Appropriating and Attributing the Supernatural in the Early Modern Country House Poem
A. D. Cousins and R. J. Webb
Cousins, A. D., and R. J. Webb. "Appropriating and Attributing
the Supernatural in the Early Modern Country House Poem". Early Modern
Literary Studies 11.2 (September, 2005) 4.1-26 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-2/couwebco.htm>
Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious showThe Jonsonian speaker clearly alludes to Horace, Odes 2. 18 in suggesting that Penshurst is not adorned with gold but expressive of the golden mean.[v] There may also be, as Ian Donaldson remarks in his notes on the poem (at page 88), disparaging allusion to some other country houses. An “ancient,” native Englishness and moderation, Jonson’s speaker indicates, make Penshurst not spectacular but, rather, “reverenced.” Now such observations will prove important for subsequent display throughout the poem of Penshurst’s royalist credentials, its portrayal as an embodiment of monarchist ideology and so its being represented as an epicentre of right thinking, right behaving, right politics in the English countryside. No less important however is the Jonsonian speaker’s self-representation through the Horatian allusion. He begins his celebration of Penshurst by assuming a laureate role yet one that intimates his relative independence--that implies him to be a man of auctoritas; to be, in fact, his own man. Jonson begins the poem as he intends to continue, which he does in a way curiously and self-consciously problematic.
Of touch or marble, nor canst boast a row
Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold;
Thou hast no lantern whereof tales are told,
Or stair, or courts; but stand’st an ancient pile,
And these grudged at, art reverenced the while.
Thou joy’st in better marks, of soil, of air,The speaker aligns Penshurst not with money but with nature. The opening couplet of the lines quoted above names three of the four elements and the last is metaphorically invoked in line 16. We do not think that accidental. Jonson’s speaker wants to differentiate Penshurst from great houses linked even by mere consumption itself with commerce. Doing so enables him to indicate that the great house of the Sidneys is in harmony with nature and therefore with natural law.[vi] Further, it allows him to suggest that there is a distinctive spirit of place at Penshurst. That brings us back to what for the moment we should like to call the speaker’s Horatian stance.[vii]
Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair.
Thou hast thy walks for health as well as sport:
Thy Mount, to which the dryads do resort,
Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made,
Beneath the broad beech and the chestnut shade;
That taller tree, which of a nut was set
At his great birth, where all the muses met.
There, in the writhed bark, are cut the names
Of many a sylvan taken with his flames;
And thence the ruddy satyrs oft provoke
The lighter fauns to reach thy lady’s oak.
Thy copse, too, named of Gamage, thou hast there,
That never fails to serve thee seasoned deer
When thou wouldst feast or exercise thy friends.
The lower land, that to the river bends,
Thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine and calves do feed;
The middle grounds thy mares and horses breed.
Each bank doth yield thee conies, and the tops,
Fertile of wood, Ashour and Sidney’s copse,
To crown thy open table, doth provide
The purpled pheasant with the speckled side;
The painted partridge lies in every field,
And for thy mess is willing to be killed.
And if the high-swoll’n Medway fail thy dish,
Thou hast thy ponds that pay thee tribute fish:
Fat, aged carps, that run into thy net;
And pikes, now weary their own kind to eat,
As loath the second draught or cast to stay,
Officiously, at first, themselves betray;
Bright eels, that emulate them, and leap on land
Before the fisher, or into his hand.
Then hath thy orchard fruit, thy garden flowers,
Fresh as the air and new as are the hours:
The early cherry, with the later plum,
Fig, grape and quince, each in his time doth come;
The blushing apricot and woolly peach
Hang on thy walls, that every child may reach.
And though thy walls be of the country stone,
They’re reared with no man’s ruin, no man’s groan;
There’s none that dwell about them wish them down,
But all come in, the farmer and the clown,
And no one empty-handed, to salute
Thy lord and lady, though they have no suit.
