Timothy Raylor. Cavaliers, Clubs, and Literary Culture: Sir John Mennes, James Smith, and the Order of the Fancy. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1994. 335 pp. + 5 illustrations.
Headington School, Oxford
Patrick, K.E. "Review of Cavaliers, Clubs, and Literary Culture: Sir John Mennes, James Smith, and the Order of the Fancy." Early Modern Literary Studies 1.3 (1995): 13.1-11 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/01-3/rev_pat1.html>.
- As the jacket-cover notes, Timothy Raylor's Cavaliers, Clubs, and Literary Culture is "centred around the lives and poetry" of Sir John Mennes and James Smith in mid-seventeenth-century England. It charts the lives of these two figures, draws connections between them as well as to other well-known contemporaries, and identifies their contributions to literature of the period, especially the burlesque and mock-poetic modes. The book is divided into four parts: Early Lives, 1599-1639; The Order of the Fancy; Burlesque and Mock-Poetry; and Later Lives, 1640-1671. In general, it is thoroughly researched and offers an impressive list of notes, manuscripts, and primary and secondary sources. Raylor also excels in his close readings of Smith's poems, offering stimulating analyses of their contexts, whether personal, generic, or political.
- Unfortunately, the book takes some time to get going. The first part of the book, "Early Lives, 1599-1639," is a very thorough biography of these two fairly obscure men. Raylor is meticulous in his trawling of sources, but the whole exercise becomes tedious to the reader, and seems to highlight the fact that it is little more than a necessary preliminary.
- The next part, "The Order of the Fancy," examines the origins of a kind of fraternity to which Mennes and Smith belonged in the 1630s and 1640s. It is somewhat more stimulating to read than the biographical section, probably because Raylor invokes several topics which are of standard interest to an enthusiast of the seventeenth century: classical precedents, famous names, and crypto-Catholicism. Precursors for the clubs are traced back to Greek and Roman times, but these origins are mentioned only briefly, as are the groups associated with famous names like Ben Jonson, Francis Beaumont, and Robert Herrick. More space is given to a 1620s "crypto-Catholic" group called "Tityre-tu" (75), whose membership Raylor explores at length.
- Raylor's musings about membership for these groups, including the Tityre-tu and the Order of the Fancy, are problematic. First, they often entail long and complex tangents by which the flow of his argument is disrupted. Second, they are often based upon conjecture, assumption and tenuous connections. A typical example is that of Thomas Carew's link with the Tityre-tu. A "Mr. Tho: Carew" appears on the membership list of this group, and Raylor takes some pains to consider whether or not this could be a reference to the well-known poet. His argument for the case is that Carew had accompanied Lord Herbert of Cherbury to France in 1619, and that Lord Herbert's brother was involved in the fraternity, thus establishing "a connection between Carew and these groups" (80). This "connection" seems to be based on the evidence that Carew knew the brother of one of the club's members, which is a fragile conclusion at best. It is even less convincing when one realises that, only one page earlier, Raylor had been trying to decide whether or not the "Captayne Tho: Harbert" on the membership list was indeed Lord Herbert's brother, Thomas (79). Thus, what was speculation on one page becomes presumption on the next.
- During the third part, "Burlesque and Mock-Poetry," the book redeems itself. Raylor examines the definitions of the two genres and shows how Mennes' and Smith's poetry contributed to their evolution. In the first chapter of this section, Raylor identifies many early seventeenth-century poems which contribute to the tone and verse form of the genres, and from them, he includes useful, but not excessive, quotations. The survey goes beyond the limitations of generic considerations, and is enjoyable even as a more general study of poetry from the period.
- Two chapters follow which address the contributions made to the genres by each of the two men, Mennes and Smith. In the first of the two chapters, Mennes' burlesque verse epistles are considered, especially in terms of which value system they support, radical or conservative. Raylor argues against the former, even though it is the more accepted opinion. With close reference to Mennes' epistle, "To a friend upon a journey to Epsam Well," Raylor puts forward a convincing argument that burlesque can be best understood in the "context of club life," and that it shows "a commitment to traditional concepts of order and an espousal of classicism, good-fellowship, and wit" (129).
