Translations from Welsh and Yiddish revealing ornithomancy amongst the 19th century north Welsh and Jewish Lithuanians.
One day about A. D. 550 the blackheaded gulls, flying as usual along the coast of Wales, and scanning the sea sharply for food or any- thing else interesting to a gull, found floating in a coracle — a round, wicker work canoe — a human baby a day or two old, contentedly asleep on a pallet made of a folded purple cloth. Several gulls seized the corners of this cloth and so carried the child to the ledge of the Welsh cliff where they nested, plucked feathers from their breasts to make a soft bed, laid the baby on it, then hastened to fly inland and bring a doe to provide it with milk, for which an angel offered a brazen bell as a cup. There the blessed waif lived for several months; but one day, in the absence of all the gulls, a shepherd discovered the infant and took him down to his hut and his kind wife. The gulls, returning from the sea, heard of this act from the doe. They at once rushed to the shepherd’s cottage, again lifted the babe by the corners of its purple blanket, and bore him back to the ledge of their sea-fronting crag. There he stayed until he had grown to manhood — a man full of laughter and singing and kind words; and the Welsh peasants of the Gower Peninsula revered him and called him Saint Kenneth. 1
Tradition has it that the only Welsh understood by living members of my family is “Here is the news in Welsh,” but here’s a bash at the last of several amusing anecdotes told by David Evans of Carmarthen about a mid-19th century north Welsh patrilineal forebear:
Simon Jones used to get awfully angry with superstitious folk who believed in ghosts, corpse candles and birds etc., but once something happened that shook his faith too. His sister Mary was languishing with tuberculosis and he was called home from Sheffield. On reaching Bala it was already late and he had to walk home to Llanuwchlyn through the dense trees on the Llanycil side of the lake. He was into the trees when suddenly, with uncanny accuracy, a big bird flew past and smote the hat from his head. As if this wasn’t unnerving enough, the bird came past again, wailing terribly, and struck off his hat once more. Now he knew this to be a portent of the certain death of his sister. He crept in terror to Lon, where he found his parents praying, and Ap Vychan watching over Mary. He could not refrain from telling Robert Thomas what he had seen and heard on the road, but to avoid hurting his sister Mary he told his tale in English. Mary understood the word “bird”, and she read in the face of her brother an impression of terror in his telling, so she asked Robert Thomas, after Simon Jones had gone out, “What was Simon, my brother, saying to you, Robert, about a ‘bird’?” He judged it better simply to reveal the story to her, but she, like the common people, who thrust disagreeable things, and death in particular, far from them, said, “Oh, ‘right’ sure I am that we’ll hear in the next few days of the death of our sister-in-law in Sheffield.” That woman was indeed quite poorly at the time, but Mary got the first call after all. 2
I saw a white bird up in the black night
And knew that time would soon put out the light
Of my eyes in the black night. 3
You will know about the serinette and otherwise named mechanical musical instruments which were used to teach melodies to finches. But you may not be aware of the small birds which, working from on top of larger organs, created an extra revenue stream by selecting fortune cards, which were sometimes accompanied by little prizes in unregulated lotteries. Uriah Katzenelenbogen 4 on Russian imperial Lithuania at the beginning of the 20th century:
Birzh was a center of Jewish organ-grinders, in Birzh referred to as loyerleit, certainly originating from the German word Leierkastnman [barrel organ man]. However, in Birzh the word leierman was not connected to the German word leiern [to crank] (play on a barrel organ), but with loyern [to lie in wait for]–to ransack, to wander.
Near Chanukah, scores and scores of Jews with their organs and with small animals and birds–squirrels, white mice and parrots that would draw slips of paper with fortunes from a box–would set out from Birzh through the villages and cities. Rich organ-grinders even had monkeys, a small bear. They would lay aside their barrel organs, animals and little birds and be middle class like everyone else. They would come home at the time of the Days of Awe when, incidentally, the substantial mud started and it was not easy to wander. On simkhas torah, they would carry the old rabbi to the synagogue and celebrate with the Torah.
The organ-grinders’ wives showed off their large earrings and golden bracelets and colorful wide clothing. I remember these women–with open full faces, but with their sad eyes. Their wandering husbands left them in a more permanent loneliness than the wives whose husbands were in America or Africa. The “American women” and the “African women” hoped that they would soon join their husbands. I think that because of their association with monkeys and exotic birds, jaunty young organ-grinders would leave for [South] Africa and Australia in an easier frame of mind than the other young Birzher men. 5
I have found piglets and parrots performing this work for organ-grinders, but as yet no such anecdote with Simon Jones’ personal charm. Suggestions?
Update: I remember that Andreas Pum, the WWI veteran turned organ-grinder in Joseph Roth’s Die Rebellion, gets a parrot called Ignatz to help him in his last job as toilet attendant. It is precisely what he would have liked previously for his barrel organ—except that it doesn’t tell fortunes. He also has a moving relationship with small birds while imprisoned.
