Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Category: britain

Books with names but no bodies

In recent days I have been enjoying Adam Smyth and Gill Partington’s edition of Critical Quarterly on missing texts. As the title of their introduction asks, what is the material history of books with names but no bodies?

As it happens there is one particular book for whose body I have been searching recently: To Your Tents, O Israel by Henry Walker. The events which prompted its writing are well-known: on 4 January 1642, Charles I had made famous attempt to arrest five leading opponents in the House of Commons: arriving at Parliament only to find, in his own words, that ‘all the birds are flown’. Charles was determined to track down the rogue MPs, and believing that they were still in hiding in the capital, he decided to confront the Corporation of the City of London.

At about ten o’clock the following, Charles was taken by coach up the Strand towards the Guildhall. By the time he got there, a substantial crowd had assembled to meet him. After addressing the Corporation, Charles dined with London’s Sheriff, George Garrett, at his house in Aldermanbury Street next door. After their lunch was finished, he emerged and made his way back to his carriage. At this point the crowd surged and shouts went up of ‘privilege of Parliament’. This was the moment that Henry Walker, a 29-year old ironmonger turned writer and bookseller decided to throw a self-penned text into Charles’s coach.

The text has become known as To Your Tents, O Israel because of the passage in scripture it is supposed to have alluded to: 1 Kings 12:16, which told the story of King Rehoboam’s tyrannical rule over Israel. Rehoboam was a tyrant who imposed heavy taxes and harsh punishments on his people. In response, the ten northern tribes of Israel rebelled and formed their own nation. In alluding to these events, Walker was making a fairly heavy handed comparison to the extra-Parliamentary taxation that Charles had introduced under his period of Personal Rule in the 1630s.

However, it’s not actually clear if To Your Tents, O Israel was the title, or even if the text had a title. Nor is it clear what form the text took. It is described variously in contemporary accounts as a “Pamphlet”, “Petition”, “Paper” and “Sermon”. No copies survive and it’s not clear how many were made. We do know, though, that it was printed rather than hand-written. The only direct account we have of the text’s production is by a hostile witness, John Taylor:

He plotted and contrived with a Printer, the said night before to write and print a perrillous Petition to his Majesty, and borrowed the Printers wives Bible, out of which he tooke his Theame out of the first of Kings, Chap, 12. ver. 16 part of the verse; To your Tents O Israel. There was writing and printing all night, and all the next day those Libels were scattered, and when his Majesty had dined, and had taken Coach to returne to White-Hall, Walker stood watching the Kings comming by amongst the Drapers in Pauls Church-yard, and having one of his Pamphlets in his hand meaning to have delivered it to his Majesty, but could not come at him by reason of the presse of People, insomuch as Walker (most impudently sawcy) threw it over the folkes heads into his Majesties Coach.

John Taylor, The whole life and progresse of Henry Walker the ironmonger, E.154[29].

However, details in this account can be checked and verified. The printer was Thomas Payne, whose shop at the sign of the sugar loaf in Goldsmith’s Alley was a stone’s throw from Walker’s establishment in Butler’s Alley in St Giles Cripplegate. It was Payne who, having thought better of his role, shopped Walker to the authorities. In 1650 he received a belated reward of £20 from the Commonwealth’s Council of State ‘‘as a gratuity for his sufferings by printing a book for the cause of Parliament, written by Mr. Walker”. So it does seem clear that the text was in printed form, although it whether it was a book or a sheet is open to question. And it was written and printed overnight, which suggests it cannot have been that long or had a significant print run.

Something which may help resolve the question of what form of printed text it was is a reference two and a half years later in another of Walker’s works: an edition of his newsbook Perfect Occurrences for 30 August to 6 September 1644. At this point Walker was not acknowledging himself as the author of Perfect Occurrences, hence the references in the third-person:

Here followeth a true copie of Master Walkers petition to the king, for which he suffered.

To the Kings most Excellent Majestie.

Humbly beseecheth that your most Excellent Majestie, would be graciously pleased to meditate on that place of Scripture written, 1 Kings. 12. 15. 16. Wherfore the King hearkned not unto his people, for the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah the Shulanite, unto Jeroboam, the Son of Nebat, So when Israel saw that the King hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king saying, what portion have we in David, Neither have wee portion in the son of lesse: To your tents O Israel, now see to thine own, &c. The Lord blesse guide and direct your gratious Majestie, and encrease the number of your faithfull loyall Subjects. Amen.

Perfect Occurrences, 30th August-6th September 1644, E.254[28].

