Posts tagged ‘Richard Head’

26/05/2012

Related ramblings

A while ago, in the comments thread for The Adventures Of Sir Bartholomew Sapskull, we were discussing the short fictions published posthumously under Aphra Behn’s name, and whether they were in fact written by her. I’ve finally managed to track down a copy of A Genius For Letters: Booksellers And Bookselling From The 16th To The 20th Century, edited by Robin Myers and Michael Harris, which contains an essay by Germaine Greer which touches upon this subject.

Greer’s essay, ironically titled Honest Sam. Briscoe, opens by saying:

Among the many problems confronting the student of women’s literature the sheer difficulty of establishing the provenance, authenticity and reliability of the texts has not been sufficiently emphasised. The shakiness of the Aphra Behn canon, to cite the best-known example, is in a large measure due to the role played by the mysterious collapsing bookseller, Samuel Briscoe.

Greer’s tracing of the ups and downs – mostly down – of Honest Sam’s publishing career concerns us only as far as he played a part in the posthumous career of Aphra Behn.

In 1696, Charles Gildon edited and provided a dedication for a compilation work that Briscoe released under the title The Histories And Novels of the Late Ingenious Mrs. Behn. This volume contained Oroonoko, The Fair Jilt, Agnes de Castro, The Lover’s Watch, The Ladies Looking-Glass and The Lucky Mistake, works all written or translated and previously published before Behn’s death. In addition, it offered Love Letters To A Gentleman: Never Before Printed, written to “Lycidas” from “Astrea” (Behn’s well-known code-name), and purporting to be genuine letters from Behn to John Hoyle, who according to gossip was at one time her lover and possibly her “keeper”. (That Hoyle was bisexual at least, and at one time stood trial accused of homosexual acts, seems to have had no impact upon this particular rumour.)

By 1696, letters, and the more salacious the better, were Sam Briscoe’s stock-in-trade. One of his early publishing successes was Letters Of Love And Gallantry And Several Other Subjects. All Written By Ladies by “Olinda” (Catherine Trotter), and from that time Briscoe persistently advertised for correspondence to publish—writing it himself, or hiring others to do so, if none was forthcoming. He became notorious for the bait-and-switch, promising the public the full correspondence of a celebrity and then padding out a handful of previously published letters with new ones by no-one in particular. The authenticity of the Lycidas / Astrea correspondence is therefore doubtful; although a number of scholars have been beguiled into analysing them as if their authorship was certain. Furthermore, whatever its significance, several analysts have pointed out the similarity in tone between these letters and The Love-Letters Of A Portuguese Nun.

Like Letters Of Love And Gallantry, Histories And Novels was a financial success for Sam Briscoe; and again, we find him following up with a second release of far more dubious provenance. In 1698, he published All The Histories And Novels Written By The Late Ingenious Mrs Behn, also edited by Charles Gildon. This volume reproduced the earlier collection but added to it three more, previously unpublished short fictions: Memoirs Of The Court Of The King Of Bantam, The Nun and The Adventure Of The Black Lady. Then, in 1700, Briscoe issued a second volume called Histories, Novels And Translations, which bragged “the greatest part never before printed“, and added three more translations and five more pieces of short fiction: The Blind Lady A Beauty, The Dumb Virgin, The Unhappy Fortunate Lady, The Wand’ring Beauty and The Unhappy Mistake.

The authenticity of these posthumous works have been challenged since the time of their publication, although no-one has a definitive answer one way or another. Sam Briscoe himself seems to have been aware that people were likely to be sceptical: to the 1698 volume he appended an “Advertisement to the Reader”, which declared:

The stile of the Court of the King of Bantam being so very different from Mrs. Behn’s usual way of Writing it may perhaps call its being genuine into Question; to obviate which Objection, I must inform the Reader, That it was a Trial of Skill, upon a Wager, to shew that she was able to write in the Style of the celebrated Scarron, in imitation of whom ’tis writ, tho’ the Story be true. I need not say anything of the other Two, they evidently confessing their admirable Author.

Unfortunately, though she makes her own scepticism clear in her essay in A Genius For Letters, Germaine Greer has no more solid information for us touching the authenticity or otherwise of these posthumous works. She does, however, give more credence to The Court Of The King Of Bantam than to the other works, on the grounds that if it were a forgery, it would certainly be more in Behn’s usual style. Her main objection to the claim of Behn’s authorship is a purely pragmatic one: if two eternally cash-strapped individuals like Sam Briscoe and Charles Gildon had possession of Aphra’s Behn’s unpublished writings, why did it take them eight, ten and even twelve years to publish them?

Then, of course, there’s the question of how they would have come into possession. Charles Gildon, who we’ve met before at this blog (albeit playing the unlikely role of the denouncer of dishonesty), is another of the anomalous literary figures that proliferated in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, working variously as an editor, a publisher and a hack-for hire, his name cropping up again and again with reference to scams and cheats of all kinds. (He was also another of the coffee-house crowd, which is where Briscoe met him.) He was a friend of Behn’s, and is often referred to vaguely as her ” literary executor”, which really does nothing to answer the overriding questions. Over the decades that followed, Gildon made a steady income re-issuing Behn’s works – and “works” – at regular intervals.

Gildon’s most important historical role is not as Behn’s executor, nor even as her editor, but as her biographer. In 1696 (there’s that year again!), Gildon staged a previously unperformed play of Behn’s, The Younger Brother. It was not a success. Nevertheless, Gildon published the text – “with some alterations” – and prefixed to it a short memoir of Behn, An Account Of The Brief Life Of The Incomparable Mrs. Behn, in which he gives her maiden name as Johnson, her birth-place as Canterbury, asserts that her husband was “an eminent merchant” and makes mention of both the journey to Surinam and the spying in Flanders.

The 1696 release of Histories And Novels carries, in addition to the works purportedly by Behn, a biographical sketch called The History Of The Life And Memoirs Of Mrs. Behn, Written By One Of The Fair Sex. This elaborates but essentially repeats the earlier information, and it is generally believed that Gildon wrote it himself. So far the underlying details are only what a friend of Behn’s might have known; but it is presented here like one of Behn’s own tales, while exaggeration and misinformation are rife. The emphasis is very much upon Oroonoko, here reissued for the first time since its initial publication: Aphra is given a gentleman-father who was “governor of Surinam”, and Oroonoko is asserted to be a true story. There are even hints of a scandalous relationship between Behn and her slave-hero, with the author indignantly refuting “some unjust aspersions” that have allegedly been made—which of course had the effect of establishing the relationship as fact in many readers’ minds. There are many allusions to Behn’s beauty and charm, and the section dealing with her visit to Antwerp suggests amorous adventures rather than espionage. This “biography” was reissued with each reissuing of Behn’s works, undergoing expansion and elaboration until it became quite a lengthy tale; although it is noticeable that it gains most details at those points where Behn’s fiction and her life are supposed to be in parallel.

Whatever his motive, Gildon’s biographical accounts of Behn’s life did her no favours in the long run. Firstly, as Gildon’s own reputation sank, the association dragged Behn down, too. Secondly, these sketches are the origin of Behn as “the passionate Astrea”, a woman dominated by her emotions, who wrote purely to express them. In the various responses to her memoirs we see Behn’s reputation as a writer being overtaken by her reputation as a scandalous woman: the first stirrings of the moral condemnation that was to bury her for literally centuries, and remove her from the literary timeline. And finally, when it was belatedly realised that certain “biographical” details of Behn’s life and various narrative assertions in Behn’s fiction were virtually indistinguishable, it had the peculiar effect of seeing Behn condemned as a shameless liar. As a result, they effectively threw out the baby with the bath-water, with both the journey to Surinam and the mission to Flanders for many years dismissed as just more fiction; and it is only recent scholarship that has managed to extract the real Aphra from behind the fictionalised “Astrea”.

Which is a great deal more than I intended to say upon this subject. Just for a change.

Another essay in A Genius For Letters that caught my eye was From the warehouse to the counting-house: booksellers and bookshops in late 17th-century London by Giles Mandelbrote. Not only does this piece obviously deal with matters pertinent to this blog’s pursuit of the rise of the novel, but we find within its pages a couple of old friends:

Contemporary satire was not kind to shopkeepers. Some of the most lively descriptions of bookselling in the later 17th century come from the pens of two writers who themselves had chequered careers as booksellers. Richard Head (1637? – 1686?), after apprenticeship in the book trade, set up as a bookseller in his own right in the 1660s, but was soon ruined by gambling debts and earned a living thereafter as a hack writer. Francis Kirkman (1632 – 1683?), who was a member of the Blacksmiths’ Company, had a bookshop in various parts of London between about 1657 and 1680, was an active publisher of plays and light literature, and published his own fictionalised memoirs, The Unlucky Citizen, in 1673. Kirkman is usually credited with writing, as well as publishing, the continuation to Head’s The English Rogue (1668), which includes several chapters where the narrator is a bookseller’s apprentice.

Several lengthy quotes of the relevant passages of The English Rogue and The Unlucky Citizen then follow. Hilariously, however, even while using Francis Kirkman so extensively as a source, Mandelbrote adds a footnote in which the reader is warned to treat the veracity of anything said by Kirkman with “extreme caution”.

The other relevant essay in A Genius For Letters is Simon Elliot’s Bookselling by the backdoor: circulating libraries, booksellers and book clubs 1876 – 1966, which traces the history of the book trade during the demise of the circulating libraries in the late 19th century and the rise of various new entities that competed with the full-time booksellers during the early 20th century, including public libraries and book clubs. While the essay is wide-ranging, the section most relevant here deals with the collapse of the “three-volume novel” and of the two great competitive circulating libraries, Mudie’s and W. H. Smith, towards the end of the 19th century. 

Before this time, the libraries were already struggling, under threat from inexpensive reissues of novels too close to the original release date of the first edition (a situation comparable to the cinema / DVD release dichotomy for new movies today). Consequently, on 27th June 1894, Mudie’s and Smith issued a joint declaration, in which they demanded that the price of three-volume novels be reduced to no more than four shillings per volume, and that there be a gap of at least a year between the publishing of first editions and the appearance of cheaper reprints. The publishing houses’ response was effectively to stop issuing multi-volume novels at all, experimenting instead with single-volume editions that cost less than the combined-volume prices of the multi-volume works. They also began to rely less upon the circulating libraries as an outlet for their books, and more upon advertising directly to the public, who at the new, reduced priced were willing to buy rather than borrow first editions. Effectively, the long-standing publishing approach of small editions at high prices had been replaced by large editions at low prices; while from an artistic viewpoint, authors were no longer constrained to produce works of a pre-defined length, and the circulating libraries’ long-standing threat of censorship was gone for good.

Finally—yes, finally, I promise—I have yet again stumbled over those blasted Stuarts in my off-blog reading, and the same person is to blame. Following on from the part played by a portrait of James II in R. Austin Freeman’s short story, The Great Portrait Mystery, his 1923 novel The Cat’s Eye features an extensive subplot about a boy who has been excluded from the inheritance of the family property because the marriage of a direct ancestor cannot be proved. Certain documents from the 18th century dealing with the situation are still extant, however, from which we learn the following:

Like his father, Percival Blake was an ardent supporter of the Stuarts, and it is believed that he took an active part in the various Jacobite plots that were heard of about this time; and when, in 1745, the great rising took place, Percival was one of those who hastened to join the forces of the young Pretender, a disastrous act, to which all the subsequent misfortunes of the family are due…

Sounds about right.