- Ernest Ingersoll, Birds in legend, fable and folklore (1923). I also saw my first pair of choughs, or King Arthur and friend pace Ingersoll. ↩
- She died, presumably of tuberculosis, in 1837. Simon Jones, perhaps building on the Sheffield connection (cutlery!), later had a shop in Bala, but unfortunately George Borrow only had eyes for the Anglicans when in 1854 (Wild Wales) he stayed at the White Lion at Bala and went to church in Llanuwchllyn.
Comparison of source and target will reveal that I have adopted common practice among (literary) translators of lonely languages and omitted a phrase that was beyond me—”elai o’i bwyll ar darawiad wrth wrando straeon gwrachïaidd felly, a dywedai, ‘O! yr heu gacen bwci baw.'” I also wonder whether the “religious fellowship” in “Ymlusgodd i’r Lon, a braw arno, a chafodd fod ei rieni yn y gyfeillach grefyddol, ac Ap Vychan yn gwarchod gyda Mary” isn’t more than a way of saying that the parents are praying. And then there are the unknown unknowns. Any assistance gratefully received. ↩
- Translation by A.Z. Foreman. ↩
- “Cat’s elbows”: perhaps the only way of explaining, in the light of the subsequent enthusiastic collaboration of Lithuanian nationalists with the Nazis, how a Jew could have ever identified with their cause to the extent Uriah did. ↩
- JewishGen, in Gloria Berkenstat Freund’s translation. ↩
A new translation of Joan Maragall’s poem about the anarchist bombing of the Barcelona Opera in 1893, and a limerick by the monkey.
The monkey has come up with a characteristically obtuse and flippant reaction to the London Bridge attack:
My head is still firmly in place, boom boom,
My arse is not next to my face, boom boom,
But peace-loving neighbours
With soft sighing sabres
Urge centring my shite in one place, boom boom.
Fortunately my repertoire consists exclusively of lyrics by wiser and more gifted souls. The poet Joan Maragall was at the opera house on Barcelona’s Rambla for Rossini’s William Tell in November 1893 when an anarchist, Santiago Salvador, threw two Orsini bombs into the stalls, killing 22 and wounding 35. Maragall’s first daughter, Helena, had been born in May, and he wove those two circumstances into the following:
Tornant del Liceu en la nit del 7 de novembre de 1893.
Furient va esclatant l’odi per la terra,
regalen sang les coll-torçades testes,
i cal anar a les festes,
amb pit ben esforçat, com a la guerra.
A cada esclat mortal – la gent trèmola es gira:
la crueltat que avança, – la por que s’enretira,
se van partint el món…
Mirant al fill que mama, – a la mare que sospira,
el pare arruga el front.
Pro l’infant innocent,
que deixa, satisfet, la buidada mamella,
se mira an ell, se mira an ella,
i riu bàrbarament.
Returning from the Liceu on the night of November 7, 1893.
Across the land this hatred now fiercely roars,
From twisted-throated heads gush bloody presents.
At parties now, our presence,
With chests puffed boldly out, is as for war.
At every mortal blast, the trembling people wend:
As cruelty marches onwards, so fear flees without end,
They cleave the world between them…
The father wrinkles his brow, observes his suckling son,
The mother’s dark suspicions.
But the infant, free from sin,
Who, satiated, leaves the breast grown slim,
Looks at her, and looks at him,
And gives a barb’rous grin.
Another English version by a well-known translator respects neither rhyme nor meter, as it were chopping off the legs off this great lover of rumpty-tumpty Italian opera (dixit Maria-Aurèlia Capmany), who has just walked away from death. Can’t be having that.
Spanish anarchism, like modern Islamism, promised that slaughter would usher in paradise, and states-within-the-state were improvised in 1936-7. The movement was then virtually exterminated by the local franchise of the Soviet Communist Party and Franco’s lot. Older Spanish precedent for dealing with ethnoreligious parallel polities, with their own laws and fiscality, is also not encouraging for anybody. Ya veremos.
A populist US senator meets an Italian organ-grinder in Rome in 1859.
Two young American men are acting as cicerones for two older compatriots in an association they have called The Dodge Club:
Because our principle is to dodge all humbugs and swindles, which make travelling so expensive generally. We have gained much experience already, and hope to gain more. One of my friends is a doctor from Philadelphia, Doctor Snakeroot, and the other is Senator Jones from Massachusetts. Neither the Doctor nor the Senator understand a word of any language but the American.
The Canadian writer, James De Mille, published his The Dodge Club; or Italy in 1859 in Harper’s after the Civil War, when Europe and America’s poor were migrating westwards but the wealthy still took their holidays to the east:
HARMONY ON THE PINCIAN HILL.-MUSIC HATH CHARMS. –AMERICAN MELODIES.–THE GLORY, THE POWER, AND THE BEAUTY OF YANKEE DOODLE, AND THE MERCENARY SOUL OF AN ITALLAN ORGAN-GRINDER.
The Senator loved the Pincian Hill, for there he saw what he loved best; more than ruins, more than churches, more than pictures and statues, more than music. He saw man and human nature.
He had a smile for all; of superiority for the bloated aristocrat; of friendliness for the humble, yet perchance worthy mendicant. He longed every day more and more to be able to talk the language of the people.
On one occasion the Club was walking on the Pincian Hill, when suddenly they were arrested by familiar sounds which came from some place not very far away. It was a barrel-organ; a soft and musical organ; but it was playing “Sweet Home.”
“A Yankee tune,” said the Senator. “Let us go and patronize domestic manufacture. That is my idee of political economy.”
Reaching the spot they saw a pale, intellectual-looking Italian working away at his instrument.
“It’s not bad, though that there may not be the highest kind of musical instrument.”
“No,” said Buttons; “but I wonder that you, an elder of a church, can stand here and listen to it.”
“Why, what has the church to do with a barrel-organ?”
“Don’t you believe the Bible?”
“Of course,” said the Senator, looking mystified.
“Don’t you know what it says on the subject?”
“What the Bible says? Why no, of course not. It says nothing.”
“I beg your pardon. It says, ‘The sound of the grinding is low.’ See Ecclesiastes, twelfth, fourth.”
The Senator looked mystified, but said nothing. But suddenly the organ-grinder struck up another tune.
“Well, I do declare,” cried the Senator, delighted, “if it isn’t another domestic melody!”
It was “Independence Day.”
“Why, it warms my heart,” he said, as a flush spread over his fine countenance.
The organ-grinder received any quantity of baiocchi, which so encouraged him that he tried another—“Old Virginny.”
“That’s better yet,” said the Senator. “But how on airth did this man manage to get hold of these tunes?”
Then came others. They were all American: “Old Folks at Home,” “Nelly Bly,” “Suwannee Ribber,” “Jordan,” “Dan Tucker,” “Jim Crow.”
The Senator was certainly most demonstrative, but all the others were equally affected.
Those native airs; the dashing, the reckless, the roaringly-humorous, the obstreperously jolly—they show one part of the many-sided American character.
Not yet has justice been done to the nigger song. It is not a nigger song. It is an American melody. Leaving out those which have been stolen from Italian Operas, how many there are which are truly American in their extravagance, their broad humor, their glorious and uproarious jollity! The words are trash. The melodies are every thing.
These melodies touched the hearts of the listeners. American life rose before them as they listened. American life—free, boundless, exuberant, broadly-developing, self-asserting, gaining its characteristics from the boundless extent of its home – a continental life of limitless variety. As mournful as the Scotch; as reckless as the Irish; as solemnly patriotic as the English.
“Listen!” cried the Senator, in wild excitement.
It was “Hail Columbia.”
“The Pincian Hill,” said the Senator, with deep solemnity, “is glorified from this time forth and for evermore. It has gained a new charm. The Voice of Freedom hath made itself heard!”
The others, though less demonstrative, were no less delighted. Then came another, better yet. “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“There!” cried the Senator, “is our true national anthem—the commemoration of national triumph; the grand upsoaring of the victorious American Eagle as it wings its everlasting flight through the blue empyrean away up to the eternal stars!”
He burst into tears; the others respected his emotion.
Then he wiped his eyes and looked ashamed of himself—quite uselessly—for it is a mistake to suppose that tears are unmanly. Unmanly! The manliest of men may sometimes shed tears out of his very manhood.
At last there arose a magic strain that produced an effect to which the former was nothing. It was “Yankee Doodle!”
The Senator did not speak. He could not find words. He turned his eyes first upon one, and then another of his companions; eyes beaming with joy and triumph—eyes that showed emotion arising straight from a patriot’s heart —eyes which seemed to say: Is there any sound on earth or above the earth that call equal this?
Yankee Doodle has never received justice. It is a tune without words. What are the recognized words? Nonsense unutterable—the sneer of a British officer. But the tune!—ah, that is quite another thing!
The tune was from the very first taken to the national heart, and has never ceased to be cherished there. The Republic has grown to be a very different thing from that weak beginning, but its national air is as popular as ever. The people do not merely love it. They glory in it. And yet apologies are sometimes made for it. By whom? By the soulless dilettante. The people know better:—the farmers, the mechanics, the fishermen, the dry-goods clerks, the news-boys, the railway stokers, the butchers, the bakers, the candlestick-makers, the tinkers, the tailors, the soldiers, the sailors. Why? Because this music has a voice of its own, more expressive than words; the language of the soul, which speaks forth in certain melodies which form an utterance of unutterable passion.
The name was perhaps given in ridicule. It was accepted with pride. The air is rash, reckless, gay, triumphant, noisy, boisterous, careless, heedless, rampant, raging, roaring, rattle-brainish, devil-may-care-ish, plague-take-the-hindmost-ish; but! solemn, stern, hopeful, resolute, fierce, menacing, strong, cantankerous (cantankerous is entirely an American idea), bold, daring—
Yankee Doodle has not yet received its Doo!
The Senator had smiled, laughed, sighed, wept, gone through many variations of feeling. He had thrown baiocchi till his pockets were exhausted, and then handed forth silver. He had shaken hands with all his companions ten times over. They themselves went not quite as far in feeling as he, but yet to a certain extent they went in.
