Category Archives: Vice

Poetry Vice

To have a shorter beard & longer witt

These snippets came about as a result of reading an account of  Ben Jonson’s involvement in the dark politics of the early 1600s.

Thomas Bastard (1565/6–1618) was an epigrammatist and Church of England clergyman. Born at Blandford, Dorset, he attended Winchester College, and then New College, Oxford. In 1588 he was admitted perpetual fellow of New College, acquiring a BA in 1590 and an MA in 1606.

In 1591, Bastard was accused of being ‘guilty of the vices belonging to poets and given to libelling’, and was forced to leave his fellowship. These ‘libels’ described in shocking detail the sexual transgressions of some of the more prominent Oxford clergymen and academics (unfortunately, on a first search, these do not appear to have survived). Fortunately for Bastard and his ‘little family’ (including a wife whom he described as ‘no great help-meet’) he secured subsequent employment from two important courtiers. Firstly, Sir Charles Blount made him one of his chaplains, and in 1592 Thomas Howard gave him the tenure of vicar of Bere Regis, and in 1606, rector of Almer in his native Dorset. Sadly however, the livings he made were small and poor, and Bastard was never able to regain his former status.

Thy beard is long: better it would thee fit,
To have a shorter beard, and longer witt.’

His literary reputation was gained as a result of a volume of 285 epigrams published in 1598 entitled Chrestoleros (‘useful’ and ‘trifling’). At the time of publication, Bastard had, according to Dudley Carleton, ‘the name of a lively wit’, but his poems were unimpressive: he ‘botches up his verse with variations, and his conceits so run upon his poverty that his wit is rather to be pitied than commended’. Indeed, Sir John Harington commented in a poem to Bastard, ‘the dusty wits of this ungratefull time, Carpe at thy booke of Epigrams, and scoffe it.’

Perhaps the high point in Bastard’s literary career occurred when the fashionable playwright John Marston quoted a couplet from one of Bastard’s epigrams at a climactic moment in his popular play The Malcontent (1604).

Bastard was apparently popular among his friends: ‘His discourses were always pleasant and facete, which made his company desired by all ingenious men’; he was a member of the circle of sophisticates (including Donne) which produced the volume of poetical tributes to Thomas Coryat called The Odcombian Banquet (1611). However, for the most part, the remainder of Bastard’s life was lived in poverty, far from the stimulation of London. In Dorset, he said his wit became ‘key-cold’, and in his final days he fell apart:

This poet and preacher being towards his latter end crazed, and thereupon brought into debt, was at length committed to the prison in Allhallows parish, in Dorchester, where dying very obscurely and in a mean condition, was buried in the churchyard belonging to the parish on 19 April 1618, leaving behind him many memorials of his wit and drollery.

Had I my wish contented I should be,
though neither rich nor better than you see,
For tis nor wealth nor honour that I crave,
But a short life, Reader, and a long grave.

 

Source: Finkler at the DNB

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Booze Court Entertainment Vice

Booze & Chaos at Court

A hilarious snippet from an account of the festivities held to entertain the King of Denmark on his visit to England in July 1606. Christian IV, like many monarchs at the time, enjoyed drinking and carousing, and  Sir John Harington, courtier and author, wrote an account of some of the livelier activities:

I came here a day or two before the Danish king came; and from the day he did come, until this hour, I have been well-nigh overwhelmed with carousals and sports of all kinds. The sports began each day in such manner and such sort as well-nigh persuaded me of Mohammed’s paradise. We had women, and indeed wine too, in such plenty as would have astonished each sober beholder. Our feasts were magnificent, and the two royal guests did most lovingly embrace each other at table. I think the Dane hath strangely wrought on our good English nobles; for those, whom I never could get to taste good liquor, now follow the fashion, and wallow in beastly delights. The ladies abandon their sobriety, and seem to roll about in intoxication.

One day a great feast was held, and after dinner the representation of Solomon’s temple, and the coming of the Queen of Sheba, was made, or was I may better say, was meant to have been made before their Majesties, by device of the Earl of Salisbury and others. But, alas! As all earthly things do fail to poor mortals in enjoyment, so did prove our presentment thereof. The lady who did play the Queen’s part, did carry most precious gifts to both their majesties; but, forgetting the steps arising to the canopy, overset her caskets into his Danish majesty’s lap, and fell at his feet, though I rather think it was in his face. Much was the harry and confusion; cloths and napkins were at hand, to make all clean. His Majesty then got up, and would dance with the Queen of Sheba; but he fell down and humbled himself before her, and was carried to an inner chamber, and laid on a bed of state; which was not a little denied with the presents of the Queen, which had been bestowed upon his garments: such as wine, cream, beverages, jellies, cakes, spices, and other good matters. The entertainment and show went forward, and most of the presenters went Kickward, or fell down: wine did so occupy their upper chambers.

Now did appear, in rich dress, Hope, Faith, and Charity. Hope did essay to speak, but wine rendered her endeavours so feeble that she withdrew, and hoped the King would excuse her brevity; Faith was then all alone, for I am certain she was not joined with good works, and left the court in a staggering condition: Charity came to the King’s feet, and seemed to cover the multitude of sins her sisters had committed: in some sort she made obeisance, and brought gifts; but said she would return home, as there was no gift which Heaven had not already given his Majesty. She then returned to Hope and Faith, who were both spewing in the lower hall. Next came Victory, in bright armour, and presented a rich sword to the King, who did not accept it, but put it by with his hand; and by a strange medley of versification, did endeavour to make suit to the King. But Victory did not triumph long; for, after much lamentable utterance, she was led away, like a silly captive, and laid to sleep on the outer steps of the ante-chamber. Now, did Peace make entrance, and strive to get forward to the King; but I grieve to tell how great wrath she did discover unto those of her attendants; and, much contrary to her semblance, most rudely made war with her olive-branch, and laid on the pates of those who did oppose her.

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