The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 10, 2014

February 9, 1609

Sir John Suckling (baptised February 10, 1609 , died June 1, 1642) is remembered as a minor English writer. His career illustrated the path possible for a rich and well bred Englishman before the English civil war. He embraced fighting in a foreign war as a youth, and was famous for his gambling and drinking. He said he valued a ‘a lucky hit at bowls above all the trophies of wit’ This may have been as well: a critic (Richard Flecknoe) of his writing said that  it seemed ‘full of flowers, but rather stuck in than growing there.’ Suckling's plays, performed at court, were popular with the King, who also appreciated Suckling's extravagant funding of a contingent in the Bishops War.

His play, The Discontented Colonel (1639 or 1640) shows the effect of this last military campaign.  The reason the colonel is discontented is the nature of the Scots people, and we found a lovely excerpt, which uses feline behavior to illustrate this supposed nature.

Since our excerpt is brief, a little context is needed. Lithuania is Scotland, Poland is England, the question is whether the King Charles I of England (I mean King Sigismund of Poland) should go to war with its neighbor, since Lithuania has refused to accept the King's revisions of its religious practice. 
Brennoralt is Suckling himself.

[A counselor against attack] Consider, too, that those who are
Necessitated to use violence
Have first been violent by necessity.

[Another, for attack] But still you judge not right of the prerogative;
"For oft it stands with pow'r and law,
As with our faith and reason: 'tis not all
Against that is above," my lord.

[The King exits the stage]

[A lord  insults the Scots ] You Lithuanians had of all least reason; For, would the king be unjust to you, he Cannot, where there's so little to be had.

[Scots spokesperson]  Where there is least, there's liberty, my lord; And 'tis more injury to pull hairs from The bald, than from the bushy heads.

[A Scot to Brennoralt,] a word ... My lord, the world hath cast his eye upon you, And mark'd you out one of the foremost men. Y' have busied fame the earliest of any, And send her still on errands. Much of the bravery of your nation Has taken up its lodging in you, And gallant men but copy from you.

Bren. 'Tis goodly language this; what would it mean?

[The same Scot] The Lithuanians wish you well, and wonder So much desert should be so ill rewarded.
Bren. Still I take you not .

[Same Scot] to be plain, our army would be proud of you:

Pay the neglected scores of merit double.
All that you hold here of command, and what
Your fortune in this Sigismond has suffer'd,
Repair, and make it fairer than at first .

Bren. How?....
How came it in thy heart to tempt my honour?

[Same Scot] My lord?

Bren. Dost think, 'cause I am angry with
The king and state sometimes, I am
Fallen out with virtue and myself? Draw!
Draw, or by goodness --

[Same Scot ] What means your lordship?

Bren. Draw, I say.

He that would think me a villain, is one;
And I do wear this toy to purge the world
Of such.

[Enter King Of Poland, with a retinue]

They've sav'd thee. Wert thou good-natur'd, Thou wouldst love the king the better during life.  [You should be grateful to the King for entering before I killed you.]

[All]. Long live great Sigismond!

Bren. The Lithuanians, sir,
Are of the wilder sort of creatures, must
Be rid with cavezous [old arguments] and with harsh curbs.
And since the war can only make them tried,
What can be used but swords? where men have fall'n,
From not respecting royalty, unto
A liberty of offending it: what though
Their numbers possibly equal yours, sir?

And now, forc'd by necessity, like cats
In narrow rooms, they fly up in your face.

Think you rebellion and loyalty
Are empty names? and that in subjects' hearts
They don't both give and take away the courage?

Shall we believe there is no difference
In good and bad? that there's no punishment
Or no protection? forbid it, heaven!

If when great Poland's honour—safety too,
Hangs in dispute, we should not draw our swords,
Why were we ever taught to wear 'em, sir?

[Another] This late commotion in your kingdom, sir,
Is like a growing wen upon the face,
Which as we cannot look on but with trouble,
[but to]... take't away we cannot but with danger. 

War there hath foulest face, and I most fear it,
Where the pretence is fair'st. Religion
And liberty (most specious names) they urge;
Which like the bills of subtle mountebanks,
Fill'd with great promises of curing all, though by
The wise pass'd by as common cosenage, [blather]
Yet by th' unknowing multitude they're still
Admir'd and flock'd unto.

[King.] Is there no way
To disabuse them?

[the counselor against using reason as an argument]
The vulgar in religion are like 
Unknown lands; those that first possess them have them.

Then, sir, consider, justness of cause is nothing,
When things are risen to the point they are;
'Tis either not examin'd or believed among
The warlike.
The common people are much like the sea,
That suffers things to fall and sink unto
The bottom in a calm, which (in a storm
Stirr'd and enrag'd) it lifts, and does keep up."

Perhaps I am not the only one to appreciate old arguments, how they are different but the same.  Our John Suckling fell afoul of Parliament, shortly after writing the above. In the run-up to the English Civil War he was discovered plotting with the King. He had to flee the country, and i
t was outside of England that he died in circumstances that remain murky. 

No comments: