The Devotional Flames of William Austin
University of York
Parry, Graham. "The Devotional Flames of William Austin." Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 7 (May, 2001): 6.1-30 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-07/parry.htm>.
Siste Viator! The funerary tourist in Southwark Cathedral finds much to pause for, particularly if he is in search of seventeenth-century monuments. Lancelot Andrewes' tomb in the south choir aisle, a fine but conventional episcopal monument, is probably the best known; he lies here because the Bishop of Winchester's palace, where he died in 1626, stands only a few hundred yards away from this church. There is the vividly painted memorial to John Traherne (d. 1618), "Gentleman Portar to King James the First," and his wife, notable for the characterful portrait busts of the incumbents, so naturalistic that they look more like waxworks than stone figures. Traherne was one of the four parishioners who bought St. Saviour's from James I in 1614 and saved it from demolition. Curious visitors to the church usually remark the tomb of Lionel Lockyer (d. 1672) with its ill-shaped, rubbery-looking effigy and the bizarre verses extolling the medicinal pills that brought him fame and fortune:
His virtues and his PILLS are soe well known
That envy can't confine them under stone
. . . his Pill embalmes him safe
To future times without an Epitaph.
Nearby, in the north transept, is the most remarkable of all the memorials in St. Saviour's, a large hanging monument showing reapers resting by a field of corn, over which a golden angel stands. This elaborate conceit in stone commemorates Joyce Austin (d. 1626) and her son, William, who commissioned the monument.
William Austin deserves attention, not only because he was responsible for this intriguing memorial (to which we shall return), but also for his divine meditations that merit an honourable place in the repertory of early Stuart devotional writings. His contemplations, entitled Devotionis Augustinianae Flamma, first published in 1635, form an unusual work of pietism. But who, one might first enquire, was this man, whose hoped-for fame did not outlast his century? His epitaph provides some clues, and a search of the London records reveals more. He was born in 1587, the son of James Austin, a dyer and freeman of the Dyers' Company, and his wife Joyce, née Wildes. In 1596 he was made a joint copyholder with his father of a garden, an orchard and several tenements on Gravel Lane on Bankside. William Austin did not follow his father into the dyer's trade, but was trained in the law, probably as a result of his mother's second marriage to Sir Robert Clarke, who was a judge, a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, and eventually a Baron of the Exchequer. He was knighted in 1603, and died in 1622. Sir Robert arranged for William to be entered at Lincoln's Inn, where he too became a barrister. William's first wife Anne gave him ten children, of whom five survived, and died in childbirth in 1624. He married again to another Anne, widow of the prosperous Southwark saddler John Bingham, who outlived him. No details of any legal career are known, but as a gentleman of some means he may never have practised law. He died on the sixteenth of January, 1634, at the age of 47, and was buried with his first wife, in his mother's grave.
As a young man at Lincoln's Inn, he participated in the usual round of entertainments and distractions that characterised the life of a student at the Inns of Court, a life well known to us through the experience of John Donne, who was at Lincoln's Inn in the 1590s, and who was Reader in Divinity there from January 1620 to November 1624, while Austin was associated with the Inn. Austin's time there may not have been so extravagantly spent as Donne's, but he evidently shared the usual fondness for theatre-going, as he admits in his Meditations, and for the writing and exchange of witty poems, and for the sociable life of the taverns. A clear indication of the set he belonged to can be deduced from his presence among the contributors of encomiastic verses to Coryat's Crudities (1611). The friends of Thomas Coryate, who combined to give his book of travels the most rousing send-off of any volume hitherto published, used the occasion to write humorous verse of an often fantastical nature, praising the enterprise and the appetite of the foot-man from Somerset, who had walked as far as Italy, and who would eventually walk to India. Ben Jonson seems to have been the ring-leader who persuaded these friends to turn a few verses for the sake of merriment and to increase the sale of Coryate's book. Most of the London wits joined in, including a good number from the Inns of Court. John Donne, Thomas Campion, Michael Drayton, Inigo Jones, Hugh Holland, Henry Goodyer, Christopher Brooke, John Hoskins, Lionel Cranfield, Richard Corbet, Thomas Farnaby and Henry Peacham were all involved, and it is amongst these men that Willliam Austin's friendships are to be sought. His own verses are spun out with joking ease, proclaiming him as a man of the world who is au fait with the social scenery of Europe, and as familiar with courtesans as with the forms of courtesy.
