A history of seventeenth-century English literature - Thomas N. Corns 2014
The Literature of the Rule of Charles II: May 1660 to February 1685
Dissent, Popery and Arbitrary Government
The Restoration of Charles II to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland resulted from a realignment within English politics in which some of the dominant figures in the Interregnum political landscape changed allegiances. Crucially, George Monck, who in Scotland commanded an army of occupation, recognized the inherent instability of the republican regime after the death of Cromwell. His troops, like the legions of a Roman general descending from a remote province, had marched south to take the metropolis and with it the apparatus of government. Despite Milton’s briefly held hopes to the contrary (Milton 1953—82: 7; rev. edn: 482), Monck achieved not imperial power but a new political consensus founded on a restored and reformed monarchy. Negotiations with Charles produced in early April 1660 a document which has come to be known as the Declaration of Breda, a statement of the terms under which the king would return to England. The text and terms are wonderfully guileful. Difficult decisions, about who should be punished and about how land confiscated and redistributed in the previous decades should be recouped, are deflected to a future parliament, whose rights are clearly asserted. Monck’s soldiers, essential for the transfer of power, are promised their arrears of pay. Puritanical Protestantism is appeased with the promise of ’a liberty to tender consciences … that no man shall be disquieted or called in question for differences of opinion in matter of religion, which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom’ (Gardiner 1979: 465—7). Perhaps Charles intended to settle his English kingdom thus, with a more irenic and less confrontational relationship with parliament, founded on a toleration of a broad range of Protestant belief and practice.
The blood-letting after his return was spectacular but narrowly focused on those regicides who were of no use to the new regime. The Convention Parliament, which met in late April, debated until August the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion, which excepted a list of victims from the general pardon. The House of Commons and the Lords drew up their own lists. As many as 60 were at risk during the process, among them the chief apologist of regicide John Milton, whose Eikonoklastes and Defensio Prima were ordered to be burnt and who was briefly imprisoned after he emerged from hiding once the Act had been sealed. Financially, the Restoration was ruinous to him, since he had lent money to the republican government, debts which were not honoured by the monarchical regime, although he retained enough to live reasonably well (Campbell 1997:190—4). In the event, 29 regicides were indicted in October 1660, and 10 executed as traitors shortly thereafter, a grisly process that left bits and pieces of them displayed on spikes around the city of London. A further 19 escaped death but were variously punished by the penal system, among them 5 who were annually taken from prison to Tyburn on hurdles with ropes around their necks, as if to execution. In a similarly bizarre ritual, on the 1661 anniversary of the execution of Charles I, the bodies of Oliver Cromwell, his son-in-law Henry Ireton and the presiding judge of the trial of Charles I were exhumed from graves in Westminster Abbey, suspended from the Tyburn gallows, decapitated and turned into a pit dug on the site; the heads were then impaled on spikes fixed to the roof of Westminster Hall. Other waves of judicial killing followed an abortive Fifth Monarchist coup and a republican conspiracy (the so-called Venner Rising and the Northern Plot), which produced more heads and quarters to set up on London Bridge and town and city gates. Further executions followed sporadically over the early years of the decade as regicides were captured or surrendered and as the range of prosecution was extended (Keeble 2002a: 54—76).
These events had a literary resonance deep into the reign of Charles II, most signally in the late poetry of Milton (Knoppers 1994, esp. chs 4 and 5). They shaped the political consciousness of John Dryden and that astute observer Samuel Pepys, both hastily repositioning themselves as royalists. The exhumation of Cromwell had a pivotal place in the Journal of the Quaker George Fox, who by his own account witnessed it (Fox 1998: 292—3). For Thomas St Nicholas, the accompanying celebration constituted a ’triumphant cock-a-doodle-doo’ from men who would not have faced Cromwell living (St Nicholas 2002: 135). Milton’s own anxieties may have surged again when Sir Henry Vane was tried and beheaded. Milton’s sonnet to him was first printed in an account of his life and trial (see above, chapter 5; see also Milton 1997: 329—30). The Northern Plot occasioned the arrest of Lucy Hutchinson’s husband John, a regicide who had initially escaped prosecution, probably through family connections with leading royalists; he died shortly afterwards in prison (Hutchinson 1995: 326—34; Keeble 2002a: 73, 76).
The Convention Parliament, which had ushered in the king, gave way to new elections, and its successor, the Cavalier Parliament, assembled in May 1661 with a far less conciliatory complement of MPs. Through much of 1660 Presbyterians and Episcopalians had without success explored possible compromises in the church settlement based on a reduced role for episcopacy in church government. But the wholesale ejection of Puritan ministers installed in Church of England livings had been deferred by legislation confirming most incumbents in their places. Advocates and apologists for regicide and those holding livings from which non-Puritans, like Robert Herrick, had been ejected were excluded from this measure. Some 700 parishes witnessed a change of minister (Spurr 1991: 34), though Herrick himself seems not to have returned to Dean Prior till 1662 (DNB 1975). In the provinces, away from the delicate minuet of leading Presbyterians and Anglican conciliators, newly animated Episcopalians, lay as well as clerical, were carrying the debate away from the formulae of Breda and towards a more straightforwardly prelatical resolution. Meanwhile, the Venner Rising occasioned a wave of repression directed against groups more radical than the Presbyterians. The Cavalier Parliament took over the business of settling the church in the context of this drift from conciliation. In May 1662 the Act of Uniformity received the royal assent. It required from ministers acceptance of the Book of Common Prayer, that skeleton of the mass-book so obnoxious to the godly in the 1630s and 1640s. It required subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, which included an endorsement of episcopal church government. It required the renunciation of the Solemn League and Covenant, that founding document of the Puritan reformation of the 1640s. Finally, it required ordination to be confirmed by a bishop. About a thousand ministers still in post felt constrained to resign, with effect from the deadline of St Bartholomew’s Day, 1662 (24 August). Others of a decidedly puritanical orientation found they could in conscience conform, and a broader church than that conceived by Laud and Charles I resulted (Spurr 1991: 45—48; Keeble 2002a: 117—20).
For the Nonconformist ministers, as for more radical Protestants, the legislative process now worked against them with little compromise. The Act of Uniformity was supplemented by the Five Mile Act of 1665, which prohibited ordained men who had not assented to the Prayer Book from coming within five miles of the location of their former livings (though a clause allowed fairly easy escape from this restriction through taking a sort of extra loyalty oath). The Conventicle Act of 1662, beefed up in 1670, prohibited meetings of like-minded religious radicals, with a range of penalties, among which the ultimate sanction was transportation. These measures, the so-called Clarendon Code, collectively allowed local magistrates to act with whatever vigour they chose against dissenters from Anglican conformity under their jurisdiction. But implementation was patchy and inconsistent, and after initial stringency, effective persecution declined as ’the likehood of any serious threat from subversion receded’ (Keeble 2002a: 142). Certainly, Quakers were badly treated, and Fox was intermittently imprisoned through the 1660s and into the 1670s. So, too, were those Baptists who attracted the hostility of local magistrates. John Bunyan was arrested in November 1660, even ahead of the anti-dissenter legislation, and he spent the next 12 years in prison. Nonconformist writing is a broad and diverse tradition that includes Milton, and the Independent Lucy Hutchinson and St Nicholas, as well as Bunyan and Fox. Of course, it relates intricately to dissenters’ awareness of the threats to them throughout the reign of Charles II.
But not only was persecution uneven, at times it was suspended by the return to the principles of toleration enunciated in the Declaration of Breda. Indeed, the Declaration of Indulgence, the royal edict proclaimed by Charles II in 1672, allowed open worship and organization by dissenters, suspending all penal laws, providing that preachers and meeting houses were licensed. This short-lived measure, soon withdrawn under pressure from parliament, was designed both to secure Nonconformist support for war against the United Provinces and to establish a climate of toleration, which included the rescinding of measures against Roman Catholicism (Spurr 2000: 29). Even without this temporary relaxation, Protestant dissenters felt a change in their circumstances in the second decade following the Restoration. At its simplest, they realized that, no matter how bleak matters had seemed in the early days of the Cavalier Parliament, they had survived with their religious and cultural ideology substantially uncompromised. Worship was more open and less frequently interfered with. Dissenting groups as radical as Bunyan’s Baptists were starting to buy buildings and plan or even operate chapels. Moreover, a broad dialogue was emerging between the Protestant denominations, exemplified, perhaps, by Milton’s last work of controversial prose, Of True Religion, Heresy, and Schism, Toleration, And what best means may be us’d against the growth of Popery (spring 1673), in which he argues that the areas of disagreement within the Protestant community are technical and ’not essential to belief’ (Milton 1953—82: VIII, 436).
As N. H. Keeble notes, ’The Act of Uniformity distinguished only two categories of religious practice: conformist and nonconformist’ (Keeble 2002a: 138). Milton’s late pamphlet argues what most English Protestants probably believed: that, indeed, religious practice admitted only two principal categories, not Conformist and Nonconformist, but Protestant and Papist. We have considered several times the powerful impact of anti-Catholic sentiment on the political, religious and cultural ideology of Stuart England, variously manifest in the response to the Spanish Match, in the strong suspicion that Laudian ceremonialism approached too close to Catholic practices, and in the easy resort of parliamentarian writers to associating the royalist cause with popery in general or Irish popery in particular. In the late Stuart period the issue remained current, and served to reconstruct a larger alliance of godly Protestants of greater political significance than at any earlier time in the century.
Two closely related events brought popery to the forefront in the 1670s, the conversion of James, Duke of York, heir to the throne, and the series of anti-Catholic riots, demonstrations, trials and executions occasioned by the disclosure of the so-called Popish Plot. Charles II’s own religious convictions were uncertain and much debated by his subjects. He was widely rumoured to have converted to Catholicism during his continental exile. The secret Treaty of Dover, signed with the French in 1670, had a clause that required him to be publicly reconciled with Rome ’as soon as the affairs of his kingdom allowed’ (Keeble 2002a: 63, 170), an obligation postponed till his hugger-mugger reception into the Roman Catholic Church on the last evening of his life (Hutton 1991: 443). James, Duke of York, whose conversion may have reflected an enthusiasm for hierarchy but certainly showed no political guile, was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1672. He had last taken the sacrament in an Anglican communion at Easter 1671, although he continued to accompany Charles to the chapel royal till 1676; ’by then his Catholicism was so notorious that his avowing it openly could do him little further harm’ (Miller 2000: 59). Indeed, the Cavalier Parliament’s wish in the aftermath of the Declaration of Indulgence to exclude the Catholic officeholders whom it suspected of playing an increasing part in government had produced in 1673 the Test Act, requiring an oath renouncing the Catholic dogma of transubstantiation. James, like several of his closest associates, had felt obliged to resign his public offices, rendering his conversion almost a matter of public record (ibid.: 69).
James became central to the surging campaign against English Catholics, which in turn provided the necessary conditions for the sensation and tragedy of the Popish Plot. Titus Oates, the principal informer, and a cluster of allies alleged to the Council of State a wide-ranging Catholic plot to kill the king, implicating James’s secretary Edward Coleman, himself a Catholic. To Englishmen educated in the populist tradition of Protestant historiography, these disclosures must have adumbrated the return of the Marian persecutions. The revelation of the Plot, rumbling on into the next decade, carried off to trial and execution a number of Catholics, including Coleman, priests and eventually the Catholic Primate of Ireland. The issues provoked by the English obsession with Catholicism and with the growing uncertainties about the appropriateness of James’s place as next in line to the throne, dominate the political and literary landscape of the 1670s and 1680s.
Foreign policy and the related matter of supply, the provision of resources to fight England’s wars, further shaped the political climate and with it the course of literary history. Cromwell’s navy had fought a successful war against the United Provinces over a cluster of issues that had arisen from tensions and trade rivalries between two adjacent, maritime nations (1652—4), events which were to be recalled admiringly by some as the debacles of Charles’s campaigns developed (Keeble 2002a: 167). The first of his Anglo-Dutch wars (1664—7) originated in further frictions over trade and empire, particularly over new English initiatives towards West Africa, where the king, the Duke of York and most of the political grandees around them had personal interests as major shareholders in the Royal African Company. Most of the English political nation probably regarded the Dutch as solid Protestants in the frontline against the territorial ambitions of Catholic France and Spain, and therefore natural allies, rather than enemies. But the conflict, which started well, received the support of parliament in the form of ’the greatest supply ever made to an English monarch’ (Hutton 1991: 220). Yet the war soon went badly, culminating in the events of May 1667, when the Dutch overwhelmed outer defences, sailed up the Thames, burned three of the biggest vessels in the Royal Navy, carried off its flagship and then withdrew to establish a blockade at the mouth of the river. Peace was, inevitably, made on poor terms. Charles’s second Dutch war (1672—4) was an opportunistic attempt to regain lost ground by aligning an English maritime attack with Louis XIV’s invasion of the United Provinces. Once more, the war at sea went badly, compounded by a growing parliamentary reluctance to grant sufficient supply. Charles, by now in effect a client of the French monarch, disappointed his allies by making another disadvantageous peace, though less ignominious than that of 1667. As Hutton summarizes: ’Nobody … thought that the gains made had been worth the expenditure of lives, limbs, money, and commercial opportunities’ (1991: 317).
The military and diplomatic crises of the 1660s and 1670s not only contributed to the political instabilities of the times, but also afforded subject matter for creative writers. From opposing positions, both Dryden and Marvell represented and commented on the conflicts. In parliamentary terms, the period from the inauguration of the Cavalier Parliament in 1661 to its eventual dismissal in 1679 should have been straightforward for the king and his government since it was dominated by Episcopalian monarchists with a predisposition towards a supportive loyalty. However, military disaster, sexual scandal and a suspicious hatred of Catholicism frequently alienated it and undid the careers of leading ministers from Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, through Henry Bennett, Earl of Arlington, to Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby. Managing parliament became central to government concern and was often effected through an extensive use of bribery, contributing to the general air of corruption.
But the rule of Charles II was most strongly characterized by the sexual scandals of the monarch and his court and a libertine and lawless lifestyle among the highest ranks of society, which the king seemed prepared to tolerate. John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, whose work is considered below, at once functions as exemplar of and commentator on court circles and the monarch, whom he characterizes, as many others did, as a man prepared to risk much for his sexual gratification. A poem, probably by Rochester, observes:
[The King’s] was the sauciest that did ever swive,
The prowdest peremptory Prick alive:
Tho Safety, Law, Religion, Life lay on’t
Twou’d breake thro all to make it’s way to C—t.
Restless he rowles about from Whore to Whore
With Dogg and Bastard, always goeing before,
A merry Monarch, scandalous and poore.
(’Satyr’, ll.A16—22; Rochester 1999: 86)
Charles’s most thorough modern biographer rather doubts his involvement with whores in the strictest sense of the term: ’not a single professional whore ever boasted of the honour of royal patronage’ (Hutton 1991: 262). ’Whore’ may have been a vaguer term for a lascivious woman. But Charles’s liaisons included the one from his years of exile that produced the Duke of Monmouth (see above, chapter 5), two quite prominent actresses, Moll Davies and Nell Gwyn, and two semi-official mistresses, Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland, and Louise de Querouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth. To these was widely attributed some degree of influence on the king, even by insiders in a position to know the truth: ’His Scepter and his Prick were of a length, / And she may sway the one who plays with t’other’ (’Satyr’, ll.A11—12; Rochester 1999: 85—6). Portsmouth, a Catholic and a minor French aristocrat and probable agent of the French throne, was regarded with particular suspicion.
Though he sired no legitimate offspring, rumour attributed as many as 75 royal bastards to Charles; he acknowledged 14. In itself, his conduct shocked much of the political nation, for whom monogamy, leavened by occasional and discreet extramarital activity, was virtually universal. Marchamont Nedham in Mercurius Politicus had cranked the rumour mill in the 1650s, with his depiction of Charles as ’young Tarquin’, but post-Restoration confirmation of his unrestrained promiscuity came quickly and vividly. Moreover, it was perceived and represented as causally related to government failure and incompetence. It was said in London that he had spent the evening of the disastrous Dutch raid on the English fleet at a party with his illegitimate son Monmouth and with Castlemaine (Hutton 1991: 248).
Compared with some of his bibulous companions, Charles himself was relatively abstemious. But the larger circle around him perpetrated numerous and highly visible outrages, both sexual and violent, for the most part in their cups. Sir Charles Sedley, courtier and minor dramatist, in an episode frequently related in modern accounts, on the balcony of a house in Covent Garden, ’in open day … showed his nakedness — acting all the postures of lust and buggery that could be imagined…. And that being done, he took a glass of wine and washed his prick in it and then drank it off; and then took another and drank the King’s health’ (Pepys, quoted and discussed by Keeble 2002a: 177; Spurr 2000: 185). Rochester, a fine lyric poet, the heir to Suckling and Waller, besides writing some of the grossest obscenities in the English literary tradition, was a drunken brawler and sometime vandal (Spurr 2000: 81; Huttton 1991: 278). George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham and co-author of probably the wittiest comedy of the period, ’destroyed his reputation in the nation at large by killing the Earl of Shrewsbury, husband of his mistress, in the most spectacular duel of the century’ (Hutton 1991: 256). Rumour had it that his mistress had witnessed the fight disguised as a page and that the couple had copulated while his clothes were bloody from her dead husband. Charles generally protected his wider circle from the appropriate operation of the laws of the land; Buckingham, for example, was pardoned, though he lost favour with the king. It is something of a critical commonplace that Restoration literary culture, particularly in the theatre, reflects the promiscuity and lawlessness of those close to the king. I would add that surely more interesting is the guileful and imaginative ingenuity with which Dryden contrives to transform this tawdry phenomenon into something heroic (see below).
Charles managed to ride out most of the storms that buffeted his governments in the 1660s and 1670s. However, towards the end of the latter decade, anti-Catholic sentiment, screwed to a new pitch by the developing crisis of the Popish Plot, produced a concerted effort to exclude James, Duke of York, from succession, and to nominate the Duke of Monmouth in his place. Gradually, the Cavalier Parliament had polarized into those supportive of the court and government and those against it, typically because of its supposed leaning towards popery, though the ideology that emerged was broader than that. In the crisis of 1678—81, these groups became more distinctive and acquired names. Those who supported the king and the rights of his brother were called by their enemies ’Tories’, after dispossessed Irish Catholics turned bandits; his enemies were ’Whigs’, named after the participants in a short-lived Scottish rebellion, though the word had a longer history as a term for Scottish Presbyterians (Hutton 1991: 391; OED s.v. ’Whig’, 2). Recently, historians have cautioned against interpreting the loose and sometimes rather opportunistic alliances of 1678 and thereafter as ’parties’ in anything approaching the modern sense and against interpreting the so-called ’Exclusion Crisis’ as a discrete event separate from larger concerns and the broader sweep of Charles’s reign (see, for example, Scott 1991; Hutton 1991, esp. chs. 13 and 14). As Jonathan Scott observes, ’When the words ’whig’ and ’tory’ appeared on the scene … [t]hey were markers, not of party, but of belief’ (1991: 48), although, as we shall see, Dryden recognized some advantage in fostering the misapprehension.
As the crisis deepened, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, emerged as the most prominent advocate of exclusion. Charles lost control of the long-serving Cavalier Parliament and dissolved it, though the three short-lived parliaments that followed were as unhelpful to him, and the last was finally dismissed, in intimidating circumstances, after he had convoked it in Oxford, a loyalist city controlled by his troops, rather than London, where a traditionally radical population could have protected it and fed its dissidence. Once more, the responses of Dryden and Marvell define opposing literary responses to events. The latter, however, died before events ran their full course.
From 1681 to his death in 1685, Charles ruled without recourse to parliaments, much as his father had done in the 1630s, though with the obvious advantage that secret French subsidies eased any fiscal problems. It was a turbulent period, dangerous for both the king and his opponents. Monmouth was disgraced and banished, while Shaftesbury was prosecuted and acquitted of treason. He fled into exile, to die shortly later. Several prominent Whigs conspired to take Charles prisoner while old republicans simultaneously contrived an assassination attempt. The events were fused in the government’s response into the so-called ’Rye-house Plot’, and treason trials and executions followed. After Charles’s sudden and terminal illness, perhaps surprisingly, ’James was proclaimed king without the slightest disturbance and there were many reports of spontaneous popular rejoicing’ (Miller 2000: 121). No doubt in the English political nation, memories of the Civil War and the associated threat to property and social order outweighed the fear and loathing of Catholicism.
Theatre of the Rule of Charles II
Early Stuart theatre, while it certainly admitted innovation and was changing significantly in the final years before civil war broke out, was a conservative art form: old plays remained part of the active repertoire of the drama companies that owned them. When the theatrical life of London revived substantially in 1660, plays of the early Stuart period, and indeed some Elizabethan ones, were revived and adapted for performance, and remained an important part of the theatrical life of London for decades to come. Practically, until new plays were written, it could scarcely have been otherwise; whatever the attractions of the dramatic idiom for authors of the Interregnum, closet dramas written since the theatres more or less closed were not a significant component of the Restoration stage. But the mid-century decades had seen a confirmed interest in reading old plays, which were a significant part of the creative writing to appear in print. From 1660 those readers, or at least those at leisure in London, could see how Shakespeare, Jonson, Webster and Beaumont and Fletcher worked on the stage.
But the limited theatrical innovations specific to the late 1630s and early 1640s were also picked up in the 1660s. The development particularly of a new relationship between the court and the stage certainly continued in those early years of the Restoration. Before 1642, courtier dramatists, in particular Sir John Suckling, and dramatists close to the court, such as William Davenant, edged the elite theatre companies towards a more refined aesthetic and, more concretely, to a closer dependency on the crown. Suckling’s proto-cavalier plays were frequently revived in the 1660s (Van Lennep et al. 1965). The witty, rather libertine idiom of Shirley and Brome (with their excellent roles for women characters) and the libertine dash of Suckling are certainly felt as powerful influences on the new drama of the Restoration.
Continuities extended to organization and personnel. Davenant, the favoured masque-writer of the 1630s, had under royal patent entered theatre management before the war. In 1660 two royal patents issued to Davenant and to Thomas Killigrew shaped English theatrical history till the 1690s. Killigrew, quondam page to Charles I and member of Thomas Carew’s circle, had been an active royalist and part of Charles II’s entourage in exile. Davenant’s own reconciliation with the Cromwellian ascendancy (see above, chapter 5) evidently was not held against him. The patents established two companies, the King’s Men, under Killigrew, and the Duke of York’s Men, under Davenant. Members of the companies were servants of the royal households, as the old King’s Men had been in Shakespeare’s day. The patents and subsequent royal actions guaranteed an effective duopoly of the London stage from the late summer of 1660 (Thomas and Hare 1989: ch. 1). Other companies had attempted to set up as the republic and its controls collapsed. The Red Bull, still serviceable as a public (that is, open-air) theatre, and intermittently used illegally in the 1650s, was briefly the home to a group of old players. Two private theatres also had short-lived companies. But Charles or his advisers plainly favoured the re-establishment of theatrical culture on a narrower basis than that which had obtained before 1642, though one company, under the management of George Jolly, attempted to continue in defiance of legal constraints and the privileges of his rivals till 1668, after which Jolly capitulated and was rewarded with the management of a training company or ’nursery’ for young actors. Davenant’s company survived the death of its founder in 1668 under the management first of his widow and later his son, Charles. Killigrew, despite the advantages bestowed on him by the king’s favour, proved as incompetent a manager as he had once proved, in the early 1650s, an inept diplomat (DNB 1975), and in 1682 his company was taken over by Charles Davenant, who merged the patents to form the United Company, retaining his rival’s stock of plays and disbanding his troupe of players. London from then to 1695 had only one principal theatrical company, though it retained two venues.