Some bring a capon, some a rural cake,
Some nuts, some apples; some that think they make
The better cheeses, bring ‘em; or else send
By their ripe daughters, whom they would commend
This way to husbands; and whose baskets bear
An emblem of themselves, in plum and pear.
There’s nothing I can wish, for which I stay.
That found King James, when, hunting late this way
With his brave son, the Prince, they saw thy fires
Shine bright on every hearth as the desires
Of thy Penates had been set on flame
To entertain them; or the country came
With all their zeal to warm their welcome here.
What (great, I will not say, but) sudden cheer
Didst thou then make ‘em! And what praise was heaped
On thy good lady then! Who therein reaped
The just reward of her high housewifery:
To have her linen, plate, and all things nigh
When she was far; and not a room but dressed
As if it had expected such a guest!
These, Penshurst, are thy praise, and yet not all.Elsewhere, Jonson’s speaker asserts, lies hubris; at Penshurst can be seen the golden mean, romanitas translated, a manifestation of translatio imperii et studii.
Thy lady’s noble, fruitful, chaste withal;
His children thy great lord may call his own,
A fortune in this age but rarely known.
They are and have been taught religion; thence
Their gentler spirits have sucked innocence.
Each morn and even they are taught to pray
With the whole household, and may every day
Read in their virtuous parents’ noble parts
The mysteries of manners, arms and arts.
Now, Penshurst, they that will proportion thee
With other edifices, when they see
Those proud, ambitious heaps, and nothing else,
May say, their lords have built, but thy lord dwells.
[ Thou ] canst at home in thy securer restThere, we would suggest, the reader is shown harmony rather than a reconciliation of opposites. Wroth’s indifference to courtly life, to the sphere of the court masques, differentiates him of course from his wife--although we know that Wroth helped finance some masques. In any event, the point in those lines would seem to be that when the court, in the person of the King, comes to Wroth he appears almost embedded in the natural world of his estate.[xiii] What could be more revealing in those lines quoted above than the absence of the numinous, so comically but so cunningly evoked in the lines about the anthropomorphized landscape, fancifully populated with Roman deities, of Penshurst?
Live with unbought provision blest;
Free from proud porches or their gilded roofs,
‘Mongst lowing herds and solid hoofs;
Alongst the curled woods and painted meads,
Through which a serpent river leads
To some cool, courteous shade, which he calls his,
And makes sleep softer than it is!
Or, if thou list the night in watch to break,
A-bed canst hear the loud stag speak,
In spring oft roused for thy master’s sport,
Who for it makes thy house his court;
Or with thy friends the heart of all the year
Divid’st upon the lesser deer [ . . . . ]
Though frost and snow locked from mine eyesA modulation of tone no less than a shift in focus captures the reader’s attention from the poem’s very start. That is to say, the reader perceives at once the major differences between Jonson’s and Carew’s poems--differences that allow Carew to acknowledge but re-imagine the Penshurst paradigm, to appropriate and attribute the supernatural in a way familiarly his own.[xiv]
That beauty which without door lies,
Thy gardens, orchards, walks, that so
I might not all thy pleasures know,
Yet, Saxham, thou within thy gate
Art of thyself so delicate,
So full of native sweets that bless
Thy roof with inward happiness,
As neither from nor to thy store
Winter takes aught, or spring adds more.
The cold and frozen air had starved
Much poor, if not by thee preserved,
Whose prayers have made thy table blest
With plenty, far above the rest.
The season hardly did afford
Coarse cates unto thy neighbours’ board,
Yet thou hadst dainties as the sky
Had only been thy volary;
Or else the birds, fearing the snow
Might to another Deluge grow,
The pheasant, partridge, and the lark
Flew to thy house as to the Ark.
The willing ox of himself came
Home to the slaughter, with the lamb,
And every beast did thither bring
Himself to be an offering.
The scaly herd more pleasure took,
Bathed in thy dish, than in the brook.
Water, earth, air, did all conspire
To pay their tributes to thy fire,
Whose cherishing flames themselves divide
Through every room, where they deride
The night and cold abroad; whilst they,
Like suns within, keep endless day.
