monkey regained

Part seven of Nothing

Modern animal experts do not recommend anyone, even warrior princes or prankster poets, keeping monkeys or any other wild animals as pets and the RSPCA wants a ban. They are messy, destructive, predatory – they’ll bite a human and eat any smaller pet mammals or birds left unprotected – and they never stop chattering – rather as Lord Rochester’s seems to be doing in the picture that started this diversion on the journey into Nothing:

rochester

Lord Rochester with monkey by Huysmans

Rochester was thirty-three when he died in 1680, burnt out by sex and alcohol, pranks and humanity. His wife, Elizabeth Malet, whom he had tried to abduct when she was the richest and most eligible heiress in the north of England, and to whom he was conspicuously unfaithful, died a year later, leaving their four young children in the care of their grandmother. All is vanity.

Withoos,_Matthias_-_Landscape_with_a_Graveyard_by_Night

Matthias Withoos, Landscape with a graveyard by night, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims. Image: WGA
“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death.” (Shakespeare, Macbeth) Withoos was active in the second half of the 17th century, and in this atmospheric painting prefigures Romantic Gothicism and our own obsession with twilight.

And yet – the most poetic of brutal realists and his wife had written a book of poetry together. Their minds met on equal terms. She had a wit of her own, and answered him back. Anyone who has spied on their marriage by reading their private letters has the impression that they understood and esteemed one another.

In a long tradition of creative men who have acted on their desires and looked deeply into their souls, Rochester led a double life. He was Ernest in town, where “a sweet soft Page of [his could] do the Trick worth Forty wenches”, and Jack in the country, where he loved his wife.

As for the monkey, Rochester’s symbol of human vanity was recently reincarnated as Mally, Justin Bieber’s capuchin accessory, infamously abandoned in Germany after quarantine.

The journey into Nothing is not over…

…still distracted by love of a dead man…

Part four of Nothing

Rupert learned his lesson from the death of Boye, and never took a domesticated animal on campaign again, but once he moved back to England after the Restoration of the monarchy, there was always a dog waiting for him at home.

Like many of his family he genuinely loved animals – his mother, Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, was said by her youngest daughter to prefer her dogs and monkeys to her children. His cousin, Charles II, was hardly ever seen without his troop of pretty, spoilt spaniels, the only breed of dogs to have been royal permission to go to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, and that, along with Nell Gwynn and her oranges, is still the popular image of the king we have today.

In late middle-age, even Prince Rupert was disarmed by an actress, the glamorous, dark-haired Margaret Hughes. They met in Tunbridge Wells, where fashionable society avoided smelly, plaguey London during the summer, which was more of a hot dating spot then than now.

Lely_margret_hughesMargaret Hughes (c 1630 – 1719), one of the first, if not the first, woman to appear professionally on the English stage after the Restoration, as Desdemona in the King’s Company production of Othello in December, 1660, in a portrait by Lely, c. 1670, with fashionable accessory of adoring spaniel. She became Rupert’s mistress after 1668, and continued her acting career spasmodically, in the lucky position of being able to choose her parts.

Peg Hughes was very extravagant, and in later life had a gambling addiction; she cost Rupert a lot of money to keep in a grand house bought specially for her. She insisted on her right to continue acting, and he let her – after all, he knew what being driven by professional commitment was like, and he had more in common with a self-made woman than the pampered women of his own class. Continue reading