Tuesday, November 24, 2009
-G. Vico, The New Science
Noble Vico - Last of the poetic Moralists. I say last, for the Years of Revolt & depraved Suspicion have choked the Light of Moralistick Reason. Tho' some few Sparks of Wisdom blink in the Dark, most oft we are abandoned to a Cloud of Unknowing - if Love succeed, we count it Happenstance, or flame our Hearts with vain Approbation. If our Loves fail, we shrug at the violent Mystery pass'd o'er us, like the Hurricanoes that sweep Houses to Twigs, & yet leave a pair of laced Dolls untouch'd.
Such, the blight'd & ignorant State that crowns us Moderns. And in our Depravity, we seek after false Prophesy & Explication; we incense & pray at the Altars of Mars & Venus; we swallow down the vile Philtres & Powders of 1,000 leering Conjur-men. These Trifles are the Bells to our Fool's Crown - the jangling Train of Attendants supported by Folly.
Is it any wonder then, that on this Harlequinne's Road we shou'd find ourselves most often Astray? When a Father leads his veil'd Daughter down the Aisle, has he shrouded her eyes not for Modesty's Sake, but to obscure the primrose path on which they walk? Is it any wonder that so great an Auctor as Johnson, himself known for his profound conjugal Affection, would say
"Sir, it is so far from being natural for a man and a woman to live in a state of marriage, that we find all the motives that they have for remaining in that connection, and the restraints which civilized society imposes to prevent separation, are hardly sufficient to prevent separation."
Not two Days ago, I sat on my Porch, expecting at any Moment my dear Friend, Ned Bearskin. Saponi Ned had descended to his Home-grounds, the Land of the Fat Bear, as his brazen Chums call it. He wou'd bring back from this Venture a Winter's Store-worth of Deer, Bear, & the various trade-Trinkets that so delight the Naturalls local to my Plantation. Bear-flesh has always treat'd poor Epaph. most unkindly - the greazy Tissues & Folds of Muscle are jellied-o'er with mucous Fat.
This presents a most aweful Task to my untutor'd Belly, which most oft rejects the Meal, in a riotous & unpleasing Spectacle. So wretch'd was my last Voiding, that as a publick Service, the Magistrate visit'd upon me a Writ of Quarantine. Mme Bainton, long-since us'd to such mephitic Discharge, had wrapp'd her nose in an Alcohol-soak'd Rag; Goodman Stubb ate little, and retain'd less, as his Stomach was in perpetual Danger. "What rotten Beast, what curs'd Mongrel-hellion, cou'd have given ye such a disorder'd Bowels, Sir? Every Day yr Chamber-pot resounds with the Noises of yr bloody Violence, & our Naturalls [for we then had some of Bearskin's Family in a Dependency] shudder with every Scream that comes from yr room. What aweful Buttock-birth! What Labor ye expend, for the sake of a single Meal!"
But yet I rebuk'd Stubb for his familiarity, & took no small Delight in distressing his girlish Nose. Such pleasant Memories as these occupied my mind, when Bearskin huff'd to my Door, bearing with him up the shady Promenade an old Man. Despite strict Instruction to the contrary, Bearskin had return'd with a new Companion - yet another Mouth to feed!
I sputter'd; I shook; I left my Chamber-pot beneath his Window. Yet Bearskin wou'd not relinquish his shrivell'd Companion. I protest'd of Scarcity - had not Bearskin just relinquished his Wife & the sundry Comforts of Domesticity, merely to obtain Supplies necessary to our mutual Survival? But yet he wou'd give me one of his gnomic Stares, & shrug into Conversation with the old Sage.
This Business had so stuff'd me with Jealousy & querulous Curiosity that Bile began to rise in my Stomach; I sought an Interview with this Personage, this wizened Troll.
He had lost much of his Hair, & offer'd a shining, fuzzy Pate to the Sky. His Walk was an unhappy Compromise between the anxious Shuffle of a baby, and the Strut of an aged Sergeant-at-arms. Long Years of Fighting had train'd his Knees to buckle - a harsh Winter in the Hudson Valley took his Toes - but his Back remain'd straight, no matter the Circumstance. Yet an Eddy of gleeful Wrinkes surrounded his Eyes, & an ever-ready Smile sprung easy to his Lips. There was a cheery Wisdom about him, & a woeful Glee.
I queried him concerning his Discourse with my trusted Friend. "Ned ask'd for my advises," he wou'd say, simply & without Aggravation - yet without Invitation, either. Instead, this old Yankee Sibyl grinned at me, & drank my Brandy & ate my Venison, like a mugging Free-loader.
Amidst this Mystery, Mme Bainton purloin'd my Ear, and pour'd out a Sea of feminine Trouble. Ned's Wife, Annie, had taken to sleeping apart from my Comrade - had gone so far as to take up Confidence with a young Man from a neighboring Cittie, a Den of iniquitous Deception call'd Newe Market. Not yet had there been Consumation of this Lust, but Mme Bainton fear'd the worst, for my Friend, & for our general Peace. She theoriz'd that perhaps Ned had ask'd this Codger to assist him in recapturing his Wife's Attentions - that perhaps Ned sight'd the Dutch Warlock & return'd him to Virginia for his magickal Counsel. "Wou'd that some other Men were so concern'd after their Wives' Constancy!" To which I replied, in the spirit of Plutarch, "All Women look the Same, with the Lamp extinguish'd." Miff'd, she disappear'd; puzzled, I continued cogitation.