The next decade saw Austin becoming much more sober-minded, for by the early 1620s he was composing those meditations on the feasts and fasts of the Church that were to be the mainstay of his reputation as a writer. Austin's religious works were published posthumously in 1635 by his "deare wife and executrix" Anne under the title Devotionis Augustinianae Flamma, which can be translated as "The Flame of Austin's Devotion," with a punning allusion to St. Augustine, whose name in English was usually rendered "Austin." There was, no doubt, a private sense of affinity with the ancient theologian whose works are often cited in the book. The volume is dedicated to "Deo Optimo Maximo et Ecclesiae Catholicae," the latter especially in the form of the Church of England. It was successful enough to be reprinted in 1637. The interest of the volume lies in what it tells us about the private devotional habits of a devout gentleman in the 1620s and '30s, a time when there was a strong movement towards a more formalised and decorous manner of worship, encouraged by Lancelot Andrewes and William Laud and their associates. Austin's family was highly responsive to this movement. Their sympathy with the wish to restore "the beauty of holiness" to the Anglican Church is evident in the gifts that he and his mother made to St. Saviour's in 1623 in order to enhance the dignity and beauty of services; Joyce Clarke gave a remarkably elegant communion table that still survives, and William gave "a fair silver chalice and a dish for the bread to the value of almost £40."
The book consists of thirteen extended devotional exercises based on biblical texts relating for the most part to the important festivals of the church calendar, the collection concluding with Austin's funeral oration for himself and a number of poems on his own demise. It is striking that these were composed by a layman, for they bear all the marks of a learned minister of long professional experience. They show indeed how completely the norms and forms of religious discourse had been assimilated by a pious member of the gentry. We might begin by looking at the engraved title-page, executed by George Glover, a minor craftsman whose name is attached to only a few engraved portraits of the 1630s. This presents a series of religious pictures that illustrate the various meditations: on the Annunciation, the Nativity, the descent of the Holy Ghost, etc. It is noticeable that some of these scenes, especially the Annunciation, the Brass Serpent of Moses, the Crucifixion and St. Michael, have a distinctly formal composition, while the others have a looser, more improvised character. I would be inclined to see the more accomplished tableaux as copies of continental engravings or paintings in Austin's possession, with the rest being the invention of the English engraver. We know that William Austin collected paintings, because some are mentioned in his will, and he alludes to his love of them in his funeral sermon for himself, where he details the things that have given him most pleasure in life that he must now bid farewell to: "Paintings; Carvings; Jewels; Songs, Plays . . ." It is highly likely that Austin owned paintings of a religious nature as well as the portraits that we know he had; it is likely too that he would have sympathised with the contemporary tendency in the Church to place the arts in the service of religion.
Framed by these religious scenes on the title-page, we find the author's portrait, the only portrait of William Austin I know to exist, in fact. It is not a flattering image, for it shows a brisk-looking man turning suspiciously towards the viewer. The important feature of the portrait, however, is the emphasis on worldly pleasure: Austin is shown with a lute, and in the background is one of the paintings he was so fond of -- a secular one too, for it gives a glimpse of a nude figure in a landscape -- and a shelf of books. There is an intentional contrast here between the picture of the man amid his worldly pleasures and the contents of the book, the devout contemplations of the spiritual life. The portrait is a Vanitas image, for around the frame are reminders of death: the lamp of life placed on skeletal figures, and the Austin coat of arms echoing the shape of the spade that will dig his grave. Quotations from Job remind the viewer that the only certainty is that we will end in the tomb.
- The Meditations of William Austin are an interesting case of the spread of what we today would call high church attitudes into the laity in the 1620's. Here is a private gentleman who feels a particular responsiveness to certain of the festivals of the church calendar that have an Anglo-Catholic appeal: the Annunciation and the Nativity, St. Michael and All Angels, and the feasts of the Apostles. The proponents of high church practices -- usually allied to an Arminian stance in doctrine -- were beginning to establish themselves in the high places of the Church in the later years of the second decade of the century. Lancelot Andrewes, who had gone to Ely in 1609, was advanced to the influential see of Winchester in 1618. John Buckeridge went to Rochester in 1611. Richard Neile moved to Durham in 1617, and John Overall was promoted to Lichfield in 1614 and to Norwich in 1618. All these men were bringing about a warmer climate of devotion in the Church, with greater emphasis on the decorum of services, a concern with liturgical forms, and a heightened reverence for the sacraments. As well as the admission of works of art as aids to worship, a more affective manner of devotion was encouraged, and this latter tendency allowed a greater reverence for the Virgin and the saints than had been permitted in Elizabethan and early Jacobean times when an austere form of Calvinism prevailed in the Church. Austin's Devotions belong to this new climate of worship: even the use of the word "Flamma" in the title suggests the ardent flames of devotion that we associate with the Jesuit-inspired Flaming Heart cult that was stealing into England in the early years of the century.
