Posts tagged ‘rogue’s biography’

23/12/2012

The Fair Jilt; or, The History Of Prince Tarquin And Miranda

FairJilt1bThere was not a man of any quality that came to Antwerp, or passed through the city, but made it his business to see the lovely Miranda, who was universally adored. Her youth and beauty, her shape and majesty of mien and air of greatness, charmed all her beholders, and thousands of people were dying by her eyes, while she was vain enough to glory in her conquest, and make it her business to wound. She loved nothing so much as to behold sighing slaves at her feet of the greatest quality, and treated ’em all with an affability that gave ’em hope… Everybody daily expected when she would make someone happy by suffering herself to be conquered by love and honour, by the assiduities and vows of some one of her adorers. But Miranda accepted their presents, heard their vows with pleasure, and willingly admitted all their soft addresses; but would not yield her heart, or give away that lovely person to the possession of one who could please itself with so many.

Originally published in the first half of 1688, The Fair Jilt; or, The History Of Prince Tarquin And Miranda is a flawed but fascinating piece of short fiction. In structure and origin, it very much resembles Oroonoko, in that Aphra Behn has again taken a real-life incident from her past and woven about it a tale in which a fictionalised version of herself appears from time to time to impress upon the reader the veracity of her story. That The Fair Jilt has attracted neither the fame nor the notoriety of Oroonoko may be put down to two things: firstly, that it does not concern itself with broad social issues such as slavery and colonisation, which give the latter work a hold on the sensibilities of the modern reader; and secondly, that it centres on the sexual adventures of a woman, which too easily allows it be be dismissed, as it frequently has been, as a mere piece of vulgar “amatory fiction”. This latter reaction is, however, a complete misreading of the text, which far from being intended to titillate is an ironic rumination upon deception, and the appalling things done in the all-excusing name of love.

The tone of The Fair Jilt is set during its lengthy opening dedication to the Catholic playwright, Henry Pain (who after the Glorious Revolution turned Jacobite, and in 1690 was imprisoned and tortured for his role in a plot to restore James to the throne). It would be a serious mistake for any reader to skim or skip over this dedication, which is very much a part of the story as a whole. Aphra uses these introductory paragraphs to present her story’s apparent hero, and also to assert the veracity of her story:

Nor can this little History lay a better Claim to that Honour than those that have not pretended to it; which has but this Merit to recommend it, that it is Truth: Truth, which you so much admire. But ’tis a Truth that entertains you with so many Accidents diverting and moving, that they will need both a Patron, and an Assertor in this incredulous World. For however it may be imagin’d that Poetry (my Talent) has so greatly the Ascendant over me, that all I write must pass for Fiction, I now desire to have it understood, that this is Reality, and Matter of Fact, and acted in this our latter Age: And that, in the person of Tarquin, I bring a Prince to kiss your Hands, who own’d himself, and was received, as the last of the Race of the Roman Kings; whom I have often seen, and you have heard of; and whose Story is so well known to yourself, and many Hundreds more: Part of which I had from the Mouth of this unhappy great Man, and was an Eye-Witness to the rest.

It is difficult to know precisely how these passages were intended to be taken, which would depend upon how au fait Aphra’s readers were with the true story of “Prince Tarquin”.

It was only in 1977 that Maureen Duffy, in researching her problematic but important biography of Aphra Behn, The Passionate Shepheredess, discovered at least a part of the truth about this individual, via two separate short pieces published in the London Gazette (the same paper, as we might recall, in which Henrietta Berkeley’s father advertised for her whereabouts after her elopement with Lord Grey). The first, which appeared during the last week of May in 1666, was as follows:

The Prince Tarquino being condemned in Antwerp to be beheaded, for endeavouring the death of his sister-in-law: being on the scaffold, the executioner tied a handkerchief about his head and by great accident his blow lighted upon the knot, giving him only a slight wound. Upon which, the people being in a tumult, he was carried back to the Townhouse, and is in hopes both of his pardon and his recovery.

The next issue of the Gazette added the short follow-up: From Antwerp ’tis said, that Prince Tarquino that so accidentally escaped execution, has since obtained his pardon from his Excellency the Marquis de Castel Rodrigo.

So far, The Fair Jilt is indeed “Matter of Fact”; and in its course deals with the attempt of Tarquin [Sic.] upon the life of his sister-in-law, his botched execution, and his subsequent pardon by the Governor of Flanders. It further offers the main headings of the broader story, and above all places and times its action very carefully for us, via reference to another prince:

    …there was a great Noise about the Town, That a Prince of mighty Name and fam’d for all the Excellencies of his Sex, was arriv’d; a Prince, young and gloriously attended, call’d Prince Tarquin.
    We had often heard of this great Man, and that he was making his Travels in France and Germany: And we had also heard, that some yYears before, he being about Eighteen Years of Age, in the time when our King Charles of blessed Memory was in Bruxels, in the last Year of his Banishment, that all of a suddain, this young Man rose up upon ’em like the Sun, all glorious and dazling, demanding Place of all the Princes in that Court. And when his Pretence was demanded, he own’d himself Prince Tarquin, of the Race of the last Kings of Rome, made good his Title, and took his Place accordingly. After that, he travell’d for about six Years up and down the World, and then arriv’d at Antwerp, about the time of my being sent thither by His Late Majesty.

So far, so factual. The problem is that, having so matter-of-factly established her hero’s pretensions, Aphra goes on to conclude The Fair Jilt by even more matter-of-factly concluding her story with the exposure of “Prince Tarquin” as an imposter. According to Aphra’s (unconfirmed) report, the “Prince of mighty Name” was in reality the son of a Dutch merchant. For those readers in 1688 who knew the end of the story, Aphra’s dedication would have acted as a foreshadowing of the nature of her story. The Fair Jilt‘s overriding irony is that it finds truth – human truth – in a tale of false identities, false emotions, self-deception, and blind passions:

I’ll prove to you the strong Effects of Love in some unguarded and ungovern’d Hearts; where it rages beyond the Inspirations of a God all soft and gentle, and reigns more like a Fury from Hell. I do not pretend here to entertain you with a feign’d Story, or any thing piec’d together with Romantick Accidents; but every Circumstance, to a Tittle, is Truth. To a great part of the Main, I my self was an Eye-Witness; and what I did not see, I was confirm’d of by Actors in the Intrigue, holy Men, of the Order of St. Francis: But for the sake of some of her Relations, I shall give my fair Jilt a feign’d name, that of Miranda; but my Hero must retain his own, it being too illustrious to be conceal’d…

In spite of his prominence in both title and introduction, however, this is not the story of Prince Tarquin, but of Miranda. She is introduced to us in a suitably anomalous position, as a nun who is not a nun: the narrator explains to us that in Catholic countries, apart from those women who have made their perpetual vows, there are many “temporary nuns”, young women who take a vow to withdraw from the world for a certain period of time, and who live together in governed households overseen by a prioress. The immediate effect of this withdrawal is to make these young women doubly attractive to the young men of the town, due to the extra difficulty of gaining access to them. The girls’ “religious retreat” is therefore presented to us as an elaborate gesture of flirtation.

Miranda, young, beautiful and rich, is certainly not a member of her order as an expression of her religious convictions. She is a “jilt” not according to the modern usage of the word, but in the contemporary sense of being a woman who uses and discards a series of men. Moreover, the word then carried a harsh sexual connotation, as we know from its use in The London Jilt.

