The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d

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The Reader needs but Reflect on this Description, as he peruses this Libel, and he will all the way discover that the Poets Idea of Calumny, is the perfect Pourtraicture of this Contumelious Scribler; for he will observe how he plays upon all the Keyes of Satyr that can be imagin’d; and, according as his Passion tunes his Fancy, he either wrawls discontentedly, or grunts churlishly, or grins and snarls angrily, or rails licentiously, or barks currishly, or stings venomously; and this indifferently both High and Low, Kings and all sorts of Subjects that are not of his own Blatant Kind; either blotting their Names infamously, or biting them injuriously…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most immediately striking thing about this entry in the ongoing political brawl is how late it was to the party.

There was a reason (of sorts) for this, however, as the reader is informed via a pre-title page:

The Copy of this Treatise was Given out to be Printed a Year and half ago; but by Accident or Negligence, was laid by, and could not be Retriev’d till very lately; which may, I hope, serve to Excuse this Delay in Publishing it.

In context, we can only be thankful that there was thought to be any point in publishing The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d at all—that “Year and half” encompassing the Battle of the Boyne and the final crushing of the hopes of the former James II, and the settling down of England under the almost pugnaciously Protestant rule of William and Mary.

There are several extremely interesting things about this “treatise”, however, that makes me glad the author, who identifies himself only as ‘N. N.’ (and for whom I have not been able to come up with even a guess as to his full name), persisted in getting it into print.

In informational terms, the most worthwhile aspect of this publication is not its main text, but its lengthy preface. It is within this introduction that the author rails against the explosion of crude and slanderous writing via which the reality of James, and the memory of Charles, were being attacked: thus bringing to my attention a whole new batch of political writing from this time of growing unease.

The preface also explains the author’s choice of title, which is drawn from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and which comprises a fascinating piece of cross-textual referencing. As academic Christopher Hill puts it in a recent paper, The Blatant Beast: The Thousand Tongues Of Elizabethan Religious Polemic:

“This article addresses the final two books of the 1596 edition of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, in which there arises a formidable adversary: the Blatant Beast. This monster, whose presence dominates the end of Book Five and a substantial portion of Book Six, represents the worst excesses of caustic and satirical rhetoric as manifest in the theological and ecclesiastical pamphlet disputes that erupted after Fields and Wilcox’s 1572 Admonition to Parliament.”

From this we see that the author could hardly have chosen a better symbol for the anti-Stuart / anti-Catholic writing of the time, which is perfectly summed up in the phrase, The worst excesses of caustic and satirical rhetoric.

Throughout his own text, the author refers to “the Blatant kind” and “the Blatants”, lumping together all the objectionable attacks upon Charles and James under a single heading. However, the individual who infuriated him the most was the one responsible for The Secret History Of The Reigns Of K. Charles II, And K. James II – who he insists that he knows, though he does not identify him by name:

I shall do the Author a greater Kindness than he deserves, by not naming him at present, though he is known to more than he dreams of, and may justly fear that his second Recantation will not be so easily prevalent to procure his Pardon, as was his first. His Character is best drawn by himself; for the whole Meen of his Books do amply acknowledg, that he is a wild Debauchee, who has devoted him Life to Sensuality and Amorous Intrigues with his Misses; whence his Heart being full of Affection for those Darling Pleasures, his Fancy could not be at ease till it was delivered of them, by venting them after a very pathetical manner; and, hoping the better to ennoble his own Beastly Conceptions, he applies (without regarding whether there be the least shadow of Ground for it) his own Immodest Pranks to Kings and Queens…

(It is clear from the text, which references a publication supporting Titus Oates, that the author was one of those who believed that John Phillips wrote The Secret History… Whether this description fits Nathaniel Crouch is another matter.)

Though we do not know who the author of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d is, we do know something about him from his writing. He was not a Catholic—but he was a Tory, the kind of Tory who believed sincerely in the sacredness of kings—and who managed, somehow, to hold onto that belief despite living through the Stuart era. The whole tone of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d makes it clear that the author was both astonished and mortally offended by the discovery that someone had dared be so disrespectful towards royalty. In fact, he can only explain this body of literature to himself by supposing that its authors are all – gasp! – republicans.

