From the Short Parliament to the Restoration: April 1640 to May 1660
Events and Consequences
The middle decades of the century witnessed extraordinary developments in English literary history. In terms of achievement, of works that figure prominently in the literary canon, however that may be defined or understood, the output is relatively modest. This is the age of Milton’s prose, not his major poetry. Marvell’s early poetry, though plainly much read and appreciated now, was mostly unpublished and unknown to a wider readership around the time of its composition. For obvious reasons, few new plays were written and the masque almost disappeared as a cultural form, although aristocratic entertainments were sometimes presented to the itinerant royal courts. Some of the most remarkable publications belong to the minor genres on the margins of what is traditionally regarded as literature, while the most rewarding examples of high literary culture, the volumes of poetry by Richard Lovelace, Abraham Cowley, Robert Herrick and Richard Crashaw, invite from the modern reader disadvantageous comparison with John Donne, Ben Jonson and George Herbert, their acknowledged precursors. Yet these are decades of abiding fascination for the literary historian. The structure of literary production and consumption changed more rapidly than at any other time in early modern England. In these decades, old patronage systems disintegrated and new emerged. The relative status of performance, manuscript circulation and print publication was radically — and irreversibly — realigned. News media arrived at a sort of maturity. New genres, especially the many forms of pamphleteering, emerged with astonishing rapidity and frequency, others which had developed in a less troubled age were adapted to changed circumstances and imperatives, and creative writing found a fresh and much closer engagement with the domain of politics, redefining notions of what was possible or appropriate for the writer to attempt.
Such changes were in a complex relationship with contemporary conflicts and crises in the state. The concerns of the literary historian are much less with the origins of such discord than with its cultural consequences, but some engagement with the events, especially of high politics, is necessary to establish the larger ideological landscape, to understand the principal shifts in the circumstances of literary production, and to understand the issues that so frequently make up the subject matter of the writing we shall consider.
Charles I’s resort to the military option to reduce the recalcitrance of his Scottish kingdom precipitated the end of the personal rule. This was ’the first occasion since 1323 when England had gone to war without a Parliament’ (Russell 1995: 82). Had the campaign, known now as the First Bishops’ War, gone well for the king, his favoured style of government could perhaps have been continued. But military failure and the need to pay for his English army and to buy off the Scottish force raised to oppose it led to the calling of the Short Parliament, the failure of which to grant the necessary supply which he desperately sought seemed to repeat the impasses of the parliaments of the 1620s, with his opponents deferring consideration of the fiscal issues till matters of governance and religion had been addressed. The Short Parliament soon showed the capacity of godly opponents of the king, led by John Pym, to organize the business of the lower house. It was dissolved after three weeks, though the renewed military initiative against the Scots, the Second Bishops’ War, which ended in the minor military disaster of the battle of Newburn and the subsequent Scottish occupation of Newcastle, brought Charles back to parliamentary government: the Long Parliament opened in November 1640 with the king’s position significantly weakened. As Conrad Russell sagely observes:
To go to war in the face of a Parliament and half the Council is a decision which only success can justify, and success had not come. Such defeats demanded scapegoats…. Kings who lost quite so discreditably could expect to have their power reduced, and Newburn … meant that the King who lost it could never hope to recover all the power he had had before. Kings who had proved themselves so incapable tended to be hedged around with restrictions. (1995: 146)
Charles never really appreciated the extremity his boldness had led him to, and the road to civil war was marked by stratagems to regain the sort of control he had enjoyed during the personal rule, while a parliament for the most part managed and controlled by his opponents worked inexorably against his closest supporters. William Laud and Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, his most important political supporters, were impeached and the latter executed in May 1641. An abortive coup, the so-called ’Army Plot’, to free Strafford and bring parliament to heel, was in part orchestrated by Sir John Suckling, who fled to exile. When later in 1641 sections of the indigenous Irish population rose against Scottish and English settlers, neither king nor parliament had a practical response, though the accounts of atrocities against fellow Protestants both outraged English opinion and fed the growing mood of anti-Catholic sentiment. Charles gradually lost control of London. He withdrew to York, and eventually, in August 1642, raised an army to displace parliament. Once more he failed.
The fortunes of war determined the remaining events of the 1640s. After the stalemate of Edgehill, the royalist army marched on London, though turned back when confronted by the trained bands at Turnham Green; Milton has a curious sonnet on the event (’When the assault was intended to the City’; Milton 1997: 288—9). Marston Moor (1644) destroyed the king’s northern army under William Cavendish, Marquis (and later Duke) of Newcastle, quondam gentleman dramatist and poet and Ben Jonson’s old patron. He left for exile, during which he subsequently met and married Margaret, the future Duchess of Newcastle. Naseby (1645), the decisive battle, left Charles without a major army, while marking the emergence of the reformed parliamentary force, the New Model Army, as ultimately the real power in the land, under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, seconded by Oliver Cromwell; both in turn were to be Marvell’s patrons. Meanwhile, Edmund Waller, who had remained in a parliament largely deserted by the king’s supporters, apparently devised ’the Waller Plot’, a failed coup d’état, from which he was lucky to be released into exile with his life.
Parliament fell into conflict with its army once the king was beaten. In late 1648, that army, now controlled by an officer corps dominated by Cromwell, marched on London and removed those members inimical to its designs in a bloodless coup (’Pride’s Purge’, so called after the colonel who effected the task). Charles I had surrendered to the Scottish forces in England, but he had been handed over to the English parliament. The army had taken him into its own custody, and parliament, once purged of those who would resist the project, brought him to trial and, in January 1649, to execution.
Thereafter, England was a republic (though Charles II had been immediately declared king by his supporters). Power nominally rested with the Rump Parliament, that is, the part of the Long Parliament still sitting, though this body was eventually dismissed in April 1653. From the end of that year, Cromwell, as ’Lord Protector’, ruled as a sort of constitutional monarch, though the constitutional framework itself remained unsettled and there were few real checks on his power. David Scott memorably concludes: ’For sheer spectacle and violence there are few decades in British or Irish history to rival the 1640s’ (2003: 311). The 1650s were quieter. Hostilities had broken out again in the late 1640s, and for a while Stuart hopes were invested in Irish and Scottish support for the crown. By 1649, Cromwell’s expeditionary force had effectively crushed the former; the storming of Drogheda and Wexford (1649) and subsequent massacres proved pivotal, though the final settlement took a little longer. Through a remarkable series of battles, Preston (1648), Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651), he crushed Scottish opposition. Yet at his death in 1658 no real ordered constitution had been settled and the improbable stratagem of appointing his son Richard in succession soon foundered. Divisions within the New Model Army saw the emergence of George Monck, military commander in Scotland, as a rather enigmatic strong man, and his negotiations with the exiled Charles II ushered in the Restoration.
The war intensely and almost pervasively touched the English propertied classes. Parliament was constrained to raise revenue through a necessarily ruthless fiscal policy. John Morrill helpfully summarizes the burdens imposed:
[T]he conflict … imposed unparalleled fiscal burdens and hardships…. There is no counting the cost of the civil war. The records are too patchy and ambiguous. But some sense of the scale can be offered. Kent was paying more in assessments every month by 1645—6 than it had paid in any one year for ship money; the Weekly Assessment Ordinance of February 1643 was equivalent to a parliamentary subsidy every fortnight; the treasurer of the Eastern Association handled in 1644 a sum equivalent to the annual revenue of the Crown before the war…. The assessment was inexorable. It ground on, year in, year out. Arrears were never written off. (1976: 84—5)
Impositions were compounded through the practice of ’free quarter’, the billeting of soldiers on private householders, an unpleasant and intrusive violation of property rights, and often made worse by the soldierly practice of stealing from one’s host (ibid.: 86). Royalist activists faced further problems. Ideologically unacceptable academics, like Abraham Cowley and Richard Crashaw, were purged from the universities. Many priests, like Herrick, were ejected from their livings. Those who were in arms for the king faced exile, imprisonment, occasionally execution, massive fines, the confiscation of all their property or a combination of these penalties, like Waller, or Suckling, or William Davenant, or Richard Lovelace (Hardacre 1956). Moreover, the civil wars brought to England a taste of the horrors that had stalked central Europe since 1618. Besides actual casualties among those in arms, like William Lawes the composer, and the much admired Lord Falkland, a widely influential patron of scholars and writers once celebrated by Ben Jonson, there were inevitable griefs and anxieties about friends and families. Lovelace’s younger brother died at the siege of Carmarthen. Henry Vaughan’s brother was also killed in the wars. In 1643, Milton’s father and his royalist brother were in Reading when it fell to parliament, while the king’s army stood between him and his young bride (Parker 1996: II, 234). Though neutralism or an indifference to all sides may have characterized many Englishmen’s perspective on the mid-century conflicts (Morrill 1976: 97—8), nearly all the writers we shall consider in this chapter were in those years committed and partisan, adding a deep engagement, a profound concern for the fate of one’s own party, to the concerns and miseries felt more widely by their countrymen. Generally, they were to be found among the ’militant minorities [who] did believe that there were issues worth fighting for’ (Morrill 1993: 8), even when they didn’t actually do the fighting themselves.
Chapter 4 considered the characteristics of the Church of England under Archbishop Laud. The reaction to Laudian ceremonialism constituted a principal motivation among those who in 1640—2 and beyond opposed the king. In Morrill’s influential formula, ’The English civil war was not the first European revolution: it was the last of the Wars of Religion’ (Morrill 1993: 68). But the nature of that conflict was more complex than most continental analogues. Certainly, a broad spectrum of godly opinion, to whom the term ’Puritan’ may appropriately but rather unfashionably be applied, believed that at the very least Laud’s innovations needed to be reversed. Within parliament and in the country more widely a very significant group advocated a more sweeping reform, no less than a second Reformation, which would refashion the Church of England on Presbyterian, rather than Episcopalian, lines, bringing it into approximate conformity with the Scottish Kirk and the model of the Genevan Church. Militant Presbyterianism was Janus-faced, offering a radical critique of prelacy while looking to reduce more radical groups to conformity with a reformed national church. Congregational independency offered an alternative model, and by 1643 its advocates were defending a church government that allowed considerable diversity of doctrine and discipline between congregations (see, for example, Goodwin et al. 1643)). Such diversity, on the Presbyterian account, provided the necessary conditions for the development of radical sects holding heterodox and indeed heretical beliefs. In the mid-1640s, controlling these groups became an obsession of the Presbyterian opinion that prevailed within the unpurged Long Parliament, though the objective proved unrealisable. Thus, increasingly, radical groups prospered. Baptists, themselves suspect, developed a kind of radical Arminian wing, the General Baptists, who argued that salvation stood open to all. Antinomianism, the rather sensational and potentially subversive notion that those who have the spirit of God within them are unbounded by the Ten Commandments, animated several sects, most interestingly that rather shadowy grouping the Ranters, though it is present, too, in early Quakerism. Radical religion was intertwined with radical politics. Gerrard Winstanley’s Digger movement was founded on a singularly bold interpretation of millenarianism. The most significant development in the political realm originated in the radicalization of some elements of the New Model Army, in association with primarily metropolitan confrères, particularly among apprentices and petty masters. These, the Levellers were, in H. N. Brailsford’s telling phrase, ’the first Englishmen to conceive the idea of a political party as a secular organisation, whose affairs were managed on a democratic model … the first party in the modern world to call for a secular republic’ (1983: 550). Their conflict with the emerging Cromwellian ascendancy at once allowed the latter to seem a bulwark against anarchy and produced controversial writing of an abiding fascination. The political and religious landscape of the 1630s had been much simpler.
The events shaped both the circumstances of literary production and its subject matter. The king’s preoccupations rendered inappropriate and impractical the seasonal culture of the royal court. Neither he nor Henrietta Maria danced masques after 1640. Pressing affairs took him far from the royal palaces of the Thames valley, once more into the field against the Scots, into Scotland itself for a relatively long sojourn in Edinburgh, and, as relations with the Long Parliament deteriorated, to York and eventually to Oxford, which became in effect his seat of government through the first civil war. The larger cultural framework, that astonishing association of architecture, painting, stage design, music and the literary arts, substantially fell apart. Carew died of natural causes in 1640 or thereabouts, Van Dyck in 1641, Suckling, perhaps by his own hand, in 1641 or 1642, William Lawes by a sniper’s shot in 1645. But more telling than individual deaths was the systemic disruption occasioned by geographical displacement and dispersal. The court culture of the 1630s had at its core the royal pair surrounded by a coterie of aristocratic families, some of whom sided with parliament or sought a kind of safe neutrality; men who had danced masques with the king took up arms against him. The royal court reached a low point of depletion in its early days in York, where Charles’s entourage was reduced to ’39 gentlemen and 17 guards’ (Russell 1995: 495). In the custody of the New Model Army his household was reduced to a mere handful. A literary culture of performance and the coterie circulation of manuscripts among tight groups of friends and associates could not survive this sort of disturbance. Certainly, in a fragmentary fashion royalist coteries did re-form. While Oxford held the royal court, it held, too, a significant group of royalist writers, reinforced by scholars fleeing from Cambridge before or shortly after it fell into parliamentary hands and felt the force of an academic purge: Oxford’s turn came later. Smaller groupings emerged, sometimes perhaps little more than discrete acts of patronage. Thus, Herrick and Mildmay Fane may have made up a coterie, as did Richard Lovelace and Charles Cotton, though perhaps in each case just a coterie of two. However, in the eclipse of the royal cause, a more extensive though less closely integrated network developed around Henry Lawes, who had stabilized his fortunes as a teacher of music and an early promoter of musical concerts of a more or less public nature (Philips 1990: 5—6). Though the manuscript circulation of creative writing does not disappear, certainly the circumstances favoured a movement towards a print culture. So, too, did the closure of the theatres in 1642 (see ’Mid-Century Drama’, below).
Throughout the early part of the seventeenth century the demand for both plays and poetry in print exceeded supply. In the case of the former, plays were almost always the intellectual property of acting companies, and releasing them to the press while they still had a life and value within their repertoires made poor business sense. Once the companies had in effect been put out of business, the case was altered. Again, a court poet, writing within a secure context of patronage and esteem, had little reason to share with a larger public his poems of compliment addressed to the sources of advancement within that circle. The courtly diaspora of the early 1640s further shifted the balance in favour of publication. Posthumous publication of poetry had long been a convention, as in the case of Donne and Herbert. We have noted already the political resonance given to the posthumous appearance of the works of Carew and Suckling (see above, chapter 4). Lifetime publication became more customary. Most of the more significant poets writing in the 1640s and 1650s appeared in printed volumes of their collected verse during that period: Katherine Philips and Andrew Marvell, probably for very different motives, were the major exceptions.
The pressure of demand and the freeing up, however expensively in terms of a larger cultural audit, of supply would, by themselves, have produced a shift in the production and distribution of literature towards the medium of print. But one bookseller, Humphrey Moseley, stood out as both the beneficiary and finest exponent of the changed circumstances of literary production (see Reed 1927—30, on which this account largely depends). Moseley acquired the rights to many of the plays of the early Stuart period, sometimes from the acting companies, sometimes from other stationers who had already published them, among them works by Davenant, Beaumont and Fletcher, Jonson, Massinger, Middleton, Shirley and Webster. His poetry list was as impressive. As a poem ’To the Stationer’, prefixed to his 1651 edition of William Cartwright, observes, it included ’melting CAREW… WALLER’S Muse … DAVENANT… Pastor Fido (cloath’d by FANSHAW’s Pen) … hopefull STANLEY…learned CRASHAW… rare CARTWRIGHT… CLEVELAND, all his gallant lines … [and] COWLEY’ (ibid.: 65—6): the poet seemed to run out of epithets by the end.
A notable omission was Milton, whose first collection of verse Moseley had published in 1645. Moseley’s own ideological orientation was royalist, evidenced both by occasional comments in his prefatory material, in the predominance of royalists in his list, and in the evident patronage he extended to James Howell, a loyal supporter of the king and in the 1640s a long-term prisoner in the Fleet, whose works he assiduously published. By 1651 the author of Eikonoklastes could scarcely have found favour with an aficionado of the verse of Cleveland and Cartwright. Moseley was at the cutting edge of English publishing. He often asserts that he has sought out true copy, and generally seems to have done so. Currently, there is some movement in editing early modern texts away from early printed versions towards manuscript sources. Moseley, though, did much to establish the primary texts of very many early modern authors for generations of readers, and, as Nigel Smith perceptively notes, by establishing the canons of pre-war dramatists, he had ’a profound impact upon the development of the drama and drama criticism, once the theatres were again opened after the Restoration’ (2002: 718). He was expert not only in securing copy but also in marketing his publications. Numerous printed issues of his backlists are extant, usually bound in with his own publications. Yet they give us some indication of the relative enthusiasm for some high literature at that time: Milton’s Poems, published probably in a print run of no more than a thousand and quite possibly considerably less than that, had not sold out in the mid-1650s. Even in print, this was substantially an elite culture.
Alongside the genres of that high culture occurred a rapid overall expansion in the output of the press, though quantification remains problematic, estimates do vary, and the reasons for that growth remain controversial. Steven Zwicker, following the work of Maureen Bell and John Barnard (1992, 1998), summarizes the statistics thus:
If we track London imprints through the 1620s, the approximate number of individual titles for any given year stays well below 500; 1630 itself is marked by over 500 imprints, and through the 1630s these numbers remain above 400. Then in 1640 the number reaches 800; in 1641 there are over 2,500 imprints, and in 1642 the number reaches 4,000. From that high, the numbers begin to drop: 2,000 in 1643, 1,300 in 1644, down to a low for the decade of 900 in 1645 and then above 1,000 for each year through the rest of the decade. (2002: 189)
In a command economy in times of crisis, such as the Soviet Union in manufacturing tanks in 1941—2, or in very new technologies, such as some aspects of electronic engineering in our own time, a threefold increase, followed the next year by a twofold increase, is easily explicable. In this case, however, the technology was mature and was delivered, for the most part, by under-capitalized petty masters controlling small workshops or retail outlets in a fairly competitive environment. So how may the figures be explained? Quite probably, the total output of print did not expand at the same rate as the total number of separate titles; that is, publications may well have become, on average, shorter. Some genres tend to be shorter than others, and the kinds of news-related or controversial genres are among the shorter and are much in evidence in 1640—2 (see Corns 1986). In particular, 1642 was a news-hungry year, with much to report. But in the late 1630s there was certainly some surplus capacity, in the form of a pool of unemployed journeymen-printers, who had been recognized in the Star Chamber Decree of 1637 as the likeliest agencies for ’secret printing in corners’ (clauses 20 and 21; the decree and the 1643 Licensing Order are helpfully reprinted in Milton 1953—82: II, 793—9). Moreover, in an industry which is labour-intensive, output can often be increased simply by working longer. Politically diverse contemporary accounts remarked on the heightened levels of press activity. The preface to the 1643 Licensing Order speaks specifically of those who have set up ’sundry private Printing Presses … to print, vend, publish and disperse Books, pamphlets and papers in such multitudes, that no industry could be sufficient to discover, to bring to punishment, all the severall abounding delinquents’ (ibid.: II, 797).
The final years of the personal rule saw a sustained attempt to tighten up press control, principally through the agency of the Star Chamber court, and on its abolition in July 1641 the press was left ’virtually without legal regulation’ (ibid.: II, 160). Scholarly opinion varies widely on how significant this interruption in censorship was for the sudden increase in the number of titles printed. There had been and there continued to be other legal frameworks under which authors and their publishers could be controlled, often offering sharper sentencing options than either the Star Chamber decree or the parliamentary orders that superseded it. The effect of legislative measures depended on enforcement and compliance, and the developing crises of 1640—2 greatly militated against their success. Indeed, between the abolition of the Star Chamber and the new licensing order, Long Parliament had tinkered with a number of other stopgap measures, and, legally if not in effect, press controls had remained in place (ibid.: II, 160—1). D. F. McKenzie, disputing the ’undue emphasis on censorship as a constraint on printing before the abolition of the Court of Star Chamber… and an equally misplaced celebration of the trade’s new-found but short-lived freeedom from licensing’, may well be right in his conclusion that ’fear of the courts’ played little part in the changes in production between the 1630s and the very early 1640s (McKenzie 2002). Most certainly, such constraint played little part in the publication of the higher literary genres, irrespective of their ideological orientation, over the mid-century decades. Yet successive governments all subscribed to the view that the press could be controlled through licensing. Hence, not only the order of 1643, but further orders in 1647, 1648, 1649, 1653 and 1655. These enjoyed rather mixed success. Only supporters of the 1643 measure seem to have observed its precise requirements; the people it aimed to control openly flouted it (Corns 1986). The news press was sometimes temporarily reined in, as, for example, in 1649 (Nelson and Seccombe 2002: 541), and the Cromwellian control of the press worked quite ruthlessly. But different genres received different treatment. Though there is evidence that Richard Lovelace’s first Lucasta was held up in the press, John Cleveland’s works went through multiple editions.
A singularly rich and surprisingly diverse corpus of verse was produced by writers loyal to the king in the mid-century decades. A singularly rich critical response has latterly developed. (See especially Miner 1971; Anselment 1988; Potter 1989; Loxley 1997; Wilcher 2001; there are shrewd discussions also in Hammond 1990 and Smith 1994.) The poets held in common a perspective on the events which shaped the royalist destiny over that period. For them, the personal rule was a lost paradise of peace and culture; the Long Parliament was a nest of rebellious sectaries, and Presbyterians were scarcely to be distinguished from the wilder heretics whose success was premised on the destruction of the episcopal government of the Church of England; the trial and execution of Strafford was a martyrdom and the betrayal of a heroic and deserted figure by men who should have shared his resolution; the first civil war was a rebellion and an act of treason; the military disasters of the mid-1640s were a tragedy inexplicable in terms of a divine providence, producing a terrible waste both of life and property; the death of the king was murder, treason and a deeply perplexing event; and the second civil war, at least till the battle of Worcester, a time of anxious hope. After 1653, as the Rump was displaced by the Protectorate and Cromwell emerged as a stabilizing figure safeguarding the realm against extremists, that royalist consensus fragmented.
Several themes recurred. There was a nostalgic invocation of life before the war. The failure of providence was met with bewilderment. The metaphorical death of Caroline England and the literal death of the king were treated with the familiar emotions of mourning: denial, anger, grief and an eventual resignation. Coping strategies included celebrations of libertine eroticism and political intransigence and a revaluation of the contemplative life, of retreat and retirement, and of friendship. Few poets manifested all of these concerns, but most engaged with several.