And yet Americans are thought to be practical, and not ideal. Yet here was a true American who was intoxicated—drunk? By what? By sound, notes, harmony. By music.
“Buttons,” said he, as the music ceased and the Italian prepares to make his bow and quit the scene, “I must make that gentleman’s acquaintance.”
Buttons walked up to the organ-grinder.
“Be my interpreter,” said the Senator. “Introduce me.”
“What’s your name?” asked Buttons.
“Were you ever in America?”
“What does he say?” asked the Senator, impatiently.
“He says his name is Mr. Cloto, and he was never in America.”
“How did you get these tunes?”
“Out of my organ,” said the Italian, grinning.
“Of course; but how did you happen to get an organ with such tunes?”
“I bought it.”
“Oh yes; but how did you happen to buy one with these tunes?”
“For you illustrious American Signore. You all like to hear them.”
“Do you know any thing about the tunes?” “Signore?”
“Do you know what the words are?”
“Oh no. I am an Italian.”
“I suppose you make money out of them.”
“I make more in a day with these than I could in a week with other tunes.”
“You lay up money, I suppose.”
“Oh yes. In two years I will retire and let my younger brother play here.”
“What is it all?” asked the Senator.
“He says that he finds he makes money by playing American tunes to Americans.”
“Hm,” said the Senator, with some displeasure; “and he has no soul then to see-the beauty, the sentiment, the grandeur of his vocation!”
“Not a bit-he only goes in for money.”
The Senator turned away in disgust. “Yankee Doodle,” he murmured, “ought of itself to have a refining and converting influence on the European mind; but it is too debased-yes-yes-too debased.”
Maybe we are doomed, maybe we aren’t, and the oligarchy’s bots will get us anyway. I fear that my monkey is not of flesh and blood.
Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, founded on piracy, is in it’s way almost as enjoyable on the American West as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rio Bravo, which we of course watched over Christmas. Check out Over the Plains to Colorado from the same year, 1867, as de Mille’s piece.
With acrobats, clowns, and Doris and Thisbe, goddesses of wind.
And then we used to have these buskers. They used to come with a barrel organ. They must have been what we call today transvestites and they would play this barrel organ and dance and do acrobats and things like that, dressed up in the oldest and the shabbiest type of dresses and things like that. The man that played the organ was never dressed … he was dressed in trousers, but the others were all … well, we knew they were men by the look of them and if they saw the police coming they would scoot away, but you gave them a ha’penny and they made quite a collection.
Anyone got a photo of such a troupe? Perhaps more entertaining than Barcelona’s Moorish tumblers:
The police may still have cared about public morality when Dora Lee was young, but this was also the age of Douglas Byng, the great pantomime dame, who appeared on a trapeze singing “I’m Doris the goddess of wind,” and who here sings a little song of spring:
It was also an age before competition from television caused the infantilisation of circus audiences and of white clowns, whose white makeup and black melancholy had given them something of the air of the female impersonators. Here’s Fellini’s white clown saying goodbye to his augusto, accompanied by some rather splendid music and horsing around:
And such shows involving barrel organs were not new. Here’s a back-to-front example from the 1861 diary of Arthur Munby, establishment fetishist of working women:
Home to the Temple at 6 and to [Mudie’s Lending Library]. Coming thence along Oxford Street, I saw before me, striding along in company with an Italian organ-grinder, a tall young man in full Highland costume; wearing a Glengarry bonnet, a scarlet jacket, a sporran and a tartan kilt and stockings, his legs bare from the knee to the calf. It was not a man – it was Madeleine Sinclair the street dancer, whom I used to see in a similar dress a year ago. She and her companion turned into a quiet street, and she danced a Highland fling to his music, in the midst of a curious crowd.
For no one could make out whether she was a man or a woman. Her hair and the set of her hips indeed were feminine; but her hard weather-stained face, her large bony hands, and her tall strong figure, became her male dress so well that opinions about equally divided as to her sex. “It’s a man!” said one, confidently: “I believe that it’s a woman”, another doubtfully replied. One man boldly exclaimed “Of course it’s a man; anybody can see that!” I gave her a sixpence when she came round with her tambourine; and she told me she had been in Paris for five months for pleasure, and was now living on Saffron Hill [i.e. amidst Italian immigrants], and dancing in the streets every day, always wearing her male clothes.
The excerpt is from the most enjoyable A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters.
And then there’s Old Bess, who has probably been banned from Morris dancing along with blackface, and Thisbe aka Flute the Bellows-Mender – pretty close to an organ:
Not to mention the mock queens and virgins of older festivals.
In gathering material about the world of the organ grinder, I’ve certainly been neglecting some non-simian sidekicks. More suggestions most welcome, as always.
I dread to think what would happen to you (m) nowadays if you dressed up as a woman and danced round a barrel organ in the back streets of Whitechapel.
