Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Notes on Edward de Vere, Edmund Burke and Herman Melville

I've been casting about for a historical parallel to my impression of the Earl of Oxford as a Court conservative opposed to the kind of proto-Whiggism (natural rights, parliamentary rights, anti-Catholic, ancient 'constitutional' rights) that was being developed by the militant Protestant Sidney/Essex faction.

My thoughts turned to Edmund Burke. Even though he was a prominent Whig and defended the rights of American colonists during their conflict with the British crown, he broke with his party over their differing perceptions of the significance of the French Revolution. The events in France brought out a deep conservatism in Burke, and he predicted much of the terror and disorder that would eventually horrify the world.

Christopher Hitchens, commenting upon an essay by Conor Cruise O'Brien, notes that O'Brien proposes Burke as the 'moral ancestor of all those who have warned until the present day of the awfulness of absolutist revolutions and of the terrifying results that ensue from any scheme for human perfectibility.' (Hitchens, 'Reactionary Prophet', The Atlantic, April 2004)

I'd place Edward de Vere/Shakespeare as a 'moral ancestor' of Edmund Burke - and suggest that the bloodbath and political revolution at the end of Hamlet stand in part as a warning against the 'awfulness of absolutist revolutions and of the terrifying results that ensue from any scheme for human perfectibility'. The Amleth myth was at root the same myth as the Lucius Junius Brutus myth, the critical legend for anyone who hoped to found a new Rome without absolute kings - and variations of the name Lucius Junius Brutus would prove a useful pen name for those who favoured classical republican principles. Stephen Junius Brutus pen name chosen by Philip Sidney's mentors de Mornay and Languet for their(?)  Defenses of Liberty against Tyrants.

(In my opinion, the Vindiciae contra tyrannos should be read as a framework for interpreting Fulke Greville's proto-Whiggish 'interpretation' of the encounter between the 'virtuous' Philip Sidney and the 'tyrant' Edward de Vere in his Life of Sidney (The Tennis Court Quarrel) - Sic semper tyrannis:

Greville. The life of the renowned Sr Philip Sidney.


...The Queen, who saw that by the loss, or disgrace of either [note - Edward de Vere or Philip Sidney], she could gain nothing, presently undertakes Sir Philip; and (like an excellent Monarch) lays before him the difference in degree between Earls, and Gentlemen; the respect inferiors ought to their superiors; and the necessity in Princes to maintain their own creations, as degrees descending between the peoples licentiousness, and the anoynted Soveraignty of Crowns: how the Gentlemans neglect of the Nobility taught the Peasant to insult upon both.

Whereunto Sir Philip, with such reverence as became him, replyed: First, that place was never intended for privilege to WRONG: witness her self, who how Soveraign soever she were by Throne, Birth, Education, and Nature; yet was she content to cast her own affections into the same moulds her Subjects did, and govern all her rights by their Laws. Again, he besought her Majesty to consider, that although he were a great Lord by birth, alliance, and grace; yet hee was no Lord over him: and therfore the difference of degrees between free men, could not challenge any other homage than precedency. And by her Fathers Act (to make a Princely wisdom become the more familiar) he did instance the Government of K. Henry the eighth, who gave the Gentry free, and safe appeal to his feet, against the oppression of the Grandees; and found it wisdome, by the stronger corporation in number, to keep down the greater in power: inferring else, that if they should unite, the over-grown might be tempted, by still coveting more, to fall (as the Angels did) by affecting equality with their Maker.


Blair Worden, _The Sound of Virtue -Philip Sidney's Arcadia and
Elizabethan Politics_

For Greville, TYRANNY is characterised by 'WILL, which nothing but
itself endures', and which overrides 'law'. His golden retrospection
contrasts the readiness of Queen Elizabeth to harmonise her 'own
affections' with 'her subjects' , and to govern by 'laws', with the
ways of 'TYRANTS' who allow of no scope....but their own will'. Yet in
Sidney's lifetime Greville, and Sidney too, would have been more
likely to concur with the view of Sir Francis Knollys that she
preferred 'her own will and her own affections' to 'the sound advice
of open counsel'.

'WILL' in Renaissance minds, is the enemy not only of law but of
reason, which law invokes. Languet's and Mornay's Vindiciae, Contra
Tyrannos cites Juvenal's condemnation of kings who resolve to rule by
'WILL' rather than by 'reason'. The friends of WILL are passion and
lust, when men, instead of 'reason, follow WILL, and instead of law,
use their own lust'. (p.212)


Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,

And Will to boot, and Will in over-plus;
More than enough am I that vexed thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large will more.
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will.



After reading more on Burke I was surprised to see that he was described as ruthless in his defense of English law and political order against the disruptions in France - and this brought to mind the 'ruthlessness' of Captain Edward Fairfax Vere and the execution/sacrifice of the naturally excellent and innocent Billy in Melville's Billy Budd. Preliminary research showed that this idea was not new - that a number of essays describe Captain Edward Vere as representative of Burke's views. Perhaps Melville's examination of a (selfless?) type of tyranny?

