Posts tagged ‘satire’

25/03/2017

The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land

 

    The object of the Essays which are compiled in this small Volume, is to impart information upon the state of manners and society in the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land; to hold up to deserved ridicule, some of the vices and follies by which they are distinguished; to present a mirror wherein good qualities are exhibited, the possession of which is not always acknowledged—in a word, to present a picture of this infant state, which, it is hoped, may prove interesting as well as instructive, not only to its own component Members, but to the general Reader.
    The Author has endeavoured to avoid any expressions which might be calculated to cause pain to a single individual—his aim has been to “lash the vice, but spare the name”; and he will be sufficiently rewarded, if, in addition to the notice which his first few essays have already attracted, and which has induced him to re-published them in this form, he should witness that they produce the good effects, the hope of which originated their publication.

 

 

 

 

In my examination of Quintus Servinton, generally considered to be “the first Australian novel”, and of the peculiar life of its author, it emerged that Henry Savery had earlier published another work—one of “fiction” only in the broadest sense. The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, which appeared in 1830, was a series of satirical essays skewering various personalities and institutions to be found in the colony of Van Diemen’s Land—and, like almost everything else in Henry Savery’s life, it caused a lot of trouble.

A reading of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land reveals it as a work so much of its time and place as to be largely incomprehensible to the modern reader: in addition to its author’s generally allusive style, he avoids names at almost all points (even false names), peopling his essays with references to the tall Gentleman, the young Gentleman, the Lady, my Acquaintance, and so on; which over the course of the volume requires considerable effort on the part of the reader simply to keep up with the thread of his discourse.

The edition of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land published in 1964 by the University of Queensland Press, and edited by Savery scholar Cecil Hadgraft and Margriet Roe, provides a key to the characters. This was sourced from the copy of the book held by the Mitchell Library in Sydney, in which its original (unknown) owner not only went to the trouble of identifying most of the people in its pages, but wrote out a list in his copy’s end-papers matching the superscript numbers he had appended to the text. That an original reader was able to do this shows how recognisable was Henry Savery’s portraiture. Nevertheless, with the exception of a handful of people who had public careers, or impacted Henry Savery’s life in some other way, these contents are not particularly informative today. It does not, for instance, help us much to know that “a certain tall slender person” appearing on page 124 was meant for Horatio William Mason, “a member of the Agricultural Association”, and “a wine and spirit merchant and licensee of several hotels in Hobart and New Norfolk”.

Consequently, I am not going to try to analyse the contents of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, but to see where the writing of these sketches fits into the erratic and increasingly sad life of Henry Savery.

As we may recall, late in 1828 Henry Savery’s wife, Eliza, arrived in Hobart to find her husband – who had encouraged her to sail from England on the basis of his own secure position in the settlement – widely unpopular, in trouble with the law again, and on the verge of being imprisoned for debt. Terrible scenes ended with Henry attempting suicide by cutting his own throat, although his life was saved by the the prompt and skilful attentions of a Dr William Crowther. Henry was nevertheless carried off to Hobart Town Gaol, where he lay recovering while his wife turned around and went back to England, at least in part to avoid her own slender means being seized.

There is no doubt that the forced inactivity of jail life did Henry Savery some good: in addition to recovering his health, he underwent a period of introspection which led to the writing of Quintus Servinton, that peculiar, infuriating, self-pitying yet strangely honest novel. Also, for the first time since his arrival in Hobart Town late in 1825, Henry Savery made a real friend.

Thomas Wells was a man whose life had in many ways paralleled Henry’s own: he had been convicted and transported on a charge of embezzlement; worked for a time for the government, including as secretary for Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell (George Arthur’s predecessor); received his pardon and gone into business for himself—and ended up in a financial mess that landed him in Hobart Town Gaol. Wells made the most of his time in prison, setting up an accounting business, and writing what is considered the first work of general literature to be published in Australia: a pamphlet entitled, Michael Howe, The Last And Worst Of The Bushrangers. He also began contributing articles to the Colonial Times.

