Posts tagged ‘Richard Head’

08/11/2010

Speedbumps

I’ve been having a problem settling into a reading pattern lately, with each aspect of my reading program running into difficulties. And, yes, I’m well aware that most of those difficulties are self-inflicted, so you needn’t bother pointing that out.

My suprising success rate in accessing obscure, late 17th century texts must have lulled me into a false sense of security, because my first serious failure in that respect came as a real shock. I became aware of The English Monsieur, A Comical Novel, by James Howard, courtesy of an interesting article by Nicholas Hudson published in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, entitled, Social Rank, ‘The Rise Of The Novel,’ and Whig Histories of Eighteenth-Century Fiction, which goes against many of the “rise of the novel” studies with their paradigm of the parallel “rise of the middle class” and an assumption of increasing liberalism, domestic values and social levelling.

Hudson argues instead for an even longer history of what we might call Tory novel-writing, beginning in the late 17th century and continuing at least into the early 19th century, that was concerned with maintaining a social hierarchy headed by an exclusive and self-contained aristocracy, and discouraged social aspiration and the mingling of the classes. The final author considered in this respect is Jane Austen. Hudson concedes that while her novels display a belief in the traditional Tory values, there has been a considerable softening of the 18th-century stance that shows itself in both an expressed disapproval of the aristocracy, along with an admission that the gentry is all the better for an injection of middle class values. Some of the barricades, at least, had been torn down.

The English Monsieur is cited by Hudson as an early example of his own paradigm of Tory novel-writing – and onto The List it went, despite having been published in 1679, earlier than the works I’d progressed to. (Just when I thought I was out of the 17th century, it pulls me back in.) And yes, I located and downloaded a copy, and off I went…until I got to the final page of what I had and found the ominous announcent, END OF PART ONE.

What the – !?

I subsequently had no luck finding a complete version. Admittedly, this was disappointing more from an historical point of view than a literary one. Whatever else it might have proven to be (and I might say that by the end of Part 1, I’d seen little to support Hudson’s theory), The English Monsieur was the first work I’d come across that used the word “novel” in the sense that we might use it today. Extrapolating from Part 1, it must have been a work of some length, certainly the longest piece of straightforward fiction I’ve encountered so far from this period; although a significant portion of the first volume is given over to a common tendency at the time, the interpolation of side-stories into the main one, usually in the form of one or other of the supporting characters relating their “history”. Still, there was a reasonable amount of movement and plotting, too; and that, along with the amorous adventures of the title character, made it strike me (and without wanting to get too carried away) as a sort of embryonic Tom Jones.

But, in the absence of Parts 2 – 4, it was back to the bad jokes and plagiarisms of Richard Head. Groan.

Well, I’ve made it over that speedbump now, although of course there’s a much bigger one to come. Anyway, I can’t be sorry I found out about O-Brazile, because apart from being mercifully short, it turns out (like most of Richard Head’s work, it seems) to be interesting for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the writing. But we’ll deal with that presently.

Elsewhere, with Philip And Philippa out of the way, I was up for another game of Reading Roulette. This time around, the Reading Gods smiled: my visit to the random number generator gave me an excitingly low number – which turned out to be connected to exactly the kind of novel I had in mind at the outset of this ridiculous project: The Mysterious Wife by Mary Meeke, from 1797.

Yes, it was perfect. A little too perfect… So perfect, I decided to make it, or rather its author, the focus of a third reading thread: Authors In Depth.

Mary Meeke was one of the mainstays of the notorious Minerva Press. Between 1795 and 1823, she wrote more than 30 novels, most under her own name, but some (evidently the more “daring” ones) under the pseudonym “Gabrielli”, while some were published anonymously. She also translated several European works, including Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock’s The Messiah. Too prolific and popular ever to find much favour with the critics, Meeke essentially cut her own throat by admitting publicly that before starting a novel, she always consulted with her publisher to see what was selling. Her early novels had received some positive reviews, but from that moment onwards Meeke was regarded as the worst exemplar of the “scribbling woman”, and attracted nothing but scornful dismissal – the assumption being, as always, that you cannot both write to please an audience, and write good novels.

