Friday 21 February 2014

A Rant about 'Ragnarok 2014'

I don't often rant, but when I do, it's because people who should know better are misrepresenting medieval things in the media. This time the culprit is the Jorvik Viking Centre, a heritage attraction which I've always thought of as a harmless and generally rather likeable institution popularising York's Viking history. I'm all in favour of popularising England's Viking history, and getting people to talk about the Vikings is always good. But this year, to promote their annual festival, they've decided to invent the concept of 'Ragnarok 2014', in which they pretend that Norse mythology predicted the end of the world would arrive on 22 February (the last weekend of the festival). They've been assiduously selling this idea since November, when they started the first '100 days to Ragnarok' story going in the media by having someone blow a horn - the Gjallarhorn being the first sign of the apocalypse, as news outlets dutifully repeated.

This is so obviously a publicity stunt for the festival that you might not think there's much harm in it. Well, I may be completely humourless (certainly a possibility), but it's been annoying me, and every time I see another news story about it or someone tweets a #Ragnarok2014 joke I get a little more annoyed. First of all, let's be totally clear: the date of 22 February is plucked out of nowhere. It is made up. The 100 days thing was made up. Norse mythology does not put a date on Ragnarok: not a guess, not a hint, not a whisper of a date, no sense at all that there might be a fixed day. (In fact, it may be that Ragnarok has already happened.) There is no 'Viking calendar predicting the end of the world', as one news report put it. All made up.

The reason I feel the need to be so emphatic about this is that the Jorvik Viking Centre decided to be deliberately misleading. When they say Norse mythology predicts Ragnarok will happen on February 22, what they mean is they're staging Ragnarok as an event at the festival on February 22. You might think this is so transparently obvious that no one could really be deceived, but if you take a look at the reporting and the comments on the various stories, the problem becomes clear: people have been completely taken in. They believe this is a 'fact' about Norse mythology. Of course they don't really believe that the world's going to end on this date, but they now believe that Norse mythology says this. And why shouldn't they believe it? The 'experts at the Jorvik Viking Centre' said so. A whole bunch of news outlets have reported it: here's the Huffington Post; here's Time; here's the Independent, plus others too stupid to link to. Not one of those articles takes the idea seriously, but they also don't indicate that it's invented - because, not knowing better, they trusted the 'experts' who told them it was true. Does it really need saying that it's not OK to just make stuff up for publicity purposes? The idea of staging a Ragnarok event is perfectly fine, but to publicise it by saying something which is untrue - the Vikings believed the world would end on 22 February - is deceiving people who don't know better, people who trust you to tell the truth.

This is the kind of thing these experts are saying, from the Daily Mail:

Norse mythology experts have calculated that Vikings believed this will take place on February 22, 2014. On this day, the god Odin will be killed by the wolf Fenrir and the other ‘creator’ gods. There will be huge earthquakes, the sea will rear up and the soil and the sky will be stained with poison. The sound of the horn is supposed to call the sons of Odin to the battlefield, where Odin will ultimately be killed. After his death, the Earth was foretold to sink into the sea, paving the way for a new utopian world with endless supplies.

Danielle Daglan from the Norvik Viking Centre told MailOnline that a number of recent events spoken about in the legends of Ragnarok led them to believe that the end of the world may well be imminent.

The legend states that ‘the first to notice shall be man, brother will fight brother and all the boundaries that exist shall crumble.’

‘The idea that “boundaries that exist shall crumble” could be said to be about the Internet age, where you can communicate with millions of people simultaneously around the world thanks to the global rise of social media,’ said Ms Daglan.

That report has been shared more than 29,000 times; I almost hope the last comment is a self-mocking joke, because if social media is a sign of the apocalypse, it's because of stuff like this.

(I do find it hilarious that the Daily Mail manages to credit it to the 'Norvik Viking Centre'; you shamelessly make stuff up to get press attention and they still can't get your name right? Excellent work all round.)

Their publicity worked - it got them lots of coverage, and I'm helping them by posting about it. But I don't think that makes it OK; it's not just a bit of fun. I really don't have a problem with popularising history - the British Museum are currently doing a great job publicising their upcoming 'Vikings' exhibition with etymology-themed posters, a nice illustration that you can promote history without having to condescend or lie to the general public. My own guiding principle as an academic blogger is 'people will understand anything if you explain it well enough'. Popularise away, and be quirky and funny and clever about it - no problem. But fundamentally, you have to be honest; you have to realise that people will believe the things you tell them, and you need to be careful that they won't mistake a joke for fact. And maybe it's just me, but I feel you really have crossed a line when you claim that myths and texts (in this case Snorri's Edda) say things they do not say.

This particular story has another element too: quite apart from the fact that if you call yourself an expert and then you flat-out lie to the public you should be ashamed of yourself, this attitude to Ragnarok is disrespectful. In a world where Thor is a comic-book movie hero fighting aliens in spaceships (OK, that is kind of awesome), Norse mythology has become part of our general winky postmodern cutesiness; I enjoy that as much as anyone, and a playful attitude towards the gods is one of the most attractive features of the Norse sources for mythology. (I myself have been known to recreate key scenes from Norse mythology with Playmobil and gummy worms). But Ragnarok is not a joke. It's a story of terrible fear, annihilation, though with a hope of rebirth. The dread of it runs through many stories in Norse myth - the knowledge that for the gods this destruction will come, inevitably and irrevocably. In Snorri's Edda, the story is also deeply sad: Ragnarok begins with a family grieving helplessly for their dead son. (Couldn't fit that in the press release, I guess.) Can we not take that seriously? If nothing else, can we not maintain a basic level of respect for a belief system different from our own? How can we ever hope to understand the Vikings, or any past society, if we turn their mythology into a joke?

I know people like this kind of stuff. Twitter likes it, and journalists like it, and heritage marketers think it's what their job is all about. As always, I don't blame the journalists who write about it or the people who trustingly retweet it. I blame the people who feed this stuff to the press: people who are supposed to be communicators, sharers of interesting facts, valuable information and entertaining stories, to help the public understand and enjoy and appreciate the Viking past. This kind of stunt is misleading, if not outright deceitful, and culturally insensitive; it betrays an unwillingness to accept the past on its own terms, or to think about history with an open, honest and curious mind. And if you can't do that, why on earth are you bothering to market it?

Update, 24/02/2014: The Jorvik Viking Centre contacted me today to assert that they thought I was misleading people in this blog post. Naturally I disagree, and feel the irony of this complaint requires no further comment from me. However, I offered them a right to reply, and if they respond I'll post that on the blog.

In contacting me, they did not mention whether they have made similar complaints to any of the numerous international news organisations who reported their campaign as a genuine prediction.

Sunday 16 February 2014

The Danish Conquest, 1000 Years, Part 5: Bargaining with the King

After the death of Svein Forkbeard on 3 February 1014 brought to a sudden end the Danish king's brief reign in England, what happened next? Events moved swiftly. The previous winter King Æthelred had been forced to flee England and seek refuge with his wife's family in Normandy, but, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (D) tells us, he was about to get a second chance:
Her on þissum geare Swegen geendode his dagas to Candelmæssan .iii. Nonas Februarii. 7 þy ilcan geare man hadode ælfwig bisceop on Eoforwic to Lundenburuh on Sancta Iuliana mæssedæg. 7 se flota þa eall gecuron Cnut to cyninge. Þa ræddon þa witan ealle, gehadode 7 læwede, þæt man æfter þam cyninge æþelrede sende, 7 cwædon þæt him nan hlaford leofra nære þonne hyra gecynda hlaford, gif he hi rihtlicor healdan wolde þonne he ær dyde. Þa sende se cyning his sunu Eadweard hider mid his ærenddracan 7 het gretan ealne his leodscype, 7 cwæð þæt he him hold hlaford beon wolde, 7 ælc þæra þinga betan þe hi ealle ascunodon, 7 ælc þara þinga forgyfon beon sceolde þe him gedon oððe cwæden wære, wið þam þe hi ealle anrædlice butan swicdome to him gecyrdon. 7 man þa fulne freondscipe gefæstnode mid worde 7 mid wedde on ægþre healfe, 7 æfre ælcne Dæniscne cyning utlah of ænglalande gecwædon. Þa com æþelred cyning innan þam lænctentid ham to his agenre þeode, 7 he glædlice fram him eallum onfangen wæs.

[In this year Svein ended his days at Candlemas, 3 February, and in that same year Ælfwig was consecrated Bishop of London at York on St Juliana's day, and the fleet then all chose Cnut as king. Then all the witan, ordained and lay, decided that King Æthelred should be sent for, and said that no lord was dearer to them than their natural lord, if he would govern more justly than he had done before. Then the king sent his son Edward here with his messengers, and sent greeting to all his people, and said that he would be a gracious lord to them and remedy all the things of which they disapproved, and everything which had been done or said against him should be forgiven, as long as they all turned back to him resolutely and without treachery. And full friendship was confirmed with words and pledges on both sides, and every Danish king was declared an outlaw from England forever. Then King Æthelred came in the spring home to his own people, and he was gladly received by them all.]

This short passage is in some ways one of the most surprising in the Chronicle. It's not unexpected, of course, that the witan, the king's counsellors, should want Æthelred to return once Svein was safely dead, but the idea of them making this agreement with their exiled king is fascinating - that they felt they could make terms for his return to England, and that he consented to rule 'more justly' and amend what they disliked! The witan were in a strong position to make such an agreement, because they could have chosen to reject Æthelred and submit to Cnut - although clearly they didn't want to, since Æthelred was their 'natural lord'. When a parliament has two potential kings to choose between, they can make their own terms. I wonder how we should interpret Æthelred sending his young son Edward (the future Confessor) with the negotiators - he can't have been more than twelve years old at this point, possibly younger, and it may be that his presence was supposed to be symbolic, a sign of hope for the future.

