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II - Self-Reflexive Acts of Writing

“Mises en abyme” and satirical descriptions: “characters” of writing and writers in seventeenth-century England

Claire Labarbe

Résumés

Cet article vise à démontrer l’auto-réflexivité des « livres de caractères » anglais du XVIIème siècle. L’acte d’écrire est théorisé dans le paratexte lors de développements sur l’art et les règles de la composition littéraire. Le processus d’écriture est quant à lui représenté dans le corps du texte sous la forme de « caractères » d’écrivains. Ces derniers pratiquent tantôt eux-mêmes l’art du caractère et leurs productions sont alors célébrées comme des modèles de réussite artistique. A l’inverse, les écrivains de ballades, d’almanachs ou de libelles sont satirisés et leurs productions rejetées comme stylistiquement et socialement inférieures à celles des auteurs de caractères. L’extraordinaire essor de la littérature pamphlétaire pendant la période de la Guerre Civile détermina l’évolution du genre des « caractères ». Ce dernier répondit en effet à la compétition croissante de publications sur feuilles volantes en satirisant ce qu’il considérait comme des formes « vulgaires » d’expression littéraire. Mais le succès de ce type de publications se refléta également dans l’évolution formelle du genre : la plupart des « caractères » satiriques de la période de la guerre civile étaient en effet eux-mêmes publiés sous la forme de feuilles volantes. En raillant la littérature de rue et ses « grossières » productions, les auteurs de caractères faisaient donc en partie leur propre satire.

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  • 1 “The celebration last year of the Tercentenary of Dr. Bright’s work on Characterie, the first Engli (...)

1In his 1888 presentation of a limited reprint of Timothy Bright’s Characterie, originally published in 1588, James Herbert Ford celebrated the book as “the first English Shorthand”.1 Nineteenth-century scholars were interested in exploring what they considered as the origins of stenography, but in reality the art of “characterie” did not solely aim to transcribe oral content into short and intelligible signs. Its purpose was also to establish a “secrete” alphabet which could only be understood by those in the know:

  • 2 Ibid., “Dedicatorie to Elizabeth, Queene of England, Fraunce, and Ireland”, sig. A3. See also Edmun (...)

I have invented the like: of fewe characters, shorte and easy, every character answering a word: my invention meere English, without precept, or imitation of any. The uses are divers: short, that a swift hande may therewith write orations or publicke actions of speach, uttered as becometh the gravitie of such actions, verbatim. Secrete, as no kinde of writing like, and herein (besides other properties) excelling the wryting by letters, and alphabet, in that, nations of strange languages, may hereby communicate their meaning together in writing, though of sundrie tongues […].2

2The claims made by the author were here somewhat contradictory. The invention was both authentically “English” and meant for universal use; it was both “secrete” and to be understood by all. In fact, the code would only be “shorte and easy” for those who were willing to follow the author’s method and able to understand and remember the signification of his intricately designed figures.

  • 3 “On a voulu voir au XVIIème siècle une ‘rupture épistémologique’ entre un édifice d’analogies empil (...)

3In an article on the signification of hieroglyphics, Marc Fumaroli has shown that in the seventeenth-century the myth of an actual correspondence between word and object had long been lost.3 In fact any type of writing – and not only short-writing as practised and theorized by Bright – was perceived as somehow “secrete”. Readers had to learn how to unravel the obscure meaning of words, the signification of which was all but natural and intuitive. John Bullokar was one among many to write and publish a dictionary aimed at explaining the meaning of difficult words by analyzing them and putting them into context. Bullokar’s concern was that he might be accused of leveling down superior sciences by revealing their hidden significations, or as we would put it today of being excessively eager to democratize higher culture:

  • 4 John Bullokar, An English Expositor: Teaching the Interpretation of the hardest words used in our L (...)

I hope such learned will deame no wrong offered to themselves or dishonour to Learning, in that I open the signification of such words, to the capacitie of the ignorant, whereby they may conceive and use them as well as those which have bestowed long study in the languages; for considering it is familiar among best writers to usurpe strange words, […] I suppose withall their desire is that they should also be understood.4

  • 5 John Bullokar, op. cit. , [sig. D4v].
  • 6 Ibid.

4It is a paradox that authors should use rare and uncommon words if their aim is indeed to be read and understood by all. But words can never be entirely redeemed from their obscurity since the characters they are made of are irrevocably arbitrary and uncanny. Such strangeness did not feature in Bullokar’s definition of a “character”: “The forme of a letter. A marke, signe, or stamp made in any thing.”5 In his definition of the art of “characterie” however, “characters” and “strange markes” could be used indifferently: “Characterie. A writing by characters or by strange markes.”6

5Throughout the seventeenth century, writers of “character-books” who practised the new literary form of the “character” were acutely aware of its scriptorial and typographic etymology. The literary art of the “character” was first and foremost an art of writing, typing and printing in “characters”. As we shall see, the oxymoronic definition of “characters” as short and easy printing types as well as intricate and secret signs survived in the definition of the literary “character”. Plainness was praised by some writers as allowing for better intelligibility and clarity whilst others considered it as a form of stylistic vulgarity. Obscurity was praised by some as an instance of originality and poetic refinement whilst others rejected it as a form of excessive intricacy.

6I will first show that by theorizing the literary exercise of character-writing in their diverse prefaces and introductions, seventeenth-century English authors of character-books offered readers a definition of their art, or to put it in their own words the “character of a character”. Authors also represented the practice of character-writing within their texts by having some of their characters write their own “characters”. By doing so, they created a mise en abyme of “characters” within “characters”.

7The genre, however, defined itself best in opposition to other genres which it satirized as artistically and socially inferior. I intend to show in a second part that the evolution of the format of the “character” was intricately linked to its growing satirical content. Indeed, in order to criticize the supposedly base practice of polemical pamphleteering, certain authors of character-books published their own satirical texts as single flying broadsheets. By doing so, they paradoxically borrowed the weapons of their enemies.

“Character of a Character”: definitions and mises en abyme of the art of characters

Literary and stylistic definition of the art of characters: what the “paratext” tells us7

  • 7 “Le paratexte est donc pour nous ce par quoi un texte se fait livre et se propose comme tel à ses l (...)

8English literary “characters” appeared in very different forms and contexts. They had served an exemplary function in the Greek art of rhetoric and were sometimes still used as illustrations in the seventeenth century: “characters” would feature in the development of larger texts such as sermons for instance. Most seventeenth-century characters however were gathered in collections under the title of “character-books”. A few were published in conjunction with essays and various short forms and some hit the streets under the independent form of pamphlets.

  • 8 “Si l’on ôte de beaucoup d’ouvrages de morale l’avertissement au lecteur, l’épître dédicatoire, la (...)

9I will first focus on “character-books” and on the way their authors, compilers and publishers introduced them to the public, in order to analyze how the genre of characters defined itself. The fact that the “paratext” constituted such an important part of those books is already a definition in itself, since it shows that the genre was from the start self-reflexive. As we shall see, the paradox pointed out by La Bruyère of a book entirely taken up by introductions, prefaces and authorial comments became increasingly applicable to character-books during the seventeenth-century.8

10Joseph Hall is considered as the first English author of character-books, in good part because he considered himself as such. He defined the genre of literary characters as a modern continuation of the art of “charactery” practised in Antiquity:

  • 9 Joseph Hall, Characters of Vertues and Vices, In Two Bookes, London, Melchior Bradwood, 1608, [sig. (...)

The Divines of the olde Heathens… bestowed their tune in drawing out the true lineaments of every virtue and vice, so lively, that who saw the medals, might know the face: which Art they significantly termed Charactery. Their papers were so many tables, their writing so many speaking pictures, or living images, whereby the ruder multitude might even by their sense learne to know vertue, and discerne what to detest.9

  • 10 Wye Saltonstall, Picturae Loquentes, or Pictures drawn forth in Characters, with a Poeme of a Maid, (...)

11The moral dimension of Hall’s text did not survive in the way his pictorial and visual definition of the art of characters did. No other author after him chose to divide his characters into two distinct “books”, one for virtues and the other for vices. But in 1631 Wye Saltonstall’s Picturae Loquentes, or Pictures drawn forth in Characters strongly echoed Hall’s “true lineaments”, “speaking pictures, or living images”: “However, if you finde hereafter that these Pictures are not shadowed forth with those lively and exact Lineaments, which are required in a Character, yet I hope you will pardon the Painter.”10

12Saltonstall here indirectly alluded to the question of the correspondence between the image delineated by the author and the “character” or idea which this image was meant to represent. Michael Bath has shown that Renaissance writers’ theoretical statements about the emblem and related kinds of speaking pictures are a valuable source, especially for historians willing to understand the way in which contemporaries approached the question of the relation between sign and referent. In fact authors of literary characters dealt with the complex problem of the nature of signs and images in much the same way as emblem-writers did:

  • 11 Michael Bath, Speaking Pictures. English Emblem-Books and Renaissance Culture, Harlow, Longman, 199 (...)

One of the issues raised by them [Renaissance writers] […] is whether the emblem depends on the invention of original but arbitrary connections between image and meaning, or whether the relation between sign and referent depends on some deeper and more intrinsic (‘natural’) affinity. [… ] The form it [this issue] takes in emblem theory is a consequence of the fact that the emblem was conceived both as an art of rhetorical invention in which novel or witty connections were suggested between signifier and signified, and at the same time as an art which used inherent meanings already inscribed in the Book of Nature by the finger of God.11

13Literary characters relied on a similar tension between witty invention and faithful transcription. Insisting on the materiality of signs could however be a way of escaping this tension since characters were the printed proof that a process of transcription had taken place. Hall’s reference to “tables” and “medals” thus stressed the materiality of ancient typography as well as of contemporary “paper” and “pictures”. Saltonstall in his own way relied on the importance of the press: his false modesty amounted to claiming that the printer was entirely responsible for the publication of his work. Indeed he would not have had the presumption of bringing his own characters “to the view of the world”:

  • 12 Wye Saltonstall, op. cit. , sig. A3.