So if we can trust Walker’s reprint, it seems that the text was more akin to a printed version of the manuscript petitions that were common for the king and Parliament to receive at the time. And a text of this length would barely take up half a side of quarto, so it seems unlikely that it was a pamphlet or other book: more likely, a single sheet with some copies taken to distribute to the crowd or paste up on walls, and which Walker was fortunate enough to have the chance to thrust upon Charles.

And so this particular missing text is perhaps not as missing as it seems. A version of it turned up, and is still extant, in a later text – and even if it is a summary or rewrite of the original, it does give some suggestions about what the text said and what form it took. Similarly, an apparently unreliable account in a work by one of Walker’s enemies turns out, when checked against other evidence of the London print trade, to have more in it than first appears. There is something quite satisfying about the fact that it is the material traces of other texts that allows at least a partial reconstruction of another text.

The sceleton of some flat Fish

For some reason, it was always trilobites.

By the age of six, I was obsessed with fossils, and while dinosaurs were a big part of that, I was always fondest of trilobites. I remember having a book about prehistoric sea creatures and my eyes were always drawn to what was on the ocean floor rather than the icthyosaurs and plesiosaurs swimming above it. Maybe it was because they were similar to the woodlice I used to like to catch in the garden. By the time I was seven, I had been given a book about the Tudors and Stuarts and suddenly my allegiances shifted. But I’m still fond of trilobites: a geologist friend at university noticed me sneaking a glimpse at her book about them while we were revising in the library, and gave me a plaster cast of one after we finished our finals.

Trilobites, as any six-year old will tell you, are an extinct type of marine arthropod. They appear in the fossil record around 500 million years ago, and died out 250 million years later. The picture above is the fossil of a particular type of trilobite called Oxygiocarella debuchii. This specimen was found at Llandeilo in Glamorgan, by Edward Lhwyd at the end of the seventeenth century.

Lhwyd was the keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and the author of the first English catalogue of fossils: Lithophilacii Britannica ichnographia [EEBO], published in 1699. As part of the research for this book, Lhwyd spent time in Wales, which is where he found his trilobite specimen alongside those of various shells and corals. He wrote to Martin Lister, a member of the Royal Society, about his findings and part of the letter – along with some wonderful etchings like the one above – was published in the Society’s Philosophical Transactions. In his letter Lhwyd described the creature as best he could given the knowledge of the time:

The 15th whereof we found great plenty, must doubtless be referred to the sceleton of some flat Fish.

Although it was not identified as such, this is the first written record of a trilobite. I wonder how many readers of the Philosophical Transactions were as intrigued by the trilobite as I was, aged six. For me – and perhaps for some of Lhwyd’s contemporaries – they hinted at a foreign yet strangely familiar other world, now at a vast distance from us but visible all the same with the tap of a hammer on stone.

This post marks the Royal Society’s decision to make every copy of the Philosophical Transactions freely available online. For more on trilobites, I cannot recommend highly enough Richard Fortey’s wonderful Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution (2000), which sets out far more eloquently than I can what makes the trilobite  so alluring.

Different class

I came across the following in an account by Thomas Weller of a royalist uprising in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, in Kent, in July 1643. Weller was the owner of Tonbridge castle, pictured, and a local grandee on the Parliamentarian side. At this point in his narrative he is holed up in his house in the castle grounds, having armed his servants and placed them at the windows. A number of royalist rebels have already tried to enter the house when this happens:

Upon Saturday morning early, being in my study, the doore locked to me, suddenly about twenty persons, whereof one Parry, a smith of Crayford, one other smith of Earith, and one Smale were chiefs, with their pistols ready cocked, their swords drawn, matches cocked in their muskctts, entered my house swearing many oaths they would have me alive or dead: and immediately they fell to plundering my house, breaking open chests and trunks and presses, takeing away the greatest part of my linen, all my cloathes, the apparell of myself and wife, she being then lame a-bed of a broken leg, and thrust my linnen and other things into sacks which they brought with them, and laid them upon horses, and rode away with them.

I, keeping myself in my study, heard Parry say to Smale, “We have sped well here. Let us go to Hadlow and Peckham, and plunder there, for they are rich rogues, and so we will go away into the woods;” to whom Smale replied, “But we must plunder none but Roundheads.” Parry replied with a great oath, ” We will make every man a Roundhead that hath any thing to lose. This is the time we look for.”

From Richard Almack (ed.), Camden Miscellany: Papers relating to proceedings in the county of Kent, A. D. 1642-1646, vol. 3 (1855)

Of course we can’t necessarily trust Weller’s account. It may be that he is exaggerating or making up the encounter altogether, and playing on gentry fears of the ‘rude multitude’ turning the natural order of things upside down. But at face value, it appears to show two men with a rather developed sense of class consciousness. The ideological tension between Parry and Smale – do they choose allegiance to their political cause, or allegiance to their class? – is almost too good to be true. There is a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern quality to the pair which makes me wish I knew more about them.