When the story open,s we find Miranda encouraging the attentions of as many worshippers as she can win to herself, while carefully maintaining a public image for modesty:

Her Beauty, which had all the Charms that ever Nature gave, became the Envy of the whole Sisterhood. She was tall, and admirably shap’d; she had a bright Hair, and Hazle-Eyes, all full of Love and Sweetness: No Art cou’d make a face so Fair as hers by Nature, which every Feature adorn’d with a Grace that Imagination cannot reach: Every Look, every Motion charm’d, and her black Dress shew’d the Lustre of her Face and Neck. She had an air, though gay as so much Youth cou’d inspire, yet so modest, so nobly reserv’d, without Formality, or Stiffness, that one who look’d on her wou’d have imagin’d her Soul the Twin-Angel of her Body; and both together, made her appear something Divine…

Although it is taken for granted by Antwerp at large that Miranda will shortly bestow her fortune and her person upon one lucky man, Miranda herself has other ideas. While she revels in the incense of their adoration, her suitors’ desperate inportunities have left Miranda quite emotionally untouched, and she has no intention of restricting herself to the attentions of a single individual.

The Fair Jilt opens with a lengthy rumination upon love, and the way in which it operates upon different characters; and while we hear a great deal about, that refin’d and illustrious Passion of the Soul, whose Aim is Vertue, and whose End in Honour, within the text Love’s consequences are inavariably disastrous and often fatal. Even Miranda herself is not immune to this aspect of it: the “arrows” of “the gentle God” strike her at the worst and most improbable moment:

There was a Church belonging to the Cordeliers, whither Miranda often repair’d to her Devotion… It happen’d that Day, that a young Father, newly initiated, carry’d the Box about, which, in his turn, he brought to Miranda. She had no sooner cast her Eyes on this young Friar, but her Face was overspread with Blushes of Surprize: She beheld him stedfastly, and saw in his Face all the Charms of Youth, Wit and Beauty; he wanted no one Grace that cou’d form him for Love, he appear’d all that is adorable to the fair Sex… He had an Air altogether great; in spight of his profess’d poverty, it betray’d the Man of Quality; and that Thought weigh’d greatly with Miranda. But Love, who did not design she shou’d now feel any sort of those easie Flames with which she had hereforto burnt, made her soon lay all those Considerations aside which us’d to invite her to love, and now lov’d she knew not why…

Miranda is right about the young friar being a man of quality: we get an inserted history here, “The Story Of Prince Henrick”, which acts as a commentary upon the main narrative. In it we meet The Fair Jilt‘s only two genuinely good people, Henrick and his true love, whose mutual passion ends in heartbreak, attempted assassination and a monastery for him, and loveless marriage and death for her, after Henrick’s elder brother, in whom he foolishly confides, decides he wants the girl for himself. The brother (not named) is Miranda’s masculine counterpart: but whereas as she brokers sex for wealth and position, he uses the power of his position as heir to his father’s throne to obtain sexual access to the object of his desire. Both, finding a sibling in their way, hire assassins, he with money, she with promises of sex.

Her passion enflamed still further by learning of Henrick’s royal birth, Miranda lays siege to the first bewildered and then horrified young man, her oblique initial approaches giving way to ever more explicit declarations as her desire grows uncontrollable. Before this we have seen Miranda feigning modesty, but now she is revealed to us as capable of assuming any character that she chooses, of playing any role that will win her what she wants:

Yet notwithstanding his Silence, which left her in doubt, and more tormented her, she ceas’d not to pursue him with her Letters, varying her Style; sometimes all wanton, loose and raving; sometimes feigning a Virgin-Modesty all over, accusing her self, blaming her Conduct, and sighing her Destiny, as one compell’d to the shameful Discovery by the Austerity of his Vow and Habit, asking his Pity and Forgiveness; urging him in Charity to use his fatherly Care to perswade and reason with her wild Desires, and by his counsel drive the God from her Heart, whose Tyranny was worse than that of a Fiend; and he did not know what his pious Advice might do…

So far Miranda’s siege has been conducted from a distance, but when Henrick is finally driven to write her a single letter of firm rejection, she decides to “show her person” and see what that effect that has.

For all the disaster and bloodshed in The Fair Jilt, what follows is the story’s most shocking sequence. Miranda gets Henrick alone by the simple expedient of asking him to hear her confession, and then reveals herself as his adorer, pouring out her passion and pleading with him to cast aside his vows and flee with her. When Henrick still resists she casts herself upon him in an attempted seduction that is in truth attempted rape. Even this the young friar withstands, and this final rejection turns Miranda’s passion into murderous hate and rage:

    Throwing herself that instant into the Confessing-Chair, and violently pulling the young Friar into her Lap, she elevated her Voice to such a degree in crying out, “Help, help; a rape; help, help!” that she was heard all over the Church, which was full of People at the Evening’s Devotion…. The fFthers…found Miranda and the good Father very indecently struggling, which they mis-interpreted as Miranda desired, who, all in Tears, immediately threw herself at the Feet of the Provincial…and cry’d, “O holy Father, revenge an innocent Maid, undone and lost to Fame and Honour, by that vile Monster… For, O holy Father, cou’d it have enter’d into the Heart of Man, to have done so barbarous and horrid a Deed, as to attempt the Virgin-Honour of an unspotted Maid, and one of my Degree, even in the Moment of my Confession, in that holy time, when I was prostrate before him and Heaven, confessing those Sins that press’d my tender Conscience…”
    With that a Shower of Tears burst from her fair dissembling Eyes, and Sobs so naturally acted, and so well manag’d, as left no Doubt upon the good Men, but all she had spoken was Truth.

Henrick is committed to appear before the magistrate, and since he will not defend himself by speaking of what happened in the confessional, he is condemned to death. However, having had time to get over their shock and horror, the other monks belatedly believe Henrick’s protestations of innocence, and persuade him to show Miranda’s letters. This produces a deadlock: the monks are convinced of Henrick’s innocence, the young men of the town of Miranda’s; caught between the two factions, the magistrate repeatedly defers Henrick’s execution, but will not pardon him. And so for the next two years, the innocent young man remains on Death Row.

Long before that, however, and thoroughly cured of her passion, Miranda resumes her normal life, making new conquests in spite of a growing feeling against her, whose Life had not been so exemplary for Vertue, not to have given the World a thousand Suspicions of her Lewdness and Prostitution. But the attention of the town is diverted from Miranda by the arrival of Prince Tarquin, who in spite of a raging debate about his origins establishes and holds his position as a prince of the blood. Miranda soon sets her ambnitious sights upon the newcomer, who in turn falls madly, blindly, unshakeably in love with her:

So that he had no Faith, but for her; and was wholly inchanted and bewitch’d by her, at last, in spight of all that would have oppos’d it, he marry’d this famous Woman, possess’d by so many great Men and Strangers before, while all the World was pitying his Shame and Misfortunes.

Now that Miranda is “a great princess”, she insists upon as much opulance and extravagance as possible, and she and Tarquin rapidly run through her fortune. Miranda’s answer to this is to invite her young sister, their late uncle’s co-heir, to live with them, and to accept Tarquin as her guardian. The innocent Alcidiana is quickly seduced by the magnificence she sees all around her, and does not think to question where the money is coming from to pay for it.

However, Alcidiana does not lack for suitors. When she engages herself to one of them over her sister’s protests, the immediate consequence is a demand for her “portion” – while the immediate consequence of that, is that Miranda starts plotting Alcidiana’s death.

