political invective

 

I am currently reading

The Literary Underground in the 1660s: Andrew Marvell, George Wither, Ralph Wallis, and the World of Restoration Satire and Pamphleteering

by Stephen Bardle

Oxford University Press, 2012

 

 

It is hard to follow the religious and political disputes of seventeenth century England: the time of the Civil Wars; the execution of Charles I … the time of Cromwell; persecuted dissenters such as John Bunyan and George Fox; the Restoration; retribution against regicides; disputes between religious sects.

Nevertheless, read these two scurrilous poems* and ask yourself, can anyone top our forebears for published invective?

*In Bardle, The Literary Underground in the 1660s, pp. 15-17.

 

When Cuckoo Presbyter first rob’d the Nest
Of th’ Harmless Dove, the smaller birds addrest
Themselves to it, and having learnt by rote,
Found ’twas a harsh, rigid and untun’d Note.
But yet complied, while rub’d with Cuckoos mange,
They took their Conscience-liberty to range;
So they divide the spoyl, and their lewd itch
Fell scratching of the RUMP (in English) Britch;
Whose blasts the Cuckoo’d borrowed Feathers ruggled,
But since Halcyon, both together shuffled.
No Cuckoo now, but Pyebald Sir Jolhn Daw;
Do you kaw me, and Ile you likewise Kaw.

— Anon., A Dialogue between the Two Giants in Guildhall** (London, 1661, pp. 5-6

 

**The allegory (A Dialogue) relates Presbyterian control over the Church — the dove –­ during the Revolution, but also implies anti-monarchical principles, since by representing chem as a ‘cuckoo’, the Presbyterians are associated with attacking the oak of the royal family. (Bardle, pg. 16)

 

 

Tis News to me, that, creatures of their frame,
To any purpose, should repeat my name,
Since, probably, they do not know their own,
But, are the greatest Block-heads in the Town,
Except it be those foolish Pamphleteers
That, use to write such Dialogues as theirs;
(Or, base Invectives tending to th’increase
Of Discord, by the breach of civil peace)

— George Wither, Joco-Serio. Strange News of a Discourse, Between Two dead Giants*** (London, 1661), pg. 3

 

***Wither’s reply to A Dialogue between the Two Giants in Guildhall — entitled Joco-Serio. Strange News of a Discourse, Between Two dead Giants, expressed in an Epigram, to one Inquisitive for News (1661) — highlights the uncomfortable position the writers of A Dialogue had created for themselves. By attacking Wither in a popular, polemical style, the authors of A Dialogue had inadvertently made themselves vulnerable to the common Anglican Royalist argument that linked the disputations of the public sphere with civil strife. (Bardle, pg. 17)

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    January 2021

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