It was illegal for convicts to write for the newspapers, but the Colonial Times was owned and operated by Andrew Bent, himself a former convict and a constant thorn in the side of George Arthur. Ironically, it was income received for working as a government printer that allowed Bent to pursue his real interest. Then called the Hobart Town Gazette, Bent’s baby was the first and, for some time, only newspaper published in Van Diemen’s Land, growing from a struggling two-page effort printed with homemade ink into a powerful voice in the Colony: one which devoted considerable space to criticisms of the government. Arthur, furious on all counts, tried to have it declared illegal for printing-presses to be operated without a license: his failure was rudely celebrated in the pages of the Gazette as the defeat of tyranny. Arthur’s next move was to set up a rival newspaper, owned and operated by the government—and called the Hobart Town Gazette. He also brought against Bent a successful action for libel.

If Arthur thought this would frighten Bent off or spike his guns, he misunderstood his man: as soon as he was able, Bent was back publishing the Colonial Times, and becoming the power behind a campaign of harassment that would make Arthur’s tenure as Lieutenant-Governor miserable and help to bring it to a premature conclusion.

With his own convict background, Andrew Bent often ignored the laws forbidding convicts to write for the press, and Thomas Wells – struggling from behind bars to provide an income for his numerous family – was one of his frequent jailhouse contributors. Then, in June of 1829, a new column appeared in the Colonial Times

Satirical essays highlighting the foibles of men and manners had been a staple of publication in England since the early 18th century: the Spectator magazine was celebrated for its social analysis, and many writers turned to this form of criticism over the succeeding decades. Oliver Goldsmith, in his The Citizen Of The World, had introduced to the genre the subsequently standard figure of the outside observer, looking with fresh eyes upon a scene perhaps taken for granted by its residents. Henry Savery himself had had experience with this sort of satirical writing, after he bought the Bristol Observer in 1819: he introduced a column called The Garreteers, which promised scandalous revelations about the population of Bristol, of course in the interests of “reformation”. The resulting columns, however, rarely went further than some unkind observations about certain people’s habits and appearance.

Also in 1819, a man called Felix McDonough had written a popular series of columns called The Hermit In London, which followed the pattern by having an inexperienced individual commenting naively upon the bustling and often brutal London scene. The success of this venture was such that McDonough turned it into something of a cottage industry, following up with The Hermit In The CountryThe Hermit Abroad, and so on. Henry Savery and Andrew Bent borrowed this idea, announcing in the Colonial Times:

Perhaps it may be in the recollection of some portion of our readers, that a few years ago, a series of numbers appeared in one of the London publications, under the title of “The Hermit In London”. We have great pleasure in acquainting them, that a younger brother of this family has lately arrived in the Colony; and, having acquired, almost intuitively, considerable information upon the general state of Manners, Society, and Public Characters of our little community, has partially promised to adapt his observations to such a shape, as shall fit them to meet the eye of the Public.

The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land purported to be written by one “Simon Stukeley”, a new arrival in Hobart Town casting interested and critical eyes upon the embryo settlement. Scholars attempting to trace this choice of pseudonym to its source found the following nugget in John West’s remarkable 1852 work, The History Of Tasmania:

The original Simon Stukeley was a Quaker, who went to Turkey with an intention of converting the Grand Turk: he narrowly escaped decapitation, by the interposition of the English ambassador. He was afterwards confined in an asylum: in answer to inquiries how he came there, he replied— “I said the world was mad, and the world said I was mad; and they out-voted me.”

Whether truth or shaggy-dog story, we can see how this anecdote may have appealed to Henry Savery.

The characters commented upon by “Simon Stukeley” in his columns may be mysteries to modern readers, but there is no doubt that the people sketched therein recognised themselves. Henry Savery might have been writing from jail, but he had spent the preceding four years working in government departments, and he had not wasted his powers of observation: almost everyone who was anyone in Hobart Town wandered through the columns of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, subject to criticism – or less frequently, approval – for their appearance, dress, habits and conduct.

The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land ran in the Colonial Times from 5th June – 25th December 1829, thirty columns in all. It seems that at first Henry Savery had no idea of anything so extensive, but the columns’ reception prompted Andrew Bent to propose their reissue in book form, requiring Henry to keep his idea running. On 8th January 1830, Bent announced the volume’s imminent publication—and a week later was forced to announce that publication was suspended, pending an action for libel brought against his newspaper.

When it came to the government of Van Diemen’s Land, Henry Savery and Andrew Bent found themselves in private agreement but public odds. Whatever he may really have felt, Henry avoided criticism of George Arthur in his columns, and often praised in a general way the conduct of the Colony. He is less kind as he works his way through the lower layers of government, however; while understandably, much of his venom is directed at members of the legal profession.