Those cheerful beams send forth their light
To all that wander in the night,
And seem to beckon from aloof
The weary pilgrim to thy roof;
Where, if refreshed, he will away,
He’s fairly welcome, or if stay
Far more, which he shall hearty find,
Both from the master and the hind.
Water, earth, air, did all conspireIn Carew’s version of an anthropomorphized nature, one acting beneficently within the little world of the Crofts’ estate, nature bodies forth--enacts--caritas. The speaker’s celebration of the household fires as expressive of a sacred mystery seems to evoke at once the biblical creation myth (the division of light from dark, distinctly alluded to with a blasphemy not so mild as might at first be thought) and the Roman myth of Vesta. Outside Saxham all appears dark and cold; within, according to Carew’s speaker, lie warmth and illumination born of a fire that mysteriously multiplies itself as if into so many suns spreading unending daylight. In his account of the household fires Carew’s speaker gives some momentary life to what is, in the poem, the otherwise lifeless Christian supernatural by fusing it with Roman myth and by way of focus on the natural world. For a moment in the poem he brings the Christian supernatural to life--in a microcosm of that largesse which flows from the court to those below. The poem makes caritas into an element of the monarchist political organization of England; in that sense, Carew faithfully follows the Penshurst paradigm.
To pay their tributes to thy fire,
Whose cherishing flames themselves divide
Through every room, where they deride
The night and cold abroad; whilst they,
Like suns within, keep endless day.
[P]ure and uncompounded beauties blessClearly those verses offer the same royalist, political vision: caritas informs the microcosm of monarchist government. Just so, Carew’s speaker emphasizes the native moderation of Wrest, the Horatian moderation reborn in the culture of Stuart courtly circles. In those lines the reader sees something much closer to the Romanized vision of To Penshurst than can be found in To Saxham.
This mansion with an useful comeliness
Devoid of art, for here the architect
Did not with curious skill a pile erect
Of carved marble, touch, or porphyry,
But built a house for hospitality;
No sumptuous chimney-piece of shining stone
Invites the stranger’s eye to gaze upon
And coldly entertains his sight, but clear
And cheerful flames cherish and warm him here;
No Doric nor Corinthian pillars grace
With imagery this structure’s naked face.
The lord and lady of this place delight
Rather to be in act than seem in sight:
Instead of statues to adorn their wall,
They throng with living men their merry hall,
Where at large tables filled with wholesome meats
The servant, tenant, and kind neighbour eats.
Amalthea’s hornThis is appropriation and attribution with a vengeance. The Roman gods aren’t safe in Carew’s fictions. On the other hand, as the lines simultaneously indicate, nor is Christian mystery.[xviii] Amalthea, Carew’s speaker suggests, becomes a living presence at Wrest through the liberality of the de Grays. He also suggests that Ceres and Bacchus cease at Wrest to be tropes in stone or paint. What he says they become there, however, seems curiously designed to disconcert.[xix] Amalthea’s virtual, dispersed incarnation implies the numinousness of the de Grays’ hospitality: the caritas that, along with civilitas, informs their country house. She is brought to life and diffused through human agency. Ceres and Bacchus are metamorphosed into what appears to be a mockery of transubstantiation.[xx] They are, in effect, seized upon and slaughtered by the humankind which invented them, in order that the flesh of the goddess and the blood of the god may be readied for all to ingest. Transformed from tropes into food, Ceres and Bacchus undergo humiliating change; and thus, at the same time, Ovidian myth is reduced to a brutal materiality not inappropriate to the Lucretian universe from which its maker thought it sprang. In those lines, one could well argue, Carew evokes the Roman and the Christian supernatural only that he might, using them to celebrate the human (and the royalist, in particular) at their own expense, casually supplant or erase them. Carew’s appropriation and attribution of the supernatural at that point in his poem have an ingenious, ruthless levitas, a fantastic disenchantment, that distinguish him unmistakably from Jonson.