'Caesar did never wrong, but with just cause'

Billy Budd, Melville
The drum-beat dissolved the multitude, distributing most of them along the batteries of the two covered gun decks. There, as wont, the guns’ crews stood by their respective cannon erect and silent. In due course the First Officer, sword under arm and standing in his place on the quarter-deck, formally received the successive reports of the sworded Lieutenants commanding the sections of batteries below; the last of which reports being made, the summed report he delivered with the customary salute to the Commander. All this occupied time, which in the present case, was the object of beating to quarters at an hour prior to the customary one. That such variance from usage was authorized by an officer like Captain Vere, a martinet as some deemed him, was evidence of the necessity for unusual action implied in what he deemed to be temporarily the mood of his men. "With mankind," he would say, "forms, measured forms are everything; and that is the import couched in the story of Orpheus with his lyre spell-binding the wild denizens of the wood." And this he once applied to the disruption of forms going on across the Channel and the consequences thereof.


Amorphus the Deformed:
“For , let your soule be assur’d of this (in any ranke, or profession what-ever) the more generall, or major part of opinion goes with the face, and (simply) respects nothing else. Therefore, if that can be made exactly, curiously, exquisitely, thorowly, it is inough” (2.3.53-57) Jonson, Cynthia’s Revels


Thy pyramids built up with newer might

To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;

They are but dressings of a former sight...


Whereunto Sir Philip, with such reverence as became him, replyed: First, that place was never intended for privilege to WRONG: witness her self, who how Soveraign soever she were by Throne, Birth, Education, and Nature; yet was she content to cast her own affections into the same moulds her Subjects did, and govern all her rights by their Laws.

Jonson on Shakespeare:

"...he fell into those things, could not escape laughter: as when he said in the person of Caesar, one speaking to him; "Caesar, thou dost me wrong'. He replied: 'Caesar did never wrong, but with just cause': and such like; which were ridiculous....

Letter Oxford to Burleigh - re: Bartholomew's Day Massacre

...I would to God your Lordship would let me understand some of your news (which here doth ring doubtfully in the ears of every man) of the murder of the Admiral of France and a number of noblemen and worthy gentlemen, and such as greatly have in their lifetimes honoured the Queen's Majesty our mistress, on whose tragedies we have a number of French Aeneases in this city that tells of their own overthrows with tears falling from their eyes, a piteous thing to hear, but a cruel and far more grievous thing we must deem it then to see. All rumours here are but confused of those troops that are escaped from Paris and Rouen, where Monsieur hath also been and, like a vesper Sicilianus, as they say, that cruelty spreads over all France, whereof your Lordship is better advertised than we are here. And sith the world is so full of treasons and vile instruments daily to attempt new and unlooked for things, good my Lord, I shall affectiously and heartily desire your Lordship to be careful both of yourself and of her Majesty, that your friends may long enjoy you, and you them. I speak because I am not ignorant what practices have been made against your person lately by Mather and later, as I understand, by foreign practices, if it be true. And think, if the Admiral in France was an eyesore or beam in the eyes of the papists, that the Lord Treasurer of England is a block and a cross-bar in their way, whose remove they will never stick to attempt, seeing they have prevailed so well in others'.

This estate hath depended on you a great while, as all the world doth judge; and now all men's eyes, not being occupied any more on these lost lords are, as it were, on a sudden bent and fixed on you, as a singular hope and pillar whereto the religion hath to lean. And blame me not, though I am bolder with your Lordship at this present than my custom is, for I am one that count myself a follower of yours now in all fortunes, and what shall hap to you, I count it hap to myself or, at the least, I will make myself a voluntary partaker of it.

Thus, my Lord, I humbly desire your Lordship to pardon my youth, but to take in good part my zeal and affection towards your Lordship, as on whom I have builded my foundation either to stand or fall. And good my Lord, think I do not this presumptuously, as to advise you that am but to take advice of your Lordship, but to admonish you as one with whom I would spend my blood and life, so much you have made me yours. And I do protest, there is nothing more desired of me than so to be taken and accounted of you. Thus, with my hearty commendations and your daughter's, we leave you to the custody of Almighty God. Your Lordship's affectioned son-in-law.

