Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Never aspire

"Admiration for craft and skill is, I now understand, at the root of the generous but stubborn nature of King Charles II. He took my father into his service because he recognised in him the dedicated, skilled and single-minded craftsman. Such people delight him because they inhabit an orderely, meticulously defined world and never aspire to cross over into any other. The haberdasher, my father, never for one moment becoming, say, a gardener, a gun-smith or a money-lender. He laid out a precise territory with his skill and kept within it. And King Charles, while trying one pair of my father's exquisitely moulded kid gloves, revealed to him that this was how he hoped the English people would behave during his reign, 'each,' he said, 'in his appointed station, profession, calling or trade. And contented in them, so there is no jostling and bobbing about and no one getting above himself. In this way we shall have peace, and I will be able to rule.'

"I don't know how my father answered him, but I do know that it was on this occasion that the King promised, 'at some future time, when you are bringing me gloves', to show my father the collection of clocks and watches he kept in his private Study."


"... like Justice Hogg, I did not wish to be lost in the white wastes and so decided instead to note down all that I knew about the Poor, which, alas, did not seem a great deal. I took up a quill and wrote as follows:

"1. They are numerous.

"2. They appear more numerous in the capital, where they throng the wharves and lie down to sleep on the steps of alehouses.

"3. They are much prone to sickness, as witnessed by me during my brief time at St Thomas's hospital.

"4. Madness appears present in the eyes of many of them and I suspect that Pearce's Bedlam is choking with them.

"5. They are regarded by the likes of Winchelsea as a race apart, a quite other species of man. It is, however, from the bodies of Paupers that anatomists draw their knowledge and it is nowhere suggested that the liver, say, of a Peer will be any different in shape, function, composition or texture than that of any Hovel-dweller (unless the organ of the Peer be enlarged by the quantity of claret that has passed through it).

"6. Jesus was most fond of them.

"7. There is an interesting dichotomy between His belief in their nobility and the Nobility's belief in their inherent wickedness. (And this is a supposedly pious country.)

"8. I have not, in all my thirty-seven years, given a great deal of thought to them - until this day, the thirteenth of January 1665.

"9. How does the King regard them? In his credo that all should be content with their lot and not get above themselves, what does he say of the Pauper?

"10. I have heard that in Bidnold there is a tongueless man, sound of limb but speechless, who begs alms from all who pass him. Is this man Impotent or Idle? Has he a Licence? If he has no Licence, what am I to do with him?

"I paused. I could see now from my albeit puny notes that the whole question of the Poor was a mighty complex one - one to which I had never expected to address myself. I put down my pen with a sigh."

Rose Tremain, Restoration, chapters 1 and 9