The creative impact of the arrangements made in 1660 was complex. It effectively closed down the populist side of theatrical life; the old Red Bull audience for the earthier and older dramatic tradition was displaced now to such marginal areas as the puppeteers, rope-dancers and sideshows of London’s seasonal fairs. Through the Tudor and early Stuart period, the Master of the Revels had controlled the stage, acting as licenser and censor as well as entrepreneur for performances at court. Charles’s theatre managers were old loyalists connected to his court and effectively clients wholly dependent on his continuing patronage. At the outset at least, an overtly critical and oppositional drama was unlikely to develop. Moreover, the court could make its own arrangements for its entertainment with Killigrew and Davenant. Sir Henry Herbert, George Herbert’s brother and Master of the Revels since 1623, was restored to his office, and continued to exercise his formerly lucrative but now substantially supererogatory role as licenser: ’With only two companies, under the full control of Davenant and Killigrew, who also had powers to censor plays, there was nothing left for Herbert to do as far as the London stage was concerned’ (Bawcutt 1996: 91), though his office continued and was sporadically involved in various tasks, including licensing other kinds of performance. Davenant and Killigrew’s decisions, where they coincided, effectively determined how late Stuart drama would develop. Two issues were crucial: the design of playhouses and the composition of the acting companies.
Killigrew and Davenant’s rivals thought in terms of reactivating the pre-1642 playhouses, and in the earliest months of their operation they also briefly used them. But none of these had proper wings affording the width outside the performing space to accommodate the new technical apparatus that was to characterize the Restoration stage, namely, changeable backdrops. These were, at their simplest, painted shutters, moved across an inclined stage on grooves cut parallel to its front edge, allowing a change of backdrop to match the change of scene. Elaborate mechanisms of spectacular effect had characterized the early Stuart masques designed by Inigo Jones and had sometimes been used in the amateur theatricals of Henrietta Maria (see above, chapters 3 and 4). Similarly astounding effects were achieved in the professional theatre of the late Stuart period, though more usually in musical plays and operas. Yet early in the history of the Restoration, stage backdrops, combined with some scenery, could contribute crucially to powerful dramaturgic effects unprecedented in the pre-1642 theatre, as in Sir Samuel Tuke’s The Adventures of Five Hours (1662), to which I turn shortly.
In the various venues developed over the late Stuart period, performing spaces were designed with much of the stage protruding beyond the line of the curtain, another innovation since 1642, which was operated in conjunction with a proscenium arch. Though stages were deep, the action generally took place in the front part, close to the audience and often on the apron or forestage in front of the line of the arch and curtain, a proximity that promoted an intimate playing relationship between actors and audience and certainly called for courage and boldness. To use the back part of the stage would have compromised the effectiveness of the backdrops and the illusion of depth and perspective they were designed to create (on theatre design, see Langhans 2000: 3—12). Changing the backdrop was relatively easy, but it was noisy and took time. One result of these changes in presentation is in the structure of plays, which typically have fewer and longer scenes set in specifically established locations, rather than the fluid, rapidly shifting atopicality that, for example, characterizes much of Shakespeare’s oeuvre. But the theatre of the 1660s builds on some of the technical developments that were happening in the late 1630s, for example in the plays of Shirley, such as Hyde Park, which in turn was innovatively revived by the King’s Company in 1668, with the use of real horses on stage (see above, chapter 4; Van Lennep et al. 1965: 139). Salisbury Court and the Cockpit in Drury Lane were private houses and, unlike the Red Bull, in their heyday had not been patronized by a socially diverse clientele. The theatres developed by Killigrew and Davenant were all-seater, at prices that were similarly exclusive. Audiences were by no means wholly from the courtier class; civil servants, the learned professions, Inns of Court men and prosperous citizens could certainly have afforded to attend, and the servant class were noted as familiar occupants of the uppermost gallery, which typically cost a shilling. In place of the standing space in front of the stage was the pit, furnished with benches and typically separated from the stage by a sunken compartment for musicians, corresponding to a modern orchestra pit. Sitting on the pit benches typically cost 2s. 6d, boxes 4s., and the lower gallery 1s. 6d (Van Lennep et al. 1965: lxx). Pepys sometimes moans to his diary about the presence in numbers of his social inferiors, and theatre histories do usually point to some widening of the social range of the audience later in the century and especially in the last decade. But the servants in the gallery did not determine the ethos and aesthetic of a theatre that was, throughout the reigns of Charles II and James II, a place of fashionable resort, dominated by social display of the wealthy, patronized directly by royalty, who sometimes attended the playhouse as well as command performances in the private performing space at Whitehall, and where an outsider, in the wrong seat, in the wrong clothes, in the wrong company, would have felt decidedly uncomfortable. Plays were performed in the mid-afternoon, which again was a constraint. For Pepys, who could work in the morning, take ’dinner’ at lunchtime and perhaps return to the office in the evening, the time suited quite well. For tradesmen and day-labourers, it would usually have precluded attendance. Servants could be present because they attended their employers to the theatre.
Since Killigrew and Davenant exercised a virtual cartel, controlling their players’ terms of employment in uniform manner, no doubt aligning ticket prices, and respecting each other’s intellectual property rights, they were evidently more relaxed about the publication of plays than any Jacobean company would have been. Piracy between companies was apparently not an issue.
The history of the Restoration playhouses is in broad outline well known (Van Lennep et al. 1965: xxxi—xliv provides the plainest narrative; Thomas and Hare 1989: ch. 2, prints both documents and plans). Killigrew created a playhouse for the King’s Company through the reconstruction of Gibbons’ Tennis Court, which became the Vere Street Theatre, staging plays there from late 1660 to mid-1663, by which time a completely new building, the Theatre Royal in Bridges Street, near Drury Lane, was ready. Davenant proceeded more cautiously, converting Lisle’s Tennis Court into the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, which the Duke’s Company occupied till its move in 1671 into the newly purpose-built Duke’s Theatre in Dorset Garden. All of these sites are conveniently placed at the west of the City, handy for both Whitehall and the Inns of Court. The Bridges Street venue was destroyed by fire in 1672, leaving the King’s Company to find temporary accommodation in the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, which had been dark since the Duke’s Company left it the previous year. By 1674, they had moved to the second Theatre Royal, this time in Drury Lane itself, which was their home till their merger in 1682 when the United Company was formed. Thereafter, that group used the Drury Lane venue primarily for drama and presented more spectacular productions in the theatre at Dorset Garden. No other significant performing spaces were developed till 1695.
Within a matter of months after the Restoration, actresses appeared in the major companies, displacing boy actors from the women’s roles, though one or two able female impersonators continued into the mid-1660s. At its simplest, the development met an obvious problem in human resources, since boys had not been apprenticed to the work since 1642. Its wider implications have been much debated (see, for example, Howe 1992 and, for overviews, Roach 2000 and Fisk 2001). The emergence of the actress allowed the full development of something approximating to a star system. Some adult actors, from the Elizabethan period, had developed star status with acting companies over many seasons. But boy actors were turned over relatively quickly as their voices broke, rather like boy choristers, though some, no doubt, were retained as adult actors. The leading actresses of the late Stuart theatre shared star status with their more prominent male colleagues, enjoying and perhaps enduring celebrity and sometimes notoriety. Elizabeth Howe (1992) shows how the prominence enjoyed, for example, by Elizabeth Barry, Rebecca Marshall, Elizabeth Boutell, Anne Bracegirdle and perhaps half a dozen other actresses probably influenced the newly emerging dramatic repertoire as authors shaped their plays to the particular strengths of the leading ladies.
It would be difficult to argue that the emergence of women on the professional stage had an immediate impact on theme and content of the plays performed. After all, most plays, in the early years, were revivals and adaptations of works written when boys played the female roles. Strong, articulate and sexually attractive women were frequently depicted, from Shakespeare’s Cleopatra to the heroines of Brome and Shirley. Plots often had an erotic motif, from the celebration of sexual love that ends so many Shakespearean comedies to the representation of sexual violence and female powerlessness in the face of male threat, as when the Duchess of Malfi is leered over by her brother and tormented by Bosola or Celia assaulted by Volpone. In the comic ending of Aglaura, Suckling had a bed trundled onto the stage with his heroine displayed upon it.
But new modes of eroticism do emerge on the Restoration stage, in ways determined by the involvement of women actors. The work of the boy-actor begins with an act of cross-dressing, though in Shakespeare a transgressive arabesque may follow, as when in As You Like It a boy plays Rosalind, who dresses as a man, who role-plays a woman (IV.i). But Restoration theatre saw a different potential in cross-dressing. Actresses playing ’breeches roles’ — and evidently these were the speciality of certain leading ladies — allowed a frisson of sexual display. As Howe remarks, ’The breeches role titillated both by the mere fact of a woman’s being boldly and indecorously dressed in male costume and, of course, by the costume suggestively outlining the actress’s hips, buttocks and legs, usually concealed by a skirt’ (Howe 1992: 56). Again, rape and sexual violence, statistically more frequently depicted after 1660 than on the Jacobean stage, allowed exploitation of the actress’s sexuality, not least as the ’most effective means of exposing female flesh’ (ibid.: 43—5).
But the eroticism actresses brought to the stage was surely more pervasive. Necessarily bold, courageous and usually attractive, they rapidly required a reputation for sexual availability: ’Society assumed that a woman who displayed herself on the public stage was probably a whore’ (ibid.: 32). To some contemporary commentators, there was a moral advantage in employing women, rather than male transvestites, since theatrical cross-dressing had been a point of moral concern since the late 1570s (Levine 1994: ch. 1; Roach 2000: 31). But counterarguments of some substance were soon to be found: ’Of the eighty or so actreses we know by name on the Restoration stage between 1660 and 1689, apparently about a mere one-quarter of this number led what were considered to be respectable lives’ (Howe 1992: 33). Among the best-known cases of sexual impropriety were Moll Davis, highly regarded for her breeches roles, and Nell Gwyn, principally a comedienne, both of whom left the stage as acknowledged and kept mistresses of Charles II, who openly recognized the offspring of their relationships as his own. Gwyn returned to acting shortly before the king’s death; Davis did not, though she participated in at least one court entertainment. For an ordinary member of the English propertied classes there may well have been something inherently exciting about sitting almost within touching distance of a boldly displayed woman who was currently sleeping with the king. Moreover, in the peculiar intimacy of the Restoration theatre, such issues were openly alluded to, particularly in prologues and epilogues. The epic vein to which Dryden aspired in the two parts of The Conquest of Granada is somewhat subverted by the arch epilogue to part one, apologizing for the late appearance of the play, through the absence of actresses through a ’sickness’ in which ’nine whole Mon’ths are lost’, a reference to the recent confinement of Gwyn (who played Almahide, queen of Granada) with her first child by Charles (ll.28, 32; Dryden 1956—2000: XI, 99). Gwyn certainly spoke the prologue to that play and may well have spoken the epilogue. Nor were the actresses exclusively a royal preserve. Favoured patrons mingled in the tiring rooms and the ’green room’. Pepys, who was friendly with Elizabeth Knepp of the King’s Company, was plainly thrilled by such access, and such intimacies persisted into the performing space. Theatres acquired some notoriety as haunts of prostitutes, quite apart from the actresses, though the epilogue to Wycherley’s The Plain Dealer seems to suggest a broad homology between their trades: ’while we [actresses] Baul, and you [the audience] in Judgment sit, / The Visor-Mask sells Linnen too i’th’Pit’ (that is, the prostitute solicits; Womersley 2000: 286, n.392).
The professional stage was the defining medium of the high culture of Restoration England, much as court masque had been in the personal rule. Its ethos was largely determined by the rich louts who were its most influential patrons, who strutted its theatres, bedded its actresses, intimidated its actors and at times fell to deadly quarrelling among themselves. The section of the audience that had to be satisfied was nostalgically cavalier and fiercely hostile to the values attributed to the Puritan regimes of the mid-century decades; it was courtly but not genteel, and effectively unshockable. Shakespearean comedy carefully crafted those moments of disclosure when female characters dressed as men reveal the deception. In Wycherley’s The Plain Dealer the villain Vernish confirms Fidelia’s revelation by pulling off her peruke wig and feeling her breasts (Womersley 2000: 273); Fidelia does not protest. When Romeo and Juliet was revived by the Duke’s Company in 1662, the high point for the audience, according to a contemporary witness, was an obscene slip of the tongue by the actress speaking the line ’O my Dear Count!’ (Van Lennep et al. 1965: 48).
The genuine achievements of Restoration theatre, to which we turn shortly, are accomplished almost in spite of the market it addressed, from Dryden’s elegantly turned couplets and heroic attempts at heroic drama to the precise control of tone and neatly turned wit of even the grossest comedies. An extraordinary mastery of stagecraft characterizes almost all the plays that retain the interest of the modern audience or scholarship. Those rich louts got rather more than they deserved (though, of course, some of the authors could be thus classified themselves).
The Restoration repertoire was slow in forming. Michael Dobson helpfully summarizes the statistics:
Two years into the new era, in the 1661—62 theatrical season, records show only 4 new plays being performed, as opposed to 54 written before the Interregnum, and though the proportion of new plays had greatly increased by 1667—68 — when there were 12 recorded premieres alongside revivals of 20 plays written since 1660 and 33 written before 1640 — there was little significant change thereafter …. Although these figures are neither exhaustive nor definitive … they are accurate in their suggestion that Restoration theatre companies usually spent only about half of their time performing strictly Restoration drama. (2000: 41)
Early plays, particularly I suspect those that were performed most successfully on the Restoration stage, were sometimes quite carefully reworked, so that the distinction between revivals and premieres is an uncertain one. Sometimes Shakespearean adaptation, though of course never really comparable to the original, both vividly defines the changes in cultural expectation and demonstrates a considerable degree of ingenuity. Nahum Tate reworked King Lear (1681), radically changing the ending so that Lear lives on to witness the happy restoration of order after rebellion and to anticipate a continuing old age spent in pious reflection, while England is to be governed by Cordelia and Edgar under ’the prosperous Reign / Of this celestial Pair’. Edgar has the last word: ’Thy [Cordelia’s] bright Example shall convince the World / (Whatever Storms of Fortune are decreed) / That Truth and Vertue shall at last succeed’ (The History of King Lear, V.vi.151—2, 159—61; Clark 1997: 371—2). As Sandra Clark observes, Tate writes up all three female parts to match the availability of actresses, and the role of Cordelia is something of a star vehicle for Elizabeth Barry, then the leading lady of the Duke’s Company. Moreover, Tate turns the play from a tragedy into a sort of political adventure story and in so doing takes out the dark and disturbing sense of the cosmic injustice which Shakespeare could engage with but which scarcely suited the aesthetic of Tate’s own age. As Clark notes, the term ’poetic justice’ had been coined by Thomas Rymer three years earlier. Indeed, Samuel Johnson found the Shakespeare version unbearably painful to read, preferring the rewards of virtue that Tate’s offered over the capricious cruelty of the original (Clark 1997: lxv—lxx).
Taking Antony and Cleopatra as his starting point, Dryden created in effect a wholly new play in All for Love, first performed in 1677. The blank verse is completely reworked; as Clark notes, he expands ’imaginatively into similes where Shakespeare is more typically metaphorical and compressed’ (1997: lxi). The result is a much plainer style, more easily comprehended on first encounter. The dramatic structure is much tighter, more securely designed to point up contrasts and rivalries, between Alexas, Cleopatra’s servant, who often speaks in her interest, and Ventidius, the voice of Roman duty, and between Octavia, Antony’s abandoned wife, and Cleopatra. The time scheme is much condensed. As in some Greek tragedies, Sophocles’s Oedipus at Colonus for example, Dryden locates the action after the pivotal catastrophe, in this case the defeat at Actium. The result again is a more rigorously structured play. He introduces Octavia into these closing episodes of Antony’s life. Generally, Dryden cuts the number of roles to something manageable by the usual complement of the King’s Company; in Shakespeare’s theatre, doubling up of roles had been much more acceptable. Similarly, writing up the part of Octavia gave a second developed role for an actress.
Dryden has produced a play that suffers only in comparison with its Shakespearean precursor, and arguably it is his most accomplished tragedy, lacking the psychological incongruities of his rhymed heroic plays (see below). Besides his extraordinary prosodic facility, it demonstrates his command of stagecraft. That is evident, too, in his revision, in collaboration with Davenant, of The Tempest, where the simple expedient of retaining Trinculo and Stephano but making them members of the ship’s crew once more reduces the dramatis personae.
That play is most distinguished, however, for its place in the history of musical theatre, and indeed Restoration theatre both shares common ground with the refounding of the musical establishment that flourished in the 1630s and marks an important advance in the history of music appreciation in the English context. Charles II reformed the King’s Music, the resident consort of the royal household. There is evidence that his players may have supplemented the theatrical ensembles for spectacular performances. Most significantly, however, the theatre companies themselves considerably extended the size of their resident musical complement. As Killigrew remarked to Pepys, comparing the theatre music of the 1660s with that of his pre-war experience, ’Then, two or three fiddles; now, nine or ten of the best’ (Pepys 1970—83: VIII, 55).
Song, dance and incidental music were important components of early Stuart theatre, and remained so after 1660. But music had a more pervasive role. Ensembles typically of half a dozen musicians, predominantly string players, also performed before the play began and in the entr’actes. Every Restoration play had such complementary music, typically two suites and an overture before the performance as well as musical interludes. Matthew Locke, Pelham Humfrey and Henry Purcell, among other popular and successful composers, wrote this kind of music. In the history of English culture, this represents the first time that an audience outside the closed circle of the royal court or, occasionally, the household of an aristocratic grandee would have had regular and open access to secular music by distinguished contemporary composers performed by accomplished, professional ensembles. Here we have, in an English context, the first public concerts.
Among the most highly regarded of the new plays written early in the 1660s was Sir Samuel Tuke’s Adventures of Five Hours, a translation and adaptation of a Spanish original undertaken, so ’The Prologue at Court’ affirms, at the wish of the king. It probably had its premiere at court before opening at Lincoln’s Inn Fields theatre of the Duke’s Company in 1663. It was a favourite of Pepys, who saw it several times and who thought it made Othello seem ’a mean thing’ (Womersley 2000: 2—4).
Tuke was a recent convert to Catholicism, a courtier and minor diplomat, a favourite of Charles II, who had fought for his father and had gone into exile after the fall of Colchester (DNB 1975). His play is replete with cavalier values. The upper-class characters manifest a murderous commitment to concepts like honour, friendship and loyalty, at the expense of sometimes acting absurdly. Thus, Antonio at one moment fights with Octavio over an apparent slight to Porcia, and at the next switches to join him in a fight with Porcia’s brother Henrique, who seems understandably puzzled:
HEN. Why were not you Antonio fighting with him?
Were you not doing all you could to Kill him?
ANT. Henrique, ’tis true; but finding in my breast
An equal strife ’twixt Honor, and Revenge;
I do in just compliance with them both
Preserve him from your Rage, to Fall by mine.
(V.iii.363—8; Womersley 2000: 39)
Possibly the scene is meant to be comic, though I suspect not. Sword-fights in this play are frequently in deadly earnest. Before the events depicted, Octavio has killed a friend of Henrique. In the course of the play, Antonio, while committing a trespass, disdainfully kills Henrique’s servant Sylvio: ’How I despise these slaves’ (III.ii.8; ibid.: 17). Both murders are committed with the impunity Charles’s own favourites came to expect.
While the social values are clearly evident, politically the play is studiedly indifferent to the Protestant cause in continental Europe. Events are set in Seville but depend on an incident in the Spanish Netherlands, in which Antonio saved Camilla from rape by a Dutch soldier. The Dutch, plainly, are contemptible villains, and the upper-class Spanish characters embody cavalier virtues. Womersley observes:
It is clear … that the play is set in the period of the Spanish Wars of Religion in the Netherlands, a conflict which at the time in England had for some assumed the proportions and dignity of a crusade, but which has now dwindled in significance until it provides the largely neutral backdrop to a series of romantic escapades. It would be a mistake to overlook the provocative shallowness of this. (2000: 2)
Quite so. The broad and long-term perspectives of Protestant internationalism, so often an ideological stimulus to the court’s enemies over the century, are almost impudently set aside. The conflict with Dutch Protestantism becomes an arena for cavalier display, ’The King’s Fencing-School’, while the Dutch themselves are traduced in terms that echo the propaganda of Cromwell’s Dutch war of 1652—4 as ginswilling rebels ’made up of Turf, and Butter’ (I.i.400—65; ibid.: 8—9). Of course, Protectorate propaganda, while hostile locally to the Dutch, never subordinated their image or interests to those of Spain.
The dramatic qualities of the play are considerable. Certainly, as ’The Epilogue’ boasts, it is tightly structured, in contrast with most older plays in the English tradition, laying the scene ’In three Houses of the same Town’ and, like its model, Los Empeños de Seis Horas, emphasizing its intense time scheme in the title (though with a certain audacity pulling the span down from six hours). This is an exercise observing the unities of time and place. More interesting, it is a play superbly crafted to exploit the technical capabilities of the new performing space. Scenes frequently take place in what are represented as locked rooms. The relationship within households and between adjacent households is vividly realized and shapes the development of the plot; backstairs, balconies and connecting doorways play an important part in intrigues and escapades. Act III starts with the two heroines appearing on a balcony above a street which the two heroes enter; it continues with their ingress through a door, into a garden, where a fight ensues; ’the scene changes to a garden, out of which they issue fighting’; ’The Rising Moon appears in the Scene’; meanwhile their servant observes and comments on the actions from a tree outside the garden wall but overlooking its interior. ’The Scene Changes to the City of Sevil’ and then ’to Don Henrique’s House’, where the heroine and her maid are depicted first on a balcony from which they descend, probably back into the garden (Womersley 2000: 16—18). Though this may well have been Tuke’s first and only play, he demonstrates a fine understanding of how the modern theatre of the 1660s could support spectacular staging.
Other plays from the early Restoration share the unequivocally triumphalist ideology of The Adventures of Five Hours. In Cutter of Coleman-Street (1661), Abraham Cowley, who had dabbled as a writer of university drama in the years before the civil wars, reworked for the Duke’s Company The Guardian, first staged at Trinity College, Cambridge, in March 1642 as an entertainment for the visiting Charles, Prince of Wales (Hughes 1996: 30—1; Corns 1992: 250—1). The original was premised on commonplace anti-Puritan stereotyping. Cowley revives it, locating it in the 1650s, in a world of indigence and disgrace for diehard cavaliers impoverished through compounding and confiscations. He develops, too, a more localized and specific satire, directed against the radical extremes of London sectaries, guying Anna Trapnel in the figure of Tabitha Barebottle, while Cutter, a fake Puritan, recounts his vision in which ’Major General Harrison is to come in Green sleeves from the North upon a Sky-colour’d Mule, which signifies heavenly Instruction’ (Cowley 1663: 39). The latter allusion is pointed and contemporaneously pertinent. Harrison, regicide and Fifth Monarchist, had shown extraordinary equanimity at his execution (see below). The prophecy that he would rise from the dead to lead a new revolution of the saints may have inspired the short-lived but briefly alarming Fifth Monarchist rebellion, Venner’s Rising, in the spring of 1661. Harrison had died over a year before the play was performed; since his dismembered head and quarters were still displayed, the prophecy of his resurrection was palpably unfulfilled.
Sir Robert Howard’s The Committee, staged by the King’s Company in 1662, shared some common ground with Cutter of Coleman-Street, in that it depicts cavalier diehards in the throes of the compounding process. Like Cowley, Howard returns to the old anti-Puritan stereotypes. Here, their hypocrisy and greed are stressed, and their lack of breeding. But its rehearsal of cavalier assumptions is clearer. The colonels not only get the better of the Puritans, they also marry heiresses who share their steadfastness and loyalty to the king. With a triumphalist flourish, Howard has Colonel Blunt tell his tormentor: ’The day may come, when those that suffer for their Consciences and honour may be rewarded’ (Howard 1665: 93). In a straightforward way in 1662 Howard, a civil war veteran rewarded by Charles II after the Restoration (DNB 1975), may have thought that day had arrived.
Howard, a Whig in later life, developed a more complex political vision in The Great Favourite, or The Duke of Lerma, performed by the King’s Company in 1668. The play postdates by about three months the fall and subsequent exile of the Earl of Clarendon. Howard has ingeniously constructed a dramatic world which both resembles contemporary court politics but also is at significant distance from it. The Duke of Lerma secures his position by placing his daughter as mistress to the King of Spain; Hyde’s daughter had married the king’s brother, by whom she was already pregnant. The play at once depicts the corrosive potential of a government swayed by sexual manipulation and offers a resolutely happy and even comic ending. Lerma is not executed, as his associates are, nor does he suffer impeachment like Clarendon, but he takes holy orders (as a cardinal, no less), and retires to a monastery of his choice, where ’I in my safe retreate may sit and smile’. The king actually marries his mistress (Womersley 2000: 70—1). Contemporaries recognized a political resonance. Of course, the most obvious target, Clarendon, was already in exile, the portrait of monarchy is ultimately a positive and even celebratory one, and the affairs of state end well. But the dangers and dynamics of court intrigue are certainly explored.
