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Saturday morning quotes #41: Gentle discourse

March 3, 2012

Our series of Saturday quotes unabashedly favors snippets of wit and wisdom that highlight the historical importance of music in everyday life. Today, we offer quotes from the younger of the two historical figures named Henry Peacham, father and son.  The elder Henry Peacham (1546-1634) is known for his excellent book on Rhetoric, The Garden of Eloquence, first published in 1577.

The study of Rhetoric, once the basis for eloquent communication among learned people, is all but forgotten today in our system of education that is increasingly oriented toward test results, downplaying the essential human interactions of the classroom by moving rapidly toward an impersonal online format. Nevertheless, online, we can easily determine and define such hyperbole as this, or discover the nature and meaning of a synecdoche through easy access to the elder Peacham’s work.

The younger Henry Peacham (c. 1576-1643) is the author of The Compleat Gentleman, first printed in 1622 with subsequent reprints.  The book is an updated example more or less based on Baldassare Castiglione’ Il Cortegiano (1528), a manual on courtly behavior that could be subtitled ‘How to get ahead in a roomful of men wearing tights.’  For very good reasons, understanding of and skill in music was an essential quality of a genteel and educated individual looking to advance his station.  In Peacham’s words:

Infinite is the sweet variety that the theorique of music exerciseth the mind withal, as the contemplation of proportion, of concords and discords, diversity of moods and tones, infiniteness of invention, &c.  But I dare affirm there is no one science in the world that so affecteth the free and generous spirit with a more delightful and inoffensive recreation or better disposeth the mind to what is commendable and virtuous.

Peacham was acquainted with many of the great composers of his time, and he knew John Dowland personally, writing perhaps as a cautionary example in The Compleat Gentleman that he “had slipt many opportunities in advancing his fortunes.”   In his fascinating book of emblems, Minerva Britanna (1612), Peacham honored Dowland with an epigram, referring to him as Ad amicum suum Iohannem Doulandum Musicus ludendo peritissimum (roughly translated as my friend John Dowland, skilled in playing music) but poetically comparing Dowland to the nightingale, Philomel.  We quote this melancholy but touching  tribute in full:

Heere, Philomel, in silence sits alone,
In depth of winter, on the bared brier,
Whereas the Rose, had once her beautie showen;
Which Lordes, and Ladies, did so much desire:
But fruitles now, in winters frost and snow,
It doth despis’d and vnregarded grow.

So since (old friend) thy years have made thee white,
And thou for others, hast consum’d thy spring,
How few regard thee, whom thou didst delight,
And farre and neere, came once to heere thee sing;
Ingratefull times, and worthles age of ours,
That let’s vs pine, when it hath cropt our flowers.

One Comment
  1. Good quotes–haven’t seen them for a while.

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