- Although Austin called his exercises Meditations, they are in effect sermons, conducted in the manner of the time by means of an intense exegetical concentration on a chosen text. The model is clearly Lancelot Andrewes. The relentless scrutiny of the divine text, the pressure exerted on the words until, like olives, they yield all their oil, the slow deliberate movement forward, phrase by phrase, from idea to idea, which is the process of understanding the deep message of the text, all these features are reminiscent of Andrewes. Here is part of Austin's exordium to his Meditation on Lady Day, 1621, where he is handling St. Luke's account of the Annunciation and the Immaculate Conception. For him, the Vulgate text is more to be depended upon than the English translation. He asks here, where did Luke ("and only he, of all the foure, records this story") learn the details of the story?The English translation of the Bible that he uses is, incidentally, the Geneva version. The unusual feature of Lady Day, or the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, in 1621 was that it coincided with Palm Sunday. Being therefore a Feast in a time of humiliation, Lent, Lady Day offers the theme of humility to Austin for this exercise. Enlightenment and spiritual profit shine out from this prolonged dwelling on the mystery of the Annunciation, and the discourse concludes with a poem "In Aurora Annunciationis" which is claimed to be a vision attained in the course of meditation. The style reminds one a little of Richard Crashaw, though his first volume of verse did not come out until 1634:
He seemes to have it but from tradition onely: yet such tradition it was, that it came from ipse viderunt: from the Apostles themselves (whereof he was none). But, which of them all (with their ipse viderunt), could informe him of the truth of this dayes Story? Not a man of them. For, though they had beene present with him, in his Life, and Passion; yet, none of them were by, at his incarnation. How came he by it then? Had he a Revelation? He pretends none. It is, Sicut Tradiderunt; onely by Tradition. But, quis tradidit? Qui ab initio, They that saw from the beginning: and who was that? There was one, that recorded it safely, Conservabat in Corde, he saith it twice of her, even the Blessed Virgin herselfe. For, shee onely saw, and felt, the parts of this Dayes admirable Gospel: and for this (saith a Father) she enjoyed a long life, after her Sonne; that she might instruct his divine Evangelists in the passages of his marveilous Infancie. So have wee the Gospel of the heavenly Sonne, from the mouth of the Virgin Mother, by the pen of the learned Disciple.
What's this, that from Heavens high top
Fals downe, like a shining drop?
It is the Angel Gabriel:
Hark, He speaks! All Creatures, peace;
Stay, you Orbs: your Musicke cease:
Whist, rude Winde, let moystie Calme
All thy whistling Wings embalme.
- What was the occasion of these and the following meditations? We are given a clue in the second exercise, for Christmas Day, 1622, where Austin writes: "All men have a Calling to this, to exhort one another: and I, a particular one at this time, to this Company." A marginal note explains "this Company" as "Consanguineorum," or kindred. He goes on to call them a group of "understanding Soules." Austin must have directed his thoughts to a small gathering of his family and kinsfolk as part of some regular act of communal worship. He mentions by name Sir Edward Spencer as one of his auditors; I have not been able to identify this figure, unless he was the son of the Levantine merchant Sir John Spencer, a late Elizabethan Lord Mayor of London who died in 1610. The meditations have the air of discourses intended to be spoken; they are full of direct addresses and appeals. We catch a glimpse here of a Jacobean devotional circle based on an extended family group, in this case a group with advanced theological interests, for Austin frequently invokes the wisdom of the Fathers in his search for a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the faith. Not only does he show familiarity with the writings of the major figures of the early Church, Origen, Chrysostom, Basil, Augustine, but he is unusually well acquainted with medieval theologians: St. Bernard, Aquinas, and Durandus are cited with some frequency. He makes numerous references to Ludolph of Saxony, a fourteenth-century writer whose Life of Christ Austin regards as a major non-antique record.