In a remarkable series of plays stretching from The Indian Queen (1664; co-authored with Sir Robert Howard), through The Indian Emperor (1665), the two parts of The Conquest of Granada (1670, 1671), to Aureng-Zebe (1675), Dryden produced another kind of drama thoroughly characteristic of the early part of the rule of Charles II. These ’heroic plays’, the term he himself uses, are historical fantasies, usually relating only loosely to historical events, set in exotic locations, such as Mexico around the time of first contact with Spain or Spain itself in the last days of the Moorish empire. Typically, they depict ruling-class crises, coups, rebellions, civil wars, foreign incursions, the fall of dynasties, restorations and ’rebels’, who generally come off badly. Their values chime with those of nostalgic cavalierism. The plot mechanism of the lost son newly found, so favoured in chivalric romance, sometimes drives the resolution. Thus, in The Indian Queen, Montezuma is recognized as the queen’s lost son and acclaimed by the people:
3. MESSEN[GER] King Montezuma their loud shouts proclaim,
The city rings with their new Sovereigns name:
The banish’d Queen declares he is her Son,
And to his succor all the people run.
(V.i.192—5; Dryden 1956—2000: VIII, 226—7)
Almanzor, the Moorish cavalier whose heroism pervades all ten acts, is at the fall of Granada acclaimed by the most heroic Spaniard, the Duke of Arcos, as his lost son, still recognizable by a tattoo hastily applied in his infancy and some revered trinkets his dying mother had given him.
Dryden was not alone in writing in this mode, but he persisted with it more assiduously than others, showing considerable accomplishment in matching elevated diction and action to the possibilities of spectacular staging. The Indian Queen offers a probably innovative opening, synthesizing music and stage design in a new kind of prologue: ’As the Musick plays a soft Air, the Curtain rises softly, and discovers an Indian boy and Girl sleeping under two Plantain-Trees; and when the Curtain is almost up, the Musick turns into a Tune expressing an Alarm, at which the boy wakes and speaks’ (Dryden 1956—2000: VIII, 184). Lavish and exotic spectacle characterizes the closing scene, depicting ’the Temple of the Sun all of Gold, and four Priests in habits of white and red Feathers attending by a bloody Altar’ (ibid.: 220). Indeed, the epilogue makes explicit reference to ’the Show, / The Poets Scenes, nay, more, the Painters too’ and to their cost: ’If all this fail, considering the cost, / ’Tis a true Voyage to the Indies lost’ (ibid.: 231). The Indian Emperor may well not yet have been conceived when Dryden and Howard worked on its predecessor, The Indian Queen. This could explain why the earlier play contained so few characters and situations to be carried over to the later. But the sequel was certainly driven in part by the economics of theatre management, because it allowed the reuse of scenes, props and costumes, as the prologue acknowledges: ’The Scenes are old, the Habits are the same / We wore last year’ (ibid.: IX, 29).
Derek Hughes’s sensitive readings have demonstrated that Dryden’s heroic plays are amenable to a sympathetic modern appreciation, even stripped of the spectacular staging of their early performances. He shows, too, that they address matters of serious philosophical interest. In Dryden’s own age they were received with both admiration and disdain. Two issues, plausibility and the rhymed couplets in which they were written, predominate in the resulting debate.
The striving for dramatic effect, the use of exotic locations and romance-like plot mechanisms distance them from the kinds of mimesis recurrent in the mainstream of English early modern drama. These are characters unlike people we have ever met, responding in ways that we would not respond and behaving as we would not behave in settings that we have never visited in a remote historical period we can scarcely imagine, often represented as engaged in political activities that share very little constitutional similarity with political life in Stuart England. The most effective and insightful critique, surprisingly perhaps, came not in discursive prose but in a burlesque drama, The Rehearsal (1671), written by George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, in association with Martin Clifford, Samuel Butler and Thomas Sprat. As its principal character, Bayes, smugly remarks: ’I despise your Johnson [that is, Jonson] and Beaumont, that borrow’d all they writ from Nature; I am for fetching purely out of my own fancy’ (II.i.67—71; Womersley 2000: 149). Its initial butt was Howard rather than Dryden, but in its final form the latter is plainly satirized in the figure of Bayes, while the hero of the play we see in rehearsal, Drawcansir, parodies the conduct, speech and manner of Almanzor. The political premise of the action is a conflict between the two kings of Brentford (sic) and their two rival usurpers, resolved with fitting absurdity by Drawcansir, who kills everybody: ’Others may boast a single man to kill; / But I, the blood of thousands daily spill’ (V.i.343—4; Womersley 2000: 169).
Of course, all the characters in the play in rehearsal speak in couplets, though rather less eloquently than in Dryden’s plays. It was a medium of which he was absolute master, but its role in drama proved controversial. After all, the Restoration stage presented revivals of many earlier plays that were not in rhymed couplets, which Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher and Shakespeare, for the most part, had eschewed, though Dryden himself argues in an exchange with Sir Robert Howard that, had Jonson’s age been as accomplished in writing couplets as the Restoration, ’’tis probable he would have used them in his more elevated dramas’. The attraction of couplets, for Dryden, is that they put a distance between heroic language and the everyday (Dryden 1956—2000: IX, 7). By 1675, however, the game had substantially been lost. Aureng-Zebe constitutes a kind of farewell to rhymed couplets in drama.
Dryden’s best-known comedy, Marriage A-la-Mode, first performed by the King’s Company in 1672, shares considerable common ground with his heroic dramas. It is set in an uncertain period in Sicily, though there is as little sense of place as of time. It depicts a bloodless restoration of a lost prince, Leonidas, which is followed by a generous reconciliation with the usurper and reward for those who changed sides at a late stage. Since the lost prince is a heroic and wholly admirable figure, a panegyric intention is very evident. But the play tells other stories. It has a matched set of seemingly ill-matched couples. Rhodophil is married to Doralice, but they have become disinterested in each other and he pursues Melantha. His friend, Palamede, is to marry Melantha at his father’s insistence, but pursues Doralice. Both women encourage the advances and the relationships are almost consummated but frustrated by comic coincidences and misunderstandings. In the end, all learn to love their legitimate partners. Situations are mildly risqué, as is their badinage, though the indecencies of Wycherley and Etherege (see below) are assiduously avoided. Dryden achieves a comic idiom that does not compromise the decorum of the heroic story line. Indeed, he points this up in his epilogue:
But yet too far our Poet would not run,
Though ’twas well offer’d, there was nothing done.
He would not quite the Women’s frailty bare,
But stript ’em to the waste, and left ’em there.
(ll.11—14; Dryden 1956—2000: XI, 315)
That disconcerting image is arguably the most overtly erotic passage in the play.
The greatest comedic achievements of the rule of Charles II came in the 1670s in William Wycherley’s The Country Wife (1675), staged by the King’s Company, and Sir George Etherege’s The Man of Mode (Duke’s Company, 1676). Each depicts life among the young, rich and idle of the metropolis. Very few of the characters, except for the servants or lower professions (fiddlers, chaplains, ’quacks’ and the like) do much apart from a daily round of play-going, promenading and socializing, all of which assist the process of sexual dalliance and promiscuity. Each play is quite distinctive, but both are premised on low expectations of human conduct: greed, lust and vanity make the world go round. There are hierarchies among the persons depicted, but they are neither social nor moral. The ranking characters are marked by verbal accomplishment, cunning, energy in pursuit of gratification, and by style; the losers are the would-be wits or dandies who are merely affected, and sometimes the naive, the old and the stupid.
The Country Wife presents the intersection of two plots. Horner pretends to have been rendered impotent by a botched medical procedure to cure syphilis in order to have freer access to married women (all of whom are deeply lustful for extramarital liaisons). Pinchwife, himself formerly a rake, takes a simple country girl as his wife and attempts to shield her from the kinds of familiarity with the city which would render her as promiscuous as other married women of her social status. ’Horner’ is a fairly common surname in England, one of those derived from a craft, working in horn, but of course its rarer signification, ’cuckold-maker’ (OED, sig. 3), is his vocation. An intense competition based on male sexual rivalry drives the play. The women Horner couples with present no challenge to the seducer once they have been separated from their husbands; the play, like Horner, simply works from the assumption that they will accede, and they do. But this is a depiction of aggressive competition about relative masculinity. Husbands, when they learn of Horner’s alleged impairment, are unsparing in their contempt, and his seduction of their wives is an act of revenge perpetrated on them through their spouses. Indeed, in the most notorious scene, Lady Fidget leaves her husband, Sir Jaspar, who has ridiculed Horner as a eunuch throughout the play, enters his private chamber, supposedly to examine his china, and locks the door. Setting up an obvious double entendre, Horner exits ’to get into her the back way’. As Sir Jaspar is cuckolded while standing outside the locked chamber door, there is a strong suggestion that Horner begins the sexual encounter by sodomizing Lady Fidget, and thus, in the process, symbolically sodomizing her husband:
SIR JAS. Wife, my Lady Fidget, Wife,
he is coming into you the back way.
LA. FID. Let him come, and welcome, which way he will.
SIR JAS. He’ll catch you, and use you roughly, and
be too strong for you.
LA. FID. Don’t you trouble your self, let him if he can.
(IV.iii.163—70; Womersley 2000: 205)
This is a world in which received morality and its associated rhetoric are suspended, but is it endorsed or censured by the author? Certainly, some see a critique of sexual excess, viewing Horner as a depiction of madness, of ’monomania’ (for example, Marshall 1993: 63—85). Yet the play shares the ’values’ or perhaps the aspirations of rich, male nihilists, values probably held by the most influential element in the audience. Moreover, Wycherley passes over the opportunity afforded by the epilogue to point up the moral, if there were one. Instead, his epilogue, spoken by the actress who played Lady Fidget, merely warns males in the audience against confusing art with life and thinking they can play Horner’s role because the women they bed or fail to bed will rate them on their sexual performance and find them lacking: ’men may still believe you Vigorous, / But then we Women — there’s no cous’ning us’ (ll.32—3; Womersley 2000: 222). Male sexual anxiety has driven the plot, and the play ends on a fitting note.
Etherege’s The Man of Mode or, Sir Fopling Flutter, as the title page of the first edition calls it, shares much common ground with The Country Wife, and may well be perceived as the Duke’s Company’s rejoinder to their rivals’ success of the previous year. Even more sharply, Dorimant, the rake hero, whose values remain unchallenged, is distinguished by his difference from the foppish, would-be wits that surround him. The play carries the name, not of Dorimant, but of the absurd man of fashion, newly returned from Paris and carrying wild affections of speech, manner and dress, ’the pattern of modern Foppery’ (I.i.441—2; Womersley 2000: 295). Sir Fopling is the real comic interest; Dorimant’s intrigues lack the brilliance and elan of Horner’s, and approach closer to a discriminating depiction of contemporary society. In the course of the play, Dorimant pays off Molly, a whore (’I have no money and am very Mallicolly; pray send me a Guynie to see the Operies’ — I.i.603—4; ibid.: 297); he discontinues a relationship with Mrs Loveit, a notorious gentlewoman, ’your Pis aller [last resort] as you call her’, ’Dorimant’s convenient’ (I.i.21—3; ibid.: 292 and n.; III. iii.278; ibid.: 313); he debauches and then abandons Bellinda, a gentlewoman whose reputation is sufficiently intact to make it worth protecting through subterfuge; and he ends the play prepared to follow into the country and there to court Harriet, the heroine of the secondary plot. There is, perhaps, a regenerative schema of sorts here, though as W. B. Carnochan persuasively argues, the ending is purposefully ’tentative’ (Etherege 1966: xviii). Certainly, Dorimant’s last speech sounds smitten and perhaps redeemed: ’The first time I saw you, you left me with the pangs of Love upon me, and this day my soul has quite given up her liberty’ (V.ii.507—9; Womersley 2000: 335). But Etherege does not take the simpler option of an explicit resolution; he could have married off Dorimant and Harriet alongside Emelia and Bellair, or he could have used the epilogue to point up a probable outcome. That, instead, deals wholly with the depiction of Sir Fopling Flutter and its relationship to the young men in the audience.
Etherege can write with pathos and a mimetic precision. The exchange between Bellinda and Dorimant after he has seduced her have a tenderness — and sense of the social consequences of sexual conduct — that Wycherley cannot aspire to:
BELLINDA I have a Thousand fears about me: have I not been
seen think you?
DORIMANT By no body but my self and trusty Handy [his valet].
BELLINDA Where are all your people?
DORIMANT I have disperst ’em on sleeveless Errants [trifling errands].
What does that sigh mean?
BELLINDA Can you be so unkind to ask me? — well —
Were it to do again —
DORIMANT We should do it, should we not?
BELLINDA I think we should: the wickeder man you to make me love so
well — will you be discreet now?
(IV.ii.5—16; ibid.: 321—2 and n.)
Wycherley’s next play, The Plain Dealer, staged by the King’s Company in 1676, was his last, a retirement from the theatre that coincided with his own fall from favour with Charles II. This play has a spokesman for morality in the unflinching plain speaking of its hero, Manly, whose name indicates his freedom from the sexual anxieties that permeate The Country Wife. Yet he is somewhat ingenuous, for he entrusted Olivia, his former mistress, with his personal fortune before, ruinously, serving in an Anglo-Dutch war; she has both betrayed him by marrying his closest friend and embezzled his fortune, leaving him, in Hughes’s phrase, an ’almost tragic character’ (Hughes 1996: 190). Around his position at the still centre of a morally unstable world evolves a broader satire, on litigiousness, on the legal trade, on fortune-hunting through the courtship of rich widows. Fidelia, a breeches role, is his secret admirer, who, dressed as a man, has accompanied him to the wars, with no great distinction, but whose loyalty wins his love, albeit in a somewhat muted ending which does not actually marry them off. Even Manly’s morality has its limits, as when, in an act of revenge, he plots to deceive Olivia into a sexual encounter. The episode is alarming conduct for a hero, compounded by Fidelia’s albeit reluctant complicity.
Restoration comedy often retained a dependence on cannibalizing earlier plays. As editors note, The Country Wife owes much to Terence’s Eunuchus and to Molière’s L’École des Femmes, ’the esssential conceit underpinning the plot [of The Plain Dealer] bears both general and particular resemblances to Molière’s Le Misanthrope’, while ’the character of Fidelia looks back to Viola in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night’ (Womersley 2000: 172, 224). Aphra Behn’s most famous play, and the one of which she first publicly acknowledged authorship, The Rover (first performed by the Duke’s Company in 1677), depends closely and heavily on Thomaso, a work usually thought to have been written towards the end of the Interregnum. Though it remained unperformed, Killigrew had published it in 1664 (Killigrew 1664). Killigrew was an old friend and patron, probably her recruiter and perhaps her handler in her days as royalist spy (Todd 1996: 31), but the evident cooperation between the companies in his provision of the material for a play for the rival house points up the collusive nature of Restoration theatrical cartel.
Janet Todd concludes, ’So what did Behn lift from Thomaso? The answer is, most of the play, although the breaking up and reassigning of speeches makes The Rover something new’ (ibid.: 215). There are, however, important shifts of emphasis, which involve the writing up of the female parts and adjusting the moral balance between the English characters, in James Grantham Turner’s phrase, ’diminishing their glamour’ (Hutner 1993b; Turner 2002: 236—8). Nevertheless, the play feels decidedly old-fashioned. Its plot bears a generic resemblance to those of The Adventures of Five Hours. Its heroes are drawn from the same ranks of broken diehard soldiery as people the stage of The Committee or Cutter of Coleman-Street. Maureen Duffy ingeniously and convincingly argues that this very outmodedness functions nostalgically to good polemical effect, as ’a rallying for the faithful when the first romance of the King’s return had worn thin and the country was again divided into factions’, and she notes that it was immediately popular in the highest circles, ’constantly called for at court’ (1977: 144). Certainly one can appreciate the attractions of reflecting on simpler times for Charles and James as opposition to the latter’s succession gathered strength.
The transposition of the play from Madrid, as in the original, to Naples underscores the carnivalesque quality, but this is less a world turned upside-down than a world in which those who should be dominant are respected and emerge triumphant. The events depict the arrival into the society of expatriate royalists of Willmore, a sea-captain, presumably commander of a ship from the squadron of Prince Rupert, which fitfully and ineffectually continued military action in the years following the debacle of the battle of Worcester; quite why he is in Naples remains unexplained. The royalists are joined by Ned Blunt, the son of someone who has not lost his fortune in the service of the king. Blunt is variously patronized and duped by his fellow-countrymen. Behn works hard to establish the exotic location; Willmore receives instruction on Neapolitan conduct, the characteristics of carnival, and how the more expensive prostitutes behave, all very pertinent, since Angellica Bianca, a newly arrived and pricey whore, attracts him and becomes enamoured of him. There is no choric criticism of Willmore’s conduct in taking money from Angellica and then deserting her for an heiress, though her response, perhaps the only attempt at depicting genuine affection within the play, shows a desperation of near tragic potential. It is a critical commonplace that Behn has renamed this character from the original, giving to her her own initials, an insight from which several critical avenues lead.
Bianca’s failure represents some sort of exploration of the limitations of female empowerment even in the world of carnival. Indeed, the comic subplot peters out in a scene premised on the grossest manifestation of female powerlessness. Blunt is duped by a prostitute, robbed of his trousers (which contain much of his ready money) and dumped in a sewer to make his way home. He responds by a sexual assault on Florinda, a gentlewoman loved by Belville, one of the English royalists. Strikingly, Frederick, another expatriate diehard, is prepared to join in the indecency until Florinda mentions his name: ’Stay, Sir, I have seen you with Belvile, an English Cavalier, for his sake use me kindly; you know him, Sir’ (IV.667—8; Behn 1992—6: V, 506). Frederick’s response is pragmatic, rather than moral; if they rape a ruling-class virgin, ’a Maid of quality’, they risk arrest, whereas they assume they can ’ruffle a Harlot’ with impunity. They desist for the moment. Blunt’s first response is to assure Florinda that, were Belville present, he would join in the gang rape, and, in any case, she’ll be kept for him to violate later: ’he’d have a Limb or two of thee my Virgin Pullet, but ’tis no matter, we’ll leave him the bones to pick’ (IV.682—4; ibid.: 670—2). Perhaps most tellingly, Florinda, at the resolution of the play, accepts their most perfunctory of apologies; yes, of course, if she had not been a lady, then her violent gang rape would have been a wholly appropriate way for young gentlemen to revenge the humiliation of one of their number by a whore. Indeed, were these real events and were the setting London in the 1660s or 1670s, Frederick and Blunt could have expected to complete the assault on Florinda with impunity (Turner 2002: esp. ch. 6). Behn’s own view remains morally uncertain, though she is clear-eyed about the conduct of rich young toughs, and here, as elsewhere in her oeuvre, shows a precise awareness of class difference both in conduct and treatment.
The political turmoil of the late 1670s and early 1680s resonated through the new drama of those years. Susan Owen calculates, ’During the Exclusion Crisis some fifty-four new plays, or new versions of old plays, were written’, the large majority of which engage with the political crisis, as dramatists ’strain every nerve to offer a royalism which is nevertheless tormented and fractured; or offer a message of moderation which insists upon the need for royal temperance; or launch boldly into a rhetoric of outright Whiggery’ (1996: 2—3). All concerned knew how easily the stage could be controlled, and this awareness surely shaped the conduct of both authors and the theatre companies. Indeed, of the three particularly rewarding plays I shall analyse in detail, one was banned shortly after its premiere and another was delayed till the battles of exclusion had been fought and won. None is ideologically unequivocal, and all work to distance the cultured reflections of the theatrical milieu from the cruder partisanships of the mob.
Lucius Junius Brutus by Nathaniel Lee was performed by the Duke’s Company in December 1680, though it was quickly deemed defamatory of the government and banned. It depicts the republican revolution occasioned by Tarquin’s rape of Lucrece and the subsequent suppression under the leadership of the eponymous hero of a royalist counter-revolution to restore Tarquin to the Roman throne. As we have noted, Charles himself had been associated with Tarquin since the earliest issues of Mercurius Politicus, and, in Derek Hughes’s phrase, ’few subjects could have been more politically sensitive than that of republican rebellion against a tyrannical and lecherous ruling house’ (1996: 295). However, I share Hughes’s view that this is more than a mere exercise in Whig partisanship. Perhaps evasively, Lee does not depict Tarquin. The focus is elsewhere.
Lee places at the centre of the play the tragic love story of the star-crossed Titus, son of Brutus, and Teraminta, ’the blood of Tarquin, / The basest too’ (II.i.40—1; Womersley 2000: 433). He flanks them with groups representing the extremes of the royalist and republican factions. The royalists have within their ranks young men whose conduct resembles the worst excesses of the rakish courtiers of Charles’s court, ’your roaring Squires’, who ’poke us [the citizens of Rome] in the night, beat the Watch, and deflower our Wives’ (II.i.81—2; ibid.: 440). The rakes see an obvious advantage in monarchy in that the king’s pardon secures their immunity from prosecution, whereas Brutus’s republic would require equality before the law, ’Laws that are cruel, deaf, inexorable, / That cast the Vile and Noble altogether’ (II. i.17—18; ibid.: 439). Yet the issues even here are not straightforward. Committing outrages and securing royal pardon had most spectacularly and sensationally characterized the conduct of the Dukes of Buckingham and Monmouth, both of whom lined up against the king on the exclusion issue. On the other side, the republicans, far from uniformly exhibiting high-principled civic duty, include firebrands and misfits who harbour disruptive and dangerous social prejudices. When Vinditius rouses the mob with ’look you, Sirs, I am a true Common-wealths-man, and do not naturally love Kings, tho they be good’ (II.i.44—6; ibid.: 439), he speaks the language of the Good Old Cause, of Interregnum republicanism, and from his own mouth confirms the Tory canard that the new Whigs were rebranded roundheads.
In this unrelievedly sombre tragedy, both sides behave badly and both also have their blameless victims. Lucrece’s rape and suicide open the play; Teraminta, ’whooted like a common strumpet … and drag’d about the streets’, witnesses her lover’s death wound before she, too, stabs herself (V.i.78—9, V.ii.158; ibid.: 459, 462). Titus, peripherally involved in the abortive counter-revolution to which his brother had lent himself, shares his gruesome and degrading execution, cut short by a kindly sword thrust from a republican partisan, to the horror of witnesses appalled by Brutus’s stern intransigence that his sons must suffer to demonstrate the impartiality of republican justice as opposed to royalist caprice and favouritism. Extremism has brought about the tragedy. Of course, no society can tolerate a rapist ruler, or license rich, young thugs, who launch their failed coup by drinking the blood of cruelly slaughtered opponents in what is patently a parody of the Catholic mass (IV.i.1—121; ibid.: 452—3). Nor should the likes of Vinditius be given free rein. Brutus demonstrates the inappropriateness of inflexible action from abstract principles, which exclude all natural impulse, all human kindliness, from his decision-making, leaving him poignantly to kiss the ’trembling lips’ of the dying son whose execution he had decreed (V.ii.174; ibid.: 463).
Thomas Otway’s Venice Preserv’d, which depicts an abortive coup in the Venetian republic, was performed by the Duke’s Company in February 1682, by which time the king and his supporters had plainly weathered the storm. It is topped and tailed by a prologue and epilogue of transparent Tory partisanship, in triumphal mood. The concluding sentiment anticipates the ’Songs of Triumph’ to greet the return of James, Duke of York, from Scotland, where he had been lying low since 1680 (Epilogue, l.34; ibid.: 502). Yet the play is as ideologically complex as Lucius Junius Brutus. Indeed, in its structural similarity it so closely resembles Lee’s play as to invite interpretation as a pendant. It, too, has a tragic love story at its centre: Jaffeir has ruined himself through his marriage to Belvidera, without the approval of her father, the senator Priuli; he is drawn to the coup in desperation, only to betray it when one of its leaders tries to rape his wife; and he perishes by his own hand. Belvidera explicitly likens herself to Lucrece (II.i.8; ibid.: 480). The final scenes are again dominated by the cruel and unusual executions of captured conspirators, which, in the case of Jeffeir’s friend Pierre, is shortened by a kindly dealt death wound, much as Titus’s had been. Once more, both sides have dreadful villains among good men. The conspirators are led by a would-be rapist, and they anticipate releasing devastation on the state. Renault urges them, ’Shed blood enough, spare neither Sex nor Age, / Name nor Condition’ (III.ii.334—5; ibid.: 485). The senators include the ghastly Antonio, who is depicted barking like a dog in the bedroom of his dominatrix, and more generally the distempers of the state, alluded to by the more honourable among the conspirators, are grave and pressing.