The universal peace and amity the Chronicle paints in this entry did not last very long. The statement that 'every Danish king was declared an outlaw from England forever' has considerable irony - not only of the historical variety (because less than three years later, Cnut was king of England) but also of a linguistic kind: outlaw is a loan-word from Old Norse, and the English counsellors were thus consciously or unconsciously using legal vocabulary the Danes had introduced to England as a weapon against the Danes themselves. However, as a strategy for peace-making this was a considerable step up from the St Brice's Day massacre - at least it's only Danish kings who are outlawed.

Given the date of Svein's death, it seems likely that the discussion and decision of the witan took place at the same time as the event mentioned in the same sentence in the Chronicle - the consecration of Ælfwig as bishop in York, on St Juliana's day, 16th February 1014. Svein's sudden death must have come as a great shock to everyone, but the witan would have had to act quickly: Cnut and his army were a still-present threat, and since Svein was buried in York, the Danes can't have been far from the city itself. Since we know the senior bishops were gathered at York on 16 February - most important among them Wulfstan, Archbishop of York - this may well have been the occasion on which they made their decision.

It has been plausibly argued* that this was also the occasion on which Wulfstan preached the first version of his famous Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, 'the Sermon of Wolf to the English'. One manuscript of the text tells us that it was preached in 1014, addressed to the English 'at the time when the Danes were greatly persecuting them'. There aren't many Old English texts for which we can make such a specific guess at a date (for many we can't even plausibly propose a century, let alone a day), so we should take the opportunity to mark the possible anniversary of this hugely significant sermon.

[*This argument is made by Jonathan Wilcox, 'Wulfstan's Sermo Lupi ad Anglos as Political Performance: 16 February 1014 and beyond', in Matthew Townend, ed., Wulfstan, Archbishop of York (Turnhout: Brepols, 2004), pp. 375-96. There are alternative theories about the textual transmission of the sermon and the priority of its different versions, but I find Wilcox's arguments convincing.]

In his sermon Wulfstan recounts the many disasters which have fallen upon the English nation through the attacks of the Danes, and describes a country which is, as he sees it, in total moral collapse: all normal social bonds - within families, within the church, and between lords and their followers - have broken down. He tells the English they have brought this catastrophe on themselves through their many sins, and the only remedy is to repent and seek the return of God's favour. You can read the whole sermon in Modern English here, although the power of Wulfstan's scathing rhetoric loses a lot in translation. Here's a particularly relevant extract:

Forþam hit is on us eallum swutol and gesene þæt we ær þysan oftor bræcan þonne we bettan, and þy is þysse þeode fela onsæge. Ne dohte hit nu lange inne ne ute: ac wæs here and hungor, nu bryne and blodgyte on gewelhwylcan ende oft and gelome, and us stalu and cwalu, stric and steorfa, orfcwealm and uncoþu, hol and hete, and rypera reaflac derede swyþe þearle, and us ungylda swyðe gedrohtan, and us unwedera foroft weoldan unwæstma. Forþam on þysan earde wæs, swa hit þincan mæg, nu fela geara unrihta fela and tealte getrywða æghwær mid mannum. Ne bearh nu foroft gesib gesibban þe ma þe fremdan, ne fæder his bearne, ne hwilum bearn his agenum fæder, ne broþor oþrum. Ne ure ænig his lif ne fadode swa swa he scolde, ne gehadode regellice, ne læwede lahlice. Ac worhtan lust us to lage ealles to gelome, & naþor ne heoldan ne lare ne lage Godes ne manna, swa swa we scoldan. Ne ænig wið oþerne getrywlice þohte swa rihte swa he scolde, ac mæst ælc swicode and oþrum derede wordes and dæde, and huru unrihtlice mæst ælc oþerne æftan heaweþ mid sceandlican onscytan and mid wrohtlacan, do mare gif he mæge.

Forþam her syn on lande ungetrywþa micle for Gode and for worolde, and eac her syn on earde on mistlice wisan hlafordswican manege: and ealra mæst hlafordswice se bið on worolde þæt man his hlafordes saule beswice. And ful micel hlafordswice eac bið on worolde þæt man his hlaford of life forræde, oððon of lande lifiendne drife, and ægþer is geworden on þysan earde: Eadweard man forrædde, and syððan acwealde and æfter þam forbærnde; and Æþelred mon dræfde ut of his earde.

[Therefore among us it is clear and obvious that before this we have more often sinned than we have atoned for it, and therefore much is attacking this nation. Nothing has prospered now for a long time, at home or abroad; but there was harrying and hunger, now burning and bloodshed in every place often and frequently, and theft and death, plague and pestilence, death of cattle and disease, malice and hatred, and the robbery of pillagers have sorely afflicted us, and excessive tax has greatly oppressed us, and bad weather has very often caused the failure of harvests. Therefore in this country, as it appears, there have now been many years of many injustices, and unstable loyalties everywhere among men. Now very often a kinsman will not defend a kinsman any more than he would a stranger, nor a father his son, nor sometimes a son his own father, nor one brother another. None of us has ordered his life as he ought to, neither the religious according to his rule nor the layman according to law. But lust has been a law to us all too often, and we have not kept the teachings or the laws of God or man as we ought to do. No one has acted loyally towards others as justly as he should, but almost everyone has betrayed and harmed others in words and deeds, and indeed almost everyone has attacked others with shameful assaults and with slander, and will do more, if he can.

For there are in this nation many betrayals against God and against the world, and also there are in this country many who betray their lords in various ways. And the greatest of all betrayals of a lord in the world is that a man betray the soul of his lord, and a very great betrayal of a lord it is also in the world, that a man betray his lord to death, or drive him living from the land, and both have come to pass in this country: Edward was betrayed, and then killed, and after that burned; and Æthelred was driven out of his land.]

Can't you see the witan wincing as they listened to that? Although his sentence is conveniently passive (Æþelred mon dræfde...), Wulfstan does not blame the Danes for driving Æthelred out of his own land the previous winter - he blames the audience of his sermon, who owed loyalty to their lord and betrayed him. Wulfstan's concern about the betrayal of oaths provides a helpful context for the bargaining and oath-making described in the Chronicle entry for 1014, where the agreement is fixed mid worde 7 mid wedde on ægþre healfe, 'with words and with pledges on both sides' - the chronicler himself slips in a formulaic, Wulfstanian alliterative doublet there.

A manuscript of the Sermo Lupi, via wikipedia

The remainder of the Chronicle entry for 1014 describes how Cnut stayed in Gainsborough until Easter (which in 1014, as this year, fell late in April), until Æthelred drove him out. We can save that story until later in the year, except to note that at the end of that summer England suffered a terrible flood, which 'came further inland than it ever had before, and drowned many towns and a countless number of people'. And you thought this year's floods were bad...

'Ceasing from the voice of joy and gladness': Ælfric's Homily for Septuagesima

Some last Alleluias, from the liturgy for the eve of Septuagesima in an Anglo-Saxon Missal 

Today, nine weeks before Easter, is traditionally Septuagesima Sunday, the beginning of a period of preparation for Lent. One of its most distinctive features was the custom of ceasing to sing 'Alleluia' at mass, a practice referred to in medieval England as 'locking the Alleluia'. The word was symbolically locked away, to be unlocked again amid the celebration of Easter - then the word was imagined to be released from its captivity, just as Christ would break out of the tomb and human beings would be liberated from captivity to their sins.

The tenth-century English homilist Ælfric wrote a sermon for Septuagesima in which he discusses the reason for this custom, the significance of observing a period of seventy days, and the parallel with the captivity of the Israelites in Babylon. During that period, he says, the Israelites 'ceased their song of joy and gladness', and so the church in emulation ceases to sing 'Alleluia'. The first part of the sermon deals with the Gospel for the day (the parable of the workers in the vineyard - you can read the whole thing here) but he concludes by saying:

We willað eow secgan be ðyssere andweardan tide, hwi seo halige gelaðung forlæt on Godes cyrcan ‘Alleluian’ and ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’, fram ðisum andwerdum dæge oð þa halgan Eastertide. Sum wis lareow hatte Amalarius, se awrat ane boc be cyrclicum ðeawum, hwæt ða gesetnyssa Godes þenunga of gearlicum ymbryne getacniað, and cwæð be ðyssere andwerdan tide, þe is gecweden Septuagesima, þæt heo gefylð ða getacnunge þæra hundseofontig geara þe Israhela folc on hæftnede Babiloniscum cyninge þeowde. Septuagesima is hundseofontigfeald getel. Seo tid onginð on ðisum Sunnandæge, nigon wucon ær Eastron, and geendað on ðam Saternesdæge þære Easterlican wucan: to ðam daæge sind heonon getealde hundseofontig daga; and þæt Israhela folc, for heora mandædum and forgægednyssum, wurdon gehergode, and hundseofontig geara on Babiloniscum þeowdome, buton blisse and myrhðe, wunodon. Nu hylt Godes gelaðung þis hundseofontigfealde getel sylfwilles for hire gyltum, swa swa se ealda Israhel neadunge heold on hæftnunge, oðþæt se mildheorta God eft, æfter heora gedrefednyssum, hi ahredde, and to heora earde gelædde.