The eye can judge of no object in the darke: Even so these Pictures being hidden in tenebris, could not be discerned, until the Printer brought them to light, and set them forth to the view of the world. And therefore as they lived in darknesse, and proceeded from a mind full of darke thoughts, I have given them a darke Dedication; since for my selfe, I desire to be ignotus, unknowne to others […].12

  • 13 “Thy ignorance may challenge libertie enough, not to relish the deepe Arte of Poetry [...]. For whe (...)

14The role of printing in the creation of literary characters had already been stressed in the 1614 edition of Thomas Overbury’s book of characters. In his address to the reader, the printer denounced the former’s potential lack of taste and excessive churlishness.13 He added, however, that the reader who would fail to commend Overbury’s work would be “degraded for his insufficiency” since the Romans themselves would have made the most of their technical devices to ensure the preservation of such a valuable text:

  • 14 Ibid., [sig. A2v].

For had such a volume bene extant among the ancient Romanes, though they lacked our easy conversations of wit, by Printing; yet would they rather, and more easily, have committed the sense hereof to Brasse, and Cedar leaves, then let such an Author, have lost his due eternitie.14

15Printing definitely played a key-role in the development of the genre of characters throughout the century but not necessarily in the sense of an evolution: Hall’s and Overbury’s books of characters became classics that were widely reprinted, read and imitated by later authors. In this sense print was partly responsible for the consistency of authors’ theorizations of the genre and for the relative homogeneity in their practice of the literary character.

16In 1664, Richard Flecknoe published An Anatomical Lecture of Man, or a Map of the Little World, Delineated in Essayes and Characters. The first character of the collection, entitled “Character of a Character”, testified to a growing self-reflexivity of the genre. The following year, Samuel Person introduced his Enigmaticall Characters with his own “Character of a Character”. As the title of his book indicated, this 1665 re-edition of the characters he had published in 1658 was rather “a new work, then new impression of the old”. Interestingly enough, the “Character of a Character” did not feature in the earlier edition.

17Person’s “Character of a Character” illustrated most of the conceptions of the genre held by previous authors. By the time of the Restoration, such images had become commonplace in describing the art of characters:

  • 15 Samuell Person, An Anatomical Lecture of Man, or a Map of the Little World, Delineated in Essayes a (...)

Characterizing is a kind of Physiognomy, and that which is written in the book of a Mans soul, it beholds and copies it out, and transcribes it in another book, in blak and white Characters, whatsoever was inscribed, they are Hierogliphical, or Emblematical writings […] for here a man writes a great deal in a little room, and so these Characters will in this sense agree with those other Characters, called Brachigraphy […] the word character intimates a thing engraven, so that it should have a deep impression upon men […].15

  • 16 “Pour la rhétorique, la brièveté ne s’est jamais définie par la seule dimension de l’énoncé. Si, à (...)

18As shown by this passage, the typographical etymology of the “character” retained its appeal throughout the history of the genre of English character-books, which was to decline towards the end of the seventeenth-century. The idea that character-writing was affiliated with “those other Characters” of stenography (here referred to as “Brachigraphy”) allowed authors to define the form of the literary character as both brief and clear.16 In his own “Character of a Character”, Flecknoe thus defined the art of character-writing as an art of concision:

  • 17 Richard Flecknoe, Enigmaticall Characters, All Taken to the Life, from Severall Persons, Humours, a (...)

It gives you the hint of Discourse, but discourses not; and is that in mass, which you may wire-draw to infinite. ‘Tis more Seneca than Cicero, and speakes rather the Language of Oracles than Orators; every line a sentence, and every two a period. […] Tis all matter and to the matter, and has nothing of superfluous or circumlocution. […] In fine, tis the quintessence of speech, and that which the French call the point of Spirit, because it penetrateth most: […] whatsoever it does it does thoroughly.17

19This indirectly reminds us that authors did not always put their own principles into practice: Flecknoe’s definition of brevity was paradoxically quite long-winded. Brevity furthermore was not necessarily synonymous with clarity. The art of shorthand taken as a model by Person was meant to be “short and easy” and Flecknoe defined the art of character-writing as that which “penetrateth most”. Brevity of form however could just as naturally lead to obscurity of content: writers seeking conciseness did not speak the clear language of orators. They spoke instead the obscure and mysterious language of oracles.

Characters within characters: mises en abyme of the practice of character-writing

20The genre of characters did not define itself only in the paratext. References to character-writing were also to be found in the body of the text. Such references often consisted in fictional representations of the process of character-writing: the author imagined and described a situation in which his own fictional characters started to write.

  • 18 Thomas Dekker, English villanies eight severall times prest to death by the printers, but (still re (...)
  • 19 William Fennor, A True Description of the Lawes, Justice and Equity of a Compter, the manner of sit (...)

21The result of those imagined acts of writing could be presented by the author as the entirety of the text published. As we shall see, Thomas Dekker’s eponymous character of the bellman of London was thus introduced as the author of Dekker’s whole book.18 Dekker used the bellman as a mask or persona. The character’s act of writing could alternatively result in a distinct textual passage which was typographically inserted within the body of the text as “real”. In William Fennor’s “description of a compter”, the narration was now and then briefly interrupted by the insertion of texts which were displayed as the result of the imagination and writing skills of one of the prisoners.19 These “texts within the text” were given as pieces of evidence and were meant to create a striking effect of reality.

  • 20 See George Mynshul, Essayes and Characters of a Prison and Prisoners, London, [George Eld], 1618.
  • 21 See for instance John Taylor, The Praise and Vertue of a Jayle, and jaylers. With the most excellen (...)

22In 1629, William Fennor published A True Description of the Lawes, Justice and Equity of a Compter, the manner of sitting in counsell of the twelve eldest prisoners. With a character of a jayle and jaylor. As in George Mynshul’s Essayes and Characters of a Prison and Prisoners, published in 1618, Fennor’s narration was presented as the result of his own experience of incarceration.20 This determined both the tone of the text, which tended to be descriptive rather than metaphorical or allegorical, and the position adopted: the aim was to criticize the disadvantages of the penitentiary system rather than to praise it as other authors did.21

  • 22 This is the idea conveyed in the last sentence of the prisoner’s “character of a prison”: “It is a (...)
  • 23 William Fennor, op. cit. , p. 9. “angel”: “an old English gold coin, called more fully at first the (...)

23Fennor illustrated the awful plight of prisoners by focusing on the misadventures of one of them. Shortly after having been put in the jail, the prisoner had spent all of his humble savings because of the corruption of the place, where he was asked to pay for everything he needed.22 In order to stimulate the sympathy of readers, Fennor gave them access to the prisoner’s inner state of mind by directly transcribing his thoughts. As it happened, the character’s way of dealing with his difficult situation was by starting to write a “character”: “I walkt up to my lodging againe, and there by chance espied a standish and a sheet of undefiled paper, which being fit for my purpose, I made bolde with, and in the middest of melancholy, writ this character of a prison.”23

  • 24 “standish”: “a stand containing ink, pens and other writing materials and accessories / 1590 T. Lod (...)

24The character’s act of writing was here fully contextualized by the author. It had taken place in the secluded space of the prisoner’s “lodging”, where he had withdrawn after having left the common space of all humiliations. It was triggered by the accidental presence of all the necessary writing implements - the ink and pen and the blank sheet of paper – although the coincidence was slightly too miraculous in order to maintain the reader’s full suspension of disbelief.24 The act of writing was finally presented as emerging from a particular psychological state or humour, namely “melancholy”.

25The “character of a prison” produced in such conditions was inserted in the narration and the typography of the page signaled it as being of a different nature from the rest of the text. The idea of the process of writing was conveyed through the illusionistic representation of the time of writing. The text of the “character” was framed by the narration of what the supposed author had done before writing it and after he had written it:

  • 25 William Fennor, op. cit. , p. 10.

This being finish’t, I viewed it over, but I was reading of it, I was called down to speake with a friend that came to visit me in my new transformation, and after some formall gossiping discourses, as I am sorry to see you here, How were you met withal, and what hard hap had you, and such like lent me a brace of Angels […].25

26All was well that ended well as the prisoner’s act of writing seemed to have had a magical performative effect: the friend’s generosity came as a soothing conclusion to the prisoner’s description of jail as a place of utter financial destitution.

  • 26 The ESTC records the following editions: 1608; 1609; 1612; 1616; 1620; 1632; 1638; 1640 and 1648. T (...)

27In 1648, Thomas Dekker published his English villanies, a ninth edition of the work previously entitled The Bell-man of London.26 As its title indicated, the book was a caveat or advisory to gentlemen, citizens and countrymen on how to by-pass the numerous and infinitely varied dangers of the city, a warning which was supposedly delivered by the “bell-man of London”. In the 1648 edition this guide had been made more complete thanks to the help of a new town-crier, as was shown in the title: English villanies […] discovered by Lanthorne and candle-light, and the helpe of a new cryer, called O-Per-Se-O: whose lowd voyce proclaimes to all that will heare him, another conspiracie of abuses lately plotting together, to hurt the peace of this kingdome, which the bell-man (because he then went stumbling i’th’ darke) could never see till now […].

28Such caveats were closely related to the genre of characters in that they described all the dangerous human types of the city. Readers would then be able to identify real-life characters as potential enemies:

  • 27 Thomas Dekker, op. cit. , “To the Reader”, [sig. A3]. “crossbite”: “To bite the biter; to cheat in (...)

Candle-light was then the first that discovered that cursed Nursery of Vipers: what was the brood thinke you? All sorts of wittie Cheaters, Tame Cony-catchers, and Subtill crosse-biters, &c. But this were (as the Spaniards sayes) Pecca-dilla, pettie sinnes, Pigmy villanies to these Giants which after roar’d about the World, and the honest intelligencer that first opened the Den of these Monsters, was the Bell-Man of London. Here he shewes you their Pictures, and not the Picture onely, but the mis-shapen persons themselves.27

  • 28 Ibid.

29By presenting the Bell-Man as the fictional author of his own book, Dekker distanced himself from his work and imagined the hypothetical conditions in which it could have been written. In this hypothesis, the Bell-man had been helped by characters from a totally different social background than his: “[…] when it was once fam’d, what an excellent worke he [the Bell-man] was in hand with, a curious number of Noble-Gentlemen joy’nd their Councels to the Bell-mans undertakings.”28 Dekker probably used the intervention of these fictional gentlemen in order to justify the refined nature of his work, assuming that readers would never believe that a simple bell-man could master such an elevated style as his:

  • 29 Ibid. The sentence “others taught him how to shaddow some of these villanies, by setting off the ab (...)

Some [Noble-Gentlemen] sent him delicate Pencills, some Notes, how and where to lay on such and such Colours: others taught him how to shaddow some of these villanies, by setting off the abuses wet, but not hanging forth the partie for a signe. So that, where at the beginning, the Bell-man feared he should have wanted worke; In the ende he had more then he could turne his hands to.29

30It seems that in the end the Bell-man was not left to do much his own way. This possibly illustrated Dekker’s social prejudice: only gentlemen could practise the “delicate” art of writing. They were also probably the only ones who felt the need to reveal the supposedly deceptive behaviour of London low-life characters.

“Thou wrist in characters, though with a common letter”: the paradoxical praise of stylistic obscurity

  • 30 Thomas Flatman, Naps upon Parnassus: A sleepy muse nipt and pincht, though not awakened such volunt (...)

31In 1658 Thomas Flatman published his Naps upon Parnassus […]; together with two satyrical characters of his own. The bulk of the book was made up of a series of twenty-three complimentary poems from several university scholars (referred to in the title as such voluntary and jovial copies of verses, as were lately receiv’d from some of the wits of the universities) hyperbolically praising the author and his work. All of those poems focused on Flatman’s “obscurity”, which was paradoxically celebrated as an exceptional form of literary achievement and poetic refinement. Most of the authors of this highly oxymoronic praise looked upon “plain” and “obscure” style as base and elevated forms of writing respectively: “Plainness is Rustick, Thou art clear from that, / Who sayes a Poets Plain, sayes he is Flat.”30

32According to those university “wits”, poets did not need to use common words. On the contrary, their role was to invent their own new language. This made them socially distinct from the ignorant masses, who would not understand their meaning:

  • 31 Ibid., “To his Ingenuous Friend, the unknown Authour of the following Poems”, [sig. A5].

What would men say if Poets onely should
Be tyed to others’s sense of words? Nor mould
A meaning of their own; they must ascend
Above the vulgar reach; […] their Brains must teem
With darkest issues, less with too much light,
They dazzle the poor Common people’s sight.31

33There is something particularly “dazzling” in the sophistry of these last three lines: instead of admitting that the use of rare words would exclude the “common people” from understanding the signification of such a type of poetry, the wit turned the argument round and claimed that too much clarity would blind the ignorant. He went on to describe Flatman’s work as written in the mysterious language of Oracles. The word “characters” here referred to some kind of hermetic signs which were apparently made up of “common letters” but could only be understood by the initiated reader:

  • 32 Ibid., [sig. A5v].

[…]: who so shall read thy Book,
Will think a Sybil pen’d it, and will look
For some t’interpret it: […]
I’le say but this: (Others have praised you more, and better)
Thou writ’st in Characters, though with a common Letter.32

34Authors of literary characters defined their art in a somewhat contradictory manner: they intended to write in an intelligibly enough way to be understood by all but they also wanted their work to be perceived as uncommon, new and original. In 1631, Richard Brathwaite published his Whimsies; or, a New Cast of Characters. By presenting his work as whimsical and “new”, Brathwaite emphasized the originality and the peculiarity of his characters rather than their universality. This did not prevent him from condemning the affectation of “singularitie” in the opening “Epistle Dedicatorie” of his book:

  • 33 Richard Brathwaite, Whimsies; or, a New Cast of Characters, London, F[elix] K[ingston], 1631, “The (...)

35Strong lines have been in request, but they grow disrelishing, because they smelled too much of the Lampe and opinionate singularitie. Clinchings likewise were held nimble flashes; but affectation spoyl’d all, and discovered their levitie. Characterisme holds good concurrence, and runnes with the smoothest current in this age; so it bee not wrapp’d up in too much ambiguitie. Hee writes best, that affects least; and effects most. For such as labor too intentively to please none but themselves, they for most part make it their labour to please none but themselves.33

36Authors had to write for others and not only for themselves: affected “strong lines” and spectacular closes lacked actual weight and they would not have any proper “effect” on the reader. The success of character-writing as a literary form (“Characterisme holds good concurrence, and runnes with the smoothest current in this age”) could only be maintained and increased by avoiding any kind of “ambiguity” of meaning. Authors could write in “characters” as long as these made “common” sense.

  • 34 “I have read of many Essaies, and a kinde of Charactering of them, by such, as when I lookt into th (...)
  • 35 Ibid., [sig. A6].

37Nicholas Breton’s Characters upon Essaies Morall, published in 1615, were dedicated to Francis Bacon who according to Breton mastered better than any other author the art of “charactering” essays.34 In his address to the reader, Breton expressed the idea that the understanding of his art was reserved to the happy few, in terms very similar to those used more than forty years later by Flatman’s university wits: “Read what you list, and understand what you can: Characters are not every mans construction, though they be writ in our mother tongue: and what I have written, being of no other nature, if they please not your humor, they may please a better.”35

38Breton acknowledged that his book was not intended for all: only those who were well-read enough would be able to decipher his meaning. But this elitist approach to the art of character-writing was undermined by Breton giving a rural man the opportunity to protest against such refinement in his slightly later book entitled The Country and the City. In this dialogue between a “courtier” and a “countryman”, the opposition between base and elevated forms of writing was challenged by the peasant’s defense of good sense and common understanding. The references to the “disciphering of characters” showed that Breton could distance himself – if not sincerely, then at least ironically - from a genre which he himself practised.

39The courtier’s excessive pride in the gentlemanly “delights of the Spirit” and his flourid language made him sound like an ostentatious snob. A truly cultivated man would not have felt like him the need to crush other people under the weight of his intellectual and literary skills:

  • 36 Nicolas Breton, The Court and Country, or, A Brief discourse dialoguewise set downe betweene a Cour (...)

Furthermore, for knowledge, we have the due consideration of occurrents, the disciphering of Characters, enditing of letters, hearing of orations, delivering of messages, congratulating of Princes, and the forme of ambassages, all which are such delights of the Spirit, as makes a shadow of that man, that hath not a mind from the multitude to looke into the nature of the Spirits honour.36

  • 37 Ibid., [sig. B8v].

40Breton’s lengthy enumeration of the courtier’s various occupations pictured him as a vain busy-body rather than as a superior servant of the “Spirits honour”. The peasant was accordingly presented as unimpressed by this spectacular display of intellectual riches: “Doe you thinke so much of your strength as to remove a Mil-stone with your little finger; or are you so perswaded of your wit, that with a word of your mouth you can take away the strength of understanding?”37

  • 38 “To tell truth, few words and plaine, and to the purpose, is better for our understanding, then to (...)

41The peasant pitched the courtier’s elegant but superfluous literary activities against his own “plain language” and common sense.38 As for the art of character-writing, he assigned it to the realm of dark sciences and devilish studies. Those who practised it were impostors who pretended to unveil the hidden significations of nature and were thus guilty of the sin of hubris:

  • 39 Ibid., [sig. C4v].

Now for disciphering Characters, I have heard my father say in the old time, that they were accounted little better then conjurations, in which were written the names of Divels that the Colledge of Hel used to conjure up in the World, and belong’d onely to the study of Sorcerers, Witches, Wizards, and such wicked wretches, as not caring for the plaine word of God, goe with scratches of the Divels clawes into hell. Now letters of darkenes devised by the Devil for the followers of his disignes in the course of his deceipt: honest men in the country love to meddle with no such matters […].39

  • 40 Ibid., sig. D.

42Stylistic obscurity was rejected as the sign of dark and devilish purposes, and the art of character-writing as at odds with the peasant’s “honest” approach to the “word of God”. Unlike traditional caveats which helped readers to find their way through the dangerous streets of the city, such intellectual mazes could only be misleading: “I hold it a fine quality to discipher a Character, and lay open a knave: But for us in the country, wee love no such braine-labours as may bring our wits into such a wood, that we know not how to get out of it.”40

  • 41 Ibid., [sig. B8v].

43The peasant was however surprisingly well-read for someone who claimed to be merely concerned with “plaine matters”: “I will say as one Dante, an Italian Poet, once said in an obscure Booke of his, Understand me that can, I understand myselfe: And though my Countrey booke be written in a rough hand, yet I can read it and picke such matter out of it as shall serve the turne for my instruction.”41 Breton’s characters of the “courtier” and “countryman” were not the actual illustration of a debate between the city and the country. They were rather the metaphorical illustration of an internal debate which took place in the genre of characters itself, between “plain” and “obscure” style. The author’s voice could be heard in both characters.

“In a word, he is the Suburbs of a Poet”: satirical representations of cheap print and street literature

“Vile tunes” and “dreggs of wit”: satirical characters of writers before and after the Civil War

  • 42 On the subject of early modern English pamphlets, see Claire Gheeraert-Graffeuille, “Satire et diff (...)

44The genre of characters featured two types of fictional “writers”: writers of “characters” and writers of other literary genres. By representing writers of “characters”, authors defined their own work through a process of self-reflection. Other characters of writers however were mostly satirical: authors defined themselves in opposition to them. Interestingly, the internal tension between “plain” and “obscure” style was exteriorized in the satire of literary genres which authors of characters represented as stylistically base. The genre of characters was thus implicitly defined as “elevated” in opposition to cheaper forms of print such as ballads, pamphlets, libels, diurnals, almanacs, prognostications and other kinds of “vulgar” broadsides.42

45In 1657 an anonymous work was published with the title Two Essays of Love and Marriage, Being a letter written by a Gentleman to his Friend, to disswade him from Love, and an answer thereunto by another Gentleman. Together with some characters and other Passages of Wit. Written by Private Gentleman for recreation. Unsurprisingly, the character of the “Ballad-maker” which followed the two essays was of a satirical nature. It offered the point of view of a “gentleman” on a form of literary and musical invention which he thought lacked the refinement of his own productions:

  • 43 Anon., Two Essays of Love and Marriage, Being a letter written by a Gentleman to his Friend, to dis (...)

[He] Is a volume of Rime composed by the hand of nonsense; or a musicall Instrument, not yet tun’d. […] He is a second Charon; for none are wafted over by the way of Tyburn, but he receives money for their passage. He exceedingly longs for Blazing stars, Earthquakes, Dearths, or strange accidents. […] His companions call him Poet at every word, but ‘tis in jeer […]. There is many a man that is made a Martyr by his elegies; wherein his Encomiasticks persecute the very ashes, and hypocritically tear the dead body of Hercules with a smiling countenance. In a word, he is the Suburbs of a Poet; whose Sepulchre is the stocks, and his Monument a Pillory.43

  • 44 Two Essays of Love, op. cit. , p. 91. “the Brethren”: “in N.T. the members of the early Christian c (...)

46The ballad-maker was satirized both for his lack of literary and musical skills and for the baseness of the themes he dealt with. The author denounced the immorality of his trade, which thrived on vain superstitions, imprisonment of criminals and death; the image of the stocks and pillory emphasized the criminality of ballad-making and suggested that the ballad-maker’s taste for lucrative spectacles could only be redeemed by his spectacular punishment. The author furthermore denounced the politically subversive nature of ballads and the illegality of their independent connections: “The Brethren keep constant correspondancy with him, that he may compose their Libels into Metre; and being whipt or Pillory’d for it, he rejoyceth, saying that he suffers for the Truth.”44

47In her essay entitled “Political Cobblers and Broadside Ballads in Late Seventeenth-Century England”, Angela Mc Shane has shown that there existed two types of ballads, the “white-letter” ballad and the “black-letter” ballad. Their format was consistently linked to a certain determined content:

  • 45 Angela McShane,“‘Ne sutor ultra crepidam’: Political Cobblers and Broadside Ballads in Late Sevente (...)

From the mid-seventeenth century, political ballads came in two distinct product types. Many hundreds were printed in ‘white letter’ (for example, printed in roman type in a two-column portrait format), a category of ballad product that until the 1680s was almost exclusively political in content, often highly satirical and directed at a well-informed and well-read audience. These ballads mostly represented the partisan views of political groups in London. […] ‘Black-letter’ ballads were printed in ‘gothic’ type in a three- or four- column landscape format. They were usually illustrated by crude woodcuts and were highly diverse in subject matter. At least seven hundred black-letter ballads dealing with public affairs were published from the 1640s to the 1690s. […] analysis of ballad sheets shows that for most of the seventeenth century they flowed in established, observable courses that linked styles and level of political content with product types.45

  • 46 Two Essays of Love and Marriage, op. cit. , p. 91.
  • 47 Ibid., p. 92.

48The ballads satirized in the anonymous character of a “Ballad-maker” were probably “black-letter” ballads. The author insisted on the various subjects broached by the ballad-maker and showed that his concerns were not exclusively political: “He is in pay by the country wenches, to write Love Stories to lamentable tunes, which they sing to the Cows, and make them weep milk, tears to hear them.”46 He also alluded to the woodcuts which usually served as illustrations to “black-letter” ballads: “He like the Emblematists, is beholden to an Engraver; but only his wood carver hath certain common places; a man and a woman serve like Panpharmacons, for all occasions.”47 The author compared the ballad-maker’s work to that of the “emblematists”, however, only to demonstrate the former’s artistic inferiority: his illustrations relied on recurring “common places” which lacked visual originality and thematic inventiveness.

  • 48 Joad Raymond has analyzed the early modern development of pamphlets in the context of contemporary (...)
  • 49 John Earle’s Micro-cosmographie, or, a peece of the world discovered: in essayes and characters was (...)

49The appearance of characters satirizing ballad-makers and other authors of pamphlets and broadsides followed the historical development of cheaper forms of writing during periods of political turmoil and in particular during the Civil War.48 Characters of this type existed before the outbreak of the War, but the polemics that attended the conflict seem to have hastened their further development and the evolution of their format. Interestingly, John Earle’s character of a “Pot-poet” was published before the War in Earle’s “book of characters” and republished afterwards as a pamphlet.49

  • 50 See for instance Thomas Heywood, Philocothonista, or the Drunkard, Opened, Dissected and Anatomized (...)

50In his character of the “Pot-poet”, Earle relied on contemporary satires of heavy drinking to strengthen his case against cheap forms of writing. He seems to have coined the expression “pot-poet” on the model of contemporary expressions referring to a drinking companion or drunkard: “pot-companion”, “pot-ally” or “potknight”. “Pot-wit” was also used to describe a person who was witty while drinking, or who became witty when inebriated (see OED, s.v. “pot”). Caricatural descriptions of drunkards were commonplace in character-books and other forms of literature: they were a vivid source of comic and an excellent illustration of characters determined by a “humour” which affected their body in excess.50 In his character of a “Tavern”, Earle did not harshly condemn the practice of drinking on moral grounds but rather satirized it as the sign of an ineluctable “nature”: drinkers just could not help it.

  • 51 John Earle Micro-cosmographie, or, a peece of the world discovered: in essayes and characters, Lond (...)

51By drawing a parallel between beer-drinking and ballad-writing, the author presented the latter process as an ineluctable flow which authors could not contain: “[He] is the dreggs of wit […] His Verses run like the Tap, and his invention as the Barrell, ebs and flowes at the mercy of the spiggot. In thin drinke hee aspires not aboue a Ballad, but a cup of Sacke inflames him, and sets his Muse and Nose a fire together.”51 The condemnation of cheap literary forms was somewhat alleviated by the description of their authors as comic figures who could not give up their caricatural habits. But the image of the “dreggs” underlined the baseness of resulting poetic productions, whose quality could be only slightly improved through the absorption of stronger drinks:

  • 52 John Earle, Micro-cosmographie, op. cit. , [sig. E9 v].

The Presse is his Mint, and stamps him now and then a sixe pence or two in reward of the baser coyne his Pamphlet. His works would scarce sell for three halfe pence, though they are oftentimes given for three shillings, but only for the prety title that allures the Country Gentlemen, and for which the Printer maintains him in Ale a whole fortnight.52

52The image of the printing press as a mint allowed Earle to condemn the immoral financial motivations of the “Pot-poet”. But his pamphlets had very little worth - the extended metaphor of the mint defined them as “baser coyne” - and the pot-poet only managed to make some money thanks to his alluring titles, which attracted a gentlemanly audience and allowed him to buy the beer he needed for further inspiration.

53The main type of writing which this “Pot-poet” seemed to practise was the ballad. It was in fact the main form explicitly mentioned and described in his “character”. The recurrence of similar images in the character of a “Ballad-maker” published in 1657 shows that Earle’s character of a “Pot-poet” possibly served as an inspiration for the author of the later character:

  • 53 Ibid., [sig. E10]. The only two variations which occur in the 1642 edition are to be found in this (...)

His Verses are like his clothes, miserable Cento’s and patches, yet their pace is not altogether so hobbling as an Almanacks. […] His frequent’st Workes goe out in single sheets, and are chanted from market to market, to a vile tune, and a worse throat, whilst the poore Country wench melts like her butter to heare them. And these are the Stories of some men of Tyburne, or a strange Monster out of Germany.53

54The “vile tune” was a perfect accompaniment for the “baseness” of the lines. Indeed the poet’s broadsides (“His works goe out in single sheets”) dealt mostly with the popular themes of country love, daunting prisons and curious monsters. The etymology of the word “cento” referred both to a patched garment and to the title of a poem made of various verses (see OED, s.v. “cento”). The pot-poet’s trite verses were thus a reflection of his miserable rags: he collected them on the street where nobler poets had discarded them as hackneyed and valueless. This conveyed the idea that the pot-poet was a fraud who did not write his ballads himself: his “pamphlets” and “ballads” were a patch-work of stolen property.

  • 54 “I have (for once) adventurd to play the Mid-wifes part, helping to bring forth these Infants into (...)

55Earle’s character of a “Pot-poet” was ironically republished in 1642 under the independent form of a pamphlet. This reinforced the initial irony of the publication of “characters” which the author supposedly did not intend to publish. In the address “To the Reader Gentile or Gentle” of his 1628 edition, Earle claimed that he had written his characters “for his private recreation” and had only published them in manuscript form until their increased circulation had put him at risk of seeing his own work sent to the press without his assent.54 The publication of his character of the “Pot-poet” in the very visible format of a pamphlet however suggests that Earle had all the way wanted his work to enter the public realm through print.

“Wit’s Squint-Ey’d Maid”: satirizing the polemical practice of pamphleteering during the Civil War

  • 55 Anon., A Character of the New Oxford Libeller, In answer to his Character of A London diurnall, Lon (...)

56In 1644, John Cleveland published The Character of a London-Diurnall, a pamphlet which satirized pamphlet-makers and more specifically writers of diurnals. This was followed by a series of anonymous answers which vindicated the character of the diurnal-maker lampooned by John Cleveland. One of them was entitled A Character of the New Oxford Libeller, In answer to his Character of A London diurnall. This pamphlet pointed out the irony of an author’s satirizing a form which he himself practised, labeling John Cleveland “the New Oxford libeller”.55

  • 56 “diurnal”: 2. “A book for daily use, a day-book, diary; esp. a record of daily occurrences, a journ (...)

57In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the noun “diurnall” could refer either to a daily diary or (as was the case here) to a newspaper published daily or at short periodical intervals.56 The way in which Cleveland defined it could justly have earned him the praises for “obscurity” which Flatman received from Oxford a few years later:

  • 57 John Cleveland, The Character of a London-Diurnall: with severall Poems, optima et novissima editio (...)

A Diurnall is a puny Chronicle, scarce pin-feather’d with the wings of time: It is an Historie in Sippets; The English Iliads in a nut-shell; the Apocryphall Parliaments book of Maccabees in single sheets. It would tire a Welch-pedigree, to reckon how many aps’tis removed from an Annall: For it is of that Extract; onely of the younger House, like a Shrimp to a Lobster.57

58Unlike the classical form of the epic, which encompassed large stretches of history, the diurnal focused on circumscribed moments in time and its chronology was not fully fledged. Diurnals were furthermore of an apocryphal or spurious nature, since it was often difficult to identify their actual authors, and they consequently deserved to be excluded from the sacred canon of literature.

  • 58 A Character of the New Oxford Libeller, op. cit. , p. 5. This was a direct answer to Cleveland’s co (...)

59The polemical exchange prompted by the publication of Cleveland’s pamphlet illustrated the opposition between “low” and “elevated” forms of literary productions. Whereas Cleveland condemned diurnal-writers as unrefined, the anonymous authors’ strategy amounted to identifying their divergence with Cleveland as one between the city of London and Oxford, the old university where wit could be purchased with land: “And so farewell, Canis ad Nilum, with your snatches, and your ink that cures Ringworms; would it would cure the pox, that you might pleasure your friends, and redeem your land with your wit, as you purchased your wit with your land.”58

  • 59 For a definition of this form of conservatism, see Andrew Sharp, Political Ideas of the English Civ (...)

60The opposition between “base” London and “refined” Oxford was of course caricatural. Cleveland and those who answered him shared a common language and their writings were all equally witty, obscure and to some extent “elevated”. But Cleveland’s satire could however be metaphorically read as a conservative opposition to the passing of time which diurnals recorded.59 His enemies stood politically for those forces of change which he strongly opposed. Cleveland thus ranted at Cromwell, whom he thought diurnal-writers only too blindly praised:

  • 60 John Cleveland, op. cit. , p. 7.

This is he [Cromwell], that hath put out one of the Kingdomes eyes, by clouding our Mother-University, and (if the Scotch mist further prevaile) will extinguish this other; He hath the like quarrel to both; because both are strung with the same Optick nerve, knowing loyalty. Barbarous Rebell! Who will be revenged upon all Learning, because his treason is beyond the mercy of the Book.60

61Cleveland was alluding here to Cromwell’s attack on the royalist stronghold of Oxford as well as to his election as Member for Cambridge in the Long Parliament of 1640. Cleveland had become a fellow of St John’s College in 1634 but his opposition to Cromwell’s election caused him to lose his seat in 1645.

  • 61 “The Countesse of Zealand was brought to bed of an Almanach; as many children, as daies in the year (...)
  • 62 Ibid., p. 2.

62Cleveland’s judgment on the diurnal format was in fact entirely political. He rejected parliamentarian newsbooks such as Mercurius Civicus or Marchmont Nedham’s Mercurius Britannicus as worthless publications.61 Royalist newsbooks such as Mercurius Aulicus however did not fall prey to such criticism: “It [the diurnal] differs from an Aulicus, as the Devill and his Exorcist; or as black witch doth from a white one, whose office is to unravell her inchantements.”62 The royalist newsbook was no less a “diurnal” than Mercurius Britannicus and other similar “mercuries”. Cleveland’s satire of certain formats was in reality an undisguised attack on their political content.

  • 63 Ibid., p. 8.
  • 64 The image of “impostumated Fancies” conveys the idea of a diseased imagination swollen by pride. “i (...)

63This was shown again in the last lines of his “character”: “The Victories of the Rebels are like the Magicall combate of Apuleius; who, thinking he had slain three of his ennemies, found them at last, but a Triumvirate of Bladders. Such, and so empty, are the Triumphs of a Diurnall: but so many impostumated Fancies, so many bladders of their own blowing.”63 The only “diurnals” at stake here were those issued by rebellious authors. Such publications formed an abscess of delirious ideas which required the intervention of efficient surgery in order to save the body of the state from lethal contamination.64

64The anonymous author of the answer to Cleveland entitled A Character of the New Oxford Libeller intended to show that Cleveland’s satire was “a bladder of his own blowing.” Cleveland was metaphorically described as a base or “lousy” ballad-maker who had lost his former nobility by trying to participate in political debates which he was unable to understand:

  • 65 A Character of the New Oxford Libeller, op. cit. , p. 1.

He is a Gentleman growne lousie, not in the noble way of Arms, but with singing Ballads: time was, when he wore himself out at Elbows with fine cloathes, to bee cried up by the Women, and stiled a Wit […]. The word Legislative hee takes to bee a Fiddle-string, and is always scraping upon it […].65

  • 66 Ibid., p. 5.
  • 67 Ibid., p. 5. “snatch”: 8. “A short passage, a few words, of a song, etc.; a small portion, a few ba (...)

65Cleveland’s style was described as resembling the trifling “diddle-diddle” sound of a fiddle: “I will make bold to borrow one of your diddles to lap a token of my love to him [Mercurius Aulicus] in.”66 His writing was further referred to as a series of “snatches”, a word which suggested both the diminutive nature of his satire and its equivocal content: “And so farewell, Canis ad Nilum, with your snatches, and your ink that cures Ringworms.”67

  • 68 The noun “squib” here refers to “A smart gird or hit; a sharp scoff or sarcasm; a short composition (...)

66Cleveland’s case was reiterated in an anonymous pamphlet published in 1647, A fresh whip for all scandalous Lyers, or, a True description of the two eminent Pamphliteers, or Squibtellers of this Kingdome. With a Plaine and true Relation of their Tricks and Devices wherewith they use to couzen and cheate the Commonwealth. Once again, the author borrowed the weapons of the enemy by issuing his satire against “squibtellers” in the form of a pamphlet.68

  • 69 Anon., A fresh whip for all scandalous Lyers, or, a True description of the two eminent Pamphliteer (...)
  • 70 “Now I must doe as many false Prognosticators mistake, or skip three dayes in the change of the moo (...)
  • 71 A fresh whip, op. cit. , p. 6.

67Ironically, the chronological narrative method of the “diurnall-writer” required that the anonymous author should start by the description of his very character: “I must beginne with the Diurnall-Writer first, as indeed order it selfe doth enjoyne me, by the constant course of the dayes in the week; and whose large volumne is issued out every Munday morning.”69 The author then followed the example of “false Prognosticators” in moving on directly to the description of the character of the “perfect Occurrence writer” whose newsbook came out on Fridays.70 He eventually had to put an abrupt end to his satire of pamphleteers in order to remain within the compass of a single broadsheet: “I could inlarge my selfe a great deale more, but I would keepe within the compasse of my sheete.”71 The underlying irony of a satire which used the very forms and methods it satirized was thus recurrently hinted at by the author himself.

68Both the “diurnal-writer” and the “perfect Occurrence writer” fell under the accusation of theft which writers of street literature were commonly subject to. The images of base scavenging employed here were very similar to those used by Earle in his character of the “Pot-poet”:

  • 72 Ibid., p. 1. “Fogging scrivoners” were writers who acted in a pettifogging manner. see “fogger”: †1 (...)

I may not unfitly tearme him [the diurnal-writer] to be the chiefe Dirt-raker, or Scafinger of the City; for whatever any other books lets fall, he will be sure, by his troting horse, and ambling Booke-sellers have it convey’d to his wharf or rubbish, and then he will as a many petty fogging scrivoners do (I may not exempt himselfe out of the profession) put out here and there to alter the sence of the Relation; and then he shelters it under the title of a new and perfect Diurnall.72

69Both writers could trick their customers into believing that the lines they had stolen were their own, and brand new. The fact that the aim of these pettifogging writers was not literary distinction but immediate gain explained the low quality of their productions:

  • 73 Ibid., p. 6.

He [the occurrence writer] hath an excellent faculty to put a new title to an old book, and he wil be sure to put more in the Title-page then in the whole book besides. […] For his Friday Occurrences he takes a deale of paines to keep up the sale of them, he doth as many times Grocers use to do by their mouldy, musty ware, take and shake them together with a new glosse of honey, and they will passe as if they came newly over. So when he hath compacted all his Rubbish or Ribaldry together, he will set them off with an Order or Ordinance of Parliament.73

70As in the case of Cleveland’s character, the satire was here political. The “occurrence writer” was presented as a despicable member of the working class whose “scurrilous pamphlets” threatened the health of the kingdom:

  • 74 Ibid., p. 4.

He was an Ironmonger in St Martins by his trade, where having but little trading for his Tinkerly ware, fell to this trade of misinforming; and so by his venomous pen framing, and his chafing dishes of hell, hee hath bestrowed the whole City, nay the whole Kingdome with unsavoury languages, and burning coales of contention.74

  • 75 “pasquin”: “The person popularly supposed to be represented by a statue in Rome on which satirical (...)

71These few examples demonstrate that the polemical atmosphere of the Civil War played a key role in the development of “characters” satirizing writers of cheap forms of literature. But such satirical pamphlets survived the War and were revived in later and very different historical contexts. For example, 1681 saw the publication of The Character of Wit’s Squint-Ey’d Maid. Pasquil Makers. The etymology of the word “pasquill” or “pasquin” referred to an imaginary person to whom anonymous lampoons were ascribed and subsequently to a composer of lampoons.75 The choice of a Latin word which alluded to the classical practice of satirical verses was particularly appropriate considering that the “character” itself was composed in verses: here again the anonymous author’s work was an ironical reflection of the literary productions he satirized. The overall tone of this character was nostalgic rather than polemical. The author lamented the bygone golden days of noble folios which had been supplanted by flying broadsheets and other such “spurious” productions:

  • 76 Anon., The Character of Wit’s Squint-Ey’d Maid. Pasquil Makers, London, W. Davis, 1681, p. 1.

The Curat poor Soul now goes to the Streets,
His Bibliothèque buyes in their loose sheets.
Nothing of volums in Folio are sold,
The Stationers books moth eaten and old.
What charming spells their giddy heads bewitch?
Is it to make the Printer only rich?
Or to encourage Heteroclite Wrens,
To spit the spurious products of their pens?
Each jester now who scarce his Grammar knows,
Sets pamphlets forth, and Satyres blows.76

  • 77 Ibid.
  • 78 “This World is full of a preposterous chat, / Our English writers all are Transmigrate. / In Pamphl (...)

72The only things kept from the past were those which had never been of any literary value, such as popular ballads for instance - and even then the “ancient” was deprecated as writers attempted to give out-of-date themes a fake aspect of novelty: “This is the method of the moddish times, / Renews old songs, Revives old rotten Rimes.”77 The present was but a degraded and vulgar imitation of the glorious past, which it could only lifelessly repeat without ever reviving it; new writers’ “spurious” productions were nothing but monstrous accumulations of scraps stolen from various authors.78 These “preposterous” hoaxers would however eventually receive their due and this “canke’rd age” would thus be delivered from one of its main pests:

  • 79 Ibid.

But theeves bewar, and now about yee look.
There comes a search for stolen goods, and so
You must to Newgate, or to Bridewell goe,
Jack Ketch in end pleads for a snatch of those,
Puts Hempen Spectacles upon their Nose.79

  • 80 The word “snatch” is used in the literal sense of “A hasp, catch, or fastening.”; “A trap, snare, e (...)

73The author’s play on words and images conveyed the idea that criminal writers would in the end be entangled in their own “snatches” (“Jack Ketch in end pleads for a snatch of those”) and that the noose of the hanging rope would at last open their blind men’s eyes (“Puts Hempen Spectacles upon their Nose.”)80

74By violently censoring certain texts, state powers indirectly acknowledged the political strength of those texts. In the same way, satirical characters of writers were an indirect recognition of the power of writers, who could indeed change the world with a stroke of their pen. In the genre of seventeenth-century English literary characters, writers were alternatively represented as powerful demiurges transcribing the signs of nature in their valuable folios or as base pamphleteers engaging in vulgar political debates by spreading their broadsides on the streets. Writers had the power to create the world anew in their microcosmic books or bring it down in ruins by their seditious libels.

  • 81 Roger Chartier, Culture écrite et société, L’ordre des livres (XIVème-XVIIIème siècle), Paris, Edit (...)

75We have shown that character-writing was a highly self-reflexive genre, which defined itself by representing the act of writing both in its paratext and within the text itself. As we have seen, however, the genre defined itself best in opposition to other genres which it satirized as literarily and socially inferior. Roger Chartier has argued that “popular” culture is a scholarly category and that the point of view adopted in defining and describing it was always that of scholars.81 By satirizing “base” pamphleteers, Oxford wits thus intended to demonstrate the superiority of higher forms of literature.

  • 82 “Les stratégies éditoriales engendrent donc, de manière non sue, non point un élargissement progres (...)

76According to Chartier, the idea of an opposition between scholarly and “popular” culture was further reflected in the increasing separation between different types of published matter. Books which were nobly bound and carefully preserved contrasted with ephemeral and roughly-made forms.82 The fact that Oxford wits published their satirical characters as pamphlets shows that “popular” print was sometimes a scholarly product. Ironically, satirical characters of writers were thus as self-reflexive as laudatory ones: by lampooning the practice of libels in their pamphlets, authors of characters unwittingly satirized themselves.

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Notes

1 “The celebration last year of the Tercentenary of Dr. Bright’s work on Characterie, the first English Shorthand, has given such an impetus to the study of stenographic history and development, […] that I need offer no excuse for reprinting so rare a book, only one copy of which is known to be in existence. In every detail I have followed the original, preserving the exact spacing and pagination, as well as the quaint old-style spelling, using also an almost identical fount of letters specially obtained for the purpose, but substituting engraved characters for the rapidly fading pen and ink stenograms in the original […].” Timothy Bright, Characterie, an arte of shorte, swifte and secrete writing by character, London, Lond. J. Windet, 1588, a reprint edited by James Herbert Ford, Ulverstone, W. Holmes, 1888. This introductory note can be found on the inside cover of the copy of the book held at the British Library.

2 Ibid., “Dedicatorie to Elizabeth, Queene of England, Fraunce, and Ireland”, sig. A3. See also Edmund Willis, An abreviation of writing by character: wherein is summarily conteyned a table which is an abstract of the whole art with plaine & easie rules for the speedie performance thereof without any other tutor, London, George Purslow, 1618.

3 “On a voulu voir au XVIIème siècle une ‘rupture épistémologique’ entre un édifice d’analogies empilées et l’univers ‘infini’, ouvert, propice à la science qui aurait tout soudain éveillé la raison du long sommeil qui lui faisait confondre les mots et les choses, dans une forêt immobile où les choses elles-mêmes se faisaient entre elles écho. En réalité, cet enchantement était rompu depuis longtemps. Il l’était dès lors que les ‘Lettres’ étaient comprises comme une histoire des mots et des langues, dont les variations, les vicissitudes dans le temps étaient comme une Enéide du Verbe, qui avait commencé sitôt la chute de la Troie hiéroglyphique. Et même dans cette Troie des Sages, les ‘hiéroglyphiques’ ne se ‘ressemblaient’ pas. […] et lorsqu’ils laissaient croire à une ressemblance, […] c’était pour mieux cacher leur véritable sens, interdit aux esprits grossiers incapables d’herméneutique et donc d’anamnèse. ” Marc Fumaroli, “Hiéroglyphiques et Lettres: la ‘Sagesse mystérieuse des Anciens’ au XVIIème siècle”, Hiéroglyphiques, Langages Chiffrés, Sens Mystérieux au XVIIème siècle, XVIIème siècle, n°158, 1988 n°1, p. 7-19, here p. 11.

4 John Bullokar, An English Expositor: Teaching the Interpretation of the hardest words used in our Language. With sundry explications, descriptions, and discourses, by J.B. doctor of Physicke, London, John Legatt, 1616, “To the Reader”, [sig.A3v]. See also Edward Coote, The English school-master, teaching all his scholars, of what age soever, the most easie, short, and perfect order of distinct reading, and true writing our English tongue, that hath ever yet be knowne, or published by any. And further also, teacheth a direct course, how any unskillful person may easily both understand any hard English words, which they shall in Scripture, Sermons, or else-where hear or read: and also made able to use the same aptly themselves […], London, Company of Stationers, 1656, “To The Reader”, [sig. A3]: “I am inforced of necessity, to affect that plain rudenesse, which may fit the capacity of those persons with whom I have to deal; the learned sort are able to understand my purpose, and to teach the treatise without further directions. I am now therefore to direct my speech to the unskillful, which desire to make use of it for their private benefit, and to such men and women of trade, as Taylors, Weavers, Shop-keepers, Seamsters, and such others, as have undertaken the charge of teaching others.”

5 John Bullokar, op. cit. , [sig. D4v].

6 Ibid.

7 “Le paratexte est donc pour nous ce par quoi un texte se fait livre et se propose comme tel à ses lecteurs, et plus généralement au public. Plus que d’une limite ou d’une frontière étanche, il s’agit ici d’un seuil, ou – mot de Borges à propos d’une préface – d’un ‘vestibule’ qui offre à tout un chacun la possibilité d’entrer, ou de rebrousser chemin.” Genette, Gérard Genette, Seuils, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1987, p. 8.

8 “Si l’on ôte de beaucoup d’ouvrages de morale l’avertissement au lecteur, l’épître dédicatoire, la préface, la table, les approbations, il reste à peine assez de pages pour mériter le nom de livre.” Jean de La Bruyère, Les Caractères de Théophraste traduits du grec avec Les Caractères ou les Mœurs de ce siècle, Ed. Jean Garapon, Paris, Editions Garnier, 1962, Des Ouvrages de l’Esprit, 6 (1), p. 68.

9 Joseph Hall, Characters of Vertues and Vices, In Two Bookes, London, Melchior Bradwood, 1608, [sig. A5].

10 Wye Saltonstall, Picturae Loquentes, or Pictures drawn forth in Characters, with a Poeme of a Maid, London, Tho. Cotes, 1631, “The Dedicatory”, sig. A4.

11 Michael Bath, Speaking Pictures. English Emblem-Books and Renaissance Culture, Harlow, Longman, 1994, p. 2. See also Anne-Elizabeth Spica, Symbolique humaniste et emblématique: l’évolution et les genres (1580-1700), Paris, Honoré Champion, 1996.

12 Wye Saltonstall, op. cit. , sig. A3.

13 “Thy ignorance may challenge libertie enough, not to relish the deepe Arte of Poetry [...]. For when thou readest a quaffing fellowes barbarisme, a worthy-written stile, in Tragedies, and a conclusive flourish onely fronted with the name excellent; thou over-lookst them with the usuall contempt, or aspersion of frivolous, and phantasticke labours […].” Thomas Overbury, A wife now the widdow of Sir Thomas Overburye: Being a most exquisite and singular Poeme, of the choyce of a Wife; Whereunto are added many witty Characters, and conceyted newes, written by himself, and other learned gentlemen his Friendes, London, Edward Griffin, 1614, “The Printer to the Reader”, sig. A2.

14 Ibid., [sig. A2v].

15 Samuell Person, An Anatomical Lecture of Man, or a Map of the Little World, Delineated in Essayes and Characters, London, T. Mabb, 1664, “Character of a Character”, [sig. B2v]. “brachygraphy”: “The art or practice of writing with abbreviations or with abbreviated characters; shorthand, stenography.” (OED)

16 “Pour la rhétorique, la brièveté ne s’est jamais définie par la seule dimension de l’énoncé. Si, à une première approche, la brevitas s’oppose bien chez Quintilien à la copia et chez Tacite à l’ubertas, elle se signale surtout par la densité d’une forme qui dit beaucoup en peu de mots.”, Jean Lafond, “Des formes brèves de la littérature morale aux XVIème et XVIIème siècles.” in Jean Lafond, ed., Des Formes brèves de la prose et le discours discontinu (XVIème-XVIIème siècles), Paris, Vrin, 1984, p. 101-122, here p. 101.

17 Richard Flecknoe, Enigmaticall Characters, All Taken to the Life, from Severall Persons, Humours, and Dispositions, being a new work, then new impression of the old, London, R. Wood, 1665, “The Character of a Character”, p. 1.

18 Thomas Dekker, English villanies eight severall times prest to death by the printers, but (still reviving againe) are now the ninth time (as at first) discovered by Lanthorne and candle-light, and the helpe of a new cryer, called O-Per-Se-O: whose lowd voyce proclaimes to all that will heare him, another conspiracie of abuses lately plotting together, to hurt the peace of this kingdome, which the bell-man (because he then went stumbling i’th’ darke) could never see till now: and because a companie of rogues, cunning canting Gypsies, and all the scumme of our nation fight here under their owne tottered colours: at the end is a canting dictionarie, to teach their language with canting songs: a book to make gentlemen merrie, citizens warie, countreymen carefull: fit for all justices to reade over, because it is a pilot, by whom they may make strange discoveries, London, E[lizabeth] P[urslow], 1648.

19 William Fennor, A True Description of the Lawes, Justice and Equity of a Compter, the manner of sitting in counsell of the twelue eldest prisoners. With a character of a jayle and jaylor, and the dispositions of such officers as live in it: the nature of a constable: as also the abuses, offered by beadles and watchmen, that understand not their office, and also A Description of a Sergeant his nature, slights, and properties, and in what fashions they oftentimes apparel themselves. Together with a portraicture of our Moderne-spent Gallants, and their trickes to catch young heires with their lewd and vitious course of life, London, [s.n.], 1629. This was a reissue, with a new title-page, of the sheets of the first edition, which appeared in 1617 under the title The Compters Common-Wealth. The “character of a jayle” only featured in the title of the 1659 edition. Chapter II had however always included “The character of a prison”.

20 See George Mynshul, Essayes and Characters of a Prison and Prisoners, London, [George Eld], 1618.

21 See for instance John Taylor, The Praise and Vertue of a Jayle, and jaylers. With the most excellent Mysterie, and necessary use of all sorts of hanging. Also a touch at Tyburne for a Period, and the Authors free leave to let them be hanged, who are offended at the booke without cause, London, J[ohn] H[aviland], 1623.

22 This is the idea conveyed in the last sentence of the prisoner’s “character of a prison”: “It is a dicing house, where much cheating is used, for there is little square dealing to be had there, yet a man may have what baile hee will for his money.”, William Fennor, op. cit. , p. 10. “baile”: †3. “The charge or friendly custody of a person who otherwise might be kept in prison, upon security given that he shall be forthcoming at a time and place assigned. Obs.” †4. “Temporary delivery or release from imprisonment, on finding sureties or security to appear for trial; also, release, in a more general sense. Obs.”, (OED)

23 William Fennor, op. cit. , p. 9. “angel”: “an old English gold coin, called more fully at first the angel-noble n., being originally a new issue of the Noble, having as its device the archangel Michael standing upon, and piercing the dragon.” (OED)

24 “standish”: “a stand containing ink, pens and other writing materials and accessories / 1590 T. Lodge Rosalynde: Euphues Golden Legacie, Reaching to her standish, she tooke penne and paper, and wrote a letter.” (OED)

25 William Fennor, op. cit. , p. 10.

26 The ESTC records the following editions: 1608; 1609; 1612; 1616; 1620; 1632; 1638; 1640 and 1648. The original title read as follows: The belman of London. Bringing to light the most notorious villanies that are now practised in the kingdome. Profitable for gentlemen, lawyers, merchants, cittizens, farmers, masters of housholdes, and all sorts of servants to mark, and delightfull for all men to reade.

27 Thomas Dekker, op. cit. , “To the Reader”, [sig. A3]. “crossbite”: “To bite the biter; to cheat in return; to cheat by outwitting; to ‘take in’, gull, deceive”; † “crossbiter” Obs.: “one who ‘crossbites’, a swindler / 1592 R. Greene Groats-worth of Witte sig. E2, The legerdemaines of nips, foystes, connycatchers, crosbyters.” (OED)

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid. The sentence “others taught him how to shaddow some of these villanies, by setting off the abuses wet, but not hanging forth the partie for a signe” is somewhat obscure. It possibly indicates that the gentlemen taught the bell-man how to accurately describe the crimes that were being committed in the city without revealing the names of those who committed them. The verb “set off” probably means here “To set in relief, make prominent or conspicuous by contrast”, in which case the adjective “wet” could be a reference to new-printed matter as in the phrase “wet from the press”. The word “partie” probably refers to a person whose name is not given (“party”: 8. a. “The person concerned or in question”) or to an enemy (“party”: 6. †b.“An opponent, antagonist; an enemy or opposing force. Obs.”). The expression “hang forth” suggests that the image of the “signe” is that of the motif or design “attached to or placed in front of an inn, shop, etc., as a means of distinguishing it from others or of indicating the type of business carried on there” (s.v. “sign” 7. a.). But since the meaning is probably that of (not) identifying the person in question, the word “signe” is also to be understood in the sense of “A distinctive emblem or badge borne on a banner, shield, etc., serving to make known the identity or allegiance of its bearer or followers; such an emblem worn as part of a person’s livery or uniform, or as an indication of status” (s.v. “sign” 3. a.). (OED)

30 Thomas Flatman, Naps upon Parnassus: A sleepy muse nipt and pincht, though not awakened such voluntary and jovial copies of verses, as were lately receiv’d from some of the wits of the universities, in a frolick, dedicated to Gondibert’s mistress by Captain Jones and others. Whereunto is added from demonstration of the authors prosaick excellency’s, his epistle to one of the universities, with the answer; together with two satyrical characters of his own, of a temporizer, and an antiquary, with marginal notes by a friend to the reader, London, N. Brook, 1658, “Incerti Authoris. Upon the incomparable, and inimitable Author, and his obscure Poems”, [sig. A4v].

31 Ibid., “To his Ingenuous Friend, the unknown Authour of the following Poems”, [sig. A5].

32 Ibid., [sig. A5v].

33 Richard Brathwaite, Whimsies; or, a New Cast of Characters, London, F[elix] K[ingston], 1631, “The Epistle Dedicatorie. to his much honoured friend, Sir Alexander Radcliffe”, [sig. A5v].

34 “I have read of many Essaies, and a kinde of Charactering of them, by such, as when I lookt into the forme, or nature of their writing, I have beene of the conceit, that they were but Imitators of your breaking the ice to their inventions […]”, Nicholas Breton, Characters upon Essaies Morall, and Divine, written for those goode spirits, that will take them in goode part, and make use of them to good purpose, London, Edward Griffin, 1615, “To The Honorable, and my much worthy honored, truly learned, and Judicious Knight, Sr Francis Bacon”, sig. A3.

35 Ibid., [sig. A6].

36 Nicolas Breton, The Court and Country, or, A Brief discourse dialoguewise set downe betweene a Courtier and a Countryman. Contayning the manner and condition of their lives, with many delectable and pithy sayings worthy of observation. Also, necessary notes for a courtier, London, G. Eld, 1618, [sig. B3v].

37 Ibid., [sig. B8v].

38 “To tell truth, few words and plaine, and to the purpose, is better for our understanding, then to goe about with words to tell a long tale to little end. Now if we cannot write, we have the Clerke of the church, or the Schoolemaster of the towne to helpe us, who for our plaine matters will serve our turnes wel enough […].”, Ibid., [sig. Dv].

39 Ibid., [sig. C4v].

40 Ibid., sig. D.

41 Ibid., [sig. B8v].

42 On the subject of early modern English pamphlets, see Claire Gheeraert-Graffeuille, “Satire et diffusion des idées dans la littérature pamphlétaire à l’aube de la guerre civile anglaise, 1640-1642”, La Littérature Pamphlétaire à l’Age Classique, XVIIème siècle, n° 195, 1997 n°2, p. 281-296 as well as Alexandra Halasz, The Marketplace of Print: Pamphlets and the Public Sphere in Early Modern England, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

43 Anon., Two Essays of Love and Marriage, Being a letter written by a Gentleman to his Friend, to disswade him from Love, and an answer thereunto by another Gentleman. Together with some characters and other Passages of Wit. Written by Private Gentleman for recreation, London, Henry Brome, 1657, “A Ballad-maker”, p. 90. “encomiastic”: †B. n. “a eulogistic discourse or composition; a formal encomium. Obs.” (OED)

44 Two Essays of Love, op. cit. , p. 91. “the Brethren”: “in N.T. the members of the early Christian churches; hence, sometimes adopted by (or applied ironically to) members of various Christian associations, claiming to adhere to New Testament principles; e.g. the Puritan party in the Church of England under Queen Elizabeth. Also in the adopted title or common appellation of some modern sects who reject ‘orders’ in the church.” (OED)

45 Angela McShane,“‘Ne sutor ultra crepidam’: Political Cobblers and Broadside Ballads in Late Seventeenth-Century England.”, in Patricia Fumerton & Anita Guerrini, eds., Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800, Farnham, Surrey, Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2010, p. 207-228, here p. 209. See also in the same volume Steve Newman, “‘The Maiden’s Bloody Garland’: Thomas Warton and the Elite Appropriation of Popular song.”, p. 189-205.

46 Two Essays of Love and Marriage, op. cit. , p. 91.

47 Ibid., p. 92.

48 Joad Raymond has analyzed the early modern development of pamphlets in the context of contemporary political events: “The rise of the pamphlet reflected a transformation in the circumstances of politics and of reading and writing in Britain. In 1560 printed texts played a marginal role in propaganda exercises and attempts to influence the public. By 1688, year of the Glorious Revolution, it was self-evident that any attempt to generate public support for a political initiative, party or position, would have to exploit the persuasive powers of the press.” Joad Raymond, Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 20. See also his discussion of character-sketches published under the form of pamphlets on p. 220.

49 John Earle’s Micro-cosmographie, or, a peece of the world discovered: in essayes and characters was published in London in 1628. This collection of 55 characters included that of “A Pot-Poet” (character 28), which was subsequently published as a pamphlet along with the character of the “swil-bole cook” under the following title: A true description of the pot-companion poet: who is the founder of all the base and libellous pamphlets lately spread abroad, London, R.W., 1642.

50 See for instance Thomas Heywood, Philocothonista, or the Drunkard, Opened, Dissected and Anatomized, London, Robert Raworth, 1635.

