Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

The Marriage of the Arts.

As a literary curiosity, can we deny a niche to that “obliquity of distorted wit,” of Barton Holyday, who has composed a strange comedy, in five acts, performed at Christ Church, Oxford, 1630, not for the entertainment, as an anecdote records, of James the First?

The title of the comedy of this unclassical classic, for Holyday is known as the translator of Juvenal with a very learned commentary, is TEXNOTAMIA, or the Marriage of the Arts, 1630, quarto; extremely dull, excessively rare, and extraordinarily high-priced among collectors.

It may be exhibited as one of the most extravagant inventions of a pedant. Who but a pedant could have conceived the dull fancy of forming a comedy, of five acts, on the subject of marrying the Arts! They are the dramatis personæ of this piece, and the bachelor of arts describes their intrigues and characters. His actors are Polites, a magistrate; — Physica; — Astronomia, daughter to Physica; — Ethicus, an old man; — Geographus, a traveller and courtier, in love with Astronomia; — Arithmetica, in love with Geometres; — Logicus; — Grammaticus, a schoolmaster; — Poeta; — Historia, in love with Poeta; — Rhetorica, in love with Logicus; — Melancholico, Poeta’s man; — Phantastes, servant to Geographus; — Choler, Grammaticus’s man.

All these refined and abstract ladies and gentlemen have as bodily feelings, and employ as gross language, as if they had been every-day characters. A specimen of his grotesque dulness may entertain:—

Fruits of dull heat, and sooterkins of wit.

Geographus opens the play with declaring his passion to Astronomia, and that very rudely indeed! See the pedant wreathing the roses of Love!

Geog. Come, now you shall, Astronomia.

Ast. What shall I, Geographus?

Geog. Kisse!

Ast. What, in spite of my teeth!

Geog. No, not so! I hope you do not use to kisse with your teeth.

Ast. Marry, and I hope I do not use to kisse without them.

Geog. Ay, but my fine wit-catcher, I mean you do not show your teeth when you kisse.”

He then kisses her, as he says, in the different manners of a French, Spanish and Dutch kiss. He wants to take off the zone of Astronomia. She begs he would not fondle her like an elephant as he is; and Geographus says again, “Won’t you then?”

Ast. Won’t I what?

Geo. Be kinde?

Ast. Be kinde! How?”

Fortunately Geographus is here interrupted by Astronomia’s mother Physica. This dialogue is a specimen of the whole piece: very flat, and very gross. Yet the piece is still curious — not only for its absurdity, but for that sort of ingenuity, which so whimsically contrived to bring together the different arts; this pedantic writer, however, owes more to the subject, than the subject derived from him; without wit or humour, he has at times an extravagance of invention. As for instance — Geographus and his man Phantastes describe to Poeta the lying wonders they pretend to have witnessed; and this is one:—

Phan. Sir, we met with a traveller that could speak six languages at the same instant.

Poeta. How? at the same instant, that’s impossible!

Phan. Nay, sir, the actuality of the performance puts it beyond all contradiction. With his tongue he’d so vowel you out as smooth Italian as any man breathing; with his eye he would sparkle forth the proud Spanish; with his nose blow out most robustious Dutch; the creaking of his high-heeled shoe would articulate exact Polonian; the knocking of his shinbone feminine French; and his belly would grumble most pure and scholar-like Hungary.

This, though extravagant without fancy, is not the worst part of the absurd humour which runs through this pedantic comedy.

The classical reader may perhaps be amused by the following strange conceits. Poeta, who was in love with Historia, capriciously falls in love with Astronomia, and thus compares his mistress:—

Her brow is like a brave heroic line

That does a sacred majestie inshrine;

Her nose, Phaleuciake-like, in comely sort,

Ends in a Trochie, or a long and short.

Her mouth is like a pretty Dimeter;

Her eie-brows like a little-longer Trimeter.

Her chinne is an adonicke, and her tongue

Is an Hypermeter, somewhat too long.

Her eies I may compare them unto two

Quick-turning dactyles, for their nimble view.

Her ribs like staues of Sapphicks doe descend

Thither, which but to name were to offend.

Her arms like two Iambics raised on hie,

Doe with her brow bear equal majestie;

Her legs like two straight spondees keep apace

Slow as two scazons, but with stately grace.

The piece concludes with a speech by Polites, who settles all the disputes and loves of the Arts. Poeta promises for the future to attach himself to Historia. Rhetorica, though she loves Logicus, yet as they do not mutually agree, she is united to Grammaticus. Polites counsels Phlegmatico, who is Logicus’s man, to leave off smoking, and to learn better manners; and Choler, Grammaticus’s man, to bridle himself; — that Ethicus and Oeconoma would vouchsafe to give good advice to Poeta and Historia; — and Physica to her children Geographus and Astronomia! for Grammaticus and Rhetorica, he says, their tongues will always agree, and will not fall out; and for Geometres and Arithmetica, they will be very regular. Melancholico, who is Poeta’s man, is left quite alone, and agrees to be married to Musica: and at length Phantastes, by the entreaty of Poeta, becomes the servant of Melancholico, and Musica. Physiognomus and Cheiromantes, who are in the character of gipsies and fortune-tellers, are finally exiled from the island of Fortunata, where lies the whole scene of the action in the residence of the Married Arts.

The pedant-comic-writer has even attended to the dresses of his characters, which are minutely given. Thus Melancholico wears a black suit, a black hat, a black cloak, and black worked band, black gloves, and black shoes. Sanguis, the servant of Medicus, is in a red suit; on the breast is a man with his nose bleeding; on the back, one letting blood in his arm; with a red hat and band, red stockings and red pumps.

It is recorded of this play, that the Oxford scholars resolving to give James I. a relish of their genius, requested leave to act this notable piece. Honest Anthony Wood tells us, that it being too grave for the king, and too scholastic for the auditory, or, as some have said, the actors had taken too much wine, his majesty offered several times, after two acts, to withdraw. He was prevailed to sit it out, in mere charity to the Oxford scholars. The following humorous epigram was produced on the occasion:—

At Christ-church marriage, done before the king,

Lest that those mates should want an offering,

The king himself did offer; — What, I pray?

He offered twice or thrice — to go away!”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37