Of plenty is not in effigy worn
Without the gate, but she within the door
Empties her free and unexhausted store.
Nor, crowned with wheaten wreaths, doth Ceres stand
In stone, with a crook’d sickle in her hand;
Nor, on a marble tun, his face besmeared
With grapes, is curled Bacchus reared.
We offer not in emblems to the eyes
But to the taste those useful deities:
We press the juicy god and quaff his blood,
And grind the yellow goddess into food.
Till I shall come again, let this suffice,
I send my salt, my sacrifice,
To thee, thy lady, younglings, and as far
As to thy Genius and thy Lar;
To the worn threshold, porch, hall, parlour, kitchen,
The fat-fed smoking temple which in
The wholesome savour of thy mighty chines
Invites to supper him who dines;
Where laden spits, warped with large ribs of beef,
Not represent but give relief
To the lank stranger and the sour swain;
Where both may feed, and come again,
For no black-bearded vigil from thy door
Beats with a buttoned-staff the poor;
But from thy warm love-hatching gates each may
Take friendly morsels, and there stay
To sun his thin-clad members, if he likes,
For thou no porter keep’st who strikes.
But from thy warm love-hatching gates each mayAnd as for the second:
Take friendly morsels, and there stay
To sun his thin-clad members, if he likes [ . . . . ]
Manners knows distance, and a man unrudeFurther, as far as the levitas of the speaker is concerned, one notes the deployment of feminine rhymes, early in the poem (“kitchen,” / “which in”--lines 6-7) and thereafter (“devour,” / “power”--lines 107-108). More to the point, there is as well the almost unrelenting, comic--but not merely comic--focus on eating. The Pemberton household seems to offer a eutopia of plenty, a golden-age-come-again of food offered within a civilised environment: an ethical counterpart to the land of Cockaigne: a microcosm of the feudal largesse notionally available under Stuart rule.
Would soon recoil, and not intrude
His stomach to a second meal.’
No, no [ . . . . ]
‘This is that princely Pemberton, who canAccording to Herrick’s speaker, and in harmony with what was said in the address to Pemberton at the poem’s beginning, the lord of the estate embodies an ideal of the supernatural at once Roman and Christian.
Teach man to keep a god in man’;
And when wise poets shall search out to see
Good men, they find them all in thee.
See how loose Nature, in respect
To her, itself doth recollect;
And everything so whisht and fine,
Starts forthwith to its bonne mine.
The sun himself, of her aware,
Seems to descend with greater care;
And lest she see him go to bed,
In blushing clouds conceals his head.
So when the shadows laid asleep
From underneath these banks do creep,
And on the river as it flows
With eben shuts begin to close;
The modest halcyon comes in sight,
Flying betwixt the day and night;
And such an horror calm and dumb,
Admiring Nature does benumb.
The viscous air, wheres’e’er she fly,
Follows and sucks her azure dye;
The jellying stream compacts below,
If it might fix her shadow so;
The stupid fishes hang, as plain
As flies in crystal overta’en;
And men the silent scene assist,
Charmed with the sapphire-winged mist.
Maria such, and so doth hush
The world, and through the evening rush.
No new-born comet such a train
Draws through the sky, nor star new-slain.
For straight those giddy rockets fail,
Which from the putrid earth exhale,
But by her flames, in heaven tried,
Nature is wholly vitrified.
‘Tis she that to these gardens gaveThe ironic disparity between what Marvell’s speaker asserts in those stanzas and his rhetoric of assertion marks the apotheosis of Fairfax’s daughter--where apotheosis means portrayal of her as an incarnation of renovatio, and thus the fulfilment of her parents’ protestant virtue--as a moment of slyly divine comedy. The notion that she re-forms fallen nature is wittily given climactic expression in what seems almost a parody of the Messianic Secret (lines 703-704). Yet surely the emphasis there on Maria’s humility implies, first, that her Blessed Virgin-like lowliness is all too obviously born of the very humility which (according to Marvell’s speaker) lies close to the heart of her father and of his house. It would be too easy, amidst the speaker’s comic attribution of the supernatural, to miss his deft, complimentary gesture towards his patron. It would be too easy to assume, in other words, that because all his praise is ludic it must therefore not at all be praise.