Miranda’s first accomplice is a young servant, a page called Van Brune, who was raised in the sisters’ household, and who suffers from an unrequited passion for Miranda. Seeing this, she skilfully enflames the boy to the point of madness, finally hinting that if he will do as she asks of him, he will get all the reward he could desire. Van Brune is so dazed and dazzled that he agrees without hesitation, but bungles the job: Alcidiana survives the attempted poisoning, and suspicion falls upon the page, who collapses under questioning and implicates Miranda. The boy is sentenced to death, while – thanks to her “quality”, and the intervention of her royal husband – Miranda’s punishment is to be present at the execution and, To stand under the Gibbet, with a Rope around her Neck…and to have an Inscription in large Characters upon her Back and Breast, of the Cause why: Where she was to stand from Ten in the Morning, to Twelve.

The theory of this punishment is that the shame of it is a fate worse than death; but since it starts with Miranda graciously forgiving Van Brune for giving her away, and ends with her being escorted home with all possible pomp by her still-besotted husband, we have our doubts. In any event, this slight disruption to her plans barely slows Miranda down. Financial ruin and exposure are imminent; Tarquin will be imprisoned for embezzlement; and worst of all, she will no longer be able to live in the style to which she has become accustomed. In short, Alcidiana still has to die. Miranda therefore sets to work with all her hystrionic powers:

    And therefore, without ceasing, she wept, and cry’d out, She cou’d not live, unless Alcidiana dy’d. This Alcidiana, (continu’d she,) who has been the Author of my Shame: who has expos’d me under a Gibbet, in the publick Marketplace, Oh! I am deaf to all Reason, blind to Natural Affection. I renounce her: I hate her as my mortal Foe, my Stop to Glory, and the Finisher of my Days, e’er half my Race of Life be run.
    Her…Lord, and Lover, who lay sighing and list’ning by her Side, he was charm’d and bewitch’d into saying all things that appeas’d her: And lastly, told her, Alcidiana shou’d be no longer an Obstacle to her repose; but that, if she wou’d look up, and cast her Eyes of Sweetness and Love upon him, as heretofore; forget her Sorrows, and redeem her lost Health, he wou’d take what Measures she shou’d propose, to dispatch this fatal Stop to her Happiness…

But alas, Miranda is singularly unfortunate in her tools: Tarquin botches the job even worse than Van Brune, and is immediately captured. His plea that the intended victim survived does him no more good than Van Brune’s did him, and he too is sentenced to die. Miranda again escapes with her life, but is sentenced to banishment. While the two of them are in prison, the monks succeed in persuading Miranda to admit Henrick’s innocence, and that long-suffering young man is finally exonerated and released.

The narrative opens up somewhat following Tarquin’s arrest, to include contemporary debate about his identity. Another tussle to prevent an execution occurs, this time between those people who felt for Tarquin “all the compassion and pity imaginable”, including the monks who just secured Henrick’s release, and those personally offended by him:

On the other side, the Princes, and great Men of all Nations, who were at the Court of Bruxels, who bore a secret Revenge in their Hearts against a Man who had, as they pretended, set up a false Title, only to tale Place of them: who, indeed, was but a Merchant’s Son of Holland, as they said, so incens’d them against him, that they were too hard at Court for the Churchmen.

With its account of the execution – or rather, “execution” – of Tarquin, The Fair Jilt offers a fascinating collision of fact and (presumably) fiction. We know, after all that there was a Tarquin, whoever he was; that he tried to murder his wife’s sister; that he was condemned to be beheaded; and that he improbably survived the event. At the same time, we have no idea if there was a Miranda, or if she was responsible, as the narrative asserts. However, the truly fascinating thing here is the way in which Aphra Behn’s account of the failed execution, which she gives in gruesome detail, differs from the brief newspaper account: there is an authenticity about her description of Tarquin’s unlikely survival that suggests she was either there, or that she gained (and retained) a more accurate knowledge of the circumstances from the local newspapers than the short, hurried account in England could provide. The explanation offered, that the scimitar struck too low and hit the shoulder-blade rather than the neck, seems far more probable than a barrier formed by a knotted handkerchief, and moreover like something determined only after the event, once the doctors had taken over. The detail of the scimitar suggests an eyewitness, too.

We do not know the circumstances of Tarquin’s pardon, although granting freedom in the wake of an unsuccessful execution is not unprecedented. In Behn’s version, the initially vengeful Alcidiana, who remained stubbornly deaf to pleas for leniency prior to the execution, is so affected by the outcome she pleads for Tarquin’s pardon and wins it. He then ventures forth from the sanctuary of a Jesuit monastery, to which the rejoicing crowd carried him, and departs from Flanders once and for all, swearing “never to live with the fair Hypocrite more”. We are not, however, much surprised by Behn’s deadpan follow-up to this oath:

…but e’er he departed, he writ her a Letter, wherein he order’d her, in a little time, to follow him into Holland; and left a Bill of Exchange with one of his trusty Servants, whom he had left to wait upon her, for Money for her Accommodations… But, above all, she was receiv’d by Tarquin with a Joy Unspeakable…

Without editorialisation, Behn then sides with “the Princes, and great Men of all Nations” by having the faux-Tarquin return home to his father, who is “exceeding rich” but, after all, just a merchant. Nor does Behn offer commentary upon our last glimpse of Miranda, who ends her career of deceit, sex and murder the spoiled daughter-in-law of a doting, rich old man, and the object of Tarquin’s unwavering devotion; not a princess any more (though the narrator still calls her so), but as comfortable and secure as wealth and love can make her—beyond, perhaps, a certain lingering note of irony:

They say Miranda has been very penitent for her Life past, and gives Heaven the Glory for having given her these Afflictions, that have reclaim’s her, and brought her to as perfect a State of Happiness as this troublesome World can afford…

 I love a happy ending, don’t you?

The Fair Jilt is certainly not a flawless work. In particular, it loses its way somewhat in its portrait of Miranda, who goes without internal justification from a (presumed) injured innocent to a woman who has “given the World a thousand Suspicions of her Lewdness and Prostitution”, and who, after it is implied she is flattered by unmoved by her empassioned suitors, is revealed to have had a string of secret sexual affairs. Nor do we find in The Fair Jilt the kind of groundbreaking narrative experimentation that was such a feature of both Love-Letters Between A Nobleman And His Sister and Oroonoko.

Nevertheless, this is yet another intriguing piece of prose fiction—nothing less than a gender-reversed rogue’s biography, with its protagonist cutting an unmoved swathe through anyone unfortunate enough to get between her and her desires, at last emerging not just unscathed but triumphant from a lifetime of immoral adventuring, and even undergoing a thoroughly unconvincing, last-scene repentence. Miranda herself puts me very much in mind of Sylvia from Love-Letters, at least as she is at the end of the third volume, but even worse: a woman who has learned how to use sex as a weapon and does so without compunction.

The positioning of The Fair Jilt as another of Behn’s “true histories” as also fascinating. There is certainly a much larger proportion of demonstrable truth in this piece of prose than there is in Oroonoko, and yet somehow it rarely figures in the “Aphra Behn is a liar” arguments; probably, as I say, because of its easy dismissability as “amatory fiction”. Behn’s telling of the story of Tarquin, which mixes facts with things she could not have known in a by-now-familiar way, is more straightforward than the narrative of Oroonoko; the narrator here has no personal axe to grind, and this makes it hard to spot where truth ends and invention begins.