Whatever we make today of Mary Meeke’s professional pragmatism, her willingness to act as a literary weather vane makes her novels a remarkable window into shifting public taste over a full quarter of a century. Unfortunately, however, Meeke finally suffered the fate of many popular but critically dismissed novelists of the time: her works were never reprinted. Consequently, a number of them are today unobtainable. Others are available electronically (although I can’t currently swear to their condition); while back in 1977, her first novel*, Count St. Blancard; or, The Prejudiced Judge, was reproduced as a three-volume set by the Arno Press, God love ’em – and as it turns out, my academic library has a copy – God love them. However, right now, the third volume – just the third volume – is out on loan…which somehow is much more annoying than the whole book being unavailable. Anyway, when I get my hands on it, Authors In Depth will begin – and we’ll find out for ourselves just what kind of novels Mary Meeke wrote.

(*There’s a 1783 novel out there in eBook world called Madeline Clifford’s School Life, which is attributed to Meeke. It may represent an early effort, before she hooked up with the Minerva Press. However, none of the articles on Meeke that I’ve read – and I’m pleased to find that there have been a few recent efforts made to rehabilitate her reputation as a novelist – mention it, so I’m going with Count St. Blancard.)

So then it was back to the random number generator, where I landed upon Money To Loan, On All Collaterals: A Tale Of The Times by Minnie Lawson, from 1895. Alas, this one was obscure to the point of being unobtainable. (American novels are, generally, much harder to get hold of than British ones.) All I’ve been able to find out is that it expressed Lawson’s concerns about the state of public finance and the conduct of the banks and Wall Street (and plus ça change once again), that it contained an unflattering portrait of J.P. Morgan (although whether in person or under a pseudonym, I can’t say), and that Lawson wrote at least two other “social issues” novels under her married name of Minnie L. Armstrong.

Third spin, third time lucky? Yes, I guess so. This time I hit 1903’s The Eternal Woman by Dorothea Gerard. Not only did Gerard live an intriguing personal life, but like Mary Meeke, she wrote prolifically and over a period of many years, her career extending from the early 1880s to the time of WWI, with her novels featuring a wide variety of settings and subject matter. (Her first novels were written in collaboration with her sister, Emily, who was the collector of the Transylvanian folklore that Bram Stoker drew upon when writing Dracula.) And in fact, my moment of hesitation after landing on The Eternal Woman was due to an uneasy feeling that Gerard, too, really deserved to be the subject of Authors In Depth…

…but finally I decided that this business was getting out of hand even by my ridiculous standards. And so—

Chronobibliography:  it’s an Exclusion Crisis smackdown, with The Perplex’d Prince vs The Fugitive Statesman
Reading RouletteThe Eternal Woman by Dorothea Gerard – a “New Woman” novel, I gather, although not an approving one
Authors In DepthCount St. Blancard by Mary Meeke, which based upon its Arno Press revival, may be a Gothic novel…I hope

For the benefit of those of you playing along at home, I can’t see that Count St. Blancard is available electronically, but a good academic library might do the trick. The Eternal Woman is available through the Internet Archive, but I strongly recommend the PDF version rather than the ePUB one, which has some serious formatting issues.

03/11/2010

The Western Wonder; or, O-Brazeel

“On October the 9th, 1672, we set Sail, bearing our course due West, sometimes West and by South, and sometimes West-North-West, each traverse not exceeding Fifteen Leagues in Longitude. We thus continued doing about seven days: on the eighth day in the morning, we espyed a blue Cloud at West-South-West…”
— Richard Head (1674)

And likewise— The Western Wonder; or, O Brazeel, an inchanted island discovered with a relation of two ship-wracks in a dreadful sea-storm in that discovery. To which is added, a description of a place, called, Montecapernia, relating the nature of the people, their qualities, humours, fashions, religions, &c.