- I’m afraid the British Library seems to have made a bit of a mess of the metadata for its sound collection. Another entry has an interesting abstract:
Fanny Lander talks about her background and family; her father (bricklayer); the buildings he worked on; the school she went to; memories of Scan and Will Tester playing for dances; working in service for an Irish family; dancing at the Servants Ball in the Coach and Horses, Chelwood Gate; changes in the village (Chelwood Gate); farming; memories of organ-player and monkey; local gypsies; Linfield Fair; Brighton man who used to sing outside the post office; Maggie Ridley (school friend); East Grinstead band; Danehill bell ringers; Albert and Walter Lucas; hand bell ringers in Coach and Horses on Boxing Day; how she and her husband housed two evacuee children from Bermondsey during the war; East Grinstead at start of World War 1; more about being in service; closeness between servants and family; songs sung at home; dancing [at this point Reg Hall plays melodeon – see Item Notes]. Will Marten and his sister Mary then join conversation and they all discuss Scan Tester’s family; pub songs; poverty being reflected in the music; Ashdown Forest; changes in farming; comparisons of town and country; moving sheep from Romney Marsh; increase in local traffic; anecdotes about local policeman and cars, 1920s/1930s; anecdote about San Tester’s brother Trayton.
But, as another part of the metadata indicates, the recording is actually of Bates, Charlie, 1909- (speaker, male), and Wood, Bert, 1890- (speaker, male) talking about something completely different, and Ms Lander is nowhere else to be found. ↩
But unfortunately he probably won’t figure in the results of the Singing Organ-Grinder’s historical explorations into English popular song.
Settling down to England, I’m being a good immigrant-monkey and polishing my repertoire of interesting and amusing popular music sung here over the centuries, in the hope of getting organ-grinding gigs with museums, galleries, political conspiracies and other prizers of the worthless, to add to the domestic circuit of weddings and divorces.
One great find yesterday was John Freeth (1731–1808), publican and poet, patriotic radical, aka John Free and, according to a review of his Political Songster in what had been Smollett’s Critical Review, “the Birmingham Pindar.” His “The Tripe-Eaters” looks very good, but until I or someone else spends 17 quid on the full transcription I’m going to devote some time to “Budget Day”:
Full twelve score millions of good pounds
JOHN BULL is said to owe;
But how or when ’tis to be paid,
Is what I wish to know.
A cent’ry past JOHN’s family
Was not a pin in debt;
How strange to think that still we find,
The ROGUE can credit get.
I think that Freeth’s longevity may have been down to his tempering his drinking and scribbling with walking, though the “Ballad-Singer’s Ramble to London” may not be autobiographical:
The First of April Sixty-three,
To London I went budging;
For know you, all of my Degree
Go on their Ten Toes trudging;
At Coventry I stop’d to see
If any Thing was wanting,
From Pocket Lodge, pull’d out my Fodge
And straitway fell to chanting.
And as I pass’d the Streets along,
The People round me gazing,
Some cry’d out, ’tis nobly sung,
And worthy of our praising;
In troth my Boy, I presently
Pick’d up a Double Grunter 1,
To the Ale-house then, away I ran,
And spent it with a Bunter. 2
Enjoyable in its way, though not on a par with Chatwin’s Songlines or Nine Daies Wonder: Performed in a Daunce from London to Norwich by Will Kemp, far more than Shakespeare’s clown, which I read a couple of months ago and then forgot:
The first mundaye in Lent, 3 the close morning promising a cleere day, (attended on by Thomas Slye my Taberer, William Bee my seruant, and George Sprat, appointed for my ouerseer, that I should take no other ease but my prescribed order) my selfe, thats I, otherwise called Caualiero Kemp, head-master of Morrice-dauncers, high Head-borough of heighs, and onely tricker of your Trill-lilles and best bel-shangles betweene Sion and mount Surrey, began frolickly to foote it from the right honorable the Lord Mayors of London towards the right worshipfull (and truely bountifull) Master Mayors of Norwich.
My setting forward was somewhat before seauen in the morning; my Taberer stroke up merrily; and as fast as kinde peoples thronging together would giue mee leaue, thorow London I leapt. By the way many good olde people, and diuers others of yonger yeers, of meere kindnes gaue me bowd sixepences and grotes, blessing me with their harty prayers and God-speedes.
Being past White-chappell, and hauing left faire London with all that North-east Suburb before named, multitudes of Londoners left not me: but eyther to keepe a custome which many holde, that Mile-end is no walke without a recreatiō at Stratford Bow with Creame and Cakes, or else for loue they beare toward me, or perhappes to make themselues merry if I should chance (as many thought) to giue over my Morrice within a Mile of Mile-end; how euer, many a thousand brought me to Bow; where I rested a while from dancing, but had small rest with those that would haue vrg’d me to drinking. But, I warrant you, Will Kemp was wise enough: to their ful cups, kinde thanks was my returne, with Gentlemanlike protestations, as “Truely, sir, I dare not,” “It stands not with the congruity of my health.” Congruitie, said I? how came that strange language in my mouth? I thinke scarcely that it is any Christen worde, and yet it may be a good worde for ought I knowe, though I neuer made it, nor doe verye well understand it; yet I am sure I have bought it at the word-mongers at as deare a rate as I could haue had a whole 100 of Bauines at the wood-mongers. Farwell, Congruitie, for I meane now to be more concise, and stand upon eeuener bases; but I must neither stand nor sit, the Tabrer strikes alarum. Tickle it, good Tom, Ile follow thee. Farwell, Bowe; haue ouer the bridge, where I heard say honest Conscience was once drownd: its pittye if it were so; but thats no matter belonging to our Morrice, lets now along to Stratford Langton.