Se witega Hieremias witegode be ðære Israhela ðeode, þæt hi sceoldon, on ðam hund-seofontig geara fæce, geswican blisse stemne and fægnunge, brydguman stemne and bryde. Nu on ðære gelicnysse forlætað Godes ðeowas ða heofonlican lofsangas, ‘Alleluian’ and ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo,’ on ðissere Septuagesima, forðan þe us gedafenað þæt we sylfwilles fram ðisum andwerdan dæge mid sumere stiðnysse to ðam gastlicum gefeohte us sylfe gegearcian, swa swa seo cyrclice þenung us manað to heofunge and to ure synna bereowsunge. Ærest on ðære mæssan officio we singað ‘Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis’: ‘Deaþes geomerunga me beeodon, and helle sarnyssa me beeodon, and ic on minre gedrefednysse Drihten clypode, and he of his halgan temple mine stemne gehyrde.’ Eft, on ðære mæssan collectan we cweðað, ‘Qui juste pro peccatis nostris affligimur,’ þæt is, ‘We ðe rihtlice for urum synnum sind geswencte.’ Eac se apostol on ðam pistole cwæð, ‘Ælc ðæra þe on gecampe winð, forhæfð hine sylfne fram eallum ðingum.’

Witodlice ðas dægðerlican ðenunga cyðað þæt fram ðisum dæge oð Eastron is ure heofungtid and bereowsungtid ure synna mid sumere stiðnysse. ‘Alleluia’ is Ebreisc word, þæt is on Leden ‘Laudate Dominum,’ and nan gereord nis swa healic swa Ebreisc. Nu forlæte we þæt healice gereord on ure Septuagesima, and cweðað on Leden, ‘Laus tibi, Domine, Rex aeterne gloriae’; þæt is, ‘Sy ðe, Drihten, lof, eces wuldres Cyning.’ We geswuteliað mid þære eadmodan Leden spræce, þæt we sceolon us sylfe to eadmodran drohtnunge on ðyssere tide gebigan. ‘Alleluia’ is, swa we cwædon, heofonlic sang, swa swa Iohannes se apostol cwæð, þæt he gehyrde micele stemne on heofonum, swylce bymena dream, and hi sungon ‘Alleluian.’ ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ sungon englas, þaþa Crist on middanearde lichamlice acenned wæs. Nu forlæte we ðas heofonlican lofsangas on ure bereowsung-tide, and we biddað mid soðre eadmodnysse ðone Ælmihtigan, þæt we moton geseon his heofenlican Easter-tide, æfter þam gemænelicum æriste, on ðam we him singað ecelice Alleluian butan geswince. Amen.

'We wish to speak to you about this present season, why the holy congregation in God’s church omits ‘Alleluia’ and ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’, from this present day until the holy season of Easter. There was a wise teacher named Amalarius, who wrote a book about the church’s customs and what the ceremonies of God’s servants symbolise through the course of the year; and he said about this present season, which is called Septuagesima, that it acts as a token of the seventy years for which the people of Israel served the king of Babylon in captivity. Septuagesima is the number 'seventy'. The season begins on this Sunday, nine weeks before Easter, and ends on the Saturday in Easter week; from now until that day are counted seventy days, and the people of Israel, for their sins and transgressions, were taken into captivity and lived for seventy years in slavery to Babylon, without joy and bliss. Now God’s church keeps this period of seventy, by choice, for their sins, just as Israel of old was forced to keep it in captivity, until merciful God rescued them after their tribulations and led them to their homeland.

The prophet Jeremiah prophesied about the people of Israel that during that period of seventy years they should cease from the voice of joy and gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the bride. Now in emulation of that, God’s servants leave the heavenly songs of praise, ‘Alleluia’ and ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’, in this period of Septuagesima, because it is fitting for us that from this present day we prepare ourselves voluntarily with a degree of strictness for the spiritual battle, as the liturgy of the church exhorts us to sorrow and repent of our sins. First in the Office of the Mass we sing ‘Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis’, ‘The mournings of death surrounded me, and the pains of hell surrounded me, and I cried to the Lord in my trouble and he heard my voice from his holy temple.’ Then in the Collect of the Mass we say, ‘Qui juste pro peccatis nostris affligimur’, that is, ‘We who are justly afflicted for our sins.’ Again, the apostle in the Epistle says, ‘Every one of those who strives in battle withholds himself from all things.’

Truly the liturgy of the day shows that from this day until Easter is our season of mourning and repenting for our sins with a degree of strictness. ‘Alleluia’ is a Hebrew word – which in Latin is ‘Laudate Dominum’ – and no language is as elevated as Hebrew. Now we leave that elevated language in our Septuagesima, and say in Latin, ‘Laus tibi, Domine, Rex aeterne gloriae’, that is, ‘Praise be to thee, Lord, King of eternal glory.’ We show by our humble Latin speech that we should incline to a humbler way of living in this season. ‘Alleluia’ is, as we said, a heavenly song; as the Apostle John said, he heard great voices in heaven, like the music of trumpets, and they sang ‘Alleluia’. ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ sang the angels, when Christ became incarnate in flesh in this world. Now we leave the heavenly songs of praise in our season of repentance, and we pray with true humility to the Almighty, that we may see his heavenly Eastertide, after the general resurrection, in which we will sing ‘Alleluia’ to him eternally without ceasing. Amen.'

Hanging up harps by the waters of Babylon (BL Harley 603, f. 70, 11th century)

It's interesting to see this opinion on the relative holiness and humbleness of Hebrew and Latin! This is Ælfric at his best as a teacher, clearly and concisely explaining to his congregation the liturgical practices associated with Septuagesima and the reasons for them. There's a good deal of learning here, lightly worn, as Ælfric moves confidently between Latin, Ebreisc and English, between the texts of the liturgy, the Old Testament, and the New. His last paragraph touches on a similar idea to the Septuagesima hymn 'Alleluia dulce carmen' (glossed as 'Alleluia, myrige leoþ' in one Anglo-Saxon manuscript of hymns), which J. M. Neale translated as 'Alleluia, song of sweetness':

'Alleluia', song of sweetness,
voice of joy that cannot die;
'alleluia' is the anthem
ever raised by choirs on high;
in the house of God abiding
thus they sing eternally.

'Alleluia' thou resoundest,
true Jerusalem and free;
'alleluia', joyful mother,
all thy children sing with thee;
but by Babylon's sad waters
mourning exiles now are we.

'Alleluia' cannot always
be our song while here below;
'alleluia' our transgressions
make us for awhile forgo;
for the solemn time is coming
when our tears for sin must flow.

Therefore in our hymns we pray thee,
grant us, blessed Trinity,
at the last to keep thine Easter,
in our home beyond the sky,
there to thee for ever singing
'alleluia' joyfully.

Septuagesima is not widely observed today, and the opportunities to sing this ancient hymn are therefore few. Hymns about hymn-singing are always interesting to me; the idea of singing together is a powerful image of unity, and in this case the practice of singing - and ceasing to sing - in concert with the Israelites is, as Ælfric explains, an important symbol of how the medieval church saw its relationship with its Jewish heritage. The practice of 'locking' the alleluia is a liturgical re-imagining of one of the most poignant laments in human history, a despairing question which for thousands of years has given voice to many different political and personal situations of loss, exile, and dispossession: 'how can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?' For the medieval church, this question was interpreted as the cry of a universal experience of estrangement: all human beings are in exile and captivity on earth, longing for their home in heaven, and every year through Lent and Easter the church re-enacts its longed-for progression from exile to homecoming, from grief to joy.

Today is one of those occasions on which the modern church has chosen not to sing in harmony with its medieval forebears, but if you would like to make an exception, you can find the tune to 'Alleluia dulce carmen' here.

'Alleluia dulce carmen' in an Anglo-Saxon hymnal, with English gloss (BL Cotton MS Vespasian D XII, f.48v)

Saturday 15 February 2014

'Shut Out That Moon'

Close up the casement, draw the blind,
Shut out that stealing moon,
She wears too much the guise she wore
Before our lutes were strewn
With years-deep dust, and names we read
On a white stone were hewn.

Step not out on the dew-dashed lawn
To view the Lady's Chair,
Immense Orion's glittering form,
The Less and Greater Bear:
Stay in; to such sights we were drawn
When faded ones were fair.

Brush not the bough for midnight scents
That come forth lingeringly,
And wake the same sweet sentiments
They breathed to you and me
When living seemed a laugh, and love
All it was said to be.

Within the common lamp-lit room
Prison my eyes and thought;
Let dingy details crudely loom,
Mechanic speech be wrought:
Too fragrant was Life's early bloom,
Too tart the fruit it brought!

Richard Burton recorded a number of Hardy poems, and some of them are on youtube here. My favourite moment in this poem is the second line of the third verse, where the emphasis required by 'lingeringly' trips up the rhythm, and forces you to stop, to linger, on that word.

The image conjured up of stargazing on the 'dew-dashed lawn' reminded me of one of the sweetest, saddest moments in Mansfield Park, where the recollection of past stargazing illustrates the bond of intimacy between Edmund and Fanny, from which Edmund is gradually drawing away.

Miss Crawford had only time to say, in a pleasant manner, “I fancy Miss Price has been more used to deserve praise than to hear it”; when, being earnestly invited by the Miss Bertrams to join in a glee, she tripped off to the instrument, leaving Edmund looking after her in an ecstasy of admiration of all her many virtues, from her obliging manners down to her light and graceful tread.