That wondrous beauty which they have;
She straightness of the woods bestows;
To her the meadow sweetness owes;
Nothing could make the river be
So crystal pure but only she;
She yet more pure, sweet, straight, and fair,
Than gardens, woods, meads, rivers are.
Therefore what first she on them spent,
They gratefully again present:
The meadow, carpets where to tread;
The garden, flow’rs to crown her head;
And for a glass, the limpid brook,
Where she may all her beauties look;
But, since she would not have them seen,
The wood about her draws a screen.
For she, to higher beauties raised,
Disdains to be for lesser praised.
She counts her beauty to converse
In all the languages as hers;
Nor yet in those herself employs
But for the wisdom, not the noise;
Nor yet that wisdom would affect,
But as ‘tis heaven’s dialect.
Blest Nymph! That couldst so soon prevent
Those trains by youth against thee meant:
Tears (watery shot that pierce the mind);
And sighs (Love’s cannon charged with wind);
True praise (that breaks through all defence);
And feigned complying innocence;
But knowing where this ambush lay,
She ‘scaped the safe, but roughest way.
 Reference to Jonson’s poems is from Ben Jonson: Poems, ed. Ian Donaldson (London: Oxford University Press, 1975).
 Historicist studies of the country house poem are many, as one might expect. Two seminal monographs are: William A. McClung, The Country House in English Renaissance Poetry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977); Don E. Wayne, Penshurst: The Semiotics of Place and the Poetics of History (London: Methuen, 1984). See, more recently: Hugh Jenkins, Feigned Commonwealths: The Country House Poem and the Fashioning of Ideal Commonwealths (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1998); Kari Boyd McBride, Country House Discourse in Early Modern England: A Cultural Study of Landscape and Legitimacy (Aldershot: Scolar, 2001).
 Reference to the poets named above, other of course than Ben Jonson, is from: Cavalier Poets: Selected Poems, ed. Thomas M. Clayton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978); Andrew Marvell, The Complete Poems, ed. Elizabeth Story Donno (London: Allen Lane, 1974). On the so-called “cavalier world” and on the cavalier poets in general see: Earl Miner’s classic study, The Cavalier Mode from Jonson to Cotton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971); Raymond A. Anselment, Loyalist Resolve: Patient Fortitude in the English Civil War (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1988); Thomas N. Corns, ed., The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry: Donne to Marvell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), especially at pages 171-182, 200-220.
 Interesting discussions of To Penshurst, excluding those offered in the historicist studies of the country house poem which were named above, include: Richard Dutton, Ben Jonson: To the First Folio (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pages 81-82, 111-113; Katherine Eisaman Maus, Ben Jonson and the Roman Frame of Mind ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), pages 8-9, 58, 87, 101, 144, 157; W. David Kay, Ben Jonson: A Literary Life (Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1995), pages 117, 128-129, 186-187; Richard Harp and Stanley Stewart, eds, The Cambridge Companion to Ben Jonson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pages 54-56, 129-131.
 See Joshua Scodel, Excess and the Mean in Early Modern English Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), especially at pages 202-204, 207-213. On Jonson’s Roman classicising in general, see Maus’s Ben Jonson and the Roman Frame of Mind, cited above.
 Cf. R. S. White, Natural Law in English Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), especially at pages 1-20.
 As is very well known, there has been debate for some years about the portrayals or invocations of the supernatural in Horace. One side of the argument has maintained that Horace lived in a time when belief in the orthodox gods of the Roman state had declined: contemporary, educated disbelief or at best scepticism is reflected in his verse; there he mentions the gods, in short, because Augustus wanted traditional religious belief to be revived. The other side of the debate maintains that such a view offers an inaccurate perception of religious belief and practice in the time of Augustus and, as a result, if Horace mentions the gods then one cannot assert he does that as a doubter or unbeliever. We present no view on the debate since it lies outside the scope of this study; nevertheless, the debate touches on the issue of how the supernatural is evoked and used by Jonson’s Horatian speaker in the lines quoted above.