And while its narrative is not as complex as those of its fictional companion-pieces, what is noteworthy is how much in control of her language Aphra Behn shows herself to be in The Fair Jilt: much more so than in Love-Letters, where the demands of fiction (as opposed to the visuals of drama) occasionally made her stumble. We find her here more relaxed with the form; and while, as we have seen, she does still sometimes resort to the kind of comma-strung run-on sentences with which the literature of the Restoration has made us very familiar, there are other moments when she constructs sentences both pithy and stinging – such as this early comment upon the nature of Miranda’s education:

To this she had a great deal of Wit, read much, and retain’d all that served her purpose.

In this respect, I was particularly struck by the grandiloquent opening sentence of The Fair Jilt, which – to draw an exceedingly long bow, I grant you – put me irresistably in mind of one of the most famous sentences in all English literature, the opening of Pride And Prejudice:

As Love is the most noble and divine Passion of the Soul, so it is that to which we may justly attribute all the real Satisfactions of Life; and without it, Man is unfinish’d, and unhappy.

I know several people whose heads would explode at the thought of the juxtapositioning of Aphra Behn and Jane Austen, yet I feel inclined in this instance to press my point. The dominant note of The Fair Jilt is certainly irony, and irony sustained with a light hand: one of Austen’s many talents, as well. And even as Jane Austen goes on subsequently to demonstrate how the real “truth universally acknowledged” is that an unmarried man with a fortune will be relentlessly pursued to the altar, in The Fair Jilt Aphra Behn offers a devastating dissection of “the most noble and divine Passion”, which in her world leaves death, misery and ruined fortunes strewn in its wake; the crowning irony of both works being their eventual proving of their own overt theses.

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25/02/2012

One bird, two stones

The facts disclosed by our study of the Mary Carleton narratives contradict, if they do not wholly destroy, three cardinal doctrines about the origin of the modern novel,— (1) that the criminal biographies were as a class substantially true, (2) that the narrative methods of Defoe were acquired by “imitating truthful records,” and (3) that in seventeenth century fictitious literature there were no very close approaches to the work of “the father of the English novel.”

Mmm… You know, there’s nothing in the world I find more comforting than a big, steaming bowl of serendipity.

One of the stranger—and more unwelcome—side-effects of my tussle with The English Rogue is that I came away from it with a desire to read something else written by Francis Kirkman; something, that is, not produced under the influence of Richard Head and the shadow of his original work. The trouble was, Kirkman’s other fiction fell into only two categories: archaic romances copied after those he translated early in his career, and rogue’s biographies—of which I had had quite enough for the moment, thank you.

That said, the obvious choice amongst Kirkman’s solo works was The Unlucky Citizen. Published in 1673, on the back of some difficult financial times, this work is a “rogue’s biography” inasmuch as it is a thinly disguised autobiography. This book would, doubtless, have told me everything I wanted to know about Francis Kirkman but was afraid to ask; but in spite of this—or because of this—it didn’t really appeal; although I was amused by the reflection that at a time when most writers were frantically trying to sell their fiction as fact, Kirkman (possibly for reasons of self-preservation) chose to sell fact as fiction.

I was still pondering the issue when I dropped into my academic library one day to do a little browsing amongst the works classified as DD823.400 and slightly upwards. These are those studies of early modern literature that don’t really fit in anywhere else – and which are, for the most part, works decades old and usually considered superseded. Strange and wonderful things lurk on those shelves, which (or so I gather from the dust, the puzzled looks from the librarians, and occasional absence of a barcode) are rarely accessed by anyone but me. I was trolling the shelves with no particular purpose when one book jumped out at me, a slender maroon volume with an unreadable title sticker on the spine, which was quite visually distinct from all the others around it:

The Mary Carleton Narratives 1663 – 1673: A Missing Chapter In The History Of The English Novel, published in 1914 by Ernest Bernbaum, then Instructor in English at Harvard: a book whose importance to the aims of this blog can hardly be overrated, as we shall see; yet a book so obscure and unaccessed that, as I subsequently discovered, it was not listed in the library’s catalogue.

Mary Carleton was a notorious 17th century con-woman. Briefly, she was born and grew up near Canterbury, where she married one husband, possibly two, and fled with everything that wasn’t nailed down. She spent some time in Europe, chiefly around Cologne, and returned to England in possession of a reasonable sum of money and posing as a titled German lady, Maria van Wolway; her alleged position escalating over subsequent events until she became known as “the German Princess”.

Hoping to trap a rich prize through this pose, Mary got more—or rather, less—than she bargained for when she attracted the relatives of a young man called John Carleton, who by way of making him seem an attractive prospect, talked up his birth, fortune and holdings and began referring to him as “his lordship”. In a state of mutual deceit, the two married. The Carletons waited, slavering, for “the Princess”‘s fortune to be forthcoming, while Mary waited likewise for “his lordship”‘s promised shower of riches. Needless to say, they were both doomed to disappointment.

(I seem to be seeing Dickens forerunners everywhere these days. These two remind me of the Lammles from Our Mutual Friend.)

At some point during the ensuing stand-off, John Carleton’s father received a letter from a man who claimed that he knew Mary from Canterbury; that she was the daughter of a church organist, and had two “husbands” still living in the area. According to some accounts, the furious Carleton senior led a family charge to Mary’s rooms, where they literally stripped her of the expensive wedding-clothes they had given her and all of her own jewellery (most of which turned out to be fake), before having her arrested and charged with bigamy.

Mary’s trial was the cause célèbre of 1663. While some people believed her absolutely to be Maria van Wolway, it soon became evident that her guilt or innocence was less important to the gathered crowd generally – and to the jury – than who they preferred, and Mary was soon the popular favourite. The Carletons made the mistake of producing only an eyewitness to Mary’s previous marriage(s) instead of any documentary evidence, and this gave the court the excuse it was looking for to acquit her.

Mary’s triumph was short-lived. The dismissal of the bigamy charge meant that she was in law John Carleton’s wife, and that he was within his legal rights to take everything she owned and then desert her. Mary subsequently made overtures of reconciliation to her estranged husband, but the Carletons weren’t having any. Thrown back on her own resources, Mary was next seen in public starring as “herself” in a play first called A Witty Combat: or, The Female Victor but which soon adopted the title The German Princess; a tacit admission of fraud that must of galled Mary’s genuine supporters. The play, if not very good, had novelty value and for a while drew crowds; although a number of critics commented that Mary was more convincing in the courtroom than on stage.

From here, it was downhill all the way for Mary Carleton. For some time she supported herself through relationships with men, at one point “marrying” again under yet another identity, at others posing as a woman of means in order to attract suitors, but always with the ultimate goal of obtaining what she could by gift or theft before fleeing. Finally, she turned to confidence tricks and robbery. In 1671, she was arrested and tried for theft, found guilty and initially condemned, but had her sentence reduced and was transported to Jamaica. Some years later she managed to make her way back to England and resumed her old way of life, attracting and defrauding more men and stealing the silverware wherever she could insinuate herself. At last she went to the well once too often, and by this time the court’s patience was exhausted. Early in 1673, Mary Carleton was found guilty of robbery, condemned and executed.

Criminal biography, as we have seen, was hugely popular in the second half of the 17th century, and Mary activities were accompanied by two flourishes of related publications, one after her initial acquittal in 1663, the other after her execution in 1673—all told, more than twenty individual works.

The first wave included two accounts of the trial, The Great Trial And Arraignment Of The Late Distressed Lady, Otherwise Called The German Princess and The Arraignment, Trial And Examination Of Mary Moders, Otherwise Stedman, now Carleton, Styled The German Princess, as well as duelling vindications supposedly by John and Mary Carleton, but clearly ghostwritten: An Historical Narrative Of The German Princess and The Ultimum Vale Of John Carleton Of The Middle Temple, London, Gent.