A ponderous Week pass'd - baleful Glares & leaden Silence all 'round. One Afternoon, on Promenade thro' my Grounds, Bearskin tread silently into Step with me. Tho' I was pleas'd at his Return, I cou'd not show this, til he shou'd reveal his Mysteries. Instead, he had a Request - "Cou'd you offer a Dinner for the Dutchman? He is due to leave, on the Morrow." I assented, Bearskin shuffled off again, into the Corn-fields & his Thoughts.
We pass'd a pleasant enough Meal, tho' the Fare was light, in consideration of the oncoming Winter: Rolls, Venison, a Fowl-pie, Beer & cider, Wines for the second Course of Sprouts & Creme, a Ham with Pilsner, a Heap of butter, & four Ears of Indian Corn for each. Mme Bainton made her usual, silly eye-brow Shrugs at me, indiscreetly indicating the subtle Movements of Bearskin's Chair, as it migrat'd closer & closer to that of his frigid Wife. She made no Gesture toward him, but ate silent & dour, unconcern'd by his obvious Interest. My Wife continued her idiot Pantomime, whose Meaning, beyond proving her imbecile Fascination with my Friend's Grief, remain'd obscure.
At last, the Dutchman clink'd his glass, & spoke his Mono-logue:
"When I left my wife, to go to the fighting at the frontier, I had been given two dolls - corn husk figures of us two. I do n't look as I did then, and then I did n't look like nay corn husk, neither. Yet I left them with her, and told her what I had been told, when they were given me, in secret, by a Huron midwife - 'keep always these two together, and ye will be happy together.' My wife wd keep them on the mantle in our general room. Some time, I wd come home after months afield & find them separate, and some time, over the nights, I wd find them, moved closer. Some time, if we argued, or had cause for discontent, she wd move them far apart, and the children knew to keep well away from her ill-temper. And with mine trespasses she had plenty cause for distemper.
But never did she lose 'em, never did she misplace 'em, in all her years of keeping house & cleaning up after. My wife died last summer, of the bloody pox, and now I can n't keep the dolls together in the house, knowing she won't nay be around. And I - miss her sometime. So I give 'em to you, Ned & Annie, because if they kept my wife with me, cruel & stupid tho' I cd be, they will keep ye together."
Mme Bainton clapped with Delight, & I was sure that later, she wou'd approach me in the Night for Caresses - she is tiresome Predictable. Ned handed his Doll to Annie, and she smiled, and held them together in her Lap. Looking brief at them, she then returned her Eyes to Ned, and did not move them. And, rumbling into his Seat, tippling from his Glass, the old Dutchman chuckled, and wiped from the Wrinkles of his Eyes, the Gleams of Tears.
A gent. of Quality shou'd ever make a Habit of disdaining public Intercourse. Such are the Perils, according to wise Counsel:
By being seldom seen, I could not stir
But like a comet I was wonder'd at...
And dress'd myself in such humility
That I did pluck allegiance from men's hearts,
Loud shouts and salutations from their mouths,
Even in the presence of the crowned king.
Thus did I keep my person fresh and new;
My presence, like a robe pontifical,
Ne'er seen but wonder'd at: and so my state,
Seldom but sumptuous, showed like a feast
And won by rareness such solemnity.
In such ringing & measured Tones did I oft hear Schoolmaster Wendell upbraid me for my Liberty, wishing he cou'd bolt me to a Chamber lined with Books & empty of Females. But if every Poet has his Zoilos, every Hamlet has his Polonius, and Wendell's petulant cavills rang hollow 'gainst my chest.
In such Concourse I encounter'd my ancient tavern-companion, Bunston Deale. I had been arguing with a noisome Snail at the Ordinary, a nametagg'd Monstrosity call'd Snerdly. Snerdly has held some sundry Goods of mine for Weeks, including a precious Store of Damasck Myrrh. Burbling into his kerchief with a monstrous Hub-bub, he sort'd a Lump of what he call'd Tobaccky round his mouth, and fairly blotted the Fabric with that rotten Juice. I tugg'd at his stain'd Collar, & wish'd he wou'd be honest with me, concerning his late Failures. Amidst my buttonholing of the Cretin, Deale arriv'd, much displeas'd with the State of some hemp-rope recently purchas'd of Snerdly. Thus cornered, Snerdly appear'd on the Verge of Tears, and seem'd entirely overcome with a Wealth of Emotion, in his Poverty of Goods. He sniffled, & scrubb'd his Nose on his tatter'd Sleeve. Epaph! rumbled Deale, Ye must beware these Richmond Merchaunts! They disguise their wealth in Rags - the better to thieve us all!
