Friday, May 29, 2015

Captain Hook and the Merry Monarch

King Charles II, born on May 29, 1630, was a fashion influence on Captain Jas. Hook.

Portrait by Sir Peter Lely, 1670

As J. M. Barrie wrote in Peter Pan and Wendy, "[i]n dress he somewhat aped the attire associated with the name of Charles II, having heard it said in some earlier period of his career that he bore a strange resemblance to the ill-fated Stuarts."

Hook also wore his hair in long black corkscrews curls resembling the king's wig. While "[H]is eyes were of the blue of the forget-me-not," wrote Barrie, there can perhaps be seen a shared melancholy in the faces of both.

Portrait by John Michael Wright, c. 1660-1665

Yet Charles II, unlike Hook, was far from melancholy, though he might well have been. His father, Charles I, was deposed from the throne by the decidedly un-jolly Oliver Cromwell and executed in 1649, and the son exiled. Upon the death of Cromwell, Charles II reclaimed the throne in 1660--the start of the Restoration--with a style of rule so at odds with that of Cromwell that his court was renowned for all manner of licentious behavior. But he wasn't neglectful of his subjects, as one might expect from his frivolous ways--when the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed three-quarters of the wooden buildings in the City of London over the course of four days, he fought the fire alongside the citizens. And he founded the Royal Society of scientists in 1660. On a lighter note, King Charles spaniels are named after his favorite dogs.

As I have never yet passed up a chance to share the Horrible Histories "King of Bling," with Mathew here it is once more. Enjoy!

There are any number of entertaining stories about Charles II, a few of which I have fun mentioning in The Stowaway: He reinstated the celebration of Christmas, and was the recipient of the first pineapple brought to England. One anecdote which I haven't found a place for (yet) is about Thomas Blood, who attempted to steal the crown jewels (and whose portrait, incidentally, is a crucial part of the plot of Muppets Most Wanted). The crown jewels had been melted down after Charles I's execution and later refashioned by Charles II, so this was a grave crime indeed. And yet Charles was so impressed with Captain Blood's audacity that he rewarded him rather than have him punished.

Portrait of Catherine of Braganza
by Otto Hoynck

Charles's wife, Catherine of Braganza, Infanta of Portugal, was controversial among the populace because of her devout Catholicism. Convent-raised, she had difficulty adjusting to life at court and was never able to bring a child of the union to term, but--unlike some kings--Charles refused to divorce her and insisted she be treated with respect. In time she did become more comfortable in her new home, embracing the fashion trends of wearing men's clothing and shorter skirts, scandalizing the Protestants by playing cards on Sunday, and popularizing the drinking of tea in England.

Charles II with actress Nell Gwyn, by Edward
Mathew Ward (1854), possibly wearing black to
recall the Great Fire of 1666

Charles II was surrounded by interesting women, in fact. He had a dozen acknowledged children with a plethora of mistresses, including two by actress Nell Gwyn. (Among his actions as monarch was legalizing the profession of acting for women.)

And he wrote poetry for one woman who resisted his advances, Frances Theresa Stuart, granddaughter of Walter Stuart, 1st Lord Blantyre and the face of Britannia, a Scot whose portrait whose portrait appeared not only upon medals commemorating a naval victory, but also on the English penny until the decimal system was put into use in 1971.

The Pleasures of Love

I pass all my hours in a shady old grove.
But I live not the day when I see not my love;
I survey every walk now my Phyllis is gone,
And sigh when I think we were there all alone,
Oh, then ‘tis I think there’s no Hell
Like loving too well.

But each shade and each conscious bower when I find
Where I once have been happy and she has been kind;
When I see the print left of her shape on the green,
And imagine the pleasure may yet come again;
Oh, then ‘tis I think that no joys are above
The pleasures of love.

While alone to myself I repeat all her charms,
She I love may be locked in another man’s arms,
She may laugh at my cares, and so false she may be,
To say all the kind things she before said to me!
Oh then ‘tis, oh then, that I think there’s no Hell
Like loving too well.

But when I consider the truth of her heart,
Such an innocent passion, so kind without art,
I fear I have wronged her, and hope she may be
So full of true love to be jealous of me.
Oh then ‘tis I think that no joys are above
The pleasures of love.