Of the second wave, two publications, both substantial works, stand out: The Memories Of Mary Carleton, Commonly Styled The German Princess by someone calling himself only “J.G.”; and The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled, published in 1673 by—Francis Kirkman.

You were wondering if I was ever going to get to the point, weren’t you?

The truth is, I’ve felt uncomfortable about ignoring Mary Carleton who, whatever she was in life, was certainly a significant literary figure of the late 17th century, with the post-execution flourish of publications landing squarely within my target dates for this blog. So my discovery of Ernest Bernbaum’s study seemed to offer a useful shortcut: reading The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled would simultaneously satisfy my perverse Francis Kirkman fetish and sooth my conscience with regard to the Mary Carleton literature, while through The Mary Carleton Narratives I would get a sufficient overview of the remaining twenty-plus works on the subject. 

Remarkably enough, The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled is in print, as the lead example in a 1961 anthology called The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled And Other Criminal Fiction Of Seventeenth-Century England, edited by Spiro Peterson. My academic library holding a copy, I walked over there one day about a week before last Christmas to pick it up, only to discover to my horror that the library had closed down for the Christmas-New Year break a week early, to facilitate renovations. Cue, if you will, a humiliating mental image of me pounding unavailingly on the front doors and wailing, “But I have to have my Francis Kirkman!!”

So, temporarily thwarted, I read The Mary Carleton Narratives first. To my surprise and delight, far from being merely a summation of the life of “the German Princess” and the writings she inspired, Bernbaum’s study is yet another slant upon “the rise of the English novel”, and one which has some startling things to say on the subject of Francis Kirkman’s work.

Ernest Bernbaum begins his study with a clear declaration of his intent to kick against the prevailing dogma on the rise of the novel, which as you might imagine does him no harm in my estimation; although given his date of publication, it’s the law as laid down by Walter Raleigh and his ilk that he’s arguing against, rather than that of Ian Watt and his descendents, as I like to do. And as so many of these arguments do, it begins with the positioning of Daniel Defoe – and includes the usual distinction:

In fact, most historians of literature, finding the Elizabethan attempts uninfluential, hold that realistic fiction begins with Daniel Defoe. It is Defoe with whom, according to Professor Raleigh, the novel (as distinguished from the romance) arises. It is Defoe who writes, in the opinion of Mr Edmund Grosse, “the earliest great English novel”; and who deserves, in that of Mr George A. Aitken, the proud title “the father of the English novel”… Before his time, we are told, “the promise of the novel dissolved like a mirage.” He remains “the founder of the novel,” in the sense of being the first after the Elizabethans to write a long fictitious prose narrative that is not an allegory, and that realistically and seriously recounts the actions of personages of the lower and middle classes. Such novels, scholars assure us with remarkable unanimity, were before not attempted…

One thing that Bernbaum and his opposition do agree on is that Defoe’s writing grew out of the “criminal biographies” of the previous century, which in turn grew out of the journalism of the day. As Bernbaum points out, journalism was born during the Civil War and, far from being an exercise in factual reporting, its function was to create lies and propaganda in support of one political viewpoint or the other. (Plus ça change.) While this aspect of journalism did not entirely recede following the Restoration, when greater or lesser danger attached to pushing a barrow, the reporting of facts with regard to day-to-day events became an increasingly important aspect of the journalist’s job. However, distances were great and facts sometimes hard to come by; and it was an accepted practice for journalists to fill the gaps in their stories by exercising their powers of invention. The line between “journalism” and “fiction” was often very thin indeed.

(The jokes just write themselves, don’t they? Bernbaum digresses at this point to offer a personal observation that, as you might imagine, surprised a laugh out of me:

The very productive and prosperous Henry Walker concocted, among many other fabrications, a wholly imaginary account of the flight of Charles II; and falsified the death-bed sayings of Oliver Cromwell, professedly recorded by “one who was a groom of his chamber”. Walker was indignantly called by the saintly George Fox “a liar, and forger of lies,”—terms which accurately describe the other prominent journalists of the period, John Harris, George Wharton, and Marchmont Nedham. They were indeed fit predecessors of Titus Oates, who may well be regarded as their monstrous scion, and who in 1678 unabashed perpetrated the most outrageous hoax that has ever misled the British public.)

Defoe himself was a journalist, of course – and a political propagandist – and a liar; qualities, if that’s the right word, that spill over into his fiction. We’ve seen before how Defoe’s supporters tend to dance around these uncomfortable facts, with some even claiming that his greatness is demonstrated by our inability to tell when he’s lying. Bernbaum, like certain others, takes it all in his stride:

As everybody knows, not all of Defoe’s supposedly fictitious narratives can be confidently deniminated either absolute fact or absolute fiction. The Memoirs Of A Cavalier, Duncan Campbell, Captain Avery, Robinson Crusoe itself, have a groundwork of fact… On the assumption that The Apparition Of Mrs Veal was fictitious, critics long used it as a favorite illustration of Defoe’s marvelous power to make the purely imaginary seem plausibly real,—until Mr Aitken’s valuable researches confounded their speculations with the discovery that the story was substantially true. The easy methodof disbelieving in each and every case the solemn protestations of Defoe that he is not romancing, will evidently not do. Sometimes he lies, sometimes he tells the truth; the real difficulty is to ascertain his moments of veracity. Add to that problem a legitimate suspicion that the amount of fictitious matter in the seventeenth century criminal biographies is perhaps larger than supposed, and you have a Gordian knot which may not be lightly sundered but must be patiently untied.

(“Moments of veracity” – heh! “Mr Aiken” is George Atherton Aitken, editor of a late 19th century release of Robinson Crusoe and various academic papers on Defoe.)

The positioning of Defoe as the immediate inheritor of the 17th century journalistic tradition of mixing lies and truth to tell a convincing story, rather than as the “father of fiction”, puts a new slant on where we should be looking for the origins of the English novel. It is precisely this viewpoint that, in Ernest Bernbaum’s estimation, makes the “Mary Carleton narratives” so historically important—because amongst this collection of literature, we find every kind of late 17th century writing, from newspaper reports, to burlesque “advertisements”, to satirical poems, to pamphlets, to novellas; the similarities and differences between these forms in their accounts of Mary Carleton offering a fascinating illustration of the sliding scale of fact and fiction, with each example throwing light on all the others.

As far as the truth of the first batch of the narratives go, Bernbaum is quick to make the amusing point that the two that made the loudest claim to be considered true, that is, the duelling post-bigamy trial publications of Mary and John Carleton, are probably the furthest from it. We are, he further contends, closest to the truth in The Arraignment, Trial, and Examination of Mary Moders, otherwise Stedman, now Carleton, styled the German Princess: this account of the trial is an example of 17th century court reporting, meaning that it offers a reasonably accurate recapitulation of the proceedings, although one embellished with the observatons, interpretations and opinions of its anonymous author.

But it is amongst the seven publications that appeared in the wake of Mary’s execution in 1673 that Bernbaum finds real historical value, singling out four of these seven as particularly informative. By this late date, Mary’s own account of her romantic youth had, of course, been entirely discredited; these publications offer in its place alternative histories that involve her earlier, bigamous marriages and her first forays into fraud and theft. All of them claim to be true; how remarkable, then, as Bernbaum comments wryly, that none of the “facts” contained therein emerged at the time of Mary’s trial for bigamy:

If we are to trust [Memories of the Life of the Famous Madam Mary Charlton, commonly styled the German Princess‘s] author, therefore, we must credit him with the remarkable feat of securing in 1673 specific details concerning many of Mary’s youthful crimes, only one of which her prosecutors in 1663, aided by the full light of the publicity of a scandalous trial, had been able to find.

