John Taylor and Henry Walker, part 2: the texts

by Nick

[Note: since writing this my views on some aspects of this pamphlet exchange have evolved: if you are also researching this issue and want to get in touch please do.]

In my last post I described how I wanted to break down the communication circuit that underpins the pamphlet war between John Taylor and Henry Walker. In this post, I’ll start by trying to relate the texts to the broader social, political and intellectual context of their time.

You might think from the “shitting devil” woodcuts that the pamphlets are also fairly crude. But actually Taylor and Walker’s texts use a diverse range of tactics to outdo each other. Witty anagrams are traded: “John Talour the Poet” becomes “ART THOU IN HEL, O POET”, and “HENRIE WALLKER” becomes “KNAV, REVILER, HEL”. Marginal notes and indexes are used to orientate the reader and to lend the pamphlets an air of sophistication. Both authors try to claim the moral and literary high ground: Taylor accuses Walker of libel, and of being responsible for the increasing volume of cheap print being produced. Walker stresses how quickly he can compose responses – “I take not seven days, nor scarce halfe seven hours to bring forth my Ante-Reply for the presse”.

Both authors emphasise that literary sensibilities, not profit, are their motive for writing. This attempt to disassociate themselves from the stigma of print was typical of pamphlet writers in the early 1640s. Although such claims were ostensibly pitched at those producing cheaper forms of print, in fact authors of cheap print like Taylor and Walker were not averse to doing so in order to give themselves an edge over their competitors.

Both pamphlets also make effective use of woodcuts linked to details in the text. A Seasonable Lecture, for example, has a picture of Walker preaching from a tub, exclaiming part of the catchphrase of the pamphlet, and a parallel picture showing Tobias and his dog.

A Swarme of Sectaries also uses a picture of a preacher in a tub labelled Sam How (a cobbler well known as a mechanic preacher), juxtaposed with sign indicating the Nag’s Head tavern (well known as a meeting place for separatist puritans).

Both woodcuts use a visual language that would have been immediately recognisable to a wide range of readers. This was not just to help pamphlets catch the eye when readers were browsing in bookstalls. Integrated with the text in this way, woodcuts give pamphlets a greater imaginative depth that helps to hold the reader’s attention.

However, woodcuts are not the only means through which the two authors could achieve such an effect. For example, Walker tells a story of Taylor dining with Archbishop Laud at the Tower of London and getting so drunk that he fell into a tub. The basis of this may drawn on a real story and although this may be a greatly exaggerated form of the real incident, it is not just rumour-mongering on Walker’s part. He uses the anecdote to counter the woodcut in A Swarme of Sectaries. By claiming that the man in the tub is Taylor, Walker is able to turn Taylor’s material against him. In effect, Walker uses the anecdote to produce a textual woodcut to deploy against Taylor.

Both authors also subvert and rework other pamphlet forms. A Seasonable Lecture, for example, is a satire of the pamphlet sermon, which had been a common form of print from the Reformation onwards. In the early 1640s pamphlet sermons were generally written accounts of speeches that had actually been delivered, rather than a standalone form. Playing on this, Taylor lends his pamphlet realism by quoting the date it was supposed to have been delivered, and claiming it had been transcribed in shorthand. (Systems of shorthand were commonly used to transcribe sermons at this time).

Similarly, A Reply as true as Steele is a classic piece of “flyting” – a type of poetic duelling that originated in Scotland in the fifteenth century. In particular, it is inspired by a duel in the 1580s between two Scottish court poets, Alexander Montgomerie and Patrick Hume. As well as borrowing its form, Taylor borrows a number of phrases. For example, references to Walker being born due to a union between the devil and a dun cow, and to being suckled by a sow, are direct quotes from one of Hume’s poems.

Walker’s pamphlets are also heavily intertextual in the way they rework past texts. An Answer very knowingly bases itself on an earlier pamphlet battle between Taylor and the writer William Fennor. Walker starts by  playing with anagrams of Taylor’s name and mocking his imagined coat of arms. These verses are both direct quotes from a work by Fennor criticising Taylor. Later he goes further than simple quoting, taking various couplets and remixing them to form two entirely new poems. Walker also mines Taylor’s back catalogue – which had been published as a collected works in 1630 – for embarrassing material. For example, he quotes from a verse written by the schoolboy George Hatton, originally quoted in Taylor’s An Arrant Thiefe. In the original context the verse was complimentary to Taylor, but Walker is able to recontextualise it and turn it against him. Similarly, another section references The World Runs on Wheeles, which had criticised hackney coaches and linked them with libidinous behaviour. Walker is able to subvert references from this to claim Taylor is obsessed with sex.

However, the intertextuality in this particular dispute went even further. After Walker and Taylor’s exchange, a third pamphleteer entered the dispute with The Irish Footman’s Poetry. No other works by its purported author George Richardson survive.  The only clues in the pamphlet itself are his description of himself as a “Hibernian pedestrian”, and his note that “in Ireland I was born and bred”. However, the pamphlet’s effusive praise for Taylor makes it likely that it was connected to Taylor in some way. The pamphlet’s invention of “John the Swimmer” to contend with “Henry the Walker” has similarities to Taylor’s own description of himself in other works as the Sculler, or the Aquatic Poet. It may have been produced by friends of Taylor, or commissioned by his publishers.

Whoever the author was, it is significant that the dispute spawned a further contribution. The recycling and redeployment of both past and present texts – and the resultant multiplication of publications – became an increasingly common characteristic of pamphlets as the 1640s progressed. Walker, Taylor and their peers used the devices and vocabulary of the past in order to present continuity between their own work and that of commercially or artistically successful pamphleteers. Such strategies were used not only to affirm authors’ superiority to their rivals, but also in order to more successfully entertain or inform their readers.

In my next post I will look at those readers, to see if it’s possible to reconstruct who they might have been.