The complexity of the play finds reflection in the range of conflicting readings it has provoked (usefully summarized in Owen 1996: 236—7). Its location in an ancient republic places the issues it raises at some significant remove from the immediate crises of the kingdom. J. A. Downie perceptively suggests that Otway ’was consciously contributing to the contemporary debate about the nature and origins of government which had been going on throughout the seventeenth century, because not everyone was prepared to accept the doctrine of the Divine Right theorists’ (Downie 1994: 17). Indeed, the location precludes the divine right argument against rebellion. In its place come a horror at the insecurity, the threat to life and property, released by resort to direct action, and, in cautionary but not triumphalist fashion, an illustration of the personal tragedies that befall good men caught up in insurrectionary politics.
Nathaniel Lee collaborated with Dryden in writing The Duke of Guise, first performed in November 1682 by the newly formed United Company, though it had been written in the summer of that year, at which time its transparent attack on Monmouth ’offended his much tried but still protective father’ (Hughes 1996: 307). Though it is a fiercely loyalist play — and marks a considerable ideological shift on Lee’s part — its apparent prophecy of the Duke’s assassination and its rehearsal of the obvious political advantages for the crown could well have been inflammatory had it been performed when it was first intended. It is not, however, simplistic. Rather, it transfers to the stage the subtleties of Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel (considered below). Like the poem, it makes a profound distinction between the worst of the Whigs and Monmouth himself. Within the play, Malicorne, who seems almost certain to be recognized as the Shaftesbury figure (Hughes 1996: 308), has signed a Faustian pact and his familiar devil eventually carries him down to hell in a surprisingly old-fashioned scene: ’a flash of Lightning, they sink together’ (Dryden and Lee 1683: 68). Guise, the Monmouth figure, has formerly shown great courage in fighting for the king, and within the play is restrained, honourable and brave. But he mistakes his place within a divinely ordained order. As Marmoutier, a woman courted both by the king and himself, cautions him, ’He’s born to give you fear, not to receive it’ (ibid.: 46). The play, like the poem, unequivocally endorses the divine status of kingship. Like David in the poem, the king is too passive, too slow to act, but is eventually decisive, though here the action is both a political counterattack, analogous to the dismissal of the Exclusion Parliament, and a bloody reprisal: ’Bid Dugast execute the Cardinal, / Seize all the Factious Leaders’ (ibid.: 75). Similarly, the king, like David, relies on staunch and competent loyalists, depicted in some detail in a celebration of Tory grandees.
Hughes is scathing about the ’clear (and intellectually barren) parallel between the sedition of the Catholic League against Henri III and that of the Whigs against Charles’ (Hughes 1996: 307). But is it so barren? In Absalom and Achitophel Dryden cleverly shifts the basis of the crisis away from religion to matters of personality and the central principles of divinely ordained monarchical government. The Duke of Guise frustrates the Whig argument from religion. In the events depicted, it is a conspiracy of Catholic fanatics who are trying to exclude the Protestant Henri of Navarre, the future Henri IV, from succession to Henri III. Ambition and insubordination drive the plot, and religious disagreements function as part of the mechanism to bewilder the common people. While this play lacks the challenging ambivalences of Lucius Junius Brutus and Venice Preserv’d, it shows guile and panache in bringing a sense of closure to theatrical engagements with the Exclusion Crisis.
John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, achieved notoriety in both his own age and ours as the quintessence of Restoration libertinism, in life as in his art. Yet recent scholarship has done much to refine and correct that status, limiting his certain oeuvre, while modern critical readings suggest a philosophical depth and a political engagement and reposition him as a relatively complex interrogator of the sexual politics of his own age (see, especially, Thormählen 1993; Chernaik 1995; Turner 2002).
Rochester himself occupied a curious social position. The first earl, his father, had an active and distinguished career in the king’s cause: he participated in the failed royalist coup of 1641, commanded at the battle of Copredy Bridge, a rare success for the royalists in the later stages of the first civil war, accompanied Charles II to Scotland and thence to the fateful battle of Worcester, from which he escaped with the young king, and he held a position of trust in the subsequent years of exile (DNB 1975). He died in 1658. He had been created earl in 1652. The Wilmot family, however, in terms of their property base (itself, of course, ravaged by the effects of exile and confiscation), had more affinities with the upper gentry than the established aristocracy. The second earl depended for his prosperity on the patronage of the king, whose evident initial good will towards the son of one of his closest and loyalist adherents was further confirmed by Rochester’s own high-profile and distinguished conduct as a gentleman volunteer in the second Anglo-Dutch war (vividly narrated by Greene 1974: ch. 3). From 1666 he was a Gentleman of the King’s Bedchamber, an office his father had held in exile, and from 1674 Keeper of Woodstock Park, both wealthy offices in the gift of the king, who also encouraged him in the formation of a lucrative marriage. Though royal displeasure from time to time led to his expulsion from the court, he retained royal patronage till his death (DNB 1975). Other alliances may well have been significant in the forming of the ideological orientation of his verse. He was certainly in the circle of George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, an immensely wealthy and destructively profligate grandee, though scarcely an office-broker on the scale of the first duke. Buckingham’s own career was complex, vacillating and unstable, though by the mid-1670s he was broadly associated with country-party critics of the court and of James’s succession. Again, the family associations of Rochester’s mother included significant links to parliamentarians. Anne Wilmot, first Countess of Rochester, was cousin and friend of Lucy Hutchinson, knowing her well enough to possess a manuscript copy of her major verse work, Order and Disorder (see below; also Hutchinson 2001: xviii). The acerbity Rochester develops towards the king’s promiscuity reflects the strictures of the outsider as well as the courtier’s more intimate distaste, though his personal morality scarcely gave him the high ground.
Establishing the Rochester canon, for reasons to which we shall shortly turn, has proved immensely challenging. In Harold Love’s recent edition (Rochester 1999) ’poems probably by Rochester’ amount to scarcely more than 100 pages. They include fewer than than 50 short poems, the longer ’Tunbridge Wells’, ’A Satyre against Reason and Mankind’, ’A Letter from Artemiza in the Towne to Chloe in the Countrey’, ’A Ramble in St. James’s Park’, ’A Satyr’ (’In the Isle of Brittain’), and a score of other, generally less distinguished works.
Indeed, the quality is as uneven as the oeuvre is generically diverse. Rochester certainly knew well the court poetry of the Caroline era, and some of his less challenging verse could be mistaken for Carew’s or Herrick’s. His ’Dialogue’ between ’Nymph’ and ’Sheppard’, each articulating uncertainty and resentment, finds resolution in a concluding chorus, ’Then Lett our flaming hearts be joyn’t / While in that sacred fire, / e’re thou prove falce or I unkind, / Together both expire’ (ll.17—20: ibid.: 16). It is artfully written — the ’thou / I’ pronouns, sung together, express their mutuality, and the joining of the voices mirrors the joining of their hearts. Had it been written 30 years earlier, Henry Lawes could have set it with facility. In the event, Louis Grabu, a French composer much patronized by Charles II, set it, no later than 1684 (ibid.: 521). Again, that restrained libertinism found in some of Suckling’s lyrics also recurs. The song ’Phillis, be gentler I advise’, though broadly in the tradition that adapts the carpe diem topos into a seduction routine, ends with a hard minatory edge: ’then if … / You’ll peevishly be coy, / Dye with the Scandall of a Whore, / And never know the joy’ (ll.12—15; ibid.: 20).
Yet elsewhere Rochester insistently subverts the Caroline idiom. In ’A song’ (’Faire Cloris in a Pigsty lay’), the shepherdess is displaced by a swine-girl, who, stimulated by the sounds of the pigs around her, dreams an erotic rape-fantasy, from which she wakes unsatisfied:
Frighted shee wakes, and wakeing friggs:
Nature thus kindly eas’d
In dreames raisd by her grunting Piggs
And her owne thumb betwixt her Leggs,
Shees Innocent and pleas’d.
(ll.36—40; ibid.: 40)
The gender politics are as unsettling as the social perspective. Rochester seems to me, pace his more sympathetic modern critics, unrelenting in his sexist assumptions, and here the poem is premised on the related notions that women may find rape or the thought of rape stimulating and that women are in an undifferentiating way open to, desirous of, ready for sex. But the principal point of the poem is essentially literary. Rochester takes pastoralism from the idealizing conventions in which court ladies are represented as shepherdesses and places it in a real setting of animal husbandry, a pigsty; the heroine may have a name from classical pastoral, but she sleeps among her pigs and masturbates with her thumb. In a similar way the song ’By all Loves soft, yet mighty Pow’rs’ has the stanzaic form of a Caroline lyric, it has nymphs and a heroine called Phillis, but the proposition it opposes is the decidedly unidealized notion ’that Men shou’d Fuck in time of Flow’rs [menstruation] / Or when the Smock’s beshit’ (ll.3—4; ibid.: 37).
Rochester also picks away at the cocky assurance of the libertinism of the age of Suckling and Carew. ’The Imperfect Enjoyment’, a poem on ejaculatio praecox and subsequent impotence, substitutes the swagger with something altogether more anxious and troubling. But once more, the principal point is literary. As the lovers embrace in an advanced stage of foreplay,
Her nimble tongue (loves lesser lightning) plaied
Within my Mouth; and to my thoughts conveyd
Swift Orders, that I should prepare to throw
The all dissolving Thunderbolt beloe.
My fluttering soul, sprung with the pointed Kiss,
Hangs hovering o’re her balmy brinks of bliss;
But whilst her buisy hand would guide that part
Which shou’d convey my soul up to her heart
In liquid raptures I dissolve all o’re,
Melt into sperm and spend at every pore.
(ll.7—16; ibid.: 14)
The thunderbolt momentarily associates the lover with Zeus, whose weapon of choice it was, and thus with his legendary and literally polymorphous sexual energy. But the mythic moment soon fades. Herrick had used the pouring of the soul as an elegant euphemism for the sexual act in his delicate little poem, ’The Night-piece, to Julia’ (l.20; Herrick 1956: 217). Rochester subverts the conceit. What in Herrick had been a decorous periphrasis, in Rochester becomes something of a debasement of the concept itself of the soul, not a category that he esteems much, as we shall see. Again, though a gesture towards grandiloquence, albeit ironized, persists, a clear, precise description of the mechanics of human sexuality overwhelms it: ’Smileing she chides in a kind, murmring noise / And from her body wipes the clamy Joyes’ (ll.19—20). ’Joyes’ may have a Herrickian evasiveness: ’clamy’ doesn’t.
Rochester famously died in Christian penitence, but his most explicit poetic engagement with religion is his translation of a passage from Seneca, which asserts as its premise, ’After Death nothing is, and nothing Death’. Hell and its torments are dismissed as tendentious duplicities ’Devis’d by Rogues, dreaded by fools’ (’Senec. Troas. Act. 2. Chor. Thus English’d by a Person of Honour’, ll.1, 15; Rochester 1999: 45—46). Though ’Upon Nothinge’ acknowledges that, somehow, the created world has been produced from nothing, its dissolution is anticipated not in terms of the apocalyptic transformation of Christian orthodoxy, but as a return to a state of nothingness, of nonbeing; existence ’Into thy [nothing’s] boundless selfe must undistinguish’d fall’ (l.9; ibid.: 46). Atheism in the modern sense of the word is a rare phenomenon among the educated classes in the seventeenth century; Rochester approaches very close to it.
It is a critical commonplace that Rochester’s social psychology and political philosophy owe much to Thomas Hobbes, though the nature of that debt remains controversial (cf. Thormählen 1993: 174—9 with Chernaik 1995: ch. 1 et passim). At the least, he takes from Hobbes a notion that the human animal is prompted by potentially destructive individualism which tends against the common good, and that morality functions superstructurally (and in Rochester’s version, hypocritically and ineffectually) to control those urges. ’A Satyre against Reason and Mankind’, usually regarded as his most impressive longer poem, analyses the mismatch between the essential characteristics of the species and the assumption that rational behaviour, based on something other than the interpretation of data gathered by the senses, is achievable and appropriate:
Your Reason hinders, mine helps to enjoy,
Renewing appetites yours would destroy.
My Reason is my friend, Yours is a cheat,
Hunger calls out, my Reason bids me eat;
Perversly yours your appetites does mock,
They ask for food, that answers what’s a clock.
(ll.104—9; Rochester 1999: 60)
Other species more completely fulfil their essential capabilities because they do not share the delusional aspirations of moralising rationalism; hence, ’I’de be a Dog, a Monky, or a Bear. / Or any thing but that vain Animal / Who is so proud of being Rational’ (ll.5—7; ibid.: 57).
But this poem is scarcely typical of Rochester’s ’satires’, which engage, for the most part, with anti-social conduct. In some respects, they have an old-fashioned character when set against the satires of Marvell and of Dryden (see below), harking back to the opening years of the century, to the generalizing satirical mode that drew on the stereotyping tendency of character-writing. Here we meet the familiar roll call of jilts and jades, rakes and gulls, pimps and fops, perhaps best exemplified by ’A Letter from Artemiza in the Towne to Chloe in the Countrey’, which concludes with an anecdote describing a young heir, coming to London, ’From Pedagogue, and Mother just sett free’, who proves an easy target for a demimondaine (l.211; ibid.: 69).
At his strongest, Rochester adds obscenity, a disconcerting precision, and an inclination to fashion an image of himself as a man both sexually anxious and impervious to moral outrage, as in ’A Ramble in St. James’s Park’. The park at night-time had achieved considerable notoriety, and with a breathless sweep the poet offers a sort of dance of death in which
Unto this All-sin-sheltring Grove,
Whores of the Bulk, and the Alcove,
Great Ladies, Chamber-Maids, and Drudges,
The Rag-picker, and the Heiresse trudges:
Carr-men, Divines, great Lords, and Taylors,
Prentices, Poets, Pimps and Gaolers;
Foot-Men, fine Fops, do here arrive,
And here promiscuously they swive.
(ll.25—33; ibid.: 77)
But the speaker is no disengaged observer. Unequivocally, he has entered the park in search of sexual adventure. He is surprised to notice Corinna, his mistress, evidently on the pick up, and is appalled when she goes off in a hackney carriage with three men, a possibly identifiable would-be courtier, an Inns of Court man, and a youthful would-be rake. The initial interpretation the reader is drawn to — that her mere disloyalty is the outrage — is quickly set aside. The poet’s problem is not that his mistress is unfaithful and promiscuous (’There’s something gen’rous in meer lust’), but that she shows such poor taste in her choice of partners. He represents himself as a sort of super-cuckold, who has waited for her return from other nocturnal adventures, ’Drencht with the Seed of half the Town’, and, in an act of supreme self-abasement has added his own ’Dram of Sperme’ to her ’spewing’ genitalia (ll.98, 114—15). What we have is not a moral schema, but moral chaos, a world without inhibition where the only decorum is a perverse taste that permits the loved one to indulge herself with ’Porters Backs and Foot-mens Brawn’ (l.120), in a sort of inverted chic, while congress with those only two or three notches lower than Rochester’s own class is a profanation.
Just as Herbert died before the high days of Laudianism which would have forced him to take sides on the major issues of ecclesiastical policy, so Rochester entered his terminal decline before the great watershed of the early 1680s. His more political verse clearly shows that he aligned himself with Buckingham against his known adversaries. Hence the exchange of poetic unpleasantries with John Sheffield, third Earl of Mulgrave, who, as Harold Love explains, ’in alliance with Dryden, worked during the later 1670s to assemble a patronage-group of Yorkist writers’ (Rochester 1999: 424). Yet Rochester’s verse attacks on the king rest squarely on the common prejudices and preferences which predominated among the English political nation. Indeed, the king is energetically promiscuous; hardly a surprise given the readiness with which he acknowledged his bastards. Generally, his English mistresses are preferable to the Duchess of Portsmouth, who is widely suspected of being a promoter of French interests. Hence poems like ’Dialogue L: R’, which concludes with the ’People’ praying, ’Now Heav’ns preserve our Faiths Defendor / From Paris Plotts, and Roman Cunt’ (ll.13—14; ibid.: 91). Hence, too, the facile anti-Catholicism disclosed in asides about Jesuits’ enthusiasm for ’the use of Buggery’ (’A Ramble in St James’s Park’, l.146; ibid.: 80). But there is scarcely a mature, developed and sustained satirical purpose.
Establishing the Rochester oeuvre remains problematic, though his most recent editor, Harold Love, has carried numerous problems towards resolution. The reasons for the uncertainty are complex. Unlike some other poets who generally eschewed print in their lifetimes — Donne and Herbert, for example — Rochester did nothing to set his manuscripts in order before his death. Indeed, he compounded the confusion by ordering their destruction during the penitential days of his final illness, so the possibility of something approximating to an authorially endorsed posthumous collection never arose. In his lifetime, as the texts escaped, as he most surely knew they would (Love 1993: 81), from the narrow circle of court libertines for whom he represented himself as writing (’An allusion to Horace’, ll.120—4; Rochester 1999: 74), they fell into a loose and unpredictable network of dissemination in which anonymous works were likely to be attributed to him. As the texts entered circulation in coffee-houses, Inns of Court, and thus through gentry-class networks linking London to the provinces, the class base of their audience surely widened. At the same time, a readership developed which was much further from the real circles of power and influences, for whom a satire or lampoon could serve much as a newsletter would, as an insight of sorts into those circles. The attribution ’Rochester’ was in some ways perceived as authenticating such accounts. As Love remarks:
That the name Rochester appears more frequently than any other in the [manuscript] collections of the 1680s is because it was a notorious one which might be added at a venture to any piece encountered in circulation, either through honest speculation or a desire to raise the value of a piece of poetical merchandise…. It was a short step from speculating on the authorship of an anonymous lampoon to adding the name of the supposed author to a transcript. (Rochester 1999: xxxvi—xxvii)
The early printing history of his work is instructive but unhelpful in establishing the canon. The collection published in 1680 after his death, Poems on several occasions by the Right Honourable, the E. of R—, ’was simply a surreptitious printing of a copy of a scribally published anthology of poems by Rochester and other writers of libertine verse’; it was reprinted at least 13 times. The editions of 1685 and 1691 ’brought him within the pale of polite literature, but at the cost of much mutilation and exclusion’ (Rochester 1999: xxxv, xv). While the first was perhaps published to take advantage both of the recent death of a celebrity and the lapse in the licensing order, and reflects the wild uncertainties of those months of crisis, the other is indicative of changes both in literary taste and public morality, reflecting a movement away from uncontrolled licentiousness to a new decorum (see below, chapter 7).
Works erroneously attributed to Rochester are often more unrelentingly obscene than the works he probably wrote. Thus, the ’song’ that starts ’In the Fields of Lincolns Inn, / Underneath a tatter’d Blanket’ offers an anatomically precise description of a troilist episode, while ’Advice to a Cuntmonger’ pretty much lives up to its title (ibid.: 275—6, 269—70; Love argues that the latter may be authentic — ibid.: 489). Usually excluded from his oeuvre is the most extraordinary example of that already curious genre, the closet drama, Sodom and Gomorah, which mixes the obscenest of fantasy with a partially sustained parody of heroic drama and an implacably hostile critique of the court of Charles II. He is recognizable within the play as King Bolloxinian, whose arbitrary government takes the form of a decree requiring all intercourse henceforth to be sodomitical (’I do proclaim that Buggery may be vsd / O’re all the land so C— shall not be abus’d’), an edict that a courtier immediately terms ’this indulgence’, obviously linking it to Charles’s Declaration of Indulgence, which is also echoed in the king’s speech (I.i.69—70, 75; ibid.: 305, 499).
The Poetry of Dryden and Butler
John Dryden differed from Rochester socially, culturally and ideologically. His major poetry of 1660—85 displayed an awesome technical accomplishment, a mature and precise understanding of contemporary politics and a dedication to the role of laureate celebrant of restored majesty. Dryden, the child of a modestly propertied gentry family, had attempted to establish himself as a public poet in the closing years of the Interregnum (for his elegy on Cromwell, see chapter 5, above.) Though his prosperity in the 1660s and 1670s rested initially on his career as dramatist (see above), he rapidly transformed the high public style of his Heroic Stanzas on the late Protector into a neoclassical idiom well suited to hail Charles II in Virgilian mode as a new Augustus. Only in the case of Mac Flecknoe, a poem otherwise atypical of his poetic oeuvre, was a major work put into manuscript circulation. Dryden wrote for print publication. In the decade of the Restoration, Henry Herringman emerged as natural successor to the late Humphrey Moseley, who died early in 1661. Dryden reputedly lodged with him at the start of in his own career, and certainly cemented an important working relationship that lasted until 1678. He switched thereafter to the even more enterprising literary entrepreneur Jacob Tonson, with whom he remained despite apparent disagreements about payment (Winn 1987: 95; DNB 1975, s.n. Tonson, Jacob). Among members of the respectable end of the publishing industry with whom Dryden dealt, authors were paid regularly for their copy and agreements were honoured. His aversion to manuscript circulation largely precluded piracy of his intellectual property. Mac Flecknoe, again exceptionally, ’reached print in a pirated text of no authority’ (Dryden 1995—2005: I, 306).
While cash transactions for the text of his poems (like those for the text, rather than performing rights, of his plays) were, at the height of his earning power, a relatively minor income stream compared with his direct theatrical earnings, they ensured the circulation by prestigious publishing houses of the works on which both his current and his contemporary literary reputations most securely depend. They both secured for him the post of Poet Laureate on the death of Sir William Davenant in 1668 and constituted his major accomplishment in that role. For Dryden, the laureateship implied grander responsibilities than the production of birthday odes for coterie circulation, nothing short of the public celebration and defence both of the king and of James, Duke of York, the heir apparent and himself a significant patron of the poet.
He had already taken that role to himself in the opening months of the Restoration, though at the outset he had to elbow his way through a considerable crowd. The new regime had been greeted with a blizzard of poetic compliment. Coronation odes and related panegyrics for Charles II far outnumber those for James I and Charles I. Despite their profusion and the diversity of authorship as republican placemen jostled with diehard cavaliers, they showed a surprising uniformity of theme, ideology and strategy. None ignored the interruption to Stuart rule by the republic and all represented the new king as stronger because of his suffering (Corns 1999b: 18; Dryden 1995—2005: I, 36). In Astrea Redux, published by Herringman in the summer of 1660, Dryden repeats the emphases of his contemporaries, but fashions them into a consciously Virgilian project, which ends:
O happy age! O times like those alone
By Fate reserved for great Augustus’ throne!
When the joint growth of arms and arts foreshow
The world a monarch, and that monarch you.
(Astrea Redux, ll.320—3; Dryden 1995—2005: I, 54)
Dryden also tries out the Davidic topos that is to figure significantly in his later verse. Charles in exile was like ’banished David’ driven from Israel ’When to be God’s anointed was his crime’ (ll.79—80; ibid.: 42). Dryden’s own complicity in the superseded regime is elided in the collective guilt of England. A bold personification metamorphoses the cliffs of Dover into a humiliated penitent: ’The land returns, and in the white it wears / The marks of penitence and sorrow bears’ (ll.254—55; ibid.: 50). Of course, Dryden has everything to gain from incorporating his personal history into a national culpability.
Dryden’s coronation ode, To His Sacred Maiesty, A Panegyrick On His Coronation (1661), was published, once more by Herringman, to coincide with the ceremony. It continued the penitential motif, and also made much of a new theme, England’s potential as a maritime power. Thus, he took the most positive element of Cromwellian foreign policy and mapped it onto the new regime. In the 1650s it had plainly been demonstrated that an English navy, appropriately funded and competently led, could match the fleets of Spain or the United Provinces. Charles, too, recognized the potential. Dryden commemorates him in those terms: ’Born to command the mistress of the seas, / Your thoughts themselves in that blue empire please’ (ll.99—100; ibid.: I, 59). The notion further informs his most ambitious poem of the 1660s, Annus Mirabilis, first published early in 1667.
