Saturday, September 03, 2011

Faith and the 'drunken-faced knave'

The London Review of Books (25 Aug 2011) has an interesting review (sadly behind the subscriber wall) of what sounds like a fascinating book about early-modern English Christian beliefs.

Part of its fascination comes from its interest in explaining what we might call everyday belief, so how ordinary English people approached the Christian faith. Because it is based upon ecclesiastical court files it sounds like it has -- like all books based on court records -- a tendency to focus on situations in which, in one way or another, things go awry.

Hence, along with whatever else it tells us, the book apparently adds to our knowledge of early modern insults.

From the review:

Ecclesiastical courts enforced church attendance, Sabbath observance, the payment of tithes and sexual morality. In their records we overhear the voices of hundreds of ordinary men and women. A Somerset churchgoer in 1632 complains that ‘there was nothing done at prayer time in the said church of West Lidford but tooting upon the organs, and that it delighteth him as much to hear his horse fart as to hear the said organs go.’ In an argument with the parson of Dogmerfield in Hampshire over a tithe in 1581, Rowland Bowrer declares: ‘Thou art a covetous man … Go take Mother Canning by the cunt again!’ Haigh spends several pages on the insults suffered by clergymen, such as ‘stinking knave priest’, ‘scurvy, stinking, shitten boy’, ‘totter legged and pilled priest’, ‘Scottish jack’, ‘jack sauce and Welsh rogue’, ‘a runagately rogue and a prick-eared rogue’, ‘polled, scurvy, forward, wrangling priest’, ‘wrangler and prattler’, ‘black-coat knave’, ‘drunken-faced knave’ and ‘copper-nose priest’. 

I, for one, plan to incorporate '‘totter legged and pilled' into my arsenal of insults.

I mean: nobody (except perhaps certain early-modern scholars) is going to be expecting that.

2 comments:

KB Player said...

How we have degenerated! No longer do we have such a rich supply of swear words and terms of abuse. You get the sense of highly creative cursing. These days the same dozen or so abusive terms are used by everyone, with no variation.

John Carter Wood said...

Yeah, I take this as yet another sign of cultural decline. Perhaps the rise of standardised insults has something to do with the machine age.