Of all the Mary Carleton narratives, The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled, being a full Account of the Birth, Life, most remarkable Actions, and untimely Death of that famous Cheat Mary Carleton, known by the Name of the German Princess is not only the last, but the longest—the culmination of all the narratives, if you like. It is not a mere pamphlet, but a genuine novella, if not indeed a novel. As Bernbaum points out, to put things into perspective, Francis Kirkman’s contribution is twenty thousand words in length, fully four times longer than any other of the narratives, and almost the same length as Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, which generally is accepted as “a novel”. Its significance, however, lies not in its length, but in its content—something perhaps best illustrated by the fact that Ernest Bernbaum’s own examination of this text occupies more than half of his entire book upon the subject of Mary Carleton.

The first thing we notice about Francis Kirkman’s—oh, hell, let’s just call it “a novel”, shall we?—his novel, is that he did not write all of it himself: the text contains numerous excerpts of the earlier Mary Carleton works, in particular her (ghost-written) autobiography from 1663, and the other significant releases of 1673, The Memories… and The Life and Character of Mrs Mary Moders, alias Mary Stedman, alias Mary Carleton, alias Mary —– the famous German Princess, which is actually the second part of Mary’s own autobiography, The Case Of Madam Mary Carleton, with an appendix attached repudiating her own version of the story and adding an alternative account of her youth, plus her supposed confession that she was indeed the bigamous Mary Moders.

What matters here, however, is what Kirkman does with these appropriations. While all of the earlier narratives, as we have already observed with respect to a number of the rogue’s biographies we have studied, including The English Rogue, are content with a superficial, “this happened, then that happened” style of marration, in The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled that isn’t good enough for Francis Kirkman. Instead, after lifting passages from the earlier works, he proceeds to weave them together into a credible story, in which, in addition to continually embellishing the tale with convincing details, he adds passages where Mary Carleton’s motives, actions and thoughts are explained to us and analysed, while including on his own account various pieces of editorialisation in which he gives his opinion of actions that he himself invented.

Ernest Bernbaum devotes some pages to identifying passages that Kirkman lifted out of the earlier works, and then placing them side by side with Kirkman’s interpretation of them. Here is one example:

From the Appendix to The Case:

The landlady readily granted the use of her best chamber, whither the corpse was brought, and a topping undertaker in Leadenhall Street laid hold of the job, who, having received an unlimited commission to perform the funeral, resolved that nothing should be wanting to make the bill as complete as possible.

From The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled:

The landlady, hearing of profit, soon consented; and that evening the corpse in a very handsome coffin was brought in a coach and placed in the chamber, which was the room one pair of stairs next the street, and had a balcony. The coffin being covered only with an ordinary black cloth, our Counterfeit seems much to dislike it. The landlady tells her that for twenty shillings she might have the use of a pall of velvet, and for as much more some scutcheons of the gentleman’s arms. Our lady was well pleased with the pall, but for the scutcheons she said they would be useless in regard the deceased gentleman was unknown.

In the earlier works, it is simply a matter of “Mary fooled this person, then she fooled that person”; but Francis Kirkman repeatedly shows us how, with descriptions of Mary’s ingenuity. We are shown her skill in manipulation. Here, Bernbaum points out the touch about, The landlady, hearing of profit and also the mention of the balcony: the funeral is, of course, a fake; Mary robs the household of its silver and some of its furniture, as well as appropriating the velvet pall, lowering the loot over the balcony to some confederates in the street before making her own, unladen way out of the house—leaving behind a coffin filled with “brickbats and hay”.

This is a minor example. Again and again, Francis Kirkman takes the bald statements of Mary’s actions from the earlier accounts and turns them into lengthy, vivid, and often suspenseful descriptions of the manoeuvring between herself and her potential marks; while even the minor characters are given credible motives for their actions, and for their falling victim to Mary’s wiles. The result is a surprisingly gripping and coherent narrative that offers something that none of its competitors does—that very few 17th century narratives do—a glimpse into the psychology of of its central character.

Yet the importance of The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled goes beyond its literary credibility. One of the most remarkable things about it is the lengths to which Kirkman goes to win the trust of the reader. For one thing, he bookends his work with a pair of moral disclaimers:

He begins: Let nature be never so liberal to us in the complete forming of our bodies after the most exact copies of perfection, and let us be never so well accomplished in all our outward qualities, so that we may imagine ourselves to be complete; yet if grace be not implanted in our hearts, whereby to guide us in all our actions, we are like a fair vessel at sea which is sufficiently furnished with all her sails and tackling but yet wants the only thing to guide and steer her by, her rudder…

And, likewise, concludes: But if we give ourselves over to ill company, or our own wicked inclinations, we are infallibly led to the practice of those crimes which, although they may be pleasing at the present, yet they have a sting behind. And we shall be sensible thereof when we shall be hurried to an untimely end, as you have seen in the vicious life and untimely death of this our Counterfeit Lady.

We’ve seen this sort of thing before, of course; and while we may not sneer at these passages as we do when we find them coming from the pen of Richard Head, nor do we necessarily take them at face value.

However, Kirkman follows up on his moral premising by assuring us of his trustworthiness as a narrator—going so far as to tell us that not only did he interview Mary before her execution (and he certainly may have seen her in prison, since visiting the condemned was an accepted pastime), but that he tracked down John Carleton, also; while two of Mary’s late career victims were both relatives of his own, and hence he knows details that others do not. He therefore insists upon the reliability of his information—most amusingly, when he rewrites Mary’s own account of being “Maria van Wolway”, while simultaneously puncturing this version of events by stating, in effect, well, that’s what she says, but I don’t believe it:

…but although I shall contradict the opinion of many and what she declared of herself, yet I tell you that according to my best intelligence, which I think is sufficiently authentic, she was no German, but an absolute (I will not say true) Englishwoman…

In addition to these reassurances—and in context, most intriguingly of all—Kirkman makes a point of telling us what he does not know. There are gaps in his narrative where he admits ignorance, and other points where he offers two alternative possibilities before adding, But how it might have been, I know not.

Significantly, as Ernest Bernbaum highlights, these comments die away over the course of the narrative, as if Kirkman felt that he had said enough to convince the reader of his trustworthiness, so that his later assertions would be accepted unsupported. And in fact, between its detail, its offered motivations and its careful disclaimers, the whole of the narrative of The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled is constructed with the clear aim of luring the reader into accepting Francis Kirkman’s veracity even when he is lying.

Eat your heart out, Daniel Defoe.

The weaknesses and limitations of The Counterfeit Lady are obvious. Its diction is faulty, its style slipshod, and its construction without subtle refinements. Measured by the standard of a good modern novel, it is a crude performance. Those elementary principles of good narration which today a mere tyro, taught by great examples, may practice with facility, Kirkman applied with conscious and painful effort. He was doing no conventional thing, yet he succeeded surprisingly well in making both the action and the characterization in his story clear, lively, and so plausible as to compel belief. The Counterfeit Lady, ethically an indefensible fabrication, is to the historian of literature, considering that it was published in 1673, an admirable work; for it treats a story of common life in a serious tone, and makes the imaginary seem real.

I know that it must sometimes seem that I have a set against Daniel Defore. I don’t; truly I don’t. I dispute neither his importance in the time-line, nor that he was a far better writer than almost anyone who came before him; but when people try to tell me that he was, in any capacity, “the first”—well, then we’ve got a fight on our hands; a fight in which, in my very wildest imaginings, I never once envisaged being able to call Francis Kirkman—FRANCIS KIRKMAN!!??—as a witness for the prosecution.