Am I the only one who suspects that Richard Head was getting paid by the word?

The 17th century was a time of voyage and discovery, and travelers’ reports were eagerly devoured by the English reading public. However, as we have seen, the 17th century was also a time of shams, a form of joking to which the travelogue lent itself very well. Side by side in the bookshops sat true accounts of fabulous discoveries in distant lands, and accounts of discoveries that were, literally, “fabulous”, and it took a very wary and analytical reader indeed to spot the difference. This situation was a source of great frustration to many who were genuinely interested in the geographical, anthropological and biological revelations of the age.

We’ve already taken a look at two forms of faux­-travelogue, Henry Neville’s The Isle Of Pines and Richard Head’s The Floating Island. Although widely differing in their intentions and tone, these pamphlets are similar in that, not only do they use the travelogue as a framework for their satirical intentions, but they make little effort to disguise their true natures – although The Isle Of Pines, as we have seen, did fool some people for a time. Head’s follow-up to The Floating Island, The Western Wonder; or, O-Brazeel is, however, another matter. It purports to be a genuine account of a journey to a possibly mythical body located off the coast of Ireland.

As usual with Richard Head, it seems, the back-story to his writing is much more interesting than the writing itself. The island of Hy Brasil – or Hy Breasal, or Hy Breasil, or a dozen other variants – has a long history in Celtic folklore, and a strangely divided one. On one hand we have an account of the “Irish Atlantis”, a mist-shrouded land that only becomes visible once every seven years (and thus tying in with the persistent mythology of the “floating island”), a paradise where those lucky few able to reach land were loaded down with riches by its inhabitants; on the other, an apparently real land mass described by sailors for centuries, yet strangely elusive, defying the attempts of any number of explorers to land on it or even accurately to map its position. Nevertheless, belief that such an island did exist was strong during the 17th century, and indeed for centuries to come. It was not until the 1860s that the putative location of Hy Brasil was removed from British maritime charts once and for all. Small wonder, then, that when Richard Head wrote The Western Wonder in 1674, many of its readers accepted it as a true story without hesitation.

Head’s own presentation of Hy Brasil is a melding of both aspects of its mythology: a real island that yet has magical properties. The pamphlet opens with its unnamed narrator deploring the number of false reports in circulation, which make it so difficult for the truth to gain a foothold. However, he bravely soldiers on, briefly summarising what “the ancient Geographers” have had to say about “O-Brazeel” before recounting for us the various stories told to him personally, which sparked his interest in locating the island. One sailor, we hear, spied what was definitely a land mass, but despite sailing towards it for ten hours, never got any closer to it. Another was sailing towards it when, without warning, it suddenly began to move towards him (the “floating island” again) – coming so close to his boat that he could see upon the shore, Men of a prodigious stature, who as they mov’d, look’d like walking Oaks, as well as, Beasts of several shapes, and all so dreadful and horrid to look on. Terrified, the sailor turned his boat and tried to flee, but was engulfed by an impenetrable mist, which cleared following a tremendous lightning strike…and there was no longer an island to be seen.

A third sailor also approached the island, only to be caught in a tremendously violent storm. He immediately turned his boat away, but found that his compass was no longer working. Finally, an entire crew came suddenly upon a strange mist-bank which, clearing suddenly, left them almost upon the rocks surrounding an island. Their struggles to turn away were futile, and they had given themselves up for lost when the rocks seemed to drop away, their boat passing safely over their former location.

The narrator gathers more, similar stories, finally carrying them to, Some ingenious men of my acquaintance, who at first smiled at my fond Credulity…and endeavoured to jeer me out of my opinion. These acquaintances do more: they try to convince the narrator that believing in O-Brazeel is as ridiculous as believing that, There are multiplicity of Worlds, or that one wherein we live, had its matter and form from a confused conflux of Atoms.