This is a polemical poem of sorts. Popular prediction, seizing on ’666’ as the number of the beast of Revelation 13:18, had expected 1666 to be a year of singular, perhaps apocalyptic, ill omen. The bloody battles of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, following hard on the plague year of 1665, and in turn capped by the Great Fire of London, had certainly given credibility to the notion. Dryden works through the events towards a crowning vision of England as the new Rome, an imperial power founded on naval supremacy:
Now like a maiden queen she [London] will behold
From her high turrets hourly suitors come:
The east with incense and the west with gold
Will stand like suppliants to receive her doom
Already we have conquered half the war,
And the less dangerous part is left behind:
Our trouble now is but to make them [the Dutch] dare,
And not so great to vanquish as to find.
Thus to the eastern wealth through storms we go,
But now, the Cape once doubled, fear no more:
A constant trade-wind will securely blow,
And gently lay us on the spicy shore.
(ll.1185—8, 1209—16, ibid.: I, 200—1)
The aspirations anticipate the dreams of Victorian imperialism, of a trading nation imposing through naval might its order on the world. But Dryden’s model, of course, is Augustan Rome, and drawing on the foundation myth underlying Virgil’s Aeneid, he tropes the United Provinces as the doomed rival, Carthage:
Thus mighty in her ships stood Carthage long,
And swept the riches of the world from far;
Yet stooped to Rome, less wealthy but more strong:
And this may prove our second Punic War.
(l.17—20, ibid.: 131—2)
The idiom he develops is consciously and explicitly Virgilian. Though the poem takes its stanzaic form from the iconic cavalier romance, Davenant’s Gondibert (see above, chapter 5), Virgilian allusion abounds, witnessed in the footnotes of scholarly editions and emphasized in Dryden’s own occasional annotation. In a lengthy preface in the form of a letter to Sir Robert Howard, he observes:
I must own the vanity to tell you, and by you the world, that he [Virgil] has been my master in this poem: I have followed him everywhere, I know not with what success, but I am sure with diligence enough: my images are many of them copied from him, and the rest are imitations of him. (Ibid.: 123)
Indeed, the poem has a pervasive grandeur, carried along by its high seriousness of theme, its stylistic decorum, and its persistent striving after the idiom of epic. Polemically, this functions in two ways. By representing current affairs as the epic encounters of ancient heroes, Dryden may pass over the troublesome details of the English naval campaign of 1666, which had been marked by missed opportunities, as in the fiasco of the Bergen expedition, and inconclusive or highly dubious victories. Secondly, the sustained panegyric to the king, particularly in his management of the aftermath of the fire, associates him with those virtues by which Virgil characterized Aeneas (and by implication Augustus), in the words of the preface, ’the piety and fatherly affection of our monarch to his suffering people’ (ibid.: 114). Thus, the so-called ’King’s Prayer’ for help over the fire has Charles speak with evident pietas: ’I since have laboured for my people’s good, / To bind the bruises of a civil war’ (ll.1050—1). Significantly, as Paul Hammond observes, the poem echoes David’s prayer in time of pestilence, 1 Chronicles 21:17, and as such it rehearses Dryden’s other favoured trope for Charles. James Anderson Winn sagely notes, ’Dryden’s daring rhetoric here blunts the arguments of those who blamed the fire on the King’s immorality; the Charles of his poem acknowledges that immorality but beseeches God to punish him alone, sparing the nation’ (1987: 175). It calls for a special kind of creative courage to produce and celebrate pius Carolus.
But, not for the last time, Dryden was fashioning an epic vehicle for an unworthy subject. The English navy, far from subduing the fleets of the known world, suffered in the months following the publication of Annus Mirabilis probably its worst ever humiliation as the Dutch sailed up the Thames. Dryden had made the same blunder as Abraham Cowley in his poem on the first civil war, but Cowley at least stopped when the tide turned against the royalists and never published his poem; Dryden’s was in the public domain as events demonstrated the incompetence and corruption of English military and political leadership, hurrying Clarendon onward to the fall of his administration, his flight and banishment.
Dryden’s next great public poem was a long time coming, but with the passing of the crisis over the issue of the exclusion of James, Duke of York, for long a major patron, he produced in Absalom and Achitophel, published by Tonson in November 1681, the finest explicitly political poem of the century and arguably the finest in the English literary tradition.
Of course, it is by no means the first poem in that tradition to discuss contemporary politics through a kind of roman à clef. Indeed, Cowley had used the history of David in his own Davideis to similar purpose (see above, chapter 5), and drawing analogies between individual contemporaries and biblical figures was a commonplace of popular polemic at least since the 1640s. Pertinently, several pamphlets during the late 1670s and early 1680s had used the same story (Dryden 1995—2005: I, 447). But Dryden’s project is more fully elaborated, more detailed and more complex. The main figures to be represented are plain enough. Absalom (Monmouth) is seduced by Achitophel (Shaftesbury), aided by Zimri (the second Duke of Buckingham), into rebelling against David (Charles), against a background of discontent fomented by Corah (Titus Oates, who initiated the activities around the Popish Plot). But minor figures are less certainly identified in the modern scholarly tradition. For example, Balaam, one of Achitophel’s party, is only tentatively identified by Hammond: ’here probably Theophilus Hastings, seventh Earl of Huntingdon’, while his associate, Caleb, is various interpreted (ibid.: I, 497—8nn.). Among contemporaries, finding the key was by no means universally straightforward and no doubt proved easier for insiders than for those more remote from the seats of power and conflict, which may explain why so many copies of the early editions are annoted with identifications of the characters and brief comments (ibid.: I, 448; Zwicker 1984: 57), the kinds of aids to memory and interpretation that modern readers frequently add.
Dryden’s selection of this biblical analogue allows him to negotiate carefully the representation of Monmouth. The poem depicts Charles’s dismissal of the parliament that met at Oxford. At the point at which Dryden writes, quite how or indeed whether Monmouth would be politically rehabilitated is uncertain, though he reflects the growing confidence of the Tory loyalists that Shaftesbury’s challenge has been seen off. He interrupts the biblical story before its conclusion, the summary execution of Absalom by David’s agent and the king’s subsequent grief (2 Samuel 18—19), thus opening the avenue of reconciliation while leaving as a minatory edge recollection of the fate of the biblical Absalom. Monmouth persisted in his opposition to the king, as Dryden makes explicit in his introduction:
Were I the inventor, who am only the historian, I should certainly conclude the piece with the reconcilement of Absalom to David. And who knows but this may come to pass? Things were not brought to an extremity where I left the story. There seems yet to be room left for composure; hereafter there may only be for pity. (Dryden 1995—2005:I, 452)
Dryden’s portrait of Absalom is guilefully evasive, allowing his enemies to recognize, in the account of ’Amnon’s murther’, allusion to one or other of the vile acts of murderous violence perpetrated and pardoned in his youth: ’What faults he had (for who from faults is free?/ His father could not, or he would not see’ (ll.35—6; ibid.: 457). All of postlapsarian humankind have faults; for most, they do not find expression in killing or maiming.
Dryden offers his readers two alternative prospects for England: as a place of inclusion and stability under a generous, forgiving and divinely endorsed monarch; or as a chaotic realm subject to random disorder and the inversion of social hierarchy. Once more, he vividly evokes recollection of the horrors of civil war: ’The Good Old Cause revived a plot requires; / Plots, true or false, are necessary things / To raise up commonwealths and ruin kings’ (ll.82—4; ibid.: 461—2). Images of instability adhere to the leading Whigs. All Shaftesbury, ’with wealth and honour blessed’, needed to do to enjoy a respected and prosperous life was nothing. Instead, ’Restless, unfixed in principles and place’, he is driven to seek out random dangers: ’wild ambition loves to slide, not stand, / And fortune’s ice prefers to virtue’s land’. Buckingham, ’A man so various’, ’Was everything by starts, and nothing long’. The English people, ’the giddy Jews’, ’once in twenty years … / By natural instinct … change their lord’ (ll.165, 154, 198—9, 545, 548, 216, 218—19; ibid.: 470, 467, 473,495, 474). Dryden’s strategy is to convince readers, including moderate Whigs we may assume, that Charles offers a kind of stability and defence of order and property, which in turn implies, but does not explicitly argue for, the retention of due order in the matter of his successor. In a politic ploy, James, Duke of York, had spent the crisis out of the country; in Dryden’s poem he is similarly marginalized, not even given a name (ll.353—60; ibid.: 482).
The brightest parts of the poem, aside from the ingenuity of its adaptation of the biblical narrative, for the modern reader and probably for his contemporaries rest in the most overtly satirical section, the pen portraits of the leading Whigs. But this poem defies the usual genre categories. Its overall thrust is away from denigration towards panegyric and perhaps epic. Charles is surrounded by a band of heroes closer to figures from the Iliad than the books of Samuel. Thus, Barzillai (James Butler, Duke of Ormonde), Zadok (William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury), Hushai (Laurence Hyde, Clarendon’s son) and other Tory grandees are unremittingly praised. The poem concludes with a stately reworking of the words with which Charles dismissed the Oxford parliament, an act which receives explicit divine endorsement: ’Th’Almighty, nodding, gave consent, / And peals of thunder shook the firmament’ (ll.1026—7; ibid.: 532). Hutton summarizes the events rather differently:
To avoid disorder, and also to humiliate the Whigs, the dissolution was sprung as a complete surprise. On the 28th [of March, 1681] Charles was carried to the Lords in a sedan-chair, his royal robes and crown concealed in it. He donned them in an antechamber and summoned the Commons as they gave the new Exclusion Bill a first reading. Stumbling up the narrow staircase to Christ Church hall, they were confronted by their monarch in his regalia, and heard him finish the Parliament with one sentence. He then lunched and drove away to Windsor, leaving the two Houses to disperse, watched by his Guards. (Hutton 1991: 401)
Dryden does not mention the guards.
The second part of Absalom and Achitophel was primarily the work of Nahum Tate within the template established by Dryden, though there is a critical consensus that Dryden wrote some passages. As a whole, the poem seems redundant. The ranks of those to be praised are increased and the Duke of York, who had by now returned from Scotland, appears prominently. Dryden contributed a further poem to the crisis, The Medal, written in response to the minting of a medal to commemorate Shaftesbury’s acquittal from a charge of high treason. Battle lines, by then, were more clearly drawn and the moment for conciliation had passed. Dryden is unflinchingly partisan throughout, sometimes brutally so. Stephen Zwicker judges well the tone: this is ’a harsh and brilliant and momentary lapse into a flagrancy that the poet could nor would not long sustain’ (Zwicker 1984: 104). The medal depicted on its obverse the portrait bust of Shaftesbury and on its reverse London and its bridge beneath a sun breaking through obscuring clouds (Dryden 1995—2005: II, facing page 196). Dryden, with measured venom, observes in his prefatory ’Epistle to the Whigs’: ’the head would be seen to more advantage if it were placed on a spike of the Tower, a little nearer to the sun, which would then break out to better purpose’ (ibid.: 10). The title page calls the poem ’a Satyre against Sedition’. Dryden’s principal technique is to take the straightforwardly satirical components of Absalom and Achitophel and to expand them, suppressing the nuances and balances of the earlier work. Shaftesbury again appears ’wildy’ steered by ambition (l.30; ibid.: 18). Once more, modern Whigs are driven on by the spirit that had brought chaos to the mid-century decades.
Dryden’s poem, unsurprisingly, provoked numerous highly personal responses, among them, interestingly, a charge by Thomas Shadwell that Dryden had mistaken the difference between satire and libel, invoking the classical notion of satire as a form that tells the truth with a laugh (discussed by Paul Hammond in ibid.: II, 8). Shadwell himself had already felt Dryden’s lash in a composition unique within his oeuvre as his only sustained attack on a creative writer and his only major poem to have circulated extensively in manuscript. It is uncertain when Dryden wrote it, but it probably predated print publication by about six years. Its eventual appearance in print was in a pirated version purposefully entitled Mac Flecknoe, or a Satyr upon the True-Blew-Protestant Poet, T[homas] S[hadwell]. As Hammond observes, the subtitle is ’the bookseller’s attempt to make the poem politically topical in the light of the controversy between D[ryden] and Shadwell in 1682 over The Medal’ (ibid.: I, 306). But there is little that is political about his critique, nor does his case against Shadwell as writer have much substance. Yet this is Dryden at his most playful, assured in his mastery of the witty couplet: ’The rest to some faint meaning make pretence, / But Shadwell never deviates into sense’ (ll.19—20; ibid.: 315). The suburban coronation of Shadwell as king dunce, a bravura essay in mock heroic, anticipates in miniature the achievement of Alexander Pope’s Dunciad, and in so doing points to a wealth of comic vision that Dryden in his poetry rarely exploited in his high-minded pursuit of the Virgilian idiom and his laureate mission as public celebrant of Charles’s rule.
He wrote one further major poem before the death of the king, Religio Laici or A Laymans Faith, published by Tonson in November 1682. It contributes to the controversy occasioned by the publication A Critical History of the Old Testament, a translation of a challenging treatise by Richard Simon, a French Catholic, who saw in his critique of the transmission of the scriptures an argument against Protestants’ privileging of the text over the authority of the interpretative tradition. In one of the most considerable philosophical poems in English, Dryden works towards a Protestant definition of saving faith that the Milton of his final prose work, Of True Religion (1673; see below), could probably have agreed with. Thus, ’the scriptures … / Are uncorrupt, sufficient, clear, entire / In all things which our needful faith require’; ’Th’unlettered Christian, who believes in gross, / Plods on to heaven, and ne’er is at a loss’ (ll.297—300, 322—3; Dryden 1995—2005: III, 126—7). Dryden, though, takes a very different view of the threat to order posed by such unlettered Christians engaging in controversial theology, linking it with the disorders of the mid-century decades when ’The tender page with horny fists was galled, / And he was gifted most that loudest bawled’ (ll.404—5; ibid.: 131).
Dryden recalls, perhaps, the unlettered squabbling among the Puritan saints depicted in Samuel Butler’s immensely successful poem, Hudibras, published in three parts, in late 1662, in 1664 and in 1677. The first part went through nine editions in its first year, and was read with enjoyment by Charles II and his courtiers (Butler 1967: xix). Its robust ridicule for the displaced Puritan ascendancy plainly recommended it to that readership, and it served to fix in the literary culture of the Restoration the old anti-parliamentarian stereotyping, inherited by Cleveland from Jonson and others. When Ralpho, the Presbyterian Hudibras’s sectary squire, denounces bear-baiting as ’No less then worshipping of Dagon’ (First Part, Canto I.814; ibid.: 25), the spirit of Zeal-of-the-Land Busy stirs again.
The assault on the displaced saints is unrelenting. Butler seems to be thinking primarily of the disparities between the aspirations of Puritans in local government and magistracy and the anarchic vitality of the communities they wished to control, though a long section in the final part satirizes the chaotic constitutional improvisation that followed the death of Cromwell, when
Some were for setting up a King,
But all the rest for no such thing,
Unless King Jesus; others tamper’d
For Fleetwood, Desborough, and Lambard.
(Third Part, Canto II.267—70; ibid.: 241)
Yet Butler’s poem has an energy, an expansiveness and generosity that overwhelms the narrow objectives of anti-Puritan satire. Cervantes is an acknowledged influence, and allusions to Don Quixote abound. Cervantes’s hero develops from the peg on which to hang a parody of chivalric romance into a mythic figure of romantic overreaching and self-delusion. Hudibras, in his scuffles and brawls in an English provincial setting, develops a kind of preposterous heroism, while still gratifying an anti-Puritan reader with incidents that are humiliating and comic. In the process, Butler makes it extremely difficult for any contemporary poet drawn to writing epic. His rather curious prosodic choice, couplets of eight-syllabled lines, is variously rough and jaunty, quite distinct from Dryden’s heroic couplets and Milton’s blank verse. Yet his sustained send up of the most elevated of poetic idioms cuts the ground from under English attempts at Italianate, chivalric epic of the kind Milton apparently once intended (see below).
Marvell After 1660
Andrew Marvell, like Dryden, had walked with Milton in the funeral procession of Oliver Cromwell, in whose civil service he had served. Like Dryden, he made a relatively untroubled transition from republicanism to respectability at the Restoration, but unlike Dryden he remained active in political life. Creative writing assumed a far different role in his subsequent career. During the brief protectorate of Richard Cromwell he had become the Member of Parliament for Hull, the town where he grew up, and, elected again in 1660, served till his death in 1678.
He fashioned himself into an assiduous servant of his constituency. Almost 300 letters are extant, which he wrote to the corporation of Hull, informing them about developments in the capital which had possible significance for them and generally keeping them abreast of the affairs of state. Arguably, they show some commitment to opening up the process of government to wider scrutiny, certainly a theme in his polemical prose, though they show, too, a general wariness. Marvell rarely vouchsafes an oppositional value judgement on the events he reports. From his dry observations on the exhumation and gibbeting of Cromwell, Bradshaw and Ireton, one could not surmise his previous role in republican England. Again, his account of the second Anglo-Dutch War, seemingly accepting the official line, relates that ’The Dutch haue been fighting with us in the mouth of the river [Thames] but I think with more damage to themselves then us’ (Marvell 1971: II, 7, 56). Of his republican poems, considered in chapter 5, only ’The First Anniversary of the Government under His Highness the Lord Protector’ had been contemporaneously printed, and manuscript circulation of the others was, Nigel Smith concludes, at most limited to ’small, elite circles’ (Marvell 2003a: 266, with specific reference to the ’Horatian Ode’). Apart from ’The First Anniversary’, the Cromwellian panegyrics remained unprinted till the posthumous publication of his Miscellaneous Poems in 1681, itself ’part of a Whig propaganda campaign at the end of the Exclusion Crisis’ (Marvell 2003a: xiii). Even then, they were excised from nearly all extant copies, no doubt because they offered such easy substantiation of the familiar Tory claim, present for example in Absalom and Achitophel, that the new Whigs were heirs to the old republicans.
But by then, remarkably for one so cautious in other aspects of his public life, Marvell had produced a considerable oeuvre of poetry and prose that was deeply critical of successive administrations; on this his early reputation was based. Indeed, stimulated by two immensely valuable editorial projects (Marvell 2003a, 2003b), there is an evident critical impetus towards ’a long-overdue corrective, shifting the centre of gravity so that Marvell’s later writings … can be seen as integral parts of … his literary achievement’ (Chernaik and Dzelzainis 1999b: 4).
Among the welter of anti-court lampoons and satires, numerous spurious items were attributed to Marvell in the manuscript collections of the late Stuart period, reflecting, though on a more modest scale, the effect of literary celebrity (or notoriety) that rendered so problematic the establishment of the Rochester canon (see above). In Marvell’s case the process gathered pace as the century closed (von Maltzahn 1999: 63). Acute difficulties of attribution surround the cluster of poems stimulated by Edmund Waller’s panegyric to the English war effort, Instructions to a Painter, For the Drawing of the Postures and Progress of His Ma[jes]ties Forces at Sea, ’published first in short form as a broadsheet in 1665 … , then in 1666 as a thin folio volume’ (Marvell 2003a: 321). Waller, like Dryden in Annus Mirabilis, had cheered too soon, since the victory he celebrates, the battle of Lowestoft, had been followed by disgraceful and humiliating reverses. By the time the Dutch were commanding the Thames estuary and burning the fleet in the Medway, Waller’s confident panegyric and predictions were embarrassingly inappropriate:
The Trembling Dutch th’approaching Prince behold
As Sheep a Lion leaping tow’rds their Fold.
What Wonders may not English Valour work,
Led by th’Example of Victorious YORK?
(Waller 1666: 15)
The canonical status of The Second Advice to a Painter (?April 1666) and The Third Advice (’Late 1666—January 1667’; Marvell 2003a: 342) remains controversial. There is agreement about Marvell’s authorship of The Last Instructions to a Painter (written ’between 31 August and 29 November 1667’; Marvell 2003a: 360), his finest post-Restoration poem and currently the subject of considerable critical and scholarly interest. Among Marvell’s works, probably only ’Upon Appleton House’ exceeds it in ambition. Its political orientation is transparently oppositional, though the argument, as we shall see, exhibits considerable guile and nuance. Nigel Smith plausibly surmises that ’it may be that the poem was written either for presentation to Buckingham, or for limited circulation among like-minded peers or MPs, as a new, hopefully uncorrupt and efficient, era of government dawned’ (Marvell 2003a: 360). (Clarendon fled into exile in the aftermath of England’s military disasters, leaving Buckingham, at the brief zenith of his political career, in effect as Charles’s most influential minister.)
Like Absalom and Achitophel, The Last Instructions eludes easy genre categorization. It opens by parodying the idiom of Waller’s poem (’Paint me … ’, ’Paint me … ’, ’Paint Castlemaine … ’ — ll.29, 49, 79; ibid.: 368—9), though what he offers are caricatures, not portraits, of a cluster of court figures, purposefully selected — Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans, the Duchess of York and Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine. The choice is purposeful and cunning. He surrounds the Duke of York and Charles himself with figures of bloated depravity. St Albans, currently ambassador to France, retained a notoriety dating from his days as Henrietta Maria’s Vice-Chamberlain in the late 1620s. A contemporary anecdote — one among many — related how Thomas Carew (see above, chapter 4), lighting the king to the queen’s chamber, ’saw Jermyn … with his arm around her neck; — he stumbled, and put out the light; — Jermyn escaped’ (quoted in Carew 1964: xxxv). The notoriety extended to doubts about the paternity of Henrietta Maria’s children. Marvell’s grotesque image represents Jermyn as ’The new court’s pattern, stallion of the old’ and ’Membered like mules’ (ll.30, 34; Marvell 2003a: 368), a man promoted far beyond his political ability on account of his sexual prowess: ’Him neither wit nor courage did exalt, / But Fortune chose him for her pleasure salt’ (ll.31—2). In his caricature of Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, he revives a cluster of scandals — the birth of her first born just two months after her marriage, her alleged murder of Lady Denham, one of the Duke’s mistresses, and her own promiscuity. As in the portrait of St Albans, the commonplaces of popular lampoon are transformed with consummate art. The steatopygous Anne becomes her own caroche as her grooms mistake her buttocks for the platform at the back and hop aboard: ’so large a rump, / There (not behind the coach) her pages jump’ (ll.63—4; ibid.: 369), with a probable obscene play on ’jump’. The equine connections continue as the Countess of Castlemaine appears in pursuit of a servant whose bulging ’drawers’ (l.81; ibid.: 370) have caught her eye:
Stripped to her skin, see how she stooping stands,
Nor scorns to rub him down with those fair hands,
And washing (lest the scent her crime disclose)
His sweaty hooves, tickles him ’twixt the toes.
(ll.93—6; ibid.: 370)
Bless thee, Bottom. Thou art translated. But Titania-Palmer actually consummates the relationship. Once more in this opening sequence, a bestial congress is implied. She ’stands stooping’, offering herself like a mare to be covered. She rubs her lover down like a horse, though before, rather than after, exercise. ’Stooping’ suggests social condescension; more literally, it means bending over.
As James Grantham Turner observes, this poem ’draw[s] together a whole network of sexual-political tropes from the clandestine subculture of libels and whispers’ (Turner 1999: 227). But Marvell transforms them into one wing of a triptych; the corresponding wing holds his depiction of the death of Archibald Douglas. Descriptively, the passage is a tour de force, once more a metamorphosis, though here, through a transfiguration of soldier into saintly icon, Douglas, steadfast when all the English troops had deserted their post, remains on the Royal Oak, torched by the Dutch at Chatham:
Round the transparent fire about him glows,
As the clear amber on the bee does close,
And, as on angels’ heads their glories shine,
His burning locks adorn his face divine.