At one point Stukeley is called to sit on a coroner’s jury, and extensively mocks the process, or lack thereof, as well as those conducting it; a friend of his, “the Informant”, as he calls him, offers him professional and character readings of most of the practising lawyers in Hobart Town, with only one or two escaping unflayed. One in particular attracts his negative attention: a certain “Mr Cockatrice”, upon whom Stukeley calls hoping to negotiate some leniency with respect to a debt: not his own, but that of an acquaintance who is desperately selling everything in order to stave off an arrest which would leave his wife and children destitute:

…in an evil hour, requiring pecuniary assistance upon some occasion, he had recourse to one of the “Withouts” who dealt in that line, to the tune of “never exceed twenty per cent.,” and by whom the needed help was bestowed, upon the joint security of a Mortgage and Warrant of Attorney.—I was sceptical upon the latter point, thinking he was mistaken in telling me they were both for the same transaction; but he was positive, and in the end convinced me he spoke the truth. He farther told me, that the Lawyer’s fangs having once been fixed on his property, never left hold of it, until by foreclosure, writs of fieri facias, compound interest of twenty per cent. upon twenty per cent., and all the other damnables which followed in the Lawyer’s train, he was shorn as closely of all his possessions, as ever was a six month’s lamb…

Stukely calls upon the Lawyer, but one glance is enough to convince him that his mission will be futile:

He was dressed a là dishabille; inasmuch as he wore a grey beaver dressing-gown, slippers down at heel, a yellowish, half-dirty night-shirt; his neck-cloth tied loosely, and he did not appear to have shaved that morning. In person and stature, there was nothing prepossessing… He had a shrewd cunning look about the eye, which had rather a tendency to create repulsion on the part of strangers, than to invite familiarity. Still there was a constrained politeness in his manner, a servility in his mode of replying to me which argued that he could be all things to all men; and warned me, that I was not to be misled by superficial speciousness. One thing struck me as very remarkable, in his countenance; all the lines of which where uncommonly sharp and picked;—that, whenever he attempted to smile, or to utter words which might lead to the suspicion that his heart sympathised for a moment, with other’s sorrows, two sorts of furrows were exhibited, one on each side of the mouth; reminding me to the very life, of the two supporters of the Arbuthnot Arms…

Stukeley’s mission is indeed a failure:

…the Lawyer replied to me, “I can do nothing for him, Sir; he must go to gaol, or pay the money; I only know my duty to my client.” “Surely, Sir, your client cannot suffer by allowing the poor fellow a little more time for payment of the debt—you would never think of separating a man from his wife and children, by so cruel a process as imprisonment, when no possible good can arise from it.” “I know nothing of wives and children, Sir—my duty to my client is all I think about. People have no business to have wives and children, if they cannot pay their debts. I have but one rule, Sir—I always say in reply to the question, what is to be done with so and so, Let him go to gaol, and I say so now.”

The lawyer turns up again a little later, when Stukely is invited to accompany some friends to a meeting with him about the settlement of yet another debt. He finds his opinion shared by the others:

“There’s no doubt of that, so long as you have money in your pocket,” said the Doctor; “he has a wonderful scent where cash is concerned, and will lick your hand like a spaniel, whilst it remains filled with the needful; but woe betide you, if chance place you in his way afterwards.”

Stukeley does accompany them, out of curiosity: since their meeting, “Mr Cockatrice” has made his appearance in The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, and Stukeley is curious to see if his strictures have had any effect. The three men walk in to a surprising reception:

No sooner had we passed the threshold, than Mr Cockatrice started from his chair, as if he had been electrified—a spitfire Grimalkin, when, with upraised back, and distended brush, she shews her high displeasure, if her territories are invaded by a luckless wanderer of the canine race, is nothing in point of rage and fury, compared with what was exhibited upon the brow of this “stern dispenser of Laws rigours under their most rigorous shape”… He cried out, in a voice half choked with rage and anger, “How dare you put your foot within my doors, Sir? You are the Hermit—you are, Sir—“

To Stukeley’s intense amusement, he realises that for some reason Mr Cockatrice believes the Doctor to be his anonymous attacker. The Doctor himself is taken aback, and torn between anger and laughter: he for one has recognised the Hermit’s target:

    Presently he replied, “Whether I am the Hermit or not, he has produced one good effect at all events, by teaching your wife to allow you a clean shirt more frequently. I see she has taken a hint if you cannot, and that your half-dirty yellow night-shirt has given place to one a little more consistent with good manners.—You may exhibit the Arbuthnot Arms as you like (observing that at this moment two deep furrows appeared in all their native hideousness)—I care not for you, nor for any thing that your iron heart may produce—People shouldn’t have wives and children if they can’t pay their debts, you know—you understand me, don’t you?—There! take your money, and I’ll wash my hands in future of such company as yours, or any that could be found in your house. I tell you that it is well for you, I am not the Hermit; for if I had been, I would have produced a list of your acts of iron-heartedness as long as my arm; the mildest of which would have been ten times as biting as the poor horse dealer’s story.—Egad! man, that’s nothing to what I could have told him. Good bye, Arbuthnot Arms! Good morning to you! Mind the wives and children! Good bye—good bye.”
    We did not stay to hear any more, but left the house, conversing as we went through the streets, upon what had occurred; all agreeing that the moderate blister which had been applied, could not have produced such an effect as we had witnessed, if it had not been put upon a raw place…

It was Gamaliel Butler who brought an action for libel against the Colonial Times—the same Gamaliel Butler who had tried but failed to have Henry Savery jailed after the collapse of the horse-trading business for which he acted as accountant, and who – when the money was available, had he waited only a short period while matters were adjusted – had enforced his financial claim upon Henry, precipitating the disastrous chain of events that led to Eliza Savery’s departure, Henry’s suicide attempt, and his imprisonment.

The libel action against the Colonial Times was in fact the first instance of trial-by-jury in a civil proceeding in Van Diemen’s Land: the case was delayed until all relevant statutes were in place. Andrew Bent stood firm throughout, staunchly guarding the secret of Henry Savery’s authorship (of course, he would have been in trouble himself had it come out). The case itself, however, was doomed from the outset: the Hermit had waved his pen a little too widely. Apart from the vindictive Butler – did he suspect who his real enemy was? – the case was tried before Chief Justice Pedder, who had been mocked for his rambling speech and various personal peculiarities including his snuff-habit; Butler was represented by Solicitor General Alfred Stephen, who had been ridiculed as a “fop” and a “dandy”; and despite the efforts of former Attorney General Joseph Gellibrand (himself none too gently handled), who was representing Bent, the limited population of Hobart Town meant that three other people skewered by the Hermit were on the jury.

Gellibrand’s defence, moreover, was basically to argue that Butler had it coming: that he was widely known and despised as a wrecker of lives; that he profited off the misery of others; that he was notorious for preferring to send men to jail than to agree to accommodation that would allow them to pay off their debts, often rejecting offered assistance from friends of his debtors. The “list as long as my arm” of incidents, mentioned in the relevant column, was aired in court, with Gellibrand summoning John Bisdee, the head-keeper, to testify that of the thirteen debtors in Hobart Town Gaol, nine of them were there under writs brought by Butler.

Moreover, Dr William Crowther was called to testify that the scene in the office of “Mr Cockatrice” played out exactly as reported, with an enraged Butler accusing him, Crowther, of being the Hermit. This, we should note, is the same Dr Crowther who saved Henry’s life after his suicide attempt, and who appears at various points throughout The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land in an affectionate but not altogether flattering way which balances his general kindness and mastery of languages with his love of the bottle.

But truth is no defence against libel, and Bent was found guilty—damages being awarded by allowing each of the twelve jurors to decide on an amount, adding up the total and dividing it by twelve. A large but not outrageous amount, the £80 which Bent was ordered to pay was more than he could afford: he was already in debt, and ended up selling the Colonial Times to Henry Melville.

And it is to Henry Melville that most of the subsequent few positives in the life of Henry Savery are owed. Despite the libel suit, Melville and Bent went ahead with the volume publication of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, albeit in a far more low-key way than originally planned; while Melville hired Henry as assistant editor at the Colonial Times, a position which allowed him to support himself while he completed Quintus Servinton.

The years 1830 – 1832 represented a rare up-swing in the affairs of Henry Savery, but disaster struck again soon enough—inevitably, it seems. Embarking upon business ventures, Henry overreached yet again and found himself once more within the grip of the law. Having long since worn out any sympathy within the settlement, this time he was banished to the notorious penal colony of Port Arthur, where he died in obscurity in 1842—and remained forgotten until, in the mid-20th century, cultural cringe receded far enough for a few iconoclasts to consider the history of Australian literature worth studying and celebrating. In fits and starts, the story of Henry Savery then emerged.