The narrator is not dissuaded, however, and that night dreams of being carried off by a gigantic eagle and taken to an island where, A person of a lovely presence, and with an angelic countenance appears to him and acts as his guide. They are beset by devils and various horrible creatures, but the guide vanquishes their foes and leads the narrator to a seeming paradise on Earth, where, Men, Women and Children ascend out of the bowels of the earth…who were all naked, very white, and well-featur’d. To the narrator’s surprise, these people fall down and worship, A deform’d, ill-shapen thing that is clearly the Devil. His guide explains that the island is under the dominion of, The Prince of the Air, and has been for many years – but soon will be so no longer. At this, tremendous thunder and lightning sweep across the island. The eagle returns and carries the narrator safely home – where he wakes to the conviction that it is his destiny to be the one to set foot upon O-Brazeel and break any spells that lie upon it.

Fortunately, the narrator has a friend who just happens to have a fully fitted out, thirty ton vessel and nowhere to go. The two set out upon their voyage of discovery, and succeed in locating the “inchanted island”; but as they draw near, they suffer the fate of their predecessors. There is a tremendous crack of lightning, and the island disappears. The explorers wait out the night, and in the morning the island is visible again; but as they make another attempt to land, a storm of deadly magnitude breaks. The ship is tossed about for two full days, and then begins to take on water…

This opening stretch of The Western Wonder is easily the best and most enjoyable piece of Richard Head’s writing that I’ve read so far. Unfortunately, it’s downhill all the way from here, as Head first succumbs to temptation, or bad habit, and starts making puerile jokes in the middle of what ought to be a terrifying account of imminent death. Subsequently, the narrator and a few of the crew make it into the life-boat, and are eventually rescued by a crew of “Wallisians*”, whose own boat is then caught in the storm and driven onto rocks (the second of the “ship-wracks” of the subtitle). Everyone makes it to shore, and when the day breaks they find themselves in “Montecapernia” – which is either Ireland or Wales, I’m not entirely sure. However, given that Head – who was Irish – produces an unprovoked Welsh joke in The Floating Island, too, I’m going with the latter.

In either event, the rest of the pamphlet consists of an extended satire of “Montecapernia” and its people that is neither particularly clever nor particularly funny. I can only assume that a deal had been struck for a pamphlet of a particular length, and that not choosing (or not daring) to have his narrator land on the island, Head was forced to pad out his story another way; and in the end, the narrator’s account of life in “Montecapernia” is longer than the section about O-Brazeel. Reading this, you can understand how people might have believed in the truth of the first half of The Western Wonder, but at the same time, you’d think that the second half would have opened their eyes.

But—we’re not done with O-Brazeel just yet. It turns out I had my facts wrong a little earlier: in 1675, two pamphlets were released by different booksellers bearing the title O-Brazile; or, The Inchanted Island. One was indeed a reprint of The Floating Island under a new name; but the other was a new pamphlet, a follow-up to The Western Wonder. Which means, alas, that I haven’t quite shaken off Richard Head just yet (at least until I hit 1688) – and consequently, nor, my friends, have you.

[*I don’t know where Head got the term “Wallisians” from in 1674 – Wallis and Futuna wasn’t named until about a century later.]

27/10/2010

The Floating Island

Or, to give it its full title: The Floating Island; or, A new discovery relating the strange adventure on a late voyage from Lambethana to Villa Franca, alias Ramallia, to the eastward of Terra del Templo, by three ships, viz., the Pay-naught, the Excuse, the Least-in-sight, under the conduct of Captain Robert Owe-much, describing the nature of the inhabitants, their religion, laws and customs. Published by Franck Careless, one of the discoverers.

The longevity of satire is by its nature often dependent upon the identity and/or scope of its target. Attacks upon nations and rulers may be understandable decades, even centuries, afterwards; while the more specific a reference to a certain time and a certain place, the more likely it is that a particular work will be of relevance only to that time and place. Thus, while at this distance I was able to grasp a number (although certainly not all!) of the concerns that prompted Henry Neville to write The Isle Of Pines, a perusal of Richard Head’s 1673 pamphlet The Floating Island left me largely baffled. It was certainly set in London, despite its promise of voyages to fabulous lands, and it was certainly satirising something – but what?