- The dominant influence on his manner of expounding the scriptures was, as we have noted, Lancelot Andrewes. The closeness of their proceedings is at times striking. Austin's Christmas Day meditation, for example, seems directly indebted to the Nativity sermons that Andrewes preached annually before King James, sermons that vary little because it was plain that James liked the format. Passages from Andrewes have become well-known in this century because of T. S. Eliot's admiration for them. With the famous account of the journey of the Magi, "A cold coming they had of it . . . " from the sermon on December 25, 1622, we might compare this passage from Austin on Christ's birth in mid winter. Christ came
At a cold time, to shew the Times were cold: and charity, as dull, and hard frozen, as the Earth. Therefore (now) came this heavenly fire, to thaw it in mens bosoms. Secondly, he was borne in the Night, to shew that the dignity and glory of his God-head was shaddowed, and darkened with the Night, and vaile of our flesh. Thirdly, in the middest and darkest of the night, to shew, hee came to them that sat in darknesse, and in the shaddow of death. Fourthly, this night was shortly after the Winter Solstice; when Night growes shorter, and Day longer; to shew, that (now) shadows were shortning; darke ignorance diminishing; and the glorious Light of Gods knowledge increasing. The Day spring from on high, the Sunne of Righteousnesse was now risen, which chould every day climbe higher, and shine brighter. For, Opportet illum crescere (said St John Baptist of him) he must increase, but I must decrease. Wee see, what may be said, for the Time of his Birth. We proceed.
- The reverence for the sacraments that Austin feels is communicated to his auditors in a way that evokes Andrewes' characteristic style of lexicographical analysis that leads to spiritual understanding:Austin rounds off his Christmas meditation with some "Carrols for Christmas Day," cheerful, buoyant pieces, metrically adept, that are filled with delight at the miraculous nature of the Nativity. The composition of these carols suggests how Austin was eager to make his own contributions to the ceremonies of religious life, helping to enlarge, in his own layman's way, the poetic resources of the Church of England.
Hee is now united to our Flesh: to this end, that wee might participate of Him, As hee is Verbum; as hee doth participate of us, as wee are Caro: and (now) hee is both Verbum and Caro; he communicates both unto us: For, by no other way, have wee (heere) to participate of him, but by his Word, and Sacraments: and in both these, he is the same to us. For, as Verbum praedicatum, in the Pulpit, being but one Sermon, uttered by the voice of one man at one time, in one place; if there bee ten thousand hearers, is to every one of them an entire Sermon, and every man hath it wholy to himselfe; yet it is not divided, but (still) one and the same.
- His next meditation, for Epiphany, shows him responding to the "metaphysical" mentality of his time. "Triangulus in Festo Sanctorum Epiphaniorum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi" is a virtuoso reading of the verse from Matthew 2.10: "Videntes autem Stellam gavisi sunt, Gaudio magno Valde: But when they saw the Starre, they rejoyced with exceeding great Joy." The triangle of the title is composed of the three key words of his text, Stella, Videntes, Gaudio, and it is given visual form in the margin. At the apex of the triangle is the star, and the two points of its base on earth are marked "Videntes" and "Gaudio." The interaction between heaven and earth is the subject of much reflection here. Seeing the heavenly sign and experiencing joy is the leit-motif of this lengthy meditation. The device of this triangle lends itself to the praise of the Trinity, but the real novelty of Austin's discourse is the proposal that there were three kinds of revelation made on this day to mankind:
Epiphania, from the Heavens; Theophania, from above the Heavens; and Bethphania, on the Earth, to shew, though he was borne a Man; yet, hee was God of all; and, had power on Earth, in Heaven, and above all Heavens. Hee was prooved to be God (this day) by this Trinity of Testimonies.
- The long series of reflections on the Epiphany is followed by an Appendix where Austin puts on display some of the learning that went into the preparation of his divine discourses. He devotes several pages to an enquiry into the nature of the star that appeared to the Wise Men, whether it was physical or spiritual, a new star, a comet or an angelic body. Was it
1. Materiall, the Starre in the East: 2. Spirituall, the Starre of Faith, in their hearts. 3. Intellectuall; an Angel in a dreame: 4. Rationall, the Virgin Marie. 5. Supersubstantiall: Christ himselfe. But this conceit Abulensis Episcopus dislikes; and will not approve of it, nisi accipitur Mystice, saies he.
- What became of the star? How did it communicate its message to the Wise men? There is no modern astronomical awareness evident in these enquiries. The numerous authorities whom Austin respects on the question are all churchmen or theologians, and no conclusions are reached, although much consultation with ancient learning has taken place. The second part of the Appendix has an equivalent air of scholarly futility about it. Who were the three wise men who are remembered at the Feast of the Epiphany? Were they kings? Where had they come from? What was their race? What were their names? What became of them? Austin has consulted a whole library of ancient authors and has shaken a score of conflicting opinions out of the dust. All to no avail: "the uncertainty of the History" is his last word. Francis Bacon might have raised a sceptical eyebrow at Austin's attempts to advance learning, for they demonstrate quite fulsomely how the intelligence of an enquiring mind can expend itself in fruitless research into biblical questions that are essentially insoluble.