Some of these issues are more complex in their construction than others and require further comment. The evocation of nostalgia for the old regime is shaped by the multiple timescales of composition, early response and interpretation and eventual publication and, with it, wider circulation and appreciation. The collected poems of Suckling and Carew, reprinted through the 1640s and 1650s, reflected the court society about which and for which they were written, though in a context in which the court was dispersed and the king was displaced or, by the time of later editions, dead. Herrick’s Noble Numbers, the shorter collection of religious verse that makes up a double volume with his Hesperides, thus presented in print ’To God: an Anthem, sung in the Chappell at White-Hall, before the King’, ’A Christmas Caroll, sung to the King in the Presence [that is, the royal presence chamber] at Whitehall’, and ’The New-yeeres Gift, or Circumcision Song, sung to the King in the Presence at White-hall’ (1 January is the Feast of the Circumcision). For those hearing them performed in the 1630s, they would have seemed, straightforwardly, elegant components of sacred song delivered no doubt by members of the finest ensemble in England. In the 1640s, the music was silenced, and the printed record of 1648 memorialized a lost culture and a displaced value system.
Laudian ceremonialism had especially encouraged celebration of the major feasts of the liturgical year, an emphasis reflected by Anglican poets of the seventeenth century (Lake 1993:175; Corns 2001b: 215—17). Herrick, in publishing his poems, reasserted those priorities in the context of their political eclipse: Laud had been executed in 1645, episcopalian government was no longer functional and its ministers had been expelled, among them Herrick himself, driven from his Devonshire living in 1647. Moreover, the celebration of the special days of the liturgical year had been explicitly banned under the parliamentary ordinance of June 1647 ’for Abolishing of Festivals’, under which had been forbidden ’the Feasts of the Nativity of Christ, Easter and Whitsuntide, and other Festivals commonly called Holy-Dayes … heretofore superstitiously used and observ’d’ (Firth and Rait 1911: I, 580; Corns 1992: 104—7). Indeed, in 1647 itself, there were widespread disturbances as local communities resisted the intended ban. In Canterbury, 3,000 militia were needed to restore order (Gardiner 1889: III, 281—2; Underdown 1985: 260—1). Herrick has also about a dozen poems, charming evocations of the traditional rites of Christmas as observed in rural England, which again, by 1648, were describing time-honoured practices under immediate threat, though the composition, which seems premised on the poet speaking to members of his own rural household, may well have been much earlier: ’Come, bring with a noise, / My merrie merrie boyes, / The Christmas Log to the firing’ (’Ceremonies for Christmas’, ll.1—3; Herrick 1956: 263).
Nostalgia can be a posture of defiance and well as mourning. As Herrick puts it:
But if that golden Age wo’d come again,
And Charles here Rule, as he before did Raign;
If smooth and unperplext the Seasons were,
As when the Sweet Maria lived here:
I sho’d delight to have my Curles halfe drown’d
In Tyrian Dewes, and Head with Roses crown’d.
(’The bad season makes the Poet sad’, ll.8—11; ibid.: 214)
He writes, of course, before the regicide. Sometimes, re-reading a poem in changed circumstances must have produced a simpler sort of poignancy, even when the time-lag is relatively short. Herrick, for example, has occasional poems welcoming positive developments in the civil wars, such as the king’s capture of Leicester in May 1645, a fortnight before the disaster of Naseby: ’This Day is Yours Great CHARLES! and in this War / Your Fate, and Ours, alike Victorious are./ … / Fortune is now Your Captive … ’ (’TO THE KING, Upon his taking of Leicester, ll.1—2, 5; ibid.: 271). I am uncertain how such a poem would have been read in 1648, on publication, let alone in 1649. Perhaps a curious honesty, an impulse to recognize how aspiration and reality had differed, prompted Herrick to retain it in the collection. Royalism, in its eclipse, was sometimes a deeply conflicted ideology.
English love poetry since Donne had developed the significant libertine component already present in the epyllia of Marlowe and Shakespeare. Donne’s elegies, considered in chapter 2, demonstrated how high art could assimilate the sometimes witty depiction of human sexuality, and his influence was discernible in the chaste (but deeply eroticized) world of Charles and Henrietta Maria. Thus, Carew’s reverie, ’A Rapture’, mock-heroically described in some detail the docking of ’my tall Pine’ in ’Loves channell’, where it may ’unlade her fraight’ (ll.85—90; Carew 1964: 51). The libertine component appeared more strongly in Suckling, who depicted a society not only of romantic transactions between equals but more mercenary relationships between demi-mondaines and gallants: ’I offered Forty crowns / To lie with her a night or so’ (’Proferred Love Rejected’, ll.2—3; Suckling 1971a: 54—5). In the 1640s, this element became both politicized and integrated in the production of an image of the cavalier that engaged with the hostile stereotyping of the parliamentarian press.
A powerful body of opinion within the broad spectrum of English Puritanism had for long advocated a draconian strengthening of the legislative measures available against extra-marital sexuality. Indeed, as if to demonstrate its puritanical bona fides to those solid Presbyterians and the like who may have felt unrepresented since Pride’s Purge, the Rump Parliament included among its earliest legislation an ordinance, which ’epitomized the triumph of Puritanism in England’, providing for execution for adultery and three months in gaol for fornication (though, in the event, penalties of such severity were rarely exacted) (Thomas 1978: 257—82; Corns 1992: 75—6). Royalist poetry abounds in depictions of illicit liaisons, seductions, deflorations, fetishism, the depiction of sexual acts and occasionally auto-eroticism. Lovelace followed closely on Suckling’s model in poems like ’La Bella Bona Roba’: ’I cannot tell who loves the Skeleton / Of a poor Marmoset, nought but boan, boan [that is, bone]. / Give me a nakednesse with her cloath’s on’ (Lovelace 1930: 96), or again, in ’The faire Begger’, where in the context of offering charity for sexual favours the poetlover with mannered indecency proposes:
Thou shalt be cloath’d above all prise,
If thou wilt promise me imbrac’t;
Wee’l ransack neither Chest nor Shelfe,
I’ll cover thee with mine owne selfe.
(Lovelace 1930: 99)
’Her Muffe’ has him anticipating an intrusive gaze at his mistress’s genitalia: ’But I … still contemplate must the hidden Muffe’ (ibid.: 129; for a discussion, see Hammond 1985: 228—9 and Corns 1992: 248). Lovelace’s sometime patron, Charles Cotton the younger, represented himself as drawn to a woman cross-dressed as a man, perceptively concluding, since he was aroused by the figure and since he loathed ’the foul Italian sin’ of homosexuality, it must have been a woman’s, with ’a pair of thighs, / ’Twixt whose Iv’ry Columns is / Th’Ebon folding door to bliss’ (’Amoret in Masquerade’, ll.49—51; Cotton 1958: 213). ’Ebon’, that is, ebony, may seem a curious word, though it was sometimes used erroneously for ivory (OED, s.v. ’Ebon’ 4). Herrick recurrently represented himself as peering at bits of female anatomy and describing them with precision. Thus, Julia’s leg is ’as white and hair-less as an egge’ (’Her Legs’, l.2; Herrick 1956: 139); Anthea’s ’Hands, and thighs, and legs, are all / Richly Aromaticall’ (’Love perfumes all parts’, ll.5—6; ibid.: 59); Dianeme’s mons Veneris is ’that Hill (where smiling Love doth sit) / Having a living Fountain under it’ (’To Dianeme’, ll.3—4; ibid.: 154); and each of Julia’s nipples presents itself like ’A Strawberry shewes halfe drown’d in Creame’ (’Upon the Nipples of Julia’s Breast’, l.6; ibid.: 164).
Such ludic (and, let it be said, intermittently puerile) verse displayed an indifference to the victories of Puritanism and the legislation that followed them, declaring that royalists unrelentingly, unashamedly and irredeemably remained committed to the pursuit and celebration of carnality. It showed, too, a disdainful indifference to the hostile stereotyping of the parliamentarian press, which, since very early in the 1640s had represented ’cavaliers’ as pox-ridden rakehells and rapists, much handicapped by ’the French troubled stradling of the legges’, and insatiable even after 20 whores (Corns 1992: 3—5, drawing on parliamentary pamphlets of the early 1640s).
But erotic poetry carried another component of royalist ideology. The Caroline court had, in its depiction of the royal pair, its own love story. In the 1640s, royalist poets often, in a spirit of nostalgia, remark upon the separation of Charles and Henrietta Maria, as in Herrick’s ’The bad season’, discussed above, or Tom Weaver’s more militant aspiration, ’May Charles and she [Henrietta Maria] meet, / And tread under feet / Both Anabaptist and Independent’ (1654: 12). The topoi of separation had been brilliantly explored by Donne, but they return in a military variant; when the cavalier leaves his mistress, he does so pressed by the exigencies of war, loyalty and honour. Weaver, whose verse often reads like a rough draft of Lovelace’s, has ’A Dialogue Betwixt a Cavalier and a Lady, Upon Occasion of a sudden Alarm in the night’, in which the former is called from bed by a trumpet call just on the point of deflowering his mistress. She urges him, ’dispatch my pain, / Leave not a Maiden-head half slain’, but he defers consummation: ’Great Honour, bids me use my might, / For Reputation first, and then delight’ (ibid.: 54—5). Lovelace gave definitive expression to the politicizing of erotic separation in ’To Lucasta, Going to the Warres’: ’I could not love thee (deare) so much, / Lov’d I not Honour more’ (Lovelace 1930: 18). Stoic resolution in the face of adversity added a further theme, and the topos of imprisonment allowed its purest statement, that one is freer in prison and still committed to the king’s cause than at liberty and collaborating with the enemy. Weaver put it simply: ’I am no captive, I, I find, / My soul still free and unconfin’d’ (Weaver 1654: 6). Again, definitively, Lovelace eroticized the topos:
When Love with unconfined wings
Hovers within my Gates;
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at the Grates:
When I lye tangled in her haire,
And fettered to her eye;
The Gods that wanton in the Aire,
Know no such Liberty.
Stone Walls doe not a Prison make,
Nor I’ron bars a Cage;
Mindes innocent and quiet take
That for an Hermitage;
If I have freedome in my Love,
And in my soule am free;
Angels alone that sore above,
Injoy such Liberty.
(Lovelace 1930: 78—9)
Conditions for confinement of aristocratic and higher-gentry cavaliers compared favourably with those experienced by some parliamentarians in royalist hands.
Captured royalists were obliged to promise, as part of the terms of release, not to bear arms against parliament. Those who did so, in the second civil war, sometimes received exemplary punishment. There were numerous ill-conceived conspiracies, though after the battle of Worcester military opposition to the Cromwellian ascendancy was little more than a defiant gesture (Underdown 1960). That powerlessness set the context for another complex theme of royalist poetry: retirement. The opposition between the contemplative and the active life is ancient, and while the advantages of both had been rehearsed, the former plainly lacks the possibilities for civic virtue of the latter. Horace, after all, carefully opposed the joys of his Sabine farm with a depiction of the responsibilities and sacrifices demanded of a citizen of Augustan Rome. As James Loxley succinctly puts it: ’The classical and Renaissance constructions of retirement or otium, which provided the imagined space for all such cavalier engagements, were not as uniformly celebratory as has sometimes been assumed’ (1997: 202). Yet in purely practical terms, retirement to a country estate must have seemed bliss compared with incarceration (even with visits from Althea) or the hardships of exile, the sudden poverty, the poor food, the damp and verminous beds, the bone-jarring journeys detailed in the autobiography of Ann, Lady Fanshawe, the wife of Sir Richard (Loftis 1979: 101—92). Moreover, changing sides was an easy option, and especially after 1649 when republican governments sought to minimize opposition through a process of incorporation. Lady Fanshawe recorded that, even after her husband had been captured in arms for the new king at the battle of Worcester, ’Generall Cromwell … would have bought him off to his servise upon any termes’ (ibid.: 135). As we shall see, ideological reconciliation to the new order proved increasingly easy and frequent after the protectorate was established. Simply declining to come over constituted an oppositional act. Lady Halkett, a diehard and active royalist, noted a pertinent anecdote from Scotland in the aftermath of the battle of Dunbar, about her first encounter with her future husband:
I wentt … to aske one of my Lord D[unfermline]’s servantts what gentlemen that was with his lord, who told mee itt was Sir James Halkett. I said, ’If hee had nott come with your Lord, I would nott have beene so civill as I am to him, because hee hath a sword aboutt him’; for all the nobility and gentry had that marke of slavery upon them that none had liberty to weare a sword, only such as served there interest and disowned the King, which made mee hate to see a Scotch man with a sword. (Ibid.: 65)
In the event, Halkett was carrying only a stick ’that stucke outt like a sword, for hee was too honest a gentleman to weare one now’, and the writer in due course married him. The symbolism, however, is deeply suggestive: pacifism betokens political purity, a refusal to change sides. The text that ends Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler, ’Study to be quiet, I Thes. 4.11.’, is explicitly linked to the retention of virtue by those who ’dare trust in [God’s] providence, and be quiet, and go a Angling’ (Walton 1983: 371; the text was added to the second edition of 1655). A cluster of recurrent concerns marked the royalist tradition during the eclipse of the Stuart monarchy: country living; a shared cultural life founded on a sometimes bibulous hospitality and the appreciation of poetry, as depicted paradigmatically in Herrick’s ’To live merrily, and to trust to Good Verses’ (1956: 80—1); and a revaluation upwards of friendship and personal loyalty as more formal systems of dependency and patronage collapsed.
Yet despite having so much in common in terms of ideology and symbolic structures, royalist poets manifested a considerable diversity of emphasis and technique. Nearly all Robert Herrick’s extant verse was published, probably early in 1648 (Corns 1992: 307—8), in the double volume Hesperides: or, The Works both Humane & Divine of Robert Herrick Esq., in which the first part, a collection of 1,130 almost entirely secular poems, are followed by the second, 273 divine poems, which has its own title page, His Noble Numbers, or, His Pious Pieces. John Williams and Francis Eglesfield, not Humphrey Moseley, were the booksellers. Neither was particularly energetic, seemingly registering no other titles in 1647 and 1648, but their shop sign, ’the Crown and Marygold’ (the latter a familiar emblem of Henrietta Maria: see Corns 1998: 64), like the large printer’s ornament of a royal crown on the title page, suggest their royalist affiliation. The collection is a huge retrospective, with poems that are datable stretching from the 1610s down to August 1647. Yet Herrick evidently excluded quite a few items since a number of poems extant in song settings are missing (Schleiner 1976: 77—8), and the volume we have has been shaped to reflect, in a balanced way, current anxieties and the recollection of happier times, the merits of resistance in arms and perseverance in retirement, and secular joys and values and the consolations of divine meditation. The cultural triumphs of the Caroline court in the personal rule figure at least as prominently as the disasters of the mid-1640s, with some suggestion that what has been may return again:
What though the Heaven be lowering now,
And look with a contracted brow?
We shall discover, by and by,
A Repurgation of the Skie:
And when those clouds away are driven,
Then will appeare a cheerfull Heaven.
(’Hope well and Have well: or, Faire after Foule weather’; Herrick 1956: 188)
Technically, Herrick owed much to Carew and Jonson, the former for his lyricism, his tractability to musical setting, the latter for a hard-edged neoclassicism in imitation, particularly, of Martial, though he drew too on the topoi of Donne’s love poetry. Hence his range stretches from what is now perhaps the best-known song of the early seventeenth century, ’Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may / Old Time is still a flying’ (’To the Virgins, to make much of Time’; ibid.: 85; set by William Lawes), to spiky and risque epigrams like:
Scobble for Whoredome whips his wife; and cryes,
He’ll slit her nose; But blubb’ring, she replyes,
Good Sir, make no more cuts i’th’outward skin,
One slit’s enough to let Adultry in.
(’Upon Scobble. Epig.’; ibid.: 44)
His comic epigrams are populated by proletarians and the middling sort, served up with a gentlemanly disdain, or else kept firmly in their place.
’The Hock-cart, or Harvest home: To the Right Honourable, Mild-may, Earle of Westmorland’ qualitatively stands alongside Jonson’s ’To Penshurst’ (see chapter 2), Carew’s ’To Saxham’ (see chapter 4), and Marvell’s ’Upon Appleton House’ (see below), as one of the finest country-house poems of the early modern period. It is distinguished, too, by the way it pulls together so many themes of royalist writing. Mildmay Fane, to whom we turn shortly, had been imprisoned in 1643, but retired thereafter to his estates, and may well have supported Herrick after his ejection. The poem commemorates a country custom, decorating the last cart to be filled at harvest, followed by a feast laid on by the landowner. As such, like several other poems by Herrick, it fixes in a literary context a country tradition under active and immediate threat from parliamentary legislation and Puritan magistracy, the ’May-poles,… Wassails, Wakes’ announced among his themes at the beginning of Hesperides (’The Argument of his Book’, l.3; Herrick 1956: 5). The poem is located in a world untouched by the war and by the urgent questioning of traditional social relationships that followed it: ’Come Sons of Summer, by whose toile, / We are the Lords of Wine and Oile’ (ll.1—2; Herrick 1956: 101; my italics). For the agricultural labourers in their ragged breeches (l.25) there is the prospect only of ’stout Beere’ and renewed hard work (ll.37, 54—5). The poet — perhaps it’s a priestly role— stands between landlord and workers, urging the latter to a proper appreciation of their relative roles: ’Feed him ye must, whose food fils you’ (l.52).
Fane functions both as lord and friend and his estate represents a place that stands outside the exigencies of the bad season. Fane himself wrote a number of poems on adjacent themes, including his own celebration of harvest home, ’My Hock-Cart or Reaping Day’ (Fowler 1994: 224—5). Fane, in general, seems to have entertained a kindlier perspective on his peasantry, praising ’the brown lusty lass’ that reaps his corn (l.29) and ’the wholesome maid …this bonny lass’, who, singing, milks his cows (’My Happy Life’; ibid.: 211). Certainly, retirement is celebrated by Fane as, literally, a liberation; it is the ’Great patron of my liberty’, freeing him from prison and from the ’fears, or noise of war’ (’To Retiredness’, ll.4, 61; ibid.: 216). But, again more generously than Herrick, he tried to use the celebration of rural friendship as a platform for horizontal social integration with potentially alienated former friends, as in his country-house poems ’Thorp Palace: a Miracle’, on the country seat of Oliver St John, a leading parliamentarian close to Cromwell, and ’To Sir John Wentworth, upon His Curiosities and Courteous Entertainment at Summerly in Lovingland’, the home of another supporter of parliament, whose friendship to Fane is expressed in ’such humanity, and press / Of crowded favours, and heaped courtesies’ (ibid.: 220—2, 227—32). Fane’s later verse remained — as it remained until very recently (Fane 2001) — in manuscript only, though the somewhat enforced retirement of the 1640s saw the publication in 1648 of what would seem to have been a privately published collection, Otia Sacra, the sacred fruits of leisure. Nigel Smith argues that ’Fane published his poems of retreat and devotion … but his political poetry was reserved for a private manuscript’ (Smith 1994: 279). But at least some of that unpublished verse was an irenic celebration of the bonds of kinship and an attempt to revive the spirit of country society.
Richard Lovelace’s poems appeared in two volumes, Lucasta (1649) and Lucasta: Posthume Poems (1659), neither published by Moseley. The immediate context for the former was the outbreak of the second civil war, which included at an early stage a significant insurrection in his home county of Kent in May and June 1648. He himself was a highprofile Kentish royalist, and had been imprisoned in 1642; from June 1648 to April 1649 he was again detained, which may have delayed publication; the volume had been licensed in February 1648 (Wilcher 2001: 308). Certainly, the collection has an unmistakably martial air. Many of the commendatory poems affixed to it are by soldiers, and Lovelace, who was addressed in them as ’Colonel’, referred frequently and without much regret to a life in arms. (He probably did not serve in the English civil wars, though he certainly fought as an expatriate in continental Europe, where he was wounded in 1646 at the siege of Dunkirk; his non-combat role in England could have originated in the terms of his release in 1642; see Wilcher 2001: 308 and Corns 1993b: 213—14; he did take part in the Bishops’ Wars.) There are paradigmatic celebrations of going to the wars and of incarceration in the king’s cause, considered above, and even the imagery has a martial and chivalric patina, projecting his carefully constructed self-image as diehard cavalier. Yet these poems of resistance are often premised on an awareness of past failure and of the stratagems necessary to resist such reverses. ’The Grasse-hopper, to my Noble Friend, Mr. Charles Cotton’ (it is uncertain whether the poet is addressed or his father) contrasts the vulnerability of the grasshopper to changes in the seasons with their own ability to ride out ’this cold Time and frosen Fate’ at a warm fireside with friends and some good literature. It ends in a recurrent sentiment of royalist Stoicism: ’he / That wants himselfe, is poore indeed’ (Lovelace 1930: 38—40); compare, for example, Fane’s ’he who doth himself possess / Makes all things pass him seem far less’ (’To Retiredness’, ll.9—10; Fowler 1994:216).
Yet Lovelace’s first volume shows a feature that will be stronger still in his second, a sense of bewilderment and an associated tendency towards self-contradiction as he rehearses the royalist position. Whereas Hesperides looked Janus-faced at a lost paradise and a current tragedy, Lovelace’s poems suggest no timeline, no development; they seemingly speak to a single moment, and they do so uncertainly. His remarkable poem on Peter Lely’s portrait of Charles and the Duke of York, ’drawne by him at Hampton-Court’, is an image of an image. The painting seems to have been commissioned by the Earl of Northumberland, who was to one of Lovelace’s orientation a traitor to the king, to whom he owed an almost feudal debt of honour and loyalty. Northumberland was a supporter of the Long Parliament and, in effect, gaoler of those of the king’s children that had fallen into parliamentary hands; his motives in commissioning the work invite interpretation (Loxley1997: 155—61 and plate 2). Lely drew Charles at Hampton court because that was where he was being held, and the picture shows a gravely pensive king against a background of funereal drapery, and his youthful son, looking uncertain and ill at ease, standing before a landscape dominated by a storm cloud. No wonder Lovelace speaks of ’clouded Majesty’ and ’humble bravery’ and ’grief triumphant’ (’To my Worthy Friend Mr. Peter Lilly: on that excellent Picture of his Majesty, and the Duke of Yorke, drawne by him at Hampton-Court’; Lovelace 1930: 57), for the painting, ultimately, is of two captives, made at the instigation of their captors, a record of impotence, not a celebration of majesty, and, in its obvious recollection of the portraits of Van Dyck, it is both poignant and ironic. The first Lucasta ends with ’Aramantha. A Pastoral’, which is sometimes interpreted as marking a shift towards pacifism and retirement. The hero, Alexis, hangs up his arms and breaks his sword, betaking himself ’unto the humble Crook’ (Lovelace 1930: 118).