Fortunately, help was at hand – a surprising amount of it, actually. I am indebted to the writings of Matthew Steggle (from Notes And Queries) and Nigel Strick (from Social History and the British Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies) for being able to shake a meaning from this faux-travelogue.

The Floating Island, as its extended title indicates, is supposedly an account of a voyage of discovery; although the names of the intrepid explorers and their vessels makes it clear that this is anything other than a serious scientific report. We hear at the outset that, A Council was held of Indigent persons, and such who were both Indebted and Insolvent; these individuals (failed tradesmen, as it turns out) meet to consider, What course might be most expedient, for the present relief, and future prevention of such insufferable mischiefs, which dayly threatened the utter ruine of the poor and distressed Society, called the Owe-much, or Bankrupt. The decision is to mount an expedition to distant shores, seeking new territories to colonise well away from the terrible laws of their own country, where the explorers live in imminent risk of, A dreadful Judgment, and irremediless cruel Execution. Setting out, the voyagers discover a number of exotic new lands – which, according to his or her knowledge of geography, history and literature, the contemporary reader may recognise as various regions and landmarks in London, their names twisted and Latinised. Meanwhile, the costumes and customs of the inhabitants of these strange realms are reported with mock solemnity by our narrator, Captain Owe-Much.

We have already touched upon Richard Head’s life-long battle with gambling and debt, and there’s a nice irony about him using his own difficulties as the basis of an effort to earn a little money via the publication of his pamphlet. However, the purpose of The Floating Island goes far beyond one man’s financial woes, and into an area about which I previously knew very little. Nigel Strick’s papers discuss not only the bizarrely counterintuitive English debtors’ laws (with which anyone who has done any 18th- or 19th-century reading would certainly be familiar), but the co-existence of debtors’ sanctuaries, areas within or near London to which those in debt could flee and live in relative security.

The medieval church had upheld the custom of sanctuary within London, but following the Reformation these traditional areas of protection were progressively undone. Nevertheless, certain regions around London, particularly those on which church buildings had previously stood, such as Whitefriars and the Minories, remained accepted as sanctuaries under common law well into the 17th century; and although protection for criminals ceased to be recognised, protection for debtors remained de facto even after technically outlawed.

The largest and most notorious of these sanctuaries was the Mint, a region in Southwark whose protective properties stemmed from a strangely mixed history that gave it some solid basis for its rejection the jurisdictional laws of the City of London. Its residents, the “Minters”, implemented their own laws and processes, claiming that their protection was only offered to the insolvent and bankrupt, and was exerted to allow those individuals an opportunity to pay their debts, as indefinite imprisonment under the actual laws did not. However, while the Minters certainly made their territory a place that any bailiff would enter at his peril, too often the “protection” turned violent – and far too often serious criminals were also given shelter. These breaches of the tacit agreement between the outside powers and the Minters gave parliament the weapon it needed, and the Mint, the last of London’s sanctuaries, was legally dismantled in 1723.

The Mint features in several well-known literary works, particularly the writings of Daniel Defoe. Despite his own financial woes, Defoe does not seem to have claimed sanctuary himself – but his characters do. It is within the Mint that his Moll takes the name “Mrs Flanders”, while for Roxana the prospect of ending up there was one to be dreaded. Fifty years earlier, however, when Richard Head was writing, the Mint was only one of several sanctuaries in which those in debt could hide from the threat of prison. The “journey” of Captain Owe-much and his crew, then, is in and out of these areas, with the men zig-zagging between these “territories”, where they are made welcome and feel safe amongst the inhabitants, and venturing out into dangerous new realms, such as the Fleta, or that ruled by the terrible King of Marshelsia, where danger and destruction lurk at every turn.

While we can (with expert help) make sense of the bulk of Head’s writing, the purpose of the object to which his pamphlet owes its name is less evident. The “floating island” encountered by Owe-much and his men, Called the Summer Island, or Scoti Moria, is situated in the middle of Golpho de Thame-Isis: the Christian-shore lying to the Norward, and the Turkish-shore to the Southward. This strange land mass appears only in the warmer months, when it becomes the site of a mysterious female ritual, its only means of ingress being, For the more convenient reception of the Christian and Barbarian Amazons, who in the Summer time constantly repair thither, to meet with their Bully-Huffs and Hectors to generate withall. Owe-much makes the acquaintance of one of the “Christian Amazons”, who turns out to be a native of Westmonasteria, a region that, Lyeth to the Westward of Pallatium Regale, which place is too splendent for common eyes to behold, and too virtuous for vulgar breath to prophane. An extended satire on the less-than-virtuous habits of the “Westmonasterians” follows.

Matthew Steggle points out in his article that the emphemeral floating island, which travelled across or even above the surface of the sea, was a potent symbol in these troubled and uncertain times, and had been throughout the 17th century. In 1636, a play called The Floating Island: A Tragi-Comedy, by William Strode, was performed at Oxford University by the students of Christchurch for Charles I and Henrietta Maria; the play was finally published in 1655. Various other works make use of this symbol, which became particularly popular in the period following the financial disaster known as “the South Sea Bubble”. Evidently, none of the emblematic potency of this idea was lost over the succeeding 150 years: Jules Verne eventually used it as the basis for his satire of “the Gilded Age”, The Floating Island: The Pearl Of The Pacific, published in 1895.

Steggle points out a few other things about The Floating Island, too – one of which probably tells us everything about its author that we need to know: namely, that significant portions of it were plagiarised. The source of these passages, which Richard Head barely bothered to alter, was a collection of essays called The Art Of Thriving, published by Thomas Powell in 1636, and in particular the 1623 tract, The Mysterie of Lending and Borrowing. There, we hear of an expedition undertaken by one “Oliver Owe-Much”. Oliver’s ships carry exactly the same designations as his descendant’s do, but he does journey from Ram Alley to Lambeth, instead of the other way around.

It seems that in some academic circles, Head’s plagiarisms are too well-known to attract much attention, or even criticism: the tone of Steggle’s paper is more resigned than outraged; and he moves on to make a cogent point about Head’s “borrowing”, the fact that in spite of England having suffered the upheaval of the execution of a king, a civil war, a Protectorate and the Restoration, the pinched passages, dealing with the unhappy lives of debtors and their necessary manoeuvrings, were still just as valid in 1673 as they were in 1623 – as indeed was London’s geography, even after the Great Fire, a reference to which is almost Head’s only updating of his stolen material.

The Floating Island, like much of the financially desperate writing of the time, is a strange hodge-podge of content, sometimes entertaining, sometimes baffling, sometimes crude, sometimes pointless – and then it just stops. I was, I confess, amused to find within it several versions of that eternal legal joke, Who’s to blame? – “…whereupon Jasper had like to have slain Theophilus, which when Edward espied, he made it appear to both Luke and to Francis, that Rowland was the cause of the falling out…” However, I see no reason – no inherent reason – why this should be the one amongst all Richard Head’s pamphlets to be reprinted and propagated (and made available as a free eBook*); but then it isn’t about inherent reasons, is it? I know little more about this than I do about “Lambethana” and “Ramallia”, but my understanding is that, mystifyingly enough, Captain Robert Owe-much is one of the minor players in the world of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where he is celebrated for his discovery of Scoti Moria. I can only suppose that Alan Moore’s research, while impressive, didn’t go far enough to unearth the tales of Robert’s ancestor, Oliver, to whom Robert himself owed so much.

[*For which I’m actually very grateful. Part of my irritation with Sony was that, as with the delay over kicking off the blog properly by refusing to move on from The Love-Letters Of A Portuguese Nun, I’d made up my mind that my eReader’s baptism was going to be The Floating Island and was too stubborn to just read it in PDF instead while I was waiting. Besides…the thought of using this piece of 21st century technology to read an obscure pamphlet from 1673 made my brain melt in the nicest way.]

