. . . Grammont

. . .

Some folks are allergic to footnotes, but they can be used beautifully. Maybe my favorite single book is a nineteenth-century edition of The Memoirs of the Count de Grammont in which the footnotes take up considerably more pages than the text, since each name mentioned by the gossipy Count links to a collection of all other gossip available on the character. This web of links gives us a sense of closed community too irresistibly energetic to seem truly claustrophobic -- at least when viewed safely from the outside.

. . .

The English Restoration seems startlingly close, as if a veil was lifted for a few decades and then hurriedly pulled back into place for two hundred more years. Generations of state-church tussling, civil war, and dictatorship had left England a fragmented culture bound together by a tradition of insecurity, uncertainty, and paranoia. Installation of the most tolerant monarch in its history unloosed a flood of free expression: of sexual pleasures and horrors, atheism and fanaticism, financial panic and soured idealism, class distinctions crossed and fetishized, free love and cheating at cards....

All very twentieth century save for the lack of whining. Among Restoration writers, hypocrisy and self-pity were more unforgivable than failure or disgrace, since, after all, failure and disgrace lay so clearly outside an individual's control. Most valued was a slantwise directness of insight and impulse, coupled with a humorously stoic awareness of the probable consequences.

Although newspapers, novels, and television weren't yet in full swing, many other aspects of modernity snapped into focus: science blossomed free of alchemy and astrology; for the first time, women wrote professionally (including all-round woman-of-letters Aphra Behn); diaries and letters and memoirs suddenly became compulsively readable narratives rather than bare inventories of purchases or devotions; William Congreve's comedies (largely predicated on their young heroes' fears of bankruptcy) remain the best in the English language; John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, remains the most exfoliative of English poets.

Poor Nelly For reasons we won't go into, the Victorian era offered little open support to its Restoration forebears, and into the mid-twentieth century much material was more or less supressed. Congreve stayed in print, though, and at present the writings of Pepys, Rochester, and the Female Wits are probably more accessible than ever before. But one of my favorite Restoration relics has never quite recovered its former visibility, and so I decided to produce an online edition.

Now Heav'ns preserve our faith's defender
From Paris plots and Roman cunt,
From Mazarine, that new Pretender,
And from that politique, Grammont.
     -- John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

The memoirs of the Count de Grammont were written in French, but I associate them with the English Restoration since they were ghostwritten by Anglo-Irish Anthony Hamilton, since (apart from some short introductory chapters) they're set entirely in the court of Charles II, and since, most germanely, I know them through a remarkable nineteenth-century English edition aimed at the Sophisticated Gentleman.

As I've mentioned before, it's one of my favorite books, largely due to its internal linkage. But I'm finding it a bit intractable to both online publishing and online reading: luxuriant sentence structure, multipage paragraphs, and gargantuan notes all work more efficiently in paper technology than in computer hypertext, and the tiny none-too-tidy print clogs OCR.

A bit at a time seems the best way to proceed. And so, contrary to my previous practice, I'll be issuing the Memoirs in serial fashion.

Of this initial installment, I actually slighly prefer the bizarre Victorian wrapping to the contents proper, although Hamilton's declaration of methodology, Grammont's Sgt.-Bilko-like account of seventeenth-century warfare, and his easy socializing with both king and rebel during an armed rebellion all hold their charms.

Next in the hopper, though, is his introduction to the English court, and then we'll be cooking with gas!

. . .

This is also the 355th birthday of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, and what better way to remember the not-quite-national-over-there-either holiday than by pressing on to remember his most celebrated hoax?

In 1675 or 1676, possibly due to the discovery of "In th' isle of Britain" (a favorite of mine if not of Charles II), Rochester was banished from Court longer than usual, long enough to become bored enough to get into more elaborate trouble than usual. Thus he moved into the suburbs of London, disguised himself, and set up very successful shop as the noted quack doctor Alexander Bendo.

The Count de Grammont assures us:

Among all the compositions of a ludicrous and satirical kind, there never existed any that could be compared to those of Lord Rochester, either for humour, fire, or wit; but, of all his works, the most ingenious and entertaining is that which contains a detail of the intrigues and adventures in which he was engaged, while he professed medicine and astrology in the suburbs of London.
Sadly, that composition, having circulated only in manuscript, has been lost, unless it's in some bishop's safe-deposit box somewhere.

Happily, "Doctor Bendo"'s advertising spiel, having been issued as an infomercial pamphlet, has survived. (In fact, it's probably the only genuine Rochester work to be printed by Rochester himself.) In honor of the occasion, I skip ahead in the Memoirs of the Count de Grammont to share it with you:

I'll only say something to the honour of the Mountebank, in case you discover me to be one. Reflect a little what kind of creature 'tis, he is one then who is fain to supply some higher ability he pretends to, with Craft, he draws great companies to him by undertaking strange things which can never be effected. The Politician (by his example no doubt) finding how the people are taken with specious, miraculous, impossibilities, plays the same game; protests, declares, promises I know not what things, which he's sure can ne'er be brought about; the people believe, are deluded and pleased; the expectation of a future good which shall never befall them draws their eyes off a present evil: Thus are they kept and establish'd in subjection, peace, and obedience; he in greatness, wealth, and power....

. . .

How different was this letter from the other! Though perhaps not so well written; for one does not shew so much wit in suing for pardon as in venting reproaches, and it seldom happens that the soft, languishing style of a love-letter is so penetrating as that of invective.
I think I understand what Visible Darkness is getting at with links. I wish I didn't.

It's more relaxing when I can pretend that it's just you (out there) and stuff (out there) and my function is to point -- or, more precisely, to place a marker and leave. I'm happiest (happy in a secure stable confident way; not most gleeful or most driven) lending people books or showing them movies or playing them music that they like, and as much as I may strive to instigate and encourage their enjoyment by my own overbearing example, I'd be betraying the Code of the Autodidact if I denied the value of a library card and time alone in the stacks. (Not that linkin'-logs have much in common with libraries -- they're more like kids trying to impress each other with what they got for Xmas. A weblog's sidebar [or sidepage] list of favorites provides a closer equivalent to browsing someone's bookshelves than do the links in a weblog proper.)

And when I feel especially sickened by the tawdry deceits of "expression," as I occasionally and currently am, that's what seems safest: publish, point, disappear.

[Naturally, I've turned for publishing relief to someone who's not at all bothered by melancholy or guilt, or even by tawdry deceits. Grammont's introduction to the court of Charles II is challengingly crowded with new characters (and just as densely packed with notes). But the introductions are not without Hamiltonian charm; for example, to "Montagu, no very dangerous rival on account of his person, but very much to be feared for his assiduity, the acuteness of his wit, and for some other talents, which are of importance, when a man is once permitted to display them."

And with the next two chapters, we find ourselves comfortably settled on the high plateau of cheerful self-satisfied amorality whereon the remainder of the Memoirs will amiably amble.]

For better or worse or richer or poorer, I can't maintain dignified silence for long. A call (no matter how illusory) for response will rarely call in vain, and while I've lately preserved a model pout here, I've written plenty in email, comments, and mailing lists.

Even responding, I'd rather point to already published sequences of words than generate new ones; for example, by drawing a line from "Words' true work is to restore life itself to order" to "Sharp as mud." But, as a critic who prefers an informal style and primary sources close at hand, I may well find myself tempted into more active engagement against Ricoeur's formula that "Conversational speech presents; writing represents"....

. . .


My sincere thanks go to the anonymous reader who pointed out the typo in our recent tribute to the Art Gallery of Ontario:

I don't why some. I don't have the had-known that AINE held The Damned Thing
One might almost believe the message came from the King himself!


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.