Later in the novel, John Thorndyke and his sidekick-narrator du jour, the lawyer Robert Anstey, pay a visit to the ancestral halls of the Blake family, and find in the local village an ancient pub:

    But the most singular feature of the house was the sign, which swung at the top of a tall post by a horse-trough in the little forecourt, on which was the head of a gentleman wearing a crown and a full-bottomed wig, apparently suspended in mid-air over a brown stone pitcher.
    “It seems to me,” said I, as we approached the inn, “that the sign needs an explanatory inscription. The association of a king and a brown jug may be natural enough, but it is unusual as an inn-sign.”
    “Now, Anstey,” Thorndyke exclaimed protestingly, “don’t tell me that that ancient joke has missed its mark on your superlative intellect. The inscription on the parlour window tells us that the sign is the King’s Head, and the pitcher under the portrait explains that the king is James the Second or Third—His Majesty over the water.”

I have no idea whether this recurrence of Stuart themes in Freeman’s writing indicates a particular historical interest or political sympathy (as the reference to “James the Third” might suggest), or whether it is simply that the machinations and conflicts of the era provide a delightfully wide scope for stories involving long-standing family secrets, hidden documents, and houses full of concealed passage-ways and priest-holes.

Advertisements
28/02/2012

Three stones

There’s a preface to The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled in Spiro Peterson’s anthology of 17th century criminal fiction, and while the bulk of it references Ernest Bernbaum’s The Mary Carleton Narratives, it also makes a few points of its own that made me smile.

Here is Peterson’s account of how Francis Kirkman got his hands on The English Rogue – which perhaps also offers a hint of why Kirkman always seemed such a believer in the necessity of there being honour amongst thieves:

Kirkman’s discovery of rogue biography was probably a happty accident. Overly ambitious as a bookseller, he had got into legal troubles in a plot to pirate “the best plays then extant”. On two occasions he had been cheated by Henry Marsh, one of his partners in the pirating venture. After the Plague, burdened with debts and poor relations, Kirkman was trying to recoup his his fortunes. He took over the estate of Marsh, who had died, and here, among many liabilities, he found some assets. Chief among these were the rights to the first part of Richard Head’s The English Rogue, a book so obscene that it had to be expurgated before it could be licensed for publication by Marsh in 1665…

I was amused to discover that Peterson seemed to have come away from his researches with more or less the same impression of Francis Kirkman as I did – basically a nice guy, if not the world’s most honest man, with a genuine love of literature:

Like the true Restoration man that he was, Francis Kirkman emphatically approved of the new freedom that Charles II brought with him. Especially important to him were the signs of the revival in literature. In 1661, as he launched one of his first publications, The Thracian Wonder, Kirkman the bookseller bemoaned the sad effects of the recent tyranny. As long as readers would buy books, he promised to print them, “since ingenuity is so likely to be encouraged by reason of the happy restoration of our liberties.” He never lost his confidence that ingenuity would bring its own rewards. In a long career as translator, author, and publisher, he aimed to please.

Even more amusing, at least to me, was Peterson’s ready acceptance of Richard Head’s involvement in Part 3 and Part 4 of The English Rogue; a conclusion very much against the prevailing dogma, and one I reached only after the shedding of much blood, sweat and tears. Mostly tears:

Of the five books which Kirkman produced as an author, three were picaresque or criminal narratives. He wrote a second part (1668) of The English Rogue and with the original author, Richard Head, “clubbed” harmoniously to produce a third and fourth parts (1671)…

Of The Counterfeit Lady herself, though he does not draw quite so long a bow as Ernest Bernbaum, Peterson is equally impressed with Kirkman’s handling of his material – and with his occasional denials of omniscience:

The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled may serve, according to its preface, “as a looking glass wherein we may see the vices of this age epitomized.” Besides its sociological value, the book should interest readers today for its realistic techniques. Of the criminal biographers who disguise their fiction as fact, Kirkman is the most talented. Instinctively he knows when to hasten the story and when to expand an incident into a brilliantly detailed scene. In his technique he glimpses – sketchily, to be sure – the modern idea of point of view, as, for example, when he interrupts his account of Mary’s affair with the two young lovers “that I may not seem to romance by telling you all their private discourses, which would be impossible”…

But there is one mention of Daniel Defoe; one that keeps it all the family, as it were:

As many as twenty-four books, published between 1663 and 1673, sensationalized her adventures. Samuel Pepys saw the German Princess on display at the Gatehouse Prison, and at the end of her trial for bigamy, stoutly cheered her victory. News of the Lady reached the royal court. In ballads, newspapers, and pamphlets, writers made comparisons with “the German Princess.” To whet the appetite of readers, a criminal biographer claimed, in  1692, that his subject was “a rarity beyond…a Clancie, a Morrell, a German Princess, or any of our most famous imposters.” In the next century Daniel Defoe made the heroine of his Roxana (1724) reflect, “I might as well have been the German Princess”…

09/01/2012

The English Rogue (Parts 4 & 5)

Friends and fellow Travellers, said he, from my Childhood I have had wondrous and various vicissitudes of Fortune, in so much that though the relation of several of your lives which I have had, seems very strange and eminently remarkable to me, yet when you shall hear me giving you an account of the transactions of my life, which I shall trouble you with very speedily, you will look upon them as incredible as Mounsieur St. Serfs Voyage into the Moon, or the Travels of Sir John Mandivle.

Heh! Oh, well. Easy to be wise after the event.

It does make me laugh, though, to think that I expended so much thought and effort on a forensic examination of the third part of The English Rogue, trying to determine to my own satisfaction, at least, whether Richard Head had been involved in its creation, only to be quite sure within the first few pages of this fourth part that in spite of his later denials, he had certainly written it himself.

This opening section finds Dorothy continuing her account of her relationship with the soldier of fortune, and recounting to her friends some stories that he told to her of his own “adventures”, which in tone and attitude hark back to the ugly, dog-eat-dog view of the world expressed in Volume 1.

One of them is about the time a friend of the soldier of fortune confided in him about his affair with a woman who also supplied him with money, upon which he immediately began searching for means by which to betray his friend both sexually and financially.

In the other, we hear how the soldier of fortune took a brutal revenge on a woman who refused to have sex with him unless he gave her money…even though he knew she was a prostitute.

As I said of the plagiarism towards the end of Volume 3 – it’s as good as a signature.

But in spite of these trademark touches, as we noticed in the third part there is a certain softening in the overall text of this volume, which again suggests a shift in attitude amongst the reading public towards a less wholehearted embrace of stories of successful crime and cheating. Even more surprising is a slightly less cynical attitude towards marriage. The final section of Dorothy’s lengthy monologue (which now spans three volumes!) consists chiefly of the tales illustrating the unfortunate consequences of marriage purely for gain; and while there is still plenty of lying and cheating and scheming in these stories, they tend to conclude with lovers overcoming the barriers between them. There is also an early conversation between the captain of the boat and Meriton Latroon, in which the former declares that although he may cheat the rest of the world, our central characters may depend upon his good faith—which turns out to be true (and is in keeping with Francis Kirkman’s honour-amongst-thieves attitude).

This fourth volume picks up precisely where the third broke off (which, since the two were published simultaneously, makes me suspect that this section was written last), with our adventurers on St Helena; and Richard Head makes an attempt to curry favour with me by opening with a 126-word run-on sentence featuring a shark:

Whilst we anchored at the island of St. Helena there happened a sad Accident; whilst we were recreating and refreshing our selves in the Island, one of our men (that brought us ashore in the Skiff) being an excellent Swimmer, stript himself, and over the side of the Boat he went, he had not been long in the water before such as stood on the shore to see him swim, perceived a Shark to make towards him; who cryed out, A Shark, a Shark, hasten to the Boat; which he did with incredible speed, and had laid his hands on her side as the Shark snapt at his Leg, and having it in his mouth turned on his back, and twisted it off from his knee.

Hey! – no big deal, right?—

The fellow protested to me that when this was done, he felt no pain any where but under his Arm pits; the fellow was drest and perfectly cur’d…

This little contretemps over, and the ship stocked with food and water, the party sets out again. Another travelogue section follows, with lengthy descriptions of Sicily, and a variety of adventures including a visit to an apparently haunted villa; an interlude which turns out to involve forbidden love and ends (again) in a happy marriage.

As the travellers move on, we return to our regularly scheduled talk-fest, with Dorothy concluding her story about the crone and her husband, whose misdeeds finally escalate to murder, leading to the conviction and execution of both. The tales of the soldier of fortune follow, inspiring a general rumination upon marriage. 

(In an amusing touch, an elderly husband, although accepting that his young wife will marry again after his death, makes one condition: “I only beg you not to be married to F. K., who of all your Company-keepers I had most suspition of, and therefore most cause to hate…)

Dorothy finally runs out of stories, and the narrative passes to the only one of the party who has not so far related his life story, the captain of the travellers’ ship. It appears that Richard Head finally came around to Francis Kirkman’s way of thinking, as here he seems to recognise that he doesn’t need Meriton Latroon to have a rogue’s biography.

The Captain (who, of course, is never given a name) was bastard-born and abandoned upon the parish. He was adopted by a woman who did her best to raise him right, but who (we are given to understand) couldn’t fight nature. Even so, we might be surprised the boy’s rapid adoption of criminality, and the reason for it:

My Nurse could not choose, when I was but Seven years old, but take notice of many things I committed, for which she severly chastis’d me, endeavouring so to stop me in my first proceedings, knowing my pretty Rogueries had their rise from an inclination to all manner of Vice. Above all things I loved all sorts of strong Liquors… I loved in an extraordinary manner, whatsoever was strong, yet being too young, and so could not drink for the sake of good company, I would greedily drink for its own sake, and that I might procore my satisfaction that way, I found frequent opportunities to steal small parcels out of my Nurses Purse when she was asleep… Any small trivial thing, as a Knife, &c. in any House whereever I came, I instantly seiz’d them as my proper Goods and Chattels, and converted them to the use aforesaid…

The boy’s main collaborator is the madam of a local brothel, who completes his education:

…the well-disposed Matron thereof, would not only receive what I brought, but would give me half as much Ale as it was worth… Nay, she…instructed and encouraged me in the Art of theevery, telling me the welcomer I was, the oftener I came. By this means I began to know what it was to keep Company, her Wenches being my initiators, by whose help and my forward endeavours, I commenced Master of Art, before I could sum up Twelve years; I soon became Professor of that deep Mystery, and could…swear mouthingly, (which others calls gracefully,) look impudently, talk impertinently, or imprudently, drink profoundly, and smoak everlastingly…

But all goods things must come to an end, and the boy is finally caught in the act of thievery – which has the consequence of exposing the Madam’s side-line as a fence. She manages to wriggle out of the charges against herself (let’s just say she’s an old friend of the judge), and coaches the boy in a show of repentence, which wins him the mercy of the court—which is to say, he is sentenced to transportation to Virginia, rather than hanged.