(ll.681—4; Marvell 2003a: 386)
The sensibility of this passage, as critics often note, is baroque, resonating with the cultural assumptions and values of the Counter-Reformation. Douglas was not only Scottish, but also a Catholic, and, to the knowing reader, the line ’His ship burns down, and with his relics sinks’ (l.691; ibid.: 386) surely functions as an acknowledgement of his denomination. Waller, like Dryden in Annus Mirabilis, had played on English patriotism. Indeed, he tropes the early victories of the war as Augustus Caesar’s over Cleopatra, thus, like Dryden, playing on England’s imperial aspirations to be the new Rome (Waller 1666: 16). Marvell, recognizing how the ideology of English patriotism serves to avert closer scrutiny of government conduct, opens his poem with a general lament for ’this race of drunkards, pimps, and fools’ (l.12; Marvell 2003a: 367). Douglas’s nationality further frustrates any facile schema that would oppose English heroism to a racial stereotype of the Dutch. Only a Scot, and a Catholic at that, stood fast.
Just as Douglas’s conduct reproaches English cowardice, so his sexual morality opposes English lechery. Here Marvell plays more freely with the facts. As Martin Dzelzainis observes, ’He clearly regarded [Douglas] as malleable property’ (1999: 299). Though Douglas was a married adult, Marvell turns him into a virginal, androgynous and unobtainable object of desire. Down covers his chin. ’Envious virgins hope he is a male’ (l.652; ibid.: 385). Nymphs spy on ’his limbs, so soft, so white’ as he river-bathes (l.655). But his only erotic encounter is with the fire: ’Like a glad lover, the fierce flames he meets, / And tries his first embraces in their sheets’ (ll.677—8; ibid.: 386). Of course, the contrasts between his chastity and the lechery of Anne and Castlemaine and between his delicate beauty and the stallion masculinity of St Albans or Castlemaine’s servant are clear. Yet, as sometimes in his lyric poetry, Marvell develops here a disorienting sexual sensibility, a delicacy, an ambivalence, strangely out of place in a poem that has leant so heavily on the easy certainties of satire, lampoon, and literary caricature:
But when in his immortal mind he felt
His altering form and soldered limbs to melt,
Down on the deck he laid himself and died,
With his dear sword reposing by his side …
(ll.685—9; ibid.: 386)
This is a different kind of beauty and a new kind of heroism, intractable to incorporation into the pseudo-Virgilian and martial imperialism of Dryden and Waller.
Between Castlemaine and Douglas comes a long, detailed section on parliamentary politics, which flirts with the mock-heroic idiom. Indeed, the allegorical representation of Excise (ll.131—46; ibid.: 371) plainly owes something to Milton’s representation of Sin and Death in Paradise Lost, Book 2. Clarendon’s placemen troop through parliament to do his bidding like Greeks and Trojans en route to battle. Marvell briefly holds aloof, seemingly hostile to ’the court and country’ (l.107; ibid.: 370), though his account obviously endorses the latter in his praise for
A gross of English gentry, nobly born,
Of clear estates, and to no faction sworn;
Dear lovers of their king, and death to meet
For country’s cause, that glorious think and sweet;
To speak not forward, but in action brave,
In giving generous, but in counsel grave …
(ll.287—92; ibid.: 376)
Marvell’s affiliation is not difficult to discern. But the insistent historical present of his narration gives it an air of actuality, of truth-telling, of memorializing the culpable idiocies that led to the catastrophe of the Dutch raid, as though Marvell were placing on record and in the public domain events concealed by parliamentary privilege and the obfuscation of government.
The final section, a sort of coda, is explicitly threatening. Charles himself figures for the most part peripherally in the densely peopled landscape of the rest of the poem. In the end, Marvell shows him in his chamber, ’in the calm horror all alone’ (l.889; ibid.: 392). A female allegorical figure appears in a reverie — ’England or the Peace’, ’Naked as born’ (ll.906, 892). The reader perhaps anticipates a lewd incident, but she fades, to be replaced by the spectral forms of Charles’s grandfather, the assassinated Henri IV of France, who ’in his open side / The grisly wound’ reveals, and his own father, ’the ghastly Charles’, who turns his collar down to show ’The purple thread about his neck’ (ll.919—20, 922). They provide an immediate encounter with the grim reality that monarchies are fragile and monarchs as vulnerable as the next person.
The section on Douglas recurs in The Loyal Scot, probably Marvell’s last major poem (though his sole authorship has been disputed). The poem playfully engages John Cleveland’s ’The Rebell Scot’ (see above, chapter 5), requiring Cleveland’s ghost, ’as a favourable penance’ (l.5; ibid.: 401) to narrate the story of Douglas’s death. Cleveland, of course, had shamelessly invoked an English nationalist stereotype of the Scot in order to traduce the alliance against Charles I in the early 1640s. Marvell, as in The Last Instructions, works towards neutralizing that stratagem, and in so doing he opens the way to reconstructing the old alliance between English and Scottish dissent:
Nation is all but name as shibboleth,
Where a mistaken accent causes death.
In paradise names only Nature showed,
At Babel names from pride and discord flowed;
And ever since men with a female spite
First call each other names, and then they fight.
Scotland and England! Cause of just uproar,
Does ’man’ and ’wife’ signify ’rogue’ and ’whore’?
Say but ’a Scot’, and straight we fall to sides,
That syllable like a Pict’s wall divides.
One king, one faith, one language, and one isle;
English and Scotch, ’tis but cross and pile.
[That is, heads and tails, and by extension two sides of the same thing.]
(ll.262—72, 276—7; ibid.: 409 and n.)
’One faith’, and indeed attitudes to that ’one king’, are rather more complex than the ringing assertion of the concluding formula.
Nigel Smith, who relates the poem with precision to the immediate circumstances of Anglo-Scottish relations, observes, ’M[arvell] was … , as ever, writing strategically’ (Marvell 2003a: 399). Yet his political verse often has a curiously ambivalent status. So much of it, even in his writing on the 1650s, remained unprinted in his lifetime and manuscript circulation was often closely constrained. The Loyal Scot, however timely its contribution to political life in the late 1660s, was not printed till the 1690s and only two extant manuscripts ’may belong to the 1670s’ (ibid.: 397); the rest are later. In general, Marvell seems to have been very cautious in releasing his poetry, though those whose opinion he most assiduously sought to shape and who had most to gain from absorbing the guile and wisdom of his polemic, probably had access to it. Who read his verse may well have meant far more to Marvell than how many read it.
His prose works, a remarkable series of major tracts towards the end of his life, were plainly intended for print publication, which, with varying degrees of legality, they obtained. The Rehearsal Transpros’d (1672) and The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part (1673) were published about the time of the Declaration of Indulgence, when government policy, veering suddenly towards toleration of dissent as a quid pro quo for toleration of Catholicism, wrong-footed its traditional supporters among the most repressive Anglicans. Sir Roger L’Estrange, in charge of press censorship, seems to have winked at their publication. Briefly. Marvell found himself in step with government (as arguably he had been at the point of Clarendon’s fall). His remaining works were anonymous or pseudonymous, and were clandestinely printed. Early editions of An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England (1677) carried a spurious Amsterdam imprint, though editions following Marvell’s death in 1678 bore his name. Those involved in this samizdat activity were vigorously and indeed sometimes successfully hunted out. Marvell, of course, could speak with impunity from the grave, and this, his last undisputed prose work, secured his place in the emerging Whig tradition (Marvell 2003b: I, xxiii—xxvii; II, 203—7).
The ideological significance of the title The Rehearsal Transpros’d, which alludes to Buckingham’s then current success, The Rehearsal (1672; see above), has been well analysed by N. H. Keeble, who notes that it makes a play for an audience outside those who habitually read the graver sort of controversial prose: ’His implied reader is a man of the town, not a cleric, a coffee-house wit not a divine, still more a man impressed by Buckingham’s circle and by the taste of the court’ (Keeble 1999: 250). Just as Buckingham’s play ridicules Dryden, celebrant of conservative court values, so Marvell’s text dissects with sustained satirical panache the repressive Anglicanism of Samuel Parker’s Preface Shewing What Grounds there are of Fears and Jealousies of Popery, prefixed to his edition of Bishop Bramhall’s Vindication of Himself and the Episcopal Clergy (1672). Indirectly, Marvell aligns himself with Buckingham, who was, when not tormenting Dryden, the most influential advocate in court circles of the policy of Protestant toleration. Marvell’s tract enjoyed immediate success and ’established Marvell’s reputation as — in the first instance — a prose writer’ (Martin Dzelzainis and Annabel Patterson in Marvell 2003b: I, 20). Timely though its arguments were, that success was essentially a triumph of wit and style, persistently rewarding the reader as Marvell tracks Parker over his discourse. An obvious point of comparison in the same polemical subgenre is Milton’s Animadversions (1641; see above, chapter 5), which treats a tract by Bishop Joseph Hall much as Marvell treats Parker’s. But while Milton is brusque, relentless and brutal, Marvell is expansive, imaginative and genuinely witty. He plays much more freely around the text he confutes. Consider a characteristic passage:
I sometimes could think that he [Parker] intends no harm either to Publick or Private, but onely rails contentedly to himself and his Muses; That he seeks onely his own diversion, and chargeth his Gun with Wind but to shoot at the Air. Or that, like boyes, so he may make a great Paper-Kite of his own Letter [an earlier work] of 850 pages, and his Preface of an hundred, he hath no further design upon the Poultry of the Village. But he takes care that I shall never be long deceived with that pleasing imagination: and though his Hyperboles and Impossibilities can have onely a ridiculous effect, he will be sure to manifest that he had a felonious intention. He would take it ill if we should not value him as an Enemy of mankind: and like a raging Indian (for in Europe it was never before practised) he runs a Mucke (as they call it there) stabbing every man he meets, till himself be knockt on the head.
(Marvell 2003b: I, 72—3)
Parker is provisionally exculpated — surely he must write without expectation of being read? He is diminished — firing blanks, a boy playing with a kite — albeit a kite made of 850 pages. But, no, he is in deadly earnest, though in an outlandish fashion, like an Indian running amok, and in need of a summary response. Here is a measured impudence, a reduction of a grave and, until very recently, dominant position to an object of mirth. Marvell establishes powerfully an authorial voice, which is undeferential, urbane and smart. Parker’s defence of the magistrates’ role in matters of conscience and his advocacy, in a phrase that becomes a recurrent motif in Marvell’s tract, of ’the Pillories, Whipping-posts, Gallies, Rods, and Axes, (which are Ratio ultima Cleri, a Clergy-mans last Argument, ay and his first too;)’ (ibid.: 147), sound antediluvian in a new age characterized by the rational civility implicit in the Marvellian voice and this most unfanatical defence of those whom Parker, in the anti-Puritan tradition, interminably terms fanatics.
Parker responded with a long, deeply personal attack, which Marvell met with The Rehearsal; Transpros’d: The Second Part (1673). Marvell now is commenting on Parker’s reply to his reply to Parker, a kind of exchange usually more fascinating to its original readers than posterity. Marvell again is witty and cool, though the character assassination is sustained and has been widened to include Parker’s father, a Puritan controversialist and ’a very ill sire’ (ibid.: I, 260). By the end, the reader probably craves a plain exposition of the case for toleration argued from clearly stated principles, but that desire remains unsatisfied. Instead, Marvell ends with a gross anecdote, implying that he has ingested and excreted Parker and his texts, and with a pre-emptive admission that ’our sport is … unfit for serious Spectators’ (ibid.: 438).
The twin volume, Mr Smirke; Or, the Divine in Mode … Together with a Short Historical Essay (1676), contributed to the revival of the toleration debate in the period that followed the withdrawal of the Declaration of Indulgence. The mid-decade years saw renewed vigour in the suppression of nonconformity. Marvell writes explicitly against ’this … Persecution … now on foot against the Dissenters’ (ibid.: II, 165). Mr Smirke, a confutation of a confutation, technically marks little development from his earlier prose, and he concludes it with a sort of shrug: ’I am weary of such stuff, both mine own and his [his adversary’s]’ (ibid.: 113). The Short Historical Essay, however, marks a significant departure.
Formally, the text resembles Milton’s Of Reformation (1641; see above, chapter 5). It offers a brief, rather tendentious, history designed to establish a basically simple thesis, that the enforcement of particular theological interpretations originated in the self-interest of early bishops and always provoked the schisms it notionally sought to suppress. Marvell is suave whereas Milton thunders, but they agree at several points. Both assert the primacy of the unadorned, unglossed gospel, though their idiom differs instructively. Thus, Marvell writes:
Far be it from me in the event as it is from my Intention, to derogate from the just authority of any of those Creeds or Confessions of Faith that are receiv’d by our Church upon clear agreement with the Scriptures: nor shall I therefore, unless some mens impertinence and indiscretion hereafter oblige me, pretend to any further knowledge of what in those particulars appears in the ancient Histories. But certainly if any Creed had been Necessary, or at least necessary to have been Imposed, our Saviour himself would not have left his Church destitute in a thing of that moment. (Ibid.: 143)
The exposition is lucid, qualified, rational but unflamboyant. Contrast that with the following from Of Reformation:
[T]he Prelates … comming from a meane, and Plebeyan Life on a sudden to be Lords of stately palaces, rich furniture, delicious fare, and Princely attendance, thought the plaine and homespun verity of Christs Gospell unfit any longer to hold their Lordships acquaintance, unless the poore thred-bare Matron were put into better clothes; her chast and modest vaile surrounded with celestiall beames overla’d with wanton tresses, and in a flaring tire bespecckle’d with all the gaudy allurements of a Whore. (Milton 1953—82: I, 556—67)
By the 1670s — indeed, by the late 1650s — Milton himself had moved on from such stylistic exuberance; prose could be witty, refined, precise, but it was no longer expected to exhilarate, and certainly not to hector. Marvell’s role model is not the tub-thumper but the urbane companion socialising in a coffee-house. He speaks to a new age, profoundly suspicious of overt rhetoric and of enthusiasm, and he seeks to engage the support of tolerationists who are not themselves Nonconformists. He is drawn, still, to the kinds of levity that characterized his earlier prose, but recognizes its incompatibilities with the high seriousness of principled argument.
An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England (1677) has far more to say about the latter than about Catholicism, though it underpins the proto-Whig campaign, which as it gathered momentum increasingly took advantage of the Duke of York’s now open conversion to Rome. Stylistically, the tract is often starkly functional, and rests heavily of the reproduction of documents, many of which had had little or no currency outside parliamentary circles. Marvell’s larger argument is that a conspiracy is at work that aims to advance French interests over English and Catholic interests over Protestant. Cautiously, he does not name the conspirators, nor does he inculpate the king. But he ’gives evidence to the Fact, and leaves the malefactors to those who have power of enquiry’ (Marvell 2003b: II, 375). In a rare image of imaginative verve, he concludes that ’if any one delight in the Chase, he is an ill Woodman that knows not the size of the Beast by the proportion of his Excrement’ (ibid.: 376), with a clear suggestion that the condition to which England’s recent foreign and domestic policies have been reduced must have come from big beasts like Danby and the Duke.
Marvell’s tract patiently logs the alleged facts, with dates, circumstances and documents. The 1620s had seen an English reading public hungry for news and frustrated by the constraints limiting the development of journalism (see above, chapter 3). Marvell’s own letters to the corporation of Hull functioned as a customised version of the manuscript newsletter. But here Marvell pushes political discourse and the affairs of state much more emphatically into something approximating to a public sphere. Men of property, outside government, outside parliament, receive an account of how their money, raised through taxation, has been spent. Accountability is the key concept. Within the text, Marvell allows explicit enunciation of the alternative view, most memorably by quoting in full Charles’s speech to adjourn parliament in May 1677, when he scolded MPs for presuming to advise him on foreign policy: ’I am confident it will appear in no Age … that the Prerogative of making Peace and War hath been so dangerously invaded’ (ibid.: 367). Amid the rational and dispassionate exposition of apparent fact, once more the opposing position appears atavistic: this is the voice of James I, whereas Marvell’s anticipates the idiom and values of John Locke and a new age.
Marvell’s tract achieved iconic status in the Whig political and historiographic traditions, and it still seems almost uncannily modern, not least in those sections where he tries to prise open the hidden reasons why England went to war, for no advantage, on a specious pretext, and at the behest and in the interest of another nation (see, especially, ibid.: 259—62). The right to know is taken for granted.
Bunyan, Pepys and Sprat
John Bunyan matched the stereotypical description of the radical sectary almost perfectly. As he claims at the beginning of Grace Abounding to the first of Sinners, first published in 1666, ’for my descent then, it was, as is well known by many, of a low and inconsiderat generation; my fathers house being of that rank that is meanest, and most despised of all the families in the Land’ (Bunyan 1962: 5). His other works frequently begin with similar assertions. In The Holy City (1665), for example, he declares, somewhat unpromisingly for an introduction to an exegetical treatise on the Book of Revelation, that ’Men of this World’ will deride and ’laugh in conceit’ at his plain, unlearned expression and his evident lack of formal scholarship (Bunyan 1976—94: III, 69—71).
As his modern biographers have generally observed, he exaggerates a little. The meanest sort in early modern England, after the destitute, were agricultural day labourers, whereas by trade Bunyan was an itinerant tinker, a skilled metal-worker and self-employed. He was, however, a remarkable figure to have entered the literary canon. In distinction from most prominent writers in the dissenting tradition, he was not university educated (unlike Marvell or Milton), independently wealthy (unlike Milton), a business man (unlike Winstanley) or London-based (unlike all of those).
He had been a rank-and-file soldier in the New Model Army, and by the Restoration he was an unordained minister to a Bedford congregation. Theologically, he seems a conservative figure, a Particular Baptist, committed to an unqualified belief in double predestination in an extreme manifestation of the Calvinist tradition. Radical versions of Arminianism, such as we find in Milton and among General Baptists, seemed abhorrent to him. He was similarly hostile to the privileging of the spirit within over the gospel text, a belief which characterized both Ranter and Quaker thinking. His writing does not explicitly engage with contemporary politics. He did not in print resist the Restoration; he did not attack the crown; nor did he join in the tolerationist and exclusion controversies of the 1670s and 1680s. Yet he was, in some ways, the purest manifestation of that interregnal world, a world turned upside-down: a proletarian writer; wholly undeferential to his social superiors; subscribing to a theology that was unceremonial and egalitarian; convinced of his own godliness; and wholly unpatronizing to the poor, the unlearned, even to children, in ways that reflect his own awareness of social and political disempowerment. Christopher Hill, who among modern critics best appreciated Bunyan’s subversiveness, observes, ’The gentry knew their enemies’ (1989: 107). Shortly after the Restoration he was arrested and imprisoned under anti-dissenter legislation, an incarceration surely prolonged by his own intransigent refusal to give undertakings to leave off preaching. He was not released till 1672 — ’Only regicides and outstanding political figures … were treated with greater severity’ (ibid.: 106) — and he subsequently endured a shorter period in gaol. Much of his finest work is prison writing.
Bunyan wrote for print circulation, albeit a considerable Nachlass remained to be published after his death. His earliest publications were works of controversial theology directed against Quakerism, and indeed much of his oeuvre belongs to genres generally unconsidered in this history. These include narrow controversy, works of theological interpretation, and improving and moralizing writing of a kind commonplace and much read throughout the century. Even to the least literary and most unpromising genres (from the point of view of readerly pleasure) he sometimes brings a verve, a felicity of expression, a shrewdness of observation and a distinctive voice. Thus, in the midst of a grim little tract, The Strait Gate, or, Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven (1676), we find:
At this day [the last judgement] those things that now these many count sound and good will then shake like a quagmire, even all their naked knowledge, their feigned faith, pretended love, glorious shews of gravity in the face, their holy-day words and specious carriages will stand them in little stead: I call them holy day ones, for I perceive that some professors [that is, those who profess their own godliness] do with religion, just as people do with their best apparel, hang it against the wall all the week, and put them on on Sundays: for as some scarce ever put on a Sute, but when they go to a Fair or a Market, so little house-religion will do with some; they save religion till they go to a Meeting, or till they meet with a godly chapman. (Bunyan 1976—1994: III, 99)
’Quagmire’ seems to transpose the apocalyptic scene to a muddy English field, though it is not the landscape that shakes but the confidence of the damned who stand upon it. The principal image, of false religion as Sunday clothes, familiarizes the issue and reduces it to a human scale; the detail of the suit hanging ’against the wall’ shows an eye for the detail of domestic life. But radical social assumptions are pervasive and unmistakeable; the mighty, even those whose might is confined to the congregations of the godly, are subject to divine evaluation that sets human hierarchies at nothing.
Grace Abounding was the first text to bring Bunyan to a wide readership. The clearest indicator is its publishing history: it went through six lifetime editions, though two of these seem not to have survived. Generically, it is a typical spiritual autobiography, an account of personal salvation and regeneration, and as such commonplace within the broad tradition of popular theological writing and Puritan devotional practices. What distinguishes it is the vivid intensity with which it depicts extreme states of psychological anguish while retaining a strong sense of place and setting. Thus, he generates a remarkable tension between the seeming ordinariness of the world he moves through and the inner turmoil he describes:
So one day I walked to a neighbouring Town, and sate down upon a Settle in the Street, and fell into a very deep pause about the most fearful state my sin had brought me to; and, after long musing, I lifted up my head, but methought I saw as if the Sun that shineth in the Heavens did grudge to give me light, and as if the very stones in the street, and tiles upon the houses, did bend themselves against me, me-thought that they all combined together to banish me out of the World. (Bunyan 1962: 58—9)
Bunyan offers us a double image, of a working man sitting on a bench in the street of a provincial town, and of an anguished Christian, struggling for the salvation of his own soul, a soul as valuable in the eyes of God as that of the mightiest of the land. The informing theology is Calvinist, but a particularly difficult crux, a sort of algorithm of despair, is at the heart of his torment: if he believes himself saved, he manifests pride, which is a mark of the damned, whereas if he believes himself damned, he shows a want of faith, which is also a mark of the damned. The final crisis comes in prison, in a leap of faith that is simultaneously an imagined leap to his death. Hanging was a primitive and public business in the early modern period. A rope was passed over the crossbar of the gallows and tied around the victim’s neck; he or she was pushed, pulled or prodded up a ladder placed against the gallows; and then obliged to jump or be kicked off, to be throttled. It was surely a difficult death to contemplate, even if one felt confident about the fate of one’s soul. For someone in turmoil there was an added anxiety that a public display of fear would be interpreted as evidence of a want of faith or of the conviction of one’s own sinfulness. Bunyan vividly recounts his own obsessive, haunted meditation: ’if I should make a scrabling shift to clamber up the Ladder, yet I should either with quaking or other symptoms of faintings, give occasion to the enemy to reproach the way of God and his People, for their time-rousness: … I was ashamed to die with a pale face, and tottering knees’ (ibid.: 100). As he muses, ’that word dropped upon me, Doth Job serve God for nought?’ (ibid.: 101), which sudden revelation completes the leap of faith and brings comfort after despair.
Throughout the autobiography the social assumptions are clear. A vital stage in his spiritual development is triggered by conversation with ’three or four poor women sitting at a door in the Sun, and talking about the things of God’ (ibid.: 14). His persecutors, vaguely sketched, are allegedly duplicitous, ’taking my plain dealing with them for a confession’ (ibid.: 95); though prison brings a crisis of faith, they cannot really touch his mind and soul and the struggle within them. Yet Bunyan depicts himself brooding over the implications of imprisonment for a propertiless man. Leaving his family is ’as the pulling the flesh from my bones’, not least because they are plunged into ’hardship, miseries and wants’, which are particularly threatening to his blind daughter, ’who lay nearer to my heart than all I had besides’ (ibid.: 98). For Lovelace, prison brought good fellowship and visits from the long-haired Althea; Bunyan offers a rather different perspective.
The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to That which is to come appeared first in 1678, and went into at least 11 lifetime editions. It enjoyed an immediate success, which continued through the century and beyond. The publisher of Bunyan’s posthumous collected works, writing in 1692, observed that it ’hath been printed in France, Holland, New-England, and in Welch, and about a hundred thousand in England’ (Bunyan 1976—94: XII, 456; discussed in Spargo 2002: 87). If that figure were approximately accurate and if we posit a multiple readership for most copies, then we have an enormous proportion of the potential readership familiar with the work by the last decade of the century. Its appeal, no doubt, was in part genre-related, for this is a work of improving, practical theology of a familiar kind cast in a compelling narrative form. Its usefulness in Christian mission is reflected in its later history when it was translated into Tamil, Fanti, Ibo, Luo, Maori, Rarotonga, Inuit, Ganda, Tahiti and other languages of the British Empire. For early readers, the allegorical structure of a passage through time being represented as a passage through space may well have been very familiar. Though the issues are primarily concerned with individual salvation, Bunyan’s Calvinism is largely obscured. Gordon Campbell argues that ’neither election nor reprobation touches Christian’s own experience … even though [the] journey is allegorically soterial’ (Campbell 1980: 247). Perhaps, but there is an alternative perspective. For Bunyan, those predestined to be saved are predestined to go through the inner struggles that Christian, his hero, endures, and they persevere through all the temptations and pitfalls which a fallen world may throw at them. They persevere because they are saved; they are not saved because they persevere.
Once more, this is explicitly prison writing, though whether it was produced and held over from his early and long period in gaol which ended in 1672 or a second, shorter term later in the decade remains unclear (Bunyan 1960: xxi—xxiii). Certainly, it shares the angst-ridden sensibility of Grace Abounding. Christian runs from his wife and his ’sweet babes’ with his fingers in his ears to shut out their calls, while ’crying, Life, Life, Eternal Life’ (ibid.: 8, 10). He has faced a dilemma not much different from that Adam faces in Paradise Lost when confronted by the fallen Eve: does he die with her or obey the divine imperative? Christian chooses the correct course. Though the allegorical level is important, crucial scenes throughout the book seem grounded in the actualities of impoverished, provincial life; his neighbours pursue him, as, were this a low-mimetic account, they surely would, since his abandoned family would be a charge on the parish.
Indeed, many of the finer moments of the text retain this mimetic quality. Thus, as the critical tradition has long recognized, the treatment of Christian and Faithful at Vanity Fair recalls the rough justice and flawed judicial processes meted out to Nonconformists in provincial England, though to me the depiction seems closer to the experiences of early Quakers than those in the Baptist tradition. The trial of Christian and Faithful reflects the prejudice and hostility of the magistracy and packed juries, while the actual execution of Faithful, lanced and stoned and stabbed, seems closer to the spectacular punishment of some regicides (ibid.: 90—7).
The Pilgrim’s Progress. From this World to That which is to come The Second Part appeared first in 1684 and went through two further lifetime editions. In terms of its religious sensibility, the anxieties of the first part have given way to a calmer and in some ways more generous soteriology. Christiana and her children, the family Christian had abandoned, make their way, with rather easier progress, to the world that is to come, aided by various guardians and champions along a route that has improved considerably since Christian passed through it. No doubt the changes reflect changes in the condition of Nonconformists from the early 1670s to the mid-1680s. By then ideological and physical survival was no longer at issue, and the terrors of the Clarendon code were significantly muted, despite something of a backlash in the wake of the Exclusion Crisis. Even in Vanity Fair, the inhabitants ’are much more moderate now then formerly’ (ibid.: 275). Modern readers may prefer the psychological edginess of the first part, though that can hardly support a literary judgement. However, there are other changes of a more technical kind that mark a falling off. Within the allegory of the passage through time as a journey through space, Bunyan nests passages much closer to the allegorical figures of the emblem tradition. Thus, in part one, the House of the Interpreter describes a series of tableaux detached from that subtle interaction of symbolism and mimesis that characterizes the principal narrative. For example, Christian is shown a fire burning against a wall, which burns the more fiercely despite a man always throwing water on it, while another man behind the wall is secretly feeding the fire with oil (ibid.: 32). Of course, there is no narrative plausibility here: no one is ’always’ doing any action. What we have, as the modern editors note, is an emblem adapted from Jesuit writers and probably mediated through Quarles (ibid.: 317; see above, chapter 4). This kind of writing is much more frequent in the second part.
Two other works by Bunyan often figure in literary histories, The Holy War, a late and quite elaborate allegory of the struggle for Mansoul, first published in 1682, and The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, first published in 1680. They are, as Michael Davies observes, ’difficult to read, overtly doctrinal, anti-narrative’ (Davies 2002: 131). The latter, however, has sometimes been interpreted, at least in older accounts, as in some sense a precursor to the novels of Defoe. That position seems untenable. We see little of the interiority of the exemplary and eponymous ’bad man’. Rather, we encounter a litany of ’sins’, for the most part the kinds of misdemeanours treated nowadays in the magistrates’ courts: fiddling weights and measures, riding while under the influence of drink, inebriated disorderliness, domestic violence and so on. Motivation goes unexplored. There is no suspense — the protagonist is already dead and damned before the story begins. The narrative structure is remote from the vivid first person of Grace Abounding or the plain but sonorous voice of Pilgrim’s Progress as Mr Wiseman moralizes on the case of Mr Badman to the duly attentive Mr Attentive. Into the primary narrative Bunyan inserts gossipy snippets about Dorothy Mately, who pinched tuppence, denied it with an oath that ’I would I might sink into the earth if it be not so’, and immediately sank into the earth (ibid.: 33), and so on.
At his best, Bunyan is an end, not a beginning. He transmutes with his intensity and his descriptive verve the received forms of popular theology, at the same time suffusing them with the values and the undeferential and feisty attitude of the radical sectaries. It is among the ironies of literary history that this late and glorious manifestation of the world turned upside-down should have been so comprehensively appropriated in the nineteenth century and later by a sort of evangelical Anglicanism.
Samuel Pepys’s career fulfilled a familiar ambition among bright, educated but relatively unpropertied young men of early modern England, the sort of career John Donne or Thomas Carew had aspired to but had bungled. In his mid-20s, he secured employment in the household of Edward Mountagu, his father’s cousin, in effect as a sort of personal assistant. Mountagu himself had a spectacular career spanning the late republic and early Restoration, both as a ’General-at-Sea’ and as a political power-broker. He was prominent in the group that secured the return of Charles II, and he was rewarded with the continuity of high command in the navy and with a peerage. The fortunes of Pepys, his dependant, tracked his master’s, and he secured a series of increasingly lucrative posts in naval administration, which brought with them very valuable perquisites. They also kept him quite close to the real seats of power in Restoration England (DNB 2004; Pepys 1970—83: I, xvii—xl).
For ten years, from 1660, Pepys kept a diary. He was near enough to the governmental process and intimate enough with Mountagu for his observations to have value for political historians, and his shrewd comments on London life and culture are often quoted in literary criticism. A diary, as a private document written artlessly for an audience of one, may seem to be of only dubious literary value in itself, whatever its other fascinations. Yet Pepys’s is certainly an exception. It survived in a single holograph manuscript written in a fairly common form of shorthand, and had no currency whatsoever in Pepys’s own age. But evidently he produced it with considerable care about issues of style and tone. The manuscript is plainly a fair copy, which in turn has received some later editing by Pepys. ’It was manifestly done far more carefully than was necessary simply for the writer’s own reading’ (ibid.: I, xliv). The idiom, too, seems to imply a wider readership. Pepys persistently tells us things we need to know but which seem redundant in a private journal. Thus, he notes ’At Dorsett-house I met with Mr. Kipps my old friend’ (ibid.: I, 184). Surely, ’old friend’ is too familiar a fact for Pepys to need to record it. Again, he visits ’our Landlord Vanly’; superfluous if the object is solely to record a business meeting (ibid.: I, 245).
Pepys, of course, tells an engagingly good tale, and he does so with irony, with control and with a careful management of the narrative voice. The key unit is the entry for a whole day, which is often carefully shaped. Consider one of the most frequently cited entries, that for 13 October 1660, the first day of regicide executions. C. V. Wedgwood, drawing on several contemporary sources, in her classic study describes the events with solemn eloquence:
[Major-General Thomas Harrison] went to his death with equanimity, the first of the Regicides to suffer. The crowd was hostile and derisive. ’Where is your Good Old Cause now?’ they jeered. ’Here in my bosom,’ said Harrison, ’and I shall seal it with my blood.’ His courage astonished and impressed the onlookers, and a story later went round among the missionary prophets who still had their following in the poorer streets of London that he would shortly rise again, to judge his judges, and bring in the Rule of the Saints on earth. (Wedgwood 1966: 223)
This is Pepys’s version of the day:
To my Lord’s in the morning, where I met with Captain Cuttance. But my Lord not being up, I went out to Charing-cross to see Major-Generall Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered — which was done there — he looking as cheerfully as any man could do in that condition. He was presently cut down and his head and his heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy. It is said that he said that he was sure to come shortly at the right hand of Christ to judge them that now have judged him. And that his wife doth expect his coming again.
Thus it was my chance to see the King beheaded at White-hall and to see the first blood shed in revenge for the blood of the King at Charing-cross. From thence to my Lord’s and took Captain Cuttance and Mr. Sheply to the Sun taverne and did give them some oysters. After that I went by water home, where I was angry with my wife for her things lying about, and in my passion kicked the little fine Baskett which I bought her in Holland and broke it, which troubled me after I had done it.
Within all the afternoon, setting up shelfes in my study. At night to bed. (I, 265)
Pepys appears impressively detached in his observations. He goes almost accidentally to the place of execution; had Mountagu been up and stirring, he would not have been there. Harrison appears with his title of rank and without any evaluative epithet. His conduct is described with a tough irony that again evades judgement, though invites the question of how cheerful anyone can look on being strangled and eviscerated. The second paragraph, however, lets Pepys assume the role of witness to the great events of his age. But once the connection between the two executions is made, he turns again to everyday business, and the failure to articulate any sense of providentiality seems silently to signify a secular perspective on even regicide. He returns to the world of oysters, shelves and domestic discord.
The diary has another function, as a reflective evaluation of personal conduct. It shows some affinity with spiritual autobiography, particularly in the dissenter tradition. Not by chance do the journal sections of Robinson Crusoe come to mind as one reads Pepys, who shares Daniel Defoe’s concerns with practical details and personal salvation.
Thomas Sprat’s personal history through the 1660s bears some comparison with Pepys’s. Two years his younger, he, too, had been a junior beneficiary of the Cromwellian ascendancy. His early career rested on the encouragement of John Wilkins, Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, and Oliver Cromwell’s brother-in-law. In an initiative that owed much to Bacon’s proselytizing for the advancement of scientific enquiry, Wilkins gathered around himself a talented array of young intellectuals, among them Christopher Wren. Sprat was part of this group, whose Oxford careers had been eased after the purging of the university which followed the surrender of the city to the parliamentary army. All rapidly accommodated themselves to the new regime, and gave to the newly formed Royal Society much of its intellectual energy and direction.
Sprat was already in holy orders by 1660, and his ecclesiastical career led to numerous preferments and his eventual appointment to the see of Rochester. In his later years, he was an influential ecclesiastical politician and a significant participant in the detailed interactions of church and state which followed the Williamite revolution (DNB 2004). Yet with Dryden and with Waller he had contributed a long and unflinchingly panegyric elegy to a collection commemorating Cromwell’s death. For him, the Restoration required a significant rewriting of the history of the mid-century decades and in particular his own part in it.
The thinkers in the Wilkins group worked to associate sympathizers of impeccable royalist credentials with their nascent society and to secure the patronage of Charles II. Shortly after its formal foundation, Sprat was commissioned to write its official history and to defend its objectives. The project was delayed by the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London, and did not appear, as The History of the Royal-Society of London, for the Improving of National Knowledge, until 1667.
Sprat’s strategy is to build an opposition between the discourse of theological controversy and that of scientific enquiry. To the former, tainted with fanaticism, he attributes an almost frenzied divisiveness, which produced ’the passions, and madness of that dismal Age [the mid-century]’ (Sprat 1667: 53). The latter allows rational and constructive disagreement as a component in advancing the state of human knowledge. He describes the Oxford phase of the founding group of the society in terms that disguise the solid Cromwellian credentials of its leader:
To have been eternally musing on Civil business, and the distresses of their Countrey, was too melancholy a reflexion: It was Nature alone, which could pleasantly entertain them, in that estate. The contemplation of that, draws our minds off from the past, or present misfortunes, and makes them conquerers over things, in the greatest publick unhappiness: while the consideration of Men, and humane affairs, may affect us, with a thousand various disquiets; that never separates us into mortal Factions; that gives us room to differ, without animosity; and permits us, to raise contrary imaginations upon it, without any danger of a Civil War. (Ibid.: 56)
The volume is prefaced by a poem ’To the Royal Society’ from Abraham Cowley, himself no stranger to ideological repositioning in the 1650s and 1660s. Cowley’s praise for Sprat’s style points up his significance for the history of Restoration prose writing: he has ’vindicated Eloquence and Wit’, purging them from the excrescent excesses of mid-century, tub-thumping rhetoric, and thus producing a style which ’has all the Beauties Nature can impart, / And all the comely Dress without the paint of Art’ (ibi.: sig. B3v). Sprat can write with an extreme plainness, adapting the emerging idiom of scientific discourse, but more usually he aims at and achieves a certain stately sparseness, without rhetorical patterning and without an obtrusive use of similes and metaphors. He anticipates the elegant functionalism that characterizes high-culture prose in the years following the Williamite revolution (see below, chapter 7).
Milton, St Nicholas and Hutchinson
Milton observed a careful silence in the years immediately following the Restoration. Of course, he was no longer a well-paid public servant. But he retained enough to live without obvious hardship, and a support network evidently formed to allow him, despite his blindness, to continue to study and to write. Paradise Lost circulated in a very limited way in manuscript. The only evidence is the recollection of Thomas Ellwood, a young and talented Quaker, who was part of that network and who had read presumably a late draft in February 1666 (Ellwood 1714: 234), and an echo in Marvell’s Last Instructions to a Painter, which probably preceded its publication (Campbell 1997: 206). Milton published the poem towards the end of 1667. The first edition was organized into ten books. Mary Simmons, its printer, contracted to pay Milton £15 in three tranches for an edition of up to 1,500 copies, ’then a reasonable remuneration’, in Alastair Fowler’s judgement (Milton 1999: 5). The sum can scarcely have changed Milton’s material circumstances significantly. As Karl Marx observes, ’Milton produced Paradise Lost for the same reason as that which makes the silk-worm produce silk. It was an activity wholly natural to him’ (quoted Prawer 1976: 310). For a work of demanding creative writing, it sold steadily, though the preliminaries were revised, and it was reissued with the ’Arguments’ which now preface each book ’for the satisfaction of many that have desired it’ (Milton 1999: 51; originally they were gathered in the front matter) and with the defence of its unusual metrical form, blank verse, all presumably written by Milton himself. By April 1669, eighteenth months after publication, it had sold 1,300 copies. In 1674 a second edition appeared, in which Milton had reconfigured the ten books as twelve. Each book now had its own argument printed as a sort of headnote.
Milton had evidently long contemplated both writing an epic and writing an imaginative account of the fall. Early manuscript drafts and jottings gathered together in the Trinity Manuscript show him sketching out a tragedy called ’Paradise Lost’ (Milton 1972: 35; see also the biographical digression in his Reason of Church-Government, Milton 1953—82: I, 812—14). Yet in the context of his published oeuvre, the work seems a remarkable development. Among his earlier vernacular verse, probably only ’Lycidas’, fashioned as a pastoral elegy, followed scrupulously in the neoclassical manner the formal characteristics of a Latin or Greek genre. The ten-book first edition has been interpreted as in some sense invoking recollection of Lucan’s Pharsalia, as a republican alternative to the Augustan imperialism of the Aeneid (see, most persuasively, Lewalski 2000: 448; 2001: 16; Norbrook 1999: 438—67). Although certainly the allusions to Lucan are ideologically significant, nevertheless allusions to Virgil’s epic are pervasive. Changing the division of the text carried other implications. Indeed, Maren-Sofie Røstvig has demonstrated that the change replaces a nuanced numerological structure with an altogether cruder schema (1994: 461—534). As Milton makes these sacrifices, he draws his work closer to Virgil, not, I suggest, as a tribute, but as a challenge, engaging the iconic Augustan text, in the assertion that an English and Protestant and radical epic may not simply rival but surpass a Latin, pagan and imperial work.
Other narrative poetry besides classical contextualizes and shapes his practice. The younger Milton had been a confirmed neo-Spenserian, and, in Fowler’s view, ’The Faerie Queene is the most important vernacular model [for Paradise Lost], even if not apparently so’ (Milton 1999: 11—12). Certainly, Spenser demonstrated that complexities of argument and structure are compatible with writing English verse. Again, the editorial tradition has long recognized a debt to Joshua Sylvester’s late Elizabethan and early Jacobean translation of The Divine Weeks and Works of Guillaume de Saluste Sieur du Bartas (1592—1608) (see above, chapter 2). Moreover, there was a vernacular tradition of retelling biblical narratives in verse, which offered significant precedents, albeit of a less ambitious kind, and pointed to the tastes and expectations of seventeenth-century readers.
Yet Virgil and to a lesser extent Homer remain the texts most plainly mirrored in Paradise Lost. For Ben Jonson, classical models, pre-eminently Martial but also Horace and Juvenal, defined for the poet a socializing role, correcting inappropriate, extravagant or immoral behaviour. For Dryden, writing in the Virgilian and imperial mode allowed him to figure Restoration England as a new Rome. But Milton explicitly seeks to transcend the classical models as Protestant Christianity, for him, transcends paganism.
Thus, at the start of book 9 Milton asserts the supremacy of his Christian muse:
… sad task [to relate the fall and its immediate impact], yet argument
Not less but more heroic than the wrath
Of stern Achilles on his foe pursued
Thrice fugitive about Troy wall; or rage
Of Turnus for Lavinia disespoused,
Or Neptune’s ire or Juno’s that so long
Perplexed the Greek and Cytherea’s son;
If answerable style I can obtain
Of my celestial patroness, who deigns
Her nightly visitation unimplored,
And dictates to me slumbering, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated verse:
Since first this subject for heroic song
Pleased me long choosing, and beginning late;
Not sedulous by nature to indite
Wars, hitherto the only argument
Heroic deemed, chief mastery to dissect
With long and tedious havoc fabled knights
In battles feigned; the better fortitude
Of patience and heroic martyrdom
Unsung; or to describe races and games,
Or tilting furniture, emblazoned shields,
Impreses quaint, caparisons and steeds;
Bases and tinsel trappings, gorgeous knights
At joust and tournament; then marshalled feast
Served up in hall with sewers, and seneschals;
The skill of artifice or office mean,
Not that which justly gives heroic name
To person or to poem.
(ll.13—41; Milton 1999: 468—70)
This complex passage constitutes a multifaceted cultural agenda. Milton makes some disparaging points about the subject matter of Homer and Virgil. In their poems, a plurality of pagan gods is motivated by depraved and human impulses, and the heroes are driven by murderous rage. ’Heroic’ poetry was already a synonym for the epic (OED, s. v. ’Heroic’, sig. 3.a.), but evidently the deeds it depicts fall short of the Christian heroism established in the conduct of Jesus and those who follow his example of patience and passive fortitude. But Milton is also making a point about class. As Fowler notes, ’joust and tournament’ abound in the Italianate narrative poets, such as Boiardo, Ariosto and Tasso, who drew on Virgilian epic but gave it a chivalric dimension, as in English chivalric writers, including Spenser and Sidney. Chivalry was routinely appropriated into Christian allegory. Nevertheless, such tourneys represent the most exclusive social ritual of early modern Europe, the sport literally of princes, wholly unavailable to wayfaring Christians outside the highest court circles. (Spectators were widely drawn, but participation was narrowly limited.) Milton extends the account to embrace the wider depiction of court ritual, which of course seems to him contemptible, a waste of ingenuity and a waste of virtue. ’Office mean’ echoes his late republican attack on monarchy’s perversion of socially meritorious endeavour as courtiers’ ambition is channelled into the pursuit of court offices, ’to be stewards, chamberlains, ushers, grooms, even of the close-stool’ (Milton 1953—82: VII, 425—6).
By the time readers reach these lines, they have already traversed three-quarters of the poem, and Milton’s perspective on earlier epic, though not explicit, has been plain enough. He does, in fact, depict both chivalric tourneys and the games of classical heroes, but only the fallen angels take part, while the bards among them ’sing … / Their own heroic deeds and hapless fall / By doom of battle’ (2.531—8, 546—50; Milton 1999: 135—6). The unfallen angels do exercise themselves in unarmed ’heroic games’ (4.551; Milton 1999: 253). Similarly, his account of the war in heaven depicts events not unlike those of The Iliad or the closing books of The Aeneid, but, however meritorious their conduct in that conflict may be for the good angels who take part, it is reduced to irrelevance in practical, military terms by the eventual appearance of the Son before whom the fallen angels drop ’their idle weapons’ (6.839; ibid.: 382). No godly human throws a single blow within the poem.
Milton skilfully exploits the advantages offered by imitating the narratological complexities of classical epic. He disrupts the time line, starting not with the war in heaven, but with the debate in hell and Satan’s subsequent escape. As a long critical tradition recognizes (Fish 1971 is seminal), Milton thus allows the naive reader an early opportunity to mistake Satan’s heroic status, before book 3 shows his impotence and corruption as the godhead is partially revealed. Again, Milton nests the narrative of the war in heaven in the middle of the work, and in so doing he positions the transcendent figure of the Son at the symbolically important centre of the poem. Moreover, he allows Raphael to give Adam and Eve the information they need about the nature of evil in order for the subsequent test of their obedience to be fair. The poem ends not with the vision of futurity, but with the depiction of Adam and Eve stepping out into that postlapsarian world as the first exemplars of the steadfast godliness which that vision had foretold.
Milton’s choice of unrhymed verse was not without precedent in a narrative context. But it certainly struck contemporaries as remarkable. Andrew Marvell and Samuel Barrow (attrib.), in the poems prefixed to the 1674 edition, draw particular attention to it, and the printer explains that the note on the verse form, added first to the fourth issue of the first edition, has been solicited, like the arguments, in response to readers’ requests; it is ’a reason of that which stumbled many others, why the poem rhymes not’ (2.5331—8; Milton 1999: 51—4). The note on the verse points to classical, Italian and Spanish precedents, and to ’our best English tragedies’, and it gives the project a nostalgic republican air: it is ’an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem from the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming’ (ibid.: 55). That he links the choice to the prosodic preference of ’our best tragedies’ — evidently excluding the rhymed heroic drama of Dryden and looking back to the age of Shakespeare — is highly pertinent, for not only was his earliest concept for a depiction of the fall a tragedy, but also a high proportion of Paradise Lost consists of dialogue, between humans, between humans and angels, between angels, between God and angels, and between the Father and the Son. Moreover, by stripping the verse of the constraint of rhyme Milton demonstrably opens up the possibilities for writing the kinds of long and complex sentences which, though commonplace contemporaneously in serious discursive prose (including his own), are unique to his late poetry. These sentences, while they share the grandeur and scale of Ciceronian periods, are wholly English in their syntax (Corns 1990b; 2001c).
Even in the mid-century decades, poetry on the whole received a lighter scrutiny from the censors than most prose genres and particularly journalism. But Milton in the 1660s was a notorious republican, who had effected no reconciliation with the restored monarchy, and an early biographer records how some passages caught the licenser’s eye (Darbishire 1932: 189). But, though the early modern state could be brutal in its treatment of dissidents — John Twyn was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1663 for printing an incitement to rebellion (Keeble 2002a: 151) — it was not comprehensively repressive in the style of some modern totalitarian states. Charles II was unconcerned that many of his countrymen disliked him and spoke disparagingly of him; there were no gulags in Restoration England for thought criminals. Though Paradise Lost is replete with republican and anti-clerical sentiments, it is explicitly endorsed on its title page ’Licensed and Entred according to Order’.
Milton depicts Satan in the infernal kingdom as a figure of outlandish, barbaric extravagance:
High on a throne of royal state, which far
Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,
Satan exalted sat, by merit raised
To that bad eminence …
(2.1—6; Milton 1999: 110)
The ostentation perhaps recalls the plumed and jewel-encrusted splendour of Charles II’s own coronation. Numerous such small-scale insinuations of republican judgement pervade the poem. So do its anti-clerical barbs: Belial, for example, establishes a special relationship with the professional clergy ’when the priest / Turns atheist’, though ’In courts and palaces he also reigns’. The antics of the sons of Belial, ’flown with insolence and wine’, suggest some of the worst anti-social excesses of loutish courtiers indulged by the king (1.490—502; ibid.: 90—1).