13/10/2010

Too much smutty

Between a work crisis and some access issues, I’m currently a bit behind on my reading / writing. I’m just drawing near the end of a marathon work of non-fiction, which I’ll probably post about on the weekend; Agatha hasn’t arrived yet, although she’s cetainly imminent; and I’m holding off on beginning the next step along my Chronobibliographical road for reasons I’ll get into when they’re no longer relevant. If that makes sense.

What I will do in the meantime is say a little about my next scheduled author, the apparently aptly named Richard Head (which, nota bene, is as much as I’m going to allow myself in the “stooping to the obvious joke” department). Head was Irish by birth, but spent much of his life in London, scratching a living as a writer and bookseller, although a lifelong gambling addiction meant that his income rarely exceeded his expenditure even when he found success, as he did in 1665.

Head’s most successful work, indeed, one of the most successful works of this period, and one of the few English publications to be successful across Europe, was The English Rogue Described In The Life Of Meriton Latroon, a satirical account of the criminal and sexual escapades of its title character. Notoriously, when the first version of Head’s tale was submitted to the censor in 1664, it was rejected for being “too much smutty”. A bowdlerised edition was resubmitted successfully the following year.

I may say that I am yet to find anyone who has read The English Rogue who doesn’t react by exclaiming, “If this is the bowdlerised version – !?”

(More 17th-century pornography? You betcha.)

We have touched already about the English habit at this time of claiming even obvious works of fiction to be true stories. Head’s approach with The English Rogue was to hint, not merely that it was true, but that it was autobiographical. Scholars today agree that certain aspects of Latroon’s life do coincide with that of Head, particularly the account of the early years of his life; but beyond this there is little evidence that it is not a work of fiction. Be this as it may, Head’s intimations that he and Latroon were one and the same backfired spectacularly when the readers of The English Rogue took him at his word. Deciding that Head was an unmitigated scoundrel, they treated him accordingly.

Thoroughly exasperated by this outcome, and in spite of his perpetual financial difficulties, Head turned a deaf ear to the pleadings for a second volume of Latroon’s life from the publisher / bookseller Francis Kirkman, to whom the rights to The English Rogue had passed upon the death of Head’s original publisher. Kirkman’s response was to cash in on the situation by writing a second volume himself, which was published in 1671. It is generally agreed to be an inferior work to the original, and was not as successful. Whether Head was irritated by what Kirkman had done to his story, or whether it was simply a matter of financial necessity, it seems that in time he gave in and collaborated with Kirkman on two further volumes, published in 1674 and 1680. Head and Kirkman then had a falling out, with Head declaring publicly that he had had no hand in writing the third and fourth volumes, although surviving documentation suggests otherwise.

The end of the fourth volume of the life of Meriton Latroon promised a fifth, which never eventuated – or at least not as planned. In 1688, an abridged edition of the four volumes was released “to which is added a fifth part”. However, by 1688 Francis Kirkman and Richard Head were both dead. There is no record of who wrote this belated sequel, which is short, a mere tying up of loose ends; an obvious cash-in by whoever had acquired the rights to the whole.

The difficulty with The English Rogue, then, is deciding just “when” it was published. If we take only the first volume as the “true” edition, its publication date of 1665 puts it beyond my self-imposed cut-off. (Which I’ve already violated once, but never mind.) If we accept the Head / Kirkman volumes as part of the whole, then we go with 1680; while a one in, all in attitude lands us in 1688…which is what I’ve decided to go with, despite my discovery – made with a mixture of horror and delight – that the academic library I frequent has a copy of 1928 Routledge edition of The English Rogue, which contains the first three volumes of the story, for open borrowing.

Anyway…in the meantime, next on my reading list are two other works by Richard Head, which finds him entering into the popular 17th-century game of shamming with two pamphlets, published in 1673 and 1674: The Floating Island  (reprinted as O-Brazile; or, The Inchanted Island) and The Western Wonder; or, O-Brazeel. Those of you reading along can go ahead. I’ll…catch you up.