His posthumously published collection is marked by a fascinating technical development, first hinted at in ’The Grasse-hopper’: poems about the natural world, often minutely and precisely observed, but resonating with the values of defeated and eclipsed royalism, as in his two poems on ’The Snayl’, ’The Ant’, ’The Falcon’, ’A Fly caught in a Cobweb’ and ’A Fly about a Glasse of Burnt Claret’. Sometimes they offer the opportunity for an almost Olympian perspective on the creatures’ suffering and the futility of their endeavours. ’The Falcon’, for example, describes in chivalric terms the death of the noble bird, spiked by the bill of a heron against which it has been loosed. The falcon is an aristocrat, a chivalrous cavalier, charging at a humbler target and perishing on ’the stand of Pikes’, the heron’s mighty bill, to the lamentation of other noble raptors at the wastefulness of a ’Victory, unhap’ly wonne’ (Lovelace 1930: 141—5). As Raymond Anselment perceptively remarks, ’From this emblem of mortal conflict, Lovelace understands with considerable sympathy and remarkable detachment the elegiac lesson of civil war’ (1988: 119). ’The Snayl’ offers a moral to the defeated on how to move cautiously through a hostile world:
Wise Emblem of our Politick World,
Sage Snayl, within thine own self curl’d;
Instruct me softly to make hast,
Whilst these my Feet go slowly fast.
The poem ponders the advantages and limitations of retirement:
… when to rest, each calls the bell,
Thou sleep’st within thy Marble Cell;
Where in dark contemplation plac’d,
The sweets of Nature thou dost tast …
(Lovelace 1930: 136—7)
The first Lucasta had produced an image of the poet as an active and vigorous agent, who goes out, to war, to exile, and makes decisions that shape his own destiny. In the posthumous collection, though a construction of the poet remains at the centre of most of the poems, it is as a passive figure, someone who depends on the decisions of others and on the generally unfortunate outcomes of chance. Even in his most accomplished occasional poem, ’The Triumphs of Philamore and Amoret’, in celebration of the marriage of Charles Cotton the younger, a fellow poet and a patron, is explicitly sent ’FROM London’ to Staffordshire. He thinks of his friend but does not join the festivity, and he writes as if from a dungeon and from a position of indigent dependence in which his sense of his own temporary loss overwhelms the process of celebration: ’Sir your long absence I complain … / So I unthrifty, to my self untrue, / Rise cloath’d with real wants, ’cause wanting you’ (ibid.: 169, 174).
Charles Cotton the younger, however, would seem to have been rarely in a London that had little to recommend it to a country-loving cavalier squire. Cotton published little before the Restoration, and his principal collection was printed posthumously in 1689. Dating of individual poems can be problematic, and he certainly remained actively engaged in writing well into the 1680s. His royalism was clear and uncompromising. Edmund Waller, one of many royalist activists minded to make his peace with the Cromwellian protectorate, was treated with a memorable robustness for his Panegyrick to my Lord Protector, first published in 1655:
Feare not thy memory, that cannot dye,
This Panegerick is thy elegie,
Which shal be when, or wheresoever read,
A Liveing Poem to upbrayed thee dead.
(’To Poet E[dmund] W[aller], ll.33—6; Cotton 1958: 114)
His elegy for Lovelace, printed among the prefatory material of the second Lucasta, offers the opposite term to the turncoat Waller in a figure who was ’In fortune humble, constant in Mischance, / Expert of both’ (’To the Memory of my worthy Friend, Colonel Richard Lovelace’, ll.21—2; ibid.: 112). His elegy for the seventh Earl of Derby, executed after the battle of Worcester for his part in the second civil war, sets his own resolution in the context of the devastation occasioned by ’this prodigious beast Rebellion’ that has carried off the king and the earl among a ’throng of Martyrs’ (’On the Lord Derby’, ll.2, 25; ibid.: 129—30).
Like most royalist poetry of retirement, Cotton’s valorizes the countryside as the locus of integrity and of a bibulous friendship, a place to let the storms pass over. Personifying Old Winter, he comes closer to Horatian epicureanism than to Stoicism:
Then let Old Winter take his course,
And howle abroad till he be hoarse,
Though his Lungs crack in fruitless ire,
It shall but serve to blow our Fire.
Or, let him Scotland take, and there
Confine the plotting Presbyter;
His Zeal may Freeze, whilst we kept warm
By Love and Wine, can take no harm.
(’Winter Quatrains’, ll.201—4, 209—12; ibid.: 23)
Distinctively, though, Cotton’s verse seems much closer to the working countryside. Not for him Fane’s idealized and sometimes sentimental view nor Herrick’s disengaged perspective from the steps of the great house; he writes as one who attentively walks his own estate. His ’wonderfully crisp quatrains on the times of day’ (Fowler 1994: 370) abound in detail. He knows that dairy farming does not end with bonny lasses singing as they milk. He notes, at the end of the day, ’the Pans and Bowls clean scalded all, / Rear’d up against the Milk-house Wall’ (’Evening Quatrains’, ll.35—6; Cotton 1958: 8).
John Denham (knighted in 1661) had a complicated war, in arms for the king from 1642, in exile at the court of Charles II, and in the mid-and late 1650s back in England, seemingly under the protection of a Cromwelliam sympathizer, Philip Herbert, fifth Earl of Pembroke, though actively engaged as an agent (or, just possibly, a double or even treble agent) in the royalist underground, living a shadowy life in a rather unsubstantial political universe (O Hehir 1968: esp. chs 3, 4 and 5). Cooper’s Hill, which in quality far surpasses the rest of his oeuvre, remained something of a life work. Brendan O Hehir, its modern editor, has distinguished two principal states, what he terms ’the ’’A’’ Text’ and ’the ’’B’’ Text’. The former is extant in two early manuscripts and appeared in print in 1642, published by Thomas Walkeley, who had recently published Carew’s posthumous collected poems. In a way that exemplifies the print history of royalist high culture, it was reprinted in 1643 in Oxford, the provisional capital of the king, and thereafter became the intellectual property of Humphrey Moseley, who first published it in 1650. The B text first appeared in 1655, again under Moseley’s imprint, but in a radically revised form, reflecting not only changed political circumstance but also Denham’s considerable technical improvement. It was reprinted, with minor changes, in his collected works in 1668 and again, posthumously, in 1676.
The earlier printed edition, while plainly reflecting the anxieties and uncertainties of the months following the execution of Strafford and before the open hostilities of the first civil war, is excitingly adventurous in its avant-gardist extension of topographical poetry from describing an estate or country house and complimenting its owners to a much wider landscape and to more expansive themes. The poet takes as his vantage point Cooper’s Hill, from which he can see (or perhaps imagine) — in one direction the City of London, in the other Windsor, and before him the flood plain of the Thames. Each is variously engaged with in ways that disclose political values and comment obliquely on immediate developments. The description of London supports a panegyric gesture towards Charles I for his restoration of St Paul’s, that great Laudian project so deprecated by his enemies. In passing, there is a word of praise for Edmund Waller, who had celebrated that project in a memorable poem, ’Upon his Majesties repairing of Pauls’, available only in manuscript before Moseley’s 1645 edition. London, however, is the site of greed and luxury, where ’men like Ants / Toyle to prevent imaginarie wants’ and where ’Some study plots, and some those plots t’undoe’ (ll.29—30, 41; O Hehir 1969: 111—12). In an embryonic rehearsal of the royalist poetry of retirement, he turns his gaze to Windsor (’Oh happinesse of sweete retir’d content! / To be at once secure, and innocent’: ll.47—48; ibid.: 113 ), the symbolic role of which, in opposition to the city, is sharpened by its role in January 1642 as the palace to which Charles withdrew his court in response to the tumults which followed his aborted attempt to arrest the Five Members. The passage supports a more developed panegyric to a long line of English kings, in his own century widened to embrace the royal houses of France and Scotland in the ’Royall paire’ of Charles Stuart and the Bourbon Henrietta Maria. The poet’s eye then turns to Chertsey Abbey, ruined in the Henrician reformation, which is represented as a symbol of the destructive impact of political impact on the church and as a warning to his own age of the dangers of too zealous a reformation: ’Is there no temperate Region can be knowne, / Betwixt their [the Catholic church’s] frigid, and our Torrid Zone?’ (ll.173—4; ibid.: 121), a question that carries an implied endorsement of a middle way to be equated with ceremonial Anglicanism.
Three scenes heavy with political symbolism then follow. Windsor Forest is the scene of a stag hunt, which commentators confidently identify as a complex negotiation of the trial and execution of Strafford. The stag, ’Like a declining Statesman, left forlorne / To his freinds pitty, and pursuers scorne’, bravely resists as best he can ’Till Charles from his unerring hand lets flie / A mortall shaft’ (ll.275—6, 297—8; ibid.: 129—30), which accurately enough reflects the sequence of events in Strafford’s tragedy, deserted by those he may reasonably have expected to support him and finally condemned by Charles’s decision to sign the bill of attainder. Conrad Russell’s stark phrase, ’the King’s courage failed him’ (1995: 300), was the obvious judgement at the time and ever since. Denham’s narrative, which eludes the relative simplicities of allegory, at once commemorates the resolution of Strafford and presents Charles’s conduct, a little enigmatically, as a noble act in the context of an inevitable disaster for the quarry; if the king’s arrow had not killed him, the dogs would have torn him to pieces. (Indeed, at one stage, Strafford’s enemies were pressing for his hanging, drawing and quartering — ibid.: 288). The poem turns next to Runnymead, and celebrates Magna Carta as a compact through which monarch and subject arrived at a balanced relationship of mutual (but differing) respect, a relationship of greatest benefit ’When Kings give liberty, and Subjects love’ (l.318; O Hehir 1969: 131). Flood management provides the concluding metaphor for the interdependence and mutuality of kings and subjects and a pious observation on how excess on either side threatens the property of both.
Denham wrote as a careful royalist, hoping, though perhaps not expecting, to find a way out of the conflicts of 1641 without further bloodshed. Wilcher perceptively links the poem to the formation of a constitutionally scrupulous royalism, appealing for moderation on all sides, and in its way as concerned to rein in the likes of Suckling as to calm the militancy of the king’s enemies. As a long critical tradition has explored, the adjustments he made in the 1655 edition reflect changed political circumstances. Yet at the level of ideology we should not overstate how radically such tinkering transforms the poem. References to the dead Charles I are made vaguer — no longer is the slayer of the stag named; rather he is ’the King’ (l.319; ibid.: 158). The hunt scene is elaborated and the end quite radically rewritten. Nigel Smith summarizes thus the significance of the changes:
In the closing passages, Denham swaps sets of lines so that the poem ends with the Thames bursting its banks. The mutually controlling pressures of monarch and people in the 1642 version … are replaced by one of chaos and anarchy in a deluge. Indeed, what has happened is worse than any regal tyranny. Charles (now obviously represented in the stag, rather than Strafford) is hunted by a lawless mob. (Smith 1994: 324)
Yet what we are left with epitomizes the incoherence of mid-1650s royalism. There was, indeed, ’the king’ of England, Charles II, yet it was difficult to see how he would be hunting in Windsor forest in the foreseeable future. The details of the hunt cannot be schematized into a coherent allegory; if Charles I is the stag, who is this ’king’ that kills him? Moreover, the constitutional-royalist position is still apparent in the section of Magna Carta, and its immediate abandonment in the unredeemable pessimism of the concluding flood seems not to follow.
Technically, the B text shows a poet in much closer control of his medium. He eliminates the occasional cheap quibble. ’[P]roud to dye / By such a wound, he fals, the Christall floud/ Dying he dies, and purples with his bloud’ becomes ’Proud of the wound, to it resigns his bloud, / And stains the Crystal with a Purple floud’ (A text, ll.298—300; B text ll.321—2; O Hehir 1969: 130, 159). A plainer aesthetic of closer artistic control is emerging. In the later version the closed, balanced couplet replaces a looser structure. Compare, again:
And he might thinke it must, the cause, and time
Considered well; for none commits a crime,
Appearing such, but as ’tis understood,
A reall, or at least a seeming good.
(A text, ll.161—4; ibid.: 120—1)
No Crime so bold, but would be understood
A real, or at least a seeming good.
(B text, ll.127—8; ibid.: 146)
The revision is obviously briefer, but it is also balanced — Denham has evidently developed some assurance in the use of the caesura — and, contained within the closed couplet, it approximates to a sententia generalized effectively from the particular. It is no wonder that Dryden commended Cooper’s Hill as ’the exact standard of Good Writing’ (quoted in O Hehir 1969: 295).
Denham in exile wrote occasional and satirical verses to order, on topics, as he recalled, that the king was ’pleased sometimes to give me … to divert and put off the evil hours of our banishment’ (quoted in O Hehir 1968: 91). Royalist poets had, since the early 1640s, been thus engaged, probably as much to keep up morale as to serve any larger polemical purpose. Such efforts often drew on a long tradition of anti-Puritan stereotyping that stretched through Ben Jonson’s drama back to those playwrights who had been drafted into the Episcopalian campaign against Martin Marprelate (see above, chapter 2). Perhaps the most vigorous was John Taylor the Water Poet (to use his usual soubriquet; he had, for a while, been a working ferryman and generally styled himself thus, no doubt to assert his close connection with what our own age calls ’the real world’). His populist and robust rehearsal of essentially high Anglican and fiercely monarchical values long antedated the beginning of hostilities, but in the early 1640s he rallied to the royalist cause, joining the court in Oxford. Taylor well understood his own cultural antecedents, and explicitly invoked the spirit of Thomas Nashe, who had been one of the anti-Marprelate writers, in his prose tract Crop-Eare Curried, or, Tom Nash His Ghost (1644; discussed by Smith 1994: 297). The old stereotype of Puritans suggested that they were ignorant, low-class sectaries, opportunistically seeking to improve their own position while jeopardizing the fabric of the state. Taylor was comfortable working with that, adding a gleeful recollection of the punishments once dealt out to them (with an evident hope that such possibilities would return again). Hence in his Rebells Anathematized, And anatomized: or, A Satyricall Salutation to the Rabble of seditous, pestiferous pulpit-praters, with their Brethren the Weekly Libellers, a title that with singular explicitness reflects the content, he happily lashes ’the Cobling, Tub, pernicious Preacher, / With Prinne and Burton, (sweet-fac’d crop-ear’d Curres)’ (Taylor 1645: 3). Taylor kept going till his death in 1653. Bernard Capp notes some caution in the texts that actually carried his name, though emphatically ’he never turned his back on politics’ (1994: 183—4).
The adoption of that idiom and that range of cultural assumptions by John Cleveland produced some of the more fascinating satirical poetry of the 1640s. Cleveland was a hitherto successful, mid-career academic, who probably quit his Cambridge fellowship before parliament’s purging visitation of 1643, joining the king in Oxford and writing for the royalist cause. His prose satire, The Character of a London-Diurnall, was immediately successful, going into at least five early editions, and his poems certainly circulated widely in manuscript before their print publication in 1647. There were 25 editions of his poems printed between then and 1700. (For both a life and a publishing history, see Cleveland 1967: xv—lv.) Cleveland, however, wrote an allusive, witty verse, more demanding of its readers than Taylor, though in his more aggressive poems he shares Taylor’s offensive repertoire. He accepts the stereotype of the Puritan as the appetitive, hypocritical killjoy, but pushes it in new directions. ’The Rebell Scot’, written on Scotland’s entry into the English civil war on parliament’s side, extends the denominational stereotype to become a racial one. Scots are ’Citizens o’th World; they’re all in all, / Scotland’s a Nation Epidemicall’, though they travel, not to learn foreign manners, but to fill their pockets. With a strange kind of optimism and in a precise, indecent and suggestive metaphor that probably comes closer to Jonson than Donne, he notes:
Sure England hath the Hemerods, and these
On the North Posterne of the patient seize,
Like Leeches: thus they physically thirst
After our blood, but in the cure shall burst.
(ll.69—70, 83—6; ibid.: 31)
The imagery is dense and complex: the northern border is England’s backdoor or postern; but the anus is a sort of backdoor, too; and around it, there are manifestations of national disorder, analogous to haemorrhoids, and haemorrhoids, like medicinal leeches, swell with blood, until they burst; as may the Scots.
He pushes the stereotype again in ’The Mixt Assembly’, on the Westminster Assembly of Divines, convoked by the Long Parliament to reform the Church of England from its Laudian errors. The Assembly was mixed in that it included lay as well as clerical members, and, among the former, some of the parliament-supporting aristocrats who formerly had been prominent courtiers. So the poem offers us this curious society, in which the usual grasping anti-Laudian clergy dance a jig with William Herbert, the fourth Earl of Pembroke and formerly a close associate of the king, and Algernon Percy, tenth Earl of Northumberland and since 1638 Charles’s Lord High Admiral. These make up a strange company, and a ludicrous one for the turncoat aristocrats to find themselves in: ’Hee that the Noble Percyes blood inherits, / Will he strike up a Hotspur of the spirits?’ (ll.57—8; ibid.: 27).
Cleveland, like Lovelace and Herrick, took the hostile representation of royalists and made from it a positive image of daredevil defiance. Through the early years of the war Prince Rupert (Charles I’s nephew) had been a particular target for parliamentarian attack, and even his pets attracted clumsy censure. Thus, an anonymous tract, An exact description of Prince Ruperts Malignant She-Monkey, ponderously claimed, ’Pr. Ruperts Monkey is … the little whore of Babylon in a green coat, that sometimes rides upon the beast that is Prince Ruperts dog, that tempts the Prince by her lascivious gestures, to think oftner on a woman than he would do’ (Anon. 1645: sig. A4r). The dog in question, a poodle called Boy, ’that four-legg’d Cavalier, had two well-known tricks that Cleveland, far from avoiding, chose to celebrate: sitting up at the name of Charles and cocking ’his Malignant leg at Pym’. Cleveland apologizes for nothing, praising Rupert as an aggressive martial figure that confirms parliament’s fears of him: ’In fine, the name of Rupert thunders so, / Kimbolton’s [i.e. the Earl of Manchester, the parliamentary commander] but a rumbling Wheel-barrow’ (’To P. Rupert’, ll.122, 126, 179—80; Cleveland 1967: 36).
Poor Boy was summarily executed after his capture at the battle of Marston Moor, an event gloatingly described in a parliamentarian pamphlet, A Dogs Elegy, or Rupert’s Tears (Anon. 1644), a grubby action shamingly recounted. But Cleveland had a double problem: not only was his side losing, he was too perceptive and too honest not to recognize it. His elegy on Laud, finally tried and executed in 1645, expresses bewilderment that providence has served them so badly and that the king’s cause has been a long process of continuous and irreversible defeat: ’How could successe such villanies applaud? / The state in Strafford fell, the Church in Laud’ (’On the Archbishop of Canterbury’, ll.41—2; Cleveland 1967: 39). The problem is most acutely explored in his finest poem, ’The Kings Disguise’, which starts with a description of Charles’s flight dressed as a servant to surrender to the Scottish army in 1646. Lois Potter in an intelligent reading summarizes thus: ’The first part of the poem is devoted to developing the paradox that the king, by voluntarily assuming this uncouth and humiliating disguise, has become a traitor to himself, performing all the sacrilegious acts of which Parliament has already been guilty’ (Potter 1989: 63). But Cleveland’s discourse never achieves the status of paradox because it is obviously and literally true that the king has disgraced himself, that his flight is shameful, and that he has fallen from high degree to a posture of abject dependency. With an alarming vividness, Cleveland piles up witty images of the king ’coffin’d in this vile disguise’, like a ’martyr’d Abbeys courser [that is, coarser] doome, / Devoutly alter’d to a Pigeon roome’, ’The Sun wears Midnight’. This is a most appalling ritual, itself emblematic of the total failure of the cause, in Cleveland’s resonant phrase, ’Majestick twilight’ (ll.1, 29—30, 45, 44, 41; Cleveland 1967: 6—7). Staring at this inversion of the royal image, finding metaphors for it, accentuates its poignancy; it does not make it go away. Through the rest of the poem, Cleveland tries to round on the king’s enemies; he ’twists and turns’ in his ’determination to prove that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the mystical ruler of royalist devotion is still real’ (Potter 1989: 64). But the final images represent the king on his ’strange journey’ (l.117), a suppliant to his defiant and hostile Scottish subjects.
Abraham Cowley’s first collection of poetry, Poetical Blossomes, appeared in 1633 when he was a schoolboy of 13 years. The portrait frontispiece represents him as a diminutive figure, dwarfed by the frame that surrounds him and by a cartouche, on which an inscription asserts ’for ought I can see / Cowley may youngest sonne of Phoebus bee’ (Cowley 1989—: I, 12). A glittering early career followed, in which he continued to write verse, often in a fiercely loyalist spirit, and a play, The Guardian, which was staged by Trinity College, Cambridge, as an entertainment for Charles, Prince of Wales, in 1642. By the time the Earl of Manchester entered Cambridge to administer the Solemn League and Covenant (and thus, in effect, to eject royalist academics), he had withdrawn to Oxford, where he would seem to have entered the service of Henry Jermyn, secretary and aide to Henrietta Maria, whom he followed into exile. In the late 1640s he worked as a cipher clerk to the Louvre group of exiles (and, as such, perhaps attracted the enmity, later manifest, of the future Earl of Clarendon, the dominant figure in the group around Charles, both as Prince of Wales and king). He returned to England during the Protectorate. It was a route already trodden by Davenant, Waller and Thomas Hobbes in the years since the Act of Oblivion of 1652, though Cowley may have established contacts with the royalist underground at the same time. In 1655 he was arrested and interrogated, and then released on terms which remain the subject of speculation. Possibly he had become a double agent. A contemporary anecdote, frequently cited, tells of his attempts to secure preferment at the Restoration, when Clarendon, it was reported, dismissed him with ’Mr. Cowley, your pardon is your reward’ (Nethercot 1931; Underdown 1960: 318).
His first significant publication, if we leave aside the product of his youthful precosity, was The Mistresse, first published by Humphrey Moseley, whose preface explains, somewhat vaguely, that the author had not been directly involved in the final stages of preparing the text. It is an accomplished example of restrained, late Caroline libertinism, in which the author figures himself rather like a civilian version of the Lovelace produced in the first Lucasta. These poems acquired and retained a considerable popularity, and some continued to be set to music through the later seventeenth century by composers, including John Blow and his pupil Henry Purcell, who composed at least 16 settings to Cowley’s lyrics (Cowley 1989—: II, 311—555).
The Mistresse is a nostalgic collection, looking back to the culture of the personal rule. But Cowley was also an innovative writer, arguably the most significant literary neoclassicist of the period between Ben Jonson and the post-1660 writings of Milton and John Dryden, both as a composer of Pindaric odes and as a narrative poet. Early in the first civil war he began a poem, modelled on Lucan (Smith 1994: 207), relating in heroic terms the triumphs of the armies of the king against ’the rebels’, as he habitually terms them. Even for a partisan audience, the heroic tone must often have been uncomfortable. For example, the burning of Birmingham, a city known for its armament industry, by Prince Rupert’s army emerged as a major atrocity of the opening years of the conflict, widely censured by parliamentarian writers and handled with care by other royalist apologists. Cowley turns it into a vengeful gesture couched in terms redolent of Homer or Virgil:
Goe burne the wicked Towne, and let it all
Bee one bright Pire for his [the Earl of Denbigh’s, killed in the attack] great Funerall.