51 John Earle Micro-cosmographie, or, a peece of the world discovered: in essayes and characters, London, W[illiam] S[tanby], 1628, [sig. E9]. The equation between ballad-writing and beer-drinking is a common feature with the character of the “Ballad-maker” of 1657: “An Alehouse he accounts the only Helicon; and the Ale-drapers Wife one of the nine Muses. His wit runs thick or clear, like the Ale-barrell. […] He is no better cue to write a lamentable storie, then when he is Mawdlen-drunk; his brain is the common shore of Poetry; the streams which he sucks from Poets, he defiles with the muddy stinking puddles of his Additions.”, Two Essays of Love, op. cit. , p. 93.

52 John Earle, Micro-cosmographie, op. cit. , [sig. E9 v].

53 Ibid., [sig. E10]. The only two variations which occur in the 1642 edition are to be found in this passage. The 1642 edition reads: “His frequents works go out in single sheets, and are fomed in every part of the City, and then chanted from Market to Market” and “And these are the Stories of some men of Tyburne, or some strange Monster, or a notorious lye out of Germanie.”

54 “I have (for once) adventurd to play the Mid-wifes part, helping to bring forth these Infants into the World, which the Father would have smoothered: who having lift them lapt up in loose Sheets, as soon as his Fancy was delivered of them; written especially for his Private recreation, to passe away the time on the Country, and by the forcible request of Friends drawne from him; Yet passing severally from hand to hand in written Copies, grew at length to be a pretty Volume, and among so many sundry dispersed Transcripts, some very imperfect and surreptious had like to have past the Presse, if the Author had not used speedy meanes of prevention: When, perceiving the hazard hee ran to be wrong’d, was unwillingly willing to let them passe as now they appeare to the World.”, John Earle, Micro-cosmographie, op. cit. , “To the Reader Gentile or Gentle”, sig. A2.

55 Anon., A Character of the New Oxford Libeller, In answer to his Character of A London diurnall, London, M.S. [Michael Spark?], 1645. At least two other anonymous answers were published the same year: Anon., A full answer to a scandalous pamphlet, intituled, A character of a London diurnall, London, F.P., 1645 and Anon., The Oxford character of the London diurnall examined and answered., [London], M.B., 1645. On the subject of seventeenth-century newsbooks see Andreas Jucker, ed., Early Modern News Discourse: Newspapers, Pamphlets and Scientific News Discourse, Philadelphia, John Benjamins Pub. Company, 2009 and Joad Raymond, ed., Making the News. An Anthology of Newsbooks of Revolutionary England 1641-1660, The Windrush Press, Moreton-in-Marsh, 1993.

56 “diurnal”: 2. “A book for daily use, a day-book, diary; esp. a record of daily occurrences, a journal. arch. / 1660 F. Brooke tr. V. Le Blanc World Surveyed 320, I ever carried with me a little memorial or diurnall, where I set down all the curiosities I met with.” 3. “A newspaper published daily; also loosely, any newspaper published at short periodical intervals; a journal. Obs. / attrib. 1644 Mercurius Brit. 4–11 Jan., A Diurnall maker, a paper-intelligencer.” (OED)

57 John Cleveland, The Character of a London-Diurnall: with severall Poems, optima et novissima editio, [S.L.], [s.n.], 1647, p. 1. Following quotations and pagination are taken from this 1647 edition, the text of which was almost identical to the original edition of 1644: The Character of a London-Diurnall, Oxford, Leonard Lichfield, 1644.

58 A Character of the New Oxford Libeller, op. cit. , p. 5. This was a direct answer to Cleveland’s concluding lines: “But I have not inke enough to cure all the Tetters and Ring-wormes of the State. I will close up all thus.” John Cleveland, op. cit. , p. 8.

59 For a definition of this form of conservatism, see Andrew Sharp, Political Ideas of the English Civil Wars 1641-1649, London, Longman, 1983, p. 6: “The English of 1640 inherited a view of politics and society which was to be severely tested over the following twenty years but which nevertheless emerged, substantially the same, at the Restoration. It was (and still exists) a view at once conservative and legalistic, the characteristic of which was to bring all disputed activities to the bar of law and custom […]. Such a way of thinking was the central ideological point of departure in the seventeenth century; and it was one that most articulate English gentlemen – certainly those of the ruling élite – never departed from with any feeling of comfort. “Innovation” and “innovators” were the enemy and the solution to all difficulties was thought to lie in in adherence to the law of the land or perhaps in a “restoration” of it if it were thought to have been ‘innovated upon’ in any way.” See also Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down. Radical Ideas during the English Revolution, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1991 [1972].

60 John Cleveland, op. cit. , p. 7.

61 “The Countesse of Zealand was brought to bed of an Almanach; as many children, as daies in the yeare. It may be the legislative Lady is of that Linage; so she spawnes the Diurnalls, and they at Westminster, take them in adoption, by the names of Scoticus, Civicus, Britannicus.”, John Cleveland, op. cit. , p. 2. The image of the countess “brought to bed of an Almanach” was perhaps inspired by the legend recorded by Jan Bondeson: “Jan Bondeson, author of The Two-Headed Boy and Other Medical Marvels, believes the source tale for Tannakin Skinker relies on a similar curse made upon the Countess of Henneberg in the thirteenth century. One day the countess encountered a beggar woman with twins who asked for alms. When she refused, the beggar ‘cursed the Countess by wishing she herself would at one gestations have as many children as there are days in the year, and this miraculously happened.’”, Jan Bondeson, Two-headed Boy, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 2000, p. 79, quoted by Tassie Gniady, “Do you Take this Hog-Faced Woman to be Your Wedded Wife?”, in Patricia Fumerton & Anita Guerrini, op. cit. , p. 91-107, here p. 99.

62 Ibid., p. 2.

63 Ibid., p. 8.

64 The image of “impostumated Fancies” conveys the idea of a diseased imagination swollen by pride. “impostume”: 1. “A purulent swelling or cyst in any part of the body; an abscess.” 2. fig. a. “With reference to moral corruption in the individual, or insurrection in the state: A moral or political ‘festering sore’; the ‘swelling’ of pride, etc.”; “impostumated”: “Affected with, swollen into, of the nature of, an impostume; ulcerated. Also fig.” (OED)

65 A Character of the New Oxford Libeller, op. cit. , p. 1.

66 Ibid., p. 5.

67 Ibid., p. 5. “snatch”: 8. “A short passage, a few words, of a song, etc.; a small portion, a few bars, of a melody or tune. / 1604 Shakespeare Hamlet iv. vii. 149 Which time she chaunted snatches of old laudes.” †9. “A quibble; a captious argument. Obs. / a1616 Shakespeare Measure for Measure (1623) iv. ii. 6 Come sir, leave me your snatches, and yeeld mee a direct answere.” (OED)

68 The noun “squib” here refers to “A smart gird or hit; a sharp scoff or sarcasm; a short composition of a satirical and witty character; a lampoon.” (OED)

69 Anon., A fresh whip for all scandalous Lyers, or, a True description of the two eminent Pamphliteers, or Squibtellers of this Kingdome. With a Plaine and true Relation of their Tricks and Devices wherewith they use to couzen and cheate the Commonwealth., London, [s.n.], 1647, p. 1.

70 “Now I must doe as many false Prognosticators mistake, or skip three dayes in the change of the moone: I must come to Friday, stiled the Perfect Occurrence Writer.”, Ibid., p. 3. The “occurrence writer” was a writer of “occurents”: “A thing that occurs, happens, or takes place (formerly sometimes in an adverse way)”; †b. “In extended use: a narration of what has happened; news. Obs.” (OED)

71 A fresh whip, op. cit. , p. 6.

72 Ibid., p. 1. “Fogging scrivoners” were writers who acted in a pettifogging manner. see “fogger”: †1. “A person given to underhand practices for the sake of gain”; “Fog”: Obs. rare. intr. “To act in a ‘pettifogging’ manner; to adopt underhand or unworthy means to secure gain.” (OED).

73 Ibid., p. 6.

74 Ibid., p. 4.

75 “pasquin”: “The person popularly supposed to be represented by a statue in Rome on which satirical Latin verses were annually posted in the 16th cent.; the statue itself. Hence: an imaginary person to whom anonymous lampoons were ascribed; a composer of lampoons. Now hist.” (OED)

76 Anon., The Character of Wit’s Squint-Ey’d Maid. Pasquil Makers, London, W. Davis, 1681, p. 1.

77 Ibid.

78 “This World is full of a preposterous chat, / Our English writers all are Transmigrate. / In Pamphlet penners, and diurnal Scribes, / Wanton Comedians, and foul Gypsy Tribes; / Not like those brave Heroick sublime strains, / That wrote the Cesars, and their noble reigns. / Nor like those learned Poets so divine, / That pen’d Macduff, and famous Cataline.”, Ibid.

79 Ibid.

80 The word “snatch” is used in the literal sense of “A hasp, catch, or fastening.”; “A trap, snare, entanglement. Obs.” (OED) and in the literary sense of a quibble (see footnote 67).

81 Roger Chartier, Culture écrite et société, L’ordre des livres (XIVème-XVIIIème siècle), Paris, Editions Albin Michel, 1996, p. 205: “La culture populaire est une catégorie savante.”

82 “Les stratégies éditoriales engendrent donc, de manière non sue, non point un élargissement progressif du public au livre, mais la constitution de systèmes d’appréciation qui classent culturellement les produits de l’imprimerie, partant fragmentent le marché entre des clientèles supposées spécifiques et dessinent des frontières culturelles inédites.” Roger Chartier, Le livre conquérant, du Moyen-Age au milieu du XVIIème siècle (Histoire de l’édition française, Tome 1), Paris, Promodis, 1982, p. 603.

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Claire Labarbe, « “Mises en abyme” and satirical descriptions: “characters” of writing and writers in seventeenth-century England », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 21 | 2012, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2012, consulté le 23 août 2017. URL : http://episteme.revues.org/407 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.407

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Claire Labarbe

Claire Labarbe is a second-year PhD student at the University of the Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris III, where she teaches literature and translation. The title of her research is: “Les livres de caractères anglais au XVIIe siècle: de l’anatomie morale au portrait littéraire”. Previous research included a study of the literary diffusion of apocalypticism in seventeenth-century England. She is currently interested in early modern collecting practices as well as cheap print and the history of the book trade.

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