Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Muse of Mont Orgueil

William Prynne, English Puritan, died 340 years ago today, on October 24, 1669. He eventually became an Erastian Presbyterian, an interesting mix of beliefs, but he is perhaps most famous for a massive treatise he wrote against the stage-play, Histriomastix, as well for his sufferings under the persecution of Archbishop William Laud, which included prison time and the loss of both of his ears (one ear each on separate occasions in May 1634), as well as being branded with the letters "S.L." It is thought that "S.L." was intended to represent "seditious libeller," but Prynne wrote Latin verses follwing his punishment ascribing the initials to "Stigmata Laudis," "Laud's Stamp" or "Laud's Scars."

STIGMATA maxillis bajulans insignia LAUDIS
Exultans remeo, victima grata Deo.

Triumphant I return, my face descries
Laud's scorching scars, God's grateful sacrifice.

After the second trial, his sentence was handed down in June 1637 and he was pilloried and branded. He was sent to prison at the Tower of London but his wards became alarmed at the number of visitors he had, so they sent him first to Carnarvon Castle in August 1637 and then to Mont Orgueil on the island of Jersey, where he arrived in January 1638. At these remote prisons Prynne was deprived of most books as well as visitors so he redeemed the time by writing poetry rather than prose about the book of nature. His poems were later published as Mount-Orgueil: or Divine and Profitable Meditations, Raised from the Contemplation of these three Leaves of Natures Volume, 1. ROCKES, 2. SEAS, 3. GARDENS, digested into three distinct Poems. To which is Prefixed, a Poeticall Description, of Mount-Orgueil Castle in the Isle of Jersy (1641).

There is a certain "artlessness" (Paul D. Green, "The Muse of Mount Orgueil: a reading of William Prynne’s poetry," Early Modern Literary Studies 10.2 (September, 2004) 4.1-73) to his poetry, which the author himself acknowledges; it is not Milton as all who have read it will testify. Prynne states in his preface to the Christian Reader:

Revive my cold dead Muse, and it inspire
Though not with
brightest, yet with Sacred fire

For Prynne, foe of the dramatic arts, if not the poetic arts, inspiration from the Holy Spirit is the Muse that matters over poetic skill.

In the prologue to the second set of poems, A Christian Sea-Card. Consisting of sundry Poeticall Meditations, raised from the Contemplation of the Nature and Qualities of the Sea, Prynne writes in the prologue:

This Worlds an ample Volume , where we may
Not onely Read , but See God Day by Day;
And every Creature which it doth com-prize,
A Text to preach him to our Hearts and Eyes

Building on the Puritan theme of spiritualizing, or improving upon, nature, Prynne sees both what we are in all starkness and what comfort and glory is to be found in God's promises.

In A Christian Sea-Card, he describes corrupt nature:

The Sea a world of ugly monsters breedes
Within her wombe, the which she dayly feedes.
Whole worlds of monstrous Sinnes and lusts are bred
In wicked Hearts, and dayly nourished.

In Rocks Improved, Comprising Certaine Poeticall Meditations, Extracted from the contemplation of the Nature and Quality of Rockes; a barren and harsh Soyle, yet a Fruitfull, and Delightfull subject of Meditation he adds:

Rockes are deformed, horrid, barren, vile;
And so are sinnes, with all whom they defile.
These make Men ugly, filthy, Steril, base,
And all their Glory, Beauty, quite deface;
Yea, change them into Monsters, wolves, dogs, swine;
Nay Fiends incarnate. O then Sinnes decline!

Sometimes rocks represent our base nature, at other times they are made to serve as building blocks in God's Temple, the Church:

Stones digged out of Rockes and hewed square
The fairest Temples, Buildings make that are.
So Gods Elect, though vile whiles that they lye
In Natures Quarries in deformitie;
Yet hew’de out thence, squar’d, polisht by Gods Grace,
And layd in order in their proper Place,
Become rich Temples wherein God doth dwell,
And doe all other structures farre excell,
In worth, and glory: Lord thus square, and lay
Us in these Sacred walls, which last for aye.

And elsewhere he finds solace in "Meditations of the third Ranke":

When the Seas are at their lowest Ebbe, they then
Forth-with begin to spring and flow. So men
Belov’d of God, when as they seeme to lye
At lowest Ebbe, in deepest misery,
Past helpe, past hope in Carnall mens account,
Beyond all expectation, spring and mount
Above their Crosses, and enjoy a Flood
Of Peace, wealth, honour; and the greatest good.
If old examples faile, you may now view
The truth hereof in some yet fresh and new.

Prynne himself is a rough, controversial character, who never found himself far from trouble, even after his triumphant return to London. A diamond in the rough, as it were. It is worth remembering that lesson about God's people upon this occasion of the anniversary of his death.

No comments:

Post a Comment