Into one glowing Forge the whole streets turne;
Soe AEtna, Vulcans other Shop, does burne.
Too late the foolish Rebells peace desire;
Like Paris Lust quencht when his Troyes on fire.
(The Civil War, book 2, ll.85—90; Cowley 1989—: I, 132)
The triumphalism, the wishful thinking and the cultural indulgence of the neoclassical mode made this poem a difficult undertaking to sustain, and impossible once the royalists had evidently started to lose. The poem, abandoned incomplete, was not printed in his lifetime.
Smith concludes, ’Cowley’s Civil War is not a great poem, but it is nonetheless remarkable for its attempt to address a contemporary reality in epic terms’ (1994: 211). But it is not, strictly, epic, if we adopt the distinction Dryden makes in the prefatory material to his own Annus Mirabilis, a poem that, in genre terms, is close to Cowley’s: ’I have called my poem historical, not epic … since the action is not properly one, nor that accomplished in the last successes…. I am apt to agree with those who rank Lucan [a model for Dryden as for Cowley] rather among historians in verse than epic poets’ (Dryden 1995—2005: I, 114—15). For his second narrative poem, Davideis, Cowley adopts a genuinely epic genre, which allows a much more mediated engagement with the crises of his own age. This is a retelling of the struggle of the youthful David against Saul. Uncertainties shroud its date of composition and indeed its interpretation. Moseley published it in his collected works, Poems: I. Miscellanies. II. The Mistress, or Love Verses. III. Pindarique Odes. And IV. Davideis (1656). Cowley’s prefatory remarks on this second abandoned narrative poem describe how its projected 12 books would have culminated in David’s victory over the fallen Saul (Cowley 1656: sig. b1v). The poem certainly cannot be read as a detailed roman-à-clef in the manner of Dryden’s own retelling of Davidic history in Absalom and Achitophel (see below, chapter 6). Yet as the story develops it depicts an agreeable fantasy of youthful elan defying crabbed militarism, perhaps much as the royalist underground entertained the aspiration of overthrowing the Cromwellian ascendancy. Abandoning the poem would have been consonant with the ideological surrender which Cowley committed in the preface to his 1656 collection: ’it is so uncustomary, as to become almost ridiculous, to make Lawrels for the Conquered’ (ibid.: sig. a4r).
Cowley’s Pindaric odes, first published in that volume, are technically accomplished and a significant contribution to the history of a genre, a vital link between Jonson’s early experimentation and the achievements of, for example, Thomas Gray. Several of the odes closely render Pindar’s poems, though he often turns the lyric freedom of the form to original compositions. Pindar’s lofty and declarative idiom is adapted not for celebration, but for a generalized and pessimistic meditation. In his most resonant ode, ’Destinie’, two angels play at chess, moving the human pieces with an Olympian indifference, among them ’the Mated King’. Cowley depicts himself withdrawing from the active life into the world of poets, marginalised though they may be:
No Matter, Cowley, let proud Fortune see,
That thou canst her despise no less then she does Thee.
Let all her gifts the portion be
Of Folly, Lust, and flattery,
Fraud, Extortion, Calumnie,
Rebellion and Hypocrisie.
Do thou nor grieve nor blush to be,
As all th’inspired tuneful Men,
And all thy great Forefathers were from Homer down to Ben.
(Cowley 1905: 193—4)
Jonson appears both as a touchstone of integrity and as a precursor of Cowley’s own neoclassical aspirations.
Sir William Davenant, active in arms for the king and like Cowley an adherent of the Louvre party, worked on his most ambitious narrative poem, Gondibert, while in captivity and for a while in danger of execution. Five books were projected, but like Cowley’s verse narratives, it was left incomplete. Three books were published in 1651; the others were never written (Davenant 1971: ix). It is a curious work, and its eccentricity was certainly remarked on by contemporaries, several of whom collaborated in satirical observations, Certain Verses Written by Several of the Author’s Friends (1653; Davenant 1971: 274—86). The poem is a heroic romance set in medieval Lombardy. Its modern editor notes, as did contemporaries, that it ’plays about the fringes of the roman-à-clef ’, though he adds, ’One is on fascinating but shaky ground in trying to construct a ’’key’’ to the characters’. There are analogies here with the Davideis, and once more royalist values and aspirations can be teased out (ibid.: xiii, xv). The poem is significant in that, in its version of what constitutes heroism, it points forward to the heroic drama of the 1660s (ibid.: xii; Wilcher 2001: 320). Its prosody reflects an interesting theory. Davenant explains in his preface that he has chosen what he terms ’my interwoven Stanza of foure’ to give his reader a ’respite or pause’ between stanzas. He thinks of reading poetry as essentially a voiced or indeed sung experience. Couplets in a long poem run the reader ’out of breath’. Davenant’s alternative rhyme scheme is analogous to ’a plaine and stately composing of Musick’; ’the brevity of the Stanza renders it … more easy to the singer; which in stilo recitativo, when the Story is long, is cheefly requisite’ (Davenant 1971: 17). The four-lined stanza, rhyming abab, was adopted by Dryden for Annus Mirabilis, in explicit imitation of Davenant (Dryden 1995—2005: I, 116—17).
Discussion of the early writing of Katherine Philips and Margaret Cavendish is reserved for chapter 6.
Crashaw and Vaughan
The doctrinal, ecclesiastical and cultural policies of Archbishop Laud (see above, chapter 4) had always invited the charge of popery, and among his enemies the assertion that he sought to return England to Roman Catholicism was commonplace. Laud himself both fiercely denied the assertion and sought actively to develop and promulgate a critique of the failings of Catholicism. Among the earliest triumphs of his career was the requirement by James I that he publicly debate with and confute Father Fisher, a successful Jesuit missionary, who had fallen into government hands. The confutation had been published, and he reissued it in the late 1630s (Trevor-Roper 1962: 60, 370—1). Yet Laud’s insistence on repositioning altars and on the special status of the clergy, his enthusiasm for ceremonial, his belief in the centrality of the Eucharist, and his support for the decorous renovation of churches and chapels ensured that something of the allegations always adhered to him. After Long Parliament met and he was arrested and indicted for treason, he was charged ’with usurping ’’a papal and tyrannical power’’, of seeking to introduce Popery, of preferring men of unsound doctrines and silencing and persecuting the ’’learned and orthodox’’, and of holding secret communication with the Court of Rome’ (ibid.: 405).
Laud was tried for treason and executed early in 1645, by which time the royalist cause was substantially lost and many of the men he had preferred had lost posts and livings. The University of Cambridge, purged by the Earl of Manchester of its Laudian dons, had been the setting for a particular ceremonial manifestation of the Laudian programme, and as such had both nurtured Richard Crashaw and witnessed his ejection (though he had absented himself well in advance of the formal process).
Crashaw died a convert to Catholicism, and for long the critical tradition stressed his cultural affinities with the poetry of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and his role as ’the most un-English of all the English poets’ (Crashaw 1972: xv). Certainly, he read, was influenced by and indeed adapted the baroque poetry of Giambattista Marino and his followers, bringing to his religious aesthetic an intense kind of devotional and sensational pietism not found in George Herbert. More recently, however, Thomas Healy (1986; also see DNB 2004) has demonstrated how in accord Crashaw was with the Cambridge circles in which he moved in the late 1630s and early 1640s. John Cosin, his sometime patron, was the key figure. Cosin had been an important figure in the Laudian revolution, a significant advocate for his agenda of ceremonial reform. Appointed Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1635, the year in which Crashaw took up his fellowship there, Cosin actively promoted the adoption of new liturgical practices and a new polyphonic choral tradition, and he refashioned the college chapel, refurbished its altar, and installed a window based on a painting by Rubens. Crashaw’s attempts to write liturgical and processional hymns followed Cosin’s own attempts to refashion church services in ways which seemed papistical to his enemies.
Yet the case of Cosin defines with some precision Crashaw’s own religious sensibility (DNB 2004). Both went into exile, but Cosin remained in the holy orders of the Church of England, returning in 1660 to become Bishop of Durham and an influential force in the reconstruction of the Episcopalian Church. Crashaw, like some others in his circle, turned to Rome. Certainly, the poetry that he probably wrote while a fellow of Peterhouse would not have outraged the Cambridge Laudians with whom he associated. Yet, obviously, it is the poetry of a future convert, and, since stricter points of doctrine are displaced by its devotionalism, it is difficult to identify any significant element which would have contradicted Catholic belief or practice.
The Crawshaw oeuvre poses some textual problems, and its publishing history mirrors its author’s own theological and ideological trajectory. His first book, a neo-Latin collection, was Epigrammatum Sacrorum Liber, published by Cambridge University Press in 1634. It showed a high level of competence within the demanding form of brief epigrams, some of which were reworked into English in subsequent publications. Three collections of predominately vernacular poetry are in a complicated relationship to each other. Steps to the Temple. Sacred Poems, With other Delights of the Muses was published by Humphrey Moseley (see above) in 1646, by which time Crashaw was already in exile. Moseley performed a similar service for Abraham Cowley (see above), a Cambridge friend and contemporary of Crashaw, whose first collection of poetry was also published after he had left for exile. Like Herrick’s Hesperides (see above), it is a dual volume of sacred and profane verse, each with its own title page, though both the order and the significance of the sections is reversed. Moseley brought out a second edition in 1648 ’wherein are added divers pieces not before extant’, as the title page proclaims. Besides the new poems, several others were revised and supplemented. L. C. Martin, a modern editor, concludes that ’though some of the material appearing here for the first time no doubt represents gleanings from the Cambridge period … the religious and devotional verse now first published seems likely to have been very largely of recent composition’ (Crashaw 1957: xlvii), that is, after his formal conversion to Rome. The final book, Carmen Deo Nostro, was prepared for the press by an émigré English Catholic priest, Miles Pinkney, who has assumed the name ’Thomas Carre’ (DNB 2004, s.n. Pinkney, Miles). Pinkney was a significant figure in recusant circles abroad, and, like Crashaw, he had been drawn to the court in exile of Henrietta Maria. By the time of the publication, Crashaw had been dead for four years, in circumstances that seemed fitting for a martyr for the faith. He had expired shortly after assuming a post at the pilgrimage shrine to the Virgin at Loreto. Pinkney dropped the secular poems and rebranded the divine section in unequivocally Catholic terms. He was probably responsible for changing the titles of some poems and adding several engravings of a plainly Catholic provenance.
The Delights of the Muses, the secular poems of the first two books, has stimulated a limited critical response. Many are occasional poems, including elegies on the recently deceased, a panegyric on the birth of the Duke of York, a Latin poem to Henrietta Maria, and poems designed for the front matter of other authors’ books. The erotic lyric, the staple of most Caroline secular poetry, is vestigially present in ’Wishes. To his (supposed) Mistresse’ (Crashaw 1957: 195—8). The theme may have seemed less melancholy to an original Cambridge readership of supposedly celibate staff and students than it seems to a modern audience.
Graham Parry among others has made higher claims for the opening poem, ’Musicks Duell’. This relates a dialogue between a lutenist and a nightingale in ways designed to reflect the characteristic musical idiom of each. The poem is a reworking of a neo-Latin original by the Jesuit Famianus Strada, which had inspired several English imitators. Parry concludes that ’Crashaw far exceeds his poetic model in the evocation of the rival virtuosi [bird and musician], translating musical effects into verbal terms with prodigious facility’ (1985: 126). Crashaw’s version is much longer than the lines it adapts from its model, though perhaps that copiousness is just a celebration of the variety exhibited by bird and lutenist. Yet the technical mastery is unsupported by a developed argument or discernible schema within the poem. Crashaw’s longer verse often seems to be a stringing together of local brilliances.
The title of the divine poetry, Steps to the Temple, seemingly claims some affinity with The Temple of George Herbert. For an extreme Laudian still claiming membership of the Church of England, this stratagem may have had obvious advantages. By the 1640s Herbert was read and admired by a wide spectrum of English Protestants, and Puritans found his seeming plainness attractive (see above, chapter 4). The Preface to Steps to the Temple proclaims ’Here’s Herbert’s second, but equall’ (Crashaw 1957: 75). But Crashaw’s and Herbert’s collection have little in common. Crashaw’s seems shapeless; Herbert’s carefully structured. Crashaw scarcely uses the motif of the temple; for Herbert it is the key metaphor. Moreover, each poet produces a radically different image of himself within the text. Herbert appears priestly, modest, purposefully naive. Crashaw’s best poems spectacularly proclaim his brilliance.
Nor does their subject matter coincide closely. Herbert writes about religious ceremony. A considerable part of the Crashaw oeuvre offers texts for liturgical practice. Herbert’s work is Christocentric. So, too, is Crashaw’s though he diversifies into celebration of women saints, particularly the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and Theresa of Avila.
Crashaw’s best divine verse has a vivid sensationalism of a disturbing kind. In ’On the wounds of our crucified Lord’, he ponders whether the gashes are mouths or eyes. If the former, they may be kissed by the faithful; if the latter, they are bloodshot and they weep bloody tears. He takes the images to the edge of grotesqueness or absurdity: ’This foot hath got a Mouth and lippes, / To pay the sweet summe of thy kisses’ (ll.13—14; Crashaw 1957: 99). It hints, too, at an undertone of repressed homoerotic desire. But he concludes with a baroque metamorphosis that transforms the bleeding wounds and bloodied eye into a bejewelled artefact: the foot now weeps ’Ruby-Teares’, while the penitent’s own are now ’Pearles’ (ll.20—1).
The transformation is effected more startlingly still in his most remarkable poem, ’On our crucified Lord Naked, and bloody’:
Th’have left thee naked Lord, O that they had;
This Garment too I would they had deny’d.
Thee with thy selfe they have too richly clad,
Opening the purple wardrobe of thy side.
O never could bee found Garments too good
For thee to weare, but these, of thine owne blood.
The notion of Christ’s body as a wardrobe opened up by the centurion’s spear may strike modern readers as approaching the surreal. It probably seemed as powerful to Crashaw’s contemporaries. ’Purple’ is a complex word. Primarily, it functions as a transferred epithet. It is what issues from it that is purple, though I suppose it could also apply to the interior of the thoracic cavity itself. The word was used of a larger range of colours in early modern English, and could certainly have described flesh, blood or indeed internal organs (OED). It is also, of course, the word applied to the clothing of Roman emperors, and points up the paradox of Christ’s regal status and tortured, incarnate body. But once that conceit is, easily enough, absorbed by readers, they are left with that shocking recognition that the garment is no other than a massive effusion of blood, covering an otherwise naked torso.
Saint Theresa is the subject of three poems (ibid.: 317—27). The choice is deeply expressive of Crashaw’s representation of love towards Christ as emotionally powerful, like the profoundest erotic desire. Crashaw was by no means without parallel in his sexual reading of Theresa’s narrative, a story of divine ecstasies brought on by the manifestation to her of a seraph who pierced her body with his dart. Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s statue of her in the Cornaro Chapel in Rome, the iconic work of Roman Counter-Reformation art, habitually strikes viewers as the representation of a woman in orgasmic arousal. For Crashaw, as perhaps for Bernini, the redirected sexual frenzy has a sado-masochistic edge:
O how oft shalt thou complain
Of a sweet subtle PAIN.
Of intolerable IOYES;
Of a DEATH, in which who dyes Loues his death, and dyes again.
And would for euer so be slain.
And liues, & dyes; and knowes no why
To liue, But that he thus may neuer leaue to DY.
(ll.97—104; ibid.: 319)
This is a curiously textured passage, with its rapid alternations of dying and loving and its prosodic defectiveness in the context of a primarily octosyllabic metre, which suggests panting.
From the perspective of mid-century Puritanism, Crashaw is the perfect Counter-Reformation poet, an apostate from the Protestant faith, whose defection confirmed what the likes of William Prynne had for long argued: scratch a Laudian and you find a papist. But the stereotype should not obscure what is really distinctive and significant about his poetry. Here is a fascinating religious sensibility, an openness to the alternative aesthetic offered by the baroque art of continental Europe, and a confident, innovative and sometimes brilliant artistry.
Henry Vaughan, the finest Welsh writer in English of the early modern period, shared some common ground with Crashaw. He, too, gestures towards Herbert as his precursor, though in his case the influence runs much deeper. He is primarily a divine poet, though with a minor commitment to secular verse. His political allegiances were close to Crashaw’s, and he, too, suffered personally for the royalist cause. Like Crashaw, he published with Humphrey Moseley, though, like Crashaw, his publishing history is not unproblematic.
But socially and in terms of cultural milieu he was closer to Katherine Philips and Thomas St Nicholas (see below) than to the tight coteries of Cambridge. We are at a relatively early stage of understanding the literary culture of the provincial gentry in early modern England and Wales. He knew Philips since her childhood, and celebrated her achievements as a ’wittie fair one’ (Vaughan 1957: 61; see Wilcher 2001: 335). Vaughan was very probably in arms for the king in the closing months of the first civil war, fighting at the emphatic defeat at Rowton Heath, just outside Chester, and withdrawing with the shattered army to the fastness of Beeston Castle, which eventually surrendered on honourable terms. Though on the other side from St Nicholas, he has one rather fine poem in that spirit of ironized Stoicism that characterizes the parliamentarian’s own prison writing. ’Upon a Cloke lent him by Mr. J. Ridsley’ describes a disreputable garment pressed into service in extremis ’when wee / Left craggie Biston, and the fatall Dee’:
beaten with fresh storms, and late mishap
It shar’d the office of a Cloke, and Cap,
To see how ’bout my clouded head it stood
Like a thick Turband, or some Lawyers Hood,
While the stiffe, hollow pletes on ev’ry side
Like conduit-pipes rain’d from the Bearded hide
(ll.19—26; Vaughan 1957: 52)
Social, personal and comic, like St Nicholas’s verse it negotiates reflection on suffering and defeat with resilience and a flair for surprising and apposite imagery. Such verse, however, is a minor component in the Vaughan oeuvre.
Vaughan published a small collection of poems in 1646, of which a translation of Juvenal’s tenth satire is the major piece. A more substantial collection, Olor Iscanus (’The Swan of Usk’, Vaughan’s native river), including the poems discussed above, appeared in 1651. Most of the poems to which an approximate date can be attributed were probably written no later than 1647 and Vaughan’s epistle dedicatory is dated December 1647. Yet the volume did not appear until 1651, printed for Moseley, and endorsed on the title page ’Published by a Friend’. An epistle from the ’publisher’, either Moseley or this anonymous friend (perhaps they were the same), asserts that they have been saved from obscurity against the poet’s own judgement. By the time they appeared, Vaughan had brought out, not with Moseley, the first part of the collection on which his major status depends, Silex Scintillans: or Sacred Poems and Private Eiaculations (1650). In 1655, a ’second Edition, in two Books’ appeared, consisting of unsold copies of the first edition, to which a second section was added. His last collection, Thalia Rediviva: The Pass-Times and Diversion of a Countrey-Muse, did not appear until 1678, though once more it seemed made up from much earlier material, some most probably antedating most of the poems in Silex Scintillans. All of this poses problems of interpretation. An obvious hypothesis is that, as he turned to religious verse, he found a kind of high seriousness that made him reluctant to vouchsafe his secular verse to the press (much as the posthumous collection from Crashaw was stripped of his secular verse). Poetry-writing seems substantially to have halted after 1655, and the final collection may be a nostalgic gesture.
The critical tradition has sometimes reflected on the changes in the ways Vaughan represented himself (or was represented) between Olor Iscanus and Silex Scintillans, though the distinctions can perhaps be overstated. Certainly, the ’Swan of Usk’ proclaims a rural and provincial predisposition, and an illustrated title page depicts a swimming swan surrounded with paraphernalia appropriate for pastoral lyric, bees, trees, flowers. He appears, perhaps, as a sort of Cymric version of Charles Cotton, adopting, in political eclipse, the purity of rural retirement. On the 1650 and 1655 title pages of Silex Scintillans he is styled ’Henry Vaughan Silurist’. Again, it is a regional marker, and presumably an assertion of provincial purity: the Silures were the Celtic tribe that inhabited south-east Wales. But it may imply a different kind of resistance. Jonathan Post suggests it marks an invocation of the pristine primitivism of the British church flourishing before the Anglo-Saxon invasion, a kind of ancient godliness that antedated Britain’s subsequent Roman conversion (1982: esp. ch. 5).
Silex Scintillans owes far more to Herbert’s The Temple than Crashaw’s Steps to the Temple does. His secondary title, Sacred Poems and Private Eiaculations, echoes precisely the secondary title of Herbert’s volume. The debt is specifically acknowledged in his preface, dated 1654, to the 1655 collection (Vaughan 1957: 391). But it is pervasive both in the thematic concerns and the prosodic innovations of his divine poetry. Vaughan experiments repeatedly with line lengths and rhyme schemes with a freedom licensed by Herbert’s practice (well considered by Post 1982, especially chapter 4). Sometimes his proximity to his model constitutes a kind of homage. Thus, in ’Prayer (I)’ (considered above, chapter 4), Herbert assembles, in a series of noun phrases in apposition to the opening word ’prayer’, a range of sometimes brilliant images to represent its characteristics. In ’Son-dayes’ (that is, Sundays), Vaughan repeats the trick. The Sabbath is ’Gods walking houre; / The Cool o’th’day; / The Creatures Jubile’ (ll.11—13; ibid.: 447), and so on. Occasionally, he matches the priestly imperatives of ’The Church-Porch: Perirrhanterium’. Using the same stanzaic structure, in ’Rules and Lessons’ he adjures his readers to rise and pray early, to resist peer pressure, remember the poor, to stay true to God, country and friends, and to close the day by listing and evaluating one’s deeds (ibid.: 436—9).
As in the case of The Temple, the experience of reading through the two parts of Silex Scintillans differs from expectations raised by a familiarity with the usual anthology pieces. This is a very substantial body of verse, some of it didactic, much of it quite stark, its plain style carrying argument and meditation on sacred themes. But it lacks the strong structural sense of Herbert’s collection, which drives its readers through a process of penitential reflection to an assurance of grace. Vaughan returns persistently to a small number of themes, predominately the relationships between life and death and the living and the dead. Robert Wilcher has sought, with some success, to distinguish the ’grief and political despair’ of the 1650 part from the ’renewed sense of historical purpose’ of the 1655, which in turn may be related to a process of accommodation in royalist ideology (Wilcher 2001: 336). Yet we should not understate how much the parts have in common, both in their core concerns and poetic technique.
