Tom Cain, ed. The Poetry of Mildmay Fane, Second Earl of Westmorland: from the Fulbeck, Harvard and Westmorland Manuscripts. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2001. xii+465 pp. ISBN 0 7190 5984 4 Cloth.
University of Exeter
McRae, Andrew. "Review of Tom Cain, ed. The Poetry of Mildmay Fane, Second Earl of Westmorland: from the Fulbeck, Harvard and Westmorland Manuscripts." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.1 (May, 2003): 18.1-7 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/09-1/mcraerev.html>.
In his introduction to this substantial volume of previously unpublished poetry, Tom Cain raises the analogy of the discovery, one hundred years ago this year, of the poems of Thomas Traherne. It is almost this rare, he suggests, for such a large body of unexplored seventeenth-century poems to be brought to light. Yet the comparison is also enlightening in other ways, since each of the two poets seems to speak, in very different ways, to the respective audiences which they have unwittingly found. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Traherne's poetic craft and religious mysticism accorded with many prevailing preconceptions not only about the Renaissance, but about poetry itself. By contrast, at the beginning of the twenty-first century the poetry of Mildmay Fane will appeal to a readership perhaps more prepared to set aside questions of literary quality in order to examine the politics of poetry. For here is a collection of work, however quirky and patchy it may at times seem, which documents with wonderful clarity a man quite simply thinking his way through the upheavals of his age. It is not a poetry of polemic -- of a kind that has received so much attention in recent scholarship -- but rather of anxiety, uncertainty, and reflection.
Cain presents some 500 poems, written mainly in the 1640s and 1650s. Unlike the 137 poems that Fane published in Otia Sacra (1648), those that remained only in manuscript form are typically more private, apparently intended in many cases for audiences of no more than one. Unusually for such a prolific poet, his work did not circulate widely; Margaret Crum's First-Line Index of English Poetry 1500-1800 in Manuscripts of the Bodleian Library Oxford, in fact, does not record a single identified Fane poem in the rich holdings of the Bodleian. Rather, as Cain notes, the manuscripts have something of the quality of a journal, documenting immediate thoughts and experiences. In some instances this approach produces occasional poetry in its purest form: poems about Fane's fox-hunting and fishing, about a "sea voyage for pleasure," and about an experience of "phisick" in which he strives to face bravely the "nautious" potion that will prompt his "gutts [to] rumble and arse squirt" (105, 163, 211). And while we have become accustomed to the epistolary poem as a quasi-public mode in the seventeenth century, many of Fane's epistles are no more than personal notes. In some cases -- such as the poems written in the course of his courtship of Grace Thornhurst -- these retain a certain immediacy, as Fane brings literary conventions into conjunction with personal circumstance. In other cases, the results are somewhat more banal.
If he had lived in times of peace, Fane might have written nothing more significant than this sort of stuff; however, this was not a time -- and his was not a life -- that allowed for complete disengagement and self-absorption. Notably, he knew personally many of the principal combatants in the period's conflicts, was connected by marriage to Thomas Fairfax, and was in contact with politicized poets such as Andrew Marvell and John Cleveland. Though he was not especially prominent in politics or the military, Fane nonetheless led a troop in the royalist forces, before being captured in 1642. His subsequent strategy of guarded accommodation to power is documented in his signing of the Covenant in 1644, and is reflected in one poem, "Upon a small occasion of 10000£s disburcementraptim," in which he ruefully records: "Two Daughters' Portians gon, and spent, / Th'one on the King T'other on the Parlement." In short, support of one side has cost him one daughter's dowry, and support of the other has cost the same again, leaving him to cling stoically to the hope that "whilst Integrety 'thout shuffling's delt," the loss of "Douries and Patrimonies" might be "less felt" (71).
In his short prose autobiography, also reproduced in this edition, Fane looks back on the "unspeakable wickedness" of the regicide (45). But his representations of the parliamentary forces were at the time altogether less stable than this retrospective statement might suggest. One poem on Cromwell, written on the fourth anniversary of the regicide, expresses an edgy admiration:
Brave Captain though thine honor gaind increase
By war let all concluded be in peace
'Tis commendable after Pallas spear
Had brandisht been Her Olive branch to wear
For being Protector and anoynted thence
All suppling lenatives He should dispence
Unto the People; make the sword to bend
Into a sickle, th'Helmet to defend
Hive like the laboring Bee; if this He'l doe
I'le say He shall be my Protector too. (272-3)
Elsewhere, though, he turns Cromwell's chosen discourse of "protection" against him. Pointedly reviving the politicized pastoral of the Caroline court, he speaks through a shepherd who is nostalgic for:
a time when our Great Pan
And Flocks Protector kept these plains
Making them like th'Arcadian
Wher all Securety stil reignes.
In a statement redolent of the author's own anxieties, the shepherd goes on to claim that those "of Giants race" have simply "Chas't all protection from this place" (275).
Other poems, though less committed, provide evidence of a man sceptically assessing competing claims to political and religious truth. In a 1643 poem titled "The Times Steerage," he writes:
Like Ships by th'same wind favourd, yet can stear
A severall Course; soe now the Cavillier
And the Bowle-Noddled-Crue pretend They fight
Both that Religion and the Lawes have right
For Liberty tis doubtless thats their own. (82)
In the following decade, he ponders the implications of republicanism. One pithy epigram notes: "All's common now since Commonwealths bere sway / And warr in Earnest's become Rebells play" (291). The irony here pervades other poems, that dwell similarly on the nature of a state in which "servants unto Kings" have been translated, at the stroke of an axe, into "Cittizens" (273). In his mind, this act created a mere parody of freedom. Responding to the arrest of a number of royalists in 1658, he comments: "Traytor's a name soe common grown of late / Since Kingdom is Transformd into a State" (337).
Cain's edition, in accord with much recent editorial work in this period, prioritizes his manuscript sources. Studies of Fane have been helped neither by the way that he preserved his work in a number of different manuscripts, some of which he appears to have maintained simultaneously, nor by the fact that the family archive has been dispersed for many years. Cain simply gathers the sources into one volume, and transcribes the poems from each source in turn: noting differences in the handful of cases in which one source duplicates a poem from another, and omitting only Fane's many Latin poems (which are listed, by first-line, in an appendix). While these editorial decisions are in most respects sound, they have the unfortunate effect of jumbling any chronological progression, which might have represented more clearly Fane's shifting attitudes throughout the 1640s and '50s. In his textual presentation, Cain again aims to present the poems as they stand in the sources, and thus makes no attempt to modernize spelling or punctuation. His annotation, though at times lacking in detail, generally provides excellent assistance for the contextualization of poems that are often very specific in their references and allusions.
Though it would be difficult to fault Cain's impeccable editorial work, his decisions produce a volume unlikely to appeal to a wide audience. (It is, therefore, difficult to see Fane gaining the readership that Traherne has enjoyed.) Yet for scholars of seventeenth-century literature and politics, this edition is certainly something of a landmark, which adds substance to our appreciation of a turbulent period, and provides a valuable corrective to simplistic perceptions of a nation divided into two implacable camps. While historical studies might ultimately classify Fane as a "royalist," this volume does much to problematize that term. For Fane's royalism was not that of the Earl of Strafford, nor that of John Cleveland: he was, in other words, willing neither to die nor publish in the cause of monarchy. Instead, as evidenced by his multiplicitous range of poems, throughout this period he thought, and wrote, and generally did his best just to get on with his life.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).