Many good fellows being there met, and knowing how well I loued the sporte, had prepared a Beare-bayting; but so unreasonable were the multitudes of people, that I could only heare the Beare roare and the dogges howle; therefore forward I went with my hey-de-gaies to Ilford, where I againe rested, and was by the people of the towne and countrey there-about very very wel welcomed, being offred carowses in the great spoon, one whole draught being able at that time to haue drawne my little wit drye; but being afrayde of the olde Prouerbe (He had need of a long spoone that eates with the deuill), I soberly gaue my boone Companyons the slip.
From Ilford, by Moone-shine, I set forward, dauncing within a quarter of a myle of Romford; where, in the highway, two strong Iades (hauing belike some great quarrell to me vnknowne) were beating and byting either of other; and such through Gods help was my good hap, that I escaped their hoofes, both being raysed with their fore feete ouer my head, like two Smithes ouer an Anuyle.
There being the end of my first dayes Morrice, a kinde Gentleman of London lighting from his horse, would haue no nay but I should leap into his saddle. To be plaine with ye, I was not proud, but kindly tooke his kindlyer offer, chiefely thereto vrg’d by my wearines; so I rid to my Inne at Romford.
In that towne, to giue rest to my well-labour’d limbes, I continued two dayes, being much beholding to the townsmen for their loue, but more to the Londoners that came hourely thither in great numbers to visite me, offring much more kindnes then I was willing to accept.
Unfortunately the songs, contributed by friends (sponsors?), are no match for Kemp’s writing or dancing: 4
A Country Lasse, browne as a berry,
Blith of blee, in heart as merry,
Cheekes well fed, and sides well larded,
Euery bone with fat flesh guarded,
Meeting merry Kemp by chaunce,
Was Marrian in his Morrice daunce.
Her stump legs with bels were garnisht,
Her browne browes with sweating varnish[t];
Her browne hips, when she was lag
To win her ground, went swig a swag;
Which to see all that came after
Were repleate with mirthfull laughter.
Yet she thumpt it on her way
With a sportly hey de gay:
At a mile her daunce she ended,
Kindly paide and well commended.
Kemp was not a one-off. William Rowley in 1609 writes in A search for money. Or The lamentable complaint for the losse of the wandring knight, Mounsieur l’Argent Or come along with me, I know thou louest money. Dedicated to all those that lack money:
yee haue beene either eare-or-eye-witnesses or both to many madde voiages made of late yeares, both by sea and land, as the trauell to Rome with the returne in certaine daies, the wild morrise to Norrige, the fellowes going back-ward to Barwick, another hopping from Yorke to London, and the transforming of the top of Paules into a stable.
In 1601 William Bankes walked his extraordinary performing horse, Marocco, up more than a thousand steps to give a show on the roof of old St. Paul’s. Another Moorish reference…
Kemp also recalls Christmastide brass band house-to-house ramble-shambles in Lancashire, and frozen, drunken wanderings with carnival bands in the eastern Netherlands and the central Pyrenees. Tim FitzHigham repeated his (ahem) feat in 2008, adding the pleasing dramatic hook of a supposed argument between Shakespeare and Kemp:
Esther Webber has a nice clip of Jeremy Corbyn imitating Tim.
Despite its excellent wheeled carriage, I wouldn’t attempt any such thing with the current street organ: it weighs 80 kg and has a high centre of gravity, and on parade-type functions I’ve never pulled it along for more than a couple of miles. However, I hope that sometime, as part of the Bohemian project, I’ll get to carry a smaller organ from the Ore Mountains down to the Eger, singing 18th and early 19th century German songs as I go. (BTW: Does anyone know any Czech functionaries, preferably Ministry of Culture?)
How nice if Kemp were this lunatic:
The man in the moon came tumbling down
And asked his way to Norwich;
He went by the south and burnt his mouth
With supping cold pease porridge.
He does indeed take the southeastern route through Chelmsford (the pre-19th century Fens were still rather damp) but there’s no mention of porridge.
- In Strine, a double bed, but here probably Partridge‘s shilling. ↩
- Partridge: “A low, esp. a low thieving, harlot.” ↩
- … during which players were meant to shut up shop, and thus often sought alternatives. ↩
- Norwich honoured him by nailing his buskins to the Guildhall wall, “It is hardly necessary,” notes the Rev. Dyce in 1839, “to inform the reader that no memorial of Kemp is now extant in that building.” ↩
Any proto-ecologists don’t seem to have cared very much.
