Posts tagged ‘Spiro Peterson’


Three stones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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