However, in the end a Bristol merchant buys the boy’s freedom, meaning to bind him as a servant. The boy plays along, naturally enough, but takes the first opportunity to bolt. After a period spent begging, he ends up being taken on at an inn in Barnstable, where his reversion to his old alcohol-fueled stealing habits brings him into conflict with the tapster; and if we needed any further confirmation that Richard Head was the author of this piece, we have it in (1) the fact that despite being the one in the wrong, the boy plots revenge against the tapster, and (2) that it involves, well…

I could find no other way but this; observing the Tapster to be very laxative, I went and consulted the House of Office, and found the middle Board to be suitable and serviceable to my purpose; for my loosing of but two or three Nails I could make it turn topsy turvy…

But even Richard Head, it seems, can learn something; and our young plotter ends up being hoist with his own petard.

Something like his “petard”, anyway.

About four of the Clock in the Morning I was awakened out of my sleep, by an exceeding Griping of my Guts, and found a great pronness to go to Stool; the fumes that ascended from the excess of my Drinking Ale the night past, had not only intoxicated my Brain, but for that time so depraved my memory, that I remembered not any thing of the Trap I had laid for the Tapster; wherefore to obey Natures commands, I ran hastily into the House of Office, and with my Breeches in my hands, and treading on the Board, it slipt up, and in I dropt…

More “adventures” – which is to say, more lying, cheating, begging and stealing – follow; and amusingly again, after the boy has successfully defrauded merchants of all different sorts and businesses, he ends up falling foul of—the booksellers:

So clapping his hands on the knees of my Breeches, discovered what I had been doing. This disgracing Villain makes no more ado, but bawls out aloud, Master, Master, come quickly, I have caught the Book-worm that hath devoured so many Books of late…

The particular escapade lands the boy on a transport to Barbados; and although the account of the journey offers some interesting historical details, such as that those being transported and those undertaking voluntary emigration are simply bundled in together, the former under no particular restraint, mostly this turns out to be an excuse for a wearying account of the life and adventures of everyone on board:

…viz. 1 Broken Tradesman. 2 Jilts. 1 Pretended poor Captain. 1 Counterfeit Libertine Minister. 1 Soldier of Fortune. 1 New Exchange Girl. 2 Button-makers. 1 Orange-Wench. 3 Crackt Maid-servants. 1 Stockin-Mender. 4 Common Prostitutes.

The captain of the transport ship takes an improbable fancy to the boy, and gives him the post of cabin-boy, thus setting him on his way to a seafaring life. After several journeys back and forth, the boy gives his master the slip in England, and many more adventures follow, in which he is sometimes the victim, most often the perpetrator. Here we begin to slip back into the old, confusing, “tale within a tale” structure, as the boy falls in with various companions who relate their own adventures (or someone else’s) to him.

This section of the volume also includes a lengthy examination of gambling, as the boy makes friends with, and is tutored by, a professional gamester, with minute accounts of the various ways of cheating (as well as an explanation of the rules of the main dice-gains of the time, such as “Hazzard”, which I actually found useful!). Unexpectedly, however, this part of the story ends with an exhortation:

Consider how few there are if any who have gotten an Estate by play, but how many thousand antient and worthy families have been ruined and destroyed thereby. It is confest there is no constant gamester but at one time or other hath a considerable run of winning; but such is the infatuation of play, that I could never hear of any that could give over when they were well. I have known those have gotten many hundreds of pounds, and have rested a while with an intention never to play more; but by over perswasion, having broke bulk, as they term it, were in again for all and lost it…

—a sad instance of Richard Head proving conspicuously incapable of taking his own advice, since he spent much of his life wrestling with the consequences of a gambling addiction.

Anyway, having thus ruined himself on land, the boy slinks back to his old master with his tail between his legs, and resumes his shipboard career—eventually emerging as “the Captain”.

The Captain’s tale done, Jinny picks up the narrative duties, contributing a lengthy tale of an apprentice brewer who schemes his way to a wife, a business and an estate, only to get his comeuppance on the form of a greedy and demanding second wife; a tale periodically enlivened by its author forgetting who’s supposed to be telling it, and calling her “Mary”—who, as those of you with a better memory than Richard Head might recall, was poisoned by Latroon’s Indian wife in Volume 3.

This story then takes an abupt turn into yet another rogue’s biography, as it focuses upon the son of the brewer and his second wife, whose habits include faking his own suicide whenever his parents try to check his headlong, downward career or punish him for any of his numerous misdeeds:

…for it was all the News of the place, that Mr R.’s son was drowned, to the great grief of his Father and Mother: he was so well pleased to hear that they were all so ill pleased; and thought how he should be revenged upon them that were resolved to be revenged on him; the consideration of his Mothers sorrow was great joy to him, and he hoped to reap this benefit that he might for the future rule, and reign in his Roguery; hoping that his Father and Mother would leave him to his own dispose; lest he should hereafter do that in earnest, that they would now find in jest: but thinking that they had not as yet suffered enough for what they made him suffer, a two days imprisonment, whereas he had not been wanting above one day…

This “young extravagant” then takes over the rest of the volume, giving Latroon himself a run for his money in the obnoxious stakes as spends his time drinking, whoring and cheating, and committing a range of “freacks” and “frollicks”, from the viciously cruel (such as his unprovoked assault of an elderly woman selling puddings in the street) to as close as his author can come to the poetically just:

He intended to have some frollick with this Barber; and the Barber gave him a very good accasion and opportunity: for the Barber having occasion to make water, and being somewhat lazy, pissed about the shop. Our Gallant asked his reason; and told him, it was a nasty trick. To which the Barber pleaded, for excuse, that it was no great matter, for he was to leave the shop in a weeks time, and to remove to another, and therefore it would not annoy him much… No sooner did [the Barber] mount up the stairs but down went our Gallants breeches, and there in the middle of the Shop he laid the biggest load he could exonerate himself of… The Barber although he had sweet powder in his hand, yet he could not only smell, but see that there was somewhat in the Shop that was not so sweet to the scent, nor pleasant to the sight; wherefore he also asked his Customer his reason for so doing? He replied, he had the very same reason for disburthening himself, as he had: for said he, I am to leave the shop presently, and it will not annoy me much…

And yet there are those who don’t believe that Richard Head wrote this.

The “extravagant” does finally get caught out, being arrested for debt; and since his mother has (belatedly) come to her senses enough not to pay it for him, he spends some time in prison, where he makes the acquaintance of a professional house-breaker and, after negotiating his release, embarks in earnest upon a criminal career—which is abruptly terminated, not by the forces of law and order, but by the 17th century equivalent of the animator suffering a fatal heart attack – AARGH!:

This adventure was like to have proved Tragical to the hard-hearted Bayliff, who with much difficulty disengaged himself. But our two Extravagants were extreamly well-pleased with the Washer-womans Revenge, as we hope the Reader will be; and now we shall put an end to this Fourth Part: And, if (as we hope) you are pleased with what is already written. we shall in short time give you greater pleasure and satisfaction in the Continuation of our Extravagants adventures, which shall be fully furnished in a Fifth and Last Part.

Yes. Well.

In spite of the “hopes” of its author, this was the last official volume of The English Rogue, if not quite the bitter end of it. After this there was, as we have seen, a falling out and a parting of the ways between Francis Kirkman and Richard Head; the former returning to his career of publishing, bookselling and copyright infringement, with occasional returns to authorship, the latter becoming trapped in a spiral of gambling and debt, dividing his time between prison and the sanctuaries, and trying spasmodically to write himself out of his financial woes. Francis Kirkman died in 1680, while Richard Head – although fittingly for such a life, the details are murky – is generally believed to have died in 1686 when the ship on which he was travelling to the Isle of Wight foundered.

What happened to the rights to the four volumes of The English Rogue after the death of Francis Kirkman, and who held them, remains obscure. However, in 1688 there was a sudden revival of the work, in an edition which carries the following rather evocative details of its publication:

London, Printed for J. Back at the Black Boy on London-Bridge, near the Draw-Bridge, 1688.

Reminding us that at the time, numerous businesses and houses were situated upon the bridge itself.

This new version of what (now that I’ve washed my hands of it) I can think of indulgently as “my old friend” carries the title: The English Rogue; or, Witty Extravagant: Described In The Life Of Meriton Latroon, before launching into a full-page summary of Latroon’s career that deserves consideration in its own right:

Containing, The Description of his Birth and Parentage. His early Waggeries and more mature Villainies. The Hardships and Punishments he endured: the many Pollicies and Strategems he invented to support himself: the the various Discoveries of Cheats and Rogueries made by him. His many Escapes from Danger; and the frequent Troubles and Pressures of Mind he lay under for his wicked Exploits. His many witty Expressions and Observations of Things and Matters. His Amorous Discourses and Entertainment. And in fine, his various Fortunes and Misfortunes through the whole Course of his Life. With the eminent Cheats and Artifices of either Sex layed open, as a Warning to all Persons to shun the Mischiefs that attends an evil Course of Life, &c.

I do like that “&c.”.

This title-page then further promises the reader, The Four PARTS. To which is added a Fifth PART, compleating the whole History of his Life.

So this should be a fairly substantial work, right? After all, each individual volume of The English Rogue was equivalent in length to 150 – 200 of today’s pages, the first volume being somewhat longer than its sequels; so let’s call it 700 pages in total. What, then, are we to make of this publication? – which in its original format consists of 232 pages – or in modern terms, about 150 pages?

As you can imagine, after fighting through that fourth volume, the last thing I wanted was more of The English Rogue; so it was with great relief and amusement that I discovered that I didn’t really have any more of it on my hands, but was instead flicking through an extreme abridgement of all four volumes – which are not just savagely cut down, but out of order – to which its…well, you can hardly say author…its compiler’s main contribution is an occasional re-write, apparently to clean up some of the language, or soften Latroon’s misconduct.

For example, this notorious passage:

That he, going about to correct me for this unlucky and mischievous fact, was by me shown a very shitten trick, which put him into a stinking condition, for having made myself laxative on purpose I squirted into his face upon the first lash given. That being upon boys’ backs, ready to be whipped, I had often bit holes in their ears. That another time sirreverencing in a paper, and running to the window with it, which looked out into the yard, my aged mistress looking up to see who opened the casement, I had like to have thrown it into her mouth; however for a time deprived her of what little sight she had left. That another time I had watched some lusty young girls, that used in summer nights about twelve o’clock to wash themselves in a small brook near adjacent, and that I had concealed myself behind a bush, and when they were stripped, took away their clothes, making them dance home after me stark naked to the view of their sweethearts whom I had planted in a place appointed for that purpose, having given them before notice of my design.

—appears in this version in this considerably shortened, and considerably bowdlerised, form:

…and then proceeded to tell her of a great many Tricks and Rogueries that I had played, as biting holes in the Boys Ears when upon their backs, squirting indecently in his Face, playing Tricks with the Maids Ware, and almost blinding my Mistress with a Sir— which I dropped upon her Face out of the Casement as she was Gauping upwards…

The bulk of this short publication is taken from Richard Head’s original work, which is the source for 141 out of its 232 pages. From that point, we hop from spot to spot, volume to volume: Gregory’s story, which makes up most of the second volume, is slashed down to just over twenty pages; this is followed by even briefer accounts of the lives of Mary and Dorothy, the “crone’s story” being entirely omitted from the latter (although not Dorothy’s own baby-selling), and then by an abrupt lurch to the poisoning of the former by Latroon’s wife; after which the remaining party sets out from India and lands in Surat without delay, where Jane (Jinny) is found.