A reminder from Simon Winchester in Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire (1984):
The little gang of Rock apes—Macacus inuus—are the only monkeys to be found in Europe. Theories about their having swum across from Africa, or having arrived drenched, clinging to Moroccan logs, have long been discounted; zoologists believe these are the relict clan of a great tribe of Macaques which once frolicked in Germany and France, and came as far north as Aylesbury. The last Ice Age forced them steadily southwards: Gibraltar was their final peninsular refuge, the closest they ever would come to their native home. Had the blizzards and hailstorms swept through Spain they might have been driven into the Straits, and drowned.
A birdwatcher on the Lea Navigation this morning told me that there may be some more serious culling of London’s 15,000-odd ring-necked parakeets. This seems not to be because they are regarded as alien, but simply because, like Barcelona’s monk parakeets before them, they have begun to affect crop yields in the urban periphery.
Given perceptions of Ye Olden Dayes, I expected to find more straightforwardly xenophobic concerns about damn foreign monkeys in the pre-C20th writing in various languages I’ve been trawling for organ-grinding references. But nothing yet, apart from C19th health officials worrying about transmission of diseases such as tuberculosis across the species barrier, and cartoonists suggesting that the species barrier between Italians and monkeys was based on Schengen.
There certainly weren’t very many of them to worry about, but I wonder whether a more positive view of globalisation also played a role.
Anyway: not only did we evolve from monkeys, but they may have been gambolling on the Lea when Neanderthals drank at the Anchor and Hope (“What can I say?” is not the worst reason to keep going).
In cylindrical terms the monkey was preceded by the marmot, which also seems to have been viewed more as a charming curiosity than as a threat to our precious ecosystem. I’m rather fond of Goethe’s 1778 parody of a Savoyard at an annual fair in his little-known Das Jahrmarktsfest zu Plundersweilern:
It’s many a land I’ve travelled through,
Avecque la marmotte,
And always I found some thing to chew,
Avecque la marmotte,
Avecque si, avecque la,
Avecque la marmotte.
I’d have liked to do something with the verse, but some lightweight called Ludwig von Beethoven stamped his branding iron on the rodent’s rump first, and his op. 52 no. 7 in modern times tends unfortunately to be served up in an atmosphere of quasi-religious gloom to evoke infant migrants:
… or the Plain People of Wherever:
I was unable to find an animated version featuring singing marmots, so here’s Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:
The organ-grinding guild’s List of Prohibited Books includes Simon Winchester’s because he refers to the Gibraltar monkeys as apes, and we grinders know that’s wrong. But his nostalgia for times when posh British boys like himself ruled the world simply extends to English vocabulary as it was before the introduction of the word “monkey” in the 16th century:
I wol no lyf but ese and pees,
And winnin golde to spende also,
For when the grete bagge is ago,
It comith full right with my japes.
Make I not wel tomble mine apes?
(Chaucer’s late 14th century Romaunt of the Rose in the 1782 edition)
And so say all of us.
- Elderly French for avec, and still heard in some Occitan dialects. ↩
With an introduction by St. Spike in the Moon.
Something in Stafford on the Saturday evening, and on the Sunday morning we walked out across the fields to have a look at St. Lawrence’s at Gnosall, where Pevsner observed “some of the most exciting Norman work in the county,” and where he became so excited by the inner transformations that he didn’t mention the splendid though eroded beasties outside. Unfortunately:
- on the way there was a rather long conversation with a milking herd – there’s a lovely little children’s song by Janáček, “Hó, hó, krávy dó”, which I think exists in imaginative translation as “Moo, moo, two by two” in Harewood & Duncan’s Classical songs for children:
- Holy Communion was at 07:45 rather than the optimistically anticipated 08:00, and
- there were no bells to hurry us along – what is Chird of England doctrine on Sunday morning lie-ins?
So when we got there, things were already winding down. But people were incredibly welcoming, pointing out glorious detail we would otherwise have missed, and it was only out of the corner of a sleepy eye that I saw A Children’s Treasury of Milligan lurking on a pew.
George Szirtes writes:
I now think of Spike as more spirit than man. An imp, a boggart, a demon, a spectre, a poltergeist, a hobbledehoy. And yet a human being, who is all those things at once.
Perhaps, then, those good people of Gnosall find in him flashes of the character of their Saviour. That is what I hope, though I accept that it may take a while before the Anglican communion is enlivened and enriched by St. Spike. I also agree with George’s view of the censors. At various times of my life I have been attacked by complete strangers, inter alia for being perceived as:
- Irish (small boys at an English school, a long time ago),
- German (West Friesian Vikings at a rough-and-tumble gig in North Holland, impeded by rough netting separating stage from bearpit),
- Dutch (Bosnians, from behind, in Enschede), and
- human (drunks on tractor vs hippy on grandad bike, near Eisenhüttenstadt, shortly after German reunification).
But because Spike’s work so utterly transcends normal human frailties I can watch without the slightest discomfort his Irish astronauts:
… and the Pakistani Daleks:
I suppose some might mistake for apism the escapism in the frequent references to monkeys (bear with me, primatologists) in the Children’s Treasury, but my monkey has been listening to “Tales of Men’s Shirts” from the Goon Show for years without any obvious ill effects:
Seagoon: My next impression will be of Spike Milligan saying “Thynne”.