- One might expect that there would be a meditation for Good Friday in Austin's collection, and so there is. It is a Lenten discourse, much concerned with fasting and abstinence. Surprisingly, Austin devotes little attention to Christ on the cross; nor is there much emotional excitement or distress at the spectacle of the dying god that we commonly experience in the Good Friday poetry of the age. Only when Austin breaks into poetry do we begin to feel the spiritual stress of the occasion. The crucified Christ speaks from the cross in verses that seem indebted to George Herbert's poem "The Sacrifice," as Christ agonisingly calls attention to his suffering and to the indifference of men who ignore his plight. His cry "Was there ever Paine, like this?" seems to echo the refrain of Herbert's Christ "Was ever grief like mine?" The poem that follows is Austin's response to his saviour on the cross, in which he chastises himself for being attracted by the pleasures of the world instead of reflecting on Christ's sacrifice. In an act of paranoia, he shows how the world has crucified him with earthly delights:
When I should weare thy piercing Wreathe of Thornes;
My Head, with wanton Roses Shee adornes.
And clings me to her, with Embrace so loving,
That (but Thou pluck Me thence) there is no mooving . . . .
In stead of Gall, and Sponge (to hide her Malice)
She reaches Wine in Babylonish Chalice;
Whose golden shew, and sweet taste, stirres up Mirth
Able t'expunge all Goodnesse from the Earth.
My Sides she pierces with sharpe Jests and Toies;
Whence flowes a Streame of laughter, and vain Joyes;
- Finally, in a "Parasceve for Good Friday," or a poem of preparation, he speaks to careless men and women, to enforce their attention on the events of this cataclysmic day, breaking open the paradoxes of the faith for their edification: the king of kings who undergoes the death of mortal man, the death that will bring eternal life to the faithful. It is heartfelt, doctrinally rich poetry, that deserves to have a continuing audience.
- A strange omission from Austin's book is an Easter Day meditation. Given Austin's fondness for the high points of the Church year, one would have thought that the Resurrection would be the central subject of the collection. But no. Instead there is an unremarkable piece on the Ascension, followed by reflections on the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. Thereafter come a number of meditations for saints' days: St. Thomas, St. John the Baptist, St. Matthew and St. Bartholomew. This last discourse is one of the most rewarding in the volume, perhaps because there is nothing to be said about St. Bartholomew. Although an apostle, Bartholomew is only mentioned four times in the gospels, where he says nothing and does nothing. As Austin aptly remarks: "Hee is, but in a manner (as Plinie sayes of the Nightingale) "Vox, et praeterea nihil," a Name and scarce any more." In the absence of a biography, or even apocryphal stories, Austin turns to discussing the proper degree of respect that the Church of England should accord the saints. He begins by exploring the rationale of his own exercises, noting that it was "a custom that they had of old, to write, or say, or doe something on Saints-dayes, to their Memory." Expounding the high church position that was increasingly gaining ground, he writes:Anglicans, however, must draw the line between reverencing the saints and worshipping them. "But, for praying for them, or praying to them, the one is ridiculous, the other, impious." The distinction between the practice of the Church of England and the Roman Church must be clearly laid down, even though it is clear that Austin feels that the two churches share much common ground. Distinctions between them are a matter of degree and theological nicety. Austin, for example, displays a distinct interest in relics in this treatise, tracing the history of an arm of St. Bartholomew that was deposited in Canterbury Cathedral in the time of Canute. He is sufficiently concerned with his relic to track it to Norwich in the reign of Edward I via records in the Tower of London. This high degree of interest must be indicative of his own fascination with the cult of relics, restrained as it was by a due regard for the limits of Anglican curiosity. One feels that his enthusiasm for holy remains would carry him further towards the Catholic cult if doctrinal boundaries did not inhibit him. When he takes an opportunity to pour scorn on the Catholics for worshipping saints who may have had no existence, who were invented or were products of verbal confusion, or who came in anonymous wholesale batches, one has the impression that he welcomes the chance to take a firm stand against Roman practices, when in fact he was not so very far distant from them in spirit.
All the Saints . . . all are yours . . . and not onely their Names (since they were just men) are to be had in everlasting memory; but, even their Reliques, any part of their blessed Bodies (if we were sure we had them) were not rudely to be scatttered; but, with reverence, to be gathered and honourably disposed, in their quiet graves. For they were the Temples of the Living God; the Storehouses of the Word: the Earthen-Vessels of heavenly Treasure; Living Fountaines, and Conduit-pipes of the Holy Ghost.