Here the narrative becomes strangely confused, as we find Latroon recounting as his own some of the adventures of the soldier of fortune, as told by Dorothy in the third volume; an account which suddenly mutates into some of the captain’s adventures as a young man from the fourth volume, mutates again into some of the inn-cheats practiced by Dorothy’s hosts in the third volume, then becomes the haunted villa episode at the beginning of the fourth, followed by a description of various criminal activities told at third hand in the third volume, after which the fourth volume reappears with the telling of an anecdote about a homicidally jealous husband and the streetsmart apothecary who only pretends to sell him poison.

I think.

All of which takes us to page 230 of 232. By now, some people might be wondering what happened to that “Fifth PART” we were promised (or threatened with)? Well, it makes its appearance here, all one page and a half of it, in the form of a sudden fatal illness for Latroon, which gives him just enough time to repent (again) and lecture us all on how we shouldn’t do what he did:

And now expecting, in a short time, my Dissolution, it is my earnest request, That all Persons, of whatsoever Age or Sex, should be warned by my many Misfortunes, and what may yet remain abundantly worse behind if infinite Mercy interceed not with offended Justice, which I have infinitely provoked, to leave me miserable in the never-ending flight of an immeasurable Eternity.

I hope Henry Bradshawe felt he got his shilling’s worth:

.

See also:

The English Rogue (Part 1)
The English Rogue (Part 2)
The English Rogue (Part 3)

02/12/2011

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.

 

09/09/2011

The English Rogue (Part 2)

“When this piece was first published…the author intended and endeavoured to possess the reader with a belief that what was written was the Life of a Witty Extravagant, the author’s friend and acquaintance. This was the intent of the writer, but the readers could not be drawn to this belief, but in general concurred in this question, that it was the life of the author… They holding this opinion caused him to desist from prosecuting his story in a Second Part, and he having laid down the cudgels I took them up. My design in doing so was out of three considerations; the first and chiefest was to gain ready money, the second I had an itch to gain some reputation by being in print, and thereby revenge myself on some who had abused me, and whose actions I recited, and the third was to advantage the reader and make him a gainer by acquainting him with my experiences.”

Of course, which Richard Head wrote the line, There are knaves in all trades but book selling, he hadn’t yet met Francis Kirkman.

One of the odd things about this course of reading has been the way that certain names have kept reappearing in the background, and always in connection with dubious activities: plagiarism, copyright infringement, the selling of unlicensed works, and so on. Francis Kirkman’s first overt appearance upon this particular stage comes when his publishing partnership with three other men, including one Henry Marsh, fell apart over accusations that they had sold pirated copies of The Scornful Lady, a play by  Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher first published in 1616, It was a favourite of Charles II, and a revival production became one of the first great theatrical successes of the Restoration.

It was Henry Marsh who had the good fortune, in 1665, to publish Richard Head’s The English Rogue. The book was in constant demand, and Marsh reissued it several times before his death in 1666, after which (in circumstances too murky to be deciphered) the rights to this highly profitable publication fell to Francis Kirkman, who likewise issued it in several editions. We can only assume, however, that in time the profits began to dwindle. In 1668, Kirkman tried to revive his cash-cow by persuading Richard Head to write a sequel (plus ça change), but having been badly burned personally over his book, and being for once in a comparatively comfortable situation financially, Head refused. It does not seem that this refusal created any particular ill-feeling between the two men, who collaborated on other projects around this time; and it was presumably with Head’s blessing that Kirkman sat down to pen his own second part of the tale.

Reading this second volume of The English Rogue has been an interesting experience—but only, I hasten to add, because I’ve read the first one. In purely literary terms, Kirkman’s contribution is quite as worthless as its predecessor, and at times an equally dreary read (though overall, much less so); but when the two are compared some rather intriguing and, indeed, amusing impressions begin to emerge.

In short—the main thing I shall take away from the second part of The English Rogue is a sense that Francis Kirkman was a much nicer person than Richard Head. Though he does not seem to have been any more honest an individual, it is clear that his mind ran in very different channels. For one thing, while to Head writing was never more than a means to a handful of cash, it is very apparent from the course of his life, even, bizarrely, from his choice of illegal activities, that Francis Kirkman had a genune love of literature.

Although his life was a round of enterprises and failures, cheats, manoeuvrings, bankruptcies and debt, through it all Kirkman never lost his determination to be involved in the world of books. From an early age he collected manuscripts. His passion for drama led him to compile a comprehensive catalogue of some 800 plays that had been published in England, claiming in its introduction that he had read them all; while many of his illegal dealings involved the issuing of plays for which he had a particular enthusiasm—if not copyright. Kirkman also wrote a play himself, as well as several works of fiction. In The Unlucky Citizen, published in 1673, which was sold as fiction but is in fact an unacknowledged autobiography, he gives a disarmingly frank account of the ups and downs of his life. However, in historical terms Kirkman’s most significant contribution was his practice, begun in 1660, of lending out his collection of manuscripts on a short-term basis—in effect creating an early public library, possibly the first in London.

The differences between the first two volumes of The English Rogue are extremely telling. One highly significant aspect of the second is that it is relatively free of the sheer nastiness that is the outstanding characteristic of the first. Granted, there is some anti-woman ranting;  scenes of seduction and abandonment; practical jokes involving laxatives; and moments when someone loses control of their bowels (I swear, the only thing these people enjoyed more than a chamber-pot scene was an absence-of-chamber-pot scene); but these are isolated incidents scattered over some 200 pages, and not the bulk of the text. There’s also a half-heartedness about them, as if Kirkman accepted their necessity but didn’t much care for that style of writing.

More tellingly still, it is evident that Francis Kirkman could actually conceive of there being such a thing as a decent human being—if only in an “honour amongst thieves” kind of way. His characters sometimes help each other without hope of personal reward. They even keep promises. His men and women are occasionally faithful to one another. (Not his married men and women, of course; let’s not get carried away.) And when an individual is cheated or defrauded, his way of retaliation is generally not some grotesque act of violent revenge, but simply to take the other party to court.

It seems that Francis Kirkman was a man ahead of his time.

The other great difference between the first two volumes of The English Rogue is their content, as indicated by their relative subtitles: whereas Richard Head offered A Compleat History Of The Most Eminent Cheats Of Both Sexes, Francis Kirkman promises an account of The Most Eminent Cheats Of Most Trades And Professions—a promise he keeps. Wrapped within the 200 pages of the second volume of The English Rogue is nothing less than a 150-page treatise upon white-collar crime in the late 17th century. And if it happens that Francis Kirkman dwells with a little more feeling upon the disreputable practices that flourished in the world of bookselling than upon those in other trades, well, perhaps we can’t be too surprised about that.

When Francis Kirkman took up his pen to continue Richard Head’s story, he was of course confronted by a significant problem: namely, that Head had been so minutely circumstantial in his account of the life of “Meriton Latroon”, there was really nothing more to be said. Unable to go back, Kirkman was compelled to go on; and the volume opens with Latroon updating us on his Indian marriage, his success as a businessman, and his conquering of the nausea brought on by sex with non-Causcasians sufficiently to start frequenting the local brothels:

“What they wanted in beauty they supplied in respect and willingness to comply with and please me in all my desires; and though many times they have the pox, by reason of their heat and activity, yet they value it not…”

Nor anyone else, apparently. The book then takes an unwelcome turn (that is, even more unwelcome), as Latroon sits back to reflect upon (and give us us a potted version of, presumably for the benefit of those few individuals who might have missed it the first time around) his life so far, which induces another one of his rare fits of reformation:

“This consideration took me up much time, and possessed me with some virtuous thoughts, believing that I had not been preserved and reserved from so many hazards but for some good end; and now I had a fair opportunity of declining vice and living virtuously, I not being likely to be exposed to any such roguish shifts or courses as formally. These thoughts of virtue made way for those of religion…”

Here, I hope I may be forgiven for crying aloud, “Oh, God, no!” And in truth, things rapidly go even worse than I anticipated, as Latroon passes from thoughts of Christianity to the “absurdity” of the local religious practices, of which he then gives us “an account” which stretches for pages and which is, without exaggeration, one of the most numbingly boring things I have ever read, a kind of Hindu version of “Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob…”, only much, much longer. (No offence to any Hindus intended; it’s the way he tells it.) At one point, as I struggled through, I began to suffer from horrifying visions of the entire volume being of the same sort of material. Rarely have I been so grateful to arrive at the conclusion of anything.

“Rarely” meaning that, yes, I was more grateful to reach the conclusion of The English Rogue Volume 1.

In spite of his virtuous thoughts, Latroon contunues to pine for the sight – and feel – of an Englishwoman; indeed, for the companionship of any white person; and he gets his wish with the arrival of a merchant-ship bearing six young Englishmen, with whom he quickly becomes intimate. Latroon entertains [sic.] them with his life history, and induces one of them (briefly introduced as Gregory) to give an account of his own life, and to explain why he and his companions left England.

And here this second volume takes a revealing turn, as the bulk of its narrative is taken over by Gregory. From this early point onwards, up until about fifty pages from the end, Latroon simply disappears from the story. He then reappears briefly, only to be pushed aside yet again as two other characters tell their stories. This device for continuing the tale is one that carries with it the tacit admission that, in Francis Kirkman’s mind at least, the character of “Meriton Latroon” was essentially irrelevant. There’s also, I think, the possibility that although he was prepared to exploit him for financial gain, Kirkman found Latroon a repellant character: his own narrator is, if little more honest, a great deal less offensive.

The other notable aspect of Kirkman’s tactic, one that was in all likelihood unintentional, is the growing – and in the end, almost postmodernistic* – absurdity of his story structure. Gregory’s account of his own life, as told to Latroon, quickly turns into the repetition of the experiences of others, as told to him by the individals in question, which in turn consist of stories told to them by another set of people altogether. In conjunction with Kirkman adopting Richard Head’s habit of never bothering to give his characters names, this Chinese puzzle-box approach makes it very nearly impossible – at points, literally impossible – to keep track of who is talking at any given moment. Gregory’s own habit of calling everyone he knows “my friend” doesn’t help, either.

(*Putting aside the question of whether you can have “postmodern” before you’ve had “modern”— While Tristram Shandy is probably the first true postmodern work, inasmuch as its author knew what he was doing, it really does seem here that Francis Kirkman stumbled into postmodernism quite by accident.)

