy and Mary, and a bizarre battle of wits ensues between Latroon and Mary, who exchange pot-shots at the inherent “frailties” of each other’s sex:

Quoth Latroon: “Several of your sex when married are but a parcel of crab trees, walled in at great charge. As for thy part, thou art like a honeycomb with a bee in it, which infallibly stings him that tastes thereof. To be short, ye have fair tongues and false hearts; fine faces, but foul consciences; pride prompts ye to all manner of prodigality, and lust leads ye to that looseness which ruinates thousands in the destruction of yourselves. To conclude, I could love thee, but that thou art female, and would never have married, but that I thought it best expedient to bring me to repentance.”

This, mind you, from the man who once made both a business and a hobby out of seducing and abandoning virgins – including the woman he’s addressing. Mary is understandably nettled by this, and hits back smartly:

“…and for your likening us to fruit soon ripe, and as soon rotten, I dare confidently aver that we might remain a long time on the tree did not such unhappy boys as you throw stones at us. Lastly, you say our sweets are accompanied with stings; I know not what you mean, but I am sure you stung this gentlewoman and myself in that manner that the swelling lasted nine months… To conclude, with what force can you condemn us for inconstancy, when every new face you see shall change your affection, variety shall be as so many winds to blow your amorous pretences to more points than are contained within a compass? When you have had, after a long siege, the town you sat down before surrendered, you fall a-plundering instantly, and it may be, after this, ungratefully set the garrison on fire; if not, at leastwise curse the time and money you spent in your conquest, throwing it off as a thing not worth the managing and keeping.”

Well—it took nearly three volumes, but finally we have a woman resenting Latroon’s behaviour! Alas – and, I’m inclined to think, not coincidentally – shortly after this outburst, Mary comes to an extremely sticky end…

At this point, Latroon’s Indian wife – “my black she-devil”, as he likes to call her – re-enters the story, conceiving an uncontrollable lust for the two young Englishmen with whom her husband is spendig most of his time – that is, “George” and “William” – and pursues them avidly. Unsurprisingly to us, at least, the young men rebuff her advances—which requires literally fighting her off—while Latroon has a hearty laugh at his wife’s expense, enjoying the absurd courtship too much to explain her mistake, and pausing to philosophise a little more upon the female sex, and the destructive nature of female desire. And here again we have the 17th century notion of woman as the insatiable sex:

For in my time I have observed at least an hundred examples of this nature; women whom I am confident might have ran the race of their lives in the way of modesty and honesty, had they not been chafed or over heated at first by the ostentatious humour of their hot-brained bridegroom, striving to outdo himself that he might purchase the esteem of being a lusty man excelling others in strength and vigour; but when the wife shall find the satisfaction of her desires discontinued, she will be apt to think her husband was too prodigal at first, and so became Nature’s spendthrift, and now thinks of no other thing than how she will be supplied by others…

Latroon tells his wife that she shall have as much of George and William’s company as she likes, providing that she does not wrong him. She agrees to this, but in their presence she is unable to control her lust. They fight her off again, using their determination not to cuckold their friend as an excuse; but their continued rejection of her turns her desire to rage, in which she is driven by, The implacableness of her revengeful spirit, which is an inmate properly not only in her, but in all the Indians her country people. So explains Latroon who, as you might recall, spent much of Volume 1 taking violent or scatological revenge upon anyone he suspected had wronged him. Latroon’s wife brews a bowl of poisoned punch, and on the pretence of a peace-offering, gives some to both “young men”, before stabbing herself to death:

I had no sooner entered the doors but my ears were entertained with the doleful groans of my two disguised Amazons, who lay upon a mat on the ground, foaming at the mouth… As soon as I saw them, I knew they were poisoned, having seen several in the like condition (a common practice among them upon the least suspicion of an injury designed, or an offence already received) but knew not what remedy to apply; and whilst I was in consultation with myself what was best to do, I saw Mall’s teeth drop out of her head, and Gregory going to raise her head, the skin and hair with it came off in his hands like a periwig, so did the hair of the other. So strong was the poison administered that Mall died in less than half an hour after the reception thereof; but Dorothy escaped by a miracle.

In the wake of this, Latroon liquidates his estate, while the captain and the others load their boat with cargo; and they depart India for other climbs. A travelogue section follows, which is interrupted when the party falls foul of pirates. A bloody battle ensues, in which our protagonists are at length victorious, but not without cost:

Gregory standing by and seeing what had passed, though something scared, yet would not discover any fright, and to hide it the better, commended the brave resolution of the man. And as he was laughing at the oddness of his conceit, poor fellow, a shot came and took away one side of his face, so he died instantly.

The scrivener and the drugster, meanwhile, although they escape with their lives, are both exposed as cowards in the course of the battle—and so shall suffer all who presume to take the focus away of this story from Meriton Latroon!

More travelogue follows, as well as more seafaring encounters including a violent storm that the already damaged boat barely survives, eventually limping its way to Surat. All through this section there is precise latitudinal and longitudinal reporting of the travellers’ positions, which significantly enough is also a feature of Richard Head’s twin hoaxes, The Western Wonder and O-Brazile; and if we needed further evidence of his involvement in the writing of this volume, we have in the fact that the geographical descriptions of the journey seem to have been plagiarised—and from, of all things, Historiae Alexandri Magni, an account of the life of Alexander the Great by the Roman historian, Quintus Curtius Rufus.

Richard Head always did like showing off his classical education.