- Austin's attempts to unearth any information about St. Bartholomew provide us with a glimpse of his intensive scholarly research into religious history. In one paragraph he describes his fruitless consultations with the writings of Petrus de Natalibus, John Damascenus the Arabian, Josephus, Damascenus Studites, John Damascenus the Father, Biblius, Trimethius and Possevinus. Breathless from his encounters with such exotic theologians, he claims the honours of a true church historian.
- Bookish learning, however, was not the sum of Austin's world. There is too a certain kind of learned wit that plays around his words, as there is in the work of most of the Anglican divines of this period -- and it is with the divines that Austin should be classed. Listen for example to the way he deals with his unrewarding text, Matthew 10:3, Et Bartholomeus, where the elusive apostle makes one of his brief appearances in the Gospel:Austin's fertility of invention is apparent here, as indeed it is in his solution to the problem of how to present St. Bartholomew to his audience on the basis of such meager documentation. Bartholomew becomes an exemplar of silence, because he never speaks in the Bible, and so he becomes a model of the virtue of silence, a virtue that Austin amplifies in the final section of his discourse.
Et is a Conjunction: a word, we may not misse (as little as it is) nor passe by it, For it begins our text: and it is a part of speech, very deare to God. I have often heard it said, that God loves Adverbs, better than Adjectives: hee cares more for quam bene than quam bonum. But, I am sure, hee loves Conjunctions best of all. Christ himselfe (with reverence, I use the word) is a Conjunction. He is the (ET) betweene the Alpha and Omega: the (ET) betweene God and Man; the (ET) betweene Priest and Sacrifice, uniting all in himselfe.
- A new kind of subject is opened up in the meditation for the Feast of St. Michael, which he makes into a treatise on Tutelar Angels. Clearly Austin found angelology a congenial topic, for a great deal of research has gone into his description of angels, their nature, matter and form, their number, hierarchies and names, and their role in God's governance of the world. He expresses his belief in the existence of tutelary angels both for individuals and for nations, and notes the ubiquitous nature of angels. The Bible provides the most important information, but authorities such as Dionysius the Areopagite, Athanasius and Tremellius are also consulted. Austin shows some inclination to enter into the labyrinths of scholastic speculation about the nature of angels, but he resists, preferring to concentrate on their utilitarian role. What services do they provide to man? They teach, direct, protect, comfort, help those who strive, assist our prayers and have a charge of us at our death, escorting our souls to heaven. "Lastly, they are Messores, Reapers, so called by our Saviour himselfe, who shall have charge of our bodies after death and shall gather them from the foure winds in the day of our Resurrection."
- As his meditations on the saints, Austin is concerned to draw a line between Anglican and Catholic attitudes. Anglicans may reverence angels but not invoke them as mediators, or worship them. Assurance of their existence and knowledge of the help they give us should strengthen us in our earthly course. This meditation, composed before Thomas Heywood's Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells (1635), is a valuable record of Anglican views concerning the ministry of angels in Stuart times. Austin's statements are in harmony with those expressed by Richard Hooker in Book I, Section vi, of The Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie about the condition of the angels, but they are fuller, and they address the question of how the individual Christian may most benefit from the presence of angels in the spiritual world.
- The last item in Devotionis Augustinianiae Flamma is "The Author's Funerall, made upon Himselfe," effectively his own funeral sermon. This is printed for different publishers from the rest of the sections of the book, and looks as if it might have been intended for separate circulation as a memento mori. He takes as his text the dying speech of King Hezekiah "My Habitation is departed, and is removed from me like a Shepheards Tent. I have cut off (like a Weaver) my Life." The impermanence of shepherds' tents and the fragility of the web of life feature prominently in Austin's fairly conventional series of reflections on his death. What gives colour to this lay sermon are the details of Austin's taste and pleasures, notably his love of the arts that we have already mentioned. (He remarks, incidentally, that the wealth that has allowed him to indulge these pleasures was all inherited.) In the verse Epicedium with which he concludes, he dwells on his sorrow at leaving the three things ("next to a constant friend") that "drawe me most along: a well writ Booke, a Picture and a Song." (These three things, we may recall, are illustrated in the portrait vignette of Austin on the title-page of his book.) He ruefully foresees how these pleasures will contribute to his funeral. His love of poetry will achieve its final form in the verses that friends will pin on his hearsecloth,
Painting (perchance) may gild some Flag, or banner,
And sticke it on my Coffin, for my Honour.
Musicke may sing my Dirge (and tell all eares)
I lov'd that Art, which now their Senses heares.