Orchestra and Omnes: Thynne!
Orchestra and Omnes: Thyyyynne!
Orchestra and Omnes: ThyyyyYYYYyyyynne!
Seagoon: That’s Thynne enough! Thank you, thank you. Remember, folks, saying “Thynne” cures you of monkeys on the knees.
Sellers: Yes, if you’ve got monkeys on the knees, just say:
Sellers: And they are only three and six a box.
Milligan: Yes, I swear by Thynne. One morning I woke up and there they were monkeys on the knees!
Grams: [Monkeys in a temper]
Milligan: Then I said the cure word, Thynne!
Grams: [Speed up and fade record of the monkeys at high speed]
Milligan: And away they went!
Greenslade: Ta. The monkeys were played by professional apes.
Seagoon: That was Wallace Greenslade saying words.
I was singing somewhere else the other day when an Italian gent, whose daughter had been jigging around to some Spanish stuff, came up and suggested
- that I sing a particular Italian number. Unfortunately I have forgotten it (and so had he), but if he gets in touch I’ll have a bash.
- that for marketing purposes I group my various songs about movement. I already have a list of Milliganish migrations, but here are some of the more obviously geographical ones, and you may have more candidates.
Victor Hugo puts on his black cap.
Last night, extracting bits from mainly 19th century barrel organ observation and invention, one lost one’s mind to metaphorical mirage: cylinders (circular tragedies framed by the appearance of organ grinders), pins (all the world’s a barrel organ), and, above all, (demonic) monkeys. Here’s J.L. van der Vliet in 1845 in a piece of that most Dutch genre, Gothic humour, which covers inter alia the vendors and performers of murder ballads:
Victor Hugo says somewhere that while the public prosecutor is writing his closing speech for the judges, the executioner sits in a basket under the table and now and then tugs on his legs, so that each time His Inclemency has to kick the basket and cry to him, “Quiet man! Thou also shalt have something!”
Victor Hugo zegt ergens, dat terwijl de procureur-generaal zijne pleitrede voor de regters schrijft, de beul in een mand onder de tafel zit, en hem nu en dan bij de beenen trekt, zoo dat de hoog-gestrenge dan telkens tegen de mand moet schoppen, en hem toeroepen: «Stil kerel! Gij zult ook wel wat hebben!»
I haven’t looked for the Hugo source, but I imagine the Biblical tint is there too. Thomas Marshall (1842) translates the honorific “Hoog-Gestrenge” as “Most Honorable” or “Most Just”, which is inadequate here; however, though while one suspects that Calvin and Zwingli had a weakness for strong-armed whipsters, we are not yet in the punishment cellar.
How many monkeys would have to be deployed with Ian Horswill’s Punch and Judy AI Playset for how long in order to generate Madame Bovary?
And monkeys, obviously.
In my other life I am condemned to write something about these (online versions). It would be good to engage more with all this humanity-self stuff, but (hortism < hortus, garden) I also urgently need to find a plastic bottle that will fit on top of the broom-pole so that I can empty the tree of rosy-red apples down the road:
OF ELEUATE PRIDE, AND BOSTYNGE
That lawde is vyle the whiche doth procede
From mannys owne mouth vttred in wordes vayne;
Of suche foly no wyse man taketh hede,
But by discression doth hym selfe refrayne;
But pompe and pryde whiche doth all men disdayne
Engendreth folys: whiche thynkynge to exell
All other in erth, at last fall downe to hell.
Besyde our folys rehersyd here before
In dyuers barges almost innumerable,
Yet stately pryde makyth the nomber more,
Whiche is a vyce so moche abhomynable,
That it surmountyth without any fable
All other vyces in furour and vylenes,
And of all synne is it rote and maystres.
The noblest hertis by this vyce ar acloyed,
It is confounder mekenes and vertue;
So by the same is many one destroyed
In soule and body whiche them to it subdue.
Wherfore let the wyse his statelynes eschewe,
For it hath be sene, is sene, and euer shall,
That first or last foule pryde wyll haue a fall.
The first inuentour of this vnhappy vyce,
As doth the scripture playne expres and tell,
Was Lucyfer, whiche to hym dyd attyce
A crusyd nomber both stately and cruell,
In mynde intendynge his Maker to excell;
Or els if he coude come to his intent
For to be egall with God omnypotent.
Thus of all synnes pryde was the first of all
Bygon by Lucifer; but God omnypotent
Percyuynge his foly made hym and his to fall
From heuen to hell, to paynes violent
In horryble shape: before so excellent
Shynynge in heuen before the aungels all,
Thus had his folysshe pryde a greuous fall.
And so forth and so on. Barclay doesn’t seem to find a direct equivalent for Brant’s roraffen, presumably derived from the Strasbourg cathedral organ’s legendary automated howling Whitsun monkey, which so upset those who, like Brant and Erasmus and Geiler von Kaysersberg, would revive rather than reform the Catholic rite. More of that anon.
I dare not look for sung versions of Barclay – it’s so difficult to make strophic things of that length work, even with a double woodblock solo in the middle.