Then Deale executed a peculiar Maneuver, one I had not seen since my Days at the Side of Ned Bearskin, deep 'neath the Dan R. Catching eye of a Snake, Deale grabb'd it from the Ground, and thrust its hissing Jaws into Snerdly's very Face. Oh - aho! Oh! Quite right!
Snerdly's Brains bubbl'd, & promis'd to burst from his very Ears. I loop'd my Arm through the Crook of Bunston's, & drug him away to a Stoop, to beseech his Attention.
Bunston, sd I, whence this curious Competency?
Georges Dealle, first Scion of his noble Line, spear'd the Devil with his Staff, cleaving ignoble Scratch quite in two. For his Struggle with Old Tom Devil, he became St. of England, & his Saint's Day April 23rd - that same day that birth'd Shakespere.
Deales of all kinds became acquainted with the finer Aspeckts of Devilry, the wild Doings of untamed Men & the lascivious Lusts of craven Witch-Harlots. These Humbugs trifled the kingdom of Brittannia so greatly, that the Deales did pluck up their Trousers, & sail to VIRGINIA.
& no nobler Move cou'd be imagined! The Dealles, various known as Deals, Deales, Dayles, & Doyles, spread themselves across the Middle Peninsula of James & Charles Cittie Shires. Mighty as the James, their Family split into a thousand Creeks, Runs & Streams, divergent off the main flux of aequeous Power. Deales lived as Kings alongside Shirley Run, & Doyles lived as bondsmen in Accamoosik Swamp. A Dealle Hand clutch'd a pearly Goblet in the panelled dining Rooms of Governors & Chauncellors; a Deal Shoulder crack'd, heaving against an intransigent Plough.
In this gnarl'd & twist'd Swampland of Relation & Obligation, one cou'd only expect that a Twitch upon the Thread wou'd set spinning the Scene entire. & befitting the watery course of Human Spirits, it was the swollen Moon that was most to blame for what ensued.
When silver Light fill'd every Corner of that swampy Peninsula, Ptolomy Deale, a Rioter, had spent 3 hours occupied with Drink. Quite sunk under the water-Line of drunkenness, he stumbled forth from the Door of a Tavern with his Chums. He cried to the open Heavens, limn'd with shining Silver, B'lieve I cou'd drink the Devil under the Table!
At which a Flash, & old Jack Scratch himself appear'd. In brimstone Notes of Menace, he utter'd his Curse - as long as a Deale man walk'd Sober, he wou'd claim the Family entire.
In Pitch-terror & Fear the Deales began their Campaign of Drink. This Sea-change switch'd out the commodious & pleasant Waters that formerly sustain'd a Body, replac'd instead with the choking dizzying Fluids of Brandy. One male especial became a Designated Drinker, & swallow'd down a Clan's Share of Alcohol.
This ran in fine til the Time of Bunston's great-Grandfather, Euphabius Deale, yclept "Jack" Deale. This Jack Deale play'd a most grossly wondrous Violin, a fiddle unlike any previous heard. But most especial, he became known as a dauncer.
Dancing being the principal Delight of the young Scampers & fillies, this Expertise prov'd invaluable, winning the Hearts of a thousand disappointed Ladies. For as his Feet flick'd & tapp'd, they traced out the Lines of lascivious Wonder. This devilish Habit made him many Admirers, to be certain, but also cancell'd the Esteem he had once held in divers Ancient hearts.
The day arrived, when young Jack Deale wou'd be forc'd to take up the Mantle of Family Drunk. & yet he refus'd, crying out to his greyed & wizen'd mater, The Devil is a Coward! I dare him a Challenge, that he cou'd not dance worth a lick on the Wide banks of the James R.!
In a flash, tiresome predictable, the Devill appear'd, & dragged young Deale down to the banks of the River, where Jamestown Island meets the Waters of the old Powhatan Flu. Whetting his old Hooves against the marshy Sand, the Devill murmur'd one of his Taunts, that old King Bettie will surely take glee in yr soul, Jack Deale, & yr prostrate limbs, as Well! The noble Deale only ran his Fingers through his bounteous Mustache, & call'd to dance a vicious Reel.
Ancient Clio Waggins call'd the Dance, & John Brackis fiddled til the very Wood sweat'd with Exertion. The Devil retriev'd from his deepest Bag of Chaunts & Magicks an intricate Swirl, a Foot-maelstrom that bewilder'd the Sense of poor Waggins & nearly chafed the Excellence of his Calling.
& yet the Deale was greater! Blazing Lightning of Heels, swift Murmur of Steps - an Audacity of Step not seen since the Bal des Ardents! The Devill, corner'd & humbl'd by the Majesty of Deale's footwork, crumbled into a faint Shadow of himself, a mere Goat of a man.
Oh Deale, sd he, what wou'd you have me do?
Devill, sd Deale, I wou'd have you leave this Place forever. Henceforth, ye shall live ever - in Surry Shire!
A Punishment then quite wretch'd, now perhaps moderat'd in the Light of subsequent Development - the Wilds of James & Charles Cittie o'errun by scrofulous Tourists & mealymouth'd Foreigners. But in these precious Days passed, I have oft wish'd that I might be given such sweet Punishment.