At the outset, it seems horrifyingly likely that Gregory’s life will prove to be a simple reworking of Latroon’s, as many of the same sorts of juvenile incidents make an appearance. It is Gregory, for example, who commits the prank with the laxative, and he who in a separate incident loses control of his bowels. (I was sure you were all anxious to know that.) But before long, Francis Kirkman begins to make his own voice heard—and surprises us with some of his story choices, and even more with some passages of genuinely effective writing, such as Gregory’s chillingly matter-of-fact account of his childhood passage into thievery, after the budding criminal career of his brother is abruptly terminated:

“My eldest brother at seven years of age attained to such ingenuity that he seldom carried home any mended shoes to a gentleman’s or citizen’s house but he would filch either linen, silver spoons, or something else of worth, which by negligent servants was not laid up safely. Which trade he drave for some space of time, being by reason of his childish years not in the least suspected. But the pitcher goes not so often to the well but at length it comes home broken. In process of time he was taken with the theft, and for the same was carried to Newgate, where the poor little angel (peace be with him) he died in prison, under the penance of a discipline which was applied to him with a little too much rigour.”

Compelled by his father to take his brother’s place and so help support his family, Gregory involves himself in various criminal enterprises; but disaster follow: his father is press-ganged, and his mother dies, leaving him alone in the world but for an uncle, who reluctantly takes him in. A course of the by-now standard “roguery” and “revenge” follows, until at the age of twelve Gregory begins a series of unsuccessful apprenticeships, by which his eyes are opened to the various abuses of the different professions: that of the chirurgeon, the tapster, the baker, the astrologer, the nurse, the tailor, and the plasterer. Gregory gets along well with the last, but then, mistakenly believing he has accidentally killed his master, he runs away.

Taking to the road, Gregory falls in with a band of beggars—and Francis Kirkman takes the opportunity to insert yet another lengthy “thieves’ dictionary”, which fills a whole chapter. The beggars instruct Gregory in their own profession, but he never really gets the hang of it – he can’t get the tone of voice right – and when he turns to chicken-stealing, he is lucky to escape with nothing worse than a savage beating. This, however, on top of the grim and conclusive fate meted out to some of his less fortunate thieving companions, makes him pause and consider his way of life; and at the end of his ruminations, Gregory decides—to get an honest job.

Yes, I nearly fell off my chair, too.

“Being now come to London, I was resolved not to be idle, but settle myself to some one trade, that I might be able to get a living…[and] did now resolve to fix upon one that should do my business, and whereby I might at all times and in all places be able to live by my hands…”

Gregory binds himself to a tailer and commences his work. He also begins to make friends among his master’s friends and their apprentices, many of whom are engaged, and assist one another, in fraudulent practices. So begins the bulk of the narrative, in which Gregory is generally only an onlooker – or a listener – rather than a participant. In place of the earlier, brief sketches of criminality, here we get lengthy and detailed accounts of how the members of the various professions set about deceiving and defrauding the public. In particular, Gregory becomes intimate with a scrivener, a bookseller, and a drugster (who will later be three of his companions on his journey to India), and with their respective apprentices; and these are the source of his information about the criminal ways of London’s tradesmen.

One of the more unexpected trades under consideration here is that of preacher: the drugster, before finally he takes up that profession, makes a tidy living amongst the Puritans and the Dissenters, where he moves from congregation to congregation and becomes, “Very famous, and a great disputant.” At length, however, he wearies of the job; but fortunately, an excellent excuse for throwing over his, ahem, “beliefs” is at hand:

“As for my preaching trade, finding that it had already done me as much service as I expected from it, I left it…especially finding that it grew every day into disesteem, it being about the time of His Majesty’s happy return; when instead of a preaching fanatic, I quickly faced about, and leaving my congregational friends, I enquired out and procured cavalier acquaintance, so that I who a little before the King’s coming home was used to wear short hair, and was modest and precise in my habit, now had a large periwig, a great plume of feathers, and all other accoutrements accordingly…”

God save the King. This passage, by the way, puts this second volume of The English Rogue completely out of chronological synch with its predecessor, although I’m sure we’re not supposed to be worrying about details like that. And certainly not after Richard Head’s own chronological blunder in the first.

It is noticeable that of all the various discourses on the various professions, that of bookselling alone concerns itself not only with the overtly illegal habits of its practitioners, but also with their day-to-day activities, including the endless manoeuvring and bluffing that was, evidently, a necessary part the trade. We also notice – and this is almost the only point in all of this where the position of the victim is considered – how the triumphant account of the  financial successes of the bookseller is severely undercut by a note of resentment over the exploitation of the professional writer:

“I have thought my master a man cunning and crafty enough, and did believe that he who deals in books could not be outwitted… As he formerly had sought for and courted authors to write books for him, now they (knowing his way of preferring and selling of books) followed, and courted him to print their books. If a stranger came with a copy to him, though never so good, he would tell them he had books enough already. But, however, if they would give him so much money, he would do it… If he had a desire to have anything writ in history, poetry, or any other science or faculty, he had his several authors, who for a glass of wine, and now and then a meal’s meat and half a crown, were his humble servants, having no other hire but that…”

A bookseller divided against himself?

Now, while all this is going on, Gregory also enjoys various sexual escapades which, however brief, tend to conclude by mutual consent and with no hard feelings on either side. The most significant of these occurs when he falls in with a woman who, along with two friends, has been abandoned by their male companions and left with an unpaid inn bill which is beyond their slender means. Two of the women are held hostage at the inn, while she, the third, has been released in order to try and raise the money. Gregory believes the woman’s story, and lends her what she needs—and not only does it turn out that she was telling him the exact truth, she later tries to pay him back, although he won’t take her money. The three friends are so grateful, they thank Gregory the only way they know how:

“And now we all thought of removing to London, but one night more we lay at our old quarters, where I had the greatest frolic I was every guilty of, for that night I kissed with all three of the women, and pleased them round, by giving them each a trial of my skill. What now could I desire further? I thought myself to be as brave a fellow as the great Turk in his Seraglio, he having but his choice of women, which I now enjoyed to my full content…”

This early incident has repercussions when much later on it turns out that the woman to whom Gregory lent the money is the mistress of his friend, the drugster; and while they have been a constant couple up until then, eventually the drugster and Gregory end up sharing. However, the woman’s affections are steadfast, even if her desires are a little less so; and when the drugster overreaches his swindling practices and gets into serious hot water, her only thought is how to help him. 

The drugster tries to flee the country, but his creditors catch up with him and haul him off to prison. Luckily, he has already taken the precaution of liquidating his assets, giving the entirety into his mistress’s safe care, one hundred pounds in silver directly into her keeping, and the rest converted into gold coin and concealed by being stitched into his spare clothes; so that when the creditors confiscate the drugster’s trunks, it is in ignorance of what they have actually confiscated. At this juncture, the drugster’s friends band together and manage both to get him out of prison, and to quietly reclaim his “clothing”.

The six of them—Gregory, the drugster, his mistress, the scrivener and his mistress, and the bookseller—then decide they’ve had enough of England, and invest in a merchant-ship, on which they embark for India, the two women disguised in men’s clothes. And these are the six “Englishmen” with whom Latroon becomes acquainted.

Hey, you remember Latroon, don’t you?

And in fact, there are a couple of hilarious “waking-up” moments here, when it apparently occurred to Francis Kirkman that this might have been fun, and all, but it was hardly “continuing the life of Meriton Latroon”, as promised. In the voice of Latroon (silent for 117 blessed pages), Kirkman awkwardly interjects between the wrapping up of the “tradesmens’ frauds” section and the “how we came to India” section:

“I being unwilling to hinder the traveller in prosecuting his story, had with much pleasure attended and hearkened to what he had said; and though his discourse was long, and had taken up much time, yet I found so much pleasing variety, that had made me ample satisfaction and amends. And being desirous to know the rest of their adventures, and what fortune had brought them hither, I desired him to proceed, which he did in this manner—“

—while at the actual end of Gregory’s tale, we get this:

“Thus did our relator finish his long story, which was so filled with profit as well as pleasure that I accounted the time I had spent in hearing it the best bestowed of any…”

Uh-huh? Nice try, Francis.

Kirkman then again, as he did at the outset, throws in various bits and pieces to increase the resemblance between this work and its forerunner: some of Latroon’s verses, wearyingly frequent in the first volume; and some random observations about religious dissent in England, including a brief account of the Quakers, and a longer one of the anti-Quaker “Muggletonians”. There is also a mention of Lodowicke Muggleton’s 1663 publication, The Neck Of The Quakers Broken, or Cut In Sunder By The Two-Edged Sword Of The Spirit Which Is Put Into My Mouth.

Don’t laugh. It was a best-seller, and in print for decades.

We get closer to being back on track when Latroon recognises not one but both of the disguised women as amongst those he ploughed his way through in Volume 1. (I’d say “small world”, but he really did get around.) Rather more astonishing is the fact that neither one of them bears him any grudge, in spite of the subsequent misery and degradation suffered by both. Instead, they think of him “affectionately”, as their first lover; while one of them goes so far as to tell Latroon of, “The great love I have borne to you and your memory.”

Because nothing engenders lifelong affection in a woman like a rapid course of lies, seduction, impregnation and abandonment.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy learning about my own sex from these books.

Oh! Speaking of which!—another fascinating thing about women revealed by the pages of The English Rogue is that the vast majority of married women are frigid; and if I’m interpreting the text correctly, this is because  frigid women are the only ones capable of holding off a man’s sexual advances long enough to get him to the altar. However, no man likes to have sex with a woman who doesn’t like it herself (another fascinating touch, in light of our previous reflections upon the societal move from “woman as insatiable” to “woman as sexless”), and he will swiftly flee his wife’s “cold embraces” for the arms of someone a little more enthusiastic; and in fact, most married women can expect their husbands to start cheating on them anywhere from one to fourteen days after the wedding.

On the other hand, those few married women who are not frigid are ravenous beasts who will cheat on their husbands with anything in pants; which is, of course, much. much worse than their husbands cheating on them.

Francis Kirkman was married twice, by the way. Just in case you were wondering.

The two women—who, astonishingly enough are given names here, Dorothy and Mary—are then begged for their life stories; and yes, Latroon does basically ask, “So, what happened after I knocked you up and ran out on you?” The women’s tales take up the final section of this second volume—pushing Latroon off-stage again—and encompass such light, dinner-table topics as prostitution, fake-maidenhood selling, extortion, and child abandonment.

Then, most peculiarly, with Dorothy still in the middle of her story about how she swindled three different men into paying for her pregnancy, the narrative just stops:

“And this shall be the last I shall relate to you in this part, referring the prosecution of hers, and others’ adventures to a third part.”

So what happened? Did Francis Kirkman decide that 200 pages was quite enough? Would a longer book be too costly to publish, and eat into potential profits? Did he run out of ideas? Did he get bored with it?—or just plain sick of it? Whatever the answer, this was what he sent to the presses…and what he saw fail.

Depressing as it is to consider, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this second volume of The English Rogue failed because it was largely free of the violence and ugliness of the first; that Kirkman gave them fraud when they wanted robbery, camaraderie when they wanted betrayal, and mutually enjoyable, consensual sex when they wanted ruination and misery.

Be that as it may, even after this experience Francis Kirkman didn’t quit in his efforts to wring some further profit out of the story of Meriton Latroon – & Co. – although it would be another three years before a third volume appeared. By 1671, Richard Head had passed through his rare patch of financial security, and was once again up to his eyebrows in gambling debts; and when his old friend Francis came a-calling, it was to find him in a more amenable mood…

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 chapers 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, featured 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.

