52:  On Being Melancolie

Nero arrkst me why I’ve told no tales of late.

I sayt, “I’m composing sonnets.  I have no time for trifles.”

Nero cleansed his paws, nibbling between his claws most careful.  I guessed he did not know what a sonnet is.  I told him of my sonnet in honour of my friend Smokie.  And of another I have in mind.  A platonick conceit on my soul.

A head and shoulders miniature portrait of a young man in a black doublet with a wide white collar posing with his hand upon his heart.
A miniature of a young man, believed to be Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586). It’s painted in the style of Isaac Oliver, probably after Sidney’s death. © V&A Museum, London.

Nero looked scornful.

“The great Sirrup Sit-Knee, the flower of our age,” sayt I, “is famed for his sonnets.”

“Be he a man or a cat?”

“A man.  All praise him most high, and strive to emulate him.”

“Then Sit-knee must be gone from this world, and past giving offence to any,” sayt Nero.

“True,” I sayt.  “He died heroick.  The Earl of Essicks [Essex] has his sword.  And his wife, to the great annoyance of Her Majestie.”

We sat a while in silence.

Then Nero sayt, “Your sister says we see little of you because it makes you mopish to think of other poets running after our Earl.  She says it was ever in your nature to be dumpish.”

My sister should learn to hold her tongue.  You would think she had kits enough to keep her busy.  But no, she must spread lies abroad.

I sayt, “Friend, we poets are never mopish or dumpish.  That’s for the common sort.  We are melancolie.”

“Melancolie?” arrkst he, liking the word.

“We long for what we cannot have.  Our loves are unrequited.”

“I long for plump oysters when there’s none to be had,” sayt Nero.

“Then,” sayt I, “think on your oysters and follow me to yonder eglantine.”

White climbing rose

Nero sayt, “I call that a rose.”

A miniature portrait of a young man dressed in black and white, the colours of Elizabeth I. He is standing among white roses with his hand on his heart.
Looking melancolie: a young man, believed to be Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, by Nicholas Hilliard c1587.  © V&A Museum, London.

I sayt, “Eglantine signifies Her Majestie.  All feign to love her. Now we must lay our paws upon our hearts to signify that we are of a poetick disposition, and love-sick.  That makes us melancolie.”

I showed him what I meant by that.

But we cats are not so made that we can put our paws upon our hearts without we lie on our backs.

And when we lie on our backs, our friends think we are inviting them to fight us in play.

Nero leapt on me.  I kicked him off, and told him it was his turn to seem melancolie.

He did it well.

“You have,” sayt I, “the blackest face of woe I ever saw.”  And I leapt on him.

Looking melancolie: the Earl of Southampton in his late teens. Attributed to John de Critz the Elder. (Via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

A painting of a dappled blue and white cat lying on its back with its paw on its heart.
Looking melancolie: not so straightforward for the Earl of Southampton’s cat.

Then what did we see but the Mad Cat peeking at us over a little wall.  He was standing on his back legs, which he is most apt to do.  He holds his paws at his sides, for balance.

I arrkst him if he could place a paw upon his heart without falling down.

“And think,” sayt Nero, “of your mistress eating an egg, and not offering you a morsel.”

I sayt, “There is nowt more poetickal than a cruel mistress.”

“My good mistress never would be cruel,” sayt he.  “She will call me to my supper soon.”

But our melancolie looks had joyed him, and he came to sit with us beneath the roses.


Editor's Note. Small image of a quill pen.Sir Philip Sidney – Gib’s Sirrup Sit-Knee – (1564-1586) was regarded by his contemporaries as the perfect Renaissance courtier: a soldier, scholar, author, and patron of the arts.

As a writer, he’s best remembered now for his influential sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella, and for his essay The Defence of Poesie on the value of imaginative writing.

He died of gangrene as the result of a leg wound received at the battle of Zutphen (in the Netherlands) where he was fighting for the Dutch Protestant cause against the Spanish.  He was married to Frances, the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham; in 1590 she married Queen Elizabeth’s young favourite the Earl of Essex (1565-1601), who’d also distinguished himself at Zutphen.  I think the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Southampton regarded Sir Philip Sidney as what we would call their role model.    

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22 thoughts on “52:  On Being Melancolie

  1. daveply April 28, 2016 / 11:08 am

    For being soldiers, those gents look rather delicate. Artistic license, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 28, 2016 / 7:01 pm

      They do, don’t they? But it was a standard well-bred male image for the times. Believe me, these delicate-looking gentlemen were armed and dangerous – although Gib’s young Earl hasn’t yet started his soldiering.