The battle around Tonbridge is one of those skirmishes that barely features in narratives of the civil wars, but which was clearly of huge significance locally. The burial records for Tonbridge Parish Church contain entries for five Parliamentarian and two Royalist casualties, but there must have been more in the surrounding towns and villages across which the battle was fought. The Parliamentary army sent to relieve the local militia, under the command of Colonel Richard Browne, reported killing a dozen Royalists and taking two hundred prisoners.

When I was at school in Tonbridge in the early 1990s, a teacher told me a story of the ghost of a Parliamentarian soldier who haunts the High Street: running up and knocking on the doors of Ferox Hall (a grand house near the town’s old defensive ditch) to escape his pursuers. The house’s owners did not let him in, and he was killed. Hearing about this at the age of thirteen or so was one of the things which first got me interested in seventeenth-century history. I now can’t find any other references to this tale, though, and wonder whether it’s a genuine folk tradition; or whether it was garbled in the telling; or indeed whether the teacher made it up altogether.

Photo courtesy of Dave Patten, used under a Creative Commons non-commercial attribution share alike licence.

Review of “A Dodo at Oxford”

Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson (eds.), A Dodo at Oxford. The unreliable account of a student and his pet dodo (Oxgarth Press, 2010). 160 pp. ISBN 978 0 9534438 2 6.

In the spring of 2008, a remarkable book turned up in the Oxfam bookshop in St Giles, Oxford. The small printed octavo volume was at first sight unassuming: its covers and some of its pages were missing, and a number of the remaining pages had been defaced or damaged. Beneath the non-existent covers, however, was the first volume of A Bird Considered, printed in 1695: a previously unknown work that is an account by an Oxford student of his experiences keeping a dodo as a pet.

Or is it? The authors admit that no library catalogues have previously recorded the existence of A Bird Considered. Although they date its events with some confidence to 1683, various details in the narrative are inconsistent. The book’s imprint clams it is a product of Oxford University Press, but the Press’s archives have no trace of it. Even the author’s identity is anonymous, and the editors have not been able to identify a suitable candidate.

Once you’ve read a few pages, though, the question of whether or not the narrative is true quickly loses importance. Instead you will be falling for the charm and warmth with which the unknown student tells his story. Unspecified circumstances – unclear due to the loss of some of the book’s pages – result in him being bequeathed a captive dodo by a dying Dutchman. Inspired by the burgeoning scientific movement going on around him in Oxford, and assisted by his friends Mr Flay and Mr Sawyer, the student resolves to study the dodo’s habits.Each month he carefully records its weight, height, and diet: ‘a frog, cobnuts, apples (many), crab apple, bread (any)’. He reproduces sketches of the dodo’s features, and tries to record the dodo’s call in musical notation. He conducts controlled experiments to test the dodo’s memory and its cognitive powers.

Quickly, however, the author’s affection for the dodo grows, and so does the reader’s. Although it ‘makes a prodigeous mess about my Room’, and has a ‘payneful crye’, the student is won over by the dodo’s attachment to him: ‘he runs always to me as I am the one to feed him (and he is ever hungry)’. After the dodo is briefly stolen then retrieved after the student gives chase, it ‘was a sorry sight indeed, all a-quiver when we got him out of the sack’. Thankfully it recovers after the administration of French brandy. Sawyer then starts to keep a diary ‘supposedly written by the Bird himself; for example: Ate an Apple. Counted to one hundred. Courted a pigeon &c’. By the end of the book, the dodo’s intelligence and the bond he has developed with his master – and his master with him – are in no doubt.

Meanwhile the book also reveals incidental details about the social history of Oxford in the 1680s. The author struggles to pay his rent and clashes with his landlord (placated by the offer of the dodo’s dung for his vegetable garden). He nurses an artist friend, Mr Tompkyns, and goes to see the apothecary and a wisewoman. He goes on an unsuccessful trip to visit Elias Ashmole, and attends the visit to Oxford by the Duke of York (the future James II). He also records impressions of other Oxford figures. Particularly intriguing are a series of dreams related by Flay, which bear comparisons with the wilder prophecies and revelations that were commonplace thirty years beforehand. A close study will reveal certain parallels with other periods, too.