But a more serious political argument rests at the heart of the poem. Milton reneges on no previous point of political principle. But, though he reaffirms his values (he sings ’with mortal voice, unchanged / To hoarse or mute’), the Good Old Cause appears guarded, defensive and in obvious eclipse. Milton represents himself as ’fallen on evil days, / … / In darkness, and with dangers compassed round’, alone except for his godly muse. There is a certain defiance in his expressed intention to find his ’fit audience’, though he plainly fears that the fate of Orpheus could be his own (7.23—39; ibid.: 390—2). Moreover, his own vulnerability characterizes the typical condition of the godly, who, in the vision of the future in the last two books, are almost always excluded from civil power as Milton now was. As Adam asks Michael, once the Son has returned to heaven, ’Will they [the enemies of truth] not deal / Worse with his followers than with him they dealt?’; ’Be sure they will’, Michael replies (12.483—5; ibid.: 669). The problem of evil, how and why a just and omnipotent God allows the godly to suffer, is central to the poem, but its specific manifestation often takes a political form. Emphatically, this is the epic of 1660s nonconformity, a work of ideological perseverance in a world that is pervasively and potently threatening.
Milton’s only other publication in the first decade of the restored monarchy was a children’s primer, Accedence Commenc’t Grammar (1669), chiefly interesting in that he uses English, rather than Latin, as the medium of instruction, since, against prevailing practice, it reflects some of the pedagogic principles expressed in his earlier treatise, Of Education. Thereafter, however, he published a diverse miscellany of works, including a Latin treatise on the art of logic (1672), adapted from an earlier commentary on Peter Ramus’s work. His History of Britain (1670), while not conspicuous for its scholarship, is suffused with anti-monarchical and anticlerical assumptions. Indeed, when he lashes the clergy of early medieval Britain as ’suttle Prowlers, Pastors in Name, but indeed Wolves’, he uses the language and images in which he characteristically spoke of the clergy of his own day (Milton 1953—82: 5.i.175). His posthumously published Brief History of Moscovia (1682) rests on a slight basis of research, but again shows some anticlerical flourishes, as he notes that, despite their ostentation of piety, ’for Whordom, Drunkenness and Extortion none [is] worse than the [Russian] clergy’ (8.492). He comes close to overt political engagement in A Declaration, or Letters Patents of the Election of this present King of Poland (1674), a translation of a Latin account of the accession of John Sobieski. This constitutes an oblique contribution to the incipient controversy that would become the Exclusion Crisis, in that the Polish elective model for kingship not only demonstrates that there are constitutionally sophisticated alternatives to the ponderous assertions of the divine right of English monarchs, but also describes a procedure that would allow for the deselection of unsuitable candidates (by implication, such as James, Duke of York). His most controversial works, the state papers he had written for the republic and the heterodox theological treatise we know as De Doctrina Christiana, were carried posthumously to the United Provinces in search of a publisher, and editions of the former did appear. The manuscript of the latter, together with a transcription of the state papers, was confiscated by the government and only rediscovered in 1823.
Quite why Milton chose to publish such relatively undistinguished items as Latin exercises from his university days, his Prolusiones, remains uncertain; there is a certain sense of clearing his desk before his death, though both his notoriety and the impact of Paradise Lost probably made even these modest works vendible. In 1673 he published a new edition of his minor verse, adding to the poems printed in 1645 some political sonnets, though not the ones to Vane, Cromwell and Fairfax, together with some technically accomplished psalm translations. There is evidently a greater air of freedom and security about Milton in the 1670s, reflecting the improved circumstances in which Nonconformists found themselves; the years of fiercest persecution had passed, and they had survived. Indeed, during the relaxation of press control around the time of the Declaration of Indulgence, Milton returned to overtly controversial writing with Of True Religion, Haeresie, Schism, Toleration, And what best means may be us’d against the growth of Popery (1673). It takes a typical anti-court line on the attempted quid pro quo of Catholic toleration in return for the toleration of dissent: the former is an outrage, the latter merely a recognition of diversity within the Protestant faith community. While the anti-Catholicism is commonplace and opportunistically applied, its vision of an otherwise tolerant society is striking. Milton, rather like Dryden in Religio Laici (see above), distinguishes between the simplicities of saving faith and the complexities of the finer points of controversial theology, which have their value but are irrelevant to salvation.
Much more interesting, and indeed much more puzzling, is the double volume, Paradise Regain’d. A Poem in Four Books. To which is added Samson Agonistes, published in 1671. In the former he selects an unusual episode on which to ground a depiction of the Son’s triumph. In the western tradition, his resurrection from the grave, the harrowing of hell, the ascension and the second coming and last judgement are more typically represented as pivotal moments of divine victory. Milton here eschews for the most part events which miraculously transcend the physical laws of the created world, centring his account in the portrayal of a wholly human incarnation who feels variously hunger, cold, and a bewilderment at what is happening to him and at what he feels within:
O what a multitude of thoughts at once
Awakened in me swarm, while I consider
What from within I feel myself, and hear
What from without comes often to my ears,
Ill sorting with my present state compared.
(1.196—200; Milton 1997: 432)
The tests the Son faces are temptations analogous to those the godly habitually face, albeit in more spectacular form. The ordinary citizen is not offered the command of vast armies to impose his rule, but the possibilities of returning to positions of some power and influence were available to most who had been servants of the republican regime, and some, like Pepys or Dryden or Marchamont Nedham, chose to accept them. The conflict depicted is intimate and personal. The good angels sing in anticipation of the events that are to unfold, ’Victory and triumph to the Son of God / Now ent’ring his great duel, not of arms, / But to vanquish by wisdom hellish wiles’ (1.173—5; ibid.: 431). Milton greatly supplements the temptations depicted in the gospel accounts. The Son explicitly rejects command over vast armies (’Much ostentation vain of fleshly arm, / And fragile arms’ — 3.387—8; ibid.: 480) and the attractions of monarchic or imperial splendour (’Nor doth this grandeur and majestic show / Of luxury, though called magnificence, / More than of arms before, allure mine eye’ — 4.110—12; ibid.: 488). It is within the power of anyone to say no. In a curious innovation which has vexed the critical tradition, Milton has the Son reject even the temptation posed by pagan (and thus, by implication, humanistic) culture: ’he who receives / Light from above, from the fountain of light, / No other doctrine needs’ (4. 288—90; ibid.: 496). In the context of the Son’s debate with Satan, the passage is an assertion of the superiority of holy texts in the Judaeo-Christian tradition over the specious accomplishment of Athens and Rome. In the context of seventeenth-century England, it is an assertion that saving faith no more needs the elite learning of the academy than the chivalric culture of the court.
In genre terms, Paradise Regained may seem puzzling to a modern readership whose notions of elevated narrative poetry are shaped by Virgil, Homer and indeed by Paradise Lost. However, Barbara Lewalski’s seminal study (1966) locates it in the tradition of the Book of Job, which Milton had termed in The Reason of Church-Government ’a brief model’ of ’that Epick form’ (Milton 1953—82: 1, 183), and she relates it, too, to the work of vernacular imitators of that model, among them Quarles. I doubt that it would have seemed strange or unprecedented to any informed contemporary reader, though of course it is a singularly fine example of the genre.
To the modern reader, its companion piece, Samson Agonistes, may seem much more familiar. In its name, in its dramatic structure, even in its fine-grained detail, it appears, straightforwardly, to be a neoclassical, vernacular exercise in the formal characteristics of Athenian tragedy on the model of Sophocles and Euripides, while taking its subject matter from the biblical tradition. Indeed, it has a chorus, which occasionally splits to perform strophes and anti-strophes; its events occur in one place, within the time of a day, and actions take place off stage and are reported. Of course, Sophocles and, probably to a greater extent, Euripides write challenging dramas that confront the seeming simplicity of received morality. Moreover, as Milton writes in evident imitation of them, he asserts that tragedy has been and may be ’the gravest, moralest, and most profitable of all other poems’, as its introductory note claims (ibid.: 355). Thus, Milton tacitly confronts the theatre of his own age with the purity of a classically informed alternative. But, as Joseph Wittreich notes, there is another pertinent influence in the neo-Latin closet dramas of the humanist tradition, such as the plays of Hugo Grotius, George Buchanan and Daniel Heinsius, which are essentially problem plays opening up moral questions in ’the spirit of interrogation’ (Wittreich 2002: 19).
Samson shares some common ground with the hero of the brief epic. Both are godly, isolated, initially bewildered and surrounded by physical forces more powerful than themselves, and neither seems remotely drawn to the temptations placed before him. Samson, however, is a fallen hero, who has sinned though loquacity: he has talked too much, revealed too much, to Dalila. The Son, of course, is singularly taciturn in his conversations with Satan. Samson’s regeneration allows him to slaughter large numbers of unsuspecting and unarmed Philistines engaged in a recreational activity. The question his action raises is not really whether such violence may be justified — after all, to one who accepts the historicity of the source, it happened and seemingly had divine sanction — but how meritorious it is in comparison with other modes of godly action. Milton had spent the last decade of his political life in the service of armed saints who had killed their adversaries in, and indeed after, battles, in which they had identified themselves as the agents of a divine providence. The regicide General Thomas Harrison had asserted that, in signing the death warrant, ’I did what I did, as out of conscience to the Lord’, which earned his judge’s rebuke, ’will you make God the author of your treasons and murders?’ (Wedgwood 1966: 222—3). Milton’s Samson shows similar conviction at his end. Yet by 1660, the armed saints had achieved little at enormous cost and left the godly of England at the mercy of their enemies. After the slaughter of the Philistines and Samson’s selfslaughter, Israel is not free, though, on his father’s account, it has the potential for freedom if it follows Samson’s example (ll.1714—16; Milton 1953—82: 412). In contrast, the Son’s godly but passive witness liberates all humankind.
Scholarship in very recent years has brought two fascinating analogues to Milton’s late publications to critical attention in the poetry of Thomas St Nicholas and Lucy Hutchinson. Both deserve critical engagement. The mid-century writings of the former we have considered above (chapter 5). His small but evocative Restoration oeuvre, retained in the same manuscript as his earlier work, shows the response of another republican public servant and activist to the experience of defeat as he views his precarious circumstances and the persecution of his friends. Once more, he is best when he is most specific, as in ’An officer of Dover Castle being at the George in Lydd upon public affairs, one spying me come in said, ’’There’s old Mr St Nicholas come in’’. The officer replied, ’’Then there’s an old Parliament dog come in’’. Thereupon sic cogitavi [I have thought thus]’ (St Nicholas 2002: 144—5). The poet, in a mere 35 lines, moves from indignation, through an audit of his own moral standing (’Humour I men’s lusts, / And fawn upon my masters for their crusts?’ — ll.9—10), to the concluding echo of Revelation 22:11, ’If they [the likes of the abusive officer] will / Yet filthy be, let them be filthy still’ (ll.34—45). In the process, he neatly turns the scoff into a homely, humble but resolute image of himself as a dog ’Fed with the crumbs that from thy [God’s] table fall’ (l.27). A similar dynamic runs through ’Upon Mr Benchkin, the curate of Ash, his presentment of me to the consistory court at Canterbury for helping to lay my poor old nurse, the widow Solly, in her grave as soon as she was brought thither and the coverings, without noise or disturbance, taken off. August 10, 1664’ (ibid.: 99—100). Benchkin’s deposition, which is extant, describes an ideologically charged scene in a country churchyard, as evidently St Nicholas sought to have the body placed in the grave without the reading of the office of the dead, thus following the practice of The Directory for the Public Worship of God adopted by the Long Parliament, while the clergyman insisted on following the Book of Common Prayer of 1662. The law, of course, was with the clergyman. St Nicholas’s poem, while repeating familiar nonconformist accusations of the venality of the professional clergy, works towards a reconciliation of sorts. At its heart, however, is a carefully turned, intimate, personal and reflective image:
My poor old nurse who now is dead and gone,
And lived to see her year of ninety-one,
A sober matron of good reputation
For honest life and conversation,
And sixty-two years since, when, helpless, I
Could do nought else but suck and sleep and cry,
Fed and preserved me with her breasts, and then
Lulled me asleep, laid me to bed again,
Could I do less for her than once, at last,
For all her kindness, though so long time past,
Help lay her aged bones to rest before
I go from hence and shall be seen no more?
The sermon-acting priest has nothing of value to add to a transaction as delicate and as appropriate as this, the final decorum of the child, now himself grown old, laying the nurse to bed.
Lucy Hutchinson, until recently, had been read primarily as the biographer of Colonel John Hutchinson, her husband and a regicide, who died in prison in 1664. That text, The Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson, remained in manuscript until 1806 (Hutchinson 1995: xxx). It has been quarried frequently by historians for its eloquent and detailed representation of a political perspective that is at once upper-gentry class, republican and Puritan. Nor is it a polemically naive document (see, especially, Keeble 1990). But since the publication of Order and Disorder (Hutchinson 2001), interest has grown in Hutchinson’s achievements as a poet. Hutchinson, the wife of a senior figure in the Midlands gentry prominent on parliament’s side in the Civil War, probably felt both gender and social inhibitions about print publication, concerns that may well have been exacerbated by a sense of the precarious status of the family of a regicide in Restoration England. Her most ambitious project remained unfinished at her death, though the first five cantos were printed, anonymously, in 1679, two years before she died. Its solitary manuscript, the sole source for the remaining fifteen cantos, carries the date ’1664’ though not adjacently to the poem itself, ’so that it is not entirely clear whether the date refers to the manuscript book or to the poem’, in the view of David Norbrook, its modern editor (Hutchinson 2001: liii—liv). A secure dating would resolve current speculation that either Paradise Lost influenced Order and Disorder, or vice versa.
In the short term, critical interest inevitably has clustered around comparisons between the two poems. Hutchinson’s view on salvation is unrelentingly Calvinist, and in the expanse of world history she depicts, the godly and the reprobates are sharply and straightforwardly distinguished within the paradigm of double predestination. Milton’s Arminianism allows for struggle, for limited but restored free will, and for synergy with grace within each soul. Narratologically, Hutchinson takes the simplest option, relating events in chronological order; Milton, of course, avoids such simplicity. Again, in an unpromising caveat in the preface to the printed version, she warns her readers, ’they will find nothing of fancy in it; no elevations of style, no charms of language, which I confess are gifts I have not, nor desire not in this occasion’ (Hutchinson 2001: 5), while Milton assures his readers that he aims to surpass the work of other epic poets. Hutchinson’s style is indeed plain though decorous; its imagery is scarce, though sometimes vivid, as we shall see. Moreover, in terms of transmuting and retelling biblical history, she proceeds conservatively, whereas Milton is imaginatively and speculatively creative in the ways he supplements his source.
Yet, outside the framework of such comparison, Hutchinson’s poem appears in itself a considerable achievement of real critical interest. Her writing offers a sustained yet oblique restatement of republican and Puritan values, as David Norbrook’s commentary persuasively demonstrates, and she ingeniously connects the events she describes to moral imperatives that apply transhistorically though with a particular urgency to Restoration England. Her treatment of the drunken Noah exemplifies this well. As Norbrook notes, ’For royalists Noah was the first post-Flood monarch and a pattern for all later government’. Hutchinson makes much of the episode of his drunken incapacity, ’in lewd plight found / Immodestly incovered on the ground’ (canto 9.13—14). She avoids an allegorical gloss — ’the episode was mainly interpreted as a rebuke of irreverence [represented by the scoffing of his son Ham] towards the mysteries of the state’ (2001: 136, n.256). Instead, she offers praise, in a surprising and apposite image, of the vine as a source of pleasure and support when used in moderation: ’None more abounds with blessings than the vine / In whose fair arms numberless bottles shine’ (lines 17—18). After that, a long exposition of the evils of drunken excess resonates with criticisms fitting to the Restoration court and the licentious culture it indulged: ’Princes forget their ranks and great affairs, / Cast off their kingdoms’ necessary cares / And revel in their drunken jollities’ (lines 59—61; ibid.: 137). But that corruption trickles down through the society it supports, to the ’wanton and ridiculous like apes’ and ’goats whose bloods hot lust doth fire’ (ll.94, 97). We recall Sir Charles Sedley’s obscene libation (see above).
Hutchinson’s relation of the events of Genesis attempts no exculpation of Eve, though her account of the curse laid upon her occasions some of her most vivid writing:
How painfully the fruit within them [pregnant women] grows,
What tortures do their ripened births disclose,
How great, how various, how uneasy are
The breeding-sicknesses, pangs that prepare
The violent openings of life’s narrow door,
Whose fatal issues we as oft deplore!
The passage continues to review the agonies of parturition, the discomforts of lactation, the fatigue of nurturing and the anxieties of motherhood. It contrasts eloquently with the assessment Milton makes of Eve’s curse, as expressed by Adam’s curt reassurance that it threatens ’Pains only in child-bearing … / And bringing forth, soon recompensed with joy, / Fruit of thy womb’ (10.1051—3; Milton 1999: 594). Hutchinson gave birth to eight children (Hutchinson 2001: 70, n.132).
Katherine Philips and Margaret Cavendish
Katherine Philips had much in common with Lucy Hutchinson and Thomas St Nicholas. Her family background was solidly Puritan. Indeed, Major-General Philip Skippon, her step-father, was not only a prominent parliamentary commander in the civil wars (most signally, he commanded the trained bands at Turnham Green), but also in effect military commander of the London region in the 1650s (DNB 1975). Colonel James Philips, her husband, like Colonel Hutchinson and St Nicholas, wielded considerable power and influence in support of parliament and the republic in his own region (in this case, South Wales). Her upbringing was on her own account Presbyterian. Her poetry, too, belonged initially to a manuscript culture, and her chosen genres share some of the formal characteristics of those favoured by St Nicholas. Her works are often occasional, and those occasions frequently relate to life-events of her own circle. Thus, a title like ’A sea voyage from Tenby to Bristoll, 5 September 1652. Sent to Lucasia 8th September 1652’ (Philips 1990: 88—90) would not be out of place in St Nicholas’s works, except for Philips’s adoption of a poetic soubriquet for a member of her circle (in this case, the daughter of an Anglesey squire — ibid.: 335; Philips styled herself ’Orinda’).
But Philips differs from Hutchinson and St Nicholas in very significant ways. Despite her close family connections with the Interregnum establishment, she was plainly a royalist. Her poetic output was stimulated by the Restoration, the events of which she celebrated in occasional panegyric of a familiar kind. Moreover, in the 1650s she moved in royalist cultural circles. She knew Henry Vaughan and celebrated his work. Four of her poems were set by Henry Lawes, who had set much of the poetry of the Caroline court (see above, chapter 4). Moreover, rather in the manner of Lovelace’s late poetry or Charles Cotton’s (above, chapter five), her poetry frequently rehearses the royalist themes of friendship and retirement as strategies for negotiating political eclipse. In her case, fascinatingly, the company into which she withdraws is overwhelmingly female. The shared bottle and an enthusiasm for Anacreontic verse are unsurprisingly absent, and the activities associated with friendship as she conceived and practised it appear rather uncertain. Indeed, as the 90-line poem ’A Friend’ observes, ’Friendship is abstract of this noble flame, / ’Tis love refin’d and purg’d from all its drosse’ (ll.7—8; ibid.: 165).
The circumstances of literary production changed very significantly for Philips at the Restoration. Of course, she was now a celebrant of the new regime, though there were many such. Most crucially, in a fairly brief sojourn in Dublin, she translated a Corneille play, La Mort de Pompée, which was performed there in 1663 and shortly afterwards published in London. It may well have been staged subsequently in London (ibid.: 17—18). In a culture starved of new plays and attuned to welcoming literary endorsement of the restored monarchy, this woman dramatist achieved immediate celebrity; a pirated edition of most of her poetry appeared early in 1664. Her response was successfully to press the publisher to withdraw the publication, reflecting no doubt an anxiety about displaying herself in print, in which the imagined social stigma was compounded by a sense of what constituted decorous conduct for a respectable woman and possibly some concern about critical reception. An authorized edition appeared in 1667, three years after her death from smallpox.
Margaret Cavendish actively promoted the printing of her own works, starting with the first edition of her collected verse in 1653. Cavendish, too, was a royalist married to a soldier. Her husband William Cavendish, the Marquess of Newcastle (created a duke in 1665), had commanded the royalist army of the North. His poor judgement in disposing the battle line contributed pivotally to Cromwell’s victory at Marston Moor, after which he lived abroad till the Restoration. He met his wife, who was a gentlewoman of Henrietta Maria, in exile. Margaret Cavendish’s oeuvre is transparently partisan, and defences of her husband, whose biography she wrote (first published in 1667), appear digressively in her more imaginative writing.
Much of her poetry dates from the early 1650s. Her enthusiasm for print perhaps reflects her understanding of the dispersed readership for royalist texts once the royal courts were displaced abroad and many royalists had retired to their country properties. But she retained the practice of print publication even after 1660, a fact which significantly qualifies the familiar generalizations about the stigma of print among the propertied in general and women writers in particular.
A handful of her poems have become modern anthology pieces, though the selection imperfectly represents the predominant characteristics of her early verse. Much of the editions of 1653 and 1656 are taken up with philosophical poems. Many, in the tradition of Lucretius, explore atomic theories of the physical world. Others offer verse dialogues, typically between opposed abstractions. A group of poems describe a fairy world. Yet, however charming these seem, they are not simple-minded whimsy. Cavendish would go on to write huge prose engagements with many of the principal controversies of western European philosophy in the early modern period. ’The Fairies in the Brain may be the Causes of many Thoughts’ (Cavendish 1653; anthologized in Cummings 2000: 466—7) represents the formation of emotions and desires as the reflections of the moods and actions of tiny inhabitants of the cranium:
… thus within the head may be a fair:
And when our brain with amorous thoughts is stayed,
Perhaps there is a bride and bridegroom made;
And when our thoughts all merry be and gay,
There may be dancing on their wedding day.
(ll.20—4; Cummings 2000: 467)
Although Cavendish was regarded as eccentric by some contemporaries, the notion of fairies inhabiting the brain and determining its function is not literally intended. Rather, lightly, fancifully and wittily, she offers a contribution to contemporary philosophical controversy about the nature of the cognitive faculties. She challenges the notion of the human mind as a tabula rasa, a clean slate without innate notions, on which the senses inscribe ideas. Her ’fairies’ function as impulses inherent to the human brain; to shift the metaphor, they are hard-wired into the human personality and human ratiocination. William Cavendish’s circle while in exile ’included among others Hobbes, Mersenne, Descartes, and Pierre Gassendi’ (DNB 2004, s.n. ’Cavendish, William’), a veritable roll-call of the most powerful European philosophers of the mid-century, and Margaret evidently moved confidently in that milieu.
She is a deeply philosophical writer, and her major works are philosophical and scientific disquisitions written in a functional prose. Her currently most widely considered creative writing, The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World, was first published in 1666 as part of a double volume containing her Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy. Much of the more philosophical component of The Blazing World mirrors in a different mode and genre the concerns of its companion piece. But for the modern reader and perhaps for her contemporaries its primary interest lies elsewhere. Cavendish has picked up the traditions of prose romance and of the fantastic voyage as a medium for philosophical speculation, firmly established by Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1551), but pushed them with extraordinary creative power towards what is often discussed as a ground-breaking work of science fiction. Indeed, she imagines and represents a coherent universe inhabited by creatures that are only vaguely hominid, though of course that universe mirrors the real world, as she conceives it, in complex ways. The author confidently plays around the emergent conventions of fictional narrative. The heroine of the tale has a kindred spirit in the form of the character ’Margaret Cavendish’, a figure introduced to advance the philosophical speculation and to rehearse the Duke of Newcastle’s claims for compensation for revenues and properties lost in the civil wars, amounting to ’half his woods, besides many houses, land, and movable goods; so that all the loss … did amount to half a million of pounds’ (Cavendish 1992: 193).
In terms of gender ideology, Cavendish apparently poses problems. Certainly, she boldly intrudes into philosophical and scientific discourses that were contemporaneously perceived as wholly male preserves, even to the point of inviting herself to the Royal Society, while her use of ’the interdicted practices of writing and publishing … challenge the negative consequences for women of patriarchal codes of femininity’ (ibid.: xiv). But her politics are deeply conservative, reflecting her husband’s commitment to monarchism and to social hierarchy.