“There goes good–humour, I am sure,” said he presently. “There goes a temper which would never give pain! How well she walks! and how readily she falls in with the inclination of others! joining them the moment she is asked. What a pity,” he added, after an instant’s reflection, “that she should have been in such hands!”

Fanny agreed to it, and had the pleasure of seeing him continue at the window with her, in spite of the expected glee; and of having his eyes soon turned, like hers, towards the scene without, where all that was solemn, and soothing, and lovely, appeared in the brilliancy of an unclouded night, and the contrast of the deep shade of the woods. Fanny spoke her feelings. “Here’s harmony!” said she. “Here’s repose! Here’s what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe! Here’s what may tranquillise every care, and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene.”

“I like to hear your enthusiasm, Fanny. It is a lovely night, and they are much to be pitied who have not been taught to feel, in some degree, as you do; who have not, at least, been given a taste for Nature in early life. They lose a great deal.”

You taught me to think and feel on the subject, cousin.”

“I had a very apt scholar. There’s Arcturus looking very bright.”

“Yes, and the Bear. I wish I could see Cassiopeia.”

“We must go out on the lawn for that. Should you be afraid?”

“Not in the least. It is a great while since we have had any star–gazing.”

“Yes; I do not know how it has happened.” The glee began. “We will stay till this is finished, Fanny,” said he, turning his back on the window; and as it advanced, she had the mortification of seeing him advance too, moving forward by gentle degrees towards the instrument, and when it ceased, he was close by the singers, among the most urgent in requesting to hear the glee again.

Fanny sighed alone at the window till scolded away by Mrs. Norris’s threats of catching cold.

Friday 14 February 2014

A Spoof Love Poem: 'Lord, how shall I me complain'

This is a comedy love poem, which parodies a variety of medieval love-literature conventions: the lover's extravagant claims about his suffering, his lack of appetite, his bursting heart, and his tendency to make absurd vows. By the fifteenth century these conventions were very firmly established, and ripe for a little mockery. The poem survives in two manuscripts, Oxford, Balliol College 354 (Richard Hill's commonplace book) and Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales Porkington 10, both manuscripts which show ample evidence of being compiled for people with a lively sense of humour.

This is a slightly modernised version, adapted from this text.

Lord, how shall I me complain
Unto mine own lady dear,
For to tell her of my pain
That I feel this time of the year?
My love, if ye will it hear,
Though I can no songs make,
So your love changeth my chere [mood]
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

Though love doth me so mickle woe,
I love you best, I make a vow,
That my shoe bindeth my little toe,
And all my smart, it is for you!
Forsooth, me thinketh it will me slo, [kill]
But ye somewhat my sorrow slake; [unless you somewhat relieve my sorrow]
But barefoot to my bed I go,
And when I sleep I cannot wake.

Whosoever wist what life I lead,
In mine observance in divers wise;
From time that I go to my bed
I eat no meat till that I rise.
Ye might tell it for a great emprise, [triumph]
That men thus mourneth for your sake;
So much I think on your service,
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

In the morning when I rise shall,
Me list right well for to dine,
But commonly I drink no ale,
If I may get any good wine.
To make your heart to me incline
Such torments to myself I take;
Singing doth me so mickle pine [pain]
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

I may hardly button my sleeves,
So mine arms waxen more; [grow bigger]
Under my heel is that which me grieves,
For at my heart I feel no sore;
Every day my girdle goth out a bore; [my belt buckles at another hole]
I cling as doth a wheaten cake;
And for your love I sigh so sore,
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

Therefore, but ye quit me my hire, [unless you repay my service]
Forsooth I know not what I shall do,
And for your love, lady, by this fire,
Old gloves will I wear none.
I laugh and sing and make no moan,
I wax as lean as any rake,
Thus in langour I live alone,
And when I sleep I cannot wake.

My doublet is more than it was,
To love you first when I began,
It must be wider, by my lace,
In each place by a span.
My love, since I became your man
I have ridden through many a lake,
One mileway mourning I can,
Yet when I sleep I cannot wake.

Thus in langour I am lent.
Long or you do so for me,
Take good heed to my intent,
For this shall my conclusion be.
Me thinketh I love as well as ye,
Never so coy though ye it make;
By this example ye may see:
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

One mileway mourning I can means 'I can go mourning for as long as it takes to travel a mile' which is, as an impeccable authority (Chaucer) tells us, a whole twenty minutes. It's hard to pick a favourite among these brilliantly absurd claims, but I'm fond of 'my shoe pinches my little toe, and all my pain is for you!' And his grand declarations that 'I eat no meat' (while I'm asleep) and 'I drink no ale' (if I can get good wine) are also pretty funny. If you want to get a sense of the kind of thing this is parodying, have a look at Chaucer's 'Complaint to his Lady', which contains such lines as:

In my trewe and careful herte ther is
So moche wo and eek so litel blis
That wo is me that ever I was bore;
For al that thyng which I desyre I mis
And al that ever I wolde not ywis,
That finde I redy to me evermore;
And of al this I not to whom me pleyne.
For she that mighte me out of this brynge
Ne reccheth nought whether I wepe or synge,
So litel rewthe hath she upon my peyne.
Allas! Whan slepyng-tyme is than I wake,
Whan I shulde daunce, for fere, lo, than I quake.

But then, Chaucer was also capable of writing:

Never did pike wallow in galantine
As I in love do wallow and am wound.

So he liked to make fun of this romantic nonsense, too!

Thursday 13 February 2014

A Miracle of St Eormenhild

Eormenhild (Ely Cathedral)

If you were a monk in eleventh-century Ely, you would today be celebrating the feast of St Eormenhild. Since you are not, you probably won't be. But you might like to read about her all the same.

Eormenhild, who died c.700, was born into the closely-linked nexus of royal families who ruled early Anglo-Saxon England. On her father's side she was a member of the royal family of Kent, descended from St Augustine's first convert, King Ethelbert (she was his great-granddaughter), and on her mother's side she was connected to East Anglian royalty, descended from King Anna, whose most famous progeny was Etheldreda of Ely (Eormenhild's aunt). Eormenhild extended these alliances by marrying the king of Mercia, Wulfhere, with whom she had two children. Many of the women in Eormenhild's extended family founded monasteries and entered religious life, with the result that they were commemorated as saints after death: Eormenhild, her mother Seaxburh, and her aunts Etheldreda and Wihtburh together comprised the female saints of Ely, while her daughter was St Werburh of Chester, and the Kentish royal family had its own saints in Æthelburh of Lyminge, Eanswythe of Folkestone (another of Eormenhild's aunts), and Mildred of Thanet and her mother and sisters (Mildred's mother was Eormenhild's cousin, if I'm keeping track correctly). The monasteries founded and ruled by these women, the wives and daughters of kings, formed an important network of secular and spiritual power in seventh-century England.

Eormenhild's life is summarised as follows in the 'List of saints' resting-places' in BL Stowe 944 (ff. 36-7):

'St Eormenhild, daughter of Eorcenberht and Seaxburh, was given in marriage to be King Wulfhere's queen. He was the son of Penda, king of Mercia, and in their time the Mercian people received baptism. Their daughter was St Werburh the holy virgin, and she was buried in the minster which is called Hanbury, and now rests in the city of Chester. And St Eormenhild rests at Ely with her mother and with her aunt St Etheldreda, and her powers are often manifested there.'

After the death of her husband, Eormenhild retired to the abbey her mother Seaxburh had founded on the island of Sheppey in Kent, now Minster-in-Sheppey. (The Ely hagiographer describes this foundation as 'a paradise, a New Jerusalem'. I don't know if you've ever been to Sheppey, but that's a... generous description.) Eormenhild succeeded her mother as abbess when Seaxburh went to join St Etheldreda at Ely. She then subsequently went to Ely herself, and died and was buried there. Her cult was tiny, almost non-existent; there are no churches dedicated to her, and her name only appears in a handful of post-conquest calendars.

But there is a short text about her life and miracles, including the story about her which I mentioned the other day. It comes from a set of late eleventh-century lections for her feast, which may have been written by the hagiographer Goscelin.
We shall moreover add another tender and lovely miracle, one also so certain and clear because it happened to one of the brothers of that monastery before the very eyes of all the brothers dwelling there. He was the master of the boys in the school, who, fearing him, took refuge together at that kindly mother’s tomb crying out and begging for their deliverance, the day after the happy occasion of the feast of St Eormenhild which is by annual ritual worthily celebrated on the aforementioned Ides. The master pursued them, and with great indignation snatched them from there and beat them to his heart’s content, chiding them as they wept with these words of scorn: ‘Did you think you were always going to have St Eormenhild as patroness over your faults?’ After all this was over, the following night when he was lying on his bed, lo! mighty Eormenhild, mindful of his deeds, bound up the feet that were so quick to pursue and the hands so hasty to punish more tightly than any iron shackles or fetters could. For he suddenly suffered such contractions in both his hands and his feet, indeed in his whole body, that he could not even move. Or if he was obliged to go anywhere, he had to struggle in great agony on his knees instead of his feet, and his elbows instead of his hands. At this fear and trembling and confusion overtook him along with the bitter pain in his limbs as well as despair about his deliverance, so that the mental anguish alone would have been sufficient punishment. In the morning he summoned the boys to him, and humbly begged their forgiveness, and tearfully implored them to carry him to the tomb of the most holy lady Eormenhild, and there to plead for him. And they, although of feeble strength, carried him aloft, a wretched spectacle, into the presence of St Eormenhild, and there for some time begged for the restoration of his health, chanting psalms and praying, so that he who had come there in the hands of others went away again on his own feet.

Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, The Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely, ed. and trans. Rosalind C. Love, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 2004), p.21.

So little is recorded about Eormenhild that this miracle is probably the invention of Goscelin, or whoever wrote these lections. The generic type of miracle, 'saint defends child from beating', is also attributed to St Dunstan, St Erkenwald, and others, and it's generally a sympathetic one (except in the version attached to St Erkenwald, where the saint lets a child escape punishment for not having done his homework; pretty sure I'm on the teacher's side in that one). So this is indeed a 'tender and lovely miracle', and I like that it paints Eormenhild as a kindly mother - appropriate for a saint who was, in fact, a mother. Interesting as the seventh-century saints of Ely are, their later hagiography is fairly turgid stuff, pages and pages of fulsome and repetitive praise for the virgin saints, with less enthusiasm for the women who had marred their virginity by getting married and having children (and I say this is as someone who is interested in both hagiography and virgin saints). But this miracle turns a 'negative' into a positive, by giving Eormenhild an opportunity to exercise her motherly care.

The lady saints of Ely (top row) in 15th-century alabaster (St Peter Mancroft, Norwich)

Wednesday 12 February 2014

'They find St Julian’s house, which wayfaring men earnestly seek'

Since today is the feast-day of St Julian the Hospitaller, patron saint of pilgrims and travellers, I was reminded of the following passage from Ancrene Wisse, the thirteenth-century guide for anchorites. This comes from the beginning of Part 6.

Threo manere men of Godes i-corene livieth on eorthe: the ane mahe beon to gode pilegrimes i-evenet; the othre, to deade; the thridde, to i-hongede with hare gode wil o Jesuse rode. The forme beoth gode; the othre beoth betere; the thridde best of alle.

To the forme gredeth Seinte Peter inwardliche, Obsecro vos, tanquam advenas et peregrinos, ut abstineatis vos a carnalibus desideriis, que militant adversus animam. "Ich halsi ow," he seith, "as el-theodie ant pilegrimes, thet ye withhalden ow from fleschliche lustes the weorrith ayein the sawle." The gode pilegrim halt eaver his rihte wei forth-ward. Thah he seo other here idele gomenes ant wundres bi the weie, he ne edstont nawt as foles doth, ah halt forth his rute ant hiheth toward his giste. He ne bereth na gersum bute his speonse gnedeliche, ne clathes bute ane theo thet him to neodeth. This beoth hali men the, thah ha beon i the world, ha beoth th'rin as pilegrimes ant gath with god lif-lade toward te riche of heovene, ant seggeth with the Apostle, Non habemus hic manentem civitatem, set futuram inquirimus - thet is, "nabbe we na wununge her, ah we secheth other." Beoth bi the leaste thet ha mahen, ne ne haldeth na tale of na worltlich frovre, thah ha beon i worltlich wei - as ich seide - of pilegrim, ah habbeth hare heorte eaver toward heovene, ant ahen wel to habben. For other pilegrimes gath [i] muche swinc to sechen ane sontes banes, as Sein James other Sein Giles, ah theo pilegrimes the gath toward heovene, ha gath to beon i-sontet, ant to finden Godd seolf ant alle his hali halhen, liviende i blisse, ant schulen livien with him i wunne buten ende. Ha i-findeth i-wis Sein Julienes in, the wei-fearinde men yeornliche bisecheth.

Nu beoth theose gode, ah yet beoth the othre betere, for allegate pilegrimes, as ich ear seide, al gan ha eaver forth-ward, ne bicumen burh-men i the worldes burh, ham thuncheth sum-chearre god of thet ha seoth bi weie, ant edstuteth sum-deal, thah ha ne don mid alle, ant moni thing ham falleth to hwer-thurh ha beoth i-lette, swa thet - mare hearm is! - sum kimeth leate ham, sum neaver mare. Hwa is thenne skerre, ant mare ut of the world then pilegrimes? - thet is to seggen, then theo men the habbeth worltlich thing ant ne luvieth hit nawt, ah yeoveth hit as hit kimeth ham, ant gath untrusset, lihte as pilegrimes doth toward heovene? Hwa beoth betere thene theos? Godd wat, theo beoth betere the the Apostle speketh to, ant seith in his epistle, Mortui estis et vita vestra abscondita est cum Christo in Deo. Cum autem apparuerit vita vestra, tunc et vos apparebitis cum ipso in gloria. "Ye beoth deade ant ower lif is i-hud mid Criste. Hwen he thet is ower lif eadeaweth ant springeth as the dahunge efter nihtes theosternesse, ant ye schulen with him springen schenre then the sunne into eche blisse." The nu beoth thus deade, hare lif-lade is herre, for pilegrim eileth moni-hwet. The deade nis noht of, thah he ligge unburiet ant rotie buven eorthe. Preise him, laste him, do him scheome, sei him scheome - al him is i-liche leof. This is a seli death thet maketh cwic mon thus, other cwic wummon, ut of the worlde. Ah sikerliche hwa-se is thus dead in hire-seolven, Godd liveth in hire heorte. For this is thet te Apostle seith, Vivo ego iam non ego. Vivit autem in me Christus. "Ich livie - nawt ich, ah Crist liveth in me" thurh his in-wuniende grace, ant is as thah he seide, "worltlich speche, worltlich sihthe, ant euch worltlich thing i-findeth me deade. Ah thet te limpeth to Crist, thet ich seo ant here, ant wurche i cwicnesse." Thus riht is euch religius dead to the worlde ant cwic thah to Criste.

This is an heh steire, ah yet is thah an herre. Ant hwa stod eaver th'rin? Godd wat, the the seide, Michi absit gloriari nisi in cruce Domini mei, Jesu Christi, per quam michi mundus crucifixus est et ego mundo. This is thet ich seide th'ruppe: "Crist me schilde for-te habben eani blisse i this world bute i Jesu Cristes rode, mi Laverd, thurh hwam the world is me unwurth, ant ich am unwurth hire, as weari the is ahonget." A, Laverd, hehe stod he the spec o thisse wise. Ant this is ancre steire thet ha thus segge, Michi autem absit gloriari, et cetera. "I na thing ne blissi ich me bute i Godes rode, thet ich tholie nu wa ant am i-tald unwurth as Godd wes o rode." Lokith, leove sustren, hu this steire is herre then eani beo of the othre. The pilegrim i the wor[l]des wei, thah he ga forth-ward toward te ham of heovene, he sith ant hereth unnet, ant speketh umbe-hwile, wreatheth him for weohes, ant moni thing mei letten him of his jurnee. The deade nis na mare of scheome then of menske, of heard then of nesche, for he ne feleth nowther, ant for-thi ne ofearneth he nowther wa ne wunne. Ah the the is o rode ant haveth blisse th'rof, he wendeth scheome to menske ant wa into wunne, ant ofearneth for-thi hure over hure. This beoth theo the neaver ne beoth gleade i-heortet bute hwen ha tholieth sum wa other sum scheome with Jesu on his rode. For this is the selhthe on eorthe, hwa-se mei for Godes luve habben scheome ant teone. Thus, lo, rihte ancres ne beoth nawt ane pilegrimes, ne yet nawt ane deade, ah beoth of theos thridde. For al hare blisse is for-te beon ahonget sariliche ant scheomeliche with Jesu on his rode.

'Three kinds of men of God’s chosen ones live on earth: one may be likened to good pilgrims; another to the dead; the third to men who are voluntarily hanged on Jesus’ cross. The first are good, the second are better, and the third are best of all.

St Peter cried out to the first sort from the heart, Obsecro vos, tanquam advenas et peregrinos, ut abstineatis vos a carnalibus desideriis, que militant adversus animam. I implore you, he says, as foreigners and pilgrims, abstain from carnal lusts, which wage war against the soul. The good pilgrim always keeps on the direct road forward. Although he may see or hear idle games and marvels along the way, he does not stop, as fools do, but keeps on his road and hastens towards his lodging. He does not carry any treasure except his frugal expenses, and no clothes except only those which are necessary to him. These are holy men who, though they live in the world, live in it as pilgrims, and travel in a good way of living towards the kingdom of heaven, and say with the apostle, Non habemus hic manentem civitatem, set futuram inquirimus; that is, we do not have a dwelling here, but we seek another. They make do with the least they can, and do not set any store by earthly comfort, though they are on the worldly road, as I said, as pilgrims; but their hearts are always directed towards heaven, and well they ought to be. For other pilgrims travel with great labour to seek the bones of a single saint, such as St James or St Giles, but these pilgrims, who travel towards heaven, go to be made saints and to find God himself and all his holy hallows living in glory, and will live with him in joy without end. They truly find St Julian’s house, which wayfaring men earnestly seek.

Now these men are good, but the other sort are still better: because invariably pilgrims, as I said before, although they keep going forwards and do not become residents in the city of the world, on occasion something they see by the road looks attractive to them and they stop for a while, though not permanently, and many things happen to them by means of which they are hindered, with the result – more’s the pity! – that some get home late, and some never at all. Who then is holier and more out of the world than pilgrims? That is to say, than those men who have worldly possessions and do not care for them, but give them away as they come to them, and travel light, unburdened, as pilgrims do towards heaven? Who are better than these? God knows they are better whom the apostle speaks to, saying in his epistle, Mortui estis et vita vestra abscondita est cum Christo in Deo. Cum autem apparuerit vita vestra, tunc et vos apparebitis cum ipso in gloria. You are dead and your life is hidden in Christ. When he who is your life appears again and rises like the day after the darkness of the night, you will rise with him, brighter than the sun, into eternal glory. The life of those who are now dead in this way is more exalted. For many things afflict pilgrims. It does not matter to the dead man if he lies unburied and rots above the ground – praise him, blame him, mistreat him, revile him, it is all equally dear to him. It is a blessed death which makes living men like this, or living women, separate from the world; but certainly whoever is dead in this way, God lives in her heart, for this is what the apostle says, Vivo ego iam non ego. Vivit autem in me Christus: I live; not I, but Christ lives in me through his indwelling grace; and it is as though he said, earthly speech, earthly vision and every earthly thing finds me dead; but that which belongs to Christ, that I see and hear and do in lively fashion. To this extent every religious person is dead to the world and yet alive to Christ.