      When they were aiming to look macho rather than melancholy, they used a different pose for their pictures. I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to display the alternate image in Gib’s future posts. It’s all in the body language, as cats know!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Rachel McAlpine April 29, 2016 / 10:27 am

    This is profound, for when I was a young gal I did try with all my heart to be pale and melancholy, hoping to die of consumption like Katherine Mansfield. At the time, it was a hopeless quest for I was healthy, congenitally cheerful, a wee bit fat, and red-faced when playing hockey. But behold, I became a poet! So Gib was on to something. No more proof required, as in poetry, one swallow doth a summer make.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. April Munday April 30, 2016 / 4:34 am

    I had a melancholic cat. Not that she showed it by placing her paw over her heart, but I could see in her eyes that she was of a melancholic disposition.
    The young earl certainly looks as if a good puff of wind, of which we have many in Southampton, would blow him over.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 30, 2016 / 8:02 pm

      I had a melancholic cat once too. When he was young he always looked as if something bad had just happened or was about to happen, and often communicated his sense of doom in sad little meows. As he aged he grew more cheerful.

      This portrait of the young Earl (“the Cobbe portrait”) is the one that led to a brief-but-inane media frenzy in the early 2000s about him being a cross-dresser(!), even though it’s a conventional picture of a fashionable Elizabethan youth. It’s estimated to have been painted between 1590-1593; I’d go for 1590. He turned 17 in October that year, so perhaps he had it done to celebrate the fact that he’d finished his studies at Cambridge, and was now a man about town in London at Grey’s Inn?

      Liked by 3 people

    • April Munday April 30, 2016 / 8:35 pm

      The poor thing does look a bit effeminate. The long hair doesn’t help, nor does his, what I can only think of as a, crush on the Earl of Essex. I’m sorry if I’ve got the wrong Earl; I get Elizabeth’s favourites mixed up – there were so many over so many years.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi May 1, 2016 / 12:32 am

      Yes, Essex is the right Earl – he was about 8 years older than Southampton. He was also one of William Cecil’s wards, though he may have left the household about the same time as the 8 year old Southampton arrived. Other Cecil wards were the Earls of Rutland and Bedford, who were near to Southampton in age and who also supported Essex. They took part in the Essex uprising, but received fines rather than sent to the Tower. I think Essex has had a bad press – he was certainly erratic and explosive, but a lot of Elizabethans were. I’m looking forward to reading John Guy’s book on the last years of Elizabeth’s reign, which is coming out in May. I’ve also got books on Essex and Elizabethan politics by Paul E J Hammer and Alexandra Gajda on my to-read list, but I don’t know when I’ll get to them!

      Liked by 2 people

    • April Munday May 1, 2016 / 1:40 am

      Don’t make me want to read books about the Elizabethans as well! I have loads of unread books about the Plantagenets and not enough time to read them. I was in Waterstones yesterday and I had to force my eyes past the Tudors. I did buy a book about Sir John Hawkwood that I’m looking forward to.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi May 1, 2016 / 1:44 pm

      Ah! Now you know how I feel when I read your posts on books about the Hundred Years War…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. colonialist April 30, 2016 / 6:33 am

    An erudite discourse, which, of course, I have followed with full understanding. Except … why would cats aspire to being meloncolic when they don’t normally eat melons to get colic?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Claudio LeChat May 1, 2016 / 4:50 am

    Love this explication on melancolie. Its a pity that melancolie now seems to be out of vogue amongst the aristocratic class. Prince Charles would surely have to be a prime candidate.

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi May 1, 2016 / 1:49 pm

      Very true, Claudio. And the upbringing of today’s older aristocrats seems to have been nearer the Elizabethan end of the scale than that of their children and grandchildren has been.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Robyn Haynes May 3, 2016 / 6:44 pm

    I hadn’t considered how difficult it would be to put a paw on my heart if I were a cat. But then I don’t think much of licking my paws in public either.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Claremary P. Sweeney May 15, 2016 / 6:59 pm

    Roxie and I enjoyed this post but she seems to have taken the quote about “the cruel mistress” as her own. She’s threatened to use it in a future post about the trials of living with me and is practicing her best melancholy look as I write this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi May 15, 2016 / 7:12 pm

      I’m sure Roxie could find a lot to say about her cruel mistress! She is definitely living in the wrong century.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Claremary P. Sweeney May 15, 2016 / 7:44 pm

      She tries to escape every time I open a door. And she has succeeded on numerous occasions. Sometimes she ends up closed in a closet or the cellar because she thinks all doors lead outside. On one occasion, I was carrying ZuZu out to the gazebo and Roxie tripped me. ZuZu ran off and hid under the shed for 3 days and I was black and blue from falling down the steps. The last time she escaped, she rounded the corner of the house and came face to face with the resident woodchuck. She howled, then turned and hightailed it back to the porch much to Charley ‘s and my amusement. I now carry her out first.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi May 15, 2016 / 7:46 pm

      I remember Roxie’s failed assassination attempt on the steps. Just the sort of thing Gib enjoys.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Claremary P. Sweeney May 15, 2016 / 9:06 pm

      Cats have a wry sense of humor and Gib and Roxie would get along fine. Although, Gib looks very much like ZuZu and we all know Roxie’s feelings toward “Mommy’s Widdle Snookums”!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. mitchteemley June 14, 2016 / 9:00 am

    I would think Gib and friends should have nothing to do with this melon collie, whoever he is. (Sorry ;>)

    Liked by 1 person

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