But there’s royalty, and then there’s royalty. There are tacit criticisms of William scattered through this text, oblique but unmistakable; not least the charge that he was actually behind this school of writing. I should note here that the entirety of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d is presented in the form of a letter to a friend of the author, who asked his opinion of it. In this way, the author can pass off his most extreme opinions as being those of his friend, which he himself deprecates. For example:

Nay, were that Unlikely Supposition of yours True, yet ’tis incredible, that Persons even of Ordinary Prudence, (much less such as they) would not have been chary to abuse Princes so nearly Ally’d to them, with such Foul and Contumelious Language; but would rather have made Choice of some sober and grave Writer, who knew what good Manners and Decency meant, to lay open the plain Naked Truth, (had Necessity so requir’d) in a Style full of charitable and respectful Expressions towards their Persons, and with a sensible regret that he was forced to expose their Faults…

But if no-one else will defend slandered royalty, the author will. Putting ladies first, he weighs in on the insults offered to Mary of Modena:

But alas! What a most improper Subject has this poor unfortunate Ribald made choice of, to fix that Disgraceful Character upon! A PRINCESS, whose Incomparable Worth and Unblemish’d Virtue is such, that it never permitted any occasion to the least sinister Imagination in any that knew her. Nor durst Malice it self ever be so bold, as to taint her Unspotted Life so much as with a Suspicion of deviating from the severest Rules of Modesty…

…which, after “Malice” being “so bold” as to produce three years’ worth of Sham Prince literature, seems an odd thing to say.

Also odd, and extremely revealing, is the attitude taken towards James. Explaining his reasons for writing this defence, the author remarks:

Nor shall I be afraid heartily to own that I had a dutiful Respect, very particularly to the Honour of those two Excellent Princes, whom he so Injuriously and Barbarously traduces, as the Blackest Monsters that ever liv’d, and little less than Devils Incarnate.

Here’s the thing, though: that is one of very few mentions of James in the document; the author makes only a half-hearted effort to defend him against the specific charges brought by his antagonist, even though these encompass crimes including complicity, to put it no more strongly, in the murder of Charles. And in fact, even those efforts tend more to attacks upon his rival author, than true support of James.

Instead, the author devotes almost his entire publication to vindicating Charles. I can only assume that James’ behaviour, including – or perhaps specifically – his leaguing with Louis XIV, offset his inherent “sacredness”.

Despite offering a point-by-point counter-argument to everything proposed by The Secret History…, The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d is a much easier read. The author, while highlighting the innumerable idiocies and lies of his target, keeps his temper surprisingly well—instead employing a tone of disgusted sarcasm that not only deconstructs the opposing text much better than ranting could do, but is pretty funny to boot.

Here, to start with, are just a few of the author’s opinions of his rival:

The Author places a peculiar Felicity in expressing everything waspishly; and no Ragoust of Eloquence pleases his Palate, but that of Satyr and Invective. Never was Man in a higher Salivation with Rage, or drivell’d more Foam. I should take him to be possest with Fits of Madness, but that he has no Lucid Intervals…

I desire you to Note how candidly this Libeller tells you what you may expect from him in that kind, and how plainly he not only confesses, but excellently proves himself to be an Insulting Barbarian…

I am given to understand for Certain, That this Gallimawsry of Scurrility, was writ by an Atheistical, Damning, Swearing, Drunken Fellow…

…such a foul-mouth’d Thersites, whose whole Book is woven quite thorow with such rancorous Invectiveness, that, could a Mad Dog speak, he could scarce vent his Cereberean Foam with more Venome…

With what impertinent and ridiculous Flams does this Baffling Fellow hope to fool his Readers! Yet this is his constant handy-dandy method in every point he handles: Voluntary Talk serves him for Well-Grounded Truth, meer Pretences for Proofs, and flimflam Stories for clear Evidences…

As for The Secret History… itself, the author is not slow to seize upon its overarching absurdity; nor to jeer at its main thesis:

He Fancies himself a little God Almighty, and dives into their very Thoughts; and (which is a Prerogative peculiar to the Divinity) searches their very Hearts and most retruse Intentions; and when he has done, he turns their Consciences inside-outwards: For, otherwise, the Particulars he huddles up together, will fall short of inferring what is still the Burthen of his Song, The Design of introducing Popery and Slavery.