Of course, this being English history, all was not revelry during the reign of Charles II. Though he promoted religious tolerance, constant conflict between Protestants and Catholics led to his dissolving Parliament in 1681 and ruling alone. In 1677, Charles encouraged the marriage of his niece Mary (son of his Catholic brother, James) to the Protestant King William III of Orange, in hopes of increasing peace between the two religions, and also re-establishing his own Protestant credentials. Nevertheless, he officially converted to Catholicism upon his death bed.

William of Orange is reportedly an ancestor of my own, and his statue in Kensington Gardens, London, has been mentioned as another of J. M. Barrie's sources of inspiration for Captain Hook. (In other words, I find yet another connection to Peter Pan and the Captain in my own life.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

A baby named Peter

Despite what contemporary retellings may say, Peter Pan was never a street urchin or a fairy or a vampire, or even an orphan.

Rather, as J. M. Barrie tells us in The Little White Bird, or Adventures in Kensington Gardens, 

His age is one week, and though he was born so long ago he has never had a birthday, nor is there the slightest chance of his ever having one. The reason is that he escaped from being a human when he was seven days' old; he escaped by the window and flew back to the Kensington Gardens.

If you think he was the only baby who ever wanted to escape, it shows how completely you have forgotten your own young days.

Well, Peter Pan got out by the window, which had no bars. Standing on the ledge he could see trees far away, which were doubtless the Kensington Gardens, and the moment he saw them he entirely forgot that he was now a little boy in a nightgown, and away he flew, right over the houses to the Gardens. It is wonderful that he could fly without wings, but the place itched tremendously, and, perhaps we could all fly if we were as dead-confident-sure of our capacity to do it as was bold Peter Pan that evening.

But the little boy's presence frightened the fairies, and the birds shunned him. He went to bird-sentinel Solomon Caw for help, and Solomon told him could stay in the park, but would never be anything other than "a Betwixt-and-Between." Peter he was happy enough with this pronouncement, and made himself a reed pipe to play upon, and eventually, with the help of the thrushes, a boat made of a nest and the remnants of his old night-gown so that he could sail about on the Serpentine lake.

Peter always thought he could return home. He visited once, but could not resolve himself to stay. And when he tried a second time,

He went in a hurry in the end because he had dreamt that his mother was crying, and he knew what was the great thing she cried for, and that a hug from her splendid Peter would quickly make her to smile. Oh, he felt sure of it, and so eager was he to be nestling in her arms that this time he flew straight to the window, which was always to be open for him.

But the window was closed, and there were iron bars on it, and peering inside he saw his mother sleeping peacefully with her arm round another little boy.

Peter called, "Mother! mother!" but she heard him not; in vain he beat his little limbs against the iron bars. He had to fly back, sobbing, to the Gardens, and he never saw his dear again.

And yet Peter, being so young, lost himself in adventures and did not think much of his old home again. One night a little girl named Maimie stayed after closing time in the park to see the fairies (not without incident), and there encountered a little boy out in the snow with no clothes on, in a meeting reminiscent of another in Peter's later literary life.

She said, out of pity for him, "I shall give you a kiss if you like," but though he once knew he had long forgotten what kisses are, and he replied, "Thank you," and held out his hand, thinking she had offered to put something into it. This was a great shock to her, but she felt she could not explain without shaming him, so with charming delicacy she gave Peter a thimble which happened to be in her pocket, and pretended that it was a kiss. Poor little boy! he quite believed her, and to this day he wears it on his finger, though there can be scarcely anyone who needs a thimble so little. 

The Little White Bird, or Adventures in Kensington Gardens was published in 1902, and was the first literary appearance of Peter Pan. After the success of the 1904 play featuring the boy who never grows up, the seven chapters (out of twenty-six) about Peter were published separately as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Illustrations by artist Arthur Rackham, including 49 color plates of his oil paintings, added to the popularity of both the book and Rackham himself. It's had a number of reprints since then, including one by the Folio Society. My own copy, found at Insatiables in Port Townsend, WA, is from 1976.

In 1912, when a statue of Peter Pan appeared in Kensington Gardens one morning, it was considered by many to be too commercial, akin to a statue of Harry Potter being erected in a major public park after only one book in the series. Now, of course, the statue of Peter is one of the best-known landmarks in London and the world.

For the entire text of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, with many of the Rackham illustrations, see Project Gutenberg.