A number of elegies, poems apparently occasioned by the death of unidentified individuals, punctuate the collection, and their subject has occasioned some critical speculation. The circumstantial details often match the death of his youngest brother, probably from wounds sustained in military action on the royalist side. Though he draws on the usual repertoire of Christian consolation to manage emotional response to death, he seems much less comfortable with managing the problems of living. Jonathan Post concludes, ’The elegiac past often blends into a chiliastic future and shrinks the place of the present into an almost nonexistent moment between the two’ (1982: 99). Certainly, the present is rendered unimportant under the view of eternity, but it doesn’t really feel like a moment. Rather, in its drossy solitude it appears for Vaughan achingly long, wearisomely tedious.
Consider that astonishing poem, ’They are all gone into the world of light!’ Vaughan places the dead in a superior but unknowable realm, of which the living have only imperfect hints. ’Mists … blot and fill’ the vision of the poet (l.37; Vaughan 1957: 484). Death is the subject of celebration, ’beauteous death! the Jewel of the Just’ (l.17). Two images establish the unease of the living in contemplation of the rewards of the dead. Going up into the world of light has a naturalistic resonance; as Vaughan, who lived in hill country, well knew, around dawn and dusk, the tops hold the sunlight while the lower slopes are in shadow. In shadow is where the speaker of the poem really stays. The image of the soul as a liberated bird is traditional and familiar, but again Vaughan ties it closely to the countryman’s experience of finding ’some fledg’d birds nest’ (l.21). The sense of place, of rural provincialism, gives a contextualizing richness generally missing in Herbert’s ascetic atopicality. Though Vaughan may dismiss the material world in which he must sojourn, he notices and describes it with precision and sensitivity.
His political affiliations are much more transparent than Herbert’s. In his secular poetry, cavalier themes and engagement with specific events, battles and the deaths that they occasion, are explicit and unequivocal: this is the voice of a defeated royalist. The religious verse reflects that tendency, too, though generally more obliquely. Yet it is to be found even in his most transcendent poem, the extraordinary ’The World’. Post rightly terms its opening ’vertiginous’ (Post 1999: 191):
I saw Eternity the other night
Like a great Ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright,
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d, In which the world
And all her train were hurl’d ….
(ll.1—7; Vaughan 1957: 466)
Vaughan had mastered Herbert’s lesson, that seemingly simple language can communicate a vatic profundity. Here, it adds to the surprise, the shock, of the opening. He ’saw Eternity the other night’, an idiom he could use for a random encounter on the village green. But eternity, a bewildering concept, cannot sustain the reification ’saw’ implies. The poem slides quickly to simile — eternity is like a ring — and thence to a kind of dream allegory. With an apposite circularity the poem return to the image of the ring, now, with a breath-taking leap of the imagination, transformed into the ring Christ the bridegroom brings for the watching souls of his brides, the saved. The image, of course, is apocalyptic, present both in a parable in the gospel of Matthew (25:1—10) and in the Book of Revelation (19:7—9).
Vaughan caps the poem with a text from the first epistle of John (2:16—17), which asserts that ’All that is in the world … is of the world’. But most of the poem, between those glimpses of eternity, is about the world, an account of materialism and misconceptions on the part of exemplary figures, ’The doting Lover’, ’The darksome Statesman’, ’The fearfull miser’, and ’The down-right Epicure’ (ll.8, 16, 31, 38; Vaughan 1957:466—7. Even at the heart of a visionary engagement with the transcendence of eternity Vaughan’s political loyalties are apparent. Something approaching a grim satire informs his account of the statesman, digging like a mole as he plunders ’Churches and altars’: ’It rain’d about him bloud and tears, but he / Drank them as free’ (ll.29—30).Vaughan may contend, like Wordsworth, that the world is too much with us, but his ideological engagement remains undiminished.
Theatre history in 1640—2 saw some intensification of trends observed through the 1630s (see above, chapter 4), together with an incipient engagement with the developing crisis. Sir John Suckling, who had been in arms for the king on his Scottish expeditions, brought home to the stage a perspective on rebellion at odds with the king’s attempts to patch up an agreement of sorts with his northern subjects. His Brennoralt, performed by the King’s Men probably no later than 1641, depicts a war between Poland and Lithuania, a subject nation in rebellion against the Polish crown. Analogies with Anglo-Scottish tension are obvious, and, as Wilcher observes, ’the eponymous hero … was a spokesman for those more headstrong Cavaliers who felt that a firmer line should be taken with the Scots’ (2001: 39). Nor was Suckling’s a lone initiative. On the death of Christopher Beeston, the veteran impressario of the Phoenix theatre, his son William replaced him as manager of the King’s and Queen’s Young Company. After some initial success, in which he attracted Richard Brome from Salisbury Court to write for his company, William overplayed his hand by allowing the performance of ’an unlicensed and now unknown play mocking some of the King’s doings that led to the second bishops’ war’, for which he and two actors were jailed and the theatre briefly closed. The Master of the Revels recorded Charles’s direct involvement in the affair: the play, the playbook for which was confiscated, ’was complained of by his majesty to me with command to punish the offenders’. William Davenant was appointed the company’s new director, a decision that signalled the court’s closest interest in what was performed on the London stage as the political crisis developed. It also anticipated Davenant’s role in the Restoration theatre (Wickham et al. 2000: 625, 635—6).
Theatres reflected the tense, active, unpredictable days immediately preceding the inception of the first civil war, though they proved the most fragile of cultural institutions. Davenant and Suckling, royalist plotters, both fled to exile, and the theatres themselves were closed, leaving actors and professional dramatists to shift as best they could. The first and decisive piece of legislation, ’An Ordinance of the Lords and Commons concerning stage plays’, was passed by the Long Parliament in September 1642:
And whereas public sports do not well agree with public calamities, nor public stage plays with the seasons of humiliation, this being an exercise of sad and pious solemnity, and the other being spectacles of pleasure, too commonly expressing lascivious mirth and levity: it is therefore thought fit and ordained by the Lords and Commons in this Parliament assembled, that while these sad causes and set-times of humiliation do continue, public stage plays shall cease and be foreborne. (Ibid.: 132)
Puritan animosity to plays and playhouses extended back to the previous century, and some of the order, particularly its concern with pleasure and lascivious mirth, reflects the old spirit of Zeal-of-the-Land Busy. Yet the legislation was introduced as a temporary measure, ’while these sad causes … do continue’, and was presented as a matter of decorum, of what was fitting during the melancholy days of civil strife and at a time when a system of public fasting and prayer was under development as a kind of national atonement. Theatres had been closed temporarily before, as during the period of mourning for members of the royal family. But they had also been closed when civil order had been under threat, for example by the Essex conspiracy (see above, chapter 1). Theatres afforded probably the only confined public spaces in which large numbers of citizens could gather together, and as such, quite reasonably, attracted the attention of a prudent and nervous government. Moreover, in the years immediately before the war began, plays had become once more topical in ways that had worried the king and could well have worried parliament.
Recent scholarship has disputed the old orthodoxy that ’a gap’ separates the late Caroline theatre from that of Restoration England (Wiseman 1998). Yet the development of plays in performance was certainly arrested by the 1642 ordinance. But the market for plays in print was stimulated — a market ably served by Humphrey Moseley among others — and some pamphlets had dialogue and resembled formal aspects of playbooks. Moreover, records indicate a continued use of theatres for performances both of plays and of other entertainments in the years following the ban. The old and unfashionable public theatre, the Red Bull, seems to have been the most persistent, though what was performed is unclear (Wickham et al. 2000: 588—90). The legislation was toughened up in February 1648, with ’An Ordinance of the Lords and Commons Assembled in Parliament, for, the utter suppression and abolishing of all Stage-Playes and Interludes. With the Penalties to be inflicted upon the Actors and Spectators, herein exprest’. As Wickham et al. observe, the wording ’has a triumphalist finality built into it’. Significantly, the actors, once protected by royal patents, now ’shall be taken to be Rogues’, which exposed them to the rigours of old Elizabethan legislation against vagabonds, though some remained prepared to take the risk (ibid.: 133—5). ’Utter suppression and abolishing’ removed the provisional and reactive characteristics of the 1642 measure.
Yet in the 1650s fascinating new developments emerged on the English stage. In 1653 James Shirley, who had supported himself as a schoolmaster since the interruption of his career as a dramatist, scripted a masque, Cupid and Death, for performance at the Protectorate court as part of the entertainment for a Portuguese embassy. (A treaty of alliance was signed in 1654.) Like a Caroline court masque, the performance was a synthesis of the performing arts. Luke Channen, a leading dancing master of the day, provided choreography, and the music was composed by Christopher Gibbons, son of the late Orlando Gibbons, and a teacher of John Blow, and Matthew Locke, a major influence on Henry Purcell, who commemorated his death with an elegy (Rooley 1990: accompanying notes, 18—19). A cultural generation after the golden age of the personal rule, metropolitan networks were forming again across the creative disciplines.
Cupid and Death resembles Caroline masque in its use of staging, music, dance, singing and dialogue. Yet it differs in that the masquers take part in the action and they do not dance with the audience at the end; the antimasque figures, working-class characters, engage directly with the mythological and symbolic figures — Death, Cupid, Mercury, Nature — and they also sing. The balance between spoken prose dialogue, recitative and song carries the performance away from masque and towards opera, a form Davenant planned to introduce to the London stage as early as 1639 (Wiseman 1998: 126). Qualitatively, the work must have been a revelation to anyone unfamiliar with Italian opera, as can be appreciated from its fine modern recording (Rooley 1990). As Anthony Rooley observes, ’Matthew Locke’s long recitative for Mercury is some of the finest English recitative setting ever composed, surpassing in beauty and dramatic effectiveness most of the similar work up to the end of the 17th century’ (ibid.: accompanying notes, 19). The action, which culminates in a vision of blessed souls in a vaguely pagan Elysium, is generally ecumenical and contains nothing offensive to Cromwell’s Catholic guests, though quite what the Protector made of it is difficult to conjecture. For blind Milton, who produced official correspondence as part of the Portuguese negotiations, who had heard opera in Italy, and who had collaborated with Henry Lawes in the creation of Comus (see above, chapter 3; Campbell 1997: 64, 155), were he present, the experience may well have had a poignant complexity.
William Davenant, who had become reconciled to the Protectorate, resumed theatrical activity in the late 1650s in the production of plays that were ideologically acceptable to the government, ’embracing a mercantile nationalism that echoed the imperialist ambitions of Cromwell’s regime’ (Butler 2002: 601—2). In 1658—9 he returned to the Phoenix theatre, which he had managed briefly in the pre-war years. He developed a new theatrical idiom, combining elaborate scenery and stage machinery with music, song, dance and dialogue. The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru. Exprest by Instrumentall and Vocall Musick, and by the Art of Perspective in Scenes, &c (1658) endorses the Cromwellian campaign to dispute Spanish control of the West Indies. After tableaux depicting the Spaniards’ unworthiness and cruelty as imperialists, a final song anticipates the arrival of the English army and a concluding scene has redcoats of the New Model Army dancing with grateful indigenous people ’in signe of their future amity’ (Davenant 1658: 27). The published text functions as a sort of advertisement for performances, as the title page discloses: the drama will be ’Represented daily at the Cockpit [i.e., the Phoenix] in DRURY-LANE, At three after noone punctually’. Formerly, playhouses had fiercely guarded their scripts. Davenant happily publishes his because the theatrical experience rests so much on staging and music that the mere words can only encourage their readers to seek out the play in performance.
The theatre history of the 1650s is thin compared with that of the 1630s, but there is evidence enough that the beginnings of a new and radically innovative era were established before the return of the king.
Sir Thomas Browne
Thomas Browne (knighted in 1671) probably wrote most of his first significant work, Religio Medici, in the mid-1630s. The text contains personal details consonant with that dating, and its level of erudition falls well short of that shown in his publications of the mid-1640s and later, suggesting he still had a lot of reading to do. Its circumstances of publication reflect that general movement seen elsewhere among royalist writers from a manuscript circulation to print. Quite a few handwritten copies are still extant, and no doubt others have perished. From such a lost manuscript, the work was pirated, as he avers, appearing twice in 1642. Its success is well marked by the evident demand for a third, and this time authorized, edition in 1643.
Latterly, the critical tradition has highlighted its pertinence in the emerging crisis of the early 1640s. Michael Wilding puts the argument most uncompromisingly: ’To situate Religio Medici in the context of the pamphlet war at the time of its publication, rather than in the mid-1630s when it was hypothetically composed, is to realize its ideological significance, and to see Browne’s participation in the socio-political debate of the English Revolution’ (Wilding 1987: 90—1). While the internal evidence points primarily to the early date of composition, it certainly carries a patina of cavalier loyalism. His opening complaint about the ’perversion’ of the press links the piracy of his text to the print campaigns that have seen ’the name of his Majesty defamed, the honour of Parliament depraved’ (Browne 1964: 1), quite a common sentiment in immediately contemporary royalist writing. Joseph Hall, a friend and patient of Browne’s and the most accomplished apologist of episcopacy, makes similar points at the time (see below, ’Pamphlet Wars’). Again, there is an ideological transparency in Browne’s attack on ’that great enemy of reason, vertue and religion, the multitude … a monstrosity more prodigious than Hydra’, among whom, tellingly, he includes ’a rabble even amongst the Gentry’ (ibid.: 55—6). This reflects a royalist perspective on the leadership of the king’s opponents, a clear anxiety that the county hierarchies on whom order depended could no longer be trusted.
But subtler themes connect the text to its age of publication. By the early 1640s Browne was established in Norwich as a respected physician with a prestigious list of patients. Such provincial security, however, came after a highly progressive education which had taken him, after Oxford, to Montpellier, Leiden and Padua, bringing him into contact not only with medical science more developed than that in the English universities, but also with a range of religious cultures: Huguenot, Calvinist, Catholic and Jewish (DNB 2004). In reading Religio Medici as a sort of crypto-polemic, we are in danger of losing our sense of quite what a strange text it is. Browne offers not a systematic theology, but a relatively formless account of how he arrived at his own belief system. He stresses both his own scientific rationalism, to which we shall return, and his ’generall and indifferent temper’ (ibid.: 56) that disinclines him from intolerance and persecution: ’Perseuction is a bad and indirect way to plant Religion’ (ibid.: 26). He tells us of his encounters with Jews and Catholics, and of his own worship among the latter. He lists heresies he has transiently entertained. There is an engaging generosity about his method. He, too, has erred, but the errors have passed, and he has found a secure place within the tradition of the Church of England.
But has not that church in recent years hounded, tortured and imprisoned English dissidents? Browne’s account would scarcely suggest that. As Achsah Guibbory concludes, he demonstrates ’a particularly generous vision of a church that, rather than silencing the individual, allows for his or her eccentric beliefs, so long as they are not made the occasion for dissolving the community’ (Guibbory 1999: 130—1). Browne seeks to take the heat out of religious controversy, indeed, to nudge religion out of politics. He is drawn to a favourite distinction of moderate Anglican discourse, between saving faith and matters of indifference, what were technically termed ’adiaphora’. It would be silly to persecute or to be persecuted about issues which do not really matter: ’I would not perish upon a Ceremony, Politick point, or indifferency: nor is my beleefe of that untractable temper, as not to bow at their obstacles, or connive at matters wherin there are not manifest impieties’ (Browne 1964: 27). Of course, in the 1630s and 1640s there was no shortage of men who would kill or be killed over just such matters.
Depoliticizing religion had an obvious attraction for supporters of episcopacy once the political tide had turned against them. What Browne tried to do was reflected in attempts by non-Laudian prelates to establish a new modus vivendi with Puritanism. It was manifest in the rise of clergy like Joseph Hall, recently translated from Exeter to the more prestigious see of Norwich, and thus into Browne’s immediate circle. Hall, too, tried to develop a more generous and inclusive kind of church, one in which a Protestant brotherhood, despite its diversity, could find common ground and spiritual community. Milton’s response is considered below (see ’Pamphlet Wars’).
By calling his text Religio Medici, Browne makes two claims: first, that this is the well-intentioned work of someone who is not a professional theologian, a civilian in the paper wars of religious controversy; second, that he is a scientist and a rationalist. The latter point is important for the Baconian argument he develops within it, that faith and reason are potentially in conflict (see above, chapter 2). Thus, in detail and in its largest mysteries, Christianity makes demands of its believers that are intractable to or incompatible with reason or with scientific knowledge. Because rational and informed Christians know such central propositions cannot be reconciled with what is known, the test of faith, and the triumph of faith, is greater for them than for the ignorant and superstitious. As Browne puts it, ’How shall the dead arise, is no question of my faith; to beleeve onely possibilities, is not faith, but meere Philosophy; many things are true in Divinity, which are neither inducible by reason, nor confirmable by sense’ (ibid.: 45).
Religio Medici marks a first attempt at reconciling the scientific and rational impulse with issues of faith. The matter remains a major concern even in his most overtly Baconian publication, Pseudodoxia Epidemica: or, Enquiries into Very many received Tenents, And commonly presumed Truths, first published in 1646, and frequently reprinted with significant additions throughout his lifetime. Its primary purpose is to identify and confute widely held opinions that are not true in ’a frontal assault on the troops of error’, in Robin Robbins’s phrase (Browne 1981: I, xxx). Thus, he ranges from ’that Crystall is nothing else but Ice strongly congealed’, ’That an Elephant hath no joynts’ and ’That man hath onely an erect figure and that to looke up to Heaven’, through to ’many historicall Tenents generally received, and some deduced from the history of holy Scripture’ (’Contents’; ibid.: I, x-xvii)
The volume, a sort of encyclopedia of what is known asserted in confutation of what is demonstrably false, affords a treasure-chest of contemporary opinion. The third book, concerning animals, appears particularly whimsical, even charming, to a modern readership. But each constituent chapter, often perfectly crafted, shows Browne’s capacity for synthesizing received wisdom with direct observation and a shrewd rationalism, while looking often to move beyond the observational to the ethical or religious level. Once more, he juxtaposes the discourses of religion and science.
Thus, his interrogation of the proposition that hares are all hermaphrodites (ibid.: I, 226—32) starts with the origins of the error, in tradition, in false anatomy (both sexes have organs that could be mistaken for male and female genitalia), and imperfect field observation (both sexes urinate backwards and they copulate without ascension). Each proposition is engaged with and confuted. But he opportunistically digresses to moralize. Hares can carry two litters; he notes occasional examples among women who thought, once they were pregnant, they could behave promiscuously, only to conceive a second child that resembles the lover, not the husband. At the same time, the hares’ abundant fertility reflects the kindness of a wise creator to his favourite species, since it ensures people will always have plenty of hares to hunt. Browne drives on to end with a tour de force. There is a flurry of details describing the sexual postures of serpents, apes, shrimps, worms, cuttlefish, even porcupines and hedgehogs, and then a robust, moralizing conclusion:
This is the constant Law of their Coition, this they observe and transgresse not: onely the vitiositie of man hath acted the varieties hereof; nor content with a digression from sex or species, hath in his own kinde runne thorow the Anomalies of venery, and been so bold, not onely to act, but represent to view, the Irregular wayes of lust. (Ibid.: I, 232)
Browne’s last major publication was Hydriotaphia, Urne-Buriall, or, A Discourse of the Sepulchrall Urnes lately found in Norfolk. Together with The Garden of Cyrus, or the Quincunciall, Lozenge, or Net-work Plantations of the Ancients, Artificially, Naturally, Mystically Considered. With Sundry Observations (1658). Despite the discouraging title page, it proved popular in his own age and was quickly twice reprinted. Moreover, at least its first text has found unqualified approval in the modern critical tradition. Its informing strategy loosely resembles the one analysed in his chapter on hares. Here, antiquarian research and field archaeology take the place of biology, but once more scholarship in the spirit of Baconian enquiry provides the platform for ethical digression and a transcendent conclusion in a radically different idiom. But it also resembles Religio Medici in its quiet endorsement of royalist perspectives and aspirations. Just as, in the eclipse of their cause, royalist poets turned to themes of retirement, of retreat to the country, so, too, ’In the 1650s, many royalist gentlemen up and down the country were inclined to take their minds off contemporary discomfiture by thinking about the remote past’ (Parry 1995: 248). Graham Parry is surely right to place Browne’s antiquarianism in this cultural context.
Hydriotaphia begin with an initial review of burial customs in antiquity and then turns to ’a Field of old Walsingham, not many moneths past’ (Browne 1964: 94), where funeral urns have been discovered. Field archaeology was in its infancy in the seventeenth century, and Browne’s careful recording of the urns, their bones and other contents, and of the site where they were discovered, is technically at the cutting edge. His eventual surmise, that the remains were Roman, has proved incorrect — they were Saxon — but contemporary limitations in knowledge about post-Roman pagan practices, rather than his method, were to blame.
Sometimes he returns to the concerns of Pseudodoxia Epidemica. That buried corpses are eaten by worms was and probably remains a popular assumption, ’But while we suppose common wormes in graves, ’tis not easie to finde any there; few in Church-yards above a foot deep, fewer or none in Churches, though in fresh decayed bodies’ (ibid.: 110). Yet by the fifth and final chapter he is moving inexorably to his mighty resolution. Robin Robbins’s phrase for the tract, ’solemn music’, is felicitous (DNB 2004). So, too, is Parry’s judgement that this last chapter ’must be the most sublime and richly orchestrated passage of English ever composed’ (Parry 1995: 255). The musical allusions feel apt, though it is the music of Beethoven, Brahms or Mahler, not the restrained precision of the English or Italian baroque. Indeed, the ending seems overwhelming, like the closing bars of some mighty symphony. Burial custom after custom has been described, meditated on, but now they are recognized as spiritually bankrupt attempts to secure a specious kind of immortality. Even to be remembered eludes the vast majority of the dead, and to be remembered confers no real immortality: ’There is nothing strictly immortall, but immortality; whatever hath no beginning may be confident of no end. All others have a dependent being, and within the reach of destruction’ (Browne 1964:123). His great themes are brought together in a grandiloquent final paragraph:
To subsist in lasting Monuments, to live in their productions, to exist in their names, and praedicament of Chymera’s, was large satisfaction unto old expectations, and made one part of their Elyziums. But all this is nothing in the Metaphysicks of true belief. To live indeed is to be again our selves, which being not only an hope but an evidence in noble beleevers; ’Tis all one to lye in St Innocents Church-yeard, as in the Sands of AEgypt: Ready to be any thing, in the extasie of being ever, and as content with six foot as the Moles of Adrianus. (Ibid.: 125)
Yet note how, amid the grandiloquence, Browne remains true to his method, still tying the lofty assertion of faith to the minutiae of antiquarian scholarship. His own notes gloss the details — St Innocent’s in Paris, because there ’bodies soon consume’, and the Mole of Adrianus, because that was a stately mausoleum, and he adds the necessary detail, that it stood in Rome where the Castel Sant’Angelo now stands.