It was Henry Melville who took the risk of publishing “the first Australian novel”, and who arranged for its subsequent reissue in England. It is also he to whom we owe our knowledge of Henry Savery’s authorship of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land. While there had been plenty of speculation about the identity of “Simon Stukeley”, the person most widely believed to be the Hermit was Thomas Wells, who had introduced Henry to Andrew Bent and helped Henry prepare his columns for publication; we assume that something of this finally leaked out. However, the copy of The Hermit held by the British Library has a lengthy annotation written and signed by Melville, wherein he declares the work’s authorship: a fact nowhere else disclosed.

Not many, but a number of copies of Quintus Servinton survived in both Australia and England, and the autobiographical nature of the narrative makes it clear to anyone familiar with Henry Savery’s story who wrote it. Very few indeed, however, are surviving copies of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land; and the story of Henry Savery closes with an odd detail which the preface of the 1964 edition reveals:

This reprint is dedicated, by permission, to Dr W. E. L. H. Crowther, direct lineal descendant of the Dr Crowther who attended Henry Savery after his suicide attempt in 1828. In addition, Dr Crowther is the only private collector to possess both Savery’s works—The Hermit and Quintus Servinton. The former came to him, while he was still a small boy, as a worn little volume that his father had been given by a patient, Mrs Stokell. Packed away among youthful treasures, it was not until after World War I that its scarcity and value became apparent…

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Left and centre: Henry Melville’s handwritten annotation of the British Library copy of The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, identifying Henry Savery as the author. Right: part of the handwritten key found in the Mitchell Library copy, identifying Gamaliel Butler (#61), Dr William Crowther (#62) and Joseph Gellibrand (#67).

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12/05/2012

…and the case for the prosecution

Perhaps the most interesting example of the “sham prince” literature of 1688 is a boadsheet issued late in the year bearing the (not particularly grammatical) title, The Sham Prince Expos’d. In A Dialogue Between The Popes Nuncio And Bricklayers Wife. Nurse To The Supposed Prince Of Wales., which in spite of its brevity manages to cover a surprising amount of pertinent ground.

The content of this single sheet consists, as we would expect, of a mock conversation between two of the major players in the faux-drama surrounding the Prince of Wales: the papal nuncio, Ferdinando d’Adda, who everyone was determined to believe was behind the conspiracy in one capacity or another, and the woman who was either simply nurse to the fake prince, or the self-sacrificing Catholic who gave up her baby to play the role of the spurious James Francis Edward, according to which version of events you chose to believe.

The two conspirators have met together to mourn the miscarrying of their scheme (so to speak), and the bad way things are going in England generally for Catholics.

The nuncio remains optimistic – the Catholics have, after all, the Mother of God and a whole battery of saints on their side – but the nurse thinks their moment in the sun has passed:

Nurse:  Well, you may flatter yourself with Restitution, &c. but your satisfaction is likely to be no greater than a Hungry Mans Dream of a plentiful Supper. Your late short Scene of Glory was like the last Blaze of a Candle, spent in the Socket; and the unmannerly Whigs think it has left as bad a stink behind it too.

But Father d’Adda remains convinced that their production of a prince on cue has spiked their enemies’ guns:

Nuncio:  Come, come Children, we have a reserve yet left, what, do you think a Council of Jesuits can be out-witted by a Dutch man. I can but laugh to think what a thorn in their Sides our young Prince Prettyman will prove.
Nurse:  O Lord Sir, Now the whole Kingdom laughs at the Sham; and there’s never a Joyner in Town but has a pattern of the Bed Stead: Nay, next Bartholomew-Fair they intend to have a droll, call’d, The Tragedy of Perkin Warbeck; you have read the Story of that Perkin, Sir, have you not?

While I’m amused by the suggestion that beds modelled on Mary of Modena’s (with or without secret compartments for hiding babies) had become a fashionable collector’s item by late in 1688, the important reference here is of course that to Perkin Warbeck; particularly in the contradictory context of a “tragic droll”.

Perkin Warbeck was a pretender to the throne of Henry VII; his claim was that he was Richard of Shrewsbury, the son of Edward IV and one of the infamous “Princes in the Tower”. His claim was supported by Margaret of York, Edward’s sister, and for some time he gained ground, being received at various courts, using the title the Duke of York, and marrying into the nobility. He found his strongest ally in James IV of Scotland, who (mostly for his own purposes) raised a force and invaded England on Warbeck’s behalf, but retreated when the anticipated support failed to materialise. On his own account, Warbeck raised a force in Cornwall and was declared “Richard IV”, but when he heard that Henry VII’s troops were on the way, he panicked and fled. Warbeck was captured, confessed – under duress – to being an imposter, and was executed in November 1499.