- After his death (from gout, as he tells us in his sermon) in January 1634, his will revealed him to be still a person of substantial means. He possessed copyhold lands in Paris Garden, and freehold lands elsewhere. The will mentions some of his pictures, of which he seems to have had a fair collection. Only portraits are referred to, including "King Edwardes in perspective," similar, one imagines, to the portrait of Edward VI by William Scrots in the National Portrait Gallery, where the head is painted in anamorphic perspective, like the skull in Holbein's "Ambassadors," only delivering a proper image when looked at obliquely. He also possessed a portrait of Queen Mary by Sir Nathaniel Bacon, a gentleman painter, kinsman of Sir Francis, who has been called "the most accomplished amateur painter of the century," who died in 1627. The Queen Mary in question was almost certainly the young Henrietta Maria. At his funeral, Austin ordered "good boiled beef, good pottage" and loaves of wheaten bread to be distributed to the local poor. He also made the unusual requirement that his body "be layde in a sheete without a Coffin in the quiet night the tyme of rest and sleepe within three score howers after my departure, without much following of people for I give no mourninge garments to any but my wife my Children and houshold servants." He desired to be laid in his mother's grave, where his first wife was also buried.
- His lasting memorial is the monument in Southwark cathedral, a memorable conceit in stone based on the sentence carved along the bottom on the pediment: "Vos Estis Dei Agricultura: You are the Agriculture of God." The monument was commissioned from the leading London sculptor Nicholas Stone. The tableau is sufficiently complex that it requires explanation, for it contains figures and emblems and lengthy Latin inscriptions. The central section shows standing corn behind which rises a rock on which a golden angel stands, pointing upwards to a golden sunburst on the wall above. Down the rock a stream runs, and a serpent twines itself around the rock. On either side sit life-sized figures of harvesters in attitudes of mourning, wearing smocks and wheaten hats; a rake and pitchfork are propped against their knees. A ribband woven through the corn carries the words "Si non moriatur non revivi scit": "If one were not to die, one could not be resurrected," while underneath the corn is inscribed "Nos sevit, fovit, lavit, coget, renovabit": "He sowed us, he nurtures us, he waters us, he urges us to grow, he will renew us." The words under the harvesters are "Messores Congregabunt": "the Reapers will gather." The rock on which the angel stands carries the inscription "Petra erat Christus": "Christ was the Rock." The interpretation of this tableau would be along these lines: man is like springing corn, planted and tended by the Lord, who orders it to be reaped at the right time. As crops are renewed, so man will be resurrected, and the Angel of the Resurrection is the guarantee of that promise, as he points to the symbol of everlasting glory. The angel stands upon the rock that is Christ, from which the life-giving waters flow. The serpent of evil is trampled underfoot. The Latin phrases sound like quotations, but they are not from the Vulgate, or the Apocrypha. Could they be from one of the Church Fathers, even St. Augustine? Or are they Austin's invention? In the imaginative background to this monument is probably some recollection of the parable in St. Matthew 13:30: "In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn."
- The agricultural motif, or the idea of the husbandry of God, as a seventeenth-century viewer might have characterised it, is carried on throughout the monument. The pilasters carry a decorative frieze of farming implements, and the main inscription of the memorial is carved on a winnowing fan placed beneath the corn, from which depends a spade bearing the Austin coat of arms.
- The inscription on the winnowing fan notes that William Austin raised this tomb for his mother Joyce Clarke (the Latin for Joyce, Jocosa, has been mis-carved Jacosa in a later restoration) and for his wife Anne, who died after giving birth to their tenth child, leaving five children extant. A final summation, at the bottom of the memorial, informs us of Austin's various virtues: "qui in contemplandis fuit pro angelo, in agendis pro Dedalo in itinere pro vehiculo, in mensam pro convivio in morbo patiens pro miraculo in morte fidelis pro exemplo": "In contemplation he was like an angel, in accomplishing things like Dedalus, in his travels he was like a carriage; his table was like a feast; patient to a miracle in illness, he was faithful in death as an example to us all."
- I would expect Austin himself to have been responsible for the design of this monument and its inscriptions, as it seems the product of a spirited and conceitful mind. But Nicholas Stone the sculptor seems to have had no qualms about reproducing the design, for an almost identical tomb was erected to the memory of Sir Edward Pinchoon at Writtle in Essex in 1629, shortly after Austin commissioned the Southwark monument to his mother in 1626. The Writtle version is more crowded as the two harvesters have sprouted wings and appear to be angels disguised, while the Angel of the Resurrection is larger and less graceful than its Southwark cousin. The agricultural inscriptions are identical. Austin's superior original stands out as one of the most visually arresting memorials in the great age of ingenious tombs.