Taking the high ground, the author makes a shrewd and well-reasoned argument against his rival’s approach, pointing out the absurdity of his insistence (highlighted in my post on The Secret History…) that EVERYTHING in the reigns of Charles and James tended to this outcome, and that even the most seemingly commonplace events of the time held a secret and sinister meaning, if only we knew it. Again and again the author shows the bizarre illogic inherent in the efforts made to prove this contention, mocking the notion that EVERYTHING was cause and effect, that EVERYTHING had “consequences”—

But let our Blatant take the business in hand, with his special Gift of drawing Consequences, the whole Action, and every Step that was taken in it, shall clearly demonstrate an arrant Design of introducing Slavery and Popery, however remote and impertinent the Premisses are from the Conclusion.

—even Charles’ sexual adventures:

But, alas! This is one of his stoutest and most Achillean Arguments; K. Ch. the Second could not keep a Miss for his Pleasure, but, have-at-him with a Consequence, cries Blatant, ergo, it was a meer Plot of his to debauch the Nation, and so to introduce Popery and Slavery…

He also takes a somewhat more prosaic view of war with the Dutch than we find in the earlier document:

The Dutch War is levell’d by him at the meer bringing in of Popery and Slavery. Whereas, they being our known Competitors in Shipping and Trade, and daily encroaching upon us…a War once in Seven or (at farthest) Ten Years was ever held by our wisest Statesmen, in former times…as seasonable and necessary, as is the lopping off the under-growing Suckers, that intercept the Sap from the Tree…

And of James’ supposed sabotage:

The then D. of York took an innocent Nap at Sea. A clear Case, says our man of Consequences, that it was a meer treacherous Plot, to let the Dutch  beat the English, and make ’em destroy one another to bring in Slavery and Popery. Our all-seeing Blatant could peep into his Fancy, though all the Windows of his Senses were shut up, and craftily spy out his very Dreams, and there read plainly, that he was still plotting Slavery and Popery, even in his Sleep. Nay more, he makes him to be a man of such a Chimerical Composition, that he both procur’d the firing the Dutch Ships in their Harbours, and also procur’d the firing of our Ships at Chatham; and to mend the Jest, our implacable Blatant, whose ambi-sinistrous Humour nothing can please, is very angry with him for doing both the one and the other…

As for Charles’ supposed incestuous affairs with Barbara Villiers and his sister, Henrietta, the author passes over the shocking nature of the accusations to focus on the ridiculous details of the presentation:

But Blatant makes that Lady King Ch. his sister by the Mother’s side only, which renders it but Incestuous to the half part, and so in his Opinion does not blemish the King enough. Have-at-him then once again (says he) with another and a more compleat Incest with the Dutchess of Orleans, who was his own Sister by Father and Mother’s side both… I demand then his Proof for this double foul-mouth’d Calumny: Not a jot, he thanks you; his own ipse dixit, and bare Affirmation, is all he can afford us: For, sure he cannot think that the D. of B—‘s holding the Door looks, in the least, like a Proof, were it true, which ’tis very unlikely to be; for, Why could they not (were such a shameful Wickedness intended) go into a Room where they could themselves fasten the Door on the inside?

The author sobers when considering the accusations made with respect to the Popish Plot and its associated executions and murders; but he regains his voice after refuting the various attempts to show Charles in a conspiracy with the Pope:

…what gives a kind of Counterfeit Life to his whole Discourse, is his sputtering, and keeping a great coil and clutter to amuse weak Readers, and put them at theit Wits-end what to think. Only, they can see, that either Blatant is the Greatest Lyar living, or, every man he is offended at, is the Greatest Knave in Nature. Whether of them is thus faulty, any sober man may easily divine by his Natural Reason, without needing to go to a Wizzard…

But notwithstanding, he supposes that a few readers will come down on Blatant’s side:

So, if any had to sute with Blatant’s Fancy, (and as will be seen anon, ’tis hard to hit it, without complying with both sides of the Contradiction) then you shall be Saints, Cherubims, or what else you would wish; but if you do not, your Doom is passed; for, be as many for Quantity, or as great for Quality as you please, Igad you are all stark naught, every Mothers Son of you, and he packs you all away in a Bundle to Old Nick, for a company of Doting, Frantick, Knavish, Villanous, Treacherous, Incestuous, Murthering, Fasting, Popish and Atheistical Rogues and Rascals…

If The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d had left it there, it would have served its dual purpose of vindicating Charles and exposing the vindictive lies of the author of The Secret History… – with the bonus of making us laugh – but alas, it did not.