19/08/2011

The English Rogue (Part 1)

“Thus have I given you a summary account of my life, from the Non-Age to the Meridian of my days. If there be any expressions either scurrilous or obscene, my onely design was to make Vice appear as she is, foul, ugly, and deformed: and I hope, he that hath sense will grow wiser by the folly that is presented him; as Drunkards are often cured by the beastliness of others that are so. The subject would not permit to be serious, neither would it have been suitable to our merry age, being generally of Tully’s minde, when he said, Lectionem fine ulla delectatione negligo: He hated reading where no pleasure dwelt.”

And so do I, Tully, and so do I…

Hindsight being what it is, I can now see clearly enough that I would have been much better off knuckling down to The English Rogue in the first place, rather than finding excuses to push it further along in the chronobibliography, so that I ended up dealing with some of its obvious descendents first. This grand-daddy of all English rogue’s biographies is easily three times the length of most of its imitators; and in a genre where a little goes a very long way, reading The English Rogue has been something like setting out for a stroll up Mt Wycheproof and finding myself confronted by the Matterhorn instead.

No offence to Mt Wycheproof intended.

All in all, I find it profoundly depressing to reflect that this was probably the most successful and popular work of its time. Its original publisher, Henry Marsh, reissued it several times between its original appearance in 1665* and his death in 1666. The rights then fell to Marsh’s former partner, Francis Kirkman, who not only followed suit, but tried desperately – and vainly – to persuade Richard Head to write a sequel. Furthermore, this was one of the very first English works, possibly the first, to be widely translated and distributed across Europe, where it achieved an equal success; and while the picaresque tale from which the rogue’s biography evolved was already an established genre in France and Spain in particular, the influence of The English Rogue in what would become the Netherlands (I never know what to call that territory at this time!) is clear enough from the subsequent wave of similar publications appearing in Dutch—some of which, as we have seen, ended up being turned into mock-English works.

(*Of course, at its real first appearance some months earlier, The English Rogue was denied a publication licence on the grounds that it was “too much smutty”. Copies of the original manuscript were, it seems, in circulation anyway; but the book achieved its real success after Head reworked it and resubmitted it. Given what survives, I can only suppose that he reduced the detail of the various sexual encounters described; he certainly doesn’t seem to have reduced their frequency.)

The details of Richard Head’s life are shadowy, and there is a definite tendency on the part of biographers to take the early sections of The English Rogue as straight autobiography—as their author probably intended them to be taken, not reckoning on the consequences.  Genuine biographies were very popular at the time, and the writers of fiction soon learned to imply that the events they were describing were based upon real people and events. The English Rogue is told in the first person, with the apparent name of its protagonist, Meriton Latroon, mentioned nowhere in the text beyond a faux-preface attached to the first edition; the namelessness of the teller of the tale would have helped to fuse his identity with that of his author. However, as has been mentioned previously, this ploy backfired on Richard Head when readers of his book took him at his word, and concluded him to be just the same sort of scoundrel as his alter-ego.

The English Rogue being what it is, a synopsis is largely pointless. The text is divided into phases according to the particular type of criminal enterprise in which Latroon is involved at a given time. In this respect, it is worth considering the boundary between the picaresque tale and the rogue’s biography—and as far as I can see, the division between these closely related styles of fiction is that in the picaresque tale, the central character tends to be the victim of fate, however criminal his (or, occasionally, her) actions become of necessity after that; whereas in the rogue’s biography, its all a matter of choice and inclination.

The opening phase of The English Rogue is perhaps its most inherently interesting, as the child Latroon and his family, living in Ireland, get caught up in the 1641 Catholic uprising. Latroon’s father and infant brother are killed, while he and his mother are helped to escape back to England by a loyal servant. They spend some years drifting about, Latroon’s mother professing whatever religion is necessary to draw financial aid from the local minister and his flock, while her son gives hints of the glories that are to come via acts of animal cruelty (and we know what modern psychologists would have to say about that) and an alarmingly precocious sexuality. In time, Latroon is packed off to school where his criminal career starts in earnest with a course of theft and extortion—accompanied, of course, by that great signifier of this school of fiction, the commission of acts of grotesque revenge against anyone who has, or who is perceived to have, in any way injured him:

“That he, going about to correct me for this unlucky and mischievous fact, was by me shown a very shitten trick, which put him into a stinking condition, for having made myself laxative on purpose I squirted into his face upon the first lash given. That being upon boys’ backs, ready to be whipped, I had often bit holes in their ears. That another time sirreverencing in a paper, and running to the window with it, which looked out into the yard, my aged mistress looking up to see who opened the casement, I had like to have thrown it into her mouth; however for a time deprived her of what little sight she had left. That another time I had watched some lusty young girls, that used in summer nights about twelve o’clock to wash themselves in a small brook near adjacent, and that I had concealed myself behind a bush, and when they were stripped, took away their clothes, making them dance home after me stark naked to the view of their sweethearts whom I had planted in a place appointed for that purpose, having given them before notice of my design.”

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. And can I just point out that this thing is nearly 300 pages long??

In our previous examinations of Richard Head’s work, we discovered that he is well-known in academic circles as a plagiarist, and long seems to have been so. George Saintsbury, writing in 1913, points out that while Head certainly stole ideas and content from other works for The English Rogue, he had a tendency to follow the conventions of, and steal from, works that were popular decades earlier, with the result that his writing often had an odd anachronistic feel. We saw a concrete example of this in The Floating Island, which was identified as being plagiarised from a work published in 1623, and barely altered by the thief.

Another such “throwback” happens here, after Latroon eventually runs away from both his school and his mother and is taken in by a band of gypsies, where he is taught criminality as a career rather than just a hobby. While describing his new life, Latroon appends to his text a dictionary of thieves’ cant, which runs for several pages, and which George Saintsbury suggests was drawn from a series of publications about the criminal milieu that were popular in the 1620s and 1630s. Here, however, we can’t really condemn Richard Head without acknowledging his possible influence upon a much later writer. As you might recall, in Rookwood, published in 1834, William Harrison Ainsworth also provided an extensive translation of thieves’ cant for his readers, one which subsequent writers have, only too clearly, plundered for their own purposes. Confronted now by Richard Head’s own urban dictionary, I can’t help wondering whether Ainsworth, too, wasn’t guilty of a little pilfering…

Anyway, Latroon becomes a professional beggar and thief, usually successfully, sometimes attracting retribution, until a passing merchant takes a fancy to him, “Being extraordinarily pleased with the form of my face and body [and] liking well both my speech and understanding.” On this basis, the merchant takes Latroon into his employ—more fool he. Latroon soon falls into company with a band of apprentices who make it their business, literally their business, to defraud their masters—although the profits made are generally wasted in drinking, gambling and whoring. Meanwhile, Latroon has been sleeping with the maidservant (as well as drinking, gambling and whoring), and she gets pregnant. Knowing that doing the right thing would both be expensive and damage him in his employers’ eyes, Latroon comes up with an alternative:

“Well, I bethought myself how to be rid both of cow and calf. I told her I would get together what money I could, and so marry her, upon condition she would be willing to travel with me whither I went, which I knew was her only desire. I informed her of my intention to go for Virginia… She assented to all I propounded, relying herself solely on me to dispose of her as I pleased. To palliate my design, I went with her to Gravesend… Being aboard, I suddenly seemed to have forgot something ashore; having well laid my plot upon the basis of a good sum of money I had distributed among the seamen, with a considerable present to the master, and telling my Lindabrides I would return to her instantly, I got into the boat, and immediately after, the ship weighed anchor, and quickly was under sail…”

We should pause here upon this momentous occasion: this is the single point in his entire career when Latroon admits to feeling bad about something he’s done…although it doesn’t stop him seducing and robbing the next woman he sees…who he meets on the dock. And in fact, later on it actually inspires him, as he embarks upon a dizzying orgy of seduction, impregnation, and enforced emigration.

Its attitude to women is one of the more perversely interesting things about The English Rogue, which, while it is certainly an extreme example, is by no means alone at this time in the opinions it expresses. Put simply, if men are bad, women are worse—perhaps because while men have a choice in the matter, women are just made that way, their whole lives being built about their insatiable sexual desire, and their behaviour utterly without conscience or restraint as they seek to satisfy it.

And by the way, gentlemen: if you can’t get into a woman’s, any woman’s, drawers after no more than ten minutes’ trying, well, you aren’t really a man. All you have to do is get your hand between her legs, and the battle will be over. Although at the same time, you’d best be careful: women are just naturally carriers of venereal disease, from which men are in great danger…poor things.

While having to listen to Latroon as he sits in judgement on women generally is rather sickening, I have to admit I’m both bewildered and fascinated by the abrupt evolution of society’s vision of the female sex. How on earth, and in a reasonably short space of years, could we have gone from “woman as uncontrollable sexual demon” to “woman as sexless”!?

At the same time, the one thing that hasn’t changed is that, as a woman, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Later on, Latroon hears a friend’s account of his pursuit of a married woman, who turns out to be virtuous and true to her husband—and so outraged is this individual at having his advances rebuffed, he revenges himself on the woman by destroying her marriage, Iago-like, with forged love letters.

Anyway— From mercantile fraud Latroon graduates to professional thievery, and from there to forgery and confidence tricks, and finally to highway robbery. (I’m skipping over about 150 pages here. No, no, don’t bother to thank me!) I may say here that the stretch concerning the defrauding of merchants gave me my only moment of genuine amusement while reading this book, in spite of its subtitle’s insistence on Latroon’s “wittiness”—probably because it’s a rare moment where Richard Head is simply speaking in his own voice:

“If I discover the fraud of any particular person, as long as I name him not, I do him no wrong; but if I detect by what deceitful and sinister means he worketh upon the infirmity of the youth of a green-witted gallant, it may serve for an use of instruction. In the most famous Universities there are some dunces resident, that by disgracing themselves, disgrace also their fellow students. In the most virtuous Courts there will be some parasites. So in the most goodly and glorious city under Heaven’s canopy, there are some asps lurking, that sting the reputation of their brethren by their poisonous and corrupt dealings. There are knaves in all trades but book selling.”

His career as a highwayman Latroon practices for a considerable time, both as a solitary marauder and as a member of various gangs. The most interesting phase of this enterprise is when Latroon himself is attacked on the road, and ends up battling an adversary who is at length overcome and found to have a great secret:

“Then did I come to his breeches (which I laid open) my curious search omitted not any place wherein I might suspect the concealment of moneys. At last proffering to remove his shirt from between his legs, he suddenly cried out (and strove to lay his hand there, but could not) ‘I beseech you, sir, be civil,’ said he. I imagining that some notable treasure lay there obscured, I pulled up his shirt (alias smock) and found myself not much mistaken…”

Latroon hastily apologises for his roughness and “rude dealings”, asserting – get this – the “greatness of love and respect I have for your sex.”  The “highwayman” subsequently introduces Latroon to two friends of hers who have likewise donned men’s clothing and taken to the road rather than submit to a life of marriage and domesticity. For a time Latroon joins forces with these sisters in crime, but although the partnership is profitable, he finally has to separate himself from them—because he just can’t keep up with their sexual demands…

Hereabouts we reach the most tiresome part of The English Rogue, wherein every other rogue that Latroon encounters insists on telling him their life-story, with every criminal enterprise spelled out in detail. Subsequently, Latroon himself, supposedly as evidence of his “reformation” (we’ll get to it), provides an equally lengthy guide to how the average punter can recognise when he’s in the company of rogues, and what he should do to keep himself safe. As any number of critics have demonstrated, much of this content is lifted from popular jest-books and pamphlets released over the preceding few decades; and however edifying these accounts may be in small doses, the reader of The English Rogue (as least these days) can only cry out in exhausted gratitude when the forces of law and order finally, finally, catch up with Our Hero and cart him off to Newgate, from whence the gallows beckon.