But let’s leave the final word to Ernest Bernbaum, on the back of a consideration of several works, potential “early novels”, that preceded this one:

    …undoubtedly each of these works contributed something to the coming novel; but of none of them can we say, what is precisely true of The Counterfeit Lady, that it closely resembles the novels of Daniel Defoe in both subject matter and composition.
    What The Counterfeit Lady exhibits is, of course, an early phase of the realistic novel, and not the full development. It is considerably shorter than the average length of the novels of Defoe. Perhaps it contains a proportionally larger amount of true incident than they do, though this cannot be confidently asserted until they have been more thoroughly studied. Undoubtedly it is inferior to those admirably written works in style. Even making due allowance for the remarkable and general improvement in prose style that took place after 1673, we must judge the author of The Counterfeit Lady a writer whose diction is crude and whose interminable sentences are often incorrect. Such short-comings will, however, not surprise anyone who understands how slowly, as a rule, a literary type develops. What to him will seem really astonishing is that Kirkman managed to anticipate in so many particulars the ways of his great successor.

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…

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…”

04/06/2011

The London Bully; or, The Prodigal Son

“The End that I propose to my self in this little Book, is to render you wise by other Peoples Example; which is the surest and most commodious way of Learning for him who would know the Humours of the World. You may learn herein to precaution your self, by seeing my Negligence and little Care; and from my Infamy, you may reap Honour and Glory. For you are not ignorant that it is the first degree of Wisdom to begin by ones self to be wise; and the second, to listen to those who are wiser than we: and he who knows how to do neither the one nor the other, is in no consideration.”

If I’ve learned one thing from the research I’ve done to support my reading and writing  for this blog – other than that the England of the 1680s is a black hole of terrifying power, from which no-one ever escapes – it’s that you just never know what literary family tree you’re going to end up climbing next.

In his introduction to the Broadview Press edition of The London Jilt; or, The Politick Whore, Charles H. Hinnant suggests that its anonymous author was also responsible for another short novel published in 1683, The London Bully; or, The Prodigal Son. Having read the work in question (and formed a few opinions of my own), I was hunting around for any trace of background information when I stumbled across a source that throws a whole new light on the genesis of both these works – namely, The Burgher And The Whore: Prostitution In Early Modern Amsterdam by Lotte Van Der Pol.

Although predominantly an historical and sociological study,  Van Der Pol also examines the flood of whore’s and rogue’s biographies that emanated from Amsterdam during the 1670s and 1680s. Many of these works were subsequently translated into English, and in some cases Anglicised as well – although without acknowledgement of their origin. Among the “English” works that Van Der Pol cites as having Dutch originators are both The London Jilt and The London Bully. The former is held to be an adaptation of D’Openhertige Juffrouw, of d’ontdetke geveinsdheid (The Outspoken Damsel; or, Hypocrisy Unmasked), which was originally published in two volumes over 1680 – 1681, and translated into both French and German. For The London Bully, Van Der Pol cites De Haagsche lichtmis (The Libertine Of The Hague), published in 1679.

Since my grasp of Dutch is limited to the word “Heineken”, I’m obviously not in any position to dispute Van Der Pol’s contentions – and nor, given what we have already come across in this study of translations, adaptations, borrowings and outright plagiarisms in the English literary scene of the late 17th century, do I feel that there is any pressing need to dispute it. Although Van Der Pol herself is somewhat aggrieved about the works in question being claimed as “English”, their European origins do not take away from their position within the history of the English novel, nor reduce their immediate influence.

While rogue’s biographies were popular in England at the time, so to were picaresque tales, most of them originating from Spain; and while there numerous translations of actual Spanish works, this revelation of the Anglicisation of Dutch works begs the question of how many “English” picaresques (most of which were set in Spain anyway) may have had a similar history. Since there is no disputing the influence of these forms of fiction upon a number of significant English novelists of the 18th century – Defoe, Fielding and Smollett in particular – all this throws an interesting light upon the development of the novel generally, and more specifically upon the stubborn insistence of writers of the day and subsequent literary historians alike on drawing a sharp distinction between the English “novel” and the European “romance”.

If we accept the Dutch origins of The London Jilt and The London Bully, this still leaves us with some unanswered questions, chiefly whether the broad similarities between these two short works of fiction existed prior to their Anglicisation (that is, if De Haagsche lichtmis and D’Openhertige Juffrouw, of d’ontdetke geveinsdheid were written by the same Dutch author), or whether they are the result of the two being Anglicised by the same anonymous Englishman – or both.

There is certainly more than a passing family resemblance between The London Jilt and The London Bully. Both tales have their protagonist offering up their own life as a cautionary tale; both follow them from childhood to independent adulthood; both include sequences in which real or perceived grievances are revenged with greater or lesser degrees of seriousness; both promise a second part in which the protagonist, after a series of casual sexual encounters, embarks upon a stable relationship – although only The London Jilt keeps that promise. There are also linguistic similarities between the two, particularly the reiteration of the tell-tale word “prancks”, used to describe the protagonists’ acts of revenge. It is also important to note that if these tales have been Anglicised, it has been done so thoroughly as to be undetectable. The geography and milieu of both works are detailed and convincing.

In spite of these parallels, The London Bully is in every respect an inferior work to The London Jilt. Merely by putting its narrative into the mouth of a woman, the latter instantly gains interest via the unfamiliarity of its perspective. More significantly, however, the obsessive focus upon the grim economic realities of female existence in The London Jilt give it an overarching dramatic tension, a pervasive sense of urgency even at its most seemingly light-hearted, that is entirely lacking in The London Bully, which rather than a fairly unified narrative consists of a string of unconnected episodes, and in place of a pragmatic heroine driven by her terror of impoverished old age gives us a protagonist who resorts to swindles and theft just because he doesn’t like working, and who commits acts of cruelty and violence simply because he can.

A feature of the purely fictional works of this time is the self-aggrandising preface; it’s as if, lacking a political agenda, these short works had to find some other way of justifying their existence. Curiously, although as with The London Jilt there is a gap between what is promised in the preface and what is delivered by the text, here it is in the opposite direction. The London Jilt‘s preface is scathing and ugly in its denunciation of prostitutes and other lewd women, while the narrative of Cornelia is for the most part understanding and matter-of-fact rather than condemnatory. Conversely, in The London Bully the horrifying antics of William*, although again offered up as a cautionary tale, are treated rather indulgently in the preface, being described as merely, “The Sallies of Impetuous Youth” – impetuous youth apparently being given to humiliating “prancks”, fraud, gambling, whoremongering, theft and highway robbery.

(*Towards the end, our author forgets that his protagonist’s name is William, and starts calling him Frederick – while at the same time introducing another character called William. It’s horribly confusing.)