Instead, almost half of the document – no less than 45 pages out of 93 total (including the preface) – is handed over to an attempt to refute one accusation made, by direct testimony:

These few Instances are more than sufficient to demonstrate, that this Self-conceited Coxcomb makes it his least concern to regard either Sense, Reason, Authority, Truth, or Honesty, but rails on contentedly to himself and his Friends. I could have presented you with thrice as many, had it been needful; yet, tho’ I omit them, I stand engaged to add one more…which I was the willinger to examin, because I was inform’d, that he was held by all that knew him (the Lords of the Privy-Council amongst the rest) to be a man of Sincerity and Ingenuity.

The person in question is John Sergeant, of whom The Secret History… has this to say:

Nor must it be omitted as an Argument of His Majesty’s great Zeal for the Protestant Religion, That when one Sergeant, a Priest, made a discovery of the Popish Plot from Holland, which he caus’d to be transmitted to the Court, with an intention to have discovered several others, he was first brib’d off…then sent for into England, slightly and slily examined, had his Pardon given him, and sent back with Five Pound a week, to say no more.

According to the author of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d, he made a point of seeking out Sergeant, sending him the excerpt in question from The Secret History… and asking for his version of events. Sergeant’s response occupies those 45 pages. He explains how, while he was in exile in Holland, and so presumed to be disaffected against Charles, an attempt was made to draw him into the Popish Plot, one way or the other: that on one hand he was offered a very large bribe to implicate James in the Plot; that on the other, if he would not, he would be ruined by accusations that he was himself involved in that plot and several others; and that this double-threat was immediately acted upon, via accusing letters sent to England, which resulted in Sergeant being summoned to Court.

Sergeant goes on to explain how, luckily, he had contacted Henry Sidney, ambassador to The Hague, when matters first began to stir; and that he could call him to witness that he brought the matter to the attention of the authorities as soon as he reasonably could; and that by spending as much of the intervening time in Sidney’s company, he could account for his movements and disprove many of the accusations against him. Called to England to give his version of the matter, Sergeant was therefore able to convince Charles and the Court of his innocence.

This inserted document is a clear, detailed account of events and how, more by luck than judgement, an innocent man avoided the snare that had been laid for him.

The trouble is—as far as I have been able to determine, it’s also a complete lie. Ironically enough, this seems to be one time where the author of The Secret History… is making claims with some validity (at least up to a point; the part about Sergeant being bribed to shut up by Charles is of course nonsense).

John Sergeant was a Catholic, and a secular priest (that is, he was not a member of a particular order). He was a controversial figure both with and without his faith—carrying on long-running disputes with Protestant divines, but also being critical of English Catholic priests for acting too much on their own authority, and having a hostile, disputatious relationship with the Jesuits. His role in the Popish Plot remains controversial: it has even been suggested that he was one of the originators of the plot, and that it was he who convinced Titus Oates of its reality; while others contend, conversely, that Oates convinced him.

A third line of argument (the one most generally accepted) was that Sergeant no more believed in the Plot than anyone else, but saw an opportunity to act on his hatred of the Jesuits. To the scandal of the Catholics, and the delight of the Protestants, Sergeant volunteered to give evidence – or “evidence” – against the Jesuits to the Privy Council. He was questioned a second time some months later, and on that occasion his testimony was supported by that of another secular priest, David Morris (or Maurice); their depositions were printed, and widely distributed, and contributed to the growing hysteria that finally claimed some twenty victims on the scaffold before there was a revulsion in public feeling. It was later proved that both Sergeant and Morris were paid for their efforts.

This, then, is the individual whom the author of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d singles out to support his own line of argument.

(The official Catholic stance on Sergeant, by the way, is that, “His mind was unbalanced at the time”…)

Here’s the thing, though: in its own right, the testimony offered by Sergeant within the pages of The Blatant Beast Muzzl’d (assuming he did in fact write it, but either way) is, as I have remarked, clear and detailed—and convincing. Therein lies its danger. We have no difficulty recognising in The Secret History…, with its bluster and hysteria, a specious piece of politicking; but this is something else: a presentation of “the facts” as false as anything offered by its overtly exaggerated predecessor, but one whose leading quality is its seeming reasonableness.

In other words, a textbook example of “truthiness”…
 
 

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