Horror like Thunder

Germaine Greer

In 1679 a small book with the resonant title Order and Disorder; or, the world made and undone was published in London. The title was intended to touch a nerve. The Restoration crisis had never gone away; memories of the disorder of the Civil War and Interregnum were still green. Peers and Commons were united in their struggle to exclude a Catholic heir to the throne, while the travelling roadshow organised by Shaftesbury and Buckingham around the King’s bastard son, James, Duke of Monmouth, was playing to rapturous crowds. Activists among the country gentry, incensed by the long prorogation of Parliament in 1675, and by then convinced that Charles II would never accept Parliament as a partner in government, had for some years busied themselves with restating and updating the Old Cause, most daringly in the anonymous pamphlet entitled The Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England (1677), which was the last work of Andrew Marvell. Other republican writers were being dusted off and refurbished, to be published more or less surreptitiously. Paradise Lost, published without acclaim in 1667, was reprinted in 1674, and again in 1678. According to Dr Johnson, ‘It forced its way without assistance; its admirers did not dare to publish their opinion … till the Revolution [of 1688] put an end to the secresy of love, and Paradise Lost broke into open view.’

Order and Disorder is no overt political tract for, as its second subtitle explains, it consists of Meditations on the Creation and the Fall As it is recorded in the beginning of Genesis in five cantos of rhyming couplets, retelling the story of Chapters 1 to 3 of Genesis, ending as Paradise Lost does with the expulsion of our First Parents from the Garden of Eden. Where Milton is declamatory, Order and Disorder is expository, setting out a high Calvinist interpretation of the Biblical narrative, and wrapping it in a tissue of references to other parts of the Bible, all identified in marginal notes. Occasionally, the narrator inveighs in round terms:

Scorn, princes, your embroidered canopies
And painted roofs. The poor whom you despise
With far more ravishing delight are fed
While various clouds sail o’er the unhoused head,
And their heaved eyes with nobler scenes present
Than your poetic courtiers can invent.

‘Painted courts’ incur a good deal of disparagement; the very flowers of paradise

Both high and low their gaudy colours vied,
As courtiers do in their contentious pride,
Striving which of them should yield most
delight
And stand the finest in their sovereign’s sight.

Despotism lurks in even the most idyllic descriptions. The ocean reminds the poet that

every greater fish devours the less
As mighty lords poor commoners oppress.

In the middle of a description of the four rivers of Paradise, we are reminded that the second river surrounds the land of Nimrod, the hunter,

Where tyranny first raised up her proud head,
And led her bloodhounds all along the shore
Polluting the pure stream with crimson gore.

The narrator seems haunted by the threat of civil war: the fallen angels are united by their hatred of God ‘Lest civil wars should make their empire fall’, while Adam and Eve, having defied God, are immediately plunged into universal conflict.

to our parents then, sad was the change
Which them from peace and safety did
estrange,
Brought universal woe and discord in,
The never-failing consequents of sin;
Not only made all things without them jar
But in their breasts raised up a civil war.

According to Anthony à Wood’s Athenae Oxonienses, and Sidney Lee who follows Wood in the DNB, Order and Disorder is the work of Sir Allen Apsley (1616-83). The poem described by Lee as ‘rarely accessible’, now easily accessible in David Norbrook’s modern spelling edition, offers according to Norbrook ‘a particularly strong corrective to the conventional view that literature after 1660 became firmly Royalist’, for it is entirely informed by the religious and political ideals of Puritan republicanism. Though Apsley used his Puritan connections to secure a favourable settlement from the Commissioners for Compounding, he later gave valuable service to the Stuarts in exile and was rewarded at the Restoration with the lucrative post of Treasurer to the household of the Duke of York. At one stage he was actively involved in the suppression of conventicles. Though it is not impossible that Apsley, according to Marvell ‘leader of the drinking crew in the commons’, might have nurtured the convictions of the writer of Order and Disorder while amassing a huge fortune as a royal servant, it is certainly unlikely.

Apsley’s mother was a St John, from an elder branch of the same family as Cromwell’s Chief Justice, Oliver St John, whose daughter married Apsley’s cousin Sir Walter St John, denounced by his Royalist opponents as ‘rogue, anabaptist and a quaker’. In becoming a royal servant Apsley followed his father’s calling; his sister Lucy clung fast to the Parliamentarian loyalties of the St Johns. Her husband, John Hutchinson, was one of the signatories of the death warrant of Charles I. Apsley was no poet; his sister, who is best known for her memoir of her husband, an important source for historians of the Civil War period, began writing poetry in her teens. Norbrook grasps the nettle and prints Order and Disorder as securely hers, on internal and external evidence.

Briefly, part of the poem was among the manuscripts of Lucy Hutchinson which were in the care of the family in the 1730s; there are close parallels with passages from her Lucretius translation, her treatise on religion and other verse fragments; a comparison with a database of 25 Restoration poets finds very strong parallels between Order and Disorder and known writings of Hutchinson, and equally strong divergences from other authors; and the poem’s political and theological outlook matches Hutchinson precisely.

Lucy Apsley was born in 1620, in the Tower of London. In an autobiographical fragment she claimed that by the time she was seven she had eight tutors and that she was taught Latin by her father’s express wish. She also tells the circumstances of her wooing by John Hutchinson, who chose her for her seriousness and her learning, and was not put off when she caught smallpox and lost her looks. Steadfast and demonstrative love between spouses was central to the Puritan way of life, and the Hutchinsons’ attachment was exemplary. A true republican, Hutchinson retired to his country seat at Owthorpe in Nottinghamshire at the beginning of the Protectorate. He escaped prosecution as a regicide, only to die in prison in 1663 after being held for 11 months on a trumped-up charge of complicity in the Derwentdale Uprising, for which, unbeknownst to Lucy, her brother was partly responsible. Lucy did not marry again, but struggled against debt to bring up her surviving children. Eight years after her husband’s death, she was forced to sell Owthorpe to his half-brother, hoping that her son might be allowed to continue living there, only to find herself involved in a Chancery suit.

Before her marriage Lucy tried her hand at the usual ‘witty songs and amorous sonnets’. As she sat at her needlework in her children’s schoolroom, she kept her mind busy by working on a verse translation of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, which earned her ‘a little glory’ among those ‘intimate friends’ who saw it in manuscript. To attempt to render Lucretius’ difficult Latin in English was daring enough; to do it in elegant and coherent rhyming couplets was an achievement unattempted by anyone before and unachieved by anyone since, including Thomas Creech in 1682. Lucy’s first children, twin sons, were born in 1639; she was last pregnant in 1662, so her children may have frequented the schoolroom for rather more than twenty years; her translation of Lucretius could have taken her as long.

Though she claimed to be ashamed of having defiled the streams of truth ‘with this Pagan mud’, she kept her translation by her and on 11 June 1675 presented a copy to Arthur Annesley, First Earl of Anglesey, to dispose of as he thought best. Anglesey (1614-86) had achieved preferment under both Cromwell and Charles II; in 1660 he intervened to secure the release of Milton from prison, and Milton consulted him over the mangled publication of his History of Britain in 1670. Anglesey’s wife and Lucy Hutchinson both attended the London conventicle of the Congregationalist John Owen, whose Theologoumena Pantodapa Hutchinson translated as ‘On Theology’ in 1673. Norbrook’s annotations show conclusively that Owen’s exegesis informs the account given of the Creation in Order and Disorder, which makes it the more surprising that it was published by Henry Mortlock, whose success was founded on multiple editions year after year of the works of Edward Stillingfleet, beginning in 1661 with his Irenicum, which attacked Nonconformism as entirely without justification. As Stillingfleet rose through the established Church eventually to become Bishop of Worcester, Mortlock rose with him to become Master of the Stationers’ Company. In the same year that he published Order and Disorder, Mortlock published a sermon in which Stillingfleet attacked dissenters, which drew from Owen A brief vindication of Nonconformists from the charge of schism, which Stillingfleet countered in A Discourse of the Unreasonableness of Separation, published as usual by Mortlock.

Norbrook surmises that Mortlock printed Order and Disorder because of a Nottinghamshire connection. In 1677 he invested a great deal of money in publishing Antiquities of Nottinghamshire by Robert Thoroton, with engravings by Wenceslar Hollar in a sumptuous folio, which was to be sold in Nottingham by a John Mortlock. The Mortlock family had no history in Nottinghamshire, but John lived there long enough to send a son to Nottingham Grammar School where John Hutchinson had been a pupil fifty years before. Thoroton’s paid researchers investigated family records all over the county and may well have picked up a copy of Order and Disorder along the way. That Thoroton would have passed it on to his publisher is rendered less likely by the fact that, as a justice of the peace, he had been a strict enforcer of the law against conventicles.

Norbrook assumes that Hutchinson was personally involved in the publishing project, suggesting that ‘her decision to begin publishing Order and Disorder in 1679 may have been spurred by [financial] need as well as by the political opening’; he refers elsewhere to her embarking on ‘a new life as a writer’. In the 1670s writing was no way to make a living; in 1680 Milton’s widow sold the rights to Paradise Lost for only £8. Once they had paid for it publishers owned copy outright, regardless of who had sold it to them. Writers who wanted to make money from books were often asked to defray the costs of printing or had to rely on sales of free copies for their only payment. Hutchinson may have been intimately involved in the printing of her work, or altogether unaware of it, or anywhere in between.

No clue to the identity of the writer can be found anywhere in Order and Disorder; the title page could have said ‘By a Person of Quality’ or ‘By a Lady’ or some such; the preface could have carried initials or even a signature. Norbrook asks: ‘Why … did she not put her name proudly on the title page, like her contemporaries Aphra Behn, Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Philips?’ In fact, the only one of these three who invariably put her name on her title pages was Margaret Cavendish, who preferred to be known as the Duchess of Newcastle and financed the production of her luxury folios herself. Aphra, or ‘Mrs A.’ Behn as she was usually called, did not put her name to The Rover, her most successful play, or to her huge novel, Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister; Katherine Philips never put her name to anything, and is supposed to have thrown a conniption fit in 1664 when she heard that poems of hers were to be published as ‘Poems by the Incomparable Mrs K.P.’, so that the offending volume was withdrawn. It was the exception rather than the rule for any member of the lay gentry, male or female, to publish under his or her own name. To make one’s thoughts public property and to offer them for sale was to forfeit all claim to gentility. There is nothing odd or exceptional about the fact that Order and Disorder was published anonymously; the fact cannot be taken as evidence that the contents of the poem were understood to be subversive.

Norbrook supposes that Mrs Hutchinson’s authorship would have been obvious to the readers of Order and Disorder, which would be easier to accept if we had any evidence that the poem had any readers. Even Mortlock would seem not to have read it, for it is hard to believe that he would knowingly have run the risk of losing Stillingfleet’s business.

Supposing that the decision to publish Order and Disorder was Lucy Hutchinson’s, we have then to ask what it was that she meant to publish. Order and Disorder consists of five cantos which end with a coda that begins ‘With these most certain truths let’s wind up all.’ Norbrook has published these five cantos together with 15 others, that take us to Chapter 32 of the 50 chapters of Genesis. These are to be found only in a manuscript in the Beinecke Library at Yale, which has written on the fly-leaf, ‘Anne Rochester her book’.

The Countess of Rochester, born Anne St John, was another of Hutchinson’s Presbyterian cousins. On 2 September 1676 the Earl of Anglesey recorded in his diary that he had been visited by ‘the Earle & 2 Countesses of Rochester … and all their company with Mrs Hutchinson’. In 1679 Anne Rochester was involved in tricky negotiations connected with the winding up of the trust of two of her grand-daughters, one of whom was married to Thomas Wharton, son of Philip, Baron Wharton, the Nonconformists’ champion in the House of Lords and John Owen’s patron. Her son, the poet Rochester, was a supporter of Buckingham, was listed by Shaftesbury as ‘worthy’, and despite repeated bouts of severe illness served on the committee that examined the case for prosecuting Marvell’s pamphlet. Rochester, too, had crossed swords with Stillingfleet.

Anne Rochester was highly literate; an important scribal copy of her son’s poem ‘Upon Nothing’ is meticulously corrected in her hand and she has corrected her scribal copy of Hutchinson’s poem, too. In her copy the poem is simply headed ‘Genesis’ and the scriptural sources are not noted. At the end of Canto Five she has written ‘thvs far printed’, which means that the book was in her hands in 1679 or later. Norbrook is tempted to accept 1664 as the date for the copy because written in her hand on the reverse front fly-leaf (or upside down on the back) is ‘Rochester 1664’, but this might simply refer to the year she acquired the book. This was also the year that the Countess took up her appointment as Groom of the Stole to Anne, Duchess of York, which might explain why the book was put by and not used. (It was not at all unusual for blank books to be made up to serve as letter or commonplace books many years before anything was written in them.)

Norbrook, understandably, hedges his bets when it comes to deciding when Order and Disorder might have been written; in his chronology he marks the poem as possibly having been begun between 1660 and 1664 but then alongside 1673 notes ‘Begins/resumes work on Order and Disorder’. A few clues strengthen the case for the later date: the whole poem is imbued with Owen’s theology. We know that Hutchinson was working on her translation of his theological treatise after 1668, because she dedicated it to her daughter, ‘Mrs Orgill’. Barbara Hutchinson became the second wife of the merchant Andrew Orgill in August 1668. Norbrook assumes that the 1679 printing represents the author’s final intention, and that divergent text in the manuscript is earlier. There are as good grounds for assuming it to be later.

The 20-canto version is called simply ‘Genesis’. The first five cantos are as printed, but various divergences, some quite important, make clear that Anne Rochester’s copy was not made from the printing. Norbrook slightly confuses matters by restoring from the manuscript lines dropped in the printing without accepting the authority of the manuscript over the printing. The unprinted cantos have very few marginal notes, which might suggest that these were supplied by the printer, which would be unusual. In fact, the number of cross-scriptural allusions in Cantos 6 to 20 is very much lower than in the first five cantos of Order and Disorder. The long meditations on the Biblical story are now less doctrinal than psychological and dramatic, witness this description of Cain racked with guilt.

Horror like thunder on his bare sides knocks;
Remorse, rage, spite, split him like pointed rocks;
Affrights like whirlwinds heave him in the
air,
Swallowed at last in quicksands of despair.

And so off and on for more than a hundred lines. We now encounter some of the trappings of Virgilian epic, elaborate digressions on emblematic personifications such as Sleep, and extended passages of baroque description. This is part of a stunningly graphic description of the Deluge:

The frighted beasts themselves with
swimming tired
But, swallowed in vast whirlpits, there expired.
The wet birds flew about but no rest found,
Their food, their groves, their nests, their perches, drowned.
Awhile in th’air their dabbled wings they plied,
But, wearied out, fell on the seas and died.
Thought cannot reach this universal rack.
With chokéd carcasses the sea grew black.
Dead shepherds floated with their drownéd sheep
And larger herds with those that did them keep.
The winds awhile with lighter things did play
Till ruder storms carried them all away.
The gallants’ scarves and feathers, soldier’s tents,
The poor man’s rags and princes’ ornaments,
The silken curtains and the women’s veils,
Themselves too borne up with light robes like sails,
Bandied in sport awhile, at last did all
Equally lost into the hazard fall.

The occasional political asides are still as radical: referring to the fact that the sons of our First Parents practised farming and animal husbandry, the poet asks

Alas from whence
Doth vain nobility raise its pretence,
When the first monarch’s sons, in slavery born,
Were taught those trades which upstart
nobles scorn … ?

Women are frequently presented as prime movers of evil, in terms that seem to reflect on the sway that the King’s mistresses exercised over him.

Their fatal blazes set the world on fire
When nature’s force is helped by art and
wit,
And all the devils are employed in it,
Who taught them first their dresses to
dispose
Part of th’alluring members to disclose …

The infant world bears some resemblance to Arcadia in the Golden Age:

No beasts to satiate their hunger bled;
No fowl were to hidden nets betrayed;
No snares for the unwary creatures laid;
No fishes caught in rivers or in brooks
With treacherous baits upon their unseen hooks …

At the beginning of Canto 10, a scribal note reads, ‘the[s]e were taken out of the old notes after they were dead’, which might be taken as evidence that ‘Genesis’ was a collaborative work. Here it must be said that lady writers, especially those dealing with complex matters of theology, actively sought corrections and rewriting from their betters. The 11 cantos that follow continue in the Virgilian/Biblical epic mode, but the moralisations can be less securely identified as Calvinist. The writer’s sectarianism abates its shrillness to become a variety of Whig republicanism, complete with deep distrust of women.

The honest labours of those times
Kept honest women from adulterous crimes.
The pride and idleness of our loose dames
Are the lewd parents of those lustful flames
Which fire the world and make them blazing stars,
Engendering murders, hate, and civil wars.

‘Genesis’ ends suddenly, in mid-canto, which suggests that the great project was cut short, perhaps by Lucy Hutchinson’s death in October 1681. Anne Rochester might have overseen the making of a fair copy from scattered papers ‘after they were dead’, for she herself did not die until 1696. Norbrook thinks that the later cantos were not printed because they were considered too subversive; it is possible that no publisher ever saw them to make such a decision.

It is exciting to have the opportunity to offer such cavils, because the important fact is that the correct attribution of Order and Disorder or ‘Genesis’ is the latest step in the reclamation of Lucy Hutchinson as a literary figure. Though Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson became a classic after its first printing in 1806 from a manuscript in the family’s possession and now in the Nottinghamshire Record Office, and Hutchinson’s treatises ‘On Religion’ and ‘On Theology’ were printed in 1817, until very recently her other writings remained unexamined and unpublished. In the meantime at least two manuscripts have disappeared. Other unpublished texts are finding their way piecemeal into print. In 1996 Hugh De Quehen produced an edition of Hutchinson’s translation of Lucretius. In the same year Norbrook published a transcription of her reply to Edmund Waller’s panegyric on the Lord Protector in an article in The Seventeenth Century, and in 1997 transcriptions of her ‘Elegies’ in an article in English Literary Renaissance. For Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson, who edited Early Modern Women Poets (1520-1700): An Anthology,[*] Norbrook’s attribution to Lucy Hutchinson of Order and Disorder makes her ‘one of the most important poets, man or woman, of the mid-century’. This is a large claim, especially when the best evidence of importance in the period is appearance not in print but in manuscript circulation. Before we can place Hutchinson on equal terms with Milton, Marvell, Waller, Cowley and Butler, we ought to find evidence of how her work was read. What we can be sure of is that she was a serious writer who dared to undertake ambitious works on the largest scale. Regardless of whether she is a great poet or not, she is a hero.

[*] Oxford, 600 pp., £65 and £25, March, 0 19 818426 3.