William – or “William” – is born in London to upwardly aspiring parents, who consequently send him out to nurse in the first instance, and pack him off to school thereafter; so we can’t really blame him for his lack of filial affection, whatever we make of his absolute lack of any moral sense. William doesn’t learn much at school, but he proves himself a dab hand at practical jokes, nothing making him laugh so hard as a “pranck” that ends with a schoolfellow being caned to within an inch of his life. It is also at school that William begins to supplement his own income by stealing from his companions, his own discovery and vicious caning teaching him no better, but rather inspiring him to give more thought to how to cover his tracks. It is the thought of what his father will do when he learns of the theft that chiefly concerns him – although as it happens circumstances intervene:

“…with all my strength I ran thither accordingly, without asking the Masters Leave, but it was too late, for my Father was already departed, and my Mother was in so poor a condition, that there was no hopes she could escape Death; as indeed she accompanied my Father two days afterwards into the other world. My Youth, and my Libertine Humor did not allow me to shed tears upon the double Loss I had newly had, and I felt it in time more than I did then; for to tell you the truth, I did in some manner rejoyce at it, forasmuch as that it would have been impossible for me to have escaped the punishment of the Theft I had committed, if my Father had remained alive…”

Falling under the guardianship of an indifferent uncle, William is apprenticed out to first an apothecary, then to a a “chirurgeon”: a professional life that allows this novel to supplement the apparent compulsory chamber-pot scenes with an unhealthy fixation with “clysters”, or enemas. His first period of employment ends when he takes umbrage at the domestic work he is compelled to do, and revenges himself by pushing his master’s wife downstairs and seriously injuring her; the second, when he has an encounter of a different sort with his new employer’s wife. Compelled to sneak into bed with her so that she will not know her husband is spending the night with his mistress, William finds her in an amorous mood:

“…I took her hand away, but she imagining this was only some remnants of her Husbands Anger, fell again into handling and taking it by the Head: Said she, ‘How, my little Rogue, is it not better to love in good intelligence and repose, than to quarrel and be always in anger against one another?’ When I perceiv’d she found no alteration in that part, I took heart of Oak, and did the feat without saying a word, notwithstanding all the Caresses this woman made me. This first Course was performed with so much satisfaction on my side, that I renewed it four or five times, until that she was desirous to take her rest…”

When the chirurgeon returns, he finds his wife in a wonderfully complacent mood – which is William’s cue to exit.

And here already we have the pattern of the novel: cruel jokes, criminal acts, and lots of sex – and sometimes all at once, as when William and his friends waylay a lady and her footman and compel them to have sex for their entertainment before stealing the woman’s purse. One mystifying episode has William encountering a, “Nephew of Don Quixot”, an escaped lunatic whose delusions lead him to dress and behave like a character out of a romance, and who conceives a grand passion for the landlord’s frankly ugly daughter: an indication, perhaps, of how far Spanish fictions had infiltrated the English marketplace. Late in the novel, dangerously broke, William takes to the road – justifying his actions by blaming a cruel fate, rather than his own sloth and improvidence:

“…I immediately made ready my Pistols, and taking his Horse by the Bridle, and setting a Pistol to his Breast, I demanded his Money. He had a man along with him, but on foot, and coming on me as my Back was turned, he thought to have run me through the Body behind; but I perceiving him, fir’d a Pistol at him, which however had not the effect I desired; for it only touched his right Arm, and I thought to have depriv’d him both of Speech and Life… Thus mounted I the Horse, and taking leave of the old Gentleman, I said to him, ‘Sir, I beseech you to excuse this rash action, for Poverty and Despair have been the cause of it…’.”

Like Cornelia before him, William makes a practice of “revenging” any slights again himself, whether they be real or only perceived – a habit that takes this short novel into some deeply ugly territory, thanks to William’s tendency to go well beyond measure-for-measure.

A connoisseur of whores, William spends much time and money in pursuit of one called Isabella. This relationship is marked by “fondness” on Isabella’s part (inexplicable to the reader), which leads to jealousy, misunderstanding, and mutual violence. However, while Isabella does cause terrible things to happen to William, they are chiefly inadvertent, as we shall see; while William’s retaliations are absolutely calculated and deliberate.

In the first instance, William gains access to Isabella only through a professional bawd, who demands in return that he service her – which he grits his teeth and does, even though she is a repulsive old crone (i.e. she’s thirty-five). The bawd, naturally in William’s estimation, also grows “fond” of him, which leads her to deceive Isabella as to the nature of their congress, provoking a terrible scene – with terrible consequences:

“…I embraced and kissed her, but she refused me also that small Favour, repulsing me very rudely, though this did not make me desist in the least; for I began to bear her a great affection. Seeing then that she could not get rid of me by that means, she rose from her Chair with intention to have gone out of the Chamber; but I withheld her, and took her by the Petticoat, when she strugling to get away, and I still holding it, made a great hole in it; seeing this, she fell into such a Passion, that she flung at my head a flaming Faggot-stick, when by chance there fell a spark into my Breeches…”

It is unlikely, by this point in the story, that the reader won’t get some grim satisfaction out of William’s injuries – “…I considered the miserable estate of my Instrument, which I found as black about the Head, as if it had newly made its escape with Aneas out of the Flames of Troy. My Thighs & Buttocks for company, had also received their share…” – but sadly, not only do they barely slow him down with respect to his sexual escapades, but the fact that Isabella is profoundly distressed by this accident has no effect at all upon his resolution to be revenged upon both her and the bawd, whose lies brought about the fight in the first place.

For Isabella, this means a series of escalating prancks that culminate in William luring her out of town, beguiling her into spending all her money on expensive suits of clothes, and then robbing her and leaving her stranded and penniless. As for the bawd, William’s revenge is rather more direct. Having first tricked her into sitting on an ant’s nest – “…which raised my Laughter to that excess, that I could no longer look upon the Sport…” – William then wraps things up:

“…I pusht her into the fire, insomuch that by this means the Pipe broke in her Body, whereupon she fell a crying so furiously, that I thought it time to be trooping; and accordingly I marched off, after having kicked her five or six times…”

There is,  I must stress, no sense at all of irony in any of this, no hint that we’re not supposed to be as delighted with William’s vengeance as he is himself. Once or twice in the novel he does express some regret for his actions, but these words hardly make a ripple in the flood of violence and ugliness that he leaves in his wake. The novel seems to take it for granted that we’re interested in his fortunes, and want to see him succeed.

This is certainly the tone of the novel’s major subplot, in which William falls in love with the Dutch wife of an Italian periwig-maker, although his pursuit of her is initially thwarted by the fact that her husband has recourse to a chastity belt. Here, however, William’s brief apothecarical studies come to the rescue. Sophia is given an opiate with which to drug her husband, allowing her to steal the key and have it duplicated, and thus to embark upon an affair with William. However, the duped husband’s business failing, Sophia is abruptly snatched away until the end of the novel. When she reappears, her unsatisfactory first husband has died, and she has married a man elderly but rich.

Sophia is, fittingly enough for the love of William’s life, thoroughly contemptuous of the fond old man who is keeping her in luxury; and having gathered up all she can by way of money and other valuables, she throws in her lot with William, who by this time has made England too hot to hold him:

“But all the Adventures I had since, and how Alexander behaved himself after having lost his Wife, I will give you an Account of in the Second Part of this Book. In the mean while I wish you, dear Reader, all sorts of Prosperities; and I’ll put a period to this First Part by this happy Adventure of Love which I have just now related to you.”

It is upon Cornelia entering into marriage with the tobacco-merchant that the first part of The London Jilt closes; only in that case, the second part followed in due course, tracing the later stages of her life, her change of career path, and her venture into authorship. Whether there was in fact a second part of this story in its original Dutch (that is, if we accept Lotte Van Der Pol’s account of its history) I’m not in a position to say – but there certainly isn’t one in English: The London Bully breaks off here, with no sign as yet (or not much) of a justifiably wrathful Providence catching up with William, still less of him undergoing any reformation. Personally, I like to think that by this time the Angliciser of William’s “happy Adventures” was as thoroughly sick of him as the reader is likely to be, and chucked the whole project in disgust.