Print of the month
No. 6, January 2007
Syons Calamitye or Englands Miserye Hieroglyphically Delineated
A number of single-sheet prints attempt to summarise the state of the nation in the Civil War period in symbolic, rather than narrowly literal, ways. One such is Syons Calamitye or Englands Miserye Hieroglyphically Delineated (1643). This is one of the most interesting prints of the era, anonymously engraved, with text presumed to be by the otherwise unknown A. Jackman (who signs the dedication to the Earl of Northumberland 1 ), and sold by the otherwise unknown Nathaniel Gilby. This fascinating symbolic depiction of the state of the nation survives in just two impressions, but deserves to be much better known, and thus merits a detailed description.
The Eye of Providence gazes down on King Charles and Law, kneeling in prayer, their upraised hands joined by a chain which passes through the crown and sceptre. In the centre of the plate is a rectangular enclosure in which two armies fight, and England (accompanied by Conscience and Justice) is trammelled within a strong Compacted Nett, held tight by evil councillors, and from which a bare-breasted Astrea (the spirit of Elizabeth I?) with sword upraised endeavours to free them. A philosopher advises King Charles to submit himself to Reason and to the evill Crewe / Of wicked Counsellors declare theire dew. With the gate to the enclosure defended by War, however, two bands led by Peace (with an olive branch) and Truth (holding a solar disc) are excluded, as are the commoners praying for the King, Church, Law and State.
On either side of this central axis are three sections. The middle sections on either side represent the radically differing states of Ireland and Scotland, the former lamenting the war, murder, executions, and burnings by which she is surrounded, the latter curiously depicted as benefiting from the general confusion obtaining in England in two metaphorical vignettes: in one a Scotswoman picks up coins from the ground, saying, Oh yow shall have dainty twopences, while another sifts corn and says, The wheat for me the chaffe for thee.
In the top righthand section we find Judgement and Reason chained to a post, while Passion in armour and a snake-haired Fury run amok, the former with sword and dagger in hand yelling, Kill, the latter carrying a flaming torch and shrieking, Fire. In another vignette a pair of asses pull Misery in a carriage of state, as a figure (identified as Famine in the text) runs past, and a skeleton (identified as Fate) with hourglass and dart in hand runs behind the carriage. Another pair of asses has collapsed under the weight of their burdens (labelled Honores) while a man representing the Commons attempts to hold them up, and another man holding a document says, No Monopolies I beseech yow, alluding to what had long been a bone of contention between Crown and Parliament.
The bottom righthand section, entitled Phantasia Triumphans, contains some most interesting miniature scenes evidently aimed at the sectaries of the day. A couple wearing crowns, but otherwise normally dressed, exclaim, I shall be Kinge of Jerusalem and and I Queene. Another man, labelled a Vomere ad Rostra [from the plough to the pulpit], with his index finger pointing heavenwards, says, I am the Prophett sent, a third in Puritan dress declares, Ther's nothing to oppose us, a fourth in Cavalier garb smoking a pipe, All's our owne, a fifth, I Speake all extempore nonsence naturally, while a group of four boys announces, we are wiser then our Teachers [Psalm 119.99]. A 'holier-than-thou' woman, perhaps intended as a Quaker, says to the smoking Cavalier, Stand further of &c, with a reference to Isaiah 65.5: Stand by thyself, come not near me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose... A final odd couple are a man (perhaps a divine) dressed in black holding a book who says, Tu Sans Ratione Philautos [Self-love, thou art without reason], to a plainly-dressed man holding an andiron on whose shoulder he places his hand. This curious attribute also appears in the hand of the man excreted by the Devil in the woodcut illustrating the title-page to A Reply As True As Steele (1641), John Taylor's attack on the 'mechanick' preacher Henry Walker, an ironmonger by trade. The present scene on the print is labelled Hinc illæ lachrimæ, a quotation from Terence, literally meaning 'hence those tears', and used to refer to the real, underlying cause of a person's malaise. But the print designer has also added a reference to the third and fourth chapters of Paul's Second Epistle to Timothy. The second verse of the former chapter refers to the circumstances which will obtain in the last days, specifically, that men shall be lovers of their own selves, while in verse 14 of the latter chapter Paul remembers Alexander the coppersmith [who] did me much evil—perhaps another oblique reference to Walker's profession.