The Garden of Cyrus has received less critical attention, and it remains for the modern reader something of a challenge. A quincunx, its focus, is a group of five objects of which four are arranged in a rectangle and a fifth is positioned in the middle, like the five on a die. Browne begins by considering the significance of its adoption as a recurrent motif in the gardens of antiquity. But he ranges immensely wider, pondering its occurrence in animal and botanical anatomy, its adoption in the construction of nets and its appearance in some celestial formations. Yet this text differs less from Hydriotaphia than may superficially seem to be the case. Once more, Browne is driving towards a moral and, indeed, theological conclusion and with a contemplation of last things: ’All things began in order, so shall they end, and so shall they begin again; according to the ordainer of order and mystical Mathemmaticks of the City of Heaven’ (ibid: 174).
Poetry for Parliament and Protectorate
This section considers that rather slighter corpus of poetry written by supporters of parliament and the Protectorate, and ends with a consideration of Cromwellian panegyric. Milton and Andrew Marvell nowadays are the most frequently read and responded to, though Milton’s apparently small verse output from the mid-century was for the most part not printed till 1673, and two poems, the sonnets to Cromwell and Fairfax, appeared only posthumously, and nearly all of Marvell’s early verse remained unprinted till after his death, nor is there much evidence of significant manuscript dissemination. I consider much more briefly the poetry of George Wither and Thomas May, whose status is evidently under current revision. I begin, though, with Thomas St Nicholas, a writer of some wit and charm, whose surviving poetry, extant in a single manuscript, appeared first in print as recently as 2002.
St Nicholas, a gentry-class, Cambridge-educated lawyer with business interests in the iron industry, was an activist in the cause of parliament and a supporter of the Protectorate. In the mid-and late 1640s he functioned as paymaster to the forces under Sir Thomas Fairfax, and in the 1650s he was a prominent local office-holder and intermittently sat in parliaments. Two principal clusters of his verse survive: that of the 1660s will be considered in chapter 6; that of the 1640s at its most interesting relates to his capture at the surrender of Rotherham and his experiences as a prisoner.
Neville Davies’s annotation and commentary on St Nicholas disclose few debts to vernacular poems, though rather more debts to contemporary prose from newsbooks to works of popular piety, and an awareness of classical authors, especially Horace. The Bible, however, predominates as a source. His verse, prosodically, has an untutored, almost primitive quality. But he comes at the issues that interest him without the heroic and chivalric templates of Cowley or Lovelace. His own experience, recorded with ample circumstantial detail, rests at the centre of his poetry, as he observes and remembers with a freshness of vision the forced intimacies, the discomforts, and indignities of a prison life which seem closer to the world of Alexander Solzhenitsyn than of Lovelace entertaining his Althea through the prison bars. Yet, in extremis, there is wit and precision:
We did desire to see if we could get
Some beds to rest on, and two things at last
Like beds we got, whereon when we were cast
Straightways an ambuscado we discovered.
A numerous brood of grey-coats there that hovered,
Expert old soldiers that had thoroughly lined
The sheets and blankets, who, as if quite pined,
Made such a fierce assault, not giving over,
And stuck so close that ere we could recover
It was at least a fortnight first. So these
Made these our beds prove but a little ease.
After that night I lay some eight nights more
Where, though it made my bones a little sore
At first: the top of a clean parlour table.
(’For My Son’, ll.292—305; St Nicholas 2002: 21)
In its extreme haecceity, the passage, in an almost Wordsworthian manner, teeters on the edge of banality. There are no parlour tables for Lovelace’s cavalier to sleep on for one night, let alone eight (but, then, there are no ’bowers’ in St Nicholas’s verse). While Lovelace can ponder flies and spiders, the bedbug is not a topic for his meditation. St Nicholas, ingeniously, metamorphoses these most unpleasant of ectoparasites into ’greycoats’, veteran infantry of the Earl of Newcastle, who line the edges of the bedding like musketeers lining a hedge or wall and attacking as if from ambush to take the sleeper by surprise.
’For My Son’, endorsed ’Pontrefact Castle, July 7, 1643’, is a social act, a fixing of experience in verse for the illumination of the poet’s son, explicitly avoiding engagement with the large issues behind the conflict: ’I’ll only leave a word or two, my son, / For thee, that thou mayst know when I am gone / What in these troubles did befall thy father’ (ll.13—15; ibid.: 15). Several poems begin with episodes from his wartime experience and develop into a wider view as a starting point for larger meditation (for example, ’A Meditation on the Way towards York ’cross Marston Moor after the Great Battle there, July 16, 1644, being the Day of the Rendition of York to the Lord Fairfax’; ibid.: 37); others function as a kind of therapy. ’A Farewell to the Provost-Marshal of Pontefract Castle upon his Journey Homewards, September 18, 1643’ sends off the hated gaoler, presumably in a text shared with other prisoners, in a poem of parting that ends with an epitaph they would like to bestow on his grave, preferably sooner rather than later, once the ’Provost-Marshal Mors [Death] / … has put him i’the hole, and there, don’ you see, / Will keep his fat corpse till the worms have their fee’ (ll.21, 23—4; ibid.: 33). Another poem recounts the ingenious killing of a mouse that has been nibbling the prisoners’ books, using an improvised trap, a ’Samson’s post’, that dropped Ralegh’s weighty History of the World on it: ’So great a weight as needs contained must be / In such an universal history’ (’Upon the sight of a Mouse, Taken by a Samson’s Post, under Sir Walter Ralegh’s History’, ll.4—5; ibid.: 32).
Perhaps surprisingly, some of Milton’s mid-century verse shares common ground with St Nicholas’s. The volume published by Moseley contained the sonnet ’Daughter to that good Earl’, to Lady Margaret Ley, which functions as a delicately turned compliment to a friend and neighbour, though it celebrates, too, her father, the Earl of Marlborough, as a good courtier in a corrupt court, a good judge in a corrupt judiciary (’Sonnet X’; Milton 1997: 289—91). ’Sonnet IX. Lady, that in the prime of earliest youth’, again seems like a poem directed to an intimate, while ’Sonnet VIII. When the assault was intended to the City’, shares St Nicholas’s practice of taking his own experience, with a grain of irony, as a starting point for larger themes. Arguably those harrowing sonnets, on blindness and on the death of his second wife, share some of the devotional practices, common within the Puritan tradition, of making an account of one’s standing and of looking for evidence of providential workings even in personal hardship. Sometimes, their uncompromisingly bleak resolutions are a shocking deviation from the expected consolation of divinity. ’Me-thought I saw my late espoused saint’ recounts a dream in which his late wife appears to him and he can see her; but the dream vision brings no comfort, not even a promise of reunion in death: ’But O as to embrace me she inclined / I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night’ (’Sonnet XIX’, ll.13—14; ibid.: 348). When the poet asks, ’Doth God exact day-labour, light denied[?]’, ’Patience’, to be equated with Christian stoicism, counsels that all human endeavour is irrelevant to an omnipotent godhead. Rather like those unfallen angels in Paradise Lost posted by God to guard hell’s gate but withdrawn as soon as there is anything for them to do, ’They also serve who only stand and wait’ (’Sonnet XVI’, ll.7, 14; ibid.: 333).
Milton’s most innovative poems of the mid-century decades, his explicitly political sonnets, were not printed until much later. They fall into two groups: the anti-Presbyterian sonnets of the 1640s, printed in his 1673 collection of his minor verse; and the sonnets to Cromwell, Fairfax and Sir Henry Vane, the first two of which were not printed in Milton’s lifetime. The third was printed in 1662 in a posthumous biography of Vane, a radical parliamentarian, who, though not a regicide, was prosecuted and decollated at the particular vindictiveness of Charles II (Hutton 1991: 171; Milton 1997: 329—30). Milton, whose own escape from similar treatment had been uncertain and recent, probably did not welcome the publication, presumably from Vane’s private papers, and did not reprint it in 1673. Of course, he need not have felt any such reservation about the first group of poems: nobody in the 1670s would be punished for being unpleasant to Presbyterians.
Though Milton did not invent the political sonnet in English, previous examples are few. He brings to the form an extraordinary capacity to engage in miniature with complex issues. ’Sonnet XII. On the Detraction which followed upon my Writing Certain Treatises’ (again a title in an idiom shared with St Nicholas), not only rehearses his response to his divorce tracts, but also defines the moral requirements for civic integrity, without which ’all this waste of wealth, and loss of blood’ is futile (l.14; Milton 1997: 297). In ’On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament’, technically a sonnetto caudato or sonnet with a tail, he works through a series of disparaging allusions to leading English Presbyterians and their Scottish allies (’Scotch What-d’ye-call’) to the witty climax of his final line: ’New Presbyter is but old Priest writ large’ (ll.12, 20; ibid.: 299—300). (As editors all explain, ’priest’ is etymologically cognate with ’presbyter’.) The sonnet to Vane shows Milton’s alignment with the most militant wing of revolutionary Independency, asserting the role of civilians in government and advocating the separation of church and state, an argument ’thou hast learned, which few have done’, which indicates a critical edge to Milton’s endorsement of the republican English state (l.11; ibid.: 331). The sonnets to Cromwell and to Fairfax, while originating in a panegyric impulse, modulate into more critical advice. Cromwell’s victories at Dunbar and Worcester are rehearsed, but their value is reduced: ’much remains / To conquer still; peace hath her victories / No less renowned than war’, which once more take the form of the separation of church and state, linked now with an implied attack on a professional clergy supported by tithes (’To the Lord General Cromwell’, ll.9—11; ibid.: 328—9). Similarly, ’On the Lord General Fairfax at the Siege of Colchester’, written before the purging of parliament which ushered in the trial of the king, calls on him to carry into the civil realm the militancy he has shown in arms. Once more, martial achievement is questioned unless it is converted into political action: ’In vain doth valour bleed / While avarice, and rapine share the land’ (ll.13—14; ibid.: 325). Rather later than these, a remarkable sonnet, ’On the late Massacre in Piedmont’, densely rehearses the anteriority of the Vaudois’ Protestantism over other churches. It describes the atrocities recently committed against them, vividly selecting the details (scattered bones on the bleak hillside, mothers and children rolled down the rocks), articulating the fitfully maintained Cromwellian fantasy of forming a Protestant international movement against popery (’Sonnet XV’; ibid.: 342—3).
Milton may have begun Paradise Lost in the 1650s; indeed he may, some speculate, have written Samson Agonistes in whole or part before 1660; both, however, are publications of the Restoration and we return to them in chapter 6.
Andrew Marvell’s first English verse to be printed appeared among the prefatory poems to Lovelace’s first Lucasta. It declares some common ground with the royalist poet and shows evident concerns about ’th’infection of our times’ (’To his Noble Friend Mr. Richard Lovelace, upon his Poems’, l.4; Marvell 2003a: 20). Indeed, not only does he excel in poetic subgenres favoured by the libertine tradition in Caroline and cavalier verse, but much of his overtly political poetry manifests a studied ambivalence. The Marvell oeuvre falls into two major groups, poems on affairs of state, predominantly in the satirical mode, written after 1660 and usually circulated in print; and other poems which either engage with issues of the late 1640s or the 1650s or else are usually attributed to the mid-century decades and which, with occasional exceptions, were not published till the posthumous collection of 1681, though some would seem to have had a limited circulation in manuscript. The former group belongs in chapter 6. (The poems celebrating Cromwell were cut from nearly all extant copies of the 1681 collection.)
The mid-century poems, though a relatively small corpus, show astonishing accomplishment across a considerable range of kinds. Though current critical enthusiasm for his later works has stressed their importance in establishing his seventeenth-century reputation (Chernaik and Dzelzainis 1999a), their revaluation should not be at the expense of those lyric poems so eagerly acclaimed in the early twentieth century. Indeed, ’To his Coy Mistress’ certainly stands comparison with Donne’s paradigmatic ’The Flea’, and, though it lacks its intellectual playfulness, it more vividly realizes its principal themes, of the transience of human life and of the violence of human sexuality:
But at my back I always hear
Times winged chariot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity:
And your quaint honour turn to dust;
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
(ll.21—32; Marvell 2003a: 83)
Its time-honoured place in the seduction repertoire of more bookish undergraduates must not obscure the extraordinary quality of this writing. He takes a familiar image, the emblem of time’s chariot, and reanimates it with a plausible detail — the poet hears it behind him, like a dangerous vehicle threatening to run him over. That resonant image, of the deserts of vast eternity, is almost thrown away, its logical difficulty (how can that which is endless have an attribute of size?) left unexplored. Although ’vast’ could be simply an intensifier (OED, signification 5), the spatiality of the image keeps its other meanings in play. ’[E]choing song’ proleptically but a little bewilderingly implies that already he sings as if in her tomb. Those intrusive worms are at once embarrassing, as invasive as a gynaecologist’s fingers, and shocking, but the tone remains cool, controlled and somehow aloof, confirmed in the measured couplet that ends the verse paragraph. Yet the sexual experience he opposes to the sterility of continence is almost as alarming, though here there is no mitigating irony, as the lovers ’tear our pleasures with rough strife, / Thorough the iron gates of life’ (ll.43—4; ibid.: 84), ripping them, destroying them, swallowing them down piecemeal.
Marvell was the last considerable seventeenth-century poet of the pastoral tradition, and he regenerates the mode with a new intellectualism and with a judicious admixture of the georgic. To his shepherdesses he opposes the complex figure of the mower, at once the embodiment of seasonal progression, mutability and death, and their victim:
… Flow’rs, and grass, and I and all,
Will in one common ruin fall.
For Juliana comes, and she
What I do to the grass, does to my thoughts and me.
(’The Mower’s Song’, ll.21—4; ibid.: 145)
Simultaneously, the poem has the characteristics of a pleasant, rather courtly song and a larger engagement, undeveloped, unsustained, oblique, with human frailty and transience. Marvell takes English pastoral in its final phase into new territory. He renders it poignant, showing a world of idealized or escapist fantasy invaded by a sterner reality, as in ’The Nymph complaining for the Death of her Faun’, in which ’wanton troopers’ have killed a pet (l.1; ibid.: 69).
Similar intrusive melancholy threatens the serenity of his longest pre-Restoration poem and perhaps his most ambitious — ’Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax’ — in Alastair Fowler’s words, ’In sheer length … an innovative, brilliant example [of the country-house poem]’ (1994: 295). Marvell describes a summer’s day in the grounds and estate of Lord Fairfax, the former commander-in-chief of the New Model Army, though an opponent of the regicide, who followed that action with withdrawal to his Yorkshire properties, a move which initially appeared to be temporary, though in the event initiated a protracted retirement from public life. The house itself is depicted as an embodiment of Protestant virtue. Marvell recollects that much of it was built from material reclaimed from a nunnery, which in turn supports a panegyric family history that demonstrates Fairfacian hostility to abuses of the medieval church and its grasping secularism even before the Henrician Reformation. A precise and ingenious description of the garden, which seems to be laid out to reflect a military theme, leads to a meditation on England as a Paradise lost: ’But war all this doth overgrow: / We ordnance plant and powder sow’ (ll.343—4; Marvell 2003: 226). The georgic scene of haymaking again recollects the civil wars:
The mower now commands the field;
In whose new traverse seemeth wrought
A camp of battle newly fought:
Where, as the meads with hay, the plain
Lies quilted o’er with bodies slain:
The women that with forks it fling,
Do represent the pillaging.
(ll.418—24; ibid.: 228)
The grim image momentarily transforms a scene of healthy rural endeavour into a landscape of devastation and defines the limitations of retirement in an age of internecine conflict; memory and imagination cannot retire. Another allusion addresses the threat posed by political radicalism. The mown meadow is ’this naked equal flat, / Which Levellers take pattern at’ (ll.449—50; ibid.: 229). In all, the poem celebrates as orderly and hierarchical a rural community as that depicted in Herrick’s ’The Hock-Cart’, but order rests on responsibility and authority. As Fowler shrewdly observes, though the sensibility of the poet has an unusually central role in the poem, the house owner is felt as a pervasive presence: ’M[arvell] is only the priest of the patron cult: F[airfax] is the god’ (1994: 295). Ideologically, this is a profoundly conservative poem, a reminder that, if the world is not to be turned upside down in an England without a king, then the natural leaders, like Fairfax, distinguished by birth, upbringing, family tradition and an austere morality, have an obligation to lead.
A dispute has arisen about the date at which Marvell composed what is perhaps his most finely crafted lyric, ’The Garden’. Echoes of other writers not in print till the Restoration period may point to a date about 1668, a view tentatively endorsed by Marvell’s most recent editor (Marvell 2003a: 152). Yet it bears little similarity to the poems he was writing around that time. In tone and form, it resembles the early lyrics, and in its praise of a retirement over the active life it shares some themes with ’Upon Appleton House’.
The poem is characteristically evasive. At its centre lies a Platonic reverie in which a garden provides the appropriate condition for the soul temporarily to quit the body and to contemplate an eternal world only transiently and imperfectly reflected in the world accessible to the senses. That ecstasy is hedged around by images of mutability. But the level of seriousness is difficult to pin down. It ends with a description of a sundial, which marks the passage of the hours, but it is also in the form of a floral ornament, and a bee busily tells the time as it gathers nectar. The flowers that make it up are themselves emblems of an unsustainable beauty. Earlier, the line ’Insnared with flow’rs, I fall on grass’ (l.40, ibid.: 157) reminds readers and editors of Job 18:10, ’The snare for him in the ground, and a trap for him in the way’, and Isaiah 40:6, ’All flesh is grass’. Yet there is a playfulness that undercuts that high solemnity: the poet ends on the grass through stumbling on melons. The opening stanzas establish the advantages of retreat, but once more the high theme is subverted. The poet’s love of trees is manifest in an intention to carve on them the names of his true loves — not mistresses but the trees themselves. Marvell leaves us with a perfectly formed but ultimately perplexing poem.
The idiom of Marvell’s non-political lyrics suggests close affinity with royalist poets. Marvell was a beneficiary of patronage from Fairfax (as tutor to his daughter), and from Cromwell (as tutor to his ward), and eventually a civil servant of the English republic (as Latin secretary to the Council of State), a colleague of Milton and Nedham, but the values inscribed in his overtly political verse are not straightforwardly partisan. ’An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’ both commemorates the success of the Irish campaign and anticipates the advance towards Scotland, which culminated in the triumphant battle of Dunbar. Yet it opens with perhaps the most vivid contemporary portrait of the execution of Charles I, incongruously bowing his head to the block ’Down as upon a bed’, in a description that does not shirk the horrors of decollation (l.64; ibid.: 276). On issues Milton raised in his slightly later sonnet, about religious liberty and associated domestic reform, the poem is silent. It sits curiously alongside what was probably an almost contemporary poem, his mock elegy, ’Tom May’s Death’. May was a significant neoclassical poet, a verse translator and imitator of Lucan, whose revised edition of his Continuation of Lucan’s Pharsalia, something of a publishing success like his translation, had been adjusted to reflect the impact of the regicide (Norbrook 1999: 227—8). Marvell contrasts his alleged ingratitude to Charles, who had extended some patronage to him formerly, with the integrity of the late Ben Jonson, the real founder of English literary neoclassicism. Yet Marvell’s charge against May, that in a facile and venal way he found classical parallels to contemporary politics, is exactly how he had concluded his own explicitly neoclassical (’Horatian’) ode when he asserts that Cromwell will be ’A Caesar… ere long to Gaul, / To Italy an Hannibal’ (ll.101—1; Marvell 2003a: 278; cf. ’Tom May’s Death’, 1.48; Marvell 2003a: 122; see also Corns 1992: 231—5). As Norbrook concludes, ’It is very hard … to see the two poems as easily compatible’ (Norbrook 1999: 280).
But Marvell’s praise for Cromwell, even as early as the ode, attributes to him a stabilizing and patriotic role. For Marvell, Cromwell’s decisive intervention into politics is an end to revolutionary uncertainty. ’The First Anniversary of the Government under His Highness the Lord Protector’, which was printed as a pamphlet by Thomas Newcomb, who regularly printed works for the Cromwellian regime, flirts unconvincingly with the notion that the Lord Protector may usher in the millennium with a noticeable tepidness (Corns 1992: 241—2), though its central perspective on Cromwell is that he functions as a remarkable and superior autocrat, like a king but much better than any current or former king. Also, as if by an irony of history, Cromwell can control dissident elements in a way that Charles I could not. The Fifth Monarchists, whose leaders had been recently imprisoned for preaching against Cromwell, are carefully traduced through the old stratagem of guilt by association (with Quakers, Ranters, Adamites, Muslims and others), leaving the reader relieved that ’the great captain’ is around to make them ’tremble one fit more’ (ll.321—2; Marvell 2003a: 296).
Marvell’s early essays in the satirical mode share some of the strategies found in his panegyrics. ’The Character of Holland’, written at the time of the first Anglo-Dutch War, figures the enemy land as the breeding ground for socially disruptive religious radicals, the ’Staple of sects and mint of schism’ (l.72; ibid.: 253). The poem invites a range of interpretative approaches. Plainly it exemplifies an important stage in the construction both of the national image of England and, through devaluative stereotyping, of its differentiation from other nations. But its technical accomplishment and innovation should be recognized, too. Satire, since its late Elizabethan beginnings, had been designed to be enticingly amusing and purposefully wounding, objectives which John Taylor the Water Poet, the best known satirist at the start of the conflict, had carried over into his own royalist writing. In ’The Character of Holland’, as in his anti-Catholic personality attack, ’Fleckno, an English Priest at Rome’, and indeed as in ’Tom May’s Death’, Marvell showed what a writer of great technical control, of literary wit and imagination could do with heroic couplets written in the satirical mode: ’Holland, that scarce deserves the name of land, / As but th’off-scouring of the British sand’ (ll.1—2; ibid.: 250). Marvell opens his poem with a series of witty reflections on the geomorphology of the United Provinces, serving a larger argument about their former dependency on English support and about their general wretchedness. He quibbles on Holland. The emphatic and pleasing ’British sand’ closes the couplet, providing the rhyme word, and equates the whole of Holland with the least of Britain. Marvell’s later achievements in this idiom could be anticipated from his poems of the 1650s.