Edward Oxenford
*To the right honourable and his singular good Lord, the Lord Treasurer of England, give these.
[=04] BL Lansdowne 14/84, ff. 185-6: Oxford to Lord Burghley, 22 September 1572
[=05] BL Lansdowne 14/85, ff. 186-7: Oxford to Lord Burghley, 31 October 1572


Melville, Billy Budd

Aside from his qualities as a sea-officer, Captain [note-Edward Fairfax]Vere was an exceptional character. Unlike no few of England's renowned sailors, long and arduous service with signal devotion to it, had not resulted in absorbing and salting the entire man. He had a marked leaning toward everything intellectual. He loved books, never going to sea without a newly replenished library, compact but of the best. The isolated leisure, in some cases so wearisome, falling at intervals to commanders even during a war-cruise, never was tedious to Captain Vere. With nothing of that literary taste which less heeds the thing conveyed than the vehicle, his bias was toward those books to which every serious mind of superior order occupying any active post of authority in the world naturally inclines; books treating of actual men and events no matter of what era--history, biography and unconventional writers, who, free from cant and convention, like Montaigne, honestly and in the spirit of common sense philosophize upon realities.

In this line of reading he found confirmation of his own more reasoned thoughts--confirmation which he had vainly sought in social converse, so that as touching most fundamental topics, there had got to be established in him some positive convictions, which he forefelt would abide in him essentially unmodified so long as his intelligent part remained unimpaired. In view of the troubled period in which his lot was cast this was well for him. His settled convictions were as a dyke against those invading waters of novel opinion, social, political and otherwise, which carried away as in a torrent no few minds in those days, minds by nature not inferior to his own. While other members of that aristocracy to which by birth he belonged were incensed at the innovators mainly because their theories were inimical to the privileged classes, not alone Captain Vere disinterestedly opposed them because they seemed to him incapable of embodiment in lasting institutions, but at war with the peace of the world and the true welfare of mankind.

Captain Vere and the character of a Profound Wit:

BY David Abercromby, M. D.
Qui velit ingenio cedere rarus erit.
LONDON, Printed for John Weld at the Crown between the two Tem|ple Gates in Fleetstreet, 1686.

SECT. III. Different sorts of Wits.

 ...I doubt it may not be allowed here to make a fourth distinction of Profound, and Superficial Wits: For some have received from above a kind of comprehensive Knowledge of most things. They see in a manner as Angels do the remotest conclusions in their first principles, without any formal consequence. Such Men are not only fit for Humane Society, but to sit at the Helm, and manage the weightiest Affairs of Great Kingdoms and Empires. They are not some|times much admired by the undis|cerning sort, especially in a free and familiar Converse, because they speak little, being naturally more thinking and contriving, than talk|ative,
but what they say carries along with it such a Character of good Sence, that you shall instantly discern them to be none of the common sort. Yet as there is nothing in the World Omni ex parte beatum, without a mixture of some imperfection; these Great Men are so taken up sometimes with their own Thoughts, and Designs, that in a familiar con|verse they seem not to talk to the purpose; which gives occasion to the Vulgar, to think that they are really simple.


Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare
Act I Sc.III


Troy, yet upon his basis, had been down,

And the great Hector's sword had lack'd a master,

But for these instances.

The specialty of rule hath been neglected:

And, look, how many Grecian tents do stand

Hollow upon this plain, so many hollow factions.

When that the general is not like the hive

To whom the foragers shall all repair,

What honey is expected? Degree being vizarded,

The unworthiest shows as fairly in the mask.

The heavens themselves, the planets and this centre

Observe degree, priority and place,

Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,

Office and custom, in all line of order;

And therefore is the glorious planet Sol

In noble eminence enthroned and sphered

Amidst the other; whose medicinable eye

Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,

And posts, like the commandment of a king,

Sans cheque to good and bad: but when the planets

In evil mixture to disorder wander,

What plagues and what portents! what mutiny!

What raging of the sea! shaking of earth!

Commotion in the winds! frights, changes, horrors,

Divert and crack, rend and deracinate

The unity and married calm of states

Quite from their fixure! O, when degree is shaked,

Which is the ladder to all high designs,

Then enterprise is sick! How could communities,

Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,

Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,

The primogenitive and due of birth,

Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,

But by degree, stand in authentic place?

Take but degree away, untune that string,

And, hark, what discord follows! each thing meets

In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters

Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores

And make a sop of all this solid globe:

Strength should be lord of imbecility,

And the rude son should strike his father dead:

Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong,

Between whose endless jar justice resides,

Should lose their names, and so should justice too.

Then every thing includes itself in power,

Power into will, will into appetite;

And appetite, an universal wolf,

So doubly seconded with will and power,

Must make perforce an universal prey,

And last eat up himself. Great Agamemnon,

This chaos, when degree is suffocate,

Follows the choking.

And this neglection of degree it is

That by a pace goes backward, with a purpose

It hath to climb. The general's disdain'd

By him one step below, he by the next,

That next by him beneath; so every step,

Exampled by the first pace that is sick

Of his superior, grows to an envious fever

Of pale and bloodless emulation:

And 'tis this fever that keeps Troy on foot,

Not her own sinews. To end a tale of length,

Troy in our weakness stands, not in her strength.