In the top lefthand section of the design, the Church (labelled Ecclesia Languens) is flanked by sincere but ineffectual Protestant divines who are opposed by Catholic and Laudian bishops labelled Susorrores (literally, 'whisperers', but rendered 'politicians' in the accompanying verse text) and Adulatores [flatterers]. 2 Four young students cast away their books (captioned Victa jacet pietas from Ovid's Metamorphoses—'piety, defeated, lies dead'), and point admiringly at three armed Cavaliers. A final scene of two men labelled Inconcionatores [sic], referred to in the text as Dunces, appears to show a beadle (?) whipping a barefoot friar (his rosary hanging from his girdle) out of town; the latter exclaims Væ mihi [woe is me], but the pair are also captioned, Nihil refert ad nos [Nothing matters to us].
The lower lefthand section, entitled Lex Subjecta, comprises a number of scenes to do with the exercise of the Law in the years immediately preceding publication of the print. Curiously, F.G. Stephens in his Victorian description of it contented himself with describing the main scene as 'judges with ships and laurel wreaths upon their heads sitting neglected'—judges with ships on their heads? 3 Either he did not feel this required explanation or—if I dare suggest it of this scholar, for whom I have the greatest admiration—he simply did not recognise the significance! He neglected to point out that the two of the six judges wearing laurel wreaths are trampling on ships, while the other four wearing the ship 'hats' are trampling on their laurels, nor did he refer to the two men beside the bench, one of whom similarly wears a ship on his head and drags behind him a large purse bearing the royal arms. He says, Heu quanta de spe decidam [Alas! from what a height of hope I will fall], to which his companion responds reassuringly, Ne timeas [Have no fear], but the purse is labelled Hinc petitio et Perditio hujus [From this place comes the writ and his ruin]. This must surely allude to the notorious Ship Money tax levied by Charles from 1635 onwards until abolished by statute in 1641. In 1637 John Hampden, the Buckinghamshire MP, brought a test case to court by refusing to pay the levy (the ostensible purpose of which was to finance the refitting of the navy); the judges were divided on the legality of the measure, though eventually a majority found in favour of the King on this occasion. Designed after the 1641 abolition, the minority of the bench who trample the ships, labelled Memoria justi vivet in Æternum [The memory of the just will live eternally] are clearly 'the good guys', the others being labelled Obliti sumus Parliamenti [We were oblivious of parliament]. The accompanying verse text (perhaps tactfully) glosses over this particular topical and historic case, preferring to refer in much more general terms to the fact that The Lawes... have bene abused, and the Lawe / Pul'd downe Injustice Raisd.... Another scene shows a panel of four unjust judges jeering at the plaintiff who kneels before them, saying
Our Canon 4
So shall he know
Choake him with an &c
The knav's wittie
Two further scenes feature men wearing fools' caps: one, saying Te flectere faciam [I will make you bend], enacts the proverbial folly of trying to bend a stone pillar, which is itself labelled cunctis eadem (from the Vulgate text of Ecclesiastes 9.3; in the KJV: 'This is an evil among all things that are done under the son, that there is one event unto all', i.e. death), while the other fool kicks and whips a dishevelled woman representing Conscience, who exclaims, Est ne Deus [Is there no God]. 5 There is also a well with two men in buckets, one rising as the other descends; the man in the ascendancy says, Hodie mihi cras tibi [Me today, you tomorrow]—a tag more usually found as a memento mori—while the other says, Tempora mutantur [Times change].
Lastly, in the four corners of the engraving, four foreign rivals are depicted, gloating over the opportunities this chaos in England affords their respective countries. Their four labels form a quatrain, and they are also assigned mottoes as follows:
The Lord Dane cries if these hold I'le be cheefe
Redditum expecto [I expect to be restored]
The Hungrie Spaniard wisheth its good Befe 6
Valde Esurio [I desire it very much]
The smooth Tongu'd Frenchman sayes Oh! that's for me
Ista mihi [That's for me]
The Dutch man bids, hands of; that shall not be.
Non aude sed time [Do not dare but fear]
At the bottom are three columns of verses keyed by letter to the various scenes in the print, and providing a commentary on them. These are as follows:
A Alas Poore England! how art thou Distrest
With Warre? which for a longe time was soe blest
With Peace: that all thy Neighbouringe Nations
Admir'de thy Glorye when all their Stations
Were even fild with bloodye warres and strife
Then did thy Children Live a Peacefull life.