Interleaved with the text, which is reproduced in facsimile at 100% scale, are a series of editorial annotations. Some of these deal with the provenance and reliability of the text, but most provide glosses and context on the book’s events. Collectively these form a wonderful kind of late-seventeenth century miscellany, covering not just contemporary Oxford but a wide range of other subjects. If you didn’t know about Charles II’s ostriches, early shorthand, or Dwarf Gibson then you will after reading this book. Like all the best footnotes, many of the annotations are improved through their quiet but dry wit, particularly the comments on the book’s proofs that have unaccountably crept into the finished version.

And beyond the text and its footnotes, A Dodo at Oxford is also a modest yet sophisticated meditation about the nature of the seventeenth-century book. This is not a straightforward facsimile of a uniform text. Printed annotations mingle with scribbled notes and graffiti in the margins. Authorial voices are inconsistent: the editors’ commentary has to compete with ephemera left in the book by previous owners, a child’s crayon drawings, and a marginal game of noughts and crosses. Newspaper cuttings, fragments from other texts, pictures, printed ephemera, and even a squashed spider are pressed into the pages in the manner of a commonplace book. All this combines to create a confusing and disorientating experience, which gestures at the fact that our own concept of “the book” was not necessarily the same as that held by early modern readers.

There are also a series of detailed appendices for readers who want an explanation of the differences between twenty-first century and seventeenth century books. These explain bibliographical issues such as ligatures, page signatures, kerning, and the long S. They also tell the story of the typefaces and printer’s ornaments used in the book: a wonderful reproduction of the Fell Types commissioned by John Fell for the Oxford University Press. Reproductions of contemporary maps of Oxford are also provided to further orientate the reader.

All of which makes A Dodo at Oxford a real treat. Newcomers to seventeenth-century England will be sucked in by the picaresque charm of the student and dodo’s adventures. Those familiar with the period will enjoy reading a new, hitherto unknown voice’s account of the scientific revolution. Those who know their book history will enjoy the book’s meta-commentary on early modern books and printing. As for whether A Bird Considered is genuine, you will have to make up your own mind. But the sceptics may want to look at video footage of the actual volume:

The pen is mightier than the stick

As Prince Charles reflects on the recent attempt by protestors to force their way into his car, he may not realise that his namesake and ancestor had a similar encounter.

At about ten o’clock on the morning of 5 January 1642, Charles I set out from his palace at Whitehall to the Guildhall, the seat of the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London. The day before, he had made his famous, abortive attempt to arrest the Five Members: arriving at the Commons only to find, in his own words, that ‘all the birds are flown’. Believing that they were in hiding somewhere in the City, Charles’s intention was to demand that the Common Council of the Corporation assisted him in tracking down the rogue MPs.

As Charles’s carriage trundled along the Strand, up Fleet Street and towards the Guildhall, sat next to him were four members of the nobility: the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Essex, and the Earl of Holland. One account states that a rumour spread that Charles was taking them to the Tower. At any rate, the carriage soon attracted attention, and a crowd was waiting for Charles when he arrived at the Guildhall.

Once there, he addressed members of the Council and demanded their assistance in tracking down the Five Members. John Rushworth gives this account of his speech:

Gentlemen, I am come to demand such persons as I have already accused of High Treason and do believe are shrouded in the City. I hope no good man will keep them from me; their offences are Treason and Misdemeanour of a high nature. I desire your loving assistance herein that they may be brought to a legal trial. And whereas there are divers suspicions raised that I am a favourer of the Popish Religion, I do profess in the name of a king that I did and ever will and that to the utmost of my power, be a prosecutor of all such as shall any ways oppose the laws and statutes of this kingdom, either papists or separatists; and not only so, but I will maintain defend that true Protestant Religion which my Father did profess and I will continue in it during life.

Despite leavening his words in this way, Charles got a mixed reception. Robert Slingsby, who was in the train of carriages following the king to the Guildhall, wrote this account to Sir John Pennington:

After a little pause a cry was set up amongst the Common Council, ‘Parliament! Privileges of Parliament!’, and presently another, ‘God bless the King!’; these two continued both at once a good while. I know not which was louder.

Leaving the Guildhall, Charles then dined at the house of one of the Sheriffs of London, Sir George Garrett, before emerging at about three o’clock and climbing into his carriage. As he got in, the crowd surged around the carriage, taking up the Council’s cry of ‘Privilege of Parliament’.

Amongst the crowd was Henry Walker, an ironmonger turned bookseller and pamphleteer, who over the previous twelve months had published a steady stream of anti-episcopal pamphlets. Seeing his chance, Walker pushed his way through the crowds towards the coach. He got close enough to throw a copy of a self-authored pamphlet entitled To Your Tents, O Israel into the coach. One account also states that he shouted this slogan out loud.