There was, evidently, some resemblance between Edward IV and Warbeck, and some people did believe he was Richard; others that he may have been Edward’s illegitimate son; although in many cases it was undoubtedly a matter of people choosing to believe. The majority opinion has always been that Warbeck was a “pretender” in more ways than one, the word at this time taking on the double meaning. Over time, his name became shorthand not just for a sham, but a sham in high circles.

During the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, Queen Anne applied the nickname “Perkin Warbeck” repeatedly and scornfully to her half-brother, who would of course go down in history as “the Old Pretender”. In The Sham Prince Expos’d, we see that the association was nothing new, but that the prince had been the target of such references from the time of his birth.

(There is, by the way, a whole body of literature about Perkin Warbeck, some for and some against. We shall probably stumble across it sooner or later.)

“Prince Prettyman”, meanwhile, is an allusion with both literary and political roots (which doubtless would have been a lot easier to dig up if Prince had never recorded a song called “Prettyman”, sigh): Prince Pretty-man is a character in  The Rehearsal, a play written by George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, in 1671. As a work, it is (like Tristram Shandy) “post-modern before there was modern”: it consists of a play within a play, with various bewildering half-scenes being rehearsed while the playwright defends them against criticisms from onlookers. The Rehearsal was aimed specifically at the heroic dramas of John Dryden, mocking both their high-flown morals and sentiments and their over-reliance on hoary devices like the overheard plot; and it was successful enough to put a temporary kink in Dryden’s dramatic career. (He revenged himself on Buckingham by writing him into Absalom And Achitophel, as Zimri.)

The Rehearsal contains any number of self-reflexive allusions, including the characters of “the two kings”, who were clearly meant to be Charles and James. Prince Pretty-man, meanwhile, is a figure of dubious parentage, found abandoned as a baby and raised by a fisherman, who is eventually accused of kidnapping him. Prince Pretty-man stays loyal to the man who raised him – “Bring in my father! Why d’ye keep him from me? Although a fisherman, he is my father” – and declares that he would rather be the son of a fisherman than a bastard.

The combination of a prince of ambiguous parentage and an explictly Stuart setting  must have made a reference to “our Prince Prettyman” irresistible to the anonymous author of The Sham Prince Expos’d. And as with the sneering allusion to “Perkin Warbeck”, “Prince Prettyman” subsequently became a commonly used, shorthand insult.

The nuncio reflects upon how carefully the birth was arranged, and in the face of formidable opposition:

Nuncio:  Did not our Roman Almanacks speak of the Queens being to be with Child, at least half a Year before ’twas said she was conceived? Did we not declare it must be a Prince of Wales? nay we could have told the very time and place too, but that we fear’d the Chamber would have been crowded with Hereticks, and that would have troubled her worse than her Labour: For we had Prognosticated before, that the presence of a Bishop, &c. would be very Obnoxious and Hurtful to the Birth of a Prince of Wales.

The conspirators then analyse what went wrong:

Nurse:  Why they say the Queen lay under such Circumstances at the time of the Report of her Conception, that not all the Stallions in Europe could have got her with Child; nay, they say neither the Irish Champion nor the Italian Count, no nor the strongest Backs in Covent Garden could have done it.
Nuncio:  Nay to speak the Truth between you and I, we chose a bad time, but we thought the very Notion of a Prince of Wales, would make such a noise, as would drown all Probability and Reason; besides, who thought People would have been so uncivil, to peep as it were under the Queens Cloaths, or Question the Word of a King.

I haven’t been able to determine who the “Irish Champion” or the “Italian Count” were, but no doubt (along with Father d’Adda himself) they were favourites in the running for the title of Surrogate Royal Father.

And here again we see one of the most persistent touches in this body of literature, the idea of the witnesses to the prince’s birth (who did in fact stay in the next room) going in for a closer look.

Interestingly, while this broadsheet sits comfortably within the body of anti-Catholic / anti-Stuart literature, it is not uncritical of the other side of the political fence. There is a suggestion here that the author, while in sympathy with the Whigs’ cause, deplored their tactics and how far they were prepared to stoop to achieve their end:

Nurse:  ‘Tis true, these Church of England Whigs are so Inquisitive (forsooth) that the Queen never went to piss, but they’d be casting of her Water.

