Saturday 19 October 2019

'Not sufficient for a kite's dinner'

What with this Amazon business and one thing and another – those things including a sentimental journey to Cambridge to celebrate 50 years (yes, 50) since Appleyard, B. and I met there as callow Kingsmen; another return journey to other haunts, in Marylebone, where, a little more recently, I once worked for The Listener and Radio Times, both long gone from that increasingly chic but still agreeable London village; and a debilitating cough and 'cold' that came on today; and, of course, the seemingly endless shenanigans with Amazon and the book – what with all of that, I haven't been paying much attention to the blogscape or to my blog lately. This morning, though, I enjoyed a fascinating piece on Patrick Kurp's Anecdotal Evidence about (or partly about) the taste of the book-buying public in Victorian times, and earlier. That taste was then, it seems, very much drawn to the English classics. The bookseller from whom Henry Mayhew is gathering evidence (for his London Labour and the London Poor) gives an impressive list of works and authors in demand, in which (after Robinson Crusoe) the name of 'Philip Quarles' features. This brought me up short.
 In fact, it seems to be slip of the tongue, or of Mayhew's pen; the only writer of that name, as far as I can find out, is the fictional hero of Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point (which I read once, long ago, and am unlikely to return to). The bookseller surely means Francis Quarles, a 17th-century poet of limited gifts who enjoyed a phenomenal success with his Emblems, a collection of elaborate biblical paraphrases, passages from the Church Fathers and epigrammatic quatrains, some of which are embellished with striking engravings by William Marshall. Pope wrote scathingly of Emblems in The Dunciad – 'the pictures for the page atone/And Quarles is saved by beauties not his own'. However, some of the epigrams are good: 'The heart is a small thing, but desireth great matters. It is not sufficient for a kite's dinner, yet the whole world is not sufficient for it.' Of the five books of Emblems, only the first two are original, the remainder being 'adapted' from the writings of the Jesuit Hermann Hugo and illustrated with the same prints as Hugo's work, but reversed. 
  Quarles's Emblems is one of those erstwhile bestsellers that remind us that the past is indeed a foreign country. It is impossible, without entering into the mindset of another age, to understand how such a book could have been such a runaway popular success. But its popularity lasted well into the 19th century, as is attested (presumably) by Mayhew's bookseller. There was a new edition, with new illustrations, as late as 1888. Improbably enough, a distant descendant of Francis Quarles was that star of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes.
 Quarles probably wrote the epitaph for his sister, who shares with her husband, Sir Cope D'Oyley, a fine monument in St Mary's, Hambleden, Buckinghamshire – a monument that features in the last chapter of... Aargh, it's back to my book again!

1 comment:

  1. The incomparable Dave Lull points out that Mayhew's reference is very likely to a book called The English Hermit, or the Unparallel'd and Surprizing Adventures of one Philip Quarll, who was lately found in an Uninhabited Island in the South Sea by Philip Longueville. Here's a link –