This is a noble level, but there is one still more exalted. And who always stands there? God knows it is he who said, Michi absit gloriari nisi in cruce Domini mei, Jesu Christi, per quam michi mundus crucifixus est et ego mundo; this is what I said previously, Christ keep me from having any joy in this world except in the cross of Jesus Christ my Lord, through whom the world is worthless to me and I am worthless to it, like a criminal who is hanged. Ah, Lord, he stood high who spoke thus! And this is the level of an anchorite who has said in this way: Michi autem absit gloriari, et cetera: I glory in nothing except the cross of God, so that I now endure pain and am considered worthless as God was on the cross. Look, dear sisters, how this level is higher than any of the others is. The pilgrim on the way of the world, though he travels forward towards his home in heaven, sees and hears – and speaks, at times – what is unprofitable, and becomes angry because of injuries; and many things may hinder him from his journey. The dead man cares no more for shame than for honour, for the rough than for the smooth, because he feels neither; and so he earns neither grief nor joy; but he who is on the cross and has glory on that account, he turns shame into honour and grief into joy, and earns an outstanding reward thereby. These are the people who are never glad at heart except when they are suffering some pain or some shame with Jesus on his cross. And so this is bliss on earth, to have shame and hurt for God’s love. See then, true anchorites are not pilgrims, nor yet one of the dead, but they are of the third kind: because all their joy is to be hanged painfully and shamefully with Jesus on his cross.'

Pilgrims (Canterbury Cathedral)

The anonymous author of Ancrene Wisse is a superb writer of prose, with a flexible style which moves fluidly between high rhetoric and the rhythm and syntax of everyday speech, between the technical language of theology and ordinary English diction. Rhetorically speaking, this is my favourite bit:
Nu beoth theose gode, ah yet beoth the othre betere, for allegate pilegrimes, as ich ear seide, al gan ha eaver forth-ward, ne bicumen burh-men i the worldes burh, ham thuncheth sum-chearre god of thet ha seoth bi weie, ant edstuteth sum-deal, thah ha ne don mid alle, ant moni thing ham falleth to hwer-thurh ha beoth i-lette, swa thet - mare hearm is! - sum kimeth leate ham, sum neaver mare. Hwa is thenne skerre, ant mare ut of the world then pilegrimes? - thet is to seggen, then theo men the habbeth worltlich thing ant ne luvieth hit nawt, ah yeoveth hit as hit kimeth ham, ant gath untrusset, lihte as pilegrimes doth toward heovene?

Now these men are good, but the other sort are still better: because invariably with pilgrims, as I said before, although they keep going forwards and do not become residents in the city of the world, on occasion something they see by the road looks attractive to them and they stop for a while, though not permanently, and many things happen to them by means of which they are hindered, with the result – more’s the pity! – that some get home late, and some never at all. Who then is holier and more out of the world than pilgrims? That is to say, than those men who have worldly possessions and do not care for them, but give them away as they come to them, and travel light, unburdened, as pilgrims do towards heaven?
I love the thought of pilgrims going 'untrussed', unburdened by the things of the world. His unidealised view of pilgrims - heading to heaven, but easily distracted by 'idle games and marvels' beside the roadside - is appealing and recognisable. But the extract which reminded me of this passage today was:
For other pilegrimes gath i muche swinc to sechen ane sontes banes, as Sein James other Sein Giles, ah theo pilegrimes the gath toward heovene, ha gath to beon i-sontet, ant to finden Godd seolf ant alle his hali halhen, liviende i blisse, ant schulen livien with him i wunne buten ende. Ha i-findeth i-wis Sein Julienes in, the wei-fearinde men yeornliche bisecheth.

For other pilgrims travel with great labour to seek the bones of a single saint, such as St James or St Giles, but these pilgrims, who travel towards heaven, go to be made saints and to find God himself and all his holy hallows living in glory, and will live with him in joy without end. They truly find St Julian’s house, which wayfaring men earnestly seek.

The distinction is between going to seek 'ane sontes banes' and going 'to beon i-sontet' (to seek saints and to be 'sainted', i.e. 'made saints'); the contrasting emphasis falls beautifully on the little words, ane and beon.

The author's discussion of the three kinds of model which a holy person can follow - pilgrim, dead man, sufferer on the cross - is based on a sermon by Bernard of Clairvaux, but the saints' names here are his own addition. James, Giles and Julian were the three saints most closely associated with pilgrimage in the thirteenth century - James in particular, the archetypal pilgrim with his scrip and cockle-shell. St Julian was known instead as an accommodator of pilgrims, as a result of the legend about his life which grew up in the thirteenth century. There's a useful overview of his story here. According to the Golden Legend, Julian learned as a young man that he was destined to kill his parents. Trying to escape his fate, he fled his home (that never works, Julian!) and settled in a distant country. He got married, but one day when he was away from home his parents arrived at his house and his wife, fatally hospitable, gave them her own bed to sleep in. When Julian returned and saw the sleeping couple, he thought it was his wife in bed with another man, and so he killed them both. In penance for his sin he built hospitals and lodgings for travellers, and ferried pilgrims across the river - on one occasion, as depicted at the top of this post and below, he ferried Christ in disguise as a leper, and was told by him that his sin was forgiven.

St Julian therefore became a patron of pilgrims and travellers, a byword for hospitality - Chaucer says of his Franklin, who loves sharing the pleasures of the table and keeps open house for half the neighbourhood, that 'an housholdere, and that a greet, was he; Seint Julian was he in his contree'. And so in Ancrene Wisse 'St Julian's house' is heaven, the destination of wayfarers, a permanent lodging-place for those who pass as strangers and pilgrims through this world. Pilgrims travel to their 'home in heaven', but that journey is best made, Ancrene Wisse argues, not by travellers but by anchorites, who seek God in one fixed and steadfast place. In that dwelling, as a later English anchorite - another Julian - wrote, they find the union with God which means he becomes infinitely intimate, homely, with the soul: 'for in us is His homeliest home'.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Some Kent Churches: The Faces of Westbere

Westbere is a little church on a hill, standing above the marshes which lie north-east of the city of Canterbury. The church is well-hidden, although just a stone's throw from the main road between Canterbury and Thanet; I've driven close to it I don't know how many times, but never visited it until recently. I went there on the recommendation of Arthur Mee, who describes it as follows in the Kent volume of The King's England:

A quaint hamlet between Canterbury and the Isle of Thanet, it has for all who come a great reward.  It has timber houses, thatched cottages, and barns, and a black-and-white inn in the shade of a yew, and a rare little sculpture gallery abundantly worth coming to see.

It is at the sturdily built little church with heavy buttresses and perhaps some Saxon masonry in its chancel walls, though most of what we see comes from our first two English building centuries after the Normans.  The church stands with two yews up a winding lane, and its sculpture is its chief possession.  There are 34 people in stone, 18 outside in the rain, and 16 looking down on the charming interior...

A very merry time must the masons have had in finishing this place. The 18 people outside are on the doorways and windows, some much worn by the wind and the rain, but many most real and some grotesque.  There is a laughing face with bared teeth, an old lady with a knowing smile, a man with a gaping mouth by a sleeping companion, and another wrapped up as if to weather any storm, at peace with the world.

Who could resist such a description? (Well, lots of people, probably, but not me.)  Since Arthur Mee had gone to the trouble to count them all, I'm afraid I photographed them all - the 18 outside, anyway - when I visited on a sunny day in early January. This post is the result.

In the Middle Ages Westbere belonged to the monks of St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, like many of the churches hereabouts, and you can see the influence of their money and resources here as in the jewel of a church at Fordwich, just across the marsh. The Kent Archaeological Society says:
It is possible that the core of the walls of this simple two-celled church date from the 12th or 13th century, but everything about the fabric suggest that it was totally rebuilt in the early 14th century. The origins of this church are obscure, but there is no doubt that Westbere parish was cut out of the much larger and older manor of Chislet. It seems likely, therefore, that Westbere was originally a chapel to Chislet... All surviving architectural details of this fine church date from the early 14th century, and it seems likely that it was rebuilt at this time by St. Augustine's Abbey as a new church. (The abbey itself was doing much rebuilding at this time, and the Fyndon or Great Gate is a good surviving example of this work).

It's ironic that St Augustine's is today in ruins - except for that 'Great Gate', now part of a school - while the little local churches it supported still sport the adornments given them by the monks. Fordwich and Stodmarsh have their exquisite glass, but here the decorations are in stone - Arthur Mee's 'rare little sculpture gallery'. The heads decorate the windows and doors around the outside of the church, and every one is different; they reflect the full range of medieval society, marked out by their distinctive forms of headgear. These people are thoroughly alive - you can hardly help yourself talking to them, and would not be at all surprised if they were to talk back. I wonder what the monks' masons thought they were doing, in surrounding this church with such a gallery of faces. All human life is here!