No copies of To Your Tents survive: few may have been printed, and those that were may have been confiscated and destroyed afterwards. But even from the title we can deduce the pamphlet’s message, which would have been obvious to any contemporary. It was a reference to 1 Kings 12:16, which tells the story of how King Rehoboam introduced heavy taxes and arbitrary punishment to Israel. The ten northern tribes of Israel rebelled and formed their own nation:

So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents.

Although at his trial he tried to disown authorship of this pamphlet, saying he had bought it for 2s. 6d. from a scholar in Westminster Hall, it seems pretty clear that Walker did write it. This was not his first scandalous pamphlet. In March 1641, he was hauled before the House of Lords for publishing scurrilous verses about Lord Keeper Finch and Bishop Wren. He was imprisoned in the Fleet and only released after pleading poverty and apologising for his actions. In April, Walker and a number of booksellers and printers were summoned once again to the Lords for publishing a fake petition claiming to be from the people of Cheshire. One of them, Thomas Bates, seems to have fallen out with Walker while in custody. According to a later account by Walker, Bates borrowed his bible and pawned it to buy alcohol. Whether or not this is true, they were certainly not friends by December 1641. On the 20th of that month, Bates testified to the House of Commons that Walker was the author of another scandalous pamphlet, A terrible outcry against the loytering prelates. The Commons ordered that Walker be arrested and brought before them.

When Walker hurled his pamphlet into Charles’s carriage, then, he was a wanted man who had previous form. This may be what inspired him to be so reckless. Perhaps he was also motivated by frustrations with his inability to engage with the political process: mass petitions to Parliament from across England had not produced the political and religious settlement that the godly wanted, and the attempt on the Five Members seemed to confirm that Charles could yet revert to behaving like Rehoboam. The chance to directly petition a king who had largely withdrawn from his people during the Personal Rule may have seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

Walker’s accomplice was a printer called Thomas Payne. Eight years later, when the king was dead and the political climate had altered, Payne received a gratuity of £20 from Parliament for his role in the events. In the aftermath of Walker’s actions, however, both Payne and Walker were wanted men. As Walker’s pamphlet landed in the coach, it was picked up by the Earl of Essex, who on the next day sent for the Lord Chief Justice to track down anyone involved with it.

Both were arrested the same day. Walker stuck to his story about a mysterious encounter in Westminster Hall; but Payne seems to have known the game was up. He confessed that Walker wrote the pamphlet, and that he had used Payne’s wife’s bible as a reference. Both were sent to the King’s Bench prison in Southwark as a result. They were then scheduled to be transferred to Newgate prison and tried at the sessions. However, in an extraordinary mobilisation by sympathisers in the London crowd, they were rescued after crossing the river and landing at Blackfriars. A group descended on them, overpowered the guards and spirited them away.

From then on, Walker played a game of cat and mouse with the authorities. He was spotted at the house of a barber called Edward Fisher – who acted as a clearing-house for separatist manuscripts – but escaped. He was then discovered in a tavern called the Castle in St. Martins, but again escaped thanks to the intervention of some apprentices. Finally he was tracked down to an upholsterer’s house near the Tower of London. Running from his apprehenders, he tried to get into a boat and across the river. No watermen would take him; but the officers pursuing him did not want to risk clashing with the water bailiff’s jurisdiction. So Walker sat there until the officers fetched the Lieutenant of the Tower, after which he was chased across the river and eventually caught.

Walker then tried his best to make amends. In early May he petitioned the House of Lords, claiming that he had spent the most part of what little estate he had on funding the cost of imprisonment, and protesting that he had no ill intent to Charles I in presenting his pamphlet to him. He added that his wife, Mary, was ‘bigg wth child, and a young infant besides’.

The petition did not do him much good. On 5 July, it was ordered that he be transferred to Newgate and tried before the sessions at the Old Bailey. Luckily for Walker, though, Charles had intervened and ordered that he only be tried for a misdemeanour, and not for treason. If the latter charges had gone ahead, and Walker had been found guilty, he would have paid for his petition with his life. Instead, he got away with being sentenced to stand in the pillory in Cheapside. By March 1643 he was once again in trouble, summoned to the Lords to account for publishing a fake declaration of Parliament, and for writing a critical ‘remonstrance’ against the Commons.

I have cheated ever so slightly with the image: it does show a coach belonging to Charles I outside the Guildhall,  but is a depiction of Charles’s meeting with Marie de Medici in 1639. It is an etching by an unknown artist that was one of the illustrations in Jean Puget de la Serre’s Histoire de l’entrée de la Reyne Mère dans la Grande Brétaigne (1639). AN260314001, © The Trustees of the British Museum.