You know—I’m not generally an exponent of the death penalty, but in this guy’s case I would have made an exception. Alas, that’s the problem with first-person biographies: while they can end at Tyburn, miraculous escapes are far more the norm. So it is here, when for no earthly reason we can conjure Latroon’s sentence is commuted to seven years’ (!!) transportation. First, however, we have to sit through the rather nauseating spectacle of his repentence and discovery of religion; this it is that provokes his helpful guide to avoiding the criminal element.

And with this next phase of Latroon’s career we get a rather glorious blunder on the part of his author, who apparently forgot that he gave his anti-hero the same same birthdate as himself, 1637:

“The ship that was to transport me lay at Woolwich, about the latter end of Aug. 1650…”

Although, granted, we have spoken once or twice before about age-inappropriateness in the literature of this time…

Ironically enough, Latroon’s destination is Virginia—and just think of all the women (and children) who’d be there to meet him! But alas once more for those of us who would rather enjoy seeing Latroon undergoing hard labour—or being beaten to death by his discarded mistresses—we are thwarted again here, as he manages to survive not one but two shipwrecks. He finally ends up in Spain, and becomes the comrade of a Spanish merchant, who he agrees to accompany to “the Indies”. They have not been long at sea before their ship is attacked by three Turkish galleys; Latroon, one of the very few survivors, is sold into slavery. Now that’s more like it!

Sadly, however, even this doesn’t last: Latroon is passed from master to master—allowing him, who now professes Christianity, to throw ugly slurs at first the Muslims, then the Jews—and finally ends up owned by a Greek, “that in show was a Mahometan, but cordially a Christian”, despite the fact that he does things like owning slaves. The Greek and his possessions embark for the East Indies, but have gotten no further than southern India when they are yet again attacked by the Turks, from whom Latroon yet again excapes.

From here, The English Rogue turns from rogue’s biography to travelogue—another extremely popular form of literature and one where a writer could make quite an impression, as long as he didn’t have too much regard for the facts. As we saw in the early days of this blog, many and varied were the literary hoaxes practised on the reading public in the second half of the 17th century, fake accounts of travel, or descriptions of non-existent lands, being perhaps the most popular form. Richard Head dabbled openly in this brand of writing, with his pamphlets The Western Wonder and O-Brazile.

Perhaps the single most notorious example of the genre, however, is The Travels Of Sir John Mandeville, which was first—well, not published, but circulated in the 1370s. This often openly fantastical work was immensely successful and widely believed, in spite of its extravagance, and continued to be read well into the 17th century. And apparently one of those who did read it was Richard Head, since (as has been demonstrated in a paper published by Charles Moseley, who translated and edited a 1983 edition of the Travels) the last section of The English Rogue is a cut-down, plagiarised version of portions of it.

With a group of companions, Latroon spends time travelling around what we take to be territories in Africa and India, describing to the reader some of the more outré customs of the locals, such as cannibalism and suttee—the latter explained as a means of dissuading women from murdering their husbands, Which they were frequently guilty of, by reason of their extreme lechery and insatiate venery—shaking his head disapprovingly over their religious practices, and dwelling upon their sexual practices…as well as indulging in them. Like the protagonist of The Isle Of Pines, Latroon goes out of his way her to tell us how nauseating her finds the thought of having sex with a woman who isn’t white; and also like George Pine, he shuts his eyes, grits his teeth, and does it anyway.

Latroon’s wanderings take him from India to Zeyloon (Ceylon, Sri Lanka), where we get an account of the worshippers of Jagannath being crushed under temple cars; from there to Siam (Thailand), and onwards again to Do-Cerne (Mauritius) and Bantam in Indonesia. On the personal front, Latroon progresses from dallying with the natives, to castrating and murdering a man who tries to sodomise him (while he’s dallying with a native), to elaborately defrauding a Chinese merchant – an act that sees most of his companions end up the victims of a revenge killing:

“Whereupon I was strictly examined; but for all this sifting, I would not let drop anything of a confession that should convict me of guilt; but with lifting up of hands and eyes to Heaven, I utterly denied that e’er I saw this man, or ever had any dealing with him… I had now forgot what promises and vows I made to Heaven, when in Newgate, and sentenced to be hanged at Tyburn, what a serious, pious, and honest life I would lead, if I escaped that eminent danger…”

You don’t say.

But we’re nearly in the home stretch, folks, because after all this wandering and his narrow escape from the Chinese merchant’s vengeance, Latroon decides to settle down, in company with an Indian woman whom he marries—or rather, “marries”, since he’s been down that road two or three times before—after a severe struggle with himself:

“She from the first shewed me as much kindness as could be expected from that lump of Barbarism; and I could discern her inclinations in the same manner as a man may from beasts, when they are prone to generation, but yet it went against my stomach to yield to her motions. However, she continued her love to me… Gold and jewels she had in great quantity, with an house richly furnished after the Indian fashion. For this consideration I persuaded myself to marry her; and with several arguments alleged, I gained so much conquest over myself that I could kiss her without disgorging myself…”

Oh, Latroon, you romantic devil!

And having found a woman who can and will keep him in the style he is convinced he deserves, Our Hero settles back to reflect upon his life and closes with an extensive piece of moralising that very nearly made me disgorge myself. As for writing down his life, well, that was done with the very best of intentions, and above all in the most delicate language, as we have seen:

    “As the daylight is purest, so I have endeavoured to make my slender wit appear terse and spruce, without the fulsomeness of wanton language. If I have in any place transgressed the bounds of modesty by loose expressions, you need not fear to be offended with their unsavoury breath, for I have perfumed it: but if it should chance to stink, it is only to drive you from my former inclination and conversation…
    “If any loose word have dropped from the mind’s best interpreter, my pen, I would have the Reader to pass it over regardless, and not like a toad, gather up the venom of a garden; or like a goldfinder, make it his business to dive in stench and excrements…”

13/08/2011

My man George

I seem to spend so much time – either mentally or here – arguing with the writers of non-fiction that it always comes as a most pleasant surprise when I come across someone I actually agree with (and no, I don’t mean, Who agrees with me…honestly). It’s happened twice, reasonably recently: the first instance, which I have mentioned previously, came in the form of James R. Foster’s History Of The Pre-Romantic Novel In England, from 1949, which I really must get around to writing a proper review of; and the second, which I stumbled across while reading around Richard Head, is George Saintsbury’s The English Novel from 1913.

I haven’t read this book in full yet, but these excerpts are enough to make me want to:

    “[The English Rogue] is quite openly a picaresque novel: and imitated not merely from the Spanish originals but from Sorel’s Francion, which had appeared in France some forty years before. Yet, if we compare this latter curious book with Head’s we shall see how very far behind, even with forty years’ advantage in time, was the country which, in the next century, was practically to create the modern novel…”
   
“Very few of the characters of The English Rogue have so much as a name to their backs: they are “a prentice,” “a master,” “a mistress,” “a servant,” “a daughter,” “a tapster,” etc. They are invested with hardly the slightest individuality: the very hero is a scoundrel as characterless as he is nameless. He is the mere thread which keeps the beads of the story together after a fashion. These beads themselves, moreover, are only the old anecdotes of ‘coney-catching,’ over-reaching, and worse, which had separately filled a thousand fabliaux, novelle, ‘jests,’ and so forth: and which are now flung together in gross, chiefly by the excessively clumsy and unimaginative expedient of making the personages tell long strings of them as their own experience.”
    “When anything more is wanted, accounts of the manners of foreign countries, taken from ‘voyage-and-travel’ books; of the tricks of particular trades (as here of piratical book-selling); of anything and everything that the writer’s dull fancy can think of, are foisted in. The thing is in four volumes, and it seems that a fifth was intended as a close: but there is no particular reason why it should not have extended to forty or fifty, nay to four or five hundred. It could have had no real end, just as it has no real beginning or middle. One other point deserves notice. The tone of the Spanish and French picaresque novel had never been high: but it is curiously degraded in this English example…”
    “Except in a dim sort of idea that a novel should have some bulk and substance, it is difficult to see any advance whatever in this muck-heap—which the present writer, having had to read it a second time for the present purpose, most heartily hopes to be able to leave henceforth undisturbed on his shelves…”

That last bit made me keel over in sympathetic laughter. Oh, Georgie, my man, I know exactly how you feel!

But it doesn’t stop there. In this same section Saintsbury draws comparisons between Richard Head and another Restoration writer:

    The reign of Charles II…is properly represented in fiction by two writers, to whom, by those who like to make discoveries, considerable importance has sometimes been assigned in the history of the English Novel. These are Richard Head and Afra Behn, otherwise ‘the divine Astræa.’ It is, however, something of an injustice to class them together: for Afra was a woman of very great ability, with a suspicion of genius, while Head was at the very best a bookmaker of not quite the lowest order, though pretty near it…”
   
“Not in this fashion must the illustrious Afra be spoken of… There is no doubt that The Royal Slave and even its companions are far above the dull, dirty, and never more than half alive stuff of The English Rogue. Oroonoko is a story, not a pamphlet or a mere ‘coney-catching’ jest. To say that it wants either contraction or expansion; less ‘talk about it’ and more actual conversation; a stronger projection of character and other things; is merely to say that it is an experiment in the infancy of the novel, not a following out of secrets already divulged. It certainly is the first prose story in English which can be ranked with things that already existed in foreign literatures…”

The book which contains this admiring but thoughtful positioning of Oroonoko appeared slightly earlier than Montague Summers’ editing and reissuing of Behn’s works, which is generally considered the beginning of her “official” rehabilitation…although it was about another seventy years before her place in the timeline was secure (and some people still want to give us an argument). The English Novel is available through Project Gutenberg, and I think I’ll have to put it on the reading list—particularly since it is clear that George Saintsbury isn’t one of those who thinks that the history of the novel began in England (and for the record, no, I don’t think that; I just came to the party late); still less does he think that the modern novel “began” with Richardson…or even with Defoe.

And as for myself— After that succinct yet comprehensive disposal of The English Rogue by My Man George, is there any real need to say any more? No, probably not—but of course I will anyway…

28/07/2011

Oops, I did it again

“It” being getting caught in a loop of catching up my outstanding reviews, and then celebrating the fact by plunging into an orgy of reading that leaves me in more of a mess than ever. I did it after Romance Of The Pyrenees, which took us all the way through to Rookwood; and then immediately fell into the same trap, of which the final episode was Joan!!! The gap between the reading and the writing impacts upon my memories of the works and the points I meant to make, which isn’t good for my reviews. It’s a annoying situation none the less exasperating for being entirely self-inflicted.