- One final posthumous publication of William Austin deserves attention before we close this account of his remains. This is a book in praise of a woman, provocatively entitled Haec Homo (1637). As one might deduce from the confusion of genders in the title, the woman in question is so admirable in all her qualities that she can be considered as an honorary male. The subject is one Mrs. Mary Griffiths, whose portrait fronts the book and to whom the book is dedicated, with the observation "The Author has made you his pattern." In fact, the book reveals very little about Mary Griffiths at all: she is such a paragon that she has lost all individuality. We seem to be dealing here with one of those idealised relationships of a man for a woman that recur with some frequency in seventeenth-century writing: Richard Crashaw and the Countess of Denbigh, Thomas Traherne and Susanna Hopton, John Evelyn and Mary Godolphin, Jeremy Taylor and Lady Carbery come to mind. In all these cases the ostensible cause of regard was the spiritual responsiveness of the woman, a quality that masked any latent sexual feelings in the relationship. With William Austin and Mary Griffiths, however, even the outlines of the woman's devotional life have been lost in the blaze of his admiration. As the editor, Ralph Mabb, remarks in his Epistle to the Reader, Mrs. Griffiths' excellencies provide an occasion for a praise of feminine virtue, and Haec Homo may be said to have been "written against the general disesteem of women."
- Austin devotes his short book to proclaiming the equality of woman with man, employing as usual primarily biblical evidence for his argument. Eve was made on the same day as Adam, and Adam was perceived by God to be imperfect without her. God created man in his own likeness, and male and female are equally aspects of that likeness. Since God created woman last, she must therefore have been more perfect than man. Then God rested, "as having finished all in her, beyond whose perfection no more could be added."
- Austin even speculates that as woman was the ultimate perfection of the creation, she was the first to be conceived in God's mind: "though the last in creation, yet first in determination." She was certainly equal in soul to man. As he considers the circumstances of her creation, Austin notes that it was in the company of angels, and in the Paradise of Eden. In Austin's reading of Genesis, Adam was put into Paradise by God, but Eve was created there. And so the hymn of praise continues. "Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much" would be a measured response to Haec Homo. The very composition, though, of such a work suggests a generosity of spirit that is evident throughout Austin's life, and was variously expressed in his love of family and friends, his love of the arts, and his love of God.
1. St. Saviour's, Southwark (Southwark Cathedral), was formerly known as St. Mary Overies. The name was changed at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but the name St. Mary's remained in common use until well into the seventeenth century.
2. London County Council's Survey of London (111). It may be worth noting that Philip Henslowe the theatre owner, who is also buried in St. Saviour's, Southwark, was a freeman of the Dyers' Company, and presumably known to Austin.
4. Vestry Minutes of St. Saviour's, Southwark, quoted in Higham (170).
5. See Austin (Devotionis 280).
6. Ibid. (2).
7. Ibid. (36).
8. Ibid. (42).
9. Ibid. (41).
10. Ibid. (56).
11. Ibid. (90).
12. Ibid. (119).
13. That it attracted attention in its own time is clear from the manuscript copies made in the late 1620s, including the version entitled 'Ecce Homo' in the Bodleian Library (Bod. Don. e17) described in Greer (94), in the section devoted to Elizabeth Middleton.
14. See Austin (Devotionis 217).
15. Ibid. (216).
16. Austin mentions that he derived some of his information about the relic from the twelfth-century chronicler Eadmer 'lately published by my worthy friend, the learned Selden.' As Selden's edition of Eadmer came out in 1623, this would suggest a date of, say, 1624-27 for this meditation on St. Bartholomew.
17. See Austin (Devotionis 225 [misnumbered 221]).
18. Ibid. (252).
19. A particular bibliographical puzzle about Austin's book is why most of the secondary title-pages bear the device of Cambridge University (the naked figure of Truth emerging from a well). The publishers were Richard Meighen and John Legatt at Middle-Temple Gate, but it may be that the book was printed at the university press at Cambridge.
20. See Austin (Devotionis 288).
21. So described by Oliver Millar, quoted in the exhibition catalogue Dynasties (222).
22. Will of Willliam Austin, Esquire. Public Record Office Will Prob. 11/165/14(14 Seager). Made 19 May 1632. Proved 6 Feb. 1633/4 by relict Anne.
23. The title was probably chosen to exploit the popularity of the Hic Mulier and Haec Vir titles of the satirical character books of 1620.
24. See Austin (Haec Homo 14).
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© 2001-, R.G. Siemens and Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).
(RGS, LJ, WSH, 08 May, 2001 )