John Dryden’s earliest major poem was an exercise in panegyric, ’Heroic Stanzas Consecrated to the Glorious Memory Of his most Serene and Renowned Highness Oliver, Late Lord Protector of this Commonwealth, etc. Written after the Celebration of his Funeral’. It stresses the role of Cromwell as a force for stability, bringing civil discord to an end: ’He fought to end our fighting, and essayed / To stanch the blood by breathing of the vein’ (ll.47—8; Dryden 1995—2005: I, 21). Besides an obvious prosodic facility, the chief technical interest of the poem rests in its sustained neoclassical imperialism: the death of Dryden’s Oliver is commemorated through allusion to the funeral rites of Roman emperors. It was printed in 1659 in Three poems to the happy memory of the most renowned Oliver, late Lord Protector of this Commonwealth, alongside poems by Thomas Sprat, future historian of the Royal Society and Bishop of Rochester, and Edmund Waller, formerly a royalist conspirator and encomiast. The volume constitutes an attempt at state art, a literary monument roughly equivalent to the elaborate state funeral bestowed on Cromwell. The imperial idiom pervades the collection. Waller had returned from exile in 1651 and by mid-decade completed his rehabilitation with the publication of a poem exemplary of the Augustan idiom, A Panegyrick to my Lord Protector, by a Gentleman that Loves the Peace, Union, and Prosperity of the English Nation. Cromwellian government, like the empire of Augustus, is validated by its success in securing peace and stability and in subjugating other nations:
Your drooping Country torn with Civill Hate,
Restor’d by you [Cromwell], is made a glorious State;
The seat of Empire, where the Irish come,
And the unwilling Scotch to fetch their doome:
The Sea’s our own, and now all Nations greet
With bending Sayles each Vessel of our Fleet …
(Waller 1655: 3—4)
Waller’s Panegyrick, like Marvell’s First Anniversary printed by Newcomb, aroused considerable contemporary attention, for Waller had been a high-profile royalist. Norbrook comments, ’Waller had deftly dissociated Augustan poetic culture from the Stuarts and found an idiom for supporting the Protectorate which could appeal to a traditional political elite that was weary of tumult’ (1999: 307). Indeed so, and the model he developed found followers among that younger generation of writers among whom the tumults — and the aspirations — of the 1640s were experienced only vicariously.
By the mid-1650s an extensive Cromwellian establishment had emerged, supporting a system of patronage analogous to that of the 1620s or 1630s. Waller, who was connected to Cromwell by marriage, accepted office as a commissioner for trade. Dryden probably was a minor civil servant alongside Marvell, though the details are uncertain. Sprat was a protégé of John Wilkins, Master of Wadham College, Oxford, and Cromwell’s brother-in-law. Of course, Milton and Marchamont Nedham respectively occupied the principal roles of Latin apologist and periodical propagandist. George Wither, whose widely read emblem book was considered in chapter 4, stood substantially outside the golden circle, though his writings of the mid-century decades show interesting development from individualism and eccentricity to a version of Cromwellian conformity. Briefly in arms for parliament, he published in 1643 his Campo-musae, or The field-musings of Captain George Wither, mixing rudimentary political philosophy with reflections on recent events, though keeping himself near the centre of the account. Wither generally appears as the hero of his own narrative, and Norbrook’s suggestion, that the poem shows ’a commitment to setting personal experience in a wider political context’, perhaps understates his self-obsession (Norbrook 1999: 89). By 1655 and The Protector. A poem briefly illustrating the superminency of that dignity, he seems to have accommodated himself to the predominant idiom, although the declarative mode seems strained. The poem begins, ’LORD, of the noblest of all Soveraign Stiles, / Of BRITAN’S Empire, Provinces, and Isles: / Bright Load-star of the North … ’ (Wither 1655: sig. A2v).
Intermittently since the Reformation, fiercely polemical exchanges had exercised professional theologians, eager amateurs and others recruited primarily for their writing abilities. In the Elizabethan period and into the reign of James I, Catholics, for the most part based in continental Europe, assailed the Protestant church settlement and celebrated the witness of their martyrs. Puritans, critical of what they saw as the residual popery of that settlement, berated episcopalian church government, ridiculed the Book of Common Prayer, vestments and rituals, and eventually squabbled among themselves. Meanwhile, apologists for the leadership of the Church of England attempted to meet attacks from both directions. The scale of such activity is significant but relatively small. Peter Milward’s surveys of printed sources identify 630 works of religious controversy in the Elizabethan age and 764 in the Jacobean, which averages out, respectively, at 14 and 35 a year, though some periods saw much more heated and frequent exchanges than others (Milward 1977, 1978). These works manifested a considerable range both in tone and form, from the most sober, detailed and scholarly exchanges to the pungent and exuberant satire of the Marprelate controversy, which contains some of the brightest prose in Elizabethan literature. Broadly, the pattern continued through the years of the personal rule, and occasioned probably the most serious and ultimately destructive episodes in the martyrdom of Prynne, Burton and Bastwick in 1637. As the Long Parliament turned to the grievances raised against the Laudian church, these controversies, in some measure fuelled by the agitation and writings of Scottish Presbyterians, flared into vigorous life that continued into the mid-1640s as the frictions grew between mainstream Presbyterians and their allies and more radical groups from Congregational Independency to the most extreme sectaries. David Loewenstein and John Morrill calculate that, over the 220 months between the calling of the Long Parliament and the demise of the restored Rump, ’explicitly religious publication averaged between twenty and fifty titles a month’ among the books collected by the bookseller George Thomason (2002: 671; my italics).
The rapidly developing discourse of controversial theology had a long tradition on which to draw. The language of political conflict, however, at least as it was shaped in the medium of print, was relatively rudimentary. Yet, as issues of religious controversy emerge as issues about where authority should reside within the state, that discourse develops too. But matters of principle, at least in the early years, are less often and less clearly articulated than the discussion of specific events, cases or grievances, and the construction of negative representations of political enemies and rivals. As the king is brought to trial, so the vocabulary of politics matures. Royalist apologetics, particularly in the hugely successful Eikon Basilike (1649; many editions), which purports to be the king’s account of recent history and his part in it, works in unprecedented circumstances the old routine of celebrating a holy image of the monarch. The opposition needed to find explanations and justifications for dismissing a large section of the elected members of the Long Parliament and, after the regicide, for bringing the king to trial and execution. Rudimentary and oblique arguments about the characteristics and role of the ancient constitution, sometimes heard in the 1630s, were more frequently and freely articulated in the early years of the Long Parliament. There were vitally important documents widely produced and distributed, perhaps none more so than the Solemn League and Covenant, first promulgated in 1643 and widely circulated as a contract to which many citizens were required to subscribe. Often, political discourse drew upon the discourses of the law, both in thinking about political agreements as contractual and in the forensic skills of prosecution. As the decade progresses, debate is widened by more fundamental discussion of what the state is for, how it is to serve its citizens, what their rights and powers may be and what indeed is the contract between government and the governed. By the 1650s something approaching a mature republican theoretical position may be identified. Moreover, in the Levellers, England had its first modern political party, indeed, a party that probably more closely resembled the popular movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries than the Whigs and Tories of the late Stuart and early Hanoverian period. It was an explicitly secular organization, and its programme and objectives were formulated in successive versions of The Agreement of the People (first edition, 1647) as a sort of statement of the founding principles of a new constitution: ’These things we declare to be our native Rights, and therefore are agreed and resolved to maintain them’ (Morton 1975: 141). At about the same time, Gerrard Winstanley, proposing social, economic and political change of a hitherto unconscionable kind, laboured to find a fit idiom, as we shall see, resolving his difficulties with great creative elan.
Two other forces were major stimuli to the development of a polemical pamphlet literature: public opinion and the market for news. Who cared what ’the public thought’? Increasingly, in the 1620s, 1630s and early 1640s, both the king and his supporters and those who opposed them cared. Elections traditionally had reflected the collaboration of local men of property to agree on a candidate who could be acclaimed unanimously as the representative of his community. Contested elections were extremely rare and were regarded not as indicators of political health, but of a distemper within the community, of failure on the part of county gentry or urban governors to control and lead the electorate. In the elections for the parliaments of 1640, local contests were more frequent, and reflected and anticipated the growing polarity of opinion within the political nation. Moreover, they were, arguably, conducted by an electorate that was not only more knowing and politically conscious, but also in some cases larger and a wider section of society (see Hirst 1975; Manning 1976; Kishlansky 1986; and useful summaries in Richardson 1977: ch. 8; Hughes 1991: ch. 2). In terms of political activity, it mattered considerably in 1640 what enfranchised Englishmen thought; once the war began, mobilization depended on a broad spectrum of society and the willingness of the middling and lower sorts to bear arms for king or parliament.
We noted in chapter 3 a growing market for those genres that carried news about national and international affairs to those literate and propertied sections of the population that were not privy to the highest circles of power, and we noted, too, governmental attempts to control or stop that flow of news, something that was more easily done with respect to print, rather than manuscript, circulation. The late 1630s and early 1640s stimulated demand afresh. Not only were there remarkable events unfolding, but they often had a direct significance for a population among whom there were a new political excitement and polarized partisanship. Hence there rapidly developed a periodical press, alongside the frequent publication of newsbooks reporting, for the most part, a single event. Almost all sides perceived the advantage in producing their own version, both in terms of controlling and selecting the factual content and in terms of the ideological perspective projected and encouraged. We shall turn shortly to the periodical press to consider the achievements of Marchamont Nedham, its first real master.
Thousands of titles were printed over the central decades of the seventeenth century. George Thomason managed to collect about 15,000 books and pamphlets and about 8,000 individual issues of periodicals, and, it is generally acknowledged, he missed many. Of the polemical items produced, the overwhelming majority contain little that would interest a student of literature in our own age; however, they may illuminate aspects of social, religious and political history. Typically, the prose style is at best functional and pedestrian, the imagery sparse and familiar, there is little humour and that usually of a jeering kind, and even the polemical strategies adopted are often clumsily transparent. Yet within the cluster of genres that rapidly developed work of real distinction and an abiding fascination of a literary, rather than merely evidential, kind can be found almost throughout the period, particularly in the work of radical sectaries, especially Ranters and Quakers, in the personal narratives of Leveller activists and, above all, in the astonishing achievements of John Milton and Gerrard Winstanley.
Milton’s career as pamphleteer was distinctively fragmentary. Probably radicalized in his views on church government no later than 1637, he remained silent over the opening months of the Long Parliament, when matters of religion — and the failings of William Laud — were already hotly debated, though he may well have supplied some information to his future allies, the Smectymnuus writing consortium of leading Presbyterian divines, which they printed as a postscript to one of their antiprelatical publications (Hoover and Corns 2004). However, once launched into print in his own right, with Of Reformation (1641), he hammered the leading spokesmen of prelacy again and again over 1641—42, dismissing the evidence for church government by a hierarchy of bishops in Of Prelatical Episcopacy (1641) and The Reason of Church-Government (1642), defending the Smectymnuans from Joseph Hall, the most able apologist for prelacy, in Animadversions upon the Remonstrants Defence (1641), and defending himself from an anonymous confuter in An Apology against a Pamphlet Call’d A Modest Confutation (1642).
The very title of some of those tracts indicates an important characteristic of much of Milton’s polemical writing — and of much of the mid-century pamphlet wars: this is controversial literature, locked into exchanges in which tracts are written to second or to assail the publications of others or defend the work of oneself or an ally. This is not a medium, for the most part, for the calm exposition of argument as in an academic discourse. The imagery of warfare understandably informs much of the critical language used to describe this corpus just as surely as it was adopted by Milton and by others to represent their own polemical activities. Late in his career, in his Latin Second Defence (1654) he still represents himself metaphorically in arms to defend the cause: ’I met him [Salmasius, his immediate adversary] in single combat and plunged into his reviling throat this pen, the weapon of his own choice’ (Milton 1953—82: IV.i.556). Of course, civil warfare and pamphlet exchanges don’t really have a great deal in common: generally, nobody dies from a brusque confutation, however humiliating. But they do share a common basis in aggression, in the eschewing of compromise, and in ideological polarization.
Milton, however, probably thought that the medium did indeed admit of dialogue of sorts between those who were culturally and ideological adjacent. Anti-episcopal controversy died down as the shooting war began in 1642, leaving Laud imprisoned to await his eventual fate, and Milton fell silent for 16 months before he attempted his first constructive (rather than offensive or apologetic) pamphlet, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (first edition, 1643; second edition, much revised, 1644). Milton argues for radical reform of the divorce laws, to allow divorce, with the possibility of remarriage, for couples who discover themselves to be emotionally or intellectually or ideologically incompatible. As the law then stood, the grounds for divorce all related to desertion, physical cruelty, sexual dysfunction or immorality. Milton’s tract provoked a response which may well have accelerated his radicalization away from the Presbyterian agenda of a uniform national church towards the greater diversity afforded under the Congregationalist model. Milton found himself bracketed with sectaries and heretics regarded as dangerous dissidents by his former allies. Thrown on the defensive, he reissued his tract in extended form. He attempted in The Judgement of Martin Bucer (1644) to find precedents for his position among the founding fathers of Protestantism. He laid out the biblical arguments in Tetrachordon (1645), and he slashingly rounded on an anonymous assailant in Colasterion (1645). In the process, recognizing that the new political ascendancy sought the kinds of press control that had developed in the personal rule, he produced his currently most widely read pamphlet, Areopagitica (1644), in which he argues for the rights of heterodox Protestants to have their views printed without pre-publication licensing.
Colasterion and Tetrachordon appeared in March 1645. In the following autumn, Humphrey Moseley, publisher of many luminaries of the royalist literary tradition, brought out Poems of Mr. John Milton, both English and Latin. Much as in Moseley’s editions of the poets of the personal rule, the title page has a nostalgic invocation of a lost golden age, presided over by the genius of Henry Lawes: ’The songs were set in Musick by Mr. Henry Lawes Gentleman of the Kings Chappel, and one of His Maiesties Private Musick’. We have considered Milton’s early verse in chapter 4, and this volume, plainly, is ideologically diverse, though the anti-Laudianism of ’Lycidas’, which the astute may possibly have surmised when first it appeared in the Cambridge collection of 1638, is made explicit in its headnote: ’the author … foretells the ruin of our corrupted clergy then in their height’ (Milton 1997: 243). Thereafter, until 1649, Milton’s publishing career was once more interrupted. He ends on a curious note, in an assertion of his own high culture. The ideological significance of the 1645 collection continues to provoke critical discussion in our own day. (See, for example, Corns 1982, 2002b; Wilding 1987: ch. 1; Norbrook 1984, 2002.)
But his political trajectory could easily be surmised from comparing his second cluster of tracts with his first: Milton, like many of those who supported the execution of the king, was evidently en route to revolutionary Independency, which recognized that Presbyterianism would be as constraining as episcopacy to those unwilling to subscribe to its newly asserted orthodoxies. Unsurprisingly, when next he publishes, it is to defend the rights of citizens to bring their rulers to trial, even if they are kings. Charles was beheaded on 30 January 1649; a fortnight later Milton’s Tenure of Kings and Magistrates appeared, retrospectively justifying the proceedings that led to regicide. The Rump Parliament and the republican administration that it supported found itself almost bereft of polemicists who could assume the gravitas desirable in their official spokesmen. Milton’s appearance in their ranks must have seemed especially welcome. In mid-March the Council of State appointed him Secretary for Foreign Tongues at an annual salary of almost £300. He remained in government employment till the autumn of 1659, and despite his deteriorating eyesight and eventual blindness, he continued to discharge his principal duties of translating into Latin the state letters of the English state to foreign regimes (Campbell 1997: 186, et passim). He also wrote propaganda on behalf of the government. In 1649 Articles of Peace, made and concluded with
the Irish Rebels, and Papists … Upon all which are added Observations disclosed the treaties, representations and correspondence of the royalist commander in Ireland and the Ulster Presbyterians newly in league with him against the infant republic, in such a way as to condemn the king’s party for betraying English interests in Ireland, to involve the Presbyterians in that treason and to set a context for what would be Cromwell’s bloody and triumphant reconquest of Ireland. Milton wrote the Observations that explain the significance of the reproduced documents at the specific instruction of the Council of State. His major vernacular project for the republic also appeared in 1649: Eikonoklastes, his chapter-by-chapter response to Eikon Basilike. In the 1650s, he defended the regime again in three Latin treatises, the First and Second Defences and The Defence of Himself (1651, 1654, 1655), aimed at a continental European readership and contrived in part to support diplomatic initiatives of the English government. These last five tracts were explicitly official publications. In 1660, as the regime collapsed, he published three vernacular tracts, his two editions of The Readie and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth and a pugnacious little pamphlet, Brief Notes upon a Late Sermon. These followed a late foray into his old territory of church government in his Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes and Considerations touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings out of the Church. They represent the logical conclusion of his anticlericalism of the mid-1640s. They oppose the support of the church by the state, dismissing the role of the civil magistrate in ecclesiastical discipline and arguing against the state endorsement of compulsory church taxes, in the form of tithes, to support the clergy. Both arguments put him on the radical side of the argument within the political grouping for which he worked.
Given his continental reputation, which was based on his Latin defences, and his high profile as adversary to the martyred Charles I, Milton was probably regarded as the foremost apologist for English republicanism. That he escaped execution in 1660 surprised his contemporaries, and he was briefly imprisoned. Eikonoklastes and the First Defence were burnt by the hangman at the Old Bailey (Campbell 1997: 191—2). His prose oeuvre merits a central place in the intellectual and political history of the mid-century, but what are its claims to critical consideration?
Of course, the road from Comus to Samson Agonistes inevitably runs through the territory occupied by his polemical prose. Milton studies have long recognized that any attempt to address his work in terms of its development, its coherence or indeed its diversity must engage with those pamphlets. Michael Wilding merely makes explicit what many accounts assume when he observes:
Paradise Lost has immediately relevant and urgent things to communicate to us today about war, about militarism, about political manipulation, about authority, about equality. Rather than seeing Milton’s years of writing propaganda for the Commonwealth as an impediment between his aim and the achievement of his great poetic work, let us rather look at the poetry in the context of that period of political engagement. (1987:4)
Milton has historically been celebrated as an agent and advocate of human progress and liberation, though such claims are not without their difficulties. Indeed, Milton’s republican writing demystified political authority and asserted the rights of citizens to hold to account those who govern them. But it also justified a legal process against the king which would not stand much scrutiny and it provided the justification for the Cromwellian campaign in Ireland, which brought with it the immediate horrors of the mass execution of prisoners of war, at Drogheda and Wexford, the expropriation of the land of an indigenous people, and a wretched history of Anglo-Irish relations whose malign effect is felt to this day. Again, Milton’s divorce tracts assert that marriage should have at its core something more affective than sating male libidos and generating children to pass on property, but the arguments rest on assumptions of male superiority. As Mary Nyquist concludes: ’much as the dominant discourse of the academy might like to celebrate this praiseworthy attention to mutuality, there are very few passages of any length in the divorce tracts that can be dressed up for the occasion’ (1988: 105). Milton’s anticlericalism leads him to advance the rights of simple, plain men to displace the minister’s role in leading congregations. But in Colasterion he tries to silence the critic of his first divorce tract by asserting that such an adversary, formerly he alleges a mere servant, has no part to play in discussing such matters: ’This is not for an unbutton’d fellow to discuss in the Garret, at his tressle’ (Milton 1953—82: II, 746). Even Areopagitica, that iconic text of the western liberal tradition, is premised on an easy invocation of populist anti-Catholic sentiment. Not only is ’popery’ excluded from toleration, but also licensing is condemned because it is, on Milton’s account, a Catholic invention. Milton exploits and endorses a vicious intolerance that had fed the bonfires of Elizabethan England and would so again in the Popish Plot. Moreover, the tract endorses the right of the state to censor books after publication. His blueprint for a free commonwealth, while it fends off the return of monarchy, contains little that is recognizably democratic in its model for stable government by a suitably godly subset of the classes that had traditionally ruled provincial England. His Second Defence actually contains a panegyric to a hereditary monarch, the eccentric figure of Queen Christina of Sweden: ’With what honor, with what respect, O queen, ought I always to cherish you’ (ibid.: IV.i.604). Of course, Milton is both a child of his age and a writer seeking to engage his contemporaries in terms they could understand, but to value him in an unqualified way as a precursor of currently dominant ideologies of toleration and democracy both edges literary evaluation towards moral criticism and simplifies the issues that shape his text.
Indeed, much of the critical engagement with Milton’s prose, over recent years, has been with these apparent inconsistencies, because they open up an appreciation of the polemical ingenuity he brings to his pamphleteering. Thus, the extraordinary vehemence of his attack on episcopacy reflects his objective of pushing on the Puritan reformation through a root-and-branch extirpation of prelacy that would admit of no compromise. His recurrent and undeviating hostility to Catholicism allows him, from a fairly extreme position on the spectrum of Puritan belief, to maintain a dialogue with more moderate Puritans whose world view, shaped by accounts of the Marian martyrs, was largely dominated by a fear of a return to Catholicism. Again, his dismissive attack on the servant-turned-lawyer who engaged with his divorce tracts can be seen as his resistance to that anti-sectary stereotyping, which took from royalist propaganda the image of the religious radical as a low-class tub-preacher: Milton speaks as a gentleman to other gentlemen with an appropriate disdain. His Latin defences are part of how the republic represented itself to the states of continental Europe, and it had signed an important treaty with Sweden just before the publication of Milton’s tract (Fallon 1993: 161). Propaganda aims to persuade, and Milton is expert in achieving those larger ends of rhetoric. The new republic did not choose him lightly.
Once the exigencies of the polemical moment have been allowed for, some recurrent concerns and principles can be identified in Milton’s prose oeuvre. Milton returns persistently to the rights and obligations of individual Christians (within the Protestant tradition) to think about theological issues and to follow ways of Christian worship that seem appropriate to themselves. With this concept comes a rejection of tradition and authority in matters of religion — each individual must freely engage the issue, not merely follow the dictates of a church, a regime, a priest — and it leads to a pervasive anticlericalism. Milton moves inexorably towards the views most explicitly expressed in his pamphlets of 1659, that religious leaders need no professional training and should certainly receive no fee, that they should have no recourse to the civil magistrate to secure their position or require the compliance of others, and that church taxes, that is, tithes, should not be compulsory. At the centre of those arguments is a kind of individualism that leads unsurprisingly to support for English republicanism. Historically and in his own age, monarchy was an enforcer of conscience. Moreover, for a king to have power over the beliefs, practices and, indeed, property of the citizen, unless he is inherently superior both morally and intellectually to that citizen, is — in terms Aristotle would have understood — a tyranny. As Milton observes in a brilliant passage added to Eikonoklastes in its second edition:
Indeed if the race of Kings were eminently the best of men, as the breed at Tutburie is of Horses, it would in some reason then be their part onely to command, ours always to obey. But Kings by generation no way excelling others, and most commonly not being the wisest or the worthiest by far of whom they claime to have the governing, that we should yeild them subjection to our own ruin, or hold of them the right of our common safety, and our natural freedom by meer gift, as when the Conduit pisses Wine at Coronations, from the superfluity of their royal grace and beneficence, we may be sure was never the intent of God, whose ways are just and equal; never the intent of Nature, whose works are also regular; never of any People not wholly barbarous, whom prudence, or no more but human sense would have better guided when they first created Kings, then so to nullifie and tread to durt the rest of mankind, by exalting one person and his Linage without other merit lookt after, but the meer contingencie of a begetting, into an absolute and unaccountable dominion over them and thir posterity. (1953—82: III, 486—7)
Reductive details are carefully placed among the assertions of high principle. On one side stand arguments from God’s intentions, from nature, from human rationality. Against, stands an absurd proposition — what if, indeed, kings were ’better’ than ordinary people in the same way that stallions from Tutbury, famed for its large draught horses, were ’better’ than the coalman’s nag? (Probably the modern reader’s mind drifts forward to an image of exuberantly promiscuous Charles II as if standing at stud.) Again, at times of apparent national rejoicing, monarchs ordered wine to be put into the London water system; ’pissing’, however, suggests it was probably not of the finest quality and makes its consumption appear distinctly unappetising — and demeaning.