B What? Armies fightinge what doe these portend thee?
Or health or safetie? noe; this is the way to end thee
The Kinge against his People! (what meanes this?)
And they 'gainst Him, Destruction sure it is.
C Ah, Loe, thy Castle is surprised, D Warre on thy Wall
E And Peace, and Truth excluded: but thy fall
F To this, is thus; Conscience and justice late
The Props and Pillers of thy Glorious State
Have been Intangled in a Subtile Snare
G By Evill Counsels; Soe that now they are
Scarce able to Releive thee: though the Care:
H And Providence of Astrea doth not Spare
To breake this stronge Compacted Nett asunder
To give them power to cheare thee, Whilst others wonder
And Greive at the Discoverie thinkinge th'Event
Could never have been discern'de by Parliament.
But blest be God, that Gave her Eyes to see
And Heart to heale thy bleeding Miserie.
I Behold thy Kinge, now touch'd with Sense of this
Bewailes thy Miserie and Prayes that Peace
May once more kisse thee; whilst the K Lawe,
His Mate Inseperable, bids him Awe
His God, and keepe his Oath, and God will send
Warre out, Peace in, and Plentie to his Land.
L The Chaine Supportinge Scepter, and the Crowne
Denotes, that these disionted, all fals Downe.
M Alas the Commons now belowe Lament,
To see the Kinge, State, Church, and Lawe dissent
And Warre breake in, and Peace and Truth excluded,
And they themselves from hopes of Peace Secluded.
N Phylosophers Grave to th' Kinge this Counsell give
To yeeld to Reason is the way to Live,
And Raigne with Glorie, to the evill Crewe
Of wicked Counsellors declare, their dew.
O The Catholicke Church beinge rent with Schisme Laments
P The Reverend Clergie, which were woont to vent
Pure Doctrine, were opposde, by Q Polititians, base
R Flatterers and S Dunces Learn't to gaine the Place
T Younge Students Grewe disheartened to See
The Church thus Suffer; whilst Simple V Phantasie,
Her unsounde franticke humours would advance,
Above the Churches Glorie, Laid in a Trance.
The Lawes yow See! how they have bene abused
W By Knaves and Fooles; whilst Conscience is refused,
Despis'de and Kickt, Flatterye imbrac'd, the Lawe
Pul'd downe Injustice Rais'd the Poore to awe.
Were Lawes made by Lawes? then what? shall I say
By whom? by Knaves, what then? they ranne away
X Reason and Judgment chainde Passion Y and Furie free?
Z Monopolies and Pattents forced; Lett that not be;
O God and Kinge! a Asses downe Laden? what?
With Honours! who Supports them? Com[m]ons? how comes that?
They cannot Live without theire helpe, though forc'de to doe'it,
They now growe wearie! Vpstarts looke yow to'it,
b Doe Asses drawe in Warre? who rides in State?
c Miserie, who runnes by? d Famine, who followes? Fate.
f Poore Ireland feeles it; g Scotland gaines the Gold.
h Whilst France and i Spaine doe Laugh thus to behold
Our Generall Distractions; nay, the k Schoole of Warres
l And Denmarke too, rejoyce to see our Iarres.
As hopeinge they themselves may hereby Gaine
Our Kingedomes Glorie; wee, the Losse and Staine,
But Lord in Mercye looke upon this Nation
And be to it the Helmett of Salvation.
Expell Unnaturall Warre, and grant us Peace
And Unitie 'mongst Brethren, if thow Please;
That all may Live to give thy Name the Praise.
Restore thy Peace to us in these our Dayes. Amen
British Museum 1868,0808.3356. Dimensions of original: 482 mm x 369 mm
- i.e. Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland (1602-68). Back to context...
- The bishops are also assigned a Latin speech which appears to read, Nolimus calem/colem tangere— ? = 'We are unwilling to touch the chalice', understanding calem as an abbreviated form of calicem. Back to context...
- F.G. Stephens, Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, vol. 1 (London, 1870), pp. 264-5. Back to context...
- Probably an allusion to the Canons and Institutions Ecclesiastical devised by Laud in 1640. Back to context...
- The thongs of the fool's whip are labelled Flocci pendo, a fragmentary quotation from Plautus as quoted by Fulgentius, in full, flocci pendo, quid rerum geras. Back to context...
- Clearly an idiomatic use of the word 'beef', but apparently unknown to OED. Back to context...