Although the sheet is dated only “1688” (we note, by the way, that printer’s details are conspicuous by their absence), internal details place it as having been issued quite late in the year, when everyone was aware that William was on his way. The nurse, mourning the loss of the perks that accrued through her participation in the sham prince scheme, wonders if they might not try it on again – there is, we learn, already a rumour current that, The Queen’s big again with a Duke of York – but the nuncio regretfully scotches the idea:

Nuncio:  O Lord, do you think she’d be mad to lye in these troublesome times; besides the very noise of the Dutch Soldiers would spoil her Milk, as Thunder does Ale…
Nurse:  Well Sir, I wish I could see it, but all the Protestant Astrologers fore-tell that she’ll mis-carry: And O my Conscience, I believe they’re a sort of Conjurers, for they Calculate every thing to a Hairs breadth.
Nuncio:  Nay, nay, now you talk of Conjurers I can fit you: I am sure I and my Brethren foretold things so miraculous, that few or none could believe them, till they saw them.
Nurse:  Nor then neither, may be.

James, meanwhile, has ceased to be an object of reverence or fear, and instead has become one of mingled pity and contempt; not a part of the conspiracy, but merely the conspirators’ tool; and, like all Catholics, forced to choose between religion and honour:

Nuncio:  But tell me how the People think of the King in this matter?
Nurse:  Why they that are Moderate amongst them, think he was so very fond of the very Notion of having a Son in his Old Age, that in a little time he might have been (good man) deluded into the belief of it; as some have us’d themselves to tell a Lye so often, that at last they have been perswaded that it was true: Others think the Queen wore the Breeches so long, that His Majesty durst not venture to unbutton them, or try the truth of the Matter: But the more general, and more probable Opinion, is, that being led by a Zeal, inflamed chiefly by you and your Worshipful Society, he thought the merit of the Act, in relation to his Church, would ballance the Stain which the dismal Consequences thereof would certainly imprint on his Memory and Reputation.

The Catholic church, in short, ought to be ashamed of itself, not least for being willing to ruin the honour of a king in pursuit of its ends:

Nurse:  The thoughts of this, if you had any Grain of Conscience, Religion, or Honesty (which is very much dispair’d of in men of your Profession) should touch your Hearts, with either Shame or Repentance, for so black a design of Suppressing the Church, ruining the State, and murthering more honest and conscientious men, than all your boasted Universality can show…

12/12/2010

Thomas Shadwell, superstar

I wonder what odds the Las Vegas bookies were offering last January, about there being two unrelated blog-posts on Thomas Shadwell during the same calendar year?

I suppose that’s unfair. There’s no more reason why people shouldn’t write about Shadwell than that they should write about, oh, I don’t know –  Alexander Oldys? –  to whose legacy I have just contributed 3000 words. Still, I couldn’t suppress a surprised yelp of laughter when I stumbled across this post…nor a sigh of admiration as I explored more thoroughly the blog that contained it.

As you might recall, my own mention of Thomas Shadwell was a rumination over whether he might have been the author of The Perplex’d Prince. Professor Robin Bates, blog-master of Better Living Through Beowulf, chose to draw comparisons between Shadwell and today’s more irresponsible political commentators, making outrageous remarks merely to get themselves noticed. Both of us alluded to John Dryden’s attack on Shadwell in the satirical smackdown, Mac Flecknoe. Shadwell may at length have won the political war against Dryden, but in the artistic one he crashed to bloody, humiliating defeat:

      Now Empress Fame had published the renown,

      Of Sh——’s coronation through the town.
      Roused by report of fame, the nations meet,
      From near Bun-Hill, and distant Watling Street.

      No Persian Carpets spread th’imperial way,

      But scattered limbs of mangled poets lay:
      From dusty shops neglected authors come,
      Martyrs of Pies, and Relics of the Bum.
      Much Heywood, Shirly, Ogleby there lay,

      But loads of Sh—— almost choked the way.

As for Better Living Through Beowulf, it’s a heady mixture of literature, film, poetry, politics, religion and social issues. And if that doesn’t grab you, there’s tennis, ice hockey and (American) football. Off you go.

03/11/2010

The Western Wonder; or, O-Brazeel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27/10/2010

The Floating Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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