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I came to a boggy-quagmire miry, rotten, filthy, dirty, slow, through, over, or into which I must pass
The writings of the 17th century poet and Thames waterman John Taylor (1578–1653) could probably provide entertaining scenes for this newsletter every week for a year – I’ll certainly be coming back to him. After a few serious weeks, let’s have a little comical interlude.
Taylor was a remarkable character – this riverine taxi driver ferried many renowned people of his day across the Thames, and took to writing poetry and other works (more than 200 of them), most notably a series of travelogues (available in a recent collection) in a mixture of lively prose and mostly quite terrible verse. He is little known today, but seems to have been quite a celebrity in his day. He was a keen Royalist, writing propaganda and indeed helping at the royal court in Oxford during the English Civil War.
In October 1648, he set out for the Isle of Wight (as recorded in Tailors travels, from London, to the Isle of Wight), writing what we’d now call journalism to earn a crust when he was desperately poor, and promoting the royal cause while Charles I was under imprisoned on the island at Carisbrooke Castle. But for this newsletter, let’s pass by the politics and enjoy a simple pratfall, and some amusing invective, told in his distinctive mixture of prose and verse. (I have modernised most of the spellings.)
Now it follows requisitely, that I certify you of some Occurrences, and accidents there. It is to be noted, that the Gentlemen with their wives, having such fair, and speedy passage from Southampton to the Island, that at the Town called Cowes they had two horses, which they left with their maids with me till the morning, for me to bring by land to Newport where His Majesty was: they with their wives took a small Boat about midnight, having the tide with them to carry them that Saturday night (or near Sunday) 3 miles up by water to Newport: so they left me.
All the fag end of the Saturday night, and part of Sunday morning, I had the happiness to be John amongst the Maides, for we honestly lay in 2 beds in one chamber, but I would have no man so mad to imagine that we lay all three both together.
Sunday the 22 of October we arose with the Sun, between the houres of the careless number of 6 and 7 (he is careless that sets all at 6 and 7) we quickly made ourselves as fine as could be, in hope to see fine folks, and fine things at Court, and so we mounted our Palfreys: (the Hostler [i.e. ostler] of the Prince’s Arms at Cowes, being hired to be our Guide) who did ride before one Maid, and my self before the other, and so (by consequence) both the Maids were behind us.
The Hostler that should have guided me, guided himself, Riding before me, and leaving me behind him sometimes a flight shoot or two; for he had many advantages of me; first he had the stronger horse, secondly he had the lighter carriage (for the Maid behinde him was like Lent, light, leane, and lank) but my Female Male was like Shrove-Tuesday, fat, fair, plump, well fed, and weighty; thirdly he had two spurs, and a switch, of all which necessaries I was destitute, and without switch or spur my horse would not go.
And now a dirty tale I mean to tell:
I’ll show you what befell, and how I fell.
My ungodly Guide being much before me, within a mile of Newport, I came to a boggy-quagmire miry, rotten, filthy, dirty, slow, through, over, or into which I must pass; I not knowing the way, called aloud to the Guid to come back to direct me, which he did; but I having no switch or spur (for correction) the horse would obey no direction; so that at last the Guide said there was no danger, but that I might ride through it anywhere.
Then I with kicking set my heels to horse,
Advent’ring to ride through it force perforce:
My Guide’s misguiding made me much the bolder
The horse fell in, quite plung’d up to the shoulder.
I forward fell, and backward fell the Maid,
Man, Maid, and horse in curious pickle laid,
And never Ear did hear, or Eye did see
Such a pair-Royal fair Triplicity.1
The danger past, we each on other gaping;
Not angry, or well pleas’d, we fell to scraping:
Sometimes we fretted, and our lips did bite,
And sometimes (at our selves) we laughed out right.
I scraped my self: the Maid, the Hostler dressed.
The Horse looked on, uncurried like a beast.
Thus we to Newport came in gay attire,
Embroidered over all with dirt and mire:
And thus from Cowes we tumbled in the sloughs,
Man, Maid, and horse, moil’d like three beastly sows:
’Twas my base guide that put me in this trim,
For which abuse I’ll have about with him:
The Devil misleads us all, we plainly see,
And that same stinking Hostler misled me.
First in a Knave’s skin I will wrap him hot,
Which he shall always wear until it rot:
My prayer for him shall be this execration,
Let him be nasty in his occupation:
Oh let his provender be ever musty,
His hay be most distasteful, foul, and dusty:
His Peas, and Beans, and Oats most odious fusty,
And’s curry comb2 (for want of use) be rusty:
Thus musty, dusty, fusty, rusty, crusty,
Shall plague the Knave that was to me untrusty.
In Urine, and Beast’s Ordure let him toil:
Soil be his trade, yet ne’er be Lord o’th’ soil.
Let boot haling be most part of his living:
Let Guests be sparing to him in their giving:
Under his Rack let him in tortures lie,
And (in his Manger) let him stink and die:
And let the preaching Cobbler at Blackwall
Be 3 hours prating at his funeral:
Let him be grav’d in his own Element:
Let litter, and horse dung be his monument.
[Well, that’s him told!]
Taylor also wrote about card games of the time, and this refers to three cards of the same value.
A horse comb.