So, I’ve decided to crack down on myself, and be much more disciplined about my reading; a decision that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that – ulp! – I’ve finally run out of excuses to put off tackling The English Rogue.

As we discussed way back when I first started digging my heels in, The English Rogue is a compilation work with a rather strange history. After being published in 1665 it went on, by all accounts, to become the most popular and successful of all the rogue’s biographies, with which the literary marketplace of the time seems to have been awash. (According to Charles Hinnant, second place was held by The London Jilt.) The story seems to have autobiographical aspects, and Richard Head went out of his way to identify himself with his tale’s anti-hero, Meriton Latroon: a tactic that blew up in his face when the reading public took him at his word and treated him like the scoundrel they assumed he was.

The magnitude of The English Rogue‘s success had its publisher, Francis Kirkman, clamouring for a sequel; but smarting from the backfiring of his plans, Head declined—so Kirkman wrote one himself, publishing it in 1671. By this time, Richard Head’s financial difficulties were urgent enough for him to put aside his hurt feelings, and he and Kirkman subsequently collaborated on two more volumes, published in 1674 and 1680. Then, in 1688, after the death’s of both Head and Kirkman, the rights to The English Rogue fell to another publisher. An anonymous hand wrapped up the project with a brief, epilogue-like “final volume”, and the five parts were reissued as a single work.

So I’ve started on the reading, and I’ve already decided—part of that new discipline, you know—to treat the five volumes as five separate works. To be frank, I can take only so much of this kind of writing at a time. That said, I’ve acquired from my academic library the 1928 (!) edition of The English Rogue, which contains the first three volumes. It also reproduces the figures and has cleaned up the text—typographically, that is, not scatalogically—by correcting the spelling errors, substituting the standard ‘s’ for the long, and providing footnotes: an approach that is facilitating the reading process, in spite of the size and weight of the volume.

Now— You can tell what a mess I’ve gotten myself into with my reviews by the fact that it’s been weeks since I even thought about Reading Roulette. However, I have managed to acquire and read Lily The Lost One; or, The Fatal Effects Of Deception, a piece of hardcore didactic literature that manages to be interesting almost in spite of itself.

I’ve also returned to the random number generator for my next pick: The Gilberts And Their Guests by Julia Day, from 1858. I haven’t been able to find out much about Miss Day. She seems to have been best known as a poet; although she did publish one other novel: The Old Engagement: A Spinster’s Story, in 1852. I guess I’ll let you know.

Elsewhere, Authors In Depth takes us back to Mary Meeke, whose third novel, Palmira And Ermance, was published in 1797. This was also the year that Meeke adopted the pseudonym “Gabrielli”, which she is supposed to have appended to her “racier” novels – gasp! I’m rather looking forward to finding out if that’s true.

Speaking of Meeke, I mentioned at the outset that there is a novel called Madeline Clifford’s School Life that has been attributed to her, but which no-one who has written about her has taken very much notice of. I discovered the other day a second novel bearing the name Mary Meeke that also pre-dates Count St. Blancard, which is called Marion’s Path, Through Shadow To Sunshine. Both of these works appear to be stories for girls, and a much more appropriate field of endeavour for the prim wife of an English minister – wouldn’t you think? Significantly, neither book was published by William Lane; and, I confess, I’m getting a lot of evil enjoyment from the mental picture of Meeke, having tried and failed at writing “proper” novels, then throwing her hands into the air in disgust and starting to write pseudo-Gothic sensation novels instead; a pursuit which, I need hardly remind you, brought her a tidy income over some twenty-five years…

13/11/2010

O-Brazile; or, The Inchanted Island

“This story seems very fabulous, yet the Letter is come to a known Merchant, and from a good hand in France, so that I thought fit to mention it, it may be that there may be some mistake in the number of the Leagues, as also of the exact point of the Compass, from Cape Finis Terre; I shall enquire more particularly about it. Some English here suppose it may be the Island of Brasile which have been so oft sought for, Southwest from Ireland, if true, we shall hear further about it.”
— Abraham Keek (Henry Neville) (1668)

“As for the Island of Pines it self, which caused me to Write this Relation, I suppose it is a thing so strange as will hardly be credited by some, although perhaps knowing persons, especially considering our last age being so full of Discoveries, that this Place should lie Dormant for so long a space of time; Others I know, such Nullifidians as will believe nothing but what they see, applying that Proverb unto us, ‘That Travelors may lye by authority’. But Sir, in writing to you, I question not but to give Credence, you knowing my disposition so hateful to divulge Falsities.”
— Henry Cornelius Van Sloetten (Henry Neville) (1668)

“New Discoveries of late, are as much admired as Miracles of old, and as difficultly believed, notwithstanding the variety of apparent proofs which demonstrate their undoubted Veracity; and without question this Incredulity proceeds from no other cause, than the abuse of Belief, occasioned by such monstrous Fictions as the Isle of Pines, A New World in the Moon, with the like Lunatick Stories, by which the credulous World hath been misguided into a Faith wholly preposterously erroneous and ridiculous.”
— Richard Head (1675)

In 1675, Richard Head followed the publication of The Western Wonder; or, O-Brazeel with O-Brazile; or, The Inchanted Island: Being a perfect relation of the late discovery and wonderful dis-inchantment of an island on the north of Ireland: With an account of the riches and commodities thereof. Communicated by a letter from London-derry to a friend in London. This nine-page pamphlet consists of a single letter supposedly written by a man called William Hamilton, and sent from Londonderry on 14th March, 1674, to his cousin in England. Hamilton begins by thanking his cousin for the news of the death of “that Arch-Pirate Captain Cusacke“, then proceeds to repay the favour with an account of the true and final discovery of “that long-talk’t-of island O-Brazile.”

What follows is an oddly straightforward account of clearly magical (or at least, demonic) events. Hamilton admits that he had never believed the stories of O-Brazile: “Yet I lookt upon it as a perfect Romance, and many times laught the Reporters to scorn: Though many Sober, and Religious persons, would constantly affirm, That in bright days, (especially in Summer-time) they could perfectly see a very large absolute Island; but, after long looking at it, it would disappear.

(We may recall that in The Western Wonder, the narrator and his crew search for O-Brazile to the south-west of Ireland; in O-Brazile, the peripatetic land mass is found off the north coast. That “floating island” again.)

Recently, however, a certain Captain John Nisbet had succeeded in discovering the truth of the mysterious island. Nisbet was carrying a cargo of French goods back to Ireland when his ship became lost in an impenetrable mist, which vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving the ship close to unfamiliar land. Dropping anchor, Nisbet and most of his crew went ashore, where they saw animals of all sorts and an old castle, but no sign of human life, although they approached the castle and called out. Night falling, the men built a fire, and were warming themselves when the most appalling sound suddenly swept across the island – emanating, as it seemed, from the castle. Terrified, the men hurried back to their ship, but could not sail away, as the tide was out.

The next morning, to their amazement, the crew saw three men standing upon the shore, who persuaded them to come back onto the island. There they learned that this was indeed the legendary O-Brazile, which had been, A Receptacle of Furies, made (to Mortals) unserviceable, and invisible; and that when Nesbit and his men were calling at the castle, its inhabitants, By the malicious, diabolical Art, of a great Necromancer, had been tyrannically shut up [with] neither power to answer any that spoke to them, nor free themselves from imprisonment. However, the crew had indavertently lifted the curse upon the island when, Fire was indeed kindled upon the Island by some good Christians. The terrifying noises heard by the men signalled the permanent departure of the island’s demonic inhabitants.

Hamilton concludes his report by relating how Nesbit and his men, having been richly rewarded by the grateful residents of O-Brazile, returned to Ireland with their story; how others had since set out to find the island, now that it was stationary and visible; and that he, Hamilton, had heard the tale from Nesbit himself.

Short and to the point, O-Brazile differs from much of Richard Head’s writing by not straying from its main theme, and by maintaining a serious tone. We can understand how it could have been taken for a true account upon its first publication, far more so than The Western Wonder; although time, of course, would eventually have exposed it as yet another hoax. And it is as a hoax that O-Brazile is most interesting, not just in light of the culture of hoaxing that prevailed at this time, but with respect to one very particular hoax that we have already examined.

We know already that Richard Head had few scruples about borrowing from other writers – and that “borrowing” is putting it mildly – but what he did in O-Brazile is something a bit more subtle. As the 17th century wore on, and hoaxes began to pile upon hoaxes, there was an increasing tendency for the writers concerned to wink at each other, and at the more savvy of their readers: the clues to a piece of writing being a hoax were often there if you knew where to look. Mentioning another hoax by name and in opprobrius terms was a particularly popular touch.

Typically, the author of such a work would start by declaring the truth of his tale, and then decry all those wretched hoaxers who made it so hard for honest men to be believed. Another common tactic would be to have the story told by a third party, usually a merchant or a sailor, someone too “plain-spoken” and “uneducated” to make up a fabulous story. A piece of supporting evidence, separate from the main narrative, was often provided.

These are exactly Henry Neville’s tactics in The Isle Of Pines, as we have seen. The account of Van Sloetten, in which he apologises for the bluntness of his language, Being more a Seaman than a Scholler, is framed by the letter of Abraham Keek, a Dutch merchant of good repute. Van Sloetten shakes his head over the, Nullifidians as will believe nothing but what they see; while Keek, agreeing that the story of the Isle of Pines is fabulous, nevertheless gives it credence because, The Letter is come to a known Merchant, and from a good hand in France.

In terms of both fame and financial return, The Isle Of Pines was one of the most successful of the literary hoaxes, even if its cover was soon blown (as its author intended, of course). It became, in effect, the yardstick by which other such hoaxes were measured. O-Brazile is interesting in this context for two reasons: first, the actual mention of “the Island of Brasile” in The Isle Of Pines, which could even have given Richard Head the idea for a hoax of his own; and second, the fact that Head pinched Henry Neville’s framing device, initially publishing The Western Wonder, with its account of a failed landing upon the island, and then following up with O-Brazile, in which apparently reputable sources declare the mystery solved. In the latter, Head also adds to the credibility of his story by beginning it with a reference to a real and well-known event, the death of the Irish pirate George Cusack in 1674.

Both of these pamphlets shake their heads sadly over those despicable hoaxes so prevalent in the marketplace (one bemoans the sceptiscism, the other the gullibility, of the reading public), before asserting their own truth. Yet in O-Brazile, at least, there is a clear sign that this, too, is a hoax, in the shape of Head’s direct mention of The Isle Of Pines, here stigmatised as a “Lunatick Story” and a “monstrous Fiction”; to the cognoscenti, this would have been the literary equivalent of a broad grin.

And yet it seems that Head’s stories were believed – or at least debated. As Kate Loveman points out, early in 1675, according to his diary, Robert Hooke met Francis Lodwick at Garraway’s Coffee House in London, where the two natural philosophers discussed “O.Brazill and longitude”. Unfortunately, we don’t know what those two inquiring minds had to say about Richard Head’s accounts of the discovery of the elusive island. In all probability – “Oh, bollocks.”