The best-preserved heads are those on the north side, the side facing up the hill, and thus protected from the wind and weather. Let's start in the north-west corner:

When we're so close to Canterbury, it's hard not to think of Chaucer's pilgrims, a similarly representative cross-section of medieval society. This lady in her wimple could easily be the Wife of Bath.

This man, who faces her across a doorway, might be open-mouthed in shock at the tale she's telling!  His splendid floppy hat (a chaperon, I think it's called) marks him as a worldly man of means - like Chaucer's Knight or these slightly later English noblemen.

Not all the faces are human; in fact I don't know what this is:

Keeping company with the cheery toothy goblin, a tight-lipped man:

In what looks like a skull cap, he could be a priest. Further down the same wall, a young monk (?) faces an older man:

I'm inclined to say this man is wearing a mitre, but it's hard to tell. The two of them adorn this window, where the reflected sky was casting an unearthly light on the mossy tomb below:

If we take a moment to turn away from the faces, this is the churchyard on which the young monk and his companion have been looking down for the past few centuries:

So, six stone heads so far - let's go and find the other twelve.

Around the east window are a man and woman (a lord and a lady, I think):

From here we have a view looking south, with a glint of light from the flooded Westbere marshes below. This winter was one long flood season in England (it's not over yet) and when I peeked into Fordwich church on the same January day it was surrounded by sandbags; but Westbere on its hill is more fortunate.

However, you can see that erosion has hurt the one of these two heads which faces south, and when we go round to the other side of the church we do find some of the heads worn away by weather, time or other forces:

But there are still some very fine heads on this side:

I see a grizzled labourer here, perhaps a blacksmith, but interpretations may vary.

This boy may be another monk, but I can't tell if the curls on his forehead are the rim of his tonsured hair or headgear like this.

What does the squishy hat make this smiling fellow? I'm not sure, but Chaucer's manciple is close...

And there's a lion. I don't remember him from the Canterbury Tales.

The worst-preserved heads are the ones by what used to be the south door (now a window); it might be human hands rather than weather which has rubbed their features away:

Some pictures so you can see the fabric of the church:

I count sixteen faces so far. The last two are high up around the west window:

Don't you love his sticking-out ears?  I think we might have found the Miller.

Now we can head inside, to a simple and slightly dilapidated interior:

I couldn't photograph the heads here, but the stars are these two extraordinary figures, holding up the chancel arch:

Are these monks trampling down monsters?

There's some reconstructed medieval glass ('found in a parcel in the vestry when the church was being restored', says Arthur Mee):

Some geometric modern glass:

And some interesting memorials:

This was put up by Mr Peter Twyman in memory of his 'honrd Father and much beloved Unkle', Hammond and Anthony Twyman, who died in 1727 and 1722 respectively.  Of Hammond Twyman we learn 'he was distinguished for his good nature, piety, & a friendly generous disposition, there hath been seldom found more good qualities than he was possessed of met in one person'; his brother 'was Fellow of St John's Colledge in Cambridge, & Master of the Revels in Ireland, tutor to the late Lord Henchingbrooke, sometime after to the Lord Finch, with whom he travel'd as his Governour, after his return he travel'd with the Lord Burford the present Duke of St Albans... through Italy, Germany, France, Holland and Ireland, being greatly esteemed for his Learning abroad, & admir'd by all who knew him at Home, it pleased Almighty God his body here to rest, and to mingle his dust with his Ancestors'.

One of the pilgrims we have not yet encountered is, of course, the Clerk of Oxford, but a Clerk of Cambridge will do.

The logically-named Decimus Newman, a tenth son:

And a much-loved parson, the Rev. Thomas Bruce, twenty-four years curate of 'Westbeer' and Fordwich, 'a gentle and faithful pastor who after a long life of ministerial usefulness waited in hope and trust the coming of his Lord':

A good man was ther of religioun,
And was a povre parsoun of a toun,
But riche he was of hooly thoght and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That Cristes gospel trewely wolde preche;
His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.
Benynge he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversitee ful pacient,
And swich he was ypreved ofte sithes.

Now have I toold you shortly in a clause,
Th'estaat, th'array, the nombre, and eek the cause
Why that assembled was this compaignye
In Westbere - except I can't tell you the cause.

Sunday 9 February 2014

'God scop geoguðe ond gumena dream'

Sometimes even poems you know well still have the ability to surprise you. In this extract from the Old English poem Guthlac A, demons have been tormenting the hermit saint by showing him the sins and worldliness of monks, hoping to tempt him to anger and despair - but Guthlac answers them:

Setton me in edwit þæt ic eaðe forbær
rume regulas ond reþe mod
geongra monna in godes templum;
woldan þy gehyrwan haligra lof,
sohtun þa sæmran, ond þa sellan no
demdan æfter dædum, ne beoð þa dyrne swa þeah.
Ic eow soð siþþon secgan wille:
God scop geoguðe ond gumena dream;
ne magun þa æfteryld in þam ærestan
blæde geberan, ac hy blissiað
worulde wynnum, oððæt wintra rim
gegæð in þa geoguðe, þæt se gæst lufað
onsyn ond ætwist yldran hades,
ðe gemete monige geond middangeard
þeowiað in þeawum. þeodum ywaþ
wisdom weras, wlencu forleosað,
siððan geoguðe geað gæst aflihð.
þæt ge ne scirað, ac ge scyldigra
synne secgað, soþfæstra no
mod ond monþeaw mæran willað.
Gefeoð in firenum, frofre ne wenað,
þæt ge wræcsiða wyrpe gebiden.

You put me to reproach because I readily tolerated
loose regulations and impetuous minds
of young men in the houses of God.
You wanted to disparage the praise of holy men;
you sought out the worse, and did not value the better
according to their deeds, although these are not hidden.
I will tell you the truth of this:
God created youth and the joys of men.
They cannot from the first bear the fruit
of maturity, but take joy
in the world's pleasures, until a number of winters
have passed away in youth, so that the spirit loves
the look and substance of a mature state,
which many men throughout the world fittingly
serve in good ways of life. These men show wisdom
to the people, forsaking pride,
after the spirit puts to flight the foolishness of youth.
You do not admit this; instead you speak out
the sins of the guilty and are unwilling to celebrate
the courage and the virtue of those steadfast in truth.
You rejoice in sins; you do not hope for comfort,
that you may receive any relief in your journeys of exile.

Guthlac, a former soldier and scourge of demons, was no soft touch, and the poet who put these words into his mouth valued the saint's hardbitten courage in the face of extraordinary physical and mental suffering; yet this speech is generous and gentle. It's the kind of thing you want to show to anyone who talks about the 'brutality' of the Middle Ages. (This poem dates to the eighth or ninth century, by the way.) I never stop being struck by how often medieval saints are praised for their gentleness, kindness, good humour and holy cheerfulness; I was reminded of it again reading about Gilbert of Sempringham last week, but it comes up everywhere. Guthlac's speech about tenderly tolerating the follies of youth reminded me of a passage in Eadmer's Life of Anselm, in which the archbishop displays an educational philosophy which you might call very 'modern', if you were the kind of person who used 'modern' to mean 'enlightened':

On one occasion then, a certain abbot, who was considered to be a sufficiently religious man, was talking with him about matters of monastic discipline, and among other things he said something about the boys brought up in the cloister, adding: 'What, I ask you, is to be done with them? They are incorrigible ruffians. We never give over beating them day and night, and they only get worse and worse.'

Anselm replied with astonishment: 'You never give over beating them? And what are they like when they grow up?'

'Stupid brutes,' he said.

To which Anselm retorted, 'You have spent your energies in rearing them to good purpose: from men you have reared beasts.'

'But what can we do about it?' he said. 'We use every means to force them to get better, but without success.'

'You force them? Now tell me, my lord abbot, if you plant a tree-shoot in your garden, and straightway shut it in on every side so that it has no space to put out its branches, what kind of tree will you have in after years when you let it out of its confinement?'

'A useless one, certainly, with its branches all twisted and knotted.'

'And whose fault would this be, except your own for shutting it in so unnaturally? Without doubt, this is what you do with your boys. At their oblation they are planted in the garden of the Church, to grow and bring forth fruit for God. But you so terrify them and hem them in on all sides with threats and blows that they are utterly deprived of their liberty. And being thus injudiciously oppressed, they harbour and welcome and nurse within themselves evil and crooked thoughts like thorns, and cherish these thoughts so passionately that they doggedly reject everything which could minister to their correction. Hence, feeling no love or pity, goodwill or tenderness in your attitude towards them, they have in future no faith in your goodness but believe that all your actions proceed from hatred and malice against them. The deplorable result is that as they grow in body so their hatred increases, together with their apprehension of evil, and they are forward in all crookedness and vice. They have been brought up in no true charity towards anyone, so they regard everyone with suspicion and jealousy.

But, in God's name, I would have you tell me why you are so incensed against them. Are they not human? Are they not flesh and blood like you? Would you like to have been treated as you treat them, and to have become what they now are?

Now consider this. You wish to form them in good habits by blows and chastisement alone. Have you ever seen a goldsmith form his leaves of gold or silver into a beautiful figure with blows alone? I think not. How then does he work? In order to mould his leaf into a suitable form he now presses it and strikes it gently with his tool, and now even more gently raises it with careful pressure and gives it shape. So, if you want your boys to be adorned with good habits, you too, besides the pressure of blows, must apply the encouragement and help of fatherly sympathy and gentleness.'

To which the abbot replied: 'What encouragement? what help? We do all we can to force them into sober and manly habits.'