The travellers are welcomed and entertained by the president of Surat, in company with the captains of various other European ships also anchored in port. Now, all this time Latroon has had no woman to amuse himself with, poor Dorothy still recovering from her brush with death; so naturally it’s time for him to stumble across another old acquaintance. This time – also masquerading as a young man, the “servant” of a Dutch ship’s captain – Latroon finds himself confronted by the victim of perhaps his cruellest act of perfidy:

As I was about to speak he prevented it, by calling me base, faithless, perjured man. I starting up, laid my hand on my sword. “Nay, hold, sir,” said he, “think not to expiate your offence by murdering the person against whom they were committed.” So pulling off his periwig he discovered some short red hair. “Do you know this colour,” said he, “which once you told me you loved beyond any other? Here is the same dimple in the chin, and mole on the lip, and the same skin (stripping open his doublet) which you have unreasonably praised for its excelling whiteness. These were the flatteries you used to delude a poor credulous maiden, whom you not only shamed but ruined. You cannot forget your matchless treachery in seducing me aboard a Virginia ship, in whom I was carried thither and sold, you hoping by that villainy to have been for ever rid of me and mine.”

That’s right—it’s the first victim of Latroon’s program of enforced emigration, who at the time figured in his thoughts as, “The cow and her calf.”

At this point in the narrative I had a glorious vision of Latroon actually being made to pay for his bastardry; of this girl – seduced, abandoned, shipped off alone to another country, her baby dying, sold into bonded labour, forced to support herself by prostitution – producing a knife and shoving it into her betrayer’s gut. But it lasted barely a moment:

I asked her forgiveness, acknowledging all my unworthiness to her, and protested if she durst trust me once more I would make her amends for all. At which she smiled (for she ever loved me too well to be angry with me)…

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Excuse me; but really

We get Jinny’s story here, in which after various sufferings she is decoyed with a false promise of marriage and ends up having to pose as the manservant of her latest betrayer. She agrees to throw in her lot with Latroon and his companions, pausing only to rob her keeper (who mysteriously she is much angrier with than the man who ruined her life in the first place), and the travellers set out again.

And if you think Volume 2 came to an abrupt and unexpected ending, that’s not a patch on what Volume 3 serves up by way of an exciting conclusion:

On the third of September, in latitude 16. d. 33 the wind at south-east, we saw the Island of St. Helena, to the westward of the chapel thereof we anchored a mile distant. The captain caused the skiff to be hoisted out and so my Jinny, the scrivener, drugster, and doctor &c. we landed at Lemon Valley. Here with some guns we carried with us we killed hogs and goats, otherwise it is hard to take them, running at the sight of us up inaccessible craggy rocks. In ranging through the isle, our men found divers oranges and lemon trees but no fruit thereon; the Dutch having been there as we suppose, had gathered them, as appeared by their names on certain stones and trees. We caught here Mackerel, Breams and Borettos good store.

The end.

Yes—you may well blink.

Although this third volume of The English Rogue is not without its disgusting aspects, there is a significant difference between it and the original work—and in this respect we turn to the preface of the 1674 edition, that signed by Kirkman alone:

What I have done is well intended, and is the product of a painful Experience, Travel, and Expence; and if you will have a little patience, you shall find (in the winding up of the bottom by the conclusion of this Story, in a fifth and last Part, which is suddenly intended) that no crime shall go unpunished , no particular Person who hath been guilty of these vicious Extravagancies but shall have a punishment suitable to their crimes…

Of course, Richard Head’s The English Rogue carried this sort of a disclaimer, too, which in that case was a bare-faced lie – but which is not quite so here, where the main characters are conspiculously less likely to be committing crimes themselves than they are to be recounting crimes committed by others; and in fact, most of the criminal histories described end either with a reformation, or a hanging. The open gloating at getting away with it that was such a feature of the first volume is largely absent in this third entry; and if Latroon himself is never punished as we might wish – i.e. a knife in the gut – he is repeatedly confronted by the victims of his perfidy, and at least never does dirt to the same person twice.

Now, it’s possible, of course, that all this is simply the result of the differing world views of Richard Head and Francis Kirkman; but on the other hand, there’s the fact that the entirety of The English Rogue was – let’s face it – written in the service of profit, not art, and meant to appeal to the paying public. It seems probable that a shift in mores was taking place, and that what was acceptable in 1665 was less so by 1671; by which time, perhaps, if people still liked reading about crime, they also liked reading about punishment.

 

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8 Responses to “The English Rogue (Part 3)”

  1. One wonders whether the simultaneous sword-running-through and expiry might be one of those tales like the honorable fair fight, told most conveniently when there is no fear of contradiction…

    I think you may well have it right on the matter of a change in mores. Might also have been a response to a specific reaction – say, someone published a pamphlet talking about these terrible books, and that in itself hurt sales – but there’s probably no way of finding out about such details now.

  2. It certainly functions in a handy, two-birds-with-one-stone sort of way, when there’s a need to kill people off.

    No, of course there’s no way to be certain about the forces operating on the publishing world at the time, although the resultant shift within the literature is clear enough, and occasionally suggestive of specific pressures.

    By the way, I’ve read the first couple of chapters of the fourth volume, and I’m already feeling Head rather than Kirkman… 🙂

  3. The long term view might be that civilization really was evolving overall toward being more humane and civilized, but that’s probably too slow and long-term a trend to account for that particular publishing-industry shift.

  4. There was no contemporary objection (that we know of) to the much nastier first volume; and really, six years seems too short a period for a significant change in social attitudes. But as Roger suggests, there may have been a prevailing backlash against this sort of literature provoked by some specific event, which Kirkman felt compelled to reply to. (And I guess it was another three years, nine in all, before it came to that.)

  5. All these characters must have gotten confusing. Did you need to make a flow chart to keep everyone straight? (Why, yes, I am an engineer, why do you ask?)

  6. I’m okay by this point, although occasionally I have to flick back and make sure that who I think is talking, is talking. The second volume was the bewildering one – “I met a man who met a man who met a man…” 🙂

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