- In the second chapter, Raylor concentrates on two poems by Smith, the first of which is "The Loves of Hero and Leander." Here, Raylor attempts "to offer some general comments about its purposes and techniques," providing readers with a framework by which they can better approach a poem which "occupies something of a seminal position in the history of English travesty" (136). He traces many of the contemporary threads which run through it: its relationship with Marlowe's poem on the same topic; its use of proverbs; the rhymes it shares with Austin and Butler; and the narrator which harkens back to Donne's "Elegie: To His Mistris Going to Bed." At greater length, he compares it to Cotton's "Scarronides," employing myriad classical terms to define key parts of the poem, a technique which makes the explication clearer. As a foil to this "gratuitous pursuit of wit" (142), Raylor next considers Smith's "The Innovation of Penelope and Ulysses." He puts forward a persuasive case that this second poem is more than a travesty: it is a satire on the rabble of poetry, those "pamphleteers," "Dunces," and "Scriblers" (143), the chief culprit of which is John Taylor the Water Poet. By combining travesty and satire, Smith is credited with adding a "level of sophistication absent from earlier mock poetry," and, Raylor goes on to claim, he "points the way, via Butler's Hudibras, toward the full seriousness of Pope's Dunciad" (152).
- The final section in Raylor's book, "Later Lives, 1640-1671," makes tempting reading with chapter titles like "War in Scotland," "Civil War," "Drollery in Defeat," and "Restoration?". As they imply, this section shifts its focus to the religio-political conflicts of this period. Mennes' and Smith's disparate fortunes are surveyed in detail. Occasionally, Raylor inserts some of their verse epistles, offering them as literary comment on the contemporary situation, whether their own or of a more general nature. The attitudes which Raylor finds in them are not new, being similar to those discussed by Lois Potter in Secret Rites and Secret Writing (1989) and by Raymond Anselment in Loyalist Resolve: Patient Fortitude in the English Civil War (1988). However, it is of general interest to see minor figures like Mennes and Smith holding such attitudes as well.
- To the literary historian, the third chapter, "Drollery in Defeat," is perhaps the most attractive, because here is where Raylor tackles the literary tradition with which Mennes and Smith are most associated: the drollery. A "drollery" during the Interregnum came to mean "an anthology built around the verse of Mennes, Smith, and their circle" (114). Several of the more famous titles are Musarum Deliciae (1655), Wit and Drollery (1656), and Wit Restor'd (1658). Raylor examines the difficult subject with great clarity, sifting for the facts among rumour and inference. The latent royalism of such collections is also explored, as is their "effectiveness . . . as propaganda for the Stuart cause" (206).
- The final chapter, "Restoration?," is brief, and, while undoubtedly something of a necessity like the earlier sections of the book, it enjoys more of the success of the latter sections by tying up their loose ends. While considering the historical angle, the chapter portrays Mennes and Smith as kinds of "everymen," showing the irritation they felt with the court and the delays they had to undergo while waiting for Charles II to reward them for their loyalty. From the literary angle, the chapter reaffirms the contribution that they made to the poetic traditions of burlesque and travesty, claiming that, "while they were not exactly the parents of the octosyllabic doggerel style, they were perhaps its midwives: they gave it its distinctive tone, and they popularized it" (215). Some of the writers Raylor identifies as having inherited this legacy were Samuel Butler, George Etherege, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift.
- It is unfortunate that this book begins so slowly, because the latter two sections are generally very well written, well argued, and detailed. The problem, no doubt, stems from a basic flaw in the design for the book. By trying to cover the lives of two men and their poetry as well, the book cannot avoid seeming wayward at times. Nevertheless, Raylor makes some important contributions to seventeenth-century studies, especially in terms of burlesque and mock-poetry, and for this reason, his book should not be ignored.
(RGS, rev. 2 March 1998)