'Good,' said Anselm, 'just as bread and all kinds of solid food are good and wholesome for those who can digest them; but feed a suckling infant on such food, take away its milk, and you will see him strangled rather than strengthened by his diet. The reason for this is too obvious to need explanation, but this is the lesson to remember: just as weak and strong bodies have each their own food appropriate to their condition, so weak and strong souls need to be fed according to their capacity.

The strong soul delights in and is refreshed by solid food, such as patience in tribulation, not coveting one's neighbour's goods, offering the other cheek, praying for one's enemies, loving those who hate us, and many similar things.

But the weak soul, which is still inexperienced in the service of God, needs milk—gentleness from others, kindness, compassion, cheerful encouragement, loving forbearance, and much else of the same kind.

If you adapt yourself in this way according to the strength and weakness of those under you, you will by the grace of God win them all for God, so far at least as your efforts can.'

When the abbot heard this, he was sorrowful, and said, 'We have indeed wandered from the way of truth, and the light of discretion has not lighted our way.' And he fell on the ground at Anselm's feet confessing himself a miserable sinner, seeking pardon for the past, and promising amendment in the future.

We recount this incident so that from this example may be known how much gentleness and discretion he showed towards all men.
Anselm, though often ahead of his time, was not alone in this compassionate attitude; corporal punishment and sanctity do not generally go together in medieval sources. One standard type of saintly miracle features the saint posthumously intervening to protect schoolboys from being beaten by their cruel masters, a merciful miracle attributed in this story to St Dunstan, and elsewhere (to take only English examples) to St Eormenhild of Ely and London's St Erkenwald.

We don't live in a society which favours corporal punishment, but nor do we live in a society which places much value on gentleness, especially in men - nor 'kindness, compassion, cheerful encouragement, loving forbearance, and much else of the same kind'. Guthlac's refusal to condemn would not get him very far in life today; how can you prove that you're right without constantly telling other people that they're wrong?

I was about to go on to recount the various ways in which our society, in love with argumentative outrage and righteous indignation, has decided to equate gentleness and mercy with weakness, but to do so would only be to make myself sad - which is against the whole spirit of 'cheerful forbearance', and would not please either Anselm or Guthlac! (I might as well confess that this whole post is what comes of me spending too much time on the internet, especially Twitter, the place where gentleness goes to die.) I'm not by nature a cheerful person, but I generally try to contemplate positives rather than condemn negatives - I don't know if I've ever said so, but this entire blog is one long attempt to battle depression with the weapons of beauty and light - and in that spirit, Anselm's list of virtues brought to mind two of my very favourite passages from Middle English literature. First, from Piers Plowman, with Langland 'translating' 1 Corinthians 13 into his own world as well as his own language:

"Charite,' quod he, "ne chaffareth noght, ne chalangeth, ne craveth;
As proud of a peny as of a pound of golde...
He is glad with alle glade and good til alle wikkede,
And leneth and loveth alle that Oure Lord made.
Corseth he no creature, ne he kan bere no wrathe,
Ne no likynge hath to lye ne laughe men to scorne.
Al that men seyn, he leet it sooth, and in solace taketh,
And alle manere meschiefs in myldenesse he suffreth.
Coveiteth he noon erthely good but heveneriche blisse...
For Charite is Goddes champion, and as a good child hende,
And the murieste of mouth at mete where he sitteth.
The love that lith in his herte maketh hym light of speche,
And is compaignable and confortatif, as Crist bit hymselve:
Nolite fieri sicut ypocrite tristes &c.
For I have seyen hym in silk and som tyme in russet,
Bothe in grey, and in grys, and in gilt harneis -
And as gladliche he it gaf to gomes that it neded.

['Charity,' said he, 'does not barter, nor make demands, nor ask for favours, as proud of a penny as of a pound of gold... He is glad with all who are glad and good to all the wicked, and gives freely and loves all that Our Lord made. He curses no creature, and bears no grudges, and never takes delight in lying or laughing men to scorn. All that people say he trusts to be the truth, and takes it as comfort, and he bears every kind of injury with mildness. He covets no earthly good, only the bliss of heaven... For Charity is God's champion, as gracious as a well-behaved child, and the merriest in conversation at dinner wherever he goes. The love that lies in his heart makes him light of speech, and he is sociable and cheerful, as Christ himself taught: 'Do not be sad like the hypocrites'. For I have seen Charity in silk and in woolen cloth, both in rich furs and in golden armour - and he gave it away gladly to anyone who needed it.']

Apologies for my feeble translation; Langland at his best is untranslatable. And there are no good equivalents for some of these words: for hende, for instance, I can only recommend the Middle English Dictionary entry, for what translation could suffice? Noble, courteous, gracious, but without overtones of condescension or social superiority; generous, kindly, humble would all get close to it, and perhaps, since it's the quality of a 'good child', obedient too. Mild would be a good equivalent, had it not acquired negative overtones of weakness which make 'meek and mild' today a phrase to be scorned (regrettably, because the collocation has a venerable history in English going all the way back to the Ormulum; and one of the great apparently-paradoxical facts of linguistic history is that it was the Vikings who gave us the word meek, from Old Norse mjúkr, 'soft, gracious, gentle'). The OED definition for mild makes my point for me: 'Gentle and conciliatory in character, disposition, or behaviour; not easily provoked; not giving offence to others; not rough or fierce in manners. Of manners, behaviour, etc.: gentle, conciliatory. In later use sometimes used with disparaging implication of weakness.' Yes, indeed.

That brings me to my second favourite passage, which is from Havelok. The hero of this romance is literally the strongest man in England, but also the meekest:

Of alle men was he mest meke,
Lauhwinde ay and blithe of speke;
Evere he was glad and blithe -
His sorwe he couthe ful wel mithe.
It ne was non so litel knave
For to leyken ne for to plawe,
That he ne wolde with him pleye.
The children that yeden in the weie
Of him he deden al here wille,
And with him leykeden here fille.
Him loveden alle, stille and bolde,
Knictes, children, yunge and holde -
Alle him loveden that him sowen,
Bothen heye men and lowe.
Of him ful wide the word sprong,
Hw he was mikel, hw he was strong,
Hw fayr man God him havede maked...
Als he was heie, als he was long,
He was bothe stark and strong -
In Engelond non hise per
Of strengthe that evere kam him ner.
Als he was strong, so was he softe;
They a man him misdede ofte,
Neveremore he him misseyde,
Ne hond on him with yvele leyde.

[He was the meekest of men, always laughing and merry in speech; he was always glad and merry, and ever able to conceal his sorrows.  There was no child so little that he was not ready to play with him - the children who met him in the road, he would let them have their own way with him, and play with him as much as they wanted.  Everyone loved him: shy and bold, knights, children, young and old - everyone loved him who saw him, both high and low.  His reputation spread far and wide: how he was tall and strong, and how fair a man God had made him...  Just as he was tall, as he was big, he was also strong and powerful: in England there was no one his equal in strength.  As he was strong, so was he gentle: even if a man mistreated him again and again, Havelok never insulted him, or laid a hand upon him.]

Geographically speaking, Havelok and Guthlac are not very far apart (just the length of Lincolnshire between them), but otherwise I'm not quite sure how I got from one to the other. We might as well veer right out of the medieval period all together in this thought-association game, and take in a passage which always reminds me of these lines from Havelok - John Henry Newman's fascinating description of a gentleman (from here):
Hence it is that it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. This description is both refined and, as far as it goes, accurate. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself. His benefits may be considered as parallel to what are called comforts or conveniences in arrangements of a personal nature: like an easy chair or a good fire, which do their part in dispelling cold and fatigue, though nature provides both means of rest and animal heat without them. The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast;—all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at their ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome.
He makes light of favours while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets every thing for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From a long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned, on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny.
If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blundering discourtesy of better, perhaps, but less educated minds; who, like blunt weapons, tear and hack instead of cutting clean, who mistake the point in argument, waste their strength on trifles, misconceive their adversary, and leave the question more involved than they find it. He may be right or wrong in his opinion, but he is too clear-headed to be unjust; he is as simple as he is forcible, and as brief as he is decisive. Nowhere shall we find greater candour, consideration, indulgence: he throws himself into the minds of his opponents, he accounts for their mistakes. He knows the weakness of human reason as well as its strength, its province and its limits. If he be an unbeliever, he will be too profound and large-minded to ridicule religion or to act against it; he is too wise to be a dogmatist or fanatic in his infidelity. He respects piety and devotion; he even supports institutions as venerable, beautiful, or useful, to which he does not assent; he honours the ministers of religion, and it contents him to decline its mysteries without assailing or denouncing them. He is a friend of religious toleration, and that, not only because his philosophy has taught him to look on all forms of faith with an impartial eye, but also from the gentleness and effeminacy of feeling, which is the attendant on civilization.
Newman is not proposing this as an ideal (read the text linked above for his whole argument) and I know some readers will wince at the very word 'gentleman'; but I find this description intriguing, and appealing, and can't help thinking it's really just a later culture's version of the humble hero envisioned by the Havelok-poet. Our society long ago abandoned such ideals, and I don't suppose you could find one man in the world who would want to behave like the gentleman Newman describes; most men take pleasure in the amount of pain they are able to cause, in the name of what they call honesty. More might aspire to be like merciful Guthlac, or gentle Havelok, but it still requires a greater degree of humility, more meekness, than our culture can easily accept. I've known one or two men something like this (that doesn't sound like a lot - but indeed, 'I rather wonder at your knowing any'!), and rather more women; but there are no rewards for it, usually quite the reverse.