As I have elsewhere concluded, Milton largely defines government without kings in terms of what it is not; it is not barbarous, it is not magical, it does not depend on the whim and permission of a single man, it is not irrational, it does not frustrate the reasonable interests of its citizens and it is not at odds with the principles of the Christian faith (Corns 1995: 37).
There is an obvious eloquence in this passage from Eikonoklastes. Milton stands above other mid-century pamphleteers in the imaginative brilliance and stylistic control of a genuinely gifted writer. In most of his prose (as in the prose of many of his contemporaries) there are many, very long sentences, like the second one in the quotation (’But Kings … and thir posterity’), but he writes them with far more control of these large syntactic structures (see Corns 1982, 1999c, 2001c). Here, he pulls together numerous elements of the arguments: what we may be sure of, how that is premised on an understanding of the real, not the illusory nature of kingship, how it rests on God, nature and reason, which point to the absurdities of monarchic government. He is also a great phrase-maker: there is a memorable felicity in ’as when the Conduit pisses Wine’, as in the less colourful ’the meer contingencie of a begetting’. His earliest pamphlets are characterized by a high incidence of sometimes rather flamboyant imagery. Here, as often in his mature tracts, the imagery is more restrained, giving his prose a greater decorum and a high seriousness perhaps. Always, though, the style is conspicuously superior to the styles of those around him.
Milton wrote as one schooled in the finest accomplishments of the western literary tradition from Aeschylus to the poets of his own day. Gerrard Winstanley’s writing makes reference to only one book besides the Bible — Foxe’s Actes and Monuments — but his work abounds in notions appropriated from or shared with a wide range of radical groups and theologians (Hill 1978: 9—11). His personal development depended on the conventicles of the radical sects, where he would certainly have encountered the forceful promulgation of heterodoxies in a discourse fit for its purpose. His own thought carried those heterodoxies far further into a kind of liberation theology avant la lettre, which supported a political analysis and demanded direct action of a simultaneously practical and symbolic nature (Bradstock 1997).
Winstanley’s theological writing developed a complex argument, resting on five principles. First, the millennium is not a single event in the future but a personal resurrection of a spiritual, not a physical, kind, which happens whenever the spirit of God enters a regenerate believer. Second, that spirit is especially active at the time of his writing and it is spreading epidemically through England. Third, God may be equated with Reason. Fourth, the fall of Adam represents the effect of private property on the moral health of individuals, not a single event 6,000 years ago, and it is played out in daily lives when selfishness prevails. Finally, the regeneration of England requires a renunciation of self-interest and the economic liberation of the propertyless through communal direct action.
The tracts in which Winstanley developed this materialist and politically charged theology present difficulties of interpretation and may seem impenetrable to most modern readers. Yet the theories sometimes find expression of great eloquence:
Was the earth made for to preserve a few covetous, proud men, to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the earth from others, that they might beg and starve in a fruitful Land, or was it made to preserve all her children, Let Reason, and the Prophets and Apostles writings be Judge, the earth is the Lords, it is not to be confined to particular interest. (The New Law of Righteousnes; Winstanley 1941: 196)
’Bag and barn’ ties the high rhetoric back to the English earth, to the practicalities of agricultural production. Already the language of his theological tracts pointed towards the Digger experiment of 1649—50. As he later observed, though he had expounded the theory in The New Law of Righteousnes, ’my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts run in me, that words and writings were all nothing, and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing’ (A Watch-word to the City of London and the Armie; ibid.: 315).
That action took the form of incursions into the common lands of Surrey to cultivate them on a communal model. As that experiment foundered under pressure from local landowners and their tenants, Winstanley produced a series of pamphlets of a rather more accessible kind, in which he reported the measures and injustices that had been perpetrated against his Digger colony. The task requires an idiom of plain simplicity: ’Mr. Plat … Tho: Sutton, of Cobham, have hired three men, to attend both night and day, to beat the Diggers, and to pull down their tents or houses…. ’ But it is juxtaposed with passages resonating with the high symbolic language of his theological writing:
This work of digging, being freedom, or the appearance of Christ in the earth, hath tried the Priests and professors to the uttermost, and hath ripped up the bottom of their Religion, and proves it meere witchcraft and cosonage; for self love and covetousnesse is their God, or ruling power. They have chosen the sword, and they refuse love; when the Lamb turnes into the Lion, they will remember what they have done, and mourne. (An Humble Request to the Ministers of both Universities and to all Lawyers in Every Inns-a-Court; ibid.: 437)
Most of Winstanley’s tracts were published by the bookseller Giles Calvert, as significant a figure in the dissemination of radical tracts as Moseley was in publishing royalist creative writing. He published at least one tract for the colourful antinomian Richard Coppin, with a contribution from Abiezer Coppe, the most prominent of the grouping of extreme radicals to whom, in their own age and subsequently, the term ’Ranter’ is usually applied. A short-lived phenomenon (like the Digger movement), Ranterism had neither a discernible organization nor a programme, causing J. C. Davies, somewhat controversially, to question whether it was ever more than a media ’sensation’ (Davies 1986: 11, 83). Certainly, the most prominent Ranter writers achieved both immediate notoriety and uncomfortably close attention from the civil or military law. Jacob Bauthumley, the finest thinker among them, had his tongue burnt with a hot iron before being cashiered from the New Model Army. Coppe himself was imprisoned and most probably released only when he had issued a recantation.
Bauthumley, in his solitary publication, approaches Winstanley in his vivid but demanding exposition of an advanced and speculative theology:
Now for that which we call Heaven, I cannot conceive it any locall place, because God is not confined, or hath his Being or station in our setled compasse…. For Heaven is nothing but god at large, or god making out himself in Spirit and glory. And so I really see, that then men are in Heaven, or Heaven in men, when God appeares in his glorious and pure manifestations of himself, in Love and Grace, in Peace and rest in the Spirit. (The Light and Dark Sides of God; Smith 1983: 235—6)
This is a patient exposition of an irenic theology that parallels Winstanley’s thinking. Coppe connects tenuously to the world of Bauthumley, though he shares the pervasive political radicalism of Winstanley. His is a sensational style, producing a vibrant image of himself as an irreverent, ludic swashbuckler, staring down the grandees of the new republican establishment. But his radicalism appears clearly enough through the rents in its garish linguistic garb:
Do I take care of my horse, and doth the Lord take care of oxen?
And shall I hear poor rogues in Newgate, Ludgate, cry bread, bread,
bread, for the Lords sake; and shall I not pitty them and relieve them?
Howl, howl, ye nobles, howl honourable, howl ye rich men for the
miseries that are coming upon you. (Ibid.: 112)
It is hard to think of contemporary analogues to or precursors of Coppe’s rhymic prose, simulating a kind of ecstatic utterance that privileges the speaker even as it separates him from ordinary, serious people, nor are his successors obvious.
The Diggers and the Ranters were variously finished by the early 1650s, silenced by failure and by persecution. But as they ended, another group emerged, much larger, better organized, and destined for a longevity that has carried them strongly into modern times: the Quakers. Early Quakerism was characterized both by its theology, which advanced the pre-eminence of the spirit within to its logical conclusion, and by its style of worship, which asserted the primacy of the spirit acting within the true believer and utterly denigrated the role of the professional clergy. Early Quakers certainly shared the anticlericalism of Winstanley — and of Milton. They had an organizational robustness that allowed them to ride out the episodes of sometimes quite severe persecution they endured in the 1650s. Theirs was a proselytizing movement that sent out pairs of missionaries through the British Isles and much further, to the Americas and even to Turkey. By the early 1660s English Quakers probably numbered between 35,000 and 40,000, though some estimates place the figure as high as 60,000 (Reay 1985: 27)
David Loewenstein has latterly advanced claims for the eloquence of some early Quaker writers, and has demonstrated the messianic intensity especially of the early writings of George Fox, who certainly produces a singularly menacing apocalyptic voice, closely engaging the world of the 1650s (1995; 2001: ch. 4). For me, though, the most fascinating Quaker publications of their earliest days were plainer testimonies drawn from immediate experience.
The press played a massive part in the Quaker campaigns, and once more the bookshop of Giles Calvert figured prominently in their publication. As Kate Peters has demonstrated, itinerant preachers carried and distributed tracts which often served particular missions to specified places (1995). In effect, authors reported their own adventurous defiance in the face of authority and persecution in terms that allow them to repeat in the fixed medium of print to an unlimited audience what they did and said in the sight of but few. Often the subject is an exchange between Quaker missionaries and local magistrates. Those missionaries were often people from outside the political nation and many of them were women, whose role in the early days of Quakerism was more active and prominent than after the Restoration. Women were the first Quaker preachers to reach London and the university cities and many parts of the Americas (Hobby 1988: ch. 1; 1995: 88). Thus, a group traditionally forbidden to speak in church not only spoke but recorded and distributed what they said, often making much of their innocence of the tricks of masculine rhetoric as taught to the males of the educated classes, and distinguishing their holy simplicity from the sophisticated mendacity of the professional clergy they faced down. (See, for example, the achievement of Priscilla Cotton and Mary Cole’s To the Priests and People of England, we discharge our consciences, and give them warning (London, 1655), considered in Corns 2001d: 82—4.)
Eikon Basilike (1649), the final tract to be discussed, stands in a different tradition. In its own age, by the most obvious of indicators, it was immensely successful. It went into 35 editions in England and 25 abroad in its year of publication, was widely translated, produced spinoff publications including a collection of aphorisms drawn from it, and sections were even set to music. Its later history shows its perennial value to Stuart apologists, and it has been the subject of numerous, mostly judicious readings by modern critics (among them, Potter 1989: esp. ch. 5, and 1999; Zwicker 1993: ch. 2; Knoppers 1999; Wheeler 1999; Rivers 2001; and Wilcher 2001: ch. 10; see also Corns 1992: ch. 4). Its critical attractions are obvious: Milton engaged with it in Eikonoklastes, and thus gave it for the modern reader a distinction it would not otherwise possess. Its reception invites interpretation and would seem to disclose insights into a major section of the reading public. It is certainly a propaganda masterpiece, however unappealing its literary merits might now appear.
The text, often known in its own age simply as ’the King’s book’, purports to be Charles I’s narrative of events since the calling of the Long Parliament, together with his associated pious meditations. Its authenticity has long been questioned, and the current consensus is that the work was written by John Gauden, an Anglican divine, who was promoted to the see of Exeter and subsequently Worcester in the early 1660s. Gauden almost certainly worked from drafts, possibly begun as early as 1643 (Wilcher 2001: 277), which Charles had worked on during his captivity, and he may have been aided by other divines. Its integrity and composition have not been investigated stylometrically. By beginning no earlier than the autumn of 1640, the royal narrative seals off from contemplation any of those longstanding grievances which so exercised the king’s opponents in the opening years of the Long Parliament. Despite its seeming reflectiveness, it tells us little about Charles’s feelings or motivations outside a carefully constructed image of the king as lover of his people, devoted to their well being, and resolutely committed to following his own conscience with no thought to the price that he may have to pay. The text is very light on detail; besides the king himself, only Henrietta Maria, the Prince of Wales and the predeceased Strafford and Sir John Hotham are identified by name. It is especially vague about the king’s enemies, and I have speculated that the book was a product of a phase in which royalist politicians were paralysed by uncertainties about the relationship between the various elements within the opposition they faced (Corns 1992: 85).
Why did the book evidently find so eager a readership and what does its success tell us about royalist ideology? The answers are complex. Most obviously, it is an attractive physical object. Most early editions were neat, pocket-sized octavos, easy to carry around and dip into, and surprisingly well printed given the probably clandestine circumstances under which most of the English editions were produced. Many editions carry an allegorical frontispiece engraved by William Marshall, showing a praying Charles putting down an earthly crown to take up Christ’s crown of thorns, making the implied thesis of the text explicit and ensuring the penetration of the message to the dimmest reader. Indeed, in general, this is a very accessible text, plainly structured with pertinent and precise chapter titles. It is skilfully designed, with the narrative sections in roman and the associated meditations in italic (Corns 2000: 100—2). It comes endorsed with the apparent authorship by the late king. It appears, in its concluding chapters, quite irenic, looking beyond the immediate nightmare of the regicide to a time when monarchy could come again into its own, with only a few miscreants reserved for condign punishment. Moreover, as Isabel Rivers cogently summarizes it, ’Throughout there is an antithesis between reason, moderation, discretion, honour, innocency, conscience, piety and religion on the King’s side, and faction, passion, prejudice, partiality, madness, slavery and policy on that of his opponents’ (2001: 205).
The book even negotiates the problem of providence: how could God have allowed a pious and anointed king to be brought to his death? The solution rests in its penitential structure. The meditations are largely drawn from the Psalms. Charles, like David, has sinned, is penitent and through suffering has improved. As the motto on the allegorical frontispiece puts it, ’Crescit sub pondere virtus’, ’virtue grows under a burden’. David’s sin had been to seduce Bathsheba and to plot the death of her husband; Charles’s has been to accede to pressure and allow the execution of the Earl of Strafford, which appears rather less sinful, motivated by a momentary loss of faith and courage, encouraged and enjoined by others, rather than by a murderous lust.
The history of journalism often overlaps literary history, though by how much should not be overstated. My purposes in this section are to give some sense of what readers were reading alongside the canonical texts with which I am principally concerned. I want also to note the extraordinary growth and development of a genre, another manifestation of the extraordinary impact of political crisis on the production and consumption of text. Moreover, among the mountains of newsprint, much of it wholly ephemeral in literary terms, England had in Marchamont Nedham its first journalist of genius, whose work was as distinguished in its own milieu as that of Swift or Addison in a later age. The history of early modern journalism has been well served, and this account rests heavily on the work of Joseph Frank (1961, 1980) and Joad Raymond (1993, 1996).
Chapter 3 described the earliest periodical publications in England, originating in an obvious appetite for news during the opening phases of the Thirty Years War. The earliest corantos were circumscribed in what they could cover, largely excluded from engagement with domestic politics and carefully monitored. From 1632 the Privy Council, irked apparently by the lionizing of Gustavus Adolphus in the English press, imposed a six-year ban. The impact of that order was mitigated to some extent by the publication of semi-annual digests of news and by the importation of English-language corantos from Amsterdam. A new patent issued in 1638 allowed publication to resume, though the Licensing Order of 1637 ensured even closer control (Frank 1961: ch. 1).
The meeting of the Long Parliament provided at once a stimulus to demand and the dissemination of information in terms favourable to one or other political interest. Frank explicitly links the origins of domestic news media to the circulation of parliamentary speeches. The first English-language weekly containing home news, The Heads of Severall Proceedings In This Present Parliament, appeared in November 1641. Frank evaluates its contents unappetisingly: ’In a dull and impersonal style and with some inaccuracies it summarized the news from Ireland, told briefly of Charles’s reception on his return to London, and devoted most of its space to a bare narrative of events in Parliament’ (ibid.: 21). But demand rapidly stimulated supply, and titles, albeit often rather shortlived, multiplied:
[D]uring the first week of 1644 any Londoner who wanted to read his newspaper in English had a dozen to choose from. On Monday he could select A Perfect Diurnall, Certaine Informations, or [Mercurius] Aulicus — which despite its Sunday dateline probably came out in London on Monday. Tuesday he had The Kingdomes Weekly Intelligencer, Wednesday, The Weekly Account or the newly revived A Continuation of certain Speciall and Remarkable Passages; and Thursday a choice between [Mercurius] Britanicus and Civicus. Friday brought forth three papers: The Parliament Scout, The Scottish Dove, and a new weekly, Occurrences of Certain Special and Remarkable Passages. On Saturday the reader either acquired The True Informer or went news-paperless. (Ibid.: 56—7)
Distribution networks into distant parts of England and Wales had been established for manuscript newsletters for many years and printed periodical parts rapidly achieved a similar penetration of remoter markets (Raymond 1996: ch. 5). The catastrophes of civil war touched most parts, and so, too, did the associated accounts.
London held almost all the presses and parliamentarians held London, controlled the legislative process, the agencies that could suppress publications, and moreover were the major source of information on which journalists could draw. A spirited attempt by the royalists at Oxford, who of course controlled the university press, produced in Mercurius Aulicus (the ’court mercury’) a distinctive newspaper, principally from the pen of John Berkenhead (knighted in 1662), an academic who had served Laud as his secretary. The business of Mercurius Aulicus was primarily rapid rebuttal of parliament-supporting newsbooks, which it did with enormous elan, often through dextrous application of the hostile stereotypes that were so much a part of the repertoire of royalist ideology.
Nedham, an Oxford graduate and young schoolteacher, emerged as co-editor of Mercurius Britanicus, a paper established ’to counter Berkenhead, to negate the negative’, not least by matching its racy idiom (Frank 1980: 15—16). Nedham learnt his trade well, and by the end of the decade he was plainly the most hireable of journalists. A turncoat to Charles I in the late 1640s, he emerged from a sojourn in prison to edit for Charles’s enemies Mercurius Politicus, which appeared weekly through the 1650s. This was his greatest achievement, some 8,000 pages of newsprint, nearly all of it from his own pen. In the late 1650s he also contributed significantly to The Publick Intelligencer, the Monday companion to Thursday’s Politicus (ibid.: 87).
Commercially, he had an easy run. The new republic achieved a tightness of press control that silenced most other newspaper publications from late 1649. Frank, whose early study is plainly shaped by a fairly fresh recollection of McCarthyism, speaks of the official periodicals of the republic as ’the licensed pallbearers’ of press freedom (Frank 1961: 198). Perhaps, but that ethical judgement should not disguise the achievement of Mercurius Politicus, that ’extraordinary multi-generic text’ by ’one of the most widely read writers of the seventeenth century’ (Raymond 1996: 79; 1993: 332).
In Mercurius Politicus, Nedham immediately established a distinctive voice, characterized by its effortless urbanity, unimpressed with all opposition, confident of victory, at once cynical and satirical. The earliest issues appeared in a difficult time for the new republic, with a Scottish army already mobilized and awaiting the arrival at its head of Charles II. Montrose, an accomplished royalist activist and general, had recently been hanged by the king’s new friends and his head and quarters set up:
And for his better entertainment when he comes to Edinburgh, there is Montrose’s head of the Kirks own dressing, provided for his Break-fast, and mounted on the Town-house, on purpose to bid him welcome, and many Thanks for the remembrance of his famous Services; which the yong man (having one quality of a King) hath learned already to forget; and it is like the next News (we hear) will tell us, his gude Lads have made him declare. (Nedham 1650—60: no. 1, p. 3)
Nedham’s tactics are complex. He knows that he writes to Englishmen, and, in the absence of other sources of news, there will be Presbyterians and royalists among them. The republic’s primary anxiety in 1650 was that those groups would greet and join with Charles II once he entered England with a Scottish army. Nedham works to discourage that idea. Charles has learnt one thing about kingship — it requires the betrayal of one’s supporters as expediency requires, much as, Nedham suggests, he views with equanimity the severed body parts of his erstwhile most glittering Scottish supporter. Why be loyal to a monarch who rewards loyalty thus? As he puts it, in the same paragraph: ’the Roialists may see, what comfort their old Interest is like to receive from the new Scottish combination’. Nedham makes much of the foreignness of Scotland; ’gude Lads’ at once indicates their language and suggests the chameleon nature of the young king who now courts a people who had assiduously opposed his father. In the last days of the republic Nedham was to write an extraordinary pamphlet, Interest will not Lie. Or, a View of England’s True Interest (1659), in which he addresses interest groups across the political and religious spectrum, convincing each in turn of the risks of welcoming back monarchy: ’onely the Papist’ would gain by restoring the king (title page). Nedham’s world view assumes that people act from a sometimes rather unenlightened sense of their own self-interest and that they can be manipulated by enlightening them. He knows, too, their fears and anxieties: those early issues offer a vision of Charles as ’young Tarquin’, a ridiculous but still resonant soubriquet, the last of the monarchic line but nevertheless, potentially, a ravisher, just as the Scottish incursion poses a threat to the property of all Englishmen. But the quality of the writing is remarkable, particularly that almost Swiftean notion of Montrose’s head prepared and served like a breakfast delicacy; kings consume their people, even their closest supporters.
Nedham from the outset obliquely inculcates republican principles and assumptions. Indeed, he had shared Milton’s view that kings are just ordinary men, though often impaired examples of the species, long before Milton himself had vouchsafed such a heresy to print. Mercurius Britanicus had called down a storm of pious parliamentarian protests when it remarked that Charles I had a speech impediment (in Mercurius Britanicus 92, helpfully reprinted in Raymond 1993: 348; see also Frank 1980: 26). Mercurius Politicus, in David Norbrook’s phrase, ’puts its readers through a crash course in republican education’ (Norbrook 1999: 223). Indeed, over part of its long run, it contains explicit and theoretically aware expositions of ideological republicanism. Yet what sold the papers was its virtual monopoly in the dissemination of hard news and its recurrent verve. His mastery of tone and his political nous remained shrewd throughout. Consider one further passage. In mid-summer 1656 Lucy Walter, mother of Charles II’s first-born child, the future Duke of Monmouth, and still his mistress, returned to England with her son on private business and was discovered with a royal document about her that made handsome provision for her, an annuity of ’Five thousand Livres’ to be paid in Antwerp. Nedham prints the document and comments:
By this those that hanker after him may see they are furnished already with an Heir apparent, and what a pious charitable Prince they have for their Master, and how well he disposeth of the Collections and Contributions which they make for him here, towards the maintenance of his Concubines and Royal Issue. Order is taken forthwith to send away his Lady of Pleasure and the young Heir, and set them on shoar in Flanders, which is no ordinary curtesie. (Nedham 1650—60: no. 318, p. 7108; the incident is discussed in Hutton 1991: 125)
Understatedly, Nedham eschews faux piety and outrage. To republicans, he has said enough. He can leave Presbyterians to wring their hands that the king they ostensibly seek to restore should manifest the morals of a Tutbury stallion. But royalist readers are perplexed; the court of the king depended on clandestine collections, and this is how he spends those funds. Everyone, I suppose, was meant to be a little alarmed that this is the future queen and her son, the heir apparent. Leaving aside the historical irony of that final point, we may see here how, in effect, Nedham lays down the prototype for hostile representation of Charles and his court in the 1660s and more particularly the 1670s.