 See Karl Galinsky, Augustan Culture: An Interpretive Introduction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), especially at page 16. Subsequently that work is cited as Galinsky.
 See A. D. Cousins’ discussion of Upon Appleton House with reference to the country house poem as bringing those elements together (in The Political Identity of Andrew Marvell, eds idem and Conal Condren [Aldershot: Ashgate, 1990], pages 53-54). Cf. R. C. Davis’s Utopia and the Ideal Society: A Study of English Utopian Writing 1516-1700 (1981; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), especially at pages 11-40. See also McBride, Country House Discourse, page 160.
 The often-made point, following Raymond Williams, is that the poem renders labour invisible. But Jonson’s speaker is amplifying the numen of the Sidneys and thus not seeking, as if through a conjurer’s illusion, to make the actual disappear; rather, he evidently compels the reader to perceive the Sidneys at the level of myth and thereby he creates--in rhetorical terms--fabula: “a poet’s tale, acted for the most part, by gods and men” as Hoskins put it (see Lee A. Sonnino, A Handbook to Sixteenth-Century Rhetoric [London: Routledge, 1968], at page 98). Jonson’s speaker plays, in other words, with the “as if” of hyperbole (dementiens)--a familiar tactic in Donne’s amatory lyrics.
 We mean numen to signify Jonson’s blurring the line between the notions of “divine sway” and “the will, might, authority of powerful persons”--to supply relevant glossings offered by Lewis and Short.
 Cf. Galinsky: “Similarly, the link between auctoritas and the principes viri, the eminent citizens of the state, is attested frequently and was easily transferable to the princeps Augustus” (ibid.).
 One might suggest that Jonson’s speaker implies Wroth to have a self-congratulatory, lambent dullness.
 On Carew’s literary relationship to Jonson, see Scott Nixon, “Carew’s Response to Jonson and Donne,” SEL, 39 (1999), 89-109. See also, G. A. E. Parfitt, “The Poetry of Thomas Carew,” Renaissance and Modern Studies, 12 (1968), 56-67.
 “Much in little” was an early modern commonplace; but “much [that is] sweet in little” seems more appropriate here and to be, in effect, Carew’s version of the phrase. Hence it forms part of his disrupting notions such as concordia discors (a discordant concord), gravitas (a weighty sobriety of manner), and auctoritas (“might, power, authority, reputation, dignity, influence, weight,” as Lewis and Short gloss it).
 A “pleasant place,” that is to say, an ideal environment.
 For an ideologically focused reading of the poem, which is certainly interesting and valuable but does not pay close attention to the rhetorical duplicities of the text, see McBride’s Country House Discourse, pages 114-116.
 Again. But then, one might ask, what outside royalty--and most of its courtiers--is?
 Although what he says might, in fact (and we anticipate a little here), be taken to indicate Carew’s spiritual bankruptcy, it does not automatically imply the spiritual bankruptcy of the estate in question and (or) of the country house genre. On the other hand, it would be reasonable to ask how those could be clearly distinguished.
 Jenkins, in his Feigned Commonwealths, in fact sees the episode as a “parody of transubstantiation [which] converts Laudian, high Anglican ceremonies into the economic basis of the estate [ . . . , ]” (page 79).
 Among the more useful discussions of Herrick are the following: A. Leigh Deneef, “This Poetic Liturgie”: Robert Herrick’s Ceremonial Mode (Durham: Duke University Press, 1974); Leah S. Marcus, The Politics of Mirth: Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Marvell, and the Defense of Old Holiday Pastimes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986); Anne Baynes Coiro, Robert Herrick’s “Hesperides” and the Epigram Book Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988). See also Corns, as cited above, at pages 171-182 .